Considering the Working Plan

Boxes1

I actually have fewer than half this many Christmas boxes. Honest.

I’m not one to get over the holidays very quickly or easily. It’s only a few days since my tree and decorations came down and were put away, and as I write this, mere hours since I finally cleaned all the remnants of holiday leftovers out of the fridge. I love Christmas and New Year’s; they’re happy and busy times for our family, and I like to string them out as looooooong as possible.

However. There does come a time when I have to accept the notion that it’s really, really, really time to get back to work. And that means coming up with a new working plan.

I wonder how many writers there are out there who just work on one project until it’s finished, complete it absolutely, and then move on to the next one. Show of hands? Whew. That’s what I was hoping. I didn’t see a single hand out there among you. Like me, most of you have several projects on the back burner, shoved there by time or necessity over the holidays, just simmering until it’s time for you to stick the spoon in and give them a stir. The question for me is always which one to stir first?

I have one obvious answer this year, a project I’ve been mulling over and even picking at a bit over the holiday break. But there are also a few other unfinished bits of business; a manuscript I have to send out for a critiquing swap, one I have to read for Third Person Press, a couple of stories to line edit, and of course, the queue of stories that prompted me to resolve to make 2014 the Year of Finishing. If I’m gonna finish those, I have to pick them up sometime.

The big project has to be one priority, but does anyone else find they have this little voice in the back of their brain as well, saying, “Oh, but look at this one–it wouldn’t take any time at all to finish! You could get that out of the way first.” Which is a big fat lie, in most cases, because if it was that simple, it would already be finished, right? This is my brain trying to sabotage me because it doesn’t want to go back to work, and what the big project needs right now is going to be…well, I don’t want to say “hard.” “Hard” is digging ditches or working backshifts, and I can’t really lay claim to anything like that as I sit here in my cushy office, can I? But it’s going to take work, and my brain is a lazy old thing.

I think that’s part of why it takes me so long to let go of the holidays. My brain is loathe to go back into “work” mode, so even the end of the season…taking down the decorations, cleaning out the fridge, putting the house back to rights…must take as long as possible. But this is it. The end of that road. The house is back to normal. The fridge is clean. Fresh groceries have been purchased, the laundry basket is empty.

Assess, prioritize, tackle. Working plan, here I come.

Photo credit: By skrewtape (http://www.flickr.com/photos/skrewtape/851672959/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Candle-Powered Coffee

We had another power outage last night. This one didn’t last terribly long (about 5 hours for us), but the timing was bad for two reasons: I was in the shower when it went out (so, hello, wet, chilly hair), and I had no hot coffee in the pot. Did you read that correctly? NO HOT COFFEE! There wasn’t much I could do for the hair except put it up, but I came up with (I thought) an ingenious way to heat up a cup of coffee.

Note: I had some still in the coffeepot, so I was not starting from scratch. But for any beverage you just want to reheat, or water to make something else, this should work.

IMG_2548I started with my 4-cup glass measuring bowl and a candle that was almost as tall as the bowl. I set the glass bowl on the stove for safety, put the candle inside, and lit it. Then I set a round metal cooling rack over the top. What I like about this plan is that even if the structure got bumped, the candle is protected.

Then I took a clean tin can from the recycling, removed the paper label from the outside, put my coffee in it, and set it over the candle. The flame was burning about an inch below the can. To retain the heat as the liquid warmed, I set a saucer over the top of the can. WARNING: the can is going to get hot as well as the liquid inside it. From this point on, handle only with oven mitts.

Now, this is NOT a feat to be attempted anywhere within reach of small children, pets, or clumsy adults who might knock the whole thing over. But after about 15 minutes, I had a nice, hot cup of coffee to see me through until the power came back.

The 1000-Word Diet

Alphabet_soup by strawberryblues [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsYou know how “the experts” advise folks who are going on a diet to tell their friends and family that they’re doing so? The idea is that because the prospect of public failure is so much more daunting than that of private failure, the act of telling folks your plans adds more fuel to your motivational fire.

It could be true; it does seem to make some sense. But no, I’m not going on a diet. I’m talking about writing.

I tend to keep a lot of my writing plans to myself (or to share them mainly with my friends who are also writers, and understand the pale fragility of writing plans). I learned this the hard way long ago when I was writing my first novel and made no secret of the fact. Thus there was that one acquaintance (you all know the one) who brought up the health of said novel every time we met, over the course of years. Not an experience I’d like to repeat. So even now, with a decent number of published stories and a public persona as “a writer”, I tend to keep my plans close to my chest.

I’ve also generally shied away from the idea of quotas in my writing. The attempt to make daily or weekly word quotas would have been a very bad idea for me for most of my previous writing life, said life being largely prey to the vagaries of kids, pets, extended family, other committments, and the whims of mischievous fate. I knew that setting quotas would be an exercise in futility that would leave me more depressed than inspired. (Except during NaNoWriMo, of course, because I simply decided that everything else, for one month of the year, could wait.)

Now, however, I think I’m going to ditch both of those old notions in one go. I’ve decided to try setting myself a 1000-word per day quota for a while (probably weekends excluded, because I still don’t have a whole lot of control over those), and here I am, telling you all about it.

I think my timing is perfect, because during October I’ll be very inspired to do it since it’s something new, and then we’ll be into November, when hopefully I’ll be hitting more than that to make my NaNoWriMo quota. By that time it will be a two-month habit and hopefully well-established. No doubt Christmas will come along and smash it to pieces, but I feel it’s worth a try.

I’m happy to also have a project underway that’s moving along at a pretty snappy pace so far. After a September when the most I could do was manage a few blog posts a week, and then the wheels fell off even that meagre attempt, I seem to have passed some unseen barrier and be back on track.

Here’s to experimentation, anyway. Hell, I even — sort of — wrote an outline for this new story. Will wonders never cease? But more about that later.

Things to do on Goodreads When You’re Bored

Wait, let me clarify that. I am never bored. There are far too many things I want to do and enjoy doing to ever really be bored. The title of this post should really read, “Things To Do On Goodreads When You’re Procrastinating That Editing You’re Really Supposed To Be Doing But You Can’t Get Your Brain In Gear,” but that doesn’t scan as well, nor does it cleverly mimic any movie titles.

Anyway. I love Goodreads. I really like keeping track of my reading there, posting ratings and reviews, and seeing what other folks are reading. The other night, however, I went poking around to see what else you could do for fun over there. Turns out there are quite a few things, and here are just a few:

Compare Books
You can compare books with any of your friends to see how similar (or dissimilar) your reading tastes are. I discovered that one of my sisters and I have read 30 of the same books, and our tastes are 86% similar for those books. Then I looked at some other friends and acquaintances, and tried to predict how similar our tastes would be before I did the comparison. I was surprisingly good at that.

Take A Quiz
There are loads of quizzes available to take, but my favorite is the Never-Ending Book Quiz. Not because it is easy–oh, no. (I’m running about 73% correct answers at the moment.) I like the variety of the questions that pop up. I like the fact that sometimes I know more than I expected to know. And I like the fact that it’s never-ending. You could sit there for hours and hours and not get to the end. Not, you know, that I would. But I like knowing that I could. And you can add questions of your own, if you’d like.

Join A Group
Whatever your literary interests, there’s probably a group for that at Goodreads. Groups for books, groups for genres, groups for authors, groups for regions–browse your interests and find like-minded folks to talk books with.

Find An Author
Find your favorite author on Goodreads, and you might find interviews (written or video), blog posts, news about new projects–you never know. You can follow them to see what they’re reading, too.

Enter a Giveaway
Authors and publishers can run giveaways through Goodreads for new titles, or those that are less than six months old. It’s completely free to enter these giveaways, so it’s worth looking them over to see if there’s anything you might be interested in. Who knows, you might even win!

Read Creative Writing By Other Members
Members post sample chapters, excerpts, poetry and more, for fun and feedback. You can too, if you’d like. Or just while away some time browsing writing in areas that interest you.

Become a Librarian
So you’ve always secretly longed to be one of those quiet but sexy and intriguing librarian types? Apply to be a Goodreads librarian and make that dream come true. You can be one of the select few overseeing the wonderful world of books on Goodreads. Oh, the power! (I’m just being facetious…being a GR librarian sounds like fun!)

Oh! And surf over to http://www.goodreads.com/about/press. Scroll down to find some cool bookmarks you can print out!

Goodreads is a lively, interactive, fun place for bibliophiles and casual readers alike to hang out. If you’re not a member…what are you waiting for?

Oh, and you can always leave ratings and reviews for your favorite authors, as well…

Nests, Noise, & Vacuuming (or, Writing Rituals)

I wonder if one of these would help?

I recently ran across this article on writing rituals and found it really interesting. You should definitely go and have a look at it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Back? So wow, some folks have some interesting writing rituals, huh? And although a lot of (non-writing) folks would consider some of these behaviours odd, weird, or outright bizarre, apparently they are a good thing. Rituals for writers, the article says, help reduce anxiety, increase our sense of control over the writing process, and increase fluency.

Which made me think–what are my writing rituals? (And if I don’t have any, should I get some?)

So I’m sitting here thinking. And thinking. Do I have any writing rituals?

Do I require a tidy desk? (OOh, ouch, I actually hurt myself laughing there.) Okay, maybe I require a messy desk? No, not really, I can write in either of those two states. However, sometimes before beginning a big, new project, I do give my desk a good cleaning. It’s cathartic, and it makes me feel better. I’m not sure it’s a ritual, though.

Do I perform any ritualistic motions or tasks before writing? Hmmmm. I make a lot of coffee…I do like to have a fresh cup of java to start a writing session. It’s not necessary, though. The need to vacuum the house? (More painful laughter ensues.) And no lucky shirts or socks. Or pens. Rats.

Special music? Well, I do enjoy music when I write, although I don’t always put it on. When I do, it has to be instrumental only, no lyrics because they’re too distracting. All my characters would be spouting lines from the latest top ten if I wasn’t careful. I particularly like video game soundtracks. Assassin’s Creed II. Halo. Skate. Command and Conquer. And movie and tv soundtracks. You get a nice mix of moods and themes. But as a ritual…no.

Sigh. I’m starting to doubt that I’m a real writer!

You know, I used to have a ritual. I used to play games before I started writing. Tetris. Mah-jongg. Solitaire. The problem was, I wouldn’t just play a game “to relax.” It might have started out that way. But then it changed. Suddenly I had to win a game before I could write. And you know what that meant–I’d hardly ever get to write, and spend all my time playing games. My brain tricked me that way for a while before I caught on (because, of course, playing games is so much easier than writing). Bad, lazy brain. I discarded that ritual, although it was difficult.

Okay, wait, I’ve got one. It’s small, but I think it really is a ritual. When I am starting a new project, I always set up the title page just as it will be when I’m submitting the final piece. For a short story, name and address in the top left corner. A line for “Approx. word count” although of course for now it will be blank. Space down to the middle of the page, center the title in all caps (fortunately I usually have a title by the time I start writing. If not, a placeholder will have to do, although it’s not as satisfying.) For a novel, a proper title page, too.

That’s it. That’s my ritual. Wow, so boring. Maybe there’s something I’m not even aware of…I know one thing–if I can’t think of something more interesting, I’ll have to invent one. Or risk being more anxious, less in control, and less fluent. There’s a lot at stake, here.

What about you? Do you have writing rituals? What are they?

Photo By MalcolmLidbury (aka Pinkpasty) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Spice Tins D.I.Y.

And now for something completely different…but I can’t write about writing all the time, can I? “All work and no play”, you know?

So, this is not my own original idea, but I did tweak it to fit my needs, so I thought I would share. I saw the idea over at A Beautiful Mess, to make these cool spice tins that were space-saving, efficient, and nice to look at. However, the original idea was to add magnets to the backs of the tins so that they could stick on the refrigerator. My refrigerator is already full of pictures, notes, and magnetic poetry, so I wasn’t interested in that. I was, however, interested in cleaning up my spice cupboard, and I’m going to swallow my pride and show you why.

Yes, it’s a horrible mess. You can just see some adhesive on the inside of the cupboard door where I had some cork for holding takeout menus, but my idea was to utilize the spice tins idea there. At first I thought I would have to find a thin sheet of tin or something, to put inside the door for the magnets to stick to, but then I realized I was looking at it the wrong way around–all I needed was a magnet for the tins to stick on to, since they’re already metal. This also cut down the work considerably since I didn’t have to cut pieces of magnet sheets for every tin. I knew I could get magnet sheets, since I had found them before. So, line the inside of the cupboard with those, and I’d have my magnetic surface.

As the gals at A Beautiful Mess did, I ordered my little tins from here, but I think you can get similar items from bulk stores. The other materials needed were the magnet sheet (I got mine at Michael’s, a nice long roll that just needed a bit of trimming to fit my cupboard door), scissors, ruler, pencil, and some labels.

I washed all the tins out first, and if you’re doing this, I’d recommend leaving them overnight to dry. The covers tend to hold a bit of water around the edges, and you don’t want to get your spices wet. Dry them off and then give the residual water time to evaporate.

While you’re waiting, you can take stock of your spices and go off and make your labels. I did mine on the computer and used plain white mailing labels (they needed just a little trimming on the edges), but you could hand-letter them, use colored labels, or whatever strikes your fancy. Get creative!

The magnet sheet was easy to trim to shape with just scissors, but the adhesive was VERY sticky. I could have used another set of hands to help me get it in place, nice and straight with no air bubbles. I was alone, so this took me a few minutes, and was actually the hardest part of the project. It turned out well in the end, though.

The final part of the project was to transfer the spices into the new tins. I did discover that the tins would hold only about half a jar of spice, so I have a few jars left hanging around, waiting until it’s time to refill the appropriate tin. From now on I will plan to buy spices in bulk, so I’ll only buy enough to fill the tins. The final product looks great, I think! I arranged them with those I use most on the bottom, within easy reach. You could, of course, arrange them alphabetically, or by color or texture, or whatever way your heart desires. The magnet strength is just perfect–the hold is nice and firm (they don’t fall off if the cupboard door bangs shut) but it takes only the tiniest bit of effort to pull off the one you want to use. They look much nicer than the previous jumble of jars, it’s much easier to find what you want, and BONUS! I have a clean cupboard with much more space for other things.

Tales of Tales ~ Part 3: Winter Bewitched

Today I’m thinking about the story, “Winter Bewitched,” another tale in my collection To Unimagined Shores. This one was described by a colleague who critiqued it as a genre noir story in disguise. It’s set in an unusual fantasy setting, but it is a detective story at heart.

In a chicken-and-egg sort of conundrum, I can’t recall whether I saw this piece of fantasy art first and that inspired the characters of the scribe Jalia and her shapechanging companion, Gemmel, or if I had the characters in mind and went looking for a piece of art to help me visualize them. In any case, this is how they exist in my mind (except that Jalia has no magical abilities, though they are depicted here). The art is by Kay Allen, a wonderful artist who had a gallery at epilogue.net for many years but who seems to have disappeared from there. The only place I can find some of her art now is at artwanted.com, and this picture isn’t there, so I’m very grateful that I saved a copy of it for my reference.

I initially wrote this story for a winter-themed anthology (themed anthologies again!), which did not pan out, but it was included in the first Third Person Press anthology, Undercurrents. The original title was slightly different, but one of my editors suggested that perhaps it gave away the end of the story, so I followed her wise advice and changed it. However, now I always have to stop and think to remember which is the actual title.

We were six days out of Salabad when we crossed the sudden border into winter. One moment the air was warm and dry blowing down from the steppes, and then a frigid breeze sprang up, a rime of frost appeared on the trail ahead, and the sky darkened to the colour of yesterday’s gruel.

I reined in the mare to slip my warm Surcyian cloak over my head, and Gemmin scampered ahead. When his paws hit the frost he turned back, a look of unmistakable dismay on his feline face. Three leaps took him from the ground to my shoulder. He kneaded his long toes into the collar of my cloak as a lock of my hair blew over the crown of his head, giving him a comical auburn topknot.

Enchantments, Jalia, he nuzzled into my ear, in a tongue few mortals would have understood. Gemmin was most comfortable conversing in the words he’d taught me, the language of the strange, inaccessible place of his birth.

I nodded. “A witch, a curse, the usual sort of thing,” I told him. “If you can believe tavern tales told by a half-drunk barkeep.” We were still in the steppes, and at least another fortnight’s travel from the higher altitudes where snow might normally be expected.

Jalia wrote it down? Gemmin asked.

“Of course I did. What kind of scribe lets a good tale go to waste? At any rate, a frosty ground means we’ll have to find lodgings for tonight, whether we can afford it or not. I doubt we’re still being pursued. It was only the price of a meal, after all.”

Jalia beckons trouble always, Gemmin chided me, his whiskers and hot breath tickling my ear.

I’d like to write more stories about these characters; their relationship is complex and is a lot of fun to write. Perhaps someday soon one of them will come knocking on my brain with a problem they need to solve…

If you missed the earlier blog post, I’m currently running a contest to win a copy of To Unimagined Shores. Click the link to get all the details, and take a moment to enter. Or if you can’t wait, you can buy a print or ebook copy (in multiple formats) from thirdpersonpress.com, amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.

Tales of Tales ~ Part 2

Today I’ve picked another story out of the table of contents for To Unimagined Shores to talk about a little.

“Little Things” is my first-ever published story. It appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s FANTASY magazine in 1997. It’s also the first story I wrote about what turned out to be a series character, a young mage’s apprentice named Albettra. The funny thing about this sale is that I vividly remember getting a postcard in the mail simply telling me that this story was “on hold” at MZBFM. At that time I wasn’t even sure what that meant, but I knew it wasn’t a rejection, so I was ecstatic! I don’t actually remember getting the acceptance letter. The brain is a funny thing.

This was also the first story I’d submitted anywhere. Its sale made me think that this whole getting-published thing was not going to be so difficult after all. Ah, the golden optimism of the beginning writer!

“That ill-begotten son of a cantankerous sow has gone too far this time!” he bellowed, stalking the room with beard aquiver. “The man is a mountebank! A copper coin would be too much to pay for one of his spells! A lying charlatan, that’s what he is, and he dares to spread rumors about me!”

“Zipnax?” I hazarded the name in a small voice.

“Of course, Zipnax! Bah! The name makes my tongue shrivel to say it!” Nissio was flailing his arms wildly now, his robe fluttering madly and his beard flying in every direction.

I was cautiously working my way around to the other side of my worktable. I had never seen the old fellow so angry and I knew I’d feel a lot safer with something solid between us. When his erratic pacing took him near a wall he’d take an angry swing at it with a wizened fist. There couldn’t be much physical strength left in the man, but it didn’t take much to set the walls of the rattletrap cottage swaying. Dust was floating lazily down from the ceiling again and I stifled a sneeze.

“To accuse me of stealing!” the old mage was ranting now. “Imagine me, stealing one of his pitiful ideas!”

Bam! His fist hit a wall.*

The origins of Albettra herself and the idea for this story escape me now, they’re so far back in the mists of time. I do like Albettra, though, and I like the way she keeps turning up in my brain with a story idea in tow. She’s sometimes unsure of herself but feisty when she needs to be, and determined to win out in the end. I suppose, if I get all psychological about it, she’s a bit of a reflection of myself as a writer.

There are four Albettra stories in To Unimagined Shores. I’d like to know what you think of her as a character, if you happen to read them. You can do that in the comments section of this blog, on my Author Central page at amazon.com, or over at Goodreads.

If you missed the earlier blog post, I’m currently running a contest to win a copy of To Unimagined Shores. Click the link to get all the details, and take a moment to enter. Or if you can’t wait, you can buy a print or ebook copy (in multiple formats) from thirdpersonpress.com, amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.

*My more astute writerly colleagues will notice a fair bit of passive voice in this excerpt…probably in the whole story. It’s interesting to note that at the time this story was written/published, it was not considered such a stylistic anathema. It’s an example of the ongoing evolution of writing style that I find fascinating. Anyway, it didn’t feel right to me to re-edit previously published stories for this collection, so I left things like this alone.

To Unimagined Shores launches December 6th

I’m just going to quote the Press Release here (which I did NOT write, by the way, because it would have been much briefer and more modest had I done so. That’s why one of my editors/publishers wrote it. :) )


Third Person Press announces the release of its third book, “To Unimagined Shores,” a collection of speculative fiction stories by Northside native, Sherry D. Ramsey.

Sixteen stories were previously chosen for publication in an impressive array of international magazines, collections and anthologies including On Spec, Simulacrum, Fantasy Magazine, The Day the Men Went to Town (Breton Books), Michael Stackpole’s The Chain Story Project, Gateway S-F, Neo-opsis and others. The seventeenth is a bonus story, never before published.

The collection is divided into three parts. Part One, Science Fictional Shores, includes seven stories about such intriguing topics as a road trip with a hitch-hiking alien, stolen embryos on a colonized planet, and inter-planetary intrigue involving a savvy Spaceport detective. The second section, Fantastic Shores, contains six fantasy-based stories on such deliciously intriguing subjects as a Victorian time machine, climate change in Hell, and a daughter’s redemption with the help of an unconventional angel. The last section, Magical Shores, boasts four stories which revolve around one main character: a young female apprentice to a crotchety but wise old wizard. The stories are by turns funny, tragic, light-hearted, serious but are always adventurous and unusual. Mark Rayner, author of The Amadeus Net and Marvellous Hairy, writes: “Sherry D. Ramsey’s short stories are filled with vibrant characters, good writing, and thrum with humanity, even when there aren’t many actual humans in the story.”

Ramsey, a former lawyer, is a full-time writer whose unpublished novel, “One’s Aspect to the Sun,” won second place in the 28th Annual Atlantic Writing Competition’s novel category, the H.R. (Bill) Percy Prize. She participates in the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia Writers-in-the-Schools program, and serves on the boards of The Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia, SF Canada and the Northside Victoria CBDC. She has been editor-in-chief and publisher of the award-winning online writer’s resource, The Scriptorium, for a over dozen years and is one of three founders of Third Person Press, local publishers of speculative fiction.

A book launch will be held Tuesday, December 6, 2011 from 6:30 to 8:30 at the Wilfred Oram Centennial Library, Commercial Street, North Sydney. Refreshments will be served, and the author will read from the collection and be available to sign books. The book can be purchased at the launch or anytime from Third Person Press at www.thirdpersonpress.com in both print or e-book formats, as well as through other online book sellers.
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So, what more can I say? I’m very excited and pleased about this volume, which is a pretty good representation of my short fiction published over the past fifteen years. Come to the launch if you can! I’d love to see you there. :)

Peacemaking at the Barricades ~ 2011 style

Years ago (October 1999 to be exact), I read Bruce Holland Rogers‘ wonderful essay, “Peacemaking at the Barricades” in an issue of the long-gone-and-lamented Speculations. It was one of the first issues of Speculations I received–possibly the very first–and I shudder to think that I might have come *that* close to missing this piece. It made a very big impression on me and caused me to deliberately change the way I looked at other writers–particularly those who wrote things that, frankly, I didn’t appreciate, understand, or even simply “get.”

The essay begins:

You can’t stroll very far in the City of Literature without coming to an intersection where writers stand at opposing barricades. From behind toppled desks and stacks of books, the two sides hurl erasers and slogans at one another…

The opposing sides Rogers talks about in the original essay spring from debates over such issues as Popular fiction versus Literary fiction, Authenticity versus Money, Process versus Product, and Writing to Inspire versus Writing to Entertain; in short, how we as writers choose what to write and how we define personal success. However, fast-forward to 2011, and I think we have to add another set of barricades: traditional publishing versus self-publishing.

Which is interesting in itself because that is a debate that has been had before, and has been ongoing ever since I first set foot in the City of Literature. But it has been more of a back-alley squabble, a simmering pot on the stove. The last year or so of sea-change in the publishing world has brought the pot to a full rolling boil, and the squabblers front and center at the main intersection barricades. The old debate is new again, dressed in new clothing mainly due to the advent of ebooks.

There’s a lot of…let’s be kind and call it “discussion”…these days about the future of publishing, the future of writing, and the choices and decisions writers should be making. Everyone seems to have an opinion on these matters, and it’s very, very easy of course, in our Internet-centric world, for writers to…let’s be kind again and say “share their opinions.”

Okay, that should be a good thing, right? Because sharing knowledge, experience, and advice with other and newer writers is something that the writing community as a whole is very generous with. Unlike some other professions, where insight and understanding are hoarded like precious secrets from “the competition,” writers in general like to help other writers succeed. And because we’re used to doing that, we want to share our knowledge, experience, and advice on the whole future-of-publishing issue.

However, I think it’s time to take a step back and make sure that what we are doing really is sharing knowledge, experience, and advice, and not trying to re-define other writers’ definitions of personal success. Because when we do that, that’s when the barricades go up and the spitballs come out and suddenly we’re choosing sides and throwing erasers again.

So how do we do that: offer opinions and advice without causing the barricades to go up? In his essay, Rogers offers three bits of advice, which I’ll paraphrase (I would love to be able to point you to the whole essay, but I haven’t been able to find it anywhere online).

  • First, respect the feelings of other writers and don’t make “sweeping, self-justifying pronouncements about what success is.” You can offer your advice and expertise without disparaging those who hold differing opinions.
  • Second, when you want to lash out in the debate, stop and think about why you care so much. As Rogers says, “you wouldn’t rise to the bait if the bait didn’t appeal to you.” Make sure you understand why you want to argue your points so strongly.
  • Third, think about what the other side might actually be able to teach you. Don’t just knee-jerk into defense when they hit a sore spot. Think of it like getting a story critique. Sometimes it’s hard to hear, but maybe there is something you can learn from it.

In this current Great Debate, you may think the “other side” (whichever it is for you) is desperate, ignorant, foolish, selling out, just plain wrong, or fill-in-your-favorite-epithet-here. Whatever you think, of course you should feel free to share your knowledge, experience, and advice. But there’s no need to indulge in any of these epithets to do that, and when we do, we undermine the very advice we are trying to proffer. The more…let’s say strident…we get in making our case, the less likely it becomes that anyone is going to put credence in what we say, let alone be swayed by it.

We are all making our own way through the City of Literature as best we can, and we can’t really choose anyone else’s path for them. We can show them signposts and point out obstacles that we’ve encountered, but each writer is following his or her own map–and we have to let them do that.

Rogers sums it up better than I can:

The longer we stand at the barricades, flinging erasers and recounting the myths of how doomed and deluded the other side is, the harder it becomes to cross the street and find out what those other successful writers know that we don’t.

And that’s a shame

Photo credit: ricohman
Thanks to @ChuckWendig over at terribleminds.com for making me think about things in this context.