to critique or not to critique

Interesting thoughts from Jay Lake on the responsibility of critiquing —

There is a very specific and well-known school of thought which holds that aspiring writers ought to be discouraged at all costs. And I agree with Jay — this is a bunch of hooey. There are plenty of writers who persevere and get published, sometimes apparently despite the quality of their work. *cough*not-gonna-say-who-but-I-know-everyone-can-think-of-one*cough* I say those who are on the cusp should be encouraged by all means. How else am I to get more victims, er, I mean clients. Lovely, talented clients who have worked hard to become so. Seriously, we want the good writers to become better; to try harder. They need to hear what they’re doing that’s working. However, this in no way means that people should be dishonest or reticient in their critiques. That does a writer no service either. As many of my clients can surely confirm, I will always tell them where I think improvement in their work might be gained. Hopefully, I will do this in a way that is constructive and helpful, and not hurtful. To sum up: Writing is hard. Getting published is hard too. If you can’t take the heat… go to the mall… and find some other way to contribute to society.

11 responses to “to critique or not to critique

  1. Aww, he’s a sweetie. I should bug him for edits if I ever lose my mind and decide I’m a writer.

  2. *nodnod*
    At first I was just gonna agree with you, then I was going to say, well if they can be discouraged… but then I thought, Darn Jodi, that’s an awfully elitest thing to think. And you know some excellent writers who get discouraged quite often. And just THE OTHER DAY weren’t you discouraged? Don’t mean you’re going to quit though, right? RIGHT? Right, now get back to work. Crazy ferret lady. *rolling eyes*
    Um. Yeah. So there was a scary peek into my mind…

  3. Thank you for the link and for the thoughts. It is so very easy to become discouraged when one is pursuing a writing life. Notice I do not say career — my career at the moment is what keeps bread on the table, a roof over my family’s head and health insurance to bar the illness wolves from the door. My writing is what keeps my dreams and my heart going. Unlike a lot of folks, I know the difference between writing and making a living at writing. Someday I hope to do the latter, but for now I know better than to give up my day job. 😀
    Thanks for having faith that there are those of us out there that do listen, pay attention to the crit, and then take the advice we’re given to heart and run with it. That’s very heady encouragement indeed.

  4. I really like this entry…
    … you make it harder for me to distrust agents so.

  5. I’d rather a critique that drives me to tears, but makes me realize what’s wrong with my story. Occasional encouragement is also appreciated, but I am less trusting of encouragement.

  6. No need to paint dark pictures. Telling new aspiring authors the facts is often discouraging enough to send the least committed running. Why not go ahead and be gentle about it? I agree–cruel to be kind is all a bunch of hooey.

    • Telling someone they are great when they suck is just as cruel. Telling someone they’re ok when they are merely on the way to becoming ok – that’s where the difficulty lies for the critter. And I freely admit that from time to time I get it spectacularly wrong; so wrong that I begin to question my judgement.
      I’ve recently pulled out of a crit thread because while the piece contained a thousand and one dealbreakers for me, other readers did not seem to be bothered by most of them, which makes me wonder how useful my critique was.
      From the other side of the fence, I am *serious* about writing. While I don’t want to be told that I suck (who does) I am perfectly happy for people to demonstrate _why_ my writing sucks. As they recently have. And the rewrite will be all the better for it. With increasing skill comes a desire for increasingly accurate criticism; and praise from people who equally praise stuff that I think full of obvious problems makes me doubt the quality of my work much more than direct criticism from someone with demonstrably high standards.
      Nobody said it would be easy…

      • *Telling someone they are great when they suck is just as cruel.*
        Absolutely. Never lie, just tell the truth gently–that’s my motto. Most writers are self-critical enough to hear the truth even when it is handed to them wrapped in bubble wrap.

      • I was thrilled to get into my “No Diplomacy Required” crit group – they are awesome (as are the others in my critter family- LOVE YOU GUYS!) and I felt up to the challenge of accepting the honesty. It’s not for everyone, but boy it’s refreshing. I’d just rather hear something’s crap from my critter friends, than from an agent or editor. Even if the critters involved don’t want to have to spend their limited time sugarcoating it.

  7. I remember sitting in WFC in 1997 when A Well Known UK Editor told the room that it was almost certain that no one in it would ever be published. Three years after that, I sold my first novel. The person sitting next to me in that room has just sold her first.
    It’s a very tough industry. But you’re not going to find that out OR prove them wrong unless you give it your best shot first. If you fall at the first hurdle, however, you probably aren’t cut out to be a writer, because so much of it is just sheer hard slog.

  8. Going back through entries, following links from there to here, and I saw this and thought maybe you could give me insight on the etiquette. I’ve corresponded with an agent whom I also had the good fortune to meet in person at a conference, and while he’s got good things to say about what I’ve sent him, twice now he’s sent me a good length email with solid critiques that made me sit back and go, whoa, he’s right, that’s a huge flaw… And while I know, in the end, it may be him as my agent or I’ll find someone else, his two critiques weren’t just eye-opening but immensely encouraging to know he liked my writing enough to take the time to think hard about how to improve it.
    Okay, so that said, while I was out a few weeks ago, I saw a little something that made me think of a joke we’d shared at the conference, and I thought of sending it to him as a small thank-you for taking the time. I don’t mean it as a bribe, just as a Thank You. Is that considered a faux pas in the agenting world? Would you or those you know look at such and go, OMG stalker! Or some such? I haven’t gotten the vibe that he would (and I think he’d find it an amusing gift), but I’m not sure if agencies ever have “no gifts allowed” kind of rules or something.
    If that’s so, I guess I’d just send a note, instead, but this peculiar thing is just so perfect.

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