Category: Opinion

Writing With Disability

Writing With Disability

A lot of writers I meet talk about how they aren’t sure they can write because they have ADHD, dyslexia, or various other learning disorders, neurological conditions, or other such difficulties that impact their ability to write. With that in mind, I thought I’d write about how I do it because I am neurodivergent and have multiple physical difficulties that heavily impact my ability to write. I am also dyslexic and dyscalculic.

Let me say that again: I am dyslexic, dyscalculic, have ADHD, and various physical disabilities that seriously impact my ability to write and function, but I have managed to find ways to write. I’m not saying this to shame you but to encourage you. There are ways. You don’t have to give up your dreams. As such, this blog is going to be broken down into a few different segments. While I cannot address all forms of disabilities or impairment here, I’m going to give you the strategies I’ve used that help.

Coping with ADHD

ADHD is a constant in my life. I have medication for days when I really need to zero in, but for the most part I’m unmedicated. This means my attention bounces around like a ping pong ball having a sugar rush at times. It is a challenge to manage when it comes to zeroing in to write. While my coping methods won’t work for everyone, I can tell you what I do that helps, which may make a difference for you.

  1. Focus Mode
    Focus mode in my writing software is a lifesaver. It makes my writing application (QuollWriter or Word) take up the entire screen, hides the taskbar, and blocks out notifications. I can block out all the distractions of my PC and write.
  2. Music
    I listen to music a lot when I write. It helps occupy the part of my brain that needs extra stimulation. It’s the same reason I played Solitaire or Mahjong in class in college during lectures. I was listening and taking notes, but I needed something else to do to help me focus. My professors didn’t understand, and I got a lot of crap for it, but it worked.

    I choose music with no lyrics or music with lyrics in languages I don’t speak so I don’t get distracted. Bonus points, I usually match the feel of the scenes I’m working on to my music choices. It helps with immersion.
  3. Routines
    Creating a routine around your writing can be really important. It doesn’t have to be a set time of day if you can’t make that happen (I can’t), but you can have a specific drink, open your software and notes in a specific order, listen to a specific playlist, do a few stretches…whatever your routine looks like, build one. It helps your brain click over into writing mode because it knows that’s what’s coming. Routines are really important for ADHD folks anyway, so developing one for writing can be very helpful.
  4. OUTLINES
    While I am likely to get screaming from the pantsers out there, I have found that there is nothing more valuable to my writing than an outline. It means that when (not if, but when) I get distracted by a new shiny scene or character I don’t forget the plot I was working on. I can refer to it and ensure I am still hitting the beats I need to. I use the Beat Sheet to outline my books, so it’s not a play by play, but I still have a general idea of where I’m going when.
  5. Boundaries
    Since it’s so much easier for us to get distracted, set boundaries. Tell people you’re busy, shut off notifications on your phone, and drown out the world with noise-canceling headphones if you have to. If you have distractions every three seconds, you’ll never get any words down, and trying to reclaim your headspace once it’s been broken is a disaster.
  6. Be Careful With Hyperfocus
    Hyperfocus can be your friend when you want to deep dive, but make sure you don’t just give in and forget to eat/drink/use the bathroom, and if you don’t moderate it, you’ll end up with burnout faster than your brain switches topics when you’re trying to go to sleep. Use timers and remind yourself to take breaks. I like the Pomodoro Timer method, which does chunks of 15-30 minutes. But you can use whatever time works for you.

Writing With Dyslexia/Dyscalculia

Dyslexia can be a real beast, but there are ways you can get around having your words scramble like you dumped out a box of Scrabble pieces. I won’t pretend it solves the problem entirely, but you can make your work more readable for yourself while you work, and you don’t need to give up.

  1. Fonts
    While your mileage may vary, I find that certain fonts are dramatically more readable than others. I particularly like Georgia and Cambria. I find the serif fonts are easier on my dyslexia, and you want the space between the letters to be a little bigger. It will help with character recognition for you.
  2. Double Space
    Double-spacing a manuscript may offer you a little more of that extra room on the page and help you stave off the feeling of drowning in letters. It makes your life a little easier when you’re working with things. Again, at least for me.
  3. Shorter Paragraphs
    One of the biggest issues I have with my dyslexia is long paragraphs with no breaks. If there’s a paragraph that’s longer than 3-5 lines, I’m doomed. I need to use a ruler to separate it out from other paragraphs, and doing that on my Fire tablet or my computer screen is hard. As such, I tend to write shorter paragraphs because it’s how I read best.
  4. Read Aloud Software
    Many people don’t know this, but Word has a built in function to read the contents of a document to a listener. It’s hardly the most exciting audiobook you’ve ever heard, but it will allow you to review your writing if you’re having a day where your eyes cross and everything’s a mess.
  5. Have Someone Else Check Your Chapter Numbering
    While this is more true for dyscalulic folks than just dyslexic folks, I cannot parse a chapter structure, and if I get off somewhere, I’m doomed. My editor knows this, so she handles the chapter numbering for me if I make a mistake somewhere.

    It’s a huge problem for me because I just cannot manage numbers. As such, when typesetting, I rely on my typesetting software to add page numbers for me and other people to make sure the chapter numbering is correct.

Writing With Physical Disability

While there are a million physical disabilities out there, I struggle with two specific ones: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and chronic migraines. I have a dear friend with nerve damage to one of his hands, so he can’t type. I know people who have carpal tunnel and can’t type either. There are a lot of physical disabilities out there, but there are also a huge number of accessibility options in the world.

If you cannot type for whatever reason, you can try using software like Dragon Naturally Speaking or, again, Word has a diction function. There are also apps on the phone that will let you dictate your stories, papers, and ideas. It takes some getting used to and sometimes results in irksome errors, but once you learn how to use dictation software, you can do a lot with it. Also, some software allows you to control your entire computer by voice, so you don’t need to use a mouse or keyboard much if at all.

With disorders that come with severe pain, you may need to lower your word count goals. The average suggested daily wordcount is around 1,000/day if you can manage it (that’s about two non-double-spaced pages in Word). However, if you deal with chronic pain and brain fog, maybe you can only manage a hundred. Heck, maybe you can only do a sentence on a bad day.

That is enough.

I’ve needed to take breaks for weeks because of pain flares, and sometimes that’s just reality. However, it doesn’t mean we cannot write professionally. It just means we won’t bang out a book every few months. You can learn what your body will let you do and work within that structure. It’s okay to be slow at it. It’s okay to not be prolific. You can still write. Dictate your stories to your phone if you have to, but you don’t have to suffer alone with those stories stuck in your brain.

Dealing With Ableist Nonsense

There are a lot of memes out there and “inspirational quotes” and people saying things on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram etc. who have good intentions. There is so much out there that talks about how if you don’t write every day or don’t conform to “x, y, z” criteria, you can’t be a writer. Or you just don’t “want it enough.”

Listen, we already have enough crap as folks with disabilities. We face social stigmas, issues with doctors, marriage inequality (because if you marry, you lose your benefits a lot of the time) and with places and activities being inaccessible to us. Don’t let them try to take writing from you too.

Whether you’re dealing with well-intentioned but ignorant advice or memes that, if you really considered the content, are damaging to disabled folks, we’ve all seen it. Heck, I’ve had people give me looks when I use mobility aids because nobody believes that I, at thirty-five, need a cane. I’ve also had people be incredibly kind to me, too, but there are always the jerks.

As a disabled person and a writer, I can tell you that writing is something you can do if it’s in your heart. You might need accessibility software, need to write at a different pace, or need other accommodations, but you can still do it. Imagination is one thing that the world can’t take from us. Even as my body falls apart, and my other hobbies and passions become inaccessible to me, nothing can ever take my imagination. So that’s what I use.

Never let anyone tell you that you can’t be a writer because of your disability. If your writing is awful? You can learn. But your disability doesn’t have to be the thing keep you from writing.

I believe in you.

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Advice In Context and Style Guides

Advice In Context and Style Guides

I come across writers all the time who are bucking “the system” and posting rebellious tweets or Facebook messages about how they’ll keep their adverbs in (thank you very much) and how much they hate editors and how much they’re keeping very single dang comma. While I don’t always agree, I understand the frustration and backlash against what they see as prescriptivist, pedantic nonsense.

As you may have come to expect from me, I’m going to be straight with you here: they’re not all wrong.

The problem with a lot of the writing advice I’ve read, seen, and had given to me even by well-meaning and experienced authors has been that it lacks context. Let’s look at, for example, the injunction against using adverbs in prose. The reality is, adverbs have an important and valuable function. They’re a part of language for a reason, and I won’t tell you otherwise. The sticking point that isn’t usually explained along with the “avoid adverbs” advice is that you should avoid them when a stronger verb is available. The example I always give is: “he ran quickly” vs. “he sprinted.” In this example, “ran quickly” is redundant due to the presence of good, descriptive, solid verbs that could be used in place of it, so it weakens the writing.

As in all things here, adverbs (and pretty much everything else, if I’m honest) should be used like you use salt in cooking: The correct amount of salt enhances a dish, too much destroys it, and everyone’s taste differs. Also, certain genres are more forgiving of some types of tropes and language uses than others. YA would likely be more accepting of adverbs than, say, epic fantasy. The readership has different expectations.

Note: I am NOT in ANY WAY implying that epic fantasy is superior to YA. It’s not. They’re just different. I love both genres.

And this is just one example!

As someone who hangs out in writing circles and dispenses advice, the key for most things authors wrestle with is context. An “info dump” (aka. expositionary passage) is utterly necessary in some genres and places. There are right and wrong ways to go about it, but in SF/F you just have to get the world building out there sometimes, which means dropping it on your readers. In some subgenres of fantasy (like epic fantasy) readers live for the Tolkien-esque descriptions of kings and queens of old and historical events and so on. I think space opera sci-fi has a similar bent.

My point here is that writing advice shouldn’t be discarded wholesale, but contextualizing the rules to explain what, where, when, and why too often goes by the wayside. That’s how you end up with the idea that all adverbs are forbidden and any setting information is info-dumping and all the other misguided advice.

My point here is that writing advice shouldn’t be discarded wholesale, but contextualizing the rules to explain what, where, when, and why too often goes by the wayside.

E. Prybylski

Unfortunately, as a byproduct of that misguided advice, you end up with authors ready to heave all convention out the window and end up hateful and suspicious of editors. I’ll admit to being kinda sus, but so long as we’re not playing Among Us you’re probably okay. Probably. All joking aside, though, editors aren’t all pedants. In fact, the vast majority of the ones I know see variations in language as healthy and something to be celebrated. Also, we want to support you, not tear you down. That wouldn’t help anybody.

Another thing most people don’t tell writers is that grammar and punctuation has multiple styles. Most folks wouldn’t know AP from Chicago, and that’s why we editors have a job. Beyond that, many publishers (like mine for example) have in-house style guides that cherry-pick the punctuation norms we prefer. Oxford Comma? Style. Spaces around em-dashes or ellipses? Style. Using UK or US spelling? Style. Commas as breaks in ways other than strictly defined? Depending on their use, it could be pulling on older styles of comma usage. Also a style.

The key thing, however, is that whatever you do, do it on purpose. If you are messing up and trying to cover your butt by claiming you, uh, meant to do that, it’ll be obvious. I always advise to my clients to learn the rules first. Learn the irritating, pedantic, prescriptivist rules. Then once you know them, have internalized them, and understand them, at that point you can start breaking them. If you are doing things out of ignorance, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to back things up and will just be wrong and inconsistent. And that won’t be a good look for you.

However you choose to go about it, consider making your style guide something you codify. Do you spell it “gray” or “grey?” I infinitely prefer “grey.” I don’t have a good reason why except for the fact that I grew up reading UK authors, and some of their spellings and conventions leaked into my internal lexicon (thanks, Anne McCaffrey and Tolkein). This style guide serves two very specific purposes. The first is to make sure your work is internally consistent. If you are consistent in how you do or do not use specific linguistic tools, it shows you are doing it on purpose. Now, there’s a chance that you’ll be wrong (I have an author who struggles with terminal punctuation in dialogue, for example), but if you’re consistent it’s also easier to fix with find/replace. Second, this style guide will be something you can provide to your editor so they know what you want when they’re editing your book. While they may have feedback to give on your style guide, if they know your intent, it will require less of an attempt at mind reading.

One thing to note, however, is if you are traditionally publishing, the publisher will have a house style guide that will supersede your own. You may not get a say in it at all, and at that point you’re rubbing up against the realities of traditional publishing. While it provides you with the benefits of not having to do and source everything yourself, you lose certain elements of creative control and are bound by the regulations of the publisher. The good news is, though, publishers have reasons why they want things the way they want them, so it’s not just arbitrary, and they aren’t going to ruin your book. Well, any good publisher won’t, anyway. I can’t account for jerks.

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Writing. We Hates it.

Writing. We Hates it.

There are days–and more of them than we are likely excited about–where writing feels like pushing our brains through a cheese grater. I’m having one of those days now, actually. As I write this, it is extremely hot (over 90F with 41% humidity) for where I live. Now, if you don’t know, I’m a New Englander. We usually don’t see these temperatures until August. So our AC isn’t in (we have window units), and I am melting in a puddle of nope. If I didn’t have housemates, I’d probably be lying on the kitchen floor in my underpants. To top off this sundae of suck, I have had a migraine for three days now. Not fun.

On days like this, we need to be kind to ourselves. I saw a tweet the other day with someone talking about not shaming folks for only writing a few words in a day. Apparently they have received flak for having low word-count days and sessions. And I am here to squash that like a bug. (I don’t usually squish bugs, honestly. I feel bad about it.) There are days where I stare at my Windows desktop with a blank expression for half an hour before I have the mental energy to open something. I’m sure you’ve had days like that, too.

It’s okay.

We all have days like this. We might even have weeks, months, or years like this. There are times when life has decided we aren’t writing right now. That’s okay,too. If you are dealing with problems or situations that require all your energy to manage then it’s only natural your creativity will take a hit.

From Wikipedia

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows creative activities as the top of the pyramid. If your other needs aren’t being met, there’s a good chance you may be feeling like you just don’t have it in you to write at the moment. And that is okay. If you need a hall pass from someone telling you that it’s okay to take time off, this is it. Here you go. Come back to class when you’re feeling better.

If you need a hall pass from someone telling you that it’s okay to take time off, this is it. Here you go. Come back to class when you’re feeling better.

I am all for pushing through and writing when it’s hard. You shouldn’t quit when it gets tough, but recognizing times in your life and in your health that you need to step back and focus your time and energy onto other things. I have, at many points in my life, needed to take breaks. Also, don’t be afraid to acknowledge burnout. It is real and can drain you of your ability to put words on a page. These are all real, and they are all valid. It’s not just major emergencies that can destroy your ability to write for awhile. Sometimes just working all your scheduled hours can be enough to throw you.

I don’t have much more to add here. Just be kind to yourself. Write when you can, be honest about when you can’t, and stay hydrated.

As A Historian

As A Historian

This blog is mostly focused on writing. I’ve occasionally touched on other things, but this is mostly about writing. Today I don’t speak as an editor or writer; I speak as a historian and American who witnessed history being made this past week and not in a good way.

Those of you who know me outside this blog know I went to college for history. I studied mostly Rome through the Renaissance in Europe, and that is what I have my B.A. in. I use that mostly for the purposes of helping my editing clients who write about history, but this week it has given me perspective on what happened in the Capitol of the United States of America.

This blog isn’t about partisan politics, before you tense up expecting such a thing. I am not here to do anything but report the facts as faithfully as I know them based on my understanding of history, my viewing of far more hours of footage of what happened than is probably good for my mental health, and having watched the events from literal start to finish via PBS’s stream.

I tuned into PBS’s live stream with the intent of watching Congress debate the votes, as we all knew was coming. While I find watching these events extremely boring, I view them as part of my civic duty. Just as I watched the entire impeachment on C-Span. No, really. The entire thing. I was tuned into their coverage all day, and when I was unavailable to watch, I caught up later.

I give you my sources because I am hopeful you will recognize those as not partisan. At the very least, C-Span is non-partisan because it provides no analysis whatsoever and merely explains some of the definitions of terms or will explain what bill is being referenced and so on. They are exceptionally dull to watch, but they are real-time and with the lack of analysis they are free of partisan taint. Likewise, both by my own quite extensive research as well as labeling by multiple bias-detector sites, PBS Newshour is also virtually unbiased, though individual speakers sometimes show some.

My personal political leanings are irrelevant to this post, so I’m not going to discuss them, and there’s a good chance that if you attempt a guess, you will be wrong.

I was watching when this all started, and I saw and heard the riots happen in as close to real time as was possible without being physically present. During these riots, I felt the same sort of gut-dropping, heart clenching pain I felt watching the Twin Towers fall on 9/11, which I also witnessed in real time. It is going to be one of those events that, for the rest of my life, I will know where I was and what I was doing. Just as many others remember things like the Challenger disaster or, on a happier note, when humanity first arrived to the moon.

Those who don’t note the seriousness and gravity of what has occurred perhaps do not understand just how close we came to the brink of an actual, successful coup d’etat occuring here in the United States of America. One driven by the words of a sitting president. Keeping my personal views out of it, at the very least, I can say with certainty that the address to the rally prior to the ransacking of one of the most sacred buildings of our country by people whose intent was to murder elected officials and cease the peaceful transfer of power that is the bedrock of our country’s form of government was the spark that lit the wildfire.

Make no mistake. I heard the chants of “hang Mike Pence” and saw footage of the men with zip-cuffs. I saw the faces of the people in the Capitol. Do I believe all of them were there to perpetrate horrible acts of unspeakable violence? No, of course not. There were many people milling about certain areas who were swept up in the energy of the crowd with no true understanding of just what they were doing. Crowd psychology and mentality is a very different beast than the intentions of singular individuals. However, I do know for absolute certain that there were enough people there who were hellbent on doing whatever it took, who claimed that “this is 1776” who claimed that it was a “revolution” that I cannot pretend that the crowd wasn’t one spark away from burning the buidling down.

In fact, someone was arrested with molotov cocktails intended for exactly that purpose. Many others had weapons of various kinds including knives, firearms of various types and forms, and that one man with a spear. As well as the number of people I witnessed assaulting police officers with whatever came to hand: crutches, bottles, sticks, riot shields, the barricades themselves, and anything else they could weaponize. At least some of that crowd was out for blood.

Now, pulling back to a larger view, this kind of mentality has been present in crowds during such events for as long as history lasts. In many circumstances crowds have gone from protesting to extreme violence without much pause and if you don’t study crowd psychology, you might not know why. But for people wound up tight and armed with what they belived wholeheartedly was an attempt to steal the country from them by dictators, it was a powderkeg. The spark of which was the president’s speech. These are the unfortunate facts as I have seen them. Now, whether the president lit that powderkeg knowingly or unknowingly or maybe misunderstood the impact and power of his words could be argued. I’m not here to make such assessments.

I do think our country needs to learn a lesson from the ease with which these people breached into the Capitol, overwhelming the police despite concrete fore-knowledge of a volatile protest. We know they are very capable of enacting security measures as seen during the BLM protests, and the contrast between the degrees of security is stark. Foreign actors could easily have embedded themselves in that crowd to gain access to the Capitol and to some of the secure documents and such located within. I don’t believe any foreign adversaries are responsible for what occurred, but it is not a stretch to say that such a security breach with such ease is something we will need to prevent in the future when considering security for our country’s elected officials while they undertake such grave and important business.

I have been saying to those around me since September that I expected something like this to happen. Not because of any political persuasion but because these kinds of events have happened many times through history and always ended the same (insomuch as causing a violent culimation of events). Regardless of one’s political affiliation, the rampant and virulent spread of conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric since before the election had me saying that no matter who won this election, there was going to be violence, protests, and a very dark and difficult time for this country.

I grew up surrounded by Republicans. Both my parents and all my grandparents were steadfast Republicans to the point where my grandfather has plaques and such dedicated to his contributions to the party over the years. I’m not saying this as some kind of “ultra-liberal” extremist because I’m not one. But our country is broken. The screaming and finger-pointing that has become the common go-to behavior of people discussing politics in more recent years has given birth to extremism–as it would by nature. You put people in a pressure cooker, surround them with vitriol, and blame the “not us” for the problems of the “us” and you incite war. Which is exactly what has happened.

Humans have always been tribalistic. Going back to our earliest ancestors and, truth, even before, we are creatures of identity. Our tribe, our group (our team, our block, our city, our country, our town, our political party, our race, our gender, our. . .) is a major part of how we identify safe from not safe. Safe is us. Not safe is them. This is base human behavior and psychology. I’m not saying it’s all right by any stretch because it has also created sexism, racism, classism, ableism, and all the other awful “ism’s” we have in our world right now. Because we divide the world into “us” and “not us.” I recognize that my explanation here is simplistic, but it’s intended to be. I’m also not going to say “can’t we all just get along!” becuase there are damn well people we should not get along with and should never, ever give voice to. (The KKK, neo-nazis, and others spring to mind.) We have fought wars over some of these principles and rightfully so.

Part of the reason some of our founding fathers opposed the notion of parties was this exact us/them mentality that we have seen grow from it. People who otherwise might well agree with one another on important and, indeed, vital subjects feel the need to pick a party that best aligns with their values even if that party doesn’t really represent them well. Then, once they have selected a party, the other party becomes the dreaded Them. This inhibits our ability to work out solutions to problems as people. And the majority of the time, it is as people who see the same problems but disagree on how we get there.

The roads we have tread on have only ever lead to where we are. I have watched this happen over and over again through history–most notably in Rome. Rome crumbled under very similar pressures and very similar circumstances. They had similar income disparity between the hyper-rich and everyone else trying to survive. This happened during the French Revolution as well. The Romanov Execution, too, had similar themes and similar events. I am not advocating for a violent overthrow; I am drawing parallels through similar pressure causing huge fractures to society.

So what do we do and where do we go? As people living through this incredible and horrible time, how do we handle all of these things and move forward? Where do we turn?

My recommendations to you are as follows:

FIRST

Make sure the news sources you consume as as non-partisan as possible. For what it is worth, I have found this chart to be extremely accurate and helpful when selecting my news sources: https://www.adfontesmedia.com/ Anything at the top of the green block should be considered both reliable and trustworthy. If you have trouble reading the chart, the sources is sees as most reliable (and least partisan) are:

  • AP
  • Reuters
  • The Weather Channel
  • The Denver Post
  • NPR
  • Newsy
  • ABC
  • Houston Chronicle
  • NBC
  • USA Today
  • CBS

That said, certain segments and certain hosts may be more or less partisan even on these news sources. So approach them with some degree of caution. My method tends to be to read stories from multiple sources and look at where they cross over to find truth. I know current trend is to blame all of these news sources as “hyper-liberal” but they truly aren’t, no matter what you are being told.

SECOND

Question stories that seem extremely attractive to you. The reason I say this is that the job of (actual) fake news is to emulate the real thing and affirm bias as well as introduce dishonest things. Look at some of the propaganda from WWII for information. The way the Jews, Romani, disabled, gays, and anyone who wasn’t “German Enough” was at fault for the extreme poverty that followed World War I. This was a clear example of scapegoating which is occurring even now (making it Their fault). This mentality that if you are not “us enough” you are “them” is something to view with extreme caution because it is easy to manipulate. McCarthyism, for example, did that exactly as you would expect. Governments across the world and all throughout history have used this rhetoric to achieve their desired outcomes.

Confirmation bias is something we all must wrestle with. The more we agree with a source, the closer we must question it. That goes for everyone for everything. This kind of critical thought is wearisome and stressful and requires constant vigilance, though you eventually pick up on the cues that identify bombast from honesty.

THIRD

While I will never, ever tell you to keep people in your life who are damaging to your mental health, it is important not to create an echo chamber where all you hear and encounter are the resounding reverberations of a single, potent political ideology. I don’t mean that you need to listen to the outlandish conspiracy theoriests with the same weight you provide a trusted source, either. However, you should be open to hear what people who believe differently than you (and are willing to have honest, fair discussions about it) have to say.

Nor do you need to deal with people whose sole intent is to troll you. People who refuse to adhere to the rules of polite discourse and who engage in constant logical fallicies that damage the capability of people to have discussion shouldn’t be allowed to dominate the discussion.

Likewise, don’t get into a poo-slinging war with a stablehand. They probably have a shovel, and you won’t win by ending up covered in muck. You cannot, sadly, convince through vitriol what civil (if forceful) words will not convey. That isn’t saying we don’t all have times when we get so frustrated we say things that feel good at the time but aren’t the sorts of things we’d say at dinner with the Pope. There is also a time and a place to address something with outrage and force, but recognize that if you start a conversation that way, you likely will never get your point across in a way the other person will receive it–no matter how justified your anger is.

Identifying someone who is acting in bad faith is an important part of this process. I have friends with whom I have significant political disagreements, however I keep them in my life because I know for certain that they are not acting out of bad faith. They are honest, kind, good people at their core with whom I have disagreements. They are not the sorts of people who would have done what happened at the Capitol, for instance. I also want to be clear that political disagreements are different than if those people think as though I as a person should not exist and am not valid. When I say politics, I mean we disagree on how we are going to handle the crisis of medical care in our country, the specifics of what firearm laws should be enacted, and so on. They aren’t people who would, given the choice, see me harmed for existing. Anyone who is toxic in that manner has no place in my life and will not be tolerated, and I do not encourage you to keep such people in yours.

FOURTH

We are tired, and we are hurting, and we are frightened. However, during this period in our lives, we must also not allow our hurt, fear, and anger to destroy our nation. I’m not saying you should not protest or speak your mind. I am not saying you should just sit with your anger and pain and not exercise your rights to free speech and assembly (where applicable since we do have a raging pandemic, so use discretion). However, what happened at the United States Capitol is an example of anger, fear, and hatred overruling any sort of good judgement these people may have. There is no excuse for it, and let it be a warning to the rest of us. Giving into our emotions and venting all our fears and angers and grief in such a manner both will not accomplish its goal (congress still completed its duty in counting the electoral votes) and will not serve whatever cause we have. Speak with eloquence, power, and force. Speak as one voice. Use your megaphone. But put down your torches and nooses. Such barbaric behavior does not belong in the society we have built.

In addition to this, remember that if we are all tired, hurting, and frightened, we are all–as a world–in a more volitile and fragile place than we have been at any time in living memory for most of us. Our friends and loved ones are more vulnerable and more fragile even as they are also more angry.

One of the few pieces of wisdom I have from my father–echoed by my mother–is that anger often covers fear. Fear makes us feel helpless, exposed, and weak while anger helps us feel powerful. We are all, whether internally or externally, feeling helpless, exposed, and weak because this pandemic spares no one. From the rich and powerful to the homeless, this disease has no mercy. Much like the Masque of the Red Death, it spares none. On top of that, our country has been at the mercy of people in power whose goal has been to deepen divides and profit from the hatred. Demogogues of any flavor are often dangerous, and we have seen a notable rise in their number as they prey on the cracks in our society borne of many years of war and financial catastrophies.

FINALLY

If you can, if you have the space and energy, be kind. Whether you agree with someone or not, see pain and speak to it. Be honest, be genuine. Think before you speak.

No more powerful and poigniant example of the power of language can be shown in immediate history than the effect of the president’s speech on the crowd. His words lit the fuse of what happened at the Capitol. If you are on my blog and read it, then I presume you are a writer. This example should show all of us the power of words. We can inspire or incite. We can hold up or rebuke. Words have power. Use them with intent. Use them with discretion, and use them with love.

I know our country is seeing its darkest winter in living memory. Thousands of people are dying every day, and the divides between our nation feel like they are too deep, too jagged, and too raw to ever mend. But remember we are the country who had the Civil War and survived. Our democracy survived a civil war and was able to come back from that. Our country has seen hell and continued. We are strong, and the guardrails of our democracy do work. We have seen them in action if you have been looking for them. They function, and they protect us.

As Benjamin Franklin said just after a session of the Constitutional Convention: “A democracy, if you can keep it.”

Breathe and know this isn’t the end of everything. It may feel it, but through the hard work, dilligence, watchfulness, and continued work of every person in our nation, we can keep it.

We can keep it.

Why Writers Should Play Tabletop RPGs

Why Writers Should Play Tabletop RPGs

Going kind of hand-in-hand with my blog about why writers should play video games, I wanted to discuss another oft-neglected avenue of value to writers. To those of you who don’t know me, I am an avid tabletop gamer. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons in high school (2002, 3.5 Edition) and have played most of the old World of Darkness games (particularly Changeling and Orpheus). I have also dabbled in other systems such as Little Fears and Into the Odd. Right now I am running two Pathfinder campaigns and getting ready to live-stream a 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons game. The reason I bring all this up is to let you know the extent of my experience. I’m not claiming to be a master or anything, but I have been doing this for a long time.

There’s a good chance that a number of you will have no idea what I just said beyond me mentioning that I play Dungeons & Dragons (the ampersand is part of the brand). It’s completely okay that you don’t understand it because you won’t need to in order to follow the rest of my post. Don’t stress it. Suffice to say: I am a tabletop game nerd. And I am very proud of it.

Suffice to say: I am a tabletop game nerd. And I am very proud of it.

E. Prybylski

Now, how does this involve my writing in any way? That’s where we’re headed. To those of you who know nothing about tabletop games, let me start by explaining the most basic concept of them: you get together with friends to engage in a collaborative, largely improvisational storytelling experience. Everyone in the group but one adopts a single character they will portray through the adventure. The person not playing a single character is known by many names in the genre, but Game Master (GM), Dungon Master (DM), and Storyteller (ST) are some of the more common ones. We’ll go with GM for the rest of this post which is, for the most part, system agnostic.

The individual in the GM’s seat is in control of guiding the story. They come up with the adventures to send the players on, and they are in control of the world. It rains when they say it rains. Monsters come onto the stage when the GM calls for them. Things like that. I am, at this point, a reasonable experienced GM, and I tend to be the one running stories for my groups. We have a good time together, but it is a lot of work. Not just because I have to learn the game system and do things like make maps for combat, but because I have to, on the fly, be able to get into characters’ heads and play everyone else in the world who isn’t a player character.

This means, in order for me to be able to be good at what I do, I need to understand a few key things you’ve heard me talk about a lot on this blog: story structure, character development, and narrative. And I need to be able to adjust, modify, or delete entire segments of my plan on the fly depending on what my players do.

This means, in order for me to be able to be good at what I do, I need to understand a few key things you’ve heard me talk about a lot on this blog: story structure, character development, and narrative.

E. Prybylski

For the players’ part, they remain in-character and have to solve problems, handle fights, and face challenges in the world and come up with ways to solve or overcome obstacles. Different than writing a novel, none of the individuals in the group have complete control of the story because, as I said, it is a collaborative storytelling experience. However, as in life, they have control of their characters and themselves and need to use the resources they have available to deal with problems.

What this has to do with writing is that it’s practice. As a GM I am in charge of the entire world. I handle world building and need to come up with characters and situations that are interesting to others. And I need to know where to make them follow the plot and where to let them wander. I need to understand the structure of the adventure (which is a little different than the structure of a novel, but still similar) and create adventures within that framework.

The agility required to accomplish all of this is something that has a huge impact on my ability as a writer to think around problems in my manuscripts. It also has given me the opportunity to bounce story ideas off others in a non-threatening setting. They’ll find plot holes for me, or they’ll come up with angles on a problem I’ve never considered. While I wouldn’t advise forcing players through a one-for-one of your novel, you can test out characters and settings and such and see how people react.

While I wouldn’t advise forcing players through a one-for-one of your novel, you can test out characters and settings and such and see how people react.

E. Prybylski

In some ways, running a tabletop game is like having a test kitchen for my characters, settings, and scenarios. If I am acting as a player, I can use a character from a novel and adapt them into the setting. Then I can really get deep into their head and experience and get to know them very well. If I am acting as a GM, I can introduce people to a large number of my ideas and see how they respond. Again, running a tabletop isn’t like a movie or novel; I don’t control what my players do with my story. They might look at the glaring neon sign that says “PLOT HERE” and go in an entirely different direction. But nonetheless I get a feel for whether or not people are interested in the story I’m telling or not.

Beyond that, it gives me a chance to practice something else: pacing. If I spend too much time monologuing as the Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG), my players will start looking at their phones or scrolling Facebook. Or one of them might just stab them in the middle of it. On the other hand, if I don’t give them enough information or enough downtime, they’ll end up worn out. If there isn’t enough action, they might set fire to a village just for something to do (my groups probably wouldn’t; they topple monarchies when they’re bored). This develops my understanding of what beats need to happen when, and how long people really want to spend participating in various plot points before they need another thing to break it up so it doesn’t become boring.

This ability to test out my ideas and concepts has been invaluable to me over the years, and I treasure my time at my game table. Not just because gaming is also a vehicle for Mt. Dew, Cheetoes, and bad puns. But because I actually learn things about writing while doing it. Much like my previous blog defending time spent playing video games, you can learn a lot about structure by immersing yourself in tabletop gaming, and it can, in fact, be an extremely rewarding hobby for those of you who have this kind of interest.

You can also find a tabletop that will allow you to play in any setting you desire: high fantasy, low-magic settings, sci-fi, modern day, horror, comedy, surrealism. . .there are systems to handle all of that if you look. So you can find something for just about everyone. While learning a system may seem daunting at first, there are plenty of options for folks looking to get into the tabletop experience. Plus you can find many podcasts and videos online talking about how to start the hobby.

It’s also a gateway hobby to other things like terrain building and mini painting. And dice collecting. You have been warned.

Ultimately, as with many creative endeavors, it is just another method to get into the experience of creation and development. You can cut your teeth on world building in new ways, and you can explore the setting you have created with other people (your unwitting subjects) and see what works and what doesn’t in a low-impact and low-stress manner. You can also work out the kinks in your own skills as a writer while doing it.

That, and it’s a whole lot of fun. Like, a LOT.

In Defense of Video Games

In Defense of Video Games

I’ve seen this trend on social media, and in real life, with writers (particularly those who are older than their 30s) denegrating video games as a waste of time. They talk about how they pull people away from books and make it difficult for the writing industry because people just want the shiny beep boop noises.

This is untrue.

While we use different mediums to accomplish it, we have a fair amount in common with all other forms of story-based media. Whether it’s serial-style podcasts (shout-out to my friend JD at Haunted House Flippers, a ridiculous, “spooky” podcast), video games, television shows, movies, novels, short stories, or stage plays, we are all writing stories. Which means we are more or less doing the same thing in a lot of ways, despite the differences in medium.

I have been an avid gamer since I was old enough to type “LOAD” and “RUN” on our Windows 3.1 or DOS machine back in the early 1990s when I was in elementary school. My mother put me in her lap and played Monkey Island and Quest for Glory games with me as a little kid. I have been a gamer all my life, and I show no signs of stopping. I also am an avid reader and spent most of my time not playing video games with my nose buried in a book. I still balance between the two, though these days my reading is more for work than pleasure, so video games have become my downtime.

This notion that video games are somehow lesser is a rather disappointing evolution of snobby writer culture because video games provide some of the best storytelling I’ve had the opportunity to experience.

E. Prybylski

This notion that video games are somehow lesser is a rather disappointing evolution of snobby writer culture because video games provide some of the best storytelling I’ve had the opportunity to experience. This is, of course, referring to the video games that are more story-driven. I’m not going to be calling Mortal Kombat fine storytelling here. However, games like Red Dead Redemption (one and two) and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons are really wonderful storytelling that have deep emotional impact and share a narrative with the player. Other games, like Ori and the Blind Forest or Subnautica are more environmental storytelling than you’d find in other games. But they still tell a story.

This isn’t to say that video games can replace books. They can’t. There’s no way they do. However, they do provide valuable, rich, and deep entertainment value on a multitude of levels depending on the kind of game you play.

It won’t surprise you to learn, then, that I tend to prefer RPGs (Role Playing Games). RPGs give you a character whose story and life and experience you delve into. The world tends to be rich, and you have many NPC (non-player characters) to interact with. To some extent, this allows you to build the narrative in your head. Who is your character? What are their motivations? Some games give you all of that information up front, while others let you choose how to play the story which determines a number of various elements of the plot.

In all reality, writers are not in competition with game developers for people’s time. As much as it might feel like it sometimes. Books fill a different role in our lives than video games do, and many of the gamers I know love reading. They read before bed (since video games are too stimulating close to sleep) or during breakfast or during their morning commute (audiobooks, anyone?) So the reality is that it’s not one or the other. They both fulfill needs for narrative and story without clashing.

In all reality, writers are not in competition with game developers for people’s time.

E. Prybylski

Video games are here to stay. They’re not going anywhere, and we may as well embrace them as valid forms of narrative because railing against them makes us luddites. That doesn’t mean you have to personally enjoy them–it’s okay not to be into every art form. Stage plays aren’t really my bag, but I respect the art.

However, with that acceptance that we aren’t going to ditch video games anytime soon, what does that mean for writers? Well, I’ll be honest. Nothing really changes unless you want to start using video games to explore narrative. That is (le gasp) something I talk to my writers about. We do, in fact, talk about the way video games use story and how we can learn from them. They often are prime examples of powerful world-building and also are a good way to learn how much a player/reader needs to know about a thing in order to enjoy it.

Let’s take a look at Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, arguably one of the top-selling and highest-performing games I have ever seen. Even if you have never played it, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the name. If you haven’t, it is a massive game where you can go anywhere at any time. The setting is high-magic Medieval fantasy with multiple fantasy races (some playable, some not) and an extremely rich and deep history and culture. However, all that richness isn’t something the player interacts with very much, necessarily. You don’t need to be an expert on Elder Scrolls lore to enjoy running around and slaying dragons.

This is a prime example of something many people whose settings aren’t modern Earth struggle with: how much information is enough? How much is too much? We can get into the details of that in another blog, but in the case of Skyrim, the answer is pretty simple: less can be more. The player doesn’t get told much beyond the basics of the story: civil war rages, dragons attack the land. From there, they’re turned out into the world to go deal with the problems. Much of the deeper world building is done through books you can pick up in various places. These books can offer insights into the history of various cultures or important figures. They can be treatises on which side of the civil war is “better” (spoiler alert–they both suck). Or they can be naughty fiction (there’s a whole series of sly, tongue-in-cheek stories in the game).

However, the player doesn’t get all this information dumped on them at once. The only things they’re told outright at the beginning are what they need to know to progress the story. Which is more or less how we should look at novel writing. This is just one of the many lessons we can learn from games. While, of course, writers don’t have the option of sticking books around their book with information the reader might want to know, there are ways of tucking that information into asides, other books, or even atlases as I’ve seen some authors do (though the atlas is typically something that comes out FAR after the series is a huge success).

While novels and video games have different requirements (gameplay is a huge one for video games), the storytelling aspects of them are still typically based on the three-act structure, often even employing the beat sheet! This is also just as true of indie games as it is triple A titles. Then there’s an entire genre of “Visual Novel” games which are essentially choose-your-own-adventure books with comic-like images and music.

Much like books, video games can very wildly between genres and styles, so the assumption that gamers are just in it for the bright, flashing colors is a misnomer. While the flashing lights do give us a nice hit of dopamine, for me it’s always been about the story. Whether I was playing an old Sierra game or now playing Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, I’m playing for the story. I might load up a Super Mario game for fun once in awhile, but generally speaking I want games that are narrative-heavy.

It may be tempting to call my gaming hobby a waste of time as a writer, but in all fairness, hobbies are meant to be things we do for fun at the outset.

E. Prybylski

It may be tempting to call my gaming hobby a waste of time as a writer, but in all fairness, hobbies are meant to be things we do for fun at the outset. Not everything we do has to be a hustle or has to be specifically geared toward writing, so anyone who shames you like that needs to come down a few pegs. My cross stitch isn’t going to get me a Hugo and Nebula award either, but I’m not giving that up. However, my gaming? I’m steeping myself in storytelling, in pacing, in dialogue that sounds more or less natural. I’m following the beats and considering the story structure. I’m exploring the world building. All of that is valuable.

The problem with gaming only shows up when it takes over and becomes unhealthy. Like any addiction or obsession, if you game too much it’ll cause problems for you, and there’s no getting around that. However, let me be specific about that: if you game too much it’ll cause problems. You’re allowed to have downtime. And whether you’re reading a book, watching a TV show, enjoying a movie, or any other number of pursuits, you’re still exploring narratives. And that exposure to different ideas nd narratives is going to impact your writing.

The Importance of Imperfection

This is likely to be cross-posted on my brand new blog about roleplay (both tabletop and freeform). If you’re interested in the subject of tabletop gaming or freeform roleplay, please consider subscribing!

So, I’ve talked a lot about characters and their development on here, but I wanted to address something that is important to a character whether you’re writing them into a novel or playing them around the table during a game of Dungeons and Dragons: flaws. Too many times people try and make perfect characters, and those characters always fall short.

Real people aren’t perfect. We have bumps and warts and bad hair days. But when I’m talking flaws, I also mean more substantial than, “too pretty/handsome for their own good!” They should have real flaws. Flaws being things that challenge them, that make them grow. Things like anxiety, depression, PTSD, a terrible temper, or maybe they’re judgmental. Things that aren’t so pretty and may not be a great deal of fun to be around.

Let me give you an example taken straight from one of my works. My in-progress science fiction novel currently titled “Vigil” is about a character who starts the story as a coward. He’s hiding from what he can do and hiding from everyone in the world. He’s not particularly attractive, he’s not the smartest guy in the room, and by midway in the book he has PTSD. He’s not perfect, and he knows it. That said, he grows and changes and develops over the course of the story.

The fact that he starts the story imperfect makes him a little shake-worthy by some readers. Which is exactly what I wanted. He’s an IT guy who gets thrown into something way bigger than him and is scared of it. For good reason, too. Those things are terrifying!

So, when you design a character, edge away from perfection or perfection disguised as a flaw. Mary Sue characters are never fun for people to read about because what development can there be for someone who is already perfect?

Using Social Media As A Professional

Using Social Media As A Professional

Social media is a seductress that sucks away tons of time we could be using for writing. However, it is also a useful tool for marketing. I’m not going to talk about limiting your time on social media or any of that. I’m also not here to talk to you about how to market using social media. That’s the realm of social media marketing guru, Kristen Lamb. No, indeed, my focus is a little different.

I have many authors, publishers, editors, and other professionals in the writing industry as friends on Facebook. They are also people whose news feeds are full of all kinds of things. Now, many of them use separate accounts (or pages) to distinguish their writing profession from their personal Facebook where they connect with friends and family. However more just use one social media account to serve both purposes. Most of this post will be focused on Facebook rather than the other social media outlets because Facebook is the one I am most active on. I find Twitter hard to follow and keep up with, and LinkedIn requires you to pay to play for a lot of their good services. Neither are bad platforms, but they just aren’t the one I’ve cultivated the most. However, this list of thoughts on social media use should be universal for all platforms.

1) Use your privacy settings.

I know a few people on Facebook who have their accounts set as public. That means everything they write goes to everyone in the world. While that can be useful and beneficial for some things, if you’re melding personal and professional that means you need to take an extra degree of care regarding what you post because everyone with an internet connection can view what you say. That means you absolutely should not  post very personal things on Facebook with that setting. If you had a fight with your partner, if you had a bad day you want to vent about, if you plan on using a lot of profanity (and that’s not part of your author platform)… you need to think about all those things and who is going to see them.

2) Think Before You Post

Before you put anything on your account, consider how it might impact your brand. For example, I do not post anything with profanity to my Facebook wall whatsoever (though if there’s some in an article, I’ll put a warning and maybe share the article anyway). I also explicitly avoid the topic of politics and do not permit political discussions on any of my Facebook posts. Why? Because they turn into arguments faster than you can say “this was a bad idea.” Now, some authors view their political activities as part of their world and don’t care if they are divisive enough to turn off readers whose opinions differ. That is a perfectly valid standpoint, but make absolutely certain that whatever you post, you do so with attention and care.

3) Know your posts will be scrutinized by potential clients/buyers

Yep. You can think, “Oh, this is my personal space to mouth off,” but you’d be wrong. The minute you start selling your book, you must begin selling yourself. That means everything you post in a public medium will immediately become a factor in whether or not someone will purchase your book or your service. If you’re a publisher or editor, authors will immediately start thinking about whether or not you are someone they want representing your book. This also includes whether or not you write in coherent English. If, as an editor or publisher, you are consistently writing posts that have major errors (which couldn’t be explained by autocorrect or typos), folks will throw red flags all over the place and not work with you.

4) Double-check all sources for articles

Due to the increased amount of scrutiny your page will receive by your audience, you need to make sure your sources and content are quality. If you are consistently posting fake news stories (the Onion doesn’t count), it will hurt your image as someone who can be trusted. This also includes industry stories and information. If you’re sharing information, make sure it’s vetted or at least overtly labeled as opinion. There’s nothing wrong with sharing opinion pieces, just make sure you aren’t sharing opinion as dyed-in-the-wool fact.

5) Know that everything you post reflects on your platform

Everything. When you are on social media, every single thing you post (and everything that could show in your news feed to others, like comments you make on friends’ posts) reflects on your platform and can either help or hurt. There’s a reason I exclusively post silly, positive, friendly things on my Facebook. That’s my choice, though, not something I’m mandating for everyone. Just make sure you’re aware that every single thing you post or share will impact the opinion of your readers. That choice is yours alone to make, however.

In the end, social media is what you make of it. You must make your own decisions about what you share or do not share, what you say, and what you do. If you rant and rave and curse and scream… well, that’ll impact the sorts of people who want to work with you or read your books. If you are sharing vulgarity, nudity, sexually charged material, or deeply political posts, that’ll affect them too. As an author, you need to view things differently because you are, essentially, a small business owner. The product you are selling is yourself and your work. If you want people to invest in you, work with you, or purchase your products, you need to be appealing. Your social media account (unless you separate one out that’s just friends/family) is no longer a private space for you to express yourself. Put that idea right out of your head. If you need a place where no one will judge, comment, or have the right to use that information to determine if they want to work with you then lock down your social media and/or get a diary. We all need to unload sometimes, but as authors we need to be careful how we go about it!

Crabs In A Bucket

Crabs In A Bucket

I received a rather salty (unfriendly) comment on an old blog today that read as an author who had been either mistreated by the publishing industry venting or an author who hated published authors and everyone associated with them because they hadn’t been successful in that route. While I understand frustration when the industry mistreats an author (and saying “no, we don’t want your book,” is not mistreating authors), there’s no need to take it out on others.

I came across the phrase “crabs in a bucket” in a fabulous editing group I’m part of on Facebook, and I thought maybe it was time to address something I’ve been witnessing more and more as social media continues its roll into the gutters of human interaction: Authors being jerks to others because they feel it somehow validates them. Like so many other people in the world (and bullies on the grade school playground), there are those who believe that tearing others down will raise them up. Let me make it very clear: that does not work.

The term comes from a phenomenon where if you put more than one crab in a bucket, they will try and climb over one another in an effort to escape the bucket and, thereby, get nowhere. And that’s exactly what the sort of vitriol I received today accomplished: nothing. They received a polite response from me, because I don’t find it helpful or positive to be unfriendly in return, but their point is no closer to validation than it was before.

In this day and age, I have seen it happen everywhere that authors will teach each other down and kick each other as they try to gain the almighty dollar. Writing groups are full of petty, bickering jerks who make snide comments about work and writing without having understanding of the industry or the art. Twitter and Facebook are full of people ready to tear an author apart over a misplaced comma in a novel where there were 50,000 correct commas. We have developed this thought that if we see something we don’t like in someone else’s book that we have to tear them apart. It comes from this mentality that there is only so much attention to go around, and every author has to fight for the slightest shred of attention.

IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY. STOP.

While it’s true that not every book will find its audience and there is a finite amount of money, resources, and reading time available, what will really set you apart from others is how good your book is, how well it’s produced, and how well you market it. Tearing down the author next to you is like punching the runner beside you in a marathon. It’s wrong, it’s not going to help you much in the end, and eventually everyone’s going to either ostracize you or get together and destroy you. Doing this kind of thing will hurt your brand. As such—STOP DOING IT.

That said, if you encounter something very wrong (an editor who is charging for subpar work, a publisher who behaves in predatory ways, a cover designer who takes off with your money, etc.) then you should by all means speak up about it. I’m not saying this to encourage people to be silent about real issues facing the industry and individuals who are taking advantage of others. However, we should address these things in a professional manner rather than making salty comments on the blogs of individuals. There are places and ways to make those things known and to research folks with whom you tend to work. There are also litmus tests you can do to see if the people you’re working with are legitimate. I’ve covered those in previous blogs and would be happy to do so again.

Authors, publishers, editors, typesetters, designers, marketers—we’re all in this together. We’re all in this to publish books and put them out in front of audiences. We’re all in this to make money (you wouldn’t publish otherwise). Other than expelling predatory folks from our midst, we should be in this to help each other. The more support we can provide one another, the better off the whole industry is altogether. Stop tearing each other down and work on your own skills, talent, and contacts. Improve yourself, and stop trying to yank others back because it will not improve your chances. You will not succeed that way.

When Writing Isn’t What You Thought

When Writing Isn’t What You Thought

I encountered an article published by an author who has (according to this), given up the ghost when it comes to novels. The tone is bitter, angry, and selfish. While I wouldn’t critique someone’s private blog or Facebook rant about their frustrations regarding publishing, this being published in the Guardian is a little different. So, I’m going to write a response to the ghost of the author of this article because, honestly, I think this response has been brewing for years:

Get over it and grow up.

Writing isn’t a “sport” for the weak-willed and the narcissistic. You will be rejected often and hard, and you’ll have to kill your darlings. You have to give up the idea of your “opus” until you’ve been published at least a few times before. The thing is, the market doesn’t care about your artistic vision. It doesn’t care how you feel about your book. It doesn’t care about anything but whether or not the world wants to read it. I know that sounds jaded, but it’s true. If you are writing for external validation and for public acclaim, you will fail. If you write with an ego and expect the world to see your genius like you do, you will fail.

So what do you write for? What’s the point?

Because you want to get better. Because you have a story to tell. Because you’re passionate about writing. There are a hundred reasons to write, and they’re a hundred good ones. Write without an ego. Write without trying to live up to others’ expectations. Write regardless of what anyone tells you. Write a hundred novels no one but you will ever read. Pour your blood, sweat, and tears into your art for no one but yourself. Once you’re there, once you’re doing that, you’re starting to get the idea.

Writing is not easy. So many people assume you can just pick up and write without studying. Just because you can put coherent words into your word processor doesn’t make you a writer. What makes a writer is dedication. It’s writing through difficult times, it’s study, it’s practice. No artist of any kind ever produced pure gold without practice and study. So many folks seem to think writing is exempt from that reality, and it’s not. If you want to be a good writer then you need to do the same thing you’d do to learn to paint or learn an instrument. You find a teacher or mentor, you study, you practice, you learn how to use language and make it sing for you.

Writing is not something you can just pick up and do just because you feel like maybe you want to put something on paper. If you want to be a writer, if you want to be successful, if you want writing to be your vocation, then strap in, hike up your big boy/girl panties so high they’re at your chin, and join the rest of us in the trenches.