Too Many Cooks …

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caroline-hileyby Caroline Hiley

… spoil the broth, as the saying goes. This is as true for novel writing as it is for cooking.

In other words, getting too much feedback on your novel-in-process can scramble both the book and your head.

On one hand, every writer needs to show their work to someone and get a feel for what they’ve created. On the other hand, every person has their own viewpoint and thus will have a different opinion. So if you show your drafts to more than two or three people, you will likely get overwhelmed with opinions. While some of them might be constructive, it’s hard to sort them out when your feelings are hurt and mind is spinning from a multiple ways to resolve a problem that might not be a problem, or to recast a narrative to satisfy someone else’s desires. That’s a sure recipe for losing faith in your work and yourself.

There will be plenty of opinion overload to deal with when the book is done. Every agent, editor, and contest judge, every reader and reviewer, will have different tastes and response. Until then, the book is yours; so while you’re creating and revising it, take your feedback in small, productive doses—and be selective about who you get it from.

If you’re lucky enough to have a friend, family member, or writing buddy who knows how to analyze literary material in technical terms, then direct them to read the story for coherency. Wherever they find something that distracts or confuses them, or evokes an emotional response contrary to what you intended, discuss ways to fix it.

If you don’t have such people in your life, then hire a pro for either a manuscript evaluation or a developmental edit. These will show what you need to concentrate on. A story has to work logistically before anyone can react to it, fairly, on a personal level.

So hang on to your vision and focus on mastering the craft through study and constructive critique from people who know what they’re doing. That will let your story and voice come across clear and true, giving readers what they want: compelling content and professional presentation.


Caroline Hiley specializes in copyediting—the t-crossing and i-dotting needed by every book—focusing on mechanics.

One comment

  1. This is especially true of newer writers. The longer you’ve been at it, the more you understand what’s constructive feedback and what isn’t. Even after nine novels, a review from someone who “didn’t get it” or missed the point has me second-guessing myself, but I DID have professional editing, so those comments fall into the realm of “subjectivity.” The trick is remembering that and leaving them behind.

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