Lessons I have learned as an author human

Gosh, I can’t believe it was nine years ago when I decided to do a creative writing exercise to take my mind off the pain of fibromyalgia. Two years later, I would be a published author and enter Canadian speculative fiction circles.

I was like a wide-eyed kid back then, at the tender age of 47, and CanSpec was an undiscovered country for me. Heading towards seven years later, I have learned a thing or two.

I’m not “less than.” I’m just different.

The first trap I fell into was letting myself be affected by science fiction snobbery. You know, that thing where “hard sci-fi” is regarded as greater than “soft sci-fi?”

Some authors might craft spectacular science fiction that’s rooted in scientific principles and realities. Good for them! That’s their joy. Others write more fantastical space adventures. Like me. I don’t write in-the-weeds-with-science sci-fi. I write space opera that’s focused on how characters relate to each other. Often there’s cake involved. Sometimes there’s an Austenian ballroom scene. Humour plays a big role in my stories. Characters can take a humanoid form or be sentient plants.

And that’s okay. There are readers for my books too. No need to put myself down or allow others to be condescending to me. We all put effort into our world-building. For Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space! I had to do a ton of research about assistive tech and prosthetics, and hire sensitivity editors, just to have my characters seamlessly exist in the adventures. That’s not “less than” work at all! So, you do you!

Attending panels and workshops can be so valuable.

I have gone to dozens of panels over the years and just gobbled up knowledge. Everything from writing realistic fight scenes to queer tropes to avoid to marketing books online. That’s one of my favourite things about publishing circles—authors sharing their experiences. It’s kind of like a pay-it-forward thing to me. At least that’s how I felt when I have led panels or was a panelist. I highly recommend attending panels where you can. Weeknight Writers has several free virtual cons a year. Check them out! Also, The Writers’ Union of Canada offers webinars free for members and 10$ a session for non-members.

A healthy critique group is worth its weight in books!

When I wrote Life in the ’Cosm, I wasn’t in author communities yet. Heck, I didn’t know it would be a book at all! But I joined a critique group after being published (that’s a small group of authors who share their works-in-progress and ask for feedback). I don’t think could have finished The Stealth Lovers without that group. And they also helped me through Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space! What I like is having that first-impression feedback. It steers me where I need to go or informs me that I’m on the right track.

But if you feel a group doesn’t work for you or changes dynamic where you can’t feel comfortable anymore, it’s okay to find another one. To me a healthy group is where you respect each other’s boundaries, sensitivities, and offer constructive notes. We might grow in a certain direction and find we work better with other authors. Best not to remain in a critique group that is no longer a good fit because this might tarnish the writing process for you. Change can be a positive thing!

Take the opportunities offered and ignore imposter syndrome

I have said yes to things even when my brain was screaming, “What the hell are you doing, Cait???” That’s how I became a manuscript editor! A fellow author friend trusted me with her memoir, so *poof* my freelance career was born. I had been editing for years in high tech and had the creative sensibility, so I found out editing books is my strength!

When I thought aloud to Nathan Fréchette of Renaissance about how I wish I could assemble an anthology only written by disabled authors, he enthusiastically replied, “Renaissance could do it!” I had no idea he meant, “And you can be the editor in chief!” When I said I didn’t feel I could do it myself, he suggested my BFF, Talia C. Johnson. Together, she and I had exactly no experience editing anthologies. We’re also very silly friends. I threw my hands in the air and said, “Pinky and The Brain editing an anthology. What could possibly go wrong?” But we did it anyway. Many of you know that the Nothing Without Us anthology was a 2020 Prix Aurora Award finalist and is still being taught at Trent University. And the second anthology, Nothing Without Us Too, came out late last year. Saying yes turned into books!

As an author, I shyly asked strangers to sensitivity edit my latest book. I even asked a prominent author to blurb it. Expecting them to say no, they all said yes! So, you never know until you try!

Yeet the jerks and hang with the awesome folks

It can feel sometimes like one is navigating through a sea of egos and frankly, jerks. Being around some authors who have opinions can get exhausting. And I think having opinions matters. But pushing them as universal truths is just nope.

There are so many times when I have wanted to flee author circles forever because of abusive and/or gaslighting individuals, but then like glimmers of light in the darkness, the awesome folks appear. And suddenly, you find your people. Just as toxic people are inevitable in any community, so too are the amazing folks. I encourage you to seek them out and not be afraid to leave the jerks behind, even if said jerks hold a certain standing in the community. Life is precious — spend your time wisely with people who lift you up and who you can lift up too.

Writers should not be in competition, imo, but be a mutually encouraging group. We should offer praise, guidance (with consent), and boost each other to keep going. Writing is challenging enough without the stress of trolls, right?

Use social media, but don’t let it use you.

And speaking of trolls…

My latest life lesson is to be wary of social media. What I mean is not to let it take over your time, your thoughts, and your life. Especially if you’re like me, someone who cares passionately about social justice. Fighting the urge to dive into heated discussions or doomscroll to infinity can be so hard. And it can take up so much of your time. Time from family, friends, writing, and your own self-care.

If you can use social media without it using you, then you’re probably fine. If you find it takes up too much real estate in your mind, better to ease off or just yeet it into the sun.

A caring friend pointed out to me how much Twitter was weighing me down and how I was doing nothing to change my ways. Welp, I finally got it, and am closing my account at the end of March. Just wanted to give folks enough time to follow me on platforms that have less of an impact on my mental health.

So, yeah, please check on yourself that way, okay? Better to be a happy human without a head full of cyclical arguments from folks who won’t change their ways.

Never be ashamed of your joy.

I can’t stress this enough. So often I find people apologizing for their selfies, book successes, and so on. Are you joking me? If you’re thrilled about things, post away, do a video, tell me in person… spread that joy like cream cheese on a bagel! (Sorry. I was just craving cream cheese on a bagel.)

But seriously, there’s so much hardship and bad news flooding our minds these days, if you want to be happy about something, go for it!

Show us your book covers, a nice review, photos of a book signing. Heck, tell us when you finished drafting a chapter! Please don’t hide those special moments. You might even motivate someone to continue with their own writing!

And if anyone calls it bragging, then that’s on them. Being excited about an accomplishment or hitting a milestone doesn’t have to be boasting. We’re allowed to be proud of ourselves.

Especially as we move through this pandemic. In my opinion, anyone who writes anything these days deserves an award.

There’s no one absolute writing method.

Some like to outline, some like to fly by the seat of their pants, some like responding to writing prompts. Some write every day, some write when they feel inspired, some write a few words here and there. Some write using their cellphones, some use laptops, some use typewriters, some dictate, some write by hand.

Never mind the bullies. However you write is how you write.

Wisdom is wise…

Anyway, these are just a few things I have learned. What about you? What wisdoms have you come away with as an author human? Let me know in the comments!

One final thing from another Irish person:

“Be yourself — everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde

A greyscale close-up of me, standing in front of a blank background. I am a white woman with short silver hair cropped closely on the sides. I am wearing dark metallic rimmed glasses with rhinestones on the side. I’m wearing silver hook earrings with flat beads and a plaid shirt.

Cait Gordon is an autistic, disabled, and queer Canadian writer of speculative fiction that celebrates diversity. She is the author of Life in the ’CosmThe Stealth Lovers, and the forthcoming Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space (2023). Cait also founded the Spoonie Authors Network and joined Talia C. Johnson to co-edit the multi-genre disability fiction anthologies Nothing Without Us and Nothing Without Us Too. 

Featured photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com.

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