1. NomDeGuerre
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    NomDeGuerre Member

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    Overwhelming feedback

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by NomDeGuerre, Sep 27, 2015.

    Does this happen to anyone? You get 15 different responses from 15 people about your work. And even within those responses there are contradictions. Your piece is marked up like crazy in 15 different ways. A line one person loves another person hates. One person might say a certain description is weak, only to later in the same critique mention it as a stand-out. There is hardly any agreement and where there is agreement you're still left with the momental task of incorporating all the feedback, making all the self-contradictory corrections: be terse, but also more descriptive; don't overwrite, but tell us more; don't give too much information, but do give more details about such and such and do mention so and so at greater length...

    And in the end you just say: SCREW IT. I QUIT. I'M NEVER WRITING AGAIN.

    Sure, they say to trust your gut, listen only to those people on your "wave-length," but when you are already full of doubt and insecurity and have 15 different people tell you a million different things, then you're not in any position to even know anymore what is good or bad.

    In the past, my normal way of rewriting was to listen to everyone and read all the comments, then rewrite from scratch, while trying not to hold any of the feedback in my head, trusting my subconscious to incorporate it.

    However...

    ...I've already rewritten many sections so many times that I just don't have the desire anymore. And, in any case, a fresh rewrite may solve some problems, but also creates new ones in the process. Every time it's like playing explosives -- something's bound to blow up.

    So self-disgust and self-loathing are the order of the day. :(
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    First, welcome to the forum.

    Second, yes, I have gotten conflicting comments on parts of my writing, usually because one of the commentators did not understand what was going on with the story or else had preconceived notions about it.

    Thirdly, and most importantly, I would never allow what someone else said about my writing lead me to stop writing. For that matter, I don't take critique blindly. I consider what's been said and then decide if I agree with it. Most of the time, I do, but sometimes I reject it (although I make damned sure I'm on solid ground before I do). Keep in mind why you have your work critiqued - it's because you want to know how readers will react to your work. At the same time, the reader may not understand what you're trying to do, or may (especially if the reader is also an aspiring writer) inject their own ideas of how they would write the story and impose them on you. But if you make every change that every beta-reader suggests, you may very well end up with a disorganized mess instead of a well-written piece.

    Chin up. Back to work. Good luck.
     
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  3. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Oh yes. I'm finding this one of the most difficult parts about writing. But I'm also finding that getting feedback is one of the most interesting parts, so it balances out.

    I know you're not really asking for advice but since I could have written your post (except the bits about it making me give up - I found it confusing but motivating), I'll share what's helped me:
    • Go on Amazon and look up your favourite books in the world. Read all the 1 star reviews they have from people who absolutely loathed them. Realise you can never, ever please everybody and if you take 15 random people, the odds of them all liking a single book to the same degree are very, very low.
    • Understand your target audience and give more credence to the opinions of people that match that profile than ones who don't. If I give my romance novel to 15 people who exclusively read plot-driven horror novels, I'm going to get terrible feedback but it will tell me nothing about the quality of my book and it won't help me write a better romance novel.
    • Ask your critics why they like or don't like a certain part. That can help you decide if it should stay or go. Sometimes they won't like it because they would have done it differently but it's your story, not theirs. Sometimes they won't get it because they're only reading one chapter in isolation and they've missed crucial background info from another part which has skewed their understanding. You don't always get the chance to question your critics, and it isn't always wise if you're feeling defensive, but it really helps when you can.
    • Ask your critics specific questions. If you leave it open you're more likely to get a load of style comments like "I didn't like the opening paragraph because I don't like descriptive prose. I suggest you start with some dialogue." As you said, for every reader who hates description there will be another telling you to add more detail. If you set out some questions like "what impression do you get of this character?" and "would you read on?" you're less likely to get unhelpful preference advice and more likely to find out the things that really matter.
     
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  4. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    It's tricky. I think interpreting feedback is a skill in its own right. Perhaps its wiser to consider critique as providing direction to your own self-analysis, rather than being a checklist of things that need fixing. Hard to comment on what you've come across without seeing it, but...

    Sometimes comments only seem self-contradictory because they're not thoroughly explained. Which leaves you with the task of nutting out, e.g. what the things needing more description have in common, and how they differ from those needing less. Of course, critique-givers also vary in their skill, so maybe some of them are being inconsistent.

    Sometimes you need to gauge how suitable the advice is towards your goal - people vary in their preferences and experiences, and they don't always share your vision, or represent your target audience. I'd give more weight to feedback that explains its reasoning (although you definitely shouldn't ignore 'gut reactions' entirely - it just may mean that you have to do a lot of the thinking for yourself).

    I'd argue strongly against 'only listening to people on your own wavelength' - for starters, if they think the same way as you, they're less likely to bring anything new to the table. At worst, you'll get a complete confirmation bias. I'd give the most credence to someone who has the most characteristics of your intended audience.

    Anyway, don't let it get you down. It's all part of the learning process!

    (Apologies for doubling up on some of what EdFromNY and Tenderiser have said - curse those speedy demons!)
     
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  5. rainy_summerday
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    rainy_summerday Active Member

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    A funny story: In a study about how trained psychologists evaluate a particular scenario, their answers (open questions) were collected in order to compare them. They interviewed 100 people. Guess how many different solutions they received? 104.
    Many things don't have one solution, no one right way to do them. Perception is never objective, and reading is a very subjective experience.

    To me, it sounds like you are very upset at the moment, because you are torn between those comments. Maybe it's time to take a step backwards. That allows you to have a better look at the bigger picture.

    What is your goal? If it is publishing, then you might have to invest more time in evaluating feedback. If it is to have fun, or to express yourself, then feedback may help you to grow as a writer, but it may hinder you once the thought of editing takes over. If you know what you are writing for, then it becomes easier to understand in which way feedback can help you. And in which ways it cannot. If you don't care about publishing, you can already ignore the comments about things like "the beginning is not exciting enough." It's good advice, but not in every situation.
     
  6. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is me too, when it comes to my writing, so I can offer no advice without being hugely hypocritical.

    I'm still beating myself up for quitting on my latest, but I have a really stupid 'cutting-off-my-nose-to-spite-my-face' stubbornness that won't allow me to return to it. I hate that novel now, not because I think it's bad, but because of the way it's made me feel about things.
     
  7. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    So now you've got to reattach your nose to spite your spite!
     
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  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Hi welcome to the forum. One thing I believe is that learning to write and learning what goes into a good critique are both skills a writer needs to learn. They don't come instantly or automatically.

    Start with what level you are at. If you are new to writing and know you lack the skill, start with the basics. If you are further along than that, you can work on conflict and writing characters the reader wants to read about. Critique is only one aspect of learning to write.

    When critiques are all over the map, try not to worry about sentences or paragraphs. Look instead for the comments that are looking at the whole piece. What are the basic things you have right and the basic things you need to improve.

    It doesn't matter how talented a beginning writer is, writing is a learnable skill. What matters is that you are willing to learn and willing to put the work into learning it.
     
  9. Australis
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    Australis Active Member

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    I would love to have these.

    What you should fear, is a dozen responses of "It's good."
     
  10. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is an excellent exercise. Read the 1 star reviews on Goodreads, too.
     
  11. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Holy Toledo - never take all advice as golden especially when it contradicts. You'll make yourself dizzy. I read each comment. I examine each person to discover how good their writing is and how good their other critiques are before I assume they're giving awesome advice. If one person seems to be better at the advice I might ( might ) listen to them more - it all depends. Plus how done/done is your story? Maybe there are some things you haven't even worked out yet that is creating confusion in the readers.
     
  12. NomDeGuerre
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    NomDeGuerre Member

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    Obviously I can't listen to nobody.
    Obviously I can't listen to everybody.
    Obviously I can't listen to somebody who may be talking out of their behind.
    Just don't write. Easiest solution.

    I've taken a zillion workshops and the result is always the same: too many opinions, too many contradictions, too much insanity. I only took this last one because it was free and I felt I needed some input (vs. writing in total isolation).

    Obviously if I was delusional and had a god-complex I would simply ignore anything anybody said.
    But I have to give some credence to them, because I'm not the greatest writer in the world.
    But how to take in and in a way that is productive and not maddening is simply impossible.
    Again, just don't write. Don't write, don't share, don't dream, don't live, don't love, don't be.
     
  13. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    What's you're own opinion of your writing? Maybe just coast on your own faith in it for a while.
     
  14. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    What you've got to remember is that no one is going to write your book for you... well, unless you're a glamour model who pays for a Ghost Writer, but that's another subject.

    Self-doubt and a lack of confidence in your own ability is all part of the fight on the road to success (or inner satisfaction).

    I'm a quitter. I quit at everything I try and do. I've given up on more novels than I care to recall (including my latest) and as hard as all this is for me to accept, and as much as it makes me hate myself, only I can change it.

    If you sit there and beat yourself up over something only you can change, you're going to be very unhappy. Trust me, I know.

    Part of me has had to accept I'll never make anything of my writing, because I don't have the mental strength to fight my doubts. This is doubly difficult for me to accept because, as contradictory as this sounds, I genuinely believe in my ability on a technical and artistic level.
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2015
  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Of course you're likely to get differing responses to your work. Published books get a wide variety of responses depending on who the reader is. If you get a consistent criticism over some aspect of it, it's worth talking a look at, but no matter what people say in critiques you, as the author, ultimately have to trust your gut and vision for the work. Sometimes, that may mean going against a unanimous opinion to the contrary. Most of the time, it's a matter of sifting among varying opinions and then looking at your own feelings about the work and deciding how to proceed from there.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    One thought: I think that "there's a problem in this part" and "this is how to fix it" should be considered separately. The first is, IMO, far more likely to be useful than the second.

    And, in fact, if someone says, "You should do X about section Y," I think that should just be taken as, "There's a problem with section Y." There may be ten ways to fix that problem.

    Because no one can really tell you how to fix your work. You have to make that decision.

    Now, I'm the last person who should say this, because I very often, in my reviews, rewrite bits of people's work. But I don't do that because I think that they ought to take my rewrite--I do it so that if they compare the original and my change, they can see what aspect I changed. Maybe they will change it in the same direction that I did, maybe they will do the opposite, maybe they will kill it, who knows?
     
  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I'll sometimes rewrite some wording as well, but so I can show an example of exactly what I'm talking about, not to suggest that the author should adopt my rewrite.
     
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  18. Australis
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    Australis Active Member

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    I would disagree on this.

    The fact that somebody has made a suggestion on how a section might be fixed, doesn't dictate that you must fix it that way. Sometimes, it gives you a clue on going a third way.

    Beyond this, a suggested fix is displaying some type of understanding of a potentially real issue with the section, not just somebody talking trash because it sounds good.
    There's nothing worse than somebody saying there's something wrong, without giving a clue as to why.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not seeing how we disagree here.

    Except that I may have been unclear about "No one can tell you..." I don't mean that they literally can't say, "Do X about Y." I mean that when they say it, the message that the author hears should be, "There's a problem with Y." with the lower priority message of, "It's possible that X might be one of the ways to fix it."

    And "why" doesn't need to include the fix, it just needs to include the why. A stated fix of, "Your MC should be less rude." might reflect a problem of, "I can't get interested in your character. His offhand rudeness puts me off, and there's nothing about him that's particularly engaging."
     
  20. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I can assure you it isn't impossible. But there isn't a silver bullet, here. No magic formula. You need to have a solid grounding in good writing through reading so that you will know what it looks like. Before you ever serve up some pages for critics, compare them to writing that you know and enjoy and see how you stack up. When you do receive critique, judge those comments by the same yardstick. The process isn't clean or easy. You'll find yourself down blind alleys and dead ends. Stuff will have to be re-written. Some of it will suck. But some won't.

    ...and don't overdramatize. There are some excellent suggestions in this thread, particularly from @ChickenFreak, @peachalulu and @OurJud (hey, you HAVE to respect a man who has Peter Cushing as his avatar!). There's an old writing adage that the first million words are practice. In my experience, that's an understatement. If your goal is to be published, writing is hard work and a cold, hard business. You have to be willing to get it wrong many times over in order to get it right. You have to be able to stomach seemingly endless rejections in pursuit of that one acceptance. You need a very thick skin and an iron will.

    If you want to write, write. If you want to quit, then quit. Your choice.
     
  21. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    I use other peoples opinions as a means to find defects or problems with them story or prose, but my end result is writing what I like, not what others like.

    Like other people have said in this thread already, some people will like your writing, others will loath it. That's how it works with pretty much everything; for example, let's take Taylor Swift; millions of people love her music, but equally as many think she's a talentless, unoriginal fashion seller who's music sounds like every other lyric repeating dog shit song in today's charts. But that's just how things work.

    I can also stress, don't take criticism from people on this forum to heart; most people here are either fussy literary buffs or just plain fanatics who like to boost their own ego on knowing simple grammar. Most readers out there won't know a grammatical problem if you pointed it out for them, so always get feedback from the average Joe who reads for leisure, because that's the biggest audience to tap into.

    Ultimately, use criticism to improve your story or prose, but always stick to what you like, otherwise, in the long run, it won't be your own work.
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2015
  22. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not sure what kind of people you've been asking to critique your work. Are they people you've met in a workshop? Are they friends/family? Teachers? Fellow writers? Some of that might matter. If it's a workshop scenario, the emphasis is often on finding what's wrong with a piece, and everybody has to chime in with something they found 'wrong.' If that's the case, I'd just dump them all and start again. I don't mean start again with re-writing, but start again finding people to read what you've got. People who know what they're doing, will take the time to discuss the story with you, and will remain calm.

    You haven't told us what you write. Short stories? Novels?

    Judging from what you've posted, you certainly can write. I didn't notice any grammatical mistakes, spelling mistakes, etc, or any clumsy sentence construction. You certainly expressed your frustration clearly enough. So I can't imagine your writing is all THAT bad. I imagine you've just received too much feedback, based on perhaps a very cursory look at your writing.

    I'd start again, and find somebody new. Somebody who likes the kind of story you're writing, for starters. That's important. People who don't like the kind of story you're telling will want you to change it to suit their preferences, or will just dismiss it. If you're writing a Romance, find somebody who reads these. If you are writing a Thriller, find somebody who likes that sort of thing. If you've written something contemporary, short and snappy, don't choose a lover of slow-paced Victorian literature as your beta. And vice-versa.

    See if you can find somebody who is:

    a) willing to read your whole piece, start to finish

    b) willing to have an extended discussion with you—preferably face-to-face with no time limit—to establish what you're trying to do with the story. If your beta knows what your story goals are, they can help you reach them.

    c) has some knowledge of the written story. Either they are voracious readers, fellow writers, or teachers of writing. Maybe all three. Don't choose somebody who only watches TV and movies and hasn't a clue!

    Whatever else, stay true to your own vision. Take the responses that make the most sense to you and play around with them in your head. Don't feel you need to respond right away, or immediately start re-writing. Just take time out to think.

    If a beta says something like "You should start with dialogue," ask them why. Does their answer make sense to you? (It doesn't make sense to me, at least not as a blanket solution to every story start!) If they say something like: oh, it just reads faster and I like reading fast, I'd just smile, say thanks, and move on. That's just their own prejudice/preference, and does not directly reference your story or take into account what you might be trying to do.

    But what if they say: "That dialogue exchange at the start of your second scene actually gave me all the information I needed to get started, plus I got a good sense of the characters and the conflict right away. That's the point where I started to get into your story. Before that, it was a dull history of people I don't know yet. Maybe start with that dialogue scene instead, and work the rest of the stuff in later? That scene worked for me."

    You don't have to agree with this view, but that reader just told you two things worth knowing. One, that your starting scene is dull and didn't engage them. And two, that the second scene was lively and did engage them. They told you why. So I'd give their response some real consideration.

    It takes time to sift the wheat from the chaff. All part of the process.
     
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  23. Bocere
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    Bocere Member

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    I identify so strongly with so much of this post! For the longest time I really only wrote for myself and so when I started putting things out there for criticism it definitely stung and resulted in the unpleasant, uncomfortable feelings of "whoa, I really suck."

    I can't say specifically since I'm not sure what kind of feedback it is that you are getting, but I found that what helped me an awful lot was trying to read through to the subtext of the criticism, if you will. In my case a particular example comes to mind: three different people had completely differing opinions on a passage of my novel, but when I took a step back I saw that the root of all of their complaints was seeded in a major flaw I had overlooked in the character the passage was centered around. In the end I made these adjustments to the character instead of making the changes any of them suggested, and when the same partners did a second reading they were all far more satisfied with the passage.

    At the end of the day it's your book, your writing, your baby! Anyone willing to offer critiques is, at the core of it, just trying to help. Don't give up hope! I can tell from the frustration in your posts that you have a real passion for writing, so when you say that the easiest solution would be not to write at all I think we both know that's not true :)

    If you need to step back and take a breather from this particular project you should do just that, but whatever you do don't stop writing altogether!
     
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  24. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Oddly enough, I don't have this problem. The few people that 'dissect' my writing usually complain about time/tense issues I make frequently. That in itself has discouraged me from continuing to write at the moment (not to mention go through roughly 250 pages and fix the mistakes: Currently have about 185 pages done thus far.)

    On the bright side I took up getting back into drawing. At least I can still do that, post it on deviantart.com and know that no one will see it anyway. :D

    Though I might just not post anything there seeing as none of my art gets looked at anyway. :p
     
  25. NomDeGuerre
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    NomDeGuerre Member

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    I took a step back and am trying to take another stab at the novel. But the dread and disgust of working on it is so great I'd almost rather slit my wrists (it would hurt less). Hence I'm probably only writing two words a day.

    I wish I could be like Nora Roberts or Stephen King, write a novel every 6 weeks, never workshop it, feel supremely confident and sell 20 millions copies each time. Instead, I've been writing for 20 years and have nothing to show for it. Zilch. Nada. Black hole. Void. Endless deep space abyss.

    This is the pattern: I write something, show it around, nothing works, rewrite it, show it around, new problems arise, rewrite it again, show it around again, it's even worse now, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, like up 30 times, then get so sick of it I quit and then start a new book or story and the process repeats itself, ad infinitum. After 20 years and over 200 worthless stories later, it's a wonder I'm still alive!

    Now I'm in this group where we bring in work based on a particular aspect of craft. I heard this one lady's piece today and it blew my mind. It was real good, damn good. And she'd NEVER been in a workshop before, hadn't written a word in TWENTY YEARS and didn't even know what the term, "POV" meant! Meanwhile, I've been writing and studying for 20 years and I SUCK.

    It was like the equivalent of someone who'd never worked out a day in her life suddenly qualifying for the Olympics, while the sweaty, breathless gym-rat can't even get on the mat.

    Obviously, I'm completely RETARDED.

    And I SUCK.

    PS -- Does anybody else know what I'm talking about???
     

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