should I give feedback to people who haven’t asked for it during a collaborative writing project?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’m not fully sure that this fits within the scope of AAM — it’s not work-related, but I feel that there is a great deal of overlap.

I am the head administrator in an online writing group, where members frequently come together to collaborate on writing stories. In some ways, despite it being a hobby that we’re all doing for fun, being an administrator is at times a lot like a job. It falls to me to enforce the rules of our community, such as keeping drama within the stories and not brewing amongst the authors, and ensuring that the stories which are written are appropriate for the fictional setting we’ve established for the group (ranging from not throwing wizards into a modern day small town, to avoiding material that might make members of the group uncomfortable). In addition, my team and I regularly come up with writing prompts and such to keep the members engaged and keep the ideas flowing.

We are a fairly small, close-knit community, but every now and then we welcome someone into the group who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with us, for a number of reasons. Perhaps they don’t spend a lot of time with the group, making it hard for us to get to know them. Usually, it’s that their writing leaves something to be desired, which can result people wanting to collaborate with them less and less over time. I don’t intend for that to come across as cruel – some people are just less experienced with writing, while others seem less inclined to put it a lot of effort.

I’ve always tried to encourage people with their writing, giving them advice on how they can improve and offering to collaborate with people who don’t easily seem to be able to find others to write with. However, creative outlets like this are subjective at best, and I recognize that what may work for me isn’t going to work for everyone. And I think it doesn’t help that I tend to have more demanding standards and take things more seriously than others in my community (and other communities like this one). When I became an administrator, this desire to help also began to feel like a duty. After all, if everyone is writing better, we all produce more interesting stories and everyone is having more fun, right?

However, criticism can be hard to accept, especially in creative pursuits like this. And I know that I can come off as harsh when I’m trying to give criticism or advice, when mostly what I’m trying to do is be direct and clear. As I’ve noted several times, both from personal experience and reading your blog, attempting to soften a message can often lead to the point getting misconstrued in a number of ways.

I guess what my question boils down to is this — is it unnecessary, or even rude, to offer feedback about problems I see with my members, when they haven’t asked for any such feedback? I’ve had it pointed out to me that not everyone who does this activity is looking to improve the way that I am — some just find it fun to play around with story ideas, and are content with their skill level. I’ve also been told that this isn’t a job, and I don’t really need to be taking people to task for not meeting my expectations.

As an example, I find myself frustrated with “Bob.” Often times, he doesn’t put a great deal of effort into his writing, leaving whoever he is collaborating with to craft the bulk of the plotline and move the story forward. It’s bad enough that I refuse to write with him, unless it’s something like a big project that involves the whole group. I am unsure if he knows about my dislike for him, as he is a rather quiet person who rarely asks for others to write with him, so the opportunity has never really come up for me to say, “Sorry, but I’d prefer not to work with you on this.” I’ve received similar complaints about Bob from other members, and have seen the majority of the group gradually drift away from him. It results in us writing with each other instead, leaving Bob with almost no one to partner up with.

In the past, I and others have given him rather softened feedback that he didn’t ask for, and he responds noncommittally or not at all. Simply put, we haven’t seen any changes over the course of a year that would make us want to try writing with him again. And yet, I feel bad for him that he’s so isolated now. I also think that he’s occasionally shown some real creativity in the time that he’s been with us, and maybe some direct feedback on what we feel he’s doing wrong could help encourage him to put more effort in. It could also be the blow to his ego that would make him want to leave the group altogether.

Do you think talking to him is the right idea? Or just let him continue as he is, enjoying the hobby in his own way?

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 285 comments… read them below }

  1. Jennifer*

    I would ask Bob if he’d like some feedback. He may be happy with things as they are, or he may be confused as to why people don’t want to work with him. If he turns you down, I’d leave him be. Maybe he’s just happy to have an outlet to share his writing, whether people think he’s good or not.

    1. Bubbleon*

      +1 I’d do the same any time you’re tempted to offer criticism. “Would you be interested in any feedback on this work?” can do a lot to open people to the idea of it more than “Here’s all the reasons why you’re doing this wrong”

      1. Jennifer*

        I agree. I am a bad artist. I’m not saying that to put myself down. I’m just bad :) But I enjoy painting. I wouldn’t really want someone to come tell me everything I’m doing wrong when that’s not what it’s about for me. Bob may feel the same way.

        1. JokeyJules*

          my best friends parents were very supportive and quick to give feedback on LOTS of things she tried as a kid…which might be why she didn’t really have any hobbies. Sometimes things are just for enjoyment, not perfection.

          1. Jennifer*

            That’s so sad. You have to try and fail at a lot of things before you find what you’re actually good at or enjoy.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              You also have to try and fail a lot to get good at something. Sometimes (rarely) you’ll be good at something effortlessly, but more often you’re drawn to whatever you’re drawn to because you enjoy it (or you find fulfillment in the challenge of it) and the repetition is what makes you good at it (eventually).

              Hemingway said “The first draft of anything is shit.” This guy gets it!

          2. Artemesia*

            LOL I was never quite sure why I grew up unable to cook, sew or housekeep as my mother was fabulous at all of those until I watched her pick out my 4 year old’s embroidery and ‘do it right’ — suddenly in a flash I realized why my areas of excellence were all in areas she was not involved in. If lots of people are telling the OP to back off from the ‘advice’ he is probably not the one to be giving unsolicited advise.

            1. Who, me?*

              When I was a teenager, my stepmother was very critical of me. She also has a horrible temper and would scream at me for any reason at anytime. As a teenager, I liked to sew. I learned the basics in home ec and wanted to make my own clothes. My stepmother did some sewing and enjoyed needlepoint. (This was in the seventies when needlepoint was a popular hobby and women made clothing more often than they seem to do now.) A few months into our relationship and not long after the first time I was the target of her wrath, I was asked if I wanted to take sewing lessons from her. I immediately said no. I was afraid she would spend those lessons criticizing my efforts or screaming at me. I didn’t even realize it could have been her effort to get to know me better. Now I find myself wishing I had given it a try, even if she was critical.

              1. EinJungerLudendorff*

                Honestly, not wanting to be screamed at is an excellent reason not to do something.
                And if you have the time and resources youcan still give it a try if you want to :)

              2. tangerineRose*

                I’d have been worried about being screamed at too. I think you did the smart thing.

              3. StaceyIzMe*

                There is no way that teen aged you should have been required to compensate for the crazy here. She had issues and she was already offloading them onto you wholesale. You absolutely made the rational choice, in my view.

        2. Close Bracket*

          Yeah, I’m a mediocre partner dancer. I enjoy being a mediocre dancer. If advanced dancers don’t want to partner with me, that’s ok with me. There are dancers who I sure don’t enjoy partnering with, so I appreciate that there will be people who don’t want to partner with me.

        3. RUKiddingMe*

          Yup. It’s not a job, it’s not a workshop. It’s a hobby. I think OP offering unsolicited criticism/advice of the work, quality and intensity, etc…no matter how much administration of the group she does (because that’s a whole ‘nother thing) would serve only to make it no fun for Bob.

      2. animaniactoo*

        Yup. Always. Unless it’s set up for feedback to be expected, asking gives them the opportunity to say “no”, AND it sets them up to expect it if the answer is “yes”.

      3. Rasgar*

        I definitely agree with this, and it’s the approach I generally take. The fear I have is, asking someone if they want feedback is basically admitting to a person “I feel you’re doing something wrong”. And that can be enough to upset someone who is particularly sensitive.

        1. Jennifer*

          I don’t take it that way necessarily. Feedback can be positive or negative. Sometimes I’ve thought something I did was really bad and got great feedback about it. If you have a habit of only offering feedback when something is bad, then you’re probably right. I’d offer it to anyone who wanted it. People who are good writers sometimes need reassurance, and can always get better.

          1. Close Bracket*

            People rarely ask before giving compliments, though. If you are asking whether someone wants feedback, it’s bc you are about to give improvement suggestions not because you are about to tell them how fabulous they were.

        2. Logan*

          Perhaps it would help to offer a mechanism to indicate your openness to feedback at the time you submit your work. That way the question itself isn’t a commentary, since it’s asked before anyone reads the work.

          1. Clisby*

            I agree – maybe as a guideline/suggestion to everyone in the writing group that if they want feedback, there may very well be people who are interested in offering it.

        3. Genny*

          A way to potentially get around this is to start by asking someone when they first join what they’re hoping to get out of it, what level of feedback are they looking for, do they prefer partner work or solo work, etc. I think you could still take a modified version of this approach with Bob by framing it as a check-in (6 month? 1 year?).

          1. Dn*

            This is a great idea. The whole group could participate, and people could specify when and what kind of feedback they are interested in receiving. I’m an English professor and I often have my students specificy the nature of feedback for more personal pieces.

        4. Elsajeni*

          I think the best way around this is to discuss it when you first start working on a project — actually, I think it would be great if this were a norm of the group, that before you start collaborating with someone you talk through: okay, what are each of our goals for this project? What does each of us want out of a collaborator: someone who will help motivate us or keep us to a schedule, someone who will give us feedback to improve our writing, someone whose strengths complement our weaknesses, or what? Alternately, if the type of writing doesn’t actually lend itself to making these decisions case-by-case — like, if the style is more “post a few paragraphs publicly and see if anyone is interested in continuing it” than “pick out one or two people and pitch an idea to them” — it might be time to have a group discussion about adding new rules, to state that critical feedback is either welcomed by default (but writers can opt out) or unwelcome by default (but writers can ask for it if they want). (Or always welcome with no opt-out, if you want to be officially a critique group, but it doesn’t really sound like that’s the type of group you have.)

    2. EddieSherbert*

      I think this makes a lot of sense; if he’s here to improve and work with others, he’ll be interested. If he’s just having fun doing his own thing, he won’t.

    3. Anonysand*

      This is along the same lines as what I was going to suggest. Definitely ask, and make it opt-in! LW, is there any way to incorporate those critiques as an optional discussion into the group? Perhaps setting up a monthly optional “roundtable critique” to help the authors who want that feedback while also not ostracizing the others who aren’t interested.

      1. Jennifer*

        That’s a good idea. I participated in a similar group and there was a separate forum where your work could be critiqued.

      2. Rasgar*

        LW here – in my experience, people don’t often want much in the way of critique. I don’t think my particular group would be very receptive to something like that. I’ve seen people get embarrassed when their mistakes are pointed out publicly, and so I prefer to handle things like this in one-on-one discussions.

        1. Darcy Pennell*

          I kinda feel like, if you know people in this group don’t want critique, that’s your answer right there.

          1. Blue*

            Fully agree with Darcy Pennell. I think you can say something like, “Just so you all know, I’m always happy to give feedback or constructive criticism. If that’s something you’re ever interested in, just let me know.” And then stop giving it out, even privately, unless someone has explicitly asked. It sounds like it’s clear to you that some of them prefer this to be a more casual hobby. I think it’d be smart to take that to heart and either lay off the unsolicited feedback or find another community that’s more in line with what you’re looking for. Otherwise, I think you risk both increased frustration on your part and potential alienation of group members, unfortunately.

            1. Rasgar*

              I kind of understand what you’re saying. But it also sounds like you’re suggesting that we don’t enforce our rules/guidelines/standards so that everyone can have fun their own way, which is not really conducive to something that is a group activity at heart. In order for us to work together, we all ought to be on the same page (or similar pages, at least).

              1. Emilia Bedelia*

                Skill level is not the same thing as rules/guidelines. Maybe I am misunderstanding how the community works, but it is very different to say “Bob, we have a rule that all authors must write 5 pages, and you only wrote 4. Can you be sure to follow this in the future?” versus “Bob, I don’t think that was a very creative plot line. Can you try to think of something a little more unique next time?”

                If you have a rule then enforce it, by all means, but from most of the letter it sounds like it’s just a matter of style/opinion.

                1. Dn*

                  I’m thinking that the lack of effort could be hard to get at in the rules, but it sounds like a problem many members of OP’s group are having. The guidelines could be changed to try to increase effort (if you want to be a more rigorous potentially smaller group).

        2. Psyche*

          Since you are an admin, maybe you could suggest that people write a sentence at the top saying “critiques welcome” or “just for fun” to indicate whether they actually want feedback or not. They could even be more specific like “content critiques only” or “technical critiques welcome” to indicate what they are trying to work on. If they don’t specifically say they want constructive criticism, assume they don’t.

          1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

            Plus 1000 to this. It would benefit all members.

            The group might also benefit from a standardized feedback policy, so everyone knows whether giving feedback is or isn’t the default assumption if the author hasn’t indicated.

          2. Becky*

            I like this idea. I am active in fanfiction communities where this type of thing is common. In the Harry Potter fanfic community there is often a note by non-UK authors asking for specifically a “Brit-Pick” –someone who can offer constructive criticism for any spelling/phrasing and cultural things that would stick out as non-British.

            Many authors post “constructive criticism welcome” as part of their intro/author’s notes on some things while on others they may post something like “this fic is pure crack-not to be taken seriously in any way”.

            1. Media Monkey*

              i’m so glad this exists (the Brit Pick). I have read and enjoyed a series of books by a US based author set in Ireland, and the references to US products and so on are so jarring, even though her Irish dialogue isn’t terrible.

        3. Close Bracket*

          I hear what you are saying. Keep in mind that right now, you don’t have a dedicated forum for critiques, so when people’s mistakes get pointed out, it’s not in a context where they expect it. Establishing a dedicated critique space makes it clear up front–if you participate, your mistakes will be pointed out publicly. Then people self select in. There are also guidelines for establishing constructive critiques which you can layout upfront and enforce (thus adding even more to your admin role!). You don’t have to manage participants emotions for them. If someone decides that public feedback is not for them, they can opt back out and continue to get private feedback.

        4. RUKiddingMe*

          There’s tour answer. Don’t offer feedback. If he asks for it give it. If not, you ate not his boss or his teacher. If he wants critique he will indicate that. Otherwise it is safe to assume it’s just something he does for fun without looking to set goals.

        5. Nico*

          If your group is like mine, you could have a yearly or quarterly post where people can opt into criticism. My group’s yearly crit post just went up, but I decided to not post into it because my mental state is at a place where I wouldn’t handle the criticism well. But if you make it so criticism is both easier to give and easier to take, everyone wins! Then only give advice to people posting into the yearly How’s My Writing post.

    4. Rasgar*

      OP here. That’s what I was afraid of with Bob, I don’t really know where he stands since he’s so quiet. But it felt that checking in on him that way is, in way, leveling criticism, even if it’s just trying to explain to him why this is happening.

      I did end up doing something like this, though. I told him that I didn’t enjoy working with him because our writing styles don’t work well together, and I didn’t expect him to change how he writes to suit me. And that I’d be happy to give him feedback/advice if he wanted it, but otherwise I wished him the best working with the other group members. Unfortunately, his response was to leave the group and block me.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        If that approximates your wording, yeah, that’s a bit harsh.

        This feels like two issues. He might be insecure and oversensitive, but you also seem really invested in this and reluctant to adjust your own standards for what is, by your own admission, a hobby. If you do things in a group you are going to have to be flexible. I’ve been in a music club for years and, frankly, I blew most of the other members out of the water in about six months. But I’m still there. I just don’t expect the rest of them to be my Ultimate Hobby Experience.

        So maybe you’d find it more satisfying to work on longer-term projects with one or two select people *outside of the group* and then participate in the group at a more relaxed level? Would that satisfy your need for intensity while also allowing you to remain inclusive?

        1. Jadelyn*

          I disagree that group collaboration inherently means needing to be flexible in the way you’re saying. Flexible in general, in terms of plots and such, yes – but if you’ve got an established group, with a clear culture around styles and appropriate levels of commitment, I don’t agree that a person coming in who doesn’t jive with the group’s culture means that the whole group needs to shift their culture to accommodate it. The flip side of “it’s just a hobby, be flexible” is “it’s just a hobby, go do it somewhere else if this isn’t working for you”.

          1. Jennifer*

            +1 If someone just doesn’t jibe with the group, and seems to be actively trying not to fit in, this is fair. It’s not overly rude or harsh. It’s not like the OP said, “You’re ugly and your mama is ugly!” That would have been harsh. Sometimes people just need to move on. It happens in work environments too. It’s not harsh. It’s just life sometimes.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            But then you need to be clear with people that this is the group’s focus and not continue to give them the impression that it’s more open-ended than it is. And if you (collectively) haven’t formally agreed that the group’s focus has narrowed, it’s time to address that. But letting people linger and then complaining that they don’t fit the culture that you haven’t actually admitted is the culture, is not fair.

            1. Rasgar*

              I don’t think I was clear enough in the initial letter – we do have plenty of material laying out our expectations, which members are expected to read before they can join our group. And over the course of the past year, we’ve been gently reminding him of these rules and guidelines, but not punishing him. So I feel that he must be at least somewhat aware that he isn’t really meshing with us, but he chose to stick with us for that long anyway. I didn’t feel it would be fair to kick people out of the group unless they were egregious rule breakers.

              1. Sleeplesskj*

                It seems like a lot of this angst could be avoided just by posting a statement about what the group expectations are. Then everyone is aware going in that this is not a group you can just drift in.

                1. Rasgar*

                  I’m not exactly sure what you’re suggesting – we do have statements to that effect. If you’re saying that I should remind the group as a whole of what our rules are, instead of addressing it individually with members who aren’t meeting expectations – I have experiences with admins who have done that in the past, and I feel it’s sort of a cowardly way to avoid addressing problems that specific people are causing.

                2. WomanFromItaly*

                  Rasgar, that’s not cowardly—if multiple people are having an issue then it is, in fact, a group issue. You seem to be looking for confrontation with people who don’t meet your purity standards in a way that is puzzling to me. If these people genuinely don’t meet the criteria for the group, then it’s fair to institute some kind of “reminder, then removal” system, though this will likely lead to many of the people who are just writing for fun either being removed or self selecting out. It seems that you just kinda don’t like the idea of people writing for fun rather than striving for excellence. Which probably makes you a very fine writer, but an unduly harsh admin.

                3. Rasgar*

                  WomanFromItaly, to clarify: What I mean is that if a single person causes a problem, it would be cowardly to passive-aggressively post a reminder to the entire group about what the rules are, instead of directly correcting the single person who caused that problem.

                  As I’ve stated elsewhere in the comments, there are plenty of people who write for fun in the group that I have no issue with, because they contribute with a level of effort (not skill, but effort) that doesn’t suck the fun out of it for the other writers.

              2. JSPA*

                Sounds like you need approval procedures to enter… conditional temporary membership…and/or stated consequences and warnings for not meeting the guidelines. I’m comparing to cycling group rides that state speed, terrain, waiting policy, social vs semi – competitive, and specifically whether they’re “drop” or “no drop.”

            2. Butter Makes Things Better*

              Definite agree. Sounds like your group might benefit from a Participation Guideline FAQ so people aren’t caught off guard by your standards, and you’ll have something to point to in the future when people aren’t taking it as seriously as you’d prefer.

              But it also sounds for like the people whose skill level or commitment level you deem lower than yours, it might be helpful to remember that despite the overlap between hobby & work, it still *isn’t* actually work in the AAM sense. It’s all volunteer, no one’s getting paid, most of those folks probably have actual jobs and those members with whom you’re frustrated will be less inclined to/have less energy for improvement. Thing is, they’re getting out of it what they want to, and if the natural consequence of the lack of skill or effort is that fewer and fewer people want to write with them, so be it. And if the attention you’re directing at them isn’t getting the results you want, at that point, you might consider letting it go.

          3. Guacamole Bob*

            I think the question here is whether it’s Bob who’s the one who’s out of step with the group culture, or whether it’s OP. It sounds from the letter like OP may be a bit more intense about the group than many of the other participants, and more invested in the quality of the writing and in improving her own writing. Even if Bob wasn’t quite the right fit for the group, it sounds like this is an issue that comes up regularly and OP might want to reflect a little on whether she’s in sync with the group on some of these culture issues.

            1. Rasgar*

              OP here – and I’m a man, by the way! You’re both right and wrong on this. I do take things more intensely than the rest of the group, and most people are aware of this and are fine with it. And there are other members who participate very little, and I have no problem with them whatsoever. We have a great deal of variance between our members, and occasionally we get ones like Bob who seem to be out of step with our focus and our guidelines. I didn’t write them by myself, we wrote the guidelines as a team (of which I am easily the most intense perfectionist), and agree that they are fair and not too strict.

              I hope that helps clarify some things!

              1. Butter Makes Things Better*

                Oops, saw this after I posted about guidelines. My graf about letting natural consequences take over for the folks who aren’t perfectionists or intense as you still applies tho.

              2. Fellow RP Admin*

                Fellow highly-selective/highly-literate para-based admin here – with the context that (no shade intended at other posters here, who are all contributing constructively) others may not have, I think that you handled it in the best way possible. You’re right that pointedly re-posting excerpts from the rules and FAQ pages can seem passive aggressive and pointed, and would probably kick up more OOC drama and whispers than warranted.

              3. boo bot*

                I mentioned this far below, but it wasn’t clear to me whether the issue with Bob is that he doesn’t do enough work on the collaborative project (literally enough by word count) or if he does the work, but he’s just writing things that don’t advance the plot, leaving others to take more of that on in their share of the work. Can you clarify?

                It seems like the situation has self-resolved, but I’m curious! Thanks :)

                1. Rasgar*

                  It’s more the latter – in fact, he will occasionally write large posts that exceed the expected average word count, but nothing of real substance will happen in them. The best way I can think of to put it is that he’s far more focused on his own character than the characters of the people he’s writing with, or the world, or the plot, or any “NPCs” that might be inhabiting the world. And so his writing will often be internal monologues or describing how his character reacts to things that are happening, so it either doesn’t move things along or simply gives the other player nothing significant to respond to (or both).

                2. boo bot*

                  Gotcha. I actually think you could say something pretty close to that!

                  I feel like criticizing the structure is a lot less personal than criticizing the content, if that makes sense, and so even if part of the issue is the quality of his long internal monologues (yikes!) you can focus on the structural problem, which is, as you say, that he’s not giving his partner anything to react to or build on. (I thought your description of the issue here was really clear!)

                3. JSPA*

                  Ah, in that case, the problem isn’t style (or quality–Emily Dickinson would also fail). It’s structure (and interactivity, and pacing).

                  If Bob wants to write Gormenghast, Bob will write it alone. In a tower. Surrounded by a living train of swirling cats.

                  But seriously, the way to deliver the message is by comparison to relevant excellent writers who ALSO would not fit together.

      2. Jerm*

        You could have left out the part about not enjoying working with him. That makes it sound personal, rather than your opinion that your styles are too different to effectively collaborate.

      3. Kathleen_A*

        Oh, man. Well, at least now he knows what he wants in a group and can hopefully find it.

        Just for the record, it might have been better not to say “I don’t enjoy working with you.” That makes it sound really personal. “Our writing styles don’t work well together” is very good, though!

        1. Rasgar*

          I admit you’re right about that. Unfortunately, it was partially personal, as he was occasionally rude and dismissive of me and other members. Having conversations with him about coming up with a plot or enforcing our rules/guidelines was generally an unpleasant experience.

          Still, I think you’re right that I should have left that out.

          1. Kathleen_A*

            Oh, I wasn’t implying that it wasn’t true! I’m sure that’s why you said it – and I can definitely understand why you felt it. I just doubt that it was a constructive thing to say. I guess I can imagine circumstances in which laying your cards out on the table this way is the best way to handle the situation…but I wouldn’t think that an all-volunteer group dedicated to supporting each other and helping each other write better would qualify.

            He sounds like a fairly unpleasant person, but it also sounds as though you really hurt his feelings. But maybe he’ll learn something from this that he can take to his next writers’ group.

            1. JSPA*

              Doff collaborator hat and don admin helmet. Just because you wear both, doesn’t mean you can fairly wear them in the same instant.

          2. Arts Akimbo*

            In that case, it sounds like a self-solving problem. I mean, do you really want someone in the group who’s that much of a pain? No one else enjoys writing with him, he flagrantly disregards rules, and he’s rude and dismissive. I think his leaving the group is a total win-win.

      4. Dust Bunny*

        Also, if you’re an admin, you’re an admin for everybody. It needs to be separate from your personal preferences. There are tunes I *loathe* and would never play or hear again if I didn’t have to, but if I’m leading the jam and Fergus calls one and wants to play it at half-speed, then that’s what we do, because it’s his turn and he’s a member of the group. I don’t get to cut him off or push him to speed up because his playing isn’t as good as mine.

      5. Not A Manager*

        Did you do that after Bob had specifically asked to work with you? In your OP you said that you were sort of waiting for that opportunity but that it had not arisen. Did you volunteer the information?

        1. Rasgar*

          Yes, I did. We were working on a large group project together, one that I was still in the middle of when I was initially writing this letter. I waited until the story was over to address this with him, as I was seeing some of the same problems with him, and they specifically involved me.

          Essentially, I agreed to work with Bob to avoid looking rude (he asked to work with me in a public space), and the process left me frustrated so I volunteered this information to him afterwards.

          1. Aurion*

            Given that context…I think you were more right than wrong. You probably should’ve worded it more kindly, but if Bob was an unpleasant person to RP with (whether that’s because his writing was of a poor quality, or he’s not a collaborative player because he doesn’t take the hooks that other players are offering him), it’s probably for the best that he leaves.

      6. Artemesia*

        Wow. There is your answer. Many people have told you in the past to back off on overzealous ‘feedback’ — you go full speed ahead on Bob anyway and he leaves the group and blocks you. I’d retire from giving feedback and enjoy your own writing and leave this part of the group process to others.

        1. Jadelyn*

          That seems overly harsh and unnecessarily cruel, tbh. It also seems like you’re reading a lot of things into the OP that aren’t necessarily there – “many people” “back off on overzealous feedback”? That’s not at all my read of it – more that there have been a couple of conversations about the way in which OP offers feedback, which they probably could work on calibrating more, but to jump from that to “you need to retire from giving feedback” entirely seems premature.

        2. Rasgar*

          I did not go “full speed ahead” on Bob – I simply told him how I felt regarding the latest collaboration we did together, because I felt it was important that he know where I stood personally rather than me keeping things vague between us and potentially collaborating again when neither of us really wanted to be in that situation again.

      7. Jennifer*

        I actually think that’s fair if he inquired about why you didn’t want to work with him.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          Exactly this – If *he* asked, then your response makes a lot of sense. If not, it does seem a bit harsh to me because it is unexpected, unasked for, and out-of-the-blue feedback from the *Group Admin.*

          1. Rasgar*

            To clarify, my feedback to him was directly after agreeing to work with him, where I found that he really hadn’t been taking any of our soft reminders of the rules to heart. So he did not ask for feedback, but it wasn’t really out of the blue because we had just been collaborating together the day before.

      8. animaniactoo*

        Oof. Sorry to hear it went down that way. If you search for my username below, I wrote stuff for you about how to give direct feedback while keeping it from sounding as harsh/rude as it did here. It should help with delivering a message that you know is hard, and will hopefully get you better responses in future.

      9. Quiznakit*

        Did Bob ask for your feedback, or did you just let him know that you didn’t enjoy working with him out of what might have seemed like the clear blue sky? I mean, putting myself in his shoes, unless I’d specifically sought out a mod to ask why it was difficult to find RP partners, a mod popping up to tell me that they didn’t enjoy working with me because our writing styles were incompatible would seem pretty hostile and unwelcoming.

        You say elsewhere that your forum does have a best practices post advising people to pull their weight, and that some people just don’t seem to be receptive to following those guidelines. I wonder if it’s couched as “pulling their weight” or if it actually gives concrete examples of appropriate weight-pulling (e.g. “post responses to your partner within X amount of time” or “contribute approximately equal amounts of scene-setting”)? It might be time to revisit some of the guidelines, both with your fellow mods as well as the members of the community at large.

        1. Rasgar*

          I answered your first question here:

          For the second part, I think they’re very clear. I’ve copied this from our rules page: “If you engage in an RP, try to contribute actively. Remember, you are in this together! Don’t make your fellow RPers make all the decisions, control all the NPCs, or come up with all the ideas. It’s by everyone putting in effort that a great story is made.”

          1. JSPA*

            That’s not a set of guidelines and expectations. It’s a vaguely worded generality. “Try to?” No wonder it’s not doing what you need it to.


            All RP contributors are expected to move the action forward, and to do so in ways that are consistent with the setting, tone, and prior characterizations. This includes handling both plot progression in general and remembering to incorporate the presence / actions of NPCs in specific. Monologues and description should be rare, succinct, and subservient to plot. We rely on each person to provide adequate hooks, prompts and plot development for the next person to move forward. Your efforts will make our stories shine, and make you a valued collaborator.”

            1. Ego Chamber*

              Are you serious with that? LW’s copy/paste is perfectly clear and actually pretty standard for online RP groups. Your version is reads more like a ToS agreement, which is fine for a larger group, but for a smaller group like LW is in, it comes off as overly rigid to spell things out that much.

              That said, a brief note about the difference between tabletop RP vs online storytelling RP might be worth including, since Bob’s contributions sound really similar to what would happen at a tabletop RP and he may have benefited from having the differences explicitly detailed (taking control of other people’s characters is okay and expected, you have to control the NPCs and develop the plotline because there’s no DM in charge of that, etc).

      10. LaDeeDa*

        As an admin your role is to to be an administrator- make sure people adhere to the rules, clean up messes, reset passwords, etc… your job isn’t to control someone’s experience in the group. There is a big difference between giving feedback and criticizing. Your styles not working well together is all the reason necessary not to collaborate with him, telling him you don’t enjoy working with him, is unnecessary, and depending on your wording and how that conversation came to take place, I don’t question why he left the group. From reading all your replies it sounds like you weren’t getting what *you* wanted from Bob and you didn’t like Bob, and you were hellbent on sharing that with him.

      11. Delphine*

        If part of your role as admin is to ensure that the drama stays in the stories…why would you send such a message to Bob?

        1. Rasgar*

          I personally felt that it wasn’t starting drama, but rather clearing the air – we have been awkward around each other for a long time, with me not being very receptive to his invites to collaborate, and he has occasionally been rude and dismissive to me. I felt it was better to address the elephant in the room, rather than continue to ignore it.

          1. LadyofLasers*

            If Bob is rude and dismissive to you, Bob might have more problems than just being a poor writer.

            1. Rasgar*

              You’re right on the mark with that. I have a sense for a lot of things that might be wrong with Bob, but I know almost nothing about his personal life so I wanted to avoid getting into that sort of thing.

      12. Mari M*

        Taking criticism is part of writing. You can softball it, or you can actually come out and say what’s wrong, and one of those methods makes better writers. Sooner or later, you’re staring down at red pen and asking “How do I fix this?” Being willing to hear the actual truth about how to improve is the only way to improve.

      13. Working Mom Having It All*

        One thing that I find works well in giving feedback is to frame even my criticisms positively. Instead of saying “I don’t enjoy working with you”, I would probably say, “Here are some things I think would make it easier for me to work with you.” Or even “here are some things we could do to make collaborating more fun.” (Which implies that it’s already fun.)

        I also try not to frame things in absolutes or as a broad brush of the overall quality of them as a writer. So instead of saying “our writing styles don’t work well together”, I would say, “It feels like we have different voices and come from very different places in our writing, so we might have to work harder to come up with ideas that we’d both like to write.” Also, if your writing styles had nothing to do with it, why say that? Then it’s just going to come off as insulting. “Writing style” is not a synonym for “I’m a good writer and you’re not”, or “I didn’t like what you wrote that time.” Also, a lot of time people who have very different styles collaborate perfectly together, and that’s what makes the collaboration great.

        Other more gentle ways you can say that you don’t want to collaborate without being insulting might be to say that your experience levels are too different (you can even frame it as him not enjoying it because it would feel didactic!), that you don’t have the bandwidth right now (a white lie that is true if what you mean is that you don’t have the energy to spend on something where you think the result won’t be worthwhile), or just that you have other projects you’re more excited about that are taking up a lot of your time. You’re not required to collaborate with anyone, even if they really want you to!

        I’m also just not sure that offering advice in this situation came off like a genuine offer of advice, it might have sounded like “you suck, and I’d love to tell you all the ways that you suck”.

        In general I often avoid giving critical feedback to people I think are straight up bad writers who I 100% would not work with no matter what. I’ll just bow out of the situation politely.

      14. Topcat*

        I work with writers (and write myself). There is no ego so fragile as that of a truly amateur writer. Those that most desperately need constructive criticism are the *least* likely to accept it and the most likely to get defensive and angry, and the least likely to even be able to adopt suggestions.

        I would advise you to try once, and if Bob reacts as I suspect he will, ditch him from the group. It sounds like he’s going to fracture your group otherwise – from what you say, splinter groups are likely already forming. I’ve seen this happen. The drama among writing groups can be insane.

        Don’t jeopardise a great dynamic – if you’ve managed to achieve that holy grail with your other fellow writers – for the sake of one bad egg/misfit.

    5. Close Bracket*

      And if he says no, then don’t. That’s key to offering feedback that wasn’t asked for. If they don’t want it, don’t give it.

  2. New Job So Much Better*

    I’ve been in a variety of writing groups, but these were specifically for critiquing each other’s work. If your group is not set up that way, Bob probably isn’t expecting a lot of suggestions.

    1. Ralph Wiggum*

      Right, I think this should be a policy at the group level, and the policy should be clear to new members.

      I’d take an informal poll of the current members to determine which way the group should go.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        I came here to say just that.

        OP, it sounds like your problem is actually two-fold. One, you’d like to provide writing advice. Two, you’re noticing that participants aren’t evenly participating.

        Knowing that, you can solve this in the same manner. Start a forum topic about #1, maybe with a survey to get feedback on whether folks as a whole want feedback. This could end up being an offshoot group that you moderate, but at least then you know your audience will appreciate feedback. Start another forum topic, maybe with just mods, and gather their feedback and see if they’ve heard any complaints from members about other members slacking. If you find that there is an issue to resolve there, then – again – start a survey and find out what members expectations are for group participation and find out what they would think is a fair consequence for not meeting that expectation. It may be as simple as a tiered scale assignment. Folks like Bob, who don’t take it very seriously, are only assigned to groups with other Light Hobbyist members, so that it’s fair all around and nobody gets hurt.

        That’s at least what I would do, though your technology may vary.

  3. drpuma*

    Hi OP, you’re clearly very thoughtful. You talk a lot about your own approach and goals for your own writing and this group, but I’m not seeing much mention of what your fellow group members are looking to get out of their writing. How often do you ask them why they’re involved? That could be a good place to start. And potentially help you get better at matching and also giving feedback to folks who just want to have fun vs really want to improve their writing style or flex their creative muscles.

    1. JokeyJules*

      thats a great point! if the majority of people just want to try to collaborate and bounce ideas, and be creative, why put such a strong emphasis on feedback? I think starting where drpuma said is the way to go

    2. Minocho*

      Depending on what information you gather from the people in this group, this may even be something you ask of members and store with their membership information. A list of questions to answer such as “What are you looking to gain from joining this group?”; “What kind of feedback do you find most useful?”, etc. can both give other members an understanding of where their compatriots are coming from, and help the members to think about and codify what they want and how they want it.

    3. Guacamole Bob*

      I like this approach a lot. Also, if it’s an online group, how much do you know about each other and the role that this group plays in members’ lives? People drift in and out of extracurricular activities and hobbies quite a lot, and it may not always be about the activity itself. Maybe Bob considers it a smaller piece of his life than many other members and may not mind kind of lurking and reading other people’s work and not contributing much.

      One major difference from a job is that in this situation, maybe it’s okay if you have a number of people who hang out on the edge of the group and are kind of disengaged. That’s how the internet works, often – I lurk in way more online communities than I contribute to. Maybe your group isn’t really for lurkers and you want to have people be active members or not participate at all, but if so, the group needs to develop some community standards and criteria for what that looks like.

    4. Jerry*


      It would be a good idea to initiate a forum on ground rules and mission of the group, this will frame the need for feedback and improvement. If everyone sees the writing group as a medium of a fun interactive ‘game’ then it would be about as appropriate to give feedback as if you were in a casual tennis league (only if it was invited, or after very good rapport was established). If everyone sees this as a collaborative art form where you’re looking to build something “good” then it would make sense to build a process for structured feedback.

    5. Claire*

      I really like this idea. That way, you’ve separated the critiques from the RP writing, and at the same time, you’ve made them optional.

    6. Rasgar*

      OP here. You make good points! I don’t think we’ve ever had a clear discussion on that sort of thing, but I’d say that typically our goal is to continue adding more to this shared fictional world that we’re writing in. And what form that takes, and how involved they are, varies from one person to the next. I personally feel that the group is set up in such a way that makes this goal clear, but I could benefit from talking to the members and see how they feel about it.

    7. Bagpuss*

      I really like these suggestions. I was going to come here to suggest that you think about having some basic information / generla principals that were explianed to new members at the outset, which could include things like saying that feedback is usually given by group members but you can opt out if you prefer not to get feedback, either for a specifc piece of writing or at all.

      You could also think about who feedback should come from – e.g. whether you want to have all projects open to feedback from anyone in the group, or whether you try to set the groups up more as 2 (or 3, or more) writers all offering each other feedback about their joint project.

      I think it also can help to think about, and be fairly explicit about, what approach you are taking in the feedback, and what the writers) want feedbakc bout – e.g plot, style, characters, collaborative approach or all of the above.

      – One author I have given feedback for said, when she sent me the book, that she was really looking for feedback about what didn’t work, and why.
      So my feedback focused on that. I did feed back about my over all impression of the book , but didn’t give detailed feedback about the parts I thought worked well or that I enjoyed, becaue she had specifcially asked for the focus to be on the bits that didn’t.

      With another writer who didn’t specify, I did explicitly say when I sent back my feedback the first time, that I had mostly given more detail in the parts of my feedback which were about elements I didn’t think worked, than in the positive parts, becaue I’d found that where something didn’t work for me, I could usually identify why, but I found it much harder to pin down why it worked, when it worked well.

      Since both have continued to ask me for feed back, I assume that this worked for them both!

      1. boo bot*

        I was thinking about this as well, and I think because they haven’t done feedback in the past, it probably makes the most sense to have the feedback part be entirely separate from the regular writing part – make it a group-within-the-group, have people who want to participate submit the pieces they want considered, don’t let anyone give criticism unless they’re going to offer up their own work to be criticized, etc.

  4. MissBliss*

    This sounds like roleplaying to me. As a former avid roleplayer, I’d say this just kind of comes with the territory– some people get neglected because they aren’t great writers or because they aren’t team players. Admins are there to make sure things are running smoothly, bad stuff is taken care of quickly, and there’s some structure. But they don’t need to personally critique writers unless they ask.

    However, you say the admin team come up with writing prompts– maybe you could also do writing workshops where people voluntarily write up something in response to a prompt, and invite others to give feedback. If Bob doesn’t participate, he doesn’t want to, and that’s fine.

    1. TheRedCoat*

      Glad I wasn’t the only one thinking this! I had to move away from written roleplays (I don’t have the sort of life to be able to post at a speed most groups find acceptable). I love the idea of a writing workshop! Even my informal plays could use some constructive criticism. Making it opt in helps keep the hurt feelings down.

    2. TeapotDetective*

      Oh good, I wasn’t the only one who thought RP. Good memories – for the most part. :P
      Reminds me of describing fanfic exchanges as “collaborative writing challenges” to co-workers when I had more free time to spend on fun things.

      1. inlovewithwords*

        I might have a line somewhere on my resume about having as a skill that I am highly experienced in collaborative writing projects.

        Hey, I even have a few volunteer-work-related ones I can demonstrate it with these days.

    3. Rasgar*

      OP here. That’s actually exactly what it is! I just tried to describe it in more general terms for people who might not be familiar with roleplaying. And I agree, it just comes with the territory. I feel perhaps I’m just putting too much pressure on myself to do something about it. I want people to be team players of course, and if people start getting neglected, I tend to take it as a personal failing – that is, either the plot/prompts I’m coming up with aren’t interesting enough to keep people engaged, or I’m not doing enough to include people who may not be part of our “inner circle”. And so I feel that if I could help them be better writers, they would get more enjoyment out of the group because more people would want to interact with them.

      As for your suggestion, I think that’s something I could try at some point, I’ll keep it in mind!

      1. TootsNYC*

        I want to suggest you consider that it is actually respectful of other people to let them have the group experience that they are able to create within the group.

        This is a mind-set that has helped me a lot–to realize that it’s respectful to not try to “fix” other people, or even to “fix” the awkward situation.

        That trying to do so is a bit arrogant–as if I am the one with the right and the responsibility to “fix” the world.

        It’s not easy to set that down, but I have found it restful, and I have found myself valuing other people’s individuality more.

        1. Rasgar*

          I agree with you 100% – this is something I struggle with regularly.

          I want to clarify that I have learned to leave this sort of thing alone for the most part. But I do feel I have a say in it if it’s behavior that directly involves me. For example, if I see Bob and Sue writing something over there that looks like something I’d want to “fix”, I’ll leave it alone. But if Bob takes this sort of thing to me, I think it’s fair for me to tell him that I don’t like the way he does things and I’d prefer not to collaborate with him more.

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        I second the suggestion to have a group discussion about what the goals of the group are, and make that clear upfront to new players. Personally I (and I’m guessing you?) really get a lot out of eloquent dialogue/descriptions, symbolism , sensitively three dimensional characterization, complex and lifelike world building and nuanced plot arcs, etc.

        Some people just aren’t into that. They might be looking for totally different things in play (socializing in a controlled environment? Goofy ways to explore concepts without too much effort? Wish fulfillment? Etc). and find that all your delicate worldbuilding and nuanced characterization gets in the way of enjoying their two dimensional self-insert fantasy. In which case you just aren’t compatible! That’s okay! But it’s helpful to know upfront and set the expectations with new (and current) members, just like you do for things like sexual/violent culture content or genre.

      3. inlovewithwords*

        So, you might want to think about how extensive of a thing this is in the community. If there’s really strong clique lines, that can be really unhealthy, and you may want to think about how to break down some of those walls. You could think about thinking of plots specifically geared to include folks who aren’t usually in the “inner circle,” for instance, thinking about their strengths/weaknesses/etc. That’s part of a GM/admin’s role, right, to consider the table/forum/whatever’s health in myriad forms.

        I think the other thing I’d ask is if there’s actually an established culture or protocol around people giving each other feedback? A lot of the RPs I’ve been at, this has actually felt like a huge taboo, or else a Requirement and somewhat intimidating. Maybe just starting an open conversation about it on your out-of-character thread/forum about how you want to handle that will get an idea of how some of those players who do need more critical feedback feel would be helpful? And then you will actually *know* how or if they want to be approached.

      4. Jadelyn*

        It sounds to me like maybe you’ve got yourself a bit too personally invested in the forum as a whole – the way you describe anything less than the ideal of what you want the forum to run like as a “personal failing”, in particular jumps out at me. As an admin, your role is to facilitate and guide, not to personally ensure that every single RPer is getting the exact same experience out of the RP.

        Honestly, my initial thought with this letter was that it’s a problem that sort of solves itself. If others drift away from RPing with Bob, they’re basically voting with their writing and while you might feel bad for Bob, honestly, that’s a Bob problem, not a you problem that you need to solve. If he gets frustrated or asks why nobody will RP with him, then you’d offer the feedback perhaps, but otherwise let him reap what he’s sown.

      5. Aurion*

        Oh man, OP, I feel you. I used to RP with someone like this. Bluntly, they were not very good at writing, and also quite literally impacted/hurt other characters with their posts despite in- and out-of character warnings. For example, if Character A and B are doing something illegal together, I put in the narrative Character B held their breath, praying in silence: don’t say it don’t say it don’t say it but that player’s Character A would inevitably say, aloud, the illegal secret and then we’d all be in hot water together. (It was a tabletop RPG adapted to online roleplaying, so we had NPCs and a GM who would control the world and enact consequences.) It made the game far less fun and, in my younger and immature days, the group of us who did take the game more seriously definitely side-eyed this player a lot. We had OOC forums where we, the players, would discuss the game and plot and plan actions ahead of time, which the player never participated in…fine, their choice, but then it really, really wasn’t fun when the player would–deliberately or not–torpedo the rest of us in the game.

        I don’t think you can approach them about their writing technique, since they didn’t ask for feedback and may not want any. But I think you, as the GM, can approach them about how they should try to participate in the OOC chat if they can, or at least work harder to not inadvertently or on-purpose torpedo all the plotting the other players have done ahead of time. Writing poorly is mostly just on that player and doesn’t affect others as much; tanking other players’ enjoyment is another matter altogether.

      6. Jenn G*

        You can have deep and nuanced rp as high status, a spirit of collaboration, or be welcoming to all standards of writing – pick two:

        Nuanced rp + collaboration = newbies get hazed into meeting standards/pushed out the door in order to collaborate
        Nuanced rp + welcoming = people don’t collaborate with the non-standard-meeting people in order to maintain their status, so ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups form
        Collaboration + welcoming = RP standards go out the window in favour of harmony

        I picked one way back in the day of MU*s and there were hate groups dedicated to me. :) In retrospect, I think I would rather have spent my time being kinder and doing less gatekeeping, but I sure learned a lot.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          I don’t think hazed or pushed out the door is the only way to bring newbies up to speed on expectations for quality. One of the things I’ve noticed over more than a decade of written roleplay interaction is that good quality often tends to beget good quality; people who are shakier on the technical skills get into a writing group whose average level is above their own, and being immersed in that higher quality can help them quickly improve their own writing through sheer exposure. People tend to strive to match what they’re given.

          1. Jenn G*

            Some people do, sure. You could have a big training program too. But you will still have to decide how the people who don’t meet the standard are treated, because there will always be some.

      7. That One Person*

        Ha this definitely reminded me of it, though I did wonder if it maybe was more like short story swapping until you mentioned “moving the plot along” since I’ve RP’d with people like that too.

        It’s one of those things that are just going to come up every so often on RP sites though, especially depending on community size because with larger communities there’s more people to draw from compared to smaller ones. With smaller ones if a couple of people become really plot driven for the moment it can be harder to give enough attention to another thread where things are more casual with a newcomer (and potentially awkward to include them in the story when they have zero knowledge of another person’s character to just dive right into things). As others have mentioned one of the things to keep an eye on is cliques and ensuring it’s still a welcoming community (and especially to avoid nastiness towards newcomers).

        I’ve had communities that involved a bit of thread grading where there was always some sort of commentary on the thread with a mix of compliments and areas to lookout for (sometimes just little things like double checking grammar/spelling). I’m curious if something like that is the norm or if its primarily informal suggestions between members so to some degree your question depends on the reflected rules and norms of the site as a whole. It could be worth getting something of a consensus too if this isn’t currently the norm to establish it as such and if it’s something the general member base would be agreeable to since sites often see changes over time.

        That said I think if people want to opt out that should be kept in mind too as sometimes people can’t change certain quirks and may not appreciate being “dinged” on it time and time again. Had a friend who I had many fun threads with and who could weave fun stories, but due to a head injury back in the day had spelling issues (though never so bad you couldn’t get her intent since the human brain can be good at auto-piloting through these sort of things).

        In cases where someone’s having specific issues with a thread partner though while I can imagine mediating the talk, some of that should come from the thread partner – in a respectful manner. With the example if the person’s having issues helping to progress the plot it’d be in the partner’s interest to address these concerns to the person so if there’s a need to brainstorm then that can be done (this may help if the person simply lacks inspiration for the thread, or maybe has general difficulty since I know for some folks its a matter of avoiding shadow-play of another character or NPC they feel like they can’t or shouldn’t control). This is where open communication between the players can be good too since it’ll allow for more options depending on scenarios.

        Other than that…sometimes a person simply isn’t a good fit for that specific community. As long as both the person and community gave it a good shot then there’s nothing to be ashamed of and simply hope they find the right group in the future. (And thanks to all this talk of writing I almost wrote “the write group” and had to figure out why that wasn’t correct for a second, heh.)

      8. Working Mom Having It All*

        Oh, wait. That changes everything. Written RPs are just, like RPs but in writing rather than live/in person/via audio or video communication. I’m really not sure I would offer up writing feedback for something like this.

        I play D&D live in person, and if a fellow player — even the DM — took me aside and told me that people don’t like playing with me because I don’t have good improv skills, I’d be pretty crushed. I play RPGs as a way to unwind and have fun with friends, not because I want to be an actor. If I wanted to be an actor, I’d take acting lessons or audition for plays.

      9. Arts Akimbo*

        Haha, my first thought was that this might be a MUSH! I remember my MUSHing days fondly, but yes, there was always someone who was no fun to play with that most of us felt guilted into playing with anyway. MUSHing (if that’s what this is) is one of those activities that participants get extremely emotionally invested in, and for inexperienced folks, stuff that happens to their character can seem reeeeeeally personal, even when it’s not. Sensitivity ran high, and the wholly text-based nature of the medium made it doubly hard to read tone and good intentions.

        The specific MUSH I played on the most required that the players effectively be GMs for one another. Rather like your Bob, some people just… never reciprocated. I and some others would come up with these elaborate plots to run for everyone, others just wanted to scene conversations. All forms of enjoyment were cool and fine, but not everyone’s play styles jibed with everyone else’s. One player of the conversational-scening bent fulfilled her plot-GMing by ICly throwing elaborate parties for all the PCs/NPCs– the perfect solution for a person of her play style!

        In that specific setting, it would have been extremely weird to offer writing critiques, and because of everyone’s emotional investment, any discussion of play incompatibility went best along the lines of Allison’s “This is just my weird thing, but” phrasing. “This is just my weird thing, but I realize I don’t like playing romantic scenes. Let’s have our characters just be friends,” is something I had to say at one point, and anyone I had to say it to took it well. When emotional investment and sensitivity runs as high as it does in creative endeavors, “This is just my weird thing” is a phrase that works wonders!

        The exception to this would have been something egregious like powerposing, which you could give very direct and immediate feedback on. “Do not powerpose my character. My character absolutely does *not* (do that thing you just said/does not let your character touch her in that way/whatever).” If the person flounced after that simple statement of boundary, they were *not* someone you wanted on your MUSH anyway!

    4. inlovewithwords*

      Haha, I’m kind of glad there are so many of us thinking of RP, because goodness knows that’s where my brain went! And its’ a real thing in RP, the cliques that form, and that sometimes they are just because some people are really, really bad at writing and other people get turned off. And it’s so hard when it’s something for fun to know if you can or should offer concrit or just let it go, knowing that they won’t improve and get more isolated.

      Seconding the writing workshop thing, that sounds like a really good idea! Especially if they’re structured as “hey who wants to get feedback from someone they don’t usually get it from?” If it’s formulated as feedback, and Bob participates, that’s a sign he’s open to it and maybe you can start a conversation, OP. And if not, well, goodness knows plenty of RPers/fanfic writers/etc are enjoying themselves and don’t much care what others think.

    5. Betty*

      I’ve never played a written RP, but my current GM at the end of every session makes us say out favourite roleplaying moment for each of the other players/characters. It’s kind of cringe, but it actually works well as a tool to be encouraging and provides a bit of structure to chat in a positive way about the session. We’re a small longtime group who’s big on character arc and low on power gaming, but maybe you could announce a sort of feedback compliment session every big plot point.

      Alternatively, why not send out a survey? Just to check in with everyone and see what they like the most and what they wish they could have more/less of. It would certainly let you know whether most people would like feedback or just want to hang.

  5. WellRed*

    I admit I don’t quite get the purpose of the group, but how do people join? Do they need to submit writing samples ahead of time? If not, might that be a way to assess, at least a tiny bit, for fit?

    1. Rasgar*

      Members join the group with a writing sample of sorts, essentially a bio of the character they will be using in the stories they write. Unfortunately, sometimes people can submit a stellar writing sample and then turn out to be not so good in practice, especially when it comes to collaborating with other people.

  6. LaDeeDa*

    I would approach this similarly to how I would approach a project I have been asked to consult on. I would ask Bob what his goals are, what kind of or level of feedback he wants, if he wants help in increasing the level of participation he gets, and finally if he would be open to some coaching around how best to create a collaborative story (he may not understand how to set up his portion of the story to allow someone to move forward, without making them do all the work.)
    He may be perfectly happy with what is happening. It may not align fully with the objectives of the community, but that is a different conversation to be had once you know what his goals are.

    1. LaDeeDa*

      Just another quick thought– do you have “best practices” pinned post? It might be helpful to people who are new to such a format to have some tips from the pros.

    2. Remote Worker and Dog Lover*

      I love this suggestion! I was thinking along the same lines. There’s so many reasons why someone might want to give their time in this way and figuring out why they’re there and how you can support them is really helpful.

    3. Rasgar*

      OP here – that sounds like a good idea. My fear about doing that is that by telling him something like “do you want feedback about your writing?” It’s kind of suggesting that he’s doing something wrong. And if I don’t want to upset him, it might be better not to ask questions like that. This obviously isn’t true for all people, but I have a strong feeling it’s true for Bob and other writers I have known. It’s the same problem with trying to coach him.

      In the kind of writing we do, however, communication is key. It’s a good possibility that you’re right about him not knowing how to set up his portion of the story, but he doesn’t ask questions and he’s not very receptive to being prodded to do more. We certainly don’t want to hold his hand through the whole process, or we’ll still be doing the whole thing on our own, you know?

      In response to your other thought – we do indeed have such a pinned post, encouraging people to “carry their weight”, ask questions, and communicate their expectations with their collaboration partners. I don’t feel that Bob is paying much attention to it, as is sometimes the case with our members.

      1. TootsNYC*

        My fear about doing that is that by telling him something like “do you want feedback about your writing?” It’s kind of suggesting that he’s doing something wrong.

        I agree with your worry.

        But I think as a moderator, you can check in and say: “Bob, how are you enjoying your membership? Are you happy with your level of involvement, are you getting what you want or need out of the community? I’m always looking for feedback and how things are going for all the individual members, and I’m focusing on you right now because you’re new, and I see you aren’t posting as much, so I want to be sure all is good, and that it’s from your own comfort level.”

        THEN, based on what he says, IF he says he wishes he could be involved more, you can say, “Let me know if you’d like me to look at some of the recent threads and see if there are any observations I can make that might be helpful to you.”

        The implication is that you do NOT already know “what’s wrong with him.”

      2. Delphine*

        The problem is, you were fine telling him that you don’t want to work with him…asking him if he’d like some feedback that would make collaborating easier and possibly more enjoyable for him is far, far kinder than what you did.

      3. Delphine*

        And from your other comments, it sounds like you’ve all essentially shunned him…he knows he’s doing something wrong and you’ve already upset him:

        I’ve been writing with him for around a year, and when I first met him, he was very talkative, and used to ask to partner up with people all the time. But his writing habits tended to grate on people’s nerves, and so they gradually drifted away from him. As more and more people started to ignore him, he became more quiet and withdrawn. To my knowledge, few if any of Bob’s writing partners said anything to him about why they didn’t enjoy writing with him. So the enthusiasm was once there, but it has died away since people haven’t been receptive to his way of doing things.

        1. LaDeeDa*

          Everything about this reads as an admin who is wanting to be a boss, and to control exactly what is happening in that group, and wanted validation for shunning someone. If this was coming from an employee (Bob) about the behavior of the manager (OP) the responses would be a lot different.

          1. Rasgar*

            I’m sorry if it’s coming off that way. I am not looking for validation, I’m looking for advice.

            I would agree with you that I have problems trying to control things that aren’t my place to control, but I don’t try to control everything that happens in the group. As I’ve stated elsewhere, there are many members who don’t do things the way I would, and there’s no strife between us. Bob was just an especially problematic person in a number of ways.

        2. Rasgar*

          I agree with you. Telling him that I didn’t want to work with him anymore came from him being a difficult person to work with, and I think it’s fair for me to make the choice not to work with him as this is a hobby we’re doing for fun, and no one has an obligation to work with people they don’t enjoy working with. But perhaps it wasn’t the best way to handle it.

          I don’t take any responsibility for the other members of the group shunning him, and I don’t know what you’re suggesting we should have done. Do you think that I should have pushed members to keep collaborating with him, even though they didn’t enjoy it and he showed no intentions to meet the group standards? If one person has to change the way they do things in order to enjoy an activity with a second person, whose enjoyment is more important?

          1. Gumby*

            I do not think that everyone fits into every group – and that is okay! So I agree that forcing people to collaborate is probably not on. (Though maybe a once-per-year grab bag type of thing to force people out of ruts where they only interact with their favored writing partners might not be an awful idea.)

            The important thing would be that if/when he does reach out asking to collaborate, people are kind in their responses. They can be truthful, but tactful. If he has trouble finding people who will partner with him – he might drift away from the group or he might ask what the deal is.

            For this situation – *if Bob asked* then you could say you saw a pattern where he was more interested in deep, internal thought process of his own character which is a different (not better – not worse) type of writing than the rest of the group engaged in and it might be causing roadblocks to collaboration. But if he didn’t ask, it isn’t the worst thing to let him drift away from the group. Someone who doesn’t mesh well with the wider group quietly drifting away is maybe the easiest, lowest-drama way of “solving” the problem. Presumably there are plenty of other groups or outlets Bob could use that might be a better fit for his writing style.

  7. Amber Rose*

    If I try to put myself in Bob’s shoes based off this limited info, then I feel you should leave him alone.

    He’s quiet, doesn’t ask to partner up, and doesn’t really respond to criticism. That strikes me as a person who writes without too much concern what others think or do. Maybe he is shy about his writing and is part of the group to get over that. Or maybe he’s just de-stressing and doesn’t care to put in more effort. Even if you feel he’s isolated, maybe this is the level of involvement he’s comfortable with.

    Either way. I don’t think it’s bad to offer criticism in an art based group without being asked the first time. But after that first time, if the person seems unreceptive, then stop. That’s the equivalent of trying to have a chat with someone who won’t look you in the eye and only gives one word answers.

    1. Jadelyn*

      Hard disagree that you should ever just start with criticism without being asked. At most, you could ask someone if they’re open to feedback, but unsolicited criticism can absolutely destroy someone’s motivation to continue pursuing whatever art form.

      Back in the Olden Days of Fandom, it used to be common to put in your author’s notes at the start of a fic whether you were open to concrit or not. I don’t know if people still do that – I haven’t been really involved in fandom and fic since the days of – but I strongly feel that something of that sort is necessary before people just start offering critique, especially when we’re talking about a hobby people are doing for free.

    2. Rasgar*

      You’re right, I don’t think I clarified my situation with Bob very well.

      I’ve been writing with him for around a year, and when I first met him, he was very talkative, and used to ask to partner up with people all the time. But his writing habits tended to grate on people’s nerves, and so they gradually drifted away from him. As more and more people started to ignore him, he became more quiet and withdrawn. To my knowledge, few if any of Bob’s writing partners said anything to him about why they didn’t enjoy writing with him. So the enthusiasm was once there, but it has died away since people haven’t been receptive to his way of doing things.

      For my part, I hoped that trying to offer him some advice and insight would help him understand why things are the way they are now, and then possibly tell him what he could be doing differently. And then maybe he’d get back that enthusiasm he used to have.

      1. Kaitlyn*

        Yeah, if you kind of “own” or admin the group – if you’re its main/only/public face – then you probably do have an obligation to chat with people who seem to be having less fun with it.

        There’s also a big difference between critiquing writing, which people tend to find very personal, and critiquing collaboration style. If there’s an expectation that partners will take on equal roles, and put in equal effort, and Bob’s not doing that, then yes, I’d say talk to him and figure out what’s going on. Is he overcommiting? Is he more excited by the brainstorming process than the actual writing? Whatever it is, you can (gently) remind him that group members are expected to participate in all parts of the process, not just the stuff they find fun. Ask him to see if he can get it together over the next two collaboration cycles before you do anything else. He may realize that this hobby isn’t what he’s looking for.

        As a side note, you’ve mentioned lots of onboarding materials; do you have a process by which group members can be removed/disinvited/take a hiatus? As another side note, is it possible to create a less-intense spin-off group? Just spitballing here.

        1. Rasgar*

          This is a very good way to put it, and I wish I’d said it myself – it’s primarily his collaboration style I want to critique, and not his writing per se.

          As for getting removed or taking a hiatus, members can do that freely at any time they wish, and can come back at any time they so choose. There aren’t strict guidelines on how much or how frequently a person needs to contribute, just so long as they are putting in equal (or at least acceptable to their partner) effort whenever they collaborate. Because of this, I don’t think that making a spin-off group would be necessary, as people who only pop in once every couple of months are still welcome in the group and enjoy themselves.

  8. Save One Day at a Time*

    If you want to keep including him, I’d start with a general check in. Maybe he WANTS to be writing less because something going on in his personal or professional life has changed and is taking up more time. Maybe he is happy with his level of involvement, maybe he wishes he was more involved.

    It does sound like you are treating it more like a job than a hobby, and it’s true that other people will be approaching it as a hobby. Just is what it is with that.

  9. Weegie*

    I think that if certain people are being excluded from the group because they don’t fit into your writing ‘culture’, then you would be doing them a kindness to spell out what that culture is (in writing terms as opposed to, say, where the wizards can be located) and then asking whether they’d welcome some pointers so that they can get the most out of their participation.

    Also, you already have rules, so why not add some that pertain to the group’s writing preferences? Including, perhaps, the type of practices participants need to observe in order to be a successful member of the group? (Works like a charm in some of the writing groups I’ve been involved in.)

    1. Rasgar*

      OP here. I have done quite a lot to spell out what our culture is, and tried my best to help people understand this. We also have things amongst our rules pertaining to preferred practices. Unfortunately, we occasionally get members who don’t seem to pay much heed to these suggestions and seem to prefer to do things their own way.

      1. Jadelyn*

        That, I think, just comes with the territory when you’re doing RP. In my experience, unless the person’s behavior is actually disruptive to other RPers, the best way to handle that is to let the problem self-correct: if they do things in a way that doesn’t click well with the group’s norms, people will stop RPing with them, and eventually they’ll tire of that and go find an RP group that fits their preferences better. RP groups tend to be self-leveling like that.

      2. Weegie*

        I guess you’ve done everything you can! If people want to do it their way, I suppose they will drift off in time. It’s a shame they’re becoming excluded, though, so if you periodically ask if they want feedback, at least you know you’re giving them a chance to participate.

    2. zora*

      This is what I was going to say. As someone who has run volunteer activist groups, I think the key is to be really clear about the group, the point of the group, and some guidelines for behavior. If someone is frustrating group members frequently, or just pushing against the culture of the group a lot, I encouraged them to leave the group and find one that fit them and their desires better or start their own.

      It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with Bob, it’s just about the group fit. People can have different goals and approaches, but every group can’t be everything to everyone, it’s impossible. Especially when you are all volunteers, you just don’t have the time and resources to support people 1,000 different ways.

      I personally would have the awkward conversation, and ‘fire’ him as a member. I had to do that with volunteers as part of a group, and it wasn’t fun at the time, but it was in the best interests of everyone. If someone is consistently coming in and making all the other members frustrated, then the whole group is revolving around this one person and that isn’t fair to everyone else. And eventually people might get fed up and leave the group, and then there isn’t a group for Bob to even be in anyway.

      It’s not easy, but I really found it the best approach in the long run to keep an eye on the big picture, and what worked for the *majority* of the people in the group, and in a positive way, keep things focused on that. And sometimes that meant that someone wasn’t a good fit in the group. It’s a hard gig, congrats for running a group for so long!! Best of luck!

  10. Akcipitrokulo*

    If there is a subject matter which is making people uncomfortable (things that would usually attract a content warning and aren’t a part of your group) then sure, mention it.

    If they are specifically collaborating with you, and it’s therefore directly affecting you, then it’s fine.

    If someone’s asked for feedback, go for it! (With kind honesty.)

    If none of the above… in my personal view, no, I don’t think it’s appropriate.

    I think you may have different expectations – which means it is absolutely fine not to collaborate with Bob (but I’d put it as “I think we’ve got different styles” if he ever asked) – but it’s not OK, in *my* opinion, to interfere with his enjoyment of his hobby when he isn’t causing problems.

    1. Rasgar*

      OP here – I agree with you. A lot of my struggle on this issue comes from the fact that as an admin who’s organizing a lot of the group activities, I’ve realized that as much as I don’t like interacting with Bob or collaborating with him, it’s nearly impossible for me to avoid him completely. Telling him what my expectations are seemed to be the only fair way to address this with him (as opposed to saying “you aren’t participating in this group in the correct way”).

      I did in fact say something like that to him, that I preferred not to write with him because our styles are too different. And I mentioned that if he was interested, I could give him some advice on what I think he could be doing differently. Unfortunately, his response was to leave the group and block me.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Ow. That was an over reaction and a half!

        Someone upthread mentioned the links they saw with this and roleplaying… and there is a really good “expectations of the game” sheet out there (will try to dig up later!) that you migjt be able to adapt. The idea is that differing styles are valid, but someone who wants a tactical, roll for every decision with lots of tables will not enjoy the same game as someone who wants a rules-light, roleplaying out character flaws and dilemmas game. So knowing what you want and how it fits with a proposed gaming group at the outset helps!

        1. Delphine*

          Considering that this response from the OP seems to have come on the heels of the rest of the community ignoring Bob…I am honestly not surprised he left the group and blocked the OP. There seems to have been a huge effort not to offer to provide any kind of constructive feedback that might help things improve for Bob in the community. Instead, everyone started ignoring him and then the admin of the group said, “I don’t enjoy working with you.” Any reasonable person would assume that the entire group had turned against them for some personal reason. None of this was handled kindly or correctly.

          1. Aurion*

            I read it as the group slowly avoiding RPing/collaborating with Bob over time, not that they collectively organized an abrupt freeze. Given the current online culture is to avoid criticism unless specifically asked for (which is not a stance I agree with, but that’s a tangent), I can’t say I blame the community. Bob didn’t ask for feedback, ergo it was not given, but his writing/play style was offputting, so people avoided him.

            I do think OP’s feedback was harsher than it should’ve been, but I don’t see any fault with the writing community here.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              Agreed. When it comes to written RP, there are often more people in the group than any one individual can meaningfully interact with; as a result, everyone naturally prioritizes interacting with the people they enjoy writing with, and if someone is significantly below the overall standard, they’ll start to find that everyone deprioritizes them. There’s usually nothing coordinated or organized about it — if Bob is a bad writer who doesn’t pick up the hooks other players give him or tends to ignore the setting, then people are not going to engage with him. C’est la vie.

              1. Aurion*

                I mean, I disagree with the opt-in model of concrit for fanfiction too, but I can at least see more of an argument for it–fanfiction, once posted, is out there for readers to consume, and it is not a collaborative process unless you’re co-writing with others. RPing is a collaborative process, and the extent of that collaboration depends very much on the culture of the community. I would argue poorly written RP does bring down the enjoyment of the community as a whole, and even when the player is functionally a good writer they can be adversely affecting the community in various ways (derailing Plot A with their own Plot B because they think it’s more interesting, torpedoing a plan with their characters action and affecting other characters, etc etc). There are actually various avenues that Bob can be offputting to RP with beyond the technical quality of his writing. If he were widely offputting, I’m not surprised the RP community avoided him.

          2. Rasgar*

            That’s actually not what happened at all. As I’ve stated in the original letter and many times across the comments, we gave Bob gentle reminders of the rules and suggestions on what he could do to improve. It was his choice not to take those suggestions to heart. There was no concerted effort – everyone in the group is an individual with the capacity to form their own opinions about Bob.

            1. zora*

              I think you need to let yourself off the hook for Bob in particular, and for anyone who just doesn’t really fit in the group and chooses to leave. It’s OK!! Not every group can be everything to every person.

              The only thing I found worked better (in running all-volunteer activist groups) was to be clear up front with the purpose of the group and general guidelines for all members. Then, it was easier to address earlier in the process when someone just didn’t seem to fit with the culture and aims of the group, and they would either self-select out, or we would suggest that they leave and find a different group.

              If he left and blocked you, that’s on him. He realized the group wasn’t good for him and that’s his prerogative, and honestly, better for the rest of your group!!

              One thing I had to remember often was that the whole group wasn’t there to be one “Bob”‘s therapist. It wasn’t fair to make everyone else bend over backwards to make this one person happy so they don’t leave. In all volunteer groups like this, it really is about establishing the consensus for the largest number of people, and outliers won’t really stick around. It’s different from a real workplace, where everyone is getting paid, and there is more of an obligation to make it work for a diverse group of people. A volunteer activity group doesn’t have that level of obligation in my opinion.

  11. Allornone*

    This is my snarky, not-helpful-at-all side showing, so everyone please ignore- but hey, man, why can’t wizards be in a modern-day small town? If I were a wizard, I’d like the option to move to a small town (this is assuming Harry Potter rules that, of course, wizards exist in present-ish day).

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Following the setting rules is courteous to everyone. If one person decides they want to be writing a dramatically different sort of story than everyone else, things can go off the rails pretty fast.

    2. Claire*

      I’m immediately reminded of Archer’s Goon, by Diana Wynne Jones, where the small town is run by a family of wizards. It also has a space ship. Fabulous book.

      That said, if someone’s contribution clashes with the established world/setting, yeah, that wouldn’t work.

    3. fposte*

      I don’t think it’s so much that it’s impossible as that it’s outside the scope of what’s been decided on for the writing project.

    4. silverpie*

      Complying with wizarding secrecy laws would be harder in a town where most people know everyone else’s business. But considering most quidditch teams represent smaller towns, it obviously can be done…

    5. Rasgar*

      OP here – funny thing about that is, our setting absolutely has wizards in modern day small towns! It was just a silly example I came up with, as it would be hard to describe the kinds of things that DON’T work without rambling about the lore. There’s all kinds of crazy stuff going on in our setting, which unfortunately leads people to sometimes think that they can write whatever they want without worrying about whether it makes sense. I’m always happy to encourage creativity and work with people to help their ideas work out, but there’s not much I can do if people won’t communicate with me or the other admins.

      1. Allornone*

        Yay! Wizards in small towns! In seriousness, though, I do understand why limitations have to be in place. Hope you didn’t take offense! Sorry I have no actual helpful advice for you, but the other posters have pretty much covered what I said.

    6. Allornone*

      Again, folks, I understand the necessity to stay within the scope of the group’s chosen material, I was just kind playing around because, I don’t know, I thought the comment would be at least mildly humorous. I guess I was wrong because, even with a disclaimer and a previous concession, most responders are taking it seriously. My bad.

  12. Hiring Mgr*

    I think much of this comes down to the purpose of the group.. Is it for serious writers/writing only, or is it just a forum for people to share what they’ve written but casually with no expectation of a certain level of “quality”? Or a mix? Are there standards to be accepted into the group, or can anyone just join? It could just be that there are some who take it very seriously and others who are just playing around. Bob may not want or care about feedback and is just happy to submit something every so often..

    1. Rasgar*

      OP here – the problem, I think, is that there are clear standards for being accepted into the group, and what kind of participation we expect from our members. But they aren’t very strictly enforced. I recognize that not everyone will be writing the same way as me, and so I don’t want to bear down on people who aren’t being “perfect” and start punishing them. But then I struggle to find that balance between letting everyone have their fun, and maintaining the standards of the group for the people who are expecting certain things from it.

      1. animaniactoo*

        I think that you have an answer in front of you – when multiple members of your group are struggling with someone over something, that’s the time that it’s not just “we’re not really expecting perfection” but is “this is not acceptable and you need to step up your game on this if you’re going to stick around”.

      2. zora*

        Yeah, it’s about finding the balance.

        The first step, that I learned, was setting the standards and guidelines ahead of time, so you are good there!!

        Then, being the leader is about kind of keeping an eye on the big picture and trying to find the right balance. And it IS a struggle! You will never be perfect, and the line will move around depending on the group and what is going on, so try not to beat yourself up about it, it’s not an exact science.

        But something I did learn to keep in mind was thinking about the *majority* of the group. Not that it’s about being mean to the “Bobs” that are outliers, but also, it’s not fair to everyone if the squeaky wheel gets the most of your attention and everyone is tiptoeing around them. It’s okay if someone doesn’t fit in and decides to leave, and that sounds like that’s what Bob did, so I would just figure that’s how it works sometimes.

        I just keep an eye on the majority and is everyone still *mostly* enjoying the experience *most* of the time. Everyone is going to have to make little compromises now and again, and have to put up with something that bugs them, but in the aggregate, you want the group as a whole to be a positive experience.

        Checking in periodically with individuals to ask them how they feel about your leadership/moderation is helpful. And also sometimes you’ll have to have a slightly awkward conversation with someone who isn’t getting along with the group to say ‘maybe this isn’t the group for you and that’s ok!! We just have a certain culture, which we’ve spelled out, and there are lots of other groups out there if you want something different. But this is how this group works and we’re not going to drastically change it at this point.’

        Like I said, it’s not an exact science. Plus, you are a volunteer! So you can’t be perfect all the time. So, just do your best and that’s all you can do!

  13. Bubbleon*

    I think you’ve already gotten some important feedback from members, and it sounds like there’s already some feeling that you might be a little overbearing with your expectations at times. Listen to what they’re telling you and continue to take their feedback as seriously as you want others to hear yours.

    When people join or post, can you ask them to say whether they’re looking for feedback on their works or not? That might help clarify some boundaries right off the bat. If there are people who frustrate you and don’t want help, you can just do your actual duty as an admin to make sure the content is appropriate and move on. Or, if you want this to be a super serious group with important goals and a specific quality of writing, maybe you should adjust the criteria for participation and just tell Bob he’s not welcome anymore.

  14. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    There is more than one question here.
    “Should I, as administrator, give unsolicited feedback to contributors?”
    Yes, that should be fine.
    “Should I be incorporate feedback I’ve received about my tone and phrasing when doing so?”
    Yes, you should be aware of how people in the group hear what you say, and adjust as needed without losing your points.
    “What about Bob?”
    Bob doesn’t want anyone’s feedback. Bob may or may not be happy without collaborators, but that is the situation Bob created. Only Bob can fix it. And only Bob can say it’s a problem. You say Bob is shy. Maybe his is. He may also be perfectly content. What you want from a collaborative writing group is not what Bob wants. He dabbles. You lead. He does less with the group. You do more. There is no right or wrong. Unless he’s holding you back, let Bob do Bob. Until he asks for help, that’s all you can do.

  15. Quiznakit*

    I’d honestly leave it alone, OP, unless or until Bob seeks feedback for why few people want to write with him. The way you describe the group as a hobby suggests that it’s not explicitly a hone-your-craft group, even if some members approach it in that vein.

  16. Not A Manager*

    “I am unsure if he knows about my dislike for him, as he is a rather quiet person who rarely asks for others to write with him”

    If he rarely asks for others to write with him, maybe there is no problem? Bob just doesn’t sound as into the collaborative process as some of you are.

    “The opportunity has never really come up for me to say, ‘Sorry, but I’d prefer not to work with you on this.'”

    It sounds like you’re waiting and hoping for an “opportunity” to say this. I actually sympathize with you – sometimes I want my non-verbal cues to be acknowledged and questioned, because I have information that I really want to share with the other person. HOWEVER, when I feel that way, sometimes I need to ask myself why I’m waiting to be asked instead of just saying it. If the answer is, “this really isn’t my business to bring up first,” then that’s a clue to me that it really probably isn’t my business at all.

    If several people have told you that you’re coming on too strong about these things, it might be time to re-consider your level of investment in other people’s writing in this venue.

    1. Rasgar*

      The problem with this approach is that it is an entirely collaborative process – leaving Bob to his own devices and saying that there’s no problem is akin to having someone accompany you to basketball games in the park – but instead of joining either of the teams, he gets his own basketball and wanders around on the court. Similarly, I don’t think that my investment is too much if Bob was supposed to be on my basketball team, and I suffer for it if he’s choosing not to play the game the way it’s intended.

      My concerns about waiting for an opportunity to say something are that I don’t want this feedback to come out of the blue – because then the question becomes, why didn’t I say something sooner? I feel that such feedback is best given in the moment.

      1. Mr. Tyzik*

        There’s timely feedback and then there is patterned feedback. Patterned feedback is that which generates over time and reveals a repeating series of events that need to be addressed.

        This feedback could hurt in the moment. And it may not be welcomed. If you insist on giving him the feedback, do it now and get it out of your headspace.

        Personally, I don’t think you should give the feedback, especially if you’ve received feedback on how you deliver it. Work on those issues first before you try to talk to Bob.

  17. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    This sounds very similar to the kind of online activity I’m involved in. Where I am, feedback can be a very contentious thing; there winds up being a lot of drama around who is or isn’t giving feedback, whether it’s valid to be secretly discontented with someone’s writing if you don’t give them feedback, if giving direct feedback looks too aggressive, if giving feedback anonymously or through a sockpuppet is cowardly… it’s kind of a mess.

    I think for this, OP, you might want to take your group’s temperature as a whole. Some collaborative groups set up an organized approach to feedback — ie monthly or quarterly free-for-all feedback sessions, in which someone can participate if they want feedback and not participate if they specifically don’t want feedback. Perhaps your group would be interested in having something similar. There are a lot of casual/hobbyist writers I know who would absolutely kill for more quality feedback. Others have a permanent feedback “station” of sorts, where you can leave feedback without engaging in dialogue so that the feedback-ee can take their time to digest it instead of having to come up with an immediate answer.

    For Bob specifically, it sounds like he probably does not particularly want feedback. The people I’ve seen who do want it tend to jump on it when it’s offered, and show enthusiasm or at least notable receptiveness, even if the feedback is more critical than laudatory.

  18. EBStarr*

    This seems like a good time to write up a set of community guidelines, or add to them — with input from the rest of the community, of course.

    If the people pointing out to you that this isn’t a job and you don’t need to be taking people to task over expectations are people *from* the community, then it sounds like the community is mostly OK with people not taking it as seriously as you do. In that case, one possible example of a guideline might be something like, “One great way to improve your writing skills is to get a beta reader. If you’re not here looking to improve your writing skills and you’re just looking to have fun, that’s OK! Everyone is welcome. But everyone is also free to find their own writing partners, and we’ve seen in the past that it’s often easier for people who put more effort into their writing to find willing partners. You can always write to the mods for help finding partners or for advice on your writing. We’re here to help!”

    For what it’s worth, people will probably be happier if members are *either* required to put a lot of effort into their writing, *or* expected to make sure that everyone participates at the same basic frequency/level/inclusion. You could have a community where some members are just more active and popular — or a community where you have higher expectations but everyone participates at the same level. Trying to get everyone to live up to a set of expectations that aren’t written down and that they have to guess at — and that might be mostly subconscious on people’s part, and vary from person to person — might be part of the problem.

    1. Rasgar*

      I hear what you’re saying. I don’t know if I clarified this well in the initial letter, but we do have written guidelines about what we expect out of our members, which they are expected to read before joining.

      I also agree that they don’t take it as seriously as I do – and there are plenty of people who are very laid back, and contribute very infrequently that I have no problem with. Bob is only an especially egregious example of someone who is really not following the community standards we’ve set out.

  19. Morning Flowers*

    This might sound weird, OP, but … letting Bob not have volunteer partners is often how this *should* shake out; forcing another outcome generally backfires. As others have said, you can ask if he wants feedback (once!), but past that, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Unless your site has a written, clear, useful style guide that it’s a super big deal to violate, a creative writing forum admin doesn’t have a lot of tools. I mean, there’s no cause to ban or restrict him from what you’ve written here, so you’re probably best off seeing this forum as one incidental stop on Bob’s writing journey. Model good grammar and politeness, and in every interaction keep in mind that for all you know, he’s 12 years old. This helps me be polite and patient with less skilled writers, and helps me remember collabs should be fun first, and growth experiences second.

    1. writerPerson*

      This is my take-away as well. I do think it could be helpful to have a document where you explain “we don’t guarantee partners for everyone, you’ll be more popular as a writing partner if you follow these writing guidelines” and have a document which explains your “minimum to be fun for other people to rp with”.

      From experience, I would put a few grammar things, a recommended post length, and something saying “Please always be sure to give the other players something to react to.” It might also be smart to explicitly spell out “if someone else is writing 3 paragraphs each post and you respond with 3 sentences each time, they’re probably not going to have very much fun and get frustrated”. I don’t recommend having hard and fast “min length” rules, because that always made dialogue between characters torturous. Every exchange had to include 3 flashbacks while the characters were just agreeing to go do something.

      If you wanted to make a guideline page like that, I’d recommend getting feedback from other people in the group and making the guidelines around the laxest from the feedback you get from writers who don’t have trouble getting people to rp with them.

      1. Rasgar*

        I agree! We do have a guidelines page like that, with loose rules like you suggested. It was written by the whole admin team and not just me, since it’s obvious I am a lot more intense about things than my fellow members.

    2. Rasgar*

      I agree with you. I’ve told myself this sort of thing many times, and I still continue to feel like there’s something I should be doing to help people like Bob feel more included. In the end, letting it run its course and hoping he learns something from the experience (and perhaps finds another group he fits in with better) is probably the best way to handle this.

      1. zora*

        I agree, in an all volunteer group like this, you can’t really force someone to change their approach. Letting it run it’s course and letting them figure out this isn’t the right group for them is OK!! It’s not that there’s anything wrong with them or the group, it’s just not a good fit.

        I had to remind myself that this group of volunteers/hobbyists, can’t be Bob’s therapist for him, if he gets frustrated and leaves, that’s what he is doing for himself. You can’t always make everyone feel included, you only have so much bandwidth as a volunteer, and your responsibility is to the group as a whole.

        Think about it this way: making him feel more included might have meant completely changing the whole group to fit what he was looking for, does that make sense? Not really, because what about everyone else?

        It’s a weird feeling, but yes, try to get used to just letting go and letting people be frustrated and leave if that’s what happens. You’re not doing anything wrong, you just can’t be everything to all people.

    3. boo bot*

      This is what I was wanting to say. There are two separate and distinct problems with Bob: one is that he isn’t as good a writer as you’d like him to be, and on that, it’s probably best to ask if he wants feedback and not be too harsh (I would give different advice if this were a professional setting!)

      The second problem, that Bob doesn’t really do his share of group work, is 100% your business, and I don’t think it needs any sugarcoating at all: “Bob, when you do collaborative work, you often leave whoever you are collaborating with to craft the bulk of the plotline and move the story forward, and it’s why people prefer not to work with you,” is a very reasonable thing to say – it’s about his conscious choices (or at least, his work habits).

      I read the description I’ve paraphrased above as meaning that he doesn’t do enough of the work, but another possibility is that he does the work, but in a way that doesn’t advance the plotline (e.g. his contributions are always sort of just playing with the characters on the sidelines of the plot, like if instead of skipping from “arrive at the inn” to “leave in the morning” you spend 20 pages describing the stables; or devote a whole chapter to the backstory of a character who should only be around for half a page. )

      If it’s the second one, I think you can be just as direct – again, it’s not about quality, it’s about working to achieve the collective goal, which is to write a story with a plot.

  20. Clawfoot*

    Depending on the forums/platform you use for all this writing (are there accounts? usernames? are there profiles? or is this all a loose collection of people in email?), is there a way to ask *everyone* if they’d be open to feedback from others in the group? If it’s a tag people can opt to put in their profiles (“Feedback welcome!” or “Only offer feedback if asked, please”), then people can self-select for what they want from the group.

    As I said, this really depends on the platform you’re using (if you’re using one at all) and how customizable it is, but I can see it being relatively trivial to add a specific coloured border to someone’s profile pic if they’re open to feedback or something like that.

  21. Laura H.*

    I’m very… selective with who I let see my writing in process. Not because I’m nervous or anything like that, but because that does take a level of trust that I’ve established with these people. And I know they’ll set me straight, direction-wise if I go a bit off kilter.

    Bob could be that way in regards to getting criticism. Not to surround oneself completely with people who won’t point out problems, but those who help nudge you in the right direction if needed.

    Most important thing in non-work writing is to enjoy the process and have fun. For work-related correspondence, the most important thing is clarity and relative ease of reading- knowing your audience and what jargon they likely do or don’t know for example.

  22. A Hobbyist*

    Yes, ask before you offer feedback! Also make it clear each time you offer feedback that you understand it’s only your perspective. These things are SO subjective. I write as a hobby, and there’s nothing worse than getting unsolicited negative advice from someone convinced they are a better writer. I have gotten advice from other writers that I completely disagree with, framed as “oh as a superior writer I have generously taken the time to give you this much needed-feedback,” and there’s nothing more irritating.

    Bob’s particular situation does call for some feedback, but it sounds like he needs feedback about being thoughtful toward his fellow collaborators, rather than his writing skill. It sounds like the real problem is that he needs to be putting more time and effort in to help keep the project moving forward. OP, when you are working on a project with Bob and you notice some problem with his actual writing craft, you can couch this in collaborative terms, like, “I’ve noticed when stories contain a lot of flat narrative exposition right at the beginning, readers can become inattentive. What would you think about inserting some of these world-building details in more creative ways?” But in order to get him writing with others again, you need to let him know that the reason he’s being isolated is because he’s seen as not pulling his weight. Do this kindly, and frame it like “given most people expect their partners to pitch in on these tasks, do you think you would still want to participate in the group?”

    It’s also a great idea to ask other members to be up front and open about what they hope to get out of the group. I believe it’s even common practice to say “I’d like gentle feedback only” or things like that. Everyone has a level that they are comfortable with, and making that clear up front will only strengthen your group’s bonds. OP, you seem like a person who is focused on improving your writing, but some of your group members may be more focused on enjoying their hobby.

  23. animaniactoo*

    OP, a way to counter direct and clear feedback so that it does not come off as harsh/rude is to make sure that not all of the feedback is negative. Then you’re not softening by saying something along the lines of “maybe you could try to do this” or “this isn’t so bad but this way is better”.

    Rather, what you’re saying is: “You really excel at [this]. I like how you think about [that]. Unfortunately, Z is a problem and it’s getting in the way of being able to do X. To correct it, you can [….]. Good luck, I look forward to seeing your next piece.”

    In doing this, you’re pointing out what you see that is valuable – so the message isn’t ALL about the bad – but then are being direct and clear about what the bad is, offering a solution for the bad, and then ending with encouragement so that the last note isn’t a negative. You don’t want the compliment sandwich which is demeaning to anyone who recognizes it for what it is, and also does end up softening the message to the point where the filling is easier to dismiss.

    1. animaniactoo*

      So, for instance, with Bob, you would say “I thought your idea about X in the story you wrote last month was great. I think you’re really good at seeing X perspective. Unfortunately, we’re set up as a collaborative group and when you’re collaborating you seem to leave the bulk of the actual writing to whomever you’re working with. Going forward, you should expect to do more of that writing yourself. It may help to discuss up front with your partner(s) how much or what parts of the story each of you expect to do the actual writing for. Good look, I look forward to seeing what you do with [this writing prompt].”

      1. CurlyCarlita*

        Yes! This. Feedback, both positive and negative, should follow the Situation-Behavior-Impact model: Do not make fundamental attribution errors and tell people THEY are the problem – sometimes they are the problem, but it’s typically their work or the way they perform their work that is the issue; don’t make it personal. Finally, give feedback early, often, and to anyone you feel would be open to it – in a hierarchal business setting that means, giving feedback to your direct reports, their direct reports, your manager, their manager, your team, etc. Don’t wait a whole year to mention that your expectations are not being met. And remember, any discomfort or ‘ickiness’ you feel about giving negative feedback will most of the time be assuaged by the comfort that comes from clearing the air with someone and being direct about what needs to change. Give Bob feedback because you care about the writing and because you want him to write well.

  24. Port*

    I would echo the suggestions to ask Bob whether he would like feedback.

    OP also mentions being direct and matter of fact when giving feedback. In my experience it is better to establish a rapport with the writer and frame the feedback as a conversation. Rapport can be made in just a moment in the opening; I find a smile, eye contact and saying something positive (and true) is a good way to kick things off in face to face critique. Online, it is a little harder and you have to work to develop an online persona who radiates interest and excitement in the work. It also helps to frame feedback as suggestions instead of taking a directive tone. And of course making sure that your feedback takes into account what the worknitself seems to be aiming for; feedback should help the author achieve their vision, not the critiquer’s.

    As for Bob, I feel a little bad for him. Could OP set an example for the rest of the group by finding ways to be more welcoming? He may be happy with his current level of involvement, but it also sounds like he’s being slowly frozen out.

  25. BRR*

    I wouldn’t proactively offer feedback and probably wouldn’t even ask him if he wants feedback because that’s clear you have some. Since this is a hobby and doesn’t sound like the set up is a public workshop, I would just leave this alone. But, I do think if he asks to pair up you can be on the more clear side with a response. Say that with limited time to work on your writing, you want to write with people who X. As long as X doesn’t end up being that mean.

  26. StaceyIzMe*

    It’s never a good idea to offer advice that’s unsolicited. You don’t know what the object of your advice (“criticism”) has in mind when setting the standards of excellence in any area of their life. Unless you’re asked for your input, you simply don’t have the standing to speak up. As for someone being isolated because nobody wants to write with them collaboratively, that’s the consequence of not applying the level of effort needed to be an incentive to others who might consider working with you.
    I was struck by something a fellow volunteer shared once with me in a non-profit context: in her view, it was unnecessary to solve a problem that had not yet come up. The context was a relative lack of accessible space for the disabled. I didn’t agree with that without exception (and never agreed in that particular context). But- it’s a pretty good standard. If it isn’t impacting you NOW and you haven’t been asked for input, why expend your time and energy on it? Even mulling it over in the abstract is something of a time-suck. Bob can only truly frustrate you if you’re forced to compensate in some way for his deficits. Since that hasn’t happened, it seems like you could “move on” and leave this one (and Bob) alone.

  27. MeMyself*

    This sounds like an excellent question for cross-posting to Captain Awkward, seeing as she has experience in the creative pursuits and has answered questions about providing feedback in similar arenas :)

  28. CR*

    You admit in your own letter you take it more seriously than everyone else, so I think it’s best to cool it. If it’s fanfic or roleplaying, people just want to have fun.

  29. Kuododi*

    I’m going to bypass the question of the ins-and-outs of administrating an online writing group as that is way outside my frame of reference. What I will recommend is being very intentional in asking not only Bob, but the rest of the group about their specific needs as participating members. With that particular information in hand, the risk of misunderstandings and confusion is greatly reduced.

    Additionally I encourage you to not allow “feeling bad for him” to paralyze you into inaction. Negative feelings are difficult and uncomfortable. You aren’t responsible for protecting Bob from distressing emotions. I’m confident you are able to address your concerns utilizing the excellent responses from other people here. I also have faith in your ability to work with Bob without inflicting unneeded pain. You can do this!!! Best wishes!!!

  30. Starks*

    I’m an administrator in a similar sort of group- it’s a long-form paragraph roleplaying community where we create characters and write them together in “replies” to create plots. Our youngest member is 16 (we’re careful to enforce appropriate boundaries- she’s not allowed in the off-topic discord, for example) and her spelling and grammar can be horrendous at times, which often leads people to not want to write with her. We (the admins) have decided to just let her do whatever plots she would like to, and only offer critique if she comes to us wondering why people won’t write with her. The times we HAVE had to go to her are only when it is affecting other people’s characters (“godmodding” for example, aka writing something that another person’s character does when you don’t actually know how they would act in that situation).

    1. Rasgar*

      OP here – this is exactly the situation I’m in. We were wondering if anything at all should be done about Bob, specifically being proactive about giving him advice versus just letting him get isolated from the rest of the group. I know I find it helpful for people to tell me I’m making serious mistakes, instead of letting it go on and hoping that I’ll eventually figure it out on my own. But that’s obviously not the case for everyone.

  31. Louise*

    I’m a big fan of asking if feedback is welcome before giving if it hasn’t been asked. I’ll frame it as, “I had some thoughts about [x topic/section/character] — would it be helpful for me to share that at this point in your process?”

  32. KHB*

    I once heard a writer describe stories as being broken down into “bricks” and “mortar.” The bricks are all the fun, dramatic, climactic scenes (like when the hero and heroine, after years of longing, finally fall into each other’s arms), and the mortar is all the in-between character development that holds the bricks together and makes them make sense for the reader. The bricks are the fun parts to write, and the mortar is more tedious but necessary.

    It’s just a hunch, but it sounds like maybe Bob is claiming all the bricks for himself, and leaving it to his writing partners to deal with the mortar? If that’s the case, that sounds like something that could be addressed by an explicit rule for the whole group, to clarify that the goal of a collaborative writing exercise is to evenly share the work (and the fun) among everyone, and members are expected to approach projects in that spirit.

  33. velocisarah*

    Hey OP! I run an online writing group, and while we don’t do collaborative story telling as you do, we do offer a lot of beta reading/critique and peer short story workshops. I agree with the others that have posted about asking first before giving feedback, and I’d like to add a few of the relevant guidelines my group goes by when giving feedback!

    1. Keep an eye out for positives. Highlight what works for you in the piece as well as what you think needs to change to strengthen it, so as to help writers get an idea for what they should keep doing.
    2. If you think something is not working, frame it in your feedback within the context of what the piece is trying to do.
    3. If you have read over the piece a few times and still don’t understand what a piece is trying to do, use that as a frame to discuss it. (i.e. – identify what is confusing you)
    4. Believe in the piece. Just because you don’t “get it” doesn’t mean there is nothing there to get. Always assume competence.
    5. If you find yourself wanting to cut a lot from the piece, consider mentioning a restructuring or revision to the author instead of making those decisions for them, Remember that you’re offering suggestions and a perspective, not cut and dry rules. (This may not apply as much to a collaborative “piece by piece” story telling model)
    6. Always celebrate the writer, because learning to accept criticism and feedback is scary for many. A few words of encouragement in your notes alongside edits and suggestions go a long way to make a writer feel like they made the right decision to share their work.
    7. Avoid simple statements of taste (“I liked”, “I loved”, “I disliked”, “I hated”, etc.). Instead, aim to explain what something is doing and how it aids or hinders what the piece is trying to do. (You can still like/love/dislike/hate things in a piece! But you need to backup your statements to make them useful.)

    When I give feedback, I give it in four steps:
    1. “What to celebrate”: The great stuff I’m interested in seeing more of. There’s always, in my experience, something to put here.
    2. “Opportunities to improve”: This is the constructive criticism. I don’t hound them about problems, I look for ways to explain where certain elements can be made even cooler.
    3. “Questions”: This is where I’d put things that confused me, or things that made me think about other aspects I’d like them to flesh out
    4. “Favourite line”: Everyone loves to hear that someone likes a word choice or dialogue piece, etc. Starting and ending on a high note has made for very receptive critiquees.

    Overall, it seems you’re coming from a place of compassion and genuine interest in seeing Bob succeed and that’s really key. Recognizing that he is on his own writing journey and no one learns to be a great writer in a day may help you feel more patient with him.

    Good luck! From one fiction writing group admin to another :)

    1. Beth*

      I made my case downthread, but am going to add a note here: this is really great advice, if you have been asked to give feedback/criticism/beta input from someone who actually wants it.

      If you follow all these steps, you may still find out that the request for “feedback” was actually “Tell me how wonderful I am and don’t say anything negative, because I will slam back on any criticism”. This is a thing that happens. It is something that some writers do, and you can’t fix them or make them stop.

      Keep your senses alert for signs that a request for “feedback” is bogus, and save your energy for fellow writers whose requests are genuine and who will benefit and pass on the benefits.

      Another online writing group admin/wrangler, currently retired

      1. velocisarah*

        Very good points, thank you!

        I’ve run into those kinds of requests, and it’s so often disappointing on all sides to have someone take your feedback and either deflate from it or cast it aside as bogus. (I’m also very thankful for my writing group in this moment for how many are open and excited for feedback.)

        Giving some more thought to the particulars of this situation, I think the ask does need to come from an enthusiastic-for-feedback Bob, especially in a hobby writing space, and the type of feedback that he requests is important. For example, when I’m drafting something, sometimes I just need the “yep, this isn’t garbage!” validation, and sometimes I need the fine tooth comb. You may have the comb at the ready, but he can’t be expected to prepare for that without you both discussing what level of critique you’re both operating at.

        It doesn’t sound like you have an enthusiastic-for-feedback Bob.

  34. Guy Incognito*

    Hi OP
    Please re-read your own letter, and look how you frame your own question. It sounds as if you’ve already made your mind about Bob, and that’s distressing. It almost seems as if you can’t wait to tell him how bad his writing is (to you) and that’s an extremely toxic way to go about this.
    Your last line says it, “Should I continue to let him enjoy his hobby…”
    yes. Yes you should.

    1. Rasgar*

      Unfortunately, I will have to agree with you. I have mostly already made up my mind about him, but I will argue that this is because of the way he’s continued to behave in spite of myself and others giving him gentle guidance. Put bluntly, there comes a point where you need to stop investing energy in something that you can’t change.

      The question isn’t exactly “should I let him continue to let him enjoy his hobby” – it’s not that I want to bar him from writing ever again, but rather that he’s choosing to pursue his hobby (which is a group activity) in a way that isn’t inviting to other collaborators. Our group has standards and guidelines, and if he is the only one in the group who is consistently choosing not to meet them, I don’t think the whole group should have to shift to cater to him. Other people signed on to the group expecting a certain level of involvement and effort, because that’s what they find fun.

  35. Fiddlesticks*

    What’s wrong with “wizards in a modern day small town”?? I love fantasy, and there is no reason fantasy can’t be set in the modern day and a small town!

    1. Rasgar*

      Absolutely nothing! It was only the first example that popped into my head. The setting we write in actually has that very thing in it. I only meant to illustrate that there are guidelines and restrictions in the plot that everyone has to adhere to.

  36. FatCat*

    ooof. The hoped-for outcome of collaboration is to create something that wouldn’t have existed without all of ya’lls input. It is not an exercise in “everyone sees it my way and does it my way because it is the right way.” That’s a enough of a problem in the workplace for so many people in these days of “coerced collaboration” that poor Bob could just be trying to live his life. Please, OP, dial it back before you ruin it for everyone in your group. Including yourself. if it’s not fun, what is the point?

    1. Rasgar*

      OP here – I agree completely. But how can that collaboration happen if someone doesn’t want to contribute according to the standards of the group? It’s not my intention to make him do things the same way I do, but rather to follow our guidelines that everyone is expected to adhere to.

      1. FatCat*

        Thanks, OP. My hope is that you find a way to communicate compassionately with the whole writing group on if the guidelines still work or if they need tweaking. Inviting community participation in crafting the guidelines is, essentially, collaboration. Start there, especially if you’re hearing from other members that you’re coming on too strong. This is a labor of love for all of you!

  37. the_scientist*

    I once had to leave a team sport environment that I really, really loved and that brought me great joy because the organizers’ style didn’t align with my own, and I’m still upset about it. I was looking at this as a pickup sport/ social hobby- a way to meet new people, get exercise and fresh air and stay connected to a sport I love. For the first year it was great- really fun, lots of cool people. Then two new people who had played the sport at an elite level moved to the city and they immediately took over the group and started taking it in a different direction. Now there were mandatory training sessions, set plays we had to learn, and pickup games became “practices.” I didn’t want to get yelled at on the field for not knowing certain plays; this was strictly a recreational endeavor for me, and this team was clearly moving in a different direction so I bailed.

    All to say that given that it seems like OP’s goals and the goals of other people in the group are not aligning well anymore — OP sees this as a way to improve her writing skills while others like Bob view it as strictly a hobby. It’s probably time to set ground rules and get clear with the other admins about what the purpose of this group is. Maybe it’s time to hive off a group for hobbyists?

    1. TootsNYC*

      Shortly after we’d all graduated from our various colleges and moved to our various towns, I had occasion to connect with “the high-school quarterback” who had also played college football (lower tier) and was now in two different softball leagues out in California.

      One league/team, they played competitively, and all members were former college athletes. The other team, which he had organized, was designated as a place to have fun. The second team got a new member, and after about three games, my friend kicked him out, because he was too intense, he cared too much about winning, he started badgering that they should have extra practices, and he was critical of people who made errors and also complained that the weaker hitters shouldn’t be in the lineup, for example.
      “This is supposed to be fun, we don’t care much if we win, and we encourage each other by cheering, not by criticism. You need a different team.”

      I always thought he was a cool guy (he was the white-hat version of the high-school quarterback, not the asshole version), but this raised my appreciation of him immensely.

      1. Antilles*

        Post-collegiate sports leagues always have interesting dynamics. As you said, there’s all sorts of different expectations – some leagues where it’s more about having fun with friends and anybody can play as long as they’re willing to show up…then the other side where it’s really serious and people get intense about it. And it can be a crazy mismatch if your team isn’t clear on where you stand.
        One other interesting quirk: Leagues seem to be more serious and intense as they get older. You’d think that because of the general aging process (reaction times, Father Time eroding athleticism, etc), the older leagues would be more casual, but I’ve seen it pretty much the exact opposite – The leagues with 20-somethings are often more chill because there’s still plenty of people who are just doing it for fun…whereas in the 40-something leagues, all those casual players are gone and you’re left with only people who really love basketball, so the skill level and intensity is surprisingly high.

    2. Rasgar*

      OP here – I think you’re right about that, but the ground rules are very clear for the group, and new members are expected to read them before joining. While I am easily the most intense member of the group, there are many people in the group with varying levels of interest and contribution. Bob is just a particularly egregious example of people who are not meeting the group standards, and people like him are in the vast minority for our group. As such, there are plenty of hobbyists that enjoy their time in the group.

      Also, I would like to clarify that I’m a man! :)

  38. literal desk fan*

    You acknowledge that art is subjective and then talk about what Bob is “doing wrong,” which doesn’t sound subjective to me. If you do talk to him, it would probably be better to rephrase it in a way that demonstrates how his level of engagement isn’t meeting the expectations for the group. If those expectations aren’t clear to the group, though, and they’re just _your_ expectations, it might also be worth getting together with the whole group and figuring out what everyone wants and expects from the group. It would handy to have something like that outlined so that you can distribute it to any new members that come along to let them know what they’re getting into and so that they can figure out if it will work for them. If Bob didn’t have anything like this to go by when he joined, he really just might not understand the purpose of the group and may not even realize that he isn’t pulling his weight.

    As for your delivery of criticism, you mention it might come across as harsh when you’re really trying to be direct. You can be direct and still be constructive, so if you haven’t, I definitely recommend searching the internet for advice on giving constructive criticism. There is LOTS of great information out there on how to phrase your criticism so that it gets the point across but isn’t mean or accusatory or personal. I would recommend reading up on this anyway, but definitely poll your members and see what they’re hoping to gain by being part of the group.

  39. Amtelope*

    I don’t think you can both require people to be good writers and include everyone who wants to participate. And I think it’s a bad idea to push people to become better writers when they’re just trying to have fun.

    I think you can set clear ground rules: formatting has to be readable, posts must be spellchecked/free of massive grammar errors, you can’t violate the rules of the setting. I think it’s also fair to require that RP posts be a minimum length and contain some action that other characters can respond to. And I think co-writers should definitely feel empowered to say, “Hey, we want to plan where this story goes, so we need you to respond to posts in the out of character forum if you want to be part of this story.”

    But if someone’s just not a very good storyteller, and you want to include them, you’re going to have to accept that their scenes are not going to be great. If you want consistently great writing, you’re going to have to be okay with not including everyone. There is no answer that will magically make the Bobs of your group write better.

  40. So Much No*

    Sounds like you’re moderating an online RPG. I’m on the mod team for a game that’s been active for more than five years. This is something that people are doing for fun. Unless their writing is incomprehensible, there is no reason to criticize. It’s not a job and if the other people involved don’t think Bob is pulling his weight, then they aren’t under any obligation to continue writing with him. This type of thing tends to sort itself out .

  41. Prionace*

    OP, I can sympathize—I’ve been in similar RP/fanfic groups for years, and it can be tough when certain people aren’t quite matching everyone else’s level of quality/engagement. I think the appropriateness of feedback is heavily, heavily group-dependent—some people are going to flee into the night if you try to critique their work, and other groups will jump all over the possibility of getting even a little feedback. Only you know which one your group is, but if the group skews toward people who are younger, newer to the hobby/fandom/process/etc., or are mostly in it because Yay Robots (or whatever your thing is), it may not be the right forum for the kind of feedback you’re wanting to give.

    That being said, I do think there’s room for some feedback in this situation. RP is a collaborative hobby, and if someone can’t or won’t play well with others, that’s eventually going to cause friction. Bob may not want to hear that people aren’t having much fun writing with him because he leaves them to do all the plot work, but it’s an extremely frustrating habit for the people around him, and I’ve seen that cause serious tension in RP groups before. As an admin, I don’t think you’d be out of place gently mentioning it: “Bob, I realize this is awkward, but it’s becoming really hard to write with you—you’re not giving the people you work with anything to respond to, and they end up having to do all the work.” It’ll help if you can point to some community guidelines or standards (I currently do independent RP and everyone I know has “don’t make me do all the work” somewhere in their rules pages), but if it’s frustrating people, I think saying something would fall under “preventing drama”. I’d leave quality issues out of it, though, unless he asks for it—typos and clumsy sentences might be annoying, but they don’t really affect other people the way the story issues do.

    (Delurking after years of reading without commenting, since I recognized the topic—it’s not often RP comes up here!)

  42. Jenett*

    One thing that’s helped me in projects like this is to separate ‘here’s what we’re doing’ and ‘here’s our customs for how we make that work’. Someone who’s fine with their current writing skills (and having fun) but who is easy to collaborate with (proactively works out how much they’re taking in in the collaborative planning and does their share of it reliably allowing for ‘this is a hobby’ and ‘sometimes life happens’) is really different from someone who is not easy to collaborate with (whether that’s actively being difficult, or just not joining in.)

    If he’s not joining in, but doesn’t seem to mind, that’s also not necessarily your problem to do something about (unless there are group size limits), but if he’s participating in a way that’s disruptive to other people’s enjoyment, that’s a time for an admin to look at stepping in somehow.

    If the group has been going for a while, it might be worth a general discussion about ‘hey, what do we want the norms to be around how we coordinate what we’re doing’ (other people’s lives have surely shifted, and they have more/less time, different goals, etc.)

    Some projects do this with a periodic survey or intro thread or whatever or profiles where people can update their preferences and goals, what they want to get out of things. A forum I’m staff on does a yearly “How’s stuff working for you, what changes would you like to suggest?” thread with a short list of changes that are off the table for various reasons. That kind of meta discussion can be helpful in figuring out what kinds of plot/idea/meta support people like, are neutral about, or would rather not have.

  43. Jessica Fletcher*

    “I’ve also been told that this isn’t a job, and I don’t really need to be taking people to task for not meeting my expectations.”

    You should follow this advice! (Even if it was unsolicited!) Many people join writing communities as purely a fun, creative outlet. If they wanted to receive criticism and feedback, and to work on improving their skills, they would join a class or workshop. Personally, I would be offended if I joined a collaborative writing group and someone tried to workshop me. If that isn’t the purpose of the group, and a person hasn’t explicitly requested it, then that isn’t the right environment for that.

    I think you need to figure out why you want to do this. Has Bob asked for feedback or tips to improve his writing skills? Has Bob requested more collaborations? It sounds like the answer is no, so Bob isn’t asking for this. Don’t do it!

    Is it possible that you want to do this because you want to “fix” Bob? To get his writing up to your standards? To make him stick to a project and participate at a level up to your standards? It seems like that’s what this is about. Those aren’t valid reasons to reach out to him. Those are more like warning signs that you need to set better boundaries here. You can’t micromanage someone’s participation in a voluntary club where that isn’t your role. And it’s generally not a good idea to try and fix people, especially someone who is just an online community member and not your close friend/family.

    1. Jessica Fletcher*

      Also: I think YOU want to join a workshop! That’s exactly where writers go to give and receive feedback and criticism! I bet there are online workshops. I think you would really like it.

    2. Rasgar*

      OP here – I think I’ve done a poor job of laying out the details in the initial letter, unfortunately!

      I agree that some people see this purely as a fun, creative outlet. And it isn’t my intent to try and shape him into a better writer against his will, but rather to help him meet the standards of our group so that people will enjoy collaborating with him. It’s the kind of setting in which if you aren’t collaborating with people, there really isn’t anything to do – and so if he gets no feedback at all, there’s not really any way for him to enjoy the group.

      With that said, you’re right on the mark – there is a part of me that wants to “fix” Bob, even though I know that’s not the right approach to take.

      1. Mr. Tyzik*

        Have people told you specifically that they would work with Bob again if he changed his writing? You’re doing a lot of assuming here that everyone feels the same way about standards, even if some have shared feedback about the mechanics.

        I join Jessica Fletcher in saying that you need to examine your own motives in giving feedback and why Bob *has* to meet your standards. Do you ask the same of *everyone* in the group?

        I get a sense from the way you laid things out and your responses in the thread that you have it in for Bob and can’t wait to spoil his fun because it doesn’t match your idea of fun.

        1. Rasgar*

          Yes, people have told me that very thing. I’ve had many conversations with other group members who appreciated some of the ideas he had, but not his execution or level of effort. We all, for the most part, feel very similarly that if he was putting more effort into what he was doing, we could enjoy writing with him.

          I do in fact ask the same of every member of the group. If there’s anyone I’m especially strict with, it’s not Bob, but rather the rest of my admin team. I hold them to a higher standard than everyone else, because we’re supposed to be role models for the rest of the group. And they hold me to a high standard as well. I may ultimately be the one in charge, but we are a team first and foremost, and I consult with them before making decisions like this.

          With that said, I do have to admit that I have it in for Bob – but I disagree that it’s entirely for the reasons you say. Participating the way he does pulls the fun out of the group activity for not only me, but many of the members. It doesn’t seem responsible to me, as an admin, to either continue to let him spoil other people’s fun, or ask everyone to try to be more inclusive with Bob when they actively dislike both his personality and his lack of effort.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            I really, really hope you come back to this thread someday and see this because I have some constructive feedback for you: you’re not being as clear in your wording as you think you are. Not here, and probably not with your RP group, and especially not with your gentle reminders.

            1) When you say “execution and level of effort,” you’re not talking about Bob’s writing style in the way that anyone here is interpreting the term writing style: you’re talking about his level of collaboration and how strongly he adheres to the community guidelines/general rules of online RP.

            2) You’re also not using feedback to mean “constructive criticism about Bob’s technical writing abilities,” you’re saying feedback as in “Bob isn’t following the guidelines we all agreed to and it’s affecting other people’s ability to collaborate with him.”

            Bob sounds like someone who came from tabletop RP and isn’t very familiar with online RP (or with online RP the way your group is running it). Tabletop is known for players spending a lot of time on their own characters, in their own characters’ heads, and leaving things like plot and NPCs to the DM, and leaving other player’s characters to those players. It’s considered pretty rude to take control of someone else’s character in tabletop RP, or to advance the story further than your individual character would be able to advance it.

            Online RP is different (very different)! There’s usually no DM to handle the meta aspects, and while some forums play it closer to tabletop RP with everyone focusing on their own characters, most of the ones I’ve been involved with expect people to write for characters other than their own (in the interest of time if nothing else—have you ever waited around for a whole week for someone to post their character’s response to your character’s line of dialogue? (ughhh, no fun!) and of course this was a group where writing other player’s characters was not done, so there wasn’t anything to do but wait.

            You said your group has had similar problems with this sort of “execution and level of effort” in the past, so it might be worth taking the time to amend your community guidelines to explicitly spell out how this online RP is run. I realize your community guidelines already touch on this, but specifically saying that players are expected and encouraged to write for each other’s characters in this group will help you out a lot.

            Apologies for the length of this comment and thank you for reading to the end. I truly hope this is helpful and that your group keeps collaborating for a long time because a good RP is hard to find. :)

  44. Kenzi Wood*

    I feel like you could implement a feedback process for working together. I’m a writer who’s done collabs before, and I always find critting each others work to be really enlightening. It teaches you how to give and receive feedback, but it also makes the story better!

    I know it sounds more formal for what’s supposed to be an informal process, but it could help with the feedback vacuum that’s going on here.

    1. Bulbasaur*

      Yes, I think there is a group decision to be made here. Either you are an inclusive group in which everyone can do their own work, good or bad, without feeling judged, or you are a goal-oriented group aiming to collectively achieve a certain quality level with your collaborations. Both are valid and useful in the right context, but you have to pick one or the other.

      If it’s the former, then you have no business offering feedback unless it’s explicitly requested. If it’s the latter, then ideally feedback should be an integral part of your culture. You should be clear with people when they join that they are explicitly signing up for it, have guidelines around how to give and receive it constructively and under what circumstances it’s appropriate to do so, and so on. And you should do it with everyone, not just keep it in your back pocket and deploy it for ‘problem’ cases, so that there are plenty of positive examples of it in action with constructive outcomes for all concerned.

      Right now I think you are trying to be both at once and that’s what is causing your problem.

  45. Esme*

    Have a profile card of some type for everyone in the group that includes their preferences about feedback. Let people opt into feedback, the areas they are open to receiving it on, and any notes about their preferred method of feedback. Profile can include any other preferences that would be useful to know that would help people self-match to working partners.

  46. Sal*

    Your comment that he might need “some direct feedback on what he’s doing wrong….” really caught my attention. If he hasn’t asked for feedback or complained about being isolated, and you also know you can come across harsh and have higher standards than most, I don’t think you should do this. BUT you also said he’s shown some good creativity in the past. Maybe give him direct feedback on what he’s doing RIGHT in those cases and gently encourage him to do more of that.

  47. Maria*

    Alison once wrote a great post about how being generally pleasant is one of our work responsibilities, given the fact that others cannot avoid us in a work environment, they are forced to interact with us. By the same token, I would think that feedback on something people can improve is more appropriate for the work setting. In your group, as far as I understand, everyone interacts on a strictly voluntary basis and no one can be “assigned” to write with Bob unless they make that choice themselves. I think, the more voluntary the interaction, the less the need for unsolicited feedback. All the way to no need at all.

  48. hbc*

    I think some others might have gotten at this, but I think Step 1 is to clarify the purpose of the group, which you should do collaboratively with all members of the group. If it’s just to produce stories consistent with your universe that don’t push any buttons, lovely. If it’s to provide a collaborative environment where you produce quality work within the confines of that universe, that’s good too. There are lots of combinations and options.

    Based on that, then you can figure out the guidelines for pursuing those goals. For example, if it’s just about the stories, then any collaboration or critiquing has to be opt-in. Or if you specifically want it to be about collaboration, then you probably need to establish more expectations around working with others.

  49. Beth*

    Never give writing advice unless it’s asked for.

    Even when it has been asked for, you may not want to do so. I have been asked many times for feedback, and after spending a great deal of time reading, analysing, and crafting the most valuable and supportive response I can give, have found out that the request for feedback was actually a request for enthusiastic praise. I am now very, very stingy with my writing feedback.

  50. L. S. Cooper*

    The golden rule of online creative work is not to offer critique unless it’s asked for. If Bob hasn’t asked for it, he’s probably responding noncommittally because he doesn’t want to be rude, but he’s potentially quite miffed with you and with others for giving him unsolicited critique.
    I completely understand where you’re coming from; I struggled in creative writing classes because some of the works we read and workshopped were so painfully poorly written that I could barely get through them. But the difference is that those courses were specifically intended for critique.
    If this website is just a creative outlet (it sounds like a roleplaying forum, from your description), then leave it be.
    I’ve seen several such sites tear themselves apart because of esoteric admins and a board-wide culture of elitism, where if you weren’t either a phenomenal artist or very popular with the admins, nobody would write with you. Don’t encourage that sort of culture.

  51. Gelliebean*

    Hi OP! As an avid RPer and a homebrew DM, I have a couple of thoughts:

    Is the whole group in agreement on the purpose & goal of the game? It sounds like it might be more about communal story building (correct me if I’m wrong) than a guided experience with a GM controlling it, which makes the meta-conversations all the more important. You can’t have one part of the group that wants fast-paced barbarian hack & slash adventures, and another that wants introspective character based story lines, have both sides trying to impose their vision at the same time, and still have everyone be satisfied with the experience.

    From your description of Bob failing to pick up plot threads, he might have been looking for something where his character could be more reactive than proactive, and a communal RP with no GM isn’t going to suit that play style very well. He may just be in the wrong group.

    Secondly, I think it depends on the nature of the feedback you’re giving. It’s one thing to impose a minimal level of grammar/spelling proficiency, but it’s another thing to tell someone they’re playing wrong; the second can be anything from “your PC is breaking alignment” to “we don’t want to play with someone whose PC steals from every shop, even if it is in character.” Something as personal as a RP character that you’ve created and inhabit is, well, very personal and it can be really hard to take criticism, constructive or not. If your game is fan-based, there’s also a fine line between ensuring accuracy and nit-picking details (“well, on page 46 of volume 3, the spell is called Handwaviar, not Handwavian…”)

    Ultimately the solution is going to be a combination of (1) community standards and (2) how much authority you’re comfortable exercising as the administrator of the group. I don’t think there’s a simple answer, but it starts with open conversations about everyone’s expectations and what they hope to get out of the game.

  52. Ciara*

    This sounds like roleplaying! As a fellow administrator of a roleplaying community, I would strongly advise you to leave him to write as he sees fit. I’d advise against unsolicited feedback in general in this community since this isn’t his job, it’s his hobby, and receiving critique on something he does for fun will probably only disincentive him from participating further.

    He’s choosing to participate, and if he’s not getting the results he wants, he’s free to leave and it doesn’t reflect poorly on you. If he asks you for advice, you can certainly give it but this really isn’t the kind of situation where it’s appropriate for you to do so. The role of an administrator in these sorts of communities is to provide structure, but you aren’t anybody’s boss here, and what works best for him as a hobbyist writer may very well be the way he’s going about it.

    1. Working Mom Having It All*

      Also… it’s not like there are second drafts of RPGs… So what would even be the point of feedback? Usually when writers give each other advice, it’s for the next draft of this project, or maybe for forthcoming parts (“The talking dog is great! Could he come back in the final battle?”). Roleplaying is pretty much the opposite of this.

      1. Rasgar*

        I disagree. With feedback, you can incorporate the advice you’ve received into future stories. For example, “last time the party had a discussion on where to go next, you didn’t speak up. Would you consider giving your opinion the next time there’s a discussion like that?” This is the kind of issue I’m having with Bob – not the quality of his writing per se, but his level of participation.

  53. ShwaMan*

    I think you are overthinking this, and maybe trying to control something that doesn’t need to be controlled.

    I’ve never been a creative writer, so apologies if I’m missing any context here. You mentioned the community “rules”, but I’m not sure about “standards”. i.e., Is it spelled out explicitly that you have standards for QUALITY? Or that depending on your experience, talent, and willingness to accept feedback will determine how much effort will be put into finding collaborating partners?

    Regardless, are you sure Bob feels bad about the situation? Maybe he’s fine with how it’s worked itself out on it’s own. Maybe others are too. You could certainly reach out to Bob and ask how he thinks it’s going from his point of view, and adjust accordingly.

  54. Working Mom Having It All*

    Hi there! I’m also someone who is heavily involved in a community of writers, mostly not for pay, and where people take feedback in various ways and have various levels of commitment to improving their writing. On the other hand, in the community I’m part of, feedback is part of the process, and this happens early and often and is expected. So in my case it would be a little easier to do this (practically expected), and there’s generally an assumption that feedback is good.

    Here’s how I would play this in your situation.

    Firstly, before offering anything, I would ask the person “would you be open to some feedback about your writing?” You could also frame it as tips, advice, etc. You could also ask if they’d be interested in you reading their work and giving them some feedback, rather than “so I saw what you wrote yesterday and here’s what I think you could improve….” Actually give them a chance to say yes or no, and truly hear their answer. If they say no, or if they seem reluctant or emotional about it, I would back off immediately. You’re right, some people are happy with where they’re at and aren’t looking for writing advice.

    Secondly, if you do this, I would only approach people who seem like they’re looking to improve, or they have reasons that they might be in a position to accept your advice. For example if someone comes to you saying nobody wants to collaborate with them. You can then easily say, “I have some advice about things you could do to make it easier for people to collaborate with you” and then, again only if they’re open to it, frame the feedback that way. I’ll say that, even as much as I expect and seek out feedback on my writing, there are people who it would be inappropriate to get that from, and if they offered it unasked I’d probably roll my eyes inwardly, think less of them, and not take any of their advice (unless by some fluke it turned out to be really great advice). In my case this would be people who are less experienced than I am, or who I can tell have less of a grasp on it than I do. It can also be counterproductive to get feedback at the wrong point in the process (after the piece has already been published, for example), or in a way that seems self-serving on the part of the advice giver. So I’d also say read the room on who it would be appropriate for you to give feedback to, and what the right setting is for this sort of thing. Who else in your community is giving writing advice, and when is it well received?

    When I’m called on to do this, I find that there’s a bit of an art to it. In addition to the classic “sandwich method” of peppering in compliments and highlighting their strengths so it doesn’t seem cruel (you should do this even if their work is completely awful; find something nice to say or don’t give any feedback at all), I also try to give people a mix of negative feedback/ways to improve and what in my community are usually called “pitches”. For example, you could say something like. “I love how specific the character of the sea witch is, but you may want to consider adding in a little more action in those parts in order to keep the plot moving along. For example, what if the sea witch used her magical trident to create a whirlpool that stranded the hero’s ship, rather than just having the hero verbally arguing with her? Or what if she has a pet shark that attacks the hero?” A pitch is like a little gift with advice hiding inside it. This is a little more work than “Hey can I give you some advice? Your stories are slow and talky and not fun to read.” But it’s also more likely to be heeded by the person you’re giving feedback to.

    I think if you keep all this in mind — and most of all READ THE ROOM in your community re the social nuances of offering feedback — you can definitely do this.

  55. Anonymeece*

    Have you thought of restructuring the group? I’m not sure how membership goes, but I would suggest the following:

    1. Is there a regular who can help you with admin duties so you can split the load?

    2. Do you have an application process? Like they submit some samples? Or they have to have had a story published?

    It sounds like you may have a mismatch between your expectations (more serious writers) versus people’s expectations (hobby writing). It would help upfront if you could vet people and make your expectations clear upfront what the writing group is about.

  56. Public Sector Manager*

    For the OP, what’s your group’s overall culture, i.e. are you the outlier or is Bob?

    Pre-Facebook and Pre-myspace, I was on a fan page for a TV show and the people posting ranged from casual fans of the show to people who were really into the show. A group of people who connected through the fan page started a message board site that I was eventually invited to. This message board site broke down into three groups: (1) those who wrote fan fiction; (2) those who wanted to discuss the nuances of the show; and (3) those who wanted to personally connect with fellow fans, including real life meet ups and discussions about family, friends, etc. Although I enjoyed groups (1) and (2), group (3) was the most meaningful to me.

    After about six months it was clear that the culture of the three groups didn’t meld together, and it was also clear that group (3) was the outlier. We all became happier when people in group (3) started an alternate message board, which I eventually ran for about 2 years. Everyone was welcome in either message board, but when you came to group (3), the culture was less about the show and more about you. And if you wanted a more intense dose of the show, you could go to the group (1) and (2) message board.

    So OP, if everyone in your group shares your passion and Bob is the only casual contributor who doesn’t share your mutual passion, you should ask the others if you all are better off cutting Bob loose because his style isn’t the right fit. But if everyone else is pretty casual like Bob, you have to ask yourself if you are still a good fit for the group.

  57. Sorin*

    I see a bunch of people saying “well if no one wants to RP with Bob, it’ll sort itself out” but man, “just wait for the situation to get to the point where everyone dislikes Bob and Bob has to figure out that out on his own that he’s not welcome” sounds incredibly unkind to me.

    1. Sorin*

      To be clear, given the OP’s updates that the community has guidelines that Bob is not following, despite being reminded about, I think that kicking him from the group had to happen.

      If you’re not enforcing your community guidelines, what’s the point of having them?

    2. Rasgar*

      This is exactly what I was struggling with. I don’t think that ghosting people is helpful at all, especially in a hobby that centers on communication and working together. It’s a difficult situation to deal with, when he’s not asking for any sort of feedback or criticism, and I’m used to only offering it if it’s asked for. It would mean I can’t really say anything to him about why the situation is the way it is.

  58. animaniactoo*

    Rasgar, I’ve read what you’ve written up and down the thread – I do still think you’ll benefit from changing the structure of how you give feedback (I wrote a separate post upthread about that), but I have a sense that your struggle is actually a different one.

    You’re an admin – in fact the head admin of this group – and you know you’re a bit of a control freak, and you’re working really hard not to be so much of a control freak AND to try and keep this “fun for everyone” that I think you’re doing what my godmother (also a self-aware control freak) does: You bend too far in the other direction. Bending that far is just as detrimental to your overall ability to successfully admin when you hit the hard parts as being too on top of it would be.

    For reference – you don’t have to wait until a situation arises to organically give the feedback. In fact, you should not because you will likely be more annoyed in that moment and it will come across in your message (as it seems that it did here). Plus, when you’re addressing something that is a big picture issue, you should do it as soon as you can. Because that gives the other person the most opportunity to course-correct and adjust what they are doing before it devolves into the type of unkind self-adjusting situation that you’re trying to avoid.

    If you’ve had that big picture conversation, it gives you the ability in the moment to call it out to help that course-correction “Remember when I said you do this thing often? You’ve done it in the last 3 portions of your side. This is what I was talking about? How do you see my side having anything to work with from that? We need you to develop that portion of your collaboration skills.”

    So it looks like what you need is a filter for when it’s time to say something. For the type of group collaborative effort that you’re talking about, it really drills down to only 2 questions:

    1) Will this thing be a problem for most of the other members of the group, if they do it this way?
    2) Do they do it often enough that it will be frequently expected behavior from that member?

    If the answer to those 2 questions is yes, then you need to address it because at that point you’re dealing with group dynamics, not “personal preference” or “personal style”.

    1. animaniactoo*

      Note, as an admin, your job is NOT to try to keep from chasing off someone who is too sensitive by not giving them feedback like this. Your job is to try and be as kind and neutral as you possibly can be *while* being direct. Enforcing the rules/standards up to the point that all members of the group can successfully work with most of the rest of the members – not all, but *most* of them. If you’re not doing that, you’re abdicating part of your responsibility as an admin to keep the group running smoothly. Both on the part of the members that have to deal with them, and on the part of the member who is creating the issue.

      You are not responsible for how they take it. That part is entirely on them. You are responsible for how you deliver it. Towards that, your best bet is probably to hammer out 2 pieces with the other admins – 1) What is the message going to be to start? Exactly what words? What talking points do you want to have on hand if they’re resistant, and how firm do you want to be in a final “Hey, I don’t think there’s anything more to be gained by continuing to discuss this. If you want to continue to collaborate with others here, this is something that needs to be fixed.” 2) Who is going to have that conversation with them?

      I would suggest that it’s not always the same person the same time. For reference, I’m a moderator on another website, so I’m not just generally pulling this out of thin air when I’m talking about enforcing group standards. One thing that we do that you might find useful is that we’ll tap each other for help – in our admin forum, if we’re having issues with a member, we’ll post the full back and forth of what’s been said so that other mods know what they’ve already been told and we can make sure we’re all on the same page. It’s also been used for “I don’t know how to respond to this” or “I am so pissed that I cannot respond to this calmly” and then we’ll workshop the feedback. Sometimes, other mod’s words come out of our mouths as a direct cut-and-paste back to the member.

      1. animaniactoo*

        (apologies for typos and re-writes that left strange wording behind… writing in between file saves doesn’t always work well…)

  59. big mood*

    My comment will probably get buried but I’m an admin on a similar site. We have potential members submit a writing sample before they dive in and will address big issues there (e.g. “you’re writing a real life soap opera and this is a fantasy site”) and depending on my personal bandwidth I sometimes give other pointers (e.g. “instead of telling us that Susie is feeling conflicted, show us – it might help to put her in a situation where that emotion is demonstrated rather than just dwelt upon; or you could try writing in first person to really get in her head.”) Sometimes, for *really* bad samples, I give more detailed feedback like I would in a more formal workshop environment, which 9 times out of 10 ends up in the writer not joining the community. (Which is fine! If their writing is that weak and they’re unwilling to try to improve, we’re not a great fit for them anyway.)

    The fact is – some of your writers will be weaker or lazier writers, whether because of skill or because of lack of effort, and that’s fine! It might mean they have some difficulty getting people to write with them (I always write with these people out of a sense of admin duty but would definitely not push my members to) but that’s their prerogative.

    1. big mood*

      YIKES, I meant second person, if I saw a first person app I think my soul would leave my body, it is just Not Done in my genre rp community lmao

  60. Agent Diane*

    Bob is not the problem. Bob is an example for us to use. I think we’re focussing on Bob to the detriment of the wider question.

    is it unnecessary, or even rude, to offer feedback about problems I see with my members, when they haven’t asked for any such feedback?

    You’re head admin. That means your comments carry more weight than others’. You need to use that additional power with care. You’re there to guide, not control. In your position I would refrain from offering “feedback about problems” without being asked. Otherwise an already demoralised member will take your comments as implicit request for them to leave the group. Remember, with your power comes responsibility – and that’s to all members of your community.

    You want your team to thrive, and to meet expected levels. As part of that, are writing partners expected to offer suggestions to each other? Can they say “what about this plotting point? What options can we explore here?”.

    What are your other admins doing? Can you all take turns to be the QA on the writing?

    And please, please, check in with new members early on, and be ready to ask existing members to be more open to them. The way you describe the group treating Bob makes me think the group is too “close knit” and does little as a community to embrace newbies. As head admin, you help set that tone. So check in with new members after a month, and again a couple of month later. Ask them open questions about what they like and don’t like, and listen to the answers.

    1. Rasgar*

      I agree very much with this, thank you. I think I focused too much on Bob in my letter because that was what was pressing at the time, but really I want advice for the bigger picture.

      I’ll definitely be checking in with the other members who are on the “outside” of things, I think that might be just what we need, and I’ve also set up a proper channel for people to opt in for feedback if they should want it.

  61. Lilysparrow*

    Yes. It is both unnecessary and rude to offer unsolicited advice to another adult who didn’t ask for it, when you are not their manager, their teacher, or their mutually-agreed mentor or project partner.

    There are a couple of limited exceptions to this. One would be when you have a close personal friendship or warm family relationship with someone who you see engaged in a self-destructive pattern.

    The other would be when you see a colleague struggling, and you ask whether they want advice. In Bob’s case, the helpful insight you could offer would not be about his work product but about his collaborative process – communicating with his partner which aspects of the project he’s most interested in working on, and where he wants them to take the lead. That will result in a clearer and more satisfying partnership for everyone.

    Unsolicited advice on the quality of your members’ stories is so shockingly rude that, as a writer myself, I’m very surprised you have any moderately experienced writers left. Unless it’s explicitly set up as a crit group, anybody with any chops or self-respect is going to run a mile from that kind of meddling.

    I think your reference to softening feedback leading to the message being misconstrued, is exactly what’s happening to you from your members who are being too soft in their pushback on you. They are telling you 1) “you are too harsh” – people feel insulted, 2) “this isn’t a job” – your sense of ownership is overblown and inappropriate, and 3) “some people are doing this for fun” – you are overstepping your role and ruining the members’ enjoyment of the group.

    If you want to run a writing seminar, hang out a shingle and see how many of them sign up.

    If you want the right to make editorial demands, PAY THE WRITERS.

    Otherwise, concentrate on your own work and stop bossing your fellow artists around. Otherwise, you will wind up with nobody in the group but these “frustrating” and “inexperienced” writers, because they are the only ones who will put up with it.

    1. Lilysparrow*

      Given the updates with additional information that Bob is violating specific, written community guidelines, then that is not artistic feedback and the two should not be conflated.

      When Bob (or anyone else) violates a guideline, tell them immediately and specifically. If he’s already had too many violations to continue in the group, then end his membership.

      But keep your subjective opinions about members’ writing to yourself unless they’ve agreed to a critique process.

  62. jesicka309*

    Just wanted to offer a different way of offering feedback. I play a sport where we have a lot of new players learning the game – we also have a lot of sensitivities around how people play, their skills, which team they got picked in, which position etc. I’m in the leadership group so try to help the newbies, but sometimes even bringing up the question of ‘do you want feedback’ can open a can of worms – peopel bristle thinking they’re being insulted and people are talking about them behind their back.

    The best success I’ve seen our coaches & my group use is a more open ended question “how are you going? how are you finding things?” Checking in and seeing what’s weighing on them. Often a ‘do you want feedback on your kicking’ can devolve into chaos, but a ‘how are you feeling after the game this week’ will result in a ‘I’m not happy with how I kicked on the weekend …” conversation. BUT if they thought their kicking was top notch or would rather not talk about it at all, they won’t bring it up, and you know to back down. So you’re in a position to offer feedback, but they also have the option to gracefully bow out if they’re not in a space to hear it.

    A simple check in with Bob like “How are you finding things? Everything going okay with your writing?” Will reveal what’s weighing on him – he may bring up “I’m not gelling with the group – no one wants to write with me?” and then you can offer some gentle feedback on why. He could also say “Everything is great! I’m really enjoying myself, it’s a blast being here” in which case, leave him be if he’s not hurting anyone. It’s also a great way to build relationships with your group and maintain open lines of communication – Bob could come to you and ask for feedback later, knowing you’ve been open and caring in the past.

  63. pamela voorhees*

    This post both reminds me of what I loved about online roleplaying (it’s a great collaborative feeling!) and also why I had to leave it (people online are rarely on their best behavior, and it often … descends — especially if people have been saying “yeah, I don’t really like Bob” “oh, me either!” — that will certainly get back to him somehow). I’m another vote for just leave Bob be. So many people use it as an outlet, and from their perspective what they’re going to hear is probably “let me tell you how you’re doing your hobby wrong.” Bob will self sort out.

  64. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    Give him feedback if he asks for it, otherwise let it be. I’ve taken many writing classes and it’s frustrating when the teacher spends time and energy on someone who really isn’t interested in learning. Concentrate on the ones who want to improve and learn.

  65. Danilell*

    I’m another person here to say you should leave it. And I especially think you should leave it because you’re an admin of the site, although I can also recognise that might be in part because of the site I come from, where an Admin, or even a mod (who by set up only have the role for a few months) giving unsolicited feedback about someone’s RP style would probably be one of the biggest dramas that the board has ever seen.

    Like other people have said, ultimately it will be a self-correcting problem, and members who really don’t mesh with the culture but don’t rise to bannable offences will leave. Is it cold, yeah, but you can’t make other people RP with someone. My one exception to this actually would be that as an Admin, it’s kind of your duty to do so, way more than messaging someone and telling them you don’t like their style is. And you may not want to, but it’s one of those parts of the role that becomes more like a job than it does you having fun. It also gives you the chance to continue modelling behaviour and you can prompt players that are reluctant to move a story line on to do so in a guided way. This is especially helpful, because often players that are reluctant to do that are the new to RP ones – my site sees a lot of them, so I can sympathise – and a year on a site that’s been freezing a character slowly out isn’t necessarily time for him to learn that skill.

    But if you don’t want to do that, and you get the sense that the community doesn’t want to do that, then you set a minimum level of acceptable standards (which you’ve already folded into your rules I see) and then you enforce it across the board. You really don’t get to have it both ways.

  66. Beth*

    If collaborations are an entirely optional and self-governed process, I’d be inclined to stay out of it. Bob can choose not to engage in them. Others can decline to partner with Bob on them. If someone does start one with Bob and is frustrated by his lack of engagement/effort, they can choose to back out; they’re not contractually bound to see it through. There doesn’t seem to be any current drama over Bob’s bad collaboration skills, since it sounds like he mostly works alone. That sounds like a situation that people can manage themselves.

    If participating in collaborations is actually a requirement of your group that Bob is failing to meet, or you reach a point where Bob being bad at them is causing bigger disruptions (e.g. he starts throwing fits about people not wanting to work with him), then you might have to step in as the admin. But if he seems reasonably happy doing his own mostly-solo thing, and others seem mostly happy to leave him to it, I don’t see a reason to bring it up proactively.

    1. Beth*

      I should’ve read the comments before posting–I didn’t realize this was about RP and not a more general writing group! That’s not something where there’s a solo option. If there aren’t clear guidelines in place for what counts as good collaboration, then you and your group should create some and keep them documented somewhere obvious. If there are, then maybe you need a better enforcement mechanism–like a clear process for how to notify someone when they’re not following the standards, and defined consequences for what happens if they ignore the problem.

      What you shouldn’t do is make it personal. “I don’t want to work with you” is not generally helpful feedback. “We require that everyone in this group do their RPing according to these guidelines, and you’re consistently not doing #3; here are some tips for how to incorporate that, let’s check in in a week and see how it’s going” is a lot more actionable and a lot less hurtful. It sounds like Bob has already left, so this isn’t something you’ll need for him in particular, but I’m sure you’ll encounter more Bobs in the future if you keep admin-ing, and I hope you’ll keep that in mind at that point.

  67. Ask An Author*

    Hi OP! I’m a full-time professional fiction writer, which means for my entire life up to and including now I’ve been in a lotttttt of writers’ groups. I’m also a huge geek and have done writing roleplay like you describe, and have also collaborated professionally. (And I run an author advice column on Substack now, inspired partly by columns like AAM!)

    So that’s the background I’m speaking from. I’ve read all of your comments as well as your original post, and I think you need to separate three things:

    (1) Bob’s quality of writing, and critique thereof
    (2) Bob getting gradually excluded from the group because people don’t want to write with him
    (3) Bob being rude and dismissive of other members, and of admins (!).

    It sounds like you might be conflating all three and I think that’s doing you a disservice.

    First, I think anyone who does #3 can easily start torpedoing an online community, and you would be well within your rights to warn Bob and then if this is repeated rude/dismissive behavior, ask him to leave the group. This would be only about his behavior, though, and not his writing. It seems like you’d be really tempted to bring up his writing quality to him as part and parcel of this because it’s so personally frustrating to you, but given the style of group I’d recommend avoiding that.

    Second, #1 — Bob’s actual writing and whether you should offer critique on it unsolicited. Given the style of group, my opinion is that this should be a hard no. So here’s the thing — I write professionally, I get edit letters all the time from my editors and my agent, and I have a dedicated critique group who’ve torn me apart on more than one occasion — I feel confident that I am excellent at taking feedback. But if I got critiqued on a thing that was supposed to be fun, kick-off-your-shoes writing? I’d be pretty ticked. It would be like someone correcting my typos in chat, or like one of my roleplaying buddies saying, like, “you know that thing you had your character do was SO cliched.” I’d find it inappropriate and it would ruin the fun and relaxation of the activity for me.

    And that’s not just because I do this for a living — back when I was a hobby writer, it was the same. There were projects I was doing in contexts that allowed me to feel they were just for fun, and losing that outlet to someone who wanted to make me *work* (when I was already working on my writing assiduously in other spaces) would have been a hard pass. If it had happened consistently, I’d have left the group pretty quickly.

    Which leaves #2, the thing I think is hardest, and how you as an admin should deal with someone in your group no one wants to collaborate with. And I agree with some of the other posters, that the best way to deal with this in the future would be to address it not as something he’s doing wrong, but checking in with him to see if he’s feeling good about his participation level, start a dialogue with him, and see what doors that opens. Maybe he’d like to participate more and would welcome feedback on how to make that happen (though I’d suggest trying to frame writing advice in this context neutrally, the way you might give someone tips on how to engage with improv, rather than approach it as his writing not being up to *your* standards personally — sure you’re a member of the group, but you can wear your admin hat here). Or maybe he’s fine with lower participation, and he’s just happy dribbling his own basketball around the court, to use your metaphor from upthread!

    …Now one thing I’ll add is all this advice is assuming you don’t *want* this to be the type of group where people can be disciplined or expelled for their writing. Which you could change. But I think you’d have to be very clear on that with the community first and have the backup of your fellow admins, because right now it doesn’t seem like that’s the type of group it is at all. (It might be worth floating the idea to your team that at least your written guidelines need to be followed, or that admins can step in if someone is torpedoing another’s characters, if you don’t have allowable actions you can take in those cases and would like to have some — it doesn’t have to be as extreme as kicking someone out — but again, I think transparency is your friend here.) It’s fine to change the structure of the group if that’s what you all want, but I think you’d have to make very sure that such a change would be received well by the participants, and make sure it’s clearly announced before taking action regarding any specific members.

    Okay, now finally, the other thing I might suggest for the inclusion/exclusion problem (as I suspect it might continue being an issue for you) is to think of ways you can shake that up. You said you do prompts and things like that — you might consider doing opt-in activities aimed specifically at mixing up how participants interact. One thing a roleplay group I was a part of did was submit blind samples from a prompt for a specific project, and then people were chosen from that to collaborate. Another thing I’ve done is more rapid-fire collaboration (much shorter bits) just for fun. There’s also branching out by subject area; to borrow from fanfiction parlance you could throw in “fluff,” “PWP” erotic scenes, “deleted” scenes, or any other sort of off-the-beaten track thing just for kicks and see if that attracts different mixes of participants. Along with your usual collaborations still going on, of course — not as a replacement, but as a way to break that “in group” feeling when cliques start to form.

    I know this situation has been resolved already, but I hope this helps for the future. Good luck, and my sympathy — that sort of non-meshing can be really hard to figure out how to handle.

  68. JSPA*

    Have you considered making the group open to read, but juried (or sponsored) to participate ? With the only yardstick being that the members of the jury (or sponsors) feel enthusiastic about writing with the person in question. Or do that with story lines, rather than people… with story kernels submitted anonymously. Or have “intensity” or “intent” ratings so people can self – identify and match with others who have a similar degree of interest. That makes it more about “making the site work well” and less about “my own preferences.”

  69. LGC*

    Really late, but here goes!

    To answer the direct question: no, and especially not the way you’re doing, LW.

    But to go into further detail, I think there’s a couple of issues here. LW wants to set higher standards for the group, but hasn’t made them explicit. There’s some guardrails (like, you can’t have wildly implausible scenarios or extremely offensive ones), but there aren’t any general quality controls. And that’s a general work thing (and something I have to deal with a lot at my job, since part of it is coming up with standards and judging whether the product is acceptable – and there are often “borderline” cases). I’d say…LW, I’m not sure whether you’re the only administrator/moderator or whether there are others, but if you want to set standards, come up with them and document them. And also, consider what the community wants – do they really want to be Good Writers, or are they just faffing about writing fiction in their free time?

    The other major issue I see is this (bolding my own):

    I’ve always tried to encourage people with their writing, giving them advice on how they can improve and offering to collaborate with people who don’t easily seem to be able to find others to write with. However, creative outlets like this are subjective at best, and I recognize that what may work for me isn’t going to work for everyone. And I think it doesn’t help that I tend to have more demanding standards and take things more seriously than others in my community (and other communities like this one). When I became an administrator, this desire to help also began to feel like a duty. After all, if everyone is writing better, we all produce more interesting stories and everyone is having more fun, right?

    However, criticism can be hard to accept, especially in creative pursuits like this. And I know that I can come off as harsh when I’m trying to give criticism or advice, when mostly what I’m trying to do is be direct and clear. As I’ve noted several times, both from personal experience and reading your blog, attempting to soften a message can often lead to the point getting misconstrued in a number of ways.

    It might be unfair or unkind(™) of me to read into this, but I can’t help but think that…LW, you might be coming across as a bit of a bully. If everyone else is pretty casual about the prompts and you’re treating this like a published manuscript (which might be a bit of an exaggeration), then – yeah – I can definitely understand why some people might not respond well! People like Bob, maybe.

    I’d honestly suggest taking a (metaphorical) step back and…again, assessing the community and its needs. To bring it back to my work experience, I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. For the project I manage, the customer does not need perfection (so, for example, text can be missing if it’s just general form text – we scan in numerous standardized forms, and basically only the actual form information needs to be fully legible). I still fix a lot of stuff when I work (more than necessary), but I tell my team that it’s not necessary to fix other things. My customer would love if all of our forms were absolutely pristine…but at the volume we turn forms over (roughly 10,000-15,000 a day between a team of 20) , that’s unrealistic to expect (and it’s not what the customer requires either). Likewise, it’d be great if you guys produced the next Great American (or Your Nation’s) Manuscript, but you don’t need to for the community to have fun. (Which is not the same as maximizing your enjoyment!

    And I’m biasing a bit towards preserving the community as-is, but…you can also change it if you want. You can make it explicitly an intensive writing group. You can also close it off to the public if you want, so you and your friends can write in peace. But at any rate, the status quo sounds a bit untenable.

  70. Dawn F*

    OP, I also run a writers’ group that has been going strong online for 14 years now. While we don’t do collaborative projects like it sounds forms a big part of your group’s activities, a lot of these same issues come up.

    Since it sounds like you have group guidelines, then it seems natural to me to add expectations for collaboration to those guidelines. It’s hard for me to make a suggestion without knowing fully what your collaborative work looks like, but I might start with, “The work you contribute for the collaborative project should be complete, including a completed plot and fully developed characters, with the final work proofread and edited before passing it over to your partner.”

    I am very much not a fan of giving “concrit” to writers who do not ask for it. For one, as you point out, not everyone writes to “go pro” or even to improve. I view it as rude, like telling a friend that I don’t think her haircut is flattering or telling someone at a paint-and-sip event that their color choices are poor, when they have not asked for my feedback. It might help to curb the need to speak up by viewing it selfishly: It is a waste of your time to provide constructive feedback to writers who have no interest in using it. There are plenty of writers out there hungry for feedback, who want to improve their work. Focusing on them and their stories is far more productive for everyone involved.

    However, if you create a guideline for collaboration on your group, you’re not put in the position of subjecting Bob to unwanted concrit. You can simply reach out to him the next time he submits incomplete work and let him know that he is falling shy of the group’s expectation. Then you might point out areas where he is falling short of the rules: “In the scene where Grimelda rescues Prince Dancelot, you only wrote three sentence when this is the main conflict of your story and needs to be fully developed for your reader to follow what you’ve written.” Then, you can tell him he has a final chance (or whatever you decide in your guidelines) to shape up, or he will not be eligible for collaboration till *insert proof of improvement here.* This might be working with a preapproved beta reader from your group before handing in a collaborative piece or posting a complete noncollaborative story to the group or whatever you decide shows that he can follow the expectations you’ve set.

    I find that strong, clear guidelines and expectations are worth their weight in gold because it nips a lot of bad behavior in the bud. It’s easy to point to guideline and say, “You agreed to this when you joined, and you’re not following it. You need to start doing so in order to continue participating here.” Its nonpolitical and cuts most drama off at the roots. It also makes it possible to get rid of bad actors relatively quickly without it becoming personal.

    Last thing … if you “come off as harsh” in your critiques, then you are not critiquing successfully. Critiques are like any other kind of writing and must be written to an audience, in this case the author. I am a writing teacher and have worked in various capacities as an editor and beta reader over the past two decades, and my experience has shown that authors are often extremely sensitive and protective of their stories–which is understandable! They are putting their best work in front of you, and criticism therefore can suggest that they are not capable of “good writing.” This is why choosing your language carefully is so critical. You want them to walk away from a critique feeling like the next steps toward improvement are attainable, not like they’ve written a crappy story and been told off about it.

    You do not have to “soften” a critique to be conscientious of your audience (the author) while also 100% truthful and, hopefully, helpful. In fact, you are not being helpful if an author leaves off reading a critique in any frame of mind other than, “I can do these things. Becoming better is within my reach.” If you’re not familiar with the Critters Workshop, consider looking into their resources on how to critique fiction: This work, especially “The Diplomatic Critiquer” and “It’s Not What You Say But How You Say It” are what I used when writing the guidelines for concrit on my own writer’s group and have been invaluable in my own work with students and authors. I’ve also found it’s useful for me to communicate with authors from the outset and to constantly remind myself that I am offering one reader’s sincere reaction to a piece of writing and that the next 99 readers might feel exactly the opposite. It helps me keep my own negative reactions to a story I don’t like in check and to open a dialogue (versus a list of to-dos or demands) with an author about what works, what doesn’t, and why.

  71. I Speak for the Trees*

    Hi! If it makes you feel any better, I have pretty much been in your exact shoes before: for 10 years I moderated on an online writing group. Yes, it was fanfiction, but yes, it TOTALLY felt like a job and I sometimes wish I could include it on a resume. I guess a lot of it depends in what the purpose and culture of the group is. Our focus was on positivity, love of writing, love of the fandom/ship/subject, and love of learning. And, yes, this meant that there was quite a spectrum of writers, from published authors who did this for fun to young people just starting out to even some who were working on their English skills. Sometimes it was hard because stuff really wasn’t that good, but since our focus (and yours might be different) was about love of craft, we tried to be understanding.

    I agree with a lot of the above advice, actually. These things are supposed to be fun, but I can totally understand how the drama can get out of hand. Some thoughts I had, and please know that these are based solely on my own experiences.
    1) Establish group guidelines (and maybe you already have) that address things like collaboration, feedback, etc. Our group/fest had pretty firm rules about how to give and ask for feedback. That said, we also had rules about editing, etc. Every piece had to be edited, generally by another person in the group.
    2) One thing that really helped that editing process was to be open with each other about what we were looking for in finding a mentor/editor/cheerleader/beta/advisor. Did they to fix basic mistakes? Plot advise? Character analysis? Thoughts on figurative language? And how did they like their advice. (I guess I mean, talk to “Bob” about this.
    3) Try to couch any negative feedback with positive feedback. “I really enjoyed your use of metaphor in the scene in which Draco combs his hair, but you might want to be aware of repetition of words like “sheen” and “golden.”
    4) Along those same lines, unless it’s directly related to something concrete like punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc., try to acknowledge that your feedback is your opinion: “Personally, I have trouble imagining Remus Lupin going clubbing with Beyonce. I see his character as more shy and reserved…”
    5) Also try to speak in terms of the group, citing rules, conventions, culture, etc.: “It’s great that you get really creative with your settings, but remember that not everyone in this group as travel experience. While you may be familiar with the Chinese countryside, the next writer might find it difficult to deal with what McGonagall might do there…”

    That’s really all I have. Remember, this group is (at least I presume) just for fun. It’s a hobby, and while many of us want to be the very best we can be at our hobbies, for some it’s just recreation and there needs to be room for those people, too.

  72. Fellow Collaborative Writer*

    I think there’s a difference between nitpicking someone’s grammar or spelling and mentioning that because this is collaborative, both parties need to contribute to moving the plotline forward. It is such a chore to respond if there isn’t anything to leap off of. As soon as I get enough to work with, I’m happy to play with people! This isn’t about writing quality. It’s about a fundamental and necessary aspect of the hobby.

    That being said, unless you have a critique forum (my community does, with mandatory participation; you may not get responses if you’re on track, but at least a couple times a year everyone has to be open to feedback) I would probably recommend waiting until Bob tries to write with you again. Then you can snag examples from the specific scene and say, “Here, here, and here, there wasn’t enough for me to work with, and I’ve seen that happening in your other threads too. It’s really hard to play when the onus is all on one person to move scenes forward, so if you put some thought into ‘am I giving the other player enough to respond to?’ before posting from now on, that would help a lot! I’ve noticed that you don’t seem as engaged lately, and I think this is the problem.”

    Especially as you’re a moderator. I know that makes you want to ensure everyone is enjoying your game, but it also may make critiques coming from you even more intimidating than from someone who is not in an authority position in the game. If you were close friends with Bob, that would be a different matter, but it doesn’t sound like you are.

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