IWSG: Fear of Author Harassment

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop created by Alex J. Cavanaugh and cohosted this month by Tara Tyler, Lisa Buie Collard, Loni Townsend, and Lee Lowery.  If you’re a writer and if you feel in any way insecure about your writing, click here to learn more about this amazingly supportive group!

Earlier this year, the Bookangel Club conducted a survey on author harassment.  The Insecure Writer’s Support Group posted an article reviewing the results of that survey (click here).  Those results were unsettling.  Depressing.  Given the kind of harassment authors report facing, both online and in real life, you may be left wondering if this whole writing thing is worth the trouble.

Now as a science blogger, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention something: the survey results are almost certainly skewed by selection bias.  This was an opt-in survey.  Authors who experienced harassment were probably more likely to opt-in to taking the survey then authors who’ve never dealt with harassment.  Therefore, we’re not looking at a truly random sampling of authors.

Still, what the Bookangel Club’s survey does show is that you don’t have to be particularly famous as an author before you risk attracting the wrong kind of attention.  As authors, we put our hearts and souls into our creative work, in the hope that others will read and enjoy what we’ve written.  Some people will take that for what it is; others will take it as an open invitation to say or do whatever they like to us.

In my own case, I write a blog about science.  So naturally, I attract the attention of Flat Earthers, Anti-Vaxxers, Moon Landing deniers, the One World Government conspiracy theorists, and so on.  I also get comments from religious zealots fighting against my “atheist lies” (I’m not an atheist, by the way).  These people can be… persistent, and when I don’t bow down to whatever “truth” they’re trying to spread, they can get mad.

These situations, thus far, have stayed on Twitter or in the comment sections of my blog posts.  They have not (yet) affected me beyond those online spaces.  I’m a pretty small-time author/blogger, and so the harassment I’ve faced has been proportionately mild.  But it’s not nothing, and that’s my point.  Even a small-time author/blogger like me has to deal with a surprising amount of unwanted attention.  And if my author platform starts to grow (as I hope it will), I fully expect the nonsense I have to deal with to grow as well.

Despite the selection bias issue I mentioned, I think every writer should read up about that Bookangel Club survey.  I think every writer should be aware of the risks we take when we put our creative work out there.  But I also want to tell you that, despite the risks, writing is still worth it.  Publishing is still worth it.  I have this blog, I’ve written a few articles for other websites, and I have a novella-length story published on Amazon.  Far more good has come from all this than bad.  In my experience, there are far more nice people on the Internet than there are Internet trolls.

Basically what I’m saying is this: you should know what you’re getting yourself into as a writer.  You should know what might happen.  But don’t let fear stop you from writing, publishing your work, and pursuing your dream.

#IWSG: Do the Write Thing

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop created by Alex J. Cavanaugh and co-hosted this month by J Lenni Dorner, Janet Alcorn, PJ Colando, Jenni Enzor, and Diane Burton.  To learn more about this amazingly supportive group, click here!

One day, I told my muse what was happening in the news: all the bad stuff that had happened that day, and all the worse stuff that I feared was soon to come.  In response, my muse had only one thing to say: “Do the write thing.”

I tried to make my muse understand how frustrated I felt, how angry I’d become.  I tried explaining how fearful and helpless I was in the face of all these bad things happening in the world out there.  My muse nodded sagely as I talked; then finally, when I ran out of bitter words to say, my muse said again: “Do the write thing.”

She doesn’t understand, I thought, so I started up again.  I told my muse how there’s so much hatred and greed, so much war and disease.  The oppression is relentless, and at some point they (whoever “they” are this week) will even come after me!  How can I protect myself?  How can I protect others when the world is so cruel and heartless?

My muse was patient and kind as she looked me square in the eye, and she said again: “Do the write thing.  A well-told story can do more good than you think.  It can open a mind that was closed.  It can make people think, make them see from a new point of view.  A well-told story can inspire someone to do better, or it can give comfort to someone who needs comfort most.  At the very least, a story may give someone who’s suffering an escape—a brief respite—from all those troublesome things that keep happening in your human world.

“So the best thing you can do, both for yourself and for others, is set your fears and anxieties aside for a while, get your pen ready, and do the write thing.”

#IWSG: The Planets Make Me Write

Hello, friends!  Welcome to another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a monthly blog hop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh and co-hosted this month by SE White, Cathrina Constantine, Natalie Aguire, Joylene Nowell Butler, and Jacqui Murray.  To learn more about this amazingly supportive group, click here!

I read somewhere once that every writer has a “thing”—something that they’re desperately trying to say.  It’s something that’s hard to put into words, a feeling or an idea that defies the conventional use of language.  If this “thing” could be said in a simple and straightforward way, we writers would just say it and move on rather than spend the bulk of our lives writing.

What is that “thing” for me?  I wish I could tell you!  It would be so much easier if I could just tell you the “thing” that keeps poking at my mind, but of course I can’t.  All I can say is that my thing has something to do with the stars.  It has something to do with the slow and stately motion of the planets.  It has something to do with that feeling I get whenever I look up at the nighttime sky.

Is it curiosity?  A sense of wonder at the vastness of the cosmos?  I guess that’s part of it, but those words feel wholly inadequate.  Wonder and curiosity are nice, but there’s something more.  There’s so much more!  The planets and stars inspire something in me that simply must be said—something that must be put into words, no matter what—it must be!

But no words ever seem to express this “thing” well enough.  So I keep trying.  I keep writing, in the hope that maybe someday I’ll find a way to say the thing I don’t know how to say, and maybe somebody else will read my words and understand what I’m talking about.

So, friends, do you have a “thing” that you’re trying to say through your writing?  Care to give us a clue (if you can) about what your “thing” might be?

#IWSG: The Spice of Life

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop created by Alex J. Cavanaugh and co-hosted this month by Kim Elliott, Melissa Maygrove, Chemist Ken, Lee Lowery, and Nancy Gideon.  To learn more about this amazingly supportive group, click here!

“Do one thing and do it well.”  I’ve heard this aphorism over and over again throughout my life, and there’s a certain common sense simplicity to it that I find appealing.  Whenever life gets complicated and I feel like I’m being pulled in too many directions at once, I really wish I could pick just one thing to do—I wish I could be permitted to focus all my time and energy on just one thing, without any distractions, so that I could have a chance to do that one thing exceptionally well.

Last month, I participated in the A to Z Challenge.  For anyone who doesn’t know, the A to Z Challenge is a month-long blogging event.  Participants post twenty-six blog posts, one for each successive letter of the alphabet.  All of my posts were about humanity’s future in outer space, or perhaps I should say humanity’s potential future in outer space.  Our species has so much potential!  But I do realize there’s no guarantee that we’ll live up to our potential, though.

In order to ensure my success with the challenge, I canceled any other plans I’d made in the month of April.  I used up a bunch of vacation days at my job.  I made sure I got my taxes done super early this year.  I put a few of my other creative projects on hold, temporarily.  I engineered my whole schedule so that I would able to do just this one thing: blogging.  Did I do it well?  That’s a subjective thing, of course, but I feel that I did the best I possibly could on most of my posts.  And it felt good.

However, there came a point when I started to miss working on my other creative projects.  Being able to “do one thing and do it well” feels nice, but to really thrive, I need variety in my creative life.  My muse was kind enough to hold back on new ideas during the A to Z Challenge.  Now, however, there’s a backlog of ideas that my muse would like me to work on—and I am eager to get to work on those new ideas!

“Do one thing and do it well” can be good advice, for a short time.  When life gets complicated, sometimes we need to stop and have the simplicity of doing one and only one thing for a while.  But when I think about my lifelong goals, when I think about my own future as a writer/artist/blogger, there’s a different aphorism that I’d rather live by: “Variety is the spice of life.”

#IWSG: How Long Will This Take?

Hello, friends!  Welcome to April’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop created by Alex J. Cavanaugh and co-hosted this month by Joylene Nowell Butler, Jemima Pett, Patricia Josephine, Louise – Fundy Blue, and Kim Lajevardi.  If you’re a writer and if you feel in any way insecure about your writing life, click here to learn more about this amazingly supportive group!

So right now, I’m participating yet again in the A to Z Challenge, a month long blogging challenge where you have to write twenty-six posts (one for each letter of the alphabet) over the course of April.  My theme for this year’s challenge is “Our Place in Space.”  For this theme, I’ve been researching a lot and writing a lot about human space exploration in the distant future.  And there’s something I’ve noticed, a lesson that’s relevant both to space exploration and to writing: every project takes longer than initially expected.

Already this month, I’ve covered proposed missions to send astronauts to the moons of Jupiter and robotic probes all the way out to the nearest star.  In today’s A to Z post, we’re talking about building an elevator to space as a way to save money on rocket fuel.  And in upcoming posts, we’ll visit a methane lake on Titan, build floating cities in the atmosphere of Venus, and go digging for fossils on Mars.

I always do my research for these posts, and I always get super excited about the things I learn.  All these things are possible!  We humans could really do all this stuff someday!  But then I get to the part of whatever article I’m reading where it says “in the next fifteen to twenty years…”  I always roll my eyes when I get to that part.  Yes, we can do these things.  Some of these things may even be within our reach using existing technologies.  But space exploration is, and always will be, really hard work.  We need to have realistic expectations for how long this stuff will take.

I understand that.  And yet, when it comes to writing, I keep telling myself, “Oh yeah, that’ll be easy.  I can write that in like an hour.”  And then I’m always surprised when I spend all day writing that supposedly easy thing and still can’t finish it.

When will I learn?

#IWSG: How to Talk Business with Your Muse

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  Are you a writer?  Do you feel insecure about your writing?  If so, then this is the support group for you!  Click here to learn more!

So I promised myself that I wouldn’t talk business here on the blog, but today I’m going to talk business here on the blog.  You see, I’m in the process of developing a new business plan for both my writing and my art.  Last weekend, I had a meeting with my editor.  I’ve also been doing a bit of research about S.E.O.  I’m starting to put together an outline of goals and strategies.  I feel good about all this stuff I’m doing.  I feel confident.  My muse, on the other hand, is getting very nervous.

As you know, muses come from a land of pure imagination, and (for obvious reasons) nobody needs money in a land of pure imagination.  My muse has heard of money before, but she doesn’t fully understand what money is or how it works.  She’s never used it for anything except as a plot device.

And when it comes to businesses and business plans, my muse has only the vaguest of notions about what all that means (I only have vague notions about it, too, but I’m learning).  Don’t be wasteful, don’t be inefficient, do be competitive and aggressive, do cut costs anywhere and everywhere you can, do ramp up production and increase your sales, always deliver value to your customers (whatever that means), never forget about the bottom line—that’s what businesses do, right?  But that sort of super strategic, super economical mindset—that is totally anathema to how muses operate.

The creative process is inherently inefficient.  It’s inherently messy, chaotic, and unpredictable.  A muse and her writer/artist must feel free to make mistakes; they must be able to experiment and take creative risks; they must allow themselves to waste a whole bunch of time and energy on ideas that almost certainly will not work out.

The last two years were something of a wake up call for me.  I really do need to take the business side of writing and art more seriously.  But as I go about putting together my new business plan, I know I must also keep my muse happy.  In fact, I’ve decided that keeping my muse happy should be job #1 in this new business plan of mine.  Even if it means missing the occasional deadline, even if it results in earning less money, even if it does not seem (at first) to be good for the bottom line, allowances must be made for the “wastefulness” and “inefficiency” of the creative process, because if I cannot make those allowances, well… then maybe this is not the right “business” for me after all.

#IWSG: Never Say This to Your Muse

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  Are you a writer?  Do you feel insecure about your writing?  Then this is the support group for you!  Click here to learn more!

So the other day, I got into an argument with my muse.  I said some things that I regret, and she called me some names that I, quite frankly, deserved.  The whole debacle started because of the Internet.

Almost every day, almost every single time I go on the Internet, even just for a few minutes, I am bombarded with bad news.  Certain headlines pique my interest.  I feel this sense of morbid curiosity.  I start clicking things.  I start reading comment threads.  And slowly, gradually, all that bad news transforms into worse news, until everything becomes the absolute worst news ever.

I was in the midst of this downward bad news spiral when my muse reminded me (kindly but firmly) that I’d promised to do some writing today.  And I refused.  After reading all that bad news, doing my writing no longer seemed important.  How can I do my writing when the world is in so much trouble?  How can I do something as silly as writing when all of human civilization is burning down around me?  “My writing doesn’t matter!” I exclaimed.  “Not at a time like this!”

That, by the way, is the wrong thing to say to your muse.

As I already mentioned, I proceeded to say some things I regret, and my muse proceeded to call me some names that I deserved.  But after we had some time to calm down, my muse and I had a long talk, and my muse said to me: “So bad stuff is happening in the world right now.  Okay.  Do you know how to fix that stuff?  Do you know how to make all the bad things stop or how to make all the bad people go away?  Hmm?  I didn’t think so.  But you are a writer, and you are an artist.  You may not be able to reduce the number of bad things in the world, but you can try to add something good.”

And my muse was right.  It’s one thing to stay informed about current events; it’s quite another to dwell on problems that are beyond your power to solve.  I’m no activist.  I’m no community organizer.  I don’t have the skillset for that sort of work.  But I do know how to tell a story, and I do know how to draw pretty pictures to go with my stories.  The best thing I can do, both for myself and for the world, is to keep writing and to keep drawing—to give myself those comforts and hope that the finished products will give comfort to others as well.

With that in mind, there’s one last thing my muse said to me: “Don’t you ever—ever!—tell me your writing doesn’t matter.  Never say that to me again.  That is the most disrespectful and hurtful thing any writer could ever say to their muse.”

#IWSG: Something Must Change

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  Are you a writer?  Do you feel insecure about your writing?  If so, then this is the support group for you!  Click here to learn more!

I’m not doing great right now, to be honest.  I’m stressed, I’m tired, and I’m unhappy.  I wish I could say I’m just having a bad week, but I know the problem runs deeper than that.  This has been going on for months now… for years, even.  And so now I have finally come to the conclusion that something needs to change.

But what?  What is the thing that needs to change?  Is it writing?  I’ve been reluctant to talk about these something-must-change feelings with anyone I know in real life because most of the people I know in real life are quick to tell me that writing is the problem.

“You should take a break from writing,” they’ll say.  But that’s like telling me to take a break from breathing.  “Maybe you should try a different hobby,” they’ll say, as if writing is just a hobby to me.  One family member keeps asking me “Have you considered writing smut?” which… actually, that might be one of the few people I know I.R.L. who gets me.

Something must change.  Something is going to change.  I’m going to make it happen.  But first, I’m making two quick promises to myself:

  • I will not rush into anything, and…
  • I will not sacrifice my writing (or my art).

This post is not me looking for advice.  I’m not writing this for my own benefit but rather for the benefit of anyone else who’s having these something-must-change feelings.  Don’t get me wrong: these are good feelings to have.  These feelings can be the beginning of a new and better life.

But saying that something needs to change does not mean that everything needs to change.  Before you do anything rash, before you go upending your whole life, decide for yourself what’s really important to you.  Decide for yourself what you can and cannot afford to change (and do not allow other people to decide that for you).

For me, the things I cannot afford to change are my writing and my art.  And for you, those things are…

#IWSG: Dear Muse

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  Are you a writer?  Do you feel insecure about your writing?  Then this is the support group for you.  Click here to learn more!

Dear Muse,

2021 turned out to be one of the absolute worst years of my life.  I will not go so far as to call it my worst year ever, but I will say that it was a close second.

We didn’t get much writing done, you and I, in the past year.  Plans got derailed.  Opportunities were missed.  Financially speaking, our writing/illustrating business survived, but it will be a real challenge getting back to where we were a year ago.

Couldn’t be helped.  Under the circumstances, things could have ended up being a whole lot worse.  I want to thank you, dear muse, for being patient with me, for biding your time while I struggled, and for waiting until the situation improved.  I needed that time to deal with this past year’s problems, and I needed time to heal from this year’s problems as well.

As I already said, 2021 was only the second worst year of my life.  I’m sure you still remember the first.  I’m also sure you remember what happened next: how our writing and our art flourished, how the year that followed my #1 worst year became one of my absolute creative best!  Nobody asks for hardship, but hardship has a way of preparing us for change and for growth.  After all the problems of 2021, I am eager to see what we can accomplish in 2022.

So in the year to come, dear muse, I’m asking you for a gift: the gift of words.  All the words!  Surprise me—no, shock me with your wildest ideas.  Break the molds I’m used to for all my stories, knock me out of the comfortable grooves I’ve settled into over the years.  Test my limits.  Challenge me.  Make me write things I never imagined I’d write.

This past year was awful for me, but that’s behind me now (I think).  So muse, bring me all the words!  I’m ready!

Forever yours,
Your Writer.

#IWSG: Three Things Writing is Like, and One Thing It’s Not

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writers Support Group!  Are you a writer?  Do you feel insecure about your writing?  Then this is the support group for you.  Click here to learn more!

Sometimes I get into conversations with people who are not writers.  It can be hard to explain to non-writers what writing is like.  They tend to vastly underestimate (or vastly overestimate) how much of a struggle writing can be.  Also, a few of them seem to assume that heavy drinking must somehow be involved.

Today, I’d like to share a few of the analogies I use to help explain both the joys and hardships of writing to my non-writer friends.

Writing is like exercise:

I am not exactly a health nut, but exercise is still an important part of my routine, and I do, in fact, enjoy it.  That being said, when it’s time to exercise, I’m rarely enthusiastic about getting started.  Getting started is always the hardest part.  However, once I do get going, exercise gets easier, and by the time I’m finished I usually feel proud of myself for the hard work I’ve done.  Writing is the same.

Also, after a hard workout, your body needs some time to rest.  Your mind also needs time to rest after a long, hard day of writing.

Writing is like NASA:

Specifically, writing is like NASA when it comes to setting schedules and deadlines.  Everything seems to take longer than expected.  Just ask the people working on J.W.S.T.  That thing was supposed to launch like fourteen years ago!  Almost every NASA mission is, in one way or another, attempting to do something different and new, something that has never been done before.  Unanticipated problems and setbacks are bound to happen.  Writing is much the same in that respect.

Also, writing is like NASA in the sense that it involves big goals and bigger dreams.  Not everyone sees the value in those goals or dreams, and some people will tell you (whether you asked for their opinion or not) that you should focus on more down-to-earth concerns instead.

Writing is like meditation:

I have to admit that I’m not as religious or spiritual as I once was (for reasons that are not relevant to this blog post).  Even so, when I say that I need to get myself into a meditative state in order to write, most people seem to understand what I mean.  I treat my personal “writing sanctuary” as if it were a sacred place, and my writing process is highly ritualized.  This helps me clear my mind of distractions and let go of material concerns, so that I can give my story my undivided attention while I write.

And if it sometimes feels as if a supernatural power—a muse of some kind, if you will—is helping me do my writing… well, that fits nicely into the meditation analogy as well.

Depending on the circumstances, I may try using one analogy for one person, and a different analogy for somebody else.  Not everyone meditates.  Not everyone cares about NASA.  And as for exercise, the statement “I enjoy exercise” can be more perplexing to some people than “I’m a writer.”  But usually, at least one of these analogies will communicate to a non-writer what writing is like for me.

Lastly, I want to share one analogy for writing that absolutely does not work.

Writing is like eating cookies:

It’s not.  No, it really isn’t.  Sometimes writing is easy, sometimes it’s hard.  That’s not true about eating cookies.  Nobody has ever said, “I feel like I should spend more time eating cookies, but I’m just so gosh-darn tired right now.  Maybe I’ll eat some cookies tomorrow, if I have the energy for it.”

So what analogies would you use to explain writing to non-writers?  And are there any analogies you can think of (like my cookie analogy) that absolutely do not work?