To Crit Or Not To Crit….


Writers are very funny animals. They love words, which I guess right there is pretty weird as far as most folks are concerned. They also like to do silly things like collect old dictionaries, odd and unusual reference books, old maps, time tables, train schedules – you name it. If it’s some sort of reference that might someday enable us to add authenticity to a story or essay we want it.

We also like people to read what we’ve written. Naturally. I suppose that isn’t so strange – but there is a bit of a catch for the reader. Oh yes, you don’t get away with simply reading it – you have to give feedback. Writers love many things, but nothing so much as feedback.

A few years ago, I got involved with an online writing group called Writer’s Village University. On the face of it, it sounded like a writer’s haven. Over 200 free courses, a chance to read and be read by other writers, message boards, forums, etc. all for a very modest sum. And off I went like the bright-eyed, hope-springs-eternal writer that I am – believing this was going to be an incredible experience.

Well, truly there were some  incredible things that happened. The biggest I think was meeting my buddy Michael whose writing talent slapped me upside the head like a train going 100 mph. I was actually in awe of the man. Wow, I thought, if only I could write like that!

To my utter amazement he seemed to like my writing as well. We sort of formed a bit of a mutual admiration society and sought out other writers to share in the fun.

Sadly, there were many wannabe writers there. Now, don’t get me wrong – I have admiration for anyone who aspires to anything and is willing to put in the work. But many I’m afraid were just looking for the atta boys (or atta girls) and didn’t take too kindly to actual criticism.

That’s the problem for writers. Even really good ones. It’s hard to swallow that criticism. It’s hard to see why someone wouldn’t love what you’ve spent so much time (possibly months or even years) crafting. But part of being in this group was to give what was commonly called a ‘crit.’ Many times these crits didn’t go over well. And feelings were hurt and sometimes worse. Or even payback so to speak was exacted upon the crit-er.

Within a few months both Michael and I were ready to leave the group for the same reason (which we learned in later conversations with one another) – people said they wanted feedback but in fact they wanted validation. Which to my way of thinking is not the same thing.

It’s hard to critique a person’s work – especially if you like them. It’s harder still when you’ve with the best of intentions critiqued someone’s work and they’ve blown your head off for it. Actually, it’s quite the trick to learn just how many eggshells one must trod upon lightly in order not to get your head blown off.

I think if you want to be a writer – or really any kind of artist, you must have or grow a very thick skin. And be willing to hear anything anyone has to say about what you write. Even if you don’t like it and even if you don’t agree. Because even on the really bad ‘reviews’ you learn something – if only who isn’t your public.

So despite it all – I’m one of those writers who wants you to tell me honestly what you think of what I have written. Whether you like it or not. Naturally I would prefer to wow you with my incredible skills but I’d rather hear that I didn’t – if that’s the honest truth – than to have you blow smoke up my skirt (much fun as that might be under the right circumstances. 😉 hehe).

So dear readers, please do feel free to say what you think and for that I will give you my eternal gratitude.


12 thoughts on “To Crit Or Not To Crit….

  1. WC,

    Wonderful post not just trying to impress you but honestly, I love reading your post reason behind that its written in simple english not in Pohs POsh celeb english. Second I love the way you put your point forwards with out offending any one which I really appreciate and admire. Blessings..

    Thanks Eka – what a really nice compliment you have paid me. I appreciate that.


  2. Seems to me it’s a shot in the dark. If the reader is interested in the subject matter, and can tolerate the writer’s tone, the writer has a chance at being read, and maybe even of getting his point across. For what it’s worth, I especially enjoy you comments around Sometimes I even agree with you. Cheers.

    Well shut my mouth and slap me silly – how’s it going J? I’m dying to know which comments of mine you have enjoyed – since whenver we meet it always seems to be on opposite ends of the issue. 😉

    You’re right though – far too much BS out there. Interesting site, yours.


  3. Aww yes the ego. A fragile thing. A terrible thing to waste. 🙂

    Concerning criticism I find this works for me.

    Don’t make it personal, don’t take it personal.

    I have to work damn hard on the second half of that comment.

    BTW you are doing just fine.

    Good point, Squawky – but you’re right, hard not to take personally when on the recieving end.

    I guess my point, was that I wanted people to feel they could give me their honest opinions and I was okay with that. But perhaps they already knew that? 😉


  4. OK, have it your way: you suck. Feel better now?
    Ohhhh, just kidding. You’re absolutely right. I know I fall into this trap:
    “Hey, Mike, what did you think of my Halloween poem. oh. no, really, what did you think? Gee, didn’t you like it even a little, tiny, eensie, teensie, weensie bit? oh. ok. fuck you. nobody reads Smoke & Mirrors anyway.”
    Very, VERY insightful post.

    Okay, I suck! cool, at last somebody will bring my deepest fears into reality. 😉

    Hey, quit picking on Mikey!

    Insightful? Hmmm…perhaps so – just an observation that has taken years to put together.



  5. No, not picking on Mickey (even though he is eminently pickable), just furthering your point by pointing out what an insecure little attention whore I am. 😉

    (you like me! you really like me!)


  6. A post for the ages, to say the least.
    We’ve talked about this many times and I have the feeling there’ll be many more. There are no easy answers in the mind of the writer when it comes to what it is that we truly want to hear. The toughest part is to stay on one’s own true path avoiding what you ultimately ‘think’ people want to read.
    This comment could go on forever, you know that. You also know that I feel in my heart that your writing deserves bigger and better things (which I believe will happen, eventually)
    Sounds like we have a topic for out Friday night chat, huh?
    As far as Smith is concerned, I’ll deal with the slacker personally. 😉
    (actually, he’s getting better)

    Yes, Smith is getting better – at least he’s posting again. But you two have a funny little routine so I’m not sure I want him to get too much better. 😉

    Frankly, I wasn’t sure this post made much sense. I was just trying to talk about something that didn’t have to do with politics. I still can’t even think about it too much without a migraine coming on.



  7. Nick goes to a writing group. It’s fairly small (otherwise they’d be there all night!), and they read and critique each other’s work. Some of it is very bad sci fi, other is fiction/history, and so on. But their purpose is not to tell someone something is crap. Even if it is the crappiest crap, it’s an editor’s job to reject them. Their purpose is to make suggestions of how they think it could be better, even if there’s not much hope. Very rarely is something so bad that someone asks why the person wrote it.

    I don’t know about online groups though. It’s more anonymous, and if you don’t know the other people and their writing, it can be hard to judge how much merit their critique holds. It also makes it easier for people to become critical, which I don’t believe is the reason you’re putting it out there.

    My two cents.

    No, you’re right. The purpose of a crit is to offer constructive advise to improve the piece. And again, you’re right – it’s not so you can tell someone their stuff is crap. Perhaps it’s just one of those finer arts that not many master.


  8. I hate being part of a group that claims to be one thing and ends up being another…..gggrrrr, gets on my goat when people ask for something they really don’t want!

    As for critiquing, I’m not generally one to do so unless it’s specifically asked, although I will always say when I like something!


    Unfortunately, it happens a lot. Lass made a good point about it being online perhaps makes it easier for things to go t hat way. A smaller, face to face group usually fares better. It’s funny, I actually thought this post would bore everyone – except maybe the hardcore writers – guess you never know.


  9. Criticism has to be with the purpose of making something better, not just tearing things apart. You’re right about writers wanting to hear how wonderful their writing is. But I think the major source of frustration with criticism is when the critic isn’t specific enough and doesn’t give the writer a clear view of exactly how he can improve.
    Don’t just hand me a generality of how my writing is bad. I want to know specifically what is wrong and specifically how can I make it better? Criticism that is lacking helpful guidance just feels like a slap in the face.
    Truly, I’ve seen plenty of critics who are themselves failed artists of one form or another– critics that revel in ripping an artist or wirter apart. They failed and they want to see everyone else fail too. Beware of that kind of criticism. There’s no intention for you to learn from it.
    There’s nothing wrong with pointing out what is good, to further strengthen what is right. Making something better often has more to do with taking what is right and creating more. Focusing on the negative to wipe it out, is not nearly as effective. You tend to get too stuck in what is wrong. I really think that you get what you put your attention on.
    Your topics are real, catchy and you invite participation. Your writing style in this blog is so down-to-earth. You put everyone at ease. You wave your flaws like a funny flag and voice the thoughts we all have, but don’t usually say. It’s a pithy, chatty invitation to throw out our ideas, inviting conversation.
    There’s your criticism. Now WE WANT MORE!!
    ~ PG

    PG, you make such good points about many ‘critics’ they are indeed failed artists – I’d bet good money on that. And absolutely, the idea is to help improve not rip apart.

    And my, what an incredibly nice review. I could almost believe I was perfect. LOL – of course I know I’ll walk into a wall or stub my toe in the next five minutes – so much for perfection. As to getting more…I’m afraid I am so addicted to blogging that there is no danger of it stopping any time soon.



  10. I’ve had the [mis]fortune of joining a couple online writer’s groups and I’ve learned a lot in regards to the pros and cons of groups from the brief time I was a member. The worst – and I think you’ve highlighted this very well – is the fact that so many writers on these groups are merely there for validation, whereas my goals were more focused. I of course made the mistake of suggesting (nicely) to a young writer that she might want to do a quick spell check on work before posting it for crits; I had four of her friends flame me for mere suggestion. Yikes. Wrong neighborhood. Terribly sorry.

    I’ve been dying to find a small, focused group of writers online but the very solitary nature of writing really makes it difficult.

    Hi FFF, Welcome! Yes, that flaming stuff is really hard to take, especially when you are sincerely trying to help someone. In terms of finding a small group of focused writers…why not start a blog of your own and hook up with other fiction writers who blog? We have some great ones on WordPress. Check out her blogroll is a good place to start – great writers all. And of course come by here if you want to laugh or argue – those are the two things I seem to inspire most. 😉


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