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PostPosted: September 29th, 2003, 7:10 pm 

Joined: August 13th, 2003, 3:48 pm
Posts: 304
Hello! Looks like I'll be the first, if this is a new forum, which it seems to me. My question is this: what do you say to a friend who asks your advice about whether her writing is any good? Previously I've been saying "good" is not the issue; whether it will sell (if that's what you want) is the issue, or does it satisfy you, that's the issue. Another friend wants advice about whether her novel can be made into a book that will sell. I'm getting ready to tell her that she has two options: one is to self-publish and one is to let a book doctor have at it, which will be quite expensive, and get it ready for an agent to look at. I don't have the time or desire to do the work, so I don't know exactly how to handle the last part of the response. Would appreciate some comments. Thanks.

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 Post subject: Breaking it gently...
PostPosted: September 29th, 2003, 10:49 pm 

Joined: August 1st, 2003, 9:52 am
Posts: 1874
I understand exactly how you feel.

At WritersWeekly.com and Booklocker.com, we're frequently recipients of manuscripts that are...well...just plain awful. It's always hard to tell someone their writing needs work. And it's really hard to tell them when you don't know them.

I have, on occasion, been entirety professional and kind in my critiques and ended up receiving a scathing email full of hatred and profanity. But, generally, most writers want to improve and are desperate for ANYONE to give them an honest critique.

The key is to provide an honest opinion, but to do so in a positive manner. For example, instead of saying, "Your character, Marge, is really whiny and readers are going to hate reading what she says..." to "Wow, your character Marge, really reminds me of my mother-in-law! What a whiner! She's hilarious, but...you know...some people might find her a bit too whiny. Maybe you might think about making her whine a bit less, and maybe her other comments can be in anger toward the other character rather than just complaints. Readers LOVE confrontation..."

I can always, ALWAYS find something to compliment about a manuscript, even if it's just a creative character name or a unique adjective that I'd have never thought to use. Sure, some people just can't write, but most who can't would love to become better writers. We're all writing to make a living and because we love to write!

So, my advice is to provide criticism and praise simultaneously. This lessens the blow but is still constructive (and honest).

Hope this helps somewhat. :)

Angela Hoy

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 Post subject: That's a tough one!
PostPosted: October 1st, 2003, 11:14 am 

Joined: October 1st, 2003, 10:39 am
Posts: 17
Like Angela, I like to mix praise and criticism--and usually like to preface the criticism with the praise. There have been a few people who have handed me short stories to read in the years since I went to university for my MAPW. They really want to hear that their stories are good, but lots of times they are horrible. :P I usually like to say something like "the situation you've set up for your characters is hilarious! (or whatever is appropriate) I can't imagine how I would feel in their situation. With more polish, you might have something. I've noticed that you've mixed tenses a lot (or one other major flaw that will slow them down and let them read it again)--that was one of my worst habits when I started school. Try fixing that and let me look at it again--I really want to see more of your story."

Giving the writer something like that to work on takes the onus off of you for fixing their mistakes. By giving them something structural to work on, instead of simply proofreading for spelling errors, sometimes it slows the author down enough for them to rethink what they've written a bit. If they give up, all the better, since they probably wanted you to do the rewrite for them and don't really care about the story. If they really make an effort and still don't quite get it, offering another couple of hours of time to work with them seems less of a sacrifice (at least in my opinion).

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PostPosted: October 1st, 2003, 11:57 am 
Approach with caution. First you have to understand the person asking for you to critique his/her writing. Does she really want the truth or just a compliment? Can she handle the truth? I try to find the good features, dialogue, a crisp image of a place or character, unexpected plot twist. I also explain that there are many tastes in writing and that many successful writers were rejected many times by publishers.
For the reader of a friend's writing I would advise not to go into too much detail. I did this once, believing that the person wanted help with the story, a very long story. I read it over many times, made notes on inconsistencies, suggestions for better wording or clarifications. She listened to everything I said, smiled and said thanks and didn't change one word. So save yourself the effort.
There are people I have done the same thing for and together we've come up with a better story. It depends on how secure the writer is and of course how useful your criticism is.
My advice, first know the writer, then decide your approach. A close friend who is a secure person can handle the truth.

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 Post subject: This might be a set up
PostPosted: October 1st, 2003, 12:07 pm 
Just a thought- If a friend of mine really wants a critique of their writing, I send them to the local community college English Dept. or to a writers group. I let them know that I am probably too close to them to read objectively. Saves me both time and friendships! :arrow:

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 Post subject: friendly criticism
PostPosted: October 1st, 2003, 12:11 pm 
Critiquing a friend's work can be a slippery slope. I look at it this way: I'm a professional writer, paid for what I do - be it editing, writing, managing, or brainstorming for clients. Doctors and lawyers and engineers do not work gratis for their friends, and neither should writers. So, i suggest responding with something such as: "I'm sorry, but I do not critique or edit that kind of work. If you'd like, I can recommend a few people who do." That way, you remain friends!

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: October 1st, 2003, 1:23 pm 

Joined: March 2nd, 2003, 1:09 pm
Posts: 27
No new writer wants to be told anything but praise about their work, so the best thing to do with friends' inquiries is support theiir desire to write and tell them to keep up the good habit of writing (because it IS a good habit, whether you suck at it or not). If they really insist on some brutal feedback, I tell them to join a writing class at the local college. In my experience, having 20 or so critiques of your work come back to you each week is a liberating and revealing process. If a friend of mine really insists on my personal response, I tell them that in this day and age, there is a market for everything, and their task is to find that market through the Internet or other writers' resources, which pretty much shuts them up.

BTW, I ALWAYS mention writersweekly.com to new and earnest writers as a great research tool for finding markets.


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PostPosted: October 1st, 2003, 4:32 pm 
As the question was in the Weekly section it was "criticize her" work. My reply is the best way to criticize is to criticize HIS work and leave her to heaven. My wife has wonderful ideas for stories etc. but if our high school English teacher would not approve then it's just plain wrong. I've told her over and over that she must use a comma shaker instead of trying to make them land in the right, place. Comma shakers work like salt, shakers and really spice up, your, work. You can, if you use a modern computer are so inclined and comfortable, with doing it use color. I hope I've been helpful in making Miss Pomander roll over in her grave.
As for your friend who wants to know if she has a book you should tell her to go to a professional other than yourself. Tell her you love her too much to get involved with something so deeply personal. RIL

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 Post subject: I agree
PostPosted: October 3rd, 2003, 7:57 pm 
I agree with Richard. Tell your friend you'd rather not mix business with friendship/pleasure. There are just some people in the world who, no matter how many compliments you throw their way, will inevitably disregard the good things you say and ferret out the one kernel of constructive criticism to harp about. At that point, you will either backpeddle or wear an albatross around your neck for life, as these people never let you forget - or leave you alone - if they feel their work has, in their mind, been slandered.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: October 22nd, 2003, 5:27 pm 
I totally agree with the praise and honesty mixture.

It depends on the writers ability to believe in THEMSELVES true, but it also means that if the friend is GOING to make it in the business they have to be able to also take rejection.

It is a hard balancing act to juggle being a bowling buddy with someone who is getting a critique BY you.

SInce I had my book Echoes of a Silent River published...Booklocker btw... .I have been inundated with friends, relatives and acquaintences who want to show me some poetry they have written.

Almost ALL of it is dark, gloomy, sad, depressing or weird. Or of the kind that falls into the" I love a little butterfly and he loves me..I see him, does he see me," kind of thing. I am SERIOUS. People you have never known even used a pencil, have been writing things and are more than willing to show them to you, and some get MAD when you don't go into immediate praise and worship at the altar of their writing.

Have you ever read poems about a sci fi vampire who is really a Druid and maybe wears chiffon nightgowns...okay, that's over the top but you get the picture.
Some of this stuff makes you want to take a Prozac it is so depressing....
Now, I could say" Oh you have GOT to be kidding Aunt Susie!' but if Aunt Susie was 300 lbs and wearing an orange spandex outfit and asked for a critique I could STILL say..that is a nice color. ...even if she felt she looked like a pumpkin in it.
Sometimes it boils down to palin old good manners too.

But then I write *out of the box* anyhow.
But I ALSO remember when people took a chance on me when I was breaking into the different kinds of work I wanted to test out. Respect your friends effort.

I remember the KINDNESSES of people far more than the scathing 'That stinks' kind of comment one teacher told me in seventh grade. Or the looks people would give and maybe roll their eyes if they DIDN'T like it.
I grew from the HONEST feedback tempered with a newbies dreams as a kid.

I just refuse to look at friends work that's all.
I say " Nahhhhhh I can't look and critique your work... I am just not as unbiased as I would need to be. Which is why Doctors don't operate on family members either'
Then again. I feel NO one should show work to those who have a vested interest in your feelings.

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