Hey there! Long time no talk! Yeah, I’ve been shitbagging around when it comes to blogging. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say; I just never go around to blogging about it. The summer’s been more hectic than what I anticipated, but now that it’s winding down things should be getting back to something close to resembling normal.
Right now I want to talk about critiquing and mentoring and why the two aren’t the same things. Where is this coming from? Mostly from Wattpad, which I have a ton of issues with but for the sake of this post I’ll try to keep it strictly to critiquing for now. Maybe I’ll delve into my other issues a little later.
What is a critique? A critique is someone giving you advice on the thing that it is you’re doing. For this posts’s sake I’ll be referring to writing. There are a bunch of different types of critiques that one can give and receive, like grammatical, line edits, plotting, pacing, structure, character development, content in general. Calling something editing is taking it to a whole other level that usually has some professional aspect to it with the person providing the editing have some background in it and usually charging some kind of fee. Critiques, at least in my experience, especially as they pertain to sites like Critique Circle, are traded. You usually have critique partners, optimal word is partner. More on that in a minute.
This is not to be confused with a review. A review of your writing is done by a reader (or professional reviewer) giving their brief opinion on their overall impression of your writing. By the time you’re getting reviews you should not be using them for editing purposes as it pertains to the book being reviewed. Way too late for that.
Mentoring is an experienced individual taking a novice under their wing and investing time to cultivate their talent and their skills. A lot of times this will be a professor/student relationship (probably the most natural) or, if you’re lucky, an author willing to take that kind of time to pass on their wisdom. This type of situation is imbalanced where one person carries the bulk of the knowledge while the novice is open and receptive to learning what the other has to offer.
And we’re back to critiques, mainly critique partners. There’s that word again: partner. Equals. On the same level. I can’t be a critique partner with someone who’s at an earlier stage in their writing than I am because we’re not going to get the same thing out of the relationship. I’m going to get very little but I’m going to end up expending a significant amount more helping the other person with their craft. This is where mentors come in. Say if English isn’t your first language and you want to write in English, you really need to find a bilingual mentor that’ll work with you and teach you English grammar and nuance and help you maneuver a very difficult language. When I’m looking for a critique partner I need someone that’s working within the same general sphere as me when it comes to writing. They need to be grammatically proficient (I won’t test them on it because shit, I don’t know that shit myself, I just recognize bad grammar when I see it), have decent plotting, be self-aware with large chunks of their writing flaws, and be receptive to constructive criticism.
I’m really not asking a lot. I’m just asking that people don’t expect me to take the time to mentor those who know less than me. Look. I’m not saying I’m the best at this, but I have been at it for a while and I know I don’t suck at writing. It’s what I went to school for. I have edited before. I have my name in commercially published books for it. I know what I’m doing about 75% of the time and that’s being conservative. I learned a long time ago that I need to be heinously self-aware about my writing short-comings. Most of the time I am. Not all of the time, but most. I’m willing to take a beating because it’s what will make my writing stronger. I’m willing to learn from people who have something to offer me. I’m also willing to help those who are open to it.
So when I’m participating in a critique event on Wattpad where two out of three partners I’ve had are ESL it’s very frustrating for me because that’s not what I signed on to do. It has nothing to do with the individuals. Kudos to them for learning to write in a non-dominant language. It’s a hell of a lot more than what I can do. But I’m not obligated to coach then through the intricacies of English. And as a result I’m getting subpar feedback on my own writing so it can be really defeating and really exhausting. I’m putting in a lot of effort to try and work around grammar because that’s a whole different bag of worms and trying to give solid advice that could benefit them and I’m getting nothing in return.
I’ve gotten a lot of praise, which feels awesome. Let’s me know I’m doing something right. But it’s not a critique, because I know I still have room for improvement. And the critiques I do get are just bad. When someone comes into my work where I know I don’t have a tense issue and tries to insert a tense issue that they don’t know is a tense issue because they picked up some weird, and wrong, idea of how to write and are at the same time not understanding the different between a character’s point of view and a narrator. It’s not often that one in a specific area of expertise learns something from someone who knows less than them in that same area. That’s not to say new ideas can’t be had or different approaches or whathaveyou. But the chances of me learning about the craft of writing from people who know significantly less about it than I do are slim to none.
And on a place like Wattpad it’s effectively screaming into the void trying to instill good writing on people. So much misinformation gets spread around that site that I can’t help but balk. Not to mention people actually selling critiques, which is a horrifying concept for me. A lot of the times it’s the blind leading the blind. People say they want to improve and I genuinely think they do, but they don’t know what they don’t know. Why aren’t they going to equate popularity to good writing? I mean how else is someone going to make the hot list? This is where I eyeroll. It’s this incestuous pit of bad information and I’m standing on the outside going
Because a lot of these new writers see Wattpad as a source for writing information and help, which it’s not. It’s a more interactive ff.net. A lot of these people have never heard of Absolute Write or Preditors and Editors or Critique Circle and in my experience they don’t want to hear about it. They want to write like that popular person on the hot list so they can get votes and comments and whatever.
Sometimes I do get feedback. Most of the time I get shitty feedback that a person expects me to implement because it’ll make my work better. I’m wondering how much I can insulate myself on Wattpad before I give up on it entirely. Because it’s really not working out for me. I’m not interested in mentoring people who say they want to learn but have explanations for every critique they receive, thus wasting my time (this is one of my biggest pet peeves about critiquing, you ask for my help, explain away all of my advice, implement none of it, and then ask for my help again, why?). And the number of people I would consider viable critique partners number in the single digits, if that.
It makes me sad because I really hope these new writers eventually find the real help they need in order to better themselves. Wattpad doesn’t appear to be interested in policing content at all. They’re not setting themselves up to be a site for writing advice. They’re content driven in regard to stories. But when they allow “magazines” to pop up with the Wattpad name on it, on the surface appearing to be endorsed by the site, and inside people are dispensing with just outright wrong writing advice, that sends a message. And not a good one.
I keep trying but I feel like I’m working against the tide. People need mentors. I am not one of them. I just don’t have the time right now. People need critique partners. Not many of value are found on that orange site. I have gotten some good out of Wattpad in the sense of self-discovery and socializing, but that’s about it. I just hope that people eventually learn the difference and grow to be aware of what they need to develop themselves.
*looks up* I stayed mostly on task, right?