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Feel Like It

Published August 25, 2019 by swankivy

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I get like this too, kinda. But sometimes I talk to a writer who seems to . . . really not like writing, and never seems to be in the mood to do it. There are some authors who believe everything has to be ideal for them to be able to sit down and write (and, you know, then by that point they’ve kinda built it up so much that there’s a lot of pressure to perform!), but then there are others who have no such mythology; they just don’t really ever feel like doing it, but maintain that sometime soon, they will do it.

I’ve definitely been in a slump like this myself lately, with just plain not making time for the stuff I used to make time for. Different creative activities seem to be taking priority. It’s okay when that happens (though it feels weird to be away from it for so long).

I’ll get back to it . . . sometime . . . when I feel like it (or when I make myself). . . .

Constructive

Published July 31, 2019 by swankivy

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So, when you want to offer criticism on an in-progress piece of writing, constructive is the way to go.

That means that your end goal is the construction of a solid end product. You don’t get solid end products if you nuke the structure from orbit.

And if you’re particularly nasty, the author won’t be receptive to your feedback. They will feel attacked, and they will feel like what you’re saying is designed to destroy their work or make them angry. They won’t feel like you’re participating in their goal of a better product if the words you choose are about how bad it is now instead of how much better it could be if they apply your thoughts. If you talk like this, the author will likely feel that you’re primarily there to enjoy hurting them over something pretty personal.

And don’t ever imply that non-constructive feedback would be useful if only the author weren’t too sensitive. People can tell when you’re out for blood. Yes, there are authors who will snap and feel attacked if you say a single critical word, but most authors who would participate in seeking out feedback actually want to use your commentary to make their work better. Be a responsible critic and give them something they can use.

Montage

Published May 27, 2019 by swankivy

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Sometimes it’s hard to believe the journey can be so hard if all we ever see are the people who reached the finish line. The struggles along the way are often invisible–and they can make writers think they’re having an atypically difficult time if they’re convinced everybody else “got discovered” faster, with less mess, with fewer crises.

In the movies, they don’t even bore us with the part where it’s a slog because IT’S NOT INTERESTING. It’s the same thing over and over, and days blend together, and the work is sometimes nowhere near as fun as you thought it would be. And when even all that pain still leads to rejection after rejection, sometimes you find yourself saying “I should be there by now. I did all the things. I put in the time and the effort and I think I have something really good. Why isn’t it my turn?”

Luck is always a factor, true; some people were in the right place at the right time but aren’t any more talented than you. But you have to keep doing it, and you cannot under any circumstances skip to the part where you already won if the actual journey is a dealbreaker for you. Worse, I’ve met a few prima donnas in this rat race who think they’re the exception; sure everyone ELSE has to edit, query, workshop, and suffer, but why should THEY? Well, that’s a great way to become resentful and bitter and still never get what you want. The hard parts are necessary parts.

And if you look around at everyone else who’s doing what you’re doing, you’ll be able to find and offer support–which works out way better for everyone involved than simply throwing up your hands and claiming you should be better than this even though you didn’t do the work. Prejudice and unluckiness and endless setbacks happen, yes. They are real. They may be in your way. But you still have to do all the training those picturesque cut-together scenes are screencapped from. You have to do the whole workout, and you have to do the one that looked just like it the day before and the day after. You have to do it when it isn’t interesting. You have to do it when you don’t really want to. You have to do it when someone said you can’t. You have to do it when the voice in YOUR head says you can’t.

You deserve that pretty wrapped success story at the end. Don’t drop out during the hard parts because nobody told you how much you would sweat and cry. We want to see you shine.

Experts

Published April 30, 2019 by swankivy

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You are the expert in your own life. Sometimes people who are used to being the expert in their craft don’t know how to trust you about yours, and in their defense, they talk to a lot of people who don’t know what they’re doing. It’s still their responsibility to do their homework and not let their biases and assumptions get in the way of doing a good job.

This incident came up recently while I was on a book panel for asexual authors. When asked to discuss the publishing process, I told this story–about how an agent I queried assumed I made up asexuality and was trying to start some new thing, and how the sales would really depend on whether I could get my book to the necessary audience. The whole interaction was pretty yikes. When I found an agent who actually told me how much she thought the book would help people, I knew I’d chosen the right path for my publication. And unfortunately, facing people like this guy is sometimes just part of that journey.

Another Explanation

Published February 26, 2019 by swankivy

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Step 1: Include tons of irritating stereotypes about women in your story

Step 2: Insist that the presence of even caricature-style women in your story is “diversity” and “empowerment”

Step 3: Portray real-world women as unreasonable for being offended by your portrayal of them

Step 4: Blame hysteria in a female-dominated publishing scene for blocking your opportunities

Step 5: Ignore, discredit, and mock women who try to help you understand

Listen, guys. I know that if women seem mysterious to you, it’s easier to believe lazy stereotypes about them than to give them real diversity and respect as people. But we’re not giving you a hard time about this because we just hate men and nothing you do is right. We’re simply super tired of our motivations and feelings always being tied to sex, babies, sex, shopping, and sex.

It’s not just “offensive.” It’s terribly uninteresting and incomplex. Think about the (hopefully, exaggerated) female supervillain team in this comic. Is the only way you can think of to make a woman bitter is to portray her as a sad barren witch because she couldn’t give birth? Does the only source you can dredge up for a woman’s gritty, dark past have to be tied to rape? Is it really the best you can do if your team powerhouse is simply irresistibly sexy and exploits the heroes’ attraction?

It really is a problem if female characters–even ones not as exaggerated as these–are written by men who fixate on “femaleness” and miss the mark of who they could be. If they see women as sexual manipulators, materialistic shoppers, beings who must find fulfillment through motherhood, or creatures who become interesting and motivated when men violate them, their prejudices are going to come out in what they write.

And they’re probably also going to say if women can’t handle the stuff they want to write about, it isn’t really written for them anyway. Guess what? These messages are bad for other genders too. This is why there’s a pushback against traditionally male-dominated entertainment creating female characters like this. Nobody should be writing terrible female characters and excusing men for telling each other ridiculous stories about who they think we are.

This is not to say you can never have a female character who grieves because of childlessness or has lingering pain and trauma over assault. It just gets so, so tiring when the things that motivate our gender in fiction are always about either things men think are silly or things that tie us to men or define us by men.

All that said, depressingly, having a badly written book is a lot more likely to doom your publishing opportunities than misogynistic text will. Sexist stuff gets published all the time, and even though plenty of editors (of multiple genders) are tired of it, there are also plenty who don’t even recognize it.

Minor Mistakes

Published January 27, 2019 by swankivy

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Touchy subject.

So yes, theoretically your spelling and grammar shouldn’t be as important as the story you’re trying to tell. And let’s face it: some of us who have fantastic stories inside us aren’t exactly masters of punctuation, syntax, and phrasing, right? Why should that hold us back, right?

I regret to inform you that this is also part of the craft and that it IS part of your responsibility as an author.

If you know your story’s amazing but you also know the compositional aspects of writing aren’t your strong suit, you are still going to be beaten out by authors who can do both, and you are still going to primarily encounter publishing professionals who expect you to have cleaned up your manuscript by yourself. They don’t want to do that job for you if you haven’t cleaned it up reasonably on your own.

So if you keep getting that comment, don’t get salty about how the story is what’s important–we know that, but we also don’t expect to dig through sloppy construction to get to it, and really excellent storytelling does incorporate the art of word choice, finesse, and polish. I’m saying this because I REALLY WANT those of you who do not excel in this to still have a chance, and I urge you to hire a professional (or ask a grammar nerd friend!) to spit-shine your manuscript. If you really do have a precious gem in there like you believe you do, that luster deserves to come out. Don’t let the publishing industry decide your work isn’t good enough just because you think they should be willing to do extra cleanup for you.

Treating your book as if it’s an exception to the industry’s rules or expecting special treatment for it is a great way to ensure you’ll never get the attention you want, need, and may deserve.

Too Hard

Published December 20, 2018 by swankivy

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Putting it off until such time as you’re not stressed, not busy, or not distracted probably ensures that you will put it off forever.

It’s probably always going to be inconvenient or difficult to make time for writing if you are trying to carve out room for it in an already packed life. And the fact is, you’re probably going to have to do that if you ever want to find/make the time because there is rarely an ideal time to write.

That said? Do exercise self care. Don’t force yourself to do it if it’s actually making you unsafe, unhealthy, or beyond uncomfortable. Writing is supposed to be hard at times, but use your judgment. The point is to not use “I have too much going on” as an excuse. If it’s an excuse, you can get past it. If it’s the reality, take care of yourself first.

Fade to Black

Published November 30, 2018 by swankivy

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Not strictly what happened, but close enough. I’m not really uncomfortable with writing about people who want things I never wanted, and I didn’t actually write stuff I later deleted, but I did think about whether it was creepy for me to write detailed accounts of teens making out.

But considering most YA authors are adults who are just drawing on their own experiences as young adults, I probably just need to quit overthinking. And hopefully not sound like a clueless person when I try to write physically intimate scenes. I just want it to be sweet and exciting, but stopping short of, like, erotic or whatever.

(Also, meet Joanne & Kamber, the romantic couple of my NaNoWriMo novel, In Bloom. And yes, I won.)