Best/Worst review that gave you the kick in the pants you needed to make your story better.

#1
I want to know what was the best bad review you got that forced you to re-evaluate your writing.

Mine was through a barrage of comments from a back-seat editor (this was years ago) whose goal and I quote "Was to knock you off your high horse and put you in your place". Now I did dismiss pretty much everything he said because it came from a place of hate, also it came from a place of 'I wouldn't have written it that way' which has limited value, especially since he couldn't justify the sweeping changes he would have made. Basically, none of his advice was about helping me write or improve the story I intended to write - so his criticism sort of became null and void. Was I angry? Oh HELL yeah! Did I seek retribution? No. Did I cyberstalk the jerk to figure out if he knew what he was talking about? Yes. His writing was dry and lacked something (over edited) and yes, he had some work published on Amazon, but hadn't sold a copy yet. So... I wished him the best, and was able to let go.

How did this all help me? Well, the sad truth is - despite the fact that 99% of his criticisms were not helpful, he did help me come to terms with the fact that my grasp on grammar is still not very good. Now, to put things into perspective, I was once humiliated in front of 250 co-workers for a writing assignment that no one else wanted to take on - specifically because of the bad grammar...which I didn't think was that bad. And given that no one else wanted the job and it was volunteer - and I thought I was helping out... well let's just say that by the time back-seat-editor came knocking I was already aware that I'm not very good with grammar.

But I didn't realize how bad. Having my work read out loud to a bunch of people who were laughing at the work and indirectly laughing at me, at least left me some anonymity. In this case, the back-seat-editor rewrote 3 chapters called it a chore, called me a sloppy writer, and said it was unreadable. But I saw the changes he made. He robbed a lot of the life out of the prose, but some of the changes made sense. But I also realized that I was too close to the work and the sheer time investment at any of the draft stages was just too much.

I made the active decision to focus on story, character, and voice. I bought pro-writing aid. And I started saving for a line editor for when Awakening: Prodigy is done it's fourth and final draft. 

Re: Best/Worst review that gave you the kick in the pants you needed to make your story better.

#2
I received a 2-star review from a review swap and I maintain it's the best thing that ever happened for my ability to handle critique. It elaborated for pages how terrible every single part of my story was, in a way that made it abundantly clear the reader simply had no concept of what the story I was telling was, and it taught me that... some people just don't get it. You can do things that are internally consistent and interesting to 90% of readers, but there'll always be people who think the whole thing is pointless and who don't understand why you bother.

Ever since, I've been able to handle the relatively minor critiques of normal comments with much more grace and serenity.
Sometimes they have good suggestions, the critique is valid and should be acted upon. But other times... it's simply laughable. Being able to discern between these and accept both critique and criticism without letting it get to you has been an invaluable skill to learn, and I'm so happy I was able to get it so early and relatively painlessly.

Re: Best/Worst review that gave you the kick in the pants you needed to make your story better.

#3
Not writing-related but I had at least 3 different critiquers beat me up for bad anatomy in my drawings before I was strongly motivated enough to do the weeks of studying skeletons and muscles that I needed to do.

In terms of my writing it wasn't a brutal review but I had someone refer to my story as plotless, and I realized that it was.  I'm STILL slowly realizing what another writer meant over a decade ago when he told me he thinks of a story's plot as being like a game of chess.

Re: Best/Worst review that gave you the kick in the pants you needed to make your story better.

#5
Not from RR, but in real life.  

Back when I was starting to get serious about writing in the sixth grade, my school gave us chromebooks to use.  Because I loved writing, and I had a story in my head that I wanted to write, I went onto google docs and began typing away.  After I finished the tenth chapter, I wanted someone to tell me what I need to do better, so I showed it to my english teacher at the time.  

She read the prologue, and then told me straight to my face that I was awful and wouldn't have a career in writing.  No constructive feedback, no suggestions, just straight up toxicity.  Just saying that devastated me for a while.  Like, yeah I was in sixth grade and my writing really wasn't that good, but you don't just crush a kids dream like that.  

I didn't write the rest for a while, until the ninth grade.  My new english teacher really loved my essay's and she told me that I had some of the best writing within the grade, so that got me to want to write again.  I had built up an entire epic in my head by that point since even though I wasn't writing, I was piecing the story together like a puzzle. 

So I wrote more and finished the first "book" by the time I got into tenth grade.  I showed my ninth grade english teacher, she read the entire thing, and said that it needs some work, but it has potential.  By God did I cry in joy after I got home.  I'd say that's why I'm a stickler for criticism, because when done wrong it can lead to awful consequences.  Now I'm in twelfth grade, and currently writing and RR with around 750 people having read my story.  It's not the same story as I talked about; I'm planning on honing my writing before working on it more, but I'm much better than I was back then, because someone actually said that I have potential.

Don't let toxic people get you down people.  It may be hard, but just ignore them and actually find people willing to give you a chance. 

Re: Best/Worst review that gave you the kick in the pants you needed to make your story better.

#7
Back twenty years or so ago, back when internet forums were a lot more important than they are today, back before facebook and Web 2.0 and Reddit, I was part of an online community of professional writers and editors. This was before self-publishing and web publishing was even a thing. 
Over and over and over I'd submit my work, and over and over and over again it would be dissected, surgically, methodically, relentlessly, and dispassionately. 
It was brutal. They held nothing back. It wasn't personal, though. It wasn't ad hominem at all. 
It hurt a lot, but it broke a lot of bad habits. It gave me a thicker skin. It taught me how to objectively look at my own work. 

I see, understand, and recognize my weaknesses in writing, and I try to explore those areas and build them up better. By no means am I an accomplished author, but I'm a hell of a lot better than I was back then. 

Re: Best/Worst review that gave you the kick in the pants you needed to make your story better.

#8
When I first started sharing this story of mine with my friends, there were two things that my friends said that still stick with me. 

One friend, who's been my writing confidante for years honestly told me that the first version of my prologue didn't make her feel like reading on. I scrapped it, and swapped it for something more brief but with more impact, and am happy with the change. It made me realise that I forgot one of the first rules of writing that I had learnt, which was to write in a way that made readers want to read on.

Another friend just straight up told me that what I was writing was cringe. Which did hurt, since they were a close friend of mine. But after I got over the initial hurt, I had to ask myself: was this something that I could change? Could I do anything with their opinion? If the problem didn't lie in my style of writing or the way I wrote my story, then that means they just didn't like the premise or the genre of my story.

And it's not like I could do anything about that.

The experience toughened my skin a little, and made me even more determined to continue writing the things I enjoy, even if the people around me call it 'cringe' or 'silly'. To each their own, after all. And it also gave me my current personal mantra, "If it's not constructive, it doesn't matter."

Re: Best/Worst review that gave you the kick in the pants you needed to make your story better.

#9
I don't know if I have quite had a crystallization moment like this yet. I've only been sharing my work at all since April. I know there are issues with my story and I need to improve as a writer, and I've definitely gotten some feedback that maybe in hindsight I will realize it is exactly what I should have been listening to.... 

Blind Serpent started a thread to give critic over here, possibly inspired by this thread based on the timing or perhaps just by coincidence. Maybe they will slap me in the face with the blunt criticism that will end up making sense to me! I feel like I'm close to getting past a creative barrier / understanding of the craft just something isn't clicking quite yet.

Re: Best/Worst review that gave you the kick in the pants you needed to make your story better.

#11

Mossa Wrote: Another friend just straight up told me that what I was writing was cringe. Which did hurt, since they were a close friend of mine. But after I got over the initial hurt, I had to ask myself: was this something that I could change? Could I do anything with their opinion? If the problem didn't lie in my style of writing or the way I wrote my story, then that means they just didn't like the premise or the genre of my story.

And it's not like I could do anything about that.

The experience toughened my skin a little, and made me even more determined to continue writing the things I enjoy, even if the people around me call it 'cringe' or 'silly'. To each their own, after all. And it also gave me my current personal mantra, "If it's not constructive, it doesn't matter."

I have the exact same outlook, if someone doesn't like what I write they can go read something else, I'm writing down a story I planned from the start, not for the public 

Can't imagine the stress the guys who write like that, perhaps dreaming of literary career and income, come through. I'd rather flip burgers at Mcdonalds, and it reinforces my ideas that dreams and ambitions are the reason for suffering in the world(talked to a Buddhist monk once).

Re: Best/Worst review that gave you the kick in the pants you needed to make your story better.

#15

Gryphon10 Wrote: Not from RR, but in real life.  

Back when I was starting to get serious about writing in the sixth grade, my school gave us chromebooks to use.  Because I loved writing, and I had a story in my head that I wanted to write, I went onto google docs and began typing away.  After I finished the tenth chapter, I wanted someone to tell me what I need to do better, so I showed it to my english teacher at the time.  

She read the prologue, and then told me straight to my face that I was awful and wouldn't have a career in writing.  No constructive feedback, no suggestions, just straight up toxicity.  Just saying that devastated me for a while.  Like, yeah I was in sixth grade and my writing really wasn't that good, but you don't just crush a kids dream like that.  

I didn't write the rest for a while, until the ninth grade.  My new english teacher really loved my essay's and she told me that I had some of the best writing within the grade, so that got me to want to write again.  I had built up an entire epic in my head by that point since even though I wasn't writing, I was piecing the story together like a puzzle. 

So I wrote more and finished the first "book" by the time I got into tenth grade.  I showed my ninth grade english teacher, she read the entire thing, and said that it needs some work, but it has potential.  By God did I cry in joy after I got home.  I'd say that's why I'm a stickler for criticism, because when done wrong it can lead to awful consequences.  Now I'm in twelfth grade, and currently writing and RR with around 750 people having read my story.  It's not the same story as I talked about; I'm planning on honing my writing before working on it more, but I'm much better than I was back then, because someone actually said that I have potential.

Don't let toxic people get you down people.  It may be hard, but just ignore them and actually find people willing to give you a chance.


In my opinion, it's unrealistic to control how someone may perceive the criticism - and therefore how they react. When I read this, and I've heard so many stories like this, I ask myself: Is that exactly what they said? 

There are a few more valuable lessons in your story too. Know your audience. Your teacher was clearly not your audience. There are few indicators. If you don't see them reading, then reading is not likely something they do for fun. Stay clear. If they do read, pay attention to the genre they're reading. I loath romance for example, and as a reader that's my right. It doesn't make it 'right' for me to impose my dislike onto others, but it doesn't make it 'right' for a romance writer to demand positive feedback from me either (especially if they were deceptive about it - true story). Another lesson here: Match the genre with the reader and respect their preferences. It's so much easier that way. This advice can float right down to the tropes used. Ex: I'm not keen on harem fiction (male or female or both, doesn't matter... but I supose that sort of ties into the romance stuff. I was struggling to find something from the fantasy stuff). Oh I know! I don't like vampires or werewolf fiction ....actually cause often it's a romance.... you know I'm sensing a theme here. But I think you get my point.

Another great lesson you have in there is: Don't write for validation. This one is hard because if we want to develop from writers to authors, we sort of need the validation... I can relate because I used to do this too, especially in my teen years. It was code for 'praise me', 'tell me I did good', 'tell me I'm talented', 'tell me I should be a writer'. It's toxic! In cases like these, I feel strongly that I was poisoning myself. I was giving myself an excuse to present my bare minimum as 'my best' - because up until that time, that's what I had been doing and getting A's for it.  It was almost.... I dare say, I already had one step out the exit, prepared to quit if things didn't go my way. In a weird way, I wasn't willing to develop AND I was what? holding my stories hostage if I didn't complemented enough? It was flat out entitlement.

I was lucky that the people I was seeking validation from, never bothered to read the work - therefore I was never crushed. So in that case- you're teacher is a special breed of jerk. After all, your writing skill at that time is a direct reflection of his talent as a teacher in writing.

Re: Best/Worst review that gave you the kick in the pants you needed to make your story better.

#16

Mossa Wrote: The experience toughened my skin a little, and made me even more determined to continue writing the things I enjoy, even if the people around me call it 'cringe' or 'silly'. To each their own, after all. And it also gave me my current personal mantra, "If it's not constructive, it doesn't matter."
 It's good that you were able to get honest feedback from your friends. I hope you're still friends.

On the flip side, while 'silly or cringe' my express preferences, I have to wonder, especially since they were friends, if you asked what they meant by cringe or silly. Because sometimes it's just in the execution of the idea that can turn a reader off, but not the idea itself. Does that make any sense?

Sometime, what we view as 'not constructive' just needs a little bit of prodding before it can become genuinely useful information to act or not act upoon.

Re: Best/Worst review that gave you the kick in the pants you needed to make your story better.

#17

Seerica Wrote: Well, that line highlighted the points from the rest of the review.


What matter is how that specific quote impacted you as a writer. Could you tell us how? There are a lot of people out there who need to learn how to embrace reviews, even the less than praise worthy stuff. And I find this conversations like these help me look at reviews differently. 

Too many people brush off problems with their works as "people just be haters". It's natural, a sense of self-preservation. But this amazing quote I heard the other day "Lean into the resistance. Soon the resistance will empower you."

Re: Best/Worst review that gave you the kick in the pants you needed to make your story better.

#18
This was back when we very first started writing. We were in a writing discord when we submitted some of our earlier work and it was very much rough draft level despite going through it and trying to edit it. She called us out on the terrible quality and it gave us the kick to massively improve.

And now we're by and large better than we were back then. It's not even a contest.

Re: Best/Worst review that gave you the kick in the pants you needed to make your story better.

#19
English is my second language. 

Back when I was 6 years old, I was told to read my one page essay in front of my class. My teacher, stifling her laughter, told the class - "this is an example of how NOT to write." The class erupted into laughter and I was stunned trying to comprehend what was going on. 

Years later - decades later - I haven't forgotten this experience. I constantly feel like I can't write well. I took English at University - and that point of being a terrible writer was driven into me again and again. 

Despite my low self confidence, I still posted my stories online. My first bad review was - "you can't describe worth for shit. What's with all this telling. It's so bland"

Somehow- the "bad" reviews weren't as bad as I thought. I realized that I'm my own worst critique. I also realized that I must be doing something right because that reviewer still came back to read my next chapter and the next. 

Writing takes both skills and talent. Even if you lack the talent, it doesn't mean you can't write. It just means you have to work a little harder than the rest. 

Re: Best/Worst review that gave you the kick in the pants you needed to make your story better.

#20
Back when I was a kid, I was writing a neopets fanfiction that I never had the courage to submit to the neopian times. I showed it to my mom to read it, and also to a real life friend and asked her to read it.

My mom said it was great, amazing, wonderful, and offered no constructive criticism whatsoever. That would count as the bad review.

My friend pointed out that the entire reason the protagonists figured out much of the mystery was they overheard the villain talking about her plans in detail to her petpet (not a typo, as that's a thing in neopets). She said that came across pretty unrealistically, and asked if I could figure out a way to rework the plot so that the solution didn't just come from overhearing the villain making a monologuing self-confession. (Keep in mind that I was in middle school at the time, although I fully admit that even with that excuse that plot element was pretty cringe). I realized that I hadn't thought through things enough to be capable of figuring out a rework to the plot so the protagonists solved things through their own efforts- or at least through luck that was properly foreshadowed and they encountered through reasonable means.

My friend's review was the good one, and probably saved me from a lot of embarrassment that would have happened if I accepted my mom's review as truth and had submitted it to the neopian times.