Only the writer knows what she is trying to do with her story. It’s unquestionably useful to get the reaction of readers in order to learn whether the writer’s vision is getting across, but in the end it is only the writer’s vision that matters.
Recently (as in yesterday) some students of mine expressed concern that others in the workshop were trying to rewrite their stories. The comment served as a reminder to me to not only warn against doing this (my workshop guidelines make this point), but more importantly to emphasize that not every comment a writer hears in workshop will be of equal value. The purpose of the workshop is not to convene a committee for the purpose of revising a story. The workshop is a focus group–people who will reflect for the benefit of the writer the effect that the work has on readers. The writer’s job–and it’s not an easy one–is to pick and choose from among the comments in workshop (including comments by the teacher) to find the ones that make sense, always bearing in mind the writer’s vision for the story. It could be that nothing at all will be usable, although in my experience usually some good ideas do emerge. More often, however, comments will conflict with one another. Then what does the writer do? It depends on the vision.
I’m thinking about this now as I work on revisions to my novel after receiving comments from my agent. Mostly her comments are spot-on. Occasionally, I see things differently. Ultimately, it’s my name that goes on the book, so the work has to be mine. The same goes for my students.