All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Critics We Don't Need

In my last post, I went on - perhaps too much - about how we can benefit from getting our work critiqued. More to the point, I discussed how to approach a potential critic in a way that gets you the feedback you need to grow and improve your work. In short, we need to ask what we are looking for in terms of feedback so the process can go quickly and efficiently. This time, I am going to offer the flipside of this discussion, and offer a few gentle warnings about the criticism that usually won't help us.

Don't get me wrong - most every form of criticism has some valuable seed of knowledge buried within it. As I often say, if someone's critique is, "This sucks," my first job is to ask how it could suck less - that's where I find a little space to possibly grow. If the person can't give an answer other than that, I note it and move on. Usually there's more discussion than that, but the point is there can be a good takeaway from most everything. The important part is to determine whether it is worth your time and effort to interrogate the critic to find that elusive seed.

Here are some of the critic situations that I have found to be the least helpful to my growth as a writer. There are many types out there, but these in particular tend to show up on my radar the most often. This is not to say that they don't have anything to contribute, but often it is not worth my time:

"Let me tell you about a story I wrote." This, to me, is a troubling beginning to any critique because the critic immediately takes the subject away from its main point - my work. These can be a long walk across a lot of territory just to get across a simple point, and often they do not demonstrate how to fix my writing. I have on a few occasions noted the critic's full explanation, and realized everything between "Let me tell you," and "so my point is" could be omitted entirely while making the same point. (by the way - if you are that kind of critic, the best way to fix this habit is to offer your advice in terms of your subject's story, not your own.)

"Your point is wrong." Ohhh, I hate this one. This kind of critique often comes up with essays, but it can happen whenever a character has a particular perspective or frame of mind that the critic disagrees with. Let's be political and say your character believes in socialism. A criticism of, "Socialism is bad" is not helpful at all to a writer. In fact, it demonstrates that the critic is not separating the writing from the content, and that they might not be the right person to review this work. A good critic can read something and judge the presentation even if they do not believe in the character's motives. Read American Psycho to understand that you don't have to agree with the main character to appreciate the writing.

Let me write this for you. Sometimes people can't help themselves, and I have been guilty of this as well. Someone writes a humorous piece but you feel they've missed a lot of opportunities for levity. The last thing they need is for you to throw some punchlines at them or recommend a funny scenario. A proper critique would be along the lines of recommending they expand on the humor, find more opportunities, and really experiment with the possibilities until it feels right. If they are happy with the humor the way it is, then so be it. A good critic offers advice knowing it might not be taken. A good writer listens to what people say even though they may never use it.

I am sure you can think of other kinds of feedback that just doesn't help in the slightest. When you hear it, you know it. The only advice I can offer in this case is that when you do hear useless advice, just make sure you are not the one talking.


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  2. Very interesting and I know too well of being critiqued. I had a fellow writer go over Birthright, edits and stuff. Right away she hated it. Said it was poorly written and she knew exactly how the story would end and gave me a list of writing books to look at. I looked her up recently and read one of her editing jobs, bad 👎. Birthright has received at least 2 5 Star reviews and can be found literally worldwide and is on Audible. I wanted so bad to give her a piece of my mind, but chose not to stupe to her level.

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