Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Critiquer's Guilt

There's a tacit agreement between writers on various critique sites across the cyberland. The deal is - you do your bit, we'll do ours, i.e if you have something you want some help with, you should be helping out others with their stuff. It's not a tit-for-tat thing (or shouldn't be, at least). It just says that, to make the world a fairer and more just place, you should put in as much work helping others as you expect others to put into helping you.
It's not important who you actually help, as long as you're seen to pull your weight, in a pay-it-forward sort of way.
This is a great system, relying as it does on people's inherent altruism and faith in human nature, which is always going to work out for the best, after all.

A problem occurs on those sites where there's an element of competition, of course. What if you need the goodwill of others to push your work up the chart/ladder/pyramid of misery? But, they're all also trying to find their way up there. How does that work?
Is it actually a crit they're looking for, you find yourself thinking, or just a shove up, a nudge closer to the perceived prize?
Is it possible that, by trying to help and point out things you may think aren't working in their work, you could actually be seen as a saboteur? You'd think not, but ....

You said you quite liked it, but didn't give me 5 out of 5 in every category!

You mentioned problems I don't agree with, and only gave me 3s! Don't you know how this site works? By not giving me 5s in every category you've destroyed my chances of ever...

... ever what? Winning? Winning what, exactly?

There are other sites where numbers aren't involved, you just 'back' a writer, or you don't. Sorry, got that a bit wrong, there, you 'back' a book, not a writer.
Yeah, of course you do.

I imagine you're now expecting me to gibber on about how 'good' writing never rises to the top under such circumstances.
I wouldn't know 'good' writing if it slapped my syllables.

I just like the stuff I like, no intellectualism required.

For me, anyone who professes to be 'literary' is already so far up their own arse that I fully expect to see them peering at me from inside their own mouths, as they scream in outrage at a world that dares to ignore them.

Bugger, did I have a wee rant, there? Sorry.

The original point I so clearly failed to make was this: I cannot, for the life of me, be arsed doing any more critiques. I honestly can't, at least not for a while. And I feel bad about that.

There are sites where there is no competition, and the only goal is to help writers become better at their craft. These are places where you know anyone offering a crit is sincere and truthful, and has taken a lot of time and effort in order to help you out. There are many kind people who've held up their side of the bargain and critted my stuff, even when I'd forgotten I'd put it up there (which is no excuse). I know I owe them, or at least the sites, the same amount of effort.

And yet, I can't be arsed. I'm at a point, currently, where I don't want to read stuff and be critical, I just want to, well, read.
I want to read for fun, not for work. Is that bad? I don't know.

It shouldn't be, I don't think. Surely it's okay just to want to read, for reading's sake. Why on Earth should I feel guilty about that?

Must be the Catholic in me.


  1. couldn't agree more, Danny. My time on one of those sites made me so anxious about not reciprocating I had to pull my book and relax. Then I read in my own time and for my own pleasure and gave feedback that had no obligation attached to it. The other sites I'm on, well, I don't ask because I can't give at the moment. And really, I just want to get cosy and intimate with the books next to my bed - the ones I read for escape and pleasure and where I'm not looking for the comma in the wrong spot.

  2. That's it exactly, Phillipa. The pile of books on my bedside table is turning into a mountain of stuff I really want to read. So much so, in fact, that I'm actually feeling guilty about not working through that quickly enough, too!

  3. Fantastic post, Danny. I feel a lurching sense of dread every time I head to one site in particular because I know exactly what I'll find. "I read your book and really liked it. Now give me a 300-page critique of mine." I suffer from guilt beyond anything Catholically possible, and I can't bear to read that and not go and try and help the writer in question. And I come away feeling I should have done more.

    And it's got to the stage where I daren't tell someone I've read their book for pleasure in case they come and read mine in return, because they feel under pressure to do so. So I read, enjoy, and slip silently away into the night.

  4. Just lose the guilty, Danny. You've not been asking for that much to be critted anyway. Get on with writing your book, stop worrying about it, and enjoy reading what and when YOU want to read. I've suffered the same guilt, and it just ends up that you don't crit or read anything on the online sites in the end, because you just get too stressed trying to keep up and repay. Dip in only when you have the time and inclination to.

  5. Don't feel guilty - it's a waste of precious time. Trust your feelings - you want to read for pleasure - go for it. To improve as a writer you must read, read and read - not to critique but to absorb. Your mind will tell you if/when it's ready to do more reviews - for now it's had enough and it's telling you so.

  6. Danny, I know just how you feel and I think it's a natural reaction. I also want to read for pleasure only - but feel bad about doing so, which is crap.

    Then I had visitors staying with me and couldn't get on the site where I crit the most. The time away broke the habit of feeling obliged to crit every piece of work on there. Now I'm going to crit when I feel like it and when I can - not because I feel I have to.

    Don't crit for a while, take a complete break from it. I'd almost forgotten how to read for pleasure, but I'm rediscovering the knack.