A Writer's Soft Underbelly

Howdy, all! Want to say a quick thanks for all the birthday wishes. Had a great week, and your thoughtfulness made it even better. 

Also want to say welcome to the new followers. Hurricane Alex blew some of his good Web karma my way, and I always love having new faces around. 

Hope you enjoy my thoughts, I assure you I'll enjoy yours. (HINT HINT - Make sure you comment. Lots.)

Now for business. Well, as close to business as it gets around here...


Don't let the spectacles, cartoon covered sweatshirts, corduroy trousers and twitchy-eyed staring off into space fool you; writer's are a tough lot. At least we're supposed to be.

Rejection? Been there. Ridicule? Done that. Having our dreams hearts ripped out, danced upon and put back into place? Doing that tomorrow, and that's just breakfast.

We're all sarcastic and smarmy. We judge and get judged just for giggles. We're all artsy elitist who wear bulletproof underwear and trash even the most successful of our peers. 

"Blind monkeys with stumps for hands could've written that pig excrement, and somehow she made the NYTB list!"

 *maniacal laugh*

Yeah, not so much.

Don't get me wrong, some of us ARE smarmy. Some of us DO hate on our talented peers. Hell, some might actually own bulletproof undies. (Lots of powder is the key. So I'm told...)

And if you're going stay in the writing game for more than a couple of weekends a year, you're hide is going to toughen. It has to. That or you'll bleed to death from all the picking over that's required to actually get good at it.

So I suppose we are tough, in a fashion, but we're also enormously vulnerable.  

Rejection is a given. It sort of HAS to happen at some point. It's inevitable, but it still scares the hell out of us. We ridicule ourselves even if no one else does. We think what we do is utterly pointless and the worst kind of refuse--and that's often before we've written a word! 

It's just the process. It motivates. It drives. In that way, I think most writers would tell you a soft underside is just as key to doing the writing stuff as having thick skin. 

Vulnerability makes for good writing. Thick skin helps you survive until you find it.

Still, even if I know being sensitive is just part of the game, it sometimes gets the best of me.

If you're on Twitter I'm sure you've gotten at least one spam message that says something like: "Hey, have you heard what this person said about you?" or "People are saying bad things about your blog." There's always a link. It's usually from someone you don't know and are pretty sure never read anything you've written.

Now I've never clicked on one of those links, as I hear it's a pretty common virus scam. Plus, I'm not really one prone to care about what bad things people say about me, especially to the point I would electively subject myself to it. 

I like to think my momma raised me quicker than that; if you want to call me a jerk to my face, I'll listen, but don't expect me to track you down to hear it.

Still, it's a pretty insidious way to attack a writer's vulnerabilities. In this Web age, I think we're all a little sensitive to being talked about. It's the ugly flip side to the BUZZ (still hate that word) coin. 

Being talked about, having word spread about what we're doing on our blogs, Twitter, or with our writing, is important. It's how we grow beyond our coffee tables, desks, or wherever our writing habitats might be.

Most of us don't blog to be in a vacuum. We kind of hope other people will read it. Same with our writing. So when that talk/buzz turns negative, it can hurt.

Confession time: I'm paranoid about it. Not to the point I Google my name or anything, but I often wonder if people are out there saying bad things about me. 

Why am I paranoid? Over the years (?!) I've been doing this, I’ve caught a couple of other bloggers referencing my blog negatively on their blogs. I’m sure they didn’t think I’d read it, but I follow a good chunk of the people that follow my blog, and it popped up in my reader.

I use this as a personal example, but it makes me wonder if any of you have areas you're particularly vulnerable? Maybe I'm just touchy about the word-of-mouth stuff? 

I can take a bad critique pretty well. I wouldn't necessarily care if a non-writer said I was a fool. But something about the thought of having other writer-bloggers dissing me makes me squirm a little. 

In the end, I guess it's like all the other little things that eat at me as a writer: Eventually that spot will toughen and I'll be able to use it as motivation.


When the Web Gets Personal ... In a Good Way

I'd first like to say I appreciate your patience with my non-blogging this week. I celebrated my 34th birthday and decided my gift to myself would be a short blog hiatus. I took the extra time to keep hammering away on a re-write of a current project and to basically enjoy life. 

Here's how I know you guys and gals are great: I get comments telling me how fabulous the comments are! Half the time they don't even mention my post. : ) 

Which is cool with me, because I already know how groovy y'all are. I feel like such a leech at times because I seriously get so much more from your thoughts than my own. 

Speaking of comments, there were so many awesome ones on my last post I'm still trying to get back around to everyone to say thanks.  So thank you. THANK you. THANK YOU. And I'll be visiting your blogs soon ...

Actually, the point of this post is to say another thank you. This thanks goes to Alex Cavanaugh for once again proving that this Internet thing can be real. 

The people we interact with Online all too often seem like phantoms. They fade in and out with comments and Tweets. It feels as though we can't touch them in any meaningful way. We realize they can't touch our 'REAL' lives either, but we're aware of them all the same. 

I think the phantom mentality helps keep things in a healthy psychological place. After all, what do we really know about these people? Sure, we've been talking at each other--in some cases--for years. We've gleaned enough information from things they've shared on Facebook or blogs to know a little about what their offline lives are like. 

We grow close in a casually acquainted sort of way.

But here's the reality: If that blog follower we've known for years suddenly disappeared tomorrow, never to comment again, what could we do about it? In most cases, absolutely nothing. Most of us haven't met each other in real life. We wouldn't know who to call, or what to say even if we could find them. 

It's a two-way street. If someone quits following our blog, or says something mean about us in a review, it stings a little. Especially if it's someone you've interacted with for a while. We promote each other. We comment. But just like all relationships, things can sour. Unlike other relationships, the Web-Life rarely gives an explanation or opportunity for rebuttal.

People are here one instant, gone the next. 

My favorite 'ghost' song...

As such, it's probably better to think of the people we interact with Online as ghosts. They can be friendly. They can be scary. But ultimately they can't really hurt or help us. They're just there. We're all just there.

To be honest, there are times when I think that sucks. Even if it is true and for the best. 

I'm a people kind of guy. I'm the person who talks to strangers at the store. I ask people I don't know about their kids, how their day has gone, etc. I smile with them, try to make them laugh if I can tell they're having a crap day. Just who I am. 

Sometimes this Internet thing is just a little too impersonal for my taste. I feel like I'm building paper relationships that are apt to blow away with the first stiff breeze. And for the most part that's probably accurate. 

As much as I want you to know I'm a nice guy, I mean what I say, and I truly want the best for you and your endeavors, I understand if it doesn't hold much weight. It simply can't. The minute you allow yourself to believe that, then you also have to be willing to believe me--on some small level--if I suddenly say you suck.

That's just more of a risk than most of us are willing to take with complete strangers. And rightfully so.

Then you meet people like Alex. They go so far above and beyond the normal Web pleasantries and protocol that it makes you rethink the concept of friendship. 

You realize you can truly grow to respect and enjoy someone you've never even talked to. You realize you can have an impact on people, because they have an impact on you. They make you see that you can sometimes trust strangers, so it makes you want to keep trying to be real in return.

Sometimes it does work.

I'm pretty sure most of you follow Alex and know all about the swell guy he is, so I won't bother with much of things we already know. I'll just say that I don't think there's a more real person I've met, Online or off. 

He does stuff that no one else takes the time to do, and he does it without asking for anything. In a system (blogging, social media, etc.) built on the "I'll scratch your back..." philosophy I can't tell you how refreshing that is. 

So cheers, Alex. Thanks for helping me keep my heart in this Web stuff, even when it seems like it doesn't have a place. 



Hey Gang! Sorry if the title of this post is misleading. To clear the air let me say this isn't an egregiously late A-Z offering. Nor is it a post featuring naughty words. This is still a family blog after all. Well, mostly. (Last week's incriminating nun-spanking photo notwithstanding.

Nope, I've just been thinking a lot about confidence--or perhaps the lack thereof--and its effects on the writing process. 

No doubt that confidence is essential to good writing. A favorite author blogger of mine recently made some outstanding observations about the impact of confidence on voice. (READ IT HERE. If you don't already follow MOODERINO, do it now.) The point was made that inexperienced writers might find writing in first-person POV an easier way of inflecting character into their, well, characters. 

The logic? It often takes more daring, or confidence, on the part of a writer to mix their particular flavor into third-person (or other POV) because it's clearly coming from the author. First POV makes it easier to BE the character, and not the author. 

Confidence plays a huge part in all the other areas of craft as well. The words you use, the descriptions, become richer as your belief in your power to wield them grows. Cold isn't a good enough descriptor when you know you can do better. A shining sun just isn't as bright as burning blades of light dancing with the morning sky. 

Similarly, plots thicken as you gain confidence. You don't worry as much about throwing a major curveball at a story when you know you can write your way out of it. In turn, the story becomes a deeper and more rewarding experience as you take more chances. 

Playing it safe is perhaps the fiercest enemy of good writing, and confidence is the weapon to beat it.

So we know confidence is a good thing. We need it. But what about when it turns on us? While confidence is powerful, it is also fragile. To the point we can be roaring with it by our side at one moment only to be left silent and alone the next.

In writing, there are many, many, many--OK, there aren't really enough M-A-N-Y keystrokes left in this keyboard to get them all down--ways in which our confidence can be assaulted. 

I'll reference another blog post I read this week. Author Deborah J. Ross pointed out the impact negative writing relationships can have on our confidence. (READ IT HERE) What made her post so interesting is that she specifically addressed what happens when our writing "friends" turn on us--even subconsciously. 

She is careful to point out that not everyone in our writing group is out to get us, nor do most people join critique groups to undermine others. It kind of just happens. Subtle comments about poor genre choices for our writing, constant ‘it’s good but not publishable’ feedback, undermining our successes with gossip, etc. It all adds up to make us question our abilities.

Deborah makes an excellent and, I thought, very brave point: it’s hard to say when a trusted critique partner just becomes a critic, but it happens. We need to be cautious. We need to protect our confidence.

That’s just one example of how our writing confidence can be stripped away. There are more obvious ways too. Like being rejected by agents, receiving bad reviews, exploring the abandoned manuscripts graveyard on our hard drive--the list seems unfairly long when compared to the things that can build our confidence.

But that’s really the key, isn’t it? We can grow our confidence. It can be nurtured and strengthened. In that way, confidence is organic, not magic.

Quick Tricks for Building Writing Confidence:

Examine Your Best – We’ve all written at least a couple of things we’re proud of. Maybe it’s a poem. Maybe it’s a paper we got an outstanding grade on in high school or college. Maybe it’s a glowing sentence. Whatever it is, go back and read it or dwell on it for a moment. You’ve done it once; you can do it a million more times if you stick with it.

Talk Ideas With Anyone – This doesn’t have to be done with a writing person. Use your spouse, your friends—anyone who’ll listen, and preferably someone who gets excited about ideas. Tell them about concepts you’ve got for stories. Tell them about what you’d like to do with the characters in your WIP. Basically, dream big. Talk as if you have the skills to pull off any scenario, and the chops to break necks with all the twists you’ve got planned. You’ll feel energized and might even remember why you (hopefully) started writing in the first place. The story!

Believe in the Process – All too often when I think about how much time I’ve invested in writing (all the hours spent putting words down, the books I’ve read on craft, etc.), I’m left feeling bitter and inadequate, not proud. Why? Because I don’t feel I have has as much to show for it as I should.

Here’s a different way of looking at it: I’ve invested the time. I continue to work at it every day. That means I’m getting better, even if the tangibles say otherwise.

I come from a family of farmers. Every farmer questions if all the work and watering is going to payoff until they see the first sprouts. Shoot, sometimes it takes eating that first tomato before it really gets rewarding. Yet the best farmers are persistent and dogged about routine in the face of the doubt, because they believe in the process. Believe in your process. It will yield fruit.

Have you lost confidence in your writing abilities before? What are your tricks for getting it back?


Blog Science: Blogging Less and Saying More

Hey gang! I know many, many of you are hip deep in A-Z madness, and I hope to make it to each of your blogs at least a few times over the course of the event. Really amazed by the creativity of everyone I've read so far. 

Seriously, it's staggering to see how creative minds can use such an open premise to such great effect. Sure, there are plenty of 'My Favorite Cat Names' and other frivolous topics (still fun), but I'm mostly reading great poetry, clever short stories and genius writing tips. 

So why am I not doing A-Z this year? Glad you didn't ask! I'll answer anyway: I had nothing to say. Yup, that's the dirty of it. And let's not kid ourselves, that is a 

D (dumb) 
I (irrational)
R (risky) 
T (terrible) 
Y (yucky) 

thing for a blogger/writer to say. 

It's our BUSINESS to have something to say. If we don't, we make it up. If we can't make it up we go find something, or poke someone until THEY say something, we can talk about. Why do we need to talk so much? Simply put, it's expected and it's part of the "formula" for success.

Do a quick Google search for top blogging tips. You'll find 'blog daily', 'blog frequently', or 'blog often' in the top ten of just about every list on the subject. While there is debate on the actual impact of post frequency on blog traffic, you'll certainly see a general consensus. If you're not posting, you're not getting hits. If you're not getting hits, you're not showing up in search engines.

Here's a nice rundown on the subject.

That doesn't even speak to the desires of those fickle followers out there. (Not you! Those other guys...) Some folks get a little antsy if you don't post often enough. How often is enough? Heck if I know, but I think it has something to do with Jupiter and Venus aligning, full moons, hormone imbalances and--suffice to say, it's important to some. 

Important enough they'll drop you like a Bieber paternity suit if you cross that imaginary line. (I'm here all week! Sorry, hadn't done a Bieber joke in a while.)

Yeah, so, I'm ignoring all that. 

BAD BLOGGER! *sticks out wrist--or bum--for chastising*

Yes, that's me being paddled by a leather-clad nun at a roller derby. Hey, it was in Austin, TX! If you've been to Austin this all makes perfect sense... My wife took the photo, so it was all above board. Mostly.

I'm ignoring all that for a good reason. It's for you. Honest. 

There was time when I blogged when I had nothing to say. The book said you were supposed to blog on a schedule and blog often. That's what I did. You can go read those posts if you'd like, but your time would be better spent flossing the cat or thinking about the color blue. Those posts were that empty.

At some point in the last year (or so) that changed. I made the decision to post only when I wanted to say something. Revelatory, I know. Sometimes it's once a week, other times it might be four or five. My reasoning was pretty straightforward: I didn't want to bore you. Even if it meant turning my back on the blogging gods and turning off a few followers. 

Sure, there were extenuating factors. Like me wanting to write more and blog less (they were beginning to cannibalize each other) and a shift in my perspectives regarding writing and publishing as a career endeavor. Basically, the game kind of changed for me, so I set about learning to play it in a new way. That impacted the things I wanted to blog about, and it impacted what I had to say. 

I know this might come of as a little uppity or highhanded, but it really isn't about me thinking I'm bigger than the game or anything. Last I checked that follower count on the right said 300-somehting, not 3,000-something, so I more than realize I'm no bigger than a minute.

In the end, I guess I just respect time. The time you give me, the time I spend doing this--just time, really. Yes, I've lost followers, and I hate that. Yes, I do wish I was more connected with a lot of the other bloggers out there, doing all those fun blogfests and whatnot. I fully realize that's cost me more followers.

Still, I'm having more fun and feeling more in tune with blogging now then I ever did when I was trying to do everything right. A wise follower once told me it was called "slow blogging" and it really stuck with me. It also made me realize that I love bloggers who have something to say, even if they don't say it often. 

What about you? Are you a stickler for the blogging 'rules', or do you go at your own pace?