Thursday, June 25, 2009

Social Networking that Damages

My friend Suzanne recently blogged about some of the joys of social networking.  Well, I decided that it was time for me to take the flip-side.  I'm not talking about facebook, myspace, blogger. I'm talking about the social networking sites that can literally suck the creative juices right out of you.

Several months ago, when I was still too shy to reach out to other writers, I joined a website that I thought would not only allow me to stew in a huge collective pot, but it was a chance to get my work noticed by a publisher.  I publicly supported this site time and again.  "It's amazing, innovative, such a big help!"  Naive and maybe a little desperate, I posted the first four chapters of my novel on this site which will go unnamed in this post.  The platform of the website is to invite critique from other writers or readers.  If the reader likes your work they leave you comments and have the option to publicly support your book.  This in turn gives you a numeric score that ultimately leads you to the center ring where your first few chapters will be reviewed by a publisher.

I'm not going to say that every critique I received was a pile of poo.  Actually I did receive a few useful suggestions and I made a couple of friends.  But out of the 75+ crits that I got, only those few were useful.  A lot of if was harsh, rash and sometimes even a little strange.  One critter went so far as to dive into a dramatic monologue about how he wanted to: see, feel, touch, taste and smell every tiny detail of my story.

Being the eternal people-pleaser that I am, I dove into revisions at the speed of light.  Whatever someone suggested, I changed it like they were some sort of writing expert sent to save me from self-destruction.  I wish now that I had never touched a single word.  

The changes I made essentially nullified my narrative voice.  The first four chapters became a conglomerate of suggestions from people that didn't even have the decency to read past the first chapter and none of them had read the entire MS.  The feedback that I'm getting now from honest to goodness critique partners and the few agents who've looked at the MS is that the book is much better from chapter 5 on.  AFTER the chapters that I let a society of nameless faces re-write.  I wonder all the time if I should go back and re-write those chapters from scratch, give my story a breath of fresh air and put more of 'me' back into it, but I think I've done all that I can.  The damage done was irreparable. 

Someone gave me a good kick in the pants the other day when I was whining about what "this person said" and what "that person said" about certain elements about my book.  She said, "not to be mean... but...  YOU'RE THE AUTHOR!  IT'S YOUR STORY!  Those were the words I should have had in my head all those months that I sat hunched over my computer, writing to please the mass of commenters that may or may not have actually read my manuscript.

These sort of social networking sites do nothing but damage in this humble blogger's opinion. They offer false hope of a publishing deal (which I don't think in two years anyone's landed one) plus you have to network like a fiend to get enough people to read and back your book to even nudge you up in the standings.  All the site manages to do is take valuable time away from the writer that he or she could use to ACTUALLY write, join a REAL critique group and QUERY and interact with AGENTS.  There is no magic formula, or website that's going to get you published.  This is HARD work and that's why when it finally does happen, you hear about your friends dancing around their kitchen like they just won the PowerBall or something.

The best way to find a critique partner or group is to follow writer's websites such as AgentQuery or QueryTracker.  Visit their forums.  Look out for other writers on Facebook or Twitter.  Read as many blogs as you can.  But don't stop there.  Don't just hand your MS over to someone just because their blog is cute. Do your research, swap emails, phone calls and really get to know the person before you start.  This is what I did and let me tell you--it's paying off.

Some may say that it sounds like "sour grapes" because my work didn't thrive on the site. Well, it IS sour grapes.  I wasted months of time and energy pushing my book to absolutely NO ONE. That's right, no one.  I won't make the same mistake with my new WIP.  I have friends and critters that I trust will help me live up to my potential as an author.  Plus, I TRUST myself.  I AM THE AUTHOR and IT'S MY STORY!


Scott said...

Amanda - we live and we learn, and sometimes the lessons are somewhat harsh. I've had bad crit experiences too, and was right there with you making all the changes these anonymous people thought would make my writing better! HA! I slowly learned to step back from the crits and really consider my writing as a whole. Sometimes, I make some tweaks. Sometimes, I don't. In the end, I have to trust my instincts with my writing and remember that I can't please everyone!

Great post.


B.J. Anderson said...

"Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others." — Virginia Woolf

I think you're headed in the right direction! And I've felt the same frustration you're experiencing. Keep your chin up. :)

Suzanne said...

Wonderful post. I support you and love your work. Suzanne

WindyA said...

Awesome take on the social networking side of things! I think people forget about the non-hyped social networking sites and the research you really need to do on them to verify they are legit!

Thanks so much for putting this out there! I'm so glad I'm not alone in feeling like this with some of the sites I found a while back. It's always nice (in it's own disturbing way) to know you're not alone.

P.S. Cute new layout!

Abby said...

Great post! I love QueryTracker. So many great people there.

Bummer you had to go through that, but it sounds like you came out of it wiser and with an awesome attitude. Sometimes all we can do is move forward. :)

And I like your layout, too. Very cute!

Lady Glamis said...

I'm so sorry that you had a bad experience! But I must agree that sites like this are terrible. I am glad you're showing another side of things that's sad, but true. B.J.'s quote is brilliant. So glad you have a good network to lean on now!

Angie said...

I quit an online critique group when I started getting suggestions like, "You've used the word 'she' too much," or "I think your MC should be an energy being." ????? I only take advice from critiques if I feel excited to make the changes suggested.

Lynnette Labelle said...

Geeze! Sorry to hear that. Didn't you save copies of your old version? If not, can you go back to that site and find the original one you posted? Maybe one of the friends you gained from that group might still have a copy of it?? Good luck!

Lynnette Labelle

MJ Caraway said...

Great post. I know that place. I just pulled my books off it, after giving thoughtful critiques of 250+ manuscripts in order to receive 200+ critiques of my own work. Of those 200, about a dozen are genuinely useful. I am inclined to call that four months a waste of my life, but there was a notable flip-side: by critiquing so much bad and mediocre writing, I was finally able to spot clearly in my own writing the faults that I was seeing in other peoples' writing. Why are we so blind to our own faults? (topic for another day). This enabled me to slice 5000 words of excess fat and self-indulgent darlings from one of my mss, and I'm not done yet. We learn more from mistakes than from successes, right?

ElanaJ said...

Soooo true, Mandy. I'm so glad you've learned that, even if it was the hard way. And now, you have the confidence that you are an author, not just a writer. That's something right there. :)

Angie Ledbetter said...

Glad you discovered the "too many chefs spoil the stew" factor before more chapters were sacrificed. Stories like this make me LOVE my crit group more and more. Early on we realized there's no way to implement every suggestion, but instead look for trends in suggestions.

Best with your new WIP!

Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.