A Guide to Critiquing Amateur Writers/Bloggers

by Vunderkind

Vunderkind’s Note: I do not often write like this, so now that you’re here, you might as well finish the post.

Pen and paper

I started blogging earnestly in December last year, even though I have been writing for much, much longer.  If you are curious as to why this was the case, I’ll allow you a glimpse into my soul – I live for money, and I just didn’t see blogging – in this case, for creative writing and spinning yarns – paying my bills. So I rationalized: why blog when you no go get money from inside am?

Things were to change for me, however, when DankarO of the NaijaDude Blog asked me to do a short skit on his blog. As I recall, what I sent him was about three paragraphs long and hurriedly written on my BlackBerry’s note app, and after I sent it to DankarO, I thought nothing of it. This is where it gets interesting.

I was on twitter one day when a handle called @TheBawdyPaet mentioned me and said “you are a great writer sir. Just read what you wrote on NaijaDude’s blog” (I am paraphrasing; I can’t remember the actual words of the tweet).

I was elated. I cannot describe how I felt then, but that was officially the first time I was being praised for my work. Most times I just got paid with the promissory note of more jobs when they were available. But here I was – getting praise from a total stranger over something I wrote!

That stranger is no longer a stranger today, by the way. He’s @Paetir with the DISCLAIMER: NOT HUMAN blog. Paetir, DankarO and I are part of a team that manages WahalaCentral.

Why have I told this story? I’m not sure, but seeing as my blog today has crossed its 100-post mark, has close to 16k views and more than 1,500 comments – I even have a co-writer now – I daresay I have had time to reflect and ponder: what got me here?

It’s simple. It was the power of a comment.

It’s the little things that count, and I’m not talking mathematical dwarfs. With just one comment on a fledgling writer’s piece, you can either uplift, crush or make no impact at all in the life of that writer. There is power in your keypad, people.

For the purpose of disambiguation, I will like to define the terms for which they will be used in this post. When I call someone an amateur blogger, I mean a blogger who hasn’t “hit jackpot”, the ones who are under the radar of the Omojuwas and the Linda Ikejis. I am talking about the bloggers like me, the ones who still say “Please Read and RT” on the TL. The polite sons-of-a-gun.

By bloggers, I do not mean that brand of chaps who copy, paste and share “See what Wizkid Tweeted Last Night” posts. I am not talking about the Tweetfeeders. I am talking of honest people, who huddle in front of their laptops and phones and type out stories, poems and monologues for us to read.

When they write, they expect us to read and to leave a comment. Most times we do, and we unwittingly contribute to the development of that writer – for good or bad.

I have had the pleasure of discussing with several writers who have had to talk about critiques in their careers – Dunni, Janus, Trimia, UluthriX, Walt_shakes and others, and I have extracted some nuggets from what they have had to say and included my own thoughts and here it is:

Everybody’s Guide to Critiquing Amateur Bloggers

The writer is not your enemy: I have seen cases where a writer makes a post, and someone comments and says “Better stop writing – this is rubbish!” Come on…there is no monopoly on writing. If someone wishes to express himself via the written word, why should you stop him? Why not try another approach, such as pointing out what exactly you don’t like about his/her writing?

Writers are, as a rule, insecure: Very few writers put up a post and boisterously prance about expecting the praise coming in. I know a few writers who literally tense up after dropping their links on your TL. Why then, you ask, do they put it up if it scares them so? My reply would be: maybe because they need your honest, polite opinion on the piece, with complimentary suggestions about how they can get better? The writer’s ego is a sensitive thing – if I say so myself. Nurture it. Someone may one day look to you and say you were the reason they kept on writing.

Can you take it private? Call me a hypocrite, but I believe in publicly praising people and privately chastising them. If someone makes a post that is below your standards, to what end is it if you lambaste them on the comment page? Don’t you think that, if you mete out harsh criticism on the comment page, the writer may reject it and end up hating you, even though you may have – wisely – commented anonymously? Don’t you think it would be better to hit up the writer (via email, Twitter DM, etc) and gently tell them what you felt was wrong with the post? I believe that if your critique is not merely to come off as ‘smart’ at the expense of another, this would seem a better alternative.

False Praise is as dangerous as heavy criticism: I have seen it all, fam. Your friends who hop on to your blog and go “WOW. Nice”, “Beautiful piece”, “Impressive”, dropping shallow comment after shallow comment (in some cases, I believe the generic comments are as a result of their not even bothering to read what you wrote), inadvertently ruining you, because they do not know that by inflating your undeserving ego, they are making you (the writer) position yourself on a pedestal that you are yet to even start climbing.

Be specific: You do not like a writer’s post? Fine. It’s a free world. But you should tell the writer why you don’t ‘dig’ his/her post instead of giving a vague, denigrating statement. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think there is anything particularly great about this post” and leaving the writer guessing and confused, why not say something more specific, like “Your post was too wordy – cut down on the adverbs – and you should really check your tenses”?That’s better, no?

Tone it down: Yeah, I know we should speak up when a piece is terrible, but we forget that these writers do not think themselves perfect. I always say this: my blog is a training ground for me; the day I feel I have gained mastery of writing, I’ll ditch it. If they thought they were that great, these writers would be somewhere else forcing their 25th manuscript down the throat of a harassed publisher. They are here to hone their skills – and they are writing for free, no one here is paying them. The least you and I can do is tone down the criticism. Let us give the heavy blows to ‘established’ writers whose egos and bank statements justify the rough tackle.

Thanks for reading. I really hope this speaks to someone.