Have you ever hit a block–one that isn’t exactly a writer’s block, but more of a confidence block? That’s where I’m sitting right now. I’ve been binging on media lately, which means I’m watching a lot of TV.
One of my favorite shows [with the worst airing schedule in the universe–pun status is: “unintended, but not unwelcome”] is premiering a new episode daily until mid-August, and it is consuming my brain currently. I just came out of season 3 of Sailor Moon Crystal, binged all of Gravity Falls, and ReLIFE; but this show destroying what is left of me. There are so few well-written shows nowadays, and the ones that are done right are just… explosively right. And despite the fact that a novel is a completely different medium from a TV show, I still sit here and think, “I will never be that good. I will never write anything remotely that good. Dammit.”
After that, moving my cursor across the blank page becomes the most arduous task in the world. Even if I want to write–even if I’ve been excited to work on a scene–it’s beyond me. I don’t know if all authors have this issue, or if they just push through it until it’s gone. If I try to work through it, all that comes out is drivel. Letting Future Me “clean it up in editing” results in Future Me having to rewrite all of Past Me’s crap.
Meanwhile, my chronic illness is getting worse and some days I can’t even think well enough to handle staring at a wall much less write. So when I have a good day, and I want to write but can’t, I just make it worse by berating myself for not being able to take the opportunity. Thus, I watch TV, and… it’s a horrible cycle that just keeps going.
What stops it? A perfect storm–a good day health-wise where something within a show, book, or game stands out and sets off a spark of creativity inside of me; something that whispers that maybe everything I write isn’t trash, and that I can do this because I am the only one who can tell my story the way it needs to be told.
I have three main social media pages I try to keep updated: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter–mostly in that order. I have found considerable positive traction on Instagram [of all places!] and I am gaining a little ground on Twitter now, which I honestly didn’t expect. It goes to show that if you throw yourself at something long enough, eventually something will stick. Though now all I have in my head after typing that is a mental image of me beating the hell out of Twitter like it’s an old console TV on its last legs.
I’ve considered a YouTube channel for a few months now, but that also involves the artistic side of my light novels so it gets backburnered easily. [And we all know what the comments section is like over there…]
Social media has been my bugbear for a while now, but you already know this. I’m a private person by nature, and it’s been difficult for me to come out of my shell while lacking that magic confidence anonymity lends people. As Oscar Wilde said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”. Despite this being stated a century before the internet would even become a thing, it seems to be more true now than when it was originally coined. Human nature doesn’t change much, and with the exception of a few outliers, we all want to be liked and accepted. It gives people a sense of value to feel like others appreciate them and their ideas.
Creators put the intimate workings of their mind on display for people to pick apart and dissect–whether it be music, writing, or artwork. Social media makes two things easy: putting your ideas in front of millions of people the world over all at once, and allowing them to judge it–and you–from behind the safety of their own mask.
I don’t like taking off my mask. It’s not that I am secretly a cruel or unpleasant person, [Though I feel that I am much more amicable online than off…] but that I feel my discomfort and worry bleed through my words. I’m scared. I hesitate. I re-word, erase, and refine: “Will they like this? What if someone thinks it’s awful–what if it goes viral for being terrible?” [Like that last one? I always jump to worst case scenarios.]
But to be a writer–nay, an author–you have to have a thick skin! That means you can’t be afraid to take off your mask. You can’t be afraid to put yourself and your work out there! You need to handle criticism and praise with equal parts grace and aplomb. If you even hint at uncertainty, your peers will repeat this as if it is a magic incantation that will remove your doubt. I even find me telling myself this sometimes, which is awkward.
So what is a writer to do when they need to be honest and real on social media in order to connect with others in an authentic way, but find themselves full of anxiety and fear? They either stop writing, or do the exact opposite of what they are instructed to do: they create a new mask.
But… the goal was to not have a mask, right? Well, we see what happens when famous people use social media without their masks on–it doesn’t work. They alienate people, and quickly; a few of them even lose fans, and access to their own accounts for it. So you end up creating this half-mask, like the Phantom of the Opera, where you are both open and honest, but also guarded. Telling people how they should feel is stealing their agency–if something someone says about you or your work bothers you, you have every right to be upset about it! But the way you wear your own mask when others are watching says more about you than any thinly-veiled rant or tear-stained tweet ever could.
Ultimately, the magic author incantation is a lie. You cannot follow it as written. There is no way you can completely turn off your ability to care what others think about you, even if you try to convince yourself otherwise. We’re only human, and fall easily back into old habits… we trade one mask for another. It’s not a bad thing; this way we can fulfill the spirit of the incantation while being honest to both ourselves and our followers.
I believed in it for too long. I tried to bend my own feelings to fit it, trusting that it was right despite it feeling all wrong. I should know by now to listen to my gut, even when it contradicts what seems like solid advice. I took an impromptu trip to visit family recently, and had a lot of time to think about my online presence while not having much of an outlet through which to curate it. I didn’t pack my laptop, so I had what I could reach with my phone. [It was mostly Instagram, and it was largely pictures of the forest around my parent’s place in Missouri. It was… quaint… and you didn’t miss too much. Just some lousy photography of trees, flowers and my poor, misplaced-but-well-taken-care-of cats.]
I worried about leaving it quiet for so long, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. Now that I’m back and updating, having had this revelation about masks, I am seeing a better response to my posts and tweets. It’s kind of magical in its own sense, but I know that it’s because I learned from my past experience, and was willing to go against what I was initially told to do.
The lesson in this is: Don’t be afraid to be yourself online, but don’t forget to protect yourself either. Remember that we’re all wearing masks out here–even when at first glance it may appear that some of us aren’t wearing one at all.
There is a particular innocence you start with when you begin writing. You read books, watch movies; you analyze plot lines with others, and speculate where the story is going. You reflect on your favorite things about them and think, “I want to make other people feel like I do right now!” This seems to be one of the major catalysts for people to start writing–the desire to evoke powerful feelings in others. I know it was for me.
At some point in some writer’s journey, they’ll look for resources to help them with something, be it punctuation, formatting, or character development; and during that time they will most likely join a forum or group for writers, entering the page smiling, wide-eyed, and thinking, “I’m among peers now! We can talk shop!”
No. No you cannot. Because you do not think like these people do.
Everything is deconstructed–hashed out, dissected and trampled to death. I’m not talking people’s work either, I’m talking technique, structure, literary devices–things of that nature. I’ve been a member of several forums for about a year now. I mostly lurk, but after watching people pull apart everything under the sun about writing, I found myself doing it too. I couldn’t enjoy a book or movie without feeling extremely jaded; picking it apart mentally, even when I liked it. Writing was worse. When I wrote, I second-guessed every. Single. Little. Thing. Am I being too ‘purple’? Am I using too many adverbs? Am I really pissing people off and making them throw my book [or the eReader it’s on] at the wall the second I mention what a character’s eye color is?! I don’t like feeling like this. I don’t think anyone would!
There are several rules that seem to have surfaced above the clamor that they all deem universal. According to them, you’re supposed to show not tell–but don’t use too many adverbs while doing it–and god forbid you use any word that might be considered above a sixth grader’s vocabulary level! If you do people will think you are using a thesaurus to sound smarter than you are; in fact, try not to use very many words at all. Too many words on a page turn people off.
Is this really what writing has come down to? Everyone needs to write the same, across all genres, or it’s all garbage? People are bemoaning the rise of carbon-copy literature but they are not seeing why this is happening. It’s starting with writers of all skill levels having access to the same places online, all of them having fear and uncertainty instilled into them from the outset by those who think they know better–those who praise one author’s voice over all others. All the things that stopped me from reading authors like King, Crichton, Koontz, and Collins were now the things my “peers” were saying I should do to my own work.
I found myself scared that people would hate my books because I didn’t sound like them–despite the fact that in the past I have been told by people that they like my style of writing. I submitted entries to short story contests, and received a fair amount of praise as well. [No wins.] But still, that pressure to change remained. I watched other people post perfectly good story snippets, asking for advice, seeing them told time and time again to alter it to match those unspoken rules.
Now I’m not making an excuse for bad writing. Not at all. But when writers tell other writers that they can’t use certain phrases, or insist that they shouldn’t describe a sunset–even if it’s only with two adjectives–there is an issue. So I pushed back in my own work; I like being descriptive. I enjoy painting with words. My audience doesn’t just consist of other authors, but of people from all walks of life who enjoy the kind of tales I love to spin. Some people will love my books; others will hate them. No amount of adverb-less sentences or extensive wordiness will make any difference. The forums were doing more harm to my writing and confidence than good, so I pulled away from them.
After I distanced myself from them the little voice in the back of my head that parroted their rhetoric faded. Recently my husband and daughter [inadvertently] got me into a show called Steven Universe, and it was one of the first things I enjoyed in a while because I did not have that squawking in my ear, desperately trying to pull it apart to see the tropes or spot where they were “telling and not showing”. I started feeling like myself again.
I am editing faster as well. I am a third of the way done on my second pass in a week already, after months of trying to edit through self-doubt. I have found a new forum, one that seems more inclusive than the others; I’ll see with time if that is true or not. If it’s not I may have to swear off them altogether.
It’s a shame that something I thought would help started to poison me over time. All I can do from this point forward is to keep writing; pushing forward, strengthening my voice and improving my prose. That’s all we should focus on as writers, really. We don’t have the spare energy to deride anyone for not writing like someone else. Same as readers, if we don’t like an author’s work, that’s okay–their work isn’t for us. Someone else out there likes them, and the world is much better when everyone is different, right?
It’s funny how varied the places are from which we look back. Sometimes it’s merely a few months; maybe a few years.
Other times, it’s seventeen years and it completely takes you by surprise.
I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about how Atlantis: TVC was originally conceived while I was in high school, in geography class; because sitting around after finishing a test is boring as… well, staring at a wall. [and if not, you now know.]
I was digging around in my documents folder and I found a stash of old files related to the original concept of Atlantis from the 90s that had somehow survived four hard drive failures, and moving across three laptops! One of those files was a map.
While this isn’t the original map–the true original one was drawn in pencil in the notebook of a former friend along with several early iterations of Achine’s design, and is long lost to me–it’s the closest thing I still have of it. It’s a horrible scan, with the levels screwed around to remove the lines from the notebook paper, then colored sometime in 2000/2001 in Photoshop. I cringe when I look at this. Cringe. Then I remember that I was fifteen at the time, and teenagers aren’t known for their cartography. I redid the Atlantian map last year when I was in the planning phase of Volume #1. This is the current map, the one you see at the front of the books.
Like night and day! You can see where I actually did research into geographical features and map making instead of half-assing it like Teen Mel did. Things moved; were renamed, rearranged. You can even see the original sigil on the first one, and how it has changed too. [It had an arrow in it, and was three-toned for no damn reason. Teen Mel made some bad choices.]
My point in dragging this out is that reflection is good. Keep your old stuff–look back on it frequently. Laugh at it. Cry if you want to. Cringe. Hold it close, because it’s precious.
Yes, it’s precious. There is no way to measure how much we have grown if we have no point to compare it to! I’ve been feeling down about everything lately–and it has started to bleed over into my work, bringing my writing to a halt. But you know what? Seeing that stupid old map [circa 1998, yo!] made me realize that I may feel bad now, but in the future I will look back on this point and feel like I am doing better than right now. It was fortunate that I stumbled upon it, because it reminded me that my future self will always be better than my current self as long as I keep moving forward, practicing, trying new things–improving.
Here’s to many cringe-inducing looks backward to come! Now if you’ll excuse me, I also found an old fanfic I wrote from the same year, and I have plans to read it and hate myself. I’m sure it’s horrible.
My mother, my aunt, and I took my daughter and my nephew to the lake on Saturday. I’ve been stuck for a while on a particular scene in volume #2, so while my mom and I were bobbing out by the swim boundary of the cove I decided to see if she had any ideas for me. I gave her a quick run down of the scene, what was supposed to happen, what I was stuck on [I needed a consequence for an action] and why it needed a cost. Here were her top suggestions:
Destroy the current world timeline even though time travel isn’t involved and the rest of the series is about fixing it.
Everyone dies. Just… everyone. Dies. End series.
Kill the current main character, and change a side character to a main character.
Time skip to a thousand years in the future after the incident. [Everyone is dead]
I love my mom, but WTF? Apparently she likes death and screwing up timelines. I thought she liked whodunnit mysteries but apparently she leans Sci-Fi and has no clue.
Anyway, while I was busy going “WTF” it did give me a solution to not only the current problem of a consequence, but also facilitated a future story piece I had planned but was sketchy on how I would pull it off. Consequence is that something is now easier for the antagonists to do. It all fits nicely, but still…
A while after that, while sitting in the water by myself, a small brown fish started nibbling my hand. For whatever reason I wished I had my camera so I could take a picture, but then my mind jumped a million miles away to a “what if” scenario where my books had a huge following and actually were pop-culturally relevant and there were articles online about them. I don’t write for fame or fortune, but it would be nice to know that I’m not the only one who likes my stories. Maybe some day…
While I get [and enjoy] Facebook, and like keeping a blog, I find something simple like Twitter just baffles me. I mean, I understand the base concept–say something meaningful in a limited amount of words. Abridgment. I totally get that.
I don’t understand how it applies to engaging with my audience. I have a twitter account. I follow people. I post on it.
Nothing happens. Silence. Crickets.
Maybe I’m too old for Twitter. *laughs*
But in all seriousness, when I launched my page on Facebook I got a few likes and follows right off the bat. So far I’ve been on Twitter a few weeks and… nada. It makes me question why it’s one of the major things guides mention when they talk about how you need to self-promote. It’s usually #1 or #2 on most lists! Part of me wonders if it’s worth it, but I’m going to give it a while longer and see if it’s just a late bloomer. [I’m still really confused at how stagnant it is, and I’m still confident that I’m doing it all wrong, but just letting it wander about unchecked feels like the right thing to do here.]
I’m actually fairly introverted, and find it hard to be social, so “social media” is a bit of a hurdle for me anyway. My default is to be sitting on the sofa with a cup of something [soda, coffee, whatever.] and a book, TV show, or video game, and a cat or two, not having to worry about whether or not the person I am speaking to is fascinated by what I am saying–or if they’re staring intently because I have something on my face. [During the conversation, I’ll think I nailed it; after I’ll always assume there was something on my face.]
I used to help run a few social media accounts for a website I worked for, and strangely, I didn’t feel as uncomfortable then as I do now when I post something to Twitter. Of course, that site had a built in audience, and I was anonymous, so that probably helped.
Now I’m being… me; all strange and boring, putting my weirdness and uncertainty out on the internet for everyone and their future children to see. At first I wasn’t sure why I was detailing this as a blog entry. I don’t want to feel like I’m whining about things, or feeling ungrateful for the following I do have. In the end I realized that there are probably others starting out, scared to dip their toe in, [Dipping toes is so not the case here. I feel like I stripped naked and did a cannonball right into the deep end.] but the point is this:
I am scared.
I am scared, but I know that I am not alone–and you, the author fresh on their feet–I want you to know you are not alone either. For better or for worse, we are putting ourselves out here, and even if we fail, it’s better than not trying at all.