How understanding two simple concepts can lead to a successful writing career.
With Scares That Care’s inaugural Authorcon in Williamsburg, VA approaching next week, I felt the need to write this blog post. I’m looking forward to seeing the writers who have inspired me, and those I’ve risen with over the last few years. It’s exciting. Now this post? It’s for the new guys and gals on the scene to peruse so you can learn from my mistakes. It’s not for those select authors who feel as though they’ve been slighted and ignored by a community they believe is riddled with nepotism, allowing lesser talented people to achieve success. Of course people who resemble the latter example are a small, but vocal minority. They are also wrong, and I’ll tell you why.
You see, I’ve found this whole writing thing is a constant learning process. As many of you know, I take monthly workshops to challenge my skills and help me grow. But what I’m alluding to is a bit different. It’s less academic, and more a test of a person’s character. No matter what you think you know, there’s always something new. I’ve had my share of ups and downs since going all in, from a failed dream project, to being twice nominated for an award recognizing excellence in my chosen subgenre of horror. But there are two lessons I’ve found are the most important.
- We all rise together.
- Be nice.
Number 1. We all rise together… I learned this from a panel featuring Joe Lansdale, Brian Keene, and Chet Williamson. It means if one person in the horror community has success, we all have success. This is not, nor has it ever been or ever will be, a competition. Your peer’s success does not mean your work is any less entertaining or good, nor does it mean they are “better” than you. We all eat, sleep, and shit the same.
And that leads us to number 2…
Number 2. Be nice. Just. Be. Nice. Be nice to people. Be nice in person. Be nice on social media. Be FECKING nice. If you have social anxieties that give people the perception you are not nice, like resting MEH face, be open about it. They’ll understand, no one is going to mock you for it. And if they do? They can go, and you can stay.
Being nice is the easiest thing to do, but one of the most difficult to consistently subscribe to, especially on social media, a platform designed to operate off conflict. And here’s the irony in that one: We’re writers who know conflict drives narrative and we are allowing ourselves to fall into the trap set by social media algorithms. You’d think we’d be smart enough not to fall for that trap, but if you’ve used social media, you’ve likely fallen into at least one pixel battle with a perceived toxic individual… who thinks you’re toxic.
Remember a convention like Authorcon is an opportunity for you to make fans, network and grow, not to get bombed at the bar and devolve into a third grader high on Sugar Pops and Fun Dip. This does not make you a nice person, but it does make you a dipshit. I’ve made that mistake, and I’m still embarrassed to be around Bob Ford after praising his oratory skills with all the grace of a failed court jester- FIVE YEARS AGO! The unapproving glares from your peers last longer than the headache.
Those two things are all you need to understand. Me? I personally have one more- “shut the fuck up and listen.” That amounts to listening to the pros and those who came before you. And you know what they all say? Be nice. We all rise together. As a result, I’m often humble about my work. I don’t pretend to be anything I’m not. I can always improve my skills, and I do it by writing, finishing pieces, and taking classes.
Aside from the dastardly condition known imposter syndrome, part of this learning curve is understanding it takes a village. And that village is the horror community. Other writers are not your customers, but they are your peers, or even your surrogate family. The horror writing community, as a whole, is generally supportive of its members. But – if you rock the boat and make waves while disregarding advice given and knowledge shared, you’re not going to go far. And that’s all on you.
I can’t wait to see everyone in Virginia next week. I have a new short story collection available now for attendees, A TRUNK OF FORGOTTEN LORE. It collects the flash fiction and short stories I’ve put online over the last four-ish years in one volume for your convenience, and stands as a companion to my previous short story collection, A BOOK OF LIGHT AND SHADOW.