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Defensive Replies (Long)
Posted: Saturday, May 21, 2011 10:31 PM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 52

I'm told that I have a honest, but positive critique style. But recently (and not on this site) I experienced my first ever defensive reply to a critique, and I think I totally screwed up how I handled my response to their reaction.

To clarify, I don't think responding to a critique is defensive. I don't think saying "I was going for _______" is defensive, either. Sometimes a discussion is needed to clarify the critique or advice or just to make sure the person receiving the critique gets everything they need out of my feedback/insights.

When I say "defensive reply", I mean someone telling their critiquer that they "just don't get it" and WHY they don't get it. IE: you just don't get it because you don't understand comedy/humor. you just don't get it because you're an idiot. you just don't get it because you were size eight shoes.

I may not find them funny, but I assure you, I've laughed at more than a few jokes in my time, and smiled at more than a few lines in books. Whatever the case, to me it is defensive to tell someone they don't have a sense of humor just because they don't find *you* (general you) funny.

There was no thank you for the time spent on the critique. The author instead apologized that I wasted my time critiquing for them and told me they had only posted the story for their "fans" (which I guess is the 2 people who helped defend her literary genius...).

I'm okay with posting for fans, but why post content for "fans" in a critique group?

Needless to say, pointing out these things did more harm than good. I probably could have been nicer about it. I admit I was a bit shocked by the defensive reply and wasn't as gentle in my response as I could have been.

I don't mind if someone disagrees with my critique or doesn't want to take on any of my advice, but I really didn't appreciate the judgments of *me as a person* based on the fact I didn't "understand" their literary genius. What is the point in telling the reader they are wrong, even you really believe they are? (Even if they really, truly are.)

Discussion, on the other hand, makes sense to me. That comes from wanting to understand the reader's POV better, to see if you agree changes need to be made or to confirm that you wish to ignore their advice. A discussion is NOT telling them I AM going to ignore your advice because you're an idiot who just doesn't get me.

The person in question, when I addressed them, said she was trying to discuss with me and wasn't being defensive and that I was too sensitive. Maybe I am. Or maybe I'm undersensitive. I don't know. To be sure, as I have aspergers, I asked a few people who I trust to look over what happened. These are people who have never hesitated to tell me when I was in the wrong in the past, but in the case, they felt I wasn't in the wrong--just that I had wasted my time trying to help someone, giving them a critique that most serious authors would give an arm and a leg for. So this is why I got to the point of thinking it wasn't her responding for discussion, as she later claimed, but her trying to defend her work. I admit, my critiques are very straight forward. I am honest both about what I love and what I don't like, and I also always make it clear that it's just ONE opinion and anything that doesn't feel right to the author should be ignored. I can think of no better way. I've worked with industry pros, and I realize that it takes "industry-thick skin" to take a critique like that, but I tend to assume most authors have industry thick skin or they wouldn't be posting their work for critique.

My question is this:

What is the right way to respond to a defensive reply? Is there one? Is it better to just not say anything at all and walk away? What would you do or have you done in the past?

Toni Wyatt
Posted: Saturday, May 21, 2011 11:03 PM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 53

InkMuse...IMHO, that person simply lost out. There is nothing better than a good honest critique. I know how you critique because you helped me immensely. You gave me food for thought, and if I had just dismissed it, my writing wouldn't improve, and who wants that? I had a defensive reply to one of my critiques on this site. I never responded. I think it's best not to. Sometimes (me included) writers get too close to our work. I think it is best when someone feels that passionately about something they've written, to put it aside for a length of time. We all know the feeling of seeing a piece of our work that we haven't looked at for awhile. For me, it has ranged from embarrassment, to wanting to delete the entire thing, to smiling and feeling pretty good about it. Because I don't personally know both sides of what happened, I'm only guessing here, it sounds as if you might have hit a raw nerve. If someone else comes along and tells them the same thing, they may lash out again, or they may start to take what is being said onboard.

Either way, at the end of the day, all you can do is be honest and try to help. If they don't want the help...so be it. Move along to the next critique where someone else might really need the help you can give. Because I know personally, you've got an excellent eye, you're honest in what you say, and I never got any indication of your advice coming from a bad place, only a good one.
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Saturday, May 21, 2011 11:16 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

You can be honest and give constructive advice, but you can't make the reader take it. If they get defensive there isn't anything you can really do to except refrain from wasting your time trying to give them advice again.

They aren't going to improve themselves unless they put their big-boy/girl-panties on and deal with the crits.
Posted: Saturday, May 21, 2011 11:16 PM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 52

Thanks, Toni. My aim really is to help others, and I never say anything that I wouldn't be okay with being told to me. I realize sometimes that may be a fault, because I can take pretty much anything. One of my most helpful critiques was someone who told me my story poured out at a snails pace. It was hard to hear, but he was right. Even if he wasn't right, it was his opinion. Nothing I could have said in reply would change that the story felt slow paced to him. And in time, I saw how right he was. It's a weakness of mine and something I continue to work on. (That and being corny lol)

I think you are right that I shouldn't have replied. Even since then, i have apologized for my abrasiveness in my reply to their reaction, because no matter how they act, I could have replied kinder. As you say, though, I think you are right that it would have been better not to respond at all.

I really struggle with people interaction. Not good, I know. I have my reasons and I do work on myself in that regard. It is a bit frustrating. In this case, I spent about three hours on this authors work. I also sent the review, before I posted it, to another crit partner of mine for approval to post. I wanted to make sure it wasn't too harsh. I was told it probably wasn't harsh enough, but I do try to be gentle. When it's met with a mad response, I often feel like....

gah! there's go a huge chunk of my time!

I know it's bound to happen, but when I think about it, I'm like... well, that stinks. I could have critted more for someone else who likes my critiques. I know not everyone will like my critiques, but I don't appreciate personal insults just because I found errors or things I didn't like in their work.

That said, I did also issue a fair amount of compliments to things I did like, and it's a shame that it wasn't seen for the balanced, honest, trying-to-be-helpful critique that I wanted it to be.
Posted: Saturday, May 21, 2011 11:23 PM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 52

Thank you, Ivoid

I guess the lesson is that I can't get my time back, but I can appreciate working with those who like my critiques and are equally honest with me. I know I need it, especially where my weaknesses are concerned. Readers are never so kind. They hate your book, they roll their eyes, and they go find another one. If they decide to write a review, responding would do not good. It's for that reason that I really love critique partners. Not only can they point out things that readers won't like, but they can tell me WHY they don't like it. I get a chance to fix it! I mean, that's pretty neat, right? And if I think my story just isn't for them, then no big deal--I put their comments off for a while until I get more feedback, maybe consider it more seriously if it comes up again.

Personally, when I get feedback I don't agree with, I post it to one of my other crit partners and ask them, honestly, do I need to consider any of this? Sometimes they will say, "Yep, they have a point with ____. You could fix it by _____." Or they might say, "I really don't agree with this crit and I think making those changes will ruin too much that others love."

It's OKAY for an author to think this. I just don't think they need to write their critter saying their critter is basically a moron. I will write a critter if I want to discuss my goals with them, because sometimes they may be able to amend their advice more specifically to help me make changes.

Discussion is great. and it's something we get to have with crit partners, but won't get with readers and will only get with agents or publishers once we've landed one.

But defense--I see no point. You (general you) think my review is crap, then ignore it. I really don't mind. For all I know, they are right to ignore me! Of course, if I gave technically wrong advice (Ie--suggesting to put a comma where it doesn't belong, I don't think it would be defensive for someone to let me know why it doesn't go there and giving me a link so I can brush up on my grammar stuff. I don't want to keep passing about incorrect advice).
Posted: Saturday, May 21, 2011 11:43 PM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 52

Okay, this must not be my weak. I just got a bad response and thumbs down to a crit I wrote. I want to say I SWEAR I did not write this post with that in mind, but I'll bring it up. I did respond this time, because I felt I could do so and lift the author's spirits, which I think she needed.

I gave her 4 starts across the board, with tons of feedback on ways to improve, and what I liked. Her response was a thumbs down on my critique and this comment:

"Thanks for the blow-by-blow criticism, Ink. A good review would also include the things you LIKE about the story. Otherwise, no one will want your opinion. Judging by your review, I have no idea what I did to earn your four-star rating and it would be lovely to know I did something right."

This was my reply. Is this a good reply? I didn't add anything, just copy pasted highlights from the review...:

"Here is a recap of the things I loved, taken from the crit above:
"The girl is really cute and funny. I like her a lot and I like the story."
"Truly off to a good start. The premise catches me."
"...it's one of the most interesting stories I read on this site to date."
"The voice is great "
"I really like the character so far."

hope that helps! I know things sometimes get buried in the feedback, but I try to focus mainly on helping to improve, while at the same time saying what I love. I think with some elbow grease, this has best seller potential. Good luck!"

Clearly though, I'm not doing so hot with my critiques lately. It's all of a sudden--maybe I've lost my edge?
Toni Wyatt
Posted: Sunday, May 22, 2011 1:00 AM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 53

Let it roll off your back. The worst thing about the internet is that we can't tell what a person's intentions are by their writing. We don't know when something is supposed to be sarcastic, funny, tongue in cheek, hateful,....who knows? I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes people are just rude. I got a thumbs down on a response I gave to a discussion question on what methods to use when writing for a different gender. Not something I would think would get a thumbs down, but, hey, maybe they didn't think what I said was helpful to them. That's okay. We can't please everyone. Nobody can. Such is life, I guess.
Posted: Sunday, May 22, 2011 1:13 AM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 52

How could anyone thumbs down you? you are a gem! Maybe it was an accident.

I have aspergers and I am aware that I sometimes come across poorly (even in my writing, but especially in conversation). I do try to be careful, but I just cant see the difference sometimes, so I might come across blunt even when trying to sugar coat things--so forget about when I don't sugar coat lol, which I haven't been lately. I feel like I can be helpful and nice without sugar coating.

Anyway, my intention is never to upset anyone. I really appreciate those who give other the benefit of the doubt. I am the kind of person who will admit when I'm being mean, and probably apology for it 3 minutes later lol. So, unless I say I'm being mean, it's best to assume I'm either 1) being nice or 2) neutral.

a friend of mine says I operate from "head space" instead of "heart space" and that might be why I sometimes come across cold toward others. I am more focused on facts and issues instead of people and their potential perceptions. that's where I go wrong. Also, it sometimes pisses people off when they are feeling something very passionately and I am in a very calm state of just trying to get everything "clear" even if we still disagree.
Trailer Bride
Posted: Sunday, May 22, 2011 11:49 AM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 31

Your reviews are among the very best I have seen or received online. You put a lot into them and they are always helpful and honest. And you do it for free.

Don't let insecure writers get to you. The point of this site - as opposed to certain others - is not to win a game. It's to improve.

Dorothy Parker had it right. Horticulture.

On a related tack, are we supposed to comment on reviews? Do other reviewers look for responses? I've been bemoaning the lack of a message facility so I could thank and engage with other members. Is this a trick I am missing?
Toni Wyatt
Posted: Sunday, May 22, 2011 12:44 PM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 53

Hi Trailer Bride,

There should be a comment or respond button under each review. I think if you click it you can respond to each one.

P.S. I love the Dorothy Parker reference!!
Posted: Sunday, May 22, 2011 12:58 PM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 52

At the bottom of the review there is the option to comment, and you can respond that way.

I think it's great, whether it's to leave a simple thank you, or discuss goals to see further insights.

The key I think is knowing the difference between...

"I was going for....________, any ideas on how I can improve and still achieve that?"


"I acheived ________ by doing what I did and you are just too dense to 'get' it." or "F%^$ off! Your critique sucked b@11s!"


Really, I DON'T mind if anyone ever wants to discuss a critique. That's why I check back on comments. Sometimes it's to help the writer brainstorm, sometimes it's to clarify a point if it wasn't clear as it could be, and sometimes it's something else. Personally, a lot of my improvements came from criqitues from people who discussed the critique with me afterward. That may not be the case for everyone, but it helps me, and so I am open to discussing with others.

I just wasn't very good at responding to defensive replies, but I think I'll be able to handle better in the future, and hopefully won't get many more My goal is always to help. I wouldn't waste my time critiquing for any other reason. I have 3 kids, one potty training, one in gymnastics, and one with autism who has therapies 5x a week. I also have my own writing to focus on and a couple long term critique partners I trade with frequently. So when I do other critiques, that is me giving my time in hopes to help. I realize my critiques won't always be helpful, and i realize not everyone will say thank you. I'm okay with that. But I don't want to be treated like dirt after spending my time (time I could spend doing a million other things) writing up a critique for someone.

but it's going to happen, and so from now on, I'm going to look at it from the POV of what I learn by critiquing for them and it will be up to them what to do with the critique.

I don't think it's their loss if they don't take my advice, but I do think they make themselves look bad by reacting defensively. I've been wondering if they would react the same way to an agent or publisher if rejected or asked to make changes.
Posted: Monday, November 21, 2011 10:14 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 34

I know this is a bit after the fact, but...

As far as I'm concerned, you were right, and a critique is all about pointing out what needs improvement in a piece, not making warm fuzzy gushes about how much you liked it. I think most readers here assume, when they are critiqued, that what is NOT pointed out should be taken as OK. (I don't want the reviewer to waste their time on stuff that doesn't need attention. I want as much fodder for improvement as I can get!) 

I wonder whether the offended party in InkMuse's case would prefer a site that is more about encouragement and less about critique? They are out there. Or, perhaps it's OK here, but if that's what she wants, she probably ought to write it specifically in her author's notes.

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