Is Honesty In A Critique A Beauty? or A Beast?

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Hey All,

When I received my first Critique for the first time let me tell you - They were some words I struggled to swallow when I used the Writing Room here for the first time. As some of you on Litopia would remember. It awoken a beast in me, I didn't like it but it was needed to help me see both the beauty and the blemishes in my writing. Because I'm a woman after all and I can't live without my make-up bag, honestly.
But unfortunately Writing is not like Make-up you can't just cover it up and put on a little bit of concealer here and there mostly under my eyes, actually and hope for the best.
There is no shortcuts or cover-ups in writing, you have to accept it as part of you and your writing and tackle it head on.
And believe it or not all my Fellow Writers here, including myself want to succeed. And we do all we can to help each other do that and become better writers.

To me Litopia is a teacher, a classroom and I get to hang out with some very distinctive classmates/characters on a daily basis.
Anyway, as usual I tend to go off track in many of my threads, lets get back to;

How Important is Honesty in Critiquing Writing?

We all know professional writing is highly competitive these days against opponents such as the latest technology and films. As much as I love my films. Let's be frank, it does raise your expectations in books as a reader and it definitely ups the ante and the va-va-voom required in your writing to get a book deal and write something that sells, and as we all hope, very well.

So on that note structural criticism is so important because;

1. It's the most efficient way we as writers improve our skills and write to such a high standard that is required in the book market today.
2. Our written work, short-stories, novels and poetry are often positioned to receive widespread criticism before and after publication.


And guess what? Everyone's a critic - because everyone has an opinion and we are entitled to have such. Anyone can read a piece of writing and opine.

But, personally I think as a Critique we both need to be a beast and a beauty and here is how:-

1. Don't crash the party - Invites only, but Litopia's Writing Room is an open invitation and a creative space.
2. R.S.V.P with care - Be mindful and ask them what sort of feedback they are clearly after. And stay clear from narcissistic types. The song 'You're So Vain' By Carly Simon comes to mind, great song.
3. Bring something to the party as they say never come empty-handed, it's true and it's rude not too - Take the time to really read their work, word for word, line for line and if you stop and can't read on explain why.
4. Devour the food, Not the Host or Hostess - Your feedback should be directed at the writing, not the writer.
5. Let the Good Times Roll - Always emphasise both the good and the bad bits in their writing. We've all got our good and bad bits and jelly bits for me LOL. It's normal.
6. Have fun even if it's not your thing, as they say always try something once - For example - If you're not a fan of Fantasy or prefer to read and write in 3rd Person and not 1st Person have a read of it regardless. You never know, you might surprise yourself.
7. Once the party is over, Help Clean up the Mess - The moment of truth when you need to tell the Writer where the piece falls short. Do this with grace, treat and speak about it like you would want your work to be. Don't use strong negative words, language and don't repeatedly say things over and over.
8. Then Nurse the Hangover - No matter how gentle you are, the writer of the work will always feel disheartened and downtrodden, even if they don't tell you when you ask them. I know I've been there, it hurts. But it's so important to BE POSITIVE about it, be motivated and inspired by the feedback and that is something I have learnt to do, finally. Because your Writing will BENEFIT HUGELY in the end and most of all you will BECOME A BETTER WRITER.

9. The Morning after - The Importance of Reflection - It's hard to do, but us Writers get so attached and become hopelessly blinded when it comes to our writing because sometimes we don't see things as they really are, more so in our very own writing. (Thanks Susan for this one)


Do I regret putting my work up in LITOPIA'S very own Writing Room, at first Yes, now No. Would I do it again? Hell Yes I would.

Because it gave me a thick skin without the need for concealer and looking at my work now, before and after - A BIG Improvement.

Any thoughts, feel free to share :)

Kindest Regards,
Alix
 
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Nice list @RainbowNerdAlix. I think it’s really important to remember that the point of a critique is to try to help a writer, not tear them down. You should be honest but not savage. I’ve noticed people tear into other people’s writing with gleeful savagery in some other, larger forums, which is why I like Litopia. If something isn’t working in your opinion, give reasons why you think so, don’t just feel proud of your own ability to be snarky. Be constructive.

As for receiving critiques, I’ve learned over time that you can’t please everyone. Best to look for a consensus of opinions. Also, it’s good to sit back and think about what people have said rather than diving straight in with edits.
 
To me, there isn't any other option than to be honest when critiquing someone's work, though tact is often more important than brutal honesty. Being brutally honest will only turn a writer off to the feedback being given (and I'll be the first to admit I've outright ignored brutally honest feedback), but taking the time to really explain why something doesn't work goes a long way to help the writer understand why a specific criticism was given.

Take the time to really read their work, word for word, line for line and if you stop and don't read it all explain why.

So, this is one of my biggest pet peeves in critiquing other writer's work. In my mind, if a writer asks me to read a chapter, or five, the worst thing I can do as a critical eye is stop reading somewhere in the middle. If I get to a point where I feel like stopping, that's when I continue on, because it's important to soldier past that point and get to the next bit that draws me in as a reader. If I stop, I can't help the writer fix whatever problem turned me off in the first place. But, again, that's personal preference.

As a final thought, it also helps to have a critique partner - someone you work with for a longer space of time on a manuscript. Having someone you can be comfortable with, who can call you out on stuff, goes a long way in preparing for criticism from others. It's definitely helped me develop a thicker skin to feedback I've gotten in the Writing Room and look at it in a more objective light.
 
And for me also, never ask your family or friends for a critique of your work because they will never be honest with you because they don't want to hurt your feelings.
 
If I get to a point where I feel like stopping, that's when I continue on, because it's important to soldier past that point and get to the next bit that draws me in as a reader. If I stop, I can't help the writer fix whatever problem turned me off in the first place. But, again, that's personal preference.
A fair point and yes it's up to you as the reader to carry on reading or not. But, either way as long as you give valid reasons for that choice. I'm happy with that if it is my work being reviewed, under the radar.
I admit I have been brutally honest at times regarding Critiquing but not in a malice way and I always do that by raising questions within their writing, to self-help and make them think.
And I, myself have been at the receiving end of brutal honesty in a critique. (I think we all have as writers at some point)
But you know what I took it on the chin and felt better for it and in the end and on reflection, I did see where they were coming from.

When I Critique I don't concentrate so much on the grammar, the rules of the english language and punctuation etc.
Instead I focus on the story, the characters, the feel, the tone and how it make me feel as I read it. Hoping to get lost in it, the story.
Personally, I love to get really lost in a good book, absorbed, wanting to read on and turn the page. And I use that as my main pointer, anchor in my Critiquing.
Besides, grammar, the rules of the english language and punctuation are all easily fixable and can come later. Before you start the submitting stage to Agents.
But, not a story so much, it needs to be nipped in the bud soon as really.
 
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But, either way as long as you give valid reasons for that choice.

This brings me back to the question of how you can give a valid critique if you quit reading?

Of course, it might feel like something is off, but how can you say what the writer can do to fix it without a bit more context? Maybe the story starts in the wrong place or maybe something over the next few pages winds up being something that needs to be moved forward. Or back. Seems a bit hasty from a critique standpoint.

From a grammar standpoint, I like to point out anything I see while reading through. While the English language does have quite a bit of room to bend, sometimes things slip through the cracks that shouldn’t. Or mistakes are made that are a habit of the writer (this one is all me). Hearing about grammar really helps in the long run, because too many missed commas, and even a single run-on sentence, is enough to make or break a query!
 
@Carol Rose i don’t mind brutal honesty, but I’ve found that most people equate brutal honesty with being savage in the feedback they provide. Otherwise, I’m all for getting critical feedback...it’s how I’ve managed to come so far as a writer!
Yes. It’s possible to be honest and constructive without being savage. It’s just requires more effort. When I first shared my work on another site I remember one person who would always leave me in no doubt that’s she hated my writing but never why. I was a newbie. I felt crushed, wondered if I should just give up. But others pointed out my (former) love affair with unnecessary modifiers and a bunch of other ways I could improve my writing. They helped me so much. Now I can take just about anything on the chin, but I don’t like rudeness in any area of life.
 
From a grammar standpoint, I like to point out anything I see while reading through. While the English language does have quite a bit of room to bend, sometimes things slip through the cracks that shouldn’t. Or mistakes are made that are a habit of the writer (this one is all me). Hearing about grammar really helps in the long run, because too many missed commas, and even a single run-on sentence, is enough to make or break a query!
I'm with Chase on this one. Grammatical mistakes can alter meaning in unintended ways and can also make reading a text unduly hard work AND distract from the rest of the writing, in some cases. It might seem pernickety, but it's worth getting right.
 
This brings me back to the question of how you can give a valid critique if you quit reading?
But are you Critiquing as a Reader or as a Writer?
Like you said it all comes down to personal preference. Without a doubt you give them at least 2-3 pages grace first, well I do.
But if I can't read on because I get no sense of the story or the characters? And I struggle to find a reason to read on. What then? Would an Agent read on?
It's a very grey area that.
Hearing about grammar really helps in the long run, because too many missed commas, and even a single run-on sentence, is enough to make or break a query!
That's when number 2 comes in :)
I ask the Writer directly what sort of feedback they are after for example they may ask you for numerous things. Such as how was the opening? Did you want to read on? If you did, what made you read on?
And of course, if they ask for feedback regarding the grammar etc, fair enough.
But for me all that, such as the grammar is secondary unless it disturbs the flow as I read then I will say and highlight that because little hiccups like that can stop me from getting immersed in a story.
But, doesn't all that fine tuning, finishing touches come at the very end before you submit to Agents? Personally for me it's not important in very early, first drafts as a reader, for me anyway. Unless asked otherwise.
When I Critique someone's writing as a Reader it's all about the story such as the premise, setting, tone, concept, idea, notion, motivation, themes, characterisation. Is it not?
But as a Writer of course and if they ask specifically for grammar mistakes etc. In my Critique, then I shall deliver.
And I admit maybe as a Writer I'm not completely clear when it comes to what feedback I want from a Critique, sometimes.
 
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Honesty tempered with kindness is the way to go, I think.
Mainly honesty though.
And, it does raise the question - Is there really a kind way to do a Critique? For me, anyway.
 
But are you Critiquing as a Reader or as a Writer?
But if I can't read on because I get no sense of the story or the characters? And I struggle to find a reason to read on. What then?

When critiquing, wouldn't it be best to do so as both a reader and a writer? You make a valid point about getting no sense of the story or characters and struggling to read on, but that's as a reader. At that point, wouldn't it be most beneficial for the author to switch into writing mode and identify where the writing went wrong? After all, the point of offering a critique is to help the author improve. If you stop and tell them "I get no sense of the story or the characters" that doesn't actually help. It's frustrating, at best.

Giving the author the kind of feedback they're after is extremely important, but it's worthwhile to be thorough when offering the critique. That means paying attention to all of the above, whether asked after or not. After all, offering a little bit more may help that author over a hump they've been stuck on...
 
When critiquing, wouldn't it be best to do so as both a reader and a writer?
I do as a Reader throughout and as a Writer at the end.
But it begs to differ, for me a Critique should predominantly encourage self-help and make the writer read it in a different way and see, amend and make the needed changes.
It's hard to explain, and yes of course back-up statements with relevance but at the same it is the Writers job to find a way off the hump so to speak not the reader/critique's job. Mind you, we can give you a tip or two and that's about it. Isn't it?
If not pointing you as the writer in the right direction and doing more than that - Doesn't it turn the reader/critique into an Editor?
It's a hard one really as even Critiquing has its boundaries, unfortunately and rightly so.
 
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There is definitely a kind way to critique. The first step is to read the work as a whole and give it your full attention. A second read through is also very kind if you have time and if the work has good bones.
Absolutely, if the story has got some good bones then it will automatically receive my full attention beyond 2 - 3 pages :)
 
I get what you're saying about prompting the writer to look at things a different way, but if you're going into a critique with the mindset of "the writer's gotta figure it out for themselves", then I wonder whether the critique is going to be as helpful as you assume it will be.
I don't do it for them, No or spell it out for them and I don't expect that as a Writer either. How else would I learn? But I do give them enough pointers to move them in the right direction so to speak, specific feedback, some comments and open questions - To point the way not hold their hand, there is a difference. That's my method anyway and being totally honest in my Critique is a big part of that in a serene way.
 
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Mind you, we can give you a tip or two and that's about it. Isn't it?
If not pointing you as the writer in the right direction and doing more than that - Doesn't it turn the reader/critique into an Editor?
It's a hard one really as even Critiquing has its boundaries, unfortunately and rightly so.

With respect, I think this addition to your last post means we just won't be able to see eye to eye on this issue. It's fair if you think "Critiquing has its boundaries", but as a reader and writer, I prefer not to limit myself when reading another's work. Ultimately, holding myself to a set of arbitrary rules or boundaries means I'm not going to say everything that's on my mind when it comes to critiquing something. And that means I'm not being totally honest.

My personal critiquing style probably does swing closer to editing, but I feel better giving it my all rather than stopping short. That's not to say that your method is any less valid or that your critiques are lacking. I just feel like if a fellow writer asks me "hey, what do you think?", it would be a disservice to hold any of my thoughts back (or limit them in any way).
 
@Chase Gamwell that's fair enough and I totally respect that.
No offence taken and besides, each to their own.
:):):):)
 
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I think it’s really important to remember that the point of a critique is to try to help a writer, not tear them down.
Tick, tick and tick but how far do you help? That's the big question. Do you do more than what is asked when you ask them what sort of feedback they want? What is the dividing line between Critiquing and becoming an Editor? This is something I struggle with both giving and receiving a Critique. It's a toughie.
 
Tick, tick and tick but how far do you help? That's the big question. Do you do more than what is asked when you ask them what sort of feedback they want? What is the dividing line between Critiquing and becoming an Editor? This is something I struggle with both giving and receiving a Critique. It's a toughie.
In a previous private critique group I was part of, we did line by lines. Have to admit, they helped me enormously, though of course we bore in mind that none of us were professionals. After a while, we saw improvements in each other’s work and no longer felt such a need to do writers’ critiques. We just gave our impressions as readers.

According to the guidelines on this site, we’re supposed to offer critiques as readers, so that’s what I do. It takes a little getting used to because sometimes I feel like I’m holding back. That said, people often post quite long excerpts here, so it would be harder to find time for line by lines.
 
I've only recently started in a critique group and it can certainly be confronting as a writer. But it's important to note that your critique partners are humans, writers also, and different from you with a different voice. Not everything they say is going to work for you. As a writer, it's your job to take the critique and pick out the bits that you can use, while not getting too het about every decision your critique partner has made that you would disagree with.

As a critiquer, I think it's important to be brutally honest about your response to the work. That's what the writer needs from you. But raising a criticism comes with the responsibility to explain the issue, if possible with a suggested resolution. No "This didn't work for me", that's not at all helpful. "This didn't work for me because..." is better. "This didn't work for me, and you could improve it by..." is best.

I've found the critique of my writing to be challenging, sometimes stinging, but always helpful. Where I don't agree with the opinions raised, the critique forces me to think critically about why I disagree. If I'm breaking a literary convention or I'm using a particular word, it's intensely valuable to analyse why I'm doing it, the effect I'm trying to achieve, and whether it could, in fact, be done differently.

If the writer can't handle the honest opinions offered, the critique will do them no good. If the critiquer attempts to soften or gloss over any problems they find, the critique will do the author no good.

A first critique session will probably always be painful. It takes practice to take a hit and learn from it.
 
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