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The Importance of Trust for Crits

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Garren Jacobsen, Mar 31, 2021.

  1. Here is something I think about from time to time: trust. Specifically, trust for crits. This tweet prompted such thoughts.


    While the tweet is snarky, I think the point is, for one to accept crits, you gotta trust the person giving it. So, how do you build trust with crit partners?
    skip.knox likes this.
  2. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    The truth? Time. Honesty, Kindness. A sprinkle of brutality. You make friends that you trust with pieces of your soul. It's a path not to be treaded lightly.
    Penpilot likes this.
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I'm not sure. I know that in the crit group to which I belonged, I valued the feedback from some more than from others. One important element was that the valuable (trusted?) source gave me feedback I could *use*. Whether I used it or not, it was at least something to chew on.

    But a really important thing I learned in that group: it is better to give than to receive. The most value I got out of the three or so years I spent in that group was when I consciously tried to give valuable comments to the others. This meant giving useful feedback to the very poor writers just as much as careful comments to the obviously talented ones. It made me notice far more things in my own writing than I would ever have done on my own.

    So maybe trust works that way. To trust, learn to be trusted.
    The Dark One likes this.
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    Well, there's the basics....

    1) Pick the right people. Someone who's work you like, who you get along with generally, who communicates well, who shows up and follows through.

    2) Be that kind of person yourself. Do good work, be easy to get along with, communicate well, show up, follow through.

    Beyond that, I think a kind of rubric helps. When I've done critiques here on Mythic Scribes, and when I've asked for critiques, I'm usually looking for three things:

    1) Is this concept compelling?
    (down to the scene level; i.e., the characters need to have this conversation, but the scene still needs more than chatting...)

    2) Does everything flow well?
    (starting from the scene as a whole then going down to the sentence level)

    3) Do the big moments deliver?
    ("Then he fell over dead." Uhh, it needs more than that, make me feel it)

    And, kind of in that order. If there's serious issues with the concept, then it needs to be changed so much that flow and delivery don't even matter. Someone who's still struggling a lot with flow probably isn't ready to nail a big moment's delivery, and it can mask where those smaller delivery points even should be.

    So for me, it helps to hear criticism written around this basic critique philosophy. I want to hear: This concept works or doesn't because.... This section doesn't flow, or it might flow better if.... And this point might deliver more if you spent more time with it....

    I don't really trust anything else. You think it's purple? Too many adverbs? I'm telling too much? No, no, no. Get your biases away from me. If I'm "telling," maybe that's a sign that the moment isn't delivering, but if so you should be able to see that regardless of whether it's telling or not. I don't want to see that nitpicking philosophy that demands a defense for every line of "telling" or that looks "purplish" or uses an adverb before even seeing if it's good. If you can't judge quality without turning to those "clues," even if they're useful to a point, then I don't know if you're really ready to give quality feedback on someone else's work.

    I will take comments on tension, however. But I think it's an incomplete view of writing. I think there is tension, but there's also fun, or horror, or intrigue, and others that belong next to it. So comments like, "There's not enough tension in the way these characters are talking to each other" or "I'm intrigued by this character, maybe you can build on that more?" Those are decent comments. Those are definitely things I want to build into my concept and then deliver on as I write.

    Finally, every second someone spends trying to justify their suggestions is a second they could spend finding more comments, because there are always more things to find. "I think (sentence) would flow better as (new sentence)." That's it. That's enough for me. Get to the next one. I can see what you're trying to do with it, or I can ask for an explanation if I need one. Cut to the point. This is work.

    Someone who does all that? Instant trust, IMO.
  5. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

    Let me start by saying that I'm a trusting person by nature, which means that my default option is to simply trust the person giving the critique, unless I have a very good reason not to. Though I have noticed that I find it easier to trust critiques on where to improve then those comments which say they like the writing. Imposter syndrome is a thing...

    I personally think the opinion in the tweet is detrimental to improving as a writer. The reader is always right for him. Though this last part is important, because a piece of writing is not for everyone. (So a comment starting with "I normally don't read fantasy" will get less vallue for instance). The only way to improve is to know where you can improve, and the best way to know that is to get feedback. Yes, an editor's feedback will be a lot more valuable than the opinion of a random person off the street, but that does not mean that there is no merrit in the random person's opinion at all.

    This becomes even more true if several people mention the same thing. If one person finds a scene boring, then that's just one person's opinion. However, if 5 or 10 people who give you feedback say the same thing then that is a sign that you need to take another look at that scene. Automatically dismissing someones feedback just because he's not your editor is too elitist for me.
  6. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

    I based my trust on the that they gave me valuable crit (as in things that I could improve). I trust the forum of people. I usually let them know I'm thick-skinned. The truth is I don't have the time to spend on this forum like I wish I did. All I know is that the people here have always been good to me. I haven't gotten to a point in my own writing yet where I do one to one feedback.
  7. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

    Accepting any sort of feedback or criticism or comments about yourself or your work is a matter of trust. As others have said, you have to trust the person making the comments. The question is what it is that makes you trust the person. I trust my editor, partly because she's a professional and its her job to criticise and suggest changes to improve my work but most importantly because her suggestions are good and make a difference. But I also trust my beta readers who, without exception, are close friends with a wide variety of backgrounds and literary tastes. If what I write works for them (and they're not all fantasy fans) then it will work in the market and my editor can focus on editing for development/improvement and readability. I'm not really in a position to give criticism, simply because I'm so severely dyslexic - I can't read quickly enough and the reading softare I use tends to lose the subtleties and nuaces in the text.
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I said earlier that I wasn't sure. I'll elaborate on that.

    I'm not sure what "trust" means here. Browsing through the excellent comments above, I see different kinds of factors. And easy one is reliability. This is actually quite important. If I invest the time to read 20 pages (or 200!), and do so in a week, but the other person has had my manuscript for over a month, that's a problem. It undercuts my ability to move forward. So, both timeliness and a consistency in reponses across multiple manuscripts (iow, they are devoting roughly the same amount of time each time) are vital simply to establish a baseline.

    Then there are copyediting and proofreading criticisms. If they say I've an inconsistency somewhere, or an outright error, are they usually right? I don't want to have to winnow through the comments, throwing out useless or misinformed comments in hopes of gaining an insight or two. I suppose I might call this trust, but reliability feels closer to the mark to me.

    There's trust in believing the other person isn't going to steal your stuff. I think that really is outright trust, since there's no way to know in advance. It's not like you're going to ask for references. Although. In some online crit groups, the critiquers are themselves rated. For whatever that's worth.

    Another area of trust, and this may be all that was meant, is trusting that the critiquer isn't going to be abusive or caustic. This is often a concern to those who have never had their work critiqued. I'm a historian. I've had my writing critiqued from undergrad school on. For me, it's just normal dialog and I have to make a conscious effort to remember mine is not the common experience. How does one trust in this area? Toe-dipping. You hand your work to a group. If someone in there is caustic, you find a way to deal with that. Maybe throw away their comments without looking. Maybe find a different group. Or find a way to read those comments and take them for what they really are: of no use to you. This, I acknowledge, can be extremely difficult ground for some. But I'd recommend at least taking the chance. Your skin will not grow thicker by never venturing.

    Finally (?), coming to the substantive critiques such as plot, pacing, character, believability of the setting, theme, etc., we're in the trickiest ground. A reader that is just right for me might be useless or worse for you. People spend years finding the right editor/reader, and even once found there's no guarantee you'll keep them. This isn't a matter of trust or of reliability, but of suitability. If you manage to find someone who can not only correct but improve your writing, I recommend you lock them in your basement, feed them well, and tell no one else. <g>
  9. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

    I think this is a really important point. They say that the best way to really understand something is to teach it to others - so if you're deconstructing someone else's work you're more likely to bring that forensic lens and judgment to your own.

    It can get exhausting though. Especially when someone gets addicted to your input and keeps trying to suck more out of you. Important to set limits from the start.
  10. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    In light of Skip.knox's post above, I wanted to explain why I answered the way I did. There's an element to this question that I chose to answer, and I forgot to drive it home at the end of the post.....

    How can I trust in what you're saying?

    The answer: By communicating what it is I'm looking for you to say.

    "I'm looking for three things: First, concept, then flow, then whether the key moments deliver. Forget about things like show/tell, and adverbs, and those this little things they tell you not to do. I want to know if you find the concept compelling, if the language works, and if the important points are getting that compelling emotion across.... also, don't bother trying to justify your comments, just cut to the point and don't waste your time."

    By just saying that, straight up, from the get go, I'm setting expectations and boundaries. And if the other person can hit those expectations, then we're building trust.

    But it's important to note, maybe I only need feedback on a scene or chapter. Not every critique needs to be a lifelong partnership. I worked with an editor for a short story of about 1500 words, and my own writing improved tremendously from that. And a lot of times the feedback really comes down to the same thing happening over and over throughout your work. A few hundred words is enough to pick up on that, and once you see it you can fix the other instances of it yourself.

    Being an editor is a full time professional-level job. That's a lot to ask of a "crit partner" or "beta reader." Anything you can do to make the feedback more meaningful, and the process easier on them, the better.
  11. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Building trust in a crit partner is IMHO the same as building trust any relationship. There's give and take and there's the expectation that no one is perfect on either side of the equation, but there has to be honesty.

    There was a writing group I used to belong to. I would literally spend hours on each person's submission for the week. The time spent was my prerogative, and I understood when others couldn't dedicate as much time as I did. For the most part, everyone gave honest feedback that I found useful. I say for the most part because this one person, here's how they lost my respect and my trust.

    For a certain story, it went around the group with everyone giving their honest opinions and comments. When it came to this person, they took out the club and proceeded to beat down my story like they were beating a baby seal. It was fine. Not my first rodeo. But then right at the end, they mumbled something to the effect of, "But I'm not sure. I only skimmed it on the bus ride over." WTF. They weren't even trying to help me out. For whatever reason, they just wanted to take the opportunity to be an A-hole. From that moment forward, everything that came from them became worthless in my eyes. And I gave their stories the same amount of attention they gave mine.

    Trust, it's hard to gain, but easy to lose.

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