When good advice is actually bad advice

I know my last post was about putting paint on something old to call it something new, and I have a post or two more on that subject, but as NaNoWriMo ended recently, I’ve seen a few things that bothered me, so I’m gonna take a minute to talk about that.

One NaNoWriMo-er posted that she’d gotten a couple of one and two star reviews and was demoralized because she’d put so much into the book. She came looking for advice and here’s the general breakdown of what she got :

1) don’t worry, keep writing / not everything is for everyone / even the “classics” had their detractors / don’t give up / write another book / etc. The VAST majority of responses were some permutation of this. Almost all of them, in fact.

2) look at the criticism and use it. A handful of people said something to this effect.

3) how much did you edit it / how many beta readers did it go through / do you have any kind of peer review process? About 3-4 people asked these questions.

4) what’s the name of the book, I’ll go give you a positive review. Only 1-2 of these, though they’re the most disturbing because nobody seemed to know the name of the book, much less have read it.

Clearly, the lion’s share of replies were people projecting their own situations onto hers. On top of that, a mentality of “bad reviewers are just plain WRONG, listen to the good reviews” seemed to prevail. There was also a trend towards “don’t read the reviews at all.”

My favorite reply called out the majority, likening their advice to saying, “Just abandon this kid and go have another,” without any of us having read the work. One of the many reasons that was my favorite was because their point was unassailable, and nobody even bothered to address it. They just continued telling her to abandon that kid, even though NONE of them had so much as seen it.

By far the most disturbing responses were of the “what’s the name, I’ll go review it,” type. This type of behavior effectively reduces the whole game to one of networking instead of talent. If something’s bad, it should be reviewed as such honestly, BUT this is perhaps an entirely different discussion.

And here’s where I have my beef with the whole situation : telling someone to “keep writing, don’t give up” is actually GREAT advice, but it’s not enough on its own. Because the idea that “if you write a lot you’ll eventually become good” doesn’t always work, because what if you’re just doing things wrong? And if you’re working in a vacuum and not listening to anyone telling you you’re doing it wrong, you’re likely to just keep on doing things wrong. If you only listen to the positive reinforcement (which in the responses above I’ve shown people were eager to give without having read the work), you’re gonna think you’re doing it right.

Among the pleas for peer review was my own voice – because if you’re fumbling around in the dark (as many of us are) and you ignore the advice of those around you, you’re more likely to remain lost. Maybe those around you don’t know the RIGHT way, but it’s more than likely they can find things you did the WRONG way, or could improve upon.

Sure, maaaaaybe the author was a genius and their first draft was flawless and didn’t need that peer review. We’d all like to believe that about ourselves, but how often does that seriously happen, and if an artist supposedly pours their heart & soul into a work, shouldn’t they care about it enough to put it up for critique before uploading it as a finished product? Sure, it’s up to the artist to decide what criticism to absorb and what to trash, but not listening at all is tossing out 100% of the potentially helpful comments. Sure, Amazon reviews can offer good critique, but finished-product reviews are not critique – by putting something out there for sale, you’re effectively putting the “this is a finished work” seal of approval on it. Your name is attached to that finished product, so when people are reviewing it, they’re reviewing YOU. Making people pay to beta read your novel is not only dishonest, but also makes it less likely they’ll check out your future projects.

I’ve said it so many times in my blog. Critique. Peer review. Don’t work in a vacuum. Family members and pets aren’t beta readers. Every artist needs critics, and they need them long before they press the “upload” button.


About benjamininn

About myself are papers, lots of tea, computer monitors, a stapler, pens, an ancient phone, more tea, some paperclips, and a lot of air.
This entry was posted in Art, How to not suck, Uncategorized, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


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