Insecure Writers Support Group Badge
Here we are at the first Wednesday of the Month where many of us bloggers write about our hopes and fears in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Please visit either site for more info and a list of participating bloggers, to join, or offer encouragement.

This month’s question is “When do you know your story is ready?”

My only relevant experience with determining whether something is “ready” is with submissions to anthologies. As a member of the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild, I have been submitting short pieces (the limit for the first three years was 1,500 words; this year’s was increased to 2,500 words) since I joined in 2013. In each case, I decided my story was ready when the deadline for submission was upon me. This year I took the additional step of having one of my read-and-critique groups review it with me as part of the revision process. The result was a much stronger story.

Read-and-critique groups are great!

At the same time, however, I have been struggling to determine just when to ignore the well-intentioned advice from my read-and-critique groups with my larger project. Ignore is not the right word, but I can’t come up with a more precise one. What I mean is that I realized recently that I have been adjusting my goal (an admittedly amorphous goal never committed to paper) as I have received feedback. For example, my original vision of my memoir was a single book packed full of stories of the many adventures I encountered while living in 11 foreign countries over a 30-year period. I had an elevator pitch to describe my project: My journey from seeking adventure to finding a mission. And I had lots of first drafts of the subplots and vignettes. I just needed to find the right order for them. At least, that’s what I thought.

After trying out a number of read-and-critique groups, I found two I felt fit me. I read with one group and then take the feedback to revise the pieces to read with the second group. That way both groups hear the whole piece. The feedback has been fabulous, except for one thing: I allowed the enthusiasm of the participants to make me think I should break up my story into separate books for each country.

And that’s when I got stuck. I don’t have a whole story for each country. And while I perhaps could squeeze out enough from my memories for a whole book on the first country, I don’t feel that wouldn’t make a very satisfying story. At least not for me. Because the story of my experiences in my first country is a story of failure.

I allowed myself to be lured down a path I hadn’t intended to go. But this does not mean I should have ignored the feedback. I needed the feedback to make me realize that I hadn’t done the groundwork to define my whole story. I thought the route would become clear once I began writing. Instead, I should have spent the time drawing the map so that I wouldn’t be tempted down another road.

So I’m backing up. I’m re-reading Marnie Freedman’s 7 Essential Writing Tools: That Will Absolutely Make Your Writing Better (And Enliven Your Soul) (I told her I would never finish it because there is so much in it worth another look) to help me draw my map first. Then I’ll get back to writing the story.

In the end, I hope I will know that story is ready when it fits the map I have not yet completed.




10 responses to “IWSG-October”

  1. I know what you mean about “ignoring” certain advice in critique groups! Sometimes there are great ideas given, which you just won’t end up using, because your vision for the book is different than your reader’s. And I think that’s totally fine. Sometimes you have to just stay true to yourself, and a good critique group will accept the story for what it is and help you polish it, instead of trying to change it.

    1. Thanks, Laura. I just have to figure out what I want my story to be. Then I’ll be able to incorporate suggestions more constructively.

  2. This is indeed a dilemma! I’m getting some wonderful feedback from my current critique partners, but oh how they disagree about certain plot points. Lately, I’m spending a lot of time puzzling over which advice to heed and which to toss.

    1. Thanks, Rhonda. My read-and-critique groups include several published authors. I’m not only paying attention to what they say to me but to what they accept from others. I’m finding that also to be a good path.

  3. @breakerofthings Avatar

    In my day job (research at a university) I get to do almost every writing role sooner or later. One of the things that every researcher dreads is getting reviews back from the journal – some of these can be downright hostile. There is a now an accepted set of jokes around “reviewer 2” who for some reason always seems to be the harsher of the two and will tell you exactly what is wrong and how they would have written it. The advantage of having been in the game a while is that I have now seen most of the different responses that can come back and a significant number of variants. Cutting to the chase, one of the things that I was lucky to learn early on is that editors and reviewers are not infallible. They will almost certainly put their finger on a problem that you hadn’t noticed, which you can then correct. They will misunderstand wilfully the things that you thought were particularly clear, so you can tidy that up. But they will inevitably get something wrong: the worst mistake is when you try and make the correction they suggest. You absolutely have to push back and explain why what you wrote originally has to stand.

    The great thing about all of this is that you end up with a stronger paper in the long run, but it can be a very long run.

    In the context of writing a book and showing it to a group, I think the same rules apply. And when you get conflicting advice, I think you need to go with your gut – what feels right? What fits with what you want to do?

    So in the case of 11 books of memoirs – that immediately feels like overkill, although I suppose we follow fictional adventures across that many volumes… but there is no reason why you can’t have anumber of short books which are collected into one volume.

    1. Thanks. You hit the problem directly with your final question: What fits with what you want to do? I’ve tip-toed down a couple of different paths to see which one I like best. Now I need to stay focused and ignore the distractions.

  4. Jennifer Williams-Fields Avatar
    Jennifer Williams-Fields

    I tend to shut down and stop writing if I feel like someone is trying to pull me into a different path with my story. But, really, that’s just my own insecurity making me stop. I’m learning to listen and apply constructive feedback, but listen to my own instincts on where I want to end up.

    1. I want to document what my instincts tell me to keep me on that path. Crazy? Maybe. But just the act of writing it down helps me keep focused. Thanks for the comment.

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