Monday, April 23, 2018

Quick Signs Your Proofreader is No Good



Part of the problem with successfully hiring someone is that you pretty much need to understand their job to figure out if they’re good at it. Writers only catch proofreaders’ negligence when they see something they know is wrong.

So what do you do if you’re not too familiar with grammar, spelling, and punctuation? Isn’t that what you hired them for?

With freelancers these days, literally anyone can become an editor, and many times it’s the people who don’t realize how little they know that have the confidence to put up their website. Just recently, as I shopped around for potential editors, I read through a webpage that was disgusting with errors. Previously, I spoke of a writer who believed his book was worth 25 dollars because he had been “professionally edited” by a school teacher. Over the course of six months he went from singing her praises to bitching about having to postpone his deadline to fix errors. Worse is when you get some nutcase who has unfounded quirky opinions on the way things should be done.

Not only is having a poor proofreader a waste of money; it can damage the work you’ve done.

So how does someone who can’t double check the editor’s work know that they’re not getting the best help they can?

“Author,” “editor,” and genres are not capitalized, save for some legal documents.

This is perhaps the most common error I see on the sites of freelance editors and small presses. To be fair, I’ve sometimes seen it in places like big time agents. However, a primary goal in getting a proofreader is to know you can trust them when you’re in doubt. If their job is to fix errors, their webpage should be an example of their precision and knowledge.

There are some exceptions, like standards in contracts, and of course if they consider it a title to something, like in a blog post. But if it’s in their mission statement or ‘About’ section, they should not be telling you, “I’m an Author and Editor specializing in Science Fiction and Fantasy.”

“Young Adult” and “New Adult,” may be capitalized because of the tendency to abbreviate, but overall, if you see this on the front page in a quick blurb they have to sell their proofreading skills, you might consider passing.

Punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.

I’ve seen this growing more and more in online material, (Buzzfeed and the like), but a fiction proofreader should know better than anyone that in most cases, punctuation goes inside the quotes, not after.

“Go away,” he said.

There are some creative reasons why you might choose otherwise—for instance, you’ll often see me put question marks outside of the quote if the quote itself was not supposed to have a questioning inflection.

“Do you really think that he’ll change his mind after saying, ‘I’m not going to prom with you’?”

So you may decide to give them the benefit of the doubt if you understand why they chose to go against the standard, but if it seems just like a generic, standard sentence, commas go inside the quotes.

They don’t have any professional credits.

It’s not an end all. Sometimes this might be desirable because they’ll charge less to get going. But if they’re starting with no experience to date, it’s possible (and common) that they actually don’t know grammar as well as they think. It’s suspicious that someone believes they can do something without having viewable rationale of why they’re good at it.

But more to the point, even for those who do have a comprehensive knowledge of proofreading might not understand the standards in the industry. Like the English teacher above, some people will get bizarre ideas like “it’s” isn’t a conjunction for “it has.” Pedantic criticism can be problematic in fiction.

Comma use.

Learning about the appropriate use of commas is difficult, especially because there is some room for creativity and play. The importance of commas is typically clarity, and sometimes it’s actually more useful to leave a correct one out than to clutter the sentence in creative writing. Plus, even the technically correct usage requires a certain amount of understanding of grammar to know when to apply it.

If you don’t know where commas should go, you can still read through the content on the proofreader’s site and ask yourself about its legibility. One ‘editor’ I just looked at had very clunky and confusing sentences, many of them brought on by missing subtle punctuation. Excessive use of them will also become distracting, even to an untrained eye.

Look for the obvious.


It shocks me the number of writers I see allowing themselves to get burned by freelance editors and indie presses who are obviously not skilled in their field. A quick look at their website can often bring out a whole slew of issues that no one could miss. Obviously, if they don’t care about the precision and professionalism of their own website, you can’t count on them doing a good job on your giant manuscript.



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Friday, April 20, 2018

Children’s Books for Adults



As I begin the rabbit hole that is GoodReads (in attempts to better understand my audience and my niche), I have to accept something that I’ve been struggling with even as a 13 year old girl; I want to write like a Disney movie.

Lilo and Stitch, in particular. Treasure Planet. The Black Cauldron. Aladdin. I want to write like in the same vein as Harry Potter and Howl’s Moving Castle. I want to write like anime like Inuyasha and Yu Yu Hakusho.

Except that I want to write in a style as it relates to me. An adult. With life experiences. Bitterness. And a bit more bite.

I’ve been reading quite a few young adult novels recently, trying to catch up on series I’ve started years before and never quite got around to. I walked into a bookstore the other day to check out what summaries were doing that worked (or didn’t) for me, along with snapping photos of covers that caught my attention. I first headed to the young adult section because one, that is my typical haunt despite my not having spent a lot of time in a bookstore since 2012, and, two, it was closer.

Afterwards, I went to the adult fantasy and sci-fi section and immediately realized the vast difference: adult books are ugly.

Fantasy novels tend to have these literal, well-drawn covers of a not too eventful scene with a  not too eventful setting. A woman rides a horse in the woods. A man rides a horse on the cliffs. Everyone stands in an overly detailed ravine or castle with their sword drawn and glowing magic ablaze. The colors weren’t as luring, the people weren’t as pretty, the clothing was accurate, but with little appeal.

And the summaries followed suit. In fact, the few times that I was interested in a book, I realized that it was probably intended for younger audiences as well.

I mean, for one thing “adult” often translates into “masculine” while “young adult” often translates into “feminine.” What we would consider “real” sci-fi or fantasy tends to be written with men in mind. I once exclaimed in a joking manner as a friend told me a summary, “Is everyone a prostitute nowadays?” Many of the female characters in the stories are mistreated courtesans—A.I., badass, or whatever—but still whores. The way they depict sex and women’s bodies tends to be completely perfunctory. Vulgar, lacking sensuality, porn-like. Overall, I also think that men tend to prefer plot—political implications—to character. While the great fantasy writers make characters real, they often are flat and limited to a few core emotions. In Game of Thrones, everyone struggles with power-hunger, fear, or lust, but you don’t see a wider variety of their personality. They rarely joke, laugh, or love. It’s part of the point, and why people like it, but I prefer some more humanity in my stories. Optimism and whimsy combined with the severity of the situation.

I like high-highs and low-lows, and that’s exactly what children’s books have going for them.

What I don’t like about children’s books, especially young adult books, is the premises and emotional arcs are pretty limited and cliché. A lot of people will tell you “young adult” has to do with age of the characters, but I don’t consider that true. Or it shouldn’t be. Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass was, in my opinion, greatly inhibited by the necessity that she make her early 20s character in her teens just to meet the expectation of the teen audience, but (at least from an adult’s perspective) her epicness made less sense and kind of became a silly wish-fulfilment. It was harder to take it more seriously.

And while as a child I didn’t care too much about the age of the characters, as an adult, I don’t enjoy reading about teenagers as much.

Also, I don’t want to read about “high school adjacent” worlds anymore, such as in Divergent, Hunger Games, or The Mortal Instruments. I liked school fine when I was there, but it is bleak and disheartening, as well as restrictive, and reminds me of how relieved I am to not be controlled by that. It doesn’t inspire me, however, or make me excited. It just reminds me how small I, and thusly the characters, are in that sort of environment.

As an adult, I’m facing different issues now. That’s part of the difference between books actually targeted for children though, rather than teens. Being a teenager is a very specific experience and lifestyle, but the things that haunt you in childhood carry on into adulthood. You can still feel like the odd one out like Lilo, or desire adventure like Jim Hawkins. Innocent first sexual experiences and the drama of a school system tend to lose their luster though.

Lastly, and I’ll say this until I’m blue in the face, I do not want to have to be told to dumb down my language or my intrigue for “stupid kids.” (A literal quote during one writers group.) Not only do I not believe it’s necessary (Kids tend to be more adaptable to unknown information than adults), but it’s simply not what I think books should be like.

I’ve talked about this in the past, but just recently I’ve come to terms with it. My Dying Breed manuscript, which is currently being shopped to agents, falls in some sort of weird realm of either adult or young adult, with common elements of the Y.A. genre, but some concepts more appropriate for adults. I have two other completed manuscripts that I think are squarely Y.A. and one in the making that I think is better suited for adult.

I want all of my books to be in the same section. I want them to be taken seriously so I don’t feel pressure to conform to the expectations of “fluff.” I want to challenge my readers, create something truly suspenseful, scary, whimsical, and beautiful all at once. I want the drama and severity of the adult world with the curiosity and wonder of childhood.

So as I really question where the audience I’m going to market to, I’ve come to an obvious and painful conclusion that you’ve heard me fighting time and time again. I will target adults who want to read a meatier children’s book. That’s it.



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Monday, April 16, 2018

Why is Self-Publishing Considered Embarrassing?



Yes, I know the answer to that. In fact, I’ve met enough self-publishers to say that the expectation is easily found. Many indie writers truly are impatient egomaniacs who quickly regurgitate a naïve perspective on literature, posting half-baked and painful reads while being overly sensitive to poor reception.

But, not all are. And, more importantly, not all have to be.

I recently announced that I am self-publishing some of my play scripts to dabble in the process as well as make them more readily available to potential buyers. Theatre works differently than novels, and most of the time you’re making your money by selling rights to produce, not the books themselves. (Which is why it’s not uncommon for publishers to merely rent the scripts rather than sell them. Of course, those are nice, soft-leather bound copies, different from the cheap literal paperbacks you can buy for consideration.)

This was not a decision that I took lightly. After starting up my literary journal, I got some bad backlash. My father’s friend pressed for details about the journal before smirking, “So it’s just self-published.”

“Well no,” I said. “It’s other people’s writing. ‘Self’ isn’t really a part of it.”

The snide remarks towards a small anthology of local authors—a pet project—made me wary towards how it would be if it had been a novel that was near and dear to my heart. I, in fact, received a pretty vicious, unsolicited response from a dear friend on how she absolutely despised my cover, and it made it really hard to roll with the punches. Why would I take something I cared deeply about, put it out into the world, to have people say, “So it’s just self-published?”

I think there’s a lot of merit to traditional publication, and indies have to be stronger, wiser, better, faster than their trad counterparts in order to obtain half the success. I am not one of those people who think self-publishing is going to wipe out the old, nor that should be the go-to for many writers. Nor should trad pub be the go-to necessarily either.

What I’m interested in, however, is the evolution of my own thought process behind the idea, and why it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it did some years ago.

I remember one writer’s conference—the first one I went to, I think—where a man asked a question about a self-publishing company who offered to do everything for one packaged price. The backlash of agents was alarming, their energies spiking as they insisted, “NO! NO! Big scam! Don’t ever pay to be published!”

Which today, it actually is kind of a bad deal. Self-publishing companies, even reputable ones with good business plans and customer service, aren’t always going to be the most creative or informed people. They hire like your good ole bureaucracy. It doesn’t draw in those who love the field or want to help people. It’s a day job to most of them. Finding freelancers, independent artists, and choosing based on your personal tastes is a much, much better plan than just handing your work to one company and calling it a day. You get more of a personal experience, for one thing, but when it’s your money, you should have a say.

Despite all of that, the reaction towards his self-publishing question changed drastically in the following year. Not only were the answers more about how to vet a company, rather than NO, one of the agents on the panel was strictly for self-publishers. (What does an agent do in self-publishing? I’d say act as an advisor, I suppose, but honestly I was a little skeptical of her.)

So what changed? Well, previously the potential for success amongst indies was actually pretty crap. “You need money to make money,” so to speak. Printers who would create books for cheap weren’t as numerous and so you had a smaller choice. Print books are expensive to make and not only can you not undercut the trad publishers like you can with an ebook, most times you’d actually have to sell it for more than average market cost to afford it. Still true today even.

And why, honestly, would I buy a self-published work that probably hasn’t seen the eyes of another human being before going to print for fifteen dollars, when I could by a bigger one that is loved by many for seven?

For me though, in my years of reading indies and interacting with them, I realize how much I stopped trying to vet people. If it’s hard to tell if it’s self-published, then that’s a pretty good sign the author knows what they’re doing. I mean, I don’t like being burned by books. I have just recently bought a novel by an indie that I really want to like, but have a feeling is also some self-pandering slough. I wouldn’t have gotten it either, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it and finally said, “Why not?”

I only knew he was self-published because I had followed his blogs and his original covers were… exactly what you’d think. But it was because I was keeping track of his process that I kept returning to his page as well.

I used to think, I realize, that self-published works could never be taken as seriously as the trads, that if my book wasn’t picked up by a ‘real publisher’ it wouldn’t be an actual book itself. I had high doubts anyone could be successful as an indie. Hard work wouldn’t matter, right?

But that’s not entirely true. Publishers are just people. Graphic designers, editors, writers even, the whole shebang. With the right amount of money, you too could act as publisher and find the right person for the job. Why not? Sure, you have handicaps going it alone, having to learn things by yourself, but presuming that anyone worth their salt is going to be working for a big company is disingenuous to the way I view the world.

I’m not self-publishing a novel, if you were wondering. I don’t have the money for one thing, I still believe it needs to be done right. I still believe that traditional publication has its merits, and if I do go the indie route, I have to plan for the possibility of complete failure.

But it is a path that has been opened for me which wasn’t originally. For one thing, I’m more confident in my design skills, and I’m not entirely sure that I want to be well read all of the time. Something about being a really successful author scares me. Having a book out there with some anonymity becomes a nice dream rather than a nightmare.


Point is, don’t knock it until you try it. Times are changing and no matter how you feel today, you’re not sure how you’ll feel tomorrow.



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Friday, April 13, 2018

Why I Don’t Have Comments on My Blog



A long while back, I removed my comments section. A man (and a few others) who followed me on Twitter, but never had spoken to me before, wanted to know why.

"Because more people are commenting on my lack of a comment section than they ever did in my comment section?"

I removed it for several reasons, but the mainly no one used it. I followed many writing blogs and I knew that when I saw an open comment section with no posts, I took the article less seriously - even though I realized that was ridiculous. But not only that, I rarely like online comments anyway. Few add to the enjoyment of the piece, most people enter something asinine and then flee never to be seen again. The whole thing just kind of seemed ineffective for communication. People say, "Is it because you're worried about hateful comments?" and while, hey, sure, that's nice to not have to worry about it every time I go to post, all my hate-mail/disagreement mail has always been private, even when the comment section was open. I have very respectful haters when it comes to writing. Also, I have rarely seen any hate-filled responses on ANY writer's blog (save for famous ones). Usually they are, "This is so true for me! Buy my book!" Sure, I've come across some authors with a real bullying problem, but it’s been like two, and that was on Amazon. No, I am far more worried about being ignored than being attacked.

When I explained to him my honest reasoning (that I knew it would look better if I just removed it), and that it worked, my hits went up a noticeable amount afterwards, he responded that it wasn't always about hits but about your readers.

I don't remember how I responded to that. It was Twitter, so it's not like we could have a real conversation with all 140 characters a response (that was back in the good ole days when Direct Messaging had a limit), but this separation of numbers and humans has always interested me.

Writers post a lot about, "I'm not in it for the sales," usually in reference to some sort of criticism someone gave them. They claim that their writing is about more than the money or the numbers.

And you know what? I believe you. I think there are a lot of writers who are not in for the money or the fame and they don't need to explain themselves to anyone. But sometimes hits and sales are not separate from more artistically minded visions. A “sale” isn’t just dollars and cents, but a reader. Sometimes a decision to maintain your fan base is not about keeping the numbers up, but caring about their experience. Sometimes numbers are the only way to gauge the effectiveness of your choices even when they’re not your direct goal.

Why do I write? I write for all of the reasons, really. Bad ones, good ones, completely irrational ones I should probably talk to my therapist about. But my main hope, the one thing I want more than anything, is to touch readers in a way that my favorite books touched me. If I can make a good number of people feel the way that I did while reading, then I would consider myself successful. That means I would have to be read. It means I would have to sell my book. And while a sale can be without emotional impact, a buyer never even reading it, emotional impact cannot happen without a sale. They can’t be touched if they never get it into their hands. Sales, hits, and other numerical devices considered shallow can be a representation of more than just fame or money.

In the case of the man who said hits weren't as important as the readers, I wondered what he thought the difference was. He was implying that opening the comment section would enhance the reader's experience. But that's not what was happening. My current readers weren't using it; they clearly didn't care about it. Until it was gone, of course. For another thing, deliberately making a choice only to keep old readers around can be considered just as superficial as doing something for hits.

We have to acknowledge that once I removed it my numbers grew. In his mind, this meant nothing, but it should. The growth of readership represents actual people who I am communicating with, someone I wasn't communicating with before. Asking me to keep a comment section open to enhance communication was actually contradictory to what actually enabled me to speak to my audience. Without the section, more people listened even though they couldn’t speak. With the comments section, less people listened and chose not to speak.

Of course, it was obvious what he really meant. He was accusing me of closing my comment section, not because he wanted to use it or would have ever used it, but because he believed I did so out of insecurity or ego. Then when I said it was to enhance "hits," he wrote me off for selling out. He was suggesting, albeit in a very polite way, that I was not promoting the artistic and pure ideology I should be.

But I think this limited definition on what “appropriate” goals are is competitive, not beneficial, or even genuinely analytical. His view was that I shut out people’s ability to express themselves and that my argument of it enhancing the experience as proven by higher number of readers was invalid. “It’s not about that.”

Let’s think about this. A hit is someone who comes to the page. It doesn’t mean they read it, of course, but it did mean for whatever reason, they were more encouraged to read it. Considering that they had to first go to the page to see there is no comment section, it limits the way that the section could have had an effect on it. It means one of three things: it’s a coincidence, it had more people talking, it had more people coming back.

The hike was enough and remained constant that I severely doubt it was a random coincidence, especially considering that I decided on doing so due to my own perspective on how I experience comment sections myself. It suggested that people were taking the articles more seriously (as I expected), that they were actually thinking about the words, not worrying about what others felt or how many people were reading. They only saw it for what it was and could develop their own opinions based on the ideas alone. The blogs were, for whatever reason, something they wanted to talk about, or at least get more of. People enjoyed them more—enough to share them with others—when there wasn’t an empty section staring them in the face.

In this case, I made a speculation based on my own feelings, acknowledged those feelings, and acted on them. My evidence behind the success of that was based on numbers alone, sure, but I can’t watch people’s expressions, I can’t witness the faces that come in and out and of my virtual realm, how quickly they go or long they stay – I’m lucky if I even can talk to someone who’s read my work. I knew what my goals were, and while it is easy to interpret “have a lot of readers” as some superficial, uncouth selling out, every author wants people to care. If you publish, you want to be read. If you do want to be read then it’s about finding a means to achieve without sacrificing your real goals.

A writer can write for whatever reason she chooses. She might want to make money, she might want to reveal a problem to the world. Maybe she wants to talk about her perspective on reality. Maybe she just wants to make someone laugh. Maybe she wants her characters and world to seem real. Maybe she’s just bored and has nothing better to do. It doesn’t matter, but let’s stop using “I’m not in it for the money” or the hits or the readers as an argument why you should or should not make the choices you that seem right for you. Just make them. Use the resources at hand to determine if they achieved what you would hope for, and stop worrying about the artistic integrity of your fellow writers.


Oh, and if you’re really concerned about how to send me hate-mail, most people just use Facebook.



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Monday, April 9, 2018

Don’t Ask for Harsh Criticism



Let’s expedite this pain, shall we? Let’s get it all out in the open as fast as possible—yank off the Band-Aid and get it over with. We don’t need to dilly-dally around my feelings.

That’s the very valid reasoning behind the request “Just give it to me, blunt, doctor.” Many people, especially beginning writers, will start their first day by telling everyone they need to be “harsh,” “blunt,” and “merciless.” Often this is proceeded by them admitting, “I know my writing is not very good.”

But there’s a lot of reasons not to do this, including the results that come from a person who has permission to be harsh is going to often be exactly the opposite of what you wanted.

1. Despite what people will tell you, giving criticism can be a selfish experience.

When you walk into a room about to be criticized, expect for people to be good, helpful, and to have fun. I’ve found that just by acting positive, assuming the best, and behaving as though the group is the way you want them to be, you improve behaviors and attitudes all around. Take charge of the room with a thoughtful, confident, and respectful air and you will tend to find others will follow suit.

However, it is important to not delude yourself with this optimism and pretend like everyone is your friend. In fact, even those who genuinely desire to help you improve probably have some sort of selfish motivation for at least being there if not the actual speaking part.

Most times, whether it be a writers group or a classroom setting, the other people are there to receive feedback. You will often catch someone who has nothing to say forcing themselves to come up with some sort of criticism because, legitimately, they know how useless it is for you to hear, “It was good.” At first I would find myself confused by people who would seem really fixated on something that didn’t matter, fully aware they weren’t being malicious or competitive, until someone pointed out, “They’re just looking for anything to say.”

Sometimes (often) you’ll encounter people who really aren’t into the feedback session or are sort of apathetic about helping you get better. Against what everyone says, they aren’t there to help you improve, but help themselves improve. Their criticism might still be very good, but you have to be aware of that possibility, especially when confused by strange attitudes.

More importantly, not only are some people uninterested in your career, there are those who your skills and talent directly infer with their own validation. Many come to get feedback not to be criticized but praised. We’ve all met one. We’ve all been one at some point. Some even attend because they enjoy giving criticism. They enjoy the empowerment of being listened to, the catharsis of saying what they think and people being required to hear them out. It may be even the more neutral joy of an intellectual dissection of a work. Sometimes they’re just sadists who actually get a kick out of hurting people. You will be dealing with people who directly benefit from your book sucking.

Which is not to suggest that they’ll be sabotaging you by deliberately giving bad advice. I’m sure it happens, though I’ve never seen it personally. It’s important because motivation strongly affects the kinds of advice you’re going to get, and when you give someone permission to be harsh, you are giving them permission to stop censoring their strongest desires and just let loose every thought they’ve had.

You might think that that’s a good thing.

2. Harsh criticism is less objective and more superficial.

Your friend has a weight problem. Your friend is severely unhappy. She asks you what she can do to change that.

She tells you to be honest. So you spit out, “Go on a diet!”

There. Done. She has heard it, now she knows. Now she can start working on it and be happy, right?

Do you think that every “fat” person who lost weight is always suddenly happy?

Now let’s say, instead, you were determined to be diplomatic. You knew she was sensitive about her size and you considered how could you say it gently. You start asking questions. “How’s your love life? How’s your family life? How’s your home? How’s your job? How do you like yourself?”

By this approach, instead of just announcing your opinion, you can hear her side of things. For starters, if her weight is truly her biggest issue, she’s more likely to admit that conclusion to herself, making it easier for her to swallow. But more importantly, her weight is your biggest problem with her, it’s the flaw in her life that you easily see. It may just be that from her perspective it genuinely doesn’t matter, or even she wants it that way. But even more likely, there are deeper, more important issues than just her size. It may be that her weight issues come from something more, that though they exacerbate a problem they’re not the cause,  or there is a separate bigger deal at hand. In any case, the core issue needs to be found.

Even if she too didn’t like being overweight and would like to change that, she is coming to someone else for advice and probably doesn’t need to be told she’s fat. If anything, she needs convincing it really is important, or as to how to fix it. In many cases though, writing off the most obvious issues as being the biggest problems aren’t the same as going in depth and realizing that she lacks control over her life or feels everyone hates her.

Now I know what you’re thinking. What’s the big deal if she does manage to get thin? It’s healthier at least. And that’s often the case in writing. Typos matter, so what if someone chooses to focus all of his attention on that. Once you get rid of it, then you can turn to other issues, right?

Except that even if the critic’s perspective is the same as the writer’s and they both agree it is a problem, (or at least the audience will pretty much agree with them), people asked for harsh criticism to make the process go by faster and to get advice they can’t have on their own. Anyone can notice someone’s weight or a typo or the use of adverbs and prologues, so when someone spends all of their time complaining about the most obvious issues, they are actually wasting both parties’ time. And if the writer feels like that’s not their biggest concern, that there’s something more to it, they’ll often write the harsh critic’s opinion off as being superficial and stupid. If he’d given her more credit and considered other alternatives, she might eventually listen when he still concluded something superficial was important.

When you get harsh criticism, you get a lot of pet peeves and personal preferences. You will have a twenty-minute conversation about whether or not you should use slightly or lightly and ignore the fact that a gun disappeared mid-scene. The critic doesn’t ask questions, doesn’t consider your view point, and doesn’t choose their words carefully. They notice your weight, but refuse to ask themselves if that’s a just symptom of a larger issue.

3. It’s not always what they really think.

Part of the reason people want harsh criticism is they think the critic will just be saying what others were too nice to admit. The idea is, of course, that they don’t want someone from refraining saying something, and that all of those nitpicky, shallow ideas and pet peeves are important.

Which they can very well be. Even if something is shallow it doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be a problem for other readers. Generally, harsh critics are being upfront about what they honestly care about even if it should be stupid or disrespectful or inane. As we all know, people’s shallowness and pet peeves aren’t going to go away any time soon and need to be considered.

The critic’s opinion is important, even if just a piece of the puzzle. The hardest thing to admit is when something that shouldn’t be relevant is highly influential. Many of us have been stubborn about something superficial or restrictive until we finally admitted we just didn’t want it to be true. It’s likely that their limited scope is true for someone else as well, and you might find that you’re the one not being honest with your feelings.

So, it’s a good thought if it was the whole story. Yet because there are selfish motivations behind criticism, their “honest opinion” can sometimes really just whatever they already wanted to believe. It’s a confirmation bias. Someone might very well decide your book sucks before reading it and then look for anything to prove that, rather than objectively seeing it for what it is. A competitive feedbacker may just scan a page for anything noticeable and then find any argument why it doesn’t work. While he’s not abjectly lying, he is blowing something out of proportion, misleading the author, or simply using bullshit to prove a point.

It can be confusing when someone comes off as angry or disgusted about something seemingly small. As the writer, you feel like you’re missing something; what makes them care so much? Many times you’ll find yourself saying, “Why does that matter?” or asking, “Are you just telling me not to do it because it’s a ‘rule’?”

What does that have to do with harsh criticism? The idea that a blunt critic is saying “what everyone’s thinking” isn’t necessarily the case. Any criticism, blunt or not, may not be the speaker’s true feeling. If they’re looking to find something that’s wrong, they’ll find it. This can mean they’ll try to strip you of anything colorful, homogenizing your work until it’s nothing more than a nice suburban household with a white picket fence.

And what’s worse, if once you asked for harsh feedback, there’s not much you can say.

4. You have removed your privilege of discussion.

People tell you not to defend yourself, that the proper way to respond to criticism is to smile and say thank you. I will tell you don’t be an asshole, that the proper way to respond to criticism is to try and figure out where they’re coming from through a myriad of tactics available to you. That often means having a discussion.

And usually, if the writer is polite, diplomatic, and respectful, if she listens to the answers, this works well. For a criticism to be effective, the critic needs to feel encouraged to speak his mind and stand by his opinions, while at the same time the writer can voice her concerns and retain her vision unless convinced otherwise. Neither party should get offended when the other doesn’t immediately agree with them, but rather think carefully about what is being said and try to find the best conclusion.

When you ask for harsh criticism, for one thing, it means the speaker doesn’t have to explain himself, and he probably won’t. We learn that explaining ourselves leaves us open to argument, and it’s much easier to just tell someone what to do then to explain why.

In a normal situation it’s difficult to ask questions. English speakers tend to see honest questions as an act of weakness and so we avoid them. Most times when posed with some sort of query, it is rhetorical. If you tell me I need to set up the scene more and I say, “Why?” it’s likely that I mean, “No I don’t.” If I genuinely mean, “I don’t immediately understand what purpose that serves, but I think you have your reasons, could you go into detail?” I have to very carefully choose my words to not sound like I’m just arguing with them.

Then you get into situations when you do disagree with them, but you’re not positive if you’re being egotistical or not so you want to talk it out to be sure, or you disagree with their solution but you still want to brainstorm and come up with another.

Debating is the best way to digest information. It’s a faster way to prove yourself wrong, it’s a more effective way to understand your writing and your readers. Most times you’re not going to want to make the change someone suggests (or not only that change), but it doesn’t mean the criticism is useless all together.

Yet it is difficult any time you get new feedbackers to work with. When you haven’t said, “I want harsh criticism,” you have more range in how to respond to the criticism. Even a harsh, “You’re being rude,” will gain more traction than after you’ve told them you could take it.

Once you say, “I want harsh criticism,” it becomes harder for you to admit that you don’t understand what they mean or see what they’re talking about.

Because when dealing with new critics, any response is going to be considered sensitive, but now, after insisting you wanted it blunt, you’ve revoked that right to take it poorly, which means there’s really nothing you can say at all.

Once you give someone permission to be harsh, you’re giving them permission to state whatever pops into their head without having to prove or consider it. Let’s be fair; it might be great advice. And it might be just what you needed to hear. Sometimes diplomacy takes too long and is too convoluted when an honest, flat out admission gets the message across. Yet you would have to be able to recognize its truth and completely understand what they really meant for it to be useful without any follow up. Even opinions that are dead on can be misunderstood or overly simplified. I’ve gotten a lot of good advice that, when told to me quickly and succinctly, I couldn’t comprehend (or even thought was stupid.) Then when you add in that it might be off-base or selfishly motivated, it becomes even more important to say, “Can you explain more?”

Plus, let’s face it, it’s really hard to judge the credibility of an asshole.

5.  It’s really hard to judge the credibility of an asshole.

The easiest criticism to take is from someone whom you have mutual respect for each other. There are those who I love getting feedback from, those I leave with a flurry of red notes and yet am pumped, inspired, and excited. It’s fun to talk to them, mostly because it is more of a discussion of ideas and solutions and reactions than it is a series of demands.

The second easiest criticism to take is from an asshole who is right.

It is relatively simple to push your ego aside if you realize you’re wrong, yet have fun trying to get your ego out of the way to figure it out. I would rather get some genius who behaves as an absolute jerk than a kind person who ends up wrong half the time because, for me, figuring out the truth is the hardest part of the job.

Imagine someone who likes you, who loves your writing, and who proves correct so much of the time you would just about take their advice blind. If uncertain, you’d err on trusting them. When they tell you, “I just hated that Frank character. I mean hated him and not in a good way. The book would be so much better if you just found a way to cut him all together,” you don’t get offended and so it is easy to really think about what they’re saying without getting demoralized.

You’re less likely to villainize someone who has always been considerate of your feelings, and even if you try to find reasons why they’re just being malicious, you’re more likely to know you’re reaching.

Then imagine someone who said, “You think Frank is so cute. It’s so obvious you have a boner for him. He’s not funny. I can’t even imagine how you would find him funny. He’s just a dumbass. Writing like that makes me wish I’d never learned to read.”

If you trusted this guy, for whatever reason, this would still make you want to punch him in the face, but then it becomes a matter of licking your wounds. You can, at least, get to work because it’s probably true.

Now imagine it was someone who you kind of thought was an idiot. Even one that you are pretty sure he’s an idiot. If you recognize your bias against him, when he sits there and reprimands you with insults, your initial reaction will be, “You’re wrong!” but how can you be sure that you just don’t want to believe he’s wrong because he’s being a dillhole?

I’ve been in that situation more times than I’ve checked Facebook today. When you’re dealing with someone who you don’t trust completely and you don’t like, it’s incredibly hard to tell if it’s your ego telling you something’s wrong or your instinct. My worse feedback session was from a woman who gave me some fantastic advice along with some of the most idiotic responses I’d ever received. She was savvy and smart, but rude and snobby, having a disdain for me and my genre. She too played dumb and would act like she didn’t understand something when what she probably really meant was, “This is a cliché,” or “You’re over writing.” She’d been accused by many for having a pretentious attitude and a reputation for being fake. The rest of her notes were more ambiguous or vague. “SIMPLIFY EVERYTHING!”

When someone is treating you like crap, when they are deliberately ignoring your goals and vision, or even outright claiming you are stupid for having them, when every choice you make is being scrutinized, possibly for no other reason than he wants you to be terrible, you become very biased against them.

Even if you try to compensate for that bias, you can do a 180. Now instead of coming up with any reason he’s wrong, you come up with any reason he’ll be right, and you can’t always tell what arguments are bullshit and which ones are something you genuinely believe.


Because of this, the same criticism can be greatly affected by how it is given. If someone is trying to be respectful, giving you credit, and genuinely looking for good answers to your problem, even if they are competitive, even if they are confusing, even if they’re saying something you don’t want to hear, at least you’re not conflicted by your desire to show them up.

You’re going to receive harsh feedback at some time in your life. It’s important to take it with dignity and professionalism, sure. It very well could be helpful. It might even be necessary. Yet harsh doesn’t mean good, blunt doesn’t mean honest, and letting yourself be insulted doesn’t make you good at taking criticism. Before requesting harsh feedback, ask yourself what do you really want? Thorough? Honest? Or maybe to get the pain over with fast? Be direct about what you’re truly looking for and you’re more likely to find it. When you tell someone, “I want harsh criticism,” you’re not encouraging them to give you their best, you’re encouraging them to vomit all their emotions on you, even the ones that have nothing to do with your work.



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Friday, April 6, 2018

Why I Don’t Immediately Trust Experts



I’m constantly in pain. Karma, I know, considering what I am for other people’s asses, but it is problematic none of the less.

I experience constant headaches, including migraines. Sometimes I have extreme light sensitivity and have twice gone blind in the last five years. It was for only several seconds, each after sitting in a dark theatre programing the lighting for many hours, but still scary. I’ve recently started to wear sunglasses when in a fluorescent lit room at night, not bothering to explain why to my somewhat disbelieving friends. I’m often nauseated and have no appetite. I often have terrible insomnia, especially when I sleep alone. Yet I am fatigued most of the time. I am constantly thirsty, but when I drink I just end up going to the bathroom excessively, and will sometimes even get a headache after too much water. I itch everywhere, especially on my scalp. I’m always freezing. Up until recently, I would experience this extreme pain in an unmentionable place many times a month. It continued for several years. I haven’t felt it within the last few months, but I have no idea why not.

It feels like I’ve always been like this, but I know it hasn’t. It has been several years now, but in the recent weeks it has all gotten worse. I have finally scheduled an appointment with a doctor.

But that’s what happens. I am in pain, but I tolerate it. I avoid getting medical advice like doing taxes. Then, suddenly, it worsens. It gets so out of line that I know I have to do something about it. I go to an expert, I get some tests, they smile and nod, tell me they have no idea what’s wrong, and suggest I go elsewhere. I do go elsewhere only to find the same reaction.

They might speculate. “You were clearly sexually abused, try masturbation.” They might argue with me. “Peeing after drinking a lot is normal.” If I get upset, it’s proof of my lunacy. “Why are you going to so many doctors?” asks the fifth one my G.P. referred me to. “Because you’re not getting the answer you’d like?”

Any answer at all would be great. Thanks.

I have already been tested for diabetes, treated for a urinary tract infection, and told that thyroid problems weren’t the issue. The doctors didn’t seem to care much. A lot of times, I felt like you had to go to each doctor twice to really jumpstart the process, once to introduce the problem, twice to prove you were serious. They didn’t know what to tell me. They sent me to other experts who also didn’t know what to tell me. I never got an answer, so I remained in pain.

I avoid going to an expert until I really need one. Then they can’t help me.

My cat, a few years ago, got very sick. He stopped eating, lost a lot of weight, and couldn’t go to the bathroom. I took him in for a series of expensive tests. They found nothing. His hair, shaved off for an x-ray, didn’t grow back. I got the feeling my vet didn’t really care, ready to retire, but when I said so, my mother exploded at me in a surprising amount of rage. Later on, when discussing Dimitri’s problems with friends, many of them agreed that that specific vet didn’t really seem to care.

When I got another vet, she did work her ass off to find out what was wrong with him. She took his files, came up with several tests, told me she would discuss his case at a conference, and seemed genuinely concerned. She too couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

They told us it might be cancer. The method of determining that was invasive and he might not survive, plus the pills he was taking were the only option anyway, so we decided to forgo the test. They put Dimitri on an anti-depressant, gave him a steroid to give him more of an appetite, and that seemed to be all we could do.

Then, after months and months, magically, he got better.

One night I wake to him playing, racing around the room like the lunatic he is. His fur grew back, he put on weight, he started eating again. I took him off the anti-depression food and he has been happy and active ever since. Still a little wimp, but that was always the case.

I, to this day, have no idea what was wrong.

My car, a Honda, decided that it wasn’t always gone to accelerate when I asked it to. Sometimes it would, but then, usually around a curve or up a hill, the gas just stopped working. I took it to a Honda dealership. They put it in a machine. The machine found nothing wrong with it. Probably nothing. I took it to a mechanic. The mechanic solved a whole slew of other problems for a whopping 600 dollars. He didn’t fix the acceleration. I took it back to him. He said, “Well, it didn’t do it for me.” I looked it up online. Apparently this was a common problem for the make and model I had. I took it back. He did something. It still did it. I took it back again. Finally he was driving it and it obliged me by showing him. He came back and said, “I can see why you were scared.” Finally he fixed it.

Last year, in attempts to solve my fatigue and depression, I changed my diet to a high protein one. I ate a lot of nuts, eggs, red meat, and protein shakes. I also stared to eat more greens and fruit. My throat closed up and I couldn’t project air at all.

I started dating a guy who wanted to go to karaoke. I explained I couldn’t speak louder than what I was at the moment. Because he didn’t know me before he didn’t realize how hushed my voice was. He argued with me.

After about four weeks I finally made myself go to the doctor. I told him my problems and he smiled and nodded, bringing out a machine to test my breath. After trying it several times, he looked at it and said, “Wow, you really can’t breathe!”

When I asked him what I should do, he told me to just “wait it out.” I told him I had changed my diet recently, could it be an allergy? No.

I was supposed to come back in two weeks if it hadn’t gotten better. When I waited the designated time and, surprise, surprise, nothing had changed, I didn’t go back, but just stop eating the protein bars and shakes. A few weeks after that, I could breathe again.

I go to these experts and they seem not to believe me. It’s disheartening when you avoided them in the first place, tried to solve the problems on your own, and then finally got yourself to admit you need help only to turn to someone and have them brush you off.


I don’t immediately trust ‘experts.’ In a business like mine, where subjectivity is so thorough and posturing is common, you can see why it takes me some thorough analysis before I can decide how sincerely to take constructive criticism.



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Monday, April 2, 2018

This Ain't for the Best, Why Assume the Worst?

While across the West Village with aims to see the sunset, a young man and I discussed writing.

I had agreed to meet up with him mainly because I knew that if he was problematic in any way, we at least had one thing in common, but I was faintly surprised. He was fun and intelligent, though a memoirist with little interest in fiction. He was the sort of writer who sat in awe at the work of others’ prose and announced, “How can I ever think I’m good enough to be like them?”

If that doesn’t strike a type with you, bear with me, I’ve been doing this far too long.

During the trek, he brought up his writers group a few times. I was hesitant. I actually enjoy writers groups; it’s a great deal of fun for me to talk about writing period. The problem with it, as I’ve said before, is that when you only have a few pages to comment on, you’re going to stick with surface-level complaints. These are more likely to be inconsistent with each other, homogenize your work, and completely miss the real issues. I often use the example of the scene in which two people focused on my prose and didn’t catch that a gun had disappeared. The woman who noticed? Not so oriented around my word choice.

“I sort of need a bigger picture opinion,” I told him. And I don’t need any more second guessing about my voice, I did not tell him. “The people who read it all the way through like it, but getting them there is difficult.”

He was friendly enough, and I don’t think he meant anything malicious, but the way he began to go off sounded a bit like a lecture. Not a useful one, not conveying anything he’d learned about it, but merely telling me that the beginning is important.

Yep. That was exactly my point.

I find that this happens unfortunately frequently too. I speak up about a problem I’m having, and have had for a while, and if they don’t start erroneously explaining that it is a problem, they’re arguing with me that it isn’t. The other day I was discussing an issue with a book and I spent 20 minutes convincing my conversational partner that it did actually matter, to which she then gave me an oversimplified answer.

As I was leaving Brooklyn, I told my friend in excitement how she had to see Guardians of the Galaxy. I normally rant instead of gush, but something about the film had really struck me. The fight scenes, majorly I’d say, the images and humor. I’m normally not a big fan of battle, but something about them caught me as interesting, and I was easily immersed the whole time.

I want to do something like that, I thought. Like what specifically? I don’t know. But like that.

I explained to my friend my sentiments, adding, “I want to write something with an iconic world like Harry Potter.”

“Well,” she said meaningfully. “She didn’t try to do that.”

What’s your point?

“The limitation is there,” I said. “Regardless of if Rowling came by it naturally, if she just pissed on paper and gold came out, I obviously can’t do the same. I can either target my problems and experiment with solutions, or toss my writing at a wall and hope something comes out of it.” But let’s be honest, I’ve done that. I’ve written a lot and I’ve yet to see the reaction I desired. Even from myself.

I mentioned to my roommate a project that I was attempting to get done. Then came the interrogation.

Why don’t you try to do something with your writing? Sometimes people do too many things! You need to pick a passion! You need to try blogging! You need to start small!

No matter what I said to her, I was wrong.

The fact was, not only had I had all of the ideas she was coming up with, but I had tried them, worked them, and then, amazingly, she criticized me for them.

Now all of these people—and I believe this fully—had my best interest at heart. I don’t think they were trying to pour salt in the wounds, that they were genuinely attempting to help.

But they didn’t get it. They’re still identifying the problem long after you’ve come up with six unsuccessful solutions. They’re giving you a simple idea that will fix everything of course! Don’t question it! So you’ve tried it before? Clearly it wasn’t the right answer! Why did you ever think it could be?

Of course, I don’t think they’re considering it that much. And there’s a lot of room for miscommunication. No one contradicts their own ideas that quickly, I don’t care how oblivious they are. Not to mention many of these people are those who I respect.

So why were they presuming the worst of me?

And that’s what it all comes down to; sometimes, no matter what your actions are, people are going to assume things about you, and it’s probably going to be the worst case scenario. Why? It’s easier.

It’s easier, fun even, to tell someone how to start a career. It’s enjoyable to lecture on the importance of doing something well. It’s better to tell someone that their problem is nonexistent than to admit you don’t know how to solve it.

Regardless of whether or not you’re a writer, regardless of how you handle it, someone somewhere is going to tell you, whatever you did, you did it wrong. Not a bad person either. Usually it’ll be the one who is trying to help but doesn’t know how.


Learn to ask people to listen instead of dismiss. Learn to say, “I need a sounding board, not a blanket solution.” Learn to say what you want and stand up for what you do. Or, at least, that’s what I’m trying to do.



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