“Could you give me some feedback? Any comments are welcome.”
A piece of writing is given to you for your thoughts. A one-on-one favour, some online writing circle or an in-person writing group - the source is mostly irrelevant. You’re being asked to assess and critique a person’s baby. And, “baby” is a particularly apt comparison. Like any new mother and tot, the writer is equally protective and defensive while the words on paper are equally precious and valued.
(Veteran writers, or any creative artist, try to work up a “thick skin”. It’s impossible. One never develops armour. One develops layers of scar tissue that can still shriek with agony when prodded too hard.)
Therefore, any critique has to be done with careful diplomacy. No harsh or rude language is allowed (“What crap!” “You’re fronting for a baboon trying to be writer, aren’t you?”). Definitive statements are rarely allowed (except by editors when money is involved). No, “change this” or “remove this character” but rather everything is couched in opinion and suggestion: “I wonder if changing this part might sharpen the scene up?” or “I don’t know if this character is really plausible.”
Diplomacy and politeness are the code. Any real-world writers group will soon teach a guy these standards, if only by the golden rule. Be blunt and scathing all you want, but only if you can take it on the chin coming back at you. Usually, though, any uncivilized bugger will be shown the door by democratic vote.
Okay, armed with these concepts, and at least moderately skilled by using them regularly, what do you do with that dewey-wet new manuscript when it stinks? I don’t mean a “soiled diaper” stink, but “who fed this baby rancid chili?” stink.
Fortunately, my in-person writing groups have quality talent. Some are stronger with a turn of phrase than others, but everyone all the basics well in control. No, it was this morning while visiting an online writing circle where one eager chap offered a few pages for the world to judge. I started reading, diplomacy and writing skill standing at the ready.
Two paragraphs in, diplomacy is reeling and writing skill’s jaw is hanging open in disbelief.
A full page in sees diplomacy throw up his arms in defeat and leaves for a quiet nap. Without diplomacy monitoring the procedure, writing skill is now alternating between guffaws of ridicule and sobs of despair for human literacy.
What does a guy say, faced with such a chemical weapons attack of a submission? There was no part to praise. There was no faint spark to fan with encouragement. My personal integrity won’t allow me to say any mealy-mouthed platitudes of “It’s…different.” The only possible action is to retreat and regroup, preparing cautious statements “There are lot of spelling typos.” and maybe “For a rough first draft, it has some potential.”
I’m not being rhetorical. I’m asking y’all: what do you say in such a situation?