Posts Tagged ‘ideas’

People will try to take your voice away.

They will try to make you shut up if you are different than them, if you have a different opinion than them, if you are engaging with an idea that makes them uncomfortable, if you are a woman, if you are below a certain age or above a certain age, if you have a darker skin color, if you are gay, if you belong to a different religious or political group, if the things you believe to be important are not the same things that they believe to be important.

People will try to take your voice away.

They will mock you, harass you, and make fun of you and what you are trying to say. They will tell you that women are inherently not as smart, talented, important, or fill in the blank as men. They will ask you why you have to think the way you think, why you have to ask the questions you’re asking, why you have to pick everything apart. Leave well enough alone, they tell you. You’re reading too much into it, they say. Be grateful for what you have. As if gratitude for the good requires a blanket of silence. (Anyone who tells you that you should be grateful has an agenda, and it’s not one that involves being particularly kind to you.) They will say that you are whining or bitchy or too negative.

People will try to take your voice away.

They will reward you for your silence. They will reward you for smiling, for agreeing, for not bringing it up, for being the nice one or the good one. You will get to avoid conflict and uncomfortable silence (until you start to realize that uncomfortable silence is not really all that bad a price to pay in order to refuse to be smothered). You will feel like one of the group, you might even be able to pretend that these people are your friends. (Except real friends will not try to pressure you into silence. They might change the subject or say they prefer not to discuss a specific topic, but they won’t try to make you feel small. And if they slip up, they will apologize.)

People will try to take your voice away.

They will feign ignorance, or maybe they genuinely will not understand how toxic they are being. They will be doing it for your own good. They will mean well. They won’t even notice. They will do some nice things for you, and you won’t realize your voice has died down to an inaudible whisper. Eventually you will internalize their voices and be harsh with yourself for doing positive activities like engaging in critical thinking. Their attempts to keep you quiet will become your own attempts to silence yourself.

People will try to take your voice away. But you don’t have to let them. You can keep talking, keep writing, keep singing, keep questioning, keep engaging, keep thinking, keep pushing out of your comfort zone. You can keep asking why: Why does the new Dove ad campaign make you uncomfortable? Why are you being criticized for doing something you didn’t do? Why do you like what you like and dislike what you dislike?

In both singing and writing, finding your voice is so important. Once you’ve found it, cherish the discovery and don’t let anyone take it away from you.

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“I think it takes a great deal of courage to be one of the people who tries to change the world in some way — I’ve heard too many people say that they’re not trying to change the world, that they’re just trying to entertain (particularly in their writing). But that’s the point of that? If you’re not trying to change the world, what are you doing, and why? I mean, doesn’t the world need changing?”

-Theodora Goss, Magical Women

We are taught to believe that changing the world is difficult, if not impossible. Changing the world, we are led to understand, is something people wish to do in their youths, and at some magical point, we will grow up, realize it’s impossible to create change, and give up our childish idealism.

But we artists, we’re all about changing the world. (And all of us have the capability for being artists inside of us, whether or not we’re creating art professionally.) In fact, art is so much about creating change, about communication, about shedding a different light on a subject, that it seems disingenuous to insist that the only purpose of any given piece of art is entertainment. This is simply not the case the vast majority of the time.

Take the wildly popular Broadway musical The Book of Mormon, for example. It’s by and large a fluffy, crowd-pleasing musical with fairly unexceptional music and a big sense of humor. It pokes fun at the Mormon church with practically every lyric. At first glance it isn’t obviously world-changing. And yet. By the end, the audience is given the impression that while those Mormons are funny folks with lots of hilarious traditions and a bit of hypocrisy thrown in for good measure, they’re basically just like everyone else, good people trying to do good in the world. And I’m sure some audience members have left at the end of the night of theater with a different opinion of the Church of Latter Day Saints than when they walked in.

Photo Credit: an untrained eye via Compfight cc

Now, it might be true that we do not intend change or anything deeper in our work than a romping adventure yarn. We might be unaware of some of the messages we are sending with our stories, our characters, and our imagery. But so many of the choices involved in artistic work either support the status quo or disrupt it. We are changing the way people see the world, even if it’s unconscious on all sides. If we write a series of novels with all active men characters and all passive women characters, then we’re helping to shape our readers’ ideas about gender. If we write and perform songs that glorify hate crimes, then we’re helping our listeners form ideas about what constitutes acceptable behavior.

We are taught that we don’t have power, and sometimes it’s easier to believe that and thus avoid taking responsibility. But the truth is, so many of us have the power to change minds and hearts. And sometimes the most important minds and hearts to change are our own.

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I think a lot about how to live life and how to be happy. And the more I think about it, the more I realize how often the Rule of Awesome applies.

What is the Rule of Awesome? It’s the idea that when you’re dissatisfied with yourself or your circumstances, you do something awesome. You make the choice to take an action that is positive and exciting and cool. You focus on yourself and how you can be a more fulfilled person instead of focusing on those things that you cannot change.

Following the Rule of Awesome might not fix your problems, but what it will do is put you back into a place of empowerment. And it makes life a lot more fun.

Of course, cultivating the awesome and noticing it when it presents itself can be difficult. But it’s just another mental muscle; with attention and practice, finding awesomeness gets easier over time. And as you make awesome, the opportunities for more awesome tend to multiply.

There’s also our old friend, the fear of failure, trying to discourage us from pursuing the awesome. After all, what if the awesome turns out to be merely mediocre, or even flat-out bad? Which is why I think the more awesome things you’re doing or planning to do, the better. That way when some of them don’t pan out, it doesn’t matter as much since there are more awesome things on the horizon. And when we focus more on the process than the result, we have more time to enjoy the awesome even if everything doesn’t work out perfectly in the end.

Taking a stroll in Central Park the day before a hurricane? Definitely awesome.

Taking a stroll in Central Park the day before a hurricane? Definitely awesome.

Most of the time, though, the Rule of Awesome tends to work out pretty well for me. So to inspire you, I’m going to cook up some ideas for more awesome in the months to come. (Yes, this does mean I get to make a list. And yes, lists are very obviously made of awesome.)

– Try vanilla ice cream with the following toppings: chocolate syrup, strawberry jam, maple syrup, and M&Ms. Really I think maybe having both jam and maple syrup is too much, but I think I’m going to try it anyway. Why? Because it’s awesome.

– Drive down to Santa Cruz with someone who thinks the following is as awesome as I do: mini-golf, air hockey, crepes, and ice cream. Oh, and freezing cold beach time, when the wind is ripping through your hair and your cheeks are getting numb and you taste salt on your lips.

– Battlestar Galactica the Board Game. Enough said.

– Dye my hair red to see what it looks like.

– Go see this guy perform live.

– Write a novel set in space. Even though it’s freaking terrifying. Why? Because its awesomeness factor makes it totally worth it.

– Throw a big party and convince everyone to dress up in fabulous costumes.

– Buy lots and lots of dominoes and make a huge standing domino pattern until I can’t wait any longer and have to topple them all.

– Go to Iceland and attempt to see the Northern Lights in October before heading down to Brighton and World Fantasy con. Seriously, I can’t think of anything much more awesome than this. Obviously this is a thing that all of you who are SF/F writers should do with me.

Most fun list-making game ever. Help make my list longer. What’s something awesome you might do in the next year?

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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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I read this fascinating article about luck a few weeks ago, but I’ve been saving my discussion of it until after my luck story came out because I love to be thematic.
The article talks about the research of Dr. Richard Wiseman, who conducted a study comparing “lucky” and “unlucky” people. He found that unlucky people tend to miss chance opportunities because they are so focused on specifics of precisely what they’re looking for, whereas lucky people tend to be more aware of what’s actually going on and are open to different outcomes. Basically, his research supports the idea that we make our own luck by noticing and taking advantage of whatever opportunities happen to present themselves.

We’ve all heard this advice in relation to dating. “You’ll find your future boyfriend/girlfriend when you’re least expecting it.” I don’t think the catch phrase actually covers it. Did I expect to meet my future husband at the specific housewarming party where we first talked to each other? No, of course not. (Is there ever a situation in which one does expect such a thing? Unless, of course, it’s a pre-arranged relationship of some sort.) But I also didn’t think it was impossible. I was open to meeting new people and having a new experience, and I went to that party with the hope that I might make some new friends. And I felt I was ready for a romantic relationship should one present itself to me.

Here’s the kicker. You might say I was lucky to meet my husband that night. He might have decided not to attend that housewarming party. Or he might have had a conflict, or received a phone call and left before I arrived. But because I wasn’t attending the party for the sole purpose of looking for a boyfriend, I think we might have met later on anyway. I would have become better friends with the party’s hostess (who later officiated at our wedding), and she would have held another party, or invited friends to go to a group dinner, or whatever, and I would have met my husband then instead. Or I would have become friends with other mutual acquaintances met at that party, leading to the same results.

It’s very easy to think about luck as relating to one specific outcome. What if, instead, we were to think about luck as more of a continuum that depends upon both our choices and our engagement with the world around us? We have to both notice opportunities as they arise and decide to act on them.

I’ll give you another example of how paying attention can work wonders. In college, I did my senior music recital in composition. I didn’t know any undergrads who had done such a thing, but “luckily” for me, I read the Music Major handbook carefully and learned that it was an option for me. Even better, after I received permission for my recital, I allowed other students to pursue the same opportunity because I had proven it was a possibility. Was I lucky? Sure. The composition professors could have decided they didn’t want the hassle of advising an undergrad composer (or been too busy to do so) and found a reason to reject my application. But I also proved the veracity of the quotation about diligence being the mother of good luck. I had formed positive relationships with the relevant faculty members; I had pulled together a decent proposal with a realistic timeline; I had thoroughly researched my major. I would never have been the recipient of this good luck if I hadn’t thought outside of the box (in this case, that all undergrad recitals were given by instrumentalists and vocalists, not composers).

What do you think? Do we create our own luck? Do you consider yourself to be lucky or unlucky (or neither)?

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When I read about self publishing, I notice that it’s often being lumped together (ie all self publishing is the same). But of course, the truth of the situation is much more complicated. I decided to make a list (I love lists!) of some less obvious, more creative ways that a writer can use self publishing to further a career.
  1. Out-of-print back list: okay, this isn’t particularly creative, but it’s the most obvious no-drawbacks use of self publishing today.
  2. Short story anthology, using (mostly) previously published works: I think this would be especially good to do if you have a novel coming out soon (or that has recently come out). Numbers show that short stories and their anthologies don’t sell as well as novels, but fans of a novel already out might very well be interested. Of course, even without a novel out, this could still be useful. (A few writers I love are talking about doing this, and I can’t wait to have all their stories in the same place.)
  3. Short stories (previously published or NOT) that tie into the world of a novel you have out (or that is about to come out): Novelettes and novellas that tie in would also fall into this category. Of course, it may be better to offer some of this content for free on your website to draw readers in. The question is, are you using the stories to draw readers in, or to profit from your already-established reader base? Doing both is probably the best of all.
  4. Continuing a series that has been cancelled by its publisher: This is a win for a writer who wants to finish their larger-scope project and the readers who want to find out what happens. One thing to consider, however, is how available the first book(s) of the series are. Are they still in print? Is the publisher offering them as e-books? At a non-prohibitive price?
  5. Writing for a niche or non-obvious market: Some books cannot be sold to big publishing because they simply don’t have a big enough proven audience. This has more to do with business than with quality (although obviously it’s possible that it’s about both). My favorite example is novels set in college. These are often a hard sell because current YA is not set in college, period (with a few exceptions). Sometimes these college books can be sold as mainstream lit or chick lit, but often not. It’s hard to know where to shelve them in a bookstore, and it’s hard to find them. Yet there is obviously an audience for books set in college (I know this because I love them myself and am always on the lookout for more. Diana Peterfreund’s Secret Society books, anyone?) There are other examples of niches like this in fiction, and even more in nonfiction.
  6. Having novels come out both from big houses AND self-publishing: This is an interesting strategy for faster writers, which potentially allows the writer to profit from the upsides of both traditional and self-pub at the same time. It also solves the problem of prolific writers. Honestly, when I read this article, I cringed, because it feels like writers who happen to be fast and have a good work ethic are being penalized. (Note: not all writers, or even first timers, have the long wait discussed in this article.) Of course, this is only an option if the writer doesn’t have a non-compete clause with the big house or is willing to use a pen name (if it’s a secret pen name, several of the advantages of this set-up will be wasted; an “open secret” pen name may or may not go against contract. I have no idea what most contracts specify in this regard).

Have any other creative ideas about how to use self publishing? Thoughts about the pros and cons of the ones I’ve listed above? Let me know!

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When I was a teenager, I enjoyed dreaming big. I wanted to be a novelist, I wanted to work on animated features at Disney, I wanted to write games at Sierra (this was back when they were still doing cool stuff like Quest for Glory, Castle of Dr. Brain, and the King’s Quest series). I wanted to be a singer and actress and perform in musicals, I wanted to write musicals, I wanted to direct musicals. I knew that many of these aspirations were unrealistic and difficult, but I wanted them all anyway.

However, a family member who shall remain nameless said something to me one day, perhaps just an offhand remark, that became fully lodged in my young impressionable brain. “Amy,” the person said, “you have delusions of grandeur.” They might as well have said, “Why try, because the only possible outcome is failure.” Even today, half my lifetime later, whenever I think of trying something daring or risky or simply ambitious, those words go through my mind. “I don’t know if I can do this,” I say to my husband, “because so-and-so said.” And then he has to go through the work of convincing me to do whatever it is anyway.

Photo by Tony Fischer


I was reminded of this when I read Christie Yant’s recent essay, Lessons from the Slushpile: Good vs. Great. She discusses what distinguishes the great stories (and incidentally, the ones that are bought) from the rest, and one of the distinctions she’s made is that truly great stories have something to say. They say something that matters, that makes us as readers think or question or feel. They are ambitious, meant to illuminate as well as entertain.In my limited experience, these kinds of ambitious stories are rare, but it was by finding them that I first learned to appreciate, and later to love, short stories as a form.So why are these stories thin on the ground? Perhaps for one or more of these reasons (and there might well be others):

1. It’s difficult to come up with something to say in the first place.
2. Even if you’ve got something to say, it’s difficult to express it in a clear and original fashion.
3. Writing such a story means that on some level, you’ve got to have delusions of grandeur.

I think I had it right as a teenager. Delusions of grandeur are what allow us to strive, to push ourselves beyond our perceived capabilities, to dive into projects of vast scope. They give us permission to take risks, do things that make us uncomfortable, and ignore those who don’t believe we can do it. Delusions of grandeur are what allow us to become great.

So right now, I’m going to finish up this essay, and then I’m going to sit down and work on a short story that scares the pants off me. It makes me uncomfortable, it kind of makes me want to cry, I’m not quite sure I know where it’s going, and even if I did, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to follow it there. All I can do is believe in its potential, as I believe in my own.

Delusions of grandeur are the necessary caterpillars if we want our words to fly.

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