Stop Sounding Like a Jerk! Compliment a Writer with Class
What I hated about workshopping my stories during my undergrad days were the critics. I’m not a baby. I can take criticism any day of the week. I take it everyday at work whenever I write marketing content.
What drove me crazy was how my critics delivered their criticism. They were so engrossed in their own opinion that they often forgot they were talking about my work in the first place.
Even the compliments were more about them than my work.
Are you making this mistake? Writers are more likely to share their work again with you if you follow these rules when complimenting and criticizing them.
Take Out “I Like” From Your Vocab
The writer doesn’t care if you liked their characters or what their characters said or how they described the setting. You can like a character all day long, but does the character contribute to the story? Writers want to know if the story is working and they are most pleased when you compliment what is working in the story.
Instead of: I like how Nancy is so quirky.
Try this: Nancy’s quirkiness really draws out Chad’s insecurities.
Don’t say something’s great when it isn’t. Don’t try to find a small gem in the work when there’s a glaring error that needs to be addressed. Writers can see through your insincerity and won’t want to share their work with you again. If you don’t have a compliment, then don’t give one. Sometimes talking through an error is a compliment in disguise.
Focus on the Work, Not You
Don’t find a way to tie it back to your favorite writers or even your writing. Strike out every “I” you want to say in your statements. That includes “I think” and “I enjoyed.” Once again, the writer wants insight on the story development. An easy way to remember this is speaking in third person, because you’re really not going to talk about yourself in the third person, right?
Point Out the Details
When complimenting the writer, show that you were paying attention to the story by talking about specific details. Writers love that! Even retelling parts of the story shows the writer that your focus was on their writing while you read it. That’s flattery not taken lightly.
Don’t think I’m complaining. I appreciate all insight in my work, even the bad and ugly. But false positive compliments can be destructive to the story. The writer asks for your opinion because they trust it, and that’s a compliment in itself to you.
Definitely agree about giving honest criticism and pointing out details — when I get a critique back that basically says “It was great! Loved it!”, I have to carefully reign in my annoyance before replying, “Yes, but there has to be *something* to improve”.
I’m not so sure I agree with you about avoiding saying things like “I like”, “I enjoyed”, etc. I write to entertain, and that means the reader has to like what I write. And while I can try to infer whether or not they enjoyed something from the kind of criticism they give me, I’d much rather they just come out and say it. “I liked this character.” “I didn’t like this scene.” Obviously you can’t just say “I like it” and leave it at that — actual commentary has to follow. But I don’t think cutting out “I …” phrases is the way to go. Just my opinion 🙂
As the writer, one has to be careful not to chase unicorns and attempt to please every critic, either. Readers don’t all like the same things.
Excellent advice. Especially the part about dropping “I” from the conversation, instead focusing on the goal not the person.
[…] Solution: Compliment (or insult) a writer effectively so that the writer makes the editing choices. Ask questions like “why is it important for […]