Observations on Netflix’s Original Programming

darkwing duck avatar

I know I haven’t blogged in a while, and I deeply apologize for that. There’s been a lot going on (good and bad) in my corner of the universe, so my convention reports are slow going. I’ve been meaning to blog about Netflix’s original episodes for a while now, though, and I feel that the debut of Sense8 is a great opportunity to dive into my thoughts about Netflix’s original programming. Without further adieu, let me dive into why I feel that this is a landmark moment in television and fantastic for script writers.

Back After Commercial

American sitcoms, in particular, have traditionally been structured to map the story to based on when the viewer is watching the screen. However, even if placement is marked within an episode to account for commercials, the fact that the presentation doesn’t have them at all (or, in Hulu’s case has limited and repetitive commercials) is pretty important to how that show is received by the viewer. When you’re watching all scenes concurrently, you don’t necessarily see the seams that are present to account for commercials. This, in my mind, is especially true of Sense8. You don’t get any commercial breaks, so you’re essentially watching the episode from start to finish, even though you can pause at any point.

While the viewing a show with “no commercials” has been done for a while, I felt this was valuable to point out because a lack of commercials is an effective way to get viewers to watch original programming. I feel there’s a push-pull relationship between the audience and the writers here. There’s a difference between writing a show with no commercials in mind versus writing a show with them in mind. There is, however, also a difference between watching a show that doesn’t have any commercials versus viewing it in its entirety. That dynamic can lead to the overall experience of any series, and I’m of the opinion that this is one of Netflix’s selling points for their original series.

Release Schedule

To me, if and when episodes are released also have an impact on structure and audience feedback. If you’re releasing “an” episode a week instead of a full season’s story arc, that also impacts how the viewer may/will be left hanging. Once Upon a Time (Huge fan of that show, here…) is offered one episode per week on network television and is then viewable on Hulu.com. Similar to LOST, it’s viewed in halves as opposed to the full run, so you get a smaller number of episodes before a break in the same season. In many cases, a previous season is then released on Netflix, so I can’t get the current content and I’m not guaranteed that it will hit Netflix at a particular point. This means I’m encouraged to sign up for Hulu.com and keep watching the current episodes over there. Any pre-packaged show that’s released as a full season doesn’t have the same issues as a show that is doled out week-by-week, because the number of viewers isn’t married to a time slot. The other issue I see with any temporal viewing of a show, is that once a TV show airs, it’s usually gone unless backed up by a secondary source. Due to the volume of media that’s out there nowadays, viewers have more choices than ever before to watch what they want, so I’m guessing the rate of abandonment could be a lot higher.

The “time slot curse”, to my limited understanding of what happened, is partly why Constantine didn’t get picked up again [link and link]. The show originally aired in a 10 p.m. Friday night time slot, and was moved for the last five episodes two hours earlier. I don’t envy the people involved in trying to figure out what would make this show work. The data for television viewing is now scattered across multiple platforms, because that’s how people are viewing TV shows now-a-days. That makes it hard to collate data to find out who’s watching what and when, especially since those methods were static for far too long.

Data collation and analysis is now far more sophisticated than it’s every been, and I’ve often seen decisions made based on an outlier or data that highlights a bigger problem (e.g. Like the time slot), as opposed to looking at trends and comparisons. That’s not to say that’s what is happening here, mind you, but I think there’s a case to be made for challenges with analysis when certain questions are important. If a decision-maker is just focused on the number of viewers, fans, etc. then there’s bound to be challenges with the outcome, because often the whys/hows/whens paint a broader and more complete picture of what’s going on, since the data is the result not the reason for what’s going on.

Mind you, as a creative professional myself I don’t always feel that data-driven decisions are what’s best for any show creatively, but they are the nature of the beast since money is a factor. In Constantine‘s case, I feel the massive cancellation rumors that began to swell last fall before the first season was done being aired turned a number of viewers off. Rooting for the underdog is one thing, but most viewers–including myself–want to see a Season 2 especially if the first season ends on a cliffhanger. Otherwise, what’s the point in getting fully vested in a show that’s about to be canceled? By the time the show changed time slots, it was too late — which is unfortunate. I really liked this iteration of Constantine and was hoping it’d find a home. Still do.

Fortunately, Netflix doesn’t have to worry about time slots or data collection issues outside of some potential lost data that occurs from certain browsers or platforms. Thus, there’s a distinction to be made between any show that’s sold pre-packaged, as it also seems to be the case with Netflix [Link], versus filming episodes on-the-fly per whatever the contract terms are. I’m of the opinion that longer contracts are better for shows all around, because the end result always seems to be of a higher quality. Babylon 5, in my mind, is a stellar example of television because the show had a determinate plot that breathed specifically and intentionally over the course of a few seasons. While there were some lighter-themed “Here’s the space station issue of the week” stories in each season, the metaplot and build up to that end game seemed to have been designed from the beginning. Often, the opposite seems to hold true. There’s no doubt in my mind that Whedon’s Firefly and Dollhouse, had they been extended beyond their short life spans, would have given him even more opportunities for his stories to breathe, especially given his expert handling of ensemble casts.

No Need to Press “Record”

As a follow-up to my previous point, the fact that a viewer can log in at any time to watch (or rewatch) any episode within a particular show is a Pretty Big Deal to me. Netflix logs where you stop watching the series and a specific episode so you know where you left off. You don’t have to set up a TiVo or sit around pressing the Record button; it’s simply there for you to watch when you want to. To me, this means that the act of viewing an episode is more passive than active, because viewers simply need to log into Netflix and watch the show whenever they want. No other action is required. I feel that means that the hook for the show better be damn good, because if all viewers need to do is show up, there should be a compelling reason why that is.

Though their original programming is newish, many of the later shows appear to be more unique than they were in the past, even approaching demographics (age/sex/etc.) that are often underexplored in the television format. I don’t want to derail this post too much, but I feel that this has allowed creative professionals to be more creative, to take more risks, and to tell the fearless stories they’ve been dying to tell. To me, this opportunity has to do more with money than anything else. Translation: in many verticals, investors often play it safe by basing their purchase decisions on what came before, instead of taking a chance on something new, because the data exists to show what worked and what didn’t. However, with so many options for viewing trying to grab people’s attention, I feel we’re now in a television renaissance.

Censors, Censors, Censors

The F-Bomb. Sex. Graphic violence. Etc. Etc. Etc. Netflix doesn’t seem to worry about censors. This has opened the door to writing that doesn’t typically need to follow certain guidelines that have been in place for years, which allows creators to take certain risks according to the needs of the story they want to tell, as opposed to the story they have to tell within the confines of certain guidelines. With no commercials and no language/content restrictions, shows can take more risks of an experimental nature. Though the structure is dependent upon a certain number of minutes which is, in Sense8‘s case 48 minutes long, the writers and producers do seem to be less confined. Some comparisons could probably be made to cable television shows, especially when they first aired back in the day, and I feel that there are some parallels to that evolution given the nature of how original programming is also making waves.

Thoughts on Sense8

So far, I’ve seen the first couple of episodes of Sense8, and in my mind there’s a certain amount of comic book-style storytelling that’s occurring in this show. Looking at similar shows in the genre, namely The 4400 and Heroes, Sense8 seems to be heading toward a specific ending in mind that makes sense for the overarching plot. First, we have to get “to” the plot — which is shrouded in mystery. I feel this was intentionally done, because there’s a specific story-related issue that will arise from a plot where eight strangers from around the world are interconnected telepathically. Once they master their shared abilities, whatever those happen to be, then there’s a good possibility that there’s no where else for them to go. That conflict, and the conflict with the outside force that hunts them, has to be introduced slowly. Otherwise, there’s no hook anymore.

While I haven’t nerded out enough to see how many minutes are devoted to the characters, they have mostly been shown (so far) in pairs each time they appear. The eight characters that are located around the world give the plot some weight, because any organization that’d be after these individuals would have a much harder time trying to find them. Also, the use of an ensemble cast is a fantastic way to highlight diversity either in a specific city or, in this case, to show how truly random these characters area. The ensemble cast, in particular, is something I think a lot of writers should pay attention to. There’s a lot of rich characterization with these characters that goes beyond ability, and I feel it’s worth watching for that reason.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on Netflix, original programming, and television at the moment. Television is such a fun format, and I’m glad to see there’s some innovation happening. Exciting times!

    Mood: 50% Zen. 50% caffeine withdrawal.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Some, trying to get a handle on it. Cut out diet soda. Feel awful.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Three blarghs for leg lifts.
    In My Ears: Some crap that’s classical mixed with east coast house. Me no likely.
    Game Last Played: Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed
    Book Last Read: I have a stack next to my machine for research.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: On Season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
    Latest Artistic Project: Um…
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Gothic Icons, Smuggler’s Guide to the Rim, and Ghosts in the Black
    What I’m Working On: Read my latest project update. Plus, pitching. Oy.

Dealing with Negativity and Burnout Part 2

Yuna Final Fantasy X-2

Last time, I wrote a very long post about online negativity as a lead up to this post about dealing with burnout. I asked around for advice, and the majority of the tips were related to taking a break from the internet and switching projects. I’ve got a different perspective on this, which I’ll share below. As all of my posts, please keep in mind that I am not a fan of OneTrueWayisms: I trust you that you will do what works for you. This is simply how I deal with it.

Fried to a Crisp

I feel being burnt out is a state of being. When I’m fried, it’s because there’s too much (words or data) coming in or too much going out. Often, but not always, that information can trigger a range of emotions which are not always healthy. A clickbait article that’s designed to get you so pissed off, you just have to comment on it or share it. A kerfluffle that involves something or someone you care about, that everyone continues to talk about–including you. One too many rejections, bad reviews or critiques, Real LifeTM events… All of these things can have an impact on productivity because, as a writer, the more words and emotions I absorb from other sources, the more I’ve found that impacts my original work or prevents me from being excited about writing for other properties.

When it’s related to the internet, that’s unwanted information and junk emotions I’m putting into my brain. When it’s not, the process for dealing with that information and those emotions may be different, but it’s still going to have an impact on my mental health. For me, dealing with Real LifeTM triggers is vastly different from online negativity, but I feel that there are some similarities to dealing with burnout once I’m at that point. That said, there is a specific lesson that all creative professionals are forced to learn when it comes to online criticism.

Creative Criticism Is Not About You

I am not, and I want to be very clear about this, dissing fans or fandom in this section. This is about the negativity of the words that are used which, in most cases, is all creative professionals have to go on. Whether it’s our own work or when we contribute to a licensed property, criticism and negative feedback related to what we produce is typically not about the quality of who we are as human beings because those comments are shared by total strangers.

Most fans do not understand all of the steps (or time) required to create a movie, TV show, game, novel, etc. nor are they aware of the legal, professional, or contractual obligations we have–and nor should they feel obligated to understand every nuance. No matter how much we talk about process, it’s hard to relate to producing creative works until you’ve actually done it yourself in the same way that person has. For years, the walls between creator and fan were extraordinarily thick, and now that they’re thin when a fan reacts negatively to a work the creator can be contacted or, in some cases, harassed. Even when a company clearly highlights those steps there’s often criticism because the fan or consumer isn’t working at that company and their emotions for the property, coupled with high demand for that product, outweigh their understanding of what needs to happen behind-the-scenes.

Typically, the more popular the property or the release, the more chances you’ll get negative feedback. It’s the law (and luck) of numbers. You could sell 1,000 copies and if 10% of people respond and leave reviews, that’s 100 people. Of those 100 people, some will simply rate it with a starred review and not leave any commentary. Others will write a review, and then you’ll get people throwing out feedback–for better or for worse–via social media. Often, and I see this happen a lot, there is absolutely no guarantee that that person has even seen or paid for the work, and they’re simply responding to an image or a comment someone else made. And don’t forget about click bait articles engineered to piss people off by slamming a work for eyeballs on the page!

This is simply how the internet works and, unfortunately, this part of the feedback cycle can take its toll on creative professionals. It is what it is and I highly doubt it will change. I rarely, if ever, see how works that do address controversial issues are lauded for what they’ve done right in addition to the nitpicks, and many satisfied fans don’t take the time to leave reviews for a variety of reasons. That is not their fault and I firmly believe that reviews aren’t an obligation. They are optional and they do help, sure, but I can’t make those kinds of demands on readers. Here’s my fear, though: too much negative feedback, especially for shows and movies that reach thousands and millions of viewers, will push creators into producing materials that are “safe” or downright boring for fear of causing waves–especially when there’s harassment attached to a specific subject as proven by what other creators are doing.

To me, that is dangerous because that leads to censoring what we work on in the brainstorming phase and the end result suffers. To prevent burnout, we need to be allowed to suck, even if we’re the only ones to see it, because that’s how we grow and improve and change as creative professionals. I know this lesson is a hard one to learn, but I do feel it’s one every creative professional eventually realizes in their own way. In most cases, negative feedback about a book/game/movie/piece of art is not saying YOU suck as a human being; it is saying that fans didn’t like the work or a part of what was done, and they’ve attributed that criticism to you–all of you–as the creator. That can be impossible to separate, and this is a big contributing factor to burnout in my humble opinion.

When Blacketh Is Thy Mood

First and foremost, I am not a believer in restraining your emotions and preventing yourself from feeling bad. If you need to feel something? You feel it. Yes, there is such a thing as too much emotion, especially if you’re feeling depressed for far too long or angry, but in healthy doses emotions are part of being human. What led to you having those emotions, like misinformation or what-have-you, can be the cause of feeling something you later realize you shouldn’t have but that, too, is normal.

After recognizing I’m in a foul mood or I’m burnt out from feeling too much negativity, I do limit my internet connectivity, exercise the block button, and watch my caffeine intake, but I also have a list of other actions I take. I have no time for hate. None. I hope these steps are helpful for you!

  • Step 1: Identify Trigger(s) – Knowing what pisses me off or what led to my burnout is really important to prevent it from happening again. Here, I also recognize what type of burnout it is. Either too much coming in, or too much going out.
  • Step 2: Sensory Deprivation – I have a pair of noise-canceling headphones I use to listen to… Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I sometimes use meditation as well, but I find the noise-canceling headphones work great for me. Then, I can hear very clearly how loud everything is and work to quiet it down.
  • Step 3: Throwing Out the Trash – If there’s too much coming in, and my head is overloaded, then I need to get rid of it. I do not use a computer (e.g. conductor) for this step. It’s good old-fashioned pen-to-paper freewriting, and I do as much or as little as I need to. If there’s too much going out, then I do the same thing, but I focus on identifying where my emotional leaks are. Sometimes, I need to use this step to clearly identify who or what is bugging me and affecting my productivity.
  • Step 4: Formulate a Plan – I make lists of everything I’m doing and rank those tasks/items by my priorities and set deadlines. Then, I cut off what I don’t need to do. Simplify, simplify, simplify. This list includes everything from what shows I watch to the errands that I run. K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid. The less flotsam and jetsam I have to worry about, the better. This also serves as a reminder, by the way, about what is important to steer me back toward the center.
  • Step 5: Do Something Nice – Here I take a break and do something for myself, my loved ones, or for other people. At my worst, I write fan letters to other creative professionals. I design jewelry and give those away as gifts to my friends or, if I’m feeling like I need some TLC, I do something great for myself. If I can afford it, I’ll give to charity. Technically, I am doing something to counteract the negativity that is not focused on work. It is focused on something that makes me feel good, which serves as a jumping off point.
  • Step 6: Cleansing and Positive Space – Work out. Do yoga. Take a shower. Dress up. Clean the house. Declutter. This almost always has a positive impact on me, because cleaning and looking like a slob can be a sign of Writer’s Avoidance Behavior. When it’s done, there is no excuse–and it has a profound psychological impact on my mood. If my burnout is really bad, I will change my environment by redecorating or shifting work spaces.
  • Step 7: Revisit my Goals – After all this is done, then I take the plan from Step 4 and I revise it. 90% of the time, my first draft will incorporate unrealistic goals because I’m feeling anxious. This time I opt for honesty in terms of what I can get done instead of what I want to get done. While forgiving oneself is definitely key, I feel that knowing how I work and what my typical output is like is the absolute best way to reach achievable goals. I know that first to-do list? Never gonna happen. Realistic goals sometimes take work to figure out.
  • Step 8: Transferring Plan – I transfer the plan a second or third time to a different medium. I have an elaborate spreadsheet set up. Even if I don’t revisit that spreadsheet for some time, by processing the information into that format I am solidifying my goals and reinforcing that yes, these are serious milestones.
  • Step 9: Plan for Happiness and Breaks – The zoo. A coffee shop. Seeing friends. Museum. Whatever it is, I plan it (usually on the cheap) because just focusing on the work is going to kill me considering I am attempting to fix being burnt out. I have to plan breaks, otherwise I’ll go nuts! This way, I’m not living to work, even though I love it. Heck yes, I’m an entrepreneur and I love my job, but I have to plan downtime because otherwise I’ll just get burnt out again. Sometimes, too I’ll plan to see a funny movie or listen to a beloved audiobook. Even if I don’t write it down, I am choosing what makes me happy to replace what made me sad.
  • Step 10: Sleep. Get Dressed. – Once all that is done, I get up the next morning and get dressed–YES THAT MEANS PANTS–as if I’m heading into the office. If I want to take my job seriously, then I need to take me seriously. Then? I start small and go, go, go…

Well, that’s all the time I have today. I hope this is helpful and gets you thinking about what works (and what doesn’t) for you. Burnout is something all of us can experience, and I feel this, in particular, is something we need to help each other out on.

    Mood: Proud and determined, dammit.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: WOO! One cup!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Post-con haze.
    In My Ears: The almighty dryer.
    Game Last Played: Kingdoms of Amalur: Age of Reckoning
    Book Last Read: Commedia della Morte by Chelsea Quinn Yarbo
    Movie Last Viewed: Clueless
    Latest Artistic Project: Chainmaille!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Gothic Icons and Smuggler’s Guide to the Rim
    What I’m Working On: Read my latest project update.

Breaking Down Success

Fire She-Ra Avatar

I realize I owe you a post about ways to combat burnout, and another one about essentialism versus mutual respect…but I’m on deadline. The end of this month marks a milestone for me that I can hopefully share with you at one point. Instead, today I want to talk about yesterday and why I feel it’s important.

A lot of people wonder what it takes to be successful. I hear a lot of talk about getting published, or the right vs. wrong way to tell a story, etc. etc. etc. To me, unless you’re looking to fulfill a specific goal, all that can get in the way of productivity because you start worrying about what you should be doing than focusing on what you’re actually doing. I get into trouble, sometimes, because I tend to oversimplify complex concepts. I remove the flotsam and jetsam because as a creative, I have to be conscious about what I’m putting in my head and what’s coming out of it. (I’ll talk about more about that in my post about burnout.) Part of that, too, is not worry about what success is or isn’t, but focusing on what matters to me.

My world is very simple when I’m staring at my keyboard. I have a deadline. Did I meet that? If not, why and what can I do to be better about achieving it? I have people I work with. How can I be a better collaborator, leader, and co-worker? I have bills to pay. Did I pay them? If not, what do I need to do to pay them? If I don’t have a deadline, how do I get another one? How do I assign deadlines to my spec work so I’m pushing myself further? Then, when my novels come out, with any luck I’ll be focused on engaging readers, too.

When I look “up”, however, there’s a whole ‘nother world out there. There’s a world where I am judged by fans, by people I don’t work with, by potential publishers, etc. That world doesn’t know what I’m doing on my keyboard, or what I’ve done that hasn’t seen the light of day, or any of my experiences in business or music, etc. That world doesn’t care about what I did in the distant past or what I’m doing right now because it’s not out yet. That world? Only cares about what I did yesterday. Or, more specifically, what I released yesterday.

Again, I realize I’m oversimplifying here… I do think about (and plan for) what I want in the future, but that impacts what I work on rather than how other people perceive me. My point is that it doesn’t do me any good to worry about anything other than creating more “yesterdays,” because that’s the only thing I can control. There are so, so, so many writers out there who are hustling–and they’re unknown–making a full-time living at this. Are they any less successful than the writer who writes an award-winning story? Does that really even matter? Sometimes, I think we get so worked up about defining what is and isn’t successful, that it winds up hurting us because that word–success–is incredibly subjective.

I try to worry about what I can control and what I can learn from my mistakes. (Like my terrible comma usage in this post, for example.) I don’t aim to be perfect, because that’s not realistic. Over time, I realized I can’t make up a publisher’s mind by talking about what I haven’t finished yet, and it hurts me to stop writing because I’m “waiting” for a release to happen or for anyone else to validate my work. Yes, awards will help my career, but I’d much rather focus on putting out work I’m proud of, because I feel that’s better for my definition of success and to serve readers, fans, etc. If I haven’t hit that sweet spot yet where readers are happy? That means I have to do something new and fresh that will, and I will keep doing that. In a way, I hope they never are, because I can’t imagine not writing or not trying to make something happen.

In order for me to be productive, I feel it’s more important to care about what I can focus on right now, the readers and the fans and the people I know right now, so I can continue to make a living and have more yesterdays. I cannot, and will not, be able to control what other people think. (I wouldn’t want to, anyway.) That way lies madness, and crafting a careful marketing image/persona is secondary to my work. The work has to come first. Being “popular” is not my focus, because I am not a celebrity who is honing my image based on “who” I am. Being a celebrity is a job, and very few writers are also actual celebrities. That’s not how I get paid, and everything I do in public feeds the work.

Time to hustle!

    Mood: F-f-f-f-f-f-feisty
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: On my third cup
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: There was walking!
    In My Ears: White noise.
    Game Last Played: Kingdoms of Amalur: Age of Reckoning
    Book Last Read: Commedia della Morte by Chelsea Quinn Yarbo
    Movie Last Viewed: Can’t remember…
    Latest Artistic Project: Chainmaille!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Gothic Icons and Smuggler’s Guide to the Rim
    What I’m Working On: Read my latest project update.

The Other Side of Ciao

There's a trojan on your computer

In preparation for a few posts about my writing process as it relates to my original work and projects like Dark Eras, I wanted to talk (eep!) a little bit more about me. To be perfectly honest with you, this is the part I hate. I don’t like talking about me half the time, because I feel there’s a certain level of complexity that human beings have, that cannot come across via the internet in writing. Too, I’m fairly private as well, because I tend to deal with my own b.s. and then move on as best I can. Today I’m going to try, because this will relate to a future post about my work and my research process that I’ve honed over several years when writing about other cultures.

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in a cross-cultural household, and that I’ve never really felt that I fit in to “a” specific culture. When I went to London a few years ago now, one of my friends noticed how I really was of two worlds, the old and the new. Though I’m not a hundred percent Italian, the culture (regionally, this would be northern Italy) dominated my formative years. If you are not already aware, like many countries there’s no such thing as Italy being “one” culture and there’s often a lot of assumptions made about Italian-Americans thanks to shows like Jersey Shore or The Godfather movies. Often, when people haven’t run into Italians before, whatever the popular media has shown them is what they assume and it’s not always good.

I remember being of two minds on the subject of my heritage. Proud and angry. Proud, because while other families forgot how their great-great grandparents came to this country, the idea of “where we came from” was more immediate and present. It made me appreciate being in America, and I fell in love with the idea of the melting pot to the point where I idealized it. Oh, I did. I wanted to know about everyone. (Still do.) I wanted to know about all the different cultures, all the beautiful people with the different ways they practiced their faith or what they had for dinner or what they wore or what books they read or what have you. As a child, I thought America was a place where everyone was welcome, and I was ready to meet everybody.

This is where the anger part comes in. I’ve always been pushed and pulled into this idea that there’s “the one true way” to live, to be, that whatever the dominate culture is happens to be the one that’s “right”, or that the culture you’re born with has to be the only one. (A belief that I fight with every breath I take.) What’s so “wrong” about not discovering popcorn until I was 12? What’s so “wrong” about not having blonde hair? (Yes, I do now. This is called “obfuscation” as I’ve been going grey since I was a teenager. Considering purple!) Or the right nose? Or body shape? Or… For me, I also had an added layer of angst as a teen. I am a very passionate person, and even something as simple the display of emotion can generate comments and rumors. I also talk with my hands as well, and being expressive can cause raised eyebrows, too. And it did. Even beyond personal expression, there’s also issues I had with personal space. I remember how I was helping a friend home who was utterly wasted, and I had my arm around her to keep her upright, and kids driving by shouted gay slurs at us simply because we were touching.

I’m skipping a lot here, including the bullying, but hopefully the gist of what I’m trying to say is coming across. For a lot of people, even though my skin tone was white, and we were blue collar/middle class, I was still “different” and different isn’t always good, nor is it celebrated. That? That crushed me at first. As a teenager, because of my experiences, I went from believing in the melting pot, to convincing myself I had to fit in. I had to wear the latest fashion or dumb myself down or change my hair or do all the things that weren’t necessarily me because this was the way to get people to back off and stop ridiculing me or accept me. In other words, I felt forced to pretend I was unquestionably just like everybody else who was considered to be part of the majority culture, and it never quite seemed to work. I wanted to be invisible, because that seemed easier than the alternative.

No, the story of where I came from cannot possibly be condensed into a simple post, nor are the reasons for the way I was treated in my formative years straightforward. They’re not. To me, though, none of that matters and I am certainly not trying to get into any kind of contest about whose pain is greater. That’s not the point here. None of my terrible past experiences matter anymore. Why? Because while I still struggle with living between worlds sometimes, I am hyper-focused on turning those experiences into something positive, and then channeling that into my work. I’ve said this before, but music saved my life and writing gave me a reason to live it. Without the arts, I’m not sure where I’d be today.

Shortly after leaving home for college, I realized I wanted the dream back, because I didn’t feel that what I’d been told or shown was true. I desperately hoped for the melting pot, the rainbow, and the beautiful people–all of them–back in my head. To that end, and I remember this very clearly, I refused to sit down and be quiet and accept the way things were. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. And, being young and stupid, oh I’m sure I made my fair share of mistakes trying to figure out the answers to my questions, too.

Over time, I’ve come to understand that there’s a lot of people in pain simply because they are considered to be “different.” While their pain is theirs to deal with, the best I can do is listen and either keep listening or, when appropriate, say: “I will try to understand.” The best I can do, is be there for them because I know what it means to be in a position where no one is there for you. To me, this has nothing to do with being liberal of conservative; I care about what I can do to be a decent human being. Being a good person, I feel, should not be politicized, because that dehumanizes us and reduces us into another pile of stereotypes.

Despite how the media sometimes simplifies it, culture is not a linear, flat shape that encompasses the entire U.S. It ebbs and flows and grows and changes all the damn time, depending upon where you live and who you’re with and where you come from and where you’re going. There’s a lot of things that happen in the popular culture due to propaganda or half-truths being shared, misunderstandings, global events, inventions, popular movies/TV, turns of the season, political leaders, basic internet connectivity, money, etc. Taking all of these things into consideration, the American culture fascinates me, because it’s the most complex, organic structure I have ever encountered, just like how most people fascinate me.

To me, especially now, America is still the melting pot, a mixture of beautiful people who’ll inspire me to write better characters and design more visceral settings. A potpourri of all kinds of people who (thankfully) aren’t just like me. I feel this is cause for celebration despite this country’s horrific past, despite the ways we seek to isolate, separate, and condemn one another now because of the fear of the unknown, because the world is changing. The question that I often ask is: what unites us? This often leads to more questions. What does it mean to be human? What do we all share? What’s the positive side to being unique? How can we come together and have great discussions despite being different people? How can we work together and respect our differences instead of condemn them? These questions, to me, are infinitely more interesting because the answers bring me hope and joy.

Next time, I’ll talk about how these experiences have led me to address writing about other cultures from a position of mutual respect. That post will have a stronger writing focus than this one did, and I’m hoping that my stance on this topic will make more sense now that you have a general idea where my head is at.

Comments are open on this post as well. I’m more than a little neurotic about opening up, so please be kind.

    Mood: Did I do this right?
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I counted four.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: There was walking!
    In My Ears: White noise.
    Game Last Played: Sonic: All Stars Racing
    Book Last Read: Commedia della Morte by Chelsea Quinn Yarbo
    Movie Last Viewed: Painted Skin: the Resurrection
    Latest Artistic Project: Beading!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Gothic Icons and Smuggler’s Guide to the Rim
    What I’m Working On: Read my latest project update.

Dealing with Negativity and Preventing Burnout Part 1

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Haven’t blogged for a while, so today I wanted to get back to talking about process. The topic of my post today is a long-ish essay about dealing with negativity and preventing burnout. As it turns out, I have so much to say on the topic that I need to cut this off at “part one.” However, I do wish to be clear and reemphasize that this is not a post advising you what to do, but how I deal and view this stuff. I believe very strongly in doing what works for you, and I feel there’s a lot more to being online and engaging with people than at first glance.

I am a full-time writer, so my purpose for being online might be different from yours. There is a lot of pressure, in general, to be online because this is a way to network and get gigs, engage with fans, and allow people to get to know you. When my work falls more into the realm of administrivia, I can finish some tasks while having both monitors open, which allows me to scroll through my feeds. Others, I can’t because I need to focus. When I need to write, however, the only time I pop open Twitter or Facebook is when I’m at a stopping point and I need a break. Except, even that’s changing as my productivity, travel, and time outside increases. Generally, I’m limited to a total of an hour a day across multiple sites, and when I’m at a convention it’s intermittent.

Assessing the Level of Negativity

Let me start by explaining that I feel there are many reasons why someone posts an emotion-filled rant or criticism. (I’m oversimplifying to avoid pinpointing specific subjects, so please forgive me on that last.) Sometimes, it’s to say: “Please, acknowledge that this terrible thing has happened.” Other times, it comes down to: “You must respond to the fact I’m upset or else.” Or “You must change this because I don’t like what you did.” Or, which is often the case for me: “Let me blow off steam so I can discharge this negativity I’m feeling and get back to the task at hand.” I am more likely to respond to someone if the tone of the post shows me that I can engage in conversation with them, to speak from a position of mutual respect. (You’ll hear me talk more about that at a later date. Thank you, Victor Raymond.) So, I often filter posts based on tone without realizing it.

When I read people ranting or swearing or getting up on a soapbox, I imagine their voice in my head is yelling at the reader. Yell at me in real life? I have two choices: either I walk away, or I yell back. Online, it is easier to walk away because I can physically shut it off by hitting the block button or unfriend or what have you. Often, it’s not the comment that pisses me off. Nope. It’s the fact that I got suckered into spending my emotions and investing time in a (usually) total stranger’s rant or accusations designed to push everybody’s buttons. That’s an emotional investment I don’t need to make, because that distracts me from my work and too much of that is not healthy. When the rant or negativity comes from someone I do trust, then I tend to regard that comment differently because I have a connection to that person. However, usually? People know me well enough to e-mail me and deal with any issues we might have, than to address them in a public forum. Key words here: public forum. After all, the reader doesn’t know I have a history with that particular person and that, too, can lead to a lot of misunderstanding. (See also: why cracking jokes online is F-Bomb’ing hard!)

The thing I’ve found, is that the reason why all these arguments are happening is because we lose the art of conversation when we cannot detect semantic meaning or emotional inflection and we only have the bucket, the container to focus on. Words. How many times have I tried to start a conversation with a question, and instead I get “educated” as if I know absolutely nothing? Words we speak don’t always translate well on the internet; nor do the words in our head. That, to me, is what posting on the internet is. Facebook and Twitter… Unless people are curating your Tweets or thinking about them ahead of time, it’s the flotsam and jetsam originating from your brain and being dumped into a computer screen, because there’s no filter there other than the one we all make yourselves. And, make no mistake about it, there are people who are specifically and intentionally trying to start a fire for whatever reason.

Personal Attack vs. Personal Agenda

When the negativity is personal, either about me or my work, then I assess whether or not it’s worth dealing with. In my experience, regardless of how that post comes across, the vast majority of the time comments are not personal. Even with extreme cases, trolls are using a public persona as an excuse to be “heard” for whatever point they need to make–and they’re not always emotionally mature. This is a way to silence voices that have been quiet for so long and are just now daring to speak up.

Cuing off of that… I’ve heard a criticism that silence is consent. Oh, but do I ever disagree with this, because the people who say that are assuming that all readers know what’s happening at all times. So, sometimes silence means that reader is ignorant of what is happening. Nine times out of ten I’m finding out about kerfluffles after the fact, which then means I have to read up on what actually happened which again, is another time sink. Then, another writer (usually John Scalzi or Chuck Wendig) addresses the issue so I don’t feel there’s a point to me discussing that particular subject. Too, silence can also be a form of self-insulation to protect oneself, it can be a way to protect other people and, which is usually the case with bullies, a sign of fear and intimidation as well. It can also happen for the simple fact that crafting a response with a solution that works best for all parties involved takes time. I realize that the internet is instantaneous, and while writing a response might seem like it’s not a big time investment? Figuring out a solution often is–especially when there is money and/or legal implications involved.

Not being able to see people’s faces or connecting that person to a human being means there’s a certain level of anonymity that allows a lot of crappy things to happen. Does the Invisible Human syndrome matter? To me it does, because I am not online to talk to robots or engage with people that are assholes. I’m visibly here and I am putting myself out there, because I want to connect to readers, to people I do find something in common with or, which is the case with open development or online critiques, hear critical feedback that’s about the work after the reader has read it. Those things? Are the exact opposite of the negativity that’s so rampant online. And, in my opinion, the quick, stupid, offhanded comments are getting worse as mobile phone engagement goes up.

In general, people aren’t thinking as deeply as broadly when they post as I might want them to, because their usage isn’t as deep or in the same context as mine. I have seen, over and over again, people post without actually reading the thing they are posting about. Why should I overreact to a stupid comment by analyzing it to death and engaging? Again, it goes back to that time investment, and the bulk of my time has to be spent on writing, pitching, revising, etc. otherwise I lose money because I only have so many hours in the day. That’s not to say I don’t make waves or care about issues or suggest ideas or discuss heady matters to find solutions. Simply, the way I choose to be a human being on planet earth, to make my corner of the universe a better place, isn’t the same way somebody else might. I feel very limited by the internet medium, so my choice is to focus on the people I do know or come into contact with.

Limitations on Responses

I realize that there’s a need to blow off steam, swear, rant, and be completely negative, especially in response to something that happened. The occasional venting I get. I really, really do. I almost got killed last week because a driver thought a crosswalk was “optional,” for example. However? Some people don’t “get” to even do that. I certainly feel I can’t rant on any sort of regular basis. It’s not because I don’t have the ability to. It’s because I have a public profile and I am online, primarily, for work.

In a lot of ways, I feel that the assholes take advantage of people they feel are untouchable or have boundaries–which is why some writers insulate them with fans. (Sure, I’d love that, too, but I’m not going to get “fans” by being an internet celebrity. I care more about readers.) Or, alternatively, I’ve seen trolls attack people who they believe don’t “belong” in the public sphere primarily because they don’t want to hear about that person anymore, so why should anyone else? Their targets don’t “deserve” success (whatever that means), thereby taking the whole concept of “my internet” to the extreme. Usually, which is the saddest part about this, it’s because that particular person didn’t get the acclaim they feel they deserve, or they didn’t get picked for that role or what have you.

I’m primarily online to connect with my peers–people who don’t know me very well–and I mentioned my time is limited. If the time I do spend online is negative, then there’s nothing to counterbalance that and I will collapse upon myself and not work. Being too negative has real world consequences on my health, my career, etc. Also, I find it’s not the trolls or the people responding to me that I need to worry about, it’s the people who are silent–and there are many of them–because what I post is public and permanent. Two weeks from now, five years from now… Sheesh. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the conversation about what I’ve posted online–and that’s me, with my limited reach! People take snippets of what’s written out of context all the damn time. For all these reasons and more, this is why I feel most of my rants hurt rather than help me. Sometimes, the occasional rant does show that I am a human being, and not a robot. That part is great! (As I reluctantly must admit that I am, indeed, human.) But, the purpose of my rant is to blow off steam, and in all honesty I really don’t need to post on Facebook to do that so I try to limit how much I do that.

Paying the Assholes

Some people, the ten percent of the population who are assholes, are bolstered by the fact that they now have an audience when in real life? They don’t and no one cares. (And yes, I feel very comfortable saying that assholes exist and that there will always be assholes.) I cannot, despite how hard I try, convince or explain to someone who doesn’t understand that all the -ists and -isms and -phobias out there that you can think of actually do exist–because they don’t care about other people, they only care about themselves. The trolls, the extreme version of what it means to be negative, are not online to learn. They are online to be right, and to have an audience that shares those views. This is the law of numbers. No one might listen to them in the real world, but every f-bomb’ing time someone shares a post, that encourages them to continue. They get “paid” more for being a jerk online than they do in real life, because there’s no consequences to that online act just yet.

So what do I do? Well, the only thing I can control then is how I respond when a comment applies or I read one. I can either shine the spotlight, which is a choice, or I can go on with my day. Or, alternatively, I can actively counteract that trollness by understanding my connections aren’t just following me. The more connected my readers get, the more people they follow, the more my posts are read alongside Game of Thrones spoilers and fan squeeing about Star Wars and the latest kerfluffle and what have you. If I keep paying the assholes, over and over again, then they will get louder–and that’s often the case. Too, then I become known as the person who outs the assholes, but for me I feel that does not benefit my work in any fashion whatsoever. But there’s the flip side to this, too. I hear so often about what people are doing wrong. What about the writers and game designers and artists and etc. who are doing “it” right? I want to hear about them, promote them, engage with them! Trying to find people who are positive sometimes is difficult when negativity is more rewarded than the big shiny.

I feel there are plenty of people who are already boosting negative signals, analyzing them, and creating discussion platforms for people to engage. Thank the stars for them. At the same time, I cringe every time I see someone link to the latest asshole, because engagement is the commerce of the internet–getting “paid” in clicks, links, page views, RT’s and shares. That is how the trolls get paid and validated, and this is why our media is so inflammatory right now. This is, too, why sites are targeted with a Denial-of-Service attack, as a way to stop “paying” those sites and silence them. It’s ironic, really, because the intent is often: “Here’s what this jerk had to say, don’t listen to them!” Only it turns into: “Here’s what this jerk had to say, you must read what they wrote before you ignore or condemn them.” I’ve spent a lot of time in eCommerce-land with an emphasis on analytics. Positive news doesn’t get the same level of engagement as negative, and when the internet is geared to reward negativity, then that’s what people are gonna focus on. Me? I’m pretty stubborn, so F-Bomb that.

To wrap up part one, I want to share with you something I think about often. What I worry about, is not what the trolls are doing. What I worry about? Is the effect of the full enchilada. The bitter taco. What impact does all this negativity have on myself and other people–especially new-or-midlist writers? Because what happens is this: people only have so much time for negativity, and there are plenty of horrible problems to care about online and in the real world. The negativity that relates to us, however, in genre and gaming makes it more difficult to be excited to become a part of the overall community. The harder it is to work? The easier it is to throw in the towel, or avoid conventions, or ignore the discussions that have to happen in some fashion. After all, what’s the point of putting up with that amount of vitriol if the rewards aren’t equally as great? Ergo… Burnout.

Comments are open on this post. I am moderating them. Part Two will happen either later this week or next week. ‘Til then…

    Mood: Waxing Philosophical
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Surprisingly? One pot of coffee.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Convention recovery.
    In My Ears: Compy fan. White noise. Zzzzzz…
    Game Last Played: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
    Book Last Read: The Scar by China Mieville
    Movie Last Viewed: Pacific Rim
    Latest Artistic Project: Beading!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Gothic Icons and Smuggler’s Guide to the Rim
    What I’m Working On: Read my latest project update.

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