Thursday, May 6, 2010

In which I have something similar to what might be called an angsty rant. But not really.

Criticism is an unavoidable part of life as a writer. Even if nearly everyone likes your work, there will still be someone who doesn't.

There is a difference between critique and criticism, but it's narrow. I see a critique as something you offer yourself up for; criticism is unsolicited. Also, critiques tend to be nicer and more constructive.

For the purposes of this post, I'll lump them both under "crit."

Right now, I have a piece in a contest, and all the writers who have also entered the contest have to critique other entries.

The comments on my piece have been mostly positive, but there is one commenter that I feel just doesn't get it. And this, right here, is the most frustrating part of being a writer-- no matter how careful or explicit you are, you can't control "it." IT is intangible, and impossible to grasp. You either get IT, or, you don't.

Likewise, I can't control the other writers and whether they get my writing or not based on the sample offered. And it's hard to not be able to argue back. Even when we have IRL (in real life) critique groups, it's hard for me not to defend myself, because I do put incessant amounts of thought into every word that goes on my pages, and wrestle with every decision to do something out of the ordinary, or in style.

Now, I probably sound like a spoiled brat, so I'll back up and say that I don't usually have this reaction to every crit I receive. Even if something is hard to swallow, I'm pretty good about taking the crits that resonate with me. If it really will make my writing better, why would I want to ignore that?

What I have a hard time with is people who "don't get it." And I don't fault them for not getting my work, because not everyone will. It's so hard to not respond, though, and correct misconceptions. Yes, I intentionally capitalized that letter. No, "fiction novel" is okay if it's part of the genre (at least last I heard).

But I won't respond, at least not there, because a.) as per my post at the Archives on Monday, I will remain professional online, and b.) it's not a habit I want to get into. If I'm serious about being published, I have to understand that there is going to be criticism of my work. And I can't track down every person who doesn't get it and correct them, can I? Likewise, I don't want to be *that* person. *That* author who has a public meltdown over a bad review and ruins their rep forever. If I'm going to have to take it from a lot more people someday, I may as well learn in the small scale now.

What's hard about criticism for you?


  1. I know I'm someone who can be pretty critical when critiquing, but I'd like to think I couch my criticism as more an opinion and offer constructive feedback on why something doesn't work for me.

    Just coming in and saying "this doesn't work for me" (or leaving off the 'for me' if he's particularly nice) is useless w/o reasons why.

    And, like you said, not everything will click w/ everyone. That's fine w/ me. Harsh criticism is fine w/ me. As long as there's some explanation for it -- even if it's just something like "just not my style"... In the end, though, I tend to be my harshest critic b/c I'm never happy w/ what I write even when others seem to be.

  2. I actually like harsh criticism. If I think they're right then it's good thing I had their eyes to see it through for a minute but even if I think they are dead wrong it spurs me on. "You think that's not gonna work do you? Well you just watch me MAKE it work." Probably not a very mature reaction but I find it stimulating.

    Of course I still like to wait a while before making revisions just in case there is more emotional reaction than I think there is at the time.

    Really what I worry about more is giving good criticism. I'm hard to please. Half the published books I read don't quite do it for me but I'm also aware that that doesn't necessarily make the writer in question bad. Just not the writer who writes books I like ---but when I'm critiquing they asked for my opinion. I want to point out actual weaknesses and show them where they can enhance the style they already have and not just little ticks that annoy me but it can be tempting. Especially when it would just be so much easier to cross the whole thing out and write. 'Start over from the beginning and this time write it like I would.'

  3. First off, let me start by saying that no one who is going to comment on (or read) this blog has given me the kind of criticism that makes me feel like they don't get it.

    Bane-- I don't mind harsh criticism. In fact, I welcome it, especially the way you say, as constructive. I don't like wasting my time, so if something I'm doing isn't working, I'd rather know, you know? You gave me a lot of think about with V, and not in a "he just doesn't GET it!" kind of way. :)

    Taryn-- haha-- I know exactly what you mean. That's where one of my current projects came from actually, I read a book by another author that didn't do it for me. Got so mad I decided to write my own :)

    You give great critiques, by the way. Always insightful and helpful.

  4. My least favorite kind of crit is something kind of minor that I've already fixed. I hate when people lay into me about something I already noticed and changed on my own. I'm editing and revising constantly, and most of the time when I ask for crits, I'm going to have reread it and revised it at least once (if not twice) the minute after I've sent it out--because I'm kind of a spaz like that. :-/ But that also means that if I missed something minor before I sent it, I've probably caught it already afterward, and I don't need a chapter and verse lecture. Just give it a highlight or an editorial mark. If, on the other hand, it's something that recurs throughout the novel, then by all means, a lesson might be necessary.

    The other thing I hate? When people give me the third degree about my history and assume I haven't done my research :( Unless I'm asking for a fact check, or you've looked it up yourself and double-checked your assumptions and found out I'm mistaken, give me some credit for professionalism, yeah?

    So I understand where you're coming from, L.T.! (And I think we are both participating in the same contest :) ) Sorry-- I might have ranted a little bit there!

  5. Amalia-- Rant away :) It feels good to get it out sometimes. I was wondering if some of your work was in there... I won't ask which one is yours, but I'll wait and see if I'm right :)

    I know what you mean, too, esp. on the history. I think you and I share more in common that way than you probably know-- my first novel was a historical fantasy involving Greek/ Roman/ Norse gods, so I totally get the whole fact-check thing. Good luck in the contest!

  6. L.T. I would be super interested in hearing about your first novel! And chatting it up with you, too. When the contest is over, we will have to swap numbers :)

  7. I had to hold myself back from posting when someone critiqued my first page and reamed me for including a sycamore. She said I should have done my research because that tree wasn't present in ancient Egypt.

    Wrong! I DID do my research and have examples of papyri with sycamores. I think I've taken every other critique with grace, even when they sting. But that one ticked me off because the critiquer was just plain wrong. Grrr...

  8. In your honour and in the honour of wall the Writwrs and Poets, I published an ilustration.

  9. I know exactly what you mean, the critiquer that "doesn't get" your writing and therefore can't find a good thing to say about it, redlines all your efforts at voice or style, or merely hands it back to you, commentless, and shrugs.

    This is the conclusion I've come to: unless you are a writer with best-seller inclinations, your writing is going to resonant with some people, and it won't with others. I can almost always pick up a best-seller (no matter the genre) and enjoy it. But if I pick up your average new release, there is only a 50/50 chance I'll keep reading it. It's nothing personal against the writer or their skills; what she's/he's writing just doesn't interest me. A lot times this has to do with preferred genres, but a lot of times it's personal preference.

    Just my two cents worth. After much philosophical soul-searching after crits that have left me in tears (and I am NOT a crit newbie, either! Been doing this for over ten years)

  10. Ugh, I hate it when people don't get IT. It makes me go insane. I want to argue and defend myself and force them to get it.

    On the other hand, if they do get it and have critiques it doesn't really bother me at all. I want my story to be the best it can be. And other people's views are removed, better than mine because Im much too close.

  11. Ah! Stephanie-- Sorry I didn't respond sooner. I think I read your comment after hours on my phone and never came back to reply :( I know what you mean, though, it's like, yeah, I *did* think about that and it *is* okay. Frustrating, fo sho.

    Skizo-- Um, thank you. It's lovely.

    Margo-- Yes, I was just talking with my WF about this last night-- people who critique style/ voice are kind of odd, to me, but I think you may have cleared it up.

    Melissa-- exactly. I don't mind critique if it resonates with me. I, too, just want my writing to be the best it can.