‘Siren’s Call’ is released on 4 January 2021! I’m super excited and so much looking forward to sharing it with you all.
I do hope you enjoy my book trailer.
(Made using Canva and iMovie. Music by bensound.com)
‘Siren’s Call’ is released on 4 January 2021! I’m super excited and so much looking forward to sharing it with you all.
I do hope you enjoy my book trailer.
(Made using Canva and iMovie. Music by bensound.com)
When I first stood sideline at a netball game I had no idea that I’d end up learning so much about how to approach life and writing.
The last two years I’ve had the chance to go on tournament with my school’s premier netball team as a chaperone/teacher in charge. I’m not a coach, I’ve never even played 😬 I’m the van driver and attendant and school rep and cheerleader.
I’ve learned so much watching the girls and listening to the amazing coach, Rachel Rasmussen. These lessons are life lessons, but being me I connect them most with writing. I’ve listed 12 of them below so we can all benefit from the wisdom gleaned on the sidelines.
We’ve all had moments when our own minds become our worst enemy. Confusion and self-doubt muddle our thinking and ability to perform well. Those are the moments when you need to make a connection with a buddy–let them set you straight or support you out of the mess. I do this all the time with my writing. When things are spiralling and I can’t see the trees for the self-doubt, I don’t so much slide as crash into my writing friends’ DMs and let them help me.
When the girls felt like they were flat in their play, the coach told them to buddy up with someone who would become their hype partner. We know what a difference it makes when you have someone in your corner telling you that you’re amazing and you got this.
I’ve learned a few things about netball over the last couple of years but I’m definitely no expert. But what I CAN tell, every time I watch the girls play, is the exact moment when they stop believing. When they stop backing themselves. Every single time that happens it’s a ripple effect. They stop playing well, they pull back, they don’t make the shot. That lack of belief is then reinforced by their actions so they continue to sink downwards in an awful spiral that many of us will be only too sadly familiar with.
The same applies for writing. And, indeed, for life. We need to back ourselves. There are enough obstacles throwing themselves in our path as it is, we can’t afford to be our own obstacle. And just as the cycle of lack of belief leads to reinforcing the idea that we are crap, so backing ourselves can lead to a cycle of positive reinforcement that yes, we’re getting there. I told the girls I could see when they back themselves because then they shine.
We have to back ourselves.
If we write like we mean it, if we live with purpose, then the finished product will show that. We have to show up for the trainings. For the practice runs. For the moments when it isn’t going anywhere but we still learn something from it.
And we have to show up with commitment.
Sure, just deciding to commit and putting in a whole assed effort doesn’t mean it will always work out, but it will be better than if you didn’t. And that’s the point.
This one hit me hard.
So often we diss ourselves. “This draft is trash”, “I’m so rubbish at this“. That kind of negative self talk is NOT helpful. Yeah, sometimes we need that honest look at ourselves but wallowing in generalised “I’m so crap” doesn’t do anything except a) reinforce that you are not succeeding and b) make you feel terrible. Targeting specific things you tried but that didn’t work, or recognising what you didn’t do that you should have, gives you a plan to go forward. It gives you recognition of what you tried–and that’s important. Acknowledging that we didn’t set out to play badly/write badly/be disorganised, means we can high five ourselves for our efforts while making plans for improvement.
After each game, the coach gets the team to think and discuss what their goal going in was, did they succeed, how did they play, how did the team do. It’s a round robin which encourages reflection and focus.
Reflecting on what we have done, what we hoped and still hope to do, and how we feel about it, is a great life skill. Reflection is a key aspect of teaching – why did that lesson work? how could I have tried more to get that one student to engage. And I think it’s important that as writers we reflect as well. (More on living a reflective life here).
I loved this. This was on court, players looking past the mess and hustle of the defence and attack and seeing the clean pass. It’s SO easy to get stuck on the mess that’s in front of us. The day to day mess of life, of thoughts, self imposed deadlines and plans shifting. Of Covid…
Sometimes we need to look past all the mess to the clean pass – to see a different path or a new option.
And then make the pass.
(more on clearing mental space here)
One of the things I most love about watching Rachel coach the team is her manner with the girls. When they’re on the court she alternates between enouragement and praise and “get on the ball! that was our ball! get it back! what are you doing??”. When they come off in between quarters she’s so encouraging. She doesn’t shy away from real talk, fierce talk, after a game or in trainings, but when a player comes off stressed and tired, she says ‘hey that was good, you played that defense well, just need to make sure you keep your feet moving”. The girls respond so well to it because they know that it’s honest – the good and the bad – but they feel supported and like their efforts are acknowledged.
Honesty is so important. We can’t improve without honest critique. Fierceness can be appreciated. This is a gif I use often for friends who are needing a push to get writing instead of doomscrolling Twitter:
But that honesty and fierce encouragement has to be tempered with support and kindness. We all know it’s tough, and knowing someone is on your side makes all the difference.
One of the last games of the tournament was so hard. It’s been a strange year with Covid 19 and tournaments cancelled and no training. They had about 5 games this season before we went back into lockdown. Luckily, being in New Zealand, we were back out of lockdown pretty soon and cases under enough control to play again. But their game fitness suffered. That didn’t matter – the girls left it all on the court. One player was almost in tears as they played so hard and still didn’t get those goals. But they didn’t give up. They dug deep and kept going.
Writing is hard. Publishing is harder. We got to grind it out. Keep going. Keep pushing. Leave it all on the page.
When it’s hardest is when we have to dig deep, remember why we’re doing it, and keep at it.
Our coach is intensely competitive. I’ve seen her on the sideline fully stressed and she hates losing. But, she always says to the team – “I don’t mind the loss when it’s a good hard game.”
Success is not guaranteed just because we work hard. But as my son said to me once when he was about 7: “You shouldn’t be stressed, you should be proud of yourself for working so hard.”
Publishing, life in general actually, is an industry where luck and timing is huge. Quality and skill and hard work are important, but if your work doesn’t resonate with the right people at the right time, it doesn’t matter how many hours you spent revising or learning your craft or polishing the manuscript.
But that’s a good loss. It still hurts (let’s be real it always will) but we can lay it to rest being proud that we did EVERYTHING we could.
I felt that way about my marriage ending to be honest. I wanted to be able to look my kids in the eyes and say that I had tried everything to make it work, to keep our family together. And I feel satisfied that I did. It still hurt, hugely, but I did what I could until I couldn’t.
It took me about 16 months to put “Award Winning Writer” in my Twitter bio and I still feel uncomfortable about it. Maybe that’s a kiwi thing – feels too much like bragging. But I think it’s because I know how much more I want to improve and benchmarks I’ve set myself that I haven’t reached yet.
It’s so easy for us to focus on the negative. On the losses, the rejections. But that doesn’t help us emotionally and it isn’t realistic either. There’s so much more to us than our weaknesses or our ‘failures’.
Knowing our strengths means we can play to them.
This is a big one.
Playing competitively sometimes you’re left on the bench the whole game, or you’re pulled off and someone else is sent on. It isn’t personal. it’s the coach figuring out what the best play is for that game.
We talk about being rejected as an author but actually it’s a pass. A pass on that project. It isn’t personal. It isn’t a reflection of your worth as a person. It’s just that it isn’t quite right for that person at that time. It isn’t the best play for them.
When the coach asked the girls this after our final game, an intense game we lost by three points, it really struck me. Yes there were tough moments and the outcome wasn’t what they wanted, but what moments did they enjoy?
This is like my happy jar approach, or a gratitude journal. It’s the recognition that there are good and fun things in life even when it’s hard.
There are times when writing can feel a bit like drudgery. But there are still moments we can enjoy. Maybe we enjoyed writing that paragraph when that one perfectly matched song came on the playlist. Maybe a bit of dialogue made us cackle. Maybe we feel proud of that line of description.
Sometimes we forget why we started writing in the first place – because it’s fun and we like it.
I think enjoyment can occasionally get lost once we start taking it seriously and want to be published. At times, the thought of ‘is this marketable? will anyone want it?” sucks all the enjoyment out of it.
I’m primarily a discovery writer. If I plot too much I don’t enjoy the story as much anymore. For a while, I felt I had to make myself outline and plot and structure my writing a certain way – but that’s not really how I write. I have the most fun when I jump around between scenes and jot small things down and find things out as I write.
My new goal is to rediscover my enjoyment and fun, to record what I enjoyed after each writing session.
I hope you find these insights as helpful as I have!
My 99 year old grandmother died last week. She wasn’t your stereotypical kind of grandma. She painted, but she didn’t paint still life or scenery, she painted vivid abstract compositions based on nebulae and quantum physics. She was fierce in her hunt for knowledge and her passion for science and art. She engaged with socialist ideas well before they became hipster.
At her funeral, we all shared our memories of Grandma and some consistent themes came up. Her huge sense of fairness and the importance of equality, the love of knowledge, the loyalty to and importance of family. We talked about how all of these had been passed down through the generations and her 23 descendants.
Today I’m sharing some of the many lessons my Grandma taught me.
Grandma lived through the Great Depression. Born in 1920, she was just a child when the Depression hit, her father died, and her family had to leave the big house she loved and move cities to live with extended family. She didn’t live with her mother, but with a cousin whose wife treated her very badly. She had to leave school at 14 and help her family. These early experiences shaped my grandmother deeply, some in sad ways (her fear of being thought ignorant which drove her fierce acquisition of learning in later years) and some in more quirky ones. Grandma could not abide waste. She was known to slip bacon from the motel breakfast into her purse ‘for later’ and couldn’t throw away anything that might end up being useful later.
I didn’t understand a lot of that until I was older. When I heard more of the stories of her life I had a much greater understanding of how she came to be the way she was. It’s so important to remember that people are so often the products of their upbringing and their earliest experiences, and to be kind.
Not long before she died, Grandma told me about when she was 10, and the woman she stayed with took the roses Grandma had gathered to give to her mother and put them in her own living room. Grandma was as furious as a sad little 10yo deeply missing their mother could be. She told me she went to every corner of that room and stuck her finger in the wallpaper and ripped it down. I nearly cheered.
A story I remember hearing when I was younger and I really hope isn’t apocryphal because I tell it to all my students 😬, is that during the mass protests against the 1981 Springbok Tour, Grandma hit a policeman on the head with her handbag when he was rough with protestors. My grandmother was never one to bow to authority unless she deemed it moral and worth listening to. Even then I doubt she would bow.
Grandma was never one to worry too much about the opinions of those she didn’t care for. Certainly not by the time I knew her.
She and her sister opened a fashion store in 1950s Hamilton and shocked many with their glamorous selves. And she was glamorous.
She was a working mother when that was frowned upon. She read about communism (although she did burn her little red book in the backyard in the 60s when anti-communism was at a high). She learned acupuncture and ran a successful clinic in the 1980s in central Auckland. She was always a rationalist and had little patience for sentimentality. She painted her house herself. She had staunch political opinions and was not afraid to discuss them.
Grandma was so very much herself. So much of her childhood always sounded to me as if she was being required to repress her feelings and experiences and I’m so very glad that for most of her life she allowed herself to just simply BE.
So…. When I was in my early 20s and single, I was visiting grandma when she asked:
“Have you found a nice boyfriend yet?”
“Ah no, some dates but they never last long.”
“Don’t worry you’ll find someone.”
“I’m sure I will.”
her: *looks intently at me* “But, young women have… urges….and it’s quite alright to date someone you aren’t in love with to satisfy those urges.”
I couldn’t believe my grandma was telling me to have one-night stands 😂
Grandma taught herself to paint and came up with her own style. She painted and learned and had her first exhibition at the age of 96. It was such a success they brought her back for another the year after. She was still talking of having another exhibition not many months ago.
Three weeks before she died, grandma was still working on her paintings. She still had so many ideas she wanted to try, visions to pursue.
I began writing again in my late thirties, dropped it, and picked it up again a couple of years ago. Knowing that age is no barrier to creativity is endlessly inspiring.
Over Grandma’s 99 1/2 years, she witnessed so many things: The Great Depression, the creation of the first welfare state in New Zealand, World War II, the first Atomic Bombs, the rise of second wave feminism, gay rights, first woman Prime Minister in New Zealand, fights for civil rights, the Vietnam War, protests, climate change, the hippy counter culture of the 70s, the rise of computers, televisions, movies, mobile phones, passenger flight, the Moon Landing, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Soviet Union, the Arab Spring, 9/11, the #MeToo movement and third wave feminism….
It’s been a huge century, and she saw and experienced so much of it. And I know I said we change with it, and we do, but the essential core of who my grandma was – the loving, curious, determined, creative little girl she was – remained throughout her life.
I was so incredibly blessed to have known her.
Typing that made me beam.
I had pretty much given up on this. Not that I was ever going to stop querying and trying and persisting. But that little core of belief was dwindling pretty fast.
And now I’m so incredibly delighted that the amazing Eva Scalzo of Speilburg Literary is my agent, and shares my vision for my story and my career.
I always read people’s ‘How I Got My Agent’ posts, looking for reassurance and advice. Also I am just nosy. It is something special to be able to write my own!
First, the stats.
I’ve now written five complete books, and three unfinished about half books.
One is the first book I took to completion – REDEMPTION. There’s a lot I love about it, but it’s definitely in need of a full rewrite. It has been on the shelf pretty much since I wrote it. The only people who’ve read that one are my parents. It’s also the one I began writing when I was 19.
The second book I wrote is a full length fanfic on the return of King Arthur that I wrote initially for my sons and then for myself. It’s available on fanfic.net. Although I never had any intention of publishing it, I still count it because it’s a full length book (80k) and taught me a LOT about my writing process.
The last three I Queried.
Book number 3 is the first one I really took seriously, the book I began to believe I could do all the actual author things with – like get an agent and a book deal. That book is DUST BOUND.
I queried DB to over 100 agents (with 7 full requests) and then 6 publishers (with one full request) over the course of 18 months. The feedback (on the occasions when I got some) was pretty much universal – Fae are not marketable, the market is saturated with them, very well-written but I don’t know how to sell this.
DB won and placed in contests, and readers loved it, but it clearly wasn’t going to have a path in trad publishing. I decided last year that life was too short to sit around waiting when I have such faith in that book and its potential. DUST BOUND was self published in February this year, and has already had some really pleasing reviews.
Book number four, SIREN’S CALL (originally Lure of the Lost), was written while waiting for PitchWars mentees to be announced in 2018 (spoiler alert – I didn’t get selected). I didn’t query as widely for this one (only 27 agents and two publishers) because mermaids are a tougher sell, especially for adult, and especially with a more sci-fi/fantasy mash up. Following a RWA FFNP chapter contest win and a request, I published SC with The Wild Rose Press in January this year.
Book number five, and the book I signed with, LADY OF THE RAVENS, I queried to 50 agents over the course of 2020. I received 7 full requests and 2 partials, and one R&R. For the first time, rejections held much more feedback. I felt so positive about this one. I really felt it would be THE ONE. Then the realities of Covid and the political situation in the USA kicked in and the usual publishing waiting game seemed to slow down even more.
In total, over three manuscripts and three years, I sent out 180 queries.
I won’t say I gave up hope. But I kinda did. I think to be honest that’s more because I found writing during 2020 very difficult. I wrote about 35k on my WITCH OF MAYFAIR project before pushing it aside. I’d already pushed aside BLOOD CURSED ROSE, my vampire beauty and the beast, to work on WOM. (BCR is also at about 35k). Once the rejections on the fulls started coming in over the new year, I realised that for the first time in 3 years, I didn’t have anything ready to query. I threw myself into marketing SIREN’S CALL and getting DUST BOUND ready for release. Both things I am proud of. But all those writing fears about whether I’d ever be able to write a full story again kept raising their head and I was getting tired of smashing the doubts down again and again.
Then I got an email from Eva and everything careened back on track.
Funny story: When I got the email from Eva about ‘THE CALL’, I was sitting in my car sending angry texts to my 16yo while his 13yo brother had gone into my sister’s house where we were to have dinner with my family and told them I would be a little while. My son had not answered my calls so we were now crossly (on my part) texting back and forth about his evening plans (which didn’t involve the family dinner…) and a few other things that had really worked me up. I had seen a notification that I had an email from Eva, but I was certain it was a rejection. Of course it would come now, when I’m having such a crappy day, I thought as I stabbed at the phone keyboard. I took a minute in between texts to open the email.
I burst into tears.
I couldn’t stop crying as I read what Eva loved about the book, and those magic words ‘I’d love to have the chance to chat to you about this.’
I instantly messaged my son and said ‘I’m going to call and you have to pick up this time because it’s important.’
I rang him and started crying as soon as he picked up. I’m sure I freaked him out a little. I told him I had an agent wanting to talk about representing my book. He was so delighted and happy, told me again and again how proud he was.
I told him I was still cross. He laughed and said ‘fair enough’. But I said I wanted to tell him because I was so happy, and because for the last seven years he’s been a constant encourager and believer in my writing. We said our ‘I love yous’ then I went into the house to tell my other son, my parents, and my sister all at the same time. It was a wonderful surprise celebration.
A couple of things made me feel extra special about this. NASA’s Perseverance landed on Mars the same day as my own perseverance had seemed to pay off. And the call came five days after my late Grandmother’s birthday. The same Grandmother whose name I chose for my water witch in LADY OF THE RAVENS. I know it’s coincidence but it feels like a sign.
So that’s the stats, and THE CALL story.
Now I am sitting here in February 2021 having published two books and a short story since January, and with an agent. Seems like the universe dumped all its blessings on me at once.
But here’s the stuff that’s not so visible.
During 2018, when I finished and queried DUST BOUND and wrote SIREN’S CALL, I suffered from significant depression. Among other things in my life, it targeted my belief about my writing. I felt hopeless. Useless. Pathetic. A terrible awful writer. I couldn’t see any of the positive feedback from beta readers or contest judges. I blew any critique up in my mind to astronomical proportions. I kept saying I was going to give up.
But I didn’t.
I kept pressing send on those queries.
I kept revising.
I kept writing.
This was no inspirational ‘I felt the pain and did it anyway!’ This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Harder even than my marriage break up. I couldn’t make my bed or clean my house. I took prolonged regular time off work. I would sit sobbing on the edge of my bed for an hour, hopeless and hating myself. I wept in the shower, loathing myself and my stupidity because I had forgotten to bring a towel into the bathroom. I was very unkind to myself. I talked about deleting my stories. About giving up on my dreams, because I was so unworthy of them. It was an awful time.
But I kept turning up to the computer.
I kept pushing send on the queries, even when doing so made my heart pound so much I felt sick.
It was my writing buddies on Twitter and my family who kept me writing. Believed for me when I had no belief of my own.
If there are two lessons you take from this, let them be: a) find and hang on to those people who lift you up, and b) seek treatment and help.
The difference once I started getting better was noticeable. I re-read a beta reader’s comments and saw, for the very first time, all the wonderful admiring things she had said.
I didn’t start writing RAVENS, the story that snagged me an agent, until 2019, so you might wonder why I’ve included this story in this post. I think it’s easy to forget that no book stands entirely on its own. Each book we write builds on what we learned in the last one. Each book we write draws on the threads of our life and experience.
I also think it’s important that we acknowledge that life, and writing, don’t always go smoothly or the way we planned. I am so incredibly proud of myself for continuing to try when my brain wouldn’t allow me to have any hope or belief at all. Writing didn’t exactly save me, but it gave me the means to save myself.
An author friend I met at conferences, Yvonne Lindsay, told me years ago of her own story of persistence. That sheer bloody determination and never giving up is what it takes to get published, to achieve your dreams. At my lowest moments I would think of her story and keep going. I hope that maybe someone will see my own story and one day it will help them decide not to give up.
Writing and publishing is hard. We put our hearts into our work then offer it up to be judged and rejected. I know the ‘it only takes one yes!’ can be exhausting to hear again and again when all you are hearing is ‘no’. But it’s true. The real secret though – that yes has to be from yourself to yourself.
Say yes to yourself. Never give up. It will happen.
And in case it might be helpful, I’ve included here a copy of the query that snagged a full request from Eva.
Dear Eva Scalzo,
LADY OF THE RAVENS is a complete 94000 word adult fantasy which combines a reimagined Lady Macbeth with the forest witchery of UPROOTED and the battle for power twisted with prophecy of THE RUIN OF KINGS.
Elena killed a king to please her husband, protect her unborn child, and take the power she craves. Now, as her treacherous husband sits on a stolen throne, she hides her magic and identity in a small village, hoping the world believes her dead.
When she discovers her husband is hunting their infant son in order to prevent him from fulfilling a prophecy, she decides to seek help from the witches who raised her, and who helped her husband to the throne. Leaving her child in safety, and joined by a woodsman who has secrets of his own, she journeys to the coven in order to make a deal—her life for her son’s. Her power for his protection.
But two of the coven are dead, murdered by the king, and her sister has been taken captive.
Now, against a backdrop of rival claimants battling for the throne and a number of magical creatures to whom she owes favours, Elena must fight for her child’s safety and her sister’s life. When the woodsman she is learning to love reveals he too has a claim to the throne, she must choose her path—trust or isolation, love or power.
And, along the way, she needs to kill another king.
My debut novel, LURE OF THE LOST, will be published by Wild Rose Press 2020/21. I have won a range of awards for my unpublished writings across several manuscripts, all of which are fantasy and romantic fantasy. I am a member of the Romance Writers’ Association in New Zealand, and a keen blogger. One of my short stories appeared in The Flying Ketchup Press’s 2019 Goldilocks Zone anthology. I have also had an education based article published in February 2020’s New Zealand Education Gazette.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to people please. Not out of a desire for approval, at least not anymore. I just love making people happy. But there’s a fine line between enjoying making people happier and beating yourself up because you can’t please everyone.
My journey to realising I don’t have to please everyone began years ago, back when my marriage first started cracking. I was talking with one of our school counsellors and out of the blue she asked me: “Where does this need to please everyone come from?”
Reader, I Was Shook.
Did I have a need to please everyone?
Where had it come from?
It took me ages to work it out. Closest I can make it is the lesson I learned first as an 8 year old and then again as a young adult dating – it doesn’t matter how nice and kind and pleasing you are, people will still leave you if they think you aren’t ‘good enough’.
That’s clearly an oversimplification of the complex dynamics of playground friendships and dating. But, on reflection, I realised it was an internalised certainty. If I don’t make everyone happy and twist myself into all sorts of compromises and take the blame for their negativity (basically if I fail to please them) they might leave me. They might hate me. Or just think I’m ordinary and boring (I’d prefer antagonism to be honest).
It has taken me a Long Long Time to be fine with the fact that not only will I not please all the people all of the time, but that I can’t. None of us can.
The three things that helped me to realise this are: teaching, writing, and Twitter. Yes. Twitter. That renowned hell site of social media.
One of the most important things you learn as a teacher is that your style of teaching is not going to suit every learner. With 33 teenagers in each class, and five classes a day, it’s simply not possible to be as differentiated in teaching approach as you want to be. You can’t be all things to all people all of the time. The most we can do is try our hardest to be effective in what we do, and keep trying new ways of communicating the learning to reach a range of kids. Sometimes, it comes down to figuring out who needs the most help, what kind they need, and giving everyone that same kind of approach. Those who are fine anyway deal with it, and those who are most in need are lifted.
But here is the key thing – you don’t have to be the favourite, or even exciting and fun, to be an effective teacher.
Do I want to be everyone’s favourite teacher? Of course! Am I many kids’ fave? Yes. Do I need to be? No.
My job is to teach. And although I agree with Rita Pierson’s declaration that ‘kids don’t learn from people they don’t like,’ there’s a big difference between being liked for being fair and encouraging and good at your job, and being the favourite. As Pierson says, it’s more about being a kid’s champion than anything else. And you can do that without them loving the boring activity you made.
Not everyone is going to love every minute in your classroom or of the content you teach. And that is okay.
We all teach differently because we are all different people. Teaching is very bound to your own personality and style. Not every personality is the best for every student. And because teaching is founded on relationships, this can sometimes feel overwhelming. How do I be everything to all people?
The art we create through writing or drawing or music does not please or engage everyone.
No, it really is.
But for someone like me who desperately wants everyone to LOVE AND ADMIRE ME GODDAMMIT, it has been hard to completely accept.
What has made it easier to be at peace with, for me, is critique. Critique by beta readers and critique partners, and critique by contest judges.
The first time someone critiques your precious beautiful piece of art, it can feel like a critique of YOU. We put so much of ourselves into our art that it can be hard to separate the two.
But (good) critique is never personal. It’s about making your vision even MORE your vision. Shaping the sketch into the masterpiece. And the more you feel centred in that vision, the easier the critique is to take.
Knowing your own voice as a writer is so important. Leaning into those stylistic quirks that distinguish you from others, knowing when to discard feedback that would change the nature of your story to someone else’s. Those are essential.
But also essential is knowing, and accepting, that not everyone is your audience. You won’t please all the readers all of the time.
I’ve had feedback from contest judges on the same pages that have varied ASTONISHINGLY. As in, one judge listed about 8 things in detail they thought I should change, and another said ‘seamlessly flawless. I wouldn’t change a thing.’ I’ve had rejections from agents saying they couldn’t connect with a morally grey character, and feedback from other agents saying they love that same character, but aren’t connecting with the concept. My debut is beginning to get a few reviews from advance readers and what makes it easier to handle is the fact I’ve completely internalised the fact that not everyone will love it. And that’s okay, because some other people will.
All I can do is be myself, tell my own stories, as hard as I can.
Likewise our enjoyment of art and media does not have to be shared by everyone. And we are allowed to have dissenting opinions.
Which leads me to….
Prior to joining Twitter, I’d never had a public online presence. I guarded my privacy and only had friends and family on my Facebook and Instagram. On Twitter, I found I could curate my social media presence and experience. Connecting with and interacting with random strangers taught me a few things.
Listening is a good thing to do. Just listen. So often, we feel an urge to get involved in the ‘discourse’. It isn’t necessary and sometimes it just ends with us feeling riled up or upset. We don’t have to agree with or even understand everyone’s opinions. They don’t have to agree with ours. But it helps to listen and read and reflect.
Don’t track the follower numbers, just make friends and genuine connections. If you focus on building a platform over simply interacting and doing what you want, I believe that not only will you not have as much fun, but you won’t be as successful as you hope. People are drawn to authenticity. They don’t want to feel like they are just a means to an end.
I see a lot of writers worrying that they will lose followers if they aren’t bland and never voice opposing opinions. I say that it’s your page, your account, your views, and your values. If your follower count goes down because you made it clear you hold no space for racism or transphobia (for eg) then that’s a good thing.
You don’t owe anyone on social media your time or attention. I’m not talking about friends here (I have many true friendships with people I met on Twitter). I’m talking about acquaintances or randoms. We are brought up to be polite and considerate. And for those of us with people pleasing tendencies, it’s hard to feel like you can just ignore or not engage with people who are talking to us. But the thing is, social media is not the same as real life. They aren’t co-workers you have to nurture a relationship with so that daily life is not awful. They are, essentially, strangers. And you don’t have to be anyone’s mentor, therapist, life coach, bff, admirer–unless you want to.
Ultimately this comes down to being confident in yourself and looking after your boundaries.
Feeling like you have to please everyone can leave you feeling overwhelmed and wrung out. It can make you feel like a failure, or that you have let people down.
When you truly accept that you CAN’T please everyone, but also that you don’t have to, it is very liberating.
People love you and admire your work because of who you already are. You don’t need to be anything other than yourself.
Trying to twist yourself into someone else’s expectations isn’t necessary and in the end just leaves you feeling discontent.
Be your own wonderful self. Do what you can to make people happy (because that’s a great thing to try to do). Don’t be afraid of holding your own opinions. Don’t feel bad for having boundaries. And accept the fact that just because you or your art are not some people’s fave, doesn’t make you any less wondrous or worthy.
Hear me out. I know no-one enjoys a toddler tantrum, but as I drove past a park the other day I saw a mum trying to lift her toddler off the ground. Said toddler clearly didn’t want to leave the park and was embracing gravity for all they were worth.
It struck me all at once how this little scene was in fact a lesson for how to deal with all sorts of people, tantruming or not. I mentioned it to my teen who immediately understood what I meant and why I thought it related to him, and his peers.
Parents lift toddlers all the time. They’re heavy, but moveable. Mostly because they’re all ‘up! up!’, and hold themselves up.
Toddlers who refuse to be lifted are a different story. It’s like they’ve sucked in gravity and it’s holding them bound to the earth. When you finally heave them up, you might get a kick in the stomach for your pains and a screech in your eardrum.
We can try and lift people, and help them, and support them, but sometimes they aren’t ready. Sometimes they’re lying on the ground refusing to get up. Sometimes they’re frightened to get up. They push us away, shout, cover their eyes.
When people want to be lifted, it’s a lot easier.
This isn’t to say that we walk away from them when they’re not wanting the help. That might be necessary for our own wellbeing at times but mostly I think when we have the spoons we want to stick around to help.
What it means is that we can’t save everyone. We can’t always help people who aren’t ready to be helped. Who don’t want us there.
And that isn’t our fault.
It’s not a burden in particular that a teen or child needs to bear when friends or those close to them aren’t ready to be helped. I think it’s an important message to let young people know that they don’t have to be the saviour. They can still try and help, but they need to know that stepping back to look after themselves is okay. Refill the jug. Put your own oxygen mask on first.
The way I see it in teaching is that I can easily help a kid who is struggling in my subject but who wants help and wants to improve. It’s so very much harder when they don’t want to be there at all. Part of the rewards of my job is when, through patience and kindness, I can wait long enough for the student to shift, to be able to sit up and ask to be lifted.
Many people I’m more than happy to wait it out. Be there until they’re ready.
But sometimes we can’t do that, and it’s actually okay.