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Finding Positive Qualities in a Piece You Dislike

By Jessica Kim


[In conjunction with “Editing a Piece That Frustrates You”.]

Grammarly is indeed a lifesaver. It corrects “response for” to “response to” and “on bed” to “in bed.” If only the authors knew about this...

It's been a tiring day of struggling on a chemistry test and attending volleyball practice. Yet, when the email bearing a new submission pops up on your desktop, you still open it with anticipation. You log on to Submissions Manager, hoping that it would be a pleasant and enlightening read.

Yet, it disappoints.

The critiques start gushing into your mind, and they are on the brink of overflowing onto the Word document your assignment came in. There are petty grammatical and spelling errors in every single line of the poem. Plus, the message of the poem is almost indecipherable given these errors, and if it’s anything, it’s a cliché message about how evil this world is. Immediately, it’s so easy to classify this piece as the absolute worst that Polyphony Lit has ever received, and you are ready to hit that “confirm reject” button. Shrouded by mistakes, it feels impossible to utter a single positive comment.

But Polyphony Lit is not a community of soulless devils. In fact, we are the opposite. As editors, we truly want to help the authors and poets grow. So, while it seems impossible to find positive qualities in a piece you don’t like, here are some suggestions on tweaking this mindset.

1. Breathe.

(Please don’t skip this step.) As common as this piece of advice is, it is important to calm down. Perhaps letting the piece sit for a while will help assuage the frustration from the piece you have come to resent.

2. Tackle the piece in chunks.

Split the piece into different segments (ex. the beginning, middle, and end) and try to find positive qualities in each one. Maybe the beginning of the poem was very cliched, but there was a nice line of vivid imagery in the middle. Maybe the word choice in the last line of the sentence was a good attempt in concluding the piece. Tackling the piece by splitting it into different pieces (haha get it?) will help you focus on each section as separate entities.

3. Take off your critical lens, and look at the piece from a different angle.

As an editor, you’ve probably become overly critical of every piece you see. Although you hate a piece because of your grudge against fantastical elements, ghastly imagery, or flowery language, you should try to look at it from an unbiased perspective. Perhaps the ghastly image of a haunted house was not the best one to use, but it was an eccentric element to the piece and a good stepping stone in delivering an insightful message.

4. Praise the attempt.

Praising a piece you have developed a hatred for can seem impossible. Still, praise the author for attempting a rhyme scheme or an original alternative to a cliché. It may not have turned out to be the best, but authors, especially budding ones, deserve partial credit for their time and effort. A simple comment in the general commentary such as, “I admire your attempt to provide a detailed description of the setting in the beginning of the piece! Keep working on it!” can add a positive light to the critical aspects of the commentary you are sending to the author.

5. Reach out (if help is necessary).

If you have sat in frustration for the past day and failed to find any positive qualities, desperate times call for desperate measures. Reach out to Billy or even some experienced editors for their perspective and advice. It always works!

There you have your five tips to find positive qualities in a piece you don’t like. These extremely bad pieces are pretty rare, or even nonexistent, and you may go through your editing journey without encountering a single one. And that will surely be the case if you learn to eradicate the grudges you have against a piece you don’t like!


Jessica Kim is a First Reader at Polyphony Lit and a blogger for Voices.

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