From British author Neil Gaiman: “When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
I concur 100 percent. When readers or listeners to my work have a sense that something is off in a passage or a chapter but they’re not sure what, I listen carefully and make a note. Most often, I’ve had the same sensation myself, and their perception is a good confirmation. Other times, it alerts me to something that is landing wrong or is unclear or “clunky” and when I go back, I find that that is so. Seldom is that advice wrong.
However, when readers land on a word or phrase they don’t like and want to suggest a remedy, I listen politely, give it a moment’s consideration, and then, most often, I just let it go. I assume they have some other idea in mind for that character or that bit of a dialog, and they can use that in their own book if they want to. A good friend heard me read a chapter from my current work-in-progress and she got absolutely stuck on the word “duvet” in this sentence: “Out the window, a duvet of fog had moved into the garden.” She thought the word jangled with the simpler language I’d been using earlier in the chapter. So I gave it some thought, took it out, rewrote the sentence. But then it nagged at me. Fog is a central image of this book, and its “duvetness” was important to me. So I put it back.
I’ve gotten more and more savvy about taking feedback. I take notes when people talk to me about my manuscript or respond to a reading I’ve done in a support group. I love their praise and I also love their ideas. That’s really what I want—ideas I can spark off of, not minute changes I can make to wording. I need to trust my own word choices but other people’s ideas, they can send me into a reverie of imaginative creativity that I wouldn’t have gone to otherwise.