Feedback Wars – to cry or not to cry..?

So since I started putting a lot of effort in to getting work out there in September, I’ve submitted to quite a few competitions (won none), offered work to zines and anthologies (one got accepted WOOOOOOO) and put the odd story up here. (Read the odd however you think 😉

However, with most, the time you realise you’ve been unsuccessful is when the long list or included author lists come out. Occasionally, you get feedback which is great because otherwise how do you know what you’re doing right and wrong?

Ok. I’m new to this. Also, I don’t deal well with criticism. I know that, I’m working on it. I know feedback is vital, working with beta readers critical but I have learned a valuable lesson this week thanks to my writing group. Sometimes, every now and then, feedback is wrong.

Now if you work with a beta reader (I’m not speaking from experience here) but I’m assuming there’s a dialogue and that person is solely focused on your work. When you enter a competition or similar set-up, there is no dialogue. You get un-named feedback and get no chance to clarify or enter into a debate. And I know this is how it needs to be. You can’t get into fine-detail critique with every entrant, it’s just not possible.

Where’s she going with this, I hear you ask. (Hold on, let me read back and check, oh yes.) I received some feedback from a set of editors on a submission. Each had pros and cons. I read them and felt thoroughly dejected. (The cons were considerably longer and more comprehensive than the pros.) I started to doubt my work. But I was sure I had not done some of the things wrong they had written about and one editor had completely mis-read the plot. Was it that bad? Was it that incoherent? There was only one way to find out.

Give it to real humans who sit in a room with you and can explain fully what they think and you can ask questions (or hide in the toilets).

So that’s what I did. My writing group read the work and one other writer’s work, so that was all they had to focus on. They gave me constructive feedback on what they liked and what they would have changed. But oddly, the issues that had come up in my feedback did not appear. My group knew that I’d had feedback and were keen to hear what had been said. So I told them afterwards. They were stunned. One even thought it was feedback for a different story. I felt vindicated. I wasn’t rubbish hurrah! The story was not destined for the scrap heap.

And what have I learned from this? Writing groups really do help. They are a second eye. They can stop you drifting off into delusion or dejection. I’ve also learned that just because feedback gets written down doesn’t mean it’s right, or that I have to do anything about it. Sometimes it is personal choice and if they didn’t like an aspect, someone else will. Competitions are very busy, they read the stories quickly, they can’t pick it apart like a workshopping group can – they just don’t have time. Using competitions for writing advice is not the first port of call, it’s a bonus (if sometimes to be read with a pinch of salt), but if I really want some advice, my group is where to go.

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