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I know why I’m having trouble getting motivated to write. When a story idea exists in your head, it is perfect. It’s maybe a bit nebulous. Maybe it’s not a 100% from beginning to ending story. But it exists in a perfect state. It has no flaws. The characters are exactly who you imagine. The imagery is exactly how you expect it. No clumsy wording muddling things up.

That creature you imagine? He’s perfect. He does everything you expect him to. He acts like you want. His pleas have the right tone. Your leading girl looks the way you want. The action is tight and quick, photographed and animated exactly as you want. The dialogue is perfect, because it’s said in the right way, at the right time, in the right place, in the right light. Even the smells are perfect. You are there.

But the moment you try to put it on paper, it ceases to be perfect. Because you can’t put your thoughts down on paper in a 1:1 ratio. It must happen sequentially. You have to read the dialogue, then the description, then the action. It has to be broken down into the opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, material, purpose. One after the other. It can’t strike you at the same time. It has to add up to a picture in the reader’s mind. And that picture is never the same as what you intended. Whether or not it’s the understanding of a character’s motivations, or the pace at which events occur, or even just understanding what’s going on. It’s like reading a technical manual for your thoughts.

But as long as it exists in that abstract state, it can’t be communicated to anyone. It can’t be shared. So in order to spread it among any community, it must be translated into a concrete form. Either words or pictures or song — something the human body can sense. Writing’s the easiest way, but involves the longest transition from mind to paper, then eyes to mind. And the state of the information is never the same. Stephen King said “writing is telepathy” – the sharing of your thoughts to another’s brain.

And that’s the key word – “sharing”. In order for sharing to occur, there has to be reciprocation. Like love. I give to you these words, this story, this idea. An epic journey that demonstrates some experiences, some life lessons, that otherwise you wouldn’t be able to experience in any way, shape, or form. As John Green said, you are imprisoned in your body. And stories give you the chance to escape that prison.

But lately, I haven’t been getting the reciprocation. No acceptances, no agent requests, no reviews, no feedback. Part of that’s my fault — uploading old stories to unpopular sites. Part of it’s… I don’t know. It’s a hard industry to get people to notice you. I know it takes a long time to A) gain the skill after failure after failure after disheartening failure B) figure out what’s acceptable. There’s no formula. Otherwise, everyone would be doing it. There are so many hoops — critiques, reviews, articles, query letters. Just a bunch of garbage that takes away from producing. If you’re self-publishing, covers, royalties, editors, ISBNs, promotion, contests. Just anything to make someone see your hand raising among the millions of others.

And there’s so damn much to remember: first acts and third act twists and hero’s journey and want vs. need and implausibility and present tense and first person perspective and viewpoint and tone shift and making sure you don’t offend women and overwriting and character soup and killing darlings and world-building and character relationships and too much detail and not enough detail and character arcs that match the story and complementary protagonist/antagonists and zippy beginnings and if you try to make everything fit, you’re going to go insane. It’s like figuring out time paradoxes.

This might be one of my longest dry spells since I decided I wanted to be a capital-A author. When baseball players get in a slump, they get fired. What do writers get? Insanity?

Too Many Macros?

how i want to think i write

I’m going through the second draft of Defender with my macros.  Over time I’ve developed, expanded, and restructured them so that they’re more efficient, and catch those writer mistakes.  The difficulty is that it now takes a long time to get through a 100,000 word novel.  On the plus side, these macros have helped me eliminate about 3,000 words.

But they still take a long time.  The problem is, once you get halfway down and you’re like “Christ, I just want to get these over with.”  So you start being more liberal with keeping those adverbs or crutch words.  Which, of course, means sloppy work.

I didn’t run the macros on first draft, because I figured it could be wasted time since A) I’d probably spot those mistakes in revision and B) a lot of parts would be cut and new ones added in.   Now I’m wondering if I should run the macros either in first draft, or just do half in one draft, half in the other.  Or simply not worry about certain macros like “find instances of that” and “find had or had been”.  Those take a long time to evaluate and think of replacements for.

Not to mention the fact that, when I’m reading, I rarely notice those repetitions.  That includes my work and others work.  I’m not going to be any Ekaterina Sedia.  I’m trying to be more of a Stephen King.  I’m wondering which ones to give priority to.

I Can’t Talk About Rape Retraction

empathy cat

I’ve been reading and re-reading this I Can’t Talk About Rape post I wrote two years ago, and keep referring to when I get in Internet kerfuffles. The content and context is quite sensitive, and recent circumstances has forced me to re-evaluate my words.

I write this blog with the attitude that no one is reading. Because really, no one was, and it was more freeing. But it’s no longer that simple. Commenters forced me to rethink about what I had said (see? you guys can change things! You just don’t need to yell.) Should I issue a retraction? Well, that would imply that I didn’t believe in what I had written. That I was sorry for it’s existence. That I should apologize.

In my mind, apology means regret. Regret means that, if you could take it back and erase that it ever happened, you would. That’s not something I take lightly — our experiences, good and bad, shape us. So I had to ask myself, twenty years from now, what if my daughters come across my words and read them. Would I feel comfortable with that?

The answer is no.

I would never want my daughters to think that, god forbid they were ever raped, it was their fault. The fact is, rape is never the victim’s fault. That’s the definition of rape. It can’t be your fault because someone else forced or coerced you to do it. It’s ‘without consent’. It’s against one’s will.

When I wrote that post, I was angry. I was angry that my questions were misinterpreted as malicious trolling, because they implied something maybe people didn’t want to think about. It’s that second side of the coin. Black people don’t want to think that they’re racist, even though I just saw a sketch on Charles Barkley’s SNL called “White People Problems”. Women don’t want to believe they’re different than men despite actual scientific evidence that they are (but can you be different and still be equal? I hope so). But it’s hard to communicate sincerity in text.

But instead of people talking calmly and rationally, they were yelling, insulting, and shutting me down. They were citing seemingly ridiculous statistics and saying that I couldn’t ask questions about it because I had never been in that situation. That post was a reaction to that — not to their disagreement, but by their hostile, resentful responses. I felt they were trying to shame me. I understand that this an emotional subject, but here is a guy who doesn’t understand because he’s never needed to worry about it. At least he’s trying to learn, but if you start yelling at him, it’s going to make him resentful towards you. If you’re in a minority, and you can convince the guy in the majority, you can go places. There is a lot of confusion out there, mostly thanks to the media.

The example I used in the “rape is love” paragraph was meant to be satirical. There are so many women out there who love “Gone with the Wind” and think Rhett Butler is the sexiest man alive and Scarlett O’Hara is a strong women. But they seem to selectively forget that, in one scene, Rhett Butler carries her upstairs and forces her to have sex against her will. She’s kicking and screaming in one shot, but in the next, she’s laying in the bed smiling and singing. This is the sort of mixed message I’m talking about, for men and women. Women look at Rhett Butler and sigh. Men think “She likes Rhett Butler. If I act like him…” Lots more good examples can be found here. This trope points out that society as a whole rejects the idead of rape, yet can’t see it when it’s in front of their face. I’m a living example.

A good example of rational discussion is Jim C. Hines’s post about the Doonesbury comic. It’s beautiful. It states definitions, legal precdents, and examines multiple viewpoints. It uses logic and analysis to reach a conclusion, and removes the emotional factor. It’s too bad he shut down comments for the post, because I would have complimented him on the post. But I understand why.

When I wrote “I Can’t Talk About Rape”, I felt like I had two choices — walk away and never ask questions, or ask the “stupid questions” that seem obvious to others but not me. I have a problem with walking away because then I remain stewed in my own ignorance. Whenever someone does something I don’t agree with, I always wait one second and ask “Okay, why did this person act this way? What was his/her motivation in this action? What caused it?” Because examining people’s motivations is something we don’t do enough. Someone could argue, logically and rationally, that what Hitler did could be defended. But that doesn’t make that person right.

The fact is, I have changed my opinions and ideas since then. I just didn’t write about it because writing about it seems to attract emotional outbursts without constructive corrections. Plus no one said anything about the original post. So I just never published them.

When I wrote that post, regarding the issue at hand of a girl who was partying to excess and passing out so drunk she could not give consent or not, I used the metaphor that if you’re foolish enough to jump into a polar bear’s den, don’t be surprised if you get eaten.

However, I have since realized that this is a flawed metaphor, because, while a victim’s entrance into such an obviously dangerous situation indicates foolishness and poor judgement, it does not work for the victimizer.

A polar bear has a compulsion to act on natural instincts. If you put a human and a large, juicy steak on opposite sides of an enclosure, the polar bear would choose the human. Predators don’t want to be fed, they want to hunt. They have to. They cannot help it. Millions of years of evolution have embedded that message that “if you do not hunt, you will starve to death.”

But a rapist has a choice. It is sentient. And although men have an instinct to “spread their seed” as far as they can, it can ignore those inclinations and use judgement. Humans have free will, animals don’t. That’s what “being civilized” means — it means not acting like a base animal and succumbing to natural impulses. If we do that, we might as well go back to living in caves and hunting for mammoths. A passed-out woman is not an “opportunity”, it is a human, like you.

Now I use the metaphor of a woman stage-diving. You want to jump off the stage and crowd-surf, like in the movies. It looks fun. You do not want to have a hundred hands squeeze your ass or grope your breasts or put their hand down your pants. That’s inappropriate, no matter what you’re doing (unless you’re having sex… with consent). It’s not what you asked for, and there’s no circumstances where that’s okay, and we should all know that.

It’s a bad idea to get so drunk you pass out. It points to serious, deep, psychological issues that need treatment. It does not mean you want to have sex, or are willing to let whoever wants to have sex with you (unless you puts up a sign, but then that could be a forgery, so you should probably sign it and get it notarized before hand, but that’s a pain in the ass). Telling someone that “you seem to keep passing out and getting raped at parties. Stop going to parties,” is like teaching “abstinence-only” sex education.

I am still a beginner writer. And a lot of my difficulty with writing is getting what I mean to say into the tangible words. A lot of the sarcasm and toen I intended in that post failed to come through. This is why I hate making rough drafts — because the idea exists so perfectly in my head, and when I get it on paper, in tangible format, it’s never as good. And sometimes it means something different than what I intended.

The “I Can’t Talk About Rape” post was written poorly, and it’s no longer relevant. Now I know more about the subject. I won’t be linking to it anymore in reference to Internet arguments that get out of control or anything regarding Mr. Hines. He’s a cool guy, he doesn’t deserve what I’ve been giving him.

Why I Try and Keep My Writing on the Down-Low

fiction writer what they think i do

I recently discovered the “What People Think I Do” meme and found this little gem. It got me thinking about why I’m so shy to tell people that I’m a writer. The first reason is that I’ve only been published in a few magazines and anthologies (like “Live and Let Undead”, now at fine bookstores everywhere). But I feel that until I get a novel on the bookshelf, I’ve earned no legitimacy.

I feel that when most people, myself included, learn that a person is a writer, the first thing they ask is if they’ve been published. The perception of being published versus not is the difference between this

and this

You just need to look at a sampling of query letters received by agents to see why (QueryShark and SlushPile Hell have a fine selection of sample #queryfails). You’ve got people thinking they were deigned by God, therapy fodder, blatant plagiarists, and dozens of dull, unoriginal stories. And that’s just the people who can string together basic sentences. Which only represent 40% of people who say “I’m a writer.”

Fact is, unless you’re someone like Tobais Buckell, Suzanne Collins, Jim C. Hines, J.K. Rowling, John Scalzi, Seanan McGuire, Neil Gaiman, Sherwood Smith, Patrick Rothfuss, so on, so on, i.e., someone who identifies him or herself as a writer, you are just a sad person in the basement, with the glow of the monitor as your only light source, writing centaur erotica. Or god forbid, fan fiction. Imagine that, someone composing fan fiction calling themselves a writer.

And I don’t want angry comments, because I am that guy in the basement right now. The problem with telling people you write is that it opens a lot of question you may not want to answer. I foolishly put “Write science fiction and fantasy novels” on my resume under other interests. Of course, this was a bad idea, because it only intrigues the interviewer to ask questions.

Embarrassing questions like “What do you write?”, to which you hem and haw until you finally gasp “Different… kinds of… stuff…” and foolishly admitting that your last novel, after finding the best way to put it in laymen’s terms, was about “The Little Mermaid” crossed with “Waterworld”.

Judgemental questions like “Are you published?” Well, you can hang your head shamefully at that one while you reply in the negative. And then wonder whether this guy knows anything about how the writing world works, that the best authors can get 500 rejections, that most people don’t sell their first novel, or even their second.

Personal questions like “Can I read your writing?” that either won’t work because what you’re writing isn’t finished yet and, unless you’re presenting it for critique (which you are not because A) you don’t trust this person B) this person doesn’t have the literary merit to give you the information you need to improve your work), you never present an unfinished product for show OR what you’re writing is inappropriate for friends (see aforementioned centaur erotica).

Can of worms questions like “Have you ever thought about self-publishing?” and that while the idea sounds good on paper, where people like Amanda Hocking and Christopher Paolini make headlines as the exception not the rule, self-publishing is in its infancy and that while the world sorts through the sea of the aforementioned plagiarists and writers “on a mission from God” (spoken in a Dan Aykroyd Chicago accent) it’s not a viable option for a novice with neither the time or money to push the marketing that it would need. Of course, you can’t say this to the person you’re asking for a job.

It shouldn’t be embarrassing, but for an introvert like me, it invites the possibility of personal questions and new angles for judgement that I just don’t need.