Refusing advice

I sent a short story to a magazine editor, I was pretty confident that it was a good fit and story for that publication. I was wrong. She didn’t like it, she told me what she felt was missing. At first I was insulted then after the shock wore off; I could see some of the what she said.

I already had some more to this story and thought, “Well, if I take that part and move it to the front and move this piece here. I sat down at the computer ready to make some changes, but I couldn’t.

I made myself a come of tea, and conjured the two characters in question. Once I gave them the run down of what happened, the younger one flipped out. The older one and I both allowed the younger her outburst. That’s when the strangest thing happened.

I my attention focused on the older who had relaxed in her chair. It was like watching myself in the mirror, she would sip from her drink at different times than I, so it wasn’t really creepy. I finally calmed the younger and asked the older her opinion.

“I will not change to make another happy. If she doesn’t like who I am, my story is not for her.” She took another sip from her cup.

Both I and the younger watched the older. The younger stood behind the older woman, “I agree. Our story isn’t for that publication.”

So, this publication has been removed from my list.

The point? You may be asking.  Stay true to your writing. There may be times when some one else’s advice is just the thing to improve your work. There are other times when following their advice makes your work their’s. Knowing when to change or when to refuse is (in my opinion) harder than the writing.

What do you think? Have you ever changed your work to please another, even when it didn’t feel right? Leave me your opinions!


12 thoughts on “Refusing advice

  1. My general rule is if I hear the same feedback three times, that thing needs to be changed. Some feedback is invaluable and some doesn’t more the story forward at all. However, if an professional editor or agent gives me advice, I’m going to listen a lot more closely. It’s their job to spot things in stories that work and don’t.
    Revisions are a part of publication. Once you get an agent, you’re going to be handed a list of revisions. Then after those are complete and the book gets submitted at publishing houses, it goes in front of their editors and their might be even more revisions. These are projects that are yeses that they want to sell. They still need revisions.
    I haven’t read your story nor do I know what the the suggestions were that the editor made. I can still say that I would rather have the chance to edit myself than have someone else put words in my character’s mouths.
    We can all grow as writers. Sometimes I need to walk away from a piece for a while before I can see how it can be improved on. My advice, since I know your goal is publication, is let the story sit for a couple days. Come back to it with fresh eyes and see if there’s any way to make those suggestions work in a way that makes everyone happy.


    • mari wells says:

      **This is the hardest response I’ve ever written. Kristen, I value your opinion and your friendship. I also am worried about they way this response comes off. I in no way wish to look like I know the right way to do everything or anything for that matter. I only know what is deep inside of me. *

      Your advice is good advice, and I agree with it. In most cases the professional editor or agent is correct and listening to their advice will better your story. This was not one of those cases though.
      This was a short story 2500 words or less submitted to a magazine.
      The changes she wanted were dramatic changes. She asked for the characters to be changed, it would be replacing my characters with other personalities.
      I did sit back and consider her response, I read a few of the stories in her publications. I stressed over making all the changes she requested and practically writing her story or staying true to my characters. I looked in to the future, by a few weeks to a few years, and asked myself how I would feel about those changes then.
      If I made her requests it wouldn’t be my story, and for a short story and what I believe she wanted isn’t something I’m willing to change. I am not being difficult! I do see some of what she said, I can agree with some of her advice. However, I wouldn’t feel right with those changes. I would be upset with myself years from now for changing these characters.

      I thought this post would help others who are faced with this same situation. Some times to keep our integrity as writers we should step away from what we know isn’t right for either ourselves or our story. Other times (like you said) the changes are so dramatic or they truly help the story, then we should feel honored to have been blessed with some one who cared enough about our work to make it better.

      *I hope you see that I have stressed over this. I have looked at it from every possible side I could think of, and I am doing what I believe to be the best choice.*

  2. As I said, I had no idea what the suggestions she made were. I have received surprising feedback about my characters through the critique and edit process. At first I was a bit shocked, but then I started to embrace what people thought. Those were my characters personalities. Not everyone has to like all of them, they just have to be interested in the story.

    Have you had any other feedback on this story? You are right, maybe this story isn’t right for the publication .It’s such a subjective business. I read your prior post, and I know how good you felt about this story. Julie and I talked a lot on the way home about how brutal it is to have our imaginations judged in critique. Nothing hurts worse than hearing our “babies” aren’t good enough. Rip my writing apart, tell me my technique sucks. Whatever. Say nasty things about my characters? Now it’s personal.

    In the last couple weeks the biggest lesson I’ve learned is even if I got it right, there’s always room for improvement. I don’t want you to think I’m being judgemental. Really, how could I be? I haven’t read the story. I just want to make sure you keep yourself open to every opportunity that comes your way because I know how hard you are working for this. I don’t have all the answers, either. No one does.

    This is a great discussion and I hope others join in! I don’t think anything can prepare any of us mentally to enter the critique process.


  3. riverpearl says:

    It depends on what kind of mood I’m in.

    I want to thank you for visiting my blog and liking some of my posts. I’ve been thinking about you and wondering how NaNoWriMo is going for you. And oh no, then I saw the carpal tunnel photos and no mention of NaNo until I noticed the tweets.

    • mari wells says:

      I don’t know much about virtual worlds but I love the pictures :blush: LOL. I’m doing pretty good on NaNo. I’m rocking it one handed! I should win just for that fact. Are you riverpearl at NaNo world. I’d like to buddy if you don’t mind.
      Thanks for the comment.

      • riverpearl says:

        No, I have a different user name there. Are you Mari Wells there? I’ll see if I can find you.

        And yeah, one handed is amazing!

      • mari wells says:

        Yes I’m Mari wells there or maybe Mari-Wells. I’ll be waiting to hear from you.

      • riverpearl says:

        Found you and added you; also sent a NaNoMail in case you remove me thinking I’m an insane stalker; I have a different username there.

      • mari wells says:

        I haven’t removed you, 🙂 No one would stalk me, I’m so crazy I scare everyone! LOL I was kind of expecting to see you there soon, so I would have timidly asked if you were you before unfriending. Thanks for buddying with me!

  4. My turn! And take it from me, Mari, I was just told by an agent that she just didn’t like my MC…that I worked on for 5 years…that is an extension of me. And you know what? She was right. I introduced things about her that I thought made her vulnerable and approachable, and made her weak in the process. And she doesn’t have enough complexity. People have contradictions. They are awkward, but are often the life of the party. They are smart but make dumb decisions. What I realized was not that I needed to change my character, or even that my writing didn’t portray her well, but that she wasn’t deep enough. It wasn’t enough that I knew her favorite ice cream flavor, but I need to know why it is her favorite flavor, what memories it invokes, and ask myself how it can become a quirk, and endearing trait that has deeper meaning. Taking the wrong advice will hurt your work, but taking advice and asking questions of yourself that only you can answer will make you a stronger writer. The end. 🙂
    Know that Kristen and I woke up thinking about how we can make more complex characters this morning. So we are very much in your corner.

    • mari wells says:

      Thank you, Julie, for your long response. I can see your point, about your character. I can see where I could explain more of WHY my characters are the way they are. I think my problems is I know them so well, that its hard to know where my knowledge ends and where some one else’s knowledge of the character begins. Also as a writer we walk a fine line of where we just start dumping info into the story that doesn’t really explain the character. I am using the whole process as a learning tool, Even if I decide not to change anything in this story I’m still learning. Everything happens for a reason and I try to stand back and look for the learning possibility, I’ve learned more by Kristen and your responses, than I would have by not posting. Thank you.

  5. olganm says:

    Sometimes people might point out things that we have overlooked or things that because we know the characters so well, we know, but are not clear to somebody reading it anew, but when somebody suggests something that changes the story, and what the story means for us, I’m with you. I do read many stories and I might think of how I would have written it differently, but it’s not my story…

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