Don't Let One Negative Critique Spoil the Whole Bunch

Monday, January 25, 2021

Recently, I sent my story around on a critique forum to get feedback, and one piece of feedback I received stopped me in my creative tracks. They accused my story of being boring. Worse, I believed them. I re-read the story and thought, good grief they are right. 

I almost overhauled the whole thing until I received a rejection letter. My story - yes, the one I planned on changing completely - had been rejected. Yet, something in this rejection made me pause. It made me wonder if that other person had been wrong.

You see, the rejection was positive. It said, "It was good; it just wasn’t a perfect fit for the issue."

Now, I know from my past experiences that receiving a personalized rejection is a massively good sign. It's a rare but beautiful thing that tells me this person thought highly enough of my story to write a remark about it.

Trying to get published is tough, whether it's an entire book, a short story, or a poem. Worse yet, we're often our own worse critics, and when someone comes along and agrees with our self-doubt. Yet, even if you get one bad review. A scathing bad review where maybe you are left with tears. A review or critique that makes you wonder if you were meant to be in this whole writing business. If you do, I encourage you to do one thing:


Yes, pause. Don't absorb the review completely. Sometimes a story just doesn't speak to someone. Maybe it's not their kind of genre. Maybe they're in a bad mood. And maybe they even have a point somewhere in their critique, but I will say it again:

Pause. Don't let it hit you.

Before you agree with them and trash the whole thing, put space between you, this critique, and your story. If you can, go back to your story with fresh and neutral eyes, and maybe find someone a little kinder to help you with your story. 

You don't need to trash 75% of your story (as this person suggested to me) to get it to a more polished state. Yes, I need to revise things and sharpen the plotline, but this story has potential and that rejection told me so. 

So today I encourage you with every bit of nasty feedback or criticism you receive about your writing, take it with a grain of salt. Yes, it hurts, and maybe somewhere amidst the thorns, this person has a point, but you shouldn't trash something you have created because of one bad critique. And if you can, be the person that encourages someone to go back to a story they lost faith in. Be that person. Be the encourager. I think we need more of those in this world.


Jeanine DeHoney said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly Nicole. Feedback is important and can improve our work but it is also subjective and you definitely shouldn't trash your work because of one negative critique. The positive rejection letter you received was proof of that. I hope you continue searching for a home for that story and believe in your ability to tell good stories always.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Isn't it amazing the way one caustic comment can rock you to the core?

There are certain types of stories I hate to critique. I know they aren't for me. I know I will have trouble giving meaningful feedback, because I just don't get them.

And when that happens, I start my critique with a warning. "I don't usually read this type of story, so take my feedback with a grain of salt."

Nicole Pyles said...

@Jeanine: Thank you so much! I actually felt inspired after that rejection and I really feel so much better about that story! And such a good point, critiques are very subjective and I know I forget that when I'm receiving feedback.

@Sue: So true!! Same with me. Some genres and types of storytelling aren't my easiest to read, even when they are at their best. And this moment almost makes me want to go back to previous stories I might've ditched in the past and take a fresher look!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Nicole--You are right. When you get an editor or publisher to write a personal note, that says sooo much about your writing. It doesn't take much to rethink our work, but when a gem like that falls in our lap... well, we need to really celebrate it.

Thanks for a much-needed reminder, Nicole.

Renee Roberson said...

Nicole, in one of my recent contestant interviews I found out a writer had a horrible experience in a memoir writing critique group (in person) and she turned it into a great CNF piece! I'll e-mail it to you for inspiration. I have been guilty of being totally rocked by critique feedback--I take it to the heart the most when its a judge from a contest panel or editor. I'm glad you were able to get positive feedback on the same story so that you can realize how subjective fiction writing can be. I also have a hard time critiquing certain genres, but the bottom line is, some people don't know how to filter their critiques properly!

Cathy C. Hall said...

I know this is true, Nicole, because I've been on the receiving end of a horrible critique (that I didn't change and it won first place in a prestigious lit journal). BUT I've also been on the other end where MY critique, though politely written, encouraged the writer to revise and try again--and the manuscript won first prize in that contest.

So. The moral of that story is that the written word is subjective; one person's reject is another person's favorite! Pause is excellent advice.

Nicole Pyles said...

@Sioux: Thank you so much! It really is a moment to celebrate. Personal recognition, even in a rejection, seems like a rarity!

@Renee: I'd love to read it! Oh it's the hardest when it's someone that is supposed to be an important figure critiquing our work! That's happened to me too and...ouch!

@Cathy: What an example!! It's important to remember our story's worth!

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