Founding Friday Fictioneers member, Doug MacIlroy opened a can of worms last week, with his post about the changing nature of the group, which you can read here. He pointed out that with our expanding numbers, constructive criticism has largely disappeared and short, bland comments have replaced it; and that the wheat is now accompanied by a fair amount of chaff. I agree with both, although as in all art, I think one reader’s wheat is another reader’s chaff.
Different people want different things from a writing group, whether on- or offline. For me, the greatest value is in the constructive criticism (hence, concrit) I receive. Of course, it’s subjective, but writing is rarely perfect even in 100 polished words, and there is almost always something which could be tweaked or improved. Once a story is published online, I must admit I don’t often go back and edit it, even in the light of very valid concrit received, but that doesn’t detract from the value of the concrit – it enhances my ability to read and review my own work, and therefore improves the next piece, or the one after that. It’s up to the writer to decide whether he or she agrees (and for the record, you are ALWAYS invited not to) and whether to make any changes, but knowing where readers stumble is always useful.
Personally, I’m not sure Doug’s entirely right that the disappearance of concrit can be simply blamed on the thin-skinned few. They exist, but I think they are very much in the minority – whenever I offer it, my suggestions are graciously received. But coming up with something which could be improved takes time and effort and I, for one, haven’t the time to do this 70+ times a week. My respect to those who do manage it – Janet and Rochelle spring to mind.
So, here is my personal pledge to the fictioneers:
1) I will always welcome your concrit on my pieces.
2) I rarely read every story. But I do try to read at least one in five, and (apart from a few beloved writers I will always read) to vary whose I go to each time.
3) If I read your story, I will always try to offer concrit to you (unless you ask me not to).
4) I will always try to phrase my concrit kindly, and to highlight the good as well as the improve-able. I am always happy for you to disagree with or ignore my comment, or to explain further if I’ve said something incomprehensible.
Following the suggestion of neenslewy in Doug’s comments, I have added this scalpel image to my sidebar to indicate my pledge. You are welcome to use it yourself too – the image is copyright-free and obtained from Wikimedia commons.
By the way, in case the title of this post is misleading – saying something nice in this context is actually not as helpful as it might seem. (Sorry, Thumper, and his Mum!) Sure, encouragement and support are great, but encouraging suggestions and helpful support are even better (in my opinion!). If you can’t say something nice, or even if you can, say something constructive!