Wasted Potential

Published April 30, 2022 by swankivy

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I’m like, mildly talented at a lot of artistic things. People LOVE to tell me that means I should do them professionally. It’s very nice of them to think I could make it in these fields with what I think are pretty average talents, but . . . when they tell me making it a career is the only thing that makes sense, or that I’m wasting something if I don’t use it to make money . . . that’s where I get pretty annoyed.

It’s okay to do something just for fun, and never try to be a professional. I struggled a lot when I was a kid thinking about which thing I loved enough that I would find all the frustrating, difficult parts to be worth it. Even though I loved drawing and singing, it always seemed like writing was the default for most of my expression, and it was something I thought I genuinely had a chance at succeeding in (largely because I was also willing to put the work in). Nowadays I just enjoy doodling and singing as hobbies, but people still sometimes ask me why I would make comics without charging people for them or why I don’t try to go pro with my singing and become a recording artist or a singer/songwriter. Why? Because I don’t want to. Given my experience in writing, I know how much you have to put in before you get on that level, and I know I’m just plain not willing to put that time in for any other art.

Art is HARD. And it’s fine to do it for fun.

Fixing It

Published March 31, 2022 by swankivy

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Another long one for #130!

Now sometimes, especially if you actually ARE a writing instructor, people who want your opinion will want to know specifics on how you think they should fix it. Those conversations can be constructive–if they’re invited. But I strongly believe that writers will learn better skills AND WRITE BETTER BOOKS if the choices they make about plot and character are cultivated from their own ideas for solutions. Exceptions exist, but in general if you’re a critique partner, beta reader, or supportive friend, it’s best to just say how you feel about what you’re reading and let the author choose how and whether to address it.

When I got feedback in high school from a friend who hit me with “When write, I do this,” my first thought was “…And??” Was she suggesting I didn’t know an extremely basic, elementary-level writing technique? Was she trying to make herself sound cool, or make me think she was some kind of master I should look up to, as if I’d never written anything before and needed to be talked to like I was in third grade? I benefited not at all from this interaction that I had THOUGHT was between peers (just kids who liked to write, neither of us published), and came away from the interaction thinking both that she was being condescending and that she must have really low skills herself if she believed this was revelatory advice. What about my work made her think I need to hear this? 

And that was the problem. I didn’t know where I might have lost her (or if, in fact, she really did just want to make herself seem intellectually elevated and enlightened). I was entirely taken out by the personal reaction to it, like who does she think she is that she can tell me what my writing lacks, even though she gave no examples? And though obviously some of the problem was that I was very young and inexperienced with receiving critical feedback (and so was prone to taking it personally), I also couldn’t articulate why receiving that commentary felt insulting and utterly unhelpful. If I had understood at that time that maybe I could guide her to say something more helpful about her experience reading the story, maybe we could have gotten somewhere.

So if you are someone who gives feedback, give your authors the freedom to fix their own problems and also provide this opportunity for them to disconnect from the potential for personal insult. Say how you felt about the work, and let them decide how and whether to address what you said.

. . . And like I said, authors who are determined to defend their work and write off any commentary even if it’s constructive in this way aren’t really asking for your advice because they genuinely want to improve their work, so no need to worry yourself about those.


Published February 28, 2022 by swankivy

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I think sometimes wisdom given to authors about Never Giving Up starts to sound like a broken record. There’s more to your publishing quest than believing in your dream and being persistent, though those are for sure VERY IMPORTANT THINGS. If sending the same piece of work out over and over again is not yielding any acceptances or encouragement, you might as well be beating your head against a wall expecting something to happen when maybe the work itself just isn’t publishable right now.

It can be hard to hear that, and even harder to get someone to tell you so–either people in your life who have read it don’t have a realistic understanding of what’s publishable or they’re not willing to discourage you, and professionals in the industry are usually so busy that they will just reject and move on to something with more potential rather than tell you what’s wrong or what you need to work on.

So if something you wrote just isn’t finding a home, you may need to either get some real writing instruction/feedback guidance on it or just keep practicing, getting better with each work you produce. Maybe at some point you’ll be able to tell what was going wrong with your old stuff. And there really are some instances where you’re not lucky enough to get it to the right person at the right time or publishing just isn’t ready for/interested in what you’re writing right now–it IS always possible that it isn’t your work’s fault. Just don’t let that possibility stop you from finding ways to improve your piece or your writing in general, and please, please don’t accept that the only quality you need is persistence. That doesn’t work in dating either, and sometimes the answer is to work on yourself.

Say Nothing

Published January 31, 2022 by swankivy

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Rejection sucks. That doesn’t mean you get to backtalk people who have chosen not to work with you. Not only does it look foolish because apparently these editors were good enough for you when you pitched them (and suddenly they’re not worthy once you find out it’s a no), but it also endangers your future as an author: you can get blacklisted, put on blast as a brat, or even ruin your chances to work with a publication/editor/organization again. It’s not only plain rude to talk back to editors trying to change their minds or make them sorry; it’s bad for your future opportunities.


Published November 30, 2021 by swankivy

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Seriously, if you’re a master in every way then what are you asking me for help for?

For the record, there’s nothing wrong at all with being Not The Greatest at spelling and grammar even if you want to be a storyteller, but if you’re promising someone a polished draft, you do need to at least run the automatic spell check thingie.

Ew, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve chosen very polite words to tell someone their work is barely coherent and I get back judgy commentary on my “education” or “intelligence.” Yeah man, I think you’re gonna find it’s . . . not me. (But people like this are also prone to deciding it can’t be their fault and concluding that the entire publishing industry lacks their enlightenment, after which they’ll go on to publish independently and then blame the world at large for its poor taste when the book does not become a bestseller.)

Didn’t Happen

Published September 30, 2021 by swankivy

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Listening to criticism is important, but when people criticize because they literally don’t understand what they read, it’s pretty safe to write off what they say. Don’t feel obligated to listen to evaluations from people are misinterpreting your writing in bizarre and hilarious ways or mixing what you actually wrote up with their weird headcanons. 🙂