Reviews, Critiques, Goals, and Hurt Feelings
edited: Friday, September 24, 2004
By Carmen Ruggero
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2004
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The best way to achieve excellence is through a hardnosed attitude towards the process, accompanied by an insatiable thirst for knowledge.
The word review, a noun, is an essay or article that gives a critical evaluation The key words here, are: ‘critical’ and ‘evaluation’.
Critical, an adjective, means: characterized by careful evaluation and judgment. Example: "A critical reading" The key words are: ‘careful’ and ‘judgment’.
The word ‘critical’, I believe, is what causes the nature of a review to be misunderstood. Critical can be synonymous with negativity because by definition, it also means a marked tendency to find and call attention to errors and flaws.
Objectivity: *Relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers. I found a more clear definition in www.rhymezone.com : Objectivity is a judgment based on observable phenomena and uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices. Our dislike of the subject matter, for instance, should not influence the way we determine whether or not, a writer succeeded in putting his point across. If we cannot stay objective, then we’re better off going on to something else. I often review works for my publisher, BeWrite Books. I know that my enjoyment of the subject and admiration for the particular writer I am reviewing colors my point of view; I don’t think we can get around that. However, and despite my enthusiasm, I must render a critical and objective evaluation of the work.
From the standpoint of the writer being reviewed, we must remember that a review, an objective critique of the work, is also a reviewer’s point of view – no more, no less.
How does this apply to us, here in Authors Den? I can best relate this in terms of my own experience. As most of you know, I am a fiction writer. I came into poetry just a couple of years ago. I have many short stories and some poetry published both electronically, and in print. A co-authored book titled Kaleidoscope and released just a few months ago, includes seven of my short stories. I recently finished my first novel, now undergoing some serious revisions. When I finished telling the story, I knew “the book” was far from finished. I sent it around to some tough authors whose work and opinion I respect, and asked to be offered no mercy. I knew these excellent writers to be excellent readers, as well, and had no doubt that they would be able to tell me where they thought the story succeeded, and where it failed, and that they would indeed provide me with a careful, objective, and intelligent evaluation of the work. Did I want to hear flattering remarks from them? You bet your quills! But what I want more than anything, is to end up with the best darn book I can possibly write. Through my years as a developing writer, I learned a most valuable lesson: The best way to achieve excellence is through a hardnosed attitude towards the process, accompanied by an insatiable thirst for knowledge.
I had to learn to take criticism without taking it as a personal attack. If I disagree with the critique being offered, I leave it aside, but never take offense. If I am having any success at all right now, I have those harsh critics to thank for. Criticism, no matter how honest, need not be negative or callous, but on the other hand, I truly believe that negativity is often our perception, and not at all the reviewer’s intention.
Right here in Authors Den we have a section labeled “Reviews”. Because this is a public site and not a private discussion board, people are, understandably so, sensitive about what is posted there, and so we do it privately, either through the message board, or private e-mails. That is perfectly alright. However, there have been times when even privately, my good intentions were misunderstood; I lost a reader and even worse, a friend. Consequently, for a while, when reviewing something I though might need a little help, instead of making my suggestion to the writer, I fell into the practice of leaving comments that were generic and non-committal in order not to offend people who I consider nice, and certainly don’t want to offend. I must tell you though that when I do that I feel as genuine as a three-dollar bill.
I recently received a review that was so impressive and flattering of my work I was astonished until I realized that everyone else I read that day had the same review posted by the same reviewer, with minor adjustments made in an effort to personalize it. Said review never addressed anyone’s work in particular. It was just a form letter. It makes you wonder if the person even read our work.
Is that what we’re all about? Again, I’ll relate that question to my own experience, as I cannot speak for anyone else. Negativity is not pleasant; nobody likes it, and neither do I. But I can somehow let it roll down my back. If the comment is abusive and nasty, I delete it. No problem. But a flagrant display of flattery, randomly posted on everyone’s work, is simply patronizing, and disrespectful.
Some people only want to hear the ‘good stuff’. That’s what they call positive. A fair review may indicate that the rhyme scheme is incorrect, or a word misspelled, and for some, that’s negative. So let me tell you what I think: We deal in communication. We are told that critics and publishers frequent Authors Den and read our work. Spelling, proper syntax, are our tools; we should use them. Would you hire a carpenter who didn’t know the difference between a nail and a thumbtack? I don’t think so. So why would a publisher look at a manuscript with obvious spelling and punctuation errors and take the writer seriously?
I know that many of us have become friends, good ones I’d say, and sometimes we know a post is just for fun, and we respond accordingly. However, there are times when a post is an author’s serious effort, and it deserves a serious response. A piece may affect us emotionally, and we let the author know that, and why. That is important to our development and growth, which should be a never-ending project, if we’re serious about what we do. Sometimes a piece needs help; if we know how to help the writer, we should be able to do it. I do not mean to imply that we cannot comment otherwise. Some people are not comfortable reviewing. They like to acknowledge reading the piece and saying they liked it; that’s fine. What I mean is that we should be able to offer our suggestions without having to dread the accusation of negativity.
I wouldn’t be writing sonnets today, if some poets I know and respect hadn’t stepped in and suggested reading material, pointed to the fact that my syllable count was wrong, or that inverted sentences in order to force rhyme are not reflective of 21st Century technique. Someone who goes out of his, or her way to correct us, may just be a friend who cares. English is my second language; one I learned as a young adult. I would not be writing today, had friends not taken the time to correct me, or had I interpreted their efforts as negative.
I think it all depends on what you want to get from of your efforts. Individually, we all know our needs. So I’ll tell you mine: I want to be the best writer I can possibly be. I also want to be encouraging and supportive of my fellow writers. And for the writer I have become, I want to thank those who have taken the time to encourage me by pointing out my mistakes as well as praising my efforts, when praise was due. Whether it be a misspelled word, a misused word, a punctuation error, or crafting, I want to know it because what I expect from my efforts is nothing short of excellence.
Carmen Ruggero © 2004
Web Site: BeWrite
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|Reviewed by m j hollingshead
|Reviewed by Regis Auffray
|You make excellent and worthy points here, Carmen. Thank you. Love and peace to you,
|Reviewed by The Smoking Poet
|Hurrah, Carmen! A thoughtful essay on giving reviews and critiques. Yes, I mean that.
I have been at AD for some years now, and I soon learned that "reviews" here are not critiques, for the most part. They are usually a pleasant comment of "hi, i've been here" and a pat of encouragement. Which is nice. True critiques, well, I don't usually see them here. I belong to a couple of writers' groups, and I also have a small "inner circle" of trusted readers to whom I give my work when I am ready to get to that final phase of revision and polish, and I need that second or third pair of critical eyes. As for AD, I think of it more as my online portfolio and a place of networking.
Personally, I never offer a compliment on writing that I don't mean. I either say nothing at all, or I comment on the subject rather than the style... but when I say well done, I mean well done.
Well done, Carmen.
|Reviewed by Franz Kessler
|hello Carmen - your article is straight too the point, and very honest. I completely concur with your point of view, in particular on the subject of respect. In the spirit of the above, you might improve this article a bit by using shorter sentences- I believe your message would emerge even stronger. Thanks for your courage. Franz|
|Reviewed by Regina Pounds
|Carmen, yes, I, too, think your article is excellent and your wish for constructive criticism is valid...there's camaraderie among the most loyal and active of your peers at AD, as you know. It's very nice and for the fun of it...bask in the comfort zone. :))
I don't know where you'd find real critiques. Perhaps a google search would bring up such sites.
|Reviewed by A Serviceable Villain
An intelligently and well-thought out article which is definitely food for thought - points to certainly remember for future reference ... thanks for this exceptional write!
|Reviewed by Tinka Boukes
|Okay.. I think I can understand what you are saying Carmen...and personally I don't mind what peoples write on my review board...as long as I know they meant it from the bottom of their heart!!
This became a "shelter" to me and my deepest thoughts...and who ever offers me a hand of friendship work related or not....I welcome it with open arms!!
Thanks for sharing this insightful article!!
|Reviewed by Susan Barton (Reader)
|I generally agree as well. Since I don't know the AD writers well yet, I tend not to critique, lest I step on toes. I write reviews I believe, but...|
|Reviewed by Robert Montesino
|What an outstanding article Carmen, well written & thought out, in short nothing less than excellent and professional. You offer & I take alot of food for thought with these piece and hope you don't mind me saving to my personal library for reference purposes! Thanks for posting this and I hope it achieves the goals you had in mind when you wrote it!|
|Reviewed by Tami Ryan
|Good on you, Carmen! This is the best darn article I've read in a very long while on this topic. I concur; if a writer wants to be "good", it's important to have a strong backbone and accept critiques for what they are - an attempt to help the writer polish his/her work. I will always, always welcome professional (courteous), critiques. This is a very well written article. Thanks!
|Reviewed by E T Waldron
|Bulls eye Carmen. An Excellent article which dots all the i's!;-) You know from past experience with me that I welcome any help you can give me so critique away my friend;-)! I also agree with the flattery form letter thing, which was a very surprising event that made me wonder what on earth was going on.
First time I ever saw anything like it. I hope not to see any more of it. A caveat though on criticism. We have at the den many who write just for a social sort of coffee klatch feel good camaraderie and aren't interested in the craft. When I realized this I joined in the safe reviews just as you do, which is not to say for the bulk of poets I don't mean what I say.I do! I have decided that when I can't be "agreeable", I don't comment;-) I guess it is the price we pay for
not wanting to offend, and keeping harmony.
|Reviewed by Dawn Richerson
|Hey Carmen. Good article. Generally, I agree with you and Helga. However, I and others I know have received criticism and downright nasty emails for the silliest offerings of correction (misspellings, etc.). Since that time, I correspond with a few people for critiques and try to offer specific feedback via message boards unless I'm certain the author of a particular poem welcomes my critique. I agree this is a serious shortcoming at AD and would love to see us grow as a community dedicated to helping others perfect our craft Thanks for taking the time to write the article! Dawn|
|Reviewed by Helga Ross
|Carmen, your review is right on and to the point.
If this site AD is meant to be considered a LITERATY SITE and not merely a social circle, then it behooves all its "WRITER" members to get their act together and behave like they know what they're doing, and care - like the carpenter parallel you point to -- employ basic skill set requirements like spell check 'fer gawd sake' at a bare minimum -- is this too much to ask, expect? This is after all supposed to be a publishing platform. Any publisher worth the salt expects and accepts no less than good grammar and spelling; shouldn't self-publishing edit itself, at least, according to the least of these?
There is no offense in constructive criticism --
If I miss something through human error in my work, I am grateful to have it pointed out out, politely, publicly or otherwise. That way we all learn and likely confirm what we know or think we see with our own eyes or overlook.
I can tell you that I've had readers I've sent to AD (non writers, and non contributors) comment to me that they are not impressed with AD, precisely because these shortcomings are SO OBVIOUS even to them as non experts but people who speak and read the language.