On Writing: The Silver Lining

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, Swimming with Sharks, and Other Gems

Guest post by Niki  Venis

Zombie apocalypseI have a plethora of hobbies. I might even be considered a collector of them, if there’s any such thing at all. I love makeup, and creating new and artistic looks with it. I write (a lot), but I’m not a professional writer. I blog…incidentally, mostly about writing. I take photographs of things and people, for which I have a business license declaring me legal, but I’m not even a professional photographer (though, that one’s debatable depending on how you define “professional”). In fact, the only thing I can claim to be is a mother, and that’s only because I have irrefutable DNA evidence to prove that. So, when my dear friend, Jen, asked me to guest post on this blog, I spent a great many hours internally debating whether or not to even accept. What could I possibly write about that people would want to read? Furthermore, being a professional Nothing, what could I write about that people would actually take seriously? I can tell you the basic guidelines of editing a story by way of the APA, CMOS, or MLA standards, and that rarely will you find two publishing houses in agreement with the way one should properly space around ellipses, but all that would boil down to is a long-winded non-explanation followed by an exasperated sigh and conclusion of “do what you want, because it won’t be right, no matter what.” I could preach to you the usefulness of what I like to call the Tom Sawyer Technique: a basic guideline of reverse psychology and toddler manipulation that all parents need to know before their young ones turn two, but I’m sort of sadistic and rather love watching new parents, who think all those books they’ve read have prepared them for what’s to come, fail in a mushroom cloud of frustration and chaos. I can prattle on for hours on end about ISO settings and F-stops and the rule of thirds, but this isn’t a blog about photography.

So, what does that leave me to write about, then?

Well, the answer came to me rather abruptly yesterday while perusing my Facebook timeline. A friend of mine posted in her status, “If you were my Where the Wild Things Are book, where would you be hiding? To which I promptly replied, “I’d sail off through night and day, and in and out of weeks, and almost over a year.” If you know the book, which I trust you all do, you’ll recognize that line without missing a beat. This brought me to the realization that the one thing I can do, the one thing I feel confident in boasting my skills of, is reading.

I’m a reader. I don’t get paid for it, so I can’t be considered a professional, but I’ve logged many hours between the pages of books in my 28 years (and 48 months) on this planet. My literary roots reach deep, anchoring me in a way nothing else can in this world. From children’s books to classic novels, comic books to derivative fiction, I’ve even pre-read a few published and soon-to-be-published books, spanning countless genres and styles. I’m proud of the diversity of my bookshelves (both tactile and electronic).
It truly breaks my heart knowing that some of the gorgeous, life-altering and eye-opening stories I’ve read will never be shared with the world, never be available to check out at libraries or purchase from the endless rows of wisdom in basement bookstores, or the cherry-polished shelves of Barnes & Noble. Like anything that takes talent, in addition to proper connections to rise up in this world (acting, directing, singing, etc.), writing is a craft often overlooked by the general public as they reach past the freebies (or cheapies) on their way to something with a more appealing or attention grabbing cover.

By now, every person who’s reading this post is familiar with the explosion of popularity in a certain erotic trilogy. This frustrates me to no end for a number of reasons I neither have the time nor energy to get into right now, so we’ll keep it simple, shall we? From a reader’s standpoint, and someone who comes from a long line of tree-hugging hippies, I can say beyond the shadow of doubt, that those books are a travesty. Not only are they a misguided interpretation of the BDSM community, an embarrassment to hard-working, serious writers around the world, and a shameful spotlight of negativity shed on derivative fiction readers and writers in fandoms everywhere, but how many trees had to die for this cock-pushing, BDSM-shaming, woman demeaning piece of steaming…”fiction” to print and sell over 65 million copies? I can practically hear a whole rainforest crying out in protest, begging to be torn down and reincarnated as toilet plunger handles or mousetraps instead.

And now, it’s been announced that the writer (a little fast and loose with that title here, aren’t we, guys?) will soon be releasing a journal of writing tips—

Sorry. Hold, please. I just screen-sprayed chewed up Cheerio’s all over my iPhone.

As one Tweeter mentioned upon hearing this news, “A book about writing by the author of that trilogy is like a cookbook by Ronald McDonald.” Personally, I think this assessment is rather generous. At least Ronald did a bit of research before kicking the doors wide open on the fast food industry. I’m horrified for the people of the BDSM community. Having friends who are part of it has brought me a much better understanding of people who chose to live this lifestyle; an understanding that will never be gained between the pages of such a poorly written and ill researched sack of garble like this one. I’m sure by this point, the writer has seen so much critique on her (non-existent) “technique” that such opinions roll off her like beads of sweat on the forehead of a whore at the Pope’s Inauguration.

I’m always one to look for the silver lining in otherwise dreary situations. And lookie here! I’ve found quite a few different shades of it in these clouds. When the zombie apocalypse hits, we’ll have no shortage of things to shield ourselves, clothe our children, or wipe our asses with.

One can’t be taught if they simply aren’t willing to learn, as proven in this situation. For the rest of us, the writers or would-be/soon-to-be/struggling-to-be authors working hard to produce a legitimately good piece of literature, something they can be genuinely proud of for years to come, the task isn’t as simple as “Oh my,” (smut), impetuous assholeism in a supposedly lovable character, find-replace names, (repeat). It’s hard work, and, as we can learn from tiny fish in a big pond, swimming in schools is not only safer, but makes you more noticeable.

All right, so I haven’t had my second cup of coffee yet, and maybe analogies aren’t my strong suit. What I’m trying to say is don’t let the success of others, no matter how undeserving they may be, tamp down your willingness to do your very best, try your very hardest, and rise up to be the most wonderful you that you can be. Because in the end, the only person you need to compare yourself to is the one you used to be.

Make friends with other authors, and never underestimate the power in numbers. I’d love to propose a sort of “reviewing club” for lesser-known or self published writers, in which the members would take turns passing around their own books in an effort to drive up reviews and draw more attention. If you read it, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sure to love it, so the more honest, the better. There are just so many little gems I’ve had the pleasure of seeing with my own eyes that are constantly being overshadowed by far less deserving novels with the financial means to shed a brighter spotlight. Authors reviewing each other’s work, one-for-one, many tiny fish swimming together with the same common goal: be big, get noticed, and…don’t let your drive to succeed be eaten by mindless, talentless sharks.

Anything worth doing is worth doing right, even if it isn’t easy.

**

Niki Venis lives in Utah, but is neither Mormon nor Amish (however ardently Jen’s husband wishes she were.) She’s the kickass mom to some kickass boys and loves to tweet their random, scarily intelligent conversations. You can follow her on Twitter @Empty_Spaces or check out her blog.

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About Jen Barry

Author of Young Adult novels. Reside in Nashville with my husband, a gorgeous Irishman. Drink too much coffee. Online way too much.

5 thoughts on “On Writing: The Silver Lining

  1. kimmydonn says:

    Thanks for giving the rest of us authors a little bit of love. We won’t talk about the trilogy, m’kay?

  2. […] On Writing: The Silver Lining. […]

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  4. I have not read the books you so vividly do not name here, but I have no doubt at all about which ones you mean. I must be one of the few remaining humans who has not read them, not even cracked the cover or even seen one in person. So of course, I cannot judge them or criticize them. But I can share with you what I think of whenever I hear them mentioned (of course, Niki, you are too young to remember this): Pet Rocks.
    When I was a high-schooler, or perhaps even earlier, some marketing genius had the brilliant idea of putting rocks – just ordinary, picked-’em-up-off-the-ground-in-a-dirt-lot-rocks – into pretty boxes and selling them as “pets”. They were as big a fad as Cabbage Patch dolls or Bratz, as intoxicating as The Macarena, as irresistible as the Internet, and you just HAD to have one. I’m sure they made someone a tremendous fortune – but they were still just rocks.
    People will buy just about anything, if it’s marketed right. But that has nothing to do with art, craft, style, taste, talent, or anything at all other than marketing. So thank you for turning our eyes away from the razzle dazzle and speaking up for all of those other things, like art, craft, style, taste, talent, and the joy of writing and reading Good Stuff. Great post.

    • venisenvy says:

      What an excellent comparison. Yes, pet rocks blew up in the exact same “wtf just happened here” sort of way. It baffles.
      For the record, I actually haven’t read the “books” either, per say. I did try to read snippets of it in its original (again, fast and loose with that word, too) form of fanfiction. To say that I was less than impressed would be a gross understatement. At one point, I think I threw up a little bit in my mouth.
      Anyway, point is, you’re right. No one could explain the popularity of a pet rock, but that didn’t stop good old Xavier Roberts from creating something that made more sense and then stamping his name on the ass of those Cabbage Patch dolls (I loved those things). It’s just sometimes difficult for us writers to see past all these shades of grey fog right now. 😉

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