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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

IWSG: When Critiques Attack


1st Wednesday of the month is Insecure Writers Support Group. It’s a blog hop where you post about the joys and difficulties of being a writer.

I’ve been struggling with my story. So I went outside of my writing group, looking for new insight. Went to a meet up with several other writers. I received some good feedback but one person was less than constructive. They referred to my heroine as stupid. Over and over. Then a few more times for good measure. During another writer’s critique, the person said, "I really like your heroine. She's not stupid," while looking pointedly in my direction. Ouch

I like to think of myself as a decent writer. I'm no [insert name of a writer you think is awesome], but I’m okay. I can handle constructive criticism. But this wasn’t constructive, it was personal and mean. 

I walked out feeling like an idiot who writes idiots because I'm too idiotic to know I'm an idiot. I got in my car and burst into tears and cried the whole way home. No one has ever made me feel so shitty about my writing. My complicated knot of ego and drive came undone and I couldn't write for a week. 

This person said something else though. They said, “I don’t get it. Why is your heroine here at this moment, doing this thing? Why not ten years from now? Why not ten years ago?”

I had no answer. That question whirled around me for days. It wouldn't leave me alone. After wallowing and whining, I sat down and re-read my story and said, “Yeah. Why now?” 

So I answered that question. And now I have a fresh back-story, an external goal for my heroine and a much stronger novel. 

They were right.  No, not about my heroine. She's not stupid. That’s a shitty thing to say to a fellow writer. But I have been struggling with back story and external journey and they asked the question I needed to ask, but didn’t know how to articulate.

So the powerful lesson I learned, dear writer-friends, is that all criticism has value, whether it’s to thicken your hide or to force you to deal with your weaknesses. Don’t discount the bullies, the blunt speakers or the haters. Shove aside your ego (and tears) and ask yourself if you can use the experience to be a better writer. 

Then go be a better writer. 

43 comments:

  1. At the very least, they should have explained why they think the character is stupid. Because characters sometimes can be, behaving in ways that their authors would never dream of.

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    1. I get that and after some reflection, I figured out why she felt that way, but it wasn't a matter of my character being stupid as it was of the author -me- not properly dropping breadcrumbs about her reasoning. People are irrational and emotional and often do things that are counter-intuitive to their health and happiness. I forgot that I needed to explain why my character was doing those things.

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  2. I agree with the above comment: if you're going to be rude enough to state someone's character is stupid, an explanation may help.

    I'm sorry you had to deal with someone like that, but I am glad that you were able to find that golden nugget of truth. Wow, talk about having to dig for buried treasure! Good for you!

    Cheers,
    Jen

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    1. Thank you for stopping by. It's hard sometimes but I think it's important to consider perspectives that challenge and hurt us. Sometimes people are full of crap and sometimes they are just poor communicators. This person was the latter.

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  3. Hello Christina, nice to meet you. I'm a romance writer too. I edited and edited my last manuscript, probably too much, but there were parts of my story that sagged, especially the ending. So I paid a manuscript assessor and it was a great move. She came back with great ideas that filled in the blanks. Now I'm excited again, working on re-writes, and hoping I can get this accepted. BTW, my critique partners didn't like my hero and I couldn't understand it as I loved him, but after the assessment, I understand and have been able to rewrite him as a much more likeable character.

    I wish you every success in your romance writing.

    Denise

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    1. Thank you Denise! It's coming along nicely. Sometimes negative feedback can fuel that writer-ly fire. Nothing like someone telling you that you suck to push your desire to make them cram those words someplace uncomfortable :)

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  4. Christina, go into Settings/Comments, and say no to Word Verification. People hate having to prove they're not robots!

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  5. Sending you a cyber-hug, Christina. Critiquers who are mean-spirited shouldn't be allowed in critique groups. I'm glad you found a nugget of help from her though. Good for you for not letting mean comments destroy your will to write.

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    1. Oh I've dealt with bigger bullies than her in my life. It hurt but the things that hurt build our strength. Thank you for the cyber-hug. I'll always take those :) Hugs back.

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  6. Wow. Well, that's great that you were able to get something constructive from that snotty critiquer. As far as her less-than-helpful (obnoxious) comments, I'm sorry they hurt you. She's the one who should leave feeling stupid. I'm sure if you could have gotten a peek into the heads of the other writers there, they'd agree. :)

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  7. I'm sorry to hear you ran into a critique group bully. I have met them in my travels too and they are really hard to take. I hope you realize that their cruel delivery was more about them than about you and your character. Was this person unfamiliar with the romance genre?
    I'm glad to see that you were able to see the nugget of truth under the harsh critique. I'm sure the story is stronger now.
    Elizabeth Hein - Scribbling in the Storage Room

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    1. Matter of fact, the person seemed sort of irritated by the romance genre altogether. I actually had two run ins with the person and they were mildly nicer the second time but sort of going on about stupid heroines and that's why they didn't like romance. I pointed out that there are crappy writers in their chosen genre as well and they couldn't disagree. Thank you for stopping by!

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  8. I'm sorry your insight came at the cost of tears, but glad you had the insight!

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    1. Thank you for stopping by. It worked out alright in the end :)

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  9. Ouch. There are bullies everywhere. I guess we can't stop them from talking ill about our work and pulling us down. I agree with you and I totally love this part: "... ask yourself if you can use the experience to be a better writer."

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  10. I couldn't agree more about criticism. Granted, there are good ways to do a critique and very bad ways, and making you feel stupid is not a good way to make a critique. I had somebody tear apart my ms. I hated every word she said because she wrote it in such an annoying, petulant way and some of her comments were so dumb I wanted to pull the hair off my head. Yet I sifted through every single comment she wrote because there were 3 gems. And those 3 gems helped me produce a much stronger manuscript. so it was totally worth the pain.

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    1. Thank you for stopping by! With pain comes knowledge, right?

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  11. It's in my critique group rules not to be mean-spirited, and to make sure you use tact when delivering criticism. I think that could've been applied here. That's horrible about them calling your character stupid, but I'm glad you were able to take something constructive from their cruel response.

    Loni

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    1. Yeah, my group has strict guidelines, but this was a new group and I think they assumed that people would all be nice without rules. Oh well. It all worked out. It just took a few days for my ego to recover.

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  12. Not all criticism is constructive because it comes from a mean place. Take all of it with a grain of salt. If questions arise, like about the back story, that is helpful.
    Play off the Page

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  13. Do you know you still have your capcha on?

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    1. I do now. I turned it off. Sorry about that.

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  14. Wow, I've heard some pretty STUPID things said in writers' critique groups, but that one takes the cake. I'm really impressed that you were able to find something positive in it that you used to strengthen your work, but sometimes all there is to learn from criticism is how not to criticize someone else's work. I hope you found a more supportive group.

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    1. Oh I have a fantastic critique group. But they all know the details of my story and I made some changes and I needed fresh eyes to see if the changes worked. So I found some other folks to talk to and that's where I encountered this critique bully. I've been in a number of fairly useless groups, but I've never met someone who was so aggressively mean. Like I said, they were right, but they didn't have to be a jerk about it. Thank you so much for stopping by :)

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  15. Wow. No, the idiot is the one who puts down others. That was no critique.
    At least you got something out of her whining and made your story stronger!

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    1. Yeah, it all worked out. The person isn't an idiot, they're just a bad communicator, I think. I'm grateful for the help in the long run. It would be easy to wrap myself in my ego and assume that people who don't like my story are dumb, but that's too easy and I'm a writer, which means I don't do anything the easy way :)

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  16. I look hard at every crit I get. Like you I take the time to try to understand and occasionally I find that I can't use their advice because there wasn't any. Bad, mean words don't help build a better story.

    Hidden in the mess was a piece of gold if you ask me. Backstory/motivation, and to question why are somethings that every one of your readers will ask and demand answered, so you'd better incorporate them somehow. I've also read that asking yourself why will fill plot holes too.

    Good luck with your work. :-)

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! Yeah it turned out to be awesome. A small step back that propelled my story forward. I'm grateful for it.

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  17. That other writer was way out of line and most likely covering up their own insecurities by lashing out at others. BUT it is awesome that even with that bit of vile business, you were able to take part of what that person said and turn it to your advantage. Well done! And great post :)

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    1. Thank you for your kind words and for stopping by :)

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  18. You know what? I feel like there's always a kind way to say something. I'm sure there were plenty of nice things to say about your manuscript that could've been included in the comments. But it's great that you were able to move forward and get back to work. Good for you!

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    1. I feel that way too. If I can't find SOMETHING good to say than I've failed at giving a valuable critique. A mix of praise and insight is what writers need... but sometimes I guess a little meanness works just as well. Thanks for stopping by!

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  19. My late father always taught us, civility costs you nothing.
    Deliberate meanness and nastiness is as bad as bullying......
    At least you turned the situation around to your advantage... smart move!

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  20. I don't care if they got you it improve your novel, there was no reason to be a dick to you about it. Criticism is good, but you do NOT have to tear a person down giving it. I hope next time you see that person and they read your story, you blow their freaking mind.

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    1. It's true, there was no excuse for this person's bad behavior, but I can't go back and change it, I can only learn and grow from my end. Thank you for your encouragement. My goal is to do just that :)

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  21. Good for you for having the presence of mind to toss out the mean-spirited comments and find that kernel of truth that could help you. After all, this is your journey. No one promised it would all be constructive and supportive...just like life is...although wouldn't that be nice?

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    1. Kim, you're so right. Writing is not for the thin-skinned and no one said it would always be nice. Better to lean to take criticism now before my books being savaged on Amazon and Good Reads :)

      Thank you for stopping by!

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  22. You took that person's weakness (bullying idiot) and found a strength to enhance your novel. When I read your experience it made me angry as this person is clearly jealous and has major issues. Unfortunately they see a person's vulnerability & will go for the jugular. They are unhappy, insecure negative people that we, have the misfortune to meet. The great news is you took one thing that the person said and thought about it to create a positive. I am certain something this person didn't want you to do. Congrats and keep your head high and know that you are doing well

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  23. MGG is right, that C U N T was a C U N TTTTTTT. The end.

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I would love to hear your thoughts. Please comment.