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.

Social Media for the New & Anxious, Part 3

Good morning. Here we are on Friday, the day that for some will end with margaritas, pantslessness, and a few “Woo”s. If you’re among that number, I wish you and your liver all the very best. If you’re not going to Señorita Yolanda’s for their 9 shots for $2 happiest of happy hours, I’ve got some potato skins we can share.

Before we rim our glasses with salt and get ready to shout over Tex-Mex techno (this imaginary bar is of course infamous for Selena remixes), let’s continue our series on social media. I mean, we’re here, we might as well talk about something while we sit in offices and wait for the end of the day.

We’ve talked so far about being new, we’ve talked about what goes into a message, so let’s look at another thing that happens with social media – mistakes.

We all make them. And when we do, we’re all sure that death by immediate asteroid impact to the face would be preferable.

See, I don’t mean the mistakes where you accidentally send an email to Tom A when you meant Tom B, and they’re just too close together in your Gmail. And I don’t even mean the time you spelled a person’s name wrong, because those are trivial mistakes in the grand scheme of things, and they’re easy accidents. Any apology would be quick and simple.

No, I’m talking about the times you really step in it. Like when you write that email in anger and in that automatic way you click ‘send’ rather than delete. Or when you suggest that the someone enjoys sexual relations with their mother. Or when you pointedly tell someone to savor the flavor of your genitals to the point of orgasm in their mouth. You know, good proper gut-wrenching mistakes that can dog you.

Did you know I used to use Twitter as a fancy text messaging service?

Did you know that I once told a room full of actors they could all go have violent sex with themselves using broken objects because I didn’t like what they were doing to the genius I had spewed onto the page?

Did you know I once sent all the angry emails I used to store in my Drafts folder to all their respective addressees?

I bring these things up because I own doing them. Even if I don’t remember writing the tweets, and only have a hazy recollection of telling actors what to do (interesting – one of them went on to do several years on a hit TV show), I did these things. There’s no doubt. I wasn’t hacked by Russians or Republicans. I didn’t leave my computer on so my wacky roommate could take over. I straight up did really stupid shit that affected me personally and professionally for months and years after.

I say this because you’re going to make mistakes. Own them. You don’t have to flail and objurgate afterward, you don’t need to withdraw for a 60-day isolation period. No, you’ve got to one harder – admit you were wrong and sincerely make an effort not to do it again.

And no, it’s not easy. Responsibility is not always easy. But it’s the better path to take if you want to move forward and onward in a better way towards your goals and towards repairing relationships. Hashtag realtalk. Hashtag adultmoment. Hashtag burritoface.

See, here’s the thing about mistakes. Saying, “Yes I did this, and I’m sorry I did” (or the like) is actually a good thing. Yeah, there are consequences, and even after you handle them, some people might not be so willing to change their minds about you, but then again, you’re not in charge of how they think and you can’t control how they think. So, politely, tell that bit of anxiety it too can go have sex with itself on this Friday morning.

One of the problems with mistakes I’ve seen people make and am guilty of myself is that we sometimes inflate them to Macy’s Thanksgiving proportions. We enlarge and engorge what we did wrong, the assumptions we make about how the fallout will be, and what the appropriate punishment and restitution might be. It’s really hard to put a mistake into  perspective, because there’s an emotional component (“I can’t believe I did that!”) we need to first contend with – yeah, you did do that – before you can work the problem into a solution.

It’s also worth pointing out that there are going to be people out there who will spend a great deal of time, energy, and emotion giving you a lecture about what you did wrong, so that you understand the depth of your wrongness presumably so that you feel informed/guilty as to never do that sort of thing again. Rather than take a tolerant position that if you know it’s wrong you won’t do it again because you’re a human capable of understanding error, they break out a soapbox or pulpit to tell you what’s wrong while implying their fecal matter is without odor, or that they’re a better brand of person who could never make the same mistake as lowly you. This, to me, is applesauce and horsefeathers. We all make mistakes. The lectures can be spared and people can trust each other to do what’s right.

There’s a side note here that sometimes those corrective lectures come from an opinion, and we might not all agree with all opinions, but there’s a difference between recognizing that two people have differing views, and one person telling the other person that they’re subjectively wrong because reasons great and small. There’s nothing wrong with correcting an error, provided there are grounds and substantiated ideas to prove it was an error. (Again, we’re talking bigger problems not typos.)

Lastly, and often accompanying the lecture is someone saying publicly that they’re unsubsctibing, blocking, unfollowing or otherwise not engaging with a person who’s made a mistake. The publicity of their statement is often the telling element – why do they have to make a show of their action? What’s to be gained other than adding potential fear and shame to the mix? You, as the creative on social media who made the mistake in the first place, cannot control what other people do. You cannot and should not sweat the loss of one person because for all you know, people come and go without saying a word. Social media is a river with a current, and sometimes people float away. You’re not responsible for their actions or decisions, and you’re under zero obligations to keep them around. They want to go, let them go. Others will come. (Also, if these people are leaving over a mistake that other people have forgiven, and the majority of people have moved on, are you really concerned?)

This post ran a little long, so let me break out a TL;DR – you’re going to make mistakes. Own up when you do. Make the apologies and amends where possible, and move forward making every effort to be better. You can do this. I believe in you.

See you guys next week. Happy writing.

How To Talk About What You’re Doing

You’re writing stuff. I’m writing stuff. You’re making stuff. I’m making stuff. That lady over there is doing a thing. That guy you sort of have a friendly relationship with because you can both laugh over that thing on your commute is doing stuff.

Loads of people are doing stuff. Doesn’t matter what that stuff is specifically, it can be writing or making decorative candles or producing presidential busts made of navel lint or poetry or competitive gargling, whatever you’re doing, you need to know how to talk about it. To other people. Often out loud. Often in some other form of media.

There’s this weird switch that flips  when someone has to go speak in front of people. Maybe it evokes that social conscious fear of being vulnerable, maybe it calls back to our neolithic elders taking turns around the fire at the cave wall. Maybe it’s all about the eyes staring back at you, waiting with a pregnant urgency and some kind of unspoken need to have things communicated at them.

It’s a tangle of nerves, a flushed weight in the stomach, jellyfish and razor edged burning butterflies hacking and quailing in the guts. The air seems to be at once frozen and fiery. Your tongue grows fat in your mouth. Your voice cracks like someone dropkicked a bagpiper down a flight a stairs. Cue the possible vomit. Cue the cold sweat. Cue the stack of “uh” and “um” that you swear you don’t do. Cue the weak knee rumba.

Scary. Awful. Intimidating. Awkward. Terrible. While we seem to lose the dictionary for positive words about creation, we can draft plenty for how bad we’re talking about what’s created. I spend a lot of time thinking about that imbalance.

And that’s not because I’m somehow immune to it. I’ve visited many garbage cans and bathrooms en route to speak or seminar or play a game. Many porcelain gods received my offerings before and after many things I’ve done in my life. I get it.

Do you like doing that? I don’t. If you ever find anyone who likes doing that, please introduce me. I have many questions.

So let’s talk today about how not to do that. Let’s talk about how to build a better experience.

At the core of talking about what we’re doing, there are three concepts. There’s pride, an internal sense that we’re doing a thing well, because we’ve got tangible evidence (words on the page, yarn … yarned, etc). There’s doubt, that volcano of insecurity that our words and creations are crystalline and there’s a hurricane on the horizon. And there’s interest, the curiosity and want for the world to have whatever you’re creating in it.

Slide any of these elements up and down the intensity scale, and you’ll watch pride swing to arrogance or self-defeat, doubt leaps to blind surety or denial, and interest bound to obsession or avoidance. Why we move them in the extremes more than anywhere else is probably the subject of another post or another blog altogether, so let’s go past whatever arbitrary scales we can build, and talk practical things we can do.

Don’t lose that interest. Yes, you can think it’s a good or bad idea to go make whatever you’re doing depending on the minute or hour or day of the lifetime, but somewhere, at some point, you thought that what you’re working on should be a thing that existed outside the realm of your imagination. The world would be better with your story in it. The world needs your product. And that’s true. You should get your stuff out there. It would make the world a better place, and more importantly, the journey you’ll undertake to get your stuff into the world will substantially help you too. Also, maybe, you’ll make a few dollars, which can be helpful for buying tacos or paying for streaming video services.

There’s a passion under that interest. You may not acknowledge it, you may not believe it, but beneath the “I want to do this thing” sits the potential tinder to spark a fire to keep you making this thing even when it feels like you encounter “don’t do this thing” from all corners. There is nothing wrong with passion. Passion is half the caduceus along with ability when we’re talking about talking about what you’re doing. You have to steel yourself that your internal fire will keep you warm and ward off the predators and doubt that stalk the perimeter of your brain campfire.

How you light that fire, how you send flames skyward is up to you. Maybe you listen to a playlist everyday, maybe you don the writing bathrobe, maybe you look at yourself in the mirror and make action movie explosion sounds. Do something, proactive and out loud, to give yourself the permission to go do stuff and enjoy doing it. Yes, even when it’s hard. Even when you’re not sure where the course goes. Even if you hit a wall and you need to change direction or get some education. You’re still allowed to love what you’re doing and keep doing it.

And then keep doing it. I mean practice. Practice often. Write often. And if you’re about to tell me that you’re preemptively shaming yourself because you’re somehow convinced that no one’s going to like the thing you’re doing before you’re even done doing it, let me tell you the bread story.


You decide to have a fresh loaf of bread with dinner. You have time, you have all the ingredients, so why not? Bread is cool. So you follow your favorite recipe. You mix the dough. You set it to rise. You’re looking forward to making the kitchen smell awesome. The dough rises, and you’re super pumped. You got the oven ready to go. You put the dough in the proper pan, you slide the pan into the oven.

And then you’re gripped with the absolute realization that you don’t know the first damned thing about bread, that other people make bread that’s better than yours, that no one would like your bread. So you pull the dough out of the oven, about four minutes into baking.

It’s not even bread yet. It’s warm dough. Of course warm dough isn’t bread, it’s not done yet. But you’re absolutely certain that this dough won’t ever turn into bread, which is why you’ve stopped it from ever becoming anything more than some goop you hashed together some afternoon.

You deserve to have bread. Taking the dough out of the oven early so you can judge against fully baked breads is not going to do anything positive for you. Please let your dough bake. That’s how the bread happens.


In that story, replace “bread” with “whatever it is you’re working on.” It takes time to turn ingredients into dough, and more time after that to make dough into bread. Don’t get angry at the flour that it isn’t bread yet.

You’re going to make bread, yes, but you have to go through the steps. You have to spend the time. You have to put in the practice. Mix this. Pour that. Beat like it owes you money. If you didn’t want bread, why did you lay all this stuff out on the counter?

Ability, that other caduceal serpent along with passion, comes from invested performance repeated often. When I say “invested” I mean “not half-assed.” If you want crappy bread, do a shitty job following the recipe and see what happens. Since no one ever sets out to intentionally make bad bread (or bad whatever-it-is-you’re-doing), expect that practice to take time, sometimes be challenging, and to warrant exertion.

The more procrastinatory or anxious may be sitting here at this point saying, “But John, how do I know I’m able?”

Good news: you won’t know until you try.

Rehearse positively. This is the part of trying where people find themselves backed into a corner, but they still squirrel some way into lacking commitment. Sort of like when we dust. Sure, we do the big stuff, but how often are we getting behind that one piece of furniture in that corner of the room where no one ever even looks?

This is the object of your passion we’re talking about here. Are you really going to treat it (and by extension yourself) like that? Do you think so poorly of yourself, do you feel so undeserving of enjoying a thing, or (gasp!) even being good at a thing, that you find reason upon reason not to do it. How serious are you really then about making this thing?

Which means practice. Before I go speak somewhere, for days in advance, I stalk through the house going over my points. Before I blog, I talk to myself or the dog about what I’m going to say, what’s the best way to say it. I ask myself how my wordy heroes would say it. I craft chunks of it in my head.

Don’t let the editorial seizures consume you. This isn’t where you write a line, then delete it, write it again, delete that, then pick up your phone to check your text messages and wander into the kitchen for another drink. Rehearsing positively is where you do a thing with the assumption it’s going to be received well. Not tepidly. Not “ehh”. Well. Picture that however you like. Maybe that’s people saying nice things. Maybe that’s sexy pantsless happy times with people as a result of your creations. Maybe that’s getting cake.

When you prepare, do it with every bit of focus you can muster that what you’re doing is working.

Distinguish mistake from failure. You’re going to suck at stuff from time to time. You’re going to blunder through describing what you’re doing. You’re going to monkey some emails. Not all mistakes are proof from the great beyond that you never should have started doing whatever you’ve been doing. They’re mistakes. They’re opportunities to learn, change course, and try again. As we’ve discussed elsewhere, the ultimate decision to pack it all in and give up comes from you, not the outside world. You can thank that passion and interest mentioned above for empowering that decision and keeping it from the hands of any doubters who aren’t you.

Failures are few and far between. They’re the dead end in the maze, but where you don’t double-back and try again. They’re the great surrender. They’re weighty decisions. They’re totally separate from mistakes.

Mistakes are the errors we make because we don’t know better. Maybe you’ve never tweeted before, so you mess up your first few tries. Maybe you never asked a human if they wanted to chat, so you try to make a joke and it doesn’t land. These moments are temporary. It’s that bastard doubt that makes them appear monumental.

Yes, there’s a danger from compounding mistake upon mistake out of delusion or stubbornness, but that’s not the same as failure either. That’s a pile of mistakes and a lack of recognition that there’s at least one change to be made.

Mistakes do not last forever. They might hang around for a while, but remember that you’re the bouncer of your internal nightclub, so you can toss those mofos anytime you like. Failure’s forever. (Note: If you fail, then try again, it’s not a failure, it’s a mistake.)

Cover the obvious. If you’re going to talk about what you’re doing, and there’s a vocabulary specific to it (like names or verbs), learn the vocabulary. Learn how to use those terms properly, and learn how to express them in multiple ways. The more ways you can describe or apply that vocabulary, the more you’re going to assure the listener that you’re on firm ground, and the more you’re going assure yourself that you’re not duct-taped to the passenger seat of a garbage truck on fire as it plummets off a cliff into the dark ocean below.

This is also true for questions. People who aren’t you, people who don’t share your level of awareness or expertise, are going to have questions. Let them ask them. Don’t trot out responses that shut people down (so axe the “it’s not my job to educate you” and “you really should google that” from your response list). Someone’s question, even if you term it as off-base or completely screwball, deserves a response. That’s not necessarily a full answer, but you do have to say something other than “Go suck eggs and get that weakass interrogative out of my face.”

Prepare for questions. Make them part of the rehearsal. It will reinforce your comfort in explaining what you’re doing if you’re geared up to answer a question about whatever it is you’re doing.

Slow down to go faster. That panic and fear shoots us out of the gate at blistering speeds. We cram all the words together, like the oxygen is getting sucked from the room and the only way to get some back is to answer this lady’s question. So you open mouth and let fly. It’s a verbal firehose. It’s hard to understand. It’s hard to know what do to with the amount of information coming out.

Speed is a learned skill. It’s a sign of comfort with material. It’s a sign that you’re flexible with what’s happening. Have you noticed that when you were learning to write or bake or art or yodel or whatever, you started slowly, in halting steps? And then as you got more comfortable, you got faster? The same is true for talking about what you’re doing. You’ll gain speed along with fluency, trimming wordfat out of your explanation as it grows more clear and understandable.

Jumping and stumbling over your words, goofing up a tweet, missing that call to action in an email, they’re chances to learn and try again. You might be tempted to get in over your head, because you think maybe that if people see how much you’re doing (even if you’re doing it poorly), they’ll think you’re really really good at it. The same is true for going quickly. Instead of a vector of depth (burying yourself in so many things, getting so many plates spinning at once), you get an outward vector where hastily done material misses the quality mark, or invites doubt to come party when you’re not seeing the successes you want.

Want to get faster? Keep trying. Keep pushing forward for more progress. Go at a pace that’s just the right amount of challenge and comfort.

Admit newness if you’re new. This is one of those points where you can find some disagreement. I’m not sure why that is, but this seems to really divisive. There’s an attitude of “fake it till you make it” that this somewhat flies in the face of … but maybe I should back up and break this down.

“Fake it till you make it”, for me, has been horrendous advice, because I’ve never been comfortable faking something I don’t already have a knowledge of. It seems incredibly foolish for me to fake a thing I’ve never done before, risky in some way, especially because the things I’ve never done are often undone because they inflame some kind of emotional or mental issue with me. This is why I don’t go all in on teaching or why I never got one of them corporate jobs. Those things scared and rubbed at me the wrong way, so I didn’t pursue them. Naturally, I didn’t want to fake anything and pretend like that’s what I should be doing, because I fundamentally disagreed with them. And why fake anything? Why prop up any artifice, even if it’s to trick yourself? I don’t want to trick myself, I want to go do stuff and get better at it.

Which is why I advocate for admitting you’re new at doing something if you’re new at it. It doesn’t excuse the mistakes, it doesn’t white them out. But it does reduce the urge to castigate yourself for making them in the first place. Yes, you’ve never tried something before. Great! Anyone who gets furious with you that you’re not doing it right is a jerk, so don’t concern yourself with their opinions. Don’t dogpile on yourself because this is your first time. Everyone’s had a first time. Chances are, everyone’s had a second time too. And after you do whatever you’re doing, you won’t be as new at it. Keep doing it, get less new. That’s the beauty of the idea – you don’t trick anyone, you’re honest, you don’t fall into the thresher of doubt that you’re “supposed” to be at some level other than inexperienced. Just be patient, keep at it. It will get easier. You’ll get better at it.

*

Throughout these nearly 2800 words, I’ve used “doing something” (or some variant) a lot. Just replace “something” with whatever you’re doing or creating. And then talk about it. Wherever. Social media. In person. Both. Get a skywriter. Throw yourself a parade. Make the neighborhood kids get tattoos. Mow a billboard into your lawn.

Just talk about what you’re doing. You’ll get better at it the more you do it.

See you later this week for #InboxWednesday.

 

 

Some Thoughts on Professional Stuff

I’m writing this post in the throes of the weekend blizzard, punctuating each paragraph with a sip of cocoa and a disbelieving stare out a window upon a world that looks like some off-white hellscape.

Originally, I meant to write about the importance of determination, of being diligent, and of staying the course when so many voices (internal and otherwise) may form a chorus to chase you away from whatever you’re creating. And then I fell into a bit of a rabbit hole.

A friend of mine talked to me a bit about a situation he found himself in, where he received criticism for what he was doing (he’s an editor), and his critic was taking a roundabout way of saying he was exploiting writers and profiting from their newness in creating. It’s a completely bogus claim because my friend, let’s call him J, is one of the most forthright people I know. I don’t always agree with him, but I respect his work, and I think he’s smart enough, talented enough, and good enough, to help people create amazing things.

In reading what this critic said, it brought to mind a number of experiences and a number of frustrations I’ve encountered in the last two decades as a professional. Today, I’m going to detail some of them.

1 A freelance editor is not required if you’re going to submit your work to be traditionally published.

There is an editorial process that occurs during publishing, and it’s not a quick skim of a document and a cursory pressing of F7 in Word. There is no etched in stone rule that says you need to get an editor before you get published. I can’t make you get an editor. But I can tell you that if you’re serious about getting your work published, then you should be serious about doing everything you can to get the MS in the best shape possible before it leaves your hands to face some kind of judgment or decision about its acceptance or rejection.

If we weren’t talking creative arts, if we were talking cars, we’d be discussing how you go show off your car, and how you’d want it polished and tuned and waxed, right? You’d want it in its best show shape. Now you could clean it yourself, wax and buff each piece with a cloth diaper or a cloth of baby eyelashes or whatever car people use, or you could spend the money and have a professional service detail it. And likely, you’d justify that expense by saying, “I’m getting the car cleaned up so that it stands a good chance at winning a prize at the car show.”

Maybe you built that car by hand, laboring on weekends or late nights. Maybe you sunk a lot of sweat equity into the process. You learned things about refitting pieces, about upgrades. You busted your ass to make your car the best it could be. This is no different than what a writer does working on that manuscript. It doesn’t matter if it’s their first or their ninth, a manuscript gets built by the author a piece at a time, and there’s sweat equity invested in the production.

Do all you can to get your MS in the best shape possible so it can be sent off with the best possible chance for a positive reception. Often that means getting an editor. You don’t need to get the car professionally detailed before the show, but going that extra step might make the difference between the blue ribbon (or whatever award you get at a car show, maybe a gold wrench) and going home watching someone else celebrate.

2 An editor’s job can be accomplished by a good friend who reads a lot.

There is more to an editor’s job than reading. Yes, reading is a part of it, but there’s constructive technique also. Techniques about language usage, about understanding story structure, about being able to look objectively at components or looking at emotional elements dispassionately. I’m sure a good reader can point out that sentences don’t sound right, or that some parts of the story fall flat, but I wouldn’t expect that reader to be able to tell you what you can do to change it for the better specifically.

Likewise, that “good friend” may not want to be as objective with you as someone you don’t know. A friend is going to want to maintain that friendship, and that decision will often prevent the objectivity a situation calls for.

Oh I can’t tell Gary that his short story sucked, because Gary brings that chili dip to poker night.”

As before, the goal is to have the best manuscript possible, Gary’s chili dip be damned. So that professional you’re bringing in, part of the expense there is a level of objectivity. The editor doesn’t know Gary’s chili dip, and doesn’t know if Gary has a tell where he always exhales before he bluffs anything higher than two pair. Gary’s non-manuscript existence doesn’t factor into whatever the editor does. The job is to produce the best manuscript, no matter how nice Gary is. That requires a level of disconnection between Gary-the-person, and Gary-the-writer.

If the issue is that Gary won’t show his MS to anyone except a friend because he doesn’t trust anyone else to see his work, then that issue is Gary’s. It’s also an issue likely not easily solved with hugs and tacos. But we’ll talk trust in a second.

3 An editor can’t be trusted to understand what the writer is trying to do. The editor is going to change the MS (presumably for the worse).

This is the part of the blogpost where I really struggled. I can take this idea in two directions. I can say on one hand that a writer has to go into that working relationship with the editor knowing that the MS on the start of work isn’t going to be the MS at the end of work. The changes might be small, just commas. The changes might be deletions of text. But change is gonna happen. That’s just the nature of development.

On the other hand, I can come at this and say that the writer-editor relationship is not fueled or aided by ego. Both the writer and editor are presumably human, and presumably fallible. Thinking the MS is so untouchable and perfect is a trap that results in little productivity and high resentment.

If a writer cannot trust that the editor is saying whatever they’re saying with the intention of getting the best work out of the writer, then the writer needs to reconsider their expectations around editing. Editing is not sugarcoating or rectal smoke blowing. If a character is weak, if a motivation is unclear, if participles dangle, and plots don’t resolve, the writer can expect to hear about it.

Would you trust the plumber to fix your leaky sink? Would you trust the bus driver to deliver your kids safely to and from where they need to be? Yeah, you maybe don’t know these people intimately, and even if you vet them, there comes this decision where you have to trust this other person to perform the task set before them. If it doesn’t work out, if the bus driver is late, if the sink still leaks, if the editor is tough to work with, make other arrangements. That’s what contracts are for.

4 An editor doesn’t care about anything other than getting paid.

I can say with 1000000000% certainty that there are some real scumbag editors out there. I can say with 1000000000% certainty that there are some real scumbag publishers out there. There are people in this world who care more about paychecks than people, and more about a list of credits than a list of experiences.

Those people are the minority. Maybe for some people they’re the majority, because some people have only been operating in the figurative waters just around the pipe where the sewage spills out, but the rest of the body of water is far less murky and far less packed with weird lifeforms best left to nightmares.

There are good editors out there. Plenty of people who really care about seeing the writer succeed. As cheerleaders, trainers, sparring partners, collaborators, sounding boards, and whatever role the editor is tasked to play, the editor has an interest that extends past the invoice.

Let’s suppose you (yeah, you) and I are working together. It’s our best mutual interest for this working relationship to be successful. If we each do our parts, you end up with a manuscript you can publish. We work together on revisions, we go back and forth to get the words into their best shape. In the end, you’re satisfied with your MS, and I’m satisfied with how I helped you. When this works out well, maybe you tell people to look me up when they need an editor, and I’ll tell people to stay on the lookout for your book. People helping people.

There are the cynics out there who say what I just described is the unrealistic pipe dream, it’s the impractical daydream of someone who has never done “serious” work and someone whose opinion can be discounted and discarded because “the right people don’t know who I am.” There are plenty of people who look at my words, my Twitter stream, this blog, and say I rub them the wrong way. That’s fine. I am not out to be the world’s best friend. I am here to be the best me I can be. And quite frankly, maybe we could spend some time collectively trying to make the world less cynical and shitty, shake up the establishment and maybe, just maybe, see more success all around.

I don’t know anybody who says, “Oh I love what I do, but that whole receiving paychecks thing really messes up my day.” Yeah, I know many people feel they deserve more pay, but I don’t know anybody who says they hate getting paid. Yes of course, people like getting paid. But that doesn’t mean the only reason people do whatever they’re doing is because there’s a paycheck waiting.

5 An editor doesn’t need a contract or need to get paid because the writer has been working on this book in their free time, and no one’s been paying them.

Yes, an actual sober human said that to my face at one of my panels at a convention some years back. And as you’d expect, the panel was about hiring freelancers and working with them. This sober human then went on to say the same thing about layout people, artists, graphic designers, and any other freelancers I had spoken about at the panel, just so no freelance stone goes unturned.

I’d like to think I laughed. I am reasonably certain I made a face and insisted this person is entitled to their opinion before extricating myself from the room. I don’t think I told this person to engage in sexual relationships with themselves or with their mothers. I’m sure I was thinking it.

When someone does a job, they deserve to be paid in a valid form of currency as would be spelled out in a contract that details the structure of whatever work needs doing. Paying with “exposure” does not pay bills. You can die from exposure.

It’s shocking to me that some distinction happens where someone wouldn’t stiff the electrician or the dog groomer but they can find some corkscrew-y rationalization for not paying the people who helped them make something creative. It can’t be the lack of tangible product, because when the electrician is done, the lights work, and when the editor is done, the manuscript is in better shape. Maybe it’s a sense of entitlement that they should be paid for writing it, that publishing is some great bleeding of money, death by a thousand expenses. Whatever it is, it’s patently stupid and asinine.

Contracts help structure the working relationship. Someone does a job, they deserve to paid for their hard work. If the writer is about to balk that no one paid them, then they need to do something to reward themselves. Go get a sundae. Go to the movies. Drink root beer and watch monster truck rallies. Do something. Hard work gets paid, period.


Originally, there was a 6th item here, about professionalism, but I thought it would be better to address that one personally before we wrap this post up.

“Professionalism” is a big subjective concept that relies on a lot of expectations and assumptions. It’s something that I spend a lot of time thinking, analyzing and worrying about. I wasn’t always concerned with how professional I was, but then again I wasn’t always aware of there being much in the world beyond myself and whatever itch I needed to scratch.

I don’t have a big fancy office. I don’t wear a tie to work. I don’t work for a big publishing house. None of those things mark me as unprofessional. Rather than let some commute or dress code or address define me as a professional, I let me work do the talking. That distinction, for me, is a huge one.

Good work, and good workers, are worth the cost. You hire me, you’re going to get someone who wants to see you succeed, but also someone who’s going to use the word “suck” in a comment about what your character is doing on page 9, because it sucks. I’m also the guy who’s going to write “Oh snap!” in a comment when your heroine starts kicking ass, because that’s awesome.

I’m not an editron-8000, some robot that just edits dispassionately.  I’m John, a guy who edits. My professionalism is defined on my own terms. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put my bathrobe back on before I have another cup of cocoa.

See you for #InboxWednesday. There’s a great question queued up.

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.

 

4 Things To Look Out For

I edit things. I help authors make stories. I help authors make them better. I see a lot of manuscripts at a lot of stages in their life, and when I see mistakes, they tend to be pretty universal, regardless of genre or manuscript length.

Today I’ve collected four mistakes, offered examples, and have some ideas on how to solve them.

I. Skipping on the fundamental genre elements so that you can “stand out” or “write a book people talk about.”

Examples: A hero’s journey with no mentor; a western without either romance or a sense of scope and connection to the land; a dystopia with no sense of loss; a mystery without a clear crime

There are practical requirements based on the genre and type of story you’re telling. First-person means you’ll use “I” when talking as the narrator, in an action story, there’s always a moment where the hero is at the villain’s clutches. You can’t get away from these, because they’re central to the story’s development.

Not having these components will make your story feel “off” to a reader. It might be okay to read, it might be complete, but it won’t feel satisfying, it won’t engage or “click” with the audience. Yes, sure, people will talk about the book, but not in a positive hey-check-this-out way, more like an avoid-this-book-unless-you’re-trapped-in-the-wilderness-and-need-to-start-a-fire-or-need-to-wipe-and-you-can’t-find-pinecones way.

Novelty, uniqueness, distinguishing your story from others is important. And not just because agents, publishers, and editors tell you that it is, or that it correlates to sales. It’s important that your story be in its best shape if for no other reason than people are going to read it, and they deserve your best work, regardless of whether or not they’ve paid for a book or you’re emailing your friend something you scribbled down.

Omitting critical elements in a story and then wondering why the story doesn’t work is like trying to make ice and omitting the water. It’s not functional ice without the water. It’s not a functional story if you take out the building blocks.

As for what those building blocks are, they’re numerous, probably too numerous for a thousand years of blogging. You likely know them from whatever media you enjoy, you might not know their technical names, but you know the scenes where they really work – and the ones where they don’t. Technical names aren’t important, really. I mean, they’re helpful when we talk broadly about story construction, but it’s far more important that you can break your own story down into its constituent beats regardless of their label, since labels can be applied later.

Your story needs those foundational pieces, no matter how boring you think it may be to write a scene where people patch up their differences or ride off to gear up before shooting the badguy in the face at noon.

II. Far too many pronouns

Example: Madison looked at the sandwich on Dakota’s plate. She was hungry, and she knew it. While she was chewing, she thought she looked dangerous. With a sly motion, she slid a knife to her lap, ready for a fight.

Okay, that’s some lousy melodrama. Do you have any idea which character I’m talking about whenever you see a “she” or the “her”? I wrote it, and I barely could tell.

Too many pronouns isn’t increasing your casual relationship to your reader, it’s confusing. It’s really confusing. And a confused reader will try to keep up, but if they can’t sort out what the hell you’re saying, they’re going to go elsewhere.

The fix is both simple and hard. Instead of laying down a buckshot of pronouns, name-check a character here and there, especially when characters of the same gender are interacting. Yes, you can find some other ways to describe the character(s) – call out their physical traits, for instance – but if you only do that as your pronoun-alternative, you’re just making “blonde” or “the short one” substitute for “her”.

The tougher fix, the fix I tell clients to make, is write new sentences. Different sized sentences. Fragments. Big long sentences with clauses like kraken arms. It can be hard have that feel okay as a writer, so often we fall into patterns, especially when we get deeper into a manuscript. But it’s important for moving the reader’s eye down the page, giving them more words and ideas to engage with, and painting the clearest word picture possible. So, practice.

III. Mass produced, cookie cutter writing, heavy on the patterns

Examples: Looking at the number of sentences that have three to five words, then a comma, then three to five more words; how often “and then” appears in text; all the paragraphs are four lines long

Part of my job is pattern recognition. Patterns tell me a lot about a writer. I can often see how they were taught to write, what their attitude is as a writer, how they feel about what they’re putting down, how they feel about the reader, or even what they’re trying to avoid saying. We all have patterns. We favor some words more than others. Or certain sentence styles over others. These markers are fingerprints and illustrate critical elements that editing or even coaching can work on.

For many writers, this isn’t an issue. These indicators don’t stick out like sore thumbs and don’t dominate the story being told. Sure, if you scrutinize anything long enough you’ll find a pattern (for instance, how many sentences have I started with a single word followed by a comma?), but there is very clearly a tipping point where story becomes secondary to how the story is being told, because the constructive scaffolding is dominating the creative landscape.

The fix is to read more. See how other writers use the language. Do they let sentences run long, nearly to some imaginary breaking point, before paying them off? Are the sentences little staccato gunshots that punch their way onto your brain’s canvas? Do they let commas act like hinges in sentences? Do they love starting paragraphs with a word? Are many of their paragraphs seven lines long (I’ll wait here, you go count in this blogpost)?

Manipulation of language, using it for full effect, to the best of your talent, is going to connect you to readers far more than you think. Oh, it’s totally easy to churn out everything in four line chunks, but after reading that for pages, do you think a reader won’t glaze over, no matter what the words are?

IV. Thinking readability is a huge damned deal way bigger than it really is

Examples: Having some knowledge about what reading level the average consumer has and adjusting up or down to suit them; assuming that since the NYT bestseller list written at a certain reading level, that in order to get on it, you have to write at that level.

Readability or reading level was for many years a huge red flag for writers and English teachers. Even today, news outlets trot out charts and quick stories about how smart we are as a society, and maybe they do so with a sigh or with a chuckle.

Obviously I’m not saying your first grader is going to really enjoy the hell out of the New England Journal of Medicine article about accelerated foot fungus, nor is the college professor going to all swoony for Hop on Pop, but those are the extremes. And I’m not talking extremes. I’m talking the middle ground, where people hunker down in these unproductive trenches and hamstring themselves into apoplexy over whether or not they’re going to be understood.

Guess what? If your writing is evocative, engaging, and draws parallels to your readers’ experiences, you’re going to be understood.

When we talk readability, this conversation often comes to a crossroads – do I dumb down or stretch up?

Dumbing down is when you simplify your language. People think this makes them more relatable and genial, but do any of us like being patronized or belittled? Because that’s what people are doing with the simple and slow sentence structure that reads like it’s a pat on the head. Yes, you’re reaching a very wide audience, but so does screaming at a kindergarten class. Treat your readers with more respect, treat yourself with more respect, and if your word choice sends someone to a dictionary or the internet to look up a word, that’s NOT a bad thing to be avoided.

Stretching up goes the other way. Rather than writing something simple, every word (or as many as possible) get the thesaurus treatment so the manuscript (and by extension the writer) seem smarter.

Is it important for you to appear smart, dear writer? Is that why you’re telling the story you’re telling? Is appearing smart going to earn you that validation you’ve been hunting? Will you feel better if someone calls you smart? (Okay, you’re smart, now what?)

The tricky part here is that instead of patting your audience on the head, you run the risk of making them feel stupid. One or two words per manuscript that they need to look up is alright, but do scene after scene and you’re just showing off. And is that why you’re writing, to show off?

Tell your story your way. Don’t do the readers’ thinking for them, don’t assume them stupid or smarter than you, just focus on telling your story your way.

Keep writing. See you later this week.

What Finishing Noir World Taught Me About Life, Writing, and Everything

I finished Noir World on July 4th, and today while I celebrate my independence from putting new words or pages into it, I’m looking back at what writing 37k and making a game has taught me. It’s taught me a lot.

1. As a guy who doesn’t like when things end, I can actually finish things. I’m not a fan of endings or finales. I’ve never had a relationship end well (as in without some form of fallout). I’ve never seen a lot of last seasons or series finales, because if I don’t watch the ending, the characters and show can still go on. Yes, sure, I can finish things for other people, but that’s because it’s not my thing. I never thought I’d finish Noir World, I thought I’d be forever tinkering with it, since finishing a thing must mean that I must be good enough to do a job from start to finish, and I seldom comfortably think of myself as being “good enough”.

Finishing didn’t mean the ideas stopped, it just means the words stop. I still have plenty of mechanics I could write in. I still have loads of alternate ways to accomplish the same things. But putting them in there doesn’t do anything. It bloats the manuscript. It could confuse the reader, making it unclear which method they’re supposed to use to do something. It takes this idea I’ve worked hard to build and turns into an exercise of “Look how smart I am, see all these words I’ve written? Therefore you must accept me as one your cool kids!” and that’s exactly the feeling I’ve been trying to get out from under.

I’m proud of myself for finishing.

2. A project goes through so many twists and turns before it gets where it needs to be. This game started as a paean to Sherlock Holmes, involving far too many dice and far too many mechanics. It evolved into a competitive gambling game. For a few hours it was almost a card game. It wasn’t until I found a set of mechanics (that weren’t mine) that I liked and understood, that I could see the pieces coming together.

Once I gained the momentum of writing section after section, once I made the decision to go forward, I never came back to Sherlock Holmes. I’m sure I will at some point, but this game isn’t it. I don’t feel particularly broken up over letting the starting concept go, because the end result and its creative process have really produced good work that I absolutely stand behind. I thought I’d be more angry with myself, that I had somehow “failed” as a creator because the finished manuscript doesn’t really anything to do with the idea I first had fifty-something drafts ago. I thought that if I didn’t stay “true” to the genesis, that I could never finish the thing.

It was that rigidity that was keeping me from finishing. I was trying to force the idea into the text, trying so hard to show I was good enough (see below), that I forgot what was really important more than a few times – that I wanted to make a game people enjoyed playing, in an atmosphere and genre I’m incredibly passionate about.

I learned to trust myself creatively, but more on that later.

3. I’m a public guy with a private life. If you follow me on Twitter, and you compare different posts in my history, you’ll see a very changed guy. And not just because I’m not on drugs or drunk anymore, but because my life has had some ups and downs. I used to talk a lot about my personal life, who I was dating, what we were doing. I put a lot of that out there for reasons ranging from bragging to celebrating to pride. But it took this manuscript to teach me what real investment of time and energy is. I didn’t talk about all the nights I came home from dates and wrote a section to help me work through my feelings or my frustrations. I didn’t talk about the number of times I wrote and re-wrote a paragraph because I was distracted by some fight I’d had, or some rough night where my sobriety was tested by toxic people or some social politicking circus.

If you look at my Twitter feed now, I tweet less about my personal life. My health isn’t so great, and there’s only so many times you can mention a heart condition before it gets dull. It’s not that my personal life is all applesauce and buckets of awful, it’s just that I made a very conscious decision to avoid the pain that comes with sharing the vast and sundry details of one’s personal life in an occasionally hostile media climate. Wrestling with that transparency and the decisions of what to tell versus what not to have been difficult for me, but in erring on the side of privacy, I’ve found that I’m happier now. I can work on stuff without worrying about some fragile relationship erupting into stress, and I am altogether far healthier mentally than I thought possible. I like to think that because I spent more time dating (and being intimate with) this manuscript, I really found myself, and dating myself has been a good experience.

4. When you trust yourself creatively, you’re good enough. There are a lot of times I struggle with the idea that I’m good enough: good enough to be loved, to be hired, to be paid, to be cared about, to be listened to, et cetera et cetera. I’m coming around on the idea, thanks to some amazing people in my life and thanks to some tough decisions about cutting out unhealthy relationships.

Working on a game, and working pretty regularly on it, I found a real power in making sure every word and idea on the page were mine. And that they’re written in a way I like. And that they’re easy to understand. In making sure I was happy with everything on the page, and not rushing to “just get it done” or “just get it out there”, I had to learn to trust myself. That I was making smart choices. That I was capable of making smart choices. That my work didn’t suck. Sometimes that meant I had to think about the people who played my game, 99.9% of whom all had a great time. Sometimes that meant I had to think about the comments other people left on the draft, ranging from “Fuck yeah!” to “This is a really cool part.” Sometimes I just had to do that to myself, taking a second to applaud a really sexy paragraph or concept.

The end result is a sense that I do trust myself creatively, and that when i make a thing, it’s a good thing. In that way, I’ve finally found that “good enough” permission slip and access code I’ve always thought I was missing due to some irrational or low self-esteem issue. I can say that Noir World is a really good piece of work, and I have a lot of good proof to back that up.

5. My writing voice is clearer now. I know I can write snark. I know I can write profanity. I know I can write all kinds of stories or characters or plots. I know I can edit. I know I can help other people take their ideas and turn them into stellar projects that win awards and praise. I have been doing all that for a while now, and never really thought about how I sounded.

I can sound how you need or want me to sound when I’m editing. Often that means I’m sounding like the author when I’m patching up grammar and sentences. Sometimes that means I’m sounding clinical or dry. Sometimes that means I’m lobbing jokes in margins and sidebars.

Bits and pieces of that form my actual voice. When I speak, for instance, you get a little bit of everything. I curse. I make jokes. I make good points. I sound friendly. I sound authoritative. I wanted to make sure that all ends up in whatever project has my name on the cover. I choose every word and every sentence deliberately, crafting exactly the ideas I wanted. I know that some people will take my book and dissect it into components they’ll steal or discard, but that doesn’t change the fact that when you read Noir World, you’re reading me. My love for the genre. My sense of what’s important. My enthusiasm. I wasn’t always clear about my voice. But thirty-seven thousand words has a way of polishing a voice.

* * *

It makes me happy to think about the fact that not only are those my words in that document, but that they work when you give them to people, they can have the experience I intended. I didn’t sort of make a thing that kind of works, sometimes, when stars align and it’s a particular day of the week. I made a thing that people in THREE countries have tested, and loved. That’s a huge deal for me – proving that this thing I made works when I’m not even on the same continent.

It’s good to do things. It’s good to find yourself as you do them. It’s good to be true to yourself.

Happy writing, creating, relaxing, and partying.

Turning Obstacles Into Cheerleaders

Imagine this scene – You want to produce a play or write a book or paint or learn how to tattoo or make jewelry….something that is fun and rewarding but hardly super lucrative. Maybe you want to be an editor or play some role in the game design field. You’ll be happy, you’ll have fun, but you won’t be swimming in a money vault anytime soon. And maybe upon the announcement that you’re going down this new path, a whole chorus of voices is going to pop up and express their disappointment, or their doubts or their fears or guilt that you’re doing something “not on the plan”. Hearing these voices, seeing their faces, realizing that while you’re doing this creative thing you aren’t at some other job, or you’re not working with a whole lot of security or wealth options,  you get scared and call yourself “stuck” and don’t do anything.

That scene, in some way/shape/form happens to everyone who wants to deviate from the path other people have laid out before them, and everyone who wants to do their own thing, be they recent college graduates, new parents, new creatives or newly awoken from the Matrix. 
Lots of people feel “stuck”, which is just another word, a more muted word for “afraid”. 
It’s time to get unstuck. 
Now I can talk about this because I’ve been stuck before, and was often stuck for years on end, so it’s not like I’m speculating here. I’ll spare you the grim personal details (they’re more boring than melodramatic), but really it just comes down to some fears, which I’ll talk about first, then I’ll talk about the solution I found — it may not be your solution, but maybe in my sharing it, you’ll find your own solution.
So here now are some of the fears that get you “stuck”:
Fear of Rejection — Whenever we do something that goes out into the world and other people have the opportunity to see it, it is possible that some people may not like it. And from that idea of “some people”, we explode and expand it to all people, so basically “everyone” hates that thing you did. You start thinking to yourself “No one’s going to like this/ buy this / enjoy this / watch this / read this, so why the hell do I even bother doing it?” And then you don’t do it. 
Fear of Exposure — If you’re doing something, maybe a group project on a job, or maybe something with some partners, or you’re doing something with a hint of competition, you might run the risk of “being exposed”, which is a nice way of saying “People are going to figure out that I’m not as good at this as other people. They’re going to see I suck.” so either you don’t contribute or you pipe down about your contributions and play a bit part. You hold yourself back, sometimes going so far as to say that if you didn’t, people would see how much better you are at this, and think you’re an arrogant jerk. 
Fear of Disappointing Others — If you go do this creative thing, there’s a possibility your spouse/significant other/children/co-workers/friend(s)/loved ones/parents may not like it. They may scoff and tell you that with every step you take away from some other course of action, you’re failing them. So, in order not to avoid letting these people you love down (because you’re not supposed to let them down, right?), you don’t do the thing you want to do.
Fear of Failure — Sure you might go do something, but you might suck at it. Your products may not sell, people may hate you, they may sue you when your creation doesn’t do what they thought it would, they may chase you out of town with pitchforks and fire….so to avoid the inevitable fall of Camelot, you don’t undertake that creative endeavor. 
I’m sure there are loads more fears out there, but these are the ones I can speak of from personal experience. But, if you’re following me on Twitter or reading this blog, you’ve likely noticed that I am currently not-stuck in any facet of my life. Now before you get mad that there’s some sort of sorcery afoot, let me tell you that there’s two things I’m doing:
a. I’m not giving up
b. I’m turning obstacles into cheerleaders.
I think we can all understand not giving up. I’m a stubborn, obnoxious, bristly person at times, and when I lock onto something (a project, a goal, a desire) I do not easily let it go. And often I remove the chance to give up by running down the goal at a jillion miles an hour so there’s no hope of me slamming on the brakes and giving into the above-described fears. When there’s something you want to do, you just can’t give up. How else were you planning on getting the results you want?
As for that second bit, I can’t take credit for it. I learned it from an Australian DJ once. So just imagine item (b) with an Australian accent. (for the curious, it’s something like ‘Opstackels inna chairliters, mate’) It refers to the idea that when you’re surrounded by a crowd of doubt (real or imagined, actual people or just thoughts), you can turn that negative into a positive — you can make those fears into motivators.
Sure the easy way is to take on the fear as a challenge and say, “Oh yeah? Watch me!” and then you sort of compete against your fear, proving it wrong as you go forward. There’s nothing actually wrong with that, but it’s way draining to sit there and have to prove something to the people you love or the faceless “audience”. 
I say skip the competition. Involve those that hate or dismiss in your efforts, or cut them out entirely. There’s even a John Rule (#6) about it: “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.”
Okay, not everything’s a joke, but you can just swap out “joke” for “success”, because to them, the possibility of your success may be a joke. If people are really committed to disliking your work or your efforts, no amount of success-in-their-face is going to dissuade them. You could offer favors, barter, beg, give them whatever profit you make, you could give them the moon and stars, and they’ll still not like your stuff. Hell, some people won’t even LOOK AT your stuff and they’ll dismiss it like you just pooped on the Thanksgiving turkey.

Turning an obstacle into a cheerleader isn’t magic, or a trick or even manipulative. You don’t even have to talk to that obstacle at all for this to work. You just need to do the following:
i. Complete your project
ii. Be excited/happy about your project
iii. Share your project with interested people
iv. Repeat i – iv.
Rather than deal with the haters, the doubters and those who would guilt you, find the people who would support you. (You may call them “friends”). If you can’t find someone to support you (now admittedly I’m assuming that your creative endeavor doesn’t include making sacrifices to pagan gods, kidnapping babies from hospitals, robbing the elderly or kicking puppies), I’ll support you, just send me an email with ‘Support Me!” in the subject line (seriously, try it out.)
Let’s look at the steps.
i. Complete your project – This will abolish that fear of failure, because if something’s done, you haven’t failed at it. You did it. It’s the total opposite of failing. 
ii. Be excited/happy about your project – This will nuke that fear of exposure, because if you’re happy, there’s nothing to expose. What are people going to do, be happy with you? Your excitement is a powerful infection vector, and your job is to share your Outbreak monkey with the world. 
iii. Share your project with interested people – This will crush the other fears because people who like the thing you do aren’t going to reject it (or you) nor will they be disappointed because you’re giving them something they like. Key here is “interested”, so it helps to know a little about the sort of people you want to see your completed project (this is also called ‘knowing your audience’).
iv. Repeat steps – Originally this idea was “Repeat as needed”, but “needed” says to me that you don’t always want to share cool things with cool people, and I’ve never met a situation where cool people didn’t want cool things. Also, by repeating these steps you’re creating a new path of thoughts in your brain (that thing you’re in charge of) and training yourself to accept a new philosophy, one built on being happy and loving yourself for your successes, not living in fear of not-succeeding. 
If you do these things, and you don’t half-ass them, the things (the doubts, the people) who oppose (or who you believe oppose) you will transform into people who support you. I didn’t believe this at first, and thought  I had just found a Jedi Mind Trick (this is not the failure you’re looking for)…but really what I had stumbled into was a universal truth.
Here’s the universal truth, as I’ve found it — Your loved ones just want you to be happy and successful. They’re going to have their own views of success, as tempered and developed by their experiences, but their experiences aren’t your experiences, so they’re going through this with you (sometimes for the first time) too. If you show them the positives (the happiness, the success, the pleasure), they’ll support you. The people who bitch or dislike what you’re doing? They just wish they had the courage to do the same, or they’re mad because your success (even your efforts) has challenged their world view that you-can’t-succeed-and-be-happy-it’s-one-or-the-other. And since people don’t like getting their views challenged, they fight back.
So for me, it was my family and my relationships. I thought that if I really committed to doing what I wanted to do, they’d hate me for it. Now, yes, some of those relationships did hate me for it (because I didn’t have to commute to work, and because I didn’t/don’t deal with projects that aren’t interesting, because I’m going after my dreams rather than sitting in a crappy job or that I’m doing, rather than thinking/wishing/envisioning, what I want). But my family, they just wanted to make sure I had enough money to get by in the world and that I wasn’t killing myself a minute at a time in some depressed state. 
And every other fear lived in my head. I fostered these thoughts by being sort of a dick to people and making really bad choices that led to crappy consequences because I was more interested in appearing “the way other people do” rather than just being me. Now, looking at everything, it is SO MUCH easier to be me, and I’m way happier.
Does this system eliminate all the obstacles? Nope. I still run into bills that need to pay, clients that need to pay me, weird situations that I can’t fix, and roadblocks to awesome that are out of my hands (like seriously, I can’t do anything about the factory in Singapore going on strike and therefore not producing ink). But I’m able to get past the obstacles because I’m doing what I love, so as long as I can do that, I get sort of Teflon-y and everything slides off. 
No ink? That’s cool, I’ll just work on the digital version.
No extra cash to take a lady to dinner? No problem, let’s just stay in and cook. 
Company X didn’t send me a check? Company A, B, C and D did though, so it’s alright.
I leave you with this. 
and 
Happy writing.

What Not To Say To An Editor, Part 2

Last week, I wrote Part 1 of this series. This is Part 2.

For the people just coming on board now, I’m an editor. (It’s not my only job, but it’s a good one) And what I’m detailing here are things you shouldn’t say, write or mention in your correspondence with me (or other editors, but I’m speaking mostly from personal experience). The following statements are BIG HUGE RED FLAGS that will often lead you to rejection, suspicion of being creepy, uncomfortable work situations and becoming an example of what not to do.

Take note, good readers.

I’m not sure you’re worth it.” This has only been said to me four times, and each time was a new experience in uncomfortable and bad times. If you (prospective client) and I are talking, and you heave a sigh (which is totally visible when you type, if you’re curious) and then drop that bomb on me, I used to freak out and then spend inordinate amounts of time justifying why we should be working together.

When I was struggling for work and was way too busy helping other people without actually succeeding, I was always working uphill for paychecks, wondering when I’d be able to have some money in my pocket. And that absence of cash (which admittedly is a good thing to have on hand, say when you want to go out on a date or buy a burrito or purchase a video game), really turned me into a doubt factory. I doubted whether or not I was good enough to do this job, if I should get a “real” job, if I should just give all my time and energy to this relationship so that someone will love me, etc etc. Basically, being poor and thinking that having money equaled success (newsflash: it doesn’t, sorry Gordon Gekko) made me think I wasn’t worth much of anything — so I’d always have to prove that I was good “enough” to a person / place / relationship / job / client / ice cream sundae so that I didn’t have to walk away in shame and hide myself in a cave or something.

The point is — that’s a shitty attitude to have. And if you or I spend our time forever justifying whether or not we’re worth it to other people, we’re not going to have the time or the energy to actually do the things we wanted to do in the first place. (Side note – sometimes those people you’re trying to be good enough for just aren’t worth it. For realsies.)

So, if you say “I’m not sure you’re worth it.” what you’re really saying is “I’m not sure I’m/the work/your potential to change my work is worth the commitment to improving, since I’m really scared about doing this because it might succeed or it might fail and discovering that really makes me uncomfortable since it is not what I am used to.”

You’re worth it.
Your work is worth it.

I’ve been editing on my own for years, what good is your help?” I’ve been doing a lot of things myself for years. I built the desk I’m writing this on. I just ate some food I made the other night. But you know what’s nice? Not having to do that. Letting someone else take care of a task for you is nice, and gives you more time to other things (like bathe and knit and golf). Also, if you come look at this desk I’m writing on, it’s not a bad desk, but doesn’t even come close to the super-desk in the other part of the office that dates back from Ellis Island and the 1880s. That thing weighs in the hundreds of pounds and was built with more skill than I thought a man could have. I trust that construction and that work far more than I trust my own, and likewise, you should trust people do the job they’re good at. Anyone can screw together an IKEA desk and it’ll be serviceable, but for really awesome work, go to a professional.

If you edit my work, it won’t be the same. I’ll lose the voice/tone/feel/structure/vibe/sound I want.” Let me just clear up a misconception about editing. What I do is make YOUR work clearer and stronger. Editing is not me coming into your work and changing it the way I want it, editing is refining your work so that it can be enjoyed by others the way you intended.

What happens when you hand me work is that you and I talk. And we figure out what you’re trying to do in the story or the chapter or across several pieces of story or whatever, but basically we map out what’s going on, and how you want it to be seen/experienced by the audience. Then I go back to my lair and educe that desired experience from the text. Yes, that means I might chop up sentences, delete whole paragraphs and suggest that entire characters get the boot. So, you’re right, it won’t be the same. Things will have changed, but that’s on purpose – the changes are there to help you get your point across, get your ideas out there and get that voice/tone/feel/etc etc broadcast.

Can I pay you a little up front and then more when I sign my book deal?” Now if this were fifteen years ago, and book deals still had large sums of cash attached, I’d say yes. But, in today’s industry, and with traditional book publishing not being the cashcow it used to be, my answer is NO.You can pay me over time if you absolutely have to, or you can pay me when the job’s done like everyone else. I don’t want to wait for your ship to come in weeks/months/years from now and you just happen to get around and write me a check. Pay your editors, support us, and help us help you.

[INSERT TITLE OF BOOK OR NAME OF WEBSITE HERE] says that I should get an agent and then let them handle the editing, so I like, don’t need you.” Ahh, the agent quandary. Here’s where things get a little murky. Not because I don’t know an answer to this, but because there are several answers and people don’t always like them. Here we go:

a) Not every book needs an agent, it depends on what the author wants to do with it (if you’re self-publishing and only need like 40 copies for example, then no, you don’t need an agent).
b) Not every agent is (gasp!) a good editor (likewise not every editor is a good agent).
c)Not every book and/or website is going to be useful for you. (Be discriminating. Educate yourself with a variety of sources then make your decisions.)

There’s also a fourth element here: That in order for an agent to pick up your manuscript, it should be in the best shape of its life. That means free of glaring errors, formatted correctly, and engaging with the best story and characters possible. Getting an editor to help you make that happen goes a long way to securing the agent and all those other steps down the line.

My work is perfect, and I don’t ever need an editor. I don’t change a thing, and I just send it straight to Amazon. You can buy my things here, here and here – (and the rest of the email is basically a sales letter).” I’m very happy for you. Honestly, I’m glad you’ve distilled down the formerly scary publishing process to a few mouse clicks after you spend a few afternoons writing.

(I should point out that the above quote came paraphrased from an email that also included a sentence “I don’t know what’s so hard about being prolific, I already have several books published in under XYZ years.” – and yes I got permission to tell you this.)

Publishing your work shouldn’t be so scary that you’re discouraged from doing it, but it shouldn’t also be so simple that there’s no talent or craft required to do it. And if you do as much reading/trawling/searching through Amazon as I do, you may encounter a lot of self-published authors with a dearth of books….and a matching stack of 1-star reviews, that often include comments about poor story structure, weak writing, bad grammar and being a general waste of money. Hiring an editor can prevent a great deal of this before it happens, the caveat being that in order to avoid ignominy as the one-star-Amazon-author, you have to exercise your brain and talent muscles to produce work and get it edited so that it’s in a better than first-draft-shape.

And for the record, no one’s work is ever 100% perfect on the first draft. It’s just not. Expect it to grow, change and evolve as your tastes, skills and other factors (like a reader or time) influence it.

I hope you’ve found this helpful.

Happy writing.

When You’re Busy, But Not Succeeding

Who wants to start off this week with a deep thought?

I spent a mighty long time being busy but not succeeding. And by “mighty” I mean “most of my career to date”. And when I say “most”, I mean “Everything before last Thanksgiving”.

How do I know this? How can I say this? Because I’m looking at my bank accounts after paying all the people I need to pay and there’s still money in it. Which, if you have known me in the last three to five years, wasn’t always the case. Money came and went, but it was never steady, and I just accepted this as a condition of the type of job I do – that sort of nomadic existence moving from client oasis to client oasis in a vast desert of it’s-hard-to-make-a-living.

So, being a reasonably smart guy, I saw the connection between money and work. If I had more clients, I’d make more money…so what I need is a lot more clients. I filled up my schedule and took on a lot of clients. This sounds great, right?

The Freelancer’s Dream
It would be, if all the clients required the same type of work, paid the same amount of money (and on time) and all took me the same amount of time to do that work.

Note – the above sentence is often called “The Freelancer’s Dream”.

What I had though was not the Dream. I didn’t have the Nightmare, but I did have a lot of clients and jobs and things that paid erratically, inconsistently and didn’t actually make me feel like I was succeeding. Sure, clients got stuff they wanted (websites, sales copy, etc), and I got a check….but it wasn’t success.

And it wasn’t success for a few reasons:

1. I didn’t think I deserved the job, so I way cut down my rate. Like ridiculously. Like 40+ hours of work for a single $200 check that I took up front. This, I thought gave the impression that I was easy to work with, but it in fact turned me into a doormat. What I learned: If some people can’t afford me, (and not everyone is going to, and no I can’t go out and help EVERYONE, despite urges to do so), there will be people out there who can afford me, and I shouldn’t lowball myself, ever. ((Still working on that believing in myself part))

2. It wasn’t very challenging work. I got paid to do things I’m good at. I know, that sounds wonderful, and it’s sort of the point of a job, but if you look at the work I’m doing now and compare it to the work I did then, there’s a HUGE change in both the quality of my work and my happiness. What I learned: I do better with a challenge. I’m more satisfied by a challenge, and more satisfied by the reward of saying and knowing that “Wow, I had a hand in making XYZ a great product.”

3. I took the work for the wrong reasons. This revelation didn’t occur to me until a month or two ago, when I was saying yes to more work and more opportunities and really “putting myself out there”. I used to take work because someone suggested I go help that person out, or because I felt guilty because this person knew that person and somehow it reflected poorly on me if I didn’t do the job. What I learned: The best reasons for taking a job is knowing that I can make a difference for someone and that I will enjoy doing it. Yes, there are going to be jobs I like more than others, just as there are companies and people I prefer working with over others, but the best reason for work isn’t wealth accumulation – wealth is a byproduct of happiness and success.

John’s Formula
I’d prefer not making this section grossly metaphysical, mystical or new age-y. I just want to share with you my view on how I judge my wealth and my success and how busyness doesn’t factor in.

Wealth = 
Happiness + Success + 
Future Doors Opening + 
The Best/Right People Around Me

The order doesn’t matter, but for me, I say wealth isn’t just a fat bank account, wealth is the sum total of all I got, all I get to do and all I will get later, combined with people around me who want not to take their slice of the pie or claim credit (because it’s not about percentages or proof, it’s about just having it) who make the experience all the more satisfying because there’s a celebration rather than a finger-pointing hootnanny or a pat-me-on-the-back-too shindig.

Do I have the best people around me? I do now. I didn’t always before. And occasionally I let other people tell me who were and weren’t the right people or what was or wasn’t the right job, even though this is my life, my career and my path to tread.

For those who want me to break down the above formula here you go.

Wealth (Life wealth, not financial) = Being Happy + Being Successful (seeing the fruits of efforts, tangibly, financially and personally) + Having Opportunities to Repeat This Happiness & Success Later (like being brought on to do more work, or one job turning into multiples or meeting great new people with the promise of meeting more great new people) + Having Fun, Intelligent, Practical, Rockstar Princes, Princesses, Hooligans, Geniuses and Lunatics Around Me.

Note – if you think I mean actual insane people, I don’t. I mean the crazy-like-a-fox people.

The End Result
I used to be busy, and wasted SO MUCH time running around from underpaying task to underpaying task to relationship where I wasn’t invested to activity I couldn’t give a shit about.

Now I’m working on what I want, at a pace I dictate, doing the jobs I’ve always wanted to do, and am so very invested in so many parts of my life (that I didn’t even realize were previously there).

I encourage everyone reading this to take time to really sit down and ferret out the reasons they’re working as hard as they are, and if they still feel “stuck”, and look at what they wish they could do, and how they can make time for it. You can do the things you want to do, whatever they are, even if you just start doing them a little at a time.

Make yourself happy, success comes from happy.

Rock on.