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a: Don't Let One Negative Critique Spoil the Whole Bunch


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Recently, I sent my story around on a critique forum to get feedback, and one piece of feedback I received stopped me in my creative tracks. They accused my story of being boring. Worse, I believed them. I re-read the story and thought, good grief they are right. 

I almost overhauled the whole thing until I received a rejection letter. My story - yes, the one I planned on changing completely - had been rejected. Yet, something in this rejection made me pause. It made me wonder if that other person had been wrong.

You see, the rejection was positive. It said, "It was good; it just wasn’t a perfect fit for the issue."

Now, I know from my past experiences that receiving a personalized rejection is a massively good sign. It's a rare but beautiful thing that tells me this person thought highly enough of my story to write a remark about it.

Trying to get published is tough, whether it's an entire book, a short story, or a poem. Worse yet, we're often our own worse critics, and when someone comes along and agrees with our self-doubt. Yet, even if you get one bad review. A scathing bad review where maybe you are left with tears. A review or critique that makes you wonder if you were meant to be in this whole writing business. If you do, I encourage you to do one thing:

Pause.

Yes, pause. Don't absorb the review completely. Sometimes a story just doesn't speak to someone. Maybe it's not their kind of genre. Maybe they're in a bad mood. And maybe they even have a point somewhere in their critique, but I will say it again:

Pause. Don't let it hit you.

Before you agree with them and trash the whole thing, put space between you, this critique, and your story. If you can, go back to your story with fresh and neutral eyes, and maybe find someone a little kinder to help you with your story. 

You don't need to trash 75% of your story (as this person suggested to me) to get it to a more polished state. Yes, I need to revise things and sharpen the plotline, but this story has potential and that rejection told me so. 

So today I encourage you with every bit of nasty feedback or criticism you receive about your writing, take it with a grain of salt. Yes, it hurts, and maybe somewhere amidst the thorns, this person has a point, but you shouldn't trash something you have created because of one bad critique. And if you can, be the person that encourages someone to go back to a story they lost faith in. Be that person. Be the encourager. I think we need more of those in this world.

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A few things:

1. The nice rejection was only boilerplate, and as such, unhelpful.

2. You need to develop a skill set as a fiction writer that will allow you to judge good vs. poor critique without second guessing or denial.

3. You must enroll in a critique group able to place a crit like "boring" in the right context and with examples, otherwise such dismissal is not helpful and can be unproductive. A bad writer group will harm you.

Michael Neff

Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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