Thursday, July 17, 2014

People Are Assholes - The Chronically Ill Perspective

I don’t like to lie to people. I also generally don’t like to make people uncomfortable, unless it is productive in some way. I am sure getting feedback from me on writing is uncomfortable for people sometimes but that is okay because no one gets feedback unless they have come to me and asked for it.

Often not lying and not making people uncomfortable are at odds. Particularly when it comes to my health issues.

This article is not about writing. It’s about chronic illness. Feel free to pass on the rest of the article and come back next week for more writing talk.

I don’t tell people I am ill unless it comes up. In most cases it would be easiest and most comfortable for the people I am talking to for me to lie. However I do not like lying. It makes me uncomfortable. I do not feel that I should be made to hide my condition for the sake of other people’s happiness.

Usually when people ask what I do, I say I am an author—which is a half truth and usually interesting enough that people focus on that. However when pressed with more direct questions I will always offer the full truth:

“I am chronically ill. I spend much of my time too unwell to leave the house. There is a high chance I will relapse. There is a high chance that relapse will kill me. That could happen tomorrow. Or never. Either way, I am never going to get better.”

That’s the truth. Mostly, when people hear it from me, they hear it in the form of a joke. I turn all the pain and misery into a zany story and I encourage people to laugh with me. “My skin rotted off! Can I top that? What new and exciting symptom will I have this week? Stay tuned, to find out!”

This is good for everyone. It’s good for me, because turning it into a game is what keeps me alive. It’s good for other people, because it lets them ask questions without feeling like they have to act sad or comfort me and it tells them how to behave (laugh) in a situation they are unfamiliar with (self deprecating, terminally ill people).

That said, as much as possible I omit the truth and the longer I can hide the fact I am a rotting sag of barely functioning organs, the better.

So on Saturday, I was too ill to go to the Abbey Festival. Someone asked what I was doing that day and I expressed that my plans had been changed due to illness. They encouraged me to go anyway and I said that I would if I could, but I was unable.

Cue a rant about their terminally ill relative, who still got out and tried to do things, even though they were sick.

Firstly, I genuinely hope it’s true and that their bedridden, reliant on morphine relative does get out and do stuff. Because that’s awesome and in the chronic illness community, you learnt to celebrate each other’s victories.

However I wonder if that same relative knows someone is using their illness to bully other people? I am guessing no.

When I explained that I too was chronically ill and that much like their relative, I did do stuff when I can, but there was a lot of days when that was not possible, they said I had no right to be annoyed, as I had not told them about my condition.

The thing is, if my ‘healthy’ friends cancel on me because I have a cold, I don’t say: “Oh boo, you whore. I’m an animated corpse. Suck it up, princess.”

When it comes to chronic illness, there are five things I would like to drill into people:

1. It’s not a competition. No one ‘wins’ by being sicker. Trust me, if I could lose that competition, I would.

2. No one has a right to judge anyone else’s health. Not even doctors.  Doctors should diagnose and treat. There is a special place in hell for judgemental doctors.

3. We should empathise with each other. We should not try and lord our superiority over each other. Also, nothing about being sick makes you superior. Suffering does not make you superior. Having to have someone else pour milk into your cereal because your hands are shaking does not make you a goddamn martyr. It’s sucky. I’m sorry it’s sucky, no one should treat you like less of a person because your life sucks, but You. Are Not. Better. Than. Anyone. Okay?

4. Carers are the best people ever and should be treated like celebrities. However if you use someone else’s illness as an excuse for your bad behaviour, you’re still a dickhead.

5. You don’t have a right to know anything about anyone else’s health. When people ask me I am happy to tell them because SJS is rare and I am all for people understanding and learning. But I don’t have to tell people I’m sick. If you look like an asshole because you didn’t know, that’s on you, not me.

Hopefully this cleared up any confusion you might have had about being a complete shithat around people who are chronically ill, or not chronically ill, but who are still alive and have basic human rights and feelings.

Postscript: If you ask me how I’m feeling, and I say ‘good’ what I really mean is: ‘I’m in agony, but something interesting happened’.

Alternatively, I am lying because I don’t like you enough to have a conversation about it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

It's Never, Ever Good Enough... Or Is It?

In 2003 I finished my first full length novel. It was an epic fantasy--the first in a trilogy--and it was 167, 000 words. I then proceeded to write two thirds of the second book, which was around 100k when I stepped away from the project.

Like most teenagers first novels it was riddled with clichés and a stylistic disaster. I knew it wasn't as good as I wanted. I knew I had to improve my writing skill and try again when I had the knowledge to make it as awesome as I knew it could be.

And so I fell into a pattern. I'd write a novel (or two) then fish out Arqum and have another bash at it. I'd write 10k, decide it still wasn't up to snuff and put it away again. I think I have eight openings to Arqum now, started in different years. A weird Groundhog Day timeline of my developing skills.

Over the years the story has developed and grown into five books. All of my favourite world building and ideas are funnelled into the Arqum universe. Its moved from a rather cliché, bland setting to one bursting with the best ideas I've had in the past 11 years.

I know how wonderful I want it to be, but my abilities are still growing and changing. Even my tentative efforts to write a new first scene early last year seem clumsy compared to what I can do now.

There are several authors who have heavily influenced Arqum's development: Lynn Flewelling, China Mieville and Joe Abercrombie being the top three. Reading Joe's newest book, Half A King', has inspired me to fire it up again.... despite the fact I am in the middle of several other projects.

Do I think I am ready this time? It's too early to say. Probably not. However I can lay a lot of groundwork for when I am ready. I spent five hours today organising an immense Scrivener file with a section for races, animals and monsters, regions and cities, character profiles, religion, magic, several timelines and other world building. Each of the five books has its own file and each file contains a collection of smaller files for each of the character arcs.

However ready or not, nothing makes me happier than revisiting this world and these characters. Maybe I never want to be ready, because maybe I never want to give this story away to the world. Or maybe this time I will see it through and share my magnum opus with the world.

Either way, this is as good as it gets.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Anti Social – Behaviour Damaging to Society or a Useful Tool?

So I bought Anti Social ( Which was essentially my way of confessing to society as a whole that I have no self control and needed to pay someone $15 to stop me from misbehaving in my own house, at my own computer.

If there was an Anti Social for oreos and tim tams, it would probably be the most valuable thing in my life. As it stands, the computer version has very nearly made me a productive member of society.

For those who don’t know, Anti Social is a little program you can download that blocks certain websites for a certain period of time. You can add or remove any websites you like from the list—the most common ones are twitter, facebook and youtube at the moment. However pintrest, tumblr and sites like cracked are probably sensible additions too.

You can also set the time period and the block remains in place if you restart your computer and is actually quite tricky to get around. Unless you have more than one computer, which I do. It also doesn’t block Banished ( which is a shame, because unlike cookie clicker, I never, ever seem to get bored of Banished.

The thing about most bad habits is they are not things we choose to do. They are things that give us some kind of reassurance or reward, which we seek subconsciously. No one wakes up and thinks: ‘Today I am going to chew my nails to ugly, sore stubs’, yet too many of us do just that. Likewise, the compulsion to open facebook or youtube has become a subconscious motion—a muscle memory that we don’t have to be aware of to complete.

Nearly every time I have to google something for writing, I end up on facebook. I don’t intend to. I don’t think: ‘Oh, I’ll quickly check facebook’. I am already checking facebook before I have made a decision. Anti Social has stopped that dead. And it’s actually funny how hurt and shocked you are for a moment when you are denied access to the page.

Is Anti Social a tool I recommend for writers? Yes. Only if you need to be able to google stuff, but won’t end up researching for three hours instead of writing. If you are one of those, I suggest turning off your internet instead. However there are a lot of times were just being able to block certain sites, while still accessing your email and blog, are very useful.

Like today, while I wrote this blog post.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Is it worth entering writing competitions?

There are three primary benefits from winning writing competitions:

1. Prize money
2. Accolades
3. Brand promotion

There may be some others, such as networking or supporting a cause, however the big three are the same across the board. However many competitions require a fee to enter and it is a game of skill, not chance. There are also several pitfalls you should be aware of.

A prestigious competition with a big prize that is open to everyone, published or unpublished, is going to have a lot of entrants. You could be competing with authors who have been published for thirty years, who are reasonably big names. Not to mention everyone else with a story and a daydream.

If the entry fee is moderately high, that money may be better spent elsewhere. Such as more niche competitions—ones specific to your genre, location or publication status.

You also need to be highly aware of the contract you are signing by entering the competition. If the story is going to be published—and usually it will be—where? And what rights are they asking for? Be aware some competitions may ask for rights even if you don’t win.

Some competitions appear to just be a money making scam. The entry fee is $10 and the prize is $500. If 1000 people enter, that’s $9, 500 in profits for... what? Pointing to a story and handing the writer $500.

I personally prefer competitions that don’t have entry fees. However I am also aware that there will be a lot more entrants in those competitions, because entry fees are a hassle and off putting to a lot of other authors too.

So let’s assume the competition is legitimate. The entry fee is reasonable, there is good promotion for the winner and a decent prize. You’ll have stiff competition, but you know the win would be great for your career. What else should you consider?

First, read as many of the past winners and runners up as possible. Think about why you think they won and, realistically, if your writing is up to that standard. If all the other winners are literary, do you really think your dystopian steampunk elves novella is a likely first prize contender?

It’s also worth researching the judges. Be aware of who you are trying to impress. Every judge thinks they are impartial, but none of them are.  The judge who posted the homophobic rant on her blog is not going to score the lesbian romance story very highly, no matter how great your style is.

Some people seem to have a knack for competitions and they work as a massive boon to their careers. If you are one of those people, competitions are a worthwhile investment. However there are some people who think publishing revolves around them, and without impressive wins in your query letter, you won’t find an agent. Don’t be that person.

My biggest tip for entering competitions? Follow the guidelines. You don’t want to be disqualified before the race has even begun. Because you won’t get your $15 back and you could have spent it on getting ‘Anti Social’ instead.