The Best Advice I Remember Receiving. . . .

. . . . generally, ironically, came from those family members and friends we should ideally avoid.

But they are the ones who will actually read your stuff.

  • My sister, who said of an early (and I suspect chaotic) draft of KOTR: “This isn’t a novel, it’s a character sketch.” Bingo. I may misremember, but I seem to recall I was on track with the trajectory that eventually did become a book within days.
  • My friend and academic colleague, who said (paraphrase) of a draft of a different novel, “I was so angry at the beginning. I didn’t know who this was, where she was, what was going on. I made myself keep reading [friends may do that], and I loved it. But the beginning doesn’t do it justice. You have to give me more help than that.”
  • A former student and one of the best writers and readers I know, who had the temerity to cross out whole pages of “character development” in my then-and-current-and-maybe-forever novel in progress: “They slow me down and besides they’re hard to read. I wanted to know what was going to happen.” Again, bingo. I actually had to admit they were hard for me to read, too, and beastly to write. Note to self: Most of the time, it’s the pace, stupid.
  • A former teacher who heroically read everything I gave her, about an even earlier draft of KOTR that I tried to render in first person (the one I went off into the woods to write, convinced that if I did nothing but write I’d make it happen): “I got tired of hearing him whine.” Boy, did that get my attention.
  • The professor and friend who said of my failed novel, “I couldn’t get into it. It was just a bunch of people sitting around a room talking.” If ever there was a wake-up call. . !
  • All the friends who’ve said, “Whose story is this?” I’ve been trying to keep that question before me in my current revision project, which, like so many of my projects, wants to spill out all over the place (my curse). (And there was the generous academic colleague who said gently of yet another project, “It’s just . . . just sort of overgrown“).

Now if I can just make use of these treasures—and get more.




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Filed under Learning to write, Myths and Truths for writers

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