Sorry if this article seems sort of disjointed. I’m writing it while I watch Mario Balotelli tear apart Germany in the EuroCup. I was also tempted to name this article “The Write Stuff” but we’re all adults, here, right? I don’t really have to pander to people with cheap wordplay like that, do I? Because I’ll do it if I have to! I just want you all to know that…
Anyway, while the last few months haven’t exactly been fruitful on the publishing front for me, I have been awarded a few rare opportunities to correspond with agents and read up on some wonderful blogs about query letters. Accordingly, I thought it might be interesting for me to weigh in on what I’ve learned about “personality” and how that can directly influence an aspiring writer’s success. In the relatively small amount of time I have spent exposed to the industry, I wanted to share with you some lessons I have learned.
The most important advice I could give anyone my age on how to maintain their personality is to be mercilessly upbeat and try to never break character. I know this can be a ridiculous challenge, but negativity works against us. The last thing you want to do is go on Twitter or Facebook or, worse, use your email to convey your negativity in a very public space. More people notice than you might think. Find a writing group in which to complain and share frustrations and always try to do so tactfully. Furthermore, every time you vent negativity, try to fill that void with something vaguely positive. That’s how we move forward. You should also never use your negativity against your own work. Never short-sell yourself as a writer and never speak ill of your own book. Let other people form their own opinions and never harass someone for giving you a negative review. I say, engage that reviewer and try to learn from the experience. The point is to learn how to keep your chin up.
Furthermore, learn how to conduct yourself with agents. The first time I met with an agent, I was told not to dive straight into my spiel about my book and instead to engage the agent first and ask her a few questions about her trip (she had come from New York to Kentucky). I smiled from start to finish, came prepared with all the materials I would need, and the agent even made a comment about how professional I was and how refreshing that was for her. Ultimately, no good may have come with regard to the project I was there to pitch, but she gave me the best advice I had heard from a publishing insider to date: I was doing everything right and would get there eventually. And I really think she meant it. At any rate, her final words to me were all the motivation I need to propel me through another year of writing and struggling my way towards success.
I realize there are probably more profound things that aspiring writers want to hear from a commentary than “be positive” and “be upbeat”, but the fact is that there isn’t much more that you can do. If you’re not in good spirits, ask yourself why that is. Part of it might be that you don’t have 100% confidence in the project you’ve written and perhaps you need to ask yourself how you could be happier about it. If you need a confidence boost, have someone else read your book and give you an honest assessment. If their feedback is overwhelmingly positive, you’ll have a reason to feel positive, too. If they are critical of your work, LISTEN TO THEM, and ask yourself how to make your book better.
Okay, now onto something tangentially related that I saw on Twitter.
Now, I’m the last person who should be lecturing anyone. I’m very much a newb to the whole writing scene and I’m still trying to get my feet under me. That said, I did want to weigh in on something I saw online and see what other people thought. There was a hash tag trending on Twitter yesterday that read “Things Not To Say to a Writer” and, frankly, I found it more annoying that humorous. The first few tweets I read were amusing enough, but then the conversation spiraled into elitist attacks on people who like to read “Twilight”, or who ask writers where they get their ideas, or who ask writers how much money they make, or people who claim, “One day I’ll write a book…when I have the time.” Okay, some of these statements might be annoying to writers, but can’t we do better than passive-aggressively venting our frustration in Twitter?
I don’t write to show off my grammar skills. I don’t write to one-up Stephanie Meyers. And I certainly don’t write to put other people down, whether it’s other writers or readers. I write because I love doing it. The fact is that there are people in this world who love “Twilight”. So what? I don’t have to like those books, but it doesn’t mean I have anything against “Twi-hards”, even though they’re fun to joke about. Nothing annoys me more than a writer who derides fans of Meyers’ books and then goes home and watches crap like “Jersey Shore” or “Real Housewives” at night. Who are we to preach about taste?
We all have tastes and interests and morbid curiosities that we would just as soon keep to ourselves.
So if a person who is completely ignorant about the writing process and all the hours of sweat and toil that we writers put into our projects comes up to me and asks me a stupid question, I’m not going to post on Twitter about how stupid that person is. I’m pretty sure my mechanic doesn’t post on Twitter every time I bring my car in and say, “I think it might be the, uh…reverse discharge combustion mobility brake-line…” even though he’s quite sure that I’m just babbling random words like an idiot. Instead, he just says “(Sigh) I’ll have a look at it and get back to you as soon as I can, Sir.”
When all is said and done, would you rather that people just stopped asking us questions about our projects? Would you rather that someone didn’t want to know how many books we’ve sold or how we came up with an idea or how we developed a character? I go around every day hoping someone WILL take an interest in my book, but maybe I’m just naïve. I would imagine that fans can sometimes be obnoxious, invasive, and ignorant, but the task falls on authors to learn how to cleverly evade those situations or turn them into something positive. There’s an old saying in Kentucky—actually, no one in Kentucky has ever said this before but I’m saying it for the first time now, so remember it—an assh*** is an assh*** regardless of how many books he has published.
Does it ever get old having people constantly ask us questions about our books? Sure it does! But that’s our cross to bear. Condescension on Twitter is never the answer, folks.