We're in kind of a tough position, here. Typically, what you see is an author trying to prove his or her worth to a potential publisher or agent. They submit the query, cover letter, and manuscript. Sure, that makes sense, but that's for real publishing houses, the kind with reputations and lotsa money. The thing is, we don't know what kind of publishing house we are, yet. We're still figuring things out. We have money but how much is enough to successfully throw at a book release/marketing campaign? I've released nearly a dozen duds at this point of my own but that's more something to brush under the rug than use as legitimate experience in the field. So, we have no reputation, no true experience, and no real budget. What do we have to offer authors? Well, that's what this post is. Think of it as a cover letter to authors.
The first thing is that we're in this for the authors. (I'm not claiming other publishing houses aren't; from everything I've seen, it's quite the opposite.) We want to be there with you every step of the way. We want to help you format the book and design the cover in a way that you find best showcases your work. We want to help you organize a marketing plan and see it through. We want to give you as much creative freedom as we possibly can (think more James Joyce, less Sean Penn). We want all those ideas you think are too unmarketable, too ugly, or just too fuckin' weird. How I see it is that I've just finished the most creatively-demanding and riskiest book of my “career” as a writer. I've finished it and have no estimated profits. So far as I know, it might sell two copies. The thing is, I'm happier than I've ever been after releasing a book (and we're going to market LSB releases much more extensively, so that's not a sly way of me saying we don't plan on actually selling your books). That's what we're looking to provide authors with. Our goal for Long Shot Books is to be the support system for authors, to be in their corner at all times, and to take full advantage of being too small to fail.
Another thing is that we're not perfect and we recognize that. Speaking for myself, I can often be brash, arrogant, quick-tempered, and straight-up idiotic. We are not professionals. We're looking to gain experience while learning the most we can from the least amount of mistakes possible. We're negotiable. This isn't a boss:employee relationship. We want to handle all the lame shit that you don't. When I was formatting my last book, Young Adulterer, prepping it for KDP was more frustrating for me than writing the book itself. I thought to myself, Christ, this is the shit I'm gonna be doing all the time for other authors? Yeah, that boring stuff. We'd love to hear cover ideas, but we also know how lame Cover Creator can be on Amazon sometimes. If you know a cool press that you'd like to put the book out through, we're also down for that. If you have a percentage you'd like for royalties, we'd be glad to hear it and work a deal out. We're not looking to tell anybody how it is. We want to ask, “How can we make this an ideal partnership for everybody involved?”
Our role is that of a collaborator. We don't want to ever put our feet down or force anybody into uncomfortable situations creatively or financially. We're a support network, not a source of pressure. We want to support authors in every way we can, as artists and as human beings. We've both struggled to work on our own projects; we know how difficult it can be. We understand how lonely writing a book can feel and how futile it seems once that book is finally out there to get a single person to give it a chance. We don't just want to be your manager, we wanna be your bros.
So, that's what I've come up with so far. I know it's not much but I hope it helps you know how much we care about literature and just as importantly, how much we care about authors. If you decide to take a better book deal with more a more established team, we get that. If you want to take a risk on us, then we'll go the distance for you.
Many readers are stupid. A disproportionate number of non-readers are even stupider. (Point in case: Goodreads.) I've already done my take on how to handle criticism, so I've been hesitating to write yet another article on why you should stick to your own balls (or ovaries) in the face of internet confrontation. This whole phenomenon just confounds me, and I'm way behind on making these darn blog posts, anyways, so I might as well double down on it. Anyhow, if you don't know, and you already do, publishers have been pulling books from their line-ups due to pre-release criticism of the materials yet unseen. It seems to be caused by professional reviews that paint the word as all our favorite -isms. And why question that? Surely, a critic would never have a bias, especially not one so esteemed as a critic of YA fiction. Think Plato's cave but rather than seeing shadows on the wall, they're having the shadows described to them by others. (Did they go over that in the theory? Secondhand information and ears and hearing noises? Probably. I don't remember.)
See, here's my main frustration. I don't believe these are samaritans trying to call out manifestos of bigotry. If I actually gave a fuck, I'd love to read the (un?)shelved manuscripts to see how they add up to the allegations. Something tells me that Mein Kampf, they are not. (Although, wouldn't I look like a fool if they were?) Likening this to #metoo would be a false equivalence. You see, when you accuse someone of something, you don't purposefully attempt to hide the evidence, especially not if you're confident in your statements. What these people are doing is saying, “Don't look! It's so evil, so racist, so hateful that you might not even notice if you read it for yourself! Don't come up with your own opinion. Let me protect you.” I don't find these to be good or even very confident people. If nobody reads the book they're calling out, then how can anyone disprove their claims? Ironically, many of these dimwits also tend to be the type who boast about reading “banned books” one month every calendar year. It appears to be a cabal of progressive puritans who enjoy the power of "canceling" those who accomplish what they are incapable of. You can bend over backwards to suck their collective dick but that doesn't mean they won't kick you in the face when your time comes. Whether or not you've truly done anything wrong, you're done away with. Apologies will only confirm their suspicions.
So, authors, what the fuck? On one hand, I understand. You're afraid; they've got you up against the wall. You put years into this book, have all your hopes and dreams stitched into the pages, other unnecessary metaphors. You don't want to come off unprofessional or get caught with your foot in the mouth. Here's the bad news: You're already fucked. Once they've sunk their fangs into you, you've got moments to act. I truly believe that most, if not all these authors mean well. I would be astonished if a single one of them tried sneaking some covert racism into their young adult book on the sly. If your book isn't what they claim it is, then why shy away from proving them wrong? You know what you've written, probably better than anyone (barring maybe your editor). Talk some sense into the situation. Are you digging your own grave? Maybe, but it's better than to submit to the entertainment police. People are divided on outspoken artists; nobody respects a push-over.
Publishers, you're probably not actually reading this article, so this paragraph is essentially useless. Imaginary publishers that I pretend read my posts, you're shooting yourselves in the foot. On one hand, there is a potential loss. On the other hand, you're missing out on an opportunity. I understand playing it safe is the game but outspoken Twitter profiles don't speak for the majority of readers. In many cases, controversy stirs interest in the general populace, especially when the claims turn out to be false. Look at the fan outrage towards Suicide Squad. That shit still made money. How many Transformers movies has Michael Bay cashed in on, now? (Particularly decent example, being that they are often accused of being racist, sexist, smartophobic.) I'm not here to argue the quality of these movies. My point is that despite negative reception, they still made bank. This boils down to the free market. Let consumers decide what you publish, not tweets. If an author's making money, why cut them off? I get that many of the authors I'm referring to aren't established writers, but why not give them one chance? I'm more sympathetic in this case, because I totally get how each book release is a major gamble and a financial liability. I'd still love to see a publisher give the literati the finger, though, and stand up with for the authors they were willing to sign on.
Ultimately, my point is why let others cancel your dreams? If a single bad review is going to light their torches, then fuck 'em. Who wants a fanbase like that in the first place? I think everyone whose written has been misunderstood on some level. I can say that a lot of my older writing and even my current writing could be misconstrued in such a fashion, in part due to my inefficiency as a storyteller. Thing is, if you're well-intentioned, the least you can do is have some faith in yourselves. I know this is easier said than done but you need to take this misfortune as an opportunity. The spotlight's on you and you need to take your fifteen seconds of infamy to prove yourself innocent before they move on to the next target.
It is very late and I’m sitting on the bed typing away on my Mac because I can’t sleep. I’m sitting cross-legged with the duvet wrapped around my shoulders, like some kind of narcoleptic Batman. I am also wearing a pair of Christmas pyjamas with a giant T-Rex dinosaur wrapped in Christmas tree lights on the front of the T-Shirt.
Why, I hear you ask? He’s a Tree Rex!
Okay, that’s enough setting the scene for now!
Basically, I came to bed early tonight with the idea of catching up on some much-needed sleep. The problem is that, as soon as I turned off the light at 8:42 pm, my mind revved up, buried it’s foot on the throttle and yelled, ‘What do you think you’re doing? We’re just warming up!’ I normally get all stroppy and flounce around in bed, getting more and more wound up at the fact I can’t get over to sleep but, this time, I didn’t. I was cool, calm and collected.
I simply got my laptop and started to write.
This, my dear reader, is the result of my over-heated, over-caffeinated brain and I just thought I would pose the question – does anyone else feel they have their most productive times either at night or really early in the morning?
When I sit at night, hearing nothing but a mixture of my heart beat, my nasally breathing, the click of the keyboard and the snoring of my four-year-old son in the next room I like to think I allow my mind to open up.
At times like this, I feel I am able to listen to the shy, quietest, inner-most voices of characters buried deep within my conscious or unconscious mind. Sometimes these characters are the best craic (fun in Irish slang) and I giggle like a schoolgirl as they give me what I feel at the time is pure literary gold! Other times, I feel like turning to them and giving them both barrel of verbal abuse, yelling, ‘And you woke me up for this?!’
The problem is that I, someone who is a Twilight Writers (#TwiWriter), has no idea what could come out of our sometimes tired, overworked minds. It can be amazing, but it can also be pure trash that should be filed under ‘Bin’.
When writing this, I looked up the internet to see if many other writers, who were actually famous, wrote at night. It seems that I, and any other #TwiWriters out there could be in some good, and pretty lofty, company:
* Robert Frost;
* Sylvia Plath;
* Tennessee Williams;
* TS Elliot;
* James Joyce;
* Franz Kafka;
* And endless others, friends!
The list of Twilight Writers appears to be endless and I, now learning that I am not a unique little snowflake, feel glad to know that what I am doing is seen to be something of an accepted practice in the world of writing. Times may have changed. The topics we write about also may have evolved, from the nineteenth through into the twenty-first century, but are we that different?
Some writers in Victorian England may have been huddling next to a dull light while scrawling onto paper by hand, while we, in the technological age, can call on a plethora of aids to help us regurgitate our ideas from our minds onto the ‘page’ and into the world via email. These tools may differ but we, as writers who sit up to all hours of the night listening for howls of those characters inside our minds, are the same. We call upon the inspiration that naturally comes about when we are sleepy, asleep or simply tired after a hard day’s work and putting the kids to bed!
I know I am a TwiWriter, I know I will be exhausted in the morning, I know I may need to take a little nap tomorrow, but I know I will have something concrete to show for my efforts. If, like me, you roll over to get your phone, open the ‘Notes’ app and start typing ideas before we forget them, accept that this is part of your process! Remember that we are not alone and, somewhere out there in the darkness, another TwiWriter will be dancing their fingers across a keyboard just like you.
Author of Inside Iris
Available on from Amazon on Kindle and Paperback
Scott Gilmore, author of Inside Iris, is a pretty cool guy who wrote this equally cool article. Check it out:
As a child, when I sat behind a desk with an opened textbook in front of me, I often felt daunted and even sometimes frightened of the educators who taught me the ABC’s, 123’s and everything in between. These gargoyles would often have low expectations of us and, being from a working class, inner city area, can be forgiven for shouting and being stressed considering my class were what you could call ‘lively’ to say the least.
I remember these teachers as being glum, run down women who could find the thirty ankle-biters they were in charge of from the hours of nine am to three pm, and I can understand why they may have acted and behaved the way they did with my particular class.
Now that I am in my mid-thirties, have grown to be over six-feet tall, have a beard and am a teacher myself, I often look back at those days and wonder how that little boy would feel sitting in my classroom in 2018. Being a Primary 6 (or Year 5 in England) teacher, I was faced with my usual AQE Transfer Test chaos from April through to June. This is an extremely stressful testing procedure in Northern Ireland to determine whether a child at the age of ten or eleven is ‘smart enough’ to get into a particular grade of school.
Every year, the children in the class can find the time challenging and I regularly have a plethora of emotions from the dizzying highs to the gut-wrenching lows but, no matter what, I would always maintain an air of positivity and encourage the children as much as possible. Last academic year, I had one girl in particular who had a real issue with confidence, was getting upset and was considering not doing the AQE. I sat with this girl and discussed her worries at length, calming her down and ensuring she was able to go out to lunch with even the slightest silver lining on that particular cloud.
That evening, as I was making my way home from work, I stopped to buy my usual marking pens and, with the conversation I had with that girl was fresh in my mind, I bought a notepad and wrote a note for that girl. I told her how much I believed in her as a student, but also as a writer who had written many imaginative and creative stories that year.
The next day, I gave the girl the notepad and her face proceeded to redden with embarrassment. I then held out my hand to make her a deal – that I would give her a chapter of my still unfinished novel every week and she was to use that notepad as an escape from the stresses of AQE. The girl, who was always very quiet, simply said ‘deal’ and shook my hand before putting the notepad in her bag.
As the weeks went on, the few chapters I had written of my book soon dwindled and I had to write more to live up to my end of the bargain. Before I knew it, I was writing every night and, by the first week in July, I had written almost sixty-thousand words and finished my book, which was later to be published as my debut novel, Inside Iris.
I am in no doubt that this agreement, this handshake and this child gave me the impetus to finish my first book, publish it and achieve a dream I had since I was a child. She, along with other past pupils I have taught, have inspired me in different ways, encouraging me to look at myself as a professional and as a person – to change, develop and evolve.
I firmly believe that, as educators, as parents and as adults in general, we have a duty to encourage and develop the children in our care beyond the academic targets and statistics that are laid before them. We need to encourage the children in our care to challenge themselves, develop their minds creatively and to not be afraid of making mistakes.
I, and many other teachers, take pride in the fact that children in our classrooms know we will be there to catch them when they do make mistakes, when they do fail and when that ‘risk’ didn’t pay off as they had expected it to. Each and every year, I would watch two TED Talks. One by Sir Ken Robinson and the other is by Rita Pierson. There, she would talk about how every child needs a champion – someone who will believe in and encourage them no matter what, no matter how hard things got or how insurmountable a task or challenge may be.
With more experience and guidance from an inspirational principal, I learned the importance of connecting with the pupils in my class right from the most exceptionally gifted and talented to the most challenging and troubled. This connection and relationship, forged between a teacher a child, can empower them to do more than they thought they were ever capable of. It can push them from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
As a child in my class, sitting at a desk behind an open textbook, I want you to feel that I know you. I want you to feel that I understand, and I believe in you. I want you to know that, in a world of uncertainty, Brexit and pressures exerted on you from social media, that you have something that is certain in me. You will have someone who will always be there for you, who will have your back when times are tough and who will never ever give up on holding a mirror up to show you the person you can be.
Rita Pierson sums it up best when she asks how powerful our world would be if we have kids who are not afraid to take risks, not afraid to think and who have a champion – an adult who will not give up on them and who insists that they become the best that they can possibly be. Young people need champions and, as adults, we owe it to them to be their guides, their guardians and that person who will encourage them to be more than ordinary – to be the exception.
Author of Inside Iris
Available from Amazon on Kindle and Paperback
This might come as a shock to all of you reading this, all one of you, but Maureen and I actually established a list of rules for Long Shot Books when we started the company. We had two sets. One for anyone unlucky enough to find themselves collaborating with us and another for ourselves. (We gave ourselves much more liberty because we should be allowed to put our mouths where our money is. This is America.) Aside from these blog posts, which we do to let people sample who we are as people or writers, we try not to let ourselves bleed into Long Shot Books too much. (I mean, sure, there was that time with that professional victim of plagiarism that I accidentally pissed off; and that other time with the journalists I tweeted @ on the company Twitter account; and those times I accidentally posted Carly Rae Jepsen memes on the Twitter. O.K., I overstep my boundaries every now and again but this goes back to the putting money in my mouth thing.) One of the most important restrictions that we gave ourselves was that neither of us could publish through the company, nor could we promote our own work through the company's social media accounts. We felt that would cheapen what it means to be published as a Long Shot book and “delegitimize” the company (as though my blog posts don't enough as it is).
So, as some of our followers might be aware, I kinda released a book and have a book release coming up. More importantly, I accidentally made the event page on Facebook a Long Shot Book event. I don't know how this happened. I wasn't aware of this until just yesterday, when my personal account was invited to the LSB page's event by a friend...To quote one of my personal heroes, Robert Hymen, General Surgeon in the Civil War, “Well, that was fucking stupid.” To make this abundantly clear, my book is not published through LSB. The event is not organized by LSB, nor is it reflective of the company or future events that will be organized by the company. This is just an event that has the two founders of Long Shot Books as presenters. We're just Todd and Maureen. Not Todd and Maureen. (The italics make us look more professional for company stuff, right?) I don't even, really see it as a Todd Crawford thing. I mean, there are six other readers who will be presenting roughly fifteen to twenty minutes' of their own content. Mathematically, it's much bigger than myself or my own writing.
So, in conclusion, for as many stupid things I do that I'm proud of, this is one that I will apologize for...on behalf of our intern, Tucker Cow...son? Yeah, Tucker Cowson. Due to his gross negligence in this matter, we have decided to part ways with him. We are forever grateful for his participation in our company but quite frankly, he can fuck off for this. To quote Maureen, “If I was on a walk and saw that piece of shit, Tucker dead in a dumpster, I'd dump the rest of my coffee on his body and close the lid. This was Maureen, who said this, out loud.” Thank you for understanding. Oh, and Tucker was also supposed to be posting my weekly blog posts on here. I definitely wrote those and it's all his fault.
I've been reading The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I found it wedged between a duplicate copy of some Christopher Hart cartoon guide and another Ultimate Guide to Drawing Stuff and Things. It's kind of like a self-help book for For Dummies guide for creative folk.
In the first few chapters, The Artist's Way introduces the concept of the shadow artist. Shadow artists don't have a badass origin story about being born in a pit of darkness, fulfilling some kind of prophecy, or anything like that. It's kind of a sad one, actually.
You're seven years old. You like to write. Maybe you draw too. You spend hours in your room with a pack of printer paper and colored pencils, pinning your designs to your walls. You write plays you make your siblings perform with you in your living room. You explore all the things that make you wonder. Your parents, your teachers, and all the well wishers cheer you on. Long story short, you create a ton of shit all the time and you love every second of it.
Fast forward you're in high school. You've got a part-time job because your parents want you to learn some kind of responsibility or how to manage money or whatever. Now you just doodle for fun during your lunch break. Instead of writing stories, you're prepping for your SATs and ACTs. You're corralled into an AP Physics course and told it'll boost your class rank—so you take it instead of that writer's workshop class. Then comes the college applications and career fairs. This is when shit gets real. You want to be a painter or a poet or a playwright, but the same people who were once rooting for you are now telling you these things won't pay the bills.(They have good intentions though). You take a second look at those printer paper drawings, and now they don't look as good as you thought. So you take their advice and put your passions on the back burner.
You probably get the picture—the rest you can fill in yourself.
Shadow artists are basically people who grew up to love to create but walked way for one reason or another. Their parents told them they wouldn't make a living as a playwright. They didn't think they were good enough and that their form sucked. They thought they weren't true artists/creative folk. They hang around other creative people so that they can vicariously live out their dreams through other artists instead of claiming their own “birthright” as a creative person. And you bet they beat themselves up about it. They're essentially caught between the dream to act and the fear of failing.
Sometimes to ensure some shred of success, a shadow artist pursues a “shadow career,” or a job similar to what he/she wants to do. So instead of being a fiction writer, you're a journalist. Instead of being a director, you're a film critic—and so on.
I'm saying all this because I'm a recovering shadow artist. (Like Todd said before—we don't really like to talk about ourselves on here, but sometimes it just helps to use ourselves as examples.)
I grew up with a passion for drawing. I spent hours in the basement of my old house just drawing and hanging my pictures up on the wood-paneled walls with my mom's hospital tape. As I got older my sister and I started writing short stories back and forth (most of which were Spider-Man themed), and people said I had a knack for storytelling. I skipped AP Physics and took art classes instead. At some point, someone said I can't make a living as an artist. I know this person genuinely meant well—most people who say this do. But eventually I started having these crazy thoughts about not being good enough and how all my ideas were shit. So what did I do? I walked away. Instead of being a fiction writer I majored in journalism (because those things are similar, right?). I reduced my art to being a hobby I did on weekends (until I became so self conscious I quit art entirely). Trying to write a story became an excruciating endeavor. This led to an on-and-off relationship with writing for a few years.
The other ugly part of being a shadow artist is when you start to believe you can't be “great” without giving something else you really, really wanted up. That author of that book I keep mentioning says, “In other words, if being an artist seems too good to be true to you, you will devise a price tag for it that strikes you as unpayable.” So, the price of being a talented comic artist means you'll die alone. If you want to be a novelist I have to develop a dependency on alcohol and cigarettes. Et cetera, et cetera. In your mind, you can't have it all.
I don't really know at what point I realized I was a shadow artist. Maybe it was when 2018 became 2019. Or it could have been when we started LSB. Whatever and whenever it was, I guess it'll be lost to me. At this point I'm focused on the now, and I'm telling you it's kind of like you're in a dark room feeling the walls for a light switch while stepping on Legos.
Getting back into it isn't easy, trust me. Step one? Take yourself seriously. Take what you're doing and plan to do seriously—don't water it down. You're an artist. You're a writer. You're a whatever-the-heck-you-want-to-be.
Step two? Give yourself permission to suck. An Artist's Way says, “By being willing to be a bad artist, you have the chance to BE an artist, and perhaps, over time, a good one.”
Step two-and-a-half? Don't compare your beginning poems or sketches to someone else's master work.
Step three? Ramble, mess up, get lost in it. You'll be busting your ass learning how to play again, and it'll be hard work.
You owe it to yourself to at least try.
Soft Pumpkin Drops
1 cup sugar, 1 cup canned
grated orange peel, 1 teaspoon
ungreased, 2 inches apart in
beat until smooth, 8 to ten minutes
Photo credit: Pexcels
I've been too busy writing to write about writing, lately. I had to take a deliberate vacation from Long Shot Books so that Maureen could actually get shit done without my bologna in the way. She's probably posted more interviews in my absence than I have in the Weebly's lifespan thus far. The thing with writing is that it's almost a form of meditation where you're so hyper-aware of every thought you have that it's hard to break the spell in your everyday life. It's silly when you say it out loud, but there's a lot of stress involved with every sentence. (I go more for a freestyle approach with these posts but I've already read this paragraph about eight times over.) Think of how much it takes to be one actor in front of the camera, or the set designer, or the director telling the actors how to act, or the screenwriter deciding what they say. Writing a book is kind of like being all of those things at once. So far as the narrative is concerned, you're God. (Now, whether or not you're any good at playing that role is a whole other story...) So, it can be difficult to go from that to Silly Internet Blogger sometimes. Much like writing a book, making post like this requires a special form of narcissism, not to mention Maureen and I try to separate this company from our own creative works as much as possible, but this all ties into a relevant point. Long Shot Books is a company by writers for writers. That's why it's was necessary for me to fuck off for a while. How can one play Virgil without first completing his own hero's journey?
Let's get this out of the way, now. Conditional Love is the last Todd Crawford book, in many aspects. It's not the final book that I will write, almost surely, but it's both the last book of the ilk I've been writing for the past few years. I mean, it very well could be the last book I write. That doesn't really matter to me. (If none of this makes any sense, I understand. Well, maybe I don't understand and that's the problem.) Much of the book is about the dynamic of the idea of an artistic persona vs. a true identity and how one reaches a point where they cannot coexist. It's no coincidence that I'm releasing the book physically on my twenty-seventh birthday. As soon as I realized the ending of the book, I knew it had to be a last of some sort. The important thing is that there's no second second chances. There isn't the excuse of a sequel. If there's another book, which there probably will be at some point, it will be far enough removed from this that they can have unique identities. It isn't walking away in frustration; it's more leaving well enough alone. I've never put as much time and effort into anything else I've done before and the idea of following it up with a quickie isn't that attractive to me. Plus, I'm kind of drained. With Conditional Love, I'll have written ten books in the last decade. (Before you think that's impressive, take a look at the quality of some of them and get back to me.) Writing a book is starting to feel like the point of exercise where you're just hurting yourself and it's time to get off the treadmill. I'd rather shut myself up until I have something new to say, however long that might take.
And...it's no secret that there have been a lot of personal struggles this year. The circumstances don't matter. They're just variables in an equation; once you solve for X, there's another problem just below it. What is important is to recognize that every misfortune is an opportunity to grow. I'm not thankful for all the stuff that's been working against me. I have this weird anxiety about anyone else taking credit for inspiring me to write this book (which is funny, because who would even want to do that), like I needed to suffer in order to get to this place. No. Losing a couple grand, chronic nightmares, and total paranoia have not contributed in any healthy manner to my creative process. I'm too fucked up to get it up to fuck without getting fucked up. That doesn't help, either. Plus, I never changed my act for pussy so why would I switch it up for a few cunts? Usually, art's a distraction from life but lately, it's starting to feel like my life has been a distraction from my art. There's no one person or event to blame for any of my circumstances. The only one responsible for myself is me. I'm writing this book because I know that's what I want to do, and I owe that to myself.
Of course, it's embarrassing to say or share these things. That's the point. This isn't my best self but who else is offering their worst material? If you want to improve in what you do, you have to confront your worst self. You have to look the worst person you're capable of becoming in the eyes and having the patience and love to turn that into the person you thought was too good to be true. You can't brush anything under the rug; you can't make any excuses. You don't build muscle by sitting on the couch. I'm using myself as the demonstration, here. You can't be afraid of yourself. Don't think “How am I going to deal with this situation?” Ask yourself how the situation is going to deal with you. You don't have to be perfect but if you're not doing your best, then you're selling the world short.
It's important for me to share this and it took me a month to build up the courage to do it. It matters because when we start taking in real submissions, I don't want any illusions of authority or prestige on our behalf. We're “artists” just like you. (I'd never call myself that but for the sake of communication, just roll with it.) I can't look an author's profile picture on Facebook in the eyes and type them some crap about writing their best book if I can't even finish mine. Maureen understands that and has been incredibly supportive about it, so thanks always to her. (Heck, she let me crash on her couch rent-free for a month when my home life got too bad that I needed to move out. We'd stay up on work nights and talk about our plans for this company while I got too wasted to remember what I was running away from.) Thanks to everybody who reads and supports this company and my goofy, inappropriate articles. I think the coolest thing anyone's ever said about my writing is that they could tell I put everything into it. For now, this is what I've got. I'll try not to go so long next time.
I feel like there's an unspoken truth with artists, creative people, and hacks like me. Nobody really knows how to respond to criticism. It's the classic slut or prude dilemma, and it's hard not to take a hard-line stance on the matter. I mean, it's simple as fuck, actually, but there wouldn't be much of an article if I approached the subject pragmatically, now would there? So, for the sake of my word count, you have a few options here.
The Slut. Also known as The Rian Johnson. Formerly also known as the Kevin Feige, but who the Hell wants to remember that guy? They're the sluts. This approach is the most destructive for oneself and one's reputation. Basically, what you do is dismiss any and all criticism as that of trolls (or if you're an oldhead, the “h8rs”). Obviously, you made all the right choices because if they weren't the right choices, why would you make them? Don't bother using reason to defend yourself, though. Avoid any real criticism at all costs. This style calls for ad hominems and broad generalizations about people who dislike your work. They probably just don't agree with your politics 'cause they're fuckin' nazis. Might even be Russian bots. Clearly, no reasonable person wouldn't like something that a master of the craft such as yourself gifted the world with. Shit, if your Goodreads rating was one star higher, Bernie might actually be in the White House by now. Nevermind how it affects your career. You have an ego to uphold. You have a platform, a fucking pulpit, and you're gonna use it. In the short run, you look petty getting into scrabbles with fans on Twitter. In the long run, well, let's take a look at Exhibit A. Oh? Kevin Feige made that A Simple Favor movie? Huh. I knew there was a reason Anna Kendrick was in something and I didn't have the impulse to jerk off to it. Well, it didn't say “From the Director of Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Ghostbusters Answer the Call” or advertise his input, so we'll just pretend he's floundering. (Seriously, though. Life's not fair. Jodorowsky struggled for financing for years and that guy gets another chance?) So, that leave Mrs. Johnson. Let's be real, his Star Wars trilogy isn't happening. Shit, he's “known for” Looper on IMDB and not The Last Jedi. Wut. (If there was any justice in the world, he'd be known for Brick, which is a legitimately great film. This is not to be confused with the James Gunn or Roseanne Barr, who were ostracized for comments not about their work. For a better third wheel example, see the J.K. Rowling.
The prude. Marilyn Manson has some quote about art dying once it becomes dictated by the audience. There's a kernel of truth in there, but most people who listened to his later albums would probably cite those as examples to discredit such a stance. (I enjoy them all, but that's beside the point.) I'd offer a better example of this but I'm not actually going to put any research into this article. It's gonna be a shorter paragraph because this example isn't as embarrassing or as entertaining as the slut. People don't take notice of the prude, whereas everyone's talking about what (and who) the slut did at the party Friday night. Nobody cares if the prude showed up at all, because there's no cheap entertainment to be gained from her. In short, you don't engage in any criticism whatsoever. Your work and the criticism of it are parallel lines. They can say what they wanna say but you're just gonna keep doing what you do. This isn't a bad approach, but you do risk missing out on valid criticism. You might keep up an enigmatic or “superior” reputation, someone whose engagement is a social privilege. Most likely, though, people will probably just think you're stuck up, even if that isn't true.
The obvious. You pick your battles. You engage in conversations you feel are worth having respectfully and without talking down to others. The key to this is to listen to all perspectives but only follow the advice that you find valuable. You're not a pushover but you're not gonna be getting into any turf wars, either. There might be some Iagos in your midst, but if you play your cards right, you'll carry on your path without too many snake bites. (That's a mixed metaphor if I've ever seen one.) It's about self-respect and respecting those who give your work the time of day. You can benefit from listening to your audience...and you'll inevitably piss them off when you put your foot down, but it's all in the best interest of the final product. You're not perfect, but neither are your readers. You're equals and shit. You make mistakes but are willing to learn from them. More text leading into a proper conclusion to the article that doesn't just sound like a structural obligation.
I've been excited for the past few days, because I modified a character in the book I'm writing in a way that completely changes the dynamic it has with the protagonist. A formerly male character is now female. (Uh-oh! Gotta pretend like men and women act exactly the same for some fucking reason, because G.R. Martin's quote or whatever. Maybe if writers spent more time talking to girls, they'd understand that men and women tend to interact differently in social situations...) So, I've been tweaking dialogue while I twiddle my thumbs on the bus and having a good time with myself. My original article was about that, how writing dialogue is like playing chemist. Then it hit me: I'm a fuckin' dork. Who wastes their time on this shit? “If I talk to myself this way, but also talk to myself that way, that'd be really neat.” You're inventing social situations from the safety of a control panel and expecting anyone to be entertained by that. You might as well be playing with sock puppets. Or action figures for that matter. “Hey, wouldn't it be cool if Han Solo said this to Bowser?” No, it wouldn't. You're twenty-four.
I see lousy memes all the time on the internet about things like, “Go ahead, be mean to me, I'll write you into my next book.” Are you kidding me? I'm not a violent person, but shit like that makes me wanna hand out serious noogies. Could you imagine if somebody pulled that shit irl? They'd be headed straight for the inside of a locker. You ever try to befriend a kid that everybody gives a hard time only to realize that the kid's actually not bullied, he's just a total prick that no one else can stand? That's us. We're snivelly little brats who think we're the most fucking precious thing because we string words together in a manner that pleasures ourselves. I always see these cliches about how writers and readers are more in-tune with emotions and are more compassionate, understanding people. Well, here's the thing; that implies that we're actually good at what we do. Just writing doesn't make you a humanist. It doesn't make you more aware of feelings or any of that shit. Sure, if you're good at it, it'll help. Are you seriously trying to sell me H.P. Lovecraft as a socialite? I know Stephen King's all chummy on late night TV these days, but you gonna tell me that dude was a player back when? Now, the thing is that both those writers tend to fall short of the third dimension more often than not, so I'd definitely say that such qualities help, but aren't necessary. How about David Foster Wallace and all his creepy shit? Infinite Jest is one of the most obvious examples of humanistic literature on this side (the gentrified end, that is) of hipsterdom, yet...
Here's a secret. Nobody respects virgins. (I'm sorry, incels is the nuspeak politically correct term.) Let's be real. Writing is just masturbation. Getting published or read is equivalent to a bone, I guess. Idk. Maybe it's more like jerking off on someone's face. Us writers can't control ourselves when we have even the smallest audience. After years of toil and self-doubt and being ignored over dinner, someone is finally willing to hear us out. A platform for most of us is like if the dog caught up to the newspaper man and dragged him off the bike. Great, now we have this vehicle, but what the fuck are we supposed to do with it? We're just hairy, clueless animals. Everybody wants to be John Bender. Nobody has ever wanted to be any character that Michael Anthony Hall has played. Ever. I don't even know that Anthony Michael Hall has ever wanted to be an Anthony Michael Hall character. “Oh, boy. I get to be the geek that doesn't get the girl.” I know what you're asking myself, now: “Well, what about Lloyd Dobbler? John Cusack was hanging out with AMH in Sixteen Candles, remember, Todd?” Lloyd Dobbler was a fuckin' kick boxer. He was sensitive (like, really, really sensitive) but he wasn't a dweeb. The kids in SLC Punk graduated from DND to the music scene. I mean, not everything worked out, but at least they got to party for a bit. If the kids in Stranger Things were fifty pounds heavier and pounding back Gamer Fuel like my Uncle Ned used to pound on me, I don't know that the show would have its mainstream appeal any longer. It's a miracle that people tolerated The Lone Gunmen for one season. Anyhow, not enough writers can maintain that balance. They're either the bullies from Revenge of the Nerds (me) or they're that crazy kid from Super Dark Times. You don't see many Morrisseys on Goodreads. When did writers become such pansies? Were we not given enough wedgies in our playground days? What the fuck?
I think the “geek” era, making it hip to be square, suddenly made everything cool about being uncool suddenly just uncool. Finally, in the era of Createspace and the Nook, writers get to play like they're the cool kids. Problem is, they don't know how to handle that power. You ever see a person who was never in a relationship, a typical “nice guy” that immediately becomes the most possessive, gaslighting piece of foreskin once he finds himself in a relationship through some cruel twist of fate? I believe that's what's happened to us. We've become the schoolyard bullies of the internet, and the thing is, we suck at it. We spit down from our high horse, but we never learned how to cough up real loogies. Dudes like Joss Whedon, James Gunn, Rian Johnson, Louis C.K...they never stood a chance on the A List. We're the assholes who think we're political pundits because we read 1984, or at least we've read a synopsis of it. There's a great Built to Spill quote, "Jack thought it twice and thought that that thought made it true/Some brains just work that way." Even if our whole thing is writing, I think most of us really need to learn when to shut the fuck up. On that note...
I'm not sure if writers get growing pains, but I have something like that going on right now. After taking a three-year hiatus from writing and publishing, getting back into it feels just as pleasant as taking a stroll across a field of burning coals during a heat wave. Making the time to write and slaying the performance anxiety monster are half the battle--the other is actually trying to figure out who you are as a writer--not your process, but something a little more introspective than that.
The following questions (in no particular order) are some I've composed/complied to try to figure this all out. If you're looking to do a little self-reflection, give them a shot. Or if you're just bored and looking for a notebook prompt, that's cool too.
Ready? Set? Go!
What do you write?
I know this sounds a bit obvious, but having some idea of what you want to do (and knowing it's not set in stone) is a good starting point.
Why are you doing this, like, what's the point?
Maybe you want to write to get published and have your name on the bookshelves across the country. Perhaps you have a story you want to tell that you believe no one else can. Maybe you feel like no one around you listens and you just want to be heard.
What are your influences?
This is the book you read in 10th grade English class that made you think you could be a writer. This is a place for your writing heroes or for the ones you don't want to be. This is where that poem Langston Huges wrote about dreams that inspired you to write a chapbook goes. These are the folks, books, ideas that got you writing and got you to where you are now.
What's your inspiration?
Different from influences—this is where your ideas come from. This is where you look back and cringe at all the stupid crap you did and never want to tell anyone; but then you realize you're a writer and have to tell everyone.
What's holding you back?
You don't think you're a good writer. You don't think you have any fresh ideas that haven't been done before. You could be worried about offending someone. You're worried about critics. You don't want to receive a rejection letter. You don't know much about writing a book or where to start.
What does it mean to succeed as a writer?
You want to make it on the #1 slot of the New York Times Bestseller list. Maybe you hope publishers and editors of big-name houses will beg you to work with them. Or, you want to find your “people,” and build something together through writing.
What does it mean to fail as a writer?
Rejection scares you. You don't want to embarrass yourself in front of a publisher. No one shows up to the reading you host. You don't sell enough books. You think your ideas suck. The book you released receives negative reviews across the board.
What keeps you going?
When you do fail, this is what keeps you from throwing in the towel, copping out, walking way, and other euphemisms for quitting.
What are you reading right now?
A poet once told me, “You write what you read.”
What are you working on right now?
There are writers who write and writers who “write.”
Are you writing something you want to read?
If you're not, follow up question, why aren't you?
What are you hoping readers get out of your work?
You want to tell them a good story, you know, the kind with the hero that overcomes his challenges that brings out the underdog in all of us. Your poem might be a battle-cry or a call to action. Or maybe you just want to do some Inception-like mind meddling.
Do other people know that you write?
Maybe your ultra-conservative parents don't know you write poems about how you lost your virginity. Or your professors who are impressed you can write a coherent sentence and think you have potential. Maybe you're out there in random internet forums posting haikus and gained a following.
Have more questions? Thoughts? Post 'em below!