Hello, all! I apologize for the recent disappearance. In the last month, I have had a plethora of papers to write and tests to take and CP mss to read. But – as it is the last day of finals – I will share a blog post that has been ruminating in my mind for the last few weeks.
When is the point where you stop listening to certain editing advice and stand up for something you love? Where do you draw the line and say, “This is MINE, and it shall not be lost!”?
This year, at Emerson College, I found that line. Well, at least, I think I did. Critique classes are always a toss-up in whether or not you are surrounded by valuable insight…or the not so valuable. For instance: People who don’t even read the edits you spent hours painstakingly going over on their physical copy? Those who merely listen to the verbal feedback and throw all other papers in the trash? Most likely, those people are the not so valuable.
(Do you hear the bitter, high-pitched keen of that sentence? Good.)
So, how can you tell which feedback is great to utilize and which is so tactless it’s not worth the air spent voicing it?
- If someone says they simply didn’t like it, with no reasoning to follow up that statement.
- You don’t like my character? Ok, what about her was off-putting? You…you can’t remember. Oh…you just couldn’t get past the first paragraph because she was so annoying. Uh-huh, so what you’re saying is you read the first page so you’d be ready to at least say SOMETHING in class, and then went on to play World of Warcraft. Gotcha. Well, we will just skip you. Thanks for playing!
2. When they clearly are mixing up your work with another’s because they can’t even focus on the specifics.
- Critique: “You did some great world-building in here, but I think you have some location issues. Like, there are really no skyscrapers in Nebraska unless you go to a huge city.” Writer: “What do you mean? My story is set in New York.” Critique: “Well, see, that means there’s a problem, because I definitely didn’t picture New York while reading this.” Writer: “I wrote about the view from the Statue of Liberty!”
3. When they say you should do a complete rewrite, because you’re comedic satire should have been more serious to bring out the deep issues.
- This one is a hard one because, for many stories, there is meaning behind what you’re writing. However, just because someone “thinks it too fun and light” doesn’t mean you should do a severe turnaround and make your lead a homicidal maniac or depressed cubicle worker, just because they said so. You know what is at the heart of your piece, argue for it!
Now, I’m not saying all critique is crap. Listen closely! Quite a lot of feedback is subjective and NECESSARY! You need that push back, that person questioning all of your literary motives, the person realizing your character’s name is spelled differently on pages 2 and 4. But just because one person says something they think is mandatory to help your writing, that doesn’t mean you have to take every single syllable of advice and force it into the story. As writer, we are emotionally attached to what we create, and sometimes you have to step back, hear what they are saying, and decide if it’s really right for you.
Example time: I wrote two short stories for my critique class this year. One I had already submitted to a magazine and gotten great feedback for. The other was a satire I had simply gained the start of through a moment of alcohol-induced genius.
Many people in the class were AGAINST the feedback I’d already received for Story #1. They said my character was too bitchy, too unrealistic, and too mopey. News flash! This was a story based off a true life event where a girl’s brother is lying in a coma, and she is learning how to cope. I did receive some advice that I willingly took to the page. I wasn’t delving deep enough, scared of my own experience. There were others, though, that set my teeth on edge. Certain people kept calling moments I had personally experienced as “totally impossible to actually happen in real life.” Even after explaining how these were, in fact, plausible and reality-based, the same person continued to argue against them. This is the perfect example of someone whose argument is more important that the actual bettering of a story. The piece ended with a line of dialogue as well, a fact one person had a mountain of hate towards. Yet, I held my ground, refusing to cut the dialogue. I had reasons, they attributed to the piece in its entirety, and by the time I brought my final edit back, the person had to admit that it finalized the story in a strong, definitive way.
Standing up for your story is pivotal, but so is acknowledging adverse opinion. You have to make the choice of where to lock the doors and refuse to listen or where to hit that delete button until your fingertip hurts.
Final reminder? Don’t ever listen to that jerk who says it wasn’t likable because it sucked. Critique should be help to move forward, not to slam on the brakes. If someone tries to negate any possible positive addition to your work, it’s time to put in the earplugs and walk away. There are so many out there who will assist you in bettering your work or even just seeing it from a different angle. Don’t waste time on those who would rather just erase the entire thing.