May 22, 2013

Writing Club Wednesdays: Contests and Critique

Writing contests are SO FANTASTIC, y’all.

(I know I’m from Kentucky. I almost NEVER say “y’all.” I just need to make that clear.)

Contests are a great opportunity to get your work out there and have other eyes look at it. Usually contests involve agents- and in many cases, the agent will comment on every single entry so you’ll know what s/he did or didn’t like. You’ll also get comments from everyone else who reads that particular blog.

I know it’s terrifying to think of people actually reading your stuff. I. Know. But you have to get feedback to know what works and what sucks.

Having said that- here’s what I’ve learned from the few contests I’ve been in- Maggie referred to it as a case of “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

My friend Maggie is SO SMART, y’all.

(I know. I did it again. It just seems like the right word.)

You know everyone is always talking about subjectivity? You have to keep it in mind when you’re taking feedback.

Some of the feedback will be legit—and especially if you are getting the same comments over and over, you probably need to address it. That doesn’t necessarily mean to CHANGE your work. But maybe you need to make things more clear if what you’re trying to convey is not what the reader is getting.

And some feedback will be, as Leigh Ann says- “Nitpicky Nitpickiness.” It seems like some people NEED to find something wrong to prove they can offer critique. I get that. I think it’s weird, but I have to admit there’ve been times when I’ve felt that pressure too. Like, people will think I’m….what? Soft? I don’t know. I’m a hardcore writer, yo.

For instance, back when I was entering contests, my first 250 words showed my MC Harper coming home to find her mom in the midst of one of her infamous cleaning fits. A cleaning fit can only mean one thing- something MAJOR has happened. So before she even goes into the house, Harper texts her brother Sam and is like- “GET HOME NOW.”

A lot of people loved it. A lot of people hated it.

And one person told me that this is just not how teenagers would act. S/he said that it’d be more realistic if Harper texted Sam to say- “Come get me out of here.”

Well, no. That wouldn’t make sense at all. But that person doesn’t know Harper. S/he has no idea that Harper would just NEVER do that.

Which leads me to my next point- from Jenny- “You know your story, you know your characters. Hold to that.”

Don’t I have smart friends?

You can’t address EVERY SINGLE critique. And you’ll want to. You’ll want EVERYONE to love your work. That’s normal. You can’t please everyone. You’ll go crazy trying.


Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

One of the first contests I ever entered garnered some painful critique. Based only on the first page of my MS, with no other info to go on, a few readers made a lot of assumptions about my MC, who she was, how she should behave, and why my approach was just plain wrong.

Well, you know what? I wasn't wrong. If I'd taken all the well-intentioned but uninformed critiques to heart, it would've killed my story.

It's great to listen to other folks' gut reactions to a single page of text, but that's like reading out of context tweets and assuming you know exactly how the entire conversation played out.

It's fine to disagree with some critique. Just say "thanks" and move on.

Carrie-Anne said...

I've seen a lot of nitpicky critiques in contests and in general, and have heard other writers concerned about this also. Maybe a lot of amateur writers feel they have to prove something by ONLY pointing out what they didn't like or didn't understand, instead of also commenting on what they actually liked? Some critique also doesn't take into account a writer's style. I write third-person omniscient, so of course my narrative voice may feel a little old-fashioned or telly to someone who's most familiar with more modern POVs. It doesn't make it wrong, just different.

There comes a point where a writer might have to just start querying already. As Maggie said, there can be too many cooks in the kitchen. If a lot of people have praised your query'opening page and said it's come a long way, and then all of a sudden someone in a new contest or critique bloghop wants to make a lot of changes that the previous people thought made it stronger, you need to go with your gut. It's never going to be 100% perfect for every reader.

Morgan York said...

I HATE when people say, "A teen would never do that." Oh, really? You've met every teenager in the world? For instance, my novel opens with my teenage MC at a party her friend dragged her to. She's miserable and hates all the noise, and so sneaks off to read a book in a quiet room. A reader told me he didn't understand why she wouldn't wanna go out and party with everyone. As a non-partier myself, his narrow-mindedness irritated me.

Replace "teen" with pretty much any type of person, actually. Because the same principle applies.

Sarah Hipple said...

Yeah. It's wonderful getting critiques, but you really do have to be careful.

I had several different query letters get critiqued via public forums, and I kept getting asked to explain something or go into more detail. If I'd done that, I would have had a bulky, boring query.
Finally, I wised up and cut the fat (and listened to Janet Reid when she told "me" that you can leave a little mystery in your query letter).

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