The Most Detrimental Thing Writers Do To Each Other and Themselves

I’ve been working overtime lately. Reading and writing have become my air and water, with sleep as my food, and food as my sleep. I wish to get to a point where I can write as well as the people who’ve inspired me to write; and the more I do both activities, the more I continue to understand. And the more I understand, the more annoyed I become.

The most blatant problem I have noticed with writers, specifically people who love to give out critiques, is that every single one of those persons seem to have a giant writing rule book that they probably stuff in the better-to-be-left-unsaid crevices of their body, and every time someone posts their work online to be critiqued, these people prance out and indicate numerous “mistakes” that make the new writer think, “Wow, I’m an idiot.”

Now don’t get me wrong: I know how quickly this post can seem like it’s typed from the bitter fingers of a writer who was beaten on the ass by highbrowed critics. Whether you believe me or not, that isn’t true. Why? Because I know better than to let myself be criticized by people who would (and probably do) have the ability to find hundreds of “faults” in the writing of bestsellers (real bestsellers, too, i.e. not Twilight).

So what’s the problem? Let’s try to understand who these forum critics are. People who spend hours upon hours lurking writing forums, giving detailed analyses to people who post one to two thousand words from their latest manuscripts. First thing’s first: many of these people are unqualified and truthfully, don’t know jack shit. I’m not trying to sound like I’m much better than they are, but that’s the truth. There is nothing inherently different about writing forums that separates them from gaming forums or let’s-all-be-racist forums or huehuehue 4chan forums. They may have more guidelines and they may have stricter rules, but this is still the internet. These are all normal people, and while a few of them are definitely qualified, most of them aren’t.

And new writers don’t know that. New writers make accounts on these writing forums and think, “Wow, I’m privileged to be here — this forum has published and best-selling writers! I’m in the grown-up part of the internet now.” And you are privileged to be there, because there is much valuable information that can be picked up from the discussions — but it ends there.So then they post their work in the Criticism part of the forum. And remember, these people have seen big writer names posting on these forums, so their instant perception of the forum is that everyone is a genius. They associate those few real qualified people to everyone who can speak/type coherently. Any reply they’re going to get will be taken in the highest regard, whether they should or not.

Most of the time, the work isn’t very nicely written. It may be uninteresting or it may be slow, it may be oddly paced or it may have multiple tense errors. Those are the usual problems, those are the important problems. But these people who love to give criticism… I really don’t know. It seems like they’re being blind and stupid on purpose. They ask pointless questions, like “He? Who’s he? Is it the boy?” Yes it’s the boy, that’s the only god damn character that’s been introduced so far. Their reason for asking a question like that is to say something along the lines of, “You should always be making sure the reader knows, without a doubt in his mind, who ‘he’ is.” And that’s important, but that doesn’t mean you should be saying the character’s name every time.

There are just so many issues just like that. These people on the writing forums don’t point out the real problems. They don’t tell the writer what’s wrong with the story, or what’s wrong with the tenses or the shifts, but instead they focus on stylistic issues. They focus on aspects that are purely style.

They bombard new writers with a set of rules. A few I’ve run into include:

*Never start a chapter with dialogue.
*Use exclamation points very, very sparingly.
*Be minimalistic with words.
*Adverbs are a no-no.
*Never ever filter.

Those are just five off the top of my head. These critics come into threads by new writers and tell them all of these rules. Regardless of the context, regardless of the style, regardless of anything at all, these people are as stubborn with their rules as much as Taco Bell is disgusting. They make new writers terrified to do anything at all with their writing and with their voice. Hell, if I posted a draft of this pseudo-essay on one of those sites, someone would give me shit about my use of the word “regardless” two sentences back. They would say it’s repetitive and tenuous, and that I shouldn’t repeat ideas like that (Get it?); and no, I’m not exaggerating. That’s how bad people have become.

But since I can’t drone on about every single rule out there, I just want to touch on the most important complaint I have; which, pretty much applies to several rules if not all. You get an avalanche of rules and guidelines that you’re told to follow, and you as a new, naive writer, believe that you have to follow them. It makes you frightful to do anything at all. It makes you think you’re not capable of doing it, because the rules are there. And when you do do it? The writing is like stepping on a floor of broken glass, because every line you type out is read over a thousand thousand times to make sure you don’t piss off the asshole on the internet who told you you weren’t being minimalistic enough.

What everyone out there needs to realize is that rules can go throw themselves over the bridge. Adverbs, filtering, repeating ideas — yes, you shouldn’t do it too much. The rules are right in that you should be aware of them, but you shouldn’t be holding them like your Bible. You should know when enough is enough, but you should commit these ‘mistakes’, because they’re not mistakes at all. When used correctly, they become style.

They become your voice. They become how your character narrates and perceives the world while the reader is stringing along for the ride. Most amateur writers out there will tell you that a dialogue tag such as

“Bla bla bla,” Sandra said to him.

is too much. They’ll tell you to take out the “to him”, because it’s unnecessary and it just adds to the word count. No. Pull out the latest bestseller that the world has been in love with for the last year or two (if you don’t know it, then you don’t read enough and you shouldn’t be making these criticisms in the first place) and you’ll see this is more than a common occurrence. This is style. If I have a chapter where the narrative is from a character’s point of view, then I expect that character to point out things that people point out, whether or not it’s repetitive, because it makes the character more human.

If I want to write a passive sentence, I’ll write a god damn passive sentence. Why? Because I’m aware of the other option, and I believe this is better for the lyricism of the work.

I think that’s what people need to remember. It’s fine to give criticism, it’s fine to ask for criticism, but both parties should be aware that the rules are not rules, but helpful reminders. But it’s the duty of the critic to inform the new writer that, because the new writer has no way of knowing; and most of the time, you guys don’t. Shame. You’re making everyone lose their voice and afraid to develop a style because of rules that were written up by terrific writers who couldn’t explain to persistent morons the formula for good writing.

The formula for good writing? Be a good writer. How? Know what the rules are, understand why they are there, and adjust your writing to fit the rules whenever necessary. But don’t let it dictate everything you do. Just be a good writer. Lesser authors write the rules that the best writers break.

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9 thoughts on “The Most Detrimental Thing Writers Do To Each Other and Themselves

  1. Sounds like pretty good advice.

    I’ve got a question though. Assuming that we all come up with our own small rules, do you think there’s a way to differentiate between actual tips (like what you mentioned about tenses and pacing) and our individual psychoses? Or should I just keep reading and hope that I’m not too…er…that my head isn’t stuck too far up myself?

    Either way, I look forward to reading more.

    • I think that’s where it becomes difficult. Of course, you should never excuse bad grammar and wrong tenses and say it’s your style, so that’s something you should always listen to if someone calls you out on it.

      As for pacing, I don’t feel so negatively when people comment on pacing, because it really is helpful to hear their input. If enough people are telling you that maybe your work is too slow at some parts, or if you’re overloading them with drama, then you should look at it again and see if they have a point.

      So yeah. Grammar and pacing is something that can be criticized, because those really can’t be put off as style. Unless you figure out a way to have very strange pacing and make it work as a viable style, of course.

      But always keep reading, too!

  2. loved this. when i first started looking for opinions on my writing i was big on forums until i realized that most people have no idea what they’re talking about. then i spent a lot of time reading other people’s work and telling them to not be discouraged by all of the people telling them their writing was awful because they had their own style. writing is an art form and is subjective like all other art forms.

    i only had a chance to read this one post, but i followed your blog so i can read some more later on 🙂

  3. “If I want to write a passive sentence, I’ll write a god damn passive sentence. Why? Because I’m aware of the other option, and I believe this is better for the lyricism of the work.”

    So very glad you bolded this bit. It’s an important part of the “passive sentence” rule that gets ignored way too often. 99% of the time, yeah, active is better, but there will always be that 1% of the time where you really, REALLY need it passive.

    • Oh no, I loved your comments; I’m still getting around to applying them before sending a reply. There are times when it’s just style and times when the sentence really can be made better (which you did with many of them). While I still do stand behind this post, that doesn’t mean I shrug off every single piece of advice.

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