It’s been years since I posted here– been listening too much to others to write more than manuscripts and messages. O.O Not Sorry– but I’ve got something too heavy on my heart to keep in, and an obligation to other ND authors to not keep silent about a recent clusterfuck of critique group nonsense.
FWIW, I treasure most of my experiences inside UG. But it’s got some seriously messed up processes that keep lining up all messy and wrong, and hurting people who work their asses off, and I’m sick of shit like this all over the writersphere. I’ll let y’all be the judge, because I’m DONE appealing for help from UG’s founder or mods.
If you’re Autistic/ND,
UberGroup may not be safe for you.
Not because you’re ND, but because as soon as you mention it in reference to any disagreement, YOU become “the problem.”
Content warnings: antiblack apologetics, ableism, massive suckiness, gaslighting galore
After an extended hiatus from the Ubergroup*, I returned with a new account**, an agent***, several new projects, and a whole bunch of learning, and I hoped to slide back into an old or new team to share it all with my friends.
My most recent team was called KiDS, short for “Kids from the Darkside,” which had acquired a couple new members, but still had the same captain and another longterm CP (critique partner) active. I’d sat out for maybe a dozen cycles, but I was excited to be in familiar virtual territory, thrilled to catch up, and overjoyed to have something to give back.
I’m someone who can’t “go home,” not to any of the places or people that meant home. But returning to UG… It felt close. For about two days.
*Ubergroup is a members-only critique group on Scribophile.com. It’s separated into teams of ~5 authors, led by a captain volunteer, managed by a team of mod volunteers, and organized by 6-week cycles of swapping plus a break week between. More info’s on their off-Scribophile page. https://theubergroup.org/
**tldr; lockdown isolation, new meds(!), mindful detachments from scrolling time-sucks= I deleted my old Scribophile account, because all my swaps happened offsite, and I needed one fewer site to doomscroll and be upset about.
***Gosh, I’m really terrible at updating this site! My agent’s Rebecca Podos, an amazing and brilliant author-agent, and you should read her and my agent siblings’ books! They’re all heartbreakingly/healingly sassy and memorable!
See for yourself. I’ll transcribe the text as I go, because I believe in having receipts. And I’ll try my best not to interrupt the chronological flow too much, too.
I’m probably breaking all kinds of UG rules sharing this, but, honestly, fuck their ableism and racism and audacity to suck as much as they do and stay arrogant. As you’ll come to see in more detail as the story unfolds, I’m disabled. I’m autistic and ADHD, and the rest is my business.
persons quoted with screenshots
- Me (Jess/Song on Scrib, which I’ll surely delete AGAIN before posting O.O)
- Captain (Cpt)
- Old White Dude (OWD), but let’s be clear–the whole team is white
- Teammate #3 (T#3)
- Teammate #4 (T#4)
- terms to note–CP (critique partner), UG (Ubergroup), ND (neurodivergent), NT (neurotypical); (holler if I miss one you don’t recognize and I’ll add it)
I got exactly one critique in per active teammate (two, lol) before everything imploded.
Or rather, it wanted to implode, but all that got accomplished was a crapton of nothing, and me being disciplined, scolded, and fed the fuck up.
I’ve seen this exact scenario play out five times in the last three years, all in well-loved writing communities, with recognizable if not famous names, all run by people who profess the best of intentions. And nobody ever feels safe enough to say what really happened, and we rely on whisper networks and chance to know who and what to avoid. I HATE IT I HATE IT I HATE IT.
It started like most problems start. White dude being racist on the page and not liking being told about it. This guy, I’m calling him “Older White Dude” used a problematic word in the first chapter of an MG Cli-fi. I pointed it out, briefly, provided sources for the opinion, and I was ready to move on. (Read: ready to move on as in “dude’s subsequent behavior would determine how seriously I approached our working relationship;” his odds weren’t ever what I’d call “high”)
OWD decided to ask about it on my page (where critters typically post “thanks” or whatever), and I answered him in the team thread.
Me (critique): crossed out “dreadlocks” and commented, “Locs–dreadlocks is not preferred.”
(critique end comments) “references mentioned: (link)”
OWD (scratchpad note): You make some good points in this excellent crit. Thank you. PS-Who doesn’t prefer dreadlocks?
Me: Hi OWD! In answer to your scratchpad question: Black people and antiracists don’t prefer the term “dreadlocks.” The history of the term is inherently negative and its present day use is generally considered a microagression. Some resources if you’re curious: (links)
I want to point out that this was a rather small comment inside a 1300 word critique. One of my best critiques ever weirdly, if I’m allowed to think so. I spent hours on it. Trying to be fair and helpful and encouraging and enlightening and insightful, and all the things that get clickies on the site.
AND FOR WHAT? (For this post, apparently, and whatever y’all might learn from yet another adventure in Jess Jessing things up for themself because they noticed someone sucking all out in the open, probably. Maybe the post alone is enough, to say the truth, at least my perception of it with documentation, so that my brain fire settles and I can, you know, Human.)
Dreadlocks is not considered a pejorative term in Australia. One of our most revered AFL players, Nic Natanui, of Fijian descent, proudly refers to his hairstyle as ‘dreadlocks’. He is a Black person and and vehemently opposes racism, as do indigenous black Australians, and they all proudly use the term “dreadlocks”.
Australians do not relate to Rastafarians, members of the Jamaican religious group which consider Haile Selassie, the former Emperor of Ethiopia, to be God, and have problems with the term ‘dreadlocks’.
I don’t wish to mess with the heads of young Australian children (my readers) who only know this term as a complimentary and positive one, as do the vast majority of Australians who don’t see its use as a micro-aggression.
I’ve had many critiques of this chapter, and this has never been raised as an issue.
I’m not going to debate whether the dehumanization of Black people is a global phenomenon. Australia, Western Europe, America–we all struggle tremendously with antiblackness, so much that it’s embedded into our vocabulary.
It’s extremely common for marginalized peoples to reclaim such terms for themselves–turning what was meant to be harmful into a badge of honor. That doesn’t make it *not* a harmful term, however, when used by those outside those communities.
I too was raised with the term “dreadlocks” in a positive light, but time marches forward, as should understanding. There’s no end to the things I was taught were “ok” that were actually quite harmful. I, for one, will not allow my upbringing to absolve me from doing my utmost to discontinue that harm.
You are free to dismiss the note, of course, but the fact that I’m the only one who’s mentioned it doesn’t invalidate my reasoning.
So, like, I don’t know if you can tell, but this was me on my very very best behavior. I wasn’t being hostile, at least not for me. I gave him an immediate out! Granted, he took said immediate out so quickly that fed into the tailspin that followed.
agreed, but it means it’s a minority viewpoint which I do not share.
(in response to me mentioning trying to avoid harm): Good for you, but I see no harm.
Oh boy, DID I EVER do ALL the things before I replied.
ALL THE THINGS.
I expect that a great many of my comments and thoughts will not be those of the majority. Would you prefer for me not to critique for you, in that case?
OWD (I’m gonna stop typing thread now, lol):
OK. We can just skip each other’s work then, if that’s all right with the mods.
the Team Captain:
I’m out as well.
I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I follow. You don’t want to read for me/me to read yours either?
Cuz I’m feeling real unwelcome now (many emojis of distress)
Because this part is super critical to everything that happened after.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I follow,” is me completely losing my head confused. The captain, my teammates, all my CPs know I’m autistic, because I TOLD them that I’m autistic. All my main characters are autistic. All my kids. And my husband. Put a pin in that, though, for now, because IT SHOULDN’T FN MATTER.
There I was, back after ages, doing my best to follow all the rules of UG and the team, trying to respect a bunch of super racist comments from a team member, and our captain–who’s supposed to monitor and–oh, hey, I can just quote from the UG site:
Being a “Team Captain” consists of:
- Reading the stickied threads and bulletins and disseminating important information to your teammates, and fostering relevant discussions. Encouraging flagging teammates, fostering goodwill, and stirring the pot in the team discussion thread. Directing conversation and helping nudge participation in the general direction of the core principles of the Ubergroup.
- Being available to answer questions from your newer teammates. Of course, pass them on to a moderator or Uberlord if you don’t know the answer, but 90% of questions are simple things any veteran member can answer. Any member is welcome to answer any question in any thread, including other teams, but it really helps to have a specific veteran member assigned to keep an eye on each batch of 4-5 newbies, so no one goes unnoticed if they are lost.
- Coordinating your team’s weekly submissions, keeping track of exceptional circumstances and generally fostering communication. You help track participation by knowing what is going on with each of your teammates in your reply to the weekly post each week. “???” “TBA”, or failure to mention a listed teammate are not valid answers. You are asked to make all reasonable attempts to contact missing teammates and mark them definitively MIA if they do not respond.
- Letting Uberlord or the moderator know via PM if something seems to be amiss – one team member is not working out, someone is giving poor crits, a fight is brewing, etc. Team captains play good cop only, and DO NOT do any enforcing or breaking up of fights on their own.
All right, so anyway, there I was, doing my best to toe all the lines, and the captain, who was OBVIOUSLY watching the exchange (the “as well” gives that away), comes in and with NO CONTEXT drops his bombshell, “I’m out as well.”
Which didn’t get explained for daysssssss. OK. So he was REALLY in a bad place, and/or mad.
I do what I think I’m supposed to do and contact the team mod, who happens to be the uberlord himself. I don’t hear back from him (normal and fine), but from another mod who’s new and that was also a new friend. That mod’s response is coming up soon, but first some other teammates chimed in.
Teammate #3: ❤
Nah, babe. You’re welcome here. At least by me. Not much opportunity has come up for these types of social issues to be discussed in here. LGBTQ has come up a bit and in my opinion has been generally accepted, but seeing as we are predominantly white, I guess the race thing hasn’t had much screen time. So it seems like we are all just in different places with that rhetoric.
I personally agree with Song. It’s not super difficult to swap out a word for a more sensitive one. Kids adapt and are usually receptive to doing the right thing when it comes to social issues. But I also didn’t read the chapter nor the critique.
However, maybe it’s more about the purpose of this group. We are all here to practice writing. We get to know each other a tad, but the reality is, we are still just online strangers for the most part. So larger conversations not directly focused on writing might not be the best direction to attempt to take this. I’m willing to be called out about issues such as these, but not everyone is in the same headspace as me.
So, that’s my two cents. Everyone here has great things to offer in terms of writing critique and craft. Maybe politics and social justice is too big for us at this time.
I thought T#3 brought up a really great point. Significant even. Being a team of all white guys, the idea that they hadn’t challenged each other beyond queer stuff… It makes sense. It’s disturbing and not an ideal environment by any means, but that comment had me thinking on how to move forward, what I could bring, how I might help them weather those challenges that were certain to come sooner than later, by me or not.
Agreed, T#3. Let’s restrict our chats on this thread, and the comments in our critiques, to writing issues. Those who can’t bring themselves to do this, please join another group.
HOLY WTF, YEAH, THIS IS DEFINITELY WHEN I WENT INTO FULL MELTDOWN MODE.
Let me explain why, in case it’s not obvious.
POLITICS & SOCIAL JUSTICE CAN’T BE RESTRICTED IN DISCUSSIONS OF KIDLIT.
Because what one privileged asshole calls “politics” or “social justice” can encompass EVERY facet of a living human child’s real life. I absolutely canNOT with people who try to draw those lines.
Anyway, then my teammates tried to smooth things over. It went… poorly.
Am I right that it went poorly because they were too busy pussyfooting and POLITICING? You tell me, lol, because I kind of think it’s why most things go poorly, so I can’t be counted on to tell the difference.
Seriously, if you’re seeing anything in this chain of events that I seem to be missing, I WILL LISTEN AND LEARN AND LOVE YOU FOREVER AND DO NICE THINGS FOR YOU!
I know they tried. I love and appreciate them more for the trying.
Teammate # 3:
For the record though, I do sometimes insert sensitivity read type stuff into a critique. And I welcome them in my own work. If I ever do that and anyone has a question regarding where I’m coming from, feel free to hit me up. But also feel free to disregard.
I don’t disagree with that. I don’t think I am a good fit for the group right now. I will be stepping aside.
I don’t understand😭😫😭
Whoa, jeez. What happened here?
I’m not sure what to say in the midst of this. I find myself agreeing most with T#3’s posts.
For the most part, all I can do is speak for myself. As a cis white male, I don’t consider myself educated enough in marginalized perspectives to make sensitivity comments myself, but I welcome them concerning my work. Sometimes I make changes based on those comments and sometimes I don’t, but I always appreciate receiving them.
Other than that…yeah, I just don’t know what to say. This breakdown happened very quickly and I didn’t have time to process what was going on. I like everyone here personally (to the extent we know each other) and I like everyone’s work. I think it’s possible for the group to work out. But maybe the fact that I think that just means I’m naive, and maybe it would be best to spend a little time re-evaluating, and possibly moving forward with a different trajectory than we had before. I’m really saddened by that possibility, but life isn’t always perfect. People have different priorities and sometimes aren’t meant to get along, and that’s okay.
I’ve never been the kind of person who’ll muscle into a conflict and forcefully mediate. Even if I were, I find that usually does more harm than good anyway. We’re all adults here. So I’ll just say I’ll be watching the thread, I’m here if anyone has questions, and if things don’t work out one way or another, I hope it’s for the best.
Pause again, OK? Let’s process so far.
By this point, I might have sounded OK, but I was definitely NOT OK. Hence me reaching out to a mod, and the teammates I knew would be as uncomfortable as I was. They’re NT, and I’m not–more on that in a moment–so their hackles weren’t firing exactly like mine were, but the private messages were flying.
Because this was all horseshit. Avoidable. Easy to label and fix. Except it just kept going.
I had an emergency therapy session so I could keep functioning through my meltdown. I called on my support folks (I’m a writer, lol, so I have MANY) to gauge my tone, my behavior, the red flags, what to do, what was wise and safe and not going to steal months of my spoons and generosity or goodwill.
EVERYONE I talked to was like “Run awayyyyyyy; that’s so freaking toxic and it’s just going to hurt you!!!! Don’t hurt my Jess!”
But it’s not so easy to walk away from a familiar thing, let alone a thing that was crucial to my writing journey. I love the 6-week cycles, the comradery and regular feedback. I suffer without them.
And HELLO PANDEMIC?? I’ve hardly left one floor of my house for over two years, and I’m isolated as hell, which hurts my work and kids and then it gets all physical and I can’t anything at all. UGHHHHHH. I’m already no-contact from most of my favorite people alive, because of how toxic they are to me and my family. I needed this. I was ready to give it ALL my free time and knowledge and ideas and UGHHHH, UG.
I’m oversharing, ffs. See? This is why it was so hard to give up.
I believed in the UG system. Maybe I still do, with some tweaks. No good reason why, really, because I’ve seen others burned badly before by situations disturbingly like this latest of mine, but I’m an optimist.
I wanted to hope, so I did.
But did y’all notice how the captain was out as soon as I was in? Remember that.
Enter the mod/friend. I hope she can forgive me for following my conscience with this post and massive rule breaking. There will be consequences…
I’ve been warned…
Sorry, y’all don’t know that bit yet. First, what the mod had to say about a month ago.
I’m so sorry that you’re going through all of this. I know how much you were looking forward to getting back into a serious writing group, and this was the last thing you wanted for this experience. I especially feel for the feeling out of sync with your fellow writers. We’re both in weird in between states right now, and it makes it really hard to feel like you’re fitting in with your fellow writers, which only adds to the frustration and anxiety.
I want to address the misgendering thing especially, and say how sorry I am. I am pretty sure it was a mistake, but it’s never a good feeling to have, especially on top of everything else, and I can tell how much it added to your stress.
So, here’s where we’re at right now. There was a communication SNAFU all around in the thread. I want to take the time to say I see how this all went down for you. You were asked for information, you answered, and then it was dismissed. This is incredibly frustrating to deal with, especially as, and you pointed this out, our existences our political, so it’s not easy for us to just ignore those issues that cause pain for others.
We’ve joked about this before, recently even, but it’s important to know when to let off the gas so to speak and back away from a conversation that’s turned unproductive. I know that line is sometimes hard to see, especially when you’re in it already. G-d knows I’ve stepped over it unintentionally a thousand times, but there comes a point where to keep pushing on something that a person has already shown themselves to be resistant on isn’t going to do anything but cause conflict. It’s frustrating. i know. I get it, but sometimes you’ll change a mind more easily if you let someone just sit with the information, and sometimes, no matter what, you just won’t, and as hard as that is to accept, we have to let it go. The mods have been looking at how everything went down and getting together some info for you that you could probably use as a guideline going forward. We have several autistic and ADHD mods / mods who are in very close emotional relationships with autistic people. They’re familiar with needing to interface between ND and NT communication styles and would love to offer a couple tricks that might work in this case if you’d be interested.
It’s also important to try and give people the benefit of the doubt, and I think that OWD did a good job owning up to and explaining his side of things. I’ve received far worse in the way of apologies, so I think I have a good scale.
We want you to feel both safe and supported at the Ubergroup, with your stories and with your peers. Right now, groups seem a little limited, but things tend to pick up in fall and winter, and we were talking in the mods group about putting together a neuro-divergent focused group at some point in the future to better foster a space for disability rep.
For now, I want to ask you how you want to proceed with KIDS. I know the fit isn’t perfect, in terms of writing and communication styles, but if we were to move forward with a no-crit agreement in place for you and OWD, would you be interested in continuing there for the next cycle and possibly picking up other groups later?
Let me know what works best for you.
One loud voice (among many) in my brain is telling me to break that down for you above. I think I still might, but only because it’s got so many wise/good things paired with awful/off things that it warrants more attention. Maybe next time I post I’ll have the spoons for that, if y’all care.
For now, I’ve bolded the bits that are important to note, because somehow that’s where the conversation goes next.
Not racist apologetics. Not discovering a way to NOT encourage them.
There are so many red flags. Not from the mod so much as from the culture behind her, which is a whole thing that I keep running into in every organization, but my therapist swears it’s NOT me. I just see it. Because it’s everywhere.
My youngest had the perfect analogy:
You can’t help being fire, Mom. And it’s not your fault folks keep choosing flammable clothes.Cipher, 12yo (better at similes than me)
Love my kids. I mean, I pretty much like all kids, to be fair, but mine are spectacular in the coolest ways.
Back to the fray
Being friends with the mod, newish, but still, I felt comfortable sharing my thoughts as they happened. I honestly believed that was the whole point in having her reach out instead of the Uberlord, but what do I know?
I thought my words were safe with her. With the Uberlord too. That my thought processes in private wouldn’t be weaponized to mangle the actual incident into something it wasn’t.
ME (dms to mod):
I’m going to have to disagree on a few points here before I fully respond. Please bear with me?
First, I wasn’t unhappy or bothered by my comment/answer getting dismissed–that was a nothing. I was, and am, bothered by Why it was dismissed and How.
When I responded to OWD’s reading of the resources I shared (which he’d asked for), I wasn’t trying to argue his rejection of the point; I was only providing context from my experience with similar misunderstandings.
Offering not to swap with OWD was the only polite way to address his defensiveness, and that’s as far as anything needed to go, in my opinion, had that been the end of the context. But it wasn’t.
Second, as for owning up… I’m going to pull some words from thread that he used in reference to me/my opinions/critique:
“SWAMPED” (regarding 20 words max out of 1300)
“vehicle for extreme views I don’t find relevant and waste my time”
leading to his last post, which is in no way an apology. It is an admission of fault, yes, alongside a medical excuse for behavior, but not an apology. There was no “I’m sorry” or “I apologize for,” just a willingness to accept blame. There was no “Song, I mistreated you, specifically, and then verbally berated you and anyone who agrees with you about these things you were willing to drop amicably.”
Has he owned up in a fashion? I’ll grant that he has, in his way. But it’s not an apology, so I can’t say I’m good with it, nor do I feel like I should be, seeing as I have no reason to believe this won’t happen again.
As for the team…
I’m chewing still, listening to the others in thread talk without me speed-replying. Here’s my right-now thoughts with it:
I’m not comfortable with Captain remaining captain without addressing his silence about the matter at hand, his timing in chiming in that he’s out too, and the “don’t fit” comments without context.
Unless T#3 is going to be posting–which I don’t think he will be–then the team consists of me and T#4 only, with a backseat captain, a drive-by chatter, and an unpredictably hostile extra. I don’t see how that’s conductive. Like, it actually sounds super toxic?
I am watching to see if StorybookDreamers are going to have a seat, perhaps, though whether or not that’s where I should go either?? IDK?? Maybe I just don’t belong anywhere in uber
I even looked up my old retired team (Miners for Truth in Allusion) to see if I could revive it somehow for 61, because that format was badasssss for me, and could survive with as few as 3 members comfortably. I’d still need to get my feet wet in a team for 60 to do that though, so…
I’m open to alternative ideas. I’d love to hear them if y’all have any.
Also I would LOVE to hear more about the guideline you mentioned, as well as any tricks the other NDs have found helpful!!! PLEASE YES PLEASE
I’m sorry for word-sploding; I’ve been sent sideways by all this. Thanks for holding my hand, and thanks to the mods too. I still don’t think this is resolved for me, but THANK YOU, and I really appreciate your help!!!
**timing update, just FYI for all**
I will have to decide what I’m going to do this weekend (whether it’s same/altered, new, old team, reserves, whatever).
I’m still chewing on my thoughts. I do realize I’ll never get the apology that I want, lol. I don’t feel I can trust the captain to even respond to me, let alone mediate responsibly. I sent OTHER TEAM CAPTAIN a message to feel out the dreamers, and if they are open to adding me in there. But I don’t want to make any major moves until I hear more from you and the other mods. THANK YOU AGAIN
(T#3 quoted): Maybe politics and social justice is too big for us at this time.
Like… I hear this sentiment, and Captain readily agreed, but like…
This isn’t possible for me, like I explained. Nor do I think it’s responsible authoring or beneficial workshopping. I don’t wish to step on toes, but–similarly–I’m not willing to twist myself into pretzels of dysfunctionality to avoid it.
I’ll be around to listen and/or answer any questions that y’all have for me tomorrow and Friday, if you have any, but I expect I’ll need to make my decisions this weekend on how I need to move forward.
**AND THEN I ACTUALLY SHUT UP?? I REALLY ACTUALLY DID!!!!**
the team discussion
It went pretty much as eggshell tiptoe-y as one might imagine…
Watch out for that. It’s not OK. A safe place is not one where folks have to tiptoe around basic human issues.
I’m not uncomfortable with political and social issue type discussions, especially as pertaining to my writing and others’. I think it’s important to be responsible socially in our work because once published, it reaches a variety of eyes, and represents who I am and what I stand for.
But I’m also ok with people ignoring my commentary when I bring up issues in their writing. It is, after all, their writing. I’m not here to argue. If I make a suggestion or point something out, I’ve done my part. From there, it’s on the author, and eventually the agent/publisher.
So I am ok with whatever everyone else decides. I welcome discussion but am also happy to just keep plugging along.
Teammate #4 (heroically):
Well, I can’t speak for the team and not just because I’m relatively new to it. But I would feel very uncomfortable even existing in, let alone nurturing, an environment of censorship of certain types of feedback. Even if I found a particular comment unhelpful, for any reason, I wouldn’t want the person to stop giving me comments like it. Helpfulness is unpredictable. Any comment has the potential to help.
I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to walk on eggshells around certain topics, especially those important to them personally and professionally.
(me quoted): I’m not willing to twist myself into pretzels of dysfunctionality to avoid it.
Agreed, you shouldn’t have to.
(T#3 quoted) I’m not uncomfortable with political and social issue type discussions, especially as pertaining to my writing and others’. I think it’s important to be responsible socially in our work because once published, it reaches a variety of eyes, and represents who I am and what I stand for.
I feel the same way with my own work. Though my core themes have trended more towards mental health than social issues, I do try to align my work with progressivism.
That said, I’ve picked my audience, and that works for me. A different approach to the craft may work for someone else.
(T#3 quoted) So I am ok with whatever everyone else decides. I welcome discussion but am also happy to just keep plugging along.
I’m also here to discuss. We’re all adults here. I want to believe that if there’s a conflict, we can settle it to satisfaction just by being honest with ourselves and each other. There’s a “best” way forward for everyone, and I’m interested in exploring what that looks like.
(T#4 quoted): Even if I found a particular comment unhelpful, for any reason, I wouldn’t want the person to stop giving me comments like it.
I’m not objecting to occasional references to words people find objectionable (racist, sexist, etc). It is often very useful to know this and my writing has often benefited by becoming aware of such alternative viewpoints. I just don’t want to have to read critiques that are SWAMPED by them and I don’t want critiques of my work to be used as a vehicle for extreme views which I don’t find relevant and which waste my time.
Me (reading along silently, aka lurking):
Teammate #4 (being masterfully tactful in a manner I’ll NEVER figure out):
Sorry, OWD, I guess I’m just confused, and I’m hoping you can help me understand your perspective.
Are you saying that you found Song’s crit to be swamped with notes of this nature? Because I went ahead and read the crit in question, and found only one single note that had anything to do with real-world politics. Every other note was about craft.
So yes, I’m just wondering where your frustration is coming from. We obviously had different experiences reading the crit, so please help me see yours. Was it that note that frustrated you, or something different?
OWD (to T#4):
The text in Song’s critiques was okay, it was the several web links I was directed to read which did me in.
However, I admit fault here. I shouldnt have made comments while ‘under the weather’ (opioid pain drug withdrawal). I see now that they were out of character. Thats why I moved myself to the reserves bench for the remainder of the cycle and I should have kept my mouth shut (as planned) until the start of the next cycle.
Having emerged from a drug-induced brain fog I realise I have been ‘over the top’ with my comments about Song’s critiques. When I made them, I didnt realize my drug withdrawal was making me extra irritable and over-reactive. I also don’t appreciative what its like for someone to be ‘on the spectrum’.
I’m willing to take the blame for the current state of affairs. I hope it will help clear the air and allow all of us to proceed in our usual friendly cooperative manner, but I’m also prepared to leave the group if necessary, as, sadly, Captain seems determined to do.
this was supposed to pass for an apology??
Like, I get having disabled moments that are super hard to explain, and worse to try to actually fix. I GET IT. But this wasn’t that, from any angle I can see. OWD wasn’t talking to me, but about me. He admits to showing poor judgment, but completely avoids the topic at hand, making everything about disability.
His and mine.
It’s on me, somehow, to interpret that he’s sorry? How? And wth is with the quotes around over-the-top and on-the-spectrum?
And now that I checked out, everybody can go back to being friendly? Meaning… unchallenged? Is this supposed to be a critique group or a massage circle?
Having lost an entire week to this drama and emotional trainwreck (of my friendships, future swapping schedule plans, word count, loyalties, and psychological wellness), the time for me to make MY decision about who I work with and how had come.
I couldn’t count on T#3 to post work or be available to read, for totally good reasons. And though I LOVE working with T#4 (A DIAMOND, THIS GUY), he and I both knew that 2 doesn’t a team make, and we both desperately wanted/needed an active discussion group. Further, I was pretty dang sure the captain was furious with me, but I didn’t know why (still don’t really??), so swapping even for a cycle later on didn’t look at all appealing.
I couldn’t trust my captain to captain me too. He and OWD completely ignored me in thread, like I went invisible. They talked about me, not to me. And the misgendering was pretty rampant, but I was TRYING to ignore it.
And, really, what value is there in a discussion group when we’re coming from such completely disparate worldviews? When I read something racist, I can’t NOT say, “No, ew, not cool. This is for kids. And not cool regardless, wtf.” (No, of course I don’t word my critiques like that, lol. Certainly not with old white dudes? I use sources. I quote KIDS talking about how that shit HURTS.)
Same with misogyny. Ableism. Fatphobia, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia, sexual assault that stands in for weak plot and characterization, or just general suckiness of messages FOR KIDS that HURT PEOPLE.
How is that possibly something to disagree with? You don’t care if you hurt kids? Even your own kids??? FUCK YOU THEN. You’re a monster.
I definitely don’t want to read your unedited book.
I mean, damn. To quote a dear CP who doesn’t suck, “Get down off your privilege pony, ffs.”
Anyway. I made my decision. I also cried for four days straight, because it freaking HURT. Y’all who know me well, aka my readers (LOVE LOVE LOVE YOU EACH AND EVERY ONE), know I shrivel up like an abandoned houseplant without consistent, collaborative, soul-to-soul connecting feedback.
But UG wasn’t safe for me. Not anymore, if it ever was.
AND THAT SUCKSSSSSSS.
me (final thread post):
So I’m back and I’ve caught up with the thread, and I’m guessing no one had questions for me? Anyway, I’m still not really satisfied/comfortable with the state of things.
I too am not here to argue. I’m here to share information I have, to probe into stories and their directions/impacts, and discuss openly without personal rancor.
I don’t, however, feel like we have a firm resolution. As it stands, there will only be me and T#4 swapping, plus perhaps him and OWD swapping–which doesn’t a “team” make. I’m confident I have a great deal more value to add than this arrangement would allow, and that I will need more from discussion than a single teammate should have to give alone.
I’ve proposed joining the Dreamers, but that remains up in the air as of today.
So rather than be a point of discord, I’m going to step back into reserves (with real reservations, honestly, about the viability of the team). I was so hopeful that my time apart leveling-up would be an asset to my old friends, but I’m not sensing that it would be welcome, nor that I (and my own peculiarities) am. I worry for the team at large losing its growth-mindset, which, to me, is the whole point of an ubergroup team.
I wish everyone well, and I LOVE YOU, whether you believe it or not, lol. I hope that, without me, the attention to team politeness will transfer to the benefit of potential young readers instead of the whims of adult writers. 🤗❤️🤗
That was over a month ago. I gave up on news from the mods a week later after getting no response from nudges. Heard from the mod that the uberlord was unavailable, and that was why. I was too hurt by then to care.
Or so I thought.
The Captain’s return
Now that I had said my goodbyes, the captain was ready to captain. Back to normal, everyone.
Folks say I’m intimidating, but I don’t get that at all. I’m complex and type fast, but I’m transparent as hell. I don’t think the captain’s intimidated by me, though. Seems more like he just hates me, but welcomed me back anyway, for some reason? :shrugs:
I have every intention to return next week and be posting.
We all, as a group, need to agree to clear guidelines as to where to step back when clarifying positions.
We often forget one of the critique guidelines for the Ubergroup:
Focus on the big picture. We “content edit” or “developmentally edit”: we examine issues like plot, character, premise, voice, and pacing. We request you DO NOT “copy edit”–that is, nit-picking grammar, punctuation, word choice, etc–unless your teammates specifically request it as an additional service
(btw, all this information is available on http://theubergroup.org if anyone is interested)
Which is only human. I do it, you do it – its how we’re built on this site. It’s tough to not comment if we see an obvious grammar error or a sentence clangs in our ears. that being said – this is also on the Ubergroup site:
Ask for sources. When making any sweeping statements, such as “adverbs are bad” or “prologues don’t work,” please cite exactly what authority said that. “Some blog on the internet” is not adequate.
If someone cites a source and you still disagree, walk away. In the end it’s your story, write it your way. Trying to establish “rightness” isn’t going to lead to an epiphany, it will likely lead to an argument. No one is the teacher here, we’re all the students.
We have had some friction. I am not sure what ‘a firm resolution’ would look like. There are always compromises. Going forward, I want us to focus on the stories.
Also, make sure to give clear critique guidance at the top of your stories. It will help guide your critiquer to the areas you wish focused on.
The team has been around since Cycle 3, in one form or another. I’m hoping to continue that for as long as kids want to read MG stories of all stripes.
OK, Captain. Whatever.
I was out, y’all. I’d been out since the “I’m out as well” post the week before, so… I turtled.
I read, mostly to see what my T#3&4 buddies would do. If even They would really be safe longterm or not.
I wish this weren’t so hard. That I didn’t have to be so careful. But I do. Not just for my sake but for kids. Readers. The only ones whose opinions about harm matter.
The team started their new cycle. It’s rolling along with nary a disagreement or difficult challenge. I think the mods take that as evidence of me being the problem.
No, worse, I come to find out last night.
My disability and my inability to DISCLOSE IT APPROPRIATELY was the real problem.
Don’t believe me? Read for yourself, from our now-agented and full-of-himself Uberlord.
Thank you for your patience as the mod team evaluated all interactions and sorted through our thoughts on the topic.
We’re at a crossroads in the Ubergroup with balancing the needs of individuals. There are many ways in which it’s clear you need an ND-focused team to support your growth and participation in an ideal manner. However, we are entirely a group of volunteers that are paid “in kind”–as in, what we all get from this situation is assistance on our own projects. This means that in order to receive accommodations to your specific needs, you also have to be able to accommodate the needs of others by participating in ways they find beneficial.
It has taken the moderation team a long time to gather the following information for your benefit because it is an entirely voluntary thing we are doing after everything else we need to do in our lives. We want to mention that not because we want you to grovel in a show of gratitude, but because we want you to understand why there will be huge delays in response. We are all happy to help other people, always. However, the queue is very, very long.
As far as your interactions with the KiDS, fundamentally we feel you are coming from a perspective where you expect Captain (and everyone you work with) to accommodate and support your needs without considering how you are accommodating and supporting theirs. We found there’s a lot to unpack in your statements “a drive by captain” and “explain his silence.”
Non-posting captains are common in the Ubergroup and this is generally seen as a public service rather than a shortcoming. When an overextended person who might otherwise want to go on hiatus continues to assemble the paperwork of others (despite putting forth no work of their own upon which they might be “paid” in helpful feedback) that is an act of un-reciprocated generosity with their time. There is an alarming air of entitlement in the notion that a captain continuing to do part-time work while he really wants to be on hiatus “should” still be working full time for your benefit.
Secondly, we see what looks like a common misunderstanding between the neurodiverse–especially people with autism–and neurotypicals. I believe MOD mentioned to you that a large number of moderators, myself included, have extensive personal experience with several types of neurodiversity including autism and its common comorbidity, ADHD. We are offering you the following based on our personal experiences and because you told her you’d love to hear any tips from fellow NDs on how to interface more smoothly with NTs. Please be aware that not everything we’re about to share is a matter of Ubergroup policy, but rather our best attempt at advice to help you out in general: Silence is often the lesser of two evils from NTs. Frequently it is the only way to be polite to someone they are very irate with; it’s largely viewed as kinder than saying “what the actual fuck?” out loud. It is societally widespread and unlikely to change that “thanks, but this is not for me” is a better thing to say than “OMFG you are being a total asshole.”
Therefore, we believe it might benefit you to just accept and assume that when a person–ND or NT–simply drops out of a conversation, it may be because you have significantly irritated them and dropping out is better than yelling. This is not a “those rascally NTs and their expectations!” thing. This is a straight up commonplace “people are taught across many societies to not react in anger” thing, and an all-around good idea.
If you are not sure whether a person is being silent because they would otherwise be frustrated to the point of screaming, check with third parties for verification. Of course, sometimes people might be silent by happenstance. In cases of uncertainty, the best option is to disclose “Because I’m autistic, I have difficulty telling if someone is being silent because they are irate and don’t want to speak rudely, or if they just happen to be silent. Please clarify verbally what is going on, or I may not understand the situation.”
This leads to the next important thing for working with people of unknown neurological typicality or diversity (explicitly mandatory in the Ubergroup, suggested as likely useful everywhere): If you wish for the needs of your autism to be understood, you need to disclose its existence and what aspects of social interaction you can’t read well so others can adjust their communication in a way that suits you. People CANNOT guess it. You cannot expect the world to communicate on your terms unless you tell them upfront what those terms are. If you aren’t comfortable disclosing your autism, you are of course not obliged to do so, but the flip side of that is you can’t be surprised when people don’t know how to accommodate you as a result.
To be very clear, a very brief mention that is buried under the volume of other conversation is not adequate disclosure. You did technically say that you struggle with how you come across, but it was a brief aside in one paragraph once and without enough emphasis to catch anyone’s attention before the later collision. As a writer, you understand how the order, presentation, and quantity of words affects the impression they give, and this is equally true in nonfiction conversations. A brief and passing mention that is substantially outweighed by the volume of things you say in general is so hard to notice, the method is often used by con artists as a trick to disguise key information they want people to miss but which they legally have to disclose.
You said: “He better explain himself,” but you did not explain yourself first. Expecting someone to take “I struggle with how I come across” and extrapolate it to a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of neurodiversity is no different than an NT person expecting you to infer from Captain’s other context clues about being Canadian and habitually polite that if he’s silent, it means he’s trying to disengage before he gets angry. The world cannot guess you are ND nor what type of ND you are without information. It would in fact be presumptuous and invasive for them to try to guess uninvited. It is impossible for the world at large to have respect for your privacy while also having a clairvoyant understanding of your unique needs: either you tell them what you need, or you don’t act surprised and offended when they don’t know.
Additionally, laying all this groundwork does not mean anyone will elect to accommodate you. No one in the Ubergroup is required to be anyone’s therapist, tutor, or special needs assistant. Remember that this is free and voluntary in all directions, and requiring more work from people than they feel they gain in benefit from you is not something anyone has to agree to. Absolutely NO ONE is obliged to learn to accommodate anyone else if they would just rather not work with them. Captain would have been 100% in the right to simply say “I’m sorry, I don’t think you’re a good fit for my team at this time” and remove you with no further explanation. The KiDS are his team. The captain who starts any team has done so to benefit themselves and the people who find similar things useful. No person is obliged to help anyone who doesn’t help them in turn.
In order for you to succeed in the Ubergroup long term, we need to ask you to please readjust your fundamental attitude and expectations regarding what you are owed. You are demanding intense amounts of labour and time from your teammates, captains, the moderation team and me with the expectation that you are owed it, and therein lies the problem. You are demanding this time and effort in much larger quantity than anyone else on the team last cycle at the time of flare-up, who all universally behaved with de-escalation, self-awareness, self-modulation, and gratitude. To emphasize again, no one–not a captain, not a teammate, not a mod, not me–is obliged to put in more work than they feel they are getting in benefit from others. That’s the baseline currency: mutual benefit.
I would like to officially ask you to please stop posting even conversationally in the KiDS thread. I am removing you from the “reserves” there. You are still welcome in the Ubergroup as a whole, and anyone who perceives your participation as a benefit is invited to keep working with you. This includes individual members from the KiDS who might like to work with you on a new team elsewhere. But what you fundamentally need to understand is that you are obliged to contribute a perceived benefit to others equal or greater to than the perceived effort they put in for you, and that no one owes you anything unless you hold up that end of the bargain.
Summary of my final decision as the director of the Ubergroup: you are not permitted to remain on the KiDS even as a reserve member in any capacity, though if individual members find a crit partnership with you beneficial, those members are welcome to form a separate new team together with you. The members that both get along on the KiDS and on this hypothetical new team are welcome and encouraged to do both, but it is important to emphasize that the members who don’t enjoy working with you are NOT obliged to and have a right to a team they find pleasant, inspiring, and beneficial to work with. You are invited to solicit other individual members for a placement on their teams or the formation of a new team IF you decide you are comfortable disclosing your neurodiversity upfront and giving guidance on the nature of the communication you will need to flourish, and if you are willing to continually explain your needs as your teammates gradually learn to accommodate them. You will need to approach all members, captains, and moderators with a clearly modified attitude about your own rights and responsibilities going forward. Please know that this constitutes an official “final warning” and your continued membership is contingent upon us not seeing the same issues going forward.
Although the moderation team is willing to answer further questions and give clarification and more tips, please sit with this feedback and digest it for at least the rest of this cycle before firing off any questions. If you do have questions in the future, please be aware there may be a similar time delay in processing them.
No, the fuck, no.
I did NOT sit and digest this supremely ableist, atrocious assault on myself, my behavior, my motivations, and my PEOPLE.
This was NEVER IN ANY ASPECT about MY disability. Maybe OWD’s, but mine was circumstantial and irrelevant to the entire “flare-up,” which was always AND ONLY about a racist term and one old white dude’s conniption fit about me saying so. Twenty words in a 1300 word critique.
Then it became about our captain not captaining, and totally checking out rather than engage with me at all, or the topic, or the larger context of the fact that he and I had the exact same discussion about the same word some six years ago now.
It’s about “aspiring” authors not caring if they hurt kids. It’s about them refusing to engage with the ways that they most certainly will, and they could absolutely stop just by swapping racist terms for ones that aren’t. Easy as five clicks.
But noooooo…. now it’s about ME being, let’s look at these writerly word choices, shall we?
According to the Uberlord, grand ruler of a forum that, according to them
focus[es] on accountability and teamwork. We’ve been described as over-achievers and workaholics. We value the ability to meet deadlines almost as much as we emphasize the importance of setting reasonable, attainable goals — and communicating them accurately. A dedicated team of team captains and moderators ensure that teams are suitably matched in pace and personality, and that the quality of feedback remains top-notch, in terms of both tone and usefulness.
- clearly disabled and somehow expecting a special needs assistant
- demanding (of labor that’s more than anyone else)
- demanding accommodations but not offering any
- alarmingly entitled
- oblivious to the fact that silent NT people are probably super pissed at/with me, but I’m encouraged to view their silence as “kindness”
- out of touch with the world at large, like, really, Jess; there’s you, then the world, and you’re not part of it
- required by official UG decree to DISCLOSE my ND status and needs ad nauseum and whenever anyone else desires it
- comparable to a con artist if I DON’T disclose constantly and to the UG’s standard of appropriate
- UNBENEFICIAL (is that even a word? Idek)
- fundamentally (that came up A Lot) flawed in my attitude and expectations
- Oh, and I’m frustrated with things that I’m actually not, offended by things that I’m actually not, and think I’m owed things that I actually don’t
- Responsible for my teammate’s continual education into my brain and brains like mine, because how else could they possibly know anything if I don’t tell them
I’m gonna chunk this up a bit so I can ramble and explain the things I didn’t care to say to him. Any ND folks looking to join or in UG, BEWARE. Your over-achieving isn’t the same as theirs. And requests for assistance will lead to attacks framed as “help” like the one above.
Me (DM to Uberlord):
“We found there’s a lot to unpack in your statements “a drive by captain” and “explain his silence.” Non-posting captains are common in the Ubergroup and this is generally seen as a public service rather than a shortcoming.”
Neither of my comments had anything to do with Captain not posting works, but were about him not participating when things got hairy and I was being lambasted and treated like an extreme freak for mentioning a widely held opinion and providing sources.
“Silence is often the lesser of two evils from NTs. Frequently it is the only way to be polite to someone they are very irate with; it’s largely viewed as kinder than saying “what the actual fuck?” out loud. It is societally widespread and unlikely to change that “thanks, but this is not for me” is a better thing to say than “OMFG you are being a total asshole.”
At no point did I behave in the ways described above. I was definitely thinking it, just like I’m thinking a number of things now that I’m also not saying. I appreciate having the advice shared, but I don’t find it relevant to the situation.
I obviously totally missed his point here until after I sent my response.
I’m kinda glad for that, honestly, because instead of feeling hurt by “People are silent because they hate you,” I was only miffed about being misunderstood as verbally cruel.
Which I’m definitely not. Aloud, anyway.
Me (DM to Uberlord cont’d):
I communicated personally with Captain, T#3, T#4, and T on reserves, prior to being returned to UG forum. I posted about my autism multiple times in thread and messages, how it affects me and my writing, and struggles I’ve had with being misunderstood and misinterpreted.
So, first, how dare you. How dare any mod look at this record and say “THEY should’ve been more explicit about their disabilities,” when the situation was about RACISM AND RACIST WORDS.
I was clear. I repeated myself as I noticed neurotype issues coming up. I shared some of my best craft tools about it even, in critique and in thread. How dare you.
As for my fundamental attitude and expectations regarding what I’m “owed”:
I don’t feel I’m owed anything. I was here to give and share, to connect and help any way my help was wanted. That’s it.
- I petitioned to rejoin weeks ahead of time so I could catch up, get to know the members new to me and everyone’s current works and needs.
- I invited critiques of my critiques multiple times, in thread and post, indicating my willingness to adjust my approach to best suit their visions and goals.
- I read up ahead of time by weeks, clarified points I could tell would likely come up later based on the craft development, and followed the UG rules about source materials, stepping aside immediately and contacting mods when I recognized an issue brewing.
- I poured my heart out to answer questions to teammates and mods, you and MOD, trying to vent my frustrations in a safe way by people I trusted to understand the differences between what I was experiencing versus what I was posting publicly.
- I posted my concerns in thread, specifically, and allowed days for others to discuss without me intruding. And after that, I followed through with the timing and shared my decision, wishing the others success. Wishing them a good cycle was my ONLY post in cycle 60, aside from a relevant quote from an industry pro.
- I didn’t ask for any advice from mods; it was offered, and I said, “Yes, please, I would appreciate that.”
- When I realized I wasn’t getting responses from you or MOD, I refrained from messaging further. At no point in time was I alerted to “asking for too much labor.” And even when I was venting, it was in conjunction with working on possible solutions, alternatives, and potential opportunities for ways UG might continue to grow in value, safety, and community.
For THIS set of behaviors I’m given a final warning? And called entitled. Based on what–my venting to you and MOD privately about the breakdown I was having because of how unsafe I felt?
The reasoning here is absurdist, and the defense of a racist having a tirade is unconscionable.
So yeah, how fucking dare you.
I work with dozens of professional NT authors and industry folks on a daily basis. For those authors, I’m their very first reader for every project because of the value and impact of my feedback on their stories and craft.
The few NTs I struggle to communicate with regularly are the ones whose prejudices are only eclipsed by their egos, who get defensive and go on the attack when facts and sources don’t line up with their opinions/prejudice. That’s NOT on ME. Those aren’t relationships worth investing into, in my opinion.
But staying silent, as suggested, particularly in those situations, is complicity with bigotry, and not “polite” behavior. Not with CPs or editors or readers or the public at large. It’s literally uncivil to everyone but the one getting defensive.
Captain’s reactions to the entire exchange were dismissive of me and my input, and he singled me out after OWD already had, and he offered no support for me as a writer or a teammate. I and my words were invalidated by consensus.
I care about Captain, but that was messed up and hurtful, and if that’s an example of good UG captaining, then UG truly is at a crossroads–between valuable or stagnant, and between being a positive example of industry standards or NOT.
I have no desire to return to KiDS, not after what happened, not after this horrifically offensive message from you, and certainly not with this getting brushed under the rug and blamed on me. I didn’t say so [in] thread, because I had no desire to ruffle more feathers on a personal matter. (Racist terms aren’t a personal matter, especially not when writing for kids.) I’ll always keep working with T#3, and I’ve happily added T#4 into my rotation.
I’M A FREAKING GIVER who’ll drop anything to help a teammate or CP through a story crisis or an author tangle, despite how much [I] babble.
This was a mess, and, at least this time, the mess wasn’t Me.
The mess was OWD, then Captain’s poor captaining of anyone but OWD. And now the mess is yours and the mods, since I’ve been silenced and dismissed again.
As for this “final warning,” that’s the final straw for me too, in my trust that the mods are able to run a functional and nontoxic space. Boot me if you like, but I promise it’ll be someone else’s loss while I keep growing. The concerns I’ve raised will remain, and they’ll come up again and again until addressed with sensitivity and wisdom.
I already had waning faith in UG, and NOT because I’m autistic or ADHD or marginalized other ways, nor because I’m loud and stubborn and post “a lot” (which most of my longtime teammates express appreciation for, especially during times of prolonged isolation).
My faith has waned because the talent pool has shallowed dramatically, because dedicated authors who should be growing Haven’t and Aren’t, and because issues like these take weeks to make the worst decision possible.
Thank you for your time. I do believe it’s valuable, which is why I gave up asking for updates weeks ago. I don’t think it was time well spent, though, and that really sucks for all of us.
I have no questions.
So that’s what happened in cycle 59-60
of the illustrious ubergroup
I don’t know if or how this might help anyone else, some other ND author out there hunting for safety in forums, in critique groups or swaps, or just trusting mods to have freaking clue what they’re doing instead of power-tripping their ableism all over a fellow author when the PROBLEM was RACISM.
I don’t know, but I’m still an optimist. I hope because I want to.
I’m sharing, because it might’ve saved me a month of regret and heartache, disappointment and disillusionment. Maybe that’s you, or it will be one day.
I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from being forthright about problematic content, whether in critique or review, but it’s important to understand, I think, that there’s backlash every single time. 90% of the time pointing out racism will shift the entire discussion into an ableist trashfire, simply so folks can scramble to deny the already out-of-control racist wildfire burning through their community. Anything to NOT talk about how permissive and even supportive a community is of racist behavior.
BUT THE WORDS WE USE MATTER.
THE WAY WE TREAT EACH OTHER MATTERS!!!!
Be fire, my loves.
Be fire and shine,
And fuck a bunch of stressing over
Arrogant jerkwads in flammable clothes.
Oh, that ONE thing I posted at the start of cycle 60? The thread I got specifically told NOT to post in again conversationally last night?
Here it is. I’m not sorry.
Me (final thread post forever in UG, I guess):
Editing kids’ books means I have a responsibility to help writers check their biases, use inclusive language, and avoid unintentionally doing harm to young readers. It also means I have a responsibility to look up whether “butt crack” is one or two words.
Funny bc it’s so true. Best of luck this cycle to all y’all🤗🤗
If you read this far, have a little craft talk because ILU
Prose and Voice Depth thoughts, pulled from a note to a CP
My main focus for vocal depth is finding places that need a boost to elevate the prose from (blocking and action) to “literature.”
Not just facts, but poetry.
Where that always starts for me is in the layers of meaning and sensory engagement.
- The first layer is “What’s a cooler/more interesting way to X…?“
- Second layer is “What’s a way to tie this description/phrase to the story theme/aesthetic/tone/plot?”
- Third layer, and the only one that gets approval** for my own work into final drafts, is “How/what does X (description/phrase) mean to my narrator/speaker, and how would They frame X?” **because no matter how awesome a phrase might be, if it doesn’t sound like it comes from my narrator’s voice, then it could throw the reader off at worst, but will weaken a reader’s connection to the narrator at best.
Page by page, I seek out a wide-angle thematic balance, and–when possible– book-wide character themes. Like, say romantic interest has a hard personality but a vulnerable ego, then I might craft their descriptions to relay that directly or indirectly by which devices I choose (maybe they’re compared to melons or maybe I just keep adjectives about their physical actions “crisp and brittle” while keeping descriptions of their voice “soft”).
I tend to go broad with these when it comes to characterization or repeat settings, sticking with things like seasons or basic elements (water, fire, +), so it doesn’t feel forced or too obvious.
Also, the broader the theme, the greater span of sensory experiences and vocabulary range to use in expanding the character’s visceral reactions and word choice.
Random thing, but it’s best, for most readers apparently, to save the most intense descriptive language for moments when the narrator is first describing something (unless that scene is very active), or when it’s an emotional moment that the language can help bolster with “this is important” energy.
Hot tip: use your narrator’s zoom lens to spot concrete details, flaws, or specificity, rather than trying to describe everything anew or “completely.” Better to describe a character’s lone mismatched button than their entire outfit. Even when the narrative point is “excess,” attention can get lost easily in lists of facts, so the zoom is a writer’s best friend in that regard.