1. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I’m not here to make you a better writer

    Discussion in 'Insights & Inspiration' started by Wreybies, Jun 17, 2016.

    And if you think I’m relying on you to make me a better writer, think again.

    Most of us come to a location like this in hopes of finding help and advice in our respective quests as writers. What we often find is disagreement, individual schools of thought, and many, many, many opposing camps set up for particular points of view on certain topics. Confusing, isn’t it? Well, hold on to your hat, because here is yet one more point of view. All those people are trying to get you to see it their way. It’s 2016! It’s the new religion! See it my way or else!

    Stop trying to see it anyone else’s way other than your own.

    Think about it: You want your writing to have your unique voice, your unique style, your unmistakable turn of phrase. Right? Right. So, how do you make that happen? The answer, as regards our venue, is to start giving critique and stop waiting to get it. Circumvent the black hole that is the Debate Room and head straight for the Writing Workshop. In the Workshop you will find a spectacular number of pieces of writing that you can treat as lessons, as exercises, as learning experiences. You should be engaging this bounteous mass of opportunity with an eye to learning and to teaching yourself. You should be dissecting every success with as keen an eye as you do every failure. You should be peeling both apart to see either what makes the clockwork so clever, or to ponder how it could have gone better.

    If you are there to simply shred mercilessly, you are learning nothing.

    If you are there to blow pink smoke up the ass of the OP, you are learning nothing.

    If you are there to stroke your own ego at the OP or at others, please head to pornhub.com, or perhaps engage the erotica subforum where masturbation is expected.

    Or perhaps you’re thinking to yourself, “I’m not qualified to critique. That’s the whole reason I came here.” You’re wrong; you are qualified. If you have an interest in reading and know when a story is interesting and when it is not, then you are qualified. You don’t have to use any of the fancy lingo you will see some members (me included) bandy about. It’s perfectly fine to give a critique in laymen’s terms. It’s probably better, actually.

    The other reason - and this is crucial – that you should be giving as much critique as you can if you genuinely wish to improve is that your own story, your work in progress, is your baby, and like any parent you will not suffer disparagement of your baby. In short, it’s very hard to be objective about one’s own work. It’s hard to see the flaws. But someone else’s work is different. We don’t feel that same sense of ownership. We can be objective. And in that objective consideration, we teach ourselves to be more objective with our own work. The flaws we see elsewhere, we eventually start to see more honestly in our own work, which then allows us to edit and rewrite with greater care and consideration.

    I often tell forum members that they should be very selfish in the act of giving critique. But it has to be the right kind of selfishness. Not egomaniacal, but instead greedy to learn, greedy to teach yourself. And do not make the mistake of waiting for gratitude or agreement from the person to whom you gave a critique, because it may well not come and you will feel disappointed, and your disappointment will have been born from thinking you were giving to someone else, rather than learning for your own personal betterment.

    I’m not here to make you a better writer. I’m here to make myself a better writer, and you should be doing the very same thing.
     
  2. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    You should sticky this in a dirty great flashing banner at the top of every forum page, with bells, whistles and spotlights on it.

    And you should create a private members club in Las Vegas for this:
    People would pay. They would.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm sure somewhere on the strip there's a club catering to this already. :bigwink: :-D
     
  4. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    In addition to the above, very-good advice, enlarge on every point you want to critique. Don't just state ie. 'this is not working', but detail the whole train of thoughts WHY this particular bit is not working. Force yourself to write every bit.

    Thanks, Wrey, for posting this for everyone!
     
  5. Moth
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    Moth Active Member

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    So basically, 'use the Writing Workshop more ya knobs'?

    Sure, I'll pop by sometime and give some critiques. I doubt I'll be posting anything there myself, though. Also, sometimes people need that pink smoke blown up their ass. When they're staring at a blank page, sometimes that ego-boost gives a person that little extra drive to get writing. It's not ideal, but whatever helps.
     
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  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Not so much use it more - though that would be an excellent secondary outcome - but more, stop being the direct object; be the subject.
     
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  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    This is so, so important.

    The most useful critique anyone can give me (I can't speak for others) is whether they liked what they read or not, and why. ANYBODY who can read is qualified to do that.

    "I didn't like it because that character Jane was irritating" is JUST as valuable as someone dissecting my every sentence to make them tighter. Actually, it's a hell of a lot more valuable.

    Also remember that, as a critiquer, you do not have to suggest solutions. You can if you like, but it's not a requirement of a good critique. If something doesn't work but you don't know why, that's still valid critique--it's up to the writer to fix it if they want to.
     
  8. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    I can't tell you how many times I've critiqued someone and then find the same crappy shit in my writing. It's like a big karmic hammer when that happens. I never would have noticed if I only looked at my writing.
     
  9. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    ^ Ditto.
     
  10. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Well this was written in a language I am proficient in, sans the harsh language part of course. :supergrin:

    Ok, now to business. While this feels like it makes sense, in a way it really doesn't. How does dissecting something someone elses work help with my own? You never really made that point clear. Also I feel that their is a line between a genuine critique, and just flat out nitpicking. (Unless being an asshole for the sake of it, is objective. But that is entirely different discussion.) And I know this is going to piss somebody off, but IDGAF, and for the sake of honesty am going to honest. I thought the whole point of being part of a writing community is to help others hone their skills in the art. Clearly after reading this it seems it was all a ruse, based on the author of the threads thoughts and feelings toward the topic. A critique is a gesture toward the one on the receiving end, not the one doing it. Correct me if I am wrong on that one. How does giving ones thoughts and ideas on something translate to making them a better writer? If every writer in existence had a Masters Degree in the language with which they are writing I think things would be a bit different, unfortunately that is not the case. Also I think it would make some books a lot less interesting.

    It is nice to have the engineer tell you how/why your structure fell down, cause we ain't all engineers.:supersmile:

    Point is giving my real thoughts and opinions, is not the same as when I am expressing my imagination. Maybe for you they are synonymous, IDK.

    (And this rant has come to you via the worst writer here.) :p

    Goodnight.
     
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  11. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    The point is that you notice things when you are in a less personal state, and that you can see a broader diversity of examples for a point which makes it clearer. But I do agree you should have genuine concern for the other person, because this attitude he promotes, and I've seen it before from him, is useful for everyone. Really, it's "explain yourself", "always add something useful to every review post", "remember there is diversity of style and opinion", and "pay attention to what you can learn from critiquing". And that messages is wrapped up in his philosophy of why and his attitude towards the process. As long as you understand those points though, you've got it.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2016
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  12. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    The irony of a forceful post saying not to be forceful!

    Sorry. I had too!

    To be clear I don't disagree with anything you said.

    Freedom is a marketplace of ideas. And we are responsible for ourselves. Our reactions and skills. I hate people that expect like the world to bend to them or love to shout but hate to listen. Lol.

    Okay. Added my cliche 2 pennies!

    I vanish!
     
  13. theoriginalmonsterman
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    theoriginalmonsterman Pickle Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I actually came to the forums looking for critique. I already knew my writing was good, but I wanted to get other peoples' opinions on my writing seeing how there may be a few experienced writers on here. Of course that's not to say giving critique isn't bad either. There really should be a balance of the two. Make sure you're getting out as much as you're giving. Get your own work out there while also giving critiques. I really think the main thing with critiques is take the time to read through whatever writing piece you may be reading, and give an honest opinion. Then suggest things you as a writer would change, but also don't just tell them to change everything; make sure to include aspects you liked.
     
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  14. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    And consider what they as a writer would like.
     
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  15. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    You know I wrote something really good for this thread then I spooged on it and it is lost forever.
     
  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    While I agree with what @Wreybies said, I think there is a little bit more to it than just improving your own writing.

    Once certain tricks of the trade get learned, it's great to pass them on. That doesn't mean telling people how to write or what they should or shouldn't write—and anybody who has been on this forum any length of time knows how set against that I am. I'm a great believer in 'do whatever works.' However, it can be helpful to say: "Oh, yeah, that problem happened to me as well, and this is what I did about it. Or: this is what I heard about that might help your situation." There is no point in everybody re-inventing the wheel. Just getting—and giving—new perspectives or outside-of-the box solutions can be the boost that helps a writer get past a block or see a way to solve a problem.

    I also enjoy reading about other people's experiences while they write and about writing in general. I feel my perspective has really broadened on many fronts, since joining the forum. It has also made me appreciate styles of writing that I have avoided or disliked in the past, now that I can see what the writers are trying to achieve.

    I feel a forum like this is an experience-broadening thing, not just for 'yourself' but for everybody here. You improve your own writing by doing analytical critiques, of course, but you also share what you've learned that might help fix a problem. When you put something of your own up for critique, it's great to get feedback of all kinds. But some feedback is more helpful than some other feedback. If the critique-giver is only concerned about their own writing, they might not be concerned about being helpful to you. Just hoovering up mistakes other people make and vowing to never make that mistake yourself isn't a terribly ...what do I say here ...socially-inclusive? thing to do.

    I feel that making friends here is also something I enjoy. I find a lot more people who write, and are learning the craft, to engage with here on the forum than I do in real life.
     
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  17. Mumble Bee
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    Mumble Bee The writer formerly known as Chained. Contributor

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    Personally, i'm here to sabotage budding writers with confusion, indecision, and misinformation so its easier for my sub-par work to get published...
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 18, 2016
  18. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    On reflection (and contrary to my previous narrow championing of Wrey's post above), I think you've made an excellent point here, jannert. I stand corrected broadened.
     
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  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I think that's a VERY important point. And, taking into account what @Wreybies said, that will also benefit you as a writer yourself, as you get to understand style and how it works. In other words, try to help the writer do what the writer wants to do. It's why I try to ask questions during a critique. What is it you were trying to achieve here?

    I think too often we barge into a critique of novels in particular, and immediately critique what they've put there as a stand-alone piece. It's not, if it's part of a novel. What the person is trying to achieve with the novel isn't always apparent in a single chapter. We might need to know what went before. If it's the start of a novel, we might need to know where the author is going with the story. It's not terribly helpful critique practice not to know.

    We're not writing a review. I think it's important to remember this. We are looking to improve a piece (for ourselves, for the writer ...doesn't matter, really.) In order to improve it, we need to know what the purpose of the selection is.

    As for style, I think it's also important to recognise the difference between individual styles of writing. Somebody's particular style might not suit you, but that doesn't make it wrong—unless it's full of unintentional SPAG errors. It's fine to give feedback as to how a style hits you, but it's also a good idea to recognise it as a preference, rather than as an absolute. Maybe try to critique within the writer's preferred style as much as you possibly can, rather than trying to change it to something else.

    I remember one particular well-meaning forum member with a very short attention span (no longer here) who was a huge Raymond Chandler fan. He wanted everybody to write like Raymond Chandler. He was most insistent, and used to go through everybody's MS with the Raymond Chandler sword, whacking off everything that wasn't Raymond Chandler. I'm one of those people who cannot stand Raymond Chandler, and the LAST thing I would want is to start writing like him. Interesting.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2016
  20. IlaridaArch
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    IlaridaArch Active Member

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    Yeah @jannert made excellent point of sharing.

    We aren't formula racers on a track to compete who comes out first. We are writers, and all of us have our own thing here. Finishing a book has always been hard, and obviously many of us wish it would bring us some money too. It's in everyones interest to make sure that every book that gets published from our members, are as great as can be. It's not away from our own work, quite the opposite.

    I do read stuff from Workshop, but haven't posted my own work at all. I'm shy, lemme crawl to my lair now.:oops:
     
  21. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I think a genuine desire to help the author, helps the critiquers get more out of the critiquing in all sorts of ways.

    Rewriting someones's piece without explanation is of some value to critiquers, at the very least it's writing practice.
    However it's more helpful to tell a writer why a change might be needed, and phrase it such that they might be receptive to your point, and might be able to apply it to their other pieces of writing too - that requires thinking about the writing on a much deeper level.

    I confess I do sometimes use the workshop in a wholly selfish way. Sometimes when I have access to my phone but not my computer, I'll load up a workshop submission and do a bit of a critique in my head. I may have the intention of writing up my thoughts later when I can get to the computer, but when I get a decent block of time at my computer I'd often rather work on my WIP.
    I'm not sure that's what @Wreybies is intending for us to do when he suggests that we use the workshop selfishly.
    I don't get so much value out of a critique I keep in my head, I don't even have to double-check my thoughts to make sure I'm not about to post something moronic on a forum, but it's still a smidgen of learning value in an otherwise wasted few minutes playing Candy Crush.
     
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  22. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I don't often disagree with @jannert but I do here. I do not want critiquers to filter their feedback through a 'What was she trying to achieve?' lens--or ANY kind of lens. It's up to me to filter feedback, not readers. What I need is honest opinions of what they thought and how they felt when reading my writing, without any consideration to my style or my intentions or any of that. If my style doesn't work for someone, I want to know. If it's not clear whether a character is meant to be sympathetic or not, I want to know.

    When someone prefaces their workshop piece with a load of 'I know you might not like X but it's staying because X' I don't bother to critique. They've put themselves before the reader and there's no hope for them.
     
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  23. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I think a middle ground is good. Give them the opinion honestly and as strongly as needed, and perhaps a first statement without much discussion of their perspective. But if you can advise them how to achieve their goals better then that's a useful thing, so it would be good to at least suggest things in the direction of where they're going, if not focusing on that and discussing that.
     
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  24. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    True. If they asked a specific question I agree a good critique will address it.

    I think it's actually the style thing I object to, not really the 'what do you want to achieve?' If style doesn't work for a reader it doesn't work, and I don't think it's right to avoid commenting on it just because style is personal.
     
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  25. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Definitely tell them. But consider that your feelings aren't always a problem, because nothing satisfies everyone, and not everything in writing, as we know, has a right answer. It's a balancing act, as things often are, between different concerns.
     

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