Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

Tag Archives: criticism

The #Danger of Being a #Critic


I’m writing this post as much for myself as for anyone else… The #Danger of Being a #Critic

I’m a writer; though, I’ve never been a professional critic (but, my literary criticisms lie strewn across my writerly landscape…); and, of all things, I’ve been extremely critical of many critics…

Perhaps we can avoid the dangerous territory of definitions and test the more solid rock of etymologies of “critic”.

From the Oxford Dictionary of English:

origin late 16th century : from Latin criticus , from Greek kritikos, from kritēs ‘a judge ’, from krinein ‘ judge , decide ’.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1580s, “one who passes judgment,” from Middle French critique (14c.), from Latin criticus “a judge, literary critic,” from Greek kritikos “able to make judgments,” from krinein “to separate, decide” (from PIE root *krei- “to sieve,” thus “discriminate, distinguish”). Meaning “one who judges merits of books, plays, etc.” is from c. 1600. The English word always had overtones of “censurer, faultfinder.”

For those who wonder at my avoidance of dictionaries and my embrace of etymologies, ’tis true that most etymologies lie in dictionaries; and, the etymology of etymology is:

late 14c., ethimolegia “facts of the origin and development of a word,” from Old French etimologieethimologie (14c., Modern French étymologie), from Latin etymologia, from Greek etymologia “analysis of a word to find its true origin,” properly “study of the true sense (of a word),” with -logia “study of, a speaking of” (see -logy) + etymon “true sense,” neuter of etymos “true, real, actual,” related to eteos “true,” which perhaps is cognate with Sanskrit satyah, Gothic sunjis, Old English soð “true.” 

Anyone who’s just waded through all those blockquotes deserves to be given a charm against all critics…

So…

Last month, I read an article entitled, Why I Stopped Being a Critic.

A few excerpts:

“I grew up with a very critical father; and then, guess what, I became a critic myself. Not too surprising, right?”

Then, this brilliant revelation:

“…as the old Biblical adage goes, the son inherits the sins of the father, and I became a journalist and a literary critic. My job? Read books, find faults and pass judgment on them, in much the same way that my father and his father passed judgment. Ironic, right? In a way, I had become what I despised—a person who found fault with others and their works.”

So…

If you’re a writer (or, a serious reader), you may wonder what would become of the world if the realm of literature were to lose its critics…

A few more excerpts from that article:

“When I ‘panned’ a book—gave it a negative review—it reminded me of all the criticism I had withstood as a child. I thought about the author of the book reading my review, and how it had the potential to hurt that writer. All of this affected my spirit, and I began to think about finding another line of work.”

The author decided to write only positive reviews:

“Needless to say, my editors didn’t always agree. Any critic who only writes positive reviews doesn’t often develop a discerning reputation in our current culture, which delights in rampant and even vicious criticism. In fact, the most famous, celebrated and best-compensated literary critics today are often the savage attackers, the ones who write extremely negative and even cruel reviews.”

That author ends their article with this quote:

“One must see in every human being only that which is worthy of praise. When this is done, one can be a friend to the whole human race. If, however, we look at people from the standpoint of their faults, then being a friend to them is a formidable task.”

~~~Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 169.

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O.K., If You *Really* Have to, Go Ahead; Write a Book and Publish It . . .


Six years ago, when I’d finished my novel and went through what I’d resolved as the best way to publish (for me…), I was pretty freely telling everyone to write and publish—immediately, if not sooner…

Those six years have seen me do a massive amount of research into the reading, writing, and publishing Scenes—all so I could write this blog…

Before I share four articles that should make most writers think in some new ways, I’ll share just a bit of what I said back in May of 2013 from what I consider the Most Important Post on This Blog:

“An extremely small percentage of writers sell more than 500 copies of a book…”

“Yet, writers can find tons of posts and articles and web sites that are based on the mistaken conception that Any book can sell like hotcakes if the author will do X, Y, Z, and, if possible, D, U, and P…”

And, a quote from someone I quoted in that post, bearing on why I call it the most important post here:

“…in business school there’s this point made that if you interview rich people who have won the lottery, you might come to believe that playing the lottery is the only way to become rich. I thought that was interesting. One of the things I’m constantly trying to point out is that we’re not doing nearly enough to highlight both median and failure modes, because that’s where the real lessons lie. As for myself, I find message boards where new writers struggle to sell more than a few copies interesting, and where I harvest data about the low end.”

There’s much more of critical interest to all writers in that post; but, while I hope you’ll go there now and read it and take notes, I’ll finishing writing this post so you have more to consider when you return :-)

So, from the running-around-shouting attitude I had about the book world six years ago , I’m a bit more mature; mostly from having so many assumptions shattered on the rocks of the Truth about writing and publishing and promoting books…

I suppose I could say these next four articles are what I wish I’d read six years and one month ago :-)

First, I’ll share an article called, The Art of Receiving Criticism.

After relating her Before and After experiences of criticism (and, how she now Carefully selects who should give their opinions on her work), the author says:

“Oscar Wilde once commented that to critique a work of art means creating a new work of one’s own. Critique, in itself, is a form of artwork. We wouldn’t demean another person’s writing like we do their critique of our own work. Why should we receive it with any less openness than we would a Van Gogh painting?”

The next article I’ll share is called, Warning: Discoverability Dependency is Hazardous to Your Fiction Marketing.

Discoverability is the buzz-word for doing things to help folks find your book; and, some “experts” will hit you over the head with the idea—I can only suppose they want to scare you so you’ll believe it’s the Only thing you need to do…

A core idea from the article:

“…don’t use discoverability as an excuse to avoid human interaction or to be passive in your marketing. Seek out the right people, don’t just wait.”

The next article could cause quite a bit of resistance from some writers…

It’s called, The Myth Of Reviews, and details some compelling ideas about reviews Not being a magic pill for sales.

Here are two excerpts:

Here’s the thing: If you want more reviews, sell more books. Only people who read the book will review it. If you’re seeing more reviews, it means more people are buying your book.”

“My opinion is that reviews only matter in the edge cases – those situations where the potential reader is either on the fence or is looking for confirmation for the decision they’ve already made. If you haven’t hooked them with both the cover and blurb, the reviews aren’t likely to convince somebody to overlook that pair of sins and take a sample.”

The next recommended article is from a site called, Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity.

No excerpts for, Mega-List of Free Promotional Sites for Self-Published Books, since that title says it all…

And, if you want to give yourself some Bonus Credit, check out this post about what Jane Friedman has to say about Publishing (plus a few other important things…)…
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Critique Is Not A Bad Word


Many people see the word “critique” and seem to secretly replace it in their mind with “criticism”.

When I look in my dictionary, I find this for “criticism”: “Disapproval expressed by pointing out faults or shortcomings”.

And, I find this for “critique”: “A serious examination and judgment of something”.

When I look in my Etymology Dictionary (showing the root meanings of words), I find both words coming from the word “crisis” which also gets a bad rap in common usage. Crisis actually means “to separate, decide, judge”.

Oh, yeah, our attitudes regularly warp words’ meanings. Criticism and critique are both instances of dealing with a crisis. Kinda hard to shake the bad vibes off that word “crisis”, eh?

Authors regularly deal with crises, regularly face criticism, regularly seek critique

I found a post on The Stenhouse Blog featuring Kate Messner, a teacher and author who said, “…I find myself on all sides of the critique fence—giving critiques myself, teaching kids how to critique one another’s work, and receiving constructive critiques from my writing group members and my editors.”

She goes on to reveal a letter from her editor with annotations explaining how the act of separating, deciding, and judging helped her in writing The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.

Whether your a teacher, writer, manager, parent, or social media participant, I feel you’ll get some wonderful perspectives on the critique process by reading the full post: How to critique writing.

Kate closes the delightfully warm analysis of her editor’s critique with this: “Remember, real revision takes time, and it can be messy, but the results are well worth the long trail of marked-up manuscripts and sticky notes they leave behind!”
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Another “Review” of The Alien’s Book


I’m sort of “cheating” with this one since I just rediscovered it on my thumb-drive and it’s sort of a review/critique. It was written months ago before I submitted the book to my editor

Since it’s “review-like” I thought it deserved its own post :-)

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Alexander:

I am engrossed in your fiction and would love to read more. Your world painting, character development, dialogue, and imagery are all top-notch. What stands to be improved is your story’s structure, which is a bit clunky. By using transitions between your chapter breaks (or even creating numbered sub-chapters, ala Stephen King), you can enhance understanding. You have a flashback that is a good scene, but this is not a movie. It needs to be transitioned to. Point of view is a bit confusing, but it is all just a flaw of structure and so close to being fixed. Only some simple tweaking, I believe, with the structure to find a suitable and understandable rhythm for the reader.

I LOVE your prologue. It is very cleverly done and grips me immediately. To imagine that your protagonist is actually your co-author is a stroke of genius and a nice gimmick. I also think the setting is very well developed and interesting. I like how the planets come close to each other in their orbits over many years, allowing for more direct interaction. I also like the idea of plasma as an emotional and mental conduit. All very, very good. The planets become a dichotomy of existence, a split of the “survivalist” vs. “spiritual,” “technological” vs. “communal,” and “rational” vs. “irrational.” This is all very symbolic and when put into a good action story becomes an effective backdrop that does not become too preachy.

I have some general ideas/questions. First, I am interested to know what these aliens look like, at least their major similarities and differences between humans, if any. As a modern sci-fi writer, I timagine you buy into the idea that life evolving on another planet would have to have some sort of different physiology shaped by its own unique environment. I think this could be explained quite easily when your “co-author” is explaining the other similarities and differences between her race and humans. I would add it there somewhere, just a paragraph. It helps me “see” these people.

There were a few instances where some editing of word choice and sentence structure could be improved, but I will leave that to your copy editor.

FAVORITE PASSAGES
“I am a woman from a star system about twelve light-years from Earth. If you choose to believe me, my story is a history lesson—how to achieve unity and peace—a lesson that Earth desperately needs. If you choose to not believe I’m real, my tale is a science fiction story about how to achieve unity and peace—a lesson that Earth desperately needs…
—–Very nice, ironic statement. Also very well-worded.

“My “voice” will return when the story arrives at my birth.”
—–Thank you for telling us this. Very effective, as we wait for her, and puts your story on a timeline for us.

“Sorry for this short scientific digression but, if you don’t have a basic understanding of plasma, you’ll miss much of the meaning of this story.”
—–Successful gimmick for the early info-dump! I am envious of this…

“This is how I found Alexander, the co-author of this book.”
—–see above for accolades

“A simplistic example would be to say that we share things like the idea of dog and cat but not the knowledge of beagles and tabbies. A more accurate example would be that we easily share an idea like four-footed, domesticated animal but not ideas like dog or cat or lizard. Those differences take much more conceptual exploration and sharing.”
—–Sounds liked you have studied Plato and his dialogue on “forms.” I like!

“You have a bad habit of repeating what you know I already know, Morna.”
“Sometimes I feel it necessary.”
“It’s going to take the whole voyage for me to figure you out.”
“I believe it will take longer than that.”
“Could be, but the leadership on Anla apparently hate the Nari.”
“Yes.”
“Asking for a man their enemies worship…”
—–I like this exchange, but I need just ONE attribution to keep me on track with who is speaking, maybe somewhere in the middle.

“unwillingness to adhere to norms”
—–maybe use the word “deviance” somewhere here. In sociology, social deviance is exactly that, “unwillingness to adhere to norms.” I think the word adds to your crredibility. It seems that your Corporate World has a huge division of sociology, since they are so big on social engineering. Using deviance as their jargon increases the strength of your work.

“People who didn’t become passive through fear—those who fought against the invasive alteration of their feelings—were kept apart from others till they killed themselves.”
—–ghastly, but good!

I look forward to reading more. Now, I have to ask if you might consider returning the favor. It seems difficult to find people here who are willing to read a lengthy chapter; they tend to stick to poetry. It becomes a volume business with reviewing, that is why I try to focus on short stories and chapters as often as I can. These are the works that need the most exposure and reading. If you can stomach epic fantasy, I would love a review of the first chapter of my work, The Betrayer of the Virtues. Chapter is called “Kabar’s Creek.” Take your time to fit me in. I understand the pressure of trying to read, write, and review.

Thanks for sharing your work with me!

Patrick

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I did return the favor for Patrick :-)

And, for anyone who’s read this far into this post, I have a little bonus:

I’ve just begun to checkout the list of 58 potential places to have my book reviewed. One on that list had an asterisk in front of it from way back when I compiled the list. I discovered a major resource about Book Reviews. Enjoy :-)

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Facing Negative Criticism ~ Is Thinking Like An Artist The Same As Thinking Like A Normal Human?


Our last post, about criticism and using the integrity of the book to defend against negativity, had me saying this:

“At each stage of this process [all the steps of getting feedback on my book] I was of two minds: the merely human writer seeking perspective and the Artist, bearing the Book and feeling its Life and Truth…”

A merely human writer is any writer when they consider things from a conscious, objective, society-oriented perspective.

The Artist is the same writer when they consider things from a deeper-than-conscious, subjective, not-necessarily-society-oriented perspective.

Language is slippery and seems to favor, in most instances, a conscious, objective approach that engages some aspect of developed social structure.

Just comparing my sentences up there about a merely human writer and an Artist, just looking at what I had to do to contrast the two frames of mind is one example of how Language can respond to simple comparisons.

I could have used a more metaphorical approach:

A merely human writer thinks like the Manager of a shop full of creative people.

An Artist is the same writer when they think like a shop full of creative people.

I could take this comparison further into the waters of metaphor:

The merely human writer: “I was riding the waves of criticism, responding with what I had in the boat–signalling flags and lights, carrier pigeons with responses secured to their ankles; and, finally, I had to abandon the boat, floating with the aid of a life-vest but without the aid of my compass and map, now sinking with the boat.”

The Artist: “The sea of criticism broke its waves against the shore of my understanding. I lashed myself to the rocks and bore it all for love of my Muse.”

Just a bit exaggerated, eh? Also, those examples are only me giving voice to my perception of the different ways I handle the thoughts of other people when they share their negative opinions of my writing…

How do you handle negative criticism, how do the merely human and Artist aspects of your nature think and communicate when the waves start to rise?
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