A to Z Challenge 2013

Friday, January 14, 2011

Deep Thoughts On A Friday

Since my friend Shaun is delving into the well of deep thinking today, I figured I might want to broach a subject that has been on my mind recently.  If you are seeking Friday Fun instead of heavy contemplation, you might want to bop over to Michelle McLean's house instead.

So I've started being slightly more active in an online critique site where you can critique works that someone has posted as well as have your own works critiqued.  I won't mention which site, since I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

I picked a particular entry and started reading through it.  The problems began almost immediately however, and although I strove to find something positive in the person's writing, I found myself at a loss.  I'll be honest.  I chose not to post a critique, which may be the coward's way out.  I will say however, that I didn't just read through it one time and dismiss the writing as useless right away.  I spent a great deal of time reading and re-reading, agonizing over every bit of it, searching for something I could find to celebrate.  In the end, I could not bring myself to write a critique where I had nothing good to say.

Now I know I'm not a perfect writer.  If my last excerpt is any indication, I have vast deserts in my writing aching for improvement.  But I am honest to a fault, and I guess I chose to go with old adage "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

I guess what I'm seeking here is some really sound advice for what to do when I hit that wall again.  I do believe in the merits of critiquing, both for the person doing the critique and the recipient of said critique.  I truly do want to be better at it.

How do you deal with a difficult critique, where you're struggling to offer positive comments?


Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Good post, Eric. I'm also a member of an online critique site, and I've been in similar situations. Sometimes, if the story doesn't appeal to me, I back out without leaving feedback. Other times (such as when I owe someone a critique), I work very hard to find something nice to say along with my suggestions for improvement.

Amanda the Aspiring said...

I usually ascribe to Sandra's method--if the story doesn't appeal, I don't leave feedback. But when it's something I would like, and I see absolutely nothing to celebrate in an entry, it depends. If others are attempting to help them, and the writer is taking it well, I start out with 'This is quite rough, but there's some potential here. The story is getting lost in ____(a list of the fundamental things that are wrong or missing).' If no one has been brave enough to respond yet, I'd do something close to the above, but without the 'rough' part, so it reads 'There's potential here, but ____'.

I usually do line edits, but for something like that, I'd just do a short critique after that opening sentence or so, maybe pick out a representative line for each problem, explain how to fix it, and imply that they are rampant throughout the text without actually saying that.

If they are lashing out at their critters, I don't help, because they're not ready to appreciate that input yet, so it will be a waste of both of our time. That's the way I've found for doing things, and I always include that bit at the beginning or end about it being my opinion that they can discard or use, depending on how they feel.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've not been in the critiquing position often, but if I encountered something that bad, i wouldn't offer a critique either. Although at some point, hopefully a brave soul will let that person know his writing needs a lot of work.

Cinette said...

I've been in a similar situation, and I admit, I chickened out. I like to use the sandwich approach - positive, negative, positive - but when I can't find any positive, I hate to be the bringer of bad news:0)

jjdebenedictis said...

If you can think of one piece of simple advice that would improve the writing a whole bunch (like adding more active nouns and verbs, or trying to use no exclamation marks), I think it would be fine to give that advice very briefly, then wish the writer good luck.

If your message is very short, the writer isn't likely to fault you for not saying anything nice. They'll just think you're a drive-by critiquer (well--hopefully, anyway... :-) )

Eric said...

Thanks all for the great advice. I'm sure I'll still find it a daunting process when I encounter this again, but maybe I will be able to handle it better next time.

Margie Gelbwasser said...

I'm with Sandra and others in that if it's a critique I need to give, I find something positive. I think you can almost always find something: does the imagery get to you, is there a line or two that stayed with you where you thought "gosh, if only they did more of that, this would really rock"?, do they have a strong command of the English language (yes, this is stretching it BUT I've read stuff where the tense, etc. was so off, I just couldn't get through the piece because it was beyond frustrating), is the IDEA good (this could be a good starting point). You know what I mean... The other thing is that I always feel you can't just give a critique where you say, "I could not connect to the character." Or "I don't understand the plot." or anything w/out giving tips on how to fix. If you critique but also give the writer examples of what you mean and how doing ABC will fix the piece (or that one thing in the piece), then the criticism will be useful.