July 17, 2019

When Should You Listen to Writing Feedback? Part 2

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles
Last week, I discussed the need to find critique groups or partners. The rest of the post explored a few guidelines on how to discern what's valid and invalid in the feedback you receive.

If you missed last week's post, you can find it here:

When Should You Listen to Writing Feedback? Part 1

Although I covered four tips last time, I have four more to share this week:

Do take time to understand the personalities of the person or people giving feedback
A group offers the ability to gain several viewpoints on your writing. Sometimes, one person will say something and everyone agrees on that point. Sometimes, you'll get differing opinions. Feel free to ask the other members if one reviewer says something that you’re curious about.

Everyone in our group provides something of value, but I've learned to rely on different people for different needs. When I first joined the group 12 years ago,  I listened to and took almost every suggestion given me and learned the hard way that everything is not always right. Now that I know something about the personalities of our group, I know how to evaluate their feedback.

Do listen to the feedback of a novice writer
Sometimes a fresh perspective is exactly what you need. Just because new writers don’t have a lot of experience doesn’t mean they don’t know when something does or doesn’t work.

Don’t accept a novice writer’s feedback without careful consideration
I know. I'm contradicting myself but stick with me. Even though a new writer offers new perspectives, they don’t always know the understood guidelines. A warning flag that their feedback might not be useful is if they think everything is great or fine and more experienced writers disagree with their points.

Do thank the person giving you feedback
Whether you like what you’re told or not, you should thank the people who give you feedback. They took the time to give you their opinion. Make it count by acknowledging their efforts.

Are there other points to consider?

I could list more guidelines if I worked at it, but in the end, you decide what suggestions you accept and what you don’t. It’s a subjective market, and not everyone will notice the same thing.

With that in mind, I'd love to hear how you decide what feedback to listen to and what to ignore? Please share in the Comments.

July 10, 2019

When Should You Listen to Writing Feedback? Part 1

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles

All writers need a reliable critique group or partner if they want to publish their best manuscript.

Even if you self-publish, relying on your family's and best friends' feedback is not wise. You’ll spend a lot of money and time on what probably isn’t your best work. If you want to sell books or catch the eye of an agent, knowledgeable feedback remains a significant part of the writing and revision process.

There are many guidelines about what’s acceptable in today’s publishing environment, many of which I’ve discussed in this blog. Without feedback from knowledgeable people, you may spin your wheels trying to get an agent. Or worse, you self-publish a book that fails to take off or gain positive reviews.

I've written numerous posts about critique groups and partners here if you want to explore this topic further.

The practice of critiquing someone's writing is often subjective, not objective. Two experienced people may give you conflicting information. That’s the nature of the business. Learning how to discern between valuable, useful, or invalid suggestions becomes a crucial skill for any determined writer.

How can you know when to disregard and when to listen to feedback?

Don’t ignore feedback because your favorite author violated the guideline proposed to you

When a novice writer first hears feedback about avoiding passive verbs or adverbs or some other unfamiliar guideline, many argue their favorite and well-known author doesn’t follow the guidelines. The problem with this argument lies in the words “well-known author.” The reasons professionals get away with breaking the rules can include:
  • The established author knows the rules and when it’s acceptable to bend them.
  • The referenced work is decades old. Writing guidelines, just like in any other industry, shift over time. What worked in the 1980s doesn’t necessarily fly in 2019.
  • Some authors get sloppy. Maybe they’re pushed to meet a deadline or struggling to get something on the page or feel like they’ve paid their dues. 

Any of these reasons could cause an author to cut a few corners. It doesn’t make it right. If they keep it up, they’ll eventually see the results in a declining audience or lost contract.

Don’t ignore feedback from someone with publishing credentials

Most authors and editors willing to give you feedback do so with good intentions. If you don’t agree with the suggestion, ask for further explanation. You don’t have to accept every piece of feedback as law, but you do need to consider its validity prior to accepting or vetoing it. Ask them to explain their reasoning. Can they give examples of why it’s important to consider? Can they suggest a better method or word or…?

Don’t accept “I don’t like this” feedback without an explanation

If someone objects or dislikes a word or scene or action or something else in your manuscript, they need to provide a reason why or a suggestion on how to correct it.

Some of us have writing biases. I can’t stand it when an author writes that someone "stepped" across the room.” I flag it every time I critique or edit someone’s work. Why? It feels like the writer tried hard not to say walked but couldn’t find a better synonym. Why not just say they walked across the room? Or use a more descriptive word such as stomped, tiptoed, shuffled, etc? Yet, despite my dislike of this verb choice, it still appears in many works. The decision falls to the writer on whether to use the feedback and my explanation or not.

Do question feedback that changes your story or your character

Occasionally, someone might tell you, “I don’t think your character would do this or say this,” or “I think this should happen in your story.” While it doesn't hurt to listen to their ideas, make sure it fits with the character you've developed. One way to create conflict in a story is for the character to act against their norm. Maybe a person who’s afraid of heights crawls out on a high ledge. Why did they do it? What propelled them to act out of character? That’s the compelling part of your story.

If the suggestion changes your story's plot, you don’t have to accept it, either. Before you discount this suggestion, consider what might happen if you take your story down the recommended path. Does the idea excite you? Will it  work with your premise?

Sometimes, the feedback will catch something that doesn’t fit. Thank them for catching it and then fix it. If they caught it, your reader will too.

Wait! There's more

I've covered four tips in this post. Come back next week for four more in part two of when you should listen to writing feedback.

July 4, 2019

Stories About the US National Anthem

Independence Day feels like the right day to share this story from a 2012 post on my other blog.

Most national events remind me of a story my fifth grade teacher told us about the national anthem.  While she was in high school, the teens of America voted on which song would become our national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner" or "America The Beautiful."  I remember thinking how stupid they were to choose "The Star Spangled Banner."  My young mind appreciated the melodic strains of "America the Beautiful" so much more.

Try as I might, I've found nothing on the internet about this election.  The details of how this song became our national anthem are slight.  After I ran the post in 2012, I received comments from four different people who had heard the story from an older relative. It turns out all of the school children voted on the song, and "My Country Tis" of Thee was, also, on the ballot.

What did I find on the internet about our national anthem?

It was commonly used by the Navy in 1889, and President Woodrow Wilson recognized it as our national anthem in 1916. It wasn't until 1931 that a congressional resolution officially established it as the US national anthem.  Before 1931, several patriotic songs served the purpose of an anthem when needed.

"Ripley's Believe It or Not!" ran a cartoon in 1929 stating that the US didn't have a national anthem.  This created a flood of letters to congress asking that they establish one.  Could the school children vote stem from this?

Nevertheless, Key's account of being detained on a British ship while they attacked Baltimore, his frustration, prayers, and concerns for his fellow countryman, and the glory of a sunrise revealing our flag still flying became the national anthem.

Over the years, I've come to love this song and often choke up over the sentiment.  Are there odd lyrics in the other stanzas?  Yes, if you don't know their history.  One in particular refers to the slaves that did not win.  It turns out that the British enlisted many freed slaves in their army, and those slaves asked to be on the front lines of this attack.  From Key's perspective, it rang of treason, so he gloried in their failure.

Over the years, the other stanzas have been left off due to their questionable nature.  We know the first verse, although some people still don't get it right.

Another person who commented on the 2012 post shared this:

... a singer [stated that] the beauty of "The Star Spangled Banner" is that it takes a “nation to sing it.” It wasn’t intended to be sung by a single person... growing up on base we heard The Star Spangled Banner frequently. It was played before every movie shown in the base theater — and we all had to stand with our hands over our hearts as it played. I almost think we should return to a few of the ceremonies from my youth. Playing The Star Spangled Banner before all movies, when TV stations shutdown at night...

I don't think any station signs off the air anymore, but believe it or not, they used to and played the anthem when they did.

If anyone reading this recalls any other details of this vote, please add them to the comments below this post.

Meanwhile, thank you for the efforts of so many people who stand up for our rights and freedoms by serving in our country's military.