Someone tweeted me recently and asked me to review their work. I had already messaged them privately and stated that I did not want to put my comments on a public forum and that 140 characters was just not enough. When they tweeted me again I replied that I thought their writing was bad. Their reply was only one word: "Ouch".
My initial reaction was that I could have been a whole lot worse, I could have been rude, I could have let rip but what good would that do? None what so ever. I like to try to encourage writers of any level to keep writing. I think writing is such an important method of communication be it within you in the form of writing therapy or communication to a reader.
I have been thinking about this all day long, partly because I feel bad because I have been on the receiving end of comments like that often enough. However, I have partly been thinking about it because I kept asking myself if I could have done it better, handled it better, been nicer?
My current piece of work that came back from the publishers was savaged, it was ripped to pieces and then force fed me via email. It hurt. I went "ouch". I closed the email and a couple of days later I was skyping with a friend of mine who is a screen writer and whose opinion and writing I value. I told him that I had been savaged and he just said "Aaaahhh" and nodded sagely. "Writing," he went on, "that is worth savaging is a good thing because bad writing is either pandered to and the writer is patted on the head, or they are simply fired."
I went away feeling heartened that I have been critiqued so harshly. It will make the finished product more robust and more polished. It will make the reader have a better and more pleasurable experience from perusing my work. It does not matter what genre I write in (I write in many) if I cannot communicate smoothly and with some level of sophistication to my audience, then what they hell am I doing? More to the point why are they reading it? There are so many blogs and papers out there that readers can afford to be choosy so it is up to me as a writer to make my product as polished as possible.
The person has said that their family like their work. Well, here's the crunch, so do mine. They even like the stuff that is rubbish. God bless them. I think it is something to do with them loving me and only saying nice things because they are proud of me. This makes me all squishy inside and puts a soppy smile on my face. However, it does not improve my writing! If I want honest feedback I will send it to my editor, or someone who's work I value who can critique it in the knowledge that they have nothing to gain by being nice to me. They will spot the flaws that I have overlooked. This usually happens in emails because more can be written and it can be discrete. I can go away and digest this information in private and then put it into action. I actively seek out people who will tear holes in my work, so that I can make it stronger.
I have been writing for years and with this comes a certain level of confidence in my work. I look back at some of my earlier stuff and sometimes I nod my head and think that I have done well, other times I cringe and wonder why people paid me money for that. It is a learning curve, one that I will never leave. I recently started writing erotica so I could learn more, to throw myself into a new challenge and to see if I could survive. What this has done is allowed me to develop a thick skin; to be able to roll with the punches, deal with the trolls and the bad reviews and (here is the crucial bit) pick myself up and learn from it.
Could I have been nicer to that poor writer? I have no solution. In writing this piece I was hoping to find some solace but it alludes me. I do feel that I may have done them a favour by being honest. Being honest is not about pandering to egos and being nice, nor is it about being cruel like Simon Cowell. It is about expressing my opinion and being aware that it may not be the same as the person next to me.
So to that writer, I really hope that you are reading this. I really hope that I have not disheartened you. I want you to go back to your computer and cast an eye over your work and find out why I said what I did. BUT I want you to get back in the saddle and keep writing too, learn from it, grow, expand, become better.