Monday, September 3, 2012

Rounding Out the Shootout...and WRiTE CLUB

I just reviewed the final three stories of the Shootout.  It was not as painful as I thought it would be.  In fact, the story I picked to win I really, really loved.  So that was pretty pleasant.  Assuming my guess was correct, this was the first time I read this author, since they were on my team during the three-round preliminaries.

I've also made the decision to step away from WRiTE CLUB.  It may have something to do with the fact that my entry came up today, and it was inexplicably another of the random stories that the good folks participating actually decided they didn't like.  So my Shootout experience was not much of a fluke.  My style is not for everyone.

I've known this for a long time.  It's no surprise.  It's disappointing and a great relief to finally get it out as concerns WRiTE CLUB, however.  It means I don't have to continue reading other people's stuff.  You know that I've struggled with this exercise, too.

It is selfish, in one sense.  I'm making others "pay" by withholding future comments and votes.  But aside from David List, I don't think anyone else even noticed that I was approaching WRiTE CLUB differently from everyone else.  David and a few others seemed to get more chatty about their opinions once he contacted me (at Scouring Monk) a few weeks ago.  That's as well.  For a few rounds, I stopped voicing a strong opinion, but started up again, and part of that was because of the Shootout blowup that involved one of the finalists.

I already know I was a contrary voice in WRiTE CLUB, and to some extent, it'd be nice to continue being one, but that's not a place that likes contrary voices.  (Actually, no place likes contrary voices.)  All communities crave a certain amount of uniformity.  When they don't get it from someone, that someone eventually figures it out.  They become isolated.  Most communities are too cowardly to outright ban their outsiders.  They have an inkling that there's something of worth being said, even if they choose to ignore it.

The loneliest place really is in the center of a crowd.

There's still several months of WRiTE CLUB left.  You can still join in.  I'm not giving you another link.  Technically, I can put in another effort myself, but I don't see the point.  I know that when I write what I want to write, there's a lot of readers who just won't care.

One of my illusions has always been that writers are by nature lovers of traditional literature (even if that literature is experimental).  I'm beginning to suspect that most writers are more lovers of popular fiction.  That's all they read, that's all they write.  Literary fiction is by definition limiting.  Few people like to think.  They like visceral experiences.  There's nothing wrong with visceral experiences.  But there's a problem when you limit yourself only to that kind of experience.

Older generations are always saying how modern society is fast becoming a vast video game, turning everything into a digital playground.  While that may sound cool to people who are still obsessed with The Matrix, I think what it really means is that in the effort to embrace instant gratification, we're forgetting that some rewards take time and effort.  No, not the time and effort it takes to make something, but the time it takes to figure it out.

Picture your horror when you realized that Christopher Columbus was a horribly racist ravager of the New World.  Now, just imagine what it would have been like if he was exactly the man history tried its hardest to make him.  Memory is a funny thing.  It makes everything better, and it makes everything worse.  Memories create the Christopher Columbus who taught us that the world wasn't flat.

If you were to write a story about Columbus today, would you include that thought?


  1. You'll get no argument here on people not liking contrary voices, because I was usually the contrary voice. We should go start our own critique group: The Contrary Voices! Except there'd probably be a lot of infighting since it would all be a bunch of snarky outsiders. Anyway, the problem with a lot of critique groups is people try to go by that, "If you can't say anything nice..." stuff that was fine when you were in first grade on the playground but for writers to improve, especially young or inexperienced ones, sometimes they need to know the hard truth. I mean come on critique groups aren't supposed to be like a girl's night out or your fantasy football league; it's supposed to help you improve your writing. On the flip side though some people like to try and be the Simon Cowell of the group and poo-poo on everything just to feel superior to everyone. Not that I'd ever do that; it just happens that I AM superior to everyone else.

  2. I think you opted out too soon. It sucks massively to see your opponent's name over and over and over, again. The same thing happened to me in Round 8. But I have continued to participate because I actually learned a lot losing by a landslide.

    You were kinda harsh, and I especially felt the harshness in your review of my piece (naturally,) but I think your voice should come back.

    Two cents.

    1. I'll consider it, because it'll be going on for a while.

      As I've noted, I began to appreciate that the particular words I used to voice opinions in WRiTE CLUB might be revised, even after I received encouragement from another participant. In later rounds I was benevolent almost to the point of obsequiousness.

    2. It's anathema to praise the undeserving, but I don't think anyone's ever regretted being polite.

    3. I don't know if it's being polite so much as providing useful feedback. If a story isn't written well or interestingly, the feedback ought to reflect that. Often it means the writer simply hasn't found their voice yet, not that they can't write. Though it remains a possibility that they can't write. If you only say things in the nicest possible way, there's the chance the writer will believe whatever they want to believe, just as if your negative feedback doesn't reflect the material in any significant way. If you don't like something just because you don't like the style, then that reflects more on the reader than it does the writer.

      Well, as I said, I did try to be more polite. But DL has too many participants and too many stories this time. If you look at the results for last year (unless I'm misinterpreting them), there were a lot fewer. One of the reasons I backed off was that it became a chore, and the overall quality wasn't rewarding enough to do this sort of thing for months without incentive.

    4. I can appreciate that. I guess I've found that I actually enjoy it. It's interesting to read other people's work and, while I initially felt that the quality was sub-par, after seeing my own work up there and not getting the votes, I guess I kind of thought, who the hell do I think I am to be feeling any kind of superiority? We're all on the way to becoming better writers, so I guess I relaxed a bit. I submitted another piece in the hopes of being 'randomly' selected for a re-bout and the thing's just about over, anyhow. It's been a fun ride, for the most part.

      Also, I don't think simply calling something gibberish is providing useful feedback. You may believe that to be the case as a reader, but it does little more than demoralize the writer. It's vague and tends to be the sort of thing that just gets tossed out. I mean, what do you with that? Someone says what you've written is nonsense and you can either stress about it and allow it to make you feel poorly or you can just shrug and move on. You see what I'm saying?

    5. Well, now I assume I called your piece gibberish. That's another reason why I decided to step away, because it was the second of two anonymous writing exercises, and I decided I didn't like the anonymity of the first one, and generally didn't like anonymity at all.

      I can see part of the reason these exercises do that is to distance the appearance of favoritism, but the way the votes I witnessed went down...they already weren't selecting the strongest samples, and that bothered me about WRiTE CLUB. I realize a certain amount of the preceding statement might be viewed as subjective, but I've read enough to know what good writing is. I suspect participants in these things don't tend to read much more than writing from among their own ability level, which is to say their amateur peers. That's why so many bloggers support each other's books, because it validates their own abilities.

      ...And yes, I may be sounding all the more like a scumbag, and that's part of why I began this response the way I did. I could go back and research which comment I left that included "gibberish" in it, and figure out if I was too harsh. I appreciate that you've taken the time to track me down and try to talk me back into the exercise, but now it seems like the reverse of that has sort of started to seep into the conversation, and you're digging at my negativity that I've already said was perhaps misplaced, and not the reason I left.

      I didn't leave because I felt superior, but because I was out-of-place. I've discovered in both exercises from the summer that I still don't mesh well with other writers, which is a problem I've long had, and that's a product of taking creative writing classes in high school and college, and the fact is, those classes cannot be filled with future prize-winning authors. Some of the students simply are not and never will be good writers. They lack vision, essentially, and substitute it with whatever comes to mind. The same is true of Internet classes, as I've begun to consider them.

      Now, I apologize if I belittled your particular entry and it really didn't deserve it, regardless of the word choice I made that particular day. Sometimes a particular style or approach simply doesn't interest everyone. I figured out with my entry that some writers will only think of one thing when they read a certain set of words, and turn off after figuring out the intention doesn't match the expectation.

      I participated because DL is generally a nice guy, a little needy, but a nice guy. Being a nice guy doesn't mean that he can control a beast like WRiTE CLUB, however. There ended up being too many participants this year. That's the writing market we have, though. Too many participants, and it's always screwing things up.

    6. For the record, even though I suggested I wouldn't, I had a look back and reviewed the comments I was making, and I think I'm pretty sure I know which writer you were, and not just because the next round you made a comment on my comment that I've only just read.

      Aside from that, it does strike me, looking back at the fourteen rounds I participated in, and how my comments actually evolved. I started out generalizing, and then became more critical, then started backing off from being negatively critical (as much). Part of what led to that was the grind of reading and judging these efforts on such a regular basis, which was something I thought was a problem even before I began to realize what a toll it was taking on me. Three rounds is too many for one week, and the only reason it happened was, again, because DL realized that there were a lot of entries, and to get them done within a reasonable period of time, he'd had to accelerate the process.

      Which was not a good thing. It does make my exit seem a tad hasty in hindsight, ten rounds later, though there are apparently ten more rounds still (more than double what I sat through). I was finding a new groove, something I desperately needed. But then the shock of my entry being thrown to the wolves threw me off again. As I noted in one of my comments, it did seem at one point as if everyone started to go with the opposite of my own opinions (though I was a little surprised to see them more in sync early on), and in one round react negatively when I was thinking out of the blue quite positively.

      That's what I mean when I say I began to feel like an outsider, aside from everything else.

      And congratulations if you've actually read all of this, both responses...

    7. I did read all of it. I'm not upset that you called my entry gibberish. I actually learned a lot from the peer responses taken as a whole. When we write, it often comes from such a vacuum, and we think we have something brilliant to put out to the world, but then we put it out there and it misses one simple mark -- that of communicating our intention.

      It disappointed and frustrated me, more than your remark, that people were repeatedly saying they didn't want to grab for a dictionary in the first few sentences of a sample. Then I had a conversation with a respected friend of mine about 'merit fiction' and how people don't seem to want to work to understand, anymore, they want everything spoon-fed and replete with titillating action. In a recent round, someone commented that another's piece had 'too much storytelling.'

      Despite the drawbacks of such a bloated forum, I still believe that participating in WC -- and sticking it out -- has addressed some things in me which, in hindsight, I am glad were not left unaddressed. Why I have continued the thread of dialogue with you, I'm not sure. I know it seems like it was because of your comment on my piece but that isn't it.

      Anyway, I appreciate the reasoning behind your choices and wish you luck in all your writing efforts.

    8. I actually reread the entry, too. It's not that you used big words, but how you used them. That's what I meant when I said it seemed like you were trying too hard. While it's true most readers don't like big words, I'm not one of them, and that being said, I didn't like how you used yours. As I said then, it was if you were trying too hard to impress. It didn't feel natural. A lot of writers, a lot of writers who are published, or people using language in general, use words a certain way not because it's what comes naturally to them, but because they're conveying something that has nothing to do with the words they're using.

      So when I said what I said, what I was really trying to say was that it was unnecessary to use the kind of language you did, especially in the context of a 500 word entry in a writing exercise. And then the juxtaposition of breaking into extended dialogue that consumed the rest of the entry and how it probably made perfect sense when you were writing it but did not make sense when someone else was reading it, that's what I meant by "gibberish."

      Yes, "gibberish" is an offensive way to put it, but that's the crux of it, my reaction to the piece. The better way to say it is that word choice was questionable, and the execution of the composition was questionable.

      As far as needing to grab a dictionary, as anyone worth their salt will explain, it's more expedient for an unknown word to be understood in its context than to grab, or need to grab, a dictionary in order to understand what's being said. If too many readers were saying that they needed to grab a dictionary for elucidation, then you have a useful bit of feedback right there.

      Again, while you perfectly understood your intentions, that does not mean that your readers did, too. You said it yourself.

    9. What you've written above is airtight feedback, Tony. It's consistent with things I've heard before and largely distills what I've taken away from the WC experience as a whole. Thanks for taking the time.

      Back to something you stated earlier, I'm sorry you were unable to keep the groove you'd found after your piece went up for review. I imagine good things would have come from your continued participation. Still, I myself feel a bit overwhelmed at DL's explanation of the play-offs, this morning. It does seem like a hell of a lot of work with diminishing returns -- for everyone involved. We'll see how long I'm able to stick it out after today.


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