Are There Too Many Painters in Your Cave?

alien

It’s been going on since the first cave scratchings back in Troglodyte days…unsolicited advice from “Helpful Friends.”

Trog: Dude, awesome rendering of last week’s Wooly Mammoth hunt…but you might want to re-draw Blorg’s broken foot mishap when the Wooly stepped on him.

Grog: Really? Hmm…okay. [artistic editing ensues]

Krog: Dude, cool drawing, but you might want to re-think those bushes. Looks more like green hornets.

Grog: Really? Hmm…okay. [artistic editing ensues]

Wog: Dude, amazing wall painting, but the sunset was more purple than orange…

Grog: Really? Hmm…okay. [artistic editing ensues]

Slog: Dude…what is that you painted on the wall?

Grog: I have no fecking idea.

And this is what happens when there are too many painters in the cave. The original version is now an unrecognizable rendering that doesn’t reflect the painter’s vision.

I’ve seen this many times over the years, and it never ceases to send me running for the tequila bottle because these “Helpful Suggestions” tear away at the author’s confidence.

It usually starts small…“Oh, I loved your book, but you might want to change the _______(fill in the blank).”

Once the author gives power to that suggestion, the “Helpful Friend” realizes he/she wields some power, and offers more “Helpful Suggestions” to “improve” the book. It’s about this time when emails come to me asking whether these “Helpful Suggestions” have merit.

Hmm.

Here are some things to remember:

  • You and your editor spent countless hours poring over your manuscript, discussing intent, nuance, pace, flow…the whole enchilada.
  • No one knows the inner workings of your book or your soul better than your editor. She is your head cheerleader, chief bottle washer, and overall den mother.
  • There is no better, stronger advocate than your editor, and the last thing she wants to change is your voice or your story, or have you wake up one day wondering, “Holy crap, who wrote this?” Eeeek.

Your “Helpful Friends” didn’t take this journey with you. They’re imprinting their version of what they think you should have written…and here’s the thing: Opinions are like belly buttons…everybody’s got one. It’s a fact that you’ll never satisfy every reader, and if you give weight to every critique that comes your way, you’ll be special ordering a designer straightjacket post haste – along with changing your book into something that didn’t come from you.

I know it’s hard – because you adore your friends – but resist the temptation to listen to their every comment. By the time they read it, that book of yours is in granite. It can’t and won’t be changed. The time to elicit offers of critique is when you’ve just completed your manuscript, and you’re asking for beta readers – not when they’re reading your galley proofs!

If you run into some “Helpful Friends,” and believe me, you will, smile politely, grit your teeth (because unsolicited critiques are a pain in the ass), thank them, and put those comments where the sun don’t shine. The literary ship has sailed, and you don’t need the aggravation of wondering if what you wrote is good. It is. Have faith in yourself and your editor that you got it right.

Don’t be Grog. Don’t allow too many painters into your cave.

 

5 Responses to Are There Too Many Painters in Your Cave?

  1. I once formed a writing “group” with a friend. A good, sweet, caring friend who writes romance – full-metal, bodice-ripping romance. I was writing women’s fiction. Guess what I had written after I spent some time in our group? Yep, romance. Really sucky romance at that.

    It’s only slightly better than the friend who told me, “I read your book (Freezer Burn). It was really good. I’d give it a B.”

    Thanks. I needed that.

  2. ericjbaker says:

    Michelangelo locked the pope out of the Sistine Chapel while he painted. The pope was not a painter.

  3. Priscilla Turner says:

    I hate to say it, but was it paint, or perhaps tequila, that was “poured” over the manuscript???

  4. Dear GOD. I’d seen this when I went back to edit, but got interrupted and totally forgot. Geez. I blame the new heart meds. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

  5. On the other hand, IF your ship has sailed… then there is never too much Grog aboard.

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