Guest Post: Trust Your Instincts

Amie says: I am one of the many people who fangirl madly for Sam Henry (swoooon), and today I’m excited to give away a copy of Miranda Kenneally’s brand new book, Stealing Parker. I read it and I loved it! The giveaway is international, and you can enter below! Without further ado, here is Miranda!

This is one of my favorite pieces of writing advice that I often tell people:

Trust your first instinct. My 7th grade science teacher once told me, “Miranda, a human being’s first instinct is correct 90% of the time. If you’re going to deviate from your first instinct, you’d better have a good reason why you should.”  When I send out a first draft (or portions of a first draft) to beta readers, I’m always open-minded when comments start coming back to me, but before I consider implementing any suggested changes – I have to remind myself to think about why I wrote what I did in the first place.  It’s very normal to feel silly or dumb after hearing comments, and immediately feel like you need to rush to do exactly what that person says — But you’ve also got to remember that you’re smart, too, and you wrote what you did for a reason.

The reason I’m telling you this is because today I want to talk about feedback from beta readers, reviewers, and fans.

I love reading reviews. In fact, I recently received a great review from Kirkus that was mostly full of praise, but they also said I have a lot going on in my books, and maybe there might be a bit too much. I can definitely see where Kirkus is coming from. I’ll store that bit of advice for later… maybe I’ll think about digging deeper on a few plotlines instead of having lots of separate plotlines.

Some fans have recently been saying that maybe my books end too abruptly, and that they want to see more about what happens next to my characters. I have always been one of those people who believe that “the story ends when the story ends,” but I love this feedback. I’m glad to know that people want to see more of my characters! I want to try to incorporate it into my writing in the future.

What’s important to note is that I am only willing to change the way I write because I have actively thought about these above notes and think they’re valid.

When you hear feedback from people, you cannot immediately jump to make changes. What if the person giving you the feedback is wrong? What if it will mess up the story you wanted to tell in the first place? What if it messes up your characterization?

I think if you write a book with one fan in mind, other people are bound to like it too.

Sure, plenty of people won’t like your work either. I can’t tell you how many TV shows I hate. And sometimes I shudder when I see what some movies are about. We’re all different people and we all like different things.
So what I’m saying is, you need to write the story you want to tell, and learn how to weed through the feedback you get and choose what you want to use and what you want to throw away.

I love every review that people give me – positive and negative. It’s good to know what works and what doesn’t. I like hearing other people’s thoughts – it gives me something to think about. I want to better myself as a writer, and I can’t do that if people aren’t critical of me. That being said, I want to show you some feedback I’ve gotten on my books, and you tell me how my next book would turn out if I started trying to change my writing style based on this feedback:

  1. The book started too slow. It took forever to get going.
  2. The book started too fast. It went by too quickly.
  3. I loved her first book more than the second book.
  4. I loved her second book so much more than the first!
  5. I hated the first book, loved the second.
  6. I loved the first book, hated the second.
  7. I hate the main character.
  8. I love the main character!
  9. I don’t know why the main character chose to make this stupid decision.
  10. I know exactly why the main character decided to make that decision. It makes sense.
  11. The main character is selfish and mean.
  12. The main character is strong and determined.
  13. I thought the guy was hot!
  14. The guy gave me the creepers!
  15.  Pretty much everyone likes my character Sam Henry, so at least you all agree on one thing. 😉

Remember to trust your first instinct, and think hard before making any changes in your writing. It’s YOUR book!

PS: From time to time, my writer friends do have to walk me off the ledge when I hear something I don’t want to hear about one of my first drafts. We all get the writing crazies! You’re not alone.

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MIRANDA KENNEALLY is the author of Catching JordanStealing Parker (October 1, 2012) and Things I Can’t Forget (March 2013). Miranda is the co-creator of Dear Teen Me. The Dear Teen Me Anthology will be published on October 31, 2012. She enjoys reading and writing young adult literature, and loves Star Trek, music, sports, Mexican food, Twitter, coffee, and her husband. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook. Miranda is represented by Sara Megibow at Nelson Literary Agency.

     

26 Responses to Guest Post: Trust Your Instincts

  1. Renee Suzanne Oct 8 2012 at 6:58 am #

    This post is amazing! I wrote a story once that I shared with the general public and I remember getting flaming criticism for the way one character treated another, and I was so wounded I about threw in the towel. But I never changed it, because I knew that was how the story needed to go even if that one reader didn’t see it that way. Carrying this gem of insight you’ve written with me from now on, to remind me to trust my OWN instincts as a writer! =D

  2. Julie Eshbaugh
    Julie Eshbaugh Oct 8 2012 at 7:09 am #

    Hi Miranda! Thank you for this fantastic advice! I’m going into revisions on my latest MS now and waiting to hear back from CPs, so this couldn’t have come at a better time. 🙂

  3. Miranda Kenneally Oct 8 2012 at 8:28 am #

    @Renee – Thanks! In my opinion, good writing makes people uncomfortable. It sounds as if you wrote a great story considering that reader’s reaction! Sometimes I think readers confuse characters making mistakes with the book being “flawed.” What the reader hasn’t stopped to consider is that this is EXACTLY what the author set out to do, and, in fact, the reader has had the negative reaction the author expects. If all characters were perfect, readers would be bored. And nobody would learn anything.

    I’d rather have a reader really pissed me as an author and have them *think* about what I wrote than placate to delicate constitutions by writing fluff. (I’ve always wanted to say delicate constitution in a blog post!)

    One of the most awkward scenes I’ve ever read is in Jonathan Franzen’s THE CORRECTIONS. The character is so poor he has to steal fish from the grocery store, and he hides it in his pants. It’s so awkward when the fish starts to fall out of his pants in front of people he knows!

    @Julie – Thanks so much! I hope your revisions go well.

  4. ellie Moreton Oct 8 2012 at 9:49 am #

    Such good advice! I’m ALWAYS second guessing myself when I write, like “this makes sense to OTHER people right? am I crazy? I’d totally do this, but would they understand??”

    • Miranda Kenneally Oct 8 2012 at 9:57 am #

      Ellie – I think that’s where writing gets tough. You have to set up the circumstances perfectly in order for people to understand what you are trying to tell them. One of my favorite examples is this:

      How could anyone make a child sleep in a closet? That’s child abuse. What kind of person would do such a thing?
      People “buy” that Harry Potter slept in a cupboard under the stairs because JK Rowling did such a great job of setting up Vernon Dursley as a character. He hates kids who act like punks. He has the perfect little life where nothing ever goes wrong. He abhors anything out of the ordinary, because it makes him uncomfortable and scared.

      This is where feedback from beta readers is so crucial. You have to ask them, “Do you buy this situation? Why not? What would make you more compassionate toward this character?”

  5. Jeanmarie Anaya Oct 8 2012 at 9:58 am #

    I wrote a blog post about this exact topic but didn’t have the courage to officially post it because I feared I’d sound like an amateur who didn’t know how to handle feedback. It makes me feel so much better to know that accomplished authors feel exactly the same way. Thank you, Miranda! You’ve made my day. I WILL post my blog post, and I may even link to this one, too. 😉

    • Miranda Kenneally Oct 8 2012 at 10:08 am #

      Jeanmarie – Post it! 🙂

      PS – I still have a hard time handling feedback, but at least I don’t cry uncontrollably anymore. Yes, I used to cry like crazy over bad feedback. Now I don’t even get stressed. I think, “Okay. Now how am I going to fix this?” and move on.

  6. Kateri Ransom Oct 8 2012 at 10:00 am #

    I am taking my first ever writing class and I have to say I absolutely agree with you! I got one stack of every one of my piers reviews on a piece I’d written and after going through them I realized if I were to take them all into account I would have an entirely different piece. There were people who thought I had very little changes to make and people who thought I had to change it completely. I realized that I’ve got to be the one to then walk the middle ground. So thanks for addressing this!

    • Miranda Kenneally Oct 8 2012 at 10:05 am #

      Kateri – Interesting!

      I think the best beta readers are those who read your work and figure out what YOU are trying to say with your writing and then make suggestions on how you can make it better.

      Beware of beta readers who TELL YOU what your book should be about.

      When I was writing my very first book (it never got published), I listened to a published author who told me I had missed the mark in writing my book, and told me how to “fix it.” I made her changes, and it made the book a disjointed mess that had different tones throughout.

      It was a mess because in my haste to accept “professional advice” I forgot what I had originally set out to do in writing the book.

  7. Amelia Robinson Oct 8 2012 at 10:25 am #

    LOVE THIS. It makes me so happy to see authors who understand where reviewers come from — that they can roll with the punches. And on listening to instinct? That really resonated with me as an aspiring author because I’ve had to learn the difficult way to listen to the Little Voice that’s telling me to follow this plotline and not the other.

    Fantastic post. I loved it. 🙂

    -Amelia
    The Authoress

    • Miranda Kenneally Oct 8 2012 at 10:36 am #

      Hi Amelia – thanks!

      One way I can always tell if my plot is working or not working is if I get stuck. If I get stuck and can’t seem to write beyond a particular scene, it generally means I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. I like to go back to the beginning of the book and read until I figure out where it stops feeling “right.”

      Happy writing!

  8. Erin Bowman
    Erin Bowman Oct 8 2012 at 10:34 am #

    Miranda, I adore this post! Thank you so much for the reminder. And for sharing that list of feedback from various fans. (Like everyone else, I seem to be in agreement on #15 — <3 Sam Henry!) 🙂

  9. Leigh Smith Oct 8 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    This post really spoke to me. I finished my first ever complete draft a couple of months ago. I wanted to let it sit but since I’ve been trying to back to it over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been paralyzed with fear. I feel like I can’t start. I don’t know how I did it before and I’m so sure I can’t do it again. What if everyone hates it? This post helps me realize that there are surely some things that I did right. Surely…

    • Miranda Kenneally Oct 8 2012 at 2:02 pm #

      Hi Leigh –

      Well, if you want to be a writer and you want to get published, you have to put your book out there and see what people think. Hardly anybody liked my first book. I sent out over 100 queries and only got 4 requests for fulls. The problem with the book was that I didn’t know who my audience was. I wrote a book I wanted to read, when no one else in their right mind would want to read it. (it was a dorky sci-fi romance set in college, featuring a mad teenage scientist who wanted to be a track star. It was dumb)

      Anyhow, the only reason I was able to write the book that got sold is because I put it out there to see what people thought. I found the right audience (teen girls who like romance)

      So if you put your book out there and no one wants to read it, try writing something else until you find something that hooks people.

      Many authors have unpublished manuscripts hiding under their mattresses. (I know I do) 🙂

      • Leigh Smith Oct 10 2012 at 11:57 am #

        Thanks, Miranda. That means a lot. I think I’m going to go for it! What’s the worst that could happen, right? Other than soul-crushing heartbreak. May as well get it over with. Seriously though, thank you.

  10. Vivien Oct 8 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    Gosh I must always bow down to you amazing authors. Not being one myself I can only imagine what you must go through. It takes some very strong skin and a loving support group. Keep up the great work!!!!

  11. Kendall McCubbin Oct 9 2012 at 10:58 am #

    Thank you for the giveaway! I would have more entries if I had a Twitter lol!

    I loved your post! It was inspiring and it showed me how down to earth you are! I also love how you take your Beta Readers and Bloggers advice and use it to your advantage to improve your work! I also love how you were willing to show us some of your feedback whether is is good or bad!

  12. Ben Weaber Oct 9 2012 at 11:49 am #

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  13. Daphne Oct 10 2012 at 10:51 am #

    This is really great advice. I always second guess myself based on what other people’s advice is. I think I should learn to trust my own instinct a bit more.

  14. Katy Oct 12 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    Thank you for making the giveaway international ! I didn’t read the first book of the series, but I’ve heard so much about this one, so I’ll read the second book first 😀

  15. Aseel Naji Oct 14 2012 at 8:05 am #

    Thanks for the advice and the giveaway!

  16. Kate Oct 14 2012 at 8:15 am #

    I think that’s great advice and some that I’ should take.

    I’m not a writer. Every time I try to start I get all up in my head and start wondering what people are going to thing and then I get discouraged and just… end up deleting everything I’ve written so far. I really should take your advice and just trust my own instincts and stop second guessing myself.

  17. Ana Lucía Oct 15 2012 at 12:20 pm #

    Both books sounds great. I’ve heard great things about them. Thank you for the international giveaway 🙂

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