Tuesday, October 18, 2016

You're such a PITA, but you have good info.

I'm not sure if this is an appropriate question for your blog. I doubt there's even really an answer.

I've come to a hard realization that I'm not a good storyteller. I'm a pretty decent writer, though. In my search for ways to improve my storytelling, I've recently come upon a blog (redacted) that has given me some valuable insight that I've been missing. It's given me a new way to look at stories, new suggestions for studying how they tick. In two days, I've felt noticeable progress in how I look at stories.

But sweet chocolaty godiva, Janet, this guy is condescending. At least once every blog post I've read, he reminds his readers he has The Answers, and if you don't listen to him, you'll never be published. Or you'll be converted by the sheer volume of rejections that plague your email inbox. Or you're hysterical.

Why can't people admit there is more than one way? What does it hurt this guy if people disagree with him? I'll fully admit I'm getting valuable insight out of what he has to say, but none of the good came from his threats to listen to him or consign my writing career to my parents' refrigerator door. It's difficult to learn with your teeth bared.

It's a bit like the question of whether you can learn about Shakespeare from a flaming misogynist. (Yes, you can, I'm living proof.)

And I learned a LOT about politics from some vile characters who were skilled politicians, it's true.

And I think we're dancing around the question in this year's election about whether you need to be morally upright to be President (I would say no, you don't, but you do need to know how the Constitution works.)

I'm probably the wrong person to opine on how many ways can be right since I'm convinced there is only one: mine. I've just learned to be less overt in saying so.

It's clear you're able to separate the value from the venom and that's a VERY good skill to develop and will stand you in good stead in your publishing career. Stories of agents who scream and yell and throw things at their minions are all too common urban legends I'm sure.

Yup, that's my beloved Mer-Bear

I'm sure the denizens of the comment column have some coping skills to share, if not some terrifyingly hilarious stories of their own to share.


Theresa said...

Separate the value from the venom: yes, a very good skill.

Still, there 's so much good stuff out there about story structure. I'd head for a more congenial location.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"...to separate the value from the venom..."
Wise words for these troubled times.

Agent stories ?
I got nothin'

My interactions, via query replies, have always been either respectful, hopeful or non-existent.

Leah B said...

There are so many writing blogs out there, don't waste your time supporting a douchebag (which you are with page clicks). I quit a blog earlier this year after realizing that some of their negative posts would leave me angry sometimes days after reading them. The blog had great info too, but it wasn't worth seeing yet another "thinkpiece" about racism or sexism that were thinly-veiled racist or sexist articles.

I assume you already read QueryShark, which has great info for queries that can also be applied to novels.
Janice Hardy's Fiction University is also wonderful. She's currently doing a blog tour, so I'm finding a lot of new writing blogs to read through that too.
Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds has great writing advice and motivation. He also gives debut authors a place to talk about their book and their process.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Oh wait, I do have an editor story.

A few years back the editor of my column, (in a former paper), changed the title of my piece. They always change the title and I never had a problem with that until the editor chose a title which disparaged my boss and ripped a hole in my job. My boss gets the paper so knowing she would read it freaked me out.
So I emailed a former memoir teacher, who had written a pretty good book on writing. He said to call the editor and complain.

NOOOOOOOO, echoed from the depths of the Shark's depths.

I emailed the editor my concerns - without criticism.
She said if my boss had an issue to simply say SHE came up with the title, NOT me. Huh, so simple.

Actually, the angst was all in my head. My boss loved the piece.
The editor still changed many of the titles and I have to admit some were brilliant.

nightsmusic said...

Let's see:

Kristin Lamb - (romance/suspense) much respect for her readers and fantastic information

Lynn Viehl - (scifi/paranormal romance/suspense) much respect for her readers and fantastic information

Chuck Wendig - (multifaceted author/screenwriter/I'd-read-his-laundry-list) much respect for her readers and fantastic information but a lot of snark

Stephen King - ON WRITING! A bit outdated now, but still invaluable

There are more, many, many more, who can and will for free, teach you through their blogs, anything you "need to know" to be a good writer as far as the craft itself goes. What you do with that knowledge is up to you. But to deliberately put yourself in a position to learn from someone who thinks their sh*t don't stink is not helping you in the long run. You'll learn, but at what price your confidence and drive?

nightsmusic said...

**Chuck Wendig - HIS. (clearly, I am an idiot)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ok, one more comment and I'm outta here.

If we're discussing blogs let me just say that reading blogs about writing is like counting calories. To many, you bloat, to little, you starve. Finding the healthy limit (and sticking to it) is the clue.

Does that mean (being) chum is healthy?

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Oh man, that's hard. I don't know if it's right to walk away from an excellent source of learning because of a moral conflict - sometimes it probably is, sometimes it probably isn't. If the teacher's bile is infecting your own outlook, it's probably time to walk away. Thing is, that's not always easy to see.

I once followed a blog that gave me an excellent education on cultural sensitivity, hot-topic issues, and how to see where our culture oppressed some and where it unfairly favored others. But the writer was so angry all the time - justifiably so - and that anger seeped into my own life. Eventually, I had to stop reading the blog.

It did teach me a very useful lesson, though: just because your outrage is justifiable doesn't mean you have to carry it with you throughout your whole day. You don't have to be miserable to be culturally sensitive and aware of injustice. (Honestly, I still suffer some cognitive dissonance from this.)

Lennon Faris said...

There are people like this in every field. Hate to say it but the best surgeons are always assholes.

As long as you're not paying this guy to read, and as Bethany said not letting his cynicism cut into your writing confidence, learn what you can and glean the good from the asshole and then move on with your life. Did he teach Tolkien or Stephen King or heck Stephenie Meyer? I think not. His arrogance is definitely a little far ahead of himself. But, if he has good information and it's helping you, why not utilize it?

Colin Smith said...

The ability to learn from people with whom you disagree (or are disagreeable) is not just a topic skill, it's a life skill. So many people miss out on learning opportunities because they don't like the teacher's politics or attitude (or even tone of voice).

I completed my first Theology degree at a British university, not a Bible College or Seminary. As a result, 99.9% of my teachers were not Christian, which presented a challenge for me since I am. It meant having to navigate my way through courses on the Bible, church history, Biblical languages, etc. taught by professors coming mostly from the liberal critical school of thought. I suffered through tutorials where, for example, in a group of ten students, I was the lone hand raised when the professor asked if anyone in the room believes the Bible to be the Word of God. I have to say, most of them taught their subjects without mockery or disdain--but not all. I do remember the looks of pity I got from one or two of them. However, even though my professors and I had strongly divergent theological views, I had to recognize that they were all significantly better read than me, and, if I can account for the worldview that colors the conclusions they reach, I can actually learn some interesting stuff.

Opie: If the information you're getting from this person is helpful, then that's a good thing, despite the source. There may be a good reason why he's so single-minded about his views. Are you sure he's not being tongue-in-cheek? Maybe he's had so many success stories from people who have taken his advice, he's become convinced of his own authority? Whatever his reasons, you know his is just one voice in a crowded room, so weigh what he says. If many other respected writers share his opinion, then pay attention. If he's a lone voice shouting against the crowd, then don't dismiss him outright, but consider what he says and why he's going against the flow. He might be right--or at least, you might agree with him.

And don't forget, while everyone is entitled to an opinion, not every opinion is valuable. There are some things that are just plain right or wrong, regardless of what anyone says. You can stand in front of a steam roller debating the nature of reality, but unless you move out of the way, you'll come to terms with the truth about reality in a very real way. Even if the messenger is obnoxious and condescending, he may simply be right. Don't be like some people who will reject what is so clearly and obviously true simply because they don't like the person who told them, or don't agree with that person's politics/faith/body odor, etc.

And finally, Janet's correct. She is QOTKU. Just accept that simple fact, and all will be well. ;)

Colin Smith said...

Fellow Commenters: Note, Opie's issue is with storytelling not writing as a whole. I'm sure Opie has read a number of books on writing, and while some do address the art of storytelling, not all do. You can be a good writer (i.e., adept with grammar, and able to compose readable prose) and not a good storyteller. For that matter, vice versa is also true.

AAGreene said...

I think I know which blog OP is referencing and I completely agree. While his advice about writing is helpful, if felt like a grind just to read a single post.

K.M. Weiland's blog "Helping Writers Become Authors" is an excellent resource. She has blog series about character arcs, story structure, scene structure, etc. It's really about the process of writing - the nitty gritty issues that may confound storytellers. It's a great blog and I recommend going back through her posts. They are clear and concise. There is also a story structure database where she deconstructs a book or movie's structure by beat points that illustrate a real life example.

Hope this helps someone else! :-)

Donnaeve said...

Belated congrats to Bethany Joy!

"Separate the value from the venom: yes, a very good skill."

So good as a matter of fact, why stick around? Aside from the resources listed above (and I heartily recommend Chuck Wendig, just be aware he's got potty mouth) there are TED Talks, and I have to believe a million other resources where you can learn about storytelling without dealing with The Supreme Master of Storytelling's obvious ego.

Harrumph, I say to that. There's already enough vitriol spewed daily via TV, FB, Twitter, and just about anywhere else you pop in to visit. The last thing I'd want is to get it while trying to learn. I'd be saying thanks, but no thanks.

RachelErin said...

Writing Excuses podcast, that is all.

I love it because each of the four authors (and their many guests) have different methods, technniques, and ways of looking at things. I feel a particular bond with Mary Robinette-Kowal because I used to do a lot of theater, so when she goes all puppeteer with her theory, it's really valuable. The other hosts are cartoonists, epic fantasy writers, and cover lots of other genres (not so much literary, however). They discuss everything from plotting, discovery writing, editing, all aspects of story structure.

There are eleven seasons and you can listen to them while you do other, not-writing stuff. I almost look forward to doing the dishes, because by the end of the podcast I'm full of ideas for my WIP.

If information on story structure was less common, I would be more inclined to stick it out. With so many resources to try, it would be surprising if there wasn't something just as useful without the arrogance.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Hi. I'm slow. Took me awhile to figure out PITA. jeesh.... where is my brain lately?

There've been several blogs already mentioned above which I frequently check out. I also like Writer Unboxed and lately I've been hanging out at The Kill Zone and enjoying their first page critiques. I side with Donna. There's enough vitriol in election issues that I don't wish to deal with it in writer blogs.

And perhaps, Opie, since you asked the question, you're ready to head on into different storytelling waters?

Colin Smith said...

Lisa: Figure out? I had to look it up! I think we know who's the slow one here... :p

Here are some links to sites mentioned so far:

The Writing Excuses Podcast
K.M. Weiland's Helping Writers Become Authors blog
Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds blog
Writer Unboxed: About the Craft and Business of Fiction
The Kill Zone: Insider Perspectives from Top Thriller and Mystery Writers

Keep the recommendations coming, and this might become a Resource List for the Treasure Chest!

Adib Khorram said...

I love that the infamous raffle snake is in the photo.

Separating the value from a venom is a great skill to have—especially in situations where you really don't have any other choice, like in a classroom—but this is a website, and if it's wearing on you mentally, I say find another website.

We all have a finite number of hours and minutes each day. Why spend some of that precious time on a website that makes you feel miserable? (Especially when you could hang out here at the reef instead?)

Dena Pawling said...

For different options for structuring a story, try this site


I also like Janice Hardy's Fiction University


If you're learning something from that site, then you might want to stick around. But if it's more of a negative influence than a positive influence, try some of the other sites mentioned here, and move on. As others have said, we get enough negativity in our lives, and life's too short.

Stacy said...

I have struggled with storytelling too--that art of conveying what's not on the page. Shawn Coyne's The Story Grid is a great resource I use all the time. Everything in the book (same title as the website) is in the blog, so you don't have to buy the book. (Totally worth the cost, though.) Another great resource is Steven Pressfield's blog at StevenPressfield.com. Both have great things to say about storytelling from hard-won lessons.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Since we're throwing around excellent storytelling resources here, I have to throw in my fav: Story Trumps Structure by Steven James. I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it before, but I love how he describes the 'story' part of storytelling. He's got three main points about storytelling:

1. It's not a story until something goes wrong.
2. Everything that happens must be a consequence of the thing that happened before it.
3. The ending (and any twists) must be inevitable and unpredictable - which is gosh-darn hard to pull off.

Colin - I don't have a theology degree, but I did take a literature discussion class where we went through Genesis the way we would go through the Illiad or Odyssey. There were maybe three Christians (including me) in the entire class, but I still think it was one of the most educational theological experiences of my life. It was challenging at times, but I did start to learn about objectively evaluating scripture, which is an extremely useful skill.

nightsmusic said...

I wanted to pop back in and post this link to Lynn Viehl's Freebies page:

Lynn Viehl Freebies

Check out her John and Marsh freebies. Also, she has an absolutely fabulous read she only posts at NANO time titled Way of the Cheetah. It's wonderful and instructional in so many ways.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

"It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen." -Oliver Wendell Holmes. We are all individuals, of course, but the negative side of all this blog-hopping (for me) is information overload. I'm in the process of writing version #968 of my query letter, and as soon as I feel confident about the wretched thing I'll begin sending it out. But before I got to this point I spent months and months reading submission guidelines, dozens of advice blogs, articles, tutorials and so on. One would say, "Begin with "this." The next one would say, "Never start with "that." It became too much and I was stupefied by the chaos in my head. I had to pare it down to the very few who resonate with the way my brain works.

Susan said...

When I'm editing or coaching, I always make sure to tell my clients up-front that I'm only making suggestions to help guide their writing/storytelling, that they have a choice to take it or leave it. The reason is, no matter how many times I go over their manuscript or how well I know them, they know their story--and themselves--better than anyone. Ultimately, they'll know what will benefit their work--some of the suggestions are useful to them, and some can be discarded because it doesn't fit their story, their goals, or their life.

I edit/coach like that because I learned the hard way that there are a lot of people screaming in this world who think their way is the only way, and if you're not doing it their way, then not only are you wrong, but you're a talentless hack who will never get anywhere. I actually believed that for a while. It actually derailed my writing for a few years. Until I woke up, realized that writing wasn't just a passion but a part of me, mentally called out the person as full of crap, and went on my merry, writing way.

Now, similar to what I tell my clients (get the draft done first), I refrain from reading anything about the writing process until I'm well into edits--not because I don't want to learn, but because I recognize that listening to too many opinions can be damaging to my own writing voice, which wants to come naturally. When I save the learning for later, I can more accurately point out the problem areas in my story by focusing on the advice that makes sense and discarding that which doesn't. This way, I'm not bombarded with the devil on my shoulder saying it's all crap and I should give it up, and everything I learn gets carried over into my next draft.

People are screaming to be heard in this world, but the trick is to know yourself well enough to recognize which voices to listen to. Opie, this blogger may know what they're talking about fundamentally, but if their arrogance/vitriol is bringing your spirit down, then maybe they're doing you more harm than good. You say you've already gleaned some valuable insight from them--maybe it's time to put all you've learned in your toolbox and move on. Good luck.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I recently read Lisa Cron's excellent book WIRED FOR STORY, and I'm working my way through her newest, STORY GENIUS. I'm hoping to apply what I'm learning to prepping for this year's NaNo project. Fingers crossed!

I know Colin already linked to Writer Unboxed - Lisa Cron often does posts over there as well.

Craig F said...

There are a great many things involved with making a writer. Yes, you have to be able to make a story march through all three phases of its existence. You also have to have some technical background in spelling and grammar.

There are other things too. What they are depends on you as a writer. There is no one thing that can make you able to write a readable book. It take a myriad of remarks and observations to make it come together.

So do not waste too much listening to any one person tell you how to do it. There are only so many elements necessary to make a story. The rest must come from the writer.

Go out into the world and find something that rings that bell for you. Write it in your own way and then break out that inner technician to iron out all of the grammar.

Have faith in yourself, not in someone who happens to have gotten published. It is usually the personal quirks and foibles that make a story memorable, not the technical parts.

Beth Carpenter said...

Lisa, the only reason I knew what PITA meant was that my son mentioned he liked working with another PE teacher whose only class rule was "Don't be a PITA."

While I generally agree that time is too precious to spend it voluntarily with someone who makes you cringe, I can see a certain value in following this jerk's blog. When I like a blogger, I'm tempted to blindly accept their advice without examining it critically. I'd naturally weigh everything Mr. Obnoxious said, hoping to poke holes in his theories, and only accept what made sense to me.

Anyway, if his method is that rigid, I suspect he'll soon begin repeating himself, and you can drift away knowing you've gleaned what you can from his blog without having to subject yourself to him on an ongoing basis.

Mark Ellis said...

I learned this lesson from a gentleman named James Frey (How to Write a Damn Good Novel/Mystery) who gave fiction intensives on the Oregon coast back in the 1990s. He was known for making women leave the room crying and men reconsider their original plan to go into animal husbandry. If nothing else, you came out of those weekends wanting to show the (expletive deleted).

JulieWeathers said...

I used to think I needed to just suck it up buttercup and put up with the asses of the world if I gleaned anything at all from them. I've panned gold. I'm a pretty patient person. I don't mind squatting down for hours, day after day, for weeks swirling sand and water in the hopes of seeing a golden fleck. I don't mind mucking mountains of manure because, you know, the other end of the horse loves me. I do mind sifting sh!t from someone who thinks theirs doesn't stink and I just need to put up with it.

I've stopped following someone in the industry I used to trail along after faithfully. The comments got more and more biting. The minions had to hop on the vitriol special, seeing who could be more "witty" in their critiques and it was painful to watch the gutting of young writers who came there for help. No, it wasn't Query Shark. Janet would never allow that kind of behavior.

Yes, there was some good advice, but it came at a very high price.

I don't follow some blogs that are a solid litany of disgusting language. "Oh, that's just him. It's part of his charm."

Well, this is just me believing it shows a complete lack of respect. Once in a while I can tolerate, not every other danged word.

To the OP, your mileage may vary and you have your own journey. You have to pick your battles. However, there are umpteen good books out there and even more people who will respect you while they help you. Why support someone who doesn't respect you?

I guess I've about reached the Woodrow Call point in my life. I hate rude behavior in a man. Won't tolerate it.

As far as the two criminals running for president and the constitution. I don't know what's worse, one who doesn't know what it is or one who doesn't respect it and tramples it at every opportunity. Either way, I can't believe this was the best America could do.

Andrea said...

Sorry if this is a bit off-topic, but I just want to respond to Colin:

I studied theology at a Dutch university and had almost the opposite experience. My university was connected to several different seminaries, so as well as a university degree in theology we could choose to do a two-year seminary course to be able to become vicars/priests in our own church. Well... Christianity in the Netherlands is a complicated thing. There's a huge variety of churches, especially the protestant ones, so my university was connected to the Catholic seminary, the old-Catholic seminary, the Dutch reformed church, the baptists, and the small, generally progressive, free-thinking protestant church I belonged to back then.

Right... anyway, most of my fellow students belonged to the Dutch reformed church and were men who didn't think women should be vicars or priests or generally have any say in the church at all, and eventually I got bored with the way they tried to turn every lecture into the Council of Nicea. Once they asked our sociology professor, 'and what do you believe?' Unfortunately I wasn't confident enough then to tell my fellow students that the professor's beliefs were entirely irrelevant to the present topic of discussion, and the professor himself didn't think to tell them that either.

It got embarrassing when we studied Islam and our professor (who had fascinating stories from his hometown Damascus) felt the need to be constantly apologetic about his own religion and cultural background. That wasn't his fault, it was the atmosphere created by my fellow students and their suggestive questions.

It got frustrating and tedious when we spent half an hour discussing the possible meaning of one single word during our Old Testament lectures. That's when I stared out of the window and decided it was time to return to the real world.

I never finished my degree, mainly because of the narrow-mindedness I experienced. I just couldn't cope with it anymore. I became a primary teacher instead. I like young kids. They don't have an agenda yet.

Long story short... just wanted to say hi to a fellow theologian :-) I may not have the degree, but my thinking is very much influenced by the things I studied back then.

Kate Higgins said...

My grandmother was a wise woman and a veteran 4th grade school teacher whose first job was as a country teacher in a western one-room schoolhouse in 1911 (she was 18).

She told me "You do not have to accept or reject any advice given but you should consider it. It keeps you rounded" which was quickly followed by, "You can do anything you want to do, any way you want to do it BUT you have to be prepare for the consequences, whatever they might be - good, bad or nothing."

Then she would wink and say, "I know you will do the right thing." although she never actually told me what the right thing was, it made me really think and it often made me angry because I knew it was up to me to choose. (and she was a suffragette all her life)

P.S. She also told me to "...date the jocks and marry the nerds." (or in similar words). I did and I've been married to my nerdy ex-newspaper editor type for 37 years. So her advice is pretty good.

Colin Smith said...

Hey Andrea! In a sense, your experience was very similar to mine in that you were in an educational environment where you needed to dig for treasure. There are many seminaries I could go to and have a similar experience. Just because they say they are Christian, that doesn't mean we won't have some very sharp disagreements on very important (and worldview shaping) points of doctrine. Likewise, that doesn't also mean I can't learn from people with whom I have such disagreements.

I did my Masters under the mentorship of someone of the same theological persuasion as me. However, my reading was not necessarily all drawn from the same pool. I was encouraged to read just as widely as I would have done at university, and to use the same critical skills to separate wheat from chaff.

Speaking more broadly, it's good to spend time around like-minded people. It's nice to be able to talk freely with people you know aren't going to challenge everything you say, and we need to be able to relax like that. But it's also good to spend time around people who will challenge you, and force you to think about what you say. Not that they will change your mind, but they will give you empathy, and a deeper appreciation for other viewpoints. And perhaps help you strengthen your convictions. It also gets you out of the echo chamber where your opinion is the only one out there. :)

Colin Smith said...

Dena's links:



Andrea said...

Colin, yes, you're right, our experiences were similar in a way. Just out of curiosity, what was your masters about if I may ask?
What I enjoyed most was translating Hebrew and Aramaic, ethical theory, and logic. My plan was to specialise in ethical theory. Maybe one day...

I found like-minded people in the ecumenical student study club I joined, which funnily enough consisted mostly of Roman Catholic students. We differed in age, background, gender, and religious views but we respected each other's opinions and beliefs. I was never afraid to speak my mind and I was always listened to with respect. One of my more positive experiences as a student. I love talking to people in general, wherever they're from, whatever they believe/prefer/like/think etc as long as that mutual respect is there. I've experienced too often that the respect wasn't there, and I'm tired of not being taken seriously. Life's too short.

Catherine Vignolini said...

"Why can't people admit there is more than one way."

There's more than one way. <-- admitted.

It doesn't take a lot of googling to find writing 'experts' preaching their engineering dogma. But drawing four walls and a roof doesn't make us Frank Lloyd Wright. Here's a suggestion, OP. (Not dogma--dogmaybe?) Read a handful of your favorite novels in your genre. Then read them again, take them apart, examine their pieces. Examine your reactions to the pieces. Why does something work for you? What took your breath away? Your sleep away? Somebody else can't tell you because it's personal. But you will figure it out. Then, armed with this insight lube your keyboard and work, not with the goal to write the best story you can write, but to write the best story you've ever read that has not yet been written.
It'll be great. Janet'll rep you. We'll all buy it and stand in line with our pens ready.

Ardenwolfe said...

Three hopefuls walked into a bar. One had a manuscript, one had a query letter, and one had a good idea. All three approached an agent deep in her cups. And all three left crying.

The bartender, who watched this, asked the agent, "Why?"

And she said, "Because I want someone with all three."

I tell this story because you don't always need venom to get your point across. Yes, rules are good. But they're not a board you use to backhand someone who disagrees or does it different.

The best query letter I've ever read came from Janet's client Josin L. McQuein and her novel Premeditated.

It broke all kinds of rules, but dammit . . . it worked.

And in the end, that's all it needs to do.

Steve Stubbs said...

I think people are confused about Donald J. The problem is not that Trump wants to make money or that he is attracted to women, The problem is that he likes to walk on people. He has said in effect that he inherited a large trust fund and does not need to play all the business games he plays. He does that because he enjoys the crunchy sensation he gets when someone else is underneath his shoe. He makes no secret of it, he is unrepentant, and he does not try to obfuscate his motives. The word “misogynist” implies that he directs this only against women. Wrong. This is just my impression, but from what I have seen, his targets are anything that is identifiably human, men, women, hermaphrodites, the sexually ambiguous, and the non-sexual. Lesser mortals can just be damned. If I ever visited his house it would not surprise me if he kicks the dog every night.

That does not bother me at all. The only thing about this election that would bother me is if there are enough deplorables out there to put him in office.

As for the blogger’s attitude, this reminds me of a writing group I once applied for. A condition of acceptance was that I write a critique of a writing sample. I mistakenly assumed that means I was to demonstrate that I can offer useful feedback. So I studied it and wrote down some comments I thought would help the writer.

I got an extremely angry response in which I was told the writer considered himself to be a master of the English language, and that I obviously was not worthy to be in a group with anyone as “advanced” as he was, and yada yada yada and I needed to join a group for amateurs and beginners.

It appears that was an accurate description of the aforementioned writer and his group.

The unhappy truth is that publishing is a ruthless business and that if you are unwilling to improve your craft, and most writers are unwilling, you will indeed consign yourself to the scrap heap. The blogger is right about that. I know a woman who refuses to improve her craft and she has tried pathetically for ten years to get someone to publish what is totally unreadable script. Her friends find that heartbreaking, but she is adamant. She will not improve, no, no, no.

I know a man who confided in me that he considers himself to be “the greatest writer since AEschylus.” AEschylus was an ancient Greek playwright. That means he considers himself to be better than Shakespeare, Dickens, or even Mickey Spillane. I was flabbergasted. I never met a writer who was even as good as Dickens, let alone Mickey Spillane. So I asked if I could see some of his writing.

He hasn’t written anything.

The reason is that if people found out how great he is they would be lined up for miles outside his apartment hoping to catch a glimpse of him hauling out the garbage. He is such a self effacing person that he could not handle that kind of acclaim. Writers are not celebrities, so I doubt he would have that kind of problem. Nonetheless, he has no choice but to stay his pen. A writer has to do what a writer has to do.

You have to decide whether your writing is a commercial product or an ego trip. If you want to be good, criticism is critical. Practice is practical. Merit is meritorious.

BJ Muntain said...

The first conference I went to (yes, it was Surrey), I took a master class from a well-known author on getting published. I can't remember the exact name of the course, but I decided I didn't like this guy. The master class became something of a rant against what most people in publishing (including Janet) would tell you: 'ignore query guidelines' is the piece that stood out for me more. I understand he's doing more self-publishing these days.

But I was disappointed - I'd been hoping to learn more, not to be told that everything I knew was crap.

Why didn't I take his advice to heart? Some did, I'm sure. But he was one voice, one author, among the many publishing people I read and followed online. I believe the best way to get an agent is to be the kind of author an agent wants to work with, not someone who flouts the rules and guidelines.

I don't always agree with everything Janet says, either - though she's the most consistent and helpful agent out there. It's not that I think I know more than Janet - heaven knows, I doubt I know 1/10 what she knows - but I also have other sources to draw from, including my own experience. For instance, I do think that pitch sessions are worthwhile - I've known people to get agents that way, and I find them useful to get to meet agents and to learn to talk about my novel. I'm generally shy, so I would never walk up to an agent and pitch, but a pitch session gives me a time where I'm supposed to pitch, and so it's socially acceptable to talk about my novel.

So, OP, my advice is: if you really are learning from this person, just be sure you keep a balance in your head of what he says vs what everyone else says.

Anne Leckie just yesterday posted a blog post about blacklists, and how no one magazine editor is in control of the industry. The best part of the post is:

"This is, incidentally, a small part of why I’m so adamant about not worrying so much about what everyone tells you you’ve got to do (or not do) in order to be published–what sort of thing to write, or how, or how long, or with what structure, or whatever. I think it feeds into a kind of anxiety about whether or not you’re ticking off the right list items, and they all seem so minor and arbitrary and yet there they are, the things you need to do to succeed! It’s not a big step to add other things to that list (never disagree with an editor, never even mildly annoy big names in the field, never question weird things in the contract, never complain never never never), and it’s so, so easy for a manipulative, abusive asshole to use all of that to twist you in knots. But all you need is your writing."

Which, incidentally, agrees with what Janet always says. That's two publishing people right there who say it's all about the writing. I'm sure there are more.

Someone's already mentioned The Kill Zone, with James Scott Bell as one of the contributors. Mr. Bell is a wonderful teacher and has a great understanding of the writing process and publishing industry. The other contributors are also interesting, and the blog, while focussed more on mystery/thrillers, has so much advice on just about everything to do with publishing, that I heartily recommend it. Sometimes posts by different contributors may disagree in some points, but that just shows you more of the flexibility of judgement a writer has.

Off topic: My mum had a cat named Pita, and he wasn't named for the bread. That was his name when she got him; she didn't name him. If she had, it would have been something silly like Blackie or something. Instead, this was a name that fit his personality, not his colouring.

Kregger said...

There are two ways to take someone's opinion just like there are two ways to write a story.

With bourbon or without.

Most people have figured out how I do it.

Colin Smith said...

Andrea: My emphasis was Biblical Exegesis. I did coursework in other areas, most of which dug a bit deeper in areas I'd studied in my undergrad. But my interest is (and always has been--even prior to my undergrad) primarily in the Bible. I did study in textual criticism, and on specific passages. I'd probably be quite into that discussion of a single word in the Old Testament. ;)

Karen McCoy said...

What Kregger said. Take what you need, leave what you don't. This also applies to critiques, conferences, and life in general.

JulieWeathers said...


I cannot stand Trump. I can't stand either of these people who routinely walk all over other people to get what they want. However, I can understand why some "deplorables" would vote for him. When Will was in Iraq, Obama's new Rules of Engagement went into effect. We were going to win the hearts and minds of the insurgents. Muslims everywhere were going to love Obama if not America. To that end, the military was put in a very precarious position.

In an area that had been safe for two years with no attacks, the Marines were pulled out as part of his campaign promise to pull out the troops. That meant there weren't forces to patrol the roads. Then in another stroke of brilliance, they routed the convoys through dangerous remote routes so they wouldn't go through villages and raise dust. Yes, that was the official explanation. Don't raise dust and the villagers will love us.

In the first six weeks, six of Will's friends died for that stupid sh!t. He doesn't know how many more died because he told the ones staying behind not to keep in touch with him. He didn't want to know how many more died.

Then we have Hilary's email to her daughter saying they knew Benghazi was a terrorist attack immediately and still she and Obama spread the lie that it was due to a film no one had heard of. No help was sent to the people under fire or indeed the weeks preceding.

And then when he applies for help for his injuries he gets illegally denied. Congress finally has to step in when they get enough complaints that every claim that went through one area was denied "to save money". As the mother of a soldier, this is one deplorable who has already had it demonstrated that my son means absolutely nothing to these people.

Cheryl said...

Life is too short to put up with angry, negative people if you have other options. If I've ever come across that blog I left so quickly I don't remember.

To add to the list of resources: Brandon Sanderson's 2016 Lectures

There's fantastic stuff in there, from storytelling basics to world building. He's open-minded and even-handed and knows that everyone's style is different. Even though he has a fantasy/SF focus I think everyone could learn from him. He changed the way I think about a lot of things.

Anonymous said...

*takes down notes, opens separate window with all the mentioned resources opened to peruse*

I am unashamed to admit to being Opie, and super grateful for all the advice.

Part of the reason for my conflict is that I have a terrible time finding advice about this particular aspect of writing that does click with me. I've been looking, on and off, for the past year. I'll find some resources, read through them for a while, not improve much on what I'm trying to fix, rinse and repeat. Finally found one (and yeah, I've only been reading the blog a few days, he's already repeating himself. A few more days, I'd describe it as ad nauseum), and he makes a point to remind you every blog post that you Must Listen or you'll Never Be Published. *sigh*

It's good to have a crop of resources from people who believe in them, not from my paltry Google skills.

Anonymous said...

Lucia, what might be helpful to remember is that when a writer says you "have to" do something a certain way, what they're really saying is that they have to do it that way. And that's great. It's terrific they've found what works for them, really nice they want to share it. Doesn't mean "that one method" is going to work for everyone else. In fact, I can guarantee that one method won't work for everyone.

It's good to try new techniques, especially if you're floundering or your old ways have ceased to be effective. It's good to take a different approach occasionally, even if it's to discover something doesn't work for you. But you have to arm yourself with the confidence to discard things that don't work, and to walk away from people who are doing you more harm than good.

As for your claim of not being a storyteller-- stop it. Don't do that to yourself. I'm serious. Words have power and perhaps none more so than the ones we tell ourselves. You are a writer, you tell stories, you are a storyteller. Maybe you're just sensing that you need more practice. So do that. Keep reading, keep learning, keep writing. Tell the stories you need to tell, in the way you need to tell them.

Anonymous said...

kdjames, I'm afraid you and I disagree on a very important point: As for your claim of not being a storyteller-- stop it. Don't do that to yourself. I'm serious. Words have power and perhaps none more so than the ones we tell ourselves. You are a writer, you tell stories, you are a storyteller.

I made a specific claim. I'm not a good storyteller, a fact I am very actively trying to remedy. I can and will call myself out on my faults as a writer. Not doing so is to stagnate and not improve. I tell stories, yes. Do I do so effectively? I don't think so, yet. I'm trying to. Until I can, I'm not a good storyteller. I appreciate the encouragement, but you're right. Words have power. And denying that I have faults is dangerous.

Colin Smith said...

Okay, gang (and I don't mean that in an exclusive, country-club manner--I mean all you lovely people who read this blog!), I've started a list of Helpful Writing Links in the Treasure Chest. Just let me know via email (address in my Blogger profile) if you have more to add. Thanks!

Katie Loves Coffee said...

Hi Opie - I'm a little late to the party, but this issue is near and dear to my heart. In short, I've always felt no amount of expertise justifies someone being nasty to someone else. Life is too short and eventually, those negative messages have a way of making their way to your brain instead of feeding positive growth. I am naturally skeptical of anyone who professes to have the *only* right way to do something, particularly something as wildly creative and personal as writing. Perhaps you have the intestinal fortitude to not let the negativity get to you but there is a big difference to me between tough love and plain old condescension, particularly when given to someone who is genuinely trying to find a way to grow. I guess I prefer the company of sharks. :)

Anonymous said...

Lucia, I do see your point. And yeah, I overlooked the word "good" in your original post. I tend to see red when I hear writers (or agents, ahem, for that matter) saying negative things about themselves. I'm not saying you should deny faults or be blind to skills that need improvement. However. There's an important difference between saying, "I see room for improvement, I want to get better at this" and saying, "I'm not good at this." Those are not the same thing. It's not just semantics. And I stand by what I said.

Anonymous said...


When I said, "It's not just semantics," obviously, it IS just semantics. What I meant is that it's not mere quibbling over semantics. Precise meaning matters. Granted, maybe just to me, but it matters.

Craig F said...

Lucia: I have faith in you. You'll get there, just don't hurt yourself doing it.

Politics: The biggest problem with this election is that the whole damn thing is a hot button issue. It is so emotional that fact don't come into account.

One thing I still believe is that you are innocent until proven guilty. So far Hillary has not been found guilty of anything and close to a billion bucks have been spent over the years to find her guilty of something.

I think it all started with the insurance companies seeing the writing on the wall when she got the Child Welfare Act going.

Colin: Please control your religion

Anonymous said...

kdjames, I think you and I see different reactions to the same phrase. When you hear, "I'm not good at this," you see someone throwing up their hands. I'm saying, "well shit, I'm actually not good at this," and I rolled up my sleeves. I have my days of discouragement, but I've done a lot more to improve since I admitted I'm not good than I did during all the years where I called it one of my weaknesses that needed improving. It upped the urgency. It's a specific language choice. I am being precise, you just don't agree with me. And that's fine.

Colin Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colin Smith said...

Craig: As someone rightly said, if Jesus is your co-pilot, you need to switch seats. :)

MA Hudson said...

Lucia - Don't know if you've already done this but reading the WHOLE archive of the Query Shark is a great way to learn about storytelling. It seems like an huge ask at first but the more query critiques you read, the more you understand the essential elements of storytelling. I ended up really enjoying it and actually felt quite wistful when I got to the last (first) post.

Anonymous said...

HA! Lucia, I think we've just ably demonstrated the point that what works for one person won't always work for another. :) Where I see something negative and potentially demoralizing, you see something constructive and motivating. I'm glad you found something that works for you and I hope the resources others have provided here help you reach your goal.

Along those lines, I don't think anyone has mentioned Alex Sokoloff's site, which is full of information about storytelling. Excellent resource. This is the main page, where she has her blog (she's currently giving advice to prep for NaNo). But for your purposes, look at the tab titled Story Structure and especially her breakdowns of movies, which are incredible. They might help you see story in a new way (they were a big help to me). All the best.

Gypmar said...

Cheryl, thanks for the Brandon Sanderson links! I will look forward to checking those out (along with many of the other links in this comment thread!)

Kae Ridwyn said...

Colin, I so appreciate what you do with the Treasure Chest! You're awesome :D Thank you!