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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Unsolicited Advice on Using Feedback

   
Author Topic: Unsolicited Advice on Using Feedback
Christine
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I don't have the time to participate in these forums that I once did, but my husband is working today and I spend a few minutes looking over the F&F forum and thinking about something I've noticed many, many times before: Recritiquing.

I do not believe that it is worthwhile to continually revise and resubmit stories. My unsolicited advice: don't.

To dig a little further, if you do revise and want more feedback on a story, the worst thing you can do is to send that story back to the same people/group that looked at it in the first place. They are tainted and unable to give you useful advice. You need people's fresh reactions to a story to tell you how you're doing. If I've seen a story I know how it ends, or at least how it did end at one time and both of these taint my reading, Moreover, if I see improvements, particularly basd on the suggestions I gave, then I will be inclined to tell you that you did a good job whether you did or not. If you did not take my suggestions, I would be inclined to be negative about the piece, whether or not the improvements you made really helped to shape the piece.

I also caution against sending out and revising too many times, even to different groups. There will always be someone who doesn't like a story, and no matter how many times you send it out you will find suggestions for improvement. If, after x times, you still haven't gotten in right it may be time to set it aside for a few years. (Where x is highly subjective, but I feel it should be 2.)


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trousercuit
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I think recritiquing always turns your work into a committee-produced document.

I read about the experiences of one writer (can't remember whom) getting published, who said that he never even changed the stories he brought to his writing group.


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Silver3
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Then why did he bring them to his writing group?
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pooka
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To show off?

P.S. I would assume the process of receiving critique is to become a better writer in general, and not to hone a specific work to perfection. Granted, I've submitted possible openings for my novel > 2 times.

[This message has been edited by pooka (edited July 22, 2006).]


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trousercuit
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I think it's a little extreme, but there's something to be said for doing it right next time rather than hacking away at it this time until nobody in the group hates it.

Oh, and he sent them all out for publication regardless of what the group said.

He could apply the lessons from last time on the next one, so he'd only ever be one story behind in quality. He also saved tons of revision time.


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Spaceman
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That writer who never revised to critique was Dean Wesley Smith. I posted a link in another thread that led to a thread on his board where he discussed his reasons.

He never revised the manuscripts after critique because they were already in submission. You might disagree with his way of doing things, but you can't argue with his results when he's sold 80 novels.

[This message has been edited by Spaceman (edited July 22, 2006).]


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ethersong
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Do you suggest we go to another forum to get it critiqued then? All the other ones don't seem as good as this one...
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Beth
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I don't think it's safe to assume that not revising will work as well for everyone else as it did for the estimable Mr. Smith.


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Louiseoneal
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I just wish I didn't have to revise. I've sent unrevised stories out before, and got back form letter rejections. At least these days some of the rejections I get have little notes from the editors attatched.
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trousercuit
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quote:
I don't think it's safe to assume that not revising will work as well for everyone else as it did for the estimable Mr. Smith.

I think he's 41.52. What's your estimate?


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Christine
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quote:
Do you suggest we go to another forum to get it critiqued then? All the other ones don't seem as good as this one...

Actually, I suggest that you only send one piece out for critiques one time and then if you can't get it right, move on to something else and send out the first one for possible publication anyway.

The suggestions to send to a different group was more of an "if you absolutely have to" thing. If you absolutely have to have someone look at a revision, then you do have to find a different group, yes.

I've used my husband a couple of times as a wise reader, but he's well-trained to give me just the reactions I am looking for with none of the suggestions for rewrites.


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Christine
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Oh and as to the not revising thing...there are some pretty hard core anti-revisionist people who think that the first draft is the only one worth anything. I often find their work to be sloppy and full of holes. I'm not familiar with the author in question, though. Maybe it works for him. I'd be kind of hacked off if he completely dismissed my critique, though, as mine are story-specific. I've known too many people to have hit and miss stories. You can't always use your lessons from this one on the next.
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Survivor
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For every published writer who swears by some method, there's another who'll recommend the exact opposite. Even if simply being published were a huge recommendation (which it isn't), it would be dangerous to rely entirely on the most eccentric bits of advice you could collect.

Ultimately, everyone should be working towards the goal of not needing to workshop every single piece to get it publishable. But that doesn't mean that any particular person is at that level yet.

There are also different levels of revision. There's simply pointing out minor syntax and spelling errors. You'd be a fool to leave those kinds of things in an otherwise perfect story (assuming that the critic hasn't "incorrected" a correct usage). There's noting passages that need to be strengthened, clarified, or cut. You can do a lot of good with that if you trust your workshoppers. And there are wholesale alteractions in plot, character, and structure. Unless your existing story clearly has such fundamental problems to be addressed, you might as well ignore such recommendations. If you're not sure, try getting a few more opinions (from editors, even).


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mommiller
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I am all for revisions AND writing groups.

Nor do I think having one or two folks look at the same story twice is particularly hurtful either. They are at least familiar with the characters and your style and will be able to determine if you answered their crit questions or not.

I think knowing what to do with a group's suggestions is one of the real skills in becoming a better writer. I know that by critiquing other's works I have learned much more in working with my own. And by reading other's various comments on my own, it gives me the distance to step back from the story and look at it from another's point of view. Then I can decide whether what they say has merit and some changes need to be made or not.

A good crit is a wonderful tool, a bad one, even has its uses, in my opinion.


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Spaceman
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Beth: I never said I advocate DW Smith's method. My own belief is more like this: The less experience a writer has, the more the revision process will help teach writing. A writer with at least one professional sale should strive to be writing first-shot prose that needs little more than copy edits and minor tweaking.

The inexperienced writer simply has too many problems to work on to be able to write clean prose on the first shot, and the revision process helps to not only clean up the manuscript (but not necessarily to publishability) but also to educate. It's up to the writer to work on the continuous improvement process.


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Robert Nowall
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Filling in a big hole in your story after someone points it out to you is okay...but, rather than nitpickingly correct every tiny little error, it's probably best to give up at some point and move on to something else.
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Novice
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I think the recent F & F post of MaryRobinette's "The Bride Replete" is an excellent example of how multiple rewrites, and the resulting dialogue, can be extremely useful. There are other positive examples over in F&F, as well. I agree with mommiller, the most important part of getting a critique is learning what to do with it...how to use the reader's comments to improve the story. The same is true of second critiques, which will be influenced by the earlier reading. However, that influence should not render the critique useless, it simply changes the dynamic between the reader and the story. The writer needs to take that change into account when assessing the new comments.

I believe I learn more while reading critically, than I learn while writing. To this end, I learn a lot from reading a revised version of something I critiqued previously. Seeing how different writers interpret and implement the suggestions given by critiquers, I can learn new ways to approach my own revisions.

After writing all of that, I've decided I might have misinterpreted your original post. Are you referring to fragments? Or to complete manuscripts?


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wbriggs
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I think the valuable thing is just seeing how people react to the story. If several people go "ugh" at a particular phrase, I'd probably better change it. If everyone says "ugh" at the entire story, unless it's really just one flaw, well . . . I can revise as I like, but it won't wash.

The "wise reader" thing.


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TMan1969
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For me, I read the reviews on all stories and I end up learning something new each time - then apply it as required. Sometimes the eidts, crits given shed a new light and ignite dormant creative juices...how its used is up to the writer, as long as he/she thanks everyone for their efforts.
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MaryRobinette
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I was going to chime in and say that this is an area where Christine and I disagree. I find sending a story to the same reader enormously helpful, as long as my goals in sending it back are clear. Otherwise, she has a point.

For me, if a reader has raised a question or misunderstood something (and I think the point is important) then I'll revise and send it back to see if I've changed his or her response. Sometimes I will only send the section in question and usually with a question of my own.

Something like, "You said you were confused by the robot monkeys. Does the following section answer any questions for you?"

The real challenge with this approach is to not lead the witness. When a reader says that he's confused, my first impulse is to say, "Well, it's because the robot monkeys are evil." Which doesn't help. Any question a reader asks needs to be dealt with on the page.

This also doesn't work with every reader and seems to work best for clarity issues. So, I agree with her points about needing fresh eyes, but I don't think that it is "the worst thing you can do." Although, if you know you have not made changes based on a reader's reaction, then you certainly should not send it back to them.

Her point about revising too much is good, but that will differ from person to person. I've sent out stories on their eighth rewrite--and I mean radically different rewrite--but not a third revision, which for me means sentence level changes.


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Christine
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When you go back to a critique group with a question about how a change worked, I'm not sure it's the same thing as continually editing/revising and sending out the same work. That goes to how to use the critique they got you and you are querying them to make sure you understood and correctly used the feedback they gave.
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Mig
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I think it is best to send a work to the same critiquer(s) if (1) you know the person and their likes and dislikes and (2) you trust their judgment. The problem with F&F is that your not guaranteed of either.

This may be a little off point, but maybe not, the second problem with recritiques on F&F is that they are of limited value when the work in question isn't complete. I think that recritiquing a work that isn't complete, and usually consists of only the first 13 lines, is often a waste of time. Where one starts writing the story and where the final product should begin are not always the same spot.


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Corin224
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Point #1

ALWAYS weight the feedback against the person giving it. Do they think a lot of themselves? Do they write stories you can't even finish reading, let alone enjoy?

Maybe you don't want to listen to those people.

Are they usually right on point when they give criticism? Do they write stories you like to read?

Then those are the ones you listen to their recommendations.


Point #2

Feedback is NOT about getting people's approval for your story. You're done when YOU are happy with it. Good feedback is about taking people's reactions to your story and deciding if you're happy with that.

I love OSC's recommendation for how to train good readers. Tell them that they should only use three different comments on your writing. "Huh?", "So What?", and "Yeah, Right!". That gets to the core of it. Are you unclear, are you writing boring stuff, and are you writing a story people can believe in? THAT is the perspective you need from readers. Maybe they can elaborate on WHY they reacted that way, but most readers shouldn't be telling you how to fix your story. It's not your story at that point. It's theirs.

So . . . those reactions are what you're going for, right? So you can't really get the raw reactions from people by having them read the same thing the second time. They're ALREADY gonna gloss over the stuff they've already read. Need more help? Too bad. Find another reader. 'Cause the ones that have already read it aren't objective any more.

Besides, there's a chance they just aren't in your target audience, and if they're not in your target audience, you'll NEVER get good feedback from them, no matter what you write.


Point #3

You ALWAYS revise. I guarantee you . . . even the guys that write their "first drafts" and they're done . . . they revise in their head. Okay, maybe there's ONE guy out there that doesn't.

I'm a poker fanatic, so pardon this tangent, but this whole "publishing the first draft" thing reminds me of those stories you hear about the kid who goes into debt, cashes out his college fund, buys into a huge poker tournament and wins it . . . to the tune of $500,000 or so, on his inital $10,000 investment. Sure . . . there's one kid out there that did that. And Matt Damon looked pretty cool dragging himself out of the gutter in Rounders, beating good ol' Teddy KGB at his own game. It's cool to hear those stories.

You don't hear about the hundreds, or even thousands that busted out in the first round. Or the ones that tried it again, and again, and again, and lost everything.

But the big stars . . . Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Howard Lederer, Phil Hellmuth, Amarillo Slim, Phil Ivey . . . those guys ground it out the hard way, and they are by FAR the majority.

It's the same thing with writing. Sure . . . there's some people out there that published their first novel. Some people that publish their first drafts. Some people that never have to revise.

But MOST writers will tell you it's damn hard work. Lawrence Block says in his book "Telling Lies for Fun & Profit" (and this is a paraphrase) that MANY writers hate writing. They just hate NOT writing even more.

Anybody that tells you this is easy is either the exception to the rule, clueless, or selling something.

And once again . . . that's just my $.02

-Falken224 (posing as Corin)

[This message has been edited by Corin224 (edited July 24, 2006).]


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Christine
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I would agree with everything except something you said in point #1...I don't think it matters what the person WRITES but rather what they READ. You aren't asking them to write your story for you, after all, only to tell you if they like it. If you enjoy the same types of stories then that will be a clue.

My most trusted advisor is my husband, who doesn't know an adverb from a participle and flunked his English entrance essay outright. (I read it -- it was painful.) But he is an avid reader, knows what he likes, and enjoys the same things I do (for the most part -- I can't agree with him on George R. R. Martin but that's for another thread). He can tell me if he likes my stories, if he likes my characters, if the plot makes sense, and if it's believeable. He can do the wise reader critique you brought up. (I trained him to do it, just like OSC suggested.)

You don't have to be a good writer at all to be a good critiquer, IMHO.


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oliverhouse
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quote:
I love OSC's recommendation for how to train good readers. Tell them that they should only use three different comments on your writing. "Huh?", "So What?", and "Yeah, Right!".

That's excellent. Not what I'd want from people who are more capable of providing detailed and helpful feedback; but with people who aren't really savvy, that would be exactly what I'm looking for.


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Robert Nowall
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quote:
You ALWAYS revise. I guarantee you . . . even the guys that write their "first drafts" and they're done . . . they revise in their head. Okay, maybe there's ONE guy out there that doesn't.

I concur. I've done a lot of my writing and rewriting inside my head before I've typed out anything. It's the pre-computer era traning---once it was typed on that sheet of paper, that was just about it without the heavy burden of retyping.


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pantros
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I will almost always refuse to critique something I have critiqued before. Most of the time I will find the same flaws and yet I feel tremendous pressure to tell a writer "This looks better"

It's difficult enough to try to make my "to-the-point" style of critiquing not sound condescending and discouraging. But, on a re-crit, it's harder not to say "This is still out of PoV" or "This is still redundant" or "This still has nothing to do with the story you are telling". Okay, so anytime I use the word "still' I am being condescending. I don't want to use it, but I'm not perfect and sometimes I do.

I think that in recritting something that hasn't gone from almost there to publishable, its painful to see the advice that the writer didn't take. Now, a writer should decide for themselves what advice to heed and which doesn't apply to the story they want to tell, but as a critiquer, my observations were made in the spirit of improving their work.

I've seen people take 900 words of advice and cut their story in half, taking out all the good parts then ask me to recrit. OMG that's painful. I will tell someone if their rework made it worse, but I am afraid doing so is discouraging which is why I try to not recrit.

I will make exception for my friends, but only because I am sure they will understand when I tell them that they still suck as writers.

Ok, I don't say that...often.

Basically every critique should be on a fresh work, with a fresh eye.

And I assure you, I can trash even the most publishable author's work. Publishable is not synonymous with perfect, because, in writing, perfect is matter of taste as much as anything.


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Corin224
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quote:
I don't think it matters what the person WRITES but rather what they READ.

Indeed you are correct, I was coming from the perspective of other writers correcting you, in which case, if they can't write worth anything, why would you take writing advice from them? If writing advice is what they're giving, ignore it.

But if they're offering their perspective on how it READS, the only thing you have to judge is whether they are in your target audience or not. Then it's up to you to make the story read better.

But . . . I stand corrected.

-Falken224 (posing as Corin)


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