Post Critique Syndrome

Hangover1 Okay, so most of you are probably aware of the discussion which occurred on my fiction blog over the weekend. I posted a bit of a novel I’ve been kicking around for a few months. It’s the opening. But I posted it as a piece of #fridayflash, which is limited to about a thousand words. I wrote the piece at about 3 a.m. on Friday morning, read it and trimmed to to under 1K, then posted.

And it promptly met with mixed reviews.

Most folks found it entertaining and emotive, but some questioned the direction I chose for the piece. New blog buddy Linda had some excellent things to say. Foremost among those was use of the term “post critique syndrome”. It’s very much like PTSD in some ways. I was shell-shocked, discouraged, a trifle depressed and in the end, just wished I hadn’t posted the piece at all.

But CalliopesPen showed up and offered me some outstanding, glowing words. I sat and basked in them for several hours before I could even realize I had no words to describe how she’d made me feel. Sherri was also encouraging, and my loving wife? Well, she’s always the most amazing and supportive of all. Those who enjoyed it really did. Those who thought it could’ve used a bit less had me on several counts – too much adjective-spicing, too abrupt an injection of the fantasy element (even though this was deliberate, the 1K limit made the couple of sentences I used for that portion of the story severely inadequate), should’ve said more with “less words” [sic].

Then, Linda went a step further. She emailed me a line-edit critique of the piece.

It was amazing how many mistakes I’d made. How much I’d been lazy about the writing portion. I tried to work the piece as both a study in character and a fantasy-western piece, and that just didn’t work, period. I did overuse adjectives. I made sentences more complex than they had to be. Some of the wording could’ve been smoothed out and solidified by just saying the plain, ordinary thing I intended. But no, I tried to get all literati and eloquent, and boing! – weak piece. Big surprise.hangover

In the end, what happened here can be boiled down to this: I tried too hard while not trying hard enough. I didn’t put enough effort into cleaning the prose, and I put too much effort into trying to “write”, like I think I’m supposed to write, like I’ve always told myself I write. Different pieces cry out for different voices to me. I’ve written some which were deliberately lyrical and lilting in tone. I’ve written them punchy and direct. I’ve written in the style of Poe and Lovecraft. I’ve written like King, and like Hemingway. In all of that, I never lost sight of the writing and the style.

In this short bit, I did absolutely lose sight of the writing. I blame those who came by and offered only accolades for previous works I’ve done. (Just kidding.) It inflated my ego to the point I thought I wouldn’t get anything but glowing reviews for this one too. (Not kidding there; my ego was out of control this time. I didn’t even imagine I’d get so many people calling out my flaws.)

Well, I’ve learned my lesson. I got over my PCS, and moved on to the point of being my usual, thick-skinned self (with a little more humble added, me hopes).

I’d love to do another character study, but this time I’m going to stay focused and remember my KISS principle. Finding the best way to say something with as few words as I can is the goal. One of the comments I received stated “I’d never suggest you eliminate adjectives from your writing.” That person is being honest, but for me, the best medicine is the harshest. Taking things to their extreme as much as I can helped me break my hangover2 addiction to, reliance on, adverbs. This part about the adjectives is the next step. Finding the best noun-verb combination to say what I want to convey is the best medicine for me. It’s just how I work best.

So next Friday, if I have time to do an entry, I promise to make it better, and pay attention to those things I didn’t pay attention to this time. I promise to apply the lessons I learned from all the wonderful people who challenged me to stop trying to pull a fast one, stop thinking more of myself than I ought. Most of all, I promise to apply the lesson of humility I learned. It was long overdue and desperately needed.

So, to Linda, CalliopesPen, Sherri, Louise, Al Bruno III, and every one of the great people who sounded off on the piece – thank you. I needed you this weekend and you delivered. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

So … how was your weekend? What did you all do? Have fun? Ready for Christmas yet?


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13 thoughts on “Post Critique Syndrome

  1. I wondered about you over the weekend…you were pretty quiet. I’m glad you learned something about how you write, because I know how much you love to learn, how you reach for perfection. I read something, wish I could remember where, which said a critique group is a place to be bad, because we learn by being bad. Not saying your piece was bad, obviously, but it had elements that didn’t work like you’d expected, and that taught you more about your craft than if everybody had just great-jobbed you. You’re lucky you have so many people willing to give feedback week after week.

    You and Fal are certainly foremost among those sweetie. Thanks for worrying, but I’m fine. I’m trying to be more durable about such things; I agree, I love learning and strive for perfection. Sometimes that makes me weaker than I should be, but it also keeps me reaching, stretching. I did learn stuff from this, all of it good, IMO. 🙂

    Hey, and something you said in this post, about the perfect noun-verb combination…I think if you have a strong enough verb you don’t need a modifier.

    Well, you always need a verb and object; usually it’s a noun. But that’s exactly what I mean — if I have a strong enough verb/object combo, no modifiers will be needed. That’s the goal. So disallowing adjectives for myself, as I did with adverbs, can only benefit my writing, I suspect. 🙂

    Glad you’re feeling better, and thanks for the mention. 🙂

    Thank YOU for being there to steer me right. 🙂

  2. Seems I missed the event. Giving critiques is hard–and then I don’t know if I know what I’m talking about. All the mistakes in my own work say–you’re in no position to criticize missy.

    Oh, that’s me lately — to a tee! I feel I’m never qualified to offer any feedback, and the more I learn, the less qualified I feel! 🙂

    But it is great if you learned something–without getting defensive. Good for you.

    I don’t know if I managed the “without getting defensive” part. I tried though. And thanks!

    • Well, I didn’t hear defensiveness in your post. So more accurately, good for you for finding a way to manage your defensiveness other than telling people off. Or telling people off where they could hear you.

      LOL! Well, okay, I get THAT feather in my cap at least! 🙂

  3. Wait a sec… Since when do you write fiction?


    Har-dee har har! 😉

    If you want my opinion on your piece, I haven’t one to give. I’m waiting for the movie version.

    So am I. I’ll let you know when they option it. We’ll watch it with a bucket of Mary Brown’s chicken.

  4. Now I am anxious for Friday! Don’t rush me, lots going on this week! 😉

    Me too! … haven’t decided to do one or not yet, but will likely not experiment quite so much this time. 😉

  5. Thanks for the mention and I’m glad I could help. You’ve always left me very fair and helpful comments on my stories and I’ll always try to do the same.

    I’m glad I’ve been of some use on your stories, Louise. Some have already been published and I always feel like a chump when I leave “feedback” on those! 🙂

    I spent my weekend in front of the TV. I’m such a TV junkie!

    Me too! HA!

    I usually have my flash piece written by now so that it can sit for a few days before the final edit, and here I sit with no ideas. Maybe sci-fi!

    Me too! But I’m thinking about something safer. Back to horror, maybe. 😉

  6. Just don’t get discouraged.

    I won’t, I promise. 😉

    I haven’t been reading your fiction because I haven’t had time to give it the useful critique it deserves. I keep saying I’m going to find time, but time seems to slip away.

    Don’t worry, hon. It’s there when you DO have time, and if you never do, well, I can understand that too. I know how busy we can all get. No expectations from me, I promise. 🙂

    The stuff I’ve read in the past is always entertaining and well written. Take this piece as an off day and don’t worry about it. We all have those days.

    I tried to do just that. Thanks, sweetie. I appreciate the support and encouragement.

  7. Chin up. 🙂 You’re a brave man, putting your creativity out there on the line again and again. I guess you can’t win ’em all.

    No, you really can’t. And that’s okay. As long as I don’t lay an egg when it’s time to seek representation and publication, I’m okay with laying one here this weekend. And if it helps me be a better writer, I’m all for that. 🙂 Thank you!

  8. Oh, I don’t know. You tried something you haven’t before and it didn’t work like you wanted it to and you did it in public. It happens.

    It does. And it only didn’t succeed, I suspect, because of the 1k limit. If I could’ve expanded on that as it would’ve been in the actual scene, it probably wouldn’t have flopped. Thanks for the feedback and encouragement; hope all is well.

  9. Okay, I do not think this flopped. Not at all. But you know that already.

    And a more wonderful comment on anything I’ve written I’ve never received.

    Please don’t go back to the safety net! Maybe just this week while you “recover” but I would just LOVE to see more like this last one.
    S-T-R-E-T-C-H yourself. Humor me?

    Um … we’ll see. For #fridayflash, though? Not a lot of ROOM to stretch, doll. 🙂

    I think Linda is AWESOME for the line by line. One of these days I’m going to request another poet to do that for me. I know I have so much to learn and for some reason, I don’t think I would be offended or get defensive because I am not pouring my heart and soul into this right now. I’m too overwhelmed with other things and having distractions might make this the ideal time to get a critique. I’ll share my results if I do. 🙂

    “So much to learn”?! Holy moley, sweetie, if you ever get to a point where you feel you’re close to knowing the craft there won’t be room enough in all the known universe for the AWESOME you’re going to pump out. You blow most everyone away NOW. The idea of you getting BETTER bends the mind!

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