Too Many Cooks!

I’m doing a webinar in a couple of weeks about how to be a great critique partner (hey, it’s my blog, so I can self-promote all I want), and as I prepare, I keep coming back to a side point.

Having friends/your writing group/beta readers/classmates read your work is invaluable. Getting outside opinions can help get through those rough patches, or fix that plot hole, or round out flat characters. But having too many readers, or having readers too early, can make a potentially rich stew into yesterday’s oatmeal. The problem is not having the work critiqued, it’s having the work over-critiqued. Too many cooks spoil the manuscript.

I sometimes get queries accompanied by a litany of other editors and agents who’ve offered up their opinions on the work, and those I read with trepidation. You know how in art class when you’re learning to mix colors, and you add in one too many and it all turns to an indescribable shade of poo? That happens with editorial opinions, too. Too many dull the edges instead of sharpening. (Mix metaphors! I don’t care!)

Something I’ve noticed of late is that many manuscripts (and books) seem to fit the same mold. Nothing really stands out loud and proud. I can’t say for sure why this is happening, but it seems to be a symptom of writers trying to incorporate too many opinions too soon. If a manuscript is critiqued after only one draft, how does the writer have the time to find that bold, weird, singular voice and style before the group steers them to a safer place? How can a story take a bizarre, unexpected turn if the hive-mind wants a predictable path?

Consider this both a warning and an encouraging hug. Write the story. Write the whole story. Let it consume you, and then rewrite it and feel brave in your weird ideas. Don’t listen to your inner critic, and by all means, finish it before you share it with your outer critics. But like, truly finish it. Don’t start asking for opinions before it’s done. And for the love of cayenne pepper, be bold about your work. Stand proudly in it instead of meekly offering it up.

You don’t start a stew and invite your friends over to season it in the middle. You serve it to them when you think it’s perfect. And if they have opinions, you take some and you leave some and maybe it comes out better next time. As that old earhanger says, you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.

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11 comments

  1. Suzanne Morrone · February 3, 2016

    This is exactly what I needed to hear right now! Thank you. I need to be brave in my weird ideas. Thank you. Did I say it enough? Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. sshawss · February 3, 2016

    Hear! Hear!
    Thank you, Heather!

    Like

  3. crishamilton · February 3, 2016

    And then that weird thing almost always happens. Invite an opinion and you’ll get one. Doesn’t mean it has value, doesn’t mean it’s perceptive or appreciates your particular rhythm. In fact, sometimes, it’s straight up useless except for making the opinion-giver feel like they gave something quite special, thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Tracy Campbell · February 4, 2016

    Perfect advice, Heather. Joanna Marple shared your post on FB. Now I’ll share too. 😊

    Like

  5. Juliana Lee · February 4, 2016

    Excellent advice. I need to heed it myself!

    Like

  6. Deb Dunn · February 4, 2016

    Let the weird voices of the world ring out! Thanks for the encouragement, Heather.

    Like

  7. Deb Dunn · February 4, 2016

    Reblogged this on Deb Dunn and Life's Lessons and commented:
    Finding your weird, quirky, strong, true voice in life and in stories! Sing it, sista’!

    Like

  8. kristinrusso · February 4, 2016

    Love this. A lot. Thanks for the post!

    Like

  9. kidlitcollege · February 4, 2016

    So happy you will be talking about this topic with KidLit College on February 13th @ 4PM EST (3PM CST). It’s so important. The most important gift we give each other as writers is to be that ear, and that better critique partner. More about Heather’s webinar here + the opportunity to register for a critique: http://bit.ly/critiquepartner

    Like

  10. Pingback: Ten Interesting Posts of the Week (2/7/16) – Pages Unbound
  11. Jennifer · February 25, 2016

    I am totally going to start using the phrase, “for the love of cayenne pepper!” I’m registered and looking forward to your webinar.

    Like

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