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Posts Tagged ‘free spirit’

I’ve written before about how travel can cause us to get to know people better. What I didn’t say was that travel can help us learn to know ourselves better.

This fact is perhaps why I care about travelling so deeply. Because all those things you can find out about your traveling companion? If you’re paying attention, you can also discover them about yourself.

Travel forces us to exist in liminal spaces, pushes us into in-betweens. We are no longer inhabiting our familiar landscapes, no longer in our comfortable personal worlds. We are past the comfort zone, pushing boundaries, encouraged to see what is around us with new eyes. Grocery shopping becomes glamorous and the tenth art masterwork we’ve seen today becomes mundane.

A fjord in Norway

Travel is taxing. We are often tired from long sits on airplanes, the passage of too many time zones, making our way from point A to point B in stifling heat or numbing cold. Our bodily needs become complicated as we try to manage our hunger, our thirst, our exposure to the sun, or our aching feet. The food may be different. The language may be different. Things go wrong and fall apart, and we are left feeling simultaneously buffeted by a large, impersonal world and lifted up by strangers’ acts of kindness and generosity.

It is because travel can be so uncomfortable that it is so rewarding. We find edges we didn’t know existed inside of us. We run headlong into our assumptions. Many of our outer trappings are stripped away even while we experiment with creating personal narratives for the people we meet. And meanwhile we are surrounded by brain food or soul food or the seeds of creative inspiration, or all three at once.

Sometimes we lose ourselves, and travel is one way to begin searching. Sometimes we crave change, and travel is one way to explore the possibilities. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we are alive, and travel is one way to find peak experiences.

Exploring in Portugal

Travel is an active doing and a passive waiting. Travel is discomfort and pleasure, sublimity and boredom, a pain in the butt and the best time ever. Travel is flinging ourselves into the world and asking, Will you catch me? Which sometimes turns into, Can I catch myself?

We often think about travel as an exploration of the world. But it can also be an exploration of the self. In removing ourselves from our routines, our comforts, and our surroundings, we gain fresh perspective.

I had a friend ask, “By traveling, aren’t you running away from your problems?”

But sometimes traveling is running directly into our problems. We take ourselves wherever we go. The question is how serious we are about creating change. And traveling is one way to do just that.

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I had a topic all ready to write about today, but I’m throwing it out the window, and instead I’m going to talk about the recent New York Times editorial “The Busy Trap” that people have been sharing like crazy. Sometimes extremely busy people, which is giving the entire conversation an extra dose of (unintentional?) humor.

I am actually very torn by the idea of the culture of busyness that apparently is not just a Silicon Valley thing (although I can’t pretend to be very surprised it also lives in places like Manhattan). First off, the whole conversation automatically comes from a place of privilege–people who can choose whether or not to be busy because they have time that is not taken up with working to support their families or working insane hours so they will not be fired (and I’m sure there are other examples you can think of).

That being said, it’s still an interesting cultural phenomenon for many of those in the middle class. I’ve certainly seen it countless times here in the Bay Area. And on the one hand, I’m impressed by the busy (which is, after all, partly the point), while on the other hand, it irritates me to no end.

Busy busy.

Sometimes, after all, the busy is really cool. I admire people who have decided to embrace their passions, or go out and change the world, or meet tons of fascinating people, or travel around the world. Their social calendars sound exciting, and when you ask them, at the occasional party, what they’ve been up to, they always have something to say beyond, “Eh. I work. And then I don’t work.” There is a certain energy some of these people have that can be quite intoxicating, as they catapult from event to event and obligation to hobby. And I’m really happy for them and encourage them to follow their dreams.

But on the flip side, it’s hard to become Friends with a capital F with these busy people. Because all those activities take time, and it has to come from somewhere. And when you try to get together and have to schedule a month ahead…to have dinner…and there’s not even kids or babysitters or anything involved…and this happens every time you try to schedule…well, it becomes an obstacle. And it is difficult to build intimacy with local friends who you are not able to see once a month or so, at least during some formative period at the beginning of the friendship (honestly I’d say every other week, but Silicon Valley has forced me to adapt my expectations).

I am not busy. Not like that. I have my weeks that go off the rails, and I travel a fair amount, but here is my secret. I like not being busy. I like having time when I’m sitting around thinking. I like having lazy Sundays when I sleep in, take my dog to the park, read a novel, and maybe go out for sushi in the evening. I like having time to write this blog. I like having time to notice what’s going on around me, and I like silence, and I like days when I have nothing scheduled. And sometimes at parties, all I have to say is, “Well, I’ve been writing.”

Not to give you the wrong idea. I still have stuff I have to get done, obligations to meet, appointments to keep, projects going full swing. I vigilantly guard my writing time, even when I’m invited to do fun stuff. But it’s a very different pace. It is definitely a privilege.

And I have the time to appreciate that.

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I’ve been somewhat injured the last week or two, so I’ve had some extra time on my hands. So I decided to poke around Kickstarter and see some of the awesome projects artists have in the works.

In case anyone doesn’t know, Kickstarter is a funding platform in which artists put up projects and how much funding they wish to receive, and then their fans and the interested public can pledge money towards those projects, usually for nifty rewards like art, books, tickets to live performances and screenings, etc.

What’s exciting about Kickstarter is it gives artists a viable alternative to get their amazing work out into the world while getting paid for it. Many creative projects require money up front in order to become realities, and Kickstarter allows the artist to get paid directly from their fans instead of finding corporate backing. It definitely works best when an artist already has an established fan base who can both support them financially and spread the word. For writers, a successful Kickstarter mimics the advance system of traditional publishing while allowing the writer to retain complete creative control. Which is all-around awesome sauce.

Here are some of the Kickstarters I decided to back last week:

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, by Anita Sarkeesian

I’ve been watching all of Anita’s videos ever since she explained to me, complete with relevant examples, what the Bechdel test was. Now she’s taking on the portrayal of women in video games with a lengthy new series. I couldn’t resist backing this project, because this video series NEEDS to exist.

Fireside Magazine Issue Two, by Brian White

This looks like a promising new fiction magazine, with a lot of speculative heavy hitters in the line-up for the next couple of issues. But really I was sold by the opportunity to be drawn by my friend Galen Dara, who is an amazingly talented artist.

Amanda Palmer: the New Record, Art Book, and Tour, by Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer is in the process of revolutionizing the way musicians can interact with their fanbase and make a living while doing awesome things. How could I not want to be a part of this? Also, art books are cool.

Crossed Genres Publications, by Bart Lieb

I have a special place in my heart for Crossed Genres. While they weren’t my first sale, they were the first publication who ran one of my stories. Their Kickstarter has been so successful, they are now going to bring the magazine back (it folded recently), and they also have a few very interesting anthologies scheduled for publication in 2013.

I’m Fine, Thanks, by Crank Tank Studios

To make this independent documentary, the filmmakers toured the country and conducted lots of interviews. Their topic? Complacency and the pull to follow a pre-approved script instead of creating your own unique and individual path through life. Can you think of any subject of a documentary that fits in more with the spirit of this blog? Because I can’t. I am so excited a movie like this exists, and I can’t wait to watch it.

I can’t cover all the worthy Kickstarter projects out there in one blog post, so please help me out. What projects have you supported recently? What other cool things are artists out there doing?

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I am a very unlucky person:

I had a difficult childhood. I suffer from chronic health problems. My mom died when I was nineteen. I don’t fit in easily with many groups. I attract people to me who take advantage of my over-niceness/over-empathy. Sometimes people have treated me very poorly. There have been many times in my life when I’ve been forced to make hard choices. I’m a little bit accident prone. I’ve had dreams and aspirations that haven’t come true and never will in the future. I get rejected a lot. Sometimes people don’t listen to what I have to say. I have often felt very isolated.

I am a very lucky person: 

I gain immense personal satisfaction from my creative work. None of my medical issues thus far have been life-threatening or impacted my quality of life permanently. Also I have health insurance. I take a great deal of joy from life, both from the small things and the large ones. I have traveled all over the world. I have been able to spend the majority of my life pursuing interests and careers that I deeply care about. I had access to a good education. People have gone out of their way to be helpful and kind to me. I am able to change. My empathy allows me to connect with people on a deeper level.  I have a lot to look forward to. I have plenty of resources and opportunities. I have been able to help and inspire people. I have people (and dogs) who I love deeply.


These are both stories I can tell about myself and my life. Both of them contain statements of truth; both of them contain some statements that have nothing whatsoever to do with luck (and some that do).

I had trouble writing the unlucky one. Not because I was making things up, but because that is not the predominate story I tell myself. It’s the one that creeps up on me when I’m tired or discouraged or in pain. It’s the one that makes me doubt myself. It’s the one that makes me want to choose the easiest way.

The lucky story is what I tell myself every day. It is where I find much of my happiness.

In which story do you spend most of your time?

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When we think about social media, it is important to remember how much the internet, and the ways we interact with it, are evolving. The rate of change is fairly rapid, and because of this, it is easy for conventional wisdom regarding best practices to fall behind.

Think about it: the internet is still fairly new. Some of us might have trouble imagining life without it, and yet the first commercial service providers didn’t start up until the late 1980s, just a bit more than twenty years ago. Google got started in 1996-1997 (about 15 years ago); Livejournal began in 1999 (12 years ago); MySpace was founded in 2003 (about 8 years ago); and Facebook launched in 2004 (7 years ago). All of these services took time to develop and find their audiences. So even experts in social media haven’t been doing it for very long, because not long ago, nothing existed to do.

What this means is that there’s still a lot of space for experimenting, being creative, and developing your own unique way of using social media. Take, for example, the author Tobias Buckell. A year ago, contrary to all advice, he decided to shut down the comments on his blog. Experts told him that this was crazy talk, that he needed to enable comments on his blog to encourage conversation and engagement with his audience. Some people went as far as to say that without comments, it wasn’t even a real blog any longer. But Tobias was feeling drained from all the time and energy he had to spend moderating the comments, and he was censoring what he allowed himself to talk about as a result.

He recently published the results of his experiment: he went from 20,000 unique visitors/month when he shut off comments to 100,000 unique visitors/month a year later, which is the highest traffic he’s had in the seven years he’s run the blog. And he sounds happier because of it too, saying: “It’s really been a lot more fun since I starting letting myself be myself.”

So obviously the conventional wisdom that a blog has to have a commenting option, and that you can judge a blog’s impact and degree of engagement by looking at how many comments are being made on it, is flat-out wrong in this case. Yes, the experts were wrong. Would the no-comments approach work for everyone? No, probably not. But apparently it’s not the deal breaker everyone thought it was.

When considering my own use of social media, I find this distinctly comforting. It’s human to hit a wall sometimes. I’m sure many of us have a social media tactic that we’re “supposed to do” but makes us cringe. I’ll tell you mine, although maybe you can already guess. I’m supposed to write blog posts that are less complete and leave more room for all of you to respond. (And I love it when you respond, really I do.) But right now, it’s hard for me to even consider being less than complete–the thought makes my inner perfectionist rear up and ululate in horror. I imagine a blogging horror story in which I deliberately delete something I really wanted to say in order to leave it for someone else to say, and then…NO ONE SAYS IT.

An example of ululation.

I know, I know, clearly I have my work cut out for me. In the meantime, it’s reassuring to think that I am sometimes allowed to experiment with a more essayist approach to blogging, even while I’m trying to improve my conversationalist style of blogging. And I hope you find it reassuring to know that if you can’t juggle five different social media platforms all at once, the world won’t end. And if you just don’t “get” one of the popular services, you can maybe just skip that one or do something completely different from the norm when you use it.

So, time to dish. I told you my social media cringe-point; what’s yours? Is there a service that you just can’t get into? Is there common advice that makes you want to throw your laptop across the room? Is there something that, if you allowed yourself not to do it, would make you enjoy social media more or allow you to be more authentic to yourself? Let loose below.

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Photo by Ali Leila

Some people know they can’t change the world. They are beaten and dreary, prone to complaining about things they know they can’t control just for the sake of complaining. The world is a hostile place, and these people are its victims. Nothing will ever be better for them, and nothing will ever change. They live in a haze of “can’t,” and therefore they spend their lives in a prison of impossibilities, devoid of hope.
Some people hope they can change the world. They realize there are a lot of things that could use some changing, and that many of the needed changes are on such a large scale they can’t even begin to fathom how they could make a difference. So instead they focus on what they can change. Sometimes these people start out small, with a smile or a twenty buck donation, or by educating themselves further so they gain a greater understanding of the world around them. These people understand that affecting one other person can have a ripple effect, therefore giving their actions meaning.

Some people think they can change the world. They have big ideas and even bigger dreams, and when they speak about these ideas, a certain brightness creeps over their features, serving as a beacon in the long, cold night of apathy. Not only do they have ideas, but they act upon them. They tend to try many things, and sometimes they fail. We might expect them to slink away after such failure, but inevitably they brush themselves off and either tackle the problem from a new direction or find another problem to address.

Some people are changing the world. Are you one of them? Do you want to be?

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Last week Theodora Goss wrote a beautiful essay about finding romance in life. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, enough so that I asked a few friends (hi, guys!) what makes something romantic. The consensus was that something was romantic if it was both thoughtful and meaningful, and done by the right person (by which I think we mean, someone to whom you feel romantically inclined to begin with).

 

Thinking of romance as having to do with romantic love is probably the baseline in American culture (except perhaps for anthropologists, folklorists, and scholars). Certainly that is the definition my friends instantly attached to. Our culture sells us a certain idea (or perhaps group of ideas) of what romantic love should be, and I have heard more than one rant about how these ideals build unrealistic and unhealthy expectations for what to expect in actual relationships. So I really like Theodora’s reminder that romance has many meanings, and her call to embrace the romantic:
I know this probably sounds silly, but why not make your life romantic? Why not surround yourself with things that make you feel like a heroine?
To me, this doesn’t sound silly at all. I am a very romantic person, which I think contributes very materially to my happiness. I don’t go about it in quite the same way as Theodora, perhaps; I find romance in my life more in the people I meet and the situations I face (or even the situations I could potentially face, or the situations I’m merely making up in my mind). I find romance in my surroundings not so much by design (surrounding myself purposefully by things I find romantic) as by accident or general frame of mind.

When I lived in London, I found going grocery shopping to be incredibly romantic. Imagine, grocery shopping, a chore I avoid like the plague here in the States, being romantic. And yet I loved walking through the quiet residential streets and coming up to the main hub of Crouch End. And I loved that I could only buy food for a few days since I had to carry it home. And I loved all of the unfamiliar food items lining the shelves, and discovering my favorites that I would buy week in and week out. It was all an integral part of this amazing adventure I was having.
I can’t keep it up all the time (which is unfortunate), but whenever I remember the romance, my life becomes more interesting. I have to do all these stupid strengthening exercises all the time because my body is cranky. But when I imagine the exercises as part of a training montage, suddenly it becomes a lot more inspiring. When I’m teaching, I’m engaged in the romance of instilling a love of music and helping to grow self-confidence in young people. In my mind my romance with my husband is an epic love story on a par with Wesley and Buttercup in The Princess Bride, only better because I am not vapid like Buttercup. And writing, well, writing has been my ideal of romance since I was seven years old.

This romantic view doesn’t hide all the rough edges. I’m perfectly aware on one level that a lot of life is a slog: to improve at something, I need to repetitively practice over and over again. To have a good relationship I have to keep working at communicating and making decisions together and ‘fessing up to my mistakes. To be a good teacher, I have to encourage repetition with even more patience than I show myself. To travel, I have to deal with discomfort and stress and things going wrong.

But I believe that seeing the romance in these things is what reminds me of how worthwhile they are. I love being the heroine! I love appreciating the romance of life, whether it be big and sweeping or small and easy to overlook (the rose bushes in front of my house are a good example of the latter; I find them so romantic…or else I forget about them completely).

So tell me, what do you find romantic in your life? What makes you swoon? How do you cultivate a romantic life?

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I’ve been feeling all organized because last weekend I made a list of topics for my next several posts. And then this morning I read a blog post offering some misguided writing advice. (No, I’m not going to link to it. I’m sure way too many writers read it as is.) Cue complete topic derailment.

I’ve already written about writing advice in the past, but the more I think about it, the more I think this issue isn’t confined to advice about writing. It isn’t even confined to advice about artistic pursuits. Over the years I have certainly received a great deal of advice about basic life topics, some of which has thrown me for a loop and later proven to be completely wrong. (My favorite? “Oh, Amy, you just have delusions of grandeur” in response to me having big artistic dreams. Way to try to ensure they’ll never happen.)

Add to this the undeniable fact that I sometimes give what could be construed as advice right here on this blog, and I feel almost obligated to write the following.

Read, learn, listen to other people’s point of view and feedback. Think about what people say, try out various ideas. Don’t automatically assume you know the one true way to doing anything. But ultimately, DO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO. Do what you need to do (assuming that what you need to do doesn’t involve anything blatantly illegal, of course). And more than that, do what works. Advice, even the more strongly worded variety, is merely a suggestion that we can take or leave according to our own inclination. Even if it’s good advice, we might not be ready to implement it. And if it’s bad advice, we might accidentally harm ourselves or take the plunge into regret that I talked about last week.

That’s one of the really wonderful things about life. We get to choose our own adventure. Sure, we can’t control everything or even most things, but within our small scope of decision, we act as our own kings and queens.

It’s not such a leap to believe that creative types need to follow their muses and express their personal integrity and vision of the world in their art. But what if we take a step farther and consider ourselves to be art and our lifetimes to be our canvas of expression? The expressions “Follow your heart” and “Follow your gut” are close but incomplete representations of this kind of life. Follow who you are, and even more, follow who you wish to become.

Choosing to live this way can mean leaving a lot of the advice behind. The Backbone Project has really opened my eyes to this. Why do people care whether I drink alcohol or not? Why do they care (especially women!) if I self-identify as a feminist? Why do people want to change my writing process? Often I think the answer is that they don’t actually care about me personally at all. Instead they are seeking to validate their own way of life and their own choices. Instead of following who they are and finding a sense of rightness in that, they need reflection from the outside world to reassure them. Instead of deep and subtle thinking, they allow themselves to fall into the black and white thinking trap: I’m right and you’re wrong. Because this doesn’t work for me, obviously it won’t work for anybody. Something needs to be fixed; you need to be fixed. If I have a big bad problem, that means you must not have any problems at all or else you’re trying to compete with me, but it doesn’t matter because my problem must be the worst. (Or flip it around: if you have a big bad problem, that must mean my own problems aren’t important at all.)

Don’t take my advice about this, though. Think about it, and make up your own mind. Choose your own adventure. Turn your life into art with every choice you make.

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Sometimes I am wishy-washy before I even set fingers to keyboard. I think of a subject that would make an interesting blog post, and then I veto it, not because it is inappropriate but because it crosses the threshold of my comfort zone. Because it would be hard to write about. Because it would be challenging to read about. So for my last backbone project post, I’m going to tackle such a subject head on.

I don’t drink alcohol. Not at all. No, I’m not a Mormon. I’m also not allergic, nor do I have stomach problems. I’m not a recovering alcoholic, and I’m not trying to avoid calories or sleepiness.

An interesting aspect of not drinking is that everyone always wants to know WHY. On the one hand, I can see how making a minority lifestyle choice could prompt questions, but on the other hand, I don’t think most of the people who ask really want to have a ten-minute-long philosophical discussion with me. Plus it gets tedious to be asked the same, slightly-but-not-quite-rude question so many times. Nowadays I’ve wised up, and I usually mention a family history of alcoholism, which kills the topic. Occasionally I’ll also mention that I hate the taste and make a joke about how it all tastes like cough syrup to me (although this is a dangerous tactic, as it encourages people to suggest alcohol that I might like). Both of these answers are true but incomplete.

The fact is, the decision not to drink alcohol is not made lightly. It becomes a big deal, like it or not, because it would be so much easier to acquire the taste and drink socially, at least a bit. Otherwise, people will heckle you, and question you, and try to change your mind, and be baffled and uncomfortable. If I’m choosing to go through all of that, then I’m really making A Choice. My original reasons have morphed over the years to adjust to the extreme reaction people sometimes have to my assertion that I don’t drink. To give you an idea of the magnitude of that choice, I can tell you that back in my dating days, there were two conversations I dreaded having with a new date: the one in which I had to share that my mom is dead, and the one in which I had to explain that I don’t drink any alcohol. Believe me, you can learn a lot about a person by how they respond to those two pieces of information.

So why don’t I drink? My decision was born from the determination to not ruin my life the way I saw other lives be ruined by alcohol and drugs, to create something better for myself. It was a direct response to a family history of drug and alcohol abuse. But it became more than that. As I watched people around me become uncomfortable that I wasn’t drinking, I didn’t want to start doing something that would cause me to become so insecure. I didn’t want to do stupid things and be able to blame it on having too much to drink; if I was going to do stupid things (and believe me, I have), I wanted to do them on my own terms and under my own power. I didn’t want to evade responsibility for myself. I didn’t want to say hurtful things to other people because of my drinking. I didn’t want to lubricate social situations for myself; I wanted to learn the social skills that would carry me through them. I wanted to be less shy all the time and not depend on a possible crutch. And perhaps most of all, I wanted to be accepted for who I was, even if who I was didn’t fit into some neat little box of expectations. My determination not to drink became a symbol saying that I didn’t have to be like everybody else, and reminding me that some things in life are worth a little alienation and judgment.

Now that I’ve gotten older, my choice carries less of an onus. I’m less likely to encounter peer pressure about the subject. I’m less likely to be in environments where the sole purpose of being there is to drink. I still have to survive through long and boring stories of stupid drunks (believe me, they’re a lot less amusing if you haven’t ever been drunk yourself) and lengthy explanations of various cocktail concoctions or wine snobbery (which is the equivalent of talking to someone who has never played nor had any interest in RPGs about the intricacies of your current campaign). And I still have to answer the WHY question. But it seems to have lost much of its previous significance. And yet, this choice of mine not to drink has played a very real part in shaping who I am today.

I know it’s my backbone project and not yours, but I’m going to ask anyway: What choice have you made or circumstance have you faced that has been met with judgmental attitudes? What is a way in which you are different from the mainstream? What stereotypes do people tend to believe about you that aren’t actually true?

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As you can imagine, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the subject of my first Backbone Project post. I’ve decided to take on a writing-related topic (I’ll try to pick a more general interest topic next week for the non-writing inclined), and I chose this one specifically because I expect many writers to disagree with my take on it. So, onwards into the fray! (And yes, my stomach is doing lopsided cartwheels, thanks for asking.)

When I first ventured into my various writing communities, I was regaled by the sanctity of the critique. How to become a better writer? The answer seemed to be to get critiqued. A lot. Really, as much as possible. Any writer who was truly serious about their craft would join a critique group. Or two, or even three or more. Not to mention purchasing critiques from the pros at conferences and for charity, attending workshops that consisted at least partially of critiques, etc. And then post-critique, the writer was expected to exhaustively compile all that criticism and somehow use it to patch together the remaining shreds of story (occasionally there might be more than shreds remaining, a cause for joyous celebration).

I am not being conciliatory when I say that I have learned a lot as a writer from the critiques I have received. It is plain fact. And I am very grateful to everyone who has taken the time to help me learn. But another important fact that I never seem to read about anywhere in the cult of the critique is this: All critiques are NOT created equal. Not by a long shot. And what we as writers are told to do with critiques is not always what works. I have learned this from painful, critiqued-out-of-my-mind experience. In fact, I have gone months without much productivity because of the backlash from a bad critique. I don’t think this makes me a weenie. I think it makes me human; it’s natural to get discouraged from nonconstructive critiques, especially when you are a relative beginner. I mean, do I tell my beginning voice students in detail exactly how they suck at singing, complete with subtle (or not-so-subtle) disparagement, and then have their peers tell them the same thing? Um, no. That would be insane. And yet…

Here is what I have learned about critiques:

FICTION: You can expect a fair, unbiased critique.
REALITY: Some people will always hate what you do (even if you are awesome) because they just don’t dig your style. Some people will get set off by a random, unpredictable aspect of your story and be completely unable to get over it enough to say anything helpful. Some people will read your story in a sloppy manner and give you a half-assed critique. Some people just don’t know how to critique, period.

FICTION: If you’re upset after a critique, you just need to toughen up and take it. After all, you need a thick skin to succeed as a writer.
REALITY: Some critiques are harsh in a constructive way. Some critiques are harsh in a non-constructive way. Some critiques are just plain mean-spirited. Learn to deal with the first of these. The other two? Consider not getting critiqued by these people again or…

FICTION: Take all critiques into thoughtful consideration.
REALITY: Some critiques you can pretty much ignore. That’s not to say you shouldn’t listen while they’re being given, but after a while you can tell which critiques are completely irrelevant to any learning or revising you might be doing.

FICTION: You need critiques to become better as a writer.
REALITY: There are many ways to become better as a writer. The critique is merely one helpful tool among many. After all, there were still great writers before the current fad for critique.

FICTION: You should implement all suggestions given in a good critique.
REALITY: You should listen to the issues a good critiquer is having, and figure out what you, the writer, want to do about it. Often critiquers try to completely retell your story for you (although I wouldn’t personally call this a good critique). In that case, you need to work backwards to figure out what actually wasn’t working for them, and then change it in your own way. And only if you want to.

FICTION: A critique should always be followed by a revision.
REALITY: As long as you’ve learned something from a critique, it doesn’t matter what you do afterwards. Sometimes you need to revise to complete the learning. Sometimes you want to revise. Sometimes you want to chuck the story into the fire and never think of it again. Sometimes you nod, say hmm, and make a few small changes before submitting. Sometimes, if you’re Dean Wesley Smith, you submit the story before the critique so you’re not tempted to revise the life out of your story. (And oh yes, it is so possible to revise your story to death.)

FICTION: If a person is a “pro” or just has a few more credits than you, their word is God in the critique department.
REALITY: I wish. Some pros are amazing teachers and critiquers. Others, not so much. Some people with more credits than you will have amazingly helpful things to tell you about your work. Others will not. Some readers who know nothing about writing will have insights that are equally useful. And some will not. You get the picture.

FICTION: You should be involved in as much critiquing as possible.
REALITY: If you get too involved in critiquing, it might interfere with finding time to do the actual writing. And most of us ultimately want to be WRITERS, not critiquers. Right? Otherwise why would we be putting ourselves through all this?

FICTION: If you can’t handle a critique, you shouldn’t be a writer.
REALITY: If you can’t handle rejection and revision requests from professional editors and agents (who you are doing business with), then you’re going to have some trouble. If you can’t handle the occasional critique (or even the more than occasional critique), maybe something else is going on.

FICTION: Critique trumps all!
REALITY: It’s more important to manage your writing life in whatever way works for you. And if your way is not exactly the same as everyone else’s way, that’s okay. We’re artists, after all. We’re supposed to be different.

Okay, have at it! Disagree with me (or tell me how you’ve been secretly thinking the same thing). I’m going in for more dental torture this morning (if we ever meet in person and you want to see me cry, mention dentistry), but I’ll be commenting with gusto (and pain-induced bravado) later today.

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