People, marginalized groups most of all, tend to do their own rejecting. They don’t see a lot of people like themselves in anthologies or magazines. They don’t see themselves so they don’t think people like themselves should even try.
There are several times we tell ourselves no when it’s not really our job. Before we write the story. Before we submit the story. Before we accept the acceptance of the story. Before we tell people that we have work eligible for awards. Before we accept the nomination for the award.
We are convinced that if we do get acceptance, or we do get a nomination, or we do win an award, then something has gone wrong. We forget that it’s not our job to accept, nominate, and award.
Of course, if you really want to, then you can dream up reasons for why now isn’t the right time, this isn’t the right place, and you’re not quite ready… but I don’t think that’s your job.
It’s not your job to tell yourself no. It’s not your job to deny yourself opportunities. It’s not your job to prevent your own progress. There are enough people in the world who will do those things for you.
Your job is to embrace rather than ignore. Your job is to pursue rather than prevent. Your job is to tell yourself “yes” instead of “no.”
That’s your job.
Exactly this. It IS your job to write, to submit, to keep writing.
It is NOT your job to decide who goes into the magazine, who gets their book published, and who gets nominated or wins awards.
It sounds like you’re helpless. You’re not. You are only helpless if you try to control the stuff you don’t control at all, and it feels like the way to control that is to say NO to yourself before anyone else does.
But you don’t have that control. If you focus on what you do control – writing and sending that thing off, then you will be happy.
Back in January I was talking about a lost Ze Frank video, and lamenting it because it’s one of my favorite arguments against people who are afraid to write their great idea. Luckily Michael Kohne found it for me! Thanks Michael!
This of course reminds me of the project I want to do in the vein of my Tea Party with Failure. I need to get on that. Else it will be brain crack.
[Side note- some of you may notice I’m blogging more. If you’re mostly an ISBW podcast listener, my language may surprise you. I have a clean podcast because I am all too aware of the value of having something you can listen to in your car when your kids are with you, but in my fiction and nonfiction writing I do enjoy the colorful metaphors and descriptions.]
If you are one of those people who enjoy reading about yourself, no matter what people say, then go ahead. Read the reviews as if someone isn’t talking about your work, and, like many reviewers do, make assumptions based on your personality as a direct result of what you write. You don’t even need to continue reading. Just go off and feel pleased about yourself and the confidence you’ve built as an adult. Well done!
OK, now for the 95% rest of the population – don’t do it. Seriously. Nothing good comes of reading reviews. You’re going to read them and if they like the whole thing but think the romance part is weak (unless you’re writing romance, which makes it a bigger deal) then you’re probably going to be like AUGH THEY HATED MY ROMANCE MY LIFE IS OVER.*
Some people may not “get” your writing. They don’t see what you’re trying to achieve, or your subtle phrasing and hooks went over their head. That’s a definite possibility. However, the moment you say that people don’t understand your work, you dive headfirst into Sensitive Artist pool and sound like a pretentious asshole. It’s also possible that they didn’t “get” it because you didn’t do a good job of presenting it. Horrors, I know.
Nobody understands me because I am so deep.
Online, there are two things you never want to ask anyone, because there is no good answer.
Why did you unfollow me on [social network]?**
How could you write such a bad review of my work, my baby, my livelihood?
Seriously, nothing good comes out of this. The weird thing about becoming a public persona — whether for what you do, what you create, or being famous for being famous — is that when one person tells you their opinion of their work, you can bet cash moneys that there are many others out there who aren’t speaking up who think the same thing. This works both ways, good opinions and bad. So there are more out there that think the same as that horrible reviewer, but aren’t saying anything (possibly because they’re afraid of scary crazy author person chasing them down). So even if you did stop that one reviewer – which you won’t – it doesn’t stop opinions.
Also, reviews aren’t for you. They’re for the reader. Reviewers tell other readers what they think of a book, and whether you should pick it up or dear gawd don’t waste your money and time. These are valid warnings. If a reviewer for the Crusty Literary Readers Guild or The Stories Should Be About White Dudes Club doesn’t like my book about a woman writing travel guides for monsters, then they should probably warn other readers like them not to pick it up. Perfectly valid.
I really can’t think of any instance where an author complained about a review and it turned out OK for them. There was Anne Rice’s meltdown eleven years ago, and she is still campaigning against people who have opinions online. (I won’t link to the site where she does this because they cry about bullies but then go after “SJWs” – a huge red flag for me since it’s a term almost exclusively used by bigots associated with groups like Gamergate and Rabid Puppies) Laurel K Hamilton freaked out on her own blog. And now we have another one, a man posting an incomprehensible rant against a reviewer, comparing her to a child abductor. His comments have since been removed, but archives and an article about the incident are here.
That article makes a good point- the author is always the one who looks bad in this. ALWAYS. I don’t care if they said you were a poopyface that eats vomit and kicks baby birds. The moment you go “NUH UH, STOP BEING MEAN” you look like the jerk. People are going to wonder why you are spending so much time messing with this review. You’re a writer, why are you rampaging online instead of writing more?
I use goodreads, but as a reader. I like to keep track of my books. I don’t even write reviews anymore, unless I’m strongly driven (Station Eleven) to or it’s a medium in which I’m not currently writing (i wrote a review of the horror manga Uzumaki because it was amazing except for one aspect I needed to comment on). I’m technically on it as an author, but I never look at my reviews. There is zero point to it, unless I want to have a really good reason to drink that night.
You can go Jay and Silent Bob if you like, and take all the money you have and use it to track down everyone on the Internet who ever said anything bad about you and then punch them, but there are better uses for money, and that won’t stop MORE people from calling you an idiot for making that use of your time and money.
Satisfying, maybe. Illegal and impossible, definitely.
Look out the window right now, at the wide world. Perhaps the sun is shining. Perhaps the moon is up. Perhaps birds are singing or hopping around a feeder or bath. Maybe a cat is sitting on a fence, licking her paw. Maybe a neighbor or coworker wanders by and waves. You know, logically, that apart from the lovely view out your window, there are also likely rotting dead animals in the woods, and worms and beetles teem under the rocks in your garden, and copperheads lurk in the grass, ready to bite your dogs in the face***, and that person likely has skeletons in their closet they pray no one will ever find.
Internet comments, and some reviews, are the under-the-rock, rotting animal, secret-keeping neighbor that we all know are there, but to see them we have to hunt for them. So the question is, do you enjoy the view from your window, or do you purposefully go look under a rock just to get grossed out?
(and don’t tell me that you go under the rocks to remove the pests from your garden. You’ll end up killing some earthworms if you do that, which damages your garden. And the earthworms are your loyal readers who just lost respect for you because you threw a great big noisy fuss online. Metaphors. BOOM.)
I’ve gotten bad reviews. When I first got nominated for the Campbell, I had a very weird super-backhanded compliment given to me on a blog. But I learned in fifth fucking grade that ignorance is bliss – I was much happier before someone intercepted a note and showed me a line completely unflattering about me. Because what can you do about it? (Note- the answer is NOT go-apeshit-on-the-Internet.) Remember the Bonnie Raitt song “I can’t make you love me?” Well, you can’t make people love your work. And if you throw a fit online, you’re actively making them love you less. Not your work: you.
So you run across a bad review, or someone “helpfully” tells you about it. What can you do? You can get back to fucking work. That’s pretty much my answer for everything these days. Mad at something? Write. Trolls trolling online? Write. Grackles overtaking the birdfeeder? Write.
Do something that only you can control, and remember that they have no power over you but what you give them.
*Yeah, this was my Publishers Weekly review. 99% positive, a comment that the romance was weak, and I was devastated. Illogical, I know.
**I’ve stopped answering when people ask me this. No one has ever liked any of the reasons I told them.
***Happened last summer. That was a fun night. If you go on a long trip in the summer, remember to pay someone to mow your grass.
Edits, man. I have friends who cheerfully say, “rewriting is writing!” and love the edit process. I think these people are also the kind who enjoy putting laundry away. My approach to edits is different, and something I constantly struggle with. Picture a conversation, if you will.
Conscious mind: Your work needs other eyes. Your work has always, always benefitted by an editor’s hand. Most of the time the requested edits are pointing out unconscious repetitions in your work, or unintended cliches, or just misuse of a word. In short, editing is good. Editing makes the story better. You should feel grateful an editor has taken the time to suggest improvements to your work.
Subconscious mind: OH SHIT AN EMAIL HAS ARRIVED WITH “EDITS” IN THE SUBJECT LINE, FIRE THE ADRENALINE CANNONS, PREPARE THE SORRY-FOR-MYSELF HUGGY BEARS, AND MAKE SURE THE WEEPING CLOSET HAS FRESH TISSUES.
Conscious mind: Um, Drama Mama? Can you hold it down and stop flooding me with the desire to run away screaming that no one likes my writing? I have work to do here. And edits have never been bad, or personal. It’s about the work. So let’s edit the work.
Subconscious mind: WRONG WRONG WRONG THERE WAS THE TIME. THE CHOAD* TIME. YOU KNOW IT. RPG EDITOR SEND REDLINES BACK WITH THE WORD “CHOAD” WRITTEN AMONG THE EDITS THREE TIMES. ONCE AS A VERB. OR MAYBE AN ADJECTIVE. “CHOADING.” WE DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS.
Conscious mind: That was over 10 years ago! You were a baby writer! And besides, he was still commenting on the work, not you. Your writing was choady. You were fine.
Subconscious mind: You’re serious? Is this a joke? Choady writing is just fine as long as we don’t have Choady Mur?
Conscious mind: You haven’t been treated like that since! Get over it! Every time since then the edits come in, and you freak the fuck out, and then I have to spend days making you get up the courage to look at the edits, and how often are they more than an hour’s work?
Subconscious mind:Only on novel-length work.
Conscious mind: What’s that?
Subconscious mind: Only on novel-length work. But STILL. SCARY THEY DON’T LIKE US OR OUR WORK FEELS.
Conscious mind: Do you remember how good you feel when it’s done? Do you remember how we always say, “Why did we dread that so much?”
Subconscious mind: Fires the adrenaline cannon at Conscious mind, runs off to the weeping closet.
Conscious mind: Well. That was fun. Now I’ve got adrenaline all over me. Anyone got a towel? Maybe I’ll edit this afternoon…
Meet my subconscious. She’s kind of an asshole.
* Most people I’ve told this story to don’t know what choad means. It’s slang for penis. For more information, that link right there is text and descriptive, and safe for work unless people looking over your shoulder also like to read over your shoulder. And then they’ll only be reading about penis. Fun fact, according to the link above, choad was The Mavens’ Word of the Day, 2000 May 31, Random House.
In case you dislike the other options for ebook purchasing, I’ve given you one more option: Payhip. You can buy directly from me instead of going through other ebook retailers. I’m gradually uploading things, and the first ones I did was my short story collection, Merry Christmas from the Heartbreakers, and Marco and the Red Granny, my novella about arts, patronage, aliens, and gladiatorial combat on the moon.
I am thrilled to announce I made a story sale to John Joseph Adams for the extremely amusing anthology, Help Fund My Robot Army! This book features stories written entirely in the form of Kickstarter (or other crowdfunding) campaigns, inspired by the Keffy R.M. Kehrli story of the same title (and format.) My story is “SAVE THE PHOTOPHOBIC HEMOGLOBIVORES WITH THE SANGUINE RESERVE!” *
Yesterday afternoon I got home from Boskone. Had a stressful travel day, landed, and ran off to see Book of Mormon in Durham. It was awesome; I’ve been waiting nearly two years to see this show and it delivered.
Boskone was definitely worth the trip, despite the blizzard and the shortened con because I had to run home for the show. I got some good time with other authors, some editors, Stonecoast friends and mentors, and met some new fans. Panels were great, but one moment stood out: I had a “funny pose” panel (a-la Jim C. Hines) – which was amazingly fun – at 7pm on Saturday. At 730, Boskone held a big book launch party, and Orbit (my publisher) kindly sent in a box of Ghost Train to New Orleans. I was delighted and promised I’d get to the party right after the posing panel to push the books and sign them if people wanted me to. When I got there at 8pm they told me the very good and very bad news that my book had been one of the fastest moving titles (YAY) and thus they were all gone so there was nothing for me to sign, no fans to meet (BOO). Some people did find me later and have me sign their copy. (YAY)
But one thing came out of the con that has me thinking: I want to talk professionalism: When we talk about being a pro, it often means doing work even when we don’t want to, and being polite to others in your field so you’re not mocked as being a sexist asshat, but another aspect of being a pro hit me this weekend: no matter what level in your career that you are in, you go to cons to connect with people. Readers, writers, editors, agents, fans, dealers, what have you. Even if you’re a veteran there just to see old friends, the mere act of being in public reminds readers who you are, the panels increase your visibility, the signings and readings reconnect you with the fans and tell them I’m still writing.
But for the non veterans, for the new writers, or baby published writers like me, it can be hard. When I’ve talked about this in the past, I’ve always talked about approaching writers/editors/agents as getting over a shyness problem. But yesterday I realized it goes deeper than that. It’s our JOB to do this. Networking is part of the job, just like putting your butt in the chair is. And if you can’t do that part of your job, you might suffer.
Charlaine Harris was at the con. During a panel, my friend Kristabelle asked Harris a craft question and Harris jumped on it, delighted to talk about writing. Apparently not a lot of people ask her craft questions. “Well heck, maybe she’d like to be on ISBW,” I thought, and immediately got scared. Ask Charlaine Harris? That’s terrifying. She’s famous and important. I have little to no connection with her, I didn’t know anyone who could introduce us. I would have to essentially cold call (cold approach?) her in the middle of the con for an interview. Saturday night, I saw her having a drink with her agent at the bar, and thought, “when I finish this glass of wine I’ll be relaxed enough to ask her. And they might be done by then so I won’t have that “I’m interrupting” problem.” I forgot I was drinking on an empty stomach, and by the time the wine was gone, I was not in a professional space to approach an author I’ve never spoken to, and the next time I looked, she was gone anyway.
I could easily blame a number of things- the wine hit too hard, I should have eaten dinner, I didn’t want to interrupt her chat with her agent, blah blah. But the truth was, I was too scared to do my fucking job. And that can’t continue.
It’s not about being brave, it’s about doing the job. And I think (hope) if I approach networking and interviewing and the like with the mindset of “time make the donuts” then I might do this a little better.
(I’m sorry I didn’t score a Charlaine Harris interview for you.)
There are things we know we are supposed to do. Floss. Get enough sleep. Eat regular meals. Eat healthy meals. Exercise.
And yet, inertia and incorrect priorities always make us sacrifice the important things. We eat crap and wonder why we feel sluggish. We sleep 6 hours a night and wonder why we are slow and snappish. We don’t floss and wonder why we bleed and get lectures at the dentist office.
And when we feel rather bad or low or like we’re the worst writers in the world, it’s often good to look away from the writing and see if you have covered all of the important things. If it’s been 8 or more hours since your last meal, or you got 4 hours of sleep, or you’ve got a cold coming on, those are all things other than your manuscript that can bring you down. We don’t like to admit it. We don’t like to think that the key to our novel lies inside a turkey sandwich. But our emotions are volatile little toddlers that can explode unexpectedly for reasons we don’t quite understand. And we take it out on unsuspecting things, like our work, or loved ones, or other drivers on the road.
So: you wake up. You’re convinced you’re shit. The world will chew up and spit out your prose. If you ever finish what you’re working on. But you won’t. Because you’re shit.
Hold up: how did you sleep last night? Have you had breakfast yet? Take the dog for a walk. (I do realize that suggesting this on the eve of a huge cold front about to freeze the eastern US solid is bad, but this post is technically evergreen.) Get a shower, get your head on straight. Hug your kids, tell your significant other that you’re grateful for them. THEN look at your work.
It’s possible it’s still shit, sure. I’m not saying all writing is magically better once you eat some eggs. But your attitude about approaching it will be better, and your endurance with writing and editing will be greater. We have to take care of ourselves if we want to accomplish anything.
(That said, you want to explain to me that medical doctors who prove time and again that the brain needs 7-9 hours of sleep a night, often pull 24 hour shifts?)
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