Category Archives: Psychology of writing

Thoughts on How Instant Feedback Can Impact the Voice of Some Writers

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned how I turned comments off on my blog back in November 2010 due to severe time constraints:

I didn’t know what impact it would have, but one of the surprising results was that now my blog thoughts sometimes dig deeper into things.  The time I used have to waste wading through spam in the queue instead gets spent thinking and writing the post instead.

Since writing those words, I’ve been mulling things in my mind, and I’ve come to realize that there’s more to this than having more time to think now that I’m no longer babysitting a blog comments queue.  (I do, however, still have comments flipped on in Facebook and a Contact Me page so people can talk to me direct when they need to.)

There’s the issue of a writer’s voice, or what I’ve nicknamed the “Aw, crap” factor–as in, “Aw, crap, if I write about that, I’ll have to deal with too many comments. I want to spend that time writing instead.”

So instead of writing the post that might stir things up, I’d write something bland that would have no risk of being interesting enough to trigger responses from people.

Writers who have the extra time to referee a comments section don’t have this “Aw, crap” problem. But it’s become clear to me that I do.  And I suspect there are other writers out there as well who are subconsciously making their posts bland because they also have time crunch issues.

A few months after I turned off comments, I finally felt comfortable enough to do livelier blog posts, and my web traffic jumped. I also started writing things that would unexpectedly catch the eye of other, more established, bloggers. It’s too soon for me to tell what the permanent increase in web traffic will be since the spikes in traffic happened so recently. I’ve seen spikes as high as 10x the November traffic.  Maybe 2x – 3x? I’m guessing at this point.

So if you’ve got a severe time squeeze, you might want to give flipping comments off on blog posts for a few months a try to see if the “Aw, crap” factor has been in play.

Also, the same “Aw, crap” factor can come into play if a writer posts fiction online with comments flipped on. I’m never going to post fiction with comments turned on, since I’ve already learned I’m too likely to self-censor myself to avoid comments.

I can easily imagine myself thinking, “Aw, crap, I don’t want to write that story idea because it will piss off too many people and I’ll have to deal with too many comments and fights between readers who either love it or hate it. I don’t have the time for that. Let me write something soothing instead.”

And so I’d end up writing something so boring it would put everyone to sleep. I’d stifle my voice as a writer for fear of having to deal with too many comments.

Hmm, I think this happens quite a bit to writers even outside the world of posting fiction online. It’s so much easier to write stories that are bland and soothing and make everyone go “Zzzzz…” so that one can tiptoe away before they wake up. Stories that are lively stir everyone up like bees so that they break into camps and start fighting about the story (some love it, some hate it).

Of course, some writers thrive on controversy and fistfights and instant feedback.  Their writing gets better, instead of worse. So it’s important to experiment and see what works best since each writer is different.

Good luck testing all of this. May you find the path that suits you best.

Sooner or Later Someone Will Try to Put You Down as a Writer

Most of you have probably already heard about the Nobel Laureate in Literature who felt it necessary in an interview to put down all women–past and present–who are writers by claiming he writes better than all of them combined. I decided I wouldn’t mention his name here, and I debated whether to even provide a link, but here’s a link to the interview if you must read more.

To be honest, I found the arrogance of this writer rather amusing.  Why?  Because when I studied physics for my undergraduate degree, I noticed how the physics and engineering professors sneered at the English professors.  In their eyes, a Nobel Prize in Physics was to a Nobel Prize in Literature like college was  to kindergarten.  Yup, those physicists were that snobby.

So the Nobel Laureate in Literature, who thinks he’s better than all the women writers who ever existed or exist, will find himself put down in certain physics and chemistry circles as not having a “real” Nobel Prize.

It all comes down to human nature. Certain people have an innate need to put down others in order to feel better about themselves. I’m sure you’ve noticed the pecking order games that go on in any field by those that feel insecure. The male writer who puts down women writers in an interview. The literary writer who puts down the science fiction genre in an essay. The fantasy writer who puts down literary writing at a convention.

And have you ever noticed how insecure writers in various genres will all put down romance and erotica writers?

No matter your speciality of writing, gender, religion, politics, sexual orientation, race, age, etc. etc. etc., sooner or later you will be put down as a writer. Someone is going to try to hurt you and is going to say anything, no matter how crazy, to do so.

Even a male heterosexual Protestant Caucasian who writes literary fiction is going to get put down. The frequency may be less, and he may get more respect from the standard-bearers in his society, but he will get trashed by various people. I guarantee it.

However, if you don’t fit the norm in your society for who a “true” writer is supposed to be, you’ll have to deal with more put downs than other writers.

A new writer (female) once asked me why she should even try to keep writing and become published since she would always be looked down upon by certain male writers and male English professors.  She felt her work would never be treated as seriously as it would have been if she were male.

I told her that it was worth doing the writing anyway, for a couple of reasons: 1) if she gave up writing, she’d be doing exactly what those scared sexist jackasses wanted her to do–quit, 2) she would only learn what she was capable of as a writer if she gave it her all, 3) there are readers that will give her respect and money in this era despite discrimination, and 4) we can hope that future generations will  judge her work on its merits, not her gender. For her to give up would be to kill that future off before it had a chance to happen.

So no matter who you are as a writer, I hope that you will continue writing no matter how many put downs you may encounter. Some of you will get sneered at more than others. But may you all have the courage to continue onwards no matter what.

The Craving for Validation Can Really Screw Things Up

Writers–especially new writers–crave validation the way a cat craves catnip. I’ve seen the craving result in a few writers doing some incredibly destructive things from a business perspective. I myself did quite a few stupid things business-wise due to the validation crapola in my head until I learned from much more experienced writers that the crapola was there and that I needed to get rid of it.

Validation is NOT asking “Is this piece of writing any good?”  Validation is all about saying stuff like:

When thus-and-so happens, then will I be a REAL writer.

It’s the part about “then I will be a real writer” that messes writers up in the head. Badly.

Several wise old pros told me, “a real writer is someone who writes, day in and day out,” and I used to be inexperienced and stupid enough to scoff at that saying.  Surely there had to be more to being a “real” writer.

I don’t scoff anymore, because I’ve learned the hard way that there’s a core seed of truth to what those writers said.

A writer writes.

A painter paints.

A singer sings.

A coder codes.

Whenever someone quits doing the action (code, sing, write, etc.) that is the core of their dream, everything grinds to halt in a matter of time. Writers who stop writing will eventually become the topic of “What ever happened to so and so?” among readers.

Also, validation is NOT about setting goals.  It’s fine to have goals.

What I’m talking about here is having a mindset where a writer is totally dependent on a particular thing happening to feel like a “real” writer. This dependency results in neediness that can be manipulated by scammers, and a frantic urgency that results in bad business decisions that can postpone (or even wreck) the ability to make a living as a writer.

For quite a number of writers, “thus-and-so” is “published with a NYC publishing house.” The problem is the “When I am published by a NYC publishing house, then I will be real writer” mindset leads to a neediness that makes it hard for a writer to do the negotiating that needs to be done to get a decent contract.

Here’s something to think about.  These NYC publishing contracts are between a writer and a corporation.  We aren’t talking about two individuals working out a joint partnership here. Those people you meet from the corporation can be really really nice, but at the end of the day it’s the corporation the writer signs with. Editors and CEOs can be fired.

The craving for validation from corporations based in NYC can be used against a writer in contract negotiations. It’s just the nature of business–the writer’s book is a profit-and-loss statement for the corporation. If a writer wants to play doormat, that’s the writer’s problem as far as the corporate entity is concerned. Sometimes an editor will warn a writer if the writer acts too much like a pathetic wuss in negotiations, but for the most part the writer is on his or her own.

The other nasty part of this “NYC publishing house” requirement for being a “real” writer is that all the great middle-sized publishing companies get ignored because one is chasing after a narrow definition of being “real.”  There are some terrific small and middle-sized publishing houses out there, ones that are going to be big publishing houses 15 years from now.

Lastly, the whole mindset of  “when thus-and-so happens, then I’ll be a real writer” also makes it harder to keep morale up. Several old pros have pointed out to me that writing is disheartening enough as it is due to the rejection process; there’s no need to pile more anguish on by setting absurd goals for what is “real” as a writer.

A real writer writes, day in and day out.

Everything else is just a goal to aim for.

The Pricelessness of Time, and a Couple of Great Links

There are only 24 hours in a day. That’s it. Even those people who have a natural need for only 4-5 hours a sleep a night (or even none) can’t get around this time limitation.

Several swift deaths that have happened to people I cared about over the past three years have brought home to me just how priceless the time we are given is.  Once Death shows up for you, it’s over.  That’s it. We all like to assume we’re going to live into our eighties or later, but there’s no guarantee. And people love to assume that they’ll have lots of time to put their lives in order and do those things they always dreamed about.

Death can kill you in seconds. A stroke can strike you down where you stand and there won’t be time to say, “Goodbye,” or write a couple of poems before it is too late.

Never assume you can wait until retirement to do the things you dream about. People die before they reach retirement all the time. If your dream is to go to Paris before you die, start planning out tiny steps tonight that you take to work towards making that dream a reality sooner rather than later.

I think about time a lot, since I’m in the “squeeze” years. There’s work to do, a family to raise, a house with never-ending repairs to deal with, and writing to do. Several of my hobbies had to be put aside when I started to pursue writing in a serious way–there were only so many hours in a day.

Several months ago, I decided to turn off comments on my blog, because it was either do that or stop blogging all together. I didn’t know what impact it would have, but one of the surprising results was that now my blog thoughts sometimes dig deeper into things.  The time I used have to waste wading through spam in the queue instead gets spent thinking and writing the post instead.  There is only so much time each week I can devote to a blog, and I was actually surprised at how much a help it was time-wise to have comments off.

Zoe Winters did a post not too long ago about why she turned off comments on her blog, and brings up her reasons why a writer may want to do so.  Every writer is different–one writer’s healing potion is another writer’s poison. So each of us will have to experiment to see what works best.

In other news, I stumbled across a wonderful short essay by James Lee Burke on writing, “Seeking a Vision of Truth,” that can give consolation to writers in difficult times. I hadn’t known that his novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie received 110 rejections during nine years of submission.  I’ve provided the link to get to it on his website.

Also, musician Jonathan Coulton has done a long thoughtful essay on how he became a success as an indie musician. I think what he has to say also applies to becoming a success as a fiction writer (whether traditional, indie, or a traditional/indie combo).

So, I leave you all with the question, “When Death comes for you, is there anything you’re going to regret having not done? And if the answer is ‘Yes,’ what small steps can you take here and now to change that?”

Some Days the Writing Business Feels Like an Endless Bad Sequel to JAWS

I’ve been lucky to have gotten to meet so many writers (both old pro, published,  and beginning) over the last nine years. I know writers in many different fields: history, memoirs, journalism, children’s books, Young Adult, mysteries, romance, science fiction, horror, fantasy, literary, westerns, etc.  And I’ve been to variety of conferences, such as Romance Writers of America, over the years just to hang out and listen to writers talk.

I started writing nine years ago simply as a way to take my mind off the difficulties going on in my life. It was something that gave me joy. And I thought about seriously pursuing publication, but I shrank back from it for a variety of reasons. Today I want to talk about one of those reasons, because it’s something that all writers end up having to deal with.

There are a hell of a lot of sharks in the publishing waters, and I’ve seen quite a number of writers end up as shark chow.

Many years ago I started to hear conversations like the following dramatization:

THE NEW WRITER AND THE OLD SUCCESSFUL PRO

New Writer: Hey, Old Successful Pro, can I ask you some advice?  I just got my first ever offer to be published in fiction. It’s a great opportunity, but it’s an all rights contract for a flat fee.  Should I sign or not?

Old Successful Pro: Is it media work for someone else’s universe, like STAR WARS ?

New Writer: No.

Old Successful Pro: Don’t sign.

New Writer: But I’ll be published!

Old Successful Pro: It’s a bad deal.  Don’t sign.  If it’s a success, you’ll see none of the money. Royalties, sequels, film rights, translation rights…you’re closing a lot of doors to money by signing that contract.

New Writer: I don’t care!  I want the validation. You’re just bitter because you’re not as successful as J. K. Rowling.

… Five years later …

New Writer: Arrgh, they’ve made nearly a quarter a million on my story, and I get none of the money.  It’s not fair! They screwed me over.

FINIS

What I find most disturbing about the above scenario is that if you switch out “all rights” for other issues, like “so-and-so, terrible literary agent” the same story plays out. New writer asks about the terrible agent, gets warned about the incompetence, and goes with the agent anyways.

It’s like watching an endless bad sequel to JAWS, where the same loop gets repeated over and over and over and over…

New Writer: Is it safe to go into the ocean today?

Old Successful Pro: Don’t go in the water!  Sharks!

New Writer: I want to swim to that floating platform!  There’s a rubber ducky on it I want. I gotta have that duck or my life will have no meaning.

Old Successful Pro:  Don’t do it! They’ll eat you.

New Writer: I must have that duck.  I’m swimming over. I can swim fast enough to avoid the sharks.

Old Successful Pro: (low to self) Dumb fool.

New Writer:  Aiiieeeeeee.

A few minutes later.

New Writer #2: I’m going swimming, I want that rubber ducky.  Is it safe to go swimming today?

Old Successful Pro:  Don’t go in the water! Sharks!

and on and on and on and on and….

THE END

Seriously folks, this is no fun to watch from the sidelines.  The craving for validation (i.e. the rubber ducky) is so strong in so many new writers that I’ve watched too many jump into the shark-infested waters even though the old successful pros are yelling for everyone to get out of the water.

The “lucky” new writers finally stumble back out onto the beach with only a leg or arm chomped off. The unlucky ones I’ve watched disappear in the bloody churn of sharks in a feeding frenzy.

Writer beware, indeed.