Friday, 2 December 2011


Hello, my Dear Readers! Happy Friday to all - I hope your week has been productive and fun. Today's RetroFriday is unusual in that it's not one of my big editorial posts where I rant about stuff. It's a reader question (from the lovely Isabel!) which I answered a while ago and which I decided would be interesting to dig out of the archives. That's because I'm thinking about doing a post next week that will offer some insight into the editorial process for a published writer; the stages you need to go through to get a book into a publishable state. Hopefully this post will give some background for that one.

On with RetroFriday!

You may remember that not long ago I posted some questions from reader emails. Faithful blog reader Isabel left a question of her own in the comments. It went a little something like this:

I'm doing an essay (well, have been doing several) and have been getting some comments from teachers on my work and how I should change it that I sometimes don't quite agree with. What should I do when this happens and how do I know who to trust on giving me good tips? Just so you know, I go to a really small school where the writing teacher is the same as the math teacher is the same as the history teacher and so on. so the people who teach me writing class don't specialize in writing.

This is tricky. When you write, you need to believe in yourself. If you strongly disagree with someone's comments about your work you need to have the courage of your convictions and argue your case. On the other hand, your marks for your essays come from your teachers - effectively they're the ones you're writing for, and if they say you haven't accomplished what they want and need, you won't get the marks you want and need.

In a way, this is a bit like a writer's normal life. We create a unique world and characters that belong to us and then agents and editors read it and come up with comments and often suggestions for changes. Sometimes those ideas are great and by going with them you find your work improves so much you can't believe you didn't think of it yourself (as often happens with me and my editor - thank you, Annalie!). Sometimes the comments seem so 'out there' that you wonder if the person making them even read the same thing you wrote, and you feel as if trying to follow their suggestions would really hurt your work.

Usually the answer to which way you need to go will lie within you. Quite often you will KNOW there are weak spots in your work. If the person making the comments has put their finger on something that bothered you when you wrote or re-read it - something that made you squirm a little bit and go 'Oh, well that'll do' - then they're very likely to be right. That doesn't necessarily mean you need to follow their suggestions exactly. I'm pretty sure my editor makes out-there suggestions sometimes just to stimulate my imagination! They are not you, which means their mind will work in a different way and their idea of how to fix the problem might be completely different than yours.

Combine what they've said with your own instincts and look for an answer that will fix the weak spot and make you happy. Sometimes it can take a while to figure it out (I find going for a long tramp with my dog helps) but it'll come eventually. Believe me, when you've fixed those weak spots you will feel much better about your work.

There are also times when a comment will come completely out of left field and you think: 'Oh no! How did I miss that? Oh &*)$F£"@?! Well, *I* don't know how to fix it! It's impossible!' and you decide to ignore it and hope they forget. Don't do that. Once again, you shouldn't expect to figure out an answer straight away. Don't get impatient and decide it can't be fixed and give up. Go over it calmly in your head and let it sit there for a while until you can see the light.

However, if you seriously believe that the suggestions your teacher has made are not going to improve your work, that they've missed the point, then stand by that opinion. Do your best to find and fix your own weak spots and mistakes. Often doing that will change things enough that their previous objections will go away.

If not, then chances are that while you're at school you will probably need to buckle under and do what your teacher wants in order to get the good marks you deserve. You don't really have the power to fight your teacher, and they're the final arbiter of what's 'good' when it comes to your essays. When I was at school I had a teacher RUIN a poem of mine which was going to be published in a collection of work from local children. I felt then that the change weakened the work at lot, and looking at it now I still can't understand what he was thinking. But if I had refused to listen to what he wanted the poem wouldn't have been published at all. I know this is not much fun - but then essays aren't much fun anyway (at least, I didn't think so, when I was at school).

When it comes to writing stories of your own, though, you shouldn't ever 'buckle' this way and go against your heart and instincts. That takes all the fun and life out of things.

I hope this was helpful, Isabel - and as always, if anyone else has questions they'd like me to answer, pop them in the comments or send me an email, and I'll do my best to answer.


Rebecca Lindsay said...

Isabel: Like Zoe said, if you do feel really strongly about your writing, then don't change it. I don't want to make you ignore the advice from your teachers, because they do help you to grow and develop your technique, but my Higher English teacher told me that my creative writing folio piece would only get a B AT MOST, but I got a top A for it when it was sent away. I made some slight changes from what she advised but I stuck to the atmosphere I wanted to create and it paid off.
It's maybe that your teachers don't normally read the genre that you write in and don't fully understand why you have put some scenes in there and why you've described something in a certain way. Listen to your teachers and follow their advice, but if you do feel strongly about something, follow your gut.
Hope that helps, along with Zoe's advice :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Rebecca: I hope Isabel feels more confident about this now - she originally asked this question about a year ago.

Isabel said...

Rebecca - thanks! I think I actually asked this question on the first blog post that I ever commented on on the Zoe-Trope. Now I'm at a completely different school with very experienced teachers, and I'm more mature and take advice more easily now, so I don't have the same problem anymore. :)

(Thanks for re-posting this, Zoe!)

Rebecca Lindsay said...

Haha, my brain must not have registered that it was an earlier post lol. I hope it would've helped "the past you." lol :)

Isabel said...

I started crying today while I was writing, for the first time! When you're trying very hard to put yourself through every emotion that your character is feeling, it starts to get to you. I think it's a sign of improvement, since I've never been able to completely do that before. Pretty exciting. :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Isabel: Well, like I've said before - there are writers who don't cry at all, and they seem to manage fine. So if you'd never gotten teary eyed over your characters, that would have been OK. On the other hand, if you feel that you've gotten very emotionally close to your imaginary people, and you're crying because of that, it can only be a good thing. The more you understand characters and feel that they're fully realised people, the better your stories will be. So - congratulations. *Passes the Kleenex*

Robin said...

Good advice for any writing hopeful, I think. Thanks, Zoe.

Isabel said...

Thanks, Zoe! :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Robin: You're very welcome :)

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