When I started DrewChialAuthor.com my goal was to promote my horror fiction. Somewhere along the way I found writing advice pulled in more eyes than scary stories, so I adjusted the focus of the site and I saw a lot of new faces in my Twitter feed. Many of these profiles were in line with my midwestern liberal beliefs and many were hashtag-conservative. I thought it was neat that a shared passion for writing extended over ideological borders.
I figured if I stayed on topic I could make myself accessible to everyone. It didn’t matter whether readers were from a red state or a blue state, whether they were centrists or out on the fringe, all were welcome. My brand was Switzerland.
I was an advocate for storytellers: whether they were the next Marquis de Sade writing orgiastic odysseys to offend the oligarchy or the next Tom Clancy writing patriotic page turners for puritans, I didn’t care.
I was a good little brand builder. I gave advice on structure, beating writer’s block, and building an online platform. I was safe for work. I didn’t use profanity (outside of fiction) and I didn’t take politically polarizing positions. This felt suffocating when I had a strong opinion on major news events. Continue reading The Death of Neutrality in Trump’s America→
The information age is both a blessing and a curse for writers.
The tools we use to find our audiences can also drain our creative energy. The twin punch combo of the 24-hour news cycle and social media can knock us out. It’s part of the reason I took a break from blogging, posting on Facebook, and tweeting.
If the internet is a series of tubes it felt like they were all carrying, to quote W.P. Mayhew from Barton Fink, a “raging river of manure.”
This election cycle has dialed the national discussion up to eleven. Everyone is pounding on their keyboards with the caps lock on, but let’s put a pin in that politically polarizing conversation and acknowledge how draining the news can be even when Trump isn’t stealing headlines. Continue reading Why I had to Unplug through this Summer of Static→
I’ve blogged at least once a week for three years running. I’ve written enough essays on the craft writing fiction to fill a book and enough short stories to fill another one (gee, that gives me an idea).
This week I started an article on how novelists should write with film adaptations in mind. Not to say that every hardcover is destined for the big screen, but that fiction writers could learn a lot from another medium. My angle was that narrative writers should use screenwriting tricks to keep their manuscripts from getting too long.
I got about 500 words in before I realized this was ground I’ve covered before. I was coasting on sayings I use all the time. The last thing I wanted to do was recycle a bunch old of content. I’ve followed too many blogs where each entry gets bogged down by lazy self-plagiarism (yes, that’s a thing).
So I decided to get back on the short fiction train.
I got about 1,800 words into a short story (tentatively titled Newsreelmancer) and I realized I was at the halfway point. Newsreelmancer is my first foray into science fiction in some time and it’s taking a lot longer for the story to resinate with me.
Writing can feel as empty as corporate jargon or as engaging as telepathy. The difference is that feeling of authenticity. In the spirit of finishing what I start I want to keep chipping away at this story for another week, until I find that certain something that makes it feel genuine.
That said, I don’t have any writing advice or short fiction for you this week.
This placeholder post is an I-owe-you slip for one blog entry or short story to be redeemed later. I promise it will be something that comes from a real place, resonates with deeper meaning, and is longer than the length of a comment.
P.S. One piece of advice I have for any aspiring blogger is to have a backlog of evergreen content piled up just in case something like this happens.
P.S.S. Admittedly this is not my finest work, but it does technically count as a blog entry, meaning my three year streak continues unbroken.
Blog entries will always get more clicks than Short Stories, but if you’re an aspiring author you need to do one of these things more. “How to” articles will drive traffic to your site, but will they pique anyone’s interest in your fiction? What’s the overlap between your readers in each medium? Odds are your blogging voice and your narrative voice sound completely different.
If you share more blogs than fiction, you’ve only established one of your brands.
I’ve had success writing about online marketing, but I’m more interested in writing horror than I am being a social media mentor. Yes, I could get around Twitter’s link limiting algorithm by writing endless articles about it, but that’s not why I’m here in the first place.
I’ve decided that my site needs to take a hit in monthly clicks so I can pursue my niche. If that means rebuilding my audience from the ground up, so be it.
There’s no shortage of bloggers who blog about blogging for bloggers who do the same, writing empty self perpetuating content that dates itself upon publication. I’m going to exit that cycle for a while.
You may have noticed the change already. This last May I’ve posted 5 short stories. I don’t know if I can keep that level of creative output going all summer long (I also have a novel to edit), but I want share as much fiction as I do blogs on writing.
There are so many would-be authors building brands by giving advice on the craft of writing. That’s been my strategy for four years now.
I’ve found that the audience that enjoys my blogging voice doesn’t really know my creative writing voice yet. That needs to change. So brace yourself for more twisted fiction to come.
When I started this blog four years ago I had no idea what I was doing. My first article was on the arrogance of trying to build a brand online. I openly mocked the concept, myself for going along with it, and any potential audience for reading it. The one thing I can say for my approach was that it was honest. I was daunted by the excess of blogs by other writers who were trying to do the same thing. I resisted the notion that authors have to sell themselves before they sell their work.
I wrote with a cynical tone because I feared an intimate one would make me vulnerable to criticism. A sarcastic edge is the armor of every novice blogger. I just wanted to share my art. I didn’t know the write way to acknowledge my audience.
The months went on and my blog became more than a depository for old poetry. I realized all the tricks I used to keep my writing flowing were things worth sharing. I just had to develop the language to articulate them. Over the years I’ve perfected this blogging formula. These are some of the techniques I use. Continue reading My Secret Blogging Formula→
In 1997 the band Nine Inch Nails filmed a music video for their hit single The Perfect Drug. In the video the lead singer, Trent Reznor, looks like he’s stepped out of an Edward Goyer drawing. His skin is so pale it’s blue. His jet-black hair hangs down to his long black coat. He roves a hedge maze, wielding a scepter. He sits beside a phonograph with a vulture perched atop a skull. He lip syncs, lying down on a bear skin rug. Continue reading I’m Not Me: On the Reality Behind Internet Personalities→
Ask a classroom full of children to guess how many gumdrops are in a jar. They’ll give you a small margin of error. Groups are better at estimating than individuals. Bring researchers with different theories together and watch them cancel out each other’s biases. Groups with diverse opinions are good at making rational decisions. Go to trivia night with friends with different interests and you’ll increase your odds of success. When people with different focuses collaborate, they raise the collective knowledge pool.
A writer who flirts with several forms of writing at the same time is in a polyamorous relationship with each of them.
Flash fiction has no delusions about its role in the relationship. It knows the wordsmith is just looking for a ‘one write stand,’ a moment of passion in a micro medium. Flash fiction doesn’t mind when a writer forgoes first act foreplay and dives right into the action. It isn’t surprised by the premature punctuation before a resolution. It knows that once its 300 words are up the writer will be on to the next one. Wham bam publish ma’am. Continue reading Don’t Spread Your Love Too Thin→
It takes a lot of positive reinforcement to support a writer’s ego. Flattery fades, while words of discouragement echo. It’s not that we don’t know how to take a compliment, it’s just that we lie for a living and we’re skeptical of everyone.
Praise for our writing feels like a put-on, something that dissolves upon cross examination. “What was your favorite part of my novel? What did you like most about the characters? Did you even finish it?”
Harsh criticism feels genuine, because it confirms our suspicions. “I knew that story came too easily. I should’ve outlined more. I should’ve shown it to more beta readers.”
What writers aspire to do is hard. We’re a generation trying to launch careers on Amazon while our competition gives everything away on Goodreads. It used to be that no one was buying what we were selling, now no one is taking what we’re giving.
One bad reaction invalidates a thousand compliments from family and friends, who we suspected were only feigning an interest to spare our feelings. A stranger’s insults resonate, because they have no stake in our wellbeing.
I can still quote the first negative comments I got online. They came from a message board where I’d previewed a few poems from what I’d thought was a collection worth publishing.
The first response read, “If you have a book coming out, then I’ll eat my hat.”
Enter the Anti-Muse. At the time, I had no idea how gentle he was being, that this was him on his best behavior. As I continued to share my work in public forums, the two of us became very familiar.
The Anti-Muse believes his tastes are universal. If something isn’t his cup of tea then the person who made it ought to shuffle off this mortal coil. It’s not enough for him to dismiss the author’s spark of inspiration, he needs to suck it right out of them.
Rather than leave others to separate the wheat from the chaff, the Anti-Muse burns the field down, planting seeds of doubt to spare the world from another crop of poets, bloggers, and self-publishers. When a budding author asks for advice, he tells them to quit. The Anti-Muse prides himself on his ability to quell artistic ambition.
I remember those first harsh reviews more than what I’d shared. That’s the problem with the Anti-Muse. He likes to linger.
Living with an Anti-Muse on Your Back
Once the Anti-Muse gets under your skin, he sets up shop, stirring up intrusive thoughts, flooding the imagination with bad memories. He needs your self doubt on hand so he can reference it at a moment’s notice.
The Anti-Muse has you writing slow, editing as you go, making you so self conscious about what you’re working on, you’re forgetting crucial details about the story to come. He has you overworking for simple statements, second guessing every line of description.
At first you worry your descriptions are too poetic, then you worry your verbs aren’t evocative enough. You use exaggerations to add emotional weight, catch yourself doing it, then resort to procedural accounts like you’re writing a police report. Your purple prose turn beige.
The Anti-Muse has you over researching your subject, then wondering if your dialogue is too technical, as if you dropped all this knowledge just to prove your knowhow. Then he has you gut every plot line that required any level of expertise.
When your imagination suggests a bold new direction, the Anti-Muse keeps you pressing on a familiar one. You play it safe, making sure everything you write feels familiar. Your characters speak in tired clichés, not because you lack an ear for dialogue, but because you lack the confidence to write your own.
Rereading your result, the Anti-Muse has you wondering if you should even bother editing. That’s his function. He’s a demon, sabotaging creative endeavors until the artist is ready to throw the towel in.
Dismissing the Anti-Muse
The good thing about encountering the Anti-Muse online is that he makes himself easy to identify. Like a desperate lawyer who knows the law isn’t on his side, the Anti-Muse makes appeals to emotion. He hates your art without offering a clear reason he thinks it’s wrong.
In some cases the Anti-Muse doesn’t know enough about the medium to offer constructive criticism, literary theory eludes him, he tears you down, because he doesn’t know how to tell you what to fix. He may not know art, but he knows what he hates.
In other cases, the Anti-Muse knows too much, but refuses to share his wisdom. He’s failed to make it on his own, now he resents anyone with similar aspirations. If he can’t be successful, why should anyone?
Either way, the Anti-Muse’s hostility is easy to dismiss, because you know there’s no sense in reasoning with it.
When I’m online, I tune the Anti-Muse out at the first signs of name calling, profanity, or the words “Sheesh” and “Bro.” I don’t put a spotlight on him when he’s heckling, because I know he only speaks in zingers.
Exploring forums on writing, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t see an angry know-it-all, who is only there to put newbies in their place, trash talking like the conversation is a match of Call of Duty. Examining their comment history, I find they’re terminally toxic, self-congratulating, flame war veterans.
Some people come across as the Anti-Muse by accident. They know their stuff, but refuse to cushion their candor. They’ll grade your writing, without a professor’s kindly classroom manor. They don’t have the patience to pay you compliments. They spot problems and dive right in.
Before you go dismissing critics based on their tone, see if they’ve gone to the trouble of citing examples. Did they use terms that seem like foreign jargon? Look up their lingo to see if they touched on tropes you use too often. Did they give suggestions for taking your story in another direction? If they hadn’t come off as smug, would you listen to the advice they’ve given?
Every screenwriter that came to speak at my school said the same thing about getting notes from producers: if a suggestion was based on an abstract feeling, the screenwriter ignored it. If a producer touched on something specific, their advice was always considered.
When it comes to taking criticism, developing a thick skin isn’t a writer’s only responsibility. Developing an ear for good feedback is more important.
A critic’s ability to articulate is what separates assessments from reactions.
“No one cares about you, so why the hell would they want to read your memoir?” Isn’t feedback worth paying attention to.
“Every character speaks with the same voice, same dialect, and same pop culture references. You need to make them more distinct so we know which one is talking.” Is feedback you can use.
Just remember, your work will never be universally loved. You will always be a hack to someone. Accept it and keep writing.
There’s a reoccurring phrase characters on Lost always shout when someone tells them that something is impossible:
Something about that stubborn declaration has always resonated with me. I find myself thinking it, every time someone tells me there’s no future in fiction, that I shouldn’t even bother, that I should leave the storytelling to some old Hollywood producers recycling the same franchises year after year.
Have you ever clicked on a link only to discover it failed to provide any information beyond a definition of the subject in question? The article took a few paragraphs to confirm the topic’s importance, before wrapping up with a handful of links. You clicked on one to find a post that was virtually identical to the one you were just reading; short, simple, and useless.
You’ve uncovered a network of bloggers attempting to establish their authority by dipping their feet into conversations without diving all the way in. Underestimating their reader’s attention span, they figured you’d stop skimming a few paragraphs in. They end before coming to the conclusions promised by their headlines. What’s worse is you got the sense they knew what they were talking about, that they had the information, but were hoarding it for themselves.
They hold their advice back so they can sell it to you, but you’re not sure of its value. How could you be, when these writers cut themselves off in the middle of showing their credentials?
I come across these placeholders when I follow links on self-publishing more so than when I seek them out on my own. Sure, these marketing masters try to fill their paragraphs with buzzwords for search engine optimization, but the articles on self-publishing that show up on Google, benefit from having engagement. Their commenters elevate the conversation.
There’s no shame in offering quick tips, micro sized posts to raise awareness of a fresh topic, just label it as such. Don’t be liberal with the phrase “Everything You need to Know About Self-Publishing.”
The word “Everything” implies something longer than an essay answer.
If you have genuine knowhow share it. If you think traditional publishing is dead. Show me your data. I don’t care if you’ve felt that way for a long time. Have you had industry experience? A hunch is not a credible source. Observations from the outside looking in do not make us expert witnesses.
The Self-Publishing World is Filled with Empty Advice
I love the idea of self-publishing, doing everything on my own, and cutting out the middlemen, but just because that feels like a great way to share my work, doesn’t mean it’s the most effective one. I don’t need another opinion to reinforce that feeling. I need hard stats to help me examine my options. Many of us shopping our manuscripts around are wondering the same things.
Bloggers, if you found an effective formula for promoting your self-published works, take us through the steps.
What are some of the best ways to get the word out? How effective are book trailers, local readings, and short term discounts? Should we wait until we have several books for sale before giving anything away for free? Should self-publishers take to Twitter to ask for reviewers? Should we swap reviews with other writers? Is there a conflict of interest there?
If we use social media to target our audience, which sites get the most engagement? Everyone says Reddit is where it’s at, how do we establish ourselves on that? What percentage of our time should we devote to social networking versus content creation? Can blogs really raise an audience’s interest in their author’s voice for narrative?
For every one of these questions I’ve found answers to I’ve found ten comment-sized articles that acknowledge their importance, but little else. As if to say, “That’s a great question, but can I ask you something? What’s that over there?”
The Right Way to Do It
Something happens when too many bloggers adapt the quantity over quality philosophy. Readers notice. Some would-be bloggers emulate the format, echoing the same vague statements of encouragement, plagiarizing platitudes, devaluing their brand before it’s been established. Others get discouraged, wondering, “What’s the point if every blog offers the same thing?”
Of the self-publishing advice sites I’ve found, there is an article format that works great. Successful self-publishers spend a month focusing on a specific subject, like formatting eBooks or making good cover art. They write a long form article, filled with pictures, deep technical insights, and they break it down into a series of weekly numbered posts.
This is the best of both worlds.
Rather than blowing their load on one big information dump, these bloggers have a month of fresh content. These segments are short enough to hold readers’ attention, they deliver what they promise, and they give a guy like me something to dive into once the whole shebang is online.