Monday, July 21, 2014

6 Tips to Champion Your Story

I killed a story. It was up to its eleventh draft when I declared it gone. Death by over-work. It had had so many second opinions and so much uncertainty poured into it that it gave up its soul. In my attempt to tick all the boxes and follow all the rules, the story got lost, the voice got buried and the writing no longer sang.

There comes a time when we have to have the courage to say that's enough tweaking and fiddling, that's enough listening to our friends, neighbours and anyone willing to share an opinion on how a piece should be written. We have to stand by our work, with all its flaws, and push it out into the big wide world—and keep pushing it out there until you declare it dead, or someone falls in love with it and gives it a whole new life of its own.

Easier said than done, of course. But it does become easier if you've whipped the manuscript into shape, done the rounds with your critique partners, and given it some muscle so it's strong enough to stand on its own. After that, it helps to remember the tips below:

1. Not everyone will like your manuscript. This is an immutable fact and is no reflection on your ability as a writer. Neither does it mean your manuscript is terrible and therefore needs more tweaks. The trick is to find the people who will like your manuscript.

2. No manuscript will ever be perfect. While it's important to strive for perfection, if all you're doing is small tweaks, then that's enough. It’s time to stand behind your work and send it off.

3. Everyone will have an opinion about how to improve your work. Don't blindly follow everything everyone says, but don't close your ears to it either. Learn to measure the advice you're given. If the suggestions improve the story you're trying to tell, then go ahead and make the changes. Listen to what your story needs because you're the only one who can write it.

4. Believe in yourself. You have something important to say that's worth reading. People do want to read your work. You just have to find the right audience.

5. Remember the passion you had when you first began the story. That passion may have been trampled during the making of the story, after all the rewrites, after the multiple rejections, or after a poor review. Doubt has a way of killing passion. Don't let those doubts sway your love of writing.

6. Trust your voice. Writing what you think others will want to read is the fastest way to drain the magic and originality from a story. Yes, be aware of the market, but first and foremost, write the stories calling out from deep inside you. They are the stories which will shine.

In the fast-changing risk-averse publishing world, if you can't be your story's champion, then no one else will. Against the odds, how do you find the courage and conviction to stand behind your writing?

Lynda R Young
@LyndaRYoung

56 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Everyone will have an opinion - that is so true. If the person understands the essence of your story and what you are trying to accomplish, then those suggestions will be more valid. If not, then they can really mess up your story.

Elsie Amata said...

Wait. Are you telling me I'm not perfect AND people may not like my story? pfft! ;)

I dread that first critique of my book that doesn't say, "This is the best author I've ever read! Buy every book she puts out there and donate twice what she's asking!"

Oh, people don't say that? My bad.

Thanks, Lynda!!

Terri Tiffany said...

This post is perfect timing for me. I specially like number one. with my first book coming out, I have been so afraid that people won't like it. I need to remember the passion that I put into it. Thank you again!!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I love #4. If you can't believe in yourself, nothing else will matter.

Pat Hatt said...

Oh yeah, the opinion thing will be there from start to finish and beyond, just have to tune some out and away we go.

L.G. Smith said...

Yeah, I do believe a person can over-revise a novel and douse the spark it once had going for it. And imperfection is always more interesting than its opposite.

Oh, but I have the feedback jitters right now! I have to send my entire novel out to be read this week, and I have doubts. DOUBTS! But at least I know this person likes my novel already and will offer helpful feedback. I trust them, and that's key to sharing work. :)

Botanist said...

Beautifully put! I came to the same realization - especially #3 and #6 - a while ago when I saw exactly this happening to my opening chapter. Torn this way and that trying to take too much advice on board.

The trick is to still recognize the advice - especially when the message isn't welcome - that really will improve your story.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great tips - finding that balance of listening to your gut and outside opinions is so important!

Rachna Chhabria said...

I agree Lynda, that we cannot blindly follow what everyone says about our books and change it to suit them. The changes should resonate with us, the way we want the story to move.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Such great points. It's not always easy to sift through advice and critiques to find the things that are really helpful.

Linda Kay said...

Since I'm just about to jump off that cliff and publish my own original story, this was a huge encouragement. One has to concentrate on just enjoying having it out there just in case someone wants to read it. The characters you have lived with you mind need to meet the rest of the world.

Patricia Lynne said...

I remember my first story I put through the editing wringer. There was a point where I knew I could get it another pass, but also felt that if I did, I'd risk hurting the story. I called it done and got it published shortly after that.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

You'd think after 3 published works I'd have the confidence to know when and when not to listen to someone's advice. I still have a problem with that. It's so hard to trust myself. Great post, Lynda!

cleemckenzie said...

Oh, do I hear this message! I have one of those dead books. It's buried in an archived folder somewhere. One day I may exhume it and try a bit of voodoo to bring it back to life.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I've always been a perfectionist, though I wish that I wasn't; it'd be easier if I was one of those "go with the flow" types. But you're right that at some point it's important to take a step back and understand that nothing, including manuscripts, is perfect; it puts a lot of stress on us when we try to make it so.

Southpaw said...

I think the first three are the hardest to accept.

Joyce Ackley said...

I love this post! Thank you so much for it. It's just what I needed to hear. I sometimes overwrite and revise and tweak until I kill the story, just like you said. I listen to people and start doubting my own ability due to so many differing opinions.
I just keep working and working on a ms, and then I still find things I'd like to change even in published work! I was even reluctant to post on my blog about a recently published online story because of my lack of confidence in my work. I finally did share the news and got some positive comments.
I am going to print your article and read it often. Thanks again!

Patsy said...

It's true - stories can be overworked and spoiled as a result.

Tyrean Martinson said...

It's tough when people don't like my work, but usually I've found I want to quibble on details from CPs and betas. At that point, I have to take a step back and look at what's really important (the passion and the idea), then make a decision. I changed the name of a villain because "everyone" I shared my story with didn't like her name. I even took a poll on name ideas and had some good feedback that way. I'm glad I made that change.
However, there have been plot change suggestions that I can't/won't follow - I'm not bringing a character back from the dead to renew a relationship, etc. ... I meant there to be sadness in my fantasy setting because it fit with the whole point of my novel - finding a light and being a light in dark times.

Christine Rains said...

Sometimes it's hard to find the courage to stand behind your writing when you do want everyone to love it as much as you do. But you have to take the chance. It's worth it just for one person to love it as much as you do. That's where I find my courage.

Lynda R Young said...

Alex, I think that's why it's so important to find critique partners whom you trust.

Elsie, lol, I know, right? But, hey, one can dream ;)

Terri, big big hugs. I'm so glad this post might help you for your exciting debut.

Diane, so true

Pat, sounds simple, but it's not always. That's why we need reminders :)

Luanne, honestly, I feel you have no reason for your doubts. You've worked hard on your story and you certainly have the talent. Of course, doubts have a way of nipping around the edges anyway, so go do something to take your mind off them ;)

Botanist, as with most things, that recognition of helpful advice takes time and practice.

Jemi, thanks

Rachna, well said.

Susan, nope, it's not easy, but I think it becomes easier the more we do it.

Lynda R Young said...

Linda, this makes me so happy to hear. Good luck with your exciting jump.

Patricia, it's great you were able to recognise that.

Joylene, Give it more time and I think it will slowly become easier.

Lee, do the voodoo you do so well ;)

Workaholic, yeah, I hear ya. I'm one of those perfectionists as well and it's taken a loooong time to get to where I am.

Southpaw, agreed

Joyce, this makes me so happy to hear.

Patsy, the trick is knowing where the line is.

Tyrean, I like the "majority rules" factor when it comes to listening to multiple critique partners. It helps to know what really isn't working and what is.

Christine, like you said, taking that chance is well worth it if it means you're able to reach even just one person.

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm sorry you had to let your story go. Maybe it's just for now. Maybe at some point you can return with new eyes. Or it will be a learning experience and your new piece will reflect what you've learned.

It's often hard to know what voices to listen to and when to go with my gut. I sometimes worry that what I take as gut may be stubbornness.

Lynda R Young said...

Theresa, oh I don't mind that the story died. It sometimes happens. As I've said before, no writing is wasted writing. And maybe I will go back to it some day to fix it up.

And yes, it is difficult to know what to listen to when there is that stubborness factor. What I sometimes do in those cases is try the change and if it has improved the story, then I keep it, otherwise I revert back to how it was. Time away from the story also helps to give me a fresh perspective.

Michelle Wallace said...

No's 1,2 & 3 are the scariest... and I think that when the going gets tough, self-belief and passion will get you over those hurdles!
Great post, Lynda!

Jen Chandler said...

This is a great post! Too many times we try to get things perfect and end up editing a work to death. I like that you said there are people out there who want to read our work. The real trick is finding them. Great post!

Tonja said...

I absolutely agree. I had the first 20 pages of my novel workshopped at a writer's conference last week. When I looked at the comments, just about half loved particular paragraphs. The other half didn't.

The instructor in my workshop had comments that completely contradicted the comments from an instructor from a different group that reviewed my manuscript.

I told the class about that experience and that you have to write for your tribe, for people that are likely to read your writing - not for everyone.

The last word the instructor had at the end of the week was to consider everyone's feedback equally and to revise based on all of it. I strongly disagree with that.

J Q Rose said...

Just like a lovely piece of steak, one can overcook a story too. Great advice. Yes, starting a story with great passion and then hating it at the end is not how you want to feel.Thanks for sharing!

T. Drecker said...

If you mix everyones opinions, there will be nothing left but grey. The art is in trying to decide what opinions really can help and which ones don't. If several cps/betas are saying the same thing, I tend to listen, but when their opinions differ, I try to go with my gut. I don't think there's such a thing as a 'perfect' story, but one that we love.

J.L. Campbell said...

Hi, Lynda,

After we've been writing for a while, we should get to the point where we trust our writing and know how to sift through advice and use what's helpful.

Good post.

Lexa Cain said...

I really get where you're coming from, and I've followed this advice until recently. But the lure of listening to agents, editors and trusted CPs is too great. I know a number of people who are writing out of their genre, and I'm writing something I think is commercial but doesn't feed my soul. I'm hoping it will feed my pocket, which would be a nice change. ;)

Shell Flower said...

Great advice. I think #5 is the most important. Yeah, it's important to get feedback and listen to what is being said, but it really comes down to it being YOUR story. Killing darlings is necessary sometimes, but only when it resonates with your true vision of the story.

Deanie Humphrys-Dunne said...

Excellent article with great advice. we all need reminders about these things from time to time. Good job.

Teresa Cypher said...

Excellent, excellent...

#3 really strikes a chord with me. I used to think that everyone who offered advice was an expert, because, well...I wasn't a real writer yet, right? lol. It's a challenge, and can be such a long road, reaching the place where you trust your own voice and know that a lot of people will offer (although well-intended) advice that's pretty bad. Wonderful post, Lynda. :-)

krystal jane said...

So, so true. There has to be stopping point. We have to have a limit on how much feedback we'll seek out and how many drafts we'll do because there will always, always be something we can change. We need to live our stories and fight for them because we're the only ones who can.

Chrys Fey said...

Great tips! Especially the first three. We always have to remember that our manuscripts/books won't be liked by everyone, and that there is no such thing as the perfect manuscript/book. There will always be a flaw, and there will always be haters.

Nana Prah said...

As always. Wonderful advice.

Crystal Collier said...

Excellent advice, and definitely timely...anytime. =) It was a shock to me initially that my stories didn't ring with everyone, almost to the point where I feared pushing them. But then, you never know who will love your work, right?

Lynda R Young said...

Michelle, self-belief and passion will carry us a long, long way.

Jen, thanks

Tonja, yep, there are so many conflicting opinions and it can confuse the poor writer.

JQ, when we get into analytical mode for revisions, it's easy to fall out of love with our manuscripts. It's important to find the passion again.

T. Drecker, weighing opinions truly is an art.

Joy, yep, it's the lack of confidence that make us doubt.

Lexa, will email you.

Shell, and for that reason, having a clear vision for your story is just as important.

Deanie, totally agree about the reminders. Thanks.

Teresa, a very long road. I think the first step is recognising that you are, after all, a real writer.

Krystal, exactly right.

Chrys, and there's no point focusing on the haters.

Nana, thanks :)

Crystal, I hope you never stop 'pushing them'.

Melissa said...

I agree. Once you get the basics down, you need to really filter the advice. After two MSs, I finally got to a point I was secure in my writing and was much better at deciding which comments I needed to heed and which I could ignore.

Lori L MacLaughlin said...

Your description of the death of your story made me sad. The stories I create are like real people to me with lives of their own. I couldn't bear one of them "dying." Thanks for the encouraging post. I'm about to self-publish my first novel and I'm often plagued by the Doubts. I'll be reading this many times in the future.

Carol Kilgore said...

Excellent! In the end, it all boils down to trusting yourself as a writer and storyteller.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

Great advice, stated in a very palatable way. So much of it is about self confidence. Isn't it?

Dean K Miller said...

I actually got "there" with my first book and even though this is one thing I'd change, I am proud of it and all its not-so-perfect glory. As I work on book two, I find myself right back at the start, trying to avail myself of the demons you mention. Working on it, knowing the end is near and when I reach it, I shall smile.

Lynda R Young said...

Melissa, it does get easier over time.

Lori, One day I might go back and give the story another try. Best wishes for your self-publishing venture.

Carol, exactly right.

Rawknrobyn, self confidence is a huge factor in not only writing well, but getting that writing out there for others to read.

Dean, being proud of your work in its "not-so-perfect glory" is the best thing you can do. And it makes the hard slog of writing so satisfying in the end.

Doreen McGettigan said...

Most of us have had "Never Give Up" drummed into our heads so when we must it just doesn't feel right.

Haneen I. Adam said...

Good tips! 5 in particular is the one I often find myself needing the most :)

Chemist Ken said...

Yep, worrying about making sure all the rules are followed definitely throws a wrench into my writing. If I don't start relaxing a bit, I'll never get my story finished.

Carol Riggs said...

Ah, trampled passion. That totally can happen to a story. This is a great run-down and list, Lyn! Onward to keeping the passion and believing in ourselves enough to improve and write more. :)

Blue Grumpster said...

 Death by over-work. It had had so many second opinions and so much uncertainty poured into it that it gave up its soul... The exact same thing happened when I wrote my PhD. The powers that were should've trusted my voice or should've loved their own less. But I was young and impressionable :(

Lynda R Young said...

Doreen, it is sometimes a difficult decision to make, but as I often say, 'No writing is wasted writing" and it's okay to make room for something new.

Haneen, that's why we need reminders

Ken, It can be a bit like that at times :)

Carol, yep, we just have to keep writing. Thanks for popping over.

Blue, ah yes, while youth is the first to go, being impressionable isn't always so fast on its tail ;) At least we do eventually learn.

G. B. Miller said...

Over the years I've been battered from pillar to post about my writing, and while it may have created long periods (like years) of self-doubt, it never killed the passion/determination that I have with my writing.

I still keep plugging away, writing what I'm comfortable with, and if my writing isn't your cup of tea, so be it.

Father Nature's Corner

Suze said...

This was a strong post on a vital topic, Lyn.

Denise Covey said...

I hear you Lyn. I'm getting conflicting opinions on my WIP, to the extent I wonder what I'm doing to my characters at the moment. I'm going to have to listen to my inner reader and go my own way or I'll be tossing 2 year's work onto the bonfire.

Heather McCubbin said...

It's so nice to hear people say this "aloud" (well, you know what I mean). Perfection is thrown at us so much these days that we have to step back and remember we, as writers, are writing for us...we have something to tell! Also, it is a form of Art, people WILL view it differently. Thanks for reminding us of this fact!

Lynda R Young said...

GB, keep plugging away :)

Suze, thanks so much

Denise, noooo, no tossing please! Definitely listen to your inner reader.

Heather, Anything creative sparks so many differing opinions. We just have to remember that.