Thursday, April 07, 2011

Advice: take it or leave it?

Most of us want or need advice from time to time to help us make decisions, to evaluate pros and cons of various options at our disposal. Whether it’s what to wear to a formal event, which career path to follow, who to date/whether to break up or not, where to live or what to do with any savings, we turn to family, friends, colleagues, significant others and experts. Writers, for example, often turn to critique partners to find plot or character holes and to suggest changes and additions.

Sometimes just having a good brainstorming partner is enough... thanks to a good sounding board we can work out for ourselves what we want or need to do without receiving specific suggestions. Writers frequently gather to talk through plots and premises, goals and conflicts.

But when given conflicting advice, whose should we accept, take with a grain of salt, or ignore? Factors can include history of reliability and trustworthiness, level of respect, expertise on the current topic, the advisor’s stake in the issue at hand (so we can gauge who might intentionally or not endeavor to influence decisions in his or her favor), who has your best interests at heart, and our own gut instincts.

One example is asking for feedback on a manuscript. I try to get more than one opinion because different people see different things. If both mention a problem, I’m more likely to change it. After finishing the synopsis for my latest opus, I sent it to two published authors in the genre (who are also supportive friends), and incorporated their comments. I wouldn’t have written that manuscript in the first place if I hadn’t taken the suggestion of one of those authors. Thanks to their help and encouragement, it finaled in a national writing contest.

My Romance Writers of America® chapter, Chicago-North RWA, offers verbal critiques for members. If 20+ people put a smiley face or a question mark in the same place, you’re going to be more likely to feel satisfied that part is funny or realize it’s confusing. Our process has proven effective enough that many now-published members credit critiquing with helping them sell.

Sometimes an agent or editor offers suggestions for change (and may ask to see the project again if the changes are made). Some authors get offended by this, thinking their “baby” is perfect as is. The majority see a professional’s ideas as an opportunity to improve their work and/or build a relationship with that agent/editor.

It can be a challenge to accept advice, especially if doing so means more work for you. Others want to take the easy way out, and/or ignore good advice or follow bad advice. Others will be misled or lied to, but not want or don't recognize that and believe. How many scams do we hear about in the news?

Only time will tell if our decisions to follow advice or not worked out the way we hoped.

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