Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Something in the Water?

I am liable to be all over the place today. We spent a couple days visiting the triplets (oh, my, three six-month old babies at once!) this week and spend five hours on the road yesterday coming home. Then I stayed up until 1 AM watching assorted hockey playoff games go into overtime. Ah, this is the great season, multiple games on every night, tension, drama…but I digress.

Bloggers piggyback off each other all the time. You know how it goes, you’re planning a post but you read something on another blog and you just have to write about that same topic. It happens all the time. Or maybe there’s a rather newsworthy event that occurs so you, me, and just about everyone else does a post on the same topic. It’s bound to happen from time-to-time. I can’t quite figure out why it works on forums, though.

I am a regular reader and frequent poster over on Absolute Write (not as frequent as I used to be, though. I read it all the time, but I’m in a down-cycle when it comes to responding for some reason). This morning, after being away from the boards while I was away from home, I found a thread titled: “Which title should I choose?” This thread was started yesterday (4/12) .I knew I had seen something very similar recently, and poked back. Sure enough, on the fourth of the month, we had “Help me think of a good title”, and just six days earlier, we had “Critique my title.” Not all that long ago there were at least three threads that popped up at weekly intervals about ‘meaning’ and ‘theme’. These three threads asked pretty much the same question, and pretty much the same people wandered in to answer in pretty much the same way.

I don’t know if you see threads popping up on the same theme or asking the same question so frequently is the result of some sort of ‘group think’ that happens, or if people see one thread but don’t want to post in it because it hasn’t had a new post in it for several days (and who wants to get flamed for ‘necroing’? That doesn’t usually happen on AW, but I’ve seen it elsewhere). Actually, for the title threads I can understand it. I wouldn’t want to hijack your discussion on a good name for your romantic comedy with questions about what I should call my political thriller. It’s not polite (and AW is usually pretty polite).

I do have to wonder, though, when I see some of these threads. The internet should make us smart. We have almost-instant access to incredible amounts of information on almost any topic. And yet, when I see some of the questions pop up, I wonder if we’re also making ourselves stupid. Are we losing our ability to think for ourselves? People ask so many questions on these boards that they really need to answer for themselves: what should my title be? Should I give my main character a limp? These sites, these blogs, they’re great, don’t get me wrong, but I think they become too easy to fall back on. Instead of sitting back and thinking, too many people are just immediately going to the Answer Man.

Yeah, I’m chucking rocks perilously close to my own house of glass. Yes, the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. Still, I’d like to think the times I ran back to my critters for advice came only after serious thought on my part. Some of those threads I’ve seen, I think they ask first, think later (if at all).

Yikes, I’m not sure how I got here. Happy Friday the 13th! Have a great weekend, all.

8 Responses

  1. I use the internet for bigger picture questions, not so much specific questions to my story or characters. Because really, nobody can answer that stuff but you, or someone who has read your work. The online community is great, though, for all kinds of feedback, but I agree that we could answer most questions ourselves if we just thought about it. Have a great weekend!

  2. I'm assuming the majority of these topics come from "new" writers. Sometimes that fresh, insecure state makes you question everything.

    …Did I just give someone the benefit of the doubt? Wow. It must be Friday the 13th. 😉

    Have a great weekend!

  3. That's an interesting topic. And I think Carrie is correct to assume most of those writers are new and inexperienced, so they seek advice, or maybe just some validation. But I do think you're right in general. It's too easy to ask first and think last. Too many folks, younger ones especially, want to take the easier route. But they'll learn soon enough that that will only take them so far.

  4. Hmm. I can see this both ways, I guess. In a lot of cases, I have seen what you mean on people asking before thinking, but I can see wanting some outside opinions on titles, when they carry so much weight for first impressions. And without a handy writer's group around, the internet can be a default place for second opinions. "Star Thief" came pretty easily to me, but my WIP has stayed nameless for months. So–when in doubt, yes we should think, and think some more. But I think it's ok to ask for help when we really hit a wall, even on the "small" stuff.

  5. Some questions are acceptable, others take it too far. I like looking for second opinions, but I'm not going to ask something unless I've thought about it first. Anywhere.

  6. I find there are a lot of newbies who show up to these forums and immediately start asking questions without spending any time on the site first. Not all of them of course, but there are enough for me to notice. I prefer to lurk and learn before commenting anywhere – but that doesn't seem to be a popular option for some 🙂

    My family has a hockey pool. I am NOT doing well so far. My teams have to pick up the pace!!!

  7. Thanks for the comments, all. I sure hope this didn't come off as extra snarky, as it was not my intention to bash anyone for asking questions on a forum. It was meant more as an observation of how these things seem to run, where you get a series of the same sort of question in close proximity to each other, like everyone woke up in the same mindset or something. As for the post itself, I kind of wrote that in a fog. It was a bleary morning (kind of like today).

    I also know that, sometimes, you need to ask. It's a way of provoking discussion that might help to jostle something loose when you're stuck, it's almost like thinking out loud or talking to yourself.

  8. I think you are absolutely right. I don't think you came off as snarky. It is a legitimate issue–there really are things that writers need to figure out for themselves. I think it's fine to test what you come up with after careful thought by using forums, etc but you should do the work on your own first. The internet makes things too easy sometimes to look to others and not think for ourselves!

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