Top 10 Pieces of Crit for Writers that Really Don't Help
Related to my last article, this is a list of specific types of criticism that I've received over time. While the people who doled them out had their hearts in the right place, the wording and the implications made me feel insecure about my style and there's no doubt this kind of advice can make other writers feel bad, too.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to help an aspiring writer, it can be appreciated. But as much as I hate the "all artists are oversensitive" stereotype, creators can be very protective of their work and badly-worded criticisms can easily turn them off to any advice or critique. Here's my top ten list of such phrases.
10) "Your book won't sell if you do that!"
Now, to be fair, this one can be a valid criticism for things like poor characterization, world building, plotting, etc. Some things can sink a story no matter what.
What I'm talking about is when someone says this to a writer for following their id, their personal tastes, writing what they know, etc. You don't personally know the book won't sell. You're not psychic, and you can't read the minds of every book fan in the world. There is always a market for something, so let the public decide if the book sells or not.
9) "You should change X thing because I don't like it."
This one really needs to go, because it comes from a place of bias rather than truth. You may not like Meet Cute or pop culture references or first person, but your feelings do not equal that of the general populace. Some people can't get enough of those things, and those who agree with you simply won't buy or read the book.
The same goes for tone, genre and mood. Just because you like things dark and angsty doesn't mean they have to be, and claiming only happy, wholesome relationships belong in fiction invalidates the feelings of people who enjoy twisted things. You may not relate to a main character, but other people might. And for every person who thinks wish fulfillment is stupid, there's another who can't get enough of it. No two readers think exactly alike, so your personal biases shouldn't dictate what an author chooses to write about.
8) "You owe it to yourself..."
This one perpetuates the idea that a writer must be flawless and do everything according to The Rules in order to feel good about their work. That's actually not true! Okay, so you want your manuscript to have perfect spelling and grammar and good formatting because those are important, and you'll want everything to hang together and flow well. But the only thing a writer "owes" themselves is the confidence to put their work out there. Confidence, not perfection.
This kind of thinking also perpetuates the "only the birds that sing the best should sing" myth, which is extremely harmful to the creative space as a whole. Expecting flawless perfection from books, art, crafts, music, etc. puts undue pressure on creators, which can lead to burnout and breakdowns. And telling a writer they owe it to themselves to be perfect makes it even worse. Just don't do it. Again: confidence, not perfection.
7) "You owe it to the readers..."
This one really cheeses me off because sadly, fanbases for books, TV, games and such are some of the most entitled groups out there. We all remember the horror stories from the Harry Potter and Avatar: The Last Airbender fandoms, after all. Fans want their way, and if they don't get it they can react very poorly.
Which is all the more reason for a writer to follow their heart, not cave in to what the fans want. There's a saying: You can please some of the people all of the time or all of the people some of the time. It's impossible for all fans to be happy all the time, and a writer can't live in fear of making the fans upset.
I'm not saying they have carte blanche to be rude, of course. That's never a good thing. But it's not "rude" for an author to simply tell their own story the way they want to. As a fan myself, I can vouch for the fact that it sucks when you don't get your way, but throwing fits and screaming at a creator isn't the way to go.
So telling an author they owe the readers just fosters that sense of entitlement. It's just not a good idea.
6) "You want..."
No. You may think you know what a writer wants, but you don't. You can't make those decisions for them, it's their work. Plus, it comes off as condescending even if you don't mean for it to be. Telling a person what they want implies they don't know their own mind or heart, and this is a surefire way to either make them insecure or to piss them off.
5) "Everyone hates/loves/wants..."
Again, no. This was brought up in #10, but it deserves its own entry. You don't speak for the reader base of the world. Reviews on Goodreads and Amazon aren't the gospel truth. One reader's trash is another one's treasure. You can't decide for other people what they want and don't want to read, that's not your job. Just because 50% of the reader base hates vampire romances doesn't mean all of them do, and not everyone who read the Hunger Games series ended up loving it.
4) "You should write about X thing instead, it's more popular than Y."
To be fair, writing is a business. Marketing and ratings do play a role, and appealing to popularity is a bonus. But it's not the be-all end-all of writing. In fact, writing just to be popular is one of the worst reasons to write in the first place. I've said this before, but most writers take up the craft because they love to write. They have a story they want to tell. Even authors who churn out trashy romance after trashy romance for Harlequin are writing from a genuine place, they wouldn't have taken up writing romances if they didn't love the genre.
3) "All of the most popular authors do it this way."
Yes, another one relating to following the crowd and popularity. Without meaning to, this one implies that an author's work isn't going to be worth much if they don't go with the crowd and copy other writers. A story written with rarely-used tropes and conventions can still be as well-received as a one stuffed with the usual tropes and archetypes.
2) "You can't do that, it's copying X work."
On the other side of the coin, there's nothing wrong with taking cues from other authors. A lot of aspiring writers have their inspirations, one important component to being a writer is being a reader. And inspiration =/= plagiarism. There are next to no purely original ideas in this world, everything's been done at least once and there's nothing wrong with doing it again as long as the writer puts their own spin on it and gives it their own personal touch.
(Plagiarism, on the other hand, is a bad idea. It may seem fun to do a Holden Caufield for a first-person autobiographically-based tale, but people will recognize the line and they'll likely not be impressed.)
1) "I care about your story and I want to make it better!"
I already covered this in another entry, but it needs to be reiterated: It's their story. Theirs. They are not required to take your advice and do what you say just because you think you know what's best. Unless you're a professional editor, in which case they'll likely have asked you up front to help them make their story better.