5 Ways We Aren't Very Nice
My grandmother was a great matriarch but she was raised in an era where woman had to carve out their place in the world with scalpels rather than explosives. This meant my grandmother was a genius at the subtle manipulation. This was great watching her with others but terrible when used on myself. I was in a forum for authors today and I was shocked by some of the answers to people's threads and how mean some people are. They probably thought they were being helpful as why else spend time on those forums, they can be extremely boring, or they can complete trolls and I'm not touching that with a barge pole. Instead I want to highlight how we often write things on line and it isn't very nice and how we probably learnt them from our grandmother's era.
1. Personal Attacks: A lot of people put themselves out there and ask people what they think of their cover, book, blurb etc. And people often reply back with a personal attack about how they are amateurs or frauds or lack credentials, life experience or grammar skills. When they are pulled up they often reply back with "But they asked for my opinion/criticism." This is something my grandmother would have said. It wouldn't have been so bad if I didn't know she just used those words as a shield like so many people do. And it is not very nice. Yes they asked but you didn't take in the nature of the appeal. When we as authors put our works out there we are putting our hearts out there. We want something that will make us better and be constructive not pull us down. If you are going to say my grammar sucks then email me and point out the bits that jumped out at you. Then I can guarantee that every author will see if they need to make changes. The other stuff we can't really change. We can't get life experience in an afternoon, we can't get credentials with a click of our fingers. So don't comment on things authors can't change and don't cover your ass when you are being mean by saying they asked for it.
2. The But: I was once told that in any sentence that has a but in it, half of the sentence is a lie. I loved your book but... means you didn't actually like my book. I'd rather have someone say, I liked the characters/setting/ideas/whatever than a blanket I loved the book but... This is a lot like when we ask someone for a favour and we first compliment their clothes or appearance. It is manipulative and I'm not the only one who thinks so. When you look at a child's picture you should be specific in your praise and then you should give what is called feedforward which means giving suggestions on what to work on next. This is the same with dealing with authors. Tell me what you want to see changed in an honest way and then tell me exactly why you bothered to read anything at all of my work. You don't have to love it but you can like parts of it. Our grandmothers were taught to do this because men would be offended by women having opinions different to their own so they had to learn to squeeze it in. It is a bit like being apologetic when we just want what we deserve "Sorry to interrupt but can I just..." "Sorry to bother you but can I..."
3. Vague: I used to hate this with my lecturers. They would mark my assignments and say something like "Use better sources." without telling me why the sources I was using weren't good enough. Or where to find those better sources. Now that I am writing I get lovely advice but little in the way to fix things. I get plenty about how I have to fix my grammar. If you have read my previous posts on Dyslexia you'll know that I am dyslexic and unless I am deliberately taught grammar I can't see that it isn't right. I hire a lovely editor to make sure those things are fixed up but it can be expensive If I miss too much. Recently my editor suggested that I read my dialogue out loud. Very sound advice and useful but sadly enough when I read my dialogue I read it as I want it to be, not how it actually is. I ended up using a text to speech to read my book to me so I can see what others see naturally. That suggestion I got from a forum post to someone else. But it was one amongst so many that only pointed out what was wrong without any suggestion on what to fix. This is mean because you don't actually believe they can fix the issue and that is why you don't give a suggestion. Sadly I must wear this hat as I have given advice like this without being specific about how people can fix it. This comes from a time when women were not meant to tell anyone else what to do so they had to hint until the person figured out what they wanted. Like "The door sure is squeaky." when what you really want to say is, "That door is squeaky, you'll need to fix that before it rusts or something..." or even better, "That door sure is squeaky. I'll get the CRC and deal with that now while I'm thinking about it."
4. Your way or the highway: I was reading a thread on present tense and there were so many getting upset because they believe that present tense is only written by amateurs yada yada. Personally I think writing in present tense first person is the hardest thing ever. But what really bothered me was that their view of the world was the only correct view of the world. I've known people who cleaned their house a certain way and get upset when their kids don't clean in exactly the same way. Sheesh be pleased that they are cleaning at all. That is how I feel about authors. They are writing. That is awesome. Okay, there are some authors out there that I cringe when I read their work as it really needs some serious editing. A bit like watching American Idol when people get up to sing and think they are awesome but they are just terrible. If you think it is your job to try fix that then be specific and be kind. But pointing that out comes across as just mean if you aren't willing to help them fix it. In the past women had certain places that was considered their domain and they protected it fiercely and that is same with writing but allowing others in is like love. The more you share the more you have.
5. Mauled by a bear: I don't know about you but have you ever answered someone on facebook or twitter who has strange views and you point out that maybe they don't have it right and they go on the rampage and spam you with so called proof. I call this poking the bear. But sometimes you are on the other end and you post something on a forum and someone puts something wrong or passive aggressive so you pull them up and they maul you. Not just once but filling up pages with comebacks and defensive drivel. The bear isn't trying to be helpful they just want to be correct, in power or to have attention. For my day job I have to keep up with the latest research in my field. I then have to get the rest of the staff up to date. A bit like hitting my head against a wall. I'm a teacher and did you know there is no evidence that homework is good for students. Actually play is probably better for kids than homework. Also the number one teacher of children is.... parents. The biggest modifier of student results is how active their parents are in student learning. You can have terrible teachers and it doesn't change results significantly vs good teachers. Also those fancy rich schools have as many bad teachers as a public school. Certainly that is true in NZ. When it comes to writing there are actually plenty of new changes. Just look at the self-publishing industry which changed everything. I'm not sure where this stubbornness comes from but I do remember clashing with older people in life over things they believe are true and which is no longer true or was just because of the media. (psst apple a day was an ad and will not keep the doctor away.)
Bonus: This is for people posting and those starting threads. Don't jump to conclusions. Don't assume everyone is a troll and out to be mean. I'm can post mean things by accident or purely because of thoughtlessness. I hope you'll try not to be one of those in the future as I will strive to avoid that and please think about what you post and whether it will help or hinder.