Why I Can’t Talk About Your Novel

Photo credit: markus spiske on Flickr
NOTE: I want to add that this post isn't geared to any one person. I get messages like these a lot, and it's totally okay, and I don't mind giving general pointers. Really, I don't. But it felt important enough to talk about why I can't get too specific.

So as a writer who blogs, vlogs, and tweets about writing and writing tips, it’s not really all too surprising that I frequently get questions about how to make someone’s MS better—questions that are really specific to that person’s WIP. And while I’m not at all that bothered by it, it happens often enough that I thought a post might be a good idea.

Because the truth is I can’t talk to you about your novel.

Writing is so super-crazy-subjective and so very specific to a case-by-case basis. And yes, of course there are general tips and techniques and strategies I can and do share, but there are always exceptions, too, and the only way anyone can really figure out what the best move is for your specific manuscript is to read it with a critical eye.

Only problem is most of the time when I get e-mails from lovely readers asking about their MSs, I haven’t read their work. So it’s really difficult for me to even begin to try to talk about whether or not something is hypothetically working, and I can’t really offer to look at it either because quite frankly? I need that time for my writing stuff and my CPs and betas.

So while I’m happy to point people back to blog posts that talk about general issues mentioned, I unfortunately can’t talk about any specific cases unless I’m critiquing something like in a Fixing the First Page post. And even then I can only talk about the first 250 words, which, in the grand scheme of a 50-100,000 word novel isn’t that much.

But I do what I can here, talking about writing stuff in general terms. And I try to listen to see what people are asking questions about, what people want to see more of, what I didn’t articulate well enough.

I don’t know if it’s enough, but I do know it’s the best I can do. And I hope it’s acceptable to you guys too.

Twitter-sized bite: 
How specific can writing advice posts be? @Ava_Jae explains why the general usually works best. (Click to tweet)


Heather said...

It is incredibly kind that you share so much about writing, even if you can't be specific! Ultimately, though, no matter how much you respect or trust the person you ask advice from, if they don't know your story then they can't be the most helpful. The thing about beta readers and CPs is that they invest in the story. I mean, when I put it like that... It's kind of like the stock market. The Dow Jones and the S&P 500 are indicators, so they can tell you about the general state of the market, but if you want to know about one specific stock then it's important that you hone in on its history to gauge whether you want to invest in its future. So it is with novels. YOUR blog is an indicator, and so you can say that yeah, generally this rule applies to prologues and there are some things you can use to polish your WIP, but everyone needs to hone in with some of their own investors to make their novel better in the long run.

MK said...

Makes total sense. Aren't you also a college student with a full-time job? I have no idea how you do it all, I barely manage to hold down a job, write on the side, and manage the blogging/social media stuff. While I would LOVE your personal feedback on my work, I've never asked you for specifics because I just assume you're already swamped. I'm actually continually impressed that you manage to respond to every comment on your blog!

I think that anyone who's discouraged that you can't give them specific feedback should do what I did--look for critique partners/ betas on the same level as them. I found two awesome critique partners by going to twitter and typing in "YA contemporary critique partner" and responding to two people's tweets. They were both unpublished up-and-coming writers like me, with similar interests and manuscripts, and it worked out awesomely. While I'd love a more professional eye on my stuff before I start querying, I totally understand why that's not possible. And just because someone isn't a professional editor, it doesn't mean they can't give you valuable insights--sometimes all you even need is a voracious reader.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Heather! I completely 100% agree—and also the stock market analogy fits very nicely. I wouldn't have thought of that comparison. Ultimately, while there are always general guidelines, only CPs and betas can help you figure out what general rules are working in your book and what rules you can break, etc. They're so important!

Ava Jae said...

I'm a college student with a part-time job (the editing thing isn't full time ATM), but otherwise yeah. Summers are easier without the coursework load to juggle too but it definitely takes a lot of careful organizing and time management lol. And I do try with comments! Sometimes it takes longer than others, but I do like responding as much as possible. :)

Critique partners are definitely super essential and so very helpful! I think your Twitter search was very clever—don't know why I never thought of that lol. Also I totally agree about the professional thing. I've worked with so many writers who aren't even agented who are absolutely brilliant both at writing and critiquing. Not having so-called "credentials" means very little.

VictoriaGrace Howell said...

You do a lot already. It's great that you offer tips. I love reading them and watching the vids. ^ ^ I feel the same when people ask me about editing or critique. Usually I only off to do the first 1000 words if I can do that.


Ava Jae said...

Yeah, unfortunately I can't offer even that much, but I do host regular critique giveaways so that maybe helps. And thank you, VictoriaGrace! I'm glad to hear you enjoy the blogs/vlogs. :)

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