It’s been a while! I have no excuse for the lapse in BDWAC posts except the fact that I often forget what day it is. All of that aside, this is the time of the week when I answer your questions about writing and other things. Let’s get started!
Q: In the high school reading list book, “How to read Literature like a Professor” it’s stated that if your character has a disability, there’s a reason for it. (Example, Tiny Tim pushing Scrooge to be more generous)
But nowadays, people are pushing more diversity in their works, including disabilities, asking that the character should be more than their disability.
So my question is, do you believe there should be a reason a character is disabled?
A: First, we need to tackle the idea that reading literature “like a professor” is somehow of greater importance or intelligence than reading it like the unwashed, uneducated masses do. There’s a reason we believe that doing something “like a professor” is a more valuable modus operandi: professors are more likely to be white men. Some of these white men are, I assume, disabled, but hopefully not any of the ones who would think that all literary characters should be default able-bodied, neurotypical, or mentally healthy unless it serves the plot. If the majority of professors in the United States were anything other than white, male, and able-bodied, we wouldn’t equate “professor” with “desirable role model for aspiring minds.”
We hear a lot of griping about “diversity for the sake of diversity,” as though it’s unconscionable that anyone would write beyond the defaults of white, able-bodied, cis, and straight:
Author: “My character has epilepsy, like me!”
Reader: “…but why?”
Author: “What do you mean, why?”
Reader: “Is it like, magical epilepsy? Does she have like, visions?”
Author: “No, this isn’t paranormal or anything. She’s just a detective.”
Reader: “Oh, okay. So like, there’s a big chase scene and she can’t pursue the suspect because they go into an arcade full of flashing lights, right?”
Reader: “So, like, she’s after the guy and then she has a seizure and he chooses that moment to abduct her, then she becomes a potential victim and her partner has to rescue her? That’s so cool!”
Author: “No, nothing like that happens at all.”
Reader: “I get it now. Her partner learns something about himself and the way he conducts his work because of her epilepsy.”
Author: “No. And I can’t even think up a scenario in which that would be applicable.”
Reader: “But…if there’s no reason for your character to be epileptic, what’s the point of making her epileptic?”
Author: “Because I never see epileptic characters in anything, and if I do, it’s magic epilepsy or it’s a plot point that holds the character back. I wanted to write a character who had something in common with me, but without turning my disability into a special talent or a narrative device.”
Reader: “But that’s just diversity for the sake of diversity!”
This conversation could easily be rewritten to be about gender, sexuality, race, religion…it’s not enough to be formed by your experiences as a person if you’re not the straight, white, cis, able-bodied default. It’s not enough to be a person in your own right, shaped by that. There has to be a reason–and the reason must always benefit those who are the default–for someone to exist outside of what is considered desirable or normal. And these requirements are never applied to traits that could be held within the default:
Author: “My character is a white man with blue eyes, like me!”
Reader: “Oh. Neat.”
Nobody asks why a character is white, cis, able-bodied, straight, male, etc. As a quick example, I’ve had lots of people ask why I decided to make Neil, the hero of my book, The Boss, bisexual. I’ve never had anyone ask me why I decided to make him white.
Disability–like race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality–often doesn’t serve the plot in real life. If I were a character in a novel and the plot had to revolve around my disability, the book would be incredibly boring. But that doesn’t mean the conditions I have aren’t a part of who I am and how I live my life, and that I couldn’t be an interesting character if a plot ever did wander along. Whoever wrote How To Read Literature Like A Professor doesn’t see a need to include characters with disabilities because they don’t see disabled people serving their own needs in real life, as evidenced by the example given. It’s not enough for this author for Tiny Tim to exist and walk around and have feelings and needs and experiences of his own; he must provide something of value to the able-bodied protagonist in order to have a right to exist in the world. And that’s an attitude that disabled people face every day. Throw that book in the trash and burn it.
Q: Looking through old Big Damn Writer answers, I saw you said it takes anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 to self-publish. What all does that get spent on?
A: On one of my books, the breakdown goes (in approximate values):
- $600 for content editing
- $400 for line editing
- $40-$100 for cover art
That isn’t factoring in stuff like software that I had to buy that I use on more than one book, or advertising because I very, very rarely advertise. I don’t find the ROI on advertisements is quite as good as just buying prizes for a giveaway. And since many editors charge by the word, longer books cost more to edit than shorter ones. If A Song Of Ice And Fire was a self-published series, George R.R. Martin would not arrive in the same price neighborhood.
Bonus Question: Hi! I’ve seen you talking about the pomo sprint method on twitter, and I was wondering if you could explain it a little? The wikipedia article was not overly helpful. Thanks!
A: The Pomodoro Method is a time management thing. I found out about it from an article about tips for coping with adult ADHD that I really wish I could find again. Basically, how it works is, you work with a lot of focus for short bursts. I believe the traditional length of time is twenty-five minutes, but I adjust that when I’m doing it. So, what you would do is say, for example, “At the top of the hour, I’m going to work for twenty-five minutes.” Then you focus and work during that twenty-five minutes, knowing that at the end you’re going to stop and get a break. It works really well for me because I’m a person who feels like they can’t stop until something is finished. Since I write books, working without stopping until the thing is done really wouldn’t work. It just wouldn’t be physically or mentally possible. Knowing I can’t finish a task in a single session really crushes my productivity. Breaking a project down into chunks of time, rather than simply “complete” or “incomplete” takes a lot of pressure off. There’s a “Tomato Timer” (the Pomodoro Method got its name from the tomato shape of the timer its creator used) available here if you’d like to try it out!
Wanna see your questions get answered (or just wanna air a grievance?) Put it in the box!