Tuesday, April 03, 2007

So what exactly do you want me to say then?

I once had a piece of work (this one) critiqued by a writing class.

"I'm sorry," a classmate said "I don't know what to say. I hated it. Absolutely hated it. It made me cry, and it upset me for the day."

I was delighted and I told her so. It was my first piece of writing that had brought someone to tears. She had believed in it - I was very proud of myself!

"But I'm supposed to say something nice." she said.

Why? Why should she feel that she had to say something nice? Isn't it far better to speak from the heart no matter what?
I have recently posted two pieces of writing and a couple of commenter's have made a sort of apology for just saying simply that they liked it. Surely this is what we should go by, gut reaction, our first instincts? When I first listen to a new piece of music I sort it into a 'mmm' or an 'ugh' - not the stuff of eloquent critique, but one that leads me on to further listening, or stops me in my tracks.

I am linked to a number of poetry sites. I like poetry and dabble about a bit, but sometimes I look at my comments on those sites and think 'what a twat, how stupid does that sound?'. I even confessed a few days ago on Wordcarving, that I didn't always have to the right words because his poetry often elicits a noise from me. The strange thing was that other people agreed (can I just say that this is a very positive kind of noise - a kind of satisfied grunt! Oh shit, that doesn't sound right either, sorry John).

As a writer I am still very tickled that anyone wants to read my words and if they say anything, anything at all, it is like a hug, a kiss, a pat on the back, or a confirmation that I am doing something right (or wrong - here come the comma police!). It also means that I have touched something, made them believe something, made them think about something even if that something was not very nice.

This is not a request for compliments, but a request for you to speak from your heart. If you like it, love it, hate it, loathe it or wish to rip it into tiny, tiny pieces and laugh in my face - then say it.
The word 'critique', is a bit snobby. Maybe we feel obliged to think up some witty, informed and educated diatribe that will make the writer think that we know what we are talking about.
I say, when in doubt, use the 'Brussels sprout' rule - either you love 'em and can't get enough of 'em, or you hate 'em and they make you feel sick.

Too black and white? You decide.


concerned citizen said...

Gee whiz, I feel like you are talking to me. Sometimes I like something very much, but don't know what to say except, "I like that very much." That seems so trite after 2 or 3 times though. Esp. when it's a writer that I am complimenting. One of my favorite compliment words is "awesome" or if it's really good, "Fucking awesome!!!"
Perhaps I should dust off the old Thesaurus & come up with something that makes me sound literary.

(kinda hard for someone who takes 3 tries to get the word veification right, ARRGH!)

Anonymous said...

aha yep... thats what i do. I generlly dont go into detail and really "critique" the work I just usally say if I like it or not;) glad that is enough!!

Unknown said...

L>t, come up with something that makes you sound like YOU - oh yes, you did - 'fucking awesome'does the job!

More than enough, Wolfbaby, unless of course you are overcome by the need to ramble on for days and days. And that's okay too.

Anonymous said...

I agree -its hard to write comment thats serious but not pompous, overbearing and patronising. Its good to get a balance, makes me think all those reviewers do a harder job than I thought....

S. Kearney said...

It's always very difficult in the blogworld. I always try to be honest, to find something I like. If I don't like something, and it's someone I don't visit often, I say nothing. If it's you Minx, with your naughty commas, I speak right up! But the rest is so cool the commas are peanuts.:) I should've been a dry old teacher!

Newmania said...

Oh really I recall putting in one of two faintly irreverent remarks about the unintentional comedy of the mean suit and the talking tree and you stomped off in a huff. Not only that ,but some spotty Don Quixote felt the need to get in touch with his ‘inner man’ and come galloping on farm pony to the rescue.

For me an emotional response and a critical one are part of the same thing.

Unknown said...

Mutley and Shameless, I think you're right. I always try to comment on the piece rather than because I like the person behind it! It is not always easy to find the right words.

Any blog that is offering creative work should be open to comment, from all walks of life. After all those are the people we are aiming at. The blog reader is entitled to his, or her, opinion and as a blog author I would exercise my right to delete a comment if I found it offensive or upsetting.

Debi said...

Hugs, kisses and back pats from me.

Anonymous said...

Spot on, Minx. I sometimes felt exactly like that when I was supposed to be teaching creative writing. All I wanted to say was something like yes, good, tick...but of course the students, quite rightly, were expecting more than that.

L.M.Noonan said...

I feel exactly the same way.I can critique a painting or a sculpture or some other form of artwork but someones words...yoiks. I know that when something works for me I'm transported. As a visual artist I'm mostly inspired by the work of writers not other artists-with notable exceptions of course, but writing; like that other noble artform...music. Now that's ART.

Art Durkee said...

No one can do a writer a bigger favor than their direct, honest response in a critique. That doesn't mean rip it to shreds, or praise it to the skies. Neither are required, and there are always ways to speak plainly without being rude. (A nicety often overlooked by, shall we say, beginning critiquers.)

It's really not that hard to learn to be objective about the poem, and "ignore" the poet. It's a learnable skill, something anyone can learn to do, with practice.

The truth is, neither blank praise nor abject disgust are USEFUL to the writer—unless one says specifically WHY it's great, or WHY it sucks. If I take the time to critique something carefully, it's because I think the piece is worth salvaging: there's something in it that's worthwhile, and maybe just a few revisions would take a good piece up to the level of being a great piece. So, that's usually worth spending some detailed time on.

A simple pat on the back is nice . . . but it's not very useful. BTW, I like to get the kind of critique that I give, but I rarely do.

Unknown said...

Clare - yes, I expect they were expecting more than that but for a crative writing class I feel that it is much different. The student has put their work up for critique, a full critique. I do not think that sometimes the blog is the place for this.

I.M - hello, welcome. What is valuable to the writer (and artist, and musician) is surely the response from the heart. None of us would be too proud to say that some kind of comment strokes the ego and spurs us on.

Art - Hello again.
I agree with most of what you said but I don't think I would offer a full critique of a piece unless I was asked. I think, as you said, that some people see it as their job to 'right the wrongs' in a piece and if badly done it will be of no help at all to the writer. I think to offer to do this privately, allows the author a chance to explain their original motives - or am I just being too English here?