This week: Criticism: Constructive or Otherwise.Edited by: Fyn
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Constructive criticism is a helpful way of giving feedback that provides specific, actionable suggestions. Rather than providing general advice, constructive criticism gives specific recommendations on how to make positive improvements. Constructive criticism is clear, to the point and easy to put into action.
Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.~~ Dale Carnegie
When virtues are pointed out first, flaws seem less insurmountable. ~~Judith Martin
The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.~~ Norman Vincent Peale
You have to take criticism with a grain of salt because you're never going to please everybody. ~~Yolanda Adams
You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one. ~~John Wooden
Few people have the wisdom to prefer the criticism that would do them good, to the praise that deceives them.~~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.~~ Winston Churchill
Constructive criticism is of critical importance to a writer who is endeavoring to become a better writer. There are two sides to this issue.
On the one hand, is being told a piece of work is excellent. When you ask someone what they liked about a piece, they need to be able to tell you WHY they liked it. Or, you need to be able to tell a writer why. Otherwise, nice as it may be to hear, it is empty. It truly means nothing without specific reasoning on what the reaction is based upon. The writer needs to know what it was that worked, that resonated, that made it click, or made it memorable! This allows them to tailor future pieces the achieve the same results.
On the other hand, being told that a piece is not well written, isn't any good without the reasoning behind the judgment is equally useless. How can one improve without the knowing? How can one move forward with knowing what it was that made the piece not work? Was it the plot, the storytelling, the grammar, the dialog, the punctuation? What? A writer needs feedback to learn. Imagine you take a test in school, get a failing grade, but nothing on the test is marked wrong. Then what?
Imagine you spend hours working on a piece to have someone give you without saying why? One star means a piece needs a lot of work. Fine. What work? Why? Responsible feedback is important. Otherwise, it feels like someone is being a superior sort of snot, or mean simply because they can. It is perfectly fine to not like a piece for whatever reason, but personally? I would vastly prefer to know why someone thinks a piece needs a lot of work, and what work that is.
Someone once told me that it is my job as a writer to figure it all out on my own. If someone posts something, it is kind of obvious that they think there is something good about it. The way I see it is that we should all be willing to help others do better, to be better.
So now what?
A ton of stuff wrong? Short on time? Then one way is to say something good about. the piece. Good start. Shows potential. Clear amount of effort, but just not there ... yet. Then say something that at least points to problem areas. The tenses are mixed up and it is confusing to a reader. The lack of punctuation makes it difficult to follow. Dialog would help move the story along faster. Something. Then follow this up with something else positive. Short, sweet, took me less than three minutes to write that and it would have been helpful.
Always remember you are discussing the piece of writing, not the writer personally. They might have the desire to write, but not necessarily have the background from school to know all the ins and outs. That makes them ripe to learn. It does not mean they are stupid. Someone might be having a rough time of late and writing sad, depressing poetry might be their way of dealing with a horrendous situation. Don't diss them for writing tons of sad stuff. Talk about that particular piece. Grammar out of whack? Are phrases perhaps different from what you are used to reading? Consider the why behind that. Perhaps the person is writing in a language that is a second language. It is difficult to master writing in a second language, but the best way to learn how is to do it. This is a positive thing that should be acknowledged.
Try to be specific on feedback. I didn't like it. Or, conversely, I liked it. That may be fine and okay, someone did or didn't like something. It is their opinion and all well and good. But, imagine for a moment how much more of an impact one can have by saying what specifically they liked or didn't like. This is helpful.
We can choose what we read. We can choose what we leave feedback on.
Then there is the other side to the dilemma on feedback. Sometimes people don't care for the opinion, on the feedback left. We all have a right to our opinions. We all will not always agree. But if a helpful review is written, with the best of intentions, it is hard to find fault even if we do disagree with it. No one likes pure criticism. This is where the concept of constructive criticism becomes vastly important. It is also where one must be appreciative of the time and effort expended to read and review something. If you didn't like the review, let it go. It is what it is. I like to think that the vast majority of folks leave reviews (and/or ratings) with the best possible intentions in mind.
Personally, on a review that I disagreed with, I'd still answer the review, thanking them for their effort and their time. I might ask if they minded going into a little more detail, that I'd appreciate their input as to why they disliked something. I'd be tactful about it, interested in finding out more on their opinion. I still might disagree with it, but that is on me, not them. I wouldn't give them a hard time about it because both opinions are valid. I'd still appreciate their reading the piece.
A friend told me that writers need to grow a thick skin. True, I suppose we do. More experienced writers have had to toughen up because we deal with rejection letters, odd comments, and sometimes we don't understand why someone doesn't like our material, but we take the good, toss the bad and go onward. One thing I especially try to keep in mind is, especially with newbies, is to be tactful and kind even when a piece is
less than one might like it to be. I'd hate to send a new writer screaming off into the night, crushed because of a horrendous review (even if earned) without there being suggestions on how to make it better. Sixteen years ago, coming out of a relationship where I was told I'd "never be a writer," that would have crushed me. I want the newbies to stick around, have fun and grow as writers. Of late, I've stumbled across quite a few newbies who were dynamite writers with tons of potential, who were well on their way to being fine, fine writers. Being a newbie here doesn't always mean someone new to writing. Even still, while one can slough it off, a nonhelpful review that slams a piece of writing still (for most of us) does hurt. You pour your heart into something and have it decimated can have a most negative result.
Writing.Com is the best place for writers I've ever found. On more levels than I can count. Let's keep WDC on top of the heap, continuing to grow and encourage folks who do write.
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Annette asks: What is poi?
RE: Mirriam-Webster.com: Definition of poi
: a Hawaiian food prepared from the cooked corms [like a bulb] of taro that are mashed with water to the consistency of a paste or thick liquid and often allowed to ferment
It is purple mush, looking something like mashed potatoes. Tastes bland, but apparently, provides darn near everything a body needs to survive.
Bikerider says: Thank you, Fyn for another informative newsletter. As always, I enjoy reading your newsletters. And thank you for highlighting my story, "A Unmarked Grave" . When I read a story with good description I find it easier to imagine myself in the scene. I think sprinkling story world description throughout a story helps to keep my interest more than long sentences or paragraphs of description.
K.HBey adds: Details are important when it comes to describing scenes lively.
Max Griffin 🏳️🌈 writes: Beginning authors get lots of advice. The first time someone said to me "kill your darlings," I thought they meant I should kill off my favorite characters! Of course, they really meant I should delete my favorite bits of purple prose. Great newsletter, and great advice for all authors!
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