Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lessons from the 99th page

Quite a while ago, I submitted my 99th page here, the 99 Page Test Website, which asks you to submit your 99th page for feedback.

I'd just finished up the awesome 99th page blogfest, and so this seemed like a swell idea.

Although it was mostly dialogue, I felt relatively confident in LOU's 99th page. I read a few of the other pages on the website and wrote detailed critiques for them, the kind of thing I try to do for my critique buddies: what seemed to be working and not, if I'd read further and why. And then I sat back and waited.

I thought I'd learn a little about my page-- the sort of feedback you'd get from a mini writing group. But mostly what I got was one or two word comments, some random, some hurtful, some enthusiastic.

There were many conflicting opinions:

" it's really beautifully written."

"Is this a 'Bonny & Clyde' story? Then perhaps, but it didn't come across like that. Not too badly written, though."

"Very good, crisp writing"

"this style is difficult to follow"

"I enjoyed the style and the characters made sense quickly."

"I liked this, it had an interesting voice to it and seemed well written."

And some rather blunt ones:

"The simile, "airtight as a laundry basket" seems like a pathetic attempt at humor in a scene that doesn't even require it."

"Horrible people having a rotten time doesn't fulfil my needs for literature – I can get that in real life, thanks!"

About 1/3were thumbs up/down without comment.

At first I was sort of appalled. But then I realized my 99th page taught me something important... not about how to improve ol' #99 or whatever else, but how to take criticism.

At first, each offhand comment landed like a haymaker. I mulled over what to fix on my page, maybe I should take out that damn laundry basket simile. But then I'd get the opposite reaction from the next reader, and some random thing from a third and in this way I began to learn to let it just roll off, to know my own heart and make sure the critiques I accept are either

a. From those I trust and respect


b. Common criticisms from many different people.

Maybe I could have learned all this from Rick Nelson: "You can't please everyone so you got to please yourself"

(Not a One-Hit-Wonder, by the way)


Christine Murray said...

Criticism is difficult to handle, but how you take it can make or break your work. And at the end of the day, you can't please everyone.

Travener said...

I think that's good advice. If everybody loves it, that's one thing; if eerybody hates it that's another (important) thing. But not everyone is necessarily going to like (or dislike) the same things. said...

Ooooh! Like the idea of the 99 page test. Now must get to page 99 of WIP.

Jolene Perry said...

I've been thinking about this a lot. I have finally found a few crit partners that I really, really love, and trust. It takes a while to find that. I've stopped doing blogfests or other things where a mass amount of people will be critiquing. It just messes with my head.
I have a few partners where I know I'll take almost every suggestion they make, and that's a happy place to get critiques from.

Also - a random page sampling is a hard one. First pages? I get that. Random pages? Not so much :D

Lori M. Lee said...

That site is slightly addicting lol. I love the idea of the site, but you do have to look at the comments and criticisms as a whole. At best, you realize something is wrong with your page (or you realize it really does kick ass!), but if nothing else, it's a fun experiment!

Anna said...

I agree! Best to look at the comments as a whole. But each one is a learning experience, sort of mirrors the real life of bookstore browsing. I figure if it toughens me its worthwhile. Lately I read the comments, smile and move on.

Nina, it IS fun, though. Also fun to read the other pages.

And Jolene, I agree about the random page 99. First pages are a better indicator.

Callie Kingston said...

You perfectly captured the issue with crits. Soooo frustrating. I was inspired to elaborate over at my blog:

Alicia Gregoire said...

That stinks about the feedback you received from the site, but you made a dead-on point about criticism.

Perri said...

Thanks Alicia. The feedback was okay really, higher than average and all that. Mostly, it just surprised me-- especially those last two comments. They are sort of snarky-cute :)

jabblog said...

Criticism is hard but if the work is in the 'public domain' (I hate that phrase!) it's going to attract favourable and unfavourable responses.
On balance, I'd rather have honest reactions than safe bland comments.
I think you've found the answer and I enjoyed the Ricky Nelson clip:-)