Friday, January 30, 2015

So, I’m Writing This Novel: Picking It Back Up Again

Luckily, books aren’t like children, otherwise I’d be typing this from jail. Or carving it into my arm.

I started writing The Plane (working title) back in October, knowing full well my intention to do National Novel Writing Month—an online community that requires you to start a new project and get 50,000 words on it during the month of November. But The Plane was a part of my 25th year rejuvenation, an attempt to make age 25 as productive I had been at age 18. If not more so. I needed to focus on a project, and this manuscript was mine.

I was fully aware that I would be putting it aside for a while, but I believed I would get back to it in December, after launching my online serial Stories of the Wyrd. I don’t entirely hate myself for putting it off this long; I was doing giveaways, revamping my comic, adding new coding to my website, putting the finishing touches on the short story projects. I even submitted some to literary journals.

But now it’s time to get back to it.

Stephen King says that once you put a project down, you’ll never finish it. There’s rationale behind this philosophy that can make it feel true. However, his Under the Dome novel was just that: a work he had started ten years prior then abandoned for a while, and he managed to finish it. (He did, of course, rewrite the whole thing, but it was still a book he abandoned.)

It is hard to pick a manuscript back up once you’ve set it down. My understanding is the more you wrote yesterday, the easier it is to write today. Having not written for months, it’s often easier to start something new rather than try and go right back in the middle of something. Especially if you don’t outline. “Where was I going with this?”

But it’s not impossible. Here’s several things that helped me get back in the swing of things.

1) Fix the reason I stopped writing.

Usually being “busy” is the main excuse, but it’s not uncommon for it to not be the real issue. Many times it had less to do with the “being busy” and more to do with a problem I wasn’t interested in solving.

In this case, I had rewritten the beginning—and couldn’t decide which version to use.

They each had their different qualities and issues. For one thing, my new draft was much shorter than the first one. This was what I was going for, (my reasoning behind the new draft was the first one was going into territory I felt was a waste of time) but the second still needed some of the information the first divulged.

Through several books, this problem has manifested for me in a lot of different ways—indecision on a direction, needing to implement a complex change, not knowing an important answer that I need to reveal, piecing together parts of the story from napkins and notebooks and other computers, etc.

I considered waiting around while I gave it to someone else to read the two versions, but I knew that any of my beta-readers wouldn’t know what to do with it either. It was comparing a two page hook with a 15 page introduction. Apples and oranges.

So, I firmly planted my butt, made a decision based on my gut, and took the time to fix the story up to a point where I could continue on. I chose the beginning I preferred (the two-page hook) and then took a few hours to cut up the other version. Once I finally got it back into a useable shape, everything became easier.

2) Write first thing in the morning.

They say it takes a few months to develop a habit—and only a few months to lose it. Writing is often that way. By making it a part of your routine, it becomes easier, almost natural.

When I am fully immersed in a writing routine, I can actually put it off until the end of the day and still get it done. My “deadline” is midnight, and we often know how much a deadline can help.

But when I’m not in a routine, it is far more likely that it becomes sheer procrastination. Not only am I tired, but I’m tired at the hardest part of the story to write: picking up from zero momentum.

When first picking a story back up after a while, the author needs to remember what he was doing, he probably stopped in that location out of disinterest or writer’s block, and he needs to stop focusing on “I MUST WRITE,” and get immersed in the world. When you are trying to force yourself to write again, being immersed and having fun is difficult.

For the most part, right after you wake up in the morning is when you feel best. It may not seem that way at times (especially when you have to get up earlier than you’d want to), but it is when you are in most control of your body and will power.

When I write first thing in the morning, I feel better about my day, and writing doesn’t feel like I’m pulling teeth so much.

3) DON’T reread it.

Let me clarify by saying it’s better to reread the story and get caught up on where you are. And if you do that without any problem, I would actually recommend it.

But, while having read it gives a lot more benefits, this became an issue of knowing myself. I’ve found that every time I insist I read the work before continuing on, I don’t continue on. It is so overwhelming for me to go through an incomplete story (i.e. one that I don’t have a good idea of the big picture on) because I will start editing, making huge changes, or considering making huge changes, all the while my motivation focusing on getting through this so I can write, which makes it more tedious.

And the ramifications of me writing without refreshing my memory tends to be minimal. A few continuity issues, a few lose threads that I have to cut. I looked at the ramifications and the benefits, and I finally had to admit that I worked better if I got back into the world first and read it by chunks rather than trying to get it down in one sitting.

More to the point, this is the issue of understanding yourself and what motivates you. Sometimes it’s better to do the wrong thing if it can help you get over the hump.

4) Give myself credit for little achievements.

I’m not advocating giving yourself a daily word count/page count/time writing if that doesn’t work for you, but if you are like me and do have daily requirements, it helps to cut yourself some slack.

I try to write five pages a day. I like pages versus word count because the time and effort it takes varies, which helps my motivation. (A page full of dialogue takes much less time than a page of description, and having it switch from “easy” to “hard” works better for me than having a consistent difficulty level.)

In any case, I tend to be hard on myself. I have an “all or nothing,” mentality. This can encourage me to stretch myself and meet the standards, but it can also encourage me to give up before I’ve written anything.

Mentally congratulate yourself for writing just 500 words, and make a bigger deal out of it for 1,000, and for 1,500.

Whenever I write my daily page count, I put a dollar in a jar. At the end of a couple months, I take that money and splurge on something I probably don’t need. When trying to get back into the swing of things, I might give myself 50 cents for every 1,000 words.

5) Just start thinking about it again and the inspiration will return.

One of the main reasons why I need to give myself credit for writing anything, or why I chose to keep writing over reading, is simply because once you start working on it, you will become re-immersed. Ideas will start popping up as you’re taking a shower, you’ll not be able to wait until you get to that next scene.

While it’s very difficult to start up a new relationship with something that’s gone stale, in most cases, it will revitalize itself, just so long as you keep it in the back of your mind.


And just for fun, the new page one:





CHAPTER ONE




            Even through the crowd, Soel could see the black ooze twisting from the man’s gaping jaws.
            The legionnaires complained loudly as it stained their leather gloves, but when an exceptionally tall soldier gripped the impediment, it was hard, unbreakable.
            The plane had come back from the western islands, but it was difficult to say how.
            A cheap piece of crap, the pilot was obviously a freelancer, maybe a mercenary, from the lower stations. By the rusted coloring of the metal paneling, the tiny size, and the kinds of parts that had been exposed, it was obvious this man had little class or money. Not that anyone could tell from the body itself. The top half of the plane had been ripped off, and with it half the corpse.
            It was a bright, sunny day in Alico Station. People were out enjoying the pleasant weather, taking the time to really examine the wares the ships and planes and brought in from the other islands. The docks were unusually busy, and our boy Soel was not of the mindset to really question the large gathering as he limped towards the legion post.
            He did stop, and in fact stared at the scene unblinking, for some time. His mind was foggy, pain absorbing most of his thoughts, but he finally understood well enough to suddenly have a wrench of horror at the sight.
            The plane looked like it had just docked there par the norm. It sat on the waves next to the long pier without any damage to the wooden planks surrounding it. No one seemed aware of when or how it arrived. The people just surrounded it, blocking Soel’s path along the boardwalk.
            The three legionnaires seemed more pissed than afraid, annoyed they had to peel the corpse out of the singed seat, and even more annoyed that he did not come easily.
            A mat of black hair remained, his eyes bulging and rolled back in his skull. He was still undefinable, a portion of his face gone, covered in whatever the black that twisted through his body was. His clothes and skin were burnt beyond recognition, and the few fingertips that remained refused to release their grip on its seat.
            Soel briefly acknowledged the legionnaires swearing as he walked away.

            He clutched his arm tight, the sick feeling in his stomach refusing to release. Damage planes came in all the time. Wounded men, sometimes with far more disgusting injuries wandered through the street. But this poor sod had obviously been out in the furthest reaches of the west, and something had sent him back. Soel understood what he had just seen to some extent, what this would probably mean, but his focus was muddled.

Monday, January 26, 2015

2015 Giveaway Announcements!

Ever since the Edgar Allan Poe quilt giveaway I’ve had more and more people express their chagrin at missing out. Well, I have good news for you.

I’ve long decided to make the quilt giveaway bi-annual, and will hold one each June and December. I will also hold giveaways to celebrate or market different achievements to be announced throughout the year.

The point is, obviously, for you fans to keep track of me. Bookmark this page, like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or follow this blog and you will be kept updated as to what you can win.

For now, I do have a few announcements for the year of 2015:

February:

I have donated a prize to fellow writer Reily Garrett, author of Carnal Beginnings.

She will be holding a raffle on her blog to promote her book. I’ve given her a personally illustrated and signed short story of mine with two miniatures, as well as whatever other prizes she has in her bag.



This is currently planned for around February 7th to the 13th, but keep an eye out for updates.

Also, my old web comic, Mighty Morphin’ Canine Powers, has been completely redone, and will relaunch February 4th. (Yes, I know it says January 31st, but I'll be in New York operating off an iPhone, so I'm pushing it back.)



March:

The literary journal I founded, One in the Hole, is looking for short stories, narrative essays, and poetry set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and the surrounding area. (It is a beautiful, Western town, about an hour from  Yellowstone National Park that I’m sure many of you can be inspired by just by the photos on Google.)



March 1st is the deadline. Contributors get one free copy.


Optional:

If I receive 5,000 likes on my Facebook page before June, I will host a smaller giveaway, featuring probably a painting or doll. So, tell your friends.

June:

June 1st-7th, I will be hosting another quilt giveaway. I have already decided on the subject matter.

The June 2015 giveaway will be a wall hanging featuring Jane Austin’s work. I will keep you updated as more details come to light. If you like Pride and Prejudice, you might want to keep this in mind.



One in the Hole’s third issue will be coming out June 1st. The few remaining copies of Issue 2 and Issue 1 will be on sale for five dollars.

December:

Another literary-based quilt giveaway. Updates on details as I find them. Anyone with an opinion on the subject should send me a Tweet.

For those of you who rather not gamble, I am launching an Etsy site featuring dolls, paintings, shirts, dresses, leather bags and coats, and quilts available for purchase. I am hoping it will be fully stocked before July. Stay tuned.

And that’s all for now folks. As the year goes on I will be adding things to my list. Follow this blog to stay ahead of the curve. Or just show your support. Or because you like clicking things. Your reasons are your own business.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Five Reasons Why Writers Won’t Take Advice

Authors can be ass hats. Everyone knows that, especially the authors themselves. It’s frustrating to go into a situation, put a lot of thought and deliberation into helping someone just to have them fly off the handle because they don’t like your advice. It’s a waste of your time, usually, to spend an hour or so explaining something to a person who doesn’t want to listen.

What to do? Shut up and smile? Tell them they’re pretty and hope to get some good feedback on your own work?

Well, from my own personal experience as being all kinds of an ass hat, I can tell you that you do have agency over the situation. The writer might be in control of himself, but you can help him. You can get respect from the disrespectful. It just depends on talking to him in the right manner.

1. You’re being a jerk.

Hypothetical scenario:

The writer is not an ass hat. She actually came to you for feedback because she truly wants to make her book the best it can possibly be. She has pushed her ego aside and truly wants to listen to what you have to say. She makes the effort of taking you seriously.

So you decide not to throw any punches. Without a lot of deliberation, you tell her how you really feel—and quite frankly, you didn’t like it. You don’t see it going anywhere, you’re not impressed, and you tell her so in a succinct, direct manner.

Now she has a problem.

It is really stupid to take advice you don’t agree with. On the flip side, the reason she might not agree could just be her pride. If she were to stop and really consider it, she might find that she does agree with it. Or, maybe not. Maybe it’s just not for her. She could see the merit, but she doesn’t think it applies to that context. Her gut is telling her it’s not right… or is that just her not wanting it to be right?

Even when you don’t want your pride to get in the way, it’s hard for it not to. The difference between your gut and your ego telling you something’s wrong is tiny. It feels practically the same way.

While being honest and straightforward is a good method for criticism, being a jerk isn’t, and they’re not exclusive. If you let your emotions (feelings of competition, any pent up frustration, a catharsis of knowing you’re more experienced, the catharsis of tearing a work apart) control how you speak to someone makes it more about those emotions and less about the manuscript. Being “blunt” often translates into being vague and inconsiderate. Not only that, but someone who is unapologetically cruel tends to be naïve. Sure, we have divas of the successful world, but for the most part, ass hats tend to not be asked back. And even if his skills are so great that it is worth working with him despite his attitude, he will still have to deal with the ramifications of being a jerk. Most people who have moderate success in the art world have developed diplomacy.

 When someone picks his words carefully, tries to be objective, considers his point of view, and gives the author the benefit of the doubt, not only will the writer be more likely to want to take his advice, but will be more likely to understand it. (And the critic will sound smarter too.)

2. You’ve focused on the wrong things in the past.

I go to different people for different types of edits. Some beta-readers are great for finding typos. Others for finding more abstract issues. For the most part, each and every person has their place, and should be contacted during different stages of the process. On the other hand, you still want to be versatile if you want to be taken seriously.

It’s really frustrating to have a manuscript filled with red and really all it’s saying is, “I wouldn’t have written it this way.” Then you add on top of that he’s missed the huge continuity error while pointing out, “I’d write ‘racing’ instead of ‘running,’” and you end up feeling it’s a huge waste of your time.

The point to getting outsiders’ feedback is more about their new, different perspective than having them “fix your errors.”

Sure, it’s great to have someone else point out the typos, but if all he’s focusing on is word choice and grammar and missing bigger problems, the writer starts to question if he really knows what he’s talking about. He’s focusing on the paintjob when the car doesn’t have an engine.

Or, it might not have anything to do with writing at all. I’ve known readers to go off on unrelated tangents about politics or other controversial opinions. What had happened was the writer ignited a conversation, which can be a good thing, but the critic himself isn’t really doing his job. A lot of people use critique sessions as a means to segue onto other subjects (often himself). When the feedback turns to bragging, the writer is less likely to take the critic seriously.

This is especially true when style comes into consideration. Constant nitpicking on words that just may be a matter of personal taste suggests a lack of experience and respect. In writing, the forest may be defined by the trees, but the forest is still the primary concern.

3. You have different goals than the writer.

This isn’t a mistake by any means. The important thing is to be aware that this is a common occurrence, and to take the writer’s goals seriously, even if you do think they’re stupid.

Each writer has a different idea of what success is, what he’s trying to do, and how he wants the readers to react. If asked, we’d all like to be a bestseller and a Nobel Prize Winner, yet our actions actively feed into a more complex, subtle understanding of what we want.

Some authors make more literary-based decisions. Some pursue escapism first and foremost. The romance writer might be just trying to get her readers off, while the poet wants to make them think.

These differing goals are a good thing for literature. It combats homogenization, encourages originality, and is what is going to make the author unique.

The problem arises when a beta-reader assumes his goals are everyone’s and advises accordingly.

I was once in a writers’ group filled primarily with memoirists. The only other fiction writer was making a detective novel. One of the memoirists said, “I don’t like detective novels. Here’s what you need to not do…”

He was not considering her audience, spewing out a monologue on why he hated detective novels. It didn’t occur to him for a moment that maybe the people who did like them liked them for the standards that he despised.

This didn’t mean he was wrong, necessarily. But when he didn’t consider the writer’s audience or other people’s tastes, her only recourse was to ignore most of it. He wasn’t talking about what she had actually done, just advising her what not to do. She wouldn’t be able to remember all that information, and if it was important, then someone who actually like detective novels would say it again. If he had understood what she was doing, he would have been able to deliver the most relevant advice, rather than just ranting about his opinion.

By trying to help the writer succeed in the ways she determines success, a person is more able to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s not always easy to tell why a critic wants you to change something, and if you’re not on the same page, it takes a lot of time to sift through what is true for you and what is true for them. If the critic, however, understands what the writer is going for, he can help explain why the advice is good for her goals.

4. You give the author no credit.

I recently got a manuscript back from a wonderful, altruistic stranger, who not only agreed to read my book, but actually did, and within a reasonable timeframe.

But as I went through the edits, determined to make her time worthwhile, I found myself with a problem: She wasn’t giving me any credit.

Unlike when someone is being a jerk, this problem comes not out of malice, but circumstance. She gets an unpublished manuscript from a stranger, she starts to question things that she would not question in a “real” book.

This, normally, isn’t a problem until it becomes extreme.

Every time I italicized something, every time I used a dash, every sentence fragment, every play on words, she marked up. Not only did she comment, but it usually came in the form of, “Did you know you did this?”

Yes, I knew it. Do you have any idea how hard it is to accidentally italicize one word? In a “real” book, the question would be, “What is the author trying to tell me?” not, “Was this an accident?”

Writers need to give credit to their critique partners, everyone knows that. But when a beta-reader refuses to acknowledge the context of the situation, when they refused to ask why the writer does something, their critiques start sounding a little inexperienced. Especially when they’re questioning standard protocols, such as using a dash for an interruption.

Pointing out a sentence fragment that might have been intentional and might not have been is perfectly understandable. Disagreeing with an author’s choice on formatting or punctuation is the kind of comments the author’s looking for. But there should always be that understanding that the beta-reader might be in the wrong or that there are several different, perfectly acceptable, options.

After a while a writer can tell when the beta-reader thinks she’s an idiot. When the reader never asks himself why an author did something, when he can’t ever figure it out, when he always assumes it’s a mistake of out inexperience rather than choice (or even that he’s the one uninformed about the standard practices), the writer will stop taking the reader’s comments seriously. Sometimes the difference between genius and insanity is what the viewer wants to believe, and by removing all insanity you are simultaneously removing all genius.

5. You have continually enforced archaic, controversial, irrelevant, or non-existent rules.

A good editor or beta-reader will always be open-minded. The more his opinion is about if something worked now, the less likely he is to be proven wrong. When voicing concrete and absolute rules, the speaker is opening himself up for easy argument, and looking like he can’t think for himself.

This can fall under the category of “focusing on the wrong things.” Wasting time arguing about the Oxford comma is foolish. As a controversial topic in which either option is technically correct, it doesn’t matter what you convince the writer to do, someone else will tell him the opposite.

Trying to force a writer to abide by a rule that doesn’t make sense in her situation will dilute their value of your opinion. For one thing, it isn’t your opinion. It’s something anyone could have said without reading a word of the writer’s manuscript. Why would they go through the pain of a beta-read and critique if they could have just typed “What not to do in a novel” in Google?

It’s important to question those kinds of rules. There’s a reason why no one does things a certain way. Being too rule abiding can actually be a distraction. Not only that, but there’s always a chance that the rule isn’t true. Did you know that it has never been grammatically incorrect for English speakers to end a sentence in a preposition? It was a Latin grammar rule that a bunch of 1800’s scholars got together and tried to implement into our daily conversations. While it never became an official statute, their propaganda has been remembered and rarely questioned.

If you get caught preaching an untrue rule, wasting time with something that everyone has their own opinion on, or simply refusing to address the effectiveness a decision had on that specific book, you lose your credibility. It’s often a sign of inexperience or insecurity, and rarely proves the most helpful form of advice.


The best way to seem like you know what you’re talking about isn’t reciting what your English teacher told you, but rather having a respectful and critical viewpoint on the work at hand.

Monday, January 19, 2015

I Gave a Bad Review and I’m Feeling Guilty



So, theoretically

I see Amazon reviews as a means to help readers choose from the infinite number of books out there. They should be good gauges as to whether or not the story is something that will appeal to you, and whether or not it will be satisfying all the way through. Ideally, they would help authors sell their books based on what the masses really like, rather than what one closed-minded critic thinks.

P.C. enough?

But, practically

I do use Amazon reviews to pick out books, but not as they’re intended. I go through and read bad reviews for entertainment. In the same way that it’s fun to see a stand-up comedian flip out about forks at the airport, reading someone’s rant about a love triangle can be immensely interesting. I do not, however, believe these reviews very often. It’s really not about their opinion.

The bad reviews give more detail than the summary offered, and more so than the five-stars. They do end up spoiling a lot, but most of the time those spoilers are exactly the reason I would want to read it in the first place. Most books just sum up a quick plot (Joe Smith’s wife has been kidnapped and he has to save her!) rather than giving away the good parts. The bad reviews, however, will discuss scenes that, yes, are now not surprises, but the entire reason why you’d actually want to read the book.

The rating system on Amazon is screwed up. Everything has a four star total. In reality, it’s more about the number of them than the kind. I’m more likely to buy something with one hundred reviews than two. Part of the problem with the system is there are too many five-stars and not enough threes.

So, I’m conflicted. A part of me thinks it’s important to leave bad reviews if you don’t like a book because without them the rest of the reviews are useless. It’s also just as important to leave mediocre ones. The system can only be fixed by people being more willing to say what they really think of something, which would indicate that I should follow my own philosophy and leave a one-star review when I feel the book deserves it.

So what’s the problem?

Three parts:

1)      I don’t believe in quality of writing.

If a book is out in the forest and no one reads it, can it be good?

Over the years I’ve tried to identify universal rules behind “good” books and “bad” books. My conclusion is a long and ranting one, but essentially I’ve determined that while you can’t just say something is good and have it be true, it’s not a concrete value. The quality of a book is based on perception, desire, experience, and comparison. There is no such thing as a good book.

It’s an important definition for every author to come up with (What is a good story?), but I’ve long decided that evaluating them on a linear scale is foolish. A book can be commercially successful, it can emotionally stimulate the majority of its readers, it can effectively accomplish a goal, and it can be relatable to the highest number of people, but it’s not just “good.”

I find the concept of the rating system actually useless. I do use the stars to organize the reviews, but that’s more for the type of information rather than the readers’ opinions.

One-stars give me more information about what the reading experience will be like (what events will happen, the writing style, etc.) I read three-stars to determine how many actual mistakes there are as well as a more objective view of what the stylistic choices will make me feel. Five-stars I read to “fact check” the opinions of the lower stars. Do the five-stars love what the one-stars hate, or are they completely inconsistence with each other?

So, even if I hated a book, the label of “one-star” doesn’t feel accurate.

2)      I don’t like making people feel bad.

Bad reviews and criticism are necessary evils. And, honestly, the more people criticize you, the less it hurts. It’s not as though I don’t understand that. But it doesn’t mean I want others to feel that way, or that I want to be the one to do it. I think part of the reason I feel so guilty is that this short story only had two reviews, and I’m pretty sure I’m the first critical response he’d gotten, except for maybe in a class session, but then it’s to be expected. My bad review was on a work that had been published a while ago, that hadn’t been getting a lot of an audience. I can empathize with him coming onto Amazon and finding that review to his shock, the unexpected pain he’d feel. And though I tried to be as palatable and objective as I could, as much as I tried to say things in a way that were useful, the vicarious feeling I got for him was sickening.

I’d left two-star reviews before, but those were on books with a lot of reviews, that the author probably wasn’t even reading anymore, or at least had a bunch of positive feedback to counteract my disinterest.

3)      But I kinda wanted to make him feel bad.

This is the point that rests heaviest on me. I realize I contradicted myself, which is why I think why I’ve been bothered by leaving this review so much. The desire to make him feel bad intensified my belief that I was doing more good than harm.

I’ve wanted to give him a one-star for months now, but I didn’t. I just didn’t feel it was worth it. No one was buying the book anyway, no one would be reading my review but him (in all likelihood). I don’t believe Amazon reviews are the best place for authors to take feedback, nor do I think that should be what I’m trying to do as a reviewer. Why make him feel bad?

Let me clarify, I do, 100%, still believe that it was a fair review. Not only did I choose my words carefully, not only did I focus on helping potential customers, but I made the effort to give him the benefit of the doubt every step of the way and gave credit where I good. A big part of me leaving the review was my conviction that the bad reviews bring meaning to good reviews, whether that be the ones by me or as a whole. If I won’t leave a one-star, the five-stars are meaningless.

But, also, a big part of me wanted to knock some self-awareness into him.

Here’s some quotes off his website to clarify why he makes my skin crawl:

“Here we go guys, first promo of the year; I’m offering my bestselling work [redacted] absolutely free!”

(It is a self-published, 39-page series of short stories. It has one five-star review on it. The reviewer has reviewed nothing else. The author’s other work is a self-published short story with three reviews, by two reviewers, with one review each, and me. Yet, he claims “bestseller” in several places. By whose standards?)

“In this collection from one of the fastest rising authors on the market you will find talesof [sic] terror, love, inspiration and madness.”

“I have been blessed with what some tell me is an incredible talent. God has allowed me to write with the ease and prowess of some of the greatest authors of all time.”

“Experience the first two self-published works that are sweeping the nation and leaving their readers in awe. Get these great works from the author who is fast becoming a household name.”

“This is amazing advice for everyone who is passionate about anything!!” (Post from his personal Facebook page onto his professional.)

His blog posts are writing tips, which I can’t really blame him for, but are obviously in aspects he’s not successful in. Either it’s untested or it’s unsuccessful, either way he really shouldn’t be saying it. Add that with the condescending tone, and I just want to slap him.

“What is networking,some of you may ask.” [sic] How old do you think your readers are?

Taking into account his obscurity, imagine why, after finding his short story unbearable, I think he may just be a little disillusioned.

The problem is, I don’t think these things should bother me.

Making him self-aware isn’t my job. Not a single part of my life’s philosophy believes this kind of vigilantism is a good approach. When it’s important, when it’s someone close to you or someone affecting you, helping them obtain self-awareness can become your burden. But leaving a succinct, anonymous review isn’t the best way to do that, and if I chose to walk away and never visit this guy’s site again, I would effectively stop being annoyed. Or at least I should be. I shouldn’t want to leave a review to try and “change” him, especially when I know it will do nothing but make him defensive and hurt.

That’s the part of me that didn’t want to leave the review. I felt my motivations might be skewed by my desire to counteract his unbelievable head-up-the-assishness, and as someone who also can have her head up her ass, I felt the golden rule applied. This is not how I would want someone to tell me I was being an ignorant egomaniac, and I do fear karma.

There are times when I don’t like a writer and times when I’m not sure if that’s why I don’t like his writing. In these cases, I grab a friend, bitch about it a while for a catharsis, then shut the hell up and leave it alone. If it’s a situation where I have to give feedback, I am as clear as I can be about things I know are legitimate reactions and try to leave out anything that might be biased. I do not believe my pissed off rants help anyone but me and maybe a few objective listeners getting a kick out of my bitching.

In most circumstances, I wouldn’t have reviewed him, knowing that my bias made me not the best person to do so. But it wasn’t just mediocre. Unlike most of the writers I’ve had conflict with (there’s not a lot, sheesh)—in which there was a possibility that I just didn’t like it because I didn’t want to—it was honestly bad. I rarely find a story completely without merit even when I’m bullshitting myself, but this one had so little effort put into, so little awareness of the other kinds of stories being produced, and so little of a point that I couldn’t imagine he’d ever read through it a second time. He just didn’t try.

I have nothing against self-publishing. But I do have trust issues. And in order for me to trust a self-published book, either the authors need have higher standards or the reviewers do. Or both.

I guess it was that he had two five-star reviews that sounded suspiciously as though they were written by him—“Even though this is a short story it is a great read! Totally worth the money, I would definitely be willing to spend more on it or buy more stories from this author, recommended!”—and that being exactly what I think is wrong with the system that made me go through with it.

After so long of debating, of believing I shouldn’t review it, I finally did.

I’m not going to tell you exactly what I said to help keep this poor bastard anonymous, but I know you’re curious, so let me just say this:

The one-word title didn’t fit the storyline. The definition of that word contradicted the actual setting of the story, making it look like the writer only chose it for ambiance (which it was successful at) rather than meaning.

I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to feel after the story was over. It was eerie, but not scary, not really sad, not really a relief, not really disturbing. There seemed to be no philosophical meaning in the story, which I don’t always need, but in this case made me feel something was missing. The story just ended.

Because it’s told from the P.O.V. of the monster, and the monster wants nothing more than to eat things, it was hard for me to be invested. We didn’t meet any humans with real motivation or development until the end, and they died too quickly for me to care about them. After the first paragraph, I knew what was going to happen all the way until the last; the story repeated itself with larger and larger prey until it died. Nothing in-world seemed to change.

The concept was unique and disturbing, the first description of the eating process effectively visceral. If I had been invested in the characters or the world, been worried about their safety, had hope and doubt as to their survival, I would have been scared.

There was also the typos and overused words, but I decided to leave that out. Any reader would see it from the sample page.

I never said anything I didn’t believe, and I tried to say it in the most palatable way possible. While I think it is an effective review, it doesn’t make me wonder any less about whether or not I should have written it.

As a writer, I want criticism to be private with someone I respect and I can discuss and clarify things with, not some stranger who’s annoyed with how I pitch myself. But as a reader, I want to trust reviews, I want those before me to tell me what they truly think and for Amazon not to be filled with ego-stroking praise.

Objectively, people should leave bad reviews. Personally, I’m not sure if I should.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Originality Doesn’t Sell



I’m about to be pissy about something. Get your jaw off the floor. I say this, not because it contrasts to my usual, cheery, positive self, but because I’m going to make fun of a behavior that has gotten on my nerves for sheer commonality, not because these people are doing anything wrong. It is possible, in fact, that I am entering into the realm of hypocrisy. But still.

Originality is harder to achieve than perceived by those newcomers first stepping into the literary sea. Immaculate originality, something purely new and unseen before by the eye of man, is impossible. But even going against the current trend and doing something novel to what’s being made right now takes a great deal more effort than what some might think.

Every so often while on a writing forum, someone wants to know what others think of their idea. This in itself is understandable. We’re excited and we want to talk about it. It’s in the same vein of why girls pick apart every minutiae of what their crush has done; we just want to talk about him, it really doesn’t matter what about him. To the inexperienced observer, it looks as though this aspiring writer actually wants advice when the truth is the conversation will end with a, “Well, I’m doing it anyway.”

I’ve written an article I’ve never posted about “What You Should Know about Other Authors.” Number one is they have no idea if your concept is going to sell or not. I don’t care if you’re Stephen King pitching your own inspiration, the market is so strange that even the experts can’t promise an idea is guaranteed.

Sometimes these inquiring writers just don’t want to waste their time. Again, understandable, but there’s no helping it. Writing is about spending time doing weird things that you’ll never be sure if they had a positive or negative effect. You will waste your time writing a book that won’t be published, or a scene that will be cut, or doing a first draft that will drastically change in the second, then go back to what it was in the third. The unfortunate truth is a book’s quality cannot be determined until after it already exists.

But these aren’t the issues that annoy me. The thing that comes up that makes me have to bite my tongue, sit on my fingers, and call up my friend to bitch to is when someone has little understanding of the market and banks on his “original” idea being something incredible simply by concept alone.

It can manifest in him asking you to write it, or asking if it’s marketable before he goes to the trouble of working on it. Maybe he’s just bragging. At best he just needs someone to bounce ideas off of. No matter the case, he illustrates a huge misconception on just how valuable originality is (and what it is.)

First and foremost, the aspiring author attempts at originality with a very common method. He takes his perception of what a book is (or a character or a world or a genre) and then attempts to do the exact opposite.

Real examples:

“I want to write a fantasy book that doesn’t involve politics and kings and queens and horrible worlds, but just about a normal person living in a magical world.”

“My dwarves are evil and elves are the ones who like gold.”

“I’m not going to write a nice, naïve, and weak love interest. Mine will be strong and smart,” (And a bitch.)

“I’m going to kill off the nice character.”

I’m not arguing that these ideas can’t be marketable, I’m saying that their creators are assuming the marketing bonus is their uniqueness when, in reality, it’s a lot more common than they think.

When trying to be original, a writer needs to be aware of two things: What is actually in the market currently, and what is being submitted currently.

Someone who is not well read in fantasy may think that all fantasy books are like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings when there is actually a great deal more diversity. Actual fans of the genre have a different idea of clichés than the mass populace who only gets a peripheral glance.

For instance, I read a lot of speculative fiction featuring female protagonists. I have so since middle school. So Frozen’s ending of a platonic love breaking the spell was not only cliché, but predictable. Not so to people like my brother whose focus was on big-picture, male hero fantasy novels, or my friend who reads realistic fiction.

When a writer wants to go against the common trend, he needs to have a better picture of what the common trend actually is, not just seeing what the popular books are doing. Because a lot of beginning writers don’t read as much as their potential fans, or they don’t read the genre they’re writing in, they often have a skewed idea of what’s actually going on. First reason why not to bank on originality selling is because it might not be as original as you think.

This becomes an extra problem when dealing with a gatekeeper. What is being submitted isn’t always what’s being published. A well-read writer who only reads published, polished books also is missing a huge chunk of information about what they’re being compared to. As an editor of a literary journal, I find a lot of unexpected similarities in the stories I read. The ones that differ, the ones that are “original” compared to the stack, get taken more seriously.

The problem is when, say, an agent or editor is reading one hundred stories and pulls out the five different ones, the similarities between those five may not have anything to do with the similarities of the rest. The common choice amongst the unchosen works is also not exposed to the public, meaning the writer has no idea that his choice actually is common.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that the writer has come up with a concept that is unique. Not even unique for now, but unlike what most readers have ever considered.

That still doesn’t mean it will sell.

On opposite spectrums you have original and relatable. The more original something is, the less relatable it is, and vice-versa. Now if you look at the top bestselling novels, you have A Tale of Two Cities, Lord of the Rings, The Petite Prince, and Harry Potter. Top movies: Avatar, Titanic, and The Avengers.

Many of these stories don’t have a pitch-worthy concept. Their originality takes form in execution, more so than the plot. Much of their success has to do with relatable characters dealing with issues that most people see themselves as having (though not to the extremes or with the magical properties.) You’ll note that many of these have been criticized for plagiarizing their themes, or just not being that original. A boy going to magic school? An invading military man being swayed by the nature loving locals? An engaged woman falling in love with someone below her station? Superheroes fighting someone who wants to destroy the world?

What these things have, really, is not a never explored concept, but a relatable situation with new elements or perspective. Experienced writers say that it’s all about execution, and that’s because any successful story requires a balance of relatability with novelty. And that relatability is far more important than the novelty. If you can offer a book that discusses feelings and issues and perspectives that help your readers not feel so alone, then they may just ignore the fact that they could find the same subject or plot elsewhere. It’s why so many successful books aren’t original.

Whenever someone introduces something new, the instinctual reaction is rejection. Different means unpredictable, which can be exciting, but is also terrifying. A writer using techniques or discussing topics that aren’t normally talked about might just be an idiot who doesn’t know what he’s doing. That suggests you'll get into this story and he leaves you in the lurch. Or, without predicting how this story will probably make you feel, you might end up some place you don’t want to be. We categorize books into genres for exactly that reason: People want to choose how they’re going to react. I want a romance novel to yearn for love. I want a horror novel to scare the pants off of me. I want a drama to make me cry. It’s also why mislabeling a genre can be so disastrous for the reviews.

The more you write, the more you learn that originality is the least important part of your writing. It’s far more about making your reader feel things, think things, be immersed in the world, laugh, cry, change.

So why is it something people push? Why is it so sought after?

Because something new forces us to rethink. We can’t go on autopilot and let our assumptions do the work. We don’t grow tolerant and jaded. Our feelings are rejuvenated. Originality doesn’t sell. Feelings do, and originality is one of the best means to make us feel the most intense.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Pursuit of Happiness: Am I Mucking It Up?

Am I happy? Who knows.

Tonight—or I guess technically last night—was the first time in about a month that I went to sleep without taking a sleeping pill. I fell asleep soundly at first, which was fantastic because I have the tendency to lie awake for several hours, but here I am, four a.m., unwilling to adhere to my own exhaustion. That was the issue behind my insomnia. It’s waking up at two in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep.

This last week has been a rollercoaster of emotions. Which was kind of great because I’ve been apathetic for the last few months. As I sit here, wondering exactly what I’m feeling and if I will be doomed to pill addiction just to sleep through the night, I consider how happy I am. And more to the point, how likely I am to get there.

HEALTH

Points in health? Insomniac. I hate eating. I’m not big on exercise or the outdoors. I’m constantly thirsty and no matter how much I drink, I can’t quench it, so I end up not bothering at all. Have a lot of headaches and weird repetitive pains my doctors don’t really understand.

But over the last few months I have attempted to complete a quick regime of push-ups and stretching in the morning, I’ve started taking vitamins again, I’ve been able to sleep via pills, scheduling drinking of water and cranberry juice throughout the day, and making sure to eat a full meal three hours before bedtime. I stopped drinking soda which helps the migraines, and have focused on eating more protein and less sugar. I also have all kinds of pills and methods to alleviate the pains, which is better than last year when I just had to suffer through them.

So I’ll give myself a five on a one to ten scale.

EMPLOYMENT

Career-wise, things are going decently well. Over the past year I’ve developed a good fan-base on social media. My blog now has consistent readers, and though the number of hits per blog still varies drastically, those numbers are still high. I’ve developed some actually satisfying bonds and connections with fellow writers. I’m happy with the short stories I’ve published, and am excited about the extracurricular projects I’m getting done. I’m still hesitating on pursing publication of any of my novels, but the truth is, if I can suck it up, I pretty much have done everything I can except the actual submitting part.

On the other hand, I’m unemployed. I didn’t get fired or laid off at least. The business I worked at closed down, which opened up new horizons for me. And I have plenty of money saved up. But still. I have no idea what I want my day job to be, and honestly, I think job searching is far worse than pretty much any job you could actually have. And, in order for me to find a job, I need to decide where I want that job to be. I’m ready to get out of my hometown, but I’m not sure where I’m going to go.

Without knowing what kind of job I’m looking for, without knowing where I want to live, I am unlimited and therefore overwhelmed. Also, my lack of novel publication is a huge step back in my career, so despite all the work I’ve done, and the satisfaction I have with marketing what is published and just myself in general, I wouldn’t say I’m where I want to be.

I’ll give myself a six.

LOCATION

For those of you following me on Facebook, I’m looking to move in the next several weeks. I would like it to be “immediately,” but that would be easier if I had any clue on where I want to be going.

Or rather, was sure about my decisions.

My two top choices right now are Boise, Idaho and New York City. Very different, I know. NYC allows for more opportunities, and honestly my biggest reason for moving is to find more people that I can connect to. I like the external properties of L.A., like the weather, the opportunities, and even the traffic doesn’t bother me as much as New York’s (it’s slow, but not stressful). But, while I had friends there, the only person I ever bonded with was my ex-boyfriend. And even then he had that same polite, keeping up appearances attitude that kept me on eggshells the entire time I was living there. I think I’d like the people in New York. I have no idea what the people in Boise are like.

But Boise offers a lot of opportunities as well, and better yet, cost of living is extremely lower. It would give me less options, but more time to work on my career and hobbies.

The indecision about my location is my prime issue right now. On the other hand, the goal of moving and being able to progress as I’ve been has made me excited and inspired more so than I’ve been in the last few months. Confusion makes it painful, but the possibilities enjoyable.

I don’t know. Five.

RELATIONSHIPS

Family: Supportive parents. Don’t fight with my brother like I did when we were kids. Supportive external family. No one’s going through super drama right now (that I know of). Plus points there.

Pets: Dimitri has an indefinite problem and my vet doesn’t know what it is. My cat has been gaining weight though, and recently started to play again, but for the last week he’s been lethargic and needy. The love I have for him gives me bonus points, but my worry takes some away.

Friends: I’m going to say negative points. My biggest concern is my lack of sociability. I alienate people because, though I like them, I often have a hard time actually going out and doing things. They stop inviting me. And in Jackson, my hometown, everyone I know seems to be at least 20 years older than me, going through very different parts of their lives. The people my age aren’t done partying, and I’ve never been into that. I have a few life-long friends that I feel bonded to, but they all live at very different parts of the country.

Romance: This one’s hard to calculate. On the one hand, I’ve never minded being alone right now. On the other hand, I don’t want to be alone forever. This wouldn’t worry me so much, but my lack of socialness, my disinterest in dating, my incapability to flirt all means that it takes a long time for me to date anyone or even be interested in someone. Last year I realized I did have the capability to love, and did have the capability to get my heart broken. I’ve at least made some amends with the guy, and have had some closure. It didn’t end the way that I wanted which gives negative points, but there is a part of me that’s relieved that heartache is done with and I’m free to move on, so bonus points.

If I had to guess, I’d say that this is the worst part of my life. I’m giving it a three.

SELF

I’m looking at these numbers and wondering if some of my happiness isn’t based off of holding myself to too high of standards. I don’t feel that apathetic right now, or that miserable. I would say, in fact, that I lean on the happier side than not. At least currently.

But the numbers disagree. What aspect am I not looking at?

I realize the tipping point comes to the way I view myself. While I am not satisfied with my situation, and am generally lonely, hope’s coming from somewhere. At least in all my neuroses the one thing I don’t lack is self-respect. I have confidence in myself, am generally happy with my appearance, and see any mistakes I make as simply mistakes. Satisfaction with my choices and my progress keeps me afloat, even when I’m not exactly where I want to be.

I’d say my happiness with who I am is an eight. Compared to how much I can be in love with myself at other times, it’s not as high as it can be, but still, it’s not an area I’m worried about.

IN CONCLUSION


This last week has been so much emotional ups and downs that it reminded me that I haven’t been feeling as much as I could be. I’m not happy and I’m not sad. In the last few days I was brought to tears and laughed a lot more than I have been. But, as I examine what’s going on here, I don’t think I’m mucking up my own happiness. I’m doing things I think will eventually make me happy; I just need to find something that makes me feel right now.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Why “?” is the Worst Form of Constructive Criticism


Example One: “Enigma.”

I used the word “enigma” in a high school essay.

Example Two: “Little lone.”

I used the phrase “little lone” in a high school essay.

Example Three: “Tetons.”

I used the word “Tetons” in a college essay.

Enigma

When I got my essay back, I received a “?” next to a five sentence paragraph. Nothing else. No more commentary, no explanation, not even a circle to point out where in the paragraph my teacher had found the issue. Rereading it, I couldn’t immediately point out what was wrong. I scavenged the whole chunk for the rest of class and considered it all night when I went home. The next day, I went to my teacher and asked him what the question mark meant.

“Well, it’s the word, ‘enigma,’” he told me.

I reread the sentence. “What about it?”

“You shouldn’t use it.”

“Why?”

“Well, I don’t know what it means.”

Little Lone

Same situation, different teacher. I looked through the whole area in which the question mark could be referring. I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong, but, for whatever reason (I’m assuming by this point I’d gotten such asinine question marks that I just ignored them) I didn’t ask and just went on with my day. (I also wasn’t too much into editing when we didn’t have to turn in another draft. Or even on the first draft for that matter. They were kind of lucky to get it at all, in fact.)

One day, a friend of mine was reading some of my fiction, in which I wrote “little lone.” She circles it, and writes in the margin, “I think you mean, ‘let alone.’”

Tetons

French class I am asked to write about my room at home (in French, of course.) I describe the color, I describe the layout, and I describe some of my pictures. Running out of things to say, I describe my view.

Well, as it turns out, Jackson Hole, Wyoming was primarily traveled by French fur trappers back in the day who got the honor of naming everything.

So, guess what a lonely Frenchman might call large, bulbous peaks jutting from the Earth?

Yep. Boobs. “Tetons” is French for boobs.

So, I had basically written, “When I look out the window, I see the Boobs.”

“?”

Which tells us…

In the first circumstance the question mark meant, “What does this word mean?” In the second circumstance it meant, “I don’t think you’re saying this phrase right.” In the third, it was, “What the hell did you just say to me?”

The point of external feedback is to add knowledge or perspective the author doesn’t have. If he had the same knowledge or perspective as you, he wouldn’t need you to tell him anything. Sure, a writer will spell a word wrong and all it requires it a big fat underline and they’ll realize it. We can make mistakes we actually know are wrong, and we just don’t notice. But in many circumstances, assuming that a writer will see a problem (or even agree with you that it is a problem) defeats the purpose of you reading it. A beta-reader or editor’s time is extremely valuable to an author, and very hard to get.

Amateur editors and critics tend to assume that their assumptions are everyone’s, other readers see things the way they do, and their experiences are “normal.” They don’t need explaining. Sometimes that’s true, but in most circumstances, it’s not a bad idea to put into actual words what the problem is. Whether that be “This word isn’t common enough for most people to know what it means” or “I think the phrase is “let alone.”

It’s important to explain your perspective not only because the author might not catch on, but because you might be wrong. “Enigma” might be a common word and you just haven’t heard of it. A "common" word isn't always the same for every individual. Or it may just be “little lone,” and you’re the one whose always been saying it wrong. I’ve been in a lot of situations where I tried to find a problem that didn’t actually exist—it was the editor’s mistake. Which I would have known if he had vocalized what he thought the problem was.

From my perspective, I used the word enigma right, the term was little lone, and Tetons are obviously mountains. If I had to speculate on where my teachers’ confusion was (before being told), I could have thought I used enigma wrong, wouldn’t have known what the real phrase of “let alone” was even if I had understood I’d gotten the saying wrong, and never would have been able to figure out on my own why my French teacher had that disturbed reaction.

A question mark has a whole slew of different possible meanings. I’ve seen it used when a teacher just didn’t agree with the argument or when it’s just a basic spelling error.  If you don’t already know what they’re talking about, you probably won’t be able to figure out what they’re talking about.

The reason why writers need outside input is because sometimes what seems obvious to you isn’t obvious to others. Good editors realize their perception isn’t everyone’s. My teacher might think that I would know he didn’t know the word “enigma,” but the truth is, I didn’t. I thought it was a common word, I used it without questioning it. It was in my everyday vocabulary, and so I, without thought, assumed it was in everyone else’s. Especially my English teacher. Expecting me to realize that I was using a phrase wrong was even more ridiculous, particularly if you add in the fact that I had already been “?” for using the word enigma perfectly correctly.


My French teacher, however, I’ll let off the hook though because I don’t think she understood what I was trying to say enough to explain why what I was saying seemed so, so wrong.

Monday, January 5, 2015

What to Do About Unsupportive Family and Friends

There’s a decent chance that you’re reading this because you fall into the category of my “family and friends,” and you’re asking yourself, “Is she talking about me?”

Sure. Go buy my short story to make up for it.

But actually, no, this has nothing to do with a feeling of neglect on my part. (Although my cat has been standoffish lately.) It’s just a question that I keep getting asked by beginning writers, a continual realization every time someone needs support from others: the people you think will be there for you often aren’t.

You might need page likes, reviews, readers, or maybe just something emotional. Your closest friends have this skeptical look on their face every time you suggest you want to be a writer. If you’re lucky, they will at least agree to read your work before promptly forgetting about it.

True friends will stand out. Some people will rise above and beyond your expectations, and that’s great. (I know who you are.) But the shock of having those who you thought you could depend on bail can still linger long after you’ve accepted it.



What you can do.

Expect it.

Since you adhered to my click bait, it’s likely this step is too late. But, like anything in writing, expecting it takes off 80% of the pain. (Yes, that’s scientific.)

Truth is, people will constantly be surprising you. The more active I am on the internet, the more I meet complete strangers who are willing to go not only the extra mile, but speed past cops while doing it. (See what I did there?) Back when I first got a grant to produce a literary journal, there were so many people honestly happy for me, excited to buy the book, and impressed with what I accomplished for so little money. These were not often people I knew very well.

Have low expectations. Expect general apathy, jealousy to be a real issue, and for people to honestly be too busy. Don’t bank on sales to family members, and if they come, then be surprised in a good way. If you have, as of yet, to request anything from your beloveds, be forewarned they might not react as you would have expected them too.

Understand it.

They’re busy: When you’re asking someone to do something that will take a lot of their time—like read a 300 page book, especially if they’re not big on reading—it’s nice to cut them some slack. I often will agree to read something and it will take me months to get to it. People are busy, and sometimes it makes sense for them to focus on other things first.

Laziness and cheapness outweighs a lot of priorities: Some people don’t have ten bucks to buy a book they’re not going to read. Or it’s a big deal to fish out their credit card for a website they’ve never purchased and they’re putting it off. That seems a little petty, but remember that some people will procrastinate on things important in their lives too. Humans are inherently lazy, even when we do care.

When in doubt, forgiveness will end pain the fastest: For some things, you won’t be able to understand why they refuse to support you. It would take your friend three seconds to like your Facebook page. You did theirs! In this case, when you can’t figure out why, choose to be the person you want to be. Is it something you would like to just let go? Then do. Do you want to be a vindictive vigilante, refusing to support them in the future? Then feel free to do that. (There are benefits, amazingly enough, as long as you’re okay with the consequences and the sort of world you’re creating.) And just remember that whenever dealing with them in the future. But no matter what you do, remember that forgiveness is the best way to get over betrayal.

Your success can weigh on them: Most importantly, you need to realize how other people see you and what your success would mean for them. We’d all like to not be that idiot who calls the next Jack Kerouac a talentless hack who will achieve nothing. We’d like to think we have the taste to recognize a master in the making. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely we do, and when we’re close to someone, admitting that we didn’t see the greatness in them can be a hard pill to swallow.

When your peer becomes successful, it can bring up a lot of self-doubt. Many people bank on destiny getting them through the hard times, and we like to think our time just hasn’t come yet. And then, all of the sudden, someone seemingly from the same situation as us, someone who has fully proven to be human, manages to do something that we haven’t. Even if it’s little, it will still beg the question of, “What have I been doing all this time?” Our impression of the godly, elite authors is abruptly brought into question, and we’re likely to reject it. One of the reasons why strangers can do what your family can’t is because you are a whole new being to them. They don’t relate to you as much. They haven’t seen you leave your coffee cup on top of your car or trying to figure out how the toilet works for the first time. It’s easier for strangers to adjust their perception of you than those close to you.

That doesn’t mean it’s okay for important people in your life not to support you. It just makes the lack of their support meaningless. Their apathy says nothing about your ability. And in situations where they actually try to demotivate you, it’s useful to realize where they’re coming from and why it has little to do with you and more to do with them.

If they care, they will try to save you from yourself: As for your parents (and these are the only people this excuse works for), they love you and they want you to be safe. Taking a risk in the art world is terrifying, success is unlikely, and failure can mean a complete absence of anything substantial (depending on how you do it.) But what they don’t see is how this would have to be a worst case scenario. It’s hard to be a failed writer and not have other things going for your life. Those things are probably why you failed in the first place.

Ask yourself if you really want their support.

Before you take an active stance in gaining your friends’ and family’s help, realize it might be a good thing you don’t have it.

Are your parents control freaks? Do your friends make everything about them? If your boyfriend reads your work and doesn’t like it, is it going to become a fight? Do these people actually have any sort of interest in the genre you’re writing?

There’s a decent chance that their support won’t do you much good anyway. Having a non-reader buy your book will get you like five bucks. Getting feedback from someone who likes totally different things from you can be actually counterproductive. If it seems like it won’t do you a lot of good, then you might just forget about it.

Talk to them.

Dramatic storylines are starting to get to me, mostly because talking about a problem is often a quick and simple solution and the entertainment industry refuses to accept that.

I once had to sit down a certain naysayer in my life and explain that I can question and be afraid of my risk taking on my own. I needed her to encourage me to take a chance. I would give myself all the reasons not to do something; I needed her to tell me why I should. She wanted to help me, and all it took was explaining my side of things before she understood what I wanted.

Without getting angry or placing blame, it’s useful to just tell someone you’re not getting what you need from them. They may not change their behavior immediately, but you will definitely see some effect. If they do care, they will put in an effort.

The best form of punishment is to not ask again.

When all else fails, nothing makes a person feel worse than knowing someone won’t count on them. I’m not advocating punishing people, but sometimes, for whatever reason, we need it. It might be for emotional reasons or it might be to change their behavior. Either way, banking on someone not being there for you is the best way to make them want to be there for you.

I don’t give new works to people who didn’t read the last one. I don’t let people who try to scare me about my literary choices read something important. I don’t ask people who didn’t submit a story to my literary journal last year to do it this year. When my boyfriend refused to drive me to the airport, I went straight to someone else the next time. When a friend lied to me about having bought my story, I told him not to bother. When my cat clawed me apart as I tried to get him off of me, I never tried to move him again.

People won’t always notice what you’re not doing and—because my main goal is not punishment but rather self-preservation and not wasting my time—I don’t make the effort to let them know. Yet when there’s something important going on in your life and you’re not talking about it, they tend to realize something’s up, and maybe they’re being left out. They know you need support, so why aren’t you asking for it?

Mostly, it’s just important to realize this is typical. It says nothing about you or your work or your destiny. It doesn’t even necessarily say anything about your relationships and who you should trust. The hardest part of being a writer is no one takes you seriously. It gets easier when you can move past it.