Critiques and being personal.

I have mentioned that I write at The Fiction Workhouse
and it really is all kinds of ace. It is stimulating, thought provoking and a creative wonderland really. I feel very lucky to be working there, and I know that it is pushing me, teaching me, nourishing me.
One aspect of it is the 3 weekly short story rounds where one can post a story on a given date and the others in that round will critique it. In writing the crits one becomes a better writer by being forced to articulate what works, what doesn’t, why and so on. We all agree to it, but we’re human y’know, criticism can sting. Sometimes I struggle with how to say that a piece doesn’t work for me, without causing offence. This is challenging in a good way as it stops that lazy ‘Nah, don’t like this’ attitude, forcing us to examine why we feel that way, and to question how we would improve the piece. I generally take crits ok I think, and some have been excellent in helping me identify where a story is failing. It’s so good to get an objective opinion, and it’s a common thing to assume that because something is crystal clear in one’s head that it will be similarly obvious to a reader, it is helpful to have foggy areas pointed out and so on. Where I get MIGHTILY PISSED OFF though is when someone makes a judgement on the writer rather than just sticks to commenting on the story. I don’t think that personal judgements have any place in a critique at all. We are strangers to each other, we don’t all know each other’s personal situation, and so it is dangerous to make pronouncements and assumptions. It does happen though. Another danger is the ego wank crit: someone so delighted by their own intelligence and voice that they merrily trash other peoples work. Their defence is always going to be, but this is my opinion. There is no point in confronting them, they will have no awareness anyway, so it’d just be a fight for a fights sake, and I can’t be bothered with that. Hence my ranting here instead!

I do think it important to err on the side of gentle caution before making a proclamation about a stranger though. Saying that a writer seems to have no clue about what it is they are writing about is a strange thing to do unless one knows for sure. Telling someone who writes a lesbian love story that they write like one who has no clue what it means to be a lesbian, because the person critiquing is a lesbian and wouldn’t react in that way makes a huge assumption that the author is not a lesbian, for example. And it’s all supposition unless one knows. Grr argh.

I also frequently have to stop myself from posting messages of explanation, or defence, or just saying YES – BUT THAT WAS MY INTENTION! I can already answer my own posts with their firm “Yes, well you didn’t do it well enough then did you!”


Edit. And patronising! Sorry, please add that to the ego wank rant! Wanking and patronising.

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