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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Posted: February 22, 2019 Filed under: Blog Content, Book Review, Chatting with the Pros, Fiction, Film Review, Interview, Nonfiction, Paranormal, WordCrafter Press, Writing, Writing Contest | Tags: Book Reviews, Chatting with the Pros, Film Review, Jeff Bowles, WordCrafter, WordCrafter Press, Writing to be Read
The entries are rolling in for the paranormal fiction contest and each one must be read. Stories good enough to recieve invitations to the anthology will also need to be edited. In order to accomodate a time budget for all this contest judging and anthology compilation activities in addition to my other life responsibilities, you can expect to see a few changes in the Friday Reviews.
One good change is we’ll be seeing more of Jeff Bowles. Last week he stepped in with a movie review of Glass that was brutally honest, but captivating. That review was so well recieved that he’s agreed to share a movie review with us on the third Monday of every month. His review of Glass was knowledgeable of the genre and written well enough to be mistakeing for one of the top critiques. If book reviews are hugs for authors, then Writing to be Read wants to hug the film industry, too. If you want to keep up on many of the latest movies, be sure to catch Jeff’s Movie Review (working title) each month.
I also plan to make two reviews each month instead of four, for books in the genre to go along with the monthly theme set by the genre the “Chatting with the Pros” guest author for the month. In February my guest author was nonfiction author Mark Shaw, so the February theme was nonfiction. My supporting author interview was with nature writer Susan J. Tweit and my supporting post was about my own nonfiction endeavor with the first post in my new bi-monthly series, “The Making of a Memoir“. My reviews were both of nonfiction books of different sub-genres: Mark Shaw’s How to Become a Published Author and a compilation of poetry artwork and writings about mental illness, the Letters of May anthology.
March’s theme will be science fiction and fantasy, and the “Chatting with the Pros” guest author will be national and international best selling author Kevin J. Anderson. He’s written more best sellers than there is room to list here and I’m thrilled to have him on Writing to be Read. My supporting post will be about my science fantasy series, Playground for the Gods. I’m still searching for a author for my supporting interview, but my reviews will be for Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories and Jordan Elizabeth’s Rogue Crystal. If you want to be sure not to miss any of these great science fiction and fantasy segments, be sure to sign up to email or follow on WordPress to get notification of new content.
Before I wrap this up, let me just remind you all that there is still time to submit your short story to the WordCrafter paranormal fiction contest. The deadline is April 1, so don’t drag your feet on this one. The entry fee is $5 and the winner will recive a $25 Amazon gift card and a guaranteed place in the WordCrafter Press paranormal short fiction. Email your submissions to kayebooth (at) yahoo (dot) com and I’ll send you confirmation instructions for submitting your entry fee.
Your submission can be any genre, but your story does have to include a paranormal element, so get those stories in. Other entries may be included in the anthology by special invitation, and all anthology authors will recieve a small royalty share if the book makes any money. You can get the full submission guidelines here: https://kayelynnebooth.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/short-fiction-contest-paranormal-stories-sought/
I do hope you’ll all join me in the exciting changes ahead. I’m always interested in reader feedback, so leave a comment and let me know what you’d like to see on Writing to be Read.
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Posted: July 20, 2018 Filed under: Book Review, Books, Science Fiction, Screenwriting, Stories | Tags: Book Review, Brave New Multiverse, Jeff Bowles, Science Fiction, Short Fiction, Short Stories, Short Story Collection
Brave New Multiverse is a collection of unusual and unique short stories by Jeff Bowles, in which there is never a dull moment. You may be amazed, amused, confused, or even a little disgusted, but you will not be bored with any of the stories in this collection.
Bowles combines the craft of short story with screenwriting to create an experimental writing style that somehow works. His descriptive power is phenomenal, if a bit graphic. The worlds he has created may be strange and difficult to define, but they are also different from worlds encountered by any other author. In Itsies, ids are called itsies and you don’t got to love them, even if they wear a teddy bear suit. In The Many Deaths of Lazarus Lad, comic book heroes never ever die. In Detective Robot and the Murderous Spacetime Schism, robots and gorillas are detectives solving the case of the deceased dropping from the sky. In Donald Carmichael’s Brave New Multiverse: A trip to five very odd ‘verses’, where nothing is as it appears, or is it? And in Snip, Snip: where they take bigotry to new levels and have hang ups about testicles.
His characters are as diverse and unique as the worlds he’s created, and he pairs them into unanticipated couplings: Gorilla Todd and Detective Robot, an investigative team that can solve the crime, even in the face of the dead falling randomly from the sky; Donald Carmichael and Max, who don’t know love until it reaches out and bites them in the ass; Lazarus Lad and his egocentric dad, who know no other life; Nelson and Jay, who just wanted to help their injured pooch; Tug and Petunia, rude and obnoxious itsies, who may even be dangerous, belonging to Tom and Pamela, who don’t know the meaning of tough love.
Want to explore strange new worlds which you’ve never encountered before? Take a trip into any one of Jeff Bowles’ stories from this collection. I give Brave New Multiverse five 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: July 16, 2018 Filed under: Blog Content, God Complex, Poetry, Writing, Writing to be Read | Tags: Art Rosch, Blog Content, Changes, Jeff Bowles, Poetry, Writing, Writing to be Read
I started Writing to be Read on a site called Today.com, as a pay-per-click blog. I was just beginning to create an online writing presence, and was unsure what to write about on a blog, but whatever my subject matter, I ended every post with a poems. One day, I tried to log into my account and found that Today.com no longer existed, and neither did my blog. I was forced to seek out a new home for my blog, and I found WordPress. That was back in 2010, and the author’s blog and website before you is what Writing to be Read has morphed into in the interim.
I no longer include a poem with each post, (that went the way of Today.com), and I don’t get paid per click, (or at all for that matter), but I feel that my content has expanded and improved over the years. I still believe poetry is an important aspect of writing. I feel in love with poetry when we studied Hiaku in the forth grade, and the first piece of writing I ever sold was a poem, (for five dollars). Poetry is sculpting with words, crafting a piece to fit our vision and communicate that vision to others.
There have been many changes along the way, which helped to make Writing to be Read what it is today, including my 2016 publishing series: The Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing, my 2017 series on marketing and promotion: Book Marketing: What Works?, and the most recent this past year, my Ask the Authors series, where a panel of authors were interviewed on a variety of elements concerning writing. (Watch for a second series of AtA this fall.) Also, in 2017, we were fortunate to have Robin’s Writing Memo, with Robin Conley and The Pep Talk and Jeff’s God Complex, with author Jeff Bowles. I have attempted to include content that addresses all the elements of writing, but as I’m not very active in areas such as poetry, children’s writing, screenwriting or YA fiction, there have been only a few post in these areas, and I want to extend the scope of the blog to address all aspects of writing.
So, we’re about to change it up once more. I’m calling in the experts, or at least, those more expert than I in specific areas. I’ve asked a few guest bloggers to join the team in order to expand the scope of Writing to be Read. Our guest segments will be featured on Wednesdays. Here are some of the exciting changes you can expect to see in the near future.
I’m happy to announce that Jeff Bowles will be joining us once again with Jeff’s God Complex the first Wednesday of every month, starting in August. Jeff is an independent author with an awesome power of description and an amazing imagination. He has published three short story collections, which I have given top notch reviews, including his latest one, Brave New Multiverse, which will post this Friday, July 20. Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Godling and Other Paint Stories. Jeff’s post topics cover just about anything and everything if it regards writing.
Starting Wednesday, July 25th, we will have our first segment of The Many Faces of Poetry, with Art Rosch. Art is an independent author, poet and photographer, who is into jazz. He draws many of his stories from his own experiences and creates his own book covers. He has published three books, all of which I’ve reviewed with high quills: Confessions of an Honest Man, The Road Has Eyes: A Relationship, An R.V., and a Wild Ride Through Indian Country, and The Gods of the Gift. Art is a talented writer and poet and I’m pleased to have him join the Writing to be Read team.
Also joining us with a Writing for a YA Audience segment is Amazon best selling YA author Jordan Elizabeth. Jordan has written many books aimed at a YA audience in a variety of genres: steampunk, time travel, fantasy, historical and ghost stories, to name a few. I recently reviewed her most recent book, a post- apocalyptic dystopian romance, Rotham Race, and I have reviewed many of her other works, including her very first novel, Escape From Witchwood Hollow, and several anthologies which include her stories. Jordan’s posts will be concerned with concepts and issues involved in writing for young adult readers. Writing to be Read will feature Jordan’s first post on Wednesday, July 18th.
This blog is a labor of love for me, and as such, these great writers are donating their time and efforts, so please help me to welcome the new members of the Writing to be Read team by liking their posts and leaving comments. Every writer wants to know they are being read.
I’m still searching for willing bloggers in the areas of screenwriting or children’s writing. I feel these elements of writing are important and deserve our special attention too. If you have expertise in these areas and think you might be interested in joining the Writing to be Read team, please email me at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
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Posted: April 14, 2017 Filed under: Book Review, Books, Fiction, Horror, romance, Speculative Fiction, Stories, Western | Tags: Book Review, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, Jeff Bowles, Short Fiction, Short Story Collection
This week I’m pleased to review Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces – the latest collection of short fiction by my friend and colleague, Jeff Bowles. Since I know Jeff personally, I do admit to a certain amount of bias, but only because I truly admire the way this man crafts a story, so I went at this reading with a certain amount of anticipation. With Jeff, I never really know what to expect, but I always expect to be pleasantly surprised.
And, I was not disappointed. The stories found in this collection are original and unique, and the artwork is awesome.
The first story, Will of the West, has a good western flavor with a surprise ending. I truly enjoyed the vivid imagery of the lightning dance is Blue Dancing With Yellow, and Jeff’s story telling voice in Tumbleweeds and Little Girls nails the young girl’s POV. Four Heads, Two Hearts is a unique romance with its own unusual set of obstacles and a very interesting solution. The Fall and Rise of Max Ziggy is a reincarnation story of the feline kind.
Two of the stories deal with the topic of mid-life crisis, a topic that the author seems too young to know a lot about, but when you read these stories, us old foggies may find, or at least I did, that his interpretations are pretty spot on. Mid-Life Crisis: The Video Game defines the age of technology in a way the older generations can relate to, right down to the frustrations of dealing with voice activated responders which never seem to get our answers right. And, Jack Hammer’s Online Identity Crisis provides an online view of the mid-life crisis of a hit man that is sure to make you chuckle.
The collection also offers two ghost stories: Falcon Highway is a good, old fashioned ghost story running along the lines of an urban legend. And, Deadman’s Hand is a ghostly tale of being ‘spirited’ away.
All of the stories contained in Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces are well crafted and quite entertaining, and they all contain unexpected elements that Jeff Bowles makes to work in short story form. Each and every one carries the uniqueness that is Jeff Bowles style, making for an overall enjoyable read. I give it five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.