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David Farland's Daily Kick in the Pants:
Taking Advice


Today I was looking over the editing changes that some writers had suggested for an upcoming young adult fantasy novel. I find that every comment is helpful, but some are more helpful than others. Anyone who suggests that I fix a typo or a change to better wording is a big help.

Among the critiques, I found one that was particularly insightful. It didn't just suggest minor fixes, but a major shift from one viewpoint character to another and a couple of changes to the plot line. All of the suggestions were good, and some insights felt almost revelatory. You know that feeling, like: "Oh, yeah, why didn't I see that before?"

The critique came from award-winning romance novelist Day Leclaire, who has over fifty novels under her belt, so it's no surprise that her critique was wise and insightful. Day was worried that after reading her brilliant insights, I might "hate" her. On the contrary, I loved the suggestions. In fact, in the past 25 years, I don't think I've ever had a more valuable critique. I'm extremely grateful.

When someone gives me a good suggestion on a manuscript, it's almost like having them hand me money. After all, the better my book is, the more copies I'll sell.

Not all authors take advice well. Years ago, I belonged to several writing groups, and at the same time, I was working as the coordinating judge for the Writers of the Future Contest. Very often I would suggest that an author change a story and submit it to a particular editor. About sixty percent of the time, the author would follow my advice, and a few days or weeks later the author would come back and tell me that he or she had made their first sale. It happened literally hundreds of times. But sometimes authors would refuse to follow my advice, and their stories would languish. Occasionally the author would come back a few years later and let me know that he or she had finally followed my advice, and that the story had sold. In fact, last year I got such a letter. I had told a Writers of the Future semi-finalist to make a couple of changes, and the author said that he had disagreed at the time, but years later he took a look at the story and realized that I was right. He fixed the story, sent it out, and sold it—thirteen years after I'd pointed out what the story needed!

So when you get a good piece of advice, look at your tale carefully. You might be proud of the story—and rightly so. But even the best of us need to tweak our work. Stories aren't usually brilliant on the first draft. Normally it takes a few passes.