How Listening Can Improve Your Manuscript
“What one has written is not to be defended or valued, but abandoned: others must decide significance and value.” William Stafford
One of the most beneficial aspects of participating in my writing group the last twelve years has been learning to share new manuscripts without being defensive. Do I hope they tell me I’m a genius? Absolutely. Do I always like what my writing group has to say? No. Do I always agree with what my writing group has to say? No. But I’ve also learned that by quietly listening to their comments I might well discover the key to making my story even better that I thought I could. If their comments do not feel helpful I can simply let them go. There is no need to prove my view is right and theirs is wrong. History also has proven that I might even end up agreeing with their assessment as I revise.
As a teacher and periodic critique-reader at conferences I am bewildered at how many people request (even pay) for an evaluation of their manuscript. Yet, they spend their allotted time telling me what I don’t understand rather than listening to what thoughts I have that might improve their manuscript. I’ve seen this cycle occur in many situations and many genres.
Who doesn’t want to have our first reader clutch the table in ecstasy and proclaim our manuscript is the best thing since the wheel? But as the emperor in his new clothes came to understand, “yes” men are of little value.
When we enter a critique situation in a defensive mode we are literally too busy planning how we will explain our manuscript to even hear the comments we have requested. Jumping to defend and explain our manuscript to a critique group or editor is ultimately about our ego, not our manuscript. Each of us must continue to choose which is most important.
Are critique groups and editors always right? Of course not. Even if their comments don’t feel appropriate, their suggestions might spark new ideas of our own. We have nothing to lose and much to gain by quietly listening without defense while our manuscript is being critiqued.