Tag Archives: Writing

Writing About Domestic Violence

Let’s be clear: this is not a sociology post. This has not been written to tell you how the world is. It has been written to make you consider how you treat domestic violence in your stories.

+ Domestic violence in research is generally referred to Intimate Partner Violence, or IPV for short. IPV will be used throughout this article.

In literature, domestic violence is generally portrayed as a more simple narrative than it can be. For example, the antagonist (a man) tries to use his societal power and physical strength to dominate the protagonist (a woman).  This is the traditional victim versus perpetrator, hero versus villain, narrative we embrace. We understand that powerlessness the protagonist feels and empathise with her as she attempts to escape the destructive cycle.

“What’s wrong with this Kenneth?” you might ask. “That’s how domestic violence works.”

See, that’s the problem. That’s how some of domestic violence works. Let’s have a look at a 2012 literature review conducted by Desmarais, S.L., Reeves, K.A., Nicholls, et al called Prevalence of Physical Violence in Intimate Relationships, Part 2: Rates of Male and Female Perpetration. 

This is an American-based literature review so please be that in mind.

Here are some key discussion points:

  1. The number of women who perpetuated violence against their partner was higher than men. 1 in 4 women reported perpetrating physical violence against their male partners. Whereas 1 in 5 men reported perpetrating physical violence against their female partners. Even more surprising, this was not an original discovery. This was consistent with previous reviews.
  2. The number of women who continue to commit IPV over their whole life is double that of men. 18.4% of men who have committed IPV against their partner continue to do it for the whole life. Whereas 31.5% of women are lifetime perpetrators.
  3. IPV victimisation and perpetuation peaks between the ages of 16-24 years of age. 
  4. In heterosexual relationships about 25% of them have some form of IPV. So if you have three friends in a long-term relationship, and you aren’t committing IPV, then statistically speaking one of them will be in a relationship with IPV.

As a person, these stats are more than scary. They’re terrifying. 25% of people (whether male or female) will be subjected to, or perpetuate, IPV.

There’s a lot more research about this, and there are some serious disagreements. Do the methodologies and measuring tools used overrepresent female violence against their partners? Do the guys lie more often than their spouses because it’s socially undesirable to be known as a ‘wife beater’? Are women using violence only as self defence?

These are difficult questions that the research I cited was not sure about and put lots of disclaimers on. And it links to over 110 studies that are good reads if you’re heading into that topic as a sociologist.

The point for this post though is simple though: IPV in real-life relationships is often complicated and uncertain. The narrative of victim versus perpetrator is neat and tidy. The narrative of men are violent and women are not is clean and easily digestible. It fits into the agressive / passive roles the patriarchy have carved out in the literature landscape. Unfortunately, that’s not all IPV is. Not even in most cases.

So, what’s the take away as a writer? That real relationships are complex and people do a whole variety of things for different reasons. Whatever gender you’re writing, whatever sex you assign to the character, they have an equal chance of being either a victim or a perpetrator. And that, hopefully, will free up some new myths for you to create for the future generations of readers.

Writing Tips Part 2 (Your humbled language student)

It continues: my not-so-pro tips of how to write well for 2015. You can find Part 1 of this series here where I discuss my discoveries as reader. (Or you can scroll down. Don’t fight the mouse wheel.)

Today, I’m going to discuss writing from the perspective of a language student. (I study Japanese on the side.)

Everything is Practice

As an adult, life is a series of boxes. If you want to study a language, you pick a textbook and work through it. You set aside an hour of study each night and hunker down with a pen and earworms to truly soak it in. You go to class. You take notes and practice set phrases. Then you relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy an English movie.

Study and enjoyment. These are different boxes. If you want to get good at a language, you have to study. And you have to study a certain way with white walls, a serious-faced teacher and learn grammar structures.

If you want to be a writer, you need to read novels, write fiction and go part-time at your job. That’s the only way to get better at writing. I know because I’ve read author interviews. They usually say three things:

  1. Read 1,000 novels.
  2. Study your market.
  3. Write.

Except, that’s a way.

Go back to when you were a child. When you were trying to grasp what all those confusing letters and sounds were. Think about what you did to get better. You attended class, studied a textbook, listened to radio shows, watched TV, wrote in your journal, sent letters to a friend, told stories to co-workers, played video games, gave speeches on topics you hated, read comics, completed difficult to understand government paperwork, laughed at memes and gifs. You did all of these things. And all of them were done to a less than perfect standard. All of them were practice. You practiced so could communicate better with your loved ones. So they could understand you and what you meant. You did all of these things so when you had a conversation, people grasped what you were discussing.

As an adult, it’s easy to forget that enjoying a Japanese comic is just as much practice as drilling phrases. It doesn’t fit in that neat cuboid. Listening to a podcast, writing a letter to my in-laws, expressing my opinion about a movie, watching a dumb variety show … all are exercises of the alternative sort.

Writing is the same. What is writing? It’s communication. It’s taking something in your head and conveying it to a wide audience. That’s all it is.

Do you know where you can practice that? Emails. Letters to friends. Journal entries. Blog posts. Skype chat.

Want your characters to be funnier? Try making some jokes with your friends.

Want to learn how to describe a scene? Write a review about a concert event.

Need a better way of being poetic? Try your hand at songwriting. Or creating a different version of your favourite band’s tunes.

It’s all communication. Eventually those skills you hone in life will work their way into your stories.

I often forget that. I love my boxes, but now I’m trying to drown them in a the waters of the orange cosmos.

Passive Practice is Overrated

You ever met that person who loves to talk about talent? They take off their monocle and snort, only a little, out of their petite nose. Then they proceed to lecture everybody within earshot about how you need to read to be a good writer. And the reason you (or your friend) is not very good at writing is that you haven’t read enough.

I don’t disagree that writers need to read. How much I’m not sure, and what constitutes ‘reading’ is up for debate as well. News articles? Monthly magazines? Chat conversations on-line? Book reviews? Essays about political topics? Comics? Scripts?

The thing is I’ve yet to meet a teacher who is excellent because they’ve only read a lot of teaching textbooks. And if passive practice was all we needed then there would never be a bad parent. We could assign them the 50 best parenting books and look forward to never hearing a screaming infant again.

As a language student, as a person who has had to start from scratch and then scratch again, it becomes woefully clear that listening, speaking, reading and writing are four very different skills. If I want to speak well, I can’t just listen to others. I need to speak. I fail, flop around with my words and blurt incomprehensible sentences, but I have to. If I don’t, I will never speak well. I have to do it worse before I can do it better.

Writing is the same. If I want to get good at expressing my thoughts on a page then I have to put them down. If want to learn to write drama scenes, I can read the top 500 of them over and over, but until I start putting quill to parchment, I’m not going to get better at writing them.

Take my language study as an example. I learn about four new phrases a chapter. It takes me, perhaps, 1-2 minutes to read them and understand them. Then I practice those same structures for 10 hours. I practice them by writing them down, by speaking them out loud, by listening to them on the CD. Do you know what happens after those 10 hours?

I’m still not fluent. I still communicate poorly with my in-laws.

{Sad Face.}

So when someone in your writing group says, “You haven’t learnt how to dialogue tag correctly.” How long do you think it’s going to take for you to master that skill?

Do you really believe that by reading a few books and writing for 3-4 hours you’re going to master dialogue tags? Or dialogue?

No?

Which means you should stop reading this completely and go and write for 10 more hours. Like I should be studying harder.

{10 hypothetical hours later}

The basics are the most important thing you’ll ever learn. 

I love shiny things. I love new things. I embrace dancing sloths on top of rhomboid aliens more than anything.

It’s why language study is hard for me. See, I don’t want to do the basics anymore. I want to dress my literature up with pirates and forcefield cannons that emote over bitter divorces. For movies, there should be long dissections that discuss theoretical constructs and symbolism.

Instead, I’m in the corner struggling to explain where the lamp is. Every class is, “I had a good time at bad camp. It was cold. It was wet. Let us go to band came next week.”

Where’s the fun in it? Where’s the zesty zinger of a fantasy mind?

In books, why do I have to know how to spell? Or proper grammar? (Seriously, fuck grammar.) Why should I learn, re-learn and learn once more all about topic sentences and ‘show, don’t tell’? Why do I have to keep going back to the beginning to start once more?

‘Cause, with these skills, with these phrases, we can build cathedrals of words. We can carve out a universe full of gooey life that clings to people’s souls.

Eventually.

Writing is no different. At first, y’know, you try to make it esoteric. To skip past all the ‘boring’ bits like plotting and world building and planning. Except that’s where it’s at. Sitting down with a pen and learning how to describe a room effectively. How to evoke mood and write decent dialogue. How to structure a paragraph so it’s not too long. How to cut unnecessary words.

All these things that we learned in 101 Writing. We will do them 100 times, then we will do them 100 more times.  Yes, they’re boring. Yes planning is awful, but essential. Yes, re-reading grammar rules suck. Yet, these are what makes us better. These are what elevate us to the cosmos where our finger tips stretch back in time and touch the big bang.

Or you could just write more. Write until your fingers bleed and your brain is in synch with the cosmos. Anything that works really.

Image: Student (C) stillkost. Used under Standard License from US Dollar Photo. 

The Inevitable Screech of the Bourgeois

I believe — though I have no empirical data to prove this — every writer / writing critic / reader eventually encounters the inexplicable-author-success story. Perhaps you know of what I speak? The best-selling novellist who cannot write. Goddammit!

Their prose is archaic yet filled with jargon. Everything is too vague despite all the details. Women exclaim, introverts prance and characters stutter through their consonants as if they’re speaking for their first time. Worse still, everyone’s racist, sexist, leftist, rightist, downist, upist and topped-to-the-brim with idealogical fervor.

A true reader — you, me and your neighbour’s cat wouldn’t touch it. We wouldn’t embrace those kinds of terrible, torrid and torturous pamphlets of pettiness, would we? I say NO to you good ma’am, no we will not.

And yet the words “New York Times Best-seller” adorne the crisp card holding those printed vowels together.

“Why?” you cry to the ceiling at Big W. “Why have the masses failed us so?”

Today it’s Stephen King’s turn. Apparently, and to my surprise, he can’t write very well. He uses the word “mazelike” and also “steep”. He also utters this phrase  in Mr. Mercedes:

“When Augie reached the top of the wide, steep drive leading to the big auditorium, he saw a cluster of at least two dozen people already waiting outside the rank of doors, some standing, most sitting”

Michael Conniff argues that the descriptors used in this passage are too vague.  Too simplistic. What kind of auditorium? Red, pink, blue? 19 doors?  How steep? 16 degrees? 17?

He posits (let’s fancy it up on this blog) that Stephen King isn’t a good writer because he doesn’t respect words. And words are the basis of writing. As such, Mr. King has clearly violated the nobellious (go with me here) writerius decree or some such and should hand in his literary card.

He clearly shouldn’t have assembled (and published!) a book about the craft.

Firstly, I’ve read On Writing — right to the end, and the advice on how to put nouns and verbs one after each other recently. I can’t recall where he’s anti-words. There’s a section where he shows how an author can be effective with simple, or literary phrases. There’s an entire chapter dedicated to how your love of vocabulary shouldn’t overtake the story element of a novel. How sounding smart and communicating well are two different things.

Let’s put all of my opinions on the luminous-bench of public judgement: I found Steven King’s handling of our current erudite legacy very even-handed. He advocated that anything goes, that you should speak from your truth, and use any literary tool as is your won’t AS LONG AS it doesn’t get in the way of the story. (A big but, if there ever was one.)

 Clearly, I’m sympathetic to Steven. Friends even.

Secondly though, I support Michael’s frustration with those he deems are not worthy of their financial success. I too have a cadre (a whole cadre!) of authors that have achieved a measure of success I am uncomfortable with. Woeful, wonky, wretched yarns they spew. Yarns that have beguiled the reading public all the while reaping their creators nothing less than wads of yuan.

Alone (yet in unison with Michael) I stand in front of the ‘great’ legacy of printed documents and fend off the uninvited. Who do they think they are? Popular support does not a classic make.

Obviously, I’m in solidarity with Michael’s hypothesis. Chummy even.

Except …

As someone who has penned two tomes (a fictional biography! a fantasy!)  that exist in relative obscurity  I must concede that, perhaps, it is my pride showing. A dash of green flicking beneath the collar. It took me a while, but I got there.

See, no matter what technical flaws I believe those books (and writers) have, they had something I didn’t. An ability to connect. An ability to connect with an audience I did not. (And perhaps do not at the moment.)

And, in finality, when you think about it — isn’t that what a writer does? Communicate? John talks. Kazuki runs. Smith gambols. Do I need to know how fast? How quick? How well? Surely all I need to know is what’s happening to John, Kazuki and Smith.

Do all these tools in my toolbox even matter if my truth on the page fails to reverberate with the reader? Isn’t everything else dressing? Do people really pick up a novel to find out the width, colour, height and style of a man’s chin? Am I paying $3 or $5 or $19.95 to discover new English words?

Or is it because I want to know why the slovenly man, with gun poised, decides to ramble about the CIA into a reporter’s camera?

Or, like all flawed thinkers, am I wrong? Is the story supreme, or only another topping to be served on a lexicon of lifting lights?

All Your Isms (or Ics)

At some point in  your writing career (today, tomorrow, after you’ve died), someone is going to say your work is sexist, racist or homophobic. Sometimes they’re wrong. Sometimes they’re peering into your work and discovering uncomfortable truths about themselves that they don’t like. Critics of Something Positive might run along those lines.

Unfortunately, they’re not often far from the mark.

“This isn’t true,” you might declare. “I’m not sexist. I’m not racist. I think of everyone equally. I just write racist characters. Some folk are simply over sensitive.”

Sure. Some people are. Centuries of being denied promotions, having a campaign of domestic violence inflicted against your ancestors, and being cyber-stalked might do that. Hundreds of years of exploitation, state violence against your neighbours and your family might lead to you being a ‘touch’ on the angry side too.

However, structural sexism / racism is a vile thing. It’s this worm that gets in you, winds itself through your thought process and is almost impossible to remove. Once it’s in there, it whispers and says, “This is normal. This is how the world is, this is how things are. Everything else is a lie. All those other perspective are distortions. Mistruths.”

It’s why Lena Durham wrote a show about women in NYC with only white female characters and still won’t accept that maybe she’s got a racist spore somewhere in her body. It’s why there are 22 women in The Wise Man’s Fear and hundreds of male ones, but Patrick Rothfuss is not quite convinced he’s got a piece of that icky lurking in his profound heart.

Hey, let’s face it, that’s the way the world is, right? And, if we’re really truthful with ourselves, we can’t sympathise with a racist character. As a post-racial / sexual human, we get all angry and shit about those racist / sexist / homophobic white, male folk out there who demean others. We hate them so much. We will punch any book that contains those characters in the cover.

Unless it’s Ready Player One. Or Brooklyn Nine Nine. Or Old Man’s War.  Or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Or Twilight. Or Tomb Raider. Or… Or…

I’m going to start with Ready Player One because it was heralded by the Daily Mail as the stand out sci-fi novel of 2011. It has an endorsement from Terry freakin’ Pratchett. From feminist / activist John Scalzi himself. A man, who despite fighting for women rights every other second, tells me I need to experience a nerdgasm over this work.

What is it though? Ready Player One features six main characters. Parzival (male), Art3mis (female), Aech (male), Daito (male), Shoto (male) and Sorrento (male). You can see from that list alone there’s a problem.

“But Daito and Shoto are Japanese!” you might exclaim. “So it’s ok. Minorities!”

Sure. Oh, by the way, SPOILER ALERT! because that’s the turf we need to go to.

Firstly, there is no reason why Daito and Shoto couldn’t have been female characters and female avatars. I know a number of super Japanese geeks who happen to be women. It’s pretty common. It’s not rare. Why do they both have to be male? Why didn’t the entire editing division of Random House say that he needs to switch their genders?  It wouldn’t have been that hard, they only have about twenty lines of dialogue between them.

(Did you know that 9/13 people involved with this project at the  original publisher were women? It tells us so in the acknowledgements.)

Secondly, Parzival (the protagonist) spends the whole time getting hero worshipped by Shoto. Shoto can’t revenge his brother? No worries, the white guy will sort that out. A rare pill that could’ve helped Shoto with his quest is given to the pale-skinned dude from the U.S. by Daito because, hey, that’s how the world should work.

Ignoring that small slice of white racial supremacy which crept into the text, let’s have a look at Art3mis and Parzival’s relationship. Art3mis is a famous gunter who writes a popular blog about the quest they’re both on. Our main man has an infatuation with her. That’s fine. We all have crushes. He then proceeds to cyber-stalk her, which again, kind of fine. It happens. Guys do that, Google it.

Except instead of freaking out and never talking to him again, Art3mis responds and they become besties. Not only that, but at the end of the story she admits that when she suggested splits-ville it was a mistake and she’s so sorry. Hey, why not? Parzival’s such an awesome guy. Who knew that the random, cyber-stalking, privacy snooping, crazy-man fan would turn into such a compassionate guy? All you have to do is just give in. Let him kiss you.

Not only does she serve as his motivation, love interest and digital helper, but the story treats this situation as if no other male has ever done this before. As if this activity is a good idea. As if cyber-stalking (done with the best of intentions) is ok.

No, it’s not ok. It is never ok. If you want to freak out about the stalker-abuse relationship in Twilight that’s fine, but you’ll also need to write long-winded posts about the same issues in Ready Player One too. 80s nostalgia doesn’t make it all go away. Computer generated worlds set in the future don’t change ethics, bro.

Which leaves us with Aech, the totes awesome friend. So this is a weird one. You have a male avatar, who acts like a male avatar, yet who is actually an African-American female. (Let’s ignore the issue of all the characters, who are nineteen / twenty, acting like 13-year-olds for the moment. Or forever. It’s a different issue.) This secret is revealed right at the end and Parzival gets upset as he thinks he’s been betrayed. Which is strange because the world is full of people who look like aliens. Some avatars have six arms, others are hundreds of feet tall. Would he have gotten upset if she’d been a six-hundred pound, wobbly, extra-terrestrial but then he discovered she’d been an Indian American from Oklahoma?

Is that the worst part this reveal? Probably not. This reveal is normalising whiteness. It’s saying that if you can create any character, you should generate one that’s white and male (even in the year 2044) because it will be the standard identity for everybody in the future. Where’s the multi-ethnic Earth we all dream of? The effect of the growing Asian economic powerhouses? The changing demographics of our society?

Forget it, let’s brush past all that terrible universe building. If famous authors can give it the thumbs up, so can I. Except, something else happens. Parzival struggles to accept the real identity of Aech. Even though she’s identified herself as an African American lesbian, that’s too much for our hero. Even though she explained the only reason her avatar is white and male is to appease people like Parzival and get them to treat her normally, he strips her of real identity in the next few pages. He calls her a male. He removes her agency and re-labels her with an artificial name that’s socially acceptable to him.

Acceptable to the reader. 

To us. 

Did I miss the outrage? The part where message boards were lit up describing how cyber-stalking is not an acceptable behaviour? Where warping someone’s real life personality into something else you’re more comfortable with is not just uncool, but also an atrocious and unacceptable social act?

Ok. Ready Player One and I have issues together. We’re not friends. We don’t sleep in the same room any more.

Let’s glance over at Brooklyn Nine Nine. I love Brooklyn Nine Nine. It’s witty, it’s funny, it makes me laugh. My wife and I spend hours chortling it up with the crew.

It also can’t change the fact that Jake Parelta (a character I adore) is a little sexist, maybe a little racist. Sure, it’s accidental racism. And certainly, it seems the writers have deliberately constructed him that way. They know what they’re doing.

Still, when people rush out and say, “You can’t like a racist character,” it’s a big statement. We do. All the time. 

Let’s take two situations. One is Parelta’s use of ‘boy’. Boy is not a good term to use for any grown man. It’s infantilizing them. It’s reducing them to something less than they are. When you use it to refer to African American man though, it carries a lot more history and bigotry with it. It is dredging up a past where if you were white, you could use the threat of state-sponsored terror to force a person of colour to do what you want. Or else.

Jake uses this controversial phrase several times to refer to his boss, Captain Ray Holt. This is despite the fact the Captain has specifically advised Parelta to never call him boy.

Secondly, Jake slyly disrespects Amy Santiago. Sure, it looks innocent enough. A joke here and there about her sex life, the way he doesn’t do what she wants when she asks and how he’s always poking at her for her seriousness. They’re friends? Right? That’s how things go down.

Yet then there’s the way he’s uncomfortable with her having relationships outside of his sphere of control because he likes her. Not enough to admit this, but just enough to keep trying to passive-aggressively dominate her life.

Fortunately, the show pushes back against these ideas — and hard — it knows that these actions are hurtful and makes Jake Parelta the butt of the jokes for being…sexist and racist. If those words make you a might uncomfortable, that’s fine, we can call him immature. A man-boy. A character with father issues.

We can keep smudging the real undercurrent of why he’s doing those things with external factors until the reality of his isms against others go away.

“He’s misunderstood,” some might cry. “He’s complex,” other straw-people might say.

Yes, he is. Yes, he’s one of my favourite characters. (Along with Captain Ray Holt and Rosa Diaz.) But, part of that complexity is that he’s a little racist and a tad sexist.

So, structural sexism. It’s real. It’s as real as the Earth is round and the sky exists. The worst part, perhaps the most terrifying aspect, is that it isn’t going to dissolve in us. We can’t snap our fingers, spin around three times, and have it disappear.

It’s our worldview, it’s buried deep inside of our identity about how things are. How things should be. How the world works. It is there in the micro-seconds we assess people, and the fraction of a moment before we open our mouth to reply to a person’s comment. It haunts us as we write, as we create, and as we breathe.

There’s a way to fight it though. It’s not easy. It’s not the simple path of virtue and long-winded speeches. It’s this: to admit you’ve got it. To admit that somewhere, hidden inside your construct of humanity, is a dash of sexism, homophobia and racism. To realise that it isn’t going away and you’re going to have to fight against those things until you die.

I do it. Most times I fail. I craft a character or write a scene and realise it’s full of a culture that puts white males at the peak of the hierarchy. That says it’s ok to objectify and silence LGBTI folk, women and people of colour. I err, but I know that I do that. I know that can be my default mode when I’m not careful, so I go back over everything and check it for structural issues. I ask not what kind of society the book should be set in to appeal to the current culture, but what kind of society should it be set in to encourage true equality.

And even then I fall, stumble and find my pen gushing out things that hold us tight to the old world order. Yet I fight — badly and inadequately — to conquer myself.

How about you? Are you willing to enter the fray? To do battle against your greatest opponent? The dark-self hiding in the mirror world?

The world is waiting.

Critiquing and Professional Responsibility — Yours? Theirs?

At some point in a writer’s journey (perhaps your journey) there will come a time when they need to do critiques. Perhaps this is for their writer’s group, or a friend, or even a beta read. At first, it seems simple: help a fellow author out. Give them a little bit of feedback, help them adjust what needs fixing, and together, with pens united, this fate-bound pair will drive into the sunset tossing money into the air.

Critiquing, however, is hard.

Yes, everyone can do it. Yes, everyone can give their thoughts (and often do) on that freshly printed manuscript a novelist has just created. Like speaking, writing and drawing, anyone can do it. How well, unfortunately, is another narrative entirely.

As a professional trainer / teacher / educator, I’ve seen a lot of checklists designed for when you give feedback. As an author, I’ve seen even more (non-free) workshops. Although I agree with them in principle, I think they distract from the main point of the task — to help someone get better. You can give the best advice (haven’t we all?) and still have it fall on deaf ears. Sometimes what an author needs isn’t more constructive criticism, but the same assessment delivered in a different manner. In a way they can bite down and swallow the (occasionally) bitter pill they’ve received.

So, for your reading (and Tuesday morning) pleasure, please find my top tips for having your feedback listened to.

Be Professional — Treat the Work as if  You’ve been Paid to Review It

Sometimes, heaven help us, we come across that truly awful work. The ‘it makes my eyes bleed’ and ‘it is destroying my brain’ story that we thought had gone extinct with the Flying Cow of Narusus. “How,” we ask ourselves, “did this person think they could write? Do they think I can perform miracles?”

Other times, there’s that truly offensive piece that’s so misogynistic, racist and flat-out primordial — we punch a wall while reading it. We wish to burn it with fire and roll the ashes down our arm.

I experienced both of these types of works at my old writer’s group. A couple of times I even critiqued a piece despite knowing my suggestions (and the three hours of work I put into them) would probably be ignored by the author. None of these experiences were pleasant.

Occasionally, a group member would throw down a work and declare, “I couldn’t finish it. It was too hard. It was so bad.”

Once, I lost it at some poor writer. The tale he’d written was all of those things above rolled into one, and when it came to my turn to speak, I let loose with my deep tones and shaky palms.

I’m still embarrassed about it.

Unfortunately, these responses don’t help anybody. Telling someone they’re useless / sexist / stupid may make us feel good, but they don’t improve their writing. If we’re lucky, they won’t come back. They’ll take the hint and find some other place. They’ll also share how badly they were treated at ‘Group X’ with their new cohorts. The writing world is small, and the news will make its rounds. Hell, they might even pen the next bestseller, wouldn’t that be awkward?

What if they don’t though? What if they stay? It means we’ve wasted an opportunity to improve their work, to stop them from submitting mediocre pieces and move them into the ranks of the good and then fabulous. It also means we may have lost the opportunity to actually engage with them about their prose.

I don’t think I need to tell you how difficult it is to accept feedback from someone you don’t like. ‘Oh, yelling guy doesn’t like my story? Thinks it’s cliched? Surprise, surprise.’ Or worse, they create another narrative to protect themselves, ‘They’re saying that because they’re jealous. My work is just too good for them to understand.’

Now we’ve set up a situation where very few people can move them towards better writing. We’ve made it harder for them to accept what they need to hear, and we’re stuck with their inadequate work (in our opinion) until the end of time.

Yes, it’s voluntary. Yes, you’re doing it just so other people can give you feedback about yours. But, think how you would react if someone tossed your work in the bin or couldn’t give a flying sheep about it?

You need to treat it like you’re a professional. Think about them as customers instead of ‘my writing group’. Even though you’re giving them negative news, they should still be satisfied with the experience. Tell yourself that they can complain, and that complaint could cost you your job.

After all, if we have a career in writing we’ll have to learn how to tactfully praise books we dislike (because they’re popular), give feedback to readers about their fan-fic (good and bad), plus talk to real, 100% customers. These skills are transferrable, why not learn them in a (relatively) safe environment?

Praise, Criticise and Thank Them for the Opportunity

No work is so bad that there isn’t some good in it. I’m constantly bewildered at how many people forget to discuss the positives of the piece they’ve read. Yes, reading that awful tripe about their toe hurt you, but that doesn’t mean you get to hurt them back. Remember,  you volunteered for this.

Start with praise. Always. Tell them you loved the description of the fungus. It ickled you in ways you can’t quite explain, then move onto the critique.

In fact, my rule of thumb is the more someone says they ‘can take any criticism’, the less they actually can. Yes, they sit there and they listen, but then they ignore what you say. Or they don’t hear what you’re saying at all. I’ve seen this in workplaces, in student assessments and in writer’s groups.

This cannot be stated enough: start with praise. An ego-stroking never hurts anyone. And flattery will get you on the Serenity. Then slide in with one or two major points to improve on. No more. No fancy checklists. There’s some research that indicates if we work on our weakest points, everything else improves. If we work on our strongest, we stay static.

So they only need the one or two big issues that they will actively engage with. If they just do that, everything else will lift as well. Two things seem possible, six makes you want to toss your hands in the air and go, “Well, I’ll just write it again then. Thanks asshole.”

Afterwards, follow with some more positive. Give them a reason to improve, tell them you’re looking forward to their next piece. Make them feel you believe in them.

I would say 90% of people I’ve met in writer’s groups (and teachers) want their comrades to improve. They wish them all the best. However, sometimes they forget to emphasis this. They forget to say what they know out loud, and this can cause doubt in the other person’s mind.

Like all relationships, affirming that you want to be there and listening to them doesn’t hurt. It helps them overcome their anxieties and fears when submitting, when dealing with the challenges of finding out their work is not up to the standard they wished to be. Building that confidence, that trust, is more important (in my mind) than any single critique.

Finally, thank them for the opportunity. Authors are notorious for being a little anti-establishment, on the cusp of iconoclastic and kind of unique — so don’t become an authority figure in their lives. You don’t want a rebellion against your ideas because you probably won’t have enough power to squash it (unless you’re published or Cormack McCarthy), you simply want them to listen.

After all, it’s a big risk to have a work critiqued. They’ve trusted you to give good feedback. Thank them for that opportunity because, honestly, they have given you a chance. A chance to improve your own editing skills, to see other ideas in the writing world, and to figure out what you like and despise.

Be Humble

Let me be straight with you, like a line, there is no one who has the inside dope on the publishing industry. If you look at the best-selling novels of the past 100 years, you’ll find one thing: they’re very different.

Some are excellent — well written, powerful stories that will blow your mind. Others are mediocre, some are even low quality. Their themes and characters vary wildly and vividly. The prose deployed is simple and complex. Sometimes it is repetitious, in other instances it flows.

No one, and I mean no one, has a lock on what’s going to be ‘big’ next year. Or in ten years.

We can sit here and debate about the literary value of some of the best-selling works all day, but you know what?  I don’t care. I’d rather have my feet propped up by millions of dollars and be labelled a ‘hack’ than be sitting in a coffee shop with an unpublished manuscript that everyone I know says is Pan’s gift to the world.

You do not have the key insight into the writing craft. You do not know what will become successful or published.

Admit this in your critique. Admit certain genres make you queasy. Admit your prejudices and your limitations as a writer. Use the phrases ‘in my opinion’ or ‘I think’. Tell the writer you could be wrong.

Why?

Simply, you want them to improve; not improve because you said so. I’ve met one too many writers / students / teachers who think they’ve  become so skilled that only their opinion matters. So much so that when someone doesn’t do what they say, they get upset. Then they tell the offending author how wrong they are, and do half-hearted critiques after that.

Making someone feel small may give a person an ego boost, but it doesn’t help anyone improve. An author who brags about their knowledge and skills may intimidate people and make them go ‘ooh’, but it can also trigger feelings of jealousy, resentment and anger. “They think they’re so special,” the other writers may go. “They think they’re so talented.”

Remember, we’re not dealing with the work in a critique, we’re dealing with the person behind it. They need to get better, and to get that way, they need to not reject an idea out of hand.

If I’m dealing with a particularly thorny issue, I usually admit that I had this problem too. Or, I’m still working on it. (Both true statements). I want them to feel it’s not a big deal. It’s ok to make this mistake, they’re not alone.

It’s easier to accept an idea (or a negative thing) if you don’t feel someone is judging you. (And, if you’ve ever read some of my earlier works, you’d know that I can’t pass judgement on anybody. They were straight from the literary squalors of terrible.)

Why do this?

Because it means next month, I read slightly better fiction. Always a bonus. It’s a win-win and that’s all I’m interested in.

If In Doubt, Ask a Question

Finally, my greatest trick as an assessor / critiquing human is to ask a question. It comes back to that authority figure, if I tell them what to do — they weigh how much skill I have, whether or not they like me, where I sit on the hierarchal ladder of the writing world — before deciding to listen or not. I’m asking them to buckle and bend their will to do what I say.

Asking a question, however, makes them answer. It makes them arrive at their own conclusions about the issues in their work.  Essentially, it engages them and makes them query what they might’ve overlooked.

This is especially important if our writing journeys differ. There is no ‘ultimate’ path. There never has been. My long-term goal is to help them improve their work, not turn them into a clone of me. Not have them have the same goals as me.

If I want to write commercial, pulp stories, that’s fine. But if June wants to compose sweet, sweet literary droplets…that’s her choice. I simply need to help her find the right questions for her to ask about her work so she can interrogate her own pieces and find out what it’s doing to readers.

Put another way, telling someone what to do shuts down the options for them. Asking them a question reveals those moonlit trails we often read about in the prestigious magazines.

But you know what? These are simply my opinions. What about yours? Head to the comments and tell me if you agree or think I’m a bulbous, pumpkin head on fire.

The Never-ending Back End of Depression

I was sitting at a table one day, not long ago, talking with a newly made friend about my social anxiety. It’s a difficult topic for me because I’m partly ashamed of it, partly ashamed of what it makes me do. I don’t want it. I don’t need it, I want to claw it out of my heart and throw it into the abyss.

Yet it exists, so I feel I should talk about it. They say it helps. They say honesty with oneself, with your comrades, lessens the stress.

My friend rolled their eyes. This isn’t an uncommon reaction, I teach for a living–it’s difficult to compute that half the time I’m coming apart at the seams. “A family member of mine has anxiety,” they said. “They break out in sweats. They have the shakes.”

I do both of those at moments too, but I didn’t push the issue. I simply said there were levels to this thing. Layers of difficulty.

Another friend of mine asked me if I would be able to overcome it to save my wife. If I could, she implied, it was all mental. I was the one with the problem. That it was an excuse  to get out of things.

Of course, I want to get out of happiness. It’s my greatest goal. To run away from all those who are cheerful. My other is to look down on others with sour superiority. I didn’t push that point with her either, I just smiled and let her ramble on.

And on, and on.

I get snarky, and vicious when I’m in a bad way. I’m already cynical, it’s not a good combination. My mind shoots faster than my brain because my brain’s occupied with controlling the anxiety. Then I realise what fucked-up things I’ve said, and I feel embarrassed and like a failure. I failed someone else, and then I failed myself. Again.

Now I have to go and teach a lesson. Advanced marketing techniques? I can do that. Let me swagger through it like a drunkard, unfocussed with eyes roaming the top of the room. If I have enough energy, I might cook dinner at the end of the day.

I apologise for my existence because I feel, y’know, like I shouldn’t exist. There’s no money in anti-existence though, I need a profession. So I teach.

Don’t ask me why, I just do. It’s what I’m skilled in. Been doing it for years now. Taught the greatest and the worst. Seen violence in classrooms first-hand, seen drugs in them too. Don’t worry, I won’t tell you the bad stories. They’ll just make you sad about our education system.

The thing is…this isn’t depression. This is regular life. Depression’s worse. When I first arrived back in Australia, I went through it. I’d hyper-ventilate on a phone call, I’d be so nervous talking to someone my shirt would go damp from my sweat. I would work five hours, and then have to sleep during my lunch time. I slept in my chair because…I don’t know…it made sense?

One time I crawled under a desk and slept there. I had to get away from people, so I did. I had to get away from their eyes.

I would walk home and my heart would feel as if someone was pushing on it, these invisible hands squeezing it. I had to tell myself to breathe.

When I went to work and didn’t feel that pressure, I felt uncomfortable. When I could actually string sentences together and talk about my day with coworkers, I was elated. But when someone got too close, I would snap at them. “I don’t want you to know me,” I’d imply. “I don’t need you. You’ll leave me. I’m fine.”

A lot of awesome people have befriended me over the years. They’ve been so kind. So wonderful.

I’m working on it. I’m trying to be better.

But depression is strange, it lurks. You’re never free from it. People who’ve never had it don’t understand. They can’t.

Even when you’re ‘out’, you’re never out. You’re just in relapse. It could jump you at anytime. You could snap at the wrong person, your brain might stop working right when you need it to, your mouth could clam shut even though you wish to speak. Some days Depression’s swinging its blades at you, other days its not.

You believe you’re boring. You don’t talk about your life and brush off other people’s interest in it. You’re rude, and I hate being rude. I hate being a failure.

My last workplace did something to me. It hurt me. It took my soul and burned it in so many ways. I’m still recovering. I can’t even explain it, the way it twisted who I was, who I had been becoming and distorted it. Made it angry.

I met a few good folk in the trenches, and too many assholes up above.

I’m going to work through this. Like I did when I was in Australia. One day at a time. One breath at a time.

I’m sorry if you get caught on an angry day. I’m sorry if I snap and snark. I’ll get better, I’m on my way. The bag’s on the shoulder, the eyes are on the horizon and the sword’s out. The safety zone is far, but if we’re lucky, I’ll need to apologise less and become nicer throughout the journey.

Here’s to those days.

This Little Ole Gun of Mine

I own a gun.

I’m not crazy, I just own one gun. I bought it with my friends as a dare, and it was a relatively simple. I provided some information, waited a few days and picked it up. I had a gun purchasing party, everyone came to look, even my girlfriend.

I showed them the safe and how I don’t have any bullets. They were surprised at how heavy it was, so was I the first time. You need to be strong to hold a gun. I think so too; I’m glad I’m not going to use it. I don’t know how. But I’ve conquered my fears of guns, I’m proud of that. I am.

I own a gun.

I was at the gym last week with my girlfriend. She’s nice, I really think she’s the one. We’re much more open. I’m much more open around her because she’s not like Trudy, Violet or Jess. No, her name’s Stephanie and I think she’s the one. I know she won’t cheat on me or take my money. She’ll support me. Not like the others.

I’m going to propose to her next week. I know it. I have the ring. We’re going to have a family, I need to protect my family. I can’t let her die. I won’t. And another man was taking an interest in her, I could see it. The way his body language suggested it, the way he dominated the conversation and smiled at her. She needs protection. They say it’s more likely for a woman to get raped or abused by those they know. He knows her, he could go to the next level.

She needs to protect herself. I can’t lose her. I won’t.

I own two guns.

It wasn’t my choice, Stephanie didn’t want it stored at her apartment. She’s worried I’ll get hurt, I told her that I didn’t own any bullets. And I keep them locked away in a safe. When I showed her, she laughed and told me I was stupid. I felt so small. Told me that having a gun without ammunition defeats the purpose.

Her Uncle mocked me when I tried to defend my position. Her whole family agreed that was being an idiot. I got upset, I was embarrassed. Then I told them it was because of my friends, my liberal art friends, I didn’t have the bullets and would get some the next day.

I’m ready to defend my fiancee now. No one can take her from me. I don’t know why the cartridge is so large. Nine bullets? I’ll only need one. I’ve seen the images, I know how dangerous they are. One bullet at close range and I’ll save her. When she moves in after the wedding, I’ll be ready. I’ll be able to keep her safe.

I own several weapons.

We had a child last year. It was scary, I love him. He’s so strong. He’ll grow up to be like daddy. I know he will. Big, strong, patient. That’s what I am, that’s what he’ll be.

We couldn’t raise him in the city, I told Stephanie that. We needed more space, a place for him to play and feel free. I told her the commute wouldn’t be so bad. It’s only forty-five minutes. It’s in a car. We’ll be fine.

But no one tells you there’s no police out here. I can drive for miles without seeing an officer. They’re not at the shopping centre, they’re not in the compound. By the time they get to my house, it’ll be over. I needed a shotgun. Of course I did. Handguns aren’t very intimidating, they’re too small. I’ll never fire it, but I need the attacker to feel fear. To not know that.

They’re locked up. Triple locked up. I keep the security codes hidden. I keep the ammunition separate. I’m responsible. I’m going to keep my kid safe. My wife safe. That’s all.

I’m prepared. I have all the weapons needed for any contingency. That’s what the NRA says.

And I need to be, I took Tim to the shooting range last week. I want him to respect guns, not be in fear of them like I was growing up in a pacifist household. He needs to know how to defend himself, stand up to the bullies at school. I didn’t, I was a coward. My son will not be a coward.

We tried to hit the target, I tried to hit the target, I missed all nine times. They say when an intruder comes to the door your adrenaline spikes and you can’t think. I would’ve missed him. I would’ve got killed. I bought a larger magazine, just to be sure. I bought a weapon that’s more scatter-shot and effective in close quarters, statistics say your attacked won’t be much further than twenty feet from you. I’m prepared for them now.

That’s what the NRA told me. I’ve read their website. I’ve talked to the guy behind the counter. He knows. He knows lots of things. I don’t believe him, but he knows things. I’m going to talk to him more often.

I had to buy a new gun-safe, the old one is full.

My wife tells me stop, we’ve got a daughter on the way but she doesn’t understand. I enjoy shooting with the guys, she enjoys the fresh meat I bring home. It’s a win-win. I don’t bring Tim, he’s only eight. He’s not ready for live hunting. I’ll wait till he’s ten.

I needed a single-shot rifle. The weapons we owned just mutilated the deer, it was like a massacre. I felt disgusted. With this gun though, with its punch and kick, the shot is elegant. It’s graceful to pull the trigger and watch the animal fall. It’s nothing like my parents told me. It’s liberating.

I won’t kill a human. That’s different. It’s totally different.

Our friend is scared. She’s twenty-seven and her husband is going crazy. He’s abusive, he’s hit her. We tried to tell her. Stephanie tried, I used to drink beer with him. He seemed reasonable. But he’s lost it now, they’ve gotten divorced and he’s threatening to abduct her kids.

I said she should get a gun, that I’d even help her buy one. I showed her my safe, how I was keeping them locked up and unloaded. She laughed at me, I felt so small. She asked me how I’d get my weapon out in time. How I’d be able to stop a crazy husband with a knife if I was opening the safe when he sneaked into my house.

I bought a new pistol, a small calibre, and I keep it in my drawer. No one knows it’s there. Not even Stephanie. The bullets are next to it. I can stop a home invasion now. I can save her.

I’m still responsible. It won’t kill them if it goes off accidentally. Medical procedures will save them, I’m sure of it.

I went to a funeral today, it was a friend’s son. He was twenty-three and had just graduated from university. Everyone had been so excited back then, but afterwards Wall Street collapsed. It was unlucky, people told him to grin and bear it. At least he was earning minimum wage at a convenience store for twenty hours a week. It was a good life.

Then he bought a gun and shot himself. Straight through the head. I think he must’ve been crazy. I think his parents were hiding something. Maybe depression, maybe they put him on drugs? Or it could’ve been the games. And how could he have got a gun anyways? Doesn’t the government regulate this? Why couldn’t they tell? I’ve owned them for years, I’ve never thought about killing myself.

I wrote to the NRA about this issue, about how the government is failing. They agreed with me. They published my email in their newsletter. I feel pretty proud. My family’s safe. I’m looking after them.

I bought a newer version of one of the pistols to celebrate.

My daughter and wife came home in tears today. They had been accosted by a man who said racist things. He was white. He must’ve been crazy because I’m white and I don’t think those things. I’m not a racist. I married outside of my tribe, love conquers all. I told them most white people aren’t like that. That society is just and fair.

She slapped me when I said those statements. She threw the NRA magazines and pamphlets at me and quoted some statistics. I’m sure they’re lies. She told me that I was putting my daughter’s life in danger, that having a loaded gun in the house increases the chance of accidental gun death. Then she went and got my gun, the one I had ready in case of a home invasion and said Tim had found it.

I argued it was a small calibre, I argued that cars kill more people and we drive all the time. I told her that she needed to arm herself. If she’s afraid of men then she needs the power to fight back. I have the power. I can keep them safe.

Stephanie grabbed my gut and laughed at me. She made me feel so small. I was asked when I’d been to the gym last, queried if I could even beat her seventy-five-year old Uncle in a fight. I told her I could. I yelled at her until Melanie started to cry.

My wife stayed at her mother’s. She said I was too angry to stay with. She’s lying, I’m not angry person. I’m a calm person. I’m not afraid. She’s afraid. Steph’s afraid. That’s why she said those hurtful things. That’s why I raised my voice, to make her see.

I’m not afraid, I have a new gun. I have a concealed carry permit.

It didn’t take much to get it. A few checks, a couple of smiling doctors and I can be safe wherever I go. Wherever my family goes. They know I’m good, the government knows I’m good and sane enough to carry a weapon. They know I won’t lash out in anger or hurt anyone. Of course, I won’t. Otherwise they wouldn’t have given me the permit.

I haven’t been to the shooting range in six weeks. Why should I? I can carry wherever I go. I’ve trained enough. I’m ready.

I have only one gun now.

Stephanie was cleaning out my gun closet today. She said I could keep one, just one and that would be OK. I have a condition according to her, that’s what she told me. Me: a calm, patient man who goes to church and has helped her raise two kids. Supported her when she went back to work. It’s like she doesn’t trust me anymore. It’s like she thinks I can’t save her when they come. She’d rather rely on the police. The corrupt and incompetent police.

That’s not what she said, of course, Stephanie explained herself in a rationale manner. At first, she talked about the news and how someone had broken into another person’s house and stolen their weapons before going on a rampage. Then Steph told me everyone knows we have guns, after all, I show them off to people who even have just the slightest interest. I even brag whilst opening the safe in front of them. Me, a bragger? I thought she’d finally lost it.

So I explained, calmly, that she was wrong. It wasn’t guns. It was video games. It was our culture. Our rape culture, our patriarchy which she fought against every day at work that was creating the violence. Not guns. These games and movies were distorting and desensitizing our kids. That’s what was happening.

For some reason she mentioned Australia and then Japan. I don’t know why she mentioned those countries. It’s our culture which matters. Not theirs. She mentioned they play video games too. I guess they do. When I emailed the NRA about this, they highlighted an Australian study showing Homicides haven’t dropped in their continent despite the stricter gun-laws.

It was paid for by their gun lobby. But they’re scientists, scientists don’t massage facts. I know that. I am one. We’re rational people, humane people. Calm and decisive. I only go to church for my parents, once they’ve passed on I’ll tell everyone else I’m an atheist.

I have several guns again. It’s not my fault.

They want to take my weapon: the one I carry to keep my family safe. Even though there was a home invasion four streets away, the government wants to take away my pistol. He’s in the pocket of Hollywood. That’s what it is. He should be going after the cultural arbiters and not my gun.

It doesn’t don’t kill people. It never has. I may have flashed it once, twice, at those who got angry at me, but it hasn’t killed anyone. They just knew who they were missing with then, they knew my power. But I’m not a murderer, they don’t give weapons to murderers, the government has a process. He’s trying to distort the process, to take away my right to defend my kids. To keep my wife safe.

I won’t give them up. I had to buy a couple more and stash them around the house. Secretly. My friends and kids will never know, but if they come, I’ll be ready. I’ll be ready to defend what is mine.

I have a gun.

It’s cold and it’s precise. It’s got fifteen rounds in it and sits under my arm. I’m not a gun-free zone. I’m ready. No one will take my life, no one will hurt my family. Not at this funeral.

Not at my son’s funeral. No one will slander his name because I have a gun and I am ready to save him. I cannot fail. It is my duty. I am a man, the pamphlet told me so. I am a man and I have a gun.

Should you join a writer’s group?

I was going to write this EXPLOSIVE post about WRITER’S CLUBS (TM) and blow your mind with its powerful and prescient advice. Except I realised that I hated those kinds of articles because they’re just subjective points of view passing themselves off as empirical analysis. And also, most of what you read about how to be a successful writer is BS anyways.

So here are some ideas, just small things, you might want to consider before you dash off and sign up with a ragtag band of authors hell-bent on changing the world by getting rich.

ONE: Why are you joining a writing group?

I’m a cynical person. There’s no way around it. If I sat you down and asked the question, “Why are you joining a writing group?” I can almost guarantee that you would say, “To get better Kenneth. That’s why I’d go.”

You’d say that because it’s socially acceptable. Except some people go to a writing club to socialise. Others go to hang around authors. There are those who are looking to quickly increase the number of contacts they have in the writing industry (because they are brilliant and are just waiting to be discovered!). Then there are those who go because they want a cheer squad, and randoms who seek encouragement. Occasionally those with writer’s block wander in as well.

Yes, some people go to improve. I do. A lot of the people at my club do. The question is: Why are you joining one? Have a deep, honest think about it because there are many different types of writing clubs and you need to find one which meets your specific needs.

TWO: Are you good enough to join? Are you good enough to have your work critiqued?

Yes, I know, you’re very talented writer. I’m sure you are.

The only problem is I don’t believe in talent. I believe (like Ta-Neishi Coates does) that writing is a technical skill. To become “talented” you work at it. Regularly, often and you put in those 10,000 hours.

Being critiqued and reviewed at a writer’s club should be about finding those mistakes you can’t see. Getting fresh eyes to drill down on your style and hone it a little better. If you know you’re writing is full of errors, why not fix them yourself? Why do you feel the need to force strangers (or friends) to read fiction which is horrible because you can’t be bothered to learn how to edit?

More importantly, you need to be good enough to evaluate others works. If you don’t bring enough background and substance, how are you going to be able to provide quality feedback to others? Yes, writer’s group is about learning — but it can’t all be from one person while everyone sponges. That’s not a group, that’s an energy sucking hydra.

Which leads us to:

THREE: Are you emotionally mature enough to be critiqued?

The best people I know are self-depreciating about their skills. They say they’re not as good as they could be, they’re barely OK. Forget great. Alright?

However, they also know they need criticism to get better. They know it sucks, but they have accepted the fact that their work isn’t as good as it could be and they’re going to find out what’s wrong with it. They are prepared to have their soul destroyed.

It took me years to become comfortable with other people giving feedback on my writing. I knew it could be improved, but I liked living with the delusion of how brilliant I was. I didn’t want to to give that up. However, I also knew that if I asked for feedback, I had to be ready for the bad and the good.

So I didn’t go.

Some people want to be critiqued but on their terms. You can be. It’s called not submitting it for critique. You can self-evaluate, study on-line and learn through Google. No one’s stopping you.

But if you’re going to head to a writer’s club and be critiqued, you need to be ready to take it in your stride. You don’t get to put conditions on the evaluation or how someone will view your work. People are giving up their time (their limited time) to help you so you can get better. If you’re going to get mad or upset, don’t go.

Bringing us to:

FOUR: Will you change what you’ve been told?

It’s one thing to put together a piece of work which will be evaluated and make you the centre of attention for ten minutes; it’s another to go home and massage out all the crinkles in the coldness of your study.

No, I’m not saying you have to implement everything… but unless you’re “that one-in-a-million” author who is perfect, there’s going to be something you need to massage out of your style. Maybe it’s a word choice, maybe it’s a lack of tension or maybe it’s just putting the stakes in. The only thing you can guarantee is that it’ll be there and when they find it, you’ll feel like someone took your soul out and burned it on a stake. With a pig. On top of another pig.

There’s nothing more frustrating for people who have given up their time to help you (because you’ve admitted that you want help when asking for a critique) and then coming back each and every month with the same feedback. It makes them frustrated because they feel like they’re wasting their time, it makes you upset because they keep banging on about the same things (and why can’t they get what you’re saying anyways? It’s so clear!), and it’s just plain rude.

FIVE: Will you put in the hours?

Being a part of a writer’s club is a commitment. You need to critique works, go to meetings and keep on writing. Not just writing for submissions, but also other projects. You should be putting in 10 – 20 hours a week P/T on your writing. For every one point they suggest you improve on, I would say you’d need to spend at least 10 hours working on it.

Which means if they give you four areas to improve, that’s 40 hours of writing you should do before you even think about submitting another piece. Otherwise the same areas are just going to keep popping up in everything you hand to them.

SIX: Are you able to not submit but still attend?

Are you driven enough to keep working on your writing goals without submitting every month? Or do you need that constant, regular feedback to make yourself feel good about putting some words in a particular order?

Writing, in my experience, has to grow beyond the feedback loop if you want to get good at it. You have to be driven to want to get better (either at home or in a group setting) and you have to know punching words into a computer is for you. Writing (and art) is hard, cruel and evil. It smacks you around when you least expect it, forces a series of typos in the wrong space when you finally get your proof back, and humiliates you in totally unique ways each and every day. Are you willing to go through all of that without hearing, “You’re good! You’re great! Let’s all Celebrate”?

Needy people are difficult to keep working with. Publishers don’t like them, friends can get irritated with constant dependance.

Ask yourself this: Do you need the writing group to keep writing? Or is the writing group just one part of your writing journey?

And my number one rule after you start going: How can I make life easier for the other members of my writer’s club? What can I do to make my submissions better and more enjoyable for them? (So, that’s two rules, but what the hey?)

Soon-to-be-released Novels

GENJITSU”S MANY DECEPTIONS (Mature YA)

Lie One: He was a hero, he shouldn’t have died

He was a hero, he shouldn't have died 72 DPI

Synopsis: Kasumi’s tired of fighting. Tired of racist slurs, arrogant boys and nerds who think girls can’t be geeks. She wants to live a normal life: have friends, go to university and not sleep with one-eye open every night. The good news is she’s about to meet Morgan. He’s tall, kind and handsome. And immortal and dangerous.

Unfortunately for her, he might just be about to die…

Current Status: Back in copy-editing. Re-launch to come in 2014 / 2015.