Friday, 17 September 2010

Ok, who said that? Where's my hatchet?

I'm incensed to find yet another writer disturbed by some random comment out of the ether.  Is it impossible for anyone to put their work out there without attracting one of the small percentage of nutters who think only in negatives?

Here's a message for these guys.  If you can't think positive, we don't want to hear from you.  Get it?  No one objects to constructive criticism.  I'll spell that:  C-O-N-S-T-R-U-C-T-I-V-E.  If you have something negative to say, then jolly well find the positive as well.  There is not a writer alive who hasn't written something worthwhile in their offering.

And to the victims of this abomination: don't take it to heart.  A negative comment on its own means you've got hold of a negative personality.  This type of person thrives on carping at anyone who dares to stick their head above the parapet.  Believe this - they are trying to bring you down.  Don't ask why.  Don't go there.  Just don't let them win.

Artists as a race are a magnet for people of this type.  As writers, it's one of the risks we face.  Arm yourself by realising what you're dealing with and you won't get hurt.

What to watch for?  "I really enjoyed/liked your book, BUT ..."  Don't believe the first bit.  They wouldn't have liked it if it was strawberries and cream.  "You made a research error on page 57."  Yeah?  So what?  If they are being picky, you've hooked one.

A positive personality is going to be specific.  "I love your hero .... I laughed and cried..."  They won't be ready to jump down your throat for small errors.  They might query something - politely.  "I'm interested to know if..."

So what do you do?  Two choices:  ignore it.  Respond ever so politely and just thank them for their comments. Don't justify, excuse or get into any discussion about the point raised.

Of course, there's a third choice too, but I think it's illegal...


  1. *g*! Wise words indeed, that have triggered a few thoughts...

    Having written a lot of internet fanfic in the past, I used to find that the most negative comments often came from the people who weren't actually writing very often themselves, and maybe who don't quite understand how much of your heart and soul you put out there when you write fiction...and weren't exposed to any retaliation over their own work. That said, it's also amongst non-writers that I've found the most supportive beta readers who have given me the really honest con. crit. I needed to move on and improve with my I certainly don't dunk all non-writers in this category.

    I've always gone for the polite response...through gritted teeth and dreaming about that hatchet!!!

  2. Hmmm... At the risk of stirring, you say, "There's not a writer alive who hasn't written something worthwhile in their offering." Shouldn't that sentiment include the author of the offending comment?

    As a long-standing member of writers' groups and as a student on an MA course, I have found the challenge with most criticism is to find the useful intent behind the usually very specific and personal feedback that is given. The sillier/more offensive the comment, the harder it can be to view it objectively, but there's usually something to be learned from it, even if it's only defining your target audience more specifically and concluding that the commenter doesn't fall into it!

  3. By offering, I'm referring to a piece of work, not a comment. Comments are usually given off the cuff. Work is thought through. In my book, there's a difference between sensible criticism and one-off comments. Specific and personal feedback is again thought through, I imagine.

    I'm really hot on this topic, I'm afraid. I don't find cruelty and ruthlessness a necessary part of critiquing. It's destructive. No-one deserves that, and that's all I'm ranting about.

  4. I have to agree with you on this one! I'm very much an off the cuff type personality but it's usually to share my joy. I don't believe in spewing negative sentiment just for the sake of having two seconds of fame.

    Being part of a writer's crit group I'm always very aware that it's people's babies your commenting on so my preferred approach is softly, softly. It takes far more thought to put together a crit which can be used to make work better.

    It's good to be passionate about things! Keep it coming.