At the beginning of the year, I went to a book signing with Holly Black. Someone asked a question about her writing process and she said she would frequently get ideas, then brainstorm with her group to figure out where to take the story. But the thing that stuck with me wasn’t that she did this, it was that she said she rarely used any of their ideas.
Why would she brainstorm with them if she knew she wasn’t going to use their ideas? She said it was because their wrong ideas (which she could reject because, deep down, she knew what was right for the story and what wasn’t) would often spark the right ideas for her.
People, especially in workshops and things, are always willing to give you ideas of where they think your story should go. But it’s your story. You know what fits with your story and what doesn’t, and you know where you want it to end up, even if it’s subconsciously.
A couple months ago my family was hiking at a local state park. We were at the top and our kids wanted to take a different path down. We were a bit hesitant about this, so we asked someone coming up the trail if it went back down to the bottom of the hill.
Her reply, “Yes, if that’s where you want to go.”
We did want to get back to the base and we had some extra time, so we decided we’d go ahead and give the path a try.
Not only was that one of the hardest hikes I’ve been on (there were times where we were crawling up and down boulders—with kids, no less—and the only way to stay on the path was to follow the painted squares), but when we reached the bottom, we were on entirely the wrong side of the park and had to trek all the way back to the parking lot.
Unfortunately, I’ve done the same thing in writing. I’ve listened to advice and altered the direction I was going in a story and, ultimately, I didn’t end up where I wanted to be. I didn’t end up with the story I wanted to tell.
So trust yourself. Trust that you know the heart of your story and give yourself permission to ignore advice that doesn’t fit with the vision you have for it, but go ahead and use it for a stepping stone to give you the ideas that DO match your vision.
(And when you are the critique/advise-giver, don’t be offended if your ideas aren’t used—for all you know, it was your suggestion that gave the writer the very idea that they needed.)
Jenilyn Collings loves to read and write things that are humorous or romantic (preferably both). She has worked as a dental researcher, a florist, a martial arts instructor, and a tracker at an alternative high school (she’ll leave it to your imagination what that entailed), but she’s now focused on writing and child wrangling. A long time resident of the Mountain West, she recently moved to New England with her family where she is gaining an appreciation for umbrellas, fall colors, and turning lanes while driving.