Huh. Well, this one is a bit of a doozy.
You write, and write, and write, and you think you’re getting better. In fact, you think your latest piece—whether it’s a story, a poem, a novel, an essay—is pretty damn good. But, you’re also conscientious and maybe you’re entering a competition or putting it somewhere for the world to read, so you ask a few people to read over it for you.
Oh man. Buckle in.
Where to start with this one? To kick it off, I’d like to say that if you have a small group of talented, painstaking and helpful friends out there who will proofread your work for you, you should be super grateful. SUPER GRATEFUL (just in case anyone missed that bit). I know, because I spent a long time feeling incredibly uncomfortable and uncertain getting anyone to read my work. Some people would kind of ignore my request or never get around to it, some just wouldn’t give me any feedback whatsoever and some didn’t give me anything very concrete to work with. All of those kind of defeat the point of getting someone to read your work, right? And not only that, but those situations are both frustrating and demoralising. So, if you’ve found those precious and elusive few people who will read your work, that is awesome. You’re probably already ahead of the eight-ball.
It would be a bit naive, however, to expect that you’re always going to like what you hear. I mean, I’m putting my writing out there to IMPROVE it, and me, so I want people to tell me what I’m doing wrong (or right). Which, inevitably, means someone is going to tell you that they don’t like something you’ve done.
It’s just a fact of life that you’re not always going to agree with other people’s opinions of your work. Sometimes they’re not going to like something that you love, or want you to remove a favourite phrase. It’s a bit of an uncomfortable situation to be in, because it invariably creates a tug-of-war between what you think you should do, and what someone else believes would be better for your work. It only gets more complicated when you send your work to a bunch of different people and they all have conflicting ideas about how the story should read.
Here’s the truth: if someone doesn’t like what you’ve written, or how you’ve written it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re wrong. [Disclaimer: it doesn’t also necessarily mean that you are right. That’s where it can get a little bit tough.] I believe it’s very, very important to be open to feedback, but all writers and all readers are different, and there will always be varying opinions on what you produce. The true challenge is the ability to make yourself vulnerable enough to ask for, and receive, feedback from people openly. Unfortunately as we go along, we have to develop our own capacity to be critical and discriminatory about our work, and part of that is the ability to be able to positively integrate feedback.
Harness proofreaders. Use them! And when they provide their opinions of your work, consider their point of view and their concerns about your writing. Try (it’s tough, but try anyway) to lay aside your emotional connection to your work. Then, evaluate this feedback. Having wonderful people there to read your work is a blessing, and disagreeing with some of their comments is merely part of that blessing. It allows you to both consider aspects or ideas you otherwise might not have, and continue to really cement what is or isn’t important to you in your writing. In the end, mastery is being able to successfully weave together your writing style, your story, your voice, and other people’s perspectives, to create a well-crafted and lovingly-polished piece that will achieve what you want that story to achieve.
At the end of the day, the responsibility remains yours, as the writer, to pursue what you believe to be the best path for your work. After all, it’s yours: it’s your name after the title, it’s your idea and your creation and you want it to remain yours. If you rework a piece to the point where your style/voice and quirks have disappeared, then it may as well have been written by someone else… Which I cant help but feel kind of defeats the whole purpose of being a writer. It’s your unique voice that people want to hear, so hone it, develop it, receive feedback on how to improve.
But remember that you are the writer. Right or wrong, the final say is yours.
Now, get out there and hug your proofreaders (in person or cyber-hug, whatever options you have) and do some more writing for them to read (as a reward for all their hard work to date).