Otto? Otto! Come on, man.
Here we are again—you, me, and an earnest attempt to improve your manuscript stymied by a relentless outpouring of “yeah, buts,” “I don’t knows,” and blank stares.
Why even bother asking for an extra set of eyes on your work if you don’t plan on considering anything anyone says?
You’re killing me, Otto. Seriously.
We all know an Otto. Whether in the world of writing or beyond it, Otto’s the guy who wants your opinion until the moment you give it, the guy who swears he’s interested in making a marked improvement in his work until he has to actually make the improvements himself.
Simply put, Otto’s a locked door, a boulder on the tracks, a roadblock to his own success.
And the worst thing about Otto? He’s actually pretty relatable.
It’s hard to take constructive criticism, especially when we’re so invested in our work. At times, even the most resonant feedback can feel like we’re being personally attacked. This makes it difficult to process and channel the criticism we’re receiving into something that will bridge the gap between our story’s intended presentation and how it’s actually being perceived by readers.
Don’t get me wrong, though; not all feedback is created equal. If comments like “this isn’t working” or “I really don’t like this” or “this is just bad” have you downtrodden, you have every right to be upset—particularly if you’ve solicited that input from someone you trust.
Why is it okay to be an Otto in these circumstances? Because quality feedback isn’t feedback that exists for the sake of existing or for the sake of putting others down. On the contrary, quality feedback will get at the why of what’s not working (and what is working!) and, from there, suggest what might be done to achieve the scene’s desired effect.
Let’s say, however, that you’re still struggling to implement feedback from your pool of beta readers, critique partners, and editors who are already really great about providing actionable feedback that’s in line with your vision for the story.
If that’s the case, I’ve got bad news.
You might be an Otto. But you don’t have to be!
Overcoming the Otto Within
Not all times in life are created equal. Sometimes personal or professional struggles can bog us down in our day to day, and the stress and anguish of confronting those dimensions of our lives can bleed over into the world of writing.
If you feel as though you’re getting quality feedback but are emotionally exhausted from it or calcified against it, maybe now’s simply not the best time to read those criticisms or take on those revisions.
Instead, you might consider working on a new project, one that could help you process the challenges of your daily life in a way that is both healthy and productive. Once you’re feeling refreshed, the feedback on your original project will still be there waiting for you.
On some occasions, though, our lives become so hectic that transitioning to a new project isn’t feasible or even wise. If that’s the case, distance might be the best way to overcome our inner Otto.
By distance, I don’t mean to suggest anyone move across the country or dig a hole to the center of the Earth (though I won’t stop you if that’s what makes you happy). What I intend to get at here is that we need to grant ourselves a full separation from our writing to really focus on our general well-being.
Our inner Otto feeds on turmoil, and sometimes the only way to send him packing is to burn his granaries of angst to the ground. Self-care is not to be overlooked.
Another way we might overcome our inner Otto is by switching up our pool of beta readers and critique partners. Even if we’re getting input that meets the “good feedback criteria” mentioned above, the manner in which it’s phrased or the person from whom it’s coming might not resonate in the same ways as the past.
Perhaps it’s time to shop your project around to a few new test readers. Think of it like looking for a contractor to do some work in your home. You might have a go-to gal, but every once in a while, you might have a project that isn’t perfect for her team’s skill set.
If you know this going into considering her for the work, do you still hire her even though the final product might not be of the same quality you’ve come to expect? Maybe, but you might also run what you’ve got in mind past a few other folks before you finally find a shared vision (and budget) that really speaks to you.
So go ahead—try working with some new betas and see what you get. Maybe that’s all you’ll need to send your inner Otto packing.
I am Otto, and so are you.
Can I tell you a (maybe not-so-secret) secret?
Despite all of the above, despite our best intentions, despite what we might think of ourselves and our ability to process feedback, we’ve all been Ottos at one point or another.
And you know what? That’s okay.
Sometimes we need to put up roadblocks for the sake of tending to our infrastructure. Even the strongest bridges will collapse if not inspected, repaired, and maintained. That might mean we need to shut them down for a time, that traffic will get backed up, that a few angry letters will be sent to one’s local alderperson, but we can’t neglect that upkeep forever—at least not if we want to prevent what would otherwise be a well-rounded, fulfilling life from buckling beneath us.
In some ways, then, the inner Otto—for as pesky as he can be—is there to help us, too, to signal that there might be danger ahead or that we’re already in the midst of it.
So dammit, Otto, you can be a real menace, but we wouldn’t be the same without you. Thanks, I guess.
Now haul these roadblocks onto the shoulder and let us hit the road.
Like what you’ve read here? You can find more content like this on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and in my newsletter. Or, hey, you can check out what I write when my inner Otto’s not in the way by nabbing copies of my books on this site, my publisher’s site, Amazon, or by requesting them at your local bookstore. And I’m on Goodreads over here. Come say hi!