You can read my review of Robin Hobb’s new Fitz/Farseer novel over on Notes from the Dark Net.
Spoliers: It could have been better.
You can read my review of Robin Hobb’s new Fitz/Farseer novel over on Notes from the Dark Net.
Spoliers: It could have been better.
There are quite a few idioms in our culture that involve identification. Due to things like privacy, bias, and fear, we often want to talk about a characteristic of something without identifying what the something is.
In the case of my inspiration for this post, that something is a book. A famous book even. But I don’t know what that book is, because the person talking about it refused to name names. I respect this person, a well-known blogger in the circles I frequent. I have probably read this book. I would love to know what book they are referring to, because I would love to hear their opinion on it. But for some reason, they feel uncomfortable expressing a public opinion on the subject.
I wonder why. You see this all over the place, and especially in writing circles. And I honestly don’t see a concrete reason why it should be that way. I have some guesses as to why in some cases, but there’s nothing that defines clear, deserved consequences for breaking this apparent social rule.
First, there’s probably a desire to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. In this case, referring to a published book by a famous author, I don’t think they really need that amount of protection from hurt feelings.
Second, I often hear people worrying about getting black-balled by the industry. Now the fame of the author might be relevant, but I don’t know of any serious cases where this has actually occurred. So again I wonder at this omission.
Third, since there does seem to be a a set etiquette here, there’s the desire to appear to be playing by the rules and not being rude. Which probably makes the most sense out of all the reasons I can think of.
There are probably a lot more reasons, major and minor, that I haven’t thought of.
I’ve been reading a lot about privilige lately, and I’ve always gotten that there are various kinds of privilige: white privilige, class privilige, male privilige, heterosexual privilige.
But the concept of privilige is so much more wide-spread than that.
There are all sorts of little ways in which we judge people, and all of these involve privilige, sometimes they are tied into bigger chunks of privilige. And sometimes it’s just this one little thing, and because you can’t tie it into a larger idea of privilige, you classify this person as less because of it. There are all sorts of things that fall into this category. Using a credit card at the store, writing a check, how to hug somebody properly.
And I know that if everyone in the world read my post, many of them would be saying: “What do you mean ‘hugging somebody properly’? You just hug them. How could you not know how to hug someone?” But hugging is a learned behavior. You learned how to hug people during some period of time (if you have learned how to), likely when you were growing up.
And so when you go to hug your 21-year-old roommate, or girlfriend, or cousin, or friend, and they pull back, or are a limp fish, or manufacture some excuse not to hug you, just consider: maybe they don’t hate you, maybe they aren’t secretly angy, maybe they don’t not care about you, maybe they aren’t planning to break up with you, stop being friends, or whatever else. Maybe they just didn’t grow up in a household where they learned how to hug. Or maybe the reason they’ve never been in physical contact with you is because due to something in their life, they associate physical contact with negative feelings or treatment.
The same thing goes for writing a check, or making an appointment with a doctor, or anything else. Maybe they didn’t get a bank account when they were sixteen to keep their birthday money, or their trustfund. Maybe they don’t know how to call a doctor because they didn’t have money for medical care. This person is probably already feeling awkward, or scared, or like shit, because they know they don’t know how to do this thing. And they know how people are going to react. I’m sure most people have seen this happen. “How do you not know how to use a computer?” “Anybody knows the “A” button means “yes”. “How can you not work a dish-washer?” “Dude, how hard is it to order a drink at the bar?” “What? You can’t read? Are you stupid or something?” “You can’t ride a horse? What the fuck have you been doing with your life?”
Some of these things we already associate with privilige. Some of them we feel are bigger problems, and desverve more sympathy. But what they have in common is they are all learned behaviors. Do you know why this person doesn’t know how to do that thing? Because they didn’t have someone to teach them how. You know how to do it because someone taught you, or you learned yourself. But even if you did learn yourself, guess what? This person is going through exactly what you went through: watching other people do this thing while trying not to be too obvious, covering up the fact that they don’t know how and hoping they won’t be found out, feeling like shit because how dumb must they be to not be able to do something everyone else seems to know how to do, and knowing that if they are found out, that’s exactly the question other people are going to ask about them.
Now, I’m only here to preach at you a little bit. I do actually have a writing-related point to this. When you’re trying to figure out how a character would act in a given situation, or what they might reasonably know how to do, consider: What skills would they be in a position to learn? Did they cook the dinner in their house as a kid? Did they have spending money? Are they familiar with physical forms of affection? If their parents don’t trust them with money, there’s a good chance they won’t know how to write a check or use a credit card.
Perhaps more relevant: How might they react to what other people can do? What do they see as common life skills? What do they see as a common reaction to a situation? Someone who butchers their own animals for meat might see being scared of blood as weak and a personal failing. Someone with rich parents and a trust fund might be surprised to find a friend doesn’t know how to pay with a credit card, or order in a fancy restaurant. Someone with an old hand-me-down for a car might be curl their lip at a rich kid who needs a mechanic to check their oil.
All of those are pretty obvious examples. But your characters will have specific set of prejudices and abilties, based on their background and social group and living situation. And if these factors don’t match up with what your character actually knows or can do, I’m going to be very suspicious. The same for if they are mysteriously blind to various forms of privilige when they shouldn’t be, or aware of them when their background doesn’t explain why. And I’m going to wonder if maybe you as the author are blind to this privilige. I’m unlikely to judge you personally for this, but I’m not going to have any sympathy when someone else calls you out. Because as a writer, this is something I expect you to know. Writers research all kinds of things during the course of writing a book, and privilige in all its forms is something you damn well better be aware of if you want to portray the real world accurately and fairly.
One of the most common pieces of advice that I hear from writers is to read outside of your genre. In fact, some writers go so far as not reading anything inside their genre while they are writing. Which I think is taking things a bit far, but… The point is, it’s very good advice.
Why? Here’s another piece of advice I hear all the time: “Even if your story is has almost exactly the same topic/characters/theme/plot as someone else’s, it will still be different. Put your own spin on it.” Again, a fantastic piece of advice. But how do you do it? One way to get ideas is by following our first piece of advice. Every genre has its own tropes and conventions, things that are common amongst the majority of stories in that genre. But some of the best work in any genre involves tropes and conventions that aren’t normally a part of it. And you won’t know what those are if you only read inside your own genre.
Blogging is a lot like writing. There are tons of blogs out there, about almost every topic you can think of. So how do you make your own blog stand out? Here’s My 5 Step Plan to Writing a Rocking Blog:
1. Identify the goals of your blog. Who is your target audience? What are you trying to tell them? What methods will you use? What style will you write in? What is your blog’s genre?
2. Look at other blogs in the same genre. How do they approach their readers? What tips and tricks do they use? What formatting do they employ? What are the most common templates for blog posts? How-tos? In-depth analysis? Anecdotes? What style do they adopt?
3. Decide how to satsify your target readers. How can you use what you’ve learned reading other blogs to create a blog that people will want to read? What have those other blogs done right? What have they done wrong? Which of their techniques can you make work for you?
4. Now read blogs that aren’t in your genre. What kinds of things don’t your genre’s blogs talk about? What else do you find interesting besides the standard fare of your genre? What blogs grabbed your attention? What techniques did those other bloggers use that made you want to keep reading? How could these bloggers maintain your interest in topics you had never been interested in before?
5. Apply what you’ve learned. What do you see on blogs in other genres that could be adapted to your own blog? What things in those other blogs could apply to blogs in general? What topics did you come across that were relevant to your own genre, but rarely addressed? What did you find that could make your blog stand out? What will be your twist?
Of course, digging through hundreds and thousands of off-topic blogs is tough. There has to be a way to narrow down your search.
And you can find it right here on the Chimney. As a special service just for my readers, I’m going to point you to some of the out-genre blogs that I use to keep my perspective wide.
Tune in every Saturday, when I will write a post featuring a blog outside of my own genre, and why I read it. I will explore what makes it such a fantastic blog in its own right, and why it is relevant to those of you who may be reading my blog, even if you don’t share a genre with me.
Keep in mind that I am first a spec fic writer and reader, then a fiction reader. I will be looking at blogs that mostly apply first and foremost to writers, because that’s what I am, and its also my target audience.
So the chances that I will be high-lighting sports blogs; or that if you run a site on how to buy and use a gas grill the blogs I feature will give added value to your site are slim.
But they could! The whole point of me writing this post was that you never know what could attract readers.
Hopefully, this feature series will kick off Saturday, July 23. I’ll be plugging it wherever I reasonably can. Please feel free to mention it to your friends, fellow bloggers, and also your readers. If you have a blog you think should be featured, or if you like to submit your own blog, don’t hesitate to e-mail me. You’ll find my contact details on my Contact Me page, in the menu at the top of the page.
I’m also going to put this out on my Twitter, so feel free to Re-Tweet (and follow me if you aren’t already) if the mood strikes you. There are tons of awesome blogs out there that you should be reading, and I’m going to do my best to introduce as many of them to you as I can.
Because I’m curious about how well people police their identities on the internet, I’m going to wait until six hours before the each post go online to notify the bloggers in question.
(Pro Tip: Setting up Google Alerts and other services to keep track of how your name is mentioned on the internet is not egotistical. It is good social net-working practice and it can not only improve your relationship with others by making you aware of their interest in you, it can help nip problems in the bud.)
Now, she doesn’t know it yet, but I’ve already selected Romantic Comedy author Tawna Fenske at Don’t pet me, I’m writing to be the first featured blog. It was in fact one of her posts that inspired this series, because she is just that awesome. Don’t wait for the post, go follow her immediately! And feel free to tell her who sent you. 😉
Writers are always complaining about things that people ask them, and this is one of the most cited questions. There are tons of different answers, none of which are right for everyone, or even for someone all of the time. There are just so many places to get ideas and inspiration from, and many, many methods of combining these things into something that could actually support a story.
But, because I think about this kind of stuff a lot, and becuase, like all good writers, I have more ideas than I could ever manage to use in my natural lifetime, I’ve come across an answer to this question that describes how I get ideas most of the time, and which corresponds fairly well with what many other writers have described as a common process for them.
Since I’m a writer, I’m going to tell you a little story, rather than writing a long boring essay:
Our story begins about 4 billion years ago, before there even were writers to come up with ideas in our solar system. The Sun was here, but the planets were yet to be born. A massive disc of material left over from the Sun’s formation, called the solar nebula, was as close to planets as the solar system had gotten. Much like the cultural soup that every human being inhabits, this disc was full of tiny little grains of stuff, held together by some force; in the solar nebula’s case, this force was gravity. Over time, these little dust grains began to collide with each other, and every now and then gravity would cause some to stick together, creating a larger piece with more gravity than the little pieces surrounding it. As time passes, these larger chunks collide again, their mass building and building, clearing out the space around them, until they bccame around 10 kilometers in size. These huge masses of dust and gas were called planetesimals.
The collisions continued, and these planetesimals increased in size at rates of a few centimeters per year. Just imagine all the little interesting facts and scraps of information you encounter daily. Over time, one or another begins to take on weight as you learn more things about it, and over time, it might become an opinion, or a desire. And these opinions and desires feelings and thoughts and hunks of knowledge are just like our little planetesimals. Over time, the planetismals crashed together, and snagged most of the remaining dust and bcame the planets. And each planet is like a little idea, starting from a tiny grain of thought, and gradually accumulating a mass of information and images and words, until it becomes the basis for an incredible story.
And most writers have tons and tons of these ideas orbiting them, or still forming. And because, unlike the sun, we have an infinite sea of information surronding us for our entire lives, there are always more ideas, more little thought planets forming around us. This process is called “accretion” and it’s where almost all ideas come from. For example, the first grain of the idea behind this post came from an Astronomy class I took at a community college over the summer. And then many many threads trying explain where writers got ideas began to collide, and were caught up in the gravity well of that astronomy course, until eventually there was enough mass to support and atmosphere, in which grew little tiny forms of life that finally evolved enough to smack me on the back of the head and say “Duh! Here’s where we come from!”
I have recently subscribed to a new blog, Invincible Summer from lovely YA writer Hannah Moskowitz. This may not seem like a big deal, but it’s actually the first new blog I’ve subscribed to in a year.
So why did I subscribe to it? Did I stumble upon it on Google? Find a link on a bookmarking site like reddit or delicio.us? No. I kept running into links on other sites and blogs. Took part in some conversations on Absolute Write. After about the fiftieth link on blogs to which I am already subscribed, I stopped by and read the first ten posts on the blog. Several of them were exactly the sort of thing Ilook for on a writing blog, and so I copied the url into my googlereader. Now, I’ve done similar things with other blogs, but I ended up not subscribing. Here are the five most common reasons I subscribe to a blog, and the five most common reasons why I do not:
Why? (In no particular order:)
1. Links from blogs I already follow. The more the better. They tell me that there is a consistent pattern of valued and valuable content. These can be posts about the link only, or they can be round-ups. If I start to recognize your name on a round-up post, I am very likely to give your blog itself a look.
2. Meeting the blogger in a community setting, such as a forum for writers. My top forum for finding good blogs? Absolute Write.
3. I buy one of the bloggers books and like it. if I like your book, then I have a reason as a reader to look you up. If I like your blog, it’s because I enjoy it as a writer, as well.
4. I see one of your books on Amazon or Wikipedia. These are the places I go when someone recs a book to me.
5. Guest posts on blogs I read. These are fantastic advertisements for your own blog. They mean someone I trust likes what you have to say, and they are a good sample of what I expect to find on your blog.
1. I go to your blog and I see advertisements. If I get to the point where I’m reading through your recent posts to see if there’s a pattern of value, I don’t want to see adverts for your books. I don’t want to see contests, or giveaways. All of these things are fine. But they are not what attracts people to a good blog. A good blog gives something to the reader, it does not only solicit money for the writer.
2. I go to your blog and all I see is pictures of your cats, covered in bacon or otherwise. I am not looking for cat blogs. I am looking for writer and/or writing blogs. If you want to occasionally post pictures of your cats or of sunsets, or of your cute little kid, that’s fine. But it’s a grace note, something you can foist off on me as content once I am engaged and interested. John Scalzi likes to post amateur photos of sunsets, and they are very pretty. I like them. But they are not why I read his blog.
3. If there have not been any posts for over two months. I don’t think I need to explain.
4. If the posting schedule is inconsistent. This is not a big loser. It’s why people invented blog readers, so I don’t have to check every day to see if a bloggers has dug up and displayed some nugget of wisdom for me. It’s a small issue, but consistent posting does tell me that this blog is likely to survive long enough to be worth my inital investment. (I am also a hypocrite for saying this, since I have updated irregularly of late.)
5. Boring stuff/stuff I have seen before. This is tougher. These sort of posts will attract blogging newbies, because they have not seen all the other examples out there. But the best blogs provide something new, something you can’t get elsewhere easily. After the thirtieth generic query advice post, they all start to seem the same. If they are well-written, I will forgive you.
So, here is the conclusion. I want good content on a consistent basis. I understand that promotional posts will pick up when a book release is imminent. I understand tha real life gets in the way. But if your entire blog morphs into promotion when a book is coming out, or you suddenly veer into all extras about your cats and kids, then I am likely to not subscribe, or else to drop my subscription if I already have one.
People are always trying to convince me to switch from IE to Firefox, and I’ve always decided not to. And so have a significant portion of other people. So when you’re building or switching templates for you blog, you might want to make sure they work in both IE and FF.
I’ve had several frustrating experiences lately where folks have decided to use fancy image files as blog backgrounds. But they’ve chosen images where the test doesn’t show up against them.
But wait! They can just put a solid color <div> tag on top, so the text will show up. Unfortunately, in my IE8 browser, these divs do not display properly, which means I have to highlight the text to read.
Not surprisingly, this makes me less likely to come back. If you want to have a writer blog, you have to hold up the blogging side of that, not just the writing one. So check your divs!
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