Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.
Better to be silent and thought a fool then to speak and remove all doubt.
In the multitude of words, sin is not lacking.
I haven’t blogged since last week because not only did I find myself a bit worn out by the writing of my own posts and following everyone else’s excellent commentaries, but also because … I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to share. Then, too, over the past few days when I do engage in various conversations, I find myself putting my foot in my mouth—and swallowing.
I feel the constant tension between being a writer, whose occupation is to heap together words in the hopes of communicating something meaningful, and a Christian who should be “swift to hear, slow to speak.”
The subject I find tripping me up now is, oddly enough after the Christian Fandom tour, reviewing and critiquing. I expended my best efforts recently on the critique of a first chapter for someone I’ve never critted before, and he reciprocated on the first part (about 5 chapters) of my own work. The result was … a near disaster, and a great shock on both our parts, I’m guessing. We wound up declining most of the suggestions the other offered because, frankly, neither of us seemed to understand the other’s vision or “voice” for our respective stories. This made me very sad, because not only did I try hard to give an honest but fair critique—and I like to think I’m rather decent at this, after three years of intensive study of the writing craft, and as much time in various critique groups, one of those with a published author who seems grateful for my pickiness—but I suspect that I lacked humility not only in the delivery of my critique, but in receiving his as well.
I take that back. I don’t just suspect. I know.
Then comes a discussion in one of my writers’ groups about doing reviews. Now, this is something I learned pretty much on my own with coaching by a couple of more experienced reviewers, but I was curious to see what would be said. But suddenly I find myself at odds with an attitude that seems to permeate much of CBA—that we must only review positively, or if we can’t write positively, then don’t review at all, because we don’t want to wound a fellow believer, and we certainly don’t want to commit professional suicide if we’re aspiring authors ourselves.
I’m not talking about being harsh for the sake of harshness—New York styled snarkiness—but the freedom to point out less than stellar writing (such as glaring implausibility in a plot or characterization), or flagging elements that might seriously turn off a segment of my review audience. Don’t readers deserve the honesty? Won’t they come to suspect my ability to judge between mediocre and good if I only write the positive?
And I’m aghast at the idea that a “negative” review might shut doors to me as a Christian writer. Do CBA editors really lack the maturity to see any difference between a calm assessment of the flaws in someone’s work, and ripping it apart just for the fun of it?
But once again I digress. In the middle of all this, and other discussions I’ve recently taken part in, I’m feeling that I would have done better to back away and let others speak. Stop rocking the boat. Stop pontificating. Stop pretending that I know anything, really, about the way the universe works, because there’s only One who sees the whole picture and knows the truth about any given situation.
And yet … we are told to share with others what bits of truth He reveals to us, and words are still the medium of that communication.
May He give me the grace to know when to keep my mouth shut—and then put His hand over my lips when I try to ignore Him. 🙂
I love the tone of this (and agree that most of the time, it’s just better to zip it). If only my toddler would see the wisdom of that. Sigh.
I would hope that He would also prompt you to speak when you should. Because a lot of the time I think it’s worth hearing! 🙂
Rebecca LuElla Miller says
Shannon, I agree with Elliot. I’ve said from time to time over at FIF that I learn so much from discussions with people who have a different view than I do. It stretches me, makes me think. What would I learn if people only said, “Yes, more, we think you’re brilliant”? Hahah–as if! But, what if? Would I ever re-evaluate a viewpoint or opinion? Delve deeper?
And you, my friend, have much to offer with your thoughts and clear, gentle opinions.
Now as to critiques … wow! I guess we have to live with the fact that not every person will look at writing the same way.
Reviews? I can only hope that as long as the strengths get as much or more attention, a little time at least can be spent on weaknesses. Otherwise, you are absolutely right–how else will readers be able to trust your recommendations?
And professional suicide for doing a review? Maybe they were thinking of the networking end of things with an author who might be unhappy with a bad review. I donno. I can’t imagine that editors are particularly aware of such things. PR people maybe.
Well, sister, I always, always, always warn people that when I go into critiquing mode, I totally leave tact and soft-pedaling behind. I go into full-out, “This doesn’t work cause” mode.
I figure that’s what they’re asking for. If not, I’m the wrong person.
I don’t need someone to praise my stuff. If it’s good, someone in a position to buy it will praise it. I need someone to tell me honestly if it stinks and where and why.
Now, we may talk it over and see what we didn’t “get”, but in general, I say, “Here it is. Take what you want. Ignore the rest.”
I’ve made changes to my stuff from what I get from constest feedback and the very, very few people I allow to see my stuff. (I, frankly, don’t want many counselors. Just one or two or a few good men or women.) I assume that I’m too close to what I write, and a fresh adn objective eye will do me good. I never think my stuff is so great that I can’t change it. Nothing I write is in stone, after all. 🙂
I don’t do a lot of critiques. The editing stuff I do for specific people and for DKA pretty much maxes me out, cause I expend a lot of energy critiquing, and I have little energy to start with for that. Mentally, it is draining.
But I’ve had folks go on to get a sale or publish a work or win or place in a contest after they made changes I suggested, so I figure that, even if I stink ultimately as a writer, my Edgar-award winning college writing professor wasn’t blowing smoke when she said I was a very good editor. 🙂 Although, unlike Chip McG., I never did have the nerve to tell that gal who wrote the absolutely worst, most inept, least grammatical, most boring and cliched and trite first chapter I ever read in my life that she should immediately burn the entire manuscript. God helped me get through that one with more tact than I am normally capable of emanating.
I do want to be a better writer, though. :-/ So, I will keep bothering the occasional person for a critique.
All that to say that you should not be discouraged cause you were mismatched for whatever reason with someone. It happens.
Shannon McNear says
Thank you all for your encouragement!
And Mir-dear, I think it’s just as valuable for a writer to hear from her critiquers what works–what they like–as it is to hear what doesn’t work. One doesn’t have to be all sappy and gushy to give that sort of feedback, y’know … just bits here and there. And it’s proven that people have an easier time accepting a rough crit if the hard stuff is sandwiched between encouraging things. 🙂 “A soft tongue breaks the bone” and all that.
Thanks again, y’all, for helping me to feel that there might be value in my natterings.
Jim Black says
Shannon, I think you do need to honestly critique and review. As long as you are doing it with a spirit of love. From what I have read on your blog, I think you are on the right track.