April was an eventful month for the writerly aspects of my life. I made significant progress on my book 2, I had three people quit my critique group, I discovered my coworker is also a writer, and I was a hyper-critical, dare I say cruel, beta-reader for not one, but two stories.
I know there’s a tactful way to deliver feedback, but I don’t feel I achieved that in April. It’s especially awkward in person, as I rambled at double speed about where I felt my coworker’s first two chapters didn’t live up to their potential. I’ve actively avoided conflict all my life and delivering criticism about plot holes, believability, and–this one is me, the pot, calling the kettle black–having too many characters isn’t an easy task. It doesn’t help that I’ve got a voice screaming in my brain. Who are you to tell anyone that their work is anything but perfection? Who are you to pass that kind of judgment? Especially when I saw the same problems in my first book.
And what’s worse is that I know my perception doesn’t always reflect popular opinion. There are highly rated books that I DNF, and works that people rave over that I find just okay. What if I say something to a fellow writer, and that something is wrong?
Mid-month, I also suffered a crisis of confidence. I desperately wanted external validation, to have someone read my story and say “this is good.” Except my story isn’t finished, so they can’t read it, so I can’t get validation, and aaaaaahhhhhh!
I think that’s related to how cruel I’ve been with my feedback. What if I don’t know crap about writing? What if all the feedback I give is harmful because it’s clear, by my own writing, that I don’t know anything about the craft?
You’d think that, after a decade of running a critique group, I’d be better at this kind of thing. Or maybe it’s because I’m no good at it that I lost three people in one month. (I know that’s not the case. People have lives and lives are demanding. But the irrational spiral of despair still flings this stuff at me.) *hangs head*
I’m also convinced that there are only two people in the entire world who might possibly want to read my story. Everyone else who reads it will do so out of perceived obligation. (Maybe that’s not true, but it’s what my brain tells me.) Most people I know don’t enjoy or choose to read massive tomes of multi-POV epic fantasy. I honestly don’t know where to find people who do, but they must be out there considering Brandon Sanderson and GRRM’s success. But before I even attempt to find them, I need to finish my darn book. And, oh look, I’m spiraling again.
IWSG Question of the Month – When you are working on a story, what inspires you?
There’s not anything in particular that inspires me. Sometimes it’s music. Sometimes it’s a prompt. Sometimes it’s a focused effort to demonstrate something. (One short story I wrote purely as an exercise of show, don’t tell. It didn’t have a plot, but that wasn’t my intention going in.)
Do you ever feel horrible after giving feedback? How do you pull yourself out of a spiral? Do you know anyone who enjoys reading multi-POV fantasy epics that are 200K+?
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22 thoughts on “Loni the Cruel #IWSG”
That’s okay, I don’t know a lot of people who read paranormal romance either. But you will find your audience. Best place to start – book bloggers who read fantasy.
ATTENTION: You are awesome. I can say this as one of those who you beta-read for. So far, everything has been helpful and nothing mean or nasty. And you always let me know why!
But yes, I always feel bad after giving feedback. But I strive to give good with it, balance. And I try-try to let someone know the whys.
Critiques are tough as we do worry we’re giving bad advice. You probably didn’t though.
I’m sure you weren’t even close to “cruel.” I’m also betting the recipient knows anything you said came from a place of wanting to help, not hurt.
I hope you weren’t as critical to your writer coworker as you are on yourself. Repeat after me: STOP BEING SO MEAN TO YOURSELF!!!!! You are a talented writer. Stop getting in your own way.
PS…you once offered me a critique before and everything you mentioned was dead-on accurate. I no longer give thorough feedback to newbie writers. I’ll give some general feedback, but I’ve also scared off new writers with my critiques because I will be honest in my opinions and my feedback. I do always add the disclaimer to all of my notes that all opinions are mine and could be wrong because if I had all of the answers, I’d be writing best sellers.
Sorry you lost so many critique partners this month. I hope your group stabilizes again once you find new members. I’m sure you were just trying to be helpful in your comments on your co-worker’s manuscript. You may have really helped them.
And yes, it’s hard to find beta-readers. We do that for each other in our critique group.
Just tell your brain to be quiet a moment (use whatever choice words you want, LOL) and assess the facts, not your interpretations of what is going on. You’ll find the spiral will slow and even stop. Good luck!
Ronel visiting for IWSG day Joining the Creator Economy
I’m generally considered the mean one in my local critique circles. A few writers have told me how much they appreciate it, though. But I start off any notes I send back with a disclaimer that everything that follows is my opinion and only my opinion, and they can do what they want with it.
If you find any of those people who are interested in reading multi-POV, 200k+ epic (ish) fantasy stories, let me know. I’m pretty sure the only people who want to read mine are the two beta readers currently reading it…
We all need that external push at times–just one person to validate us.
Look, I think it’s safe to say even the best sellers probably have moments where they feel like they know nothing about writing. Books are highly subjective and it’s honestly impossible to call a book good or bad. It all depends on the person reading it and how it made them feel. Maybe we should just dispel the idea that books are good or bad. They just are.
If the writer is passionate about their craft I don’t believe anything you say can deter them. At least that’s been my experience. Truth hurts but it also helps. I wouldn’t be the author of 5 novels if it wasn’t for those tough critiques. Happy IWSG Day, Loni!
Your feedback was probably right. Don’t beat yourself up because of it. I guess I’d say you’ll have to gauge how open someone is to receive critical feedback. Some people like it, others maybe not so much.
You’ll find your audience. The important thing is that you like writing what you’re writing.
How did the writers feel about your feedback? If they got something from it, then it wasn’t mean. When I had people read my first novel, I got a lot of, “It’s great,” only, it wasn’t. Them not giving me specific things that they didn’t like did not help me at all.
As a beta reader, it’s your job to tear into the writing so that the writer can make it better. If you don’t do that, you’re not being helpful. So, good job on being a great beta reader. You are awesome.
Anytime someone asks for a critique is scary but they asked so I assume they want the good, the bad and the ugly. That being said, it’s such a balance to find that place of confidence in what you’re saying and doing it in a way that’s not too harsh. I do understand. I’ve been there and it’s just yuck. I’m sorry!
I’m always telling my husband that I don’t know anyone who reads what I write either but they’re out there. We just have to keep putting our work out there and the readers will find it. Flip side : if we DON’T put it out there, they can’t find it. That’s what keeps me submitting!
I dislike giving feedback too: what if I’m wrong? Besides, every feedback I ever received for my writing has been tinted by that reader’s personal views and expectations. Sometimes, I never even thought of the things the reader critiqued. So I understand your frustration.
If it helps, I sucked at in-person feedback when I was in a writing group. Not only was I a newbie and didn’t have to vocabulary or the understanding of fiction to articulate what I thought about people’s writing, I suck at in-person communication anyway.
With crit via email, I can take time to think about my comments, and I can skim them before sending the document back, to make sure everything makes sense and the crit isn’t too harsh.
As far as processing feedback, that’s on the author. That said, we need to be sensitive to the fact that it’s a skill that gets better with experience. The person giving feedback should qualify negative comments with things like ‘this isn’t my favorite genre,’ if they think that might be the reason they aren’t loving it. It makes a harsh critique less of an ouch and helps the author assign weight.
You’re a good writer. Stop the spiral.
I am terrible at giving feedback – I hated doing it as a manager, and it’s why I don’t beta-read anymore. I just have terrible trouble putting constructive, useful advice into coherent sentences.
I’m sure your feedback wasn’t cruel. And if someone ASKED you for it, then certainly they must have expected some criticism. If they didn’t want constructive feedback, but they asked for it, then that’s on them, not you.
We all want someone to read our stories and tell us they are good, that they are worthy to be read by others. I know I do. Critique is difficult. I’m always looking for the “why.” Why isn’t this working? Why isn’t this particular part good or makes sense or moving the plot forward?
Thanks for a great post, Loni. All best!
Thanks for sharing how you are feeling, Loni. It helps me to deal with my insecurities when I hear others are feeling insecurities too. I highly doubt that you were cruel. That seems especially harsh.
I find it hard to be critical. I think that’s because I taught young children writing for so long, and the last thing I wanted to do was to crush some young writer with my criticism. I always tried to be gently constructive and to focus on the positive. I’ve done a few beta readings. One I still feel badly about because I think I didn’t focused enough on the positive. Consequently, I now hesitate to do beta readings.
Congratulations on making progress with your book!
Wow. That was a lot.
Imagine I’m sitting across from you in your living room. I smile real wide and say, “Are you finished yelling at yourself?” Before you can take a breath, I say, “Good. Remember to be kind to yourself. Want to make amends? Do it. If not, let it go.”
You’re okay and don’t have a mean bone in your body. This I know. Anyone who knows you knows this too.
“I’ll read a chapter or a book for you. I love high fantasy. And, good or bad, I’ll be honest. You still have readers and friends out here.”
Groups can be online now. Tried ‘https://www.spikenow.com/’? It’s what my crit group uses to meet once across the world. Take a look, maybe it will work for you too.
‘Til next time. 🙂
You? Cruel? Nah. Don’t believe it for a second. Can’t believe it.
Sounds like you’re in your own head. You’re doubting your critiques because you feel like you don’t deserve to give them. But you do. You’re telling the writer what stood out for YOU as a reader. It might not be what everyone sees or agrees with, but for YOU, specifically, you think there’s something worth pointing out. Doesn’t mean the writer has to accept the suggestion (it is their story) but never feel bad for offering an insight you think might help the story.
Anyway, you’re far from cruel! Loni the lovely 🙂 Yeah…that’s better.
Sorry you lost so many people from your group. If good writing is subjective, I guess good feedback is subjective as well. All you can do is give your honest opinion. There are many successful books with five-star reviews that I would critique harshly. If only we could critique our own work and cut out the middle man!