Take Your Ball and Go Home

Someone I know on a social media site asked for advice. Someone he knows (and I suspect that someone might be me) keeps posting political stuff that he doesn’t agree with. The offender is “one share away from being unfollowed.” But of course, the person asking for advice feels the need to air his grievance prior to said unfollowing.

Look, you don’t have to agree with everything you see or hear or read. And it’s your right to unfollow people on social media or whatever. But I’d caution against the echo chamber of only surrounding yourself with people whose opinions agree with yours, whether online or in person.

Our society is fracturing. No one wants to give ground, and everyone is sure they and their side is correct. This unwillingness to even see or hear the other side is part of the problem.

I definitely don’t agree with everything I see from some of my friends and family who post in various places. I know they don’t agree with me either. But closing people off isn’t a useful way of building bridges and finding common ground.

And maybe no one is going to change their minds. Maybe we’ve hit that wall. Blocking off people who have a different perspective is tantamount to saying, “I refuse to consider you or your point of view. I refuse to engage in any kind of conversation. I dismiss you.”

Look, it’s not your inalienable right to not have to hear or see or deal with things that you don’t like. Sorry, but that’s how free speech works. But it seems we’ve come to the place where we’re shouting over each other and just trying to be louder than everyone else rather than be productive in any way, shape, or form.

The person asking for advice says he doesn’t understand why we can’t just avoid talking about politics at all. Well, while for some that’s a “solution,” some others of us can’t ignore what’s going on around us and feel the need to speak out.

So I’ll continue to speak out in the way I see fit. This person will unfollow me in any case, and that’s a little sad, but that’s on him. If he’s not open to discussion and can’t tolerate opposition . . . He can take his ball and go home.

Luck & the Ladder

This morning, author Chuck Wendig posted a really nice Twitter thread about maximizing your luck as an author. Here’s the first tweet:

If you click on it, you can then read the entire thread.

Chuck (if I may be so informal) makes a lot of good points. Writing isn’t a meritocracy. You can work really hard and still not succeed. In a society that has shown us again and again in movies, television, and yes, books, that hard work always pays off, this can be a bitter pill to swallow.

Luck plays a pretty significant role in success . . . of any kind, really, but we’ll stick to writing for now. But as Chuck also notes, you can maximize your chances. Write a really good book, or better yet, write several.

Now, I’ll admit I always bristle just a little when an already successful person tries to pat me on the head and give me advice. I suppose they think it’s helpful, but it’s a little too diffuse to be truly useful. “Go write some more” isn’t some great kernel of knowledge. Still, I know Chuck and his ilk mean well when they hand down their opinions and musings like gods spitting peanut shells from their thrones in the clouds. So I try to take it in the spirit it’s intended.

One piece of advice he gives, however, is to write more. And besides the fact that pretty much everyone gives that advice, it only serves to kick people like me—slow, deliberate crafters of tales—in the gut. I write 1-2 books a year. I know I should write more and faster, but I simply cannot. It’s not for lack of trying, but you might as well tell a fish to climb a tree. It isn’t going to happen.

Does that make me a bad writer? It’s an honest question; I have no idea.

Chuck also points out that writing to market rather than writing what you want to write is probably not the best choice. And he talks about helping other writers by talking about them and their work, introducing them to agents and editors, building community . . . But I’ve written in the past about how a bunch of new writers can’t really help each other much. They need established authors, editors, agents to reach down the ladder and pull them up a bit. And yet it seems like once someone gets a few rungs up the ladder, their interest in helping those below wanes. There are a few reasons for this. Some people, once they’ve made it over the hurdle, feel like others should have to do it themselves. I did it and no one helped me, so why should I help anyone?

Others feel like it’s a zero-sum game. They think if they help anyone else, they’ll lose their chance at making it all the way to the top. They’re afraid helping others will pull them back down a rung. They’re afraid of losing the tenuous position they’ve worked so hard to establish. They begin defending their territory rather than opening the borders.

And some are just frightened and overwhelmed by the cries for help. I imagine it looks a bit like a scene from a zombie movie. Say there’s a mass of people trying to make it to the ladder that leads to safety. They’re swarming around the bottom of this ladder, desperate. And if you make it partway up, and you look down into this mass of humanity, it looks pretty scary. You wouldn’t even know where to begin to help any of them. If you reach down, they’ll hungrily grab at you, may even rip your arm off. As it is, they make break the ladder before you can get to the top. So maybe this feeds into the previous observation, that need to defend your space lest you be dragged back down.

Then again, maybe you build more ladders. Maybe you throw some ropes over that wall so lots of people can climb.

Actions, amIright? I know we’re writers, but sometimes we still have to do instead of relying on our words.

It’s one thing to post a long Twitter thread cheering people on. That’s nice and all, but even if the thread is true and reasonable and posted with the best possible intentions, it’s no ladder.

It’s fair of you to ask at this point, “Okay, so what do you do to help other authors?” Well, I’m not all that successful yet, but I still try to help those coming after me, or even my peers. I give workshops on the writing and publishing process. I let fellow authors know of opportunities I think they may be interested in. And I’m an editor, so I help my selected writing groups by giving feedback that I’d normally charge for. I do what I can, and hopefully one day I’ll be in a position to do more. If the zombies don’t get me, and so long as no one pulls up the ladder before I can get there.

SFWC 2018: Reach Readers All Over the World without Leaving Your Desk

Some of these are pretty basic, but we can all use a refresher from time to time.

Claim your about.me page. Even if you don’t have a blog or other sites to link to it, it’s a place to start an online presence.

Use email signatures—but keep them short! Don’t list every link or form of contact. Use a picture of you rather than your book.

Post videos. Google gives preference to videos in searches. 80% more people will watch a video over reading an article. A good editing software for videos is Camtasia.

Buy your domain name. It should be your name, not the title of your book. If you do buy the domain name of your book title, have it redirect to your author domain. Remember that you are the brand; you’re selling YOU. If you have a common name, or your domain is already taken, try adding “-author” or “-writer” to your domain name.

Title your posts clearly so that they can be found in a Google search. That is, think about what people might search for and title your article accordingly so that it will come up in that search. Also, give names to your images so they turn up in image searches.

Join LinkedIn writing groups.

Blog consistently. Check your stats so you can see which articles get the most hits. That way you can write more of what people want. For fiction authors, some possibilities are: cut scenes that didn’t make it into the final book; cool research tidbits or facts you discovered while writing; info on your writing process itself.

If you’re targeting a teen audience, you have to go where they are: Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr. One suggestion is to have an online scavenger hunt.

Short and sweet, but I hope these tips help! I, for one, hope to try putting videos up sometime . . . maybe not “soon,” but soonish? Stay tuned!

False Hope

I think I’ve reached my breaking point.

On Twitter this morning I saw this tweet . . . I don’t want to name names here, so I’ll be somewhat vague, but the gist was that she had been close to giving up on being a writer but then her book or script or something was turned into a major motion picture! “Dreams really do come true!”

Gag.

I’m sorry, but I’m sort of done with all the false hope that successful people like to pedal. I’m a realist. Dreams come true—for some people. Not everyone. That would be amazing, but think about it: Are we all successful? Are we all getting movie deals and making big bucks as writers or artists or [insert personal passion here]? I can wish that for everyone, but I can’t promise that if I (or anyone) work really hard, I’ll reach my goals.

That’s the big lie.

Sometimes we try and still fail, no matter how good we are or how badly we want to succeed.

And it’s nice for someone who has “made it” to encourage the rest of us lowly wannabes. But it would be nicer and more helpful if she’d lend a hand.

That’s how the system works, if and when it works at all: People who’ve climbed up reach down and help someone after them, and then that person reaches down and helps someone, on and on in a chain.

But many times those who have reached the top, or even the penultimate level, are too worried about guarding their position. They’re worried about balancing themselves on that tiny pinnacle.

Words of encouragement are cheap, easy, and safe. They don’t cause the pendulum to swing.

ACTIONS, however, are the only thing that have impact. And this is true in every walk of life. Go ahead and post all your political anger on Facebook and Twitter, but if you don’t go DO SOMETHING, it won’t make a lick of difference.

So thanks, lady on Twitter, for the kind words. But until you prop that door open a little wider to allow more of us in, they mean very little.