I’ve just rejected my teenage son’s suggestion for a blog post (“Writing a good book is a lot like picking peas. That’s your prompt, Mom. Go with it.”)and that has made me think about how I decide which suggestions about my writing I accept, which I ignore and which I feel compelled to dig in my heels against and fight until the end of my days.
The first are easy. If I read a suggestion and feel an immense sense of relief (“Of course! Why didn’t I think of this?”) then that’s a keeper. Or if I feel a great, implacable dread (“OH NO. She’s absolutely right. Now I have to kill off two characters and rewrite the last half of the book.) then, unfortunately, that’s probably a keeper too.
The middle category is a bit more difficult. These are suggestions that might make things better. Or worse. Remains to be seen. And the only way I know to find out will be to (sigh) try it. Which just makes me cranky enough when I’m tired or on a deadline that my inclination is to dismiss them as wrong-headed. So I have a rule that I’m not allowed to reject a suggestion that might make the book better just because it will cause me no end of trouble. I’m allowed to set a time limit on the experiment. I’m allowed to eat Leonidas Nibs while working on the suggestion. I’m allowed to take a kayak break if I need one. But I can’t just pretend I never heard it.
So how do you know when you’re in the third category where you need to dig in and defend something that’s integral to the story? I don’t know exactly. If I find I’m wanting to play this card often then I worry that I’m just not listening. Writing is a solitary thing but making a good book is a hugely collaborative process and my responsibility to the book means that I have to embrace that collaboration. I really do believe that all this working together creates a better book. That’s what I want. Even when it means a boatload of work after I thought I was done.
But there are times when what is being suggested messes with the soul of the book.
I am required to protect my book’s soul. There’s really no one else to do that. And to do that, I have to have thought enough about what that soul is that I can explain exactly why I can’t comply and, I hope, help my editor or writing group or critique partner understand better what it is that I am trying to do so that we can, working together, get me there.