This month's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog question was posed by Laura: "How do you approach critiquing someone’s manuscript? And once it’s out there, do you ever regret sending off a critique...?"
Because I am just so very forward-thinking (or maybe because I am dense and missed the memo), I posted on this one a few weeks ago. You can find a detailed description of how I crit here.
The question is such a great one, though, that I thought I'd add a few more thoughts. If you read that original post, you probably noticed that I am generous with my red ink.
[An aside: maybe it's genetic. My grandmother used to carry a red pen in her purse and would whip it out to edit signs, flyers, and other written matter that did not meet her very high standards. She also wore capes and managed to make them look stylish, which I cannot do. Apparently stylish cape-wearing is not genetic.]
The second part of Laura's question was of particular interest to me: Do I ever regret sending off a critique?
I mean, I regret my words sometimes and wish I'd said something more elegantly and clearly (and in those cases, I will follow-up to clarify). I don't set out to make the writer feel bad. But I don't set out to make the writer feel good, either. In this particular situation, feeeeeeelings are not my TOP priority.
What's that you say? But you're a psychologist! Don't feeeeeeelings matter to you?
Sure. Totally. If a writer gets too discouraged, he/she might quit. Or feel too sad to want to improve. And I want my critiques to be energizing, not demoralizing.
But I make an assumption when someone asks me to crit their work.
I assume the writer wants to improve, or, at least, improve the particular piece for which he/she has sought feedback.
I think some folks need a lot of gentleness, with an intense focus on the positive. That's fine. And I do point out stuff I like. I let the writer know when I'm eager to read more. But I won't say I like the work, or I think it's good, unless I really feel that way.
It feels good to make another person feel good. I've known a few people who were kind of addicted to that feeling. But sometimes it's not that useful. An example: in the therapy room, people cry. I go through tissues like nobody's business. It's emotional work. And do you think I leap up and hug my clients every time their eyes start to shine with unshed tears? Do you think I shush them and tell them everything's going to be ok, that it's really all right?
If you read my post on At Least vs. If Only thoughts, you saw that both kinds of thoughts are useful, but for different things. One type is useful for feeling better, and the other is useful for making improvements. And with crits, I focus on the latter, while *trying* not to disregard the former. Otherwise, I think it's a waste of my time, and the writer's.
What about you? When you critique, do you focus more on improvement or on preserving feelings? What happens when you can't do both? Do you ever soften things up (or not mention something) to keep someone from feeling bad? Do you go for honesty, knowing it's going to hurt? Which way do you lean? And either way, do you ever regret it later?
Be sure to check out Lydia's post from last week on this topic, and Laura's from two weeks ago. Next week, Deb will add her thoughts.