Listen to Your Readers, But Don’t Do What They Say

If you’re a writer who does not have a peer reading group of any sort, turn around, go back out the front door of this article, get one, and then come back. Because it’s very difficult to write without peer readers. At different stages in your career, you might need a whole critique group, a mutual reading circle, a few beta readers, or three people who each read well for one practiced thing that makes you keep them by you. But you need someone.

For the most part, this advice is for writers who are still early in their career, or have not yet been published. You’ve probably got more than three peer readers. Do you find that you’re often confused by their advice? Do you get conflicting advice about the same part of the story?

The reason is simple. Most people who read a lot (which is what your peer reading group, including yourself, should consist of) are great at finding where a story doesn’t work for them. The problem is, while they always think they know how to fix it, they aren’t you. What would fix the same problem in their story might not work for your story. Most of all, their writing voice, their writing choices, will not be the same.

Nobody’s wrong here – not you, not them. But their path is not your path. Part of finding your own voice, your own confidence and strength as a writer, is making your own path. It’s much better to do so with signposts, and that’s what peer readers can provide.

If you have three readers who say your characters aren’t strong enough, they may mean three different things. If you have three out of five readers who don’t like the amount of description you’ve put in, does that mean you’re not doing it right?

To avoid confusion, use your peer readers like signposts. When they identify a problem, it’s a good idea to realize there may well be a problem there. But you need to figure out what it is, and how to fix it, for yourself. Listen to the fact that your peer readers have something to say – but the solution must be yours alone.

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