As writers, we have to deal with many voices in our heads. Our characters might give us a great line of dialogue while we’re in the shower, or share a pivotal piece of their history when we’re nowhere near a means of recording it. But these voices all come from within us. These are our stories trying to get out. People might look at us funny when we suddenly burst into tears in line at the grocery store or start laughing in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, but we’re writers. These are the hazards of the trade.
The voices that we need to watch out for are the ones that come from others—from outside our head. When we put too much emphasis on what others think about our craft, our words, our characters, our stories, we can corrupt our writer’s voice. This doesn’t mean we should ignore feedback (feedback is crucial!), but rather, we should be careful of who we let influence us and how that influence manifests.
If a trusted friend or colleague reads a piece and gives me a suggestion, I’ll weigh it against my best judgment and decide how to proceed. When my editor gives me a suggestion for a piece, you can bet I listen closely and give it careful thought. If someone I’ve never met before and know nothing about says something about a piece—good or bad—I take it with a grain (or several) of salt. They might have great insight to offer, whether they’re raving or venting.
They might be having a very bad day.
Everyone comes to each story with their own perspective and experiences. We have to remember that, or we run the risk of changing the nature of what we write to try to please people. The trouble is, once we start trying to please people, we realize that there’s no way to write our true stories while we’re too focused on the words of the people around us.
The voices that are closest to us belong to our characters. Those are the ones we most need to heed.