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If You Have Not Anything Nice to Say, Then do Not Say Anything at All

Have you ever heard this statement before? It always jumps into my head when I am writing about things that are controversial or which ask people to respond with some action.

It always runs through my head when I am commenting on blog posts.

It is the word NICE which puts the brakes on my thinking. I am constantly attempting to substitute other words such as: significant, intriguing, positive, or thought provoking.

It is all a matter of definition. So then I move to what is my intention in writing or commenting, this takes away the drone of “nice girls” would not do that. Or my Mother’s constant reminder that there is always someone in the congregation who believes the preacher is personally addressing them with every message; taking it to heart.

Over the years I have had to write critiques, reviews, and papers which evaluate another’s writing, worship service or project given in classes. Sometimes the teacher would share a list of criteria that we were to work from and that gave the student more rules about playing the game.

I have just learned that the novelist John Updike has died. Now here was an amazing writer and informative critic. I was delighted to see that on Wikipedia was his list of criteria for reviewing. I thought it was such a good list I would copy it and paste it right here:

He once laid out his personal rules for literary criticism, in a 1975 New Yorker piece:

  1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.
  2. Give enough direct quotation—at least one extended passage—of the book’s prose so the review’s reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.
  3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy précis.
  4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending.…
  5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author’s oeuvre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it’s his and not yours?
    To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in any ideological battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never…try to put the author “in his place,” making of him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys of reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.

By the third time I had read it through, I remembered the class I had been handed this same list of criteria and Mr. Updike had not been given credit or even mention for his list. A Faculty had “scraped” something from Mr. Updike – hmmm?

I do not believe that writing a comment on a blog post is a literary review. I still think a comment should be substantive and I still cringe at the word NICE. I want the writer to know that I received something from the post, I want to be creative, and sometimes I just say it was a nice pause.

I think comments are an integral part of blogging, do you think so too? How do they help you write or intrigue your thoughts and ideas?

I am studying this because I am spending the greatest amount of my work time right now working on my comments on other’s blogs because I feel they are so valuable to the success of blogging, but I need to cut down on my time spent in this area. Any Suggestions?

16 Responses to “If You Have Not Anything Nice to Say, Then do Not Say Anything at All”

  1. Mike Goad Says:

    I DO think that commenting is an integral part of blogging.

    I just wrote a comment on Alex Fayle’s blog that is longer than some of my own blog posts.

    I think that my commenting elsewhere helps hone my thoughts and perceptions. That should make it easier when I go to write my own posts, but that isn’t always the case. I suppose I need to write shorter comment so that I can write longer posts. On the other hand, I…

    Mike Goads last blog post..Wedenesday Weigh-In, February 18, 2009

  2. Mark Says:

    Thank-you for sharing this! Interesting these rules of review are not limited to review of writing, they can be used in how we view each other on a daily basis. Very good, thank-you for sharing.

    Marks last blog post..Push or Pull?

  3. Dot Says:

    Very interesting — I too had never read those rules on critiquing. The conflict between “nice” and “truthful” has been a lifelong one for me.

    I think comments are essential to an interesting blog, and helps me meet new people online.

    “I do not believe that writing a comment on a blog post is a literary review. I still think a comment should be substantive and I still cringe at the word NICE.” A few weeks ago, another blogger informed me in his comment section that I was always complaining, that whenever he saw my Gravatar he asked himself “What is Dot complaining about now?” and that even my compliments were back-handed.

    This is quite definitely an example of what not to do in comments, especially not in YOUR OWN comments. I attempted twice to get him to take it to email, but he resisted, to his own detriment, I think.

    As for the accusations, I asked him for three examples, because I sincerely wanted to change if this was anywhere near true. He sent me one example, a comment that it sounded like the blogger (a different person) had enjoyed an experience, but I didn’t think I would. This he interpreted as being “negative,” while the part about her liking it was “positive.” The whole thing was thus “back-handed” in his opinion. At that point I stopped communicating.

    Personally, I appreciate honesty in other people, even when it hurts, as long as it’s constructive criticism. However, it hurts more when it’s not true.

    I also think that people who have experienced life’s tragedies and very difficult times often find that being “nice” just doesn’t cut it in terms of describing some of life’s hardships.

    Dots last blog post..OpenOffice Extensions

  4. Vered - MomGrind Says:

    To answer your question, yes comments are important, and commenting on other blogs is the only way to get comments on your own (unless you’re a celebrity blogger).

    You need to find the right balance and to decide why you are commenting on other blogs. For example, if you are commenting specifically to get more comments on your own blog, then you should only comment on blogs where the blog owner would reciprocate.

  5. Jannie Funster Says:

    I am always so leery of critiquing a friend’s writing, but if I ever find myself having to, that list sounds like a really really smart thing to go by.

    I think we all get to the point where visiting a lot of blogs and commenting does take up a lot of time. And how to approach it. I totally agree with Vered on commenting upon reciprocial commenters’ blogs. (Comments iz luv.)

    There are blogs I get around to every other day or so, ones I feel personally closer to the blogger, these (like yours,) I like to keep up on because I consider you friends. Others blogs I may visit maybe 1 or 2 times a week. That works for me!

    btw, I have always absolutely LOVED the word precis, thanks for reminding me of it.

  6. patricia Says:

    Mike,
    I have also left comments that are longer than posts. When I visit a blog I read every word, as I want to know what they are putting their energy into and then I try to be careful and and share my thoughts. I think commenting is crucial to the blogging experience, and I always appreciate when some one comments – it expands the conversation and are so important.

    I am thinking that I just need to get more concise?

    Mark,
    I was so happy I remembered these rules and looked them up. They were strong support when I was evaluating peers on their work and I think they are well designed. Yes! good on a daily basis.

    Dot,
    You always leave such interesting comments. Wow it is hard when someone makes a criticism of our work, but maybe it was because he/she was looking through negative glasses themselves so in reading it looked negative? It was as honest as they could be from their view. Turn it around and ask them what was negative to them….that was so wise and then showed that it was not true.

    I just have a terrible time with NICE….
    I always feel that you read so carefully and often offer up a different view, which had not crossed my mind. I value that in a discussion.

    Vered,
    I do believe that I need to make comments and not always in hope that someone will reciprocate, but too because I connected with the piece or the idea and I wanted to let the author know that connection.

    I think I am working on being more concise and not spending so much time on what I write…maybe I am too thoughtful?
    I think I am attempting to Lighten up!

    I just adore the idea sharing – the conversation.

    Jannie,
    So happy I reminded you of a favorite word…lovely!
    I am going to use your idea of my daily blog visit and weekly blog list and get back to my 2 hours per 5 days of commenting. My comments may still be long and thoughtful, but not an all day adventure…I need to scale back and spend more time on the writing part.

    Thank you all for your great comments and I am glad you enjoyed Mr. Updike’s list…I believe it stands the test of time.

  7. Davina Says:

    Hi Patricia. How are you doing?

    I know what you mean about needing to cut down on time spent in this area. I agree that comments are important. I find many times when I’m leaving a comment, I am inspired with answers for myself, or for another post. I am careful to reply in a way that I add value, or compliment the blogger. Sometimes I leave a teasing remark.

    What I find disappointing is that when I do take time to focus on other priorities, and my commenting/reading time is cut back, the visits to my blog decrease as does the traffic. I’m beginning to learn to accept this as part of the process. As Vered said, you have to keep commenting to receive comments if you’re not a celebrity blogger.

    What I’ve been doing lately is to stop commenting on every post of every blog in my reader. I’ve made it ok now to read/comment on every 2nd or 3rd post of the ones who post every day. I only post once or twice a week and it is more difficult to keep up with those who post every day. I don’t like missing ANY of them, but something’s gotta give somewhere.

    Davinas last blog post..A Dangerous Metaphor

  8. Patricia Says:

    Davina,
    Thank you for coming by and I knew you would understand the time challenge for sure, as you comment on many more blogs than I do right now.

    I think other than getting more concise in my comments and just setting a time limit for reading and commenting, I will give myself permission to not comment on every post.

    I am also preparing to take a weekly class on learning how to make money and I want to have time to participate fully and learn all that I need to know.

    Good thing life is ever changing and adjusting!

  9. Lance Says:

    Hi Patricia,

    I’m not sure if this is an exact fit – but I used to be involved in an organization called Toastmasters – where we worked on our public speaking skills. One important part of that was evaluations by the other meeting attendees. What I learned through all of this – is that we can make a point about something – even if we are critiquing, and do it in a nice manner. And this is a skill that I believe applies not only to that group I was involved in. It really applies to all areas of life. Including writing.

    And that’s the great thing about comments. It’s a way for us to share our viewpoint – even if it is different from the writer. Doing so “nicely” I do think is important. And I do love comments – they just add so much to the discussion, and it really feels like a community is being built…

    Great thoughts here Patricia…

    Lances last blog post..Sunday Thought For The Day

  10. Patricia Says:

    Lance,
    I do think comments are really important part of blogging and I truly do not receive many negative comments or criticisms. I think the Toastmaster’s formula is a very good system too.

    I am working on adjusting my commenting and time slot for commenting so I can have the time to build my community and have enough time to take a course on money.

    I think I have been working on being too thoughtful and wordy in my commenting and if I can loosen up my thoughtfulness and timeliness, I might surely be able to accomplish both in an appropriate time frame?

    I sure do appreciate all these good suggestions – it really is so helpful thank you.

  11. Ulla Hennig Says:

    Yes, commenting is a very important part of blogging, and yes, it takes a lot of time. I try to concentrate on a few blogs which I read and comment on almost regularly (with exceptions). Commenting affords reading a blog very closely – I try to avoid comments like “nice post”. Other blogs I regularly read, but do not comment that often. And there are some blogs which are in my rss feed but if the title doesn’t catch my eye I push the “delete” button, without reading them. I admit that’s a rather harsh way of doing it, but without I would not be able to cope.

    Ulla Hennigs last blog post..Premio Dardos Award

  12. patricia Says:

    Ulla,
    Thank you for commenting on my spot! I am just trying to have some personal time in my life and I think I must get more concise and limit my time for commenting.
    I do need to read every word for some reason, maybe because I think folks put great effort into what they are sharing and writing and I want to honor that.

    Thank you for sharing your good suggestions

  13. Dot Says:

    Thanks for your description of my comments, Patricia. I feel the same way about your comments.

    On being more concise — that take more time. There’s that famous quotation about “I would have made it shorter, but I didn’t have time.”

    It is sad that we have to comment to get comments. I have some blogs I’d read even if I wasn’t a blogger, as I’m sure we all have. Commenting on blogs that don’t really interest me is not always easy, and sometimes I just don’t comment. The person may be very interesting to me, but not necessarily what they write about on their blog.

    What this means is that our blog’s success is limiited by the time we have available to comment. It’s too bad there aren’t other tools for getting ourselves noticed and hanging onto readers. I guess there are, but I don’t know enough about them — SEO so we can get more searchers, contests and prizes to draw people in, etc.

    Dots last blog post..What It’s Like at the Sleep Lab

  14. Patricia Says:

    Dot,
    I have spent a lifetime trying to get folks in the doors….you have to catch their eye and then hold ’em ….I still think when you have something to say and it speaks to people then they will come back and keep reading….
    Word of mouth is the best ad system I know…
    Thanks for keeping your good comments coming – I like to think them through…and thanks for sharing your good thoughts

  15. Ribbon Says:

    G’day best bet is to be yourself. If you fancy leaving a comment then do. Try not to look towards it as work as it will very soon lose pleasure and you’ll stop being your cheerful self.

    There are no rules, just guidelines for being what you want to be :-)

    Best wishes and take care.
    Try not to spend too much time on the computer each day as it is not good for your wellbeing.
    Too much of anything is good for nobody!

  16. Patricia Says:

    Ribbon,
    Thank you for your good comment….I am working on cutting down on computer time…I hate to say it but hand doing the income taxes is really cutting into my computer, writing, reading and playing time….

    Today I went out and worked on the roses in hopes that spring will be here soon!