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All posts for the month October, 2016

When Failure is a Good Thing

Published October 30, 2016 by nruhwald

writeTo begin with, let me explain what I mean by “failure.” I’ll spare you the dictionary definition, we all know what the word means. But by failure, I’m talking about anything that didn’t go the way you wanted it to.

For writers, this could mean rejection by an agent, a bad review, a harsh critique, or poor sales or blog statistics.

For many of us, it’s very difficult to think of failure as anything other than an abysmal reflection on our efforts. It probably starts in school. Even in subjects where technically there is no wrong or right answer, for grading purposes, some answers are better than others. You either gain or loose marks, and that is it. Gained marks are good, lost marks are bad.

The world outside of school is a bit more nuanced.

Sometimes it’s not you

How people react to what you put out there, be it writing or anything else, is as much about them as it is about you. Oddly enough, I learned that playing an online rpg. Some of the characters thought I was fantastic, while others hated me.

Obviously, it was all preprogrammed. I could only complete the quests. What the characters said or did as a result had nothing to do with me.

It may have been just a game, but it translates into the real world. Just as the characters in the game had preprogramed responses, people you meet come with their own set of likes and dislikes. If someone doesn’t like what you wrote, it could just be that you queried the wrong agent, or for some reason attracted the wrong audience.

Whether you “succeed” or not sometimes doesn’t have much to do with how well you do it. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of the writing world. But this fact doesn’t let you off the hook.

If the bad result isn’t your fault, you have to try something different. Find out where your audience really is. Find the right agent.

Sometimes it is you

But this isn’t a bad thing either. You have simply discovered a problem that needs to be solved. Finding out you write query letters badly, for example, isn’t objectively worse than finding out you queried the wrong agent. It feels worse, I won’t deny that.

But it doesn’t mean that you are doomed, or that you’re a bad writer (or a bad whatever-you’re-trying-to-be). All that’s needed is a bit of learning and practice. Possibly a lot, but that’s okay.

Mistakes are good. They help you learn.

Failure sucks. Sometimes a lot. There are numerous, rather common, experiences in writing that easily elicit in emotional crisis. You’re entitled to feel awful when this happens. But when the storm is over, remember that you’ve just discovered an opportunity.

Learn from your mistakes. Success is great but it seldom teaches you anything.

 

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Writing Weirdness

Published October 23, 2016 by nruhwald

book-read-relax-lilacI apologize for missing last week. It’s midterm week at the ‘ol tech school.

Given that writing a blog post is not necessarily a great drain on time you wouldn’t think it being midterm week would mess up my blogging schedule so much.

But hey, look at that. It did.

Without further ado, I’d like to talk about writing weirdness. Not writing weird things, but the weird things going on in the writing world.

Specifically, something I keep hearing people say. Usually something like: “I don’t use my writing to express my viewpoint,” or “nobody likes to be preached at” etc.

The thought pattern behind this, I suppose, is: writers should avoid putting their personal opinions into their writing because people do not like encountering viewpoints contrary to their own, and heaven forbid anyone should mistakenly think the person with an opinion is “judgy.”

By the fact that I’m bringing this up, one could assume that I don’t agree with this kind of thinking. It’s not so much that I don’t agree. I just think people who say this are missing something rather obvious.

We are all unique. Our opinions and worldviews are as unique as our fingerprint. This is why nobody ever writes the same story. We all know this.

Then why would anybody think that at least part of what they believe and how they see the world is not evident in their writing?

Whether a writer makes a point of discussing something in a novel is irrelevant. Who they are will show up in what kinds of characters they create, and what kinds of stories they tell. It’s not a bad thing.

How you view the world and what kind of experiences you’ve have will shape your idea of what a lousy person looks like. Your choices of antagonists will reflect that. Likewise for your protagonists.

Your opinions are going to be in your story anyway. Other people may not notice. Some of them will.

Sometimes I like to read through another writer’s work, published or otherwise, and make guesses about what they believe from that. And then find out more about them from their profiles and bio’s and such to see if I was right. (Saying this just to prove a point, not to brag,) but I’m right about 90% of the time. I can spot a fellow Christian from a hundred yards.

People who can write convincingly from another perspective are rare. I can also tell if a writer chooses to have religious characters, (because, you know, most people do believe in something) but are not religious themselves.

Okay, I guess it’s obvious I don’t agree with the kind of thinking that says you shouldn’t put what you believe in your writing. I think it’s silly, because what you believe is in there anyway. (Especially when people say they don’t put their beliefs in writing and then advocate for diversity in writing. Isn’t diversity all about different world views and experiences? How do you keep opinions out of that?)

It’s okay to have an opinion and put it somewhere where people might see it. All else being equal, a well-crafted story with someone’s opinions in it is still a good story.

People are too scared of opinions other than their own these days. Knowing this, it’s tempting to pack our own away. But wouldn’t it be better to learn to express our views and receive other people’s views in a non-combative way?

 

The Gift of Creativity

Published October 9, 2016 by nruhwald

creativityHere in Canada, it is Thanksgiving. The time of year when we reflect on our blessings (especially the 3-day weekend), sip Pumpkin Spice Lattes, and eat way too much.

Today I want to reflect on the gift of creativity.

I’ll be the first to admit it: being a writer, or any kind of artist, is hard.

It’s hard work to become better at our craft. It’s hard to pour out our souls and then allow the wonderful thing we’ve created to get ripped to pieces by critiquers. It’s hard to get out of our comfort zones and attempt to sell our work to the world.

Even so, it’s important to remember how special the gift we’ve been given is. It is hard, but would I ever want to go through life without some kind of creative project going? No way!

Creating stories feeds my soul. I’d write even if I knew no one but me would ever read what I’ve written, just because I can.

Let’s face it, artists, not everyone can do what we do. It’s special, even if our work never influences society, profoundly or otherwise. In the midst of your creative travails, I hope you take a moment to be blessed.

How to Grow Your New Blog

Published October 3, 2016 by nruhwald

My blog has officially been in existence for six months. Yay! It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve managed to slightly exceed my goal of ten new followers a month. Here’s what I’ve learned about blogging.

Make It Easy…

…for your readers. Sorry, blogging isn’t easy. Well, it’s not super hard either, but it’s not easy.

Your blog should be designed to make everything you want your readers to do as easy as possible. Basically, you want your readers to get to know you, read your material, and then share your material. The easier it is for people to do these things, the more likely they are to actually do them. So…

Tell your readers who you are and what kind of blog you’re running. Right away. Your readers should be able to tell what niche your blog falls into the instant they land on your blog. Your About Me page should be easy to get to, one click max. And you can also have a mini About Me section on your home page with a text widget.

And regarding home pages, unless you’re trying to convert your blog into a website that happens to have a blog, I don’t think you should have a static home page. Which leads me to the next point.

You should make it as easy as possible for someone landing on your blog to start reading your content. I like blogs I can start reading without having to click on something first. No static home page, no read more thingee.

Depending on what kind of blog you have, though, a “read more” tag may be right for you. But I don’t think you should present your readers with something other than a blog post upon reaching your site.

“Read More” things are good for one reason, however, they allow readers to access your content library, and makes it easy for your readers to tell what you write about. I use a “top posts” list for the same purpose.

After someone has read your material, you want to make it easy for them to like, comment, and share with as little clicking as possible. Everything should just be out in the open and available. I would also suggest you not make it necessary for readers to input their email etc before they comment. This will scare off some people, just for the nuisance factor. Or they may not want to give you their information. Then you lose the chance to connect with your readers. That’s bad.

Community is your friend

The other bloggers are not your competition. For now, they will be your primary audience. Further down the road, partnering with other bloggers will allow you to increase your reach. Guest posts and whatnot.

Reblogs are similar to guest posts, but they are a bit more one-sided. From what I can tell, a reblog has limited capacity to lure the audience of the blogger you are reblogging onto your site. However, you will earn huge brownie points with said blogger, which are also valuable. They will definitely notice you, and may be more likely to return the favor.

Surprisingly enough, the best way I’ve found to generate interest in my blog is to behave like a rational human being. Be social.

Read other people’s blogs, “like” posts, and comment. Improving someone else’s stats won’t hurt you. A great way to generate interest in your blog is by showing interest in someone else’s blog. When someone goes through my blog and “likes” every post they come across, I think: “wow, this person obviously has great taste. I wonder what their blog is like?”

I’ll definitely visit them. If I like their stuff, I’ll “like” and perhaps comment. I may even follow them. Plus it’s really interesting to read what other people write.

Proofread

I cannot say it enough. Proofread a million times. Especially if you have a writing blog, you must prove you can write before anyone will take your work seriously. You want to be taken seriously.

What tips would you give to new bloggers for growing their blog?

 

 

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