Being kind for the sake of being kind doesn’t help someone improve their skills. Being honest does.
Although I’ve known this for a long time, it recently hit home. I realized not everyone is lucky enough to receive good constructive criticism. Yesterday, I saw something that opened my eyes.
This post is inspired by a random piece I saw where the writer asked for people to tell them what they honestly thought. The piece was badly written and confusing in its expression. Editing was non-existent. Repetition, missing words, and the amount of I in the piece made my head hurt.
I scrolled to the feedback expecting to see some people say that the story had promise (and the story did), but the execution lacked and it would be much better if the writer worked on a,b and c when polishing it.
Instead, what I saw was: “Oh, this is great.” “I love this piece. You’re so good.” “You’re getting better every time I read something.”
Now this last could be true, so I went back through some pieces and found that no, the writer wasn’t improving and had constantly received this type of praise.
Of course they’re not going to improve if no one takes a red pen to their work and shows them where they’re going wrong. If all they get is a pat on the back from everyone who reads their work, they’ll never improve and will live with a false sense of security and confidence that will crush them when they display their bad writing in any sort of serious environment.
If you’re doing this to be kind – the person you’re lying to (and yes, while nice, it’s still a lie) thinks you really mean this compliment. They don’t think they have to practice because everyone thinks their work is just ‘great’!
How do you solve this?
If you’re a writer:
Don’t surround yourself with yes people. Find those people who’re willing to be honest with you. Make sure they’re not dicks. You don’t want those either. What you want are people who will point out both the positive and the negative.
For example: I love the way you describe this, I can see it in my head. But this other paragraph doesn’t work because of a, b and c.
So, they give you some positive reinforcement, but point out where you’ve gone wrong and offer some suggestions as to how to fix it. You might only get one uplifting comment per 5000 words (or maybe an overall positive thing), but they’ll be there. And the better you get with practice, the more balance there’ll be.
Deal with your critiques. Read them and step away so you can look at them in a more objective light. They’re there to help you.
If you’re a critiquer:
Don’t be nice just to be nice. Be honest. Offer suggestions on how to fix things, or why they sound wrong.
Make sure you find (actively look for) positive and negative aspects. Don’t be a dick and only point out the doom and gloom, with no hope or solution in sight.
If you’re a reader giving an opinion:
Don’t cushion what you feel when you read. Make sure the writer understands you might trip over sections, or that them leaving out a phrase has made the paragraph confusing. Don’t just say: Good job, mate.
[Edit] For clarification: this is a reader who is NOT a writer
There’s a fine line between encouragement and lying. Don’t be cruel and hamper someone’s progress by telling them something is good when it isn’t.
Sometimes being cruel IS being kind.
How do you deal with crits? What about giving them? Do you have a criteria to go by? Are you an honest critiquer or do you prefer to shy away from them?