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

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lizmonster

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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.

I never gave an insincere compliment in art school. Sometimes it was a stretch, but I always found something that spoke to me - color, composition, the idea I thought the artist was trying to express.

I do respect it doesn't work for everyone.
 

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I never gave an insincere compliment in art school. Sometimes it was a stretch, but I always found something that spoke to me - color, composition, the idea I thought the artist was trying to express.

I do respect it doesn't work for everyone.
Yes - I think I'm speaking more about how I receive compliments in the context of the sandwich. (I'm not really good with compliments generally ;) )
 
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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.
The thing that stands out most to me is that this person was a FRIEND. WTF kind of friend is that. Friends are supposed to be supportive and caring, not cruel and hurtfully sarcastic. If she really didn't like it, she didn't have to be so cruel about it. Who knows what her problem is. Maybe she's jealous that you have the means and talent to write better than her. Kick that frenemy to the curb. No one with morals and values wants someone like that in your life. I've been shocked by the cruelty of two friends, who were f***ing bitches when I lost someone very close to me and was going through the hardest time in my life. To this day, it still shocks me, both were close and long relationships.

On a lighter happier note, CONGRATULATIONS for being accepted by a paying market. I bet that really got her goat.

Yes, there is a lesson. Listen to your gut. My intuition is always right, even when I fight it because I don't want it to be. Or sometimes, it's just looking back and seeing the subtle red-flag situations. Karma is a beautiful thing. I have a Karma scene in my current WIP.
 
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MaeZe

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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.
Why do you think the positive feedback is not what the person thought about the writing? The sandwich approach is a reminder not to just look at the negative things you are seeing.
 

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Why do you think the positive feedback is not what the person thought about the writing?
I'm not sure I said that. It may be. It may not be. I can't judge the veracity of everyone's comments.

For me, I can say that I don't like the structure of the compliment sandwich. It goes into a project dictating the number of reaction points that have to be mentioned. To me, that seems more schoolhouse and try-hard if you will than it does organic.

I don't want someone struggling to give a critique, looking for bullet points to fill in to make sure every negative is surrounded by two positives. I just want the natural reaction. If you picked a random book up off the shelf and started reading it in the store, and I walked over to you and asked you what you thought of the book: that's the reaction I want. Would you keep reading? Is it interesting? Are you amazed it got published because it's so bad?

The sandwich approach is a reminder not to just look at the negative things you are seeing.
Like I say, I just want to hear what the reader thinks, as if I'm not in the room. I don't want to personally be a part of the equation at all. I want the reader to say only what they thought about the story, nothing more, nothing less. Sometimes that's good stuff, sometimes bad, sometimes both.

I can't speak for anyone else, of course, just myself.
 

Roxxsmom

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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.

Very true. And not everyone loves the "invisible" narrator approach either. I know I've set aside books that just don't engage me for reasons I can't quite put a finger on. When I think about it for a while, it is sometimes because I found the story kind of bland, and I didn't find a connection with anyone in the story--neither the narrator, nor the characters.

Taste is indeed very subjective. There are plenty of books I have not liked at all that others I know just loved, and which (in fact) are pretty widely acclaimed within their genre.

I can think of one fantasy book that is on many people's short list of underappreciated all time greats. It's definitely underappreciated by yours truly. I want to like it, as I know most fantasy fans who like the kind of stuff I generally like just love it. But I could never get past the first chapter, because (to me) I was confused as heck about the setting and overall premise, and I disliked the characters so much I didn't want to stick around to figure out what was going on.

Thankfully, the author found critting partners, agents, and editors who do not share my taste.
 

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


I kept thinking about this, because it bothers me for a number of different reasons.

I don't write fiction; I never have. I write other sorts of things, and I have many years experience teaching English lit and comp classes, among other things.

* A "second-rate" Shakespearian writer is like a silver-medal winner. It's not a bad place to be.

* Hack in the context of writing is used as a sneer by "artistic" writers to writers who write for money; a hack is a writer-for-hire (s.v. AHD Hack 2 verb intr).

* “doesn’t understand his own lines” is not really sensible in the context of hack. Hack clearly refers to a writer; yet “doesn’t understand his own lines” sounds like a reference to an actor.

* It’s not something you would say to a writer. Most writers are producing prose. Poets write verses. Even playwrights typically produce text of some sort (play, script, scene, etc.). The only people who think of lines are actors.

* Even so, it's a genuine commonplace for a writer or poet to suggest that the meaning of their words is up to the reader; see for instance the anecdotes about Robert Frost the meaning of "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening." Writers don't understand the meaning of their works because meaning depends on the reader.

So yes, this is a very odd thing to say. It's mean, but it's also not sensible.
 

MaeZe

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I kept thinking about this, because it bothers me for a number of different reasons.

I don't write fiction; I never have. I write other sorts of things, and I have many years experience teaching English lit and comp classes, among other things.

* A "second-rate" Shakespearian writer is like a silver-medal winner. It's not a bad place to be.

* Hack in the context of writing is used as a sneer by "artistic" writers to writers who write for money; a hack is a writer-for-hire (s.v. AHD Hack 2 verb intr).

* “doesn’t understand his own lines” is not really sensible in the context of hack. Hack clearly refers to a writer; yet “doesn’t understand his own lines” sounds like a reference to an actor.

* It’s not something you would say to a writer. Most writers are producing prose. Poets write verses. Even playwrights typically produce text of some sort (play, script, scene, etc.). The only people who think of lines are actors.

* Even so, it's a genuine commonplace for a writer or poet to suggest that the meaning of their words is up to the reader; see for instance the anecdotes about Robert Frost the meaning of "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening." Writers don't understand the meaning of their works because meaning depends on the reader.

So yes, this is a very odd thing to say. It's mean, but it's also not sensible.
Thank you for this analysis. My first thought about the comment was, huh, what did that comment even mean? Odd and non-sensible describes it quite well.
 

Fuchsia Groan

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Yup. It is odd. But, as I learned while writing a dissertation on anti-theatricalism, there’s a certain tradition of insulting writers by comparing them to hack actors. Actors got no respect back then! Some respected 18th-century French critics thought Shakespeare himself was a hack (blasphemy!).

All the editorial letters I’ve ever received (four) were structured like a compliment sandwich, and I struggle with that. I always rush through the compliments to get to the “bad stuff.”

But, at the same time, as someone who gives feedback, I see the purpose of the sandwich. Many writers are painfully self-critical (raises hand) and need to be told or reminded of what they do well, lest they lose hope that they can ever improve the piece.

Also, it’s just a courtesy from editor to writer not to focus solely on the negative. When someone gives me only negative feedback, I tend to think one of three things is going on: (1) They assume that I know what I do well and it would be unnecessary and condescending to remind me (I wish that were true!); (2) They’re more interested in sounding smart or cool or superior than in giving useful, actionable feedback; (3) They dislike my writing so much that they hope to discourage me from doing it further (probably the case with many of my Goodreads reviews, but those are for readers, not the writer).

The thing is, you never know for sure which of these three motives dominates. That can be maddening. Giving a few compliments is a way for the critter to indicate, “No, this is not a (3) situation.”

If my reactions are going in a (3) direction (and it happens sometimes), I decline to critique. I don’t read full mss. for people if I don’t have some basic good feelings about their writing. Others may be better at handling that situation, though.
 

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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.
I still do that too, though less and less I think. Or maybe it just depends on the story...yes probably depends on the story. But indeed, this growing business, learning to rely on yourself and believe in your own voice and ideas. I def still go through a stable of critters (new here and LOVE that term) whom I admire and trust and they can really be crucial in seeing fault lines that you either missed or putting the finger on those only vaguely sensed. But ultimately YOU are the fiunal arbiter and only you can judge if a piece should be subbed at whatever point. We're all WIPs as writers as well. Growing..yes.
 

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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.
She did warn me that "my editor's pen can be brutal" so I think she knew what she was like but has no issue with herself in that sense. I think she sees herself as the one who holds The Right Answer. And I thought, well I will need to hear the worst of it but I had no idea that she would reach so low. And right there's acknowledging that your own opinion is subjective and even depends (I find at least) on a given moment in my day or life that I'm reading it.
 

angelisa fontaine-wood

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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.
I think this is exactly what happened. It was a very specific voice, a 17 year old first person narrrative who is in love with flowery language and I think this just turned her off so profoundly, she said she didn't have any experience with that period of literature....but hey NewMyths loved it so there. "Polarizing" does seem to be the key word here, yes.
 
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angelisa fontaine-wood

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I kept thinking about this, because it bothers me for a number of different reasons.

I don't write fiction; I never have. I write other sorts of things, and I have many years experience teaching English lit and comp classes, among other things.

* A "second-rate" Shakespearian writer is like a silver-medal winner. It's not a bad place to be.

* Hack in the context of writing is used as a sneer by "artistic" writers to writers who write for money; a hack is a writer-for-hire (s.v. AHD Hack 2 verb intr).

* “doesn’t understand his own lines” is not really sensible in the context of hack. Hack clearly refers to a writer; yet “doesn’t understand his own lines” sounds like a reference to an actor.

* It’s not something you would say to a writer. Most writers are producing prose. Poets write verses. Even playwrights typically produce text of some sort (play, script, scene, etc.). The only people who think of lines are actors.

* Even so, it's a genuine commonplace for a writer or poet to suggest that the meaning of their words is up to the reader; see for instance the anecdotes about Robert Frost the meaning of "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening." Writers don't understand the meaning of their works because meaning depends on the reader.

So yes, this is a very odd thing to say. It's mean, but it's also not sensible.
I love this so much. Thank you. If any ill feeling over this lingered, it is now banished once and for all. Most appreciated
 
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She did warn me that "my editor's pen can be brutal" so I think she knew what she was like but has no issue with herself in that sense.
Someone who could produce that sentence should not be editing anything for anyone. That sentence is tone-deaf and dyslogistic.
 

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Someone who could produce that sentence should not be editing anything for anyone. That sentence is tone-deaf and dyslogistic.
Agreed 100%. People who pride themselves on being blunt or "honest" often seem to be saying that to justify being insensitive jerks.

I have a video on my YT channel where I talk about writing groups, and I think it's essential to avoid groups that are either unnecessarily harsh or, the flip side, just love everything everyone writes. The rude comments tend to come from people who don't write much, and the overly soft ones from groups that have been together too long, where everybody knows and accepts all the weaknesses of the other writers.

Neither is very helpful.
 

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In listening to all of this advice and input, I am very glad to be here. I know I will not over-react but look for the intent of the criticism. If I can't find a reasonable way to find the advice helpful, I will still try to. The reason why you look for the advise is to see what you do not notice well enough, and find out if there is value in that advice. The end result of better writing is the goal for me here, plus finding out if what I have to say is of interest to others, in the end.
 
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It's really interesting reading these discussions on critiquing again. A long time ago I learned a method by Liz Lehrman called "Positive Critical Response," and it was kind of like a compliment sandwich, but it was more of a process: Work is presented. Reader says what they got out of the work, what worked. Author explains their goals and intentions, what they were going for. Reader responds and asks questions. Author may answer or question or stop the critique. Finally, the Reader can make suggestions. The key is the "it would be better if...." "have you ever thought of doing x" doesn't come until the Reader, who is not just any Reader but someone who is now invested in the success of the work, understands what the author's intent is. I know that sounds complicated, but it can be really damaging to get just any old critique, and it can be very hard to overcome. But, I've been in a lot of highly competitive environments and have had difficulty in them. I'm trying to find a level of trust in the work that can transcend all that. I do think that a harsh comment, honestly intended and carefully worded, isn't damaging at all...it's the thing that makes you grow the most. But you need to trust the source to accept it.
 
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( The Reader, who is not just any Reader but someone who is now invested in the success of the work, understands what the author's intent is.)

This is how I would like to work with someone both as a beta reader and who also beta reads for me. A very important point to take the writer's goals of the story-line into account.
 

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