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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » One of the worst crits I've ever received

   
Author Topic: One of the worst crits I've ever received
Crank
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Today, I was told by somebody important to me that I should no longer consider myself a writer, and that she essentially stopped thinking of me that way a long time ago. Her reason: I don't have enough stories on the market, and that I haven't sold enough copies of those stores I do have available.

Despite what any of you think about my storytelling skills, I don't think I've ever had anyone on Hatrack tell me I should strike the claim of 'writer' from my web site...which explains why this is the first place I chose to visit in my time of severe disorientation. So, what say all of you? At what point do we earn the 'approval' of referring to ourselves as writers? At what point are we no longer allowed to bill ourselves in that way? Does a meager writer's income disqualify any of us from feeling confused and bothered by the claim I got hit with? I know my thoughts on the subject. I would be curious to find out from everyone here what you think.

I apologize for any perceived drama. I empathize with anyone here who's dealt with the same thing. And I thank you for your attention.

Now, get back to writing!!!!!

S!

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babooher
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I say if you're writing, you're a writer. But use this fury to drive your fingers and prove her wrong. Channel the pain, use it, make it your b...h!
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enigmaticuser
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It's just a way to describe yourself. Is Keanu Reeves an actor? Is anyone in congress a representative? Does Hostess or McDonalds make food?

I'm not sure what you do with it, other than hurt. Experience the pain and then move on once the shock passes.

I mean if a writer dies in a cave undiscovered, does that make them not a writer? Our identities are not given to us by any human being, therefore they cannot be taken either. Only God can do that.

And even then he leaves up to you what you do with it.

So I'd say you're a writer if that's the talent you've been given and it's the one you are choosing to develop. It has nothing to do with how much you sell.

Though, to be meaningful we might need another adjective "good" "bad" "lazy" "undiscovered" or perhaps "ahead of his time?"

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Tiergan
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Writers write, period.
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snapper
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I've heard this question before. One answer was if you wrote anything you can call yourself a writer. But this is nonsense. That would mean anyone who ever wrote an essay is a writer, and I've known plenty of former classmates who would want nothing to do with that title.

I considered myself a writer the first time a complete stranger wrote me to tell me they loved what I wrote. I still remember the elation I felt that day. Everything I've done since has been an attempt to experience that elation as much as I can.

So, if you still have others who want to read what you write because they enjoy your work, you can proudly call yourself a writer.

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Merlion-Emrys
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I think this is one of the comparatively few things pretty much all us Hatrackians can agree on. If you write, you are a writer. Trying to put anymore than that on that particular word/title is frankly stupid.
I could see there being some sort of "criteria" for adding the world "professional" to the title, but even that can be quite nebulous...if you've been paid for you work, any amount, ever, you could call yourself a "professional writer."
This person seems to be one of those...and, thank Astea, they appear to be relatively few...who conflate "being a writer" with "being a bestselling writer who makes a lot of money and whose name is widely known."
In my opinion, our identities can only be given to us by ourselves, and no one, absolutely no one, can take those identities away, save ourselves.
The only remotely redeemable thing I can find in the statements you've mentioned is the bit about how much you have out on the market, and I say that only because I feel that having a steady stream of submissions going and not being, as some for reasons beyond my understanding are, afraid to submit is very important to the goal of publication, but even if you never submit, if you write, you're a writer.

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MattLeo
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Well, what you're talking about isn't a literary critique, it's a criticism about how you use your time. It's most likely not about your writing, but the other things she thinks you *should* be doing, but thinks you aren't.

Your writing is a convenient stick to hit you with, one that's obviously guaranteed to hurt. Questioning your choice of identity strikes me as a bitter and vindictive thing to do, and people in that mood aren't worried about terminological precision; it's the size of the stick that matters.

Now as for billing yourself as a writer, why not? It's not as if writers are demi-gods and it's blasphemy to claim to be one. As far as I can see, published writers aren't even a happier or more virtuous class of *mortals*.

If it's not blasphemous to call yourself a writer,then might it somehow be dishonest? Well, a person who plays pick up baseball is a baseball player, just as much as someone who starts for a major league team. So I'd say that a person who writes stories for his own amusement is just as much a writer is paid for published writing. Otherwise you'd have to say that Emily Dickinson wasn't a writer.

Now what I've just done is demonstrate there's no rational reason to take the *substance* of this attack on your identity as a writer seriously. But there is still the matter of the attack itself to deal with.

Keep in mind that we all lose our tempers from time to time, and we're never at our best when that happens. Unless you're a saint, chances are you've said something in anger that you wouldn't have said after sober reflection. The problem with these situations is that hurt feelings on both sides cause them to escalate.

Since the attack is so patently unreasonable, I think your best option is to treat it as what it *is*: an expression of hurt feelings. By not taking this *personally*, you're less likely to do or say something that would damage a relationship you say is important to you. Fences are far easier to maintain than mend.

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MJNL
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I think Matt hit the nail on the head: there's something going on in your relationship with this person that has nothing to do with your writing, but they're using that to pick on you.

Here's the perspective I come from: When my husband started his engineering business it took him 5 years to get a paying contract. Was he not an engineer for those years? Of course he was, and I've never heard anyone say any different. He had to work extremely hard before he ever made any real money at it.

Same goes with writing. Most people have to work at it for years before they see any success.

If you write and produce finished products, you are a writer. You might not be a selling author, let alone a best selling author, but that doesn't make your endeavors null and void.

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History
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"Damn it, Jim. I'm a doctor not a writer!" [Smile]

I don't call myself a "writer," but I write. Some.

The association of "being a writer" with being a "professional writer" and/or an award-nominated or (better yet) award-winning writer (e.g. our own Eric James Stone and Brad Torgersen) is understandable. For non-writers, this is one independently-verifiable threshold as determined by independent affirmation of one's writing capability by $$ and/or acclaim.

As yet, I just tell stories.
I'm all right with that.

I love writing and hate writing.
But I always love having written.

We all collect rejections (written and verbal; discouraging and encouraging)as storytellers.
Therefore I submit a "writer" is one who keeps writing despite them.
Because this is what a writer does.

Respectfully,
Dr. (Teflon) Bob

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rcmann
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Some people seem to believe that the only proper way to measure the worth of an activity is by the money it generates. If something does not generate a regular income, it is playing and therefore not to be taken seriously.

My parents were this way, my father especially. As a result I did not pursue a career in a creative field. Instead, I spent my adult life in drudgery and painful, dangerous work that I loathed. But it generated a steady, dependable income and my family/friends all understood what I was doing - therefore they approved.

I would gladly give my left testicle if I could have even a few of those years back, to go back and tell every single one of them, individually and collectively, to kiss my hairy backside.

You are not a writer because you write. You write because you are a writer. You write because it burns inside you and it has to get out or you will go mad. If you were stranded on a desert island, you would go down to the beach and start writing on the sand with a stick, or peel off some bark and write in charcoal. Because it is WHAT you are, and not by your own choice either.

However, you cannot expect someone who doesn't feel the same way to understand. I suggest you sigh and go on with your life. Ignore them if you can. Snarl and make them leave you alone if necessary. But for the love of your own sanity, don't pay attention to their opinion.

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extrinsic
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Writing criticism's First Law is address the writing not the writer. The former is socially appropriate; the latter, personal attack. Personal attacks commit crimes against art. The punishments meted by the muse for crimes against art are death of imagination and creativity. Sad. Pity the fool.
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Merlion-Emrys
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I love you, rcmann.
Couldn't have said it better myself.
You remind me of how grateful I am that my parents, while not perfect, have never been anything but supportive of my writing. Though I didn't start until grown, I've no doubt they would have supported it at any point in my life. I really feel badly for people who see no point in anything in life besides survival.

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KayTi
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Sounds like you've encountered someone who has invented a narrow definition of the idea of being a writer, one that conveniently I imagine she fits well into and leaves you aside.

The nice thing about being self-employed is that I get to call myself whatever the heck I want to. I'm the grand poohbah of the extreme order of the high command of the leaders of the computer jockeys. Yep. I challenge you to find a better one. [Wink]

This person sounds like someone that does not deserve to have an active role in your life. I hope you can find a way to create some mental distance from the person and the words. You don't need that in your life.

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LDWriter2
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I agree with KayTi. Except I'm not self employed [Smile]


But on the other hand I've heard of pros who have been told they aren't writers so it happens to a lot of people.

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MAP
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I've been running four to five times a week for more than 10 years. I've taken a little time off here and there for injuries, sickness, and babies, but for the most part, I've been a pretty consistent at it.

I'll never be able to compete with professionals. I'll never win a real race or make any money off of it, but I run, and I love it.

So why shouldn't I be able to consider myself a runner?

I don't think we need the approval of other people. If you believe you are a writer, you are a writer.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I would say something here, but I think it's all been said.

Except that even people who are important to you aren't perfect, and what they say, especially in this case, is only opinion.

You know who you are, Crank, and nothing anyone else can say, no matter who they are, can change that.

If it will help, turn that person into a character you can kill off in a particularly embarrassing way. Then get back to your real writing.

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Pyre Dynasty
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Whenever I hear a child (or grown up for that matter) tell me they want to be a writer I ask them, "Why aren't you, what's stopping you?" This startles them and then I can explain to them how to become a writer. Start writing.

How many paintings did Van Gogh sell in his lifetime? Not enough to say he made a living off it.

I've been a writer since fifth grade. How many stories have I sold? One, kinda. If anyone told me to stop calling myself a writer I'd invite them to peruse my hard drive, and my stacks of paper.

I can sort of understand this person's point of view. One thing I hate most in people is inactive bravado. I have known people who brag all day about things they are planning to do, and then they just don't do them. They had the opportunity to, they were just lazy. This doesn't apply to you. My evidence: You have stories on the market. This is something a non-writer wouldn't even think of doing, because they don't have stories.

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axeminister
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In three weeks I'm going to run a 5k.

At 9:30am, someone is going to ask all the runners to line up at the starting line.

For the next 16 - 40 minutes, people will cross the finish line exhausted, but only one person will win the race.

Does that mean everyone who didn't win is not a runner?

Axe

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Robert Nowall
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Tell this person not to repeat that slander to your publishers.

I wouldn't let anyone else redefine me in this manner. I'm a writer because I say I am.

On the other hand, I wouldn't let "a writer" define me in the sense that I am what I do.

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mrmeadors
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I agree with what others have said, and also... Well, I can't really say it on here because I'd get in trouble.

YOU know who you are more than anyone else. If you say you are a writer, that's what you are. Anything that anyone else says doesn't matter. Maybe she feels that she has to do whatever in order to be a writer. That's her choice.

In some circles, the fact that my husband and I only have one child makes us "not a real family" (we've been told this to our faces). Do I let that bother me, or make me redefine what my idea of family is? Not in the least. I just try to stay away from negative people like that. Someone who causes you anger like that and makes you doubt yourself is not worth being around. Surround yourself with encouragement.

Melanie

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Foste
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Crank, you rock. I dare say, you rock hard.

Don't let anyone tell you you're not a writer.

Period.

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Osiris
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Crank, you've gotten a ton of advice, so I don't think my repeating what you've heard from everyone else would help you. So instead, I've posted this quote from Ben Bova's Website, where he responds to a reader who asked "Am I a writer?":

quote:
The question, "Am I writer?" is irrelevant.
The real question is, do you want to write?
Writers write. You get up every morning and hit that keyboard.
You get the words down and build stories.
You might have to do other things to keep groceries in the pantry, but above and beyond everything else, you write.
Every day. Despite all the disappointments, despite all the obstacles, you write.
Every day.
As you write, you learn.
You create characters and give them problems and make them work to solve their problems.
You send your stories out to market and keep sending them until somebody starts to publish them.
But the stark fact is that no one can know if you're a writer - you won't know it yourself - until you have written well enough to be published...
Frankly, most people give up.
Writing is hard, lonely work and they get tired of it.
But every successful writer starts exactly where you are now, and succeeds by writing and writing and writing until they get published regularly.

Do the work.

Write. Learn. Write every day.
Read and learn from published writers.
Work at it every day.
There's no other way to become a writer.

Good luck,
--Ben Bova

No offense to the person who told you they no longer considered you a writer, but I'd go with the word of a six-time Hugo award winner over anyone else's.

I do agree with MattLeo though, try not to take it personally. Be your own rock, so that you may look at the situation objectively and uncover what motivated the person to make these hurtful comments.

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Meredith
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This quote turned up in a blog I follow this morning:

quote:
A writer is a writer before, as well as after, publication.
Says it all as far as I'm concerned.

Nobody else gets to define what you are or aren't. That ended in high school.

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Foste
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quote:
Originally posted by Meredith:


Nobody else gets to define what you are or aren't. That ended in high school.

Then why does my landlord call me a good-for-nothing? =/
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Shaygirl
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quote:
Then why does my landlord call me a good-for-nothing? =/
'Cus your landlord wasn't there when your mom told you that you were special. [Smile]
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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Foste:
quote:
Originally posted by Meredith:


Nobody else gets to define what you are or aren't. That ended in high school.

Then why does my landlord call me a good-for-nothing? =/
Other than for when your rent is due, why are you listening to your landlord in the first place? Especially for validation.
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InarticulateBabbler
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I read somewhere that Hemingway would deliberately give bad writing advice to people who asked questions they should've known the answers to--or could've found with little effort. One theory is that he did this to cull out writers who weren't willing to trudge through the proverbial trenches. Are you so easily waylaid?
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Natej11
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I've called myself a writer for 13 years and have nothing to show for it but a stream of rejections. My family has pretty much come to ignore that aspect of my life, probably because they don't consider it significant. Outwardly it produces nothing, and when they do ask about it I can't really say much other than "yep, still writing", so how can they understand my deep love and passion for it?

For people who don't love reading and storytelling deeply enough to try writing their own, writers are a bit of a mystery. They consider it a career, and as a career it fails because it doesn't turn a profit. You also see the media sort of poking fun with the idea that writer = failed loser.

But if this person that's important to you had the gall to invalidate something you love, that speaks more for them than for you. A pithy response would be "Well if you don't think of me as a writer because I'm not successful at it, I don't think of you as a friend for the same reason."

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SuziQ
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quote:
Originally posted by Natej11:
A pithy response would be "Well if you don't think of me as a writer because I'm not successful at it, I don't think of you as a friend for the same reason."

I heart this!!

My family has never understood me or my interests. I have now decided that I will wear lots of purple, I will have friends that interest me and I will write a lot, money or no...and no one will take that from me. If I could do anything over, it would be to shed the shackles of worrying about what others think of me 30 years ago and get that time back for fun and creativity. Be creative with all the flourish you can....

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Wannabe
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That seems like an incredibly venomous comment from what sounds like a very toxic influence. I would dismiss it out of hand and anything she said in the future should automatically be called into question simply because of the source. My advice is to surround yourself with more affirming influence. People who will be honest, and give honest criticism, but support your efforts to chase after you dream, and who believe in you to keep fighting. People who tell us to give up are a waste of our time. IMO
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Merlion-Emrys
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I don't see any sign of anybody being waylaid by anything. I think when someone who is important to us tries to invalidate something else that is very important to us, it's quite painful and we naturally enough seek the thoughts of others on the subject, if for no other reason than to be reminded we're not the only one.
Of course the answer to the dilemma is self-evident and I think Crank realizes that and is simply interested in how the rest of us feel about the issue and how we choose to define ourselves and why and I think its made for quite an intriguing conversation.

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Smaug
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I'm sure I'm echoing others when I say this. You may not be making a living as a writer, but you can still say you're a writer. Why? Because bird watchers call themselves bird watchers even though they receive no pay for doing so, and because government employees call themselves workers even though they don't really work. I'm just kidding there, all you government employees...

Don't be depressed. I call myself a musician even though I've never been paid a dime for playing my guitar anywhere. Of course, I'm sure there would be someone who would say I should not call myself that on a website. I tend to ignore those people.

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InarticulateBabbler
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Merlion, it was a metaphorical "waylaid."

Anything which causes an artist to doubt themselves is a form of waylaying.

But, the point is to bolster Crank: To remind him not to let anyone stop him from his sacred ride. I suppose I could have said the venomous comment was a manifestation of jealousy at Crank's determination, and should renew his resolve--if for no other reason than to prove the commenter wrong--but I figured he'd gone beyond that. Just wanted to wanted to give him a proverbial shove in the right direction.

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walexander
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Ugg...the real world arguement...I've heard it so many times. It's amazing to think a majority of society believes if you are working at mcdonalds for min. wage you are more of a productive member of society than a writer, poet, artist, or actor. That you should except your place in the real world and they will respect you for it, but if you dare to dream of a goal beyond these chains they threaten to turn on you. Even if it was just to be manager of the mcdonalds some would say, "Yah right, you the manager, get real." These are the same people that if you're not making 'enough' money tell you in the same breath you have 'no ambition' and would see you 'as someone said above' get paid for a more dangerous job just to clasify yourself as successful based on your income, and they think we are out of touch.

Any attempt to soar takes risk. To fly you must first be willing to risk the fall. W.

Perspective though is always good, especially when money is low and survival eccentual.

That being said I'm in my fourties now and look back on life thinking about how much time I waisted. There is no way in my known universe i could sit or stand anymore for eight to twelve hours of a whole day in a mindless repetitve task for five to seven days a week no matter how much money they gave me. Its not in my DNA anymore.

Never let the zombies catch and bite you with their infectous saliva that forces you to join their mindless ranks. Fight for your life, live it to its fullest extent, follow your passions, for there is definately no garentee you will get another life.

I would rather experience my worst day of writing than succeed at the best day of, "Do you want fries with that?"

just an opinion

W.

quote:
Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero – "Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future" Horice

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rcmann
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Yeah, What he said.
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walexander
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Yeah, What he said.

[Big Grin]
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Crank
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I had every intention of responding the day after I posted what happened to me, but the feedback kept coming. Now, I take my turn...


quote:
Merlion-Emrys: Of course the answer to the dilemma is self-evident and I think Crank realizes that and is simply interested in how the rest of us feel about the issue and how we choose to define ourselves and why and I think its made for quite an intriguing conversation.
Bingo. I got the reactions I expected to get, but I received a bonus thrill when I saw the extent and the passion for which we writers band together and look after our own. For that, all of you have my thanx.


quote:
snapper: I considered myself a writer the first time a complete stranger wrote me to tell me they loved what I wrote. I still remember the elation I felt that day. Everything I've done since has been an attempt to experience that elation as much as I can.
I make sure I embrace the elation from every praise and every publication. Granted, I'm still at an early point in the game, but I cannot imagine that these feelings will ever grow old.


quote:
rcmann: You are not a writer because you write. You write because you are a writer.
I've always liked this quote, but I've never needed to remind myself of it because it's been my philosophy (more accurately, a way to explain me to myself) for many years. In my 'debate,' shortly after getting hit with the 'not a writer' bomb, I mentioned this quote. Simply and diplomatically put: she didn't get it.


quote:
extrinsic: The punishments meted by the muse for crimes against art are death of imagination and creativity.
Curious. That describes her with bitter accuracy.


quote:
KayTi: This person sounds like someone that does not deserve to have an active role in your life. I hope you can find a way to create some mental distance from the person and the words. You don't need that in your life.
In the works.


quote:
Natej11: My family has pretty much come to ignore that aspect of my life, probably because they don't consider it significant. Outwardly it produces nothing, and when they do ask about it I can't really say much other than "yep, still writing", so how can they understand my deep love and passion for it?
I know this well. And, to answer your question, Nate, they never will until you produce something they deem successful. It hurt at first to know my own family was growing numb to my ambitions, but I always knew that even one small success would do away with some of that numbness...and, as I claimed above, it has. On the issue of my upcoming young adult series: I've been bouncing ideas off my 15 year old son on a regular basis (he falls within my target demographics), to the point where he doesn't want to beta read my stories because, as he says, he already knows what's going to happen. No biggie. I understand his point of view. But, just for laughs, I'll sit down at the dinner table and say to him, "Glad you're here. I wanna tell you about the next 39 stories in the series."


quote:
enigmaticuser: Though, to be meaningful we might need another adjective "good" "bad" "lazy" "undiscovered" or perhaps "ahead of his time?"
Until I published my first work, I always used "aspiring."...although, 'distracted' still applies occasionally. It's a condition I fight with every day, and in every aspect of my life. ADD is not conducive to consistent and then I find something cool to watch on YouTube. [Big Grin]


quote:
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury: If it will help, turn that person into a character you can kill off in a particularly embarrassing way.
That thought had crossed my mind. As it turned out, I've been struggling on a particular lyric for the longest time, and last weekend's incident gave me the perfect idea on how to finish it. If I ever get to a point where I feel I'm ready to record some of my songs, this one will definitely be on the list.


quote:
Foste: Crank, you rock. I dare say, you rock hard.
I do more than rock. I am metal!...which, of course, opens up an entirely new line of---uh---critiques. [Big Grin]


Again, thanx to everyone who responded for my benefit. I was never in danger of losing my way, but it's nice to know I'm surrounded by fellow artists who won't let it happen regardless.

S!

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LDWriter2
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Kathleen's statement reminded me of this quote.


"Never insult a writer. You may wind up being immortalized in ways you may not appreciate." Garrison Keillor.

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snapper
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For the record, I don't think of you as a writer either, but as the number one reason why the molasis of procrastination has ground my creativity to a viritual halt, way too often. I'd explain more, but the green dice army is about to collapse my left flank.


....S!

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Crank
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quote:
snapper: ...but as the number one reason why the molasis of procrastination has ground my creativity to a viritual halt, way too often. I'd explain more, but the green dice army is about to collapse my left flank.
Bwahahahahaha!!! Eliminating my competition, one mindless Internet game trap at a time. [Big Grin]

S!

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