Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Dangers of Feedback

Feedback is a good thing.

If it wasn't for feedback, I would have never even thought about getting my writing published. As I have often mentioned, writing was an outlet for me--a chance to create the stories (particularly historical ones) that I wasn't seeing on the shelves at the library or local book store. I sometimes wish that I hadn't been so narrowminded as I would have had the chance to study with a published author when I was in college. But I digress.

I first started exploring the notion of getting published about two years ago when I published some of The Enemy Within on a review website--you know the ones, you critique people's work and they'll critique yours. It was when I found that readers were developing strong, but good reactions about my characters that I thought that I might have a chance at this.

With my usual singlemindedness, I delved into honing my writing and learning everything I could about finding an agent, getting published, etc. And finally here I am. I'd say that I am fairly confident about finding an agent. I hope it's for The Enemy Within, in fact, I'd probably be somewhat disappointed if it doesn't make it anywhere, but I know I have many more stories in my head that might make it to a bookshelf one of these days.

But even with self-confidence, I can still get pretty upset over a harsh critique. I rarely get them, if I'm honest. Or perhaps I should say that I rarely get ones that aren't helpful or that I don't agree with. I think sometimes I let my confidence get the best of me. I put myself out there in ways that I really shouldn't--and usually there's a price to pay for it. Most recently, I was told that my writing was great but cliche. Um, really? How was that in the least bit helpful? I understand that there are some elements of The Enemy Within that are cliche or rather what our society had programmed us to consider cliche. Yes, there are renegade Union soldiers. Yes, there is a big white plantation house and slaves. But personally, I don't think a sprawling Civil War epic would be complete without any of those things. Nonetheless, this recent critique has been plaguing me since I read it. Part of me knows that it was just one person and I shouldn't fret, but given that I'm already somewhat traumatized by the things going on in my personal life, I'm particularly sensitive.
It's so hard to separate out those bad apples sometimes. Add that one critique to the fourteen rejections I've gotten in the past few weeks and it's been a tough twenty-four hours. It's one of those times where I wish I had never ventured out of writing stories for myself. And it's even lead me to consider removing myself from the forum world for a while. I want to be involved (because I like interacting with other writers) and I know it gets my name out there, but sometimes I wonder if it's all worth it. I know that I have my involvement in the forum/blogging world to thank for supplying me with all of you wonderful readers. I certainly don't want to miss out on that.

So what about you all? Do you find that forums and feedback are more harmful than helpful? What do you do to filter out those comments when they seemingly have no merit?


  1. Caroline, I'm so sorry a comment brought you such pain. I don't handle feedback very well either. I recently put a small sample up and while I *knew* where the problems were, having them pointed out by peers was embarrassing and frustrating.

    So I walked away for a few days, licked my wounds, and then went back. They were right, of course. And I see this as just one of many instances ahead where I'll need to develop my "thick skin." I consider this practice and also a lesson learned. Next time, I might stick to a smaller sample group instead of leaving it out for the world to read.

    Also, keep the commenter in mind. That's helped me. :) Chin up, hon. I agree. You need a plantation, slaves, and soldiers in a Civil War epic. Trust in your knowledge of the subject.

  2. And I got the same critique. ;)

  3. Thanks TL--your words are very encouraging! It's good to know that I'm in the boat with someone! :-)

  4. I read what you put up for critique, and though I didn't have time to post a reply to it, I thought it was very good, and wanted to read more of it :)
    I guess in the end everyone has different tastes, and there are going to be people who don't like your work unfortunately. I didn't happen to think it was clique at all, if it's set in the Civil War you need those elements, just as a science fiction work needs space ships etc. Having read the synopsis for The Enemy Within, the rest of it does not sound cliched.
    Also, thank you for the critique you did of my opening, was helpful.

  5. It helps if you trust the person giving the critique/feedback, or at least understand their tastes and preferences.

    If the suggestions make the work better, I'd consider them; if they just make you feel worse, or aim to take the story in a direction that doesn't interest you, I'd push them to the side.

    That's one way to filter. :)

  6. I don't put my work up online, I have a face to face crit group and they are all people I trust. And people who go into specifics not general bullshit statements like, "It's cliche."

    Even though they are people I trust, I disregard their stuff if I don't agree with it. Then, I move on. So, move on. It's your story, tell it the way you want to tell it.

    Keep putting it out there. Rejections are not personal and when the time is right and it lands on the right person's desk, you're in.

  7. I know exactly how you feel! Sometimes I get two or three rejections in a day, complete with critiques of my work on the forums (most of which consist of "Your work sucks. Give up before you waste any more of our time."). I can see why so many writers fall into the cliche of drinking away their free time. It has been tempting at times. But I digress.

    Life as always going to get in the way, and having your dreams thwarted is never easy. But it gets easier as time goes by.

    As for the "cliches" in your setting, they're not cliches: they're historically accurate setting details. I would LOVE to read a book with some of those details.

  8. I definitely hear you--sometimes I think the harshest critiques are from people who wouldn't enjoy your work to begin with, even if it were polished and perfect and in print. While I'm all for expanding horizons in reading and critiquing, I wish people would be a bit more judicious in selecting what they'd crit sometimes--if you know nothing about the genre, don't like the story, would never, ever read it for fun...maybe you're not the best person to crit. Sounds like this person may not have been the best person to crit your story--if they have nothing specific (ie, this phrase felt cliche, or this character felt stereotyped) they're probably just bsing a general "well, it's not my thing, I didn't care for it, but the writing is fine and I can't explain why, so....ummm, cliche?"

    Rejections are never fun...but remember that it's not personal, and it might not even reflect on your writing one bit. It's maddening, but you have to keep putting your best foot forward and keep trying!

  9. Thanks everyone for the wonderful comments!
    Lady Marella--thank you for the compliment. I really enjoyed reading your opening and would love to read more too!
    Mike--I think you're right. I'm going to rely on either my beta readers or find an in-person critique group.
    Giles--Thanks for the encouragement! Forums are fun but can also be so damaging!
    Rowenna--You are completely right. I only critique what I'm interested in, so I suppose I take for granted that people do the same!

  10. Would love to read more of your work to, I'm still trying to get the first draft of my novel done, but you're welcome to read it when I'm at the editing stage if you'd wish

  11. There is always going to be someone who doesn't like my writing. If it is sound feedback, I'm open to listening. If it is a projection of their own gunk, I'm not really interested.

    Hope this helps: Gave you an award! Stop on by.