Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is writing emotion and whether you as the author have to feel the exact emotion you’re writing.
There’s this tale about acting that’s been making the rounds for ages – it’s possibly apocryphal – about Dustin Hoffman being a method actor. That method asks actors to find the emotions within themselves to play the character, to find essentially their alternate self who would be that person and feel that way. The story goes that Hoffman spent an hour getting into that character’s skin and Sir Laurence Olivier strolled in, did his bit, and left again, saying, “My dear boy, it’s called acting.”
The point of this (again, possibly apocryphal) tale is twofold: the first that you can create the appearance of emotion without feeling it, and the second that everyone does things their own way.
You all should know by now that my primary mantra is this: figure out what your process is and own it.
People like that story because they can smirk at poor Dustin Hoffman doing things the American way, the overly-complicated way, the fancy way, but… is he wrong? Hoffman has an amazing acting career. He’s widely acknowledged as a brilliant actor. Clearly his approach isn’t “wrong.”
Is Olivier wrong in this story? Clearly not, for the same reasons as above. There is no wrong. There is no right. Both things can be true. Both processes work for those performers.
So, do I have to feel the emotion I’m writing in order to put it on the page? Nope. Do I sometimes? Sure, though it depends. Do other writers need to feel the emotion to write it? I’ve heard they do.
More on critique groups and workshops, how to tell if crit is toxic and what to do about it, critique during the drafting stage vs during revision, and my extended analogy of shaken baby syndrome and how it applies to early drafting.
Good morning, everyone! This is Jeffe Kennedy author of epic fantasy romance I’m here with my first cup of coffee.
It’s actually my second cup of coffee I have had a morning people. Ah I will tell you that today is just say it with me Friday woo which is good and bad I can’t believe it’s already friday. August Twenty sixth and if you’re on video. You’ll see that I’m recording inside I recorded one podcast already outside in the grape arbor and it was a really good podcast I mean I I feel like I can say that now. Because um, well I feel like I can say it because ah it’s gone. It’s lost forever I kept getting these weird alerts as I was talking and they were annoying.
So so this morning. Ah yeah I don’t know why I kept gaining these alerts they were annoying me apparently the alerts meant that I all know that my part of the podcast wasn’t recording and. Since I’m the only part of the podcast I don’t know it’s I mentioned yesterday that Zencastr totally changed their thing while I was gone and now it’s messed up charming. So I’m re-recording. Here it is 10 in the morning normally I like to have my podcast totally done uploaded before 9 and have an hour of writing done by now and here I am recording my podcast I was trying all the recover backup things on it and had spent like an hour and finally I thought well. Better to just rerecord so the lost podcast ah I felt like I said some really good stuff all right anyway, I’m trying to let that go move on with my life I am going down to. Ah, Bubonicon this afternoon going to Albuquerque so I’m on the timeline and so so I’m basically screwed I’m also really fussing with this camera that is the exciting news that.
My aunt for my birthday gave me this New Webcam and so I only use it when I’m inside I tried using it outside yesterday and spent way too much time getting that to work. Um, technology here. So this is on my monitor now. So. So. It’s a lot better and it’s pretty isn’t that if you’re on video. It’s pretty so anyway, um, I wanted to address some things. Hopefully I’ll talk about them. Well so add ons to yesterday I appreciated the many comments I got. There were some wonderful insights and glad that my rambling made some sense so continuations from yesterday I realized that I’d never explicitly answered. Um. Or finished a thought I suppose I should say on toxic crit because I do get asked that a lot when I’m mentoring or doing author coaching and it it’s hard to know when critique is. Harsh versus when it’s toxic. So and and the answer is probably not a perfect one because the answer is is that you just have to know you have to sense it and I will explain so.
The thing to keep in mind is that when people give critiques they are not always um, they don’t always have your best interests at heart. Ah, people are jealous. People are competitive. People also have lots of their own shit going on in their heads that lead them to ah vent that shit in um, ways that are not great for you. Some people don’t have that going on but you don’t really know. So with a critique. Ah the rule of thumb but still applies for this that you give it 24 hours or 48 hours or a week ah to to sit and to let your own emotions attach detach. From the thing once your emotions have detached then you can come back and look at it and you can see are these my feelings or are they coming from somewhere else because you are always always always going to have feelings. Nope I’m gonna sneeze hold on. You’re always going to have your own feelings. About critique and that’s just that’s way it goes. It’s natural. Um, we all secretly hope that somebody will tell us that what we’ve written is perfect and transcendent and if you’ve asked someone to give critique. They’re always going to find something to tell you about it.
And sometimes it’s painful to hear and that’s just natural. That’s part of the process. But sometimes what they are telling you is not well meant they don’t have your best interests at heart. Um, their own poison has come out. And leaked onto the page or into their words and and it is quite literally toxic to your creativity. So that’s the thing to keep in mind um, give that waiting time and then if. After the waiting time you still feel. Ah, okay, so now I’m paying attention to these alerts that are popping up and it’s telling me it’s having problems saving the local backup which is new and irritating. And it’s entirely possible I’ll lose this podcast too. We um 1 thing about this though is once I stop it I cannot come back and um restart it. So I’m just gonna keep talking and. We’ll see what happens so um, okay, so keep in mind that as a creative and we know that you’re creative or you would not be listening to this particular podcast I know a lot of readers listen to this too for insights into the process. But.
If You’re a writer if you’re a creative you are you have intuition you have emotions and feelings. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to write the things you write. So You have to learn to trust those feelings and you have to learn to divide out your own feelings. Of you know things like um, chemical imbalances anxiety emotions that are coming from other places like dealing with family drama or things like that from what you are intuiting.
That’s coming from the person giving you the critique. So Not always always easy, but this is part of being a human being right? So we have to find ways to separate our real emotional responses. From those that are coming from other sources. So You know like feeling fear and anxiety about May may not mean that you need to fix a situation. It may mean that you have a chemical imbalance that needs Addressing. Or it may mean that you are anxious about this other situation and it’s bleeding over into this thing right? That’s part of being human so you separate these things you learn to divide it out So That’s part of what the waiting period does is that lets you separate your feelings. Just receiving critique in general from your feelings about that specific Critique. So Then what you do is after that waiting period You know you clear your mind and wait till you’re in a calm space and then you take a look at whatever notes you might have on it. And this is what I did I was in a cri group I’d been unhappy for a number of months I was never thrilled with the critique I was getting but I thought well you know I’m trying to move up to a new level this I’m trying to learn a new thing working with different people.
So I was really giving it the old college Try. So I come back from a particularly disheartening session I’d been working up a new book that I was going to go on submission with with my agent and I’d come away feeling really disheartened. From this crit group Session. So This is another sign. Um, ideally you should come away from crit sessions feeling excited and feeling like you know what? you’re gonna work on that is like oh okay I have insight I have inspiration I have ideas I’m gonna. Go forward with this if you come away feeling crushed. That’s a clue that’s a clue that that something’s gone Wrong. So Then what I did was I let that week go by I looked again at the manuscript. Some people are printed it out and made notes. And I looked at my own notes that I had taken as they were talking and as soon as I looked at the notes particularly from a certain person I just felt bad I felt that toxicity again. So That’s how I knew and I took those pages and I. Burned them which made me feel much better and sometimes that’s what you need to do as it seems dramatic but you have to clear that shit out of your life and out of your creative process. Ah, and I also burned my own notes on it and separated myself you know and then I went on.
To sell that particular book in a 3 book deal. So you know I feel like I I trusted my own intuition and I trusted what I was trying to do so That’s that that’s how you know if crit is toxic. Um. And in the end it comes down to if you feel like it’s toxic if you feel like it’s not benefiting you then that is the truth. Um, the only way that this can turn out badly if you don’t take people’s crit is you run the risk of of not becoming better. You run the risk of becoming someone like and this usually happens to very advanced authors who begin to believe that they are the best thing ever. You know like um, you know seeing an interview with Anne Rice once where she you know said well believe me, no one edits me and she was hugely successful I mean she was making tons of money. But arguably her books needed to be edited at that point in time and you know maybe she didn’t feel that way I mean obviously she didn’t feel that way. Maybe she was happy with the level of success that she had you know who am I to say she should have had those books edited. That’s that’s the only risk you run. You know, otherwise it’s if you decide that you’re not going to take critique from someone. You don’t have to trust yourself, it’s it’s your book. It’s your creative process. The other caveat I would throw in there is people who.
Ah self-published books that aren’t ready to be self-published. Um, you know if you don’t listen to the feedback you’re getting you run the risk of putting out a book. That’s not ready, but you have to sort those things out for yourself. Um. You are the one who will care most about your work always always ever. So another point that someone made and I’ve forgotten your name so apologies. But someone commented that it makes a big difference if it’s drafting versus revision and this is absolutely true. And one of the things that prompted yesterday’s podcast S.L. Huang’s essay on Tor dot com about writing workshops particularly science fiction and fantasy writing workshops. A lot of times what they’re doing is they are working at a drafting level and bringing those ideas to the group and workshopping them and yes critique at that level is very very different than if you are doing critique of a fully. Complete work that you are now at the revising process for some people that pressure of the critique workshop works really well yesterday I referenced Mary Robinette Kowal.
I happen to know that her process is very much crowdsourced. She works with a group of people who read as she writes and she retools as she goes. Um Andy Weir wrote the martian that way too. Some people love that collaborative process. And Mary Robinette comes out of a theater background and so she’s very used to a collaborative process and that really works well for her. Ah and she had commented that you’ll like after. Ah, Clarion I don’t know if it was clarion. But after a workshop like that that she had not written for a couple of years and it was because she was absorbing um to me that’s I don’t know I think that’s a sign that your creative process got a little crushed but you know I can’t speak to. You know she’s very happy with her results and she’s doing well so you know own your process right? It’s different for everyone. The thing is for many of us including yours truly the drafting process is a very fragile place to be and it is easily damaged. So if you are doing a workshop like clarion or Taos toolbox or something else where you are drafting and you are involving people in the process very early on debt can be can be difficult and note that.
With that kind of intensive workshopping. You are also not getting that 24 hours 48 hours one week of buffer to come back and evaluate instead you’re coming back day after day after day and getting crit from those same people. So the toxicity can build up. Um, and. So my favorite analogy for this which is content warning here I call it shaken baby syndrome. So if you don’t want to go with that analogy if that’s upsetting for you tap out now. But I find it a really useful metaphor because. When you have a new draft when you have a new story. It is like an infant. It’s um, brand new to the world. It is fragile. It’s also very easy to love your new baby.
And it’s It’s a wonderful stage of the process because you have this infant you can hold all of it in your Arms. You can hold it close and cradle it and it needs you and and you need it and then there’s this pure. Imperfect love between you and the new Baby. The new baby idea. But the new baby is also helpless. It is not able to feed itself. Its Bones aren’t formed yet. It can’t walk. It can’t grasp things on its own. Um, even it’s It’s a little skull. The bones aren’t hardened yet to protect its tiny Brain. Ah. It’s a vulnerable little baby and it needs lots of nurturing and this is what we do with the new story ideas we cradle it and we hold it and we feed it and we we daydream with it it naps and we nap a little bit with it and it’s.. It’s a very important part of that initial idea ah later as that story grows up and develops legs and is able to go out and like do things on its own. Ah it’s tougher. Right? Your your children grow up so you want to think in terms of who do you trust with your infant baby Idea. So if you take that infant and you hand it to someone who is the equivalent of a college.
Admissions person who job it is to decide whether or not that baby is ready for college and you hand them this little infant they’re going to take that child and they’re gonna hold it up and they’re gonna shake it. You know, but bla. But that’s where shake and baby comes in. Ah I know it’s gross, but it scrambles the idea right? And also they start demanding all sorts of questions right? They they want to know they ask this baby. You know what about this, you know and how do you know about? What do you know about Calculus and you know like what sort of public service have you taught. And of course it’s an infant. It can’t answer. It’s not ready yet and when they hand the idea back to you and they say well this isn’t any good. It’s not ready for college. It’s you know tap talk can’t walk I mean I were dribbled. Ah, it’s not good enough. Well of course it’s not good enough. It’s not ready for college yet. It’s not ready to put through that level of examination and when you get this baby back. It might be irreparably damaged and what you do then? So what you want to do with your infant baby ideas is you want to think in terms of. Who do you trust to hold your baby. Ah, you want someone who loves you and by extension loves your idea you want someone that you can trust to take it and nurture it. You want the fairy godmother for your infant idea right.
You want the fairy godmother who will take it and give it magic who will give it ideas and say ah I think this child will be a genius I think that this child is going to grow up to bring love and light to the world and. Let me give it my blessings let me give it what it needs to grow up. These are the people that you want to share your brand new ideas with and if you don’t do that You run the risk right? so. This is my extended analogy On. Um you know who do you involve in your critique process at what point you know later after your baby has grown up and it’s a teenager and it has become insolent and difficult to deal with that’s when you send it off. For the college admissions interviews and when it comes Back. You’re like okay so you’ve got to go back to summer school or you know you need to improve your ah physical conditioning. Whatever let me let me help you with this so that eventually your child your book Your story. Can graduate from college and go into the world and deal with the slings and arrows arrows of professional life. So on that note coming to try recover what I can of my morning try to get something done before I head down to Bubonicon If you’re going to be there say hello.
And otherwise I will talk to you all on Monday you all take care bye-bye.
Good morning everyone this is Jeffe Kennedy author of fantasy romance and romantic fantasy I’m here with my first cup of coffee. Oh that’s so good. Today is Tuesday March fifteenth if you’re on video you will see that I actually have a latte if you’re on audio only you probably heard how much happy I have that made no sense. How happy I am to have my latte I am um, doing things slightly out of bounce today because I am in my health marathon finally getting all of these things handled like a responsible adult. Ah, usually don’t go in for the adulting thing but this feels very much adulting. So um I get to have a colonoscopy tomorrow afternoon a girl never forgets her first colonoscopy. um yeah it’s um I don’t know if it’s even a funny story but I feel like it’s a funny story I may tell you guys this story? Um, but it’s not writing related but the the short the tl tl deal. Tiol didn’t listen. Is that I um have to do the fasting for the colonoscopy these rituals of getting older. It’s just one of those you know you’re supposed to do it when you hit a certain age and. So I can’t eat anything solid after 10 a m today and my appointment’s not till three o’clock tomorrow afternoon. So I figured id better go ahead and have my breakfast if I were doing my sixteen eight fasting thing I wouldn’t get to eat till like noon. So I figured well. Last solid food for more than 24 hours I’ll take advantage so I figured that means I get to have my latte small reward make you sure I didn’t smear my lip pencil. There. So.
So I’ll I’ll tell you this this story because I think it’s funny so I’m seeing this new general practitioner he had ordered you know all these things I had to do mammogram bone density colonoscopy you know, joy joy and. Yeah they’d said the physician’s assistant when she gave me in New Mexico we get doctor’s orders you have to have like an order from a gp to go see a specialist. Maybe they do that everywhere did we did not have to do it in Wyoming so it was a real adjustment when we came here that was like you have to have a doctor’s order to do anything. So when she handed me the order she had said um I guess they’re not very good about getting back to people so just keep calling I was like oh okay so I call get their voicemail and I’m you know ready to leave a message and. Their voicemail is incredibly long. You know and they say leave a message with your you know referring physician and your name and your date of birth and the reason for the procedure. It’s like gestural enterology associates and. And they said do not leave more than 1 voicemail only leave one voicemail and we will call you back in within five business days I was like wow five business days okay so I leave the message with all of the information as instructed. And Mark it on my calendar for like five business days later and I even went business days took out the weekend and any relevant holidays to tag back reader. They did not call me back. So I even gave them a couple extra days I think because I didn’t feel like. Calling you know how that is right? and it’s like oh I do and can’t make phone calls today. So then I called them back and I get the same message. So I say I left a previous message. No I’m not supposed to but nobody called me back in the five business days and I noticed they also had something on there when they said or you can stop by our offices at reader. They did not call me back so I was like okay yesterday afternoon I had to go in for my fiscal and I thought since I’m going to be in that kind of general neighborhood. It’s not a big town I live outside of town but it’s still only like fifteen twenty minutes but you know I treat it like I’m going on an arctic expedition once a year coil are out there this morning. So.
I Go to the doctor and actually everything’s great. My blood work is great. Everything is wonderful. Much much Physician Love which surprised me because I thought I was I don’t know.
That’s actually another story off to decide if I’m going to tell you guys that so he says you know any trouble with any of the other tests and I said well I said to gastroenterology people. I left them a couple of voicemails and they’ve never gotten back to me and and he’s kind of a serious gentle guy and I could see behind him the I don’t know what to aid I’m not sure I don’t know if she was a p a or what but she said she was very sweet but she was in there because I had to have a. You know pelvic of the examined papin stuff so she was she was like I’ll be your chaperone today. But so I could see her behind him when she kind of closes her eyes and shakes her head a little bit and I I just know that this is a thing right? They’re just never calling anybody back ever and he’s like oh. Yeah, he says you know they’ve had trouble since the pandemic and I’m thinking this is not pandemic. This is like something else and he says but you can’t stop by in person and I thought and I said actually that’s what I’ve planning to do today I had my order in the car and I’m just going to stop by there. So. So I do I stop by there and step in the door and there’s a sort of a receptionist and there’s 1 guy gal talking the receptionist and she says um, hi ma’am do you have an appointment and I said ah. No, and she said are you here to schedule an appointment and I said yes and she said okay, sit here behind the divider and you know so like our mask mandate is lifted this place acts like we are you know, major height of pandemic thing. They sta the dividers up they have the. Caution tape across the every other chair. It’s not that I’m against it. But it’s sort of like everybody every other place has opened up a lot more. You know like the the doctor’s office I was just in doesn’t have the social distancing on the chairs anymore you have to. There’s a little screaming machine that you have to like verify that you don’t have covid and haven’t been around anywhere from that covid and you put a sticker you know, verifying that your visitor for the day but you know and they have some of the dividers but this place is like crazy right? so. So I go and sit behind the divider in my chair next to the caution shape take chair and displaces like tomb. You guys. It’s empty and and they have big signs like on the outside too saying procedures are not done here and I’m like what do they do in this office. So the receptionist this other gal comes out.
And she said do you need to schedule an appointment and I said yes and she said I can help you with that so she takes me back so we sort of wents through this cubicle farm which is empty. She’s sitting at her desk and there’s a gallot another desk and I can’t there’s like There’s not phones ringing because clearly it’s all going straight to boysmail ah guys I I don’t know what anybody in this office is doing right? I mean this might be a cream puffed job if you need a job in Santa Fe where you don’t actually have to do any work. This is the job. So but so she like gets in the computer and she gets my information and she said how soon do you want to do this procedure and part of their voicemail message has this whole thing about if this is an emergency procedure ordered by your doctor. Have your doctor call directly and all this kind of thing and I said well whenever you know I don’t really care and she said well she said we could get you in this week I have openings on Wednesday Thursday and Friday afternoons this is when I stare into the camera. They have openings Wednesday Thursday and Friday afternoon I was like okay and she offers me like 6 different times 6 different openings now it’s occurred to me now that I’ve read the instructions and it’s like no eating after 10 a m today for my 3 Pm appointment tomorrow I can have clear liquids broths that sort of thing nothing purple or blue and you know you have to do the purging and all of that I was like well I’m sure most people don’t want to do those appointments in the afternoon because you know people want do it in the morning so they can eat but still I mean. It’s not like they’re so slam jam packed that they can’t be scheduling people right when David had his ah difficulties stomach stuff before Christmas. Had suggested that we also go to the gastroenterology people. So I I kind of left out that bit of backstory that I had heard this voicemail was before and they had never called back and David decided he didn’t need it so you know we didn’t pursue but ah so I was like well let’s do it Wednesday afternoon because this is a. Ah, much more relaxed week for me might as well get it done with I just I just can’t even but ah so um, you guys aren’t here to hear here to hear about my um.
Antics with the medical establishment. Um, yes, so yesterday I did get my 2000 words it felt it felt really good to only go for 2000 words it felt incredibly relaxed. I did have it my head that I needed to get to this doctor’s appointment in the afternoon. Um, which is a really funny thing and I’ve I’ve talked to a lot of people about this who have you know we’re we’re very lucky and blessed and privileged to have these. Kind of unscheduled lives where we work from home where we work for ourselves where we don’t have a really structured schedule and some people do fine with a really structured schedule. Other people do not and you I think that’s part of. Knowing what your process is and owning it I I think you have to know what kind of worker you are some people simply simply do not self direct and that’s it’s not a. Negative I mean I think it’s so tempting to think of this stuff as a negative but it’s it’s just what it is. It’s like if you have brown hair or you know, maybe you can learn to color your hair but maybe you just have brown hair. You know, maybe your hair is so dark that it doesn’t bleach out when I got my mammogram back to medical stuff the hispanic gal or the nurse was an hispanic gal and she really liked my hair color and she was and she said i. She said I don’t want to be offensive but can I ask if it’s natural and I said oh no honey was my stylist. Thank you and she said my hair doesn’t bleach out light enough for me to get that color you know and it’s hard when you have that really really naturally dark hair. Although it’s you know I I colored my hair black for a long time and I really wanted that. Glossy, rich, black like the hispanic ladies have but it sometimes you just have to take the cards you’re dealt. You have to take what you’re born with and you learn to work around it I spent a long time in my day job. Being kind of mental management for a team of people who worked across the country all working out of their homes I’ve been working out of my home for a long time even when I had the day job I started an office and then they closed that office and moved me home.
And 1 of the great take-home lessons of this was that some people do great working from home and other people do not there was this one guy who had been in the military. He’d been in a couple of branches in the military. Very sharp. Um, really. A great dynamic worker in many ways except that you he could not deal with working from home. He would slack off and we found out much later like he would log on to our company chat and then. So it would appear he was there and then he would go take a nap and then he would come and if you messaged him and he didn’t answer. He’d come back and say oh you know I was not I wasn’t looking at the chat I didn’t have you know I’ve had my head down in this document he got shit done working from home. Um, he was great when he was with a group of people. He could not make him sit down and work. You know I found out later that he was like going out and having long lunches with people. He was just like fucking around all day but that was his kind of personality. He did really well in. A more military situation which is incredibly structured where someone is telling you what to do all the time and there are many many people like this who if you want to you know if you do better in an office environment. A lot of people prefer going to an office and being there and. Now we’re all working I think some of it has to do with you know, like how gregarious of a person you are if you’re an extrovert versus an introvert I think one of the reason that so many writers and other creatives are introverts is because. We don’t need to be around people if you want to be particularly a writer I think but probably other kinds of creatives too. You spend a lot of time by yourself in your own head and introverts are happy with that. Extroverts are miserable but you can also be an introvert and still need structure. So if you are finding that and this is something that lots of writers talk about you know, even if they have the time to write. Ah, somehow they just never quite. Do you know? There’s always something else. There’s a lot of procrastinating dread and procrastination. Ah, there’s there’s just a difficulty in creating that structure. So yeah.
If you are struggling with that and I know many many people who do then you have to find a way to create that structure. You might need somebody else to tell you to do it. That’s 1 reason why Darynda and I meet on Zoom and work together. Because she really needs that I have to meet jeffie at Nine o’clock and so I can’t screw around I have to get there and I need to be there and be ready to work. It’s just something she knows about herself and she’s willing to admit about herself. So you know again, it’s not a good bad thing. It’s knowing which things in yourself. Um are not optimal for producing what you want to produce and finding ways to correct for that.
so um so yeah it did make a difference for oh that’s where I started on all this was that 1 thing that we’ve noticed for those of us who have these kind of unstructured lives where we don’t have fixed schedules. Is if we have something in the afternoon and these days I almost always have some kind of appointment in the afternoon usually an online meeting but leaving the house is worse that it creates a sense of pressure. It creates this deadline I need to get my stuff done by then even if I’m normally done by them. You know because I always tell people. I’m available after like two o’clock mountain time which gives me plenty of room to get things done theoretically. But I’m also fighting with the clock right now because of daylight savings time. So I’m a little better today. It’s um, it’s just 8 53 right now. So. I’m ah I’m working it backwards. So hopefully I’ll get um, a little bit earlier. But yeah yesterday duinda and I didn’t start writing until like nine forty five which is latish but I did get the 2000 words it felt good. It felt more relaxed. I mean do that this whole week and then reevaluate so we shall see so on that note I am going to get this uploaded and get to work I hope you all have a fabulous Tuesday and I will talk to you all on Thursday you all take care bye bye.