“Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you can’t, including yourself.” A conversation with Rebecca T. Dickson
Rebecca T. Dickson kicks ass. There’s no other way of saying it. She’s a strong, passionate person with a flair for uncovering the best writers have to offer. I hired Dickson to edit two short stories for me (Tunnel and Lost Track) and immediately hired her again to go through my Portal Arcane series. She forced me to abandon bad habits and made me tell the reader everything. It’s a humbling experience and Rebecca will be the first to admit that she’s not everybody’s editor. But don’t take my word for it. Sign up for my mailing list and you’ll get Reversion: The Inevitable Horror (The Portal Arcane Series – Book I) for free.
I asked Dickson to be interviewed for my blog because I believe she has taken my writing to the next level. Rebecca became my partner and refused to let me settle for anything but the best. You may not be a writer but that doesn’t matter. Dickson’s approach works for life as well as for writing. Read on and you’ll understand…
Tell us how you came to where you are right now.
It’s been a long road. I was in high school with absolutely no idea what I was going to do. I knew I would go to college because that’s what was expected of me. I’m also the first person in my family to go to college. I didn’t know what that meant or what would happen or what I would do. My English teacher and I forged this relationship. She was a real asshole but it worked out great because I needed that and she thought I was good at writing. And I thought, “Really? I’m good at something? Well, cool.” And it started there.
How did you transition from writing to making a living as an editor?
It’s an easy transition, back and forth. I was blessed to be taught by some of the best editors in the business as far as I’m concerned. They’re smart. They’re savvy. They’ve been around the block fifteen times and there’s nothing they haven’t encountered. They treated me the way I needed to be treated. And sometimes that meant kid gloves and sometimes it meant I needed to be kicked in the ass. But they were very adept at reading that. When I formed the business those were the people I wanted to be like.
I know exactly what you mean. I think what you’re describing is the “tough love” approach.
Sometimes. Sometimes you need tough love. Sometimes people need permission to be nice to themselves. You’d be amazed how many coaching clients I have that are absolutely beating the shit out of themselves every living second of every day and then they wonder why they can’t get creative and produce.
Is that a challenge that a lot of your clients face, writer’s block or lack of productivity?
We are always expecting more of ourselves. No matter if it’s 500 words a day or 5,000. It’s just the nature of the beast. We’re human. We want more, more, more. Bigger, better, faster, now. I understand that and when it comes to writing it just doesn’t work that way. And beating yourself over the head does not make you more creative. Sometimes you just have to be kind to yourself. I’d like to think I’ve set up the system where writers learn it’s okay to experience whatever they are experiencing, and if they allow that feeling instead of fighting it, they will pass right through it and get back to writing in a much more orderly and quick fashion.
I know you’ve said you’re not a big fan of daily word targets or word counts.
No. I’m not.
I saw that you put up a blog post this morning about productivity and word count– Stephen King-like output. Can you talk about the difference between staying productive versus holding yourself to a fixed target?
When you start talking numbers – and this is just my opinion, obviously. But when you start talking numbers you’re using a very different section of your brain than when you’re being creative. You’re also putting an enormous amount of pressure on yourself. When you’re creative, like Danielle LaPorte always says, the white space, the blank page, those things inspire creativity, you can go anywhere with them. You don’t think about somebody breathing down your neck or behind you with a gun to your head saying, “Get it done or you’re dead.” Those things are not going to help you create words. It’s a different mentality. I equate word counts and having a number goal with having the guy behind me with a gun to my head. Because there are some days when I’m going to exceed that goal and there are some days when I’m just not going to get there. Either way it’s okay because it’s all progress. You have to wade through whatever it is that’s in your way in order to get to your story. People get very caught up in, “I spent four hours in front of the computer today and I only have a hundred words to show for it, but I have all this free writing and I had to do it to clear my head. I just wish that it was 4,000 words toward my manuscript.” Well, whether or not you’re using it for your manuscript, you’re moving ahead. You’re doing the work you had to do to get your words.
Everybody’s creative process is different but you can’t equate it to numbers. It just doesn’t work that way.
What is the role of the deadline in the creative process? Does that come later? Does it have a place at all?
Good question. I work with a lot of writers who’ve had tremendous success after their first book and they come to me saying, “I’ve lost that loving feeling. I can’t do this anymore. I’m fried. I have all these expectations and pressure. I’ve got three books due by the fall. I can’t get the words out. This sucks. It’s not fun anymore. I feel like I’m stuck all the time. I have writer’s block…” This comes back to the idea that creativity does not come to you when you are under tremendous pressure. So when I’m working with writers of that nature, my goal is to have them make a decision. Do you want to write quality or quantity?
Is there a typical response to that question? I would imagine there would be people who would say, “I’m just interested in quantity.”
Yeah. I’m not interested in working with those writers. That’s the bottom line. I’m not going to rush a craft or an art–and this is an art, for a paycheck.
There are plenty of people out there that want to do that and you know what? Kudos to you. I respect that. That’s your thing but it’s not mine.
It seems like valuing quantity over quality is more of a short-term approach.
It’s a short-term approach that you use to cash-in and it doesn’t usually work, but they have to figure that out on their own. I had an author last spring, a tremendously talented author with twenty books out who was totally burned out. She came to me with the next installment and said, “This is all wrong. I don’t know what to do. I’m in a panic. I have a deadline. I hate doing this. Writing has become drudgery. Help me.” I took a look at it and we went through it page by page, without rushing. I told her, “You’re telling here. You’re not showing because telling is much easier than showing. It’s much faster. Throw a cliché in there instead of coming up with something original and you’ll speed through the pages. There were all kinds of bad habits like that. When we eliminated them it became one of her best-selling books ever.
I would rather see a Harper Lee, who only published one book, in this case, To Kill A Mocking Bird, than put out fifty that are shit.
I hope that those are the writer’s that are out there. I believe they are and that’s who I want to work with.
We’ve been talking about writing. Let’s talk about reading. What are the current trends in reading, whether it’s genre, or style, and what are you into right now?
I read everything. And by everything, I mean everything. My boys are eleven and almost fourteen. They are avid readers, a novel every couple of days. I read what they’re going to read before I give it to them. Imagine anything a little boy wants to read. I read that first. [laughter] For my own pleasure reading, I’m finishing the last installment of Game of Thrones right now. I very rarely watch TV. I’m all about books. Trends in reading? I don’t know. I’ve never been one for trends. I do what I want and I read what I feel like reading. My kids had turned me onto Game of Thrones in the beginning and now we’re all waiting two years for George Martin to finish book number six. Other than that, I’m big on professional development. I always want to continue to strive to learn editing tips and tricks, ways to help writers get past their stumbling blocks, new ways to explain bad habits. There are the core bad habits that every writer has, but you’ve gotta come up with something different every now and then to explain to them why it’s not working.
I think your kids are probably a little bit older than mine but I’m guessing if they have the same sort of taste, it’s a lot of sword and sorcery, magic.
Which is okay. It’s fun, it’s creative, it’s different… You’re really basing your livelihood on helping authors. As a client of yours (full disclosure) I find that you’ve been one of the most helpful people I’ve come across in my short time in the industry.
Well that’s awesome. Thank you.
I read a lot on the craft of writing and I’m pretty observant but I don’t think anyone has had the direct impact on my style and my voice in a positive way that you’ve had in the short amount of time that we’ve gotten to know each other.
I wanted to get that on record… I’m curious as to what your hopes and dreams are for yourself. I know you want to help other writers but what are you hoping to accomplish?
I know there are a million other people out there who are in the exact place I was in when I started this business. Which is, for the record, panic-stricken, terrified, had something to say but unable to write it. It took me ten years to figure it out and put it on paper. What the process was, identify it, label it, use it and get past it. I still have to follow the steps. It’s not something you do once and you’re free. Fear is a bitch that way. But I knew that there were other people out there just like me and my goal was to help them, show them there is a way past it. Because writers, true writers, when they’re not writing they don’t feel good. You know? They feel like shit and they don’t know what’s wrong and they’ve got something to say and they can’t get it out and they torture themselves at the keyboard.
I did it. I got past it. I don’t want anybody else to have to do suffer because there is a way. For the people who are beyond that point, who are getting words on the page like yourself, who are damn good writers, who can improve–everybody can improve–as an editor, my job is to take good and make it great, to take great and make it utterly fantastic. It’s not easy to do that without stomping on the writer’s voice. It’s a craft that you have to be very careful about. I like to think that that’s what I do. Hopefully my writers think I’m good at it. Their success is my success. It’s huge. Every time you guys put a new book out, I’m doing a dance. It’s awesome. Writing a book has always been something that people talk about. “You know, I wish I could write a book,” or “Someday I’m going to publish a book.” Millions and millions of people talk about it and very few do it. So when it gets done, it’s a party.
I think you provide a service to writers but you’re also providing life guidance to people. I’m sure you think of it that way. I think of it that way. If I’m reading this interview and I’m someone that wants to do something with my creativity, what would be one piece of advice you would give that person? Whether it’s writing, music, poetry or pottery what would you say?
Do it. And don’t let anybody ever tell you that you can’t, including yourself. As a matter of fact, the louder your subconscious screams that you can’t do it, the more you better fucking do it. [laughter]
No, really. If that’s a calling that you have, you have to respect that.
I think it goes back to what you said about getting my writing done for the day. Until I do it, I feel like shit. I’m thinking about it, it’s nagging at me and once I’m done I feel like I can go on with the rest of my day.
Yes. That is very common.
If you feel like there is something you need to do and it keeps nagging at you, you probably need to do it.
Absolutely. Don’t let it go. Don’t box that in or it’ll make you sick.