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Schäfer's Gloves-Off Iron Maiden Challenge

The challenge I've been craving; the dilemma we experience; the value of sparring

By L.C. SchäferPublished 6 days ago 4 min read
Schäfer's Gloves-Off Iron Maiden Challenge
Photo by Bogdan Yukhymchuk on Unsplash

This won't be for everyone. That's OK.

Sergeant Butterman? Little hand says it's time to rock and roll.

In a nutshell: gloves-off, balls-to-the-wall, honest-to-goodness frank feedback.

Whether we crave it or dread it, we all know we benefit from helpful feedback.

Readers don't always know why something grips them, or why it loosens its hold on them - but readers who are also writers have a very useful skillset. They can. They're better able to pinpoint what is wrong (sometimes it's something tiny, like a little pebble in your shoe) and they can articulate it.

I say "they". I mean we.

I guarantee you, there are times you squandered this talent and blew smoke up someone's bum (maybe mine) because oh, I can't say that, it would be mean.

The Dilemma

In general, I welcome feedback. But there are a small handful of pieces that mean a lot to me. Enough that I want them out there in the world. They deserve to be read. I hope someone enjoys them. But also enough that criticism is harder to take on the chin.

On the other hand - frank feedback is valuable.

That leaves us reader-writers in a pickle. We often don't know which type of feedback to leave. We don't know whether honest criticism will be a boon, or a crushing disappointment. We err on the side of safety, and we find something nice to say, or we keep schtum.

Thumper in Disney's "Bambi"

Don't get me wrong. This is one of the good things about this platform - but there is a downside. Which is: sometimes we go without the feedback we would benefit from.

Sometimes we want someone to tell us what is wrong with a piece we've submitted. I know I do, anyway. I want to grow.

Be honest - you've read some absolute tosh on here and said nothing. Probably right here on my own page I expect.

That's because you're basically a nice person. You're a writer - you get it - we put a lot of ourselves into what we do. That can make it very tricky not to take criticism personally, so you tread carefully. I applaud that display of empathy.


Do you have a piece that flopped, and you don't know why?

I definitely do. I brace myself, and the punches never land. I fumble forward, blindly, guessing at what the unspoken criticism might be.

Here's an interesting wee note: I used to ask for feedback all the time, right at the end of the piece where I thank you for reading. It could be a coincidence, but those pieces got far less engagement than my more recent ones, where I have given up asking (because you're all too bally nice).

I've come to realise that an ask for criticism is a big ask. It's asking to engage with your writing in a deeper way. Most people don't want to do that. They want to say something nice and move on to the next piece.

The Value of Sparring

Not only is honest critique a valuable opportunity for learning and growth, but it provides us an outlet for any negativity. We might be in danger of becoming a circle jerk of toxic positivity here. The negative will come out elsewhere. Surely channeling it mindfully in a useful direction is the best medicine.

This is why I chose the boxing ring analogy - a positive outlet for a less welcome aspect of ourselves. We can't just it let run amok, but we do need to find a way to integrate it and make it work for us.

To Participate:

Nothing fancy! There are two ways:

  1. Leave a link to one of your stories that you'd like to receive the Iron Maiden treatment.
  2. Critique someone else! If no one else fancies it, I volunteer as punching bag, and already suggested Moonlighting as a piece to flex your critique muscle on. (I've got some really useful feedback, so thank you for that!)
  3. OR:

    1. Submit a piece to Critique dissecting one of your own stories (link to it if it's already out there). Invite others to join you in searing it mercilessly, and hatching a better version of it from the ashes.
    2. Thoroughly read someone else's story (one they have offered up for the purpose) and critique it in their comments.

    Whichever way you do it, use a hashtag (#ironmaidenchallenge) so people who stumble across it don't just think "wow, this person is a piece of work, huh, everyone else seems so nice!"

The rules

  1. Submit first; critique after!
  2. Only critique others that joined in (ie. they are specifically asking for this type of feedback)
  3. Critique the piece not the person.
  5. Keep the goal in mind - to help the person get better.


Thank you for reading!


About the Creator

L.C. Schäfer

Flexing the writing muscle.

Never so naked as I am on a page. Subscribe for "nudes".

I'm also Twitter if you'd like to connect elsewhere.

I value feedback, and reciprocate reads and comments.

Also writing under the name S.E. Holz

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Comments (18)

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  • Dana Crandellabout 23 hours ago

    I've definitely got one to throw out there! I wrote this for the Purple Clouds challenge and I was pretty proud of it - in fact, I'd hoped to actually write the book for which it would be the fist chapter. It wasn't received nearly as well as I'd hoped. Help me out here, fellow creators. Lemme have it! https://vocal.media/fiction/summer-under-the-clouds

  • Donna Fox2 days ago

    L.C. I loved this. It’s just a big thing for us reader/ writers and it’s huge on Vocal. I think feedback is so important but it also boils down to comfort levels, meaning that sometimes people don’t want to offend someone they don’t really know! I love the idea of this, I will have to dig to see which one I want to submit!🤔

  • Paul Stewart2 days ago
  • Mackenzie Davis3 days ago

    LC, I really love that you're championing the constructive feedback movement! I have participated, here is the link to my Critique article. https://vocal.media/critique/rip-this-to-shreds-please. I invite any feedback, per the rules! Lol.

  • RM Stockton3 days ago

    This is a splendid idea. I do not publish much, but I am always looking for genuine feedback. I do not have much experience writing, but I honestly believe that getting honest, constructive feedback hones our skills, whether it is from someone with great experience or even a beginner. I, for one, value feedback, even if I do not ultimately incorporate someone's suggestions into my writing. As a "commenter", however, I admittedly hold back, usually adhering to the axiom you have highlighted above: "if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all." It is difficult to know how someone else is going to receive criticism, no matter how constructive it may seem. As I have time, I will browse through and comment on some of the stories highlighted here. Thanks for spearheading this!

  • Hannah Moore3 days ago

    Ok, I am back for this - I had no capacity when I first read it, now my partner has fallen asleep on the landing outside the kids' rooms and so I am taking that as a window.... I, frankly, warmly welcome feedback on ANY piece I write. I think. Yes, I do. And I wrote a piece inviting more but got...well... shall we say that I did not hone my craft as a result. I will link that piece here so that anyone can choose a piece from those I suggested in it. Then, I shall read until my partner wakes up....and then probably come back later for more. https://vocal.media/critique/not-gonna-cry

  • Sara 5 days ago

    https://vocal.media/poets/love-pt2w00dha I thought this would get a lot more traction. Please pull it apart

  • I said I wouldn't but here I am. Do what you will ;) https://vocal.media/critique/an-audience-with-death-a-critique

  • Oh... interesting... Well, I'll throw my hat into the ring, why not :) Tear apart my beloved darling Invasive Species, I'd love to hear some honest feedback on it https://vocal.media/horror/invasive-species-sp4903l6

  • Well, thanks to rule number 3, looks like we can't call anytime an idiot sandwich 🤣🤣🤣🤣 I'm so happy you came up with this that it opened up opportunities for other to get iron maiden treatment as well! Who? Me? Nahhh, I'm not joining. Kbye! 🤣🤣🤣

  • So I've been thinking about this all day - since I read it this morning. I didn't want to comment until I had an actual vaguely coherent comment to make. So, here it is...I started sharing just over a month ago. I was terrified. I'm slowly finding my feet and just about standing, albeit hunched.So, I'm not ready to take on your challenge as much as my newly grown self would like to run. I'm still learning to walk. But if there were a small group of writers who might consider setting up and sharing before 'submitting'- I would be 100% in and up for whatever! Sorry it took me so long to reply! It's been mulling about all day! And, great piece by the way!

  • Nice idea, and thanks for promoting this in such a positive and humorous way. Here's my entry to the #ironmaidenchallenge ! https://vocal.media/futurism/booba-at-barbenheimer-m3zo0zaj And writing constructive criticism is indeed hard. Globe Soup had some good guidelines, a list of things to focus on like: characterization, tension, POV, scene, word choice,etc...and trying to write in the style "This could be even stronger if..." or "I'd like to know more about this character's ...."

  • Kendall Defoe 6 days ago

    Well, I'm jumping all over this one...

  • Hmmm. I like where you're going with this, LC. We often wonder if some say nice things to us but don't really want to be honest. Hate to feel like we're getting a pat on the head and a "good job" for some of our work. Maybe? Maybe not? The difficulty would be that the receiver of criticism needs to read with an open mind (i.e. be gracious), interpret in the context of what they were trying to do (i.e. be smart), and change in a way that balances the two (i.e. internalize and create). Personally, I like to give (and receive) input that is beyond the mere grammar and nuts-and-bolts and into the conceptual what-works-what-doesn't-and-how-does-it-make-you-feel, though a little of both is good. Pernoste and I are going to be busy working on our novel off Vocal for a short time (writing here minimally), so may not be able to participate, but I love the idea and may be able to join in later. 💙Anneliese

  • I agree I do enjoy honest feedback. That being said, I feel like there's been a few people here that go “beyond” being helpful, and I don't know if it's just me or they treat everyone like that, but they'll nit pick at my story and be like “I found this one specific words boring and you didn't add a description of a tree so that ruined the whole story.” and I'm like, gee thanks, not helpful lol. But again, If it's an actual criticism that can help me improve, much appreciated. Otherwise, don't critisize just because you're bored haha! Anyway, you wrote a great piece! I enjoyed reading it!

  • Mohammed Darasi6 days ago

    100%. I don't have a clear vision of where I want to take my writing, but I definitely want to improve it and I would love proper critique. I mostly write poetry now, but I'm not gonna ask for critique on those because it would probably be too annoying. There is a piece of fiction that I wrote a while ago and might want to rewrite it, so critique would be helpful: https://vocal.media/futurism/welcome-to-limbo P.s.: L.C. if you haven't checked out that other link I shared in your original post and you don't want to read it again, do this one. It's atleast a contained story

  • Paul Stewart6 days ago

    I wholeheartedly agree with everything you've said in this piece, hard not to. I've heard from people that don't write on Vocal and who join write's clubs and things and get their stuff routinely torn to shreds....because it's valuable. I am not sure what I am going to submit for this...but I'm game. My fiction particuarly could do with the extra reads if anything lol (see...it's an upside because you get extra views lol) but I shall take a pause, a think, put on my big man pants/trousers and then post a link! The one time I recieved critique, for a post I did in Critique that offered a few pieces for critiquing - https://vocal.media/critique/fiction-critique-request (that no-one, save for Ashley Lima) took me up on, I got some valuable feedback!

  • Rachel Deeming6 days ago

    Mmm. I'm going to think about this very carefully. I may or may not engage. You know my feelings about this-mining for gold or exploding the mine shaft? It's one of the two. Whatever, I admire you for putting the question and yourself out there. You've got bigger (metaphorical) balls than I have.

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