Friday, October 30, 2015

Don't Belittle Writers for Accidents

I hit a deer. He died on impact, which I suppose is a good thing. I was driving along at eight o’clock at night in the middle of Wyoming, going the speed limit, when a group of them were just hanging out in the road. I slammed on my brakes, but it wasn’t quick enough.

My car is at the mechanic, and I’m hoping that he can get it fixed soon. The boyfriend really wanted to see a concert in Phoenix on Halloween, and I hate to disappoint him. I’m waiting for a call right now.

Every part of this sucks. Even when I thought my car was fine—it looked fine—having manslaughtered an animal is terrible. I know many of my friends are hunters and don’t necessarily know where I’m coming from, but I hate it. However, it’s not as bad as it could be.

When I finally arrived at my friend’s house in Laramie, I could see the smoke rising up through the lights. I got out to witness a waterfall of liquid pour out of the engine. I didn’t get upset. I wasn’t filled with anger or frustration or tears, I was just like, “Well, better call the mechanic.”

Getting into this accident was one of those things that happen. It was an accident. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. It wasn’t like going to the repair shop and saying, “Yeah, I haven’t gotten an oil change in three years… What’s wrong with my car?” I wasn’t terrified the cops would come in and say, “Well, you were going twenty miles over the speed limit. Here’s a ticket to add to that.”

I could take my car in without shame, call my parents and tell them what had happened, and then focus on solving the issue. This is the sign of an adult, I believe, because as a child, I remembered living in perpetual fear that I was going to get in trouble whenever something went wrong, even if I had no idea how I could have prevented it.

I look to my friends and relationships in which someone had a bad habit of lying when there was no reason to, those who fabricate a ridiculous story instead of just admitting, “I realized I can’t do what you asked, actually.” Personally, I’m terrible at lying, and I rarely consider it necessary. Most times the truth is fair enough. “It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with you, it’s just I’m tired and don’t want to leave the house at all.” People will often understand. The friends who lie a lot tend to have blame-based parents, the ones who will yell at you if you dropped a dish the same amount if you were playing baseball in the house and broke it. They grew up learning that when something bad happens, someone has to be shamed for it, someone is at fault, and an accident is always caused by a wrong choice—even when it isn’t.

Not only is it a huge problem for our development, not only do I believe that forgiving children for accidents is an important part of helping your child develop critical thinking and independence in our daily lives, but not telling the difference is a huge problem in constructive criticism for writers.

Of course I went there.

Sometimes mistakes happen that were completely unintentional and not necessarily preventable. Like typos, for instance. They occur to all of us, and usually come from typing too fast, or switching back and forth from the left to right brains too much. They don’t exist because we did something wrong, but because we slip up, physically and mentally. Sometimes they are made from ignorance—not having seen a word in text before, having seen it but not remembering it, not realizing you have been saying a phrase wrong all your life. Sometimes you forget that you started a sentence with “While” and stop in the middle of it, creating a sentence fragment. Sometimes you can’t picture if a book the weight of a bowling ball would have enough air resistance to make it hit the ground after that bowling ball. Sometimes you have no idea what a bazooka shooting a human being would actually do because you’ve never seen it before, so you make a guess. Sometimes you forget that you fired the gun six times already. Sometimes you forget you had a gun at all.

These are not bad choices, they are accidents. They can be solved fairly simply, just by writing in what the feedbacker believes the author actually meant to say. He might be wrong sometimes—him being the one to mistake what the real phrase is—but it’s often fairly cut and dried and requires little evidence or consideration.

But bad choices are different. A bad choice is something where a person makes a conscious decision hoping for certain results and either did not achieve those results or the ramifications outweighed the benefits.

It’s much more complicated with a lot more room for subjectivity. Maybe it does achieve the desired outcomes, just not for that specific feedbacker. In many cases, the priorities of the author differ from the priorities of the reader. The writer wants people to be immersed in the world most, the reader thinks writing should be beautiful and complex. Or maybe they don’t agree at all, the reader believing characters have to be likable, the writer insistent they don’t.

What’s worse is that the discussion will cause people’s opinions to change. It’s not just making everyone aware that the reason the reader didn’t like “red” because she thought it was pretentious and the writer used it because he didn’t want to say “blood” again, and not only about if most readers would really find it pretentious as well, and not only who’s correct in thinking that not having repetitive word choice is more important than using simplistic words, but also about how we don’t have those opinions well defined, how the writer might originally believe no repetition is important, but change his mind based on the reader’s arguments. The discussion can cause the writer to decide his priorities aren’t what they should be, or even, unfortunately, can change the reader’s opinion to conform to the writer’s.

Which is what, really, most authors want to do. We are striving to get people to question their assumptions and biases, but as they say, it doesn’t matter if you can convince a feedbacker of something through discussion because you can’t talk to your actual readers in the same way.

That’s why giving advice about choices over an accident is so much more difficult and so important to differentiate.

Acknowledging the difference between accidental errors and choices you don’t agree with is key in helping someone be independent and, honestly, not dread coming to you for advice. Whether it’s with the daily things, “I broke a dish,” or your manuscript, “Everyone hates my characters,” if you can first acknowledge the difference between an accident and a choice, you can better tackle how you talk to them.

For starters, making people feel bad, in both cases, does very little, but treating an accident like a bad choice or a bad choice like an accident can be the number one cause of offense.

In the case of a onetime issue, like one word that you don’t feel fits, or one time your son let the dog out, it’s important to discuss why it’s a problem, but not shame them. If it’s obviously a mistake, going into detail about why it’s a mistake is insulting. “You spelled ‘the’ ‘teh,’ which tells everyone you didn’t read this yourself.” If it’s not obviously a mistake, but actually a choice that could have worked in other contexts, then it’s extremely important to discuss why it didn’t work now—and also keep in mind that other people, and not just the author, have every right not to agree with you. “For me, this didn’t strike the imagery I believe you are going for, and it made stop and consider why you wanted that word instead of staying immersed in the storyline.”

When a child breaks something on accident, let him know, “Well, that’s upsetting. But there’s nothing to do about it now, so let’s clean it up.” He knows he did something bad, but he’ll be grateful for you not taking it out of proportion, instead understanding he didn’t mean to. It will also help him stop focusing on getting out of trouble and considering why, when he is being punished, you’re lecturing him for this and not for that. Punishing a child for something he didn’t mean to do makes it harder for him to believe he can control his actions and that the punishment is earned. It is less effective. Punishing a writer, by belittling him, for creative choices makes him feel restricted and less inclined to take risks.

When a child breaks something when he should have seen it coming, or an author makes a choice that everyone told him wouldn’t work, it still often is better not to shame him. If possible, point out the factors that he should have considered before he decided playing baseball inside was a good idea, and ask him if he had thought he had any doubts before he did it that he just ignored. Most children, especially boys, will say, “I don’t know,” but that doesn’t mean the conversation isn’t doing anything.

But yes, sometimes tough love is necessary. When the mistake happens once, it requires more understanding and is better fueled by discussion than yelling. If, however, the accident continues to occur after having addressed it, it may actually be a consequence of bad choices, like picking up the dish with wet hands, or consistently attempting to look smart in your words. You may need to be more stern about pointing out that he could have done something to prevent it. But when a bad choice continues to be made, sometimes the only solution is to be upfront and frank about the problem and how you feel about their continual decision making. Keep in mind the difference between choosing to ignore other people’s needs and believing that it was the best choice at the time. Treat the guy who refuses to copyedit any of his writing differently than the guy who truly thinks he can write a good book with an unlikable character. Both, over a period of time, can be frustrating, yet with the people who don’t care about the experience they’re giving their fellow humans, you might benefit from telling them straight up, “Your error ridden manuscript makes you look like you don’t give a shit, and I have yet to see any other evidence you do.” Yeah, he’s going to be pissed, he might even hate you, but it’s more likely that your words will knock him into shape if having explained to him sixteen times already that readers want writers they can trust, and well-polished manuscripts are the main way they know they can trust you. If, however, you can see why he still thinks it’s a good idea, why it’s not just him being lazy or stubborn, you still might want to be stern, but tell him to consider if it’s as important to him as the amount of work and trial and error it will take to get it there. “You know I don’t agree with your vision to not have a character arc. I don’t think it’s working, and I don’t know what the benefits of achieving it are. But that doesn’t mean I’m right. I would strongly consider what your goals are… If it’s about challenging yourself, keep going, or if you think it’s just me, give it to some other readers and see what they have to say. Then really consider how much you want this and how much work it’s going to be.”

The point is, however, to give people credit and see where they’re coming from. When lashing out at a mistake, always consider the benefits of punishing them. Are you really trying to help them, or just control their behavior? Will lecturing or being disgusted really inspire a behavioral change, or lead them to hide it, avoid you, or even become more stubborn? When a writer makes a choice you don’t agree with, don’t write them off as an idiot or an incompetent; explain your side, and remember that not only is it ultimately their choice, but you’re not always going to be around. If you want people to be able to make good decisions, you have to help them understand why something is a bad one, and also not feel shame when something doesn’t go to plan.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Speed Kills, Routine Bores, Change Surprises

Once upon a time there was a tortoise and a hare, two twenty-five cent animals when a two cent one would do. The tortoise challenged the hare to a race in an attempt to validate his choices in life and the hare’s implication that the tortoise’s actual natural talents made him a lesser being. The hare, more than willing to prove himself to an obviously self-deprecating and maybe delusional individual, agreed (instead of kowtowing to the tortoise’s insecurities like he should have).

So, they race. The tortoise goes slow and steady. The hare tears out in fast bursts then takes a break. Of course, mostly he thinks he can get away with it because the other members of the race are so awful that he doesn’t need to maintain higher standards. Due to this hubris—and not really the superiority of the tortoise’s tactics—the tortoise manages to surpass him and win.

I have problems with this story.

They shouldn’t have raced in the first place. They have very different talents and having one try to conform to the other’s, or to limit their definitions of success, is stupid. Secondly, this seems to be an issue of pride. If “speed” was what caused the hare to lose, then it shouldn’t have been that he stopped in confidence, but rather a direct ramification of going too fast, like perhaps blitzing forward caused him to run out of energy. Which is a real thing in racing; it’s important to be steady instead of running your body into the ground. Many racers do discuss how those who don’t pace themselves will wipe out before they can get to the finish line.

But even if we were to say that the story does have the hare tire himself out in some versions, let’s be honest here; it’s not talking about racing. It’s supposed to be a metaphor.

How does speed apply to other things? When you try to be too fast, you have the tendency to make more mistakes, you can’t be as precise—or so they claim. Is that what happens with the hare? Not really. In fact, his story is directly correlated and limited to physical speed. It doesn’t make sense for anything else.

So let’s examine this. Does slow really win the race? Only if your other teammates screwed up. The hare is faster than the turtle, so if he went a speed he could keep constant and the tortoise went at a speed he was okay at, and the hare kept his standards high, the tortoise would have lost.

The key word here is “steady.” Steadiness wins the race. Or, more to the point, steadiness will be what makes you complete the race.

People attempt to validate their decisions by putting down other author’s goals and tactics. They say that you cannot write fast and have it be as good as someone who took a long time with something. They put down prolific writers, those who schedule out writing hours or word counts. And then you have people doing the opposite, insisting that working by inspiration only cannot be successful, that you must write every day.

When it comes to speed in writing, yes, writing fast does tend to harbor less precision. On the whole (not always), it can garner more typos, unintentional word choice, and some unthoughtout continuity plot holes. But, on the other side, writing slowly does tend to harbor more big picture errors. The details tend to be better, but the writer often forgets plot points, rules of the world, details that are not located close together.

Writing fast tends to have a more organic flow, a genuine sense of self, and truth. Writing slow tends to have better word choice, tighter plotlines, and more of a point. But both can be result terribly, fast writing having more tangents, detailed mistakes, writing slow a more forced, mechanical, disjointed storyline and voice. It’s all about balance. Balance for the writer, balance for that book, balance for that scene.

Plus, slowness without steadiness doesn’t work any better than writing fast. If you write something, don’t think about it for months, and then write something else, you’ve actually spent the same amount of time as someone who wrote the same word count in two days. Writing slowly actually means spending more time editing, researching, and just contemplating the book, but many “slow” authors are really just people who aren’t working steadily. It’s the fast authors who are steady, they are the ones working every day.

Sure, there’s benefit to writing when inspired. You do write better. Few people can put a book down without thinking about it, so the months in between did probably mean some contemplation. But many people aren’t inspired to work on the same book constantly, and those who work on something every day tend to think about it more. There are obvious benefits to writing a lot quickly, and if you haven’t tried it, consider it. You might learn something new about yourself.

It doesn’t matter if you chose to be the hare, trying to take it all in one burst, or the tortoise, going at a steady pace. The only thing that matters if you’re doing it at all.

I bring this up because currently I am in Deadwood, South Dakota, on a road trip to move to Australia for a few months (at least). I have long been aware that I work best under routine or habit; I’d get up in the morning and write five pages before getting on with my day. Whenever something changed and I needed to evolve with it, I found writing difficult, and that was usually when I experienced a hiccup.

I’m trying to write when I get the moment. It’s difficult, in ways, more so because I am also attempting to balance out spending time with the boyfriend. He doesn’t need as much sleep as me, so he goes to bed later and wakes up when I do. If he’s up, he wants me to watch this movie with him or talk to him, and it makes working difficult. Plus, I’m so exhausted at the end of the day, and we’ve been sleeping in a car to save money, so we attempt to get out of our spot as early as possible. I’ve ended up doing my writing mostly at lunch and when he’s gone to the bathroom.

I’m not my most productive, but it has felt, in a strange way, easier. Because I haven’t focused on page count, but rather writing the ten minutes I get the chance, the pressure off makes the writing flow more easily. I mean, I’ve already written more now at eight a.m. this morning than I did yesterday, but that is because I went back into my old flow.

I have always believed in changing up how you write to keep writing new and fun, but I never realized just how much I depended on my schedule to get things done. I thought of myself as a disorganized person, not liking structure. And I do guess that lacking structure is more fun. It seems to be a balance of enjoyment and success.

Fun does make for more enjoyable reading, but I find that steady writing—while garnering a wide variety of a results—gives you more to work with. You can’t edit what’s not written, can’t read it either. So while I like examining how change effects my writing, I still can’t wait to set up a new routine.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Experts, Your Gut, Your Pride, and Conniption Fits

When I wrote my manuscript, The Dying Breed, three years ago, I thought making it about a cult was more of a logical choice, not a subconscious parallel to my life. I was attempting to think of what kinds of words people in this dystopian reality would use to describe towns, not liking the word “town” itself. I thought of cult, in which I believe now stemmed from “culture,” as in “bacteria culture”—a conglomeration of bacteria in one little spot.

While it’s entirely possible that the word could evolve, losing its stigma over time, I didn’t see it as being likely. I couldn’t imagine a population willing calling themselves a cult. Instead, I decided “cult” was the word for the exiles to criticize civilization, but those inside it would refer to towns as “communes” and “communities.”

It didn’t seem important at the time. I considered the setting and its history to be a background—pretty details to enhance the plot and characterization. I wasn’t trying especially hard to create an epic and unexpected world, just one that I enjoyed looking at as it passed by. The plot and events were what I wanted to be the main focus.

But over the years, the more and more I edited the piece, I started to realize that it was not just a cult because I liked the word, or because it just made sense for a struggling civilization, but because the cultish behavior tied directly into how I felt college had been when I was writing it.

Raiden, my main character, despises the cult, of course. Grown up as an exile, after losing everyone and being pursued by the Foundation Community who is interested in his almost supernatural ability to create body parts from scraps, he only enters into a remote outpost of the cult because he knew he couldn’t survive on his own. There he falls in love with a member who is more brainwashed than most.

Why would he do that? What was it about her that he liked? It wasn’t as though he didn’t seem to like her; I found his affection and their conversations to be convincing that it was a comfortable but genuine relationship. I still felt required to explain why he loved her, and that necessitated me knowing. Over time, I realized his draw towards Libra was the security in not questioning everything. Never trusting anyone, always having to analyze what you’re being told, needing proof for everything, even your own opinions, can be exhausting. There is something safe and relaxing about being able to just abide by someone else’s advice: do what you’re told without question and honestly believe it will all work out.

I have never been able to outright accept something that someone’s told me. It has to make sense to me, completely, and if there’s anything remotely strange about the opinion, I can’t let it lie until I understand what made it off. If I don’t agree with them at all, it becomes even more problematic. I believe, absolutely, that every opinion has some truth to it, save for the outright lies. If someone says something that seems completely stupid, it’s probably because I’m missing a key piece of information. There’s always a reason someone believes something I don’t, and once I understand that, I am more likely to identify the truth of the situation.

It usually works well for me:

“You should say the singular moon shines through the window.”

No I shouldn’t. “Why?”

“Because you need to set up the scene more.”

No I don’t. “I thought the hut was set up pretty well. I thought it was vivid, grounded, had special continuity…”

“Oh, the hut is perfect. I’m talking about the world. Like is this in outer space?”

Okay, that I see. “So why the one moon?”

“It would say we’re on Earth.”

“I believe pointing out that there is only one moon would suggest we are on another planet.”

“Isn’t Earth the only planet with one moon?”

This conversation was extremely useful for me. He was the first person to begin to articulately explain just what he was confused about when most people couldn’t tell me. They kept saying they didn’t understand, but when I asked them to go through and point out exactly what they were puzzled about, they weren’t able to. They understood everything I said, but still felt confused. I figured out later, via asking questions and trusting my instinct, that it was more of an issue of being overwhelmed and not knowing what type of world this was enough to be able to know what information was connected to other information.

While this man had a very valid and useful point, his solution of saying there was only one moon was flawed. He didn’t understand enough about astronomy to realize that Earth wasn’t the only planet in the universe to have one moon (though after Pluto got demoted it is the only one in our galaxy), or science-fiction enough to realize that most planets in the genre are completely fabricated.

I’ve rarely found advice as originally stated being very useful, but when I examine it, respect the person and respect myself enough to trust my instincts, then I often find each criticism to be useful. Maybe not in its original incarnation, maybe it had to be supplemented by other people’s feedback as well, often not all of it being useful, but generally, unless a person was saying something even they didn’t believe (which happens, rarely), they always had some sort of point.

The issue is I know a lot about writing. I am able to understand poorly worded criticism better because I know enough to figure out what they probably mean. I can consult past experience to determine what I need to figure out what that person wants to be telling me, to understand why I don’t think that it’s true and to ask the right questions. But what do we do when we need to trust someone in a situation we have no ability to fact check? We are so uninformed, do we just accept what the expert has to say?

I would like to think we can trust others. I would like to be like Libra, take my car to the mechanic, and then just do whatever he tells me and have it be fixed. But that seems to never happen.

I don’t go to other people for help often. I don’t trust other people, I constantly feel like when I depend on someone else, they screw me over. When people ask me why I don’t self-publish (yet), it’s because I hate trying to get other people onboard. Just because you pay someone doesn’t mean they’re going to do a good job. Or their job at all.

My car stopped accelerating randomly. I would be going along fine and then all of the sudden the gas wouldn’t work. I’d still coast, the brake would be fine, but I’d have to pump it to make it continue even at the speed I had been originally going, and there was no way to go faster until it randomly decided to knock it off.

I got my oil changed, then brought it into the Honda dealership down in California. They stuck it in their machine and when it said nothing was wrong, they assured me that it would probably stop doing, that the change fixed it. I believed them. It, of course, didn’t.

So I took it to a mechanic after I moved back to Wyoming. My father brought it in and had a whole slew of things done. I had said to both Dad and the professional that I just wanted to fix the acceleration problem.

At a tune of 600 hundred dollars, he had corrected everything else. I had no idea he hadn’t even examined the problem when, driving a few days later, it did it again.

I took it in and asked about it. He said that it hadn’t done it for him. Oh, well, then out of sight, out of mind, right?

I had to bring it back a total of three times before he finally had my car stop accelerating. He said, “I can see why you were so scared!”

He fixed it. Meanwhile, I looked up on the internet and I found that this was an extremely common issue for my make and model, and yet I had to go to two experts several times before anyone would do anything about it.

Last year, my cat got sick. He stopped eating, stopped pooping, his hair wouldn’t grow back, he was lethargic. I spent all kinds of money trying to figure out what was wrong with him. One vet was really nice and tried very hard, going to conferences and talking about it, but my actual vet, the one I was supposed to have, came off to me as apathetic. When I said that to my mother, she ended up screaming at me that I didn’t know what I was talking about. When I talked to my friends, some suggested that he really didn’t care about their animals either, but my mom made me feel so bad about considering another opinion that I never tried. At the end, they basically said it was either cancer or irritable bowel syndrome, but either way the only thing they could do was anti-depressants.

Then one day, magically, he got better. Many, many months after taking these pills to little effect, he perked up, his hair grew back, he had a healthy appetite. I took him off the medication and to this day he is a normal little cat.

Not only that, but I have experienced constant pain for at least six years now. I have always had headaches, but now it’s getting to where it’s three times a week. I am chronically thirsty, even if I drink a lot. I lack an appetite and I’m always queasy. I experienced a pain in an unmentionable place.

I went to see a doctor in California several times. She took my urine, but didn’t do much. She was nice, at least. Seemed like she cared. I then moved back to Wyoming and went to my general practitioner. He has this bad habit of doing nothing, jumping to conclusions, and if you make any suggestions yourself, he will never admit that that might be the problem.

He tested me for diabetes, looked for STDs, tested my urine, and then, upon finding nothing, told me that my pain was normal.

I didn’t go back to him, but instead tried drinking more water (which gave me worse headaches), exercising, and changing my diet. This lead to my throat closing up. After many weeks of not being able to speak louder than a whisper, I came to him. When he tested my breathing, he said, “Wow, you really can’t breathe!” like I was lying or something. Then he told me to walk it off, suggesting that I’ll be fine in a couple of weeks. Having procrastinated and hoping that it would go away on its own for over a month then, I was irritated that I had spent seventy dollars to be told that. Then he wanted me to come back and spend another seventy dollars in two weeks if it hadn’t gone away, like I knew it wouldn’t.

So, against my better judgment, I made a suggestion. “I changed my diet recently. Could it be an allergy?”

“Oh, no. Absolutely not.”

Two weeks go by and obviously nothing changed. I don’t go back to him. I change my diet, wait the normal time period to test for allergies, and low and behold, I can breathe again.

For my unmentionable pain, he sends me to a gynecologist who informs me that I was probably sexually molested and I should masturbate more.

I know that people block out traumatic experiences, and that it’s entirely possible that I have, like he suggested. I will not demean the reality of those women who have found sexual molestation blocked out in their pasts by saying that I could know for a fact that I haven’t been. But I feel positive that that’s not the issue, and until we find any remote sort of evidence that it has happened, how about we assume that that’s not the problem and work from there?

Do I trust my gut or the expert who I feel is writing me off? Maybe he does know better than me. Maybe I did block it out.

Probably about a year passes after these last meetings with my doctors that left me to feel hopeless and demotivated when it comes to my discomfort.

Then one day I’m in such pain—constantly itching, constant headaches, constant thirst, constantly peeing—that I’m completely fed up. I go online to see if there’s anything I can do, and I find that all of my symptoms are directly related to diabetes. Though I had already been tested for it, and though the internet says you cannot get a false negative, I wasn’t sure I trusted my hospital enough to say that it didn’t just mess up. I didn’t remember some of the procedure I was supposed to do before I took the test, or maybe it’s just something else. The truth is, I was ready to be out of pain, and I needed help, and I was starting to get scared.

I go to the urologist my doctor suggested to me some time before, by my parents’ suggestion.

She walks in, I tell her my problem, she gives me a smirk and says, “You know what I’m hearing?” She taps on her head. “It’s all psychological. Go to a therapist.”

I didn’t say much at first. She had told me nothing. She didn’t even have the results of the urine test because her computer was down. I knew I was going to go in and get the shaft, and yet to have someone do it so abruptly was shocking and insulting.

I started to cry. She told me that crying was just evidence that it was psychological, why else would I be taking it so hard?

Because I was in pain? Because I didn’t trust you, but I told myself I should? I forced myself to go here and ask for advice, spending over two hundred dollars to be told that it was absolutely in my head?

How long would I have to go to a therapist before I knew I needed to try something else?

“It will take several years.”

So, like the two weeks in which I obliged my doctor and spent it not being able to breathe, you want me to spend two years before with constant headaches and thirst and not wanting to eat before I realize that I should be doing something else as well?

I’m not saying that it couldn’t be psychological in areas. Stress exacerbates it, I know. Maybe therapy would help in some ways. But let’s be honest. I have been let down by mechanics, vets, and doctors, people in very scientific fields, and you want me to put all my faith in a random stranger in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, dealing in a quasi-science without explaining to me what I am there for?

She didn’t say it was stress. She didn’t say anything. She just kept reiterating that I needed to see a therapist, wondering why I was so against it, and then suggesting that because I was “doctor hopping,” and had “all of these tests” (what tests?) and tried an anti-depressants for a few months last year, clearly the next step was to assume that my brain was making it all up?

“What do you want me to do?” she demanded. “Cat scan you from head to toe? Give you pain pills?”

I don’t know what to do. That’s why I came to you! I wanted advice! I wanted to take a direction! I have let myself suffer for years because I didn’t believe anyone could help me, and you waltz right in here push me off on someone else, and then wonder why I’m not so keen on to going to them for advice? Especially after you use my going to several doctors and the singular bad time in my life where I sought emotional help as evidence that you shouldn’t try and figure out if maybe it’s not allergies? A thyroids? My body refusing to absorb a certain nutrient—there’s nothing similar to diabetes?

I don’t know what it could be. If I did, I wouldn’t have spent 240 dollars to have you telling me that it’s a product of my mind. Let’s be honest, that’s an easy answer. If I really thought that could be it, I would have tried it. I don’t actually care if it is just a product of my mind. I just want it solved.

But to trust a therapist for two years when I couldn’t trust my doctors is asking a lot of me. That’s why I’m crying. Because I don’t have confidence in Jackson’s professionals.

People don’t know why I’m so upset about it. I’ve cried multiple times in anger and frustration this whole week. Every time I get a headache I remember there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve cried while writing this post. But I have to hide it from my friends and family because they don’t get it, they tell me to get over it, or start telling me to go see this doctor and that doctor and it’s like I don’t want to see anyone right now. I can’t keep spending money, going to these people, getting my hopes up that maybe someone can help me, just to have them say, “Here, go to this person instead.”

Only to then use that reference as evidence that I’m, what? A pill seeker? Refusing to accept anything but the answer I want?

Well, I tried masturbating, that didn’t work. I tried walking it off long before I ever came to you. I tried anti-depressants for my depression, and they did benefit that at least, but it didn’t make the headaches stop or the thirst or the fatigue or the itching or made me want to eat.

I might try counseling. I don’t think it’s completely useless. But I know damn well that there is some reason I am in pain all of the time other than just my mind wanting me to be hurting. I’ll be in pain when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m stressed, when I’m just sitting around feeling nothing in particular.

It upsets me because she embarrassed me. Because I was in a situation, half-naked, where I exposed my vulnerability, put my trust into someone else, and instead of seeing any sort of results, had her humiliate me. But more to the point, it makes me scared. It makes me wonder how can you possibly trust that advice is good when you don’t have any experience in knowing what to think?

It ties directly into my writing and my time in college, the first moment I was made aware that teachers are human too, sometimes horrible people, sometimes good people who are swayed by selfish needs, sometimes just ignorant people who truly believe their advice is useful simply because they don’t have the experience to realize it isn’t.

It was also the first time I started to question my opinions, when I started to understand that subjectivity really does exist, when I dismissed the idea of good and bad writing and became aware just how important pre-existing opinions are.

We would read a play that I would think, “This writer is just being weird for the sake of being weird.” It was boring, trying too hard to be funny or strange, and yet the professor would argue that it was a good play because of all the meaning. He’d sit there and say, “This represents this and that represents that,” and I’d wonder if he wasn’t just pulling it all out of his ass.

Even if it did mean the things he said it did, it didn’t necessarily make me care. Oh, the black grasshoppers represent how a trauma in the world doesn’t ever go away completely? Fine, but that doesn’t make me think or feel about the effects of trauma. I’m sure that you could have changed my perception or made it more important to me through other more direct means. These metaphors, which sometimes seemed to be reaching, didn’t really affect me even after I was told that they existed.

Sometimes I did like the plays given. Sometimes things that I first hated I started to really love later. That is true with even popular fiction, not just the classics.

My fellow students would never say they didn’t like a play. “It was just above my head,” they claimed. Was it above our heads? Would I like it if I just spent more time trying to understand it?

So, I asked my professor, “How do you know a play is worth your time or is just bullshit?” still believing in the principle of “good” and “bad” writing.

He told me I would learn with time. Learn what with time? He couldn’t tell me. We spent years discussing it, and he was never able to say what why this play that did this thing was better than that play that did the exact same thing.

“I’ll never give you a bad play,” he finally informed me.

See, that would require trust, wouldn’t it? It would depend on me having faith in your ability to judge plays, to assume that the play you gave me is just good and then go from there, when I can’t actually find consistent reasoning why you choose the plays you do… outside of pre-existing recognition.

In the beginning, I cared what he thought. I did trust him. I wanted him to believe that I was a talented writer, and so I tried my hardest to understand the difference between good and bad plays, not even just as he saw them. But I began to realize that he liked what he was told to like, that the critics’ opinions were the most important aspect. There was a reason he always hated the student’s plays, that he would say he didn’t want to do a certain script but with “professionals.”

This mentality was common, many of the theatres I worked at thinking professional and Equity actors were obviously better. I’d watch producers pay out the nose for some great resumed man only to then have to fight with him about arriving on time, learning his lines, and the obvious fact that he’d only acted on film, not stage.

When you have the experience to know what you want, to know what questions to ask, getting advice isn’t so difficult. You grow less frustrated and more clear over time, can identify ego, laziness, competition, naivety, differing priorities or experiences and determine the accuracy of the opinion from that. But sometimes you’re going to get advice that you don’t really understand, that you don’t have the wherewithal to dissect. Maybe it’s just the issue that you’re the naïve one in the situation, that this editor from HarperCollins has just more experience in unpolished fiction and knowing what sells. That they know something you don’t, and you can’t even begin to understand what that is enough to ask.

What worries me about experts is that I want to trust other people. I know I don’t, I know I rarely feel I can depend on anyone, and so I try and balance that out by giving them the benefit of the doubt. But then I start to ignore my gut. I make more mistakes when I didn’t trust myself than any other time. Yet that doesn’t mean my gut always has an opinion—I don’t care if we use “slightly” or “lightly,” and I’m just not sure why you do—or that I can always tell if it’s just my pride talking and not instinct. Maybe my doctor was right and my abrasion to therapy says that I need it. Or maybe I’m right in that I don’t see a compelling enough correlation with psychology to think it’s the whole issue.

In science, things are true whether we believe in them or not. In art, belief controls reality. So if my doctors and mechanics and professors are so controlled by apathy, pride, and laziness, how is it that we can trust the opinion of someone about art?

Trying to trust gut over experts, experts over pride, and just getting enough information to do both can be overwhelming, disheartening, and lead to so many conniptions we just don’t know what to do with ourselves.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Author Interviews: D. J. Meyers

I was born beneath a lamington blanket on a pavlova pillow in Melbourne, Australia. A place about as far from anywhere in the world as you can get, unless you're familiar with a map of Tassie, which I'm sure you all are.

I spent many years writing songs, but the past ten years have been all about the novel. Why? Because it was there.

So, what do I like. Hmmm... good question, mysterious internet user. Well, I majored in English and history, love a good shot of sci-fi or a classic, and spend my spare time travelling the world. You'll find many of the ports I have visited depicted in the novels I write, from Europe to Asia, Australia and Africa.

A challenge is what I require when writing a book, a mystery of plot and a few multi-faceted characters. This eclecticism stems from my penchant for variety. I enjoy many things in many arenas and infuse my tales accordingly.

So what is the Gargoyle, who is D J the writer? Those questions are as difficult as my birth and the birth of these books, but if you are interested, if you have an intrepid mind, sample Tales of Yorr or Birth of Venus. There are many others written, yet to be released, from mysteries to historical fiction, sci-fi and historical romances, all infused with a unique sense of humour. See samples of them all at

1. What are the Gargoyle Chronicles and how did the name come about?

The Gargoyle Chronicles encompasses my entire body of work – about 30 completed novels and a few incomplete. The name came about during the first five, which are a set of mysteries with the same characters. Each novel happened to feature a gargoyle, mainly as I have an odd affinity with the creatures, and my brother had suggested I have a name for the set, so I came up with The Gargoyle Chronicles. Now each of my novels mentions a gargoyle. A fellow writer from the US suggested it would be a good name for a book – so I wrote a story where the MC is a stone gargoyle who hangs off Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. We see the world over 800 years through his eyes.

2. What's the spectrum of your writing style? Do you stick to specific genres or mediums? (Novels, short stories, screenplays...) How much unpublished work do you have lying around?

I have sampled a wide variety of styles, from fantasy to mystery, historical fiction and sci-fi. I often blend a couple of these, or all of them in a single novel. I also like to add a little realistic romance. My style blends humour and literary fiction, and I love twisting words and phrases. For me, the best novels can be read several times, and each read reveals something new. I also dabble in poetry, having been a song writer for many years, and I probably have about 30 completed pieces lying around, waiting to be scrubbed up and released on an unsuspecting world.

3. How long have you been writing, and what is one opinion about the craft you’ve had change over your career?

I wrote my first short novel at 11, but stuck to shorter forms until 11 years ago. I think in the past decade I have learnt a lot about character depth, twisting tales, adding detailed support characters and sub-plots. I also think I balance prose with dialogue far better, and am never afraid to add a humorous twist just when the reader least expects it.

4. Is there any terrible advice you’ve received for your book or career?

The best terrible advice I received was from a Harper Collins editor, who suggested I turn one of my books into a sort of Hunger Games tale – despite the fact my lead was a 20 something teacher (not a student) and got married and had a child. I think originality is what makes us writers, not copying a formula.

5. What are your biggest concerns about the current literary world?

My biggest concern about modern writing is the lack of imagination – it is there, but so many write to make a buck, with fan fiction, or rewrites of popular novels. We will only survive as writers if we challenge ourselves to keep creating something new.

6. What trends, tactics, styles, or genres would you like to see become popular in modern writing?

I would like to see more blended works – cross-genre writing, blending the best of styles to create new exciting works.

7. What trends would you like to see disappear?

And I would like to see less fan fiction and less mimics.

It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties.” -Abigail Adams

8. Where do you find yourself getting stuck most often—beginning, middle, or end?

I think the plan is the hardest part. Once I have a set plan (with room to wiggle through new ideas as they come to me) I usually rip through a novel in a few months.

9. If you could hire someone to do any of the writing work for you, what jobs would you assign to them?

I would definitely hire an editor. I almost said typist but typing out the things I scrawl in pen is like an inner edit, so I need that part.

10. What is an assumption people make about your career that bothers you?

Ooh, good question. I think a lot of friends and family think I am wasting my time, playing a game. Few really take me seriously, even when I went out an published my own work with a set plan and ideology. It would be nice to be taken seriously.

11. Tell us a little about Tales of Yorr.

Tales of Yorr (sic – Tales of Yorrick) is the story of an educated and maligned hunchback who happens to be the bastard son of King Richard III (you know, the skeleton in the car park.) He is a poet, a lover, a warrior and at times a jester for Henry VIII. It is a tale about history, and how the winner gets to tell their version, and how the deformed are so often left to the scrapheap of time.

12. How fast do you tend to write? How long is your editing process?

I write an 80,000 word novel in about three months. That is first draft in pen, second draft typed on the computer and third draft editing from the beginning. There are many more drafts after those first three months, often aided by a helpful band of authors whose works I edit in return. I am currently preparing a book of 130,000 words (a sequel to Tales of Yorr titled The Whispering Mime.) I began the work in February, but I have edited heavily as I wrote this one, and I am still editing 9 months later. Often I will write and edit, then let the book rest for 3 – 6 months before editing again. So editing can take a long time.

13. You are from Melbourne, Australia, but you write a lot about Europe and science-fiction novels in new, highly inventive worlds. How do feel about “write what you know” when it comes to setting?

I occasionally have parts of my novels set in Australia, but I am yet to have an idea that roots me permanently at home. My love of history and future worlds always draws me away from my home. I find with the historic novels I have to have been to most of the settings personally – thus, I travel a lot. I often get the feel of a new tale while on tour somewhere, so the write what you know theory is very important. My future worlds are often my vision of our future society – people never really change, only the colours of their settings do.

“But listen to the colour of your dreams.” A favourite quote from John Lennon.

14. If you met people like your characters, would you get along?

That’s an interesting question. Like all writers I love some of my characters, but I hate the villains. The most fascinating would be the historic characters – like Yorrick (even though he is made up) or Botticelli – my second published book is called Birth of Venus – about the artists supposed love with Simonetta Vespucci, a woman he is purported to have painted dozens of times, and whose feet he was buried at.

15. What was the hardest part in writing or publishing your first book?

The hardest part about publishing my first book (which was about the twentieth I wrote) was a single question – is it good enough? The cover came out beautifully, as did the internal design, but were there any errors, is it worthy of release? I could be egotistical and say OF COURSE – but that is not me. I am always questioning, always searching for perfection, but how much can one work on a piece before you write or edit the heart out of it? The best of my lines often come in the first draft. The editing is just placing those phrases and moments well.

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Friday, October 16, 2015

I’m Leaving the Country

Stop making everything about you, Trump.

No, the presidential elections haven’t as of yet ruined my faith in America. In fact, I love America, I love being an American, and if anything I can blame my loathing of my own personal stagnancy for this decision, not the way the country is “going downhill” as Facebook seems to claim.

The boyfriend and I are headed to Australia. We leave next week to do a bit of a road trip around the western parts of the states before heading off to Los Angeles and get his paperwork sorted out. My stuff is in order, it’s his that is all screwed up. Ironically, considering he’s the native Australian here.

Currently I have a three month visitor’s visa, which means I won’t be able to work, but I have some money saved up and I can utilize my time as a writer, plus maybe try that whole housewife thing the 1950’s talks so much about. After the three months are up, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. Depends on Australia, depends on the boyfriend, depends on how much red tape I can stand. I’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it.

Yes, I’m extremely excited. I’ve thrown out most of my stuff, have to leave a huge amount of fabric behind, my sewing machine, and needed to get a laptop instead of a desktop, but on the whole, I’m ready to disappear.

I have to leave my cat behind, which is the hardest decision I feel I’ve ever had to make. Even if I do eventually decide to apply for citizenship, Dimitri is too frail to survive the six-week quarantine, so he is better left with my parents. They have mixed feelings about this. I have terrible ones. I promised him we would always be friends, I know he won’t understand why I’ve left. He hates the other cats, and since my room was converted into dad’s music room, he doesn’t really have an area in the house to call his own. But as I tell myself, this too shall pass. He’ll get comfortable.

Getting rid of most of my stuff has been hard, but exhilarating, freeing, in a way. I had to really question the necessities in my life, but once you throw something out, it’s almost forgotten immediately.

I’ll try to be posting updates about the states I’m in, but considering they’re mostly the square ones, I can only work with what I got. I wouldn’t expect much.

It’ll be hard to keep up with my word count and especially my comic considering I won’t have a scanner immediately available for a while, but I’m still determined to do what I can.

If you live in Jackson and want to see me, the boyfriend and I are having one last karaoke night at the Virginian before we head out.

I’m extremely excited, and hope this is just what I needed. Twenty-four was a terrible year, twenty-five extremely mediocre, so I’ve decided now I’m going to work to make this a good one. I don’t know how going to the world’s deadliest continent is going to help, but at least it’s something new.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Why Jonathan Jones’ Hatred of Terry Pratchett Struck a Nerve

Does anyone know how not to be condescending? I’m asking for a friend.

If I ever come off to you as arrogant, then you’re a pretty good judge of character. But when it comes how I see others, if I sound condescending, it’s likely to be an accident. I may have the ego comparable to Trump’s, but rarely have found someone I would consider an idiot. Uninformed, rash, or easily influenced by wishful thinking and excuses, yes, I have accused people of those things, but actually stupid? Rarely. I think highly of myself, but I usually think highly of others as well. I believe strongly that the only fools in the world are the liars, and everyone has opinions of some value.

That being said, Jonathan Jones is an idiot.

An art “critic,” he recently posted a “review” on the Guardian about Terry Pratchett’s work, “Get Real.Terry Pratchett is Not a Literary Genius.

He started with the telling paragraph, “I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Life’s too short,” and proceeded to explain why it was a waste of time to read potboilers like the mediocre Pratchett.

And, oh my God, the hate mail poured in.

I’d like to think he expected it, that it was part of the plan, of course. The post received over a thousand comments compared to the three hundred on his next most popular hit. It seemed like click-bait written by a knowledgeable troll, but that’s only if I’m giving him credit. His only other claims to fame have been equally hateful and unthoughtout criticisms, like when he called an art piece “just bad,” and people again thought he was a moron. If you read his Wikipedia page, the only time people cared about what he had to say was when he said something they didn’t agree with.

Even though I have never read Pratchett (though I do intend to at some point), and have yet to develop an opinion of my own on his work, I was also pissed at Jones’ statements. The writer’s condemnation didn’t anger people because of who he was disparaging, but the way he went about it.

Jones wrote a follow up piece soon after. “I've Read Pratchett Now: It's More Entertainment than Art.”

In it, he gives some lip service to his readers, saying, “Now I am better read, and can admire his clever wordplay,” before standing strong, “But I still believe the best prose lives in the real world.”

Jones completely misses the point.

I used to produce plays in Los Angeles. Small time, community theatre sort of things, often very low budget, I would manage to create the art I wanted to primarily by means of networking. On most occasions, I would work my ass off to help someone do their project, and in return they would give me a space, costuming, props, or maybe—and only maybe—their actual service in return. The thing I learned while trying to get people to help me was that I much preferred people who were in it for the money; the people who were in it for the art tended to make art not happen.

When trying to get a space from a business person, all you had to do was convince them it wouldn’t be any inconvenience to them, or even it would make them some money. That was it. You had to know them, of course, or be really brave (which I am not), but mostly just prove that it won’t cost them anything to help you out.

When trying to get a space from an artistic person, they had to question the integrity of the project. Did it promote the reputation they were going for? Did it make them look good? Did its meaning and the way it went about proving that meaning coincide with how they believe art should be?

Sometimes, it’s a reasonable question. The things that were performed in the space were associated with the space. The average audience member does not know the difference between company and theatre. And, if you can get them on board, the artistic minded person will be more likely to do more to support you than the business person who you convinced wouldn’t even know you were there. They have a right to ask.

The problem was that it’s much harder to do, especially because non-profit theatres have boards of usually about ten people you have to convince, and all you need is one pretentious asshole who thinks other people’s art is beneath him to stop you in your tracks. And there’s a lot of people like that. It’s not just that they won’t offer to help if they’re not interested in the project, but there are people who refuse to create new art because they can’t develop their own opinion without having others tell them what to think. It’s not uncommon for an artistic person to refuse to do anything but Gogol and Beckett, never taking a chance on something new.

Jonathan Jones’ opinion on Terry Pratchett falls right into this mentality.

“Life is too short to waste on ordinary potboilers – and our obsession with mediocre writers is a very disturbing cultural phenomenon,” he says.

In essence, he is suggesting that only good books should be written and read, but by “good” it is by his definition alone. Even though he hasn’t actually read Pratchett, he finds his opinion to be more valuable than everyone else's. I have to say, when most people disagree with you on a work that you haven’t actually experienced, you should probably assume that you’re missing something. You may not be wrong, but you should still consider that there’s a reason for your difference of opinion.

When it comes to “bad” books that are popular, it’s important for anyone who works in the literary field—either as a critic or a writer—to be open minded and not just write it off as everyone else being stupid. No, I wouldn’t suggest to Jones that he should read Pratchett, or to any E.L. James hater that they have to read Fifty Shades of Grey. While I don’t agree that “life’s too short” for fluff, I do think it’s too short to be reading things you really don’t want to be, and there’s a lot of books we can learn from and shouldn’t be limited to the crap we really can’t stand. But, I also believe that you shouldn’t be passing an absolute and uninformed opinion on it either.

Running around and claiming these books are “just bad” when other people love them suggests an inhibitive hubris. As a writer, you would benefit to understand why they like something when you don’t, why they prioritize things over your main concerns, or if your assumptions/what you’re being told is actually true, and use that knowledge to the best of your ability. You might find that people care more about atmosphere over literary prose, that the difference between your book, Jonathan Jones, being great, and say Jane Austen, who you claim to love, is that she not only has great prose, but also characterization. If we were to argue (and only for the sake of argument) that Pratchett does not have great prose, but good characterization, you’ve just informed yourself via people you love and hate what your book is actually missing.

Does anyone want to live in a world where we perpetuate herd mentality or snobbery instead of a populace that informs themselves and forms a personal opinion? Do you, Jones, want people to say your book is bad just because they read a post by a person who “flicked through a book by him in a shop?”

You’re supposed to be a critic, which requires critical thinking, yet Jones’ criticism of Pratchett has no original thought to it at all.

He believes that literary merit lies strictly in poetic prose, and a simplistic way of speaking cannot be considered genius. Despite my many arguments that poetry can still be alive today if we are more open to it, and my hatred towards people’s insistence that writing be succinct and story oriented, it is because I want a more open minded look on the various styles authors have and not just be a bunch of Hemingway repeats (whom people consider literary because of his simplicity). But his claim that Pratchett isn’t cultured isn’t convincing, whether Pratchett is or not. Restating that his prose isn’t up to master standards, especially because of simplistic lines like, “The sky is blue,” indicates that he doesn’t have a good enough sense of what art is to form a more convincing and thorough argument.

This is further illustrated by his comparisons being writers like Austen, Bukowski, and several winners of the Nobel Peace prize in literature. So, you’re mad that people are paying attention to Pratchett and not the already acclaimed and awarded writers that every English major on the face of planet preaches as being “genius?” Did you seriously just write a piece on a book you haven’t read to tell us to read authors that we’ve already been told to read? Why are you a critic?

Instead, how about you point out a book that is underrated by society? Something that lives in obscurity, something that your fellow literary critics haven’t already told you to believe? How about you tell me an opinion that was made by informing yourself and developing a thought without taking the words out of someone else’s mouth? Oh, that’s right, because you’re not that well read, as you admitted.

There is, of course, a benefit to taking risks on a book that someone else hasn’t said, “You must read it!” And I’m not talking Pratchett here, necessarily. Reading Austen and Bukowski is great, but, again, it would be nice if you discussed reading and finding meaning in something that doesn’t just make you look good.

He writes off Pratchett because it’s science-fiction, because it’s humorous, because it’s not a dense read. You’re confusing the challenge of language with the challenge of thought. You make no effort to discuss how Pratchett made you feel, no effort to prove that Gabriel García Márquez  made you feel or think differently, gave no discussion to what elements made him a true titan of a novel, but instead put up a link that sent me to a cover of one of his books.

Again, I do not know if Pratchett has changed people’s understanding and outlook on bigger scopes, but that’s mostly because you, the alleged reviewer, don’t discuss it. In your entire “apology” claiming it as just entertainment, you don’t delve into any of the elements that I consider important in what makes a book literary versus just entertainment. You claim you “prefer writing that rubs up against the real world, that describes what it is to be alive in all its unpredictability, wild comedy, longing, grotesqueness, exhilaration – and shame,” and all I can think is that you mean you like things that are obviously real. You don’t have the imagination to make parallels to the lives of someone who isn’t just like you, human, a white male, perhaps, living in the world you live in. You can’t see real people in a culture you haven’t experienced, you can’t connect the everyday feelings and metaphor of someone in a science-fiction novel. So, why is it that you like Jane Austen? The experiences of her characters do not fit your own. Their problems aren’t things you experience. Just because she was taking from her real life doesn’t prove that science-fiction doesn’t. You never proved that Pratchett wasn’t predictable, comedic, portraying longing, grotesqueness, exhalation and shame—which I’m assuming at some point it has to do at least some of these things, commercial art focuses on emotions over intellectual stimulation. You commented how you find his prose ordinary and that it isn’t real life, therefore there isn’t real meaning. I’m not sure you can find real meaning for yourself even in a book like Mansfield Park; you need someone else telling you where it is.

And then you leave us with this lie: “All I am saying, and all I was saying, is that I prefer the literary kind.”

Really? Because what you actually said was that society was going downhill for reading science-fiction instead of the critically acclaimed books you probably haven’t read either. It wasn’t what you prefer, it’s that everyone’s an idiot but you, including the more informed readers.

Do you know what I think is making society go downhill? People who are so focused on being artsy, they refuse to give new things a chance and reconsider what art actually is. Instead of being open minded, questioning why their opinion differs from others and being vulnerable to the possibility that their limited view on what real art is could be wrong, allowing for people to experiment and create things of different goals and tactics, they write pretentious and insulting tirades about how stupid everyone else is for not thinking like them—from a man who clearly doesn’t think for himself.

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Friday, October 9, 2015

My Return, Birthdays, and the Vicarious Pain of Writing

I’d make an age joke here, but I promised my New Year’s Resolutions I wouldn’t. Plus, I can’t think of anything.

In any case, I am returning from my sabbatical and it landed right on my 26th birthday this year, fitting, I suppose, and I do think that it helps to make it extra special—a gift to myself, I’ll pretend. I do enjoy blogging, which is why I am so content to do it over the whole “writing fiction” thing.

If you’re wondering how my interlude without the internet went, it actually was very pleasant. I did get on social media every once in a while, mostly when I needed to contact people, but I refrained from posting or commenting, and it was a weight off my shoulders. I started to feel better and then I had to ask myself why does getting off the internet help so much?

However, this made me realize it wasn’t just the pain of being approached by souls who wanted to prove their superiority to me without conflict, but the anxiety of socializing at all. Even when I don’t care about hits or likes or shares or retweets, there is a thrill in seeing high numbers and it can be such a low point when no one seems to care. If it seems ridiculous to you, I’d say you have a keen eye.

Then you tack on some the possibility of a rude message every time you log on, the myriad of men who think that “Hy,” is a good conversation starter (and will possibly turn into a penis picture), and the constant bombardment of unsolicited writing rules from people I’ve never met, it was causing me a lot stress.

Yet, when I logged in in my “invisible” way and scanned through the pages, I started to understand something. It wasn’t just people being belligerent. (Let’s face it, most comments are nice, and those that aren’t don’t actually have ill-intention, at least the ones being directed towards me.) It was more so the pain that is expressed on Facebook every day.

Of course I’m including the angry posts and humanitarian issues around the world. Those made me mad, upset, and sometimes even helpless, but they didn’t demotivate me. They didn’t demoralize me. They aren’t common enough, and are sometimes so surreal you can’t even begin to understand let alone feel honest empathy.

No, the thing that was really getting on me was the hundreds of posts I would see featuring writers in pain.

Pain over bad reviews, pain over their book selling less than ten copies, pain over bullying online, pain over indecision, pain over rejection, pain over not writing enough, pain over knowing whether or not to scrap the book, pain over editors or cover artists who blew them off, pain over a fake publishing company that screwed them out of thousands of dollars.

Writing in isolation tends to keep that agony secluded to you and you alone. You can get over it because you believe, in the back of your mind, you will be successful—it will all be worth it. But when you see other people experiencing the same thing… I mean even if you can hope you’re destined for greatness, you know not everyone will be able to achieve their goals. Their pain isn’t worth it. And of course, it makes you wonder if yours is either.

I’ve been actively pursuing a writing career since I was thirteen. Back in 2003, the internet was a different thing for me. I wasn’t even on MySpace. I’m not sure it existed yet. (No, I won’t look it up. I don’t need that worthless factoid taking up space in my head.) Published writers were still limited to a personal, private form of hatemail, the kind that would only be revealed to the public if someone who had access to it so chose, and even then I’m not sure how I would have seen it.

Over the years, however, the hatred and negativity of the internet has permeated every part of our lives. You can’t escape bitchy, banal criticism on your favorite shows and movies. We are subjected to comment sections and Facebook statuses that may be wonderfully amusing or may be stupid as hell, but we can’t really stop it either way, other than getting off the site all together. Not only do we have to deal with unthought out opinions affecting our ability to enjoy certain things, but we are witness to the constant struggles of daily lives over and over again.

Even if I’m having a good day at writing, even if my short story has been accepted somewhere, even if I had a person come up to me and compliment me on my writing, I’ll open up Facebook and find someone who’s really struggling. Empathetically, vicariously, I feel that pain for them.

And even the good news seems to be short lived. I mean, people will get picked up by agents one day, and then a few weeks later they’ll be complaining about a scam. Their story will launch only to find that no one gives a shit. A book will be picked up by a big publisher to never actually hit stores.

I am constantly coming across hatemail, harassment, and abuse of other authors without even trying. Even when I understand where the “critic” is coming from, even when I agree with them, that constant negativity can weigh down on you. And I am a generally negative person.

Hope is important. Imperative, even. I realized that some of my author’s constipation was not just an issue of having to reorganize my schedule around someone else for the first time, not just fear of publication, not just anger at bossy and ignorant strangers on the internet, and not even just laziness, but because I was being constantly exposed to all of the negatives of being a writer and seeing little reward.

I mean, even if you do manage to become rich and famous with an army of fans and awards, that just gives people the right to attack you and feel entitled to you responding to that attack, just shocked that you would dare to block them. And then you, like many genre authors, will constantly be condemned because you’re not writing the “right kind” of thing. It doesn’t matter what you do, you will be criticized, and in this day and age that usually means right in your inbox.

Truth is, I see reward in writing, I get a lot of reward from having written, but I’m not sure I see the reward in being a writer. What’s the point of publishing? It’s a lot of hard work for little financial compensation, little respect, a lot of emotional ups and downs, and a whole lot of conflict.

I’ve wanted my books in bookstores for years, and yet whenever I get close with a manuscript, I’ve abandoned it and gone onto the next one. Now I’m having a hard time even finishing the first drafts that are thisclose to being done. A sabbatical from the internet helped because I didn’t have to see all the insult and disappointment in publishing.

It’s not writer’s block. It’s a complete and utter disinterest in the end result.

But then one day, as I was staring at my computer, not feeling the motivation to type anything. The more I didn’t write, the more depressed I got. Then, just as I was about to give up, I looked up from my computer to see my Complete Collection of Calvin and Hobbes. In a flash I was filled with the joy and admiration that the series has always brought to me. It changed things.

I remember that though I never saw the criticism of Bill Watterson, and though it was harder for his hatemail to reach him than it is for artists today, I know that he went through some horrible times with the syndicate and rejection, and I think, “I don’t know if the reward was enough for him, but it was definitely worth it for me.” The creation of Calvin and Hobbes has helped define my personality, my life, my philosophy, my friends, and even my writing, and I would like to think that maybe I could do that for someone else. I love it, and while I couldn’t have missed it if it had never existed, I definitely would miss it now.

Writing is reward for the writer, but publishing is reward for the reader. Or at least that's the way I'm looking at it from now on. It may sound narcissistic, (but when have I ever avoided that?) but there's some truth to it. The readers may have options, they may have to wade through a lot of crap, but it is better than them having nothing. And while the world may not be deprived of anything if I never publish, there’s always the possibility that I will be robbing at least one person of a great experience. Or at least, that’s what I’m aiming for.

My work ethic didn’t improve as much as I would have liked, my 25th year wasn’t the “beginning of my adulthood,” as I wanted it to be, but I have managed to get myself back on track, slowly started back up my old habits, and rejuvenated myself.

A part of me wants to stay off of the net, but I believe everything in moderation. Facebook and Twitter have done me a lot of good including helping me with my social anxiety. Keeping logged off has helped me not get distracted. I’ve decided to remove the app from my phone, log on only once a day, and not turn to it for web surfing. Hopefully, it will be a good balance.

I’m back on the internet, feeling refreshed and more optimistic. I’ve started writing diligently again, making me feel better as a whole. Now the only thing I have to do eat cake, be merry, and edit that last chapter. Wish me luck.