Friday, September 23, 2011

Is It Wise To Criticize?

Greetings, earthlings. I apologize for not blogging in over a month. I was very busy packing for college and starting classes at college, and doing other college-y things. (And college is awesome, by the way.)

Now, I should probably be writing (since I haven't in ... uh ... forever) but my brain is clogged up right now. So, I'm going to write about a subject that's been cooking at the back of my head for a long time. It's a topic I'm always nervous to bring up ... and that's authors criticizing other authors.

Here's the thing. I love writing. You all know that. I love reading as much as I love writing. And when I read books, I review them. I do my reviews on Goodreads, and they're not meant to be particularly professional. I write them for fun. Furthermore, I feel like I should share my thoughts on every book I read. I spent my time reading those books, so why not review them?

Obviously, I don't like everything I read. Sometimes my reviews are negative. However, I don't mean to make any ad hominem attacks on any authors. I never say an author is stupid or fat just because I didn't like his/her book. But if I don't connect with a character in a story, or there's a plot twist I find illogical, I'm going to say so. I do try to find something positive in everything I read, and I always point it out in my reviews, but I can't pretend I love everything.

About a year ago, I posted a review on Goodreads that was pretty dang negative. As hard as I tried, I could find very little I liked about this book, besides that the prose was okay. I found it illogical, boring, sexist ... I could go on and on. So, I said so, giving examples to back up my thoughts. That is, it's not like I wrote some review that said, "LoL dis book is lyk sooo stoopid. I H8ed it. lolz." It was pretty specific.

Yet, soon there were a bunch of people leaving comments on the review along the lines of, "How can you be so harsh? How would you feel if someone wrote a review like this for your book?"

Well, the thing is, people have said negative things about my writing. Very negative things. I've been told my stories are too emo, too clich├ęd, too boring. I've been told my characters are stupid and unlikable. I've been told that I can't structure a sentence properly. This criticism came from other writers, from agents, from Publishers Weekly, you name it.

I don't love getting scathing feedback. It can be overwhelming, especially when I start to realize I might have to totally scrap something and start over. But, although it's never a warm, fuzzy feeling, you learn to live with it if you're a writer. If you never received criticism, your art would never develop. In the end, I'm always grateful for feedback––no matter how harsh it is––because it pushes me to work harder and get better at what I love to do.

Of course, the typical troll reaction to that argument is, "Oh, so you're just bitter because this author is published and you're not. Well, if you were any good at writing, you would be published too. And this book wouldn't be published if it wasn't good. So, nyah nyah."

Right. Well.

I'm not going to deny that at times, I feel bitter. When you work so hard on your own writing, and you read a book that doesn't tickle your fancy, it can be frustrating. You get that feeling like, "Why is this person published and I'm not?"

Being a writer, you get extra picky. You know it's important to craft a good plot, to develop your characters well, to show and not tell, to avoid horrible grammar mistakes, etc. And when you see these errors in published books, it's hard not to notice them. So personally, when I review books, I point out the flaws, just as I would do if another, unpublished writer asked me for an honest critique.

Yet, there are those who believe that honesty among writers is a bad thing. I've read numerous blog posts that say authors should have nothing but praise for each other. They say we're all here to hold hands and support each other, and that's it. In my opinion, these people are more concerned with karma than with developing as artists. They don't give negative reviews because they don't want to receive them.

But what if, one day, you have to meet the author you criticized face-to-face? Well, I can't deny that such a situation might be awkward, but on the other hand, I think it's best to be honest. I consider my reviews to be constructive, and I treat published and unpublished writers equally. In both cases, my criticisms are meant to help and not to hurt anyone's feelings. If an author were to stumble upon my review of his/her book, I hope it would give him/her something to think about. I know that every review I've received, no matter how scathing, has at least given me something to think about improving in my work. If an author is professional enough, I think he/she should know how to find the helpful hints in negative reviews, and to not get angry at every person who criticizes him/her. Because––let's face it––if you're an author, you're going to get criticized. You're going to get bashed. You're going to get ripped apart. If other authors hold back their negative comments, it's not going to change that fact.

So, fellow writers, what do you think? Do you ever write critical reviews––and if you do, do you think they're helpful or harmful?

10 comments:

  1. Personally I don't do "reviews." I do recommend a book if I really loved it, but as an aspiring novelist, it seems like a conflict of interest to say anything critical about someone else's work.

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  2. Yay, I'm glad you're blogging again! I don't write book reviews, pretty much because I don't want to. I also have no idea where I'd find the time. But I do know what you mean about writers critiquing each other. I have done some individual critiques of writing, and I'm always worried I'm too critical. I think maybe it's better if critiques are reciprocal, because then no party is "shielded", but that opens up the door to a whole bunch of other possibilities like having to be as nice as the other person or, on the other hand, people taking revenge. I suppose I'm thinking a little bit about the ABNA excerpts here...

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  3. I don't publish reviews of books anywhere, just because I think that people have very differing tastes and one person's opinion shouldn't determine whether or not someone reads a certain book... however, sometimes I am so frustrated at how incredibly bad some published books can be. But when I do write reviews, I always seem to find at *least* one flaw, anyway.

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  4. Hm. You probably don't remember me - we met a few years ago at school - but I've actually been following this blog for some time. (Not to be a creep or anything...) I just don't really say anything normally.

    Negative criticisms are always hard, and even though I'm not exactly an aspiring novelist, I do write, and it is incredibly challenging not to snap at whoever's criticising my work. I tend to get very defensive and try to give reasons for why I wrote things a certain way, but in the end, I do understand why they said what they did. Because it's true, even if I don't want to admit it.

    I do a lot of editing for my friends, though not so much for published books. So I guess, I sort of write reviews? I think they're helpful because they let the writer know what works and what doesn't. I guess, unless the reviewer is clearly just flaming for the sake of flaming, what people say should be taken into consideration. Because they're the people who are reading your work. Duh. If they don't like it, then I bet there will be other people who don't like it too. So listen up and pay attention. So helpful. Definitely.

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  5. Thanks everyone for your input! And in case there was any misunderstanding, I thought I should clarify ... Not all my reviews are negative. In fact, very, very few of them are as negative as the review I mentioned. I try to be a fair reviewer, and I praise books just as much (if not more) than I criticize them. So to be clear, I'm not encouraging writers to go write flaming reviews all over the internet.

    @Gracie - I don't write reviews to sway anyone's opinion, or to prevent them from reading books. Most of the time if someone writes on one of my reviews something like, "Oh, I'm not going to read this now..." I make sure to remind him/her that everyone has a different opinion and that I don't expect my opinion to be the same as everyone else's. I just like sharing my personal thoughts/experiences on a book. But yes, there does have to be a balance, and I make sure that there are both negative and positive points in all the reviews I write.

    @Nasaiya - Hi! I know you from school? Oh gosh, I'm sorry but I have no idea who you are. How did we meet each other? I know what you mean. I can get defensive too, but in the end you have to accept the flaws in your own story. You also can't make all the changes that someone else recommends. In the end, you know what's best for your story and you shouldn't change something you're really unwilling to change. I've found that most of the time, criticisms are right, though. Yeah, flaming for the sake of flaming is just plain annoying and not helpful. But when a review is thought out well, it can be very useful. I know that as an author, I would want to know how my readers truly reacted to my book.

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  6. Yep! I was in Writer's Block with you for a while, though I had to skip out a lot because of science fair... Nasaiya Inamae's not my real name though. ;)

    But definitely. You can't please everyone, so at least you should be content with what you've produced. And yes, criticisms tend to be correct, and are valuable as a result. I like to hear back from people who listen to my music, read my writing, look at my drawings...just knowing what people think from their first impressions is incredibly precious. Naturally, the more thought-out comments are more useful, but every little bit counts. That way, I know what tends to work and what tends to not work.

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  7. Ooh, you were in Writer's Block? Awesome. :) Haha okay, that would explain why I don't know who you are...

    Yes, great points. I totally agree. :) I mean, comments that are just like, "This is great!" and don't go into much detail aren't all that helpful, but it's nice to get some reassurance once in a while.

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  8. I could go on and on about a book I don't like but I will never go out of my way to write a review unless I like the book. mostly because I don't want to be hassled about it. There are books out there that I hate but I'd rather just keep quiet.

    I will criticise a book if I can get away with it without revealing the name of the author or the name of the book.

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  9. What book did you criticize?

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  10. I'd rather not say ... because first of all, it's not the point of the post. Also, I don't really want to draw more attention to the review. There's been enough trolling on it already.

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