The praise sandwich is baloney

You might know this under a different term so let me explain what I mean by praise sandwich. It’s when you have criticism to give a writer and you think it’s going to be pretty bad so you begin with something nice and you end with something encouraging.

The idea is that the little writer believes the praise and is thereby cushioned enough to accept your true criticism. That the poor little writer will learn from you, that you can give them the benefit of your knowledge and do so in such a way that they don’t realise how harsh you’ve really had to be.

Give me strength.

You’re already detecting a certain antagonism from me about this idea so let me nip in quickly with this: no, it hasn’t just happened to me. It’s certainly happened over the years and I think I’ve even been taught to use it too. But I read a piece recently by someone who was advocating it and perhaps because it was couched in a lot of talk about being professional, it narked me.

Because if you actually are a pro, you can smell the praise sandwich from the first bite.

Don’t waste my time with it, don’t insult me with it. If you think you need to give me a praise sandwich, we shouldn’t be working together. We should not be in the same writing group. Good writing groups are so hard to find that I never have. I’ve long since given up trying, though I did have a go with one a few months ago. It wasn’t the right group for me: there was some professional work going on there but not much and at most the writers fed each other praise on toast.

I did too: I ended up talking encouragingly to a writer who will never get her book published. I could tell her why, I had told her why, she just wasn’t ever going to listen. For a simple reason too: she’s not a pro. She’s a reader, not a writer. Usually criticism is just one’s opinion but in this case it was as practical and pragmatic and certain as if she’d told me she was entering a poetry contest and the piece she was submitting was 170,000-word doctoral thesis about trout.

Tell me what good I did her. Tell me what good the praise sandwich I got back was. This was a group that prided itself on being so tough that it could scald the skin off your arms but to me it was kindergarten. It was nap time at kindergarten.

Please, I’m asking you, give me some credit for being a pro and do not use the praise sandwich on me.

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