I notice that many writers just aren’t very… how should I put this… conscious of the niceness of their writer-to-writer interactions?
Perhaps this is an beginner thing. I notice it more in that area than the professional world (not that professionals are perfect). Writing is a field where basic etiquette applies just as much, if not more, than in all other fields. Particularly in our interactions with each other, we’re dealing with work that comes from our hearts almost as much as it comes from our minds. Our work contains little pieces of us. So we tend to take things a little more personally.
There are also some things that just irk me because they’re part of how many writers get snobbish. I won’t put that delicately or apply frilly, metaphorical language; we’re self-important a**holes.
So here are the things I think all writers should keep in mind when communicating with other writers.
Being Nice and Respectful in Critiques
A really basic one is being nice in a critique. It’s so simple. Treat writers in a respectful way. You’re presumably tearing apart their work; the least you can do is do so nicely. Attacking the writer is the wrong thing to do.
Now, I know you probably don’t mean to attack the writer, but certain ways of wording things can come off that way. The use of “you” can make things feel more personal for the writer, so it’s a good idea to avoid using “you” in a fairly harsh review. If you’re generally a rough critic, I suggest avoiding “you” entirely just to make things easier.
Some things I find the most disrespectful or inappropriate in a critique include the use caps lock, words like “never” and other limiting terms, and the word “hon” in all its incarnations. All three of these are things can be taken as personal attacks on the writer or are just narrow-minded and limiting of the art form.
Caps lock implies yelling and flat out looks unprofessional. You would usually cringe seeing caps lock in a piece of fiction. As a critic, you should set a good example and critique the way you think the writer should write. It’s part of commanding respect for yourself as a critic. Practice what you preach.
Another hugely irritating thing is when critics tells writers never to do something. There are exceptions to almost every rule, especially in the arts. Unless you’re noting something grammatical where there are actual rules involved, it’s really a terrible idea to tell any artist never to do something. One example is, “Never use a mirror to describe your main character.” Yes, using a mirror is cliche, but sometimes, it’s okay. It’s far from the worst offense out there. A better way to phrase it would be, “Using a mirror to describe a character’s appearance is mildly cliche and generally seen as a bad idea.” Do not limit the writer with your words. Setting limits limits art, and that’s purely wrong.
My feelings toward “hon,” “hun,” “sweetie,” etc. are more of a deep-rooted hatred stemming from my disdain for people who look down on others. This also applies to life in general, but if I see it once it a critique, I will lose the majority of my respect for that critic. This is personal opinion for the most part, but I know many who would agree with me. Those words are the kinds of words one uses when dealing with a small child, not an equal. Disrespecting or lowering the status of the recipient of your review is, well, disrespectful. However bad the piece is, you’re probably not a professional and have yet to master writing yourself because, honestly, nobody truly masters anything. Until you become the god of writing and can thus write magnificent prose with a few keystrokes, you are equal to all other writers. Treat them as such.
There are also basic niceties that I shouldn’t have to go over but probably should because people are ridiculous.
Do not call a writer’s work stupid. Ever. I know I said not to use “never” up above, but critiquing isn’t a fluid art, so never call a writer’s work stupid.
Do not call a writer’s work crap or tell them to stop writing. See above.
Do not be blatantly mean.
Another thing is to explain the issues you have with the project and suggest remedies to the problem. It’s great that you can tell the writer that a comma shouldn’t go there. Tell them where it actually goes, or you’re not helping them in the long run. Don’t correct them; teach them.
Critique Recipient Etiquette
The basis of this is pretty simple: Take everything graciously. Yes, there are awful critics out there. Yes, people will be harsh. Yes, people will leave one-liners. But you don’t need to listen.
A very important thing to keep in mind is that everything they tell you is what they’re perceiving from your work. Different people perceive different things. If many people make note of something, you probably should take their suggestions into heavy consideration, but if it’s just one person, pay them the respect of thinking it over, but you don’t need to use everything a critic tells you. At the least, it might be a good idea to clarify in your work what you want the reader to pick up on.
Something that will often irk a critic is receiving an explanation of what happens in the plot. Say a critic says, “I don’t understand why Dumbledore swore at Draco and Ebony” (yes, I am using My Immortal, infamous fan fiction, in this example). The writer messages the critic (or, in this case, posts in her author’s note), “He had a headache!”
This is exceedingly unprofessional, for one. In the world of published books, you can’t email every reader who questions an event in your book to explain things. The book should explain everything that happens over the course of the story, and if the reader is left confused, it’s your job to fix that. If the critic mentions confusion, listen to them.
While it’s smart to pay attention to all the input you get, sometimes you just need to ignore a critic altogether. This is rare, but sometimes you will get a read from one of them. They are not giant ants; no, they are critics with hyper-inflated egos who think they are the messiahs of critics, come to be an example to all and save online writing communities from the one-liners. They will come off extremely rude, possibly do everything I listed above as things I find intolerably disrespectful in a critique, and occasionally blatantly tell you that what you’re writing is crap.
You will want to argue with a bad critic. You will want to send them a message defending your work. Don’t. It’s like with trolls: Don’t feed the troll. Don’t feed the egomaniac. You’ll feel better for it.
Another issue is one-liners. They can be avoided during swaps fairly easily. Just look at their past critiques. If you do end up swapping with one, you can message them asking them to expand, but you absolutely must do so in a polite way. Explain to them that you don’t feel they put in the effort you put into their critique. If they don’t cooperate, you can leave them a one-liner of your own and be done with it, or you can continue arguing. Arguing probably won’t get you anywhere and should generally be put to an end by simply ignoring them.
A situation where messaging the critic is perfectly okay is for clarification. Don’t ask them to critique another chapter or your revisions unless they offer, but if you need help on a specific part of their critique because you weren’t sure how to implement it or what they said, most should be perfectly fine clarifying for you. Personally, I love it when people message me back to ask about something I said. It means they actually read my critique.
A “thank you” is also nice.
Communities are great. You can talk about new ideas, ask for help, whatever. But in communities lurks the evil that is public shaming. I have seen so many communities come together to mock a less proficient writer. I have seen so many people go to their friends to back them up in an argument against a less proficient writer who simply misunderstood what they said. The less proficient writer gets messages from this person’s friends, telling them to back off and in general just being rude.
This is one of the worst things you can do on the internet. Getting your friends together to essentially bully somebody is all shades of wrong. Especially in a writing community. A writing community is meant as a place for writers to come together and help one another improve. Isolating somebody by bullying them ruins their experience in that community. You have no right to deprive them of an opportunity for improvement simply because you got angry with their misunderstanding.
I’m not sure this really needs expanding. Don’t cyber-bully. Be respectful like you would in person.
There are probably a million other things, but these are the issues I’ve noted recently. Being nice to other writers is important, as it can make you some very valuable friends who can help you improve your writing. Plus, it’s never good to be mean to anyone. So go forth and write and critique. While you will come across many a problematic human being, the treasure that is improvement is absolutely worth it.