Please Don’t Feed The Trolls

IMG_1899The internet can be a magical place, full of wonders and cat pictures.

It can also be a dark and terrifying place, full of smelly creatures like trolls.

My philosophy on life is “live and let live.” I’m not a fan of cyberbullying, and I do think people (especially adults) need to think before they post.

At the same time, I also believe that many people are far too sensitive, and need to go back to elementary school to relearn that rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Words only hurt because we give them the power to do so.

But I digress.

I was on Facebook, and someone shared a picture of this comedian who was imitating various fitness photos. One of them was a photo of a naked model hiding her breasts with two wine glasses. The comedian is a normal looking woman who made no effort with makeup or hair, hiding her breasts behind orange juice cartons. It was hilarious!

As I always do, I went to the comments. For me, comments are often the best part of anything on the internet. One man started commenting about how he didn’t think it was funny, and he found the model far more attractive than the comedian. The comment thread exploded.

At first, it was just people disagreeing with him. Then it devolved into people checking out his Facebook page and denigrating how he looked because he had some extra weight in the stomach. From there, people started cutting down his wife. And so on.

After many, many comments, someone finally said that everyone should stop responding to him because he was obviously just trolling. This guy thanked the person who said that and explained that he was in a sociology class, and his assignment was to go on a comment thread and disagree with what anyone else said until he was called out on it. He got extra points for making people emotional.

I’m fascinated by the idea that people get into so many arguments with random strangers, and that many of these people are obviously trolls. They are arguing to cause chaos. To see what will happen. Because they can.

I read most of the thread, and the man didn’t say anything horrible or personally attacking toward others. He’s entitled to his opinion that the pictures weren’t funny. A model in full makeup probably is more attractive than a comedian who wasn’t making an effort to be anything other than funny. His comments weren’t terrible. But people thought it was okay to attack him, and then his wife (who was at no time part of this thread) because he stated an opinion.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that we shouldn’t feed the trolls. If we ignore people who are obviously trying to incite reactions, it’s far more effective than engaging and attacking them. Whether you think what this guy did was awful or amusing, attacking back is never an effective strategy. Attacking someone else who isn’t even part of the conversation, in my mind, is far worse.

Often, when we attack someone else (whether as an action or a reaction), it’s coming from a place inside ourselves. Secure, happy people don’t feel the need to respond with invective. Philosophically, I prefer to respond to kindness. I’m not perfect, and I obviously don’t always do that, but it’s my preference. But if I can’t respond with kindness, I can not respond at all.

Sometimes we think that we’re going to convince someone when we respond in kind, but that almost never happens. People aren’t convinced by angry, emotional arguments. They’re convinced by action, and one action that has a huge effect on people is to respond to an insult with kindness.

Feeding trolls with anger makes them stronger. Kindness starves them. So does lack of attention. Please don’t feed the trolls.

What are your thoughts on all this?

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How to Keep a Travel Journal

I have a number of journals: one specifically for quotes, one for general thoughts, one for stories, and one for travel. I find that having multiple journals works for me as a way of staying organized.

It had never occurred to me to keep a travel journal until I saw the ones my sister in law keeps. She explained that she buys her “next” travel journal at her last location.

I loved the idea of keeping a record of my trips, but it’s taken me some time to refine what works for me.

The Journal

Size: You want something big enough that you’re comfortable writing in and large enough that you can stick in tickets, business cards, random bits of paper, but small enough to carry with you.

Paper type: Something thick enough to hold all that ephemera. And if you’re like me, you don’t want the ink to bleed through.

I like 5×8.5 inch Molskine, but there are many other good journals out there. I use one journal until it’s filled, while my sister-in-law uses one per trip. It’s all about what works for you.

The Supplies

My bag of supplies for travel journaling has grown over time. Here’s what I like to keep with me:

Pens: I’m fond of writing in different colored inks, and I prefer high-quality gel pens. My current favorite is the PaperMate Ink Joy Gel. Believe me when I say that I’ve tried a ton of different pens. I also like writing with a fountain pen, but those can be a pain to carry on trips.

Glue stick & washi tape: These are great for attaching things inside the journal. I used to just leave them loose and attach them when I got home, but it’s so much easier to do right away. For one thing, it reduces the chance that you’ll lose something. Just remember that a glue stick can’t go in your carry-on bag.

Scissors: Sometimes I want to cut things out of flyers. On cruise ships, they give daily bulletins, and there’s some things that are fun to cut out, like the daily weather and port. Whenever I try tearing things out, I inevitably rip them. Scissors are my friend. But they also can’t go in the carry-on.

LifePrint: Last Christmas, my husband bought me a LifePrint, and it is one of the best presents I’ve ever gotten. I can print pictures directly from my phone, and it’s tiny, so it travels easily. I always see advice to draw and sketch in travel journals, and while I admire people who can do that, I have to Google “how to draw _____” whenever I want to draw a basic shape. I swear, I’ll take a drawing class one day. For now, there’s LifePrint.

What to Record

First, decide who the travel journal is for. Do you intend to share it with others? Or is it just for you? It may make a difference on what you write down. At first I had the idea that I might share, but as time went on, I realized that it was more fun for me to write down more personal observations rather than to go back and forth between my travel journal and my personal journal.

I also like recording my hotel, airline, and travel information on the first page of that trip. I have a handy place to gather all my necessary information, but it’s also nice to be able to look back and remember if I liked that hotel, cruise ship, etc.

You can record literally anything in a travel journal. The point is to have a fun and memorable trip. I tend to record observations about people and philosophical concepts, as well as what I did and ate on a given day. My sister-in-law tends to record a lot more about the history of places. It all depends on what you personally want to remember.

I’ve also gotten less fussy about keeping it as a “pure” record. I’ll put anything in my journal, even if I just need to use it for scrap paper. Some of those jottings can be fun to see in the future.

The most important thing is to regard it as a fun and to use your imagination. My journals have more stuff interspersed with the writing as time goes on.

Preparing Ahead

In addition to gathering supplies, it can also be fun to get maps or other printed materials. Stickers are always fun, and since scrapbooking has become so popular, there are tons available everywhere.

Do you keep a travel journal? If so, do you have any tips?

Finalist in the Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest!

Hey everyone, guess what! My manuscript, Not Dead Enough, was a finalist in the young adult category of The Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest! It’s a fancy way of saying I was a runner-up, but I’ll take it!

When Charlotte’s abusive boyfriend starts texting her from beyond the grave, she has to figure out if he’s haunting her, if she’s losing her mind, or if someone else wants her dead. He may be gone, but he’s NOT DEAD ENOUGH.

I got fantastic feedback on how to improve my book, and I’m eager to start working on it. Plus, I got a great compliment. The person who critiqued my manuscript said, “It is reminiscent of older horror books (like Christopher Pike) but the social media and modern voice stops it from feeling dated.”

For a while, I was getting frustrated by the fact that I keep getting close to winning contests and such, but don’t quite get there. I’ve put it in perspective now though, and I wasn’t even getting this kind of feedback before, which means I’ve improved. I only have a little more to go before I’m where I want to be.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that as long as I keep improving, I’m moving forward to reach my goal. Maybe it’s taking longer than I like, but that doesn’t matter, as long as I keep moving forward. And I’m learning so much writing and editing this book that the next one will be a little easier.

On a related topic, for the last two weeks, I blogged about writing groups, and I have proof that my writing group is awesome. My friend from my writer’s group, Mary Osteen, was a finalist in the same contest in the middle-grade category for her book, The Book With No Story.

Have you ever been frustrated by not making progress or reaching a goal as quickly as you wanted to?

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Book Challenges- Week 20- 21

So… apparently, I forgot to post this last week. I wrote it, but never hit the “post” button. Oops.

I’ve taken a break from The Stand. I was enjoying it, but life got stressful due to the health issue of a family member. I accidentally forgot it when I went to an appointment, and since I needed to read, I started something else.

I’m not considering it abandoned… I will get back to it.

I’m hoping next week will get back to normal. Or as “normal” as life ever is for me.

Popsugar Challenge

(17/50)- No progress this week.

While I Was Reading Challenge

(4/12)- No progress this week

The Unread Shelf

Running Total: 3 Um… is that really all? I’m not doing so well on this one.

5 Classic Books

(0/5) I’m at page 819 of 1135 of The Stand.

Miscellaneous Reading

Because You’ll Never Meet Me & Nowhere Near You, by Leah Thomas (YA science fiction): Because You’ll Never Meet Me was on my TBR forever. I don’t know how it got there, and I didn’t really know what it was about. From the description, it seems like it’s about two boys with illnesses that are within the realm of reality. I just figured they were exaggerated the way books (and movies) often do.

But that’s not the case at all! These books are science fiction, though if you don’t know, that’s not clear until close to the end of the first one. I can see how some people might not like the book because of it, but the surprise made it even better for me.

Ollie is a bit… much at first. The voice is perfect and exudes extraversion. Moritz is so glum that I thought I was going to hate him at first. But these two characters are fantastic together and have a lovely character arc. It didn’t take long before I loved them both.

The sequel, Nowhere Near You, is as good as the first one. I love Ollie and Moritz so much that I’d follow them anywhere.

The Suffering, by Rin Chupeco (YA horror): This is the sequel to The Girl From The Well, that I read in  April. I would have gotten to the sequel sooner, but I was trying to be good and work on book challenges.

It was great! It focuses more on Tark than the first one, but we still get to see plenty of Okiku. It’s also set in the suicide forest in Japan, a place I’m fascinated by, to no one’s shock. (Would it be too morbid to use this book for that Popsugar category, a place that fascinates me?)

If you liked the first one, the second is just as worth reading.

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Heart of Ash, by Kim Liggett (YA horror & romance): This is the sequel to Blood & Salt. It’s almost as good as the first one. There were some aspects of it that I found a bit confusing (like how the whole possession thing worked), but I enjoyed the story enough that I read past the confusing parts without thinking too much about it.

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Down The Rabbit Hole, by JD Robb and others (Mystery/ romance): This is an anthology of romance stories inspired by Alice in Wonderland, and includes Wonderment in Death, #41.5 in the series. All of the stories are pretty good; I like all things Alice. It’s a light, fast read.

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The Astonishing Adventures of Fan Boy and Goth Girl, by Barry Lyga (YA fiction): The title is a bit misleading. There are no astonishing adventures in this book, though it’s still really enjoyable. It’s contemporary fiction about two misfits who find one another. The title is made to sound like a comic book because they both enjoy comics, and Fan Boy is writing a comic. There’s a particular thing I enjoyed that most books don’t do. (Spoiler alert: At the end of the book, Fan Boy is so worried that Goth Girl will commit suicide that he calls her dad, and dad gets her help. Taking a step like that is one of the bravest things a kid can do, and I thought it was an amazing example.)

Abandoned

None this week.

2018 Running Total: 59

Have you made any progress on your TBR or book challenges? What’s the longest book you’ve ever read?

Ten Things I’ve Learned From My Writing Critique Group

Sorry I didn’t get to finish this series of posts last week, as planned. Life got in the way, as it sometimes does.

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I belong to one online and two in-person writing groups currently. I’ve belonged to others of both types in the past. Some of my experiences with writing groups have been better than others, but I’ve learned a lot from both the more positive and less positive experiences. I will say that both of my current in-person writing groups feel like family, and hanging out with them is the best.

1. Chemistry matters.

Critiquing can be a stressful experience for both the person giving and the person receiving the critique. No matter how much I try to tell myself it’s not personal, it absolutely is. I pour my heart into what I write (as most writers do) and any critique, no matter how well-intentioned, can sting a bit. Critique stings a lot less (and actually can feel good) coming from someone I genuinely like and respect. When everyone in a group respects one another, I can tell, and it makes a huge difference to how the group functions.

2. I always have more to learn.

When I first started the process of being critiqued, I’m not sure what I thought about it. But knowing me, I probably assumed I wouldn’t need someone else to critique me forever, that at some point, I’d “get it.”

I understand now that my learning will constantly evolve, and once I master one skill, it’s time to learn another. At this point, I want my writing to constantly improve, no matter how “good” I get.

Like most beginning writers, I used to have a love affair with adverbs. I don’t anymore, but I do tend to repeat words. I get a favorite word in a chapter, and that word is repeated 8,375 times. I don’t even notice, no matter how hard I look for it. But my critique group does.

3. Talking to other writers is like taking a mini-vacation.

In all of my groups, we stay and talk after we’re done tearing each other’s work to shreds. (Just kidding. We don’t do that… usually.) The conversations we have are generally the type of things that might make non-writers a little nervous. I speak loudly, and not everyone appreciates flippant comments on murder, the apocalypse, or how we can disagree and still respect one another. Luckily, my group does, and they laugh even louder when they realize we’re scaring people.

4. Good criticism energizes me.

Most of the time, I walk away from my writers’ groups eager to make the changes my fellow writers have suggested. There have been many times when I know something isn’t right about my story, but I can’t pinpoint what. When good critique is offered, I suddenly know exactly what needs to be done (or at least, where to start) and I want to get to it immediately. I wish I could bottle that feeling.

5. Other writers’ successes feel fantastic.

There’s lots of advice out there about how to deal with jealousy when the writers nearest to you are becoming more successful than you. I’m so competitive that I worried this would be a problem for me. But when two members of my group found agents, I waited for the jealousy, and it didn’t happen. All I felt was, “Of course someone recognized how amazing their stories are! I can’t wait to buy them!” Do I want to get an agent and start that path to publication? Obviously. But I want us all to be successful, and it doesn’t matter which of us is first. We’re all going to get there.

6. Everyone works at their own pace.

I can whip out a really good first draft fast, but then I have to spend a long time tinkering with it. I struggle with the editing process because my first draft is so close to being right that I don’t know what to change. (This is not a humble-brag. It really is frustrating and I haven’t learned how to edit my work the way I need to.) As a result, I probably spend more time editing and rewriting than anyone I know. It sometimes frustrates me because I feel like I should be able to get this faster than I do. But if I’m being honest, it can sometimes take me a while to learn a new skill. But once I get it, I get it. I’m frustrated with my “always a bridesmaid” status, in that most of the rejections I get say that I made it to the final round, or that they loved it, “but…” However, I’ve started telling myself that this is just part of my process, and the fact that I’m getting closer to success means that I’m on the right track. There was a time I didn’t even get to be a bridesmaid.

7. Most of us are socially awkward introverts.

We like books! People are… ugh. We’re not unfriendly (well, sometimes we are), it’s just that, as socially awkward introverts, we don’t always want to meet new group members, no matter how great they may turn out to be. It’s hard to be friendly and hard to welcome new group members. After all, we’re going to be putting our hearts on the table, handing out knives, and saying, “Go on, slash at it.” I remember being new to groups and feeling, while not unwelcome, not entirely welcome either. I also remember being wary of new group members, eyeing them suspiciously. I try to be better about it because what I’ve figured out is that no matter how “normal” they pretend to be, they’re just as weird in the same ways as me.

8. You really do have to be willing to put your heart on the table.

This is so hard for me. Most of my group members love my supporting cast of characters but call my narrators “secretive,” “gray,” or “blank.” (Most of them don’t come out and say this, but that’s what their comments boil down to.) It took me a long time to figure out that while my narrators aren’t me, they carry bits of me, and my normal habit of being secretive spills over onto them more strongly than any other trait of mine. People want to know characters; it’s what makes them sympathetic, even when they’re making bad decisions.

I have to keep reminding myself of two things. First off, no one is going to know what bits and pieces of my heart I used to mold and shape my characters unless I tell them. Secondly, even if they did, people love vulnerability. Presenting an impenetrable facade is intimidating. I know this, and I’m still working on it.

 

9. Not everyone wants you to succeed.

There are people join writer’s groups for their ego and they will tear you down if they get the chance. Sometimes those people are harder to recognize than others. But if you more often feel bad about their criticism than energized or good, it may be time to part ways. Writing is hard enough without the discouragers.

10. Some writers have no desire to improve.

Some people will never change, no matter how many times you offer the same feedback. There’s a difference between “I thought about what you said and I disagree” and “I’m not really interested in changing.” Those people can be difficult to deal with because anyone who’s growing and changing will feel dragged down by people who are stuck. Unfortunately, the only thing I’ve found that works long-term with people who don’t want to improve is to leave them alone in their unchanging ways.

I found my current writers’ groups through Meetup.com, but I also use Scribophile for an online critique group. (Feel free to find me on Scribophile as Doree Weller.)

What have you learned from your writers’ groups? Is there anything I’ve covered in this series that you’re interested in learning more about?

Related posts:

8 Things To Remember When Giving Writing Feedback

9 Things To Remember When Receiving Writing Feedback

4 Myths About Critiquing

Do Happy Endings Exist?

 

IMG_1486For the most part, I prefer books with happy endings. I’m not opposed to a sad ending, but it has to be the right one.

I recently had a friend say to me that they prefer “hopeful” endings, and that makes a lot of sense. What’s the point if we don’t have hope?

A while ago, I read A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. It is an amazing book, but it’s also horrifically sad. That’s not to say that it’s unrelentingly sad, but the ending is not a happy one.

It got me to thinking that where authors end the book makes the difference between a happy, hopeful ending, or a sad one.

A Little Life ebbs and flows with happiness and hope, where it seems like Jude will finally get the life he wanted, and devestatingly sad parts, the kind of sticky sad that stays with you and makes you question your own life.

If Yanagihara had ended the book during one of those upbeat, hopeful moments, it would be an entirely different book with a whole different meaning.

Books only tell the story of a slice of time. They don’t tell you what happens after, if the character suffered a tragedy. Romance novels often end with a marriage or proposal, but they don’t tell you if someone got cancer after they were married for a few years or if someone had an affair with an ex. Mystery novels end with the detective finding the criminal, but they don’t talk about the detective descending into alcoholism  or having a car accident which causes them never-ending back pain.

My point is that anything can happen when a story continues, and it won’t exclusively be happy or sad. Life is about the whole spectrum of emotional experience. My life is just a series of stories I tell myself (and others). Sometimes I don’t get to pick what happens in the story because sometimes life happens to me, but I get to pick the frame.

For example, I was recently supposed to go to a Taylor Swift concert in Arizona (I live in Texas). I didn’t get to go because I had a sick 17-year-old cat, and I was worried what would happen if I left. So I stayed, and my friends went to the concert without me. I looked at their pictures on Facebook and imagined what a great time I would have had with them. 😥

If the story ends there, it’s kind of a downer, right? But what if the end of the story has the sick cat making a full recovery? And knowing that my elderly cat is healthy today because I missed a concert? And that my husband agreed to go see Taylor Swift with me when she comes to Texas? Does it change the story?

I think it does. I like happy endings in fiction; I prefer them in real life too. Life has its ups and downs, just like fiction does. And just like in fiction, I can usually choose where to end that particular short story.

Related post: 10 Reasons I Love Happy Endings