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Get Your Opinions Off My Stuff! Why Not All Critique Is Equal

Jessica Digiacinto / Thursday, December 9, 2010 View Comments

[Let me preface this article by saying that usually, I can take criticism, and I can take it well.  I took it in college. I took it (in bushels) in graduate school.  I took it from studios and producers who later ended up not giving a shit.  Hell, I even take it at my job...every day.  And usually, I take it with a smile.  Or at least a half-hidden grimace.  Because most of the time criticism helps more than it hurts and is an essential part of being a writer.  Okay.  Now that we're clear...]

For most of my writing career, I’ve entered contests.  While some of them are designed to take your money and nothing more, a lot of writing contests – espescially the ones that include feedback – are a good way to actively let the world know who you are and what you do.  They can be great resume boosters, and sometimes even lead to contacts.

These days, I still enter the occasional contest, but have also started to work for a few, providing the oh-so-important feedback.  So I know how it works.  I know that sometimes readers get slammed with entries and have to juggle their judging along with their own work. I know that sometimes, most of what they have to wade through is awful.  I know they often do it for so little pay it’s laughable.  But I also know that they freely sign up for all of it.

Which is why I was so pissed when I received coverage on a script of mine from a certain contest that shall remain unnamed.  Actually, pissed is an understatement.  Slamming-cupboards-looking-for-nothing-in-particular-kind-of-angry is more like it.

The reason the “feedback” (yeah, I’m quoting it) the preliminary “judge” (yup) sent me was so maddening was because it was clear they either A) didn’t really read my script closely at all, or B) just didn’t get it.  The things they pointed out as needing work were actually the strongest parts of the script, and the way they harped on smaller aspects of the characters made me feel like they were just plain irritated by the personalities – not how well or how wrong I crafted them.

And yes, fine, the whole You Just Don’t Get It! cry is something a lot of hack artists will turn to when they feel bruised, but it’s also the cry real artists let out when they know, deep down inside their vulnerable, nerdy hearts, that the person didn’t treat their literal soul-vomit with the care it deserved.

Look, it’s hard to soul-vomit.  It’s even harder to stand there and listen to someone pick it apart.  But we deal with these things because it’s part of the job.  But standing there and taking disrespect?  That ain’t in the manual.

If you’re someone who’s dedicated to your craft (like, really dedicated.  Not just on the weekends), let me be the first to tell you that you don’t need to take this crap.  Often, we feel wrong disagreeing with critique from someone who’s supposed to know better, but guess what?  Everyone has a bias.  Everyone has an opinion.  And everyone has off days when they pretend they read the whole thing but actually read the first twenty pages and then skipped to the end.

There’s such things as bad critique and bad teachers.  Oh yes, Virginia, they exist.  So the next time someone hands you something that feels fundamentally wrong, just walk away.  Or punch a pillow.  Or buy a voodoo doll online and laugh while you puncture the hell out of it.  Because even though critique is an essential part of being an artist, there’s nothing that says you have to listen to all of it.

{Addendum: That same day, I received more feedback from a different professional source about the same script.  Guess what?  They loved it.  Moral of the story: art is maddeningly subjective.  Make sure you know a good therapist.}

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  • Will White

    As someone who just received a less than fiar critique I’m glad to have my view of “not all critique is good/ helpful” be justified.

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