Maladaptive Perfectionism and Never-Ending Critique

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Hillsy
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Maladaptive Perfectionism and Never-Ending Critique

Post by Hillsy » September 6th, 2011, 7:05 am

Or: Waffle your Way to Procrastination
Or: The Art of Overkill
Or: How Guilt Killed My Novel
Or: Critique: A love Story ("It's not you, it's me")
Or: .......oh you get the gist!

OK. About 6 months ago I thought I'd man up and join a critique group. Being, well, a coward I went online to do it. Critters.org seemed a very fair site: you earn critique by giving critiques. "Brilliant" I thought. I can do a critique a week and post a chapter a week to be critiqued. What could go wrong?

Unfortunately, I discovered I don't critique. What I do is write a complete and total analysis, sentance by sentance, coupled with deluges of justification for my reasoning behind each and every comment. "Yay!!" you may cry if you were the author, "What an in depth review! Even if it's utter Bovine Excrement at least I'm confident my stuff isn't just being given a cursory glance, thought, and the required minimum 200 words of nebulous reasons, most of which will be hollow platitudes totally about 195 words." (I'm a cynical bastard ain't I?). If you are the author, well done you: Have a biscuit.

After writing 5 critiques I left the site. I realised that the last three critiques I had given actually contained about 4/5ths the number of words in the short stories!!!!!! I thought this is ridiculous - how can you write a short story's worth of notes critiquing a short story - but I couldn't stop myself. A sentance like "I had trouble following the action here" turned into an essay where I detailed every angle, justified every negative thought I had about said passage, and offered three different approaches. In fact I just about stopped shy of editing the bunnies out of it - and as such probably spent twice as long trying to avoid aggressively editing it!! I'd writing a damn lecture about 1 paragraph!

OK I know I'm a bit OCD, but when I tried to consciously keep to the basics, I felt terrible guilt for not justifying my thoughts. And without that excessive level of justification, I worried that I might be giving bad advice without the thought process that would allow the Author to dismiss it. I'm too much of a perfectionist to contribute in short form, and to anxious to critique in short form.

As such, I've never had my work critiqued, purely because I can't offer any kind of two-way street with critiquing, and "Drive by shooting" really ain't on. None of my friends really read a lot of fiction, and those that do a) don't go near SFF and b) arn't writers themselves. So I'm really struggling to have any kind of gauge to the quality of my writing (I won't go into my level of self-confidence - lets just say I'm not going to be the best judge of my own ability).

So, How do I get around this problem? Has anyone else had to deal with chronic verbosity to such a level that they found it a hindrance? Has anyone found a way to get decent critiques without joining a critique group? Are there any places you know where people critique quite happily without requiring the same service in return?

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Re: Maladaptive Perfectionism and Never-Ending Critique

Post by MattLarkin » September 6th, 2011, 8:30 am

I used Critters a bit. I went on hiatus a long time back for several reasons (one I kind of stopped working on short stories). I didn't think you could get a chapter critiqued every week anyway? When I was doing it, you had to wait through the queue, usually 4-5 weeks, all the while doing critiques. Not that it was a terrible system, but it felt slow to get critiques. I think Critters had some great advantages, but a handful of partners that exchange every week and help each other form their stories might do more.
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Re: Maladaptive Perfectionism and Never-Ending Critique

Post by polymath » September 6th, 2011, 9:25 am

Critique is based on a fundamental human failing, the capacity to find fault more easily with others, their works, their everything. Humans are born and indoctrinated to wearing blinders that keep us from seeing our true selves. We spend our lives masquerading behind facades trying not to let others see our inner natures which we do and don't see ourselves. In others we see ourselves, base our ideal identities on others', and want to fix their faults so we don't have to face our own.

But critique is a tried and true method for opening ourselves to personal and creative growth. Blunt, courteous assessments is what we ask for when we ask for critique. If critique is not asked for, it's not warranted in most circumstances. It's outright shameful, actually, because critique is invariably hypocritical and oftentimes predicated on double standards. We expect everything from our cohort, take, take, take, even giving we take. We expect gratitude for our gifts, and are deeply disappointed when others don't live up to expectations we don't hold ouselves to. We don't know how to unconditionally give. Life isn't fair. It's brutal cruel. We live by coping mechanisms that are far from healthy for our well-being individually and as a society.

For writers, critique is a proven method for progressing along a poet's journey pathway. At times, there are companions; at times, there are solitary passages; at times, there are great intuitive leaps; at times, there are crushing setbacks. It's a plot in every sense of the term.

I'd reached a writing plateau impasse. I could see no way forward. So how, I asked, did and do other writers find their way forward when an insurmountable obstacle denies them their ambitions. Revisiting an earlier rhetoric concept that I hadn't fully grasped the ramifications of, I found an answer, and found a failing of my nature. I was ready to hear it all. Vice and virtue are subjective matters in the larger scheme of things. No one is perfect, nor can be. One person-writer's vice is another's virtue and vice versa.

I realized I found fault with everything, ignorant to virtues, focused on faults. I wasn't a very companionable person to be around. Mom said it aloud, "You talk too much trash," shortly before she passed into grace. Thank Providence for Mom.

So, hard as it was, I focused on virtues, in writing, in acquaintances, in reading, in critiquing. Huzzah! The obstacle evapoorated.

Now when I critique, I rigorously avoid commenting on vices, favoring comments on virtues, evermindful of vices I note, vices I keep to myself.

So, yes, blunt, frank critique is critical to a writer's and personal growth. Critique is far more useful when it only focuses on virtue.

Now, why miss out on all that opportunity for growth? Sure, critiquing is unsettling in the near term when new to the process either as writer or critiquer. Step outside the comfort zone and grow into wider horizons.

Who will critique and not expect payment in kind quid pro quo? Professional, fee-charging developmental editors. The proficient ones are pricey. Me, I'm one in training. Though I turn down a lot of potential work because I don't feel it's ready nor justifies the expense, frustration, and unpleasantness. Works that are almost all the way there ask only for a tipping talking point or two. Ones that are ready for the grueling developmental process only ask for a medium to light reading pass, but leagues of revisions and rewrites. Works that aren't ready, I recommend focal areas for revisitation and reevaluation according to a writer's writing's most problematic shortcoming.

The worst forms of critique are a matter of opinion, but two areas frustrate me no end. The ad nauseam critique, which overtreats to the point the doctor kills the patient with compassion, kindness, and caring. The short-shrift critique, which skimps treatment to the point it's meaningless, wasted blather.
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Re: Maladaptive Perfectionism and Never-Ending Critique

Post by dios4vida » September 6th, 2011, 2:06 pm

I had to work through my OCD on critiques, too. (MattLarkin and Watcher55 might say I haven't quite gotten over it, after I edited the crap out of their queries.) Here's my advice: Short form is good. Really, truly. You don't have to justify your every thought or reaction, for several reasons:

1. You're a human. Opinions are like belly buttons. Everyone's got one.
2. People have requested critiques, not decomposition analysis. They want to know what you saw wrong or right, not the science behind it.
3. If someone really disagrees or doesn't understand why you reacted a certain way to something, they'll ask. Then you can give the treatise.

It's really okay to just give a brief opinion and move on. That's what people are wanting. You don't have to justify your thoughts or anything. If there's a major problem, sure, you can go into further detail, but for the most part short form is the way to go. It'll take some practice, but once you get into the habit of it you'll never want to go back.
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Re: Maladaptive Perfectionism and Never-Ending Critique

Post by Aimée » September 6th, 2011, 2:07 pm

Personally, I would love to have someone critique my work the way you do it. :) However, I would be wary critiquing in return. I think the best way for you to handle this situation is to have some people critique your work. Either on Critters.org or having your writer friends (in person or online).

If you really want to tone down your critiques, I'd avoid the long winding answers of justification. If the writer wants an elaboration, they can email you to ask you to explain further.

I used Critters.org for maybe a week then I sort of quit it. The trade-off idea is nice, but just about any writer can join up and critique, which means that some people there aren't especially serious about writing, or they're just critiquing in order to have their stuff critiqued so they aren't quality. I'd find people online (like in these forums!) who could help you out seriously. I'm not bashing Critters in any way; I'm sure many people found it helpful, but it's just not for me.

Good luck!

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Re: Maladaptive Perfectionism and Never-Ending Critique

Post by MattLarkin » September 6th, 2011, 3:41 pm

dios4vida wrote:I had to work through my OCD on critiques, too. (MattLarkin and Watcher55 might say I haven't quite gotten over it, after I edited the crap out of their queries.) Here's my advice: Short form is good. Really, truly. You don't have to justify your every thought or reaction, for several reasons:
Actually repeated input from someone willing to dedicate the time to understand what you're going for is so helpful. I'm looking at (probably) self publishing, but the query is much stronger now, and that serves other purposes. Including doubling as the blurb on my blog, which another poster said intrigued them.

And I got it to that point because of the support and repeated insight of dedicate critiques here.
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Re: Maladaptive Perfectionism and Never-Ending Critique

Post by bcomet » September 6th, 2011, 11:22 pm

Critiquing is an art. I have an awesome critique group. Everyone has a different perspective, some are helpful, others not, but you get the round table that way.

But when I critique, I want to focus on what, for me anyway, would make this the best piece of writing it could be.
So, it's never, just liked this, didn't. But why I liked this and why it worked for me and why this other part fell apart for me and, important, what would make it work for me.

I want to champion it. And that, perhaps, is the most helpful. And also to speak in concrete terms about the characters, plot, etc. not abstract.

BTW, your idea of a thorough critique seems very caring and giving and devoted and some people might love that kind of treatment!
I also loved your story. Too funny!

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Re: Maladaptive Perfectionism and Never-Ending Critique

Post by polymath » September 7th, 2011, 5:14 am

MattLarkin wrote:but the query is much stronger now, and that serves other purposes.
I'm curious whether anyone composing a query after finishing a draft or later revision went back and used revelations gleaned from composing the query as a basis for rewiting and revision.
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Re: Maladaptive Perfectionism and Never-Ending Critique

Post by Hillsy » September 7th, 2011, 7:49 am

dios4vida wrote:It's really okay to just give a brief opinion and move on. That's what people are wanting. You don't have to justify your thoughts or anything.
Ah yes - I think this is the crux of it. Also probably why I'll never be able to do it. I think, certainly in my case, the longhand system is in essence a way to buffer against failure (Wait, hang in there with me). A brief opinion is like a photo of a 3 dimensional object, inasmuch as it can be misinterpretted or, in some cases, unhelpful because you don't have all the data. If the opinion is two dimensions, then the justification is the all important 3rd dimension. Without that justification, it can be almost impossible for the viewer (or in this case author) to conceptualise how to alter that surface image - how often have we read something like "At times I find the prose a bit excessive" and asked for examples only to realise we're not in a dialogue? The real answer may be the Author is always describing something twice (a habit I succumb to a LOT!) or writing a sentance to describe a third, irrelevant thing to link between the 2 important things you wanted to describe in the first place (yep, another of my bad habits).

But you see I'm already entering into excessive long-hand methodology. The reason I can't drop it is: if the author does not know completely how I have formed my opinion (even if they disagree with it) I have failed to inform them sufficiently to make accurate corrections (should they need to). Worse still, the author subsequently dismisses my critique entirely because I haven't explained the 'why' of it. Failure again. This is a pretty stupid mentality, but one I'm unlikely to break (not for the want of trying, believe me!). And yes, I realise this is all wonderfully patronising/insulting to the author as well.

And what if I'm wrong? At least If I'm talking out of my arse then the Author will have clear proof that I've misunderstood everything ("You don't use enough adverbs I'm afraid!"). A brief opinion leaves the risk that the critiquer actually knows nothing, but sounds like he might. Which is completely unhelpful to everyone involved

The problem is I really do believe this is the only right way to do it. Short form is like.....practising archery in the dark. If you hit, a green light comes on....but that's it. What you want is for someone to switch all the lights on so you can better gauge and assess what you're doing, rather than trying to improve with only the feedback of success of failure. By not switching on the lights, if you're able to, you've failed to supply the conditions and feedback to facilitate improvement in the Archer. I'm unbending on this. Clearly justified feedback is the right way to do things. The question is: Is it a realistic method to adhere to. I gave up critiquing because I know it's not - it's too labour intensive (law of diminishing returns and all that). But I can't bear to not do it right!

Yes, yes. I know its a psychological issue (You can't spend 500 words, and 2 analogies, trying to explain yourself and not realise something's wrong) and that its almost utterly destructive. I already know short form is the way to go, but I simply don't have the mental tools to use it. So that's why I asked for ways around the problem, a method to get critiques without critiquing back - or even if being unwilling to receive and not give hasn't in fact hampered the final problem at all

Damn, I go on a bit, dont I?........

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Re: Maladaptive Perfectionism and Never-Ending Critique

Post by Hillsy » September 7th, 2011, 7:56 am

bcomet wrote:I also loved your story. Too funny!
Thanks for that - I saw you voted for me...=0)
bcomet wrote:BTW, your idea of a thorough critique seems very caring and giving and devoted and some people might love that kind of treatment!
It may seem caring and giving, but it's completely due to selfishness and perfectionism. I only critiqued to get my work critiqued in return, and it only gets so in depth because, by jove, if I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it properly. Maybe if I could sit down and and write out a short form critique without it spilling into thousands of words, I'd be more giving of my time. But as I find the act of writing a critique a distressing experience, largely because I know I could be being briefer, I kind of save it up to gain something in return. Selfish, I know, but it's that or nothing at all (which is where I'm at now).

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Re: Maladaptive Perfectionism and Never-Ending Critique

Post by Sanderling » September 7th, 2011, 11:39 am

Hillsy - you're so me! I can totally relate to your issues with keeping it short and sweet. I have never, ever been able to master the one- or two-sentence email. For years my average blog post was 1000 words (I've managed to trim this to about half, which is still about twice as long as my goal was when I discovered I no longer had time to write these long posts). My spoken explanations are so often elaborated with detail that my husband teases me by interrupting as I get going: "Is this a long story?" (Really I can simply be relating that I didn't end up buying a new doormat but it'll maybe take me a minute or two to spill it all out because I also want to elaborate on why I ended up not buying a doormat, including my many stops at the stores and all the ugly patterns they had and the one that I thought might work in pattern but was too small, and...) It's something I've had to work through, and I've still not broken the habit.

From experience... the best you can probably hope for, if you're like me, is just to rein it in a bit. You're not going to go from a 500-word explanation to a 100-word explanation ...well, probably ever. Certainly not without a lot of work and self-discipline and a shift in mental attitude, all of which are hard and I've never felt inclined to try. But you can maybe go from a 500-word explanation to a 400-word one. If you work, perhaps even cut it to 350 words. I figure if I'm able to do that, I've reached my goal. The trouble is, I often end up still writing the 500 words and then, upon re-reading it, asking myself, "Do I really need this sentence? Or will my point still be understood without it?" in order to bring it down to 400.

If you're concerned about an imbalance when exchanging critiques, go for critique partners rather than critique groups, and look for someone who has a similar style to you. I wasn't really aware of them before joining here, but the Critique Partner Classifieds here on the boards have worked out really well for me in terms of finding partners. Post a short blurb there that offers information on your story and what you're looking for in a partner(ship). Include an explanation/disclaimer that your critiques tend to be on the longer side because you prefer to present the reasons for your opinion, and indicate that you're specifically looking for a partner who critiques similarly. Perhaps offer to trade a short section to begin with (eg, first chapter) if you want to confirm whether they do critique enough like you to feel the exchange is even.
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Re: Maladaptive Perfectionism and Never-Ending Critique

Post by Ishta » September 7th, 2011, 9:52 pm

Hillsy, can I recommend joining a critique group? Not going to a critique forum, as you have done, but posting a notice online saying, "this is what I write, and I'm looking for 3-5 critique partners who write the same thing to form a critique group." You take turns submitting one chapter (or two short chapters at a time) to the group (one crit group I'm in handles one submission a week and there are 5 of us, so I sub once every 5 weeks; the other has us all subbing at the same time on the first of the month, and crits are due by the 15th). Everybody critiques everything - which means you do 4 critiques, and you get 4 critiques back. It works. And, you learn through experience what needs to be said and what doesn't. There is real value in this; you will learn, over time, to look more critically at your own work.

Or, you can look for a critique partner - I have one for my PBs, and we take turns submitting: she goes one week and I critique her work, I go the next week and she critiques mine. Again, it's a give-one, get-one situation. You can look for a partner on this blog, or at Mary Kole's Kidlit blog, or at conferences, or post a notice at your local bookstore... There are lots of ways to find a crit partner. And if your first partner doesn't work out - you feel that you're giving more than you're getting, for example - you can always agree to part ways and look for someone else.

Alternatively, you can pay someone to critique your work.

But - and I mean no malice in saying this, and I don't want to sound hurtful, but I feel that this has to be said - I think expecting someone (meaning a professional someone, a writer who, like you, has to squeeze writing time into the day around a job or family or both, often sacrificing sleep or healthy lifestyle habits to do it) to take time out of their writing slot to give you feedback on your work (which, as you have experienced, is labor-intensive and takes a lot of time), with no payment or expectation that you will return the favor, is kind of not-nice.

Giving good critique takes time. It's not just you; it takes time for anyone to give a thoughtful critique. This is just how it is. And maybe you overdo it a little, but it's not like everyone else who is critiquing is whipping those suckers out in a few minutes during coffee breaks. Expect it to take time. And if you don't want to spend the time, save some money and pay someone for a good, honest, thorough critique of your work. Just my thoughts.

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Re: Maladaptive Perfectionism and Never-Ending Critique

Post by poptart » September 12th, 2011, 2:30 am

Two things spring to mind reading your post. Either the standard of work in this crit group in vastly inferior to your ability, or you are attempting to rewrite these stories.

If the former is true you need to find a group more suited to your level of ability. I can recommend a few if you want to pm me.

If the latter is true you need to adjust your attitude. Critique is not about how you would write something, it's about appreciating a piece of work and suggesting ways for the writer to get his message across more effectively. It's very tempting to wade in and show someone how to do it, but that isn't helping them at all. I never do line by line crits for this reason. You should try to read it as you would a published piece of work and at the end ask yourself what you would say about it if asked.
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Re: Maladaptive Perfectionism and Never-Ending Critique

Post by Chantelle.S. » September 22nd, 2011, 12:02 am

Hillsy wrote:So, How do I get around this problem? Has anyone else had to deal with chronic verbosity to such a level that they found it a hindrance? Has anyone found a way to get decent critiques without joining a critique group? Are there any places you know where people critique quite happily without requiring the same service in return?
*raises hand* Me!!!!
I used to be pretty vague with my critique, which resulted with authors PMing me and telling me that I need to go jump in a fire and die, in more or less those words. I had a writer actually tell me in response to my critique that they didn't appreciate a 12 year old trying to tell them where they've gone wrong in their writing (to which I responded that it would be pitiful if a 12 year old did know more about the craft of writing than they did 'cause they'd need to go back to school to re-learn the basics then, wouldn't they? The fact that I'm not 12 is besides the point). Then I went into overdrive with my critique and, like you, felt like I had to justify every imperfection I noted, and point out where improvement can be made and I even went as far as suggesting HOW they could improve a fragmented sentence or revise a run-on-sentence-become-half-a-page-if-you-know-what-I-mean, or whatever. It got to a point where several writers accused me of being a 'know-it-all'. Boy. Was there a big hoo-haa when THAT went down. Totally knocked my confidence down a few notches and had be withdrawing from participating in anything writing-related for a long time. But then I became a beta-reader, or as it was mentioned on this forum somewhere, the correct terminology would be an alpha-reader. And that helped me figure out how to give a clear-cut and sufficient (and a bit blunt, but I can't help being blunt) critique online. If the writer doesn't understand where I'm coming from or doesn't understand my critique at all, they can ask, if they're at all interested in improving their work.

But I still get carried away with the manuscripts I beta-read (or alpha-read, whichever) one on one in confidentiality. I tend to nitpick, but because I critique from chapter to chapter, the writer always has the option to tell me to lay off the nitpicking and just stick to the bigger picture - what needs work and what needs to be cut. I have an inner editor that won't shut up so I enjoy fine-combing writing, whether it's my own or someone else's.

As far as finding decent critiques, not really. Aside from my mom, but she doesn't count anymore since she's become a fan of my work since my writing has improved, and all I hear from her lately is 'it's so good, get it published! It's so good!' which is akin to the blind, biased praise that I get enough of from Fanfiction.net.

I have gotten ONE decent crit for my work. From this here forum! ^_^ I was nervous as heck but I'm glad I submitted it. It's nice to have a fresh pair of eyes to point out where you can change things for the better, however minimal. Actually, that was big for me since nobody has ever truly critiqued my work. Everyone tends to ask me for crit, but when I ask for it, it goes very eerily silent. >.> *crickets* D:

So my advice would be to stick to this forum for critique. It won't hurt to dish out a few of your own. I find that usually everyone has already pointed out the things I've noticed too, so I just add my two cents on different methods (that haven't been mentioned before) to achieve the desired effect. Albeit I think I've only ever critiqued a couple of times on the forum.
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Re: Maladaptive Perfectionism and Never-Ending Critique

Post by Rachel Ventura » October 6th, 2011, 9:50 pm

I am just as verbose, garrulous, effusive, talkative and chatty as anyone. Some days I want someone to crush my larynx with a boot. :lol:

From http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118880/ Con Air :lol:

I've pretty much decided that whenever I do finish a project, I'll need to go to a professional editor for a review. Granted, it's money I don't have, but well worth it. I'm not involved with too many other forums, and I am loathe to social networking sites. Considering how wordy I naturally am, I think something like Twitter would feel like a straitjacket and therefore, give me a nervous breakdown. :|

I've never been to a critique group. I'm my own worst critic anyway, and plus, I've already got a populated group living upstairs. :twisted: But seriously, folks. I totally empathize with the OP's case of "maladaptive perfectionism" and OCD-ish tendencies. A big part of it for me is low self-esteem from other areas in my life and no social support. I am very much a loner and a captive of my own soul.

From http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1057500/ Invictus (paraphrased, of course)

The fact that there exist professional "critique partners" has given me a little boost of reassurance to stop the constant Morgan Freeman narration of my inner critic. (Although I've gotten to the point where if I'm writing in 3P POV I can almost hear Freeman narrating the story.) :lol:

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