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Encouragement vs Honesty (1 Viewer)

shadowwalker

WF Veterans
Conclude what you will from that. For me, it points out that negativity can be harmful even to successful authors.

Realistically, the amount of venom tossed in Ms Meyer's direction was grossly disproportionate to what most authors - particularly those on forums - are going to see. She was, in essence, a lightning rod for the mean-spirited.

Also keep in mind that what you consider to be "honesty" might very well be, in all likelihood, just your own personal opinion.

Unless one is talking about SPaG, that's all any critique is. Just because it's opinion does not negate the need for honesty.
 

E. Zamora

Senior Member
Speaking only for myself. I don't invest in critiquing stuff that I don't find merit in. A good critique requires effort and I'm one of the laziest people I know. I'm also one of the busiest. I'm taking a full load of college courses and chairing a 3-day conference. So if I choose to critique something of yours, it is a privilege. I realize that reads like all of the ego, but it's simple truth.

I call them as I see them--balls and strikes, foul and fair. It isn't my job to give you warm fuzzies.

There is a mindset in poetry that if you feel it, it's okay, you don't need rules or structure or even to make sense. And invariably someone who belongs to that school of thought comes behind me and says, whatever you wrote is "perfect" or "just fine" or whatever exactly as you've written it. The truth is, poetry is like any other writing; the more you work at it, the better you get. And if you want someone to traditionally publish your work, you have to be very good.

From what I've seen, poetry forums are a different animal. There are people who really don't want critiques, who get defensive or don't respond to your comments at all; some who flood the forum. Then there are the people who more or less dismiss your comments with "poetry isn't really my thing." And yes, there are those who think if it's about "honest feelings" then it's somehow sacrosanct. I think it's just fine to be discerning.
 

Bishop

WF Veterans
I suppose I'm having trouble understanding how one cannot be both encouraging and honest. It's quite simple, and nearly all of the critiques I've gotten on this site have been both. The concepts are not mutually exclusive and merely require some sense of tact when responding to another's work.
 

shadowwalker

WF Veterans
Quite honestly :D I tend to think that any time someone will take the time to give a critique is encouraging in and of itself. Sure, there are people out there who "critique" just to tear people down, but one quickly learns how easy it is to recognize those jerks. But if other people think there's enough good in the writing to spend time commenting on it, then it's not a hopeless cause.

I should add that I have, on rare occasions, told a writer that they need to learn more about grammar, proofreading, and/or story-telling before proceeding with a critique. But even then, I never tell them to quit writing - only that they aren't ready for the critique stage.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
Every critique is nothing more than an opinion.

Example: If someone asked me to review 50 shades of Grey, I would have told them to try again after reading some good romance novels.

Surprise! It's a best seller.

So you never know who will be successful and who won't. You never know what will hit and what won't. It's the same with all artwork.
 

tabasco5

Senior Member
Encouragement and honesty need not be mutually exclusive. And there are ways of being honest without being a jerk about it, though that concept has surpassed some individuals. For example, a few weeks ago I was asked to be a beta reader for a novel and to provide feedback. My opinion was that the story was mediocre to bad, the writing stunk and was overburdened with cliches and wordiness, and the characters were flat farcical fartknockers. I could have told the writer that the story was the worst, most pathetic drivel I had ever come across, and have been totally honest about it. I could have told this person that it was full of cliches and bloated with unneeded words and would never be published and stunk like sewage sludge and could have been written by a 5th grader... but I didn't.

What I told this person was to first read the two prerequisites: Strunk and White and On Writing Well, and then, for the second draft, to concentrate on removing unneeded words, to creatively replace cliches, and to consider various improvements to story structure and character development that I recommended.

Now, in my opinion, this approach is both honest and encouraging. Honest in that, without giving an opinion on preference, I am telling the writer what I think needs to be done to make the story better. He doesn't have to take this advice and completely discard it if desired. And it is encouraging in that I am telling the writer that the story can be made better - that it can be turned into a good story.

Why should I approach it this way, you may ask. And the answer is that I would have appreciated this kind of honest, encouraging feedback when I was a beginning writer, and not just opinionated babbles and criticisms. Also, I use this approach because reading this writer's embarrassingly bad story reminds me of a couple of things I wrote a while back...
 

NerdyMJ

Senior Member
Every critique is nothing more than an opinion.

Example: If someone asked me to review 50 shades of Grey, I would have told them to try again after reading some good romance novels.

Surprise! It's a best seller.

So you never know who will be successful and who won't. You never know what will hit and what won't. It's the same with all artwork.

More like you never know what will be marketable and what won't. Writing a marketable story does not necessarily make you a good writer, IMO. There are hundreds of good stories and authors that never get to see the light of day simply because their work is deemed unmarketable.

Anyway, to get back to the topic at hand, lying to a bad writer and telling them that their work is actually good won't actually make them a good writer. You have to tell them what's wrong, so they can figure out how to fix it.
 

T.S.Bowman

CoF Challenge Host
WF Veterans
There seems to be a misconception as to what I was originally saying in this thread.

At no point have I advocated not telling the truth to an aspiring writer. If things are not right, they must know about it.

I am referring to the lack of tact that some people employ in the name of "honesty".

In 1985, the teacher I showed my work to could have just as easily pointed out what was wrong, which is what a teacher should do, but do so in a way that wouldn't completely disparage my ability to tell a story even though the grammar wasn't very good.

I could have put in some work to fix the problems had she actually pointed them out and given me the opportunity to ask her how to do so. Again, what a teacher who decides to make it a "teaching moment" should do.

There was nothing of that sort, though.
 
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Sam

General
Patron
Sam, as much as I normally agree with you, in this case, I have to disagree.

There comes a point where someone who is abused finally becomes convinced that they have no worth. Not to themselves or anyone else. The ONLY way to get out of that is to get out of the situation. It's only then that the person can begin to see that the people who convinced him/her of their worthlessness can begin to see that they were wrong.

It is not a conscious choice that the abused make. It's all they know. For them, as it was for me, there is no other "choice" because there is no alternative that shows itself.

Abused is a strong word. It has connotations of cruelty. I've seen writers maligned, and I've seen people be cruel to them on occasion, but I've rarely seen the type of systematic and consistent cruelty one would associate with abuse. Certainly not with beginners. More often, it's reserved for established authors such as Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer -- and then you'd be hard-pressed to call it abuse when it is the work being criticised and not the person. And that, for me, is the crux of the situation. Too many writers believe that criticism of their writing is criticism of them. They take it personally, which is the single worst thing you can do. It's not personal. I've had people call me pro-war, anti-women, and even a sociopath -- because my characters acted that way. That's personal. I've had other people call one of my books "too complex", which is a valid and non-personal criticism of my work.

The first thing that a writer needs to understand when they start out in this crazy industry is that "not everyone will like their work". That's a given. What isn't stated often enough, however, is that "not everything you write is as awesome as you think it is". I remember what it was like to be a cocky 16-year-old writer of a novel. I thought I was God's gift to everything. If I met that 16-year-old version of myself now, I'd smack the s*** out of him. You have to work hard to be a good writer, and part of that is learning how to take criticism. I couldn't do it when I was that age either. But when I was cut down to earth for the first time, I learned how to. Encouragement is all well and fine, but there's a thin line between encouragement and patronisation. I often wonder if those wailing singers on reality-television shows would have been better off if someone in their life had the stones to say, "Don't go to that audition. You need more practice."

I'm thankful I had someone in my life to tell me that, otherwise I would have submitted my first novel and been torn to pieces by some publishing house. That would have been far worse than a honest whisper in my ear.
 

T.S.Bowman

CoF Challenge Host
WF Veterans
OK. Now I know there is a misunderstanding.

Sam, I was referring to general abuse in a young person's personal life. Not their writing life. The abuse I am referring to in my own case, and what I was trying to bring attention to might be the case for others, is emotional abuse by family members.

If it had been nothing more than people telling me my writing was bad I would have pretty much said "Piss off" and went merrily on my way.

What happened to me was systematic. It was also done by family members.

The teachers words, for me, were a "straw that broke the camel's back" kind of thing.

My point here was to try to make people aware that unnecessarily harsh words from someone here or on any other critiquing area, could very well be that same kind of case.
 

Pluralized

Black Dracula
WF Veterans
Also helpful to differentiate the online forum environment, or online critique situation from real-life, interpersonal interaction.

Everyone on the internet is a digital ghost. Their words can't affect you if you don't allow them to. Every hack has an ax to grind, and with the easy nature of modern communication, even the most backwoods rubes are throwing pot-shots at educated, talented people.

I'm using every bit of this for practice to thicken my skin in hopes that, someday, I have work out there for public review and that's when it gets really harsh and not very encouraging at all. :)

Again I agree with everyone who's advocating for honesty without mean-spiritedness but not for just placating writers who want their egos stroked.
 

shadowwalker

WF Veterans
My point here was to try to make people aware that unnecessarily harsh words from someone here or on any other critiquing area, could very well be that same kind of case.

I think that a writer's personal history is not something that should be considered when doing a critique of their writing - "unnecessarily harsh words" should not be used regardless. However, the fact that the writer led a hard life or had bad experiences should also not be considered because it doesn't change the fact that their writing is good or bad or salvageable or not. I'm not a social worker, a psychologist, a counselor - I'm doing a critique of a person's writing. Period. If their personal life prevents them from dealing appropriately with my not unnecessarily harsh words or their perception of "unnecessarily harsh words", then they need to find a way to deal with their personal problems first.
 

Jeko

WF Veterans
My point here was to try to make people aware that unnecessarily harsh words from someone here or on any other critiquing area, could very well be that same kind of case.

I'm not going to care if the writer saw their whole family murdered in front of their eyes; writing is writing, and I will only assess it on its own. Unnecessarily harsh words shouldn't be used full stop, but necessary harshness? Sometimes that's the antidote to someone's problems, inside or outside the craft. Either way, I'm not going to care. I'm just going to say what I thought about the piece and assume that the writer knows that I don't care about their personal life beyond what they've posted.

If someone's been through a lot, then remaining objective is more likely to be the way to go.
 

E. Zamora

Senior Member
I simply say what I think will benefit the author as deferentially as possible; in a way that will get the message across. I know what I appreciate in the way of a critique, so for me, it's just another application of the golden rule. I can't worry about how other people do it.
 

TKent

Retired Chief Media Manager
If Stephanie had been to WF and posted her work, she probably would have never published it if she'd gotten some of the negative comments then, that she gets now that she's published and sold more books than possibly many of the members on this site's sales combined. What is 'good' writing is so subjective. At its heart, fiction writing is telling a story, and there are a lot of ways to tell a story. Not everyone is trying to write literary fiction. I expect that if Donna Tartt had workshopped Goldfinch, she'd have had a lot of folks telling her "more showing and less telling" (I might have..LOL) yet she won a Pulitzer prize. So in addition to the straightforward (imho), "you can give honest feedback in a tactful manner", I think it is good for every writer to have a healthy dose of humility and realize that some of what they are saying is their opinion and may not even be the opinion of the majority. (Not talking about specific SPaG issues and other technical things). Anyway, don't get me wrong, I am REALLY appreciative of the help I get here, just saying this in the context of encouragement vs. honesty. Early on in this thread, Kyle quoted to examples of feedback where one was honest and tactful, and the other, while maybe honest, was unnecessarily harsh.


Stephenie Meyer quit writing because of all the negativity aimed at her after she became successful. Now into producing, she says of writing, "I get further away every day. I am so over it. For me, it’s not a happy place to be."
 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
I'm not going to care if the writer saw their whole family murdered in front of their eyes; writing is writing, and I will only assess it on its own. Unnecessarily harsh words shouldn't be used full stop, but necessary harshness? Sometimes that's the antidote to someone's problems, inside or outside the craft. Either way, I'm not going to care. I'm just going to say what I thought about the piece and assume that the writer knows that I don't care about their personal life beyond what they've posted.

If someone's been through a lot, then remaining objective is more likely to be the way to go.

A writer's personal problems are one thing. I agree that they (in most cases) shouldn't play a factor when delivering a critique.

However, the writer's emotions in regard to how they feel about themselves as a writer? I believe it's simple (and obvious) courtesy to keep those in mind.

Nowadays, I try my best not to undermine someone's confidence in themselves as a writer.

I believe some reviewers make the mistake of offering overly harsh, purely analytical responses. They're not critiquing the writer, they reason—they are critiquing the writing.

Except, the writing is not going to be reading your critique—the writer will be the one reading your words. :encouragement:
 

Sunny

WF Veterans
Negativity only brings hurt. I'm not okay hurting others to make myself feel smarter, as if I know more than they do. I would rather tell someone they need to work on something in a kind way. After all it is just my opinion I'm giving, not advice that's going to make or break their career.

Encouragement goes so much farther in life. Negativity sucks and drags you down.

No matter where I am, what situation I'm in, I'm going to encourage you. You can do anything you want to do, you just have to want it bad enough! You just have to work hard enough for it. If I can give someone even one good feeling about their work, I want to do that.

I wish positivity and encouragement was a little louder on this forum.
 

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