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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

#IWSG: Would You Rather Hear the Truth or Flattery?

            First Wednesday of the month means another edition of Alex J Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.   You can discover more participants here.







             One of the most controversy generating posts of my Hijack This Blog! series was the one by Andrew Leon called "Is It Better To Be "Nice" or Honest?".   Andrew has touched upon this topic many times on his own blog and in fact did a Part Two of the post he contributed to Tossing It Out.  I encourage you to check out the two I linked to as well as some of the others that Andrew has done.  He has a way with words, especially when it comes to stirring controversy.

            I too enjoy stirring the pot sometimes.  That statement probably can be taken a number of ways, but in this case I am referring to controversial subjects in blog posts.  Tossing It Out has often delved into topics that can provoke debate, but not so much in the past year or so.   But I'm getting ahead of myself.  As promised in my post of last Friday, I'll get back to that aspect of my blogging activity on this coming Friday.  Please don't miss that.

           In this present post I want to look again at Andrew's July post about critiquing others.   This time I want to bring things closer to home.  Andrew was asking whether you are prone to give the nice answer to what you think about another writer's work or are willing to risk hurting or even offending another by telling them what you didn't like about their writing or even that it is just plain crap.  But what about when you are in the hot seat of the one being critiqued?   Would you rather hear the truth or flattery?

           Sometimes I don't take too well to criticism.  If I really like what I've written I can tend to be very defensive about it.  However I antithetically will embrace the cool harshness of criticism when I respect the source and am given the logical explanation of why that criticism has been given.  For example, even if at the time I didn't agree with what my creative writing professor in college said about my stories, I accepted his suggestions because he was the professor who had the experience and I was not.  Now in retrospect, I can read those old papers and understand more clearly what the writing in red was saying.  I grew into the criticism with time and experience.  

            On the other hand, when my mother reads something I've written you'd think I was the greatest writer in the world.  And I do believe she's being sincere.  I know the feeling of beaming with pride when my own kids do something and I see it as potential genius.   Parents often see their kids as an extension of themselves and the values they have espoused to their offspring.  The praise makes sense in many ways.

            Then there's a middle ground that may lean toward truth or fiction.   There are the friends or genuine fans who actually like what I do and are very forgiving when I falter in my output.  To them I am always good--or so they say.  Or there are those who want to play the mentor role and let me know I've got a ways to go and maybe I'll never get there.  The range might be wide, but I don't really know yet because aside from my blogging output, I'm not getting my work out there.

            Perhaps that's why I'm not actually finishing anything.  I am afraid of what I might hear.  It might be true and I might like it or I might not.  Or it might be just flattery because the critique giver wants to be nice and not hurt my feelings.  If that's the case I might be in for a rude awakening when I've poured time and labor into a product that no one likes or wants.

             "Just do it!"  Some of you may be saying and yes I agree.  And I am probably exaggerating my fears.  I'm being much more dramatic than I actually feel.  Or am I?  After all, this is Insecure Writer's Support Group Day and insecurity is the theme.   Right?

              So what would you prefer:  Truth or Flattery?   Be honest.  Have you ever had something you've done, writing or otherwise, deemed as quite excellent only to find otherwise when you put it before the public?   



60 comments:

  1. I want the truth, but I would like it presented in a positive manner. As in, use a little tact.
    Heading for what may be my final book, so I hop my critique partners tell me the truth so I can go out in a blaze of glory.

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  2. Everyone likes a bit of flattery, but in the long run, it doesn't help you.

    But honesty needs to be constructive, not harsh. There's a big difference between giving criticism and being critical.

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  3. I'm with Alex. I really do want to hear the truth, but only as long as it's put in a tactful, kind way. There's a lot that can be learned from helpful critiques, not hurtful!

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  4. There is such a thing as constructive criticism. A writer needs to find betas and critters who only give that kind of feedback. (Leave the harsher sentiments to the general public.)

    We don't have time, or the need, to hear that we can't do something. We need to know what works, what doesn't, and how to get the story to where we want it to be.

    I'm a believer that all betas and critters should have one goal in mind: Make the writer and writing better. It's not a judgment of your worth or skill or potential.

    Just my thoughts.

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  5. I always say the truth, which is why some people sometimes might think I'm rude, but I feel it is better saying the truth than being a false friend who flatters you, which is why 99% of people do. And also, since I'm in the business, I feel I need to be honest and tell it as it is.

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  6. This is such a great question to ask and generally I agree with you and everybody else. There's nothing to be benefited from lying to people and telling them things are good when they're not but at the same time there's no need to be rude or nasty when going about telling them otherwise, I hate comments that are just plain mean instead of at least partially constructive.

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  7. I really would prefer truth, although as E.J. says, couched in terms that can help me learn. A member of my family has volunteered to read my work in progress. Although I'm honored she wants to read it, I declined, telling her I didn't want to put her in a position to have to tell me she didn't like it, if that were the case. The objective critical readers I share my work with are just that...objective. And their comments take me forward.

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  8. Alex -- Tact and truth is important. If there is negative criticism I want something to back it up so I can put it in proper perspective.

    Angeline -- It's pretty bad when people are praising your efforts and then when you confidently take your work into the public forum you get shot down with a reality that you're not that good.

    Jaybird -- I think I'll hear this response a lot. It's the way I see it as well.

    EJ -- Your thoughts have been well expressed. Thank you.

    Dezmond -- I think we've often developed a peculiar societal dysfunction of flattery. Many of us don't want to hurt feelings, but in the long run it is more hurtful to reinforce a delusion.

    Yeamie -- You are right on target. You can be truthful and nice and dispense with dishonest flattery, but you don't have to be malicious.

    Liza -- I agree that negative criticism is not especially helpful if it doesn't have learning points behind it. I want to know what is bad and why it's bad.

    Lee

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  9. Flattery! Haha! Flatter me, baby. I'll soak it up and that's the truth.

    I think it's cool for the blogosphere to be a place where we get support. The world at large will spank our delusions without a blink. Praise has its place.

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  10. There's a big difference to me between, "This stinks, it's crap and I hate it" and "This doesn't work for me because...."

    The truth can be delivered, but it's how it's delivered that either destroys or builds. Besides which, everyone, like bellybuttons, has at least one opinion and no two opinions/bellybuttons are ever going to be the same. So you still have to look at even constructive criticism with a critical eye. What works for one person might not work for another. But what works for you?

    I'll take the truth. But I won't take abuse.

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  11. We all need support so it's important to bring up the positives, but when asked, I think we must tell the truth, but no need to be hurtful or rude about. It is possible to critique and still be gentle and constructive about it.

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  12. If you have something negative to say, present solutions. If you don't have a solution, keep your mouth shut because it might be you, not them.

    I find flattery hard to swallow. It sticks to my throat and I end up choking on lumps that aren't there.

    Someone told me once that my story was junk. When I said "Then tell me how to fix it," he didn't have an answer. :)

    Lauren
    Lauren-ritz.blogspot.com

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  13. In the short term a little flattery, a spoonful of sugar, makes the process less painful. But in the long term it just slows your progress. You'll still get there in the end, but it will take more time.

    If you're given harsh but realistic criticism (based on solid examples and explanations) it will sting like billy-o. Even if it's absolutely correct, still hurts. But over time it will stop hurting and you will be able to see it for what it is. Sometimes useful, sometimes not. But you can work it out very quickly.

    I guess it comes down to whether you're in a hurry or not.

    mood
    Moody Writing

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  14. Suze -- I'll gladly bask in the flattery, but I don't want it to lead to delusion that will set me up for a big let down.

    Bish-- Very well said. All criticism is based partly at least on opinion and taste. I want to understand why something get negatively reviewed.

    Elise -- You're right. Critiquing requires a balance of presentation of the positives and negatives.

    Lauren -- Solutions are good.

    Mood-- So true. The long term effects are what matters most.

    Lee

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  15. I want to hear the truth. Yes,you heard that right. I'm know I'm over sensitive and tend to run and hide at the first sign of criticism, but when I put something out there and ask, I want you to give it to me straight.

    A 'friend' once told me he wasn't sure I had any grasp of the English language, let alone that I could write it, based on my blog posts and responding comments on other blogs. I won't go into detail, but I will say, I will never forget that particular critique.

    I admit that when I review something outside of my 'critique group' (where we are specifically working to constructively help each other and submitting our work for that reason alone) I probably always err on the positive side. If I really dislike something, I normally say nothing at all, instead of something bad.

    It's a tightrope. Every time I enter something in a contest,Flash Fiction Blogfest or something like similar that puts it out front and center for general critique, I look down and see to my horror that I'm performing aerial acrobatics without a net. It's a long painful drop when you fall.

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  16. Definitely truth. I want to learn/grow more than anything. And flattery doesn't do that--other than build confidence. (Though it sure is nice sometimes!) ;)

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  17. Kindly given honesty is best. And always consider the course. My sisters think I should be on all the bestsellers lists, but then they do love me.

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  18. I need the truth. The only thing that may upset me by it is my own inability to recognize something needed fixed in the first place. I'm more mad at myself than I could ever be at what someone said about my work.

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  19. I want the truth. If all you get is flattery that doesn't help make the work better. It's all in how things are worded.

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  20. Farawayeyes-- It helps to know the source of the criticism as well as something about one to whom you are offering criticism. Misunderstandings can easily occur in the faceless realm of the internet.

    Morgan -- A spoonful of sugar always helps to sweeten the bitter.

    Susan -- Family is frequently not the best source of criticism, but it can depend on the family I guess.

    Cherie -- My own stubbornness can sometimes be my worst enemy.

    Quanie -- How things are worded can make a huge difference.

    Lee

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  21. I would prefer flattery, of course (who wouldn't?) but of course I can't improve without the truth. I haven't really done enough of putting my writing out into public to test whether I'm a good writer or not, but when I do I think I'd rather have it straight then be lied to.

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  22. Flattery will get you no where, sir! Really, I'm not into flattery. Also, though, don't just say to me "this sucks" and leave it at that. You can say you didn't like it, but, if you want to say it "sucks" you better be willing to tell me what you think didn't work. That's the real key even with praise, there need to be reasons behind it so that the author knows what's working and what's not.

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  23. Oh, and thanks for bringing my posts up again! :)

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  24. Truer words were never spoken,(in both this post and your reply to my comment) and yet I'm laughing so hard, I almost fell out of my chair. I have one sick sense of humor.

    A great topic to create a little controversy and a lot of discussion.

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  25. You might as well hear the truth first. Because if you don't, readers will tell you later.

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  26. Well, yes. Just do it. But when you are ready. I will be honest with other writers, but I try to present it in a way that is encouraging and not disrespectful. I've had too many harsh criticisms that almost made me give up the pen. When I send my stuff off to people, though, I do expect them to be honest and tell me what isn't working, but again, in a respectful manner. If you want to tell me it's crap, though, that's your right. I'd rather someone be honest than just tell me what I want to hear.

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  27. Hi there, Lee. I'd want people to tell me the truth, tactfully or bluntly. It doesn't matter that much, really, as long as people mean it. I'm not a fan of politically-correct politeness, if you know what I mean.

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  28. I'm with Alex. I want the truth, but I want it said in a constructive, positive way. Had a conversation with another writer today and we ended up talking about how devastating it is when someone attacks the writing destructively. No need for that. For now, I just try to get the words on the page and don't even think about what anyone else will think of it. I can worry about that later.
    Karen

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  29. I think it's perfectly fine to be honest, and you can do so in a nice way. If no one points out the problems, they don't get fixed.

    I was looking for a writers' group once and found one that said "We don't give criticism, only positive praise." I was puzzled by this; how do their writers learn anything? I sent a polite email asking "Does this mean there is no honest feedback in your sessions?" I never heard back. Apparently not! I don't want to belong to a group that is positive but not helpful. If I'm screwing something up, tell me!

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  30. I think it depends on the relationship, meaning the venue.

    On blogs (unless critique is requested) I stay positive. I don't review books as my author persona (a pen name). But as my alter ego reader of published works, I'm a tough customer. I don't hold back much. I don't attack the author, but I don't hesitate to mark a 1- or 2-star as such and tell you why.

    As a critique partner, I'm middle of the road. I believe in honesty, but offered in a kind, constructive way. If I don't mark problem areas, I'm not doing my job, but I also mark the good parts and offer encouragement. I know what it's like to be on the receiving side.

    I'll be posting about critiquing on the 17th if anyone is interested.

    Enjoyed your blog as always. Great post. :)

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  31. Truth from a professional viewpoint, however harsh, is a bullet one can bite; I prefer that over even the most frilly [but familial-inspired flattery—our loved ones will always love us!] great question. And I had no idea you had ANY misgivings whatsoever. You SHOULD be out there, Lee, on the shelves, no doubt about it

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  32. Well, my first choice would be for someone to tell me it's wonderful and have that be the truth. Second choice would be painful truth broken to me gently. Undeserved flattery simply sets me up for a harsher rejection somewhere down the road.

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  33. Lauren -- I think it would be better to know some truth before I submitted anything to an editor.

    Andrew -- I told you I was going back to your great posts. It's a good topic.

    Farawayeyes -- I must be missing the humor here, but it's either right in front of my eyes or too faraway for me to understand. I can only guess at the present.

    Diane-- Exactly, and that would be my fear if I started receiving overwhelming flattery about work that I had doubts about.

    Mel -- Yes I agree, but it would be nice if people told me that something I created was really good and it really was good.

    RCB -- The best response is the one that makes me think more and go back to reevaluate. I am my own biggest flatter at times and instigate self-deception. Burst my bubble if it deserves to be bursted.

    Karen -- I think it's often pretty apparent when destructive criticism is meant for malicious intent. Those attacks can be usually easily to identify and push aside. Ambiguous negativity raises more questions and self-doubt.

    Lee


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  34. When I give feedback, I take care to package my comments in a way that is thoughtful to the writer and their feelings. I don't like the notion of "telling the truth" in a mean or harshly critical way. That said, I hope for the same from others.

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  35. Elizabeth -- A positive praise policy kind of defeats the purpose of being in a writers group.

    Melissa -- Giving is a lot different than receiving. I tend to be more lenient and forgiving in what I give and would hope for something more serious in analysis of my own work. I'll be looking for you post on the 17th if I'm able to as I'll be away from home at that time.

    Youngblood -- I do have some insecurity, but I also have to come up with topics for this time of month and this topic is one that I've been planning for a while.

    LD -- I too prefer your first scenario, but agree with your over all analysis.

    Lee

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  36. Cynthia -- That's my approach as well. You're the kind of reader that I think most of us would want to critique our work.

    Lee

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  37. Arlee truthfully I enjoy your writing!!!

    I love flattery- who doesn't?... but as a serious writer I need the truth/ the people I submit work too are not my friends

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  38. Definitely the truth but hopefully with some tact. Although if I truly SUCK, I'd like to know, too. LOL!

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  39. Yes, I want total honesty, but having been around a long, long time, I know that one person's truth may be quite different from the next person's truth. That is why we need to weigh the critiques we receive on our writing very carefully.

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  40. I prefer truth when it comes to critiquing, but a little encouragement also goes a long way to soften the sting.

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  41. Moondust -- Ah, you flatter me and it feels good.

    Donna -- I just want to know at least if I should keep on writing. And there can be a cure for "truly suck" with the proper support and guidance.

    Patricia -- The concept of subjective truth is very true which is why that truth should be backed up with evidence.

    Lynda -- If there is no encouragement then I would question the motives of the one giving the critique.

    Lee

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  42. Great post Lee! Me, I want the truth! I do think the Critique Sandwich is the best way to go. First I like _____, the filling I didn't like that and the end this ____ worked well!

    Thanks for the share today ;D

    And Lee Just do it! Throw caution to the wind and set the sails and go...

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  43. Both are good at times. If you're not at your best, some heartwarming flattery can lift your spirits and get you back on track. To improve your writing or whatever you are doing, truthful feedback is very valuable. I totally agree, the source has to be someone you respect. Also, the critique has to be constructive. If it's someone just trying to tear you down, sorry, take it somewhere else!

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  44. The truth never hurts anyone but it's not what you say but the way that you say it.

    Great and thought provoking post Lee.
    Yvonne.

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  45. I'm almost ready to start querying my manuscript and I'm scared silly, literally walking around in a constant state of stomach butterflies. I know prospective agents will tell me the truth and I'm on eggshells wondering what that truth is going to be.

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  46. Naturally, I like to hear that people like what I am writing, but even more so, I would like to know that people are actually reading what I am writing. Sometimes it is like I am just skywriting and it disappears as soon as I have written it. I find your writing very intriguing at times and just plain humorous at other times. I always know I am not going to be bored when I come to see you. Best regards to you, my friend. Ruby

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  47. Ella -- I need to start ignoring a lot of the distractions in my life.

    buck-- I like balance and you've offered the idea balanced solution. When I need a boost of flattery I know I can always ask Mom.

    Yvonne -- You summed it up very nicely.

    Cathy -- It's better to know the truth if something's wrong that go through the query effort and have an agent or editor tell you.

    Grammy -- Thank you! I like the skywriting analogy.

    Lee

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  48. I think I put some projects off because of this too. Sometimes the delay is caused by being unsure about how to proceed. Ah well, learning as I go...And yes, I would prefer truth delivered with tact and kindness.

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  49. I think you can be both nice and honest (which is what I would hope for). Telling the truth, but in a kind way is the best way imo.

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  50. It can be a hard line. I really prefer the truth, but there are people I can tell just have different visions and that feedback can be annoying... I can feel like they just don't get it. I find it helps, both as reader and receiver if the recipient says what kind of feedback is desired.

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  51. There are a lot of different ways I could answer this post, but I'll focus on critique. Because it's one of the most valuable tools for a writer. I believe honesty is vital.

    When I give a critique, I'm honest about my opinions and I expect my critiquers to be honest with me in return. A critique is no place for attaboys. Sure you want to include the good things as well as the not so good, but critique is for finding those not-so-good spots and making them better.

    An important thing to remember is the knowledge and experience of the critiquer. They can only comment on what they know. Sometimes they don't know enough or they know so much more than you that you can't understand what they're saying. Like your professor :)

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  52. I want people to tell me the truth about my work. They should not use the most harsh words to express their opinion, just tell me in a polite way.

    I started writing when I was about 8, but it was this year in March that I started my blog and published some of my work.
    In my mind people shouldn't get rude, and they should know what they're talking about and not only say: that's bad and I don't like this either. But I can't improve my writing when everyone is just saying: you're great. I'd love to read more specifically what they like and what not and how I can make it better the next time. It's not wrong to be nice, even the truth can be said in a kindly way.

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  53. I prefer the truth, but in a constructive manner. That's how I learn. When I offer criticism, I try to sandwich it in between positive comments.

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  54. It all depends on my mood and how far I'm into the work. In the beginning I need flattery; so I will go on. After I get going, I need truth so I don't drive off a cliff. Great post.

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  55. This reminds me of the dreaded question, "Does this dress make me look fat?" If you come out and say "yes," the person may never speak to you again. But if you help them pick out something that's more figure flattering, they'll feel better about themselves, and respect your opinion. Of course this could all backfire, but it hasn't kept me from speaking to my mother. Julie

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  56. Hmm, I'm going to say it depends. With feedback from friends & family I figure there's a rose-colored filter on what they say, so if they were to be critical, I'd probably take it even harder than if it came from someone I didn't know. But I only want brutal honesty from my editors. And there is one certain friend who dishes out critiques and praise in the most wonderful and forthright way, and somehow does it without ever offending me. Except for the one time he made me cry.

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  57. Some great answers from those of you who came in after my last response. I thank all of you for your comments and opinions. I'll agree that the source of the criticism and the intent behind the criticism means a great deal and after that it's up to me to see which critical advice will be most useful and then learn from it.

    Lee

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  58. Popping in after your latest blog post to comment on this one. For me, I prefer honesty. It can really sting, but if it's well-founded criticism then it can help you grow into a better writer. Even the bitchy critique I got from someone in the past that almost made me cry gave me inspiration (eventually) to do drastic (necessary) revisions to my work. So yes, honest critique has been the thing that's helped me grow as a writer the most, and I'd take it over kind lies anyday.

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Go ahead and say something. Don't be afraid to speak your mind.
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Lee