Critiques: Not Law, Just Opinions

By Kirsten Lowe

I have been writing weekly book reviews for the Red Deer Advocate for over a year now, and it is still an amazing yet challenging job. As long as it’s a new release, I have free range and can pick whatever book I wish to review. But I always have to remember that my audience ranges in both age and interest. To keep my readers’ attention it’s important that I keep switching it up–fiction, YA novels, history, memoirs, autobiographies, and mystery/thriller.

What’s really important is being respectful to the author. If I read something that I dislike, I politely and respectfully write so, but I always start with “in my opinion” or “I personally did not take to…etc.” I can only speak for myself and give my honest opinion, but I always will end a not-too-good review with some positive things (thus being respectful to the author). The feedback I receive from the community is good and they also appreciate my honest and courteous reviews.

One thing that I constantly struggle with as a writer is the mentality. Some days I feel confident and ready to take on the literary world, others I totally doubt myself. It’s one crazy roller coaster ride. It’s important to remember NOT to take the critiques and feedback personally. I understand–this prose is your baby. You’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and emotion into creating it. With that being said, I will share a demolishing incident that almost made me throw down the pen for good.

I have a historical/alternative fiction novel that I have been working on for quite awhile. For months I had been stressed about the whole political side of that time period and how I could entwine my story around it. In the end I emailed a well-written historian/author that had published numerous books set in that era. In my email I told her I was an aspiring writer, and that I had read some of her books, and I asked her for help. I pitched my novel idea and merely asked for some pointers when it came to the politics. I was excited, hopeful… but what I got as a reply was devastating.

To sum it all up she said that she was “far too busy to tell me how to write my novel.” Uh, I asked for pointers–not a how to guide. Then she proceeded to tell me that I would be wasting my time; the idea I had was overdone and she was questioning why writers like me bothered to make up stories when the truth is already known. I was embarrassed and hurt. A simple no would’ve been perfectly fine, but to say such things to an aspiring writer? But I needed to remember that that was one person’s opinion, and I was not going to allow her to bash my goals.

What I’m trying to say is that to be in this industry you have to take everything with a grain of salt. Listen to the feedback and ask questions. Where do you think I can improve? Are my characters realistic? And remember that there will be readers and editors who love your work and those who do not. No one can make you stop writing except yourself, and that is the biggest battle I am still fighting with to this day.

About Kirsten:

Kirsten Lowe was born and raised in Red Deer. She’s always had a crazy imagination and from a young age would write everything from short stories and fan fiction to personal diary entries. This passion and love for storytelling pushed her to enroll at Red Deer College to pursue her BA in English with a minor in History. Within her first year and a half at College, she co-founded the Creative Writers Student Society and began writing weekly book reviews for the Red Deer Advocate.

Writing Challenge 1: Write a review of the most recent book you’ve read.

Discuss what you did and did not like about it, then dig deeper. Why did/didn’t you like it? Was it the plot, the characters, or the writing style? Was there something in the story that spoke to you at the personal level? Consider then, as a writer, what choices the author made in order to bring that experience to life. What would you do differently? What wouldn’t you do differently?

Let us know what you thought of the blog and challenge in the comments below and on our Facebook page!

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