Advice You Really Should Take To Heart. (Not That It’s Easy.)

21 Sep

Things you don't really WANT to know, but kind of NEED to know. (See also: advice you really should take to heart.)

If you’ve been reading writing blogs for any decent amount of time, you are probably aware that your (somewhat) finished WIP comes with a warning label:

Once you finish your (first, second, third, thirtieth) draft, DO NOT PICK IT UP AND TRY TO EDIT IT UNLESS YOU’VE LET ENOUGH TIME PASS.

If you’re like me, you proceeded to ignore said advice.

And then you proceeded to promptly throw your beautiful horrible draft as far away from you as possible so it wouldn’t bite your face off.

Oh, wait.

You haven’t done this?

Well.  You must not have given it to six different readers, all of whom have incredibly sharp wits, kind hearts, and the invaluable willingness to tell you exactly what you need to hear in order to turn your sort-of-kind-of-almost-but-not-quite-there-yet manuscript into something BETTER.

The good thing about this?  I love, love, love, Love, LOVE that their feedback is going to strengthen the work I care about so much.

The hard thing about it?  It really IS true that objectivity requires distance.  Without distance, the manuscript is THE thing you’ve poured your heart into, THE product of all those difficult hours, THE accomplishment you’re proud of.  And it makes it really hard to hear that it still needs work, EVEN THOUGH YOU ABSOLUTELY, 100% AGREE with most of the feedback you’re getting.  You know it’s not perfect, and yet it’s still hard to deal with the fact that it’s not perfect.

Another hard thing?  Not everyone agrees on what works and what doesn’t.  One reader thinks a character was particularly effective, while someone else thinks the same character wasn’t very fleshed out at all.  Another character rocks someone’s world, while at the same time confusing another reader.  One says cut that element, while another says that was one of my favorite things!

Getting conflicting feedback when you’re thisclose to the manuscript is like being on a rollercoaster.  Your work is being challenged (in a good way and for the better), and it’s tempting to take every single thing to heart as it comes in.  Either that, or only listen to the things that make you feel good (which are NOT always the same things you and your manuscript NEED to listen to).


What does a person do in this situation?

The hard thing.  Which is also the best thing.

  • WAIT. Even though it’s not easy, and you’re passionate about doing more–wait.  Wait because you’re passionate.  Passion will stand in the way of doing hard things you might need to do.  And because you’re passionate, you want the very best for your work.  Waiting counts as hard work, so don’t let yourself feel lazy.  It. Is. Hard.
  • LISTEN. Listen to everything, even the things that make you angry or want to cry.  Chances are, those things are problems you know need to be dealt with.  Dealing with them will make your work stronger.  Listen to your trusted friends.  (I suppose it’s possible that even people you don’t trust can give you useful feedback.  I wouldn’t know, though.  So far, the only readers I’ve had are people I trust and respect.)  At the end of the day, listen to what best serves the story YOU set out to tell.
  • HANDS OFF. Do not touch the manuscript until after a) you’ve had enough distance to be objective, and b) all your critiques are in.  I didn’t come up with this piece of advice.  I read it, among other helpful things, here and here (Oh, Natalie Whipple, you rock.) and here (You rock, too, Merrilee Faber.).   I read all of these posts just in time to pry my eager little fingers away from making changes too early.
  • MULL IT OVER. A lot.  This, too, can look like laziness to those of us who thrive on typing, scratching things out, making manuscripts bleed.  Mulling is anything but lazy, though.  Mulling can happen in the shower, in those first few minutes when you wake up, the last few minutes before you fall asleep, while you’re in line at the grocery store, while you’re sweating in yoga.  It’s not as tangible as diving in and fixing things, which is what makes it hard.
  • WAIT. Yes, again.
  • DO SOMETHING ELSE THAT IS PRODUCTIVE WHILE WAITING. Why?  Because waiting can be incredibly draining and annoying.  We are writers.  It’s what we do.  I was feeling particularly impatient over the weekend, so I spent several hours working on an idea that’s been lingering in my head for months.  Nothing like a no-pressure first draft to defuse the pressure we put on ourselves to succeed with that one VIP (Very Important Project).
  • THINK. On paper.  On computer.  On Starbucks napkins.  On the palm of your hand.  In your head.  About the easy fixes and the ugly truths.  About how much you love your crit partners for loving you enough to be honest with you.
  • THEN EVALUATE AND FIX. The light at the end?  It’s still there.  You just might spend more time in that dark tunnel than you initially expected.  Be patient and do your best work.  (For example, read Merrilee’s take on Creative Revision.)  Hold out hope that your hard work will be worth it.

These are the things I’m learning from other people who have been there.  Waiting is HARD.  Harder than it seems when you’re merely reading posts about it.  I’m itching to work on this manuscript, but am forcing myself to wait a little longer.

If you didn’t already, click on the links to Merrilee’s and Natalie’s blogs.  These are excellent posts about what to do with feedback once you get it.

PS: That ALLIGATOR LIVES IN CANAL sign is from a rental car place in Florida.  Can I just take a minute to tell you how glad I am that I didn’t feel a pressing urge to frolic in the canal? (Not that such urges are the norm for me.  I prefer to frolic in private places like my living room.) An alligator bite may have put a bit of a damper on an otherwise incredible vacation!


9 Responses to “Advice You Really Should Take To Heart. (Not That It’s Easy.)”

  1. Carol Ann Hoel Tuesday / 21 September 10 at 1:45 pm #

    Great post, Kayla. I know what it is to come back to a cold MS. Enlightening! Sentences that I could recite with my eyes closed when I put down the MS, after waiting a while, I could read as though I’d never read them before. This is the objectivity that is impossible to achieve when we are too close. Thank you for sharing.

    • Kayla Olson Friday / 8 October 10 at 9:42 am #

      You’re welcome! I’m hoping that will be my experience when I start revising in the next couple of weeks! 🙂

  2. J.C Tuesday / 21 September 10 at 3:18 pm #

    So hard to remember that light at the end of the tunnel, but this is a wonderful post and when I am at that stage of an MS again, I’ll be coming back to it for a timely reminder.
    It’s one of the points at which people give up, I think. But those who take the time, and do another round, and another if it needs it, are the ones who are more likely to get a publishing deal than the ones who go ‘stuff it, its good enough’ and start submitting before an MS is ready (am totally guilty of that, lol but that was then, and I’m different now).

    • Kayla Olson Friday / 8 October 10 at 9:56 am #

      Aw, thanks, Cassie! Yes, I can see how some people give up here. First drafts, and even second drafts, are hard — third drafts are even more difficult. The idea of doing more, and more beyond that? Daunting. I guess you have to really believe it’s worth the discipline and not-so-fun things to push forward. Luckily, I do. 🙂 Sounds like you do, too.

      PS: I’m so glad you’ve been feeling better lately, and that NPI is going well so far!! 🙂

  3. Megs Tuesday / 21 September 10 at 6:15 pm #


    A humorous way of reminding us (and being reminded) of the painful necessities of the writing life. Lest ye burn the dread remains. :thinks steadily upon her own attempts at revising In This Wood and nods solemnly: If there is any work that truly requires patience, it is creative work. I find that whether I’m writing or revising or designing graphics, always there is a need for patience, to pay attention to the small details, to not be so anxious to have others applaud my work, to get it RIGHT instead of DONE. God is in the details, as they say, and that takes TIME.


    Ah, well.

    Thanks for letting us share in your adventures and may you be blessed with an outpouring of supernatural patience! :grins:

    • Kayla Olson Friday / 8 October 10 at 9:56 am #

      Oh, Megs, you’re so great. Thanks. 🙂 I’m so glad you’ve been writing and revising again. Let me know when it’s ready for readers, because I totally still want to read for you.

      I wish that outpouring of supernatural patience back atcha, my friend. 🙂

  4. Abby Stevens Monday / 27 September 10 at 9:47 am #

    Hi Kayla,

    I found your blog through Holly Dodson, and I just wanted to say this post is excellent advice. (And I, too, love Natalie Whipple).

    Also, when I was visiting Sanibel Island, Florida, my husband and I spotted the same type of “WARNING: ALLIGATORS” sign. It sorta freaked me out… 😛

  5. Abby Stevens Monday / 27 September 10 at 9:51 am #

    Oh my, I’m sorry Kayla! I found you through Molly Brewer, not Holly Dodson (although she is lovely, and has a great blog, too!). Too many tabs open at once, ha ha!

    • Kayla Olson Friday / 8 October 10 at 9:59 am #

      Abby! Thanks so much for your sweet comments! I’m glad we’re friends now, and that you found me through Molly’s blog. Molly’s awesome. 🙂

      I guess the WARNING: ALLIGATORS signs are working, despite the freak-out factor. You and I both escaped without incident, haha.

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