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What it Feels Like to Get Critiqued

June 4th, 2013 Matt Leave a comment Go to comments
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I previously wrote about critiquing other’s work. Today I want to write about the experience of being critiqued.

A few weeks ago I submitted my first piece to critters.org. It was a 10,000 word sci-fi story; a thoughtful (I hope) tale of a group of humans returning to Earth to “start again” and what that phrase might mean to different people.

About two weeks ago I got my critiques back. I am recovered, and ready to reveal my experiences.

Hopes and fears

I had the usual worries you might expect when submitting – what if no one liked it? Or understood it? My greatest fear about the story itself was people might find it uninteresting and my writing style boring.

The Critter robot

The Critter robot!

But one thing I definitlely needn’t have worried about was the amount of critiques. At 10,000 words, it’s a long short story, competing for people’s attention and time with stories less than half its length.

I was expecting four critics at the most, and would have counted myself lucky if I got more than one. People are far more generous with their time than I’d guessed – I got seven!

Wondrous variety

I was also fortunate to have a range of styles of critique. Some went in depth on line by line, some picked out technical flaws from their own knowledge, some took a more general approach.

The quality of the critiques varied as well. One thing that was particularly clear was the difference in effort. Some got confused by the story and gave up. Others admitted their befuddlement, but persevered until they understood.

One person actually wrote less than the required amount for credit (which is only 500 words). They still gave good points so I didn’t shop them (although there may be some automatic process that counts their words and denies them credit anyway).

I realise the desire to give up if you don’t understand a story, but it was clear from a couple of submissions the critter had simply not been reading carefully. I understand that too – many times I’ve felt I’m reading something in order to get it done (because I’m often behind on my quota). But I cannot help but take a little extra time if I don’t understand a piece or feel I’m missing the point.


Let’s get critical! Critical! I wanna get critical…

I got one who made me think I had to rewrite the story from scratch, and another (my final crit) who thought the piece was a couple of word choices away from publication. Thank goodness for that person, if only for the pick-me-up!

It is also interesting to note no one caught all my mistakes. Even the most thorough of my critiques missed some typos others picked up on.

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect this variety (this very useful variety) is part of the nature of the process – it may be there are as many styles of critique as there are critters.

Patterns in the multitude

Despite the variety of points raised though, there were similarities.

The primary pattern that emerged (very quickly) was confusion. Despite the lovely person who completely got it and appreciated having to work for the story, the vast majority showed some degrees of confusion about the piece.

I would say out of the seven, five expressed confusion and out of them, two were completely bemused by the whole thing. As painful as it is, I can’t ignore that.

Worse, not only was the structure confusing, but the environment of some sections was nebulous and added to the uncertainty. And if I’m honest, some part of me I’d buried was very aware of this.

Whereas I don’t think this necessitates a rewrite, there’s a great deal of editing to do. I now have the difficult task of making things clearer, whilst avoiding over-explaining.

Involuntary emotional response!

I thought I’d be able to read the critiques more objectively than I did. I knew not everyone would like it. I had resolved to read each one as if it were about someone else’s piece – to look at each criticism in as detached a way as possible.

Needless to say I was thoroughly deflated after reading a bemused crit and rather grumpy after reading a string of them.

I did find myself mumbling childish retorts to some comments, and dismissing some simply because I didn’t like them. All the while, I knew I was doing it, and also knew I’d probably be back to read them again.

And I did, and as I had suspected the vast majority of comments were right on the money. Some of my initial reactions inevitably feel childish now (I’m glad I was sensible enough not to reply straight away – I’d hate someone to think I wasn’t grateful for their time), but for now that’s part of the process for me. Maybe it’ll get better.

Some I still dismiss as style choices, and still others I know I won’t do because of what I think is important to tell my story (if they don’t see it as important, perhaps that’s where the fix needs to be). But overall – what an astute bunch of people, and what an idiot I am for not having seen some of these things.

Settled dust

Overall I’m very pleased with my first experience being critiqued by my online group. I got more critiques than expected, a great variety of opinions (but with noticeable patterns) and some great advice! It was everything I wanted!

Over to you:
But it’s not all about my experience – I am but one person, and this was but one submission. Does anyone have more extensive experience they’d like to share? Perhaps you haven’t taken the plunge yet – what’s holding you back? Comment ’til content!

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  • Craig

    Look at it from this perspective, the fact that you have an emotional reaction proves that you’re passionate about the piece at least.

    As I’m sure you’re aware, I have a habit of feeding back on my feedback, because I’m obsessive like that. Sometimes I’ve responded to your feedback, explaining things, maybe hinting that some things that aren’t immediately clear will become more clear later on, and so fourth. The major issues I’ve had from critique before (back at uni and so fourth) was the total lack of effort of some people. Or maybe just some arch lines that don’t offer any solution.

    Having read this post though, I may well have to adapt my own feedback to this particular story…

    • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

      Oh oh!

      I did reply to all of my critiques. I thought about giving more detailed replies to them, so they knew why I’d made some decisions, but it’s unlikely I’m going to have an ongoing discussion with them (unlike I would with you for example), so I decided against it.

      Besides, their reaction was their reaction, and I need to be able to take it into account regardless of my own justifications.