My second grade class started a little vegetable garden in the schoolyard. Our teacher helped us plant tomato seeds which are fairly easy to grow. Every day, we enjoyed watering the dirt and shooing away the beetles and pillbugs. Before long, the tomatoes started to sprout. How wonderful!
One day, a teacher from another classroom came strolling by. She gasped in horror, “Oh, look at all those weeds! They’re going to choke your tomatoes.” She instructed us to pull the weeds—but to be careful not to mess up the tomato sprouts, which she also pointed out to us. Thus informed by an adult Voice of Authority, we little children obediently went to work. We carefully picked out the “weeds” and left the “tomatoes” to grow in peace.
So proud of our accomplishment, we ran into our classroom to tell our teacher. We carried clumps of dirt and the straggling remains of the offensive weed sprouts to show her.
Now it was our teacher’s turn to gasp in horror. “Oh no, you picked all the tomatoes and left the weeds!”
I like retelling this story because it’s an important lesson I learned at an early age. Sometimes adults are wrong.
This applies to writers critique groups and workshops, because there may be a time when your manuscript is being reviewed by a published author or a renowned instructor. A novice writer can easily feel low self-esteem in a situation like that and tend to internalize every off-hand remark that a professional Voice of Authority may make. Although you shouldn’t develop an ego too early in the game and totally disregard the advice of professionals, at the same time, remember they are only human. They may prefer a particular subgenre that is different from yours. A world-famous author of hard science fiction may not have an insightful critique for an epic fantasy, and vice versa. Trust your gut. When the expert or famous professional tells you to weed the tomatoes, step back and see if it feels right to you. After all, it’s your story.