So You Write: A webcomic about being a writer

Published June 10, 2012 by swankivy

This is my webcomic about being a writer.  It’s very silly, with autobiographical details about my life as a writer and what sorts of things we creative types deal with while interacting with the outside world.

There is no update schedule planned; I’ll add a new one whenever I feel like it.  It’d be too demanding for me to try to keep this one regular too since I already have another webcomic that has been updated every Friday since May 20, 2005.

Please send me a message if you’d like to leave private feedback or ask questions about any of my projects.

Narrow

Published January 31, 2021 by swankivy

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It’s interesting how often people who talk about literary merit and artistic worthiness are so quick to assume women aren’t writing about real problems, or that the differences we do see in common elements of writing based on gender have clear divisions between what’s nutritious and what’s empty calories. There are more women than men in this world, and still our thoughts, issues, and lives are thought marginal.

First, these are all slightly exaggerated and paraphrased from real quotes by men about women’s work. For context, here they are:

  • “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think it is unequal to me.” [Women’s work presents] “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world. And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too.” —V.S. Naipaul
  • [Women exhibit] “lack of range—in subject matter, in emotional tone—and lack of a sense of humor. . . . the embroidering of trivial themes; a concern with the mere surfaces of life . . . hiding from the real agonies of the spirit; refusing to face up to what existence is; lyric or religious posturing; running between the boudoir and the altar, stamping a tiny foot against God. . . . ” —Theodore Roethke
  • “[R]omance novels, like racists, tend to be the same wherever you turn. It’s pointless to spend much time impugning these books as writing because they really aren’t meant to be considered as actual writing, the same way a Twinkie wasn’t meant to be considered as actual food.” —William Giraldi

The common theme here is  through some combination of bad experiences with literature, socialized disgust for and condescension toward anything that women enjoy, sexist attitudes toward women in general, overreliance on “award-winning” literature as if the awards are given objectively through some distant assessment of pure merit, overexposure to men’s work as deep and “classic” and women’s work as lowbrow and “popular,” or simple assumption that women’s stories aren’t relevant/applicable/interesting to them . . . these men conclude that they can and should write off literature about, by, and/or for women.

And what’s really interesting is how many men, when challenged on this, will have one of these two explanations for why they aren’t interested in women’s work:

  • They just . . . just aren’t INTERESTED, inexplicably, and don’t know what to say when you ask why or what they could possibly believe about ALL women’s work being “not for them.”
  • They have indeed tried women’s work and didn’t like it, insist that the sex of the author has nothing to do with that, and feel justified in generalizing their reaction as applying to any and all literature by women.

You KNOW they have not concluded men suck at writing whenever they read a sucky book by a man, or when they encounter a genre or subject primarily written by men that they aren’t interested in. Yet somehow, even though they’re totally not sexist, guys!, reading a comparatively small number of books by women has given them all they need to know about all women authors–they all write the same, or about the same things, or with the same lower or basic quality that they’re sure they objectively assigned to the sample they’ve read.

I guarantee you some of these men’s favorite books were written by women writing under an androgynous name or deliberately under a man’s name.

Who You Know

Published November 30, 2020 by swankivy

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Yikes. I got a really pushy message from someone once who claimed that his failure to get attention from the agents HAD to be the fault of his lack of connections. And that if I would ask my agent to take a look, he would “get in” with my crowd or something. (And then of course I was Very Rude since I wasn’t able to do that.)

This was an extreme example, but some people do think like this–that everyone who got scooped up from a query or succeeded at the things they’ve failed at must have a secret they’re not sharing, and that said secret is likely about inside deals and corporate connections. Not sure how they don’t realize how insulting that is to those of us who certainly did not lean on nepotism to receive attention in the arts.

That said, there’s nothing at all wrong with “using” connections you might possess to make an introduction, get an audience, request a favor. You’ve earned those connections and those relationships, and you would do it for someone else in your network if it were in your power. Right?

It’s just never going to work for these kinds of people, who think everything’s rigged and they just have to find the right person to rig it for them next.

Used to Be

Published October 31, 2020 by swankivy

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Was reading over some of my old stuff and revisiting a book I want to finish soon. But it’s written way better than I thought I could write, and I don’t know if I’m actually that good anymore. It’s weird to feel impostor syndrome inspired by your own dang past self.

Seriously, can’t this book just write itself? I don’t know if it can trust me….

It’s Fantasy

Published September 30, 2020 by swankivy

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Whose fantasy, exactly?

If someone offers a critique on a piece of art for being “unrealistic” due to perceived inappropriate diversity, it’s almost always rooted in prejudice.

Most of the time they have no special knowledge of history or what realistic renderings would look like, and can’t quote or cite anything except the feeling that variations from “typical everyman” constitute forced diversity or PC pandering. But even if they do offer some basis in fact for their attempts to insist on homogenized casts, it’s important to pay attention to what they excuse. In some cases, like the exaggerated portrayal in this comic, they’re happy to scoff at “warrior chicks” for being unrealistic but have no problem with magical creatures, male protagonists with superpowers, and technology that’s mismatched to the perceived historical setting. They only even think to criticize if they feel that inclusive casts constitute stolen spotlights for people like them.

I once read a criticism of the Ghostbusters remake consisting of a guy objecting to a fat character running. He just couldn’t believe, he said, that a woman that overweight would be able to handle running the way someone in her position would need to, especially with all that equipment on her back.

Meanwhile fat people in the real world sometimes run marathons and he has no problem with the dozens of ghosts in the movie.

He finds athletic fat people more unrealistic than ghosts.

Obviously I do have to admit that complaining about one thing doesn’t mean you do necessarily know about or excuse other glitches in an artistic work. I get that. But watch these people when they react to diversity with sudden need for “realism” that a) isn’t demanded of other aspects of the work and b) often isn’t even realistic.

The real reason a man complains about fat women in a movie is not because he really thinks this lack of realism ruins the movie for him. It’s because he isn’t attracted to her and he wants the women to all be attractive to him. If a woman doesn’t do that for him, she isn’t worth anything to him. So she shouldn’t get to exist in his sphere of attention.

Too bad. Many fat women can run a marathon better than you, sir.

And if you get a dragon, I can at least have a sword.

Acknowledgments

Published June 30, 2020 by swankivy

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I mean, some people really like comprehensive acknowledgments! And if you’re putting a bunch of them in, it can be intimidating to worry that you’ve left someone out and they’re going to read it and they’re going to see all these other people named and they’re going to confront you like oh so I wasn’t good enough for you huh but . . . hey, if the worst happens and you do forget someone, you could always mail them a personalized signed copy. 🙂

Look at other people’s acknowledgments. Many to most do not have a whole lot of names, or they might just have a dedication. Look at the acknowledgments of people who might have thanked YOU. Look at the acknowledgments of people you’ll definitely be thanking. Look through notes and saved e-mails. And if you’re not at this point yet but you’re terrified you’ll forget people. . . .

Start keeping lists.

(Yes, I have two pages’ worth of acknowledgments, why do you ask?)

Interesting Life

Published May 31, 2020 by swankivy

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That’s the issue, isn’t it?

Publishers buy books that will make them money. And generally, even if your life actually was really interesting AND you are able to create a compelling narrative about it, it’s very hard to make anyone believe they will be entertained if they’ve never heard of you.

Writing down your memoirs, especially if you’ve participated in a niche career/pastime or been part of a notable historical event, is highly valuable and advised! And maybe you can self-publish through a print-on-demand service, gift copies to your inner circle and/or distribute copies at shops or venues related to your life’s subject matter, or buy some ads promoting it. You aren’t going to get into mainstream publishing with an autobiography sold as nonfiction unless it’s already made some kind of wave some other way. This fact doesn’t mean your work and life aren’t valuable. It means there’s an issue with the sales angle that’s almost impossible to overcome.

Other options if you’ve had an Interesting Life and really want to share your stories with a wider audience:

Recap some of them as short stories and sell them to magazines.

Recap some of them as skits and try to sell them to anthologies.

Rewrite it as fiction, if you think you can turn it into something reasonably plot-driven. (This is difficult to do right, but it’s been done.)

Get known for something else (or reach out to contacts in a place you’re known) and ask for opportunities to talk about or share the book. This can work really well if, for instance, you’re a comedian and your stories get people laughing, and they’d enjoy the idea of picking up your book after. Or you start a blog that provides content no one else is providing and see what people have to say for a while before you start promoting a book with the collected stories.

There are a lot of ways to do it, but the bottom line is that if you’re Joe Nobody whose life mattered to your co-workers, friends, and family but you have no name recognition outside your family reunion and your church, mainstream publishing attempts are almost definitely going to result in eternal limbo.

Credentials

Published April 30, 2020 by swankivy

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Authors should definitely be able to take criticism. Even if it’s not delivered in the politest of ways, see what you can do with it. And it’s usually true that someone more experienced than you will have important things to say.

But it’s YOUR work. You know it better than anyone.

If someone tries to use their standing in the publishing world to change your message, to change your work’s essence, because they think you SHOULD be saying and caring about something else, you need to step back and consider that maybe despite the person’s credentials, they are wrong. I’ve met people like this before who don’t understand the difference between disliking something/not being interested in something and that thing being objectively bad or worthless.

Why do you write?

If following someone’s advice would require you to abandon that reason, back away slowly. You don’t want anyone like this to get the idea that they own your path to publication, audience, legitimacy, or confidence. It’s especially suspicious if they get angry at you or shame you when you won’t take their advice. The same as younger or less experienced people do need to take advice from people who know what they’re talking about, older or more experienced people need to make their advice accessible. If a newbie writer won’t take a more established writer’s advice and the established writer’s response is to explode and act insulted, that’s super inappropriate. No one should be that invested in pushing their own agenda. It makes it very clear the established author expects to be obeyed. “Obeying” a mentor isn’t how we’re supposed to learn our craft over here.

I never felt entitled to tell someone else what their work should be. I have at times told them that I had concerns about very central aspects of their book–like what disturbing message people might take away from it if they don’t reconsider an important aspect, or why a character’s motivation doesn’t feel real to me. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a right way to write what they wrote. But my way of handling that is to tell them why I reacted the way I did, not hound them to change it and sneer that they will never be published if they don’t obey me.

And disagreeing with someone, even an elder in your community, is not the same thing as not being able to take criticism. If you really know what you wanted to write about and your work is the result of caring about that thing the way you do, you will know what’s best for it.