"You sound like a second rate Shakespearian hack who doesn't understand his own lines"

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angelisa fontaine-wood

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These were the words of someone I had thought of as a friend (whose writing I had admired) upon reading the second story I had ever written. Said story was submitted for the first time in February of 2020 and after four submissions was accepted four months later by paying market.

There's a lesson in here somewhere about listening to your own voice and "just goes to show" - something. I'm not sure what. Those words stung but the way things played out, I felt karmic about it.

I thought I'd share that with you all. I often think of it.
 

lizmonster

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Art is for sure subjective. I loathe a lot of art - books, movies, music - that other people just adore.

But I will never get the kind of person who thinks they need to be cruel. There's a type of critiquer who thinks it's only "authentic" if they're as nasty as possible. I don't expect my friends to like everything. I do expect them not to be cruel.
 

DrZoidberg

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I am always grateful for any feedback. Even the hurty ones. The fact that somebody read something I have written is in itself a greater flattery than the meanness of the words. That's how I feel about it.
 

lizmonster

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I am always grateful for any feedback. Even the hurty ones. The fact that somebody read something I have written is in itself a greater flattery than the meanness of the words. That's how I feel about it.

That's a fine attitude to have, and you will be able to weather a lot of publishing better because of it.

Back in 2008 I went back to school for art. One of the first things we were taught was how to critique. There was much discussion of the famed "sandwich method" - one nice thing, one critical thing, then one nice thing - but the fundamental principles were that a crit should be a) helpful, and b) actionable.

Cruel crits will always violate one, if not both, of those principles.

Friends aren't always in it to crit you, either. But in that case, they lose absolutely nothing by saying "Not my thing, good luck with it" instead of tearing you down.

Brutality is never a virtue.
 

angelisa fontaine-wood

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For a good while to wrap my mind around it but I figured in the end it was wasted energy, especially after she broke off our friendship for one and for two, the eventual acceptance. And while I do think it's always an honor for someone to take out time to read something I've created, there really are people out there who are destructive, and wilfully so. Best not to court their opinions, I think.
 

Chris P

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There's a lesson in here somewhere about listening to your own voice and "just goes to show" - something. I'm not sure what. Those words stung but the way things played out, I felt karmic about it.
This is the part I still struggle with. I sometimes treat critters as a review board I must please before I can go further. Not so! And I tell others that, but when it comes to my own writing...I can't help but wonder what they say that I don't, and if they are right and everyone would agree with them.

All part of growing in this business.
 

Roxxsmom

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I don't understand why some folks feel the need to be cruel with feedback. I suppose some people have friendships where the exchange of playful insults is an accepted dynamic.

And maybe this friend wasn't intending to be cruel. Since you had a past relationship, they possibly expected you would "get" the humor. Or maybe this friend thought they were being funny or clever or softening a negative review with smartass humor. Or maybe they enjoy reading reviews by some critic or other that are snarky like this. Many fail to grasp the difference between critique (for a the writer before a project is finished and subbed) vs a review, which is for potential readers and given after a work is in print (or about to come out).

I suppose this is a cautionary note about having friends you didn't meet "as a writer" as critiquers or beta readers as well.

The best critiques, imo, are honest but constructive, which means explaining why something isn't working for you and acknowledging that your own taste isn't universal.

Anyway, I'm glad you got some vindication here. Most writers, no matter how skilled, won't sell the second story they ever write. A harsh, unhelpful critique early on can become a specter that haunts them as the rejections pile up on project after project.
 
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J.W.

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This is the part I still struggle with. I love the internal conflict your MC is facing but what about external conflicts? I sometimes treat critters as a review board I must please before I can go further. I feel as though your MC doesn't have enough at stake here. Not so! And I tell others that, but when it comes to my own writing...I can't help but wonder what they say that I don't, you need a more active voice and fewer passive verbs (tell, wonder, say.) and if they are right and everyone would agree with them. At this point I'm lost and don't know what your story is about.

All part of growing in this business. You sound like a Shakespearian ne'er-do-well who doesn't understand their own lines.
Please resubmit for the review board :p

Happy Friday.
Cheers!
 

AlanHeise

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I am new here and far from getting to see my own critiques but still think that one should be helpful if you wish to do this for others. It is not about you, except to be a help in critiquing. That said, one should be able to just discard advice that does not help. You are your own voice in all that you write. If someone is not helping then, sluff it off as just not being helpful. Those who are hurtful in how they think they are helping, will not have many takers of advice and lose their ability to influence others here. We all need to be discriminating in allowing other to hurt us. If they are seeming to do so, then discard their advice and move on. Most people here do not really know you, so do not allow them to hurt the real you inside. Stay strong about who you are and ignore the ones who are asking to be treated so.
 

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Voice is a funny ol' thing. The farther an author's voice moves from the invisible, the more distinctive and unique their storytelling becomes. But such voice, in turn, seems to polarise readers: either they love it, or they hate it.
 

JoB42

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I make a point of being polite when I critique. I have zero interest in hurting anyone's feelings.

That said, I hate the "compliment sandwich" approach when it comes to receiving feedback. All I want is to hear what the reader thought. That's it. I want to hear what they thought as if I weren't in the room, as if they were talking to someone else about what they just read. Unfiltered truth.

I don't want readers to worry about my feelings or validate anything about me. I just want to know the honest reaction, good, bad, whatever.

I remember this person from high school who read one of my stories. He told me he liked it but that it was a little slow, and he went on to talk about how it felt deep.

That's what he told me.

What I heard him tell someone else was that it was painful, that he had to sludge through it, and that it was so boring he was skipping paragraphs just to finish.

It hurt to hear the truth. But I needed to hear it. I'm glad I heard it.
 

lizmonster

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Those who are hurtful in how they think they are helping, will not have many takers of advice and lose their ability to influence others here.

AW is one thing. We have rules here about respectful behavior. Even so, sometimes critiques can get pretty unrelenting and brutal - but there's at least recourse if you think someone's been unnecessarily nasty.

The real world is quite something else, and I assure you, there are plenty of influential people in publishing who can, in fact, be *******s when it comes to crit. And no, they don't all think they're being helpful.
 

Lakey

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I think if you take it too literally, the “feedback sandwich” isn’t a great approach — it runs the risk of either burying the criticism or sounding insincere.

That said, I do think it is as important to point out what is working as what is not working. Writers, especially newer writers, do not always know what they are doing well, and you want them to go into revisions armed with knowledge of things they should hang on to as well as things they can change.

I sometimes frame critiques in terms like “here is a place where you did X; I would love to see you do more of that throughout.” Or, “This strikes me as a missed opportunity to do Y.” I like to think that these are ways of critiquing without discouraging: There are things you are doing well, try to do those things more; you don’t have to scrap the whole thing, but use the tools you have to punch things up.

As for cruel critiques like that in the OP—if I can’t think of anything more productive to say, I won’t say anything at all. I think if I reacted to a piece that way, I might have tried to frame the critique like “Your striving for a florid voice here is getting in the way of clarity/pace/interest/whatever” and try to help the writer think about ways to preserve the voice she’s going for without sacrificing all those other elements of storytelling.

Even when one has a negative reaction to a piece, there is probably a productive way of framing that reaction that is more focused on helping the writer, and less focused on showing off one’s own cleverness, than that terrible critique highlighted in the OP. It does take effort, of course.

:e2coffee:
 

mccardey

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I make a point of being polite when I critique. I have zero interest in hurting anyone's feelings.

That said, I hate the "compliment sandwich" approach when it comes to receiving feedback.
I agree with both these points. The problem with the feedback sandwich for me is that it seems so contrived, I immediately doubt the compliments. Also - when I'm reading for someone, I read as someone whose opinion (and way of expressing it) is trusted.

It's a compliment to be asked to read for someone, and I try to do the work as honestly and with as much insight as I possibly can. I don't throw compliments in to even the balance. I throw compliments in because they're deserved and the writing excites me.
 

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