Festival Aftermath

a rock and roll writers festival logo

Right now, I want to spend the day hastily overwhelming the blog with stories, quotes, and contemplations. That’s the aftermath of festivals for you.

There are few things in life quite as inspiring as listening to passionate, knowledgeable people talking about a subject they love, and making room in their understanding of the world for someone else’s ideas and experiences. It’s kinda sexy, actually.

I’m finding my feet after two days at Brisbane’s inaugural ‘A Rock & Roll Writers Festival’, which was less about writing the perfect top 40 hit, and more about creatives bitch-slapping the taboos and BS surrounding an industry they love.

Far too often, we assume that love means being ignorant to the faults of the object of that devotion.It’s one of the reasons people mistake patriotism for blind, ignorant devotion (and why challenging the status quo is so often labelled ‘unpatriotic’). It’s also one of the reasons it’s taken so long for Bill Cosby’s alleged victims to be listened to.

We like to pretend that the things we love are perfect. Sonnets and love songs are filled to overflowing with the sentiment, after all. And whenever people point out the flaws, it’s easy to get defensive and aggressive (pretty sure no one needs me to list those pop culture examples).

Given how personally we relate to music (and storytelling in general), there’s always a risk in pointing out that hey, it’s a multi-billion dollar global industry that’s still far too racist and misogynistic. It’s a conversation we need, but not one that happens often enough in public, offline spaces. But it happened in Brisbane this past weekend, and that makes me so happy and proud.

There’s something beautiful in watching people who love the industry they work in standing up and demanding it at least try to reach its potential. It’s not about dismissing the positives, or kicking out for the sake of arguments or getting attention. It’s about saying that you love something enough to demand it step up, get its shit together, and be the absolute best it can be.

So you’re probably going to see quite a few posts over the next little while, because ideas need to be shared, and this was two days of wall to wall ideas deserving of exploration and attention.

I’ll try to keep the hyperactivity to myself, though.

For now, though, if you want to get an idea of what you missed, or listen to the playlists created by the panelists and creators of the festival, head on over here.

Vale

When I read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ as a particularly grumpy teen, I didn’t get it. When I read it again on one of the worst days of my prac experience, I finally understood why my high school English teacher loved the story of Scout’s family.
It had been days of verbal abuse, bullying, and drama, and I was already regretting ever considering teaching as a career. The kids were wonderful. My prac teacher had a nasty little habit of terrorising her prac students until they’d quit.
We were ushering the students in for their history class when she dropped her latest bombshell: she’d changed her mind. The lesson I was about to teach was no longer about Ancient Egypt. It was going to be on the Rwandan genocide.
It was my first time teaching the class on my own, and it was my first ever prac. I was terrified. I looked at the notes I’d stayed up late compiling and organising to within an inch of their lives. I looked at the resources I’d painstakingly developed, and the plans I had to make the lesson fun, and realised they were useless. I remember, perfectly, the smug tone to her voice, and the grin that she couldn’t quite hide as she settled the class down, and told them about the lesson. I even remember the way a few of the kids looked worried, and began squirming in their seats, lowering their gaze as though they knew exactly what that tone of voice meant.
I ad-libbed the hell out of the lesson, having never researched or learned much about the genocide, and trying to find engaging ways to talk about the wholesale slaughter of humans that I didn’t know the first thing about. It was painful, and as I struggled to keep calm and get through without crying, my supervising teacher sat grinning in the back of the room. Her voice would ring out, interrupting my efforts, to criticise what I was doing, and how I was going. She joked with the class that I was clearly not cut out for teaching, and maybe McDonald’s had a job opening. My fingers actually creaked with the strain of holding on to the desk in front of me.
She did her damndest to turn a really bad day into a public humiliation, and promptly gave me a brutal dressing-down in the staffroom, complete with flailing theatrics and pantomime like booming voice. Some of the other teachers laughed.
In that moment, what I wanted to do was see if I could hit her hard enough to put a chair through her skull. What I wanted to do was ask what sort of sadistic, worthless fucks see a teenage girl being screamed at by someone in the workplace, and just kick back to watch. What I did was snatch up the nearest book, and go hide for the afternoon. I tried to read the first page of To Kill A Mockingbird about three times before I could stop crying and shaking enough to make sense of the words. And then I read like my life depended on it.
 
That book went from hated to life-changer on the reading list of my life, and Atticus Finch’s poise and dignity was all that kept me from giving up or being a victim in my dealings with that woman. If Atticus could stand up against entrenched racism in the deep South, I could stand up against entrenched stupidity and bullying in a high school for a few more weeks. And dammit, I could, and would, do it without flinching again. 
Harper Lee’s characters taught me a lot about handling my frustrations more gracefully and compassionately, and taught me a hell of a lot about the kinds of bravery in the world. If there’s a book that has changed me for the better, this would be the one.
 
Vale, Harper Lee. Thank you for seeing me through a truly terrible day. 

Smart People Talking: Isobelle Carmody

Isobelle Carmody2
Isobelle Carmody during her Supanova 2015 signings

Isobelle Carmody is the author behind the Obernewtyn Chronicles, The Legendsong, The Gateway Trilogy, The Legend of Little Fur, and a heap of stand alone novels. Recently, the final piece of the Obernewtyn Chronicles, the Red Queen, was released, closing a near 30 year journey for readers.

Isobelle was a guest at the 2015 Brisbane Supanova convention, and these are some of her words of wisdom from that weekend. During her time on the Impossible Quests panel, alongside Juliet Marillier and Lynette Noni, she was discussing the idea of the quest, the art of writing, and the problems with killing off characters.

Impossible Quests Panel

Practically everyone is a misfit at some point. Everyone has some need to strive towards something. There must be something more.

Quests are important because it’s about the journey from novice to master, or from ignorance to knowledge. The character will grow and change as they travel the story, and it’s important not to set up a perfectly perfect hero or heroine. We all start out imperfect. We can all relate strongly to the misfit character working towards a goal greater than themselves.

It’s hard to relate to perfect characters, because none of us are perfect, and none of us go through life without struggling to achieve our goals and dreams.

Everything that’s written is a quest. Any great book has a quest at its heart. Every great quest has truth at its heart.

Finding Nemo is a quest to reunite with a son. Hamlet is a quest for vengeance and justice. Detectives quest for truth and the restoration of order, most killers are on a specific quest for a specific reason. Romance is the quest for love… every character is on some kind of personal quest. It may not be throwing rings into volcanoes, but they’re still working towards something.

Every novel is a new journey of discovery.

This is true for the reader as well as the writer. In every story, the writer is learning more about themselves, their writing, and the worlds and characters they’ve created. But in stories, readers get to see themselves as a hero, get to explore new worlds and grapple with new ideas about who and what they really are.

I didn’t feel like I do it (writing) right.

Even highly successful, beloved authors have that self doubt. We all seem to believe that there’s some ‘one true way’ to write a story, and if we don’t live up to it, it can make writers feel like they’re not writing right. But the truth is that there actually isn’t only one valid way to write: every writer needs to figure out what works for them and go with that, rather than trying to force themselves to work within a system that destroys their creativity or inspiration.

You don’t have to know where you’re going as long as you know where you’re starting from.

If lots of plotting doesn’t work for you, don’t force yourself to do it. Isobelle’s description of her writing process works well with the night driving analogy: you can’t see much, only what’s lit up with the headlights, so you don’t necessarily know all the details right away.

A quest is towards some kind of perfection. There is no real perfection, so all quests are impossible. It’s striving for the unattainable.

Destroying a ring wont create eternal peace, because there will still be bad people/beings around, cheerfully still being bad. You can’t kill all evil, because there’s evil inherent in everyone. Your perfect partner will never actually be perfect. The ideal their fighting for is always going to be bigger than they can ever truly achieve, but there’s something beautiful, tragic, and heroic in the idea of watching someone bring about massive changes in the name of an impossible goal.

The true quest is something you figure out along the way, parallel to the quest you thought you were going on. Acceptance of imperfection: that’s the quest.

Life doesn’t ever run smoothly. There you are, sailing home from the Trojan War, and then all this stuff happens and you get home to find your house overrun with suitors for your wife’s hand.

It’s the way it goes. There’s an expression ‘the gods laugh when men make plans’, and that’s true for quests, too. Situations evolve, for good or bad, and sometimes you’ll get to the end of the quest and realise you shouldn’t take the magical doohickey from its hiding place because really, it wont end well. The Winter Soldier is a perfect example [SPOILER ALERT]: Steve (Captain America) thinks his quest is to subdue the Winter Soldier, until it turns out that the villain is his childhood friend, Bucky, who has been brainwashed into servitude. [END OF SPOILERS] The quest shifts as the truth of the situation becomes known.

Quests can be external or internal. Learning to live with the differences within you is a worthy quest.

It’s not all destroying rings and terrorising one armed Russian assassins. Sometimes quests are about overcoming internal limitations and beliefs. Look at Dorothy: all that hard work and it turns out that the power was within her all along. Quests don’t have to have a high death count to be valuable, or worthy. Sometimes someone getting up and facing the day is a more epic, heartbreaking quest.

There’s a truth in stories that sometimes requires characters to die. There’s a truth in films and stories, and you know when they get it wrong.

Though ‘kill your darlings’ is a well-known bit of wisdom, a lot of writers still hesitate to actually kill their characters. Or, and I’m looking at Buffy and Supernatural here, they just bring them back to life, over and over, backing away from that decision. If there’s a valid reason for the character to die (shock value and fridging don’t count as valid reasons), then kill characters when the story calls for it.

There are some times where the “I’m dead/not really” trope is useful, but it feels disingenuous when it comes across as the writer toying with reader/viewer emotions, or backing away from a narrative decision.

Character death should feel like a surprise, but inevitable at the same time.

Deaths that make no sense, or that happen out of nowhere for no discernible reason, are annoying. Does a fictional death matter if the reader doesn’t know or care about the character? Do readers feel anything when unnamed red shirt 18 croaks?

Sometimes heroes fail. Sometimes, even though we desperately want them to succeed, they have to sacrifice themselves to make it happen.

And sometimes? Sometimes they stumble, or go left when they need to go right. Sometimes the villain has the upper hand and is smart enough not to monologue about it. Sometimes they’re outmatched, even though it breaks our hearts.

 

The Socially Awkward Writer’s Guide to Networking

Over the weekend, I was at GenreCon: a three day learning and networking event for genre writers held in Brisbane. It was an amazing chance to meet new people and learn new things, and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it. If you’re good at the whole talking to new people thing, then events like these are fun and easy to navigate.

If you’re like me, though, holy hell.

So rather than singing the GenreCon praises (I’ve done it on social media and in a Scenestr article if you’re in the mood for that sort of thing), I thought I’d talk about the more serious side of cons: getting through them without hiding in the bathrooms between panels.

Not all writers and creative types deal with anxiety, depression, or mental illness, but some do. And signing up to voluntarily spend time in a crowd of strangers can cause a painful mix of excitement and blind panic of the sort where you can’t decide if it’d be worse to have no one talk to you, or to actually have people want to talk to you.

I loved GenreCon. I 100% loved meeting new people and learning new things. But I also had a minor (for me) panic attack during a workshop on my first day, and had to leave the room until I remembered how to breathe. Four hours later, I was still shaking. I wouldn’t call that bit fun.

So if you’re prone to overwhelm and anxiety, but you want to get the most out of a convention or opportunity, what can you do?

The one tip to rule them all

Let’s be honest, this has grown into a monster post, and if you’re looking at it going ‘hell no, I’ve got things to do’, then let’s skip all the chatting and go straight to the big ticket wisdom: you know yourself better than anyone else. All that advice and collective wisdom out there? If it doesn’t suit you, ignore it. All the gurus, coaches, and guides in the world mean SFA against your ability to know your limits. Take what works for you. Ignore what doesn’t. Don’t screw yourself over and have a miserable time because Joelle Blogs is a lifestyle writer who says that you must do things a set way to survive a stressful moment. Screw Joelle.

There’s a lot of talk out there that not doing everything is somehow denying yourself the full Con experience/networking opportunities/shooting your career in the crotch with a pellet gun and giggling like a cartoon character. Your career, your day, your choice. You aren’t going to screw over your career by not attending something, or by not talking to enough people. We have the internet, a magical place where you can learn and communicate. Don’t exhaust yourself fitting into someone else’s idea of what you should be and how you should act, because you damn well deserve better.

Meet your needs.

Even if you feel like you’re time poor, prioritise the self-care stuff. If your morning Zen finder is a cup of coffee on your own, then make it happen, even if it means having to tweak your timing a bit.

In fact, let’s go a step further. Take a bit of time each night to pack your bag or do the bigger prep tasks for the morning. It’s hard enough psyching yourself up to deal with a new situation when you’re also frantically deciding what to wear or take. The less you have to do before you leave the house of a morning, the less chances you’re giving yourself to stress about whether you’ve done something the right way, and the more time you have for the self-care stuff.

I have a checklist I print out and run with, because otherwise I will sit and overanalyse every little choice, and give my wonderful, neurotic brain a chance to second guess every single thing I do. It also stops me from the ‘I’m too overwhelmed, I’m not going!’ moment where some tiny little issue crops up and I fall to pieces.

Know your limits.

If you’re not okay with huge crowds, plan ahead. Skip out on the lunch and networking moments, find yourself a coffee shop somewhere nearby, and avoid the drama of pretending it’s all okay if it isn’t.

If there are after-hours events, don’t force yourself to go if you know they’re going to be too much for you. Would I have loved to have gone to the banquet? Hell, yeah. Would I have spent the night panicking about clothing choices, the how-tos of making conversation with people I didn’t know, and figuring out how to navigate each situation without being too tired for the next day? Yeah, I would have. It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you’re not getting the most out of the event if you’re not there for all of it. But the truth is, you don’t have to do everything this time around. There’ll be other Cons.

I opted out of the nightly events because I knew it’d be too much for me to try and navigate too many completely new situations without people I know well. Now I know enough people in the community that I would be able to at least make polite chit chat if needed, the idea of going to the after-hours events sounds fun rather than terrifying. If/when GenreCon rolls back around, it becomes infinitely easier to say yes because I’ve had the chance to get to know more people and prove that it wasn’t the huge deal I was scared it could be. Smaller steps are nothing to be ashamed of.

This one needs an addendum, I think. There are a lot of arguments out there that gritting your teeth and pushing through that fear can be useful, or the only way to train yourself out of the problem. It’s kind of a ‘pull yourself up by your jockstrap’ approach to self-care. It’s also failing to spot the glaring differences between ‘I’m slightly uncomfortable here’ and ‘I’m going to throw up or panic till I can’t breathe’. A lot of the advice about pushing through is great for those who feel marginally uncomfortable in a situation, rather than those who have moderate to severely negative reactions to the stress. The only expert in the world about your coping abilities is you. If you think you can handle it, awesome. If you don’t think you can, that’s 100% valid. If you’re scared that you’re overreacting, and deep down you can probably cope, either jump in and find out, or find ways to take smaller steps to get to that same place over a longer timeframe.

Know your warning signs

This is what bit me in the ass. I was feeling off for hours before my moment of breathing failure. Something was wrong, and I wasn’t paying enough attention to pick up on the very, very clear warning signs that I was headed for a bad time. Learn from me.

The nice things about our bodies is that they’re usually telling us in advance that something isn’t right. Not everyone has the same warning signs that they’re reaching the end of their tether, so going back after a bad moment and thinking about what it felt like in the minutes and hours before can tell you a lot about how you react to stress, and what your warning signs look like. A lot of times we act like they’re inconveniences, and try to ignore them. Make them your BFF, because if you can catch the problem early, you’ve got a better chance of resolving the issue before full-blown panic sets in.

When you know you’re going into a stressful or anxiety inducing situation, try and find ways to check in and see how you’re doing. If all else fails, go hide in a bathroom stall for a few minutes and give yourself a moment away from the crowds.

But panic attack me and overwhelmed me are two completely different beings. Looking back at the networking moments, I’d face myself away from the crowd to try and pretend they weren’t really there. I’d laugh, and chat, and be hyperactive as hell. And that’s me navigating social situations I feel woefully unprepared for. If I reach a certain level of overwhelm, I get hyperactive. I’m suddenly ‘Kylie had eighty coffees today’ me, rather than calmly professional me (who probably doesn’t actually exist, if I’m honest).

When it comes to conversations, I am useless in crowds. There are too many sudden sounds, too many bits of movement close by- too many distractions to steal my focus. But take me out of those situations, even just a few feet beyond the door, and suddenly I’m less hyped. I can think, and follow conversations. Now I’m aware of that, social stuff is going to be a whole lot easier.

Know when to walk the hell away

When I was at Oz ComicCon earlier this year, there was this absolutely beautiful moment in the Mark Sheppard conversation. A woman was having a panic attack, and needed to leave the room. Now, if you’ve never seen Mark at one of these events, it’s basically like talking to a Crowley forced onto decaf and life affirmations for a week. So exactly no one was surprised when he called her out on her and her friend leaving. But as soon as her friend said what was happening, Mark was a completely different person. He hugged her, he used the moment to talk to everyone about anxiety and the need to take care of yourself and keep yourself safe. He checked on her when she came back inside.

He made it abundantly clear that there was nothing to be ashamed of, and that if we took one thing from the talk, it was that everyone is worth the effort to self-care.

I met that woman the next day and thanked her, because seriously, the idea of walking the hell out of a situation hadn’t ever occurred to me. It actually doesn’t occur to a lot of people, and even when it does, if you’re anything like me your brain goes ‘they’ll call you on it, and everyone will see you and point and laugh or whisper and BE AFRAID’.

When I realised I wasn’t getting over that lack of air thing, I walked the hell out of the workshop. I leaned in the hallway of the offices we were in, hands pressed against the walls because there was nothing to hold on to, and I stayed there until I wasn’t about to cry or suffocate. I only moved to get out of sight of the staff that arrived, because I didn’t know how to say ‘panic attack’ without making the situation worse. It was hard. It was scary. But it was 100% better than staying there, freaking myself out more by trying to hide the fact I was in trouble from a room full of strangers and being terrified someone would ask what was wrong with me.

If they thought I went to the bathroom, who cares? Everybody poops, y’all. Taking ten minutes to step back and look after myself verses feeling like hell for days and probably having more attacks? When I look at it like that, it’s not what I’d call a hard choice.

Remember that it’s not the end of the world

Let’s say you go, and (like me) you struggle your way through conversations, and certain moments fall pancake flat, or people don’t quite get your sense of humour. Let’s say you explain things wrong and realise you sound like a pretty horrible human being when you say things in that way. (“Hi! I’m Kylie. I write crime because killing people in fiction is cheaper than therapy, and it’s really fun. The story you’re asking about was inspired by a time I was stuck in a situation I couldn’t escape from, nor find a way to resolve, so I just kicked back and wrote a story where the source of my frustration died horribly.”)

Suddenly you feel a little bit better about your own word nerd failures, huh? And if you’re nodding along knowing that particular faux pas pain: Hi! You and I are kinda similar, huh? Welcome to the club.

The thing is, people aren’t as bothered by our missteps as we are. An author I adore joined in a conversation I was a part in, and I… I ran the hell away. Made my excuses and ran. Overwhelmed, overawed, bolted. It bugged me, because wtf, brain? A human being tried talking to you, and you ran away? A really cool, wonderful, kind hearted human being was interested in my writing, and I flailed and ran like a startled cat.

So I went up to her later and apologised. Even said I was a little overawed by it all. And guess what? She didn’t care. In fact, she was happy to talk about her own moments of overwhelm. People are generally far kinder than we think, and almost everyone has had that embarrassing moment of wtfery. We all fangirl or boy, we all have those moments we wish we could go back in time and crash tackle ourselves out of.

There’s one other thing to watch out for. Another writer I’m a fan of sidled up into a conversation, and I tried to include them by letting them know what we were talking about. They bailed, fast. In the moment, my brain had a meltdown of epic proportions, because CLEARLY I HAVE DONE WRONG AND THIS PERSON NOW LOATHES ME ETERNALLY, but in retrospect, they were actually really busy and about as scattered and stressed as I was. Once I got out of my own way, I could actually acknowledge that they had the same vaguely overwhelmed expression I was carrying around all day. If you have anxiety, you know the look. It’s that ‘oh God, this may actually kill me’ one.

It’s really helpful to remember you’re not the only stressed, anxious sort white-knuckling their way through the experience. When the stress and upset fades a little, take a moment and look at how they were acting. Chances are, they weren’t so much actively hating on you as they were actively trying not to hyperventilate.

Can it be embarrassing? Yes. But that embarrassment isn’t actually fatal, even if it feels like it in the moment. And besides, if you’re a writer, it’s good story fodder.

That last sentence? That’s my life motto.

And if all else fails, just remember: you can survive this.

Site Love

I’m trying to settle a new cat into the household, and frantically getting my shit together for a writing retreat this weekend, so apologies for the quickie post. But I came across an article today by a Brisbane writer I adore that I simply had to share.

Melanie Edmonds is a sci-fi writer with a fantastic turn of phrase. When she’s not writing her Starwalker series, or helping to run a host of writing events in Brisbane, she’s writing excellent posts about issues in writing. Weak-kneed Women is a trope that frustrates the hell out of me- otherwise strong, capable characters turned catatonic, drooling wrecks by the very hint of a pretty potential love-interest, and Melanie has absolutely nailed her response to it. If you’re toying with a romantic sub-plot in your writing, this is a must-read.

The Sins of Self Promotion [NSFW]

I volunteer my time working with a not-for-profit organisation. What we’re trying to do is build a community, and find or build opportunities for creatives taking those initial steps into their chosen creative fields. It’s my job to be the opportunity finder and developer for the writers of the group. At the moment, we’re having a pretty sizeable problem. We have the means and the desire to give shout-outs about where you can find our writers and their work. Free promotion, right? Who wouldn’t want that?

Try everybody. When we ask people to send information in, we get the online version of the sounds of crickets. Imagine a roomful of people looking away, whistling and craning their neck into painful positions to avoid eye contact. That’s what it feels like.

Bored Dean
Just don’t look at the creative generator. Pretend she’s not even there.

I’m me, and if people are being weird, I’m almost always going to ask about it. So I asked. The issue seems to be that self-promotion isn’t a natural skill. It’s something that people aren’t used to, and it’s hard.

Though I’m sure it’s exacerbated by the great Australian tradition of not tolerating braggarts, the awkwardness of promoting yourself is a theme that shows up in creative groups around the world. We are great at being passionate fans of other people’s work, but when we’re asked to talk about what we’re working on? It’s a hot and flailing mess.

Looking around WS, it’s pretty clear I’m still learning the art of self-promotion. The ‘my writing’ section of WS is essentially empty, even though I’ve done quite a bit of writing. Why? Because I didn’t keep track of my publishing credits (pro tip: don’t fucking do that, okay? You worked your ass off to get yourself published, don’t turn around and dismiss it. Learn from my screw ups). The only time I’ve posted saying I’ve got work on display in a mag, it was because there was a funny story attached to it. This is not okay.

Obviously, I have not reached self-promotional enlightenment beyond a few fleeting moments. I am so far from being a guru on this that it’s laughable, so I took the issue to the writers outside my work sphere, and asked how they feel about self-promotion. The hands-down best answer:

It’s the creative person’s version of shaking your ass and swinging around a stripper pole. I feel like I should have nipple tassels and a feather boa whenever I try.

I have no self control with gifs, obviously.
I have no self control with gifs, obviously.

It’s hard to step outside your comfort zone and show people who and what you are. What if my writerly boobs aren’t perky enough? Or my tassels don’t twirl like someone else’s? What if nobody likes my lace-riddled tribute to Hilary Clinton, and I’m just standing on the stage in weirdly formal underwear without anyone caring? WHAT IF THEY LAUGH?

Okay, stepping away from that metaphor now.

Long story short: self-promotion makes a lot of people feel vulnerable and embarrassed, and more than a little egotistical.

There seems to be a few reasons why we keep quiet about our successes:

  1. We don’t want to sound like egotistical assholes. We’ve all seen that person who can take any topic of conversation and turn it straight back to themselves (the narcissistic and mean-spirited version of the SPN fandom on Tumblr, I guess). No one wants to be accused of bragging.
  2. We don’t think it’s helpful to the people around us to hear about our success.
  3. We’re terrified that people will realise just how shit we are. Writers are weird. We seem to veer crazily between ego and self-doubt. While most of us have writers we know think we’re better than, we also tend to be plagued by blind panic that people will realise we have no idea what the hell we’re doing. Seriously, what if everyone who ever told me those articles I’ve written are good are pathological liars? What if I put them online, and people look at them and laugh and laugh because really, I’m shit at this, and I’m too narcissistic to realise it?

    Writers are weird.

So let’s talk about the inherent bullshit of these arguments, shall we?

Bragging and self-promotion are not the same thing.
I’m not cruel enough to bore you with dictionary definitions, but let’s be clear about what these two ideas actually are. Bragging is generally an exaggeration- oftentimes it’s a way of saying that you’re the best without having anything there to back up the claim. Bragging is competitive. You’re saying your work is better than the work of those around you, and you’re measuring the worth of a work (or a person) in ways that aren’t always fair or truly meaningful. Bragging is about stroking the hell out of your own ego.

Self-promotion, though? It’s letting people know that you and your creations exist. It’s not saying this product will change your life because it’s the BEST THING EVER! It’s saying hey, I made this thing, and I think it could be useful to you, or that you might like it, or know someone else who would like it. It isn’t about selling to people so much as it is about helping them. For creatives, it can be as simple as making sure there’s somewhere for people to go to find out more about what you do. Whether it’s a devoted website or a RedBubble account, it’s useful to let people have a place they can go to find out more about you and the work you do.

Refusing to promote your own work is hypocritical
We don’t hesitate to sing someone else’s praises, because we can see its value, and the effort that went into it. We are passionate about the works other people create (don’t believe me? Go look at Tumblr for a while). Self-promotion is just giving yourself permission to admit to loving your own work as well as the works other people are making. How is that bad?

There is someone out there (someone outside your family, as they’re morally obligated to buy your work and tell you you’re wonderful) who is going to love the work you create. They are going to be a passionate supporter of your work, and the sort of awesome person who’ll tell other people they need your work in their life. You know how you get really excited about that show/band/movie/comic/book, and it makes your world infinitely better just for existing? Why on earth would you want to deny someone else that opportunity to fall in love with a creative work?

This right here is the face of everyone you're hiding your work from. Look at those eyes. How can you say no to that?
This right here is the face of everyone you’re hiding your work from. Look at those eyes. How can you say no to that?

It’s helpful to hear about other people’s experiences
Have you noticed that there’s a heap of internet space devoted to reviews and experience sharing? It’s because hearing other people’s stories are powerful, and we can learn a lot from the good and bad experiences other people have.

Talking about your writer’s journey (or whatever you want to call it) gives other people the chance to ask questions to someone who might just have an answer. Especially if you’re starting out. Sometimes, when you’re in an industry long enough, you forget what it’s like to start out. You forget how hard it was to get traction in your creative practice. Emerging writers and artists? They’re in the thick of it. They know exactly how hard it is to train people to leave you the hell alone long enough to get anything done. They know how painful it can be to make everything work, because it’s not necessarily a habit for them yet. Being able to ask questions of someone who is familiar with the stress and terror you’re feeling is important, and inspiring.

I think about it this way: we have fascinating stories about the struggles of super famous authors like J.K Rowling or Stephen King. They’re nice enough to point out the pot holes they stumbled on as they tried walking the path to publication, and people find that helpful. I can’t fix all the potholes I find, but if I point them out as I go, maybe someone else won’t have to sit around for a while with an ice pack on their ankle.

Self-promotion isn’t all spruiking your crap
It’s true that no one wants to hear you banging on constantly about what you’re currently trying to sell. If your every conversation devolves into ‘buy my book. JUST BUY IT PLEEEEEASE’, then people are going to get bored very quickly. Beating people over the head with your creation is never a good idea unless you’re in a life or death situation of some kind. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk.

When we talk self-promotion, most of us think it’s just about selling something to people. But that’s a tiny part of the overall package. If you want to get holistic about it, self-promotion is more about giving than it is about selling. It’s about setting up a place for yourself where other people can come along and chat if they want to. It’s about helping other people.

You probably know a hell of a lot about your creative field, right? You don’t just mash the keyboard or canvas with your face, do you? You’re not the number one expert of the field, but you know stuff. So share what you know. Help people.

Am I good at this skill set? Meh. I’m learning. This is not me saying I’ve nailed it, because I’m still trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing here. Like I said, you don’t need to be perfect or at the top of the class to give it a try. I’m not trying to be the best, I’m trying to share the stuff that’s working, or not working, in the hopes that maybe I can point out the pothole before someone else trips over it.

Even Shakespeare has haters

Blackadder, fictional hero to bored high school students everywhere.
Blackadder, fictional hero to bored high school students everywhere.


I think so many of us veer between ego and doubt because we’re approval seekers. We’re people pleasers, and when people don’t like our work, we take it as a personal failing when it’s actually just people having different tastes.

I hated Shakespeare growing up. It was painful in school, and listening to the language mangled by bored English students really didn’t help. I didn’t understand it. And then I heard Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch reading sonnets, and decided to give it another go. I’m definitely a fan now. I just needed to hear it performed well to understand the rhythm and flow of the work. It was the same with ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. Hated studying it, loved reading it as an adult. I’m talking about (arguably) some of the greatest literature ever written, and in my younger days I found them boring as hell. Even the greats aren’t universally loved. It doesn’t detract from their talent.

Hierarchies are only useful if you think like you’re going to reach the top
Building ourselves a hierarchy as a base point reference isn’t unusual, but it is unhelpful. It’s all about that competitive mindset. In the parlance of the life coach, it’s coming from a place of lack rather than abundance. Just because someone else has a success doesn’t mean there’s one less success available to you.  That hierarchy mindset, where you feel like you’re a fraud against the ‘better’ writers and your talent is proved by the alleged lesser talents, just holds you back. Who cares that you’ll never be J.K? We already have one of those. What we don’t have is one of you.

This is not the Hunger Games
Every single one of us gets to make a choice about our attempts at a creative based career. We can treat it like we’re getting to be a part of a rich and vibrant community, or like we’re all running around inside The Hunger Games arena. While we’re acting like we’re fighting for survival, we’re treating everyone around us as potential enemies rather than allies. It’s a miserable way to live. You can be competitive if it gets your rocks off, but really? I’ve gotten to talk with a heap of authors at various levels of fame. And the overwhelming majority are focused on community rather than competition.

Sure, there’s a trend towards authors behaving badly, mostly on Goodreads and the like, as a way to falsely bulk up their good reviews at the expense of someone else. But they’re the minority. And you’ll learn pretty quickly who to avoid. There’s an upcoming post on this, so I’m not going to linger long beyond saying this is 100% a type of self-promotion to avoid like the plague. The vast and overwhelming majority of writers aren’t looking to steal your thunder or piss on your manuscript. They just want to write, and get published, and maybe even make a few friends.

So maybe, just maybe, this whole self-promotion thing isn’t as scary as we all seem to think it is.

It begs the questions: what scares you the most about promoting yourself, and your work? What has, and hasn’t, worked for you in the past?