Twin Moment

Writers. Twins. Biologically unrelated. Laughing at
ourselves (and each other), listening to amazing
music, and living life epically. We present, our blog.
Prepare to be astounded.


I have something different for you all today. It's a lesson on honesty (one I've learned myself the hard way) from me to you. Take it however you want, and (hopefully) enjoy.

Beta reading. Line editing. Helping other writers with revisions. We've all done our fair share of reading someone else's work to help them along in their journey as a writer, right? Even if you haven't (yet!), this post still applies. 

When you're giving feedback on someone's novel, there is one, extremely important thing to keep in mind. This will benefit the writer you're assisting more than almost anything else, even though it might feel like that's not true.

You absolutely must be HONEST.

Look at the difference between these two responses to a chapter that's in rough shape (keeping in mind I am creating these examples right now, on the spot):

RESPONSE 1: Wow! I really like this chapter! It has a ton of potential. Awesome!!!  I can see how much time and thought you put into it. Way to go!

RESPONSE 2: Okay. Nice! This chapter has a lot of potential, and it's almost there. Here is what I suggest you think about as you revise...

Maybe that's a tiny bit of an exaggeration, but it happens! Especially depending on who's manuscript you're reading. Maybe you're afraid to criticize? Maybe they're new to the writing thing and you don't want to discourage them? Maybe you think nothing you have to say could help them?

That brings me to the second part of this post.

You must be TACTFUL.

Tactful honesty is a recipe for success. When approaching a situation where you'll be offering advice/critiques/etc. it's important to remember first off that whatever you say the author will ultimately decide to take or leave. But in order to do them a favor, you must be honest, in a tactful way. That's the very best gift you can give to them.

If you sugar-coat (I really, really liked this! It has some mistakes, but nothing you can't fix, really! I just love it. You're going to be published in no time!) you may feel like you're protecting the writer, thus helping them stay encouraged and charge forward in their writing career. But actually, you're only tying a weight to one of their ankles, slowing their progress, hindering them.

Where's the line between discouraging the writer and being honest to help them? It's very fine, but it's there. One way to be tactfully honest is to express your opinions as opinions. Ask questions, and leave things open for thought. By stirring the writer's creative juices, you're working against the discouragement factor, while working toward successful revisions and ultimately fixing the problems you see.

Look at the example below:

EXAMPLE 1: Okay. This chapter started well, but then went right downhill. You lost your pacing (and my interest) and it rambled on. I was just skimming by the end. This needs a LOT of work. It's doable, but it's a lot. You should fix A, B, C and D. Also, character B is totally unlikeable!

Before I give you Example 2, I'm going to pick out the problems with the above critique.

*It's too harsh. It's honesty without tact. It wasn't approached gently. You can be honest, and still gentle.
*The line about "needing a lot of work" (while true) is a check in the discouragement column. Know the writer!  Can they handle a comment like that? Not sure? Leave it out.
*The use of "you should" is teachy. It's imperative. Giving a writer an order about their own work is more likely to raise anger/resentment rather than consideration.
*Saying "character B is" is stating a fact. There's a big difference between "there is" and "I think" and how the writer takes each.

EXAMPLE 2: This chapter began with promise, but I felt it went downhill after that. I had some issues with the pacing; I felt like it was rambling, especially toward the end. Is there a way you could make A happen faster? I would do B and C to fix this. Also, I didn't like character B. I feel they came off like [words] and I had trouble sympathizing because of [words]...

And on it goes. See the difference? Words like "I felt" and "I suggest" make a world of difference. You are being honest about your reactions/feelings/opinions, but you're not preaching it at the writer. You're merely offering your advice, your two cents, your help. And if you come about it in a humble, tactful way, it will be endlessly more effective.

Ultimately, it's up to the writer what to take or leave. You can only do so much. But your (tactful) honesty is ultimately only going to help them along in their writer journey, whether they decide to miss out on that or not.

LESSON LEARNED: Don't be afraid to be honest!

To conclude this post, I'll leave you with some questions. Have you ever struggled with being honest? Have you ever been too rude/preachy? Have you had negative reactions from someone whose work you were critiquing? What lessons have you learned from your personal experience with helping other writers revise their work? 

Best Part of Today: Being with TARYN!!!
Currently Craving: SLEEP. A solid 10 hours. (Yes, I said 10!)
Music Pick: "Shooting Star" by Scarlet Division
I'm Reading: Why, nothing! (Or maybe I'm just procrastinating to begin my english lit required reading...)
WIP: Fire (11,261 words)

10 epic comments:

1.) This is why I have multiple CPs/beta readers. Since I know them already, I tend to know which ones are the first type (OMG AWESOME!! etc) and which are the more critical. I personally need both the unbridled enthusiasm/love and the honest critique so revisions aren't as painful for me.
2.) OMG HOW DID THE VISIT WITH TARYN GO? I hope you guys had lots and lots of fun.
3.) LOL I just finished my english lit reading this morning and felt accomplished. Now for Bio and Euro History...>_>


I really like this post. It's something I continually strive for--remaining honest and gentle in equal parts. (And encouraging! Can't forget encouraging--sometimes I leave that aspect out, because I think my enjoyment of the writing is assumed, even though it's not. Heh.) It's especially true when the person you're critting for is your sister. =D I joke a lot in critiquing, because I find humor works wonders to soften a blow. =)


@Lyla Yeah. Absolutely! :) and 2) It was AMAZING!!! :D We did have lots of fun. Taryn is 10x more amazing in RL. 3) Good for you!! Now it's my turn. *glum*

@Renee Thank you! :) Well, since Amanda generally speaks highly of her built-in-editor (hehehe) I think you're doing something right! Humor TOTALLY softens a blow. If you can laugh about it, you don't feel discouraged. ^^


Have I ever mentioned I think you're smart? Nay, brilliant, even. (That was nay in the English sense of the word. :P)
I shall store this away, and that is all I have to say on the subject.


I loff this post.


This is how she critiques. "YOU SUCK. I mean, sure, your pacing was okay, but this character? She's awful. And her relationship with him? Puh-lease. Could you make it any more confusing? Don't answer that."

*cries in corner*

JUST KIDDING. She's awesome. I'm off to revise Playing God :)


@Twin *hugs* You're too kind.

@Taryn Woohoo! I got a loff. And the only difference is that I had no time to word my critiques and edit them. You heard everything right as it came out of my mouth, totally unedited, with facial expressions and all. *HUGS* Go revise! It will soar once you do.


lol, I liked Taryn's representation of your critique style. XD

As for myself, I was brought up to word things in very diplomatic ways, with lots of 'I think,' 'maybe,' 'that's how I see it,' 'it appears,' 'it comes across to me like,' ect. So that's always been a part of my critiquing style. It's really best not to tell an author what to do--I personally find that presumptuous and overbearing. Like, here, I know better than you, so this is how you should do it. Ugh! That's the best way to make me ignore the advice, lol--I guess I have a little problem with authority. XD

Also, I avoid saying 'you' as much as possible. It helps the writer, no matter how sensitive they are, to disconnect the crit and their own writing from themselves, to allow them to see it more objectively. I've found they don't feel so much that it's an attack on themselves when they aren't personally mentioned. Going with that, I tend to talk about the writing as a separate entity, even when I'm complimenting--best to stay consistent, I think. For example, instead of 'when you said this--,' I'd say 'when I read this sentence--.' Make it about you, haha. It does seem kind of self-absorbed when you think about it that way, but it's a lot easier to take for the writer. =) (This I learned both in experience and psychology. ^_^)

And as for Renee', she can be too harsh, because sarcasm can come off as caustic rather than in good taste when you're not directly speaking to them/hearing the tone in which it's said. I always get over it, but it's something we both need to work on, as it makes the core message harder to swallow. I often have to push her to say that she likes something--I need more encouragement. *sobs dramatically* XD


Yikes, I forgot to include the rest of my montro-comment. She's usually good at using humor! The personal favorite is quotes, usually from Avatar: The Last Airbender or The Princess Bride. =D Like 'Hey stupid, did you mean ______?' That's a quote from a Jay Leno bit about Google's search engine on the Late Show. It comes in handy whenever I miss a word or use the wrong form. XD


@Amanda You're so smart! It's so true. If you keep them personally out of it, it's so much-- yeah. Wow. Brilliant! And effective. And I like how you just bluntly say "She can be too harsh." *smiles* Sorry, Renee! XD

Quotes make everything better, and totally soften a blow. That's how my sister and I soften blows; joking with our favorite quotes. It helps.


@Maggie -- It keeps her humble. XP (Pages needs a record-sound-bite option for the comments to convey tone. =D)


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