The following are my resolutions for my writing going into 2017.
Finish What I start
I need to take my stories all the way from conception to the query letter. I’m good at writing first drafts then moving on to the next bright shinny thing. Part of the problem is I’ve gotten addicted to the instant gratification of publishing short fiction online.
My novels and novellas have suffered for that. I need to remind myself that everything I post here is in service to the novel I’m cheating on.
And speaking of query letters. I need to…
Sell What I Write
I’ve sold some of my short stories, but I drop most of them into the gaping maw of Beelzeblog, the master of metrics, the prince of platforms, the ruler of reach. He demands a sacrifice a week. At night, I hear him growling from my laptop.
I can never satiate Beelzeblog’s hunger for fresh content, but maybe I shouldn’t. It’s hard to sell something once you’ve given it away. I need to hold more material back.
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→
How Twitter keeps teaching me to watch my bad behavior
Are you a constant contrarian, interjecting heated points into lukewarm discussions? Do you escalate things, directing conversations into your level of enthusiasm? On Twitter, do you tag users’ names after they’ve stopped responding? Do you reply after the fact, when no one’s paying attention?
Rather than contest a social norm, do you argue semantics, choosing abstract targets to sound politically correct? Are your rhetorical questions veiled attempts to express your feelings? Joking about sensitive issues, do you reveal too much truth in your jesting?
Is your profile page a minefield of polarizing statements, you wish someone would step on, just to give you a reason to go off on a tangent? Do you see yourself as a delegate for your beliefs or their defender? When you champion a cause, do you lead with a white flag or a bayonet?
There’s no shortage of assholes on the internet, but ask yourself: if you run into more of them than any other type of person, who’s the real asshole?
You might be a closeted troll and not even know it.
Don’t worry, there’s help. You can still hold your chin up without having to perform complicated mental gymnastics.
The goal of this article is not to scare you into the middle, to sway you from ever bringing religion or politics to the Twitter table. Its aim is not to whitewash your sense of humor, to take the teeth out of your sarcasm, or the venom from your satire. I’m not interested in silencing critics, getting psychoanalytic, or converting cynics into romantics.
I’m here to help you avoid transforming into a troll and to give some tips for dealing with those who have.
Humble Thy Self: Admit your Mistakes
When designer Rob Sheridan posted a video on the internet’s shrinking attention span, I was so eager to recommend Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, that I paused the clip right before it mentioned the book. Seeing my Tweet, Sheridan called out the irony of my actions. I had no choice but to agree. Humble is the user who favorites posts that call them a Jack-Ass.
For someone who Tweets a lot about writing, I really ought to proofread more. Undermining my authority, my typos betray me. That’s why when someone calls out my mistakes, I try not to make a scene.
If a grammar fascist comes knocking, my personal policy is to thank them for their services, and hope they move on. I’m always seeking evocative adjectives to spice up my musing. Sometimes I mix up words that don’t mean what I intend.
Someone called me out for substituting ‘unrequited,’ as in unwanted love, for ‘unsolicited’ as in free advice. Having swapped these two out for so long, I forgot that I’d taken an artistic license. Maybe I needed to be made a laughing stock to learn my lesson. The trick was to laugh with my unrequested editors.
If someone catches me using “prey” instead of “pray,” like “I prey the Time Warner Templars aren’t aloud to join forces with the Cult of Comcast.” my default response is “It’s National Homophone Day, I’m just raising awareness.” It’s my way of saying, I recognize my mistake, thanks for catching it, now we’re both in on the joke.
I also celebrate Opposite Punctuation Day whenever I use an apostrophe in the possessive pronoun “Its,” and Dangling Particle Day whenever my sentences confuse the relationship between two nouns and a verb.
If you put a lot of content out there, you’re increasing your odds of someone spotting an error. There are funny ways to admit your mistakes:
– I’m not a reckless storyteller, I switch tenses to pique the public’s interest in time travel. I’m a scientist.
– Mislabeling the tragic “ironic,” I’m the king of irony, misusing the word as an homage to its actual meaning.
– I literally used the word “literally” in place of “figuratively” to see if you knew the difference. Congratulations, you passed my test.
Sometimes I need a reminder that “loose” is the condition of my pants without a belt, and “lose” is what happens to my pants if I run without that belt. Sometimes I just have to fess up to my Freudian slips, hang a lantern on my redundancies, and make a monument to my oxymorons.
When all else fails, I blame my phone’s autocorrect function, especially when it’s something I actually typed on my computer.
Dealing with Trolls
Watching my favorite authors’ Twitter feeds, I’ve noticed a trend: the more followers they have, the bigger targets they become. You have the power to put out a flame war before it ever gets started. Here’s some of the best methods I’ve seen them use.
This is the art of using a troll’s force against them. Put their insult in lights for all your followers to see. Usually, Twitter users can only see conversations when they follow both participants, but if you put a dot in front of the other user’s Twitter handle, you broadcast their ravings to everyone you know. Another trick is to take a snap shot of the troll’s posts in case they try to delete them.
Troll Jujutsu is a great method to draw awareness to harassment campaigns. If you blog about sexism, only to find yourself besieged with sexist trolls, rebroadcasting their behavior can draw out supporters.
Turning the other Tweet
One of my favorite Tweeters has her writing advice challenged constantly. People have called her a self-indulgent narcissist, point blank.
Her response, “Yep, that’s me. I know I am, but what are you?”
Her’s is a method of non-violent resistance. Some users take abuse in stride, a sure sign their following is big enough to take on strays.
Another one of my favorite social media figures, automates her Tweets, posting links, quotes, and articles on writing 24/7. She replies, retweets, and writes live statements too, but some users are critical of her presence when she’s obviously sleeping.
Her response, “I’m just trying to run a business. You can always mute or unfollow, you have options.”
Link them to their Fallacy
Why argue with a troll’s reasoning when you can defer them to pages that have refuted their claims in advance?
YourLogicalFallacyIs.com is an excellent resource for this, cataloging and defining unsound statements, from the classic Straw Man: misrepresenting an argument to make it easier to attack, to the Middle Ground, claiming the point between two extremes is the truth. Each example has it’s own page so you can copy and paste the link when needed.
Not only is the site a great collection of comebacks, it’s a way to challenge your own style of arguing. Reading through the definitions, I can’t believe how many of them I’ve been guilty of.
Starve them Out
If social media is your business and your profile is your brand, you might not have the time or energy to deal with escalation.
I’ve posted a couple of articles with the hashtag #GayRights, and I’ve got some hateful responses. These trolls never bother to click on the links (one article is on how hate monger Fred Phelps struck an accidental blow for gay rights, and the other is on how laws that deny rights to gays, on religious grounds, should deny rights to left handed people too). These trolls just searched the hashtag #GayRights and carpet bombed anyone who posted anything.
These weren’t hearts and minds I could win. They weren’t worth my time. That’s why I just hit the block button, end of discussion.
How to Stop the Transformation
Even though I know better, I still have to fight the urge to air my grievances in online forums, to give into my reactionary nature and harass public figures.
When it comes to arguing points, it’s hard to make irrefutable statements in 140 characters. This is what a blog is for. Writing editorials in the longer form, I see where they work and where they need to be reinforced with research.
If you’re known for flying off the handle, letting the Tweets flow every time you turn on the news, don’t be surprised when you hemorrhage followers. You can bring light to important issues, but don’t forget to offer your readers something that’s distinctly you.
The best way to avoid becoming a Twitter troll is to balance your tirade to praise ratio. For everything you dump on, you’ve got to find something worth celebrating. For every polarizing statement, you’ve got to put out something magnetic. For every irrefutable claim you make, you need to ask questions that invite participation.
In the past, every time I championed a cause my followers left me to fend for myself. It wasn’t that these causes were toxic, it’s just that my tone was. One of the hardest lessons Twitter keeps teaching me, is to err on the side of positivity.
As a blogger you’re warned not to be a Jack of All Trades. You’re told that writing about a diverse set of interests will confuse your audience. Social media gurus say, “Keep it simple stupid. Find a pigeonhole that suits you, find a basket to put all your eggs in. Repetition is the mother of a solid brand.”
I say, too much consistency can be a bad thing. If this is something you’re already feeling, dare I ask:
Is Your Blog Haunted by Your Brand?
Bloggers, when you venture into uncharted waters, does a siren call steer you back to shore? When you go outside the lines, do you feel a push from an invisible hand? When you sit down to write, are you haunted by your brand?
The ghost of entries past tells you to stay on message, not to upstage your previous pages, but to maintain a constant image. Framing your sightline in its claws, it gives you tunnel vision. It’s on a mission to build recognition. It eats at your inspiration. It cuts down on confusion.
While you want the world to know you’re a complex person, your band is the red-eyed shadow that stands in your place. Perception is its passion. Consistency is its conviction. Recollection is its religion.
It hammers your multi-facets into the same round hole. It chops the branches off your skill tree, leaving you with just a pole. It values your parts greater than your whole.
Lost is the tug of war for control of your keyboard. Possessing your fingers, your brand has automated your writing. It toils on an spell to charm your target audience, a formula to fulfill their desires, to keep them coming back for more.
Consistent to a fault, your brand does the same thing over and over, expecting better results. It chants its slogan until it loses all meaning. It paraphrases past works, playing off their success, diluting your statements with each iteration. It’s a one trick pony galloping down a one track mind, a broken record playing the same one note joke. It took a big a idea and rationed it out into several little ones. They’re getting smaller all the time.
There’s a difference between being dependably good and giving your readers a sense of déjà vu. If they have to look at the date your article was published to know if it’s new, you have a problem. Having a recognizable brand can be great for drawing people in, but if it comes at the expense of interesting writing, it’s time to consider an exorcism.
Repossessing your Inspiration
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
So is mediocrity. After all, there are bad habits too.
If an article is a burden to write, it’s going to read like one. If your brand is giving you writer’s block, give it some wiggle room. Expand it to encompass other things on your mind. Just because you’re an authority on one subject, doesn’t mean you should deny yourself the thrill of discovery.
Bloggers specializing in writing advice should share excerpts from their fiction. What better way to establish your authority, than to show the proof in your pudding? This opens the door to other ways you can bring your audience behind the scenes. Introduce them to types of writing they’re not used to seeing. What better way to teach us how to write a treatment, than to show us the pitch for what you’re working on? What better way to inspire others, than by revealing the bag of tricks you draw from?
Your topic need not be so specific that it’s dogmatic. You should have the freedom to dip your foot in the waters bordering it. If you’re an author who likes video games, why not write a piece that deconstructs the plot devices they use? Why not challenge game developers to improve characterization (especially of women)?
Who says artists should be limited to one medium?
If you’re a writer with a background in photography, give us something cool to see. Good text is served by good imagery. Frame your words with good design. If you can’t come up with a context for your pictures, call them “writing prompts” to inspire your readers. Be a Jack of all mediums, a master of creation.
Once you’ve established your brand, let it branch out into other directions. If you’re afraid an entry will cause confusion, add an explanation that ties it in.
Explore other Genres
Hot on the heels of adapting The Chronicles of Narnia for the big screen, screenwriter Stephen Mcfeely gave a talk for my class. He mentioned how he and his writing partner were offered every fantasy script under the suns (plural), and why they rejected every single one. They didn’t want to be known as the children’s fantasy guys. So they passed on a dozen projects until Captain America: The First Avenger landed in their laps. They wanted their brand to be about more than one thing (granted they went on to work on Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but you get where I was going).
My screenwriting professor said agents prefer writers with at least three screenplays under their belts: one that’s personal, one that’s funny, and one with broad appeal. The theory is everyone has a journal entry in screenplay format kicking around in them, agents need to know that you can write something more. They have to be able to sell your versatility, which is hard if you’re married to just one category.
Writers shouldn’t feel like they’re bound to one shelf in the book store. They need to explore. Their cover models need to be able to swap their trench coats for armor, their helmets for veils, their flowing gowns for mud slicked rags. Put them through the entire wardrobe.
Be a Jack of all genres, a master of fiction. Take two tones and make a warped combination. If your fear of the dark is less than inspiring, why not let your sense of romance in? If your detectives are just going through the motions, why not contaminate their crimes scene with buckets of ectoplasm? If your world is overrun with vampires, isn’t it about time they get a visit from aliens? (If this concept is already a novel someone please point me in its direction)
Stretch Your Brand to Fit other Interests
If you’re an author blogging to raise awareness of your fiction, you have a lot more freedom than you might think. Your brand might whisper, “Stick to posts regarding writing,” but you’d be surprised how many of your interests can be made to fit that description. Your brand need not shut you out of these topics, you just need to invite it in.
Pursue a range of passions and write them off as research. Every first hand account is something to draw from.
Authors can talk about how their Yoga routine directly impacts their writing. There are connections between exercise and higher brain activity, this isn’t such a stretch (so to speak). Teach your brand to be flexible. Be a Jack of all interests, a master of fun.
Be Your Target Audience
Bloggers are told to have a target audience in mind. This is a good idea when you’re promoting your work, not when you’re composing it. The last thing you need when you’re staring at the blank page is performance anxiety. Writing with an awareness of your audience is like trying to pee at a trough urinal, looking to the ceiling waiting for something to flow. Sure, it can be done, but it’s not going to be your best work.
Write what you want to read first. Be your target audience. If you have eclectic tastes don’t let them go to waste. Sometimes this means mixing mediums, sometimes it means crossing genres, and sometimes it means bringing other interests into the conversation. Variety is the spice of life, consistency is the oatmeal of the internet. Be a taste maker, broaden your audience’s palate.
Has this ever happened to you? You felt like posting a controversial opinion online, but feared the fallout from your followers. You could’ve let the whole thing go, but you wanted to say something, so you came at it from an awkward angle. You chose to be confusing instead of controversial. The greater your social media presence, the more eyes of judgement are upon you, so you vague-booked. You blogged ambiguously. You committed crimes against clarity. You reached out with oven mitts on, because you were afraid of getting burned.
I’m just as guilty of these lies of omission. This is my confession.
I Wrote A Bad Article
I had a sensational headline with a hook that guaranteed it would go viral, but for all my promises of heated debate, I’d written a tepid article. Expecting their triggers to be set off, the reader would find themselves shrugging. For all my big bold print and explanation points, my title was misleading. It was edgy in tone, but not in content. Rather than go to bat for my cause, I played it safe. Rather than tip the scales, I barely weighed in on the subject.
In my mind, coworkers were reading over my shoulder. Dating prospects were crossing me off lists. Relatives were filling up on conversations for next Thanksgiving. I saw my social media followers scattering. This wasn’t my usual platitudes with attitude. It wasn’t inspiring, it was alienating. I found myself revising more than I was writing.
My literary voice cracked. My writing persona got stage fright. I bit my tongue, I choked on it. I wasn’t about to showcase my untested material. I wasn’t about to go dropping any microphones.
Afraid to let my controversial idea slip, I reported the controversy. Sighting polarizing extremes, I said there were two sides to every story. Then I implied they both had equal validity. I was a shepherd, shaming my readers toward the center. I walked my flock down the middle of the road, because I thought it was safer there.
It turned out my muse had centrist views.
My position didn’t support the facts. My neutrality was a non-reality. I tiptoed around the issue, and lied about the topography. I built a straw man, not to misrepresent the opposition, but to obscure their identity. Careful not to name names, I went after their behavior, and ignored the cause of it. I condemned easy targets like I was the only one brave enough to do it. I was a voice in a choir of condescension, pretending to be the most outspoken. Meanwhile, a grave injustice passed by unchallenged.
I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t the message that mattered, it was the wordplay. My readers wanted wit, not truth in jest. Piling on pointless alliteration, I spruced up the form to conceal the function. I turned prose into poetry. I distorted a clear picture into an abstract painting.
Rather than acknowledge the opposition’s argument, I addressed the logical fallacies in how they presented it. I didn’t go high or low, I took the off road. I sidestepped the issue. Rather than attack a dangerous claim, I lashed out at how it was said, putting semantics before substance. My fallacy was thinking that pointing out the opposition’s deceptions proved them wrong.
I was afraid to make a statement until the court of popular opinion had rendered a verdict. I wanted to take a stand, but I was afraid I’d be crushed beneath the bandwagon. Those big wheels keep on turning. They have to pass before Captain Hindsight can say something.
As I typed, I saw the rebuttal editorials forming. I saw the trolls frothing. I didn’t feel like curating the comment section. I didn’t feel like I owed everyone an explanation. I wanted to speak my piece, not have a conversation.
I saw myself seated at the misfit table at the next wedding. I saw my classmates avoiding me at the next reunion. I saw future in-laws, armed with confrontation ammunition.
While other causes are finally coming out of the closet, my lobby isn’t exactly making a lot of friends. Our delegates come across as elitists. They’re not winning hearts and minds so much as getting the rest of us condemned. When speakers list different groups to celebrate a diversity of opinion, we’re rarely mentioned.
I couldn’t find a mouthpiece to hide behind, a source to quote that said exactly what I was thinking. So I laundered my opinion through a complicated analogy, hoping that no one would see my words for the story. Afraid to talk politics and religion at the dinner table, I peppered them into a different conversation. I made ambiguous allusions, so I could get off on a technicality. I made noncommittal statements in case I needed to shrug off my beliefs.
I wrote a bad article. It compromised the truth in the interest of fairness. It compromised my journalistic etiquette by being politically correct. It committed a wrong by not fully addressing another wrong. It omitted evidence in the interest of balance. It looked down on the reader from the middle ground. It turns out the half way point between the truth and a lie, is still a lie.
Why Writers shouldn’t Succumb to Peer Pressure from Social Media
“All I want is the truth. Just gimme some truth”
As a writer, I know that no publishing house will have me until I have an established presence online. It’s up to my peers to vet me. Agents just look at the metrics. So I’ve reached out and found some like minded folks. They’re all in the same boat, but have different ideas on how to get to their destination. While some participate in the discussion, others shout into a vacuum. While some share their ideas, others push a product. While some explore the current environment, others make themselves a destination. Some seek friends, others seek fame.
Writers who seek meaningful interactions band together. They guest blog, host challenges, call for beta readers, and write reviews. They collaborate, happy to spread the credit around. They unite under the banner of the same hashtag. They make us noobs, feel like we belong.
Sadly, if there’s one rule on the internet, it’s that the moment you have a thriving community, it becomes a marketplace.
Here come the self promoters, the over sharers, the brand builders, and the platform growers. Here come the life coaches, the inspirational entrepreneurs, the goal setters, and the list makers. Here come the social media gurus, the analytic mystics, the reach readers, and the clout crunchers. Here come the quote bots, the platitude programs, the advice automatons, and the stock phrase generators.