Monday, June 20, 2016

Embrace the Weirdness: What is "Normal"?

The word "normal" is used to describe people on a daily basis or the fact they lack the attributes to the definition. Anyone who is not society's definition of normal is considered weird, awkward, uncanny, and so on. Yet, this begs the question of what actually is normal since it is such a subjective term?

The word is defined by merriam-webster.com as "usual or ordinary, not strange" and "mentally and physically healthy."  The latter definition makes sense, but in comparison to the first, this leaves a lot of gray areas, especially in comparison to human behavior. Basically, we are only handed the antonyms of normal, what it is not, not actually what it is. Human behavior varies so far that someone's behavior may seem normal to some but eccentric to others. People of sound mind and body have been called abnormal before. This whole normal aspect affected me as a child, so much so worrying about being normal took part in shaping me into who I am today. No matter how much we fight it, society's judgement affects our everyday decisions and who we are. For me, I was shorter than everyone else, smart, had glasses, then braces, and these all led to bullying. This is not an anti-bullying plug in, just a fact. I also was  a very picky eater, hyperactive, and refused to talk much to others until I was about eight (after that, you'd hardly hear me silent).

Childhood
Children lack tact. They say whatever they feel or think not worrying about how it could be taken because they do not understand the world judges us based on the things we say. It is annoying, yet refreshing to hear children talk. One of the first occurrences as a child that might negatively affect someone is the first time someone points out an "oddity" in his/her behavior. Children are put down for not being or doing something normal.

One of the first things I remember was being picked on for my physical appearance. I averaged negative 2% on the growth charts. Although nothing was wrong with me, others had to point out how I was shorter than everyone else (and some imaginary growth chart children), some observations simply done dryly as kids will do but most were scathing and cruel. I let it shape me and stayed in a quiet, shy, anxious bubble for years.

Out of many of my quirks, the other that stuck out was my daydreaming, storytelling brain. I made up stories, sometimes aloud but mostly in my notebooks and had to hide this eccentricity because no one else did it. I was weird and different, so I hid them. I saved writing for bedtime and stashed them in my nightstand as if writing were a sin. This was the beginning of trying to be normal, trying not to get picked on because my stature already made me a target and that couldn't change. So I hid my smarts, my creativity, my actual personality not to be popular but to save myself from sticking out and being a target. It was an unconscious defensive tactic.


Adolescence
Slowly I came out of my shell. I talked more to more people. There were other kids who were less "normal" than me that proved a larger target. In middle school tracking courses started and there were a lot of smart kids all around me, people with likeminded interests and personalities. I even had friends who liked to write as well and even more friends in high school who read my stories with the addictive enthusiasm one gives soap operas. 

One thing I realized in high school was that there is no such thing as normal and I embraced my weirdness with confidence and without self-consciousness. I realized we are all unique and that makes us interestingly human. Normal is only the second definition answering to our sanity, not lacking personality "defects." This should be the end of the story, but it's not.

Parenthood
When I became a parent, the situation wasn't normal. Pregnancy complications and a premature child made my son stick out as abnormal. From the way he was growing to his behavior--more than a few people felt it necessary to point out the fact he's not this elusive and subjective "normal." This created anxious bouts several times and is still going on four years later. As a mother I was struggling with this ridiculous term "normal." I tried comparing him to milestone and growth charts, listened to well meaning but unqualified people who tried to give advice and their opinions on what was "wrong" with him; I did tons of research from scholarly articles and child development books to the oh-so-dependable internet Doctor-God. None of this helped my anxiety, of course, and the school system proved worse. They slapped the "not normal" sticker right on him and wanted me to get him labeled officially with some recognized "defect" or as science deems a disorder or disability--all before entering the school system. Grasping for some grounding in this sea of normalcy for my child has been more heartbreaking than my own struggles or since they mirror my own it brings them all hauntingly back.

I realized when I compared my past with my present, they were similar. If they are similar, I must place the same mindset that saved me onto my son. I must embrace the weirdness that is him. So I started to and what I noticed was weird is cute and in comparison to his friends--no offense my parent-friends--those kids aren't normal either. In fact, every kid I meet under the age of ten--since they aren't worried about conformity yet--are weird in some way. Whether it is at a playground, a party, or in a store, kids do weird things, things adults do not see as normal.



I might need to slap a ridiculous label on my child for him to go to school, but it will only be a tiny part of his weirdness. And that weirdness is awesome. It is who he is and will be, just like all of our weirdness makes us who we are. Our own idiosyncratic quirks make us fun, make us interesting, make us human. Throughout my life, I've learned one of the most important life lessons: you've got to embrace the weirdness.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Crowdsourcing--a new way to get published?


There's this new edgy way to get published these days and I was excited at the prospect: crowd-sourcing. I decided to scope it out before I'd ever try it myself. After all, I understood the term "crowdsourcing," but what did it really mean for the publishing world? I did what I do best--research.



Macmillan publishing powerhouse has started Swoon Reads (https://www.swoonreads.com/and it seems to be a win-win situation. Readers and writers simply create a free account. Readers have access to hundreds of Young Adult (YA) romance novels of all sub-genres free of charge (which can be catered to his/her tastes). As for authors, they upload their unpublished novel and readers read, comment, and rate it. Within six months, the editors of Macmillian will view it, and you can guess the rest--the better the ratings, the more likely they will notice and consider publishing it. The masses are given the power to influence publishing companies to market what they want to read. Ingenuous! Macmillian does publish many from this line, so there is a chance an author can "make it" this way. It sounded interesting, so I signed up.


As a reader of everything I can get my hands on, I do enjoy fluffy, sweet YA romances from time to time, and it is the genre in which I'm trying to publish. The best research is to read, read, read, so I did. I will say what Swoon Reads proclaims is true: they immediately weed out and remove novels not up to their standards. Out of the five I read so far, the grammar was polished, a couple not perfect, but at least proofread well. Most novels I read were good, entertaining, and interesting. They could use some revision in characterization and/or pacing, but overall very promising. The novels were exceedingly better than some of the self-published ones you see on Amazon, not to mention the new scams that slip through on Amazon's site (although they now have a crowdsourcing program too I need to further research). Swoon Reads had no scams but only decent novels that are free! For readers, this is a dream come true. And the best part is you can help authors. I cannot recommend it more if you lean towards reading YA romance.

 

For authors, there is a catch of course, but one they freely post so you understand their process. When an author submits a novel, it is on lockdown legally for six months while it is being considered. You cannot send it anywhere else. If you aren't eager to get published right away or incessantly tried and could not get a book published, this may be the way to go. The other criticism I have is the reader pool. They all just want to please the authors and tell them how wonderful the book is instead of giving constructive criticism. This could be very frustrating for someone who has tried to get published and has failed as in he/she still isn't getting the feedback needed to become successful. When I gave didactic, constructive, and very detailed criticism, I was thanked for giving real feedback and even asked more questions for additional help by one author. These are serious people who want to do what it takes to get published. Swoon Reads does try to get readers to give constructive feedback like I did with very leading questions, but people tend to overlook them and give very little useful feedback. I think if the website had one of their editors set the stage with a great and detailed example, the authors might get what they need from their readers. 

Overall, this is an interesting platform for publication, one I'm not ready to delve into until I see its success rate, but one that definitely weeds out those who can write from those that only have good ideas. You never know though, Swoon Reads could be the forrunner that will save self-publishing's reputation as well as being successful for publishing powerhouses and conglomerates.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Power of Word Choices


The Power of Word Choices
As a professor of English, I know firsthand the power of words in the English language, and what can happen when we make the wrong choice. At times it can be quite comical, and others just sad (don’t get me started!). However, there are times where multiple words could work in a sentence grammatically speaking but can differ vastly in meaning. These meanings can impact people in ways we never consciously think about.

For example, someone warned me against the dangers of collaborative novel writing the other day; however, the thing that stuck with me in that moment we spoke was not the subject content but the word choices made. He said, “Do me a favor, when you become a published writer…” A simple partial statement, but one word in the exchange is loaded. He selected “when,” not “if.” The phrase I hear from people most often (and sometimes use myself) is “If you get published…” There’s nothing wrong with that grammatically; in fact, it is showing a possibility, a chance I could become published. But he said, “when.” That word choice holds so much more power. It asserts that it is not only a possibility but a definitive one that it is going to happen one day in the future. It is a word that evokes faith in another human being, an assertion that the speaker is 100% behind you supporting you.

That night I wrote fifteen pages and sent a completed manuscript out to one of my test group readers. This one word gave me drive, renewed my faith in myself, and got me motivated to make it happen. I’m sure the person who said it had no idea that one word would make such an impact on someone. I’m sure he didn’t think about it before he spoke, but that is the best part of it. He unconsciously did so because his faith in my writing, a faith I lose in myself time to time.
This use of one word, and the idea that one word can make a world of difference is so significant in an industry, or any one for that matter, that has such subjectivity and criticism. People are mentally beaten down daily by strangers, friends, family, and their worst critic—themselves. There needs to be times we pick them up when they are down or make their day better by simply doing something like choosing a word with a positive connotation. It is such a simple thing to do that costs us nothing.

Honestly, we all should take more care in selecting the words we say instead of speaking before we have really thought them through. Speaking for us is not as carefully crafted as writing. If we took the upmost care with our verbal transactions as we do with our crafted, revised, and edited written ones, I think a lot of things would change for the better. We could make people’s lives better. We can change someone’s life by simply saying “when.”

What is a word choice that has affected you? please comment!