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April 2017

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Owning it

Sometimes when people respond to critique, they wonder whether to adopt certain suggestions. The internal debate might sound like this: "I don't know about this ... but I really trust her judgment ... but I never envisioned it this way ... although I shouldn't be closed-minded ..."

I think a good test for a situation like this--especially if one version of the manuscript isn't screaming "I'm better!" than the other--is to think about what would happen if a reader later criticized me for the choice. Would I end up saying, "Oh, my editor wanted the character to get angry there," or, "My critique partner told me I should put in that sentence"? Or could I say with conviction, "He gets angry there because he's been denying his real feelings about his father, and that's also why he left all those hang-ups on his dad's VoiceMail"?

If I make a change in a manuscript with my name on it, I own that change.

I'm not urging writers to fight over every comma (my experience with copy edits proved I am no expert on commas and should not take a stand on them anyway). And I'm not talking about ignoring critique out of some misguided belief that the writer is always right and the words as first laid on the page shall never be altered. After all, I don't want to end up saying to a reader, "Oh, you know twenty other people have told me that scene isn't believable, and my editor thought the same thing. I guess I should've changed it."

I'm talking about making sure the big, important issues are right: The ending. The theme. The tone. The presence or absence of certain characters. The direction of the plot. Sometimes that means incorporating the wise advice of others, and sometimes that means incorporating it but with a sideways twist, and sometimes that means sticking with my original words. I just have to know that whatever I do, I can stand behind it.


I have been having some of these same questions. To change or not to change? This is when I have to ask myself how well I know and understand my characters. Also, would the changes help the story/plot/character along. I'm willing to entertain all possibilities but hesitant to enact any but the most crucial changes.

It makes me think of the scene where a cook is tending a dish and walks away for a moment and another person comes by and adds an ingredient, repeat process and yuck. Before you know it the dish is a mess. One cook per soup please.
When everyone who tastes it says, "Add salt," it's easier than when 10 people recommend 10 different seasonings!
Oh my, ten different changes, that is pressure. Tough decisions.
Well said!
Thank you!
great post, Jenn! Your posts on writing and revising are always so thought-provoking.
Thank you, Denise!
It was great to see you this week, and to see your book cover in real life.
That's a very good question to ask, I take everything as an opinion and go from there. It won't hurt to try other ways of doing something and then seeing what works for you.

I will keep that in mind when I'm getting a wip critiqued by someone. :)

Thanks for sharing Jennifer. Happy writing.
"It won't hurt to try other ways of doing something and then seeing what works for you."

Exactly! Sometimes trying it makes the answer obvious--it works or it doesn't.
Very interesting and a great way to decide on changes! Again you have posted an solution to something I was battling :) thanks
Glad it was helpful, and good luck! :-)
' my experience with copy edits proved I am no expert on commas and should not take a stand on them anyway'

Lol, I know exactly what you mean :)

I'm pretty good with punctuation otherwise, but the wily comma outwitted me!
So true. I find I need a week after critique to get past my knee-jerk reaction of either 1. I'll change it all or 2. they are so wrong to really think about what is best for my story
Yes, time to digest!
Great post! You may get a hundred suggestions for what you should do to your manuscript, but ultimately you want it to be your own. My husband gets frustrated with me sometimes for not taking his suggestions, but what he doesn't understand is that his ideas help get my brain going so I can come up with my own ideas. You want people to point out the problems, but it's up to you to figure out how to fix them.
Thank you!
Some people say critiquers are great at knowing what's wrong, not so great at knowing how to fix it. I find that, anyway, my best editors don't give me specific instructions so much as guideposts.
GREAT post, Jenn!
Thank you!
What a brilliant way to assess whether or not to make a change in a manuscript! Learning what to keep and what to change is one of the hardest things to grasp, and this is a fabulous yardstick!
Thank you--you know how we introverts like to turn inward and trust our guts. :-)
Great post!

And I, like you, can not be trusted on commas.

Thank you.
And are you getting excited about your official launch?


Heh, well, intermittently. I tend to try and keep on an even keel, not that it always works. It's funny because the book's been out on Amazon and there's already all this stuff going on so it almost doesn't feel like the real launch, but on the other hand, it really is, and I'm not sure what to expect. So we'll see how it goes and how I feel when it gets here!

That Anon up there was me

I swear I screw up this OpenID thing every time!

Cool post. I'm about to submit to agents, so I'm hoping to have all this to look forward to. Criticism so far has been easy to follow. Cheers, Simon.
If you're like most of us, the editorial letter will be a revelation in how many more changes one can make to a manuscript that had already seemed polished to a high gloss!
Good luck in your search!


I read the first few pages RPT@Amazon(before your blog)and the style and atmospherics caught and held my interest immediately; but the punctuation did seem profoundly accurate as to pulling the page flow incessantly forward. Your comment about not getting hung up on the Copy Editor's functions has resonance with me. The stick to substance and story and rational grammar and let the expert do what they do. Good Luck
We can learn as much as we can, but copy editors attain a whole other level of expertise!

I thank my editors!

Because my comma knowledge is really lacking...

Glad you're enjoying!



Love this post. I made some major changes for a potential editor who went on maternity leave by the time my revisions were ready. Was feeling pretty frustrated for a while, wondering if I butchered my novel for nothing. Thinking back now, these are changes I'm willing to own. I'm going to start sending happy thoughts to that baby wherever he or she is. Next time an editor requests revisions, I'll remember this post. Thank you!
Sometimes we have to work through our own resistance for the better of the book, and sometimes the suggestion just doesn't work. With a good editor, I find that 90% or more of the time, the suggestion is on the right track. The trick is recognizing the exceptions!