Take This Critique and Shove It…

Why I oughta....
Say what?

Not everybody is going to like everything you do. It’s simply one of the laws of nature. For writers this certainly proves to be true. Go on Amazon and type in your favorite book and when the reviews pop up you’ll see that the book you loved somebody else  hated. Why is that? We all have different tastes.

For my last work in progress, something I agonized over, I had six people read my first three chapters. Three of my fellow Scribes. One published author. An editor and an agent. All star line up, right? Of course, I wanted them all to say that they loved everything and that there were no faults with my writing. (Sigh.I’m such a dreamer.) In reality I knew that wasn’t the case. I knew I had some plotting issues. Some scenes that needed to be scrapped, but I thought my first three chapters were strong and that if I started off the right way my manuscript would be salvageable.

Here’s what happened…

About my heroine…

The editor said, ”  I didn’t feel that Trinity was a heroine I could really identify with, because her mother issues seemed extreme and bordering on mental illness.”

The agent said. “Dive deeper into the issues with her mother. That’s the best part of all of it.”

One Scribe said, “I like that she’s kind of a nut over her mom dying and that she doesn’t know what to do.”

Another scribe said,”Trinity is very sympathetic.”

About my hero…

The agent said, “He’s just a bad character and I would rework him altogether. He comes across as someone without a lot of class.” (OW!)

One Scribe said, “Dan is very hunky and an honorable man to boot.”

Another Scribe said, “I like the guy, Dan. I like that he’s having a personal crisis at the moment too.

The editor said nothing about him at all.

About my third chapter…

The published author said, “I loved your ending.” This person also said. “It was well done and I enjoyed reading it.”

One scribe said, “Actually, this sentence (the ending ) is probably unnecessary.”

One person said the meeting between the hero and heroine was flat. Another said “Oh my!”

I got a bunch of other comments.Most of them conflicting. The only thing everybody agreed on was my writing style, my voice. The agent said (I’m paraphrasing here) ‘Your actual writing isn’t bad. I once told somebody to not quit their day job’.  I took that as a thumbs up. Phew… That’s the only thing I don’t know how to change. Some people loved my supporting characters, one absolutely hated them and went as far to say that I should scrap them all together. The agent also said, “I’m not a big fan of all your snappy dialogue and funny stuff.” (Ouch, darn it!) He also really, really, really hated my hero. ( I kind of love him.) He also told me that he thought it would be much better suited as Women’s Fiction rather than Contemporary Romance. And that if I eliminate the unnecessary relationship that I would be in good shape. The editor’s only real advice was that I should look at what’s currently selling and write that. (Bad Advice! Bad editor!)

What did I take away from this? Not a gosh darn thing! Well that’s not entirely true but for a while I didn’t want to look even look at the manuscript. All the comments, all the different points of view threw me into a total tailspin. Here’s what I did take away…

1.I write romance novels.  Contemporary, kind of funny, Romance novels and after years of genre jumping I feel like I have finally found my place. I will not write women’s fiction because it’s not what I do best. Write what you love. Write what you do best.

2. I learned that if more than two people say the same thing it’s probably true. If everybody says it then you might want to revise.

3. Not everybody is going to like everything you do. It’s impossible!

4. I won’t ask so many people to critique my writing. (You probably won’t be seeing me at the next critique group.) For me one or two trusted writers/ Scribes is all I need. It might be different for you. Do what makes you feel comfortable.

5. The most important thing I learned was to take everything they said in and let it go. Ultimately, I am the one who is putting my name of the work and it’s up to me decide how it goes. (I’m The Decider! And you can be too.)

6. I am greatful for their help. They took time from their own writing to help me with mine. Most people don’t critique to purposely hurt your feelings, only to help you become a better writer.

I want to hear from you. What do you think about critique groups? Critique partners? Love them? Hate them? Has someone said something about your work that will always stay with you?  Do you take criticism well.? Any comments are welcome.

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25 thoughts on “Take This Critique and Shove It…”

  1. Critique can be very tough to take, but it can also be so important in helping us to improve our craft. I agree that it can be best to have just a few critique partners who you trust to hone the feedback.

  2. Yup, J said it all. I would add to that – change what resonates with you, then toss out the rest and don’t worry about it after. It’s been a learning curve for me to figure out which comments are really about how someone else would write the story versus “craft” that could use improving. So, if you feel like someone is trying to re-write your plot the way they would have written the story – to me that is a red flag!

  3. Oh, boy…I’ve had some interesting critique experiences, from the first crit partner I found when I started writing who said, “You aren’t really up to par for our group”. Ouch! talk about needing a thick skin. But she was right. I needed to find people who were at or just above my writing level to work with. I tried a few groups, a few individuals who were all enormously generous with their time, but just didn’t work for one reason or another. Finding critique partners is a little like finding a roommate. You have to be able to communicate honestly, but if the way they chew their food bugs you, it’s not a good fit. Find people who enjoy your writing and the kind of stories you write, but someone with a good eye for what works and what doesn’t. Preferably someone who can tactfully say, “Did you really mean to say that?”

    What pleases agents and editors? You got me. Every rejection letter I received said something different. Some good, some bad. Just like contest judges. One loves it, the other thinks “If any seventeen-year old went through all that, they’d be in a nut house.” I laughed at that one. I was like, ummm…that pretty much did happen…to me…no nut house. I finaled in that contest, but that one judge kept me from the win. Can you say…one more reason to go indie?

  4. Groups are great for getting a general feeling for your writing. But those disparate comments? Eep! Who knows, right? I’ll tell you this: a lot of agents who rejected me now write me fan letters. You’re right to keep the faith, Jamie. Trust your instincts. They’ll always be with you; the critique partners might not be.

  5. Great advice!! Very valuable. I entered a contest and got a perfect score from one judge and a 13 from another. (Not unusual for me). On another note I got 3 different comments from eds on the same submission. One didn’t like the plot. One didn’t like the hero he was too weak. And the third thought the heroine was just mean. Putting the three together I realized each saw the same problem from a different angle. It was susposed to be a role reversal version of Taming of the Shrew. When I thought about it, I realized Taming is a power struggle, not a romance. Now I often put a critique aside and think about it over night before ignoring it or making major changes.

  6. This is so true. You can go crazy listening to a lot of advice. But when you hear something from more than one person who you respect it probably pays to listen.

  7. Jamie, great advice. And I want to thank the scribes for their presentation on Saturday at the CTRWA it was very helpful, especially the take away on how to create your own blog.
    I have also learned that a couple of trusted critique partners are best but every now and then I throw it out there and I’m amazed at the comments (all over the place). I’m lucky I have several critique partners that some are published and two that aren’t and each is very helpful. I agree if more than one person is pointing out the same thing then you should focus on that issue and re-think it. Marian

  8. I once shared the first few pages of a WIP (still in embryonic form, by the way. It’s a project for 2012) with a writer’s group of about a dozen or so people. The first words of this MS are: “No. No, no , no, no, no!” (main character refusing to do something her mother asks). The subject of the discussion, for my entire allotted time, I kid you not, was how many “no’s” there should be in those opening sentences. Nothing about the substance of what came after, nothing about writing style or character, just the number of no’s. I didn’t really care, as I am blessed with the best critique partners ever and didn’t need these other people. But it just goes to show you that you can put the same thing in front of different people and you’ll come up with that many different opinions. It’s human nature. I thanked them, laughed silently, and moved on. Jamie, just be true to yourself and your vision, and be open to reinterpreting that vision if it seems necessary TO YOU. Remember, in the immortal words of our Casey, You Are The Author Goddess. Can’t wait to see your name on the cover of that romance!

  9. Having someone look at your work and be mean about it is just like a slap in the face. That’s like telling someone their kid is ugly…however, that being said, I don’t want to be lied to and think I’m awesome when I suck. Sooo I guess take away what seems right to you – there’s always that nagging in the back of your mind when you can agree, yeah this needs to be changed…but stick to your guns. I’m tired of reading the same books over and over because it ‘works.’

  10. Wow, this is why we’re afraid of critique groups. Our experience has been they are more confusing than helpful, even when the process isn’t downright mean. What we’ve come to is that we are trying to find one or two trusted writing partners who know our genre and who are willing to give and receive honest and respectful feedback.and we are committed to writing the book of our hearts.

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