Oof – that hurt, but it needed to be said. If we’re in the business of murdering our darlings, this published author just torched a big one. Author communities exist to help us improve our craft, network, and commiserate.
There’s a flip side to that coin. As this post points out, and as I’ve long-suspected, there’s a half-life to that helpfulness that needs to be understood. At a certain point, we can talk the talk, but we have to start walking the walk. Nobody is immune. So, if you’re wondering if you’re spending too much time talking about writing, read this and then make your choice:
Had to unplug for a bit, and get my head together as I work on turning Mesh into the story it deserves to be. Where many writers say that you need to write 1-2K words per day, I’m from the school that says ‘what’s the point of writing a thousand words no one wants to read?’
Love him for his talent, love him for his afro, or love him for his voice … I’ve yet to find someone who doesn’t love Bob Ross. It’s always a surprise to people when they learn that this gentle man was also a Master Sergeant in the Air Force. Bob Ross inspires me because he didn’t find success until the second or third act of his career, but once he did he seemed happy and content for the rest of his life.
With Ross, the tension and the action are in the work, not in the man. We’re free to let our minds go, experiment, and try new things. He seems to navigate the line between art and commerce without compromising either. He found his niche, occupied it comfortably, and we still enjoy his legacy today.
I see this as a learning lesson for me. Maybe you’re also trying to figure out how to write, how to make, how to do without sacrificing your values. In a perfect world, I could crank out stories night and day, with no thought to rent, bills or adulting. I haven’t found the secret sauce, yet.
However, I remain confident that if I keep looking, that I’ll find a way. Bob Ross found a way to make it work. Maybe we can, too.
I was about three chapters into ‘Ready Player One’ when it hit me: Ernie Cline is the Dave Grohl of authors. As in, I love the guy, but I’m not a fan of his work. Logical dichotomies invited my geek-auteur brain to divide by zero. Thankfully, Reddit was there to help me out. I created a thread on /r/writing to talk about it. This is about everything that happened next.
Before I say anything else, let me say this: I love Ernie Cline. Been a fan of his since 2002 or so, when I fell in love with his spoken-word performances about dorky topics. Cline has a brilliant knack for tapping into nerdly zeitgeist into a Robin Williams-style stream of consciousness. You can’t help but respect that.
It should be no surprise then, that I’m happy for him and the success of Ready Player One. Seriously, isn’t that every author’s dream? Your debut novel turns into a Spielberg project. Who wouldn’t love to trade places with Ernie Cline for a day, to experience that level of ‘you’ve arrived,’ in your life?
“But you said you didn’t like Ready Player One,” you might be saying. Yes, that’s true … but that’s not the point. As one Redditor put it: “as a writer myself I know how much easier it is to trash a book than to write one. Completing a novel is a huge accomplishment.” So make no mistake: this post isn’t about trashing Ready Player One (RPO). This is about what RPO’s success can teach us. Continue reading
Wait, don’t run off yet. Hear me out: this is something you need to know.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but I won’t be liking your Facebook page. Like you, I get three or four requests per week, authors and other creative people asking me to Like their Facebook page. I love my online friends, but I ignore the requests, and I go through a little guilt-trip every single time.
It’s nothing personal. In fact, it’s the culmination of a decision based on years of being a social media manager before starting over as a writer:
Facebook is the Worst Social Media Platform for Authors, Ever
“But I’ve figured out how to get more likes,” you’ll say. Really? Do you plan to be more successful than George Takei? Even Mr. Sulu took to the screen to slam FB’s policies of pay-to-see. Just because they Like your page doesn’t guarantee you’ll actually get shown on their feeds. It’s a bottomless pit and I don’t feel good about participating in that charade any more.
That’s not to say that Facebook doesn’t have its uses. Heck, I want to engage with other creative people on a professional level; Facebook is still useful for that. But as far as marketing myself, my books, or my new projects, Facebook is useless.
So, it’s nothing personal. I just don’t use Facebook that way. Don’t ask me to waste your time, because I won’t do it.
Bookstores are my lifeblood, both as a reader and as an author. Their survival, therefore, is something I’m keenly interested in and that’s why I found this post on Reddit to be particularly interesting: How Barnes & Noble is killing itself,partially quoted here to save you a click:
“Zero sympathy for sitting on their laurels and refusing to innovate for a decade. Now it’s too late. I only have sympathy for the workers, it’s terrible for them.
But B&N has a horrendously lazy business model. They stopped innovating after adding coffee and their tablet (both great ideas).
But off the top of my head:
Where is there official YouTube channel? Where’s the podcast? They have enough clout to do long form interviews with any author in the world. But they didn’t. Where’s their free online workshops for aspiring writers? Nowhere.
Why didn’t they attempt to have their own knock-off awards ceremony for writers? Best debut novels and all that. They don’t even need to have a ceremony, just a letter in the mail and the books in a curated space in the store. Do you know how many authors would kill for the tiniest amount of recognition and publicity?”
The post has more detail and it’s an interesting breakdown so I encourage you to look into it if you’re interested in the business of bookselling.
The key takeaway is that bookstores are a business, and need to turn a profit to survive. Book stores (and authors!) must continue to innovate their craft to meet the changing needs and interest of their readers. Blaming Amazon islazy, andalsopatentlyuntrue. Barnes & Noble has only itself to blame for its success or lack thereof.
I wanted to wait a few days to simmer on Charlie Stross’ ‘Why I barely read SF these days’ blog post. He makes some solid points as to it’s hard to write good science fiction and I encourage anyone who’s trying to create their own sci-fi universe to take note. That said, I wanted to respond to it because my first thought about his post was ‘Is it still okay to write sci-fi, if this is how people feel about it?’
I thought about that for a long time, and then something occurred to me that set my mind at ease. I’m passing it along in case you had the same question:
It’s okay if Charlie Stross doesn’t like my stories. I’m not writing them for him.
Let’s face it: Charlie Stross is an immensely talented author and writer, but he isn’t my ideal reader (see this blog post for more info on who an ‘ideal reader’ is). My idea readers are boys and girls ages 11-13, of various ethnic and economic backgrounds. I remember many happy hours at that age, discovering new worlds and ideas. When I started to write Mesh, I wanted to write a book that kids could enjoy in the same way.
Not everyone will enjoy Mesh, and that’s okay. I wouldn’t expect Mr. Stross to enjoy my reading, just like I wouldn’t expect a child to enjoy ‘The Laundry Files.’ As ambitious as it would be to say ‘I want to write a story for every sci-fi fan,’ that’s silly. That’s saying ‘I want to be the Budweiser of sci-fi’ and we can all imagine how bland a story that might be.
Another gem to pass along is the idea behind the picture to the right (->): don’t write for yourself, unless you plan to be the only one that reads it. 99% of storytelling’s fun comes when your words translate into a picture in someone else’s head. Don’t rob yourself of that. Tell stories that others can relate to.
In closing, take Charlie Stross’ essay with as many grains of salt as you need, and then move on. Nobody gatekeeps your awesomeness, except you.
Hannibal from the A Team may love it when a plan comes together, but he never told us what to do when that doesn’t happen. As I said before, there are powerful emotions at work when your new creative project fails to launch. What do you do with all that energy and passion? Let’s break the recovery process down into some simple action steps:
Success is Not a Linear Path
Hollywood is obsessed with this idea that success starts out with a simple idea and then through a single path – usually a montage – all the stars align and everyone falls in love with you. This is false. Success doesn’t work that way. Not even in Hollywood.
If you aren’t familiar with this reality, you may feel like the negative reactions you’re getting are personally directed toward you. You may be tempted to react angrily. After all, you have an idea and you want to share it with people. Why all the hate?
It’s important to decouple yourself from your idea. Ideas come and go. Projects come and go. I remember Robert Downey Jr. talking with someone after The Judge came out, and it wasn’t doing well. His only comment was, ‘well, it stings … but then you’re onto the next project.’ If Iron Man can accept his setbacks without a meltdown, what’s our excuse?
Don’t take it personally. Brush yourself off. Realize that your path is not linear. Start creating again.
Maybe it’s me getting older and wiser, but I’m starting to understand more about where to spend my energy as an artist.
I admit: all of this is a black box to me. When I was a kid, I acted and I got paid. That’s as far as I took it. Understanding all the pieces and parts to a major creative enterprise like a feature film, that was beyond me. I don’t get the luxury of that ignorance today and neither does any other indie artist.
We’re forced by necessity to be intensely focused on all the moving parts of a successful, monetized project. Fair or unfair, that’s our reality. It’s hard to get it right. Easy to get it wrong. We’re all figuring stuff out for ourselves.
And here’s the other part: We’re all passionate. In exchanges with other artists, and creative people, I’ve become aware how passionate people are and how that passion manifests itself. Some (I’m looking at you, @Scalzi and @HamillHimself) are bright shining stars that beckon.
Others are warning lights, saying ‘Watch out … I’m trouble.’ We’ve all had exchanges like that. Sometimes we’re the offender. Sometimes the offendee. As easy as it would be to poke fun, I don’t want to do that. I can’t point fingers. I’ve been that guy. I can’t judge too much. It’s bad for recovery … When You Point a Finger at Someone, There Are Three More Pointing Back at You and all that.
When an exchange goes south, it becomes an interesting personal exercise for me. What can this exchange teach me about how I interact with other people as I find new readers? As I mentioned, I still have a lot to learn. Many others do, too, apparently. Let’s distill our thoughts into one simple idea: Don’t hate. Create. The rest of this blog post is about unpacking those three words.