Sunday, January 11, 2009


I recently heard back from an agent I had submitted a manuscript to, and even though he passed, he wants to send it on to a colleague. That's the good news. The bad news is that he included a few suggestions in his email of ways the work could be improved. I'm not one to ignore a good piece of criticism, especially from an agent, but one tiny line in an email can mean weeks and weeks of work on a manuscript. The manuscript is out to other agents as well, who may have notes of their own. My critique group has also had their shot at it. And, a few friends have read it. They all have notes too.

So...whose notes do I follow? If I followed them all, I'd not only be writing for years, I would rewrite my book into a whiplashed piece of drivel without a heart and soul. If all the notes were consistent, then of course I'd honor them, but they're not. Some are directly opposed to others. Some fall in between. Some are extreme, some are subtle.

Of course, the real danger here is that I will give in to the temptation to ignore them all, since they kind of cancel each other out. Or, conversely, there's the risk of attaching myself too much to an outsider's idea in the hopes that it will miraculously "fix" my work, clean and simple. Every writer has to learn how to take notes and open themselves up to new ways of looking at their work, but knowing which ideas will improve the work while preserving its essence can be a challenge. I'm not always up to it.


  1. I think this is one of the hardest things writers have to cope with. The best of all, as you say, is when all the critical comments agree, but that almost never happens. And when it does, sometimes it's only one word that everyone hates! Okay, so now you know you have to change that word.
    But what about the 2,000 others?

    The worst scenario is ending up with hybrid that's lost all your style and voice. Down with drivel!

  2. I believe the loudest voice in your head needs to be your own. Yes, you want critiques from others, but the bottom line is, it's your story. Pick the notes that ring true to you. Easier said than done, I know but it has to make sense to you.

    Good luck! Can't wait to read what you come up with.

  3. It really is tough when you have conflicting opinions of your work. But even if everyone agreed, they might not be right.

    I've had critiques totally change the way I looked at a manuscript. I've had others that I came to agree with more gradually. And I've had some that I totally disagreed with forever.

    The bottom line is -- it's your work. Critiques help you along the way, but don't necessarily guide you there.

    I also think that you can only take so much from a critique of an incomplete manuscript. Some aspects of a story only make sense when you read cover to cover. Some plot points or character choices only ring true after you've read (or typed) the end.

  4. If more than one editor/agent has the same criticism, I'll make the change. If more than one member of my critique group has the same criticim, I'll usually change it. If only one editor, agent, or critique group member says it, I'll consider the source and ponder whether or not I agree before changing it. If I'm on the fence, I'll leave it alone.

  5. This is one of the toughest problems a writer has - listening to all the well directed comments and trying to pick the truthful and strong vibratrions and leave the rest. So often the writer follows the advice of the critics and ends up , as you have said, losing the voice, the humor, the life in the story. How great it is when an entire critique group says, kill Mrs Smith but keep Dan's voice and role. It ain't easy.Did Shakespeare even have a critique group let alone an editor?