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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

100 Things Challenge (#3): Confidence and the Wimpy Writer

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

100 Things Challenge (#3): Confidence and the Wimpy Writer

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Today, I received good news about a paper I'd written for my recent grad school class, but for the first time in a long while, I'd been very nervous about something I'd written. It's that comfortable old dread, that sudden realization of the possibility that one has labored hard and still produced a dud. As I clicked through the university's website to view my grade, I had butterflies in my stomach.

I've often thought about writerly confidence and its relationship to skill as a writer. I was once the wimpiest of wimpy writers; I still am wimpy in some ways. And in working with other writers in the capacity of a peer and as an editor, I've made my share of observations about how wimpiness and confidence seem to relate to skill and success, however one chooses to define the latter.

Writerly wimpiness, for me, coexisted beside a tiny flicker of hope. It had to, or I wouldn't be here now. After all, one has to overcome one's wimpiness just long enough to throw a piece of writing out there, whether to LiveJournal or a workshop group or a publication. For me, those first early flickers of hope that I didn't suck as a writer and had some potential were so brief as to be self-defeating. My first attempt to publish something was via my university's creative arts journal, Bartleby, when I was a freshman. I saw the fliers around campus and just happened to have a story that fit the specifications; the story, incidentally, had won an award in a writing contest when I was in high school. But this was university, and I was certain that the bar was so much higher here. Still, the possibility of the writing context nagged at me, and on the last day submissions were being accepted, I climbed the stairs in the Fine Arts building to the English office and thrust my manuscript into the Bartleby mailbox and scampered back down the stairs before I had a chance to think better of it. Although the journal asked for all manner of contact information, I included only an email address, one that I happened not to check. Ever. This was so stupidly self-defeating that I'm shaking my head at myself even now, but I was convinced that there would be no occasion for the journal's editors to use the address; I wanted confirmation of my lack of suckiness but I also really didn't want to know what I was convinced was the truth: that I was unremarkable as a writer.

Lucky for me, the fiction editor was persistent enough to track me down via the registrar's office and leave a message on my parents' voicemail for me. The story was published, and the editor liked working with me enough that she brought me on as her assistant the next year, and I inherited her editorship the year after that. But I was still wimpy.

I was a writing minor in university, which meant regularly submitting to the process of having one's work workshopped by peers. I remember very little about the workshopping of my own writing; those memories faded into the stress-induced haze that accompanied them. But I do remember some of my classmates and my perceptions of them. University writing classes--at least at my university--had a more equitable gender balance than fandom but was still largely a woman thing. Most of the students and most of the professors were women. But every class, it seemed, had One of Those Guys.

Intro to Fiction: He was the sort who wore skinny jeans and a leather jacket and long hair dyed jet black, who lingered till the last minute before class sucking cigarettes outside the Social Sciences building where class was held, surrounded by a small harem of admiring female literati. He put up his hand for everything, and he never lilted the ends of sentences because everything was stated, never asked. He wore the look of brilliance, and he exuded confidence. He stood out against the backdrop of wimpy, largely woman, bookish classmates with our shoulders rounded inward and our drab hairstyles and our eyes always focused on the tops of our desks.

When it was his turn to be workshopped, I awaited reading his story with a mixture of eagerness and dread. Eagerness because it is always fun to read something by someone brilliant; dread because I'd have to find something intelligent and, ideally, at least a little bit critical about it. But when I settled down with the story, I found something quite different. The story was ... bland. It didn't have any of the sparkle that a good writer can put into prose, and the ending was a predictable gotcha of a twist that felt empty and disappointing. I finished the story, half-convinced that I wasn't astute enough to pick up on what he was trying to do with the story, but now I know that, no, the story just sucked.

Advanced Creative Essays: One of Those Guys sat behind me there, an older guy with receding gray hair and the kind of glasses that seem like they belong on a computer programmer from the seventies. He spoke with a slightly gravely voice that exuded confidence and authority. He also never asked, only stated. He seemed to belong in a cramped study, pounding out stories on a typewriter with Hemingway spilling off the bookshelf behind him.

But, this time, I knew better. On the first day of class, while doing introductions, when he said his name, I couldn't even bring myself to turn to meet his eyes. Anyone looking at me from the front of the classroom might have thought that I'd been suddenly and painfully bitten by a spider lurking under my chair by the way my eyes popped out suddenly. By this point, you see, I'd been on the Bartleby staff for a couple of years, and I was familiar already with this guy's work. While I was still Karan's assistant, she called me to meet her at the office one day because she had some stories she wanted my opinion on. She came in with the thick stack of manuscripts. All by one writer, she said, and she wasn't sure she wanted to ask the fiction staff to read them, but she wanted my opinion first. She took half and I took half. They were all pornography. Bad pornography. The protagonist always had the same name as the writer. Page after page was filled with overblown onomatopoeia: "Ooooooooooooh, John! Oooooooooooooo!" There wasn't much of a story; just a setup to "John's" sexual escapades. It wasn't even hot. He insisted on calling, in every one of his pile of stories, female genitalia "the garden." He was always entering someone's "garden" amid much moisture and humidity. Yech. I don't think Karan and I got through two before deciding that, no, we would reject them outright and not subject the staff to trying to read them.

In working with writers in a beta relationship, I've often worked with those who self-identify as very delicate about criticism, who want to improve their work but admit that they are terrified of--and sometimes lash out against--critique. I try to be gentle but have borne my share of lashings. Most of these writers are brilliant.

It's certainly not universal by any stretch of the imagination, but it does often seem, in my experience anyway, that the overly confident writers don't have the skill that the wimps do. I've had this conversation with other writers, who recognize the self-destructiveness of their terror of criticism or putting their stories "out there," whether for comment or publication. I recognize it myself; I can muster myself perhaps once per year to send a manuscript out. I'm much better about putting up my fannish work, in a large part because I have come to know fandom as a safe space where it is unlikely that I will be mercilessly shredded. Writers will lament to me how they wish they could be tougher. But I sometimes wonder: I sometimes wonder if their fragility--our fragility--is part of what makes them perceptive enough to write the way that they do and isn't part of what makes them self-critical and always shaping themselves, in the absence of critique from an outsider, toward perfection.

But it's a catch-22, of course: These same tender feelings mean one tends to hold back one's writing from potential opportunities. Those Guys, of course, with their swagger and their voices unable to form questions, don't similarly hold back, as evidenced by the pile of awful porn that has probably long since been recycled into newsprint.

I find myself evolving in recent years. I am able to admit things that would have stricken me with horror to say even three years ago. I'm a good writer. Even now, I want to BACKSPACE those words away. It feels unacceptable to say that, like I'm bragging. Or jinxing something. It's not even that I fear becoming One of Those Guys; I'm not a guy, after all, and yes, I do think that's part of it but maybe a can of worms for another post. I can admit that I'm a good writer compared to most other people. Writing is the thing I'm best at. But compared to my standards for myself, I have a long way to go. I think of the stories on my hard drive, some of them years old that should have been sent out to magazines years ago but never have, and I think, Gods no, they're still not ready. Maybe I haven't evolved so much after all. Maybe I don't want to.



This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

http://dawn-felagund.dreamwidth.org/297668.html
  • Congrats on your (unsurprising and well-earned) grade!

    I had to laugh reading your descriptions of Those Guys. I've taken two semesters of honors composition and I've already come to recognize them. I do believe you're onto something about overconfidence generating complacency about the quality of one's work.

    I don't avoid pointing out foibles, nor exaggerate the good points of the writing, but rather take care to point out both the merits and hitches I encounter in the work. It always kills me when I give what I consider a well-rounded and sensitive critique to Those Guys and then receive from them a bunch of narrow, condescending remarks. I always think, "Well, had I known it was going to be that way, I'd have been a little bit cruel, because your work's not all that."
    • Exactly! I chose Those Guys from my class, but I could have just as easily chosen two memorable individuals that I worked with as an editor. The first sent in a story to Bartleby and asked for critique (which we offered, being a university publication with education a part of our mission), and my staff of six and I worked on the story individually, then got together and discussed it while I put together composite feedback for the author. The story wasn't very good. We all agreed on that and also that, barring major edits, we would not accept the story. We did not inform the author of our decision at the time (since we made acceptance decisions at the end of fall semester), but I sent in the staff's comments ... and he wrote back that we didn't get it. Yes, I and my staff--seven people, all pretty advanced in English and writing coursework--all managed to miss his brilliance. One person, maybe, but seven?? That's you, buddy!

      The second was when I was editing for Antithesis Common; a writer sent in a "story" that was, to put it nicely, incomprehensible. It was literally nonsense spewed onto the page. When the editor sent her a nicely worded comment that we couldn't accept her work because we didn't understand her story, she got a nasty reply back, insulting our lack of artistic sophistication because, again, we just didn't get what she was trying to do.

      Both writers sucked, but clearly they thought they were all that. I suspect both requested feedback (AC also gave comments to writers by request) because they thought they'd get back glowing, fawning praise and an immediate acceptance. When they didn't get that--when the feedback challenged their perception of themselves as Great Writers--clearly we were the ones intellectually and creatively lacking.
      • Yes, I and my staff--seven people, all pretty advanced in English and writing coursework--all managed to miss his brilliance. One person, maybe, but seven?? That's you, buddy!

        At this point, one might hope he would start to accept that his brilliance is comprehensible only to him, and that if he wants his writing to interface with the broader world he'll have to make some alterations (although more likely he went on complaining about how no one gets it).
        • Yes, exactly! One could argue that one of the fundamental purposes of a piece of writing is communication, and if it utterly fails to communicate with readers, then that's something to worry about. No matter how brilliant a story in this guy's brain, I need it on paper! :)
  • but it does often seem, in my experience anyway, that the overly confident writers don't have the skill that the wimps do. I've had this conversation with other writers, who recognize the self-destructiveness of their terror of criticism or putting their stories "out there," whether for comment or publication

    I agree with this. I've noticed it really since joining LJ to talk to fanfic authors, but lately I have had it highlighted to me by spending some time on Twitter. (Some-one I know is writing an original fic. They write wonderful fanfic, and I love their o-fic, so I thought: Let's see what else is out there now, what people are writing.

    Often authors will offer free excerpts to read, or some sites ask for them to showcase. The majority I wouldn't read as fanfic, Dawn. But - here's the but - because of e-publishing and Indie publishing there are e-books coming out of the walls. Most of the authors will not do very well from their books; they're never going to be Rowling or John Connolly or have the success of Meyer, so they Tweet Tweet Tweet, advertise all the time, every twenty minutes or less. It's overwhelming, and a different world. Whether or not they're good or have confidence issues, they've had to overcome them to promote their stories. They quote lines from positive reviews, and so on. But I think they are confident You get the odd one raging about a poor review,(and dismiss it as not being fair or true. If they are devastated it does not show). but mainly they love their books. Whether they've self published or are with a publisher, they exude love and confidence for their writing in a way I've never seen in fanfic (Well, there are a couple of people who are complacent about their work, and thus pretty unbearable, and their work does not hold up).

    It's as if, having been validated by producing a book, mostly e-books, but some printed, even if they're self-pub, they are authors and they are going to act like authors.

    In fanfic, where I've come across some superb writers, we are hard on ourselves, nervous, lack confidence, wring our hands and fall into holes of depression, convinced we can't write shopping lists. I wonder why, unless in some way we feel guilty for writing fanfic? because the authors who do that are producing rich, beautiful stories that I would be snapping up if they were published.
    • I don't think that guilt, per se, explains the fanfic writer's attitude, but I do think that there is a connection between the two. I wonder if it's something to do with motive: We in the fanfic writing community write knowing full and well that our work will never be published. In terms of extrinsic rewards, the most we receive are positive comments, recs, or maybe an award nomination. Intrinsically, many of us also receive satisfaction from the deeper sense of community and conversation that our fanfic creates; I know many of us, for example, will write based on inspiration from another author's ideas or even to counter a perspective being put forward by another author. "Fame" in fandom can come about because a person is a good writer; it can also come about because the person is an astute analyst of the texts, generous with her time as a reviewer or beta, or a leader of fannish events or projects. In any case, it's much more oriented on collectivism and community.

      But published fiction is much more extrinsically motivated, and I think this attracts a different kind of writer: the sort who wants the proverbial fame and fortune. I think this produces a different kind of writing, too. Having participated, to an extent, in both the Tolkien fandom and the speculative o-fic communities, the conversations of the latter are much different, much more focused on what sells or what editors want. To the contrary, when we fannish writers approach a story, I think we consider more if what we are writing communicates to our readers what we want it to, whether an insight on a character or commentary on something in the "canon."

      I tried writing for markets exactly once in my life, while I was a writing minor, incidentally, after having been slapped down for writing something speculative. I became, briefly, a literary writer. The lack of satisfaction and disappointment that resulted caused me to stop writing for almost two years. What started me back? Fanfic. :)
      • To the contrary, when we fannish writers approach a story, I think we consider more if what we are writing communicates to our readers what we want it to, whether an insight on a character or commentary on something in the "canon."

        Yes. I find it really strange, as I thought writers were writers were writers, but the writers within fanfic have a far different attitude, and a vast amount of what comes across as deep love for the characters they write of. Not that you can't love characters you write in o-fic, but usually in fanfic the love is for some-one else's creation that we just want to explore, for nothing, not for fame or money, but out of sheer love.

        As for wimpiness. I view writing as looking up a flight of stairs. I see writers many steps above and know in my heart I can't get that far just because I've not go the intelligence or their gifts; I feel it's not ever possible to climb those stairs, but I am glad they're there because it shows me what can be done. Of course I feel that way when reading good original fiction, but the authors are distant, fanfic authors are closer, so it's like being on the same set of stairs, which is humbling but also acts as a kind of spur to me.

        Edited at 2012-05-31 05:08 pm (UTC)
        • I love that analogy. You're totally right that seeing what other authors make possible can act as an inspiration and motivation to stretch one's creative wings a bit! :)
  • Your descriptions of "One of Those Guys" archetypes had me in stitches!

    He insisted on calling, in every one of his pile of stories, female genitalia "the garden." He was always entering someone's "garden" amid much moisture and humidity.

    OMG! Smiley

    ETA: On a more serious note, my observations over the years in the scientific/biomedical arena is that (for the most part), men tend to project more self-confidence than women, even if said guys may not feel all that confident if you really press them. And I note that the overly-confident writers you've chosen to describe are...men! :^)

    [Risque sciency anecdote alert!]

    This reminds me of a story one of my former colleagues at Club V related to me. When he was in grad school (a chemistry department at a major university), he and the other students and post-docs were friendly with the sole female faculty member in the chem. department, and she apparently felt more at ease with them than her faculty colleagues, at least in terms of venting.

    My friend related that this professor came back from a faculty meeting in an extremely annoyed state over some issue of contention in the department and had found it difficult to be heard amongst all the androgenic posturing (overconfidence :^)). She put it rather bluntly:

    "It was a contest to see who had the biggest dick in the room, and I have nothing to work with!"

    Heh.

    [/risque sciency story alert!]



    Edited at 2012-05-31 11:34 am (UTC)
    • Admittedly, one of my few squicks are cutesy names for body parts. I think the only one worse is the common fannish "sheath" for vagina. *gags*

      The porn pile was funny; my editor and I giggled over it often, and my sister and I, after I told her about it, made jokes about it for years after. I also vacillate between thinking "John" was either really creepy or really tone-deaf, based on the number of self-insert porns he felt it necessary to send to the journal. O.O

      men tend to project more self-confidence than women, even if said guys may not feel all that confident if you really press them. And I note that the overly-confident writers you've chosen to describe are...men! :^)

      Definitely! I've worked with few obnoxiously overconfident woman writers ... actually, only one comes immediately to mind, and given that I've worked with many more woman writers then male writers, I do think that is significant.

      I know that it's taken me almost thirty years to be confident enough to say that, yes, I know I'm smart and good as a writer. When I started, it felt liberating but also scary, like I risked being perceived in a negative way for it.

      "It was a contest to see who had the biggest dick in the room, and I have nothing to work with!"

      LMAO! :D
  • I'm a writing wimp!

    I'm a good writer who is a writing/critique wimp!

    I think you have an excellent and perceptive thought in saying that our sensitivity might be the same thing that helps our writing be better.

    I do much, much better with gentle critiquing. I need a good mix of being told what's good with the piece along with what needs work. And do better if the pointing out what's wrong isn't done in a harsh, 'You stupid idiot, how could you write so poorly!' tone.

    A fantastic and insightful post!
    • Thank you, Pearl!

      I do much, much better with gentle critiquing.

      Possibly because on of my major involvements in a non-fannish writing community has been through the Critters workshop--and Andrew Burt, the leader of that group, requires diplomacy when offering critiques--I've come to see anything but diplomatic critique as self-defeating. I don't think there's ever a need for the kind of tone you describe; it immediately puts the writer on the defensive, and she/he stops being able to hear what the critic has to say. That's counterproductive, imo. If I take my time to offer a critique for a writer, I want her to be able to hear it well enough to maybe use it! :D

      Of course, I realize that tone is common throughout the writing world. Just look at the reviews on ff.net. ;)
      • Oh yes! And I had some really agressive ones at Henneth Annun.

        You're right, however good your insights might be, if they are presented in a fashion that hurts the recipient or makes them defensive, those good insights will be for naught.
  • It's certainly not universal by any stretch of the imagination, but it does often seem, in my experience anyway, that the overly confident writers don't have the skill that the wimps do.

    A while back, I overread someone who said something along the lines of "Not actually surprising: Good writers tend to have ambitious tastes and high expectations; they compare to the best, find themselves lacking, and thus work hard on improving themselves. The bad writers tend to have lower tastes and expectations. Accordingly, they compare themselves to those most like themselves, find themselves equal, and thus think they're already great..." No idea where or who that was, but it rang true. We are wimpy because we only ever orient upwards, and never trust ourselves to be good enough...

    A while back, German fandom was shaken (with laughter) at a writer bitching in his blog about another blogger's (negative) review of his (actually published) book. The rest of the blog was full of backwards opinions, so admittedly I didn't look at his book (and later, other books of his) in an entirely neutral state of mind, but the thing is:
    The book is AWFUL. Badly in need of a good editor, and even such a one would have had a hard time turning that drivel into something at least readable. It made Twilight look good. The other book, about an Iron Age women with red-and white striped hair making her way from Frankia to Jerusalem in search of the Holy Grail, was just as ridiculous. With the added bonus of being preceded by a foreword of "Everything described in this book is based on science, archaeology and anthropology so don't you dare to question is".
    One part of myself just weeps because it is so awful, and how can that guy (who must be quite the pitiful person, really) get his drivel published instead of realising how lousy it is and weeping into his pillow, the way I'd do?
    The other half of me is jealous of the sheer nerve of that guy. I mean, how often do I ask "How come this drivel is getting published while so many awesome fan writers I know don't get recognised?" And part of the answer is, of course, that we just don't dare to send our stuff to publishers in the first place. (Of course, some of us do, and still don't get recognised... :() And it's not because we're doing fanfic, and you can't publish fanfic - after all, you can file off the serial numbers and change the names, cf. 50 Shades of Grey - it's because we don't think we're good enough.

    Did all my rambling have a point? Well, yes - basically: I agree with your observations, including your conclusion. I just wish that it were possible to combine wimpiness and confidence in some constructive manner...
    • We are wimpy because we only ever orient upwards, and never trust ourselves to be good enough...

      Yes, well put! I know, when I reread something I've written, I have this ideal of what I want it to be. I don't even know if that ideal is attainable, but when it [inevitably] falls short, I keep picking at it and working at it.

      The book is AWFUL.

      This seems so often sadly the case of published fiction. I remember reading The Sword of Shannara for a class one time and thinking, "How did this crap even get published??" and the author went on to publish much more and, apparently, be well-respected enough in the fantasy genre that his book was being taught in university courses. :^| I was capable of doing better when I was in high school.

      I mean, how often do I ask "How come this drivel is getting published while so many awesome fan writers I know don't get recognised?"

      You're right that most of us never do try. And sending stuff out is hard work. And rarely satisfying. The best publications often have acceptance rates around 1%, so they're turning away a lot of excellent fiction. Of course, a rejection is a rejection, and most of us never know if a story was immediately discarded or something that the editor thought, "I can see publishing this, just not right now," or if the story was never even read at all.

      I wonder, too, if some of it has to do with the fact that a lot of Tolkien fanfic writers do literary-quality writing and the fantasy genre doesn't tend to publish this kind of writing. For example, I'm reading A Game of Thrones right now, and while it's entertaining, it's not great writing. I know many, many authors in the Tolkien community who could do much better. I remember when the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthology was still being published, there were some gorgeous stories that were clearly fantasy but also amazingly written, yet few big-name fantasy authors were represented in its pages. (Neil Gaiman and Ursula K. LeGuin are the only two I can remember offhand who were). I don't know. I'm not intimately familiar with the fantasy market, but it does make me wonder when I see authors like GRRM being hailed as these amazing writers while really great writing is being picked up only by small presses or not at all.
      • For example, I'm reading A Game of Thrones right now, and while it's entertaining, it's not great writing.

        I have to admit I didn't even find it entertaining - just frustrating. But that's a sleeping rant that'll wake up and get written some other time! I agree that I know many writers who could do waaay better in our (relatively small) fandom alone. I also suspect that GRRM is one of those Confident Guys and just manages to project his certainty outwards!

        Of course, a rejection is a rejection, and most of us never know if a story was immediately discarded or something that the editor thought, "I can see publishing this, just not right now," or if the story was never even read at all.

        Yup... and some of us live in such holy fear of rejection that we don't even bother in the first place. While someone else with (maybe) a healthier dose of self-regard does bother and might just fill a gap...
  • I fully admit that I am a writing wimp and that I am deathly afraid of crit because I have such a hard time putting my work "out there" to begin with. It may seem odd - after all I blog 6-days a week, constantly work on writing fanfic and my O-fic, and I have almost 100 stories posted on Fairie alone. But it took, and still takes, a lot of effort for me to put my work out there because I don't have a support mechanism at all. My DH despises my writing and actively discourages me from working at it, and my friends who I trust for the occasional cheer leading and back patting that I sometimes need don't live close to me, certainly not close enough to contact "off the cuff".

    I have to write just like I have to work on my artwork. In fact, it is on a par with eating and to breathing. So I don't have a choice in whether or not to write. I just keep hoping that what I do write and ultimately post and end up putting out there is not atrocious and continually improves. If that is the case, then I'm happy.

    But I still run from crit because I'm not strong enough or confident enough in my own skills to absorb those blasts. I still let them hurt me, sometimes to the point of almost stopping me from writing all together, which I know was not their goal or their purpose. So yes, I write, and oh yes, I am totally crit shy. I hope that I get stronger and braver again some day.

    - Erulisse (one L)
    • iMy DH despises my writing and actively discourages me from working at it

      ?! =(
      • Yeah. He's really great in other areas, but when it comes to supporting my creative endeavors, I'm left on my own to sink or swim. Or I only get negative feedback. By now I'm used to it, but I don't have to like it :-) I think that's one reason why my f-list friends are so important to me.

        - Erulisse (one L)
    • For me, a piece has to be ready for critique. I never request critique on my Tolkien pieces--at least, I have not to this point--simply because I rarely want to spend any significant time on revising them and it isn't fair to request critique and then not use what I'm given. (I do revise my Tolkien pieces occasionally, but it's a spur-of-the-moment thing, when I feel like rereading or working on a particular piece, whereas betas/critiquers would be perfectly in line to expect something more expedient from me. :)

      I have been off-and-on, as my free time permits (and it rarely does), a member of the Critters workshop, however, and I think I've put three or four o-fic stories through that. But I only put through stories that I already feel are the best I can do, where I'm on the verge of sending them out to magazines and want some final opinions. It sometimes takes years to get to that point, which isn't the most productive of timeframes. :)

      Hearing critique is a hard thing, I think, no matter what. It's never fun to hear that a piece that one worked hard on and considers one's best work is still not up to par for a majority of readers. I try to be self-aware and not beat myself up over my reactions to critique but to then reshape my behavior to make more productive use of it. For me, that has been putting forward only stories where I feel confident enough and distant enough to look on any resulting critique with a neutral-enough eye that I can make good use of what I receive. I'm very cognizant of not wanting to waste critiquers' time on something I'm in no way prepared to use, or at least strongly consider.

      My DH despises my writing and actively discourages me from working at it

      I'm sorry to hear that. I hear this a lot, especially from women in fandom. I guess I don't get why significant others often react so strongly and negatively toward writing. I can think of far worse things to do with one's time.
      • I really envy all of the support that Bobby gives to you. As for crit, I think that's one reason why I've gone back to the basics and started taking some classes in writing again. A lot of the time I just don't understand what people tell me for crit, or don't really see what they are pointing out. It is my hope that by working on things in a more structured setting by working through a class I might be able to improve my basic skills enough that crit will be more plot-oriented than skills oriented.

        - Erulisse (one L)
  • You know, I thought that gaining confidence in writing would mean an end to that crippling, gut-wrenching feeling that came when I put a story out there, whether on LJ or over to an editor, but it didn't. Maybe it's not as intense, but confidence that one has some skill is apparently not confidence that other people will see it that way. When you send it out, it's not just about the work anymore; it's about every single reader and what they think. It's one thing to feel euphoria over finishing a piece that seems decent, but putting it out there seems to require a different kind of confidence.

    Maybe the writers you're talking about, the ones who lack confidence when it comes to critique, are better writers simply because they realize there are areas in which they need to improve, while That Guy is so confident about being awesome that he doesn't bother to look. Your last paragraph demonstrates that pretty nicely. You compare your skill to your own expectations and see room for improvement. That Guy might look at his work and see perfection.

    ... I hope I did not just repeat what you already said. It's early and I'm tired.
    • I think you bring up a great point, which is that every reader will necessarily see a story slightly differently. When I was active in the Critters workshop, I estimated that about 10% of the readers who critiqued my work didn't "get" the story in some major way. That was pretty consistent among the stories I put forward. Of course, I could (and should) look at how that might be my fault as a writer: what I didn't do or could do better. However, it's also very possible--especially in a workshop where one can boost one's own stories up the queue by critiquing a boatload of stories in one week--that the readers were in a hurry and didn't really spend the time with the story that they should have. Especially when the critique itself appeared to have been written in haste! :) So I never worried about it much.

      I wonder if writers don't vary somewhat on that dimension as well, and if That Guy is an extreme manifestation of it: how much it bothers me, as a writer, to have my work misunderstood or disliked by readers, and where I place the responsibility for that. If 100% of my readers missed something vital--if even 25% did--I would know I had a problem. I do wonder if Those Guys are apt to explain the same phenomenon as the readers' problem: The reader has to do the work to "get" the story rather than the writer. I don't know. I'm flying off into left field here. :)

      At the other extreme are the writers who want to please everyone and angst when they don't.

      I think it was very liberating for me, in a way, to realize the 10% rule, and perhaps even more importantly, to realize and accept that a certain proportion of readers wouldn't like my work. I don't want someone blasting through a 5000-word story in 15 minutes to catch the intricacies of what I'm trying to do with the piece; that would make the story far too simplistic, imho. And I certainly don't want people who have fundamentally different ethical/moral views from me to like my writing; that would mean that I'm failing in my thematic purpose (to draw on your most recent 100 Things post [which I do want to comment on, btw] ;). It can be a tough balancing act to know which critiques to listen to and to know when you have to set one aside and accept that that reader probably will just never like your work.
  • I actually quit Creative Writing I after a day in college...not because of any of Those Guys, but because of the teacher (a woman)! Not much point in me saying I'm not a confident writer (we all know this ;), but I thought maybe the class would help me expand the types of writing I was doing... Silly me. There was a LONG list of what we would NOT be writing in the class, to the point where I thought "Good God, what's left?!" Clearly one of those teachers whose goal was to tear down 98% of the class as bad writers, elevate her favorite one or two as great, and most of all, elevate herself as exceptional. A far cry from my high school creative writing class, where we wrote everything from poetry to plays, including a fanfic (though it wasn't called that ;) assignment based on the film adaptation of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory! Needless to say, I was disappointed.

    I think that many fanfic authors spend more time getting to know their material intimately. Sure, maybe it's a bit easier, having a book or seven to hand filled with "canon facts", but I know a lot of fanfic authors whose works I liked best spend lots of time researching, both canon and outside. The devil's in the details and all that. I'm not sure published authors all do this with the same dedication. Take A Game of Thrones...as you said, entertaining but not the greatest writing! The number of times I have cringed over some bit of misinformation is...well, high. Most often it's horse-related but...surely he could have used a little google-fu to find out that [insert scene] actually made him look like an idiot. Not to mention the number of times he harped on about Tyrion's limping gait (he can't walk well, we get it already!) or describes some woman's bouncing breasts (honestly, sometimes I think the man needs to...take matters into his own hands to clear his mind before putting pen to paper!). Then you have Tolkien, who invented entire languages/alphabets for the sake of his works. I think the attention to detail he put in shows in the quality of the writing and the story.

    We won't even talk about how I feel about 50 Shades of Grey...

    In short, I agree with your assessment, and the quote Oloriel put in about who we compare ourselves to!

    Oh, and "the garden"... I think I died laughing!
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