To Speak or Not To Speak

Okay. So I realize I’m not a famous author with a shitload of novels under my belt. Or one, even. So who am I to judge or criticize, right? But I am so tired of playing nice.

Personally, when I write something, I’m not looking for a pat on the back and a “Good job!”  That’s kind of like writing Have a great summer! in someone’s yearbook because you have no fucking clue who they are but somehow winded up with their book in your hands. I want feedback. Genuine feedback. No one can ever stop becoming a better writer. And part of that is relying on your audience, whoever it may be, to give you their honest opinion. Good or bad. So when people flatter others with dishonest feedback just to be nice, they’re only doing harm instead of good. Its giving a false sense of confidence and for some people that’s enough for them to think they have nothing to work on.

I’ve had the saying “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all” shoved down my throat since I can remember. But in this aspect, it’s a real Catch 22. As a general rule, it crosses my mind almost every time I read a post on the internet. But when I see posts that are written so badly I can’t even stomach finishing them with comments like “nice job” or “well done” or some general claim about the character (ie: “wow, I don’t know if I’d have the guts to do what they did) because they don’t want to flat out lie with even a nice job or a well done, it kills me. Especially when I want to scream at them that their grammar was atrocious, their punctuation ridiculous or that three adverbs in a row does NOT a descriptive setting make.

Don’t lie to me. Don’t tell me it’s good when it’s not. I hate fake flattery. I want people to let me know that my dialogue was weak, my characters didn’t feel genuine or the writing was perfect but the story was downright boring. You can mix the good with the bad, but I want the truth and all of it. The more you tell me, the more I know which areas I do or don’t need to improve on.

So herein lies my problem. I’ve developed a close relationship with some of my readers and others in the writing communities I participate in and I don’t want to lose them or others by seeming critical (even though its NEVER meant to be mean or hurtful, strictly constructive). If I offer advice, it’s because I think you’re worth the time. If I say I liked your writing, I genuinely mean it.

I don’t want to say nothing at all just because I’m not boosting their egos into outer space. And because little white lies aren’t my style, I want to be able to say, “Hey, the story was neato-skeato but the writing felt way too technical. Like I was reading an educational pamphlet instead of a work of fiction” and not come off as a bonafide byatch.

To speak or not to speak… that is the question.





18 thoughts on “To Speak or Not To Speak

  1. bdhesse says:

    I agree. I wish people would take advantage of the comment section to actually give helpful hints. Or at least say what they like or what they don’t. If all I read is “good job” I can’t help but think “what was good about it?”

  2. ardenrr says:

    Sounds like you should sign up for our summer series 🙂

    I will give constructive criticism when asked but some people just flat out don’t want it and I sure as hell don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Workshops are great in the sense that there is no question as to whether or not someone wants their work critiqued. Great post! I hope you get the feedback you desire!

  3. Erica M says:

    Bree, I see you have this post badged for this week’s challenge, but it’s not on the actual grid. Are you lurking, or do you still need to submit your post by clicking the blue “add your link” button beneath the array of thumbnails on the site? Let me know, so I can be expecting you. Thanks!

  4. blainecindy says:

    Yes, I totally agree with you. I think that constructive comments are truly what a writer needs, not just “fluff,” or else how are we to improve? Honesty is the best policy.

  5. Jen says:

    Me too. Ditto and stuff. Comments should be used for something meaningful. But I do admit sometimes I don’t know what to say but I want the person to know I’ve been there and they made me smile. So… I usually say something short and sweet.

  6. Mark Baron says:

    Hmmm. So many thoughts about this. I am a huge fan of honest, tactful critique. I actually wrote a nice two post write up on the art of critique on my blog, under the “On Writing” section. The problem I have, though, is that I do know what it’s like to be a new writer, and to have those feelings of accomplishment squashed by a critique, even a good one. At this point, sure, I’ve been a professional in an arts related field for over a decade. I’ve been through countless courses, seminars, and conferences on writing and critiquing. I know now that the words offered are to help, not to hurt.

    But let’s be honest. The vast majority of people writing on WordPress are not professionals. They aren’t likely to be in arts related fields where they have been taught how to accept a critique, how to take the usable from it and graciously understand but turn down what is not. And alas, it is often the ones who need the critique the most that will take it the worst. And frankly, I don’t have the time to thoroughly critique most of the reading I do here, and I try hard to only follow those whose writing impresses me enough to want to read regularly any way.

    So here’s what I do. I comment about what I really like in a story, the elements that work best for me. I give encouragement where I feel it is due, but never falsely. If I don’t care for a story, I don’t comment on it. Every once in a while, I will read one that is just fantastic, save for one small little detail…and in those cases, I will mention that detail.

    That said, I *will* critique for my WordPress friends, fully, if they request it. Like I said, I read you because I like your words. I’d love to help make them better. 🙂

  7. inNateJames says:

    The fake praise and the lack of constructive criticism bothered me too at first. But I figure people need confidence in their own writing to be strong enough to tell others what’s what, you know? Not everyone has that. Plus for me, getting feedback from people I have rapport with is easier to take than getting it from strangers. So I don’t blame newcomers for not telling me the truth.

  8. michellelongo (@michellelongo) says:

    Commenting is difficult. I never want to hurt someone’s feelings, so unless they ask what I think, I usually don’t say. If I don’t like a post I usually just leave without commenting. The more I know someone the easier it is for me to give concrit. And if I don’t know someone, sometimes their criticism of me (or my writing) doesn’t go down so well either. One of the reasons I love yeah write – and this goes back to before I was an editor – is that there was always a fair amount of writing advice inspired by past submissions. I was able to learn what I was doing wrong without the sting of criticism pointed at me. You’ve written a very thought-provoking post here.

    • Bree Salyer says:

      Thanks. I think it’s harder for me to pass on critiquing because part of me has always had this inner-editor screaming at me from over my shoulder. Everyone who knows me calls me a grammar Nazi. It goes back to my school days when I had a conversation with my English teacher that stuck with me. “Can I go to the bathroom?” I asked one day in class. “I don’t know, can you?” she replied. Simple as that. From that moment on, every fiber in my being has aspired to change the way people, including myself even, speak. I missed out on the college train, had kids and now here I am, 34 with absolutely nothing to show for it. More than anything I want to work in the editing/publishing world but I don’t even know how to get a foot in the door at this point. It’s too late.

  9. Onethirdacrewoods says:

    I submitted to the grid twice when they had the last editor who turned me down with a “love letter.” I was not mad because I got the love letter, but because their was not any constructive criticism. I don’t really write my blog to get traffic, but more for myself and family that lives out of town, so I haven’t tried again, but if you are looking for something to edit, feel free to stop by and comment to your heart’s content.

    • Bree Salyer says:

      I read quite a few of your posts and to be honest, they’re very well written. I don’t think it’s the quality of the writing that would’ve gotten you a ‘love letter” but in all probability it was the content. They’re looking for stories that stand out, that really grip a reader either emotionally or with humor or some sort of dramatic flair. And your posts, although grammatically correct are doing exactly as you said in your comment. They’re mostly for yourself and your family or friends, documenting what happened to you… basically, this is who I am, this is what I did and who I did it with. Which there is absolutely nothing wrong with. Just maybe not exactly what they were looking for when you submitted. 🙂

  10. Mark Gardner says:

    Part of me always wants to leave some kind of comment to let the content originator know I was there. I try to be supportive. When I beta read, sometimes I’m harsh, but that’s what the story needs – a harsh no holds barred critique. I fall into the camp that if the post or story is atrocious, I just don’t leave a comment. I like to champion great or thoughtful work.

  11. Christina says:

    ” If I offer advice, it’s because I think you’re worth the time. If I say I liked your writing, I genuinely mean it.” < this is how i feel for the most part and it's how i think a lot of folk feel. i think?? 🙂 it's hard to admit that i don't generally comment if i'm not interested or if i think something is poorly written, but i'll admit it here. i think people take things far too personally so i tend to just stay clear of concrit unless it's clearly asked for– and that's something i ALWAYS want but never ask for so now i'll be leaving here really thinking about things. 😀

    • Bree Salyer says:

      Everyone seems to be thinking about it a bit more now that I’ve called it to attention. It’s even seriously made me contemplate putting a notation somewhere in my header … “Seeking Feedback… Don’t be afraid to comment!” 😉

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