an odd collection of tales about learning to do the impossible

Posts tagged ‘kindred spirits’

Introvert? Empath? Good Literary Citizen? (3 of 3)

Because I’m an introvert who sucks at social obligations (see the two posts mentioned below) I’m looking into ways I, too, can be a good literary citizen. I’ve identified three problems, three solutions and three dangerous traps I have to avoid.

This is about the third of these three.

A Problem:

Like most (maybe all?) people driven to write novels, I grew up reading dozens of novels a year for fun. College classes slowed me down a little, but not much. Likewise, marriage, children and a full-time job only put a dent in my addiction of choice.

It took writing books myself to bring my favorite pass time to a complete halt. And I’m still sad about it. Turns out I can do almost anything and read all I want, except write.

I’ve already written about how I use (and enjoy) flash fiction to stay current in my genre. And I’ve written about how I follow a limited number of blogs and online groups, trying to be supportive of them while refraining from comments.  I make an effort to stay away from others all together.

Today, I’m considering the rare times I do read a novel these days, and why.

A Solution:

Most of my reading today is done for blog tours, providing reviews for others like me, trying to gain attention for their self-published or small indie press published works. I’m sympathetic to their aims and I try to be positive in my reviews, while still being honest. Often the books aren’t chosen because I’d choose them off a shelf, but rather because they are available for review.

I’ve discovered there are genres I need to avoid.  I already knew I lacked the gene to appreciate true horror novels, or anything grisly or gross. Now I know not to sign up for anything with the word romance in the description. (I’ve nothing against romance in real life, I just prefer my plots to be less predictable.) Recently I’ve learned to be careful choosing YA novels too. I’ve enjoyed some, but they need to be pretty special before I get emotionally involved in teenage troubles.

“Then what do you read?” you may ask. Good question, as I’ve just eliminated a lot of  what’s written. I do like crime novels, science fictions, and most fantasy. (It can get too dark and grim for me out on the edges.) If I stick to this, I find I generally enjoy any reasonably well-constructed story and can say something good about it. That’s nice for me. It means I got to read a book. And it’s nice for the author. They got one more positive review.

The Problem with the Solution:

To be honest, reading to write reviews doesn’t feed my addition. It doesn’t fill some longing deep in my brain. Why?

I read these book the way I used to read assignments in school. I skim and I skip and I barely touch down, just enough to render a fair review, the way I used to do when I had to produce an adequate paper.  Yes, I often enjoy the story, but not the same way I enjoy a leisurely immersion in another world.

And, the truth is, these are often authors still early in their own learning curves. Even though they’ve accomplished the remarkable feat of producing a full-length, coherent novel, they often have habits I want to avoid, not emulate.

To write better, I decided I needed to read better as well.

Recently I’ve started allowing myself to take short vacations from writing, to read a carefully selected novel. I’m turning to award winners, to those books highly recommend by friends and to stories whose descriptions call to me for one reason or another.

I have two rules as I read these books. Well, actually three. The first is to take my time and enjoy the book. The second is to keep my eye out for ways I can grow as a writer. (No, the two tasks don’t seem to be mutually exclusive.) The third is to write a review of these books as well. Even acclaimed authors can use a little a more praise.

Next up for me? Recursion by Blake Crouch and The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow.

I know I’m not the greatest literary citizen with these few techniques, and I never will be, but I am managing to produce my own fiction while no longer groaning every time someone mentions being “a good literary citizen.” I’m willing to call it achieving a balance.

Introvert? Empath? Good Literary Citizen? (2 of 3)

Because I suck at social obligations (see the post right below this one) I’m looking into ways I too can be a good literary citizen. I’ve identified three problems, three solutions and three dangerous traps I have to avoid.

This is about the second of these three.

A Problem:

Engaging in chit chat stimulates many people. Some find it relaxing, others create better when they feel less alone. Most conversation happens to drain me, but the online kind is particularly exhausting. People can and will say any old stupid thing from the safety of their computer, and the conversation just keeps on going.

Please, please don’t make me respond to any more people on Facebook, or try to sound witty or important on Goodreads, or, you get the idea … I really don’t like this. And yet, online is where most of the conversation is happening.

A Solution:

I’ve found online forums and blogs that I find worthwhile, and you can do the same. There are  amazing sources of information online for writers. What you will find useful is different than what I will, but we can all seek out what speaks to us. Then read, enjoy and support them.

One of my favorites is a blog called Mythcreants. Self-described as “Fantasy & Science Fiction for Storytellers” it offers a wealth of ideas for avoiding common writing mistakes and I’ve been reading it for years. I still have a link to Four Tips for Depicting Disabled Characters, a post I reread several times as I developed Violeta, my telepath with an old judo injury that forced her to walk with a cane. I like to think she was the better for the fine advice I was offered. Another post entitled Why We Shouldn’t Be Fighting Over Trigger Warnings convinced me to add trigger warnings to the descriptions of two of my books.

I’ve recently come to enjoy Fantasy Book Critic and have been following along with their reviews as part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. This has given me the chance to read detailed analyses of what other self-published authors are doing, sometimes along with interviews of the authors. While I think this keeps me more in touch with what is happening out there, I do need to be careful. Sometimes too much reading about how great other books are can leave me discouraged about my own. There is a balance to be struck.

What to Avoid:

My kryptonite in this arena is clearly comments. I’ve learned to stay away from them. Do not engage. I’m not all that quick about these things, anyway, so by the time I read a post, dozens of people have already expressed themselves. Even I did have something interesting to add, it’s usually been said, and often several times.

I do like and follow the blogs I enjoy, and try to do the same for the writers providing the material. There are other ways to provide support, too. Some places ask for donations. I donate. Some get mentioned in my own posts, some on twitter. It’s possible to spread around appreciation without getting drawn into a conversation. For me, that’s the way to do it.

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Introvert? Empath? Good Literary Citizen? (1)

I suck at social obligations.

Three Myers Briggs tests have found me to be an off-the-chart introvert, and my abilities as an empath once made me fear I was secretly from Deanna Troi’s home planet. It’s not a great combination. If I have to go somewhere, I soak up everything around me and it leaves me drained.

This doesn’t mean I can’t function around people. I’m practiced at faking normality. (Aren’t we all?) What it does mean is if I have to deal with people for very much or for very long, I can’t write.

The first time I heard the phrase Good Literary Citizen, my heart sank.

You see, I agree with the principals behind the idea, but I’m horribly suited to putting them in practice. Over the years, I’ve found three avenues that work for me, at least in limited quantities. I’ve found corollaries of these that have the capability to be my kryptonite. This post covers one set. (Two more posts are coming.)

A Problem:

I’m from the US. Put me and a handful of other Americans in a room full of Brits and I’ll be the first one to start talking with a slightly British accent and I won’t even notice it. Yes, I have my own voice, but it’s as mutable as everything else about me. If I’m not careful, I write like the last person I read.

A Solution:

Read short things by different people, and read lots of them.

I’ve become a great fan of flash fiction. My genre is speculative, so I subscribe to Daily Science Fiction. Most days they send me a story of 1000 words or less. Some are brilliant. Occasionally one is sort of dumb. Every few days I read several of them at once. This keeps me current on themes and word choices floating around in my chosen genre, without any one author getting too deeply into my head.

Sometimes, DSF lets readers vote for stories they like. I do this to support authors who impress me. I also seek them out elsewhere and follow them or list their works as “want to read.” It’s my way of giving them a quick thumbs up before I move on to my own writing. (I also save their stories to reread and inspire me to write better.)

What to Avoid:

I avoid long novels by others, and I will not let myself get involved in a series. Not now. Not me. I can read all those great series out there when I retire from writing. I’m looking forward to it.

I also avoid authors with too distinctive of a voice. There’s nothing wrong with them; in fact some of them are great. They just aren’t for me right now. Again, someday …

As a result (1) I’m generally writing, (2) I generally sound like me, whatever that is, (3) I’m not completely out of touch with what is happening in my genre and (4) I’m doing at least something to support other authors.

I think it’s a win-win-not lose situation. Given my constraints, I’ll take it.

(This post was originally published on my blog Face Painting for World Peace, which focuses on themes like empathy and telepathy.)

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