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How to deal with someone who just doesn't have 'it'
MB Mulhall
Posted: Sunday, April 3, 2011 3:16 AM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 81

While I haven't seen any issues here, I have had other situations where I've offered to look over someone's work and make some suggestions and corrections and have regretted it immediately when I delved into their story.

I respect anyone will try give writing a try and I don't doubt that they may have great ideas, but sometimes people just cannot translate their ideas to written form in a cohesive way.

I would never tell them they suck or that they should just give up, but it's hard to give them constant criticism and not be able to find a good spot to point out.

I don't know about anyone else's experience with this kind of thing, but I find the kind of people who seem to have the most trouble writing, are the ones who don't do much reading, if any at all.  They don't know how to format dialog or use basic punctuation or understand about conflict and resolution. They are the ones who think it will be cake to write a novel, when in reality they can barely write a paragraph.

What do you do when they keep coming back asking for help? I end up telling them that I think I've given all the advice I can and that perhaps they should ask someone else. I wish them good luck and hope they don't come back with a 5th revision to show me.  It's just not something everyone can do. If they could, think about all the extra competition we'd have!

Posted: Sunday, April 3, 2011 4:40 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 103

I'm sure everyone has run into this kind of problem from time to time. I know I have many many times.

If someone keeps coming back to me for help, I try to gauge why. In my experience, it's for one of two reasons: 1) they're looking for my approval (for some strange reason). In this case I just give it to them; or 2) they're trying to share something with me - an experience or something else important to them. In that case, I re-read the work, figure out what it is that they're trying to tell me and comment on that. Either way, I've found that this type of writer isn't really interested in improving their work. They're looking for something else from me.

I refer the ones truly interested in improving to basic editing or technique references (like the Elements of Style or the Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier), and to a critique group so the burden doesn't fall solely on my shoulders.
Posted: Sunday, April 3, 2011 9:13 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216

This is a tough topic for me to address. I have a lot of friends who come to me who want me to read their short stories and novels or who want to run an idea by me. I can understand why, to a degree. I’ve ghostwritten, so I know something about … well, something. I freelance for a living. I suppose that gives me some “clout.”

I have a dear friend who’s actually a very good writer. However, she wants to write a “fictionalized” novel (is there such a thing?) about the end of her marriage, and some of this involves rather indelicate issues, like … oh, well, she started meeting guys on Farmville and went on a cheating rampage. I cannot possibly tell her what a bad idea this is. While this might be a somewhat “novel” plot (pun intended), she’s not going to stir up too much sympathy for her protagonist.

I’ve tried explaining to her that writing a fictionalized version of one’s life is a big “NO,” regardless if she intends to go the traditional route or self-publish. What I’ve found is that novice writers are very difficult to advise. I had the benefit of having my work excoriated in creative writing classes by published authors I really respected. Not everyone has the experience of being told, “Okay, right now your writing is downright terrible. Here’s what you need to do to become better …”

MB Mulhall
Posted: Monday, April 4, 2011 4:34 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 81

Sometimes I think it's better to just let them go and do what they want to do and then say "I told you so" later. Petty perhaps, but when people ask for advice and don't follow it or think they're above making edits and changes then I say just let it roll and they will change their tune when the masses start bad reviewing their self published work or they get rejection upon rejection.

Just because you can write a sentence doesn't make you an author people. It's an art form although most people don't see it that way at all.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, April 4, 2011 6:31 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

I don't believe in an "IT". even if the person's style is, to most of us, crap, SOMEONE is going to enjoy it. The thing to remember, people will write the way they read. if their writing is flat, they need to learn how to read with emotion and intonation.

Have them read a book out loud to you. they will probably be monotone. teach them how to read with emotion and intonation FIRST, active reading. Their writing will improve on its own, in my experience.
Sinnie Ellis
Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 12:40 AM
Joined: 4/3/2011
Posts: 67

I'm having this issue right now with a friend. We just reconnected and he found one of my books and is asking for my thoughts on his writing.

I hate giving bad news to friends but even my husband could not get into his work. What he said was worse than I thought it would be. My spouse said he's seen tenth graders write their names better than my friends writing.

Now I am trying to be honest, I am NO expert and my friend is proud of his novel he put the first draft of into a contest. Honestly I'm scared for him. He has been writing this novel for a little over a week and entered it upon what he considers completion.

I tried to explain that finishing a story is not completing a book. The mad editing and polishing that is required can take years. He wants instant gratifiction and I can't give that without lying to him. I mean hell bound lying and I'm not religious at all.

Friends should not ask friends, can we make that a rule?

Danielle Bowers
Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 1:39 AM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

Actually, I have a friend this applies to. I don't give out writing advice, I'm a newbie writer so trying to give writing advice isn't something I try to do. It's as laughable as trying to give a cardiologist advice on how to do a bypass.

So my writing friend...you can't talk to him. He has been writing a lot longer than I have and regularly sends me his manuscripts. The first one he got very defensive about any suggestions. Didn't want to hear anything except that it was perfect. The books were written memoir style about him in some fantasy world going on a deep personal journey. If there was a message he was trying to give me by sending them, I have no idea what it was.

I like that rule Sinnie...Friends should not ask friends. Let's make it a T-shirt on CafePress "Yes, I am a writer. No, I won't read your manuscript."
Robert C Roman
Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 1:40 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

I'm not sure if I believe there is an 'it' or not. Rather, I'm sure talent exists, but I'm also certain that someone with enough skills can cover for that lack.

There was an interesting article on this a while back in Reader's Digest. It was called, if I remember correctly, "Dominators", and focused on athletes who dominated their sport. Jordan and Woods were examined. However, what I took away from it is that any field of human endeavor has a natural talent component and a skills component. Earning a living in a field doesn't require both; not every pro golfer is Tiger Woods, and not every NBA player is Michael Jordan. NFL teams need linemen as much as they need Quarterbacks.

With that in mind, being an incredible author requires talent, but it also requires skills. If you have either one, you'll be able to write things that are fun to read, which is where Alexander's comment comes in. If it's readable, someone will read it. Also, it's difficult to tell if someone has talent if they haven't mastered the basic skills.

Regarding people who don't have basic skills, my recommendation would be to find something in their genre and point them at it. Say something like 'you know, I think I see what you're trying to do. I'm not sure I can help you, but try reading this, it might help you get to where you want to be'.

Don't make it about them or their MS. Make it about you not being the right person to help them, and give them direction to someone or something that can.
Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 5:49 PM
Joined: 3/30/2011
Posts: 10

@Alexander Wow, what an interesting idea. I'm going to be pondering the idea that some people need to learn to read with emotion in order to write with it. I've seen a lot of these discussions over the years and I haven't run into that comment before. Thanks for sharing it!

@Marcie I think you're right about motivation, too. Sometimes people are not interested in the craft of writing so much as they are interested in being seen as "good" or "creative." Alternately, yes, they want to share an idea or an experience. It's a good point. (I know I write to share an idea/experience/mood, but I'm also interested in sharing it in the best and most effective manner.)

@General Also, I'm not quite sure I worry too much about people who have no ear yet keep coming back. I've seen them time and time again. I've seen the type of writer who shrugs off any critique that hints s/he might not already be exemplary. I've been frustrated at times in the past because I wonder, why? Why bother asking when you aren't going to listen or change anything?

I may not write well, but I don't brush off critique which is one of the only threads I can hold on to when I wonder, why doesn't this story seem to work? Why doesn't it garner the hoped-for response? What can I do to make it better? And then it hits me, Oh no, am I one of them? O.o

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 7:26 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

Okay, yes, I will agree that there is a talent involved. But you don't HAVE to have it to be awesome. It just helps. Jordan, for example, didn't have any massive native talent. He just worked REALLY hard at building skills.

In regards to people wanting to have you read their manuscript, i have 2 rules.

Rule 1, I am reading this as a writer and an editor, NOT your friend.

Rule 2, you are NOT allowed to get pissed at me for what I say.

I lay out that I will be blunt and straightforward, and if they can't handle that, then don't ask for my opinion. (if they just want a friend to go RAH RAH you go, I will do that, but don't ask my honest opinion!)

Ivoidwarranties, Reminds me of a shirt I have. No, I won't fix your computer.
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 7:42 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

The one from Think Geek Alexander? I bought that one for my husband a few years ago
Robert C Roman
Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 8:48 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

@Indirectly & @Alexander - the only time I've been brushed off or gotten upset at a critique was when the critter critted a particular genre trope they didn't like rather than my specific story. Specifically, in a military sci-fi story, the critter didn't like a scene where two characters were reviewing the tactical situation 'on the ground'.

Part of the problem I had with the crit was that the same critter then listed a bunch of 'missing information' about the relationship between two characters. Now I can be a bit oblique, so I looked through for the information and saw it clearly stated in black and white. I asked if it was phrased badly, at which point the critter explained that they'd skipped the scene entirely, because they hated that *kind* of scene.

Now, my issue with myself is I can't tell if I wrote a bad scene, and am being stubborn, or if the critter didn't give a good crit, or if the truth is something I'm being deliberately or accidentally blind to. I really want to get *better* at this, but I want to be the best writer I can be, not the best imitation of I can be.
Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 9:02 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216


"He has been writing this novel for a little over a week and entered it upon what he considers completion."

Seriously? Only a week? It takes me more than a week to write a decent outline. I'm always amazed that people think that it only takes a few days to write a book. How can that be possible? It's like thinking you can become a concert pianist in a month (although I'm sure some people think that, too).
Kenja Purkey
Posted: Wednesday, April 6, 2011 12:04 AM
Joined: 3/30/2011
Posts: 1

I think that as writers, we owe it to those who genuinely want to learn the craft to point them in the right direction. Yes, some people, especially those who read often, have a natural inclination. But much more of it is learning the craft--reading every craft book you can get your hands on, going to conferences and connecting with other writers.

That's pretty much what I've been doing for a year. I'm still in the toddler stage of learning, but this past year I have learned so much! It took a writer whose style I truly admired pointing me in the direction of some really good resources to get me going.

I'm not saying you should be spending all your time helping other writers, but it's pretty easy to point them to a list of great craft books and tell them to come talk to you again after they've read them and applied them to their writing.
Posted: Wednesday, April 6, 2011 3:33 PM
Joined: 3/30/2011
Posts: 10

@Robert that sounds like a bias on the part of the critiquer that blinds them to giving any sort of decent feedback. I think with crits, the best thing to do is look for patterns. Some things, like grammar, aren't as pattern-dependent. But more subjective crits (does this scene work? how is the pacing? etc.) can benefit from multiple opinions.

I've read other crits of work (not my own) and sometimes been incensed, how could X person not get Y thing? It's all very subjective. That helps to know. Otherwise a writer could end up writing the heart out of their stories in an attempt to please.

Listen to crits, but keep your hold on the heart of your writing so you know what to apply, what to modify and apply, and what to discard.
Posted: Friday, April 8, 2011 7:36 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 224

This is a great discussion. I often find myself coaching new writers who want to write and know nothing about the craft. The hardest part is being honest with myself AND with them. I don't want to hurt their feelings, but I do not believe that holding back will ever let them develop 'it'.

No one ever starts out with 'it'. It isn't a natural talent that is always there. 'It' is born of education, the nurturing of creative thought and the dedication of the writer. No 'normal' person will sit down at the age of 2 and write like Stephen King. It just isn't going to happen.

Knowledge is the developer of 'it'. It actually offends me when people say that someone can never have 'it', as if 'it' is something that makes them special because they wrote a book. Or that they have the natural inclination towards writing -good- books.

As long as I hold onto the believe that 'it' can be developed in every person, I can approach any story with a mindset that the person receiving the critique -- no matter how harsh -- can improve their craft. This lets me settle into a mode and mindset targeting teaching rather than grinding down or being harsh because I disliked the story they tried to tell.

Because of that view, I approach every story with the opinion that what is lacking is information and knowledge. Sure, natural talent can help rise faster through the learning process, but it is NOT required to let someone write well. In a way, being a natural talent is a crutch. Someone who has to learn the craft the hard way will have a greater accomplishment for overcoming terribly difficult odds.

I know I have a lot to improve. My writing improves daily because I refuse to give up. Am I talented? I don't know, nor do I actually care. What I care about is how I can learn how to improve. This is done by people lighting my tail feathers on fire and having the courage to tell me the truth. Being honest with me -- me being honest with others -- in a spirit of the belief of improvement is where the gold is.

Not many writers have that courage. I've encountered many writers who say they like something when they do not. They include a grain of truth and sugar coat it in sparkling lies.

This is one of the reasons I stayed out of critiquing workshops and groups so long. I want an environment where I can be truly, deeply and genuinely honest. Not just me posting critiques and reviews, but in my reception of them.

I hope that makes at least a little sense.

Ellie Isis
Posted: Friday, April 15, 2011 1:41 AM
Joined: 3/4/2011
Posts: 60

My critique group is particularly skilled at dealing with writers who do not have "it" and may never have "it" for one reason or another. First off, we do not allow new members to submit until they've sat in on several other critiques. The sometimes brutal honesty we share with one another serves to scare off most of the writers who think writing a novel is fast and easy. Those who stay not only learn what is expected from an honest yet constructive critique, but they also show that regardless of whether or not they have "it," they are willing to learn. I've watched very weak writers grow into very competent ones because they had one of the most important qualities a writer can possess--determination. What we've ended up with is a group of people who can give and take honest criticism, and use that feedback to improve their work.

We also have another rule--we won't critique a piece more than once, even if it's heavily revised. If a member rewrites a piece, he/she must seek further critiques from someone outside the group. This prevents the group from getting caught in a cycle of critiquing a really bad piece of writing over and over again, especially when the writer's idea of making revisions is changing a word or two.
MB Mulhall
Posted: Friday, April 15, 2011 4:01 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 81

@RJBlain I get what you mean, everyone can write if they educate themselves, but I personally think there is something to being a storyteller and not everyone has it. That's not to say that people can't try and some may be able to pull it off decently, but other people just have a gift to be able to weave complicated and complex stories, write multi-dimensional characters and be able to paint realistic descriptions with their words. If everyone could do it, everyone would be published.
Addie J King
Posted: Friday, April 15, 2011 10:11 PM
Joined: 4/3/2011
Posts: 16

One crit group I'm in keeps trying to set the rule of "we won't look at the same thing twice...please don't resubmit the same chapters, the same short story, the same essay, whatever"

We have had people who have ignored that despite being reminded.

I think we need for that rule to grow some teeth.

I'm in two critique groups and have several beta readers. Which means I'm working full time, reading a few books of my own, doing reciprocal crits for all of them, and writing my own stuff. Oh, and all the day to day life stuff we all have to do...

There's a reason I do that much. The first group gets the first round, after I've done an editing pass. Then I take their notes and tackle it again. I take it to the second group, who is seeing it for the first time. Then I hit it again, myself. Then I contact beta readers. And possibly go in again. At least that's been my process lately. I'm probably going to shorten that a bit soon, just out of time constraints, but I don't think I'd ever go all the way down to just one round of critique, or one set of readers.

I have no problem telling someone that I can't give them an honest read on a second or third draft. EXCEPT....talking through a specific scene, or a specific issue. If I've made a comment in a crit that they are specifically asking about whether they've addressed it in the change...that's different. But a full, in-depth critique on a second read? That's something I have no problem saying to seek out another reader. And I don't have a problem explaining that to someone who comes back for round 2.

Have I ever asked for a second read of my own stuff? I think only once or twice. In five years. And specifically targeted to that person's comments the first time around.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 4:51 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

Hunh. I would want to reread a piece thats been reworked after a critique. To see what a person did with my suggestions, how they worked that in, how what I said percolated through their system and translated to the page, is, to me, valuable information about my own method of critique, and helps me learn how to critique better, I would think.
Addie J King
Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2011 6:01 PM
Joined: 4/3/2011
Posts: 16

The problem becomes that someone who keeps re-submitting the same piece over and over again confuses the critiquer.

If you see chapter five reworked twelve times and you're also critiquing six other writers in the group, are you going to remember which version of back story they're using to make the changes this time? And then, are you going to spend your time giving them an honest critique or are you spending your time asking questions about stuff that might not have survived rewrites?

I think there's a happy medium somewhere.

I wouldn't have a problem with someone saying "hey, you guys all said X. Can you look at my rewrite and see if I've addressed X?" It's different when it's the tenth time you're looking at a rewrite, instead of seeing a writer continue to write the story.

The other reason is to encourage members of the group to finish the project instead of polishing one chapter to death.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Friday, April 22, 2011 5:02 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

Agreed. I think one reread, with a minimum of one time increment (week, fortnight, month) at least and one other submission for crit in between.
Danielle Poiesz
Posted: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 2:54 PM
First and foremost: I
This is an amazing discussion. Being honest with someone who doesn't seem to "have it" can be one of the hardest things about reading and critiquing someone's work. In my editorial experience, I've come across this even with some published authors and, as it's been said here, there are a lot of things to bear in mind:

"It' is subjective. What one person finds boring and poorly written, another may find entertaining. There are so many different styles out there and sometimes a book just doesn't have "it" for YOU.

Having "it" doesn't necessarily mean having pure talent. Very, very few authors can write a good book without taking the time to learn how to write and how to express on paper what is in their heads clearly, effectively, and powerfully.

While I think talent in some form is, of course, essential, there are two kinds of talent to consider--the creativity/idea and the execution. Sometimes people have one and not the other and all you can do is direct them on to resources that may be able to help them gain ground in their weakness. Writing books are a great (check out editor Meg Leder's suggestions in the Industry blog! She has some fab recommendations!) and easy place to lead people, where they can really take the task into their own hands and start improving by not only educating themselves, but also by trying out writing exercises.

Another great thing to recommend to readers who are perhaps struggling is just TO READ. You can learn so much by reading more of what you aspire to be. So think of some books that might be similar in tone and style to that of your friend/crit partner and introduce them to authors who do it right.

Writing is not an easy thing, as you all know. And it's not a hobby for the lazy and unmotivated (though some writers, like myself, certainly struggle with that haha). Writers, even "bad" writers, need to be willing to learn and grow if they want to improve, to accept the constructive criticism and opinions of those they trust, even if it's not easy to hear. Honesty from your crit group/partner--or anyone really--is key to allowing that growth to happen. BUT I will say that being supportive and encouraging and offering direction (even if it is sending someone toward a better suited crit partner, a book, or a zen meditation about whether or not they are destined to be a writer haha), is also key. We all have dreams, and we should all be believe in and allowed to reach for those stars with the help of people we value.

Jennifer B Fields
Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 2:25 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 6

Oh good. So I'm not the only one who's had to deal with sub-par, needy writers. As for the discussion as to whether or not the X-factor exists, I believe it does exist to some extent. I've read the work of writers that WILL become good with practice and education, but there are those I've read that are just too terrible for words and need to be stopped.
I'm guilty of being needy in a way. I'm moving to Salem, Oregon in a month. As of now, I live in a small town without any writing outlet or interaction with other writers. I can't seem to get any input on my writing outside of a trite "That's nice." Getting someone to read beyond the first chapter is impossible. Call me clingy or needy if you want, but I'm actually looking for HONEST input. Those that aren't looking for honesty are in it for the wrong reasons. This discussion brings to mind a video I saw on youtube entitled "So you want to write a novel." It's both insightful and completely hilarious. Give it a look-see. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9fc-crEFDw
Posted: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 3:40 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 34


I'm sitting here thinking of the money-making opportunity of a lifetime: HOW TO WRITE YOUR FIRST NOVEL CLASS! WE'LL GIVE YOU THE SECRET!

Really though, when I first came up with the idea for a story, I was desperate for help. I had NO idea how to put my concept into form. I banged out a pathetic, frightening excuse for a MS, then... WHAT? I knew it was no good, but didn't know how to make it better.

I looked all over the Internet for a class that would be within driving range, and after I out down $ at a local college, discovered it was canceled due to lack of interest (so much for idea #1!) It really IS hard to get help!

(As it turned out class was literary fiction - might have killed me)

Four years, a painfully-brutal-honest writer friend who was willing to do what you all are struggling with, and an awesome crit group later (Ellie's!) at least I know what's wrong with it. Still banging away.

But I have ENORMOUS sympathy for folks and their horrible-1st-try-bits-of-writing.

The one thing someone said to me that was SO encouraging (about my P.O.S.) way back then was: You wrote SOMETHING, and finished it. That's incredible! Do you know how many people say they are going to write a book, and never get off more than a page?

And that's what I say now, to others.

Jennifer B Fields
Posted: Friday, May 20, 2011 3:57 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 6

I responded to this discussion earlier, but after perusing this site and others like it, I have become convinced that there is no nice way to deal with a bad writer.
It's heartbreaking to me. Within their bad story, I see the potential in it and I have to fervently resist the urge to play editor by slashing and hacking at their story with the red pen of death. It's not my place and it wouldn't be pretty.
Honestly folks, I don't think there's a correct answer to this question. If there is a magical method or spell, please enlighten us.
Posted: Friday, May 20, 2011 8:19 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 157

You can't save them all.

A friend of mine loves to critique other's work but becomes very frustrated when she can't get them to understand the advice she's trying to give. Sometimes it becomes confrontational. I keep telling her -- you can't save them all. Give the advice and then let it go.

I've taught. I currently edit. Both of these are positions where I am in some way responsible for helping someone improve their writing. Classes at least give a little more leeway when it comes to time. The writer doesn't have to get better right this instant and I can hope the light comes on at some point. But with publishers, I have to get the writer past whatever the issue is before the book hits print. And we aren't always just fixing commas.

But in a critique group, the other writer isn't my responsibility. If they don't feel my advice is right for them, then that's their choice. So if they just don't get it, I wish them luck and let them go on their own path. I can't save them all.
Posted: Friday, May 20, 2011 9:25 PM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 52

I give my advice, then move on. I've had people basically tell me that, pretty much, I just don't understand their literary genius. Who knows, maybe they are right. All I know is that I wouldn't be buying their book anytime soon. Maybe someone else would. I'm always honest though and buying readers will be nothing but (and agents are honest with their rejections as well. They might not tell you they don't like it or why they don't like it, but the "not for us" is enough).

I admit, though, that I won't continue to work with someone who doesn't have "it". (IMO--and it's important to note it's just that: an opinion). If I am doing a critique as a favor, I usually start with 5 pages. If that doesn't go well, I don't do more. Every now and then I find a newbie who, in some way or another, strikes me as someone I want to help, even if it's a lot of work on my end. I was a newbie once, too, and people did that for me. And to be honest, I consider myself "new" even still, even if I'm not quite a hard-core newbie.

But in the end, it's important for me to remember that this is all my opinion. I've seen horrible books get published and amazing books passed over. I don't know everything.

And I remember there was this one person who told me that no editor would read past the first page of my book. This person told me how horrible my writing was and that no agent or publisher would ever want anything to do with it. But they were wrong. I have 9 agents considering my MS, and the personal rejections I have gotten have all been complimentary to either my writing, voice, or character-development. Yes, I have hurdles I need to face--but it wasn't the ones this person INSISTED thy were. Furthermore, Harper Collins read a partial of my novel and requested the full. while I am not daring to dream it will go beyond that point, that tells me that sometimes the people who think they know everything don't. So for that reason, I never pretend to know it all.

But it's hard sometimes, when the writing is just so really really really bad that I can't see how there is any hope. I have to remind myself people think that about my MS, too.

So I try to be encouraging and give them my opinion, but beyond that, it's up to them. Who am I to tell them I'm right and they're wrong? (even if I really, really think so and am probably right lol)
Posted: Sunday, November 24, 2013 10:08 AM

All critiques are by nature subjective. What I look for when I review is not a well written piece--though I certainly welcome it--but a passion driving the expulsion of words. For beginning writers bad writing/good writing means essentially nothing on the surface. The craft of writing can be learned by those not blessed with genius at birth, but without the passion to create, that raging fire in the soul that compels you to tell stories, nothing of lasting substance will ever emerge. Without possessing a scintilla of passion,you can make a decent living as a competent writer; those regularly featured on best-seller lists provide undeniable testimony that the mere acting of writing successfully requires little more than the essential skills of any crafts person. Those perennial best sellers keep coming, rolling on like the Mississippi, supplying the insatiable demands of a book market that never cools off. From what I've read so far on Book Country, most of the aspiring writers will either eventually quit or become capable wordsmiths cranking out the stories the public devours with a passion ironically missing from the authors who are methodically producing assembly line items. One observes few classical novels on their favorite writers' lists. The New Yorker once published the best seller list of 1945. The only book I recognized was "Forever Amber." As an avid book hound, I would have recognized the other titles if they had had a reasonable staying power.

If what you want to do when you grow up is to become a best-selling author there's nothing wrong with that. But bear in mind that only a relative few writers ever make a decent living at what they do. I would rather write a single book that endures for the ages than crank out many that sell millions.The two greatest American novels were written by women who never wrote more than one book: Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell. As for me, give me Dostoyevsky or give me death.

Aira Philipps
Posted: Monday, December 2, 2013 7:50 PM
Joined: 8/18/2013
Posts: 31

Why couldn't you all be related to me? I asked some relatives to read my first draft a couple of years ago, just to get an idea of what I needed to work on. All I got was "It's wonderful", "I loved it' blah blah. I was so frustrated. I knew it needed work. I couldn't get honest feedback. When I went back through it I had to laugh. I wondered if they were reading the same thing I was, because wonderful was the last thing I would have said.
Posted: Saturday, December 21, 2013 11:34 AM
While reading is mandatory for anyone wanting to write, it in no way guarantees success. I believe one can learn to write well enough to get published, but great writing cannot be learned. Just because you love something doesn't mean it loves you. During my brief tenure on Book Country I am dismayed to observe that many of the young writers read only contemporary fiction. Obviously Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, et al, are being vigorously imitated by our younger authors, a condition to which I attribute much of the writing block we see discussed as one struggles to find something new in a crowded field. Of all things, writing should not be generational, the classics never disregarded as irrelevant. Well, you can tell that to Shakespeare, Dickens and Austin, writers who are as fresh today as when they wrote. As with Field of Dreams, when the old deprived players were given an idyllic place to play the game they loved, all who played the game passionately are on the field with contemporary players. Same with writers: when we sit down to write we share that vaulted space with all those authors who have endured over the centuries. And it's a two-way street leading to that vaulted place. Great writers exist today and will continue creating until the human heart has run out of stories to tell. No matter what era, all good writing deserves to be read and perpetuated. Those of you stuck in some sort of generational trap should get free and write with zest and love on the writers' Field of Dreams. What I'm saying in essence is that Leo Tolstoy deserves to be read as much as Harry Potter.
Linnea Ren
Posted: Saturday, January 4, 2014 11:54 AM

I believe there is no such thing as "it." We're talking about writing here as if it's something other worldly and unattainable unless you're born with a special power, and I just think that's not alright. Some people are born with a talent. But that talent isn't writing. It's seeing the world in a way that gives them the ability to create and develop a world others can live in as well. It's looking at a word and not only seeing that word, but also the possibilities of what it can do and how it can affect people. It's a talent, and just like any talent, it can be learned.


I think there are people who are born with such a talent and when nurtured, they can jump ahead of anyone else. But I also don't think just because you weren't born with it doesn't mean you can't develop it, and like wise, just because you're born with it doesn't mean you're good. You have read, you write, you research grammar and learn to analyze the great authors of our past. Just like how sports players watch games over and over, study plays and figure out what they can do and how to make it their own, writers must do the same with those who've written before us. So the people who apparently don't have "it," are just people who've never been guided in the right way. None of us started out as good writers. I know I didn't. I still don't think I am, but at least I can tell I've improved after reading thousands of books and getting harsh criticisms telling me what I'm doing wrong. 


Just the other day I was talking to a friend of a friend. Earlier we'd gotten into an argument about how she deals with her characters and why she kills every single one in every single one of her stories. It wasn't fun, but last time we talked she came up to me and told me that conversation made her actually question her motives for doing so. It made her understand that it was okay for her characters to be happy and she'd never been able to comprehend that before. All it takes for a bad writer, or a writer who's stuck, is someone to force them into a new reality, and for them to accept it. Because sometimes they don't.


The good writers aren't always the ones born with the talent. The good writers are the ones who can recognize when they need to work harder, accept it when people conform that recognition, and work to make it better.


So how do you deal with someone who just doesn't have "it?" You should weigh how fragile they are based on how much they trust you and be as honest as you can. Explain to them why you don't like something and what makes it wrong. If they take it, that's great. You got through to them. If not, either they're in denial, pompous, or you just aren't explaining it the right way to make it work with their brain. In the end the only thing you can do is say what you think and hope they understand.

--edited by Linnea Ren on 1/4/2014, 11:56 AM--

Posted: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 8:41 AM
Joined: 1/26/2014
Posts: 1

As one of those people, one not as good as she thought she would be, I agree with Linnea Ren.   I also agree with someone back there who stated if you don't read, you won't be as good - I'm not going to elaborate on that one for private reasons.  Anyway, I always thought I would be a natural because I've wanted to be a writer since as young as I can remember.  I created stories I told to people and got positive feedback.  Okay, they were my friends and family, but I have a way of sensing from them whether they're being honest.  
For forty years, I rarely wrote.  I kept putting it off and putting it off and it's not that I don't have another career to keep me super busy.  I finally decided about six years ago I had better start writing.  The stories were filling up in my head and one in particular was getting so refined, unintentional but clever themes and parallel events between antagonist and protagonist were occurring.  Some of it blows me away, like some writer in Heaven was secretly entering my head and doing some of the work for me.  I had been making stories out of everything around me, even movies - I'd elaborate further on a story that ended.  
So, here I am trying to put this stuff in print and have no talent whatsoever. I met with an agent at a conference who absolutely enjoyed one of my stories (it seemed, because she didn't want me to stop when our time was up).  She invited me to send my manuscript.  It was my first rejection.  I don't blame her.  What was on paper was not my story.  I just couldn't do it. Between the grammar and pacing and point of view and showing not telling, I was making all the mistakes, let alone putting too much explanatory stuff in there.
SO, I'm not a natural.  But I am studying the craft.  People wonder why it's taking me so long - "I thought you said you were writing that two years ago."   I had to admit to them, I'm not as good as I thought.  I read other writer's stuff, and there are many others just like me.  Then there are some who have it down.  I plan to be there.  I'm just hurt that my genre is expanding without me, and it might not be trendy by the time I'm done.
I take criticism and try to learn from it.  I had one reader outright say, "I can't identify with your main character."   Well, I can't have that.  So I worked on it.

Posted: Monday, February 3, 2014 1:10 PM
Genius notwithstanding, writing is a craft that can be learned. Elevating it to the level of art, however, takes something extra that can't be readily explained. A novice author writing badly is no big deal; a more experienced author writing badly, when most of the badness should have been eliminated, is a cause for concern. Those deliberately seeking immortality with their writing are whistling up a rope. Immortality is conferred when the writing transcends generations and has not vanished because of some misguided ambition to compose repetitive prose made manifest in a current Zeitgeist. Probably the most important thing young writers can do is to separate themselves from the crowd. There are countless cosmic subjects that can be covered. When it doubt, write a love story. Virtually every novel is a love story, the one subject that never becomes jaded. If your novel reads like many others posted for review, you might want to expand your reading landscape and strive to create your own personal world, something of lasting value, something worth reading about.
Posted: Friday, February 14, 2014 7:32 AM
Book writing is essentially a lone wolf enterprise, certainly not a family affair. We ask family and friends for opinions because we expect to be flattered. Every writer should have a stable of intelligent proofreaders who'll deliver the unvarnished truth. Bring family and friends aboard when your work is ready for prime time. If your sole purpose for writing is to get heaped with encomiums and to locate a niche in the prevailing Zeitgeist, you're better off being a plumber or a carpenter. Not so bad really, considering that laying pipe and caressing studs possess undeniable erotic overtones.

Posted: Friday, February 14, 2014 7:34 AM
Book writing is essentially a lone wolf enterprise, certainly not a family affair. We ask family and friends for opinions because we expect to be flattered. Every writer should have a stable of intelligent proofreaders who'll deliver the unvarnished truth. Bring family and friends aboard when your work is ready for prime time. If your sole purpose for writing is to get heaped with encomiums and to locate a niche in the prevailing Zeitgeist, you're better off being a plumber or a carpenter. Not so bad really, considering that laying pipe and caressing studs possess undeniable erotic overtones.

Posted: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 7:48 PM
Joined: 1/9/2012
Posts: 22

I think Linnea Ren and Jacque both make excellent points. An earlier post also said that finishing a manuscript is already a big step forward. So many want to be a writer 'someday' and never get any further. 

When our local writers' group was still active, we had a few 'A and A'  writers - 'awe and admiration'. That's all they wanted to hear and they would either pout or argue through any criticism, point by point. If a writer is sure they are already pretty damn good, they're not going to change anything. 

The rest of us keep trying...

Dea Simon
Posted: Saturday, March 21, 2015 11:32 AM
Joined: 8/23/2012
Posts: 3

I think an important thing to consider is how serious they really are. I always tell people there is a difference between people who want to write a book, and people who want to have written a book. If it's someone who will openly tell me, "this is honestly a first draft, I'm just learning, tell me what you think." I will go easy on them, they're really just looking for the encouragement to keep writing. I'll say things like, "The story's really good, it's the actual writing that's the problem." or "I can see what you're trying to do, but there's a better way to do that." Or ask questions about the plot that they should have thought about and clearly didn't. If it's someone who's like, "I write _________ genre, so that's the only one I read." I kind of roll my eyes in private, grit my teeth, and understand they're probably not going to take my criticism seriously, especially if it's a genre I don't read. If it's someone who says, "I really want to send this out and get it published." I am unashamedly, brutally, calculating. I never tell someone they can't do this, but I WILL tell them if no one is going to take this book. Someone is going to tear this person apart, and if I do it in the early stages, it'll do the least amount of damage, and they can make their decisions from there, now that they know this really isn't easy.
Mimi Speike
Posted: Saturday, March 21, 2015 2:48 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1014

The thing that pulls me into a story is the lusciousness of the writing, the way sentences are put together, the bedrock word-smith ability. I read and enjoy a range of genres for the thrill of the style, though my heart belongs to what is termed literary. I am far more interested in what a character thinks of an event than in the event itself. Motivation is another hot spot for me. I need to believe. I am anal on this point in my own work, I cannot overlook it elsewhere.


Style is art, elusive magic. Impossible to teach. You can teach grammar. That is not style. On the other hand, much of what is published does quite well with a workmanlike treatment. There is an audience for every approach, which allows me to think that even my problematic choices will find a few readers. 


--edited by Mimi Speike on 3/21/2015, 3:01 PM--

Posted: Tuesday, February 2, 2016 2:21 PM
Joined: 1/31/2016
Posts: 30

To critique is a skill I am not very good at.

I have some 40 books in various states of disrepair.

I have been writing for 15 years but am I a writer if nothing jumps through sufficent hoops to be published.

Maybe one decade I may write a book worth publishing.

Define 'it'?

I write therefore I am a writer if it is but a cathartic process.

Regards, Dravid Mills


P.S. Still working on uploading a book. My format goes all to hell. (pulls hair)


Mimi Speike
Posted: Saturday, February 6, 2016 2:22 AM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1014

I sympathize with you, David. Critiquing is hard for me as well. Of course I know if I like a book or not, but it takes me a while to analyze and then to explain if I don't. I feel that is a requirement here. And I learn something in the process.



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