I got done reading Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and, giddy (loved it, loved it, loved it, so much love in it and so much life and beauty), went to grab the book next on my reading list, Natalie Young's Season to Taste which I found through an article, can't remember which now, but as I clicked on it on my Goodreads to-read list to mark it as currently-reading, I couldn't help but to see the overall rating of 2.54 stars, and right away I felt my stomach whoosh down to my bowels and think, "Oh, shit, will it be a waste of my time?" So I started fighting it, this feeling, this downer. "No, I thought, shut up shut up shut up, I don't care that the rating is low, it's the book about a woman killing her husband and cooking him and eating him, for Christ's sake, it's my kind of book!" But the damage was done. I started wondering why, and I couldn't help but glance at a few reviews, and with my spirits low I started reading it.Read More
I have held a heart in my hand for a couple days. A real beating heart. Bleeding, too. I held it a couple days in a row. I was reading THE ART OF ASKING by Amanda Palmer, and I was bleeding with her. I couldn't believe that there was someone out there who got my shit. And I mean, really got it. It was one of those rare moments you experience when you read a book and you want the author to be your best friend. No, better. You actually think the author is your best friend already. You think alike. You have the same ideas. The same feels. The same rhythm of a heartbeat.
Isn't this why we write?
We write to connect our hearts. Isn't it true?Read More
This will blow your socks off, so you better hold on to them. Ready?
DISCLAIMER: What follows is a total off-the-wall idea so please don't view it as some kind of an ultimate truth because it isn't. Nothing I say is. Quite the contrary. Everything I say is a big fat lie. I hope you have learned this lesson by now.
Still with me? Excellent. Let's hop on this ruckus wagon.
READERS TEND TO GIVE 5-STAR REVIEWS TO WRITERS THEY KNOW.
Or they think they do.
You don't need to start shouting at me yet. Chill. Let me explain my hypothesis.
I've been watching my book reviews with an unhealthy fascination. Okay, maybe not very unhealthy, but definitely obsessive. You know, every morning, "Oh, let me check my book reviews!" and "Yes, got another 5-star one!" and "Wow, got another 4-star one!" and "Shit, got a 2-star one, but it's the only one, so fuck yeah, I'm doing something right!"Read More
The topic of negativity came up in some recent Twitter discussions, in particular in regards to negative people who frown upon you creating, like they tell you to stop writing (or painting, filming, sculpting, dancing, singing, insert whatever art you make here) because: 1) You suck at it. 2) You will never get good at it. 3) You can't make money doing it. 4) You're not doing real work like all respectable serious people should do. 5) You need to grow up and stop dreaming. 6) You're wasting your time. 7) Nobody will ever read it (or see, watch, listen, etc.). 8) You don't have the genes for it, the talent for it, the... whatever for it. 9) You will make a fool of yourself. 10) There is no way you can break into the market and get noticed. 11) You don't have time for it. 12) You're a quitter, so you will quit. 13) YOU WILL FAIL. Etc. Etc. Etc. I'm sure you can insert 100+ more things here you heard from people. Same goes for book reviews, if you happen to write a book and get a negative review, strip out all the sophisticated language from it, and the message is the same. YOU SUCK WHY THE FUCK DID YOU WRITE THIS BOOK YOU MORON. Well. I got news for you. I know stuff like this gets your blood boiling, or it renders you helpless, or you start hating yourself, or you get depressed, or you decide to follow their advice and quit trying. DON'T. Because... *drumroll* ...here is how you can forever and ever and ever free yourself from reacting to these negative messages and people who tell you those messages and begin thriving as an artist.
It's not about you. It's about them. So here is one simple fact I picked up from years and years of therapy, years of reading every self-help book there was written (well, not quite, but it felt like it), from studying my own pile of garbage from the past, from being a mom, and from attempting to rid myself of this reaction to what people tell me and start creating. Here is the thing. Whatever these people say, either about you as an artist or your art, is not about YOU, it's about THEM. Think about it. When you feel bad, what is your first reaction? Or, rather what is your instinctual reaction before the social filter kicks in (that is, if you have one)? What would be a natural reaction of a toddler? Cry. Stomp. Scream. Throw a fit. Why? Cause they feel awful. But what happens? Oh well, other people get a dose of it, right? It ain't pretty, but hey, the toddler feels better! Not fair! Well, now think of a teenager throwing a fit because they want a new coat, iPhone, car, whatever, because some kid at school has it. What do they do? Stomp. Scream. Slam doors. Sound familiar? Good. Now we're getting somewhere. Enter adulthood. We learn to suppress these primitive urges to spill out emotions on the world to get rid of them, but the problem is, those emotions don't go anywhere, they need to get out. There are two things people do, they either 1) turn their pain into art (ENTER YOU) or 2) spill their shit on the world. Wait a minute, you say, how does that work? Oh, it works like this. Just go and pick any negavite book review and read it. Whatever the person says, will tell you what they struggle with or don't understand or don't accept. In other words, they are spilling their pain - on you. Why? Well, maybe their parents never taught them to be nice, never taught them to channel their destructive energy into something positive. Also, because you offered, by publicly displaying your guts, cause that's what a book is, so don't whine now. I had to teach this skill to myself, being nice, as nobody taught me, and I still slip sometimes and act brash toward people, but I also learned to apologize, and I do, and it always makes things better. Anyway, whatever those people say, it not about YOU, it's about THEM. Get it? Tattoo it on the backs of your eyelids, pin it all over the wall, program it into your phone, so next time somebody tells you that you can't write, you know it's not about your writing sucking, it's about them communicating to you their pain of never fulfilling their wish to be an artist. Feeling better? Good. I thought so.
Mirror mirror on the wall... Right. This is all fun and whatnot, but how do you deal with these people when you have to interact with them? I mean, it's one thing staring at the screen after the fact, after the review has been written, or the comment, or whatever. But what if someone tells you negative shit in real life, like face to face? What do you do? How do you deflect it? How do you not react or not let it poison you, destroy you, and make you hate yourself? Well, easy. Mirror it. It's an old therapeutic technique, I think, I read about it somewhere or heard. Anyway, here is how it works. You basically reflect whatever the person does to you, tells you, yells at you, whatever. They might say, you suck at writing. And you say, yeah, that's too bad, I suck at writing. They say, you suck so bad you're a pile of dung. You say, yeah, horrible, isn't it, I'm a pile of dung. Essentially you are refusing to get pulled into the argument, and the person who wants to get their satisfaction out of hurting you gets none. You can do this to online trolls too. I call it, "don't feed the troll". Can't remember who coined this term. Basically, you are okay with someone thinking you suck, because you know that you're awesome, so somebody else's negativity doesn't faze you. You don't get into an argument. Look at this: You suck! No I don't! Yes you do! I do not! You do too! Do not! DO TOO! DO NOT!!! And so it goes. See, you're feeding the troll, that's exactly what the troll wants. Instead, look at this. You suck! Yeah, I know, terrible, isn't it? I said you suck, idiot!!! So sorry you had to repeat this twice to make me listen, see, I'm a horrible listener. You are essentially using humor to not feed the troll, not give them what they are looking for, which is seeing you in pain, because trolls and negative people overall are those people who didn't fully grow up yet, they are still at that toddler level. Causing pain and seeing pain on other's people's faces (or in their online profiles or whatever) gives them a chance to understand what is going on with them. It's normal for a child as part of their development process, it's no longer normal for a healthy adult. To be healthy, you have to be happy. When you're unhappy, you slide back to being a kid, the more pain in you, the farther you go. A typical negative person or troll usually uses bad grammar, is entitled, thinks he or she is the center of the universe, is very narrow minded or not well educated, has a hard time tolerating the brilliance of others, and, above all, is a coward. Sounds pretty childish, doesn't it? But in a way it turns normal childish things from which children learn into these ugly traits adults exhibit. Well, now that you know what it is, it can't bother you anymore, can it? Think of negative people in this way - they're in pain, they need love, they need YOUR love, to feel a little better. If you can, give them love. If not, eliminate them from your life, block them, but don't hurt them back, don't engage, it only makes things worse for everyone.
No book is perfect for everyone. This you just have to drill into your head. We are all different, very different. On top of it, in different stages of our lives we feel differently, so one book may delight us in our twenties, and gross us out in our thirties, only to delight us again in our sixties. This is why we write books, to share our life stories with each other. A negative review simply means that you haven't touched that person in particular. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. Also, remember, it's very easy to tell an artist bad stuff, but it's hard to make art. Those who negatively react to you making art are usually people who don't make any art themselves (there are always exceptions, of course, like old grumpy but brilliant writers who might appear standoffish but really only wish you the best, albeit in their grumpy way because they get to this age when they can't stand stupid shit and are past caring what people think about them - but they're just testing you, silly, to see if you mean business, before they decide to spend time on you). Anyway, I got carried away here. Basically, know that you can't please everyone, not should it be your goal. If you will try to write keeping in mind EVERYONE, I'm sorry, but I can predict that whatever you will write will hardly be any good. You really have to write for one person only, for yourself. It's your story. If you stay true to yourself, guess what, despite the fact that we're all different, there are those of us who have gone through similar stuff, and we want to connect. And now, in the digital age, we can connect like we couldn't before. This way, if you try to be someone you aren't, well, it will reflect poorly on your art. So, be yourself, no matter what anyone says. Who cares what people say. What matters is you are happy when you're in the zone, when you're creating. Whether or not anyone sees it after, or reads it, or experiences, is secondary. The funny part is, it's when you give up with fear of OMG NOBODY WILL EVER READ MY BOOK that you write your best stuff and find your readers. I know from experience.
Let me close it with this. Life is too short to be angry or get worked up over somebody's opinion. You could be hit by a truck tomorrow, or get cancer, or explode in an airplane, or get infected with a deadly virus, or, well, use your imagination. The thing is, you might die tomorrow, or maybe next month, or next year. You think it's so far fetched? Think again. Think about recent deaths around you. Did those people expect them? Probably not. Maybe some did, because of old age or a terminal disease, but most didn't. Do you think those people, if they knew they had very little time left, would've stopped caring what others thought of them and enjoyed the hell out of their last days? I bet they would. Hey, Hollywood capitalized on the idea, producing a bunch of movies on the theme. That tells you something, doesn't it? Also, think about it this way. The energy you will spend agonizing over a negative review or over something negative someone said will burn for nothing. You could've spent that energy creating. So, my advice to you, grow a thick skin and learn not to react. How? If you feel you are easily hurt, get rid of negative people in your life. Until you learn how to deal with them face to face, avoid them, move away, shun them out. STOP ALL CONTACT! Protect your creative energy with zeal. It's your life, and it's up to you how you spend it. That's what I had to do, because I've been abused when growing up and turned into a total lamb when someone yelled at me or said a bad word. It took me years to get to today, and I'm still not quite where I want to be, but, hey, I got better! (And no, I'm not a newt). All right, this is it. Now go, create, draw, make music, film, act, whatever. Go write me a Pulitzer (I actually stole this, it's what my boyfriend tells me when I doubt myself). Love always, Ksenia. xoxo
I blog about writing a lot, but I haven't touched on the topic of reading in a long time, which is a pity, because reading is a huge part of writing. In fact, Stephen King said something along the lines of, if you don't have the time to read, then don't even bother writing. Or something like that. Anyway, this topic bubbled to the surface in the Twitterverse, as it usually happens, and I have realized that I actually have a particular reading strategy that I follow, doing it instinctively (or foolishly?). I read every day, a lot, in the hopes of becoming a better writer, and now I have the best excuse in the world to read as much fiction as I want. I tell people, hey, it's part of my job!
Every day I write for 4+ hours and read for 2+ hours. So I'm being a bad girl, obviously, because originally I wanted to write/read 50/50, but somehow the second part of the day tends to slide right out from under my feet, with kids and dinner and laundry and whatnot, so I gave up on this dream of reading for 4 hours everyday, but I faithfully read at least 2 hours, sometimes more, if I can help it. I sort of view it as an extension of my writing, a plunging of my emptied brain (after 4 hours writing) right into the brain of someone else, preferably genius, and by contrast immediately see things that I can fix in my writing the next day, like dialogue, or a particular way of describing things, or new words (I have a little notebook where I write them down). If I can, I try to do longer than 2 hour spells of reading on the weekends, or, recently, I read for 7 hours straight on the plane, which was an absolute dream, if not for my Kindle that decided to die after 7 hours.
I read only the books I like, by the authors I like. This is something for which I'll be beaten up, I'm sure, but it's okay. Go ahead. It was my decision after I honestly tried reading indie books, and people's manuscripts, and stuff people sent me. I did, I promise! Then I stopped. Because I realized that life is short and I only want to read something that I like or from what I can learn. The last book that I started and never finished was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and I felt really awful about it, because there was such a hype around it, that I thought, something is surely wrong with me, because all these people liked it and I didn't. But after a while it downed on me that if I don't like the book, I also don't learn from it. It doesn't inspire me. I know someone big and important said that you should read everything, but it doesn't seem to work for me. Here comes my confession. I don't read indie books, unless someone very very legit tells me that they are good (I'm not implying that my books are any good, I still have miles to learn to be satisfied with my writing). The last one I read was Wool by Hugh Howey, and I really liked it. I also stopped reading mainstream hyped up books that everyone is talking about, because it doesn't mean those books are mine. I'm a fan of a few big names like J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman, as well as a fan of a few singular books by authors whom I haven't necessarily read through and through, like Lolita by Vadimir Nabokov, or Perfume by Patrick Suskind, or The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. That's all I read, until I discover a new author (more on how I discover new authors below).
I pair the tone and the genre of my reading to what I write. This is something I heard other people avoid, but I don't know why. On the contrary, I like to "swim" in the world I'm creating, both in my writing and in my reading. For example, when writing Siren Suicides, I read the entire The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, as it was dark fantasy that fit very much with the mood that I was trying to get across in my books. I felt like Stevie held me by the hand, telling me how to write this, how to write that, how to break up the dialogue, etc. It's not like I stole his methods or structure, it felt more like encouragement, like we were swimming in parallel worlds that intersected. I also discovered Haruki Murakami while I was writing Siren Suicides, and I devoured him, as his tone fit my tone perfectly. Now, when I started writing Rosehead, the first thing I did, I reread all of Harry Potter, to get into that YA zone, and am now reading the entire Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, to tickle my funny bone, because Rosehead is both dark and funny, very different from Siren Suicides. For my next novel, Irkadura, I have already a list of books lined up, like The Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, for example. Does my reading affect my writing? You bet! But it also acts as a guiding light. I see how other authors do it, and I see that I can do it too.
I rely on my friends' recommendation to discover new authors. All right, you can officially call me the reading snob, but after being burned several times, I started being very careful about picking up new authors. I typically trust my friends with their choices, or occasionally I would go out to a local bookstore and grill a clerk on a particular theme I'm looking for - this is how I discovered Murakami. I then sit in between bookshelves, on the floor, and read a few pages of three or four books by this new author, until I sense that, yes, I like it, I want to read it. With Murakami, as soon as I opened the book, I forgot about everything until 1 hour later I found myself still sitting on the floor, engrossed in the story. This is actually interesting, as it tells me how people will discover my writing, same way! Their friends will tell them (hopefully), that's why I'm prepared to not make much money for at least 3 years, because word-of-mouth takes time. Anyway, I got sidetracked here, sorry, back to the topic. So... new authors. Once I fall in love with an author, I usually read everything she or he has written, like right now I'm on a quest to devour everything by Terry Pratchett.
I write a review of every single book I read. I find it that summarizing my reading experience helps me to understand what kinds of books are mine, and what kinds aren't. So I review every single book I read on both Goodreads and Amazon. And I honestly would love to find more independent authors to read, but I'm so afraid after the many negative experiences I had, that I don't know when I will pick up my next indie book, because book reviews are the things that help indie writers to get noticed, and I would love to be able to help as many indie writers out there as I can. So, please, if you have read an awesome indie book recently that fits with my writing style (fantasy, dark, descriptive, choppy, direct), please let me know in comments? I will honestly try and read an excerpt and see if I can pick it up and read the whole thing.
This is pretty much it. Oh, no, wait, one more important thing. I have made an interesting calculation, when I tried to gauge my reading list, to see how many books realistically I can read in my lifetime, and here are my numbers. I read with the speed of approximately 1 book a week, that makes it about 50 books a year, that makes it about 500 books in the next 10 years that I will read. How many years do I have left to live? I don't know, but in my lifetime I will probably not read more than 2,500 books. That's not very much, is it? Do you see why I'm picky now? Yeah. By the way, by all means, if you pick up one of my books and don't like them, don't read them. Drop them and find something to read that is truly yours. Life is too short to spend on books that don't make your heart beat faster.