Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Truth and Encouragement

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner posted a blog today on the topic of encouragement. The idea stemmed from her belief that realism makes for the best type of courage-inspiring support. She said, “I think hearing the difficult truth CAN be encouraging, because it forces you to make an internal decision: Am I up for this, or not? How much am I willing to give this? How badly do I want it?”

I do agree with her, but have found that praise on top of truth strengthens the intent to help. When going over another writer’s work, tempering a harsh critique with a positive comment goes further than just the negative alone. Just my opinion. Maybe Rachelle’s point is you shouldn’t seek it from your agent or editor.

But what about at your critique group?

As a member of two amazing and completely different critique groups, I’ve witnessed feedback as either bitter reality or sugar-coated half-truth. Do they have to be mutually exclusive? Each can be beneficial for various reasons, but isn’t the purpose of attending to get better at writing? Hearing what you’ve done well can be a wonderful motivator, however, delusion doesn’t help anyone. So, where’s the balance?

I would rather err on the side of being too honest than not. Of course, I always slip in an upbeat observation, but the heart of my critique is raw truth. My hope lives in the expectation that the other members of the group don’t hold back. Thick skin is a requirement in the quest for publication. Perhaps sensitivity bleeds through surface cuts, but positive reinforcement from colleagues can act as a bandage along with increased learning. Armed with feedback and determination, a writer fights to get noticed.

What do you think? Do you find criticism alone encouraging?


  1. If the criticism is flavored with praise (e.g. "I liked this, but this other part needs work") then I find it encouraging.

    If it is pure criticism, only telling me what I did wrong, then I get depressed. But once I get over that and fix the problem - resulting in a product better than the one critiqued - then I am encouraged.

  2. I agree with the above commentator. Begin and end with praise. There's got to be something good there. Spelling most words correctly counts ;)

  3. I prefer honest upbeat critiques. If someone is just pointing out "errors" (complaining) about my work without providing useful examples of how to improve my work then I'd do two things; file their comments in the round file then suggest they join Toastmasters so they can articulate a coherent response.