Monday, 3 May 2010

Feedback and critiques. The soul-crushing or elevating remarks from the people you trust to tell it to you straight and help you shape your opus.

But what if one opinion feels a bit wide of the mark? If the beta misses the point or just doesn't really read the genre you write?

What if it is a little too scathing, and it makes you question yourself as a writer?

I was asked these points by a friend. As usual my over-fertile brain began thinking about opinions.

o·pin·ion   /əˈpɪnyən/ Show Spelled[uh-pin-yuhn]

1.a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty.
2.a personal view, attitude, or appraisal.
3.the formal expression of a professional judgment: to ask for a second Medical opinion.
4.Law. the formal statement by a judge or court of the reasoning and the principles of law used in reaching a decision of a case.
5.a judgment or estimate of a person or thing with respect to character, merit, etc.: to forfeit someone's good opinion.
6.a favorable estimate; esteem: I haven't much of an opinion of him.

Opinions are personal, we all get that. I like tomatoes, my friend doesn't. Her opinion is that they don't taste nice. I disagree. Do I change my opinion because she hates them? No, but I respect it.
It is the same with movies, books and the manuscript you have been working on for the last (insert timescale in months or years).

An opinion can shatter you to the core. Cause you endless worry and sleepless nights, even reconsider your MS. An opinion is a personal preference.

And I started to wonder about opinions. More specifically, how do we react when someones opinion differs to others?

Do we change our work to suit one person ? Or do we seek more input from beta readers and crit buddies?

Or even shelve the project?

With any feedback I try to be calm. I'm human though, so I feel sad when something I wrote hasn't done what I set out to achieve.

I like to evaluate the points. So I re-read, I think, I digest, and then decide what to do. I change something, usually, if more than one person comments on it. If I re-read it and think "Oh yeah, I missed that!" (*slaps forehead*) then I will tackle it again.

If it is something vital to the plot, maybe I didn't word it right. If that is the case then I can re-shape it.

If the day comes when my novel reaches an agent - gets me signed, and then gets published - will I read each review and rush back to my laptop? Will I change my book based on the opinion of the reviewer/reader?

Will I care that someone doesn't like a particular part or character? Scream out loud when they miss/skip an important sub-plot? Yes I'm human (and quite emotional at times. heehee). But I will have consulted the opinions open to me up to that point.

The CP and beta readers will have worked their magic. The revisions for Mr. or Ms. Agent and editor at the publishing house will be done.

My work will be done and I'd have set it free. There will be nothing more I can do.

However, I hope that -if the time comes- I will remember the definition of opinion, smile and return to writing my next novel.

And rinse and repeat the cycle yet again. :)


Alesa Warcan said...

Heh... Opinions; here is mine. Merely that of a non-writer.

It seems to me that if you're writing in a professional capacity, then one massively dissenting voice shouldn't be relevant provided your beta readers are representative of your target audience... In so far as you are writing for a target group, it's the mass opinion that would seem more useful.

Whatever happens, all feedback one receives is weighed against one's own knowledge and opinions, compared to that of the general consensus, and used or discarded as the case may be.
Objective analysis is useful for giving everything it relative value, be it one's own work, or the opinions of a reader.

MissV said...

Good points! It does sting when someone doesn't fall in love with our work, but sometimes you gotta consider the source.

KarenG said...

It sounds like you have a very healthy attitude about the whole thing. Which will help you down the road when your book is published and you come across the occasional bad review!!

Matthew Rush said...

Great point Lindsay, thanks for sharing.

In the end the feedback has to ring true for you, the writer. If you're honest with yourself you'll know whether it fits or not.

Mayowa said...

Great post maam.

Getting frequent feedback (from beta readers like you mentioned or a writers group) can help a writer handle these critiques a lot better too.

The more feedback you get, the better you get at filtering it through your writers instinct and the story truth.

Jaydee Morgan said...

You'll never please everybody so going in knowing that is a big start. However, we do have to pick our betas with a little sense - there's no sense having them read our romance novel, for instance, if they're pre-set to dislike romance novels.

Even though helpful criticism hurts, we can still find the good in it and make our manuscripts better but you really do have to judge each criticism against your own gut feeling and the direction you've set for your own work.

Great post!

Emily Ann Benedict said...

Ah, there's nothing quite like critique. (deep sign)
One thing I do is give the book to muiltiple people from different backgrounds at the same time.
If several people point out something, I know there is a problem, but if it's only one person I know their comment is probably an opinion. Sometimes I listen to opinion, but not always.
Great post. Encouraging!
Just to let you know, I have a book giveaway on my blog today. :)

Angela said...

Great post! And your attitude, IMO, is a great one to have. I agree with everything that's been said, from sharing your MS with people of multiple backgrounds, to considering the source of the critique. My favorite critiques (maybe because they were all favorable) came from those who read the entire MS; however, an agent rarely reads more than the first three chapters, so readers who have ventured that far with advice were also very useful.

Palindrome said...

Usually when I'm asking people to read my work (if they don't read that genre) I stipulate what I want them to look for, just to make it easier on them and me.

Sometimes you just want general feedback and someone tries to change your whole idea...that's happened to me once or twice.

But my crit group is pretty good at helping me find problems in my writing and we're all very diverse readers so that helps as well.

Talli Roland said...

Great points! Ultimately we're the writer so we need to decide what works... but we also need to listen to what people tell us and interpret what they say and where it's coming from. I don't always take feedback at face value.

Lydia Kang said...

Right on. Ultimately we're driving this ship, so it's up to us to discard or take the crits we get. HOpefully, we can learn to work through what is constructive or just out there.

Tahereh said...

this is such an important post -- and an excellent subject. sometimes it's hard to know when an opinion merits changing the story, and when it's simply a matter of opinion and nothing more.

i wish i had a secret formula, but i agree that in the end it just come down to you. if the change feels right, appropriate, makes sense? go for it.

if not?

well! this is an incredibly subjective industry. there are plenty of published books that are excellently written, but very unappealing to *me*.

onward and upward, always!

i commend you for your take on the issue!!


Jayne said...

Hello! Found your blog via the lovely Talli. :)

I enjoyed reading this post. I put my writing through a long drawn out revision process, taking in feedback from non writer friends, writer friends, bloggy friends, published friends. Crossing fingers that I get an agent, and a publisher, I imagine the revision process begins again. After that time, if they all say it is good, and I think it is good, then off it goes. After that, I hope I would stay objective! Rinse and repeat, as you say. :)

Jen said...

Beautiful way of explaining it. We get so caught up in what people think we often forget why we started the project, what we loved about, that we once thought we were amazing. I think that's what we need to remember, ulitmately make sure you love your work, take criticisim where you feel it is necessary but leave the rest.

Excellent post!

Zoe C. Courtman said...

This post reminded me of an interesting revision tool: to read your own work as if you were your writing rival. It opened my eyes up to my own writing weaknesses in an interesting way. In the same vein, it may help to look at your beta's offending critiques from the eyes of the person who gave it - might provide some insight. But don't spend a lot of time on opinions. Take the ones that WORK (that obviously strengthen the piece) and toss the rest away. Then move on :D Great post!

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Good questions! It all depends on my story, how confident I feel about the course I've set and whether I trust the other person's opinion. There have been many times when someone else points out something that needed to be changed and when I did it, it made the story stronger. The trick is to trust yourself to know what's best for your story. Sometimes when people say something doesn't work, I tell them well I need it to. How can I fix it so it's believeable? And they usually jump in and help me. Thanks for the reminders!

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

This is a great post. I can't remember who I was reading the other day who blogged that if a critique makes you angry, it is probably fundamentally speaking to you at some level. That resonated with me.

Ultimately, I think the more opinions you get before the work is published, the better you will handle reviews from a wide variety of sources. You can't fixate on any on thing. Take it all with a grain of salt and believe in yourself.

Anonymous said...

I listen to my instincts. I absorb all the suggestions, but then pick and choose the ones that I know for sure will strengthen my story. There are so many ways to tell a story, and not every way will work. Also, sometimes the motivation behind the critique is important. I've been critiqued by people who are angry and dismissive, and I can't take them seriously. I can tell when someone is truly supportive and helpful. Those people have a lot to say (with both the good and the bad of my manuscript) and their feedback is valuable.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Okay, I'm confused. I replied to everyones comments and mine disappeared. Hmmmm.

Alesa. Great points. Objective analysis is helpful too.

MissV. Yup, I agree. Sometimes it stings like hell.:)

KarenG. Thanks. I hope I can keep the healthy perspective.

Matthew. Good to remember, staying true to yourself.

Mayowa. I agree. I think you do get better at filtering the more feedback you get.

Jaydee. Good points. Thinking about having crit partners in the same genre can help.

Emily. I agree. If lots of people point something out I know I need to work on it.
I popped over to check out the comp on your blog.:)

Angela. Glad you enjoyed the post. I think having people read all your MS is good, but also help on the first three is invaluable too.

Palindrome. I agree, sometimes you have to stipulate what you want looking for.

Talli. Great point about not taking feedback at face value. Sometime we have to weigh it up.

Lydia. I agree, use what you need.

Tareheh. Thanks for the kind words. I agree, the business is subjective. If I find the formula I promise to split the profits with you. :)

Jayne. Glad you enjoyed the post. Having varied opinions from different readers is a good idea. That way you get a nice variety.
Thanks for follwoing, nice to have you here.

Jen. I ageree. It is important to remember what we wanted to achieve with the project, not just mould it to suit everyone else's ideas.

Zoe. Wow, that sounds like a great tool. I'm going to have a go with that one.

Kathi. Great insight. If you need something in your MS then not folding when someone says it doesn't work, and working round it, takes guts. And lots of hard work.:)

Adventures In Children's Publishing. Great advice, keep that grain of salt handy but get lost of opinions.
Thanks for joining my little blog. :)

Medeia. I never thought about the motivation behind critiques. But, like you, I can usually tell who are supportive and who aren't.