The Collaborative Writer Forum For Aspiring and Published Writers

Suggestions for ways to respond

in Share your writing with readers Sat Jul 09, 2011 7:11 pm
by collaborativewriter • 85 Posts

An approach to reading someone else's writing and commenting that works well and is not about critique, relies on your needs as a reader.

When you read a piece of writing, instead of responding by telling the writer "I like it," or "It's filled with grammatical errors and that's what should be changed first," think instead about what makes the writing effective for you personally. Are you moved by the imagery, the metaphors... are you impressed by one particular line?

There's nothing wrong with saying "I like how you compare clouds to puffs of smoke" or whatever phrase sticks out for you. There's also nothing wrong with telling the person why one phrase in particular seems effective. We get overwhelmed by an entire piece and so say nothing, but you can start an essay-length response to a piece of writing based on one phrase, one word, one thought.

Feel free to say what you need to see as a reader. Writers need to know how their audience receives their work, what in particular needs to be changed from one reader's perspective, or what could be added to, what you, as the reader would like to see more (or less) of.

For example, it was important and necessary that my readers told me that I write sentences that are way too long. This was important information that is not about critique, as much as it is about my readers' needs. They simply need long sentences divided up, shortened, for many reasons.

A definition of the word 'critique' includes 'a detailed and thorough analysis of something.' Because critiques tend to become didactic, wordy, and focus on everything that's wrong with a piece of writing, I tend to disagree with the need for one, especially when you're just starting out writing. When you read a long piece of criticism from someone you don't even know, you can feel belittled, like you're a kid being chastised by your elders; I know I do.

Instead of doing that to one another, I'll suggest we find one thing in each other's writing we can comment on from a personal perspective. In that way, you find you connect with each other's writing and find out something about yourself at the same time, possibly inspiring your own writing.

It's also an excellent way to get to know each other.

Oh, by the way, I was also told in a critique group not that long ago that I overuse the pronoun "it." The person who said that wasn't wrong. I need to be more specific, instead of too general and vague.

Last edited Sat Jul 09, 2011 8:05 pm | Scroll up


RE: Suggestions for ways to respond

in Share your writing with readers Sun Jul 10, 2011 1:18 am
by Genea • 3 Posts

I have the opposite problem; my sentences are too short. It bothers me since I should certainly be able to put together a complex sentence, being an English teacher. The reason I write such short sentences, I suppose, is that for 29 years I taught students in grades 1-8 and for the last 11 years, I have been teaching adults for whom English is not their first language. I've done a lot of curriculum writing, creating materials for these very same kinds of students, so brevity and clarity are embedded in everything I write. When I read your elegantly constructed sentences full of colorful vocabulary, I'm envious, I'll admit. Personally, I haven't noticed that your sentences are too long, Alison. We do have to be cognizant of the needs of our readers, but we don't all have the same readers. It would be a very unusual writer who could write for any kind of audience. You seem to write well to an audience of your peers, and, if you haven't already been published somewhere, I can't help but wonder ... why not?

Last edited Sun Jul 10, 2011 1:20 am | Scroll up


RE: Suggestions for ways to respond

in Share your writing with readers Sun Jul 10, 2011 7:37 am
by collaborativewriter • 85 Posts

I wish I could say to people, about each other's writing, please don't be envious, just work harder... ;-) i hope you know what I mean... if there's something you think needs work, you might be wrong, you might be right, but it won't matter what you think when the editor you send it to rejects it, and you're forced to rework it, and they reject it again... (that's been my publishing experience, by and large).

In my experience, my work (and writing in general) does not get rejected because it's well written or badly written; it gets rejected because the editor decides it doesn't have whatever it is they're looking for. That 'thing' might be indefinable; it might be that the editor will only know it when they see it, or it might be quite defined, and whatever you've done just isn't it. I've had editors tell me what to fix, and then when they've told me, I've known, oh god, i can't write like that. I think you eventually find the market and style of writing that's best for your voice, for your style, for your way of writing. The fact that a lot of "bad" writing is published tells you, rejection isn't about being able to write perfectly worded, ordered and structured sentences; I wish it were.

You might have the wrong voice for their market; or just not have expanded the characters the way they think they should be. It's amazing how many ways your writing can be rejected. As you say, however, not all readers are the same, and so adapting to different audiences is something I have taught students while teaching composition and rhetoric. Being able to adapt to different audiences is crucial, but, ultimately, I think you're going to end up being true to your own writing because no one is endlessly adaptable. You cannot please all the people all the time... and so what if I never get published? I'm not sure that was the point of this particular lifetime. We shall see. I just don't know yet. I keep trying, and sending things out, though. I'm not giving up.

Last edited Sun Jul 10, 2011 7:42 am | Scroll up


RE: Suggestions for ways to respond

in Share your writing with readers Sun Jul 10, 2011 9:27 pm
by Genea • 3 Posts

Oh, yes. I've received my fair share of rejection letters, and I know the many variables that can play a part...
Maybe envious is not the right word....because it's not envious in a bad way. Admiration would be closer...just because I love beautiful language and think I have the discrimination to appreciate it even when I can't always produce it myself. I'm not sure that working harder is always the solution though practice does make a huge difference. I recently read The Outliers, which gives example after example of this, while acknowledging the role of pure luck in success.

I used to aspire to being a fiction writer, but through the years, I've come to realize that I don't really have the skills (or the patience) for that. My attention can't stay focused long enough to write a novel. My real aspiration is to write something IMPORTANT... you know? What it is is anybody's guess.

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RE: Suggestions for ways to respond

in Share your writing with readers Mon Jul 11, 2011 7:59 am
by collaborativewriter • 85 Posts

There are ways to find out what it is you want to say, what your 'real' subject is. It's interesting, actually, because I'm working on developing a workshop concept (method of teaching, would be more precise) that I hope to offer to interested people later on in life... I'm not ready now; but anyway, we will begin by finding one's intention.

So I'm writing a blog entry about finding one's intention now. For the moment, if you just simply sit comfortably at a calm and quiet time (no one to bother you for about a half-hour to an hour, no phones, no interruptions) with your thoughts, and do the breath-work, just breathe deeply two or three times, and wait for the answer to the question "what do I most need to say?" to come up, listen for whatever comes up. The goal is to find your intention, your direction, or purpose. What do you most need to say? Often, we already know the answers to our questions; we just haven't listened adequately to what we're trying to tell ourselves.

You'll find your motivation, your intention, by listening to your inner knowing, or wisdom (or, voice; whatever you want to call it). The answer will come to the surface if you're calm, breathing deeply in and out at least two or three times, letting the information flow in and out of you. (In that sentence, I had to edit out my use just there of "it comes to you"—WHAT comes to you?? see! this is why I was told to be more precise! ARGH. "It's" an instinct. What's an instinct?? Using 'it' like other people use salt.)

Now, you might need to do this more than once, because letting ourselves listen without overwriting the information with "No, I can't write about that" can impede your need to write about something in particular. Just keep doing it, when you're otherwise stressed about writing or not writing.

Last edited Mon Jul 11, 2011 8:04 am | Scroll up

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