Sunday, April 1, 2012

If I Hate It, I Know It Might Be Good

I've been doing a lot of critiquing lately - swapping manuscripts with fellow authors and reading the work of aspiring authors. I'm seeing a lot of great stuff, and I'm gathering awesome feedback that I hope will help me with a project I currently am calling "The WIP from Hell."

In a couple of instances, I've gotten the impression that some of my feedback didn't resonate with the person whose work I was reading. Everybody's been exceedingly gracious, but I could just tell that one or two folks didn't agree with some of my suggestions. That's OK - none of us takes every piece of feedback we receive, but here's the thing: I don't think I'm wrong.

In my own experience, sometimes the critique that makes me go, "Ew, what!?!? This person doesn't get it!" is the critique to which I find I should pay the most attention.

For example: I might call my current project the "WIP from Hell" but I believe in it and I love it and I think it's going to be successful. Early on, I shared a sample with a publishing VIP who I'll keep anonymous because there's no need to name names. This person came back with editorial suggestions that felt utterly wrong to me. I decided to continue on my original path, and my agent sent a proposal out on a round of submissions.

Fast forward a few months, and while we got rave reviews for my writing and lots of compliments on the overall concept, the final decisions were all "no." In essence, nearly every bit of feedback echoed what the first publishing VIP had said.

I realized that what didn't resonate for me was the first VIP's suggestion for a "fix." She was kind enough to throw out ideas for what might help the story, but I just wasn't feeling them. If I look deeper, though, to the problems she was trying to address, then I can see she was correct. I still haven't landed on the solution that's right for me and this story, but, thanks to her and the other editors who gave feedback, I have a much better idea what types of things need to be overhauled in order to make this the successful book I know it can be.

In the end, each of us is the boss of our own story. We decide what happens, what feels right, what's true to our artistic vision. If a beta reader denigrates your work or suggests you turn your realistic contemp into a sci-fi time travel then, by all means, move on. And if a reader you normally respect gives a suggestion that feels totally wrong, you don't have to take it. But ask yourself what prompted the suggestion: is there a problem with your plot, your characters or your pacing? What is your beta trying to help you fix? Because if s/he noticed a weakness, then you can probably assume an agent, editor or reader who buys your book will notice it, too.

How you overcome that weakness is totally up to you - in fact, I think it's awesome when a writer ignores my suggestions and come up with something ten times better. It's the spirit of the feedback that matters, and sometimes the key to success is overcoming the initial urge to say, "Yuck. No. That's not going to work."

I've actually learned to pay special attention when I have that reaction - it often signals an opportunity to take my work to the next level. Sometimes the most valuable advice really is the toughest to hear.


  1. Sound advice, Sara. Painful but sound. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on criticism. I'll be sharing it with my college writing students who could benefit from it as well.

    1. So glad it's helpful, Melissa! It's never fun to have to dig deeper, but we all know it's worthwhile!


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