I’m not often put in a position where I’m likely to receive feedback on things that I write; or rather, I don’t often put myself in such a position. Occasionally, though, it happens. It’s one of the occupational hazards of putting words together. Or should I say, avocational hazards. I’m never going to get paid for fiction.
Some background: when I was in college, I took a couple of creative writing courses, because they sounded like fun and because they counted towards my major (I KNOW, RIGHT?). The first was part of a series of escalating dares with a good friend of mine, a biology major whom I’ll call Queen of the Lab, which began enrolling by in “Crafting Creative Nonfiction”* together and ended with a pass/fail elective called “Equestrian I” during out senior spring.**
I enjoyed writing stories, although I was invariably the odd duck because I never wrote about horrifically bad break-ups (always including cringe-inducing sex scenes, but with or without subsequent suicide attempts), or roman a clefs concerning short-term stays in mental hospitals (perhaps due in part to the aforementioned bad break-ups).***
I wrote about…oh, other stuff. The story about the industrial robot that may or may not be killing its human coworkers on purpose, because they’re @$$holes. Or the one about the long-suffering stage manager of the lavish entertainments (intermezzi) that were part and parcel of super-posh weddings in 16th-century Florence. Or the one about the squabbling coworkers in the haunted museum in Cardiff, and what happens when the crew of a schlocky reality TV show turn up to document the whole thing. Or the one in which two men decide to track a mythical monster through the Poconos because they’re drunk and also there’s this girl they’d like to impress and, being drunk dudes, they’re under the impression that being the first one to capture and kill a minor-league cryptid is the kind of thing that would bestow upon a suitor some competitive edge.
You know, that sort of thing.
And, invariably, there was one person who ‘d look up and say, “Hey, that’s cool!” while everyone else just shrugged and said, like, well-written and all, but they didn’t really “get it.” And that’s still pretty much the reaction I get to anything I do. The biggest compliment I ever received from an instructor was (after a very…long…pause), “You know, it’s really weird, but…I buy it. Yeah, I’m think I’m convinced.”
Of what precisely he was convinced, I couldn’t say. He didn’t elaborate, and I didn’t press for details.
Which brings us to the present day: I’d say that all the feedback I get tends to fall into approximately one category, which I’ve started to call “won’t play in Peoria.” There’s nothing WRONG with the writing, per se, it’s just not…idk, marketable, classifiable, normative, etc. The phrasing changes, but the underlying sentiment is remarkably consistent.
One of my favorites (so far) is “There’s something enchantingly quirky about this, but some oddness that I’m not entirely sure will fly.”****
Here’s the latest, an assessment of Off (Like a Prom Dress) & Running (On Empty) submitted to a contest:
I posted a photo, to save myself the effort of transcribing the surprisingly lengthy note. The general gist of it is that the protagonist, a high school student, is alienating and off-putting on account of being prickly, defensive, and a bit graphic/explicit in her choice of words.*****
This was WAY more feedback than I’d anticipated. I was expecting something along the lines of “You know, it just doesn’t work for me, I wish I could articulate why (*shrug*).” So I don’t really know what to make of this paragraph worth of feedback. I’m not sure I’ve ever had my work dismissed in MORE THAN ONE SENTENCE. So this is new and confusing and a little frightening — like the writing version of puberty.
Anyway, I don’t really have much of a response, I just thought it was interesting.