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Don't of the day: Don't be a Snowflake

The contemporary writing scene is full of snowflake authors who think they are perfect and can't take criticism. But if you can't acknowledge your shortcomings, you can't improve. So do yourself a favour and stop being a snowflake. Here are some tips on how to do that.

Acknowledge that writing is actually really hard

That's right. Contrary to what some people may think, writing a good story - be it a short story or a novel - is actually an extremely complex, difficult task involving multiple different skills. To write well you need to have a solid understanding of grammar, a developed literary style, a good sense of story structure and pacing, insight into human nature and behaviour, critical thinking skills, research skills, creativity, tenacity, solid editing skills, a good ear for dialogue - and the list doesn't stop there.

As we can see, writing is a complex skill, and like any complex skill, it needs to be practised for thousands of hours before a level of basic proficiency can be reached.

Unfortunately, many people fail to acknowledge just how hard writing truly is - with sad and embarrassing consequences. It's a process I've seen play out numerous times on social media. Someone says "I love books, I want to be a writer too!" So they pump out a novella, get their mum to read it (she loves it, of course), and then self-publish it straight away. Their fake friends on Facebook say "this is awesome bro!" But it's not awesome, it's a trainwreck. Because writing is a complex skill, and you can't just pick it up like a case of head lice. You need to work at it, just like you need to work at gymnastics, karate, or sewing. Only a hubristic lunatic would show up at a gymnastics competition after practising for only one day and expect to take a gold medal for a quadruple somersault. So why do so many people think they can write an amazing book right off the bat?

Writing is hard, end of story, and if you want to write well, you need to understand the difficulty and complexity of the task you are undertaking. Acknowledging this simple lesson has the following benefits.

It will help you go easy on yourself when you don't immediately write a masterpiece and become a literary superstar.

It will help you progress with humility and an open mind on a lifelong quest to get better at writing.

It will help insulate you from arrogance and serve as a constant impetus to get better, try harder, and fine-tune your skills. Along with the rest of my tips, it will help you receive critical feedback without having a narcissistic meltdown.

The Way you experience your writing is not how other people experience it

Often, when I'm sorting through the SwannBedlam slush pile, looking for a book worth publishing, I will find myself reading a sample and thinking, often out loud, "what the fuck is this retarded shit? This is the worst, most incompetent crap anyone has ever put on paper. It's nonsense. How could any sane person ever produce something this stupid and think it was worth reading?" And then I have to remind myself how deeply personal the writing process can be, and how a person's writing can mean so much to them, and so little to everyone else.

When you write, it's a truly intimate and immersive experience. You make use of your own memories, dreams, and experiences to create a fictional world. You get so deep into the flow - so deep into your own imagination - that it can feel like a drug-induced trance or an ecstatic state. And when you finish and read over your work, said work will often carry with it a powerful emotional resonance born of the joy of the writing process itself and further enhanced by all the intimate associations it will spark in your mind every time you read it. But just because you feel this way, doesn't mean others will.

To you, your story might seem like a luminous work of magic - to others, it might look like a dog's breakfast. Because other people don't have the same connection to your writing that you do. They didn't get high making it. They didn't cobble it together from bits of their own dreams and memories. It's like an in-joke, or a photo of a loved one - to you, it sparks an inherently intense reaction, but to others, it may fall flat, because often there is a gulf between what we dream of creating and what we really achieve.

For example, when I was five, I wanted to make an awesome werewolf mask for Halloween. When I imagined it in my mind, it was a terrifying, hyper-realistic masterpiece, like something from American Werewolf in London. But when I actually made it from plaster, paint, and string, it looked like total crap. The gulf between my imagination and my achievement was immense. My reach had exceeded my grasp. I had the imagination to visualise what I wanted, but not the skill to realise it. And yet, because I had created a physical object, I was immediately able to see that I had failed.

Unfortunately, writing is more treacherous and harder to evaluate. To really assess your work - to see if your achievement has equaled your imagination - you need to step back and view it as objectively as possible. You need to forget about how it makes you feel, and really think about how it might make others feel. Only then can you hope to create something that might affect others in the same magical way that you were affected when you wrote it.

Some writers find it impossible to separate themselves from their work and view it like an outsider. They can't see their writing as something mundane, only as something magical. To them, it is almost sacred, because of the intimacy they feel toward it. And when their writing is criticised, they react with intense emotion. They just can't understand how someone else can read their work and not feel how they feel. This is the path of snowflakery, and leads us to our third lesson.

You Are Not Your Writing

Writing is just something you do, not your identity. A book you have written is not part of your soul excised and thrown out into the world. It's a finite product of your time and energy, a snapshot of your creative effort. It's like anything else you might create - a cake, a drawing, a sandcastle. It's just a thing. And when people criticise it, they're not criticising you. So relax. Don't get mad. Don't cry. Don't send threatening emails or crazy DMs to editors or reviewers calling them mean nasty arseholes. Just remind yourself that your story isn't you, it's just something you made, and just because you love it doesn't mean other people will. And that's totally okay.

Kill your ego

To be a great writer (and a decent person) you have to get over yourself. You need to learn humility. How to deal with setbacks. How to deal with failure. How to deal with criticism. You need to realise that you are not special, and that only through diligence, persistence, and humble reflection will you ever create something truly worthwhile. Don't get caught in a Narcissistic reflecting pool. Don't get caught in a circle jerk. Face the harsh realities of writing and embrace them. Face them with wisdom and nonchalance, and write like a badass, not like a snowflake.

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