You experienced writers out there please talk quietly among yourselves while I address the rookies for a few minutes.
I’ve mentioned here before that I frequent Facebook pages that cater to young, new or upcoming writers. I consider it a form of paying forward, and I try to help in ways that I reasonably can. Those pages also serve to give me ideas for this blog and well as for my YouTube channel.
What I want to talk about here today is less about writing, per se, than it is about fulfilling dreams of pursuing a writing career. Cutting to the chase: If you’re posting online, you’re in a public forum. Every item you post, every comment you make, is part of a truly permanent record. Before you click that “Post” button, ask yourself if you’re about to do something good and helpful, or are you about to do something you might have to apologize for sometime in the future.
I belong to one Facebook fiction writing group that boasts over 120,000 members. I’m not sure if its possible to know what the demographics are of that group, but judging from the posts and responses, many are young, the majority are inexperienced, and for a substantial number, English is not the members’ first language. As with all virtual groups of that size, trolls are common.
What’s less common–in fact, what’s damn difficult to find–is good advice. Most of the “wisdom” from members feels like advice we’ve all heard over the years presented as inviolable rules. Those of you who have hung around TKZ for a while know my opinion on the rules of writing: There aren’t any. Fiction writers need only to entertain their audience. If they can do that while including a prologue that’s all about waking up from a dream in the middle of a thunderstorm and wondering who they are, then Godspeed.
Posting Stories Online
I know you’re new to all of this, and I know that it’s hard to get feedback on your writing from real people in the real world, but do yourself a favor before you post a work in progress: Ask yourself what you hope to achieve by posting what is essentially a rough draft in a public forum.
What will you do with anonymous feedback from largely unqualified critics? Clearly, you will share the glowing praise when it happens, but what about the less glowing yet honest critiques? Worse, how are you going to handle the slashing troll attacks? All too often, feelings get bruised and wounded submitters engage in ad hominem broadsides with their gloating trolls.
What about that exchange seems helpful? I submit that every bit of it is 100% harmful. What’s the sense in seeking feedback that can never be trusted?
And to make it even worse, the submissions, responses, and arguments reside in that public forum forever, where deans of admissions, employers, security clearance analysts, editors and agents can all see them and learn from them.
TKZ First Page Critiques Are Different
My intent is not to shill for our First Page Critique program, but I do want to differentiate it from what I discuss above. Three key differences come to mind:
First, the critiques come from writers who have walked the walk in their own lives and have enjoyed some success in the fiction writing biz. That doesn’t mean we know what we’re talking about, necessarily, but at least our opinions come from an earned place.
Second, submissions here are anonymous for a reason. If a critique is harsh (they should never be mean-spirited), the author need never step forward and take responsibility for the piece. Hopefully, they will learn from the experience, but there’s no embarrassment. In fact, as the designated critics (critiquers?) we never know whose work we’ve analyzed.
Third, submissions to the First Page Critique program are curated at the beginning. Occasionally, submissions are so immature or undercooked that it would be unkind to expose them to public critique. We will never savage anyone here.
Spelling and Grammar Count
I recognize that I am now strolling on very thin ice. I find that it is the rare TKZ post with my name attached that does not have at least a couple of typos in it. It ain’t for lack of trying, but if there’s one truth I’ve learned over the past decades, it’s that I suck at finding little things, whether it be a typo or the milk that is right in front of me in the refrigerator.
That said, if you’re part of my targeted audience with this post–the new, upcoming, young, struggling writer–you have to be more careful than I do. I’ve earned a Mulligan or two, while your Mulligan bank is empty. Every word you post in a public forum is part of an ongoing audition for your future as a writer. Don’t squander marvelous opportunities to make good impressions.
And for heaven’s sake, don’t destroy a history of well-thought, well-constructed posts with an ill-considered rant about anything.
Writing is a craft, and crafts need to be practiced. Just as golf and tennis swings require muscle memory that repeats good habits, so does writing. If u r in da habit uv riting in internet-speak, I urge you to stop. Immediately. When bad form and bad syntax start feeling normal, it has to affect the quality of other written communication. It has to.
Your turn TKZ family. Am I all wet here? Have I missed anything?