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How To Deal with Conflicting Critiques

by The Procrastinating Writer on June 30, 2009

courtesy of base2wave

courtesy of base2wave

By Jennifer Blanchard

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about how to get the most out of a writing critique.  After publishing this post, Procrastinating Writers reader, CathrynG, asked me what to do when you receive conflicting critiques (meaning one person says, “This character is flat” and another says, “I love this character; I really identified with her”).

So I’ve decided to address her very important question.

When you’re showing your writing to a group of people, such as in a creative writing class or a writing roundtable, it’s very likely you’ll receive conflicting criticism. This is because everyone has their own opinion and their own perspective. It’s also because some people will like your writing and others won’t.

I know that may be difficult to hear, but that is the reality of being a writer. You can’t please everyone. It’s just not possible.

So what do you do when you find yourself in this situation? Here are some ideas:

  • Read through the conflicting critiques and try to understand where each person was coming from. Doing this will help you look at your writing from different perspectives (other than your own).
  • Really think about why each person said what they said. Is it because one of the critiquers doesn’t read your genre so maybe she didn’t really understand? Or is it because that section of the story isn’t clear? Or maybe it’s because part of your story still needs work?
  • Use whatever advice you want to use (or ignore both people’s critiques if you want).

The main thing to remember when receiving critiques on your writing is this: A critique is just another person’s opinion. That doesn’t mean he/she is right or wrong.

On top of that, it’s your story. Which means you are in charge. You have the final say so.

Also, keep in mind that criticism you receive should be constructive, which means the person provided you with feedback that will help you improve your writing. If you get feedback that is rude, mean or unconstructive (meaning it provides you with no help), feel very free to ignore it.

While it’s nice to get your writing critiqued so you can find holes in your plot or places where your characters become lame, you have to keep in mind that it’s your story.

So take in all criticism, truly think about each person’s opinion, then decide what (if any) advice you want to use in your story.

Maybe after you read through and think about the conflicting critiques you realize that both people are totally wrong. Or maybe they’re both right and you can incorporate a little bit of each opinion.

But in the end, it’s your story. You have to be happy with it. No one else.

Have you ever received conflicting critiques? How did you handle it?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 HD Silversmith June 30, 2009 at 12:48 pm

This is a particularly vexing question for academic writers, as we may receive 3 conflicting readers’ reports for a single article. A good journal editor will indicate which direction an author might wish to take in evaluating those reports, responding, and revising — but some editors do not. Crazy-making!

2 Donald E. W. Quist June 30, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Thoughtful, as usual. This is a pressing issue. Conflicting critiques is an inevitability, common in writing groups and in creative writing classes. People are going to have different opinions on your work and it is important to remember you can only make yourself happy. As you said, “…in the end, it’s your story. You have to be happy with it. No one else.”

Nice work Jen!

3 CathrynG June 30, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Good insights, thanks for the post.

The critique of my novel chapters left me with fairly consistent feedback that the protagonist was not empathetic, not someone that readers wanted to sign up to follow through 300+ pages. But, they couldn’t *wait* to see what was going to happen; and that was driven by her action.

I’m resolving it by trying to tone her down, make her a little more seductive in her behavior, aiming for more sub text, but it took a *long* time to sort out how I should proceed.

4 garridon July 1, 2009 at 5:41 am

I think it’s important to set aside the critiques and think about them for a while, then pick what’s appropriate for the story. And a critiquer being a publisher writer shouldn’t make a difference necessarily in the value of the critique, especially if the comments are not right for the book. I have a friend who treated any critiques from published writers as orders to be followed–regardless of whether or not they were right. Last I heard, he was taking guns out of a thriller set during a war and featuring soldiers, all because a romance writer had reacted badly to the guns for a non-writing related reason.

But here’s one for you–what if you can’t get constructive critiques? I seem to be in that boat. My book is in omniscient viewpoint, but when I try for critiques, everyone carries about about the use of the viewpoint. I get variations of “Why give yourself an extra mark against yourself when submitting to agents?”; “I’m sure you could use third person instead”; “Eew. It’s in omniscient.” If I mention it’s in omniscient up front, I immediately get all those responses; if I don’t, I end up with comments like “It’s supposed to be in third. Why isn’t in third?” Then I say that it’s omniscient, and then I get the admonishments. No actual comments on the writing itself. I end having to explain my reasons for using it, and then everyone poo-poos my reasons and tells me not to write in it.

5 The Procrastinating Writer July 1, 2009 at 10:22 am

@garridon It’s sad, but some people are so desperate for approval, they will do anything, even if it means removing guns from a book about war. If you can, talk to your friend and let him know that he needs to do what’s right for his book, not what other people think is right.

And I agree, putting the critiques aside for a little while is always a good idea.

I’ve heard (in creative writing workshops) people criticize the omniscient POV. Here are my thoughts: Yes, omniscient will make it a lot more difficult for you because so many people in the publishing industry are against this kind of narration. However, it’s YOUR story. Which means you have to write it however makes sense for you.

Have you tried looking into a writing forum, such as on Writer’s Digest or NaNoWriMo.org? These forums have sections where you can post your work or where you can ask for people to read your work. I’d start there and post something asking for CONSTRUCTIVE critiques. Mention that your story is in omniscient POV and you’re looking for critiques on the writing itself–NOT on your POV choice. You should be able to find someone who will constructively critique it for you.

Just keep in mind, it’s important to do what’s right for you. Always.

6 garridon July 1, 2009 at 4:31 pm

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Already tried (it actually caused a huge fight). He’s not doing it for approval so much as out of conviction that doing so will make the book more marketable (he’s a marketer).

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Thank you. I did know this going into the story. In fact, I tried third and first person before I hit omniscient; the story simply did not work with the other viewpoints. But I also recognized that I needed to make sure I mastered it.

>>Have you tried looking into a writing forum, such as on Writer’s Digest or NaNoWriMo.org? >>

Two different sites, both which give generally good critiques. I applied to a critique group, but I suspect the omniscient will keep me out of it, too.

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