Sharkskin and Rhinohide

A while back, we (by which I mean somebody who actually does stuff ‘round here, like Amanda or Sarah) asked for suggestions for topics, and I’m swiping one from the compiled list.  One or more of you, our valued readers, asked how a newbie writer could become part of an established community when uncertain of the quality of their output, how to get feedback, and how to start feeling real. Well, be warned: perspective incoming.

 

The writing side of publishing may well be the least organized industry in existence. Do you write? Words, strung together into phrases, used to cast spells to vaporize the unworthy convey meaning from one thought-having thing to another? Congratulations: you’re one of us (one of us, one of us, one of us). Like most quasi-social organisms, we tend to agglomerate into loose communities.

 

Unlike more regimented industries (i.e. those with established lines of training and accreditation) and owing to our own, often peculiar natures, writers (as well as other artists) tend toward the odd, and often the Odd. Which is reflected in our communities.

 

All humans do this, but in writing, the strange little in-rules that govern human social group interactions are what organize (Hah. Hah.) how our industry works. For a given value of works. So what you’re asking is really, “how do I become good enough friends that a group of writers won’t ignore me?”

 

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but we’re more or less cantankerous, and really only seek out social contact so we can abuse each other in print. *reads the preceding, looks at his half-full mug* Ok, that coffee was too dark. Gimme a minute.

 

–One dollop of cream later—

 

Much better. My apologies. What you’re looking for is how to become accepted by writers, when what you need to be doing is looking at befriending lonely, often curmudgeonly, and always strange individuals who happen to interact on a somewhat regular basis.

 

The secret, speaking from experience, is this isn’t actually very hard to do.

 

The biggest part is just showing up. Odds are good you already know a writer. Or several. If you’re here, you rub elbows with several, of varying degrees of success and notoriety (not the same thing), and frankly, the MGC is a good place to start. The method is the same as any community: find where your interests and the community intersect, and participate. A few years back, I decided (based on some interactions at a convention) that I wanted to expose myself (shaddap) to more of what a handful of writers did that wasn’t just their fiction. I started frequenting blogs, and (here’s the trick) commenting on a regular basis. This was more than a little emotionally risky. I don’t often have much of great wisdom or insight to offer. I’m not nearly as well read as a lot of our readers, let alone my fellow Mad Genii (can’t put that back in the bottle). I can, however, turn an amusing phrase now and again, and that kind of repeated presence establishes you as a regular. It led directly to me posting here at the MGC. In short, pay your dues. Become part of the community by becoming part of the community.

 

Now, as to quality of writing, I don’t have anything new. You may well not have anything “good” when you first become accepted by the rest of us crazies. On the other hand, you could be the next sliced bread of the publishing world. For most writers, success seems to come much later than quality of prose. We’re an industry founded upon preference (specifically, the taste of others), and as the ancients had it, in matters of taste there can be no dispute, though you wouldn’t know that from the state of, well, anything. At least on the internet.

 

Is your writing any good? Well, beyond a certain basic level of craft – past the rules of good grammar, can you put together a story in ways that don’t have readers putting your words through virtual walls – whether your writing is any “good” depends less and less on what you can control that the question becomes meaningless. Becoming a better businessman helps, I’m told. Though again, success seems to depend a great deal on luck. And from my industry contacts, luck looks – over time – more and more like hard work and persistence. So, keep at it. Keep writing, keep showing up, keep learning, keep pushing your personal limits. That’s how you get better at anything, and writing – being a skill – is no exception.

 

Now, on being real. Insert a math joke here. And another, because I’m pushing limits. This is where the title comes in. You have to consider yourself a real writer. Nobody is going to do it for you. At least until you have fans. Decide what Real Writerness is going to look like, and work toward that. Is it an author page on Amazon? Or a Real™ book that you wrote in your hot, little hands? What about a publishing contract with a Real Publisher™? Or a regular income from a handful of successful series?

 

I know authors with multiple novels by multiple publishers who aren’t considered real writers by some readers. Usually for obscure emotions linked to emotional issues. I freely admit that – at this point in my life – I’m more than a bit of a dilettante. It’s not that not a writer, but I don’t keep to a schedule, I don’t meet deadlines, and the whole endeavor looks more like a hobby than a business. In my own defense, I have toddlers, and looks can be deceiving.

 

And that’s the thing about being a writer: it’s complicated. On one level, you determine whether you’re a writer. Do you write? That counts. Do your peers accept you? That counts, too. Do you have readers? That also counts.

 

The best approach seems to be more or less what I’ve already described: join a community of writers, practice the present imperfect of the craft, and develop a hide thick enough to shrug off the proverbial slings, arrows, and fiery darts of the naysayers. External and internal.

 

 

31 Comments

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31 responses to “Sharkskin and Rhinohide

  1. It has been my experience that writers appreciate sincere feedback, so:
    Write book reviews.
    I believe that will have MULTIPLE benefits to your goal of being accepted by a group of writers who can provide you with assistance and encouragement.

  2. How to be a writer: write. How to be a published writer: write. Write more. And more. Read a lot. Go back, revise/polish/edit/ freshen up early work. Find cover art. Upload to preferred sales site(s). Repeat.

    And what Kiltie Dave said. Become part of the community. Keep learning. And WRITE.

  3. paladin3001

    *goes over checklist*, Right, I have two of those covered at least. Just have to work on the other phases like finishing WIP’s and setting them free in the wild.

  4. Another fun read. Thank you. My second read was as an emerging visual artist. This applies so well. As tempting (read: safe) as it is to stay in my studio, reaching out to engage with other artists is important to my growth as an artist. Defining “being an artist” —yes, I make art… You have given me much to chew on and not a few things to think about and then act upon. Thanks.

  5. The biggest part is just showing up

    It’s sometimes amazing the “ins” one can get by simply showing up. Well, showing up and not being an obnoxious jerk about things, but that I presume was presumed.

    I’ve been informed by more than one group that if I lived close(r) to such, I’d get some serious push to “get involved” in person. And that’s just ox, living in Nowhere, Middle of (or close enough). Imagine the pull that would be exerted on someone with skill and talent…

    • Tried to explain this to a friend of mine a few years back who was worried about joining a new group (in his case a blue-collar job instead of a retail job):

      Act like you belong but don’t act like you’re the center and the thing you’re trying to belong to exists to orbit you. Sit at the table, join in the conversation, don’t initiate exactly but don’t be silent, ask names, be friendly. If you do it right you’ll be accepted into the group (and it isn’t hard to do it right) but if you push to the center you’ll never be accepted and if you act like you don’t belong (keep to yourself, don’t talk to anyone, sit alone at lunch) you never will belong.

      That’s something I learned in my mid-twenties and as soon as I learned it everything opened up for me and I realized something; the only thing keeping me from being a part of the group was me holding myself apart from the group (after school, in school conditions existed that made that difficult and was why I didn’t learn it until a few years had passed since my graduation).

      As an example, I remember a loudmouth who came by this blog a long while back (not naming names) and it was clear he was trying to recruit an army and trying to recruit fans. This failed. He was not mocked exactly but he was mostly ignored. Every time he talked about his work no one would respond and the only way he could get people to respond was to get aggressive and challenging. After talking a lot for a few weeks he showed up less and less until finally he was gone altogether (which was a relief) and for all I know that’s a damn shame. Maybe he had a point. Maybe he was a good writer. Maybe I and others here would have enjoyed his work. But his approach was wrong and because of trying to become the center of the group of commenters he was instead isolated immediately to the fringe.

      If he’d come in, engaged in the discussion, praised some posts, argued in good faith, not tried to sell his work or his positions, within the same amount of time as he was ignored into oblivion he could have been a valued part of the group.

      Same effort. Same time. Different approach. Different results.

      (By the way, does anyone know why us geeks are so hot and cold like that? Many too passive but some are so aggressive that it stuns me they come from the same place as the passive ones.)

      Steve

  6. Zsuzsa

    “my fellow Mad Genii (can’t put that back in the bottle)”

    So, in the spirit of participating, I guess I ought to ask: do we throw carp in this particular club, or is that limited to Sarah’s place?

    • If you got ’em, launch ’em.

    • Oh, that’s not nearly bad enough to require a carp. On the other hand, if you need practice, just let it fly.

      Good post, Dave.

      Another good place to start belong is facebook. Friend a few writers whose work you like and start making interesting contributions to conversations.

      I will say that if you’re new to FB, your Friend requests may get ignored for awhile. Spammers often have mostly empty new pages, so we’re cautious about about accepting requests from new pages. We’re not snubbing you, just follow us and comment regularly, and you’ll start getting acceptances.

      • paladin3001

        Well FB may be a good place for community, I am avoiding it as much as possible these days. I found it to be a massive time sink and creativity killer for me. Of course YMMV.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          I think most social media probably screws with the head due to the method of presenting data to the user. Data served up randomly kinda messes with the reward centers in ways that make one likely to spend extra time. If it were ordered, it’d be easier to do triage or enforce time limits on oneself.

          tl;dr, Facebook designs for timesink, and impaired creativity is one consequence expected of their means.

    • It has been my experience that this is not a carp-free zone.

  7. I think over the last six years I’ve turned into the female equivalent of Groucho Marx, sans mustache and silly walk, but running with the whole I wouldn’t want be a member of a club who would want me as a member.

    Now this is either incredibly sad or incredibly liberating or both, depending on how I feel. Today, as an example, I’ve been in that special Hell that is known as editing, which has left me feeling curmudgeonly.

    However, as I wind down, read a few blogs, and count up my words for the day, I find I met my target of 1600 words written, even though I took out 1561 out of the story. I don’t like torturing myself like this, but the needs of the story outweighs the needs of writer, because readers like a good story.

  8. Of all these, the question of whether what we write is good is perhaps the greatest. It’s like singing: Everyone can sing; even dogs can howl. The real question is whether someone can sing well.

    Maybe it’s from fatigue or my usual dark frame of mind, but I suspect that writing is a great deal like singing. Study and practice helps, but there is a limit to each of our abilities, and we cannot go beyond it. In the same way, we can study all we can about writing, and write until our fingers bleed, but there is a point where we reach the limit of our abilities.

    What I think most new writers want to know is “Am I good enough to pursue this, or is it all just a waste of time?” Unfortunately, the only way to find out is to publish and see what happens. It used to be submit and see what happens, but I’ve reached the point where I don’t know if that’s a good measure or not.

    • It.

      Do you have ‘It’.

      That’s the question, right? At the core of the thought. Not can you string sentences together, not can you make a coherent paragraph, not can you assemble a collection of ideas in the shape of a story.

      No. None of that.

      It’s do you have ‘It’. And if you don’t have it, can you get ‘it’?

      After over a decade in a good and sizable writing group I’ve come to a thought (not a conclusion, but part of a process towards one) and it’s that it depends on a different factor than we think. Work is part of it (if you don’t work at it you’ll never find out if you have it), but the main factor is motivation. Why do you want to write?

      To tell your stories? To make people feel something? To inspire? To hope? To quiet the argumentative voices in your head? To say something you believe in? Yes? Then there’s a chance you have ‘it’. If you put the work in. You may not, but there’s a chance.

      If your motivation is ‘To be a Writer (yes, the capitalization is deliberate and warranted)’ you almost certainly don’t have ‘it’, and will never get ‘it’, and will never understand what ‘it’ is. Chasing prestige and your own self-regard/self-image. The motivation is to get people to respect you.

      There have been a few writers in our writing group over the years that were like that, they had no spark, no stories to tell, and all they had going for them was training. Their stories read like they were written to be correct, every twist at the right spot, character building done properly, the inciting incident happening when it should, but they had no spark. No life, no reason to be written. As if the only thing they’d ever be qualified to write is the fourteenth episode of a highly formulaic drama (I almost said sitcom but most of these kinds of ‘Writers’ could not write or tell a joke to save their life) that’s already had nine years to wear word ruts in their script roads. Oddly, most of them had English degrees or had been an English major at some point. Not that I’m blaming their lack of spark on that course, but rather that they took the course because they wanted to be a writer, to find the spark, to find ‘it’, and thought the course would tell them how to get ‘it’. And were embittered when they never found ‘it’. Yet still they chased the prestige, the respect.

      But it’s fraudulent. And I think those whose motivation centers around the prestige know that at the base of their brain and it frames their actions. They try to tame those who have ‘it’, try to wear them down, make them conform, and use all manner of tricks to bring the ones with actual potential down to their lack of spark. That, as much as anything, is what I think is truly behind the despicable actions of those who would set themselves up as gatekeepers of ‘Proper’ thought in writing communities.

      Those who attack the most often have the least talent. They’re fakes. They lack ‘It’ and they know they lack ‘It’. Even though they dress up their attacks in righteousness it’s truly just a cover. If they can’t out spark someone like Larry Correia (and they can’t, that dude has spark for days) they can make themselves seem, or feel like, they’re on his level by attacking him and tearing him down.

      Perhaps I’m too harsh, nearly all of the people I’ve seen in our writing group has had some measure of ‘It’ and with work and dedication and time there’s a chance they could make something out of their talent.

      Basically, I agree with what you Mr. Cheek, the only way to find out if someone will laugh at a joke is to tell it, and the only way to know if a story is good is to put it out there to an audience. As nerve-wracking as that can be (I just put up my first novel last week and I love the thing, I think it’s awesome, I’ve had it beta read up the wazoo and got the feedback I wanted to get back but even still it was painful to press that button and send it out to the wild).

      Steve

      • A lot to think about there, and it may explain a phenomenon I’ve run into over the years: the manuscript that defies critique. Technically it’s close to perfect, but it’s also much too easy to put down and never pick up again.

        What can you say to the writer?

        “There’s nothing technically wrong, but you’re not having any fun with it.”
        “What’s ‘fun’? I’ll put some in.”

        • Dorothy Grant

          I’ve read Kris Rusch grumbling about manuscripts that have been critique-grouped and polished to death, and have all the writer’s voice and vision polished right out. I wonder if some never had much to start with?

      • @ dodgethebulletcomics: Well said.

        Next year I shall know whether I have ‘it’ or not. It’s a risk I’m willing to take, because it’s better to know than to be ignorant.

    • Quote: What I think most new writers want to know is “Am I good enough to pursue this, or is it all just a waste of time?”

      That question is at the the heart of all my self doubts.

      • Do you enjoy writing? Do you enjoy the stories you write? If so, then you are not wasting your time. Even if you never publish, if you burn all your manuscripts so your relatives can’t read them and giggle (or boggle, unless you really want to shock Aunt Agatha), if you enjoy it and it helps you in some way, then it is worth doing.

        Now, I say this as someone who wrote fiction in order to keep from doing bodily harm to faculty and coworkers, and to keep from having a nervous breakdown. And who then discovered that people liked my stories. And then discovered MGC and Kris Rusch and DWS and ThePassiveVoice and decided to launch my stories into the aether and see what happened.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          From the other side, this.

          Improving my writing, right now, is a poor use of my time. If the time spent creative writing takes away from the half a dozen urgent more valuable priorities in my life right now, that’s a mistake. If it substitutes for as or less valuable forms of recreation, and fits as well into the schedule, that’s not a mistake. But it is mostly extremely stupid right now, which is why I’m pontificating, and not looking at some figures.

          The prospect of my creative writing being more valuable than other things I could do is poor, especially as I expect not to put in sufficient time to do so. I can’t imagine changing so much that I won’t need a little, here and there, to help keep me sane. Ish.

  9. Everything you all have said echoes my “issue” also. I could reply to so many individually here, but I’m really dealing with a mix of things.
    Feeling like a dilettante (love that word, so I’m stealing it to replace the mental “slacker” that I’ve been using to beat myself up); the question of having “it” (and I strongly suspect I do, though it sounds damned arrogant to say so out loud); the realization that a manuscript coming back bloody from a contest entry might not mean it sucks, but instead might mean that it was handled by an English major.
    And of course, the subject of the post… finding people who have all been there, and inserting myself into their community. It seems that the struggle, for me is that I’m erratic as hell. I’m late to every party, and I leave early, and sometimes I’m ready for a party when there is no party, and other times the party is happening when I am least inclined to attend. I judge myself severely over this, and knowing my nature is to join, fade, and join again… I excuse myself with the notion that maybe I should just lurk.
    I don’t admire this quality in myself, and over the years, I’ve become less inclined to explain it when I’m in the drop-out mode, but generally speaking I feel a little guilty when I disappear for a time. Then I show back up as if no time has passed. It’s not as if I got bored. I didn’t. It’s not that I’ve found something shiny, either. It might be that I’ve been captured by a dream (a literal dream… as in a story experienced while asleep), and interacting with other people makes the dream fade, and I want to hang onto it for a while to see if it’s going to keep going.
    Even writing this right now is risking having a dream from two nights ago fade before I’ve explored it fully. I watched for more of the story last night, waited for that character to reappear, but ended up just getting a lousy night’s sleep. Think I’m just going to have to go with the skeleton on this one, get it written, and let it be.