Thursday, July 19, 2007

Please be Kind. (??)

I've joined a web site, Critters, that helps writers of Fantasy, Horror and Sci Fi to improve their writing. Writers submit short stories or book excerpts, and other writers, or people who just like to critique, point out everything imaginably wrong with the writing. The site is well thought out, and partly automated in good ways. It has an excellent policy about keeping the writings “secret” within the website, so that submitted items do not escape to the wild. They even have procedures for critiquing entire books. And the quality of criticism can be extremely high.

I'm facsinated by their diplomacy policy. (This policy is public at the site, here's a link to it.) They require all critiques to be couched in polite language, as nonthreatening as possible. And they enforce this policy, it's easy for you to flag anyone who sends you undiplomatic comments. They clearly do not want critiques to say something like this: Who ever told you that you could write? Your story is full of misused words, you'll never learn how to manage English. And you call that a story? Your characters are a bunch of idiots, just like you, I suspect. And so on...

Now I've worked in commercial environments where I've had to bear the brunt of incredibly rough criticism. And I've seen people go off the deep end when their work is objectively criticized. It seems to me that diplomacy is not the answer. The answer is to develop a tough skin, which enables you to benefit from ANY criticism. If I'm being critiqued, I need to figure out what bothered the critiquer and decide whether to do anything about it. I need to separate out any ad hominem aspect of the attack, and decide what's wrong. Something may really be wrong!

For example, let's imagine a conversation:
“Donald, you idiot! You left the fuel rod engaged.”
Donald says nothing.
“Donald, you total idiot! We're gong to have a meltdown. Disengage the fuel rods!”
Donald says nothing.
“Donald, please, I'm not sure about this, but it looks to me like we may have forgotten to disengage the fuel rods. Could you take a look?”
Donald replies, “Well, since you're finally being polite, I'll check it out.”
Seconds have been lost ...

It's too bad that for many people, diplomacy is the only answer.
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