May 19th, 2020
Hi everyone, and thank you for tuning in to another episode of the We Make Books Podcast - A podcast about writing, publishing, and everything in between!
Can you believe that it’s already been a year since we dropped our first episode, because we sure can’t! A whole trip around the Sun and what a long, strange trip it’s been. There’s nothing quite like an anniversary to make you look back on what you’ve done and think about what you maybe could have done differently so in this episode, we decided to talk about retrospection and reevaluation. Taking a step back to reassess your work is a really, really hard thing to do. It requires you to put aside strong feelings and possibly favoritism that you might not realize you have toward parts of your writing. But here’s the thing: sometimes those parts are important to you, aren’t important to the story and maybe even aren’t good for it. It’s not always fun, and it’s certainly not easy, but reevaluating what you’ve written is a crucial part of the process and the best way to stomp out those pesky Giant Mechanical Spiders (listen to the episode and we promise that will make sense).
We Make Books is hosted by Rekka Jay and Kaelyn Considine; Rekka is a published author and Kaelyn is an editor and together they are going to take you through what goes into getting a book out of your head, on to paper, in to the hands of a publisher, and finally on to book store shelves.
We Make Books is a podcast for writers and publishers, by writers and publishers and we want to hear from our listeners! Hit us up on our social media, linked below, and send us your questions, comments, concerns, and a comprehensive description the largest mechanical spider you encountered and a detailed description of how you vanquished it.
We hope you enjoy We Make Books!
Episode 35: Reevaluation Anniversary Episode
transcribed by Sara Rose (@saraeleanorrose)
R: Welcome back to another episode of the We Make Books a podcast about writing, publishing, and everything in between. I’m Rekka. I write science fiction and fantasy as R.J. Theodore.
K: And I’m Kaelyn Considine, I am the acquisitions editor for Parvus Press!
K: This is a big deal! This episode.
R: Kaelyn, it’s our anniversary!
K: What did you get me?
R: Beer. You’re drinking it.
K: Yeah, no that’s—Great. Yes, I am drinking a beer. Um, technically it’s the paper episode—technically it’s the paper anniversary.
R: So the label on your beer.
K: Oh, okay. That works. I was—
R: Which, actually, I did not buy you. I lied. I’m sorry. I bought you the socks you’re wearing, though.
K: That’s a good point, yeah.
R: On our anniversary episode we are wearing matching socks!
K: Yes! I was gonna get you a book for the anniversary.
R, touched: Were you really?
K: Paper anniversary. You know, that sounds like a good one. There may or may not be something in the mail for you. Right now.
R: Which book?
K: I can’t tell you, it’d ruin the surprise and surprise is, of course, that keeps our relationship alive.
R: I thought it was the mechanical spiders that kept our relationship alive.
K: Okay, first of all! You know how I feel about the mechanical spiders!
R: And everyone else is about to.
K: And everyone else is about to, so I apologize in advance. Yeah, so it’s been a year! That’s crazy.
R: Um. I like it.
K: I like it, too! Just think about a year ago, I came up to visit you for the first time. I met your various animals, there were other animals—
R: —and family members, yep.
K: Family members! There were other animals out in the pond.
R: Did we barbecue the very first time? I feel like maybe not the first time.
K: We didn’t go to barbecue, but we cooked out the first time.
R: Oh, okay.
K: Yeah. We—So, yeah, it’s been a year!
R: Yeah. And we’re still here—
K: Still here! It was your birthday party.
R: Yeah. It’s been a year despite the Submission September. We survived and we are still here.
K: Nothing can kill us after that.
R: No, we are very strong.
K: So, a quick look back. Let’s see, first we had three episodes in three days come out. Then we went to the Nebulas, we recorded from there. We came home, both very sick—
K: —with throat ailments. Had to edit the episode, some of which we could barely hear what was being said.
R: Oh my gosh there were so many good interviews. There were people we really wish that their interviews had come out better, but there was just nothing but background noise. It was so sad.
K: Yeah. But we had a great time. And then we were steadily churning out episodes. We survived Submission September and now—
R: Which was all Kaelyn’s fault.
K: I—yes, I one hundred percent accept responsibility for that. And now we are battling a plague upon us that is not—
R: Wait, I have been informed by my editing friend that this is not a plague.
K: Yes, okay, fine. It might be by the time this episode comes out.
R: Yeah, if it’s still going by the time this episode airs.
K: Then, yes, this is a plague. So, yeah, it’s been a year. It’s awesome. Thank you so much everyone who’s stuck with us this whole time, who’s been listening—
R: —or to the newcomers.
K: And to the newcomers! Yeah, thank you for, you know, anyone who’s found us and has been—
R: Thanks, especially, for everyone who shares our episodes when they come out and for the people who have left us eight wonderful ratings and several wonderful reviews. And thanks, of course, to our patrons on Patreon. We have two new patrons to happily announce and thank on air today—two difficult names, though. Luckily! I know Kaelyn’s got one down, but I will take the first one—M. Bunea is a new patron on Patreon, so thank you, M.
K: And we also have Ritesh Shah, Ritesh, thank you, Ritesh for supporting us on Patreon.
R: So, thank you! And if you want to support us on Patreon, you can go over to Patreon.com/wmbcast and we hope all of these supporters we have are there because they find what we say and do very, very useful and helpful and inspiring and realistic and also helpful.
K: So, on that note, today we’re gonna talk about rejection.
R: Turning this right back around!
K: No, actually, I’m joking, but we are—
R: You’re joking, but we are talking about rejection.
K: We are kinda talk about rejection, but we’re not talking about rejection in the traditional “coping with rejection,” we’re talking about what you can do about rejection. This notion of reevaluating or, one of my favorite terms in the tech and start-up world is pivoting.
R: Ah, yes!
K: Yes, the pivot.
R: Be nimble and pivot.
K: Yes. Something that starts out as one thing, doesn’t quite work, maybe isn’t as well-received as you’d like it to be, so you keep the core idea but you pivot another direction and try to make it something that more people can consume or is more appealing to a wider audience. This is really an episode which, you know, kind of works out with our hundredth episode. Oh my god—
R: You did again.
K: Why do I keep saying that?
R: So what they have in the tech sphere is what we need, which is focus groups. Is what you’re saying.
K: Yes. But it kinda fits with our one year episode of, you know, it’s never a bad idea to take a step back, reevaluate, and make sure everything’s still working the way you want it to.
K: I mean, we’re good, I think. Right?
R: I was gonna say, are you implying that we need to change?
K: Never. Never change.
R: I think everyone can agree they just heard you say that you would love me more if I changed.
K: Rekka, it is not possible for me to love you more. So you can do whatever you want to yourself—
R, pleased: I’m just gonna bask in the glow of that for a minute.
K, laughing: Do whatever you want to yourself and it is not possible for this to continue to level up here. We have hit—
R: Okay. We’ve peaked. Our friendship has peaked!
K: There is nothing you can do to make me love you less, let’s put it that way.
R: Gotchu. Okay, I’m golden. If only the agents would say that to me in response to my queries.
K: I keep offering to write you a letter of recommendation and you keep telling me you don’t wanna scare people.
R: She’s gonna reveal things that I’m not ready for them to know yet. That’s just how it is. I need to creep some of these tricks in.
K: Well, no, the recommendation is just a crayon drawing of you surrounded by all of the things that I think are awesome about you. And I don’t know why you—
R: I want this drawing. I mean, I might not send it to agents, but I want this—
K: I don’t know why you think they wouldn’t want to see that.
R: It’s just gonna be on my website. It’s gonna be the front page of my website.
K: Yes, excellent.
R: Okay, cool. Hopefully, by now, that’s already up and everyone can go and look at that at rjtheodore.com.
K, laughing: So, okay! Before we continue down the silly road—
R: I guess we should have an episode.
K: We should probably have an episode. So, yeah, take a listen. Hopefully you enjoy this episode, as you have the previous year’s worth, and, if you don’t, maybe let us know what we should reevaluate.
R: Or just reevaluate and listen to something else!
K: Either of those.
R: All right, either way, here comes the music!
[intro music plays]
K: Okay, ready for the countdown whenever you are.
R: One, two, three, four, five—
K: Four, five, clap!
R: And of course I say click!
K: Yes, I was, yeah. It’s fine. See, this is what I mean when I’m saying we might have to reevaluate this.
R: Uggh. I don’t like it!
K: No, never. There is nothing to reevaluate. You and I will just continue going at a perpetual speed barreling forward into an unknown future with reckless abandon.
R: They tried to separate us, we’re still podcasting.
K: Not even the greatest pandemic in modern history can separate us!
R: It’s true. It is apparently true.
K: So, along those lines. We reject this notion that we will be kept apart and we will reevaluate all of our situations in order to make sure we stay together.
R: Yep. Forever.
K: So, yeah. That’s what we’re talking about today. We’re talking about, primarily, reevaluation. Having to take a step back from your work and make decisions about why this maybe is not getting published—or rejected, if you will.
R: Well, it is getting rejected.
K: Yes! Yes it is.
R: Why it’s not getting published because it is being rejected.
K: Assuming—we’re assuming that you’re submitting this and it’s not being published, not because you’re not trying to get it published. We’re assuming you’re being rejected.
R: Right. That’s another possibility. Why isn’t my book being published? I dunno, have you written it yet? Have you tried unplugging it and plugging it back in?
K: No one has come knocking on my door asking if I have a book to be published. It’s very weird.
R: I don’t understand!
K: This isn’t an episode, so much, about dealing with rejection on a personal level, this is about dealing with rejection on a professional level. At a professional level, you’re going to get to a point where you have to kind of look at what you’re doing and try to figure out where the problem is coming from. We want to start off with a qualifier here.
R: Right. So when you are sending your work out. Basically, if you’re sending it out, you’ve written a query letter. From the moment you’ve begun writing your query letter, begun planning to write your query letter, you are working around a product. So, at this point, I need you to separate your emotions and your self-worth as a writer from this product.
K: And that’s a hard thing to do. And I’m sure there—
R: It’s not easy.
K: —there are people screaming at home, “This is my life! This is my work! This is me!” It’s not. Your value as a person, as a human being, is not intrinsically tied to this book.
R: And if this is the first book that you are trying to get published, this is hopefully one of many, many, many. So it feels, right now, like this is my entire catalog. This is me!
K: Like my soul has come out of my body and is now in digital form in these words that I have put into a certain order and I want people to read.
R: Right. But this is just the beginning of your career. You will write so many other books and you will look back and go, “Wow. I sure was cute back then,” you know?
K, laughing: Remember when I panicked for a month and a half about—
R: I mean, the panic never goes away, let’s be real, but this particular book, you’re gonna look back—
K: Well it evolves, you know, you’ll be panicking about new things now. Like, the other things you used to panic about will seem silly in comparison.
R: But someday you’re gonna look back and not think this book was The Book. That’s just how it is.
K: Hey, and you know what? Hopefully it won’t be.
K: Hopefully there’ll be multiple of them.
R: There’ll be so many books, you’ll be like, “Oh! Does that? I thought someone else wrote that one!”
R: I remember reading that once.
K: Yeah, so just to qualify. Rejection is hard to deal with. I know, this—don’t take it personally. I know that’s a really easy thing for me to sit here and say. It’s not an easy thing—
R: Yeah, you acquiring editor, you.
K, laughing: It’s not an easy thing to convince yourself of. You know, one of my favorite movie lines that I use all the time, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”
R: Mhm. Which, of course, was not spoken by the hero of the movie.
K: That’s not the point.
K: That depends who you think the hero is here, Rekka.
R: Okay, I guess fair.
K: Yeah, so, it’s a hard thing to get your head around, especially if you’re down, if you’re depressed about it. Be kind to yourself. I mean, that’s the running theme of this show. Read your contract and be kind to yourself.
R: I’ll tell you what, in terms of rejections, I’m very glad that I started writing short fiction before I started querying agents.
K: That is an excellent, excellent point.
R: And I didn’t do it on purpose, but short fiction—you get so many rejections as you send these through the magazines and it is really a matter of persistence and patience and just trying again. And so it’s very... callous-building.
R: It’s, yeah. You will build a shell and you will get tougher and I think that therein lies the value of short fiction. Maybe.
K: I will quote one of the songs that I can’t get out of my head, recently, which is twenty one pilots’ “The Hype” one of the lines from that is: “You don’t get thick skin without getting burnt.”
R: Right, and so a quick path to getting burnt is the short fiction magazine market. Use the website Submission Grinder because that will help you find the markets that will send you your rejections the fastest. So you don’t end up waiting for three years on your first rejection because you send it to a magazine that never replies.
K: You’re inoculating yourself there.
R: Yes, so that is what it is. That really taught me to just kind of be like, “All right! There’s the rejection, I can send it somewhere else now,” you know? You feel like you’re moving down a to-do list more than you are piling your hopes and dreams into someone else’s calloused hands. You build your own calloused hands and you climb the mountain.
K: Oh, believe me, as the person sending the rejections, my hands are pretty damn calloused.
R: Right. And your heart, too, of course.
K, insulted: Well, Rekka, I don’t have a heart.
R: Uh-huh, that’s true, Editor. I keep forgetting. I keep forgetting.
K: So, let’s talk about some different kinds of rejections. I’m gonna lump this into two categories here, and these are very broad categories. We’re not gonna talk about the first one so much because that’s not what this episode is about.
The first kind of rejection is, like, a victim of circumstance-type rejection. It’s a casualty of not being in the right hands at the right time. This is a very common kind of rejection. You may have written a great book and just can’t get it to the right person to read it and publish it and take a chance on it. This, I think, is—And, Rekka, I’m sure can absolutely speak to this—this is incredibly frustrating.
R: Yeah. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
K: There’s nothing you can do about it and it’s—
R: There’s nothing you can do about it!
K: Yeah, and for those at home going, “Well if you wrote a good enough book, somebody should just want it no matter what”: That’s not how it works. If you’ve written a fantastic epic fantasy, but this publishing house just bought three other epic fantasies, they might say, “We can’t do another one of these right now.”
R: Right. And they may not even read it, you know? It’s not like they’re rejecting it because it’s too close to one of their epic fantasies. They may go, “Nope, our wheelhouse is full of, our stable is full of—”
K: “We don’t—we’re not taking epic fantasies.”
R: Yeah. We’re not taking epic fantasies right now. They just saw, in your title, that it was an epic fantasy, or your query letter, and they just moved on.
K: Exactly. So, we’re not really talking about that kind of rejection, other than to say: I’m really sorry and I hope somebody buys your book eventually.
R: Yeah, I mean. The good news about that rejection is it’s not based on quality.
K: Yes. So let’s talk about rejections based on quality, though, because that is kind of what this episode is dovetailing into. When you’re getting to a point where you’re just getting rejection after rejection, maybe you’re getting some notes back in some cases, you have to start thinking about why this is constantly getting rejected. I will lay out some hard truths here: maybe your writing is not that good.
R: That is a possibility.
K: Maybe there’s a lot of grammatical problems. Maybe you have some style issues. Taking a step beyond that, let’s say people have read it and said, “No, your writing’s fine, that’s not a problem,” maybe there’s some story problems. Maybe there’s issues with overly complicated plots and characters.
R: Or just pacing.
K: Pacing! There could be some story mechanic issues in there. Maybe it’s not… a really interesting story. Maybe it is something that is very interesting to you and you really love all the minutiae and the details, and somebody reading this is going, “I can’t get through this! I can’t get excited or interested in this!”
R: The good news about that is that it doesn't mean your story isn’t as good as you think it is. It may just be that you are sending it to people who are not your audience, in terms of either the publisher or agent.
K: So, but then, let’s talk about that because—you just hit the nail on the head, Rekka—your audience.
K: This is where the theme of this episode comes in. This idea to take a step back and reevaluate. This is, actually, one hundredth—or…
R, with much snark: One hundredth?! Wow!
K:This is actually, you know, as we mentioned in the intro, this is our one year episode. If you go back and listen to our first couple episodes—now, granted, they were chaos!
R: Hey, come on.
K: Well, I mean, we recorded a bunch really quickly because we wanted to be able to have it set up in time for the Nebulas.
K: And then we went to the Nebulas and recorded some episodes there and oh boy was there background noise. [laughs] But we had a great time and it was a lot of fun. But even, you know, Rekka and I, who are good friends—we talk to each other pretty much every day, we’re probably overly involved in each others’ lives—
R: I know a whole lot about Kaelyn, let me just say!
K: And, you know, it’s funny because I always say, “Oh, I’m such a private person,” and she’s like, “Yeah, you say that and you’re really not.” And I’m like, “No, that’s just you! No one else knows all this stuff about me!” My mother is gonna start calling you and asking you questions about what’s going on in my life!
R: Oh god! [laughs] I’m an interrogator and you don’t even realize the skill involved here.
K: Yeah, no. Trust me, I have, every now and then, suspected that you may be an agent of my family. But if you go back and listen to even just our first couple episodes—I would go so far as to say the first couple months of them, it’s a little different. We’ve definitely said, “Okay, let’s try to do more of this, less of this. Let’s try to go off on fewer tangents! Let’s make a concerted effort to, you know, do these things.”
Some of that was, maybe not feedback, just things people mentioned to us—
R: It was more that we were running out of time in the recordings, ‘cause we’d go on and on and on.
K: Yeah. A lot of it is self-evaluation, too. So, all of this is to say there is nothing wrong with taking a step back and saying, “What I’m doing is not working, I need to reassess, reevaluate, and recommit myself to what I’m trying to accomplish here.”
R: If my epic fantasy novel is sixteen hundred pages, maybe I need to dial it back.
K: Because if what you’re getting is, “Hey, this story’s pretty good. I can’t read this, it’s too long.” Then that’s something you have to consider.
Now let’s talk about different kinds of feedback you could be getting. Before you send this to anyone in the publishing profession that you are going to try to convince they should buy or publish, hopefully you’ve let some other people see it. Hopefully you didn’t just crank this out and send it off to people who do this professionally.
K: Be they friends, family, maybe like a writing community you belong to, or maybe even a professional editor that you hired to take a pass at it.
K: Yup. Now, obviously, there’s different—this is going to come off sounding mean and I don’t mean it be that way—Some people’s opinions here carry more weight than others.
K: If, for those of you playing along at home—The professional editor that you hired, that’s probably the person whose opinion you should be giving more credence to.
R: Versus your mom.
K: Versus your mom! Yeah. [laughs]
R: As the professional editor I hired once told me, everyone will have an opinion. Not everyone’s opinion is worth listening to.
K: Some opinions are more opinion than others.
K: I always hearken back to Animal Farm: “All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
K: All people’s opinions are opinions, but some people’s opinions are more important than others. Now, hopefully, if you’re paying someone to look at this, they’re going to be giving you some feedback. If the feedback is, you know, concise, easy to cut, clip, modify areas like, “Hey, you know, this whole conversation kind of throws the story off and nothing really comes from it, you probably don’t even need it,” you know, or—
R: Yeah, it’s slowing things down or, “They return to this place four times, and then they go do something and then they come back, and then they go do something and then they come back and it’s starting to feel like a yo-yo.”
K: That’s not what we’re talking about because that’s an easy fix. We’re talking about situations in which you’ve got to really rethink what you’ve put in this book and how you’re presenting it. And that is very hard to do. That’s a hard thing, one, to accept that you need to do. It’s a hard point to get to, to say like, “All right. I have to take a step back from this and really look at the story I’m trying to tell, and why this story is not coming across the way I want it to.”
K: Or maybe it is coming across the way you want it to and people are not enjoying it.
K: So, in our previous episode, we talked a lot about the line you have to draw for yourself—and I’ll hearken back to that—you gotta decide: is it really important for you to get this story published exactly how it is or are you willing to make changes in order to get the story published? Now, in this scenario, I’m imagining that there are some problems that you need to address. It’s not a matter of simple artistic integrity. This is that there are some issues in this story that you need to work on.
R: And we’re talking about, now you’ve gotten feedback from agents and possibly editors who are acquiring editors.
K: Yes. Or even professional editors. You know, I’ve talked to professional editors who—the fun position they’re in is if someone hires them, they’ve gotta read it no matter how god-awful it is, and try to give constructive feedback. I have personally looked at—met people at various events and talked to them and then taken a look at their work and, kinda, squared my shoulders back and gone, “Okay! Let’s do this!” Because some books are tear-downs. Some are: there is a general story and plot that is good or that you can work with, here, but you’ve gotta do a whole bunch of work on this.
R: I mean, Flotsam is a case in point.
K: There you go.
R: I threw the whole man out, you know? I took the draft that I had, which was revision 11 or 12, I put it aside, and I started over.
K: Yeah, and that’s a really hard thing to do.
R: There are three paragraphs that carried over from the original.
K: Well, and you can get stuck in this idea of a sunk cost fallacy, where i have put so much work into this, I can’t start over again.
K: But, I want you to think about—have you actually been putting so much work into it or have you been spending hours and hours tinkering with something that already exists?
R: Right. And that was mine. I kept rewriting it, adding new ideas, but I wasn’t fundamentally changing the story except that I just was engorging it.
K: Yeah. Think of this as, like, you’ve got a house with a lot of plumbing and you’re spending all of this time running around, plugging up these little holes, when what you actually should be trying to figure out is, “What the heck is going on with the water pressure that is damaging all the pipes?”
K: So, it is a very hard thing to say, “I really need to sit down and figure out what is wrong with my story.” And then you could get feedback that comes back and says, “You need to get rid of this entire thing. It’s not working. It’s distracting. It’s offensive. It has nothing to do with the story.” Whatever the problem is, there, that’s a really hard thing to get your mind around.
My personal experience is, whenever I work with a writer—whether it professionally or just kinda on-the-side conversations I have with them about their books—I always ask, “What’s your favorite part of this story?” And I am always shocked by the answer. Always.
R: It’s never something that stands out to the reader.
K: Well, it’s never something that stands out to me. Because I, of course, especially books that I work on at Parvus, I always have my favorite part of the story—Apologies, guys, there’s some noise in the background, as you said, we’re recording remote so I am, unfortunately, well not unfortunately, I am dead smack in the middle of my neighborhood in Queens, and weirdly there’s a lot of people here.
R, laughing: It’s like nobody’s got anywhere to go or somethin’.
K: Yeah, so, apologies for the noise in the background. But, to get back to the point is that: I am consistently shocked by what the author says is their favorite part. And this is, I don’t know what this is, I don’t know what the causality and correlation here is, but constantly, it’s parts that—it’s not that I would have suggested getting rid of them, but it’s things that I don’t think are necessarily integral to the story.
R: Of course. It’s the little moments where somebody had an epiphany while they were writing, but they’ve attached themselves emotionally to it.
K: It’s funny you say that, because that’s exactly what it is. It, a lot of times, seems to depend on what was going on in the writer’s life when they were doing this, and then they just have this fond memory of—
R: Writing that scene or whatever.
K: —writing that scene and, yeah. But! What also happens, a lot of times, when you’re trying to deal with this is—I finally get to talk about one of my favorite things that I come up against with this. I call these the Giant Mechanical Spiders.
R: Kaelyn loves this one.
K: I love this one because there’s a great story behind why I call it this. So I’ve said Giant Mechanical Spider, raise your hand if you immediately flashed to the movie Wild, Wild West.
R: I mean, I’m pretty sure that’s all the hands.
K: Yes, so, there is a producer for movies named John Peters. Interesting background about John Peters, he produces all of these blockbuster movies and he got his start as Barbara Streisand’s hairdresser.
R: Hey, he’s got style I guess.
K: Yeah, everyone starts somewhere, right? So John Peters was very fixated on writing a movie that had a giant mechanical spider in it. And this was probably in the mid- to late-nineties when CGI was becoming a thing. You know, Jurassic Park was a smashing success. We were really, rapidly advancing what we could do.
R: He saw his opportunity.
K: So, Kevin Smith was hired to write a treatment of the fifth Superman movie that obviously never happened and, you know, he gave an interview and he was talking about how one of the—the slow downs here, if you will, was he met with John Peters, who was the producer of the movie, and he gave him three things that—keep in mind, this script did not exist.
K: Kevin Smith was there to write a treatment of this, to try to come up with what this story was gonna be. John Peters gives him three requirements. I don’t know what the other two were, but at one point, Superman had to fight a giant mechanical spider. This script did not exist. But this producer already knew—
R: The scene had to happen.
K: —Superman had to fight a giant mechanical spider. The movie, obviously, never got made. I’m gonna entirely blame the giant mechanical spiders, but—
R: Eh, it’s possible.
K: It’s possible. Then, John Peters is attached to a project that is trying to make Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman which, you know, anybody who’s familiar with that knows it’s been a notoriously difficult project that’s been in development hell for a long time. Looks like it’s finally happening!
K: This was something that already existed. John Peters comes in and talks to the writers who are doing the first pass and immediately starts trying to interject a giant mechanical spider into this. Into Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman!! I don’t know where—
R: Yeah, I don’t think he read The Sandman before…
K: He didn’t! He didn’t! He just—What he was doing was fixating on movies that were gonna have big budgets—
R: To fit his spider, yeah.
K: —that were big enough to get this in. So, then we come to Wild, Wild West.
R: And here’s his moment to shine!
K: Here’s his moment because Wild Wild West is a lot of things. It’s whatever, it’s a fun movie.
R: Mhm. A summer popcorn flick.
K: But it’s a western, buddy cop movie, essentially.
R: Steampunk movie. Yeah.
K: Yeah! But! It is only steampunk because of the giant mechanical spiders! So I call the Giant Mechanical Spiders in writing—or GMSes, if you will; beware the GMSes—ideas that authors cannot let go of. They are just, whether they be a thing that happens, a particular scene, a conversation, a plotline, things that you just cannot get rid of. Even though they’re not working and they have no business being there. You think they’re really cool, and you need to get it in there.
R: Because very rarely is there a producer over your shoulder, telling you you need them. As a writer.
K: Yeah, but there will be an editor coming in saying, “Here’s a can of Raid, get rid of that Spider.”
R: But it’s my darling, I don’t want to kill it!
K: Yeah, well, I don’t care if you’ve named the Spiders.
R: Yes. Save it for something else.
K: That can be a major hang-up in your books, and that can be something that’s really hard to reevaluate and get rid of. This thing that you’ve fixated on, that you love, that you think is just so cool, is perfect, it’s amazing, this is everything we need for this book and getting rid of it is gonna ruin it. It’s probably not.
R: It’s probably not, at all.
K: So being able to take a step back and say, “Why isn’t this working?” Now, where do you get this feedback from? Well, as we’ve mentioned, maybe you’re lucky and you get some feedback from an editor or an agent. Maybe you’ve hired an editor to give you some feedback. That’s gonna be pretty valuable feedback. But you’re not gonna be able to constantly get that.
So this is where writing communities are really helpful and important. There’s a lot of people out there. Go listen to our first episode with Miri Baker about writing communities and why they’re great for this kind of thing. I won’t call it workshopping because that’s not quite it. But trying to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of your story and work on them. Writing communities are a really great place to do that.
R: And you also make connections where you might be able to just brainstorm with somebody who’s become your friend, and then it’s not that you’re just walking up to strangers and demanding this emotional and intellectual labor of them.
K: Yep. Yeah. And the most important thing there, though, is to be able to accept criticism and to not take it personally.
R: Right. If you’re at the point where you can’t take criticism, it might not be the point where you are ready to start querying your book.
K: Yeah. That’s a very, very good point. Beyond taking the criticism, being able to act on it. It’s one thing to say, “Hey, you know, this Giant Mechanical Spider is really distracting. It comes out of nowhere. I don’t know why it’s in this book,” but then to just go, “I really like it, I don’t know, I just think it’s cool! I’m gonna figure out a way to make it work.”
You’re creating more work for yourself and you’re actually working backwards, at that point.
R: You are bending in contortions just to fit this in. Save it. It’s gotta home somewhere, maybe someday.
K: Yeah, like maybe you’ll make a movie about Owen WIlson and Will Smith out in the west—
R: Maybe. You never know.
K: —and wild things happen to them. Take consistent criticism very seriously. If more than one person is telling you the same thing, unprompted, it’s probably worth thinking about and paying attention to.
R: Mhm, yeah. One person, if you really feel like they’re wrong and they just misunderstood the story, you can potentially backburner that information and move on to the next query letter, next agent you wanna query, but if you keep getting it over and over again, you’re gonna have to start thinking about—maybe you’re in the wrong genre! Maybe this is an expectation of the genre you want, but you’re querying agents who don’t serve that genre. I mean, probably not though. I mean because if they’re gonna give you that kind of feedback, they’re also gonna mention: Hey, this isn’t really my wheelhouse.
R: So, that’s, you know. If you think thirty agents are wrong, it’s probably you.
K: Here’s the thing: thirty agents are not wrong.
R: Thirty agents are not wrong about the same thing. So, but, what do you do if it’s because your writing’s not great?
K: Well, if the feedback you’re getting is, “Hey, the writing here is just really lacking,” this is a hard one. I’m gonna say this and it is not meant to be discouraging in any way. I am never going to be a great tennis player. I’m just not. I have accepted this. I have moved on with my life. I can take all the lessons in the world and, you know what, I can get maybe competent, but I’m never gonna be great.
Some people are never going to be great writers. For whatever reason. I think we do a disservice to a lot of people when we think: well, it’s just classes. It’s just this. You can just learn how to write. You can. You absolutely can improve and get better. You can’t say, “If I do A, B, C, and D, I will be a great writer.”
R: Right, there’s no formula for suddenly improving your craft by six hundred percent.
K: Now, this is not to say that you can’t improve. You absolutely can. Take some writing classes if this is really that important to you.
R, loudly: Read More. In your genre.
K: And read more. I think the best way to become a good writer is to read a lot.
R: Until you internalize the sentence structures and the tropes and the pacing of a plot and the way characters develop in a story. You can get a lot of that by just consuming gobs and gobs of books. You will start to just notice and become attuned to the rhythms of a story.
K: And, by the way, this goes both ways. myself, as an editor, I can spend as much time as I want listening to and reading about and taking classes on story structure and theory and all of these things, but if I haven’t actually really read anything, then how am I gonna apply that, you know? You don’t learn how to drive a car by reading about how to drive a car.
R: That’s another good point. Even if you are becoming a writer, not an editor, find a critique group online where there’s a whole bank of stories waiting for someone to critique them and go through and start critiquing. Because when you are able to constructively critique other people’s work, you are able to internalize that on your own stories as you read through it.
K: And constructively is the important word there.
R: Yeah, I did use that word with capital letters.
K: That was, I’m sure, a hundred percent intentional. Constructively is the important word there.
K: Critiquing for the sake of critiquing is counter-productive and also a shitty thing to do.
R: Yeah, the word critical has kind of two meanings. Critical commentary, you know—movie critics can like movies. But for some reason critical people in critique groups never like anything, except their own work.
R: And if you’re not using this as an opportunity to find other work you like or to point out the positive things—what’s also working, in addition to areas that might need help—then you are not really fulfilling the entire function.
K: Yeah. So there are certainly ways to improve your writing and, the thing is though, this takes time. This is not gonna happen over night. Rekka, would you say what—assuming a pretty consistent amount of practice and reading and exercises—what, no less than a year, probably, before you can—
R: Oh, yeah, I mean, if you’ve already written one thing and you can take the critiques that you’ve gotten, either from beta readers or editors or agents who’ve gotten back to you and given you direct feedback on it, if you can examine that objectively and come back to it and then put it aside and start fresh? I guarantee you that next thing is going to be better. Already.
R: It’s going to be better incrementally. I can’t guarantee you that in 11 months, 5 days you will have written something that is 600 percent better than the last thing. But every time you write something, you get better.
K: Absolutely. Now, that said, if you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, don’t keep wasting your time. Put the time into getting better at your craft, rather than going back and trying to fix what you are not yet equipped to fix.
R: Right, notice I said put the story aside. Yeah. It may not be worth it. If you are getting critiques that this story is not well-written, but you love this story, do this story the honor of writing it when you’re a better writer.
K: Take the time. Don’t—Doctors do not perform heart surgery the first day they get out of medical school. Because yeah, they know where everything is and they’ve probably seen a few and maybe even done some small parts themselves, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready for that kind of thing.
R: Right. So you can take this story—and you’re not putting it away forever—but someday you will write a fresh draft of it that incorporates everything you love, and combines it with the talent that you are going to develop. The skill that you are going to develop.
K: Yeah, and by the way, sometimes it’s a really good thing to step away from a project for a long time and try not to think about it and then come back to it.
R: I mean, think about when you play videogames and you’re so sick of one boss, you know? It’s time to put the thing away.
K: Yeah, exactly. So think about this as a videogame boss. You gotta go somewhere else and level up a little bit first.
R: Or you need to go get a blue key card. It could be anything that’s stopping you from moving forward, but you might wanna just step away and not give up, but do something else. Play a different videogame? Start a different story. Or just read for a while. Like, and then evaluate. How much do I love writing? It’s a hard thing that I’m suggesting, but, is this something that gives me enough joy to warrant the effort that it takes?
K: And how much do I love writing this particular story? Am I willing to put in the time, effort, and focus that it would take to make significant changes? Am I willing to make significant changes?
Because that is a major hurdle that a lot of people have to get over first.
R: Yep. A hundred percent.
K: So don’t be afraid to reevaluate your work. Don’t be afraid to reevaluate what you want, professionally, out of this. It’s a scary thing to do, but it’s important.
R: And here’s the thing—-that it occurs to me we haven’t mentioned—sometimes you get critique from people and you feel like they are trying to change your book.
K: They might be.
R: Well, yes, they are trying to get you to change your book, though. That’s what I’m saying. Whatever you do, unless you are taking text that someone else has provided you and copy-pasting it into your document, this is still your story. If they’re identifying areas that aren’t working, you can change them and it will still be your work.
So, the whole kill your darlings thing is about being willing to take something you thought was really clever or you were particularly proud of, or just fond of—like Kaelyn was saying, those moments where she’s like, “Really? That was your favorite part?”—and strip them out of the story for the good of the story. The whole idea is everyone involved, ostensibly, is trying to help you make this the best story it can be.
K: Round up the Giant Mechanical Spiders, take them behind a chemical shed, and shoot them.
R: OR save them for the Giant Mechanical Spider book. Just saying.
K: Fine. Save them for the Giant Mechanical Spider book.
R: Just saying, this producer probably could have found somebody to write a movie that was about his spiders. [laughs] Instead of trying to insert the spiders in every movie that he produced.
R: So, save—
K: Beware of the Giant Mechanical Spiders. They are venomous.
R: And probably are not improving your story quite as well as you think they are.
K: Yeah, because they’re poisoning it because they’re venomous because they’re Spiders. And I love spiders, but not the giant, mechanical ones.
K, defensively: Spiders are awesome, Rekka.
R, laughing: I’m just… where are you going with this?
K: I just! Spiders are awesome!
R: Spiders are awesome, I have no problem with spiders.
K: They’re—they’re super useful animals, they’re—
R: I’m just trying to stop you from killing the mechanical ones.
K: The mechanical ones are different from the other ones. Mechanical Spiders, I mean, no one asked for them.
R: Look, I have a fond place in my heart for ridiculous story elements, and I think there’s probably a story in which those Mechanical Spiders belong and I think someone who writes a story with Mechanical Spiders and is rejected because of the Mechanical Spiders does not have to kill the Mechanical Spiders, they just have to remove them from this story.
K: Okay, we’re gonna take the Mechanical Spiders—
R: Like, when I find a spider in the bathroom and I carry it outside because it doesn’t belong in the bathroom, but I don’t want it dead.
K: Okay, so, take your Mechanical Spiders and free them into the world or send them to a farm upstate—
R: And if it was meant to be, they’ll come back to you. [laughs]
K: There you go. And if you go outside and the Mechanical Spiders are still, you know, roaming your front lawn, looking sad, then you know you have to create an environment in which they can thrive.
R: All right. So! If you have a Mechanical Spider that you would like to tell us about—
R: —or if you just want to tell us to lay off the mechanical spiders—
K: Actually, that’s a good—if you can think of one, Tweet us something that you suspect in like a movie or a book, was a Giant Mechanical Spider. Something that—
R: Kaelyn needs more points of comparison.
K: Something that should not have been there and wasn’t really doing anything, wasn’t helping, but was kinda cool to look at or read.
R: Okay, so that’s your assignment. We are @wmbcast on Instagram and Twitter. You can find us at wmbcast.com with all our back-episodes. We are @wmbcast on Patreon, where you can support us and thank us for this spider-based advice—
K, ominously: Beware the Giant Mechanical Spiders!
R: —and if can’t afford to support us on Patreon, we totally understand, but we would really appreciate if you could take the time to leave a review and rating on Apple’s podcasts or, if your computer’s a little older, Apple iTunes, because that really helps feed the algorithm—not the Spiders—and helps people find us and subscribe. And if you haven’t subscribed, please subscribe!
K: Don’t feed the Spiders.
R: All right! We’ll be back in two weeks, there may or may not be Spiders. Thank you, everyone.
K: There’s always Spiders! You are always near Spiders!
K: Thanks everyone, we’ll see you in two weeks.
[outro music plays]