Monday, October 25, 2010

One problem with being a well-known writer in Lusternia

Actually, it's more than just being a well-known, and much awarded, writer in Lusternia. To make matters worse, I'm also a guild leader in a bard's guild, a teacher, in fact, the head teacher.

So it's inevitable and frequent that people come to me with their writing and ask me to preview it. I never know how to proceed. Nine out of ten times what they want isn't really my thoughts on their writing but my adulation, but let's be fair: at least 50% of what I get is below average, by the definition of "average", but no one wants to be told they're one of that crowd. MUDs are for many people a game of wish fulfilment: no one plays the boring, untalented schlub, because that's not much fun and we all get too much of that in real life already.

Worse yet, once in a rare while, someone really wants to hear how they can improve, but you can never tell. That someone says they want that is almost no indication, because the vast majority of those who say that, even ones who think they mean it, are still hoping to hear how great their work was and will be crushed if it wasn't.

I really don't want to be spending a lot of my time reading other people's writing for the simple reason that there's just so much of it. I only have so much time and energy and focus to invest, and like everyone else, I need to be choosy about where to spend it, because I have other things I want to do with it besides reading (like, most obviously, writing). Unfortunately, there's no way to be available for the kind of teaching and helping people along that makes the game better for everyone, without also being put into the position of people expecting you to read their every utterance. There's no distinction between these different kinds of teaching.

And when it comes to art, even if I try to give someone advice, it usually gets me into yet another dispute. We have this culturally ingrained idea that the best art is all wholly spontaneous, "from the heart," and untouched by the mundanities of technique. People who are studying in college degree programs probably got over that before they joined, or are gotten over it quickly, or drop out; but people who just think it'd be fun to play a minstrel in a MUD often still subscribe to this romanticized notion. Certainly, you must avoid becoming so distracted by technique that you lose inspiration, but technique has its place. And when it comes to giving advice, I can't really say, "be more inspired," I have to suggest things about what they write. It's bad enough having to say (or more commonly, find ways to avoid saying) "this needs a lot of work" without also running into the fact that the only advice I can offer is something they will dismiss with platitudes.

I don't think there's any situation more agonizing than "what did you think of my poem?" when it was really awful. And every time someone wants me to read something, and it's someone whose work I haven't read before, I'm filled with dread that that's the situation I'm about to be in. Am I supposed to just say "it's great" every time, regardless, and thus make the question and answer meaningless? I don't see what else I can do. But I can't bring myself to do that. I hate to contribute to the idea that words don't have meanings. There's too much of that in the world already.

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