Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Being critiqued - you're the boss

Wow! I'm shocked at how long it's been since my last post. Real life is drowning me this month, mostly with end-of-school-year activities, but also doing some reading and relaxing too.

Plus pushing Tiamat's Nest through the queue on CC, critiquing, and being critiqued.

Oh, look! Back on topic!

In this mini-series on being critiqued, I've talked about the pain of hearing things you don't want to hear, some tips for recognizing comments worth paying attention to, and some cautionary tales about comments best set aside.

I want to wrap this theme up with some final thoughts.

When you put up a story for feedback in a good forum, the good news is that you'll get lots of impassioned feedback. The bad news is ... you'll get lots of impassioned feedback, and you'll have a hard time deciding what to do about it.

The hardest part of receiving critiques is developing your own judgment about what advice to accept, and what to set aside.

Regardless of all the tips and techniques for sorting the wheat from the chaff, there is one fact that you need to engrave in granite and hang on the wall above your writing space, tattoo on the back of your hand, and scribe on a large sheet of paper in mirror writing and staple to your forehead so you see it every time you gaze in the mirror wondering if it's really all worth it.

This is your manuscript, 
and regardless of all the critiquing, 
the end result is up to you.

Don't ever forget it.

Some folks will tell you that you have to kill adverbs, make the MC more likeable, cut the description, throw in a love interest, rewrite the whole chapter... You must, must, must follow their advice because otherwise your manuscript sucks and they know best because you asked them for your opinion, didn't you?

Yes, you asked them their opinion, and what they gave you is exactly that - their opinion. Not law. Not inviolable edicts that you are bound - on pain of testicular separation - to follow to the letter. They gave you an opinion, which it is up to you to decide what to do with.

That doesn't mean simply ignore any advice you don't like. After all, some comments will hurt like heck but may be just what your manuscript needs.

It means exercise judgment and discretion and make a choice.

Easy to say. So hard to do well.


  1. Well said. I encountered this when I was pushing my first chapter of Jasper through the same queue. It starts with a dream sequence, which can be cliche and off-putting, and a handful of critiques insisted that it must go. But that sequence is important, and I'm sticking to my guns on it.

    A better approach to take in that situation, I think, is not to scrap one's advice entirely but tackle it from a different angle. Why are these readers not drawn into the scene? It's one thing if they're opposing dream sequences on principle, but if multiple readers are being put off by the dream's flow, that's something to look into fixing.

  2. Yes, all true. It's hard at first, because your instinct is to just let cooler heads prevail and take ALL the advice you receive as something you absolutely must implement.

    And then you realize, trying to please everyone will get you nowhere in this line of work.

    So, yes, the biggest lesson to learn is that, ultimately, the buck stops with yourself when it comes to your own writing. I always say go with your gut. If the advice vibes with your own misgivings about a particularly wonky section of prose, then chances are that advice is legit. Of course, the opposite applies as well.

    Great series, Ian!

  3. I've gotten to the point where critiques have become very useful. I clear up any questions or confusion by adding detail or striking it if it's not adding anything.

    One thing I'll do before ever considering a change is ask myself if the critter is pointing out an obvious flaw or a stylistic nuance. If the change is not a flaw and will affect the voice or flow/pace of the story, it is generally not a change I would make.

    I have two groups who meet once per month, and they do a fantastic job of picking through my manuscript. I almost always agree with their consensus, and if one or two mention they didn't like something, they'll say why. The why is very important, because that will help me decide whether their why is important enough for me. If not, then so be it. They're not offended if I don't make every single change they point out.

  4. Beth, that's a fantastic example, and a good way of looking at it. Dig for the underlying reason, then you can decide better how to respond.

    David, taking advice blindly really is a bad idea, and you can't please everyone. In fact there's probably a whole other post on that art of trying to decide who you are trying to please :)

    Diane, in many cases, the "why" behind a comment is at least as important as the comment itself! That's why when I give critiques I try to explain why I'm making a suggestion. Then it's up to the writer whether or not to listen.

  5. So true. No matter what anyone says, it's still your choice whether you want to take the advice or not. Usually I do, but I never just make a rushed decision with the big stuff.

  6. I am a strange person, I prefer trusting my own instinct, but it's true that, if a beta reader suggests me something..I am very receptive. Good luck with Tiamat's nest :).

  7. Hi,

    Criticisms can often contribute to a better reflection. However, if they are evil, can put the listener down. Reviews also can ruin projects. Listening is always needed and have the wisdom to discern what is really worth. Some people are very arrogant and always finds owner of reason. It takes self-confidence not to be shaken by what comes.

    A Verdade é Cruel

    Rio de Janeiro

  8. Misha, this took me a long time to learn. In the early days I ended up getting pulled this way and that trying to follow too much advice.

    Unikorna, I tend to listen more to my own instincts, but it's easy to be overawed by the apparent wisdom of more experienced writers.

    Sissym, sadly, when you choose to be a serious writers, harsh criticism comes with the territory.

  9. Recently I have been seeking feedback with some of my paintings and being open to other peoples suggestions can be challenging. But it is similar to what you do. Listen to it all, and use the bits that make sense or you feel comfortable.
    Art and writing are subjective and no two people will have the same feel for the piece

  10. "The hardest part of receiving critiques is developing your own judgment about what advice to accept, and what to set aside."

    This is exactly right. You know, only you - author your - knows what your are trying to accomplish in a writing. I've critiqued lots of authors, and I really hate it when they change something just because a valued critiquer says they should change it.

    As an author, you should evaluate every source of feedback, and pay special attention to people who are successful in your genre.

    But, some feedback that from people outside of your genre is valuable too. I think it is important to accept all feedback, then evaluate it for effectiveness later. When it comes to feedback, I say accept it all, evaluate everything, and decide what is useful to you and what is not. There are certain story concepts that transcend genre, and others outside your genre may have valuable tips for specific scenes, if not overall plot concept.


  11. Well said! It's always hard to hear something bad about something you're so proud of, but it's for the best!



  12. Mynx, I never thought about art critiquing. The technical aspects would be very different, but I guess the process would have parallels.

    Donna, all good points, and many people underestimate the value to be had from critiques outside your genre.

    Valerie, if we want to improve we have to hear some hard things sometimes.


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