Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Two Cent Tuesday: Thanks Giving

This exists...
One time I was bored and going through my “Tit-for-Tat” list on Critique Circle to see who I owed a critique to.  I noticed one person had a story in the queue for the week so I decided to do a critique for her.

This was the response I got back (story title and names changed to protect the guilty):

    Thank you for critiquing my story, “My Aunt Flo”. You’ve pointed out a good number of things that I’ve changed already. The rest will stay the same. I only have a hundred or so more words to play with, and as this is a newspaper article, I won’t be adding any dialogue to it.

    Using Aunt Flo is only an analogy and it was used to keep the piece light. I feel if I put too much more of her in, people will miss the point of the article which is to teach about PMS. I never heard of the disease before I got it and I don’t know anyone else how has either. I want to the word to get out on it so others become educated as well.

    Thanks for your critique though. Much appreciated. You did point out some things I can change. Good luck with your own work. Happy writing!

See, here’s one of my bugaboos after I do a critique.  Can’t you just say “Thank you” and that’s all?  The first line is actually the standard line generated by Critique Circle.  And just sending that is fine.

Instead, this person couldn’t resist the temptation to mouth off.  Most of it seems innocuous, but it isn’t.  For example this line:

    You’ve pointed out a good number of things that I’ve changed already.

That’s basically saying, “You just wasted your time critiquing what’s already fixed.”  Gee, thanks.  I feel so much better.

But then even worse is that next line:

    The rest will stay the same.

That’s another way of saying, “I think my story is perfect as is.”  So if it’s perfect then why did you bother submitting it?  Again, you’re saying that I’ve just wasted my time.  And since you put these at the front of your little commentary, you’ve pretty well set an antagonistic tone early, so that I’m not even going to bother reading all of your reasons for why you’re going to disregard everything I just spent 10-20 minutes writing.

Though really you have to like the line near the end:

    You did point out some things I can change.

Really?  But you just said at the beginning that the rest would stay as is!

This of course isn’t the first time this has happened.  Here’s something the authors have probably never thought of:  I.  Don’t.  CARE!!!  This isn’t composition class where we’re holding a debate on the merits of a submitted piece.  I have my say, I get my point, I cross you off the Tit-for-Tat list and I move on.  That’s it.  Whatever you change or do with the piece after that is up to you.  And no, I don’t really give a shit what happens with it.  Especially on a site like that with thousands of members, I don’t know you personally.  I’ll probably never meet your personally and if I didn’t I wouldn’t know it because I don’t even know your real name!

But the thing is, as writers we just can’t resist making these kind of comments.  I do it as much as anyone.  Actually I recently pissed off someone who critiqued the “Meet Cute” story (part of my short story collection The Carnival Papers) because she posted some lengthy critique about the main character Tom wanting to be a dog and licking the girl’s face and something about women’s shoes.  In response I said, “Thanks, but Tom doesn’t want to be the dog.”  So she got pissed because she put all this hard work into her crit and I said Thanks, but…

In reality I wanted to say much more than that.  I wanted to say, “Why the fuck are you talking about women’s shoes?  My main characters is a man.  A straight man.  He wouldn’t know expensive brand shoes from KMart ones.  WTF?”  But even I’m not a big enough asshole to say all that unless maybe I have a few drinks in me and then all bets would be off.

What I should have said was just “Thank you.”  That’s all you need to say.  Thank you for the critique.  Not “Thanks, but…” followed by a lengthy diatribe of why your story is perfect and this person was a sucker who wasted his/her time to critique it.

The problem though is that writers are selfish assholes.  Seriously, every writer thinks he/she is the center of the universe.  So they inevitably think that they deserve to have people spend time to read/critique their stories because they’re so important and awesome.  Except of course what none of us really want is an actual critique.  What we want is the fawning praise reserved for book jackets.  This is because every writer is self-centered AND horribly insecure.  They don’t want you to say how to fix the story because they think the story is already perfect.

Of course there are some writers who probably can actually take criticism with grace.  Those are the lucky few.  The rest of us just need to learn to choke our inner demon that wants to scream how you didn’t GET the story and I’m not going to change anything and instead just say, “Thank you.”

And thank you Phantom Reader or Google robot viewing this.

8 comments:

  1. I alway enjoy a good Grumpy Bulldog rant.

    “Thank you.”

    ReplyDelete
  2. I would have liked to see the original critique that you posted. Just putting up her response and then not showing what you said is only telling half the story. Basically, I'm looking for things that might have put her on the defensive. For example, writing "Your story is terrible because of this..." instead of writing, "I recommend a change. Have you considered..."

    Do you see the difference? But seeing as I have only one side of the story (yours) to look at, I would have to agree with you that most people should just express thanks for hard work that is done for them for free.

    Never look a gift horse in the mouth I suppose.

    And are you suggesting that I change the title after my name to "Phantom Reader" or "Google Robot"? I think I just might.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I got booted from that site years ago so there's no way I could post the other half now.

      Delete
  3. Michael Offutt: Phantom Robot. I like that.

    So I am NOT the center of the universe? Your comments strongly imply that (A) many people think THEY are the center of the universe which itself is contrary to a Pagelocentric Universe and that (B) people who think they are the center, etc., are wrong, which is HERESY. KILL HIM WITH FIRE!

    I haven't had enough people review my work to really be able to comment. I don't submit it for review before it's put out there for just reading, and so nobody has ever said "Hey, maybe if you actually, I don't know, STUCK TO A SINGLE THOUGHT FOR AT LEAST ONE COMPLETE SENTENCE, your writing might not sound like the rantings of several schizophrenic people chained to one keyboard."

    At least not to my face.

    But with that said, I don't know why they'd respond the way they did. I only ever responded to one review, a woman who didn't get the symbolism of the capitals in "Eclipse," and that was merely because while I KNOW I am a bad editor, I didn't want people to think deliberate symbolism was merely bad editing. (That's what killed Poe, you know.)

    But if you're submitting stuff for critique/improvement, as opposed to review, I would think a 'thanks' would do if you just didn't care what the person said but wanted to be polite, or I would think you WOULD debate it -- if you weren't going to change something, why not defend it? In short: either a polite answer that says nothing or a polite/impolite answer that actually joins issue would seem to be in order.

    The other four guys chained to this keyboard want their input now, so PANCAKES OBAMACARE! See you later.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Non-response is sort of antithetical to the whole being a writer thing. I mean, if you can write out a biting response, it can be awfully difficult to not do that. Speaking of Poe, he had critic wars going on with several of his contemporaries, because, well, to make money, they all wrote reviews and stuff for the papers in which they would attack each others' works.

    Aren't we all so thankful we've gotten beyond those days, right?

    ReplyDelete
  5. PMS is not a disease. Perhaps there ought to have been some criticism on that point?

    ReplyDelete
  6. If doesn't sound like you were a good fit for that site anyway Pat.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think I've about decided to not do the web based crit thing. I'm not cut out for it. I wrote about one story I sent out and got stuff back that just made no sense at all... I really wanted to write back and critique their critiques. You know, really tear my own story apart and point out all the things they should have corrected me on. Then again, some folks are a bit poor at making a point. Like me, I suppose. But the difference is, I know what I meant to say, even if no one else does. Wait, what was I talking about?

    Oh yes, so some people had these bizarre points that they were trying to hammer home that I just couldn't understand. I think someone seemed really upset that I had a character hang up a phone in a scene. I mean, they really didn't like that. To me, it made tons of sense, but whatever. I feel your pain.

    ReplyDelete

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