A critical mass

The purps of being a wallflower.

In the last seven days I’ve had three really useful pieces of feedback. Okay, you could call them criticisms – as if that were necessarily a bad thing – but that wouldn’t do them justice or reveal their true value.

Allow me to elaborate…

I talked before about how writers largely exist in a vacuum. Feedback, of whatever shade, can be our window on the outer world – that strange and mysterious place filled with inspiration and readers. Feedback can also be our guiding light and compass.

Here are three pieces of feedback I received this week.

1. A magazine editor contacted me to tell me that the piece I’d submitted didn’t flow very well. 
She added that the first two paras tied up with the last, but it’s a while before the reader gets there by which time they’ve forgotten the beginning.  She also suggested it’d be better to start with the third para, and identified an inconsistency in the tenses I’d used.

How did I feel?

Delighted and humbled. An editor who’s this engaged in the quality of your work is worth her weight in gold.

2. I pitched to a careers site and offered them a humorous piece. I wrote and submitted the article soon after, accompanied by an image of a tiny oak sapling – great oaks from small acorns grow

This is their verbatim response: This article has been rejected for the following reasons: – The article image is completely irrelevant. – The article content is too just a bit too ridiculous. No job candidate is going to say these things in an interview. This article cannot be resubmitted for review.

How did I feel?

Awkward – like the time I tried doing five minutes of stand-up at a comedy writers’ convention (I lasted four and a half minutes, but at least 30 seconds of that was down to heckling). I wrote to them explaining the relevance of the oak tree image and explained that humour is very subjective. I won’t be submitting material there again, but only because we’re clearly not on the same wavelength. That aside, it’s a great website.

3. I checked my books on Amazon to see if there were any new reviews. Turns out there was, for Covenant, with a score of two out of five: ‘Downloaded it to my kindle but found it really wasn’t my kind of book. Nothing wrong with the prose – the story just doesn’t float my boat.’

How did I feel?

Disappointed. My average has been scuppered somewhat (note the well-chosen boating reference), simply because they didn’t love it and not because they hated it.

And the lesson?

All feedback is useful because it tells you something, even if it’s about the other person rather than your work. You can only write as well as possible and see what the tide brings in.  These days, everyone is a critic, and maybe that’s a good thing in certain circumstances.

That brings me to our second feature. I recently watched a film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. I really enjoyed the film and, as always, I enjoy checking out the special features: deleted scenes, trailers, etc. I’m always curious about what doesn’t get into the final cut and how the balance might have been changed if those other scenes had been included. The other layer of interest, this time, was that Stephen Chbosky wrote the screenplay himself. So, naturally, I nipped over to some book sites that offered reviews of the original debut paperback.

It’s a book that polarises readers and draws fierce praise and equally fierce criticism. Some critics rally against the cult status that Wallflower has acquired (much like Catcher in the Rye, which some of the critics preferred), but their passion is interesting. Unlike my reviewer above, they really felt something about Wallflower and maybe that’s the greatest testament to a piece of writing. Love it or hate it, if the story moves you, it’s probably got something.


  1. Chloe says:

    Tough week! Yet, somehow it still seems to me as if you've moved forward this week. I hope it feels like that to you too!

  2. Absolutely, Chloe. This is part and parcel of being a writer. The week got even stranger last night when an editor came back to me about a book proposal I'd pitched a couple of months ago. She said 2015 was a possibility, but it wasn't a definite yes or a definite no. So that's all clear then!

    Incidentally, have you read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and if so what did you think? I wonder if the film version, with his screenplay, is the book he visualised in his head.

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