Friday, June 14, 2013

What to Do When Joseph Stalin Says Your Fanfic Sucks

I don't usually do the whole "reblog" thing, but I came across something I wanted to share yesterday.  Fanfic author and EqD pre-reader Aquaman posted some comments on how and how not to give and receive criticism which, while more than slightly vitriolic, is definitely worth reading.  Click below the break to read his thoughts.

NOTE:  For context: after receiving a rejection letter from EqD, an author on FiMFiction recently made a blog post saying (s?)he was feeling dejected about the quality of his/her story after getting a story rejected by EqD.  The following was originally a response to one of the other commenters on that post.

If you really want to go find the whole drama bucket, I'm sure you can.  I'm not interested in bringing any arguments about the pre-readers, EqD, the author, the commenter whom this is responding to, or the rest over here, however, and I'm certainly not going to link to any of them myself.  I thought Aqua's comments about giving and taking criticism stood on their own, and I'm presenting them as such.


I can't speak for [pre-reader], but my problem here is not that you hate us or that you're trying to tell this author it's okay to fail. My problem is the way you're telling him that: by saying that he shouldn't listen to a word the pre-readers say, and that he should just be happy with whatever he writes because he made it and that makes it special.

To some degree, yes, that is absolutely true: you should take pride in your work, no matter what anyone else thinks of it. That being said, though, it is another thing entirely to take that to such a level that you completely invalidate criticism from a certain source or, God forbid, from any source. I don't care if Joseph Stalin himself rises from the dead to pop in and say that he doesn't like the way you wrote your main character; if it's criticism, listen to it, and decide for yourself whether it represents a level of technical skill you aspire to reach.

Right now, you're telling this author that he shouldn't listen to unreasonable critics, but by your apparent definition of the term, there is no such thing as a "reasonable" critic, because that would require that said critic has only objectively correct opinions. You say the pre-readers are useless because they have elitist standards; in return, I would like to ask who made you the one who should determine to what standards this author should aspire? This author's been working at his writing for over a decade, trying to build the courage to take such a big step as submitting to EqD, and the fact that he succeeded in doing so makes me goddamn proud to even come into contact with him.

But when he gets rejected and his completely relatable response is to feel embarrassed and ashamed, what do you do? Instead of comforting him and telling him to keep at it and keep practicing and keep that same fire lit in his heart, what do you tell him to do?

You tell him to give up. You tell him that he should ignore his critics, that he should be happy with mediocrity, that you and so many other deserving authors didn't make it so why in the hell should he expect any different as if his hard work and determination could ever actually amount to anything. You tell him it's not worth the effort to keep trying, that one failure is enough of a reason to quit striving towards his goal, and that is utterly and without question despicable. You are so wrapped up in your own hatred of us that you're dragging this guy down with you just so you can keep preening and fellating yourself over how right and noble and special you are, and that is just about the lowest, most selfish thing I can imagine anyone doing on this site.

I'd like to speak to the author again here, so [author], please listen closely: if you want to get onto EqD someday, that's awesome. If all you want is to play around with writing and have fun with this community and this oft-maligned art form, that's awesome too. And if your true goal is something between, below, or beyond any of that, then I truly wish you all the luck in the world with achieving it. But the most important lesson I want to impart upon you here is this: in your writing career, you're not just going to have to deal with harsh reviews and critiques you find offensive or even completely, abjectly wrong. You're also going to have to deal with ***holes like the ones who've invaded your comment thread, who are so content with their own mediocrity that they see nothing wrong assuring you that giving up is the right course of action, that a rejection or a failure is the fault of unfair judgement or preconceived biases or any number of extenuating circumstances that take responsibility and power away from you and put it in the hands of the people who would build up their own egos at the expense of victimizing you.

These people are toxic, and they are everywhere, and I've seen far too many aspiring writers get sucked into their bull**** to let this happen to you now without saying my piece. Let me emphasize again that I don't mean to say you absolutely must shoot for the moon with everything in life; what I would encourage and implore you to do instead is to decide for yourself what you want out of writing, and once you figure that out, don't let anybody--not readers, not pre-readers, and certainly not the ****heads rampaging around in here--tell you you're wrong to desire it. I can't promise that rousing success always comes with great effort, and God dammit, I wish the world was fair enough that I could. But I can tell you that if you stay strong and stay hungry, and put in every ounce of effort you've got, it is impossible to ever truly fail. No matter what these idiots tell you, never forget that.


  1. That was pretty well said. Sometimes a little vitriol is more than justified.

    I noticed at a certain point that I started getting less irritated with the people who were sad about being rejected from EQD and more with the people who would flood the comment feeds of anyone whose story had been rejected with these "don't listen to those elitist snobs!" and "yeah, EQD sux!" comments. There's something infectious about these people; they seek out a victim, pump up their ego with all these assurances that they're just perfect the way the are, and before you know it you've got another convert to the legions of EQD haters.

    1. Here, here.

      I'm with Aquaman on this too. I've never bought into this weird little counter-culture thing, and I've always felt nothing but irritation with people that propagate that kind of attitude. Especially when it comes from an author of something I like.

      EqD isn't perfect, but cries of elitism always irk me. Sure, there's such a thing as having your standards too high, and there are some other famous examples of that in the fandom, but EqD is certainly not a case of that. They have clearly achievable standards and they give you all the advice you need on how to meet them and get featured.

      Never mind that the term "elitism" is itself also problematic, but I really don't want to get into all my issues with that word and its connotations right now.

    2. I think it's just a combination of sour grapes and ego-boosting fantasy. Of course the "quality" and enjoyment of any particular piece is subjective, but all that ultimately means is that some people like cars, others like simple bikes, and others prefer motorbikes. If someone wants to make a sleek and well-designed motorbike and it doesn't quite work out, it's outright dishonest to convince them motorbikes are crummy machines anyway before they've even made the next attempt.

      Also, I raise my eyebrow at excessively quick charges of elitism. Rejections that come with constructive criticisms aren't sent to mock inferiority, but to help people improve their storywriting, something which they've tacitly agreed to accept by sending a submission in the first place.

    3. Yeah, come to think of it, wouldn't an elitist be someone of a small group who isolate themselves from the outside world by setting entry criteria so high that it eventually serves only to block outside views and work from entering their group?

      Which is essentially the opposite of what the pre-readers do, which is constantly expose themselves to the work of people outside their group?

    4. "Elitist" is a magic word that stupid people like to throw at someone or something better than themselves to bring it/them down to their level. I think Yahtzee said it best when he talked about how the term is used in politics.

      "If the candidate you're up against is obviously smarter, better looking, better connected to reality and all-around transparently more qualified to run the country than you are, all you have to do is say the magic word 'elitist' and suddenly it's anybody's race."

      And I think that sums it up pretty well, because I've seen this attitude goddamn everywhere. Fiction is just one other area where people throw this sort of term around. And usually when they do, it's directed towards EqD to excuse a failed submission's continued mediocrity and its author's lack of trying.

      I don't think I'm a good writer either, but this blog is right, and when people send me criticism I listen to it, even if I think it's completely unfair. The people who cry elitist are not only holding themselves to NO higher standards whatsoever, they're sealing themselves in a little bubble world and pretending that it's perfectly fine to do so and that other people who otherwise WOULD improve should be the same as them.

      Aquaman is completely right. That kind of attitude is poisonous to this fandom and writers in general, and everybody suffers when it gets spread. Just look at

    5. Oh gosh. You just explained why the EQD PR game is so taxing.

      It's politics. :(

    6. And with that realisation, this situation is now even more depressing than before.

  2. I will say that some of my rejections from EQD have rubbed me the wrong way at times. I certainly don't mind weakness in my stories pointed out to me, but it's the WAY that they have been pointed out that bug me. For example, I got a story back that had a there/their/they're mistake in it. Not an established pattern of the same mistake. Just one instance that neither I nor my editors caught. I got a paragraph back from the pre-reader explaining the difference between the three. A paragraph. That just feels incredibly condescending for a minor and completely understandable typo that everyone makes from time to time. I've had several instances of readers sending me back edits and critiques like this, and I think that is a lot of what makes people feel like EQD are elitist.

    Now, having said that, I find that my rejection letters from EQD are THE SINGLE BEST source of critique that I get anywhere. The are the engine of my improvement. I will admit that the first time I got a rejection letter, I was close to joining the EQD haters. The letter was short, terse, and almost totally unhelpful. My story had gotten such a good response on FIMfiction that I really wanted to blow EQD off. However, my goal was to have at least one story go up on EQD in my time writing pony fiction, so I knew that I needed to bone up and get better. That meant pleasing those readers and improving was the only way to do it.

    So I do agree with Aquaman here, but I also believe that the pre-readers could be a little more understanding at times. Tone is important. When you get a letter back that makes your feel like you personally wounded a reader with your story because you used an ellipsis incorrectly. Ultimately, though. the responsibility for this stuff lays with the author. This is life and no one has to be nice to you or do things your way. When you write, you are putting yourself out into the public sector and you can't expect to control how it returns to you.

    1. Oops, I messed up a sentence. That should have read:

      It's a little off-putting when you get a letter back that makes you feel like you personally wounded a reader with an incorrect ellipsis use.

      That's why I shouldn't type first thing in the morning.

    2. Just a note from the professional world:

      Critiques can be absolutely brutal. When working to a deadline or specifications, coddling is counter-productive. Pros quickly develop a very thick skin that only sloughs off when they reach the rarefied heights of their profession.

      People who want to be pros (or, at least, want to reach any sort of high level of competency) will evaluate ANY criticism and, if it's valid, take it to heart. Pro-minded artists are perfectly willing to hate the critic while accepting something valuable from them. Yes, humans seem to be hard-wired to resent criticism, particularly when coupled with an exclusionary policy, but that's just another hurdle to overcome on the road to excellence.

      Those who just want to fiddle around in the kiddie pool, will be happiest if they don't expect any sort of recognition or accolades for their play-time activities, and make a habit of ignoring all criticism. They can't have it both ways.


    3. Yeah, I kinda agree. Equestria Daily probably taught me more about writing than all my years in English class, precisely because its pre-readers were so helpful and thorough like that. And they allow follow-up questions if you want them to clarify a point. As long as you're polite, they're awesome to talk to, and with their help I've had two stories go up now. Somehow.

  3. InquisitorM is not going to like this...

    1. The message I get from the above is, "Keep doing what you're doing and strive to improve. Don't dismiss criticism that can help you improve because of the source or how it's given. Don't listen to people who give you false praise and/or tell you to stop improving"

      What's not to like? Unless one is one of those lower crabs in a bucket?

    2. Eh. I said my piece and I stand by it.

      "My problem is the way you're telling him that: by saying that he shouldn't listen to a word the pre-readers say, and that he should just be happy with whatever he writes because he made it and that makes it special."

      This didn't happen. It's a lie. If you invent problems, you can write a great rhetoric rebutting it, but it puts you on the level of fanatics and politicians on the integrity scale.

      Equally, I don't think this is a justifiably valid representation of the situation, either: "For context: an author on FiMFiction recently made a blog post saying (s?)he was feeling beaten up after getting a story rejected by EqD."

      Context is important, and the problem I had is that everyone seemed to be inventing their own context to justify their opinions. It's unacceptable.

    3. If you don't think the context I provided is sufficient or accurate, I'd appreciate it if you'd suggest what I might put up in its lieu. I tried to keep all my verbiage neutral and avoid any commentary on the author or original commenter, but if I failed I'd like to fix that up.

    4. The issue is that the actual post by the author in question didn't give any implication of feeling hard done by, attacked, or otherwise treated inappropriately, but, the term 'beaten up' is heavily loaded in that direction. The author added an edit to his blog post to clarify that he was referring only to himself and not in any way referencing EqD.

      Specifically, he wrote, "I was trying to document and share that I was feeling a little defeated with the review I got back." I know it's not a huge difference, but I think the context to this whole debacle is a little too important to risk coloring it. The original post reads thus:

      Right as I was getting confidence... I didn't think [Redacted story title] would get accepted to EQD, but I never thought it would get so completely ripped apart. It was torn asunder, word by word and shown to me how awful it really is. I've been trying to overcome my fears and post my writings in public for years, for a decade, at least. I'm sorry. I don't even know what to do. It didn't even look like it was fixable. It's just... garbage. I really, truly thought I was better than that. I'm sorry.

      If it were completely devoid of context, I doubt I'd have any issue with your choice of wording. Given the heightened emotions that it drew out, though, I think I'd have phrased it 'After receiving a rejection letter from EqD, an author on FiMFiction recently made a blog post saying (s?)he was feeling dejected about the quality of his story'.

    5. Also, I don't think I was right to use the term 'justifiably valid'. I should have said something like 'entirely accurate' instead.


    6. Fair enough. Your wording was what I was trying to convey, certainly; I can see how "feeling beaten up" would give the impression that the author was lashing out. Changed!

  4. I can't find the exchange people are talking about, but I've gotten a lot of rejections from EqD (20, maybe?), and yet I'm pretty sure the most-stinging criticism I've ever gotten was from InquisitorM. It might have been someone else, though.

    It was the most-painful criticism I've gotten because it didn't "rip apart" my work, or in fact refer to anything in it. It just said something to the effect of, "You're not good enough yet to try to learn from device heretic."

    Ouch. No way to know whether it's right; nothing to do if it is.

    Fortunately, I'm a megalomaniac, so it didn't deter me.

    1. "try to learn from device heretic."

      You mean act excessively dramatic to draw attention to yourself and ragequit the fandom every time someone doesn't like your work?


    2. Yeah. Me today would be dismayed at an earlier me saying that. But hell, I've said some daft things in my life, so it's at least possible. Certainly doesn't sound like me, though; I've been fairly critical of DH ever since reading Eternal (one need only look back through this blog to see my scathing critique of that). Still, me not remembering something doesn't necessarily mean much!

    3. "You mean act excessively dramatic to draw attention to yourself and ragequit the fandom every time someone doesn't like your work?"

      I thought you were talking about device heretic, not me.

  5. I had occasion to come back here and reread this post, and it brought tears to my eyes. "Tough love" doesn't mean you beat someone until they learn to like it, it means you tell them "The world is hard and you have to be hard if you don't want it to beat you down" and then you goddamn give them a hand getting harder.