Feedback Fraught with Fear, False Findings, Fruitlessness

I know well the desire to have approval, the boost we get from a genuine compliment.

I also know that asking others for feedback when what we really want is a pat on the head is fraught with peril, asking for trouble, bending over and begging to be kicked.

Some general thoughts and specific comments on feedback:

  • Feedback is a minefield. Proceed with extreme caution.
  • Know what level of feedback you seek. Rosanne Bane explains.
  • Do you really need someone else to tell you whether what you’re writing is what you should be writing? Veteran editor (and publisher of The War of Art) Shawn Coyne says “That’s a recipe for disaster.” Mick Torbay says to avoid the committee like leftover brussels sprouts:
  • I have found general feedback from readers and writers to be useless. USELESS.
  • Feedback from a professional editor is golden.
  • Answers to specific questions can be helpful if
    1. you know exactly what the question is, and
    2. the person you ask is eminently qualified to answer that question, and
    3. the person you ask will tell you the truth, and
    4. the answer actually matters, which should really come before ‘a’ above.

What I’m Doing About It

I’m writing my first scifi adventure. I’m going to share the first draft, ugly and stinking, with a reader who loves Asimov and Burroughs the way I do. All I’m going to ask her is, does this feel right? Does this feel like them?

If yes, good. If no, I’ll ponder whether that matters and whether I’ll do anything about it except perhaps adjust my marketing message. I highly doubt I’ll change my writing because of the feedback. So that’s marketing research, not writing feedback, isn’t it?

Don’t Wait to Be Picked

Marketing guru Seth Godin has been saying it for years: don’t wait to be picked. Pick yourself.

Learn your craft. Know what a good story is, and isn’t. Do your best work, at least, best for now.

Don’t wait for someone else to tell you whether or not you’re good, whether or not to publish, whether or not your story matters.

Once your brain has enough information to get the basics done, it’s your heart’s turn to run with the story and scatter it to the four winds. And hopefully, more than four fans.

How Evil Can You Get?

In Story Robert McKee talks about “the negation of the negation” (NotN). It’s not mathematical, the multiplication of two negatives leading to a positive. It is the end of the line in the emotional or moral value of the internal story.

Take the normal “worst case” scenario, and find the thing that’s so much worse it’s unthinkable.

In “living dead” stories, that’s often the fate worse than death: damnation, or living death.

McKee talks about four stages, from The Big Win through Not So Much to Real Bad and finally, the NotN. For instance, in a love story you can have true love, indifference, active dislike/hate, and the worst thing in a normal romance, hate masquerading as love.

Scifi adventure: success might be beating the aliens. The other end of the spectrum might be seeing your whole race enslaved by the aliens, in a manner which prevents mass suicide. Nope. You’re slaves, maybe even eternally because they gave you live-forever-juice.

For many stories, the NotN is going to be, if not unique, at east customized.

The lighter the story the less devastating the NotN. For instance, in my book A Long, Hard Look

  1. Success: Phil solves the case and gets the girl.
  2. The likely case is he doesn’t solve the case, but at least he gets the girl.
  3. Worst case, you’d think, is he doesn’t solve the case, doesn’t get the girl.
  4. What happens is he stands in a room full of his girl’s family and is helpless to prevent one from killing another, and in the end, his girl leaves because he reminds her of his failure and her family’s brokenness.

Not only does the case get solved too late to prevent another death, the girl despises him and runs away.

Figure out what your readers will assume equals “success” and if you choose a happy ending, deliver that and more.

Know, or define, what they’ll expect as the “less than success” the hero is worried will be his fate.

Know what your readers expect as a worst case scenario. That’s failure.

Make your protagonist suffer that failure, then give him a way out.

Then, come up with something so unimaginable your readers never saw it coming, couldn’t foresee it, won’t believe their eyes.

And aim it straight at your hero.

Why This Fear Matters to Us (Even if We Think it Doesn’t)

Humans share a handful of fundamental fears. The psychology of fear is complex enough that searching the internet for “fundamental human fears” will provide a million websites by a hundred thousand experts sharing a thousand lists of the true absolute definitive fundamental human fears.

These, though, show up consistently, right after fear of death and dismemberment:

  • fear of rejection
  • fear of shame
  • fear of loss of control (sending our creative work out into the world to be eaten alive by critics, for instance)

You have these fears. No matter how well-adjusted you are, no matter your support network, self-esteem, accomplishments, social status, level of confidence, or anything else, you have these fears.

And just as you can’t choose not to feel the pain when you stub your toe or get punched in the head, you can’t simply choose not to feel the pain of rejection, shame, or loss of control.

Because they’re the same pain.

Let’s ask a UCLA professor of social psychology to weigh in, eh?

… more … “Why This Fear Matters to Us (Even if We Think it Doesn’t)”

Writing Creates Reality

Between our great idea, compelling and exciting, and writing it down, something happens.

Why there? Why aren’t we prevented from having the great idea in the first place?

Because thinking is imaginary.

Writing creates reality.

The reality, of course, of our own belief. Just as we see, hear, and feel with our brain, not our eyes, ears, or fingers, we don’t experience reality outside of ourselves, we experience inside our heads.

And our heads are very very good at knowing the difference between imaginary and real. Planning a crime we’ll never commit, in order to write a story, fires very different portions of our brain than, for instance, remembering the time we actually stole something from the five and dime.

An Experiment in Shame and Reality

… more … “Writing Creates Reality”

Faster Horses II

holy-grail-of-author-marketing(Faster Horses was the title of this month’s newsletter. This is more on the same subject.)

“If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said ‘Faster horses.'” — Henry Ford (attributed)

When I asked authors what they wanted, the universal response was “Someone to do my marketing for me.”

I’ve been racking my brains pondering a technology automation tool I could create to give struggling authors an effective marketing service they could afford.

Because, y’know, that’s what authors said they wanted.

… more … “Faster Horses II”

Learn to Love Marketing, or Give Your Books Away (or Both)

left, right, or middle?Almost every author I talk to wishes someone else would sell their books for them. The few exceptions are those who, by nature or training, enjoy marketing their books. They’ve learned enough to have a plan and to execute it consistently, persistently.

Even my wife‘s clients, who pay her large sums for social media marketing for their books, engage fully in the process. Those who don’t quickly become frustrated because she isn’t selling their books well enough, not realizing that’s not how it works (despite having that clearly explained at the outset.)

Here’s the good news: if you hate marketing and you don’t want to sell your books, you don’t have to spend another second on marketing.

… more … “Learn to Love Marketing, or Give Your Books Away (or Both)”

Free: Here, There . . . Everywhere?

How much free is good for your marketing?

I’ve written bunches about using “free” as a marketing tool. Generosity is your greatest marketing tool. Don’t use it sparingly; spread it around like manure and watch things grow.

Generosity and free aren’t the same thing. Generous can include over-delivering on what you were paid to do. I’ve had generous helpings of fish at our favorite chippy in St. Paul. Paid for, but still generous. When you hire me to help with your writing and publishing, generosity will be ladled over you like gravy. Good white gravy like we make in Texas for your sausage and biscuits; that kind of generous.

mailboxes

My newsletter is also an act of generosity, one which also happens to be free. Membership, though, is stalled out at 140 of you good folks. When we hit that magic number, a couple people unsubscribe, and then someone else finds me and we roll back up to one Tweet’s worth.

One thing I realized is that the signup form simply offers “more information.” Not the most enticing offer, perhaps. I considered giving away something more; a whole book, maybe?

… more … “Free: Here, There . . . Everywhere?”

Macabre Dance with Your Unconscious

Have you ever done something, or thought something, you’re ashamed of?

Uncomfortable as it is, dredge up that memory. We’ll be using it for today’s exercise.

The purpose of our experiment is to demonstrate the effect on our conscious when we try to write something our unconscious doesn’t want written.

Find a place you feel safe. Sit by the fire, if you can, or if that’s not possible, have a shredder under your desk. You’ll want access to methods of rapid complete destruction.

Are you sitting uncomfortably? Good. Let’s begin.

this is where the wicked writing goes

… more … “Macabre Dance with Your Unconscious”

Guest Post at ‘Bane of Your Resistance’

I made a comment at Rosanne Bane’s blog about letting go of what others thought so I could create better art.

She asked if I’d write a post on the concept.

I did, and it’s live over at Bane of Your Resistance.

Where Art Comes From When You Don’t Know Where It Comes From

fear needles usSometimes art is ground out one step at a time. I’ve done that, and even produced things I’m proud of that way.

Sometimes, art spurts out like mustard from the sun-stricken picnic table. When this happens to me, it always produces something I love.

Once we have the basic skills, writing is a combination of persistence and getting out of your own way. More precisely, getting your conscious, the prefrontal cortex which usually drives the bus; er, your brain, out of the way of your unconscious, including the limbic system where your emotions live, the amygdala where your fears live, and other scary medical terms where other important truths hide out.

To be sure, it is the job of our conscious mind to navigate, to step in when unconsciousness won’t do.

For a writer, that stage is editing, not writing. … more … “Where Art Comes From When You Don’t Know Where It Comes From”