If you cannot offer encouragement with the criticism, don’t send the review.
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I joined the Writer’s Circle a few weeks back believing I was going to get read and critiqued to my heart’s content, and basically would continue doing what I was doing, which was reading, writing, and reviewing.
Boy, was I wrong! They expected me to do something, like editing the newsletter once in a while. I whined and groaned, thought up some great excuses, I even got a couple of rare headaches, but I got no sympathy. (I know Viv, the grammars off, please forgive this one?) So, here I am. Hope you readers enjoy it as much as I am.
This letter is longer than you may be used to, but I have chosen a serious subject and I hope you find it informative and helpful.
A Good Review is Critical
to both the review'ee and review'er.
When I say critical, I am not referring to the first definition, (1) because it has no place here at all, although I didn’t understand the difference as a newbie writer.
(1) expressing adverse or disapproving comments or judgements.
(2) expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work.
(3) having a decisive importance in the success or failure of something; crucial.
critique >noun a detailed analysis and assessment. >verb (critiques, critiqued, critiquing) evaluate in a detailed and analytical way.
review >noun 1. a formal assessment of something with the intention of instituting change if necessary. 2. a critical appraisal of a book, play, or other work.
When I first came to Writing.com, I hesitated to rate or critique. I felt I wasn’t qualified to judge someone else’s writing. I, who couldn’t even put my own words together coherently had no business ‘judging’ anyone. I was also anxious of being honest; I really, really, really, did not want to hurt the feelings of anyone. Knowing how sensitive I was, I knew others were just as sensitive.
Did you notice my use of the word ‘judging’? I associated critique with judging because I didn’t know the difference. I didn’t know how to review critically. As a newbie I thought critical meant disapproval, I was afraid of receiving or giving a critical review.
It is very stressful for any writer, no matter the color case, to post an item and wait for responses. An author must develop a thick skin if he is serious about wanting to learn.
I read most items I opened, but if I found something I couldn’t rate with four or five stars, I wouldn’t rate at all. At the time I was only receiving good reviews too. When I received critical feedback, I didn’t know how to handle my embarrassment of a misspelled word, or the shame of leaving a word out of a sentence. Terrified to post any new items because they were not perfect, I made excuses such as, "I’m just writing for fun."
Can you imagine? I thought it had to be perfect the first time out, which is impossible! I didn’t realize I was working on a draft, and draft’s were meant to be revised again and again, perhaps many times. I failed to see myself in the role of student being taught by my peers, and that was a mistake. This was a new experience for me, showing my work to other writers, it is intimidating and scary and my skin was very thin.
After a few weeks, I began wanting more. I knew my work wasn’t perfect, or even near-perfect, I wanted to learn how to make my writings better. Taking a deep breath and feeling very vulnerable, I posted some items on review forums. Helpful reviews began to come in. I received 2.5 and 3's, but with very helpful comments. Feeling that people were really reading my stuff, I discovered I would rather have a lower star count with a helpful review. The reviews didn’t change my attitude; I changed my attitude toward the reviews. That is when my skin began to thicken, slowly yes, through tears and anger, but I began to understand.
Receiving 4.5 and 5 stars on a 3 star piece builds an ego, but doesn't help anyone become a writer. When I received a 3 star rating on that item, I didn't understand why, since for weeks I thought it was perfect. I read the review and wondered why none of the other reviewers had not pointed out my errors, had not told me I had misspelled words.
Now, please, don’t run out and start low-rating! Unless of course, you can also give an encouraging, honest, helpful review. If encouragement is absent don’t send the review, it is not helpful to you, or the writer.
I no longer look first at the star rating. It is truly secondary to the review, which has become a most important tool. I find I feel freer to give a lower rating now that I can accept one, because I understand the rating system better, and always try to help with my comments. I am learning to give helpful reviews by reading the reviews I receive.
All serious writers find it necessary to have someone read their draft and offer useful, critical comments. Each honest, critical reviewer has a hand in helping a writer turn his draft into a piece of literary excellence. You may even see your name listed in the credits someday.
If you find a piece you consider wonderful, and your comment is ‘this is wonderful!’, and give it five stars, that is not a review, that is praise. We all do it and sometimes the item is perfect, there really isn’t any more to say. The author would like to be told though, why you think it is wonderful. Is it the story? The descriptions? Did you relate to the plot, or did it make you laugh or cry?
I love praise. Everyone needs a good dose regularly. Praise is my pay for writing, but after all, I joined this site to learn the meat and potatoes of writing. If I also receive a little praise, that’s the gravy.
What makes a good story in the end, is the interpretation of the reader. Everyone is not going to like everything they read. A good reviewer reads objectively. The writer doesn’t need your rating or your opinion on either his opinion or his choice of subject, but he does need it on how well he wrote the piece. After he’s published, you can choose whether to buy it or not.
Writers must be able to trust their reviewers. Most authors on the site are working toward publication, and their aim is for the item to be the best it can be. Be honest and encouraging. They can get there without you, but it will be much more difficult.
Honest and constructive reviews are important to both the review'er and the review'ee. As we learn to give constructive reviews, we are learning to write more intelligently. Reading critically helps you to become aware of how you, as a reader, respond.
When I review an item, I review it seriously, as completely as possible with two intentions. The first is to help the author to the best of my abilities. I help in the areas I can, and I have given erroneous suggestions. I am a student, with much to learn. I don't attempt to cover all the issues of a critique because I don't have the knowledge.
The second is for me, it really does help in my own writing. As I read a story and notice things that may need fixing, then read my own items, I can more easily see where I have made the same mistakes.
A word from the The StoryMaster
By rating honestly -- and providing the all important constructive criticism, we do a great job of helping everyone. It is always better to rate honestly, regardless of age. If we were to rate highly, and a younger member submitted an item to their english teacher, expecting an "A" and got back a "D", that wouldn't be good at all, would it?
On the other end, if it is an older person, and they're rated a "5" when they deserve a "3", then if they submit their item to a publisher or publication and get a scathing rejection letter, they'll be devastated.
Hopefully, while you are helping others by pointing out mistakes and corrections and giving suggestions, it helps you to explore your own writing style and learn what you like and don't like as you go. Reviewing is one of the best ways to improve your own writing and creative processes. So keep that in mind when you're doing it... remember to take it in for yourself as well as the author you're reviewing.
This is not an author SHOWCASING site. This is a site for writers to help writers improve. The only way to do that is through honest ratings and encouraging, insightful and HONEST reviews.
Thank you, storymaster.
So you see, learning to give a good review is critical to both the review’er and review’ee.
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For excellence, the presense of others is always required. -Hanna Arendt
Recommended Reading and Forums:
a bit of comedy always helps
Directly from the ports of our members
want to see who you are reviewing?
want to see who's included in this list?
a fun hangout
everyone needs to once in a while
Next week’s editor will be: Jessiebelle