Insecurities and bragging about writing talent

chosen one brag

Recently I was talking to a fellow writer, and shortly into our conversation, I got the impression they were showing off about how talented they were. Their stories were, not to brag, really popular. They were told at a young age they were a great writer. Etc.

In that moment, I felt my own insecurity creeping up. They’d reached milestones I hadn’t, and I felt compelled to defend myself and point out how experienced and knowledgeable I was, too. How dare they try to upstage me!

And then I wondered … why am I letting this annoy me so much? Why does it matter how good they are, compared to how good I am? Their achievements as a writer don’t detract from my own, which are different because our experiences have been different. But as writers, we’re often so insecure about how good we are that we constantly compare our skill to other people’s. We beat ourselves up and get defensive.

Here’s the thing. We don’t need to prove to anyone else how good we are. And if we feel we need to show off, it’s because secretly we feel insecure. As my husband pointed out, maybe that’s why this person felt the need to brag in the first place. Maybe they felt they needed to prove how they stack up to me.

Writers don’t need to compete with each other. We don’t need to measure our success against someone else’s. All that matters is our own journey, and how far we’ve come, and how much farther we’re willing to go. Just persisting and writing new things is progress. When it comes down to it, being popular once or writing this amazing thing this one time doesn’t make the other person a better writer. There’s so much more to it than that. And even if they are “better” (who’s judging that, anyway?), that doesn’t mean you or your writing is worth any less.

Sure, we can think someone’s a better writer than us — because they’re published or a bestseller or whatever. The truth is, a lot of writers are. But maybe they’ve also been writing longer, or just got lucky, or they have agents and editors and marketing teams helping them. Or they simply put in a lot more work. Chances are their first draft still stinks.

It’s a waste of time to compare ourselves to other writers. All that leads to is us feeling bad about ourselves. Being a “good” writer isn’t about how many fans you have or books you’ve sold or even whether you have an agent. It’s about how dedicated you are to your own craft — how honest you can be with yourself about where your work needs to improve, and how much energy you’re willing to put in to make it better.

Good writers push themselves. They don’t diminish other writers, because they know the only person they’re really in competition with is themselves.

And you are not your work. If your writing sucks, that doesn’t mean you do.

It just means you haven’t made it better yet.

Writing, motherhood, and weird life turns

It’s been almost two years since I wrote my last blog post. And boy, things have changed.

Baby boy, to be exact.

I was feeling pretty down on myself in my last post. I was also — hey — about three months pregnant and constantly sick. So in hindsight, that makes sense. But I was also really stuck on the fact that I’d put a huge amount of energy into writing a novel that was my best one yet, and it wasn’t going anywhere.

So I quit writing. I didn’t have it in me. For all my past talk about “writing’s hard, you just gotta push through” — I couldn’t. All the self-discipline in the world wasn’t getting those words out of me.

Part of me thought, “Okay, this is fine. My mind and body only have energy enough for growing a human being. If I start another novel now, I’ll give birth before it’s finished, and then I’ll have to put it on ice for months as I adjust to being a new mom, and that’ll kill the project anyway.”

That was fine.

this is not fine

I did the thing. I gave birth to a baby boy, seven pounds, one ounce. I enjoyed my maternity leave. Then I grew restless. I wanted to get back to my job. I did.

And then my brain latched on to an idea and it was happening. I was writing a novel again.

As of last weekend, I finished the first draft of my fourth novel, a middle grade fantasy.

It’s a funny thing, life. I guess I only had room for one big project in me at a time. (God forbid I ever have twins.) But I was pretty sure I would never write another novel again. I was that demotivated and hopeless.

But then I did.

Writing with a 10 month old isn’t easy. Time is scarcer than ever. But you get it done. The words are bad, and you hate them, but they go down on the page.

And then you have a novel.

Each aspiring author’s choice: To publish or self-publish?

To publish or self-publish? Panic

Lately I’ve thinking a lot about my long-held dream of getting a literary agent and seeing my book traditionally published. The truth is, as I continue to query my third manuscript (fourth if you count that one I partially wrote in high school), I’ve been feeling pretty demotivated. The process is ridden with rejections.

I know I’m a good writer. In the span of about five years, I gained traction as a freelance journalist, earning the praise and respect of a number of high-profile folks, and ultimately transitioned full-time into a much different (but also heavily writing-focused) role with a single company, where I’ve gone from bottom-rung to the head of a department and member of an executive team. In what I do, I’m successful — and supremely grateful. I know, with confidence, how much my skills have grown and how much more potential I have to fulfill. I’m damn proud of myself.

But there’s still a part of myself that craves a different outlet. An ambition that needs to be satisfied. And that’s becoming an author. Not a writer who’s finished and revised several manuscripts, mind you, but a Published Author (insert sparkles here).

fancy author gif

And as years spent on one manuscript give way to years on another, I’m beginning to question what I really want: to see my name on a book on a shelf in a store or library, or to have readers — dozens or even hundreds or thousands of them?

I think it’s a little of both. I want to feel like I’ve “earned” my keep by getting an agent, getting a publishing deal, and seeing my books for sale. But I also know that if I did all that (or even part of that) and my book still tanked and no one read it … it wouldn’t mean all that much to me.

I want my book to be read, too.

Getting published is hard. The odds exist (and are real) and yet don’t exist at the same time: Honing your craft increases your chance of success, and each novel is a learning experience … just one that takes one or two years to complete each time. It’s a long-ass journey. Ava Jae, a young adult author I admire, wrote 10 books before she got an agent. Even writers who’ve made it into The New York Times can’t get book deals.

And while I’m not sure I want to self-publish — there are a number of drawbacks to that route, including hurting your chances of getting traditionally published in the future and the plain fact that the only person deciding whether your book is ready is you, a very biased opinion holder — I’m not sure I want to wallow in silence forever, either. I don’t want to shelve manuscript after manuscript, all for a goal I may never reach.

So what does my future hold? Well, more querying and more novel writing, undoubtedly. But I’m also toying with the idea of letting some of my old, failed manuscripts free on a community like Wattpad. Those stories are languishing alone on my computer; they’re not going anywhere. If I release them anonymously, for free, with no sales numbers to haunt me — whether they get two views or two thousand — what’s the harm?

At the end of the day, it’s my choice. I have to decide what’s important to me.

YouTube is destroying the book Zenith

Book is bad GIF

Zenith, a new young adult sci-fi book by authors Lindsay Cummings and Sasha Alsberg, is getting destroyed by reviewers on YouTube. But these aren’t ordinary negative book reviews. These are videos where “BookTubers” (members of the bookish community on YouTube), some of whom are aspiring authors themselves, are panning the work of other popular BookTubers — and they’re not going light on the criticism. They’re attacking Zenith to the point of blatant mockery.

This kind of panning brings up a few questions. Is it right or even fair for creators to criticize the work of their colleagues? And what happens when the roles are reversed, and it’s their turn to be judged?

YouTubers vs. YouTubers

In his review of Zenith, YouTuber “InsaneReader” begins by sharing why he decided to pick up the book:

I am a writer, correct? I like to write books. My dream is to get my book published, and I’m a BookTuber. This person published a book, and they are a BookTuber. … I’m a BookTuber, so let’s say I’m getting my book published. What I would want to happen and what I would expect to happen and really, really hope to happen is to have members of my community embrace my book and support me. For me, buying this book, it almost feels like, well yeah, I would want somebody that watches my videos or somebody that supports me to buy my book, obviously.

So basically, it’s like transactional. I would like to buy somebody else’s book and support them so then someday other people might support me. And I’m not saying that in like the sense of, oh, if I don’t give these books good stars, nobody’s gonna like me. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying I would expect someone to give my book a chance.

And he does give Zenith a chance. He vlogs his reading of the book … and quickly begins to hate on it for the next 30 minutes. He clearly enjoys making fun of it.

And you can’t blame him. The book sounds awful, from the characters to the plot to the cliche writing. But his book review isn’t so much as a book review as it is a total and unapologetic slamming.

When is criticism not ‘respectful’?

Any reviewer is obligated to be honest — and should be. That’s their job. It’s far too easy for someone to feel pressured to give a good review or soften their opinion when there’s a personal connection to the creator, whether it’s because they’re friends or fellow creators.

“I don’t have any ill feelings toward the author[s],” InsaneReader says at the end of the video. “I could even say I like the authors in some regard. I’m not attacking anybody. I just personally wasn’t a fan of this book. If you’re gonna be somebody who liked this book or maybe didn’t like this book, either way, keep it respectful.”

Everything sucks GIF

And he’s right: He isn’t attacking the authors. He’s separating the creators from their creations; who they are as people does not equal the work they produce. “I think I tweeted this at one point,” he says, “but if you’re the type of person who sees that somebody doesn’t like a book that you like, and your first thought is to get mad or dislike a video or leave a mean comment, you are gonna have the hardest time existing as a human being on the earth.”

Just like he isn’t attacking the authors personally, he expects viewers not to attack him personally for his opinion … and likewise for the authors when they watch his video. There’s no need for hard feelings here.

But is InsaneReader “keeping it respectful”? There’s a fine line between offering a fair, honest review and going overboard into mockery for the sake of mockery. Granted, it’s easy to go overboard when there’s so much that’s awful to gush about. Books can be so bad that every page makes you roll your eyes and groan and want to complain to others about it. The bad parts of a book can pile up until everything appears bad and it becomes harder to distinguish whether you’re frustrated with something because it’s genuinely awful or if you’re nit-picking because everything else is so annoying.

And what happens when the roles are reversed? Say InsaneReader gets a book published one day. Would he be terrified that other BookTubers would tear apart his work the same way that he did someone else’s? Or would he hope that they would at least be “respectful” in their criticism? Where do we draw the line?

I’m using InsaneReader as an example here, but he’s not the only YouTuber who’s picked apart every little line of Zenith and ranted about how terrible it is. Others, like Jordan Harvey, have released similar lengthy videos — although I tend to think hers is a bit more analytical than indulgent, which makes it more useful as a look into amateur writing vs. quality writing and how you can learn from that. (She even has a video she recommends in her Zenith review about why Avatar: The Last Airbender does exposition so well, as opposed to Zenith, which doesn’t.)

What do you think? Is all the backlash against Zenith fair? Do people have a tendency to go too far in their hatred of something? Or should creators accept that exposing their work to the world can invite extreme levels of negativity, just like it can warrant huge fandom?

8 middle grade books with girl protagonists I’m excited for in 2018

My bookish resolution this year? Read more middle grade.

This winter, I want to try my hand at writing a middle grade novel, which means I’ve gotta stock up on middle grade to read! The category has always been one of my favorites. I love the sense of fun, lighthearted adventure you get from books like Percy Jackson, The Evil Librarians, Fablehaven — or my newest love, Lockwood & Co.

For 2018, it just so happens that the middle grade books I’m most excited about star girls as the protagonists. WIN!

1) The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta

The Serpent's Secret
Number in series: Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1

Release date: February 27, 2018

Goodreads summary:

MEET KIRANMALA: INTERDIMENSIONAL DEMONSLAYER

(But she doesn’t know it yet.)

On the morning of her twelfth birthday, Kiranmala is just a regular sixth grader living in Parsippany, New Jersey… until her parents mysteriously vanish later that day and a rakkhosh demon slams through her kitchen, determined to eat her alive. Turns out there might be some truth to her parents’ fantastical stories—like how Kiranmala is a real Indian princess—and a wealth of secrets about her origin they’ve kept hidden.

To complicate matters, two crushworthy Indian princes ring her doorbell, insisting they’re here to rescue her. Suddenly, Kiran is swept into another dimension full of magic, winged horses, moving maps, and annoying, talking birds. There she must solve riddles and slay demons all while avoiding the Serpent King of the underworld (who may or may not want to kill her) and the rakkhosh queen (who definitely does) in order to find her parents and basically save New Jersey, her entire world, and everything beyond it …

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