The Bad Stuff Is Good

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This week, I read an excerpt from a YA novel, which was offered for peer critiquing on a writer’s blog I often visit. After reading the excerpt, readers are invited to leave any thoughts, comments or criticism (constructive of course), for the author to consider.

I make it a practice to compose my comments on the author’s piece, before reading those already posted because I wouldn’t want my perception of the work to be influenced by others. My goal is to give the author my honest opinion. However, once I write my response and send it, I take the time to see what others have said.

I have always felt that the visitors to this blog are fair and genuinely helpful in their critiquing. They, on the whole, make intelligent and practical suggestions, which generally come from experience. And aside from the occasional difference in viewpoints I usually agree with the overall themes that bond the individual critiques… until this week that is.

This week I found myself with very little to offer the guest author in way of criticism. I loved the excerpt and wanted to read more.  I had some trouble with the language she was using with the main character, not feeling it was true to the teenage girl she was introducing us to. I felt a heightened sensitivity to this issue because it is an important part of the novel I am working on, Lost and Found: The Souls of Rosewood. My main character Lucy is an American teenager as well as many of her friends therefore, I work hard to be sure the language they use is authentic and current without dating the story.  Other than that, this author’s writing was a read right up my alley.  So, as I always do, I wrote my comments, posted them and began reading the opinions of my fellow readers.

Didn’t like the first one…hated the second one…began feeling angry by the third one…by the time I was finished with all the posts I had a knot in my stomach and I was fighting mad! What was their problem??? Why were they being so critical??? Why were they being so nitpicky?

I hit reply and prepared to fiercely defend this author’s work.  As I was thinking through my rebuttal, I began to wonder why I was so angry. The first though that came to mind was that this was the first time a YA novel was spotlighted for critiquing. Hmmm maybe it’s the wrong audience for a piece like this.

Ok so let’s see…issue one: everyone seemed to think there was way too much description-too many adjectives.  Well, to be honest I get that a lot from the writer’s in my writing group, Somerset Ink. But you know, writing is about words, so how can there be too many?

Issue two: the reviewers seemed to think the author had some trouble with tense. Well, once again, I admit that is a problem I have myself, identified with my novel’s plot. It’s subtle but there and I know I need a professional to help me with it before I begin submitting to agents.  I’m sure lots of writers have that trouble.

Hmm… you know this reminds me of my husband’s favorite button to push when we are arguing. If he makes an accusation that gets me fired up, he smirks and says that it must be true or I wouldn’t be so mad.

Is it possible that I got so angry with the peer reviews because I projected their critiques for the guest author’s piece onto my own work? Gee what would Freud say? He would probably tell me to blame my mom. Or maybe he would say, suck it up and learn something.

I have.  It’s good to know that others may struggle with the same writing pitfalls as you do. It’s more important to recognize the mistakes you make and fix them.

Reading critiques or reviews of your peer’s work can be a valuable tool in helping you to identify and weed out the week spots in your own writing.

What might you take away from reviews and critiques of your peer’s work?

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4 responses »

  1. After reading your blog I wanted to leave a comment telling you to mind your own business because it made me think more about one of my own character defects – defensiveness about criticism. I relish accolades and validation but become defensive when I receive criticism and often discount it as being invalid because the criticizer isn’t as accomplished an author as I am.

    Thanks for the reality check.

    • Accepting criticism is the bad part of, the good, the bad and the ugly, of writing. But if it’s constructive criticism, it’s part of the good as well. Plus, practicing not to take it personally and learning to become a better writer because of it is good practice for the ugly…rejection letters.

  2. The women in our Somerset Ink writing group are great. Once a month we critique a piece submitted by one of us. Most of the time I find their suggestions helpful, and there is positive criticism. However, once in a while, initially I find my feathers getting ruffled and feel a little insulted that perhaps one or two of them aren’t getting it. They just don’t understand what I’m trying to do with the piece I’ve written. After I go home, and put everything aside, I realize that they are usually on target with their suggestions. And even if I still don’t agree I have settled down enough to realize that is okay, because they were really trying to help, and if I don’t want to take their suggestions it’s okay. Diane

    • Hi Diane,
      It’s true- we don’t ever have to take the advice given. It’s important to consider the source of the criticism. Not all of our peers will “get” what we are trying to do with our plot and characters. Many of them write for a different genre or target audience so their advice, though well thought out, may not be the most appropriate for your work. Still there is always something to take away and giving yourself time to think about it and simmer down the emotions is a good practice

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