Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Turning "Bad" Into GOOD

Thank you for your valuable feedback on the 25-vs-50 words. I think we'll definitely do a 50-word critique next time, though the 25-word has garnered enough popularity to warrant a repeat at some point.


Also, having two separate submission windows was a great suggestion, too. 50 at a time. Yes!

The most encouraging thing I've read, over and over, is how so many of you have taken "meh" or "poo" critiques and used them to your benefit. In short, you LISTENED without offense and made your work stronger. Brilliant! Of course that's what this is all about. This is how we grow as writers. We may go into things like this knowing--well, sort of knowing--that we'll probably get some feedback that isn't all starbeams and sparkles. As in, "Nope. Not hooked." Or a variation thereof.

But oh! So many of you have prevailed. And that's awesome.

Sadly, I had to write the following email to a contestant who was so upset by negative feedback that he wanted me to remove his entry (I have not removed it, so don't waste your time trying to figure out which entry it was. *grin*):

I will certainly remove the content of [your post] after the contest is over if you would like. But please allow me to point out that nobody is "ridiculing" your work. I have read the comments, and nothing has been written in a mean spirit. If it were, I would have deleted it immediately.

When we put our work out there, we have to be willing to hear both positive and negative. If the negative seems to outweigh the positive, it's the perfect opportunity for us to examine our work thoroughly--which is, of course, the point of this entire exercise.

If we pull our work out of view and run away, how will we learn? How will we grow as writers? It takes courage to put our stuff out there for others to read (which you have done). It takes more courage to KEEP it out there, sorting through the critiques, applying those that resonate, ignoring those that don't.

Reader reactions to your opening lines are not a reflection of you as a writer, or as a person. If someone says he is not "hooked" by your opening, he is not "ridiculing" you. He is sharing his response. Isn't that what we want--honest responses? Because then we can dig in and find out what we need to do to make our work better.

Again, I want to stress to you that, while the reactions may have felt harsh, there was nothing inappropriate. It may simply be that you have chosen to start your story at the wrong place, which is actually a common problem. We might have a terrific story, but if we "drop" the reader into it at the wrong place, he won't want to keep going. The fix could be as simple as that.

You're going to have to grow a very tough skin in order to move forward. The critiques on this blog are a safe environment for that. Resist the urge to run away, to hide your work when it's not getting the response you desired. Instead, examine the response as objectively as you can, and see how you can apply whatever you've learned to your work.

I am sorry you've had such a negative experience. I would encourage you to turn that around by taking something away from this experience that will lend strength to your writing and propel you forward.

(And by the way, have you ever read the story on my blog about WHY I named the blog Miss Snark's First Victim? You'll find the link near the top of the left side bar. Basically, she ripped my writing apart on her blog. And it ultimately changed my life as a writer. Because...I didn't run away.)

I truly wish you the best!

Indeed, I don't think this writer's struggle is uncommon. That's why I've posted my response. Something tells me there are others of you sitting quietly, feeling like you've been "slammed" by negative feedback. This letter is for all of you.

Don't. Give. Up.


  1. Thanks for being frank with this guy. Sorry you had to experience the ouch from someone who maybe wasn't ready to be critiqued. I hope he takes solace from your words and can look back at those comments with a new perspective.

  2. What a nice, well-thoughtout response! Kudos to you, A!

    As a recipient of the Snark's wisdom, I've opened myself up to public flaying--oops, opinions--via numerous forums (here, query shark, Evil Editor, the original Miss Snark, critique circle,'m sure there are others, but I can't remember them). As writers, we must realize not to take comments personally, which is hard to do since we pour ourselves into our work, but to analyze WHY our work causes certain reactions.

    Not everyone will like your writing, it's called subjectivity, and it rears it's ugly head with agents, editors, and once published, readers. The time to develop the hide of a dragon is now, because later you'll be busy writing the next contracted book, and who really cares what some anon person says on

  3. Wow, Authoress, thanks for sharing this. My heart goes out to the writer in question - I hope you find the courage to take something positive from this.

    All too often, I think that when we ask for feedback what we really want is validation. And, yes, *hangs head* mea culpa.

    But the harshest criticism (true critique, mind you, not born of meanness) is like gold. This is a tough game. It's like tempering steel. Your work, your precious baby, has to go through fire to come out the other side clean and bright and ready to do battle for the minds and hearts of your readers.

    Good luck on your journey!

  4. It's tough-but true. I've heard over and over from published and unpublished that their first reaction to difficult feedback, is anger, hurt and frustration. But after a while the reality sinks in, and we do what we know we have to do. Kill our darlings. Your response was right on. My hope is that this writer will be able to move forward.

  5. Part of the problem is that in the real world, people simply don't get good, honest feedback.

    They actually DO want it, but they are unprepared for what it's like at first. It's takes getting used to.

    The other thing is that even people who are used to critique, sometimes aren't prepared for the kind of response you get to something so short. It really isn't a fair sampling of your work, and you will get odd responses.

    But that makes it a great learning experience. Sometimes small bits reveal some strength or weakness you just can't see in the big picture. It also focuses the mind on the details of communication.

    (In other words, haiku is hard.)

  6. You worded that response perfectly. I've always found the critiques from readers on this site very useful. They haven't always been glowing, but the comments have helped me make the writing stronger. Thanks for all you do, Authoress!

  7. Excellent advice! I'm inspired now to go back to that critique I got a while ago and see if I can glean something from it...

  8. That was a wonderful response to the person who wanted to remove their post, and can I just say my heart immediately reaches out to him? (or her, but whatever) The desire to disappear into a corner has been so present in my own life, and the total fear of anything that even faintly remindes me of failure, that I understood and almost wanted to cry myself when you wrote about that author. I've always had a thin skin, and I actually think most authors do - it's our very souls we're putting out on the line, not mere words. And failure is so daunting, and our stories mean so much to us, that we could handle our own failure so much better than we could handle the failure of our work - and often we feel as if it's the same thing.
    In the spirit of sympathy, may I suggest the idea that at some point, there be some sort of oppertunity for writers to share their worst first sentences? The ones before the edit? It's just an idea, but we've all written horrid beginnings (at least I have!) and it may help those who're stinging after the critique. Just an idea!

  9. I do want to say that I value the critiques I have gotten on this site. Most of what I've received hasn't been glowing reviews, which is great. I can use these comments to help direct my efforts on what needs to be taken care of.

    Thank you for providing a space for us writers with professional attitudes a place to help each other achieve the next step.

  10. Your reply was tactful and honest.

    I avoided writing for ten years because I was afraid of the submission and rejection process. The past few years, I've challenged myself and risen above that. Mind you, harsh critiques and rejections still hurt, but they don't stop me. I can't improve unless I know how I screwed up.

    Anyone who submits their work for criticism needs to understand two things: it's okay to emotionally react in the real world (cry, scream, rage that the reviewer is a fool), and then you revise the work and make it better.

  11. You also have to learn who not to listen to - some reviewers aren't your target market, some are excessively critical, and some simply aren't good at reviewing. All part of the process.

  12. I definitely know what it feels like to have your work dragged through the dirt. It's not pleasant.
    I hope he/she learned something from the experience.
    Thanks for hosting this!

  13. I felt the same way this writer did when I attended my first session of a critique group. I posted the experience on my blog. Now I never miss the opportunity to get flogged---I mean critiqued!

  14. I'm sorry the writer had such a hard time accepting the comments left for him/her. You wrote a wonderful response! You were both frank, but encouraging. Real feedback is so important. "This is lovely the way it is," doesn't improve your manuscript. And that's why you post, enter contests and have critique improve and eventually get published.

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. When I was younger, I earned very good grades in school. The problem was that my self-esteem became based on being good at whatever I did. Imagine my shock when I entered the real world and things didn't always work for me, or I didn't get recognized for my accomplishments. ;) I've matured since then and realized I'm not perfect--and I don't always have to be perfect. It still isn't easy accepting criticism from others, but I'm much better at it now than I used to be. When the first few comments on my opening (#66) came back as not hooked, I revised and posted another opening. It was useful to get feedback on both openings.

    I don't know if this writer has issues similar to mine, but if so, I hope he can overcome them.

  17. Great advice. If you never get your work out there and experience some critique- it will never get better. The fact that its anonymous is even better. You have the benefit of critique without sitting face to face in front of someone criticizing it (like in a workshop). Plus, it can't be traced back. It's ideal!

  18. I've had recent experience with the Bad into Good. I submitted to webook's Page to Fame. My first page consistently rated So-so (which is average). Every now and then I'd get a Heavenly, but then would come a Lousy.

    I bristled. Lousy! It may not be great but its not lousy. And I wasn't thrilled by So-so. My 14-year-old daughter read it and said, "Mom, I'm sorry to say so, but it just doesn't get interesting until way down here."
    Thank Goodness, someone finally told me!

    I reworked it, resubmitted and am ranking consistently in Pretty Good.

    Did you guys know you can rate for free? The system is fun and easy; I find it relaxing. If you decide to submit it costs $9.95.

  19. To the upset writer, who will be reading this. I am the writer of the 166. Some of the feedback was good, some positive and some, well... you have to read more than 25 words to make a decision. I personally make no apology for starting with a question. Don't care what anyone says. In that voice and the ensuing story it makes a great amount of sense. The feedback is just that. Good with the bad. What you have to know is this.
    If you are convinced this is the way it should stay and have a good reason for it, then have the courage of your conviction. If it is good, the story will carry it forth. But have that good reason and be confident in yourself with that reason. DO ask yourself if there is anything you can do to improve it, and if you don't have a good reason for it, then DO take the feedback.
    Feedback is just that. There are people who have commented on your work you know nothing about. You don't know how good or bad they are themselves. I know of one excellent very prolific writer of comedy who I couldn't believe in one of her releases, had a sentence which was one paragraph long. She wouldn't have been able to enter this 25 word submission because it would be tantamount to her submission looking like this:

    The cat sat on the

    And she would have been crucified by a unanimous shoutdown.

    Secondly. Think like this. Critique feedback versus rejection.

    This is like finding out before you start the engine whether the spark plugs are in working order. The final say goes to the editor. When it gets there, take note. That's where the buck stops. Until it does be a sponge. Soak up all the information, take all the feedback, accept and reject.

    Look at art competitions. Do you always agree with the winner? Rarely. One man's feast is another man's pain in the gut.

    We all start riding bikes with training wheels. We are all in the same boat as you. And we do learn by mistakes. If you didn't have any pain, you don't know what's perfect.

    The most important thing is to be a little bit flexible. Examine what they are saying to you. If you are totally convinced that you are legitimately right, then ask yourself why. If you have an answer to which you are totally convinced has a reason to be there then GOOD! If you don't have a really good reason you could sit down with an editor and tell them exactly why it must be like this, and can convince them too, then that is it.

    By all means, examine whether you have started in the right place. As Authoress says, that is probably the most common mistake of all. Usually you start where the action is.

    As I said. Mine started with a question. Well my good reason is this.

    I'm skeleton staff. It's Xmas and I'm holding the can. Why anyone would be enthusiastic about starting a job when everyone else has p##### off is annoying me. I want to wrap up and go home. It's dead. I'm bored and nothing is happening. But this idiot doesn't look like I can get away as I'd been expecting to - What if he says no.

    The accusation of the cliche. So? We talk in cliches. The voice is a conversation between two friends. Me and the reader. Life is a cliche.

    Yes in a way I felt some of the comments on all the entries was very unfairly harsh on the person. There were times I felt like defending that person against some of the comments, but all up, I think when you think of it, most people's comments harsh or not, was all meant in the spirit with which it was given. It means nothing to them but they still take the time to make a comment.

    So truly, though I don't know who you are, don't be discouraged. Learn to be your own harshest critique. Not everyone is right. Rules are meant to be broken. Not everyone likes vanilla ice cream. Remember just by virtue of your sitting down and HAVING 25 words makes you different to many many people who think they can write but never do.

    I also wish you the best and also the courage to carry on. :-)

  20. Regardless of your intentions I think this was a bad judgment call. You're trying to force him to see your point of view. And in a very public, humiliating way.

    Even Miss Snark removed people's work when requested. She made fun of them, but that's a whole other can of worms.

    Either that or you need to expressly state you won't remove people work upon request or remove the work when it is requested. Or at minimum, stipulate no work is removed until after the contest.

  21. Anon,

    The writer was informed that I would remove the post after the contest if he still desired. And he told me to leave it up.

    It is, perhaps, better to withhold judgment when we don't have all the facts, yes?

  22. I loved all the critiques to my 25...the "good" and the "bad". But heck if I won't allow myself to grow from them. You put yourself out there; the dispensed critiques are for you to sift through, take in or toss out. So sift for Pete's sake!

    Oh Yes, and don't forget to thank those who took time from their busy schedule to read you and comment. Some people don't even get out of bed to do that...

  23. Constructive criticism is hard to deal with but, once digested, can improve your writing, if you let it. Or at least give you an opposing point of view.

    You handled this gracefully, and it's awesome that the author decided to leave it up, despite his initial upset--good for you, brave writer!

  24. Your advice is spot-on. For the last agent contest, I submitted an opening that I pared down so much that I took the life out of it. I wasn't sure where I went wrong and had a little hope that it was fine. I'd lost perspective.

    Your readers gave me perspective and now I have a better sense of what to do to fix it. I find all of your contests invaluable.

    That said, one of my comments was mean-spirited, which you didn't delete. I'll admit that it put me in a bad place, but as soon as I read it, another comment followed that reprimanded the offending commenter.

    We're writers - our goal is to go public. I'm sure whatever is written here is nicer than some readers will be on Amazon. So that's my goal - to get good enough to be published and then ripped apart on Amazon.

  25. That's an excellent response and good words for all writers remember. I understand the urge to run away, but I hope the writer takes your response to heart. Thanks for doing what you do, Authoress.

  26. Theresa -- I'm sorry you had a snarky comment! There is no way I can read each of the 100s of comments that pour in, so PLEASE always let me know if you see something inappropriate. I really count on my readers to help me "police" the comments!

  27. Authoress, I almost sent you a message, but I didn't want to be whiny. On St. Patricks' Day I wrote a post called "Snarky Idol" in honor of the commenter's slam on my humble #24. One person who commented on my post mentioned that this person had left an unkind comment on her post too.

  28. I'm a lurker and have lurked for many weeks on this blog.
    Please can I say to the writer who feels wounded - please, please take a deep breath and read the comments again. I know, it hurts, but it's nothing to what an editor would do with a red pen.
    You want and need to move forward with your writing, the only way to do that is to put it out there and let it find its level.

    I've recently been asked to critique work of new writers and have found it an uplifting, wonderful process and a terrifying one too. No one would wish to condemn or hurt, but if you want to grow then you need to be able to take and absorb opinions. At least here you are in a safe environment. Can you imagine what it's like out there in the real world?

    Suck it up and keep going. Never give up and never stop learning. You can do it.

  29. Critiquing can teach you to write your stuff better. Learn by other's mistakes. Learn what works and what doesn't. And you are also reading other people's stuff. Analysing them. You are learning confidence and starting to find out why you wrote it as it is and the reasons for doing it. So altogether, feedback both good and bad is kind of showing you your strengths and weaknesses.

    It's a subtle learning curve but it is also a J curve.

    Collective hug to all.