Why You Should Stop Listening to Other Writers

KahloIn today’s writing culture workshops, critique circles, and beta-reading partners are the norm. Writers are so focused on feedback—any feedback—that they frequently rush through writing two or three pages of the beginning of a story and then immediately hand it off to their writing buddies for comments and suggestions.

But sharing writing before it is ready to be shared is most often not helpful to the writer.

It’s a question of right timing. If you’ve finished the sloppy first draft of your novel and you’ve read it all the way through at least once, and you have a pretty good idea of what you think needs work and where, that’s an awesome time to seek outside feedback. Call up your army of beta readers and let them have at it with the red pen that shows no mercy.

However, if you’ve written half of the story, many of your characters are still fragile and nebulous, and you’re not yet sure about the ending, it’s time to check yourself before you open the work up to an actual full-blown critique.

Because when your creative ideas are still struggling to form themselves, they can very easily be influenced by what someone else thinks is best for your story. And someone else is not writing your story. You are.

One of the most essential skills a writer can cultivate is the strength and self-awareness to trust their gut instinct about their story. You are the only one who really knows why Aunt Edna said that weird thing during the cocktail party. At the end of the story it turns out that it wasn’t totally irrelevant. And you’re the only one who really knows who is responsible for that spooky moaning coming from the attic. At the end of the story it turns out it wasn’t totally unrealistic. Even if you don’t know that you know…well, you know. Or at least, some part of you does. The writer part.

To be a great writer, you have to learn how to trust yourself as a great writer.

When you get five different opinions on how your story should end before you’ve written the ending, it clouds your judgment and makes it even more difficult to listen for that small, still voice inside.

It’s not easy learning to trust your gut as a writer. Believe me, I get it. Self-doubt creeps in, you feel uncertain about everything, including why you even embarked on this crazy project in the first place. Your characters keep looking to you, asking what they should do next and, frankly, you have no idea. It’s an uncomfortable place to be in and the uncertainty lasts a while.

But no one else has the answers for you. That’s just the way it is. You can ask all your writer friends, spend days on Google surfing around, and research your brains out, but when it comes to your story, you are the only one who can discover just how it’s supposed to go. And you have to discover that all on your own.

Because the only way to find out what’s supposed to happen in your story is if you write it down.

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