Tuesday, July 26, 2011

3 Mistakes I Made as a Newbie Critiquer, Unveiled

(Or, Don't Do What I Did)

First of all, vacation was lovely, thank you to all commenters who left me sunny vacation wishes. On our last evening at Bass Lake, we went on a pontoon ride and watched the sun set. Sigh.

While on vacation, I did a lot of thinking about when I first started writing four or so years ago. And what I did? Was to make a lot of mistakes. Thanks to all my writer/critiquer buddies along the way, I now make less mistakes.

So I thought I'd share some of my transgressions with everyone, especially newbie writer/critiquers just starting out, hoping to help others avoid these mistakes, commiserate with those who have, and/or help someone else feel not-so-badly because my mistakes are the worst.

Mistakes upon Mistakes.

Scenario: In the summer of 2008, I decided to write a short story, post it for critiques, and reel in my praise. My goal was to get feedback on my writing because I wanted to write a children's book, but I knew I should brush up on technique first because my sister (the real writer) told me I should. The forum that I had joined required that I critique five other stories before I could post my own.

Mistake the first: I read five stories and wrote up some notes on each. I rated each one basically the same, because really—who was I to tell someone how to use their art? I corrected some misuse of words and such, but I dared not go any further. I'd never even seen a good critique before, and yet I went in and left my empty comments. My biggest mistake? Not researching how to provide helpful feedback before leaving comments on a living, breathing person's work. Those writers needed something that I didn't provide: the needed to know where to hone their craft so they could improve. Sniff. I am so sorry, writers. I failed you!

Mistake the second: The story I subsequently posted brimmed with clever quips, humor, and a serious message. The mom and kid characters pulled directly from my own life (write what you know, right?). And people were going to read something I wrote. My art. Of course everyone would love it.

Until they didn't. Sure, they had some nice remarks on the clever quips, humor, and serious message; but overall, the feedback (in retrospect, very thoughtful and right on) devastated me. Story arc? More interesting subject matter? What?

After about three reviews, I killed it. I deleted it from the forum. I did—it's true. Me and my weakened ego limped back to our muse and said, WTF? We're not great? You mean, it's not that we didn't know what we wanted to do with our lives until now—to find that we were talented writers yet to be discovered? Heh? These people who have said bad things about us, perhaps they didn't know good writing when they read it—which is why they are on the forum themselves, they need help. Ha.

My biggest mistake here? I wasn't ready to develop yet, and I didn't know it until it happened.

In fact, anytime that I resist feedback, I now know that I've got to sit back and wonder why: Does the feedback miss its mark, or hit it entirely? (The words "hit it entirely" echo here.)

Mistake the third: Once my ego and my muse recovered from this incident, we went back and posted another, more interesting story. We wanted to become better and stronger, and we were damned sure were going to do it. And now we'd be ready for the sting of feedback. And sting it did, but this time, we took a collective and deep breath. WE CAN FIX THIS, we said. So we did. We fixed everything that anyone mentioned, no matter how big or small. Perplexed were we, however, when some comments from one critiquer contradicted comments from another. What to do; what. To. Do?

Ugh. My biggest mistake, this time, was that I'd swung all the way to the other side. I still did not know how to use feedback to my advantage. I hadn't acquired that internal filter yet.

So now, I sit on critiques. After I'm calmly able to answer the question, Does this feedback miss it's mark, or hit it entirely? I move on to the next thing: If I change this part of my work, am I making it better or worse? Is it right for my story? Is there another way to approach this issue to fix the identified problem?


Oh, sigh of sighs. My muse, my ego, and I are so glad we've earned our big girl panties.

Feel free to share your newbie mistakes. (Please. It will make us feel better.)



Jessica Lei Silva said...

I made all of those, although I never deleted anything. I suppose another mistake I made was when someone gave me outlandishly foul advice (or mean advice), I'd somehow reciprocate. I call it bitch-mode. Now b-mode is kept in my pocket for when I need snarky bits of dialogue. Advice here is when you get critiques that just miss the mark, just move on. You don't need to dwell on it or catch yourself questioning your critiquer's IQ--just ignore it and move on to something that's worth your effort.

That sounded mean. BUT IT'S TRUE. I think it works that way for bad reviews, too. Not sure yet!

Marybk said...

Handling snark...good one, Jess. Whew. It's hard enough to handle well thought-out, factual feedback, but the edgier stuff hits like a canon ball.

Anita Grace Howard said...

Oh, but you're a brave girlie. Airing your dirty laundry. LOL. This was awesome, and I made so many of those mistakes myself (other than the deleting part). But see what an awesome critter you are now? Sometimes those hard learned lessons stick the best.

I need to post the mistakes I made when first querying one of these days. Now THAT'S entertainment. Hee

Marybk said...

Thanks, Anita. Yep--when I deleting my story from the crit boards, I unfortunately lost all the critiques that went with it. So not cool.

YESSS--do your query mistakes. That would be delicious fun. :)

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