On the Subject of Insecurity and Writing

I’m writing this post today from my soapbox. Someone pushed a button, you see, a very large, red “DO NOT EVER PUSH” button, and writing this down is cathartic. So why am I sharing it?

Well, because I know I’m not alone. Every time I talk about this (or vent) to some other creative professional they understand. So here goes… (Wish me luck!)

There is a difference between being insecure as a person and being insecure about your writing. There is also a difference between being insecure about your writing and being insecure about what other people say about your writing.

Insecurity is, unfortunately, part of the writer’s journey and it can be an incredibly crappy thing to deal with. Doesn’t matter if you write non-fiction, fiction, gaming narratives, screenplays, commercials — whatever. You may be proud of something, until someone else gets their hands on it. A reviewer. A professor. An editor. A peer.

Some criticism is necessary to make the project better. This? This I’m okay with because a good editor is a diamond in the rough. A good editor will help you look your best — and who wouldn’t want that?

The worse, it seems, can come from others within the community or avid readers who prefer one thing but not another. Genre isn’t as good as literary fiction. Speculative fiction is better than science fiction. Non-fiction is good, but only if you’re accredited with the experience and knowledge to write it. Winning an award is good, but only if you win X award. Marketing copy can only be written if you follow the school of thought from X luminary. You’re not a real author until you get optioned for a movie. In order to be considered a serious author, you need to have X amount of books out. You have to be published by New York or you’re nothing. Small press publishers are just amateurs begging for money. Editors are frustrated writers. If you don’t make X amount a year, you’re not really serious about writing. If you can’t write a story on the first try, then you’re a bad writer.

And so on… And so forth… And so on…

I’ve been through enough rounds of feedback to know the difference between valid criticism and snarky comments. Both exist. Both have to be handled graciously or it may backfire. I’ve been back online for less than two weeks, and now I’m noticing other people’s hypersensitivity. Criticizing a tweet or a Facebook update. Correcting someone on semantics without understanding their meaning. (I call this the curse of “Well, actually!”)

What is this crap? It’s meaningless b.s. that taps into some insecurity on some level — but it’s about as useful as a giving a beer to an alcoholic. The worst part about this (which is where the button-pushing comes into play) is that often these comments are not meant maliciously. (Yes, there are some that are…) Most of the time, though, it’s because the person making the comment is damn insecure about their work, you see, and they’re looking for validation by reminding themselves what they don’t like about yours.

If you want to know what drives me to write better, to be a better person, to seek out new opportunities and deliver the finest product I can — this is part of that reason. I compete against myself every day not because I’m insecure about my work, but because I will never have written, polished or delivered “enough” quality stories and games. I have had a love-hate relationship with my creative side my whole life, because it took me a long time to find my tribe. You know what I’m talking about. People that will cheer and read everything you publish because they enjoy it that much. A support group. Haven’t hit the proverbial thousand fans yet, but whether it takes ten years or twenty — I’m not going to stop just because someone says I’m nobody or thinks I’m not important enough. To them? Sure. But not to me.

Yes, I may idealize the concept of community but the alternative? To be bitter or a drama queen or whatever? I don’t have time for that. I really, really don’t. In a world rife with criticism and negativity, I would much rather compliment and uplift than talk about how great I am and how sh*tty everyone else is. That is not how I roll.

In the end, I feel we have forgotten that words — on or off the page — have power. We forget that there is another person on the end of that line. That author? May have the same exact hopes and dreams and wishes that we do. How would you feel if you told someone their work was crappy because it didn’t get published according to your standards? Sometimes, all it takes is for a smile or a kind word to make someone’s day. To me? That’s power to be used responsibly. For writers, words are everything.

And with that, I step (carefully) off my soapbox and tell another story. May yours be everything you’ve ever dreamed them to be. And I sincerely and deeply wish that you reap the successes you deserve.

I’ve got a hell of a lot of writing to do and, quite frankly, I’m okay with that. I am loving this manuscript and I know someone else will, too.

The Hard Question for New Writers

I’ve talked about this a little before, about how we live in an age of immediacy. We have many tools that allow us to instantly connect with anyone, anywhere else in the world. I feel this connectivity is a double-edged sword because of something very simple, yet very important to all creative people.

Before I get to the whys and hows and whats of this post, I’m going to post the question first: Are you ready?

So what does that mean, anyway? Even though that sounds simple enough, there’s a lot more to it. You see, writing it’s just the process of putting words on the page or sticking up a story for readers to buy. It’s a journey. It’s the kind of journey that isn’t exciting or glorious or even fulfilling at first, because it can be very complex and grueling. After all, writing a short story isn’t the same thing as writing a novel. Writing a technical report isn’t a blog post, and it’s not marketing copy. Each form has its own function. Its own purpose.

To go from “new” to “professional” requires something that I feel the internet is obscuring. The steps — some emotional, some not — almost every writer goes through to get from Point A to Point B. The first one, of course, is to figure out what you want to write, and write that. The second is to study that form. I mean, really study it. If you like a genre, read books in that genre. Uncover why you like it. Etc. This process can take a short time or a long time, but the end result will help shift one role away from the other. Instead of being in the position of “receiver” or “consumer,” you will start to steer towards being the “creator.” This philosophical shift is huge, but often difficult to explain because being a creator resonates through every action you take — how much TV you watch, how many books you read, what music you play. The more you learn, the more you’ll go through. Emotionally, physically, mentally and even spiritually.

Where I feel the connectivity is hurting new writers is the way that it obscures and minimizes these processes. The medium facilitates immediate distribution and — in some cases — immediate creation. My blogging software allows me to type quickly and then publish the post with the click of a button. Once you’ve finished a book, all you have to do is go and publish it. Does that make you a creator? You created something and now it’s available for a consumer. So yes, right? Yes, it does — whether or not the work was ready to be published or not.

Earlier in this post, I posed a question. Are you ready? For me, this question means that it’s okay to not submit a finished novel or a short story until I feel it’s ready. It means that if I want to try a new technique, I can write a story and never submit it. I can write trunk novels or trunk passages and use them to experiment, to practice, to freshen up. With deadlines in the mix, it means that I have to gauge my time accordingly.

The idea that not everything you create has to be consumed is a freeing one, because now the decision comes back to you. If one project isn’t ready, then don’t submit it and move on to the next one. Abandon it. Use it as a learning experience. This is crucial, but especially when you’re new. Why? Because when you’re a creator, there is someone else you’re creating for — yourself. Allow yourself that luxury. Recognize it. Revel in it. Then, when you’re ready, take the next step. Whatever that is. Just don’t be afraid to say: “No, I’m not ready yet.”

Will Hindmarch, an Author’s Hidden Enemy and the Solution

If you’re an author, you know that there’s a lot of things we have to deal with that fall outside of our craft. One of those things is our hidden enemy: bitterness.

The BonesYesterday, I was replying to Will Hindmarch on Twitter about the topic. If you don’t know Will, he worked for White Wolf as the developer for Vampire: the Requiem. In fact, it was his design of Scenes of Frenzy that served as the template for my newly-released Scenes of the Embrace.

Besides being a talented developer, he’s also an author, a graphic designer and one of the owners of GamePlayWright. Will and I worked together on The Bones which is pictured at left; his style of editing taught me an important lesson. Track your research thoroughly whenever possible, just in case a need for citation comes up, even if it’s for a specific word. Otherwise, you’ll be scratching your head. A lot.

Anyway, now you know who Will Hindmarch is. So back to the quote at hand. Here’s what I said to him.

A writer’s worst enemy is being consumed from bitterness not by what we haven’t done, but what someone else has.

Can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into this. The first experience I had with interacting with other authors online was on a message board. Can’t remember the author’s name, but I do remember his piss poor attitude. At the time, he published a series of books over twenty years ago. Hadn’t published anything since. He was so negative and pervasive in his attitude toward other people, telling them they would never be successful. The guy had more experience than we did, yet he was focused on telling us what we didn’t have and why we’d never make, because he never did.

Mind you, I’ve learned there will always be someone more experienced than you and more successful than you are. The reverse is also true. I’ve had people tell me I’m not a real author because I haven’t been published by one of the big guys; I’ve also had authors say they wish they had my background.

Hand of PublishingSo what do you do when you feel bitterness seeping into your bones? You write more, dammit. No seriously. You drop what you’re doing and you work your ass off. You’re never going to get anywhere unless you put your fingers on your keyboard and write another story. Then you submit it. Then you work on the next one. And so on.

That’s it, people. ‘Cause there is no hand of publishing that will magically reach out of the sky and deem you worthy. If one story isn’t successful, you gotta suck it up and work on another one. In this business, success is relative and it’s not a guarantee. Am I saying that to sound negative? Nope. That’s the reality of publishing.

If you’re still stuck, read The Cult of Done Manifesto and then…

Get your butt back to work!!!

Is Blogging and Social Media Affecting Your Ability to Write What You Want?

Juggling BallsIf you’ve been following my blog, you may have seen my earlier post about Write First, Sell Later where I express how I feel it’s important to separate your promotional time from your writing time.

One of the things that I’ve found is that a timer isn’t “enough” to discipline me to get off of social media or blogging channels to write, write, write. Why? Well, blogging requires one mindset for me; social media requires another. In many ways, blogging requires a “voice” which may vary depending upon the blog. Here? I typically use my “professional voice” which doesn’t include all the random creative bits that tend to float around in my head. I’m much more random when I use Twitter, partially because it doesn’t take me any time at all to shoot off a thought. Blogging, on the other hand, can take me a bit, especially if I’m feeling particularly coherent. Fiction is a lot different than blogging, because I try not to worry about that coherency as much when I’m writing the first draft. Rather, I’m more concerned with having a cohesive plot or consistent characters. Subsequently, I’ve learned that blogging + writing stories = a recipe for disaster. If I’m not careful, blogging can actually hurt my writing because I spend more time on the first draft than I normally do. Like every writer knows — you can’t edit a blank page.

This month, I started using a different method of assessing what projects I want to complete. As geeky as it may sound, I set up a project management plan and assigned blocks of time (Yes, just like you did when you were in college) to different writing styles. Then I prioritized these chunks into what I needed to get done first. What I’m finding, is that this prioritization method is helping my mindset stay where it needs to be. I don’t feel as pressured to get something done, because I’ve got a crystal clear picture of what is important to me based on its intrinsic or financial value. Obviously, paying gigs come first, which is one of the reasons why my novel revisions are a lower priority during the first half of this month. I also add in my free time, to ensure that I’m not killing myself with work, and I bump “new” or “unpaid” opportunities to the bottom of the list.

It may sound strange, but this form of organization is what is working for me on several levels because I know that I have to cater my language to the audience I’m writing to. To help keep me focused on where my priorities lie, I am becoming the mistress of mini-tasking which, in turn, is also helping me to pace myself and manage my work load.

It’s no secret that I’m working on a hefty round of revisions for a novel, but what you may not know is that I’m also planning ahead. “If” the novel sells and “if” I’m able to write another one, I’ll probably have to manage writing a new novel while working for my day job. In my mind, establishing discipline is really important to a writer’s life, regardless of how busy or how successful you are. This is just my way of doing just that.

What about you? How do you juggle blogging with social media and your writing?

Day 20: What’s Your Mantra?

Dec09WM20We’re two-thirds of the way through, and from what many of you have been sharing, this has been a “busy-insane-nutso” month for many of us. Still, regardless of whether or not you’ve written or revised one chapter or several, there’s something we can all learn from being this busy. Sometimes, in order to write we need to shut off our brains and just put our fingers on the keyboard. (Like Yoda says, “Do or do not, there is no try.”)

I love the idea of being surrounded by clean, simple mantras or phrases you can really hold on to. Lilith Saint Crow‘s recent advice was to put the words “no choice” on a postcard in front of you. My New Year’s Resolutions are simply to use the words “Yes” or “No” more often. Let my characters over-rationalize. Let them over plan and obsess about what they have or haven’t done through their thoughts and actions on the page.

So today, in the midst of your writing, think about what your mantra is or will be. Let that be your rallying cry to keep motivated or to help yourself minimize the distractions that are often all around us.

Here’s a few of my favorite “I” writing mantras:

  • I love to write
  • I will write every day
  • I will learn one new thing about writing every day
  • I will not worry about how good of a writer I am
  • I am proud of my ethics as a writer
  • I am a writer

I hope you find your own rallying cry, and that you continue tapping away at your keyboard. After all, how can you revise a blank page?

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Monica Valentinelli >

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