How one comment spoils the story and the writer

So, the other day when I said, "I start assuming the reader isn't going to understand what I mean (this is entirely the fault of bad critiques, by the way) so I over-explain.", here is what I meant and why it translates to my lack of confidence.

(I'm using a recent example because it is fresh, but this is by no means the only example.)

I'm critique shopping my WIP and putting it up for comment in as many loops as possible in order to get as many takes on it as I can so I can make it the best it can be. One comment I got was this: "There's no such thing as heat lightning." This really got under my skin, not only because I'm a weather fanatic and have done my research, not only because I ALWAYS do my research, but because the weather is an important CLUE in the story, and this one comment really undermined my work.

At first I was mad. More than anything I wanted to pull up as many web pages as I could that proved heat lightning exists and define it for this Comment Maker. I resisted. I've seen too many online wars start over small comments like this. So I thanked Comment Maker and moved on. Or so I thought. Instead, I ended up internalizing the comment, and like battery acid, it ate right through me. What if Comment Maker is right in some way? What if I've failed to properly show the importance of heat lightning and how its wrongness contributes to the mood and setting and story? So I went back to the text and started explaining something I'd already shown. I also threw in a prologue that mentioned the heat lightning and tied it up with mood, setting and story. Can you say over-kill?

The thing is, I can't blame Comment Maker for this. This is entirely my fault.

In all the years I've been writing and critiquing, I should have learned better by now which comments to listen to and act on, and which comments to flush from my mind. Yes, it was a bad critique. Bad critiques happen and will continue to happen. It's my job to sort them out, to separate the wheat from the chaff. I'm the driver of this story, and we are not writing by committee. Apparently I need more practice with this.

I love getting critiques because they show me my story from other perspectives. They remind me that everyone comes to a story with their own set of expectations and experiences, and that they will use those expectations and experiences to enhance the story. It's not just about me and what I want from the story. (Okay, it's totally about me and what I want while I'm writing, but as soon as another set of eyes hit the page, it's all about them.) There are certain critiquers I totally cherish, NOT because they gush over my every word (because they do not and never would), but because they've enough experience to know what's relevant in a critique and what's not. Skillz. Mad critiquing skillz.

A confident writer would have flushed Comment Maker's words from her mind. She would have felt sure she'd done her research, presented what she needed for the story, and left it at that. It was one comment from one in nearly two dozen people.

How do I prevent this from happening in the future? I will listen to my instincts. When I got mad about that comment, that was my instincts talking, and I didn't listen. I listened to Doubt. I will also let more time lapse before taking action, particularly on the comments that do not jive with my instincts.

I suspect we could go all Armchair Psychologist and discuss all the reasons why I let comments undermine my confidence, but we won't go there. Trust me, I've been there. It's not pretty. *g*

Wise Words from Ira Glass; and where did my confidence go?

I came across this video on another blog and had to share. So much of what I've been feeling is addressed here in under two minutes.

[vimeo w=400&h=225]
Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

I was at a critiquing workshop on the weekend, and in the weeks leading up to it, I asked myself why I felt I needed to go, why after all these years of writing and critiquing I still struggled with editing my work. The answer that came to mind was that I felt I knew what I was doing, but I lacked confidence in doing it. I have good words, I have all the parts of story captured on the page, my writing instincts are dead on... but when it comes to the execution, I second guess myself. I start assuming the reader isn't going to understand what I mean (this is entirely the fault of bad critiques, by the way) so I over-explain.

At the workshop, I shared 5 pages with 4 other people including 1 multi-published, NYT-bestselling author, and with those 5 pages, the author wisely pointed out that I was both showing and telling, and then she told me to "have confidence in your writing" and to trust the reader to get it.

In 5 pages.

She captured exactly what I'd been feeling lately. I thought, "Whoa. This is bad. My lack of confidence shows on the page?? I have to do something about this." So, I came home and started hacking and chopping and reduced those 5 pages down by half.  I now have a sticky note on my monitor to remind myself to "trust the reader to get it." Those 5 pages are from the opening chapter, which may very well be rewritten. Again. Until I'm happy with it. And the prologue? I've thrown it out.

I don't have the first clue how to develop my confidence on the page-- there will likely be many more blog posts about this-- but I've decided my first act is to chop anything I've put in because I didn't feel the reader would understand. I suspect this is mainly a problem for first few chapters only.

Do you have any advice for me? Any suggestions on developing confidence?