A couple weekends ago I attended Life, The Universe and Everything: the science fiction and fantasy symposium presented at BYU. It takes place over three days and each day is filled with presentations and panels of published authors on any number of subjects having to do with science fiction and fantasy, or just writing in general. I highly recommend it. Free for students and for everyone else only $25 for all three day. A bargain!
This years James Dashner was the guest of honor and he was great, surprisingly light and funny considering the un-funniness of THE MAZE RUNNER trilogy. Other authors in attendance included Jessica Day George, Mette Ivie Harrison, Dave Wolverton, Bree Despain, and Elana Johnson, just to name a few.
Mostly I enjoyed being in a creative environment, surrounded by other people who love the same things I do. I picked up some encouragement and good advice and reminders. There wasn’t a lot I hadn’t heard before, but I’m a pretty forgetful person, so it’s always great to get reminders or hear something in a different way that resonates with me.
So because I love the number 7, here are 7 bits of advice that resonated with me this year:
1. NEVER GIVE UP! (James Dashner made us say it out loud. I felt like I was in 1st grade.)
2. Lack of understanding leads us to poor storytelling.
3. Fake it till you make it (but not too much, you know? Be real.)
4. Don’t re-write to death. Finish and send it out.
5. Don’t stay married to your first story. Write another story and then another…
6. Take all advice with a grain of salt. What may be right for one story or author may be totally wrong for another.
7. Be nice to everybody.
And on that #7 note, I have a little more to say. This year I paid close attention to the authors’ behavior. I listened to the way they said things, how they responded to questions or comments, how they treated people who approached them. Generally I don’t think about my life and behavior as a published author, it’s still so intangible, but I learned some lessons I hope to keep if I ever do get published and participate in a conference.
One lesson in particular I really hope to keep: DON’T BASH ON OTHER BOOKS OR AUTHORS.
I know we can’t be Pollyanna positive all the time, but there’s a difference between soft, general criticism in order to educate, and harsh, direct criticism to make yourself look better. I can tell the difference. I think most people can. Usually if ever a specific author or book was pointed out and criticized, I felt a line had been crossed. Ironically I don’t even remember what point they were trying to make, I only remember that they were being negative, that they were bringing down another author and it turned me off. Usually the criticism was pointed toward best-selling books, (which just screamed jealousy. I did notice that the best-selling authors on the panels never criticized anyone.)
I guess what I’m trying to take away from this is, if I ever get the opportunity to be an author and take part in a public discussion or presentation, I hope to be hyper-aware of how I present my opinions. I hope I can be helpful and positive at the same time. I do think it’s possible. It’s good to point out how we can be better. It’s good to point out the pros and cons of certain story elements or styles.
It’s not good to publicly bash on another author’s work, no matter how well you can defend your opinions. It’s not helpful, and it some cases it’s more hurtful to the criticizing party. It reflects on them. And when I say publicly I think that includes the internet. We may think we are screaming into a black hole but sometimes those black holes can come back to bite you in the butt.
So, I’m going to try and stick to the Bambi rule: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all. Promote the books you love and let the others be. They might be loved by someone else.