Accept the Unacceptance

Published August 31, 2022 by swankivy

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Well I guess I need to accept that I have no judgment whatsoever as to which of my stories are any good because this is 100% a true story. (I’m not kidding about 7 years and 27 rejections. And I’m not kidding that a story I didn’t even like when I wrote it got accepted to the first place I sent it. Why.)

A small caveat, I guess: I have somewhat high standards for where I send stories; I only approach markets with decent pay because I think that correlates well with a publication’s longevity, and I want the places I sell my work to to be around for a long time. So yeah, the story that keeps getting rejected is getting rejected from some competitive magazines. Maybe it’s not terrible? Somehow?

Then what’s your explanation for the one that sold immediately, genius?

This is also the second time this happened


Published July 31, 2022 by swankivy

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Most people seem excited and happy when I have good news in the book world but I’m getting kinda sick of talking to people who make others’ moments about themselves. And here’s the thing: even if you’re thinking it, now isn’t the time; you’re not a bad person for being frustrated with your own situation or even jealous, but my advice if you’re struggling with this is to think about how you would like your pals to react when it’s your time, and then think about how awkward and crappy it will feel if they aren’t able to celebrate your joy because they’re raging that it’s not their turn. You can separately feel frustration or jealousy or anything else in a different part of your brain from the genuine happiness you feel for someone who’s gotten good news, and those thing can coexist–but preferably not in the form of what you choose to say in the moment.


Published June 30, 2022 by swankivy

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In addition to writing the screenplay yourself and having no other decision-makers on board who will have any creative control, you’ll also have to direct so you can control the actors’ delivery, be the casting director, and be in charge of costuming and staging if you want the movie to be an exact cut-n-paste from your imagination. None of that is practical, but that’s not the point: my real point is that you shouldn’t make your narrative suffer so you as the author can micromanage every aspect of how the reader imagines your world and its people. Give them some freedom to imagine it themselves if a detail is not vital for some other reason, and learn to be okay with it if the picture in someone else’s mind doesn’t match yours.

That said, there’s a varying level of tolerance/preference for flowery descriptions and detail, so what one beta reader recommends about your description preferences isn’t a law or anything.


Published May 31, 2022 by swankivy

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I get lost easily. I’m not so good at following written directions. It’s very hard for me to figure out what path makes sense to get me from Point A to Point B.

But with writing, I usually don’t even know the Point B when I start at Point A. So looking at a map would be pretty useless if I don’t actually know before I start where I’m planning to go.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with choosing a destination (and a few stops along the way). If I’m sure I definitely want to go there.

But honestly, being a pretty hardcore pantser, the route AND the destination are typically chosen by the characters in the car, and a road trip that’s supposed to feel planned by them will end up feeling planned by ME if I give them a GPS with preprogrammed directions speaking up and breaking into their conversation every few miles. I feel like I’m trying to sit in the backseat with them when I’m not a character. I have trouble making it feel authentic if I’m not creating the story from within their perspective as it’s happening.

That road is DEFINITELY prone to becoming long and winding when you haven’t chosen the destination. And I guess I’ve accepted that. But sometimes I still wonder if I’d ever be able to outline a book and be happy with the results. . . .

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.