Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm a Heartless Critter

And I don't mean I'm a snake or spider.

One reason why I don't do a lot of critiquing for fellow writers is that I believe in honest, brutal truth. Unfortunately, not every writer can handle the truth.

I understand that. We, as artists, are essentially self-absorbed and we believe in our works. Furthermore, we're very protective of such works. Everyone likes to hear praises, "well done" and "you're such a great writer." Rejections of any kind, including constructive criticism is hard, even something as minute and simple as "you have a comma splice."

Been there, done that. So I can certainly understand.

However, I can't offer my critique without being true to myself and the craft, and that is: Be honest and upfront about everything. I am not going to do a crit if the writer only wants praise and encouragement (I give them, too, but not in the form of critiques). I don't think that kind of critique is useful to a writer. And I also make sure they understand that everything I say, as harsh or as unflattering, is all from the heart and the way I see it. They are only my opinions.  OPINIONS. These opinions may be wrong -- I may be very wrong! -- but I don't give them because I am trying to be condescending, to say, "I know better than you." I'm not trying to insult other writers. I'm not trying to say "you suck."

Far from it. What I want to do is to pay it forward and help my fellow writers. I have no ulterior motives. I don't get the jollies for ruining other people's self-esteem. If I didn't want you to succeed, I wouldn't offer my help. I'm not trying to ruin you or your career. I'm not trying to sabotage you.  When I crit, I'm honest with my opinions but I am not mean-spirited. I try to be very professional about it, even if  you're my cousin's daughter's boyfriend.  Especially if you're my cousin's daughter's boyfriend.

However, I've also lost a few friends because of my honest opinions. The truth is, some writers are not ready to accept their writing needs work, or something still isn't right with it. Or they simply don't agree with me, thus they think I'm a fraud. Or a meanie. Or just plain wrong. And that's fine. But to lose friendship over this? It's not worth it.

Therefore, I decided a while ago that I wouldn't be doing any more crits. Whenever a writer asks me to offer my opinions, I start to tread carefully. The thing is, even if they say, "Be brutally honest with me. I can take it," they don't really mean it. And they think I'm wrong. Worse, they become resentful.

Yeah, that happened to be a few times.

Not worth it.

In fact, I'm a much happier person now that I'm not doing any crits.  I've found peace.

3 comments:

Trisha said...

I think honest critiquing is invaluable, but if it's POSSIBLE it's good to add something positive in there as well. But only if you find something positive to comment on, of course ;)

June Kramin said...

Wise move. It is hard for most to see where they need improvement. Too bad it's taken personally. Best to just step away.

Ray Wong said...

Trisha, I do point out what is good and I try to find the balance (provided there is good stuff to talk about). But a writer is not going to improve or know what to improve if all he or she gets is "this is good." A critique isn't a critique without the honest, constructive criticism. It is sad that some writers take that personally, to the point of ending a friendship because they don't agree. Really? Then don't ask for a crit if you only want to know what is good about it, not the bad.