Jul 31

Subjectivity in Evaluations of Crap in Writing

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.

Don't Let Publishing Make You Hate Writing -


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.” —

Amazon’s Latest Volley | Whatever

Some more on Amazon vs. Hachette, courtesy of John Scalzi. Really, he’s saying what I would have said, only much better.

(via barrylyga)

(via barrylyga)

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)

#zoe saldana#feminism#representation in media#strong female characters

(via karenhealey)

(via karenhealey)

Jul 30

From Book 9 on love

"Do you think he loves you?"

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)

I love Rilke.

(via ellenkushner)

Jul 29

Anonymous said: 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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. 
  7. "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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. "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? 


I’m always amazed when one of my old posts suddenly blows up with 1000+ notes. What happened?! Did someone more Internet-famous than me reblog this? I demand an explanation. Why are you all (wisely) taking my advice and spreading it around like the gospel that it is?

… It’s not because of the Supernatural reference, is it?

Write a Better Book

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.

Interesting essay on sexism in praise

"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.”

More here:

Jul 28

Guest post: What Happened After I Reported


Guest post: What Happened After I Reported

Last year, I hosted a guest post from Elise Matthesen about how to report harassment at a convention. It was useful and touched on an incident she had experienced by way of example.

This is a follow up, which I think provides a representative example of why so many women who experience harassment don’t report it. This happened to Elise at the “world’s leading feminist science fiction convention.”…

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This is important stuff. I wasn’t harassed by the editor involved, but spent an hour in his company and was sufficiently creeped out that despite his offer to read anything I wanted to send to him, I decided to stay far away. But the problem here is that we don’t yet have as a society a way to deal with this problem.