4 Things Not To Do On The NaNoWriMo Reference Desk

I’ll get back to critique groups, but the NaNoWriMo site has rebooted and of course that means there’s a slough of new posts on the reference desk forum.

Which also means, all those annoying people who post annoying things are back.

So, here’s a few of the things that drive your fellow knowledgeable writers nuts:

Vague Post Titles: So you go to post a question and it won’t let you hit post without putting something in the title. Do you A) title it something descriptive so people who might have an answer can tell by looking at the post title without having to click on the post and read it – or B) title it “Question”.

*squinty eyes*

Yeah, I have some specialized knowledge about some specific stuff, namely aviation, bees, autism, African violets, and maybe a few other scattered things. I’m not going to click through to every frelling post that has no indication of what it’s about in order to see if maybe it’s one of those things that I know stuff about. If you do this, don’t be surprised that you have next to no replies.

Questions You Could Too Easily Research Yourself: Sometimes people post questions and you look at them and think, “Did they even try?” Like, I’ve taken some people’s questions and copy-pasted them into google and the first result gives them their answer.

I’ll pick on one recent one – someone asked how and when the United States acquired Alaska. Like, this is the easiest thing in the world to google, and find trustworthy sources, but you’d rather try your luck with randos on a forum who are literally just googling it for you.

Questions Too Broad To Answer At All: “Tell me everything you know about _______.” People will post this, and it won’t be something like “Tell me everything you know about the mating habits of swallowtail butterflies.” It’s “Tell me everything you know about Russia.” That’s an actual one I remember.

I just wonder what these people are thinking. Like, what kind of answers are they expecting? Do they not know that there are actual Russians out there, reading this forum and going “What…what do they want to know?”

I got nothin.

Questions That Assume Everyone Who Could Be Reading The Question Lives In The Same Country As The Person Posting It: Americans are the worst offenders here. Someone posts a question where the answer will be vastly different depending on where the story is set, but the questioner assumes everyone knows they’re talking about the USA, because where else would it be. This is common with questions about adoption, laws governing this or that, police procedure, school related things.

I run into it a lot when trying to answer aviation related questions, because air laws are similar but different between the US and here in Canada, and some of the hugest differences are due to how much more radar coverage there is in America compared to Canada.

Replies I Could Have Googled Myself: Okay, so when I post a question myself, I’ve usually googled it pretty thoroughly. Like, my google-fu is pretty damned good, so if I’m asking a question on a forum, I need an actual expert on the subject.

And yet, even when I end my post with “Please don’t just google the topic and post your search results, I’ve already googled the topic extensively, and I need someone who actually knows what they’re talking about”, I still get dudes doing this. Like they think I’m stupid, even though I’ve explicitly worded my question, and none of their search results or answers composed based on their search answered the question I was asking.

And these people can get arrogant and authoritative on their googling. There was once I saw a question about bees and beekeeping, and pointed out the fact that beekeepers wear white because bright colours excite the bees, and dark colours trigger them to become defensive and sting. This guy insisted that I was wrong, colours had no effect on bee behavior. Why? Because even though my dad has been a beekeeper all his life and I’ve worked with him with the bees and among beekeepers this is common knowledge, this guy couldn’t find anything confirming it in his googling, therefore I had to be wrong.

When I pointed out that google wasn’t the end-all authority of beekeeping, especially since beekeepers tend to be a bunch of old guys who can’t be bothered with the internet, his reply was “As a matter of fact, my google-fu is exceptional.”

*headdesk*

So yeah, don’t be those people. Happy Wrimoing.

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Thoughts On Forums

Every year I hop on the Nanowrimo website forums and lurk on the reference forum, where people ask questions to help them with researching their novels. Over the years though, I’ve seen some patterns.

Like, weirdly enough, one of the first questions of the year is always someone asking about  synesthesia, and another person asking about polyamoury. Of all things. Every year. Not a complaint, just an observation.

There’s generally a couple of questions about Canada. Usually one about the weather, but that never specifies what part of Canada, and thinks the weather is the same across the entire country even through it’s bigger than the USA.

There’s also generally numerous questions referring to something ambiguous do to the fact that the poster assumes everyone will know they’re talking about the United States. “Question about the west coast” for example. West coast of what?

There’s the numerous people who ask questions and they haven’t even tried to research it themselves. Like, you can literally type the title of their post into google and the first result is the answer to their question. There’s a shockingly large number of these.

And then there’s the one’s who ask a question about something they haven’t bothered to learn enough about to make the question make sense. Like, they ask a question about the X era, only X is a place name, not an era.

And every once in a while someone asks on the reference forum a question about a mythical or supernatural creature, in a very serious manner, as if they sincerely believe it exists, and why doesn’t anyone just give them a straight answer as to how much silver nitrate it takes to disable a werewolf, and whether or not unicorns mate for life rather than just mocking them. Of course werewolves and unicorns are real, silly. I’m never sure if these people are trolling. They probably are. I would, if I weren’t too lazy to make a troll ID and use it to post shit like that.

And there’s the people who post “tell me everything you know about X.” But it’s never something specific. It’s something like, New York, or Russia, or learning to fly an aeroplane. Dude, what I know about learning to fly fills a textbook. I’m not typing a textbook into a forum post.

And last, but not least, there’s the one that annoys me the most by far. It’s the people who want you to write their story for them. They post a question that’s not a question, but a request for a brainstorming question. Throwing out some vague ideas and go “what kind of character would make a good main character for my story?” or “What kind of profession should my character have?” The sort of questions that, if you’re writing a story, there are more considerations than you can convey to the readers of a forum post, and an experienced writer would know that. They want you to come up with something for them to write about, when those sorts of decisions and inspirations are the things that make a writer unique. They always get the most responses, too. Everyone’s happy to be asked their opinion on something, especially when they don’t actually have to know what they’re talking about.

There’s one more that I don’t tend to see on the Nanowrimo forums so much, but I see it on a writing forum I used to frequent, but got too sick of this specifically that I don’t bother looking at that forum anymore. It’s “Question.” That’s the title of the post. You don’t know what they’re asking unless you actually click on the post and read it. There are questions where the post title is not specific enough as well, that are almost as bad. I don’t have time to click on every post in a page of hundreds of questions to see if I have anything to offer. Please, for the love of whatever gods you hold holy, title your posts accurately and and specifically. If you don’t, I don’t have time to click on them, because many of these sites, especially the Nanowrimo one at certain times, can run slow. Us people who know shit, we ain’t gonna wait for your post to load unless we know there’s a good chance we have something to offer. Do yourself a favour.

Thoughts on Writing Forums

I’m on a number of writing forums, and I’m a little torn on how useful they are. I found them a lot more useful back when I was a beginner writer (maybe because I didn’t know better), but these days I see more and more stagnation within a group.

Perhaps this as partly because the group I was on the longest has recently had a change of moderators and the new moderator has a bit of a stick up his butt, rejecting posts of mine that were perfectly within the rules of the group, for violating made up rules of his own. I had to make him check with his supervisors, and get the ok to post it. But I’ve kind of given up on any really deep, intelligent discussion on that particular group.

Because the other thing I’ve noticed is that the published authors – they don’t stick around. There are dozens of published authors who used to hang out in that group, but they’re not there anymore. They’re not chiming in with their opinions on answers to questions from beginner writers. Instead, the questions of beginner writers are being answered by members who have been vociferous for years about their opinions. Members who speak in a very authoritative tone, but are not necessarily validated by professional publication.

And then sometimes I see noob questions being answered by the stalwart and vociferous members, where it seems like very old ideas are being cemented – truisms that I have seen (on blogs of professional writers) refuted, many times over. But in these forums of near-exclusively unpublished writers, these sort of things that amateurs stumble on are not receiving the same educated answers I see coming from professional writers. Because the professional writers *are* out there answering these questions. On their own private blogs.

Instead these questions are being answered in the forum with “Well, in my novel (which the poster doesn’t mention is unpublished and therefore this opinion is not validated to be successful) I did it this way.” There’s the occasional “I like it when an author I’m reading does it this way,” or “So and so published author did it this way” but those are shockingly rare.

And it seems, as soon as people get published, they disappear off this forum. Maybe it takes a year, or maybe they post something every few months for a while and then disappear. But they’re not contributing on the same level they used to.

Is this because their opinions are getting trashed by the select few in the forum who think they know better than anyone else? I don’t know. I do know that when I see those noob questions being answered with a million variations of “I do it this way”, I’m not even tempted anymore to chime in, because I don’t think it’s worth it. I don’t believe that anyone there will pay attention if I direct them to a professional author’s blog, where their question is answered, or to a book where the technique is used, or the problem they’re dealing with is worked around. I think my comment will be lost among a hundred other comments of varying value.

I dunno, maybe this is a sign I’m settling into my own style and way of doing things. There’s nothing wrong with amateurs sharing ideas, it’s just that I see so much of a couple of people pushing their own way of doing things. A little like the critique circle phenomenon of eventually everyone in the group writes in the same style.

Anyway, the last time I tried to post something that was publishing related, and not “writing related” (because apparently publishing is not writing related? wtf?) I was directed very cutely to one of those tiny little forums called blogs, where I can post whatever I want. I think that’s where things are going though. That forum is dying, and I’m enjoying having my own blog, and following other author’s blogs – being able to control who I see posts from, and see more posts from actual published writers. I think that’s the way things are going to go.