“I think one thing you can do to help your friends who are depressed is to reach out to them not in the spirit of helping, but in the spirit of liking them and wanting their company. “I’m here to help if you ever need me” is good to know, but hard to act on, especially when you’re in a dark place. Specific, ongoing, pleasure-based invitations are much easier to absorb. “I’m here. Let’s go to the movies. Or stay in and order takeout and watch some dumb TV.” “I’m having a party, it would be really great if you could come for a little while.” Ask them for help with things you know they are good at and like doing, so there is reciprocity and a way for them to contribute. “Will you come over Sunday and help me clear my closet of unfashionable and unflattering items? I trust your eye.” “Will you read this story I wrote and help me fix the dialogue?” “Want to make dinner together? You chop, I’ll assemble.” “I am going glasses shopping and I need another set of eyes.” Remind yourself why you like this person, and in the process, remind them that they are likable and worth your time and interest.
Talk to the parts of the person that aren’t being eaten by the depression. Make it as easy as possible to make and keep plans, if you have the emotional resources to be the initiator and to meet your friends a little more than halfway. If the person turns down a bunch of invitations in a row because (presumably) they don’t have the energy to be social, respect their autonomy by giving it a month or two and then try again. Keep the invitations simple; “Any chance we could have breakfast Saturday?” > “ARE YOU AVOIDING ME BECAUSE YOU’RE DEPRESSED OR BECAUSE YOU HATE ME I AM ONLY TRYING TO HELP YOU.” “I miss you and I want to see you” > “I’m worried about you.” A depressed person is going to have a shame spiral about how their shame is making them avoid you and how that’s giving them more shame, which is making them avoid you no matter what you do. No need for you to call attention to it. Just keep asking. “I want to see you” “Let’s do this thing.” “If you are feeling low, I understand, and I don’t want to impose on you, but I miss your face. Please come have coffee with me.” “Apology accepted. ApologIES accepted. So. Gelato and Outlander?””—
P.S. A lot of people with depression and other mental illnesses have trouble making decisions or choosing from a bunch of different options. “Wanna get dinner at that pizza place on Tuesday night?” is a LOT easier to answer than “So wanna hang out sometime? What do you want to do?”
Questions Without Answers #4: What do I do when I get conflicting advice about revision?
First of all, pat yourself on the back.
Seriously, if you’re getting conflicting advice about revision, that means that you’re showing it to lots of different people, which is a courageous step and is really healthy for you becoming a better writer. It also means that you’ve found people to read your work who are giving you real feedback and not just “It’s great!” that family and friends often stop at.
Second, welcome to the real world.
If you go and look at reader reviews at amazon or goodreads, you’re going to see how varied the opinions are. Some people love Twilight with a holy passion. Other people hate it so much their minds explode. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that people react differently to your book, in its first stage.
I’d suggest making sure that you take notes if you go to a writers’ group to get criticism. Write down anything that immediately chimes with you. If you think—that’s what I meant to do or—of course, I should have thought of that, highlight or star or underline or box these comments. And then don’t work on the book immediately. Let it sit for a month and then go back to it and you will probably be able to see more clearly what *you* want to do to make your book better.
I say this as someone who has tried several times to write a novel based on a committee of feedback, trying to please everyone. A little distance can help you see things more clearly and gives you time to forget exactly what other people said. You don’t need the voices of other people in your head while you work. What you need to do is make an action list of things that *you* want to fix. If that happens to coincide with a few items on other people’s lists, that’s fine.
Beware of doing everything anyone tells you to do. Yes, even your agent. Yes, even your editor. Beware of doing nothing other people tell you to do. While I would read an editorial letter a few times during the process just to keep touch with the comments, don’t read it every day. That’s my advice anyway.
Conflicting advice during revision may make you think that no one knows anything. I remember when I was in high school, there were a bunch of students who thought that anyone who graded an essay was doing it completely subjectively because there were no objective standards for a good essay. Au contraire! The same is true for novel writing.
I would pay more attention to people who say things like:
1. I was confused by … .
2. I thought this part was boring…
3. I didn’t understand why this person did this …
I would pay less attention to people who say things like:
1. I really didn’t sympathize with this character…
2. I think you should add more of this …
3. I wish you would take out this part because it annoys me …
And here is something to remember about any critique that you get, paid for or in a writers group or anywhere at all. Your book is *your* book. No one (not even your editor) can MAKE you change something. I’m not saying to be stupid and refuse to listen to people who are trying to help you make a better book. But if you have a reason (even if it’s only that your gut is telling you something), talk it over with an agent or editor. And with other people, you don’t need to convince them. They shouldn’t be looking over your shoulder while you write. They give you feedback. You decide what to do with it.
“The trend of labeling women “crazy” is part of the culture that socializes women to go along to get along. When women are told over and over again that they’re not allowed to feel the way they feel and that they’re being “unreasonable” or “oversensitive”, they’re conditioned to not trust their own emotions. Their behavior – being assertive, even demanding or standing up for how they feel – becomes an “inconvenience” to men and they’re taught not to give offense and to consider the feelings of others before their own.”—On Labeling Women “Crazy” | Paging Dr. NerdLove - Part 2 (via brutereason)
Questions Without Answers #3: How Can I Tell if My Editor’s Comments are Right or Wrong for My Book?
I can answer this with a zen comment like, “If it *feels* right, then that means that you should go with it.” I’ve heard people say that if it chimes with you automatically, then it’s the right way to go. Or that if you envision the book with those changes and it is closer to the book you wanted to write, then they’re good comments.
Here’s the reality:
No editor is ever going to see the book in exactly the same way that you do. And this is a good thing.
Yes, I have seen people make changes that an editor suggested that I thought were a mistake.
But most of the time, what happens between an author and an editor is a collaboration that ends up with a book that is better than what either of them would have produced separately.
That means that the collaboration isn’t just a compromise kind of situation, where you get some of what you want and the other person gets some of what she wants. It means that you are bouncing ideas off of each other and sparking brilliant new ways of solving problems that you couldn’t do yourself. The best kinds of collaborations between authors do this same thing.
But with an editor, it’s a little different because an editor has a sharp eye for what is working and what isn’t working. Editors also have a bit of an idea (if they’re experienced) of how to get an author to think about something differently, or how to approach a problem in a new way. Sometimes other authors don’t always know how to do that.
So I would say that it’s less important if you immediately feel a zen peace with your editor’s comments and more important if you and your editor work well together. If you can call up your editor and start pinging ideas off of her, that’s a great thing. If she has ideas for you, also a great thing.
I know some people don’t like editors suggesting something. They only want critical feedback of the sort that says—this needs to be fixed. I’m a little more loose about what an editor does. I tend not to mind if an editor (horror!) adds a sentence here and there to my manuscript. I don’t feel possessive of my words that way.
I feel like a novel is a collaboration between an author and a reader, as well, and I have much less control over that. Having an idea in the first place, writing it down and then going through multiple drafts on my own—that’s my first step. But letting other people see it, writers groups, friends, agent, and editor, doesn’t make me feel like the novel is less mine.
That said, I would beware of you as the author feeling resentful about changes you feel “forced” to make. That should never be the spirit of the relationship. And if you feel like you’ve lost the sense of the novel being yours, that’s a problem you’re going to have to work out. You may need some time without the editor seeing the book to play with and get your touch back for it. Same thing with multiple drafts with a writers group or an agent.
Questions Without Answers #2: How Do I Know When I’m Done Editing?
Everyone is going to answer this a different way.
1. You’re done editing when your deadline hits.
2. You’re done editing when you say you’re done and you shouldn’t let anyone rush you.
3. You’re never done editing and you are going to keep editing a book in your mind every time you see the words again.
4. You’re done editing when you’re ready to write the next book.
No one can tell you the answer to this question. You make the answer to the question by your own actions.
Does that mean there isn’t anyone who can offer you useful advice? No. Hopefully, you have writing friends who can give you general rules of thumb. An agent can be useful if s/he can say, “Now it’s ready to go out,” which isn’t the same as being done being edited.
But ultimately, there is no expert about this. There is no one who can say, “You edit it six times and then it’s done. The first time, you edit for character. The second time, you edit for plot. The third time you edit for pacing. The fourth time you edit for time scale. The fifth time you edit for language. The sixth time you edit to get details right.”
Yes, there are lots of people out there who will tell you a very specific answer to this question. To me, hearing people pontificate about a specific answer to something like this is really useful to me because then I can add them to my list of people that I don’t ever want to talk to about writing (or politics, either) again.
As a kid, I remember that when adults told me that the answer to something was “it depends,” I got really frustrated. I didn’t want to be part of the adult world where everything was gray and there was no black and white. That’s why I liked math, see? There was an answer and the teacher knew what it was.
But the adult world of writing is even more full of gray than I had imagined. No one knows the answer to my questions. And as an adult, I’m actually really happy about this because the questions I’m asking are only interesting to me because there aren’t any answers.
The reason that no one can tell me when I’m done editing my book is that I’m writing a book that no one has written before, not even remotely. If someone else had written it and there was an answer so that you knew when it was done, I wouldn’t be writing it.
(And as it turns out, after talking to my mathematician friends, this seems to be true in math as well. Mathematicians are not at all interested, once they are on a certain level, in working on problems with obvious answers for the rest of us. They want to deal with questions no one knows the answer to yet, too. So they find problems that are really, really hard. And spend sometimes their whole lives working on them. And this makes them happy. Go figure.)
A lot of writers will ask me a variation on the following:
How do I know if this is the right book for me to be writing?
I want to kind of laugh, but really, it would be mean. Because I know it’s a real question and I know that someone is hoping that another person has the answer to it.
I suspect what they’re hoping for me to say is something like, you know it’s the right book because you have a feeling inside that just chimes. Or, you know it’s the right book because when you talk about it, everyone is super interested in it. Or you know it’s the right book because your agent keeps bugging you to write it.
But that’s not really the way that it is. Sure, there are ideas floating around and some are probably better than others. Some are hackneyed. Some are so overused that at the moment, it might not be a good idea to spend a whole bunch of time on a book idea that might feel to an editor that it’s been overdone.
On the other hand, who would have guessed that it was time for vampires to come back when Twilight was published? Did The Hunger Games anticipate a new trend for dystopia or create one? Why is Harry Potter the school with wizards book that made it big when there are arguably better school with wizard books out there already?
No one can tell you which book you should write. And there’s no magical sense of “rightness” that’s going to make you sure that this is the one. Asking for that is basically asking for a time machine.
All I can say is this:
You make a book the right one by refusing to give up on it.
You make a book the right one by revising it again and again until it’s so good that people love it.
You make a book the right one by pouring yourself into it in ways that make you squirm and embarrass you when people who know you too well, including your parents, read it.
You make a book the right one by pushing aside thoughts of success and writing the best book that you can write.
You make a book the right one by becoming the right author to write that kind of book.
You make a book the right one by refusing to ask yourself if it’s the right one because you’re not going to work on another one until this one is finished, by gum!
“In general, I think we need to move away from the premise that being a good person is a fixed immutable characteristic and shift towards seeing being good as a practice. And it is a practice that we carry out by engaging with our imperfections. We need to shift towards thinking that being a good person is like being a clean person. Being a clean person is something you maintain and work on every day.We don’t assume ‘I am a clean person therefore I don’t need to brush my teeth.’ When someone suggests to us that we have something stuck in our teeth we don’t say to them ‘What do you mean I have something stuck in my teeth—but I’m a clean person?!’”—Jay Smooth in his TED speech “how I learned to stop worrying and love discussing race” (via tropicanastasia)
I get embarrassed when I talk about my writing process. It feels like it must be wrong, but it works for me.Sometimes I wonder if that is the way you know you’ve found the right way for you, because no one else does it that way.
The way you write is like the way you pick your nose. No one cares how you do. They don’t want to see it or talk about it. Just see it’s done.
While I have you on the line…or I guess fanmail-tumblr-thingie, I was wondering if I could ask you a question or two. Yeah, two. You don’t need to respond if you don’t want/have time to, but I’d appreciate it if you did :) Firstly, what made you start writing in a way that made you love it,…
“There are moments that you’ll remember for the rest of your life and there are moments that you think you’ll remember for the rest of your life, and it’s not often they turn out to be the same moment.”—Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races (via compelledbybooks)
There are a lot of ways to change the world, and I would certainly not want to say that one is the only way or the best way. But I am going to say that I think writing and publishing is a valid, enduring way of changing the world.
I have come to believe that many of the worst evils in the world are caused by thinking that “we” are, in fact, “us” and “them.” We make these binary systems up because they are easy, and then we read and experience so many stories that confirm them.
Germans vs. Allies in WWII
Men vs. Women in many romantic comedies
Straight vs. Gay
Religious vs. Atheist
Americans vs. Everyone else
But the best books, in my experience, are the ones that force us to see the world from the point of view of the “other.” They make us give up our old ideologies and make new ones that are more inclusive.
No, writing a novel isn’t going to end a war today or tomorrow. Probably.
But writing a novel might end the wars that will happen in another generation. It will change the hearts and minds of the future. It might not stop people from thinking in terms of a binary, but it might make them give up some of the old categories. It might make them think twice before creating new ones.
Writing a novel is the act of making a world. And if you can make a world where we see each other more truly, you are fighting injustice. If you make a world where heroes are not of one color, you are changing the soldiers of tomorrow. If you make a world where women have the same opportunities as men, where men and women work together and have equal parts to play, you are expanding the world that your daughters and sons will live in.
And that, to me, is enough. That will mean my work has done its part.
Picture book people! I’ve been asked multiple times to get a picture book conference going, and now we have one! On August 30, Jodell Sadler, an agent who is interested in finding picture book clients, will be at our Sundance One Day Writing Retreat.
“Think of yourself as an artist. Knowing your craft is essential, but you’re not a barrel maker. You’re not a framer. You’re not hammering little cabinets together. You’re a fucking artist, so take risks everyday. You weren’t put on this planet to follow rules.”—Jim Ruland (via mttbll)
1. People overthink queries. Okay, so they are the only thing that an agent or editor might ever see of your work. So they have to embody everything about your personality and your books personality in a single page. So you will get absolutely nowhere if your queries suck, no matter if you’ve…
I am a cautious person by nature. When I was a kid, my cousins had a trampoline in their backyard. One day, they got out a full-sized ladder and set it up next to the trampoline. Everyone climbed the ladder and then jumped onto the trampoline. It looked like fun. So I tried it.
I got to the top of the ladder and I looked down and I realized how far it was from the ladder to the trampoline and I couldn’t do it. So I climbed back down the ladder to the annoyance of everyone who was waiting below me who knew it would have been faster for me to just jump.
A second time, I climbed up the ladder after watching even tiny kids jump. I couldn’t do it again. I climbed back down.
The third time I went up the ladder, I stood at the top and was frozen. I couldn’t climb back down the ladder, either. I couldn’t move. Everyone was angry with me. They shouted at me about being a chicken. I could live with being called a chicken. What I couldn’t do was jump off that ladder.
Finally, someone started shaking the ladder in an effort to get me to either fish or cut bait, as they say. In fact, neither happened. I lost my balance at the top and instead of jumping in a controlled fashion toward the center of the trampoline, I hit the hard metal bands around the side of the trampoline and was knocked unconscious.
Some time later, I woke up in my aunt’s bed. She was terrified. She apologized again and again for the stupid ladder game. She promised me and my mother, who had arrived to pick me up and take me home, that no one would ever play that dangerous game again. She apologized also that I’d been shaken off the ladder.
The after-effects of this are that I am a bit queasy when it comes to ladders. Trampolines don’t bother me as much, but I’ve never had one in my backyard as a mother myself.
What does this have to do with the writing life?
Well, writing is a lot like standing on the top of that ladder. Sending something into an agent or an editor is like jumping off and hoping that when you land, you bounce in the middle of the trampoline and not hit the metal bands. It seems a really stupid thing to do, writing a book and asking someone to publish it. The risks are HUGE, and the returns seem tiny, even if you are lucky enough to get published eventually.
But eventually you have to jump. No one can do it for you. You can’t really wait for someone to push you off (and believe me, you don’t want to).
There are several seconds of free fall that are glorious. You can think about all the possibilities. You might make millions. You might be lauded by generations of college professors as the new Shakespeare. You might make enough to pay for the new computer program you bought.
And then you land. And it hurts. You think that you never want to do that again.
But you do. You get back on the computer and you write another book. And another one. You keep jumping. And why do you do it? Why do you take the kind of risks that other people can’t imagine taking? Why do you put your ego on the line every single time?
Because you’re a writer. And being a writer is as much about jumping as it is about the free fall and the landing. Take heart. We’re all falling, slow or fast. We’re all going to hit the ground hard. And we’re all going to try it again.
They’ll talk about diversity and anti-racism, but will interpret people pointing out whiteness and straightness as an insult rather than a fact. They’ll see it as an attack, because they’re used to comfy invisibility-as-default. They’ll praise “colorblindness” as though it’s something to aspire to. “Colorblindness” as an ideal has been criticized at length by many, many smart people—let’s listen. Don’t strive to make the marginalized invisible; strive to make the privileged visible.
It’ll make people uncomfortable. Trust me. They’ll live. The least the privileged can do is be aware of it.
Notice. Again and again and again, until it drives you to frustration because it’s everywhere. Until it drives others to frustration because they’re starting to notice, too, and now they can’t stop either.
Do not allow the barrage of majority narratives to pass unremarked upon.
So you’re a writer and you have a demanding day job, or you have a family that needs you a lot of the time. You have lots of other commitments to your time. The PTA wants you to help them. You’ve got homework to deal with. Maybe you have an ill parent you are caring for. And your own health to worry about. I understand.
But if you want to write a book, you need to work on it as often as possible. Yes, there are people who write books in one week on vacation. There are people who write only on Saturday nights for a couple of hours. Somehow these people manage to write books and I’m not going to say they’re doing it wrong. But for most writers, writing is a regular thing.
I know people have said it before, but if you write 500 words a day every day, you end up with 100,000 words, likely a full novel’s worth, in 200 days. This is real. I have seen people do this, people who believed they did not have time to write a novel in their busy lives. It took them about 30 minutes a day.
But a key to this strategy is staying connected to your work. I think writing 500 words a day every other day might work. Every third day probably won’t. And once a week, no. Because you’re going to spend most of your time every week getting back in touch with the story, remembering who the main character is, rereading parts that you’ve forgotten about, and thinking about what is the best next step.
Even if you only write one sentence a day, you will stay more connected to your book. Even if you only reread what you wrote the day before, you will stay connected with the story. Your subconscious will work on the story for you, the rest of the day, if you remind it often that this story matters.
So don’t tell yourself you’re going to sit down next week and write 10 chapters. Or 30,000 words because you have a week off. Tell yourself you’re going to write just a little bit today. You will find yourself putting it off less if it feels like it’s less daunting. I mean, who can’t write another sentence in the book? You’ve got twenty four hours to think about what the next sentence will be.
But you know what will probably happen? Most days, you will probably find that you have more than a sentence to write. And if you don’t, if you’re writing for 5 minutes right before you crash into bed, and all you get is that one sentence, you’re ahead of the game. You’ve got that one sentence, plus you’re staying connected to your work. And that matters. It really does.
There are times when we don’t write. Sometimes there are touring dates and sometimes you’re letting your mind lie fallow. There are times when you have what I call life block and it’s not a good time to write. But be realistic with yourself and decide if the level of craziness you’re currently dealing with is really just the normal. And if it is, figure out how you can work around it and still do your work.
I think it’s easy to imagine, when you have worked really hard over a long period of time and suffered many disappointments, only to finally have the success that you’ve always dreamed of—that you are the author of your own success. *I deserve this!* It’s what you thought you would say when you started out on this path.
When you decide to be a writer, you don’t dream and hope for living in an attic, starving to death, writing a few pages here and there at midnight when everyone else working at your crappy job is asleep already. You think about the money rolling in, movies being made of your books. You plan out in your head elaborate launch parties, and what you will say to those people in high school who shunned you. Or how your parents will tell you that you were right all along, and it’s a good thing you didn’t listen to them when they told you to get a more practical, “real” job.
And maybe that all happens. If it happens to you sooner rather than later, I think you are more likely to think that you caused all the good stuff to happen. And I would say that’s a very sad result.
Because the longer I have been in the writing business, the more I see that there are a lot of writers who are just as talented or more so than the ones who get the fame and the big movie deals. There are no guarantees. You work hard and you write work that you really care about, but there are plenty of other people doing the same thing.
What makes the difference between the ones who really break out and make it onto the NYT Bestseller list? Is it pure writing skill? Genius? A talent nurtured from birth? A good education? Brilliant ideas? The willingness to keep trying again and again?
Sorry. It’s none of those.
It’s luck, pure and simple. I don’t think it’s false humility for me to say this.
I don’t think that luck tends to hit as many people who don’t work hard as it does those that do. But I wouldn’t bet my life on the outcome if someone wanted to go gather statitistics.
I’m not saying that people who make it big don’t deserve it, though it’s entirely possible that sometimes they don’t. I’m just saying that there’s no difference between the ones who do make it and the ones who did other than sheer luck. And when I say sheer luck, I include in that the thing that makes people connect to one author or one piece of work rather than another one.
There’s a Zeitgeist that is real, and when you hit it just right, good for you. But it’s not because you were smarter than other people. And it’s not because you’re nicer or kinder or simply more talented. It’s luck. It’s something out of your control and out of the control of the people who would like to have the success that you do.
Your work is great. It deserves to be studied in classes in six hundred years from now. But maybe someone else’s deserves that just as much. And maybe your books won’t be studied because you ticked off a certain professor of English at a certain college who turns out to have just enough power to get you taken off lists one year at that college and by a weird series of coincidences, that list ends up being reused for years afterward, and no one questions why your name isn’t on it.
Greatness is a weird brew. So is success. We don’t make them, though. Or at least, we don’t make very much of them.
Do you know how rare and wonderful a thing that is?
Do you know how many people say they are going to write a book and never do it?
Why don’t they do it? Because writing a book is a lot harder than it looks. Even writing a bad book.
I would argue that writing a bad book is like running a marathon. No matter what your time is, you’ve still run a marathon, which is an accomplishment. And why do people ask about your marathon PR anyway? Isn’t that rude? Like asking someone what their bank account numbers are.
Writing a bad book is the way you write a good book. I promise it is. Every good book was once a bad book. A bad book with promise, I grant you, but still a bad book.
Every great book has once had someone reject it. Someone once shook her head and said—this will never be published. Someone once told the author to give up and do something else more productive with his life.
Reread your bad book and decide for yourself if you want to revise it. You don’t have to. You can choose to write another one and revise that one instead.
But know this: writing a book from the first sentence to the end, with the same characters throughout, who go through experiences that affect them, where the events lead to some sort of climax however half-assed it is—this is an accomplishment that not many people can say they have done.
Eat and drink and be merry.
And then get back to work. Because of the one in a hundred people who write novels who say they want to, only one in a hundred of those finished novels will ever be worth reading.
Leading figures in cinema are calling for steps to improve diversity in the industry as a damning study exposes the severe lack of women at all levels of film production over the past 20 years.
Figures seen by the Guardian have revealed that gender disparity is entrenched in the film industry, where more than three-quarters of the crew involved in making 2,000 of the biggest grossing films over the past 20 years have been men, while only 22% were women.
The report, compiled by the British producer and writer Stephen Follows, noted the gender of many employees, from make-up artists and animators to sound engineers and directors, who had worked on the 100 biggest box-office blockbusters each year since 1994.
The statistics, Follows decided, meant that he would “challenge anyone to read them and not feel that our industry has a problem with gender equality”.
“It’s OK not to be a genius, whatever that is, if there even is such a thing…the creative life may or may not be the apex of human civilization, but either way it’s not what I thought it was. It doesn’t make you special and sparkly. You don’t have to walk alone. You can work in an office — I’ve worked in offices for the past 15 years and written five novels while doing it. The creative life is forgiving: You can betray it all you want, again and again, and no matter how many times you do, it will always take you back.”—
The more I am in the business, the more I am aware of this truth.
The more I read manuscripts, the more I find myself giving advice to other writers cautiously.
Which isn’t the same as saying that there is no bad writing. There is bad writing. Bad writing does these things:
1. It fails to convey the author’s meaning to the reader.
2. It fails to evoke the right emotion in the reader.
3. It meanders.
4. It repeats sentences again and again, and has words that echo unconsciously—sometimes with an unintentional humorous effect.
5. It is boring even when it thinks it is interesting.
6. It has character who do not have motivation in their purpose.
7. It uses clichéd language and stereotypical character behavior.
8. It feels like a lot of different writers all mashed up together.
9. It is confusing.
10. It does not have purpose or direction—it feels like you don’t know where it is going or it is going in a million directions at the same time.
Good writing, however, can be so many, many things. Good writing can break all the rules on purpose. It can refuse to tell you the age or gender of the MC. It can neglect to mention the setting. It can defy the rules of the universe as you know them. Good writing is fresh. It is distinctive. A good writer will never be confused with another good writer. It has voice. It does new and different things.
The main difference between good writing and bad writing is purposefulness. I think you can tell the difference between a good writing who is choosing to defy rules and a bad writer who doesn’t know what those rules are quite easily.
“We have lost phone conversations, because talking on cell phones is no fun at all, and it’s harder than texting or typing. I do think we’ve lost that, but we’ve gained a lot with the internet. I feel like the internet has turned us all into letter writers. I think of my mother when I was a kid, she never wrote down anything but a grocery list. People didn’t write, because you’d call. Why would you write anything? But now we’re all writers.
So when people complain about grammar and punctuation, I think it isn’t that our grammar and punctuation have gotten worse, but that it used to be that only writers wrote. Only people who were in education wrote, but now we all write: we all text, we all post. I feel like we’ve lost phones but we’ve gained this whole different type of correspondence that hasn’t existed since the age of letter writing.”—Rainbow Rowell interview on Den of Geek: Landline, fangirls, the internet (via bethanyactually)
“Look, without our stories, without the true nature and reality of who we are as People of Color, nothing about fanboy or fangirl culture would make sense. What I mean by that is: if it wasn’t for race, X-Men doesn’t sense. If it wasn’t for the history of breeding human beings in the New World through chattel slavery, Dune doesn’t make sense. If it wasn’t for the history of colonialism and imperialism, Star Wars doesn’t make sense. If it wasn’t for the extermination of so many Indigenous First Nations, most of what we call science fiction’s contact stories doesn’t make sense. Without us as the secret sauce, none of this works, and it is about time that we understood that we are the Force that holds the Star Wars universe together. We’re the Prime Directive that makes Star Trek possible, yeah. In the Green Lantern Corps, we are the oath. We are all of these things—erased, and yet without us—we are essential.”—Junot Díaz, “The Junot Díaz Episode" (18 November 2013) on Fan Bros, a podcast “for geek culture via people of colors” (via kynodontas)
“My own definition is a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.”—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “We Should All Be Feminists” (via vintageanchorbooks)
You know that feeling you get when you’re reading an old manuscript and you think—“this is crap! Why did I not know this was crap when I was writing it?”
And you know that feeling you get when you’re reading a different old manuscript and you think—“this is amazing! Why didn’t I finish writing this? I love this”—and you start working on it again.
(This is related to the feeling you sometimes get when reading galleys or sometimes printed books and you have what is almost an out-of-body experience where you don’t remember writing this, but it’s so good and you think you might be in love with the writer, only that’s weird to say since it’s yourself.)
Have you ever had the experience where a manuscript you reread and thought was crap is suddenly transformed into the manuscript of brilliance? Or the reverse?
I do not know what causes this. It probably just means that I’m having a bad day or a good day. But when you are this subjectively swayed by the quality of your own work, it’s a good time to sit down and realize that hating a novel written by someone else or loving it—it’s all equally subjective. You found those books on the wrong day—or the right day. You read them at the right age—or the wrong age.
It has nothing to do with the book. It’s you.
Except, of course, when it’s your book. Then when you think it’s crap, it really is crap.
This took me some time to figure out. Maybe I’m still figuring it out. When I started writing I loved it so much nothing else mattered. You could even say I was an addict. I would get high on my own little world inside my head and all the imaginary people that lived there.
And then I started…
I feel like this is a distillation of what I went through a couple of years ago, as well. Same solution: focus on the writing. Ignore everything else.
“Amazon’s math of “you will sell 1.74 times as many books at $9.99 than at $14.99″ is also suspect, because it appears to come with the ground assumption that books are interchangable units of entertainment, each equally as salable as the next, and that pricing is the only thing consumers react to. They’re not, and it’s not.”—
But I agree with you. It bothers me that I’m always told that I do strong female characters. When in reality, I look at my characters and I feel like they were all broken. They all came from a very devastating past. They were trying to achieve something, they had hope, and they wanted to get someplace, like everything other character that has a meaningful and relevant arc in the story.
It’s because we don’t really know women. We don’t write women accurately. We don’t see women the way that we should see women as a society, as a human race. When you see a real woman, you shouldn’t be saying she’s strong, you should be saying she’s real.
I’m not saying that Gamora is an exception, but you look at my character in Columbiana, and she’s stealthy, she’s agile, she’s physical. But even if I wasn’t physically agile, she would still carry the baggage of whatever happened in my childhood. And I handle myself in the way that I feel a woman should be. I don’t create it. It’s just something that comes natural.
So when people think they are paying me a compliment, in reality what we are saying as a society and as an art society, is that we need to focus more on the real aspect of what a woman is, and not the superficial cosmetic features of a woman as a muse to inspire us to create calendar girls. To create bombshells. To create serviceable characters, beautiful paintings of the girl with a pearl earring: if there’s nothing there behind it, it’s just her face - what’s the story?
Zoe Saldana, speaking to Den of Geek. These musings in particular are so wonderfully expressed. (via pixiegrace)
She hesitated. “I think he does. But I guess this makes me wonder if he really does. Or if he loves only some part of me that’s the part he’s always seen when he sees me. Or if it’s worse than that, and the thing he loves isn’t really me. It looks like me, you know, but it isn’t really me. It’s some fantasy version of me that he’s invented because he can’t really handle the real me.” She had just put into words the thing that I had been afraid to put into words. I had been married over thirty years, and I wondered the same thing.
Of course, to be fair, Kurt and Brad might justly wonder that. Maybe we humans were incapable of actually loving each other fully in this mortal world. Maybe we were incapable of bearing the full sight of the reality of each other, and so we saw only what we could see. Mormons believed that you had to be transformed into something greater than mortal stuff in order to bear the sight of God as Joseph Smith had, as other prophets in the Bible had.
How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.
So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet (via observando)
What are some things you think a writer should keep in mind before beginning revisions on their manuscript?
This is a great question! I’m surprised nobody has asked it yet.
Revision is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of courage, chutspah, and balls/ovaries of solid granite to rip something to shreds after you slaved over it for months. But it is a necessary part of the writing process and to skip it is to say good-bye to your dreams of publication. Why?
Because first drafts blow.
Seriously. There is no such thing as a perfect first draft. It is a mythical creature native to the magical land of Wishfulthinkia. I don’t care if your name is Virginia Woolf and you can spout better prose in your sleep while wearing a mouth retainer than most authors will write in their lifetime. Your first drafts still suck.
And that’s why we revise. So stop arguing with me and just do it. Now, without further ado, here are some things I think writers should keep in mind before they dive into their revisions:
No change is permanent. You can try a particular scene nine different ways before deciding on which way works best. You can change a character as many times as you want and eventually go back to the first iteration. So if you’re terrified that something new will actually be worse than what you had in the first place, fear not. You are not locked into any changes you make. You have no excuse not to try something crazy or experimental.
No one is reading over your shoulder. It’s just you and the words on the page. So don’t be afraid or embarrassed to try something freaky. If it doesn’t work out, no one has to know it happened. No one has to know that you named a character “Dr. Sexy” for 78 pages before you picked a name for him.
Save each draft as a separate document. Not only is it smart to make back-ups, but if you delete something that you end up wanting to keep, you will have only to go back and pluck it from an earlier draft. Some authors even start writing the next draft from scratch, rather than copying and pasting from the original.
Join a workshop/get a writing buddy/hire an editor. Outside feedback is essential to the writing process. If you’re writing in a vacuum, you will have no idea if your story actually works for an audience, or if it’s just an echo chamber of stuff you like. Writing buddies will also help identify flaws that you never noticed because after reading your own work seventeen times, it starts to look like ancient Aramaic. Don’t make the mistake of hiding away in your basement for draft after private draft. Get feedback after every draft, or even after every chapter of a single draft.
Don’t ignore feedback just because you don’t like it. In fact, if you recoil in horror at a particular bit of advice, that’s a sign that you should probably examine it further. Question why you react to certain advice. And if you find that you only accept advice that sounds nice, well then you’re a spineless coward who should have her word processor taken away.
Work on a schedule. Writing and revising is work. Act like it. Schedule regular breaks and commit to set time periods in which you will work on your writing. Not only will this make you more serious about the revision process, it’ll help you avoid needless procrastination.
"Kill your darlings." If you’ve ever read a single blog or book about the art of writing, you’ve heard this one. For the uninitiated: it means you need to be willing to sacrifice parts of the story that you love or that you worked really hard on in order to benefit the story as a whole. Really like that random flashback you wrote about Dr. Sexy’s time in med school, but it doesn’t actually provide any insight into the character or further the plot of the book? Cut it. Just love that plucky sidekick who is actually pretty useless and only serves to muck up already dense conversations? Give ‘em the axe. Then forget about them. Your story will be better for it.
There’s no such thing as “perfect,” only “good enough.” You’re never going to get it exactly right. That way lies madness. But you can get close. And that’s what you should be shooting for. If you embrace perfectionism, you’re never going to get the damn thing in the hands of a publishing house. You’ll just be revising till the day you die.
There is a difference between revising and copyediting and you should not do them at the same time. I know it’s hard to ignore typos in your work. You want to correct them as soon as you come upon them. To resist is painful. But you know what? Don’t. The process of editing naturally flows from the macro to the micro. Start with the big-picture editing: rewriting scenes, adding characters, revising whole conversations, changing the ending. Then work your way steadily down to the nit-picky edits: consistency of character names, making sure you’ve got your timeline straight, making sure your geography makes a lick of sense. Next work on your prose: making it sound pretty and poetic, using your writing tone to reflect the mood of a particular scene. Then and only then can you start editing for spelling, grammar, and syntax. If you start out by copyediting you’ll be wasting time in two ways: 1) You’ll be spending extra time reading line by line to catch errors that you could spend reworking the meat of the story, and 2) You run the risk of perfectly editing a chapter only to realize you need to rewrite 90% of it. So resist the urge to copyedit when you start revising.
"But that’s how it happened in real life"/"But that’s how I first imagined it" is no excuse for shitty writing. The truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense. So if the plot seems far-fetched, or if it strains belief, or if your readers say it just doesn’t make any fucking sense, don’t be afraid to change it. In fact, you must change it. I don’t care how sentimentally attached you are to the original version. The exception to this rule is of course nonfiction, in which you should never deviate from the facts because that is called lying.
I now open it up to the whole class: what do you guys keep in mind before you start revising your manuscripts? How do you prepare for the arduous task?
When I was an aspiring author, I remember hearing other aspiring authors spending a good deal of time complaining about how this or that NYT best-selling author had just published a piece of crap, and how publishing was all totally about who you knew and once you had it made, everything you wrote would be published, no matter what. Yeah, I actually still hear that part a lot.
But here’s what I believed then and repeated whenever I was given the chance:
You have to write a book that’s not as good as what is being published right now. You have to write a book that is better. In fact, you have to write a book that is so good people find themselves unable to say no. They just love it so much they can’t think of a reason to say no.
Because editors and agents are looking for reasons to say no.
How do you write a book that is so good that people can’t say no?
1. You learn the skills of writing. Usually this means writing a lot of words. Sometimes they get published in smaller magazines or by smaller presses. A lot of the time, they don’t. I’ve said it a lot of times, but I wrote 20 really bad books before I got published, so yeah, that was at least 1 million words.
2. You tell a story that is yours to tell. That means giving up on following trends. If you happen to hit a trend, that’s not why you hit it, so I’m going to insist that’s not following a trend. Sometimes you’re mad about what isn’t out there being published already. Or you’re mad because what’s being published on a certain subject isn’t the truth—and you know it. Sometimes you write the story that’s yours because you are so much in love with a certain genre or story or character that you couldn’t NOT write it, even when people told you it wasn’t ever going to sell.
3. You get feedback from other people. And somehow (believe me, this still eludes me on occasion), you figure out how to hear the useful advice and how to ignore the other advice.
4. You revise the crap out of your book. You do the delicate dance that is truly the art of writing, in keeping what is good and throwing out what is bad. You leave it when the revising is done. But you don’t leave it before then and go work on something shinier. Although if there is something shinier, it makes me wonder if this is really the story that is only yours to tell. Maybe it is and you just lack any self-confidence. That’s not unusual, come to think of it. But look at every word, every sentence, every scene, every chapter. Be willing to do the big changes if they are necessary. Listen to your heart or your gizzard or whatever you believe in.
5. You do the work of meeting editors and agents however you can. Sometimes it’s by forming a relationship by sending manuscript after manuscript in. Sometimes it’s by going to conferences that are nearby. Sometimes you volunteer for something writing-related, and stuff happens. I don’t believe that bad writing is going to be published just because you know someone (it happens, but I wouldn’t count on it), but you learn a lot from these connections. People tell you things about the industry that’s useful to know, for now and for the future. And also, it’s always good to have friends to get advice from. And to hang with.
I’m not going to pretend this is an easy formula. It’s not. You’re signing up for a long apprenticeship and there are no guarantees.
I will admit that I have become more cynical about the publishing world than I once was. Maybe that’s me or maybe it’s that publishing has actually changed. But I still think it’s good advice to write a better book than the one you see published today that you hate. I also think that every book has a lesson to teach you, bad or good. And I think it behooves authors not to diss other authors, however easy it is and however good it makes you feel temporarily. We’re in this together. Let reviewers and readers diss us. They do it plenty.
"Starting in infancy, parents tend to give boys more process praise, an advantage that results in a greater desire for challenge, and a growth mindset, later on. In the classroom, teachers give boys more process feedback, inviting them to try new strategies or work harder after a mistake. As a result, boys learn to see challenges and setbacks as things they can tackle with the right plan.”