When the Critters Don’t Agree

These critters certainly don't agree
Not too long ago I posted a short story on a critique website. I’ve done this before, and have been satisfied with the results. Usually I get some fairly consistent comments with some specific ways to make the story stronger.

Not this time.

I only got three critiques, which doesn’t give me much to go one.

What made it worse was their opinions were all over the map.

One liked the story, and gave some good suggestions for improvement without proposing major changes.

One thought I needed to change the ending altogether, and after reflection, I had to agree with some of her reasoning. But this person didn’t like the overall story, because she said she like cats, and didn’t like what happened to the cat.

The third loved the cat angle but not much else. This critiquer used a stern, almost scolding tone with what they considered to be a major flaw with the beginning. After thinking about it, I had to agree with the comments. But they didn’t have to be worded quite so strongly. I got the message. Already.

So what to do? It’s tempting to go with the first reviewer’s opinion. That would certainly mean less work. But not as good of a story.

I had to remind myself of what I’ve learned over the years about taking criticism.

1. Remember it’s just their opinion

2. Ignore the tone. Obviously my story mistake hit some kind of nerve with the critique. Either it’s their pet peeve, or they’ve been scolded for the same mistake as well. In any case, my goal is to write the best story I can. A little rudeness shouldn’t get in my way.

3. Consider the source. I made a point of reading work by each of the three reviewers, hoping that would give me some insight. The harsher-toned critique wrote gritty prose. Too bad they (I’m guessing the person is male, but I could be wrong) let that spill over to a critique.

All of them wrote well, so I felt I should thoughtfully consider their comments. If one of them wrote really badly, then I’d definitely be less inclined to take their suggestions over the others.

4. Incorporate suggestions with your end goal in mind. You of course want to write a good, no great story. But what else are you trying to achieve? Only use the feedback that helps you do that.

In my case, changing the ending changes my initial inspiration for the story. I’m wrestling giving up my original idea for a something that uses part of it, but in a way that makes for a more satisfying story.

5. Use the feedback to improve your writing, not get discouraged. In college I had teaching assistants for biology labs who were disappointed medical students, meaning they were pursuing a master’s in biology because they hadn’t been accepted into medical school. They were brutally hard on their student, knowing that many taking biology lab had similar goals. These TA’s used their power to hand out lower grades, knowing they could wreck someone’s GPA, and their dream of becoming a doctor. If the TA couldn’t get into medical school, they’d make sure others didn’t either.

Some critiquers may be like those TAs. Frustrated with their own lack of success and discouragement, they spread it around to others. Take what’s worthwhile from their comments, and forget the rest.

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