This post should almost be labeled a redux because I've posted so much of the conversation before. I am once again dealing with that balancing act of craft vs voice. I think more aspiring writers would do well to actually listen, absorb, and apply the feedback they receive from agents when they query. Too often I hear, "It's all subjective and that person is wrong. I'm just going to self-publish." I think that attitude is one major reason why self-publishing still has the negative stigma that it does. But that's not the point of this post.
The point of this post is that taste is subjective, but craft is objective. You might like a poorly written book. You enjoy it despite its lack of technical prowess, storytelling over mechanics and whatnot. So when receiving feedback, it can be hard to understand what is a matter of taste and what is a matter of craft, because the two aren't entirely segregated. They're a cozy Venn diagram. If an agent says, "I think X could be improved," you have to examine this and decide where in the diagram it fits and whether or not its actionable. (Pro Tip: The earlier you are in your career, the more likely it falls in the craft side, so don't get all pissy and go self-publish just because someone didn't extol your genius.)
I'm in that murky larval stage. I've spent the last four years working on pacing, chopping scads of overwriting from my work. I didn't think it was an issue until an agent told me so. I examined my work, saw her point, revised, and improved. One of the main reasons I'm so resistant to self-publishing my own work is that the querying process has improved my craft more than two flipping writing degrees ever did. Working in the system has made me better, so I'm not so quick to talk about how the system is busted and worthless. (Again, getting off track, so I will sum up by saying I agree with the Chuck Wendig school of thought. Publish what's best for you at any given time. It's not one versus the other. For me, I've decided my first step will be a traditional one, however.)
So recently I received feedback about trimming 10k from a manuscript. This is great news. There's interest there or they wouldn't have asked for a resubmit. But I don't know if I want to cut 10k. I'm still analyzing my Venn diagram. This isn't the overwriting of old (or the rambly nature of this post). This was a revised and revised-again manuscript that was built to be what it is. Perhaps with more specific editorial feedback, I could better understand what needs to be cut. But a simple note of "cut 10k" doesn't get me very far. If I had thought 10k needed to be cut, I would have done so of my own accord. So I have to ponder, is this a matter of taste or a matter of craft?
My wife commented about how I like to explain things. I do. She said she doesn't need an explanation. She assumes something happened because the plot needed it to happen and she goes along to see what happens next. I HATE THIS [BOLD FACE]. I hate this soooo much. It reminds me of every bad D&D session I ever sat through where the DM did things for no other reason than that's what he wanted to have happen despite any semblance of logic. I just saw "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" and there was a prime example right in the middle of the movie. They went to location Beta (one of numerous supposed safe locations, as we had been at Gamma previously) but the bad guys found them! Oh no, a character is taken! Oh no, people are shot! My first thought? Oh no, their secure location has been compromised. They must have a mole! I wonder who the traitor is...
EXCEPT WE NEVER FIND OUT! The security breech is NEVER addressed again. How the fuck did it happen? Sure, I get the power of plot guided the bad guys to the location, but for real, if I'm assuming this is really happening in the setting as provided, how the fuck did they find out? Was someone sloppy and get followed? Was someone turned? Was the site never truly secure? Are none of the other sites secure and if so, how did the previous conversation at Gamma site go so smoothly?
EXPLAIN THIS TO ME, MOTHERFUCKER!
My wife doesn't care. She went along for the ride. But for me, it soured the rest of the movie. There was a whole different story there that I think would have been more interesting than the standard run and gun we see so often. (Why do we drive anywhere if you can outrun a moving vehicle?)
I hesitated in writing this post because I didn't want it to sound like, "I'm not revising any more. What I wrote is perfect." Fuck that. I hate when famous authors do that. Given feedback, I will rewrite if I think it'll make my story better. Absolutely. I want it to be the absolute best it can be. But when I hear, "You should be more like [author]," that doesn't do anything for me. I'm not [author]. I'm me. I don't want to be that person. I want to be me. I have my own voice. And my voice explains shit. I'd like to think there are people out there that want their shit explained (the outer shell of the corn doesn't break down because it's indigestible cellulose, you see). But who knows. Maybe that's such a niche readership that it really will require self-publishing to find them. I haven't come to that point yet. I still have my goals. I still think it's a matter of finding someone who resonates with my voice, and I'm hopeful I'll find that person soon. But I wanted to share my thoughts. I've come a long way. I probably have farther to go (if you think you don't you're both wrong and an asshole). The "Am I good enough?" question never really gets answered. It's always a process of self-examination, and the better I get at this, the harder it is to reach a conclusion. That seems backward, but that's what's happening to me.