Thursday, April 25, 2013

Do You Effectively Insist You Have Nothing to Learn?

I was doing some reading today purely for personal expansion, and came across some advice which (I'm paraphrasing) boiled down to:

It's foolish to believe no one else could offer something useful to your life, your work, or your personal character. Foolish. All of us have room to grow. And other people often see our flaws more clearly than we can (not to mention, the solutions).

Funny, isn't it, how even if we agree in theory, the natural reaction is to begin to qualify that statement?

"Of course, everyone has something to learn... but not all advice is good advice."


"No one knows what is best for me better than me! Others might be able to give advice, but it's up to me to decide what is worth taking action on."


"I'm not against taking advice... it's just that people so often don't give helpful, thoughtful insight. Instead they just criticize and empower themselves by depowering me..."

While there might be truth to all those statements, have you ever thought about whether or not you're throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

See, here's the thing: Writers can be a writer's best friend. They can also be a writer's worst enemy.

For whatever reason (and I'm not going to speculate), I've seen writers tear each other down with a swiftness and ruthlessness that left me breathless. (Now, go ahead and critique that sentence). So I understand why some writers are hesitant to put themselves or their work out there.

But those cruel, thoughtless or jealous types are the exceptions. Not the rule. Most writers really want to see each other succeed. Most want to help. Most want to see each and every story developed to its fullest potential.

So... are you letting the exceptions rule your success? Do you agree with the above statement in theory, but in practice, refuse to learn from anyone else?

I am one hundred percent in agreement with the above statement - applied to my person, my work, and most especially my writing.

I've seen the benefit of allowing experienced, thoughtful, nice writers critique my work. And make no mistake, it's hard. But the truth is, I grow stronger, better, more skillful every time I allow it to happen. And the writers I've come across who refuse to let others in.... well, they have a tendency to stagnate.

So, if you want to let people in, but you're nervous, here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Start with a book on craft from an author you trust (or who is recommended by an author you trust). Most successful authors have "go to" craft books and they're often listed on their websites. Find a book that meets you where you're at in your journey and actually study it. Apply it. Work through any exercises involved, or work through a chapter of your manuscript with the advice in the book at the forefront. In short: work at it. And see the results for yourself.

2. Pay for a critique. Now, obviously, not everyone can afford to take this option, and it's probably the one most writers are most acutely aware of, so I won't belabor the point. Just give it some thought (and make sure it's, again, from a source you trust, or recommended by a source you trust).

3. Let other writers critique or beta read for you. Now before you rear back in horror, maybe these little tips will help:

First, make sure that whoever you're offering it to has given useful advice to someone you know, so you can at least be hopeful that they'll have something to offer you.

Second, give guidelines. If the book is in an early draft and you know it's wordy, just front up and say "I know the wordcount's too high." Then outline what you need. Do you want them to ignore the wordiness and just focus on the plot? Then tell them that. Do you want them to cross out words / sentences they think could go? Say so. In short, make your expectations clear.

Third, resolve not to dismiss anything until you've read it twice and thought about it for a week. It's absolutely true that you'll never please everyone. And it's also true that not every piece of advice you receive will be right for your story. But sometimes your gut reaction to advice is negative, not because the advice is wrong, but because it's hard to hear. Give it time. Think about it for a few days, then read it again. chew it over. Talk yourself through what would be involved in making the changes. Think about the end result. Bottom line: Would it improve the story or not?

I have no desire to put anyone on the spot today, or imply that I'm surrounded by fools. Far from it. The writers that surround me are my lifeline for making the best of my stories. The best of myself! All I want to do is encourage everyone to take that plunge and learn from it. Know that you aren't a "bad" writer because you need help. You aren't a "hopeless case" if you've got work to do. And you are far from foolish if you let others tell you how to be better.

Your Turn: How do you feel about letting others read your manuscript(s)? Are there any concerns I didn't address in this post?


  1. Hi Aimee,
    I couldn't agree more! Without vetting your work against additional sets of skilled eyes, it's probably not as good as it could be. Even the best writers need a fresh perspective from time-to-time. Picking up any of your favorite authors and reading their acknowledgment sections will prove it.

    Another suggestion is finding a critique group through Meetup and giving it a try. If it's not right, try another one. I was fortunate enough to find a supportive group with writers across mutliple genres. We do 1500 words per meeting per person. They've been invaluable.

    I agree that finding author friends you can trust is the best for deep beta reading. But it can take time to establish a trusted list. Swapping pages with someone can provide a balanced equation.

    Trusting in the universe that what you give comes back to you, time permitting, I usually offer to beta read the first three chapters for other writers when I stumble across a request on the SheWrites community I belong to. The caveat: establishing clear rules of what they want me to look for and how they want me to present back the feedback. As a result, I'm a little backed up between my own work and a couple full manuscripts I promised to read for my writer friends.

    For anyone out there looking for a sensitive critique, just reach out and contact me through my blog at and let me know you saw my comment on Aimee's blog (My favorite blog in the universe!) If I have time, I'd be happy to help.


  2. I'm definitely guilty of this. I've joined a regular critique group that meets once a month, and while I diligently take notes while I get my feedback, I have to admit that later I often discard some of the feedback rather than implement it. I do the same with advice from blogs ... some I read diligently, others I just don't bother with, even if it's an author I adore. But how do you take *everything* to heart equally when we get so overloaded with information each day? I think those excuses/filters can be really important--the trick is to know when and how to use them appropriately. And one can never stop analyzing that balance too closely.

    1. So true! It's really hard to balance advice (especially when it's conflicting) and know when to act. The only thing I can say is that, the more critique I invited, the more my writing improved, the more confidential became about knowing which advice to take to heart, and which to discard or take with less weight.