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gettingby
11-30-2014, 03:44 AM
I recently read a new draft of a friend's story, and I think I might have been too harsh with my feedback. Honestly, her first draft was really good and didn't need that much work. There was some stuff that needed to be addressed that was brought up in our workshop. She addressed all those issues, but seemed to lose something in doing so. The first draft was so beautifully written, and, in making her changes, she lost the flow and rhythm of the piece. I told her this and a bunch of other stuff. But we are friends, and I always love to read her work. I wish I had stated that to her. Instead, I was critical, but my intension was to be helpful.

Have you ever wondered if your feedback has been too harsh? How do you say the same things without it sounding like you are being too critical? I know she wants honest feedback, but I still want to be friends. I was trying to think about how I would handle the kind of feedback I gave her, and I think it might be hard to take given I know how hard I work and how hard she works. I stand by the written comments I gave her, but I am thinking I should tell her that I wasn't trying to bash her work. I just know she can do better because I've seen her do better. Should I try to talk to her about why my feedback might have been upsetting? Should I send her an email? Or do I just leave it alone? She hasn't said anything to me, but I think it would be hard to tell someone the feedback they gave was upsetting. I don't even know if she was upset. I just feel like I should have tried to take a softer approach.

What would you do? Have you ever gotten feedback that upset you? Did it affect your relationship with the person who gave it?

buz
11-30-2014, 04:01 AM
Well, depends on my relationship with the person, I guess...

I can't recall getting feedback that I thought was particularly harsh or especially upset me, but I do know I've given feedback that I've regretted giving in the exact manner I gave it. In which case, depending on the person, I might go "OH GOD I'M SO SORRY WAS I BEING A BITCH I WAS TOTALLY BEING A BITCH WHAT I MEANT TO SAY WAS X" and then they'll go "oh my god, calm down, stop being such a [milksop]*" or something, and then it's ok...more or less, lol...

Sometimes, though, like maybe if I don't know the person that well, I just hunker down and say nothing and hide in a hole.

...My social skills are not awesome. This is not me giving advice, by the way. DON'T DO WHAT I DO

Or maybe you should. Lol. Like I said, it kind of depends on relationships. If you're bothered by it, you could send a quick friendly email of clarification and "I always love reading your work" kind of thing; I'm sure it wouldn't offend her or anything like that.

Probably. Right?

Did I mention my social skills are not awesome?

*yes, "milksop" was the only damn word I could think of, despite the fact that no one has ever even uttered the word "milksop" in my presence and I'm not even sure why I know it except...you know. Soppy milk! Unforgettable. Obviously. :p

Ken
11-30-2014, 04:18 AM
Qualifying your feedback is easy and effective. Just add, "IMO." "My two cents." "This may be fine. I am just offering you my opinion." And of course, we all are. Point out what you like too when giving feedback which goes without saying, even if it is just general stuff.


I always love to read her work. I wish I had stated that to her.

Next time do so :-)

Mr Flibble
11-30-2014, 04:19 AM
Tell your friend, right now, that you love reading her stuff


Now you have done that...


How do you say the same things without it sounding like you are being too critical?

Tact and diplomacy. Break it down into what is exactly your problem and offer a solution.

Instead of 'WTF is this?'

'Character X seems to have no agency. could you do X....?'

Being specific is what your writer wants. But you can couch it it diplomatic terms. Ones that do not come across as "you are shit". Think of it as a test of your writerly skill.

TessB
11-30-2014, 04:24 AM
Remember to add compliments as well, when there's stuff that really sticks out as exceptional! An editor I worked with years ago called this "feeding them the sh!t sandwich" -- put a negative comment in between two positively-phrased ones, so that the end result is a net positive.

("this chapter is so beautifully written; it's got amazing rhythm to it. I caught a handful of verb tense problems that you need to fix, but as far as content goes, this is a great boost to John's character arc. If you added a short scene at the end with John and Susan, it would help emphasize his growth over the course of the six months.")

Jamesaritchie
11-30-2014, 04:31 AM
This is why I detest critique group. They ruin beautifully written manuscripts with minutia, and then have problems when the writer makes the very changes they ask for. If the original is that good, then tell her to submit that version. An agent or editor will ask for the right changes, in the right way.

Fruitbat
11-30-2014, 04:50 AM
Like most people who critique, my intention is always to help the writer polish the manuscript, never to tear down their confidence.

I tend to be very detailed oriented with it, line by line, because that's what I would want and is also just how I think and what I notice. It's how my partner and I go over my own work and I'm always free to take or disregard any advice anyway.

But of course I don't feel good if I get the idea I've hurt someone's feelings. I also tend to feel annoyed and set up, tbh. If they're not ready for real critiques by real writers then they shouldn't request them. I wouldn't critique for that person again and maybe it's not such a good idea to critique for friends in the first place. There are plenty of other people who will appreciate your time and effort.

Dmbeucler
11-30-2014, 04:58 AM
I think some of it is on your friend to learn how to fix the flaws without ruining the writing. I regularly discard things my crit group says because they usually aren't right on how to fix things, they are usually only right when they pick out that something is wrong, but not necessarily what is wrong. (And not because they aren't awesome writers and critiquers! They really are. But I know my story better then they do and the same is true in reverse, sometimes I know something is wrong, but I might not know the right way for them to fix it.)

I'm a big fan of Mary Robinette Kowal's article on classifying critiques: http://maryrobinette.tumblr.com/post/92591320591/im-wondering-what-you-do-with-really-weird

The other thing you can do is what was suggested above, give positive feedback whenever you enjoy something, and try to avoid making specific recommendations (unless it's a clear cut issue like wrong word usage, grammar errors, or incorrect facts). (By specific I mean like rewriting their sentences, or saying "I think you should do X with the plot.")

shadowwalker
11-30-2014, 05:50 AM
I try to stay away from "judgement" words and phrases. For example, if something is confusing, I say that rather than "I have no idea what that meant". I don't comment on style unless something about it distracts from the story - like dialogue tags where it's obvious the writer had a thesaurus in their hand. I ask questions rather than issue directives. I remind the writer frequently that it is only my opinion, and they must decide for themselves whether to use my suggestions/advice, and I remind myself even more frequently to make my comments about the writing and not the writer.

MaryMumsy
11-30-2014, 06:21 AM
Twenty some years ago I used to beta read for a friend. She was published, and had even won a couple of legitimate awards. Then came the ms from hell. It was her same genre, and reasonably well written for what it was. So she called to see what I thought. Lacking in tact, I said "the only character I cared about was the dog". There is a pause of a couple of beats, and then loud whooping laughter. She said "well, I guess I have some work to do on this one". She re-worked it, it was published, and sold even better than the one that won the awards.

But we had that kind of relationship. She still had me read for her. She passed away 12 years ago next month, and I still miss her.

MM

Hapax Legomenon
11-30-2014, 07:20 AM
Make it absolutely clear that you enjoy reading your friend's work and that no matter what you say, they should continue to work on it and that it is worth finishing, if that is how you feel.

I don't know. I sent my work to someone for comments and they were giving me comments as they read and asking about things that were literally explained in the next couple paragraphs and made some (IMHO) very bizarre comments. When I was upset by this and told them to just read the whole thing before saying anything, we got into a fight and they told me that I had just wasted their time.

I've also been forced to give people some very harsh comments, some that probably hurt worse than others. It was difficult to tell a particular writer that his work read very sexist to me but I still felt like it was my obligation to say something.

If you tell someone that you like their previous version better than the new one, I mean, that's different than an initial harsh critique, I think? Because it at least means that you liked the work that they produced before and, potentially, it's easy to get it back to the way it was.

CrastersBabies
11-30-2014, 07:25 AM
This is why I detest critique group. They ruin beautifully written manuscripts with minutia, and then have problems when the writer makes the very changes they ask for. If the original is that good, then tell her to submit that version. An agent or editor will ask for the right changes, in the right way.

It's not the same for all of us. Which I have said (and others have said) multiple times in multiple threads. You detest critique groups. Many do not.

StoryofWoe
11-30-2014, 08:58 AM
For me, more often than not, it's the other way around. I have to beg people to be brutal with my work. When I crit for others, I try to be upfront about my methods: It's not about you, it's about the story, and I wouldn't agree to beta read or critique if I didn't love you and think that your work had potential. Then, I dig my claws in and get down to business. Of course, not everyone wants to have their work dissected to that extent, so it's a good idea to ask them what they're looking for. Are they looking for someone to nit-pick? Or, are they looking for an over-arching critique on the cohesiveness story in its entirety? Are they just looking for someone to say, "Yes, you have something here," or, "No, sorry, try again"?

I recently did a really thorough critique on a friend's flash fiction piece and he greatly appreciated my aggressive methods. I've also been part of a "writer's group" that was more of a support system than a source of honest feedback. Like I said, it's good to find out beforehand what people are looking for. Also! Always start with a complement. Tell them what you liked first, then move onto the stuff you think needs work.

If it would ease your conscience, shoot her a quick e-mail. If she's hurt, it'll help ease the sting. If she isn't, it'll just seem like a nice gesture from a concerned friend.

Roxxsmom
11-30-2014, 11:33 AM
If you wish you'd told her how much you love reading her stuff, is there a reason you can't do so now? Tell her, "You know, I got so focused on all those little concerns I had about your rewritten manuscript that I forgot to tell you how much I love your writing. Actually, my biggest problem with the rewrite is that I think it sounds less like you than it did before."

Or whatever it is you wanted to tell her.

Otherwise, I agree with what the others have said. and it's not uncommon for a writer to get so much feedback (some of it even conflicting) that they strip their writing of everything that makes their writing unique and special. Sometimes knowing how to respond to conflicting feedback is a matter of knowing who your audience might be, or even just knowing what it is you're trying to do with your story.

But that's not information everyone is going to have, and of course, it can be hard to know how to walk that line between being that person who refuses to accept any criticism, because no one gets your beautiful, unique genius, and being that person who edits all the voice and personality out of their work in an attempt to make it appealing to everyone.

CrastersBabies
11-30-2014, 08:35 PM
It's all part of the critiquing process. You learn how to critique and, in turn, you learn how to sift through large bits of critique and find what is helpful. Both are equally important.

A good writing group knows how to cut through a lot of the noise.

As to the OP, people over-revise all the time and kill the spirit of a piece. It's what writers do. Another revision might bring that spirit back. No revision is set in stone.

Polenth
11-30-2014, 09:47 PM
One thing I see people sliding into with critiques is wanting to criticise everything they can possibly criticise. They'll line-by-line and be the worse nitpicker who has ever nitpicked. Not because it's useful, but out of feeling a real critique has a lot of words.

The big picture issues you've given here, like the first draft being better and almost there, and the edits being a step backwards, would be good things to say in a critique. If a story is almost there, it doesn't need masses of criticism. If a story needs an overall rethink (like going back a draft) it again doesn't need masses of criticism. Just a basic comment explaining that main issue.

So if you stuck to what you've said here, I don't see that's an issue. But if you became the nitpicker, it wouldn't surprise me if she didn't find it helpful.

CrastersBabies
11-30-2014, 10:16 PM
One thing I see people sliding into with critiques is wanting to criticise everything they can possibly criticise. They'll line-by-line and be the worse nitpicker who has ever nitpicked. Not because it's useful, but out of feeling a real critique has a lot of words.

The big picture issues you've given here, like the first draft being better and almost there, and the edits being a step backwards, would be good things to say in a critique. If a story is almost there, it doesn't need masses of criticism. If a story needs an overall rethink (like going back a draft) it again doesn't need masses of criticism. Just a basic comment explaining that main issue.

So if you stuck to what you've said here, I don't see that's an issue. But if you became the nitpicker, it wouldn't surprise me if she didn't find it helpful.

I agree with this. I wouldn't want nitpickers in my group nor would I solicit a nitpicker to beta read for me. Hence why we weed them out. Critique is an art unto itself, just as much as writing is. And there are quite a few well-meaning folks who downright suck at it.

But, again, a writer also needs to have that "ear" for analyzing critique and learning what will make him/her a better writer. It's not easy. As a matter of fact, it's one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do as a writer.

If I felt someone over-revised, I wouldn't hesitate to tell them so. To revisit the original. To give them positive critique that signals where they are succeeding. I feel like this is one reason why only offering negative critique can hinder a writer.

gettingby
12-01-2014, 02:17 AM
Thanks for the responses, everyone. I contacted my friend and tried to explain why my feedback might have been harsh. I also made sure to tell her how good her writing is and how much I enjoy reading her work. I had line edited and gave her a two page response so I really din't leave anything out when I gave her feedback. But she is kind of my writing buddy, and I wanted to tell her what was wrong so that she could fix it before submitting the story for publication. I think we're cool now.

LOTLOF
12-03-2014, 12:33 AM
I get asked to look over the work of others pretty often. Whenever I agree to there is always a very simple warning. 'Don't ask me for my opinion if you don't actually want it.'

I am never deliberately mean, but I am blunt. I point out mistakes and I give my honest opinion. Some people appreciate my honesty, but quite a few have been upset and felt the need to defend their work.

My own experience has always been that I learn a lot more from criticism than from glowing reviews. While everyone loves to hear their story was great, that doesn't tell me what I need to work on. I genuinely try to help other writers by telling them what I see as their weaknesses. Again, not in a belittling way, but just by stating the facts as I see them.

If they are offended or put off by that then I know better than to agree to any more critiques.

Lena Hillbrand
12-03-2014, 03:24 AM
I sometimes wonder about that in my crit group. But, the better the writer, the more criticism they can usually take. Or that's my experience, anyway. I think the compliment sandwich is always good. I always try to start out by saying how much I liked something. Also, I try to offer a suggestion (What if instead of this, you did this...?) Even if they don't like your idea at all, they know you're trying to be helpful.