Writers, Readers, Feedback, and Love

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Title: Writers, Readers, Feedback, and Love
Creator: starwatcher307
Date(s): April 20, 2008
Medium:
Fandom: there are mentions of The Sentinel
Topic:
External Links: Writers, Readers, Feedback, and Love: archive link
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Writers, Readers, Feedback, and Love is a 2008 essay by starwatcher307.

Sadly, someone has deleted their comments from the conversation, but enough of them are quoted that following along isn't too difficult. The fan who deleted their comments also deleted their fanworks off the internet during this discussion.

This post was referenced in Amateur Hour, or Feedback is Not Currency by princessofgeeks, and it references a post by fluterbev that was public at the time, but no longer is.

Some Topics Discussed

  • the role of feedback
  • why fans write
  • does feedback equal love?
  • is feedback a gift?
  • does feedback equal payment for a story and does the "construct frequently leads to hard feelings -- why did this story get more feedback than that story, when "that" story is so much longer / better / more worthy? It must be a plot! Collusion! Conspiracy! Sockpuppets!"
  • WIPs
  • privacy and visibility and the Patriot Act (American)

Excerpts

Since feedback is extrinsically worthless, I wonder how this perception of (and denigration of) "only writing for feedback" grew. If we go back to the first ever fanfic story… since it was the first, the writer couldn't have been writing "for" feedback. I imagine it went like this --

[1] Fan loves the source, starts to think, "what if..."?

[2] Fan decided to write her story idea, just for fun.

[3] Fan looks at it, decides it's good, shares it with a few fan-minded friends.

[4] Friends are so pleased to read a story that involves their favorite characters that they [a] squee, and [b] share with a few of their friends.

[5] Lather, rinse, repeat.

[6] One or two in that circle of readers thinks, "Wow, that was so cool! I've had a few ideas... wonder if I could turn them into a story?"

[7] Repeat 1 - 6, ad infinitum.


Of course, that's a theoretical construct. But it makes a whole lot more sense than to think...

[a] Fangirl thinks, "Ooh, I want people to squee over me! I know; I'll write a story!"

[b] Fangirl spends three weeks writing a 5000-word story. She wants to do it "right", so she uses spellcheck and has someone beta it, and everything.

[c] Fangirl posts the story and basks in the squee -- but only 15 pieces.

[d] Fangirl pouts. Decides to write a better story, maybe get more squee next time.

[e] Fangirl posts another story, longer, better. Gets more squee -- but not a lot more. Also gets rants about how authors only write for squee.

[f] Fangirl girds her loins. By golly, this time she'll knock their socks off; she'll write the longest, bestest, squee-worthiest story ever! She goes to work...

If the complainers ("They only write for feedback!") thought about it for 30 seconds, they'd realize that scenario #2 is a ridiculous construct. Someone who needs positive strokes in their life can find it a lot more easily than by writing fanfic.

As Bev said, ...my primary motivation for writing about Jim and Blair is that I love to play with those particular characters, and no other characters will do.

Exactly! I don't understand why that part of the equation is so consistently overlooked. Some people stay with one-true-love through many years, some have sequences of true-loves as they move through different fandoms, and some people are capable of loving several pairs or groups of characters in several different fandoms at the same time. But the common denominator is "love"; only a masochist would spend time and effort writing about characters she hates. Most authors enjoy getting feedback -- positive strokes are always nice -- but feedback would not be enough of a motivator to spend time with characters they don't love.

So why isn't the love recognized? Feedback is nice, whether squee-ful or concrit, but you can't take it to the bank. Some of us (many of us?) work in jobs we don't particularly like, because we need the money. Fanfic falls outside that driving necessity. Those who suggest that authors write "for" feedback are, I think, being deliberately obtuse.

But I suppose it's a human trait -- we all have opinions, but "my" opinion is closer to reality than "your" opinion, and therefore, it's the "right" way of looking at the question. I mean, this whole comment (which grew into a post), is an example of that. <g> It becomes an exercise in discussion, because neither side will change the opinions of the other. There may be a few individuals here and there who think, "Yeah, those are good points; I'm convinced. I'll be arguing on thatside from now on," but I think they're rare. If you (general) are open enough to see another's POV, you wouldn't be taking a hard line anyway, whichever side of the "line" you fall on.

So round and round and round we go. Might as well put on your "study the natives" hat, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the show. It's fun to discuss and poke at once in a while, but don't let it raise your blood pressure.

Excerpts from the Comments

starwatcher307:

i've watched authors change their plots and adjust how they do things to fit the perceived tastes of their fandom at a given time. i've seen authors practically demand feedback and pout when they don't get what they perceive as their due.

True, but I think they're very much in the minority. Even if it's 2% or 3%, fandom is so big that that's a lot of writers, and it may be that a certain area has a disproportionate number, which skews people's perceptions -- and thus we get another round of discussions, which may or may not escalate to rants.

the craving for feedback is definitely a guilty pleasure,

It shouldn't be, though. We are taught to seek praise, from the time we're in Kindergarten, and get a star and a smiley-face on our coloring sheet. How can we go against such deeply-ingrained lessons? (Well, we could, if it was important enough, but this doesn't fall in that category.)

comparing the amount of one's feedback to someone else's is not conducive to mental health,

And that's the rub. Again, we've been taught -- "You only got a 'B'; try harder next time, maybe you'll get an 'A'." This is where we do need to fight that training for, as you say, our own mental health... but it's hard.

I've seen authors post, and lecture people about not giving feedback, accuse lurkers of being a psychic drag on a fan community. [snip] entitlement runs in all directions.

True. But, again, I think they're the minority. The problem, the happy satisfied people rarely post about how good things are, so all we see are the ranty complaints.

i try very hard to resist all this, but occasionally i get sucked in.

Yeah; basic human nature. But we can recognize it and, as you say, try to resist. Eventually, the suckage will get less strong. (I hope.)

but writing because you love to write is by far the healthiest thing.

Actually, I don't think it has to be 'love to write'. It might be love of playing with the characters, or love of interacting with fandom in a way that's comfortable, or love of seeing the finished product. There are all kinds of love that might lead to a production of fanfic (or songvids, or photomanips, or meta); I don't believe that one is more valid than another. But I think love of something other than "mere feedback" is a far greater component than the nay-sayers give credit for.

but one can't help but care whether, if and how, one is reaching one's intended audience, you know?

Absolutely. That's why I have a stat-counter on my story pages. Even with no feedback, I can see that, "Yay! Someone read my story!" We might prefer chocolate cake (feedback) instead of bread-and-butter (stat counter) but, if we can't get the cake, at least the bread will sustain us.
hlooyilex:

Call be bitter and twisted if you like, but I've invested huge amounts of time and emotional energy into reading stories which never get finished so forgive me, but I think b) in your second scenario could also read b) fangirl spends half an hour writing a couple of hundred words setting up a very interesting plot and posts it with threats to not complete said story unless she gets lots of feedback c) Disappointed in only twenty comments begging her to write more, fangirl tries a different start to a different story

Or it could read

b) fangirl spends weeks crafting her first chapter and posts it - all 1,000 words. Encouraged by the feedback, she writes twelve more chapters over the next eighteen months and then, fed up because she only gets feedback from the same four people, she discovers a new fandom and leaves the story to languish, forever unfinished.

There are a lot more variations on that theme *g*

Moral - if Fangirl doesn't want people to think she's only after feedback, she should post the story when it's finished and not before.

Given the number of unfinished stories I've got on my HD in the hope that one day I will find they've been finished, I suspect there are a lot more writing-for-feedback writers out there than we maybe would like to think.
mab browne:

I think that there's an element of truth there, alas, although many people do start WIPs in good faith.

I don't WIP unless I'm sure about my capacity to reach the finish, (barring being hit by a bus). Comments encourage me to keep going and finish something sooner, and sometimes give me ideas for tweakage. Some more flexible writers than me will change stories substantially around the fb they receive - not because they want to 'stroke' the audience but because the give and take sparks new ideas.

However, yes, I've met the story snippets where the writer means it when they say 'fb me if you want more' and I must admit that I mutter 'screw that' in the privacy of my head and move on along without reading at all... I prefer that the writer is telling the story for the story's sake. fb can be a spur and a motivator, but there has to be something more than that at the base of the activity. And luckily, that seems to be the case more often than not in the fandom circles where I read. :-)
earth2skye:

Ah, the WIP argument ;-) Wonder why I haven't seen that come up yet over at Bev's.

The problem I have with any kinds of complaints about WIPs is that they mostly seem to stem from the reader's anger with herself for having "fallen" for the story in the first place. And rightly so. It was *their* choice to start reading it, at least if they knew it was a WIP going in. And I don't buy into the argument that any writer who posts a WIP is an attention seeking monster and only writes for feedback. There are many reasons to start posting a story that's not yet finished, not the least of which is to motivate yourself, just because it's *there* waiting for you to finish it, glaring at you if you will. Of course, today at least there's a difference between posting a story to a list or archive or to your journal or private website.

Similarly, and I'm not saying you implied that but I want to say this anyway, not every writer who doesn't continue a WIP does so because she didn't get enough feedback. There are just *so* many factors that can derail a story project.

But we were talking about authors writing only *for* feedback and the evidence speaks for itself: there *are* authors who turn to blackmail like that. Still, again and again I find myself hitting a brick wall trying to imagine any author doing that for long and I can't help wonder if they are masochistic. It must be *so* frustrating! Not to mention that my muse just plain doesn't work this way.

And last but not least, the problem always lies with generalizations. Just because *some* authors do this, doesn't mean all authors or even the majority do. The healthiest thing, whether as a writer or a reader, always is to try and keep that in mind when reading the work of a particular author or a comment of a particular reader. And to not expect anything from anyone.
laurie ky: WIPs that don't get finished are annoying, but I think that's just life. I've read published books that the sequel never happened, so it's not just in fandom that we are left hanging. I've got a big WIP going, but I am committed to finishing it. I post chapters for sentinel_thurs prompts. It's stimulating to use the prompts. But if somebody would like to wait and read it when it's finished, that's cool too.
starwatcher307: That the thing; some people act like WIPs are a personal affront. No one forces them to read it, for heaven's sake. We've all been burned once or twice but, as you say, that's life. We either learn to wait till the story is finished (my preference, even if I trust the author to finish, since I lose track of what's going on), or we live dangerously and take our chances. <g> Either way, it won't change the fate of the world.
roslynsmuse:

Writing a story isn't a gift to anyone - we write because we want to enjoy telling a tale. The acceptance of readers (vocal or silent) is part of the process. The gift is actually mutual with no obligations on either side. I don't owe anyone more, or different stories; they don't owe me an audience, approval or concrit. I like offering stories and I like hearing people's reactions to them, the plus and the negative. But I have no expectations about it.

As I remarked on Bev's site in a discussion with a reader, we are placing certain locks on these exchanges of 'gifts'. We are posting anonymously and some authors are writing things that are largely taboo in their cultures.

Readerships are wide and also conscious of the taboos. They may be reading in secret and not wanting to be seen offering feedback that might be recognizable to others. It is certainly an effort for them to adopt a pseudonym just to talk with ... another pseudonym?

Let's remain aware of how artificial our creative universe is and that the general rules of common experience in RL don't really apply here. That translates into no expectations. Just pleasant surprises.
starwatcher307:

Is it really so unreasonable to expect somebody to communicate back?

In this venue, no; we're having a direct conversation. But for a story that's broadcast to the 'net -- I think so, especially when you lay "expect" on people. There are so many reasons not to leave feedback -- not necessarily 'good' reasons, just reasons; we cannot twist people's arms. If there were a way to enforce it -- that you could not read a story unless you offered feedback -- where does that leave the person who got two pages into a story and quit, thinking, "That's the biggest load of crap I've ever seen!" (I hit one like that a couple of days ago.) But I can't leave until I leave FB? What could I say? I support the right of anyone to post whatever they want. But that gives me the right to NOT respond if I don't want to, whether my reason is good, bad, or indifferent.

Personally, I think the whole writing for the joy of it is a scam perpetrated to keep writers silent on the subject of feedback. If we need feedback, we aren't real writers, are we?

That's not at all what I meant, or what Fluterbev meant. What I'm saying is, if the ONLY reason you're writing is for feedback, there will never be enough. Getting good feedback is part of the love of writing, like when Sally Fields exclaimed, "You like me! You really like me!" It's a heady experience, and I certainly love what I get. But if you don't ALSO love the characters, or the act of creation, or whatever, it isn't enough.

EG -- I spent 18 months working on one story, 31,000 words, my longest to that time. I know people like it -- it's been nominated for awards. But in the three years it's been on the web, it's gotten 30 pieces of feedback. If feedback was my goal, it wouldn't be worth the effort I expended.

In short, my feeling is, my GOAL is to [a] enjoy my characters and [b] produce the best story I can. Getting feedback assures me that I have some readers, and I gloat (privately) over every piece. But to "expect" more people to leave FB, or to compare the amount I get to what someone else gets just leads to dissatisfaction.
earth2skye:

I wouldn't underestimate how concerned people are about leaving their 'mark' on the internet.

Hm, I guess I have read this before, but I must admit that I didn't put much stock by it before I read your comment. Guess that's because I've always been into IT and thought that I could judge the risks well enough not to be scared off. But I can see how all the things that you hear and not knowing what actually can be done can move a person to be more conservative/careful than she needs to be. And what am I saying? Of course there's *always* a level of trust involved whenever you post something to the net.

And perhaps part of why stories seem to attract more comments on LJ is not just the convenience but the fact that you don't need an e-mail address?

But I am now becoming curious about this internet reticence by Americans as opposed to non-Americans, particularly since passage of the Patriot Act.

I can't help in that regard but I'd be interested in any comments, too. Is there a difference between Americans and non-Americans you think?
starwatcher307:

I'm fed up with only providing the pleasant surprises without getting any in return.

Then stop. Just as 'we' can't force 'them' to leave feedback, 'they' can't force 'us' to write.

[...]

I'm out. The fiction's going down.

I'm sorry you feel that way. But you must do what feels right for you.
earth2skye:

Let's remain aware of how artificial our creative universe is and that the general rules of common experience in RL don't really apply here. That translates into no expectations. Just pleasant surprises.

I don't necessarily think it's "artificial". It's not even unique to online life. Whenever people aren't "obligated/forced" to do something they tend not to. It's human nature. And while I whole-heartedly agree with carose59 that posting a story is a gift that a reader should say thanks for if she liked it, this is one of those situations where nobody can force her to, so it tends to get missed more often than not. It's not more deplorable to lament that fact than it's impolite to not give feedback. It's just healthier not to ;-)
roslynsmuse:

I meant 'artificial' as a kind of division between net users doing so for creative expression and entertainment versus RL engagements. After allowing for human laziness, and I deplore that in RL even as I am grudgingly tolerant of it in FF, I wouldn't underestimate how concerned people are about leaving their 'mark' on the internet. There is no privacy any longer with phone companies and google/yahoo etc offering their records to the American government. Working on listserves in RL, I see how that loss of privacy has severely affected people doing important work in social activism or controversial work in political activism. Of course, I am gratified when I see bullies pushed off the net but the ease with which that can happen is largely due to the ease of tracking.

I myself have been threatened with libel suits for what I have stated in public, and also in one or two private venues. They had no merit and I am always careful about my facts but people play for keeps out there! If concerned about general internet use, most people aren't going to trouble justifying their urge to remain quiet as fans of internet fiction. For some, their work computer is their only access so you won't hear much from them. Library computers can't get to a lot of our sites due to sexual references which American public libraries lock down. We've seen what has happened in the past with the League of Net Moralists patrolling and shutting down LJs. A lot of those were 'restored' but I am certain that some people who posted FB there were quite alarmed about it.

I wonder if there is a different amount of FB given for gen versus slash on the lists and LJs? We have a skewed idea of this because slash is so prominent these days and a lot of feedback is between authors, already committed to being on the net.

My point is that polite behavior may be suspended when you add in a lot of these factors. I can't bring myself to condemn such concerns by readers after seeing the realities that limit their participation in very important RL venues. This is entertainment and it ought to be risk free psychologically, but it isn't. A lot of people simply can't overcome that niggling feeling that it is better not to communicate freely. And again, if we are using pseudonyms, who are we to talk? It kind of infers we agree with that, no?

I like FB and would encourage anyone entering this venue try to be part of the exchange. They are missing out on quite a bit of fun. But it isn't as simple as we'd like to think it is. Lastly, many people are afraid to comment because they fear people will greet a less than cleverly worded statement with derision.

Our comments about that on these LJs will either refute or confirm those concerns, speaking of courtesy :-) (not you earth2sky).

But I am now becoming curious about this internet reticence by Americans as opposed to non-Americans, particularly since passage of the Patriot Act. I am well versed in the former but know little about the latter. Comments?
fluterbev:

Many interesting things said here, but this observation intrigued me:

I thank that's an artificial dichotomy, brought on by our human (or is it more American?) tendency to phrase things as black/white, either/or.

One of the things that I've noticed during my online participation in fandom is that overt and common tendency to reduce things to either/or and black/white. It's either gen or slash but smarm doesn't exist, characters are gay or straight because bisexuals don't exist (ha! ::Bev disappears in a puff of smoke:: *g*), all new writers are crap/all old ones are great etc etc. It's the one constant I've seen in every kerfuffle - the reductionist argument which insists that only the poles exist and there are no shades of grey in-between.

To pick up on your comment, is that a disctinctive American trait, in your experience? I mean, it's not as if people don't do that over here too (they do), but after reading your comment I wonder if the fact that I find myself constantly banging my head against that particular brick wall in fandom is perhaps because my cultural experiences and those of the either/or merchants are coming into conflict, because that tendency is more prevalent over there?

References