People Gonna People–Thoughts from an Editor

I have something on my mind. These are my thoughts, not necessarily the official opinion of The Writers’ Block as a community, so I decided to post this here, from my own blog. It’s the stance we take at TWB, but I can’t speak for everyone. So I’ll just speak for me.


During my entire writing career, I’ve watched how hard some people resist feedback. They’ve been told by someone somewhere that they have a little talent, then they’ve heard it doesn’t matter what others think so you should just write what makes you happy. These folks have typically built a huge sandcastle around their ideas that’s complete with a moat and flaming arrows aimed at anyone who suggests a different truth.

It’s interesting, watching these people come into workshops where a workmanlike dynamic exists. Sometimes it’s even humorous. Their egos are usually the first thing folks like me see long before I find issues with their writing. When I say “ego,” I’m not talking about boastfulness. I’m talking about the Freudian ego, the part of us that employs all the defense mechanisms. The part of us that lies to ourselves. “Rules don’t matter” is a common theme. “Write what you want” is another. Recently I heard “a quick self-edit is all I usually need.”

Oh, boy. Talk about red flags.

These things may well be true if the person writes for their own catharsis and isn’t particularly interested in gaining an audience. Sadly, it’s also true if a person doesn’t have a genuine concern for their readers, but is only writing to satisfy a need for attention—any attention. So the question is, how many community resources should be invested in their reactions when an attempt to help them goes badly? You can’t please everyone. That’s a fact. And as a community leader, one can’t allow subversive ideas to creep in and undermine the foundation you’ve worked so hard to build. The Writers’ Block has a specific focus and a specific purpose. We exist to offer relevant and sometimes intense feedback for people who have a sincere desire to improve the quality of their writing. You appear in our group and ask for advice, you get it. It’s that simple.


The bottom line is that everyone needs editors. Everyone. Even editors need editors. I wouldn’t dream of publishing a piece of fiction, even on Steemit, that hasn’t been thoroughly evaluated and critiqued by writers I trust. I’ve been writing, edting, and publishing for more than twenty years. And I promise you that a “quick self-edit” is woefully insufficient to prepare my writing for public consumption.

As far as the terse, businesslike approach of most professional editors, how would their feedback best be accomplished? Let me put a different spin on my answer to that: when did telling anyone that their mediocre work is good enough help anyone, especially when an editor knows exactly how to make it better? If someone only wants to hear that what they’re doing is fine, then why join a workshop or ask for feedback at all?

Should we at The Writers’ Block present the “rules” as optional guidelines instead? Actually, we do exactly that. But here’s the rub—if ignoring the “rules” is a liability and weakens the writing, are we not obligated to say as much? Show me passive voice that makes the writing stronger and I won’t red ink it. Show me exposition that doesn’t derail the pacing and it gets a pass from me. Show me omniscient third person that doesn’t headhop and hold the reader at arm’s length, and I won’t say change it to limited third. I’ve seen this once–one time–since I’ve been with The Writers’ Block. Every other time, “omniscient” is a poorly executed mess, and by not saying so, I’m doing the writer a tremendous disservice.

The goal of TWB workshops is to help people write publishable work that meets the standard of today’s mainstream industry. Do lazy writers get publishing deals? All the time. Many bestselling authors make me cringe, yet they earn millions every year. However, it’s important to remember that to get a book deal in today’s market, you don’t have to be as “good” as those guys. You have to be better. Otherwise you just get lost in the noise.

Always Be Branding

As far as TWB—we are a brand. Nobody who represents our brand can write like a third grader. Otherwise, what would compel serious writers to affiliate with us? We’re here to help everybody, but not by blowing smoke up their ass. Steemhouse and Wordrow, our mainstream interfaces, will represent us to both the publishing industry and a commercial audience. TWB will try to help everyone who participates get something published in one or both of those places. I can tell you unequivocally that headhopping, exposition, poor construction and execution, or any of the skimmable content we see in so many people’s work will never represent our brand.

If people want to write in total disregard of our standards, fine. We’re not going to hijack Steemit and start flagging posts because their authors info dumped in the first paragraph, or because their characters leave us cold. Folks can write what they want. But if they come to our community, we’re going to tell them the truth. Want to argue the case for passive voice? Show us that it works. If, in our critique, we happen to tell you that it doesn’t, it most likely means it really doesn’t. There’s no other way to present that.


While I’m on this topic and on my personal blog, I’m going to address another point, and that is the subject of freewrites. I’ve been pretty vocal that I don’t like the way they’ve been promoted as a form of publishable/marketable writing on Steemit, but I also want to make it clear that neither The Writers’ Block nor I have any issue with a freewrite community of people who have no desire to write commercially and just need to get the words out. This has been misunderstood by many and it’s time to clear that up. Freewrites serve a purpose and this technique can be a valuable tool. As with any tool, however, improper use can be harmful.

Wikipedia defines freewriting this way: 

Free writing is a prewriting technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time without regard to spelling, grammar, or topic. It produces raw, often unusable material, but helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and self-criticism. It is used mainly by prose writers and writing teachers. Some writers use the technique to collect initial thoughts and ideas on a topic, often as a preliminary to formal writing.

I could not agree more. For me, that is the essence of freewriting. Unfortunately, some people have used it as a convenient excuse to publish sloppy, unedited work that may come back to haunt them later. The blockchain is permanent. Even edits are logged and discoverable. The implications of this for writers have not been fully realized. Blockchain technology is still new. But more to the point than any of this, my stance on freewriting is that if it deteriorates a person’s writing skill rather than improves it, then it’s a dangerous tool. Proceed with caution.

That’s it for now. It’s off my chest. ‘Til next time, keep Steeming.


Meet me at SteemFest 2018 in Kraków