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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Who You Going to Trust

Author Topic: Who You Going to Trust
Member # 9682

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I recently completed a fellow writer's novel, and I suggested to him that he put it on some of the free online writing workshops that exist on the web. I told him about this site as an example, and he kinda replied with a curious statement.

He said that for now, he only wanted to give his novel to people whose opinion he trusted.

I've heard writers say this in the past, and each time it strikes me a bit odd. A mantra constantly repeated when your piece is workshopped is "take what you can from critiques and dismiss the rest". With this advice, I can't help but wonder why anyone would have a trusted group of writers that they prefer to get critiques from. Some of these online writing websites seem to buy into that notion, though, with "private groups". And I can't help but wonder what people are afraid of.

Like, if it's not wanting your writing to be stolen, I suppose that's one thing, though something I never particularly worried about. The odds of someone else having better luck with my writing than me seems a bit unlikely, and unlucky to the extent of say, getting struck by lightning, or being in a plane crash. Yeah, both these things are possible, but just as I still walk outside when it rains, and just as I still fly, I put my writing in public with the genuine certainty that it won't actually be plagiarized.

Another reason I can think of of why people would want opinions from people they trust is because said group of people are basically assuaging each other egos, doing more to say what the other person wants to hear than what will actually make the writing better. But then, this writer's been giving me stuff to read for five years and he knows I'm fairly critical in my analysis of anything unless I'm really blown away by it.

But almost what I feel it really is is that it's not so much that writers want to give their pieces to people whose opinions they trust; it's that they don't trust *their* own opinion when it comes to their writing, and they fear that they can't actually tell what in critiques they need, what should be dismissed. Because really, knowing how to read, disseminate, digest, and eventually use suggestions in critiques is a skill all its own.

It's like every time a writer asks, like point blank asks, how they should change their piece to make it better, you can see how they don't trust their own opinion. Every time you see a suggestion made and a writer immediately makes that change, you can see they don't trust their own opinion. I always think there's this level of desperation in cases like that, people who think if they can get the right combination of words, the lock to publishing will click open and spill out fame and fortune.

I guess there's also a bit of laziness to that method too, a "Just tell me what to do", instead of, "Give me the problem and let me figure it out on my own."

I actually think even established authors shouldn't fall into that practice of a trusted circle of critiquers. I would think the best way for your work to become stagnant is to not have fresh voices pointing out what works and what doesn't work. Trusted advisers too often become trusted friends, and friends are less likely to tell you what you need to hear even if you ask for their honest opinion if they think it puts to risk the friendship. To me, that's no way to write.

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Robert Nowall
Member # 2764

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You might write and know your work as well as you know that face in the mirror---but the mirror is a reflection and not the true face, and even if you accept that, you still can't see the back of your head. Somebody else can see your face and the back of your head; somebody else is likely to see things about your work you just don't notice.

I wouldn't say that "trust" is equivalent to "getting one's ego massaged," however nice that is. "Honest opinion" can certainly be a friendship breaker---but then I've also had some comments about my own work that struck me as so off-base that I couldn't accept them.

I've gotta say, after all, once your work is published and out there, anybody is free to read it, and will often share comments about it with you or with others. So what's the harm with sharing work beforehand with people you're not close to?

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Member # 8617

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"Trust" might simply mean that the person thinks you're not an idiot. There are just some people who don't read well or critique well or don't understand the genre you're writing. Some readers couldn't make an inference to save their lives.

After critiquing a piece once, I was told something to the effect of "I don't know what story you read, but the story I wrote was about XYZ." I was then accused of probably thinking comments that I never had nor ever made (apparently the writer was also a budding psychic). I'm guessing that writer won't ever trust me to critique anything again (which after that experience is okay by me). I'm pretty sure the writer thinks I'm an idiot (I also think there's a Facebook page for that, too).

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Member # 9331

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Well, I feel obliged to offer a critique in return, and for me that's a lot of work. A 100K word novel takes me about 20 hours to critique, so I'm naturally am reluctant to share with somebody I don't trust to put effort into a critique. I also prefer writers who I'm interested in reading.

I definitely believe in listening to critics, but not taking their ideas at face value.

Spec fiction writers are a highly intelligent bunch, but they bring very different kinds of intelligence to reading. I've had some critics who were absolutely brilliant at spotting problems in continuity, timeline and plot logic, yet seem almost incapable of understanding that a character is being deceptive unless the narrator comes right out and says "Alice was lying." Other critics are wonderful at picking up on nuances in communication, but don't seem to care about the plot.

I think the most valuable thing you can get from any critic is his reaction itself; if he can analyze that reaction it's a bonus. I'm very satisfied if a reader simply marks a passage "I got bored here and started skimming."

As for stealing ideas, it's not a reasonable concern. There are a lot more ideas than there are people who can transform the idea into a story. And sharing with critics is probably your best defense against outright plagiarism. When somebody wins a Hugo with a story you shared with him, you can produce the other people you shared with to testify.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
Member # 59

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Originally posted by Denevius:
I would think the best way for your work to become stagnant is to not have fresh voices pointing out what works and what doesn't work.

Here on Hatrack, we used to create little groups (I'd keep them at no more than six members), and one of the rules was that after a year, the group had to be dissolved (because OSC says that after a year, you know what they will say and you are wasting your time asking them for feedback--paraphrase, as usual).

Not many groups lasted more than a few weeks (which is why I stopped doing that--too much hassle to create the groups, get them to do anything, and then keep track of them), but there were a few that actually lasted a whole year and had to be "officially" dissolved (I didn't have any control over whether or not they kept exchanging stories after dissolution).

I like it much better the way it runs now. People can get and give feedback as they choose, and every so often, someone like snapper puts together a writing challenge that works like a temporary group, and then people move on.

Interesting insights into the whole deal, Denevius. Thanks for sharing.

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