Writing Critiques are SO SUBJECTIVE!

Writing and critiques are so subjective. I think that is the hardest thing about opening your work up to others; you NEVER know what you are going to get back, what the reader is looking for, or what he or she will respond to. To be honest, I hate this part about being a writer.

I have one long project I’ve been picking away at for several years. The feedback on it is always on one end or the other. Love it or hate it. Get it or don’t get it. Comments that are useful, comments that are ridiculous. I’ve experienced that in person, online, and through the mail. Instructors, fellow writers, published writers, unpublished writers, agents, editors. Everyone reads differently and everyone responds differently. It’s hard navigating through the extremes…at least it is for me!

For example. I received two critiques in the mail today. One loved my work and writing, gave me high scores on a variety of topics (scene, summary, characterization, plot, etc…). That person gave me a score of 90 out of 100. Sweet! But then I opened the second critique. That person didn’t care for my work and gave me lukewarm marks. Didn’t like my characters, didn’t care about them (he even wrote that!), said I had no plot, and a few other niceties. He gave me a 54 out of 100.

So what is a writer to do with THAT? Two critiques. Apples and oranges in response. Ugh. I’ve loved writing from the time I learned how, and I feel lucky to have been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. But this is the part of the game I just can’t stand!

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system…

A few months ago, a bloggy friend of mine (Not Just Another Jen) wrote about her experience at a Bloggy Boot Camp in California and encouraged fellow bloggers to attend a camp if they had the chance. (She also mentioned that the gift bag attendees received at the end of the camp was rather amazing.) Apparently, even after four solid years of blogging, I was living under a rock because I hadn’t heard of Bloggy Boot Camp before. I immediately looked it up and was happy to discover boot camp was coming to a city nearby. Lucky, because they only go to six major cities per year! I signed up right away.

I learned quite a bit and took lots of notes, some of which I’ll share in a separate post. One thing I liked was that seating was assigned, and we changed seats about every hour or so. This gave everyone many opportunities to meet fellow bloggers and exchange business cards. For some reason I left home without even a handful of my own hundreds of business cards from my desk drawer, so I was disappointed about that. What an extraordinary opportunity I missed to network in that way!

Some of the topics covered were Growing a Lifestyle Blog, Things Every Blogger Must Know About Monetizing a Blog, How to Write Pitches that Work, The Writer’s Voice, Business of Blogging, Taming Time: Creating Calm From Chaos, and several others. We wore badges with our name, blog, and Twitter handle displayed, ate a great lunch on the top floor of the hotel, and left with a gift bag that included an ice cream scoop, measuring cup, serving spoon, wine bottle opener, chips, and other little things.

More to come on that. Off now to lick my wounds and wonder how on earth I could receive a 90 from one critic and a 54 from a second, both of whom read the exact same work. Nice!


  1. It’s certainly an act of courage to put your writing before someone else, and a test of fortitude to then listen to the response. I’ve pondered that maybe it comes down to valuing your own opinion as a worthy voice amongst the others, to help quiet the doubts that result from so many opinions!

    • Oh man, I think you are so right. Thank you so much for the comment and perspective! Your words are wise. It’s hard to not start doubting, especially when there doesn’t seem to be any consistency. One person thinks something was well done, the other person thinks it wasn’t well done at all….what I’m going to do today is go through each critique and see where there was an agreement and where the opinions totally differed. That might help.

      Sharing your work is like showing someone a video of your kids and then asking what that person thinks. “Oh, very cute kids! Talented and charming. A pleasure to observe. Would love to see more!” OR “Eeeks. Your kids are not very cute. It’s unbearable having to spend time watching them and I certainly don’t want to spend any further time doing so!”

      Or it’s like your spouse saying one minute “I love you!” and then the next time you see them they’re like “I can’t stand you!”

      Of course, this is how you feel right off that bat when you’re taking everything personally (which I would never do, lol!). I have to wonder why I give so much energy to the crappy review while ignoring the good one?

  2. Were those the critiques from the PNWA? Writing contests are NOTORIOUS for their all-over-the-place feedback. I’ve heard stories of people selling the exact same book at auction that didn’t even place in any of the contests it was entered in. Which is just to say that the critique is only one person’s opinion. Maybe that judge’s favorite book is a book you can’t stand.

    For a hilarious reminder of this, here is a collection of posts from Vancouver writer Matt Mikalatos’s blog: http://mikalatos.blogspot.com/search/label/ridiculous%20reviewers%20on%20amazon He does a regular feature highlighting bad Amazon reviews of some of the world’s best books (including two of my favorites, To Kill a Mockingbird and East of Eden.)

    If different reviewers mention the same specific problem, that seems worth taking a look at. (As you said you planned to do.) General comments (like “this doesn’t work” or “I don’t like this”) that don’t cite specific instances are most likely to be based purely on preferences and not helpful at all.

    I think the trick is to find a critique partner or two whose judgment you trust, who is on board with your writing style, and who will give it to you straight. Of course such a person is hard to find and worth her weight in gold :) Then you have to weigh the feedback honestly and have the courage to accept the valid criticism and to disregard what you don’t agree with. I think both are hard. This is the sort of thing I hope to put into place in my writing life when I get one :) Ahem.

    And, yes, I will be re-reading this comment aloud to myself when I get my critiques :)

  3. Had I waited an hour or two to write that comment, I would have had some specifics to commiserate over (just got my crits in the mail.)

    My picture book manuscript got an 89/100 and a 68/100. One judge said I should make the opening scene longer and develop it more. The other judge said exactly the opposite: that I should make the (already short) opening even shorter to get to the action faster.

    Gotta love it.

    • Thank you so much for your two comments! I totally agree with the first one and can’t wait to check out that hilarious website for a reminder. And then I laughed when your second comment came through. So typical! I’m definitely going to compare the two critiques and then I’ll share where they differed. I’m sure it will be entertaining, to say the least.

      Hey, it takes guts to put yourself out there. You take a risk, and it’s a scary risk, not a risk most people are willing to take. It’s like with teaching Jazzercise…it’s not easy getting on stage to teach and open yourself up to possible criticism and judgment. Writing is the same. I think that’s why most people don’t do it, or have this long range plan to “write a book someday” or “write about the time I….” It’s rewarding and discouraging all at once. Thanks for the valuable feedback and sharing your scores!! I feel a lot better now! I think a lot of people are relating to the post judging by the views on it. That’s been a big surprise.

  4. Sounds like you’re already feeling stronger and more yourself, Jen, but I’ve got to jump on board and add to the Atta-girl thread! What a tremendous commitment you’ve given your work, honoring writing’s role in your life, and knowing that your experiences-translated-into-words have value. For your readers, for yourself; clearly, writing is an art that you’re serious about and HAVE to do. That alone is a courageous act requiring sustenance, and I agree with your insight on the “someday I’ll write a book” folks. To hand your literary baby over to anyone, a trusted writing partner or a faceless stranger, deserves major kudos indeed.

    We’re all in the same boat (ugh, bad pun for the fisher-folks!), so good on you for turning to your bloggy friends for some debriefing. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to the Blog Camp posts – sounds like a great opportunity!

  5. That’s funny they had such different reactions! That happened to me last year – one of the readers didn’t even get it was a humorous entry, gave me like a 47! This actually made me laugh. The other was like 87, saying they really liked it.

    This year I had 2 good responses to my *very* rough draft I submitted. To me, 87 & 88 are good :-). One said tons of typos (funny being I had an editor look it over prior to submitting it) but otherwise fantastic, couldn’t put it down. That was the 87. The other said not intelligent dialogue, too much like “normal” peoples life (among other topics my book includes raising a gay child, taxidermy and a basically botched parenting). And they couldn’t put it down. LOL! Crazy reviews. Made me feel better though.

    I’d just listen to the good one :-). I enjoy reading you – you just got a dud!

Leave a Reply