Friday, September 29, 2017

Why Good Enough Means Way Better than Average

I once got yelled at for saying that I only took a book seriously once it got above 50 reviews when asked, “How many reviews is enough?”

The other answers seemed to be like, “I have ten. I think I’m doing pretty well.”

And they were doing well. I don’t mean to disparage how hard it is to get reviews, nor say that you should feel like a failure if you don’t have 50. But, let’s be honest: Most self-published books are poorly crafted. I can’t say that I like the majority of the traditionally published I read, that they don’t have flaws, but you certainly can expect a much greater amount of half-assery from a random indie book than a random one from Penguin. Anyone who reads indie books knows how amazingly awful some can be.

Because of this, self-publishers have a harder time of selling their work - Though, fortunately, the low bar some indies hold for themselves makes it easier to regain some credibility. Have a good cover, a clean summary and first couple of pages? You’re already doing a world of difference.

I don’t read reviews for information. Five stars aren’t exactly the most trustworthy. One stars tend to be biased and pissy. In only one case did I find the reviews to accurately predict my reading experience, and it was for a highly successful book that only a minority of one-stars agreed with my dislike. Usually, even if I didn’t enjoy a read, the reasons other people talked about hating it had nothing to do with the problems I felt.

So what good are reviews? Why a number thing?

I have a lot of books to read. I’m very backed up. I’m not too fast anyway, and reading is put down on the priority list. I rarely go on the hunt for a random book, and these days I pretty much buy new ones for one of three reasons: Someone gushed about it, I want to support the author, or I feel like it’s something I ought to have read.

Self-publishers predominately fall into the second category. I meet them online. I follow them. I consider if I want to spend the money on their book. I am so broke right now that I even have to be careful with a few bucks, but even before that I am inundated with so many options that I could easily break the bank by buying them.

Considering my limited amount of time, I tend to prioritize people when they have something that I might actually want to read. Sensible, no? This typically starts with genre, but there are a lot of people with pretty good ideas and desirable enough settings which means that genre doesn’t take enough out of the running. As for summary, well, I’ve never been convinced by a book’s pitch, regardless of the situation.

Next I look at the cover and if it seems homemade, I get suspicious. This may seem shallow, but it actually as a unifying link with the quality of writing: If the author doesn’t see the flaws in his cover art, didn’t push it further, half-assed it, it tends to be reasons of personality, which will mean he is unlikely to be any better at doing those things in his writing. Not impossible, just typical.

I’ll read the first couple of pages, but again, rarely does a book hook me in like that. I have to be emotionally invested—I have to know I’m going to read it and finish it—and so for deciding to buy it, it’s likely that no matter what your beginning is, I’m not going to get interested. I have to warm up.

This is where the reviews come into play. Despite what we, and I, say, self-publishers often being really sloppy, there are also many that aren’t. They are polished, professional, and seem to have their shit together. So even though this process cuts out any major issues (which is why these things are so important), there’s still a huge number left over in a month, not to mention they’re competing with the books I’ve already bought and still have to read.

They’ve either slightly gotten my attention or not. If I was amazed, I wouldn’t get this far; I’d have already bought it. By the point we get to reviews, I’m on the fence. The author hasn’t gained my trust yet, and that is vital.

Getting 50 reviews is pretty impressive. A hundred or more tells me your book is successful. This doesn’t seem to make sense, but you have to realize that most novels sell based on word of mouth. “A friend gushing about it.” It suggests that not only have you sold at least that many books (probably more because of how few people review), not only that you’re a dedicated and diligent worker, but also that people liked it enough to talk about it.

My favorite book, an indie book, I found through a blog post, a review someone had done. Normally I don’t trust blog reviewers (Five stars for everyone!) but her enthusiasm was genuine and made me want some of that emotion.

Lots of books have no stars. Many have three to five. Getting above ten is a feat, and I’m not positive I would be able to do it without a lot of groveling. But this is a time to look outward-in, not the other way around. Just because it’s difficult to do something doesn’t mean that it’s impressive. For the writer getting ten reviews may have taken months and a butt-load of labor, but for the reader, well, I’m going through hundreds of self-published books monthly. It’s not that hard to find something with ten reviews.

The reason getting around 50 is impressive is because so few people do it. It’s not a dealbreaker for me in any case, but it’s a pretty obvious way to gauge if there’s something different about it. Even if it’s just the work gone into it, when you’re trying to sort through a ridiculous pile of options, something like that is going to stand out, while something with a moderate amount of reviews is going to be… just that.

The man who became annoyed with me went on a rant about how difficult it was to get that many reviews, bemoaning my snobbery and keeping him out of the favored circle. I know it’s hard, that’s the point. It means something when you do it.

You take fifty of the best and brightest. You put them in the same competition. Forty of them have a success rate of ten. The rest have an upwards of 50. One has over 100. The competition may be stupid, it may not factor into genuine quality, but you can see why, if all we have to go by is this measurement of success, we’re going to take the top ten and ignore the first forty—even if the average Joe would hardly be able to get one.

I’m not saying to worry about reviews, necessarily. Nor do I mean to invalidate the effort it takes to even get a handful. But when asking questions about outsiders’ opinions, it’s important to remember that you are being compared to others, and ‘good enough’ isn’t ever going to be some absolute number. It will change based on what those around you are doing.

Sometimes it sucks, but that’s the point. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Being Fabulous

Ever since my very first day at college, I’ve been an adamant believer in “Fake it until you make it.”

My professors, it became apparent, judged you and your credibility solely by a first impression—at one point in my senior year, the head of the department discussed with me the fact that only one of his students, in all his time teaching, knew how to direct, and it was someone with vision the moment he walked through the door. If you did not immediately cause them to think you were an extraordinary person, they’d write you off as mundane and never give you another chance to prove otherwise.

In fact, after many discussions about the difference between a great play “just over your head” and gibberish, it became clear that pre-existing reputation was far more important than actual execution.

Trust, when dealing with the intense emotional investment as a writer, is a key factor in what kind of response you’ll have on your work. In personal experience, I once found that those who have read the entirety of one manuscript loved it, giving vastly different criticisms than those who have only read the first few chapters. I worked hard, revising and rewriting, to make the beginning suspenseful with a hook, but criticism returned to me from those who only started asked if I was going to answer some of the questions, complained about not having the world fully explained early on, but those who finished the entirety didn’t bring up those concerns at all. In some cases, the conversation was actually a simple matter of, “Do you explain this later? Oh, good! Then don’t worry about it.”

It's a 110,000 word novel. How low are your expectations if you think I’m not going to answer the questions I’ve raised in the first couple of chapters?

And, there is a distinct link between this kind of complaint—the fear that they’ll never understand the through-line—and the amount of respect the reader has for me. Those who felt a twinge of competition or are just generally opinionated on how things should be done were more likely to comment on the potential lack of payoff. Unexpectedly, those more experienced in the field (the editors, agents, and successful writers) tended to trust me and direct their criticisms to specific examples of problems, not borrowing trouble of mistakes I might make.

Recently, I’ve been struggling with the fact that my skills and ability in the craft have drastically increased since I first started writing fifteen years ago, but my imagination and “magic” in the words have taken a hit. I reflected yesterday about the success of my scholarship applications back in 2008, how my college essay was mailed back to me by several schools with handwritten praise. I suppose I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now I am shocked by my younger self’s ability to write something that people would go out of their way to compliment me on. One professor, after reading my first essay, announced to the class, “That girl can write!” only a few years later telling everyone behind my back that my play was “Just bad.” (It wasn't, fuck you very much.)

Today, my compliments look more like, “I trust you know what you’re doing.” “You’re obviously an experienced writer.” “Maybe you should just submit; sometimes you can over work things.”

'It was well-written' is almost the most painful compliment you can get, it seems.

People, more or less, find my work to be of “good quality,” but it tends to seriously lack in enthusiasm. At the last writer’s conference I went to, near everyone (save for the “Here’s every adverb you’ve used,” woman) told me that it was in a shape where I needed to just set it free and see what happens. They weren’t too optimistic about it, sort of a, “Not my thing, though someone else might love it,” but none of us could say what could be done to really make someone care.

And I get it. Would I pick up The Dying Breed out of all the books I could choose from?

Well, that’s sort of the problem.

I don’t anticipate pleasure. In fact, it’s a common description to a form of depression called anhedonia, in which a person is unable to feel excitement for things. I’ve suffered from it since 2015, growing worse and worse until I took actionable decisions in my life and cut out the toxicity that was luring me into a negative void. As of right now, I feel more empowered, optimistic, and excited, with less anxiety and lethargy than I have in years. However, I still struggle to recognize from a first impression if something is going to be enjoyable or not. I have to commit to reading books that bore me, force myself to engage in dull small talk, and use a social media presence as an excuse to live life. I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time, getting excited for things, yet I still struggle to get excited by life.

I’d been waiting a few months for some holds on library ebooks to come through, and, of course, with the returns coming back as they did, I ended up having all of them appear on my phone right at the same time. These were books of authors that I’d read years before and enjoyed at one point, wanting to finish up the series. My views on young adult fiction has changed in my old age, and I don’t really enjoy what I’m seeing anymore. For one thing, after my experience with a terrible relationship, my association of physical intimacy being an expression of love is long gone, and so these intense scenes in which a young man wants the protagonist with all his heart rings false to me.

Mainly though, I noticed that the idea of your eyes landing on someone and being blown away by their beauty—male or female alike—isn’t true to my experience. If you want to get something out of being good looking, you have to strategize. Charm is greatly enhanced by looks, I certainly believe in the Halo Effect, but you still have to have a way with words, and, to get any "service," a desire to wrap people around your finger. Anyone who has been openly attracted to me has not offered a helping hand, instead trying to participate and connect by offering up their insights on life and how I could be doing everything differently. The number one pick-up line in my life has been, “Do you want me to show you the right way to do that?”

So to see minor characters fling themselves at the feet of these beautiful men and women who never have to deal with the ramifications of the attention comes across as a naïve fantasy. No one is that good looking. Everyone is replaceable. Beautiful people are more exchangeable than someone with a good sense of humor or work ethic.

I do not believe in love at first sight. It does not mean much if someone is attracted to you the second they see you. The men who stop dead upon landing their eyes on you are the ones who have done so for many pretty faces, and will continue to do so long after you develop and bond and a history, because personality and narrative are non-factors in their desire. In fact, they can be detriments, the enigma and fantasy of the new girl, the potential, being preferred to the concrete mixed memories you’ve cultivated together.

But that’s just my anger talking.

The truth is, I’ve talked to enough women about their attraction to realize that everyone’s experience is different regardless of gender, age, or other demographics. We are drawn to people for all sorts of reasons, and I simply am more attracted to people I have good memories with.

However - and this is my point - that puts me at a disadvantage. I can’t describe the hotness of some guy upon first sight because I don’t experience that. I once had a reader tell me it was interesting how I never described if my characters were beautiful or not while similar writers would take a good portion of time going into abs and descriptions about how stunning the person was. That intense infatuation without a connection is beyond me. In fact, I always considered them slightly insincere until my mother and I were discussing gender segregated gyms and she mentioned how she would prefer to look at the men working out. That's actually a thing?

The same goes for pitching my books, choosing my content, and overall figuring out how to make people care. How do I be interesting when I am rarely interested in anything? How do I know what makes people trust my book from the onset when it takes me at least fifty pages of forcing myself before I start to commit? I’m a Susie-come-lately in terms of books, reading something that other people have insisted I need to read. It’s incredibly uncommon for me to be lured in by a catching summary. The vast majority of books sound boring, to be honest, and it’s not until you’re knee deep in the world that you start to realize the intrigue.

So how the hell am I supposed to know how to pitch my own damn thing?

My query letter for The Dying Breed ended up being more formulaic than I’d normally do. I had a friend help me on it who got his two agents (one didn’t work out) through face-to-face communication. I, with great relief, did what he suggested, which was to meet expectation. I love the story itself, but as for a hook? That's more difficult. People need to care in the beginning, and that's not necessarily happening. I’m not sure if I should keep submitting the same query, rewrite it, if I need to attend more conferences to meet agents, or if I should just focus on submitting the next novel.

I complained to a friend about not being able to get people to care, and she smiled at me and said, “Let me know when you figure it out.”

It relieved me. For a long time I was thinking, "I’m becoming more polished and professional, but that doesn’t mean I’m getting better." In some ways, people are reacting worse. What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I learn how to draw people in? But when my friend said that, I realized, no matter how long someone had been writing, no matter their career or success, no one can tell you how to make people give a shit. We can speculate, we can utilize certain abilities, but people are weird, we don’t know what we want, and tastes change. J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, they can sell books based on name recognition alone, and still get hit or misses.

This probably seems obvious to you. It’s easy to forget though, that no matter how much you try, learn, or reflect, you can’t control everything.

When it comes to being interesting, I often feel like I’m throwing information at a wall and hoping something sticks. It’s not that I don’t have a general inclination of how people will receive something, or that I written pieces I found duller than my shower razor, just that when you write for yourself, it can be difficult when yourself is a cynical, pessimistic shut-in.

With the belief that you have to keep a professional attitude, that showing concern or weakness can lose you credibility, I’d been censoring myself, fixated on how to look good and reputable, and sucked the every living fun out of my writing. Over the last few months, I focused on writing blogs that I wanted to read, as well as posting past pieces that I considered too dickish to attract people (after tweaking) of course. I haven’t seen too vast of a difference in the attention I’ve been getting, and it while I still think there’s a certain magic missing from what I’m doing, I’ve been glossing over the biggest issue the whole time.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you write if no one has any idea if you exist. Sometimes, being fabulous is about just getting out there and trying.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

I am a Recovering Grammar Nazi

'Grammar Nazi' is probably the most apt comparison of a benign, daily mentality and the horrific events that happened in 1930’s Germany. Nazism, a political party known for its desire to purge the world of so-called impurities defined by shallow and arbitrary attributes, wanted to prove the superiority of its members, not through action of good deeds and impressive accomplishments, but through religious upbringing, skin color, hair color, and other traits that were often easily determined by sight or documentation. If the failing was not immediately obvious, they would make it so with actual visualizations to help the “good” members of society not have to think.

On the one side, learning grammar, spelling, and punctuation grants the “speaker” better control over being understood. Even if he is not a writer, the nuances of language are powerful. Even if he isn’t worried about reputation or being “professional,” (superficial reasons to prioritize these things), actively practicing the differences between two words empowers those words.

I do believe checking for typos is important, especially when it comes to publishing.

But, despite being one of those people who will notice and be distracted by stupid little mistakes (except in my own writing obviously), I have long forsworn being a Grammar Nazi. Or rather, believe it has a time and place.

People don’t attack me for typos often. Less than they should, in fact. Every once in a while, I’ll get a polite message informing me of a mistake. Sometimes, unfortunately, they’ll try to be funny, which is when they’re at their rudest. But for the most part, people leave me alone about them.

Until, that is, certain subjects come up.

Every so often I imply in a blog that I would like people to point out my mistakes. (Which is true. It takes a village to find a typo.) For a few days after, I’ll get a splurge of “corrections.” These are not always actually correct, however, and on many occasions, it’s not the issue of proper grammar as much as it is a preference, or worse, hearsay.

Ending a sentence in a preposition has been a debunked grammar rule. It has been proven to never officially be part of the English language for a long time, but the internet has only picked up on it recently.

For those of you who haven’t heard, ending a sentence in a preposition, “What’s that for?” or “What did you step on?” or even “Wake up!” is a Latin grammar rule that a particular Grammar Nazi in the 1800s wanted to make into an English rule. His propaganda campaign worked and convinced people that it was improper.

But not only does not ending a sentence in a preposition sound strange and often lend to more distracting and not necessarily clearer wording, the fact is that it’s not a grammar rule. It just isn’t. So why is it I’ll get messages on a Facebook status saying I can’t say, “I can’t put my notebook down?”

Maybe because the post was about writing.

The only times I get grammar comments on my Facebook statuses are when I write about writing. Makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, we should hold writers to higher standards, shouldn’t we?

Except that it’s not comments like I’m misusing “you’re,” it’s comments like, “You ended your sentence in a preposition!” or “How dare you use an Oxford comma!”

(Putting a comma before the conjunction in a list is called the Oxford comma, and it is correct either to put it in or not. “Jeremy, Susie, and I walked to the park. Zombies, monsters and penguins attacked us.”)

A fellow writer used a great example to suggest that using the comma or not can help cadence. Unfortunately, I can’t find the quote, but it did convince me (a previously pro-Oxfordian) that it should be chosen based on how you want the sentence to sound.

Even though both are accepted by all grammar experts, you will still have people complain one way or the other. I’ve once even witnessed a certain gentleman bitch at one girl for not using them to then, months later, complain to another when she did.

Why? Because Grammar Nazism isn’t always about maintaining the purity of the language, it’s often about proving superiority in the easiest method.

“Look how much I know the grammar rules!”

Grammar rules are the only black and white thing about creative writing. You can’t demonstrate to me you’re an expert in the field with just a few sentences. I mean, I know we claim that Hemingway could with his six word, “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn,” but you’ll find when you give pieces of the masters’ writing to a blind audience, the lack of a reputation gives an influx of opinions on the prose. Which is to say, studies show that readers (or, in one specific case, music listeners) who don’t have any background information on an author and aren’t given ratings on what other people think tend to differ much more drastically on what is “good,” where those who are informed of what other people think tend to clump together.

Most “great” writers are polarizing, with people who love them or hate them. Many cases you have to give something a second (or third or fifth) chance before you realize just how deep/touching it is. I’ve hated most of my favorite shows before I was forced to get into them by friends and family.

And even if a writer was able to write like a god it very well might be that he couldn't just do it off the top of his head in a response to a Facebook status. We probably don’t even know exactly what made our writing so great, so we can't demonstrate the ability with abstract writing tips.

So I, a frustrated writer attempting to prove my knowledge, pull out a writing rule, whichever writing rule I can get my hands on at the time, even if I don’t actually agree with it.

The unfortunate thing is that, because it is motivated by a superficial superiority, Grammar Nazis will try and perpetuate grammar rules that are either untrue or just unhelpful. Instead of encouraging writing to be better, we attempt to discredit the speaker.

Just because a Grammar Nazi is strict doesn’t mean he knows what he’s talking about. Recently, a friend of mine said, “John’s coming over to visit you and me,” then corrected himself. “John and I.” I told him, supportively, he was right the first time. You put the other person first because it’s polite, but you use “I” when it’s the subject, me when it’s the object. (When in question, take out the other person and see what sounds right. “John is coming over to visit me,” not “John is coming over to visit I.”)

Considering himself a grammar expert, he was flustered and a little pissed off, even though I thought (albeit dumbly) I was telling him he was right. This is the same guy who tried to correct me on a part of speech (I was saying something was an adjective, he said it was a verb), and then called me a Grammar Nazi when I told him he was wrong.

Grammar Nazism is rarely about proper grammar as much as it is about proving yourself.

When it comes to an argument, I find that many people focus on proving the other person wrong, rather than proving their concept right. In high school, two of the biggest know-it-alls in class were in a fight whether or not all art is propaganda. The girl snatched up a dictionary and read what propaganda actually meant, which, if it did anything, only showed that he was using the word wrong (exaggerating, I would say), but didn’t disprove his belief that all art has an agenda.

Trying to prove that someone’s an idiot by claiming they used the wrong form of “you’re” is akin to calling someone fat. Yes, you did the trick in pissing them off, but it was obvious you were going for the easy target, and really, is it relevant to the issue at hand?

It is because of these things that several years ago, I decided to control my emotions better. I hated getting so irritated by petty things, and I didn’t exactly like looking like a know-it-all. From my own experience, having someone correct me on my grammar didn’t make me feel like they knew what they were talking about, but rather were obsessed with proving it.

Not everyone should forsake the sacred duty of being a Grammar Nazi. It does actually encourage and teach people to write better, especially on social media. But personally, until someone asks me to specifically do their copy editing, I, for the most part, struggle to leave it alone. Unless you’re hitting on me, then all bets are off.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

How to Tell If You’re Being Too Hard On Yourself

“I know I’m being a bastard, but don’t worry. I’m too hard on myself too.”

“Yeah. I’ve read your writing, and I don’t think you are.”

He had the tendency to tear the other members of the group apart, and like any hypercompetitive pissing contest, many of the writer’s group just let him sit with his ego. People refrained from criticizing him, tried not to pair up with him, and would smile and nod as he went on a rampage about their work.

He had just gotten done with a stream of condescending insults when he finally noticed the poet was pissed. She just sat, arms folded in front of her, watching him levelly. He, as many are inclined to do, back peddled, but only a bit.

He did not expect her to respond that way.

It has become my policy that whenever someone looking for feedback says, “I’m too hard on myself,” to take extra precaution. Anecdotally, I have never met a person saying this who wasn’t extra sensitive to criticism.

And it makes sense as to why. If you really believe you’re too hard on yourself, it means you think or hope your work is better than you think it is. And, considering that we get most offended the more credence we lend to someone else’s opinion, and are most insulted when someone “confirms” our secret fears, it makes sense that those who get the most upset about feedback are those who are hoping their opinion is just too biased against their own work.

It’s a popular ideology amongst writers that you can’t like your own work, and if you do, you are delusional. We also constantly claim that you must have exterior editors because you can’t edit yourself.

These thoughts, while valid in some sense, are not entirely accurate. Not only that, but the writer who depends too much on other people’s opinions while renouncing the legitimacy of his own is going to be someone voiceless, mainstream, and even contradictory or overwhelmed.

I do recommend getting outside feedback. Highly, in fact. But I believe in the power of self-editing, I think it’s foolish to give away the first draft of a manuscript you haven’t actually read yourself (writing it is not the same as reading), and using your instincts to gauge what is “wrong or right” with your book is what’s going to make that book yours—and therefore need to exist. It’s your unique set of personal tastes that people are really buying, not what hypothetical generic American teen probably wants. Sure, formulaic books sell well, but most times the author genuinely did have those pedestrian tastes. They were passionate about what they wrote, with a sort of magic behind the simplistic words. While you can’t only depend on your own opinion, turning a blind eye to it and hoping others have a “better” sense of taste is silly.

The main problem with self-editing is about pushing yourself. There are definitely people who are far more willing to let unsatisfying literature slide if it’s their own, those people who don’t see the flaws in their “children.” The secondary problem is the opposite; we hold ourselves to too high of standards and refuse to produce anything because it’s “not good enough.” We delete perfectly good—maybe even brilliant passages—because it doesn’t meet our standards. Or, worse, because we’re afraid the risks taken will be construed as mistakes. We let fear cloud our judgment.

We would like to think we don’t have our heads up our asses when we like our work, we’d like to think we’re just being too harsh when we don’t. Sometimes it’s a big problem, especially when we wonder if we’re ready to submit.

It’s the biggest question: How can I trust my opinion on my work?

-You have a variety of opinions.

This, obviously, doesn’t work if you’ve only written one manuscript. However, if you have several stories, even unfinished ones, the big question to ask yourself is how do you feel about each of them?

If you see a commonality—i.e. you despise every single one—it’s a sign that it’s you, not the story.

The quality of your writing will never be consistent. You should have different opinions about each work. The more varied those opinions, the more seriously you should take them.

-You can see the good and bad.

Allegedly, if you see a 'bad' in a manuscript you make a change. But sometimes 'bad' doesn’t necessarily mean a 'mistake.' Sometimes it’s just a ramification of your reasonable choice. Maybe the genre of your book became popular and is now trendy while you were writing it. Maybe you know that having a minority as a protagonist will deter some people. Maybe you know that some people won’t like the romance preempting the action. In many cases, every choice has a good and bad side.

If you read your story and you can’t find anything good to say about it, you feel it is “just terrible,” it’s a sign you’re being biased. On the other hand, if you read it and can’t see anything someone might complain about, it’s also a sign you’re being biased. Yes, we all are often biased against our own work, but we're also biased in general - that's what subjectivity is. It's nothing to accept as fact because the author always needs to be able to rely on his own opinion as he can't always count on other people to accurately tell him what's "in good taste" as they're just as biased as well. But how do you know?

You have different standards for other people.

My brother and I—of all people—were talking about wedding rings once. I said that I wanted the man to pick out my engagement ring (while my brother said he would never waste the money on one at all. We’ll see.) because if he picked it out and there was something “wrong” with it—like it shanked my clothing when I walked—it would just be an honest mistake, completely forgivable. How could he have seen that coming? However, if I picked out a ring and there was something wrong with it, it would be because I’m a complete moron and need to be shot.

I often find myself forgiving people for things that I would never forgive myself for. I have far higher expectations and standards for myself than I do others (it doesn’t mean I’m a precise person, just a self-judging one). This has its benefits—I push myself to achieve and am less likely to show off something I’m not completely proud of. But it also has its consequences.

It took me fifteen full-length manuscripts before I actively started pursuing publication of my novels. Yet, when I bit the bullet, wung it, and submitted my short stories to literary journals, I, lo and behold, got published. There is merit in pushing yourself, but there is also merit in taking a risk.

If you have the tendency to judge yourself harsher in things outside of writing—like picking out a messed up wedding ring—there’s a very good chance that yes, you are judging yourself too harshly in this as well.

I believe that anyone who isn’t as successful as they’d like has a decent idea as to why. Either you’re not working towards it at all (haven’t written anything), or you’re not creating anything of good enough “quality.” Perhaps it’s that you aren’t getting the word out there, or a mixture of all three. Sit back and take a good hard look at your hang ups. You probably know what’s holding you back on some level. 

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Friday, September 15, 2017

How to Talk to Aspiring Authors about Their “Awesome Story”

I braced against being a career teacher for three reasons.

One, out of spite for all of those college professors who start out with, “Since you’re all going to be teachers anyway…”

Two, I don’t like the bureaucratic methodology of current academia.

And three, there are certain common breakthroughs that happen through experience and encouragement and cannot be sped up by words alone. After helping one person through it, or a class, you’re not really interested in turning around and going through the pain and agony again with a bunch of hard-headed optimists.

Truth is, you went through it yourself. You probably went through it the hard way. You’d like to make it easier on them, not to mention how inhibiting naïve beliefs can be to other parts of the process.

Most of these breakthroughs seem so stupid and obvious in hindsight: Acting is a lot more fun if you learn your lines. I can actually tell how hard you didn’t try by the results of your lack of effort. Who cares if you’re naturally good? Even if you are, you could be better if you actually tried.

I recently had a discussion with a man online who wanted to know what he had to do to get published. Unfortunately, he wasn’t asking for advice like, “What’s the first step?” He wanted to know where to find editors because he simply didn’t have the time to work on it himself. He knew that he had a great idea. He claimed that he may not be an amazing writer, but he had an amazing story. How much would it cost because he didn’t have a lot of money, should he do self-publishing, should he edit the full book or just the first fifteen chapters, should he CrowdSource. He wanted to be able to make enough money to be able to quit or cut down to part-time.

Many of these questions cause writers to cringe. Personally, the idea of seeking out editors itself is just horrifying concept to me, even though it’s a fair question. While a theatrical producer, I had to hire artists constantly, and as anyone who’s had to hire anyone finds out, you never really know what you’re getting. When it comes to art, there’s not a lot of standards on pricing due to name recognition and our tendency to undervalue our time. Just because you pay someone a lot doesn’t actually mean they will be good or accountable. True is same for editors. There are sites in which you can find standing rates, but now with self-publishing so prevalent and many freelancers out there—plus a greater increase in con artists or just amateurs targeting this pool—it’s hard to say what’s a good deal.

These kinds of naïve questions can come off as entitled and egocentric, even when you realize it is just inexperience.

Which is why it’s hard for writers to not turn around and snap, “YOU’RE NOT A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO CAN WALTZ IN HERE LIKE THAT.”

They’re not putting themselves into the shoes of others. They think their experience is unique to them, that the thing they came up with on their first try is going to be so much superior to the infinite number of books out there, hell, even just the 400 books an agent has submitted to him that month. People think if you’re destined to do it, everything will come easily.

I don’t mean to trash first books, of course, and I certainly don’t discourage taking your own opinion of your book into account—you’ll see me often promoting the merits of self-reliance. It’s more about the frustration of trying to explain the hard things you’ve had to learn as you went along without committing to catharsis and outright insulting who you’re advising. Or demoralizing them.

My best suggestion to aspiring authors? Aim high, but expect standard, and don’t confuse the two. If you know it’ll be hard to sell ten books, make your goal a hundred. When you sell ten, be happy. Feel that accomplishment. When you don’t hit a hundred, don’t feel like a failure. But do your research, and work your butt off to achieve better than average.

The problem is when writers haven’t done their research, and there is the possibility if they truly understand how hard it is going to be, they won’t want to do it. When in a pissy mood, it makes you want to say, “Good.”

That’s not a beneficial reaction and considering that us writers have to deal with that throughout our lives, there’s a lot of reason to let go of the anger and attack it from a more sympathetic manner.

I answered him in the most factual way I could, keeping my responses to the exact questions asked. In the end, it came down to if he didn’t have time or money, he would not be able to self-publish, not in a way that would allow him to quit his day job. And if he did go through traditional publishing, he would still be required to do edits himself, though with the suggestions of his editor and agent.

His response was he decided to not go through self-publishing, he would edit it through once, hire a good editor, and send it out. He was “not aware of how much promotion went into self-publishing.”

I’ll admit that tough love has its benefits, and we all have our own philosophies on the best way to encourage and teach one another. I see it as likely that experiencing different teaching methods is more effective than just one kind. For that reason, it’s up to you to decide how to explain to someone that their “awesome idea” isn’t enough. But if you’re anything like me, you might feel compelled to smack them upside the head, which I insist tends to cause them to dig in their toes even more. Truly understanding the difficulty of becoming a successful writer isn’t something people will get through description. They have to put themselves out there, try and try again. They won’t give up just because you told them off, they won’t believe you just because you explained your experience.

Admittedly, I don’t understand this man’s naivety; why wouldn’t everyone go into self-publication if it didn’t require effort? However, I do get what it’s like to bank on a little bit of destiny to help you out, and in some ways, that’s a big part of not getting demoralized. Try to be nice to people who don’t really know what they’re in for, and remember that even if they don’t take your advice immediately, sometimes words can have a lasting effect on them years later. I never took that adamant crushing of dreams to heart—to my benefit! However, there have been times that someone’s advice turned relevant years later, after I too had lived what they were talking about.

So, when someone approaches you with their amazing idea, you don’t have to bite your tongue if you don’t want, just consider what would have been best way to deal with you when you were in that stage.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

The Quantum Effect of Soliciting Criticism

Several years ago whenever I’d meet with a published author, editor, or agent I’d always ask them, “What do you do about criticism you don’t understand?”

Each time the answer, after a hesitated consideration, would be the same. “What do you mean, ‘don’t understand?’”

I couldn’t say. I couldn’t believe no one had had the same feeling as me, that no one knew where I was coming from, no one had that moment of someone giving you a piece of advice and you just don’t get it. I could give them examples, like when my professor out of the blue told me I should, “Add in another character,” but the responses to this weren’t very helpful.

“Did you only have one character?”


“He just wanted you to add him in.”

Their guesses seemed speculatory and inaccurate.

Over time, it took a lot of self-analysis to finally explain what exactly I meant, to figure out how to explain what ‘not understanding’ was and thus how to solve it. Yet to this day it still shocks me that so few people relate to what I mean when I say there’s feedback I am confused about, even though it’s probably the majority of what I received.

Disagreeing with a criticism is you thinking it is incorrect. Not understanding a criticism is where you don’t see what problem it would solve, or maybe just don’t  understand why it’s so important to the reader. Sometimes they’ll harp on one word that I consider fine either way, that no one else has mentioned before and no one will seem to care about after. But they’re so adamant that you can’t but help wondering what is missing.

One day, while complaining about this to my dad, he said, “Well, sometimes you just need something to say.”

That rang true.

In a constructive criticism session, it can be a complete waste of time if no one has a response, but in many cases responses don’t come naturally. The most painful moment is when someone brings in a manuscript that is fine. It doesn’t have any obvious mistakes, doesn’t have any issues, but you don’t really love it either. What do you say to that person? Yes, I have scanned through a manuscript looking for something to say because I know how annoying it is to have people go, “It’s good,” and add nothing else.

You’ll note that when you give a manuscript out to someone, in the beginning, it’s chock-full of line notes, little anal comments on you using “slightly” instead of “lightly.” Sometimes this is useful, but in many occasions the notes are contradictory with other people’s versions, the one word that So and So complains about is not something that Joe Snuffy cares about and something that Joe Blow absolutely loves.

Over the course of the manuscript, further into the text, the line notes get less and less, growing into more bigger picture issues. The reader gets more engrossed in the story, has more information to go off of, and so stops feeling the need to rewrite the book for you, but actually starts to have some opinions.

But even those can sometimes feel forced.

Most readers naturally judge in hindsight and rarely analyze why they felt the way they did. Processing this way makes the book more enjoyable, makes the world more real. It’s one of the things authors complain about after they started writing—you see books differently once you decide to create them for yourself. Writers begin to dissect and go meta, struggling to be immersed and just let the story happen.

Which is why I recommend getting feedback from readers who don’t write along with any professionals or experts you can find. Readers are going to have a more open minded, result-based opinion than those of us who have been dissecting stories for the last decade, and are less likely to fixate on rules but rather reactions.

The issue is that getting specifics from non-writing readers is difficult. They only know if they liked it or not. They’re not able to tell you what exactly made them apathetic, just that they were. Many people will, of course, try, but that’s when we get into the quantum effect.

Quantum physics is a science that studies (among other things) photons and atoms. One of its concerns is about deciding if something is a wave—an oscillation accompanied by a transfer of energy that can travel through space and mass—or a particle—a minute fragment or quantity of matter—The most famous experiment, however, is when they attempted to determine the state of light and came to find that it possesses both qualities of waves and particles.

According to Wikipedia:

“In the basic version of this experiment, a coherent light source such as a laser beam illuminates a plate pierced by two parallel slits, and the light passing through the slits is observed on a screen behind the plate. The wave nature of light causes the light waves passing through the two slits to interfere, producing bright and dark bands on the screen—a result that would not be expected if light consisted of classical particles. However, the light is always found to be absorbed at the screen at discrete points, as individual particles (not waves), the interference pattern appearing via the varying density of these particle hits on the screen.”

In order to eliminate the interference, they decided to send one particle through at a time. When doing so, it acted like a particle, being “stopped” by the screen.

But they noticed something strange when it came to calculating the experiment’s results. When they attempted to measure the light, it acted like a particle, when they didn’t, it acted like a wave. Quantum physics suggests that once you try and measure the outcome, you can actually change it.

When people read for entertainment, they read differently than when doing so for analysis. Instead of letting themselves react and then determine if they liked it or not, they will try and recognize how they feel as they go, looking at each specific detail and trying to judge the whole of the story. It suddenly becomes impossible to not complain of adverbs and passive sentences, they get hung up on words they don’t know instead of skipping over them. They might start playing dumb and understanding less than they would if they hadn’t been looking for errors. They often let the details get to them and don’t notice the bigger picture issues.

Sometimes this is just sensible. An excessive amount of typos is naturally jarring and expecting someone to get immersed in the story despite commas and spelling errors confusing cadence and meaning is a little hopeful. Plus, it’s not as though they’re completely wrong when they don’t like a word you use.

It’s just that, sometimes, what people complain about, what makes them feel a certain way in a draft isn’tnecessarily how people are going to feel in a published book. You’re more limited when someone is deliberately trying to give you criticism. Sometimes they’ll not only allow, but enjoy your creativity in a published work that they would have scoffed at if done by a peer.

So what do you do?

Telling the difference is hard, but important. Many great writers were criticized before they got the reputation for people to trust their “strange” behavior. What made them famous was what was keeping them from getting their foot in the door. If you alter every unusual choice because that’s what people chose to complain about, you will likely produce an acceptable, but homogenized, uninspired piece of fiction. On the other hand, if you just ignore it, you might very well be shooting yourself in the foot. If you want other people to read your work then obviously other people's opinions matter. The question of how many people will feel the same way and in what context is important.

How can we avoid the quantum effect? How can we determine if it’s a result created from our attempts to measure it or if it is a constant reaction in any context?

1. Ask your readers not to mark up a manuscript.

Get one or a few readers to not actually use a red pen, but rather just read the manuscript without any notes at all. Afterwards, discuss their reaction, ask them how they felt, and see if they have any ideas for your problems. Tell them you’re using them to gain a better understanding of your piece, not actually looking for specific criticism.

When they’re not reading to make notes, they’re more likely to take it as it is on the whole, and their responses can be taken more seriously. Instead of trying to parse out if each individual phrase is actually problematic or if they’re just rewriting it in their way, hearing them say, “I love the way you write, but it can also be jarring sometimes,” can be taken as a more serious reaction. They’re more likely to forget each individual and perhaps petty critiques and only remember the more serious issues.

2. Make two lists of your favorite and most admired works.

On the first list, write out books that you enjoyed reading, whether you actually respected them or not. On the second list, name the works you admire regardless of if you actually had any fun reading them.

When someone gives you a criticism that you question, see what the people on those two lists actually did. If someone is telling you, “No one likes prologues!” but every book on your list had one, than you know it’s more of a question on why was theirs successful, and now can ask if the criticism on yours about what you did, a matter of personal taste, or just the critic looking for something easy to point out.

If books you enjoyed and respected did it, it now becomes a question of whether or not you did it well/if it’s an issue of trust and reputation. (Your reader didn’t like it because it was you, a peer, rather than they didn’t actually like it.)

If the books you enjoyed did it, but not the ones you respected, ask if its merit is actually about entertainment and if it’s the decision that lost respect.

If the books you respect but didn’t enjoy do it, ask if you are just trying to mimic them, or if perhaps the reader assumes you’re only doing it to look literary.

If none of the books on your list do it, it might be a good sign that it is a problem. You may consider looking at the stories you hate and seeing if they don’t also make the same choice.

3. Look for hypocrisy.

Check out your readers’ favorite authors. If your reader is a writer, see if you can’t go through some of their work. You may find that they’re reputation focused, i.e. Stephen King can get away with something Richard Bachmann can’t because King’s already been proven. Or it might be that they’re projecting—They try to write like their favorites all the time, so they are more critical when they think other people are doing it too. This doesn’t necessarily tell you if you should make the change one way or another, but it does give just a little bit more information to help you decide.

Same goes for if they write the way they’re telling people not to. It might be an issue of them being harsher on their own flaws, or it might be that they think they can get away with it; it’s something only the greats can do. It also might be something that other people have harped on them for, and we tend to give criticism in the way we receive it.

4. Get more readers.

It should be obvious, but the good side of the quantum effect is that it tends to lack consistency—also the reason why it’s a problem. When people are looking for something to say or are inorganically trying to come up with some sort of feedback, they tend to go to different places. If the feedback isn’t a genuine feeling, but rather something somewhat forced, it’s very likely that few people will say the same thing.

But keep in mind that sometimes, especially when the reader is only offering solutions without explaining the problem, two people can be saying the same thing in drastically different ways. Look for the common denominator before writing it off as being inconsistent, and whenever someone is telling you to do something (don’t use adverbs), make sure that the reason why they’re telling you to do it (enhance tension) isn’t the same motivator as another person also telling you to do something (shorten your sentences.)

5. Take conversational criticism more seriously than intentional criticism.

After you start producing work, writers begin to overhear conversations about their stories. People start approaching you to tell you what they think, they will discuss your blog on a forum, they’ll leave comments on your page, and feedback comes in from all kinds of places outside of an editor/review place.

Sometimes you can discard this information due to the differences of opinions and subjectivity (don’t ever pander to your enemies at the cost of your fans), but in many cases, if someone wants to tell you something without obligation, it’s a sign of a genuine feeling. There are many reasons to not listen to every layman with an opinion, but you can, at least, assume that it came from a real reaction rather than the man-made ones that might result when we force ourselves to have a response. Intentional criticism, like Amazon reviews or peer critiques, can be fantastic, well informed, and far more thorough, but it can also focus too much on logic and the way the world “should be.” Both criticisms should be taken seriously (as well as with a grain of salt), but just know there’s a reason why the feedback you got in a room with writers isn’t necessarily the feedback you’ll get from the internet.

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Friday, September 8, 2017

How the Sacrificial Ending Ended a Relationship

Sort of.

I just finished up season eleven of hit television show, Supernatural. If you’ve followed me up until this point, you’d know that I haven’t been that impressed with it.

“Then why the hell are you watching it?” you, if you’re anything like my brother, might be wondering.

I don’t know. I sit on Facebook a lot, and I don’t particularly enjoy that either.

But my past reflections on the series were definitely based around the low point I had found myself in while I attempted to get through it. It was good enough, at least, to be better than the gaping void that filled me, but the negativity and T.V. formulas bothered me to a deep level.

Now that I’m in a better place, my confusion of the show’s popularity had waned. I see the humor more, am less put off by philandering, and don’t struggle to concentrate nearly as much as I used to. I take things in as they come, and can appreciate the “escape from reality” storytelling of daytime television.

So while I do appreciate the show’s qualities more, I stand by my irritation at the vast majority of their endings. Not just seasons, but each episode. Do the writers know how to tie things up if they couldn’t just murder everyone? Hell, the main characters die just about as often as the minors (I was about to say minorities. Apt.) except usually they’re brought back to life.

In any case, as I get to the final episode of the season, yet once again they are trying to taunt the audience into worrying about the brothers’ safety. Of course each brother wants to be the one who sacrifices himself. Of course he offers to do it without the remotest of fear, despite that these self-sacrifices have caused a lot more problems for the whole of humanity than anything else.

I mean, to give credit where credit is due, the writers never back down from a shit storm their last solution caused, which is one of the greater qualities of the series. They have no problem hurting their protagonists, and it’s not like they’re going to get off scot free, even when you know their noble volunteering won’t actually be the catastrophe otherwise suggested.

I’ve always hated the self-sacrificing trope, honestly, long before I even realized it was common enough to be a trope.

It’s really easy for people to say they’ll do the right thing from the safety of our own homes, but most of us have sat around at one point thinking, “I would never cheat/do drugs/steal/backstab!” before reality struck us with a ton of bricks and we very much fucked it up via poor decision making, selfishness, or unpredictable factors beyond our control.

I always thought I would stand up for people in need if confrontation happened in front of me, but I didn’t factor in how something unexpected can hobble you, or how little nuances can make your planned reaction look over the top and emotional.

For instance, some time ago I watched a video featuring a man striking his girlfriend in the middle of the street. The “Candid Camera” situation saw people of all sorts coming to her aid. When the roles were reversed and the girl was beating the crap of her boyfriend, no one said anything.

Well, I’m not going to do that, I thought.

Lo and behold, it’s New Year’s Eve in New York City. The sidewalk around Central Park is crowded and people are shoving to get through. One man is shouting loudly—obnoxious, but somewhat comical—about the stupidity of people trying to get a glimpse of Times Square from 59th street. His girlfriend (I presume), right behind him, smacked him upside the back of the head.

“Shut up!” she said. “You’re being a jerk.”

It happened quickly. She hit him twice and kept moving. Neither of them were angry—irritated, but not hostile. It didn’t sound hard, but I bet it stung a little. It was certainly bad enough that I might have said something if the genders had been reversed, but as it was, I didn’t exactly think about it, I wasn’t involved in the conversation, both of them were bigger than me, and honestly what would I have said, in New York City, to a couple I don’t know, when neither of them seemed to be bothered by what had occurred?

I’m not saying it wouldn’t have had an effect; a great deal of abuse or just toxicity occurs because it has been normalized. Pointing out that I don’t think it’s appropriate to strike your partner would have at least caused them to question it. But it probably would have also gotten me yelled at.

My point?

It’s easy to say that you’d do the right thing theoretically, that you’d sacrifice yourself for the greater good if came to that. It’s even easier to have a character do it. And there are people who really would die for a cause. But I, for one, have never felt tension or admiration at a character’s offer to make the leap. In fact, not making the decision hard on them trivializes it in a way. Truly touching in on the smaller sacrifices can be far more effective than screaming, “I WILL LOSE MY SOUL FOR YOU!” It’s unrelatable.

This exact argument was a straw in the camel’s back of a break up. I mean, it wasn’t just that, and it didn’t even end it at the time, but my staunch philosophy and refusal to budge on this subject brought into light for the first time my biggest flaw in that (and subsequent) relationships.

I can be a surprisingly good doormat when I want to be. I suppose that one of the reasons I don’t like black and white mortality or the bluff of self-sacrifice is how important doing the right thing is to me. How, despite constantly reflecting on my beliefs and appropriate behavior, I can still do the wrong thing from time to time, sometimes that being too accommodating.

In any case, five years ago my boyfriend at the time was a director for a repertory group. He needed a play to fit the cast, and I offered to co-write it with him. He’d never really written a play before, but that didn’t concern me. He was a good oral story teller and honest about his tastes which are pretty good foundations for being a talented writer.

The problem? He really didn’t have a lot of artistic respect for me.

My first lesson from all this mess is to value yourself and what you’re contributing. I felt because he was taking a chance on me—an unpublished unknown—I needed to suck up and attempt to make the play he wanted.

He was indecisive, passively critical, and surprisingly closed-minded about anything out of his comfort-zone. To be clear, I consider him a kind-hearted person, a giver himself, none of his actions malicious. But he was easily influenced by reputation and I had none.

So we rewrote the entire plot about three times. If he had had his way, we could have had an upwards of 12 totally different plays. He couldn’t focus on one concept or incorporate those into each other. Everything he read or watched inspired him, and I struggled to lead him away from overt plagiarism. It wasn’t until I took charge and stuck with one idea (of his) that I liked that we got rolling. I put a little of all his concepts together, none of them fleshed out enough to be a story alone, and added characteristics and details that made the piece interested and inspired me. He wanted to write it together, but also wanted to procrastinate. When we did eventually sit down, we tried him dictating it to me, but his dialogue was far too on the nose and insincere to pass. Any criticism shut him down immediately, even if it was a mere idea.

As we went through, I bent over backwards in order to make it the play that he wanted, and I will say this: It is one of my better pieces. He was a plot guy while I’m a character girl. By writing for him instead of for myself, it forced me to think outside the box, care about areas I normally ignore, and really flesh it out before starting. I’d say the concept, the base idea, is mostly his/Stephen King’s, but everything else—from character to style to events to how the plot actually pieced together—was me. Despite the enormous amount of frustration and feelings of disrespect, working on that piece really pushed me into different areas of my abilities.

But the real kicker? The ending.

See, I was more frustrated than he was. Spending most of my time thinking about what he would like and getting him to have fun, I allowed for a great deal of dissention and criticism that I did not supply out. I chose my arguments very carefully and tried to compromise to write something we’d both like. He did not recognize my efforts.

In fact, the opening night, we were walking to the theatre and got into an argument:

“You know that I factored in all your ideas? I wrote the play that you wanted to write!” I said.

“What did you want to write?”

I reminded him of the concept I pitched on our first meeting, to which he replied, (and I quote) “Well that’s because your idea was stupid!”

He did apologize after the show did very well and thanked me, but the damage had already been done.

I had suspected that he didn’t see eye to eye with my perception of my compromise when it came down to the few things I put my foot down on, things I had a staunch artistic reason not to do: plagiarize, write contemporary, and have the main character falsely go to sacrifice himself at the end before he is miraculously saved.

Plagiarism was a morality issue, writing contemporary was more of a knowing myself—I really, uniquely struggle to be inspired to write about modern day Earth—but as for the ending? That was the idea I thought was stupid.

A good ending has tension or meaning. It’s relatable. It’s an analogy. It teaches us. It excites us. It brings out emotions we struggle to experience on our own. It doesn’t need to do everything, but it needs to do more than just have a quasi-stakes that induce meta-thinking and showcase two-dimensional morals. It can’t just be a cliché bang that does it’s perfunctory job of “and now it looks like the hero might fail!”

I might end up being a hypocrite here depending on your interpretation. The play did end with a character sacrificing himself, just not the protagonist. He achieves redemption in his death, to the heartbreak of the other characters. Some didn’t like the “unhappy” ending, but I believe it worked.

I have another manuscript in which the love interest goes to sacrifice himself for the world until the heroine doses him. Then there’s the one in which the hero throws himself into the arms of his slavers in order to get vengeance on the man who hurt someone he love. I don't count these because, well of course I don't! But also because I believe the characters have agency. They know what they're in for they find their way out of it. There's tension outside of "Will he die?!" Perhaps one of these days I’ll end a book with the full blown cliché itself, in which case, feel free—please—to tear me a new one.

But I’m not actually saying that a sacrificial ending is always a bad thing, something to be criticized or avoid. Just to always remember that most people don’t expect you to go through with it, and there’s much better ways to show what a good person your protagonist is then him giving his word for a plan that everyone knows won’t come to fruition.

There were several occasions that led me to believe my ex was not going to be the one. I cared about him deeply. He was good to me on many non-artistic levels. Most of our issues could be attributed to both of our immaturity. But there were signs that my opinion and needs weren’t as important as some others’, that we didn’t see eye to eye on our plans for life. This wasn’t necessarily the moment that I started to realize we wouldn’t last, but it was the moment that I knew if he couldn’t at least be open to the validity of my philosophies as a long-term writer, I wasn’t going to be able to stand him for the next 50 years.

As Buffy the Vampire Slayer says before she goes to sacrifice her life to save the world, “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it,” and the hardest sacrifice to make is the one you have to keep making over and over again. Sacrifice is not always the best way to solve a problem, and killing your characters might just kill your relationship instead.

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