Monday, December 26, 2011


I’ve encountered a lot of advice on writing. The years fly by and it seems that certain aspects of the art become more crucial and pointed for me, whilst others seem like non-issues. What have I learned from these experiences? I was going to make a list, but perhaps just fragments of thought would be more appropriate (and more for you to criticize!).

(Okay, I’m making a list.)

Not everyone is at your level of writing.
  • That could mean people are better and worse than you. Take those words lightly because your definition of better and worse may not be someone else’s. I meant to use this with an altered definition of connotation.
  • Given this subjective level of writing, and perhaps even local vs global level, it may be challenging to offer criticism on someone’s piece if you are either afraid of hurting their feelings, or you just cannot seem to find one substantial bit of weakness.
    • When I encounter what I believe to be writing inferior to my own, or perhaps in general (especially when dealing with a rookie writer), then it might be easy to sugar-coat my feelings. Don’t. A friend of mine said it’s a good habit to search for three positive (or strengths) and three negative (or weaknesses) aspects of the piece. This could be dialogue, pace, setting, diction, characterization, or anything else. The 3&3 rule, as I’ve just dubbed it, is probably most important here. Why? Because they probably won’t listen.
      • Hey! If they aren’t going to listen, then why take the time to give the story a good rub-down and make it a constructive critique in the truest sense? Well, although it will take more time (forgetting the length of the piece), if this person is serious about being a writer, then getting the best you an give is going to be the greatest gift you could give them at that point. It means that they’ll either quit, or at some point in time (an minute later, or thirty years) they will come back and take it to heart in some form. Taking it to heart may require a certain amount of time...and feel free not to take it personally. I did the same thing to a friend and I have thanked them for their earlier advice. It’s a jungle out there, folks, and without a machete to cut through the crud, I may never find the magic.
    • On the flip side is someone who writes at your level or “above”. I put them together because they are different, but the extremities of advice involved (speaking of myself here, or people I know) are quite similar.
      • At your level of writing: you may not even realize you are at the same level, and so you might look down on the mistakes you begin to see. Only weeks later will you realize you did the same thing — only now you know how to fix them! And if you do realize during the process of reading? Well, you don’t. That’s the great part. You will never realize, until after the fact. (Tell me how you do if you have.)
      • With superior writing, you may find yourself knit-picking. It’s bound to happen, and you can’t really stop yourself unless you’re quite used to criticizing. Tough luck. However, the other way is that you find nothing at all and so come out of the piece in awe. You feel as if one of two things has happened: 1. You have found the holy grail of writing and you are inspired to get better, 2. Another great author stands in your way and they are visibly better, so to hell with writing: go find another glass blowing...yeah.

You will encounter people critiquing your pieces using these techniques I’ve described above: G-d-speed for sticking it out and writing another day.

  • You just critiqued someone who, in your mind, is an inferior writer.  You did your best to be constructive (which, let me remind you, includes positive reinforcement), and of course they ignored your positive remarks. So, they tell you that they hate you and that you suck at writing. And, if they feel up to it (usually a time thing), and if they have access to your writing, they will shit on it and waft the fumes for all to see.
    • What do you do? Normally, I will read another section of their piece (if available), and continue to critique. I will also message them and get into what the real issues are: namely, they didn’t like what I said, and that they didn’t think about what I said. You an also retaliate in equal measure, being just as rude :)
  • Keep in mind that on writing forums, the main thing is the social aspect. Be careful. Blowback (when directed toward you, or against), can be good or bad. The community, if active at all, may shun either or both of you.

Give the work a chance. That means finishing it. Or, don’t; it’s entirely up to you.
  • If you don’t finish the piece and then go to town on it, splattering it with its own blood, you are asking for blowback. Remember that positive reinforcement spiel? That is part of it, but how can you give a realistically thorough critique if you didn’t finish the darn newborn baby?
  • By finishing it, you are allowing the act of writing to live on. If you don’t finish it, then why  would anyone finish yours? Be a good person, no?
    • If you finish it and still think it’s worthless, then kill the sucker and make the only positive the fact that they had the desire to write at all.

If you critique your own work, let at least two weeks pass by before doing so. Anything you might try to do on your own without external advice, will probably be fruitless.

There isn’t a good ending for this post. Sorry. Keep writing!


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