Posted: March 20, 2019 Filed under: Fiction, Mystery, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Writing, Writing for a YA Audience, Young Adult | Tags: Clockwork Dollhouse, Jordan Elizabeth, mystery, Steampunk, Writing for a YA Audience
Dollhouses have always intrigued me. That and steampunk, but we’ll get to that later.
As a child, I had three dollhouses. One was wooden, made by my maternal grandfather. One was metal. I used it for my Little People. The third was plastic and I used it for my Victorian Playmobile set (I still feel bad that I never got the official dollhouse that went with the sets!). I loved setting up the rooms and just looking at them. My dolls didn’t always move around in them. It was more for show. I used my imagination to act out scenes.
There’s another dollhouse that sticks out in my mind, only I didn’t own it. As a child, my mother and I went through an estate sale in the neighborhood. In the basement, there was a dollhouse built to replicate the actual house. I fell in love with it. Unfortunately, it was expensive. It was old and showed the effects of being in a basement. Plus, it didn’t fit through the door! I can still picture that dollhouse to this day. I became obsessed with having an intricate dollhouse just like that one.
My grandmother bought me a wooden dollhouse kit. It came with working windows, shingles, and a drainpipe. It also came with a bit of trouble – none of us were carpentry inclined. The dollhouse sat in its box in my basement for years. Eventually, my then-boyfriend (now husband) attempted to put it together, but didn’t get farther than popping out the pieces. A few years ago, a friend’s husband put it together. It looks just as amazing as I’d always hoped it would.
My mother and I bought wallpaper, wainscoting, furniture, dolls… We’re in love with it, but we haven’t done too much decoration-wise. Some of the furniture came in sets and we already know we’re horrible at putting sets together. This dollhouse, sitting on the hall table, with its beautiful dolls keeps pulling at my imagination. I wanted to create a story about a dollhouse, one with secrets. Since I love the steampunk genre, I wanted to add in a taste of that. Thus, along came CLOCKWORK DOLLHOUSE, a short story about dolls and secrets.
Have you ever seen a dollhouse that beckoned you into its walls?
Jordan Elizabeth is a young adult fantasy author. If you have any spooky dollhouse furniture you want to part with, she would be happy to take it off your hands! You can connect with Jordan via her website, JordanElizabethBooks.com.
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Posted: March 18, 2019 Filed under: Books, Chatting with the Pros, Collaboration, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Fiction, Interview, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Teaching Writing, World Building, Writing, Writing to be Read | Tags: Chatting with the Pros, Fantasy, Kevin J. Anderson, Writing to be Read
My guest today on “Chatting with the Pros” is an award winning and best selling author who has written countless novels and over 56 national and international best sellers. A majority of his works fall into the science fiction or fantasy genres, but he writes across many genres. In a recent introduction for “The Big Idea: Kevin J. Anderson“, an article about the latest release in his short fiction collection, Selected Stories, John Scalzi calls him, “one of the most prolific authors working today”, and one look at his immense book list on Amazon would leave no doubt that this is an accurate assessment. (You can find my review of selected stories here). He’s written a lot of books, 56 of which have hit the national and international best seller lists, and he’s been writing for many years, and I’m sure we will find his knowledge and experiences enlightening. Please help me welcome Kevin J. Anderson.
Kaye: You have written at least 56 national or international best sellers. What makes a good story in your mind?
Kevin: People want to read a good story with an exciting/interesting plot, a well-developed setting, and engaging characters. Make it a story you WANT to read, with clear prose and action. I don’t like muddled, glacial-paced stories where the prose is just too precious.
Kaye: Why science fiction and fantasy? Why not western or romance or mystery? What’s the attraction?
Kevin: Well, I’ve also written plenty of mysteries, and some of my work has been set in the old west, and most good stories have a strong romance component (though I don’t write category Romance or Westerns). I like to tell an interesting story, and I move around a lot among genres, even though I am primarily known for science fiction or fantasy. I grew up in a very mundane small town in rural Wisconsin, and I was captivated by SF/F from an early age, because it showed my imagination what was possible. I wanted to go to exotic places, whether they were filled with aliens or dragons. Science fiction took me to a much wider universe. (And as a skinny, nerdy kid with glasses and a bad haircut, “romance” wasn’t much of a possibility, so I stuck with spaceships and swords.)
Kaye: You wrote several Star Wars and X-Files novels. Is it difficult to immerse yourself in someone else’s settings and characters enough to pick up a thread and run with it in the same tone and writing style? How do you go about getting yourself into that mindset?
Kevin: It’s no more difficult than trying to immerse yourself in the old west or ancient Japan for a historical. A writer’s job is to absorb the story, characters, voice, and setting. I was already a big fan of Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Files, and Dune, and I enjoyed going to work in those universes. In each instance, I would completely surround myself with the property — whether that meant watching the Star Wars films over and over again, or the episodes of the X-Files, or repeatedly rereading DUNE and its sequels. You pick up the manner of speaking, the “look and feel” of the world, and you make it into your own story.
Kaye: You’ve done several collaborations, including books of the Dune series, with Brian Herbert and the Clockwork books which you collaborated with Neil Peart, drummer for the band Rush. What is the biggest challenge when collaborating on a book?
Kevin: You both need to have the same vision for the book—which means a LOT of talking and brainstorming ahead of time—and you both need the same work ethic (so each partner puts in the same amount of time and effort…a tortoise and hare collaboration will just cause a lot of friction), and you need to be flexible. There’s never only ONE way to write a sentence or describe a scene. I would never want to collaborate with a diva!
Kaye: Do you belong to any writing organizations? If so, which ones? Do you feel your membership in these writing organizations have been helpful in your writing successes? How so?
Kevin: I belong to the Horror Writers Association (and edited three anthologies for them, the BLOOD LITE series), IAMTW (International Association of Media Tie-In Writers), and SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, although some of their recent decisions have made me so upset that I would not renew my membership if I wasn’t already a lifetime member. The problem with such organizations is that you can become to engrossed in the politics and bickering that you forget your real purpose, which is to WRITE.
Kaye: You’ve written several series, including Saga of the Seven Suns, Dan Shamble P.I. and the Clockwork books? Are any of your books stand alone? Why do you lean toward series?
Kevin: I’ve written many standalone books. The one I just finished last week, a vampire/serial-killer thriller STAKE, that’s not part of a series. But I like to tell big stories, and once you’ve done all the effort of world building and character building an entire universe, you want to spend some time. To me, a trilogy is perfect — a beginning, middle, and end, with enough room to tell the story and describe the world in all its glory. Pragmatically speaking, it’s a much better decision commercially to build a series, because readers will want more and more, and each new book will help sell copies of previous volumes. Can you imagine if A.C. Doyle had stopped after writing only one Sherlock Holmes story?
Kaye: Science fiction authors create whole worlds from their imaginations, often with new languages created in their own minds, and you have created many. How do you go about creating a new language?
Kevin: Hmm, creating languages? I’m not really a linguist and I don’t know that I’ve developed full languages (though I do use weird words). I just make up the words by making what seem to be the appropriate sounds, linguistic flavors, scary sounds for monsters or villains, softer or ethereal sounds for pleasant things. I can’t really explain it more rigorously than that.
Kaye: Your work has won many prestigious awards. Which award are you most proud of? Why?
Kevin: Awards are awards, and it’s nice to have them, but I really prefer READERS. That’s what makes your writing worthwhile. It’s not terribly prestigious, but the award I value most is one I received very early in my career, when I received a trophy with an engraved brass plate and everything, naming me “The Writer with No Future” because I could produce more rejection slips than any other writer at an entire conference. To me, that didn’t mean I was a failure as a writer or that my work was awful—it proved that I was more persistent, that I kept trying, kept getting better, and never gave up. I still have that trophy.
Kaye: In addition to being an author, you and your wife, Rebecca Moesta, are publishers at Wordfire Press, but originally you were traditionally published. Why the switch to being your own publisher after being traditionally published for so many years?
Kevin: Survival. No choice. The publishing industry has undergone a tremendous upheaval equivalent to the Industrial Revolution, and I could either be a mammal and evolve or stay a dinosaur and go extinct. I am still traditionally published (four books released in 2018, in fact, and a new 3-book contract from Tor Books for an epic fantasy series), but I also have a lot of backlist titles that were out of print and my fans wanted to read them. So I started releasing them myself with all the innovations of new technology. It’s just another alternative.
Kaye: What does Wordfire press offer as a publisher for other authors?
Kevin: We are nimble and flexible, and we can produce books and get them to market far quicker than a traditional publisher can manage. But when you work with an indie publisher, or if you do it yourself, then you have to do all the work, all aspects of it. It’s another income stream and another way to get your book in front of your audience.
Kaye: Is Wordfire taking submissions? What type of fiction is Wordfire looking for?
Kevin: Not really, I’m afraid. When we are open, we’re looking for established writers who don’t need their hands held, writers who already have their own platforms, fanbases, and marketing efforts because we have to rely on them to do the work that a whole department at a traditional publisher would do.
Kaye: You recently signed on as an adjunct professor at Western State Colorado University and you are a finalist candidate for the director of their Certificate in Publishing program. What prompted you to venture into the world of academia?
Kevin: Actually, I’m now a full professor and I run their Masters program in Publishing. I will start the first group of MA students this coming summer. There’s a LOT of paperwork and bureaucracy in academia! I have taught writing and publishing quite often at countless writers’ conferences and conventions, most notably our own Superstars Writing Seminars, which is just hitting its tenth year. Becoming a professor and teaching at a beautiful university in the Colorado mountains is great, offers a little more stability than freelance writing, and (the bane of all freelancers) it gives me health insurance and benefits I wouldn’t otherwise get.
Kaye: Any writing pet peeves?
Kevin: I don’t like artsy-fartsy stuff, dense prose and opaque plots. Tell me a great story with a cool setting and interesting characters!
Kaye: Creating characters, developing plot, world building – what is the most challenging part of writing for you?
Kevin: Those are all fun, but if I had to choose I would say I have most difficulty with building rich, fleshed-out characters. Plotting and worldbuilding—that’s what I excel in.
Thanks to Kevin for sharing with us today. He’s given us food for thought with some really great answers. You can find more about Wordfire Press here: https://wordfirepress.com/. Kevin and his wife, Rebecca Moesta, head up the Superstars Writing Seminars each year in February, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for those interested in learning the business of writing. If you’d like to become a member of the Superstars Tribe, or would just like more information about Superstars, visit the folowing link: superstarswriting.com. Visit the links below to learn more about Kevin J. Anderson and his works.
Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Kevin-J-Anderson/e/B000AQ0072/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1545798018&sr=1-1-fkmr1
Wordfire Press: http://www.wordfire.com/
Join us next month on “Chatting with the Pros”, when I’ll be chatting with romance author Maya Rodale. You can catch the monthly segment “Chatting with the Pros” on the third Monday of every month in 2019, or you can be sure not to any of the great content on Writing to be Read by signing up by email or following on WordPress.
Posted: March 15, 2019 Filed under: Comic Hero, Fantasy, Film Review, Jeff's Movie Reviews, Movie Review, Movies, Super Hero | Tags: Captain Marvel, Jeff's Movie Reviews, Movie Review, Movies, Super Heroes, Writing to be Read
The Marvelous Mrs. Marvel
by Jeff Bowles
(For more on Captain Marvel, be sure to check out my full video review)
As far as Marvel movies go, Captain Marvel feels refreshing, if a bit familiar. It carries with it little of the eccentric energy found in other recent Marvel flicks like Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but it also requires less of audiences who have yet to drink the Marvel Kool-Aid. Much like 2018’s box office behemoth Black Panther, the hero in question is not a white male, and as the star of a major Hollywood production released in the #MeToo era, that makes all the difference.
Which isn’t to suggest Marvel Studios’ latest doesn’t give plenty of nods to what has come before, and perhaps in a more lucrative vein, to what’s still headed our way. We finally learn how Nick Fury lost his eye, for instance, but filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are also thrilled to butter us up for that big late-April showdown called Avengers: Endgame (check your calendars, kids. Don’t forget to pre-order all the toys, and oh yeah, maybe a movie ticket or five).
If superhero tropes and comic-isms are as indecipherable to you as Kree battle language, odds are good the scope and scale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe rings hollow. Some of us have been on board since we were kids, leafing through our favorite monthly Marvel comics like little back-issue hording zealots. But if your speed is less Captain America and more … well, any other movie ever made, really—it’s safe to take heart. Captain Marvel is a pretty good jumping on point.
Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is an Air Force fighter pilot with super-powered amnesia. A strange event in her past wiped her memories clean and granted her incredible abilities, the sum total of which she’s dutifully employed freedom-fighting for a race of intergalactic warriors known as the Kree (best personified by her squad leader, Yon-Rogg—played by master geek-movie thespian, Jude Law). When the Kree’s deadliest enemies, a race of green shapeshifters known as the Skrulls, capture Carol and bring her back to Earth, the nascent Captain Marvel must team up with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (an impressively de-aged Samuel L. Jackson) to discover the secret behind the pivotal accident. Plus, you know, she’ll get to rock out to an unquestionably righteous and eclectic 90s soundtrack.
The fact that this movie takes place in 1995 only adds to its charm. There are era-specific nods and in-jokes aplenty, including a fun Stan Lee cameo that’ll tug at your sense of nostalgia. The film’s setting also means that most of the super-heroic hi-jinks found in the other 20 MCU movies have yet to occur. It’s a prequel more than anything else. Rounding out the cast are an unexpectedly funny Ben Mendelsohn as Skrull commander Keller, Lashana Lynch as Carol’s best friend, Maria Rambeau, and a de-aged Clark Gregg, happy to take a break from playing Agent Coulson on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to play … a younger-looking version of the exact same character.
Additional highlights include a cute but vicious orange cat named Goose, though I won’t spoil the big reveal here, and the marvelously named Air Force marvel, Mar-Vell (a somewhat spaced out and liminal Annette Bening). For the most part, Captain Marvel gets by on its charm. It’s best described as an above average superhero origin story, but unfortunately, there remains a certain amount of roughness in its narrative. Big chunks of exposition get belted out from behind scads of green creature makeup, and the grand finale carries enough logic gaps you may find yourself wondering, “She was just fighting that guy. So now who are these people?”
A lot of early buzz surrounding this movie included controversial comments made by Larson herself, but really, if a storytelling medium largely created by boys for boys can’t come to grips with a few girls getting in on the action whenever they damn well please, there’s less hope for this world than any of us could have ever imagined. Captain Marvel as a character has been blasting across the universe since the late sixties, but it was only in recent years that a woman donned the suit. And Larson does a fantastic job portraying Danvers on film. She is cocky, self-assured, funny, compassionate, caring, and once her full powers get unleashed, wonderfully formidable. A certain kinship evolves between her and Samuel Jackson’s Agent Fury, and moments spent in the Louisiana home of her best friend Maria prove that an intergalactic badass can be all about family, too.
Audiences are likely to get more out of the experience if they possess a running mental lexicon of all things Marvel, but unlike last year’s Avengers: Infinity War and the forthcoming Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel is likely to be a fun time no matter what prior knowledge you have going in. If you’re burned out on films featuring god-like people beating the holy Skrull out of each other, you may be better entertained elsewhere. But as Thor Odinson once famously declared to the world-eating demon Surtur, “That’s what heroes do.”
It’s a very geeky multiverse we live in, people.
Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Captain Marvel an 8 out of 10.
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Posted: March 13, 2019 Filed under: Books, Children's Books, Growing Bookworms, Reading | Tags: Children's Books, Creativity, Developing Creativity, Growing Bookworms, Reading, Writing to be Read
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Einstein
It takes imagination and creativity to make the leaps of logic, faith and inspiration necessary for new inventions and technological development. As the human race stands on the brink of the digital revolution which is already changing the way we live, work and relate to each other, we need to empower our children with the skills they need to cope with an increasingly faster paced and continuously changing world. The development of critical thinking skills and creative problem solving abilities are essential in order for our children to thrive and excel in the work places of the future.
How do we go about instilling these vital skills in our children?
Creative and imaginative play is an excellent way of developing “out of the box” thinking skills in children. Another important way of developing imagination and creativity is reading.
Reading books and hearing stories stimulate a child’s imagination through the adventure, characters and illustrations. Books introduce children to new ideas, experiences, concepts and behaviours that they may not encounter in their own lives. Encouraging children to read a wide variety of genres of books, including fantasy, non-fiction, comedy, poetry and historical fiction, opens up their minds, allowing them to explore new information, emotions and cultures and lead to greater understanding and empathy.
Reading forces a child to use critical thinking skills and logic to process what is being read and understand the concepts and ideas contained in the book. While you read, you create images, thoughts and opinions in your mind.
Reading is exercise for the brain, the more you read the better your concentration will be and the better you will be able to think in a clear and concise way. Reading completely absorbs the mind as it takes effort to read the words, comprehend what is being said and to analyse the deeper meaning and why the author has written about a particular subject in a specific way.
Reading aloud empowers children with better vocabularies, sentence structure and communication skills, enabling them to share their imaginative and creative ideas better.
It is the ability of human beings to be imaginative and creative, to experience great emotion and passion and to invoke these same feelings in others, that ensures we will never become “robotised”. People who have these characteristics will always be valuable to our society and that is what we all strive for, to raise children that will add value to society and, by doing so, lead happy and fulfilled lives.
About Robbie Cheadle
Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with five published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.
I have recently branched into adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. I have two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre. These short stories are published under Robbie Cheadle.
I have recently published a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.
Find Robbie Cheadle
Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads
Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram
Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books
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Posted: March 11, 2019 Filed under: Blog Content, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, World Building, Writing | Tags: Fantasy, sci-fi, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, Writing to be Read
In March, Writing to be Read celebrates science fiction and fantasy, and everything in between. Science fiction springs from imaginings of what ifs, regarding technological advancements and futuristc worlds and universes, while fantasy fiction involves impossible or improbable events usually involving magic, or magical creatures or objects grounded in myths, legends and folklore of old. Both of these genres takes us to fantasical places and awe readers with amazing feats of courage, and good usually overpowers evil. Both entertain us, and are often addicting. In the current book market, there are many books which fall into a genre that is somewhere in between.
There are more subgenres for both of these genres than a person is able to count, including stories which feature elements of both. When I wrote my thesis proposal for what will one day be my science fantasy series, Playground for the Gods, I was told there was no genre for a story with both science fiction and fantasy elements. But in fact, there is such a genre as science fantasy, and there are many books out there today that fall into it. I recently reviewed one featuring alien life forms and a powerful magic object, Rogue Crystal, by Jordan Elizabeth in last Friday’s post.
As mentioned above, Playground for the Gods was originally proposed as my thesis story. It is a tale of aliens, Atlans, who come to pre-historic Earth when their planet is destroyed, and act as gods and godesses, forming human beliefs about devine matters, and creating the fondation for myths and legends of ancient history. The character names were all chosen from ancient summerian names, and many of the subplots parrellel those same myths and legends, adding new twists. In order to maintain the appearance of gods, they use their advanced technologies to appear magical and all powerful, each one wielding the ability to fall into different personas throughout time, providing basis for all world myths and religions around the globe.
It’s a lot of story, and many said it was too big and couldn’t be done, so I broke it down into four novels, which follow the Atlan through earth’s history to present day, and perhaps even beyond Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle tells the tale of the Atlans arrival on Earth. and tells how the heroine, Innana tries to stop the same Atlans who caused the destruction of their home planet from detroying their new home, as well. All whhile working to find a cure for her sister, Ereshkigal’s wasting desiese which is eating her up from the inside out. This story is curently with my beta reader, although I was hoping she’d have it back to me by now, so I could share my excitement, because it is very close to being publication ready.
Among the great science fiction authors we find familiar names: Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. More recently, we have Robin Wayne Bailey, Richard Bachman, who we all now know is Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Scalzi and Kevin J. Anderson. (Don’t forget to catch my interview with Kevin J. Anderson next Monday on “Chatting with the Pros”. You won’t want to miss it.) Fantasy authrs who may come to mind are J.R.R. Tolkien, George R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, R.A. Salvator, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and Kevin J. Anderson. As you can see, there is some crossover of authors from one genre to the other; there are authors who write in both.
This month, in additon to my interview with K.J.A. and my review of Rogue Crystal, I also have my review of Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories: Science Fiction Volume 2, and an interview with fantasy author Laurel McHargue. I do hope you’ll drop by.
P.S. Be sure to check out my science fiction time travel short, Last Call, and my dystopian short, “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in the Collapsar Directive science fiction anthology (Zombie Prirates Publishing).
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Posted: March 8, 2019 Filed under: Book Review, Books, Dark Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction | Tags: Book Review, Jordan Elizabeth, Rogue Crystal, Science Fantasy, Writing to be Read
Rogue Crystal, by Jordan Elizabeth is a futuristic science fantasy adventure novel featuring magic weilding aliens and an unsuspecting heroine, who may be the key to saving the world, with several surprise twists along the way. Both science fiction and fantasy fans will enjoy this story, as it has elements from both genres.
Avery thought a trip to Scarya, a secret rendevous with her boyfriend diguised as a journey to the country of her ancestral origins for her parents benefit, would be a great time. But when her cousin’s archeology team uncovers a sword which draws her to it and then disappears, things begin to get a little freaky. Suddenly, it seems that everyone is after her and she doesn’t know who to trust. Except for DeClan, her boyfriend and long time sweetheart, whom she trusts explicitely. But something isn’t right. His uncnny ability to show up just when needed and his unconditional acceptance of what Avery tells him, no matter how strange or unusual makes the reader wonder if he might not be what he appears to be, as they uncover a centuries old family history of alien origins and a struggle to save the world. While all this is a little unsettling, it’s nothing compared to Avery’s surprise when she learns that she holds the crystal which holds the power to destroy the world.
This story combines elements of science fiction and fantasy into a well crafted adventure which fans of both genres can enjoy. I give Rogue Crystal four quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
Posted: March 6, 2019 Filed under: Fiction, Humor, Inspirational, Nonfiction, Pep Talk, Writing | Tags: Criticism, Jeff Bowles, Jeff's Pep Talk, Writing, Writing to be Read
The Big C(riticism)
By Jeff Bowles
The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.
I don’t think there’s a soul on earth who likes criticism. There’s just something about it that can cut to the bone. Human beings have such fragile egos anyway, those pesky little conscious seats of individuality that get bruised and battered when others make us feel small, less talented, less competent, perhaps even less valid as people. Some more than others, right? I’ve had writers tell me they never feel offended, angry, upset, or in any way discouraged after a round criticism. I don’t think I believe them. I mean, not at all? Even just a little? Really?
And of course, if you’re checking out this blog, odds are you’ve seen your share of creative criticism. It’s essential to the process, right? Every writer can benefit from it, from the newest of newbs to the most seasoned authors. And a change in attitude often occurs once a writer actually gets neck deep in a viable career. At that point, criticism has become just another part of the job, kind of less of a hassle than, say, making deadlines you have no hope of making or enduring long, drawn-out revision cycles.
But there’s another dimension to writers that’s so common it’s a cliché. Many of us suffer from mental illness. I know I do, and lots of my associates and acquaintances are in the same boat. Most of the time their personal stories boil down to a bit of depression here and there, but look, there’s something about a creative profession that requires long periods of solitude that seems to attract folks who are maybe a bit less emotionally equipped than the rest of humanity. Plus, you know, the ubiquitous link between genius and madness. Some of the greatest writers in history should have been in the nut house. Some of them were.
Now there’s a big difference between getting your feelings hurt over some bad comments from a crit group and losing your mind completely. We subject ourselves to the honest (and often brutal) opinions of our colleagues because we understand in the end criticism will make us better. Especially when we’re just starting out. If we can find a few people who really get what we’re all about and who consistently offer good feedback, we’re wise to consider them valuable resources. The fact remains, writers pour ourselves into our work. In many ways, stories and novels, articles and memoirs, they’re like our children. Sometimes it’s hard not to take criticism personally. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong in admitting it.
So as a writer who’s had one or two creative outbursts himself (sorry about that black eye, prof), here’s a few tips to soothe the wounded beast. Number one, and going back to the crit group thing, it really does help to know a few people who are on the same page as you creatively. It’s old advice, but it is enormously beneficial. Also, try not to work with writers who aren’t quite as skilled as you are. Likewise, learn to recognize when you’ve gotten in with folks who have a lot more ability and experience. Writers who punch in above your pay grade aren’t going to be able to help as much as you might expect, and you may even struggle trying to understand and disseminate their feedback.
Next tip: always keep a few pots on the fire. Okay, this new story didn’t work out for me, but at least I have that other one that shows way more potential. Dive into this process head first, if you can. Conceive, draft, and revise in cycles. Nothing blunts criticism like a sense of forward momentum. Keep an idea notebook handy. Never miss an opportunity to dream up something new and play with it a little. We’re still growing here. Got lots and lots of stories to tell in the future. Stagnation sucks. It crushes the life out of creativity. Avoid it if at all possible.
Tip number three: make sure to honor your private life. I mean that. Some people throw themselves into their work at such high velocity their relationships and daily routines suffer. You’ve got friends, right? Hang out with them, have some fun. While we’re at it, don’t neglect your romantic life, either. Seems like kind of a toss-off to some people, but look, you’re human. Biology is a factor, and it’s just a basic fact that people tend to be happier when they consistently engage this part of their personality. Family, hobbies, even other, more practical career goals, these can all serve as a refuge when your creative mind is battered and tired. Conversely, writing itself can act as a pretty powerful refuge from things like, oh, family, hobbies, career goals, romantic life, friends…
Fourth tip: don’t worry about developing a thick skin. Focus more on developing a keen critical mind. Say someone tears your latest to shreds. You can either A) get emotional about it, B) decide this loser doesn’t know what the hell he or she is talking about, or C) penetrate the matter a little more deeply, choose which criticisms are valid, discard everything else, move on to the next thing. Your lizard brain is your lizard brain. It’s a given. But your analytical mind, that you’ve got to hone. So get clinical if you can. Easier said than done? For some it really is. You’re not a robot. At least I don’t think you are. I mean, you haven’t blinked in several minutes. I’m watching you…
Do the best you can to stay neutral during and after a round of feedback. Or if not neutral, at least receptive and pragmatic. This is a process. Repeat it to yourself if it helps. This is a process. This is a process. And don’t forget to ask plenty of questions. Stay engaged. Again, criticism affects people differently. I imagine some will read this blog post and think, “I don’t see what the big deal is. This Jeff Bowles guy must be a total train wreck.”
To which I might reply, “Stop staring at my mangled caboose!”
…Ahem, yes. Anyhoo, there’s no accounting for temperament. Look, it’s always seemed to me writers just aren’t honest when it comes to these things. And why should we be? Nobody likes a hot head. No one’s particularly desperate to work with a soppy, spongy mess. But there’s always the case to be made for blowing off steam when necessary. Never let it jeopardize your work, your reputation, or your sense of professionalism, but don’t bottle it up, either. If you find the situation becomes chronic, do a little soul searching. What’s really bothering you here? Why does criticism seem to affect you so much? Self-analysis, some say, is the path to divinity. Not that divinity has anything to do with the life of a writer.
Speaking of which, and if all else fails, there’s still good old-fashioned counseling and therapy. It might sound dopey and overwrought to even remind you of it, but sometimes in life, it helps to get serious about ourselves and consider our own triggers and shortcomings. No shame in it, and never let people tell you there is. Mental health is extremely important, much more important than the modern world ever seems to recognize. And even simple depression can become dangerous if left unchecked.
And now to spoil the mood completely, some depressed writer jokes!
“Well doc, I guess it all started when they said my steampunk riff on The Notebook was even lousier than my 50 Shades of Grey fan fic written from the whip’s perspective.”
“Really? And how did that make you feel?”
“Like we should have used a safe word.”
Why did the anxiety-riddled writer cross the road? Are you crazy? I’m not going outside. That road is clearly a death trap.
[end of joke digression]
Ready to tackle another round of critiques? Well, in a perfect world, I guess you would be. Do what you need to do to combat discouragement and self-defeatism. One of the healthiest attitudes we can adopt as professional writers is the macro, career-long perspective and an abysmal memory. If the fates allow, you’re in this for the long haul, so just remember this or that little hiccup will mean nothing in the end. It’s a basic fact that we learn more from failure than success. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and fail as hard as you can!
Pep talk concluded. Feel better now, don’t you?
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