I get trolls so rarely on my site. I suspect it’s because Exercising Monsters doesn’t exactly generate Geek in Heels-level numbers, but I also suspect it’s because I don’t court controversy very often.
A while back, I critiqued the website of a self-published author. It was one of the few times where I felt that I was specifically, precisely critical of someone’s work, and on reflection, it is probably the harshest bit of writing that I have ever done.
However, I do stand by the fact that it was meant to be a critique, not an attack, and I also stand by the fact that it offered enough material to fairly warrant that critique. I did not deliberately make fun of the author. I did not attack her on a personal level. I did not call her names, belittle her, or try to hurt feelings. I did, however, hold her to account when it comes to the label of “writer;” she applied that one to herself, with all of its expectations and consequences.
(Imagine if your neighbour built a rickety, dangerous, off-square, off-plumb, off-level deck and then showed up at your door with a business card that said “General Contractor” followed by his name. Would you question that title based on his work? I sure would, especially if I knew a bit about building myself.)
The fallout from the post was… weird. The author quickly contacted me through my personal Facebook account (not my Exercising Monsters Facebook page or via the comment or contact sections of the site itself, as would have been easier and simpler). She pretty much accused me of trying to ruin her life, and she added to this all kinds of intensely personal information about her past that was meant – I suppose – to make me feel bad for criticizing her work in any way. I explained to her that, as with any criticism, she could take what made sense and use it to improve her work, and she could take what she didn’t like and ignore it. I wasn’t trying to force her to improve her work. I just used her work as an example of how not to do things. She seemed mollified by that, but still managed to fire off a bunch of passive-aggressive shots at me on the way out of the conversation.
(The irony of this is the fact that, not long after we had this conversation, she actually applied many of my suggestions to her site. She changed her profile picture to one that was far less affected, removed the offensive URL list from her home page, and changed a few (but not all) of the spelling mistakes I had pointed out. I have neither asked for nor received credit for inspiring these changes, but I have trouble believing that they all occurred coincidentally.)
After the author left me alone, I started getting comments on my post from someone named “Travis,” who wanted me to believe that he came to the aid of the offended author seemingly out of the kindness of his heart. It didn’t take CSI level forensics to link his email to his public Facebook profile, which happened to include a picture of the author labeled as his mother. I don’t fault the man for trying to defend his mother’s supposedly damaged honour (I suspect I would have done the same), but the fact that he tried to pretend to be a complete stranger kind of killed his argument.
Aside from one random positive comment in November, the post has sat unread for quite a while. (I can tell from my statistical tracking tools.)
But then Reinhardt showed up.
As best I can determine, this is a random person from Toronto who (according to him (assuming it is a him, of course, since women are rarely this obnoxious)) just happened to come across my post and who wants me to feel really, really bad about it, my life, my writing, and my many other failings.
You can read all of his comments in their entirety here. Just scroll down until the screen gets filled with crazy. I will summarize some of his points for you, as they bear examining:
According to Reinhardt:
- I have a thick skull. (“It will take a while, considering the obvious thickness of that item…”) I’m okay with that. Having trained in MMA for years, and having been kicked, punched, and kneed in the head fairly often, a thick skull would be welcome. But I guess it was meant as some kind of Neanderthal-reference insult, so I should try to act hurt.
- My website’s name does not work well in extended metaphor. (“…if you cease to ‘exercise’ them, they might grow soft and be unable to hack any more…”) Again, I’m not too upset that a bit of my wordplay doesn’t pan out into Pilgrim’s Progress. Maybe he was trying to be clever. It’s so hard to tell under all that fluff.
- Teachers are useless; critics are worse. (“It is an old aphorism that those who can, do, those who can’t, teach, and those unable to do either become critics.”) Wow. Talk about painting with a broad brush. Even accepting the fact that Reinhardt relies on aphorisms and cliché like a couple of crutches he stole from Stephenie Meyer, it’s hard not to think of this as hopelessly ignorant. Maybe he should talk to Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw about how little a critic can do with himself.
- Spell check works differently on his computer than on all the computers in the history of the word processor. (“A writer who is for any reason incapable of writing concise and accurate english should *never* use a spell check: such things tend to reduce all they see into colonial patois.”) Firstly, English is capitalized (my spell check caught that one for me). Secondly, spell check, contrary to what Reinhardt seems to think it does, just checks for misspelled words. The good ones sometimes catch misplaced homonyms (i.e. their, there, they’re). And that’s about it. According to him, spell check would turn this:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
“Meh, there’ve been better years. I guess.”
Honestly, if his spell check can do that, it is pretty freaking amazing. And, lest it be left without another mention, Reinhardt isn’t nearly 18th century enough to pull off a line like “colonial patois” without sounding like a complete prig. He should know better.
- Editors are worse than teachers and critics. (“The street sweepers of the literary profession, these individuals perform a needed and useful function, leaving others free to do the real work.”) Ouch to all the editors out there, cleaning up the giant messes that he seems to think qualify as literary genius. (He says later that real writers don’t ever worry about things like grammar, spelling, mechanics, structure, plot, flow, etc. I’m not sure what he thinks is left over for writers to do. Maybe they sit around looking for excuses to use “métier” (note the use of the accent aigu to complete the proper spelling) from their Word of the Day calendar.)
- Good writers all compose in longhand with quills. (“Particularly telling that you are incapable of comprehending that anyone could write at all without mechanical aid.”) I didn’t say that. I implied that Reinhardt wants to marry his online thesaurus, but there are lots of talented people out there that don’t need one.
- Intelligent, constructive criticism is reserved for really good things only. (“Insights and advice are earned: you have been weighed, measured, and found wanting.”) I’m confused. (It must be my thick skull.) Isn’t the point of criticism to assess and address the things that are wrong with something? If I’m so wanting, why would Reinhardt not come up with some proof, some evidence, some critique? Why hide behind clichés that were already ruined by A Knight’s Tale? When you don’t offer an insight, you aren’t being a critic. You’re just being a troll. Trolls are mindlessly abusive hecklers. Critics use their brains.
- You don’t have to make sense to rant online. (“If you find the term “Colonial Patois” upsetting, then do not champion the use of gadgetry that is incapable of rendering into O.E.D. approved English.”) I think that he is trying to tell me that I should embrace the thesaurus and spell check that he claims he doesn’t use, while he explains that he used it just to scare me. It’s so hard to figure this one out. And again, my spell check has a UK English download. They all do. O.E.D. approved and all. I don’t use it because I live in Canada. Also, it would not do what he thinks spell check does. Maybe Reinhardt should do a Yahoo Answers search for this one.
- Writers don’t write books. Street sweepers do. (“You clearly are grossly ignorant of publishing: many well-known authors are incapable of writing decent prose. It will first go to a reader, who will tidy up typos, grammar and punctuation. It will then be passed on to an editor who will make suggestions to the writer as to content, plot and continuity, if it seems to be required. At each stage an in-process galley will go to the author for approval.”) This guy just got finished telling me that editors do menial labour (O.E.D. spelling) to free up the real writers, but now I’m being told that they have to all but write the damn book for them! I guess you have to be some kind of psychic to see past all the mess that the modern best-selling author presents these days. Maybe I just yearn for the days when a writer could be reasonably expected to try to learn how to write well before throwing on a beret and strutting about with their “I’m an auteur!” t-shirt on.
Thank you, Reinhardt, for teaching us so much about writing. You are a light in the darkness, shining brightly, not at all flowery and overwrought. And being such a dullard (capable only of sweeping streets, both literal and figurative), maybe I can someday be the lowly editor that will struggle, gasping and wheezing, through your pile of literary genius, picking through the comma splices, the dangling participles, the crippled prose, the variable, almost aggressive attempts at spelling (O.E.D. and otherwise), to find the hidden gem of brilliance hidden beneath.
Too bad I’m just a “failed teacher.”
(Your words, not mine.)