Once upon a time you wrote something you thought was great only to learn it was in fact appalling. With that realisation came the desire to do something about it. But without knowing what’s wrong with something you can’t fix it, so you sought to find out - by joining a writers group, online writers’ community or review site. Then you felt the pain.
But you’re tough, and you’re serious, so you dusted yourself down and applied the changes your critiquers recommended - you rewrote the damned thing from start to finish - and you know what? It was still shit, except this time it wasn’t even your shit.
Here are some things to bear in mind before you swallow that feedback wholesale.
Just because you don’t know what you’re doing doesn’t mean they do
It’s easy to have an opinion. It’s easy to say you don’t like something. It’s easy to think you know what you’re talking about. What’s hard is not just saying that something doesn’t work but understanding and expressing why it doesn’t work. Harder still is fixing it. Hardest of all is coming up with something workable from nothing - remember that before you throttle your beta reader.
And just because someone is a ‘professional’ doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about either. Think of all the chumps you’ve had to work with in all the jobs you’ve ever had - how many of them were truly awe-inspiringly competent to the point you’d change what you did because they told you to? Close to zero, right? The creative industries are no different.
Haters gonna hate
Here’s a stat for you - 20% of people will dislike your work even if it’s genius.
Ok I made that up but it doesn’t mean it’s not true. You know that lifetime favourite book/film/play you would give your left buttock to have written yourself? At least 20% of the people in the world hate it. You know it. And you didn’t even write it.
A proposed solution is not a problem
People love to (re)write your story for you. Ignore all that advice. You’re the writer of this story. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t an underlying issue that prompted the suggestion - particularly if a number of readers are trying to fix the same area. It’s your job to find out what that underlying issue is - trying to understand exactly what your reader thinks he means can be a lifetime study in futility. Best to nod sweetly and figure it out when you get home.
You really want readers not writers
Writers are lovely people and they are best placed to understand what’s involved in producing a piece of writing - but with connoisseurship comes pet hates, loves and exacting standards. Writers are going to feel passionately about what makes ‘good writing’ because they’re in the business of producing it. They will be particularly concerned with the writerly issues they are currently wrestling with and this may colour their feedback. Remember that the majority of those consuming stories are not remotely concerned with how they are produced. What may push a writers’ group’s buttons maybe irrelevant to your intended readership. Here are three reasons why.
You are your own worst (best) critic
The truth is the only critic you need is yourself. You’re the only one who really knows your story. You’re the only one who can really understand the tools/talents/techniques you have available to express it. You’re the best person to tell that story in the best possible way. Therefore, all you really need to do to be able to fix your atrocious story is to be able to see what’s wrong with it - the rest is up to you.