There’s a Reason You Failed

Tonight is the premier of America’s Got Talent an there’s quite a lot of buzz because Howard Stern is the newest judge. As a fan of his, I’m looking forward to watching the show. That’s saying something because, aside from half of American Idol’s first season, I’ve never watched any of these type of shows. But I like Howard’s opinions and want to see how he does. He’s been asked a lot about what his approach to judging will be and his answer is very simple:


Unlike me, Howard is a big fan of all the singing/talent competition shows and his main gripe is that the judges don’t have a strong enough opinions. He went on to say that when he gives constructive criticism, even if it’s negative, he’s doing that person a favor. He’s telling that person there’s a reason you failed.

If someone asks for honest critique, then we owe that person our honesty.

When I gave my first chapter to Kait and Susan, I did it with the expectation of getting back honesty. They delivered. The chapter failed. They weren’t mean about it, but they made sure their point came through loud and clear. The whole thing failed. And they took it a step further, suggesting my need for further writerly training. They gave me a lot of reasons for their opinions and when I thought about it, I realized they were right. Since then, my writing’s improved and it’s all because of their honesty.

This arrangement goes both ways. I had to be open to the critique I got.

If I had let my emotions cloud my judgement or turned my nose up at their experience I was only shooting myself in the foot. Not to mention, wasting their time.

So, if someone asks for your honest opinion, give it. You’re not doing him any favors by stroking his ego. How will you know if the person truly wants honesty? Warn him ahead of time. Tell him you’re not going to say you like something if you really don’t and if that will be okay.

If you ask for critique, make sure you really want it. No one can write a perfect story on their own. Even if you’re the main architect, going pro is a collaborative effort and if someone’s willing to help you, especially for free, don’t waste that person’s time being a crybaby. Take the criticism for what it is; a chance to be BETTER.

Any thoughts on getting or receiving crit?

7 comments on “There’s a Reason You Failed

  1. Yes, I do. It was really hard to hear it for the first ten chapters or so of my novel, but man, it sure did make me a better fiction writer! As long as criticism is given with love, I am so very grateful for it, and it helps that I know I am a really good writer. We all gotta believe that, you know? Good post–I enjoyed it! And good luck, my friend.

  2. Tips for receiving: Don’t take it personally (and don’t return critique in anger). Really think it through, and see if you can find their point. Don’t skim through the other person’s book just so you can say, Aha! On Page 57, paragraph 3, *you* use passive voice. It’s much easier to spot problems in other people’s work, and nobody gets everything right all of the time. And there’s that whole thing about rules being made to be broken, but you have to know the rules before you break them.

    Tips for giving: Make sure they’re ready to hear it, but remember that how you say it has an impact on how they hear it. Honesty isn’t an excuse to be cruel, and remember that pointing out what works and what they’re done right can be helpful, too. Oh, and don’t try to force your style/preferences on another writer. Helping doesn’t mean making a mini-you.

  3. Oh, it’s SO hard to give honest criticism. Right now I’m in a dilemma because someone gave good reviews on several of my books, and I know they expect a review in return. And I’m not sure how to go about telling them what’s wrong with their book. 😦 I would never say all the things in a review that I need to say to them personally..but I don’t know how to say it.

  4. People can’t grow if someone isn’t honest with them, so I think it really comes down to whether someone is ready to/wants to grow. If someone can’t take honest feedback (that isn’t always glowing) they may not be at the right place in their life to grow. (Some people never are, since they already think they’ve arrived at greatness and just need to be discovered.)

    I do think that those giving critique have to walk the line between being helpful and tearing down. I’ve seen some people tear someone’s work apart, with no constructive points, adding “I’m just being honest” as if that should make everything they said and how they said it acceptable. I’ve also seen people deliver their opinion as fact, which can also make the criticism hard to take.

    I think it’s important that when you ask for critique, you prepare for the worst and remind yourself that no matter how it is delivered, you’ll examine your work honestly for the issues the reviewer offered.

    And if you are asked for critique, I think it’s good to deliver it in stages and if possible, be sure to commend the good along with pointing out where someone needs work.

    AND if you aren’t asked for critique, don’t be too quick to give it. 🙂

  5. @Running- That’s what makes it worth getting the crit. When you look at your new work compared to what you’ve done and you can SEE the improvement. It’s awesome.

    @Claire- Great points, Claire. Especially for giving. Every person will be naturally good at something and letting them know that is just as important as pointing out where they need to improve.

    @LL- That’s a tough spot to be in. I suppose the first thing would be to find out if this person wants a critique. If so, make sure to point out what you thought worked, first, before getting to what needs improvement.

    I think it’s also unfair to be put in a position where you feel you HAVE to write a review. You might be able to get away with saying the book wasn’t really your thing. Hopefully this person won’t take your opinion personally.

    @Amber- Yes on everything. Excellent point about giving crit only when it’s asked for. It should never be forced.

  6. Andrew, a funny thing happened. The author I was talking about read this comment and realized it was about him. He emailed me and now everything is fine. I have to say, the way he handled it showed what a classy guy he is. And I think it made our friendship stronger. And it’s helped me get over some of my fear of giving constructive criticism. So look what good you did by writing this!

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