On Critiquing and Being Critiqued

Discipline

One of the fundamental truths of writing is that a writer is like a proud Mama and her works are her babies.  Adorable, cute, her reason for living.  She doesn’t want to be told her baby is ugly, nor should she be.  However, if she’s told her child’s behaviour is unruly and disrespectful, she should attend to it.  Spare the rod, spoil the child.

The writer’s equivalent is: “Shangri-la may be a wonderful place but they don’t get TV or internet there.”  (my updated term for writing and expecting to get better without obtaining critiques is a fool’s paradise)

Just like there are no bad children, only poorly behaved ones, there are no bad writers, only bad works, whether due to lack of skills, a poorly conceived idea or a zillion other possible reasons. Writing is a product not the actual person.  As much as we like to believe that we ARE our art, we’re not.  A poetic concept but utter bullshite.

So, in my vast **cough**2.5 years**cough** writing experience, I’ve received many, many critiques.  Some coated in sugar so thick, I almost didn’t register the constructive suggestions buried within, some the right blend of salty and sweet, and some like the disciplinary paddlings from a nun at a Catholic school.  BUT most were attempts to feed and nourish me, and I am grateful for every word they wrote and the time they took.

Two critiques stand out for me.  One was on my first novel’s manuscript.   I’m going to share some of the tastier comments the critiquer offered (just skim ’em enough to get the idea).

Beginning on a positive note, the critiquer wrote:

Good exposition.  Even though your strong point is dialogue, I like this.  There’s parts later on in the book where the exposition could be polished, but this is nice.

But it quickly went south:

I want to cry.  In 6 paragraphs, you managed to kill almost all the interesting places this story could go.  Wtf?

This gag again?  Didn’t we already do this in Chapter 8?

If this were published, I would put the book down here and I wouldn’t pick it up again and I’d avoid anything else with your name on it…. At this point I’d want to set the book on fire.

I hate this entire conversation and feel that it’s a waste of time….  THIS feels like finding a penny after losing $20 bucks.  At this point, I want to both set the book on fire AND stomp on the ashes.

Anyway, this book is playing out very much like a high school romance, except that instead of this happening at lunch or recess, it happened at the bar.

This scene reminds me of a bad chick flick.

This feels like a cheesy Hollywood romantic comedy.

I can’t believe I had to read through all that dumbassery to get to this.

I hated this chapter.  It reads like an especially cheesy scene from a bad romantic comedy.

This chapter gives a very high-school (possibly even primary school) feel to their relationship.  He only needs to pull her hair and she can be puzzled about what that means.

I’m really glad that I won’t have to read any more chapters after this.

Crap, for some reason I though this was the last chapter.  Apparently there’s 37 and an epilogue.

At least the critiquer ended on a positive note:

I don’t like Epilogues, but that’s a personal preference.  In romance they tend to be ‘and then they lived happily ever afer’ and add nothing to my enjoyment of the story.  This one isn’t too bad though.

Whew…that was fun and but a teensy tiny fraction of the feedback I received on that manuscript. But you know, all the points made, though not written very tactfully, were dead on in their accuracy.

Now this critique of a short story, no actually it was only a comment as the site allows both, is my latest, nearly two years after I received the above:

This was funny and the end surprised me. But it’s not worth the time–yours or mine.

You’re a talented writer. Please write something worth reading.

Guess which critiquer/commenter upset me the most?

Yep, the second one on my short fiction. It offered nothing of value, gave no reason why the commenter found the piece so lacking, despite finding it funny (and it was a humorous piece).

At least with the first critique, I knew exactly why the novel failed. I am forever grateful to that first critiquer, which is why I’ve saved the marked up manuscript and occasionally pull it out to reread. I didn’t shed a single tear, and even laughed at some of the comments made. The first one told me my child had behaved like a spoiled brat and itemized her transgressions in horrifying detail. The second told me I had birthed something horrible and then ran away.

Lesson to all–words are powerful tools. Please use them responsibly.  A critique, no matter how bluntly worded, should seek to aid the author.

Authors, as receivers of critiques, we should look past the sugar cube or bitter pill in which it’s offered and focus on the substance.  There’s a certain amount of toughening up that has to happen.  I’ve just shared a few of my battle scars and no doubt have many more to come, including more of the type offered by my drive-by shooter.  It comes with the territory, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it nor refrain from sharing my experiences.  Hope I didn’t make anyone wince too much.

I’d welcome comments about some of your more memorable critique experiences.  I get a perverse kick out of these common experiences…but in hindsight…and preferably from afar.  Cheers.

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12 thoughts on “On Critiquing and Being Critiqued

    • Honestly, I was more crushed to realize the critiquer was right than by the way that (s)he told me. That’s why I gave up CPR, called the time of death, and sealed the manuscript in its trunk/coffin. I’m glad (s)he gave me the famous Bones line from Star Trek, “He’s dead, Jim.” LOL

  1. The second one isn’t a critique. Funny how the commenter noted you should write something “worth reading” when the same could be said of him or her. How long does it take to type out: “This isn’t my genre”, “This tale lacks emotional resonance” or “The stakes aren’t high enough”? (Two seconds, in case you were wondering)

    You’ve got the right attitude and the work ethic, ma’am, so keep going. Onward and upward. 🙂

  2. Bloody hell, scary and elightening stuff. I’m running for the hills right now…i’m thinking head, sand and bird/me. Sort of where i’m at with row80, WIP and some hard questions about said WIP.
    I want to shoot the person who left you that comment on your site. Critique should be ….In an ideal world, constructive and helpful. (Why go to the bother of leaving such a useless comment pfff!)

    • Time and experience dulls the horror, I’m happy to say, and it does certainly get easier the more feedback you gather and take to heart and learn from…the helpful kind at least.

      Why go to the bother of leaving such a useless comment pfff!

      My point exactly. It only served to be hurtful.

    • I’m not numb to the sting of criticism, even after 2 yrs, but I’m definitely more resilient. I think that’s about as good as I can expect for now.

      Thanks for the read and encouragement!

  3. You are a tough and resilient writer. That is one long list of comments 🙂
    But I so agree. I really appreciate being given something to work with so that I can get ‘the writing’ in line. We have to separate ourselves from the work.
    It’s kind of like training a puppy. Sure it’s cute when it jumps and licks everyone, but when it’s a four-year old Great Dane and still making the same mess? Not so much…Our job is to get disciplined and train that dog to sit and jump and roll over – but only at our command.
    Thanks for sharing this great post.

    • Thanks, Colleen! You’re so right with the Great Dane analogy, LOL. I have a goldendoodle we adopted as a fully grown dog and she’d never been trained NOT to jump up. Very tiresome now and definitely not cute. But it’s soooo much harder to train them the, ahem, older they get. (Was I talking about my dog or myself there? Hmmm)

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