The other week, I talked about how to find the right editor for us: the right kind with the right strengths and the right style. At the end of that series, I pointed out how one of the most important considerations is that we trust our editor.
There’s a reason I emphasized that point over and over. And that reason ties in to how we draft, revise, and edit—whether we use paid professional help or not.
Sometimes the best way to improve our writing is to have to justify the choices we’ve made. Having to justify our choices ensures that everything on the page is intentional.
Being Intentional with Our Writing
Everything we write should be intentional—the words we use, the events we emphasize, the emotions we evoke, the themes we build, etc. But there are many ways our writing might not match our intentions.
We might discover that we have…:
- Failed to Get Our Thoughts on the Page: Before we can accurately capture the story in our head, we have to know what we intend to convey.
- Unintended Themes: Themes are created through several elements, which can conflict or create themes opposite from our intentions.
- Unintended Subtext: Broken subtext can undermine our intended themes, premise, or characterizations.
- Mismatched Emotions: Over- or under-playing characters’ emotions changes the reader’s impression of them, which might not match our intentions.
- Mismatched Emphasis: Different writing techniques emphasize (or de-emphasize) story events, so we should match the writing style to the intended emphasis (i.e., showing requires more words, which then results in a stronger emphasis).
Do We Know Our Intentions?
It’s easy to receive feedback that conflicts. One beta reader might love something another reader hates. Or maybe one reader tells us to cut something that another beta reader thinks is important.
Or worse, we might get feedback that sounds good, but also receive other feedback that sounds good too. Yet neither of those options are quite the story we wanted to tell. Different doesn’t necessarily mean better.
In cases where feedback is confusing or doesn’t feel right, it’s important for us to know our intentions. Our intentions for a story, character, or scene can be the rudder steering us straight through the chaos of revisions and edits.
If we know what we intended, we only have to figure out which advice and feedback will help us get to where we want to go. And that’s a far better situation than following every piece of advice that “sounds good.”
The Difference Trust Makes
When We Don’t Have Trust…
When we receive feedback from beta readers, critique partners, or editors that we don’t trust, our default response to each suggestion might be “No, unless you give me a reason to listen.”
In other words, when we don’t trust that the person giving us feedback truly understands our goals for our story, it’s much easier to dismiss their feedback—no matter how good it is.
- If they question why a character does abc, we might delete that comment and scoff: “It was right there on the previous page. You must have missed it.”
- If they point out a potential problem with a story beat, we might ignore the comment and grumble: “They’re trying to change my story to something it’s not.”
Now, maybe we’re absolutely in the right. Maybe we have a reason for not trusting their feedback. *smile*
Or maybe, we’re far too quick at thinking our intentions made it onto the page, and in truth, we could have made something clearer. Yet our lack of trust in the feedback can prevent us from questioning ourselves.
When We Do Have Trust…
On the other hand, when we trust the person giving us feedback—when we trust that they get our story and our voice—our default response to every suggestion might be “Yes, unless I can come up with a reason to disagree.”
In other words, when we trust our editor (or beta reader or critique partner), we’re more likely to listen and take the time to justify our choices.
That justification often comes back to thinking about our intentions. Did we have a reason for writing abc that way? Did we mean to do xyz?
When we trust the person giving us feedback, if we can’t justify our decisions for writing it a certain way, we’re far more likely to take their suggestions. That means when we work with those who have earned our trust, we’ll be far less likely to be lazy with our revising and editing.
Using Trusted Feedback to Be More Intentional
No matter how much we try to be intentional when we draft stories, lazy writing will always sneak in:
- We might use vague words like big, good, thing, etc. *raises hand*
- We might shortchange a character’s motivation or emotional response.
- We might hand-wave away a plot hole, etc.
We often need feedback from others to call us on those weaknesses in our writing. Their comments can keep our lazy-brain from getting away with less-than-stellar prose. However, we’re also more likely to listen to feedback if we trust the source.
When we trust the comments enough to spend the time seeing if we can justify the writing on the page, we’ll end up with stronger, more intentional writing. We’re more likely to dig deeper:
With feedback about a section where our character is unlikable:
- Did we have a reason for including it, or was this just what popped into our head first?
- Is that reason important, or should we cut this section?
- Can we fulfill that reason and get rid of the unlikable bits at the same time?
With feedback about a plot hole:
- Is this the way the story really needs to play out?
- Can we come up with better motivations for our characters?
- Would more or deeper stakes help?
With feedback about a cliché:
- What are we trying to say here?
- How can we write it fresher?
- Or is it better to simply cut the line?
That’s hard work. It’s far easier to just say that something is “good enough.”
Forcing ourselves out of lazy-brain mode takes energy. Sometimes we might have the mental strength to take every comment and suggestion in feedback seriously, but sometimes we won’t.
In those cases, we might need a reason to take feedback seriously enough to put in the time and energy to revise and edit right. Trusting the feedback we’ve received can make that difference.
Are We Doomed If We Don’t Have a Trusted Feedback Source?
If we don’t have a source of trusted feedback, we can fake it. All we need to do is push ourselves to ensure that we have a justification for every issue we receive feedback on. Even if we think the answer is obvious, or even if we think the feedback is stupid, we can still push ourselves to take the time and make sure.
When our writing is at its best, every word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, scene, plot event, story beat, and subtextual cue will be intentional. But our lazy-brain can trick us into slapdash writing.
We often need a kick in the pants to force us to question our choices and make sure they match our intentions. Trusted feedback—where our default response is to assume they’re right unless we can justify our choices—or forcing ourselves to take untrusted feedback seriously, can be just the kick we need. *smile*
Do you catch yourself doing lazy-brain writing sometimes? Does feedback help you find those issues, or do you have other techniques for fixing them? Do you have a default assumption about feedback, from assuming it’s right to assuming it’s wrong? What flips that default response for you? Is it trust or something else?Pin It