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Do writers make good critics?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ban, Apr 7, 2019.

  1. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    Just as the title says: "Do writers make good critics?" Do you think that being a writer and knowing the ins and outs of the writing process improves someone's ability to critique a book or hinder it?

    I'd elaborate on my own thoughts on the subject, but I think it would be much more interesting to let the community loose on this question first and see where the discussion goes.

    Have fun.
     
  2. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    No...much as I would like not to, I always read with an editors mind.
     
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  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Yes'n'no, it depends. I think writers think too much about writing, and have developed weird pet peeves and predispositions compared to other readers. But we also know more about the subject and can pick up on things in an interesting way. Then there's the question of, well, just how experienced of a writer are we talking about? Are we talking about Steven King or about ourselves? It all makes a difference.
     
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  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    To add, there's also the question of.... well, are we talking about giving a good and accurate review, or are we talking about the world of professional criticism? The latter relies a lot on attention-grabbing in a way I think a lot of writers are uncomfortable with. For instance, on Writing Excuses they talk about how they rarely give reviews and never bad ones because they want to maintain their relationships with others in the industry and know what it's like to get a scorching review. A lot of writers, I think, have a "relationship" with the world of criticism that would turn them off of it.
     
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  5. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    Those are good insights Devor.

    As for myself, I feel like the longer and the more I write, the less I'm able to enjoy reading fiction. Whenever I take a step back from non-fiction and try my hand at it, I inevitably come to a point where I spend more time thinking about how I would write the story instead of enjoying the way the writer wrote it. On the flipside, if I'm impressed by what I'm reading I may spend my reading time trying to figure out why that is so, instead of enjoying the story. Both essentially lead to me not approaching the story the way it was meant to be approached.

    Depending on the type of person you are this may vary, but personally I feel that being a (fairly) long-time writer and worldbuilder has made me a terrible judge of content due to a bad case of tunnel vision. I may still have my uses when I focus on judging form, but my scope has become too narrow to be fair to whomever I might critique. All in all, I believe writing and critiquing are two different skills and although we may grumble at the critics, the ones who do it right have a gift of their own that I respect but cannot replicate.
     
  6. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    I have to think on this some more. I feel that I can point to a lot of stuff that would help someone make their writing better, but that is not the same as liking something. I am very hard to please, and always have been. So...a lot of stuff gets popular and catches fire and I am just kind of not really getting what everyone sees in it. So, in part, I just give up at trying to read what is making something catch fire. I just look at the craft. So...if I am reviewing, I can rip it apart and have a lot of red ink and still like the story, and or I can do just the opposite, say it was written well, but did not really appeal to me otherwise. Since my judgment rarely matches up to the culture at large, I just think ppl should not really take my opinion on what is good or not...

    Except that, when I do like something, it is usually pretty hard to knock down. I like things that are hard to knock down, so I try to push stories towards it, I guess... Meh, have to think more.

    I am very willing to stand alone and stick by things that it would seem most of the world is not agreeing to...but I just have higher standards ;)

    Conversely, if I am reviewing, and putting down a lot of red ink, I think the red ink is pretty solid. It would only help to one to become more better not to be dismissive of it.

    On rare occasions, I can become so immersed in something that I forget to make red ink marks...those I always think are a win.
     
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  7. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    On balance, no. But there are exceptions to all rules. I can give my opinion, but I can’t give anyone else’s, heh heh.
     
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  8. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Troubadour

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    Sometimes. Some very incisive critiques of my writing have come from other writers. I think it's because they've already gone through the process of having their own work edited and critiqued.

    At the beginning, I don't think writers are better or worse than anyone else, but with experience, writers often become better at critiquing the works of others. It helps if the writer critic has a knowledge of fantasy (or whatever genre is being critiqued).
     
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Do writers make good critics? Only the ones who are good critics do. (gee, that was easy)

    >the longer and the more I write, the less I'm able to enjoy reading fiction
    Yep. Known phenomenon. I took a course in sound engineering once upon a time. The instructor said on the very first meeting that if we did this, if we learned about recording and production techniques, we'd never be able to listen to music the same way. He was right.

    I won't go so far as to say I don't *enjoy* listening to music as much as before, but I sure do listen differently at times. The same goes for writing. I am finishing far fewer books than I once did, and especially with fantasy book. The closer the book is to my own sort of work, the less patience seem to have. Every once in a while, though, a writer will sneak up on me and carry me away. I think that's what they call good writing.
     
  10. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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    I don’t have a completed work yet, but the more I learn about writing, the more I find myself analysing books and films. It used to be I’d finish 90% of books I picked up, now it’s about 10%. So a writer can be a good critic because they understand the mechanics of writing and provide detailed feedback, but at the same time a poor critic because they are too focused on details that general(?) readers do not. However, when I am entranced by the story beginning to end and don’t notice the details; automatic tick, then review to see how they did it.:)
     
  11. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Sage

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    I don't know if being a writer makes one a better critic (though I suspect it does) but I do believe that being a critic makes one a better writer. I write up at least a few paragraphs on everything I read — even if no one else will ever see it — to help me understand what I like or dislike about it. Putting it in words allows me to get my thoughts together and that (in theory, anyway) I should be able to apply to my own work.
     
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  12. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Sage

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    I haven't noticed that I critique line by line, thank God.
    I notice things but who doesn't. To me writing and reading are separate and one doesn't trigger the other too much. But then I never bother to edit my work because I never share my work. I don't write for others just for my own entertainment with no ambition in the area. So I don't have a trained editors mind.
     
  13. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

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    As Devor pointed out, I think that a crucial factor is how experienced the writer is. A very experienced writer will see things differently than a neophyte.
     
  14. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    I used to critique stories for a certain Challenge on this site, have written several novels and multiple shorter works...and still read a book a day, more or less...
     
  15. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    I just cant understand that. I am such a slow reader, it takes me weeks to read a book. To do one in a day, I would have to have the whole day, and do nothing else. I am jealous of those who can do this, but I wonder, how to you absorb reading as such a pace?
     
  16. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    trained myself as a kid, basically.

    Back in 7th or 8th grade, I was in the same classroom twice in a row. Time between those classes was fifteen minutes (afternoon break type deal). In this classroom, used by neither class, was a book cart filled with YA novella's of about a hundred pages each. Since I didn't have to go anywhere else during those fifteen minutes, I took to snagging books from the cart and trying to read them between the bells. It got to the point where I could *almost* read one of those books during the break with full comprehension. That bumped my reading speed and comprehension way up, and continued reading kept it up.
     
  17. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I specifically avoided learning to “speed read” because while it’s handy for schooling, I heard lots of people say they can’t slow down and read after training for speed. Not what I want for my reading entertainment. I wouldn’t want to read a book in a day.
     
  18. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Sage

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    Reviewers are writers as most of them write their reviews.

    Writing book reviews good enough to get published is as much of a skill as writing books. Granted book reviewers will never make a fortune but the good ones can make a career out of it.

    Would an author make a good reviewer is a very different question. I would argue that, as a rule, the answer is no.

    The reason is that it's a conflict of interest. The reviewer's job is to give their honest opinion as to whether or not readers should read a certain book. If they are authors in their own right their reviews could be seen as undermining another author to gain a market or professional advantage over them. They might end up being too soft with the reviews or their reviews could be motivated by personal matters (e.g. the reviewer is a mate of the author).

    It also depends on the context of the reviews being done. A review of another author's work on this site is intended to help the writer improve their writing skills or to illustrate examples of good or bad writing so it's okay when writers review each other's work here. In most cases, though, writers reviewing other writers work should be avoided.
     
  19. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    I never considered myself a 'speed reader.' 'Fast end of normal' would be closer. But, yes, slowing down is an issue. Also, interest affects reading speed and comprehension, at least for me.
     
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  20. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    As usual, I'm deep in the weeds on this one.

    Semantics, yeah.

    By "critic" and "critique," are you including "reviewer" and "review?" From a certain vantage, these are two different things. From my vantage at least, heh.

    A reviewer will tend to a) address personal liking/experience/bias, b) try to translate that into words other potential readers will understand, in order for them to decide for themselves whether the work is something that might interest them—including, often, references to other works as guideposts for various elements—and maybe even c) throw in a bit of objective criticism while doing "b."

    Anyone can be a reviewer because everyone will have a personal reaction to the book. The reviewer's goodness or badness will depend far more on "b" and maybe "c" (less so), i.e., their ability to frame their personal reaction in ways that will be helpful to those exploring the possibility of reading the book. The overriding goal for a reviewer is to provide this service for others, where liking and entertainment are the primary concerns. At least, in an ideal world that's the overriding goal. There is also the matter of tribalism, propping up the reviewer's biases while trying to shift creative output from others to more often satisfy those biases, and the formation of cliques around various authors. (That last affects readership as well. Are you the kind of person that loved Fifty Shades of Grey? is a question fraught with significance for some, I'd imagine.)

    I'd say the answer to "Are writers better reviewers?" is no, except to the degree that professional writing might help with communicating one's thoughts about a work to others. Anyone can go to Amazon and read reviews that are pathetic or useless when trying to decide whether to buy a book, for an example of common review styles. However sometimes not much is needed to communicate accurately one's personal reaction to a book; there's a lot of shorthand involved, heh. If the review helps others decide, that's all that's really required of it. So it's a bit of low hanging fruit.

    As for criticism...I'd define it differently. Personal biases may filter the output—they are difficult to remove—but the general purpose is...what? I'd break criticism into two subgroups, professional literary criticism and criticism targeted at a specific author or book that is intended to help them improve a particular work or a general approach to writing their works.

    The purpose of literary criticism...is anyone's guess. Heh. My layman's definition of its purpose* is this: a) to locate a specific work within the sum of all works, and b) probably offer insights into human nature and various social structures that have historically existed. Often, it's these two things simultaneously, but sometimes the purpose is more "b" than "a." Are writers better literary critics? On average, heck no. They're probably worse. To be a literary critic, one must have studied much about literature, psychology, sociology, history...etc. These are a rare breed of person, on the whole. The literary critic is primarily a reader, not a writer, i.e. a witness and/or reactionary to these things if only through other books and reading other criticism. A writer might have spent the time and focus pondering all this as well, but writers tend to be more focused on their own niche—and this limitation is likely to hurt their efforts at literary criticism. (I.e., biases become more pronounced.)

    The second sort of criticism, the effort to help a writer improve a book or her general approach to writing novels, may be the sort being targeted most by the OP? I think reviewers can help in a broad way, and literary critics can help in a different broad way, but fellow writers are likely to be better because they are fellow members of the craft.

    But these are generalizations, and individuals cross the barriers and may be all three or some combo. For me a tendency is probably somewhere between 60-75% of the case, so there's a 40-25% chance of the opposite being true for any given writer or non-writer, heh.

    But identifying the purpose of any sort of response to a book—review or criticism—seems a key starting point for answering the question in the OP.

    [*Edit: I'm a great fan of certain types of literary criticism, i.e. those that put great focus on the craft, various devices used, etc., without necessarily disregarding the historical contexts. I feel I didn't give this sort enough support in my layman's definition, although I'd include it in "a," locating a work within the sum of all works. It's just that uses of craft and devices are a part of locating that work...although the purpose of this sort of criticism may be to gain a better insight into those various elements of craft rather than a simple historical placement for the book.]
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2019
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