It may sound daft, but one of the most difficult things about studying for a creative writing master’s degree is the amount of feedback you get, or rather, the number of people who offer you completely contradictory opinions on your work. It’s enough to make you chuck your laptop out of a window.
I’ve seen people crumble under the weight of their own indecision when one tutor tells them that a certain bit of writing is fantastic and another tells them to delete it and start again. With much tugging of hair and gnashing of teeth they wail: “But what should I do? Who’s right?” And the answer is – you, the author, are right. When it comes to your own work, you have to learn to go with your instincts. That doesn’t mean sticking your fingers in your ears and refusing to listen to any of the advice that you’re offered. It just means learning to pay attention to the wise inner author voice (you do have one, honestly) that says: “actually, I don’t think that’s going to work”.
Now, just a note on recognising your wise inner author voice. This should not be confused with your unkind inner critic, your sulky inner toddler, or any other dubious inner voices, especially if they suggest something that could land you on Crimewatch. I reckon that the best way to get to know your wise inner author voice is to write as much as you can, and also to experiment.
By experiment I mean follow the suggestions that people make; try deleting that scene or re-writing that character and see what you think of the result. Save all the different versions of your work so that you can compare them. Reflect on the feedback that’s been most helpful. You’ll soon get a feel for whether the criticism you’re being offered rings true or not – and just because you know it’s right, that doesn’t mean you’re going to like it, especially if it means masses of editing.
If you get to know your inner author you’ll become less precious about your work – which is definitely a good thing – and more confident about your own opinions of what you write. You’ll also start to see the problem areas in your work before anyone else has to point them out. This is definitely starting to happen for me, although I’ve got a long way to go yet. I’m just happy to be gnashing my teeth far less often…
This post was also published on Deborah Walker’s blog, here.