Ginger Nuts of Horror
Okay, before I get to the 'meat' of this article (and at the moment, I have no idea how long it's going to run), I'll take a few sentences to explain why I'm writing it.
Basically, I have had a very stormy relationship with online interaction, Facebook in particular. I am currently going through counselling for anxiety (and it seems to be working, though my full-time employer is hampering my attempts to return to work, thereby increasing my anxiety - hey-ho), but I've always had the kind of personality that just can't let things go, that gets personally affected by stuff I read or things that seem to be attacks or judgements on me. Anyone that knows me will tell you I'm not the kind of person to spread bullshit, or hate, or lies, yet some people have wantonly misinterpreted me, or made assumptions that paint me as some kind of 'bad guy'. And yes, it hurts; but most of all, it dismays me because I've always prided myself on being able to discuss things rationally, without too much emotive or hysterical reaction. I've also always maintained a policy whereby I'd rather someone came to me if they had a problem, as opposed to blocking and then spreading bullshit in an attempt to somehow blacken my name. But perhaps I expect too much of people. Anyway, I digress. It came to my attention recently that certain individuals, who have fallen out with other certain individuals, had taken to snidey little attacks against this site, and Jim McLeod, a good friend of mine. One such witticism is apparently referring to us as The Ginger C*nts Of Horror. Yes, I know - all very hilarious, all very mature. I won't lie, this kind of behaviour infuriates me and I will defend my friends when I feel they're being unjustly maligned. Yet I still believe a lot of it comes from misunderstandings, misinterpretations and a lack of communication. And that, really, is at the heart of this. I want to impart a few things that I feel will be good advice, especially to those who are new to writing and the horror community. It's not a definitive list, I'm not perfect or the keeper of all that is right, but I've been in this game for a few years now, and I've learned a lot, sometimes from my own mistakes. Some of it's to do with writing itself, and some of it's to do with personal conduct because, at the end of the day, regardless of what you might think, you are in a public space and you are in a professional environment.
So, let us begin...
1. When you first get into writing and, hopefully, being published, you're going to want to add other writers, editors, publishers and so on to your friends' list (I'm pretty much talking mostly about FB, for the purposes of online interaction). For me, it was adding people whose writing I liked and admired. Seems kind of obvious now, but at the time, I was amazed and astonished that such fellows were not only on social media, but were also very approachable for the most part. And that's the significant side of it. You've got to interact with them. There's no point in adding someone as a 'friend', not speaking to them, then trying to get them to like your fledgling author page. That will only piss folk off, and it's something I fear I was guilty of a few years ago for a short period of time. Not so much the lack of interaction, but the sending like requests. It's pretty much a no-no for most folk, whether it's game requests (and who seriously does this anymore?), or pages you think they'll be interested in; best way to do it is to post a link on your own page and politely ask folk to like it. They will or they won't, but badgering people with notifications really isn't the done thing.
2. As you add more people, as you realise how big this community is, you should start to realise that it's also a very diverse and varied one. I'm not talking in a politicised sense, though there is that too, but in a purely personal way. Hot on the heels of that, should be the understanding that you won't be able to relate to everyone the same way (of course, if you're a regular human being, you should already be aware that there's a time and a place...) and it may be necessary for you to modify or temper some of your language and sense of humour. Part of being involved in a big community of people from hugely different backgrounds and personalities is understanding that not everyone will react the same way, especially if your sense of humour is abrasive, loud and smutty. Sure, we can all (or most of us) have a laugh and a silly carry on, but you have to realise when you should and when you shouldn't. It's not compromising and it's not being censored - and I hate those stupid memes which say things like 'accept me for me, I won't change for anyone' or 'I am who I am, if you don't like it...'; they're utterly childish and only for people with no self-awareness or awareness of others - it's being a mature adult who is operating or wants to operate in a professional environment. Which leads me to...
3. Regardless of the casual nature of online interaction, part of wanting to be a writer and be recognised for writing is understanding it's as much a professional environment just like any other business or workplace. Yes, it's pretty casual and relaxed most of the time. However, if you want to carry on like you're talking to a bunch of people like yourself down the pub or whatever, that's fine, but do not expect the community to change to accommodate you and your actions. This is the professional side. Your conduct speaks volumes about you, and you will find that most people will tire very quickly if your attitude is one of constant bad or offensive language, smutty humour or just belligerence in general (now and again in the right place is fine, every single interaction is very wearying). I would suggest that if you find large numbers of your peers and colleagues (and they are your colleagues, whether you realise it or not) start to turn away from you, then it's probably time to have a serious think about how you're behaving. Despite the large numbers of people in this community, it's also a small one and people actually do talk to each other. Unprofessional behaviour will ensure that people won't want to work with you, and sadly, that is something that happens organically, it doesn't mean there's a hate campaign going on. Of course, people fall out with other people, it's human nature, but it's how you deal with it that counts. So...
4. Don't badmouth others or try to generate ill-will to people you feel have slighted you. This is possibly the biggest one for me as far as conduct goes. Yes, there are personality clashes; yes, people fall out with each other; and yes, you feel angry, hurt and want to vent. I've been there, I've had my issues with certain individuals, often to my complete puzzlement. And that's fine. Vent to a couple of close friends, or in the privacy of your own head. But naming people in public posts on Facebook in an attempt to garner sympathy, or get people to join you in your hatred of the person is futile and destructive. Yes, there are those who will blindly agree with you without knowing the full extent of the circumstances, but you will find most people won't be interested. Because again, the community is small and if you make a habit of this, most will wonder when they will incur your ire. As said above, if you find one or two people have blocked you, or are bad-mouthing you, it's more than likely their problem; if you find it's a lot of people with no connecting circumstances that are turning away, it's probably you.
5. As for promoting yourself, nothing wrong with that, but as with the aggressive-seeming tactics of sending out multiple page like requests, you have to know when and where to post links concerning your own work. On your own wall; perfect, unless that's all you post. Better to build up a genuine, three-dimensional personal profile of yourself as someone who interacts well with others, promotes other people's stuff without the expectation that they will promote yours, and is both professional and easy-going. If you only post constant links to your own work, people will turn away in droves. On other people's walls; big no-no, unless they have either given you permission, or have invited you via the medium of a status they've made. In comment threads; not advisable unless someone has asked you to, in the course of an ongoing discussion. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen people hijack a thread in order to market themselves and I can tell you, it's never welcome. I remember one thread, where a good writer friend of mine asked for book recommendations of works others had read and enjoyed, and halfway through the post - where we were enthusing on different books that had impressed us recently - some random just decided to post a link to their own book. Didn't go down too well.
6. Attend conventions. Often, online interaction is faceless, emotionless and distant. One of the best things you can do as an aspiring writer is to meet and talk to other writers. You'll find most of us - the vast majority of us - are very welcoming, down to earth and chatty. I cannot speak highly enough of the likes of Mark West, Phil Sloman, James Everington, Steve Harris (Byrne), Chris Teague, Simon Clark and many others who made my first real convention at Edge-Lit in 2014 a fantastic and inviting experience, and the ones I've attended since have been great. Wherever you are, there should be some kind of event that you can attend and I'd strongly advise you to, whether it's a big convention or just a book event with one or two authors. Most of these things aren't really about selling or promoting books - though that's a nice bonus - they're more about getting to know people, showing them you're a real, three-dimensional personality. Believe me, it'll do wonders for your profile.
7. Right, let's move this on to actual writing. So you want to write. Best advice I've ever heard about writing is 'read a lot, write a lot'. I believe that was Stephen King, and personally, I feel that's the crux of things. I, personally, don't believe there are any magic formulas that will make you a good writer, no 'if I include x, y and z' stuff. I do think you need to read widely, not just in the genre of choice (which is pretty much essential), but also outside of it. I also think that if you say you love horror (or whatever genre that chooses you...) and want to write it, you really have to know who the big names are in that field, and the up-and-coming names. I'm always deeply suspicious of people who say they love horror writing but don't know most of the well-known names, or don't like most of what they read. You won't like them all, that's just how it is, but to not even know who they seems strange. Part of writing is being cognisant of what has gone before you; you're not special, or unique, you are one voice in a multitude of voices that stretches back a long time, and to think you can do this without even being aware of what has gone before is foolhardy at best. So read, read anything you can get your hands on, analyse why it works, absorb the words, the prose, the pacing, the rhythms. I truly think that a big part of writing is awareness of what makes the writing good or bad (to a certain level of personal taste - one person's 'purple prose' can be another's wonderfully expressive poetry...); if you can't tell why other writers' writing works or not, how can you know if your own does?
8. This one might seem a bit obvious but write. Write every day (or as near to every day), revise, constantly refine and improve. If you look back at something you wrote a few years ago and you don't feel you've changed or improved, something isn't right. You should be thinking about writing all the time, I'm writing even when I'm not actually typing. I go for drives (some people go for walks) and pieces of dialogue, or scenes will pop in to my head, or resolve themselves. It's an almost 24-hour process and it'll probably drive you batty, but that's the discipline. When you've finished something you've written, put it away and start something else. Look at the first thing a few weeks later. Revise it, edit it, try and view it objectively. Find people who will give you genuine, honest feedback, because there is absolutely no sense in surrounding yourself with people who will tell you your shit is wonderful. It's great and gratifying for the ego, but it's not going to help you if there are genuine issues in the piece. This one is very important to me. I was asked to read a small collection and a novella for review a while back, but I thought it was so badly written, edited and conceived that I couldn't in good conscience post the review. I did offer to critique it, but was told that the stories were 'received very well when they came out'. Now, you can say it's merely another opinion - which is what I was told - but if your writing is full of clichés, has tense changes in the middle of paragraphs, has unfinished and badly resolved endings, and unconvincing and awkward phrasing - amongst other things - then I'm sorry, but surrounding yourself with people who will never address those issues will ensure that you will never progress as a writer. Words and grammar and punctuation are necessary tools but can be used in an almost infinite number of ways, and knowing how and where to use them can only enhance your writing. I can never understand why some writers get so hung up and bent out of shape when they are advised that they might need to improve this aspect.
I guess that'll do for now. I could say more, but I think this is already pretty damn long. Really, it's just about figuring out what you want from writing, why you're doing it and how you want to progress. While there's no real right and wrong, as such, your results will be determined essentially by your actions and conduct, and I offer the previous as a wee bit of advice to the newer writers (and to be honest, I'm still new at all this myself). It's a long game and part of that is laying down solid foundations for the future. Finally, take care of the writing and it will, with a bit of luck, take care of you. Get your head down, write good stuff and people will notice. It takes a long time to get anywhere in the publishing game, and though I've been incredibly fortunate with my writing - second written story accepted and published, first novella published to appreciative reviews - I appreciate that I'm a novice at this still, and have a long way to go. Perhaps I'll always feel like this but that's no bad thing. What's important to me is that I've made a great many friends and acquaintances through writing, and read some amazing books and stories, and I wouldn't change any of it for the world. I know what I want to do, and I know how to pursue it.
Lastly, I just want to say a massive thanks to anyone I've spoken to since I started getting into writing, anyone who has given me advice, guidance and encouragement, anyone who has supported me in any way. I reckon you all know who you are and you are awesome. I'm not perfect, I've made mistakes, but I'm more than happy to learn from them and it takes a decent person to gently point those out to you. Luckily, there are multitudes of decent people in horror and writing.
Peace out, people.
PAUL M. FEENEY