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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Please Read Here First » you are supposed to be critiquing not rewriting

   
Author Topic: you are supposed to be critiquing not rewriting
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I've noticed a little rewriting of others' work in the feedback sections of this forum, and I would like to remind people that the only time it's okay to rewrite anything someone else has written is when they give you permission to do it beforehand.

They can give you that permission directly, or they can tell you that they aren't clear on what you are suggesting in your feedback, in response to which you can show them by example.

But when you rewrite someone else's work without their permission, you are taking their 13 lines and making it yours.

If you really feel that you need to show what you mean in your feedback, please make up your own example. Don't rewrite what someone else has written.

Thank you.


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Wordcaster
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KDW: I like your feedback. It would be frustrating to read a critique and see the best edit (that perhaps the author may have thought of himself) already typed by another person.

(And really, I just wanted to bump this back to the top).


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BenM
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Needs a thumbs-up button.
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History
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I guess I am odd writer out--or merely showing my naivete as a tyro writer.

I prefer critiques with suggested edits--and tend to provide these as well.
It takes more time, and goes beyond mere like and dislike, and comments of "Nice" or "Didn't work for me."

A critique of "Need a better word" is improved by suggestions of better words.
Similarly a comment of "Awkward sentence" is improved by suggestions in sentence structure.

I recognize (and appreciate) this takes more time.
And something I think defines more a "workshop" than a mere writers' group.
The caveat is, as always, suggestions are just suggestions and offered freely and in mere expression of camaraderie.

So, if anyone wishes to provide such suggestions to any 13 lines I post, or to any of my stories they offer to read, feel free. And thank you.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob


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NoTimeToThink
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Oops! Guilty as charged! Didn't realize I was tromping all over critetiquette.
To me it is easier to provide a concrete edit rather than an abstract critique. Maybe I would feel differently if I was a better student & knew the lingo.
I will try to do better in the future...

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hteadx
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Another offender here. Will keep in mind in the future.
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Wordcaster
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@History,

I think suggesting better word choices is well within good critiquing -- the issue seems to be more of when large blocks of text are rewritten in such a way that it replaces the author's voice and grammar with the critiquer's.

KDW used the term, "rewrite," which to me indicates the reading of the intent of a phrase/sentence/paragraph and replacing the author's words with one's own as a suggested improvement.

Your mention of rewriting an "awkward sentence" is where we probably tread on territory that some may appreciate and for others, too far.


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NoTimeToThink
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hmmm - lots of times I just take the author's sentences and change the order they're in. Will that get me a lesser sentence? :-)
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Osiris
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Is suggesting how a sentence can be written more efficiently considered rewriting? I tend to do that a lot, for example when trying to replace 'verb-adverb' constructs with a single verb. I never thought of it as replacing someones voice, but more as helping them make their voice 'louder', so to speak.
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telflonmail
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Sometimes the best way is to learn by example. The real issue I have with examples: Is the example writing worse than the original sample?

You are suggesting that it's replacing the voice. But, what if the voice is unsuitable (in the eyes of us critters) and needs replacement in order to be considered good form or ready for market (and not become fubar). The author must make up their own mind if they want to use the suggestions.

KDW, I understand your reasoning. There is a train of thought in some workshops to only nudge the writer in the "subjective" right direction. The ultimate goal of the critiquer is to discern the ideal form, help the author see it, suggest how to achieve it. Sometimes, the only way is by example. Now, should the example be a rewrite with the original setting and characters or with metasyntactic replacements?

For me, the most important part of a critique is to develop critical skills that can be applied to my own work.


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Pyre Dynasty
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An important thing to remember is that most editors won't rewrite for you. (And by 'most' I mean good.) They will point to the problems and then tell you to fix it. (Or perhaps justify to them why you don't think it's broken.)

I don't mind if it's a few words in a sentence, or a suggestion for a better word. But I agree, large rewrites don't do much for me. I mean, what if what the other person writes is just perfect? Can I really put whole sentences written by another writer and call them mine?

If the voice is unsuitable and needs replacement then anything the writer does will be such and that one passage that you 'fix' for them isn't going to really help them in the long run. You are better off teaching them principles. How are the kids supposed to pass the test if you do their homework for them?


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walexander
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I think a good example is how teachers often do it.

When grading papers they often point out punctuation, grammar, pov mistakes. Along with notes on where the story bogs down, makes no sense, or seems incomplete. It's then up to the student to come back to the teacher and ask I don't get what you meant here could you give me an example.

I strongly believe that most here have already given an implied - please give me an example - and that is why most take license to proceed.

But to be clear I guess when listing your thirteen or submitting a story, each writer can state how much of a critique they want.

Since I'm still in the heavy learning phase - even after a year of pounding away at this - I still welcome rewritten examples to see what others are driving toward, just as long as critiquers understand they shouldn't expect to be excepting awards with me if something does well, but will probably receive a very noted thank you- as many teachers do who help push a writer toward that final goal.

I can understand where there could be a stepping on toes - but here - most everyone is highly professional in their attempt to critique, and should know this basic rule: If you offer some advice and its excepted - that part - that piece - is no longer yours - you have freely offered to help teach someone something. They can freely except or decline it, but that's as far as goes, even if your rewrite turns it into a masterpiece - a teacher cannot take credit for the students work, I'm sorry, and critiquer's should know this, your helping the person to attain their goal, not co-authoring.

Just my 2cents,

W.


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MattLeo
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Hi folks, I've been very busy with revisions over the last couple of months so I haven't had much time to drop in. When I did this topic caught my eye.

Kathleen puts her finger on one of the toughest issues in critiquing, which is being *specific* enough to be helpful without being overbearing. I think that at some point you *do* become so specific that you might as well present a rewriting rather than beat around the bush and pretend you're not. I think it's best to acknowledge what you are doing, and invite the author to take it, leave it, or best of all use it as a departure point.

Recently, a friend of mine sent me an early draft for a book Tor is publishing next year. She wanted a read on plot logic, particularly on a mystery subplot which she wasn't quite sure about. I laid out what I thought were the holes in the plot, and spun out a number of detailed scenarios which in effect rewrote her plot. She in turn took the points I was illustrating and surprised me with her own working out of the same problems.

The joy of critique is not imposing your own solutions on authors; it is evoking an unexpected creative response.

If I am giving a critique, I want to err on the side of useful, and that means when in doubt, I'm specific. If a sentence runs on or has a dangling modifier, I rewrite the sentence. Within the strictures of the 13 line opening exercise, that can be darn close to rewriting the whole thing. I try to make clear when I offer an illustration of a point that I'm not saying how to do it, but trying to provoke a creative response. Some writers still find it too much, but I think it is better to risk that than to give useless feedback.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Response to a couple of questions asked above:

Suggesting a reordering of sentences and/or paragraphs can be done without rewriting the text of the 13 line post.

Suggesting a stronger verb instead of a weak verb plus adverb can be done without rewriting the sentence. Even if all you say is "pick a stronger verb" and the author asks for examples, it isn't necessary to rewrite the sentence.

I'm just asking that you consider whether or not there is a more constructive (as in rewriting being destructive--which it may not be, but work with me here, okay?) way to convey feedback and make suggestions that rewriting someone else's work.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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OSC has pointed out that you don't have to do what an editor suggests in order to fix a problem an editor has with your story, as long as you figure out why the editor has the problem. Once you know that, it may require your changing something else entirely--the editor's suggestion may not be the best way for you to improve your story YOUR WAY.

This is true for what critiquers say as well, and critiquer rewrites can make it harder for the author to consider other fixes that may be better for the story and for the author.


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BenM
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I would like to chime in with maybe another perspective on this issue.

Years ago, I had two maths professors. One taught by first principles: Here's why calculus was invented, here's the problem it solves and how it works, here's how you can derive it from what you already know, and here's how you can practice it. The other taught by example: Watch me do some matrix math on the blackboard, there's the examples from your textbook, now get to it. The end result? Well, I passed both classes, yet... I still remember how to do calculus but have to go to a reference book to do matrices.

None-to-Very few of us are multiply published, qualified creative writing teachers. We're learning the craft just as much as the person we're critiquing, and a big part of that craft is clear communication.

So, when I critique, I try to get something out of it. An opportunity to practice clear expression of an idea: Why doesn't this fragment work for me as a reader? If I can just answer that question, I am:
- reinforcing my aversion to and understanding of that particular issue.
- reinforcing the author's awareness of the issue.
- forcing them to understand the issue (by coming up with their own solution) and, in so doing,
- giving them the opportunity to make the solution uniquely theirs - and so help them find their own voice.

(If a critique of one of my stories includes an 'example' I'm not going to be offended by it - but I will ignore it. I want readers to critique, not writers: Which is why it's always more helpful to me if they can show me their reaction to my work than tell me what to do with it.)

a random 2c


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InarticulateBabbler
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I used to be guilty of this. I tended to do more of a line edit, but DID suggest changes--or rewrite by example--when I was learning. I had no clue how to look at things on a more distant level.

I ended up starting more fights or having my intentions misunderstood. Now, I try to do what Kathleen suggests here: If I have a problem, I mention it. If there is missed oppurtunities for some detail or other, I mention it is my opinion they could be there; if there is an overabundance of adverbs, to the point of distraction or bogging the prose down (for me...always for me), I mention it and hint at using a stronger verb. Kathleen's suggestions are not only valid, they are golden--in this way we truly learn our own flaws and what could make them better.


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MattLeo
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Kathleen makes an important point about receiving criticism. It's important not to take criticism at face value, either to follow it slavishly or to stubbornly ignore it because it's contrary to your vision.

On the other end of the stick, I do think rewriting is valuable to a critic, even if he does not share his version with the author.As a critic it is your responsibility to give feedback that the author can actually act upon. Too often criticism is so vague or unrealistic it is useless.

I assume that an author submits a MS for critique with two purposes: for encouragement and for improvement. I try my best to do both, so I never submit a critique without both praise and criticism. But when in doubt, I favor criticism, because in the long run improvement is the most rewarding result for the author.

That's not license to be rude or arrogant of course.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Thanks, MattLeo, for the point about rewriting being useful to critiquers.

So from that I say, if you really feel a need to rewrite someone's work in the process of your critiquing it, go ahead and rewrite it.

Then, look at what you did and take the suggestions from your rewrite and share the suggestions with the author, instead of the rewrite. That rewrite can be part of your personal lesson from giving the critique (remember, we're supposed to be learning by critiquing here, as well as helping each other).

The author doesn't need your rewrite as much as you may. Let the author come up with his or her own rewrite, based on how your suggestions trigger fixes in the author's mind.


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axeminister
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I try to follow the rule: Don't rewrite more than one sentence.
I like to think this is the Golden Rule, as this is what I'd want someone to do for me. One sentence doesn't offend me, but an entire passage does.

I still need help with passive vs active. I still fail often. Now, I may be at a level where if someone simply wrote. (Passive) in the margin, I'd be able to fix it. Knowing is half the battle. However, earlier on, if someone wrote that I would have asked for an example, or rewrite. (I still don't mind them because they create the spark, but I don't copy/paste.)

I suppose if the author would like an example, they can pop back in and ask for it. It just seems to me to add a step to the process when I can just bang it out quick.

However, thems the rules. I'll be sure to ask when I crit if the person would mind small rewrites, or if they just want observations.

Axe


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KathiS
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Oops and apologies. I'm likely another offender. After reading all the comments I can understand the whys and why nots and will try to crit in future without re-writing!

~kls


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Krina
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Whoops! Thanks Kathleen, I just modified my posts.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Thank you, Krina.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I've copied this topic from the Open Discussion about Writing area, and comments may be posted in the original topic.

This topic is read-only, however.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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posting so this topic will be visible
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