Category Archives: Thoughts

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

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

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

Intimidated

There are days where I feel enlivened and encouraged to go above and beyond for all of my goals in writing and in all other aspects of my life.

And then there are days like today, where I just feel like it’s pointless to try and want to step back from holding up all of these hopes and thoughts and enthusiasms to let my arms rest. When there isn’t much of an end in sight, you get a little hopeless, and today is one of those days.

Unfortunate as it is.

I can be optimistic, but on any other day than today.

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

Return

Last year, in January and onward, I was working on a piece that would turn into a project I’d pick up in April and try to work on for the Camp Nanowrimo of that month. I was sluggish and it was difficult to maneuver through it; though I had a general idea of what I was doing, that was pretty much all I had.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, when I’m about to close out the front of it after doing something of an overhaul on it.

I find it kind of funny, really. I’d sort of been on autopilot with it after camp, and then I just kind of faded and stopped working on it. In August, I found new momentum with it. Parts of the whole story that had once been difficult to tell and sculpt together were coming together with ease. I knew how the story got started, I had villains, I was making a stronger novel out of it. A proper one.

A year after going into it somewhat blindly, with only some interest to back me up, I finally found out how to run with it.

It’s sort of odd in its own way. Usually when I find myself interested in writing something, I actually manage to turn out a decent story. Now I wonder if I just plainly wasn’t ready to write this one at the time. It’s a new experience, to deal with this, seeing myself flounder at first and now flying through it with renewed fervor.

Partially, it reminds me of the ideas we have when we’re young. Our first ideas, the less developed ones we’re rapt with in the beginning and then they fade off, and we pick them up and then they fade off until eventually we get our fingers around them again and don’t let go, to the point we finally finish and have a product we’re immensely proud of and were excited to finish in the first place.

I have yet to get to that part, the forever-with-me idea from my youth, turning it into something, but I’ll get there eventually. It being a supernatural story in essence, I fear it’s been done to death.

But other than the undead story that off and on held my attention, I seem to always come back to one genre. I think we all do, really, we have that go-to that speaks to us and finds us better than the others, because we enjoy writing in it and we’re confident with our knowledge.

My go-to genres seem to be sci-fi, but not action, and not horror or thriller or crime (though I have a space opera waiting to be worked on some more), no. It’s drama. The nitty gritty of social gossip and class warfare in the name of romance. Maybe not so much class warfare, but I think you get the idea.

And for having all of these incredible actiony ideas and blow-you-away profoundness, I feel like it makes me come off as frivolous or silly. But I’ve always loved love. Writing erotica this November was like breathing. Nothing felt challenging about it part from working out pace and flow and how it ended and when things were figured out, so nothing to do with the genre. Writing romance is just my passive skillset, I think, and I love it.

One guess as to what this story is from last April that I’m bounding through now. Yeah. No surprise, right?

Which is why I mention coming back to that genre. You always have something you return to, something that feels comfortable, something you know you can push through with ease. And you’re so good at it because it interests you so much, it gets you thinking, it pulls you in and doesn’t let go.

And no matter what it is that brings you back, over and over, don’t ever feel bad about it. Embrace it.

The Novice Wordsmith

PS- One last little mention. Speaking of Camp NaNoWriMo, it is coming up this April and in June of this year as well. It is unlike NaNoWriMo because you can set your own goal, even if it is just revisions. Give it a look-see over at campnanowrimo.org.

Coming in Fighting

happy_new_year_2016

My mom told me once, years ago, that the way your New Year’s Day went would indicate what your year was going to be like.

Even after knowing it was an old wive’s tale, I tried to see if it was true. Of course it wasn’t, but it never stops me from trying, from seeing what comprises of my first day into the new year. If nothing else, it helps me try to start the year off right.

It’s hard for the year to be measured in a day. You can’t expect to be jobless by the end of one after having one coming into it. Loss can’t be seen from a single day, from the bottom of the hill before you climb up it to see the actual view. All that you can really tell is if that day feels good to you.

But last year, I started it off with writing, after having so much difficulty over the summer and fall. I conquered what blocks and sluggishness held me back, and that was reflected well in my writing that year, doing better than what I had done the one before.

So this year I wanted to start it fighting, and writing, and hopeful, and impossibly optimistic.

And while I know that an old wive’s tale isn’t true, I believe in setting the pace for the year, like it’s a race or a run of some kind. Figuring out how fast you want to go is the key to whatever you do have in your control.

Though, on the other hand, I do encourage taking advantage of nap time. There’s nothing sweeter.

If there is something I have learned from this past year, though, it is the importance of being kind to yourself. If you feel like something is wrong, or you can’t handle something, or you aren’t getting enough chance to fill your lungs with air, examine what’s going on, and what can change. What should change.

Life is already going to put you through hell, you don’t need to help it make you feel worse. You have limits. Listen to them.

Thank you, for those who’ve been watching me this past year. I know my posts have been sparse and erratic at times, but I appreciate you putting up with me and my wisdom whenever it surfaces.

Here’s to another, and hopefully better, year.

Cheers,

The Novice Wordsmith