Last week I felt like I was defeated by the internet and this week I feel bad about it so I’m going to defend myself, to myself, right here, right now:
The internet should be a great resource for writers, not only because of the platforms it provides, but because it can open up all kinds of avenues for interacting with other writers and honing your craft.
But then sometimes, “sometimes”, the wide open spaces of the internet yield more to a boom-town mentality, with prospective writers, such as and including myself, prospectively throwing their shit at the firewall and hoping something magic happens.
As a year-long member of such an experiment, I attempted to stick my square, nonfiction prose where it didn’t belong, “just to see what happens”, over and over again into a space meant for genre fiction, and the result was pretty unsatisfying.
For now, let’s call this site the “The Glory Hole.”
How does the Glory Hole work? You put up your writing sample, a short story or 5000 words of a longer work, and you exchange critiques of other users’ material for credit to put towards getting feedback on your own. In this, the Glory Hole has developed a rather ingenious method for objective subjective feedback; since there are no incentives to write a good critique or to rate a specific person, you’re encouraged to give an honest appraisal of the writing.
Two caveats: Last year the Glory Hole removed their best feature, the literary “quiz”, which was a great way to evaluate whether users had read the whole piece. I assume they removed it because it was time consuming, some of the quizzes were stupid, and/or not enough people bothered to read the entire piece. However, now there is no real way to avoid having someone gloss over your story in about 30 seconds just to get the review credit.
Secondly, and we will get to this below, there is incentive to write a bad review and force a users’ ranking down, especially if you yourself are near the top.
The top user stories every month (there are rankings) get a professional glance-over, either by an agent or publisher, and people have gotten book deals out of the process. Since the whole thing costs nothing but a bit of time, it’s a great way to get feedback AND/or notoriety for your writing, even your novels, without the pitfalls of more formal, in-person workshop environments. And I’ve been clamoring (silently) for a novel-critique outlet for years, so the Glory Hole seemed very promising.
But what the experience has taught me about writing and writers in general is not so much to the good. Instead of discovering a community of writers or a treasure trove of untapped talent, I’ve discovered a parade of deluded and vicious dreamers climbing over each other to try and squeeze their way into the Glory Hole. Everything, from the means to the motive, is uncomfortably lame.
What characterizes a Glory Holer?
- Glory Hole Writers Don’t Read Enough The literary foundations behind of many of these stories stops after The Hunger Games Trilogy and Game of Thrones. The ideas conveyed, the character descriptions, the conflicts, all bely a special kind of triteness. Every other story has a Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen proxy going off on a subpar, half-baked adventure involving humans and subhumans wandering around anachronistic, vague dystopias. A serial killer taunts a girl trapped inside his manhole trap back behind the old farm. A fat and lazy interloper makes himself at home in his cousin’s flat. A Catholic woman marries a Jew and they have a secret baby. A boy discovers his parents have been replaced by aliens. These summaries belong as meta-jokes in another, better, story, but here they are the sad attempts to triangulate what may constitute the next best-seller.
- Glory Hole Writers Aren’t Writing, They’re “World-Building” I don’t think people don’t understand plot. I don’t think plot is a difficult concept. Story is when something happens and good story is when that something that happens is a something that is compelling or gets people to keep reading. The problem is that people don’t seem very interested in telling a good story. Most of the writing within these excerpts is window dressing or portraiture, details upon details that serve to pad the writing and “flesh out” either characters or setting, but with a fundamental confusion, or lack of care, for what details are important or why they matter at all.
- Anyone can write anything, and use words for nearly any purpose, but just throwing shit at the reader because you were too lazy to edit your work is where things start to smell…smelly. I am absolutely, one-hundred percent, against writing-as-modern-art, here’s-my-nonsense-see-what-YOU-make-of-it, claptrap, maybe because I see that a lot in my own writing. But it takes one to know one, and I know (or think I do) when someone had no motivation or “vision” behind their work other than to hope somebody ELSE would see in their writing what they couldn’t find themselves.
- This process works, sometimes. But not all the time. Best to pity the lucky idiot who strikes gold in the Glory Hole by accident (the next M. Night Shyamalan) then to attempt to be that yourself.
- Glory Hole Writers Are Petty and Esoteric Critics After a while, right around the time the quiz was abandoned, I made another round of edits, and my work starting showing up on the Glory Hole top 50 (or whatever), I stopped getting good reviews. And they weren’t “good” bad reviews either, ie constructive criticism meant to encourage a better submissions. I was downvoted because
- I needed to “learn the craft.”
- I spelled Anakin Skywalker wrong. Yes, this one still bugs me. In a piece of writing that both nonfiction and decidedly not about Star Wars, the critic down-voted me for spelling the name wrong of a character whose name is actually another name.The crime of “misspelling” Anakin Skywalker is somewhere between misspelling Bruce Wayne and Alonso Quixano, which is to say…okay I’m done with that.
- They couldn’t figure out what the story was about from the first page. This is a sneaky and disingenuous criticism, that my writing started off too “confusing” or “boring” or something…but here’s the problem with that: NOBODY GOES INTO A READING COLD. That’s right, nobody. Before you pick up a book, or read a story, you know many things, up to and including:
- The author
- The genre
- The description on the back of the book
- The title
- The pretty pictures on the cover
- The word of mouth, or whatever caused you to notice the book or story in the first place
- So that’s right, saying you’re bored and can’t figure out what’s going on from the opening page(s) is a bit too much like saying you can’t figure out what you’re eating from the handful of buffet glob you just shoved into your mouth without looking. Don’t blame me.
- My story wasn’t genre fiction. Several people didn’t like my story because it wasn’t high fantasy or low sex dungeon schlockety schlock or whatever. No explosions? No crazy twist? No inter-dimensional beings from the space between the spaces? BORING. Fuck you.
- My story wasn’t their story. The worst bit of glory hole navel gazing was when other writers would critique me for having a style different from their own. Which is, I guess, to be fair, something every writer-cum-critic has to watch out for. There is a strong tendency to take someone’s work and advise them as if you were the author. But that’s not what good criticism does. And bad criticism, the very worst, goes all the way and says “your story is bad because in my story there are sexy dwarf detectives and your story has no sexy dwarf detectives so I hated it.”
- Glory Hole Writers Don’t Like Writing This is why I decided to give up. Because after reading story segment after segment, and receiving a slow but dependable stream of critical bile, it was clear that this really was the wrong avenue to hawk my goods. If you can’t trust the people advising you then it’s time to pull the plug, and I couldn’t trust the people in the Glory Hole, not because I didn’t think the writing was good (some of it was okay) but because I didn’t think many of them liked writing at all. And this is not a problem specific to the Glory Hole but to a lot of amateur fiction in general in the age of the internet, which is that people maybe, who like good stories, or bad stories, or watch movies, or are unaware to the extent of their own vanity, see writing as way to get rich and famous really quick. But they don’t actually enjoy or care about the process of sitting down and plugging away at something. So here is something which I feel very strongly about and I’ll end with here:
- Everyone has a story to tell. Most people have pretty good ideas. The only thing that separates “most people” from “published writer” is the will to grind out a piece of not-shit, which could take a few days, but more often takes years. Time is the only weed out process.***
***I’m being hypocritical because I’m not really a ‘published’ writer (I mean I “am” but I’m also not), but if I ever was that’s still what I would say, and it’s what I say to myself now to try to motivate myself to keep working on old projects.