darkemeralds: Photo of fingers on a computer keyboard. (Writing)
[personal profile] darkemeralds
What's the best and worst criticism you've ever received? And how did you assimilate it?

I'm thinking mostly of feedback on writing, but I'm interested in experiences of any kind of critique you may have received on any kind of activity.

Here's why: In September I'll become a certified Story Grid Editor. There's a big discussion among Story Grid course-mates about how to make sure the client is ready for the editorial work.

Well, receiving feedback is a skill, and I want to write a little book or cheat-sheet for prospective clients to help them build that skill. I've managed to acquire it, but I don't know how I did it.
  • Do you have the skill?
  • How did you get it?
  • Was there a particular turning point?
  • Or do you avoid critique altogether? If so, why? And is there any ideal situation under which you'd be open to it?

Date: 2017-06-25 09:23 pm (UTC)
twistedchick: General Leia in The Force Awakens (Default)
From: [personal profile] twistedchick
I worked as a newspaper editor; that's not the same as the kind of critique I see online. I have had some of it applied to my stories (and to my posts) that made me want to strangle the writer -- yes, they didn't like it but didn't provide any background for their statements, and the way they were written was purposefully mean. They were not anything that would help me improve my work. If I'd been in a depressed state at the time, they would not have helped a bit.

I have rarely seen what I would consider positive critique online -- by which, something that provides context for the comments, so that the reader understands more about the basis for them and is free to agree or not. Anthony Lane in The New Yorker is very good at this.

So I am not your critique maven. I'm the person you come to if you want to check your adverbs, or restructure that sentence so it means what you want it to mean and not what it means now. In general, I don't do critique in the sense that I think you mean it, and I generally avoid it (except in the New Yorker and similar.) That's why I have a master's in political science and not in literature.

Date: 2017-06-25 09:55 pm (UTC)
twistedchick: General Leia in The Force Awakens (Default)
From: [personal profile] twistedchick
Editing at a paper is part of the process of getting the paper out that day/week. I looked for specific things aside from sentence structure and typos -- did the story contradict itself? Was there enough/too much explanation as opposed to enough/too much direct quotes from sources? Were sources credited properly? Would this paragraph be better further down? Do I have to cut it to fit it on the page? (We all learned to write to length.) The other things I had to check included such things as: Is there anything in this article that will open the paper up to a libel suit? Is it accurate? Is it complete in itself -- will it stand on its own even if the sidebars (shorter accompanying stories) are not present? I think you see where I'm going with this.

And they didn't implement it -- they sent me the stories, I made the changes, sometimes sent them on to another editor (not always; it depended on which editorial seat I was in), wrote the headlines and sent them on to Composition, where they were printed and laid out according to the layout I'd designed beforehand based on the relative importance and length of the stories. If someone screwed up badly, I might tell them later if another editor didn't. I am mashing together here work as an assistant editor at a weekly and as a copy editor at a daily; there were slight differences in process but not much.

(At one point, when I was an education reporter, I was dealing with a school superintendent who never heard of a complete sentence. He would either offer platitudes ("We discussed a multiplicity of many things" is a direct quote) or string parenthetical phrases together and forget the verb. One day I used a direct quote from him, which the editor paraphrased on the grounds that the man couldn't have actually said that, even though I said he did. The superintendent called me immediately when the paper came out, and complained. I told him I'd quoted him word for word -- I read him my original first paragraph -- and handed him over to the city editor, who had to explain why it was changed.)

Literary critique shouldn't be mean. This is not the 1920s; nobody has to be Dorothy Parker writing "Tonstant Weader fwowed up" about The House at Pooh Corner, or "She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B" about Kate Hepburn in an early stage play. (I love Dorothy's poetry, but her criticism was timely and sharp-edged and could be mean.) And even Dorothy at her sharpest provided context for her opinions.

One source told me, years ago, "A review of anything should cover these points: What is the matter being reviewed (e.g. a play, a book, a concert)? What is it trying to accomplish? Does it do that? Why or why not?" I would include, "Who is its audience?" Something that is written for one group may not make sense to another, or may be flatly insulting to a third.
Edited Date: 2017-06-25 09:59 pm (UTC)

Date: 2017-06-25 11:21 pm (UTC)
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] branchandroot
I don't often ask for any kind of critique, exactly because so many people are absolute pants at it. I think a good thing to include in a booklet would be advice to decide, with the editor, exactly what the author wants out of this. I mean, if what they want is "to know whether it's good or not" then that's a red light right there. Because that's not an editor's purview (despite the many online adherents to the Church of the Holy Concrit who think it is). "Good" or not should not, by my lights, be any part of an editor's feedback. It's too nebulous. Does the author want proofreading? Eyes on continuity? Help tightening the pacing? Give them examples and encourage them to nail that down right out of the gate.

I also find that context, and a little basic respect, really help writers like me, who are a little prickly about just whose story this is, anyway. I've encountered way too many feedback-ers who basically tell me how /they/ would have written it, which is not what I'm interested in; it took me a while to realize that was the problem I was having, though, so articulating examples may help authors figure it out. Me, I do a lot better with things like "this part contradicts that other one, which do you want to go with?" and "the target audience you specified will probably know really well how X works, and this seems a little vague to pass with them" and "there are twenty-five em-dashes on this page, they make for a lot of sharp breaks, is that the effect you want?". There are people who can take feedback like "it looks like you loaded a shotgun with commas and fired it at this page" and people who can't; it's really good if an author can figure out which side they fall on and /tell/ their editor.

Date: 2017-06-28 04:15 pm (UTC)
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] branchandroot
My pleasure! And I think you put your finger right on it; many writers can't separate their writer-ness from their editor-ness. All the more reason that someone who /can/ will be a valuable commodity, out on the market!

Date: 2017-06-25 11:52 pm (UTC)
donutsweeper: (Default)
From: [personal profile] donutsweeper
I can only come at this via fanfic and both working as a beta and having my stuff betaed. Considering I've been asked numerous times by people to help them I like to think I'm good at it.

I think an important part of giving/getting good critique is figuring out how to make what is being critiqued the best it can be without altering it into something else without the author being okay with that kind of change. So, let's say something about the piece is clunky- I'd try to figure out if a small change might work (like adding a transition scene) or if something bigger (like a different tense or POV might be necessary) but I'd be sure to give my reasonings for both why I think it isn't working and why I made the suggestion I did. I figure this helps the author see the issue I had with the work and ways they could fix it so next time they might be able to avoid the problem.

Date: 2017-06-28 01:52 pm (UTC)
tehomet: (Benedict Cumberbatch oh crumpets!)
From: [personal profile] tehomet
I think I do know how to receive criticism, from experience. A turning point or two, or at least two milestones along the way, were the encounter with the nun and reading Superwoman.

The nun was the director of the rehab that various relatives of mine went to. She gave all the relatives of the residents a talk on their first day; part of that talk was making the point that maturing is a lifelong process and continues until one kicks the bucket. I thought this was cobblers at the time, but eventually, I came to see the truth in it. That point of view helped me with helping my relatives but also helped me in the sense that I can take criticism with more equanimity now, as I know we humans are all learning as we go along.

Superwoman is a book by Shirley Conran primarily about housekeeping, (and also how to plan projects, including writing a book - she's a bestselling fiction author) but has a section on personal development, which includes a bit about criticism. One of the questions she asks her readers to ask themselves if they are faced with criticism is: did you request this?

So very simple stuff really, but I think there's value in your prospective clients being willing to acknowledge that they are actively requesting criticism and that no one's perfect and even the best authors are still learning. A lot of denial and a lot of hurt feelings can avoided, a lot open discussion can be utilised for improvement, and in the case of the 'did you request this?' criterion, there's an aspect too of selecting sources of insight that one can trust.

Date: 2017-07-02 04:17 pm (UTC)
tehomet: (It's a magical world)
From: [personal profile] tehomet
You're too kind. :)

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