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Monday, June 25

What to Do When Your Critique Feedback Gets Ignored

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

In a critique group, advice goes both ways—we give and we receive. But once in a while, the feedback we offer goes ignored. Our “gifts” are returned unopened.

It’s irritating when you spend hours reading a manuscript, make a multitude of comments, and carefully summarize your thoughts with advice on how to fix any issues you saw, and then the writer ignores everything you said.

It’s doubly annoying when that same writer asks for your advice manuscript after manuscript, and you know you’re wasting your time giving it to them. You could just submit the same critique and they wouldn’t even notice let alone heed your advice.

As frustrating as this is, it’s important to remember a few things:

1. No one has to take your advice.


Your advice might be exactly right, but if the writer disagrees, that's their prerogative. They have to do what they think is best, same as you. You’ve no doubt ignored advice you’ve received in critiques before, so try to understand how the other writer might be feeling. Your way might not be their way.

Also consider that the writer might not understand what you suggested. Perhaps they’re not at the skill level yet to take your advice, or (brace yourself) maybe you didn’t do as good a job explaining your views as you thought.

(Here’s more on the good and bad of ignoring writing advice)

2. Don't get pushy about what you think they should do.


If you're discussing the topic with the writer in a post-critique wrap up, it's okay to explain your point and why you think it's a good idea, but don't shove that idea down the writer's throat. Not only is it rude and presumptuous, it will just make them more resistant to listening to you in the future.

Put yourself in their shoes—would you want someone to force you to edit your manuscript in a way you disagreed with? It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s about a writer deciding what they want to do with their own writing.

(Here’s more on the difference between a writing problem and a “not for me” issue)

3. Don't get mad at them for not listening.


It can be so frustrating to be ignored, especially if you believe your advice will help the writer or the work. But you've done your job by offering that advice, and you can't take it personally if someone decides not to use it. You might just have different views on what that manuscript should be.

(Here’s more on critique and beta reader etiquette)

4. Consider that you might be wrong


It is possible that your advice isn't good advice for that manuscript. Maybe you learned a rule wrong, or you misunderstood something in the story, or your take on the situation isn't right—maybe you really are missing the point. It happens even to the best of us.

(Here’s more on writing personalities as critique partners)

5. Try and help them write their story, not yours.


It’s tempting (and easy) to suggest what you'd do with a story when you read it, but your take on it might not be the same as the writer's take. So while it's helpful to offer suggestions you feel would improve the story, try to keep what the writer wants in mind.

Changing their story isn't going to help them improve what they want to do, even if you feel starting over with a new plot is what is best for it. If you're suggesting things they just flat out don't want to do from a story or plot standpoint, they won't listen to it—and they shouldn't have to.

(Here’s more on a first look at a first draft)

6. If they never listen, stop critiquing their work.


If this happens frequently, maybe it’s best if you decline to read that writer’s work. You two might not be a good fit, and there’s no point in repeatedly frustrating yourself (or the other writer). And if they truly just think they don’t need help and resist all attempts to help them, why keep wasting your time? There are other writers out there who need help.

However…

If you’ve noticed a lot of writers are ignoring your feedback, that could indicate the problem isn’t them—it’s you. You might consider reevaluating those ignored critiques and determine if maybe you were going about it the wrong way.

Maybe you weren’t clear about what you meant, or maybe you demanded when you should have suggested. Ask a friend if you’re too harsh, or if there are things you can do to improve your critique skills.

If the person ignoring your feedback is a good friend…


It’s a risk since you can come across pushy if you’re not careful, but you can always ask why your feedback is being ignored. Some writers are too embarrassed to say they didn’t understand something, or feel like their work sucks and get discouraged by negative feedback. They might even feel they’ve taken enough of your time and don’t want to pester you to clarify what you said. Tact is key (on both sides, as the writer might not want to say “because your advice is bad”), so consider how you want to approach this is you choose this route.

In the end, you have to decide if it’s worth it to you to keep critiquing work when you feel you aren’t helping that writer. These relationships can be salvageable, but sometimes the only course of action is to part ways and find new critique partners.

Have you even had your advice repeatedly ignored? Have you ever repeatedly ignored advice? Why?

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Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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