Author Topic: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.  (Read 5094 times)

Intermaggio

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Hey all! I'm a bit of a nomad, and I've been considering trying to monetize my writing and photography. I've been thoroughly encouraged by my family to do it, but I'd like some honest and unbiased feedback about my writing from you guys. I've been developing my writing style, and so I'd especially like your critique on the second half of this journal entry: http://intermaggio.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/on-and-off-the-beaten-path-part-1-austria-slovenia-and-italy-august-2014/

What are your thoughts? Is it something you would read more of? Tell a friend about (if there was more and similar content)? Do the descriptions "work" and paint a vivid image in your mind?

BurquenaAbroad

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Re: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2014, 05:45:48 AM »
Hello Intermaggio,
Congratulations on your traveling and on being brave enough to ask for commentary. After reading the post you linked, here are some of my most brutal thoughts (brace yourself, I'm a big meanie when I review someone's writing):

- My main concern is that the piece doesn't flow particularly well. I understand it's chronological and true to your experience, but for me as a stranger, the events are a bit staccato. Perhaps this is because you've tried to describe a journey of a few days in a short article? I feel like this article is either too long (and should be broken up into shorter, more focused bits), or too short (and needs a lot more detail and linking between the different events).

- I haven't ever been to the part of the world you describe, and I don't feel like your piece transported me there mentally. I'm a very visual person (and so are lots of other people); could you include your photography in the post? Or a map? As a reader, I need a reason to care about the places you're describing. Perhaps, since you end the piece musing about history, you could include more history at the beginning? If your goal is to earn money with a travel blog, you need to hook the reader into lusting after travel as well (specifically, lusting after your travel experiences), and you can do this by describing the places you're visiting vividly and evocatively.

- Choose a tense and stick with it. I'm very guilty of breaking this rule, so I know it can be hard when you're drafting a piece to decide how you want to remember past events, but be sure to go back and make sure it all fits. (I'm specifically referring to this sentence "Our first stop would be for lunch in the Austrian city Velden, where I would order a full rack of ribs for myself" which sounded off to me.)

- I didn't like so much the bits about food. While of course food is a important part of any trip, I feel like you either talked about it too much (it wasn't really related to the other parts of the story), or not enough (if I am a foodie, I want to know what it tasted like, or see pictures, or get recipes, or learn about why that food fit that place or those people). I love peanut butter and banana too, but that was a terrible ending: it felt out of place and sudden, like you suddenly changed your tone after the previous dreamy paragraph, and then stopped midway through a scene. So confusing.

- Tell me more about the free accommodation! Or tell me more about the waterfall, which you said was the "centerpiece" and yet didn't talk about why you like it so much. Or tell me more about all your hosts, because meeting interesting people is one reason we all travel, and everyone has quirks that make for good "characters" in writing (my friends all get funny nicknames to describe them and preserve their privacy). Or point out some lessons you learned from this trip that other travelers would find useful (e.g., don't eat a big meal in a small car, waterfalls are awesome, English isn't necessary to commune with ghosts, etc).

- I like the musing, slightly ghost-like paragraph about the tower. I like your casual tone, and I like your mild humor. Keep at it!


I would potentially read more posts from you, but obviously I'm hoping your writing will get a bit more.... oomph. I wouldn't tell a friend, but I hardly ever share blogs with friends, so that's not you, it me. :) The descriptions work and I got some vivid images, but I think you can make them more cohesive and/or punchier.

The best way to develop a strong writing voice is to keep writing, so if you don't agree with my brutal (but hopefully constructive) criticism, just keep writing and prove me wrong. ;)

Intermaggio

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Re: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.
« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2014, 05:58:40 AM »
Hello Intermaggio,
Congratulations on your traveling and on being brave enough to ask for commentary. After reading the post you linked, here are some of my most brutal thoughts (brace yourself, I'm a big meanie when I review someone's writing):

- My main concern is that the piece doesn't flow particularly well. I understand it's chronological and true to your experience, but for me as a stranger, the events are a bit staccato. Perhaps this is because you've tried to describe a journey of a few days in a short article? I feel like this article is either too long (and should be broken up into shorter, more focused bits), or too short (and needs a lot more detail and linking between the different events).

- I haven't ever been to the part of the world you describe, and I don't feel like your piece transported me there mentally. I'm a very visual person (and so are lots of other people); could you include your photography in the post? Or a map? As a reader, I need a reason to care about the places you're describing. Perhaps, since you end the piece musing about history, you could include more history at the beginning? If your goal is to earn money with a travel blog, you need to hook the reader into lusting after travel as well (specifically, lusting after your travel experiences), and you can do this by describing the places you're visiting vividly and evocatively.

- Choose a tense and stick with it. I'm very guilty of breaking this rule, so I know it can be hard when you're drafting a piece to decide how you want to remember past events, but be sure to go back and make sure it all fits. (I'm specifically referring to this sentence "Our first stop would be for lunch in the Austrian city Velden, where I would order a full rack of ribs for myself" which sounded off to me.)

- I didn't like so much the bits about food. While of course food is a important part of any trip, I feel like you either talked about it too much (it wasn't really related to the other parts of the story), or not enough (if I am a foodie, I want to know what it tasted like, or see pictures, or get recipes, or learn about why that food fit that place or those people). I love peanut butter and banana too, but that was a terrible ending: it felt out of place and sudden, like you suddenly changed your tone after the previous dreamy paragraph, and then stopped midway through a scene. So confusing.

- Tell me more about the free accommodation! Or tell me more about the waterfall, which you said was the "centerpiece" and yet didn't talk about why you like it so much. Or tell me more about all your hosts, because meeting interesting people is one reason we all travel, and everyone has quirks that make for good "characters" in writing (my friends all get funny nicknames to describe them and preserve their privacy). Or point out some lessons you learned from this trip that other travelers would find useful (e.g., don't eat a big meal in a small car, waterfalls are awesome, English isn't necessary to commune with ghosts, etc).

- I like the musing, slightly ghost-like paragraph about the tower. I like your casual tone, and I like your mild humor. Keep at it!


I would potentially read more posts from you, but obviously I'm hoping your writing will get a bit more.... oomph. I wouldn't tell a friend, but I hardly ever share blogs with friends, so that's not you, it me. :) The descriptions work and I got some vivid images, but I think you can make them more cohesive and/or punchier.

The best way to develop a strong writing voice is to keep writing, so if you don't agree with my brutal (but hopefully constructive) criticism, just keep writing and prove me wrong. ;)

Thank you so much for this feedback- it's exactly what I was looking for, and very, very helpful. Two things I think are worth mentioning for context- 1- I do have photos (though I need to be more consistent with my photography), but the WordPress app is currently not letting me upload them, so I'll add them later. 2- I really appreciate your suggestions regarding focus. At the moment, I'm writing my journal primarily for my own benefit, which means no specific focus, but I agree and I'm glad that you gave me some clarity on the importance of making something more coherent.

Thanks again! :-)

MarciaB

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Re: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.
« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2014, 07:37:11 AM »
Here's my take on your blog post:

1) You have a nice command of language, spelling, grammar and all that. For me that's a base minimum to read anyone's posts (you passed the first test!).

2) In terms of content - what I'm seeing is a lot of reporting (you went here, you went there, they said this, you ate that) and no interpretation. Essentially, you told what you did, but not why it meant anything to you. And I'm a lot more interested in the why than the what (since I haven't been to those places, nor met those people). Tell me why any of this matters to you. Or to me or anyone else. I'm not going to keep reading unless you do.

3) I love the tagline: Hitchhiking, couchsurfing, and trying not to die.

Intermaggio

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Re: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2014, 07:49:25 AM »
Here's my take on your blog post:

1) You have a nice command of language, spelling, grammar and all that. For me that's a base minimum to read anyone's posts (you passed the first test!).

2) In terms of content - what I'm seeing is a lot of reporting (you went here, you went there, they said this, you ate that) and no interpretation. Essentially, you told what you did, but not why it meant anything to you. And I'm a lot more interested in the why than the what (since I haven't been to those places, nor met those people). Tell me why any of this matters to you. Or to me or anyone else. I'm not going to keep reading unless you do.

3) I love the tagline: Hitchhiking, couchsurfing, and trying not to die.

Thanks! I totally agree with the lack of "why?" as in its current form, my writing is more as a journal for myself than anything else. I'm playing with some ideas about how to approach travel writing with the intention of high readership and monetization, so it means a lot to me that my writing is tolerable, even if the content isn't there. :-)

I'm curious- how did you feel about the staccato nature of it that the previous commenter mentioned?
« Last Edit: September 24, 2014, 08:29:44 AM by Intermaggio »

MarciaB

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Re: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2014, 07:54:13 AM »
I agree with the "staccato" comment, and everything BurquenaAbroad says.

And am impressed with your courage to ask for a brutal assessment and be so receptive to the feedback. Well done!

If this is just a journal for you, then consider that it's not compelling to anyone else (except maybe your mom). Meaning, you will have trouble attracting readers/followers because there's nothing in it for them.

Intermaggio

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Re: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.
« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2014, 08:19:00 AM »
I agree with the "staccato" comment, and everything BurquenaAbroad says.

And am impressed with your courage to ask for a brutal assessment and be so receptive to the feedback. Well done!

If this is just a journal for you, then consider that it's not compelling to anyone else (except maybe your mom). Meaning, you will have trouble attracting readers/followers because there's nothing in it for them.

Thanks! And yes- I agree that in its current form it's not going to attract any readers. Probably my most likely route will be to start writing a blog about how to travel well- which coming from me will mean traveling dirt cheap (I'm flying from Istanbul to Taipei a week from now and my ticket was a grand total of $15 USD :-)), experiencing exotic cultures, making friends everywhere, growing as a person, and more than anything else, avoiding monotony. I'm also considering writing a photo book which would contain maybe 100 "moments" from my travels- I'm thinking a double page spread per photo with ~400 words about each moment overlaying the photo inconspicuously (similar to the passage about the lookout tower, but slightly altered to better fit the format).
« Last Edit: September 24, 2014, 08:30:42 AM by Intermaggio »

rujancified

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Re: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.
« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2014, 09:22:30 AM »
First things first: My company blocks your blog, but I was able to skim on my phone. Agree w/BA that you need to be more focused: Are you going to be the Rick Steves type who gives historical background, the Nomadic Matt-type who gives tons of info on how to live it up on the cheap, or LegalNomad-type who goes in depth on food/culture? Or something else entirely? Christine from AlmostFearless.com is someone who I think has done a GREAT job of achieving a balance between giving the nuts and bolts of traveling, but also talks food/photography/culture angle frequently.

In case it wasn't clear, I have a bit of a travel blog problem.


Intermaggio

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Re: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.
« Reply #8 on: September 24, 2014, 09:42:27 AM »
First things first: My company blocks your blog, but I was able to skim on my phone. Agree w/BA that you need to be more focused: Are you going to be the Rick Steves type who gives historical background, the Nomadic Matt-type who gives tons of info on how to live it up on the cheap, or LegalNomad-type who goes in depth on food/culture? Or something else entirely? Christine from AlmostFearless.com is someone who I think has done a GREAT job of achieving a balance between giving the nuts and bolts of traveling, but also talks food/photography/culture angle frequently.

In case it wasn't clear, I have a bit of a travel blog problem.

I'm thinking of coming at it primarily from the frugal traveling angle, and also writing regular articles about the benefits of traveling, and specifically traveling cheap- I want to inspire people to explore the world, which doesn't happen when you stay at the same hotels and eat at Hard Rock Cafe in the world's top tourist destinations. So I suppose that it won't be nearly the same writing style as the entry I posted here, but it's very encouraging to hear that my writing is decent, aside from the lack of focus and a few other manageable tweaks.

EA_Mann

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Re: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.
« Reply #9 on: September 24, 2014, 09:47:39 AM »
Hi there,

I am a freelance writer on the side (mostly financial) and have written a lot of unpublished fiction. I scanned the piece but  only read the first paragraph because that's all most will read if they don't know you already and aren't grabbed by your writing. Here are my comments:

- problem in the first sentence. you can 'head out' on a road trip, but you can't 'head on a road trip'.
- you say "what the hell were they thinking?" but you don't explain further. why is it strange that they'd want to take a week off with you? Are you crazy? do they not know you that well yet? These kinds of early inconsistencies tell the reader they are not in good hands
- consider some shorts paragraphs mixed in with your longer ones.

For a year I worked on a novel, writing 10+ pages a week. Nothing came of the novel, but forcing myself to write this many pages is the ONLY thing that made me any good at writing. You'll probably get a lot of feedback on this thread, but it is going to be hard to implement all of it. You best bet is to JUST KEEP WRITING - you'll magically get better. I promise.

Intermaggio

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Re: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.
« Reply #10 on: September 24, 2014, 09:59:28 AM »
Hi there,

I am a freelance writer on the side (mostly financial) and have written a lot of unpublished fiction. I scanned the piece but  only read the first paragraph because that's all most will read if they don't know you already and aren't grabbed by your writing. Here are my comments:

- problem in the first sentence. you can 'head out' on a road trip, but you can't 'head on a road trip'.
- you say "what the hell were they thinking?" but you don't explain further. why is it strange that they'd want to take a week off with you? Are you crazy? do they not know you that well yet? These kinds of early inconsistencies tell the reader they are not in good hands
- consider some shorts paragraphs mixed in with your longer ones.

For a year I worked on a novel, writing 10+ pages a week. Nothing came of the novel, but forcing myself to write this many pages is the ONLY thing that made me any good at writing. You'll probably get a lot of feedback on this thread, but it is going to be hard to implement all of it. You best bet is to JUST KEEP WRITING - you'll magically get better. I promise.

Thank you- I will! Can I ask you your thoughts on the second to last paragraph? I know it may sound silly or vain, but that was the one I felt most accurately represents my writing ability after careful thought and editing.

rujancified

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Re: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.
« Reply #11 on: September 24, 2014, 10:24:13 AM »
First things first: My company blocks your blog, but I was able to skim on my phone. Agree w/BA that you need to be more focused: Are you going to be the Rick Steves type who gives historical background, the Nomadic Matt-type who gives tons of info on how to live it up on the cheap, or LegalNomad-type who goes in depth on food/culture? Or something else entirely? Christine from AlmostFearless.com is someone who I think has done a GREAT job of achieving a balance between giving the nuts and bolts of traveling, but also talks food/photography/culture angle frequently.

In case it wasn't clear, I have a bit of a travel blog problem.

I'm thinking of coming at it primarily from the frugal traveling angle, and also writing regular articles about the benefits of traveling, and specifically traveling cheap- I want to inspire people to explore the world, which doesn't happen when you stay at the same hotels and eat at Hard Rock Cafe in the world's top tourist destinations. So I suppose that it won't be nearly the same writing style as the entry I posted here, but it's very encouraging to hear that my writing is decent, aside from the lack of focus and a few other manageable tweaks.

Cool! I'm not a hyper-budget traveler, but I do try to save a buck anywhere I can (duh, I'm on MMM, aren't I?). I think if you're going for a frugality angle, maybe summing up a destination by dollars spent would be a good "competitive advantage" to have. Dig into the couch-surfing that you're doing (assume you're couchsurfing?) and talk about how traveling that way vs. hotel/hostel gets you closer to the action.

Best of luck - keep at it. You'll find your voice.

EA_Mann

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Re: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.
« Reply #12 on: September 24, 2014, 11:02:04 AM »
Intermaggio - no problem. I will wait until tonight when I have more time, then reply on the thread when I'm done.

BurquenaAbroad

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Re: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.
« Reply #13 on: September 24, 2014, 10:01:49 PM »
Thank you so much for this feedback- it's exactly what I was looking for, and very, very helpful. Two things I think are worth mentioning for context- 1- I do have photos (though I need to be more consistent with my photography), but the WordPress app is currently not letting me upload them, so I'll add them later. 2- I really appreciate your suggestions regarding focus. At the moment, I'm writing my journal primarily for my own benefit, which means no specific focus, but I agree and I'm glad that you gave me some clarity on the importance of making something more coherent.

Thanks again! :-)

You're welcome! Thanks for giving me the editing practice. :)

Writing for yourself is great, and indeed the post you linked might be "notes" to help you write a second draft that really grabs your audience. As someone else in the thread mentioned, just.keep.writing. but ALSO keep reading. Not just lazy reading, but critical reading; think about what works and what doesn't in other people's writing. What kinds of blogs do you read? What makes you come back to them? Next time you read a new blog, and feel disinterested, analyze what made you turn off.

My own blog writing heroes include MMM (of course - check out the LASER focus he has on a topic, how many good vivid anecdotes are included as illustrations, etc), and the woman behind Frugal by Choice; she's friggin hilarious. My life is dramatically different from hers, but I am addicted to her blog because I'm in love with her sassy writing (and delicious recipes). Case in point: http://beingfrugalbychoice.com/2014/09/spicy-asian-green-beans.html


EA_Mann

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Re: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.
« Reply #14 on: September 26, 2014, 07:06:35 AM »
I made some edits and notes on the paragraph you requested. I apologize that I didn't have time for a full edit, but hopefully you'll get some value out of what I was able to do.

Bikesy

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Re: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.
« Reply #15 on: September 26, 2014, 10:21:14 AM »
I have no cool credentials to talk about before replying...but here's my take.  When I was in school, at some point I crossed a magical divide where I no longer wrote my papers to get a good grade, instead I wrote to entertain my professors.  Interestingly enough that's when I began to have professors ask to hold on to my work as examples for the coming semesters.  I wasn't doing anymore research, probably less, than my colleagues; however, after reading 50 boring as hell papers my professor would get to mine and actually enjoy his 30 min of grading.  To me, your piece is a little boring.  Like others have said its interesting for you because you lived it.  For the rest of us it needs to have entertainment value that goes beyond your recollection of the events.  Find your style and write in a way that you find entertaining.  More than likely others will enjoy it to.  Take critiques but don't try to write how everyone else wants you to.  Find what works best for you.

A quick example: your use of the word hell feels uncomfortable for me.  It felt like you wanted to add a bit of an edgy side or perhaps some humor/shock value, but the rest of your writing is in a very clean style.  It just felt out of place. 

You have great command of language and grammar.  Just keep writing and you will just continue to improve.

I love reading and writing...please continue to post so we can see your work!

1967mama

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Re: Requesting an honest, brutal, and constructive critique of my writing.
« Reply #16 on: September 27, 2014, 02:25:07 AM »
"Onward and upward" and other cliches definitely weakened your writing. You clearly have the ability to turn a phrase. I don't think you need to rely on cliche.

cli·ché
klēˈSHā kli-,kli-,ˈklēˌSHā/
noun
1.
a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.
"the old cliché “one man's meat is another man's poison.”"
synonyms:   platitude, hackneyed phrase, commonplace, banality, old saying, maxim, truism, stock phrase, trite phrase; old chestnut
"a good speechwriter will steer clear of clichés"
a very predictable or unoriginal thing or person.
"each building is a mishmash of tired clichés"
2.
PRINTINGBRITISH
a stereotype or electrotype.