Monday, Monday

When I was in my twenties, I was part of a writers group that met every other Monday night at the local library. It wasn’t a genre-specific group; there were romance writers, fantasy writers, sci fi writers, and even one guy who wrote erotica, which was actually kind of sad because he was a twenty-eight year-old gay virgin who insisted on trying to write heterosexual sex scenes.

I guess you could say I was in my “literary” phase at that point. I wrote a lot of self-involved, pretentious bits that I referred to as “stream of consciousness writings” or “slice of life vignettes” because they really couldn’t be called stories in the purest sense of the word. They never went anywhere. Nothing ever happened. They had lots of showy prose, tons of descriptive passages and . . . not much else.  Looking back, I am appalled that I actually had the chutzpah to share that crap with anyone, much less other writers.

And the other writers were savage. Ruthless. Brutal. They shredded my little pages of crap in ways that any critique group would be proud of. They talked to me about the importance of things like plot and conflict, and they introduced me to the term “purple prose.” I went home every other Monday night shaken to the core and rattled by their honesty, sometimes more than a little pissed off.  There were weeks when I didn’t stop sulking until Thursday or Friday, because I thought they just weren’t smart enough to see the literary glory of what I had created. By Saturday, I usually realized they were right, and I was ready to dive back in and start editing.

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When I look back on that time,  I don’t remember ever thinking of them as bullies. I never got discouraged or questioned my dream of someday being a writer. Sure, I got my feelings hurt from time to time, but that was the first time in my life that I really felt like I was a writer.  Those brutal critiques of my work didn’t make me want to give up; they made me want to do better so I could prove to everyone that I was as talented as I believed myself to be.

Now that life has given me the opportunity to start writing again, I’ve been searching for a new critique group, and I’ve discovered that the world has changed in the past twenty-odd years.

“Don’t listen to the bullies,” moderators will advise in the online critique group I recently joined. “Anybody who says there’s a problem with your work is probably just jealous.”

“If people don’t understand your work, it’s because they just aren’t trying hard enough.”

“They’re just trolls/bullies/competing authors.”

Are you freaking kidding me?!

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Look, guys, it’s one thing to be self-confident. We all need to believe in ourselves as writers or we’ll never find the courage to share our work with the rest of the world. We’d be foolish to listen to every suggestion and change everything we write just to please everyone else. Of course we need to have faith in our own abilities. That’s one of the things we’re told over and over again as newbie authors: “Don’t stress about the bad reviews, because even famous writers get bad reviews once in a while.”

It’s absolutely, undeniably, 100% true that not everyone will like everything we write. We are all going to get the occasional bad review or return. We’re all going to hear bad things from people who don’t like our work or just don’t like us.

But . . .

At some point, don’t we all need to hear criticism of our work? I know I’m not a perfect writer, and that’s why I want to be a part of a critique group. I want to surround myself with other writers who care enough about our craft to tell me what they really think of my work. I want to spend my time with other writers who take the kind of pride in their writing that makes it okay to give and receive honest feedback.

That’s why I love the new review I just got on Love’s Little List that points out some potential problem areas. This reviewer isn’t bullying me. She sure as hell isn’t jealous of me, and I strongly doubt she’s a troll.  She’s expressing a valid opinion and giving me a chance to see my book through her eyes and possibly learn about ways to make my next book better.

Pardon my bluntness here, but when did we writers become such a bunch of pussies?

I’ve had to walk away from one of my favorite writing forums. I need the support and friendship of my fellow writers, but I just don’t need all of the drama. While there are some really smart, helpful people over there who are willing to help, it’s a sad truth that the majority of posters are just looking for things to argue about, trying to pick a fight so they can cry “Bully! Troll!” For every helpful thread with proofreading tips or suggestions for self-publishing, there are ten others with arrogant asses bickering about the true definition of the term “justify” or whether Word is an acceptable program for uploading manuscripts.

Nine times out of ten, an author who posts a link to his book there and asks for feedback will end up leaving the forums in a flounce. See, they don’t want “feedback.” They want “praise.” But too many of the current generation of writers just don’t understand the difference between the two.  When they ask for feedback, they are really asking for gushing adulation, not a true critique of their writing.

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Stories abound of self-published authors who argue with their reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads. I’ve seen one guy who likes to remind his reviewers that he has a PhD and they don’t, so their reviews are worthless. Another one responds to criticism by saying that readers who spot plot holes in her book are just overthinking the story.  There’s another who rants that all negative reactions to her work are being left by members of some grand conspiracy who seek her out just to tell her that they didn’t like her work.

These writers have to believe that anything less than praise is underserved because to believe otherwise would mean that they are not perfect. And that is just not acceptable to them.

And I find that terribly sad, because the savage, ruthless, brutal feedback I got on those long-ago Monday nights made me a better writer. It’s heartbreaking to realize that so many of today’s crop of writers will never have that chance to improve because they are unwilling to listen to criticism.

I miss my old critique group. I really need to thank them.

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The Sound of Silence

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I recently had the pleasure of spending time with a group of aspiring writers who had gathered to discuss the ins and outs of self-publishing, and the conversation really made me take a deep look inside myself. We chatted about finding story ideas, “Pantsers” vs. “Plotters,” self-publishing vs. traditional, and so much more.  But the number one topic that everyone kept coming back to was Reviews.

They talked about some of the terms that I see tossed about in different writers’ forums: spite reviews, review trolls, and one-star “bullies,” to name just a few. Listening to them, I got this crazy mental picture of new books being covered in bacon grease and tossed into a wading pool full of piranhas. These writers have allowed their fear of bad reviews to paralyze them; some of them are afraid to take the next step because they have convinced themselves that doing so will place them in the crosshairs of some maniacal Bad Review Ninja Squad out to destroy them.

Later, I sat down and really examined my own feelings and fears about feedback on my work.  I only have three books out there. So far, I’ve been very lucky that all gotten a few decent reviews, other than a one-star from a fellow who felt that the dialogue in one book was like was reading a Q&A article rather than a novel.  Ouch.  But . . . I am more careful with my dialogue now, so it was a productive experience.  Dude made a valid point.

There’s a lot of negativity out there for writers to deal with.  Rejection letters, bad reviews, sales rankings that can plummet by thousands of points after just a few days without sales.  I am slowly building up a thick skin and learning to accept that these things are part of the package deal that comes with putting my words out there for the world to see. Every day, I get a little bit better at smothering my insecurities.

But there’s one thing that still gets under my ever-thickening skin.

Silence.

Like any new author, I tend to check my statistics obsessively.  I know exactly when I sell a book, and in which market.  I know which blog posts get the most hits, which categories get the most traffic. And when I get a “like” or a comment on my blog from someone I look up to, I do an impromptu happy-dance that sometimes makes my six year-old ask if I need to use the potty.

But I start pacing the floor over . . . nothing.

Logically, I understand that most readers do not leave reviews.  I can be logical about it and accept the fact that most authors never hear a word from the majority of the people who read their books. To paraphrase one side of a common argument among self-published writers on Amazon: Reviews are for other readers, not for the writers.

Unfortunately for me, my insecurities don’t listen to logic.  My self-doubts thrive on the absence of feedback, good or bad.  It’s not that I need heaps of praise; my self-worth is not dependent on hearing strangers sing my praises.  It’s just that selling a handful of books and hearing nothing feels like a verdict of, “meh, I read it. So, what’s for lunch?”

So I’d like to hear from some of the other, more experienced writers out there. I know the first bit of advice is to start working on the next book.  I’m already half-way there, with a secret baby, an ex-soldier, and a brutal Michigan winter. But beyond that, how do you interpret the silence? How do you deal with the nagging self-doubts that come with it?

How do you deal with the worry that your book is like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it?

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

Be The Change

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.– Winston Churchill

Some of you may have noticed a few changes here at A Good One.  I’ve changed the theme and color, added a few pages, and really tried to streamline things a bit. My blog was feeling a little cluttered to me, and the start of a new year seems like the perfect time to clear some of that clutter and start fresh.

I have some other changes in mind as well, but they aren’t all about appearance. For starters, I have been doing a lot of thinking about all of the wonderful people who have gone out of their way to help and guide me in the process of learning how to blog, how to share, how to dig deep within myself to find things to say.  I’ve grown so much, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without the more experienced bloggers and authors who have taken the time to reach out to me.

I’m still not the biggest or best blogger around; I know I still have a long way to go.  However, I feel like the time has come for me to give a little something back.

That’s why I’m adding some new features here.  Once a week, I would like to shine a light on another blogger or indie author in an interview or perhaps a review.  Right now, I’m still working out a few of the details, so I probably won’t be launching the new feature until mid-February.  In the meantime, if you are interested in being interviewed or having your work spotlighted here, please contact me at AuthorAJGoode@gmail.com.

I am also looking for guest bloggers once or twice per month.  I’ve never had one before, so this will definitely be a learning experience for everyone involved.

The description of my blog says, “Sometimes, life defies description.  But I’ll try anyway.”  Which is my way of saying that I may cover just about any subject, any genre . . . anything at all.  Let me know what you want to talk about, and I’ll let you know what I think.  My only real requirement when it comes to subject matter is that I won’t accept guest posts that are used to tear another individual down.

When it comes right down to it, we’re all in this together. Bloggers, authors, writers of all kinds; we’re a community, and we need to focus on supporting each other.

The last few months have also taught me a lot about negativity and all of the ways we can poison one another if we choose to take to the low road. There are those who choose mount an attack against a perceived enemy or competitor, and there are those who choose to walk away and seek out the good in others.  It’s up to each one of us to make that choice and decide which road to take.

As for me, I’m taking the high road, and I’m looking for a few traveling companions.

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. — Mahatma Gandhi

BBA or Not BBA?

When I was a kid, one of my favorite authors was a woman named M.V. Carey.    She was the only female writer on the list of professionals writing for the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series that I loved so much, and she inspired me more than any other writer at that point in my life.  In fact, the pen name I have chosen for myself is sort of an homage to her.

I wrote her a letter once, asking her a lot of silly questions and giving her all kinds of suggestions for storylines that involved abusing my favorite character, Pete.   And she actually answered my letter!  I don’t remember the specifics of her response, but I remember that it was kind and gracious and oh-so-encouraging.

Fast forward nearly forty years.  I am an author now.  Not a hugely successful one by any means, but an author all the same.  Over the years, I’ve contacted other writers via email, and I still get that same fangirly rush when I hear back from them.  I can hardly believe it when writers like Jasinda Wilder and Nancy Gideon take the time out of their busy schedules to answer questions and offer encouragement to a nobody like me!

Let me confess right here:  I actually cried for a minute or two when Nancy Gideon started following me on Twitter.

Yes, I get emotional like that sometimes.

Basically, I’ve been spoiled.  Up until recently, my interactions with other writers have been overwhelmingly positive.  I’ve been proud to call myself a writer.  It was a huge step for me to go from “I want to be a writer” or “I’m trying to be a writer” to “I am a writer.”

Right now, I’m not so proud of the writing community.

Maybe it’s because of the immediacy of the internet; maybe it’s because of the politically-correct positive-reinforcement brainwashing that has tried to convince us that we are all wonderful.  Perhaps it’s because not all of us have examples like Carey, Wilder, and Gideon.

Whatever the reason, there are a lot of authors out there who need a visit from the Reality Fairy.  They’re referred to as BBA’s, or Badly Behaving Authors, and they are an embarrassment to the rest of us.  Upon getting a bad review, they whine, complain and cry about cyber bullying or harassment or the unfairness of life in general.   They rage against reviewers and book bloggers with accusations and threats that are sometimes laughably over the top.

Like me, some authors are also bloggers.  And in recent weeks, they’ve been coming out in droves to throw in their two cents’ worth in certain high-profile situations involving authors and reviewers, most notably the Kathleen Hale/Blythe Harris kerfuffle.  Everyone’s got an opinion, no matter how ill-informed; everyone’s got to jump right up on that bandwagon.

Several book bloggers have joined forces this week in a blogging blackout.  In other words, they are taking the week off from reviewing new books in their blogs.  Bloggers all over the place are standing up to join forces or to criticize the effort.

My first impulse?  Move over; make room for me on that bandwagon!  Sure, I’ll take a week off to show solidarity.

But . . .

I’m not a book blogger.  My joining them would be meaningless because I don’t use my blog to review books, and because I often go weeks without a new post anyway.  Going a week without reviewing a new book in my blog is sort of the status quo.

The world isn’t exactly going to tremble in response to my saying that I want to be part of a blogging blackout.  My joining in at this point would, in a sense, minimize the efforts of those who really do have a stake in this.

I don’t know what’s true and what’s been exaggerated out of proportion about BBA’s like Kathleen Hale or Maggie Spence..  But I do know that the authors I admire, the authors I respect, the authors who have inspired and encouraged me . . . well, they don’t answer their reviewers on Amazon.  They don’t argue with book bloggers who don’t like their work.  They don’t write tell-all articles for The Guardian about the time they stalked a reviewer.  They don’t complain about being cyber-bullied or harassed.

They don’t show up in articles about Badly Behaving Authors.

They write.  They write books, and they act with dignity in the face of the occasional bad review or criticism.  They treat fans and detractors alike with equal grace and courtesy.

They act like grown-ups.

I’ve written two books, with a third one almost finished.  They aren’t perfect; I still have a lot to learn.  Of course, I want to “make it big” and be remembered as a great author!  But if people are talking about me twenty years from now, or even fifty years from now, I want them to talk about my books, not my behavior.  I want to be remembered because I made people laugh or cry with my words, not because I acted like an ass in response to criticism.

And since I just got my first 1-star review, I guess it’s time to find some Toblerone and go practice what I preach.

Upon Careful Review

It has been nearly a month since my last original blog post, thanks in part to a Netbook that finally said its last, sad farewell to  me after being my faithful companion for more than three years.  A moment of silence . . .

I tried to keep up with writing by scribbling in notebooks and then typing things up at the library computer, but I finally decided that this was nature’s way of telling me to take a break.  Oh, I could still play on my tablet and smartphone; I probably would have required all sorts of mood-modifying medications if totally deprived of the internet during that time.

I’ve had time to think.  To read.  To not be a writer for a few weeks.

I didn’t like it.

All of that reading and “surfing the net” has made me uncomfortably aware of the fact that there are some real crazies out there.  I mean, I knew there were some quirky and unique individuals in the world, and I intend no disrespect toward those among us who suffer from mental illness.

No, I’m talking about some of the internet nutburgers who don’t seem to understand the words they toss about so easily.  Words like “troll.”  “Bully.”  “Cyberbully.”  “Stalker.”

By now, most of us have heard about the Kathleen Hale debacle.  For those unfamiliar with the story, Kathleen Hale is an author who recently wrote an article for The Guardian, in which she told the tale of her actions toward a reviewer who didn’t like her debut novel.  According to Hale, the reviewer was a “bully” who “attacked” and “harassed” her, so Hale became obsessed with the reviewer to the point of actually calling her at work and going to her home.

I’ve also seen articles suggesting that Hale actually made up the whole story as a way of boosting attention to get sales for her own novel, but I don’t have enough information to offer an opinion on that.

What I am going to offer an opinion on, however, is the response that Hale’s article received.  The comments below the article are truly, bloodcurdlingly frightening.

Writers are actually coming forward in support of Hale.  They agree that the reviewer was wrong in saying anything bad about Hale’s book, and they applaud Hale’s efforts in tracking her down.  They refer to the reviewer as a cyberbully, casting her as a villain who deserved everything she got from Hale.

Seriously?  Come on, people; get a grip.

I’ve seen the review.  No, it’s not very nice. I’m not entirely sure that it was fair or truthful.  Have I read the book?  No.  To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have read it anyway, with or without the review, because the description just doesn’t make it sound very appealing.  But aren’t reviews supposed to be opinions?  Who is to say whether an opinion is right or wrong?  It’s an opinion.  Subjective.

If Hale really did do all of the things she admitted to in her article, then I would have to opine that she is the villain here.  She lied, stalked, and pursued another human being through the internet.  She showed up on the person’s doorstep, ostensibly just to talk, but how can any of us know what was really going on in her head?  What if the reviewer had opened her door that day and had things to say to Hale that Hale didn’t like?

Robert John Bardo just wanted to talk when he showed up at Rebecca Schaffer’s door.  What about Mark David Chapman?  Was he just hoping for a chat with John Lennon?

With all this time on my hands, I’ve done a lot of reading about authors who have pursued their reviewers.  One man tracked a book blogger down at her place of work and hit her over the head with a bottle, sending her to the hospital for stitches.   Others have joined “anti-bullying” groups whose sole purpose seems to be the act of stalking, pursuing and bullying reviewers, all in the name of fighting the very acts that they themselves are carrying out.

It makes me ashamed to be a writer.  It makes me want to stand on the rooftops and shout out a public apology on behalf of all writers:  “Hey, we’re not all batshit crazy!”

Look, I know that a lot of these reviewers/book bloggers go too far.  Some of them trash a book for personal reasons without ever reading it; some of them seem to take a sadistic glee in tearing apart a book solely for the purpose of destroying a writer’s career.  I’m not saying that these reviewers are angels, or that their actions are excusable.

I am saying that two wrongs don’t make a right.

Sometimes, a bad review is just a bad review.  Deserved or not.  Every writer in this world is going to be  hit with at least one bad review eventually, probably more.  That’s part of being a writer.  When we put our work out there for the world to read, we are asking for opinions, and not all of those opinions are going to make us happy.

I can’t speak for all writers, but for me, putting my books out there is harder than actually writing them.

I’ve been lucky so far.  I’ve had a few bad reviews, but every single one of them pointed out something that I should have been aware of, something that I could learn from.  The bad reviews have made me a better author.  At least, I hope they have.  I’ve never gotten the kind of reviews that attack me personally or totally trash my book, but I know it’ll happen some day.   When it does, I’ll probably cry, eat too much Toblerone, and feel sorry for myself.

I’ve just completed my first Goodreads giveaway, and sent off copies of Have a Goode One to five complete strangers.  I’ve heard all of the warnings about Goodreads, been told I shouldn’t participate in giveaways because they invite bad reviews and abuse.  Of course, I’m nervous about the response I’m going to get.  I’m nervous about the negativity I may attract for posting this on my blog, for crying out loud.  Frankly, it scares the hell out of me.

I may regret this.

But I can guarantee I’m  not going to rent a car and drive to the reviewer’s doorstep.  I’m not going to “give a taste of their own medicine.”  I’m not going to get revenge.

Because that’s a whole new flavor of crazy that I have no desire to taste.

Write Right

I love getting good reviews on my fiction that I post on fiction sites.  And by “good review” I don’t mean the ones that say “it was good, I liked it”.  To me, a good review is one that points out weak spots that could be improved.  As far as I am concerned, the best reviews are the ones that help me grow as a writer.

That’s why I do a lot of reviewing and critiquing on those sites.  I want to help other aspiring writers in the same way that I want others to help me.   I try to be nice about it.  I really do.  But I have been seeing some things lately that have me scratching my head at the sheer stupidity of the people posting nonsense and expecting everyone to sing its praises.

Harsh?  Definitely.

I don’t mean to come across as a snob.  The people on those sites are not professional writers; like me, they are just amateurs with dreams of someday being successful writers.  But this goes beyond plot holes or grammatical errors.  I am talking about the kind of mistakes that make me wonder if these people have ever actually read a book, or if they have completed anything beyond a third-grade education.

These people want to write.

They choose to post their work.

They want others to read their work.

And then they cry and wail “bully” or “flame” if anyone has the audacity to say anything that doesn’t fart rainbows or belch sunshine.

So I have put together a list of basic things that your average chimp should be able to master before putting anything on a writing site for others to read.

  • Paragraphs.  People, learn what a paragraph is.  Do not write your entire 3000-word story in one gigantic paragraph.  Do not have more than one character speak within the same paragraph.
  • Capitalization.  Do not post your 5,000-word opus without any capital letters and call it your “artistic style”.  Names are to be capitalized.  Period.   Sentences begin with capital letters, even when those sentences are inside quotation marks.   You are not e.e. cummings, so knock it off.
  • Punctuation.  Okay, there are a lot of very confusing rules about punctuation, and everyone is going to make mistakes.  However, it’s pretty easy to remember that sentences must end with some kind of punctuation.  A period.  A question mark.  An exclamation point.  Something.
  • Spellcheck.  Don’t tell me you didn’t have time or that your computer program doesn’t do spellcheck.  I call Bullshit.
  • Story vs. Play.  A story has narrative.  That’s a fancy way of referring to the parts of the story that are not dialogue.  If you want to write a script, write a script; if you want to write a story, write a story.  If you don’t understand the difference, go read Slaughterhouse Five and The Crucible and see if you can figure out which is a story and which is a script.
  • Sex scenes.  Don’t write them if you’ve never had sex.  “Nuff said.
  • Site rules.  Please take a moment to read the rules of the site you are choosing to use.  If you don’t agree with the rules of that site, post your work elsewhere.  Violating those rules and climbing up on a soapbox about Freedom-of-Whatever is not defending your rights.  It is having a tantrum and being an ungrateful brat.  Grow up.
  • ALL CAPS/Bold/Italics.  These are to be used for emphasis.  Do not write your entire story in one of these forms.  It is annoying and difficult to read.
  • Plagiarism.  If you didn’t write it, don’t post it.  Duh.
  • Right Site.  If you are going to be brave enough to post your work on a public site for the entire world to see, please put it where it belongs.  Don’t put short stories on a poetry site; don’t post fiction on a non-fiction site.  And please, please, stop posting non-fanfiction work on a fanfiction site.

That last one is a biggee for me.  I know I spend far too much time on Fanfiction.Net, but I am absolutely mystified by the number of utter numbnuts who insist on posting original fiction, journal entries, essays and personal announcements on that site.  I mean, the site is called Fanfiction.Net.    It’s right there, in the name.  It’s a fanfiction site, for writers of fanfiction to post their works of fanfiction.  Pretty simple.

Or so one would assume.

I sound like a grumpy old English teacher.   I can deal with honest mistakes, such as “lie” vs. “lay” or “its” vs. “it’s”.   I get that we all make mistakes; I’m sure there are a few grammatical errors in this piece that I’m posting today.  I am far from perfect, and I would be wrong to ask anyone else to strive for perfection.

But I am asking for basic common sense.  An acceptable level of literacy.

If you want to write, read.  Learn from other writers.  See what’s out there.

And for God’s sake, learn to take criticism.  Not everyone is going to love everything you write.  Deal with it.  Everyone who points out your mistakes is not a bully, not out to get you, not jealous of your questionable talent or lack thereof.