April 13, 2010 | By: Tracy

Feedback : When Does it Do More Harm Than Good?

As new writers, we like to try to help each other out as often as possible. Hence the reason why so many fledgling writers following other fledgling writer's blogs, and why message boards for aspiring writers never experience a shortage of posters.

We like knowing there are others out there suffering from the same trials & tribulations we are. We get tremendously happy (right after the seething jealousy abates) when one of our fellow fledglings gets a request for a full manuscript, lands an agent, or *gasp* gets a publishing deal.

But the one thing we have to keep in mind is that we're all just novices.

I've seen people get so bewildered when they post their query for a critique and watch helpless as it gets torn to shreds. I totally get the bewildered feeling, because I was there! A lot of good people gave me sound advice, but not all of it was relevant. There were several people that contradicted each other on the advice they gave. In fact, there were even some people that gave advice I've seen explicitly repeated by several agents NOT to do in a query.

I was a little worried when my newest beta (my new writing buddy, Jaime) first started reading my ms, because I thought. What if she just doesn't get my style? What if she starts nitpicking over things that I don't think need to be nitpicked over? How would I know if I was right, or if SHE was right?

Luckily, I didn't have to worry about that, because she was very complimentary & the critique that she gave me about the plausibility of my ending was valid. She had solid reasoning to back it up & her advice made sense to me. It felt right and that's how I knew it was something I needed to focus on.

Bottom line: the whole experience - from query critiquing to beta reading on my ms - taught me a very important lesson (something I think will come in handy when it comes to dealing with agents & editors in the future to). Everyone is always going to have an opinion, and you have to be willing to give credence to the critique of another -- BUT, the only time you should heed advice is if it makes sense to you & feels right.

In the end, as my father would say ... opinions are like ********, everybody has one.

So, how do you all handle critiques & advice? Do you doubt yourself & get too easily swayed by the opinions of others? Do you have a problem accepting advice, because you really don't believe anyone knows how to write like you do? Or have you found a pretty good rhythm in figuring out what works for you & what doesn't when it comes to feedback?

14 witty remarks:

Shannon said...

Good questions, Tracy. And timely, too.

I recently had some issues with my Beta readers not giving relevant feedback (i.e. one of my Betas told me that I needed more similies while another told me that I needed to ease into the story and not start with an action scene. Clearly, neither are writers). So, I got more Beta readers and started looking for trends.

I feel that I know where the story needs to go and what my character's motivations are, but I am so close to the story, I often miss some things (explaining a concept or assuming readers know x y and z).

I love getting feedback because it challenges me to really think about the story logically. Do I make all suggested changes? Nope. But if I don't make a suggested change, I ensure that I know (at least for myself) why it won't work.

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

I go with my gut. If something someone says, make sme cringe, then it's not going to work. If something someone says makes me go. "Oh, yeah!" Then they're probably right.

Mary McDonald said...

I think there's a pathway new writers follow when they receive crits. First, it's denial. 'How could you not understand what I was saying in that scene?' Then it's the other extreme where you take everyone's advice, and your story is cut to ribbons. If you make it through those stages, then you can reach the third stage, where you can evaluate the advice on its merits and act according to what feels 'right'. I'm easing into stage three now. I hope.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

We need to begin by making sure we have CP's we trust - and ones who know writing. Then, I like to compare my feedback. Are there things they are all pointing out to me? Are there any contradicting suggestions? From there, It's up to me to decide. I love my CP's and would be lost without them. :-)

Tracy said...

Shannon M - I think that's an excellent point about looking for trends. If one person says something - it's a preference. If five people say something - it's a problem that needs to be addressed.

Jessica - Thank goodness I'm not the only one who's had those cringe moments. I feel bad, but I'm thinking... "If did that my story would be God awful"

Mary - Right on. I think I just settled into phase three a few weeks ago too. Hopefully, I don't regress!

Shannon O - You're right, it is absolutely important to have CPs you trust. Otherwise you'll only second guess every suggestion they make and take none of them seriously.

Terry Towery said...

Ha. You must be reading my mind! I have seven (God, seven!) betas reading my ms right now, and I'm sweating it. I have received partial input from one and regular updates from another. And nothing from the rest, although it's only been a week.

I am looking for consensus, basically. If three or four have the same concern or question, I know it's something I need to look at.

As for the query, I've been there for months now -- the savaging, the wildly contradicting advice, etc. Yes, I whine about it on my blog, but I also know that I am the ultimate judge of when it's ready. I'm learning to trust my gut WHILE still seeking the advice of others.

Nice post. Go Cubbies/Orioles!

WORD VERIFICATION: Fatoras. It's what you end up with if you eat too much ice cream. ;)

Kaylie said...

I think critique groups really help that way, 'cause they're all such different people that if they all say the same thing, you know they're probably on the right track. But I think I would still die of humiliation if my mother hated my book.

Matthew Rush said...

You have to take and apply what fits and respectfully be thankful for the rest, even if you know it won't work.

This applies to all kinds of things and people's opinions. Especially at work and in our work/art.

Great advice though Tracy, thanks for the reminder!


~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

When I write a critique of another author's work-in-progress, I always begin with this disclaimer:

Suggestions are based on my observations and made in the spirit of writers helping writers hone their craft. Please use only what you find insightful and disregard the rest.

When I read critiques of my work, I keep the same thing in mind, from the receiving end.

Great post!

Shelley Sly said...

You said it perfectly, and I don't think I have much to add that hasn't been said. I think we should be open to others' critiques (I find it a bit annoying when writers dismiss ALL criticism, thinking the reader has no idea what s/he is talking about.) But our readers aren't always going to be right, so we need to look out for that.

Yup, I had a professor who said that quote that your father said, except it was "opinions are like ________, everybody has one, and those who don't are full of ____."

And yes, we'll have to meet up at a Starbucks sometime. Cheaper than a conference... and it's Starbucks. :)

ModernDayDrifter said...

I try to take all feedback with an open mind. Constructive feedback is good... what really kills my self esteem and confidence is when I get a flame. I haven't gotten many of those, though, thank goodness. I mainly got them when I wrote fanfiction and people would leave anonymous reviews. It really got to me that they didn't even have the guts to leave their name. Of course, their opinions probably weren't that credible anyway.

I get nervous too, when I have a new beta for the writing style issue as well. All in all though, I like all feedback. It helps.

Tracy said...

Terry - It took me a second to get the Fatoras thing, but when I did I laughed out loud for a full minute. Very clever! And for me the query part was the worst. As someone who is now comfortable with hers -- when it's right you'll know.

Kaylie - Moms are a double edged sword, because even if we know they don't ultimately know what they are talking about in the case of our writing, we still desperately want them to think its wonderful!

Tracy said...

Nicole - That's a great little disclaimer there! I try to say something along those lines, but I may just start copying and pasting from you. ;o)

Shelley - I know, I don't understand those people who think they don't need to change anything. If you only gave it to me read so I could heap praise on you even if it isn't genuine, than what good is it doing either of us?

Tracy said...

Shelley - I forgot to mention about the Starbucks thing. We should make plans and do it some time. I've never had a write-in...would be fun to give it a try. What part of MD are you in again?

Jess - A flaming review sucks and I don't understand them at all. I've read some things that other writers have written that I didn't think was all that good, but there still always some positives in there too. If someone can't point out where I went right, as well as where I went wrong, I don't think they're a very good critic.

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