I could probably vouch for everyone when I say that I hate getting asked to critique someone else’s writing, or as most soulless demons who love to torture you with dead characters and cliffhangers (also known as writers) phrase this ruthless phrase: what do you think?
I love reading other people’s writing and occasionally serving them scones if they make me feel all the things, but I have very minimal experience of critiquing someone else’s writing. With my best friends growing up, it was always an easy thing to laugh insanely or tell them politely that I wanted to rip their hair off, and then tell them that perhaps they should kill this character* as soon as possible because reading about them made me want to rip my hair off. No big deal there. It was just nothing of circumstance.
But when you come here to this writing environment kind of circumsphere, and there are so many other people like you ACTUALLY writing novels in the hopes that they’ll be published, or posted somewhere, or presented to other people in some way–the pressure is on to give good critique.
Because everyone’s been asked at least once, if you’ve ever written or read or mostly written anything, to tell someone else how they can be better.
Which is exactly why I’ve come to save you**. Because giving the wrong critique (which may not necessarily always be negative) may well be conducive to the end of you, because look at who you’re dealing with here. It’s writers. They’re more dangerous than Kaz Brekker or the Dregs***, and that’s saying quite a lot, because Kaz Brekker is eye candy and all, but I would safely stay away from him and Leigh because she is Halloween incarnate ****.
Also be warned: this post has lots of yelling and frustration (but no profanity because haha this is me) so I instead wrote several letters and why look, here they are on this very post as examples of what not to say when giving critique.
So you, my darling frens, have the immediate pleasure of meeting Bob, the latest victim of my writer pride and ego.
*brutally. Cruelly. Torturously slowly. Do you now understand what I mean by soulless demons basically the spirit animal of every writer??
** with five helpful (hopefully) examples of what NOT to say when dealing with a writer and her work (which can be compared to her firstborn child because ALL THE IMPORTANCE HERE). Good, now I have all of my advertising done because what even did I do in the last six paragraphs?? I KNOW NOT.
*** but not really because hello kaz brekker and the dregs were written by leigh bardugo who is a scary thing that likes to drink my tears
**** actually no if I saw her I might attack her or steal her jacket or something and claw at her for answers about her next book series (#rabidbookworm). And then she would issue a restraining order against me and I would be miserable for the rest of my life and die a painful death surrounded by many cats. And I don’t even like cats. SEE HOW AWFUL SHE MAKES MY LIFE. haha no
You’re so terrible at critique! I’m considering taking away your pie. See, I told you that writers were cruel and dangerous. Do you see how sadistic I’m being right now, Bob? That threat should have told you quite a bit about these cold-hearted creatures of my kind. The one thing I hate the most about this kind of critique is one thing: THE PRAISE IS WONDERFUL AND EVERYTHING* BUT ARE YOU BEING GENUINE.
This makes me all the fury. THIS MAKES ME A DRAGON. THIS MAKES ME SHREK. (don’t be Shrek) But in all honesty, Bob, I cannot even look at pie if you tell me this. How do I even know you read my work?? AND HELLO THIS IS LIKE MY 18TH DRAFT I’M NOT SHOWING YOU CRAPPY WRITING (unless I am which is also probable). This is not my final manuscript or my first draft. There is ALWAYS something that is terrible and makes my eyes bleed when I rewrite and reread, and there is ALWAYS something that’s absolutely wonderful and so I don’t need you to tell me what is wonderful.
Remember this life lesson, Bob.
I know my writing is wonderful. Don’t be a useless critique partner**. Give me some substance in actual critique, and if you ARE going to compliment me*** then please try to make it something that’s not an archetype. Make it real and genuine.
Because then I might buy you pie****, Bob, and that’s just worth everything.
- even though the smarter thing would be to buy me a life sponsorship to buy pie whenever I please because otherwise I wouldn’t believe you
** actually I must disagree because I find you somewhat wonderful
*** actually please do. Feel welcome at any time. At all times.
**** I apologize for this whole post being centered around pie. Actually I don’t. But ANYWAYYYYS, what I’m trying to say is that whenever you say something as simple and generic as this, you don’t sound genuine or credible. Because if my critique partners kept telling me my writing was perfect I would be sobbing miserably, binging on pie, and living with several cats (for the second timr, I don’t even like cats?! OMG WHO’S WRITING THESE FOOTNOTES THEY’RE FIRED oh never mind that would be me) because I got rejected several thousand times by publishers (and I don’t even think there’s that many?!). So the moral of this story is: always give good critique and read Veda’s footer notes because that’s where the actual subject matter is. Because if you don’t, you could have made someone end up with a terrible life. Give good critique, that is. #thestruggleisreal
I admit, if you have a square cube of a book, then even I wouldn’t critique it and I like to read more than write or plot or perhaps even at pie. But honestly, WHY DOES IT MATTER. What are you getting from this knowledge? What is the writer getting? Just because, oh, the book is a bit long that’s it, you’ll tell them you love it and that will be good enough to run their ENORMOUS egos for some time?! Bob, your intentions are disastrous.
NEVER JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS LENGTH. You thought. You thought I’d say cover, but since I’m such a hypocrite and do that everyday, let’s not talk about having bookworm morality there. Because I am a RUTHLESS JUDGER OF COVERS. FIGHT MEEEE BOB. I will dump my heavy bookshelf on you and watch on as you struggle with misery all whilst eating pie. Yes pie. Again pie. Pie appreciation day is in order here.
The length of a book is never connected or relevant to the quality of its content*. And that’s the truth. If I wrote a 200 page book, and then went and wrote the kind of cubes that GRRM writes, granted one might tempt you to rip out your hair more (obviously GRRM, those are slow but good but slow), it would still be very wrong of a person who hasn’t read both to automatically assume one is better than the other because of length. THAT IS TERRIBLE MY FRENS. MY MANUSCRIPT IS CRYING BECAUSE OF YOU BOB.
- aw look at me writing out all these life proverbs. Worship me perhaps? Write tales of my legendariness and I will spoonfeed you all the scones and pie there is. Well. I will keep
all of themsome but I care about you Bob so here you go. How wonderful and poetic am I. Ser Veda of House Lannister/Tully. I’m some kind of crossover that belongs in the Night’s Watch.
AGAIN. Why is this even relevant to critiquing my work?? And when I ask around for new beta readers or critique partners* they automatically ask how long I’ve been writing books or how long I’ve been writing at all. I also get this a lot from family members who don’t already know that I am secretly a whimsical wolf warrior person** who writes lots of stories and consumes lots of pie. I don’t speed write, but I do speed eat. But that’s beside the point.
When people ask me things like ‘how long have you been a writer’ or ‘why did you choose to be a writer’ I ocassionally think to hit them with a frying pan like Rapunzel*** and take away their scones and pie because where is the sense in that?
So Bob, let’s go over all of this: I asked you to critique my work politely because that is the kind of gentle, loving human
Vulcan bean that I am.
You consent, because what would you have done refuse lol no.
You finish reading it.
You ask me something like ‘why did you choose to write’ or ‘how long have you been writing’ after I ask you that terrible question ‘what did you think’ instead of giving me some constructive objectives or atleast complimenting my person or the novel. The former is highly recommended for all, on a side note.
And then what happens, Bob, is I carry out on my promise to hit you with a frying pan and steal away your sweets.
And then after that we’re both miserable because you have no sweets and I have no critique so now I will never look at my manuscript again and instead bury it in my rather large backyard.
Like I said before, don’t be a useless human bean. Don’t be me, Bob. It’s as simple as that.
- the not qualified ones such as my dear beloved frens who refuse to be useful MUCH LIKE THESE FOOTNOTES WHY ALL THESE FOOTNOTES WHYY
** Disney appreciation why thank you Bob
*** basically I’m Zoe Nightshade and I live in the sky and I will mercilessly wreck your heart forever and traumatize you but thank you
This will forever bug me. I understand that aforesaid brilliant book written by me might not be your style, but then what is the point of saying it was interesting? This is what I consider the ‘cover-up’ method, where beta readers obviously hated the book and might have burned the manuscript or laptop with manuscript that the author sent them. Unfortunately, they’ve wasted a perfectly fine laptop, but evidently, that is not the focus here, Bob. Pay attention.
The focus here is that, on behalf of their (beta readers being polite people but failing) true thoughts, the book was interesting, except for it wasn’t.
Well then, my dear frand beta reader to whom Bob is learning a dear life lesson out of, I appreciate your attachment to pun and oxymorons and I will completely partially disentangle myself from this conversation. Because my wonderful book comes first, you see*.
I can take hatred and proposals of eternal marriage to my manuscript but I cannot take thickly put disappointment. Disappointment always gets at the feels** of me, but thickly put–I will go meet the garbage can. Goodbye.
- Well, it comes first after you give me good critique so I can MAKE it absolutely splendid. Because right now, real humans are better than this fictitious trash and we can’t have that now can we.
** as few as there are in this unfeeling, cold, heartless rock
You know, don’t worry. We all make terrible mistakes some times. One particular terrible mistake on my part was actually mispronouncing my father’s name for many years of my life, until one person decided to spoil my eternal happiness and tell me I’ve been saying his name wrong all along*.
Instead of saying Poseidon, pronounced pu (rhymes with ‘the’)-sy (as in ‘sigh’)-dun (like ‘done’), I apparently was blinded by the sheer brilliance of seeing my
very magnanimous father’s name and said Poisedon, pronounced poi (rhymes with ‘khoi’)-su (rhymes with ‘the’ again)-don (rhymes with ‘con’).
How absolutely brilliant am I**.
Anyhow, besides that wonderful experience and mishap on my part, I too, am considering forgiving your mistake yet again. This is even worse than saying your father’s name wrong***, but I will still be a kind Vulcan iceberg thing and correct you politely.
Dearest, I’ve written more
terrible books than I would ever let you read, which is exactly about one****.
This is the kind of ‘response’ when asked for critique that really jumps me the most. Since when did I expressly give you permission to start judging my writer-ness (which is brilliance 110%) and also judging how inexperienced, gullible, and trashy I really am? It’s hilarious, because I don’t remember giving you permission to do so, Bob.
Just when people starting asking this question in that condescending, contemptuous tone of voice is it when I stop delivering them pie and lettering pretty things for them. Don’t be that person, Bob. Life without pie is a terrible life indeed.
But honestly, Bob. Don’t ask me how many books I’ve written. None published (yet). Many many first drafts. A few final manuscripts. And then quite a few that I just lost somewhere between end stage and second time drafting.
Because the thing is, I could have never written in my life and then I could come and write a perfect novel, perfect being something in similarity to the drafting stage of many published novels. It’s completely possible, it’s just not likely. And so taking anything out of that question, basing any critique off of that knowledge–it’s just completely unreasonable. I’m saying this meaning–Bob, if I had 50 final drafts ready to be published, and you had 100 final drafts ready to be published, you cannot still assume that you are the better author and in turn, you cannot assume I am the lesser author.
This knowledge just doesn’t contribute to any kind of critique, and not just because the smart ones feed off of pie or anything–readers who are also writers or professional beta readers come to conclusions about every piece of knowledge they come to learn about a book or author they are analyzing or critiquing.
And Bob, whether you know it or not, asking me questions to ‘improve clarity’ for the grounds of your critique does not help you give me more constructive or honest critique. When my beta reader frens assume things without basis about me as a writer or give me this critique that is so thick that I want to slap them or steal their pie and in turn willpower and joy, it benefits no one. I WILL HAVE MY PIE AND CRITIQUE AND EAT IT TOO. And you will have pie. And we will celebrate our joy and have pie appreciation day, of course.
This is the effect of good critique.
- coughs rude coughs
*** because really, that doesn’t matter when you think about the painful, life-ruining effects of terrible critique just because of inexperience and base assumptions ahem
**** manuscript of mine, that is. I have too much many ideas to just write one book ahahahhaaa
See there? I might have forever spoiled your happiness by yelling at you numerous times, Bob, but atleast you are not alone in this world: you have pie.
And also now you know how not to die when a writer asks of your critique or opinion or anything after you read their novel.
But regardless, if you are not Bob (if you are not this Bob), then tell me: what is one piece of critique you absolutely hate to receive?
And yes, I know that is for writers, so I have a question for readers. If you could give critique to any writer of your choice, who would it be, and what would you say? Hopefully not things like the ones I chastised dear Bob upon.
Also I’m truly, very sorry if your name is Bob.