Thursday, September 9, 2010

Don't take it personally, but you guys all suck

Did you take it personally?  Yeah, I bet you did.  WHY oh why do people preface mean statements with "I hope I'm not offending you" or "don't take it personally," or my favourite, "Not trying to be harsh but."

Yeah.  That last one I really love, because you wouldn't SAY it if you didn't already KNOW you were being harsh.  It doesn't matter if you're trying to be or not.  You ARE being harsh and you know it.  And you don't care, or you're too lazy to revise what you're saying so it comes off less harsh.

This post is about critiquing.  Have you figured that out yet? :)

I'm not like most writers.  I'll come right out and say that I love putting my stuff out there.  None of my friends will want to read my book when it's done because I keep shoving chapters and revised chapters and better chapters at them every time they come over for dinner.

(Hmm...maybe that's why no one's been over for dinner in awhile.  I thought it was just our dirty kitchen.)

Anyway, I also love getting my stuff critiqued, even when it points out bad things!  Because I can really see how my stuff can be made better by getting another's perspective.  I love getting commets like "This part could use some polishing" or "I don't think this part really fits here" or "This isn't really in character for so'n'so."  Don't get me wrong, I mean, I also love hearing "Wow this part is awesome!" and "I love this character!" too, but if it was all that, I might start to wonder about my crit partners...

What I DON'T like hearing, though, is mean stuff thinly veiled as corrective criticism.  Even if it does point out a part that needs some work, there are always nicer ways to do that than, "Not trying to be harsh but this makes absolutely no sense."  How about, "I'm not quite clear on what character 1 means here.  Maybe clarify?" or, you know, some other non-offensive suggestion.

I mean, I'm TIRED of hearing that writers need thick skins.  Maybe critiquers and editors need nicer words?  Before you all start yelling that I'm a pansy, let me give an example of what I mean.  I think that the critiques given on QueryShark are stellar.  I'm not saying do away with negative comments altogether, because hell, we all wanna get better.  But Query shark actually DOES make people's queries better.  She gives them suggestions for changes.  She points out weak parts but doesn't say "Dear god why on earth would you EVER do that!?"

Well, okay, she does that sometimes, but usually it's when someone repeats a previous mistake or does something that everyone knows bugs her.

Anyway, dear writers and readers and critiquers of whomever, please don't preface any of your crits with "I'm not trying to be harsh."  If you feel the need to use that little disclaimer, take an extra second and think over what you're about to say.  Maybe change it so it ISN'T harsh?

Oh, and speaking of disclaimers:  This post was not about any of my crit partners!  You guys are the best and I don't know where DROWNING would be without you (maybe drowning?). :)  Also, if you ever critted something in a way I didn't like, I'd tell you.  (In an email like this: "Not meaning to be harsh, but your crits really suck.") :)


  1. great post! Caught my attention of Verla Kay!

  2. This post made me laugh! Well said. And, I'm honestly racking my brain trying to think if I've ever used a 'don't mean to be harsh'...I don't think so, but in case I did, sorry!

    Generally, when someone asks me to read something I do try my best to be positively constructive, and I hope for the same in return. Like, I know something in my work sucks, or I wouldn't be giving it to someone for, how is it helpful to have someone say 'this isn't good,' or my favourite (which I find even more painful than 'I don't mean to be harsh'... when the critiquer says: 'HUH?'

    I think some people go through and critique really passively, or as you said, don't take an extra second to word things just a little bit differently, and I'm pretty sure they really aren't trying to be rude. I think I'm on the other extreme where I take 5-10 minutes to form one comment sometimes, but hey, then at least the other person doesn't feel like hiding under their bed for three days (hopefully!) :-)

  3. Me too! Great hook. When I was a kid we used to say something mean and then say "kid---ing" in a sing-song voice or "no offense" ha ha ha UNTIL one mother pointed out how we were putting each other down while pretending to be just having fun. Her comment stuck in my head so I've learned to police my use of passive criticism. Like you said, either find a nice way of phrasing it, say it plainly or don't say it at all. :) Thanks for the reminder.

  4. what an upbeat post! I am always very causious when wording something. I tend to read the comment or words back at myself before I post. I hate the idea of upsetting people. I am also my own worst enemy, because I know a lot of people don't check how they are writing things, so then beat myself up that they don't like me for whatever reason!

    It only takes a few minutes to re-adjust wording so it actually gets the point across in a nicer way, plus we, as humans, tend to take better notice, and are more accepting to adjust how we are if it is presented to us in a kinder way. :)

    Well done for grabbing the audiences attention, very good post!!

  5. Wow! I didn't anticipate getting so many agreeing responses on this. I was steeling myself for the "You're a writer, grow some skin and get over it!" I guess I'm not alone in this.

    And, Lo, now I'm mentally running through all of my crits wondering if I've said "huh!?" ...if I did I'm pretty sure it was always followed by more explanation. I hope! :)

  6. haha I should have included a disclaimer too...that referred to none of my current/regular critique partners, not to worry :-)

  7. look how I lost the inability to spell Cautious properly the first time round! ha ha!

  8. Ha! Great minds think alike. Yes, yes, and yes! I cannot stand this sort of thing. I'm all for a tough crit, but geez have a little tact when you give it.

    And I totally agree with the "huh" thing. We are writers, hello? You can't do better than "huh?" :)

  9. Great post! I totally understand. You want to know where to improve but there is no need to be so rude. As for the thick skin - I believe this to be a myth I don't think that any writer truly has thick skin but if you have the love of writing inside of you then you will carry on reguardless. :-)


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