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Nothing is original? False. The "Hunger Games" idea was original when first conceived for BATTLE ROYALE. It ceased any claim to originality once recycled into "The Hunger Games," but prior to that it was original. All story ideas currently extant were once original at one time in the past. Classic examples? [MORE INFO]

Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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Holy sh*t!

I'll be just as blunt as Alexa was in her video. I hated it. When the madness finally ended even my husband shouted to me from the other room, "Were you as annoyed by her as I was?" And he's not even a writer. Her cynicism was so loud that I couldn't hear the so-called advice she was giving. The whole video felt more like her own personal tangents rather than the constructive criticism I'm assuming she was trying to get across to her viewers. "Write the damn book" is the only thing she said that made sense out of this entire 10 minute clip.

"Inspiration is for people who don't finish books." ??? WTF! I'm sorry, but she wouldn't have even become an author if she weren't at least a little inspired by storytelling and novel writing.

"Traditional publishers aren't making as much money as you think they are." Hmm...Well, she could've have fooled me. Simon and Schuster is owned by the CBS corporation. I'm pretty sure money is what makes their world go round. Perhaps small publishers don't make a lot of money, but she didn't bother to differentiate between the two.

I would never show this to a new writer, or any writer for that matter because it is completely soul crushing. It makes me wonder just how many writers she's driven away from their passion. Or perhaps writers aren't allowed to have passion either.

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I'll respond to this video with the same amount of substance it gives to its viewers.

This isn't advice. This is the same boilerplate "don't give up. WRITE." advice you read/watch literally everywhere. Except she's annoyingly cynical about it. No insight. No useful information. It's a big nothing burger of a video that tries to spin an elitist, do-or-die angle that isn't productive or helpful. I made it to about 7 minutes. Who knows...maybe there was a golden nugget of wisdom at the end.

Spoiler alert: there isn't. I guess she is right about one thing though: I didn't care about her or anything she had to say.

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Oh dear, I think this will show how cynical I've become...

I'll agree with Kara and Joe that she's pretty unpleasant and shrill in her delivery. I wouldn't recommend this video for that reason alone. But, at the risk of being the debbie downer of the group, I wouldn't necessarily disagree with her points.

In my previous pre-med career, I had a physician tell me that if a person can be talked out of being a doctor, then they should be, because they won't have the fortitude to make it. Alas, I would apply the same advice to writing as a profession.

Now, if you're writing as a hobby, then all the power to you. Have fun with it, don't watch videos like these, and don't let the naysayers ruin a perfectly good time. After all, I can play tennis without ever making plans to go to Wimbledon.

But yeah, pro writing is tough. It's a brutal industry, full of cold rejection and constant failure. Your first novel probably will suck, and she's right, very few people will care as much about your work and career as you do. Even the process of writing itself can be agonizing (I'm highly suspicious of those who say writing doesn't feel like work because it's just so fun. If that's true, I hope they step on a Lego). She's right that almost nothing is original. She's right that the publishing field is a business, and that the inevitable rejections you'll get aren't personal. She's right (at least in my experience) that there isn't as much money in publishing as people like to believe. Books, especially novels, are not a way to be a millionaire except for the anointed few.

And she is very right, I think, that you need a reason beyond money or fame to keep you going. Because the awful, ugly, slimy truth that none of us like to look directly at is that writing is a gamble. There are no guarantees. You're spending your precious life doing something that may or may not ever pay the electrical bill. I sincerely hope it will, for all of us, and please keep fantasizing about that big-5 deal! I sure do. But I also recommend acknowledging the possibility that it might not work out. So why do it? Personally, I get cosmic satisfaction from the cycle of improvement I associate with the writing craft. I like getting better. I like finishing things. And I love entertaining people. The intermittent highs of happy readers keep me writing, even when it's dismal.

But if I was only in this for external rewards like money or fame, I'd have burnt out long ago. And (don't hate me for saying it) that would have been a good thing.

There's my share of tough love for the day! I'll retreat to my dark little corner now, haha.

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Alexa Donne

Author of Brightly Burning and The Stars We Steal, YA sci-fi romance retellings of classics set in space.

__________

First of all, agree with Kara and company on the overall tone and delivery (it WAS hard to sit through!), but I had to add a few more notes as follows.

1. The initial draft of the first novel will be pretty bad, yes, however, she neglects to add that they don't have to be. Any writer with reasonable intelligence, well immersed in their genre, and willing to learn, is able to develop and write a novel ms first draft that could well be a damn good first draft, and even a better second.

2. Nothing is original? False. The "Hunger Games" idea was original when first conceived for BATTLE ROYALE. It ceased any claim to originality once recycled into "The Hunger Games," but prior to that it was original. All story ideas currently extant were once original at one time in the past. Classic examples? WAR OF THE WORLDS, THE TIME MACHINE, HEART OF DARKNESS, etc., etc. Regardless, having seen this video, do we now assign a cutoff date for the appearance of original work? Let's say, 1986? 1973? Did all new ideas come to a final end with the appearance of a Jane Austen vampire novel?

Logic alone dictates that if a plateau of human civilization were reached that resulted in a pour of new story concepts, then why not another plateau, and another, and so on? Or why not a steady stream of new story ideas? 

The essence of the "high concept" story is a condition of originality sufficient enough to be commercially marketable. To choose a well known super classic, TERMINATOR was in this category when compared to the old BERSERKER novel series by Fred Saberhagen, but the big T added "the once and future war" and further rewrote the Saberhagen story in other ways, enough that it achieved the pinnacle of high concept and went on to be a smash hit with endless sequels. 

As for television, the GOTHAM story premise, taking us back to the origins of Batman villains in Gotham City when Commissioner Gordon was only a lieutenant, was indisputably brilliant. Of course, it played off sets and characters that already existed, however, it ingeniously baked them fresh in a premise pie that soared to high ratings. 

You cannot maintain with histrionic "get over it" vigor that story ideas can't evolve and add parts and come up with new spins and angles, sufficient to create what can be considered, to all intents and purposes, a NEW STORY IDEA.

All one need do is go to Publisher's Marketplace and read over the high-concept hooks.

I finally wish to add that for new writers, this video might well lead them to believe there is no such thing as a high concept story in the first place because, let's be frank, how can you square even the existence of a high concept story with what is being said here?

You can't. 

3. "No one will care." This feels more like the personality working out some issues rather than being a terribly relevant matter that requires the swing of an in-your-face hammer accompanied by a loving brow beating. 

Same with memoirs. Yes, they are a tough sell, but high-concept memoirs, with elements the publisher is searching for, can sell. The difficulty is finding one. 

As for the rest, real and debilitating "Writer's Block" does exist. Denying it won't help solve it. If a writer knows so little they get stuck on a particular scene, for example, the reasons for that are usually knowable and preventable. How many times have I seen writers who are miserably inept at their craft (due to false optimism and impatience) come to a screeching halt?

The block isn't imaginary, it's the result of lack of knowledge, often lack of planning, and that happens all the time. Writer's Block is a sign you need to put the blank page aside and commit yourself to learning how to write and develop a novel in the first place. Once you've achieved a certain plateau, block will vanish like a bad memory.

Her notes on the publishing industry, rejection, etc. do hit home.

Overall though, would not recommend this video to an aspiring author without asking them to read our reviews first.

Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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Good points Michael!
 

You’re totally right on the originality of ideas. I was speaking in terms of archetypal stories (eg the hero’s journey) which have been done, but of course can be remade into endless new varieties, both high concept and not. Perhaps the way to charitably interpret her blunt advice is to embrace the creative remaking of old ideas and don’t waste time trying to reinvent the wheel? Familiar yet different is, after all, the root of most high concept stories. 
 

I agree though, this video did feel like it had a very specific axe to grind. More of a rant than constructive writing tips. 

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I’m with Kara and Joe on this video—it is horrible. I can’t decide if the video is a failed attempt at some pseudo reverse-psychology thing, bad comedy or if Alexa Dunn is just plain mean. Yes, writers need to write and shouldn’t fall into the trap of finding excuses. You can tell me that in five seconds. And you can even tell me it in five seconds without yelling. 

For someone who claims in the video that mental health is important, Alexa certainly isn’t considering the mental health of new writers.  Just to list a few of her pointers: Your first draft sucks; You will never have an original idea; If you’re young, no one cares about your life. Wow! Where did such omniscience sprout from? Sure, your first novel might suck. And your second and your third. How about some advice to avoid that? What have you learned that you can share (besides “Just Write!”)? 

And how can she claim that every 20-something year old woman or man working on a memoir hasn’t had an interesting experience worth writing about? I mean the generalizations in this video are exhausting. 

Speaking of generalizations, the one about family and friends actually made me feel bad for her—momentarily. Until I remembered how much she yelled at me. I’m sorry if Alexa’s circle doesn’t care about her work, but don’t generalize about my family and friends!  Honestly, that’s just rude. This video is all about Alexa Dunn and not about the new writer or any other writer. Take a strong pass on this one. Unless you happen to like getting screamed at. Or you’re looking for a new drinking game—a shot of tequila every time Alexa mentions Reddit.  


 

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On 2/2/2021 at 7:08 PM, elisehartkipness said:

For someone who claims in the video that mental health is important, Alexa certainly isn’t considering the mental health of new writers.  Just to list a few of her pointers: Your first draft sucks; You will never have an original idea; If you’re young, no one cares about your life. Wow! Where did such omniscience sprout from? Sure, your first novel might suck. And your second and your third. How about some advice to avoid that? What have you learned that you can share (besides “Just Write!”)? 

And how can she claim that every 20-something year old woman or man working on a memoir hasn’t had an interesting experience worth writing about? I mean the generalizations in this video are exhausting. 

Speaking of generalizations, the one about family and friends actually made me feel bad for her—momentarily. Until I remembered how much she yelled at me. I’m sorry if Alexa’s circle doesn’t care about her work, but don’t generalize about my family and friends!  Honestly, that’s just rude. This video is all about Alexa Dunn and not about the new writer or any other writer. Take a strong pass on this one. Unless you happen to like getting screamed at. Or you’re looking for a new drinking game—a shot of tequila every time Alexa mentions Reddit.  

Thank you, Elise, for putting into words what I could not because I was too irritated. I love that you bring up the mental health of new writers because that is for sure an incredibly important thing when you're just starting. It's such a vulnerable process in and of itself until you gain some confidence. You definitely don't need someone shouting at you on top of it all.

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