Trusting Ourselves as Storytellers

The amount of writing advice that is available on the internet is daunting. We are supposed to write what we know, show don’t tell, match the beats, give a character voice that is different than the writer voice, and so forth. Moving along with our stories, we learn the difference between en dashes and em dashes, when to use that, when to use which, how to format all the things and when we have molded our story to precisely what we think it was meant to be, we start looking for ways to see what others think.

I (along with many others) am a HUGE supporter of contests. They are put on by some of the most generous people in the writer world, people who have bought into the idea of paying it forward in the realist of terms. My own writing has improved dramatically from reading reactions people have to a pitch, a query or the first 250, and from understanding what agents see when they read what I’ve written. 
I’ve also learned the very real importance of understanding what kind of a writer these kinds of contests are looking for. 
But there with this feedback comes the potential of a writer losing her voice. Someone who crafts stories containing more emotion, more character, slower plot may question his writing ability. Reading the praise for something that is immediately funny, action packed, witty or otherwise may create the inclination to ditch the heartfelt plot and move for faster pacing. 
This is why, in the midst of feedback, we make sure we are getting feedback from those to get what we are writing. 
Let me explain. 
The writing community is very generous in time and effort given to help others in pursuit of the dream. However, each of us also have preferences for what we like to read. Where some are interested in fast pace, snappy dialogue and kick-a characters, others want luxurious descriptions or quiet walks through a forest. Good intentions are just that, but there are going to be pieces of advice that don’t quite click, and when there are two or three, we can begin to doubt our own writer’s voice. 
I suggest a few things to keep the doubts away (as much as possible).
First: trust the feedback from the people you trust. 
We have talked before about the value of a writer’s group. It is essential that we find these people, meeting whatever way possible, and that the lines of communication are wide open. These are the people you can send a quick “Do you agree?” question in regards to feedback, knowing that the stranger online is only seeing a fraction of a fraction of your work.
Second: pay attention to the comments and critiques from the gatekeepers and professionals who represent and sell what you are writing. 
There are several agents and editors who represent my genre that I follow like a hawk, determined to read and pay attention when they write advice articles. What they are talking about for me will not necessarily apply to my CP’s writing MG, YA or NA, but it is so incredibly important for me. These are the people who are making the sales, who are marketing the books, who are putting the books in the hands of readers. They know what makes someone keep reading, they know what makes someone put a book down, and when they talk, we need to listen. 
Third: read online reviews people leave on the genre you are writing. 
This is your focus group and you don’t have to do anything to get their feedback. Notice what they say about books they like, which ones are getting high marks and take note at what it is they do that you could also incorporate. DO NOT COPY WHAT HAS BEEN DONE (really, that’s plagiarism, and more than that, really crappy behavior) but pay attention to what your readers love. All books have tension of some sort – do your readers like that as emotional? Intellectual? Is the discovery of self enough to engage your readers or do the extenuating circumstances need to be heightened. This also gives the benefit of comp titles when querying or just pitching to a friend on the street. 
Fourth: keep reading what you are writing. 
It is important to read lots, all the time, everything, but make sure that you are giving your mind the opportunity to be fully immersed in the genre you are writing. In reading our genres, we can know where the mid-point is, how the characters are developed, what the plot points need to contain, the kind of language that is accepted. This is vastly different for each genre and for each aged reader, but they are so very important to mark in our own writing. 
Last: trust the person creating the story

You thought of your characters. You created their circumstances. You have a unique narrative voice to tell their story. When the feedback is piling in, when the opinions seem to contradict themselves, close your eyes, look deep into yourself, and know who the creator is. When you do this, you will understand when something needs to be fixed, when there has been a quirk in the story that cannot stay, and you will feel when what you have just needs a final polish. No one can tell you when that happens, and there will be significant trial and error (and probably some tears), but bit by bit, who you are as a storyteller will begin to unfold. 

Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is an editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.

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