1. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Getting the most benefit out of harsh criticism?

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by TDFuhringer, May 14, 2014.

    For over twenty years I've been told I write well and know how to tell a story. Today, on the queries sub-forum, I got this comment:

    "Your query is poorly written with bad grammar and punctuation, poor choice of words, lousy sentence structure, no unique voice… showing me that you can’t write."

    This is the first time anyone has said anything like this to me. What's interesting is that it mirrors my own feelings about my writing. When I read it I feel that it's not good. It's not as bad as it was decades ago, but it's not good.

    I'm trying to decide whether this is something I should ignore and/or dismiss as simply the opinion of someone who doesn't like my writing (it's going to happen) or take it as a challenge, get mad and do something about it. Like focus even harder on figuring out where I'm going wrong and practicing till my fingers bleed.

    Which brings me to the point of this thread. How can we really get the most out of harsh criticism? Use it as motivation to do better? Let it toughen us up? Dismiss it? I ask because eventually, every one of us will have to deal with criticism that lacks any positive angle. So how do we turn negative criticism into something worthwhile?
     
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  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The only way harsh criticism can help is if the person offers suggestions for improvement. It doesn't look like the person did that in this case. So I would ignore it at this point.
     
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  3. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's what I thought at first @thirdwind , but I feel the need to develop a mechanism for dealing with stuff like this. I've learned from my depression treatment that developing coping strategies for negative experiences is important. I don't want to just ignore it, unless I absolutely have to.

    I think that hearing our teachers and friends and family tell us we're good at something becomes unhelpful after a certain point. This criticism comes out of the blue, fresh and different, and it's shaken things loose in my head. I need to get a handle on it so it doesn't get added to the list of things that trigger or exacerbate my depression. I won't be able to have a career as a writer if I can't cope with criticism, and too me, ignoring isn't coping.
     
  4. sunsplash
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    sunsplash Bona fide beach bum

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    Before being nosy and checking out the other thread: We need to be able to identify our strengths and weaknesses and be open to improving all areas. A criticism like that doesn't offer any insight or examples and I'd be hard pressed to take that seriously. Harsh criticism is often necessary but I believe it should be done in a respectful tone and offer more than just an "opinion."

    Now that I've read the thread myself: That person seems like a troll. You got more than helpful advice from some very well-respected members who offered suggestions and real help for improving. Those are the people you listen to, not the ones who can't back up their negativity with examples.
     
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  5. FrankieWuh
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    FrankieWuh Active Member

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    I agree with Thirdwind. Constructive criticism is the only criticism that matters. Harsh constructive criticism is important - you can learn from it. In this case the forum member gave none. And they are a very new member too (10 messages?). This behaviour could easily be construed as "trolling". Unless there is a good explanation behind it, I would consider it as such.
     
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  6. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, having received that, too...

    Ask for more specific questions about the critique: how would this person suggest you'd improve your writing? What does s/he think qualifies as good writing? Examples? etc. If you get nothing else out of it except insults or hurt, there's no use in dwelling on it. Every chance you get, try to improve (though I'm sure you're already doing this), and these can sometimes turn out to be excellent chances for improvement. Not perhaps this one in particular, but you get the idea.

    You can send your query to Query Shark. She'll tear it apart for sure, but she'll also tell you why it sucked :D

    I don't think it sucked, by the way. I find it engagging, but on the other hand, I don't know how to improve it and I guess there's always something one can do better...,but if I were you, I'd be very critical over such vague feedback. Besides, you can always check what else that member has posted on the forum to get a better idea of whether they know what they're saying or not :)
     
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  7. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's what I thought at first but there's something about this person's posts that make me think they aren't a troll. This person sounds more like a frustrated professional, someone who's tired of getting shitty queries in their email etc. You may be right. I'm just not sure.
     
  8. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    TD, my own view is that the only excuse for harsh criticism is if politely-phrased criticism is impolitely dismissed. Criticism that is harsh for the sake of being harsh is useless.

    There is a world of difference between "harsh" and "direct". I can accept "direct", but I refuse to put up with harsh. Moreover, the criticism offered above, as I noted in the original thread, offers no examples, makes no suggested changes, and ends with a ridiculous and unsupportable value judgment.

    Good criticism has as its goal helping the one critiqued improve. This didn't. I would ignore it.
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Doesn't justify him taking it out on someone else. I also have seen him offer advice elsewhere that was useless.
     
  10. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    LOVE Query Shark. I'm going to send one to her someday, but in her rules it's very clear that sending a query for an unfinished work is absolutely verboten. I'm sure she'll have choice things to say about my query when I'm finally done. :p
     
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  11. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Oh sorry, I missed that bit, I thought it was finished already. Oh well, it's good to practice the query now, let it simmer a bit, and then get back to it later when you're done with the final edits. :)
     
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  12. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    EXACTLY :D
     
  13. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    This doesn't sound so much like a critique as a judgement or an opinion. Whoever said this is basically saying it's no-good so give-up which isn't helpful at all. He should've cited specific sentences, offered ways to change things - given example sentences. Even for his own benefit.

    Also, query writing is a lot harder than writing the novel because you're now doing something you've been avoiding - telling & summery. You've got two paragraphs to make a 50,000 + word story, sound exciting. It's a total different mindset. Don't be too hard on yourself. I feel queasy just thinking about writing my query's for stories about cockroach apocalypses or worms that make vases. :crazy:

    Either reach out and ask the critiquer for specifics or give critiques like that the brush off. If it's not constructive - even a one sentence correction would've been better - I don't find it of value. Except when someone makes a nice comment - that at least is encouraging and supportive.
    - sounds the exact opposite.
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2014
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  14. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is true. Trying to explain my 90,500 word fantasy novel with it's own rules of magic and science, it's own world, and ensemble cast of characters who are all hiding something, in a post-war nightmare where some things aren't as they appear... well that's very hard to describe in 2oo words without misrepresenting the story, or lying outright.

    Aww. Thanks @peachalulu that's very encouraging :)
     
  15. FrankieWuh
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    FrankieWuh Active Member

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    I'm a bit suspicious of this commentator. Looking at their responses to all other threads they appear disjointed. If they weren't in the right sub-forum I would have even considered them quite 'robotic.'

    Though I'm sure the moderators are onto this already?
     
  16. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    OMG. If I got 'pwned' by a bot, I'm going to kick myself. :p
     
  17. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I do have to say that this has got to be the best display of good sportsmanship I've seen in quite a while. Thank you for turning a dubious act into an honest and valuable discussion. :agreed:
     
  18. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you @Wreybies . My other choice was to get mad and let it feed 'The Depression' but that won't do me, or anyone else, any good. So I'm trying to turn it into a learning experience.

    P.S. I'm seriously not exaggerating when I say this is the first time in my life I've received negative criticism of my storytelling/writing that didn't have at least a shard of something positive I could work with. This is a new experience for me, and new experiences can be very informative.
     
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  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I were trying to communicate the same concept, I would say something like:

    I'm afraid that your query suggests that you have a number of areas to work on before you're ready to seek publication. I would suggest focusing on getting people to comment on your writing, and working to improve the writing based on those comments, rather than polishing your query.

    Because, IMO, that is the message. The person who made the comment thinks that you're not ready to query yet. Yes, they may also think that you'll never be ready to query, but they can't know that. I know that I've read that even professional writers are not good at figuring out how another writer can improve.

    So the message is that Something Is Wrong. Possibly several Somethings--in that one person's opinion. The only really specific criticism is about grammar and punctuation, so I suppose if I were in your position, I'd pursue that, perhaps by posting material to the Review Room with a specific request that people do comment on grammar and punctuation. (Because sometimes people don't comment on those things.)
     
  20. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The person who wrote that was banned. I'm guessing a troll given he was also new here.

    Harsh criticism as you are defining it here is essentially useless insults. That's not proper criticism.

    It's rare one needs to actually be harsh in a critique. The one time I was harsh (for me) was when I told someone that after all the critiques he'd gotten in the group, he was bringing work that needed the same changes. In other words, he wasn't improving. He agreed. I think he needed to hear it. He's still in the group but I don't go to that group anymore so I don't know if he has improved. I suspect he hasn't.
     
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  21. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    As for all positive criticism, you can't learn much from that. It is important to tell people what they are doing right as much as what they are doing wrong. But if I was only ever told my writing was great, I'd look for a critic that wasn't related. :p
     
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  22. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I get mixed criticism frequently, including here on the forums. And it's always valuable. Examples:

    "I think that you have a good underlying ability to write and to set a scene. But... it could be much better with some tweaking. I think that you're offering us distracting unnecessary detail."

    "It's only about five lines down then I get interested, but from there, well, you got my attention. It's a good start as most starts go, and I would gladly read on."

    "First of all, it is clear and concise - at no point in the story was I confused as to what was occurring. Having said that, despite being clearly written I feel the language is fairly conventional and somewhat uninspiring"

    All of these were mixed positive and negative, and very useful. I was able to improve my process because of them. I question praise that's 100% positive, but the criticism I got today was 100% negative. Maybe I should apply the same rule and question it's authenticity?
     
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  23. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think there's a difference between 'harsh criticism' and simple put-downs.

    The now-you-see-'em, now-you-don't 'member' who left that remark was simply putting you down for the fun of it. You could have been a prize-winning, nationally acclaimed author and they would have said the same thing. Their fun was short-lived, thanks to the vigilance of our mods. Ignore ignore ignore.

    I'd say ignore anybody who can't be bothered to show you examples of what you're needing to work on, or can't be bothered offering specific suggestions for improvement. Their opinion is vague and unconsidered at best, malicious at worst.

    Don't give it any more thought, @TDFuhringer . This had nothing to do with you or your talents as a writer.
     
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  24. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    My query letter got ripped apart, luckily with lots of great comments by Mammamaia and Jannert, and it helped me realize how shit it really was. When a good reaction to what you write is critical, getting a reaction in a safe environment is gold. Especially the bad ones. It's like testing software before it goes live. Fix all the potential bugs. After a fair bit of cutting, culling an editing it's now much better, and hopefully does the job. But it's still not ready, and needs more and more effort to really make sure it's perfect.
     
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  25. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, the 'safe environment' is an important issue. This is why I really REALLY respect our mods and what they do.

    While you do want honest feedback as a writer, you don't want to be left emotionally shattered or even momentarily upset by an unwarranted personal attack, especially when you've just put your labour and love on the line.

    This is a great forum, because our mods keep the nasties at bay, while allowing honest and straightforward feedback to flourish.
     
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