There's a lot of writing advice out there. Without even having to go searching, a body could sit in one place and watch Twitter, listen to coffee shop conversations, or Google something entirely irrelevant, and one could find writing advice. if you're a writer, you well know that admitting it to total strangers is often more than enough reason for said strangers to unleash upon you a torrent of writing advice—because in deferential nods to Dorothy Parker and Terry Pratchett, everyone thinks they could have written. You're old hat at this. You've been around long enough to know that most people don't have the right sort of advice for your needs—especially those people who could have written but didn't—and you know to treat most unasked for advice the same way you'd treat someone's unasked for critique on your fashion or how you raise your kids: smile, nod, and do your thing.
The problem stems from when such advice comes from established writers. Yes, even established writers such as, if I may be so bold, myself.
I've noticed a trend these days—or maybe it's always been there and I'm just tapping in. There's a ridiculous emphasis on absolutisms out there, and they come out of the mouths of people who should know better.
So, because I can't let absolutisms sit uncontested, let's investigate a few, shall we?
Writing for Money
If you're writing for money, you should just quit now.
There is a long and sordid history regarding the war between art for art's sake and art for money. Each side has fierce warriors determined to go down wielding whatever bloody weapon they've got—the starving artists would rather starve than sell out, the sell out would rather cry all the way to the bank than starve. And so on. Whenever an author—usually an author who is surviving rather nicely on his or her writing paychecks—tells me that I shouldn't be in it for the money, I resist (barely) the urge to ask whether it's in that author's nature to waste time as a rule.
I don't like to waste time—unless I have made plans to do so, you know, like watching TV or something. I certainly don't devote hours and hours to a book for no particular reason than because "I like to", and "I hope someone reads it". I don't know where this career-shaming crap has come from, but the fact of the matter is: everyone who writes for a job—full or part time—does so because they at least in part hope to sell it. I have not met a single author who has said, "I don't care if I never get paid."
Do they exist? I'm sure they do. Are they the same authors who are treating their writing like a career? Not as far as I've seen.
Obviously, the intent behind this is something kinder—basically, that very few people will make it rich from writing, and it takes a lot of time and effort to turn it into a fiscal success—but my beef here is that that is not what is being said. "If you're writing for money, you're doing it for the wrong reason."
Who decided this was sound advice? Do these people give the same advice to shop owners? Bookstore owners? Stylists? "If you're in [your job] for the money, you're doing it for the wrong reason."
I'd be happy to discuss the right reasons at length, just as soon as the world loses its need for a financial market based on bits of paper and cheap metals.
I like my job—I write full time, for a living. I get to do so because my husband doesn't mind that we live on his paycheck while I work on the building my backlist so that one day, I do have a stream of revenue coming in. I know salary business folks who like their job, despite the horrendous hours, because of the pay. I know struggling business owners who like their jobs despite the fact it took four years to create steady income. Not once would I ever say to them, "hey, you know, if you're trying to launch a business for income, you're doing it wrong".
That's the kind of high-handed absolutism masquerading as concern—a snobbery that turns up your nose at anyone who dares make, gasp, money at the job they like, rather than choosing between art and wage-slave.
Newsflash: one can pursue a job that makes one happy and hope to make a comfortable living at it without fear of betraying some kind of elitist line from pure to vulgar. I strongly recommend everyone does.
And if anyone gives you any crap, just shed a few wistful tears on your way to the bank.
Sadly, the truth behind the intent remains true: if all you want is money, no matter what the method to get there, it's not that writing is impossible. It's that those of us currently struggling will look at anyone who's just looking to make it rich and go, "For godssake, why?" There are so many easier ways to make a buck. The fact is, it can take a long time, and a lot of effort, to make a steady, livable income from writing.
That said, my theory remains the same: if that's what you want to do, take your talent and get on down with your bad self. Whether you're in it for the art, the money, the community, the fame, the readers, the success, or just because, I don't care. You rock it. I'll rock it. We'll meet at cons and talk about the bitch that is wordsmithing and the crazy shoes we bought with our first writing checks.
As long as the books are good, who the hell are we to judge?
The Things We Write
If you write [this type of subject], you're not trying hard enough.
Look, everybody's got hot-button topics. For some, it's gender-issues, for others, it's alpha males, for still others, it's race, religion, creed, paranormal monster, millionaire playboy, badass female character, secret babies, Australia, terms for "penis", whatever. The point here is that if I see one more writing this means you suck "helpful" bit of advice, I'm'a lose my shit.
I woke up one day to find a link in my twitter feed to an author who used the words "you people" in relation to a character type she didn't like—you people, thereby creating a line between her apparently enlightened state of mind and... the rest of us. "You people", as in, "you lesser people, poor things, who just need a helping hand from me, who knows better".
"You people" is a very dangerous phrase to casually throw out.
For the sake of not being "you people", let's just strip all these things found offensive, tired, or difficult from our works. Let's take out all things that might be thought to promote racism, sexism, or homophobia. Let's strip out characters who might be too—you know, "too aggressive" or "too masculine" or "too feminine" or "too stupid" or "too heavy" or "too skinny" or "too gay" or "too straight" or "too religious" or "too passive" or "too perfect" or "too flawed" or "too powerful" or "too weak" or "too pale" or "too sexy" or...
What will we possibly have left?
I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that what these well-meaning advice-dispensers mean to say is, "I, personally, don't like these kinds of stories and characters." And then, rather than, "If you do, you're wrong," what they mean to continue with it, "Have you ever considered stories using these other kinds of concepts once in a while?"
The problem here is that some people like to confuse legitimate hate-speech with fiction that involves bad things. I won't lie—we all know of authors whose personal politics are so vile that it colors everything they write. Then again, there are authors whose lives are so awful, but whose works retain a magic that is so jarring when placed side by side with the reality. There are authors whose Causes color everything they ever touch, to the point where they stretch to make a correlation.
And then there's most of us, who are authors who do our best to live as decently as we can, but who write about atrocity, prejudice, hatred, violence, and war. We write about it for our own reasons. Sometimes, we write about them because as cold and cruel as it seems, such things make "good story"—and all all that two simple words could entail, good and bad. Sometimes we write about it because we want to remind people where we came from, or where we are afraid we're going.
Sometimes, we write alpha males because the fantasy is better than the real thing; we write about racism because it allows our characters to overcome, showing that we, too can overcome; we write about sex because we're sex-positive and think more people could stand to be more comfortable with it; we write about cheesecake because cheesecake is fucking delicious.
Sometimes a duck really is just a duck.
Hate what you want. Love what you want. Know which is what and why you hate or love it, and by all means, feel free to discuss with and hear others when they talk about what they hate or love, but unless something fundamentally changes your views—as some discussions are wont to do—don't think you'll fail because of certain subject matters.
Being part of "you people" means you're in the thick of it, just like the rest of us. Write about that, write about what you love and what you hate and what you'd like to change, and if nothing else, know that one person's duck is another person's turducken. Write what you write. That's the way to get on in this career.
But calling me "you people" because I like alpha/beta/whatever males, or saying "real women" aren't really attracted to a certain type of person, or suggesting that "romance is just writing that couldn't make the cut", or "paranormal YA is only Twilight" is doing me and every one like me—and we are legion—a disservice. Plus, you sound like a prat.
If you're not doing it my way, you're obviously doing it wrong.
Branding is the kind of discussion that never, ever fails to turn crazy. I can't turn around without someone, somewhere, declaring themselves the reigning deity of all things "branding" and "marketing" and "socialization" and other such such buzzwords designed to make one sound confident and knowledgable but don't actually mean anything other than "be recognizable".
Back in the day—which is to say, some few years ago—I was fortunate enough to be employed in the web-development industry. The things I'm hearing from "branding experts" are the same buzzwords, catchphrases, and rigid ways of thinking that I heard from "SEO experts" who copied the same format across the board and forgot that we're dealing with people, not bots.
We are people, not businesses, no numbers, not robots, and each genre in this industry is comprised of individuals. By trying to turn yourself into a formula, you may in fact garner "thousands of followers!" , but what are they following? You may as well be a bot yourself, if all you're doing is following a single, rigid, inflexible method of "branding".
Like the fluidity of genre, "branding" yourself has to be fluid, too. Otherwise all your "thousands of followers" aren't invested in you.
What's more, by claiming that someone else is doing it wrong, you're losing out on an opportunity to learn from what they're doing right for them. Branding should never be inflexible.
I think some folks have confused "I've had success with this" as "this is the only way to do it". Unfortunately, what this does is it turns your followers into numbers, not people, and that is never so clear as when a person treats their Twitter count like a game to be won and not readers to engage with. My favorite argument about this is changing your avatar on Twitter.
There are authors who choose to use their author photos, or their book covers, or random things. However, there are also folks who believe that they can't ever, ever change their Twitter avatar, because of reasons along the line of "I've spent time conditioning people to look for this picture in relation to my message" or "People will forget I'm here because they don't look for the photo".
My take is simple: by choosing only to ever use one book cover, you are doing a disservice to all your other books. Unless you want to be a one-book-wonder, in which case, rock on. If you never, ever change your look or hair style from your author photo, and you want to use that forever, that's fine, too! However, I believe that readers want to engage with you, the person, on Twitter, which means if you want to attend cons and be recognizable, an updated photo does wonders for personal engagement. (That's the thing that happens offline.)
Also, nobody actually engaged with you is going to abandon you when and if you change your photo. To say that your followers will lose track of you is tantamount to calling your followers too stupid to figure it out.
Lastly, if you're going to use your "highly-engaged followers" like a weapon, attempt to call them on someone, and not a peep is ever heard from said followers, perhaps you might look at your "engagement" and decide if it's really what you think it is or want from your crowd. That ability—seen most obviously but rarely in power-users such as Felicia Day, Neil Gaiman, and others—comes with great responsibility. I won't lie: I take a lot of pleasure out of watching it as a case study. When it fails, thereby proving the point that rigid branding does not make for flexible engagement, I file that away for future reference. When it works, I look at why it worked; what it is the followers of said people are engaged with.
Of course, the reverse is true: when you are very well known for frothing at the mouth on personal rants, and find that your followers aren't all that interested in retweeting your book links, that's a different kind of branding failure entirely. Also something to be filed away and studied.
Which is where adaptability comes in with branding.
This is where you get to look at what you're doing and seeing whether you're actually engaged or just being followed because you're a number in someone else's list.
Or, and this is every bit as legit as the above, you decide if you're happy with the level of engagement you have. Maybe you do just want to be a number, or a book cover, or a genre. That is totally legitimate as branding. For you.
Your role, in any case, is to understand that branding is a fluid and personal subject, and your way isn't the same as mine. My role is to understand that my way of branding doesn't work for you. The level of engagement you want from your 50k followers may be nothing more than retweets when you post a book blurb or sale. The level of engagement that works for me is more personal, with names I recognize even if I don't follow them, and sustained conversations, and personable relations.
Signal > Noise
I want to be getting signal, not noise. I want people to treat me like signal, not noise.
Your milage may vary. But that's the point, isn't it? The milage should vary. The end. Claiming that any one method of branding is perfect is laughable.
To Boldly Write
Really good authors never use adverbs/attributives/etc.
Let's force everyone to use "said" at all times. When we want to describe how it's being said, every attributive ever shall follow with an adverb. Or a description of how it's said. "This advice is bullshit," she said, her voice a low growl.
If you want to pad your numbers, I suppose I could think of worse ways.
As an addition, she said huskily, "If you don't like attributives, you must love adverbs."
Only we can't use adverbs, either. So, rather than a concise sentence in which we deliver the emotion we're hoping to engender ("Ridiculous," she growled), we create a longer sentence with extra words as a matter of rote. Get on that.
People are failing at communication again.
I think what they mean to say is, "use adverbs/attributives/etc with caution and care". Which is the right sort of advice for any sort of writing at all. All things should be thought through, instead of lazily—see what I did there?—relying on shortcuts by default.
The problem with demanding writers cut out certain elements of the English language entirely is that you're asking authors to fall into line with all other writers. Because you said so. Because you don't like that he growls short words. Because you haven't yet figured out that you can sigh a brief phrase. Because... what, someone smart and multi-published said you should cut out -ly from your dialect?
Yeah, I don't get it. Which isn't true. What I should say is that I don't completely get it. I kind of understand the concept, which is to stretch your defaults and make sure you're using the right words to evoke the right feeling, but I don't get all of the hate. Which is why completely has become an integral part of that sentence.
I'm smiling, but it's with resignation. "Do what you can," I sigh. Try it. It's gusty.
Your voice is your voice. This advice is meant to advise caution, not amputation. That includes for those who hate "said".
And that pretty much goes for every absolutism you can think of. There's a counter. Don't do it. By "absoluting" your audience, you are by nature of absolutisms segregating them from the rest, and nobody likes to be marginalized.
Know your audience. Know that what you say matters.
That part's key.
What kind of absolutisms do you hear all the time that make you feel belittled, self-conscious or otherwise make you roll your eyes?