Thursday, February 9, 2012

Conflicting Advice and What to Do With It

The other day I was ranting to my mother-in-law about how my brand new coffee maker leaked. She convinced me to try and return it, as the tank may have cracked in shipping, which I was all prepped to do…before making one last cup of coffee, of course. My husband was watching as I poured in the water, and suddenly he says, “Are you sure it leaks?”

I turned to him sadly. “Yeah.”

He just raised his eyebrows and said, “Uh, and you’re sure it’s not just that you’re pouring water all over the counter?”

He was right. In my morning coffee haze, I had been blindly pouring the water from the pot into the tank…which, apparently, was a poor choice considering the pot dribbled 1/3 of the water down the side instead of straight out the spout, as I’d thought.

So what does this have to do with conflicting advice?

Well, consider another story: I was in revisions with a client to polish up before submission. I told her to cut her prologue; it slowed the pacing and distracted me from the story. She sent revisions back – with the prologue…changed in tone. Reading through, she was absolutely right: it wasn’t the prologue that wasn’t working. It was the tone of the prologue.

In other words: with ANY revision advice, think through WHY that person may be thinking what they are, instead of WHAT they are saying. Because what they’re suggesting as a fix…may not be the problem.

For example, one agent may say: the pacing is really dragging here for me. I’d suggest cuts to move along faster. And another may say, I love your plot and the flow of the story, but I’m not sure I really buy the motivation here.

Conundrum. You can’t do BOTH very easily, now can you – if you make cuts for pacing, you can’t very well take the time to expound on character motive, too, and besides, the other agent liked the flow!

So what do you do? Pick the easiest one and submit to that agent, and if she rejects it, try the other agent’s suggestion and submit to her?


Ask: WHY is one agent feeling the pace drags, and another doesn’t feel connected to the motive? The answer may be, instead, that the voice and emotional connection to the characters isn’t strong enough – because if each agent were 100% sucked into the voice, the story wouldn’t seem to drag along and the reader would be able to “buy” the motive.

In sum: what do you do with conflicting advice? Don’t pick one or the other, or try and do both at once and try and fit a square peg into a round hole (ahem, not right away at least; who knows, maybe you have a 100,000 word MG with no motive that really…yeah, cuts AND characterization would help).

Instead: Try and see the forest through the trees.


  1. Really good advice here. Thanks :)

  2. So what you're saying is being able to accept advice (and acting on it)can be just as detrimental as not being able to accept it at all?

    I actually get that. And I'm pretty sure my coffee pot has been leaking in the same way your's did.

  3. You must be related to Lucille Ball...such fun trouble with inanimate objects.

    Good advice...kudos to your client for managing a prologue that works. Rarer than a turquoise unicorn.


  4. Great advice! It's a good way of looking at it.

  5. Great advice. This is why I also love that my critique partners have different strengths and slightly different tastes. It's good for me to compare their notes side by side. Even if they aren't agents, they let me know when my writing isn't connected or when the pace is off, or both. Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Me, too. My two crit partners write in entirely different styles, so if one says I need to beef up the action I know it's because he tends to write a lot of white-knuckle action scenes in his own work - and that's not necessarily what's best for my own WIP. But if he tells me a scene drags, there are many, non-action scene ways to fix it.

  6. Thanks for this really great post. It's true that sometimes when I'm critiquing I can tell something is off, and only make my best guess about what a fix might be. So, when getting advice on my own work, it makes sense to try to think through what prompted the comments.

  7. Great post! I can definitely see myself getting completely confused if I was in that situation. I'll definitely keep it in mind for the future!

  8. wow! Great idea, Natalie, and so well-timed! I'm in the middle of a revision I thought was finished. Then a critter came back and said the new stuff wasn't strong enough. Me = what? I love this. Why is this critter saying this... :D *runs to get some coffee*

  9. I'm in the middle of getting and giving a bunch of manuscript critiques. These thoughts couldn't possibly have come at a better time.

    Thanks, Natalie!

  10. Hi!

    I am the Books editor at Before It's News ( Our site is a rapidly growing people-powered news platform currently serving over 3 million visits a month. We like to call ourselves the "YouTube of news."

    We would like to republish your content on our site. Our visitors would love to read it, and find out more about you as a blogger, author, and editor.

    You can also post excerpts of your books directly on our site. I can tell you more about that part if you want.

    It's a great opportunity to spread the word about your work and reach new readers.

    We will be featuring and promoting books, excerpts, posts, and reviews on our homepage, on Twitter, Facebook, in our newsletter, and more.

    Please let me know what you think.

    Sebastian Clouth

  11. Oh, thank for this, Natalie!!! I'm facing a revision request and this was the exact problem I was dealing with (just with different issues). I was delaying doing it because I couldn't figure out how to jam the square peg in the round hole.

  12. I found this helpful. Thank you!
    I'm glad I found your blog---although it was on accident. This is the second time I have run into you on my road to publication. I guess I should subscribe.

  13. Great advice! Thanks for this post.

  14. I'm glad I found this since I have been giving my MS to more CPs. Now I'll be able to think through the advise...hopefully a lot of it isn't conflicting. lol. Lovely post!

  15. Thanks, Natalie. My current novel has been on "pause" for several months because I've been trying to figure out how to put the square peg in the round hole. Not so much due to conflicting advice, but due to advice from two separate critiques with two very different points of view. I know I have an interesting story. It's all in the telling of it that I'm floundering. There's very little advice out there for writers for the younger middle-grade audience. Maybe you know what a 10-11 year old would read? I'm trying to go bloodless, kissless, curseless, and death-defying-less, but that's simply not the way of the world right now. (ugh!) Definitely open to suggestions on how to get past this roadblock. Maybe I need to write for an even younger audience like beginning chapter readers? I just don't know.

  16. Great advice! I'm in the middle of revisions of several stories (for a writing workshop, not an agent) but of course anytime you get more than one person to read a story, you get more than one opinion. I think this advice applies in so many cases and not just when working with agents. Thanks!

  17. Oh! We had the same experience! When I tried the new coffee maker in our office space for rent makati , it leaked. Good thing my office mate saw that the water tank was being overfilled.