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FilkOntario news and other musings

I have news. I am the Special Author Guest at FilkOntario this coming April (the 1-3, and the first person to make April Fools jokes gets it between the eyes. I'm just saying.) I've never been to a filk convention; I've spent many hours listening to filkers at various broad-base conventions. andpuff was their first author guest, and she loved it enough that she went out and started taking singing lessons and guitar lessons. And she plays and sings. In public. I'm probably not that brave. But I'm really looking forward to it, and I'm trying to figure out what, absent performing, I have to offer the convention.

The Filkontario website is http://www.filkontario.ca, and it has more information.

I admire actors and actresses who can go, perform, put their hearts into their performances and be summarily dismissed. Or be complimented, but in an empty way, as in, no job. When writers face rejection, while we put our hearts into the words, we're protected by some distance, both figurative and literal; we can hide behind the words while we continue to chip away at them, trying to improve, believing that when we finally reach a certain plateau, we'll have a book in our hands.

In the old days, the distance was greater (yes, yes, I know, I'm talking like a dinosaur. And creaking). In the old days, when there was no easily accessible network of fellow writers, one could rant and rail and weep and shred paper, and the witnesses were friends and our spouses, who could understand our feelings of rejection and inadequacy. We had days. Or even weeks. We could do these things and no one would point at us and call us unprofessional. Was this mature? No, of course not, but that's the point. We all grieve in our own way.

Now, it seems to me that many people are entering bootcamp. That they're being drilled by sergeants who want to toughen them up. That being upset or disappointed in any obvious way is a sign of being a sissy or a girl, in the context of the analogy. But guess what? Human. It's an absolutely natural reaction.

So is the doubt. So is the certainty that everything -- every single word -- you write is crap. So is the certainty that everything you write is brilliant. And all of these feelings come into play when you ask for critiques. Because you are opening yourself up every time you write -- and every time you expose that writing to the criticism of other people.

I've seen authors get editorial revision letters; they rant and rail like the best of us. They don't do it in public -- but public is becoming a more diffuse term on the internet. More on that in a minute. They are professional, imnsho, because they then recover, and go on to do the work the story demands. In my context of professional, that's all it means: you get the job done without skinning the people around you.

The first time you sell a book, there's a sense of both pride and desperation, and less of a willingness to appear human. To be professional is to court the slings and arrows of revision, and to do it well. But taking the time to grind teeth -- hating yourself for missing things, hating the fact that you have to make things more obvious, whichever your poison is -- seems to me to be entirely reasonable.

It's called venting.

Back to the days of the dinosaur, and snail mail. Since everything took weeks, the weeks gave you time to take a deep breath, to calm down, to put your head in order, and to approach the task with a bit of distance and objectivity.

After a while, you get good at it. You develop a much shorter response/recovery time. After a while, you actually welcome and depend on the responses of the editors you work with to help you with the things that you did miss, and it doesn't hurt so much -- because the downside of not listening is actually worse. Reviews are unkind, and often accurate. But the down time? I think it's necessary.

And I think it's harder and harder to give ourselves downtime when information travels at the speed of typing. It's too easy to respond in a moment of bewilderment or pain. When I was a child, I hated criticism of my writing; I had a feeling that if I loved it, and I also loved books, the love was equivalence -- it couldn't be horrible. So I hid my writing, but kept on doing it.

Most of what I wrote back then is absolutely dreadful. Truly, horribly, embarrassingly dreadful. But had anyone told me that then, I would have been crushed. Yes, okay, child. But the point is that it was my first writing, and I was so emotionally attached to it, I couldn't bear to see it justifiably savaged.

With my first novel, there were problems, because there always are. And the emotions I had then were more mixed. Talking to an editor who might actually buy the book helped because I really didn't want to look like a big doofus. But you know? Still hurt.

And I had time to get over that. Because I sent snail mail. I had time to compose a reply, and then to have second thoughts about it, and then to edit it, and then to pay attention, and see the value of the criticism once the shock had faded and my emotions were once again in the backseat while my brain was driving. Sometimes talking on the phone is better, for this, because you can hear the tone of voice behind the words; the words are trickier without that because it's easy to invest them with your own doubt and your sense of inadequacy.

Once the first book was in print, I realized I couldn't go back and fix it. That for as long as it was in print, that's what it was going to be like. And that changed the way I viewed writing, and the way I viewed editing and revisions of my story, pretty much forever.

Writers who first enter workshops can often be crushed by them, especially if a group dynamic that works is already in place and they haven't quite meshed with that dynamic. Some writers aren't meant for workshopping; it's just not in their temperament, and I know many who are published novelists who would die first. Without the carrot and stick of possible publication, new writers who have yet to publish react publicly and emotionally to things that are said about their work.

So. My advice to people who have that emotional reaction: Wait. Give it a few days. Let the information settle. Lick your wounds. Don't respond instantly. Just think about it until you can think about it without feeling run over. Don't storm out of a group instantly; don't respond for a minimum of 48 hours. Type a response if it helps, but sit on it, and wait.


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 19th, 2004 08:58 pm (UTC)
I've been lurking on the edge of filk circles for a bit now, trying to get up the nerve to sing on my own rather than with someone else, or with a group.

They're kind of nice places to do that--pretty supportive.

In a way, I think filking is like the fanfiction of music. Which is fine for me, since music for me is definitely in the hobby camp. And many of those filking are just a little bit better than me, rather than a lot better, which makes the prospect of performing a little less frightening.

It makes me understand a little better how a fanfiction community can be a reasonable place to start writing, actually.
Nov. 20th, 2004 06:46 am (UTC)
There ARE some musical snobs in filk circles but they're definitely the exception rather than the rule. After <mumble> years filking, I think I've found maybe half a dozen.

Come find me if we're even in a circle together; I'd love to hear what you sound like. Yes, this is a request for a song.
Nov. 20th, 2004 09:10 am (UTC)
Come find me if we're even in a circle together; I'd love to hear what you sound like. Yes, this is a request for a song.

I shall do this. Thanks for asking. :-)

(Just checked where in the country you are. I grew up on Long Island--Oceanside--as it turns out, though I'm about 2000 miles west of there now. :->)
Nov. 20th, 2004 09:51 am (UTC)
obRent: "You can take the girl out of Hicksville, but you can't take the Hicksville out of the girl."
Nov. 19th, 2004 09:50 pm (UTC)
That's awesome. And yet another reason for me to gnash my teeth that I can't EVER go to FilkOntario. (Timing issues... I cannot travel the first weekend in April, ever.)


Great bit about rejection and critique. The immediacy of communication today is terribly dangerous in some settings. :-)
Nov. 20th, 2004 01:45 am (UTC)
Looking forward to meeting you there! I just got hold of two books of yours. Not an easy endeavour in Germany. Scoured half the world for them.
Nov. 20th, 2004 07:42 am (UTC)
They're longer than andpuff's too <wry g>.

I'm looking forward to it as well!

(Deleted comment)
Dec. 1st, 2004 05:10 am (UTC)
Congrats! I wonder if I could make it to Ontario...probably not, but we'll see. :-) I know very very little about filking but it has always sounded interesting.

I forgot to answer this. It's sleep deficit. Or lack of brain cells.

You should come up if it's possible -- I don't know if you'll have a license by then, but depending on where you are, it's not that far by train...
Nov. 20th, 2004 04:44 am (UTC)

Crossing my fingers very very hard and hoping you might bring your guitar and/or do a bit of singing, but I promise not to push.

Also crossing my fingers and hoping Tom is there as well. He was, after all, the one to introduce me to filk in the first place.

Nov. 20th, 2004 07:04 am (UTC)
Also crossing my fingers and hoping Tom is there as well. He was, after all, the one to introduce me to filk in the first place.

You know, it's a funny thing -- we were talking about this and my mother said she could take the kids for a night, and at the same time, Thomas saw this line up on Blatherings and made the AAAARRG noise, because he remembered Confluence :D. I think he just doesn't get to see you enough in public.
Nov. 20th, 2004 06:28 am (UTC)
At present I am trying to find an agent for my first novel. I've published a novella, and some non fiction, and I know I can write competently. I'm very open to comments and criticisms that allow me to develop my work. What is driving me nuts at present is that the seven agents who have seen my work so far have commented very favourably on all aspects of my writing, and then launched into their 'but'.
In each case the 'but' has been different. There is no theme to their comments, and some of them are completely contradict the others.
I'm in the space where I would far rather someone tell me my work is bad than dredge up a reason, which even in context seems to make little sense.
Pardon the rant. :)
Nov. 20th, 2004 07:09 am (UTC)
I'm in the space where I would far rather someone tell me my work is bad than dredge up a reason, which even in context seems to make little sense.

This would make you not a new writer <g>. I'm fairly certain, though, that they're not dredging up a reason out of the ether; they're giving their reasons, and they happen to have different views. The clashing views suck, though. It's kind of like workshopping a story and finding out that what one person hates hates hates another person feels is the core of the story.

This is my way of saying that editors do this too; it sounds like -- and you've posted no examples here, so I'm guessing -- matters of taste. Are there any you've gotten that you agree with?
Nov. 20th, 2004 07:27 am (UTC)
Are there any you've gotten that you agree with?
There was the one who said my writing stood head and shoulders above much fantasy that was being published today, and had a rare sense of humour. I rather liked what she said. :) However, she felt I didn't have enough story in book 1 of 3. We never really managed to work out what that was. She was originally concerned about the characters' paths, but I managed to demonstrate all the main ones did struggle, strive and move on.
Then there was the one who gave me an editor for seven months - who loved what we did with the book together, only then the MD turned round and said she had trouble with the plot - but no details, and the editor said she didn't have a clue, and thought it was more than fine.
Then there are the ones who say my writing doesn't grab them.
Then then the one who said the story was too big.
I don't think there is enough commonality for me to effect big changes. So I'm sending material out to other British agents, continuing with the non-fiction, and starting another novel (not in the same series) in the hope I'll grab someone's attention at some point.
To be honest it feels much more like a chance thing - I don't think there is anything concrete I can do, except continue to write more, and hope each work improves. (Although I am going to be broken hearted if I really can't find someone to take the fantasy novel on - it is the very best thing I have ever written, and there is nothing out on the market quite like it at the moment. (And I know this will change.) :( )
Nov. 20th, 2004 07:44 am (UTC)
This means: they all sense something is missing but are incorrectly identifying what. This is very very common with writing, even with editors. Editors (well, good ones) don't expect you to make the exact changes they suggest, only that you find some way to address the issues that bother.

Nov. 20th, 2004 08:00 am (UTC)
I do see that they sense something is missing, and if I could figure out what this was, or even have a few more clues dropped my way, I'd change it,

As I said somewhere I did rewrite huge chunks of it for one agent - and the reader there loved it, only for the MD to say no in the final moment (practically as pen was touching contract). I've since heard that particular agency has decided to drop their fantasy section - so I'm left wondering if that was it. Or not...

I am fast coming to the conclusion that there must be something deeply wrong with me, because not only do I keep writing the things I would like to read, but I keep trying to get an agent too. Still, the alternatives don't bear contemplation. :)
Nov. 20th, 2004 08:05 am (UTC)
 I am fast coming to the conclusion that there must be something deeply wrong with me, because not only do I keep writing the things I would like to read, but I keep trying to get an agent too. Still, the alternatives don't bear contemplation. :)

LOL! I will add, to lnhammer's comment that in cases like this, they're dropping all the clues they can think of, if that's any consolation.

What's an MD, btw? (here, it's a medical term).
Nov. 20th, 2004 08:13 am (UTC)
MD = Managing Director (although it is also an abbreviation for someone with a medical degree too)

And yes, they are obviously dropping clues - and I haven't caught them. :) (I also don't think they're dropping the same clues :) )

I do admit to the secret hope that I haven't yet found the right agent tm - and that I will find someone who if they don't exactly fall into a stupor at my brilliance will understand how to market the fiction I write.

Nov. 20th, 2004 06:42 am (UTC)
I don't think you need to be all that brave to sing and play at a filkcon. Even with the fact that there are some frighteningly good and professional people there, there's a lot of truth in the phrase, "Music has strong magic."

You can, if you're curious, read about my take on FilkOntario the year that andpuff was there if you look here.

And I hope to see you there!
Nov. 21st, 2004 06:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I was curious, and I did read. Now, of course, I'm worried that I won't be nearly as entertaining a guest in general as Tanya was (that, and she's singing <g>). Err, that didn't come out in quite the way I intended -- I really did enjoy the con report!
Nov. 25th, 2004 09:49 pm (UTC)
Here's my con report from the same FKO, though you may have read it back when I posted it ...

(Deleted comment)
Nov. 20th, 2004 04:42 pm (UTC)
I should be used to this after all these years, but there are times when your masochist tendencies just amaze me... *g*
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 21st, 2004 06:38 pm (UTC)
I was too sick to go to the store today so I figured I was safe.. *g*

Thank you for catching the brackets; with the html tags mixed in, I seem incapable of actually closing one.

And you're in trouble for what you said on the list; the bracket was nothing <g>. You'll be healthy again sometime, you know. You'll have to be...
Nov. 20th, 2004 04:24 pm (UTC)
Good stuff about critiques and workshops.

Did you see the discussion ogre_san had about workshops, here?

Nov. 21st, 2004 06:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you -- caught it; his LJ looks interesting as well!
Nov. 21st, 2004 09:02 am (UTC)
I've done enough workshopping at this point that I've got a decent handle [for me] on it.

Write story. Let sit. Edit it myself. Workshop it [either at a physical workshop like a Con workshop or through Critters or, at this point, beta-reader it]. Read comments as they come in for an online version and thank commentors. In an in person, sit quietly, write notes and respond if questioned. Thank everyone in first breath of being allowed to talk. Ask for clarification when needed and just let the comments flow over me.

LET STORY SIT. For as long as it takes to be objective. Re-read story & comments. Edit draft and incorporate some comments while leaving out others. Restructure if there was a lot of confusion around a single scene/plotline. Take a look at the commonalities and decide if those are what I want present [in the case of a message] or need to edit out [in the case of problems].

I don't know how well I'll do with a "real" editor, but I think I've got some of this done pretty well. Now, all I need is to get published. ;-)

Nov. 21st, 2004 12:48 pm (UTC)
I don't know how well I'll do with a "real" editor, but I think I've got some of this done pretty well. Now, all I need is to get published. ;-)

I think there's an over-riding incentive when dealing with your first "real editor" for the first time that makes everything else that might be painful about the process seem to suddenly dwindle almost entirely into non-existance <wry g>.

But, yes, what you're doing is what I would suggest were I to be asked.
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )