Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tunnel Vision

Interior with head of a woman-- 1926--Mario Tozzi I’ve frequently been guilty of tunnel vision. I’m very Type A, and to me, staying the course sometimes means completing a project or train of thought.

You’ve sent me a Christmas card? You’re on my Christmas card list for life. I will continue sending you a card each year until I have proof of your demise in triplicate.

Change in schedule? I try to continue the original game plan for the day, while incorporating the change. In years past this meant carrying a squalling, unhappy toddler with me to lunch with a friend because someone eschewed naptime.

My first draft of my first book was the same way. Although I’ve never been a fan of outlines, I definitely had a plan for my book. I received well-meaning advice for my manuscript from first readers and a professional editor—but I was loath to take it. To me, it meant compromising my project. I wasn’t staying the course. And I felt the WIP was losing something that made it mine.

This inflexibility with editorial direction was, I now think, a sign of my immaturity…both as a writer and person.

At this point I’m open to both criticism and ideas. Bring them on! Usually even the toughest critique or harshest review has something useful I can take from it. Maybe it’s not something I can use for the current manuscript, but it might make a future book in the series stronger.

Tips for handling criticism and making it helpful:

Thank them for it. Even if I’m gritting my teeth, I’ll thank someone who criticizes my work in a non-nasty way. If they’ve taken the time to read my book or draft and think up ways to improve it, then they deserve some appreciation.

Don’t be defensive. When I’m defensive, I’m shutting down. I can’t be receptive to new ideas if I’m trying to defend something I wrote. And…it doesn’t really matter. Whether someone likes something I wrote or not isn’t up for debate. I don’t have any control over anyone else.

Consider the change. I write a quick version incorporating the advice and see if it’s better than I thought it would be.

Consider the essence of the criticism. Maybe there was a part that bothered your reader that they couldn’t exactly put their finger on. Perhaps they know there’s a problem with the protagonist, but they’re not a skilled enough reader to hone in on the exact nature of the problem. If a first reader says they didn’t like the character, find out why they didn’t. Was the character too static? Was the character whiny? Unbelievable?

Look for a second opinion. Have you got anyone else to read your draft? Did they stumble at the same spot? If not, ask them what they think of the criticism and whether or not it’s valid.

Is the criticism from your editor? Then…If my editor asks for the change? I just make it. For me, it’s always worked out better that way, even when I wasn’t jazzed about the change.

I’ve realized now that my books aren’t extensions of myself. They’re more of a collaborative effort—between me, my agent, my publisher, my readers…and even my critics. Once I came to that realization, it was all gravy.