Category Archives: Lessons/Wisdom

Camp in July: Motivation Stops Here

Camp Nanowrimo has famously been difficult for me, except for a couple of times. I do this to myself, of course, over and over, because I must be a masochist. Really, I’m just ambitious. After finding my groove with an older story again, wanting to finish and spurred on by my great energy with the revision of my erotica in April, I picked up where I left off.

And got firmly stuck in the mud, days later.

This has had to be my worst month. I didn’t really keep track of wordcount. I could barely get myself to write every day. I was avoiding the camp website. It was sticky and awful and kind of depressing, to be honest.

I was also having the hardest time trying to figure out why it was so hard for me. When I know there’s a goal in sight, I’m usually steadfast toward it, and make great strides and bounds. This time it was like my neck was craned back, staring up at a billboard that I thought was too high to climb, with a ladder right in front of me.

I refused to think it was motivation. I’ve wanted to write and finish this novel so badly. Inspiration was all there, I knew how to tap into more, how to get my mind going.

But there it was, at the eye of the storm. I wanted to write but I didn’t want to. Were my ideas good enough, was I making enough sense? Had I really read through the more crucial chapters again and actually gotten a feel for what was going on, so I knew the tone to start off with? How was my pacing?

Every question just came at me. I didn’t want to accept it, but I couldn’t deny it, either.

More commonly known as Writer’s Block, it sucks. And sometimes there’s really nothing you can do about it but let it pass and relax and not worry until it leaves you the hell alone. Trying to force it away may or may not do something for you.

Even now, I’m having a hard time getting through this. I question my credibility and my ability and whether or not I’m getting off topic or staying on track. Everything is questioned, because I don’t know if I should trust myself or not just by plowing through something. Quieting those questions can be harder because there’s always a nag at the back of your head wondering if you’re doing it right, and that you don’t want to have to overhaul it completely…

It’s the Hot Mess Express, and I’m the conductor, apparently.

But it makes sense, when I think about it boiling down to trust. Trusting myself and what I do and how I do it makes me less likely to move forward. Friend has been having a particularly nasty case of writer’s block as well, where he’s very uncertain of himself. Along the same lines, where he wants it to look good and be a long, great read, but it’s a lot of pressure. It’s a lot for him to live up to with every piece and he’s not trusting himself to simply write and come up with something, at all, that’s readable.

The big hurdle here is to let go of all of those insecurities and just do it. Forget everything holding you down and just go. But that is much easier said than done.

Hopefully my NaNoWriMo experience won’t be this terrible. I’m looking to do just as well as last year, if not better. I just have to find a story I want to write…

-The Novice Wordsmith

 

Guest Post: Dare to be Stupid

(…with apologies to Weird Al)

One of the things I noticed the other day in a conversation with Wordsmith was that I tend not to write stupid characters. My protagonists are invariably clever, brainy, wisecracking, wise, and have things to teach the secondary characters. On the Hero’s Journey, I am the wizard.

It’s not that I’m afraid to write characters who don’t know a lot, or who lack intelligence, it’s just that I don’t live in that headspace. I learned to read and write when I was three, and I was testing in at 12th grade reading levels in fourth grade — by the time I was nine. I’ve been called a geek and a nerd for decades, and it wouldn’t be far off, considering my love for science fiction, fantasy, and all the shades of worlds between.

When I write mystery novels, the detective always solves the crime at the end. (Can you imagine a mystery novel where the detective -doesn’t- solve the crime at the end?) The point of a mystery novel is that the mystery is solved and the villain (usually) is caught, or at least their crimes are foiled and justice prevails. Otherwise the reader is left without a sense of fulfillment for taking the journey of discovery with the detective.

The ending _has_ to make sense.

…orrrrr…. does it?

At one point in my writing training I took a class writing for children. One of the things they said was to observe children in their natural headspace — and you discover pretty quickly that Kid Logic Doesn’t Make Sense All the Time.

At one point in my comedic improv training we had a workshop where we were encouraged to let our grips on what Reality Was slip, in order improve our improv skills — to act like kids again, turning the ordinary into extraordinary. Where a bus wasn’t a bus anymore, but a spaceship. And nobody questions you if they’re playing along, but the adults are quick to deny your reality substitution (hat tip to Adam Savage).

Wordsmith and I had the privilege of keeping company to someone’s six year old, who blithely ignored the conversation of the adults around them playing their own alternate reality game (Ingress) to talk about her plans to build a Cheetah Machine, so she could go fast in some sort of race she was participating in. That sparked an idea for a story about her kid characters (which originated from a prompt I gave her: ‘show me your main character’s childhood favorite TV show and cereal….’). “Build a Cheetah Machine” is now one of our inside jokes.

“Stupid” is a stigma. We live in a literary society, where the lack of the ability to read and write is a barrier to communication, something to be embarrassed about. And yet we all started out without that ability at one point in our lives — and many of us are still ignorant of foreign languages, written and spoken. No matter how much I claim to be a writer and speaker, airdrop me in Russia and I am mute and unable to read street signs.

We should never, therefore, consider someone’s lack of ability to communicate on our level to be ‘stupid’ — but rather simply unable to meet us on our literary landscape.

And that brings me around to the front of this article — I’ve gotten too used to operating on my own level when it comes to building ‘my’ character in my universes. It’s my strong voice, yes. But expanding my palette of personae ought to mean getting out of my comfort zone. Creating a believable Luddite or similar without being trope-ish or cliche’ — those are caricatures of people rather than real people.

In reality, _all_ characters who grow are ‘stupid’ in their own way — not for lack of intelligence, but for lack of knowledge of needed skills or understanding to prevail against obstacles. Even our vaunted hero, be he or she a superscientist with PhDs or a celebrated crime detective, comes into the story with no specific truths defined save what they bring in with them. We follow them as they make false assumptions, or did not bring the right tools to address an obstacle, and we see them fail, not once, but multiple times. We see them struggle with their lack of actionable intelligence and learn from the experience in order to win the day. Their insights and deductions do not pay off on page 1, 2, or 3, but more like 201, 252, or 303, when they are (by the author’s decree) now smart enough to put all the pieces together to solve the puzzle.

No matter how outwardly smart a character may be, they are just as clueless as the people around them — the difference is that they step up to the head of the class first. But the wizard may be there ahead of them, giving them that added Cliffs Notes study guide to get off the ground, or redirect them when they fall off the rails.

So this one is for me; the next character I write? Will have no clue. I can be the Moon Moon if I want to be. I do not need to know how to Cat at the front of the tale. I do not Need To Be The Smartest Person in the Room, because when I was in school, I rarely was. And it was fine then, and it can be fine now.

It’s a worthy challenge, and I plan to play dumb and feel it out. We were all clueless once, and it’s been awhile since I remembered how. My head is full of trivia, and I got a swelled head because of it, when people react, ‘How do you _know_ that?” — the older I get the more I remember, and so it’s been tough to pretend not to know things.

You should all play with me. We’ll build our Cheetah Machines together and have a race.

Intimidated Part 2

Continuation from here and here.

I’ve struggled for years with the idea of being good enough. That stretched into this blog, especially when I was updating it more frequently. Inevitably, I found people who were doing so much better than I was and they were putting in less effort.

I never really found out what pulled people into those blogs. What was I doing differently? What wasn’t I doing?

And it’s a maddening process in its own. I know I’ve spoken at length in many different posts about not comparing yourself to others and how the ladder you have to climb could vary from someone else’s. Shorter, longer, thinner, wider. What they do with their style and their words is much different from what you can do with yours.

With a fresh fear of failure, I’ve spent years being passed over any time I’ve tried to put myself out there. Things I thought I was a shoe in for, I’ve been rejected for other, more talented people.

But in spite of how much I’ve seen rejection, both in my searches for a job, and for my writing, I have a strong confidence in my stories. Whether it’s well founded or not is to be seen. Though I believe I’ve got decent skills, I’m shown time and time again that not many people probably feel the same.

Still, it doesn’t stop me from feeling a surge of need whenever I see others getting published, whether its on their own or through publishing companies.

I feel like I can do it, too, and have decent success. But if I can’t get many people to read a blog, then what good am I going to have with a book? Hell, what kind of luck would I even have on a bigger platform like Wattpad, for that matter?

This is just me beating a dead horse. Expressing fears I’ve had and voices before. That I want to keep trying, but I’m afraid of being hit on the wrist and told no. Of being shown that my writing isn’t actually as good as I think it is, but rather poor.

Someone I “work” with (I volunteer at the organization she works at), has been working on a novel that’s been such a pleasure for her to write. Her excitement is just absolutely infectious, and even when she’s just starting to get it cleaned up, she’s already thinking about publishing. She doesn’t care what it yields, she just wants it, and I wish that vigor followed me.

I guess I have to regard all processes with the same attitude: Go for it, no matter what the outcome is. Just enjoy it.

But I can’t deny the need to be recognized. To feel like I’ve reached people and they enjoy what I’ve written just as much. Part of me still feels like I’m doomed to be in the background and that my work isn’t worth the attention.

I’ve also had the inevitable, “Well, everyone loved Twilight and 50 Shades, why shouldn’t I be given some time?”

To their credit, both of those stories are easy to read and have a broad, easy message to understand. They’re easy to devour, to get into, if you can ignore the repetition and spelling mistakes and stiffness of the writing.

As competitive as fuck as I am, it’s hard for me to say it’s simply for enjoyment, but I am trying. I know better than to have expectations, but I can’t help that hopefulness that’s burned inside of me since day one. To be seen, recognized, and celebrated.

Whatever this burst of confidence brings, though, at least I’ll have tried. Right?

The Novice Wordsmith

Routine

My professor for fiction writing, years ago, told us that the key to writing daily was to get into a routine. Find a specific time of day you want to write and do it, every day.

Except every time I tried, I failed. I continue in some amalgam of a routine, writing usually at night, going into the late hours and hedging into my sleep, more often than not. But I can’t set a rigorous schedule. As you’ll see in the article I link, there are some who agree with me.

But then there are those who don’t. Who speak highly of the routine, of a set schedule of how and when to write and have much to say of the benefits of it.

Either way, I invite you to read the gorgeous piece of The Psychology of Writing and the Cognitive Science of the Perfect Daily Routine by Brainpickings.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Diversity

I like to think I have a wide variety of characters. I have military personnel, a woman who has a psychosis, a guarded air force pilot who’s strong willed and hard up front, a politician, a struggling artist, aliens who come from a different world into another to try and make their lives in a less hostile place, space faring dinosaurs that want nothing but to gnaw on all the mammals in the universe, though some of them are more peacekeepers than warlords.

Last year, I found out my dentist actually writes novels, and crazy, wild, awesome ones. Erotica, body farming, time travel. It was incredible to me to find this out, someone I’d been going to for years and I just found this out.

It made me stop to look back at myself, what I was doing, how I was doing it. It made me see the space opera I was writing and wonder how it compared, see how tame or crazy it was.

What I didn’t do was look at the dynamic, and look at the details and pieces that haven’t been done much or at all. The childless 42 year old female leader who wanted to forge ahead in her career first. The elderly couple who still enjoys having sex. The equality that is so marked in every chapter. The naval officer who is filled with a sense of dread every time he thinks of his child wanting to sign up for the military like he did. Things you just don’t hear about. Sex drives and fear in places where honor should be and courage in people you wouldn’t expect, and the hardened, all-or-nothing attitudes from women.

I’m not saying no one else has done it. I didn’t get the idea because of my own pure genius, but because I was affected by something similar.

But looking at that, I see that I have another list. People and topics and character dynamics and details to fit in that I haven’t done before. Transgender characters don’t come to me immediately for the same reason mothers and fathers don’t unless they’re for established characters. I’m not one. It’s not because I don’t like them, it’s just that it isn’t in my arsenal of what I know yet, but that’s easy to fix by at least making an effort to make one or several.

I still need to write a same-sex romance with men, I’ve done several with women. I need a transgender character, I need mothers, fathers, I need aunts and uncles and close knit, bigger families, I need aromantic people, I need genderless people, I need color and I need spice, I need more, to really push myself, to test my limits.

And looking at this post right now, it looks a lot like I’m saying, “I NEED to do all these things for equality in every way!” But the nature of the writer is to dig in deep on unknown territory and just go. If I don’t give myself that chance, I have an unexplored avenue that I might actually know how to do some justice, like the short story I wrote about a polyamorous triad starting a family. It had quirks and bits and pieces that made it more unique.

Tropes are tropes are tropes. They aren’t ever going to be something else, but ‘trope’ isn’t a bad word if you give it your own personal spin, if you know how to cover it in your own spice and put it out on your stage and tell it exactly what to do.

What really matters is letting yourself explore, because keeping yourself in a box isn’t challenging yourself, it’s not forcing you to think critically and research and reach out and wonder, and I think that’s what I love.

You will always have something, a character, a genre, a setting, that you’re strongest with, that is your best bet to do the best justice possible, but let yourself learn, too. Familiar is only so good to you for so long before it tends to get a little worn. When there’s a whole wide world of knowledge and creativity and color out there, choose not to stand in place.

The Novice Wordsmith

Developing a Better Psychic Detective

Psychic detectives occupy their own niche in the mystery novel genre.  They bend the rules of solving crimes because their deductive methods are not grounded in forensics by default.

A typical mystery requires _evidence_, _motive_, and _opportunity_.  It is the failure on the part of the perpetrator to cover his or her tracks completely that gives the detective the ability to pick up the hidden trail of clues.
An ordinary detective might find vestigial physical clues, notice things out of the ordinary, or find a credible eyewitness that would start them on the journey.
For a psychic detective, a new set of tools becomes available.  Maybe it’s the spirit world, with the ghost of the deceased still lurking about; maybe it’s the psychometry expert who handles an item and relates its history even though it and its owner are parted.  Or maybe it’s the premonitionist, who sees future events and appears at the crime scene as if drawn to it.
A psychic detective novel provides its own obstacles in the form of the detective themselves;  because forensics is science and psychic phenomena is paranormal, there will always be skeptics as to whether psychic findings are valid in a forensics-based court of law.   Sometimes the psychic leads the authorities to a vital forensic clue; other times their unerring (in)sight causes the suspect to confess.   It really depends on how accurate their powers are, and whether they, like tarot cards, are subject to a broad interpretation.
Consider the five senses; these are what normal detectives use.  Now layer on top of that the sixth sense — what form does the psychic detective’s ‘talents’ take? How do they work?  Do they cause problems to use, or can they be used at will?
The scientific method is about forming hypotheses based on available evidence.  The psychic method, in parallel, is about forming hypotheses based on available psychic input.
The cousin to both of these, lying somewhere in between, is the mystic detective.  Someone who uses Otherworldly abilities to turn up clues that normal, mortal forensics might have covered up.  The ‘magic leaves traces’ idea, similar to the psychic impressions, allows for the mage detective to pick up leads that the ordinary police (the traditional foil to the lone wolf detective) miss.
But remove the labels, and the tools of the detective have a common baseline: it’s all about Discovery versus Obfuscation, narrowing versus red herrings, and separating the truth from the lies and misleading conclusions.
Your detective, whether mortal outcast, gifted psychic, or trained magician, operates outside the circle of normal investigations; picking up the pieces where the police have left off.  A crime procedural perhaps goes down the wrong trail, accusing the wrong person; it is up to the detective to find the evidence that disproves the police’s suspect.
On the other hand, if this is a police/constabulary buddy tale, one officer might be the psychic/mage, the other the diad opposite who is grounded in the normal, mundane methods world.  The Holmes and Watson concept; the superlative detective and the skeptic that creates the framework for the empowered investigator to showcase his or her unique talents despite the partner’s assertion that ‘it shouldn’t work that way.’
It is, in a lot of ways, a well-worn trope of a plot idea, and so it is up to how well you create your character of the detective, powers, flaws, and obstacles, that makes your story stand apart from the others on the shelf.

The Cycle, an Explanation

There’s a method to the madness of becoming a well known author. To becoming an author. To be someone desired by publishing companies. Through the years, I’ve becoming increasingly more aware of the things that are needed to be done for exposure and to be recognized and sought after and have people like me.

My last post, Intimidated, was a reflection of my becoming overwhelmed by it all.

I feel like I’m sitting at the base of a cliff with only half of the supplies needed for my ascent in rock climbing, which I’ve only ever done indoors, in a controlled environment.

I see friends tackling things on their own in ways I have given up or gotten too shy for. Sharing my works on different blog sites hadn’t yielded much of anything by the time I realized it was a fruitless effort, but I’ve had this problem before.

There are many things I can say, I can write here, I can put it on Facebook or on Tumblr or even find a bigger platform, but who’s to say that it’s even going to get anywhere? On this blog, I’ve had stunted success with having an audience at all, which resonates everywhere else, and when I look at it, and look back at the cliff, my feelings are mixed.

Some days, I feel like conquering it with gritted teeth and a strong resolve. Other days I feel like I’m not going to get further than halfway up the cliff and fail.

Everyone is going to think that what they have to write and how they do it is interesting enough to be worth something. That their voice and style is perfect in a lot of ways and, of course, how could anyone not like it?

Even if I had finished my courses in creative writing, I doubt it would have mattered much. I’d have felt like I wasted money, and not even my money, on something I could have learned on my own in time.

I’m staring up at a cliff of trying to get myself out there more. I am ready to put my hand up on the first rock I can hold onto and hoist myself up, but whether my fingers slip or I keep pushing until the final pieces, to the very top, is dependent on people that I can’t control. I can write for a specific audience, but it’s difficult to tell who would like what, and simultaneously battling the thought that shouldn’t I be writing for myself anyway?

On top of it, my sister sent me a list of the different writing jobs I could get, and instead of making me feel like I could try  at something again, and maybe become better, it made me feel more like I wasn’t doing something right. Which is on me, of course, not on her.

But the only way to find out what will happen is for me to try, and I’ve been very happy keeping my writing between a few friends. Branching out is uncertain and sometimes painful, but I can do it. So many others have done it before, right?

That was the other part. So many others. You could get lost in all of the authors out there, and there are only a handful who are really well known, household names. It goes back to competing, but I need to remember, I think, that no matter how many others are out there, they don’t have a voice or style or ideas like mine.

We’re all unique, no matter how many in number we are. No matter how similar it might be, there’s always a difference.

So I guess it’s just time for me to swallow my pride and take the first step up the cliff. I have a decent support system, in the face of anything that may go wrong. I’ll be caught if I fall.

The Novice Wordsmith

Developed

I have an infamously naive and youthful character, who I’ve been writing for years now, a little over five. In all of that time, she’s found out lies about her past, her family, what was expected of her and how she was conceived. She’s gotten closer to some family and further from others. The demise of the one who wrought ill on her may have only been suggested, but because we never got to finish that story.

I’ve put her through her paces in all of this time. I threw her in a huge storm in the middle of the ocean and watched her spiral into an unknown, uncharted island, to get herself back to the world she came from with the help of other stranded strangers.

She fell in and out of love. She was introduced to people/things that could help her in her journey, has unlocked a lot of power and potential, and has even surpassed the strength of her father. She isn’t a stranger to sex, or trauma, or extremes. Time and again, when she’s forced to stand up, she doesn’t hesitate.

What I expected in all of this time was for her youthfulness to transform. To watch her go from this giggling, excitable young girl to a seasoned woman who knew how to push through and show up for what was right. Instead, she’s persevered, and held on to that brightness, that light of hers that shines when she smiles and even when she doesn’t.

I never really considered that the change was a little deeper for her. On the outside, I still see her and write her and feel like she is the same excitable, impossibly optimistic young woman who strives for the best. On a deeper level, under the surface, I see that she knows what must be done in some situations, she knows right from wrong and has a strong sense of morality. What was shaped in the roughness she was thrown into was her ability to adapt to situations and protect those she cared for at any cost.

I’d had other characters get put through their paces and turn out jaded and cynical and unkind for it. What I expected was much of the same, but that’s just not who she is.

Development comes in all shapes and sizes, I realize, after some consideration on this particular character. It doesn’t all have to be extreme, some are more resilient than others. It can be light, it can be heavy, but in the end, whatever it is will be true to who that character really is.

In other words, the surface isn’t the only place to look for a change. Sometimes you have to dig into the cushions.

It adds a whole new dimension to things, to the story, and to the character herself. And I kinda like it that way.

The Novice Wordsmith