Thanks for that suggestion. . . I think.

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.”)

What are you talking about, kid?

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.

Um, yeah.

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.

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So sorry but I cannot go there.

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.

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14 Comments

Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Editing and Revising, Writing

14 responses to “Thanks for that suggestion. . . I think.

  1. Lindsey Lane

    You are one fierce writer mama!

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  2. Parker Peevyhouse

    The worst is trying out an idea for a revision and then still being unable to decide if the result is better.

    Also, that dog picture cracks me up.

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  3. These are tough calls to make, especially when you are tired and have been working on a project for a long time.

    Weirdly, I now feel compelled to write to your son’s prompt. Writing must be like picking peas somehow. Maybe it’s that in a first draft you don’t know 100% which ideas will be fruitful and which will be cut from the final product, just as sometimes you can pick pods that are full of delicious peas and other times you get a pod that looks full but is empty.

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  4. It’s so tricky sometimes, isn’t it? I used to completely buy into the new suggestions, and would get frustrated if they changed my book a lot — but I figured it was my deficiency, not the fault of an incompatible idea.
    Eventually I learned to weed out the ideas that would just make the book different, not better. And I also learned that when my editor suggested a change it didn’t necessarily mean I had to make that change; it meant she’d found something that needed improvement.
    I like your son’s prompt. 🙂 Sounds like my son as a teen.

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  5. This is definitely something I’ve struggled with. It’s difficult picking and choosing those suggestions that you just aren’t sure about. But, I believe it’s better to be at this cross roads than to do what I used to when I first started writing. I used to implement every single suggestion. It was horrible.

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  6. kevanjatt

    I used to get too defensive about critiques. Somewhere along the line I learned patience and an ability to see where the criticism was based. It is the same with taking art direction.

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  7. tamaraellissmith

    I love that idea…that truth, really…that we need to protect our books’ souls. Thanks for that one. I’m going to carry that one close.

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  8. Like tamara, your thoughts about protecting our book’s soul really resonated w/me too. And I think I need that framed duh quote, lol!

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  9. Publishing often reminds me of parenting. Both parents want the best for their child’s development – but can’t always agree on the methods. Mistakes will be made, but usually the child turns out okay.

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  10. I used to get defensive, like Kevan, but now I have an exceptionally tough skin and feel I can be discerning as I “protect the soul of my book.” (love the way you put that).

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  11. Those middle ground ones I have to let sit for a few days, maybe a week. It’s usually about 50-50 where I end up using it or not. Time helps clear my head to make that decision. thanks for the great post.

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  12. Christine Hayes

    This really hits home, Mylisa. There are the “How did I miss that?” revisions, the ones I grumble about but know they need to be done, and the ones where I dig in my heels because the moment wouldn’t feel mine if I changed it. Very astute, my dear!

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  13. “I am required to protect my book’s soul.” That is just beautiful. I’m going to hang that over my desk while I revise.

    Like

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