Monday, August 28, 2017

How Devoted Should We Be to Maintaining Definitions?



Australians like to change words and then never replace the old one. Or they adapt a word from two separate places and still call the two different items the same thing. Potato chips could be crisps, but usually you call them chips, and fries are fries if you’re talking McDonalds, but other than that they’re also chips.

And as much as they like to shorten words, they have a lot of long, “politically correct” names for things like “traditional lemonade” instead of just calling it lemonade and just calling their Sprite something else. Or, we could go really wild and just give lemonade an actual word all its own, but Australians are apparently just better at context according to the man who doesn’t understand why I can call my cat the Little Black Bastard but he can’t.

My time in Australia had made me strongly in favor of France’s “No English!” edict.

As a writer and recovering Grammar Nazi, I often contemplate how anal we should be about word choice and maintaining its official definition. On the one hand, the more staunchly we retain a meaning, the easier it is to communicate. On the other, writers often talk about ideas, emotions, or things we simply do not have a word for. Meaning comes from the combination of sounds, how we choose to pair our words. They are not limited, and, in fact are incomplete, without each other. Plus, considering our desire to rejuvenate a reader’s perspective on something old, there is a lot of merit for someone using a word in an expected way.

And, no matter how hard we try to restrain words, they will always develop different meanings to each individual.

The first criticism I ever remember getting was on the word “glance.” What’s kind of funny about it was I didn’t really agree with her assessment, but I kind of assumed that I was just being egotistical. It wasn’t until years later that I thought back on it, actually looked up the definition, and considered why she had that response to realize that she was, in the main ways, wrong.

A character fled from a dragon, diving down to the shelter of a rock. He glanced upwards as the thing swoops over his head. He grabs his sword and stands. Or something.

She claimed that glancing was a causal action.

She was a fellow high school student, but someone I respected, senior to me and a big reader. I didn’t make the change and probably argued with her, but it stuck with me ever since. I remember saying, “I meant he looked quickly,” which I think she shrugged at.

This is the reason I hate line edits. If you look up the definition of “glance,” it is predominantly about speed, sometimes about light, sight, or bouncing. Nowhere does it discuss the attitude of the doer.

But does that mean it’s not casual?

To her, it was. And many of us have unofficial connotations and connections that, whether writers like it or not, can strongly confuse or jar a reader, even if they are the only ones in the world who feel that way.

It’s also a prime time in which people’s view of you affects what you are “allowed” to do. I talk about the time I used the word chagrin in which a friend was certain I made up the word chagrin even though he had read Twilight a hundred times which had been accused by naysayers of using that word far too much.

You might be utilizing something completely correctly and yet the reader assumes you don’t know what you’re talking about because somewhere along the line they had made a falseconnection with the word.

Or perhaps the connection is obvious, but pointlessly restricting. The most controversial line I’ve ever written was “She furrowed her mouth.” Now, of course “furrowed” doesn’t mean “her brow” because “she furrowed her brow” would be redundant and “she furrowed” would be a perfectly acceptable sentence. Yet the unofficial link between the two made some people very concerned that I would describe it that way. “Don’t you usually furrow your brow?”

Sometimes you have to say something that makes perfect sense but seems oxymoronic. Or maybe is officially oxymoronic. A fellow writer once complained about a book she was reading on how “You can’t whisper loudly.” Well, isn’t “loud” contextual? Can you see how she might be whispering louder now than at other times?

In that case, I felt she knew exactly what the author wanted and was just being pedantic.

Words change over time, and in many cases what is officially correct just sounds weird to native speakers. I joke about the time a white American messaged me and I believed English was his second language due to his overly formal, technically precise way of speaking. But, no, he was just a writer.

The issue of different meanings behind the same words is most apparent in clichéd writing advice. Things like “show, don’t tell,” “kill your darlings,” and even “writer’s block,” might not be the same idea to two separate people. One gentleman recently told me that show don’t tell means specifics, writing that “he did his chores and went to work” is telling while “he mowed the lawn and went to his accounting firm” is showing. Another man told me that it’s “writing in real time.” So “he mowed the lawn and went to his accounting firm” is still telling; you’d have to say, “The blisters on his hands threaten to burst as he rolled the lawn mower back into the garage. He shoved it in and slammed down the door, fumbling for the keys. John yanked open his car door, shouting, ‘Honey! I’m going to work!’” Someone else said it was about using the senses. I once read an unintentionally humorous blog about how you should “kill your darlings,” being about why you should literally kill off your characters, while my high school teacher explained it as being willing to cut things you love for the good of the story. And if you get into any discussion about writer’s block and whether it exists or not, you are very likely to find that the looming threat is something different to everyone.

You can’t stop words from developing their own personal meaning, no matter how clearly you draw the line. We learn by circumstance and rarely do we actually look up the real definition. Yet how much do we allow for evolution and how much do we force a constant meaning?

Take the word “irony” as our most popular example.

The original definition of irony meant sarcasm, yet no one uses it for that anymore. If you do, in fact, you’re going to sound bizarre, noticeable, and it’s possible no one will have any idea of what you’re trying to say.

“That’s ironic.”

You have situational irony, in which someone does something with unexpected results, or dramatic irony, in which the observer has knowledge that a speaker doesn’t, making his words more significant to the observer (usually used in literature and performance art).

But then you have the unofficial meaning which is often either an amusing coincidence, or, as I tend to use it, hypocrisy. Some use it as meaning an unfortunate event.

It’s a big pet peeve for many, and I ask the honest question on how much should we care?

Do we need its original meaning?

Well, I have found myself needing a synonym for sarcastic every now and again. Caustic is the closest word I can usually make work. Sometimes disdain or cynicism, but often those aren’t quite right. Facetious, can be useful, but it has its own connotation too.

Yet I don’t think we have another word to reference when an action results in something unforeseen. I also don’t feel like that comes up a lot. I try to avoid using “ironically” because of how much focus it gets whether it’s correct or not, but there have been a few times in which I’ve thought it was best, like when I talk about how much I hate using computers and people argue, “But you’re on yours all of the time!”

“It’s called a sad irony.”

Should we allow it to evolve to this new meaning? Coincidence, I don’t think, needs another synonym. Amusing accident, chance, contradiction… But, I’m not sure that quite covers it. As I said, when I’m compelled to use ‘irony’ without thinking about it, it tends to mean hypocritical. “Ironically enough, he is constantly offended at other people getting offended.” And many people use it in reference to a karmic act when “Susie married Jon for his money and he lost his medical degree two days after the wedding.” These may be correct at times, but usually that’s a coincidence and not the amusing kind.

There’s another word for that: “Schadenfreude.” Thought that is also technically not English, an also is about the feeling of seeing someone in pain over a stupid action.

I am too young to know when this obsession with “irony” started, but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say it was Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic,” in which, as many say, everything she sings about is an amusing coincidence not actual irony. Some suggest that the irony of the song is that none of it is actually ironic. Who knows. My bigger issue is what does it matter?

And I don’t mean that ironically.

When do we allow for words to grow and when do we demand that we use them in the way officials have agreed they were intended? For that matter, when are we using a word in a new and effective way versus when we’re just using it wrong? How do we know that words mean what we think they do without checking the definition for everything we say? When do we try and listen to someone’s point instead of contradicting them over a misspoken phrase? And when do we stand strong and demand the respect of a word so that it doesn’t just get muddled, meaningless, and replaced?

I don’t have the answer. I raised the question so you can think about it for me. Let me know what you find out.



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Friday, August 25, 2017

How Can You Tell A Man is Writing a Female Character?



When I was first asked this, I tried to give a succinct answer—“Men’s view on women’s view on sexuality tends to be warped,” but according to a recent writer’s blog, I have 20,000 words to say today as the average woman, so I’ve brought this into my own sphere.

As much as I'd like to say we have a monopoly on our gender, I think that the best thing a male writer can do is not worry so much about writing a female character incorrectly. I have a myriad of anecdotes in my back pocket about how my masculine name has confused some critique partners who received my work prior to meeting me. They reacted differently about my female characters on learning I was a woman, proving that men are judged more harshly. I also know of a study in which actors were given sarcastic dialogue to test people’s immediate reading comprehension for subtext which proved that both men and women tended to assume female characters were being serious instead of facetious when they speak.

Which is to say there are plenty of unavoidable external factors outside of what is actually done, and men often do better trying to be true to their perception on reality and letting imagination work its wiles instead of doing the “right” thing.

On the other hand, there is definitely some times when I’ve read pretty bad portrayals of women that seems consistent with male authors.

-Talking about breasts outside of sexual/self-evaluating moments, and not separating the two.

While walking through an art gallery, I saw a painting of a naked woman and immediately knew, before looking at the artist’s name, the creator was female. How? Because the breasts were unattractive and lopsided.

Women think about breasts in sexual, sensual situations, or they think about them in their more insecure moments. When thinking about their own breasts, such as when they’re changing, they’re often going to notice the imperfections, or possibly be happily surprised they like what they see, because they might not always. Sometimes she will love her breasts and be proud of them. Yet often that sort of vanity isn’t conveyed in men’s description of their female characters. While in her P.O.V., the male author describes her boobs, yet the character doesn’t seem to have an opinion about them one way or another. An attractive woman who knows she's attractive isn't as appealing and neither is insecurity. So instead of indulging the personality trait that would lead the character to think so in-depth on her body, the male author focuses on wording that will scintillate his audience rather than provide a perspective on how the character perceives herself. In reality, if the character’s noticing them, she has an opinion about them. Having a woman self-evaluate and be turned on by what she sees is a choice, but should be a strong one, and also is less common than self-deprecation. It should also be known that when she happens to feel extra attractive (and doesn’t acknowledge the abnormality of it) on the humdrum day the story starts, it can read more like meta-motivation for the horny author. As in, the writer was aroused by the scene when the character wouldn’t be.

Often young male writers will have a female admire her own breasts in an otherwise non-vain character, the descriptions incredibly masculine and external in what they notice.

I found Wicked to be especially annoying in this aspect. On three occasions the female characters, upon realizing they were alone, took off their clothes and thought about how sexy they were. One was doing laundry. One was a little girl flying on a broomstick. The other was just after (before?) a sex scene, so we’ll cut him some slack there, but for most women, breasts are like Yellowstone was for me—always there, so never something I made an effort to go see.

-Overly dramatizing girls’ budding sexuality.

Horror authors are the worst at this. Though I love Carrie, Stephen King definitely believes that puberty for young women is a traumatizing event, even writing that Twilight’s success was solely contingent on girls’ inability to deal with their frightening sexuality in a safe place.

Women have vastly different experiences in how they’re taught about sex, and yes the shame of it can cause deeply rooted problem later in life. But fiction like Hemlock Grove that acts as though girls are driven insane for fear of their desires are overdone and at times insulting. On occasion, I’ve felt as though a guy is writing out his frustration that girls don’t want to sleep with him; why are women so cautious? They claim they want sex just as much as me… Maybe they don’t want to sleep with me because they’re afraid!

Possibly, actually. But that’s not the whole story.

-Long, boring descriptions of a woman’s beauty.

Two summers ago, I took a social media sabbatical due to the constant dismissive responses I would receive from a select few men who were trying to get my attention. I posted a blog about it even, discussing how I was sick of posting a joke to have a guy sit there and tell me how to “solve” my problem. When I came back, they all had posted, “Are you talking about me?!”

One man in particular creeped me out. He had written and promoted an essay about a girl half his age, using her actual name, A LOT, and talking about how attracted he was to her, how nervous she made him. He was married.

At one point, I Tweeted a joke, “Writing a short story is about sticking to your point. Maybe I should figure out what mine is.”

He said, “Careful! Function over form! Don’t worry about word count! Story. Story. Story.” He then sent me a link to one of his (unpublished) short stories as an example. It was just one long description on how beautiful his anthropomorphized muse was. All his stories were like that, actually. A beautiful young woman stands on a cliff side and feels happy. A Japanese man goes to work and it’s clear this random woman kind of likes him. A young girl spoke to him on Twitter and she has a beautiful photo. Two women are outside smoking and they are beautiful.

I don’t care that a woman is beautiful. It’s pretty much to be assumed anyway, even outside of fiction. If the author is telling me that the P.O.V. character is falling in love with her, the little things he notices in what makes her beautiful—including personality flaws—are more interesting than her gorgeous blonde hair and bell-like laugh.

-Women being sexy when they’re alone.

I was in a class in which a young, obviously horny young man wrote about girls quite a bit. One of the things drawing my attention was how the female characters, when alone, were still doing things to turn someone on.

The key scene in question was stripping down to her bra and thong before she put her make up on. I think I might have not gotten dressed before applying make-up once in my life, and if I remember right, it was because I had just gotten out of the bath and was too lazy to thoroughly dry myself off. Outside of that, I don’t see why you’d stop getting dressed halfway through to put your mascara on. Foundation, possibly, but unless you’re wearing a button up, you risk smearing shit all over your close far worse when you pull the thing over your head.

Most importantly, it was obviously author motivated over character motivated. The writer had more to gain from that scene than his protagonist did. No matter what the action, this is one of the top reasons readers respond badly to a work.

Readers shouldn’t be thinking about what the writer wants. Not to make the character cool, not to easily get out of the corner he’s worked his way into, not to make a villain look evil, and certainly not how much the writer wishes he was having sex… in the majority of cases, the readers should stay in-world the entire time.

-What about outside of sexuality?

This is less about how men write for women, and typically just a sign of badly written characters.

Basically, she doesn’t have a life, inner or outer.

-Her skills don’t fit a niche. She is an excellent fighter… but so is the protagonist. She is more like a back-up for if another character couldn’t come into play. Like Zoey from Firefly, who has a medium temperament and decent skills, but if she wasn’t at hand, Jayne or Mal could do anything she could offer.

-She’s too independent.

The independent male doesn’t exist. Not a likable one anyway. Sherlock has his Watson, Calvin has his Hobbes. Mal needs his crew. Aang needs his friends. Neville needs his Sam. If he truly is a loner, you see the emotional effects it has on him. Successful male characters always need someone a little bit.

Neediness is a surprisingly endearing trait (so long as it’s used in moderation.) She should have someone she genuinely cares about, a need from them that is illustrated throughout the story. She can be sarcastic and push them away at times, but we want to see that vulnerability.

We like people with deep bonds. Those that don’t seem to need it tend to be annoying and often unrealistic.

-She is tunnel-visioned.

Her super objective is all that matters. They must get the dagger and save the world! No stopping for a laugh or to make money! She becomes this hard ass who can’t let go of her purpose in life.

-She is the voice of reason.

Someone needs to control that loose cannon cop on the edge, and it can’t be an authority figure!

But presenting women as stand-in mothers and the morality of the group makes them unlikable. No one wants to be around them. You often don’t want them in the story. When they threaten to kill them off, you think, “DO IT.”

-She’s the only girl in the group.

The best way to avoid being called out on “saying something” about women as a whole is by having more than one female in your story. The one woman is stupid? You’re saying women are stupid, but only one of them is dumb? Well that's just humanity.

-She has no flaws, especially that would be required for her qualities.

Perfect characters are boring as hell, for one thing, regardless of gender. Sometimes the protagonists can get away with it because a bland foil for all the wacky people around him is pretty common, plus there’s the idea of “seeing yourself” as him.

But when it comes to women, there is definitely this attempt to put them on a pedestal, or be overly cautious to not piss off us modern females. Problem is, you have a completely strong, intelligent, capable woman, you don’t have a story or someone relatable.

All qualities are tied to flaws. If she’s responsible, she’s a stick in the mud (the most common trait allowed for a woman.)

But you can, and should, use that to your advantage, and comment on her flaws, in-world. If she’s confident, she’s stubborn. If she’s anti-authority, she has to reinvent the wheel all of the time. If she’s smart, she’s neurotic. If she’s chill, she lacks drive. If she’s skilled, she doesn’t have a lot of free time. If she’s naturally talented, she’s smug. Or maybe insecure and oblivious. By identifying and growing these elements of why she is the way she is, good and bad, the character will be more interesting and more real.

-She defies the social rules without consequence.

Whether it be the rules of our world or the fictional one she lives in, she is above all things feminine that keep a good woman down.

The problem is, this is dismissive of the real world issues, and the side characters even. In the same vein as seeing the bright blue haired anime character surrounded by a bunch of drab brunette extras, having your character be so completely different from others reminds us of the fabrication of the world. At least she should have to face the consequences of being different.

Patrick Rothfuss, one of my favorite authors, did this the worst when it came to a character named Fela.

I read The Name of the Wind and its sequel, A Wiseman’s Fear during a bad phase. I had, for the first time in my life, become the object of attraction to strange men who didn’t know me, and who probably wouldn’t care about me once they did. I related to Fela in an unfortunate way, and these books reminded me just how little people understood what I had gone through.

While I actually like Fela as a person—she’d be nice company, I’m rooting for her, and so on—the way she was portrayed was fairly cliché.

She is sexually harassed by the villain just in time for the protagonist to come and save her…

But it ignores what will happen once the protagonist leaves. It’s not like that harassment just stops, and she and the villain still work together at the location the events took place. People often ask me, when I’m dealing with someone who won’t take no for an answer, “Why don’t you just do this?” or “Why don’t you just do that?”

In most cases, he’s not going to let you off the hook. The meaner you are, the more he fellows you around “apologizing.” You do something drastic to get him to leave you alone, the more likely his behavior escalates (block him online, he finds you at work. True story.) Having a guy humiliate him in defending me might possibly lead him to take out his embarrassment on me later. It is unlikely that having a guy stand up to him will stop him from doing it again at another time when said man is not around, and rejected guys can make your life miserable if wanted. The villain Ambrose’s ability to screw over protagonist Kvothe’s life in pretty drastic ways is evident of that.

But Fela faces zero consequences of dismissing Ambrose, and is even perfectly fine going on a date with him when they need to use her as bait. She feels safe being alone with the stranger who thinks it’s okay to put his hand on her leg when she is a mere coworker. A stranger with a vindictive temper and more money than a kingdom who has raped and beaten women throughout the storyline, using his abilities to try and kill, expel, and make Kvothe homeless.

Her sexual harassment isn’t even spoken of again, forgotten by a writer who put it in as a plot point.

Fela is beautiful and smart and kind, in the sort of way that means she keeps a lot of her inner life to herself. She is a perfect example of someone who just makes the life around other people better, mostly guys. She is awarded to the girl-crazy best friend who, though I do like him too, is honestly closer to the sort of personality of the men who have harassed me in the past; guys who just want to be loved, and don’t particularly care by whom. She never puts her problems on anyone—mostly because she doesn’t have any.

But she should. She is this stunning girl who is a victim throughout the book, the damsel in distress that everyone likes despite her not revealing anything interesting about herself. She’s just easy to be around. She’s smart and talented too, but doesn’t seem to get any real appreciation for it—because she is so modest.

Fela isn’t what I would call a cardboard character in truth. I think that really her issue is she’s more of a writer’s convenience, using her to raise the stakes or make Kvothe look good, or sometimes just be the “extra” in a scene so as to not add a new character.

She could be realistic in a way, but I’d like to see more insight into her. I know plenty of kind women who try to make everyone comfortable by not taking up space, by being pleasant and pretty—but there’s way more to them than what meets the first impression. These decisions, the choice to not act out for attention, to not ask for what you need, to not bulldoze over others to get what you want, are exhausting, sometimes painful, and constant. Being beloved by all the men solely because it’s easy for them to imprint a personality on you is disheartening. Being beloved by all the men means you have to “entertain them” when they want to show off their card trick or struggle to engage you in conversation even when you just want to be left alone. Being beloved by all the men just because you’re cute means you are easily replaceable. Being loved by all of the men because you are one of the few women in the area makes you a target for constant interruption, a lot of it, not so nice. You have to deal with the fact that you constantly have to play nice with people who don’t give a shit about your feelings, else deal with the ramifications of ticking the wrong person off, and then get criticized for inciting him into it.

And kind people, no matter their gender, do get the blunt of jackasses. I’ve seen so many good-natured individuals sit there and smile while some egomaniac is condescendingly blabbering on about herself, mostly because they’re the only ones who will give me the time of day.

Fela is just the surface of a complex character. She has her own problems, her own priorities, and none of that is being talked about because we have better things to focus on than what occurs after Kvothe is not around to defend her.

Sometimes, perhaps, the best way to write about a female character, is just to genuinely care about her, and don’t let her quiet and non-invasive personality let you forget that she has her own problems too.



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Monday, August 21, 2017

Having a Don’t-Do List



The last time I went home for Christmas, I was pretty focussed. In attempts to further breaching out of my depression, I decided to prioritize adding fun and beauty to my life instead of perceiving pomp and circumstance, traditions, and celebration as a huge waste of time. I came to terms that spending my life only working not only sucked inspiration out of me, but also contributed to my lack of happiness. Sometimes the stupid, shallow things are really important for embracing life.

For 2017 New Year’s resolutions, I had decided to celebrate every holiday, and I would start with Christmas 2016. So I went home, forced my family to get a tree, nixed the idea of no presents, made gingerbread, and forced fed the holiday spirit to my equally perfunctory lifestyled parents.

I also got a lot done on my giant “lifetime” to-do list. I did more in a week than I had done in previous months. I was feeling good about myself, productive, and mobile.

But then I got home to my apartment in New York City. I fell behind in the parts of my deadlines I didn’t prep for. I didn’t write. I spent a great deal of time back in my old habits of sitting on Facebook and feeling shitty about it. What had changed?

My to-do list.

Prior to Christmas, I rode into Boston with my cousin to help make some extra cash through paralegal work. I could only bring a set number of projects with me, so I prioritized. I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked, but I spent a good deal of it socializing and did enjoy myself. I wasn't as good with time management as I had been in past years, but still better than I’d been recently.

When I flew out to Wyoming for the holiday, the projects that I could bring cut my options down even more. While I could throw a quilt and sewing machine, a violin, untyped note pages, and a printed manuscript into the back of a car, I was limited to what could fit into my backpack. I ended up having my computer and a book.

Because I was limited to working on a comic or writing, I found it easier to start the day, not feeling overwhelmed with options. I knew what I had to do and couldn't waste time debating or switching back and forth between projects. Even this morning, as I get up, there are so many choices of what I’d like to get done, it makes it easy to blow them all off. I could read. I could write. I could edit. I could draw. I need to get my newsletter out. I need to get started on next month’s Story of the Wyrd. I need to design the next giveaway. I could do next week’s comic, or work on getting ahead on it as I had been telling myself I would. I could sew the button on my coat sleeve. I could paint. I need to get through more of my material.

Then there are, of course, the shoulds. During the first few months of the year, I was unemployed in my new city. Job hunting is painful, emotionally exhausting, a constant stressor that can suck motivation to do anything. Even when you are working diligently, you should be putting yourself out there. Your savings won’t last forever. Even after getting a job, I wasn’t making bank, and I know that if I really want money, I should be building a portfolio for my quilts. If I could be savvy and aggressive about it, I could probably find a market for them and earn something on the side. But it’s time consuming and I hate promoting myself. I also feel like I need to get several quilts ahead to really draws people’s interest, even on commission work.

This is why I came up with the idea, The Don’t-Do List. That’s something that needs to be done, but it doesn’t need to be done today. If you choose not to worry about it, you’re not allowed to even think about it. Cut down on your demands on yourself and you’re more likely to be motivated to do something important.

Other options for increasing productivity is to organize a list in order of priority—which has the closest deadline? In order of longevity—which is something I’ve been wanting to do for the longest? Or in order of duration—what can I get done quickly? What will take me several days, weeks, or months of trying.

Mostly, it’s a combination of all three.

Today, I think, I’m going to restart my time management skills (something I’m usually good at) by taking a moment to make several lists and organize my thoughts. It can feel like a waste of time, but it’s better than being on Facebook at least.




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Friday, August 18, 2017

Gatekeeping is a Bi-Product, Not the Goal



Every once in a while I see complaints about self-publishing, or for self-publishing, and there’s one commonly thrown about idea that completely contradicts my experience in the writing world: traditional publication was created to filter out bad writing.

But was it? Because I don’t see anyone who would willingly subjugate themselves to that. Why the hell would I let someone randomly designate themselves the gatekeeper of literature and put my book through that process?

Traditional publication was created due to a need, not some self-imposed judge saying, “I will now decide if you’re good enough to be read by others.” Even today when we have a variety of options, no traditional publishing house considers itself the filter of good and bad. It just says, “This is what I want to invest in.”

Books cost money to make. Self-publishing became popular when ebooks tore down the majority of required costs. Nowadays, it’s entirely possible to get a manuscript to the public without spending one dime, though many people would question the wisdom of that budget. Fact is, money is key.

The evolution of “traditional” publication was all about the green. In order to get books out there, you had to be able to avoid a means of printing and the paper it went on, bare-minimum. Those with the talent or energy often didn’t have the funds to do this, so they pitched their work to those who did, convincing them to either support the arts, or that they could make their money back. Very symbiotic, quid-pro-quo type relationship. It became a standard due to the mass expense of publication. To this day, a large traditional publisher can easily spend 50,000 dollars per book launch, outside of the writer’s advance.

Travel writer Laurie Gough wrote a piece titled, “Self-Publishing: An Insult to the Written Word,” arguing, “The important role that publishers fill is to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you’re a good writer and have a great book you should be able to get a publishing contract.”

Except I’ve never had an agent or acquiring editor say that was their job. In fact, I’ve heard many, many say the exact opposite.

The agents I’ve spoken to admit that they would pass on books they liked or books they thought they were good. Sometimes it was by chance, “I just signed something else too similar,” or it was not right for them, “I wasn’t passionate about it.” The most common argument is that many agents and editors aren’t just looking for something well-made, but something they can sell. If they can’t think of a pitch for it, many won’t sign it. They are not issuing their stamp of approval on each and every manuscript; they are looking for people they want to work with, for manuscripts they care about, and something that can make pay everyone’s bills.

There are a select number of slots for each agent. Think 5-7 books picked up a year by an agent who receives 400 submissions a month. They’re going to pass on things that are good, even if they loved it. They need to bite off only what they can chew, and the less books they have, the more dedicated to each they can be to each one.

And think about it: imagine depending your entire year on making six sales alone—living in New York no less! You had better have faith in them instead of wasting your time on something that gets you nothing. Agents make money only when authors do, and most of them don’t have a “day” job to supplement a failed sale, so they have the world to choose from, they’re more likely to make a safer bet or something they really, truly love. A merely good book isn’t necessarily going to cut it.

I’ve never heard someone claim they see themselves as a gatekeeper of literature. I’m positive they’re out there, but many agents recognize their weaknesses and strengths, understand subjectivity and personal tastes, and will admit that even if they had picked up Harry Potter, they might not have been able to make it hit the big time like it had; a lot of success is about timing and luck. Who knows what might have changed if J.K. Rowling had a different agent or publisher?

I see a lot of villainizing of the traditional route, and while I admit it’s not all sunshine and kitty cats—and for some the worse option—it’s not this clinical series of pretentious evaluators telling you, “HOW DARE YOU TRY AND BE AN AUTHOR?!” It’s a business filled with all different types of personalities, different goals, and different methods, and it’s important to try and find what is right for you. Not all agents are good at their jobs, not all publishing houses make good offers, and it’s important to be savvy rather than idolizing or demonizing them.

Self-publishing isn’t this magical process in which true art is made either. Lots of it is half-baked, impatient people rushing through plots, skipping over character arcs and editing, ending whenever they hit some arbitrary, low wordcount to slap it up online. Despite that not all traditionally published books are good, picking up a random novel from Brown is not going to be the same as picking up your friend’s debut novelette written in a week. There are some self-published writers I am absolutely devoted to, far, far better than the mediocrity I’d find in from a random grab in a bookstore, but the vetting process and gatekeeping of traditional publication does give me an initial boost of trust that indies struggle with. In traditional publication, when it’s bad, it’s bad, but in self-publishing, when it’s bad, it’s a mess of delusional gibberish.

I mean, the gatekeeping gives a little more credibility to the authors just by virtue of the process. Several people had to see something in it while no one—not even the author—might like a self-published work. Yes, just because you can’t get a manuscript published doesn’t mean it’s not any good, and just because something got picked up doesn’t mean that it’s something special, but there is a sort of Russian Roulette of taking a chance on a self-published book that isn’t the same for traditionally published.


Regardless, I hear both self-publishers and traditional advocates claiming that the gatekeepers were put into place to filter out the crap, and I don’t think anyone’s actually made that claim. I, for one, would not trust a person who said, “I have chosen the good books for you,” as evidenced by my reaction to my school assignments in high school. Who gave them the right? I would have to see the gatekeepers have gatekeepers before I took a system like that seriously.



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Monday, August 14, 2017

Who the Hell is Elmore Leonard?



I vented to a friend last night, as I am wont to do.

“I’m intellectually constipated,” I said.

“What does that mean?”

“Every time I try to talk about a problem, instead of a flow of ideas or a sounding board, I get dismissed: That’s not a problem. The solution to that is easy! Why don’t you just… You’re making things more complicated than necessary. Here’s what Google has to say about it.”

“Writers, man, huh?”

I knew that she wasn’t the right person to talk to about this. She is a massive advocate of the rules, a screenwriting student who loves Hemingway and won’t read the Hunger Games because it can never match up. But she was interested in writing, and at least had opinions.

When it comes to advice, people tend to stick with the quippy and repetitive, telling me not to use said or adverbs, ignoring more important issues like what actually happened in the text. They miss the fact the gun disappeared mid-scene because they obsess over whether or not to say ‘lightly’ or ‘slightly.’ Even if you do oblige them, doing nothing that they normally criticize, they’ll spend your time together saying, “Oh, you don’t do that thing that I always look for! Let me tell you why it’s bad anyway.”

They’re a one-trick pony.

About a year ago I went to a writers conference in which a woman started out by handing me a plot formula. She had only read the first few pages, but decided that backstory absolutely couldn’t be in them—because the formula said so. She was the sort of person who thought science fiction began and ended with Star Wars, and incorrectly insisted that the movie didn’t have any backstory in the first act.

“Its backstory dump is actually pretty iconic,” I said.

For a reference, she was one of many, many people to read that work, and the only one to complain about discussing the character’s history. It was an intentional later addition too, proposed to help build the world. The story starts in a limited place, but by showing images of his past, I could quickly—and in the most successful way so far—tell the audience what kind of world it was without too much editorializing. After adding it in, complaints on confusion and world building slowed down massively. She wasn’t a good reader, asking questions that were answered more than once in the text, and over time I just had to accept that we just didn’t have the same writing philosophies.

She too was a big rule follower. Her small press book was most criticized (well, for the typos in the Hawaiian vocabulary, but we’ll ignore those) for her “juvenile” and simplistic style. The rules these days enforce minimalism. She spent a good portion of our fifteen minutes I’d paid for pointing out each and every adverb, saying which ones were okay, criticizing the one where she misinterpreted the subtext of the dialogue.

On her sparse blog, she has one post featuring Elmore Leonard’s writing rules, which summed her up all together.

Debbie, my dear—I wanted to say—I came to you to hear what Debbie has to say about my work. Not what a writer fifty years ago said about writing in general. Not what a Western writer has to say about the first three chapters of a science fiction book.

For that matter, who is Elmore Leonard? Why should we listen to him? Do I like his writing? Do YOU like his writing? These are important questions to consider.

I have to say that in my experience, people know Leonard best from his writing rules, not his actual fiction. Mentioning him, no one seems to recognize him, or if they do, his advice comes up.

So when I said to my friend that day I complained about my intellectual constipation, “Who the hell is Elmore Leonard?” it was no surprise when she replied. “Oh, my boyfriend and I were just talking about him! He has some pretty good advice!”

No, I said. He has some pretty generic advice.

The first time I looked him up, he seemed successful enough. He’s written quite a few novels, some made into movies, and while I haven’t personally heard of him or any of his works, I’m not really a Western girl.

“Well, it’s good advice for screenwriting,” she amended.

“Don’t use prologues or synonyms for said is good for screenwriting?”

What frustrates me most about the obsession with Leonard’s writing rules is two-fold. One is that I don’t particularly find his ten writing rules useful.

1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Avoid prologues.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

7. Use regional dialect, patois sparingly.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

What’s wrong with them, you ask? Well, nothing. It’s not that I necessarily disagree. The foundation of the ideas can be pretty useful for quick sprucing up or an easy fix. It’s just that I consider them to be more or less irrelevant on a larger scale. Not when you’re really trying to improve yourself.

They gloss over the point. They don’t get to the foundation of the issue. They don’t help someone who’s starting for nothing understand what they’re trying to do. Teach a man to fish…

Don’t start with the weather? Well yeah, in that people don’t care too much about it. You’re not going to get someone emotionally invested by talking about the rain instead of people. But the important part isn’t the weather, it’s why the weather is boring.

It feels like I'm being pedantic, but I passionately believe that specific 'don'ts' cause more problems for new writers than they solve. For one thing, people tend to either reject advice or take it too seriously in the early stages, and good advice will tactfully encourage someone who doesn't like being told what to do to listen while giving permission for those who tend to play it safe to experiment. Most people, adults especially, need to go back to their inspiration and envision the world, not nitpick over punctuation. Not in the early stages. All writers must be brave and take risks. Those risks, and mistakes, are what they'll learn most from.

You’re not going to write an excellent book by following these rules. For one thing there’s thousands of other ways to screw it up. In fact, you can make the exact same mistake the advice really means by following it to the letter. This is like training to be a doctor and someone continuously harping on not leaving a quarter inside your patient. True, but aren’t there a few other things a student needs to know to perform surgery well? There are more important factors at hand. If your dialogue sucks, it's not because you used 'exclaimed' and simply using 'said' isn't going to make you shine. Bad dialogue does not come from exclamation points or full-sentences; it comes from bad characterization and meta-motivation. If you understand the characters' moods, history, and priorities, the way that they think, if you truly see it before you and feel what they feel, see what they see, you're naturally going to improve your punctuation to convey that. In fact, thinking too hard about the writing is going to draw you further from your imagination, which is going to make you more stilted and mechanical.

When someone's struggling with making good decisions, telling them merely what not to do just causes them to seize up when really they need to relax. Most times writing is boring because it's perfunctory and impersonal - giving goals instead of restrictions helps them find their true voice. Helping them focus on what they do want instead of what they don't want cuts away some of the overwhelming options in mass, organically, while merely making a few specific decisions for them only cut away those specific decisions. And not always to the success of the piece - you have to be clear if you and the writer actually are trying to write the same vision. Some people don't like Elmore Leonard's way of storytelling and will be less satisfied when adopting his voice.

On that same note, over years and years of writing, I’ve slowly begun to realize that my glossing over of visual details is my biggest hold-up. People need to know if it’s night or day pretty early on, and weather adds ambiance. As a science fiction and fantasy writer, my worlds would be more fascinating if I didn't skim over the descriptions, but went into detail about what the culture looks like. What the person is trying to write matters a lot when deciding how they should go about it, and, surprisingly, many critics don't consider that not everyone likes the same books. These rules are not universal or self-explanatory enough to be used as a 101 strategy, rather learned advice that needs to be discussed at length instead of just insisted upon without comment. They are not only “breakable” as people recommended, but a lot of them are more about balance. While some people need to do more, advisers tend to assume that you’re already overdoing it and could stand to cut back, despite never seeing what it actually is you've done.

Personally, I’ve seen these sorts of opinions to be counterproductive, providing writers with a weird ideology of quality and a false sense of security. They get this belief about how writing should be, supported by these quippy clichés, and they think they’re golden.

If the worst thing about your dialogue is the tags, you’re doing pretty well. I argue that focusing on the meta-mechanics, like whether to use said or not, is actually distracting from the real issue. I have seen people painfully overuse the word, and there are times in which synonyms are far more effective and less invasive than other means to convey mood.

“Learn the rules to learn to break them,” they say.

“Learn the rules by breaking them,” I say.

Or rather, it’s important to experiment. It seems so many people who make orders to follow the rules have yet to understand when or why it’s okay to “break them.”

"Why say 'he blinked rapidly' when you can just say 'twice'?"

Misinformed about what an adverb is, the speaker is insisting that the horrible ramifications of using an adverb will be fixed by... using another adverb.

The best teachers know exactly what will happen when not doing what they suggest because they've made the mistakes for themselves. Many people who insist on not using adverbs aren't willing to discuss it at length because they don't really know what the problems it causes are, never having tested or thought critically about the results of disobeying. And in my opinion, the rules aren’t actually defaults. They’re very successful tools to fix already existing problems, not prevent you from making bad writing in the first place. So if your sentence isn't great, try taking out the adverb, but don't write the first draft being super conscientious, always asking, "Is this okay?" It takes you out of the scene.

One man I once had a disagreement with insisted that good dialogue was all about being “realistic.” When I pointed out examples of successful dialogue that wasn’t remotely like we speak, he, of course, immediately said that because those authors were great, their techniques didn’t apply to the newbies. Aspiring authors have to try and be normal first. (Not his actual words). My point was, I said, is that realistic dialogue does NOT equal good dialogue, and no, I don’t agree that when you’re first developing your style you need to write in one specific way.

You want to write like Shakespeare, it doesn’t make sense to restrict yourself to only writing like Hemingway. It’s better to play around with both styles, but if you had to pick one… obviously you should be practicing with whatever voice you ultimately want to have.

You don’t learn the rules by obeying them. You don’t wait until you’ve applied them successfully to know when to ignore them. You learn them by screwing around. You try to write the way that you want to, analyze if it was successful, and then play around with it some more.

No one believes that writing rules are going to make masterpieces. It seems, at times, it’s for the amateurs and the amateurs alone, to keep them in their place. But really, I find, is that people enjoy giving and getting quick and easily applied tips rather than getting to the nitty-gritty of it all. It's easier to say, "Only use said," and honestly see some decent results than it is to apply, "What does your character think of the person he's talking to?"

My real issue is that rules like Leonard’s discourage play and gloss over intention. If I could give one piece of advice to a writer, none of these would be on my top twenty. I find them ineffective, especially taken too literally. Just because you don’t have a prologue doesn’t mean your beginning works; there’s a lot more important factors to make that happen.

As for the other reason Leonard’s repeated writing rules bother me, it’s about the question of results.

Leonard is known for immersive and hooking writing, which is great. Looking at it from that perspective—to get a book going from the start, avoid things like the weather and prologues—it makes it more specific, enabling the listener to piece out what those things have in common and therefore how they should start a book. But his followers don’t listen to that advice.

Do. Without context. Just do.

Once I sent a pitch to my Hemingway-loving friend. I had rewritten it until my eyes bled and I was pretty sure it didn’t make a lick of sense anymore. I asked her her opinion: Is this confusing?

“Yes, it kind of is,” she admitted.

“Okay,” I said.

“Why don’t you just write like Hemingway?” she asked.

The insult was multi-layered. She knew damn well I am not among the fanatic lovers of Hemingway like those in her college classes. Hemingway is a manly man of few, simple words and subtle meaning in seemingly mundane situations. Am I impressed by his ability? Certainly. I recognize it’s hard. But I don’t like his style. It’s noticeable, non-immersive, even, I’ll admit, cringeworthy at times. His view on women makes sense for his time, but I find them uninteresting or even obnoxious. His obsession with masculinity doesn’t tie in with my world view. His experiences are hard for me to relate to, and his priorities aren’t mine. I recognize he’s a good writer, but that doesn’t mean he works for me.

But more to the point, and this ties us back into who the hell is Elmore Leonard, her request; did not make sense for what I was trying to do. I was writing an encompassing one-sentence summary of a sci-fi novel’s plot. Hemingway writes deep, subtextual meaning into seemingly insignificant, contemporary objects during mundane events. The goals, and therefore strategies, are different.

Who is Elmore Leonard? I don’t write Westerns. I don’t know of a Elmore Leonard. I do know my friend, I do know the writer I paid for feedback. Neither of these people admit to reading his work, and yet they push first and foremost his ideology onto me instead of questioning what will be most useful in my situation.

You’re not going to push writers’ abilities further with “don’t use anything but said.” You’re not going to get them to write excellent dialogue, make them think, force them to dig deep. You’re not going to challenge them, or teach them “how to fish.” You’re going to give them an easy way to cover up the real problem.

The issue isn’t really about who Elmore Leonard is. It’s about recognizing that people have different tastes, different goals, and especially different weaknesses or strengths. It’s important whenever giving advice to reflect on who you’re speaking to, and consider the source of your advice. Use examples that mean something to them and help them write in the way they personally like. Name dropping may give your opinions some credibility, but if you really want to be helpful, speak from the heart at hand, don’t just repeat something that sounds good. If Elmore Leonard’s advice can help me, spend some time talking about the effect it will achieve, not just telling me to be like someone else.



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Friday, August 11, 2017

There and Back Again: Why I'm Coming Home



“I’m moving to New York City,” I said, walking down the sidewalk of my small tourist town at 11 o’clock at night.

“You keep saying that…” the actor replied.

It was the summer of 2013, one and a half years after my college graduation. I was a starving artist in the recession, and so returned home for survival. I never planned on staying that long, but facing reality is hard when you don’t have to. And, in fairness to me, I kept getting work at the local theatres that would stave my plans to leave for several months. It was gratifying to have them beg me to come onboard, my reliability and low value of my time irreplaceable. Plus, I enjoyed it.

Something carnally bothered me about not being believed, and ever since I can remember, I have been determined to finish what I set out to do. I suppose it has to do with people’s tendency to write me off, or my mother’s insistence that because I had a fibbing problem at three, I’m probably lying now.

I was procrastinating, that was true. I only knew that I didn’t want to live in Jackson. I didn’t think I’d want to be a New Yorker for the next fifty years. At the time, the only things I wanted out of life was to write and have a family. Be warm. Not have to shave ice off my car in the morning. I didn’t particularly want to raise children in an urban environment, and I could write from anywhere.

After that conversation, I met someone. He was Australian and intelligent. Shy and introverted, a reader who was in the middle of The Wheel of Time series. I wasn’t into the bad boy look, not a fan of a smoker or tattoos, yet something about his mix of masculinity and femininity and geekishness—he liked cars and theatre and A Game of Thrones—appeal to me. He stopped short when he first saw me, and I felt intensely flattered by the way he looked at me. He was a talented actor, and as I observed from afar I saw a lot of pain and sensitivity. I don’t know why I was mesmerized with him, but I was. I remember saying to myself before I asked him out, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Funny.

After an exciting first two weeks, he made me miserable. He ignored me. Claimed to be busy. Jerked me around in a way I’d never seen someone treat another before, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and listened to his excuses. When we were together he was happy. Excited to see me, showed me off to his friends. When apart, it was like I didn’t exist. I did think another woman might be in the mix except the small town status and the fact that we went to all his haunts made it seem hard to believe.

I’ve said in the past I didn’t want to go into the events because it’s not just my story. Those of you who have been following me have seen some emotional turmoil and pretty severe anger in what followed for the next three years. The end results were me in Australia, me considering what I really wanted out of life, recognizing that I would have to give up so much to be with the man that I loved.

A part of me was deeply upset that I had never lived in New York City like I had wanted. Yes, some of it had to do with telling people. Some of it had to do with the fact that I always thought it was an option. There were many things, I’d come to realize, that by moving to the “Loneliest City on Earth” as Perth is lovingly called, I had limited myself from.

When I left my ex and returned to Wyoming with no money, dog, or house, without a financially sustainable career and a pile of unpublished manuscripts that may never see the light of day, I was at the lowest point in my life. It wasn’t that I felt my worse… I just didn’t feel anything at all. It occurred to me that all of the things I thought I would have, all of the things I thought would make sense over time, might never come to fruition. I’ve always struggled to feel crushes or infatuation, and the deep, irrational love that I had for him was something I didn’t think I was capable of. One year later and I realize that I may never feel it again, especially with my shut-in lifestyle and intense anger at the obsess-and-discard attitude prevalent in dating these days.

The decision to move to New York as soon as possible was based off my complete loss of desire. I didn’t want to be limited. I wanted the world to be open to me. I wanted something interesting in my life. I wanted people to take me seriously. On that same note, despite wanting all these things, I at the same time wanted nothing specific. What was I looking for in a partner? What place could I find peers who would inspired me? Collaborate with me? Share the need for challenge and risk while having the savviness of when I’ve taken it too far?

The fabric store closed down. The art supplies were gone. The music store didn’t have a golden E string.

New York was filled with aspiring artists. It had people of all walks of life. It had every job imaginable. It was busy, energetic, alive. I didn’t know what I was looking for, so it seemed like the best place to be.

I spent the first few months stressed, sending my resume out into the void, beginning my querying process seriously for the first time in fifteen years. I felt alone and worried about money, but optimistic just the same. I got my job and relief washed over me. I met up with friends. I got into a long distance relationship with a younger man who, despite being the carbon copy of my ex a decade removed, actually enabled me to come to terms with the condescension and inadequacies my ex made me feel. This time, when—unbeknownst to me—another woman caused his odd behavior, I reacted to his emotional distance and noncommittal ways by writing him off and moving on. There was no satisfaction when I found that the girl in question rebuked in him a humiliating way, but there was the ability to forgive, and a sense of empowerment that I didn’t put up with his bullshit even lacking all the information.

That’s where things started to change.

After online dating in which I met some nice men who didn’t know to brush their teeth before a date, regardless of how casual, and long hours of bemoaning the massive amounts of selfishness a person can bring down on someone, I began to acknowledge not only that I may never have a family, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal. This year, my goals have drastically changed. I went from desiring stability and security to seeing the benefits of freedom. Both my prior relationships were merely emotional vacuums with little reward. When the younger man came to see me in the city, anything romantic he attempted was ruined by his conditional attitude afterwards. “Next time it’s your turn!” he’d make a point to tell me, even though I’d beyond demonstrated my generosity. The quid pro quo attitude that men presented to me tended to ignore the more subtle gestures, often more difficult and time consuming, I did for them, while giving no appreciation towards any of the grand gestures where I went out of my way to make him feel secure and wanted. While being in a relationship prior to all of this felt rewarding and stimulating, today I associate it with being responsible for another being who will often resent you.

I have wanderlust, I realized.

I love New York City. In the last couple of months my social anxiety has dispersed into thin air. I still have my awkward moments and tend to retreat into my mind instead of acknowledging people in stressful or embarrassing situations, yet the actual act of making eye contact, joking with a stranger in the elevator, and just being around people in general is a thousand times easier. I’m not a fan of making small talk any more than I was before, but I don’t feel like the same intrusion that I did just a year prior.

I like how I can walk down the street and get milk. I like the people here and their general attitude. I have found multitudes of aspiring artists who seem to understand my creative curiosity. It’s expensive, but when you don’t drink, it’s doable. I like dog walking. I like the animals themselves, the sunshine and the exercise. I like being on my own with my thoughts.

The atmosphere is wonderful and exciting. But I feel a little trapped.

Being without a car is hard, even in a city with good transportation. Taxis make me instantaneously motion sick, plus the expense. The subway is typically fine, but unreliable, limited, requiring a great deal of walking. And when you’re schlepping something back from downtown, it becomes immediately apparent just how far five miles really is.

My belief that things would be more accessible to me here was incorrect. In Jackson, it would take me an hour one way to drive to the closest store to get batting for a quilt. In New York? Still a forty-five minute long trip, and instead of getting in your car, putting on cruise control, and listening to an audio book, you’re walking fifteen minutes to the subway, fifteen minutes from it, riding on a subway car that smells like grime, squashed in between two people and trying not to get motion sick as you read your ebook. Whatever you get, you have to carry it back, and you can’t just do all your errands at once.

Oh. And you actually might have an incredibly hard time finding what you’re looking for. Partially because all the store names are different out here, but they don’t have many “Walmarts” or superstores to just walk into grab all the items you need and leave. The batting was ridiculously difficult to come by. I called and walked into numerous stores before I got the only kind offered, paid an arm and a leg for it, and was recommended to try buying it online.

If I wanted to buy things online, I’d live in Wyoming.

A big reason I wanted to move to NYC was the theatre. I enjoy producing, and I wanted to get in on networking with a wide variety of artists. However, since my producer time in Los Angeles, things have changed. I’ve learned how one successful project does not make the next easier, I have little desire to commute down to the theatre district every day for a show, and I’m broke, exhausted, and don’t have the time or money to dedicate myself to a piece like I used to. I don’t feel inspired to produce right now, and getting the point where I had the resources to do so would take a few years of actively spending most of my time in the theatre. Right now, I feel more inspired to make my novels into something and not so excited for the plays.

I also came here to take lessons that would be offered to me… except I don’t have any money. Yes, I would love to do stage combat, but it’s over a grand a month, and I don’t have that. My new habit in the violin already is emptying my wallet.

Jackson has a wonderful dance company, and other classes that I haven’t taken advantage of. Why did I need to come here?

But the decision was made for me when I started watching Girlboss, and subsequently bought the autobiographical book by Sophia Amoruso.

I have been bemoaning how my starving artist lifestyle and wanderlust makes my resume look like crap. All over the place, switching jobs every two years or less, even though I have the best recommendations you can ask for, I look like a flight risk. Which, I am.

As I stated, last summer I had little to show for myself. Skills, yes, but more or less useless ones in terms of benefiting society. Anything I was good at would only be profitable for my own business or as a teacher. I left my puppy with my ex. I left our beautiful (rented) house in Australia. I left my image of our life together. We had plans for a wedding, names for kids, a future. All of that was gone.

A few months ago I got a call from my old job offering me a title and a salary.

“I hear you’re coming back!” my manager said after I had merely mentioned it to a select few individuals.

What the…? Goddamn small town… I muttered to myself.

“If you want your job back, we’ll make it worth your while!”

Out in the Wild, Wild West, my parents also had a piece of property I would one day inherit and my dad, a contractor, suggested that if I come back, he’d help me build a small house on it. The promise of having a home—even if I ultimately didn’t decide to live in it—perked me up. It would be a potential permeant space, but not only that, it would make getting a dog in the next few years possible.

After my stint in Ireland, I’ve been making expensive plans to go to Morocco (which changed to Cambodia), as well as any other place I can find a means to. Traveling breaks the monotony of my life and creates good memories, along with a feeling of living my days to the fullest.

So with all that promise, the ads for Girlboss hit me right at the best moment.

Girlboss tells the true story about Amoruso who started her own ebay company selling vintage clothing by having the right eye for style and showmanship. She began it out of necessity, needing funds to survive. It reminded me of Amanda Hocking, whose success as an author started when she self-published her book to afford tickets to some concert.

I wanted to do that. I wanted to see more funds come from my writing and sewing and artwork. I wanted the freedom to travel, to create, and to do things that I’ve always wanted without being tied down to a job. If I’m not going to have my husband and children, then I’m going to take advantage of the silver lining. At first I wrote it off as a pipedream of everyone’s, but I’ve spent years honing my presentational skills that I’ve never really tested out. Not only did Amoruso’s success make it seem possible, a good friend of mine from college recently quit her job due to her successful Etsy business.

I decided to move back to Wyoming on a whim. It came in June after a coworker went out of his way to lecture me on how he thought I should have handle a certain situation. I didn’t disagree with him necessarily. Yet, his drastic oversimplification and unfamiliarity of what occurred, his melodramatic way of speaking, and his need to spend a condescendingly long amount of time on something that was more or less obvious in hindsight pissed me off just enough for me to consider what I really wanted to do come my lease’s end in September. He was tactless on a somewhat trivial matter that I’d already learned from. I didn’t really plan on quitting, knowing it was a temporary problem, but once I began to analyze the possibilities, it just felt right. If you know me, rarely does anything “just feel right.”

Without the assumed children to support, my starving artist lifestyle has a longer stainability. I don’t need to plant roots when it’s just me. I don’t need as much financial security. I am much more flexible in what I have to do to survive. I had previously considered that if I’m going to live in a small room with no money to stay at home and write, then wouldn’t it be better to take a part-time job somewhere cheaper and give myself more creative free time? The location in Wyoming offers a ridiculous amount of space for a lot less money, giving me a better ability to create. More to the point, I’ll have my cat back and the potential of getting a dog on my own. I’ll be able to set up a workstation. In Wyoming, more of my money can go to what I really care about. I can take classes. I can travel. I can buy better equipment. I can start looking into marketing and professional editors to help me push my work further. I’ll be closer to friends and family, and the limitation I felt there is smaller now that I realize being in the city doesn’t necessarily mean things are available to you.

I want to have creative space, funds for my actual career, the ability to play my violin when I want (without the practice mute), my cat, a real fridge, an oven, a functioning toilet.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I want to live in Jackson forever. It’s cold and isolated. But it’s not the end of the world if, in two years from now, I decide to flee again. Not if I turn focus to less conventional means of financial freedom.


I love NYC. Coming here has done more positive things for me than any other decision I’ve made in adulthood. I feel stronger, wiser, and freer. But it also helped me realize that perhaps I really don’t want to be tied down to an expensive apartment in one singular city.



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