I recently entered a writing contest for the sole purpose to be reviewed. As part of the process each entrant was given two reviews from various people in the industry: published authors, unpublished authors, previous contest winners, etc. If the score was high, you were pushed forward in the competition to an agent and editor. Don’t get excited–I didn’t make it that far and here is the reason why:
One reviewer, a published author, loved my story, character, and writing. She scored me pretty high, with a few exceptions. Her one critique was to add more depth to the main character’s emotion, “To bring the story to the next level.” She felt my writing was strong, the story intriguing, and even commented she wanted to read more.
Great, she liked it!
The other reviewer, a past contestant, wasn’t so generous. She found my main character “too emotional.” She critiqued my word usage claiming I was verbose. And, apparently my lack of contractions was dated. She claimed, “No one speaks like that.”
Really? I do. But then again, I grew up in a world with no texting, emails, and barely an answering machine. Okay, I am not that old, but I grew up in a world where you actually had to write things out and intelligently talk to people. I could complain about the negative review, countering her critiques, but I won’t. The bottom line..
Crap, she didn’t like it!
How could two people give such contradictory reviews? So, the question begs itself, “Who do I listen to?”
As a writer, you have a responsibility to protect your writing from others…” –Marcy McKay, Positive Writer Blog
We put ourselves out there in the most vulnerable way–we share our thoughts and people judge them. It cannot be any more personal than that. A positive review is like gold–we are invincible writers! But when we hear a critique, we cringe and fall into our insecurities. Our first impulse is to fix it. I did immediately when I gave the title of my latest novel to my best friend. She screeched, “Oh, that’s awful. You can’t name it that!” Her words rang in my ear every time I saved the file under the title’s name. I racked my brain, struggling to give it a title she would be proud. But then it occurred to me. I liked the title!
Writers are in a constant tug of war: they like me vs. they hate me. But why are we giving up so much of ourselves and our writing to what other’s think?
In the querying process, we hope that so-and-so will like our story, identify with our character, and accept us on as a client. We are constantly looking for approval and acceptance. When we are rejected it is our inabilities–our failures–to be a great writer. But is it? Can’t it just be that some will like our story and some won’t? Why must it always hit our ego and have to be an indictment about our writing?
If you are to survive as a writer, you must learn to filter the advice given. After the initial ego boost or blow, you should pick out craft advice versus opinion. We can all improve our craft! But opinions? There are many, as my two reviewers revealed. Both offered craft advise that was useful; potentially improving my writing. Both garnered opinions, that could have altered my story. Is that the goal of critique? Opinions, whether good or bad, do not define your writing. You define your writing and the opinions help you see it more clearly, but it doesn’t mean to fix it. Know the difference. There is the skill of safely driving a car, but everyone has an opinion on how you drive! Be careful of how you change your story to accommodate someone else’s opinion.
People are not going to like everything you do. But learning to believe in your work and feel confident in what you are producing takes a lot of thick skin, willpower, maturity, and the ability to decipher what advice to take and to throw out. You need to be discriminating and not allow people, no matter how close, change your writing unless you feel it’s valid.
Now go on…take on your writing!