Friday, January 13, 2012

Is it easier to see the bad than the good?

I mentioned in my previous post that I've just started an internship (yes, on top of doing my full-time job - I'm a little bit coocoo). I only started on Tuesday, so I can't tell you precisely what this internship involves, but I can tell you I'm doing it extramurally and so far I've been given two manuscripts from the slush pile to read and assess. I've just finished one and started the other, and already I'm learning something from this task.

Why is it so much easier to discuss the bad than it is to discuss the good?

The first manuscript was brilliant. Really, it was. I'm in awe of the writer's abilities and think she truly deserves to be published. But I was reading the MS with my editorial hat on because I knew I needed to be more critical than your average reader, and I definitely found things that could be improved upon. Which is fine. What I find interesting is that, even though I thought the book was great, I found it much harder to discuss the good points than the bad.

I'm not sure if this is just me, or if our brains automatically pay more attention to things we don't think are working, because we want to figure out how to fix them. When things work than perhaps we spend a lot less time analysing them, all we need to know is that it works, right? Do you do this too?

Maybe we (or I, if I am alone in this) should be spending just as much time figuring out what a writer has done right, and how, as we do analysing what has gone wrong. Surely it's just as important to understand what is good, what to aim for, as it is to understand what doesn't work and what to avoid.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you focus on the bad when reading with an editorial eye, or are you able to assess the good just as readily as you assess the parts that need fixing?


  1. Perfectly summed up, Misha. Couldn't have said it better myself. :)

  2. Thanks, Prue! It's good to know I'm not the only one. :) I do see the good, I just don't focus on it. I need to focus on it more.

  3. I think from an editorial standpoint it's still important to see the good and be able to articulate what makes it good, because it's important for people to know what they're doing write and how they're doing it so they can expand on that.

  4. This is true. It's a shame we (or I) are able to focus on the bad with more ease than the good. I think I'd enjoy many more books if I could see the good more readily! (Damn editor brain)

  5. I agree with this to a certain extent, Mood. Just because something seems to work does not necessarily mean it's good writing. I don't think people only point out small mistakes because they're afraid to be called out. At least not in general, I'm sure there are some people like that. Personally, if I see something not working in a critique for example, no matter the size of the issue I will try to articulate why I think it's not working. It's up to the person whose work it is to decide if they agree with me or not.

  6. It's not just you. I do it too. So do others. Maybe not everyone :)
    I had to work at focussing on what was done well when I did a course a few years ago. It wasn't writing but I don't think that matters. We had to give feedback to each other in class, in front of everyone. The deal was, we had to say what we liked about what they had done. Then we had to say what they could have done differently. At first, I could find loads of things for the latter.
    After practising, I can now find something good to say about most things. So keep at it. You'll get there :)

  7. I think you're right. We have this innate desire to fix things, so if they work, we don't really pay close attention to them. 

  8. From an editorial standpoint, the bad is what you need to be looking for. You don't need anything done with the good, so working on that is sort of a waste of time. From a critiquing or reviewing standpoint, you want to look for both.

  9. Bad is easier to see. But when good wallops in... wow.

  10. Once something doesn't work, it obviously is bad. When something does work (makes sense, reads okay, no mistakes) it still doesn't mean it's good. There's a level of preference, judgement, suitability that you have to apply that puts your own sensibilities in line to be judged also. Which is why people are happier pointing out small mistakes they can't be called out for.