I didn’t want “I’m quitting the blog, so long!” to be the top post on here for all eternity, and I really had been meaning to clean up the links at the top of the page. So, now I’m doing both. Here’s a post that explains what I’ve been up to for the last six and a half years, talks a little about the experience from my end, and otherwise tries to put a neat and tidy bow on the sprawling, messy, but incredibly rewarding experience of reviewing over 1000 FiM fanfics. If you’re ready for the marginally deep dive (or if you just want a fairly quick and concise answer to the second half of this post’s title), head down below the break one last time with me.
Okay, as promised, the tl;dr first: between the end of 2011 and the start of 2018, I ran this blog. During that time, I held pretty strictly to a M-W-F posting schedule, and although I posted a mix of stuff (writing advice, guest posts,
Eventually, I added in “Mini-Reviews,” which were shorter reviews of stories that hadn’t achieved six-star status, but which I wanted to talk about anyway. And even later, after I’d reviewed every six-star fic (EqD got rid of star ratings for new stories after a couple of years, though old stories kept their former ratings), I transitioned to reviewing “Fandom Classics:” stories which were more broadly judged to be “particularly popular, influential, and/or important.” That’s a pretty broad category, and my Fandom Classics reviews are in no way complete (a quick glance at FiMFic’s most-viewed complete non-mature fics shows that I didn’t review three of the top twenty as I type this, for instance), but I caught a lot more “big” fics there, along with some flash-in-the-pan types that, trust me, were ALL THE RAGE for a few weeks, and some just genuinely good stories, too.
So! If you’re new here and don’t know what to do, try clicking around the “Fandom Classics,” “Six-Star Reviews,” and “Mini-Reviews” links at the top of the page. The stories in the first two are sorted first by the rating I gave them (highest-rated at the top), then by age of the review (oldest reviews at the top). Mini-Reviews are sorted oldest to newest. In other words, you’ll probably have the best experience if you start from the bottom of any star category instead of the top, since you’ll be reading my later reviews, from when I knew what I was doing. If you want to see some non-review stuff, check out the category links on the right-hand side of the page: “Episode Talk” gets you discussion (though generally, not reviews proper) of episodes I found particularly discussable; “First Sentences” takes you to analysis of, well, the first sentences of fanfics; “Actual Books” takes you to one-paragraph commentary on non-pony stuff I read, as I was reading it; “Guest Column” takes you to all the stuff written by other people; “Well Hello There Carrot Top” takes you to every post with at least one picture of Best Pony; and “Ramblings” takes you to posts that don’t fit well into any larger category, including general writing analysis, advice, comedy, and more. Those are the big categories, anyway; the rest are either sub-categories, or are entirely self-explanatory.
So, go click around at what interests you, and I hope you find something interesting!
Okay tl;dr over. Assuming that three beefy paragraphs can even be called a “tl;dr.” Now, if you were here for something a little more retrospective-y, let’s get to that part.
Once upon a time, there was a young man named Chris. He found FiM in January of 2011, right after it “exploded” in popularity, and right before it really exploded in popularity. As was the case for so many other young men, something about the show drew him in, and he started following the online fandom: looking at the fanart, listening to the music… and reading the fanfics.
I’ve always been a word person at heart, even though I’m a musician by training. So I ended up reading pretty much all the fanfiction I could get my grubby mitts on (which was not an impossible, or even particularly difficult, thing to do, that early in the fandom), and then started writing my own. I’d written fanfiction (and original fiction, for that matter) before, but it’d been about five years since I’d done any creative writing. My first efforts were largely underwhelming, but I kept at it, and during season one and the subsequent hiatus, I wrote several increasingly not-bad stories--and continued to read.
But it wasn’t long before the fandom’s fanfic production outstripped my free time. No longer was reading (or even starting) every fanfic a realistic possibility. So what’s a man to do? Well, get more discriminating, of course! So I narrowed down my selections, skipped over anything with obvious grammatical problems in the description, passed on those genres that didn’t hold my fancy, and generally got a bit more selective.
The problem with that, of course, is that you can miss out on a bunch of good stuff that way. I’d stopped reading crossovers because most of them are terrible and most of those that aren’t still don’t appeal to me… but glancing at my all-time personal favorite ponyfics, about 10% are tagged “crossover.” Those are stories I’d miss entirely in the name of “being selective.” So what’s a guy to do, if he doesn’t want to inadvertently pass over something he’d love, if he just gave it a chance?
Why, get some recommendations, of course!
The problem was, there weren’t any recommendations. Well, not as a whole, anyway; you could go to 4chan’s MLP General thread, or to one of the pony-specific chans that had cropped up, and ask for recommendations, but that’s a crapshoot--and a one-time offering, to boot. You could read through the comments on each story to see if someone had offered a meaningful description of the story’s strengths and weaknesses, but usually nobody had, and besides, clicking through every story’s comments isn’t exactly a timesaver. What I really wanted was a ponyfic reviewer, but (as far as I could tell) none existed.
My occasional search for ponyfic reviews continued for several months, until I came to a realization: it sounded like it’d be fun to try, so why didn’t I just do some myself? If I didn’t enjoy it, I’d just stop, and maybe someone else would start reviewing fanfiction, too. Then I could read their reviews, just like I wanted to!
So, I created a blog: One Man’s Pony Ramblings. Only problem was, I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, other than that I had a vague idea of “read fanfiction.” But after a couple of days, I came up with the general format which would be OMPR’s hallmark: the Six-Star Review.
The advantages of reviewing six-star fics from my perspective were obvious: it was an (at the time) ever-growing list, so if it turned out I liked doing this I could keep at it a while; it provided a pre-created list of fics from a variety of genres which, allegedly, were pretty good; and, since these were all stories that had already received a fair level of adulation, I wouldn’t have to feel to bad if I said that I didn’t think one of them was particularly good. In practice, I almost always would feel bad about that, but in theory, it encouraged me to believe that my review, should the author ever read it, as unlikely to “inspire” them to quit writing forever. That’s something I don’t want on my conscience.
I also came up with the general format for future Six-Star and Fandom Classic Reviews: start with my impressions based off the title/tags/cover art/description/what I’ve heard about it, follow with a brief summary, then a more meaty review, aimed at discussing what does or doesn’t work well about the fic, then a rating on a 1-5 scale (with 1 meaning “typical fanfiction on down;” one follower smartly described it as a 1-10 scale where everything between 1-5 gets smushed together at the bottom. My thought here was that, as my audience was readers rather than authors, there’s not much value in distinguishing between “really bad” and “okay, but not particularly worth seeking out”) and a bottom-line recommendation. My plan was do do a dozen or so reviews, and see if I liked it. If not, I could just quietly delete the blog and nobody would be the wiser. If it felt like something I’d enjoy continuing, maybe I’d see about linking to it on ponychan or something.
I never got that far, though, because early-fandom author Ezn apparently was as hungry for fanfic reviews as I was! After less than two weeks, he’d somehow found my blog (I can only assume by googling “MLP fanfiction review” or something similar), and shared it around ponychan. A month or so after that, it got linked on Equestria Daily (which, at the time, was still somewhere that everyone in the fandom visited), and suddenly I had an audience. Some of them even stuck around and started commenting!
It’s worth noting that I’d never reviewed anything, and certainly not fanfiction, up to this point. And… it showed. My seventh review, of uSea’s Singing to the Moon, is a good example of how far I had to go as a reviewer: in it, I spend half of the “review” portion of the review complaining about a couple of youtube links (which the author then removed, no less…), then basically say, “but everything else was pretty good, four stars!” Like most beginning reviewers, I spent a lot of time on grammar and technical decisions, because those are easiest to adjudicate; only as I continued to practice would I start approaching fanfiction with an eye toward bigger-picture stuff, and start trying to hone in on what did or didn’t inhibit my enjoyment of a story--and on how idiosyncratic those elements might be.
In this, I was greatly aided by the cadre of regular commenters who offered suggestions, opinions, and advice, not just on the stories themselves, but on my reviews thereof. Some, like Ezn, Bobcat, and Sessalisk, were mostly there for the early going; others, like iisaw, xjuggernaughtx, and Holly Oats, came on board a bit later; and some, like PresentPerfect and Pascoite, have been filling the comments section with great advice, counterpoints, and
And that’s all without getting into the comments that were “just” to say thanks: thanks for reviewing my story; thanks for recommending that I read this, I just finished and I loved it; thanks for that analogy in your last review, it ended up helping me with something I’m writing right now; and not least, thanks for writing this blog. I put “just” in quotation marks, because anyone who’s ever done anything ongoing for public consumption (say, writing fanfiction…) knows how crucial positive feedback is. I kept doing this blog as long as I did because I enjoy it, of course, but it’s no exaggeration to say I never would have kept at it as long as I did if I wasn’t constantly being reminded that, in some small way, I was making a difference to people.
There are far, far too many comments and e-mails to that effect that I’ve received over the years for me to share them all, even though I’d like to (besides, hundreds of “Thanks Chris, you’re awesome Chris, have my babies Chris” quotes would probably be just slightly self-aggrandizing). So instead, I’d like to pick one out to highlight: a comment that ponyfic author Bachiavellian left on my “Goodbye” post a few months ago. To quote a short bit of it:
I've been reading your blog since I was seventeen (gosh!), which means that your horse-words have been a staple of mine for my entire adult life. I've graduated, found a job, lost it, and then found another and another all to the tune of One Man's Pony Ramblings.
I sincerely wish I had left more comments, because I COULD have. Your entries had wit, brain, and soul. I'd read your blogs in the morning and think about them all day. They were special, and I really should have expressed how important they were to me.
You might not remember, but I actually emailed you for some advice, all the way back in 2014 when I was writing my first piece of fanfiction ever. Frankly, I was a nervous mess, and the fact that you gave me a thoughtful and helpful response meant the world to me. Because of you, writing is a part of my life, and I'm so grateful for that.
Thank you so much for this blog. It has been nothing but a joy for me during the past six years.There’s a lot in here that can stand as a brief representation of other comments I received over the years which kept my morale up, from fandom authors whom I know and respect, as well as from people who are strictly ponyfic consumers. Knowing that my blog was a part of someone’s routine has always been a bit mind-blowing to me; it makes me feel at once very important, and very small. But no matter how many times I’ve heard something, it’s always still humbling and heartening to hear it again; hearing these sorts of things, again and again, over the years, kept me plugging at OMPR through multiple jobs, mutiple short moves, and more than one family medical situation.
But the reason I chose this comment specifically to highlight is that third paragraph. As it turns out, I didn’t remember ever talking to Bachiavellian. Which seemed odd, because he’s an author I think highly of, and I was sure I’d remember if he asked me for advice on a story. So I went back through my e-mails, and sure enough, there it was--back before he’d published a single story, before I’d ever heard his name, he’d sent me a message, asking how one went about finding a pre-reader for their fanfic.
I can’t help but notice that it took me almost a week to respond, and that when I did, it was a friendly but rather impersonal list of places to look for help, along with a few editor/authors he might consider approaching directly. I probably didn’t put more than five minutes’ effort into that e-mail… but the story he was working on turned out to be one that’s now among my all-time personal favorites, and now I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if I’d never responded to that e-mail. Considering both his talent level and the fact that he’d already written the story, I doubt it would have changed the course of his ponyfic career much… but who knows? Sometimes, the littlest things, delivered at the right time, make all the difference.
Which is all a roundabout way of saying that I’ve had hundreds of “littlest things” keeping me going, almost since the start. Like with me and Bach, maybe you could take one of them away and nothing would change… but we’re lucky enough to live in a world where that never needs be tested. And in practice, the encouragement and advice I’ve received over the years are precisely what made keeping this blog up such a joy.
On the subject of using the past tense: no, I’m not planning to bring OMPR back. The medical issue I alluded to when I formally acknowledged that I couldn’t keep this going is being much better-managed now, and the health of my family has likewise taken a sharp turn for the better in the past few months. But with that said, I just don’t have the same time and energy to devote to this blog as I did when I started, or even two years ago. I feel like it’s better to let this blog end at least semi-gracefully; as I said in the previous post, I’m not quitting the fandom or anything, and you can still find me on FiMFiction. Anything further I do, in terms of fandom writing, reviewing, or whatever, it will either be there, or I’ll make a blogpost there about it.
But let’s get back to history! So, where were we? Started the 6-Star Reviews, found an audience, started improving… ah, I guess the next big thing is the Mini-Reviews. Not much to say about them, honestly: people kept asking if I’d review this-or-that that wasn’t a 6-star fic, and I didn’t have a great answer to that. This was all before “running out of 6-star fics” was a concern, so the Mini-Review posts were my shot at accommodating the interest in seeing some other stuff, both things recommended to me and a snapshot of my non-blog reading. By this time, I had a bit of a reputation; more than a few authors told me that they were beside themselves with anticipation and/or dread when they consulted a calendar and saw that, at my rate of posting, it would be X more weeks/months before it was their fic on the chopping block. I did my best to assuage the dread and accommodate requests (more than one author asked if I’d be willing to share my full notes on their story), and kept plugging away.
But eventually, EqD got rid of star ratings altogether--as the site had grown, they’d stopped being meaningful barometers of story quality (if they ever were) and instead became referendums on genre tags, cover art, and individual authors. That elimination wasn’t a problem at first, since I was still far short of having reviewed every 6-star fic, but it did give me a potential graceful exit point for my blog. One I blew right past, naturally.
Oh, I thought about ending it once I’d finished my 6-Star Reviews. I was especially tempted once the date got a little closer; since I’d been reviewing fics based on the order they appeared on EqD, and since that was by last update rather than date of publication, I’d inadvertently left myself with a bunch of longfics in the home stretch, and almost burned myself out trying to get useful reviews of a bunch of six-figure wordcount stories out in something approaching a timely manner. But the amount of support I got from readers encouraging me to keep going, plus the fact that, two years in, I finally felt like I was hitting some sort of reviewing stride (and, you know, the whole “I’m still enjoying this” part), kept me going. And so, Fandom Classics reviews became a thing: basically the same as the 6-Star Reviews, but now with a more generic “big-name, popular, and/or important stories” standard for selection.
One nice thing about transitioning to Fandom Classics was that I could set my reading order however I wanted; after that last run of 6-star fics, I wasn’t keen on repeating the experience of having a bunch of epic-length stuff back-to-back-to-back. So I took advantage of the relaxed format to try to vary my reading as much as possible. Every now and then, I’d go through the last dozen or so fics I reviewed, and see if there were any genres I’d been light on lately, or if I was leaning too heavily on fics from a specific season, or any other trends in my reading I could subvert. Although I didn’t have a pre-made list to keep my reading from becoming too narrowly defined by my own interests, I think that by then I’d come far enough to be able to maintain that diversity on my own.
Helped, of course, by several hundred recommendations. Probably more than a thousand, but a lot of them were repeats (I recall in particular that Project: Sunflower, Twilight’s List, and Through the Well of Pirene all were all recommended by a ton of people). Some of those recommendations had a faintly malicious ring to it, and a few times I felt like I was being sicced on a story that the recommender was hoping I’d tear to shreds, but when it came to compiling a list of well-known or influential fics to read, the efficacy of the masses was a tremendous boon.
This was also around the time that I published my third Carrot Top-centric fic over on FiMFiction. If you only came to OMPR in the last few years, then there’s a good chance you know me as “the Carrot Top guy.” Well, I wasn’t always! Okay, the avatar’s been around forever, but for a long time, that was about it. The whole Carrot Top thing was a slow-developing phenomenon. A couple of my earlier stories were about her, and I tend to be sympathetic to characters I write about (comes with trying to get in their headspace, I find). So then I wrote more about her, and then people started mentioning me when she was in the background of a particular episode, then I started seeking her out in the background of episodes, and pretty soon this blog had a tag specifically dedicated to those posts in which I scrounged up pictures of her and/or headcannoned about what she was up to while the main six were galavanting about center stage. I ended up being “the Carrot Top guy” by degrees.
Though I can hardly complain. She is Best Pony, after all, and it all ended up leading to the nicest, not to mention most unexpected and amazing, thing the internet’s ever done for me.
Speaking of things the internet’s done for me, let’s talk about the guest posts! Originally conceived as a way to keep up my posting schedule during my annual summer vacation without having to cram a bunch of extra reading into the weeks right before I left town, I would turn to the authors and blog readers of the fandom many times throughout OMPR’s run, and they never let me down. Over fifty columns, spanning all manner of topics writerly and fanfiction-y, it’s no exaggeration to say that some of the best stuff on this site wasn’t written by me. Ironic, considering the blog’s name, but if you don’t believe me, I invite you to discover the truth of it yourself; just click around that “guest columns” tag on the right-hand side of your browser.
Of course, part of that is that my own reviews weren’t always as good as they could have been. When you’re putting together about 150 posts a year, not every one will be your best work. Knowing that I had people who could and would call me out for shoddy work did wonders for keeping the quality from nosediving during my busier/more stressful stretches (despite the sometimes overwhelming temptation to skim a longfic after the first couple of chapters proved mediocre, I can proudly say that I never published a 6-Star or Fandom Classic review without first reading every word the author had published), and I’m especially grateful to the more curmudgeonly crowd--denizens like Bad Horse and the aptly-named Bugs the Curm--in this regard. Still, you wouldn’t have to go far to find a review where, perhaps, I blew one problem out of proportion, or let an issue I’d ravaged a different fic for slide without comment, or where I just totally failed to mention something that would be really important for a prospective reader to know, when they were trying to decide whether or not to read the fic in question.
Yeah, those things all happened, and not just once, either. But I feel confident saying that they happened less as I developed my reviewing chops, rather than happening more as my free time started evaporating over the years. Mixed-up sentences and to/too confusion probably started happening rather more often (although I’m going to clean this up as best I can before posting it, it’s dollars to doughnuts that even this post will have a few headdesk-inducing mistakes), which probably didn’t do my reputation as a reviewer any favors… but that’s life.
And life is what eventually killed the blog. As I said above, the specific things that forced me to stop earlier this year have improved, but even if I was totally raring to start OMPR up again, I’m not sure I could. Three posts a week is a lot of work (I have no idea how the handful of reviewers who have out-prolificed me since I started reviewing do it!), and I had far more free time back in 2011 than I do today. The fact that I had that schedule, as much as anything, is why I was able to keep going so long; M-W-F became my routine, a baked-in part of my daily life. It surprises many ponyfic people to hear, but I’m pretty bad at time management and deadlines in general in most aspects of my life. Now that that part of my daily schedule’s been removed, I don’t think I could fit it back in again if I tried. And if I tried to do something less intensive, I know that the fact that it wasn’t part of my daily routine would stop me from meeting whatever timeline I did set out. Don’t have the time to do too much, don’t have the dedication to do too little; it’s a regular Catch-22.
But be all that as it may, I feel a lot more positive now than I did when I made my hanging-up-the-cleats post back in March. Not only is RL better, but I can look back at my reviewing with at least a little distance between me and it and feel proud of what I’ve accomplished. It’s a queer sort of pride, one that’s difficult to share (I can’t exactly brag about this to my work buddies), but I’ll take it nonetheless. Over the course of more than six years, I wrote more than two million words of analysis. Some of it helped people find stories they loved, which they never would have read otherwise; some of it gave people a greater appreciation for the stories they had read; some of it people found entertaining in its own right; and all of it was a learning experience that I couldn’t have gotten in any other way.
There’s a ton of stuff I’m leaving out here. I’ve name-dropped maybe a dozen people, but that’s only a fraction of the ones whose names deserve recognition for how they shaped my blog and helped me improve. I’ve barely talked about any of the specific reviews, whether they’re the ever-quoted “Chris bashed such-and-such so hard” ones, the “Chris reviewed a famous divisive story, surely this will settle the question of its quality once and for all!” ones, or just the “Did Chris even read the same story as me?” ones. I didn’t talk at all about some of the more offbeat stuff that dotted the blog over the years, like when my love of professional cycling or hockey would seep out of the above-the-break blurbs, or when I tried my hand at snark or rage, or basically any of the grab-bag of analysis, advice, and occasional soul-bearing that fill the “ramblings” tag. I haven’t really talked about my own writing, or the half-decade I spent reviewing stories for the Royal Canterlot Library, because neither of those are really “One Man’s Pony Ramblings” things… but they’re still a big part of OMPR, just because they were a concurrent aspect of my fandom activities.
But I think that’s where it’s best to leave this. I’m already closing in on 5000 words, and I’ve got no desire to turn this into a two-parter. Instead, let me repeat myself one more time, and say that my time spent reviewing fanfiction through this blog was the most educational, enjoyable, and rewarding thing I’ve ever done related to creative writing, and that I know it will serve me well long after the FiM fandom as we know it is no more. The blog will still be right here, at least as long as Google doesn’t decide to start getting rid of clutter from its servers. And for the foreseeable future, I still plan to be around the fandom and on FiMFiction. Perhaps less active than in the past, but around.
So, thank you all for making this such a wonderful experience for me. I hope I’ve given you something worth reading more often than not--both in my recommendations, and in my reviews themselves. I hope you continue to link to my reviews to win arguments across the internet (hint: it never works), and to perhaps read just a little bit more critically, and to find things to enjoy in the stories you read that you never would have otherwise.
I know I will.