independent publishing

Critical Feedback: When it Goes Critically Wrong

I was doing my rounds of the internet earlier today—investigating a few writing forums, clicking through a couple of resources, employing an iota of effort to network—when I stumbled upon what claimed to be a resource for burgeoning writers. Great! I thought. There can never be too many resources to help nurture growing talents and tighten the bonds between those with common interests. Let’s face it, writing is a solitary art. Sometimes you just need someone to give you a good piece of advice; a positive word to motivate you to the next chapter; a little something to let you know that all this time and effort you’re expending isn’t in vain.

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Alas, while this particular website—which I won’t link to—might have once provided some fertile soil and a little bit of love and care to budding plants and blooming flowers, it seems to have devolved into a cesspit of negativity, where virulent weeds and cutthroat briars strangle the life out of any spot of greenery. Essentially, instead of offering some heartfelt advice and respectful writing tips, the regular prowlers of this website opt for an all-too-common attitude of accentuating the negative, forgoing all the worthwhile traits of a talented beta reader in favour of under-the-belt punches to make themselves appear superior. From nitpicking petty grammar mistakes, such as a misplaced comma, to belittling a young writer for having the audacity to not proofread their draft, not one piece of criticism on the website was worthwhile or warranted. It was all quite violent to be honest, and unforgivably hostile.

When selecting a beta reader, no matter how far along the writing process you are, even if you’re picking up a pen for the first time since Creative Writing in Year 8, you need to find someone who is objective, yet carries a degree of benevolence. Unfortunately, the internet is swarming with (what I call) pseudo-grammarians, who have no credentials to their name, yet hand out criticism like a card dealer at a casino. They think they’re providing a service by pointing out an absent apostrophe, but at the end of the day, they lack the finer skills to offer any kind of guidance, and only exist to boost their own digital ego.

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There are five core components to any successful novel: Characters, Worldbuilding, Story, Style, Execution. It is learning these core components, and learning them well, that is the hard task. Grammar and punctuation do not matter, at least in the beginning—they come with time, providing you read and write as much as possible. No new writer needs to be lectured about a spliced comma, most definitely in the drafting stage of a tentative book. It’s insulting. Editors exist for a reason, because even experienced writers aren’t infallible. Funny that, eh?

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I wrote this blog not so much to disdain this particular website, but to offer a word of warning: Choose your friends wisely, and employ even tighter parameters for your beta readers. I can’t help but pity the fresh writers who offer up their work for criticism, expecting an intelligent, well-formed response, only to have their legs torn off before they even learn how to walk. I only hope they can take a little inspiration from the adorable axolotl and learn to regrow those limbs.

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