Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Playing It Safe

Should we as writers play it safe?

Should we hold back and take the advice of all our readers? Make a change or compromise our voice because someone said we should?

As writers, we need to listen to that little voice inside and know when the advice is on target, know when it feels right in our gut. When it doesn't, we need to recognize it.

How do we do that?

Advice is only good when it feels right. When we have to force ourselves to take it, kicking and screaming all the way, that's when we know we need to take the risk. Take a stand. It's our work. It's our voice.

On the other hand, if we have the feeling something isn't working, and one of our precious readers points it out to us, then we know, without a doubt, it needs to change.

What happens when two different readers have two different opinions? Does it mean our work is unclear? Not necessarily, it could mean we've created a very practical and diverse piece, one that's thought provoking and intelligent. But here again, we really have to go with our gut. We shouldn't assume that just because one person loves our work and another hates it that it is confusing. Not everybody likes the same thing. The same style.

I've read things that I've considered so horrible I had to ask myself what the heck was that all about? Then someone else will come along singing high praises for the same piece. Opinions are subjective.

If I receive two or three different suggestions regarding my work, well, author's choice. It's up to me to sift out the good with the bad. Find the stuff that resonates with me. It's not my responsibility to take every suggestion and put it into my work. Where would that leave me? Where did my voice go? It's mixed up somewhere in between Beth's, Penny's, and Tom's. But of course, when Beth, Penny and Tom are all in agreement, a change is certainly on the horizon.

Surrounding myself with friends who want to talk about writing and the process, the hardships and disappointments, as well as the successes, has helped me grow as a writer and I've become more of a risk taker. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. I've found Mentors who are encouraging with great ideas and wonderful support. You know who you are.

I'll take the bad along with the good. Weigh each view and suggestion with heavy hands and heart. Experiment with the unusual, and possibly stir up the pot enough to spill over the rim a bit. It is my opinion writers need to take risks. Dive into to the unfamiliar, shake things up. Take control and venture out to uncover the raw and sometimes agonizing story. Bringing words to life on paper and making them full of truth is what counts. Playing it safe doesn't cut it.

Please feel free to comment with your own experiences. And if you don't write and just want to comment as a reader, that's okay too.

Thanks for reading.


  1. I say never ever play it safe. Push the boundaries a little, both with writing and with your own comfort zone. It might turn out awful, terrible, gagworthy even, but it might just turn out to be the best thing you've ever written.

    As for critiques; my rule for myself is basically the more a critique bothers me, the more merit it likely has. In other words, if someone says that character A and Character B are not believable, or scene 121 is kind of...meh, and that sparks enough fury for me to begin cursing my reader and all of their's likely I should look at changing those parts.

  2. Feedback is helpful. I like to have feedback from writers, and from readers who might never write but have a keen sense of what works.

    As for playing it safe, naw. My stories I like best are the ones that have stretched me.


  3. Absolutely, you're both right, of course. I didn't mean to say I would totally discount my reader if I disagree, Renee. Most times, I would go with what they suggest. But every so often, after trying their suggestion, if I find that it just doesn't work for what I'm trying to accomplish, that's when I must trust my gut. Doesn't happen very often. But if something is unbelievable, that's different.

    Sometimes it would be easier to just change things around so it works, but not at the risk of compromising your voice or your intentions. Like I said, not everybody likes the same thing. And that to me, is when you should never play it safe.

  4. It's my "unsafe" work that I like the best. Not everything we write will have a broad appeal, and at that point we have a decision to make. Sometimes we are writing for ourselves alone. If we happen on something that pleases ourselves AND our readers, then... SCORE! :)


  5. I recently wrote a story in 1st person present tense from the perspective of an insane girl. Her thought process was difficult to write, but it stretched me farther than I've ever before. I had to tap into some very deep places in myself. Definitely not playing it safe. Not for me, anyway.

    Thanks for the post on this topic.

  6. Frankly, I don't think writing to people's opinion is good for any writer. You place yourself in a trap of trying to please anyone and everyone at the expense of your own heart, mind and creativity. Take the reviews and glean what you can, but don't compromise based upon subjective opinion.

    I've examined bad reviews and very few had merit. Those that did, I considered and made changes where needed. But most were just spouting something way out in left field that had little or nothing to do with my story and left me wondering, what book did you read? I gained nothing from those.

    Respect your readers, but your gift, is your gift to use wisely.

  7. Thanks Anne, Rita and Shawn for your wonderful comments.


I love hearing from you and always look forward to your comments!