Wednesday, February 9, 2011

On Following Advice

I think I drive my kids a little crazy sometimes.

Frequently I’ll be driving somewhere in town and wonder how my GPS would tell me how to reach our destination. I know how to get there. But I wonder if my route is really the most efficient way.

So I punch in the destination and the GPS lady drones on, telling me which turn to take. “Take a right on Sar-deez Road North,” she orders.

I very rarely follow the GPS lady’s advice.

“Mom,” my son will say through teeth that sound gritted, “why didn’t you make the turn that she mentioned?”

“Oh, there’s way too much traffic on that road. It’ll be bumper to bumper. And there are stoplights practically every ten feet. The GPS lady doesn’t know that. I’ll just go straight and we’ll get there faster.”

“Why then,” asks my son, very reasonably, “don’t you just turn off the GPS? Her voice is annoying. And you never follow her directions anyway.”

But I don’t turn it off. Because sometimes she gives me an interesting alternate route that I hadn’t thought of. Some days there’s an accident or a delay of some kind on my preferred route…some sort of roadblock…and I need a different direction to follow.

You can see where this is going. But this is how I look at first reader advice—whether it’s advice from a critique group or a friend or family member.

Your first readers may give advice that’s very useful. Or they may give you advice that you just listen to, thank them for, and completely disregard as you continue on your own course.

Sometimes you may get conflicting suggestions from different critique readers. I’ve heard several writers talk about how confusing that can be and how they aren’t sure whose advice they should listen to.

But then there are those helpful nuggets of advice that can put your story on a new and different course when you’ve hit a roadblock.

Ultimately, you should listen to your gut when you write your story. You usually know the best route to take with your book. Take the alternate course when it makes sense or when it’s more efficient. (Editors, of course, are a different story. I make a point of always following their suggestions.)

After all—ultimately, you’re the one behind the wheel.