No offense, but…


The last incarnation of my blog would be what some would call a “Mommy Blog,” this one not so much.

With this one, I wanted to take the focus off my family – with older teens and now fledgling adults, they didn’t want their private lives becoming not so private. Instead, I wanted this place to be where I could explore more creative outlets – my writing and photography.

Aside: Giving proper credit to other writers and photographers is a serious concern of mine. If I use a quote, I give attribution… always. If there is no little squiggly tilde preceding someone else’s name, then the passage within quotation marks is my creation. Because it’s a common problem finding the name of an original artist, I limit photos here to mine. This blog is my showcase and I’m a smidge proprietorial. That is why I shy away from writing prompts that offer a photograph, or other potentially copyrighted material, as inspiration. Even if there is attribution, I’m still leery of whether the artist has approved of its use in that way.

I digress…

With this space serving as a writer’s journal, I wanted to find a community of like-minded people, and I’ve done that. There are so many wonderful, online writing groups. I’ve only scratched the surface, but I also think I’ve tapped into a few of the best ones. (Peruse the list of links near the bottom of my sidebar and I think you’ll agree.)

I’ve built what I feel are true friendships with other group members, and have learned a lot from them as writers. They are my go-to, my “phone-a-friend,” when I’m having problems with plot, characters, or grammar… especially grammar.

We critique each others writing, and stroke each other’s wanna-be-author egos. Some few have even grabbed that golden ring, and have published their proses and poetry. It’s very cool to dive into that resource pool.

I join in the ‘atta boys” but have a more difficult time with the “what were you thinkings.” My ability to critique someone else’s writing is equally proportional to my ability to accept it without whining about a negative appraisal. I don’t call ‘foul” here, but you should hear my inner critique of the critiques…. well, maybe you shouldn’t.

Many times I’ll read a submission for a writing prompt, and be totally confused by it, not having any idea what the writer’s trying to say. Reading the other comments often doesn’t give me any clues. As much as I want to leave a “what the hell?” response, I don’t. I consider the problem mine, that I am just incapable of analyzing the profound metaphorical meaning, or spontaneous abstract concept. I don’t think my personal preference should be criteria for critique.

Other times the abundance of typos and misspellings is a serious distraction, but I can decipher the intent. I don’t leave a comment about spell-checker or editing because I worry it could be embarrassing. Same thing with grammar errors or malapropism. If they are like me, these issues become glaringly obvious the split second they hit “publish.”

There are times when I don’t think anything I could say would be helpful. I either leave no comment, or if authors have a “Like” button on their site, I click to let them know I was there and read the post. I wonder sometimes if a few of my commenters wouldn’t be better served by doing the same. I’ve received a few responses that leave me wondering if they even read my post.

Perhaps, I’m doing my writing coterie a disservice by not giving entirely honest, constructive, assessments. I don’t tell them I like something they’ve written, if I actually don’t. It’s just, that sometimes, I only mention the positive, even if there are issues that took away from my reading experience.

There are no Rules of Engagement, and that is my dilemma. How do I give negative reviews, as in 1) I don’t think that word means what you think it means; 2) I’m completely flummoxed by what you’re trying to say here; 3) there are two Ss in “misspell,” … without it coming across as condescending or exceedingly nitpicking?

What are your rules for offering constructive criticism? Do you point out poor typing skills or word use? Do you say straight out, “I have no earthly idea what you meant by the yellow bat eating oatmeal while sitting on a stuffed pony.”  Do you let personal preference seep into your critique or try to remain objective? If the post is in response to a writing prompt, do you take the time to find out what the submission parameters are, and form your critique accordingly? How honest are you with your honest feedback?

*I have been pondering on this for some time, so please… no one comment or single incident prompted this post.

9 thoughts on “No offense, but…

  1. I love all the information shared here, from you and the others replying. It says something of your talent to have other people ask for your critique. They must respect your opinion.
    Sometimes I need to remind myself that criticism of my writing isn’t a statement about ME and to quit being so self-conscious about it. If someone is truly trying to help, the sentiment comes through the comment.
    Another biggie is that even the “greats” get criticism. We all have different tastes, and I’m glad. I love Neil Gaiman but have suggested him to others who didn’t like his stuff like I do. Even the Great Gaiman started somewhere, though, and surely made his own mistakes along the way.
    Inspirational post!


  2. Rules of Engagement. I LOVE that idea! I know, you threw it out there without thinking it as an actual concrete idea. I would love for some kind of manifesto signed among bloggers. Something that calls for integrity and honesty. And this manifesto, or rules of engagement would become a published page on our blogs. I would do that. I totally would. When I hit publish, like you, I immediately notice all my misstakes (see what I just did there? hee hee). And cringe thinking of the people who subscribe to my blog and will receive the typo’ed version via email and not the post-publish-edited version(s).

    And I so love the fact you do not use other people’s images. Integrity. Bloggers are all up about protecting their words yet will rummage through google for pictures they grab and slap into their posts like if they’re going through an abandoned junk yard. Personally when I “steal” an image (because let’s be honest here, it is stealing) I make sure I take it from a big corporate site, like an online catalog or something like that and link up. If the image I absolutely feel I need is from a photographer, I will email that person and ask for permission and offer the link. Only steal what you feel you deserve in life. 😉

    I want feedback. I always do. English is my 2nd language. I confuse expressions and need to learn. But like you, sometimes I read a story and basically have nothing to say. But there are times when I am asked to check something out and struggle to even make it beyond the first 3 sentences because the quality is simply too painful! I never know how to deal with these situations…


  3. I have exactly the opposite problem. Given even a quarter of a chance (I don’t need half) I’ll launch into a long thoughtful critique of just about anything. I teach this shit. It comes naturally. I accidentally read my own blogging goals into the goals of other people. But there are two problems with doing so. One: I’m incapable of being less than long winded. It takes too long to say what needs saying and
    Two: Quite often, the author wasn’t looking for that kind of feedback.

    I’ve had to cut back severely on what I comment on and how I do it lately. It’s not fair to the blogs I read and love, and I feel guilty, but I read SO many of them, and I can’t ever seem to choose, that I barely ever say ‘hey there’ anymore because it would turn into … well, this.

    I’ve developed three layers of commenting when I do have something to say. There are times when I go to a blog and just think, “OK, what the hell?” I go away on those days and don’t comment after all, assuming the author was already having a shitty enough day without my input.

    If I barely know the author, I’ll leave something supportive. I try to make specific reference to something in the post to demonstrate that, yes, I DID read it, and I’m not just mooching for comments on my own blog. I look for something I liked. (If there was nothing I liked, refer to the previous paragraph). I talk about that. “I really liked the imagery of XXX”.

    The better I know someone, the more of a sense I get about their blogging goals. For instance, I don’t really hold back in telling you and Lance exactly how annoyed I am that you haven’t gotten Millicent and Paulie published somewhere. And I also offer constructive criticism where I can. I follow the “I loved this, here’s a problem, here’s a positive” rule whenever possible, because nobody likes to come to a comment and see, “SpellChekR Much?”

    There are writers who I admire greatly whose grammar really galls me. And I keep my fucking mouth shut. (Not you – the lie/lay thing is minor in the great scheme of things.). Because … hell, I’m not offering grammar lessons unless somebody’s asking. And I’m so damned ANAL about grammar anyway that I don’t trust myself not to come off like some condescending bitch. I always imagine that if these people saw me struggling to help my kids do basic addition and subtraction, they would experience approximately the same level of irritation.

    And oh dear lord, now I’ve written more words than I just received on some of the freshman comp essay drafts I’m supposed to be grading…


    1. Jessie I love you! I am always disappointed when you leave my blog with a simple “amazing story” because I know you know and know the stuff you do know aren’t being expressed! I love your obvious integrity as a person that shines through your daily words.


  4. Before joining a writing group (with Carrie), I hated any negative comments. I had a “hey, this is my house,wipe your feet, be nice to my children, including the furry ones, and I hope you like your tea sweet and steaks medium.

    But from the writing group and subsequent editing lessons, people like Carrie, and you, Tar Rah, have taught me that constructive criticism makes you a better writer…always.

    I read a lot of blogs…a lot. I always try to find something positive even if the piece sucks canal water with a straw.

    I can get very dark, pedantic, and bizarre with some of my posts,especially when it’s about my mental illness and music geekery. But when someone kindly points out some typos or questions a sentence, I offer an explanation and make the corrections.

    Here’s the best advice I can give and I only give it because we’re borderline family, if it sucks or you don’t get it, then don’t comment it or email them privately. People do that to me and I love it.

    great post. be ready…Bobina and I are huggers


  5. This is a thoughtful post, Tara. Offering (and taking!) constructive criticism is hard. Some people really want it, including on spelling and grammar errors as well as writing style, and proactively seek it. But even then, it’s important to me to consider the writer’s feelings. It’s a challenge to be constructive and encouraging at the same time.

    It is for these reasons that I prefer not to participate in writing sites where reading and commenting on every entry is a requirement, even if unspoken. I want to be honest (avoiding what we trainers used to call “the smile sheet factor”), kind, and encouraging, and that’s just not possible on some sites.


  6. I definitely find it difficult to leave a negative “what the hell are you trying to say” kind of comment 🙂 Especially when every other comment is glowing about their writing structure, their prose, their imagery…

    We don’t all like the same things or read them the same way so it’s expected sometimes you’ll encounter the head scratcher post 🙂

    I usually try to find something positive then follow with “Small critique” and go from there. I generally don’t go into detailed critique unless it’s someone I “know” really well online.

    Live critiquing is always so much easier LOL. It’s one reason I love my writing group. I’ve learned so much on what to look for through them since we do have the time to really formulate a critique. It’s not the same online.


  7. Wonderful discussion and eloquently put here.

    I started critiquing other people’s writing in my high school creative writing class and I was damn lucky. Our teacher was wonderful and he fostered serious and fair-minded critique. Some people were only taking the class as their English credit, but several of us were quite serious.

    So immediately, there was an expectation that you would say something (we could pass, but you couldn’t always pass) and we would occasionally get critiques of our critiques from the teacher. At the end of the year, several of us were invited to join our teacher’s writing group – with the adults.

    Without pressure of a grade and suddenly having to rise above the crap that comes with high school, those of us who stuck with it learned quickly how to give more extended critiques. 

    All of the things you bring up showed up from time to time. But Bob knew he sucked at grammar. We expected and hoped that our co-conspirators in creativity would point out glaring mistakes (and not-so-glaring ones) so we didn’t make asses of ourselves when we sent out for publication. There were about 8-10 of us who came regularly and we were a fairly tight-knit group. I knew I could blow off Bob’s comments about pop culture and grammar most of the time, but when Rayla pointed out a grammar error, I better listen. Donna had a great ear for characters and John was the first to point out serious plot holes or inconsistencies.

    Our critiques grew better because we knew each other, we trusted each other, we did not assume any one person was right all the time – or wrong all the time, we were willing to change our stuff … and we were willing to sometimes explain intent and ask for help in figuring out how to fix a problem.

    But this took time getting to know each other and it took a commitment to listen to each other and a commitment to phrase our critiques carefully. Not to pull punches … but be cognizant of how damn much work we were putting into our babies, how much of our selves we’d invested.

    Trust was the truly the cornerstone of that group and we all took care to nurture it.

    If the groups you’re moving in are much more than about 10 people, I think that trust is really, really hard to come by. But you get a smallish group to commit to each other … you can accomplish one hell of a lot.

    If they’re bigger, I think it’s far more likely to get the “generic” comments that are the bane of any critique group.

    One bit of advice about how to comment and I’ll leave your poor blog alone (to think I used to be accused of writing too little): rather than using declaratory sentences in a critique, use questions. Put the “misunderstanding” on you if you’re not sure how the person is going to react or if you think it’s a scene they’re too invested in to look at objectively any more. “I must have misread something. I’m not really sure why Johnny shot the horse? Was it just because it threw a shoe or did I miss something important?” That deflection is usually enough to get most serious writers to think. After all, they don’t want you to miss their point!


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