1. Augen Blick
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    Augen Blick Member

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    Writing Education question

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Augen Blick, Apr 26, 2014.

    Hi.
    For the record, I just write for fun, or to unleash how I feel. Having no background in any kind of higher education, I suppose I must start somewhere.
    If I want to get really serious about writing, and trying to make a living out of it, Would it be better to just take up creative writing classes, or to higher education?. I am interested only in fiction as,
    My mind is not as rationally developed as I would like, and I am more of a lateral thinker I think. So i feel more at home with stories.

    I'm not sure which would be the best choice for me, creative writing classes or a more in depth study of the english language.

    I don't want to waste my own time if i don't really need to take up something i don't need.

    Any advice for me would be really appreciated.
     
  2. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Augen Blick,

    Additional education is never a bad thing, I think. However, you can gain much by reading widely and studying those works--paying attention to how successful authors wrote an engaging novel--dialogue, use of POV, characterization, pacing, description, etc. It's not an easy thing, but a viable option.

    If you decided to go the creative writing route, or programs, you'd want to investigate the focus and the instructors/professors. Not all programs or set of instructors are created equal. In addition, some programs focus on poetry and literary fiction, as opposed to say the various genres such as romance, fantasy, mystery, etc. A few may even look down their nose at genre fiction, which is the path most writers of fiction take which allows them to earn a living at it.

    A solid grasp of spelling, grammar and punctuation is handy, coupled with a good storytelling ability--and the skill to put those stories to the written word. All of those take study and practice.

    Higher education coursework could very well get you moving forward on those fronts, in addition to revealing details and techniques you may not be aware of. The main drawback is that high education can be pretty costly, not only in time but also financially.

    What might be wise would be to not only study creative writing, but another aspect or area. If you're going to pay for a degree, widening your experience and expertise will provide additional fodder for stories and also open other doors career wise, until you're able to support yourself via writing.

    I majored in Biology and minored in English in undergrad, earned certification in Reading (I'm a high school teacher) and earned a Master's degree in Education. Being knowledgeable in biology has given me many ideas for my SF stories. In addition, the variety of jobs I've held over the years, from being a camp counselor, library assistant, or landscaping laborer, have provided bits of knowledge, skills and fodder for stories.

    Good luck as you move forward.
     
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  3. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    You're thinking of education in terms of formal schooling, but there are many alternative paths. Your local library has a section on writing fiction, some of them would be assigned reading were you to take a course. There are books by teachers, writers, and agents, each with their own viewpoint.

    Sol Stein, who was a writer, playwright, screenwriter, publisher and editor is heavy on stylistic issues, as is Donald Mass, a very successful agent. Jack Bickham is heavy on understanding the elements that make fiction work and how to make them play together, as is Dwight Swain and Debra Dixon.

    For a tiny fraction of the cost of taking a course you can have them all. And if the library has them the price is free. And free is always good.

    I do have to comment on trying to learn to write by reading fiction. Certainly, reading helps us to recognize good writing, and sets a target in quality. But the TV we watch didn't teach us to write for that media. Nor did eating in fine restaurants teach us the art of using a chefs knife and other kitchen techniques because experiencing the finished product doesn't teach the process of creating it. And pretty universally we all read. But as a technique for becoming a successful writer it doesn't seem to be working, based on the numbers of people here who are published, as against the total membership. I'd take Holly Lisle, and Ernest Hemingway's words to heart:

    Michaelangelo did not have a college degree, nor did Leonardo da Vinci. Thomas Edison didn't. Neither did Mark Twain (though he was granted honorary degrees in later life.) All of these people were professionals. None of them were experts. Get your education from professionals, and always avoid experts.” ~ Holly Lisle

    “It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.” ~Ernest Hemingway
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @JayG, you have quoted this many times, and it's clearly BS. Michelangelo, da Vinci, Edison (okay, maybe not Edison ;) ) and Twain were professionals and experts. It is possible - and desirable - to be both, and they were. This statement that "none of them were experts" is blatantly false. You can look at the statue of David and know that Michelangelo was an expert sculptor. No ham-fisted beginner could create that masterpiece. It took expertise, and Michelangelo had it. He was also a professional - the two are not mutually exclusive. Saying we should get our education from professionals and not experts is a glaring misunderstanding of the word "expert."

    I'm not saying it's your misunderstanding, I'm saying it's Holly Lisle's. Her statement is inaccurate and even potentially poisonous to a novice writer. I'll get my education from experts who are professionals. There are many of them. :)
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i agree, minstrel...

    augen...
    you don't need a formal education to learn how to write well, if you have an inborn talent for wordwork... but you do need to be a good, constant, and discerning reader, to become a good writer...

    and if you are in need of help/training to learn the basics and fine points of the art, a well respected provider of writing courses will suffice and be of more benefit than consulting a raft of conflicting how-tos by 'experts' who each espouse their own methods...
     
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  6. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    People like Michelangelo and da Vinci learned the same way most people did in the past, as an apprentice to a Master, just the same way young men learned to be knights, sailors, and furniture makers. Women learned cooking, weaving, dress making, animal husbandry, and other vital household skills from their mothers and other older women.
     
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  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I have to agree with minstrel on this as well.

    By the way, I think we've had this discussion/argument/debate (whatever you want to call it) about a dozen times now, so maybe we should have a stickied thread on this topic.
     
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  8. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    • This statement that "none of them were experts" is blatantly false.

    You've missed the point. Online writing forums, in general are filled with "experts," but damn few professionals. The lady knows what she's talking about.
     
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  9. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Practice makes perfect. Keep on writing, and at the same time actually take the time to read what you write. Take a piece and sit it aside long enough to get it out of your head, then pick it up just like you would a stranger's work, and read it. Try to be impartial, and work to make it 'sound right.'

    So first you 'write,' then you make it 'right.'
     
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  10. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I understand the point completely. This forum is not filled with "experts," and we all know that. Very few members here claim expertise, or post as though they have it. Even @TWErvin2, a professionally-published writer, does not flaunt "expertise" around here. He offers suggestions and good advice; he does not lay down the law. Of all the members of this forum, you are the one who sells himself most as an "expert." That's why you get a lot of blowback. :)
     
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  11. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    JayG, your use of analogy is off target, when comparing reading and the experience and the ability to examine it, for example, to eating a fine meal.

    A book, the words and the components of the experience are there, on the page to be studied. Yes, the individual has to have some basic knowledge and experience. I would say it's more along the lines of someone who has enjoyed a ride in an automobile. The individual can get under the hood, or put the vehicle on a lift and take a look at the suspension system, or the muffler system, examine the tires. Then they can compare them to other vehicles with different components, and how it changes the experience--the drive or the reading of a novel. The comparison of watching TV to learn to write for it, I believe is off as well. Script writing and a finished product--although related, they are two different things. Maybe reviewing scripts and comparing it to the final product would be a better comparison, one which I think might offer some insight to someone striving to learn how to write a script.

    There are reasons that there are few members here on this forum that are successful writers (however one might want to define that), but the reasoning you assert I don't believe is one of them.
     
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  12. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    You have to be kidding. You, me, and lots more cheerfully tell people how to write and solve their problems. But not a one of us is making our living from the fiction we sell. You're arguing nuance and shades of word meaning but the simple fact is that the number of people who are successfully learning how to write professionally through the advice given on any online site like this is statistically insignificant. But already this year someone has announced that though they argued with me, shouted at me, and did everything but call me an idiot, they finally, after four half-assed rewrites and endless rejections, decided to look into the craft, and find out what it was I'd been talking about. The man just sold his first novel, and it comes out later this year. If you want to see what he has to say, look here. I get something like it several times a year. I don't make this stuff up. Eduction is no more optional for the profession of writer then any other. And you don't get your education from people who know no more then yourself, no matter how sincere and heartfelt that advice may be. You go to the pros, not those who feel themselves to be experts.

    And the one being advised has absolutely no way to tell that his advice is any better then the people who are saying, "You just write and if your heart is pure you will be a success," because they haven't the tools to tell good advice from bad. And given that, statistically, advice given by people who have no knowledge of craft will be repeated more often, because there are more people who have that level of knowledge, the one who does know will often be outvoted and shouted down. The only reliable source of information on what it takes to be published are publishers, teachers, and people who make their living through writing fiction.

    You conveniently ignore two important points: first is that I almost never mention my publication record. I do mention that I owned a manuscript critiquing business because that is relevant to the discussion, unless you hold the view that there is no value in having talked to editors agents and professional writers.

    I get pushback only from a small but verbal few. Take a look at the ratio of likes under my name to total posts. It's over fifty percent. There's a far higher percentage of posts receiving positive feedback under my name than anyone else I've seen. You can neither deny nor explain that away. And the fact that my advice isn't to write the way I say that should, but to check with the pros, may well have a lot to do with that.

    Sure, I'm a pain in the ass. A bunch of new writers, sincere though they may be, are having a, "This is what I think you should do," conversation, feeling very literary. Then a bastard like me comes in and says, "This is what such and such a teacher/publisher/successful writer says." If I gave my own opinion they could argue. But I'm quoting an honest to God authority, one they can't even talk to, so the discussion is dead. Those who are serious about learning to be a competent writer will take it under advisement, and maybe check out what the pros have to say. Some will be pissed. The ones who are pissed will howl in outrage. The ones who take it under advisement push the like button. Haven't you noticed that it's the same few people complaining over and over?

    I can live with that.
     
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  13. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    It's a common view. But you're observing the finished product, the result of innumerable revisions, decisions, and rethinking. And that's true be that writer published once or a hundred times. To believe that by reading the finished product you can eliminate those steps in your own work (or somehow duplicate them without knowing where they were made and what factored into the decisions), is fantasy. You've been watching films and TV for your whole life. Did it teach you how to direct or write for that industry? Of course not, any more than reading news reports makes you a reporter.

    As evidence, I introduce Deconstructing Samantha. To help new writers understand the kind of thinking that goes into writing ascene i deconstructed the first chapter of Samantha and the Bear, my first sale. I commented it and then keyed the text to the comments. If you really can learn the way the author thought by reading the work you will know, before you look at the comment, why a given line was included or phrased as it was. And it doesn't matter if the writing is good or bad. If you can tell when it's good you can tell when it's bad. See what percentage of it you picked up on.

    And then, try this one: For roughly half the fiction in your local library there's something different about the first paragraph of every chapter. Most people, when asked, can't tell you without looking. And if we miss something so damn obvious, how much of the more subtle things do you pass right over, reacting as intended, but never noticing it, or knowing why?
     
  14. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Most writers don't make a living from selling fiction. This even applies to Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners. That's why they have other jobs, like teaching. If we only listened to people who made a living from writing fiction, we'd be listening to the likes of Stephen King and Dan Brown. You may not share this opinion, but I don't want to be like those writers.

    Before the forum was upgraded, there was no such thing as likes. It was much harder to get positive rep back then because it was usually only given for significant contributions (in my experience). When the forum was upgraded, the reps were converted to likes, and I remember that most of the members had way less than 200 likes after the upgrade. Trust me, getting likes is very easy with this new platform, so I wouldn't place too much value on them.
     
  15. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    JayG,

    Responding to your post above, the method I mentioned is what worked for me--and it has for others. It's not fantasy...although I do write fantasy. Yes, there are some new writers out there that believe their first draft is all that's necessary, but that wasn't the point I was making, and but you're welcome to re-interpret it that way to fit your 'world view.'

    I'm a teacher, I earn decent money through my works of fiction, and I've worked for a small magazine as an editor, plus I've talked many and also more than a few published writers earning a living at the gig, so that would in a small way 'qualify' me to give advice on this forum, by your standards?

    Members and visitors of the forum are welcome to read and discern which advice will work best for them. That's one of the functions of a forum such as this. If there was a single 'the only right way' path to becoming a successful writer, I think it'd be out there by now. What you promote or advise is a way, but not the only way. And the way you advice isn't a guaranteed way to success as a writer, just as the way I suggest.

    You'll note on another recent thread, about earning an advanced degree and studying to become a writer, I pointed out that that route might work, and listed some pitfalls one might look out for. I also gave other suggestions, because I don't believe there is a one size fits all answer.

    While 'likes' are wonderful, might not some those that 'like' your posts be the same ones you suggest are in some way clueless as to discerning good from bad advice and equally likely to repeat either? Might that not undermine such a measure of reliability of the poster's advice?
     
  16. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    @Augen Blick - James A. Michener, a Pulitzer Prize winning author who wrote such well known novels as Hawaii, Centennial, Tales of the South Pacific, Space and Texas, studied literature in his college years and made the study of literary works part of his life work. He came relatively late in life to writing fiction, having worked as an editor of school textbooks before he went into the navy during World War II. It was only after a harrowing experience during the war that he decided he needed to change the direction of his life, and when the war ended, he decided that would be writing.

    He continually worked at analyzing literary works, looking at how each writer did certain things, what techniques they used, and how his methods compared to theirs. He understood that, aside from the basic rules of grammar, there is no one correct way to write. A survey of the best known works of literature will reveal that this is true. So, whether you decide to avail yourself of the "how to" books or not, you will do yourself a big favor by reading as widely as possible - not just reading for pleasure, but with an eye to what the author is doing and how (s)he is doing it. Don't limit yourself to one genre, or a handful of authors (an easy mistake to make - we find writers that we get comfortable with and tend to stay with them; but when we do, we limit the range of possibilities for our own writing).

    I see you are new to the forum. Welcome. As you have already seen, we have some members who have achieved some success as writers, but most of our members are still, like me, in the aspiring category. We have all taken different roads to get to where we are, and so there is a certain storehouse of knowledge here. But, unlike architecture, engineering, medicine or astrophysics, there is no one right answer, although there are a number of commonly held truths. My advice is to regard this as comparable to a study group, wherein students work together to acquire the knowledge they need.

    Best of luck in your writing endeavors.
     
  17. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I'm starting to love when this conversation comes up. It always turns into a great opportunity to learn about writers and their paths and contributions to literature.
     
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  18. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Last edited: Apr 28, 2014
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd be just fine with being like Stephen King--even without the massive money. I think that the ability to write a good yarn, with characters that touch the reader and pull them into the story, is something well worthwhile. I don't need that good yarn to communicate something completely new or communicate something old better than it's ever been communicated before. I just need it to communicate, and what I've read of Stphen King's work does that.

    I'm not posting just to talk about Stephen King, but about that divide, between a good yarn and world-changing literature. That's not to say that I don't agree tha there are plenty of lousy books being published--there are plenty of them that are well below "good yarn", that don't communicate anything, much less anything new.

    If I turn to one of my other hobbies, perfume, there are perfumes in all three classes. There are the perfumes that aren't new, aren't artistic, aren't well-crafted, aren't really worth the glass they're sold in. There are perfumes that are well-crafted, consistently pleasing, Perfectly Good. Some of those transcend Perfectly Good and are breathtakingly good in their craftsmanship, but they still follow the rules, so I still leave them in that middle class. And there are the perfumes that push the limits of what's acceptable in a perfume; those are the ones most likely to be seen as art.

    There are things that a perfume has to have, in order to be in that middle ground and sell well. It has to have good, pleasing "top notes", because very few people are going to wait around for a multi-hour development. It has to "smell like perfume", rather than smelling like any of the thousands of other smells that are also pleasing and interesting. In general, it has to fulfill the casual shopper's expectations.

    A perfume like, say, Black March, which starts out smelling like clean wet dirt and very slowly blooms into flowers, isn't going to succeed in that middle space. Nor is one like Tubereuse Criminelle, which is variously described as smelling like menthol, or gasoline, or, according to some people, rotting meat.

    I adore Tubereuse Criminelle. I adore the opening of Black March and lose interest when it progresses to the more perfume-like flowers phase. In perfume, I want the art and only grudgingly appreciate the merely well-crafted, so if I were to be a perfumer, I'd need to be the one who transcends that middle class of perfumes.

    So I mostly understand the people who aren't just interested in creating a good yarn. But I enjoy a good yarn, and I'd be perfectly happy to write them. Given that, I'm perfectly happy to get those pieces of advice--the equivalent of "your sales will be based almost entirely on the top notes"--that increase the odds of my getting published, even if they're not primarily about Art.

    And I don't feel that those pieces of advice will ruin my writing or keep me from going beyond that middle group. Shiseido White Rose, for example, is pleasing at the top and "smells like perfume", but it transcends that middle group. (Shiseido White Rose is funny. How can a perfume be *funny*, how can it be laughing at you and inviting you to laugh with it? I don't know, but it does.)

    OK, that was long and meandering. I guess it's my theory as to why there's such a divide about "this is what you need to get published" advice.
     
  20. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, @thirdwind already mentioned one reason why it's not a good idea to judge anyone's expertiese by their like / post -ratio. Here's another reason: the differences in how people write here.
    I haven't followed your posts that closely, but to me it looks like you post mostly in threads like this, i.e. threads where people look for advice, ask questions related to publishing etc. If a member posts only in such threads and gives advice, they often get likes while their post count stays relatively low.

    Now, many members post in other kinds of threads too: they ask questions themselves, they discuss things that have nothing to do with writing (e.g. food, music, sports etc), they welcome new members, they have silly discussions about totally random subjects, they bitch about their day, they get into arguments about matters of racism, feminism, gender issues, things that have nothing to do with writing. Usually such posts don't get that many likes because they're more about arguing a POV, casual chitchat etc. instead of actually offering guidance to someone who's likely to give you a like when you help them.

    The thing is, those other kinds of posts still increase a member's post count even though usually only few of them get likes. So, does posting stuff like that mean the person doesn't know anything about literature, languages, or the publishing industry? Personally, I don't see the connection. But it does explain the discrepancy you mentioned, and it does highlight another reason why staring at the like / post -ratio is about as useful as staring only at your weight when you're trying to get in shape; it may give you some idea in some instances, but it doesn't come even close to the whole truth.

    Anyway, just wanted to point that out. Carry on, everyone.
     
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  21. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    @T.Trian get's a "Like" for his last sentence. ;) (really, I had my mouse hovering, trying to decide if he'd earned it; the last line, made me click the button.)
     
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  22. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Andrae Smith, your message has such artistic and informative merit that it deserves a like. :D
     
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  23. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    upload_2014-4-28_2-40-32.jpeg

    Now as much as I "Like" you guys. It's time I got to bed. Tomorrow is... Monday. Goodnight folks! (or good morning, since it's 2:41 am... or is it 10 or 11:41 am? :eek:)
     
  24. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This is the most circular bit of rubbish I have ever seen. In order to bolster a point you are making you cite your own blog, written by you, wherein you deconstruct a book you have written. That posterior of yours must produce a rare bloom indeed for you to be so keen on it.

    I'm not sure whether to infract you for violating the self promo rules of the site (2 counts, BTW) or to bring you some spare benzos I have stashed away.
     
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  25. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    @JayG Thank you for letting me know the 'Likes' mean so much. For awhile I was starting to feel useless and unworthy of this forum. Now despite only being published by a poetry contest book in high school and some college courses on writing, I feel like I can tell any new author on here exactly what to do. When I win my first ePulitzer Award, I will make sure to mention your name and thank you specifically.

    @T.Trian you are now my mortal enemy like Mr. Glass to Mr. Unbreakable.

    @Wreybies you have benzos?

    FYI: I am not trying to be passive aggressive here, I'm just practicing my satirical writing for future publishing...I hope.
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2014
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