So I put up a short story on Wendig's blog terribleminds.com for the "Life is Hell" challenge.
It was less than 1000 words, but originally it was a 3 grand tale. After sufficient trimming, I got it down to around 2,700.
Of course, being flash-fiction, it needed to be 1,000 or less to be viable for the whole "Life is Hell" thing, but I felt 1k words wasn't good enough for so enticing a concept as hell.
I kept all versions, and I eventually submitted the polished 2,692 word version to this writer's workshop I'm involved in.
Now the way these sessions work is that copies of the short stories are handed out to everyone before the workshop, with the understanding that all involved read the piece beforehand. The day of the reading comes and we discuss what's working and what isn't.
So today, 4/14/14, was the day we would focus on my piece, 'My Shadow and Me.' I was nervous, I was excited, all these different things going on at once. I mean, I didn't know how well my contemporaries would react to the malign, chaotic rendition of hell I'd decided to make, but, being the last workshop story I was eligible to submit, I decided to go out with a bit of a bang.
So this one girl, let's call her Mrs. Orange, decided that, being from a more classical school of thought, she hated it. HATED it, I mean right out of the gate she held a rather accomplished filibuster railing against it. Funny since the leader of the workshop laid out a rather simple paradigm at the beginning:
"Start with the pros, then go to the cons."
Pretty easy system to adapt to, right?
First hand up, who's is it?
First words about the piece?
Cons, not pros.
I wasn't overtly surprised, seeing as the reaction was just Mrs. Orange keeping in character.
"Looks like you used a thesaurus and just--TRANSCRIBED it, word for word, like you started on page one and just-just went FLIPPING right along like a happy little new-reader! I was just so-- SO appalled by the broken overuse of adjectives."
And that's a direct quote, more or less.
Well now how in the hell (no puns) ELSE would one describe hellions WITHOUT
adjectives? I mean I suppose you could argue the whole simplicity-of-language/less-is-more/leave-it-to-the-imagination thing, but what if
that's not the point? The story was explicit, the story was supposed to
be a portrait. If that's not okay, that's not okay. Some people are into
feet, some aren't.
But I refrained from commenting, partly because that's how workshops are carried out and partly because I hadn't heard anyone else speak yet.
I'd said I was nervous about it: I didn't know if everyone else in the workshop felt similarly to her. I mean, I've always dealt with a sort of crushing fear of rejection, I won't deny that. So I just bore it and nodded, trying to come off as though I were taking in her profound wisdom like she was the sage and I was the novice.
When she got all her deconstructive criticism out, the room was silent. Everybody in the workshop shuffled their papers. Then this other guy across the room, big guy in a Misfits t-shirt, coughed. This guy, let's call him Man-o-war, is a nice, albeit bombastic, guy.
He said, "Well, I don't mean this to come off as offensive or anything, but--"
And that was it, I'd thought I'd bought it. I was digging in, preparing for the biggest write-off since the blank checks the military cashed after 9/11.
But Man-o-war continued, said, "I felt really uncomfortable, like, in a psychedelic way."
I perked up.
"Yeah, the big, dense descriptions of all the creatures, it made me feel like I was in a Hieronymus Bosch painting!"
Slow murmurs around the workshop circle, slow nods of assent.
Mrs. Orange stared at her feet.
The workshop leader, let's call him Ringleader, nodded after Man-o-war finished providing his commentary and said, "I agree, this piece was very intentional in its madness, I believe."
It all went up hill after that, and I was being carried there.
One by one, we went around the workshop circle and everybody nodded and provided their insight into the sensations they got from the story, and I was ECSTATIC that it came off the way I intended.
I always labor over that, as to whether or not the readers will pick up the intent, and it's always so, SO pleasing to see it in action.
While it was all being made official, all being decided that the story 'My Shadow and Me' was a success, Mrs. Orange had been scribbling with an orange marker in the margins of her copy.
When it was finished, she asked to speak, and made the addendum, "Perhaps I, uh-- wasn't your target audience."
And she wasn't.
And this isn't a rabid denouncement of Mrs. Orange and her 'classical' disposition, but just an observation. That'll happen, you missing your target audience. Some people will read you and say aloud, "What in the gracious name of the gods of literature is THIS?"
It's unavoidable, about as unavoidable as rejection, and about as unavoidable as praise.
But there's a service naysayers provide, and it's an invaluable one.
In the context of the workshop setting, I got extremely lucky when 99.9% of the rest of those that read 'Shadow,' found it a wonderful piece. But even if 99.9% of the workshop HAD sided with Mrs. Orange and her
detestation of the story's "broken overuse of adjectives," the .1% that
did enjoy it enjoyed it. And that made writing it worth it.
It was easy to visualize the fact that naysayers can be outnumbered, they can be niche. But even if they're not, I've concluded, who cares? Naysayers, in most events, aren't there to provide feedback, that's why they're called 'naysayers.'
They say, "Nay, nay, take it away!"
They're like hecklers, they're like zealots clinging to whatever faith has brought them to hating your writing. And that's okay, they can have that, because that just means they've missed the point.