In truth, I don’t have all the answers in this situation, nor do I have all the answers for many situations. However, I do have some answers. I will highlight some of what I do and you’ll have to let me know what works for you. First, as a writer I know I am going to face critiques, some are going to hate my work, others are going to love it, and some will just be meh.
Below I am going to list a few scenarios and then how I would respond. This is not an end all be all, but it is a start.
1. Your work is crap.
So this is the response every author fears, but what if we looked at this differently? Let’s break it down: Your work is crap. This is the reader’s way of saying “I” don’t like it. That does not mean every reader will dislike what you have written. My wife wouldn’t say this, but if I put a Medieval Fantasy novel in front of her and asked her to read it, she would say the story and the plot are dumb, not because they necessarily are, but because she hates Medieval Fantasy. I love Game of Thrones, I love King Arthur, I enjoyed Braveheart, and I even thought I might get into The Bastard Executioner. My wife though? She has said every one of those is crap. So, this first scenario is about knowing your audience.
The Second scenario with Your work is crap is to ignore this type of negative feedback. That is not always so easy though, these are the steps I take:
I. Recognize not everyone is going to like your work.
II. Take it to heart they were probably trying to give constructive feedback, and there may be weaknesses to address
IV. Re-read your story subjectively
V. Let it go, and keep writing.
2. This is good, but …
The compliment followed by the dreaded “but.” What is an author to do with this? I suppose it depends on whose “but” this is coming from. Do you trust this critic? Is it someone you have asked specifically to read your work and comment on? If so, heed their advice. Listen intently and find out what the “but” entails. Maybe, it is something as simple as word choice; maybe you have multiple characters when you need only one. Stephen King said, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” What he is getting at is, sometimes the writing is going to need to be edited, and sometimes it means killing a character to meld it with another. These are moments to take in and examine.
The flip side of this is the naysayer, someone who is reading your work and decides they’re the author, they have a better ending for your story, or they didn’t like the way you wrote it. These are the toxic reviewers, they want to pollute the work with their thoughts and ideas, but don’t want to write their story. The way I can tell is when you get the pity look and hear the words, “this is good, I like it, but I think it would be better if you …” True, this is not always the case, but more often than not you sometimes have to ignore the naysayers.
3. There is more story here
Is there? That is the first question you should ask yourself. Did you set out to tell a story in a series of novels? Or was the intent to write a complete novel, beginning to end, allowing it to stand on its own? It is an important question, one that should be asked prior to writing the novel or story.
I. Are you setting out to write a single story?
II. Will you need multiple stories to complete the arc?
III. Is the story finished?
IV. What can you add?
This is honest criticism, I am not sure it is malicious or even something to be feared. This is what an author looks for. This says, “This is good, I want more, it doesn’t feel done.” I will not fret over this kind of criticism, this tells me I am doing my job, at least partially. I am writing well enough that I have the reader’s engagement, their investment of time. However, I’ve not delivered enough material, or sufficient detail. Then I ask myself the questions above and answer accordingly.
In the end, it is up to the writer to know his or herself and to understand that criticism can help as much as hinder. I appreciate the fully honest feedback, but if you are going to say my work is crap, at least back it up with some facts as to why you believe so. Being a writer is not easy, sure most people think we’re sitting around on our asses writing words on paper, in short we are. However, we are also researching, writing, editing, re-writing, and competing. Being a writer is a field not many can traverse and those that do seldom gain the recognition they would like. Criticism can be found everywhere, some good and some bad, but it is necessary to the growth of a writer, despite how much we might dislike it. Food for thought, until next time folks.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Author,