It started innocently enough. I’d completed a revised draft of my next novel and was ready to subject it to a good, solid content edit. Being a writer of small means, I invested the time and energy to send copies of my manuscript to a good group of beta readers. Beta readers are either writers or avid readers who have either written or read enough to know what makes a novel tick. My one requirement? Be honest. It would do no good to tell me only what I wanted to hear rather than what I needed to hear.
It paid off in spades.
A writer friend of mine had a set of fantastic comments, and when I started to hear the same theme from other beta readers, I knew he was on to something.
His main comment? Your three main characters are fighting for the lead. You need to have only one lead.
I knew I stood at a crossroads. Did I let my pride stand in the way, or did I take his comments plus those of others to heart and look at making changes?
How many times do we writers face this issue? Many times. But when given by the right people (honest, helpful readers/writers/editors) who have our best interests at heart, we must pay attention. While it is certainly a writer’s prerogative to ignore comments, they usually wind up making the novel stronger.
Why do writers tend to want to ignore comments? That’s an easy answer. Pride. A novel, poem, or other piece of writing takes time, energy, and plenty of mental investment. It becomes part of us. Many times, we can even wrap our identities into the novel so that any negative comment, even one that’s constructive, is taken as a slap against not the work but the writer. When writers start to take offense at every comment, they wander into dangerous territory.
How should we writers combat this? I’ve thought about this a lot and came up with five things to remember.
Drafts are drafts. I think this explains itself. Any manuscript, until it’s published, remains a draft, meaning that some work remains, even if it’s small like proofing a document.
Intent. As I mentioned above, when looking at comments, it’s best to remember the intent behind them. If you’ve chosen your beta readers carefully by selecting those who would provide honest, solid feedback in a constructive manner, then you will build a better product so long as you heed their wisdom.
Hold lightly. It’s important for you as a writer to hold lightly to your work. What you have now may change radically during the editing process.
Banish pride. I’m a firm believer that pride can get in the way of a really good product. If you hold so tightly to your work that any comment is seen as an affront to your character, then you will never produce your best work. Tamp down pride and listen to those who truly care about you and the product you're producing. I’ll bet you can learn something.
Be open. Sometimes, comments from beta readers or editors can inspire new ideas, once you haven’t ever consider. Think about them. Marinate in them. And if you have questions, talk with those who reviewed your work. Then be willing to put those ideas on paper.
As for the novel I’m working on? I listened to those comments. I bounced ideas off my beta readers. Did I make some radical adjustments? You bet. Will my novel be a better novel because of it? I believe it will be. I’ll find out come late May or so.
I have not received any compensation for writing this post. The work mentioned in this post is of my own writing. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”