Tuesday 18 October 2011

I gave Ernest Hemingway a rubbish review.

It’s true. I did it in innocence, oblivious that the page 99 I was reviewing was his, but actually I’m not a fan - have you read the dialogue in A Farewell to Arms? It’s diabolical.

You might have come across Page 99 - a website where authors can upload page 99 of their novel, and people can review it, unaware of its author, and whether it is published or not. Once rated, the reviewer discovers who the author is, and can read other people’s comments. One of my friends recently decided that she was no good at writing because she had received some pretty caustic remarks on her page 99. The truth is that she is good at writing but many of the reviewers are useless at reviewing.

So how beneficial are these websites? There are many of them out there. I’ve posted work on a few myself and each time have had a very mixed bag of comments. Some have been helpful observations - not always very complimentary and not at all what I wanted to hear but nevertheless constructive and valuable, while others have been opinions rather than reviews, and have been along the lines of ‘I don’t like this genre’ or something equally useless. Of course, not every piece of writing is going to appeal to everyone, no matter what its merits might be, but a good reviewer can recognise good qualities even if they hate the writing. It’s about objectivity. It helps to look for positive and negative in a piece of work giving a more balanced view.

In the Greenacre Writers groups, we read and critique each other's work. We don’t all sit around saying, ‘oh, it’s marvellous,’ to boost each other’s confidence because that isn’t helpful. If it is marvellous, we explain why, and if there are aspects we think need revision we say so, and again, we say why (in between mouthfuls of cake.) Constructive criticism is the way forward and I think all the members agree their writing has improved because of it. But strangers - often using stupid nicknames - on a website can be unnecessarily unkind because they don’t have to account for themselves.

I gave Ernest Hemingway constructive criticism. I think I might have suggested he try a writing group. Oh well, no doubt he’ll agree with me on one thing: some reviewers are rubbish.