How and When to Fail

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As promised.

How (And When) to Fail

I know. You’re looking at the title of this post, and and the noble glitter of self-sacrificing patience has come into your eye. “Emily,” you say gently. “I don’t think I need help failing. It’s the succeeding I could use some help with.”

Well, surprise surprise. I think you’re wrong. (I always think you’re wrong. Haven’t you been reading my blog? Don’t you know that?)

Every writer, my dears, has a slush pile, and every slush pile exists because every writer isn’t churning out Nobel Prize for Literature winning palimpsests every palimpsesting second. If you continued writing every story in your slush pile until completion, you would

A) Have wasted a shocking amount of time, and
B) Have produced a shocking amount of things to start fires with.

And I note that ‘produced your masterwork’ is nowhere in that description.

For real, though, let’s talk about this. Some stories–well, they’re failures. You started them, something went wrong, the magic went somewhere else, you got distracted. The question is, should you let them rot in the wastes of Slushpilia? When–and why–is it okay to fail? The answer is simple:

When the Magic is Gone.

I want you to note: I am NOT talking about ‘when it gets a teensy eensy bit hard to write it for a day or two’. When this happens, slog on.

I’m talking about that moment you realize you’ve patched fatal holes in your plot so often your story is more plothole correction than story. When you read a few pages out loud to somebody, and they nod and smile and ask you “so what happened, again?” If you’re juggling so many corrections your outline looks like a football play, it’s time to consider giving it up and starting from scratch. You don’t need to edit, again. The damage is too great for a mere edit. You need to rewrite. Whether the story is worth rewriting, I can’t tell you–only you can decide that.

Being a writer is a little like being a magician in some regards: you put a lot of work into something, a whole hell of a lot, but the last thing you want is for someone to see where you’ve been working. Your story has to look as effortless and instantaneous as a big stage illusion–when people can see where you’ve had to work for something, it loses credibility as a world of its own. If you can’t patch it seamlessly, don’t patch it. Rewrite it, or leave it to moulder.

Speaking of rewrites:

If You Like It, Don’t Be Afraid to Write It Again.

Rewriting is tough. It sucks. You start to question your own usefulness on this planet, whether you’re going to be writing the same story, over and over again, until you finally die, and whether or not hell is going to be a sad Sisyphean endlessness of the same goddamn story from here to Ragnarok. (Do you like mixing mythologies? I sure do.)

But rewriting is useful. I actually like to do it, on some things–when my first draft, for instance, went in a direction I wasn’t expecting in the first few pages. A rewrite brings everything together–you’re writing, after all, in full knowledge of what’s going to eventually happen (I’m a pantser. No outlines for moi. Have I mentioned that?). When you rewrite, you automatically have more control over the story. And, oftentimes, a story you were unable to complete the first time winds up being a VERY good story the second time around, when you’ve had a chance to iron out the plot or what have you.

Again, though, I’ve got to tell you:

I don’t know when you’ve failed.

Only you know that, Skipper. But you can feel it in your bones–trust me on that one. And what you do after that is up to you. Trick is,

Failing is Always a Learning Experience.

There are some times when you’ve had a terrible idea, and your execution was terrible, and you’re just going to leave those five or ten pages to molder on your hard drive until the kingdom comes, and that’s just fine, kthxbye.

But even those shitty ten pages happened because you had an idea. And you’ll have that idea, should you need it, forever.

That failed novel idea about the laudanum-guzzling sailor with a speech impediment who solves petty crimes? It might not’ve worked out, me matey, but perhaps you could use him as a supporting character somewhere else. Perhaps, in your steampunk adventure novel, your main character needs to be told the airship’s moving hard to thtarboard at least once. My main trilogy character, Jin, was actually a supporting character in a failed novel I wrote about ten years ago–and part of the reason it failed, I realized when I looked back on it, was because Jin (then named Jinnever) and her unlikely husband were actually far too interesting to be side characters. They stole the show whenever they came onto the scene.

So they got their own story. A much better story than the one I abandoned, all those years ago. I stopped working on the old story and moved on. I’m glad I did.

Because failure isn’t the shitty thing it’s painted to be. It’s a learning experience, and a damned good one. Even when you’ve failed utterly, you’ve still created something, and there’ll come a day–maybe a week from now, maybe twenty years from now–when that something will come in handy.

And if you keep trying to hash out your failures forever–if you buy in to the whole ‘never give up’ mentality–you’ll write glossy, completed failures. And nobody wants that.

Only you can tell when something is working, once more: but trust me. You can tell. And it’s worth rewriting a few thousand (possibly tens of thousands) of words just to make that happen. No one likes failing–certainly not I–but if it has to happen a few times to make your successes possible, then that’s just how it is. Failure is a part of the writing process. A big one.

Why You Should Write Short Stories

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Hey, guys. Sorry this post is so late, but it’s been a busy morning. I made it. That has to count for something.
Anyway.

It’s been a busy morning because I’ve been finishing up and editing a story for an AU anthology (and waiting fifteen minutes for a damned cup of coffee, but that’s irrelevant). Doing it got me to thinking about something I hear from a lot of writers:

A lot of us–a damned big-shame lot of us–never write short stories. Or: we try to write short stories, and they turn into novels.

Why is this such a shame? Because short stories are like the Adderol to your novel’s cocaine. (Insert some less offensive metaphor here, if you can think of one that’s still apt). Finishing a short story might not give you quite the buzz finishing a novel does, but it’s still damned fun, and it’s a good deal less involved. You can crank out a five thousand word short story in a day, if you feel like it. You can crank out two, if you have nothing else to do.

And writing within a word limit can teach you a loo-oooot about plot pacing.

Think of a short story as a novel without all the fluff. You need a complete story–a complete plot, rounded characters, a believable setting–but you need it in a fairly small amount of words. You need, my dears, to learn the art of economy to make it work. You need to make your action–and your other stuff–fit the size of your undertaking.

So here’s some stuff to think about, as you write:

1) Choose an idea that fits your word limit.
If it’s one hundred word flash fiction, the action can be something as simple as dropping a flower. If it’s five thousand words, we want to know why the flower was dropped, what happens before and after, why the flower is significant, and all the action that descends from this flowerful droppage. If it’s more than five thousand words, we want more action. Honestly: we probably want more action if it’s over five HUNDRED words.

But there needs to be action. There needs to be plot. There needs to be character. And it needs to fit the size of your story.

If you pick a plot that’s too simple for your word limit, your story’s going to be fluffy and dull. If you pick one that’s too complicated, it’s going to be confusing (and, therefore, dull). Character-based though much of my writing is, even I have to acknowledge the importance of plot as infrastructure–if you don’t frame your dwelling soundly, no matter how pretty it is, it’s going to fall down.

2) Keep within your word limit.
We’ve all done it: you started out to write a 10,000 word story, and you wound up writing a 500,000 word trilogy. Whoops! Tee hee! Aren’t you an adorable little overachiever? Doesn’t that just prove you’re soooo totally committed to your cause?

No. It just proves you can’t write a short story.

For those of us who tend to literary effusiveness, the short story is a tool, and one of some worth. It teaches us to trim, to cut, to cinch in our literary verbosity. It teaches us not to use three words (like I did in that previous sentence–natch!) when one will do. I started a novel, once, with some stunning (to me, at least,) visual imagery and a plot that moved like treacle. It took me owing something to a publication on VERY short notice for me to look at that half-finished novel and realize: all that time, it had been a short story. It didn’t have enough of a plot to work as a novel. So: I relieved it of its pretense and rewrote it as it was meant to be. And it was much better.

Valuable lessons learned.

3) What’s important?
This is a subset of item two, really, but it’s worth mentioning in a separate context. To keep within your word limit, you’re going to have to think pretty hard about what’s important in your story and what isn’t. Short stories will teach you how to kill your darlings, and they’ll teach you how necessary that sometimes is.

In a work of fiction under 10,000 words, the main question you need to be asking yourself is:

Does this scene do two things?

Does it show your main character’s bravery and get the toothpaste in the picture for that cavity-fighting scene that happens later on? Does it provide a crucial amount of the mother’s backstory while casually reinforcing how hard it is to find a good dentist in town?

If it doesn’t accomplish at least two purposes, you could probably use those limited words a little better. People say every scene needs to mean something in the course of your story, and yeah, that’s true. Otherwise, you just rewrote Tropic of Cancer. In a short story, however, take that advice and double it: now everything needs to have two purposes, and you need to be a literary Macguyver.

4) Experiment!
The other great thing about short stories, kids: you’ve got a LOT less editing to do when you’re finished. It’s easier to stay in control of a shorter story. There’s less time, as it happens, for your faults as a writer to boil to the surface. You can think about the bare-bones mechanics of the story a little less, simply because there are less of them.

Therefore: short stories are a great place to experiment. Been debating an attempt at second person present for a while? Write a short. Just kind of curious how a story written from the POV of a dying star would look? Dabble all you like. Want to write a circular tale where the end and beginning lines are both the onomatopoeaic sound of an elephant’s ear wax dribbling down a concrete wall? I reckon that sound is sshlrrp. Have fun. If you find something you like, you can craft a heavier plot and novelize later.

5) Learn to accept defeat.
I know, nobody likes to see that one. But there are times–a LOT of times–where the thing you’ve been trying so hard to save just isn’t going to work. You’ve tried to patch it up so many times it’s more deus ex-type patch than story. There’s a plot hole that’s too big, a character inconsistency that’s too prominent. And in these cases, you have two choices: either put the thing down, ostensibly to give it a rest but really probably never to pick it up again, or start over.

I’ve had to start a TON of short stories over, and while it’s never pleasant, let me say this: it gives you the experience to recognize when this needs to happen with a novel, and it gives you the courage to LET it happen. Not everything’s a keeper. Everyone has a literary slush pile. Don’t be ashamed, but likewise: don’t be afraid of the work. If you really feel like there’s something in there that could be saved if you just start over, start over.

Wow. That’s probably going to be my next blog: When to Quit. It’s an important thing and it never gets talked about.
At any rate, love.

EFR

Writing: Keeping a Notebook

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Okay. So that picture isn’t of my current notebook. That is, actually, a notebook of mine from college, a million or so years ago. I found it in my studio when I was going through some drawers. Looking through it, sampling its fascinating combination of French homework and pretentious teenaged bullshit–well. I guess it’s finally served its purpose, in that it inspired me to write something. Namely, a blog entery ooo-oon….

Using A Notebook

Let all that meta sink in, if you will.

Anyways, I think using a notebook is important, but not for the reasons a lot of people say it is. When I’m trying to think of something to write, I almost never thumb through mine. The statement ‘Ooh, I know I had a good idea, but I can’t remember it–thank God I wrote it down!’ has possibly never been uttered near my word processing device. Good ideas I usually remember no problem.

If you’re one of those people who tends to think of something really, really worth doing and then promptly forget about it, I guess it might be worth your time to have a notebook for the above reason. But, if this doesn’t happen often:
why write shit down?

Well, for one, I hope the big brawny ideas that come striding, lumberjacklike, out of your writerbrain aren’t the only reason you keep a notebook. I keep mine f’rinstance, mostly for minutae–names I like, facts I didn’t know, words I don’t recognize. Those things (along with  shopping lists, reminder notes, and confirmation numbers scrawled in the top margin) make up the majority of my little notebooks.

Are these things important, overall? Maybe. Probably not. But they give you a good and writerly habit: the habit of curiosity.

Good writing–dependable writing–is twenty percent genius and eighty percent follow-through. A notebook encourages you to explore the things that’ve made you curious–find definitions for new words, find out the history of funny names, look up a process or an item that you found interesting. If you’re not sure about a detail (such as: how much control does a game designer have over the game’s final content?) write it down so you can look it up later. This serves the excellent double function of making sure you remember things you might be writing incorrectly, and indulging that curiosity habit I’m talking about. Looking these things up might, after all, show you that you need to take your story in a new direction to make it work–or give you mental fodder for other stories, later on down the line.

Again: keeping a notebook doesn’t have to be a super-organized thing. It doesn’t have to be something you live or die by. But when you have a chance, it’s good to indulge.

My notebook from the Distant Collegial Past doesn’t look much different from my notebooks now. I still use the tiniest notebook I can write in comfortably–small enough, preferably, to fit in a back pocket. No, I don’t give a shit if they’re Molskine. I’ve got a whole slew of them in the studio: cheap drugstore notebooks, the kind you used to be able to buy at CVS for fifty cents. They’re not particularly organized, and once I’ve looked up what I’m going to look up from them I rarely look back at them, except when I’m cleaning or feeling reminiscent. They’re undated, because I’m not a damn scrapbooker, but I can usually figure out which ones are from when, more or less.

But the process of writing down things you notice, even if you never look at them again, will help you remember them better. That alone is a good reason to keep a notebook. And I have to say, though I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me:

How you keep one matters, too.

I know, I know. You’ve gotta do what works for you. I’m not going to stop you, but I do have to say: I don’t think it works as well to do it on your phone or tablet or what have you. I think it makes the whole process take longer, and speed is what you want–if writing stuff down in a notebook is going to be difficult, you’re not going to do it. A bitty book and a pen, in easy reach in your pocket or the confines of your purse, is faster than a six hundred dollar electronic device. Also, if it rains, your pen and paper will forgive you in a way your phone won’t.

So, once more: my notebooks don’t contain the genius-bombs that hit at four in the morning. Contrary to popular belief, those’re usually pretty easy to remember. They don’t contain lines of unabashed beauty, the unfinished sestinas of public transit induced anguish (at least, the ones past college don’t). They contain, mostly, a wilderness of strange names, snippets of conversation, odd questions (‘who makes slaughterhouse bolt guns?’, says one page of my college notebook). And, of course, phone numbers, shit in French, and life stuff (‘Remember toilet paper PLEASE PLEASE.’. Or, most mysteriously: one page with the word DACTYL written on it in block caps).

There are no fun clues to the person I used to be in there. No tinsel-sparkles of effervescent young genius. I rarely look at the notebooks, because they’ve already served their purpose: simply by writing this shit down, I remember it better. Most of the notes are meaningless to me now, useless (such as this random picture of the Pimp Coat of Christ, which I couldn’t for the life of me give you context for present-day:)

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But it helped me to do it. It gave me a reason to explore the world a little bit more, for a little bit longer. And for that, it’s worth doing.

How about you guys? Do you keep notebooks? How? What do you write in them? Do you feel like it helps you?

Why I’m Glad I Don’t Write For a Living

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Why I’m Glad I Don’t Write For a Living

Since I was a very little girl–six, maybe, or seven–I thought I wanted to be a writer.

Of course, I had a very romanticized view of what ‘being a writer’ was. Especially in high school. It involved writing longhand and leatherbound books and having a study, whatever the hell that is. It involved typewriters and Hemingway in Cuba and suffering, which is like black licorice crack for Troubled Young Artists. It involved suffering for art, which is like black licorice crack coated in doughnuts and unicorns.

I guess I was more realistic than some. Instead of imagining my Pulitzer prize and immense popular appeal, I imagined myself in some barely-heated Parisian garret somewhere, imagining my Pulitzer. It was all very meta and clever. I smoked a lot of clove cigarettes for that dream.

But I’m an adult now. I’ve supported myself for a while. I know that starving isn’t romantic, and it isn’t pretty, and it isn’t fun. And it isn’t proud, either–you beg your friends for twenty bucks. You beg your parents for twenty bucks. You think about payday loans. You see the interest rates, you know what a royal screwing it is, and you still think about payday loans. Your power gets turned off, you remember that oh yeah, electronic writing devices don’t work without a charge, and you discover that writing longhand by the light of a single candle is not only irritating, but it also hurts, like, a lot, and there’s a reason word processing is a step up, and boy your hand is, like, burning.

So here’s the thing. I can pay my water bill with writing, and that’s enough for me.

People often, I think, confuse the idea of ‘writing professionally’ with the idea of ‘taking writing seriously’. They are, in fact, independent concepts, and one can very much exist without the other.

I take writing seriously. There’s nothing I take more seriously, except possibly soft-boiling eggs (which is a serious subject. Pull them fresh and cold out of the fridge and put them into about 1/2 inch of water in a saucepan at med-high heat, rolling boil. Cover, obviously. Put them in there for exactly six minutes and thirty seconds; pop ’em out and run them under cold water for half a minute or more. Crack and peel with the soft puckered fingers of a baby angel. This gentleman got it absolutely right, and it’s the only thing I’ve tried that works every time.)

Anyway, digressing.

Writing professionally is sitting down at your word processing device in the morning with the intention of making rent. It’s trying to pay for your fashionable Parisian garret, your two-pots-a-day coffee habit, and all those cloves with that 800 word article about dog shaving you wrote last week for the Indy, which took two weeks to research. It’s squabbling over the exact worth and value of your craft with people who’ll make a lot more money off it than you will, and discovering that (surprise!) these people who’re making money off it don’t think your art is nearly as valuable as you do.

Me? I like the illusion my art is a priceless pearl in the oceans of crude commerce. Do I know it’s an illusion? Oh, yeah. Trust me, I do. But I like it.

So I’m content to halfass. I get that royalty payment, I smile pleasantly, and I go on about my workday. Because I have a job for paying my bills–one that I like fairly well, one that doesn’t keep me stressed out or working at odd hours. I have this low-stress job because my bills are small and my needs are simple, and it gives me time to do what I love doing.

When you want to write professionally, a lot of times what you really want is to look your friends and family in the eyes and say ‘I’m a writer’ when they ask you what you’re up to for work. And that’s awesome. Trust me, I wish I got to do it. I hear it helps you talk to people at bars.

But that isn’t my dream. Am I owed payment, for what I do? My answer, surprisingly, is: no.

Because I’d do it even if I didn’t get paid. In a lot of cases, I do do it even though I don’t get paid. Because not making your dream your profession is a luxury and a blessing, even if there’s some stigma attached to it. It enables you to write what you want when you want to write it.

Mind you, I write every day. Probably somewhere between 1,000 to 5,000 words a day, seven days a week, depending on the time I have and how I’m feeling. If we take a low median average and say I write 1,500 words a day, that makes for 547,500 words a year. It’s probably more than that, but you get my point. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, so I can say I’ve got Heinlein’s (or whoever’s–who did say that first? Ms. Woodward over here did some research, God bless her), million words pretty well covered, several times over.

I’m prolific. I’m clever. And I’m pretty damn good.

Am I a hobbyist? Yes. I don’t pay rent with my writing. But I’m a damn dedicated hobbyist. And I take my little hobby very, very seriously.

And I think, maybe, happiness for a lot of young ‘unsuccessful’ authors lies in a similar place. Don’t worry about other people taking you seriously. That’s, well, always been unproductive. Don’t worry if your resume can list ‘freelance writer’ as an occupation. Should writing be a hobby for you, or a profession? I don’t know. I can’t make that call for you. But I can tell you that, either way, it demands attention and respect.

So stop freaking out about how ‘professional’ you and your ‘author platform’ look. Worry about how good your writing is. Worry about what you’re learning, what you’re gaining, and not whether you deserve to be called an author. Nobody other than you cares about that. Trust me.

And if you can’t pay the bills with writing–and you won’t be able to, at least not at first–find yourself a job. Starving conditions leave your mind awfully full of ways to cook the three hot dogs remaining to you on a piece of tinfoil, and shockingly empty of plot devices and clever synecdoche. If you respect your goddamn art, you won’t do that to it. Writing with no power on is, let me tell you, not the primo environment for ars poetica composition. It’s not the primo environment for much, in fact, except cooking on Sterno cans and going to bed when the sun sets.

Job going to cut into your literary time? Sure it will. Make more time.

Because the illusion that not having a job will allow you to ‘make more time’ for writing is just that–an illusion. Unless you happen to have a patron who believes in you, the alternative is starving, which leaves you about seven days of time before you’re too weak to do shit.

So good luck to all of you. Write well, and don’t waste away while you’re doing it.

Killing Your Darlings With Coffee

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Today’s story begins with the phrase which had begun many a morning for me:

So I was in line at Starbucks.

Judge me. Go ahead. Because I’m sure you always have time to hunt down an indie coffee shop. I’m sure you and your indie-coffee-shop-finding buddies enjoy the sweet nectar of free-trade hubris in recyclable cups every morning, with a soupcon of disdain for people who don’t shop at farmer’s markets available in organic creamer-form on the dash.

No? Boo hoo.

Anyway, I was in line at Starbucks, and I noticed it was taking the guy in front of me a while to get his drink. Six or seven minutes sort of a while: in Starbucks language, that’s geological ages. Like, I was checking my phone wishing I could die.

When the barista was finally done sacrificing to the coffee gods, or whatever it is a barista has to do to produce a cupload of soylent coffee-substitute, I could see why. The thing that had been produced–this coffee-esque item–was a modern marvel. It had more sugary shit on top of it than Miley Cyrus after a night on the town. There were sugar drizzles, sugary whipped cream, flecks of sugar, chocolate sugar scrimbles. It was probably four thousand calories, and provided enough diabeetus to keep four third-world countries in insulin for the forseeable future. It probably had extra pumps in it.

(On a related note–why does it not bother people to order things with extra ‘pumps’ of stuff in them? Nothing natural–nothing–has ever been pumped into anything. Anyway.)

This quivering gelatinous pile of almost-coffee–this southern-style cream pie rendered as a potable liquid–this degenerate fuck-you to good taste and simple living on all seven continents–was picked up by its proud owner and, unceremoniously, slurped down on the way out the door.

As though he got one of those every morning.

As though it were perfectly normal–perfectly–to suck down a sugary showboat that took some poor kid seven minutes to make on the way to your car, balancing your phone in your other hand.

Now, don’t get me wrong–there are times when we all want a fancy ten-layer coffee beverage. There are times when even I, diabetic curmudgeon extraordinaire, am okay with paying eight dollars for a frappa-crappa-cuppa-zuppa-mocha-latte-hazelnut.

But these times aren’t every day. I want one of those maybe once every three months, and even then I usually ponder the craving for a month or so (‘how badly, really, do I want a diabetic coma?’). And I usually get a small. And I tip the poor barista.

My point:

Don’t listen to all those people who tell you whether or not to kill your sugary-sweet darlings. They don’t know what the hell your darlings are–you do. Some of them might have literary merit. Just like, sometimes, that ridiculous coffee confection is just the thing you want–sometimes, you need fillings and a serious sugar-coma.

Writing, my dears, is the Starbucks of the soul.

Most of the time, you should probably go for the plain black coffee of prose. A pack or two of sugar if that’s how you like it, some milk or creamer if you’re that sort of person. Nonetheless: plain coffee. It wakes you up. It gets the job done.
If you drink mostly plain coffee–if you keep your writing style simple and direct–it’ll only mean you appreciate your moments of prosey frappa-mocha-fucka-whatever better.

Because it’s hard to appreciate two pumps of extra whatever-you-pump when you’ve been having it every day.

And plain black coffee isn’t so bad–there’s a lot of subtle difference in plain black coffee. You might even argue, for that matter, that the person who can wax rhapsodic about a cup of plain black coffee is a gourmet–whereas the person who waxes rhapsodic about a cup of sugary, milky, coffee-putrescence is a future diabetic.

It’s up to you, of course, to decide what the appropriate amount of time between frappa-fuckas really is. But, believe me here–there is one. I know, I know, you’ve all heard that old adage, kill your darlings–it’s true. For the most part.

But if you kill all your darlings–if you drink nothing but black coffee from now until the end of time–I can’t help it, I find that a little sad. There’s a fun, sugary part of your soul that no one else will ever see again, that makes your writing what it is. And, sure, indulging in it too much is bad for you–but a little self-indulgence, from time to time, is medicine rather than murder.

The expression ‘kill your darlings’ teaches us, wrongly, that something is harmful to us just because we like it. And, like the Starbucks coffee, it certainly is, if we let it rule us–but if you use your darlings judiciously, if you pick the best of them and apply them with care, there’s no reason that bit you like shouldn’t stay in.

Just because you like it doesn’t mean you can’t make it work.

And in the end, you should be getting a second (or third, or fourth) opinion anyway. If they give your sugary baby the axe, maybe it’s not quite time yet. But if they don’t, let your darling live.

Because people who never ever get a frappuchino are just a little bit soulless. You need to play a little, give in to your cravings a little. They’re part, after all, of who you are.

Unless, of course, you hate frappuchinos. In which case: get one once. Just so you know. If you don’t break the rules ever, you’ll never know what happens when you do.

By the way, this whole post is me not killing a darling. There’s nothing we like over here in Emville like extended metaphors…regardless of how well they work.

Writing Devices and The Cult of Writing

Hey, guys! Sorry I’ve been away so long…I’ve been working pretty hard on Little Bird, and a new sci-fi story in first person present which, as my boyfriend requested, has both war and aliens in it. And brains in a box, but he didn’t request that. Anyway.

I’m back to the bloggy grindstone now, so don’t you fret. Or, you know, whatever you were doing.

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Writing Devices: If It Ain’t Broke

I’ve been seeing this thing plastered all over Facebook for the past few months. Remember the AlphaSmart? It’s basically a slicker-looking AlphaSmart.

I’ll be honest: my initial reaction was one of horror. Dear God, I thought–how much money are people willing to pay for special writing devices? I mean, this thing is basically just a word processing program in a fancy (and somewhat bulky, it looks like) case. While I like people to know I write, a t-shirt would be cheaper. And what message, really, is a device like this sending? That the only way to keep your holy and much-tortured genius ‘distraction free’ is to pay $400 for it?

And again, I’ll be honest. Every time I hear the phrase ‘distraction free’ in relation to writing, my blood still boils a little bit. Christ, guys. Are we all so undisciplined that we need special new toys to keep us from frittering the day away on Facebook or Twitter? Do we hate writing so much that all it takes is an article about ‘Ten Hollywood Actresses Who Looked Way Better in Their High School Yearbook Pictures’ to keep us away from it? I mean, I’ll admit it. I’ve spent possible writing time tweeting before. Or on the phone, or cooking dinner, or watching a movie. But I tend not to think of that as ‘OMG possible writing time spent engaged in unholy distraction’. I tend to think of it as time off. We all need time off.

Writing is, naturally, wonderfully cheap–wow, all you really need to get started is a pen and some paper. You don’t need to be anywhere special, you don’t need to be looking at anything in particular, you don’t even need lessons in how to do it. You don’t need to’ve read certain books, or be able to Discuss Dostoyevsky Wittily with Other Writers. Like all the arts, if you really want to do it, you’ll find the time and you’ll find a way. (F’rinstance– you can draw with just a pen and a piece of paper, too. And you can dance late at night in your room in sneakers, special shoes optional).

Why is there such a culture–such an intellectual black hole–built up around ‘writing a novel’? Writers aren’t just writers, they’re people who write–no one can be JUST a writer, and no number of write-culture fetish devices can make you a literary machine. Having a goddamn Hemingwrite doesn’t make you Susan Sontag. Nothing makes you Susan Sontag. In fact, I’d be willing to bet Susan Sontag wasn’t really Susan Sontag–at least, not the Susan Sontag who is portrayed to us folks who aren’t Susan Sontag.

Writing is something that comes from within. All this intellectual bullshit attached to it–where you put the commas, how to get an agent, whether or not your writing is good enough, smart enough, witty enough, whether or not you live ‘the life’–is just bullshit. And, while I might argue that whether or not you should attempt publication is a skill-based call, writing itself isn’t. All you need is a surface, a writing implement, and some basic literacy.

So. In this world, where the internet allows for instant sharing and the simultaneous curse and blessing of a ‘writing community’ in the smallest hometown, let’s try to remember that. Writing comes from within. And if you really want to write–if it’s something you HAVE to do–you’ll find a way.

That being said:

I thought about that Hemingwrite a lot. I thought about my reaction to it. And, in the end, I’m not sure my reaction was any better than anyone the hell else’s.

Because it doesn’t matter what you write on. It doesn’t matter what amulets and charms you employ in the process, what magical incense you light in your prayers to the Writergod. So long as you do it, if you want to do it.

I wish there wasn’t this idea of a writing culture. I do. I think it’s damaging, dangerous, encourages homogeneity, etc.

But maybe what I think doesn’t matter. Because it sure as hell exists. And, as long as it exists, there’ll be those hawkers at the fair selling ‘useful tools’–relics for luck, the bones of silent saints. And hell, these guys are almost certainly in earnest. The reviews I’ve seen for the Hemingwrite say it works just fine.

But are their products useless? Maybe to me. I can’t tell you how to write, though. And there’s power in such things, and there’s power in self-confidence.

Julius Caesar might not’ve cared for the results, but even he still took the auspices.

Advice Column: Grammatical License in Writing

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Hey there, guys. Looks like I’ve got some interest in this advice column thing! It’s fun, so we’re going to keep doing it.

As always, if you have a question about writing, self-publishing, or, well, whatever you feel like asking me, post an anonymous comment anywhere on The Blawg, or send me an email at efrussel@gmail.com. A note: I won’t moderate your comment as public where you post it, so if you’re worried about something connected to that, don’t be. The only place you’ll see it again will be in the post where I answer it.

This question comes from a reader who’s seen me around Goodreads:

Hey I saw on GoodReads that you’re doing an advice column. I’ve read your stuff and it seems descent so, I thought I’d ask your opinion.

I recently got involved in a group of authors that do review swaps (but carefully so Amazon won’t get all hot, and bothered). Anyway one of the other authors dinged me a star, on my review. She said I had too many copyedit errors. When I asked her to point out one or too, she sent back a reply listing five and said that was only for the first too pages of my novel! Many of her comments were around comma use (except for the ones about hyphens). I don’t agree with her entirely re. the use of commas, would think there is some licence here. After all what do readers know, about grammar? Tell me I’m right. I can’t wait to wave your column under her nose.

JC

Dear JC,

I hate to say it, but there might not be any column-waving this time. Readers frequently know just as much, if not more, about grammar as we do–especially readers who are also authors. 🙂

That being said, I don’t know your novel, I don’t know her, and I don’t know the errors, so for all I know, she’s wrong on all five counts.

But whether she is or isn’t–there actually ARE some hard and fast rules of comma usage, though you’d never know it to listen to a lot of grammatical conversations. You don’t just use a comma ‘whenever there’s a pause for a breath in the sentence’– one of those popular phrases that’s been getting under my skin for years. I mean, if you did that, a death scene would be nothing, but, commas. Ending in one long, neverending trail of commas.

So if you want to check up and see who has the upper hand gramatically, here’s a pretty good list of all those times you should use a comma (and some of the times you shouldn’t). I disagree with them on the subject of the Oxford comma–while it IS standard in Americanized English, this doesn’t mean it’s a hard and fast rule–but otherwise, the advice there is gold.

But here’s the thing. There are times when I’d say you have some license with grammar when writing a novel. But these are times when there’s a distinct purpose to using poor grammar–I always think of Kaye Gibbons’s Ellen Foster when I think about this, probably just because it’s the first book I ever read that did use grammar as a stylistic tool. Ellen Foster is the story of a child, told by that child, and expressed as a child with little education would express it. Therefore, Gibbons’s grammar isn’t always good.

So. A writer does have some grammatical license in a story–as long as that license is being used, knowingly, to fulfill a purpose. The sort of character who would say ‘ain’t’, in other words, should say ‘ain’t’, even though it isn’t technically correct. If a story is told first person by a nine year old girl, ‘whom’ probably isn’t going to appear very frequently in it, even when it should. So, if your story is of this sort–if your misplacement of commas (assuming it is misplacement in the first place) is done deliberately, for fairly obvious purposes of mood setting or character voice–then the point may well be yours.

Just for fun, here’s a list of some long-held grammatical rules that perhaps aren’t really hard and fast rules, and are now considered okay for a writer to break in fictional writing. The first thing she talks about is another answer to your comma question–though I actually disagree with her there (or think, at least, it’s a device that should be employed VERY carefully), it’s what you were looking for in print. Even if she uses that phrase I hate. Hope it helps!

Yours,
Emily

Writing: Your Antihero

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Writing Yourself a Likeable Asshole: The Classic Anti-Hero

So me and the Definitely Not Dave were watching TV last night. Specifically, we were watching Nextflix. And guess which show they had every last episode of?

If you looked at the title, that’s probably all you need to guess what I’m talking about. They had House, people.

House was a great show, especially the first few seasons. The reason is simple: House had House, and you hadn’t gotten tired of him yet. And House is this era’s perfect example of the likeable asshole.

A lot of people struggle with this character type–often referring to him, somewhat gustily, as ‘the antihero’, which is one of those compound phrases (much like ‘reverse racism’) that doesn’t at all mean what it sounds like it should mean. (Doesn’t reverse racism sound like it should mean treating someone with a different skin color very, very nicely? Doesn’t it? Why the hell doesn’t it mean that? Anyway.)

It’s okay, boo boo. I’m here to help you. Because it’s one I’m pretty good at (see: every main character I’ve had ever).

A brief look at The (Anti)Hero’s Journey:

1) Character does Good Thing for Wrong Reasons.
2) As action rises, Character must struggle to come to terms with pain in past, and stop self-destructive actions. Character begins making progress towards redemption.
3) It’s too much: Character does something Really, Really Shitty.
4) Milksop ‘nice guy’ other characters stop supporting Central Character’s behavior.
5) Character does Good Thing for Right Reasons.
6) We All Skip Happily off into Sunset. Rainbows, Glitter, Other Bullshit Happens.

Five points, to help you on your journey:

1) Balance This Asshole.

Not on a high beam or a tightrope. This is very hard to do, especially with make-believe people.

Balance this person’s essential assholeness with a sweetheart or two by his side. House has his team, all of whom tolerate (sometimes barely) his bullshit, and are fairly nice people comparatively. He has the puppylike Wilson. These people are around House to provide contrast, true: they’re also there to show what should be done, by a normal non-assholeish person. You might think your audience knows this instinctively, and in a just universe you’re probably right. However, your audience also needs to know that you know this–that this person’s assholian qualities are a fictional tool, and not just, you know, what you think is par for the course.

Another important thing–these non-assholes, though they can be irritated by your asshole’s antics, needs to fundamentally like him. It gives your audience an excuse to. After all, if these nice people like this emotional cripple, there’s got to be a reason, right? Which leads into:

2) This Asshole Needs to do Good.

House does plenty of good. You know, saving people and stuff. The problem isn’t with what he does–it’s how, and why.

And this is the main paradox of the anti-hero. If this person doesn’t do good, he’s just an ass. If he doesn’t do it for the wrong reasons, he’s just a hero. Of course, since the anti-hero usually redeems himself by the end of the story, he has to be aware of the wrongness and come to terms with it. An example:

–Your hero takes two children of a banished royal line under his wing. He does it for the ransom money, but of course he knows if he turns them in they’ll probably be killed. In the end, he doesn’t turn them in.

Because his conscience gets the better of him, see? Though he might not say it–he might say the current ruling party isn’t offering him enough money, or he feels like it’ll just get him in more trouble when the current ruling party is itself deposed. But by that point, you know this asshole well enough to know it’s just bluster. He’s doing it because he doesn’t want to kill children. And in some way, by the end, he acknowledges this–more on that later.

3) Your Asshole Needs Some Damage.

Which, out of context, just sounds x-rated and weird. But here’s the thing–your asshole needs some kind of excuse to be an asshole. House has his leg, and the painkiller addiction (which we’ll talk about in Four).

But here’s the thing–that excuse isn’t enough, and it shouldn’t be.

House kind of likes the pain. He likes it because it gives him an excuse to be what he is. An asshole like House isn’t necessarily pandering for pity–House wouldn’t tell you his sobby-sob life story if you bought him a beer at a bar–but he expects it to mitigate his actions, to let him skate by without the trouble and toil of becoming a better person. He’s got a cane and a limp and part of the narrative reason he does is so people make instant judgement calls based on them. He’s disabled. You’re taught to make extra allowances for the disabled.

But how many?

So. What happened to your character? Did he lose his wife to the raiders, get cursed by an angry wizard? Was he always teased in school? Whatever it is, make sure the pain is real–but moderate. His wife died fifteen years ago. The angry wizard’s curse was permanent heartburn. Getting teased in school isn’t an excuse for fricking anything anyway. You get it.

4) Some of This Asshole’s Damage is Self-Inflicted.

You might hear something like this come out of the mouth of a supporting character, in the wife-killed-by-raiders thing:

‘Harry was a great guy until the raiders came and decapitated Rena. After that, he sort of went downhill. He did a lot of drinking, lost his house, lost the kids. Now he just sits in the bar, night after night.’

You feel bad for him. Yeah, someone decapitated his wife, and that’s tragic. But the drinking, like House’s painkillers, is on him. And so is all the shit that happened to him because of it. It’s an understandable vice–I mean, raiders decapitate your wife, you’re going to drink for a while–but he’s taken it too far and, at least in the beginning of the story, it doesn’t look like he’s willing to make it better himself.

So, items three and four are related. You need damage–but then you need self-inflicted damage. The anti-hero (asshero? Asshelo? Herass?) needs to carry on the pattern of destruction and damage on his own, without outside help. Because this bastard isn’t sympathetic.

5) Your Asshole Needs to Change.

In every antihero type story, the main focus is the redemption–change–of the main character. Hell, House got like fifty billion seasons out of this one idea alone (and, let’s be honest, by the end of that show we were all so fricking ready for it). But in the end, even House makes a change for the better.

And this is where the hero part comes in. By the end of the story, your main character has to’ve done at least one thing that is truly, incontrovertably, good. And, furthermore, the character has to know why he did this thing, and welcome it, and admit it.

Why? Because character development. Because, if you’ve built your tension right, the audience is yearning for your asshole-hero to acknowledge the good in himself, and you occasionally have to give your audience what they want, or they’ll stop being your audience. (A note here: part of the reason this storyline works so well in House is because the show is, ostensibly, about something else. You can’t write a whole novel based just one one person’s search for redemption. Gimme something else along with it: House finds nifty weird diseases. Maybe there’s a war in your novel, or a trek cross-country, or what have you. But in a character arc like this, just remember: there has to be a plotline, some other action, for your asshole character to happen to.)

There you go: classic anti-hero stuff, with the help of Gregory House. Now go off and diagnose some weird diseases, kids. Go. Have fun. Because you’re all doctors now.

Yeeeees. Sure y’are.

WRITING: Why I Curse

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Writing: A Brief But Most Impassioned Missive on the Subject of Vulgarity

A NOTE: If you have a problem with strong language in novels, that’s just fine. It’s your right to feel the way you feel, just like it’s my right to say fuck a lot in my story. My anger here isn’t directed at you. Unless, of course, you’ve felt the need to get all up in arms with me about it. In which case: fudge off.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I hope this epistolary concoction of mine, now commonly called a ‘weblog’ or ‘blog’, finds you and your spouse exceedingly well. I hope weather in the place you currently reside is good, and your friends and family have suffered no misfortune since we last had one of these strangely public private chats.

My health is good, and my family is very well, and the weather is delightful, thank you for wondering.

You may have begun to wonder, with suspicion I fear is common to all my readers, what fantastic and whimsical Turn this missive is about to take. Why, you may ask, eyes round, is this sovereign Person, previous empress of the word F-, writing in a fashion which suggests longhand, fountain pens and inkwells, and swirling my own farts in a vintage brandy glass before inhaling deeply?

Because I’m making a point, sweethearts. Life without vulgarity–it sounds different to me. It sounds like a Victorian novel, without the occasional ‘damn’ thrown in there. The lengths a writer can go to to avoid vulgarity can ruin a novel–nothing pulls you out of a world quite as fast, after all, as a group of tough soldiers standing on a battlefield around their recently dismembered comrade, whispering ‘oh sugar’ in shocked tones.

I see this question asked a lot around the Interwebs: ‘should I use cursing/vulgarity in my book’? And my answer is, and always will be:

I don’t know. Why don’t you want to?

If the answer to that question is ‘because I’m not sure it belongs in this story/coming out of this character’s mouth’, then no. No, you probably shouldn’t. Because it doesn’t belong in the story.

If the answer is ‘because Aunt Mabel would unfriend me on Facebook/I’m worried I’d lose readers/it’s not appropriate to the age group I’m trying to reach/someone might be offended if I say ‘damn’ in it/etc.’, pull your head out of your ass and do it.

I curse. A lot. I’m not proud of this fact or ashamed of it, it’s just part of who I am. The curse words in my linguistic flow are like the exfoliating beads in my morning cleanser. A brief, momentary brightness. A typographical em-dash. Mix metaphors as you will.

As I’m the sort of person who cusses, a lot of my characters are also the sort of people who cuss. They’re ordinary people, common people, people of small means and low circumstances. Soldiers, innkeepers, convenience store clerks, fifteen year old kids (who cuss more than the rest of us. Sorry, moms.). Prostitutes. Magicians.

People who don’t, by and large, say ‘sugar’.

Of course, when one of my characters is the type of person who says sugar, or doesn’t curse at all, then they’re portrayed that way. Because story.

My language is, when in novel form, not uniformly bad. I drop an f bomb or two and, okay, sling more shits than a plumber’s supersoaker. But my vulgarity is fairly limited, and, outside of language, there’s little that keeps my book from being pretty clean. Here are some comments I’ve gotten (always in private, tch tch!) on my usage of the mother tongue:

1) ‘Vulgarity just makes you look less intelligent.’
What?

Did you not bother to read the rest of the words? ‘Cause I have a pretty big vocabulary. And I use those words too. When they’re the right word. (I’m sitting on a post about archaic words I’ve learned from my recent dive into Dickens. I am excited as fuck and you should be too. You’ll learn what a pettifogger is, and more on the best word ever: megrims.)

2) ‘It makes you look so common.’
So what. Nice attempt at shifting the blame onto ‘society’, that elusive bugbear, however.

This is the unisex companion to one girls used to get a lot: ‘it makes you look like less of a lady’. Hang on, let me check something–yep, vagina still there. However, oh my goody gumdrops goober goodness. You mean I’ll never be presented into society?

You couldn’t figure that one out earlier, like when I was born?

3) ‘People won’t like you as much if you’re vulgar.’
And there it is again! Not you, the commenter, but people. All of them out there. You know, them. The same people who, I assume, shot JFK, and rigged 9/11.

Here’s the thing, person who certainly isn’t people. As far as my novel goes, I don’t care. If someone’s shallow enough to like or dislike me based on my language choices in a novel, let ’em. It’s not like they were close friends of mine to begin with.

You read the book. You either like it or you don’t. Don’t get me wrong: I love my fans, and I respect all my readers. If someone reads my book, sees the f word, gets offended, and puts it down, well, I’m sorry we didn’t get along better. This person is making a choice for themselves and not complaining to me about a choice I made for myself, and I can respect that.

But for the person who whinges about my language to me, as though I’m a customer service department fielding complaints: I don’t take requests. You get what I give you.

4) ‘People won’t trust/respect you as much if you’re vulgar.’
Again with the people. These people. So judging, so limiting. Especially when expressing an opinion you don’t want to tell me you also hold.

And, again, the same reply: if you don’t trust or respect me, a person you barely know, because of my language choices, and you feel the need to tell me this out of some misguided sense of earthly duty, you’re a few steps higher on the ladder of pseudo-literary shame than the Grammar Nazi. You’re like the Goebbels of the English Language. And that’s your right. No one’s saying you can’t make your choice that way. Yep indeedy. Jawohl.

Also, when you’re in jail and you need to make that one phone call to someone who you absolutely know will bail you out, I’m willing to bet your first worry isn’t whether or not he says fuck a lot.

5) ‘You’re damaging your career options by being vulgar in public.’
This is the one I’ll give some credence to, because it’s true. You won’t ever be able to work somewhere superconservative if you, like I, have a filth-smearing online presence that, in addition to expressing intelligence and good communication skills through a written medium, says fuck sometimes. (And how nice of you, person who isn’t in any way people, to be so concerned).

However–how much money is it worth to you to substitute ‘sugar’ every time someone says ‘shit’ in your novel?

Answer carefully. Your sellout point is a good thing to know, just like your safeword.

I’m mentioning all this because, yes, I get a little tired of fielding it, but also as a word of wisdom for you kids who aren’t sure if ‘sugar’ is the word you’re looking for.

These people who’re telling you it’s ‘disgraceful’ to use a naughty word. These people who’re telling you it’s not what ‘well bred’ people do. These people who, in the least vulgar way possible, are implying that you’re a vulgar piece of shit, and certainly don’t deserve induction into whatever passes for proper society these days:

These people are censors, bigots, and bullies, just the same as the dickhole who cut you off in traffic and called you a cunt. They’re just keeping a G-rating on it, which doesn’t mean it’s any less bullying or censorious. It’s the same ugly thing in a prettier and more self-righteous wrapper. And, again–perhaps it doesn’t deserve to be in such a shiny wrapper when, you know, out and out telling somebody they’re worth less because of their language choices is such an ugly fucking thing.

The choice as to whether you should use shit or sugar is up to you. It is your choice, and yours alone. And it has nothing to do with you, or the Neighbors for a Purer Tomorrow who’re lurking out there, waiting for something new to be outraged by.  You’re not shouting it out to the rooftops, where everyone can hear it–you’re writing it down in a book, where people can choose whether or not they’re exposed.

No. This choice has to do with your story.

Does your long haul trucker say fuck, or fudge? If he says fudge, why? Because, let’s be honest–we all kind of expect a long distance trucker to say fuck. The opposite for a grade school teacher, a pastor, Aunt Agnes with her knitting needles and coke bottle glasses. And again, if they do say fuck: why?

If there isn’t a reason for it, it pulls us out of your story. It reminds us that there’s some little person at the typewriter, plugging away, praying like hell she isn’t (or is!) going to offend anybody. It reminds us that those pious braggarts, those constant offendees, those people whose quavering constitutions are so delicate they can’t even bear the knowledge that someone, somewhere, is saying fuck, are out there.

And they call enough attention to themselves without your help.

So cuss at will, soldiers. Cuss laissez-faire. Because if it’s the right word for your story, it’s the right word, and fuck everybody else. Anything else–any adaption, modification–would make it a lesser story.

And that’s a bigger sin than saying damn every once in a while.

Writing: Dealing With Criticism

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Writing: Dealing With Criticism

I want to be honest up front here: I have never had anyone out and out tell me I was a shitty writer. I’ve never gotten a one star review: or, for that matter, a less than four star review.

This isn’t, much as I want to believe it is, because I’m just that good. It simply hasn’t happened yet. And, judging from the reviews I’ve seen writers just as good as I am get, it WILL happen.

It’s just a matter of time. And, as a self-pubber, I don’t have the advantage of a publishing company between me and the reviewer. It’s just me, five Amazonian stars, and some stranger who’s read my book.

There’s the opportunity here, especially for a delicate multi-feelings’d cupcake such as myself, to get bruised. There’s the opportunity, for a grammargating, mouth-frothing, itinerant fragile flower such as myself, to get pretty butthurt. There’s the opportunity, I might even dare say, for a bright-eyed, artistically souled, chirpy chirpy baby bird such as moi to get downright pissed.

But here’s the thing: I’m not just writing for my grandmother and my cat any more. My book is going places other than my dad’s office or the storage compartment on my boyfriend’s bike. I voluntarily underwent the process of publication: put myself through it, actually. I did this because I deemed my own story fit for public consumption.

And that’s the thing about the public–not everyone likes the same things. Not everyone’s going to like my book as much as I liked it. And of the people who do–well, who’s going to be as enthusiastic about it as I am? Almost nobody.

Lemme tell you, I’m a sensitive, sensitive little shit. I take everything personally. I take the kindest and most well-intentioned criticism deeply personally. I take the way people look at me personally. I probably have self esteem issues, or something boring like that. Luckily, I’m also egotistical, so I mostly ignore them.

But here’s the thing: I signed on that ‘for public consumption’ dotted line. And this means my work–and myself–exist, in these public spaces, as a public entity.

And the folks who’re kind enough to give me reviews–they’re existing in a public space as well. They’re taking the same risks, albeit with a less lengthy piece of writing, that I am. For all a one-star reviewer knows, I’m actually a crazy hacker lady with a butcher knife and access to their private address and family phone numbers. And what you said about my main character being boring and horrible to read about–rawr. It makes me and my forty-seven cat army very angry.

Therefore: I do them the same favor they do me. What they’re offering isn’t criticism, or praise, of me–hell, they don’t even know me.

So I don’t take it personally.

Yes, you might be a shy wounded flower in private. But in public, you’re the guy or girl who wrote that book somebody may or may not have liked. That’s all.

It’s irritating sometimes, sure. Again, you’re an individual snowflake and whatnot. But it’s also freeing.

You are, to repeat, the individual, artistic little snowflake who signed your work off as ready for publication. There are no special allowances for you because you’re indie, because you’re a single dad, because you’re homo/heterosexual, because you’re very young, because you’re very old, etc. To your readers, it’s just a book. It isn’t you.

You can decrease your number of negative reviews by making it a damned good book. But that’s about all you can do, and you’ll still get some.

Whenever something makes the shuddering snowflake side of me rear its ugly multifaceted little head, I just think of this:

One of my favorite writers amongst the bestselling indies is Hugh Howey. He’s a very kind man, very supportive of other startup writers, and his first Wool novella was pure genius, a la classic sci fi. It was a story you might’ve expected to see in Playboy circa 1970, next to Ray Bradbury or Richard Matheson. The twist was perfect, the ending left you gasping. The writing was terse, elegant, emotionally charged. (Are you one of the four people left on earth who hasn’t read it? Here it is, do yourself a favor and read it.)

The first Wool story has, to date, 2,020 reviews. That number’s probably changed since I wrote it down five minutes ago, but there you go. It’s a lovely piece of writing. There’s little to dislike about it, if you’re a sci-fi fan.

And yet. And yet.

Out of those 2,020 reviews, sixty-four of them are one star. Eighty of them are two. Which means that, out of 2,020 people bold enough to leave a review, one hundred and forty-four of them–somewhere around seven percent, I think–found it unacceptable.

One hundred and forty-four. That’s over ten times the number of reviews I have, total.

So logically–even with a great piece of writing–somewhere around five percent of people just won’t like it, and won’t like it enough to tell the world just how much they didn’t like it. Respect these people. Respect their opinions. They cared enough to tell the rest of the world how they felt–care enough about them, and the time they took to read and purchase your book, to let it stand in silence.

As far as I know, Mr. Howey didn’t bitch. He might not have liked it–I don’t know the man, I don’t presume to speak for him–but I’ve never heard anyone complain about the way he treats reviewers. If I were him, I would have looked at that 1,876 figure–the people who DID like it and find it acceptable–and patted myself on the back.

So just know: whatever it is you’ve written, even if it’s the goddamn Mona Lisa of speculative fiction, someone, somewhere, isn’t going to like it.

And that has nothing to do with you.

So button it up.

EFR

PS–And, of course, what would this post be without a dangerous and passive-aggressive plug? Give me five stars and make my heart go gummy, or give me one and imagine me silently and respectfully going batshit while I say nothing. Those’re odds everybody feels comfortable with, I know. 😛 Booky booky, looky looky.