Over the past six months, I’ve received feedback on my work from many sources—contest judges to beta readers. A lot of them told me things I didn’t want to hear.
It would have been very easy to get defensive and react along the lines of: Didn’t they read it? It’s right there. They just didn’t get what I was trying to do, or what I was trying to say.
Believe me, I wanted to react that way. Guess what? 99% of the time, any issues are our problem as the author—and not the judge’s or beta reader’s fault.
We know what we’re trying to say. We know these characters. We know if they’re nice/likable/worthy-of-sympathy. But I discovered, after much time and thinking, my judges and beta readers were right.
I’ll say that again: They were 100% right. I was wrong.
I didn’t do a good enough job showing what was in my head. I did a sucky job of showing why the reader should care about my main character. I did an atrocious job of showing in one pivotal scene what was going on in my character’s head so the reader wouldn’t hate her.
Yes, my friends, I had written a “throw the book against the wall” scene and didn’t realize it. *sigh* To all my contest judges, beta readers, and critique partners—I apologize for putting you through that. *blush*
Luckily, I’ve been able to make that criticism work for me. I’ve learned and improved with every piece of criticism I’ve received. No, that doesn’t mean the judge/beta reader is always right about how to fix it, but some kernel of truth lies at the heart of it. We often must read between the lines to discover that truth.
For example, one contest judge (multi-published) told me I should describe my settings more, have the main character notice the carpeting. Now, that’s a ridiculous suggestion on any level. a) The main character wouldn’t stop to notice the carpeting of her own house, and b) it was an unimportant detail.
However, the kernel I was finally able to glean from that was that I wasn’t immersing the reader deep enough. I was skimming the surface, both in the main character’s emotions and in the sensory details – the touching, smelling, hearing, tasting senses. I wasn’t giving enough information to let the reader experience the scene.
So the specific criticism was wrong, but there was a reason she’d brought up the issue. And it was an issue I needed to solve.
This is why virgin-eyed beta readers are worth their weight in gold. Only someone completely unfamiliar with our story can see some types of holes. Maybe the scenes aren’t clear enough, maybe it’s not deep enough POV, or maybe the protagonist isn’t shown being sympathetic enough. (Or in my case, maybe all 3!)
My point is that 99% of the time there’s a kernel of truth in a judge’s or beta reader’s criticism, so our default should be to try to discover that truth. I’d rather improve my writing than be certain that I’m “right” and the judges/beta readers are “wrong.”
I want to be teachable.
Have you learned about yourself or your writing from critiques? Are you able to turn those weaknesses into strengths? Any words of wisdom to make criticism hurt less?