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  1. Soodanim
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    Soodanim Member

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    Do you believe in being nice?

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Soodanim, Dec 23, 2012.

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    I hate nice people.

    Inevitably you discover that their motives for being nice are not self-less and rather entirely selfish. The act of being nice, therefore, is not genuine and nor is it appreciated. Especially when it applies to writing.

    There's nothing worse, to me, than a person being 'nice' in regards to the critique of my writing. Now that doesn't necessitate them being nasty either but I do believe that it is the most ethical course of action for them to be honest.

    A lot of people think that encouragement and support are what writers need when, in fact, what they most often need is a good kick up the arse and a reality check. I find that, when engaging with people who want to be writers, most of them are doing it because they think that it is easy. Encouraging this behaviour does nothing to improve their quality of writing. What is worse is that in this day and age there are virtually no limitations or review of a person's work before that work is capable of being published. It used to be that it was extremely difficult to break into the industry. With the advent of the internet, and it's subsequent explosion in popularity, the capability of publishing a work has been introduced to everyone with an internet connection. Almost anyone, anywhere, can publish their work with little to no process of review.

    With fewer hurdles to jump the burden of enforcing such processes falls upon the greater population at large. And given how popularity tends to precede quality, the masses end up subjecting themselves to low-quality works. This degrades the standards of literature as a whole. If we accept low-quality writing, then the quality of writing never has to be above what is necessary to be popular in order for the writer to be successful. This, of course, perpetuates the cycle as it encourages other writers to bypass the processes of the past to get their works published.

    The art of writing is becoming a thing of the past. It is no longer about the crafting of words into artful expression but rather solely about the story and its appeal to the masses. I have no problem with appealing to the masses and nor do I have a problem with the creation and implementation of a good story. However there is no requirement of artistic effort within the writing itself in order to accomplish these goals. This is especially true when editors and software can fix grammatical and spelling errors to produce acceptable, and yet far from artistic, writing. I find that I cannot stand to pick up a novel anymore solely because, once I have read the first paragraph, I am struck by how simplistic and base the writing is compared to the works of past masters.

    Now it must be said that I am not saying that I am any kind of master and nor am I implying that I am even capable of becoming one. I am simply stating that it seems no longer to be the goal of writers to further the crafting of their words into an art-form. I believe it should be the goal of every writer to be an artist, not a machine.

    Following this reasoning it is therefore almost a moral imperative that we, as people who want to call ourselves writers, try to enforce and encourage honesty in criticism and review rather than simply being nice to avoid offending or upsetting our peers. And inversely we, as writers who seek the critique of our peers, should be neutral in our emotional response to those criticisms. If we are all working on the basis of the common understanding that we are all in pursuit of the ultimate objective, that being to become masters of our craft, then we owe it to ourselves and to each of our peers to approach the review of our works objectively and without emotion.

    So, do you believe in being nice?
     
  2. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    So much ideological pap and half-baked ideas here that it is difficult to know where to begin. I mean it really is quite impressive.

    First of all you completely fail to understand or at least mention that not every writer responds to critique the same way, and so this 'tough love' approach may not be useful, may, indeed, be detrimental to some writers.

    The rest of this is just ... all I can say is that there are plenty of writers who are artists and care very much about finding the right word, care very much about the cadences of their sentences. I happen to be one.

    Publishing is not the talentless wasteland you make it out to be.
     
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  3. Soodanim
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    Soodanim Member

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    And yet you just applied my theory in practice. Even if you were nasty about it.

    Thank-you.
     
  4. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I do believe in being nice, although the definition of 'nice' is subject to interpretation. However, your essay does not discuss your particular interpretation of 'being nice,' so all I can say is that I disagree with your first assertion.

    One can be critical of a work, while still being nice.

    As for your assertions about writers losing all artistry and reducing themselves to the lowest common denominator, I would say that although there is some of that, and there always has been, it is not the case with all writers. There is still plenty of artistic, high-quality writing, plenty of which appeals to niche markets or to small segments of the population. There is also some good writing that appeals to a relatively large audience.

    To your point about self-publishing, particularly with respect to electronic publishing, that is exactly why there are many people who eschew anything self-published and only read or pursue publication through the traditional publishing houses. Again, it's not a perfect solution, as there is some high quality writing that doesn't get published through traditional houses, sometimes because they think it will not sell, and sometimes because authors didn't want to go through traditional publishers, for a variety of reasons. It makes sense that in the world of self-published articles and stories, there exists a far higher percentage of poor-quality writing. But that does not mean that there is no good writing in that arena.
     
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  5. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    Well, what else do you call it? I mean if we're being honest here ...

    For example, you suggest that people are nice for selfish reasons and then make the astonishing leap from there to disingenuousness, as if nice = selfish = not genuine.

    Having breakfast is selfish, i.e., in the best interests of the self. C'mon ...
     
  6. Macaberz
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    Macaberz Pay it forward Contributor

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    Following this reasoning it is therefore almost a moral imperative that we, as people who want to call ourselves writers, try to enforce and encourage honesty in criticism and review rather than simply being nice to avoid offending or upsetting our peers. And inversely we, as writers who seek the critique of our peers, should be neutral in our emotional response to those criticisms. If we are all working on the basis of the common understanding that we are all in pursuit of the ultimate objective, that being to become masters of our craft, then we owe it to ourselves and to each of our peers to approach the review of our works objectively and without emotion.

    Let me get a few things out of the way first. I agree, to some level, with your notion that you shouldn't have to be nice in a review, just for the sake of doing so. On any forum really, there are always people who get offended very easily and I understand why there are (un)written rules in place in terms of courtesy to fellow forum-visitors. I personally encountered a few forums where whatever you said was somehow offending someone unless you put a dozen smilies behind it. Now this is not just a problem of people on the receiving end, it also has to do with the limit of text. I can not convey intonation, facial expression and/or any other form of body language into my written review which makes it susceptible to being interpreted wrongly.

    Still, I do believe in positive reinforcement. Being hard and honest is of no value unless you offer a better, alternative way and help a writer develop his or her voice.

    What really put me off though is that you seem to be aiming at a level of enforcement or scrutiny for writing as a whole. Not only is this impossible, I do not believe it is altogether helpful. I believe writing is also about creativity and you will not boost creativity or the sharing of thoughts/ideas by scaring a large portion of potential writers away. Most importantly however, everyone has to start somewhere. Being honest and hard is good but only if you provide truly helpful advice alongside. I do not believe that people learn by having their mistakes pointed out alone, some guidance might be needed and having different writers, from different levels of proffesionalism helps to see a piece from different angles.

    In conclusion. I do agree that you shouldn't have to cover your actual review in sugary words but neither should you only focus on what is wrong. Especially because you can never hope to satisfy everyone.

    Oh and before you feel inclined to point out the errors in my writing above, English is not my native language. (Which is another reason to be mild, you can not expect everyone to have an excellent command of the English language from the get-go).
     
  7. Soodanim
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    Soodanim Member

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    Well there is a rule on these forums about proper English being a requirement but I'll ignore that out of sheer... niceness :)

    Regardless, unless it's difficult to understand or just a complete butchering of the English language, I'm not exactly one to criticise grammar or punctuation. I don't even understand half of the rules, let alone how to implement them and I am a native-English speaker :)

    What's worse is that I've even been to tertiary schooling to learn this stuff and I still don't get it.

    I wholly agree. I don't believe the concept of altruism truly exists.
     
  8. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I disagree and don't understand how or why you believe this. If you believe that the reward of feeling good for having helped someone in and of itself cancels out the altruistic motivations, you are incorrect. Not everyone does experience that positive feeling that one can get for having been in a position to help someone and successfully doing so. It is true that some people do nice things for other purposes. In those instances, you can argue that altruism does not exist in that circumstance. But altruism does exist when someone feels good for having done something for someone. Denying that makes no sense to me.
     
  9. Warp Zone
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    Warp Zone Contributing Member

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    I believe in being helpful. If there's a lot of problems with a piece of writing, I point them out. Most people I've met respond to nicely-put criticisms better than rudely-put ones; thus, it is most beneficial to them if I say my criticisms nicely, because they will agree with my criticisms more and therefore improve more. And if the person disagrees with the criticism, it's more likely it'll be based on logic rather than anger because of the simple fact I said my criticisms nicely.

    So, that's why I believe in being nice.
     
  10. Soodanim
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    Soodanim Member

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    I think it makes perfect sense. I also think that it's not a bad thing that it doesn't exist. I believe in accepting reality for what it is, not for what I wish it to be. That is, however, another argument for another thread :)
     
  11. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    The other thing about criticism is that it's not black and white. Some things, like a word misspelling or improper word usage, are. But other things are more subjective and are highly dependent upon the particular reader. For example, I would never say something like, "You need to clarify why X happened. That makes no sense, and your piece is therefore a complete mess. You were unclear, confusing, and rambled on and on." Instead, I would say something like, "I didn't understand why X happened. I thought that the situation was Z, so I didn't understand how X made Y disappear." There could be many reasons why I found this confusing. It could be that the writing was unclear. It could also be that I didn't know some underlying piece of information that clarifies why X would happen. The fact that I didn't know the underlying piece of information could be the writer's fault, or it could be my fault. Maybe most people do know that information. Maybe I should know that information, but for some reason, I don't. It might be that I had in my head that the writing was about a particular place or situation, because I had just read many pieces that were about what I thought was a similar circumstance, but it turns out that the story was not at all related to the situation that I was expecting, and most people would not come to the writing with that pre-existing expectation. Or it might be that I just didn't read it carefully enough.

    So, although you should always take criticism seriously -- in the above example, if everyone who read the piece is confused, then it is more likely that the problem is with the writer/the writing. If a couple people were confused, but most weren't maybe you just need to add a clarifying sentence or two to get rid of any possible confusion. If only one person was confused, but scores of others were not, then maybe it was the reader who had the issue, or was simply not the target reader for that type of writing.

    Likewise, there will always be contradictory criticisms. Some people will love the writing and others won't like it at all. So, you have to go with the criticism that resonates with you. "Being nice" doesn't really play into it -- clearly, the person who just writes, "I hated this. You might as well just scrap the whole thing, because it made no sense whatsoever," is clearly not being nice, the person who writes "I was confused when X happened" is neutral. The person who says "I didn't understand why X happened, and I read it a few times. I think if you word it like this 'xxxxxxxxxx' it might be clearer, and also you might want to explain why Z follows Y." is being nice, because he is trying to be helpful, generally with nothing concrete to gain by doing so.
     
  12. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    I totally agree. My thoughts exactly.

    Yes and No. Being 'nice' in life. Absolutely, otherwise I would feel guilty. It would eat at me and ruin my day. Its just the way I am. I'm a nice person.

    When its concerning critiques. Its a flip-sided thing. Its all about helping the writer. Helping them improve. Sometimes, 'you've got to be cruel to be kind' You've got to tell it as it is, or you leave them deluded in the believe that they can write well, when in fact they write badly.
     
  13. Em_Anders
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    Em_Anders Member

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    I have to side with chicagoliz on this one, Soodanim. To believe not a single person can perform an act of kindness, or be nice, without having an agenda or an ulterior motive makes me think you are one of the most unhappy people on the planet. I also think you stated your stance on the topic to incite argument. I find it extremely difficult to believe you don't think anyone is capable of being nice without doing so for selfish purposes. A woman walks out of a restaurant with left over food that most likely won't get eaten, and spots a beggar on the sidewalk. If the woman gives the beggar the food, she is being nice. Where's the selfishness in that situation? And that is only one situation I can think of the hundreds of others where being nice is unselfish.

    Being nice in a critique, in my opinion, coincides with macaberz's so I won't repeat it in my own words. However, and also, being honest in critiquing a person's writing is similar to parenting a toddler. Slapping their hand without explaining why does absolutely nothing for the child and they will continue to make the same mistake that got their hand slapped in the first place. Sometimes explaining a hand slap after the act still does nothing to curb their behavior. You critique a person's writing to give them perspective, and to show them what they're doing wrong and why. So what if the corrections are delivered with sugar? So long as the person realizes their mistakes and makes an effort to change it, there is no harm in sugaring the critique. If the person does not understand your critique, then maybe a more honest and less 'nice' follow-up should be made. Or maybe you weren't direct enough in your 'nice' critique and it is wholly your fault for improperly delivering the corrections.
     
  14. Soodanim
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    Soodanim Member

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    You do realise this is essentially a personal attack, right?

    As is this. I'm starting to sense a theme.

    I have to prove an opinion now?

    Sugar is a reward. Why should someone be rewarded for doing something poorly or incorrectly? What do they learn from that other than that they will get a reward regardless of whether they make an effort or not?

    And are you really comparing writers with poor writing skills to toddlers? I would much prefer to be treated as an intelligent adult capable of disseminating accurate and honest critique without the emotional falsity of appeasement added to it as if I can't handle the truth and need to be coddled.

    There seems to be a common thread here in the responses from you and others that assume some nastiness on my part. And yet I clearly spelled out that my stance is one of neutrality and understanding. I am not condoning being mean, I'm simply saying that honesty and an unemotional and objective response is more helpful to everyone, not just the writer that is receiving the critique, or even just the person giving the critique, but to literature and the world as a whole. What do platitudes accomplish?
     
  15. tmrose
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    tmrose Member

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    Improving means understanding your strengths as well as your weaknesses.
     
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  16. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    I think you're idea of nice is skewed. A nice person is honest and says what they do out of a desire to help. A suck up says what they say out of a desire to make people love them, (i.e Selfish motives). The difference being that being honest, is nice. Being dishonest is not nice.

    Now, if a person is honest, but arrogant in their presentation, that's not nice. I don't think that arrogance or haughty pride has any place, well, anywhere. However, it seems to be a pretty common trait among writers. Honesty, given with a pleasant tone and consideration for the fact that you're no better or worse than anyone else in the long-run, is the best way to go.

    So, in my opinion, I believe in being nice. But I also believe, that If you've put a piece of writing up on the board for review, you want it reviewed and I'm gonna tear it to shreds if it needs it. But that doesn't mean that I'm gonna be a jerk about it.

    Being nice isn't about content, its about presentation. Leave it up to the writer to figure out how to interpret that. If they actually care about their writing enough to take the advice, awesome. If not, no matter what you say, or how you say it, it is not going to change anything.

    Biggest thing when reviewing in my opinion, like I said already, don't be arrogant. No one ever has a reason to be, ever.

    That's my take on it... Carry on!
     
  17. Soodanim
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    Soodanim Member

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    Well, I don't believe in the existence of altruism so I guess that's a fair assessment.

    So you change the burden to be on the writer instead of the reviewer.

    I like it.

    But... I'm always right.
     
  18. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    With critiques, I believe in being honest. I also believe in being polite. Being rude will do nothing except make the reviewer look like an arrogant SOB, and make the author stop listening.

    I do have a problem with any discussion about "the masses", as if they were some dirty, ignorant group of people we should disdain. There's a lot of highly intelligent folks in them thar masses, quite a few of which would make disdainful authors grovel in discussions of any seriousness. If you don't want to write for the masses, then try writing for people instead.
     
  19. Pauly Pen Feathers
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    Pauly Pen Feathers Member

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    Last week a very 'nice' person told me my writing was "disjointed", in a very nice way, mind you. I found it to be very helpful. Have a nice day! :)
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, i believe in being nice when critiquing, even when i'm being tough... i make sure i'm being kind to the writers otherwise, and let them know that my blunt honesty is aimed only at the writing, not at the writer...

    to be anything less than 100% honest is not being helpful... and my only reason for assessing the quality of a piece of writing is to be helpful in showing the writer how to improve his/her skills...

    so, being 'nice' does not mean you can't be helpful... but being 'too nice' and not being totally honest is not doing anyone a favor... it will only mislead a poor writer into thinking their work is ok, when it's not...
     
  21. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    When you give out advice it's just YOUR OPINION not a law of the universe.

    The internet is full of rude people - I prefer to go against the grain and be polite
    while still giving a vaild critique.
    It's called respecting people's feelings.
     
  22. the antithesis
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    the antithesis Member

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    I'm not a skilled enough critic to be nice. To be nice while telling someone their work is crap takes a degree of finesse that takes years of practice to cultivate. Most people who are "nice" when giving a critique do so at the detriment to honesty. Usually because they are not particularly useful as critics. Lots of people just read something but can't give you anything useful about it. In one ear, out the other in some cases. Nor are they able to observe and later communicate what it was like to read the work and where they disliked something or was confused by something and why. Many just don't give a crap about that. But being nice has less to do with any skill in critiquing than with the social relationship to the writer. They hate it but they don't want to hurt your feelings. That's not helpful at all because the market has no such concern.
     
  23. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Are we a fan of Ayn Rand by any chance?

    As for the original post - I believe in being as nice as the person deserves. If someone is clearly just messing around I can be pretty sour by my own admitting. If someone really tries I'm very critical (as my reviews can show) but I always like to give credit where credit is due. If there is something good about a piece and I feel it deserves being pointed out purely as a 'well done' to the writer I always try and mention it.
     
  24. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Start by elimininating the word crap. Lol!

    First of all when you're critiquing - you yourself are writing. If you can't find
    a way to be honest and tactful, how can you yourself become a good writer?
    To dismiss something as crap is to think in labels and generalizations.
    Just tell the writer where they went wrong - without slanting it with your own
    clever quips.

    Why does honesty have to equate with rudeness?
    Why not be honest and tactful?
     
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  25. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Of course there are nice people and nice actions for no personal gain. To say otherwise is, in my honest opinion, ignorant. I believe in honesty, but I also believe in tact and respect. The same 'artistic' authors that you put on a pedestal would be more respectful and honest than you believe.

    You confuse 'nice' with 'disingenuous'. Someone can be respectful and nice while still being honest. Yes, I've seen writers who only accept reviews that are positive, and ignore anything negative. That's not right.

    True story.

    ~ J. J.
     
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