Patreon And Other Things I’m Doing

Hey everyone!

Hope you’re doing well.

So, I’ve been doing some stuff, and that means you get a quick little note about some of those things. Let’s go straight down my to-do list.

Patreon
Yeah, I know, I’ve had like 4 different versions of Patreon set up, I know I have decried it before. Feel free to jump into the comments and call me a hypocrite or an idiot. What I’m going to tell you is twofold: first, I didn’t “get” it and second, a lot of my screwing it up had to do with being incredibly afraid to try.

See, I’ve had a good case of the yips lately. (For those that don’t know what that means, it’s a way of saying I’ve been really gunshy and unsure about what I’m doing and whether or not I’m good at anything). And thanks to those yips this blog has been quiet. And thanks to those yips I don’t think I’ve really done well with tweeting. And because I think I didn’t do well before, I carry it forward, and it cycles over and over, cementing the yips and making it hard to throw the brakes on and change momentum.

Patreon is a way to do that. I’d love your support, I appreciate every dollar, and it’s all getting dumped right back into this blog and my passion for doing what I do. Here’s the link, thanks for checking it out.

Write More Gooder
For years, and by some estimates it’s up to a decade now, I’ve been talking about “one day.” One day when I do X. One day when I have Y happen. I’m always waiting for that one day like it’s a city bus downtown, even though I spend a lot of time telling people that if we want “one day” we have to go seize it.

One of my “one days” was this – One day, I’ll have a podcast. And I could talk about a lot of things, and I’d like to talk about a lot of things, but I’ve always resisted talking about things because I was so concerned with what other people would think or if they’d even pay attention (sound familiar to anyone?). I’ve made a lot of excuses about why this particular one day would never happen – I didn’t have a microphone, I can’t get Audacity to work, I don’t have the means to make something really polished, etc etc. While a lot of those things are true (I still can’t get Audacity to work 100% of the time and I don’t have the means or horsepower to do a lot of polish work), I do have a microphone, and I really should get off my ass and make this happen.

WRITE MORE GOODER will start in October. Here’s the lovely logo that I assume all my vastly more talented friends will tell me is garbage:

podcast2

Let’s not talk about how hard I worked on that.

The Traveling John RoadShow of Writing
Another of the “one day” issues was that I have always wanted to speak to more writers. Any writers. Usually this nets me a small local group here in Jersey, sometimes I get to Skype in with some group in PA or Delaware. But last I checked, the world is way bigger than that, and I am pretty sure there are writers out there who might like to hear some of the things I say.

So I’m going on the road. I’ve been putting together a list of conventions, groups, cities, and writers, and while there’s not a lot of money yet so that I can reach all of these people and places, I’m confident that with enough time and work, I can get some. I want to bring what I know to you. Patreon is one way we can make that happen. (Editing and Coaching are others)

Yips or not, this is me getting back up on the horse. I love you, I believe in you, I want to make awesome stuff with you. Happy writing.

Our Plate And Buffet

It’s Monday, and I hope you had a great weekend. I had a pretty good one, the weather was warm, I got to wear shorts, and I remembered that there were soft pretzels in the freezer. It was awesome.

Today I want to start the week somewhat picking up where we left off on Wednesday with social media, because it was pointed out to me over the weekend that while knowledge of social media is good and critical, you have to make the time to use it. And people frankly suck at that. So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about sucking at making time to do stuff.

Normally I think this argument is a load of applesauce and horsefeathers, because if something is important to you, you will make time for it. You enjoy the procrastinating, so you spend an extra hour watching television. You like the comfy spot in bed, so you sleep an extra half hour past your alarm.

Just like a diet or a fitness plan, where you’re trying to change your weight or your exercise habits, there are sacrifices to make. Gone is the double portion of daily dessert fudge. The extra steakchos are given the heave-ho. These sacrifices are tough initially, because we crave the feelings and/or brain chemicals they used to provide, and our brains panic because we’re not getting flooded with the same stuff we used to, and change is scary so let’s all freak out.

It’s right around this time that people start getting a little huffy, because when I say “make sacrifices” they don’t mention the binge watch on Netflix, or the weekly phone call with a family member that just sucks the life and joy out of them. They mention the time with the kids, the bills they have to pay, the spouse who feels overlooked, the house tasks that need to happen. And they get defensive because they make this jump where I’m saying success comes at the expense of “the important stuff.”

Where I think people go off the rails is in how they define “the important stuff”, because when I talk to them, they list other people and other things. Their family. Their job. Their income. Their bills. They skip themselves.

Now maybe I see this because I don’t have a family the way they do, and I don’t have a lot of the bills they do, but you have to count yourself as important, because making that time to create a thing, making that decision to do more than just hobby around, is important.

Your book isn’t going to get out the door if you treat it like the ten other things you’d do if you had more time or more money. People aren’t going to even know that they can buy it unless you take the seconds or minutes to compose a message saying so.

If writing is a hobby for you, great, then relegate it to the time when Tiny House Hunters is over and just before you look at different flowering plants to put in the bucket in front of the house.

But if you want to make that transition from “this is the thing I do when I think I can, and I don’t take it seriously like that (more on that in a second)” to “I’m getting this book out the door, this is what I want to do, it’s important to me”, then Tiny House Hunters and those begonias are going to need to wait.

When the “take it seriously like that” part comes up, and it comes up quite a bit in my workshops and seminars, some people get upset. If this weren’t writing, if we were talking about you spending more time with your kids, then we’d talk about how you’re gonna have make that effort to do more with them on a regular and consistent basis, even when initially it feels super weird and your brain throws off a ton of excuses about why you can’t. But you have to agree that you can’t say you’re committed to spending time with your kids when you’ve only added in an extra 3 minutes every other Tuesday just before they go to bed. That’s an insult to the concept and a disservice to your kids.

I don’t see much difference between that and writing.

Maybe it’s in our definition of “serious.” To me, a serious writer is someone who sets time out of their day, every day, to do something that advances them towards their goal. If they need to be writing chapter 11, they’re doing it. If they need to communicate with people to build an audience, they’re going for it. Maybe just one thing, maybe both, maybe fifty other things. But they’re not screwing around and talking more while doing less. They’re doing what they want, they’re taking the steps, they’re not letting the excuses keep them back. How are you defining it?

All this is good, but this isn’t the practical side. People bring that up like they’ve trumped me, and the truth is I don’t know your schedule, I don’t know how you work, so I can’t give you (the non-existent) one-size-fits-all schedule. What works for me does so because I can divide my time a certain way to play to my strengths. I figured out this schedule because I was honest about how I spend my time, and took a guess as to what I thought I could do about my goals within that time frame.

I wrote down all the things I did. I spent a Saturday breaking down my not asleep hours in 30 minute segments. I tracked what I ate, when I ate, how long it took me to eat, how long I dicked around on Facebook, how may times I stared out the window. I wrote it all out. I didn’t judge it, I just documented it.

The judging came later, when I looked at my schedule and saw all the places that could get trimmed or changed. Gone was the 35 minutes on Facebook during breakfast where I vainly hoped someone would tag me and say nice things about me. I cut my “number of stares out the window” from 30 to 26.

It’s not like I gained hours. I didn’t. There weren’t hours to gain unless I shifted my sleep schedule and gave up the go-to activities that relax me. But I was able to repurpose those minutes so it felt like my plate – the way I was spending the day – got bigger, because what I was doing was more productive.

Instead of 35 minutes reading about people complaining about politics or social inequality or sharing pusheen pictures, I got 35 minutes to read a book about how to write. Or 35 minutes to read a chapter in a biography. I could sneak in part of a podcast, so I started my day with a laugh rather than a “oh good grief, this is what people are complaining about today? Can they just not be the center of the universe?

Your writing isn’t going to be revolutionized by hurriedly and radically changing your schedule. That sort of massive transformation can often be an impulse, a knee-jerk reaction to perception or anxiety, like a fad diet over a weekend so you can wear an outfit on a Monday. Those changes aren’t often sustainable because you can’t mistake a burst of energy for the inertia of routine.

We talk about “having so much on our plate”, when it’s our plate at the buffet of our own design. These are our choices and their consequences portioned out to us on our plate. Here’s that eight hour chunk of time at the job you sort of like and stay at because it allows you to take those two weeks off and go to Vermont. Splat. Here’s that relationship with the people you grossly disagree with that you maintain only because you’re afraid to jettison it and get flak from other people. Splat. Here’s a heaping helping of impossible goals you set because you want so badly to be praised and be successful while making other people happy so that you aren’t abandoned or ignored or belittled. Splat.

I’m not saying give up the job. I’m not even saying give up the negative stuff that you’ve built into your day to day life. I can’t ask you to do that. What I can ask you to do is look at your experiences, look at where you are, look at where you want to be, and exercise some portion control. Where you likely want to be, what you want to do, that’s going to call for a little less time doing A so you can do a little of B, since B better gets you towards your goal.

Yeah, it’s your buffet, and it is all you can eat, but you gotta be willing to say no to extra spoonfuls of the stuff that doesn’t get you where you want to be.

I’ll see you guys Wednesday. Happy writing.

 

 

Support Within The Echoes

It’s Friday. I assume you’ve begun appropriate celebrations, be they pants removal or really luxurious visits to office bathrooms, or writing out the plurals of various acronyms when you’re supposed to be paying attention to a sales meeting. (No really, pay attention, those fourth quarter projections look scary, and I think someone needs to do a little something to synergize and optimize their workflow, if you know what I’m saying.)

Today, while you’re reading this, I’m trying to relax. I can tell you that I’m probably not relaxing, that I’m worried about a whole pile of things, and probably anxious about being worried. I do that sometimes, and even when I take vacations, I worry about taking the vacation and missing time away from the routine I’ve built – video games, my dog, the random trips to the fridge for water, the staring out a particular window at particularly annoying kids doing particularly and spectacularly stupid things without a chaperone … you know, the usual stuff.

When those feelings rise up, when I start worrying about worrying, when I can’t relax despite even instruction to do so, I go find support. And today we’re going to talk about support as creatives.

There are loads of places you can go for support. There are friends, family, religious groups, communities of people who share interests, fan pages, websites, forums, and social media. You can talk to someone who likes what you like, someone who thinks along the same lines you do, someone who has been in the spot you’re at and who can be encouraging or constructive when you need them be.

But, for every great avenue of support available, there a few absolutely terrible places masking their awfulness under the veneer of being helpful. Places that rally a victim attitude, or cater to the negatives, or distract and discourage through buzzwords and social pressure. These places don’t actually support you. They restrict you. They pen you in. They make you feel like you’re joining a group of like-minded people, but then they don’t want you to leave that group, because then someone somewhere wouldn’t have you to complain to or about.

That’s not to say that every place has an ocean of crap you have to sail through before you find the paradise island. Assuming that is no different than assuming you’re forever going to be climbing a lava flow uphill barefoot, with Lego blocks wedged between your toes. The doom and gloom brigade runs their banner pretty high, and it’s easy to forget there’s a sun shining behind it.

A supportive community is only as good as its contributors. You know that saying about monkeys, typewriters, and Shakespeare? Similar to that, you can’t take twenty unhealthy unhelpful unkind people and expect them to be bastions of wonder and support. Remember that unhealthy seeks out and feeds on unhealthy, propagating a culture of demolition and inadequacy over one of encouragement and development.

So, when looking for a community, here’s some stuff to look for:

1. How good are the good people? Is their advice sound? Not if you agree with it, because you don’t have to agree with all of it (but we’ll get there in a minute), but is what they’re saying orderly and rational? You’d be surprised the number of echo chambers that exist on the interwebs where people toss around all kinds of specious and vacuous ideas about why they can or can’t or must or should do this or that: Lizard people; invited malady masking legitimate mental issues; planets existing in certain positions in space that somehow mean they’re affected; a certain number of sugar granules spilled on the kitchen counter; a shift in invisible energy-wave particles making it harder to sit back and receive rather that broadcast, etc. etc.

2. How bad are the bad people? In every group, you’re going to find people who aren’t just super negative, but aggressively detrimental. They’re caustic and corrosive in their encounters and the gravity of their negativity warps everyone around them. This isn’t just “stay away from Carl until he’s had his coffee”, this is “all the person does is complain about how someone should do this hard thing for them because entitlement/victim complex/because reasons of special snowflake-ness.”

Now I’ve framed these first two points as good/bad because I mean good/bad relative to your desired goal. If you’re in a writing group, and you want to produce the best manuscript possible, then “good” anything that progresses you and “bad” is anything that retards you. This isn’t about identity, orientation, gender, age, location, social economics, race, persuasion, or flavor. This is just about progressing towards a goal. If you’re going to conflate good and bad along those identity lines, I suspect the problem would then not be with the community but rather the filter and lens you’re using. (Not everything is grand battle unless you go make it one, remember)

3. What’s the rhetoric like? I’ve been in groups that I now regret being a part of, thanks to an atmosphere I co-created as a member. I’ve been in groups I wish I could return to but the zeitgeist has collapsed and people have moved on. In all those cases, there was a vocabulary and common communicative thread tying things together. The same jargon, the same phrases, a common cirriculum or mindset reinforced from tons of angles and points. This allows groups to reinforce rules and normalize (even incentivize) behaviors because “it’s cool to do/to say that because you’re a member of XYZ.” And that’s great … to a point, but when those rules shift or you change and you’re now distanced from that group, it can be very hard to break back in, partially due to the rhetoric and connective threads. Look for groups that are as welcoming to new members as they are gracious to exiting ones. Look for groups where the encouraged behaviors align with that stated goal of yours. If the conversations or efforts always derail because Susan has to keep bringing something up from three weeks ago since it’s further evidence of some people not being worthy of group membership, think twice about participation.

4. Is it an Us vs Them? What’s the culture like? A lot of groups form out of the ashes of other groups. Former members, excised cliques, and castaways band together because Group A couldn’t or didn’t want them. This separation creates the idea that one group is superior to another, despite shared goals. But now there’s an axe to grind, because management was wrong, or they disagree on operations, or whatever else. Too easily a group can fall into an Us vs Them philosophy (I maintain a few myself, thanks to my own attitudes, fears, and disagreements), but while that can be periodic fuel, to prove other wrong by your efforts, it can be just as exhausting or demoralizing to seeing others succeed with you just looking on. There’s only an “Us”, if you remember that there’s plenty of room at the table for everyone to succeed, so long as we don’t start competing like our individual success is subject to collective rarity.

5. How comfortable can your contribution be? Since you’re about to develop, join, and ideally improve this support network, you’ll need to contribute to it by doing more than just raising the membership count. So, will it be difficult to do that? Are there a lot of hoops? Will it be an chore because (as in some places) regular contributions are not just expected but required? A support network is only as useful as its interactions and benefits. If you turn to a group of people and they actively exacerbate your problem (and no, this isn’t the same as telling you what you don’t want to hear), how supportive are they going to be if your situation takes a downward turn? There have been times I’ve had legitimate crises and not talked to certain people about them, despite them being ideally suited to help, because I knew that along with the help, I’d get a lecture about how I should have not had the problem in the first place. And that’s not supportive. Which brings me to the last point …

6. Does how you define support warrant affiliation with this group? Support is defined as “providing assistance often but not limited to moral or psychological aid”, since a group that encourages you to make progress may also show you some techniques or ideas to help advance your progress with less difficulty (as in the 4 people you consult for cooking advice could suggest cookbooks or recipes for that fancy dinner party you want to throw). The specifics of moral and psychological aid though are left open-ended. What supports me may not support you, for any number of reasons. And if a particular group isn’t benefiting you, you don’t have to stick around with some false hope that one day they’ll get their act in gear. While the extrication process may not be as simple as “stop going to a website” or “delete your account”, you don’t have to maintain attendance in any group that actively makes your life suck. You matter enough to take good care of yourself, which means you matter enough to be able to pick and choose your associations.

I do want to wrap up with one last point that you might be thinking: But John, if I’m going to this one group of people over here for help, will the people over there be upset or judgmental?

You have zero control over what other people do, or what conclusions they draw. If they want to say since you talk to person X that you’re a terrible person and shall forever be blacklisted, then I’d point that it says a lot more about the blacklister than the blacklistee there. If you’re friends with A and that makes B upset, then honestly, B needs to understand that B is not in charge of you, and that B doesn’t get to choose your friends for you, nor should they. Be friends with who you want, even they disagree with your other friends. Be a member of any group that helps make your goals and dreams happen. Seek support from people who actually want to help. You deserve that.

For an example of a group that’s trying to get off the ground, and would love to see you there, check this out.

See you next week. Enjoy your weekend. Happy writing.

The Hole In The Bucket

I love the beach. The sand, the salt air, the occasional screech of a gull, the rushing water that sounds like applause. The first day I’m at any beach, my nose runs nearly all day, and I spend far too long, squishing and unsquishing my toes in the sand, feeling very pale and wondering if everyone can see just how dry and winterized my skin became since I was last at a beach.

When I was a little boy, it was my responsibility to carry a small bag of beach toys for our family’s day at the beach. My parents carried chairs, umbrellas, a bag of books and towels (wherein my mother had smuggled margaritas and a juice box or four for me), so along with my miniature chair, I carried toys. I have very fond memories of the red and blue straps on that bag, and the bright yellow shovels and buckets I bought with my own money at the “beach store.”

There were 4 items in this set, and it was my job to not lose them due to forgetfulness or rising ocean tides washing them away. I protected those toys with my life, they were the precious to my Smeagol, and I remember making sandcastles just to perch the toys on so that the water wouldn’t take them away.

One particular bucket though, had a small hole in it, at the seam where the base met the sides, at about 11 o’clock, if you’re looking at the bottom. The hole would later bloom into a full gap, but in this particular story, it was just a weak seam. The result being that any ocean water you’d put in it, you’d leave this trail behind as you walked the very far (nine strides) path from ankle deep water to where our blanket and umbrella were set up.

Except I didn’t realize that the bucket had a leak. Everyone else could see it, and they pointed it out to me, but I didn’t catch on right away. So in the end, I had maybe a third of the water I intended, and a great deal of frustration and shame.

Because this was my bucket, and it didn’t work right. I didn’t really care that it cost my 35 whole cents, I didn’t care that I had to give the lady (she was 16, that’s like forever-old) five of my shiniest pennies to pay for it, I just knew that like its owner, this bucket wasn’t like every other bucket.

When my mother remembers this story, she brings up a part where I said this bucket was betraying me, but I don’t remember that. I remember the crying. The abject weeping that my bucket didn’t work and that as a result, anything I did with it wasn’t good enough, and therefore I wasn’t good enough. I remember standing in that sand, as a storm rolled in, in my neon yellow t-shirt and Miami Vice lime green bathing suit, balling my eyes out.

Bucket wasn’t good enough, sandcastles it made weren’t good enough, I wasn’t good enough.

This logic seems so reasonable to me, even thirty years later, that I should probably be retelling this story to my therapist and not my blog audience, but here I am, and if you’ll indulge me a bit more, I do swear to have a point to this.

See, I have this problem, and maybe you can relate. When my work gets knocked down, when it’s not good enough, when it’s poorly received, it wounds me rather deeply. I am still that little boy on the stormy beach, although I long since replaced that bucket with a wireless keyboard and editorial experience.

Such was the case this past week, and while I’ll spare you specifics, I will say this: my work was not received well, I was professional about it, and I absolutely was beside myself with a sense of worthlessness and the fact that yet again, I have a bucket with a hole in it.

I thought my time as an editor was done. Honestly, for a good two hours one day I sat and looked for day jobs that didn’t require heavy physical labor. I was ready to go wash dishes or sweep floors, or just plain shut down everything and wait for my heart to stop beating. I thought that would hurt less than the pain I felt at having my pride gutted like a tuna.

I take my work quite personally, and as it’s the best thing I’ve ever done (as I am not married nor have any children), I identify as someone who does good work. No, not good work, great work, I do great work, when I’m not addled by time or meds or stress or worries that work is about to disappear like summer tourists when a shark shows up.

My heroes are or were writers to some degree. Bon vivants, raconteurs, elitists, good people masquerading as ne’er-do-wells, literati, and natural debaters or trend buckers all. I’m not going to be able to be like them without a bridge and permission slip built on the back of my hard work, so when the work sucks, I suck, and my idealized best life pulls a few steps or miles away.

No that’s not the healthiest approach, but when have I ever claimed to be the picture of health?

Maybe you saw these tweets earlier this week: dontgiveup

I wrote those the other day, while trying to work through the sense of hurt that still sticks around my edges like spilled cheese on potato skins.

I have to keep moving. Even when there was a hole in the bucket, I had to get some water onto that sandcastle to pack it down, to make it stronger. Some water is better than no water, I’d get told, and just keep going.

But as an adult, while some success is better than no success, when your identity is tied to your success, and you pin your life to it (how you’ll support yourself, how you’ll feed your dog, how you’ll afford to replace the socks the dryer ate), a weak seam in a bucket doesn’t make you think about the way the bucket was joined in some machine in some Indonesian factory sweatshop, but rather that YOU picked this stupid bucket and that YOU are a stupid bucket-picker who isn’t worth caring about about. And oh by the way, you gave up your five shiniest pennies to someone who didn’t appreciate them the way you did. Nice job.

This is the battle. This is the fight I tell people to keep fighting. This is the battle I keep fighting. I don’t always pick the best buckets, but my beach toys are my responsibility, so I carry them everyday. I don’t always make the best sandcastles, but I do my best.

Is that good? Does that punch my card so that every 12th unit of love is free at the love store? I don’t know. I have no idea. I have to hope so.

Because it’s beginning to dawn on me that no one’s going to tell me whether it is or not.

Yeah, I had a rotten week. Yeah, I wanted to chuck it all in. Yeah, I didn’t feel good enough or qualified to even tell someone where to put a comma.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t. Not just because  I still have the most amazing clients, because there are future clients out there. Because there are still good stories to tell. Because I’m not done. My goal in this business is not just to help people make good stuff, it’s to show people that they can do it, even when they’ve got so many buckets with so many holes, and they think the only thing they can do right is quit.

You don’t have to. You might have to change some things up, you might have to teach yourself some new stuff, you might have to challenge some assumptions and beliefs you’ve entrenched, but you don’t have to stop being creative.

What did I do? Scoured Amazon for books on passionate businesses, memoirs, and biographies of successful people. Why? So I can not only dissect and build a list of possibly good practices other people enacted (so that I can tailor them to my own experiences), but also so I can see the writing. How the words fall into each sentence, where they impact, how they impact me, how they synchronize and interlock to paint a not-always visual image in my head.

I got a book on intellectual property. I bought a used cookbook. I bought a book about the history of punctuation.

The point I’m trying to make is that a bucket with a hole in it is still a bucket, so fill it back up, and get moving again.

It’s hard to do: getting a blog up and running again, worrying about the spelling in tweets, making sure you’ve got the right stuff on the calendar. It feels new again, but not in that shiny fun new toy way. But I keep telling myself it’ll get better. I’ll get back into a comfortable groove. I’ll probably get my ass handed to me again, and I’ll probably pull back for a few days and unfuck myself, but I’ll head back down to the ocean, leaky bucket and all, because I really love making sandcastles.

See you guys later this week.

Happy writing.

 

Stop Aspiring, Start Doing

I’m an aspiring author.”

I hear those words a lot. I read them a lot in tweets and emails. And we’re going to talk about them this morning.

Good morning, welcome to Friday, good job getting through another week. Got any good weekend plans? I’ll be playing video games and editing manuscripts, which is a pretty good time. Oh, and I might treat myself to a steak.

Today we’re going to talk about aspiring, and why that word isn’t doing what you think it does. Because I don’t want you to be aspiring, I want you to be doing. Doing what? Doing whatever it is you do creatively.

So many people talk about aspiring, so let’s look at the definition first. Here:
Aspire1Aspire2Aspire3

Aspiring, from what I get in these 3 definitions, is wanting to do a thing or having a plan to do a thing. I don’t see in these definitions the actual effort, just the preparations.

There’s nothing wrong with preparation, it’s how we improve and effort towards success. But preparing to do X isn’t actually doing X, and that’s the important point.


I want to take a second to point out that moving forward from aspiring to doing can bring a lot of people and their opinions into whatever you’re doing. They may say things like “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” or “Are you sure you want to do X that way?” or they become some sort of oracle when previously they had just been critical. Take their feedback with a few handfuls of salt. Critics are not the boss of you. It’s okay to move forward and do the best job you can, even if that job requires time, patience or learning some new stuff. You’re allowed to make mistakes, and you’re allowed to get better. Okay, sidebar over.


We use aspiring to talk about stuff that hasn’t happened yet, but we’d really like it to happen. As if we’ve placed the order with a server, and we’re waiting on our entrees. This suggests that what we want is subject to external forces, and while that is partially true depending on circumstance (selling a million books means a million books need to be produced), the bulk of what we aspire to do is within our ability.

Maybe it’s not automatic. Maybe we’ll need to raise money, get training, change a habit, start a new habit, talk to some people, take a risk, fill out a form, get on a plane, write an email, or whatever. But we can still do those things. We’re not wholly incapable of performing the task, it’s that we’ve mentally resigned ourselves to a position where we think we can’t accomplish the task.

It would be expensive to travel. Equipment to do that thing is expensive. Getting something done takes time. You don’t know who to talk to. What if people laugh at you? What if other people, society, the universe, determines you’re awful? Note: It’s been pointed out to me that awful people can run for President and get their party’s endorsement, so don’t give up hope.

We imprison ourselves in a little comfortable low-risk cage, with shackles made of fear and excuses and projection. We could be doing stuff, but “our place” is over here where we don’t let ourselves take whatever steps necessary, or even take the steps beyond those. Because we might fail. Because we might be rejected. Because we might find out we’ve wasted time or money.

Says who?

Who’s going to laugh at you for taking that vacation? Who’s going to think you’re a failure because you’re taking noticeable steps towards your goal? How is making an effort the same as failing?

It’s time to stop aspiring, and start doing. This is how we got to the moon, landed a dishwasher on a comet and know what DNA looks like. This is how we created national parks, got a black guy elected, and learned that graham crackers get even better with chocolate and marshmallow.

But how? How can we excise this word and this idea out of our heads when we see it repeated over and over?

We prove it wrong. We prove it to be an inadequate descriptor of what we’re doing.

We’re not just people staring out the window, diddling around, with big hopes and blank spaces. We’re creatives. We make stuff. We tell stories. We make art out of cheese. We shake our moneymakers. We hammer metal into shapes. We do stuff, sometimes with pants on.

Every day, every chance you get, not just when convenient, not just when you remember to, do something substantive that gets you towards your goal.

A writer? Get more than 1 word on the page. Aim for multiple sentences. Not revising them. Fresh ones.

A maker of stuff? Sketch, prototype, develop.

What I’m saying is do more than just think about it. Do more than fire up the imagination and wouldn’t-it-be-nice engines. You can make this stuff happen.

No, not right away, nothing happens right away. It’ll take time. But you have time, more than you realize. And you’ll accomplish the goal, you’ll get where you want to be, you just need to make progress.

No, it won’t always be easy. Some days you’re not gonna wanna do anything. Some days you’ll feel like you haven’t done nearly enough. The goal is going to look a million billion miles away.

But that’s when you look at the work you’ve done. The actual work, not just the time spent thinking or staring out the window watching the neighborhood pass you by. See the words on the page? They weren’t there before. See the sketches? They didn’t poof into existence. You did that. You took a step forward. Good job.

And celebrate when you take that step forward. I know, it’s not the goal, but if goals were only one step away, you probably wouldn’t be lamenting them not happening, would you?

This is all predicated though on taking your goal and breaking it into reasonable steps. And the key there is “reasonable.” Reasonable means not only a manageable size given the current time frame and all the other stuff you have going on, but it also doesn’t require extraordinary intervention. Winning the lottery so you can pay off your crushing student debt is not as reasonable as say, having 2 and not 3 drinks when you go out, so that eleven dollars doesn’t leave your checking account is reasonable.

Your goal shouldn’t always means an end to your life as you know it. Sometimes, yes, it can, if you wanted to become a monk and live in a cave, you probably don’t want to living in downtown Seattle going out to microbreweries every night. But on the whole, you can develop incremental steps towards your goal (those steps are goals themselves, don’t forget), where the rest of your life doesn’t detour.

My point is, you don’t have to keep aspiring. You can go do it. One step at a time. Set up your own steps, and make your goal happen. I believe in you, even if I’m just a guy on the internet blogging three times a week and tweeting a lot.

 

Have a great weekend, happy writing, I’ll see you back here Monday.

The Tease Of The Bookshelf

So, it’s Wednesday. Middle the week. Hump day. That day where I always feel like it’s too early to make weekend plans, but that if I don’t make those plans, I’ll let it go too far and miss out on something.

First, let me take a minute to thank all the new people who have come to the blog within the last few weeks. I am sincerely thankful for all of you, and if given a chance would write you all emails expressing how much it means to me that people even take a few minutes to read my words. My reach is never something I understand, but it is something I’m very eager to expand. Sort of like a toddler, or a small drunk dictator. I suppose there’s very little difference between the two.

Second, let me give you an update on #FiYoShiMo. If you’ll look at the toolbar, you’ll see a FiYoShiMo index page. That’s a whole list of links that will take you to each post in the month. Yes, I know day 2 is a pdf, but that’s because WordPress is a jerk, and I have no idea where the post went. The entirety of the posts exists now as an MS, which I’m busy polishing (read: fixing the internal links so they’re text, and formatting) and my next goal is to get it proofed and start querying. I’ll be putting everything from the querying process onward on the blog as a series of posts. It’s been far too long since I was in the publishing trenches, and I’d prefer to be in the thick of things and not upon some pedestal looking down. I may fail, I may succeed, but no one will be able to say that I didn’t try.

On we go to today’s topic, which was suggested to me via Twitter conversation. Maybe conversation is too broad a word, it was more: “Hey John, write something about this, I’m struggling with it.” And the good news is that I struggle with it too, so I’m going to spend some words expressing my own experiences. I’m hopeful you’ll find a parallel in your experiences. Maybe together we can work this out.

So I’m writing this from the upstairs office (read: the computer in my bedroom) of the house. I could have written this in the actual office in the house, but I didn’t. I could have written this on my phone, and then I wouldn’t have had to get up from the couch, but I didn’t. The majority of my writing takes place in this chair, on this machine, and it’s so ingrained me as a process that writing anywhere else feels awkward and even a little scandalous.

The problem with writing in this room (aside from the fact is that there’s no fireplace and no couch), is that there’s this bookcase on my right. It’s currently a post-holiday mess, as I haven’t filed away any of the new books I’ve picked up over the last month, and I haven’t cleaned up the spilled business cards from my last convention. It is an obelisk to and a microcosm of my writing career – crammed with material, often in need of organizing.

On those shelves are all the books written by the people who influence and inspire me. Some are friends. Some are authors deader than disco. Some are clients, or were once. I look at that bookshelf every few sentences when writing. Because it is one of the many lighthouses by which I orient myself. Yes, I have several in my life. We’ll talk about that some day.

That bookshelf is where I go when I need a boost. It’s there when I don’t know how to structure something, it’s there when I need a reference. All useful stuff. It’s a bookshelf, it’s a tool to aid me, and also it keeps clutter off my floor.

But stacked along with all my references and notes, is anxiety. And to be blunt about it, envy is a jerk. Anxiety is a huge fucking jerk, the amalgam of every bully, every blowhard, every abuser, every torturer you can imagine. And that’s because anxiety is armed with a barbed nagyka of self-doubt.

Anxiety uses it competently to flay the nerves, skewer assumptions, and scourge confidence.

And here’s how it happens.

So you’re writing, or you’re thinking about writing. Maybe there are words on the page, maybe they’re still forming semi-orderly lines in your head before they paratroop down screen or page. All things are going well. You’ve got something to drink. The dog doesn’t need to go out. The phone isn’t ringing. You’ve got a good playlist queued up. No one’s knocking at the door. It’s go-time, writer. Time to make the words happen.

In that instant, in that small moment of pause between one word and the next, you catch the faintest whiff of worry. You have words down, your fingers are dancing over keys, but the pace is slowing. The worry grows. The writing stops. Your stomach does a little toddler’s tumble. And so begin the questions.

Is this okay? Am I good enough to do this? Is this going to do alright? Will an editor shred this in their toothy maw? Will anyone buy this stuff? What the hell am I doing? Crack crack crack goes the flail. In those wounds, already festering and raw, more self-doubt seeps in. Until you’re comparing yourself to other people. Until your fingers aren’t on the keys. Until you’re unsure of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

Now this is even before we can talk about anxiety burgling its way into your head when you’re not writing. There’s material there for a dozen lifetimes of blogs by a thousand billion people. I’m looking at the panic, worry, and doubt that comes when the words are supposed to be coming out.

I look at my bookshelf, and see the names. Would I ever be as good as them? Would they recognize me as talented? Would they let me into whatever fantastic club I believe them a part of? Am I good at anything? Will I leave a legacy like theirs? Am I shouting into some void? Would I be better off moving to some orchard and picking fruit? (I bet I’d be a great orchardeer, or orchard caretaker, orchardtaker or whatever)

There was once I time where these thoughts would send me angrily to pull the shelf down, and throw the books every which way in the room. There was a time when I’d write a very large “Fuck Everything” on social media, or any media and just go play video games and sulk. That anger has been pulled from me, with regular leeching of comfort and wisdom. And I’m thankful. Because now I get to sit here and see the anxiety coming. Now I maybe know what to do about it.

See, I don’t know if I’ll leave a legacy. I have no idea if anyone but a few people will remember me when I’m gone, let alone remember me fondly. I have no idea if there’s a secret good-writer club. I don’t know if some of the people whose books are on my shelves know I exist.

It’s hard to say that I don’t care. Because I do care. I just try not to care so much. That’s not easy. I know it’s not easy. But it’s what I need to do to get my fingers back on those keys. It’s what I need to say to myself, over and over, even out loud, even at meals, even just before I post to the blog, so that I assure myself that these efforts aren’t lost.

No, no, this isn’t some blather where I’m seeking your praise. Sure, I’d love some right now, but I’m trying to be objective here, don’t you see? The answer to the anxiety is reassurance. We can debate whether it’s best from yourself or others later, the fact remains that reassurance from somewhere is often enough to kick anxiety to the curb.

So I look to my lighthouse again. And yes, there are plenty of writers to be envious of there. Book after book share the same names. But tucked between them, there are the books I worked on. The things I’ve done. My name may not be on many covers, but my name’s in there. Reassurance.

Here’s where you tell me, John, I’m just (WHOEVER YOU ARE)) and I haven’t been published. What good does your lighthouse do me? All I have are these books by other people, and I feel so small and insignificant.

And I will say to you – the act of writing is reassurance. Yeah, I know, it’s not as reassuring as being published, but I’ll tell you that plenty of people I know have been published more than once and they’re never coasting on some idea that they’ve “made it.” There’s that hunger, that drive, that hustle. (We’ll talk hustle Friday)

Do whatever you can to reassure yourself that what you’re doing, what you’re making, belongs on a bookshelf. Even if it’s your bookshelf. Maybe you go play with your kids when you’re done writing for the day. Maybe you go look at SpongeBob porn (I just found out that was a thing). Maybe you go into the backyard and stare at clouds. Maybe you play Spider Solitaire until your fingers cramp. Whatever you do, whatever balm you can provide yourself, go do it.

And then go write. One idea, one word, one step at a time. You lose your bearings, you look to that lighthouse, you look to that waiting reassurance, and you get back to writing.

Let’s make a deal. I’ll believe in you, you believe in me, and we’ll go shake anxiety down for its lunch money and buy tacos when we’re done writing for the day.

You’re good enough to do the amazing things. You’re good enough to write what you want. You might need help, it might take a while to write what you want. but you can do this.

Don’t give up. You’re not alone. (maybe I’m saying this as much to myself as to you) Go write.

See you Friday, when we talk hustle.

Some things to do now that you’ve read this post —
Check out the Google Community where you can congregate with other writers doing writer-stuff.
Want more John-words? Got a few bucks? Check out Smashwords.
Find me on Twitter, and see what I’m talking about today.

Starting The Year Off

Blank pages and I never had this relationship before. I didn’t think twice about them. I never became aware of their size. I never courted their infinite potential. They were just the space where I put words. They weren’t scary. They weren’t ominous.

So when I spent the whole of December filling them, day after day, the blank page was just this workspace. It had no greater meaning to me than a legal pad or the notepad I keep in the kitchen to write grocery lists.

But then I took a much needed day off. Technically, it was a weekend off, as I’m rewriting this post on Monday morning. There was a post here, but it was raw and a little desperate … but we’ll get there. I took that day off, and looked backwards. That’s not something I normally do, but we’ll get there too.

Reflection is a trap. Reflection can lead to nostalgia, envy, comparison, and a host of other distractions. And into that trap I fell.

The blank page of the blogpost became prison and torturer all at once.

To fight it, I did what I always do, I did what I tell everyone to do, you go spit in its eye and you get to work. Writing with that edge of proving the doubt wrong. Full throttle, no brakes.

Now I could tell you that just bull-nosed slogging through that moment of doubt or fear fixed everything and I’m all 100000000% back on track, but that would be a lie. Sure, making my fingers put words on the page helped there not be a blank page, but reflection doesn’t just evaporate just because you do something.

Oh no, reflection takes the words you’re making and snacks on them. It sees what you’re doing and (if you’re like me) it starts to compare them to other words. Maybe other words you wrote, maybe other words other people wrote.

Now I’ve done some checking and I am not Tesla, Pressfield, Doyle, Wendig, Stout, Miranda, McKee, Dawson, Baker, Henry, Engard, Balsera, Hicks, Macklin, Edison, Ford, Foley, or King. I am none of those people. I am a guy in a bathrobe that smells like woodsmoke. I am a guy who sees success like it’s a light at the end of a tunnel. A tunnel that I’ve been running like a marathon, with both my legs chained together, dragging behind me the assorted cement covered ghosts those who doubted me, adults who abused and infected me with doubt and fear, a number of rejection letters, professional faux pas, and unspoken envies and regrets. One foot in front of the other. I feel the ghosts clawing at my shins and ankles. One foot in front of the other.

What I’m saying is, I see what other people are doing, I look at what I’m doing, and I often feel bad about what I’m doing. It makes me melancholy. It makes me desperate. You won’t see the blogpost that I originally wrote, where I went on and on about how much pneumonia sucks. You won’t see the stream of consciousness I needed to exorcise from me. That was the frustration and vulnerability and fear taking my ideas and tinting them.

Sure, it was a good post, some of those sentences have so far been repurposed here, but this mess of reflection and comparison feels like quicksand. Struggle in it, become aware of it, and you’re going down.

And because now I’m aware of it, the blank page is white quicksand.

When that pull grabs you, when you start going under, you start grabbing at anything to stay afloat. For me, it’s shocking transparency and raw honesty. Tell the world how I’m hurting. Tell the world how tough, hard, scary, and grim the world can be. Talk about mental health. Talk about poverty. Talk about health care and heartache and fleeting happiness. Be vulnerable, so that people won’t just read my words, but they’ll feel something. They feel something, so I’ll feel something.

That doesn’t stop the quicksand, it still pulls, but at least then I’m not sinking so quickly. But I’ve lost something along the way. It’s not terribly “professional” to be talking so horrifically about the downsides of being me. It’s not encouraging for people to come hire me if I’ve spent blog page after blog page talking about chest pains and hospital visits. It’s not the start of a great working relationship if I get angry at one group of people for not hiring me while I do get the chance to work for another group of people.

So what to do?

I go look for the magic sword. mastersword

There’s this moment in Legend of Zelda, where your little guy is wandering around the maze of woods, trying to get his shit together, trying to overcome obstacles, trying to keep going (does any of that sound familiar?) and eventually, after a few adventures and some hard work, you come to this clearing and there’s this sword in a stone. You of course have recently discovered the ability to wield said sword, because quest logic, so you yank the sword from its pedestal, and it’s go time.

Armed with that magic sword, you are ability to mow down your opponents and feel pretty sweet while doing it. It’s a pretty awesome sense of accomplishment. I’ve always liked that moment. It’s wonder this little warrior guy doesn’t slice his thumb off, but he does alright.

To find my own magic sword, I go find things that inspire me: today it’s a hardcore wrestling match where I watched a man fall twenty feet and not die, and a little boy building with Lego, and turn that perseverance, turn what those things mean to me, into my own I-can-do-this magic sword, which I get to wield because it’s my own damned magic sword.

Armed now, I go attack the voices in my head that tell me I don’t know what I’m doing, or that I’m not good at doing whatever it is I think I’m doing. I stab and swing and carve a swath of “Go fuck yourself, voices” into that screaming chorus of no-one-loves-me-and-no-one-could-because-look-how-bad-I-am-at-doing-things and I equate bad with failure with wrong. So of course I need to stab the ever loving hell out of those ghosts. There’s good work in me, I just need to get this crap out of the way first.

All this came from the reflection, remember, from taking time away from writing daily. I see this, I hear the voices, I swing the sword, and say to myself, “To avoid doing this on the regular, I should probably stop reflecting, I should probably stop stopping.”

Yeah, that’s a completely reasonable solution (that’s sarcasm). Swinging from one extreme (go full super work) to the other (do nothing) is not a solution for anything that isn’t turning on a light switch.

Which means my only option is to put the words on the page and keep trying.

I don’t know how to be that ideal professional. I don’t know how to blog “Effectively” according to Pinterest articles. I don’t know how to do a lot of that stuff.

What I do know is writing. Word craft. Story structure. Creativity. Words.

So let’s spend 2016 getting better at things. Let’s go together on this trip where I go get FiYoShiMo published. Let’s march through lessons about writer’s block and story structure for bad TV and movies. Let’s talk professionalism and audience building and good networking. Let’s have a laugh at the number of stories I have that start with, “So I have vague recollections of meeting this person when I wasn’t sober…”

Let us make 2016 a year where we do good work together.

And don’t worry, I’ve got this magic sword.

 

FiYoShiMo – Day 26 – Revisions!

Note: I know in the original outline this day was called “What Comes Next”, but as you’ll see, I changed it for a good reason.

I’m assuming that for this last week of FiYoShiMo your manuscript is done, or nearly done. “Nearly done” is at least 80%, for the sake of today’s topic.

Oh right, this is the final week of FiYoShiMo. And today we’re talking about revisions and editing. Yes, we’re going to talk editing on the editor’s blog. Weird, I know. But we’ll get through this together. I have confidence in us. And in your friend’s mom.

The First Thing I Look For When I Edit –> Consistency in Names
Technically, the first thing I do with a manuscript is read it all the way through, just to make sure it’s complete and to see if there are any giant glaring errors or red flags that prevent me from going forward (see below).

For the moment, let’s assume the story is complete and there aren’t any huge problems. I read it through, probably in chunks over the course of a workday, or printed out and triple-spaced while I hang out on the couch with a cup of tea and the dog.

Depending on the length or complexity, that read can take between a few hours or a few days. During that reading, I make a list of all the proper nouns – character names, location names, object names. Then I go back to the MS on the PC and count the number of times each name shows up. If character A is named “Tom” 390 times (I’m making up numbers), but then turns into “Steve” 1 time, I know to flag it. Likewise if a named thing (city, power, object, whatever) changes names, I know it gets a comment.

The Second Thing I Look For When I Edit –> Arcs
Every character of substance in the MS should be on a journey, from a start-state to a changed-state. And their progress should be trackable, not necessarily quantifiable. I don’t need to see 3% growth every chapter like the character is a mutual fund, I need though to be able to see the character moving in some direction based on their actions, philosophy, motivations, and intent.

Then I make sure the plot goes somewhere, and that the characters intersect with that plot. A plot that doesn’t move, or it slows down without reason, or characters that don’t engage with the plot (or just in general) all get flagged with comments.

The Third Thing I Look For When I Edit –> Sentence Construction
We all fall into patterns when we write (or speak). When you start seeing someone use “really” (it’s my example) in paragraph after paragraph, and then you notice that every paragraph happens to be three lines long, and that each line has a comma followed by an “and” … and that there are more “I” in the sentences … You see where I’m going with this?

It’s a function of the fact that I’ve been doing this over half my life. I see patterns. I like patterns. They’re very telling. Was something written by a man or a woman? Have they gone to college? How much? Are they a parent? Is this their first book? What bad habits do they have? These are some (but nowhere near all) the questions I can answer by reading the first few pages. (Ask any client of mine, they’ll tell you about it)

Sentence construction can also lead to problems in grammar. Incorrect tenses of verbs, misused punctuation, weird structure, and spelling all get checked at this point. Comments begin to swell here if they haven’t already started to.

The Fourth Thing I Look For When I Edit –> Character Engagement
Okay. There’s this thing called a “Mary Sue.” Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe not. It’s used pejoratively to describe any character who is too perfect and goes unchallenged regardless of situation. It comes from Star Trek fan fiction (seriously), and involves a lot of wish fulfillment or the projection of a “strong” character who can handle everything.

Maybe you’ve been to the movies lately, and seen the Internet burble forth some applesauce that a certain female character in a very successful space opera franchise that involves a distant galaxy in the past with laser swords is a Mary Sue, because despite having a limited character history, she seems pretty capable in any circumstance. (I danced around some spoiler stuff there)

She isn’t a Mary Sue. She’s just a character who’s capable of doing stuff. Compare her to pre-existing characters, she’s pretty much on par.

No, this isn’t where we’re going to talk about how “it’s about time for a woman to be strong”, because that’s not what FiYoShiMo is all about, we’re just looking at how the character is going to connect to the audience. This character in particular DOES connect, and I think will continue to do so in subsequent films. In this regard, her gender is not relevant, since she’s not a character with an active sexual agenda, and she’s demonstrated to be an equal or peer among the non-female cast.

Does that address the charge that she’s not challenged by circumstance? Not entirely. I can answer that though by saying this: We didn’t expect the other protagonists to be out of their depth, and we never claimed they were Marty Stu (the male equivalent of Mary Sue). Being a “fish out of water” doesn’t mean a character is a quivering mass of incapable gelatin, it just means they’re in a new circumstance, and the only thing they can do is apply the skills they do have to their new situation. It’s what a character does, regardless of gender.

This editorial pass is all about concepts like Mary Sues. Does Character A (and B and C and however many more) feel realistic and could a reader connect to them? Even if they have powers or abilities or stuff that the reader doesn’t or couldn’t have, is there some avenue for the reader to invest?

The Fifth Thing I Look For When I Edit –> Good Parts
I realize that I’ve spent about a thousand words talking about how I look at the wrong stuff. But even the manuscripts I send back to authors saying, “This needs way more work”, it’s not all bad. There are good ideas, they might just be poorly expressed. There are good characters, they just need more developing. There are good things. I do call them out in separate comments. They’re worth mentioning.

There are additional passes for dialogue (does it sound like a person would say this?) and pacing (how quickly does the plot happen, is it sensible), but I could spend another thousand words detailing all the different passes I can do, or I can talk about the big giant red flags.

THE BIG GIANT RED FLAGS

No one is perfect. No draft is perfect. Mistakes happen. There are plenty of chances to change things, plenty of chances to make new decisions. A writer is never without options. And that’s all important to remember when these red flags come up.

Red Flag #1 Dull characters doing dull things for no discernible reason.
We all get a good laugh out of how Seinfeld was a “show about nothing”, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Your characters should be sufficiently developed that they can do stuff and we figure out why they’re doing it. Ideally, they’re doing whatever they’re doing because the plot requires these things get done, or because the character believes that they need to do them so the plot can get done.

The good news is that you can fix this by making the character(s) and/or what they’re doing more interesting, and the motives for doing whatever clearer. Yes, it requires you to make some decisions, so maybe don’t do this while you’re shotgunning cold medicine, but this is fixable.

Red Flag #2 A plot that gets resolved too conveniently.
The saying “No driveups in the third act” works for a reason. The later you introduce something into a story, and the more that thing does to resolve the story, the less satisfying the story becomes. This is why it’s so important to build the characters and their efforts over the course of the story, not just reach some arbitrary page number or chapter and dump the big action in there.

Don’t rob the reader of the satisfaction of the ride the story takes them on.

Red Flag #3  Dialogue that sounds like it came from ransom notes fed through a paper shredder, then Google Translate, then shredded again.
People talking is supposed to sound like people talking. I don’t care if those people are aliens or robots. Or sentient yeasts. If you want the reader to connect to them, the character(s) need a bridge to them, and how they speak is ONE of the ways you build that bridge.

So read your damned dialogue out loud. Then let someone else do it too.

Red Flag #4 Unnecessary and confusing elements that are just there to show to someone (no idea who) that you (the writer) are “good enough” to be a writer.
Ever want to watch me lose my shit? I mean, as much as a guy with a heart condition is medically able to freak out? Show me writing that’s embellished with flashy, poorly crafted, even trendy elements.

Look, just because ((FAMOUS AUTHOR NAME HERE)) writes ((FAMOUS STORY)) this one particular way, does NOT mean you have to write your story that way. Yes, really. Even if you and AUTHOR are in the same genre. I swear.

You’re good enough to write. I know this, because I’ve got your manuscript in front of me. You made it this far. Your “good enough”ness is not in question. Don’t listen to the fuckstains and dipshits who convinced you that you’re only good enough when your book is on some store’s shelf. You get to decide what success is for you. Always.

And that also means it’s your decision as to how you tell your story. No, I don’t mean you get to invent a new verb tense or poorly break all the rules. I mean you get to do your best, inside (and outside) of the rules, to the best of your ability. Tell your story your way. Your best way.

*

I’m going to always advocate that once you’ve gotten the manuscript written, and you think it’s complete, get an editor to look it over. No, not your friend who you have lattes with while your kids eat their socks, although she can read it too, but I mean AN EDITOR. Someone with training who can take your MS from where it is to where you want it to go.

It’s not a sign of failure that you need to ask for help. It’s a sign of strength, recognizing that you’ve gone as far as you can, knowing what you know and doing what you do. To take those next steps, you need help. So get some.

Tomorrow we’re going to talk about series, serials, and how to tell a story across multiple parts. I look forward to seeing you back here for that.

Ten Art Commandments

I have a less than secret love for hip-hop. I was in school during the East Coast West Coast rap feud, and I eventually went West Coast in it because I thought Puffy/Puff Daddy/P Diddy/ Penelope/P-whateveriddy was irritating, and I thought what he did to a Police song to “tribute” Biggie warranted him being exiled to a small Pacific atoll so he could think about what he’d done.

But my love for all things Dre, early Snoop and Death Row Tupac doesn’t mean I wasn’t aware of the Ten Crack Commandments. Now maybe it’s because I grew up very religious, but the idea of commandments always stuck out to me. In a world of such fluidity and turbulence, I’ve always been impressed that anyone can erect a set of concrete rules.

Writing and publishing is one of the most creative turbulent and dynamic industries I can think of, next to fashion. What’s popular is forever ephemeral, even if in some ways there are cycles as old things are made new again. And perish the thought that you’re wearing or crafting something out of style, although the hipster movement seems to keep everything around, either for irony or straight purposes.

So I spend a lot of time wondering if I can codify some concepts for creatives (alliteration!). Here’s what I have so far. My apologies to my religious friends, but I’m cribbing your format.

I. Your art is yours, not the audiences, not the critics. 

Whenever you make stuff, whatever it is, whatever you write, or art, that’s yours. I don’t mean selling it, I don’t mean signing publishing deals, I mean the creative engine under it. You create what you create because it pleases YOU. Critics are always going to find something to pick at (because they’re critics), and audiences are far too tempermental, so there’s little sense in trying to satisfy the unknown demands of an unknown number of people. Create for yourself.

II. Never get high on the critics’ lines.

You’re never going to please everyone. Never ever. Someone’s going to complain about the presence or absence of a thing, or a word choice, or a description. They’ll trot out hypersensitivity and words like “problematic”, and maybe some people will even take the time to explain what they don’t like, or spend their time trying to make you feel guilty for liking whatever you like. Don’t buy into it. Don’t drink their Kool-Aid.

The world is big enough that people can all like different things, and even disagree about it. And not be wrong in the process.

III. There’s no reason you can’t talk about what you’re doing.

I’ve tried for years to understand why people don’t share their writing. They hide the fact that they do it. They hide what they write. They hide their progress. They hide their failures. The usual answers I hear range from “If I talk about it, people always want to butt in” to “if I talk about it, someone is going to steal it”. To first one: See Commandment one. To the second: Who? Who is going to steal it? The person you’re sharing it with? Why would you pick that person then? Can you find another person?

Talking about whatever you’re doing is a way to demystify and destagmatize  the craft of writing and its practitioners. There isn’t a badge of shame to avoid because you’re writing something that will give someone else the vapors and cause them to blush at the church social. Being a creative doesn’t make you a pariah. Get out of the cave and share with the tribe.

IV. Communication is more than selling.

At my last check, I’m following 1889 people, and I’ve got 1444 followers on Twitter. I love Twitter. It suits my patience, my need for stimulation, and it requires concision. And while I’m not known for brevity, I’m pretty handy with effective word choice. So, I do a lot of tweeting. The frustrating thing for me is that not everyone uses social media as an avenue for communication. I suppose there aren’t any hard rules for usage, but I’m confident we’ve all seen messages like this:

 Hi! Thanks for following me! Check out this link for more great information!

Sure, the length varies, and that link goes anywhere from a shopping cart to a blog with some annoying popup requiring you to give an email address, but the concept is the same. Social media is SOCIAL, If you just wanted to broadcast the opportunity for sales, you would just need some strong SEO and a visually appealing website. If you’re saying, “John, the point of social media is to bring customers to my platform” then I’m going to make an increasingly displeased series of faces at you until you go sit in the corner. Platforms are for Mario to jump on. People are not automatically customers. We’re people first, and we all deserve to be treated as people even if we’re not in the mood to fork over the cash to buy your stuff.

Communicating with people, true audience building, is about sharing your experience and listening to the experiences of those around you, so that you can take all this information and let it further evolve your life as it all moves forward towards the hot or cold death of the universe.

And it’s not just the good stuff. Yes, sure, the good stuff when things are doing well is way more exciting and less heartbreaking to hear than the tales of insecurity, rejection, and disappointment, but as we’ll see in Commandment V, it’s not something to hide.

V. Share the good, share the bad, take them both and there you have … a theme song stuck in your head.

Your life, creative and otherwise, has good and bad moments. You totally find five bucks in your jeans. You forget why you walked into the kitchen. You spend a day writing a great chapter. You get told you have a terminal illness. It’s folly to think in that all-or-nothing way that you’re the only recipient of all the universe’s bad shit, because everyone else always seems to be talking about so many successes.

I see it all the time. So many people have great announcements of projects to do, projects completed, families starting, major undertakings succeeding, and big things on the horizon. And that announcement, while generating happiness, also brings in some envy (why and how are they doing these things and I’m not) and a sense of inadequacy (wait, they’re doing all that stuff, and all i have is this little stuff over here).

I don’t have a good answer for you. I don’t know how to make those feelings permanently vanish and never dog you again. The best I can tell you to do is that when you find yourself looking over the fence at someone’s far greener pasture, remember that while you’re seeing the verdant loam, what you’re not seeing at the roots and weeds. And because people aren’t likely to comfortably talk about the problems, it’s easy to look at your problems and compare them other peoples’ not-problems. Which isn’t ever going to be equitable. My illness, for instance, can’t be compared to someone’s announcement of a new job, because they’re not equivalent.

This is why I urge people to talk openly, bravely, even passionately about all the facets of what they’re doing. Is it going to drive people away? Maybe. Is it going to help someone feel better or maybe not alone? Maybe. Does that make it worth trying? Yes.

VI. Do not be afraid of the new. 

I think we are all creatures of habit. We like to do the same things at roughly the same times over and over. We like to eat certain kinds of food, we like to read certain kinds of books. We wear clothes in some styles and not others. For me, that’s t-shirts, jeans and warm, soft fabrics. Maybe for you it’s something dressy. I like to watch far more Netflix that regular TV now, maybe you’re all about America’s Next Top Whomever. I prep for work this way, you do it that way.

At some point though, when we trace our way back, we didn’t always do those things. Someone had to introduce us to these ideas before we made them habits. It’s normal to be scared when you’re trying new things. There’s the fear that you’ll be judged, the fear that you’ll fail, the fear that you’ll succeed, the fear that you won’t be as good at it as you hoped, the fear that you’l be let down if it sucks, etc. Often, we let those fears stop us before we even begin. We see the fear first, we decide to not try in advance. For all the talk we do about something failing, it might also succeed!

New is not a synonym of bad or wrong. New is opportunity, it’s a shot to change circumstances. It’s worth taking.

VII. Treat yourself well.

We have a regrettable trend of glamorizing and sensationalizing things that don’t need it. We say that drinking and drugs make us better, freer, writers. We say that mental illnesses are acceptable fodder for inaccurate portrayals that reinforce stigma. We say that in order to be as good as other people, you have to be willing to cross a lot of uncomfortable boundaries to earn success. We give attention to murderers and demagogues in equal breath. We discard material that might be hard to learn or hard to accept in favor of lighter stuff that has no substance but looks pretty. In short, we glut ourselves at the buffet of easy choices, cowardice, closemindedness, apathy, laziness, and cruelty.

We could treat ourselves so much better. No, I don’t mean you need to start eating pesticide-free lawn clippings and drink a varieties of liquids extracted from berries and nuts you can’t spell. I mean taking the time to learn craft, make better choices about what material we read and watch, make time to talk to each other without looking down at cell phones or monitors. We could be honest with ourselves, even when it scares us, and make those passions of ours a priority, rather than the thing that fuels our complaints, inadequacy, or daydreams.

You deserve every bit of quality living. Even as a “struggling” artist, you deserve to be kind and even helpful to yourself. Get rest. Hydrate. Share life with friends. Eat a cookie now and then. Make yourself laugh. Feel good about the slow death of all life on the planet that we stupidly recognize as autumn. Do the stuff you like without fear that you’ll be ostracized for it. There are enough people in the world seemingly eager to chase people out on rails for what they say and do and believe, you don’t have to join that circus just to get on your own case.

VIII. Remember there are multiple kinds of support

I suck at being taken care of. It makes me feel like a helpless child. It makes me feel weak. I don’t enjoy being coddled (see, I immediately call it being coddled, when all I’m picturing in my head is someone handing me a blanket). That’s just one kind of support. That’s the physical support we all need sometimes. But what about emotional? What about having people who listen? What about people who can celebrate successes? (If you want a central place for creative support, you might want to look here)

With so many people putting out material, using resources like crowdfunding and Patreon, it’s easy to see that support is financial first, before everything else. And yes, it’s great when you can support people making cool things and doing cool stuff, but cracking open your wallet and purse are not the only ways you can help people continue to do what they’re doing. Yes, it often gets framed that way because I have yet to figure out how to pay bills or cover expenses with love and patience, but that doesn’t discredit non-financial types of investment or support.

If you can’t spare the dollars, spread the word to your friends that there’s something they can check out. Take two seconds and write the creator a supportive note. Do what you can to strengthen those communal bonds, so that when roles reverse and you find yourself needing support, people know that they can reach back to you too.

IX. It’s not going to be perfect.

I don’t care what you’re doing. I don’t care what you’re mapping out right now. Doesn’t matter whatever it is. Doesn’t matter how ambitious or small it is. Whatever you’re doing, it’s not going to be perfect. Your draft will have typos. Your prototype might have squeaky parts. Your recipe might need an extra two minutes cooking time. Yes, eventually you can make a thing that exceeds every expectation, but nothing is perfect right off the bat.

So don’t hold yourself to the unrealistic impractical standard that it has to be. It’s not like there’s some rule we’ve all been trying to follow and fail that says we need to be perfect in our first attempts and drafts. That’s why revision and testing and second, fifth, tenth, two-millionth chances are things that exist.

Perfection is the refuge of the unrealistic and out of touch.

X. Don’t you dare give up.

Over the course of your creative lifespan, you’re going to face obstacles. You’re going to face rejections, critics, disinterested people who you just can’t persuade otherwise, people who want to tell you everything that’s always going to be wrong, people who want to mock you for even trying to make a thing, hard drive crashes, overbooked flights, financial insecurity, financial windfalls that you get a little too excited about, overcommitment, underemployment, frustration, deadlines, competition for limited opportunities, bad weather, illnesses, pets that demand attention when you could be making stuff, hunger, distractions, nagging spouses, children who just need to show you one more thing, legos to step on in the middle of the night, impatience, batteries that die just when you need them the most, cold streaks, hot streaks that die out too quickly, dayjob stress, anxiety, disappointment, tough choices, a lack of things to eat in the fridge despite having gone to the store two days ago, spotty internet connection, bills, phone calls that interrupt your workflow, fears, jealousies, petty people who want more attention so they can continue being victims, idiots, doubters, printers running out of paper, emails not getting read, dropped calls, stubbed toes, soreness, boredom, envy, anger, apathy, insufficient cookies, times where you forcibly have to wear pants, lacks of anything to say, confusion, brain freeze and about four trillion other things I can’t think of right this second. You’re going to face all those things, and you’re going to feel like you can’t keep going forward. Or that instead of walking a nice straight flat path forward, somehow there’s a whole mountain range in front of you. Covered in glass. With lava. And clowns. And you can’t find your shoes. And it’s snowing out.

Do not give up. Do not let the obstacles, no matter how numerous or sizeable, overcome that voice inside that tells you that holy shit, you are someone who makes stuff, and that stuff is good, and that people like that stuff. And you can do more stuff, new stuff, and even more people will dig it. You just have to try. You just have to put one word in front of the other, one brush to one canvas, one finger to one key, and just go do it.

You’re in charge of when you stop. You’re in charge of when you start. You’re in charge of what happens next. Always. Forever. Don’t you dare give up.


I’ll be back on Friday with Plot 201.  See you then. Happy writing.

Coaching, Its Benefits, And You

Good morning writers and creators of cool things, often with words. On Wednesday of last week, I announced the return of my Coaching program, and am happy to say that more than a few (certainly more than I was expecting) people have expressed interest. And although I answered everyone’s email over the weekend, I wanted to collate their questions and answers into a blogpost to talk more about coaching, why it’s different than editing, and what it can help you do. I’ve set the post up like an FAQ.

What is Coaching?
Coaching is editing and then-some. Yes, you end up with your MS worked on, but you also get a deeper look at the mistakes you commonly make, and most importantly why you’re making them and how to stop doing it going forward. Built on a simple premise that you’re always going to create better when you’re supported and when you’re aware of how you work best, coaching aims not to just produce a quality manuscript, but also produce a better overall writer (who produces quality manuscripts).

What are some things coaching can help me with?
(this isn’t a complete list)
Self-doubt
Self-rejecting (rejecting yourself before someone has a chance to)
Query letters
Proper grammar
Plot development
Character development
Procrastination
Transitioning from one genre to another
Transitioning from one writing style to another
Making time to write
Transitioning into other media
Finding inspiration to write new things
Dialogue
Finishing projects
Building a practical writing schedule that you actually enjoy following
Point of view efficacy
Correct use of tense

When does the editing happen?
The writing and editing happen WHILE the coaching is happening. (Not like at the same time, because I’m not standing behind you … or am I?) You keep working on your MS, we work on all this stuff together, as it comes up.

How do I know if I need coaching? Isn’t editing enough?
Editing’s enough if you just want to keep the focus on the current manuscript. Coaching is going to help you on the current one and the next manuscript(s).

What kind of editing happens during coaching?
It’s developmental, and it has to be. Just proofreading or even a line edit isn’t going to get to the hows and whys of writer habits.

Wait, remind me what developmental editing is?
It’s a comprehensive type of editing that looks at the MS in the broadest ways (who’s going to read it, what the author intends to do with it, etc), the craft ways (the characters, the plot, the dialog, the exposition, etc) and the technical ways (sentence structure, word choice, spelling, grammar, etc).

And what’s the point? Is this going to help me?
You’re going to get out of it whatever you put in. If you’ve been banging your head against the wall or desk about how you’re going to get yourself writing, or how you’re going to get your MS back on track if you’ve put yourself in a corner, coaching will absolutely help you. If you’re eager to get started and have no idea where, coaching will help you. In short – coaching can help you get writing, and writing well.

This sounds like it’s going to cost me an arm and a leg. Is it expensive?
As you can see on the Rates page, it’s $80 an hour. You pay for each hour of coaching, though if you want to  split the payment up, we can work that out. Just send me an email.

Is there a contract?
There is. It’s straightforward, and it spells out what we’re doing, how many hours we’re doing it for and all the payment particulars. It’s very similar to the contract discussed here.

As a client, how would we communicate?
We’d work in whatever way(s) work for you. Email, phone call, Skype, Google+ Hangout, Google Chat Window, In-person meeting (if you’re in NJ, parts of PA, DE, MD, NY, or CT) are all possibilities, though I’m flexible to others you may suggest.

When would the coaching happen?
We’d set up a date and time. I don’t do reminders, so that responsibility is on you, but we’d set up when a session would happen each time. I don’t schedule sessions on Sundays or holidays.

What if I need to cancel?
Cancel up to 8 hours before your session without a problem. Cancel sooner than that, and I invoice you for half a session. Exceptions apply, but don’t abuse the policy.

I get invoiced?
Yes, after every session, I give you an invoice.

$80 is steep for me. If I do half an hour, can I get a reduced rate?
Email me, and we can talk it out.

Is it possible to do a package of coaching?
It will be in the future (I don’t have that mapped out yet), but again, write me an email and we’ll talk it out.

What if I have questions?
Email or Twitter are the best places to ask them.

This Q&A is now also available on the Coaching page.


There are good coaches out there. There are bad ones. You pick the one who you think can work best with you. The goal isn’t just to feed you the same sort of info you can get with a quick Google search and then collect your money, the goal is to get you writing and get you writing better than you were before coaching started. That’s my goal – I want to see your stuff on shelves, in people’s hands, available for downloads, read in smoke signals and semaphore flags, or whatever you want to do with it. It’s your story, it’s your idea, get the best help you can to tell it.

As an editor, as a giver of workshops on writing and editing and publishing, as someone who pores over writing advice, it’s critical to me that people feel empowered enough to write. One of the most common questions I hear from people starts with, “Is it okay if ….” or “In my story, I have …” as people are just looking for the permission, the validation, to do a thing they think is cool. And yes, it’s cool that you did that. The word police aren’t coming to the door to take your keyboard and fingers away. As an editor and coach, my issue is not that you did it, but that you did it effectively, so it gets the desired result you want. I’m a huge fan of results and production, and I cast many side glances and headshakes towards those resources, people, “experts”, blogs, books, and videos that lose themselves in highbrow artsy discussions of what is or what isn’t writing. So many voices out there get silenced by the fear and doubt that some nebulous shadowy story-illuminate will decry their efforts because it’s not “legit”. Coaching isn’t about getting “legit”. It’s about remembering that you already are “legit”, and that there’s someone in your corner to keep you going.

You feel like you've been knocked around, it's my job to keep you fighting. I believe in you. You're no bum.

You feel like you’ve been knocked around, it’s my job to keep you fighting. I believe in you. You’re no bum.

I take this seriously. We can too easily make mountains of things to discourage ourselves, keep us from trying to do new things, keep us thinking we’re not good enough, or we’re too stupid. We are so quick to heap negatives onto our backs and in our minds that the positives become both mirages and oases in the vast wasteland of trying to get shit done.

It can feel a lot like this when you're trying your best.

It can feel a lot like this when you’re trying your best.

It can be tough admitting that you need help. It be can really intense and jarring to realize that you’ve reached some kind of limit and that you don’t know what to do next or how to do it. If I can tell you anything, it’s that you always have options, there’s always something that can be done, even if it’s unpleasant, scary, or embarrassing.

Writer, creator of things, you’re not alone. This is an opportunity to get your idea even beyond where you thought it could go. Taking control, not letting the doubt, fear, anxiety, frustration, naysayers, or lack of knowledge stop you is empowering. It basically makes you as cool as this guy:

Seriously, we all want to be this guy sometimes.

Seriously, we all want to be this guy sometimes. I mean he’s still wearing his pajama …

I’m here to help. I want to see you succeed. I think coaching is a great tool to have in your arsenal.

We’ll talk again Wednesday. Have a great day, write well, rock somebody’s face off.