Business Musings: Controlling The Creatives
Right now, a visible group of people in the field of science fiction are engaged in a protracted battle about the genre’s future. Both sides are practicing a nasty, destructive campaign against the other, and not worrying about the collateral damage they’re causing on the sidelines.
Those of us who’ve been in the field a long time have pretty much abstained from the arguments. Not because we lack opinions. We have opinions and have discussed them with each other privately, but we remain quiet because we’ve seen such protracted battles before.
When I came into the field in the 1980s, I watched the remnants of two such protracted battles. The first was about the legitimacy of Star Wars and Star Trek and whether or not Trek and SW fans even belonged in the genre, let alone any writers who admitted they enjoyed those things.
That first argument spilled into a sillier side argument about whether or not tie-in writers tainted their writing skills by writing novels in someone else’s universe. Hugo Award winner Timothy Zahn pretty much destroyed the naysayers by writing excellent sf novels under the Star Wars label and making a small fortune doing so.
The second argument was about whether fantasy was a legitimate genre. The writer-critics agreed that slipstream fantasy—the kind that where you can’t tell if the fantasy is something that really happened to the character or something that he misinterpreted—was legitimate. But the rest of it? That could’ve been crap, as judged by the terms the writer-critics used, like “fat fantasy novels,” as if they were all the same or “elfy-welfy” novels that obviously weren’t up to any kind of quality whatsoever.
When I published my first novel, a not-quite-fat fantasy novel set in a magical kingdom, a writer-friend told me that I had just ruined the career I was building because I was writing crap fantasy, not real literature. He didn’t receive a new asshole, but only because I was little more circumspect in those days. Now, I’d simply tell him in no uncertain terms to mind his own damn business and to let the readers decide.
If you think these kinds of arguments only occur in the sf genre, think again. In the past few years, I participated in a few group projects in the romance genre. In two cases, one of the participants was a male romance writer, and I’ll be honest: until this sf argument started, I had never before seen such naked bigotry between writers.
Some of the female romance writers hated that a man was involved, wouldn’t admit that he could contribute anything of value, and essentially treated him (if they spoke to him at all) as if he was an imbecile. These women, all of a certain age, had had the same experience themselves in reverse in their real-world careers, so I was stunned that they would turn on a fellow human being like that, but turn they did.
The mystery field has its issues as well. Some of the issues also concern gender: there’s a well-known editor in the field who has said that both women and cats have no place in mystery. I’m convinced he does this to provoke, since he’s supported women in many ways (including in my own career). I have no idea what he’s done for cats.
But there’s also another division in mystery that runs really deep: there are mystery writers who consider those who write cozies (y’know, like the stuff Agatha Christie wrote) to be an inferior part of the genre, if part of the genre at all. On the other side, there are cozy writers who believe that the hard-boiled writers (like Raymond Chandler) destroyed a decorous genre with unnecessary violence.
While these distinctions might sound silly to the casual reader, they’re extremely destructive to writers inside the various genres. I know of writers who stopped producing in the genres they loved because of the vicious attacks from one side or another. I also know of writers whose outspoken nastiness destroyed their careers with the very editors (and readers) they wanted to sell books to.
Since the advent of indie publishing, it’s not as easy to destroy a career as it was in the past. An editor might not want to take a toxic writer into the fold, but the writer can self-publish. You’d think that would solve the issues of divisiveness—if writers want to write something, they can—but it hasn’t. If anything, the problem has grown more pervasive, louder, and uglier.
Personally, I believe that a writer’s politics and religious beliefs (including beliefs about a favorite genre) should remain off-social media if at all possible, and that arguments in favor of one thing or another should be made in person, if at all.
I think it’s more important to incorporate your worldview into what you write and let the readers decide whether or not they want to read your work than it is to win an argument that will seem quaint fifteen years from now. Of course, I also believe that we should all look at the way people live their lives rather than focusing on the words they use or the color of their skin.
Yeah, idealist here. One whose perfect world matches the one Dr. Martin Luther King outlined in 1963, when he said that human beings should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of the skin (or their gender or their sexual preference or—you know, all of that).
If you want to change the world, work to affect change politically or economically or through a charity. Volunteer, vote, run for office, do something active rather than try to destroy people who disagree with you. If nothing else, write fiction with the passion that you’re currently investing in online flame wars and trolling.
Screaming at an enemy, with a side dish of name-calling, only leads to trench warfare. It also has an impact on some readers. I know of readers who stopped reading favorite writers because of the Hachette-Amazon dispute last summer, and I’m sure this major fight in sf is causing readers to quietly drop writers from their reading lists.
My tenure in the publishing industry has shown me that these bitter disputes are really about change. One side resists the change while the other side advocates for it, and they remain locked at each other’s throats, calling each other names. The thing is, as they’re screaming at each other, other writers are quietly effecting change by doing what they do best—writing fiction.
The problem for writers, particularly beginning writers, is that they hear these arguments and get indoctrinated with “shoulds.” If I had listened to that writer-friend twenty-four years ago, I would never have written The Fey series, my Kristine Grayson novels would not exist, and I would have essentially cut off a huge part of my creativity.
If I had not withstood the tie-in arguments, I would never have written some Star Trek novels that I’m very proud of or got to play in the Star Wars universe—something I had dreamed about since I was sixteen years old.
I would have let other people’s opinions destroy things I love.
The problem with all of these arguments, from the cozy versus the hard-boiled, the fantasy versus science fiction, the women versus men, the white folks versus people of color, is that they prescribe how a story should be written.
What’s wrong with writing a story from your own heritage? If the story’s from a perspective that hasn’t seen a lot of print, then write it. If the story’s been done before (as is the case with so much white American-European fiction), write it anyway.
Write it. Because it comes from your personality, your knowledge, and your heritage. That story will contain your passion. Write it and let it find its audience.
I know that a lot of curated fiction—stuff that came out of traditional publishing—closed and barricaded the door to people of color (in almost all genres), to women (in most genres), and to men (in the romance genre). I know that these issues still need resolution.
I also know that indie publishing has allowed these voices to finally be heard.
That’s change, and so many people are so terrified of change that they react with startling bigotry and language or behavior that they would never use in polite company. Social media has allowed a lot of horrid things to slip through the cracks—racist, discriminatory, biased and just plain ugly stuff.
And because of it, so many newer writers are backing away from topics that they could easily write about now that the gatekeepers have lost their hold on the entry points into various fields. These newer writers are letting the opinions of others—others who, in the scheme of things really don’t matter much—shut down the creative process.
What these newer writers don’t realize is that a lot of these arguments are a last-ditch effort to control the conversation—and more importantly, to control the creatives.
In the past, traditional publishing controlled the creatives by keeping the doors locked to anything other than Our Kind’s point of view. It didn’t always succeed. Women have always had a major influence on science fiction and fantasy, even though many people deny it, and women essentially invented the modern mystery genre (dang that Agatha Christie!). Writers of color had a tougher time, but as a determined few elbowed their way into Our Kind’s gatherings, Our Kind realized they at least needed to publish a few of these books (hence the African-American section of U.S. bookstores was formed, ghettoizing the books that should’ve been on the shelf next to all the other books).
Indie publishing is allowing the creatives to break out of the artificial boxes formed by Our Kind. Women can write strong military sf. African-American writers can write about middle-class lives and middle-class values in the black community instead of being forced to write about the ghetto or voodoo magic (which they might be as unfamiliar with as Our Kind is).
And yet, writers are hearing these arguments that prescribing who should write what, and worse, many writers are believing it.
The gatekeepers are going away, so the loud voices in all the genres are trying to step up as gatekeepers.
It makes me shake my head.
So, for example…
An award seems biased toward a certain kind of writing. So what? Awards are always biased, because they’re given by a particular group, and every group—I don’t care who runs it—has a particular perspective.
If you don’t believe me, watch the Grammys or the Academy Awards every year, and read the analysis about the nominees. I’ve made a private study of the Oscars since I was a teenager, and what I learned was that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would rather it chose the film of the year than let the filmgoers do so.
Not that it matters much. Marvel Comics movies might never win Best Picture, but they always win at the box office.
Recognition is nice, but the best recognition in the world is from the readers themselves. (Which is why I always value Readers’ Choice Awards more than some juried award. The readers chose, not five selected gatekeepers taking a vote behind a closed door.)
Writers get so caught up in the “shoulds” and “should nots” that they twist themselves into a pretzel in the worst place possible—their own creativity.
I can remember mentally shouting down that writer-friend who told me I shouldn’t write fat fantasy novels. Every time I started a new fantasy novel, I had to silence his voice.
It wasn’t until I realized that I wasn’t writing to please him or the other gatekeepers that I was finally able to silence his voice entirely.
Because being creative is about flying in the face of accepted wisdom. It’s about writing what you want to write, in the way that only you can write it. It’s about taking risks and facing down the critics. It’s about using forbidden words and writing about topics that, judging by your appearance, you should know nothing about. It’s about facing down the bigots who say you’ve only attracted readers because your last name implies a certain ethnicity.
These people who are screaming at each other on forums and in the media? Those folks? They’re not your readers. They’re not the people who act as gatekeepers any longer. They have nothing to do with what you write.
What you write is between you and your keyboard.
When that writing is published, it’s done. You should move onto another project, and let the published one take care of itself.
You will always be a representative of your time. We all currently hold opinions that future generations will see as quaint (at best) or horribly bigoted (at worst). It might not be possible for you, in the position you’re in right now, to know if you even hold such opinions.
If you’re one of the screamers, back away from social media. You’re only alienating your friends and your readers. If you want to change minds, work on writing better fiction. You can explore all the different points of view in your stories and—oh, yeah—maybe you can learn to write from a point of view not your own.
I love what Ian Rankin has to say about writing from the point of view of his most famous character, John Rebus:
When I start writing a book, I know I am about to enter a debate with the creature I am bringing to life. My attitudes will not necessarily be his…It’s fortunate I’ll never meet him: I have the feeling we wouldn’t get along…(Rebus’s Scotland: A Personal Journey by Ian Rankin, Orion 2005)
I don’t get along with a lot of my characters. I write from the point of view of mass murderers and psycho criminals, from the point of view of bigoted cops and men who hate women.
I also write from the points of view of African-Americans in the 1970s, Native Americans in 1908 (upcoming), FBI agents from the 1960s, Vietnam veterans and anti-war protestors.
I am none of these people.
I am the writer. And as the writer, I get to choose whose viewpoint I write from. Because my last name is Germanic doesn’t mean I always use a German point of view or even a German-American point of view. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean all my female characters are sympathetic or, indeed, anything like me. Just because I’m white doesn’t mean that I agree with all of the white characters in my books.
I write what the story demands. I admit, I’m often using my experiences, my politics, and my opinions as starting points. But they’re only starting points. I’m often startled where these writing journeys take me. I learn about myself, and in order to write from a point of view not my own, I also have to learn about others.
The best trait good writers have is empathy. When writers are trying to shout each other down and demanded that one side write like the other side, they’re destroying the empathy—as well as their own creativity.
If you’ve been watching these fights, and taking in the “shoulds” from these arguers, let me tell you something: the loudest voices here will have to stop arguing at some point or the owners of those loud voices will stop having a career.
The people who didn’t like tie-in novels? They’re mostly gone. Those who remain have written a few tie-ins themselves.
The fat fantasy haters? The survivors have written fantasy novels. The rest are gone, including my writer-friend, who hasn’t published anything (not even a short story) in decades.
Go ahead, read the history of your favorite genre. You’ll often see these fights, and they’re often led by people you’ve never heard of. Do some investigating about those people and you’ll learn that they had a great start to a career, and something embittered them, and made them try to control others.
Indie publishing has made writing from different points of view easier, but different points of view have always found their way into print. Take a look at the way the voices of the Harlem Renaissance got published, and remained published. Often we’ve heard new voices not because they were “discovered” by the gatekeepers, but because these voices self-published or found a small press willing to take a risk with them.
If you as a writer are not willing to take risks, if you’re not willing to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, if you’re not willing to write what you want—screamers be damned—then why are you writing?
To please others? There are better ways to do that.
Yes, sometimes tackling subjects that others have labeled forbidden is hard. Emotionally and physically hard. But if those subjects interest you, write about them. Embrace the fear, and write.
Writing isn’t about doing what everyone else tells you to do.
Writing is about doing what your creative voice wants to do.
Learning to tell the difference is sometimes hard. But I can tell you from experience that learning to tell the difference is what good writing is all about.
Don’t blog about writing. I’ve heard that one a million times. Don’t write blog posts longer than 500 words. Don’t write about controversial topics. Don’t, don’t, don’t….
Yeah, if I’d listened to all that, I wouldn’t have hundreds of thousands of words of nonfiction all for free on this site. I wouldn’t have interacted with all of you and, most importantly to me, I wouldn’t have learned from you.
It is because I have learned so much from all of you that I am, with great trepidation, leaving the comments turned on this week. If you’re a screamer here to just defend your point of view, your comment won’t get posted. If I get bombarded with too many screamers, I’ll shut off the comments. Life’s too short, people, and this is my website. Go scream somewhere else.
As for everyone else—all of you who come week after week—thank you for your time and your attention. I greatly value it, and I greatly value you.
Leave a Tip Through PayPal. (Yes, White Mist Mountain is my company name)
“Business Musings: Controlling The Creatives,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Thank you for this, Kris. I needed the reminder to let all story choices — from protagonists to story and beyond — to my own creativity, and not what some people say is or isn’t important.
It all comes back to what should always be Rule #1: Write a good story.
Anyone else remember the Bantam Loveswept line of romances from the 1980’s? They were unusual in that they had a “real names” policy for authors. Authors with ethnic or hard-to-spell names, who might otherwise have been told to write under a safely WASPish name (a pretty common practice), were allowed to publish under their given names. Even more unusual, some of the Loveswept books were written by couples and published under both names. (Anne & Ed Kolaczyk hit both the couple thing and the ethnic thing.) Guys can write romances? That upset some people. (I don’t think they published any solo-male authors. Things weren’t -that- progressive yet.)
Oh, Kris. You did it again. You are beyond right –
This is what happens when people follow Kris’ advice. A whole big bunch of people.
If you think you hate poetry, in particular, you might like this book.
This is the first. It won’t be the last.
Thank you for letting me do this, Kris. Because what you said, is what we’ve been doing for the past year, and will continue to do.
“If you’re one of the screamers, back away from social media. You’re only alienating your friends and your readers.” Great advice, thank you.
I gave up paying attention to the word “should” a long time ago. I simply keep my head down and continue writing romance fiction. I truly don’t care what other people write or don’t write. That’s their choice. I’m too busy to have time for rules or to watch the pens of others.Great piece. I agree with you completely.
Thanks for a grown-up perspective on all this stuff. That’s one of the many things you and Dean do that I appreciate.
This hit me on a relatively deep level. I write what I call gay fiction (I recently learned that gay fiction is reserved for men who write gay fiction, for male readers, and that what I write should properly be known as mm romance, written by a woman for other women.) So there’s that. I’ve never read what’s popular in either of those sub-genres, which is possibly an oversight on my part, but the holdout is because I want to write the stories I have inside me, without worrying whether or not it’s “industry complacent.” And I self-publish through Createspace.
But I don’t see the point in getting into a protracted flame-war with other writers who move in the same circles, because in the end, we are all writers who have a unique story to tell.
Thank you for the reminder to back away from the keyboard and cool down. I can’t hear that one too often.
Except for the guy who told me it’s disgusting to put half-and-half in my tea. Some wrongs simply cannot go unanswered.
As a reader, I look at the current fantasy best-seller list and cry, “Argh! That’s not my fantasy! Get that icky girly urban blather off of it and get me some dragons or something.” As a fan, I am totally against many of the changes that I see in the market. I’m just getting to be a crotchety old man.
Strangely enough, as a writer, I am totally FOR those changes. I root for all those indies that make money. Through you, I now have this metric, “Are you making a living by writing?” If the answer is yes, then who am I to complain that you’re doing it wrong? The last that I saw, the SFWA asks about how much you make or what you’ve published, but doesn’t ask anything about whether you wrote the “right” kind of book.
Mind you, I still get to think that your urban zombiepunk dragonrider is garbage, because I’m not giving up my hard earned crotchety old man stripes. I just keep that opinion separate from thinking my fellow writer is garbage. Instead, I’ll blame today’s kids for being all wrong and chase them off my lawn with my replica Conan sword, because, we did it right back in the 80’s.
Amen, amen, and amen.
Quit trying to make me write your story.
Let me write what I want to write. If you want more of A and B in your stories, we are in the best time EVAR for readers who like lots of A and B to find lots of A and B and share and promote those stories with like-minded readers.
What a great post! And wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all did what we want to do and not concern ourselves with doubters, haters and bigots?
I agree with most of what you wrote (and don’t know enough to have views on the rest, but would probably agree with it too!). It could be, as you say, mostly about “change” and all the standard bumpf that goes with disruption would apply.
But the one niggling piece that chews at my brain is whether it is more about “identity”. So, the mystery writer who writes cozies thinks “this is a mystery, I do it and I do it well”. But then they see someone who says “This noir novel is a mystery”, and the cozy writer thinks, “Are you saying then that *I’m* not a mystery-writer?????”. The noir writer made a narrow declarative statement — they didn’t say “nothing else is a mystery but noir” but people think “A cozy is a mystery” and “Noir is a mystery” are two statements that cannot both be true — because their identity runs in both directions i.e. “A cozy is a mystery” must mean “A mystery is a cozy”. Or, “I am a mystery writer and I write cozies therefore mystery writers write cozies.”
Any first year philosophy student would tell you that the sun is yellow and bananas are yellow but that doesn’t mean that the sun is a banana or that one of those first two statements are wrong.
Back in the late 80s, there was a lot of management research and literature on what it meant to be a “professional” and they found that every “occupation” had people in it who would say “This is how you do the job professionally” — short order cooks, janitors, lawyers, didn’t matter the occupation, they all would derive some of their identity from defining certain parameters that to them were important and thus would define their occupation as a “profession” with standards that had to be met. If you meet them, you’re a professional, if you don’t, you’re something else. Chefs vs. cooks, custodians vs. janitors vs. housekeepers, author who receives an advance vs. indie published vs. self published vs. vanity published, cozy vs. procedural vs. noir, Star Wars/Star Trek/LotR/Dystopias vs. “Sci-fi”.
All of them said to themselves as they were entering the field “If I do x and y, then *I* will be a professional (blank)”. So, I will be a professional mystery writer if I write a cozy, get picked up by a large publisher, get an advance, and my book is in a paper book store”. It’s a script they create themselves. And once they tick off box A,B,C,D they see themselves as “legitimate”.
But without realizing, in many cases, that ABCD wasn’t the only path, and maybe B and C weren’t even required. But they decided that, to them, it was required. Fast forward to when they achieve those goals, and anyone else who has a different path must be a fraud who cheats. The self-declaration becomes unconsciously normative.
With change and disruption, people think it is about control, economics, resisting change, etc. I am not always sure that such an explanation is (a) causal rather than (b) simply correlated. Post hoc, ergo proptor hoc — for West Wing fans, or just Latin lovers, they know that means “1 follows the other, therefore 1 causes the other”. So, if the fight follows the change, ergo the change causes the fight.
I’m not so sure — I think the fight is about self-identity, and change merely brings the two sides into contact with each other. If only noir authors self-published, and cozies only went traditional, and none of the fans read both, the two wouldn’t care about each other so long as no one tried to call either one by the wrong name or steal each other’s term (mystery writer). I think it is only when the two identities collide or they compete for the same resources that the conflict erupts.
Of course, I’ve been known to be completely wrong before. 🙂 The reason I bother to share though is that “just avoid and write” may not resolve someone’s conflict — yes they avoided the trigger, but it is their form of writing that triggers the conflict in the first place, that reinforces their own stereotypes as to what makes a writer. Will that just make it worse, if they don’t realize that it is partly change and partly just their own way of evaluating their own self-worth?
Cool line of thought! Thanks for sharing it.
I remember the big storm when George Lucas decided to pay flat fee for Star Wars books since he controlled the universe. Lots of SFWA people bitched; but not the people who wrote the books.
I’ve never seen a letter to the editor where someone said: Stop me from doing something I’m doing.
It’s always stop the other guy from doing something I don’t think he should do.
I could care less. I’ve written romance and am the only male author, I believe, on the RWA Honor role. I’m also an ex-Green Beret. I’ve hit #1 numerous times on Amazon in science fiction yet have been told numerous times I’m not a science fiction writer by those who presume to know what that means.
As an indie author I can write what I want. Readers will judge.
And it’s good to talk on the Net sometimes, Bob! Since your comment had me just remembering the short extract of a novel opening I read on your blog maybe three-four years ago! :^)
No screaming from me here. Thanks for saying this, Kris. I’ve had my share of “Don’t do X” from well-meaning writers with far more experience than me. Frankly, my best-selling stories are the ones where I did do X.
So I’m going to stick my earplugs in and go work on the novel where my middle-aged African-American attorney heroine is having a hot affair with a Hispanic client half her age. 🙂
Thanks again for being the sane voice in this crazy business!
Keep doin’ it!
I was stuck for like a month with my lady hero talking to her gyno about trying to conceive when the lower half your body is all cyborgy. As a dude-bro I nearly cut the scene, thinking I didn’t have what it took to write it. Bah! Fear not! Fear is the mind killer.
PS: Love it when some of the same peeps pop up on different forums.
I am unaware of what this argument or battle is. I pretty much just read Dean’s site though. Guess I missed the dust up. Good thing. 🙂
I agree. No one should be told what to write, or how to write it. Let the market place be the judge. Too often writers, especially new ones, put to much importance into what one or two people think. Especially if those people are vocal screamers.
I’ve come to realize the louder people scream at me as to what I should do, the less I listen.
Thanks for saying this, Kristine. The people who get so emotionally invested in these arguments seem to need the conflict, or thrive on the conflict as it gives them a high. Maybe a sense of importance or power, whi know? I would rather be writing quietly in my corner and create conflict for my characters. And yeah, when authors so publically do the shouts and sniping, it makes readers less inclined to want to read their work. As always, your posts are timely and well thought out.
As a new SFF writer who isn’t in on the various networks where these arguments are taking place, there’s kind of a nebulous quality to a post like this. I realize that you might not want to post links to the sort of awful internet nastiness that you are referring to in this post, yet for someone like it would be helpful to see examples of what is being said. Any chance you can post some representative links?
No. I’m not going to encourage you to go to any of it. If you’re feeling curious, there’s this thing called The Google…
Google what? You say what the first two biggest conflicts were: Trek and Star Wars seen by the die-hard old-schoolers as not being legit sf, then fantasy criticized as less than worthless. I remember both those disputes. This new one? Haven’t even heard a peep at what it might be about. Don’t know where to begin to search online. Maybe that’s for the best. 🙂
I’ve found it’s not worth my time to go digging too deep any more. There are some writers who found some success and whose fiction I really liked reading, but then I found their blogs to be full of politics and drama and holier-than-thou isms and it’s so hard to ignore that and just focus on the good fiction they write. It’s hard to read the vitriol they spew out online and then sit down with their book. It’s a lot of cognitive dissonance that I haven’t figured out how to shut out.
I really prefer the writers who keep their blogs interesting and informative without resorting to pushing their agendas around.
“What’s wrong with writing a story from your own heritage? If the story’s from a perspective that hasn’t seen a lot of print, then write it. If the story’s been done before (as is the case with so much white American-European fiction), write it anyway.”
This, Kris. So. Much. This. I often feel like the whole diversity thing is getting out of hand and many beginning writers may be feeling like their point of view is no longer valid because it’s not diverse enough.
The most important lesson any writer can learn is to be true to your story. Period.
Not to be a screamer or anything, but the fundamental error is in viewing one’s heritage as a writing prison that one may not leave without getting hunted down and thrown back in. Unfortunately, there will probably be some people who do try to throw you back in if you stray very far and some of them won’t be nice about it. I understand, I do, why Kristine thinks it’s bad to have this fight in public but I don’t know how a person can possibly shelter new writers from the backlash they most certainly will experience if they don’t know that the argument is even going on.
Either you’re not diverse enough (more European fantasy, really?) or you’re too diverse (those other people won’t buy something that’s not European fantasy) or you’re diverse wrong (you’re writing about someone who is not-you) or you’ve made the wrong choices (by not writing about not-you, you’ve made someone else not exist) or you’re writing something too popular, or you’re writing something too literary, or you didn’t explain the identities of all of your 2nd tier characters (Dumbledore is gay), or your fully integrated military just turns women into men with boobs.
There’s no winning. I think that new writers, in particular, need to understand that if someone online or in a crit group criticizes their choices for bad-think (or writing tie-ins or fan-fic or as was a huge “fight” in the mid 1990’s, and this must be said with a voice of doom… SPACE OPERA…) that they shouldn’t be surprised and they shouldn’t listen to that person.
You’ve penned a lot of profound wisdom over the years regarding career advice for writers. I would put this post at or near the top of that list in terms of importance and veracity. Thank you.
Of course you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink….
Wow! You hit several nails right smack on their little heads. Great article!
A very well-thought out post. Thank you.
I surely hope it reaches those who should listen… Sorry for the “should” in there.
Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Kristine for your always wonderful blog posts. Your input really is appreciated.
Life is too short for nonsense. It interferes with the writing!
Thank you Kris. Although I sort of knew this, I needed a shot in the arm. I had a loud voice in my head about writing male characters. Some criticism I read somewhere made me feel a little inadequate because I was a girl writing about men. But thinking about all the men I know – macho or caring or gay or abusive – and I realized there was no formula. People are people. And anyone I make up can have a rich and complicated life. But that voice percolates to the surface every now and then. Good to have a reminder to ignore it!
Whenever I start wondering if I’ve done a bad job writing a female character, I remind myself that if I were doing something wrong, my wife would have told me.
Men not writing women and women not writing men (and one ethnicity not writing some other) were all huge “things” when I first started trying to write and discovered internet discussion groups about writing… oh, 20 years ago. It was delivered as some sort of immutable truth. Men could *not* write female characters well or believably… etc. Dorothy Sayers ran into the same misconceptions.
Thanks for this post. There are lots of good insights and things to think about.
I’ll disagree with the statement that a writer should leave their personal beliefs off of social media. While that will certainly avoid offending potential readers or editors, it also risks making that blog very impersonal and bland, calculated to offend no one. And, with that, the bland blog sacrifices the potential to thrill someone. And, after all, isn’t that what social media is for; spreading your opinions and thoughts throughout your social connections?
I stand by what I said. If you can’t write passionately about things other than your personal politics and your religion, then it’s time to learn how.
I agree with Kris. There are plenty of things to write about, things you love and want to share with others, without ever touching on politics, or religion, or whatever the outrage-of-the-day is. Maybe it’s a Pollyanna tendency I should just get over, but I have little enough time for social media in any form, why not concentrate on the positive?
Yeah, except my main job and joy involves being religious. So keeping religion off my Facebook page would require setting up a whole second persona for writing. And that’s exactly the opposite of what I’d like to do. I want to be a person of integrity, and for me that involves religion; and to live a religion that resembles Bishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama more than… some others.
That said, lots of religion talk leads to heated arguments and offenses intended and unintended. That’s not what I want to do either. So it can be a tough line to walk.
I agree. Posting blog articles about things that interest you shows readers what your fiction writing voice is like. At least, that’s what works for me. I have fun with the adventure and rom com books I write, I have fun writing wacky blog posts too. Readers and writers read blogs for more writing from authors, which is what we get on social media too! It’s fun to be able to connect with words all over the www. And when you share, so do others. Blogging with personality is a much better marketing tool than screaming at people to buy your books on twitter all day! Blogging and social networking is the fun / enticing way of book marketing without having to actually market your books! Win.
FWIW, JR, I find that most of the time, people’s blogging personal opinions about religion and politics is quite dull reading. Nothing is duller than dogma.
Hi Kris, thank you for the words that bolster my resolve to fearlessly grapple with the mean and ugly, no matter what others might think. This brings up a related issue. I’d be curious what you think of the app “Clean Reader,” which removes “bad” words and offers substitutions. On one hand, it might mean more readers. OTOH, I hate having strangers baudlerize my writing. The idea turns my stomach and the theoretical extra royalties just don’t seem worth it. Besides, if an e-book is a licensed item and not physical property, shouldn’t the author’s choice of language prevail? They shouldn’t be able to make any changes at all. The link below gives a glimpse at the slippery slope, invectives and all. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2015/03/25/fuck-you-clean-reader-authorial-consent-matters/
If the readers don’t like the words you use, Kate, then they shouldn’t read you. That simple. Apps like that are silly, Imho.
I heard about that stupid app yesterday. My (posted on social media) thoughts on that comprised one sentence which contained blasphemy, scatology, and obscenity. I bow in awe at Chuck’s rant, though.
How about if they don’t like the order of events the author suggests? Some readers read the beginning, the end, then the middle.
What if they want to filter parts for their kids?
Or have references to snakes removed because they have a phobia?
Or read your prose while making silly faces to their kids or heaping scorn on the writer?
Or a million other things.
If we’re going to talk about controlling the creatives, shouldn’t we also talk about the silliness of the creatives trying to control the reader?
Clean Reader is nothing more than a tool to allow readers to read the way they want to read.
Who cares if someone wants to experience your work in a way you didn’t think of or don’t approve? Readers have been reading the way they want to read forever.
I don’t care what a reader does with my book after they buy it. It’s up to them. They can use it for toilet paper if they’re so inclined. But I still think such apps are silly. If you’re afraid of language, then don’t read writers who use it in all its fucking glory. But that’s just me. The app sounds like more work than skipping the book altogether, imho.
No, the author’s choice of language should not prevail. The *reader’s* choice of how to read the book should and does prevail. You can no more insist that a reader read words they don’t want to read than you can keep them from skimming boring scenes, or flipping to the back of the book to see who done it.
Cory Doctorow has nailed this.
There’s too much here to appreciate it all, but a couple of reactions.
I remember the very first tie-in I ever bought, a series of short stories based on the first season (I think) of Star Trek TOS. It was by James Blish. James Blish! Cool, I thought.
Second, I’m currently pondering the work of noted fantasy writer Jonathan Swift. Somebody on Dean’s blog used the phrase “Let out the scream” (in one’s fiction). There’s so much to scream about, wouldn’t that be fun? Narratives change things.
Third, I had no idea all this was going on!
I put that wrong. I should have said “there’s too much good stuff to express proper appreciation for all of it.” Or something more clearly complimentary! Dang social media.
Actually, the Star Trek short stories were adaptations of the scripts of the entire run from 66 to 69. 11 books, and Blish, an established figure already, did an amazing job on the adaptations. I read them all, and still have the paperbacks I bought so many years ago (early 70’s, which makes it very hard earned Shoney’s money I was spending.
Just wanted to say thanks for writing this. It is easy to get sucked into impassioned conversations about things I’m passionate about. I actually avoid most of the forums and blogs anymore simply so I don’t have to resist (and I have more time for more important things. Like writing. Or taking care of other life things that are keeping me from writing). Seems like most of the people there are more interested in telling everyone what to do instead of helping people achieve their goals. So thank you, for passionately helping people achieve their goals, instead of just browbeating. It is inspiring to know that there are people like you in the world.
Posts like this are such breaths of fresh air in a storm of seething divisiveness!
I’m watching another one of these flame wars on a favorite website, scratching my head, wondering if this is tempest in a teapot, or business as usual. If it’s business as usual, what the hell am I doing, putting my work out there?
You always have a knack of putting things into perspective. It’s a tempest in a teapot.
I have never hung out on any of the forums and I can see that has been a good thing. Too much drama. I have always written what I want and never questioned that I couldn’t. In this new world writers have been given a freedom to write what they want.
I think some subjects are still fighting to have a place. We need more diversity in our world.
And I have never seen a community more than writers be mean to one another. Why? Do your writing and stop judging and write what you want and stop looking over your shoulder to see what the other guy is doing.
It’s like on the voice, step outside your box and be unique and create your art with passion and heart. Readers will respond to that instead of if your a female or male writing in genre that is perceived just for one.
Get over yourself writers.
Recently I missed out getting into panels at Ad Astra this year. A reviewer I met invited me to one of his, as he was having difficulty getting women interested in this particular topic, which had to do with inclusion within SF and touched on the very topics you mention here. Being new to indie publishing, this was the first I’d heard of any of this in-fighting. I did a little reading on Racefail, hadn’t realized the nastiness that has been going on, and decided to back out of the panel so as not to contribute to uninformed opinions on the topic or get pulled into this. I found your article very much reflected my own sentiments about the genres. I certainly don’t want other writers telling me what I should or shouldn’t write. The whole point of going indie was to avoid dealing with that kind of nonsense. So thank you for this article in particular. I’ve learned a lot in the short time that I’ve been following your blog.
As a beginning writer, I’d like to thank you for your words. I’ve always had unique tastes in what I like to read, and now I’m finding that’s so in what I like to write. From getting critiques, I’ve come to realize that not everyone will like it appreciate what I write. And I’m okay with that. I already have a reading list that’s probably too long to finish, and I know I’m missing some great books. Every reader has their own tastes, which allows us as writers to create as we will, not worrying about our works’ reception. Somewhere out there, our desired readers exist. I’ve never understood the need to put down something simply because it isn’t to our personal taste.
My first two books are about dragon riders. I had a review that said it’s all been done before, and that my book was exactly like the Pern books because the two elements (dragons and riders) were the same. I’ve wanted to write a dragon rider book since I was 13, when the ones I’d read weren’t exactly what I thought they should be. I’ve only read a few Pern books, but I wanted to make my own dragon rider world. That idea has followed me since then. I’m 31 now, and finally writing those books. They still aren’t exactly what I want them to be, but I know the more I write, the better I’ll get, and I’m learning every day.
I’m glad that you didn’t listen to the person who told you not to blog about writing, because it was your and Dean’s blogs that led me to click “publish” on my first book. And to then let it be and keep writing the second. I wasn’t expecting it to sell, but I’ve had a stroke of beginner’s luck, and now it’s your blogs, both the recent one about beginner’s luck, and the one about why indie writers will quit, that are reminding me to think of this long-term as a career and to work hard and learn. I always wanted to do that (have a career as a writer, rather than be famous or get rich), but had always heard that you can’t make a living as a writer. Thanks for telling me I can. And for continually reminding me how much I’m going to have to work for it. It’s much more comforting knowing that I can put in the work than trusting everything to luck.
From when I was little, I always wanted to see books that represented me — girls and women. At the time, it was rather disappointing. It was hard reading stories where the girl existed solely for the role of “victim.” I wanted the girls to participate actively in the story and get action scenes, too. Not necessarily kick butt scenes, but not stand in the corner and watch the men fight.
As a writer, I’ve been surprised at the reaction of male writers when I’ve written action for women. One fairly well-published writer got very nasty and it was like I’d thrown cooties all over him or something. Another had a meltdown in a critique group and ripped my stuff apart because he felt the need to make sure I didn’t write action for women. He evidently didn’t think women could do action. Never mind that both were talking to a war veteran…
One of the things swaying me early on in indie side was that I could really write stories that had women in it that I wanted to read. From what I was seeing on the shelves, I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to write the characters I wanted to or that I would be asked by a publisher to make significant changes (i.e., J.K. Rowlings wanted Hermione as the protagonist). I can still easily find collections and anthologies that contain no women characters, or just one or two in minor roles, and books with a woman lead and all male cast. One of the things that I always thought before indie was that people out there wanted to read stories with women in more diverse roles, and now I’m seeing that emerge in indie. Unfortunately, some still think that women shouldn’t be in science fiction or fantasy, requiring publications to do women only submission rounds. A male writer I know wanted to submit to it and didn’t get why it was restricted to women …
Linda, may I recommend the indie book “Derelict” by LJ Cohen? Protagonist is a 17-18 year old girl. Rollicking space opera. No love triangles,not everyone’s a straight white male, and that’s part of the goodness. Your inner child will love it.