“‘Anyone can write one good story. A good writer can write many bad stories. The best we can do is become good writers who more often than not write good stories.'”
—a writing instructor’s advice, from
I want to share this article with you not only because I greatly appreciate Lee’s thoughtfulness and honesty, but because I think Lee does a tremendous job here of demonstrating how to rethink one’s own work, publishing histories, and ability to consider critiques. It’s both a professional and personal strength to be able to sincerely and respectfully consider critiques of your work, but it can often be tricky trying to wade through reader critiques in order to find those comments that ought to be heeded and those that ought to be ignored.
I love the way Lee outlines his thought process here when it comes to what advice he accepted or rejected for his award-winning short story, “The Gospel of Blackbird.” I believe Lee’s process of teasing out why he’s accepting or rejecting different critiques (as well as why the reader might’ve given them in the first place) could be of great use to anyone who’s ever had to struggle with negative reader comments or even plain mean ones.
Of course, in the end, Lee reminds us that the reasons why one great story gets awarded over a dozen others is impossible to tease out.
“All I know is that I wrote ‘The Gospel of Blackbird’ from the heart, and I wrote the story that I wanted to write.”
And this is really all we can do as writers: make sure that we always write from the heart and only write those stories that we most want to write. Those will be the stories that people will love reading and that will lead us to become good writers who, more often than not, write good stories.
(P.S. Jeff VanderMeer also does a terrific job of discussing the handling of critiques and the selection of First Readers in his The Wonder Book, which I can’t recommend highly enough — tons of fun and very helpful.)