Tag Archives: Comfort

Stubbornness vs. Rightness

In the past couple of months, I’ve been working a full time job at a very busy veterinary hospital. And when I say hospital, I mean it: it’s 24 hours, there’s urgent care staff on ’round the clock, they have an operating room, they book several surgeries a day ranging from simple (spay, neuter) to complex (mass removals, etc), and they have as many as 20 doctors employed.

It had been a job I wanted for years, literally. When I was unemployed, I applied twice, interviewed twice, and was rejected twice. I loved the idea of being up front and helping people, and being able to reach out and be part of the help they were seeking for their pet.

The problem was, despite the fact that they were so intensely, crushingly busy, and I never reacted well to that, I still took it up eagerly. It was a very quick process that left my head spinning, and my first day there was disastrous, but I was determined to stick with it. And so the second day was better, and the third, and I kept learning and getting better at what I was doing until I was turned loose as an independent part of the system.

And it got worse from there.

It is really hard for me to admit that I am absolutely bad at being under pressure in a constant cycle. I can do it when it happens every so often, I’ve found ways to handle it before, but when it springs up unexpectedly and often, it gets to me. It’s hard to handle, and I make more mistakes because I’m just trying to get through things.

I was not going to let that get in the way. I felt like it was just circumstance, and I’d get better. Even though I would come home, feeling the lack of communication with certain close friends and the huge cut in free time I had, considering moving on to a different job, I stuck it through.

Shit, I even pined for the old job I had some days, but I figured I would be fine. No big deal. It was just me having a bad day.

And then I lost the job.

On top of feeling depressed about the outcome, I felt relieved. I kept finding reasons to be okay with it. I mean, I was still flabbergasted at how out of the blue it was, the final day of my probationary period, and I was getting axed because they could do that still, but part of me was glad for it.

And it came to me yesterday, that the job really wasn’t for me. I came home from the interview (which was a simple observation for two hours) feeling the emotional drain and knowing it might be a bit much for me. The first day was nightmarish. I had been considering not saying yes to it in the beginning, but I went with it anyway because it was an opportunity, it was what I wanted.

But you have to realize that sometimes, what you think you want isn’t always going to be what fits you.

I wanted to write this to impart this wisdom on everyone, as it applies to writing and challenging yourself to genres you aren’t used to or characters you don’t do so well with, or really anything, whether it’s someone else’s suggestion for you and your wish to see it out, or your own thinking that you should be able to do something.

It is 100% okay to not be cut out for something, no matter what it is. 

Just that the hard part is convincing yourself of that, if you’re as stubborn as I am.

If something becomes too much, or it isn’t enough, or it’s just overwhelming, you reserve the right to tell it no and move on to something that feels better. Do not worry.

This pertains as much to NaNo as possible, too, considering you may be trying something new out. If it doesn’t work, find something else and jump on. Shift gears. Get comfy somehow else. You’re allowed to. It’s all part of the learning process, isn’t it?

-The Novice Wordsmith

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Guest Post: A House of Prose, and Don’t be The Lauren

Everyone’s a critic.

When you ask for an opinion from someone on something you’ve done, what you’re secretly asking is ‘do you like this?’ And you secretly want them to like what you’re showing them. It’s the author’s curse; we want to be published, but we need to write something that people can relate to enough to want to buy.

The underpinnings of our society dictate that we have to ‘get along’, ‘be liked’, and ‘hold approval.’ Popular people are who we hear about; unpopular people are spoken about derisively or with hatred sometimes.

Books and writing our expressions of our writer’s soul. It is the innermost child (..or occasional lurking adult) seeking the light of day and the likes of others.

We pick our genre, the one we feel the most at home with, and we decorate the house of our novel home with the things that belong there. A family of characters, or a single person looking out the windows. A bunch of good-natured or mean neighbors to challenge the family. And then there are the things that try and burn the house down or break in and steal their stuff.

I say it’s a house here because the analogy is apt to me; we ‘live’ in the space of our novel when it’s going good, and then when it’s done, we do our best to spruce it up and invite guests to come visit.

I’ve lived in a few places over the years; that first moment when someone new sees my new place they always look around. Form impressions. Some of them look at the things I have on the walls, some of them look at my knickknacks, some of them look at my furniture, and a few of them poke their head in the bedroom.

“Nice place.” they say. Whether they’re being polite or not, I don’t know. But then again, I live in a rental, so it’s not a house I can do a lot of decoration with. I’ve been in a few houses that I’ve said, ‘this is a gorgeous place.’ I have things that I want in my house, so when I see one of those things, I appreciate it.

Now apply that idea back to books again.

Some folks can write an amazing epic tale that grabs you from the get go; some folks write a ramshackle tale that barely holds itself together; you can see the holes in the plot like you notice crayon marks or holes in the walls.

It is not a reflection on the owner/author; it is all about the _everything_ in the house/novel, rather than the bits that you notice that stick out to you.

I’ve got a friend that I’ll call Lauren. She wanted to be a writer, because I was one. She participated in the NaNoWriMo, because I did, and people really liked my first novel.

When she read it, the first thing she asked was, “Is this about you? Is that character there me?”

(The answer was no and no. Because I am not a six foot tall efficiency expert who drives a convertible.)

Then she started poking holes in the novel. Pointing out typos, a half-finished sentence here and there, that sort of thing.

“I know.’ I said, defensively. “It’s a first draft. Thanks.”

When she won NaNo for the first time, she gave me her first effort at writing a full length novel. Asked me what I thought.

It was a pretty good tale, but she got lost in the weeds when she hit Week 3 and there were two very similar characters that I kept getting mixed up, and there was another point where she was missing parts of the description because she was in what I call ‘fugue state’ — you can see the action in your head, and it’s rushing fast, but she didn’t put it all down on the page.

“Did you want me to make edits or did you just want an opinion?”

“Just an opinion. I know my writing sucks.”

“I liked it. It had some good suspense elements, and your heroine is genuinely likable. Your supernatural elements are solid, too. And your writing does not suck.”

“Do you think I could get it published?”

“I think it needs some work before you can get there. There are some elements that need more details, and your ending is a bit rushed. I’d like to see more of the world, too.”

“You hate it.” she said.

“No, I don’t hate it. It’s good! It’s a first draft and I like what I see here. That’s the nature of the Nano — nobody ever produces a perfect first draft, but the Nano makes you actually finish that first draft. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have finished it.”

Later, I heard she’d shared it with some of her other friends, with the additional rider comment that she felt I didn’t like it, because I didn’t think it was good enough to get published. Of course, she was giving it to friends who liked her as a person, and since she had predetermined for them that she was looking for praise, not critique, by way of ‘Friend didn’t like it, I’m hoping you will’ — she was told what she wanted to hear, rather than the truth. And when one of her friends, who is usually bluntly honest, said that it was ‘scattered and disorganized’, Lauren was done showing people. The manuscript went somewhere dark and never saw the light of another person’s eyes again, for fear of disapproval.

She tried her hand at writing the sequel the next year, because like many first time successful novelists, they still have a story left to tell. And it’s easier to work within an existing world than it is to spin up a brand new one.

But she got sick the first week, and stopped writing, and because she was a week behind, she gave up. This was the same year I wrote 100K words in the month.

She hasn’t attempted the Nano since.

For me, the NaNoWriMo is one of my life’s passions. I’ve done it every year for the past twelve. I talk about it a lot. Whenever I’m with friends or family, and I bring up the idea of Nano and they like the idea and are impressed with someone who can write that much in that little time, none of them really ask, ‘Yes, but are they good novels?’ If they do, or they ask when I’m getting published, I just grin and say, “I’m still working on that part. It’s a first draft, and a story that needs to be told, and one of these years I’ll like something enough to edit it and try and get it published. But it’s great practice and a grand adventure that I willingly take every year.”

They are invariably encouraging.

Lauren, if she’s also present, frequently jumps into the conversation with the “Hey, I wrote for the Nano too…” (Subtext: I want some of the positive attention you’re getting.)

“Oh cool!” is the response. “What are you writing this year?”

“Oh, I’m not likely to. I did it once about six years ago.” she says. “I have a bunch of good ideas, but I don’t have the time.”

Predictably, that means the focus goes back to me shortly after, because I have Ideas and Advice and Encouragement That You Should Play This Year. Nano is my passion, and I believe everyone should play at least once — if not more than once — because everyone has that lurking story in the back of their heads, triumphs, troubles,tasks, thoughts, tribulations, trout that traversed the trawler’s tail temporarily, those things. Tall tales. Truth, too.

At the end of one of those days, Lauren asked, “How come they never acknowledge me as an author like they do you? Do I suck that badly?”

“You didn’t show them your work.” I said. “You can’t know that they won’t like it until you show them, and the people you showed all liked it.”

“You didn’t like it.” she said.

“I did. I’m sorry you don’t think I liked it because I offered constructive criticism.”

“Well, I’m not a writer anyway.” she said.

Don’t be the Lauren, ladies and gentlemen. Write because you want to. Write because you have an amazing idea that’s half-baked — and understand that it’s okay to write a story that goes awry in the first chapter, as long as you follow the prose wherever it goes.

Don’t write because you need to be loved vicariously through your writing. I’ve written some of my best work when I was miserable, because pain is a crazy good resource to write out of sometimes.

Do write because you have a world you want to share, no matter how big or how small the space is. Do write because you want to finish the story, or at least take it for a spin around the block. Or the galaxy.

You never publish what you never write.

Nobody will ever see the house that you’re afraid to invite them over to visit. And when you decorate the walls with your art, be it imitations of the Masters or kid macaroni art, when you get your furniture of gleaming chrome and exquisite silks, stuff you, personally, might never be able to afford, but your characters can?

Don’t expect everyone who visits to want to move in. It’s your house of prose. You wrote it. You made the installment payments of 50,000 words or more (or occasionally less). Maybe the back rooms aren’t done. Maybe the roof has leaks that you didn’t see. Maybe the patio door is hung upside down. But it’s your home, the home of the tale you had to build from the ground up, and you ought to be proud of it.

You can always redecorate later, but you’ve got to turn the key in the lock and drag the readers in, first.

Build your first story, and you have the beginnings of a homeworld that is uniquely yours.

Storytelling: One Size Does Not Fit All

A couple of months ago, I was on my way out to get my hair done by a friend of mine, a stylist, whose salon happened to be thirty minutes from where I live. Being a new driver, and it being my first time going out there on my own, I elected to take streets instead of the highway. I’d gone through the directions in my head constantly since the night before, quizzing myself on where to go and where to turn and where not to turn, what to look for, etc. My sister had only driven us out there once, and it was with the highway, but she had helped me figure out the route without it, and I’d tried to run myself through the paces I remembered when she drove us.

So I’m driving, and it’s getting close to the point where there’s the highway and the way I take. She said, stay left, so I stayed left, and I got myself on the highway on complete accident, for the second time in my life, and freaked out.

Okay, pause.

I’ve told this story a handful of times. Once to the stylist friend, in a humorous tone, laughing at myself and the situation after I’d gotten through it, once to my sister, halfway into hysterics and worried like hell, and a couple times to other friends, highlighting the craziness and my exasperation with what happened.

I noticed, immediately after I told my stylist about getting lost and making my way safely to her chair, that I told the story differently to her than I did to my sister. And then again when I told it to friends, and Friend. Now, to you, this is cut and dry and I’m emphasizing different points.

Each person we talk to has a different understanding and view of us. We have a relationship with them that allows us to have deeper conversations, or it stays shallow and we don’t bother them with how we were feeling. That doesn’t come as a surprise, but it’s curious to consider. Shallow relationships yield shallow conversation and the deeper yield, of course, more robust explanations.

It was just interesting to note, because I’d never noticed it before. How could I be practically crying on the phone with Angie when I’m trying to navigate my way through a mostly unknown city and then turn around in fifteen minutes and laugh my ass off with Vicki about it?

Because I have a deeper connection with one and I don’t have half the bond as I do with the other.

And then I applied it to characters. Their comfort level with the other character in question greatly dictates what they have to say about the situation or event playing out. How guarded or cavalier they are about what’s going on with them, how personal it is, and who engaged the conversation also has a huge impact on how it goes.

It seems so obvious, when you think about it, it’s just natural, but then you observe it in your own life and it makes you stop in your tracks.  What you say to people is largely based on your relationship together and the trust you have with them.

Something to chew on for the weekend, I think. Or to put to the test with a variety of different characters!

😉

-The Novice Wordsmith

Guest Post: You and Your Genre Shadow

As the Novice Wordsmith and I start gearing up for this year’s NaNoWriMo in November, I always start playing with genre ideas. And whenever someone asks what they should write about, I always answer with this:

“Well, what’s your genre?”

Without knowing the answer to that question, your novel is going to be an orphan plot idea and a character in search of a direction. You can have a great character concept, but without knowing what genre the story they star in falls into, you’re going to be going through the motions of living without much plot potential.

(Slice of Life is actually a genre type. It’s used for sitcoms most often.)

Some genres define the universe (Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Steampunk for example), and some define the type of plot (Mystery, Drama, Crime, Romance), and others classify the expectations of how the novel is written (Journal, Young Adult, Advice). It’s a box that when someone opens the cover, they know what kind of things lie inside the pages.

It’s easy to pick your favorite genre and write in it exclusively. Your writing voice is all about comfort, because if you aren’t comfortable with what you’re writing, you won’t want to write it, usually. But as Wordsmith alluded to in a previous post, you can push the envelope of your comfort zone. Why write what you usually write, especially when you’re just getting started? The first novel or story you write is to prove that you can finish what you start. But that doesn’t have to be your genre.

Some folks like writing along similar lines. They have a favorite genre that they live in, because their writing flows naturally to that place. They fall in love with their personally crafted universe and stay there. They become a genre author without even realizing it, because they think, ‘Oh, why stop at one novel, why not a trilogy, or a series?’

The best and worst thing to be is known as a specific genre author, because you wind up writing more and more of that genre. You wind up with fans of your work and they judge your new book in the same genre (if not the same universe) by the previous ones. If you write something new in a different genre, it will be compared to your other genre and you will be measured. “Eh, so and so writes better SF books than fantasy.” This is nothing wrong, necessarily, because sometimes _readers_ prefer one genre over others, and when you, ‘their’ author, write out of their genre, they’re going to be a harder sell.

My advice to you is to push yourself. Deliberately write in different genres just to see if other ones work for you. Don’t just write in the same space of your favorite authors – go to the library or bookstore and go to a different section. Pick out a book by an author that has a lot of titles on the shelf, and flip through a few pages. See if the style and feel is alien to you, or makes sense.

Then write in that genre the next time you put pen (electronic or otherwise) to paper (ditto). See what happens.

If you want to get fancy and go for even more challenging? Do a mashup of genres. Don’t just say, ‘I’m writing a horror novel.’ Try ‘steampunk/mystery’ or ‘horror/journal’, or go out on a limb and try ‘science-fiction/advice/journal’ — that last one, by the way, is how I would classify the Zombie Survival Guide.’

The point of getting out of ‘your’ genre is not just to push you to do something different, by the way – it’s a growth experiment. If you want to be a paid author, but the market that your genre fits into is saturated, you should be able to shift gears and write in spaces where the market needs stories.

Not only that? It avoids getting into novels that are superficially similar to each other; some series authors fall into that sort of trap. Expanding your repertoire of writable genres means that you can get away from ‘home’ and find an adventure waiting to happen by the side of the proverbial author’s road, no matter how alien it may seem at first.

When I participate in the NaNoWriMo, I look at what I did last year — genre first, and say, “I am not doing that genre this year.” It’s another way of writing without looking back.

Writing Software: Pick Your Poison

This comes as inspiration from a coupon in my goodie bag from winning Camp NaNoWriMo this month, which offers 50% off from Scrivener with a code that you’ll receive on August 1.

Of course, upon further inspection, I see that this offer is something you also received from winning NaNoWriMo proper, which makes sense. That’s a story for another day: all of the coupons and goodies and free stuff and offers you can get simply from finishing that’s actually rather neat. I’d only really looked at the front page of the goodies instead of getting into it before, but now I’m definitely excited for November, considering some offers expire quickly.

Scrivener isn’t the only one that you get discounts on. There’s Aeon Timeline as well, and Storyist (for Mac only).

I had started to look into Scrivener to check out just what it was about and got pretty excited. A lot of what it has to offer seems extremely helpful, the outliner, the text editing, snapshots, name generator, corkboard for notes, being able to pile a whole novel together but separate it by chapter.

Then, I started to wonder how much of those features I would actually use.

At the moment, I use Roughdraft. Google docs is a close second because it’s a cloud based system I can get into through my e-mail, and it counts wordcount, but nothing feels as light and as fluent with my style as Roughdraft does. Which, that alone is a little funny because I was so resistant to getting it and dragging all of my files over, but none of that was a pain.

Roughdraft is lightweight, runs on RTF format, it doesn’t take much to boot up, it’s very minimalistic, you have a notepad on the side you can type in (great for when I was doing NaNo and could tell myself what needed to be changed in revisions, or clips I needed for later inspiration), a tab for inserts, a tab for lists, and a whole lotta shortcuts. This was the first program other than what I saw in Google docs that counted words, and that was nifty as hell to me in the beginning.

I am very pleased with it now, but I can’t help but wonder if Scrivener’s extra tools and features might be nice or helpful to me.

There are, of course, others who could do without it all. People like George RR Martin who still write in DOS on WordStar 4.0, who don’t need anything but to type. Then there are people who need the extra help, or who appreciate it.

Three things I do need, absolutely, is something capable of telling me my wordcount, something I can tag notes on, and the ability to turn off live spellcheck so I can ignore the squigglies when I come up with names like Sonas Barrin or Vitenia Bruch. I can live on that. Though the auto-save function is also super.

For the longest time, Wordpad and Notepad were enough for me. I used them primarily until my friend introduced me to Roughdraft, and I’d call my life changed from then on. I can handle simple, basic, but when is bare-bones too bare?

I enjoy having extra to play with, too, but what cost does it come with other than monetary? Am I going to end up using what I have at my fingertips, or will it go mostly ignored?

It is good to get outside of your comfort zone a little, I’ll be the first to say, but everyone has their limits on how much they can handle or want to handle. What the bandwidth in their head is for fancy frills that they need to keep track of. It’s all about finding your groove and what program fits it best, whether it’s DOS or the latest writing software to date.

-The Novice Wordsmith

It Begins, but Where?

When I was younger, I had a bad habit of just writing up something that was in my head and claiming it was part of something bigger, but it never was. I had more or less skipped through the nonsense of traditional beginnings and just cut to the chase where my head was. It took me years to figure out that I didn’t need to try and build up to that point just to write what I wanted.

That was a big lesson for me: start where you feel like you should start.

If it’s a sex scene that enters when each partner has their hands all over naked bodies of the other, do it. If it’s an action scene that starts when an explosion happens, don’t hesitate. Or if it’s something like a garden scene that begins when the character is contemplating something, about to enter a maze or the walkway that leads to the house, show it happening. Do what feels right, is the best advice for this.

Though, with that comes that you should be mindful of how much context you give the reader. This is where the story starts for them, but where did it start for the characters, and what brought them to that place? Be vague, or be detailed, but try to remove confusion. Remember that the reader doesn’t know as much about this as you do, and try to think that the reader in question is someone who hasn’t picked up any of your work before, especially if that story belongs to a series.

There are exceptions to that, of course, with novels and the like, individual chapters, but that’s what pulls people in; when they flip to a random page and start reading. Who is Jack? What’s this panther he’s talking about? Or Anna, why is she so stubborn, is there an explanation?

Whatever it is, don’t let buildup intimidate you. Write where you feel comfortable, and write whatever’s in that chaotically creative brain of yours, no matter how small or how large (hehehe…).

-The Novice Wordsmith