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with fury

Self Doubt

Working through the editing process of my first book feels a bit like therapy at times. Let me give you a prime example.

My publisher likes my manuscript. She better. She’s publishing it. However, she’s been candid with me about a couple of flaws in it. Like me, she wants to make it as good as possible before we release that bad boy to the general public.

One of those flaws is this. She told me early on that there are times in the book when I explain myself too much. Instead of just saying, “[insert opinion] is true,” I prattle on for pages defending my point of view.

“It’s like you don’t know what a badass you are,” she told me. “You don’t have to do that. Just say it. Say it with confidence.”

Therein lies the rub.

Like so many writers, I have things I want to say, but I also wrestle with self-doubt. However, as the wise Sylvia Plath (and my brilliant publisher) pointed out, self-doubt will kill an otherwise good book. It doesn’t matter if it’s fact or fiction. Leave the reader feeling like you finish every sentence with a question mark and you’ve undermined yourself.

Maybe, like me, you don’t want to come off as an arrogant asshole. I get that. It doesn’t matter.

When you write, bring it. Bring it with fury.

Yes, I know that sounds like a line from a coming of age movie about cheerleading. Whatever. They’re still words to live by.

There’s no place in writing for an apologetic approach. If you have a story to tell, fucking tell it. Leave the apologies to those who doubted you had that kind of courage in you.

you can make anything

Make Anything

Dissatisfaction is an inescapably part of the human condition. Life is full of realities that fall far short of ideal. No matter how happy you are, how fulfilled, you can probably think of five things off the top of your head you’d change in a heartbeat.

Me, too.

And if that seems harsh or cynical or way too fucking deep for a Tuesday morning, hold up a sec. It gets better.

One of the many therapuetic gifts of writing is this: you can create any reality you want. There are no rules when you sit down to write. If you don’t like something about real life, you can change it. You can unmake it. You can turn it on its head.

Sure, the story has a will of its own, and your characters, like mine, are probably real people in your mind. I often feel like I’m only recording what they say and do, not inventing it. But the simple fact remains that all of it–the plot, the people, the purpose behind the tale–all of it originates in me.

So I bring my dissatisfaction with me when I sit down to write.

I don’t bitch about what I don’t like. I just remake it. I can be anyone, do anything. Sometimes I solve the world’s problems and sometimes I merely unravel them. Both end up being cathartic.

My point is simply this: writing is creating. It’s an opportunity to escape the bonds of reality. Think of it as daydreaming on crack. Don’t miss out on the pure, unadulterated rush of using your fiction, at least occasionally, to edit life so that it better suits you.

When you sit down to write, you are a god. If you don’t revel in that power, you’re doing it wrong.

your writing self

On WritingI wrote under a pen name for years.

In the beginning, it had a lot to do with anonymity. I knew many of my conservative friends and family would take issue with my stories. I like to romp around in dark territory. Not everyone is down with that.

But in time I cared less and less what the disapproving might think. And yet, I held to that pen name for a long-ass time.

Why?

Because it became more than a name for me. It became a persona. It was the writing me. I settled into that identity, freeing my mind to wander wherever it wanted when I assumed that name. I thought of it as a character, really.

When it came time to decide what name would appear on the cover of my first book (due out this year, hopefully sooner rather than later), I had a real dilemma on my hands. Use the pen name or my name?

On the advice of my publisher, I chose my own name. But I kept the persona.

In many ways, that persona is the badass me. The real me. The me I aspire to be. Why would I ditch that? Hell, I want to live that as often as I can.

So I ask, fellow writer, what’s your writing persona? Even if you don’t write under a pen name, you likely have one. Why is that identity important to you, and–here’s the money question–how can you pull the bassassery of that identity into your real, non-writing life?

I know. Deep stuff.

But please, give it some thought. The identity you write under matters, and whether you use your own name or not, it says a lot about you. The person you want to be as a writer is the real you.

Who is that person, and how can you be more like him/her all the time?

writing time

On WritingScheduling writing time can be tricky.

On the one hand, it’s good to have a plan. If you don’t set aside time for writing, you’re not likely to make time. Furthermore, if you don’t guard your writing time, all kinds of other things are waiting in the wings to snatch it away.

Important things, like time with family and friends, working out, reading, cleaning the house, and just relaxing for the sake of your own sanity. And not so important things, like YouTube videos of cats in pirate outfits.

But writing is also a creative process. You can’t really force it. If you try to write just because it’s 4:00 on Tuesday, that may not always work.

What to do?

Well, I can’t tell you what works definitively, but I can tell you what works for me. I juggle multiple writing projects pretty much all the time. I do that because there’s a lot I want to write about, but also because it gives me options.

When it’s time to write, I’m not locked into a single subject, voice, or story. I can pick. That may sound like a small thing, but it’s not.

It means I can work on something lighthearted or something serious. It means I can start something new or pick up where I left off. It means I can sink time into something I plan to publish, or something that’s just for me.

It doesn’t matter so much that you’re producing something ‘marketable’ all the time as that you write consistently.

Writing a lot is a big part of writing better. If you slack just because you don’t feel like writing, or because you got caught up in cat videos–clearly, I have a problem–then you’re not a writer.

You’re someone who wants to be a writer. There’s a world of difference.

Be a writer. Write, and write often.

the sensitive critic

On WritingFirst, a disclaimer. When it comes to fiction, books or movies, I’m an eternal critic. While I abhor the idea of extending judgment to people, I rarely read or watch anything without picking it apart.

When it’s good, I sing its praises. And when it’s bad, wrath. Pure unadulterated wrath.

However, there are two things I take into account before I let a negative opinion fly. The first I’ve done for a while. The second I learned more recently.

Thing #1: Genre dictates critique.

I’ll give you an example. I like the movie Van Helsing. That said, I wouldn’t argue it’s great cinema. It takes a lot of liberties with some classic monster legends, and the story has some obvious weak points. If I were inclined, I could easily chew it up and spit it out.

But I’m not inclined.

Why? Because Van Helsing was never meant to be a modern classic. It’s a fun summer romp at best, and in that capacity it delivers. It is fun. Mission accomplished.

Before I rail on any fiction, I consider the kind of book or movie the thing was meant to be. If it’s supposed to be a sappy, over-done love store (like, oh, I don’t know…Twilight or The Notebook), I’m far more likely to say I didn’t like it (personal preference) than to say it’s definitively ‘bad’.

It’s an important distinction. The stuff that makes a superhero movie epic is the very same stuff that would wreck historical fiction. Unless, of course, Seth Grahame-Smith wrote it.

Thing #2: Company dictates vocalization.

A few months ago I saw a movie with some friends. When the film ended, I declared it a complete waste of time without pausing to consider my companions or waiting to hear their thoughts. As it turned out, one of my friends loved it but felt embarrassed and slightly attacked by my harsh assessment.

Lesson learned. Not everyone wants to know what you think. Some people read books and watch movies with little to no regard for the strength of the story.

And you know what? That’s okay.

There’s no right or wrong way to ingest fiction. Don’t make the arrogant mistake of assuming your criteria should be the criteria.

As writers, it’s okay to critique other fiction. More than that, it’s good for us. It helps us grow.

But there’s something terribly wrong with butchering the stories others love just to do it. You know the people with whom you can talk shop. Limit your really brutal assessments to that crowd.

And even around other writers, remember that people are more important than your opinions. Always.

writing vs. editing

Writing vs Editing

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