Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In Which We Discuss Critiques Pt. 2

See Monday's post for part one in this short little series on critiques.

So Monday we talked about how to handle the Hit and Miss Critiquer (someone who gives some good material and then some crap so rage-inducing your head may explode)

Today I want to chat about those people who force upon give you a critique when you didn't solicit one.

2 examples:

1. I was chatting with a writing buddy the other day who wishes to remain nameless. We shall call him Cooter. Cooter "meets" another writer online through a writing forum/conference. They exchange a few emails and then Cooter's new friend asks Cooter what his book is about. Cooter sends a reply email with a quick little blurb about what the novel is about. Cooter's new friend then responds with a huge critique of blurb. Cooter is stunned, and more than a little irritated. Cooter replies stating he didn't ask for a crit and the other writer's response is that, as writers, we need to always be "on"

2. Example 2 is something I see quite often in the blogging community, usually tied to blogfests. Someone hosts a blogfest and we all join up and post our pieces. At this point, we're all pretty aware that what everyone else is posting is rough draft, unless stated otherwise. Occasionally you get a blogger who asks for crits or feedback, but in general we're all bloghopping just to see what everyone else posted and to offer words of encouragement. But then, inevitably, there's a blogger who jumps from blog to blog and critiques everyone's blogfest entry. And we're not talking a few thoughts or suggestions here and there (ie: "I was a bit confused here." or "The dialogue read a little stilted"). No, we're talking a 2-3 paragraph crit in the comment of the post. Usually delivered in a "I see a few things you did wrong here. You may not know but you shouldn't use adverbs" or whatever.

Did the blogfest blogger ask for a crit? No.
Does the blogger even really know this other blogger? Probably Not.
Does the blogger know she/he shouldn't use adverbs? Yes. But it's a Rough Draft!

What's up with these people who crit everything they come across? I'm sure some of them mean it to be helpful and friendly, but more often than not it comes off as pretentious.
For reals, if I want a critique of my work from you, I will ask you, or post it on my blog. And to be fair, if I don't really know you at all, chances are I don't want the critique. I keep most of my writing pretty close to my chest.

What do you think? Am I being a hardass on this point? Do you appreciate, or even enjoy unsolicited critiques of your work? Do you believe that as writers we need to be "on" at all times?

Next Monday I'll have another post that, while not directly related to critiquing, will bring up some of the other things "Jane" mentioned on my crits that left me confused.


Tony Benson said...

I think the worst thing about an unsolicited critique is that we sometimes end up responding by justifying ourselves. I agree with you fully, the critique shouldn't be made unless asked for.

I think, though, that some people in the writing community believe that's why we post our work - to get a critique. Not sure why they think that, but there you go.

Part of the problem with many critiques is how they're worded, and that opinions on merit can come into it rather than pure critique of writing. Maybe someone with good experience of offering critiques could write a blog article on guidelines for a critique. For example, emotive language can be used sometimes for positive feedback, but should never be used for negative feedback.

Thanks for the post.

Anne said...

I've seen examples of #2. And since i'm not a writer an am just enjoying writing blogs for shits and giggles, i gotta say, those unasked for crits in the comment sections TOTALLY stand out in a negative way- it's like 'who are you, and why did you come here?'
There's a blog for that- it's called Query Shark

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Tony - ooh yeah, that is totally it! I often see the blogger get defensive about their draft, which doesn't help anyone.

Anne - Hah! Snap. Yeah, i mean, i never critique unless it's asked for. I'm always worried about burning personal bridges with people i could have otherwise been friends with

Anne Gallagher said...

I used to post excerpts from my WIP on my blog. just for fun. One time a man dropped by and critted the whole thing. He began his comment by saying, "I've had a few and had nothing else better to do..." then proceeded to spew 6-7 paragraphs of edits.

So not only was it unsolicited, he was drunk too.

I think some people just want other people to think they're smart.

yokohamamama said...

You are *totally* right not to appreciate those negative unsolicited criticisms! Some people think that Opinion is just another word for Holy High Truth, and of *course* you would want to know, nay, *need* to know what they think of your work. Such people's level of tact tends to be inversely proportional to the number of opinions they have...

C. N. Nevets said...

I do not believe that as writers we always need to be on.

I do think it's okay for people to offer one or two thoughts or suggestions but they should be general and not specific and should never be the adverby type of remark. More like, "I love this story! The dialogue felt a little stiff, but the descriptions of the characters made me go run for a glass of water! Keep it up!"

That said, I do think that as writers we need to expect that when we post a story in a forum where most of our readers are, themselves, writers, some of them will feel the urge to get all "helpful."

Justine Dell said...

No, you are not being a hard-ass! I totally, 100% agree. I say someone who does things that doesn't have anything better to do and is obviously looking for a way to make themselves feel better. Because let's face it, I can crit a best-selling authors book to boot and complain about a million things wrong with it.

Those crit-when-you-don't-want-it-peeps are annoying. Nice post!


Maria Zannini said...

Unsolicited crits are a symptom of the blogosphere. People feel compelled to comment.

Personally, unless I can say something positive, I won't respond.

A blog is too public a forum to dissect work. And things are too easily misconstrued.

As for critting a blurb that was not intended for criticism, that's just plain rude. I wouldn't even bother responding.

Nate Wilson said...

You really should have written out the number in "2 Examples." Also, "hardass" should be hyphenated, and people who give unsolicited critiques should be drawn and quartered.

Lest you think that's too harsh, I mean someone should draw them in the style of an editorial cartoon, and then others should chuck quarters at them.

(By the way, I'm barely "on" when I am writing.)

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Anne - HA! you can't make that stuff up

Yokohama - very true

C.N. - oh yeah. I mean, i don't there's anything wrong with a quick little comment here and there. I just wonder about the 4-5 paragraph crits

Justine - ooooh very true. I find little things to crit in almost every book i read. But i don't, cuz it's not my place. Also i'm lazy and don't really care

Nate - LMFAO! And i hear that. If i have to be "on" at all times to be a writer, i may just have to chuck it all

Talli Roland said...

I think writers need to be 'on' when talking to influential people in the publishing industry - that goes without saying. I also think we need to be 'on' as much as we can in blog posts. I'm well aware my own posts often have typos etc, but I do a little bit of editing to try to catch the worst ones. But I must admit I do cringe when I see big-name writers making spelling or grammar mistakes on Twitter -- it's almost like it kind of taints my perception of them.

Hannah Kincade said...

Ha! I agree that we don't always have to be "on" and if we want feedback, well most of us usually ask. Unless of course, we are in a position for publication and speaking to someone in the industry.

@Anne - Query Shark, FTW!

@Anne G. - That's all sorts of hilarious!

@Nate -You're my new favorite.

@Talli -But most of those "big-name writers" have extreme deadline and most importantly editors for their published works. I, for one, am not the best at grammar and I don't think I'll ever be perfect when it comes to that. I know there are published authors out there like that, they've told me so. If we started critiquing everything, i.e. Twitter, then the world would be a very stilted place. Mistakes make things interesting.

Lola Sharp said...

I'm with Nate...I'm barely on when I'm on.

That said, I've never had that happen to me (unsolicited critique), but perhaps those that critique during blogfests sincerely believe that the purpose of showing ones work in a blogfest is to invite feedback/critique? I try to think the best of people and believe most people's intentions are good, honorable.
Also, in a way, I think as writers, we should always be 'on', because ultimately we are judged for our writing. Readers and critics and reviews will inevitably be harsh about our writing. Of course, like I said, I am the sloppiest of casual writers in my blogs and comments and tweets. I'm never 'on'. I'm lazy. I never proof/edit anything except my actual WiPs (which I fester and go over endlessly). Thus, I expect I am mocked on a hourly basis. I deserve it.

I still love that vid clip. Her facial expression is priceless. :)

Teebore said...

Yeah, I know what you mean about unsolicited critques. It's one of the reasons I'm always reluctant to discuss whatever I'm working on with well-meaning random people. "Oh, what's your book about?" often gets followed by "here's what's wrong with that idea" or even worse "I think you should do this."

As for critiques on blog posts and whatnot, my general rule of thumb when it comes to blogfests and excerpts and whatnot is to compliment something specific I liked about the piece, and stay silent if I can't do that.

That kind of stuff is all about affirmation and feeling good; unless you specifically ask for critical feedback, no one wants a multi-paragraph deconstruction of their 500 word rough draft excerpt. Especially since it's a rough draft; all those critiques might get edited out eventually!

@Hannah: most of those "big-name writers" have extreme deadline and most importantly editors for their published works.

Man, how awesome would it be to be a published, successful author and just be able to write your story and then hand it off for someone else to fine tune the grammar and spelling details?

Anonymous said...

Maybe I will get one of these unsolicited crits if I do blogfests. I will do some this year so maybe . . . I hope not not, they sound really annoying.

Typos annoy me on blogs, but not on twitter so much. Twitter allows so few characters sometimes I find myself truncating words to make them fit.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Hmm, I'm not sure on this one. i've done a few blog fests, but not had any unsolicited crits yet. I think if someone asks, then it's fine. But I'd hate to be the one comments on the post talking about how that word choice didn't make sense.

roxy said...

I like most critiques, but the ones I can't stand are those based entirely on personal taste. These reviews offer little help with the actual writing craft. For example, if you hate everything about women's fiction, don't critique it.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Talli - yeah i agree. There's a time and a place to be on. i just don't think it's when you're emailing someone you think is a friend

Hannah - exactly. I can barely get dressed most days. If you expect me to be on at all times, you will be disappointed

Lola - yeah i try to give them the benefit of the doubt, which is why i don't ever say anything when i see them

Teebore - LMAO! Do people actually do that to you? Man that would drive me bananas. And yeah, i'm with you about keeping my mouth shut. Maybe it's a MN thing?

Storytreasure - i wouldn't worry about them. They don't happen all that often. I've only seen it a couple of times out of all the blogfests i've been involved in

Lindsay - word choice and stuff like that i think is completely OK to mention in a blogfest. It's just the huge crits on a rough draft that make me lift my eyebrows

Roxy - oooh yeah, that is another point i should have added. The critiquer who doesn't understand the genre. I get that a lot with my horror short stories.

Holly Ruggiero said...

“Always on” that would be exhausting. I’ve been fortunate I not had either of those experiences. Let’s hope someone does not read this and run over to my blog and start critiquing it! Unsolicited reviews are poor taste. Comments on blogs should always be helpful and encouraging and never dragged out. The adverb comment would be a no-no. They might get a few choice adverbs back. ;)

Matthew Rush said...

I know you didn't ask, but here are my thoughts on this post:

- The font felt a little vanilla. Perhaps you could spice it up a little?

- I don't think you should abbreviate "part 2." Some readers could misconstrue that to mean "point 2."

- I think your choice of that kid from the King of the Hill was poor. Someone might think it was intended to be humorous. You don't want to be humorous in this kind of post.

- It would have been wise, I think, to disable comments. Then douche-bag blowhards like myself, would not have had an opportunity to make fools of ourselves.

Sorry. I couldn't resist. Could you critique my comment for me?

Devin Bond said...

Unsolicited critiques are the worst! It's horrible to send something off and get a critique instead of the "oh, that sounds interesting" that we all want to hear!

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Holly - Hah! And yeah, it would not be fun to always be "on"

Matthew - well, for starters, your comment was a little long. Average comments should run no more than 5 sentences. I also think you should have referred to Bobby Hill by name, in case someone was confused about which kid from King of the Hill you referred to.
and... well crap. That's all i can think of. ;-)

Devin - so true! It catches you off guard and puts you on the defensive. No fun.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

No, you have a valid point!
Some people are just like that - they feel it is their JOB to critique everything. I had a co-worker who critiqued every piece of graphic, website, writing, etc. I created and rarely offered anything positive. I don't think he knew how to do anything else.
Here's something funny - when I first posted my book trailer, someone made a suggestion on the wording. I responded with "Um, my publisher made this and it's the final version."

Shannon said...

I read this earlier today and finally got back to comment. I love this post. Great question.

When it comes to writing, I don't want feedback unless I ask for it and I don't offer unless asked.

Not sure what I would do in case of the former. I'm Irish and have a temper. Hopefully we won't find out.

Hart Johnson said...

This is one of the reasons I so rarely do blogfests that involve writing. It really is is a complicated line. I think people really DO think they're helping, but you're right--uncalled for, it is annoying and pretentious. When I have posted writing, I try to put the disclaimer of 'first draft' and if I want feedback, ask for it.--that 'conversation though'--in an email or on facebook, someone asking what your book is about--THAT should be critique free unless you ask--if you OFFER the hook, that is one thing, but if they've asked for it, expecting you are ready for the question is entirely another. (rude, I'd say)

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Alex - oh man, that's terrible. I can't believe they critiqued the book trailer!

Shannon - LOL. And i completely agree with you. I always thought it was an unspoken agreement between writers, but apparently not everyone got the memo

Hart - definitely agree with you. I don't see it all that often, but when i do, it stands out like a sore thumb compared to all the other comments

Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

Unsolicited critiques would annoy the hell out of me, mainly because I've seen all too often people whose critiques are nothing but criticisms; not made by experience in the field and intelligent understanding but in an attempt to gain a feeling of superiority (I imaging these folks as upper class trolls).

The main thing that these blogs are for are for a sense of community and support amongst writers. Critiques should only be given if they are requested.

Ellie said...

Thankfully, I've not received an unsolicited critique that offended me. On a blogfest recently, another participant commented on a couple of things in my WIP, but I wasn't offended. I figured if I'm putting my work out there I'm inviting comment.

But (and this is a big but), I would not be happy with a detailed word by word, line by line, critique. That would just be plain rude.

Rebecca T. said...

Ha! Yes, #2 drives me crazy. Blogfests are supposed to be fun ways to see a snip of a bunch of people's writings. FUN. Good points.

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