Writing Non-Fiction posted May 17, 2009


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by AlvinTEthington

When I joined this group years ago, I wanted to improve my writing. Many people helped me here, and I was able to win prizes outside this site for my writing. I am extremely grateful for that.

But I am disturbed by a trend going on that assuming five is the normative review and one works down from there. Other sites will throw out poetry with bad syntax, misspelled words, and atrocious grammar. I stay here because there is a group of professional writers here (who have taught graduate school, college, and been paid for their writing) whose views I respect. I also stay because I had my primary start as a scriptwriter, and this is one of the few sites that accepts scripts.

All reviews are not equal. If I receive a review from Mrs. KT (who has taught creative writing on the graduate level), I value that more than a review from someone who joined a week ago. Also, one cannot make up the rules as one goes. Especially since I classify myself as a traditional formalist, the history of the form is important to me. As Oscar Wilde said, "all bad poetry comes from genuine feeling." Splashing your emotions on a page is not poetry. Poetry needs to be researched and revised, as do scripts and prose.

The other element that bothers me is that someone becomes upset if I give her or him less than a five. FIVE is not the NORMATIVE review. THREE is. That's the center of the reviewing scale (with the exception of the unusual six.) I tend to rate a little higher, since I tired of being "lambasted" because I gave someone a four. Personal attacks are not unusual, although I say something good at the beginning of the work, and something good at the end.

One does not learn from praise--one's ego is assuaged, but one's writing is not improved. One learns from constructive criticism. I have had many people on this site thank me for teaching them about haiku. Since I have worked as a professional reviewer (I have been paid to review), I try to show writers where their writing should be improved.

This is not a self-help group, not therapy, though all of us can be friends. But there is a HUGE difference between friendship and academic collegiality. If I praised an inferior work of yours, I would not be your friend, for when the rejection letter would come from a publisher, it would hurt all the more ("but he said it had no errors...")

Again, this is not therapy nor a self-help group, although it can fall into those categories at times when someone is going through a difficult time. However, that does not mitigate the fact that this is a literary site where people are here to improve their writing.

Let us help one another with our writing primarily, and, when the occasion calls for it, with each other personally. BUT KNOW THE DIFFERENCE.


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