Critiquing Woes: Why It Pays to be Nice

Writers are an odd, lovely bunch. We're all rather quirky, prone to theatrics, and have idiosyncratic tendencies. Which are traits that help us become who we are: Storytellers on ink-and-paper.

We are imaginative, dreamy, and we tend to get passionate about our work. So what happens when we get together and poke holes at each other's beloved novels?

A very long time ago, writers were pictured as hermits...a lonely peculiar artist laboring within the confines of a metaphorical cave, with only words to keep him company. Now? Hardly the case. Writers flourish from every crevice of such a cave. Writing groups and communities abound, with promises of better sales, much like a store window banner enticing shoppers to come and avail of their 50% merchandise discount.

And so it is that we're equipping ourselves with Alpha and Beta readers. We clamor for literary agent sites that offer free critiques for our queries, first pages, pitches, whathaveyou. We see the sign CONTEST! and we jump in with our 250-words, never you mind that they're unpolished, unedited, unfit to be seen by any other person excepting our dear mother (who loves us anyway, and could probably get us to try out for American Idol even when we sound like a loon or a strangled lunatic, whichever image you prefer).

But. Getting a critique is essential for progress. Having a second, or fourth, or tenth pair of eyes check out what we've been slaving over for years can help us spot problems we had missed. We know this, and therefore, we seek for critiques.

Now, there are etiquettes we need to observe. Just as we've been taught to follow the Golden Rule (if you don't know what it is, you're a lost cause, kid), we should mind our manners when offering or receiving crits from others.

1. We get it. This is your ultimate MASTERPIECE and you've poured your soul, sweat, blood (is that what the stain on the corner is?), guts, and other bodily innards into this manuscript. We know because we've done it too, minus the bodily innards, of course. Do NOT curse us, invoke the Furies on our heads, threaten or toss notes with cut-up magazine letters on our doorsteps if we say Chapter 4 does not flow, or you have comma abuse problem and must seek professional help. We won't come near you even with a 100-foot pole if you do.

2. If you are even remotely afraid of copyright issues, do NOT post your work at all and then accuse the hapless writer who stumbles on it and offers to help of attempting to steal your crap. Trust me, unless your Stephen King, you're not worth plagiarizing.

3. Do NOT sit and pout in writer's forums, or whine that no one's come to offer a crit on a piece of work you've put up for review. Honey, it's a give-and-take relationship. If you don't make an effort to help others, they're not gonna come and help with yours. It's nothing personal. Everyone's busy, and if you're too busy to give, everyone else will be too.

4. If you've gotten, say, ten similar feedbacks that are not to your liking, do NOT dismiss them and go off to look for someone who's willing to tell you you're the next J.K Rowling. Especially if that someone is (again) your dear mother.

5. Magic words do work in real life. Saying "PLEASE" and "THANK YOU" will earn you brownie points. More if you actually send real brownies. =)

6. When offering crits, DO remember that there is a real, alive person behind the name or avatar. Someone who's got feelings, too.

7. When you offer crits with the intent to showcase how SUPERIOR you are, please...DON'T. This is not an EGO 101 class. If you must feed your ego, go somewhere else. Visit your mom, for goodness' sake.

NOTE: Moms are just AWESOME!

The bottom line is: It pays to be NICE. The people who sign up to be your critiquers, Alpha or Beta readers, are your homies. They have your back. You need them. So play nice. If you're involved in writing communities, the same adage applies.

Got any more critiquing woes? Feel free to share. You can also read up on other rants...er, discussions on this topic here.

Photo by Niklas Hellerstedt


Jen said...

Yes, yes, and yes! No one likes a whiner and nothing is ever perfect the first time around. We need others to find flaws we cannot see because we have look at that dang MS 3,154,280 times! Give your critics a break, geez!

Liz Fichera said...

Treat others the way you'd like to be treated (My Mom talk me that). ;-)

Lori M. Lee said...

haha! Great post. Love it! And so, so true. Very much a give and take relationship, and it's so easy to forget there is a real person behind the words. I've seen a lot of critiques that made me go O___O and *wincewincewince* lol

Mindy McGinnis said...

Great post - and very true. The thing to remember is that it's possible to give someone a very thorough critique that has "negative" comments in it w/out tearing them down. As a rule, if I am critting for someone I trying to say one positive thing for every 3 corrections / negative observations.

Carissa Elg said...

Brilliant, as always, Cherie! I'm heading into my critique group come June 1 and a little nervous to see what they find! ACK! This experience shall be interesting... ;) Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

Critiques is a necessary evil. On the one hand I need the outside perspective. On the other, deep down I have to fight to suppress the natural tendency to go on the defensive.

In the end, I know their intent is pure & 9 out of 10 times I do make the suggested changes. My readers knows now that in the beginning Im going to be resistant but given enough time to absorb the why behind the recommended change, I do heed their eventually heed their suggestions.

Angela said...

I have never handed out my writing to be critiqued (I used a couple of betas, but because they were my mom and my BFF, they were useless). Can you believe that? I know- shame, shame, shame on me. HOWEVER, I will be conquering that fear very soon. I promised myself I was going to do everything "right" this time around with my second book.

It's funny how I can send my work out to agents, but the idea of having one of my peers read my writing is terrifying!! It's that old fear of not being "good enough." I have this vision of someone reading my writing and saying, "Is this girl for real?" *shivers*

Awesome post, my witty friend (you're such a funny girl!) :o)

cherie said...

Thanks guys! I had a brilliant comment but blogger gobbled it up. :-/ Nah, it wasn't that brilliant.

@Jen: 3 million times and growing, right? :D No to whiners, indeed. We already get our fill at home with kids who say, "Why is the ketchup touching my chicken nugget?"

@Liz: Yup, that's the Golden Rule!

@Lori: Yeah, I've definitely seen those kinds of critiquers who make others weep. There is such a thing as too impersonal, even when we say it's nothing personal.

@Mindy: Terrific rule! Will have to use that. :)

@Carissa: Goodluck, girl! You'll be fine. Have a blast--it's a fun learning experience.

@Sophie: I totally understand. Ego, after all, is the bane of mankind. We can't help it sometimes. But if we have awareness and we put things in perspective like you just said, we'll see that our critiquers are not out to get us, but to help us. ;)

@Angela: It is easier for me to have a complete stranger look at my work than have someone I know do it. I think it's because we value our friends' estimation...not so much with a stranger's, who hardly knows our favorite TV shows. But more often than not, the people who start out as strangers-turned-critiquers become our friends. :)

LTM said...

going both ways, it pays to be nice. Giving and receiving. I'm happy to say I've only had good experiences w/critters. I hope that continues. thanks for this, Cherie! I'm sure there are people who DO need to read it!!! :o) <3

The Red Angel said...

This is a great, great article--thanks for sharing your tips. You are so right about how critiquing is a give-and-take relationship. I was a beta reader for this nice girl a few years back, and I really enjoyed reading her work and helping her out but she never wanted to return the favor. 0_0 It felt like beta-reading her writing was more of a daily homework assignment than anything else.



Anonymous said...

Awesome!!! The only problem I have on critiques in contests (which have done and now sit confused) are anonymous comments who often have harsh, too harsh of words. I try to offer some good with the bad. Not, "hey, you suck writer. I wouldn't ever read this"- anonymous. These are onlost of peoples query, pages, loglines etc. AARGH!

Jemi Fraser said...

Great post! manners and kindness are always required!! I've lucked into the best crit buddies imaginable - honest and kind (the best combination ever) :)

Léna Roy said...

Gorgeous. Makes me want YOU as a critique partner! Best way I've found to critique and inspire is to ask a lot of questions!

Anita said...

Even better than brownies: Godiva truffles. Oh my, yes. That'll get you somewhere w/me, yessiree. LOL

Great list my sparkly and ingenious pal. :) It's all about the golden rule, you know? There's a way to critique and still be gentle. And there's a way to accept criticism with grace and class, even if you don't agree w/what's being said. It's all about tact.

Clarissa Draper said...

I have learned so much from my critique group and I have also learned what not to do. This is a wonderful post and I think people who truly want to become better writers should listen to the people in their critique group. Open your minds, writers!

Cherie said...

@Leigh: Lucky you to have great crit partners!

@Red Angel: Yeah...I had a similar experience once. It never works when one is doing more taking than giving.

@Bekah: People commenting anonymously think they can get away with being rude because no one knows who they are. Yeah, let's just say we don't need their opinions, right?

@Jemi: Another lucky writer with good crit buddies! Yay for you ;)

@Lena! Hello and thank you for following my blog. Ha! Maybe I'll take you up on that once my WIP is done *wink* =D

@Anita: Yup, you said it right. Godiva Truffles huh. Now I know what to bribe...er, gift you with, ;D

@Clarissa: Right on. I love this line: also learned what not to do. So true. ;)

Thanks everyone for your insights and feedback! And Blogger is still messing with me, so if this comment posts as Anonymous, you all know it's really from me--Cherie ;-)

Anonymous said...

Love it--much needed advice!

EVEN when you're being honest, manners are a good idea. You can TOTALLY be honest without being BRUTALLY honest. Brutal honesty is always more brutal than honest ANYWAY.

A.M.Supinger said...

Loved this post :)

cherie said...

GreenWoman: Inspired by your rant. See the link? ;)

AM: =D Thanks, hun.

Anonymous said...

Cherie I saw the link! I am happy to inspire! I felt all glowy and famous and stuff. :)

Anonymous said...

What an awesome post!! I coincidentally JUST sent my MS to my first beta reader ever, and then I happen to check out your blog and find this!! :)You changed me from scared and nervous to excited and giddy so thank you. And I promise not to whine when I get my feedback! :)

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