Monday, May 16, 2011

When All Else Fails, Criticize

Ever written a piece, pushed it into the world, only to have people write you a note saying you mispelled a word? As editor of a weekly newsletter service, every once in a while this happens. In spite of my proofreading, in spite of my proofer on retainer, a word will slip by.

Over the years, I've learned lessons from these faux pas. I understand the difference between peak and pique, for instance. That happened two years ago in a fast effort to meet a deadline, but I haven't made the same mistake since. I don't mind being corrected, but I think it's the how in the correction that makes a difference.

When you witness mistakes in someone's work, before you spit out an email to the writer or editor, ponder these considerations:

1. Is that all you have to say?
In a critique group, you are instructed to open with a positive, mention the shortcomings, then close with another positive. If all you can say is "t-shirt should be T-shirt," and you can't mention what you liked about the publication, then just don't bother.

Instead of complaining that the rosebush is full of thorns, be happy that the thorn bush has roses. ~Proverb

2. How would such an email strike you?
Once you got over the hurt, you'd wonder if that person only looks for mistakes. Or maybe they don't like your work and found nothing favorable. But how do you know? You become even angrier not knowing if the reader could identify with anything you wrote.

If we should deal out justice only, in this world, who would escape? No, it is better to be generous, and in the end more profitable, for it gains gratitude for us, and love. ~Mark Twain

3. Are you having a bad day?
Just because the kids waxed your kitchen floor with grape jam this morning doesn't mean you take out your frustrations on the next writer you read. Even if you pen such an email, sit on it overnight and then decide if it's worth sending.

The tendency to whining and complaining may be taken as the surest sign symptom of little souls and inferior intellects. ~Lord Jeffrey

4. Is the email constructively written?
Why be malicious? Would you say this to a person's face? Emails are a fabulous communication tool, but because it is simple to use doesn't mean you shortcut the message, in essence butchering its effectiveness. Say it positively if you wish the writer or editor to take heed.

When any fit of gloominess, or perversion of mind, lays hold upon you, make it a rule not to publish it by complaints. ~Samuel Johnson

We learn from our mistakes, but we learn more deeply from those who love us in the process.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Working with students, we're supposed to give 5 positives to every negative.

Your point is well made. You'll get more bees with honey than vinegar...

Amanda Headlee said...

Mistakes and errors are merely just learning experiences. How boring life would be if we are perfect all the time.

I agree that when a “mistake” is being pointed out, a positive remark or two should accompany that correction. Yes, being corrected for a "mistake" is embarrassing, but receiving a positive remark along with the correction is like getting a lollipop after going to the doctor for a shot. It makes the “owies” go away.

Karen Lange said...

I love this perspective. Have been on the receiving end of a sharp comment or two (or three:) and it is never fun. Constructive, yes, once the sting subsides, and it has gone a long way in teaching me how to treat others.

This is my philosophy with my writing students - to wrap the things that are in need of work with positive and encouraging comments. My job is to teach them to like writing, not hate it.

Good post. Thanks, Hope.

Debra Stang said...

Hope, I *so* relate to what you are saying. I have a lot of people in my life like that who nit-pick when I get published instead of being happy for me. Sometimes I'm tempted to say, "Remind me again, what is the title of your last book? You don't have one? Okay, shut up." But of course, I don't. I smile, take the criticism with good grace, and make the critic the victim in the very next horror story I write...

quietspirit said...

Having sat through a critique session where I felt the whole group yelled at me, I fully agree with what you say. P. S. I separated from that group almost a year ago.