Friday, March 16, 2018

What is Stories of the Wyrd?

Funny thing about most authors on social media is how difficult it is to find our actual writing. Our pages lack mention or links of what we’re working on, what we’re selling, what we’ve done. Some make one status update and then believe that it’s easy to find in the multitudes of posts proceeding it. Some have plastered their pages with their story, and yet the way they went about it yields no effect; their wallpaper of their cover art is poorly positioned and illegible or outright ignorable. Their book covers don’t even look like book covers. Their post about “five star reviews” doesn’t mention the title or provide a link. A good number of writers have generic pennames and titles that do not elicit any results in a Google or Amazon search. Some of us don’t talk about it much. We don’t advertise, and we even can expect people to already know what our work is, so why badger them with it? It is amazing how many of my Facebook friends have likely lost a sale from me simply because they made it far too hard to find any mention of their books. But I’m no better.

When I first started becoming active on social media, I had been published in literary journals and had a few small play premieres in Los Angeles, but no books for sale, nothing really to send my readers to. As I’ve said before, writing in isolation is difficult, and having an online presence is sometimes said a bonus to your credibility for agents who are considering picking you up. I decided to start building up my fan base before I had a big product to pitch because it was something I could do that would make me feel productive while I wallowed away in my room, hacking out pages on my computer, and waiting to hear back from places I’d submitted to. It gained me a little bit of control over my career.

Every once in a while I would get a message from someone interested in checking out my books, to which I had to reply that I had none available to the public yet. They would ask me why I’m not advertising, and it was simply because I had nothing to advertise. In ways, it was hard to tell someone who was going out of their way to learn more about you that what they saw was what they got.

I started Stories of the Wyrd for the same feeling of futility that made me turn to social media. I have been writing for years and years, and for the first ten or so it wasn’t a big deal to never have anyone read it. In fact, for the first half I really didn’t ask anyone to look over my writing and it didn’t bother me. Of course, I believed that I would be published within the next three years or so if I ever just forced myself to edit and submit. Then I got to a point where I very much wanted to improve my work and really go out to get external feedback. But feedback and criticism isn’t the same as having a simple reader, and within the last few years it started to get overwhelmingly frustrating to always be writing and never be read.

I have completed manuscripts of course. I have many that I’ve gone through several drafts, that I enjoy, and that I could see as being good enough to be published—one day. But none of them are ready, they’re just not quite right. I know that I could do more with them and so I refuse to do anything with them.

Three years ago, as I realized just how long it would take me to get a book out even if I chose to self-publish, as I started to fixate on marketability, nitpick on words, tone down my voice, and severely restrict myself based on what I felt agents would want to hear, I knew that I needed to find an outlet for my creativity, a place to experiment, to take risks, and to stop worrying so much about what other people think.

More than that, I needed to stop writing in a vacuum.

The Stories of the Wyrd idea came from me misunderstanding a description in a article. They were discussing how The Terminator was stolen from a horror serial back in the day, and I thought, I want to write a serial of shorts! While they had actually been referring to shorts as in T.V., something akin to the Twilight Zone, the idea had already been planted.

I didn’t want to post online fiction because no one reads it. I don’t in particular because it is so likely to go abandoned, it is often a first draft and there tends to be mistakes of plot holes and loose threads, not to mention the typos. As an interesting example, The Martian originally took off after Andy Weir started selling it for a dollar. For whatever reason, novels available on a blogging site put me off, and I attribute it to the lack of accountability. I would rather go to the trouble of downloading an ebook than read a chapter by chapter posting.

Meanwhile, I had happened upon Leigh Bardugo’s “The Witch of Duva,” and this amazing short story had me hooked from beginning to end and haunted me long after I finished. It was because of this piece, available for free online at the time, that I went out and bought her novel, Shadow and Bone.

Prior to my Terminator epiphany, I had considered online short stories. A few of mine were already available through some of the e-zines and online copies of the journals I had been published in, but most of my short stories are different than my typical voice. I didn’t feel like they were a grand demonstration of what my novels are like.

And I’m not a big fan of short stories. There are some anthologies and short story writers that I love, like Tobias Wolff, Stephen King, and Chuck Palahniuk, but they tend to be authors I’ve already known or just lauded enough that I finally do venture to give them a chance.

My main motto in writing is to not be a hypocrite, even if I know people differ in opinion. That means that while I am allowed to write about the things I like (whether or not everyone likes them), I also cannot think something I don’t like is different just because it’s me doing it. So while I know there are people who like short stories, because I don’t, I have to tackle the problem and try to figure out what I don’t like about them.

What bothers me about short stories? What bothers me about novellas for that matter?

You start to get into them right when they’re over.

I have commitment issues, especially when it comes to books. I tend to get attached to things quickly and being betrayed or disappointed is intolerable. When I start a novel, I rarely let myself abandon it. I spend a lot of my initial introduction refusing to invest any emotions into it, which, unfortunately, makes me enjoy it less.

In a novel, this isn’t a big deal. By around page thirty, you start to get to know the characters, understand the world, and get a vibe for who the author is and his perspective, if you can count on him, if he’s lazy or ignorant or really has your best interest at heart. Those first pages in which I am refusing to let myself care or feel for these people (not until I know this writer isn’t going to screw me over) are boring, but it’s not that big of a deal because I have several hundreds of pages to enjoy now.

With short stories, by the time I start to realize that I’m enjoying it, that I like the characters, or that I’m interested in where it’s going, it’s over.

And, I know. If short stories are so short, then why can’t I just expect to enjoy it, invest my emotions and time, and get over it when they fall short? Because I’m defensive, damn it. My feelings are easily devastated by being misplaced. And most short stories are terrible, especially from an author you’ve never heard of before.

Bardugo’s short story was the exception. Hers I liked purely on the merit of that story alone. Usually, when I do like them, I like anthologies, and the connection they have with the author. The writer, his voice, his attitude, his philosophy, becomes a character in itself, and so I feel the attachment to him, a trust in him, and instead of having to reset every new story, I am far more comfortable in their world.

So I had been mulling around the idea of writing online short stories, but I didn’t think I would do it. I just couldn’t see it as being something I (a reader) would be interested in.

But this Twilight Zone idea seemed to solve the problem I had with online fiction. While writing episodic short stories—stories with a standalone plot and solution—my readers wouldn’t have to worry about if I finished the project or not because they would be, in theory, satisfying on their own. Yet, I wouldn’t have to worry about the difficulty of investing in short stories because if you did grow to love the characters, they would return.

In January 2014, I decided to spend the year stocking up stories featuring the same characters to then post online. In December 2014, I premiered the website with four of them. Today I try to post one on the first of every month.

Rasmus and Kaia were originally protagonists of my twelfth manuscript, Silver Diggers. Kaia had been one of the first female characters to act as I originally envisioned instead of being a mouthy know-it-all who could only be considered humorous when laughing at her. (Freudian.) Her relationship with her brother was the charming obnoxiousness of Calvin and the wise, sarcastic watchfulness of Hobbes that I had been wanting to achieve for some time. I loved the characters and had great hopes for them.

It was written way back in 2011, featuring siblings who lived in a loosely Scandinavian world, featuring folklore in the vast wilderness and the industrial growth in the cities. A sort of steampunk meets dark fairytale. They were traveled the poor villagers and attempted to solve their problems of the supernatural. What they couldn’t find, they made up.

I decided to change the manuscript into the serial for several reasons. One featured my original intention, that Silver Diggers would be an episodic novel, and that there would be the set up and the conclusion, but many different conflicts and plotlines in between.

It didn’t quite work out. The premise wasn’t strong enough to hook the reader in, and many of the stories felt disjointed and rambling. It didn’t read episodic as much as messy, and as I took to editing it, I found myself changing the entire vision to a more traditional plotline. I added in a main conflict to be introduced after (what I call) the cold opening, and cut a great deal of chapters that were stand alone and seemingly unrelated.

When I realized that Silver Diggers’ original vision was akin to what I wanted for the serial, it became obvious that, even though it meant it would never be bound and sold as I originally had hoped, it could better become what it truly wanted to be.

And not only did I have all of these side stories and plot arc that would be great in this medium, the fact that Rasmus and Kaia were brother and sister meant that I wouldn’t have to deal with a “will they or won’t they” storyline throughout the entire series, but rather allow them to have relationships and break-ups as they will instead of dancing around it for however long the series runs for.

It made a lot of sense.

I don’t remember exactly what caused me to change the name from Silver Diggers to Stories of the Wyrd, but it seems more fitting anyway. I never was really in love with Silver Diggers (a reference to the selfish and scheming nature of gold diggers merged with the power of silver against supernatural forces).

Stories of the Wyrd is exactly what it sounds like.

While the Wyrd, in reality, is a Celtic idea meaning personal destiny, I used the term to title the supernatural world in which the creatures and monsters leak out from. Few actually witness the boundary, but when they do, it appears as a vague, gray void, flooding out from nothing, the insides dull and empty.

It shifts around the region, but avoids larger parts of humanity, only targeting villages stationed far from the larger cities, ones who are collecting unique resources, escaping persecution, or are wayward stations between two frequently traveled points.

I used the word for two reasons. One, we’ll be honest, it sounds like weird and rolls off the tongue well. Two, more aptly, it is a supernatural and enigmatic force that has uncontrollable and frightening influence over humans. But mostly that first thing.

Stories of the Wyrd is a pet project, something enjoyable for me, an escape in which I can take chances and write tales in the way that I like to read, even when I know that I’m the oddball out, or worse, am still interested in things already discussed long and thoroughly before I touched them. It is a series of unchronological shorts featuring sarcastic characters in a supernatural world and is, more than anything, what I want to write in the way I want to write it.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

What It’s Like Getting Feedback

(An honest reflection written November 2015 about the struggles of understanding constructive criticism.)
The last round of feedback my manuscript received was months ago, but I periodically go through the comments to see if I understand more with fresh eyes. Every once in a while, by dissecting, rethinking, and just chilling out, I’ll find a treasure hidden in the muck, disguised by clever wordplay, oversimplification, or a specificity that was misleading.

People will give feedback by issuing direction: Show don’t tell. Write what you know. Use adverbs. Delete this word. Say this instead. Cut this. Change that. They offer up solutions and if you don’t truly see the problem even good advice can become useless. More to the point, it’s harder to tell if it is good advice or if there’s a very rational reason you don’t see the problem.

In fact, every time I have ever been told I had an issue that I didn’t think I had, it was because I didn’t have it. It’s often a miscommunication, in which my critic suggests something and I interpret it differently than how he intended. For example, one man once told me that I “needed to set up the scene more.” I looked that first chapter and thought, “My hut is vivid and grounded and detailed. I don’t know what you’re talking about!” I told him so with more diplomacy, to which he responded, “Oh yes, the hut is perfect. I’m talking about the world. Like, are we in outer space?”

Now, that I could see.

When it’s not miscommunication, it can be an issue of priorities. In college, I had a professor say I needed to clarify that my characters were not lesbians. While I could see why he felt like they were on a date, I didn’t believe that his reasoning was congruent or strong enough to matter; I had two female characters who talked to each other about something other than a guy and didn’t discuss who they were dating or had them end up with anyone by the time the play was over. Outside of their bickering, however, they didn’t behave like they were in a relationship at all, so it was only his expectation for women to be paired off that led him to that thinking. Then there was the factor that I simply didn’t care if people decided Molly and Becca were on a date. Being a theatrical script, it was probably going to have someone speculate someone was gay anyway. You can’t go to the theatre without a director thinking it’s genius to make Mercutio in love with Romeo. I didn’t see any audience member saying, “Clearly she wanted to tell us these characters were dating and failed to do so. What a hack!” It didn’t bother me if my characters were gay, but it did irritate me that he felt I was required to discuss the love life of my females when it had nothing to do with the plot. I told him all of this flatly, to which he, being anti-confrontational, dropped it. Or seemingly so. Later on he told me that I needed to “add in another character.” Considering he hadn’t brought up my character’s orientation since that one time many weeks prior, I did not initially make the connection between the two, and when asking him what adding another character would do, he told me it would fix the dynamic.

I saw nothing wrong with their dynamic, and actually believed it was the best part of the play. I had no idea what he was talking about until sometime afterwards I realized he was still fixating on a priority I had already said I didn’t care about, which is why the solution didn’t make sense to me.

The best advice I receive usually comes out of the following discussion. Many people attempt to be succinct and efficient when stating their opinions, not wanting to waste anyone’s time or be interrupted, yet this precision can actually overly simplify their ideas until they are no longer true. It’s important to get people on the same page before telling them where to go from there, otherwise your directions are obviously going to mislead them. A different perspective that puts a reader on a different page from a writer is the primary reason you get feedback. Everyone makes assumptions that we don’t ever think to question until we meet someone who forces us to rethink our sense of reality. The reason the best advice is usually the kind that I don’t initially understand has to do with that assumption. I didn’t realize what I thought was a matter of perspective until after I got someone else’s.

Of course, trying to get someone on the same page when they already are on the same page can be insulting, so we have to be careful about over explaining things. Plus in most cases the “same page” is the hardest revelation to go through. Telling someone that their scene is terribly set up will hurt their feelings, so many of us will go directly to how they can fix it and not actually confront the problem.

Saying, “Add stakes to Susie’s goals,” is kinder than, “I don’t care if Susie succeeds or not,” hence our draw to speaking that way. But the real problem is that the audience doesn’t care, and if the writer doesn’t see that, he will not understand what adding them in will do and thus why he should do it. Especially if he’s sitting there thinking, “I have stakes.” Once he realizes that the audience isn’t rooting for anyone, not is he more likely to be convinced that the solution is necessary, he also can incorporate other options than just doing what he was told and can be better at deciding if the stakes he chose are actually effective. Instead of just adding action sequences and threatening the life of a character we know will never die (not making us care anymore than before), he decides to add in a dog and threaten her instead.

There are ways to tell someone the problem without it being offensive, but it’s more difficult. It also requires more thought—instead of just stating a gut feeling, (I didn’t like it!) the speaker has to analyze that feeling and accurately describe it.

A problem is a reaction a reader didn’t think he was supposed to have. Identifying that reaction—the effect of a decision—rather than just criticizing the decision itself takes some self-analysis. It’s not that your writing is purple, it’s that I felt you were talking down to me. (Or, in many cases, the words didn’t make me imagine the scene, but made me stop and think about why you chose them.) It’s the difference between saying I don’t like the way you write and why I don’t like the way you write. (You’ll note that the variance between being arrogant and being jarring alters how the writer will be able to detect and fix any other “purple” writing in the future.)

But it’s difficult to state how you felt sometimes. Not only is it personal, but because it is extra blunt by nature, it is more important to consider your words carefully or it will be taken as an attack. The best feedback excites and encourages the author to get back to work, not just informs them and expects them to overcome hurt and conflict. Yet any attempts for diplomacy might clutter meaning.

So what do you do when you know, for whatever reason, you’re not on the same page? It doesn’t always work to just ask someone straight out what they mean. On occasions when I don’t get what I’m being told, I ask, “What is the problem you are trying to solve?” But it often garners the response of, “There’s no problem…”

Then why do I care?

People will often shut down and sometimes even take offense when you ask questions, especially direct ones. And, if you don’t think to ask, not realizing that you don’t really get it, or even just don’t understand enough to know what you don’t understand, you’ll often be sitting at home later, bewildered, unable to ask anyone at all.

While examining the feedback I’ve gotten, I noticed a repeated response from a few people that I never really was able to grasp. I ignored them originally, partially because my method of editing involves “chilling out” and not worrying too much about it, in which I often have a shower epiphany later. Instead of trying to take criticism all at once, I’m more likely to comprehend it via long-term reflection.

But this criticism was a little weird. First, when I say that a couple of people said the same thing, I mean a couple. Many, many readers have gone through the manuscript and there are probably only four that have discussed the issue in a similar enough manner for me to know it’s the same opinion. This actually isn’t that bad of a statistic, however—I’ve come to find that I’m lucky if three people agree on anything. Yet, it should be noted that each of the people saying it aren’t individuals that I respect as much as I normally do. It should also be noted that it’s been often proven that commenters will have more of a consistency in their opinions once you analyze where they are actually coming from—as in, they’re not actually saying the same thing, but what caused them to say it was the same problem.

“I just haven’t seen it done that way before,” they say.

I’ve realized that a few feedbackers suggested that my science-fiction wasn’t like the science-fiction they expected, and while there are many reasons I didn’t pay them too much heed, the comment has stuck with me… mostly because I don’t fully understand what they meant, and yet there is more than one person who mentioned it.

I see that my manuscript doesn’t meet the most superficial assumptions of what a non-reader thinks of when they hear “sci-fi.” While, over time, I introduced more elements typical to the genre—changing the setting of the first scene from a hut in a barren wasteland to an old and defunct terraformer in a barren wasteland and developed a history that explained it was another planet—the story does not fit the spaceships and aliens view that people who don’t read the genre expect. I don’t, however, believe that it should be so unexpected for anyone in my audience.

In the original vision and early drafts the setting was just a backdrop. I wrote it with the assumption that readers were like me—avid speculative fiction lovers who had already seen the same sorts of stories I read. I didn’t think, and still don’t to a certain extent, the world needed to be excitingly new because it was about a different kind of plot, a different kind of exploration of that sort of world. I had unique rules, but it wasn’t supposed to be about the world, just the people in it. The setting was just a nice decoration, an interesting visual for the plot to play against. I have never been interested in big, epic political events, and just wanted it to be a love story with a novel perspective. While the characters fight for their lives and freedom, it’s an intrapersonal look. I wanted it to emulate the idea of how people are just people, even in horrific realities. When you talk to someone in real life who has gone through war and starvation and trauma, during that trauma, they focused on the little things right in front of them, like where their family’s next meal is coming from, immediate safety, shelter, money. And then, even in the aftermath when they have found security physically and financially, they still care about the things we of the luxury life do, like love, money, and self-oriented dreams. Political vigilantism and determination is the story of heroes, and yes, there really are many heroes in reality, but sometimes I want to hear the story of the person surviving.

Over the drafts, however, I started to realize that this was the story’s biggest obstacle. I accepted that—while I truly didn’t feel like the world’s history mattered to the characters, their goals, or their conflicts—it was very apparent in the writing that I just didn’t know and was deliberately glossing over details because I hadn’t come up with answers. I was also avoiding making big decisions, especially when there was an easy answer to that I didn’t like. People wanted to know if it was Earth, if it was the apocalypse, how the apocalypse had happened. (Those who were concerned with this were also the ones who had only read the first three chapters, making it feel more like they were impatient rather than it was important.) I saw it as an entirely alternate reality; the world had always been like that, Earth doesn’t exist, nothing went wrong. But how do you explain that something doesn’t exist in a world it’s never been in before? I could just make it Earth, but I didn’t want to do that.

I’ve come up with several solutions now, but it was very difficult at the time, especially when I was so attached to my original vision. I finally decided to write out a history until I made one I liked, find the answers I was avoiding, and then do the proceeding drafts accordingly, inserting and changing details as the newfound knowledge merited. This worked out very well, and led me to some new scenes and did flush out the world like I actually knew what I was talking about. The history forced me to rethink my entire assumption, but once I had committed to doing so, it wasn’t so hard to let go. The setting seems more real now, even though I still only hint at the history.

Science-fiction and fantasy is about “exploring a new world,” some say, and many books are. I think that it’s an excellent part of fantasy, and there are a good number of stories that I find the unique and thorough world-building to be the prime reason they broke the wall of “good” to “great.” But there’s a reason that Tolkien-esque kingdoms and Star Trek planets still survive today and that’s because many speculative fiction readers, like myself, don’t always want brand new worlds with brand new rules, but new plots and exciting characters in an interesting setting we like.

Even things like Harry Potter—a series that created an entirely new and developed universe—played off of basic ideas and rules and tropes and fashion that we already used. It took pre-existing images in our mind and pushed them to a higher evolution. People like Harry Potter not because it started from scratch, but because it gave more details, reality, and humanity to an already existing world.

Which is to say while I highly respect and enjoy speculative fiction with in-depth world building, I also enjoy works that focus predominantly on characters, their politics and history only coming up as it affects the individuals. I want to still read about Road Warrior open highways, elven countries, and vampire underworlds along with the new realities of an especially unique book.

Because my predominant criticism was always about the world building, really the only consistent feedback I was getting, I somewhat attributed the whole, “I haven’t seen this done this way before,” issue to me just not explaining myself well enough, not setting up the rules first. There was also the issue that out of the four people I remember saying anything, three of them really hadn’t read my sort of genre before, and I could only assume that the expectations of a non-reader were wildly different from an actual fan.

But two parts have confounded me about this. One is that I received a criticism after the introduction of the terraformer which had, for the most part, calmed most people’s confusion about what kind of world it was and tapered off a lot of the world-building complaints. The other is that it hasn’t always been targeted towards the setting at all.

In one circumstance, it was the issue of the prologue. As I said, the gentlemen speaking was not an individual I had high faith in. He wasn’t reader of anything, just an older soul who wanted to write his memoir on running marathons. By the time he’d stop going to the writers’ group, he had written six pages and edited them once with our criticisms to disastrous results. Despite all that, he was arrogant, although not competitive and not self-assured (or strangely even attempting to look self-assured). He never put anyone down directly, but he was certain of his opinion, even in the case of the detective novelist who he told, “I don’t like detective stories,” and then spent twenty minutes telling her how to write one. He believed everyone should take all criticism, especially his, and would instruct writers to pander to people outside of their audience (to the detriment of those already in their audience). When any speaker attempted to be diplomatic with their feedback—plying it with compliments or giving credit to where he was coming from—he would have this contorted and mocking face until the critic came outright and said exactly what they were thinking. “You have a natural knack for clarity, so now I wouldn’t focus so much on if you’re explaining yourself well enough and risk some confusion,” to “You’re writing a boring subject in boring way. Spice it up.” Once he heard a writing rule—luckily he was not experienced enough to know many—he latched onto it.

I’ve talked about my struggle with the prologue. When I chose to add it in in the middle of the first draft, I had already known it was going to be controversial. Many professionals don’t like prologues. I had heard of this since I first started writing, I had seen all of the complaints, and for all of the prior manuscripts I’d written, I’d never used one before, simply because it never came up. But I have never personally had a problem with a prologue in a story before, and I believe it is just a way to pass expedited judgment on a book. I have seen prologues done badly, but that was because they were done badly. I didn’t think too hard about adding it when I did because I didn’t realize just how much balking there was going to be. The scene became integral to the most interesting parts of the plot. It became a point of contention for many, but the arguments never proved true enough. It seemed that when people complained it was simply because it was a prologue, not because of what I had done: “I just heard you weren’t supposed to have them.” My brother gave me an in-depth criticism, telling me I should use George R. R. Martin as an example how to do a good prologue, except that the issues in mine he listed were all found in A Game of Thrones first book. I have long since stopped asking my brother for advice because of this formula: he would always name drop someone, and yet when I read them found that my brother wasn’t entirely aware of what the authors were actually doing.

Again, the people who were focused on my prologues had usually only read the first couple of chapters, or even just that prologue itself. The ones who read it all of the way through often didn’t comment on it. Some liked it a lot, saying they were hooked into wanting to know how it ties back in. That annoyed others when the connection wasn’t made immediately apparent for the first forty pages (though the main character is featured from the get-go). People I respected said they liked it or didn’t have any criticisms themselves. I did get the sense that no one was as excited about it as I was which led me to do a lot of research and consideration. I read a lot of unpolished prologues, agents’ blogs about why they don’t like them, and even took it out for some new readers. I attempted to reposition the scene because I couldn’t just cut it. Due to the timeframe, I also couldn’t just refer to it as chapter one either. But moving it seemed to screw up the pacing until way too far in in which it really did feel out of place to me.

After all of this, after wanting to get rid of that prologue, I have, as of yet, to understand the problem. Out of the people I respect, the two who said anything negative about it only pointed out, “Agents do say they don’t like them,” and “I didn’t think that was the best way to start,” but couldn’t tell me why exactly. For a long time I was still conflicted because it comes down to the scene not being able to be removed, me struggling with where else I would put it, and my growing understanding that I like it very much and I don’t feel that whatever problems people have with my beginning is about its existence. It seems to me it’s either the label or has to do with the transition from the prologue to chapter one. The reactions from the copies without the prologue are weird—less abrasive, and yet clearly missing information and a sense of world. The things that the prologue is supposed to do, it does.

But while people have muttered a reference to it, no one really went into detail unless specifically asked.

The man from my writers’ group was the only one to really fixate on it, and his arguments were more misleading than anyone’s.

“Do science-fiction books usually have prologues?”


“Well, I’ve looked at a few and I didn’t see any.”

“They’re not like a staple or anything.”

“What does that mean?”

“You don’t have to have one…”

“That’s what I meant.”

“No, you don’t have to have one then.”

“You should read other science-fiction books to see how they do it.”


“I just haven’t seen it done that way before.”

As it should be?

We discussed it for some time, and yet while he kept repeating that I should read other books, he would not tell me what was wrong with the one I had. I told him I didn’t have a prologue because I wanted a prologue, I had a prologue because I believed it was the best way to start.

The next week, he approached me and say, “So, did you get rid of your prologue?”

I grinned. “Because you haven’t seen it done that way before? No.”

Not only was I irritated that he refused to try and explain to me why he didn’t like it, but his arguments made it worse. His inability to flat out say, “It was boring,” or anything like that either meant that his issue was complicated (which suggests that it’s not going to just be solved by simply cutting the whole thing), or a distinct possibility that he was just doing what he was supposed to do rather than actually reacting to the writing itself. Because I liked the prologue, because I hated when people wrote off an entire writing tactic without context, because I had the tendency to think he was an idiot, I knew that I was biased. I struggled to really understand him and be sure that I wasn’t just being stubborn, that I wasn’t shooting myself in the foot, but his inability to argue and be honest actually convinced me he probably had bad priorities in telling me that. I wish, however, that I understood, partially because I would feel more secure in knowing why he was wrong, but also because it would help me know why the “not the way it’s done,” criticism has come up for some others.

The woman who liked science fiction, the only one who I believe should be taken seriously, still had some bizarre reactions to the piece that made me not fully understand where she was coming from.

I know that people see prologues and automatically hate it.

I know that people are annoyed when I discuss the leader of their outpost—a simple a figurehead, a representation for their kind of life, but not a character—and yet the rebellion and attack on his authority never comes into play because it’s not about that. I don’t know how much it actually needs to be addressed, and if it does, what subtle ways I can shift that assumption.

Some want me to outright sum up the world. No, they never say editorialize or info dump—but sometimes that’s what I feel they are implying. I’ve heard this criticism on other books, like The Hunger Games, and I consider it a matter of preference. Not only do I not want to go into detail about aspects of my world that are… well, common, those that aren’t are very complex. I can’t explain one thing without getting into another, which it is learned over the course of the story. No, you don’t need to know where they’re getting their fuel from yet. Just relax.

The worst part of receiving criticism isn’t the rejection or the embarrassment. It’s not even the demand to sit somewhere quietly as someone tells you how you messed up. It is far more about the struggle to decipher people’s opinions, to overcome your own biases along with theirs, and to determine what is best for your work. It’s not trying to accept what people say, but figuring out what they’re not saying.

Note: After rewriting the beginning of the story for the fifth time and speaking to an author who I highly trusted, he suggested that he didn’t understand people’s problems with the prologue, but did know how agents felt about them, and if it were him, he’d find a way to change it, I eventually came up with a means to put it as a flashback a little later in the story.

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Friday, March 9, 2018

It Scares Me Who Seems to Be Successful

In college, a fellow student came up to me, tears in his eyes, as he recounted the discussion he’d had with our professors. They told him he was never going to succeed as an actor. They pulled out all the stops: too ugly, not talented enough, too brown. Of course, they were much more sneaky about it, but it all came down to these old men acting like a clique in a junior high.

He came to me because I was never one to keep silent. It had done me well, my curiosity, and a lot of my high school teachers liked me because, even though I argued a lot, I was enthusiastic, engaged, and genuinely trying to understand, not just be a little shit.

At my university it took me some time to learn that my professors didn’t want to teach. They were the quintessential stereotype of the failed artists. They weren’t even really that failed, having some accomplishments and good stories, but they were predominantly there for the steady paycheck, and they were certainly not happy with the way their lives had turned out. They had expected to be big.

And, to give them some credit, I imagine a lot of their naysaying was autobiographical, something they would have liked to tell their younger selves. “That big dream you’re banking on? Never going to happen. Quit and find something with a good retirement plan.”

My fellow students were better game players than I was. I just didn’t get it. And I didn’t want to get it. I believed in “good and bad” writing, I was confident in myself and destiny, and knowing that I was a good person, I thought that if I was just true to myself and my opinions everything would work out. (This also inspired the assumed sloppiness and unspoken entitlement you would expect.) Even after I became aware of the reality of the social hierarchy, it merely lost me respect for my professors.

I was somewhat ignored in college until someone found themselves the outsider of the professors’ favor. This only bothered me so far as I constantly felt myself fighting to do the art I had come there to do and no one seemed to have any respect for the work I was putting in. To be clear, I’m not a social person in general, and I wasn’t hated or ostracized. My friends originally asked me to parties and outings and I always said no, so they stopped inviting me. I like to be by myself, and while I struggled to really bond with anyone, it wasn’t as though I was the poor little outsider. My attitude made people pay no attention to what I was doing, overall. I don’t fault them for that.

The department was small, and we all talked in class, were on good terms, but I’d sit in the green room, undisturbed, for hours writing and no one would approach me. I witnessed this orientation around the “golden actors,” the ones who the professors deemed as wondrous, and watched students hang on every word of their esteemed instructors. I saw some poor behavior, from all of us, in attempts to get in the teachers’ good graces. My fellow students left me alone to my arguing. They often took on a “let’s wait until we see what happens,” position, even when someone else would be fighting for their own rights.

I was a fly on the wall, in many ways, and when they came to me at their lowest, my response was, “They do that to everyone.”

And it was the truth.

Every student would find me by myself to talk about it at one point or the other. “You’d understand. They don’t like you.”

Accurate enough. But when I told them the professors were full of it, that they would find any reason to criticize anyone, that even their golden boys would have moments of repression and insult, my peer would wave me away. “Yeah, but they’re right about them. So what does it say about me?”

The head of the department once told me that in all his years of teaching, only one student has ever left here being able to direct. I was like, “The student you told us who came in with the skill?”


“Don’t you feel bad about taking our money?”

I didn’t say that.

And for those of you who are thinking, “But looks and race do play into your ability to be a successful actor,” let me be clear.

He wasn’t just saying, “You’re not going to be the next Stephen Spielberg,” he was saying, “You will never be skilled enough to produce a decent play.”

He wasn’t saying, “Here are the factors that you need to be aware of,” he was saying, “Just give up now.”

He wasn’t saying, “You are sacrificing your brilliant abilities as a mathematician for a career you’re unlikely to succeed at,” he was saying, “I see no merit in you at all. You’re stupid for even trying.”

He was saying, “I don’t believe you can ever be an artist because I couldn’t. So, I’ll take your money, but I’m not going to bother teaching your because it won’t do you any good. Maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll give you enough time to feel bad about yourself.”

The students didn’t believe me when I told them that everyone was being belittled. That if you weren’t brown it was because you were fat, if you weren’t fat, it was because you were ugly, if you weren’t ugly it was because you were stubborn. You were blonde so your hair didn’t light right. There were no parts for you until you were forty. You were too nice. You were too argumentative. No matter who you were, there was something holding you back.

Because there’s something holding us all back. And, yes, they can tell each and every student they’re not going to succeed and have a pretty good chance of accuracy. You don’t need to analyze their abilities to successfully guess who’s not going to be the next Johnny Depp.

Every actor has, at some point, been told they were never going to succeed.

When confronted, my professor’s argument was that if you can be discouraged, you should be. My argument is that if you can be discouraged, you will be. You don’t need some asshole standing there trying to demotivate you.

Art made is never a waste of time. If you created something, no matter if it didn’t go anywhere, no matter if you abandon it and your career later on, it is means more than if you had gotten halfway through a law degree, or spend your nights binge drinking. Experimenting with the art world is one of the best things anyone can do, no matter how shitty they are at it.

The point is, however, that I found myself still being ignored, even as they came to me for advice, even as I gave them an informed perspective about how their belittlement wasn’t personal. The truth was, my opinion didn’t matter. I wasn’t a professor or a chosen one, I was just some weirdo who seemed to be around a lot. They would rather listen to the man who tore them to shreds, who demonstrated little argument for his opinions, who didn’t care about the art world anymore simply because he was in a position of power.

Being liked and being respected was key. As long as I didn’t socialize, as long as I didn’t bother with presentation, I wasn’t ever going to have anyone listen to me.

It was a game changer for me, in both good and bad ways. Prior to that, I wanted my professors to be proud of me. I may not have cared about being popular, but I did want to be admired. I struggled to understand their opinions—why they liked what they did and hated what they didn’t—but the more I analyzed them, the less congruity I found. After years of digging through their answers and patterns, I had to finally acknowledge the most consistent factor in their determination of quality: reputation.

They gave me plays that seemed like weird for the sake of being weird, claiming their genius. They would go on long tangents about the meaning in them while at the same time admitting that the playwright in question had wanted to just make something impossible to produce and had been committed to an insane asylum.

I asked them how they knew a play had more meaning and just needed a deeper examination or if it was just meaningless: “You learn from experience.”

There was a lot more to that conclusion, but in essence, they changed their arguments to fit the stance they wanted. They liked the things that they thought made them look good and not the things that didn’t. I realized, finally, that it didn’t matter what I produced—or any of their students did—because they didn’t judge art on its merit, they judged it on its appearance. They would never seem worldly if they liked what the peasants made.

Not to say I was writing anything in their target demographic. I’ve never been a fan of Absurdist or experimental theatre. But I did try to improve my writing, and I did, for a time, believe that they could tell me how. On the rare occasion I could get criticism off of them, they commented on formatting and how I needed to prove my characters weren’t lesbians. That was all I ever got.

Over the years after that, I focused on presentation over concept. I tried to compensate for my laziness and polish my work, hold myself well, and do what it took to get people to at least think I might know what I’m talking about before I opened my mouth. I believe that it doesn’t matter what you say if you can’t get anyone to listen.

There have been ups and downs. I’ve lost some of my voice, some of my fearlessness. I’m much more cautious, which leads to less mistakes, but also less risk taking. I’m far better at pushing the project to its full potential, though now I realize that it’s being held back by a lack of personality and creativity—something that I had in droves prior.

I also have come to a frightening conclusion.

I believed that their power came from a reasonable credit of authority—the teachers, or the ones the teachers had praised. If you could do the work and earn that credibility, you would be freer to do what you thought was best.

Yet, in the recent months, I’ve been confronted with a different issue, that maybe it’s not reputation or a position of authority that gets you respect. It wasn’t the title, but the fear.

Personally, I find the artists in our lives, especially the ones we work with, are only respected if they are somewhat snotty. There are those who have a lot of experience and resume credits who you trust, but the people you don’t question on the ones who look down on opinions that aren’t theirs, even just a little.

I read an article on training puppies once. They said that while dogs love unconditionally, they only try to please people they respect. Those people who they respect? They don’t give out their approval willy-nilly.

Those who are listened to the most seemed to be the ones who distribute their acceptance less. It’s the ones that people want so much to be liked by. Being outside their praise is detrimental while being inside it gives a sense of belonging.

Donald Trump is a colossal horror. He is not articulate, but argues like a teenage girl. He is petty, childish, strange looking, and uncharismatic. This doesn’t shut him down, but only seems to serve him. It brings him to the public eye.

You have Kanye West whose most songs remembered by the main public are tunes he didn’t write, who tries to sing Bohemian Rhapsody at concert but won’t even attempt the high key. He’s called a lyrical genius even though the only song I know for sure is by him is the Katy Perry one in which he sang about anal probing.

There are authors who attack their reviewers, send surges of people after their enemies to harass them on social media, and yet they’re still best sellers.

There are teachers like my professors who belittle their students every which way and yet still are heeded like their word is law.

I once believed that success came from destiny with a little bit of hard work. Then I believed it came from hard work with a little bit of luck. I started to wonder if it wasn’t about “faking it until you make it.” Now I fear even that isn’t enough.

Do you have to be dismissive of other people’s ideas to get anyone to listen to your own? If you listen and collaborate, communicate, and be open, does it make people question your thoughts? Is fear of dismissal more powerful than doing your homework?

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Monday, March 5, 2018

Tips for Dialogue People Don’t Talk About Enough

Don’t bring the conversation to a halt except to make an impact.

Petulant characters are fairly common in earlier works, especially when you have contemporary fantasy, or something that’s hard to accept thrown in the mix. It’s actually a sensible, realistic reaction, but having a scene in which one character is refusing to engage, obstinately demanding answers to a question that will obviously become clear, not playing along with banter, or even refusing to come to conclusions on their own tends to stall the scene and make that character look like an dimwitted jackass.

“Alright,” said the leprechaun. “I need you to spin around and hop three times on one foot.”

“Why should I?”

This is also true in real life. Some people don’t have a sense for a flow of conversation. They don’t consider if what they’re saying has any sort of easy response to, making it hard for the other person to keep it going.

Take this real conversation between a man and a woman on a dating site:

“Have any interesting plans today?”

“Making meatloaf. My life is a whirlwind.”

“Mmmm. Meatloaf! I have so many things going on in my whirlwind. What’s in your whirlwind?”

“Oh, no, no no. I was being sarcastic. My life is pretty boring.”

The man posted the conversation, asking about if sarcasm was appropriate online. He continued on in this manner, stopping her to correct her every time she didn’t “pick up” on his sarcasm, not answering (seeing the intention) of the question, not asking questions himself. It was painful to watch, to see this woman trying to find something to talk about and him essentially dismissing it.

Have characters jump to conclusions.

Contrary to popular belief, jumping to conclusions is an act of intelligence, while not doing so makes someone come off as stupid. An intelligent adult can take in the situation, come to an understanding, and then confidently act on that understanding. Certainly, constantly doing the wrong thing due to assumptions can make you look like an idiot, but on the whole, so will interrupting the flow to ask questions you could probably figure out on your own.

I’m a very cautious communicator in real life, and it tends to make things awkward. I’m more likely to pause and consider what someone’s saying when I don’t understand and ask questions. At times, it can come off as insecurity. I wouldn’t say anyone thinks I’m stupid, but I can see their frustration when I make it clear that I don’t get it.

That being said, I understand the situation better than most typically speaking.

This is a part of my personality, and you could make it an interesting character trait, but it’s actually something that’s more common in poorly crafted characters: They immediately know what they don’t understand, they ask questions instead of pretending they got it, and they refuse to act or put their faith into the other characters, even when it’s clear that that character is far more informed.

When a leprechaun says he’s going to lead you to the Land of Fairy and asks you to spin around and hop on one foot, it’s pretty dumb not to assume it has something to do with that, even if you don’t have any comprehension on how magic works. Don't ask. Just do it.

Don’t forget about moods and hormones.

In some ways, a story is about seeing the multiple dimensions of a character’s personality. We like to see how he acts when severely stressed versus happy. When in love versus heartbreak. When confronted with a problem. When finally finding his solution. I personally love scenes where, after you see characters battling and afraid and constantly on the move, they sit back for a moment and have a good, trivial laugh.

Some inexperienced writers try to make their characters “good.” The protagonists like everyone except those they’re not supposed to, they’re always level-headed and rational, they always do the right thing, and they’re always certain of themselves.

How your character reacts to being stuck behind an oblivious old couple taking their time tells you something about that character, but it also tells you something about their state of being. Not only do different people react differently to the same obstacles, people react differently based on their moods. Your protagonist should show different sides of himself and struggle with the reality that we all get sick, distraught, and grouchy. How he’d deal with that couple in the beginning of the book is going to vary from the middle and the end. He will not always be able to be a good person.

This doesn’t mean he has to be a jackass, but showing that he feels frustration, he wants to lash out, and he’s not always controlled by rationality actually makes his patience and kindness an even greater—and more relatable—virtue. Remember that people are controlled by feelings just as much as logic, and even your minor characters have other shit they have to contend with than what’s right in front of them.

Every line says something about that character.

One of the things I suggest to writing students is to read drafts as if they are true stories merely being reported on. Read them as if they were masterpieces written by someone who knew exactly what they were doing. Comment on your responses to the characters’ actions, to what happens in the story, not whether or not the writers should have done it that way, not the writing style.

In this vein, that people really said the things being written, bad dialogue tends to have two interpretations: The characters are fake and insincere and untrusting, or they are unlikable (often foolish.) A good question to ask yourself is what does the dialogue say about the personality of the character? Is that what I wanted?

Many writers try to convey information, not character, through dialogue, when it should be a little bit of both. It’s not even that bad dialogue doesn’t give you a sense of personality, emotion, or relationship; it’s that it gives you incorrect sense of those things.

Anytime your character says anything, he’s making an impression. There’s a million ways to say the exact same thing. Why, when, and how a character chooses to announce something tells you a little bit about his internal life. Even if it’s as simple as, “Hey, Buddy’s on the phone,” the fact he didn’t say, “Phone call!” can color our perception of who that person is.

We want what the characters want.

Some readers actually live vicariously through their characters. Others, not so much. There are those of us who have more of a “voyeuristic” thrill of seeing things happen, but regardless, empathy still applies.

Just like writers will try to make good and rational people, they will refrain from giving their characters—especially minor characters—worldly desires. This is why so much dialogue comes off as unemotional and flat. Neediness, seeking approval or validation are key factors in why we talk to other humans. We want to look smart. We want to look capable. We also want to help people. We want the problem to go away, or maybe just their pain. Maybe our pain.

Anti-wants are just as powerful too, of course. There are those who don’t like talking to others and will only speak to someone if information needs to be communicated. That can make for interesting conversations/personalities, but it’s about emphasizing how much that person does not want to talk to someone rather than having them be perfectly okay with it.

If your characters don’t care. I don’t care.

Good dialogue is predominantly about understanding the subtext and internal life of the characters. Instead of thinking so much about the punctuation and dialogue tags, tap into your imagination and own psyche and figure out why the character is the way he is before worrying too much about making it look like ‘real dialogue.’ The results will be a more natural flow of character instead of mechanical decoration.

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Friday, March 2, 2018

There’s Such a Thing as Too Much Research

“In books, hell yeah there’s such a thing! Why are we still talking about this?”

Well, true, but I’m not talking about how a historical fiction book might detail an entire ten-course meal down to the prongs of each fork. I’m talking about how informing yourself too thoroughly might cause some problems.

I like to be aware of how hard I should expect something to be. I think this helps me to know that if the difficulty is a sign I’m going about it the wrong way, or if it is merely just that difficult. However, I think you can psyche yourself out, and there is something to be said for walking into a situation blind.

I discuss how I miss my younger self. I would describe her as a baby in a Looney Toons skit, happily wandering around as anvils and toasters place an attack on her life while she keeps on, going after whatever prize her eye is trained to. Meanwhile the cat rushes after her, attempting to protect her from all the horrible dangers in a state of pure panic only to end up the one who gets her teeth knocked out. The cat is older me. Very conscious of all the things that could go wrong, scampering around attempting to fix problems and getting hurt by things that never even grazed me when I was oblivious to them.

Knowing something will be hard makes it less likely that you’re going to try.

I had a good friend in college who was very talented and very insecure. She would make statements about the statistical likelihood of her success. She'd go and spend an hour talking with a professor about her directing project—what should I do, how should I do it?—guaranteeing her to get an A, but sucking all the fun out of it. She was a realist and that set her up to not put herself out there.

She’s doing well, graduated with a masters in her field and is working, from what I understand, full time in the theatre. We have long since gotten out of touch. But watching someone keep her goals low for the sake of reality taught me a valuable lesson: shit happens without your control, and sometimes it’s positive.

You can’t expect to be the norm. You have to hope luck and destiny will nudge you over the top. Sure, being reasonable about your expectations is key to not getting discouraged, helps you confront controllable problems head on and take the helm in the situation, but it’s just as important to aim big, try for things you might not get, and take a random stab regardless of the odds.

The harder I know it’s going to be, the more I put it off. If I think it’ll be easy, I go big and I rip the Band-Aid off. It’s sucks to put your all into something only to yield nothing in return, of course, and getting out there a second or third time is awful, especially if you’ve realized you’ve done something stupid the first go around.

There is something to be said for doing your due-diligence before throwing yourself to the wolves, but I find that the fear-mongering it can be much more problematic than you’d think. Point is, if you’re looking for publishers, a career change, a relationship, a new apartment, or basically any big time decision, the most important part is to go for it. If you feel like all your reading is just making you scared, remember that life is not a predictable pattern, what’s true for the internet won’t necessarily be true for you, and you never know what will happen.

Sometimes it’s important to put Google down and actually live life. I’m often surprised at how different reality is than what the realists say.

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Monday, February 26, 2018

How to Share Your Opinions When You’ve Just Started Writing

Writing, especially discussing writing, is a hell of a lot more fun when you’re confident about it. That uncertainty and insecurity makes for painful criticism and less inspired writing sessions, while trusting yourself convinces you to take a whole slew of risks with larger payouts.

But how do you become more confident?

I often start critiques with the question, “What are your strengths and what are your concerns?” This is mostly to get the issue from the horse’s mouth; I find that helping someone fix a problem he himself believes exists is much easier than if I have to prove it’s an issue first. What I’ve also noticed, however, is that many people can accurately cue in on their flaws, but are at a loss when it comes to their strengths. We know how we’ve failed a lot better than how we succeeded, and that’s part of the problem. I also ask the question in order to get a quick sense of them and know what they care about (and therefore how to talk to them).

So to start with, if you don’t feel confident, maybe sit down and really identify for yourself why you’re not a colossal fuck up. Might be a good foundation. Do so accurately, as if you’re writing a formal book report defending an author from your judgmental asshole teacher.

But the reason I write this is not because of people who are too humble and self-deprecating (at least overtly). I write this after getting another smirk from a highly inexperienced writer who had never seen incredibly conventional formatting before.

They say that it takes a little bit of skill to evaluate yourself and that those who are lacking tend to vastly overestimate their abilities. This is frustrating, not because they don’t have self-awareness, but because many times those who don’t know the first thing about what they’re doing tend to be the bossiest, most judgmental, and rudest people you’ll meet. They’re the ones who will literally laugh in your face without considering even briefly that the reason they haven’t seen it before is because they haven’t been paying attention to those things for longer than a month now.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have those who are afraid of being that person. Instead of smirking and pronouncing their opinion as fact, they constrict into themselves and refuse to speak.

Being a writer is just as much about showmanship and reputation as it is about the actual writing. People love writers, the authority and attitude they bring into the world, so in order to make people fascinated with your books, you need to be expressing genuine aspects of yourself, taking charge of a creative scene, and not behaving like you're less than everyone else. For your own benefit as well as your readers, be strong in who you are.

The question becomes, though, how do you know the difference? How do you know when expressing your opinion you are just valuing your own input versus exposing your naivety?

First, keep in mind that attitude is more important than content. If you are friendly, listen before you speak, and laugh a lot, if or when you say something incredibly stupid, you’re more likely to shrug it off. People are also more likely to inform you about something you didn’t know because they don’t feel like you’re going to bite their head off. You’ll notice my biggest complaint about the big egomaniacs above—it’s their contempt.

My friend is in the bad habit of making pronouncements of how “movies are.” When confronted with a script she doesn’t like, she lambasts it for not doing what she expected it to. “Dialogue is supposed to…” “Movies are supposed to…” She has a very limited view of not only how it must be done, but the purpose of media. What’s irritating is that any real life example proving other much, much more successful people don’t subscribe to her philosophy, she’ll insist that “They’re wrong!” I couldn’t argue with her the benefit of diversity and the fact that her scripts could be improved if she opened up her palate more (“Well, people who read scripts like mine.”) Worst, when she describes to me what "good" writing is, I often sit there and think, "Well, that sounds awful." It's not just that she doesn't feel writing can be creative or diverse, but that she actively believe it's supposed to be dry as hell. "Nobody actually likes reading."

People have different tastes and interests, and the biggest problem is when someone doesn’t realize that they don’t speak for the universe. It’s not that books and films can suit different needs, it’s that they should. The philosophy that bad books shouldn’t exist (like the people who lament the creation of Fifty Shades of Grey), ignore the very real reality that if a few souls got to choose which novels could be written, reading would become an awful experience for many readers. Books would be stagnant and homogenized. It’s a good thing when someone does something against your expectations.

The issue isn’t that we have different tastes, or that she’s expressing her different tastes, it’s that she’s leaving no room for anyone else’s. She’s shaming these writers for not subscribing to her ideology, and in the process, my friend makes herself seem more uninformed to me than if she chose an alternative way to talk about them. She devotes herself to bias confirmation—any famous script that doesn’t do what she’s talking about doesn’t count. This brings up questions for me about her experience that I wouldn’t have asked before. Where is she getting these ideas from? Her Those-Who-Can’t-Teach professors at a community college? Had she expressed her ideas with context and cause and effect, her background wouldn’t have matter as much because her thought process would have been solid and relatable.

So, the obvious conclusion is don’t smirk at people. Don’t talk down to people. Expect people to have different ideas and tastes. Don’t expect people to automatically agree with whatever “Ultimate Truth” you believe in. Be prepared to calmly and jovially explain your thinking, and truly listen when other people offer up other points of view.

Most importantly though, and where I was getting at with all of this, is that one flaw people have, one flaw everyone has, is we all possess intellectual “blind spots.” These blind spots can be obvious—A man who doesn’t read much cannot say how original his work is—or they can be more complex—A woman who doesn’t see herself as the protagonist while reading won’t know how to write for people who do. In many cases though, you have a few blind spots that you already know about. In the case that you feel like you’re not as experienced as you’d like, you can always ask yourself how long have you been doing this for in comparison to the person talking. This is not just to help you know when you double check your thinking, but also can bring you to realize that they might not be fully informed what they’re talking about; they might have even less experience than you. It’s pretty easy to think that you’re a new writer even after five years in, so that self-reflection can be a nice wake-up call.

You have something of value to say. Even if you’ve only picked up a pen two weeks ago, your ideas, philosophies, and perspective can be useful to those around you. Don’t be shy in saying what you’re thinking. Just remember that everyone else has something valuable to say in some form or another, that you aren’t omniscient, and that even if you’re an expert in making the books the way you want them to be, it doesn’t mean yours is the only way, or that it works for everyone.

Give people credit and you will gain credibility.

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