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Give and take

My seven-year-old often (inadvertently, mostly) gives me insight into work dilemmas.  He’s at an age, for instance in which he’d rather not listen to advice from his parental units.  He’s a big boy now and wants to do things by himself, his way.  He does not need his dad and me telling him how he might save himself time and trouble on a task and outright doubts that our combined centuries of wisdom are a match for his lithe young brain.   (I gather this will only get worse once the teen years set in.)  Most of the time, though, all that hard-won experience does count for something and my son, being an honest, upstanding lad, gracefully agrees that perhaps we might know a bit more about a particular subject than he thought and that maybe our advice is at least worth considering.

Such is the way with authors sometimes.  They come to us because they want to benefit from our expertise and experience yet often butt heads with us when we try to offer advice that runs counter to their goals, preconceptions, instincts, whatever, about their books.  As a rule, the more talented the author the most able s/he is to take advice with good grace and at least explore whether it makes sense for his/her work and career.   And, much like parents everywhere feel, we hate to be right at the expense of someone’s bad choices.

Advice, though, is a double-edged sword.  Whose do you take?  Whose do you walk away from?  Everyone has an opinion and there are usually kernels of good sense in even bad counsel.  Unfortunately, the internet makes things harder by providing an ocean of often unsolicited input from everyone and their kid brother.

My feeling is, take advice from people you respect, who have solid experience under their belt, and who have had some success in the area you are looking for help in.  Then, try to tune out the rest of the noise and keep in mind that advice is just that and that ultimately you have to take responsibility for and ownership of your decisions.

With that in mind, here’s William Faulkner giving some pretty good tips to aspiring and practicing writers.

4 Responses to Give and take

  1. Katie says:

    We’re hard headed – maybe it’s a characteristic we’ve been given to see a book through. We see it as our responsibility to do everything we can to give our baby breath. It really is so similar to giving birth: the joy expecting new life, the pain of labor.

    It’s such a fragile state. I’m sure, a state where true character comes out. I hope I’m the gracious sort.

    Seeking wisdom from those I trust and respect, tuning out the noise!

  2. Lynn says:

    Great advice by Faulkner, but it just goes to show that not much has changed. That advice still holds true today. Yes, technology has helped tremendously going from quill pens and inkwells to copy and paste on laptops, but the work involved for what a writer must do to pursue his or her dreams continues to be the same.

  3. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    I weigh all writing-related advice against observable facts on the ground and the validity of the source before factoring it into my strategy. As a YA/juvenile writer, there’s a very specific set of boobytraps and shibboleths one has to maneuver around, and sometimes it’s worth the effort and sometimes not. As I think I mentioned on this site somewhile back, I dropped a Prince Charming memoir project after comparing agency resistance with writer feedback I encountered while working on it; writers advised me that most agents disliked positive depictions of teen boys as main characters, and my own observation on the ground led me to conclude that most agency’s sense of humor doesn’t extend much beyond the next Wimpy Kid knockoff, so on to the next thing… The project I’m showing around now is a hot potato set in WWII Berlin, an instant dealbreaker among the safe-and-sane gatekeeper set, but collating advice and observation once again, the overall calculus is that it’s ultimately a winning strategy in terms of an agency contract with events to follow. I also observe agency strategies and ambience in terms of who I query; DGLM isn’t heavily invested in YA, and I’ve gotten enough e-mail robojections to drop it from my possibilities file. On the other hand, you guys have one of the only real-time blogs where someone can drop in and talk shop, (as opposed to those agency blogs where they just file an infomercial for their latest properties once every six months or so) so that’s why I keep cluttering up your site with comments and disjointed ramblings…

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