Do published writers become more cocky as they have more things published? Yeah, I know, I'm making a generalization -- I'm certain not all do or even most. But, as I frequent many writing boards and read books on writing, it seems that a high percentage of published writers are very impatient and talk down to would-be writers.
I don't think aspiring writers need to be coddled. On the contrary, they need very honest feedback and guidance, but does that mean the published "expert" has to be condescending and surly?
Many of the articles are extremely overbearing, particularly the one about worn-out plot devices. It's funny how the author makes exceptions for other published authors ("And it was all just a computer game.") using the worn-out plots.
I understand that publishers see the same thing over and over, but is that good justification for being a jackass when talking to young writers? Tough love or simple arrogance?
I equate it to the store clerk who rips my head off for handing her a $50 when she doesn't have change. "How many times do I have to say it," she yells. But, there's no sign saying "No $50 or $100s" and she certainly hasn't said it to me. This is the impression I'm starting to get from authors who write "how to" books or articles. Some get a uppity and it shows in their writing.
True, you may not become a published author if you don't heed their advice, but personally, I don't have the patience for overbearing know-it-alls, especially when I can get the guidance and information from someone more professional and polite.
It seems that he got more and more pissed off as he wrote about the substandard story.
I'm not a published writer, but I work in a field where people's lives are at stake and I'm the senior person in my organization; however, I see no need to be arrogant or condescending to my personnel. If they make a mistake I address it, but I don't assume that all of them will make the same mistakes and chastise them for it (even though many do simply because they're new to the organization).
I think published writers who really want to help can be a little more understanding and get rid of the holier-than-thou attitude, particularly if they've published only one or two stories. Hell, sometimes you get lucky, but that doesn't make you an expert by any means.
Are you disagreeing with me indirectly or are you just more tolerant of people who talk down to others because they've risen to a higher status (either real or perceived)? Or neither?
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I'm actually of the opinion that most writers who make the step of giving advice to would-be writers through books, articles, and essays, tend to be far too polite. The primary advice I'd give to would-be writers, were I in a position to do so, would be to give up early and make room for people with something to say.
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I thought a few writers have gotten away with a lot based on their prior reputations. Some writers have won awards with stories I thought I would never have been allowed to get away with, as well.
Time and chance (and death and politics) have left me somewhat less enamored of some writers I might've thought of as gods in my younger days.
Besides, I'm older now, and it's made me think of writers (and also editors) as just a bunch of guys who've done one thing I'd like to do (gotten published), but in a lot of cases, with stuff that's not any better than mine.
(Remember: printed on every US dollar are the words "This Note is Legal Tender for All Debts, Public and Private." Next time somebody turns down your fifty or hundred, and is rude about it, read them that and threaten them with the law.)
I have a whole lot to learn about writing, and try to be open to experienced people, but if I don't like what they say (no matter how its presented), I don't have to agree. They can think what they like, and I'll think what I like; after all, its "just" fiction.
Some people will have unpleasant attitudes and some people will rub me the wrong way. But since I can't change them, I don't want to waste my energy letting them get to me. My job is to decide if I choose to put up with it, and then see what good I can find.
Do I complain about others? Heck yeah, frequently even. But that's not where I want to be. Sometimes this notion of "take what I like and leave the rest" actually works; I hear something useful and walk away with my emotional calm intact, no feathers ruffled. Its especially useful when interacting with someone.
Thereís also the thought that people have different ways of communicating. What one person thinks is a straightforward statement of opinion, may be perceived as belittling by someone else, and I think that can run along a pretty wide spectrum. Itís harder to couch a discussion in palatable language when the cues of non-verbal communication are not available. (I did not read your referenced links, so I don't know where they would fall on that spectrum for me.)
[This message has been edited by MrsBrown (edited July 30, 2009).]
One thing to consider is a published author's history with unpublished writers. You used the example of a clerk exploding when given a fifty and yelling at you that she can't make change.
Put that into a published writer's perspective. There are literally orders of magnitude more unpublished writers than published ones, and the two best ways to get a foot in the door are to buddy up to a publisher/agent, or to a successful writer who can give you a glowing recommendation.
I imagine the first few times a finally published author gets asked to review somebody's work he feels flattered. After the thousandth time, he might be that clerk exploding at a customer.
If it's their job to critique works, however, or they've volunteered to take the task under their belt, I fully agree that they have at least a social obligation to give each piece of work a fair appraisal and critique it solely on its own merits, and not their feelings at the time.
Still, in the paraphrased words of Dogbert: "I think I'll start a publishing company. It'll be immensely satisfying to dismiss someone's life's work with a few cutting words in a SASE." People are people, and jerks tend to gravitate to positions where they can do the most harm. If you get a bad review you just have to shrug it off and keep trying.
quote:Out of curiosity -- what crime do you think they've committed by not having change for a hundred handy?
Me? The crime is their attitude when I present them a large bill. No matter how many times it's happened, it's the first for me, so the attitude is uncalled for. If it's a "rule" then it needs to be clearly posted at the entrance to the store. Most people are smart and will follow rules, but most can't read minds and definitely shouldn't incur the wrath of a smart-assed sales clerk because they failed ESP 101.
I think there's a couple of factors that have to be taken into account for a question like this. Note: This is all IMHO!
1) Varying Perceptions: What one person perceives as perfectly polite, another may perceive as rude. I find this to be especially true when it comes to written communication, because the reader has no audio/visual clues to help them interpret the writer's true intentions.
2) The Learning Curve: There are a lot of really smart people in the world, who instantly grasp a concept when it's first mentioned (and I am insanely jealous of them all). And then there are the people who need to be bludgeoned a few times before they understand the same concept. What is condescending for one person might be just what another person needs, and might still leave a third person in complete confusion. It really just depends on who's doing the reading.
3) Volunteer vs. Employee: A volunteer is taking time out of their busy schedule with absolutely no expectation of compensation - though they might not object to indirect compensation like getting more readers! While that does not excuse deliberate rudeness, it does mean they're not being paid to double and triple-check their work to make sure it offends the minimum number of people possible. They're offering advice on the quick and sometimes aren't as careful with their words as they could be, so I try to cut them some slack. After all, they're doing me a favor. (Yes, I realize this might seem a strange argument with regards to authors, but even published authors don't write word-perfect first drafts every time.)
For people who ARE being paid for their work, then I go by the philosophy of: hit 'em where it hurts. Take your business elsewhere. If there is a genuine problem (and not #1 or #2 above), enough people should do this that the bottom line will suffer and the problem will be fixed, one way or another.
In conclusion: I really think Mrs. Brown said it best. Take what you like, leave the rest. If someone's coming across, as overbearing and arrogant, then go find someone else who you connect with better. I doubt there's any author/editor/whoever out there whose advice is so indispensibly (sp?) brilliant that you'll miss out if you leave it.
Woe betide they who at first pierce the publication transom and develop the sin of haughty, vainglorious pride. As I know it, a first flush of success readily leads to an ongoing corrupting influence derived from an innate, preexisting, and simple hubris of a desire to be superior to others in appearance and importance. Symptoms of haughty pride include a narcissistic worship that turns to hate and loathing for others, disparaging the good works of others, mischievous pleasure from the misfortune of others, a static, stale dependence on previous accomplishments, and belittling and browbeating perceived inferiors.
The procession of pride's downfall; an ingenue turned diva turned prima donna turned has-been faded star extinguished by hubris in the ascendence of celebrity.
A supplicant seeking acclaim for acclaim's sake desires idol worshippers. First a few tens of fans, pride swells. Adoration swells. Pride swells further. The soap box turns to pulpit turns to throne. Proclamations issue from the pulpit and the throne. Jealously guarded hard-won status sabotages self and others' potential celebrity through disinhibited and abreactive conduct. The crowds of penitents drop away disenchanted and the has-been once and future falling star languishes in the mediocrity of midlist and backlist fame.
Yeah, not a few at-first-flush successful writers and accomplished authors develop swelled egos and lord it over their perceived inferiors. Tu quoque parrots, the lot. Before the Internet, there were fewer outspoken writing prima donnas. Anymore, any haughtily proud writer with a blog puts on airs of superiority. One notch up on the competition is all it takes to show a person's true colors.
My dad's most sage advice to me: in life, someone's always better, bigger, stronger, smarter, meaner, nastier, more or less privileged, better equipped, heavier armed, more or less talented, more or less determined, more or less accessible, more or less resourceful. Always do the best you yourself can do. Try harder, try, try again. Be considerate of others, if for no reason than they may in time have a say over yours. And remember always that your place is your own to fashion; not the place where others want you to be.
"And finally, when the young [writer] has in this way sent the child of his dreams out into the world, he will have sufficient opportunity to develop within himself something besides knowledge of [fiction]. It will be his duty to endure brilliant successes without haughtiness and conceit, and to accept sorrowful defeats without losing courage. He will have plenty of occasion to test and fashion his self-consciousness; and in the airy realm of [fiction], in [the] face of [editors and critics], the [other] authors of the day, and the spectators [readers], to make something of himself worth more than being a technically educated poet--a steadfast man, who not only perceives the beautiful in his dreams, but who shall be honestly determined unceasingly to represent it in his own life." Closing comment from Gustav Freytag's Technique of the Drama (1863), [paraphrased].
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited July 31, 2009).]
I just read OSC's review. Yes, he slams the guy pretty hard. He doesn't pull any punches, and he's certainly not pussyfooting around just how bad the story is.
In his defense. The story IS bad. If I was going to put my writing up for review by a successful author, I would want to make sure it was worth his time. This isn't.
Also, from the viewpoint of someone who's spent countless hours and read countless books working on improving my craft, it's almost an insult to artistic sensibility to be exposed to such crap.
Amateur hour ends when you post your work to be reviewed by serious authors and publishers. If it's sub-par and they feel like you just wasted their time, they're going to let you know. If you don't take the time on your own work to make sure it's the best it can be, why should they?
Now this is under the assumption that the guy is seriously pushing for publication, and not some newbie author tentatively testing the waters. I'm all for cutting people a little slack and acknowledging effort.
quote:I have a whole lot to learn about writing, and try to be open to experienced people, but if I don't like what they say (no matter how its presented), I don't have to agree. They can think what they like, and I'll think what I like; after all, its "just" fiction. Some people will have unpleasant attitudes and some people will rub me the wrong way. But since I can't change them, I don't want to waste my energy letting them get to me. My job is to decide if I choose to put up with it, and then see what good I can find.
I guess I'm just not the type of person to bow down to self-appointed authority figures. That doesn't mean I "fight the power". I have respect for those who reciprocate it. If someone comes across with a surly attitude, then I bring it up and let them know.
I agree with using the information (or not using it), but that doesn't mean I will sit quietly while someone is rude.
If I can't do it directly (i.e., it's hard to get a response from authors), then I post it here on the boards. Maybe some will read it and think "maybe I'm a jerk and need to tone down my attitude". If not, then fine. They'll have a following amongst peers or aspiring authors regardless.
quote:In his defense. The story IS bad. If I was going to put my writing up for review by a successful author, I would want to make sure it was worth his time. This isn't.
OK, now that makes sense. I hadn't looked at it from that perspective. I wasn't sure of the circumstances, but I'd assume that entries would go through numerous peer and board reviews before being submitted for a book publication.
A person strives towards a cherished goal, dedicating his/her life to making that goal a reality. Through luck or good timing, the will of God or the favorable flow of the Universe (along with any other Fate vs Free Will construct you wish to add), this person achieves the level of success he/she has always desired.
It's not always clear when the snap happens, but this person's realization that he/she is at (or close to) the top of their chosen 'world' begins eroding their tolerance towards anything less than the level of existence they themselves have achieved. How they achieved their position and status no longer matters. That they achieved it is what registers. The erosion can happen in varying degrees, very much depending on the person. The mild version of this condition prohibits the person from comprehending why others aren't able to achieve the same thing. The more corrosive version fills the person with contempt for all those who have not achieved their 100% version of success (these people have paraphrased Romans 3:23: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of Me.").
KPKilburn's post reminded me of this attitude. It's one I seem to witness nearly everywhere I look (whether I want to or not), in just about any profession you care to name. Fortunately, I have come across only one published author who exhibited this type of attitude, and the encounter reiterated with me the virtues of remaining respectful towards those who are following the same path you've chosen...not to mention that I NEVER want to witness myself behave in that way.
I feel the same way, that I hope I'd never be the sort of person who'd let success make me a jerk. At the moment I need to work more on not flinging mud up the ladder at the successful (which I've been known to do).
I think OSC's critique was gracious, not overbearing. Hollander's piece is awful and commonly so. OSC was kind to take the time and effort to explain the flaws so others may learn from it.
The published writers I've met aren't cocky. With the exception of OSC, who was too busy at that event to spend much time with anyone, they each treated me like a potential friend.
Sometimes, yes, I've seen published writers frustrated by aspiring writers' hypocrisy. I'm talking about the hypocrisy of those who, in one breath, say they don't want to be coddled and, in another breath, complain about responses that excludes unwarranted compliments and unnecessary "this is just my opinion; don't get mad now" insertions.
Everyone gets frustrated. Also, everyone wants to think of himself or herself as good at something. It's human nature.
Regarding the store clerk, the next time someone blows up at you for something that isn't your fault, here's a trick. Rise above their emotions. Give them another way to respond.
I tried this a few weeks ago. A saleswoman at a car part store greeted us with a frown and some abrupt words. I started to rant inside about her behavior but then realized I didn't want to be a carrier of negativity. I considered why she might act that way. While we waited for a machine to tell us if our starter motor functioned, I asked her how her day was going. Tension oozed out her. She gave me a small smile and explained they were understaffed and some things weren't going well. She was tired and wanted to go home. Her attitude for the rest of our visit was much better.
Imagine if you said, "This frustrates you, doesn't it?" and gave the cranky person some of your calm. "Are you allowed to put out a sign?" ďThank you for telling me.Ē ďWhat else can I do [or, not do]?Ē At worst, the person will continue acting cranky.
I just want to say that when I initially read that Writing Class post from OSC, I was pretty young and just starting out with my own writing. I found it very helpful and not at all belittling or demeaning or bitter. I think as Natej11 said, the story wasn't good, and I think OSC's review of it was not at all rude, but straightforward and appropriate for the occasion. I at least learned from it without feeling insulted. Now, I was young, maybe 8th grade, and I think it's reasonable to assume that many of the people who would go to his site are that age or younger, so maybe that has something to do with it. I just think there is a lot to be said in regards to how you perceive what you read.
Edited to add: Too many people are posting too fast! I agree with Crank's assessment of what success can do to a person, and I think it happens much more often than it should.
[This message has been edited by Marita Ann (edited July 30, 2009).]
quote:Imagine if you said, "This frustrates you, doesn't it?" and gave the cranky person some of your calm. "Are you allowed to put out a sign?" ďThank you for telling me.Ē ďWhat else can I do [or, not do]?Ē At worst, the person will continue acting cranky.
A .357 magnum should change her attitude pretty fast and it will make you feel powerful...goooottta ruuuule theee woooorld.
The issue I see with the OSC writing critique of November 17, 1998 is its imperative mood from being a second person address. A cardinal rule of critiquing is address the writing, not the writer. An accomplished somebody addressing a determined nobody with you must, you have to, and you cannot overlooks another cardinal rule of writing, there are no absolutes, save the one, that there are no absolutes. The author and the writer, though in obviative third person, are not much more decorous than imperative second person.
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited July 30, 2009).]
I didn't think it was that kind of "you have to..." it was just an informal, "one must...". As I see it, OSC was being honest, perhaps more honest and more straightforward than most people prefer, to the point of being called acerbic. Maybe I don't mind it because I tend to critique in much the same way, not because I'm arrogant or an asshole, but because my only job is offering the facts, the way I see them. If I sometimes get a bit too passionate about it, it's not because I want to berate, but because I care.
Arrogance or conceit are very different. I can't stand it, and what I read was not that.
I've seen a lot ruder responses than OSC's. I've received worse from a wonderful editor who had bought two of my stories. If you can't take rejection and honest experience, you might not want to be in this field. That crique is wonderful. It points out problems AND makes suggestions for improvement. Try getting a dozen form letters or more that reject your story and see if the kind of response OSC gave doesn't make you salivate.
Coming from someone who has very little in common with OSC from the political viewpoint, I thought it was precisely the kind of review that needed to given in order to help the author (over the course of his career) make the jump from unpublished to published. Itís offered in good faith and the focus of the review is upon what works and doesnít work in the story. There are no absolute rules in writing and I think the author would be free to ignore some of the advice offered, but nothing in it smacks to me of arrogance.
It explained clearly why there were issues and offered solutions. In my opinion, if you canít handle a review like this, then youíre in the wrong business. The only time Iíve made a significant jump in my own writing is when a published author gave me a much, much harsher critique. I was essentially accused of being lazy and disrespectful to the craft and the published author was right. Iíd kill for a critique of this depth and intelligence upon some of my own writing. If I was offering my own critique, Iíd probably apply Extrinsicís advice about being careful about the use of the imperative (although I felt it was fairly generically applied rather than specific to the author), but I wouldnít shy away from the essential points being made.
I think Aspiritís point about hypocrisy among aspiring writers is important. Iím still hostage to that hypocrisy and I guess the only thing that will improve my writing is to remove that hypocrisy.
[This message has been edited by Nick T (edited July 30, 2009).]
My skin is pure scar tissue, chewed and spit out and chewed again and again like a hound dog's chew toy and healed over again and again. It's thicker than most, more than thick enough, but still penetrable by unwarranted contempt and debasing humiliation.
In the first place, why does any writer have to have their skin thickened by anyone? From editors, screening readers, authors, fellow travelers, writers just beginning the journey, designing posers and others contemplating the journey, a large fraction of the blog scape comments regard that writing is a tough business and it's not at all for thin-skinned people. C'est la vie, but that's not a valid justification.
My daddy thought whipping my butt built my character. Others who chewed on my butt, the DI's in boot camp, my bosses, my fickle acquaintances and coworkers, the bullies in school, the ones who live in the neighborhood now, the bigots who din't like what I represent or resent my accomplishments, they all say if it don't kill you it will make you stronger. I'm Atlas and I see no reason for holding up a world where thickening skin is a favorite pasttime.
I read the OSC critique, and I did not find it disrespectful or condescending at all. It was incredibly insightful.
Perhaps that is because I do not consider myself on equal footing with OSC. Not because he is published and I am not, but because he knows much more about the writing craft than I do. I have read all of his writing lessons online and some of his books on writing, and I know I have much to learn from him.
I guess I see him as I would a college professor. I do not feel like my professors belittled me when they crossed out my answers with big red pen and told me I was wrong. I don't need to feel respected by my professors, most of the time they didn't even know who I was. I just needed to learn from them what I could and move on with my life. That is how I see these published writers who offer writting advice, just a place to gain knowledge.
I wonder if some of you who are far better writers than I am and have spent much more years polishing the craft are more on equal footing with OSC or other published authors. I would understand if you felt a little talked down to in reading the how to write books or the OSC critique, but my question is, are you really the intended audience?
I guess most people on this board are not in the military or haven't served as long as I have or in the positions I have. You all need to understand that it isn't necessary to talk down to people, regardless of how superior you feel you are or actually are, even in the military. When someone endangers someone's life or deliberately does something wrong, then it's entirely appropriate to change the tone, but in coaching, teaching, and mentoring, it is absolutely unnecessary to belittle people. In fact, it's contrary to the Army values (Treat everyone with dignity and respect).
Writers who sit behind a keyboard all day have no business writing about war or combat since they never have experienced it. It's one thing to watch movies and read about war from others, but unless you've been there and had bullets flying toward you, you really should find something else to write about, perhaps how beautiful the daisies in a field are. Bring you misconceptions to the battlefield and you'll get your chest blown open. Don't put words on paper that try to evoke the emotion of combat when you've lived a life of manicures and climate controlled offices because you simply can't.
The cocky officer, the hard-ass NCO, the dumb private -- all are offensive, particularly when written by a want-to-be author who has never served in the military and only knows what his or her granddad or the derelict down the street has told them. Combat isn't pretty and it's not something for authors to use for their own personal gain. In other words, don't try to get rich on the horrors that others have experienced. No matter how well you think you can do it, it's typically not done well.
Masking combat in a SF or fantasy world is equally as offensive. Many SF authors use bastardized rank structures that make no sense and use cliched characters. The ones who think they can rise above that typically can't. They may have served a year or two in the military as a private, and that certainly doesn't qualify them to develop doctrine and strategic level operations, even in a fantasy world.
This was a test! Please continue reading...
I did that deliberately and tried to use the tone that I perceive in some (not just OSC's) crits that I read. There are some questions below -- not rhetorical, I'd really like to have others' opinions on what I just wrote.
Was anyone offended? Why or why not?
Did you think my tone was condescending or acerbic when you first read it? Why or why not?
If you bought a book on "how to write" and saw this in one of the articles, what would you think? What if I were a published author (or not)? Would it change your view?
If you knew me personally, would it change your perception of what I wrote? It all depends on perspective. A cocky friend is witty and charming. A cocky enemy is an asshole.
Does this sound different since it's part of a long thread? What if it were independent? Would it sound less like an emotional response and more authoritative?
[This message has been edited by KPKilburn (edited July 31, 2009).]
quote: In my opinion, if you canít handle a review like this, then youíre in the wrong business.
There's a difference in not being able to handle it and not liking it. Just because someone questions it or complains doesn't mean they can't handle it. Not handling it would equate to quitting. In the end, I think most will push on and get better. My point is that the attitude isn't warranted.
In any workplace, there will always be that one a-hole. I always tell overbearing people, "It's not that I can't take your attitude, it's that I won't take it. There's a difference."
quote:It seemed a tad petulant and I thought you were trying to win the moral high ground.
Your last post (sorry about military pun) however was logically faulty.
The heart of persuasion is the ability to 'demonstrate' something. You did not demonstrate OSCs tone, you demonstrated your perception of his tone. That's a very different thing.
The intial premise of the thread was about whether published authors are arrogant. Your demonstration was about your perception and has nothing to do with arrogance of published authors.
Thought I was trying to win the moral high ground by being petulant? Or lost the moral high ground by doing it? It was intentional (though petulant isn't a word I've used before, but I've made note of it -- has a nice ring to it).
I'm really not trying to persuade anyone that OSC is arrogant (again, I don't know him), though the conversation may have drifted and it seemed that way. In the end, it's all about perception isn't it? I perceive things differently than you do and vice versa. I perceive some published authors as arrogant. I probably will never convince anyone otherwise.
My post wasn't meant to be persuasive. It was meant to elicit responses from others. Maybe I'm seeing this completely wrong? Maybe I'm right and everyone else is wrong? Again, perspectives. I see arrogance where others see insightful assistance. Like I said before, the arrogant friend is witty and charming. An arrogant enemy (or stranger) is an asshole.
Although I've gained some different insight from this thread, my original point still stands though. To me, some published authors come across arrogant and self-centered. I guess others are just more willing to shrug off attitudes where I am less tolerant, especially when I pay for something. Websites are "free", so I can click away from them.
I would hate to see young writers (and I'm no expert mind you) give up a craft because they've experienced a bunch of jackasses who rather than coaching them choose to degrade them and make them feel useless. There is a time and a place for varying degrees of harshness and it's all subjective (to the receiver mostly), so that's why I asked the question? Is it arrogance on the published writer's parts or do they really want to help people?
If you find gold in the mud, do you complain about the mud? If you care to much how the great advice you got was couched, then you may never hear it. Your loss--the published author is still published...he may become even more successful.
Writing is not a game for the thin-skinned; if you do get published and reviewed by a professional reviewer it may hurt even more--because they won't pull their punches.
"...has no merit, what so ever. It's better off in the trash can."
quote:Did you think my tone was condescending or acerbic when you first read it? Why or why not?
I already knew you are a military type, so I knew exactly where you were coming from. Whether I agreed or disagreed, I at least recognized and understood.
To that point, you might find it interesting that I don't write very many combat sequences for the simple reason that I've never been in combat (but, then again, I don't think any of us here have been in space or have met a dragon either, but we'll discuss that relevance in another post). To compensate for my lack of experience, I've had military types advise me on certain aspects of my combat scenes, and learned greatly from their insight. I also noticed something very curious: not one of them took offense to this non-military person attempting to convey a combat scene.
quote: I also noticed something very curious: not one of them took offense to this non-military person attempting to convey a combat scene.
I should clarify that I don't really take offense either. That entire rant was just to play the arrogant military guy who's condescending to others. I've read a few combat scenes that were really good (they featured sizzling laser beams!) and I'm fairly certain the author wasn't a military guy.
As I read this thread and think about it more, I bet some of the people here would think my Soldiers (me included) are arrogant if they were to witness us "in action" here. Perhaps what I'm used to would offend someone else, which makes me think maybe my perception is based on unfamiliarity? Not sure, but I've definitely gained some perspective on this.
[This message has been edited by KPKilburn (edited July 31, 2009).]
Yes I was offended because the 'critique' disqualified a class of authors rather than criticize a particular writing sample. My thoughts when taking it as a critique were that I would discount the entire tract and treat anything else from this source with suspicion.
Nearly the same thing applies in a tome on 'how to write' where the cited stereotypes--cocky officer, the hard-ass NCO, the dumb private--for example, are presumed to be part of an unqualified author's work, thereby disqualifying the author. It would be much better for the 'How to' book to instruct about stereotypes and caution against them. The difference is in the attitude and tone, as KPKilburn points out.
Yes, it would change my perception if I knew the writer personally--my perception of the writer. I would be much less likely to ask that person to read my writing, and be suspicious of any critique he gave. Critiques by friends are so often unproductive anyway.
As part of a long thread, we can realize that it's rhetorical and we have opportunities to discuss it. If it tried to stand alone, it would sound like someone is trying to be authoritative. Since I reject the basis of the writer's authority, it would be among the parts I'd leave.
Force majeure, manipulation, or persuasion cause change, wanted or unwanted. Wide bright lines of differing agendas, methods, and outcomes separate them.
Life is an everyday battlefield.
A writer with creative vision will reimagine a battlefield from a courtly intrigue at a water cooler chatter break. Rapier wit as a saber swinging swashbuckler. The slings and arrows of discord as an archery duel. An electric sting of a button-pushing barb as a bullet puncture. A tÍte-a-tÍte as hand-to-hand combat with Ka-Bars. Road wars as cavalry charges. A backyard adventure as Columbus's voyage as a leap across lightyears.
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited July 31, 2009).]
What I think is missing from the discussion is intent. OSC's critique was asked for. This person wrote a story and asked OSC to read it and comment. The military rant was obviously not the same situation. The military rant was a blatant overgeneralization, not a requested response to a specific work. OSC's reply was just that. A requested response to a specific work. This example was posted with permission of the writer and OSC to be a teaching tool. I personally found the example useful and learned from it. I learned nothing (about writing) from the military rant. Could OSC have sugar coated it more? Of course. Should he? I don't think so. OSC was doing something for free that many other people charge for. That he gave such a thought out and helpful response is more than most people could ask for.
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(Actually, I gave up writing about the military 'cause I realized I knew nothing about it, and my writings reflected that. The broad picture I can manage...but I try to break it down into just a few (non-military) people in the middle of some sort of events. They---and I---don't necessarily understand it.)
Condescending talk can be hard to take---but it can be taken---if the guy doing the condescending actually knows something about what he's talking about. Anything else---say, the guy tries to instruct another guy on how to run a machine, when Guy #1 knows next-to-nothing about how it works, and Guy #2 knows a great deal more than Guy #1---leads to anger and resentment. (I go through that situation at work nearly every day; sometimes I'm ordered to do things that are physically impossible.)
quote: I learned nothing (about writing) from the military rant.
The point was that I can be just as overbearing as some editors can be about a topic I know about. Even better, I can NOT be overbearing even though I'm far more educated about the topic than most.
If I would (and I have) critique a piece concerning the military, I could easily use that same language and piss everyone off. I'm sure that the moderators wouldn't appreciate it on any writing board and would give me a stern warning if I came across like that.
Having been exposed to dozens of books on writing by published fiction authors and an equal number of articles on the same subject, I don't see the condescention on the whole. You can find it here or there if you look.
It actually seems far worse among unpublished writers, to be honest. Odd, but that's my observation.
quote:I guess most people on this board are not in the military or haven't served as long as I have or in the positions I have. You all need to understand that it isn't necessary to talk down to people, regardless of how superior you feel you are or actually are, even in the military. When someone endangers someone's life or deliberately does something wrong, then it's entirely appropriate to change the tone, but in coaching, teaching, and mentoring, it is absolutely unnecessary to belittle people. In fact, it's contrary to the Army values (Treat everyone with dignity and respect).
KPKilburn, even though this was only a test, I believe it is a great place for an inciteful analogy. I am not sure whether you are an officer or enlisted (I have a guess from your descriptions), but either way, my following comments should hold up under scrutiny:
There are mainly three ways into the (paid) military - a military school, ROTC, or basic training. Two ways lead to possibly becoming an officer and one leads to becoming enlisted (I considered using the unofficial names for each). All three of these, however, require a period of "tearing down". I have known a few people in my life, who graduated from VMI or the Citadel, who describe the process as somewhat demeaning and degrading at the beginning. The ROTC crowd has it the easiest, but they also have to go to basic and OCS. I can speak personally for the basic training folks - I seem to remember three angry looking gentlemen who constantly yelled at me, demeaned and degraded me, and made me do lots and lots of push-ups (which I happened to already be very good at and which made them want to give me even more than anyone else).
Now, as a writer, do you believe you've already graduated from basic training? If so, why are you here? You should be out there manning your post with pen, paper, and laptop ready to fire.
Why is it that the military makes people go through this "tearing down" time? - It is because the powers that be are preparing you (general you - pun intentional) for something ten times worse. If that person's story had gone to a editor, it would have been shot down instantly without a reply. If someone gets past the editor and gets a subpar story out into the battlefield, what then? If they are unprepared, how will they defend themselves from all the critics and readers who are going to say things many times worse? What if they are held hostage by an interviewer who criticizes their story in front an audience or recording device?
I hope this analogy gives you a new perspective on why some author's and even some of us wannabe grunts are so harsh in giving critiques.
Well, I was concerned about the tone of the "test" and I found the comments intolerant more than arrogant (though I can see that, too). I hope I would have spoken in email with the author of such a post, as soon as I spotted it.
As for published writers being arrogant, I've encountered more than one kind of arrogance. There's the arrogance that comes with thinking because a publisher has accepted a manuscript, the author can throw his weight around about what the editor wants the author to change. (That kind of arrogance includes a bit of idiocy, in my opinion.)
There are authors out there who sincerely believe "if an aspiring author can be discouraged he or she ought to be" and will do their part to help discourage such aspiring authors. I do not agree with them, but they are out there.
And there are authors who may not believe in sugarcoating a critique when they have been asked to give one. OSC's tone in that critique is probably one reason his writing workshop is referred to as a "boot camp" (it plays to the stereotype if not the reality).
I just hope I don't see any such tone in feedback on this forum.
Great point philo. A few points I feel I should make regarding it, however.
One: The teardown process in military is primarily to deeply ingrain discipline and build a bond between you and your fellows in training. The chief focus of this is to make sure you don't freeze up on the battlefield. But an equally important point is it also prepares your mind for the entire point of becoming a soldier: shooting a gun at another human being.
It takes a very rare mentality to be able to simply pick up a gun, point it at someone, and shoot them dead. There are plenty of stories about people who've emptied clips at a target less than ten feet away and missed, simply because their mind couldn't deal with the idea of ending another life. The teardown process in the military helps break that barrier so soldiers can do what they have to in combat.
In writing the teardown process isn't vital. If you never get a bad critique you're not going to be in a situation where you have to write and freeze up because nobody ever criticized you. Nobody is going to kill you if you don't get used to getting bad critiques, and being unprepared for bad critiques isn't going to get fellow writers killed.
It's a good analogy as far as it goes, because people are going to insult your writing no matter how good it is. But just because it's nice to be prepared for it doesn't mean you HAVE to have endured bad critiques, and it in no way excuses you to be anything other than professional in giving critiques to others, with the idea that you're "helping" them.