Turn your face to the sun, and the shadows fall behind you

To round up the little series of posts on the ingredients of a professional attitude as writers, let’s take a look at the last two, positivity and vision. They are closely related, and it’s important to realize that we have a distinctive choice in the matter.

Life is the result of a series of choices, and our attitude is one of them.

Positivity begets adaptability, while negativity begets stagnation. We carry the responsibility of choosing either of them.

Awareness of all the good and bad things happening in the writing industry and the literary community is important, it expands our understanding and our options. But it’s also important to remember that the things that we choose to be preoccupied with inevitably rub off on our attitude, and thus have a deep impact on our lives. We should be wise about our investment of energy.

I find that the more I focus on the negative in the world and in others, the more angry and frustrated I get. And when I’m frustrated and feel my guts twist into a knot, I can’t think clearly and I can’t be creative. I can’t write. And if I don’t write, I’m not me and I feel trapped in my own skin.

Every time I gaze too long into the smoke of yet another bomb dropping on the literary world—book reviews for cash, plagiarism, scammersnumber of published books per year, book piracy, censorship, unexpected bestsellers, and so on—I also risk losing sight of what’s important beneath it all, what allows the ground on which these bombs fall to exist in the first place: STORIES.

I don’t deny the importance of any of these issues, and don’t minimize their impact on the present evolution of culture or on individual writers. I do my homework every day. But despite of it all I’m unwilling to allow a negative attitude to invade my mind, spread like wildfire and burn my creativity to cinder. I won’t allow negativity to take up valuable space in my head, period.

And I have a bunch of really compelling reasons to draw this line:

1. The evolution of technology is unstoppable

No amount of anxiety and protest will undo the existence of ebooks, self-publishing and social media marketing and their effects on culture, and I really don’t see a reason to pull my hair out over any of this. Technology is expanding humanity’s access to knowledge and its means to express itself, and even if 80% of the output is crap, I’d take that crap over silence, illiteracy and an unimaginative existence any time.

2. The evolution of stories is unstoppable

Stories are a form of communication, they convey ideas, emotions and experiences. Stories do the same thing a conversation or our own memory does, they help to make sense of the world and keep the brain trained and adaptable. And stories change as communication changes, they go with the flow of the world and this ever evolving human creature.

Yes, standards of craft and style differ from a thousand or a hundred years ago, and storytelling in general has a sinusoidal quality curve, but the really amazing and awesome thing is—gaspwe tell stories! We’re able to make up things that evoke emotions in people we’ve never even met! We’re able to invent people from scratch and have them live out all the things we can’t, and we feel like we’re right there with them! We can create compelling simulations of all possible versions of existence! How fucking fantastic is that?! Who the fuck cares if it has a foreword or some guy’s quote on it?

3. The power of the human mind is undeniable

None of us see the world for what it really is, we all see the world we think it to be.

If we keep looking at the negative, we become pessimistic and the whole world around us becomes bleak. If we keep looking at the potential of things, we become idealistic and the whole world becomes unfair. If we keep looking at the positive aspects of everything we encounter, the whole world becomes accessible. Neither of these things is true. The world is all and none of these. Our life is birthed in the space between our ears, and it has the exact color we give it.

3i) Everything can be sold and bought

But we give up space in our minds for free, and if we don’t discriminate, we end up paying for it too! I’m guilty of that myself, and believe me, every single second of it was wasted.

Also, yeah I know, abstract concepts don’t have a measurable value. That includes love, the human soul and literary quality. And believing that pricetags somehow devalue things is silly. That’s like saying that terms limit concepts, when both are just figments of our uppermost organs.

3ii) Crooks are awesomely adaptive 

It’s like a whack a weasel game, you hit one over the head the next pops up. You cut a Hydra’s throat, it grows two. Wrongdoers and charlatans are incredibly versatile and adaptive. It’s useless to bemoan the injustice of it, it’s never going to change, not as long as we value freedom of choice for everyman.

But if they invest their time and resourcefulness to thrive doing what they love, why should we lag behind? Seriously, think about it.

Also, no amount of complaining about an negative state of things beats taking even the smallest positive action, if only just to increase awareness or to move out of it. (And trust me, complaining is not increasing awareness of a problem and its solutions, only of the complainer’s irritation, and that one’s not helping anybody.)

 

Things change, we learn and adapt, it’s the course of life. But there’s one thing that gives all these subsequent changes and choices a direction, and that’s our vision.

I’m not talking about some hazy artistic delirium filled with butterflies and little sparkly hearts, or a teeth-grinding, fist-clenching revolutionary battlecry. I’m talking about vision as a roadmap, as an image we have of the way things will be if all goes well. A picture nailed to the bullseye, so we know what we’re aiming at.

For example, my vision of my writing life is simple:

  1. Learn and apply
  2. Write meaningful stories
  3. Share them with others
  4. Repeat

And my vision of being a writer is being in love with good storytelling and the full experience of being human.

It’s simple, and there’s no room for negativity in it. Except those times when I’m alone and sobbing pitifully in the shower, but then I jump right back out with a fresh ta-daa and get back to work.

All I know is I’ll make the most of my time and focus on my writing and on fostering constructive relationships. Worst case scenario, I will have done something that will put a smile on my face when I’m gray and old, instead of drawing bitter tears over the years and possibilities I’ve wasted.

So what if my grandkids will think I’m senile for smiling out the window and mumbling about alien wars and mind-welds? I’ll have a damn better time than all the other farts in the retirement home. Especially Louis, who keeps smearing chilli on my bedpan. I’mma use my creative superpowers and glue him to the rocking chair, so I can finish reading him my book. He’ll love the end, I’ll make sure of it. Gotta stay positive, is what I always say.

 

6 Replies to “Turn your face to the sun, and the shadows fall behind you”

  1. I’m seeing lots of “hate reviews” popping up too. Many just spew pure hatred for an author’s work, going past a critical viewpoint of a book. These reviews sound downright personal and filled with vitriol. I don’t get it.

    Nothing wrong with a negative review – but I’m seeing a bunch where it’s obvious the reviewer didn’t even read the book!

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    1. I know exactly what you mean, Jay.

      Here’s the thing, those reviewers are probably mostly writers who have a bone to pick—or think they have a bone to pick—with the author of that book, and that’s completely beside the point of reviewing a product. The observation you made is not isolated, as Chuck Wendig points out in his latest post, Readers Are The Victims Of Bad Author Behavior. It’s a rather pitiful thing to do, and says more about the reviewer than the product or its author, in my opinion.

      Anyway. I think the most important thing is to not get involved in any of that. I keep remembering that old saying: don’t wrestle with a pig because you’ll both get dirty, but the pig will like it. 🙂

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  2. Last week, when I was checking out random blogs for the IWSG, I ran across a blog post by a girl who was questioning whether or not she even wanted to move forward and be published because of all the controversy and negativity that’s been floating around in the publishing world lately (review frauds, sock puppets, etc). I told her some of the same things you’ve mentioned here–it’s every author’s choice as to just how much involvement we end up having in that stuff.

    You can really drive yourself nuts worrying about the crazy things that go on in this wacky industry. I’ve yet to see a single upside to getting involved in the witch hunts and he-said-she-saids that pop up from time to time, from either side. Maybe you’ll get a temporary spike in blog traffic when your name becomes a part of the rumor mill, but is that why you want people visiting your site?

    And that’s not even touching on the preoccupation that you mentioned can occur. I’ve seen it happen with a friend or two. Their social media streams will change from thoughts and comments about their lives and writing to silly bickering and rumor mongering over the latest news story or goodreads controversy.

    The time we have on this planet is short! Why waste so much time and energy on something that won’t have a positive return?

    Great post as usual, Vero!

    Like

    1. There’s no upside to digging oneself into the muck and dirt of the industry, and then climbing on the soap box just to point accusing fingers at others. It always has negative results. We should always consider how much of our time and energy we are wasting in this, when we could be writing interesting stories instead.

      It’s exactly how you said, James. The time on this planet is short.

      Writing is the creation of culture. I doubt this is what we want our culture to be birthed infected with.

      Thank you very much for the comment. 🙂

      Like

  3. For this I throw up my hands and say, it really is out of my control. Therefore, I choose to come to the table with a smile on my face and the best story I can create in my hands. That I can control.

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