1. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Accepting Reviews - Leave Your Ego Behind!

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Cogito, Jul 9, 2008.

    When you, as a writer, receive a review, a natural response is to defend what your intent was when you wrote a particular passage. STOP! Sit on your hands, and resist the temptation.

    Normally when you write a story or poem, that will be your sole communication to the reader. If the reader has misread what you presented, it means that communication has broken down. But don't immediately assume that the reader is overlooking the obvious elegance of what you've written.

    Yes, it may mean that the reader was not reading carefully enough to capture the nuances you presented. But keep in mind that someone reviewing your writing is probably reading more carefully than the casual reader sitting down with the final product.

    If a reviewer seems to have missed the point, maybe you didn't make the point well enough in the first place. If it's an important point, make it more than once, in different ways. Let the reader follow more than one road to get there. Another advantage is that the reader may not be certain of your point the first time - he or she may see more than one way to interpret it. Providing more than one path lets the reader confirm that that was indeed the intended point.

    Remember, when you wrote the piece, you already knew where you were going with it. The reader, however, begins reading with at best an open mind, or at worst is preoccupied with a point completely at odds with yours. If you fail to make your intent clear enough, you the writer have no difficulty staying on track - you already know the destination. The reader, on the other hand, may become lost due to the absence of trail markers, or because he or she didn't happen to see one among the foliage.

    So if you believe the reader has missed the point, don't chide him or her for it. Consider instead the possibility that you need to mark the trail a little better.

    Debating the points with the reviewer is more of an ego exercise than anything else. It may simply annoy the reviewer, and others who see your reaction, so they shun you and review other people's work instead.

    Remember, you asked for an opinion. Don't beat up the person who took the time to provide one.

    Go out of your way to show gratitude for the effort the reviewer put into it. If you really want to discuss a point they made, ask how you could make it better or clearer instead of telling them what they blundered blindly past.

    Remember, you asked for an opinion. Don't beat up the person who took the time to provide one. The reviewer is doing you a favor, so check your ego at the door.
     
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  2. Rebekkamaria
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    Rebekkamaria Senior Member

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    I agree.

    I also think it's good to know as a writer that you can disagree with your reviewer. You don't have to take their words as the solid truth. It is an opinion. But in most cases, it's a very valid opinion and that's why reviews and reviewers should always be treated with respect.

    I also think that my work is not me. The person isn't criticising my personality or me in general, just my words. They are of course personal, but they aren't that to the reader. This is hard to explain. I just mean it's never an insult - or it shouldn't be. We can always improve as writers and that's why I take every review seriously, but not to the heart. :-D

    Well, I hope there was something useful there. I'm a bit sick and my mind isn't quite working like it's supposed to be working. >_<
     
  3. Scribe Rewan
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    Scribe Rewan Contributing Member

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    Does this happen a lot on here then- people taking reviews really badly? It's just I've been here a month and a half, or something like that, and I've read another thread like this before, and there's one further down the page.

    I think you've practically nailed it Cogito with this:

    Also I totally agree with your point about the author knowing what's going on in the story a lot clearer than the reader.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Well, it isn't so much a matter of something happening, as a reminder of the most productive mindset for accepting review comments.

    The thing I think is most often overlooked is the feeling that you "know" you made a particular point, when in fact, you were so focused on that point you failed to see how a reader might not immediately home in on it from what you actually wrote.

    In the same vein, I would discourage a writer form saying too much about their intent as a preamble to the posting. If you have to explain it, then the writing is probably deficient in not making the point more clearly itself.
     
  5. Scribe Rewan
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    Scribe Rewan Contributing Member

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    Hmm... fair enough.

    I think that point is the one that comes up in the reviews I have done. It's certainly the thing I pay most attention to when writing my own work is whether I'm being clear, or whether I just understand what I'm trying to say because I know what I'm trying to say.
     
  6. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    This is interesting. So I'm curious: how do you think this can be corrected?
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You can't get rid of your own foreknowledge. The best approach is not to tell the reviewrs in advance what you were trying to do, and then read the responses carefully. If it seems someone (or several someones!) read it differently than you intended, try to revise it in a way to make it clearer. The longer you hold off telling people what you were trying to convey, the more unpolluted feedback you can expect. It's ok to point out that something was NOT what you were aiming for, which will help people avoid getting stuck on someone else's interpretation, but try not to reveal your aim unless you are totally frustrated and really need to get ideas for a fresh approach.
     
  8. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're welcome. LOL

    ps Great advice!
     
  9. Sato Ayako
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    Sato Ayako Contributing Member

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    The biggest problem is that a person who has been critiqued will sometimes feel that they themselves have been criticized as well as their work. In a way, this is true. Writing is a reflection of a person's tastes and opinions. By commenting on their work, you are commenting on how they view the world. So yes, part of it is ego, but part of it is personal pride. You can judge for yourself how good or bad that is.

    It's important to remember that when a person reviews, they're commenting strictly on the work. Or at least they should be. Does that make it any better when your ickle project is torn to pieces? No, it doesn't.

    Another thing is different critiquers have different styles. Some are very airy--they make minimum comment, though they try and make their comments helpful. Others are brutal--if you so much as misspell a word, they'll comment on it. Most are somewhere in between. Also to be taken into consideration is a critiquer's way of wording things. Some will avoid using anything too definite to avoid hurting feelings. Others will say what they mean and nothing else, not even an "I think" or "in my opinion" to soften it.

    From experience, those writers who argue with critiques, get defensive, and/or stubbornly insist that their way is the right way--they either haven't been writing very long, or they've become stuck in such a rut they feel they should be immune to criticism. Then again, these are usually the people who say they want criticism, but mean they just want praise and general comments. They want someone to read their work. They don't want someone telling them what to do to improve it or, if they do, they want the review in such a particular way they drive most good critiquers away.

    Everyone goes through that stage to some degree. A few are cranky, some are flaming a-holes about it. Most are somewhere in between. :)

    Cogito, you're right that work posted on review boards would, under normal circumstances, be the only form of communication between reader and writer. In the real world, the writer doesn't have the luxury of telling the reader he meant this or that. The best reviewers act, to some degree, like there is no writer who can clarify or who's there waiting for review.

    Critiques are a favor. While they're helpful to the critiquer and not just the critiqued, they're also time-consuming. Sometimes, if the writing is bad, they're even painful to write. Gratitude is key here. You don't have to agree with the critiquer. In your mind, you can call him/her a sonofagun who doesn't know art, but if you're constantly snapping at hands, your reviews will slowly taper off. Even if the snap is a mild one, even if it doesn't hurt, not everybody is going to want to approach that maw again. What if the teeth don't miss next time?

    I used to have a problem with that. Actually, I still would have a problem with mild snapping if I didn't have a procedure. After I get a critique, I read it and almost always think about it before I make a comment. Even if it's a glowing review. I stop and think. It's a great way to steady your emotions. Even after having my work knocked around for nearly eight years, it hurts when a piece I worked hard on is criticized.

    What boggles me is the people who usually get cranky over critiques post them in areas that are meant for critiquing. If you're going to post work on a critique site, expect it to be critiqued. If you want people to just slobber over what you've written, take it to LiveJournal, FictionPress, or Fanfiction.net. Better yet, write a few critiques yourself. I don't know what it is about it, but somehow writing your own critiques helps ease the pain when you recieve them. I think it's because you become familiar with what's put into a critique.

    I agree and disagree with you. Sometimes intent is important. Maybe you intended to make a spooky, intense scene, but it only makes people laugh. Telling them what you're looking for will make the critiquer look for evidence of your intent.

    It can also backfire. It's one thing to say, "I was aiming for something kind of spooky" because spooky means different things to different people, and another thing to say, "I was aiming for something shocking and suspenseful." Shock and suspense are so particular, but so hard-hitting, that your reader now has a bias. It's even worse if you say, "this is a humorous piece". Oh dog, whenever I read that I search for humor in the piece and hope I find it because it's irritating when I don't.

    Anyway, since this post is getting too long, I want to make one more point. Whenever you receive a critique, and it seems like the reader has completely missed the point, remember Creaky's Law: "If the reader doesn't get it, it's probably the writer's fault." ALWAYS assume first that you did something wrong. Sometimes it will be obvious you didn't. For those times it's not, it's a good practice in humility to assume you did something wrong. You are the master communicator, yes, and even masters make mistakes.
     
  10. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    This thread is loaded with great advice. I hope it does not ratchet down into oblivion like normal topics. Cog and Sato, you both make wonderful points, even in areas of slightly differing perspective.

    I would like to add one other minor thought about preambles that I try to keep in mind...relevance. Many pieces that are posted for critique are not complete stories. Rather, they are excerpts. I particularly appreciate the poster/author supplying enough background in a preamble so that I can understand the writing in proper context. SPAG obviously does not require such lead-in, but questions of pace, character development or plot often need the preparatory guidance.
     
  11. The23rdman
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    The23rdman Member

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    All really good advice here. I've come up against these feeling recently as a newbie who's only posted a couple of pieces. I'll do my best to take all this on board in future. :)
     
  12. inkslinger
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    inkslinger Contributing Member

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    I completely agree with the opening post. :)

    I've been tempted to 'defend' my writing to a reviewer before, and I actually have a few times. It's a very natural reaction sometimes when receiving criticism; sometimes it really makes you want to justify what you wrote, because you see what you put in there, but maybe the reader missed 'it'. I usually try to read a review and if it's loaded with criticism, close the window, take a few hours away from that review, and then come back to it, to reread it. It usually puts things in better perspective. I've come to realize that of course I'm going to see the intent with my story, it is mine after all, but that doesn't mean the reader will. And it necessarily isn't anyone's fault, only maybe I didn't do a good enough job of conveying whatever it is I was trying to, as said in the opening post. I actually really appreciate the reviewer. It's true, they didn't have to read my story. There's no use defending yourself against an opinion.
     

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