Advice is nice

I recently submitted some short stories to a contest hosted by a literary journal called Our Stories.  The reason I chose this particular publication was the big perk offered with my entry fee:  guaranteed feedback.

I did not win.   Sigh.  But!  Through the criticism, I was able to identify two discernable (and hopefully correctable) problems in my writing:   setting the stage for the reader and connecting the reader emotionally to the characters.

Here are some snippets from the advice I received: 

Story 1:  I love how you took us exactly to the moment of action… I was a bit struck though how I never fully grasped deeper than a surface level who anyone is. The other issue was I felt as if my face was pressed up against the story…my suggestion for a revision would be to slightly pull back a few times so we can see other parts of the house or the scene itself.

Story 2:  I see this is … a pattern in your writing that is fascinatingly smart yet has a minor flaw that at least for me is keeping me from being engaged in the story completely.  I find that … I don’t feel close to anyone to make me emotionally connected to the events… I find myself just not grasping the largeness of it.  Again, the same issue appears in this story as the last, the details are lacking about the place, what things look like, feel like.

I value this critique because 1) he’s nice enough to start with compliments, and then ease into the constructive criticism – nice and therapeutic – and 2) he has pinpointed finite obstacles in my work. 

And now that the wall has been identified, I can figure out how to scale it.

A good friend (who holds a masters in creative writing) once told me “you have to put all advice in a sifter, shake some out and only use that which is big enough to make a difference.”

I think of that every time I receive advice – of any kind.  Because writing – much like life – is subjective – what is “good” to one reader may be “crap” to another.  And what is left when you sift out the advice is the pieces that feel right to you.  If you’ve analyzed your work (or life) at all, you have at least some general idea of what works and what does not – and what areas need help.

But getting advice from a pro can often help you locate the exact problem instead of circling around it – similar to the way a GPS can lead you directly to the nearest taco truck.

After receiving this feedback from Our Stories, I went back to read my shorts again.  And I was able to feel the “pressed up against the story” sensation that the editor mentioned.  And, while I personally connected to my characters, I was able to see how someone outside my world may not feel that way.

So what’s the next step?  How do I tackle these concerns?  Stay tuned to find out…

Leave a comment


  1. Good luck on your stories. I think you have definitely gotten it, because your post made me want to know more! You take the criticism as it was meant, as a tool. That’s such a healthy attitude, I’m not sure I could follow suit.

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