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.


Published June 30, 2024 by swankivy

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I know this has come up in some of my previous comics but . . .


Politics have always been part of your favorite stories. Almost every classic story has an underdog fighting oppression, a person seeking justice within an unfair system, a fight for rights or freedom, or at least some acknowledgment of differences in class. I’ve noticed a trend lately for people to say newer stories that intentionally include more diversity are somehow “ruining” what’s good about those stories by including historically and currently marginalized people. Interesting how that automatically makes them hostile to the possibility that it’s a good story (and more likely to blame the diversity for what they don’t like or subconsciously grade it harder because they feel these diversifications can only come at the sacrifice of quality). And interesting how they want to see characters fight the man if “the man” isn’t them.

For these folks to endlessly complain that relatability is so important and then also insist that a straight white man is broadly relatable is a shocking display of hypocrisy. They want the rest of us to continue relating to (and purchasing) entertainment that does not feature us at all (or features us in offensive ways), but if they’re asked to do so for the minority of new stories (whose numbers they will always exaggerate), they claim they are being targeted for exclusion. Well, if not being centered and coddled literally feels like an attack to them, how do they think we feel? With all the whining about “pandering to the woke agenda,” they sure do expect to be pandered to themselves, and think it’s okay for THEM to do it because they believe they’re the ones with buying power. Well, the fact that there has been more of a push for diversification sure does suggest the opposite is true, and you can’t both say your voice is the only one powerful enough to matter AND say the rest of us have the power to drown you out.

A Theme

Published May 31, 2024 by swankivy

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It’s funny how certain authors tend to have common elements across very different works of fiction. For instance, one of my favorite authors in FOUR different novels created situations where human beings encountered non-humans and were exposed, non-consensually, to something that bonded them to the non-humans in a permanent, life-altering way, for some kind of mating-related purpose. She did it four different ways but it was all kind of eerie when I realized how often she liked to write characters getting trapped and transformed in these situations. (And I’m not saying it was a bad thing. I just wondered if the author knew it was a thing she was doing.) The example used here is not actually someone I know, incidentally. Authors, what weird little things do a bunch of your stories share?

Is It Good?

Published March 31, 2024 by swankivy

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This isn’t the same thing as the ones where I read old work and cringe. It’s reading an old piece that got professional recognition, one of the first I had that collected NON-rejections, supposedly one of my best that still never made it. And yet. . . .

I look at it and think, yeah, is this actually good at all? Am I just more jaded and critical now but the work remains decent? Or was it always kinda meh and I didn’t know it?

Submitting it despite misgivings seems like a fun way to get my ass handed to me by people who will be happy to say if it sucks. 🙂

Your Genre

Published February 29, 2024 by swankivy

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Ya know, there aren’t that many hard and fast rules in the writing world, but here are a couple you can take to the bank:

  1. If you’re trying to fake familiarity with your market, it will show.
  2. Writers read.

Marketing isn’t easy, and figuring out how to sell your work isn’t the same skill as writing your work. But don’t turn your nose up at becoming familiar with the actual market of what you write. If you’re out here comparing yourself to authors that are nothing like you; or you’re trying to sell romance without knowing what the agents’ and editors’ preferences on heat levels and happy endings are; or you call your work high concept, upmarket, literary, or magical realism without knowing what those things ARE just because you think they sound cool; all you’ll accomplish is showing professionals that you didn’t do your homework or disappoint readers who were misled by you just not taking the time to understand what the heck you just wrote.

There’s no shame in asking for help figuring out how to describe your stuff, but misrepresenting your genre or age category is like if you paid for tile flooring and the contractor installed linoleum and couldn’t figure out why you weren’t satisfied. As a writer, you should be one of the first people to understand that words mean things! And really understanding your genre goes far beyond just figuring out what to call it.


Published January 31, 2024 by swankivy

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Ya know, I’m happy to get paid for something I loved doing, but sometimes the opposite arrangement makes me way less interested in doing it. I’ve been an author who actually sells work for quite a while now and while I love carefully crafting publishable, relevant stuff, I NEED to have personal projects where I’m not worrying about whether they’re marketable. My two webcomics are in that category, and I don’t want that to change. I’m awfully tired of people constantly wanting everything turned into a side hustle.


Published December 31, 2023 by swankivy

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Yeah. Most of us kinda always feel like it’s not quite done, that we can’t pull the trigger on that e-mail until we’re SURE it’s ready, that it might need another couple tweaks first. And even after it’s out under consideration, or under contract, or even PUBLISHED, we sometimes still feel like we should make changes, submit a new edition, update it, make changes, whatever.

There is a point where you really just have to decide it’s okay to be unsure of the project’s doneness and still submit it. If it’s for consideration, you’ll still have time for the professionals to suggest changes anyway–and while I’m a firm believer in “please don’t start submitting stuff professionally if you’re not actually done working on it,” it’s normal to do a lot of thinking about a project when it’s going places and you have some more improvements to make.

Just don’t let your project languish in the world of Never Quite Done or it’ll never get to what comes after this: the part where it’s out there, imperfect, and there’s nothing you can do about it. FUN!

Form Letters

Published November 30, 2023 by swankivy

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It’s pretty rare to get in-depth feedback in most situations, but there are exceptions. I once had someone tell me my protagonist was annoying, and another person said one of my queer stories was baffling because “the characters are obsessed with their genders.” The one pretty solid exception I see is if it’s a literary agent rejecting a book after they requested a full manuscript from a partial. Even when my books were on submission to PUBLISHERS I often didn’t get much feedback, though that was one place I also did get some pretty decent feedback. But you still see a lot of “unfortunately, we can’t take this” or “thanks, we’re not going to offer at this time” or, very very often, “best of luck placing this elsewhere.” Sometimes they’re hybrid form letters too. But please keep this in perspective: the people you’re most trying to reach are the READERS!

It is really nice to get personal responses from editors (and I’ve had lots of those, at every level), but another good thing to keep in mind is that if you were to be chosen by a publisher, an editor, or an agent, you’d really want most of their attention to go to you/their clients. So the sacrifice they have to make is to cut down on giving in-depth personal feedback or explanations to people they DON’T want to work with. Form letters don’t mean your work sucks, and if your work (or just that piece) does suck, often you won’t find out from the people who read your submissions. Form letters are just a necessary evil.

Sight Unseen

Published September 30, 2023 by swankivy

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Yeah so I usually try to make these comics more broadly relatable but I kinda assume not many writers have had exactly this happen to them. But maybe something in the neighborhood has happened to you: Someone hears what genre you write and paints it with a broad (unflattering) brush, or has an instant dislike of your title or cover art and says they don’t read “books like that,” or mistakes your writing in general for something it isn’t. It’s really annoying to have your work judged sight unseen, and you’d probably like Judgy McJudgepants to keep his assumptions unspoken, applying them when selecting what to read and nothing more.

But yeah. This specific experience I had quite a while back was a doozy.

It happened on December 30, 2014. I had a novel blurb and a solitary excerpt of the novel on my website, and someone in a literature mocking community got a hold of it. The person, bafflingly, decided to send me an intensely judgmental and lengthy takedown of what he’d decided my novel must be like, based on a sea of fantasy tropes and Mary Sue expectations, followed by condescending advice on how I should channel the anger his comments must have inspired in me and several recommended reading links intended to teach me how to recognize and avoid writing Mary Sues.

At the time he sent me this, the novel had been offered representation by a literary agent and three of the largest publishers in the world had eagerly responded to my agent’s pitch, and it was under consideration. (None of them ended up leading to a contract, but that’s still not a thing that happens with failtastic, cringey manuscripts.) Regardless of whether any of the criticism had been true, straight-up e-mailing the author to explain YOUR GUESSES at how bad their book probably is just happens to be one of the most obscenely inappropriate things I’ve ever heard of, and to this day I really wonder what inspired this guy to do it. (My guess is he was wrapped up in the “fun” of laughing at bad books, thought he recognized tropes because he was grafting them onto a story that didn’t actually reflect them, really liked the idea of making himself feel smart by tearing down another person, and literally did not know how to engage with literature in any other way at this surely immature point in his life.)

If you’re curious, here’s the amazing list of “criticisms” he sent me–content warning for mention of sexual assault:

  • Your character is described as very beautiful for her age. (Literally isn’t true in the story. She is an ugly duckling character.)
  • Her hair is dark, so you probably stupidly use terms like “raven” or “ebony tresses.” (Neither was EVER used in the story.)
  • She has violet eyes too, which means she looks a lot like Ariana Black, an infamous Sue from the Harry Potter fandom. (I don’t read fanfiction and I’m not automatically creating cringe as soon as my character shares physical traits with a character you like to laugh at. Violet eyes aren’t uncommon in my protagonist’s world. Another person in her tiny graduating class of 22 has the same eyes, and some of the fairies have even weirder colors.)
  • You use the term “magick” in your fantasy story and that’s a stupid misspelling. (The story has both stage magicians and fairies whose powers are called magick, so it seemed reasonable to distinguish them.)
  • Your character is precocious and that’s an overused trope. (Precocious people exist and sometimes books are written about them. I thought it was a good way to put some reasonable social difficulties in for the character so her difficulties making friends had a practical reason.)
  • Your character is shy and humble and terrified of rejection, but people hate her for no reason. (She was actually the opposite in the story. Her arrogance was instrumental in her downfall. The excerpt offered did show some shyness, but she was literally a five-year-old child.)
  • Your character likely gets special accommodations from the teachers in her school because she’s SO SPECIAL. (The excerpt he read didn’t even have her in school yet. There is no accommodation like this in the story. She is behind other students in reading and writing and is given no allowances for lower standards.)
  • Your character does wandless magic, which is SUPER SUE territory because it’s a sign of specialness in Harry Potter. (My story isn’t a Harry Potter ripoff. All of the fairies in it can do wandless magick.)
  • Your character is misunderstood and has no flaws, unless maybe she’s clumsy; anyone who hates her doesn’t have a rational reason. (Nope. The character was a deeply flawed person and the people who ended up hating her did so largely because of things she literally did to them.)
  • You obviously personally identify with this character, so she’s an auto-Sue. (Well, I have to relate to some extent if I’m going to write about her. That’s a writer’s job actually. I think we have a few things in common, but she’s fundamentally very different from me and she was very challenging to write for that reason.)
  • Her last name is “Morningstar” and that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Say that out loud and if you don’t agree it’s ridiculous, go reevaluate your life. (The book is a retold fairy tale and includes a lot of mythology references. Many of the fairy characters had dramatic and nature-related last names. This character’s family is supposed to be descended from a fairy who literally inspired the stories of the Christian devil. I didn’t come up with the name “Morningstar.” The Bible did.)
  • You have a cartoon image of her on one of your websites and it looks JUST LIKE another character we hate. How can you expect us to take you seriously? (I . . . don’t recall asking you to.)
  • Later in the book, to show how beautiful and desirable your character is, you will include scenes where boys try to rape her or molest her, and she will go on about how terrible it is to be so beautiful. (Disgusting that he thinks sexual assault is a compliment or a device to showcase a character’s enviable beauty. The character is not approached this way in any of the three books of the trilogy, and she is not considered pretty by other fairies.)
  • If she becomes a villain, everything she does will be justified. If she’s a hero, all the villains are obsessed with hurting her. (Nah. My character is the closest thing to a villain in the story, but she causes a lot of her own misery, makes lots of mistakes, struggles to learn certain lessons, and has to learn late in life how much of her time and resources she wasted.)
  • I’m sure there’s a catty girl who hates your character out of jealousy and she only exists to be upstaged by her. (There’s some mean girl bullying in her fairy school but she dishes it out as much as she takes it, and her biggest adversary ends up winning and screwing her over for the literal rest of her life.)
  • Your character surely has “Sue minions”–characters that rush to comfort her, obsess over her, and talk to her about their problems. (The protagonist has a few allies, including, ya know, her mom and a couple study partners. It is weird to suggest that if she has compassionate relationships in her life, they’re certainly superficial. I can’t even count how many times these characters got exasperated with her or called her out on her bullshit.)
  • Characters who disagree with your character will be shamed as “oppressive.” This is also how you think about yourself because sometimes you blog about sexism, racism, and other -isms. (Wow, who knew having values and voicing opinions indicates that everything I write is a bad literature trope?)
  • I’m sure you’re very offended at everything I’ve said and feel I’ve attacked you personally. (It’d be a lot easier to be “offended” if anything he said remotely reflected the actual content of the story. Mostly my feelings about it are that I’m baffled he wasn’t embarrassed to have written it, and actually hit SEND.)
  • Here are some materials related to identifying and combating the Mary Sue, so that any other characters you think up will not be incredibly beautiful, talented, misunderstood, and humble, with ebony tresses and violet eyes. (I’m not confused about what a Mary Sue is and don’t need condescending advice on characterization from anyone who believes the answer to writing better characters lies in avoiding giving anyone specific traits.)

Despite that this misguided soul believed I must be naïvely, preciously unaware of what a Mary Sue is, I have actually written an article on my author site about the dangers of concluding that any especially talented or accomplished character (especially if they’re female) is a Mary Sue. It’s a common mistake seen often in superficial critique or evaluations that lack nuance, or just people with little experience. I do think both the story and the character have some elements that lean into the dramatic/archetypal side, but it’s a damn shame that he felt the need to write me an incredibly detailed scolding on all the things I’d better not do if I want to be a good writer when he knew he didn’t have access to how and whether they applied. Imagine the utterly unwarranted confidence this guy must have had to presume he could teach ME elements of decent writing.

Obviously I am not the one who should tell other people how to feel about my writing, but I will say most of my readers credit me with being a particularly good character writer. In light of that, I offer my old blog post entitled “Why is your character a jerk?” It discusses how to write realistically flawed characters and uses this character as an example of someone with a LOT of character flaws who can still be both sympathetic and clearly deserving of some of the hardships they endure.