Let's try and get a light-hearted thread going... let's pretend this topic is a campfire or something, and share some horror stories.
And by horror stories, I mean the worst, weirdest, and absolutely wretched experiences you've ever had related to writing, writers, or anything... you know, um: literary.
I've got two: First: The first story in my first SW fiction for workshop was written by this cleft-chin guy w/ an ***hole face. He kept bragging about how he was working on this big novel, and how he was almost done, in the guise of asking the instructor if it would be alright for him to pass out the first chapter--and he asked seven or eight different times.
We get two stories to read & workshop. His, and one other. The other story is pretty average... but in comparison: spectacular. The first chapter of the novel is atrocious. Unclear pronoun references, semicolons followed by ellipses followed by more semicolons--virtually every noun was some fantasy-word with eleven different consonants and the whole bloody story didn't make ANY sense.
So I, and my peers, spend hours mucking through the drivel and trying (and failing) to make sense of it (we never did)... and the guy doesn't bother to show up for his workshop. In fact, he never came to class again.
Also: To give you an idea of what' I'm reading through, let me show you all an excerpt from the response I'm writing for a nonfiction essay we're workshopping tomorrow:
quote:So... you tell us you're sexually attracted to children, but aren't a pedophile? Okay....
On my other critique group a critiquer was getting a reputation of being a real callous jerk when it came to critques. He didn't have a problem of making fun of things that didn't ring true to him, bashing plots and insulting prose. (He never reviewed one of mine but did a couple of friend). After bringing up his crit of a friend to a separate friend, he did a little research. This critique group will post all critiques for members to look at IF you are willing to go through the effort. What he found astounded me. This little bit summed up his attitude to his fellow writer.
quote:"Sorry I wasn't more hurtful, but I find myself being more civil to the good writers who can take abuse than the bad ones who can't. Ironic."
Well, this sh*t-don't-stink writer just happened to have a story up for review. I vowed to myself that I would look at it and give him my honest assessment. If it was good, I would tell him so but relay my displeasure with his attitude. I secretly hoped that it failed to meet his own criterea of standards.
I got my wish in spades.
What I read was 9000 words of drivel. I mean bad, bad, awful. My friend had a program that could count words. He came up with 514 was's. I wrote a 4000 word critique and could have doubled it with what I read. I admit, I was extraordinarily harsh, but he had it coming. In my best sarcastic way, I gave this guy back what he dished out for months. Here is a few of the things I wrote.
quote:>There was nothing there. (sounds like your plot)
>He knew he wasn't having trouble finding words for things, (He may not be, but you are in this script)
>That was what was amazing. (What is amazing is how much you use ‘was’. Do you get a royalty on that word every time its written?)
Now the guy wrote me back crying that I mistreated him. I apologized. That's when my friend informed me that he had a blog. He edited my apology and posted on his blog to make me look like a real douche-bag that begged for his forgiveness. That didn't sit well with me. The email flame war raged for two weeks before I finally decided he wasn't worth my attention anymore. However, reviewing his other crits, I noticed I wasn't the only one to show their distaste for his prose. One guy summed it up perfectly.
quote:I would like to congradulate you for your ability to write 9000 words and go absolutely nowhere with it
A separate critiquer, that gave it to him twice as hard with half the words, I emailed. She is now a regular email friend from South Africa. One that is a published successful novelist.
[This message has been edited by snapper (edited December 09, 2008).]
Writing workshops are as sacrosanct as the confessional. What happens in the group stays in the group. The social contract of creative writing workshops relies upon confidentiality. Active participants open themselves up and expose their vulnerabilities in ways that no other interaction will, perhaps aside from group therapy.
If there's a genuine concern for safety and well-being, the group facilitator is the person to be notified discretely, privately, and is responsible for addressing the issue as delicately as possible or as aggressively as needed. An unfortunate misunderstanding can plague an innocent yet careless well-meaning person for their lifetime.
Nowadays, universities have policies in place for defusing dangerous situations, especially in light of the recent tragic violence at Virginia Tech. Today they all have well-developed policies for addressing hazardous individuals. The instructors the firsthand responsibility for addressing inappropriate acts in the classroom to preserve the peace.
Yet despite situations that beg for attention, the harsh reality is thought is inviolate and word is protected expression, within limits, otherwise creativity is stifled. Deed is where an actionable offense occurs.
Even though the workshop is in nonfiction, ideation of taboo behaviors and their verbal or written expressions should be taken with a grain of salt. There's creative expression going on regardless of whether it's fiction or nonfiction. What someone writes and represents as fact isn't necessarily factual.
But that's not light discussion. I don't have any light anecdotes from workshops I've been in nor any desire to violate the confidentiality of them. They're all horror stories, but not light. Grueling and abusive, sometimes insightful, but more often than I liked more demonstrative of personal egos than about craft.
I think I get what you are saying extrinsic.
Yes, it does appear that I violated a sacrosanct (maybe I did). I will admit that my critique was reactionary. However it was honest and fit well within the criterea he set for others.
In my defense, I made every effort not to display anything that would represent the authors idenity or script. Only the author that wrote it would recognize his own work from what I wrote.
As an extra note, the harsh crits the author received (he had more than mine) had their effect on him. He suddenly learn decorum in his critiquing style AND his prose improved ten-fold with his latest submission. (Yes, I checked). Maybe my crit had an effect or maybe he took the advice of another critique he received.
quote:I suggest you take a writing class or basic English course before you attempt to masquerade as a writer again.
My worst horror story? Well, I am living it at the moment.
I am reading a manuscript by a French author who has self-published before. He wishes to get his manuscript translated (by me...ackkk!) and then send it to publishers in the US/Canada. The problem? It is what I would call a working draft, the idea is there but it fails to deliver a coherent story line. Every sentence has multiple adverbs, and he has taken care not to use the same words twice in a chapter (except names). It reads like a walking thesaurus!
I have tried to gently crit the work, only to be told that is perfect, and a fine example of poetic writing. I wanted to say stick to poems then, but bit my tongue in time.
He also refuses to comply with publisher guidelines, and wants to send the whole manuscript in one go. I am hitting my head against a brick wall here.
Can anyone suggest a good way of extricating myself from this hell and not to lose some friends? I thought of saying that my translation skills weren't up to the job of expressing his perfect prose adequately.
Well, I regret it's confined to writing. I could regale you with stories of what goes on inside the US Postal Service, but when I tell people who don't work there, they don't believe me.
Not many related to writing...I'm not involved that much in workshopping or critiquing...I've lost manuscripts and had unpleasant rejections and all that...
Probably the worst experience relates to sending some poems out to somebody. I got criticism back...he brought up the meter and rhythm of the lines I wrote...in my reply, I made the mistake of saying I liked it the way it was...and in his reply to that, he basically tried to tear me a new hole.
Now, whether you reply to criticism, and how you reply, is up to you. I'm willing to be polite but firm if I have a strong opinion about something I wrote. I am aware that (in nearly all cases) the guy is just trying to help me be a better writer. In any case, I wrote politely to this guy, he wrote back politely, I wrote back in a way I thought was polite, and he wrote back rude.
I didn't bother writing back...I turned out a crummy piece of verse about it I never bothered submitting anywhere...about two months later I got a letter containing the poems I'd sent him...I moved on with my life, and what became of him, I neither know nor care.
^--Oh, God. My first "paying work" was for this Uni newspaper my freshman year... I was supposed to get paid after each article. 5 Articles, and I hadn't been paid... so I started driving out to their little office, about 3 miles from campus.
I drive out there four or five times, and each time I go the payroll person isn't there.
The fifth of sixth time, I FINALLY get my check. And it bounces. ~__~
I think they went defunct a little after that--I'm not sure, I stopped paying attention.
quote:Now, whether you reply to criticism, and how you reply, is up to you. I'm willing to be polite but firm if I have a strong opinion about something I wrote.
I'm kind of of the opinion that no one should really "respond" to criticism. Each time I've seen that happen, in a workshop or out, it always devolves into... nastiness. Especially in a class--it can really ruin the atmosphere of a semester.
I don't feel that workshops are particularly sacrosanct. I mean, we're writers--everything is fair game.
The first essay I edited, I made the girl who wrote it cry. It was a good essay, and I said as much, but it also had tons of grammatical errors... and I marked every single one. That was a nasty experience, for both of us... but I learned from it.
What's sacrosanct about workshops, inviolate, is the confidentiality of the participatory materials. Everything expressed in whatever form is the intellectual property of the expressor. True, whatever sources used in the writing workshop process not protected by law or common sense are fair fodder for story and discussion, but not the other way around. It can come in but the content must not be shared outside the workshop. Talking out of class about what someone else submitted, said, or wrote in confidence is a violation of the trust demanded by the workshop paradigm. Violating trust stifles the process, if it doesn't outright poison it altogether.
I've had my manuscripts, my comments, and my response papers circulated in dorms, to family members, coworkers, and so on, by classmates without my permission. That's a gross violation of the tacit workshop contract.
I've been in workshops where consent to an explicit confidentiality agreement was required due to the laissez-faire attitude toward confidentiality of a few participants in previous workshops that resulted in harm.
I've signed confidentiality agreements with workshop facilitators, writing professors and published authors alike, requiring me to acknowledge that their lectures are their property. Specifically, any recording of their lecture is unconditionally prohibited lest it wind up on YouTube to nefarious purposes, or the like, which something similar happened to one of my better-known professors. The spoken words, the course materials, anything that's intellectual property must not be published by anyone except the owner of the rights, nor excerpted without fair use attribution. No still photography allowed for similar reasons.
Once, a workshop member asked to take a picture to memorialize her experience. She received a resounding and unanimous no, much to her consternation. Personal rights are tragically under threat in this age of obsequious technological advancement. Better to request permission than beg forgiveness, I say, lest it result in we all surrendering our rights.
I belong to two face to face crit groups and have experienced horrors in both. My first try at a crit group was an extension of a class I took. It fizzled out because I was the only one writing anything except this one member who brought in exerpts of her 52 page novel. In an eight page section her MC would visit 3 planets and attend two ceremonies. Everything she wrote was in passive voice and she refused to take any advice. It was painful. In my other group, which includes 4 published novelists (2 of whom are personal friends of Mike Reznick) and two SF magazine editors, I was informed of one group member's membership in mensa within ten minutes of meeting him and needless to say it did not endear me to him. In the eight months that I have been participating in the group he has only presented one item for critique: a 200 word short short story. It wasn't bad but It hardly allowed payback for his sometimes sarcastic wit in critiquing others. I am meeting with a reformed group from my original class tonight. I hope someone brings the goods.
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Mensa, huh. I didn't even know such a thing existed, though it doesn't really surprise me. Maybe I should try joining, and go the traitor-villain route. Traitor-villains are awesome.
Extrinsic, I think I understand what you're saying, and I think I agree with you. The thing, the point of this thread has nothing to do with dissemination (or even description) of other peoples' work--and no one who's posted has done that. It's more about personal experiences that are humorous or horrifying, related to writing... but only related.
For example, about an hour ago I was in my nonfic. workshop--at the start of one we had a guy (big, bearded fellow) jump up and shout, "IT SUCKS!"
In my obviate person way, I've described the horrors of writing workshops I've been in without giving the specifics.
The harm that's been done that I'm referencing revolves around more subtle and enduring aspects than the everyday personality clashes commonly encountered in workshops. I've been seriously harmed by trust violations of the purported sanctity of workshops. The sometimes depraved, self-centered motives of people who will have the last word, right or wrong, and take it outside of the group for their satisifaction alientated me and contributed to my being alientated by the creative writing department of my undergraduate alma mater. It was less troublesome to reject me, an outsider by nature, than to discipline an unruly insider. Institutional shunning, is there any worse horror for a social being struggling to fit in.
You know, Fox, I'm not seeing a lot of humor here, but that may be because humor is so subjective. What I'm seeing is more along the lines of complaints about workshop experiences and publishing (or not-quite getting published) experiences -- which are valid to the topic, too.
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Further comments reminds me...the closest I've come to a paying sale was a market that paid ten dollars on publication (for five thousand words---bottom of the barrel, actually). But then they never published. I never heard anything back from them, never actually heard the magazine stopped publishing (though I stopped seeing it around), never knew what happened.
I suppose one of these days I should write them about it...