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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: writing and politics

It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday! Though, at this point, it’s more of a sublet than anything. I was planning on writing something snarky and funny today, but I woke up with the first sentence of this blog screaming in my head. Clearly, someone forgot to give my muse her decaf.

Naturally, though, we begin with the obligatory Denny Basenji picture.

Dear Leader is pensive this morning.

Please don’t worry that I am about to abandon the magnificent and wonderful tradition of this blog in staying the f*ck away from politics, etc. However, I found that the recent ugliness that claimed the life of an innocent woman raised a truly poignant, pertinent question for writers:

How do we as writers properly use ugly things?

Sure, a lot of us stay away from these topics or avoid writing in the genres that might land us in cultural minefields. But, we all reach a moment when our fingers pause over the keyboard as we wonder if we really should use that word, or describe a character with a particular label, or hint at a certain belief. It’s universal and unavoidable, really. Because when we are telling stories that mean something to us, that meaning is by nature complex and reflective of the entire spectrum from white to grey to black.

What are your intentions toward my novel, young man?

Writers are sneaky. We like to explore our vulnerabilities, controversial or dark thoughts, and unpopular opinions using the cloak-and-dagger of “plot” and “characters” and especially “the antagonist.”

This is absolutely the right thing to do. Our ability to slip in and out of disguise, to inhabit other lives and other worlds, is the Promethean gift to writers. Actors are similar to us, except they do it in a way that is physical and immediate. Whereas, we writers sip our tea, smile a little, and ponder if gutting the host with a cheese knife would leave enough forensic evidence for the pathologist to know that we were served camembert instead of brie.

This is all well and good.

Things become sticky when we fail to be honest with ourselves about our motivations. The ability to “shape shift” into our fiction comes with an equal measure of responsibility. We need to look at what we are saying and why we are saying it. Not just the general theme or message. We have to ask the hard questions of ourselves:

  • How did we get to this point in our lives where we need to write about this theme?
  • Could my message be seen from a different viewpoint? Can I accept that? Why or why not?
  • What does this message say about me as a person and what I believe and value?
  • Am I doing this to work off a grudge? Against whom or what? Why or why not?
  • Am I doing this so I can say things I am not normally allowed to say in society? Why or why not?

Notice that little phrase I keep using? “Why or why not?”

We can’t just stop at the first level of answers we give ourselves. If we are going to be authentic, honest, and meaningful, we must push ourselves to look unflinchingly at the truth – good, bad, ugly, and bad hair day – of who we truly are.

It is only when we are truthful about our own motivations that we can be meaningful…and careful when we handle ugly things.

You have the right to remain silent.

Writing difficult, ugly, and controversial things is a privilege, not a right. I mean, technically, yes, we have the First Amendment on our side. But, the moment we write something carelessly or thoughtlessly, we forfeit our alibi with our readers…and ourselves.

This is not about political correctness, identity politics, or anything like that. Those are incendiary labels that get shot back and forth in society like flaming tennis balls at the Wimbledon from hell.

This is about being honest with ourselves and doing the work to think through not just why we are writing something, but also tapping into our empathy to see if we are carelessly or thoughtlessly saying something that is needlessly hurtful to others.

That’s not to say that as writers, we can’t use stereotypes, prejudices, etc. We absolutely can – and often should. The difference is in our motivation and the care with which we do so.

Please note the second half of that sentence: the care with which we do so.

Because if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, thoughtful writing craft is the GPS of salvation. 

Handling ugly things requires the care and skill of a Ming dynasty vase collection curator. When we we use an ugly thing, we need to slow down, maybe even come to a full stop. This is a moment for analyzing what we are about to say, why we are saying it, which character/POV is saying it, why we chose that character/POV, what are that character’s motives and beliefs, and is this truly necessary to the story at that moment?

Ugly things are powerful. Ugly things evoke a visceral reaction in a reader that few other aspects of fiction can do. Ugly things can bring up ugly memories, traumas, deep fears, blistering rage, and gut-wrenching sorrow. Ugly things can turn the reader’s world upside down or make them face a world they had been hiding from.

This would be a moment to insert that old chestnut about absolute power corrupting absolutely. Sure, we as writers may not be making the kind of bank that a hedge fund manager or anesthesiologist makes, but we have the ability to haunt someone’s waking moments for weeks – if not months – after reading our words. That, my friends, is absolute power.

If we cannot or are unwilling to do the work to use our power responsibly and respectfully, then perhaps we should remain silent…

Speech therapy.

I have been toying with the idea of offering a class on this subject. I’d want it to be something where we really get into the weeds of how/when/not to use specific words, stereotypes, etc. However, it’s all too easy for a class like that to degenerate into a session of everyone complaining about the wrongs done to them as a person or as a writer. I include myself in this worry because this topic is a slippery slope. No, wait, it’s a glass slope covered in ice, with a layer of oil poured on top, and paved with banana skins for good measure.

Still, I think it might be something worth trying out. If you’d like to be part of this experiment, leave a comment and let me know!

***

For the month of AUGUST, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***

CATCH THE LAST CLASSES FOR AUGUST AND WATCH HERE FOR OUR WHOLE NEW LINE-UP OF SEPTEMBER CLASSES!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds and award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson. So click on a tile and sign up!

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So today I am going to talk about something unpopular, but hey. Someone has to do it. I really like Facebook. Actually, probably like it a bit too much, LOL. But lately? I just don’t even want to sign on. The non-stop ranting is just too much. Seriously. And it used to just be during an election year but now it is just non-freaking-stop. Everyone has some new thing to be pissed off about.

It won’t matter who wins the election we will likely endure rants about the next topic and the next and ENOUGH.

I work from home, which means I am alone the entire day, every day. The only socialization I get is on-line and frankly? I am getting really tired of being constantly poked with a stick. I am going to just throw this out there….

It actually IS possible to like and love people who are not just like us.

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Just to be clear. I am friends with all kinds of people. All ages, races, political views, gays, trans…doesn’t matter. I like people. But what has been happening on social media is that too many people are forgetting the social norms that guide these forums.

As writers using social media, we need to remember we are creating a brand when on-line. The point of a brand is creating a name with the power to drive sales. We aren’t Regular Joe who can post whatever thought flits through his head without consequence.

We are selling to human beings who have real feelings and we are wise to consider that especially since we work a job that is 100% commission in a market that is ridiculously over saturated.

Readers are human beings. Humans are not rational creatures, especially when they are attacked. Have an opinion. Have a belief. We are writers, not Pod People. But carefully articulating an opinion is NOT what I am talking about.

It is the non-stop hateful memes, the ranting, the “If you like puppies better than kittens then just unfriend me now!” We are wordsmiths. Writers are powerful. Show me a sweeping social change, and I will show you the book that started it.

Never in the history of ever did calling someone stupid make them suddenly change their world view.

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Avoid the Extremes

Any time I mention that bad behavior on-line will cost sales I immediately get attacked (ironically). Writers scream I am censoring them, that they don’t want to be whitewashed. But please calm down. This is not an all or nothing game. Just because I am calling for civility, manners and some BALANCE in no way means that I am calling for writers to hang up their beliefs.

By being on-line we are hoping to forge relationships and whether we like it or not, relationships have rules. Does it mean we never mention something we find upsetting or worrisome? No. Does it mean we don’t have thoughtful discussions or debate issues? No.

I am simply asking for folks to stop camping out in Negativity Land.

This happens in life. Do we want to hang around people who do nothing but complain? I have people I know in person who I won’t talk to because they do nothing but bitch and moan.

I hate my job. I had a bad day. My roof fell in. My dog died. My boss is mean. My coworker yelled at me. My neighbor is a jerk.

So I avoid their calls. I just don’t want to be depressed all the time.

There are a lot of writers doing this on-line. Their posts are just a nonstop barrage of complaining and being outraged. They are lacking any balance. It isn’t one post out of twenty mentions the election or birth control or rape culture or bathrooms or race issues. It is EVERY post.

Thus, I am pointing out the obvious. Yes, we have a right to camp in Negativity Land, but that comes at a cost. If every time readers check into Facebook we leave them upset or in tears? Doesn’t inspire them to buy our books.

Political Ranting WILL Cost Sales

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Again, let’s be clear. Having an opinion is vastly different from non-stop ranting, name-calling, berating and bullying. Yet, whenever I say political ranting is going to cost sales, I get howls of protest.

That’s not fair! 

No, it isn’t. But life isn’t fair and fair is a weather condition. This is just common sense here.

If we make a habit of constantly stomping on people, guess what? While we have a right to spout off every opinion, others also reserve the right to buy from authors who don’t constantly berate them and put them on the defense.

If we acted this way in a workplace? We’d be written up and fired for creating a hostile working environment.

Do I mind a post here and there about politics? Even those I disagree with? Even inflammatory ones? Of course not. But think of Facebook (or any social site) like a cocktail party. There is a difference between mentioning a subject or discussing a belief or even having a spirited debate versus cornering someone and going for their throat.

It is called courtesy.

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Please appreciate that no matter what view we hold, at least 50% of the population will disagree and they have a right to. So when we draw that line in the sand and force people to choose sides—If you don’t agree with me we can’t be friends—that just cut potential readership in half. Additionally, since most artists lean the same way? Now a LOT of authors are trying to get the same readers from half the available pie in a grossly over saturated marketplace.

My political views actually don’t impact me enjoying a good romance, zombie book, science fiction or whatever and I actually want to sell books to all kinds of people, not just clones of myself. Conversely, I buy and read books from authors who are different from me too!

Imagine that 😉 .

I really don’t mind a writer being liberal and don’t care. My favorite writers are vastly different from me. I don’t care about politics, I care about behavior.

I care that I have literally spent YEARS being called names and yelled at. And, when I mention that behavior might be a problem, l hear all the same protests.

THIS IS CENSORSHIP!

I am a writer and I have rights and I have beliefs and you can’t censor me!

Oh-kay.

First of all, I am not censoring anyone. Censoring would be reporting you to Facebook every time I disagreed and getting your profile shut down. THAT is censorship. Dog-piling people who disagree with us is censorship. Unfriending people who disagree is censorship.

What I am advocating isn’t censorship, it is self-restraint. Being kind and polite requires we put a governor on our mouth and actually consider the feelings of others. We actually do this all the time in the real world.

I HAVE RIGHTS!

Yes, yes you do. But guess what? Others do too.

Well, It is Only Until After the Election

When I mention the ranting is getting old, often I get “Well I am only doing this until the election is over.” What these folks may not appreciate is I have had to endure TWO YEARS of being yelled at and called names. That would test even the best of relationships. And what they are really saying is, “I am only doing this until the election is over and my candidate wins.”

And please also understand that just because a person holds liberal views or conservative views in no way means they are die-hard fans of either candidate.

Some of us just want to stay home.

Consider the Market

Image vis Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of German Caamano
Image vis Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of German Caamano

My job is to teach authors how to brand and how to build a platform that will drive sales. When we get as big as Stephen King or J.K. Rowling we have earned the luxury of doing and saying what we want.

Until then? We need all the readers we can get.

With no gatekeepers in play the sheer volume of books readers have to sift through is staggering. Competition is a nightmare. I get writers who complain they aren’t getting sales, that they can’t quit the day job and write full time, that their career is stalling but often these are the same writers who are non-stop-rant-factories on-line.

When I suggest, Hey, ever thought of not being an a$$hole for a while?

I get a lecture about their rights to have an opinion.

*throws up hands*

At the end of the day, write what you want, post what you want, say what you want. Call people names. It’s a free country. But appreciate that readers are tired and worn and fearful and they will gravitate to places where they can find some peace. Readers read fiction to escape the sh*% that many authors are greedily shoveling into their feeds.

Manners are free. Have a Snickers. We are all friends 😉 .

What are your thoughts?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

September’s winner of my 20 page critique is Matt Bowes. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! I have also included new times to accommodate the UK and Australia/NZ folks! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

NEW CLASS! OCTOBER 14th Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

FRIDAY October 21st Your Story in a Sentence–Crafting Your Log-Line

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

Those who miss being in the first ten will get a deeply discounted workshop rate if they would like their log-line showroom ready.

SATURDAY, October 22nd Blogging for Authors

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

This class is going to cover:

  • How author blogs work. What’s the difference in a regular blog and an author blog?
  • What are the biggest mistakes/wastes of time?
  • How can you effectively harness the power of algorithms (no computer science degree required)
  • What do you blog about? What topics will engage readers and help create a following?
  • How can you harness your author voice using a blog?
  • How can a blog can help you write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner?
  • How do you keep energized years into your blogging journey?
  • How can a blog help you sell more books?
  • How can you cultivate a fan base of people who love your genre.

Blogging doesn’t have to be hard. This class will help you simplify your blog and make it one of the most enjoyable aspects of your writing career.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook