Friday, February 05, 2010

Critiquing with a Heart

I struggled with a title to this post as I'm probably guilty of not always critiquing as kindly as I could. But I'm learning.

Yesterday a fellow writer shared with me how someone who was reviewing her book told her she should trash the whole thing. The plot didn't contain enough twists, it needed more conflict...the list went on. Trash all 600 pages.

This isn't her first book. But she was eager to learn to write better and so put herself out there for more people to review her work.
Harsh words. Trash the whole thing.

Have you ever been critiqued like that?

I doubt it. Most of us enjoy critique partners who work with us at editing and strengthening our words. We might have to toss a few chapters, but certainly not everything.

I've read this woman's work. It's good. She's found her voice but yes, she's got some POV issues and some information dump issues but she's gaining.

Hopefully we all are.

The lesson I learned from this? Be careful how you critique. Do it kindly, honestly and with words that encourage--not destroy.

We are all works in progress.

Have you ever endured a bad critique experience? (I hope not from me!!) How did you deal with it?


Natalie said...

I once shared my query in an online forum. One commenter basically said my idea was crappy and certain to be a "dud." It really hurt, but luckily a few other commenters came to my defense and said they thought it sounded great. I'm so grateful to them, because I might not have queried at all if the first guy was the only one to critique. And, in the end, it was the book that got me my agent. :)

Shirl said...

I guess that's the reason I remain a closet writer.

Jody Hedlund said...

Oh wow. I can't imagine anyone having the nerve to devastate someone that way. I think you're totally right. We can be honest, and we need to be, otherwise what's the point in critiquing. But we can say it in love--for sure!!

Lin Floyd said...

I feel like a compliment should perceive any critique. What you liked about the book or story then some suggestions for improvement that can be used or not. Criticisms given can help and we all need to toughen our skins so we can not take them personally but look for any elements of truth...then find a different critic. lol!

Carmen said...

That was pretty harsh! I think people should give constructive criticism. There's always more than one way to say something. Sometimes power goes to people's heads, you know?

Andrea said...

I praise GOD for sending loving critique partners to me. They faithfully mark up my work with their little red pens, but it is all done in love. They desire for me to succeed as much as I do.

hugs, andrea

Janna Qualman said...

That's horrible! I think it's so important to separate the nasty from the helpful. As writers ourselves, we have to be conscious of such things when we help others.

Jan Cline said...

Yes, I have, and it was upsetting, even though I knew she was right. (it wasn't you!) I dont mind hearing criticism, but the way it was put was unkind and unnecessary. I agree that critiques can and should be done in an encouraging way.

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

I've had a bad critique which made me want to shred everything I ever wrote and convinced me I was delirious think I could be a writer!

But that was one person's personal opinion and like with a diagnosis, I wanted a second, third...opinion. I got them and the comments were both encouraging and helpful.

Heckety said...

I think the aim should always be to build up and encourage- but then I taught junior school english for years so I would say that.

I don't think anyone has the right to pulp anyone else's work because all critique's are subjective- its unavoidable. Helping a person do their best is the aim and takes sometimes a LOT of skill and tact.

Any idiot can pulverise, all they need is a sledgehammer.

Susan R. Mills said...

I've been lucky in my crits so far. They've all been kind and constructive. I hope the people I've read for feel the same way about my critiques of their work. This is a great point. Everyone needs to remember this when offering feedback.

lakeviewer said...

Somewhere I read that you should sandwich your critique. One good thing, followed by a change necessary, followed by an outstanding element.

That last part will lift the person up enough to want to change the middle part, and ask for more.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

So true, Terri! I feel so bad for her. Hopefully she'll be able to receive a more fair critique from someone else.

Nancy said...

If I ever had a major work critiqued, I'd want someone like you to do it. You are very kind.

I think the critiquer was too harsh. Six hundred pages is worth fixing up.

Karen Lange said...

I agree with you, Terri!

Jill Kemerer said...

I want to give her a big hug. What an awful experience. I've only had one painful crit. experience and it was from a contest judge. Some of what she said was true, and some was not, so I just moved on. That's all you can do!

Katie Ganshert said...

Yikes, that's horrible! Reminds me of Debbie Macomber's key note speech at ACFW conference. And editor told her once to throw her manuscript away. It got published two years later. Writing is SO subjective!

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Critiquing is an art form. It can and should be done gently. With a little care a person can point out problems without destroying the writer. Then, of course, there's the other side, we have to be willing to hear we need a bit more work or skill.

Best Wishes Galen.
Imagineering Fiction Blog

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

I've never had anyone trash one of my manuscripts. One author gave me wise advice: "Watch who you allow to critique your work." The effects of a nasty critique can cause a major setback.

Susan :)

Jessica said...

I've only dealt with one nasty critiquer and she didn't hurt my feelings (well, at first she did) but eventually she didn't because I realized she had it out for me when she found older subs of mine and trashed those too. LOL The lady hated me and the sad thing is I think something I must've said in my crit of her work set her off. She was the first person I ever critted and I tried to be very kind but evidently I really hurt her because after that she always, always, always tore my characters apart. Oh well. We live and learn. This is a good post. I can't imagine anyone saying someone should trash their story. That's pretty harsh and rude.
Did you hear about Debbie Macomber's keynote at ACFW? She said an editor told her to toss her manuscript and never write again. And now look at her. :-) You can tell your friend that story! LOL
And the good news...only writers know about backstory dumps and pov. If a reader loves the story, those things probably won't bug him or her. :-)

T. Anne said...

I had a really hash rejection today. From an agent. One I really wanted. It doesn't feel good and yes, it makes me want to trash the whole thing. But I can't. It's my paper baby and I love it. I see something special there even if they didn't. It sure doesn't feel good though. I can really comiserate (sp?) with your friend. Happy early Valentines Day Terri! XOXO

Sassy Granny ... said...

Not really. In fact, when I think of "critiquing", or even "criticism", for that matter, I think of the enemy - the one forever accusing believers before the Lord. It has a way of harnessing my own tongue; and giving pause to how I might BEST share a truth with someone, for whatever reason.

A critical eye may be necessary for some purposes, but it's not one suited to me, or for me. Truth can be delivered with powerful gentleness - but for sure that can't be unless love drives it.

So good to see your buoyed heart, my friend.


Anonymous said...

I've been lucky enough to have constructive criticism to my work, not 'trash it all' comments. That's hard! Who thinks they have the right to say that? What one person likes another one wll dislike. I've read a few bestsellers that I do deem worthy of their success. But it's just my humble opinion. So, yes, always be kind. Offer solutions. Never put anyone down.

Helen Ginger said...

I have been in such a group. When if became clear to me (I was driving home meeting after meeting screaming) that it was toxic for me, I dropped out.

Straight From Hel

BeckyJoie said...

I've learned both to listen to critiques and to ignore them. There may be a grain of truth in the dirt slung at me but also there is no need to wallow in the mud. Tough critiques build the writer up if the writer can toughen enough to hear it. I remember my first tough critique. I cried all the way home. Later, I was able to sort out the truth from the prejudice of what the reader thought. It didn't make it hurt any less but I think it helped me to prepare for how readers might react to what I write. Ya can't please all of the people all of the time. Right?


Whew! Ouch! Raise the Shield!
I'm with Kathleen - sounds like the enemy playing the "jealousy" trump card here instead.

I too, am learning by God's grace [and still often fail], to speak words of "kindness and encouragement", done in love -because that's how TRUTH should always be given!

Just came back for a visit and I'm glad I did.

Choosing JOY, Stephanie
JESUS ONLY in 2010

Sande said...

Yes. And it stopped me writing for yes. I had the same advice although was ten years younger.

I've since learnt more about people and their motives, about motives and grace, and about boundaries and picking who we allow to shape us.

Good critquers are hard to find.

Nehha said...

Sometimes people who make such comments themselves do not realize how harsh could a casual comment be on a learner.

We just need to know what to grasp and what to ignore :)

Heidi Willis said...

Ouch! That's harsh!!

I don't think there's any book that can't be saved. A good critiquer will find the things that work, and find good suggestions to make what doesn't better.

And as a writer, it's important to remember no ONE person is the only view.