Monday, December 26, 2011

The Dangers of Rivalry - Part 4 (To My Rival(s), With Love - Or, How Letter Writing Helps Us Heal, Whether we mail them or not

To read Part 1: Click Here
To read Part 2: Click Here
To Read Part 3: Click Here

Hope everyone had a good holiday. I really felt at peace this Christmas, something I could not say with any honesty last year, and DEFINITELY not the year before that, and while I wish I were less touchy than I was, it was the first Christmas since the start of my 20s when I never cried once, and I truly was grateful for what I have in my life, yet at the same time, not punish myself for feeling empty of things I missed.

I know many of you find cooking at the holidays stressful, but I truly love it, the only real stress is sharing a frustratingly small kitchen with two relatives, who wish I could attain the physics-defying speed of Sonic the Hedgehog in terms of cooking and cleaning, otherwise I've felt nothing but joy from the kitchen. 

For those of you who've been following my rivalry series this month, you know that I've touched on how rivalry stopped my growth as a writer, and how it stole the joy of reading the books who inspired me to write myself. I knew I had to resolve this issue or I'd never move on in a healthy way.

That said, I had NO IDEA how, even as I began this series on the dangers of rivalry, but over the weekend, on Christmas Eve in fact, I made a decision, that for me, will be the first proactive step I've made this year to lay the foundation to getting my joy back: writing letters to my rivals.

In part 3, I suggested ways you can calm and eventually revert the negatives effects of rivalry and turn them in to something positive.

Let's take that a step further. Write a letter to the writers you feel envy or rivalry towards in the first place.

Since it's not likely the writers you feel inferior and/or envy to are people you know or can contact (Especially if they're dead)  and you really don't want to be a jerk, especially if envy aside, you love their books and you wouldn't have learned the love of storytelling if not for their work, but you're just tired of being compared or accused of copying them, when you are trying to be you, and at the same time "learn" from them without becoming a paranoid mock-scholar, and unless you're really sure of yourself, doubt and frustration can turn the most sensible writers into envy-ridden maniacs.

Writing them a letter, yet not mailing it, may give some sense of closure, or at the very least lets off steam in a private way.

I've been there more times than I care to admit, but I admit it often on T.A.A. Not to bore folks with my ranting, but in hopes that other writers who've had to suffer similar frustrations, know they aren't alone, especially if you don't respond well to the "Boot Camp" style of instruction/feedback found in many critique groups in workshops. 

While no one likes to deal with whiners, the same is true for people who come off as self-absorbed know-it-alls, who have no empathy for others who struggle at something that's common sense to them, and it's no way to treat anyone, especially when they're doing their best, even if it's not at your level or conforms to your way of doing things. We all need to be mindful this. You'd be surprised how easily you can become the type of person you despise most yourself. 

Trust me. I've been there, hard as I tried to avoid it, but I've learned from that ordeal, and now I just have to put into practice more often...

Anyway, here's some pointers to keep in mind to make this letter writing a positive experience in self-discovery and self-healing-

1. Put Out an I.D.T. R. ( a.k.a. I.D. the Top Rivals)
Make a list of all the writers you admire/envy/get compared to in critiques. Of those writers, pick a top list of 6-10. It can be less than 10, but go for an even number, the reason why brings us to step 2 below-

2. It's time to play "Which Writers are not like the Others"
Narrow down the list down to writers whose books you've actually read. It's easier to be honest with yourself in this exercise if you've read book by  the writers you're compared to and/or admire. It also keeps you from demonizing them, which is something that's easy to do, especially when you feel the writers you're being lumped with aren't as similar to your work as others claimed.

3. Write each writer a personal letter
That's right, a simple, informal, business-free letter. You know, the kind our ancestors wrote before e-mail and Skype. Now if you're handwriting sucks like mine, feel free the compose on the computer. The point here is to write our rivals a personal letter, something we'd write to people we know, and for the purpose of this exercise, LIKE or respect, but don't have to be all business with at all times.

4. Be Honest
This simply means to be real with why you feel animosity towards certain writers. Things they do better than you. 

-Aspects of craft they just get on a deeper level than you at present.

-Are able to dig deeper into emotions and experiences you aren't able to yourself.

-Can push the envelope in ways you simply can't conceive of doing yourself--and not necessarily for lack of trying on your part either.

-Are simply more business-savvy than you. (Even if unlike me, you understand it without going nuts, even if you still recoil at this aspect of the process)

Even though you know (Exceptions to the rule aside) most writers had to start at square one, meaning that they were rookies at the very aspects of the craft or business you and I a struggling with right now, and many are happy to tell you still are, it can still be a bit sobering to watch others in your field find things you're having self-pity conniptions over "no big deal" since they exude such confidence and/or respected reputations, and have satisfied readers to prove it.

That doesn't mean they don't put in the same level of care to raise the bar on their goals, but I do think the way writers measure, and think of success changes over time. 

While you know achieving this level of grace, humility, and understanding took time, unless you started writing yesterday, you've been at this for some time yourself, and if you're stuck at a level that's not helping you, but not hurting you either, you can't help but ask yourself: What don't I get?

Only you can answer this question for yourself.

For me, while I get nothing about this is easy, it would be nice to not feel so lost all the time, don't you think?

5. Be Respectful
While we're not going to actually mail these letters, electronically or otherwise (Even if the writer's still alive), it's important to write these letters with respect for said writer(s), especially if we loved reading the books they wrote in the first place, yet now find it hard to remember how much we did, and still appreciate the joy or solace they gave us when we read them, and I suspect many writers were strictly readers first, and the passion to write came later--at least in terms of making a career in this field.

This is certainly true for myself.

Remember, the point of this exercise is to face our fears and frustrations, and set ourselves free of the pain we carried, and being honest yet respectful in these letters will help you get real, and at the same time, allow yourself to get these feelings out so they don't eat away at you, move on from them, but acknowledge they were no less real than if someone you know personally had hurt you, directly or otherwise.
Think of it like giving or receiving (non-abusive) feedback on others work. 

Hope you'll share your thoughts in the comments below.
If you plan to try this experience for yourself, feel free to share your general overall results as well, but remember, these letters are for your eyes only. 

Though if you have a writer's group, it might be a fun exercise to share amongst your members, with the strict understanding that these letters are only meant for the eyes of the group.

Until next time,

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Dangers of Rivalry - Part 3 (Remembering The Rivals Who Were Once Your Friends)

To read Part 1, Click Here!

For Part 2, Click Here!

Now when I say, "Friends" I don't necessarily mean you personally knew the writers you feel envy, and/or inferiority toward, (Specially if they've been dead for years longer than you've been alive) but rather for the writers whose books made you fall in love with books and the written word in the first place.

Now that you're a writer, you can't face these books the same way anymore, they're now the rivals you must learn from to be a better writer yourself, while at the same time not turn your back at what you bring to stories no one else can.

Before I go on, I need to stress  while many writers I know, particularly those who've progressed their careers far beyond where I am, will say the opposite, I know there are many writers besides myself, who've seen similar success, and worked NO LESS hard to get it, who respect and understand if the reading experience is not the same as it was before we made the shift from being only admiring readers to being writers ourselves.

For those writers who came to the craft later in life, (After Grade school but before College) this wondrous feeling is at risk of extinction during the early years on this road. You don't want to be so married to your words you don't grow and learn, nor be so self-critical and second guessing every choice you make you afraid to be YOU, not X writer who made headlines for the latest sexy vamp on the bestseller lists,

Consider the following-

Both The Diary of Anne Frank and Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes" are true accounts of difficult lives, but I'm hard pressed to call them "Clones of each other." Even though both writers were accounting their life in some way.

Gender and age differences aside, they're still both nonfiction, still both snippets of real people who lived and later died, telling their stories, their way.

My point? As writers, we owe it to ourselves to respect and learn to tell the difference, between "Subjective Taste" and "Writing that's just not up to snuff."

Because now more than ever, there are moments when the line between them is nonexistent, yet both equally matter, and handling it wrong can tear even the most committed critique groups apart in heartbreaking--even career-ending ways.

So here's an exercise I urge you to try-

First, make a list of writers/genres of books you used to love reading, but don't since you started writing, and take special note of books or writers you find hard reading since pursuing publication/after being published, that often says a lot about our inner fears that hold us back, not just from the writers we want to be, but the happy readers we used to be, and missed being, and for whatever reason, don't yet know how to be again.

Second, read one of those books or writers, but make the effort of telling yourself, aloud if you have to, "I'm a reader right now, no different than the readers I want to have one day, and I have the right to love or not love any book, no matter who its by" and read the book, for fun.

If you are the type of writer who is comfortable studying for craft in books, I strongly advise only doing so after you've read the book as a hopeful reader first and foremost, pick books you've read more than once, it's a lot less torturous that way, trust me on this one.

Third, once you've read the book(s), take some time to savor what you read (If you enjoyed it) and if you didn't, or stopped because you just didn't find it captivating, tell yourself that's OKAY. Again, aloud if you need to.

Remember, this isn't solely about "A battle of egos" but just the simple fact that we need to learn to notice what's personal taste versus what will confuse/aggravate/bore any reader.

If you've ever had to re-think your own rivalries, or learn from mistakes you made when critiquing others, please share them in the comments below. The holiday is a great reminder for us all to support each other, and extending that generosity and the passion to pursue our unique definitions for success, well into the new year.

Check back soon for Part 4.
Ciao for now,

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Dangers of Rivalry - Part 2 (The Overlooked Upsides)

If you haven't read Part 1: Click Here!

Side Note: I apologize for falling behind in the posts I wanted to do, but yesterday got a bit out of hand, so it'll take some time to catch up.

Now onto to the continuing discussion of Rivalry, and it's overlooked assets...

Earlier this week I shared the dangers and pitfalls associated with rivalry, when you let negativity have a field day with your life, it
eclipses all the benefits

That's not to say rivalry never hurts, it certainly can, even with the best of intentions, but while it's true there is no life without struggle, we also were not given life to know know struggle.

To understand all sides to rivalry, let's stop and think about what a "rival" really is.

I looked up the definition again and found out something interesting-

As defined in the dictionary-


1.  A person who is competing for the same object or goal as another, or who tries toequal or outdo another; competitor.

2.   A person or thing that is in a position to dispute another's preeminence or superiority.

We often associate most rivalry with the first two definitions. In the case of writers, the drive and effort we put into seeing our words in print, whether we follow the traditional model of getting published, become our own publishers (Print or Digital), or some combo thereof, and each path has its own set of challenges, and rivals who either beat us to the punch, or excels at what we're weakest at, often testing our resolve.

But let's start to consider the third meaning of Rival-

3. Obsolete . A companion in duty.

I think this "obsolete" definition of a rival, is the grey area where many frustrated writers, myself included, have a pathetically hard time accepting.

As well as appreciating.

Think about this a moment. A companion is another word for "A Friend." Duty has many meanings, but for writers, I think it's best context is "Responsibility."

Being a good friend or "Companion" is to give of yourself, and accept the help of others when given and is needed.

In this context, rivals can help us find the answers within ourselves, what we want and don't want to be, and how to use the knowledge gained from such experiences to do better by others, thus being better people to ourselves.

Rivalry doesn't have to be fueled solely on anguish or hatred, of oneself and others, but used as guide to being better writers, who in turn can guide the next generation, if only to say: "I've really been where you are, and if you don't quit, it will get better."

Think of a rival as having an aggressive (But NOT heartless) mentor. Someone who you share some common ground. This is why reading in our genre's so important. We can learn from those who love our niche the same as you do, as much as you may differ on the particulars, the passion you share in it is timeless.

Of course, this extends to all writers (Storytellers in this context) in all areas, but for the sake of simplicity, your niche genre(s) is the best starting point.

I realized in writing this that I'll need more than 2 or 3 parts to cover this topic properly, so look out for another installment next week.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Dangers of Rivalry

While many writers will insist rivalry among ourselves, "doesn't really exist" it does. I've seen and been burnt out from it far too many times myself to deny it, 

I think the real question here is not if this issue exists, but rather the question, "When in the writing process does it start?" 

As former spelling bee champs and Olympic athletes will tell you, rivalry, whether ruthless or not, is part of the game, whether you physically sweat and toil in a track and field race, or feel pin drop silence as two kids face a stage in the final moments of the national spelling bee, where a clear head and fast instinct are paramount to victory.

For writers, especially novelists and short story writers, rivalry comes in three ways-

- Books in our genre(s)
- Writers who specialize in our genre or niche markets
- Other demands for our reader's time 
(Comics/Television/Video Games/Movies/Etc...)

To keep this post focused, today we'll only focus on the first two rivals, other books in our genre, and writers who are well written and often loved in our chosen niche.

There are many dangers to letting a rivalry go to one's head. Here are a few to watch yourself for-

- You can't read in your genre anymore
- Hearing certain authors by name sends a shiver of envy and/infierority down your spine.
- You avoid certain authors like the plague if they write what you write, and are considered "The best" in your niche, and people already thing you're emulating them, even when you know da** well you're not!

- Critique partners who cite problems in your manuscript by using published authors as a quality yardstick.  

- Becoming enraged (Or at least annoyed) with being compared to certain authors just because your niche is the same.

It's one thing to hear "You should work on your pacing" and another to hear "Try studying how X Published Author handles pacing."

Now some writers find rivalry fuels their work in a good way.

For a lot of writers, myself included, the exact opposite is true, for the same reason why some writers love deadlines and others do not, but try to stay sane when they must meet them. 

These tussles of rivalry's negative effects to my writing (or lack thereof) vs. adversity in spite of failure, are often how many of my sabbaticals from writing began. But after nearly a decade of this seesawing my development as a writer, I'm determined to take back control and not let the negative aspects of rivalry, however tangential, get in the way of my dreams and ambition, a promise to myself I have to keep, because life without writing in it is not an option.

Check back more to learn about the upsides to writer rivalry, and ways to channel the feelings of rivalry into something positive, both for your mood, and getting the story written in the end.

Ciao for now,
May the fantastic fauna be with you.

Monday, December 5, 2011

I'm Back! (No, really!)

It's been a long hard road for me, and while it continues to be true, I'm ready to commit to T.A.A. again. To prove it, as I've faltered a few times, these are the topics you will see this week-

Tuesday-Wednesday 12/6/11-12/7/11
The Dangers of Rivalry
What happens when you let rivalry go to your head. How it steals your joy for writing, and reading, and things you can do to get back in balance.

You Really Should Read....(How NOT to be the Scrooge in your writer's group)
Any writer who's been critiqued will eventually get suggested they read a certain book or writer in hopes you'll learn how to "fix" something in your own writing that's not doing what it should, and you know it's true, but it can still feel discouraging, even a little insulting, but you know it's (usually) meant to be encouraging.

Before you go off on a rant (As I have sadly done) learn from my mistakes so you will stay on your writer friend(s) good side, address the problem, and still let the frustration out so you won't be an emotional time bomb waiting to lay waste to your common sense, and anyone/anything else in its path.

Learn from "The Past" but write in "The Present"
It's vital to read the books you wish to write yourself, but you also need to know how to apply the timeless lessons in books published in a time gone by. Hopefully what I'm learning the hard way will save you from having a far worse time of it.

Wednesday - 12/7/11 The World-building Wars
An ongoing series about ways to take some of the crazy out of crafting our fantasy worlds.
(Part 1: Welcome to the World - A checklist even plot-phobics can handle and have fun with.)

Thursday - 12/8/11New Giveaway!
Details and Entry info Thursday

Friday - 12/9/11 Flipside CafĂ©
There are two sides to every story, and multipal ways to apply the same craft advice. The weekly feature will go in-depth with craft advice you always hear, and examine another way to go about it, to keep it fresh, and keep you motivated to improve your craft and combat the "Been there, Re-Done that" complex.
(This week: When in doubt, Flesh it Out: A new way to approach "Show, don't Tell.")

Saturday and Sunday (TBA)

I may be a day or two late sometimes, but bare with me, I'm committed to getting back on track.

Lastly, I'll talk about the things I learned from my difficult but necessary sabbatical(s) in a future "Letter from the Editor" but for now, just know while I'm still a bit shaky, I've missed interacting with those of you who've been so supportive and concerned for me in my string of sabbaticals from the blog. I will still stumble for some time, but it's time to stop letting my life go by, and live it again.

Here's to catching up to you on the ongoing road to living a better life.
Your Frazzled yet Fearless Literary Rat,



Thursday, December 1, 2011

I'm back, almost...

I won't know until next Friday if I'm over my hiatus, but I have some news to share between now and Christmas Eve about what 2012 will bring, and will announce once its official. But expect more posts over the next few days, I've got a lot of ground to cover and exciting announcements that will hopefully make 2012 a happier time for old and new T.A.A. readers.

Be back tomorrow,