1. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Discouraged by critiques

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by deadrats, Sep 3, 2016.

    I get so discouraged by critiques. I know people are tying to help and invest time and energy, but sometimes (and I am noticing this happens quite a bit) I just feel like the piece isn't even worth going back to. I have tried to fix things following critique. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it creates such a mess. I have huge stacks of folders with all the comments I got of my stories during my MFA years. People were really thorough with their critiques, and, for all those stories, I took down detailed notes during the discussion part of the critique (workshop). But, honestly, I just feel so lost when I take in all this outside feedback.

    I was with a friend the other day, and we were talking about what we have on submission where. She asked about one of my stories that had been through workshop. I told her that since it didn't go over well and each revision seemed to make the story worse, I really wasn't doing anything with it. This friend has read all of the different drafts. In each one the story changed a lot. By the end it was really a different story. My friend said she thinks I was the closest with this piece in the first draft (which was a little more than a first draft but the first time I showed it to anyone) and to go back to that one and just clean it up. Supposedly, she said as much in her written feedback at the time it was workshopped, but I was so bogged down with pleasing the majority that I didn't even remember anyone liking it.

    I feel a little strange going back to the first version and working off that one. And there are several stories I could probably do that with. But it feels a little wrong to have gotten so much feedback and worked on so many drafts only to go back to what I started with. It's not that I didn't think the feedback was helpful, but I'm just not sure how much some of it really helped me. I respect all the writers who gave me feedback on this story and the others. Some of them I would say are exceptional writers with very clear talent. How can I just ignore what they said? How do you know when it's a good idea to make big changes and take suggestions? And, of course, how do you not let critique discourage you? The last question seems to be my biggest problem. No, my biggest problem is trying to publish, but I'm not even sending out the stories where I have gotten the most critiques and made the most changes because none of them ended up very good.
     
  2. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    I think the thing about critique is to consider everything but not slavishly follow every word - and don't be afraid to ignore what you don't think works.

    End of the day if you post something for crit I might well spend ages tearing it down and rewriting it to sound better to my ear, but there's no point in you just taking all that as read , because at the end of the day your writing has to sound like you, not sound like me.

    The thing with crit is that unless people are giving it are driven only by ego (or by the need to maintain their ratio), then it is being given to help, not harm so you can take it as a rough guide not a template to follow.

    If I give you detailed crit, so long as you read and consider it my time isnt wasted , even if you chose not to take any of it on board
     
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  3. HistoricalScience
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    HistoricalScience Active Member

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    Feedback should be looked at and considered but not necessarily acted upon. Go through it again and if you agree, rework accordingly, if not then ignore it. You won't be able to please everyone. Personally, feedback motivates the hell out of me. Honestly, I can't think of a better motivator then someone reading my work and taking the time to make comments, good or bad.
     
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  4. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    If and when I put anything up here for critique it will be for feedback on specific aspects of the work. It's all well and good to get a line-by-line of what could be changed and why, but that form of feedback is entirely subjective and down to personal preference.

    Next time you post something in the workshop perhaps ask readers to look out for and provide feedback on specific elements of the work. For example, you might be concerned that a character's dialogue sounds forced. Or that a particular plot point is too weak.

    Get focussed feedback.
     
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  5. Scot
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    Scot Active Member

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    There are two aspects to critique. One covers straightforward errors; spelling, punctuation, misplaced pronouns, tenses, etc. the sort of stuff that you should correct before submitting.

    The second is a mix of style and convention, and will be influenced by the reviewer's own preferences. These you should consider, but not slavishly follow if they wreck your story. At the end of the day the story is yours. All a good critique should do is help you refine it.
     
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  6. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    First thing to remember about critiques; (as @Scot and others have said) aside from the SPAG a critique is more often than not the commenter's personal opinion. If you're going back to change things that don't naturally strike you as bad, that's why you're ending up in such a mess.

    Rule of thumb: Restrict the suggested changes to those with which you agree.
     
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  7. AuntyKipper
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    AuntyKipper New Member

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    I completely understand where you are coming from. I am the world's worst self-editor and every time I get feedback my confidence takes a knock. However the positive is that it reinforces how committed I am to the story. Currently, 20k words into a so-called book I have been working on all year and somehow still going.
    Hang in there, and believe in yourself - and your characters.
     
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  8. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I totally support the idea that you need to be selective of which critiques to absorb. I also hope you're giving yourself time to digest them before making changes to your stories.
     
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  9. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just going by how the critique/rewrite process has gone for me over the last year, there are several kinds of critic:
    1. Some critics will give you both barrels, blasting holes throughout your manuscript because they don't want you as competition. They may never admit this, but if they can shoot you down hard enough, they know you'll go back into your cave and never come out again.
    2. Others will be more interested in honing their critiquing skills and since the accepted norm for a critique (mostly because of newspapers and those on-air shows) is to be negative, that's what they'll give you. And since they're really looking to be taken seriously as a critic, they'll feel no obligation to give you anything constructive to work with.
    3. Then there are the ones who give you a short critique that amounts to: Okay, you're done. Correct the SPAG, submit and get on with the next story. You'll never get anything specific from someone like this and again, they're giving you nothing to work with, you might as well ignore anything they say.
    4. Then there's the Your Mum types, full of non-specific praise about how wonderful your story is. Run away!
    5. Finally, there is the one kind of critic who's actually useful. They give you specific feedback about specific things to do with plot, pacing, character development, etc. These are the only ones worth paying attention to.
    So, what I did (and what I'd suggest you do) is read through the critiques looking for items that match #5 in the list above. Throw the rest out. You don't need these reminders of how those vindictive or gushy people reacted to your work.

    Go through and do the adjustments to your story based on concrete feedback.

    And, perhaps needless to say, don't ever approach those vindictive and gushy people for any more feedback in the future.

    For my money, this is where knowing the craft comes into play. If you know a crap-load about how effective stories are written—and if you've got an MFA, I'm assuming you do—you can weigh the critiques against what you know and find those bits that are usable and those that aren't.

    I'm going to make a radical suggestion here. Let it discourage you. Feel the discouragement; meditate on it; let it overwhelm you. But do this after boning up on meditation techniques so you can detach those feelings from the critques, detach them from your work, and separate them from your everyday world. If you give this process enough time, you'll come out the other side feeling rejuvenated, centred and ready to get on with life and work.

    This really sounds like your problem (same as mine) is impatience. I want to be a published writer now, not in some nebulous future. I can't give you any specific advice on how to cope with this except to say that the more you bury yourself in the writing and reign in your impatience, the happier you'll be.

    Hope this is at least a little bit helpful.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2016
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  10. Brindy
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    Brindy Contributing Member Supporter

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    Getting your work critiqued is a necessary part of the writing process before your story goes out into the big, wide world because it will certainly get critiqued at that point. It is a bit disheartening when you get a lot of conflicting views, but rather than jumping in trying to use every point try and relate it to the story you are trying to tell, be selective in which are going to improve your work. I agree there is a lot of skilled and talented writers with excellent knowledge and technique, and their comments should be digested and applied, but not everything will work for your style and if you edit sections to take their comments into consideration it may mean your writing shows differing styles within a body of work.

    I am always amazed how sections I think are quite clear come back showing some confusion. I am writing a series of time-travel novels and was amazed when one of my reviewers suggested I take out the time-travel aspect and make it real time. I disagreed with her reasons for doing this and carried on with my plan, but it made me consider that as a possibility.

    I think @Sack-a-Doo! highlights some valid points to consider, but try and take the positives from the critiques to make your stories better.
     
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  11. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    I've been very lucky to find a really good alpha reader/critique partner via this very site (you know who you are). For me that level of really specific crit as I go along is probably more valuable than general critique , it also helps that my crit partner is female meaning she can give me insight into writing my female MC.
     
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  12. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Is it really a necessary part of the writing process? I'm not so sure.
     
  13. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nor am I. Having SPAG pointed out to you isn't a critique and like I said, a critique is pretty much someone telling you they think things might be improved if you did them differently.

    If I submitted my current WiP for critique it would get hammered because it doesn't follow convention, but it's what I enjoy reading and where I'm at my most conformable writing, so any critique would be pointless.
     
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  14. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    Unfocused critique would be pointless. I do, however, think critique is somewhat necessary. We need to be able t see how readers react to our work if we expect it to be published. It's our job as writers to filter that critique and form it into something useful. Which can't be done very well if we take the critique personally. I'm learning how to remove myself from my work, but my writing has improved as a result of focused critique from trusted people.
     
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  15. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    which is fine if you are just writing for yourself , but if you want to get published I think some crit is necessary to help give a picture of what a reader is likely to think. I also think that you might be being too harsh on yourself , that postdistopian thing you wrote was really good so there's no reason that your current wip wouldn't be likewise
     
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  16. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    Seconded.
     
  17. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well that's very kind of you, @big soft moose, thank you.

    However, let me just try and explain what I meant by my post. At the moment I'm reading a couple of books (well, reading one and using the other for inspiration). I won't bother naming them, but suffice to say they've both become something of a cult classic (for what little that expression is worth). If I were to copy, word for word, a few hundred words from one of these books, the vast majority of people offering their views (providing they didn't recognise the excerpt of course) would, I suspect, express a general dislike. They would point out many things that were 'wrong' with it, such as descriptions of the mundane, run on sentences, scenes that were surplus to requirements...

    Now you might say this doesn't prove anything. If someone has a negative opinion about a person's writing, it matters not a jot if that person has sold a trillion copies of the book. Knowing that would not, and should not, change their opinion.

    What it does prove, though, is that taste is subjective, and being told how to write in a conventional manner, to follow guidelines and an accepted list of rules, isn't always suitable advice.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2016
  18. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    *guesses * Slaughterhouse five ?

    I agree that taste is subjective , but someone who is decent at giving crit ought to be able to take into account what you are trying to achieve and give crit in that vein
     
  19. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nope. Sorry.
     
  20. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, now you've got me curious. How does your work defy convention (if you don't mind me asking)?

    And I ask because some of the current conventions need to be defied... really hard. :)
     
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  21. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm absolutely certain. Only over my dead body would something of mine go to an editor without critique!

    That's not what (good) critique does, though.
     
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  22. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    When I say convention, maybe I just mean the general advice given for novel writing. I write lengthy scenes of mundane activities, not for the hell of it, but because they're part and parcel of the novel. I try to do it in an interesting way, so that hopefully these mundane activities don't bore the reader. This is why posting for critique would be pointless, because any excerpt I post would be taken out of context and people would be asking why I'm spending so much time describing a leaky roof.

    I like to read novels that give an impression they're not going anywhere - so there's just the faintest whiff of 'Why are you telling me all this?' but done in a way that keeps you reading.

    And on top of all that I've learned that submitting segments from my current WiP naturally results in discussions about said WiP and in turn dilutes my enthusiasm and desire for the project.
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2016
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  23. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yours is a curious situation, to be honest. I can't imagine going through so many drafts the last one no longer resembles the original ones. I know I've edited, revised, polished, and pruned until I've been sick of it, but I've never felt I've actually lost the original draft, if that's basically what you're saying.

    Maybe you have to be more critical of the critiques? Don't implement every suggested change, you'll just end up with a mess. What I've done is get several opinions on one piece, e.g. the beginning or the first 50 pages, and implement the changes that the beta readers agree on (some kind of consensus is achieved) and the ones that make perfect sense (e.g. SPAG, POV slips, even word choices). The rest I evaluate one by one, and if I like them, I'll implement them, if I'm not feeling it, I'll discard them. Ultimately it's my and my writing partner's work and we have to have confidence in our vision.
     
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  24. Sack-a-Doo!
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    This sounds very much like the Alfred Hitchcock school of storytelling:
    • show the bomb under the table, and
    • have the characters at the table talk about mundane things.
    The tension is just built right in. Of course, your reader is unlikely to 'hear' anything being discussed. :)
     
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  25. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    @KaTrian - not sure if your post is addressing me, but as I say I no longer submit for critique because it kills my desire for it.

    @Sack-a-Doo! - I'm not quite sure that's what I do. I think Hitchcock is saying use the mundane dialogue to build tension. It's not a technique I use.
     
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