If you can’t say something nice…

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!


Filed under Friday Fiction

19 responses to “If you can’t say something nice…

  1. summerstommy2

    Well said Jen,
    Like all the writers in here the challenge to write constructively on every piece you read is daunting, mainly because so many people write so well.
    A friend said to me recently that criticism is important for us to grow as writers because if we produce a ‘lemon tart’ each week and get feedback to say how nice it is, then that’s all we are likely to produce and wouldn’t that be sad!

    • I definitely value the ability to experiment through FF – to try a POV or genre I wouldn’t normally touch – and that’s when concrit is extra extra interesting!

  2. Dear Jen,

    Had it not been for some brutally honest writers, I wouldn’t have gotten even as far as I have. (With a long way to go).

    I always welcome constructive crit, Even when I don’t agree with it, it still makes me take a second look and consider. You’re one I can always count on for honesty.



    • Hi Rochelle,
      Thanks for stopping by and liking this. You are one of my go-to favourites, not because you’re our leader but because the writing is so consistently good. If I find something to criticize it is only a tiny flaw in a shiny diamond.

  3. Dear Jennifer,

    Thank you for the pingback for my post GWTW. I did not write that piece to garner support, but to lament that concrit, and a polite response to it is a rarer creature than it once was. You are right about the wheat and the chaff; beauty will always be in the eye of the beholder and it matters not what ones writes as long as it works for someone, even, I suppose, if it is only the author who takes delight in it.

    I do have a bone to pick with authors who are not gracious with their responses when ‘offered’ concrit, whether they asked for it or not. It takes very little effort to say thank you and drive on down whatever road you choose. To explain away obvious mistakes or omissions with a flip remark and a dismissive tone or an explanation about art or vision is the surest way to have an eventual audience of only family members. The ones playing banjos.

    I love the idea of the scalpel/exacto knife. Going to put it on my sidebar. Great idea.



    • I absolutely agree about the ungracious few, Doug. I have been fortunate not to stumble on many of them though – and where one does, I think all we can really do in future is vote with our feet.
      Thank you for letting me pick up your baton and run with it this week!

  4. Striking the balance between a ‘mutual congratulation society’ and a ‘writer’s workshop’ is always going to be difficult.

    Personally nothing irritates me more than “cute story – loved it”, but then on the other end of the spectrum, receiving suggestions for substituting American-English for my beloved language (in defence of which I suspect I’m fighting a losing battle) incenses me to the point of hypertension.

    After contributing and commenting on Friday Fictioneers prompts for around 18 months I now approach each piece of work with the intention to enjoy it, not to red-circle it. If there’s something that spoils my enjoyment or confuses my understanding of the story, then I’m likely to mention it. Otherwise, probably not, since my motivation is to read as many as possible – it stimulates my imagination.

    I won’t be putting the scalpel on my blog; the subject doesn’t engage me sufficiently to mess about with my site after recent weeks. But don’t let that stop anyone concritting; I’ll consider everything that’s said, and I may or may not agree. But I’ll reserve the right to say which it is – and if you’ve been criticising my Anglo-English, I can’t guarantee it will be polite. 🙂

    I would take issue with the current default option on Friday Fictioneers though – ‘Make note in your blog if you’d prefer not to have constructive criticism’. Have you ever seen that on anyone’s blog? I haven’t. And if Doug is right, it’s not working either.

    • Oooh, Sandra, too right. When someone Americanises my language I get very ungracious very quickly!
      I don’t know what the answer is for the default option – it used to be the other way around, but then it was a pain to trawl the person’s pages looking for permission to comment. I think I prefer it this way – writers should always be open to kindly-meant critique.

    • I have similar problems, Sandra, being English. I do find it puzzling to have my ‘realises’ corrected to ‘realizes’, (for instance). When I see ‘realize’ in someone’s writing, I know he/she is American and wouldn’t think of ‘correcting’ that. I’ve also been accused of sarcasm when I’m not the sarcastic type at all! Hate it! The lack of body language is something all ‘onliners’ should have learned to compensate for long ago. It’s a minefield! Ann

      • The difference is, Ann, the US-Englishers don’t actually realize there are other possibilities, so they just think it’s a mistake. It drives me crazy when they ‘correct’ my UK English, but I try to remember it’s ignorance not malice.
        And as for sarcasm, most of my Canadian friends don’t get sarcasm at all. They often think I’m being incredibly rude until I point it out!

        • I appreciate it’s not malice. And on sarcasm, I know what you mean about seeming rudeness. I also have a dry and often black sense of humour that doesn’t come across well in the written word. Smileys save my bacon a lot I think. 🙂

  5. I totally agree! How much time I have to give to reading and concrit varies week by week, but I try to do it on some every week. I think sometimes the bland comments come out when FF or any other group becomes nothing more than a platform for generating more blog views (which is a valid use, but you have to put in the time and effort to post real, useful comments).

    I also think there’s always something nice to say, even about the worst pieces – and it can be useful to pick out the little good parts so the writer gets a sense of what’s working well, not just what isn’t working.

    • Agreed, Brian. Picking out the positives is definitely an element of giving good feedback. My objection is not to this, but to the bland “This is great” type comments; what Sandra eloquently calls the Mutual Congratulation Society

  6. Great. It certainly was a can of worms. Thanks for the mention – I think for people who are happy to have the crit ‘concrit’ we could add the photo as we do the links back to Friday Fictioneers. I am going to add it to this week’s Flash entry. With a link back to this post as you explain it so well.

    I, like you, rarely edit the blog posts, however, the advice can be helpful and improve future writes. (If I have used too many commas here don’t tell me… it’s 2a.m!) And I am with Doug if someone offers criticism I don’t agree with – I thank them and move on. They needn’t know.

    Anyway, losing track of my thoughts due to the ridiculous time of night. Just thank you Jen for taking action from last week and finding this image for us to use on our blogs or Friday Fictioneer posts.

  7. Your concrit is always welcome and valued in my house Elmo. 🙂

  8. pattisj

    Thanks, Jen!

  9. Thanks Jen for the scalpel and the pledge. I’ll be adding the image to my sidebar. Concrit can only be useful, to help a writer see their work/ story from another’s POV and I’d love to receive more.
    I do sometimes find it difficult giving concrit. There are some stories I only understand after reading other’s comments, so I must be in the one in the wrong in those cases with nothing useful to add. I also tend to react to stories on an emotional level – what the story evokes rather than how it’s written – my brain doesn’t read (other people’s work) with an editor’s pen in hand. It takes time for me to see where improvements can be made, whereas great lines or story structure do stand out and (I hope) I comment on those.
    Thanks to you, Doug and the others for raising concrit as an issue and promoting its discussion.

  10. gahlearner

    I’m new to the group and don’t know its past, but I was wondering about that scalpel, and will use it in the future, too. I need constructive criticism, and want it, but I also appreciate the ‘great story’ comments. If you don’t get many comments for your posts, someone making the effort of even leaving a brief comment means more than a ‘like’.
    When we look at all the ‘how to connect to other blogs’ suggestions for new bloggers, it’s always suggested to pick out one positive part you liked, even if you don’t agree with the whole post. I think many people take that advice, and I am guilty of it, too. When you’re new, leaving a comment for complete strangers can be a scary thing. Leaving criticism, even if it’s well-meant and constructive, is even scarier. Maybe that worked as long as you were a smaller group. That’s why I think the idea with the scalpel is such a great one.

    • Thanks for taking the time to check it out and to comment. I agree it’s scary to give critique – especially if you don’t know how it will be received – and it takes effort too. All comments are gratefully received here but I think the scalpel has made the m more useful too.

Feedback feeds the muse. Join in the conversation here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s