Friday, August 22, 2014

You're Worth It, Too

Those of you who follow InquisitorM over on FiMFiction may have already seen his latest blogpost--and if you haven't, I'll link to it at the end of this.  But first, I want to get in a few words about asking for help, both generally, and with fanfiction specifically.  Click down below the break for more.

One of the nice things about the ponyfiction community as a group is that it's remarkably easy to find editors, critics, pre-readers, and whatever other flavor of assistance you desire.  There are literally dozens--probably hundreds--of FiMFiction groups and outside forums and websites where an author can take his story, and get feedback on it.  Granted, not all of that feedback is made equal, but the point is that there are plenty of resources available.

I'm not here to talk about that, though.  The thing is, all the help in the world won't do any good if you aren't willing to ask for it--and for some people, asking can be pretty hard.

This is something I deal with literally every day at work.  There are some students in every class who are very... vocal when they're having trouble.  Whether it's asking out or asking for help, you at least know that they're struggling.  But other kids will sit quietly, nod along, and you won't realize they haven't heard a word you've said until you get the first quiz or homework assignment comes in.  Sometimes they don't realize what they don't know, but more often, they realize they need help; they just won't ask for it.

There are a lot of reasons to be afraid to ask for help: fear of looking stupid for not getting something right away, wanting to not be a bother, or "just" self-esteem issues.  Any of these can stop a student from raising her hand--or a fanfic writer from asking for help, even if she realizes her story's not perfect and wants to improve.

In a school setting, one of the teacher's (many) jobs is to make sure that those students don't get lost in the shuffle.  In fanfiction, there's nobody who's "responsible" for the writers--we're all just here as hobbyists, after all--and so those writers are left to fend for themselves.  Some screw up the courage to go ask another person to look at their story.  Some get an unsolicited offer to help from a reader who sees the potential in their story.  But the majority just do without, because asking for help is hard.

I don't do a whole lot of editing/pre-reading, and what I do is usually by request.  I haven't made a real effort to expand beyond that; while I enjoy doing it on occasion, the reviews I do on this blog take up most of my designated ponyfiction time, and that's something I like keeping up.  When I do edit for someone, I usually warn them that I need some flexibility, time-wise, because it's expressly something I do in my free time, and real life has a way of getting in the way.

But maybe that's reassuring to some people.  When folks "don't want to bother" someone, maybe it's useful to say "Hey, don't worry about that!  If it was a bother, I wouldn't do it, and if it becomes a bother, I'll stop and suggest someone else to help you."  Maybe that would give a few people who know they could use a second set of eyes the assurance they need to make first contact.

In any case, you all can always ask me to offer an opinion on your story by e-mailing me.  I don't promise I'll be able to help in a timely manner (or at all, for that manner), but I do promise that, whatever you do and whatever you ask, it will be literally no inconvenience to me.  I'll do it because I enjoy helping, or I'll help you find someone else, and either way you won't have caused me any trouble.

Now, go read Scott's post on the subject.  And if you're in need of a pre-reader but afraid to ask, hopefully there's someone in the comments who you can screw up the nerve to PM.  I don't think you'll be sorry if you do.


  1. Replies
    1. And thank you. For both the sentiment of your post and that you have helped me to grow quite a lot over the past year or so. Though I still have a long road to walk, I'm a much better author because of your help.

  2. I was totally that second student as a kid. I've even failed tests after not writing a single thing because of it (college probably would've been easier if I'd sought more help). I like to think I've gotten better — I've asked for help at both work and TrotCon — but it still pops up sometimes

    1. Yup, that happened to me too. Lost a year of my life that way.

  3. I've just made a blog of my own linking back to Scott's. Hopefully I can point some people in the right direction.

  4. This might get long and rambly, so skip it if you’re here for something directly relevant to Chris’s post. It struck a chord with me (along with InquisitorM’s blog entry), and I feel I need to write this for a bit of catharsis, even if it becomes an unfiltered stream of consciousness.

    I am not a writer, fan fiction or otherwise. I have never attempted a creative writing project, and when I do write, it is usually an exercise in frustration to convey my thoughts in a manner that I find acceptable. Heck, right now I’m trying to write casually, yet I can’t help but second guess every little detail. I’m sure everyone has this issue to a greater or lesser extent, but it’s one of the main reasons that I so rarely speak up when I’m on the web.
    That hesitation to reach out to other people is (I assume) rooted in the same mentality, whether it be for help or a simple conversation. “I don’t want to be a burden” is the cliché that my mind jumps to, but that isn’t quite right. That phrase does describe how I feel, but it also carries the implication that I consider myself unworthy of people’s attention. I like who I am, and have more than enough to be proud of in my short 20 years of life, along with plenty to look forward to. Yet, I can’t shake the feeling that every message I write needs some strong justification for its existence.

    I want to make real and significant contributions with my words, no matter how few.
    I want people to learn something, or feel better off having read them.
    I want to provide value for the time I take.
    What is it about reaching out that is so difficult? I don’t know any of you, in any real sense of the word. Why should I care if I fail to meet the imaginary expectations of floating textboxes? Am I really so scared of judgment of strangers on the internet? If I’m being brutally honest with myself, the answer is “Yes.”

    The reason has more to do with the method of communication than it does with social anxiety. Browsing the internet is like watching people go about their business through a one-way mirror: outsiders looking in. You can remain a voyeur for as long as you like, but you have the choice to break the glass at any time and expose yourself to their scrutiny. In real life, that scenario rarely emerges. The only case that springs to mind is in major lecture halls, where breaking the glass is analogous to interrupting the professor. Suddenly, all eyes are on you. For myself, and people like myself, that sort of interruption demands justification.

    I’m not sure where I was going with this. Does it mean I have too much respect for other people, or not enough respect for myself? I couldn't tell you. What I can say is this: when someone looks through that one-way mirror, and offers to break it down without knowing a thing about the people on the other side, it’s a beautiful thing.

    Perhaps I’m caught up in the moment and this will sound awfully sappy, but I’ll say it anyway. This My Little Pony fan fiction review blog –something so small, and utterly ridiculous– has been a bastion of rational thought, decency, and kindness in a sea of tumultuous waters.
    From the bottom of my heart, thank you Chris, thank you InquisitorM, and thank you to anyone else who freely offers there time and attention just so silly people like myself can feel more welcome in your midst.


    1. I have very similar problems. One of the reasons I started doing my blog was simply to practice putting my writing out where other people can see it.

      I think another big part of it, at least for me, is not so much that I don't want to be a burden (though that is some of it) but a lot of it is simply that justifying or explaining whatever it is will simply take too much effort. Sometimes it is just a decision that doing something I enjoy is more enjoyable than trying to explain my writing (or whatever) to someone else.

  5. I try to help where I can, too. I've done lots of reviews over at ponychan, and I've also joined the WRITE group on FiMFiction to help out writers. Even at Equestria Daily, I'll often send out pointers or detailed feedback in reply to submissions.

    Some people have approached me via PM on FiMFiction for help, and I'm often too busy to help just because of all those prior commitments, but it never hurts to ask. I'll be very frank about how packed my schedule is and how long it'd take me to get to your story. One other thing I should mention: some reviewers have preferences about what they review, while others will take anything. I'm not a fast reader, so I usually don't like to take on stories longer than 10k, and I tend not to like certain story types, like grimdark, human, crossover, and adventure. Sometimes, it's worth asking a reviewer what kinds of stories they like. If I hate Halo, I'm probably not going to enjoy a Halo crossover, and thus might either be overly critical of it or not give it the attention it deserves.

    If people are looking for help, PM me or request me from WRITE. I only take on a private review every few weeks, but you might time it right or have something that piques my interest.

    1. I think if anyone can wear the "I've helped people to learn to write" badge around here, it's you. You've gone way above and beyond with my stuff.

  6. Some dude once randomly asked me for help with his fan fic. Don't know why he thought my advice would be helpful but hey, it's was a cool experience nonetheless and I wouldn't mind doing it again.