Dealing with subjectivity – they can’t all be right can they?

[This blog post originally appeared on the Christian Writers Downunder blog in July 2017].

I’m currently sitting on tenterhooks waiting for a competition to announce a winner – one of my manuscripts is up for best unpublished. I’m familiar with those tenterhooks, my manuscripts have been in that position before. It’s a great feeling – one of validation.

But that same manuscript has been entered somewhere else and didn’t get over the first hurdle. In fact, in one comp I entered, the feedback from the judge was that the story didn’t work – and would never work. I might also benefit from heading back to grammar class.

Writing is such a subjective pastime, isn’t it?

As I’ve been on my writing journey, I’ve spoken to a range of authors who have experienced the same thing. Competition entries that say a novel is a winner. Competition rejections that say you need to go back to the drawing board (or school in some cases).

I’ve also found it at conferences. When I’ve speed-dated agents or editors, one has sat in thrall of my elevator pitch while the second one stifled a yawn. They can’t both be right can they?

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I’ve had two beta readers tell me my characters are both engaging and flat. They can’t both be right can they?

Well, they are actually, because writing is such a subjective pastime.

I’m guilty of it myself as a reader. Someone has recommended I read a book because “it’s amazing” and I gave up 15 pages in because I was bored or lost or didn’t engage with the characters. And then I haven’t rushed to Amazon to see what else that person has written.

So here’s my question for today: if we’re writers, and our work is the subject of such subjectivity, how do you know you’re heading in the right direction? How do you stay centered in such a subjective space? How do you stay true to what you’re trying to do when conflicting opinions give you different feedback to the same work?

It can be a challenge to not take those comments to heart, and in turn to have them creep into your self-worth and your writing.

As a writer, you need a central point to which you can turn – an anchor to which you can ground yourself.

For me – as I presume it is for other Christian writers – is God. I need to keep coming back to the realisation that He’s given me the stories, He’s given me the ability to string two words together, He’s given me the framework to write them and He’s opened up opportunities in my life to be able to write them.

He is the ultimate publisher, the ultimate editor and the ultimate reader. I just need to trust Him.

To me, that’s a significant challenge of being a Christian writer. To please God in what I do, and to interpret the other opinions – important as they are – through that lens.

I’ll leave you with one piece of advice that I’ve found invaluable as I navigate the subjectivity maze.

We had a guest speaker at church a few weeks ago and he gave this quote, which was aimed at the congregation, but I took it to heart as a writer. The speaker said this:

Sometimes we tell God we’ll trust Him for the process, because we’ve got the end goal in mind. The reality is He wants us to trust Him for the goal and we need to look after the process.

That has helped enormously in trying to work out if I’m on the right track or not. It helps to put into context the fact that the award nomination is as valid as the person who didn’t get past page three. And it helps to provide context to what I’m trying to do.

And I hope it can help you too.

One thought on “Dealing with subjectivity – they can’t all be right can they?

  1. Good insights, David! I’ve had a similar experience: three judges, two very complimentary, one not so much. Prayers that this time your judges are all on the same page and you get the win!

    Like

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