Recently I found a bunch of interesting quotes from various writers in a random post over at theChive.com. Credit where credit is due, folks. I plan on doing several posts based on these quotes and I want to credit theChive.com right up front because I don’t plan to referencing where I found the pictures in every post. That would get repetitive.

Now, on to this post.

I used this quote a couple of weeks ago when replying to a comment on another post. I like this quote because it speaks to the tension in trying to process criticism from others. If you’re like me, you want people to read your stuff and tell you what works and what doesn’t. Except, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you’re in love with what you wrote and even though you tell your test readers you really, really want honest feedback, the fact is you want honest feedback that affirms your writing genius.

You want them to honestly tell you your story is the best they’ve ever read.

But they don’t understand that, mostly because it’s not what you said, and they come back with real, gritty, honest feedback. The kind that can make your story better but isn’t always fun to hear. They tell you which parts worked and which parts didn’t and sometimes the parts that didn’t were your favorite parts. Boy, that sucks. Then you have to decide if you’re doing to defend your baby (that’s what the story is–bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh) or change it. And by change it, of course, I mean hack it to bits because this literary Neanderthal you foolishly sought advice from says it doesn’t work.

What do they know, anyway?

Well, they know if the story worked for them. If they say it didn’t, it didn’t. The best thing you can do then is listen to why it didn’t work for them. Maybe you need to make a change and maybe you don’t, but Neil is right about one thing: you almost certainly don’t need to make the change they are telling you to make. Their fix probably isn’t going to be your fix. Accept that something is broken and take your story, your now-weeping baby, back. Cradle it in your arms and sooth it. Find a solution to the bits that don’t work.

Or, more to the point, find your solution. I mean, it is your story. You should enjoy it, too.

And if your critic’s reason for not liking something was arbitrary or obscure, sometimes–only sometimes, mind you–you can ignore the criticism altogether.


  1. Wow. Yes. YES YES YES. Absolutely. I have had this feeling more times than I can remember. I guess I’ve had it every time I’ve showed one of my stories to anyone else and they’ve said, “Yeah, it’s great, but…” That’s where the heart sinks, in that “but”. I’ve always struggled with a writing style that I feel most people don’t understand or can’t access because they don’t read classic novels, they just read modern garbage and don’t like it if it’s more complicated than Twilight. So I take their advice with a grain of salt. But they aren’t lying if they say it doesn’t work for them, so that’s something to always consider. The only question is how willing are you to pander to the masses, or stay true to your own (obvious) literary genius.

    1. dex Author

      That’s the hard part right there: deciding where to draw the line between making your story accessible and selling out. I mean, I want my story to work for some people (hopefully even a lot of people), but I know it won’t work for everyone. So when someone says something didn’t work for them I have to try to gauge if they are speaking from a very personal place (“See, I once knew this guy named Keith and he was a jerk. An absolute jerk. It’s not believable at all that your character named Keith would be such a nice guy…”) or if they are speaking for a significant portion of my intended audience.

      It can be a tough call, but at the end of the day I think it’s vitally important that you feel good about what you wrote. I try not to change things that will ruin that part for myself. Changes that don’t interfere with my enjoyment of the story are free-game.

  2. I don’t mind it if friends read my material and acknowledge my genius, but what I want more is their feedback. Specifically, what works, and what doesn’t. What parts made your stomach drop from the emotional impact? If it doesn’t work, then why doesn’t it work for you? Those are feedback points I want, more than, “Hey, I liked it.”

    And I don’t even mind it if someone suggests how to fix what doesn’t work for them. 9 times out of 10, though, I’ll skip their advice.


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