Lessons from the Trophy Generation

Our generation was taught to follow our passion.

It’s starting to go down as one of the greatest lies our parents told us: right up there with “go to college so you don’t have to flip burgers” and “you REALLY earned this ‘best goggles-wearer’ trophy from your swim team!” (which is, by the way, a trophy I do in fact actually own).  We were told we were talented and perfect, every single one of us.  We were shuffled from swim team to school to Girl Scouts to homework and bed, we had to call our parents when we got safely to the next door neighbor’s house.  As we got older, anything less than straight-A report cards was a failure; anything less than 100% on a test was unacceptable.

Now they call us the “Trophy Generation”, because everyone got a trophy in every team.  And you know what? I love the term.  Not because we’re entitled, but because we were shown off like 20-year-old candy on an 80-year-old’s arm.  We were the trophy kids.  Our parents cawed and kvelled and displayed us like we needed a case and a pedestal. We were taught that we were perfect, and if we were not perfect we were worthless.

As adults, we have a reputation for being unskilled.  Entitled.  Antisocial.

Can you blame us?

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Organizational Skills

Organization is a tough thing.

You can only try to teach it to your kids.  I have friends whose high school bedrooms were pristine that live in filth now.  My own childhood bedroom was an absolute pig sty: I cleaned it once, shortly after graduation, completely of my own accord, and now I cannot stand a messy house.  And that’s only physical organization– this says nothing for the professionals I know whose desks are cluttered with a thousand different projects or the students who open their notebooks to random pages when they’re taking notes.

It drives me up a wall.  Because that used to be me– hell, the projects thing still is me.

So here are some tips.  Don’t let the fact that I’m posting this a day late dissuade you from listening.

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The Hard Part (AKA This Post is a Lot of Complaining)

God, I hate editing.

That’s not true. I actually like editing when it’s short pieces.  Editing a poem, a short story? Love it.  I love playing with all the fiddly bits of my writing, all the grammatical subtleties and the foreshadowing, the little bits of characterization that show up in subtext.  It’s awesome.

But when it comes to editing a whole novel? Blaaaaaaaaaah.  There are too many fiddly bits.  Plus making sure the plot makes sense.  Plus making sure there are no inconsistencies.  Plus you have to hit a decent word count for it to be really acceptable as a novel. Plus every time you read Chapter Four you just want to stab it in the face because it sucks. so. much.

There’s too much.

So how do you not give up?

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Fiction and Reality, Part Two

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how characters have to be real people.  They need to have hopes and dreams and likes and hates just as much as they need to have realistic actions and reactions: that’s how you know what they do in reaction to the plot.

It’s actually a lot of fun, writing a person.  It’s fairly similar to making a friend: you learn bits and pieces about them in the “nothing moments”, in the parts of your novel where the plot moves forward subtly.  You figure them out bit by bit: do they laugh when they’re the subject of a prank, or curse everything in a blue streak? Do they enjoy hanging out in groups, or are they more solitary?  That character is then tested when you hit the Big Baddies, the stresses and the major plot points, and a good character makes it through somehow.

What “making it through” means is up to you as a writer.   A well-written but not very kind character may flip sides the instant trouble comes along, or sell out the group.  A poorly-written but very noble character never loses his resolve once, never shows himself to be human, and solidly fights against what he believes is wrong.  It all depends.  And of course, that rule is made to be broken, like every rule in writing.

My biggest challenge, I think, is figuring out how to fit those “nothing moments” into a book, while simultaneously pulling the action forward with every scene.

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Agent of Change

I’ve written before about navigating the kraken-infested, crag-strewn, terrifying waters of publishing.  Or rather, I’ve written about all the questions I had: I’m new at this and still learning the ropes.  And boy, are there are a lot of ropes: you can self-publish, you can send out queries to publishers… And you can try to find an agent.

Agents are scary.

To me, they’ve always been something that mysteriously appeared after you got published.  They sat atop their ivory towers and judged you until you were worthy, and then swooped out of nowhere to carry you out of the slush pile and off to the magical land of Writing as a Career.

Unsurprisingly, this is fairly inaccurate.

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