Encouragement vs Honesty


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Thread: Encouragement vs Honesty

  1. #1

    Encouragement vs Honesty

    I got to thinking about something just a few minutes ago.

    As some of you know from my Catfish interview, or the thread I satrted telling you all what a debt I owe to Snow for helping me find my passion for writing again, there was a time when I let the harsh words of someone I respected destroy my confidence. That caused me to turn away from writing for a very long time. Much too long.

    Something I know that we almost always say here is that it's better for a writer to get honest feedback than it is a pat on the back when it isn't deserved. I agree with that...but only to a certain point.

    After much prodding from Snow, I had finally sat down and typed out the 500 words or so that would be the beginning of Side Worlds. They were terrible. Badly written, horribly executed, and many other things that caused them to be little more than verbal vomit on a computer screen.

    I'm pretty damn sure that Snow saw that they weren't very good. But, still, she encouraged me to keep going.

    Had she gone the "honesty" route, I probably would have stopped right then and there, never to pick up my pen again. I still had no confidence in my abilities when I showed her those first words. Anything harsh would have most likely turned me away from writing for good this time.

    So, while I completely understand that honesty is normally the best way to go, I also understand that sometimes, just sometimes, being honest could quite possibly be a final step in someone giving up on his/her dream of writing.

    Just something I think some should keep in mind.
    “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” -Carl Sagan

    Real courage is found, not in the willingness to risk death, but in the willingness to stand, alone if necessary, against the ignorant and disapproving herd. --Jon Roland, 1976

    Have you checked out the Hidden Content

    Founder of the Pantsers United Group and member of the Fantasy Lords Group

    "Life is composed of lights and shadows, and we would be untruthful,
    insincere, and saccharine if we tried to pretend there were no shadows." - Walt Disney

  2. #2
    Always be honest with people. Always. If someone gives up because you're honest to them, then that's their decision, but your honesty should always comes first. Too many learning writers prefer the idea of being a writer to being a writer; encouraging lies feed that. Honesty makes them deal with it.

    What matters, IMO, is encouraging honesty. Be honest about the things that they need to hear about in order to get better. If something doesn't read well, saying it's rubbish isn't actually honest, because that discounts the fact that the story is going to develop and improve itself over time.

    This might sound harsh, but I think a writer who 'gives up' because of honesty is the one at fault, not the person who was honest to them, and that's something they need to overcome if they're going to persevere with the craft.
    Sleep is for the weak, or sleep is for a week.
    -------------------------------------------------------------
    I write about anime and internet culture at Hidden Content

  3. #3
    I tend balk at either/or propositions, often because the options don't need to be mutually exclusive.

    In this case, I would find it hard to argue against offering both encouragement and honesty when commenting on someone's writing. And, as far as I can tell, that is exactly what the critics (and real world editors, etc) with the best reputations are doing.
    "I don't know ... I'm making it up as I go ..." - Dr I Jones

    Nature abhors perfection - cats abhor a vacuum!

    "Faith can move mountains - she's a big girl!" (unknown/graffiti)

    If I act like I own the place, it's because I did.





  4. #4
    I agree with you, Bow. I believe it's always possible to be honest and encouraging at the same time.

    Constructive criticism and destructive criticism are two entirely different things.

    "I like where this is going. I'd like it more if you explained how Elsa got her powers, though. I was hoping to learn more about that, but felt let down when you didn't explore it at all,"
    is one thing.

    "This is a mess. Seriously, do you even edit before you post? This sentence? Wrong. This metaphor? Weak. Thanks for playing, but no. Try again,"
    is another.

    And yes, some reviewers believe their own destructive criticism to be a form of "brutal honesty" or "tough love." In such cases, the writers who flourish in the face of such responses don't flourish because of the negative feedback—they flourish in spite of it.

    Make an effort to be encouraging, lest Karma find you and give you a taste of your own medicine.

    It's not hard, either. Just remind yourself that there's a person at the other end who (no matter how brutally honest they ask you to be) would appreciate it if you let them know what you enjoyed as well as what you think needs work.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Cadence View Post
    Always be honest with people. Always. If someone gives up because you're honest to them, then that's their decision....

    What matters, IMO, is encouraging honesty. Be honest about the things that they need to hear about in order to get better. If something doesn't read well, saying it's rubbish isn't actually honest, because that discounts the fact that the story is going to develop and improve itself over time.

    This might sound harsh, but I think a writer who 'gives up' because of honesty is the one at fault, not the person who was honest to them.
    That is a reasonable position, Cadence, But I would like to ask you something.

    Is it my fault that the family I grew up in was abusive? Was it my fault that they had me in a position of not having any kind of confidence in myself?

    You have to realize that people who are in or have recently come out of that kind of situation have been beaten down for a very long time. That person could be the next H. G. Wells or Lovecraft. That person could have something very important to say that the world needs to know. But, given the fragility of their state of mind, a few harsh words could very well cause that person to walk away with their head hanging down feeling the same old feelings that have been repeatedly beaten into them over many years.

    We simply do not know. And because I do not know, and having been there, I prefer to take a more gentle approach until I see more of the person's posts. I am always honest about what works for me, but I always let the person know what does, as well.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kyle R View Post
    I agree with you, Bow. I believe it's always possible to be honest and encouraging at the same time.

    Constructive criticism and destructive criticism are two entirely different things.

    "I like where this is going. I'd like it more if you explained how Elsa got her powers, though. I was hoping to learn more about that, but felt let down when you didn't explore it at all,"
    is one thing.

    "This is a mess. Seriously, do you even edit before you post? This sentence? Wrong. This metaphor? Weak. Thanks for playing, but no. Try again,"
    is another.

    And yes, some reviewers believe their own destructive criticism to be a form of "brutal honesty" or "tough love." In such cases, the writers who flourish in the face of such responses don't flourish because of the negative feedback—they flourish in spite of it.

    Make an effort to be encouraging, lest Karma find you and give you a taste of your own medicine.

    It's not hard, either. Just remind yourself that there's a person at the other end who (no matter how brutally honest they ask you to be) would appreciate it if you let them know what you enjoyed as well as what you think needs work.
    Your second example is very mild compared to what I got that day long ago.

    The worst part, for me, is that even now, when I am writing, I can hear those words echoing in my head, chipping away at my confidence.

    We, as writers, should know better than anyone the power that words can wield. We, more than anyone, should be aware of how words can raise someone up. Or how they can wound someone to the point of giving up.

    I know that writers have to have thick skin. That was a harsh, and quite lengthy, lesson I learned. But we must also realize that not everyone comes here with that skin already intact.

    I would never advocate dishonesty in a critique. All I advocate is a little kindness when it may well be a time someone needs it the most.
    “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” -Carl Sagan

    Real courage is found, not in the willingness to risk death, but in the willingness to stand, alone if necessary, against the ignorant and disapproving herd. --Jon Roland, 1976

    Have you checked out the Hidden Content

    Founder of the Pantsers United Group and member of the Fantasy Lords Group

    "Life is composed of lights and shadows, and we would be untruthful,
    insincere, and saccharine if we tried to pretend there were no shadows." - Walt Disney

  6. #6
    We simply do not know. And because I do not know, and having been there, I prefer to take a more gentle approach until I see more of the person's posts
    Exactly: we should always be gentle. But honest at the same time. IMO, lies are the least considerate thing you can give a growing writer.
    Sleep is for the weak, or sleep is for a week.
    -------------------------------------------------------------
    I write about anime and internet culture at Hidden Content

  7. #7
    I agree in honesty but I've also seen a few (not many) critiques that were just plain rude. There was no need to point out the things they did in the WAY they did. It could have been done in a more encouraging or at least neutral way rather than condescending. It happens rarely but the few times it does, wow, it is a real downer for me and it wasn't even a critique on my writing. That said, I personally am fine ignoring the really negative tone if/when it comes my way and seeking the actual critique that it delivers but I can see where someone new to writing, new to the board, sensitive in general, completely unsure of whether they should be writing, etc. could be put off. For a new writer, my question was not whether my writing was good, I know it isn't right now. My question was more, do I even have any chance of ever becoming a decent writer. And I know now after seeing my own improvement and reading about how others progress and seeing amazing improvement in writers on this site, that it is possible, so I'm not going to stop now unless it quits being interesting to me.

  8. #8
    When you're reviewing a piece, tell the writer exactly what they did right and exactly what they did wrong. If you can't find anything wrong, great! If you can't find anything right, perhaps the writer SHOULD give up. However, most comprehensive reviews are going to be in between, and there it's up to the writer to separate criticism of their work from criticism of themselves.
    "Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." - Benjamin Franklin

    "I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story." - Tom Clancy

  9. #9
    When I do a critique, I don't worry much about honesty vs encouragement, because first and foremost I want to HELP. I want to help the writer improve that piece in particular and their skills overall. That requires a different approach at different times.

    I don't always get it right, mind you, but I try to meet the writer where they are. Most people are going to need to hear positives to take the constructive criticisms, and fortunately most people with the gumption to ask for a critique or to post on here are good enough to give me something positive to say.

    Another part of meeting writers where they are is giving a manageable amount of feedback. A piece with a clever idea but poor stricture and terrible grammar needs the structure fixed before the grammar. Harping on the grammar in that case gets in the way of improving the structure, so I usually wouldn't worry about it too much in a crit. I don't see much need in harping on things that aren't the pressing problem, especially for new writers.

    Finally, I try really hard to be honest about what is my subjective reaction to a piece so that the writer knows to take my thoughts with a grain of salt. An incomplete sentence is an incomplete sentence, but an allusion that rings false for me might work for someone else.

    Hopefully that approach has made my critiques helpful. I hope that I have also been both honest and encouraging, but I would take helpful over either of those.
    Wisdom is seldom boisterous.

    -- a guy I know --

    If you're into hillbilly themed pornography (and, really, who ISN'T these days?), check out Hidden Content and Hidden Content . There's no pornography, but everything IS written by a hillbilly.

  10. #10
    I always make a distinction between reviews and critiques. Reviews - IMO writers should never read them. They're meant for the readers, not the writers. As to critiques, I have seen more than my share of people who love the term "brutally honest" - their euphemism for being a conceited douchebag out to build their ego rather than help the writer. I'm always honest in my critiques - but I'm also a writer, and hopefully have learned how to use words to the best effect. I have never had anyone I've critiqued complain about hurt feelings or rudeness - they haven't always liked what I've said, but they've never mentioned a problem with how I've said it. And while I understand about the baggage individuals may carry, that is not my problem. My duty is to provide an honest and hopefully helpful critique of their writing. I don't need or want to know about their family history, loss of job, deaths in the family, etc. I'm looking at the writing, not the author.
    Has left the building.

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