Friday, May 15, 2009

Writers and Toddlers: We're More Alike than You Think

The other night I decided to brave putting my three year old and twenty month old to bed together. I figured they'd play, etc. Ten minutes later I heard the three year old crying. I ran in and found him standing by the side of his little brother's crib, crying his little heart out. I scooped him up and asked what was wrong.

Sniffling, voice quavering, he said, "Sean's throwing toys at me."

The poor thing! I pulled him close and gave him lots of kisses, but I couldn't help but giggle too.

Nate could have moved at any time to avoid toy bombs. Instead of taking stock of his situation and making the logical choice to step away from the crib, he stayed and got pelted. Repeatedly.

This reminded me of some contest entries I'm going through for a previous manuscript which was rejected largely for characterization issues.

Before I'd ever subbed the manuscript, I had the judged scores. Little toy missiles aimed my way. As I went through these scoresheets the other day, I felt like slapping myself in the forehead.

Over and over, the judges (of different contests) pointed out flaws in my characterization. Lack of motivation, lack of empathy for the hero, concern over not enough info.

This was something I could have fixed. I should have fixed. If only I'd seen it.

But like Nate, I didn't see the logical course at the time and in the end got konked in the head with a rejection.

I know some of you have entered contests. Some of you have finaled recently (woohoo Eileen and Jody!).

How do you plan on dealing with your comments? Do you have a certain way of figuring out what's sound advice and what's subjective?

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

LOL. Oh, I think we've all gone back to these older versions of our ms and thought - good grief!

Contest comments can be - difficult to decipher. The one thing that I look for is a repitition in what the judges say. Then I run it by my writing partners. Sometimes I even try the changes and see if it makes the desired impact. If not - no loss - I have the original anyway.

Some suggestions are sound, others a matter of personal judge preference. But in every comment, there should be a way you can utilize what you're told, to learn from it. Whether that's to make the changes that make sense, or to look deeper into what the judge mentioned.

Even if the advice isn't something you want to use, looking up facts, asking questions, and trying to see your work from another's POV, can all help to strengthen your skills as a writer.

And the image you put in my head of the boys had me laughing. Thanks!

Candi

Jessica said...

Hi Candi,
Great comment. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said. At the time I received results, I didn't notice the repetition but now I know to look for it.
LOL about the kids. I'm sure yours have done the same things! :-)

Jennifer Shirk said...

Candi's comments are spot on. :)

Writing and judging is VERY subjective, so you really have to step back and see what really applies to your story and your voice.

I like your analogy, though!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I'm bad, but poor little Nate's dilemma made me laugh out loud. Blowing motherly kisses his way!

GREAT analogy, Jessica!!

I used to change everything suggested, which in turn messed up my voice gigantically. Now, I'm finding if it's a generic type comment being given and it's affirmed by at least one other then I'll work on the ms to better that area. But if they go so far as to suggest a SPECIFIC scene change, which usually seems cliche to me, I leave it. That's their style, not mine. I still struggle to hold my ground with this--confidence still isn't the best--but at least I'm getting better.

All I can suggest is to revise in YOUR OWN VOICE. If it's not an idea you came up with, then it probably shouldn't be in YOUR manuscript. Take the repeated general suggestions and make them uniquely you! That's what I'm working on doing, anyway.

Jessica said...

Thanks Jennifer. :-) I think one of the most important things a new writer should know is how subjective judging is. I know as a newbie I tended to take everyone's opinion as gold.
It just isn't. :-)

Jessica said...

Eileen, that's very true about creating your own scenes, etc. I guess I was like you too, changing everything.
I'm so excited about your final!

Terri Tiffany said...

I loved reading the comments. ALways learn so much from them. I know when I did the Faithwriter challenges and I was a judge--much of it is subjective too. When others critiqued my work, I'd change what the general vote was but leave what was me.

Jessica said...

That's smart Terri.

I love reading comments too. So many of you have such a great knowledge. I feel like I'm constantly learning from you.

Janna Qualman said...

You know, I've seen this with my kids, too, so I can visual the correlation. Great analogy!

I love the name Nate!

Jessica said...

I like "Nate" too. It just has a strong connotation for me.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Jessie:
What a cute story, and how wise of you to draw this analogy from it!

The only contest i've entered is the one on Gumbo Writer.
If I win a critique, I will have to pray about any negative comments, to see if they are useful and inspired. I tend to just change things willy nilly if anyone thinks i should, because I'm way too addicted to others' approval. I need to seek the Lord more, asking "What would you have me do?"
Jen

ElanaJ said...

This is so hard to do. Many times when we get feedback (from anyone, critmates, judges, agents) we think we have to change everything. We really don't. Publishing is so subjective. Just because agent A didn't like something doesn't mean agent B won't.

That doesn't mean I think you should ignore all advice and keep getting pelted with the toys. I think it means you have to be honest with yourself and with your story and listen. Think about what they've said. Decide if your MS would be improved with their suggestion. If so, make the changes. If not, and you feel it's their opinion only--and you disagree--don't change it.

That's what I do.

Irritable Mother said...

Hmmm, have I ever sat in the line of fire when I could have stepped aside?
Yeah, I might have something in common with a toddler, too.

Cute story, Jessica!

Jessica said...

LOL Jen. Yes, I am the fount of all wisdom! Snort. :-)

I just love having kids. They teach us so much about everything. It's crazy.

I like what you said about seeking God. I don't do that near enough with my writing.

Jessica said...

Hi Elana,
Great comment. Especially your advice about whether a crit improves the manuscript. That's a great point to consider. Sometimes a critter will ask or request info be added, and it's important to seriously weigh whether that info in that scene will improve the manuscript or not.
Thanks for commenting!

Jessica said...

LOL Karen,
We've def. done this in more than just writing!

Marybeth said...

I suppose if they are the soft toys like teddy bears and Popples, it's not too bad. But watch out for getting hit in the head with cars and Barbies! OUCH :D

Great Metaphor Jessica!

quixotic said...

Yes we do have a lot in common with toddlers. Don't forget about the immediate temper tantrums that follow a bad critique of our work. I've been known to figuratively throw myself on the floor kicking and screaming, I hate you. LoL.

I haven't received feedback yet to a contest I’ve recently subbed, but I know I am putting myself in the line of fire and there is no way to avoid getting hit with a few bad comments.

Kristen Painter said...

I'm kind of past the point of entering contests. At this stage, I know what works in my writing and what doesn't. If I listen to my gut, it tells what needs fixing.

Contests and critiques can sometimes cause more damage than offer help.

Kara said...

I think taking the comments can be tough because your gut reaction is to defend yourself. Once you have some time and space you can look at it more objectively.
A friend of mine had one judge love her piece so much it sounded like she wouldn't have any trouble getting it published and then the judge in the next round completely destroyed her manuscript with things they hated, and hate really is what that judge had to say. It was tough for her, but on the bright side she realized her work evoked strong emotions;)
This writing is a whole learning process, so I think making mistakes only makes us better. At least I hope!

T. Anne said...

I try and take them literally and change what I feel is appropriate. I'm reading 'putting the fire in fiction' by Donald Mass. I would love to review this book but I would have to rewrite it, it's that loaded with great examples.

KLo said...

I think it's all subjective ... you just need to find the right reader (it's like if your little guy got hit with just the right toy, he might have moved). Keep smiling : )

Keli Gwyn said...

I read contest judges' feedback when I first receive it. I then set it aside for several days. Upon returning, I'm able to be more objective and better understand the comments.

I look for commonalities. If the majority of judges mark me down on the same aspect, I explore ways to strengthen it. I also have my trusty analytical CP give her thoughts. Then I make the changes I think are best for my story and are in keeping with my voice.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jess -

I haven't enter any contests because I don't know of any for suspense writers. The critiques I've received are from editors, agents, writer friends, workshops, clinics, etc.

It's been awhile since I've shown my book to anyone. Perhaps it's time to venture out again and see if there's improvement.

I think sometimes we cry out when we're bombarded with criticism instead of catching it and putting it under a microscope to see if it applies.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Danyelle said...

I think it all rests on being true to the story. Some advice is going to be very good, and other advice that doesn't really fit the story, if that makes sense. It helps to step back for a few months and then read the story with clearer eyes. :D

sherrinda said...

What a great analogy! I haven't gotten much feedback on my work and most of what I have gotten has been spot on. Yeah, I've got lots to learn! :0

Jessica said...

LOL Marybeth!

Jessica said...

Hi Katie,
Me? Throw a temper tantrum? Ahem. *wink,wink*

Good luck with your contest scores. I hope there's no bad comments, just helpful ones. :-)

Jessica said...

Kristen,
I really agree with you. Eventually we have to trust our own voice and instincts. I think, for the writer who doesn't have an agent but is past the need for anon. crits, that contests are a good target for trying to final.
Knowing, of course, how subjective they are. LOL

Jessica said...

Kara,
Good for your friend! Evoking strong emotions means the writing is probably strong and that it's the story/characters annoying or pleasing someone. LOL
Thanks for commenting. :-)

Jessica said...

T.Anne,
People always seem to love his books. Let us know what you learn from it. :-)

Jessica said...

KLo,
You just cracked me up! Yeah, if Nate got hit with something really hard he probably would've moved. Poor guy.
Finding the right person is so important. I think that's where knowing your audience comes in.

Jessica said...

Keli,
That's a great way to handle comments. I like how you ask your CP too. Very smart.

Jessica said...

LOL Susan,
Now look whose coming up with great metaphors! :-) Yes, we need to catch it. I love how you put that.
There are some contests for suspense. Off the top of my head I can only think of one, RWA's Daphne Du Murier (I probably spelled that wrong, lol)

I'm fixing to tread the contest waters again too, I think.

Jessica said...

Danyelle,
Great comment. There are many ways we can "improve" but will it be true to the story? The characterization?
Interesting take on it. :-)

Jessica said...

No worries Sherrinda! We're all learning still. :-)

Michelle McLean said...

I used to be the same way! I have finally gotten to where I can take comments objectively and see the merit in them. And I've gotten better at actually making the changes as well ;-) Great post!

T. Anne said...

Jessica, I responded on my blog to your comment. I'm not sure you're still checking this thread. =)

haleigh said...

perfect analogy Jessie! I still have trouble sorting out which comments to use and which to ignore. It's the people pleaser in me - I want everyone to love it, so I want to do everything they suggest. Clearly, NOT the way to go :)

Jody Hedlund said...

Thanks for the congrats!! And yes, I do think we're blind to our own faults in our writing. I think it's easy to pass off judges' comments as subjective. That's why it's good to have a lot of opinions to go from and if everyone is saying the same thing, then we can probably trust it.

Jessica said...

Yep. That's so true Jody. I think my problem was that these contests were months apart and for some reason I just never compared judges' comments. My mistake. :-)

Jessica said...

Michelle,
It's great that you make changes. Some writers don't but it's really important that we stay teachable.
As I learned. LOL

Jessica said...

LOL Haleigh!
I totally understand. :-)

Deb Shucka said...

Great metaphor - for more than just writing. Thanks for the picture.