ROGUE FAMILIAR has a cover!! I’ve been loving the enthusiasm for it, too. It’s a great inspiration to me as I write Selly’s hunt for Jadren.
This week at the SFF Seven we’re talking tools for writers who aren’t beginners. I seem to be hearing a lot of interest in this topic lately. I’ve been contemplating setting up some online classes and not long ago I asked for input on what kinds of classes people would like to see from me. (Feel free to comment or message me if you have ideas or requests!) One of the suggestions that came up often was a desire for classes for more advanced writers, targeting those who’ve written several books but want to learn how to keep getting better at it.
So, I’ve been working up some lists of more advanced topics I could teach – and thinking back to where I learned the intermediate and higher stuff. Some of it is always going to be self-study. Reading other authors. Listening to other writers talk about their process. Re-reading favorites to study how those writers accomplished what they did. I think those are the best tools.
But I’d also like to see more craft-focused workshops, classes, and discussions out there. For quite a few years, it seems, the bulk of information offered to writers seems to focus on business. There are countless opportunities to learn Facebook ads, newsletter marketing, keywords, BookBub ads, Amazon ads, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Why? Because those are easy to teach. Teaching craft is a much more daunting prospect. In fact, I’ve heard debates among creative-writing professors about whether the craft of writing can be taught at all.
At any rate, this isn’t a very informative post, I know. I’m not offering any good tools here (other than the above), but rather food for thought. Improving craft is something we all (well, most of us) want to do. I’m thinking up some ways to get at it. Suggestions welcome!
Financial emergencies and other downsides of earning one’s living as a creative. How the demands of monetization affect creativity – and how being a fulltime writer isn’t the idyllic, dreamy, artsy life we envision.
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.
This pic didn’t come out as well as I would have wished, because Jackson was moving so fast. But he’s perched on the back of a chair next to my treadmill desk, methodically swiping things to the floor so I’ll pay attention to him. Funny cat.
Genre definitions have a profound influence on writers’ careers. From the first queries where we must specify the book’s genre to long-term decisions about pursuing or giving up on a “dead” genre, dealing with what feels like a false construct is a necessary skill. However, following our hearts and inspiration often means tossing aside these considerations.
Or chopping them to pieces in a murderous rage.
But shedding conventions can be what sets a book apart. That’s what takes a writer’s career from midlist to break-out. So… how do you know? More—how do we find the courage to embrace a bold move?
In Wicked, the heroine Elphaba is faced with that crucial decision, of whether to choose the safe path or to risk flying on her own. This workshop will explore genre definitions and how Jeffe Kennedy went from being a “Crack Ho” – being told that her work fell in the cracks between genres – to receiving a nomination for Book of the Year and an RT Seal of Excellence for the one title each month that stands out from all the rest by an innovative twist on a familiar story or pushing genre boundaries. Participants will discuss their experiences with genre—both coloring inside the lines and stepping across them—and will leave inspired to take risks and follow their hearts.
Everyone deserves a chance to fly!
I’m teaching this by special request, so it should be big fun. 🙂
While that workshop is about breaking away from market considerations, I want to talk a bit about promoting books on social media. This is something authors are forced to think about, whether they want to or not. Accordingly, there’s tons of advice out there on the topic, Rule #1 of which tends to be along the lines of “Get More Followers!”
Recently one of my published author email loops went bananas with people offering to trade Facebook likes – as in, you like my page and I’ll like yours. They did the same with following on Twitter.
I think this is a really bad idea.
Sure, the numbers go up, which apparently satisfies Rule #1. But it’s not real. Worse, it creates a false idea of your social media reach.
Let me caveat before I go on that I’m friends with and following/followed by LOTS of authors. Hell, I’m writing this blog post for authors. Nothing at all wrong with that. In fact, networking with other authors can be important for building community and career opportunities.
However – creating a trade system with other authors to like one another’s pages does three things: It skews our lists to the wrong people, possibly diminishes our reach to real readers and skews our own perceptions.
Skewing our lists to the wrong people
We all know Facebook is a mystical bog of smoke and mirrors. They really want us to pay money to get followers to see our posts, so they mess with our reach. We try to game the system. They game it right back. It’s an eternal battle to be seen, on top of the usual discoverability battle. This may be growing more true of Twitter also. The only thing we can be sure of is that only a portion of our followers will see a given post. If all of our followers are people who are there because they’re interested in our books, at least that portion who sees a post will be them! If a portion of our followers are from reciprocal author trades … guess what?
Diminishing our reach to real readers
Yes, yes, yes – people will always argue that writers are readers, too. Of course we are! And, sure, I’ll like the pages of authors I want to keep track of. But that’s entirely because I want to, not through a trade. A trade isn’t organic. See above. We want people to follow and like us because they are ACTUALLY INTERESTED in our books. This might be more difficult, but they’ll be real followers. See below.
Skewing our own perceptions
As nice as it may be to look at our profiles and see hundreds or thousands of followers, as lovely an ego stroke as that may be, if a whole bunch of those are from author reciprocal trades, then it means nothing. Worse, it allows us to kid ourselves that we’re doing well in expanding our reach when we’re not. It’s a pleasant little fantasy and there’s no room for that in running a business. On the other hand, gaining *real* followers is a good measure of success – and one to be proud of.
Coincidentally (OR NOT???), I received some fax pages yesterday from my awesome production editor at Kensington, Rebecca Cremonese. She wanted me to see the design and particularly the sword symbol in the line breaks. In celebration of this MAJOR WIN, I thought I’d share them here. Whee!
Yeah, yeah – these are screen shots of a third-generation fax. Good luck making out the text. 😀 Come on – you guys know what a tease I am!
Speaking of teases, you can still register through today for my online workshop on Sex as a Tool for Character Transformation. You still have time to catch up on the first assignment, because it’s easy. We have a great group – 27 participants at this point – so come join in the conversation!