Nancy Connally learns some important lessons on critics and critiquing: Day 1 of 3

Nancy Connally’s 3-day case study of some recent critiques and her response to them sheds light on several important issues in the process of giving and receiving feedback on our writing. Today, Day One, she tells of a negative critique she received from a person of stature and how that proved destructive in several major ways to her writing process.

Tomorrow she’ll reveal what she learned from the wisdom of an on-line writing village. –JGR


Nancy Connally, Guest Blogger


I received a critique from a prestigious fiction-writing contest at the beginning of the week. Given that they only asked for the first twenty pages, I was not expecting a long response. Instead, I received six single-spaced pages.

The person who critiqued (henceforth the PWC) pointed out a multitude of problems, and as I read I forced myself to accept the validity of the PWC’s line of reasoning.

How the critique damaged her writing process.

1)The critique stopped me in the sequel on which I was working, though, because I had no idea how much refining the first story needed.

Let’s see. What wasn’t right? The dialogue was average. The point of view wasn’t deep enough. The characters weren’t develope

d. There was no historical accuracy. The story should slow down and include more description. I had no distinctive voice as a writer. The story was author-driven and not character-driven. That’s something I really don’t want because I quickly close books when I sense the author is moving the characters around like paper dolls.

Obviously the PWC had been advised to end critiques on an upbeat. The final comment was that I show a lot of promise. Basically when I understand story structure and sentence structure, I’ll do well.

Attempt to balance the comments…but, still, the writing process is damaged. After I read the critique, I put on my mature, this-person-is-helping-you-become-a-better-writer hat and reminded myself that the critique was one person’s opinion. She or he had read only read twenty pages. Heaven knew she/he had put a lot of time into the critique.

2) And I wondered—not for the first time and I’m sure not for the last—why I thought I could write.

I put aside the critique, just as I had two others before it, to re-read in a few weeks. Never mind that the first two critiques of the same work of fiction had been positive and encouraging while pointing out that I needed more conflict. Never mind that the first two had been complimentary of dialogue, pacing, author’s voice, point of view, secondary characters, time and setting, and all the other criteria.

How the writer discounts positive feedback in favor of negative.

The third critique, the one that made me seriously consider returning to non-fiction magazine writing, was the one I considered the most important.

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  1. Yes, you are so right! We must balance both positive and negative critiques. The important thing is to do whatever it takes to continue our work.

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