Dear Prose Community
Note: I will be returning to posting shortly. I am not going to delete this post as I want all members to have the opportunity to read this if they wish and to feel free to discuss any concerns that might arise in the future with me or the Prose administration directly.
I thank all of you for your incredible support and interest, not just in my own writing, but in the writing of all Prosers in the community. It remains a joy to share in the journey that is writing with all of you, and I look forward to reading more and more of your work.
It is with great sadness that I am informing all of you dear Prosers that I will not be writing anything more on this site in the foreseeable future.
I read through the recent conversations about various aspects of the administration of Prose and the results of the Simon and Schuster challenge, and I have been thinking about the comments made by various Prosers, as well as the earlier posts about said challenge that have long since been deleted from the site. I have also seen a number of comments on various posts while I was reading new works recently that I found very concerning. Many things were said that, to me, are indicative of a very serious change in the atmosphere in this community that I cannot support, even indirectly, and that also makes me very concerned for my fellow Prosers and the future of the community.
I usually refrain from involving myself in conflicts among community members and, up to this point, I have not participated in any of the discussions that have taken place concerning the running of the site and the challenges. I feel that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and, if any individual feels it is appropriate to voice their opinion in public, then that is also their choice. What has led me to say my own piece about these issues now is that Prose no longer feels like the welcoming, open, inclusive community that it was when I joined a little over a year ago. Instead, it feels increasingly hostile and petty with some members attempting to construct a social hierarchy where the thoughts and opinions of certain writers are taken as more important and worthy of note than those of others.
The Simon and Schuster challenge is a prime example of these changes within the community. I was very disturbed to read some of the comments made upon the announcement of the winners. Some Prosers congratulated some of the winners while implying or openly stating that the others were less worthy, or not worthy at all, of winning. There were also comments made suggesting that certain Prosers were less entitled to win because they are not as active on the site as others, are new members, or because they did not receive as many “likes” as others. These statements are mean-spirited, unnecessary, and suggest that time spent on Prose and indications of popularity within the community are valid reasons for winning a contest. They also imply that members who do not post regularly, who joined the site recently, or who do not interact with a chosen circle of Prosers are not real members of the community. Regardless of whether or not anyone thought there were irregularities with the contest judging or rules, it was not fair to denigrate the challenge winners because the contest did not turn out the way certain individuals wanted. The winners had nothing to do with the judging and for some Prosers to diminish their work and achievement because of perceived slights or issues with the judging is an attitude that does not support the creative, community-minded spirit that is supposed to be part of the purpose of the site. Any issues with the contest could have been directed at Prose, Simon and Schuster, and the judges without demeaning the winners, regardless of whether or not any members of the Prose community would have chosen those entries as the winners or how much they felt their own work should have been chosen.
The fact that so many people were openly bitter about the contest results is, in and of itself, a sign of growing jealousy, hostility, and a general lack of sensitivity within the community. Any contest in a creative field will necessarily be judged subjectively and according to the tastes and perceptions of the judge or judges. I personally have extensive experience participating in competitions in both writing and music performance, and I can say from my own experience that the Simon and Schuster contest was not unusual. Entering competitions in the creative arts is a choice, and anyone who chooses to enter such a competition must accept the rules and procedures of the contest, and any subsequent rulings. I have won some competitions in my life and lost others, and some certainly appeared to be more “fair” than others, but complaining openly about the results of a contest after winners were announced is something I have never done. Interestingly, my fellow musicians and writer friends have also never openly questioned the results of a contest, which leads me to the realization that this is a change, and a negative one at that, in the attitudes of those who now consider themselves to be professionals or semi-professionals in creative fields.
None of this is to say that anyone is not entitled to their feelings. It is perfectly natural to feel upset, disappointed, or even angry when the results of a competition do not go one’s way, and it is absolutely the right of every individual to feel this way. But it is completely unnecessary to make nasty, hostile, or demeaning comments in a public forum. What is ironic about the discussions that took place upon the conclusion of the Simon and Schuster challenge is that many of those who were the angriest and the most hostile toward the winners are the same ones who openly defended the contest, Prose, and the judgment of the administrators when some of the same questions as to the legitimacy of the contest arose prior to its closing. The impression this gives is that those people assumed they would win, or that they were hoping that praising and defending Prose and the administrators might be a way to curry favor with the judges. Similarly, many of those people attacked other Prosers who had the courage to ask questions about the contest rules and judging while it was still open. This amounts to bullying and gives a very negative impression of the community, one that suggests that conformity is valued above free expression and that the opinions of all members are not equally valid. To me, this goes against the ethics that Prose and its members profess to stand for, and such behavior is not representative of the kind of attitudes that are appropriate for the site.
Another issue that concerns me greatly is the implication that arose in some of the conversations of an “inner circle” of writers in the Prose community who should, in various ways, be deferred to in matters of site administration and community activities. This defeats the purpose of a creative writing forum. If Prose becomes a site where certain members are viewed as elite in some way simply because they are the most aggressive or vocal, or because they post more than other members, it will very quickly become a place where individuals are excluded simply because they are unable or unwilling to follow the ideas of those chosen few who position themselves as de facto leaders within the community. There is already some indication that this is happening. Mass tagging on posts is an exclusionary practice that gives the impression that the opinions of certain Prosers are more valid than others. It also implies that if Prosers do not leave a public indication that they have read a given work, either through a “like” or by leaving a comment, then they will not be included among the Prose inner circle. Even in the discussions of the Simon and Schuster results, Prosers were tagging each other, which adds to the impression that only certain members had a right to raise concerns about the issues being discussed and that some members are inherently more qualified to comment on those issues than others.
A related issue that concerns me greatly is the one of feedback. There has been a lot of discussion of ways to give and receive feedback, what level of feedback is appropriate, and the importance of getting feedback. This is a very important issue and, in my opinion, there is only one answer. It is not appropriate to give feedback. The one exception is when one individual expressly asks another for feedback on a specific post. Even then, it should only be given by the person who was asked and only on the post in question. The reason for this is very simple. Prose is an online community and there is no way to be certain who anyone is talking to at any given time. It is presumptuous, egotistical, and potentially offensive to give unsolicited feedback as it assumes an unequal relationship where the person giving the comments is inherently qualified to make professional judgments about the person to whom the comments are directed. Regardless of what professional qualifications or experience are possessed by any individual on the site, it is inappropriate to make such assumptions and to suggest that everyone should automatically be receptive to feedback. These assumptions additionally further the exclusionary atmosphere that is developing and could make some members feel reluctant to post freely out of fear or embarrassment. Further, Prose is a site for creative writing. Creative writing can only be judged subjectively and everyone should have the right to write what they please, in the way they please, and accept that some readers will enjoy their writing and continue to read their work and others will not be interested and move on to a different writer. In other words, Prosers should simply express themselves creatively and, in turn, find readers who enjoy their personal style and ideas and who will follow them in order to read more, without fear of public shame and with no risk that they will be excluded for failing to go along with the majority.
When I joined Prose, I was welcomed warmly by the community. I felt free to share my writing and to read the writing of other members. Sometimes I “liked” posts, sometimes I left comments, and sometimes others did the same for me. I felt like members were sharing their work and the work of others, and that there was a sense of camaraderie among Prosers, who were also sharing in the experience of writing. Now, I see cliques forming who tag each other on their posts and the posts of others, and who start conversations and invite each other to join in, while ignoring or dismissing the comments of those outside of their groups. I see harsh, rude comments that range from passive aggressive to openly hostile posted for no reason on some posts. And I see increasing bitterness and ill will toward members who show any kind of initiative or achievement that is seen as going against the self-appointed leaders of the Prose community, as well as an increasing lack of acceptance of the work and ideas of new members.
For these reasons, I will not be posting any more of my writing on the site as I do not wish to participate in a forum where attitudes of hostility, divisiveness, and elitism are apparent, nor do I feel comfortable in an environment where members are treated unfairly for non-conformity or where problems with the administration are taken out on fellow members. I will not be leaving Prose, however, as I genuinely believe in the community and in the potential for the site to return to the warm, supportive forum for reading and writing that it was when I joined. If such a time comes when the community gets past the petty rivalries and nasty, ungracious behaviors that do not befit professionals in any field, I will gladly return to posting. Until then, I will be around, so feel free to contact me if you wish. Please know also that I have a challenge with prizes that is still open and I will absolutely be judging the entries and awarding those prizes upon its conclusion.
Thank you all for reading this and to those of you who have been, and still are, wonderful and genuine supporters of the writers on this site, I thank you as well.