I’m one of those lucky people who’ve never have contradictory feedback…mainly because I’ve never really had feedback. That is to say, I have had feedback but from writing groups and it’s always been pretty vague such as “I like this part,” and “this part is tedious,” etc. They always pointed out different parts as well so none of it ever really overlapped. Some feedback has been super helpful while others has gotten more of an “Oooookaaaaay” kind of response from me.
But I’ve heard mind-bending horror stories from others who’ve submitted their work to contests, made it close to the end and therefore merited feedback from the judges (some of whom were celebrated authors and others of whom were credited agents and still others who were nobodies – no insult intended because I’m really a nobody as well). What did their feedback consist of? Contradictory statements. One section really moved a judge while that same section was deemed pointless and scrap-able by another judge.
How do you sift through critiques that butt heads with each other? Which one is right? Which view should you have in mind when you revise?
If you go with your first reaction then you’ll probably ditch the negative side and bask in the praise of what remains. This is certainly easier and more convenient but is it better? Not necessarily. It’s true, you don’t have to listen to any of the comments given but you should probably take them all into consideration at least for a short while. Search your brain for your true opinion of your work. Just because you wrote it doesn’t mean it’s gold. Do you honestly like what you’ve written? Are you sure you’re satisfied with it? Or are you settling for something because you just want to move on?
Think about it. Could this section be tedious?
Weeeeell, perhaps it could do with a bit of extra speed.
No, I want it to read like this. I think the slower pace is more meaningful and puts more emphasis on what’s going on.
But why settle for a few critiques? As the saying goes, “Two brains are better than one.” Why not four brains? Ten? Twenty even?
Good luck getting twenty people to give worthwhile feedback in any decent amount of time.
Barbara Poelle, the vice president at Irene Goodman Literary Agency, answered questions submitted by writers like ourselves in Writer’s Yearbook 2014. The article in question is aptly named, “Ask the Agent.” One person asked what they should do with contradictory critiques. Her advice is stellar.
“…Look for a common thread among feedback from a wide sampling of agents before driving yourself crazy taking every single piece of criticism to heart. [If you’re only using feedback from two sources] pull on the thread that resonates with you the most. (Have you been told before that you tend to ‘overwrite’? Or have you been told before that your descriptions are atmospheric?) Follow your instincts on what you feel could benefit your craft.”
Don’t keep comments simply because they flatter your ego. Don’t throw others out because they tick you off. Keep them all, consider them all. Go with what feels most beneficial to your writing. If people contradict each other, get as many more people to critique that part as you can. I’m sure you’ll be able to solve the dilemma soon enough.