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Let’s Be Honest September 10, 2011

Posted by nrhatch in Blogging, Spirit & Ego, Writing & Writers.
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As writers, when we ask for honest feedback, we must be open to constructive criticism as well as applause. 

If we aren’t receptive to critique, and readers see that honest feedback (no matter how gentle) is not welcome, they stop being honest:

Why ask for feedback
if all you want to hear is
insincere applause?

Receiving applause feels good, but we lose an opportunity to grow as writers if we encourage only positive comments.  Instead of an accurate reflection, the image we have of our work grows increasingly distorted.

Each time we internalize and absorb an insincere compliment, choosing to accept it at face value, Ego preens about, puffing up in exaggerated self-importance.

If we receive a ”standing ovation” for everything we write, and happily gobble up the compliments tossed our way to feed our ever-hungry egos, we stop stretching our writing muscles.

Our perspective becomes skewed as honest feedback gives way to increasingly insincere accolades.   We stagnate in a pool of complacency.

Enough vacuous comments absorbed, and Ego is stretched to the breaking  point, leaving it vulnerable to honest criticism and critique from editors, publishers, and agents. 

Constructive criticism is invaluable as long as we don’t allow our glorious and fragile egos to get in the way.  The trick is to pick the tips and comments that resonate, and let the remainder drift away.

No rules.  Just write!

Related post:  Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little LiesToughen Up!WTF: Watch That Feedback * The Crystal Clear Blogosphere * The 2011 Sexiest Blog Award *  Why Write? * No Jivin’ * Hang Ten: Riding the Waves of Dismay

Comments»

1. misswhiplash - September 10, 2011

Here is a very honest comment…very good post, very good advice and hopefully it will be very well received.
I only say what I feel like saying..if it is something that I do not like I might give gentle criticism but more than likely I will say nothing. As far as I can see everyone is entitled to have a different opinion than me .That does not make them or me wrong. but I would not critisize for having different opinion.
The same with ways of writing, what suits one does not suit another yet neither are wrong.
Live and let live I say !!! Up the banner Anna! Go with the Flow Joe!
and lots of love to you all

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

Thanks, Patrecia. Rock on! Peace out!

“Run-of-the-mill” blog posts that are tendered for entertainment value or to spark discussion don’t require detailed feedback or critique . . . so I seldom offer either.

But sometimes writers specifically request feedback on short stories and flash fiction. All too often, honest critique gives way to reciprocal shouts of “this is awesome” and “I love it” and “cute story” and “you’re so talented.”

From my perspective, our failure to provide HONEST feedback when requested defeats the stated intent of the author in seeking it and drowns out comments designed to assist the writer improve his or her writing style.

2. Carl D'Agostino - September 10, 2011

No one has ever criticized anything I have ever written or said.

Tilly Bud - September 10, 2011

I think you are wrong to write that, Carl.

🙂

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

Bwahahaha x 2! 😆

Class dismissed.

3. SuziCate - September 10, 2011

I once participated with an online poetry site…only good comments were allowed, no critisim even constructive type…I am usually one anyway that if I don’t really get what is being said I say nothing, just move on and ruminte it until I come to my own understanding. In writing poetry what I convey is often not what I mean which is the beauty of poetry when each can take away something whether or not that something is what is intended. I have received some very good feedback without asking and have received a couple of unsolicited insults.

As far as blogging, I don’t criticize, even constructively, unless it is a fictional write specifically asking for feedback. I know most of my blogging is basically for communication, nothing I am submitting anywhere.

I think I have received the most helpful criticism from a rejection slip telling me exactly what was missing, to please work on it and send it back. This surprised me for two reasons. One was that it wasn’t your typical rejection, and two was that it was a male editor of a female magazine…I have treasured that rejection I think more than any acceptance I’ve ever gotten.

And now to the main thing that grabbed my attention in this post (and don’t laugh too hard) is your use of vacuous. The reason? Just another bit of synchronicity in my life. We were having after dinner drinks and conversation with a childhoodfriend and her girlfriend last weekend and one of them used this word in a sentence and they started rolling. I didn’t get it. They explained that when one of them hears an unfamiliar word they make a point of sharing it, examining it, and using it as often as possible in their vocabulary. Anyway, vacuous was new to me, I mean I’d heard it but probably never used it before…so now, I’m taking this as a sign I need to incorporate it into my speech. So, thank you! Now, I’m on to wondering how many vacuous things exist in my life from comments to ideas to people to…..

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

Excellent points, Suzi. As I said to Patrecia:

“Run-of-the-mill” blog posts that are tendered for entertainment value or to spark discussion don’t require detailed feedback or critique . . . so I seldom offer either.

But when someone says . . . “Please leave a comment and tell me what YOU think” . . . I try to be honest in providing feedback.

They don’t always appreciate my efforts. . . and may even “trash” my comments so as not to detract from the slew of vacuous remarks from less sincere reviewers.

My response at that point is to stop giving them feedback. Why waste my time when all they want is applause?

4. Piglet in Portugal - September 10, 2011

As always Nancy, excellent advice! 🙂

PS if you don’t see me around for awhile re comments I am going away to UK and France and will have limited internet access. I am having withdrawal symptoms already!

I still hope to pop by as time allows 🙂 Another grandchild is due 13th September!

Cheers
Pip

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

Thanks, PiP! I just saw the PERFECT example of insincere platitudes at work.

Several bloggers I know are participating in the third Writer’s Platform Building Campaign organized by Rachael Harrie. In connection with the campaign, Rachel poses challenges to participants ~ the first Campaigner Challenge asked bloggers to write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, beginning with the words, “The door swung open…”

When I read through the comments on bloggers posts . . . the acclaim is unanimous ~ dozens of pats on the back and champagne flowing.

Happy Happy . . . Joy Joy!

But when you go to “campaign central” and check those posts on the “scoreboard” (which records how many people came by and clicked the “like” button) . . . the numbers are FAR LOWER than one would expect.

One blogger I follow only has 2 “likes” . . . another has “8” . . . but both received at least a dozen glowing accolades in the comment thread below their flash fiction stories.

My take: participants are insincerely patting each other on the back to create a sense of “false comradery” and encourage reciprocity . . . but they aren’t really supporting each other by entering a “like” at the “scoreboard.”

People and their glorious fragile egos amuse me. 😆

That said, have a FAB time in the UK with baby piglet!!! We’ll leave the cyber light on for ya. Check in when you can.

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

What’s funnier . . . I just went back and voted a 2nd time for one of my favorites and the scoreboard registered my vote. Now she has “9 likes” instead of “8” ~ including my TWO votes.

In other words, the scoreboard is still recording votes . . . and people can stuff the ballot box if they want. Too funny.

http://rachaelharrie.blogspot.com/2011/09/first-campaigner-challenge.html

Piglet in Portugal - September 10, 2011

I can’t understand the fascination of participating in these sort of groups to be honest. But then I am a grumpy recluse.

Fortunately, I have an excellent blogging buddy who proof reads articles for me before they are published. “They” have a way of “making honest suggestions for improvement” which are encouraging rather than condescending!

I find some writing groups are a bit unwelcoming to an enthusiastic novices such as myself.

The voting system you mentioned in this case is pointless and perhaps nothing to do with quality but more to do with popularity. Keep voting Nancy!

as you say No rules. Just write!

🙂
PiP

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

Same here . . . although I did enjoy the Blog Hops that Eliz hosted. If my recollection is correct, that’s how I met YOU! 😉

I’m glad you have an extra set of eyes for your articles and that you are able to benefit from their honest suggestions for improvement.

Oh, I won’t be reading or voting for any more of the posts ~ I just went back to see if votes were still registering. A broken voting booth could have explained the vast discrepancy between the # of positive comments on the stories and the far fewer # of “likes” on the scoreboard.

Since the votes registered, I am left with my original hypothesis: insincere participants say nice things to other bloggers to encourage reciprocity ~ a rather pointless exercise and waste of time for all concerned (except, of course, for Ego who soaks it all up like gravy).

Piglet in Portugal - September 10, 2011

I enjoyed Eliz blog hops helped me to discover some great blogs 🙂 Yes we did meet through Eliz. Our blogs are so different I doubt we would have met otherwise. LOL 🙂
As they say variety is the spice of life!
OK, back to the packing 🙂
Speak again soon 🙂

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

Remember to pack your pj’s, PiP! And your camera!!!

Have a wonderful time greeting your new grand baby piglet!

nrhatch - September 12, 2011

Update on the First Campaigner Challenge . . . one of the bloggers I follow is moving on to stage two! Go Julie!

Julie, I’m a judge for the first round of the challenge, and I wanted to let you know that you are moving on to stage two! There will be a semi-final (stage three) and a final (stage four). Congrats! And thank you for participating in the challenge. Thanks, Heidi

I’m glad that they independently judged the entries for merit . . . rather relying on the ballot box at Campaign Central.

If you’re interested in reading Julie’s story:
http://writeupmylife.com/2011/09/06/flash-fiction-challenge-gossamer-thread/

5. Richard W Scott - September 10, 2011

i’m with you on this, Nancy, in fact I’ve “preached” it on UhW as well as our old friend WEbook Most people who post in public places expect people to love their work as much as they do. When told formatting is off, or properly spelled but improperly used words were employed, they’ll run off in a huff singing out “…well, I write for myself!” I’ve found that even a good many people who claim to want honest feedback really only want honest praise.

This isn’t to say there aren’t true students of writing out there, people who work every day to use the best word, the best phrase, the best image to get their idea across.

Those who think they were born perfect writers need only to look at those highly productive writers who keep at it, and time after time, and in a row, are acclaimed for their greatest work yet.

The day you stop growing, you become a hack.

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

So true! Writers who allow their egos to get in the way tend to grow far more slowly and bloom less fully than those who carefully consider constructive criticism and consciously evaluate casual compliments.

One of my pet peeves is the excessive use of passive verbs (paired with adverbs) rather than well chosen active verbs:

Sometimes, people use the passive voice intentionally with the aim of hiding who did whatever thing was done.

Other times, people just slip into the passive voice without noticing. The passive voice requires that you use forms of the verb “to be” (is, was, were, will be, and so on), which is a pretty easy habit to get into, since it’s a verb that we’re all very comfortable with. But it’s a filler word in these cases and does little but slow down a sentence. Although there are legitimate uses for it, in general, your prose will be weakened by the passive voice.

If you make an exercise of scanning your writing for these types of sentences and changing any that can be rewritten without the passive construction, chances are that you’ll find yourself writing more lively, less cluttered, prose. You may even find yourself inspired to use more vivid and descriptive verbs, and that’s surely a service to your readers.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/whodunnit-an-exercise-in-passive-voice/

Write on!

Piglet in Portugal - September 10, 2011

I think honest feedback given in a constructive manner is great!

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

Same here. I only ask people for feedback if I am genuinely interested in hearing what they have to say. I never encourage people to toss insincere platitudes my way to appease my ego.

Stated differently, I am NOT a performing seal waiting to be fed a bucket of dead fish. 😆

6. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide - September 10, 2011

Food for thought as always. It can be hard to criticize correctly. People naturally become defensive. You have to remember that whether you’re delivering or receiving criticism. Well, that was deep I’m off to pickle things!

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

Ooh . . . that’s a fine pickle you’ve gotten yourself into, Ollie! 😉

IMHO, writers who become defensive when offered honest feedback on their efforts should STOP asking people for feedback.

When a writer says . . . “Please leave a comment and tell me what YOU think” . . . I try to be honest in providing feedback ~ both positive and negative. If they respond by “trashing” my comments (so as not to detract from the slew of vacuous remarks from less sincere reviewers), I stop giving them feedback.

Why waste my time trying to help them if all they want is applause?

7. clarbojahn - September 10, 2011

Yes, I agree. As one of the writers who joined the writers campaign challenge, I see a lot of them getting nothing but good praise and it may not be all that honest or beneficial. I think since it was a contest that it was too late to make honest comments about the stories. That said I think if a critiquer is making suggestions that there should be a way for them both to talk. That it should be a two way street and people should not get defensive about it.

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

Critique is always a two way street, Clar.

As writers, we decide which suggestions to incorporate and which to leave sitting on the run-way.

When writers ASK me what I think, and then toss my comments into the trash, I don’t get defensive . . . I just stop giving them feedback.

Why waste time sharing suggestions only to have them thrown away?

8. spilledinkguy - September 10, 2011

I’m certainly not much of a writer, but I think that everyone can relate to this idea in one way or another… well said, indeed!
🙂

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

“Run-of-the-mill” blog posts tendered for entertainment value or to spark discussion don’t require detailed feedback or critique . . . so I seldom offer either.

But some writers hope to use their blogs as writing platforms to increase sales of their books down the road. To do that effectively, they must be willing to ACCEPT both praise and criticism with aplomb and grace.

They don’t have to AGREE with all the constructive criticism they receive, but they have to be able to listen to it openly. If they do not, they send a very clear message which is apt to decrease the number of their followers:

Do NOT tell me what YOU think . . . tell me what I want to hear.

9. Alannah Murphy - September 10, 2011

Well said Nancy. Nobody is perfect, and anyone who thinks everything they do, or say or write is above criticism, needs to get their head examined, okay, that sounds a bit harsh, but my experience has taught me that it’s usually those really arrogant human beings, who think they have nothing new to learn that are actually in dire need to learn a lot of things and those same people, never ever accept responsibility for anything. Everything is done TO them but they are NOT to blame…bleh

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

Good points, Alannah. Sometimes it is arrogance that closes them off from constructive criticism.

Other times it may be fear that forces them to put their hands over their ears while singing, La La La La La La (to drown out the sound of anything that does not support their own view of the world).

Perhaps they’re also trying to protect their fragile reputation?

Of course, we have as many reputations as we have acquaintances, and none is accurate. So, are any of them really worth protecting?

David (Raptitude) puts it this way:

Whenever you’re worried about what others will think of you, you’re really just worried about what you’ll think of you.

http://www.raptitude.com/2009/07/88-important-truths-ive-learned-about-life/ ~ see #10

That sums it up nicely. When we stop worrying about our reputation with others, we free up energy to become more fully who we were always intended to be.

Alannah Murphy - September 13, 2011

Couldn’t have said it better myself Nancy 🙂

nrhatch - September 13, 2011

Thanks! We need every ounce of freedom we can carve out of life. If we are always looking over our shoulders because we feel like we’re walking around with a bull’s eye in the middle of our forehead, it steals our creative mojo!

What they think of us is none of our business. 😎

10. kateshrewsday - September 10, 2011

LOVED this. Especially “Each time we internalize and absorb an insincere compliment, choosing to accept it at face value, Ego preens about, puffing up in exaggerated self-importance.”

That’s going on my fridge door too, which is getting quite full, I might tell you.

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

Thanks, Kate. Ego is a Proud Peacock, indeed.

You sound like me . . . gathering bits and pieces of extraneous wisdom and posting them about to prompt my recollection on as “as needed” basis. Eventually, I gathered them all up and stuffed them in a folder to peruse when the road gets a bit too “rocky” and I feel as though I’m stumbling in the dark.

11. Stephanie - September 10, 2011

Interesting, and very timely. I just published my first book (yea!), and have been in the situation where I do most definitely want criticism, but I’m also faced with the “damned with faint praise” syndrome where I’ve exceeded people’s expectations (when they were expecting very little).

Oddly enough, the food bloggers that I mostly interact with also only typically leave positive feedback. I don’t whether those who don’t approve just skip the criticism or if they leave before even finishing the piece.

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

Congrats on publishing your FIRST book! That’s cool! 😎

We are trained to treat people’s egos with kid gloves . . . even if it means being deceptive and dishonest.

I don’t have the patience to do that every time I open my mouth or put my fingers on the keyboard. And quite frankly, I don’t believe it’s in anyone’s best interest for us to tip-toe around each others egos like that . . . since ego is nothing more than a toddler in the throes of the terrible twos.

Ego’s incessant desire for approval prevents us from putting ourselves “out there.” So, instead of beating around the bush, I share my opinions. People can take them or leave them, as they see fit.

I don’t expect them to adopt my view of the world . . . but I do encourage them to tell Ego to “Shut Up!” when it demands empty accolades for mediocre efforts.

Do you have a link you want to share so that we can come round and offer you the constructive criticism you crave? 😀

nrhatch - September 10, 2011
nrhatch - September 10, 2011

Stephanie ~

Here’s a favorite 3 Bowl Cookbook of mine:

http://www.amazon.com/Three-Bowl-Cookbook-David-Scott/dp/0804832390

12. Maggie - September 10, 2011

I try to give gentle criticism – or criticize in such a way that feelings won’t be hurt. Some critiquers (if that’s even a word) are so snarky and focus only on the negative that they end up hurting the other person. I think nearly every work has at least one good thing (even if it’s a very tiny thing) that can be said about it.

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

Like you, I tend to balance positives and negatives ~ if there is NOTHING positive to be said, I quietly slip away into the night. 😆

But some people are so caught up in the applause from other less sincere reviewers that they don’t readily embrace comments identifying “room for improvement.” That, of course, is their prerogative.

But I see no reason to offer future feedback to anyone who appears more interested in insincere accolades than in constructive criticism. There are plenty of others around to fill that role ~ tossing them compliments from the bucket.

13. Paula Tohline Calhoun - September 10, 2011

Ooh! Great post – cute story, and all! Loved it, loved it, loved it! You are so talented. . .

Now, seriously, I can’t stand that sort of thing. I want glowing comments to mean something, and less than glowing comments to mean something too – even if it only expresses opinion. Poetry is an odd thing to critique about, as I have found. Since it is such a very subjective art – more so than SS or other creative writing (I believe), criticism is always welcome, if only to point out what another person inferred from the verse. As grammar generally has free reign in poetry (not always), those sorts of comments are not necessarily valid (but sometimes they are), however, syntax and spelling, proper/improper usage of words, etc. are always valuable comments to get. I’m not really concerned so much about whether a reader “likes” my poetry, (although it’s nice when they do!), but I do really appreciate reading what another reader gets from my work, or how it is interpreted. That helps me a great deal to see if I have hit the target I was personally aiming for.

I really dismiss the “good job” comments. They are nice, and well-intentioned, but not helpful in the long run.

As far as general, everyday posts go – a “Like” is as good as anything – if the post entertained. I love comment conversations, however, and they often run far afield of the actual post – but that’s OK – it’s what blogging’s for!

As you can tell – my blogatical has done nothing for my verbal diarrhea. . .

Cheers, Nancy – hope things are going better for you!

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

How uncanny! I was JUST thinking about swinging around to say “hey” and see how your bloggatical was treating you!

Ooh! Great post – cute story, and all! Loved it, loved it, loved it! You are so talented. . .

Thank you. 😆

I’m with you all the way. I don’t critique poetry ~ it’s too subjective.

I do share what I pull away from poetry for exactly the reason you describe ~ to let the poet know what I got out of the poem so they can evaluate its impact on readers.

Glad that you show no signs of running out of words. Hope you’re sleeping better without so many “To Do” items running around in your head.

14. souldipper - September 10, 2011

Some people are great at critiquing and some are just critics. Some offer constructive criticism and some, just criticism. I belong to an on-line writing group and can ask for feedback on any piece. I have seen some of the feedback and question the qualifications. I have to ask – would I take my pet to someone I knew nothing about and put it in their hands without knowing credentials?

I ask the opinion of writers whose input I trust. I know it will come from a credible experiential and/or knowledge base. I have asked readers of my blog for feedback who are in my life and whose taste in literature I respect.

I’ve been asked to critique work a few times and have declined. I am not qualified and don’t want to encourage or discourage anyone irresponsibly.

As with other art forms, I know what I like and what I don’t like. Sometimes I don’t know why!

nrhatch - September 10, 2011

Some people don’t have enough confidence in their work to rely on their own judgment . . . but that lack of confidence also makes it hard for them to accept constructive criticism.

It’s a bit of a Catch-22.

I may start to follow your lead and refuse to offer feedback even when a writer specifically asks readers to share their thoughts.

Aah . . . that’s better. 😀

15. ElizOF - September 11, 2011

Lots of good food for thought here… and it might be time to reinstate the blog hop.TY! 🙂

nrhatch - September 11, 2011

An occasional blog hop would be FUN! Or a weekly theme of a positively uplifting nature?

16. jannatwrites - September 11, 2011

You know you are always welcome to comment on my short stories as long as you love them.

Only kidding, of course. Yeah, it’s nice when a story reaches someone in some way, but the critiques stay with me (in a good way.)

When someone brings up that the characters seemed cliche, or the character’s behaviors weren’t consistent – those are things I think of when I write so I can improve in those areas. I had a critique on an online forum that said something about not being able to read past the third sentence. That didn’t help me at all; it was just mean.

nrhatch - September 11, 2011

That’s awful! Comments like that don’t qualify as “constructive criticism” . . . they’re just mean! Unless the writing is complete gibberish with typos outnumbering correctly spelled words, etc. And, even then, better to just walk away.

You handle constructive criticism with aplomb and grace! Not that I’ve had much “criticism” to offer ~ just the one son who seemed a bit “off the mark.”

17. Team Oyeniyi - September 11, 2011

I like your thoughts very much. While my writing is not really trying to be professional, other than the first chapter of my book, I think I have tried to handle questions about the nature of our situation (most usually questions about “sham marriages”) with sincerity and followed up with research where I could.

I’ll admit I am dreading the editing process to come!

nrhatch - September 11, 2011

Maybe that’s the real issue . . . writers are so squeamish about the editing process that any suggestion that revision is needed throws them for a loop. 😉

Good luck with the editing process.

18. LittleMissVix - September 12, 2011

Constructive criticism is really useful, it’s hard to hear but you will learn and grow from it, it’s a skill I think to critique work and not just criticise it.

nrhatch - September 12, 2011

Our egos want people to agree with us, like us, admire us, and applaud our efforts. Of course, we can’t please all the people all the time.

If we are satisfied with our writing, as it is, we need look no further. BUT if we ASK people for feedback . . . we should listen to what they have to say. We don’t have to agree with them. We don’t have to change a single word. But we should not ask for feedback and then throw it away because our egos would rather lap up insincere platitudes from less honest reviewers.

nrhatch - September 12, 2011

I agree with your 2nd point too, Vix.

Unconstructive criticism (THIS IS AWFUL . . . GET A REAL JOB) is not helpful; it is no better than insincere applause. The key is to focus on what is working and what still needs work.

I like to proffer a few edited sentences to clarify what I mean since words are often subject to interpretation. Writers need not adopt my revise as their 2nd draft (although a few writers have) ~ it’s only there as a clarification tool.

If a writer isn’t receptive to my critique style, I stop critiquing their work ~ saving myself time and effort. 😀


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