Monthly Archives: August 2013

Ten Tips for the Socially Awkward: How to Make Friends!

#10: Relax

BREATHE!  It’s okay.  Seriously.  Literally take a breath.  It might help you relax.  Don’t worry, rolling a critical fumble in a social engagement doesn’t usually end in dismemberment.  But taking a moment to calm down might make a difference.

#9: Smile, say HI

Be friendly.  Smile.  Just trust me on this.  Remember: RELAX.  Also – you aren’t the only shy person!  They might be shy.  SAY SOMETHING!  = D  “Hello” is a good start, often followed by some version of “How are you?”  A safe route from there is small-ish stuff: “I love this place” or “What did you get” are good examples, depending on where you are.

#8: Be sincere

Nothing sucks more than a phoney.  Some people can tell when you’re fakin’ it.

#7: Exchange

Share bits about you, ask bits about them.  Conversation goes both ways (or multiple ways, if you are so inclined.)  Find yourself talking about you a lot?  You need to ask some questions.  If you find yourself just asking questions, you need to share a bit about you.  Balance, young Jedi.  Final note: Beware the Over Share!  If you dive into very personal waters – medical, sexual, etc and etc – and they aren’t, maybe you’re getting in too deep!  Watch their face, their reactions.  Pay attention to what they say as well.

#6: It’s not a competition

Know what?  A little humility goes a long way.  No need to “one up” the other person.  It doesn’t mean you can’t disagree, just don’t be attached to them seeing things your way.  It’s fine to talk about things you’re good at… with *ahem* modesty.  If you get the urge to brag, or talk about all the things that demonstrate your superior intelligence and prowess, put that feeling on hold.  For most people, the getting to know each other phase is about sharing, not showing off.

#5: Pay attention

If you were “paying attention” I already mentioned this.  There’s nothing more insulting than telling someone who you are or how you feel, and that person going, “huh?”  Or them obliviously stumbling into a non sequitur.  Or asking a question that was basically already covered.

#4: Use what you hear

In normal conversation, clues pop up.  Told ya to pay attention!  ; )  Tidbits can be turned into the next topic.  For example, someone says, “Yeah, my boy (or girl, etc) friend does that too.”  It’s easy to follow with, “How long ya’ll been together?  How’d you meet?”  If someone says, “My cat hates that,” you can say, “Oh, what’s your cat’s name?  How old is your cat?”  (This is a much better direction than saying, “I hate cats.”  BEWARE I said!)  Kids = “How old are your kids?”  And so on, ad infinitum.

#3: On that note, say something Nice!

People tend to enjoy having compliments lobbed their way.  As opposed to… grenades.  Find something positive to say about them, or their work, or something they like.  Make it a) sincere b) simple c) sexual – NOT!  a) see above – don’t fake it! b) don’t over elaborate or go on and on, just say something brief c) best to avoid sexual comments in general, often even gender specific comments.  “Nice shoes” is alright, “nice outfit” might be misconstrued, so make sure you have the right inflection.  “I liked your drawing,” or “I admire the work you do” is a lot safer and more likely to create warm fuzzies.

#2: Don’t let fear stop you

RELAX I said!  And go for it!  In a calm fashion!  I’m not saying the fear will go away.  It might, it might not.  Just learn to push through and you will probably have some pleasant results.  If you don’t try… guess what?  No homies!

#1: Follow up

In conversation, this means if an interesting topic comes up, get into it, in an exchanging, non-showing off sort of way.  After a conversation, this means get some contact info and shoot an email or text.  Don’t be a stalker!  But if you cringe in your room, waiting to hear from them, then you just may never contact each other again.  If you like them, reach out.

Now… turn off your computer, get out there and meet someone!

Good luck!

Painful Pleasure: the Critique Crisis — Pro’s vs. Amateurs

Many of us amateurs have grown up with stories about the author who first published at sixteen.  Or the one who never bothered with a second draft; or even the writer who wrote one line a day until their book was done, and sold their book!

Insert the one you heard here.  There are quite a few such tales.

We style ourselves as artists, hunched over our laptop/ typewriter/ paper, pursuing the words we just “have to get out.”  (Insert your metaphor of struggle here.)  We visualize this process as an individual thing, a solitary quest, a burden and blessing which no one else can quite understand.

And all of that is absolutely true.  It’s also a steaming pile, left on a sidewalk in winter, stinking up our worlds.

After attending two, yes TWO conventions (thus, I have become an EXPERT!!!), and attending as well as participating in discussions around writing and publishing, my paradigm has shifted.  I would posit that many professional writers do not make their quest a private mission.  I would suggest that quite often they utilize the input of other people.

Depending on the writer, this could be friends that read and give feedback.  It could be editors who fill their documents with scratch marks and send the author sulking to their redrafts.  Or it could be groups, called critique groups: small (ish) gatherings of hopefully like-minded individuals whose purpose is to help each other along and kick each other in the rear.

And this, friends, is where we really get into “Pro’s vs. Amateurs.”

Minds laden with the stories and images of artistes, and what it means to be an artiste, amateurs walk into a critique group seeking validation and praise.  Our hearts patter, our hands tremble.  We pick our best, we put it before the group, dread thrumming through our limbs.  Thinking: they must love it!  Oh they must!  Please, let them see…!

The Pro knows their story has problems.  Of course, in all likelihood, the Pro also carries some version of the above.  But they have learned that writing in isolation, in most cases, will result in a product that… well, let’s just say, “isn’t as strong as it *could* be.”  A Pro will bring a story to a group (or reader, or editor) with a different need and assumption: I know my story isn’t “finished,” help me figure out what I’m missing.

Not to say one can never be published if one doesn’t seek another’s opinion.  Nor would I say that everyone writes the exact same way or is equal in their writing ability.  But I would say that generally, most people stand to make their work stronger by utilizing the input of readers and critique groups that are a) honest and b) have good intentions.  The writer will gain more from the input if their own motives are aligned with improving, rather than showing off or seeking validation.

This is where “Painful Pleasure” comes in.  Because, you see, you will know a good critique group (or reader) because they will have something to say about your piece.  Whether it’s a part they didn’t get, or something that didn’t work, or an overall feeling of not feeling anything.  In all likelihood, regardless of how many times you have gone over your story, there are things you are not seeing.  Good feedback will show you what those things are.  YES!  It hurts!  It Hurts SOOOO Good!  Because in this process, your story will come out shiny, strong, more powerful than ever!

Finding a good crit group has been described as “somewhat like dating.”  Just because you find a body of people willing to read your material, and willing to spend time talking to you about it, doesn’t mean they are the right group for you.  In fact, just because they are great with someone else doesn’t mean they are right for you!  Find people you can trust, who have the best of intentions, who are honest (even if it hurts), but aren’t going to just try to make you write the way they write, or make you say what they want you to say.  It’s a fine balance.

At the end, weigh each comment and see what works and feels right for you.  Developing the ability to more or less neutralize your ego, so that you can honestly consider feedback, is a skill unto itself.  Any writer is at risk of losing their voice if they simply accept every bit of feedback given.  At the same time, if you aren’t open and receptive, you will continue to miss the things you were missing all along, and your story will never be as strong as it could potentially be.

Good luck to you all, keep writing, and keep honing your craft!

— Arley

Welcome to My Blog

Welcome to my blog.

I have struggled for days, wondering what I can write here that may be meaningful or helpful.  The process itself is fascinating.  Our culture is obsessed with the idea of “qualifications.”  Like many, I tend to internalize this obsession.  I mean, What gives me the right or authority to say anything about any topic?

To oversimplify, I attribute this habit to the medieval/ ancient idea of one individual being better than another.  Distill this over time, and you have a clash of people struggling with themselves and each other, everyone wanting to be heard and desperate to feel worthy.

In the land where “All Men are Created Equal…” (and don’t even get me started on that!) we clearly don’t believe that all “MEN” remain equal after creation.  We preface statements with credentials, we add our letters after signatures; and if we have no credentials to present (arguably, many who do have credentials, too) we are insecure about speaking.

Obsessed with “qualifications,” we often believe people who we should not believe, simply because they have credentials that are meant to indicate their superior understanding of a given subject.

If you are reading this and you feel you have something to say, something kicking at your chest and dying to get out, and if you are afraid that you don’t have the right to say it, I want you to know that I believe in you.  I believe in your right to say what you believe.

We place too much importance on “being right.”  I think that’s a big part of the problem.  Let’s all agree that we don’t have to get it right, that it’s more important to discuss, to discover, to learn, than it is to “be right.”

At the same time, I have to acknowledge the people who work very hard and stretch themselves in order to earn some of those various credentials.  Their journeys are often no small thing, and achievement should be celebrated.

Nonetheless, I’m drawn to stories of people like Frederick Douglass.  In the 1800’s, was it possible to be less credentialed and qualified than as a slave?  Conversely, being a slave “qualified” him to speak “authoritatively” about slavery and equality.

Or one of my favorite poets, Langston Hughes.  When he started writing poems, he didn’t have any letters or degrees.  He wasn’t completely uneducated.  But if he were just starting out now  and walked into a room full of what we consider “experts,” he might not even be given the floor.

I advocate exploration and dialogue, I want to tell you all that you have special knowledge, a collection of unique experiences, and a perspective with potentially earth shaking and life changing truths.  I encourage you to ask questions.  I want you to push yourselves, educate yourselves as much as you can.  Not for the sake of believing it makes you an authority, but for the purpose of improving your understanding about the world and yourselves.

I believe the moment you think you have all the answers, when you feel there are no more questions one can possibly ask about a topic, you are probably missing something.

So, I tell you this.  I have no letters, no credentials, no qualifications.  There is nothing that makes me more special or more of an expert than you or anyone else.  But I shall Blog, I shall speak my truths and raise my questions in my Blog.  Perhaps you will find a sparkle, a fleck of silver or shard of crystal.  Hopefully your mind will also buzz with questions and ideas, and we can explore together.