1. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Linking to Guidebooks and Writing Advice Sites in Critique

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Catrin Lewis, Sep 8, 2016.

    As a writer being critiqued, what works and doesn't work for you when a workshop partner or beta reader recommends you read a certain writer's guidebook or online advice article? Does it matter if the recommendation comes at the beginning or end of the critique, or just when they happen to think of it? Does the level of the advice to be derived from the source make a difference? When someone refers you to a given source of writing help, how does it strike you? Are you grateful? offended? enlightened? bemused?

    I've been on the receiving end of this sort of thing twice in the past few months, and both times it's pissed me off. And it wasn't so much the thing recommended, but the message the recommender sent.

    The first time was when a beta reader flagged a "missing" comma in my prologue and forthwith linked me to a site that, she said, would teach me how to use commas correctly. The joke is that what I'd written was a restrictive clause, which does not take a comma. The message I got from her supplying that link was, "I'm going to assume you are so stupid you don't even know basic SPaG; never mind that this is only the first page. I'm looking for an excuse not to like your work." It was no surprise that she bailed on me right after that.

    The second time was more recent, when another beta reader, at the top of the first page, at the very start of her preliminary general comments, emphatically urged me to buy and assimilate a book called How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs If You Ever Want to Get Published. I read the Look Inside of this manual several months ago and decided to give it a pass. Though funny in a way, it proceeds throughout as if you don't want to get published and rarely settles down to good, positive writing advice. This format is minimally useful to me. Moreover, I agree with the many reviewers, positive and negative, who say that the mistakes the authors cite are by and large those made by total beginners. I'm no literary expert, but neither am I a bloody novice. Will anyone be surprised that being referred to this book insulted and disturbed me?

    I keep telling myself that the beta meant well. Perhaps it would have made a difference if she had put the link at the end of her critique, as a by-the-way. Or if she'd said, "It bothered me that more than once you do x, y, and z. There's a place in this hilarious book How Not to Write a Novel where the authors comment on that. You might want to take a look." But the nature of the book and the place in the critique where she recommended it sent me the message: "Your whole novel is amateurish crap and you need your little hand held to get any better." :wtf:

    As a critiquer myself, I sometimes link to outside sources, though I don't think I've ever recommended an entire book. My intended message is always, "I think you should attend to this, and it's not just me talking. Here's an authority you can rely on." Gosh, did I come off implying that the writer was ignorant?

    Though sometimes ignorance is definitely in play, as when I've linked to sites when fact-checking assertions in real-world novels I've beta-read. But that's not the same as linking to writing advice. At least, I don't think so.

    How has it been for you?
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2016
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  2. Scot
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    Scot Active Member

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    Like all critiques, you can take it or leave it. There is no guarantee the person doing the critique is a better writer than you. I would, however, ignore the entire critique by someone sending a link to a source I would have to purchase.
    I do like http://grammargeddon.com/ though.
     
  3. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Oh, God. If someone needs to tell you to buy a guidebook and the situation with your other critique, you probably aren't sharing your work with the right people. I don't blame you for being pissed. It's insulting. The more I think about it, the less I feel like showing anyone my work. That's not even feedback on your work. That's buy a generic book about writing because I don't know what I'm doing and I can't tell if you do either. I think so many people are just eager to have their work read that they will sign up for a swap or a critique, which could lead to a bunch of bad writers giving bad advice. And then you were probably better off without having a beta.

    The only time I can see linking something is if it was specific to the story and writing. Like if your novel didn't end in the present narrative. And there was a recent article in The New Yorker or something that was about novels that don't end in the present narrative. It might be interesting to you as a writer who also does that. I would never link anyone to a how-to book or writing advice. If they don't know what they're talking about, it's a problem. Bad advice can hurt good writing.

    Like Scot said, a lot of people are entering critiques blindly when it comes to who they are asking for feedback. Well, he said there is no guarantee the person giving the critique is any better than you. I think therein lies the problem. I'm not sure it's worth the gamble. I can only imagine what other kinds of things these two gave you in terms of feedback.
     
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  4. Scot
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    Scot Active Member

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    I think it is worth the gamble. Even if the person critiquing your work sucks, you could gain an insight into how your target audience might perceive your work.
     
  5. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Someone who would link How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs If You Ever Want to Get Published is not my target audience.
     
  6. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, no, the beta reader in question absolutely does not suck. She's one of my best friends and a lovely person. Which I guess makes it hurt more that we don't see eye to eye on what makes a useful critique.

    In fact, that may be the key to the problem. If this were a beta I'd recruited off of GoodReads, I wouldn't care. I could ignore the recommendation and get my writing advice somewhere else. But to have someone I really care about go into raptures about a book I don't find at all helpful . . . and to fear I might hurt her feelings if I tell her how, okay, yes, insulted it made me feel . . . that's what puts me a bind.
     
  7. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    That's a strange situation. When I read the original post, my first thought was that this person must not know you very well, thus making it difficult to know how you will take certain things. They way we frame critique can have a tremendous effect on how it's received. But if this beta reader is one of your best friends, I'd think you both would have a general rapport and know how to communicate effectively, without hurting one another's feelings.

    Curious situation you have here. It's all about the framing of the critique, as you mentioned. I'm much more receptive to critique that is framed positively. Connotation is a powerful device to utilize whilst communicating.
     
  8. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Both of the situations you outlined would piss me off, too, not just in the way it was done but the actual books... especially the second one.

    I mean, come on! How Not to Write?? When I first saw this book, I knew it had to be either a joke or at the very least very (very-very) bad for instilling confidence. (Did I say 'very' too many times just then?) I didn't care which and just gave it a miss. It's one of the few times I've done that; I'm a bit of a how-to junkie when it comes to books on writing.

    And being a how-to-write junkie, I've read just about every book ever published on the subject. And when I recommend a book, it's usually because the recommendee has asked specifically for recommendations. When that's not the case, it's because the recommendation addresses a specific problem... but I try hard to recommend not just the book itself, but a specific chapter or passage and do so in such a way that (hopefully) the recommendee isn't insulted, not too much, anyway.

    But enough about me. You're pissed and you have every right to be. I'm behind you 100% and in your place, I'd find a way to gently ram that second book into an esophagus of some description... but without being too insulting. ;)
     
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  9. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm of the school that says critiques are valuable as a way to get reader reaction, but not as a way to "fix" your novel.

    I think this is mostly because I think of critiquers as being people at an equivalent or lower level of writing experience/skill/reputation/progress/whatever, so I don't really think they're equipped to teach me much of anything. I want their reactions as readers, not as writing coaches or editors. And then based on their reactions I'd learn for myself how to fix whatever they thought the problem was (assuming I agreed it was an actual problem).

    I can see offering a suggestion for an outside source if I asked for more details, maybe. Like, if the critique included a line like "the timeline here felt weird; it was kind of inorganic" and then I responded with "Thanks for the critique-I wasn't sure what you meant by 'organic' re. the timeline" then maybe the critter would respond with "I was thinking in terms of Organic vs Inorganic Timelines in Fiction, at www.not-a-real-site-or-real-writing-term.com." I don't think I'd find that annoying.

    But in general, I just want critters to tell me if things worked or didn't work for them; I don't want them to tell me how they think I should fix the issues. I'm not necessarily offended by suggestions and in some situations they can actually be helpful, but they're not actually what I'm looking for.
     
  10. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I love that you call them 'critters.' :)
     
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  11. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks. I haven't yet responded in detail to the crit, but when I do, I think I'll save my response to the book recommendation for the last. Then I'll just say how having her mention it at the top of her comments, with no specifics as to what it was to help me with, made me feel re: her opinion of my novel. I don't think she's done much beta reading before; actually, I cajoled her into reading mine because I wanted an additional reader and I wanted to beta-read hers. Maybe my response to her crit, and the way I frame the comments I'll be sending her, will be a good model of how to do it.

    (Yeah, that's me in Teacher mode!)
     
  12. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, has she asked for a crit of her crit? If not... I wouldn't offer one.
     
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  13. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I agree; don't critique her critique! When people do that to me I make a mental note to never offer them critique again.

    As to the main thread topic, it'd depend how it was delivered. If someone keeps making the same comma mistake, I think it's fine to refer them to an article that explains comma usage. It's quicker than trying to explain yourself, and probably easier for the author to understand as well. If it's just once and it's not actually a mistake... well, I wouldn't make a mental note not to listen to any SPAG advice from that critiquer again. :D

    If it's a patronising "you don't know how to write. Have you tried this book for newbies?" then no, not okay.

    I do think you should stop the critiquing relationship with this friend right now, @Catrin Lewis. This isn't your first thread/post about her, and it IS going to damage your friendship.
     
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  14. Crybaby
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    Crybaby Contributing Member

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    I totally agree with you. Tell me what works with the story detail and if it flows, not how to write it. Like you say, your beta-readers are there to tell you what works and what doesn't. This leaves you with the decision on whether to change something or not. I am a new writer compared to most writers on this forum but even I would feel peed off if someone recomended those types of books to me, in the way that, Catrin described.
     
  15. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    She writes that she wants to know what I think of it.
     
  16. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, you're right. And I think I've gotten over my astonishment and am at the point where I can take in what's useful and let the rest go.
     
  17. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do you believe her?

    I'm kind of with @Tenderiser. A friendship is a pretty important thing, and having a fight over a critique would be pretty sad.

    You know her better than we do, obviously, and know your relationship. But I see someone doing a crit as doing a favour, and I think you have to be really careful about criticizing the way people do favours.
     
  18. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I'm on the same page as you. By the time I am showing someone my work, I like it to be my best. I'm not looking for writing help as much as I am for what did they think of it. Sure, point out an awkwardly worded phrase if it's there. But I'm not going to waste anyone's time with a rough copy, and I don't want to ready anyone's first draft either.

    Interesting about critique on critique. When I was in MFA workshop we had to hand in our critiques of other peoples work to the professor along with the writer. The professor would then mark up and make comments on our critiques and give them back to us. It was an interesting element of the class.
     
  19. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Gosh, yes, I totally agree re: needing to be really careful. That's what's been driving me nutty the past three or four weeks since the crit came in, knowing she expects me to give her feedback on her feedback, and not knowing what to say. Especially since, for all I know, recommending general guidebooks is a normal thing and I was overreacting by being dismayed at it. Ergo, my initial question above.
     
  20. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    If she's someone you want a continued relationship with, make sure to own your feelings.
     
  21. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Having thought about it overnight, I need to say that a "critique of her critique" is totally NOT in play here. What I'm talking about is engagement with her feedback, so she knows her effort in giving it to me was worthwhile. I'd be making responses on the order of "Gosh, thanks for flagging those typos; I thought I'd caught them all . . . You know, you're right that my FMC's behavior in Chapter 10 is inconsistent; I'm going to revise that . . . Oh, good grief, did I really forget that my MMC had been to that place before and now I had him say honestly that he hadn't? Wow, good catch . . . The historical fact you questioned in Chapter 12; yes, it's accurate, but maybe I should 'hang a lantern on it' so readers who don't think so won't be jerked out of the story?. . . I've considered what you said about what my FMC says in that scene in Chapter 30, and I think I'm going to leave it as it is . . . "

    And so on. It's the kind of engagement that I've found always happens in the beta reading process, whether someone is reading mine or I'm reading theirs. When people are putting in so much effort for you for free, it's cold and unappreciative (to my mind) just to say, "Got your feedback; thank you for your comments," and hit Send.

    In this particular case, when the beta has enthusiastically told me I should go buy a certain writing advice book as it will certainly help me, it's harder to know what to say. If my response is any less enthusiastic, will she take it as a bad reflection on her perception and taste?

    Yes, she's my friend and I should know her. But this is the first time we've discussed this sort of thing. In any event, it's taught me that if I ever recommend any writing advice books to a someone I'm critiquing, I need to do it very, very carefully.
     
  22. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess I'm kind of brief with my responses - more of a "thanks, some really good points!". But I'm not claiming that's the accepted 'right' way!
     
  23. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I like engaging too, both when giving and getting feedback. But if I'm dismissing someone's feedback (even after careful thought and deliberation) I don't tell them unless they push to know whether I changed it or not. It feels rude to come out and say it, you know?
     

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