Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Power of Words Pt. 2

Building off of my last post on the subject of words, their power, and the responsibility that comes with them but we seldom think about, I give you:

The Day I Destroyed Someone

At thirteen years of age, I was nothing like the confident, well-rounded young teens you read about in books or see on kid TV sitcoms. I had moved from state to state, from school to school, and was in a constant state of trying to define myself. Being required to integrate into society so often, I had reached a point where I didn’t care about integrating anymore and if I happened to make friends I gladly seized upon the relationships. I also tended to be socially reclusive and awkward, and that particular year I made some big mistakes.

While not going into all the details, backstory, or build-up, I reached a point where I stepped over the line from victim of circumstances to an active maker of new circumstances, and I’m sad to say, these were not mostly good.

It’s a funny thing. When you’ve experienced ostracism, ridicule, and verbal bullying, you learn a lot about how to turn around and do it yourself. The justification in the back of your mind is that you are the victim still and you’re just defending yourself. It’s only in hindsight that I realize how deceived I was.

So here is the worst of my experiences that year:

I had a class that mixed two grades. An older girl started talking to me, befriending me, and I was glad for the attention and kindness. It wasn’t too long before she caught up to me on my way to class and with best of intentions told me that the boy who sat behind me had a crush on me. I think she thought I would be flattered and excited. I was horrified.

Not that this boy was terrible, lewd, obnoxious, or even ugly. He wasn’t someone I was afraid of, but I was not attracted to him. Back then, and for many years afterwards, I had the deluded notion that if someone liked someone else then they deserved to be liked back. Funny how that never worked out for me; the boys I liked usually didn’t reciprocate, even if they always seemed to for other girls. The idea of liking and being liked by a boy was still relatively new and foreign to me. I had no clue what to do with those emotions.

So I suffered in silence for a long time, self-inflicted torture, as I imagined that boy sitting behind me every day, his gaze drilling into the back of my head, his thoughts—no doubt—plotting how to make me like him back. Yes, it sounds utterly ridiculous now, but to a very impressionable and sensitive thirteen year old, it made perfect sense.

He also had another class with me, later in the day, and thankfully that class didn’t have an alphabetized seating chart. I took great care not to acknowledge him or sit anywhere near him, desperately hoping he would transfer his affections to someone else.

Well, the older girl made another remark about his liking me a couple of months later. I think she was hoping I would open up and confide to her. Instead, her words were the last straw. That night I concocted a plan to free me from the unwanted devotions of this boy. Please note, so far he’d done nothing amorous towards me except smile.

I wrote him a note. Oh, what a note! While I can’t remember the exact wording anymore, the general gist ran along the lines of saying why I couldn’t stand him and that he had to leave me alone, in the most virulent terms I could think of. I was heated and shaking as I wrote it, and I continued to feel heated and shaky the next day as I carried the note with me. I decided to give him the note at the end of the second class we had together, since it was the second to last class period.

I still remember how elated he looked as I walked up to him, called him by name, and handed him the note. Then I hurried off.

The next time I saw him, he wouldn’t look at me. He couldn’t stop crying in class, and had to be excused.

At first I felt relieved. No more romantic thoughts from him! I had a wicked sense of empowerment. Not long after the girl confronted me and scolded me for what I had done. I stood my ground defensively and needless to say, we didn’t really talk to each other anymore after that.

I went on to make a couple more horrible social mistakes that year. It was growing into a trend. Try to imagine a dark black cloud hanging over your head because that’s how I felt from the moment I first saw that boy cry. I refused to acknowledge the cloud for awhile, but soon my conscience broke through my stubborn, stupid sense of self-preservation, and over the summer I came to terms that what I had done was wrong. Very, very wrong.

I had destroyed someone with my words.

The next school year I found myself again sharing a class with that boy, the first class of the day. We carefully avoided each other, even though we sat in close proximity due to our last names. I tried to move on as if nothing had happened, but I couldn’t let it go. That letter haunted me.

One beautiful morning I was walking outside toward class when I happened upon the boy coming from the opposite direction. Heart in throat, shaking, I stepped in front of him and forced him to stop. Then I apologized and asked him to forgive me. And he did.

It in the seconds after that exchange that the black cloud lifted. I felt light and good inside—still shaky though, because social exchanges were my weak spot. That boy and I were able to participate in group projects after that without awkwardness or bad feelings.

My words were able to heal, him surely, but mostly me. I had destroyed myself even as I tried to destroy him. Our words can delude us, and repeated often enough, our opinions, assumptions, and personal mantras become hardwired into our thinking and actions.

About a year ago I happened to run into my past on a social media site. I saw a picture of the boy all grown up with a beautiful wife. I felt so happy for him, and had another twinge of shame at my past behavior. My note had made him feel worthless and rejected. I don’t think I could face the woman he married without wanting the earth to swallow me up. I will say that after that disastrous year I never did something that horrible to anyone else.

So now you can all run for the hills. I’ve been a villain and know how to get into the head of one. Remember some of the key points of a good antagonist are that they believe they are in the right, or are the victim, and that the protagonist is the villain.

If I haven’t scared you off completely, stay tuned for part three in which I’ll share an example of words having authority and how that authority can override a person’s moral code.

And if any of you want to share a time when words destroyed or healed you or someone you know, please do.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Power of Words Pt. 1

Hearkening back to a younger time, you may remember the old saying: Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me!

Kids say that as a defensive mechanism, but the truth is, words hurt worse than sticks and stones, because they stay in our memories. Words can also uplift and strengthen. Words are powerful.

Think about it for a moment, when we want to find out something we choose a resource and then read the words of that resource (unless you're watching a how-to video, but even then, you are usually listening to words.) Often we take those words at face value, and unless we have reasons to doubt their truthfulness or the resource itself, those words have the power to mold and shape our opinions, ideas, and actions. Words have authority.

Words convey many things. While on Goodreads the other day, I noticed part of a review a friend had posted where she mentioned she couldn't get past chapter three of a novel, despite how promising the premise was, because of the writing style. As a writer, that made me curious to look closer at the novel. I saw that a friend of this friend had also posted a similar review prior to my friend looking at the book. I wondered how much weight that other review had on my friend's reading experience. (Again, why I don't normally go by reviews when choosing reading matter.) Despite the negative feedback this author was getting for her writing style, it piqued my curiosity to find and read a bit of the book to see how I felt about it. Words have influence.

Hopping on Twitter or Facebook we invite ourselves to be bombarded by words. And if these spur of the moment, social media sites are our number one source for information, we are subjecting ourselves to the whims and opinions of whatever is trending or popular at the time. It's scary how so many people take what is written as an opinion and instantly think of it as concrete fact. I've seen the same thing happen to people who subscribe to certain written publications or who watch certain news programs. Someone posts a link to an op-ed or to someone's blog who has some or no accreditation and the online world goes berserk for a little while based on that person's opinion or non-conclusive findings. Words can create scary reactions and spread ignorance.

I had a bad experience last year in regards to a writing critique. It was evident that this beta reader didn't care for my style or subject matter, but they took it a step farther than they should have and turned it into a personal attack. What made their words powerful here was that I really respect this person and value their good opinion. Alas, a good opinion I'm not likely to get. Their words nearly destroyed my love for writing and nearly killed my attempts to improve or even bother writing again. I let this person's words override common sense, especially regarding the fact that they were being very subjective, and that they were only one opinion. Words can destroy.

On the other hand, I had a posse of enthusiastic beta readers who loved my book. They encourage, objectively correct, and uplift. And I've had beta readers that have been not quite so enthusiastic, but still were interested in helping me, not in tearing me down. They knew when and how to be truthful and when to keep silent. I've tried to do the same when I read for others. I had to step back from beta readers and even from doing critiques myself for several months to let the positive words heal the damage one set of negative words had done. Words can also restore and create.

Perhaps you've also experienced something similar.

I don't think there is anything more powerful than words and how we wield them. We don't think of using words as a responsibility usually, since they're our main form of communication. Words come with a price and we can be the receiver or the deliverer. We have a larger impact than we think and we don't always see the damage, repercussions, or kindled hope our words cause. As writers, perhaps we should be setting a better example of using words responsibly and well. Other people, who aren't writers, are reading our words and are being influenced by what they read. Anyone who shrugs off the notion of this responsibility is deluding themselves.

I've been influenced by everything I've ever read. It doesn't matter if I agree with it or not, the words stick and I have a pretty good memory. I remember what emotions those words triggered, what new inspiration opened up in my mind, what darkened or sullied my thoughts, what made me smile, what made me cringe, and certainly what made me mad. It's not just a sensory, fun experience we're delivering to readers. You never know how your words will impact someone else for good or bad. And to assume that what we write won't have any impact at all, again, is delusional.

We can’t help what words other people throw at us, but we can choose our own words. Take a few quiet moments to really think about what words you’ve sent out into the world lately. Were you mostly positive or negative? Did you focus on building up those around you, or were you attempting to tear people down? Were you truthful? Were you spreading information that wasn’t verified? Were you trying to deceive someone else? Were you uplifting and edifying? Were you vulgar or narrow minded? Words shape our character, and sometimes it’s best to stay silent so bitter words don’t poison the world around us.

What are some ways you've noticed the power of words? What impact have words had on you or the people around you?

Stay tuned for my next blogpost where I'll share a story of one time I really blew it with words and what happened.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Music to Write by #7: Valentine's Edition

I really don't focus much on Valentine's Day anymore. My husband and I are pretty good at keeping romance alive every day, so we don't need the reminder. However, romance is huge in the reading/writing world. Chances are good we writers will be thinking a bit about the romantical side of things this week, so here are two music samplings, one positive, one negative.

Bad relationships are prime writing fodder. This song has a story all its own, open to some interpretation. It's a good mood setter, or helpful for brainstorming. Ace of Base: Cruel Summer, "He Decides":

This next one focuses on the excitement of new love, channeling youthful exuberance and electricity. This is another good mood setter or music to brainstorm to. Selena Gomez and the Scene: A Year Without Rain, "Off the Chain":

Have a favorite positive or negative romance song? Share in the comments.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Guest Post: To Do's and To Don'ts about Networking

Please welcome Dean C. Rich back to the blog today. He's come to share some thoughts on social networking and how following some simple guidelines can make the experience more enjoyable not only for yourself but others.

Writing is oxymoronic. It is an art and yet a business. An author writes alone, but has to work with others. The writer's subjects are what inspire him/her, yet the material must interest others.

Today I want to focus on the part of solitude while playing well with others.

The internet and social media allows writers to sit alone and literally have the world at their fingertips. Thus the world has shrunk. Gone are the days of anonymity. While writing is still somewhat a solitary venture, the writer still needs to connect with others if his or her words are to be read.

Connecting with others is networking. The word networking has taken on so much negative connotation. It almost seems selfish to connect with others to promote yourself. At least, that is what many take networking to mean. That may be true too. If so, that is one of the things not to do.

To Don'ts:

1- Don't Have an Alter Ego:
Folks think that being on line they are invisible. The "handle" or pseudonym gives a false impression of invisibility, or anonymity. Thus with the idea of no one knows who I am, gives them license to write whatever they want, because their identities are hidden. Understand this: no one is anonymous online.

2 - Don't be a Know-It-All:
I stumbled into Agent Query Connect. In the time I've been there I've seen folks show up thinking they had all the answers. These people spurned advice from members who offered some very sage advice, and these members knew what they were talking about. After awhile, no one would offer the newbie any advice.

3 - Don't Take on More than You Can Handle:
I enjoy the interactions I've had with my online friends. I want to help them, and I want to participate. However, to use an overused cliché, I bit off more than I could chew. I committed to doing things and then didn't deliver. I may have damaged some relationships because of that. I had good intentions, but being overwhelmed and not delivering didn't help the people I was trying to help. It also tarnished my reputation. I hope to make things right, but with relationships there are no guarantees.

4- Don't Lie:
This may seem obvious, but when sharing work with each other the idea to not hurt feelings may be very tempting. That is not helpful. Do not tell someone that their work is great when it is not.

5- Don't be Brutally Honest:
On the flip side, do not blatantly tell someone that their work sucks.

To Do's:
Be Willing to Share:
1- One of the first things I learned as I began networking online is this: If you want help, you must be willing to help. Everyone is busy. Beta reading - you read their work, they read yours. Critique partner? You help with theirs, they help with yours. So be willing to help others and you can get the help you want.

2 - Leave comments on people's blogs:
To network, your name has to be out there. To get your name out there, you have to be out there. Read blogs that interest you and if you like something, say so. To network you can not be shy.

3 - Find multiple outlets:
Blogging is great. Blogging circles are great. Add Twitter, find things on Google +, LinkedIn, and other online communities. I personally have found Agent Query Connect to be a fantastic place to get answers on writing, and the people I've met there are super fantastic.

4 - Learn the etiquette of each site you join:
Twitter has etiquette expectations, depending on the circles the account is in. Writers have a #WW which means Writer's Wednesday where you list the @ of the writers you follow. #FF is Follow Friday where you list those you follow who you like. When someone follows you, you should follow back.

Facebook is another way. Build an author page. I've chosen to use Facebook for my personal things and Twitter for my writing interests. Google + allows me to build circles.

A forum has its own set of rules. Read the FAQ and read posts and responses to learn what is and isn't acceptable.

4- Have fun:
If you are not enjoying things, you may want to rethink what you are doing. Having fun and enjoying the interaction makes it real. Just because there is a name and a picture on a computer screen, there is a real person on the other end.

5- Give back:
As you learn and grow, be willing to share what you've learned with those who follow.

6- Always be polite:
I think that says it all. There are feelings, hopes, and fears. We all have them. The golden rule works very well with all of this. Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Networking on the internet is about like networking in the real world. You are dealing with real people. What is neat about the internet is you can make friends all over the world. I've had a guest post on a blog whose author is in Africa. I've exchanged ideas with someone from England. I've been in chat rooms with folks from the east and west coasts and Canada. It has been a lot of fun getting to know these people and I am excited when someone I've made friends with gets a book published, or gets an agent, or completes a first draft. It's all good.

Thanks, Joyce, for having me over.

Thank you, Dean. Great thoughts. If anyone would like to add to Dean's list please do so in the comments.

More on Dean:
The Write Time (his blog)
Agent Query Connect