Please excuse any mess around here while blog is undergoing damage repair.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

These Slippers Are Fuzzy Soft!

Maybe, too soft. Yesterday, I talked about dealing with criticism with thick skin. Today, I want to talk about when the shoe is on the other foot. (Hmm...apparently I mention shoes without even meaning to. Do you think I have a problem?) Just like we need a Kramer to be honest about our writing, our critique partners do too. We can't be soft when it comes to reading their work. It would be a disservice to them. Now, I'm not saying we need to go in and rip their work apart, but we do need to tell them honestly and openly what we feel isn't working. It isn't always easy. Pointing out faults in another person's writing is kind of like telling your best friend that her boyfriend is a low-life when yours isn't much better. But, it's what friends do, right? We owe it to our crit partners to be as honest as we can be, but we must do so in a kind and respectful manner. I like to start out with something positive, and then point out the negatives, and then return to something positive. This way, the first and last thing they hear is good, and the bad stuff is somewhere in between. This creates a positive vibe from the beginning, and allows things to end on a good note. I'm curious; do you find giving criticism just as hard as receiving it? If so, what approach have you found to be most effective for both the giver and the receiver?

41 comments:

Janna Qualman said...

It is hard! But the key is being tactful with said critique. And, if I'm lucky, I get on of those thick-skinned writers. ;)

I like fluffy soft shoes!

MeganRebekah said...

I am finally getting past the point where I end each critique with a mild disclaimer:
"Remember that all this was just my opinion, and I could be completely wrong. And everything I've pointed out is just a suggestion and not meant to be personal, or to say I didn't like this, because I do. And if you're upset, feel free to cyber-slap me as often as necessary."

Giving criticism can be even harder than receiving it sometimes, especially for people like me (us) who usually go out of our way not to hurt other people's feelings.

K. M. Walton said...

Totally find giving criticism hard - never want to offend or hurt someone's feelings. Like you said, writing is personal.

Hope I did you well, crit partner, hope I did you well...

strugglingwriter said...

"I like to start out with something positive, and then point out the negatives, and then return to something positive." I like to do this too.

My problem is that my partners work is so good and usually so polished that I have little to point out by the time I read it. I give them plenty of material in my writing, though :)

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

My husband and I learned in some marriage class, "Pet, pet, poke." In other words, uplift, uplift, drop the bomb." I like how you added mentioning something kind at the end, too. Good thought!
~ Wendy

Wend's Place said...

I don't think you always have to be critical!

I say what I like and why I like it and then I say what I don't like (if there is anything) and why I don't like it without getting too personal.

It is easier to critique when you don't know someone than when you do!

Enthusiasm and encouragement is better than any form of criticism in my opinion.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Yeah, the sandwich technique (positive-negative-postive) is the best for giving and receiving. As long as all of it is constructive.

Once a loooooooong time ago, I had someone say they "at this point I'd throw your book against the wall". Uh, I didn't think that was too constructive. LOL

Karen said...

I am reluctant to give criticism because a lot of times I'm pretty sure that the person asking me to read what they wrote is actually looking for validation and not feedback.

I don't have this problem in my writing group, but when others ask me to read something for them, I always ask them up front if they want my honest opinion or if they just want me to read it. If they hesitate, I know they aren't ready to hear whatever I might have to say.

Amber Lynae said...

I find it hard offering criticism; however, I can't really lie about my opinion either. I normally try to point out the things I loved, and the things that aren't working for me. So they understand that I am not saying the whole thing is trash.

Strange Fiction said...

I would say, get to know thy crit partners and their personality types. Crit technique can vary from person to person. The advice should be the same...but the delivery can be tailored.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Hi, Susan! I really do find that it's hard to give. I try to remember what I need from a crit partner and go from there. The method you mentioned with positive at the beginning and the end is really good!

By the way, I love your idea of using shoes to talk about writing. It's so creative and works so well!

Cindy said...

I find criticism is hard to give. But I don't feel as bad about it as I used to, particularly because I know that suggestion or bit of advice will be taken if the writer feels it's right. And, I usually try to suggest a different way of doing it (an example) so the writer sees what I'm saying. Then I can make the suggestion knowing it will probably benefit the work. My critique partners do that for me and it's very helpful. They don't just say, "Cindy, this doesn't work--change it", they say, "Here's why this doesn't work and if you try this (they usually put something specific), it could be better". And you know what? They're usually right :)

Lori said...

I think it's harder to give. Maybe because I'm very sensitive to it myself.

Girl in My Own World said...

I find it to be really hard because I know how it feels when someone critiques me. Plus I don't want anyone to take it to heart in a negative way. I try to make it as positive as possible. Very much like the method that you described in your post. However, it is something that must be done if you want to be helpful.

Lazy Writer said...

Janna,
I love fluffy soft shoes, too!

Megan,
Yeah, I don't think the disclaimer is necessary. It discounts everything you said in your critique, like you really don't know what you're talking about.

K.M.,
Have you already done it? I'll have to check.

Struggling Writer,
Good point. We don't want to point out something negative when there isn't anything negative just to have something to say.

Wendy,
I thought of a marriage when writing this post. When I argue with my husband, it's real easy to jump straight to the negative. I try this approach with him too.

Wend,
You make the same point, I think, as Struggling Writer. I agree. Don't try to find the negative.

Jennifer,
No, that is not constructive! That's just downright cruel!

Karen,
Very good point. We need to be sure whoever we are reading for wants constructive criticism before we give it.

Amber,
We definitely don't want someone to think we hate it all. That's why the positives are important.

Strange,
Excellent point. The way we approach a crit should vary from person to person. Some are more tough-skinned than others.

Kristen,
Thanks. I'm glad you like the shoe theme. One of these days I fear I'm going to run out of shoes!

Cindy,
Giving the reasons for your thoughts and ideas on how to fix things is a great idea. I'll have to remember that.

Lori,
I agree. It's harder to give for me too.

Girl in My Own World,
It is something that must be done! Keeping it positive makes it easier to do.

Robyn Campbell said...

EW, shoes! I l-o-v-e shoes. Even ugly ones.:)

Criticism is hard to take. But take it we must. When I first started writing and joined my first crit group, I just knew there was absolutely NOTHING bad that they could say about my story.

Well. They did and they were right. It wasn't very good. So I value honest critiquing done in a way that is geared to help me make my story better.

Thanks for the follow.:)

Nice post. Made me think. And love the shoes! :)

Heather Sunseri said...

This is a really tough subject for me. I'm not really sure that I'm all that good at receiving constructive criticism. Maybe that's why I'm reluctant to join a crit group. I do think I'm getting better at it though.

FictionGroupie said...

I do find giving criticism harder than taking it sometimes because I don't want to hurt someone. However, I think if you approach it like you said, talking about both the good and the bad, it works better.

If all you point out is the good, the person isn't helped very much (although they get to puff themselves up for a while). If you point out all the bad and don't take the time to tell them the things you liked, you risk discouraging them to the point of giving up.

Also, when you give the bad, you have to do it in a constructive way. "This sucks" or "this makes me crazy" is not helpful. Approach it like you're giving a performance review to an employee--professional.

Solvang Sherrie said...

It can be hard critiquing someone else, but in the end it makes us all better writers, better editors.

Patti said...

My nieces have been showing their writing. I'm finding it hard to know what to tell them. Do you stick straight to story or sentence structure. Sometimes you need to gauge what they need to know right now.

Corey Schwartz said...

I find the better a writer is, the easier it is for me to give honest criticism. I know they're good, and they know it, so it is very important to just lay out all my issues. If I know them well, I almost don't even feel the need to start and end with praise. It's more the newbies that I feel I have to sound very encouraging and focus heavily on the positives.

Jenn Johansson said...

I find giving criticism MUCH harder than receiving it. I've always taken criticism pretty well and I have a pretty thick skin, but I like people to like me. LOL It's hard for me to feel like I know enough to criticize other people's work, but I try my best :P

Dominique said...

If I find issues in a friends early drafts, I try to see if most of the problems can be boiled down to one or two simple notes. Then I star the things I liked. That way I say what works so they can do more of that and have distilled there problems into one or two things to work on. I might nitpick more later, but I like to keep it simple at the start.

Beth said...

I haven't done it yet, but again, is SO HELPFUL!

Jody Hedlund said...

I think it's REALLY hard to be completely honest with other writers and even authors. I personally have a hard time critiquing for others. We definitely need to be positive, but then I have a hard time telling the negative things and being honest about them because I'm afraid of hurting their feelings! But in some ways, I guess that's what agents and editors are for!

Stephanie Faris said...

It's tough...yes, I'm not very good at giving criticism, especially when it's someone I know. I always found I did better when I was judging a contest...and the person on the other end of the critique was a stranger.

jbchicoine said...

My natural inclination is to look for what I like. Therefore, looking for the flaw felt unnatural. Now that I’ve done it a little, I find it easier. Not that I like pointing out flaws, but I’ve had open communication with those I’ve critiqued, and there is a level of ‘comfort’ that comes with mutual understanding. I know how much I value honesty, and I take my critiquing partner at her word when she says she appreciates the same. I hope that makes it easier on both ends.

Tess said...

The best rule I've ever heard is, "No but's!" When taking critique, zip it. Don't say, "but, I meant...but, it was...but, but, but..."

And for giving critique, illuminate the positive and then say, "as a side note, maybe you might consider....". I always like to give a suggestion with a tough critique. Instead of saying "the town was boring", I say, "Could you do x or y to make the town more real?"

Girl Meets Gun said...

I have never found it hard to give constructive criticism as long as there are good aspects to the piece of work. If it's a great idea and they're doing well working on it, then it's easy for me to go ahead and tell them what could be changed for the better or left out.

Tess has it right with the "No buts" rule. When critiquing each other's work, the author should stay silent til the very end unless they don't understand something that is critiqued. It makes it easier. Ask questions at the end!

Suzanne said...

Is it okay to say I like to be harsh? I also like a harsh crit.

I feel we HAVE to try to be as critical as possible. BUT, it has to be a critique and a critique is far different than an opinion, so for everything you think isn't working, you have to be prepared to tell the person WHY it isn't and give them some options as to how to fix it. It is a very difficult job. Online, I see far more opinion than true critique. I think many beta readers need to remember the difference. ;)

jbchicoine said...

Lately, I’ve thought a lot about the honesty in offering critique.
I have swapped my MS with 2 writers (yourself being #2).

With #1, we mutually agreed to hold off feedback until we are both done, and have completed our review and comments. This is under the premise that candor would come easier if we weren’t tempted to moderate our words according to what the other had to say (BTW, it was my idea). We haven’t swapped results yet, and I think we’re both nervous.

On the other hand, you and I are swapping and critiquing in 3 chapter increments, and I feel much more at ease this time around. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve now done one critique or because you and I got the awkwardness out of the way right up front. I think it’s the latter.

What do you think?

WhisperingWriter said...

I hate hurting people's feelings so yes, giving criticism is hard for me. But I do it because I know it will help the person in the long run.

Jill Kemerer said...

Good point. First timers are usually not ready to hear anything bad about their work, so if I haven't critiqued someone before, I verify if they've ever had anyone review their work. I try to be extra positive with newbies!

#167 Dad said...

I hated writing classes in college. The critique process was out of control, with limited writers ripping each other's wotk to shreds. Never went much for writing classes or writers groups. It's hard to find good people to read early drafts. It took several years to put together a core of three readers.

Tabitha Bird said...

I don't mind giving, cause I know I can take... but I worry about how that comes off. I try to be soft and gentle and mindful of how hard the whole writing process is anyway, but I am honest. No point saying things you don't mean, and it is not going to help the writer hey.

Laura Martone said...

I love fuzzy slippers, too. Mine are yellow... with little bunnies on them that say, "I just realized. I don't care."

Of course, I do care... I care about hurting others' feelings, so I find GIVING feedback much harder than receiving it.

Laura Martone said...

Hi, Bridget! I just noticed your comment, and while I'm fairly sure you'll never see mine, I just wanted to say that I'm not actually nervous to swap critiques with you... I'm just overworked at the moment. I'm really very excited about the prospect!

jbchicoine said...

Laura, I read all the comments! I guess I’m just the one who’s nervous.

Amy Tate said...

Me too, Susan. SCBWI calls it the sandwich method. Good...bad...good. Works for me!

Regina Milton said...

Giving and receiving critiques is fun because it hopefully leads to growth. I love plunging in to a work and giving it my full attention in the hopes that it can help someone else's writing. I love when people do the same for me. I enjoy the love sandwich approach (i.e. what I liked about it: what is not working: more of what I liked about it) as you said.

Swapna Raghu Sanand said...

I take a lot of care to make sure that I do not hurt a writer when giving feedback. Like you, I start with talking about the positives and then I move forward to talk about the areas of improvement.

When I cover the areas of improvement, I talk about what can be done better so that the discussion is growth oriented rather than a critique session.