Stumbled across these words in a writing magazine: What you really need is kind yet constructive criticism. Nothing neoteric here; I’ve heard these words so many times I’d called them a cliché. They are, in fact, the mantra of all writing sites, emags and blogs.
Being a natural born rebel, I wonder about the value of this advice. Let’s analyze the sentence for validity.
What you (the wannabe writer) really need (require) is kind (sympathetic and warm) yet constructive (to improve or help) criticism (a harsh or critical judgment.)
1. Question: Do you require kindness? Answer: No. You want it. It’s nice, but you do not require it.
2. Questions: What is kind criticism? Does the phrase ‘kind criticism’ represent an oxymoron? Answer: Yes, this convoluted logic?
3. Question: When you were in school and earned yourself a D-, did the teacher put an apology beside your grade? Answer: Nope.
4. Question: Whoever heard of a kind critic, anyway? When a professional critic reviews a professional writer is kindness foremost on his mind? Answer: No. The critic is thinking about amusing his own readers.
So, if this is the model, why have we chosen to ignore it? Why, I ask, does the word ‘kind’ come before ‘constructive?’ We do not need kindness; we need help. But we have been so conditioned to expect our dessert first that we will not accept our vegetables without sugar on top. This whole idea is counterproductive.
I’ll take that to mean that we want our critic to expound upon their advice; we want to hear more than: You suck!
We want to be corrected, enlightened and assisted. (Okay, I’ll buy that for a dollar.)
Now, let’s rewrite the sentence: What you want is to have your ego massaged, while simultaneously receiving constructive advice. Meaning that you want a soft, sweet, smiling angel, with big doe eyes, a bunny nose and melodic voice, to float down to earth and teach you how to write. (Whahah, good luck on that one.)
Okay, so that’s from the wannabe writer’s point of view, but what is the critic’s point of view? Criticism, hopefully educated, is fairly easy, straightforward and often on the tip of the tongue. Lapping it over with a sweet coating of Nice-Nice is the tedious part.
Some people reading this will say: Umph, I don’t care what CM thinks; I want sugar with my medicine.
In this case, I might opine that you will never find the cure for your mistakes. Perhaps, a writing career is not the right choice for you. At some point all artists–be they in music, painting or writing–have to expose their work to UN-KIND criticism.
If you are really hungry to be a better writer, you will take your whippings and say: Thank you, may I have another please. Kindness? What’s that? Who needs it? I’m trying to write here.
If you don’t want to hear criticism now, then when? After publication? Horrors. Or, maybe, you were thinking that the whole world was going to fall down weeping over your glittering words. Well, what do I know, maybe, they will.
Final questions: Do these articles that encourage us to be kind have the seeds of failure by not allowing us to help each other in any meaningful way? Dose this make it too difficult for us to speak, lest we break protocol? Is it kindness to be silent? When professional writers collaborate, do they hesitate to correct each other?