Too Many Cooks In Your Kitchen?

Too many cooks spoil the broth. It’s an age-old proverb, but it’s as true now as it has always been. The sad thing is that it has taken me all 37 years of my life to figure out how important it is to keep cooks out of my kitchen, so to speak. I can track a lot of my issues in writing, publishing, parenting, friendships, etc., back to too much input from others and not enough listening to myself. I’ve done a great job at learning to ignore my instincts and relying on other people telling me what they think I should do. 

So where does that leave me? This year I’ve made a conscious effort to get back to discovering me. What are my values? Not what everyone says I should value. No. What do value, and what choices will get me closest to those values? This is much more difficult to determine than I thought it would be, but once I truly made a commitment to figure it out, things have been falling into place. It’s pretty amazing.

It’s not that I don’t value other people’s experience and opinions. I do! And they are absolutely essential, but only to a certain extent. This is where the “too many cooks” idea comes into play. I’m learning how to cull my circle of influence, and it’s not easy. Social media makes it especially difficult. I’m sure you can see why. So many voices, ideas, opinions, ads all the time. I think this is why some people find themselves a lot happier when they decide to cut down on social media. Less cooks.

As far as writing goes, I’m in a much happier place lately as I’ve made some tough decisions on who sees my work before it’s published, who I want feedback from, and when I want and need it. I’ve already noticed a big difference in how quickly I’m writing and how many ideas I’m allowing myself to entertain because I don’t feel as much pressure to second-guess those ideas.

So here’s my question. How many cooks do you let in your kitchen? Have you had experiences that slowed you down or steered you in the wrong direction because you were trying to listen to, and please, everyone at the same time?

 

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle

12 comments

Lovely to see a post from you again! It’s a little complicated. What compels people to write is often the fact that in real life their agency over their lives is limited. They don’t feel in control of their day job or family life, so they turn to writing. It becomes their sanctuary where they all executive authority 100%.

Michelle D. Argyle

Thanks, Marina! Very good point, yep. I’ll never have a shortage of feeling out of control, I’m sure. 🙂

The flip side to having too much control is living with constant doubt and guilt. Because if you are in charge of everything 100%, you have nobody to blame but yourself when things don’t work out as anticipated. So there are hidden blessings to not being in control of everything. You need to strive to gain control over reasonable things in life. We all want job security and a healthy family life. And it’s always work in progress. The moment we gain control over one aspect, something else breaks and unravels.

There is only one cook in my kitchen. I only edit if I agree with the critical ideas offered. Full stop. If I don’t believe in my own work than how can I expect someone else to invest their time and money in it? That doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally fail. We all screw up. I try to learn from it and then I get busy writing the next thing. I am often dismayed by writers who are willing to rewrite endlessly because of something an agent/editor/critique partner said. This subject is making me feel ranty so I think I will wrap this post up. Nice to see you in my FB feed again, Michelle!

Sometimes you can tell that the novel had too many beta readers contributing their input. You can see the “seams” in the narrative and foreign DNA. Too many fingerprints. If you are familiar with a particular author’s style, you can say, “This is what he/she wrote organically, and this part was tweaked under the influence of so-and-so.” And if you know who the betas are, you can even identify which beta influenced which part of the novel.

Yes! I agree!

Michelle D. Argyle

I’m right with you on this one! The sad thing is that I’ve fallen into the trap of willing to rewrite endlessly for whatever reason that has nothing to do with how I really feel about the book. That means I’ve had books take me years and years to write, when they didn’t need to take that long at all. Some feedback in the past has been super valuable for me, and really helpful, but I’ve definitely learned lately when I need to seek feedback and when it will be more harmful than helpful, if I need it at all. On the flip side, I’m also learning not to BE an extra cook in someone’s kitchen, even if they invite me in.

Actually, being invited to be an associate cook in the kitchen is an honor of sort. If you take on that role, it will give you some perspective on where your beta readers are coming from, what motivates them. Are they providing constructive feedback to help you make your piece the best it can be? Or are they trying to inject too much of themselves into your work?

Michelle D. Argyle

Yes, technically I’m invited every week since I go to my writing group every week, so I know where readers are coming from. The book I’m releasing soon was influenced a lot by that group, but lately I haven’t been submitting my own work as I try to figure out where I’m at on how much feedback I want.

It’s not just about how much feedback you want. It’s about how much of it you are willing to incorporate. Sometimes, if I hear the same type of feedback (desire for a HEA) I realize I am talking to the wrong crowd. Think of it as a focus group.

Andrew Blackman

This is a really tricky one. I’ve had some really helpful comments in the past from people whose judgment I respect, and it’s helped to make my work better. But I am REALLY picky about who I show my work to. I think that in the end, writing is about expressing my own view of the world. Someone else would have done it differently, sure, but is their way necessarily better? Having too many voices in my head is crippling, and I sometimes find myself censoring ideas because I know that this person or that person will criticise them. That’s when I know I have to step back!

Michelle D. Argyle

Thanks for stopping by, Andrew! To answer the question you have, in my opinion, someone else’s way couldn’t possibly be better if it’s YOUR view you’re sharing. I’ve had similar experiences to yours. I’ve had some really great experiences with feedback and some really bad ones. What’s sad is the bad ones tend to stick with me longer than the great ones. Crippling, as you say!

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