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B&N Week 178: Critique or Personal Attack–What Is The Difference?

| May 21, 2014

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We’ve got yet another Tuesday upon us! Know what that means? Time for more Bolts & Nuts!

This week’s question is: Critique or Personal Attacks—What’s the Difference?

Some question, right? It should be simple, yet it is anything but.

I’m about to sound like an old man. You were warned.

When I was a kid, we’d get certificates of achievement in school. I’m talking about recognition for having and maintaining a high GPA, or being most improved in your GPA, for outstanding achievement in one subject or another… Awards of merit. And as kids, we’d work hard to get those awards, and if we missed out, we’d work all that much harder the next year in order to get those certificates.

Kids today don’t have that. They join all kinds of clubs, and they get certificates for taking part. They want to receive special treatment just for showing up, and feel slighted when they aren’t. They haven’t done anything to earn kudos, but want them anyway.

This new crop will grow up and join the work force, and reality is going to slap them in the face, because they’re going to be totally unprepared for Truth.

For those that don’t know, I run another column called The Proving Grounds. This is a place where writers can submit scripts to me and my group of editors to have their script critiqued. I get told time and again that I’m harsh or that certain things shouldn’t be said, and I’m quite sure that some writers feel like I’m attacking them personally.

I have never made a personal attack on any writer, ever. I’ve gotten into a LOT of would-be writers because they’ve “forgotten” simple things such as simple grammar, spelling, and punctuation. (How can you forget to use punctuation, Steven?) [Dunno. Sure, you can misuse it, and that happens a lot, but if you somehow manage to leave ending punctuation from a sentence…I really don’t have any kind words for you.] However, my comments have always been [and will always be] about the work produced.

Truth is subjective. A lot of the time, a truth stated plainly may seem harsh to others. “You failed to end every sentence of dialogue within this work with any kind of ending punctuation. Every sentence. Go back and learn what ending punctuation is and how it’s used. Then you’ll be taken more seriously as a writer.” That is a truth, baldly stated, and some may take offense to it. They don’t like having a finger pointed at them [you], and they don’t like having such a charged word [failed] levied at them. They don’t want to understand that they won’t be taken seriously at their craft without learning the basics. They things to be couched more friendly: “Well, I noticed that there wasn’t any ending punctuation in any of the dialogue throughout the entire piece. Editors are going to have a hard time looking past that, so I suggest you brush up on it before submitting.”

Two ways to say the exact same thing, and one will be taken as offensive and harsh, and the other will be taken with a smile as food for thought.

Now, everyone cannot be painted with the same brush. Some truly cannot hear what’s being said to them when facts are stated baldly. They need things to be couched with more subtlety.

A few years ago, I was at Digital Webbing and handing out comments on scripts left, right, and center. I was ripping people apart with my directness. They didn’t take offense to what I was saying, but to how I was saying it. As a moderator there, I recently was told that I had the personality of chipped stone, after making some comments on a script. Nothing I said was wrong, and the writer made a personal attack on me because they basically wanted points for showing up. I don’t do that.

Here’s the thing when you’re handing out critiques of someone’s work: you will always run the risk that they will take it personally. There is nothing you can do about it. Just as long as you keep comments directed towards the work and its execution, then you are being critical. You are not engaging in personal attacks.

What’s a personal attack? Being called a shyster. Being told that since you’ve never worked for a publishing company, that the only thing you’re doing is stealing from someone when you charge for your services. Being called a con artist. Being called mediocre. Anything that is about you, and not about the work you do or service you provide. That’s a personal attack.

The personal attack is the demesne of those who aren’t yet ready to be serious about their work. It’s usually some sort of defensive response to a critique of work done. The creator of said work is looking for kudos, and when they don’t get them, when the flaws in the work are pointed out, they then “defend” by attacking. However, the attack isn’t about the critique received. The attack is on the person doing the critique. There are many people who cannot tell the difference between the two. This is how many a flame-war has started.

Want to know if the critique you’ve gotten was accurate or a personal attack? Ask yourself a simple question: were the things said truly about me, or were they about the work I produced? It’s a simple test. If you don’t know or can’t decide, then you have to look harder. Few are the times when you just can’t tell.

What to do when you’ve received a stinging critique? Say thank you, go back, and work harder. Don’t do this. It isn’t helpful. What do you do when you are the recipient of a personal attack? As much as it may anger you, don’t stoop to their level. It isn’t worth it. It’s like a sober person arguing with someone who’s drunk: no one wins. Stick to the facts of your argument, and let the other person look deranged.

That’s all I have for this week. See you in seven.

Click here to discuss in the ComixTribe forum at Digital Webbing!

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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