Thursday, June 17, 2010

He Has a Right to Criticize Who Has a Heart to Help

I am breaking my blogging silence this week to speak up on behalf of authors everywhere who suffer from needlessly harsh critiques.  I'm disturbed by some that I've encountered on certain websites lately.  It seems that some of my fellow wanna-be-pubbed's are getting a case of "Author Fail."

The above quote is by Abraham Lincoln, who also said "If you look for the bad in people, expecting to find it, you surely will."  It seems that some critics are always looking for the bad, and always finding it.

I have to include myself in this, because there are times that I have been harsh without intending to.  The Internet is a difficult mode of communication because it allows for no tone of voice or inflection.  The words - and ideas - are laid bare on the screen, and are thus usually read in the worst possible light.  This is one case in which I think softening phrases are not just allowable, but absolutely necessary for polite communication.  "Very"  "perhaps"  "a little" "sort of."  I advise you to sprinkle these phrases liberally throughout your critiques.

Remember that for every sample of writing, whether good or bad, there is a person behind it who has put their heart and soul into it.  Some are inexperienced and desperately need encouragement.  Others may be so shy that it has taken great courage to submit even in an anonymous forum such as the Internet.  Every critique is subjective, and styles vary greatly. 

It is not surprising that the worst critics are those who are the least likely to put their own samples up!  Perhaps this is not that they are raving hypocrites, but because they are such perfectionists that they can't bear the scrutiny they expect to receive.  I'm always willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt.

All I ask is that benefit in return.

"He has a right to criticize who has a heart to help."


  1. My experience recently has been different. I've just tweaked the start of my last novel, Heart of Rock, after advice on Flogging the Quill and a perceptive comment from Pete Marchetto on Slush Pile Reader. I was grateful to receive honest opinions and helpful advice.

    But most comments on Authonomy these days are so full of indiscriminate praise they are useless; and I was critical yesterday about a novel on YouWriteOn, then was disconcerted when I read the mainly very positive comments by other members - positive to the point of being misleading. I felt a little harshness would not go amiss.

  2. I don't visit Authonomy, Lexi, so I don't know about that. And I totally agree with useless praise being of no value. But lately I've seen some rants that really bother me, and some good stuff that got totally ripped apart - no praise at all - just because others didn't relate to the genre in which it was written.

  3. I do like criticism but you are right in the internet does not show tone. I think if I would be able to talk to certain individuals face to face their criticism would sound different.
    At least make it human and not that I'm under the person who gave me the feedback.
    If that makes sense.

  4. Balance is so important, and graciousness too. I had to crit a piece in which I didn't like the style at all. I had to set that aside and look at other elements I did feel qualified to talk about--where the POV could be deeper and the characters made more multi-dimensional. I think we need to know our own stengths as readers when we critique, and stick to what we do well. And when my reaction is overwhelming dislike, I need to step away and say, "I'm not the right reader for this piece."

  5. Great article, thanks for bringing it up. I've participated in some Blogfests and wince when I see examples of what you're talking about.

    There really is a softer, kinder way to point things out without crushing the receiver's spirit.

    Thanks for tackling a tough subject.

    That Rebel, Olivia

  6. Anonymity breeds aggression. Sometimes, criticality can be helpful - i.e., sometimes diplomacy is overrated - but too frequently cross that invisible ether-sand line.

  7. I don't mind critiques, so long as they are reasonable and I can at least see it from the critic's POV.

    Also, they'd better avoid personal attacks and ridicule. Unless something truly is funny, they should never laugh at your work or make snarky remarks. Use humor if you like, but don't make fun.

    Really, all you need to do is be professional. That's all.

    - Eric

  8. It's something I know I have to be careful of, and I generally aim to get in at least one big dose of positivity, even when I feel the need to pick up on things.

  9. Pssst, popping back in to let you know you have an award over at my blog...



I apologize for the word verification. I hate it, but the spammers made me do it.