Friday, July 13, 2018

How Blake Snyder Saved the Adjective

My personal abrasion towards “formulas” and “writing rules” has been a little bit of a mystery. In my adulthood, I realized parts of it had to do with my parents’ tendency to be a little too free with advice and constructive criticism, often their impulsive ideas putting me into embarrassing situations. Anyone who has received advice—whether it be on writing, dating, parenting, travel, or auto repair—has found that not all opinions are helpful, some downright problematic.

In fact, I’ve started to realize that people often advocate for their biggest flaws. I often tell the story about the unpublished writer whose English came across as a second language due to his overwriting and perfectly proper grammar, and how he “reminded” me to never put a preposition at the end of a Facebook status so that I am practiced in perfect grammar for my actual work. I politely reminded him that his way of writing wasn’t for everyone, and not a style I was particularly interested in emulating. Just recently, a friend of mine, who is struggling with a man loudly rejecting any commitment to her, insisted that I should just start sleeping with someone (anyone) and that’s how you get feelings! Meanwhile, another friend’s mother-in-law was advising her not to feed her baby whenever it wanted, but instead give him a pacifier dipped in soda until the baby came around to her timeframe.

Blake Snyder was sort of the exception for me. I think, in part, it had to with a way he was introduced. I was working with a cowriter on a radio show we hope to produce next year and she pulled out Snyder’s Beat Sheet to outline from. This was not my normal way of going about things, but obviously, as there were two of us writing different episodes, we needed to get in on the general story before we could get started. As we filled in the beats, things became clearer to me, and all of the sudden, I realized it was exactly what I was looking for.

In many of my scripts (both play and novel) the characters are supposed to be funny with endearing connection to one another, but it never seemed to happen. I didn’t take the time from the plot to just have a fun moment. But where should a scene like that go?

Well, according to Snyder, page 30!

Blake Snyder was a screenwriter with, according to him, a good deal of script sells, some for millions of dollars. Only two of his movies were actually made—typical for the industry—but he believed himself to be great at knowing what Hollywood wants, and how to pitch it.

And I believe that.

For one thing, he immediately promotes to name your screenplay first; come up with a catchy title and then find a logline that goes with it. Script comes third to those things. Well, as I was reading Save the Cat, Snyder’s book on how to write a screenplay, I had several people ask me what it was about, some even saying, “Great title!” which was bizarre compared to most of the books I’ve read.

Since learning about the Beat Sheet last October, I’ve applied the lessons to most of my writing, in both editing and outlining. And regardless of the actual results, one of the nicest things about the “formula” is that I felt less overwhelmed. I understood how to keep the plot moving and had areas that I tended to ignore pointed out to me. In life, I avoid conflict as much as possible, being a pretty good smooth talker when it comes to difficult situations. It’s hard for me to have characters not understand where the other is coming from—or even just not care—and a lot of their logical discussions subtracted from the stakes and conflicts that could be there.

The Beat Sheet is an excellent way of putting emotional range in your manuscript as well as recognizing easy places to add in more conflict and, well, plot.

So I bought the book. I didn’t have people explain the Beat Sheet to me as well as I’d like, so I wanted to get it straight from the cat’s mouth. Unfortunately, the cat is more of a salesperson and less of a writer than I’d hope.

Snyder’s opening states that one reason he felt this book needed to be written was because most screenwriting advice is too formal and pretentious. He speaks like “real people” do, complete with a lot of exclamation points and some typographical errors.

Most importantly though, Snyder’s biggest “casual” way of talking is really the Trumpian-method and instilling credibility through confidence. Ever single one of his scripts is described, point blank, as “hilarious.” He constantly states how awesome his ideas are in a matter-of-fact sort of way. This in itself wouldn’t bother me, except that Snyder doesn’t seem to have a lot of taste.

The loglines he shows are of films that have been actually made, praising their qualities as examples. Not a single one of them stick with me. All of his own ideas tend to be pithy but unrelatable, campy, common denominator comedies that are only interesting because of the humor, not the plot, and not really the concept. But this is common. I read a lot about queries or pitches that succeed and what gets one person hot and bothered is not what gets another. And let’s face it, common denominator comedy sells. It’s most of what you see on the marquee, so I can’t disagree with his premise that, regardless of how I feel about them, this is what works in Hollywood.

The first time he lost me, however, was when he tried to show how changing character’s traits or situations could drastically lower the stakes in the movie.

“A just-hired employee goes on a company weekend and soon discovers someone’s trying to kill him.”

“In the example of The Retreat, again the adjectives come into play to tell us the writers most likely did it right… But let’s play around with the character to see other ways they could have gone with this same premise. What if the person going on the retreat is 65, has been at the company for 20 years, and is about to retire? Okay, so now it’s about a company “downsizing” its employees for real before they can collect their retirement benefits… No one will show up for that movie.”

Really? No one? Because that was the first time in 52 pages he’d talked about a movie that I actually was sort of interested in.

I like Miss Congeniality and Legally Blonde, but for the most part, the vast majority of the films mentioned in the book sounded really dumb. Trying too hard, personality-less, and no hint of inspiration. Movies I would only go see because we wanted to do something and we showed up at the theatre to randomly pick what’s best for a large group. But, let’s be fair, that’s exactly what happened with Miss Congeniality and Legally Blonde. It wasn’t their premises I was going after.

The book, which is mostly bossy and closed-minded, still had some good ideas. Selling a script and writing a good one are two totally different skillsets, and while I wish Snyder had been more honest about his ability to sell a script rather than write one (Both of his produced scripts, Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot! and Blank Check, as awesome as they sound, have lower than 14% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes), I think that using Save the Cat! as a guide to make your script more attractive is a good idea. These tips can contradict your inspiration and innovation, and what makes for a catchy title isn’t always going to be one that you, well, like, (Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot? Really?), but they don’t have to. They’re good ideas to apply in moderation.

He was right in what he said about loglines needing to contain irony. Give us a trait that makes your character likeable (with an adjective), and then tell us something unexpected about it. Hollywood unexpected and real-life unexpected not being the same thing. And also, yes, title matters. It just does.

Truth is, I think he knew what he was talking about, but he was so bent around the axel when it came to “fake it ‘til you make it,” he made himself come off as a little oblivious:

“The amazing Sheldon Bull and I wrote a hilarious comedy in 2004. What if the President’s [sic] helicopter goes down behind enemy lines? And what if he is forced to capture Osama Bin Laden—all by himself? … We even had a great title: Chickenhawk Down. And here’s why we did not sell that script: Because there are about two people who can play the part of the President. It’s the lead. And there really isn’t anyone out there who can “open” that movie. Tim Allen was our first choice. And… who else? What we had done was paint ourselves into a corner on casting. Yes, it’s funny. Yes, it’s a great story.”

I mean, I’m no Hollywood producer, but something tells me that Tim Allen wasn’t the reason you couldn’t get that script sold.

When I pointed this out to my brother, he said, “It sounds like they came up with the title first and just wrote a script on that.”

Well, yes. As Snyder advocates.

My problem with the book, and most books of its kind, is that instead of really thoroughly discussing the pros and cons of their suggestions, the outcomes and whys, mentioning the goals they are targeting, he just states everything like facts and rules and hopes you won’t recognize his Impostor Syndrome coming through.

But when I mentioned that, people couldn’t understand why he would want to point out the flaws in his thinking. He’s trying to sell a book! How would it benefit him to do so?

First off, my point isn’t really about him. It’s that writing books need to be clear to people who tend to latch onto formulas and get scared about being whimsical or, even, themselves. These writers can be incredibly emotional when the time comes to “break the rules,” ironically, more so than those who fight writing techniques like DEFCON 1. I’ve been able to articulately explain my reasons for them breaking out of their mold far more efficiently to people who hate writing rules than to those who love them. The latter are more likely to end up in tears or literally screaming, “THAT’S NOT MY JOB!” to a modest suggestion. The biggest breakdowns I’ve had to deal with as a critique partner is always with people who like the rules and don’t want to hear that doing what they were supposed to didn’t work.

 Mostly though, you get cynical people like me and just by being clear the context in which the suggestion will work, I’m more likely to agree with you. Just telling me you’re hilarious and amazing isn’t going to do the trick. When you say, “[Double Mumbo Jumbo is] a rule you and I can’t break!” and use an example of how Gods and aliens don’t go together, or something else I don’t believe, you’re sort of persuading me to throw the kitty out with the bathwater. I’m old enough now to recognize the consequences of being like that, but many people, especially teenagers, are more likely to say, “That doesn’t really make sense,” and toss the entire idea. If you however, point out, “Here’s what happens when you do this,” rather than just telling me not to do it, I’m more likely to hear you out.

Some people need permission to do something unexpected. Others need to feel respected in order to listen. Bossing them around just makes them stop listening.

Mainly, there’s more than one way to save a cat, and I think that most writing advice needs to promote understanding of cause and effect rather than just telling you what to do. A lot of advice is bad, and I would hate to live in a world in which only Blake Snyder’s films got made.

The book tells you how to sell specific types of movies. Parts are applicable to other mediums and genres, but really, he’s telling you how to make your comedic film alluring to producers. As a book on writing, if you can ignore his businessman talk, his narrow-view of the world, and know to take it in moderation, I think that playing around with these ideas can help clarify for you how to make your work better. The ideas certainly have made me feel clearer headed. I’m just glad I heard about the concept before I actually read it. And I think, in the end, that’s what Blake Snyder was all about.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Too Close to Love Yourself

I would presume it’s simply more obvious when someone is delusional about their talents, and so the whole “You’re too close to your work to judge it,” ideology tends to center on those who think they’re much better than they really are. But, while the feelings of frustration are different—a sadness filling you instead of a tension—isn’t it just as painful to watch someone awesome look at themselves with disgust?

I started writing Take the Wheel back in October 2014, more than three years ago at this point. What’s most interesting for me personally is it was about two months before a certain jackass came back into my life and I had a downward spiral for the next few years. The book has been worked on in parts over time, being left in a drawer, abandoned and forgotten in favor of other ideas.

The series of posts, “So I’m Writing This Novel,” hoped to follow what was supposed to be a much shorter time frame in which I talked about the creation of the book. The last article was over a year and a half ago.

To be fair, I began work on what I intend to be my magnum opus, the start of a series of novels all set in one world. And I too got distracted by other novels.

But something else had happened.

During my relationship with The Jackass, I had a bit of an adult reality check. It wasn’t that I was capable of failing, or that my goals were a lot harder to achieve, but that “failing” doesn’t mean failing spectacularly in a singular ball of glory. “Failing” could be a long process of bleeding out, in which certain attempts get you closer and closer to something you realize you didn’t want at all. I began to understand that I may never be a mother or get married, and over the course of the last few years, I’ve actually accepted the possibility of a celibate artist as being with its benefits. Time-wise and financially, I am able to focus on my books as a career.

I also struggled with trying to publish for the first time and feeling lost in the void. My view of myself shifted and, though I was unaware of it, I started to see my writing as nothing more than boring rambles which never could interest anyone.

Depression lies.

As some of you are aware, I’ve been spending 2018 trying to turn my life in a better direction. Instead of working as a caterer for private jets in which I was on-call 24/7, often working 15 hour shifts and constantly worrying about special orders that may come in in the middle of the night, I have transitioned to another place in the company in which I now can work on my books and other projects in the frequent downtime.

Last year, I realized that a big portion of why I tend to isolate myself is that many “social” activities don’t interest me. There’s a reason, after all, many require booze. I decided to start getting people together to work creatively, a means to meet people under circumstances I enjoy and am comfortable. Because of the start of my playwriting group, First Folio, I’d been working on some theatrical scripts since January as well as co-writing a radio show. But due to the massive stress and just general apathy, I didn’t work much at all. This didn’t disturb me because I’d been creating less and less over the years, and I just… stopped caring.

Well, my life has begun to get a routine. My work is able to be left at work now. I’m often going out with friends to do, shocker, non-productive activities. I have a stable and private place to go home that I’ve been decorating to my tastes and needs. I have a decent amount of money to do what I want, and my attempts to eat and sleep better have been increased with the lowered stress and the ability to stick to a schedule. I’ve been talking with a counselor about unresolved issues, plus scheduled biofeedback to deal with the tension-caused pains.

I feel better. I feel great.

In this nine hour day where I can work on my stories while getting paid, I started to set myself back up for success. I picked out one of the multiple books I’d left mid-tale, the favorite one that I thought I might be most inspired to do, and I bared myself to read it, to remind myself what had happened.

It was because of that where I first realized just how terrible of a writer I’ve been thinking I was. It was because of how easy it was to read, no boredom, that I suddenly came face to face with the way I’d been seeing myself.

It wasn’t fear of being bad, but acceptance. Something that told me my stories rambled and I had nothing interesting to say. Too much dialogue, not enough action. Too much rambling and nonsensical stories that no one would get.

The book that is currently titled Take the Wheel has been worked on in several ways, the beginning rewritten, a good portion of it just a summation of what should happen. But it is an interesting story with a clear world, good pacing, and flawed characters. They tell me the way I saw the world those three years ago, portraying the start of my deepest depression.

After a co-writer showed me a story formula in which enlightened me to what I felt was missing in a story, I felt restricted to outlining and using templates to create. I wasn’t inspired and considered most of my ideas stupid. What made me stand out? Why couldn’t I create something that anyone would care about?

But for me to sit there and enjoy 50,000 words of my own writing in one disjointed work day, that meant a lot. Considering how I saw my writing being perceived, and received, I couldn’t understand how the flow of the language and what I presumed to be inaction actually worked in cohesive, complete scenes.

Two weeks ago I went to the Jackson Hole Writers Conference and listened to a man who had written over nine screenplays before Little Miss Sunshine was made. His story about how he became a writer, and reminding me that everyone has been seen as a hack, an amateur, a nobody regardless of who they became in the end, really helped me reignite my passion.

I don’t know how long I will stay committed, or if the depression is just one trigger away from returning, but it doesn’t matter so much. The bigger point is that despite my priding myself on being able to evaluate my own projects, I was too close to myself to really take the experiences in my life with a critical eye, to recognize my “failures” were normal parts of life, of the process, and to remind myself that a big part of self-evaluation is actually reading what you’ve written.

It’s easy to get swept away with thoughts of destiny or look for “signs” the universe finds you insignificant, but always remember that experiences shape you, you don’t shape them. It’s not your worth that makes bad things happen to you, and it’s easy to believe the “nothing” that you hear back when seeking your place as a writer is the universe telling you you’re a nobody.

So, I’m back on track, I strongly hope, and though my next two months are jam packed with work and teaching, I have a good plan to finish Take the Wheel by the end of September, almost exactly four years after it began. Let’s see if I can keep my promise.

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Friday, July 6, 2018

Your Reader is a Scorned Woman

Hell hath no fury like the woman given permission to be a bitch. Some girls have so much pent up aggression and rage and yet the desire to maintain a likeable and compassionate demeanor that they rarely let it out. The last thing you want to do is give them permission by being an asshat.

But enough about me.

Your readers are not the scorned woman who has just prior witnessed one wrong. I mean, sure, sometimes. That surge of hate-mail that floods inboxes after a controversial change is made? That’s the immediate anger of a scorned woman. However, that’s often a temporary, impulsive reaction when an audience member first realizes she has been betrayed by someone she thought she could trust. The unfortunate reality is that most readers are past that stage. They’re not the woman who has just found out about her husband’s selfishness, they’re the woman who has long accepted cheating as the inevitable part of the process.

She has her pick of the litter. There are thousands of suitors that she could choose from, none would reject her (books can’t pick their readers, if you’re following). And even though a casual relationship is not only possible, but guaranteed, she’s not looking for a quick, one-night stand in most cases. Sometimes, sure, but what she really wants is that head-over-heels in love, where she can’t get enough of him, where all she wants to do is experience him, and hopefully, while the relationship will have a shelf-life, that shelf life is dated far in the future. And even after he is long gone, she still can think back to him with fond memories. Even return to him when the next man falls flat.

However, you must realize she’s been cheated on. She has been screwed over, left in the lurch, brought to climax just to be disappointed. She’s given chances to those who didn’t care about first impressions only to have them prove that it was more than just appearances they weren’t concerned with. She’s wasted her time with a lot of losers, and the more they hurt her, the harsher her judgment becomes.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, writers say. Judge a book by its content. Typos can’t determine the quality of storyline. Just because my beginning doesn’t hook you, doesn’t mean that the story isn’t good. Appraising a book by its superficial attributes is foolish and disrespects art.

Which is all true.

People should refrain from judging books before they’ve read them. But let’s face it, we have to do a vetting process and that vetting process can’t be “read the whole thing” when determining what book to read next.

I’ve read many self-published books that I considered to be excellent, yet back when I first started to become active on the internet, I didn’t critic the external aspects of the book as harshly. I focused predominantly on setting or plot, trying to be intrigued by summary alone. Most times, I bought books because I wanted to support the authors. If it was a sci-fi or fantasy novel, then I would actually try and read it. I tried to be fair to my indie friends because I believe that self-publishing opens up a whole new avenue of diversity for literature, and I don’t believe in be snobbery. Morally. In practice, it happens.

But because I was trying not to be superficial or a snob, I usually picked books that were less appealing aesthetically, that were obviously self-published and gave me some strong red flags even before I bought it.

I found myself burned a lot.

It’s kind of like the young girl who believes in the goodness of men, who doubts the stereotypes who are given to her, who gives boys a chance. It’s not uncommon for people of either gender to ignore signs of a philanderer, a user, a sadistic narcissist, or even that person who we have no attraction to at all. We enter into bad relationships because we think, “He’s just not texting me because he doesn’t like to text,” only to find out months later that he’s not texting you because he has another girlfriend he’s talking to all of the time. Or he’s just really terrible at conversation in general.

When you give people a chance, when you give them the benefit of the doubt, when you try and find excuses for your red flags, there’s the possibility that you’ll find a diamond in the rough, you’ll have ignored happenstance and shallow reasoning and found something really great. There is merit to the idea. It’s just that it’s far more likely that whatever they’re presenting you with is actually them.

It only takes a few times for people to accept the subtle signs as fact. If you were to be cheated on by every boy who was texting his ex on a first date, how many would that need to be before you became stupid for ignoring it?

Even if a reader has all the time in the world, she can’t read every book presented to her. If I read one book a day, that would still only be 365 a year. I believe I come across more than that in a month.

So what is a reader to do? She has to choose which ones to give a chance to; she couldn’t give them all one even if she wanted to. Preferably, she’d pick the ones that she’s more likely to enjoy, but how can she know that without having actually read them?

I’ll admit that I have hated most of my favorite books and T.V. shows when I was first exposed to them. It wasn’t until the second (or third or fourth or fifth) chance that I realized how much I liked them. You are often afraid of writing something off and denying yourself a great love, so it’s not like we do it lightly.

However, once I began to vet my books, the quality of them started to improve drastically. When I picked up a self-published novel arbitrarily, it was often poorly paced, typo-ridden, and lacked an ending. When I started to trust my superficial instincts, I was more likely to come across something well written.

I picked up the genres that I knew I liked.

Setting is important to me. While sometimes I will give a chance to something outside of my comfort zone—and some of my favorite books fall into that category—I know that a great plot inside an uninteresting location won’t interest me.

People complain about the limitation of genre, and I get it, I really do. I think authors shouldn’t restrict themselves to being what people expect, but we have to acknowledge that the categorization of genre is there for a reason. When I started to only buy science-fiction and fantasy romance novels, I started enjoying my reading again. I wasn’t attempting to force my way through something just because I wanted to like it. I actually considered if I did.

The trick with genre is to explain it accurately. Use it to help people narrow down their options, then make sure to wave away any expectations that will not be met. As long as people have a general understanding of what type of atmosphere, setting, and reader’s motivation that will be in your book, you’re golden.

I look for typos.

In the blog “Why Typos Lose You the Most Sales,” I irritated an indie author who believed that typos aren’t a big deal. When I went to her Amazon page, I found, of course, many typos on the first page and in the summary. She had only five reviews, four of them that were written by authors who gave only five stars to every book they read, likely review exchanges. The one review, a four star, that seemed to put thought into it complimented her story line, but complained that the atrocious editing (my words) made it hard to understand.

I know that there are writers who believe that judging a book by the typo is snobbish. But this isn’t the situation of a woman meeting a great guy and overanalyzing a physical flaw. This is a woman who has been in many relationships with users to find that usually, if he makes selfish decisions in the beginning he’s going to make selfish decisions in the middle, and the end.

I’ve read great self-published books with typos. I’ve read traditionally published books with typos, but those typos were far and few between, and they were not on the first page or summary. When I give a book a chance despite the poor editing, I haven’t yet been unexpectedly surprised by a well polished storyline. Even though you might be great at content editing and terrible at grammar, truth is, it’s more likely that you don’t know what you’re doing and didn’t edit at all.

I read reviews for consistency, “typos,” “didn’t finish,” and an ending.

I’ve never paid much attention to reviews, though I like to read them for personal entertainment. Only once have I ignored one-stars and found they were right. Most one-stars are biased, exaggerated, and mean. I had honestly believed that what they hated would be refreshing—I was picturing it differently.

On most indie books, the bad reviews are frustrated writers telling authors not to use the word “anyways” and that the writer is fat, the good reviews are generic review exchanges by people who’ve never read them. For this reason, I don't read reviews for ratings, but purely content.

I look for comments about typos first. Again, it doesn’t mean the story isn’t enjoyable, but it’s just one of those red flags that I’ve ignored before to my detriment. Just because a review says there’s typos doesn’t mean I won’t buy it, but if I was suspicious about the work put in and the experience of the writer, this is often what will topple the balance.

The next thing is consistency. I look for commentary that was made throughout all of the reviews. What do the bad and good reviews agree on? This, again, doesn’t tell me how I should feel about it, but it does imply the sincerity of the review itself. Even if one person loved the rape scene and the other hated it, it still suggests that both actually read the book and the information I get (like the kind of setting, events and characterization) is more akin to what I’m actually going to experience.

If they say they didn’t finish or the book just stopped, I’m probably not going to buy. I know authors hate this, claiming that you can’t judge a story until you’ve read it all the way through, but I argue that Amazon reviews aren’t literary ones. They’re not intended to analyze the book’s artistic merits, just tell other readers whether or not they’d like it, and if they didn’t finish, I’m going to assume no, they didn't.

I hate not finishing books, but I hate reading boring ones more. There are things in the review that might convince me that the reason they didn’t finish isn’t going to be something that applies to me, and if other fans say they couldn’t put it down, I might give it more of a chance. But, at the end of the day, I'm not going to read a book that is hard to finish, and I appreciate the warning.

Lastly, if it is a cliffhanger or just has no real ending at all, that’s where you lost me. It’s not because I hate cliffhangers, necessarily, but a book without a payoff for me feels like a huge waste of time. Especially if the series is unfinished, but even if it’s not, I can’t count on I will ever be satisfied. At the end of the first book, while some threads can be left hanging, the writer needs to prove to me that he is capable of tying some loose ends together, otherwise we’ll have a repeat of Lost.

I look at the cover.

You can judge a book by a cover if it’s a good one. I still take this less seriously because I have found less commonality between bad designs and bad writing, but if the cover looks homemade, it can be a sign that the writer is new to the business, doesn't know how to self-evaluate, and didn't bring on other people's opinions and advice. If other aspects of the book have made me skeptical, a cover with amateurish graphic art will definitely throw me off.

If a guy comes to you on a first date without having showered or put on a clean shirt, it might not mean that he’s a bad guy, but it does suggest that he doesn’t care all that much. He’s not willing to do what it takes to impress you, which is going to bleed into other aspects of your relationship/read.

I look at formatting.

This one is much more direct. If you have extra spaces in the paragraphs or words cut off by the page or skewed images, it’s not a red flag you’re 'a cheater' necessarily, it just that I’m not going to tolerate being around you. I hate reading books with extra spacing and weird formatting.

Pandering to artificial expectations isn’t just about kowtowing to snobbery, it’s about making a person comfortable in a den of thieves, a potential girlfriend secure after a series of cheaters. Yes, you might be the one exception, (the main question to ask is, “Are you really?”) but why not go the extra mile to prove it? Dress nicely on the first date, don’t text your ex, don’t ignore her for the sports game, and don’t get annoyed when she doesn’t completely trust you on a first impression alone, especially if you’re claiming a first impression doesn’t dictate who you really are.

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Monday, July 2, 2018

Writer’s Beware the Written Selfie

As a young woman in the beginning of my publishing career, I once had the opportunity to lament my lack of selfies taken. Fact is, I didn’t have any pictures of myself period. This wasn’t a problem until, ta-da! I published one of my first short stories and had a request for a headshot.

Over the course of an hour or so, I positioned myself in front of my bookcase in my Los Angeles apartment, throwing open all my doors and windows to get the semblance of a good light, and orienting my iPad to take a grainy picture of my minimal make-up.

The picture came out fine, but, shocker, looked like it was exactly what it was. Soon after I made my website and started to get more involved with social media. The requirement for pictures grow steadily, and I began to search for ways to make decently professional photos without breaking the bank. I put more of an effort to get natural pictures of me to grab when I need one.

For that reason, I’ve never disparaged selfies. I see little difference between getting your friend to help you pretend like you sitting in the park reading was a candid shot and snapping one of yourself when you feel good. In fact, I think it’s a little more honest. Maybe less interesting, of course, but when that girl in the bathroom has 524 likes, I suppose I can’t criticize what is obviously in high demand.

Plus, I think it’s a good thing for women, or anyone, to feel good about themselves.

Yet, the age-old adage, “Nothing is erased from the internet,” proves true today, and you have to be careful about your image.

Posting on the internet is strange. It’s far more intentional than any other social interaction—you didn’t just run into someone in the market and the subject of Trump happened to come up—you were sitting there by yourself, had a thought, decided other people needed to know, and make the effort of writing it out, choosing your words, and deciding to post. You have less control over who “hears” and, more importantly, your thoughts will linger for years afterwards, haunting you.

The “writer’s selfie” is like the photographical selfie except it is portrayed through text.

It can be tempting to use Facebook for catharsis, a therapeutic means to discuss our fears and dreams, go on rants and receive validation. That can be a highway to connecting with each other, that being real and human. It can also bite you in the ass.

Sometime back I wrote “An Anecdote about Writers Judging Writers.” I discussed a man who lambasted self-publishers, making a claim that if your book is self-published, there’s a reason. He later had multiple problems with his small press and turned to independent publishing as well. In it, it should be noted, he claimed, “I've also read books from almost every author in here.”

Today I came across a different author discussing an entitled rant of someone who started off by claiming he’d never read a book since ’92.

“What you all don’t know is I haven’t read a book since 1992. I had a story I wanted to tell like no other person ever could. By not reading, I PURPOSELY lost touch with what the readers wanted. (a little bit too much I guess) I thought by being original, people would flock tome. (sic) Oh how wrong I was in that one, PEOPLE WANT THE SAME OLD SAME OLD. Not only did I miss books like Harry Potter, but I missed out for no reason at all. The world isn’t ready for someone that surpasses J.K. Rowling’s, or George RR. Martin, (don’t look at my first 5 books, fucking asshole critics) (I didn’t have their education, I was learning) I promise 6 would’ve far out done BOTH J.K Rowling’s, as well as George RR. Martin, I CAN PROVE THAT WITHOUT A SHADOW OF DOUBT!!!!!!Fuck you for even questioning me!!!!!!!!!!. Who am I? Nobody, that’s just who I’m supposed to be I guess, as god commands it to be that way. If you think I’m bullshitting, it took me almost 13 years to learn how to write, do you honestly think I DIDN’T LISTEN TO THE READERS? Book 6 was what my ORIGINAL story was all about in the first place, had to come up with all the other 5 books on my own, really fun job to say the least. I guess nobody but me will know the outcome now. People think it’s some kind of game when it comes to authors. I’ll be the first to tell you to support them, or pretty soon you might find yourself reading just an old newspaper clipping for entertainment. I’m sick of the cheap assholes that read 3 chapters for free, never buying a book. Goodbye to all the fans I had, maybe you can now spread the word of an author that almost was. I guess late is better than never, unless you spend 13 years of your life devoted to it. I leave you all now with a question. What will you do when the real authors of the world quit writing? Will you tell them you were just getting ready to buy their books? We’ve all heard that one. GOODBYE EVERYONE, this authors done now.”

When the name was revealed, I immediately remembered him. Not only that, but I had quoted him before. He threatens to quit about once every two months, begs people to buy his book, and fluctuates between anger and sorrow.

So? He’s a writer. We’ve all been there, which is probably why his rants intrigue so many people. But while you think that your one bad day might just be lost in the sea of authors, your name might be remembered and come back to haunt you.

I unfriended him after several of his negative posts began to get to me, the initial curiosity and modicum of understanding turning to irritation.

The main issue with self-publication these days is how all the hardships are more public. You can find some comments made by Jack Kerouac and Neil Gaiman and the like about their moments of doubt, by they are limited, seen through the lens of eventual success, and generally are being repeated by friends or the writers themselves, so not only can they taper the comments, they’ve naturally died down from the anger and can be more logical.

What intrigued me most was that I remembered this name. He’s not the only one posting comments like these, and I first ‘met’ him some time ago. What scares me the most is that people are talking about him. You’d hope that one of your dumber moments would be obscured and forgotten, but the conversation about this guy started to grow and everyone it seemed had a bad experience with his sense of entitlement.

I don’t share his name because I believe everyone deserves a second chance. We learn over time how to be more communicative and less judgmental, how to overcome our fears, and be funny about our bitterness. It’s a slow learning curve to realize how you’re coming across, and the more you work to improve yourself, the more you change, the harder it becomes to really know who you are. But most of us get better with time. Not too long ago I was reacquainted with a young writer who had filled his website with lies about his greatness and indulged full-heartedly delusions of grandeur in an expected, arrogant way. A few years later I found him again to see his attitude altered, his advice more specific, his work improved, and his humility now genuine.

As a writer, you don’t need to keep your mouth shut. In fact, it’s your job not to. You don’t always need to pretend to be strong or secure, but you should remember that social media is a public sphere, a connection with your readers, and it creates an image about who you are. If you look down on fellow writers, are angry that no one is giving you a chance, or are disappointed how difficult the process is, it’s important to figure out when and when not to say it.

The subject of this post deletes many of his comments, yet negativity and ego fascinates people enough that his quotes are still existent elsewhere on the internet, and not everyone is going to leave your name out of it. It’s a scary world we live in today, and this serves as  friendly reminder to be careful.

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Friday, June 29, 2018

The Avid Stripping of Writers’ Personalities

“Observant and unobtrusive is not who you are,” I told my friend after she asked me to read her writing sample. “You are loud and opinionated. You are in people’s faces. You take presence in a room. You are funny. You are insightful. You are passionate. You are not ‘neutral and objective.’ You know you’re a genius and I know you’re a genius, so why are you so hesitant to show that?”

Amongst our group in high school, she had a bit of a reputation for snobbery when it came to things like music and literature, the sort of person who would dislike a band because it grew popular. I love her deeply, but over time we’ve had some clashing of opinions on what constitutes good art.

I don’t take much heed in reputation, and I really can’t stand when someone likes to like something because of the way it makes them seem.

She refuses to read Stephen King because ‘it’ll affect how she writes.’ She won’t read Hunger Games because after reading Hemingway, ‘everything is lackluster in comparison.’ Later, she admitted to me that, "No body likes to read," and I would put money on the belief that she’s never sat down with The Old Man and the Sea on a leisurely summer day.

A screenwriter, I once asked her opinion on what a screenwriting teacher had once told me. The professor in question hadn’t actually written a full-length script, his claim to fame working as a spec reader for Disney, choosing which scripts in the slush pile to pass on to the big guns. A fellow student wrote the lines:

“She is running late, headed to the airport. She hails a taxi.”

…to which he said that you should not ever put in the direction something that isn’t easily shown. Makes sense. Instead of saying, 'heading to the airport,' it’d be better to write, “She snatches her passport off the nightstand.”

But the question comes of “She is running late,” and my professor’s emphatic insistence that little details are left for the director and actor to choose. Perhaps painting a picture of, “She looks at her watch and taps her toe, arm stretched out at the street,” would be more immersive, but even little things like, “Arm stretched out at the street,” could be misinterpreted in text form while, “Hailing a taxi,” would be obvious on screen when the actor clearly understands what she’s trying to do, even though it's telling intent. In my opinion, it’s easier to do and show something visually than it is to say and explain it. People can infer from the nuance in an image better than the limitation of a description. Which is to say, if I told an actress, "You're running late," she is more capable of showing it than if I were to give a play-by-play of how to show it.

My friend immediately, without thought, stood by the rule. Only talk in visuals. Okie doke then.

When she gave me a script to read at a much later date, I found it incredibly inhibited for this reason. In her insistence to “show don’t tell,” some information struggled to be conveyed. An easy example, one minor character she gave a name instead of calling, “CAMERAMAN,” which she refused to do because it would require inference.

Except that audiences are smarter than we believe, and visuals are easier to remember than names. While ‘Jared’ was forgettable in the script, in the short ten minute film, his face, and presence as a background character, would be accepted. By calling him CAMERAMAN, it’s a simplistic way of clarifying for the script reader what is going on, while the director would be intelligent enough to convey who he is through images, or decide that the “CAMERAMAN” label wasn’t important for a visual audience. In essence, I, a reader, forgot who Jared was frequently, but I would remember a face, and I would remember the dude carrying around a camera.

This is not uncommon in screenplays, nor was it the only time in her script in which I felt the consequences of objectively describing visuals outweighed the benefits of trusting the director’s ability to translate it to screen. It was unclear and impersonal, perfunctory and objective.

She later gave me another script that had decent pacing and striking emotions, but the same issue of her descriptions made it difficult to understand what she was going for. How much time had passed? Are we supposed to be creeped out by this suitor, or is he charming? Is her bed empty because you're saying she needs to fill it, or are you saying how the man from the last scene left? A lot of these story-based questions would have been easily understood if she added more visual details in her highly visual script. Yet, when I suggested it, not only did she claim that "it's not my job!" but inferred that I was saying the script was complete crap when all I told her was to describe the scene as she saw it more thoroughly. "Well, people who read scripts like my writing!" I never said I didn't like your writing.

I told her that the impact of her writing was lessened by her refusal to explain herself, and that she did not come off as this magnanimous writer who was letting the director make creative decisions, but rather as someone who didn't understand how well or poorly she was expressing her ideas to someone who couldn't read her mind. The script was almost unproduceable unless you had her standing there to tell you what she meant, and any director who picked it up to do whatever he would with it wasn't going to care if she talked in specifics or generalities. He didn't need her permission to change ideas.

Conversely, I find that most people who believe in simplicity, technical accuracy, and writing rules tend to be pretty clear and easy to read; that’s the benefit, it’s often why they do it. It’s one of the compliments I offer before encouraging them to take more risks. In reality, the rules are for people like me, overly opinionated, anti-authority, and convoluted thinking, helping us trim down the density, lecturing, and peculiarity in order to accurately convey what we mean. I believe in the writing rules as excellent tools to fix things… just not the default.

At one point, my friend told me her biggest complaint as a writer were her lack of motivation in writing at all and her minimalist descriptions.  Her writing sample, an essay written for school, was easy to read. It wasn’t based on the principle of show don’t tell, but just a summation of events of a movie. She wanted to know if it was a good sample of her writing.

Truth was, I had been sort of holding back my opinion up until that point. We had different tastes in literature, and I was skeptical if what she said she liked was really her thing at all. It’s difficult to help someone ‘improve’ when you don’t have a clear idea on what they consider improvement. I can always help someone write something that I would like, but what I like isn’t always what is best for their audience. I like a little bit of challenge and poetry, passion, and personality. Hemingway doesn’t work for me and I have a hard time even empathizing with someone who sincerely finds him interesting. I can’t tell you how to successfully write like Hemingway because it would be removed speculation on why he worked for others.

I knew why she had chosen that piece of writing for her sample though—because she had it on hand. Through her own admission she struggled to get things out there, and my full opinion is that she just needs to sit down and write something she is passionate about if she wants to improve herself. Practice, self-trust, and experimentation. She needed less advice from people and more genuine reflection of self.

I have never told her this, and unless she happens to read this post, I probably never will, but I consider a great deal of her foundational rules to come from idiots: inexperienced professors community college professors who don’t believe in their students, rule-abiders telling the ordinaries to keep their heads down.

Those who spent a little too long in academia, those who listen a little too well, tend to lose themselves in the process. Some will create perfectly fine works with no complaints from their partners, nothing wrong with their pieces, yet lack enthusiasm and novelty. Others will strive to hide themselves from every word, removing their perspective and personality for the sake of “immersion” and accuracy. Their writing will be perfunctory and succinct, cold and dry, detailing events without imagination or energy.

Writing rules tend to homogenize styles, often advocating that “no style” is what a person must learn before he can toy around with wording and voice. But of course this is ridiculous. There is no such thing as no style, only means to redirect focus. You keep making ignorable choices, there will be nothing to direct that focus to. The tools are intended to help you not distract from the important things, but you get to decide what those important things are.

You will never learn how to sew couture by perfecting the black T, and you will grow bored if you’re not making something that you’re excited about. Don’t churn out the same cold, objective fiction in hopes of being able to write something amazing eventually. Aim to write something amazing and then reflect on why it was or wasn’t. Write from the heart before turning to the advice of others to fix what went wrong. Don’t write for acceptance and then try to insert passion later. It’s incredibly difficult to get passionate about something that just gets the job done.

My friend is an interesting person. She has great insights and a vibrant personality. She puts energy into the room, is emotional, intelligent, and has a lot of astounding experiences. None of that shows in her writing. She tries to describe events as they occurred, around characters who act without clear internal life. Sure, they have motive, but only as the formula says so. She tells a story through what happens, never hinting at the thoughts of the participants or the viewers.

Writing is about imagination, communication, and sharing a perspective or interest. People care when others care, when the writers care, when the characters care. People care about passion. They care about new ideas, new takes on the old.

Sure, being an unobtrusive writer is a great style, one that can be successful, but it should be written by unobtrusive people, observers who notice things others don’t, who may be subtle about their insights, but still have their reasons for describing what they see, reasons that become apparent to the savvy reader. Can you become this person? I think so, but do you actually want to?

I wouldn’t have my friend any other way. I wouldn’t call her an observer or objective, but that’s why I love her. She has a lot of interesting things to say and the ability to make you listen, but she throws it all away in the name of some ‘rule’ that even the speaker admits isn’t going to be true later on in your career.

A lot of new writers try too hard. They distract with flamboyance, fall back on laziness, and don’t have the precision to keep the reader’s attention on what is actually important. And though the writing rules effectively teach you how to tackle those problems, good writing is still about being yourself, it's about being honest. Do not strip who you really are or what you really care about because no good will come of it. People will like you for the qualities you’ve been naturally developing your entire life.

Take risks, have imagination, be yourself.

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Monday, June 18, 2018

Young Adult Books are Not Children’s Books

As much as I love to quibble about definitions, I’m already long winded, and it’s beside the point. Are teenagers children? What ages are young adult books aimed towards? I once even read a Facebook post by an indie author claiming that young adult books weren’t named for the age of the audience, but the characters’, just after reading the first Game of Thrones book.  When it comes to genres and marketing, there’s not exactly official rules as to what constitutes as what.

If you don’t know me or my current predicament, one of my current struggles is the question whether or not I am a young adult writer.

I did a great deal of my writing as a teenager, highly influenced by young adult books and my own mind. To this day there are tropes, themes, and styles that naturally appeal to me. However, as I’ve said many times before, I never liked being talked down to, and often felt my teenage books didn’t push their plots or stakes or intellectual challenges far enough for my liking.

I’ve met with agents in casual settings along with writers and a few editors and have been told, upon explaining my uncertainty as to where my books fall in genre land, that yes, my voice has a higher level of sophistication than what you’d expect for a young adult novel.

I braced against pitching my work as young adult as well due to the constant insistence that my readers need my work dumbed down for them. I’ve been told numerous times, “I understood it, I just don’t think anyone else will.” For a wide variety of reasons, I find this criticism to be inaccurately dismissive, but still just as frustrating. I don’t try to be confusing, but I don’t have any intention on being condescending either.

While driving my things from Wyoming to New York City, I finally finished up my A Wise Man’s Fear audio book. The sequel to Patrick Rothfuss’s widely praised novel, The Name of the Wind, the adult fantasy novel has some excellent writing in the ignorable, noninvasive sense.

Many people advise authors to fixate on immersion over prose, and writing a scene that paints the world without distracting the audience to the words themselves takes colossal skill while looking like it was effortless. Despite my assertion that not all books benefit from this immersive style, I cannot praise Rothfuss’s ability enough.

After it was over, my mother and I sought out another audio book out in the boonies of Nebraska. We were offered one by our friendly Walmart, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. This wasn’t the first time I’d compared Rothfuss with a young adult writer, and it became a lot harder to ignore the myriad of criticisms I’ve heard about the young adult genre period and the masses’ presumption about authors of young adult books lacking in skill.

At the time, I was still recovering from my break up at the beginning of the summer, though each day the weight lifted off of me as I begin to forget the good and bad and start getting excited for the future. In any case, I can attest that my disinterest in the last few young adult books I’d read has at least a little to do with my inability to romanticize romance and all of the negative associations reminding me of how small and disappointed I felt throughout the last two years. Also, due to my stress and depression, I struggled to enjoy anything period, all to give credit to the three young adult authors who I found lacking in the last three months.

But Peculiar Children irritated me in clear, cut ways the other two did not.

I went in expecting to enjoy it, but had to stop the tape several times to rant.

I suppose my biggest criticism I have towards any book—and perhaps why it irritates me so much when someone tells me to, and I quote, “Dumb down my work”—is when the author doesn’t trust the reader.

The first half of the book is waiting for the protagonist to catch up with the audience. We know, for a lot of reasons, from the beginning that the “peculiars” are really, yes, actually magical and his grandfather telling him the stories is not insane. The protagonist, of course, doesn’t know that for certain, and goes out on an adventure to prove their existence (or at least find some closure.) The story takes a great deal of time until he actually comes across the home, and it’s truly not that interesting. Mostly because you know magic is real as there would be nowhere to go with the story if it wasn’t, and because the book followed a pretty common young adult formula in multiple ways. In fact, while I argue a good book does not have to be original, the ideas the author presented weren’t especially wondrous, the style not especially personable, the plot not particularly tense, the theme not particularly meaningful, and the characters not particularly memorable.

In fact, Jake the protagonist is thoroughly unlikable and fairly dense. Unbelievably stupid in some parts. I would say that the author portrayed a teenager genuinely in attitude and desires, but not a teenager anyone would want to be around. As for his—and everyone else’s conclusions—he seemed really slow on the uptake, such as when he suddenly had the epiphany that he could use his phone as a flashlight! The way the author described his excitement at the idea was laughable. It wasn’t the only time either that I was waiting for the character to catch up to me, and, as I said, reading half a book on him trying to prove something you already know is true is incredibly boring.

The narration didn’t help either, and I have to wonder if the character’s stupidity had to do with the slow, measured way the actor spoke. I was highly disappointed with his reading after hearing the immersive voice acting in A Wiseman’s Fear. All of the characters sounded the same—boy and girl alike—he paused at strange places, spoke incredibly slowly, and enunciated things like a librarian reading a picture book to five-year-olds might. In fact, I think a great deal of the condescension and the character’s denseness came from the reader’s tone of voice over the writer’s.

I think the strange pauses was actually a successful attempt to cold read, the actor catching up with his thoughts. You could hear the theatrical direction in the way he spoke; raising your voice at the end of a sentence instead of letting it drop off is a common actor’s note. But this made it seem like Jake was asking questions a great deal of the time, like he was shocked almost, when really his conclusions should’ve been obvious. MY grandfather, who grew up in the home for peculiar children might be a peculiar?! Oh, he was, “like me?” Well, I’m going to promptly forget about that intentionally obtuse answer so I can spend two pages figuring out the cliche and simplistic principles of time travel.


The voice actor hadn’t practiced, didn’t know what was going to come next, and that was actually sort of impressive, but it didn’t do the stories any favors. Mostly though, him getting really excited over inane things, exaggerating and instilling a gasp into his voice to really punctuate his words and energy, was trying too hard to be entertaining and ignoring the fact that this book—filled with swear words and teenage characters—was meant for people 15-20, not kindergarteners.

In fact, as I complained, my mother said, “Well, this is a book for children…”

No, it isn’t. Why do people keep saying that?

I will admit, people give children little credit anyway. They’re much smarter than we think they are, much more capable, and take in more than we know. But besides that, teenagers aren’t children—not exactly. Sure, I’ve worked with sixteen-year-olds, I’ve seen the difference between 18 and 23, and I realize that writing a book to keep the interest of a teenager isn’t always going to be the same as someone who just hit thirty—in fact, that’s what some of this post is about. I am getting older, and perhaps the focus of my interest is now different. Perhaps I’ve read too many similar books by this point and am looking for something new. Perhaps my negativity is still getting to me more than I thought. Perhaps I think too much like a writer predicted it from a meta standpoint. Perhaps I’m too no-nonsense these days. Perhaps it is a thousand times better with the pictures. All possibilities.

But young adult books are not “children’s books.”

They do not need to be dumbed down to get ornery little idiots to pay attention. Adults don’t need to be ashamed for reading them in public. Writers aren’t off the hook just because kids are more accepting and less grumpy. I think the author missed the mark because he had some pretty interesting ideas shoved into the background in favor of showcasing the stereotype of EVERYTEEN PORTALS INTO MAGICAL SCHOOL. Why not tell the grandfather’s story: a polish boy fleeing from the Nazis and stumbling into a school for “peculiar” children? That seems far more interesting than rich Florida teen goes on vacation to enter into magical world.

I often ask myself why I feel a pull against young adult novels when it is the first part of the bookstore I head to. Is it because of snobbery? I hope not. But if I’m going to write what I want, then the insistence that I must overexplain things, that I write about the Everyteen in Modernopolis meeting Manic Pixie Dream Monster, and have adults feel shame for being interested, it makes me think I don’t belong in that world anymore.

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Friday, June 15, 2018

When Stagnancy Looks Like Hard Work

Three months. It’s been three months since I last updated my comic. How did that happen? I’d been going good for about a year now, and then, all of the sudden, I just forgot about it. Like honest to God spaced it. The fuck.

It started on a good note. I think. Once my two-weeks around America took place, I allowed myself to forget, for the first time, any obligations. Since then, it didn’t occur to me until May that there was something I was supposed to be doing. I allowed myself to relax, have fun, and that was obviously necessary.

But I thought it would jump start me again. I feel like the last few years of my life have been—while informative—not progressive. I’ve been stagnant, hitting a simultaneous wall of unproductivity and the expected glass ceiling of career growth. Not that I’m being kept down for any particular reason, but that the avenues I have been taking aren’t necessarily the right ones. Or possibly I’ve been approaching them wrong. Or possibly I just didn’t hit it hard enough to crack it. Who the hell knows.

But the real area of concern is how I didn’t realize the time passing me by. It wasn’t due to fun—certainly not. In fact, I’d say what snapped me back into reality was being released from (what was supposed to be temporary) a high stressed position with, what I consider, a raging dipshit for an immoral teammate. And I don’t say that lightly. The second my hours became routine, the responsibilities much less, and the expectations lower, I could bring my focus back to what matters and get something done this week. Focus has been the issue for a long time now, a weakness I’d never felt in the years before my stress levels went through the roof.

A part of this was how important reputation became to me. I knew, in college, that first impressions were everything. A professor literally said to me at one point that in all his years of teaching, only one student left the university with the ability to direct: the kid who came in talented. It says a lot about credibility. I learned there that the only thing needed to destroy a god was to make him bleed and seeing you at your least successful can warp people’s views of you. Or vice-versa.

Which brings me to my current fixation.

My lovely coworker, who better hope never runs into me in a dark alley, screwed me over on several occasions, and despite getting paid more to be the “manager” would often try to slip his duties onto others. After a series of hell days in which his lack of foresight and inability to react to the situation left me drowning in responsibilities, I quit the place. The upper management to ask me to stay for his days off until they hired another assistant, and then I’d be moved to a less demanding situation (and giving me time to create and, of course, actually sleep.) During his days off, he left stations a mess and tried to delegate tasks to me that he could have easily done himself. I did what needed to be done, what should be done, and told him off via text, to which he never responded, but shaped up for the next couple of weeks. (To then, of course, start slipping.)

Well, about two weeks ago, he left such a catastrophe for me, planning nothing for the ridiculous day ahead and refusing to warn me about how he didn’t meet with the requirements. Kanye West had his album launch in my hometown and I found myself with an order for 100 people without having any of the resources to do it. Luckily, he never actually confirmed with her as he was supposed to, and the order was canceled for lack of contact on our end, unbeknownst to me until a fourth of the way through it.

I was humiliated. Yelled at by numerous clients at three in the morning when I could do nothing to compensate for the five a.m. order (originally requested 11 o’clock the night before and inexplicably confirmed by my coworker for five). Struggling with how to phrase, “I’m pretty sure my coworker was blitzed out of his mind when he got the order and blew it off,” to the answer, “WHAT HAPPENED?!” I don’t like making mistakes. I don’t like being yelled at. And I don’t like being taken off guard by problems that could have been solved, even if he had communicated with me that he had no intention on doing his job.

I struggled to come back, talking to my family, friends, coworkers, and even counselors about how upset I was. All of them responded the same way: “What would happen if you didn’t do his job for him?”

What would happen? The job wouldn’t get done. “But that’s because you do it for him!” No. It’s because he doesn’t mind sending out the orders wrong, it’s because he could procrastinate, make mistakes, and ruin his reputation without a care in the world. It’s not as though he would start doing all the things I do to make sure I do it correctly. It would just be we’d both be doing lousy jobs. And if, God forbid, the man who had demonstrated a tendency of dishonesty before, decided to push the blame on me, saying, “Well, I was just doing the amount of work he was!” wouldn’t be an acceptable answer.

And he did start telling people I was the one getting the orders wrong. Which, let’s be fair, I’m not immune to mistakes. But in his childlike way, when I began to voice my complaints on his accuracy in his orders, he tried to pass the buck to me, just like I was afraid of. It was obvious.

My saving grace? Reputation.

Because I hold myself to my own standards, not the standards of those around me, I am considered reliable, hardworking, and honest in a company with less than invested employees. My boss knows that I plan ahead. Because my dear, sweet coworker and I work together more than anyone else, I doubt if others see the same frequency of his lies, but upper management has caught him in it at least once or twice. And, despite my boss’s discreteness, I’ve gotten the sense that she too was getting worried about him. My complaints weren’t helping. Maybe his damaged me; some people seem too eager to believe anything they’re told, but what else to do about it except for keep strong?

Yet, the word of wisdom criticized me. Everyone I talked to told me the same thing, “Stop doing his job for him.” It was thick with implication. The trouble is, you’re not standing up for yourself. You’re not handling this correctly. You have no spine. Most importantly, you’re investing too much. Stoop to their level and they’ll rise to yours.


Throughout my relationships, the story has been the same. The level of default compassion and respect I believe the average person deserves, the amount of work you should put into any project, are higher than men I’ve dated. They believed, I’ve realized in retrospect, that support and kindness was something you showed to your superiors, a weak plea for approval. “Love me!” you’re saying as you expose your soft stomach. They would then think they had leverage and start making one-sided demands for how the “relationship” would be. (Basically, exactly the same with no expectations of loyalty, support, or accessibility on them.) When I took the threat seriously and walked with relative ease, they were unreasonably shocked that I didn’t want to negotiate the terms. In a weird way, I don’t believe that they truly wanted a ‘not-relationship,’ but rather thought they could get me to beg them for it. Or maybe they thought they could sleep around without guilt for a while, which is a gross misinterpretation on their part. But I’ve never been in a relationship in which they used me for sex; always, always used me as their emotional pack-mule. So what would a casual relationship with me get them?

They were left confused and hurt, I was left insulted and humiliated.

Again, people believed that I was putting too much work into the wrong places. I can’t say I disagree. But suggestions like, “Why don’t you try casually dating?” or “Sit back and wait for them do to the work,” missed the point.

Casual dating is the worst of both worlds. You’re still obligated to a bit of small talk and making yourself go out when you don’t want to, being sort of responsible for the emotions of the person you’re with, but you don’t get the reward of developing closeness, understanding each other, and having physical intimacy mean something. Dating someone who you like is awesome. Dating someone who you don’t know—and don’t want to get to know—is boring as hell.

For that matter, half-assing things, even if not stressful, is incredibly tedious. Stooping to the low standards of everyone around you is part of the reason my generation is so frustrated. Having meaningless small talk and meaningless sex in your undecorated, temporary apartment with a mattress and a pile of dirty dishes as you wait to go to your unstimulating job is obviously going to cause emotional dissatisfaction. Sometimes, your life is what you make it, and investing into relationships, making your personal space personal, cooking, cleaning, and putting effort into doing your job well can make the daily aspects of life more interesting, not to mention more rewarding. Caring about something, taking pride in something, and working hard against the risks and being victorious in ways you didn’t think you could, are what get you peaks in life.

It’s clear the real issue is that there was a pattern in my relationships, a pattern that I was creating. My decision to be accessible, supportive, and giving early on was not the issue. The issue was who I was surrounding myself with.

I also believe in making the world a better place. You do that through communication, honesty, and, yes, setting boundaries, but you wouldn’t know that through the sneers of 20 somethings annoyed because you aren’t prioritizing the bare minimum like they are, or the way that people act like you’re “trying too hard” due to insecurity.

I won’t deny that putting in 100% makes me feel safer. I hate guilt and embarrassment, and I decided to do the best I can after having my senior thesis go south because I couldn’t call my professor out on his shortcomings without addressing mine. But I work hard because it is mentally stimulating, because you are your reputation, and because everyone’s life is better when you actually try. I care about people, the project, and myself. That’s why I try.

The good news is, I learned a lesson in all of this. As everyone I knew second guessed me in my decision to do the job the best I could, regardless of what my coworker was putting in, I saved myself in the game of “He said, she said.” I am reminded of all the times people say, “Invest less. Put in less,” and I look at their lives, their own satisfaction, and remember that we all have different beliefs, sense of right and wrong, and priorities and each have their own pros and cons. I don’t believe in doing worse because someone else is putting in less, and there’s a reason for that. I need to trust my instincts.

I was recently told that my writing was “trying too hard.” So often, people complain that the words I use (what I perceive as very common) are pretentious, inaccessible to girls my age. In my view, I am speaking openly. In that play, for the first time, I directly painted the impact of depression and pushing yourself too hard in a humorous, bittersweet way. In light of these last few weeks, there’s something funny in that.

I agree that chronic stress does not belong in someone’s life, and that you should surround yourself to people who want to match your efforts. But don’t ever let anyone tell you that your passion, your goals, or your work ethic is “too much.” Don’t feel like kindness, even if it was met with disdain, unappreciation, or rejection, is a weakness. It is hard to be a good person, but it’s not wrong just because it didn’t work out, or because someone took advantage. Be who you want to be and don’t let someone talk you out of your beliefs.

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