Monday, October 1, 2007

Criticising Babies

*Big eyeballs*
-The Group, as the pile of submissions grew and grew

What happens when there are five weeks between writers' group meetings? Well, everyone has plenty of time to do four critiques and then do a ton of writing. Yesterday pretty much everyone had something to submit. In one case, he had two somethings, but we managed to talk him down. We all went home with what is, as far as I can remember, the biggest pile of submissions since I've been in the group. It'll be an interesting month of reading and critiquing all of them.

Also interesting was how the gal who's a newer member, and first time submitter, came up to me after the meeting and told me she was scared of my impending critique. Jenny's too, but mostly mine. Good to know I'm still striking fear into the hearts of people. I never tried to create this evil-incarnate reputation, I swear. (Let me add, though, that when I joked about being mean, she corrected me, "Not mean, honest." She sounded no less anxious, though.)

Of course, this gal's comment about how the novel she's beginning to submit is her baby, combined with her anxiety, briefly raised the question: "Should I go easy on her?" For me, it's not a yes/no answer. If it were, it'd be "no," but it's a bit more layered than that. When I'm critiquing, I try to gear my comments toward the specific writer and their sensitivity.

I'm always honest, but with certain people I limit my criticisms to a few points, whereas with others I just let it all out. I'm much harder on Jenny than just about anyone else. I also know that my toughness with her 1. won't give her a nervous breakdown, 2. will be helpful. See, that second point is the most important one.

Someone who's letting their "baby" out in public for the first time isn't going to be helped by a nit-picky critique. Also, there's the global vs. local argument: Why bother pointing out typos when the whole paragraph is going to be rewritten, or possibly cut?

When it comes to the new gal, I can honestly say I have no intention of going "easy" on her. However, I'm not going to critique her the way I'd critique Oliver either. It's all about trying to do the most good for each person, right? An in-exact science, to be sure, but one worth trying.

Do the rest of y'all do the same thing?


Jenny said...

I'm much harder on you too. =)

Yeah, I'm with you. The goal is to make someone a better writer. "Tough Love" doesn't work for everyone. Some people actually need to be nurtured. However, if you're being the nice guy about the critique and the result is that they don't listen to you, this equals: you're about to get what's coming to you.

Generally I'm nice(r) on the first critique, just to see how they take it. If they respond with sarcasm, then I know how to do the next one. If they break out into the tears, well, I know how to do the next one long as they come back.

-John said...

Initially I thought about using another reference to Simon Cowell, in that he feels a person is better off knowing they should do something else and stop deluding themselves, thus wasting their time. BUT, this is writing and not being a pop star, and I feel it is easier to improve at writing than it is to improve at singing sugary crap about how hearts get broken.

To expand on Jenny's notion, it has to do with the writer's willingness to improve and how hard he/she/it is willing to work to improve. If someone is never going to listen, going to consider changing anything, and is only looking for a pack on the back, then they deserve
every ounce of harsh criticism they receive.

Mishell said...

As you know, Ali, I am a nurturer. However, I don't believe in lying. I think that negative criticism spoken in a positive way is a much better method of helping someone find his/her voice than either flat negative or positive criticism. You know my style. I like start with something positive, work the negative into the middle, and then end on another positive. The biggest thing for me is to not cause anyone to stop writing. After all, a person may turn out complete crap today, but if encouraged properly, may grow into an awesome writer. I try not to squash dreams, since I don't like to have my own squashed.