Writing Contests- Dealing with Critique

April 17, 2012
Writing contests are SO FANTASTIC, y’all.

(I know I’m from Kentucky. I almost NEVER say “y’all.” I just need to make that clear.)

Contests are a great opportunity to get your work out there and have other eyes look at it. Usually contests involve agents- and in many cases, the agent will comment on every single entry so you’ll know what s/he did or didn’t like. You’ll also get comments from everyone else who reads that particular blog.

I know it’s terrifying to think of people actually reading your stuff. I. Know. But you have to get feedback to know what works and what sucks.

Having said that- here’s what I’ve learned from the few contests I’ve been in- my friend Maggie referred to it as a case of “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

My friend Maggie is SO SMART, y’all.

(I know. I did it again. It just seems like the right word.)

Remember that post I did about subjectivity? You have to keep it in mind when you’re taking feedback.

Some of the feedback will be legit—and especially if you are getting the same comments over and over, you probably need to address it. That doesn’t necessarily mean to CHANGE your work. But maybe you need to make things more clear if what you’re trying to convey is not what the reader is getting.

And some feedback will be, as my friend Leigh Ann says- “Nitpicky Nitpickiness.” It seems like some people NEED to find something wrong to prove they can offer critique. I get that. I think it’s weird, but I have to admit there’ve been times when I’ve felt that pressure too. Like, people will think I’m….what? Soft? I don’t know. I’m a hardcore writer, yo.

For instance, in my first 250 words, my MC Harper comes home to find her mom in the midst of one of her infamous cleaning fits. A cleaning fit can only mean one thing- something MAJOR has happened. So before she even goes into the house, Harper texts her brother Sam and is like- “GET HOME NOW.”

I’ve had a lot of people love it. I’ve had a lot of people hate it.

And I’ve had one person tell me that this is just not how teenagers would act. S/he said that it’d be more realistic if Harper texted Sam to say- “Come get me out of here.”

Well, no. That wouldn’t make sense at all. But that person doesn’t know Harper. S/he has no idea that Harper would just NEVER do that.

Which leads me to my next point- from my friend Jenny- “You know your story, you know your characters. Hold to that.”

Don’t I have smart friends?

You can’t address EVERY SINGLE critique. And you’ll want to. You’ll want EVERYONE to love your work. That’s normal. You can’t please everyone. You’ll go crazy trying.

So now that I’ve given ALL MY INFINITE WISDOM on writing contests….here’s a list of sites where you can find some great ones!

Ruth Lauren Steven (She has a contest this month- Entry window opens TOMORROW. Not sure if she'll be doing contests every month, but wanted you guys to know about this one!)


  1. Aww, I'm famous!
    It is so hard to know what to listen to and what to ignore. I'm in the middle of revisions and I'm finding myself utilizing critiques I got from my very first beta readers and wasn't ready to hear. Now, I understand more of what they were trying to say and I can see how to fix it.
    But I've also had critiques that just don't make sense for me or my work. A lot of people don't like a strong narrative voice in 3rd person, but that's how I write. Those are how my favorite authors write. I'm not going to change my voice because some people prefer 1st person. That just doesn't make sense to me.
    After some time in contests and with critique partners, I think I'm learning how to tell the difference between "Nitpicky Nitpickiness" and genuine issues that need to be addressed. It's just taken me a long time to get here!

  2. You are so right--the subjectivity, and the nitpickiness, and...argh!! It's so hard sometimes. I really like what you said about making things more clear if readers aren't getting what you meant for them to get out of it. That's so smart. I agree with Jenny, too, that sometimes certain crits aren't right for you, and sometimes they're not right for now, but might be later. I guess you have to trust your instincts and take it all in and see what resonates with you and your characters and your story!

  3. Hey, there. Great post.

    There is a big difference between someone telling what they don't like about the story, and someone giving you constructive feedback.

    The first is primarily about the person doing the critique, ie: they just didn't like it. The later is about your characters and helping make the story better.

    Don't worry who to listen to, your gut knows the difference.



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