Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On the subject of critiques

I've been sort of listlessly following Idol this season, partially because little blond person refuses to stop having wants and needs during those two hours, but mostly because I don't really give a crap about any of the contestants.  They're good.  They just aren't good enough. 

That said, last week's performances, with a few notable exceptions, were abysmal.  Beyond abysmal.  So bad, I turned the TV off and just read the recap later on MSN.  This week, however, I found myself tuning out little blond person so I could tune into Idol, and in my humble, mostly non singing opinion all of the performances were at least respectable.  It wasn't rocket science to figure out the difference between the two weeks; Usher vs. Miley Cyrus.

Miley was a namby pamby 'mentor' who hasn't really found her place in the music industry and so, I think, lacked confidence giving advice to people older than her.  It also seemed to me she was more concerned with making cute on camera than actually giving the contestants worthwhile critiques.  Hugs and smiles and batting eyelashes abounded, constructive criticism, not so much. 

This week, Usher, while still making sure the singers knew their strong points, also pointed out their weak areas and gave them concrete things to do to improve their performances. Because of this the weak performers were able to at least turn in something not cringe worthy and the already strong performers shone with the gloss of serious polish. 

Earlier today I did my first in depth critique for one of the folks from my new writing group.  By the time I got done there was a lot of red.  I mean, a lot.  Don't get me wrong, the guy can write.  His idea is compelling, his narrative voice is good and I think there's a worthwhile novel in there.  It just needs some more polish.  I told him all this, but I wasn't sure if it was enough to undo the damage caused by all that red. 

I drafted up the email, attached the critique and then sat there, arrow hovering over send for about five minutes.  Then, realizing that what I was doing for him was what I wanted someone to do for me, I clicked and off the email zoomed into cyber space.  I thought of it there in his inbox, claws sharpened, fangs glistening waiting to rip his writing dream to shreds.  That thought plagued me all day. 

Then I watched Idol and I felt better.  Then I checked my email and found in my inbox a thank you for all that red and a request for me to continue in my critique.  I felt a whole lot better. 

All in all things turned out well and I'm glad I did what I did.  I'm also hoping that there's an Usher, not a Miley behind the critique I get in return because the last thing I want is to put something out there for public consumption and have it, ala Stephenie Meyer, panned and picked at and made fun of.  Give me a strong opinion and a merciless red pen over that any day.


Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Ha! Love your take on Idol. I only half watch it, but tonight I gave it my full attention as I was too tired to write, the kids are on spring break, and my husband DVR'd it.

You know, I was a writing teacher, and I avoided using a red pen--even at the university level where they should be able to handle criticism better. I found my students responded more positively when I used something like purple ink--less harsh perhaps, even with equal amount of comments and marks. But I agree, you can't help them if all you do is point out their strong points. I think there should be some positive--we all need to feel validated--but you can't improve if you don't know what to work on. The best critiques I get from my CPs are the ones that give a lot of specific criticism, but also offer possible suggestions for improvement(which makes for lots of ink!).

It's a good sign that your CP came back with such a positive e-mail response. I love that kind of feedback.

angfla said...

Carolina, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I'll definitely take the advice about using a different color. I just do the track changes in Word, so I'll do a cheerful font color from here on out, maybe a nice green. I absolutely agree that there has to be some positive otherwise, speaking as someone who has received a totally negative critique, it does make it hard not to give up.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

Hi Angie~ Thanks so much for visiting my blog and deciding to follow. I look forward to following you as well!

I loved this post and how you wove AI into the subject of writing critiques. When I began posting my work online (at Writing.com) and drawing member reviews, I had very thin skin and suffered a mini breakdown when I received less than glowing remarks. But I quickly learned, as every serious writer does, that growing in the craft is a necessary pursuit for all writers of all levels. The only way we grow is by hearing where our work is weak. You did the right thing in clicking "send," because you took care to highlight both strengths and weaknesses, and because you were motivated by the desire to help another writer improve.

Luckily, the writer was appreciative. But even if he hadn't been, you still would have done the right thing in sending the email.

I look forward to reading more from you!

KarenG said...

I've always enjoyed Idol because I like the idea of unknown talents having the opportunity to see the realization of their dreams. Not this year though because 1) Paula Abdul isn't there and I heart Paula and 2) I'm currently in a tv free zone and doing other stuff instead.

Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist said...

Whenever I am critiquing, I almost always catch myself being too nice. I have to remember, just like you said, that I need to do what I'd want others to do for me.

Jen said...

I love your posts they are always fantastic!!! Love your take on idol, granted I DVR through must of it, lol.

Charmaine Clancy said...

I find writers to be mostly supportive and caring for each other's craft, so when we receive a critique we know it comes with love and belief in our potential :-)

angfla said...

Nicole, Thanks for coming over and reciprocating on following my blog. I've never heard of writing.com. I'll have to check it out and see if I can find some online critique partners as well.

KarenG, I also love watching people make their dreams come true. That, I think, is what draws so many millions to Idol, but this year, I don't know, it sort of feels like the contestants aren't dreaming too big or something. Most of the performances have been just blah, so IMO you're not missing much in your TV free zone.

Rebecca, I do the same thing! In fact, I seem to do it in every aspect of my life and I'm finding it doesn't really get me anywhere, so I've decided to try a shift to tactful honesty and see if that works better.

Jen, thank you so much. I enjoy your posts as well. You just always have so many comments on your posts I feel like everything has been said, so I don't comment.

Charmaine, thank you so much for stopping by and commenting and following. As soon as I get done with these comments I'm planning a little foray into your corner of the blogosphere. I mostly agree with what you said. However, in my first ventures into the writing community I actually found two people who were just bitter pills and took it out on everyone they critiqued. It was awful and I don't want to be that experience for someone else.

Jen said...

I love all the comments even if they are repeats!!! It makes me feel loved! I at least appreciate that you visit often :)

Amy Jo said...

I agree with Nicole. When I started in my writing group, I had a hard time accepting criticism because I'd never shared my writing before. Now I welcome it. My goal is to become a better writer, so if someone can help me do that, I'll welcome their help, even if it means pages and pages of red.