Over the last two weeks I’ve had too many gentlemen inform me of their unsolicited opinions about what I should be doing. For some reason, every single day for the last fortnight, I’ve had some guy (in real life and online) tell me without having read any of my writing, “You should be doing this.”
“Writing is about this.”
“The solution to your problem is simple.”
I’ve found myself getting trapped by the same arguments over and over. I’m sick of explaining that the speed in which you write has no constant correlation to the quality that comes out. I’m sick of saying that there are too many books in the world for every writer to have the same goals. I’m sick of reminding people the wide variety of ages that writers have started their career. I’m sick of the promotion of homogenization, the closed-minded bigotry against anyone who writes differently than them. I’m sick of people obsessed with Hemingway and demoting poetry. I’m sick of having to reveal that what “you” think can be completely contrary to what “they” think. I’m sick of people trying to enforce arbitrary, archaic, and pedantic rules without feeling the need to come up with a benefit. I’m sick of spending weeks, months, or even years finding methods to deal with writing problems just to have some person oversimplify it into an unthought out solution—that does not work because it only considers one superficial context. I’m sick of being sent unpublished writers’ short stories to demonstrate to me how they write, how I should be writing, and being forced to bite my tongue because I see no merit in demoralizing them, even if they’re being condescending as hell.
I’m sick of being told what to do by people who haven’t tested their own theories.
This has always been an issue, but it’s hit me ridiculously hard within the last few days. Just guy after guy approaching me—sometimes even flirtatiously—to explain to me that he has all of the answers. This includes the ones who’ve never written a word in his life. And when I explain to them why the thought they pulled out of their ass is not, in fact, as accurate as their three seconds thinking about it would suggest, they automatically shut down and the conversation ends there. Then the next soul pops out to make the exact same argument again.
I don’t get this. Men know that women overanalyze everything. So why is it they would assume that their ten-second solution hasn’t already been thought of and rejected? Could it possibly be because they think they’re smarter than me?
Look, gentlemen, women have egos too. The reason we get mad at you trying to solve our problems is the same reason you’d get mad if every time you complained to me, I asked, “Did you try Googling it?”
One guy told me that I must focus on function over form, story over prose. Keep in mind that he’s not referencing any writing I’ve actually done, but just responding to my joke about me working on a short story. In essence, “You’re writing a short story? Let me tell you how!” He proceeds to send me his unpolished work he posted online that is just another one of his long diatribes about the beauty of some generic woman. You do you realize that your “story” that proves the importance of “story” actually has no “story,” right?
The worst part is, he is counting on me being a good person. Either he thinks his work is so magnificent that I couldn’t possibly criticize it, or that I won’t just poke fun at the obvious issues and attempt to be objective. You think too much of me, sir.
A poet told me not to end a sentence with a preposition. In a Facebook status, no less. He explained to me that he practiced perfect grammar skills even while on social media to enhance his writing elsewhere. This is the same guy who I originally believed was a Middle Eastern person who learned English as a second language. Overly formal, technically correct with no sense of colloquialisms or vernacular, his flowery compliments and archaic voice misled me on his origin. Turned out, he was American through and through. I found his writing hard to swallow… and I like flowery.
The urge to just say, “But I don’t like your writing,” is strong. But I absolutely don’t believe in disparaging them. I don’t want them to feel bad, I want them to experiment with their methods, I want them to continue writing, I want diversity in literature—even the kinds I don’t like—I don’t want to cause conflict, and I certainly don’t want an enemy, but on the other hand, I want people to stop feeling as though they can approach me with their closed-minded and over-simplified opinions.
It’s not when people want to discuss things. If you have a personal anecdote, explanation, or thought process, that’s an interesting debate. But when you, a fellow unpublished author (and I’m not exactly unpublished), approach me with an absolute restriction, the entire existence being based on “someone said so,” I’m not going to be impressed by your astounding knowledge; I’m going to believe you confuse being judgmental for thinking critically.
It’s like if I were to ask you for a recommendation of a fantasy novel and you were to say Lord of the Rings. Either you don’t know a lot of fantasy novels, or you think I don’t.
I’ve heard the rule before. I’ve thought about it. I’ve come to a conclusion. I could be persuaded otherwise, but it would require ideas I have yet to consider, perspectives or angles I missed. Being told by some absolute stranger that that’s just not the way they would do it and then being expected to oblige them is not the same as having a discussion. Not only are they delusional enough to think that I would be obedient to them (in some cases where other people are giving me the opposite demands), but then to have them actually show me their work as proof establishes a level of ego I can’t even comprehend. And I have a lot of ego. I am then filled with an undesirable yearning for so-called schadenfreude that I can barely refrain from attacking this easy target. This self-censorship exacerbates the frustration of my current writer’s constipation. I want so much to point out why I would never write like them, why their “rules” aren’t doing them any favors, but I don’t think it will improve their writing, nor is my temporary satisfaction worth their pain. Especially because they are often not contacting me to get in a fight, but because they want to engage with me personally. They’re not bad people. They didn’t intend to insult me. It is just out of naivety and an extreme sense of self-worth that I know too well that they don’t realize how condescending they’re being. I mean, I don’t expect them to know that I’ve been writing prolifically for a long time; I don’t have the resume credits to prove it either. And I believe that just because they’re not published, it doesn’t mean they don’t have anything valuable to say. It’s just that, if they are experienced, they’re not feeling required to prove that experience or the thought’s merit either, just that I should immediately recognize their expertise and trust it.
To me, you are just a number, the same I am to you. You could be more, but you can’t expect me to recognize your genius without giving me some time and insight into your thought process.
So, here’s the problem: that “writer’s constipation” I discussed before? It’s a current state I’ve been in for a while. For over a decade now, I had been writing diligently, at least a few words every day. I’ve completed a lot, done some things with my plays and short stories, but I’ve never really readied one of my manuscripts for submission. I’ve edited, I’ve wrote queries, but I haven’t been in a place where I felt comfortable sending something out. It was never good enough.
Until The Dying Breed, that is.
Two years ago I wrote a novel that I fell in love with. It came out easily, just how I envisioned. I wrote 180,000 words in five months—which was typical for me at that time. I started editing, cutting it down, and wrote some more. I got several tens of thousands of words into other manuscripts (one of which’s beginning gained the most positive and excited responses I’ve ever seen). I managed to get it down to 130,000 words, have three unfinished manuscripts from 50,000 to 80,000 words… and then I just stopped.
I haven’t written in months. I haven’t edited in months. I’ve looked at my query letter a few times, but nothing.
With the added frustration of these last few weeks, I just shut down. I avoided the internet and the angry arguments, I sat at home and played video games from work’s end until bedtime. I did absolutely nothing. And now, I’m ready to get back on track.
The idea of a “reset” has always been useful for me. I forgive my past mistakes and focus on future decisions. Now I think I need a big one.
I’m staying off the internet for the next month. I’m going to get ahead on my web comic, my blog, my Stories of the Wyrd, jot down some more and thought out lines for my social media, tackle my New Year’s resolutions, finish my myriad of manuscripts and, most importantly, complete the last draft of my manuscript. If I get back to my previous speed, it won’t take me long to complete several of the first drafts I’ve been working on. I believe that if I avoid getting worked up over the opinions of outsiders, I can refunnel my energy into pure creativity.
Maybe not. But either way, I’ll miss you guys. A month is a long time, I know—That’s like eternity in dog years. Please don’t forget about me. I’ll be back.