This week, I would like to talk about the sacred art of giving and getting advice.
We'll look at some of the best advice--advice that just might change the way you approach your work--as well as the general kind. On Wednesday, we will initiate a new chapter in this blog: Craft Book of the Month. And we'll also hear from people who not just receive advice, but give it, too.
For today, we'll start with what I think is a pivotal experience in a writer's process. It is the most personal: the critique--advice you've received after someone has read your work.
Listening is a creative force. It liberates both the speaker and the listener. When you listen to someone completely, they will give you more. It is empowering—being listened to. And most important, when we listen, we have the ability to learn.
Listening is the most important component of the critique. When you allow someone else to read and comment on your work, it is your obligation to listen—to hear what they have to say. Of course, you don't have to accept every piece of advice. But sometimes, when we don't listen, we miss important impressions. And that includes the good stuff. How many times has someone said they don’t care about the strengths of a manuscript. “Just tell me what’s wrong.”
First piece of advice: You have to listen to the good stuff, too.
Listen to what is working.
Hear how your reader responds to what is best in your manuscript.
There are a lot of obstacles to listening:
Being preoccupied with something else.
Being so interested in what you want to say, that you are mainly listening for an opening.
Formulating your own rebuttal while someone else is speaking.
Listening to your own personal beliefs about what is being said.
Evaluating the speaker.
When we listen effectively or actively, we understand what the person is thinking and/or feeling from the other person’s own perspective. It is as if we were standing in the other person’s shoes, seeing through his/her eyes and listening through the person's ears. Our own viewpoint may be different and we may not necessarily agree with the person, but as we listen, we understand from the other's perspective. To listen effectively, we must be actively involved in the communication process, and not just listening passively.
In other words, LISTEN.
Tami Brown reports that the best advice she ever received came from Tim Wynne Jones. Tim told her that the solution to all her questions/problems (about plot and character) were already in the manuscript—in the first draft. There was no need to concoct something new or pull something out of the blue. Just read what you have. Trust that the solution is there. Build on what you know.
That's great advice!
This week, I will discuss more mantras and process-changing advice. On Friday, I’ll interview author/editor Jill Santopolo. Check out her first novel for middle grade readers, Alec Flint, Super Sleuth: The Nina, the Pinta, and the Vanishing Treasure, available now!