What do you do if you’ve entered a contest and the scores you receive range from high to low and the judges’ comments seem to contradict each other? Or if you belong to a critique group where some of the members tell you what you’ve written is fantastic while others tear the piece apart?
I’ve had both experiences, and I’ve seen it happen to many writers. For a new writer, the negatives can be devastating. Their “baby” has been torn to shreds, called ugly. What they thought was so wonderful before the critique or contest is now tarnished.
Some writers, having had that experience, drop out of the critique group or vow never to enter a contest again. That’s not always the wisest move. What every writer must learn is how to sift through comments, take the ideas or advice that’s beneficial, and ignore the rest. It’s not easy, but it’s good training for handling reviews or rejections (if you’re lucky enough to get a rejection with comments).
Points to remember:
- Not everyone is going to like what you’ve written or like your writing style. You can’t do anything about those comments. The best thing to do is say thank you and move on.
- Some critiquers will miss crucial information, which will make their comments worthless. In that case, look at the scene or section and make sure the information is clear and complete. Sometimes the reader is at fault (read too fast, skipped the scene, or simply didn’t get it), and sometimes what you thought was obvious may not be.
- Some critiquers and contest judges are super critical. They’ll snip at every misplaced comma, sentence fragment, or misspelling. In that case, review your grammar and punctuation rules, and correct the spelling. It might hurt for a little while (since they focused on those elements and not the story), but those errors can be correct…and you may even want to leave those sentence fragments in. That’s still your decision.
- Some critiquers and contest judges will tell you you’re wrong about how to do something, because, in their minds, that’s not how it’s done. You may want to call them idiots because you know what you wrote is correct, but don’t, at least not so they hear you. (What you say to yourself is another matter.) Do take another look at the scene and make sure you’ve written it in a way that will convince readers that you’re right.
- The difficult comments are when a critiquer or judge simply doesn’t like a character. Sometimes it’s personal opinion. The judge doesn’t think a woman could or should act a certain way. Or maybe a critiquer hates male body builders. Whether you think it’s the reader’s personal opinion or not, take a closer look at what you’ve written. Sometimes it’s the words you’ve used to describe the character that create negative impressions. Sometimes it’s how the character acts. Make sure your character is either acting in a positive way or you’ve established a good reason for the character to do something. You don’t want to create a TSTL (to stupid to live) character.
- One person loves a scene you’ve written, but two or three people have trouble with it. This is a time to give that scene a closer look. Something is missing. If you’re in a critique group, often what the critiquers say will help you pinpoint the additional information you need to add. With a contest, since you can’t ask, simply realize you need to do more work on that scene.
The main point to remember is not every negative comment necessitates action on your part. Sometimes it’s the judge’s or critiquer’s problem. But, if more than one person has trouble with a character or scene, then it needs more work. You have to sift through the comments and decide which ones need action.
And remember, if you’re the one giving the critique or judging the entry, be kind. Your words can hurt.