A Dip Into The Deep End


A little over a month ago something happened to me. It was mind-boggling. It was jaw-dropping. It was a hot mess. Ok, I’m being a bit of a drama queen. Well, sort of.

One of the things that I promised myself that I would do to help better my writing was to seek out critiques from fellow writers. I’m really self-conscious so this would be a big leap for me. Besides, every article or post about writing urges you to do this even if you don’t do anything else in your writing journey. Other writers can give you an objective eye of what your work lacks better than Aunt Bessie or your cat Mittens ever could. Let’s face it, they love everything that you write even if it truly sucks.

I decided to step outside my box and have a few writers that I have a pretty good rapport with critique a short story I was working on. The only other person who had read my piece was my hubby, and, of course, he loved it. So, you know that his opinion was worth zilch. (refer to my statement about Aunt Bessie and Mittens) Hubby has to love my stuff.

And sure, I’ve posted pieces of my work on my blog, but most people who read them will keep on trucking if they don’t like them. Rarely have I gotten “you have too many run-on sentences” or “you’ve used ‘that’ too much” or “I can’t follow your story idea at all” even if it was true.

So as I anxiously awaited the feedback, I went through an array of feelings but the biggest one was

Pic courtesy of http://www.positive-thinking-for-you.com

Pic courtesy Positive Thinking For You

blind confidence. They just had to like my story, right? I’ve gotten “likes” on my fiction pieces on my blog so I should be good to go, right? I know I can put words to paper so all they can really rip me on is my verb tense or sentence structure, right? Boy, was I a wrong cookie.

The overall consensus was that the story idea was pretty good. One of the writers gave me a favorable evaluation, but the other writer’s review knocked me right off my high-horse onto my arse bum. Yep, his feedback sent me right back to the fetal position. It stung hard. So much so, that my hubby left me alone in my bedroom all day. He knew crazy when he saw it.

Hours and hours…and hours later, I finally mustered up the strength to email this writer back to thank him for his time and that I would take his thoughts into consideration. In his defense, he did offer to lend an ear for any revisions. He’s generally a pretty cool dude so I really won’t hold a grudge and unfollow him  on Twitter.

Believe me, revisions were far from my agenda. I contemplated not writing anymore because obviously I was untalented. Why else would this have happened to me? I mean, if my short story was torn to shreds, what would happen to my novel-in-progress? I decided I didn’t want to face that nightmare.

I emailed a two-time published writer friend and asked if she had ever gotten any unfavorable critiques before and of course she tried talking me off the ledge by assuring me that all writers have. They’re meant to be tools, not weapons. She also said that it’s just one person’s opinion, not the gospel.

Weeks later, after snapping out of my coma and drinking many glasses of Moscato, I’ve picked that

My favorite!

My favorite!

same story back up and decided to look at it with fresh eyes. I’m taking some of his advice to heart and using it to rework parts of my piece. Notice I said some. I don’t have to agree with everything he said.

Have you ever had any of your work critiqued and if so, how did you handle unfavorable feedback? Was it helpful or hurtful? Did you leave that person in the dust or are they still your critique partner? Or maybe you haven’t tested the waters yet and are still a critique virgin?

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Categories: ~Me, On Writing and What Not~ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

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22 thoughts on “A Dip Into The Deep End

  1. You’ve taken a bold and essential step, Melissa! Super proud of you. I know how hard it is to finally put your baby out there and ask people if it’s ugly. The truth isn’t always pretty. But the opinions I value most are the honest ones, given in a spirit of support, that truly do make my work better.

    It’s nice hearing how great your work is, and while such compliments boost your ego, they do nothing to improve your craft. I’m thankful for my critique partners who tell me both what they love about my writing, and when the story, the character, or the dialogue just isn’t working.

    For me, it was even harder to learn how to give this same kind of brutally honest, yet always encouraging, critique to others. But pushing past the discomfort and learning to do so has made me a solid critique partner and a far better writer.

    You should be so proud of yourself for taking this step.

  2. Oh Melissa, this post made me laugh. Not only because of your humor but because I could relate so much. (Is it too early to start drinking?) I wrote a novel and sent it to two writers to critique. One didn’t see perfection, but she saw the potential of the story. The other ripped it. After considerable sulking, I realized both were right. There was potential in the story, and it was horribly written. However, what I ultimately learned was finding a compatible critique partner is vital. The feedback should be constructive and build you up, not just make you and your work feel diminshed. I still seek feedback but am more selective in my partner and am specific with my feedback needs. And I will keep writing.

    • Julie, the published writer friend I mentioned in the post told me that it’s important that the person is giving an honest critique and not just being a jerk. So, yeah, finding someone who is willing to be honest is important. If I hadn’t gotten that rip, I would still be walking around like my you-know-what didn’t stink.

  3. You didn’t unfollow him on Twitter – funny!
    I have two test readers and three critique partners and all have made suggestions for changes. Actually one of my test readers is REALLY tough. I learned from him to just to take it in stride. Most of the changes they suggest I use. I even have on critique partner that I send the outline to before I even write the story and he comes up with some of the best ideas.

    • I’ve read that you should have at least three critique partners to give you more perspective.. I like your idea of having one of your partners review your story outline before you even attempt writing the story. Thanks so much, Alex!

  4. He recognized crazy…love that! My hubby recognizes my crazy then tells me to “man up”. So then I hide the crazy. Critiques are hard, but they are important. What’s worse is getting the “I hate it” after it’s published, and everyone get’s that. Keep on trucking. Take what’s useful and leave what isn’t. (P.S. That’s why wine and chocolate should be mandatory in the writer handbook)

  5. I am no critique virgin, but I haven’t been around the block too much, just enough to get my muse’s feelings hurt. But it is hard to send your work out there. We just have to keep trying and knocking on the publications’ doors until someone lets us in. I just submitted a story to several publications this week. So we will see if I will have more wallpaper with the rejection letters. I submitted a poem one time and I got a positive rejection where the editor said my work was good, but he had so many good choices to choose from and encouraged me to resubmit. Then later on, the publication stopped publishing…lol

    In the words of Kanye West, I may be messing with a critique crusher, but she ain’t messing with a give up ….ahh I will let you complete the rest…lol I know that is corny. Thank you for following my blog. I don’t know how to do the webpage like you did, but I really like yours. Good luck with your writing! 🙂

    • That’s great that you’ve been submitting things, You’re ahead of me! LOL! I am planning on submitting the short story I mentioned in the post once I finish my edits.

      If you have any questions about the set up of your blog, just let me know. I’m not a techy but I may be able to help a little. LOL! You can find my email address under Contact under the About Me tab at the top. 🙂

  6. Melissa – you gave me one of the first laughs for the day. I remember sending my manuscript to friends across the country and into Canada, even London for critiques from who would be real readers. There were lost ones, couldn’t follow my gist too many times… there were bored ones, it went ‘nowhere’ and they could not read any more than fifty pages…. there were those who blessed me as the writer goddess. The worst critique was potential publisher, came back at me with about 30 things to do before it was ready. I actually did most of those but ended up wanting to maintain control of my novel for the rest of my life and self-published. You won’t know a critique until the real readers hit you on Amazon reviews though, augh. You have to come out from under the bed then and carry on with life anyway, writing and all. Thanks for the honesty, it brought back memories. I am glad you did not do all he said, hold your course, if we don’t we lose our own story to another writer’s ideals. Btw, you blog is lovely. Essa

  7. Demetria Foster Gray

    Having your work critiqued is an essential part of the process, but you don’t want virgin critiquers who don’t really know what to look for or how to provide constructive criticism. Those types of critiquers are wasting their time and yours.

    The perfect critique partner knows how to show you both your weak and strong points and back up their findings with solid explanation and supporting evidence.

    I’ve been with my critique group for a few years and they are fantastic. But I went through some bad experiences before I found the right group.

    I wish you all the best throughout this critiquing process.

  8. I try not to approach my critiques as gospel. And neither do I toss them without consideration. It’s a hard balance to find, but like you said, critiques are a tool not a weapon.

  9. Critiques can be tough because theyr’e so subjective. The mark of a real writer is the ability to take in critiques no matter how harsh they may be, take what she can from it, and continue writing. 🙂 Kudos to you for doing all that!

    Nutschell
    http://www.thewritingnut.com

  10. I minored in writing and suffered through two writing workshops where twenty or more people talk about your work as though you are not there. One of the first things the professor told us at the beginning of the semester, both times, was that if you are discouraged as a writer, you should be. It was hard to keep that in mind after my work and ego took a licking, but I keep on ticking. And you know, a lot of the feedback I’ve preserved over the years as a reminder that a person’s writing improves in subtle ways each day until you look back and say, “what the hell? I’ve actually gotten better!” Excellent post, very well-written. By the way, I found your site from reading your comment on Anne R. Allen’s blog regarding the five blogging rules people can afford to overlook. Keep on writing!

  11. Elise Fallson

    You are absolutely right, you don’t have to agree with every suggestion/critique that is made. Use your gut feeling and in the end it will make your writing stronger. The worst critique I ever received was on a 1st chapter critique that I won in a writing contest. The person made a two corrections on the first paragraph and then for the following 12 pages-nothing. All they did was answer a few questions I had at the end and basically said they didn’t like the narrative. Beneath the sting of a critique there should be elements there to help the writer, imo. Glad you didn’t give up writing!

    • Elise, I agree that the person giving the critique should give helpful feedback, not just slam the piece. When they just say that they didn’t like it, that does nothing for the writer except hurt their ego. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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