/ Why is it easier to criticise than praise?

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Deadeye 10 Oct 2019

I got pulled up (rightly) for some over-the-top criticism.

I used to write some foodie reviews (think A A Gill but less talented); and it was the same: much (MUCH) easier to be critical than to praise.  The words come easier, the jokes are funnier, the pieces always more engaging.

Why is this?  And is it just in the pen of the writer... or do we all have a collective repsonsibility - for example, I've always enjoyed critical reviews more than positive ones.

Perhaps it's just easier to find new ground with the critical; "it was pretty good" is hard ot make into 500 words.

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Gordon Stainforth 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Deadeye:

I think the truth is that many people who don't write for a living haven't quite grasped just how hard it is. Many critics are, actually, (almost by definition - hard to refute this, surely) failed writers in the primary sense. Otherwise, why aren't they writing or getting published. It's their little power kick. 

Most genuine writers, in my experience, support each other and never criticise their peers.

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Blunderbuss 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Deadeye:

> I got pulled up (rightly) for some over-the-top criticism.

> I used to write some foodie reviews (think A A Gill but less talented); and it was the same: much (MUCH) easier to be critical than to praise.  The words come easier, the jokes are funnier, the pieces always more engaging.

> Why is this?  And is it just in the pen of the writer... or do we all have a collective repsonsibility - for example, I've always enjoyed critical reviews more than positive ones.

> Perhaps it's just easier to find new ground with the critical; "it was pretty good" is hard ot make into 500 words.

What a crap post... 

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Deadeye 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> I think the truth is that many people who don't write for a living haven't quite grasped just how hard it is. Many critics are, actually, (almost by definition - hard to refute this, surely) failed writers in the primary sense. Otherwise, why aren't they writing or getting published. It's their little power kick. 

> Most genuine writers, in my experience, support each other and never criticise their peers.


Um, what if you're critiquing sport or cooking or architecture?

It's possible to enjoy a good meal without being able to cook one.  And enough people can cook one that you can compare one to another.

I think there's just more juicy words available, and that provoke juicier sensations, in critique

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Deadeye 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Blunderbuss:

> What a crap post... 


Ha!  I see what you did there...

If only it was intentional...

;)

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Gordon Stainforth 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Deadeye:

Good point. Those seem entirely valid and worthwhile. But when it comes to judging what would broadly be described as literature, that seems a lot less worthwhile or valid. A sports critic or a food critic usually comes from a position of high expertise, whereas a literary critic comes from ... what? Often very little indeed, except their own ego.

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Jon Stewart 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Deadeye:

I don't have any obligations to write, so I only put fingers to keyboard when I feel sufficiently moved to do so.

Very rarely will someone's work annoy me so much that I just can't stop myself emailing them to let them know how much they've pissed me off. But if someone does something that brings me great joy, the first thing I do is let them know by email.

I can recall a couple of times I've done this with food. We're not talking fancy high-end restaurant cuisine here, memorable examples include a yoghurt from the supermarket and a sandwich from a stall. With online content, if it's brilliant I'll leave a comment, but if it's crap I'll just stop watching. I feel no need to slag people off if I can just do something else instead.

(People reading this may have noticed that I do often jump into an online discussion to slag off what someone is saying. I can't help myself. If I hear an *opinion* that I think is fallacious and harmful, I'm all over it in an instant, but holding some objectionable political opinion is not the same thing as making a crap sandwich or a boring TV show: these things don't have repercussions.)

If you set out with an obligation to write, then due to the fact that almost everything in the world is crap, you're far more likely to end up criticising than praising. And then you get better at it, it becomes your comfort zone...and that provides an answer to your question. 

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what the hex 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

Feeling a bit sensitive today? Why set literature apart from cooking (or indeed, sport)? What makes it different and why should it be above criticism (as in the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults)?

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Gordon Stainforth 10 Oct 2019
In reply to what the hex:

Because it's very hard to criticise. Cf. Criticising poetry. Where do you start? And why? 

Writing of course covers a huge range of things all the way from the driest (but v useful) non-fiction, to the obscure and possibly life-enrichning fiction.

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Gordon Stainforth 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> If you set out with an obligation to write, then due to the fact that almost everything in the world is crap, you're far more likely to end up criticising than praising. And then you get better at it, it becomes your comfort zone...and that provides an answer to your question. 

Well, that's true, as far as it goes. But somehow a writer has to go further than that: he or she has somehow to express the full gamut of emotion of what is both bad and good about the situation they are describing/accounting.

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what the hex 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

Surely expressing an admittedly subjective opinion about what has just been read / experienced is part of the game? Even if the critic is a moron shouldn't they be allowed to express themselves? I also reserve the to criticise poetry (and also soup)

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Gordon Stainforth 10 Oct 2019
In reply to what the hex:

Of course. It's a free world. Egos can never be quashed anyway.

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harley.marshall8 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Deadeye:

Buddhists say the human mind attaches to the negative 20 times easier than the positive. This would make writing a negative review much less effort than a positive one. To write a positive review that is constructive and helpful rather than negative takes skill, time and patience.  Empty praise is also negative but to be able to focus on the good things about an experience whilst maintaining your own integraty and judgement and producing an engaging piece of work is also difficult. 

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Andy Clarke 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> Because it's very hard to criticise. Cf. Criticising poetry. Where do you start? And why? 

If we're talking about literary criticism as an academic discipline, then some of the greatest critics have also been the greatest writers. T S Eliot is perhaps the most obvious example. Ezra Pound may have his detractors, but undoubtedly had an enormous influence both as critic and poet. Going back to the Romantics, Coleridge was not only one of our greatest poets, but also a very significant  critic - eg of Shakespeare.

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Deadeye 10 Oct 2019
In reply to harley.marshall8:

> Buddhists say the human mind attaches to the negative 20 times easier than the positive. This would make writing a negative review much less effort than a positive one. To write a positive review that is constructive and helpful rather than negative takes skill, time and patience.  Empty praise is also negative but to be able to focus on the good things about an experience whilst maintaining your own integraty and judgement and producing an engaging piece of work is also difficult. 


OK, let's go with that.  But surely it would make *reading* a negative review easier ("mind attaches") rather than writing.

If you argued that people find reading sharp criticism more interesting than fulsome praise, then I would agree.

Perhaps it's because it's (evolutionarily) , more "valuable" to avoid bad things than to find exceptional ones.

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Gordon Stainforth 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Andy Clarke:

Yes, good examples. But they're very thin on the ground really. Orwell too, I suggest.

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pasbury 11 Oct 2019
In reply to Deadeye:

Think of books or music, do you really want to waste time invalidating stuff you didn’t enjoy reading/listening to. Why the hell would you bother making the effort to a) read/listen to the end and b) then write about it. It seems like a form of masochism unless you’re being paid handsomely for it.

I’ve written several reviews on Amazon, but only for stuff I like. I’m far more motivated to express enthusiasm than dislike.

As to restaurant reviews, the negative ones mostly seem like the most self indulgent form of writerly masturbation.

Post edited at 00:12
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birdie num num 11 Oct 2019
In reply to Deadeye:

Mrs Num Num’s cooking is shit. It’s really really difficult to say anything nice about it.

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Bob Kemp 11 Oct 2019
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> Yes, good examples. But they're very thin on the ground really. Orwell too, I suggest.

Are you sure about that? It sometimes seems that the papers are full of authors reviewing other authors, to the point where it all looks quite circular, a closed shop. 

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MG 06:27 Fri
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

I find your view puzzling. Writing and critiquing are different. I'd expect a good review to put writing in context, provide background, judge its effectiveness, compare with other similar work etc. Doing this requires different skills to writing. As a simple example, a guidebook review doing the above well will  be helpful, but the reviewer won't need to be expert at summarising a Severe crack climb briefly themselves. 

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alan moore 06:40 Fri
In reply to Deadeye:

The paths to the dark side always offer less resistance.

Is it maybe a British thing to enjoy a good bring-down? The Americans are always very positive (on the surface at least), but we seem to thoroughly enjoy a bit of negativity.

Id much prefer to read a witty take down than a sappy good review.

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felt 06:45 Fri
In reply to Deadeye:

A critique by definition can be both positive and negative. Criticism can be both constructive and negative.

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jimtitt 06:59 Fri
In reply to Deadeye:

> I got pulled up (rightly) for some over-the-top criticism.

> I used to write some foodie reviews (think A A Gill but less talented); and it was the same: much (MUCH) easier to be critical than to praise.  The words come easier, the jokes are funnier, the pieces always more engaging.

> Why is this?  And is it just in the pen of the writer... or do we all have a collective repsonsibility - for example, I've always enjoyed critical reviews more than positive ones.

> Perhaps it's just easier to find new ground with the critical; "it was pretty good" is hard ot make into 500 words.

I'd have made sure I knew the difference between "critic(ise)" and "review" before I 'd have written that-

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Bob Kemp 09:39 Fri
In reply to Bob Kemp:

Interesting piece on whether writers should review other writers here:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/12/writers-review-each-other

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Martin W 11:31 Fri
In reply to felt:

Jay Rayner does seem to manage to craft a new batch of brand spanking shiny new laugh-out-loud put-downs every time he has a bad restaurant meal.  But IMO he is equally creative in his praise of establishments that deserve it.

The Guardian once (inadvertently) provided an example of over-the-top praise which we took at face value, only to have a distinctly meh dining experience - complete with faux "nouveau cuisine" style vanishingly small portions:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/01/norn-leith-edinburgh-restaurant-review-marina-oloughlin

We had assumed, from reading her column every week, that Marina O'Loughlin knew what she was talking about.  Actually eating in one of the places she raved about put that idea firmly to bed.  Three of our party of five went for a curry immediately afterwards.  In Leith.  I think that says a lot.

Another place that was well reviewed (though not by MO'L) when it opened had the same sort of schoolroom decor that a number of commenters on the previously linked review complained about, and a "constantly changing, seasonal menu" that was exactly the same on the night we went there as the one posted on the web site.  Things were not helped by the fact that it was one of those places where you eat what you're given, so the "menu" is really just a list of ingredients - supposedly part of the "fun" is waiting to see what horrors the kitchen will choose to inflict on them.  They also had a "mixologist" whose recommended cocktails were not quirky enough to actually be interesting, or even taste all that good.

(On the subject of "nouveau cuisine", isn't it about time that everyone recognised that it was a fad too far in the revolutionary overthrow of outdated French cuisine, and just...well, didn't any more.  Please?

Other foody trends that are frowned upon in this household include smears of sauce on the edge of the plate aka "skidmarks" - I think it was Jack Dee who introduced that one to us - and "soil".)

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AllanMac 13:19 Fri
In reply to Deadeye:

If something like food is middling quality in my opinion, I don't say anything. If it is particularly good or particularly bad, I almost certainly will say something. The point being that a voiced honest opinion either way of how another person has made me feel, is constructive and helpful; praising excellence helps maintain high standards, while an honest criticism of awfulness will either put a halt to other people being made miserable, and/or would encourage urgent improvement for their own sake, especially if food is their business.

Being a loose-cannon ad-hom critic just for the hell of it, serves no purpose other than to get a cheap, puerile thrill of feeling momentarily powerful at someone else's expense. It's a quick laugh, but it isn't honest and is almost certainly destructive of genuineness and potential in others.

Praise is difficult for such critics because it's unlikely to get the laughs and admiration that goes with it. It would seem to be a throwback from the school playground, where tormenting kids who are perhaps perceived as being weak is easy, wins admiration, and deflects potential bullying. 

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In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> Good point. Those seem entirely valid and worthwhile. But when it comes to judging what would broadly be described as literature, that seems a lot less worthwhile or valid. A sports critic or a food critic usually comes from a position of high expertise, whereas a literary critic comes from ... what? Often very little indeed, except their own ego.

Except many critics are often established writers or (given that literary fiction is poorly paid) supporting their writing career. 

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hang_about 13:26 Fri
In reply to Deadeye:

Interesting analogies in science. I've had a long scientific career working in different sub-disciplines. In some areas everyone is hyper-critical - they trash each others papers, grants, talks etc. In other areas, the community is very supportive. What's interesting is that the supportive community gets more grant funding, more papers, more applicants even though the work, objectively, is no better than the critical community. 

The critical community are obsessed with internal competition without understanding that the outside world accepts their criticisms at face value  - that field is rubbish, even though it isn't. The supportive community still faces competitive pressures, but is perceived as better and stronger as that's the language they use.

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In reply to alan moore:

> The paths to the dark side always offer less resistance.

> Is it maybe a British thing to enjoy a good bring-down? The Americans are always very positive (on the surface at least), but we seem to thoroughly enjoy a bit of negativity.

> Id much prefer to read a witty take down than a sappy good review.

This implies you are reading the review for its own sake. I'm very pleased to read a good review (assuming I can trust the source) because it will lead me to something good.

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Blue Straggler 14:03 Fri
In reply to what the hex:

> Feeling a bit sensitive today?

Today, you ask? This is Gordon after all. He's just belittled Terry Eagleton...

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