The Story Thus Far…
Yesterday (Hooks & Sinkers: The Writing Advice that Sparked a War of Words) I explained how a blog post by James Scott Bell on Things to Avoid in Your Novel’s Opening Page that I recommended on my Facebook Fan Page hit a nerve with one reader who took issue with the way the advice was presented.
(Mr. Bell critiqued an example of What Not To Do with several variations of “I don’t care.”)
The reader, who is an aspiring novelist, was so incensed that she blasted Bell and gave him a hefty piece of her mind.
A lively discussion ensued.
The Conflict: How DARE You Not Care?
I commented that I felt Mr. Bell’s bluntness mirrored what I have heard from many agents when discussing aspiring writers’ work. They want to care about the characters they read about - but their time is limited and they are quick to dismiss something when they don't feel engaged.
The rejoinder was eye-opening:
It was the "I don't care" bit that so disheartened me this morning... He sounds like an angry, supercilious, impatient know-it-all.
We writers want advice. We need it and we know that. Most of us aren’t so in love with our words as to imagine that they could never be better.
(Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the Twitter entries for #stuffmymusesays, and you’ll realize that we’re not delusional when it comes to our abilities. Most of us press on in spite of the fact that we feel like imposters and are often filled with downright self-loathing.)
But some days, we confuse advice with an attack. We mistake broad, general suggestions for targeted, heat-seeking missiles honing in on our hearts. It’s easy to do.
You see, every time I query an agent, I feel like I'm offering my child on the auction block and praying that he fetches a hefty price.
I am responsible for my writing. I am the parent of my text. I want it to grow up big and strong so it can withstand the arrows of both critics and regular readers and take the world by storm. And it is all too easy to blur the line between my Work and Me.
The Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency included these wise words in a post that addressed Why Some Advice Makes Authors Angry:
Is it possible the...author has hit too close to the truth?... Yes, getting too close can irritate; however, instead of being angry, first try to analyze why the message bothers you before composing a stinging comment in response.
How do you distance yourself from your words in order to benefit from well-meaning advice? Is it important to you that criticism or advice be softened and “nice” in order for you to act upon it? Feel free to comment.