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Why do friends/family suck at giving criticism

Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by JayClassical, Feb 24, 2013.

  1. halisme

    halisme Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have not asked them for criticism, nor do they know I write. I had some friends that I talked about it to, but not family.
     
  2. Mocheo Timo

    Mocheo Timo Active Member

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    Bias is the number one word.
    My mother understands nearly zero of what I write. My father is no better help.
    Yet, whenever I share anything with them, they'll simply say my writing is good and I'll publish a book some day or some useless comment among those lines.

    Sharing my work with some close friends was helpful for me though.
    As to the quality of writing, their responses were completely biased.
    Regardless of whether I did a neat job or a crappy work, they'd say it is good so I don't feel hurt.
    But one of my friends helped me a lot with my current WIP, pointing out grammar and punctuation mistakes
    and sharing her opinion about the characters and the plot.

    If you have a friend who is at least willing to say he/she understood what you wrote,
    that would already be some good criticism.
     
  3. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributing Member

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    Fortunately, that much I had. It was the first thing I asked of a friend who wrote my first novel: "Do you understand what I write, I mean, is it all clear?" The answer was yes. I was so unsure about my writing that at that point I didn't know if my writing was comprehensible. Apparently it is. :)

    If we're going to share funny stories about parents, when I was around 15 my mother asked me to read what I was writing because she was curious. The critique I had from her was "Good Lord, all that sex and violence, how do you come up with all that ugliness?! I know it's not happening to you, so why do you write such appalling things?!"
    That was the last time she read anything from me, that I know of, unless she found this or that manuscript lying around without my knowing.
    Goes without saying that wasn't very helpful. :)
     
  4. Lady Fickle

    Lady Fickle Member

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    They are too picky. They know your weaknesses, and they expect them, and they bite... always having a different idea from you...an idea derived from the last TV show which made an impression to them.
    It took me a while to know that my mother is not always the best critique of the things I write (having in mind I write heavily erotic literature sometimes.)

    It's pure bliss to meet constructive criticism. Not someone who will tell you - "this is not my style of writing," or comments like: "I was going to gnaw through my veins from boredom..."

    What I discovered recently was that actually, commenting on other people's work makes me more capable to alter my own to their perfection. So see what other people do and learn from their mistakes and their achievement. I much prefer to give than to receive criticism.
     
  5. LinnyV

    LinnyV Contributing Member

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    The first friend I sent out my writing to said to me, "You're writing to romance readers, they are dumb. You are using words that are too big for them. You are trying too hard." I think I was ready to kill him, even though I love him dearly and he is one of my favourite humans on the planet. He is that guy who can be relied on to always tell it the way he sees it. But as a proud romance reader, I took extreme exception to his critique, so I ignored his misguided advice and dicky perception of my genre. Despite my dissatisfaction with his crappy critique, unlike some other friends, he has over the years, cared enough to ask me, "Are you still writing?"

    But fast forward a few years, I sent him another piece just recently and he said, "I know a friend whose wife self publishes and she earns more than him. Why are you not self publishing, I think you can do it." Spent time relating to me his discussion with this other gentleman, which was really sweet of him.

    However, I have not dumbed down my writing as per his advice years ago, I think I just write better now, so he isn't as easily distracted. Close friends who love you, but will not hesitate to tell you when they think you suck are always handy to have on board. :)

    As for family members, my husband is my captured audience. I bug him at all hours and I would not hesitate to shake him awake in the middle of the night for an opinion. He's used to it and claims I am taking years of his life. He also proofreads every piece and contains my habit to go over the top. But his input is highly valued to me because of his attention to detail, general world knowledge, and that he has a stronger grasp of language than I do. I also often get him to read other people's work online to compare with mine, and I'm always impressed that he gives a discerning breakdown on what the issues are in a given piece. He's a better critiquer than I am. I trust his opinion, even if our personalities and taste are so different.

    At least I can scream my dissatisfaction at him with no consequences. Often when I argue, he calmly and smugly responds, "Well, if you just want me to say I like it..." Grrr...:bigmad: Disgruntled, I would go back and make adjustments. It's invaluable to have a partner who is intimately aware of your writing style and habits. So even when considering external critique, I have a second opinion when dealing with unsuitable advice. It's nice you can cuddle (or punch) your most annoying critiquer and all's good. hehe

    So I can't complain. I only ever tell friends or work acquaintances I write who have a strong interest in reading or language. They always generate great conversations, are a source of inspiration, especially due to cultural diversity, and I like recruiting those I trust to be honest as beta readers.

    Oops, I wrote an essay as always. But I feel real life critiquers are invaluable for balance. As with online critiques you still need to be selective of who you would ask for critiques, and understand what they offer you. If you feel you've chosen carefully and there are still disinterest from people who actually know you, then it's worth really looking closely at what you or they may be missing. I don't see the point of imposing on family or friends if they don't have a natural interest to read. I can only imagine it will often lead to dissatisfaction.
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2016
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  6. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    There is absolutely no rule about who will or won't be a good critique-giver—or what their relationship to you may be.

    Many well-known authors claim that their wife or husband is their most valued critic, and are always the first person to see the MS. Others don't show their spouses their work till it's actually published. It depends on the personality of the individual (are they timid, abrasive, perceptive, dismissive, competent?) and also on whether they are experienced readers, or even writers themselves. It also helps if they have a nose for spotting problems and pinpointing them so you can work on corrections.

    If somebody you trust asks to read your work, let them. If what they tell you afterwards makes sense, go with what they tell you. If what they say afterwards is either too vague or unhelpfully negative, just thank them and pass on.

    Obviously you're not going to hand something as revealing of yourself as your writing to somebody who dislikes you, or is always looking for an excuse to put you down. But anybody else? Even if they are near and dear relations? Why not? Chances are they will want you to succeed, so they'll try to help.
     
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  7. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member Contributor

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    My family doesn't care about my work or reading fiction in general. In fact they're more likely to ridicule art than be supportive so they can take a hike as far as that goes.
     
  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    My family reads but they won't say anything negative about the work except my daughter is getting there :)
     
  9. 123456789

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've said this before but it's always satisfying to say it again- asking family and friends to read something you wrote is asking for disaster. Not saying it will always be disaster. Not saying even if there is disaster, something valuable (in terms of critique) can't be gained. I am saying that you should expect temporary tensions in your relationship with that person, either from your part, his/her part, or both. You should also anticipate that you will leave disappointed with what you get, if not downright discouraged. This applies for scenarios where you are 1) asking someone to beta read rather than that person asking you if they can beta read and 2) the person doing the beta reader is not a serious reader.

    Maybe in the beginning it doesn't matter. If you're a brand new aspiring writer, you have little to lose. You're likely writing crap anyway, and even a bored mother can intentionally or unintentionally convey to you that the work needs improving. Once non readers start saying stuff like "holy shit, you can write," you know it's time to start bothering other aspiring writers.

    I have no idea how authors learned back in the day, before the internet. If anyone can fill me in I'd love to know. But these days, I recommend interacting with people as literate as possible, preferably strangers or like-minded acquaintances.
     
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  10. deadrats

    deadrats Contributing Member

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    The majority of my friends are writers. I feel lucky when they take the time to read my stuff and offer feedback. I do it for them too. This has been going on for years. We've got a good group. Also, I see nothing wrong with family members reading my work. It's not going to be the same level of critique as my friends, but that's okay. They'll still tell me what they think of it. I don't see why showing your work to a stranger is going to be any better.
     
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  11. dbesim

    dbesim Contributing Member

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    I think friends can be more helpful at critiquing than members of family. They'll say they like it but at least they can be more constructive and tell you how it could be improved while also considering your feelings. Whether people have the reading skills or not anyone can give you their opinion on something and let you know whether they are entertained by it or not (or at least if they've liked a story) so that you can get a better impression of the way others will react to it and maybe where writers can find the right sort of encouragment that they need within close circles.
     
  12. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    my dad's pretty good at it I think. He'd never critique my stuff though because he considers writing a waste of time. However, he did read my self-published novel without being asked - such is the paradox of my parents. They think it's a thorough waste of time that they also fully support and think I should develop it and all. I think it's a clash of their cultural upbringing and possibly what their heart tells them.

    Anyway dad gave me some pretty good advice after reading my novel - I've actually taken it to heart and will be sure to keep an eye out for those same mistakes in my future books.
     
  13. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributing Member Contributor

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    My husband reads each of my chapters as I write them. He doesn't have a lot of deep critiques, but he's pretty good at letting me know if things are making sense of if the hamster that lives in my brain has jumped its wheel.

    His input was invaluable on my second attempt at a novel (which sadly stalled at the halfway point) because one of my MCs is a the guitarist in a popular modern rock band, and my husband is a longtime guitarist who's both in a band and is extremely well versed in rock documentaries and nonfiction books.
     
  14. Carly Berg

    Carly Berg Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think their reactions show their true feelings. Either they really didn't want to read it but felt cornered, or they didn't like it and don't want to hurt your feelings. I don't think being published changes it much.

    Most friends and family are probably glad you have an interest you're jazzed about but that doesn't mean it's an interest they share or that they want to devote hours of their own time to it, any more than you'd want to spend hours of your time on interests of theirs that you don't share.

    I've had this happen a few times. People I've known socially send me their work (in my case, it's been without asking) and I'm on the spot. It usually is not the kind of thing I happen to like to read and even if it is, unpublished writing is often very rough. So, I say something kinda socially nice but not so nice that they keep including me. It's an uncomfortable position that I don't want to be in.

    I think it is better to request critiques from other writers, on writing forums, for ex. And if you want to share with friends and family, rather than just sending it to them or asking point blank if they want to read it (which can make them feel like they'd be insulting you to say no) tell them to "let you know if they ever feel like reading your work."

    Of course there are exceptions. My husband is my best critter and he tells me exactly what he really thinks (yikes!). But most friends/family probably just won't be that interested in it, even if they are interested in you.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2016
  15. G. Anderson

    G. Anderson Active Member

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    I've only given my writing to one friend (actually most don't know I write) because I knew that friend works with writing and reviewing work. I think that it's not the best idea because either they'll spare your feeling and if they don't, the blow might be a bit harder to take than that of a stranger.
     
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  16. Ebenezer Lux

    Ebenezer Lux Member

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    It's kind of like showing pictures of your pet to your friends. Everyone loves it by default, but how many would be willing to pet-sit if you were out of town?
     
  17. ToDandy

    ToDandy Contributing Member

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    I'll answer this by instead asking the reverse, "Have you ever given honest critique to a friend and had it badly received?"

    Not all friends or family suck at critique but generally they tell you what you want to hear to make you happy, not hurt your feelings, or avoid words being taking in the wrong way. I'm usually very forward in my thoughts and I've had plenty of friends get angry at me for giving particularly harsh critique they didn't agree with or felt was unfair.

    But if they don't want to hear what I really think, they should just stop asking me.
     
  18. PilotMobius

    PilotMobius Active Member

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    Dunno about you, but my friends and I revel in roasting each other about our works.
     
  19. ToDandy

    ToDandy Contributing Member

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    Oh I definitely have friends like that too. I also have friends who can't handle critique. Those are the ones who are difficult to work with. Typically that's a sign you are in the wrong industry.
     
  20. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    My nephew in the Air Force offered to beta read my novel. No surprise and no hard feelings from me when it turned out he didn't have time to do it.

    As for my best friend from grad school who did read it for me, the issue there was not so much what she said about my novel (her response was pretty severe in places), but the meta-message it gave about our friendship. But not, perhaps, the one you might think.

    I think there's this idea, among women especially, that our bffs are like soul mates. We're sure we have the same aspirations, the same interests, the same values; we see the world the same way. Otherwise, what are best friends for? So when I got her critique and she wasn't getting my humor and was recommending certain comic authors whom I don't find funny, when she was saying a lot of the romantic bits were a waste of space, when she was questioning stuff I and all my previous beta readers took for granted, I was thinking, "Oh, gosh, do I really know her at all?" There was a real sense of loss.

    But I've had time to think and settle down. It's good, I see, to separate one's conception of another person from who the person really is, and it's good to let the false image go and accept the person for who she really is. Our senses of humor are different. It's also a fact that I'm more susceptible to romance than she is. So what? She's still a good person and a great friend.

    I'm currently going through her critique and incorporating whatever I find useful. In consequence, I've done some major rewriting. But the shock of having to face up to our differences meant it took time before I could do that.
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2016
  21. amerrigan

    amerrigan Member

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    [i deleted this post because it was about a friend and I was afraid he might read it one day]
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2016
  22. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributing Member

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    I felt every word in your post. I remember being in your shoes a long time ago. It has been my experience that as people grow older so do their interests, to a point where you can be friends with a person and accept that there's very little you share in terms of interests but the friendship itself makes up for it.
    This is not the thread for this subject I have don't want to digress, but know that I know what you mean.

    Recently I had another kind of experience. I showed my work to a male friend and I felt that the comments he was making were not about the story but about what he thinks of me and my choices in life. It could be that (of course) my personal experience is easy to notice on my work for someone who knows me that well, or it could be that I'm making things up in my head. I felt that he was criticising my life, not my story. There was this instance when he said that I wasn't letting my characters "follow the course of life" freely, something along these lines, that felt more like "I'm interested in you and we've been hanging out together but you don't seem to want to follow the course of life freely", know what I mean? I wasn't interested in that type of relationship and I felt that that comment was about me, and us, and our relationship. It didn't resonate to be about my characters because he didn't finish reading (as far as I know) and it was too soon in the story to make that judgement (besides, no one else said that about my characters, so there's that). Or I could indeed be making things up in my head about what he really meant to say. But my gut feeling tells me there was more to that than just critique.

    Long story short, our relationships get in the way of critique and nowadays I'm only listening to distant acquaintances and perfect strangers. Easier on everyone that way.
     
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  23. amerrigan

    amerrigan Member

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    I'm not sure that this should be thrown away as useless... I had the experience for many years of friends and family reading my work and reacting in all the ways described above. But rather than give up on it as not helpful, I decided that it actually said something about my work, it pointed to something I needed to improve, though I couldn't identify what it was. It, in itself, was the 'critique'. After years of thinking about it, I'd boiled my complaint down to:

    'When they read it, they don't treat it like a work they picked up off the shelf. They automatically have the approach of 'i am involved, i have control over this, it is about me directly.' - - Where-as a book off the shelf they accept it for what it is, distant, a finished book they have no control over. And they enjoy it, or not, based on a completely different point of view.'

    To deal with it, I kept trying to work on my characters, give them a life of their own, find ways to make them into fully formed identities that my friends and family would read as complete beings and not malleable. Give them plot points and events that were vital to the story and took them by surprise. Wrote it in a voice that, even at the first sentence, took them straight into another reality. Better, harder, faster, more. Until the day I eventually wrote something that succeeded in providing... for lack of a better term... the 'escapism' of a book off the shelf to them. I was able to provide them with that 'distance'. It was a turning point in my writing, one that I cannot tell you how to achieve for yourself, but once you have achieved it - Once you can give them a story and they realize that it is on this other level, and you see them respond to it like that. It feels really freaking good.

    I would stick with it, and keep trying them as readers, until you reach this.

    Trust me, the feeling of winning them over is better than the feeling of winning over a stranger.
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2016
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  24. TheeFreakShowee

    TheeFreakShowee Member

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    Every time a piece is shown to the motherly unit: "It's good!" And nothing else. It's more than a little frustrating, especially since she's a published writer herself. At most, little qualms about grammar but nothing actually useful. Doesn't say what in it is good, or what is bad. How it made her feel. What it made her think. Etc.

    Do have some friends who are absolutely fantastic critics, though, so that's nice. But in general, most people do seem to suck at it, even a few writer friends. And the worst is when you send your work to a good friend, and they said they read it, but they clearly didn't.
     
  25. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's awful, isn't it? It leaves you thinking, "Oh, gosh, my book must really be dreck if even my good friends won't bother to read it!"

    I tell myself in those cases that my friends must have had good reasons not to get around to beta reading my novel, and if any of you know what those good reasons are, please tell me.
     

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