Saturday, July 26, 2008

Evaluating the Data

Do you care who it is who's commenting on your writing?

I never have, and have always had a hard time understanding people who react negatively (and sometimes obnoxiously) when they get feedback from someone they don't personally know, or someone who's not a writer, or someone who otherwise doesn't have whatever qualifications they feel someone must have in order to comment.

To me, any constructive criticism is data and it's all useful. Even if I examine it and end up deciding that the commenter simply isn't a member of my target audience (someone who thinks I should get rid of the romance in what's clearly a romance novel, for example [cough]) and decide not to act on the expressed opinion, I now have a bit more information about reader views and tastes than I did before.

Comments are either useful or not, in and of themselves, independent of who's making them. A well-stated and reasoned comment, which clearly has some knowledge of craftsmanship behind it and which refers specifically to a line or paragraph or other specific chunk of a particular story of mine is always worth getting, even if it's written by someone who's "just" a reader, or a stranger, or a nonymouse. On the other hand, if one of my very favorite writers in all the world said, "Seriously, this needs some work," I'd probably thank them for taking the time to comment, but wouldn't value the feedback very much because, wow, vague. :/

Some writers get personally offended when someone offers concrit to a story which has already been published. I don't get this either, because pretty much any mistake I made once, I might well make again and hearing about it even after the fact lets me make a note of it and take care not to make it again next time, even if I can't edit the story which was just published. Learning from my earlier mistakes is always desirable, and I honestly don't care who it is who points me toward the lesson.

Maybe it helps that I "grew up" as a writer in some fairly intense workshop environments. When you get serious pros and intense hopefuls all in the same bucket and have them tearing apart each other's stuff, with the idea that it's better for your workshop peers to spot something than that editor you're hoping will offer you a contract, you learn pretty quickly that concrit is gold and that excessive ego does nothing but block you from any hope of being published. (And in all honesty, the old GEnie SFRT was not for the faint of heart nor the thin of skin, whether you were in the workshops or not.) I grew an adamantium hide in the early years of my online participation as a writer, and while I'll admit that's an advantage which not everyone has, I can only suggest that anyone who wants to be a professional writer grow one of their own as quickly as they can manage. This is not a good business for the delicate or sensitive to be in.

Maybe it's the fact that I value my writing, my skill and my hope of improving both, much more highly than I value the delicacy of my writerly feelings. Sure, I wince for a moment if someone says they didn't care for one of my stories, and I get horribly embarassed if someone points out an obvious flaw I missed. But I want to learn and grow as a writer more than I want to avoid those wincing embarassments, by a few orders of magnitude. I want to know what people think and why, and what they think is problematic or just plain wrong, and the why of that too.

Anyone who can clearly explain what they liked and disliked, what they thought was going on and what they thought was going to happen next, where they laughed or winced or gasped, where I fooled them and where they saw right through my attempted misdirection, what they think worked or didn't work with specific examples and reasons for it all -- anyone who gives me that kind of feedback is going to be one of my favorite people ever, and I don't care who it is or whether I know them or whether they're a writer or whether they're someone who wandered by and posted anonymously. It's the data I value, not the source. Good, clear, useful data is always valuable and always makes itself obvious; I don't need an attached name or title or resume to help me decide whether the data is useful.

Or at least, that's how I see it. How about you?



Spy Scribbler said...

Totally. I think my musical training had something to do with my attitudes. One of the many gifts!

Charles Gramlich said...

I admit that I've been hurt by comments before, but I try never to show that to folks who make the comments because I believe, as you do, that all comments are useful at some level and that most are meant truly to be of help.

I did get mad at a comment made about a piece of mine recently. I submitted it to an anthology online. Another author who had submitted two pieces got hold of mine and publically, in front of the editors, called it cliche. Not only did they misinterpreate a line in the story, but it looked to me like they were making a play to undercut me so that they could get their piece in over mine. Now that made me angry.

writtenwyrdd said...

I agree that one needs a tough hide, but I will say that a critique should be given politely and not as a means to stropping one's supposed superiority over the author in question. That sort of supercilious rudeness just torques my hide.

Angie said...

SS -- definitely a gift. [nod] Too many creative people, IMO, of whatever discipline, think of themselves as delicate artistes. Anything that teaches one to value and use and learn from constructive criticism is incredibly valuable.

Charles -- sure, it's natural to feel some sting, but the trick is to not let that momentary feeling overwhelm you or dictate your response. [nodnod]

like they were making a play to undercut me so that they could get their piece in over mine

Umm, yeah. :P That's not so much constructive criticism as it is pathetic backstabbing, which is a completely different beast. What a jerk. If I were one of the editors, I wouldn't have been at all impressed.

WW -- sure, that's why I said constructive criticism. [nod] I've known writers who snarl at commenters, or go lip-curlingly cold, over perfectly civil concrit which was obviously meant to be helpful, which I think is kind of ridiculous, to say nothing of rude.

Snark from idiots is a whole 'nother kettle of hamsters, though, I agree. But it doesn't hurt me because I don't care what idiots think. Ignoring them works fine, or if they persist, there's always pointing and laughing. :)


Bernita said...

Yup. Yup and yup.