Monday, March 12, 2012

How far is going too far in a Critique?

I'm sure he meant well.  I went to critique group meeting last night and one of the members handed me a page. 
"What's this?"  I asked.

"My handwriting is messy so I retyped how I would write your opening."

At first I was very offended.  And then I thought, well, he was trying to be helpful...

And then same person later told me how he would change the plot.

 I got very prickly and defensive.   I think I said something like "I disagree and it is my story so I'm not changing it."   

And again afterwards I berated myself.  After all, he was just trying to be helpful.

But still, I don't think re-writing my words is something I want a critique partner to do.  I want a CP to point out my weaknesses and suggest how to fix. 

And I don't think critique partners should be telling me how to change my story.  Maybe suggest and point out what isn't working and why. 

I know this person had the best intentions but I feel he crossed the line.

Do you think this person went too far?   Or do you think I need to get a tougher skin?


  1. Hmm... I think that he should have made SUGGESTIONS about how to change it. Not show how HE would have written it. Because, like you said. It's YOUR story.

    I don't blame you for getting defensive.

    1. Yeah, I think now, in hindsight, I may have over-reacted a little. I need to work on that.

      But I thank you for the words of support!

  2. I think both. Sometimes we critique someone else and maybe its coming out way harsh and we don't mean it that way. I think we do need to have a tough skin. Tough enough to not get offended and be able to look at the critique and think... okay, I get what he/she is saying, but I disagree. Or maybe, I get it and while I'm not going to change my entire plot, maybe this or that could use tweaking.
    That said, I had someone critique for me and when I got it back it was like one big red mark. It seemed like every sentence needed work. At first I felt annoyed by it, but then I had to sit back and say, he's wrong here, but right here.

    1. You are right. I went back and looked at his comments. They were good comments. It was just that he showed me how he would do it and that's when I saw the red.

      And he went to all this trouble to do it - to help me. I need to keep that in mind next time.

  3. You were totally within your right to tell him that it's your story. You only need to take critiques that make sense to you, not what other people think you should do. (I, for one, would have been rather ticked at this person!) There is definitely an etiquette to critiquing, imho.

    1. I've always been told to balance the good with the bad. Make sure you tell the person what is good about their work and not just point out what is not working.

      I think this person is fairly new at the critiquing. I think I need to set some ground rules/boundaries.

      Thanks for the words of support.

  4. i think he was trying to be helpful, and he probably felt he was making his point the clearest way possible, but he went way over the line.

    You don't rewrite other people's work. You can point out as much as you like, but rewriting is very presumptuous.

    Although finding a way to tell him that may not be very easy. Chances are he doesn't see it as out of order so won't understand you thinking it so. Personally I would have been very blunt about it, a short sharp shock would have made sure he didn't continue to do it to others, but he might not take it very well if he's particularly insecure.

    Often the people who act the most arrogantly are the ones feeling most unsure of themselves. But he really does need to be told that even if it's the most convenient way for him to express his views, it's not his place to assume ownership of someone else's work.

    Moody Writing
    The Funnily Enough

    1. Your words make total sense to me. I think I need to tell him in a very nice, calm but firm manner that re-writing is not acceptable.

      In hindsight, I realize he went to an awful lot of trouble to do this to help me so I think I over-reacted.

      And the changing the story part - again, he had the best intentions. I could have been more graceful in my response.

      But I agree, I need to let him know (gently) about what is acceptable, what is not.

  5. I think his approach was off, so that's why you felt defensive. I try to assume the best in people until they give me a reason not to. So I'm hoping he meant well and just didn't handle it well.

    I would take what he gave you and see if there's some truth to his suggestions, but never let someone write (or rewrite) something for you. It takes "you" out of it. In my humble opinion, of course.

    1. I did as you suggested. His comments were really valid. And I started to think that he went to an awful lot of trouble to re-write my page for me so I know he had the best intentions.

      Feeling embarrassed to have lashed out. I could have calmly said "I will take your comments into consideration" and left it at that. I think I owe him an apology. But at the same time, I need to set some boundaries as to what is acceptable and what is not.

      Thanks for the advice.

    2. Thank you for sharing your honest gut reaction. We all feel that way. It's like someone telling us a better way to parent our children. Sure, they may have some valid points, but it's hard not to get defensive.

  6. Critiquing well is tougher than most people think.

    I think one of my teachers said it best and I try to do it, but don't always succeed. She said that your critiques should come in the form of questions. Don't tell someone how you'd do it, because that's your viewpoint and that's what your writing in your own work. That's your own style. However, if you ask questions, you can find out what a person was trying to do with a word/sentence/paragraph/section/chapter. If the person talks out what they are trying to do, they might see if they did what they wanted to do. If they did, then great! You as the person asking the question will get the clarification on the question you asked. If they didn't, in thinking about their answer they may see what they wanted to write as different from what they actually wrote.

    You are right to stick up for what you wrote. It's your story. Another teacher spoke to that point. Be humble enough to think about and consider other people's comments but be strong enough to know when you can chuck those comments in the trash. Accepting everyone's comments will destroy your vision. Ignoring everyone and you may miss out on improving your work. Figuring that balance out, well....

    Sometimes taking critiques is tough as well.

    1. Hmm. Never thought of it that way. Having been subject to your critique method, I know you do it very well!

      Asking questions - I never thought about that but it is a very good idea.

      Yes, I think the whole point to getting critiques is to improve my writing and I can't do that unless I listen to what others have to say.

      I probably got a little too defensive about the changing the story part. I could have been a bit more graceful. I don't intend to change my story but that doesn't mean I couldn't gracefully accept and listen to what he had to say. In hindsight I think owe this person an apology.

      thanks for the voice of reason.

  7. Suggestions are perfectly okay, yes, but re-writing? Not at all. I only do slightly similar things with critters that I know and trust very well, and even then it's something like "This isn't working for me because of X, maybe try rewording it like this?"

    1. You have a much better approach, and I would have no problem getting criticism like that.