Cheating is such an ugly word

Hi everyone.

What do you do when you want to write a blog post, but you have a hard time tearing yourself away from your other writing?

This. This is what you do.

 

 

 

 

 

Some people may think a post built around memes is cheating.

I prefer to think of it as deferring to someone who had the same idea as you, only they said it better.

Coincidentally, both of these speak to me on a very personal level.

Every time I sit down to write, I talk to myself in order to shake off the normal world and hopefully make the transition to the world of make-believe. It’s like a little pep talk.

And this is what I say to remind myself that writing is a terrible, horrible, wonderful way to live:

 

 

 

 

 

 

And …

 

 

 

 

 

What are some of the things you tell yourself when you write?

I’d love to hear about them in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Everybody’s Got Pain

As I’m writing this blog post, the anesthesia from my root canal is wearing off. Needless to say, I’m in pain. A lot of pain.

This made me think about how we deal with pain.

Sometimes, if it’s bad enough, we just curl up under the covers and will ourselves to sleep until it’s over. However, too many people never have the luxury of allowing their pain to crash over them and carry them out to sea. These people – and they are usually poor people – are told to just “push through it” and “you can’t stay home with every little ache and pain.”

The implication being that if you give into pain you are weak, you are unworthy, and you are definitely not getting paid for today if you do.

Consequently, that’s how I knew now was a perfect time to get this post written. And so here we are.

Is this a sign of dedication to my craft, my blog? Of strength of character? Or of brainwashing and stupidity?

Hard to say.

So instead of whining about my own pitiful problems today I thought I’d tell you a little bit about my main character, Jake’s, tattoos.

Jake has a large slamming door tattooed on his back. It’s there so he won’t forget the night his father left forever, his mother screaming “Good riddance” at the empty air.

There’s an old coffee pot covered with spider webs on his left shoulder. It’s to remind himself of all the times five year old Jake got up at 2:30 am just to make his dad a cup of coffee when he returned from the bar. 

 

 

The yellow license plate, dinged and bent at one corner, that sits below his rib cage belongs to the car that killed his mother as she was crossing Roosevelt Boulevard when he was six.

 

Yeah, everybody’s got pain.

How do you deal with your own pain? Do you dive in, or try to ride it out? Also, what kind of pain have you dished out to your characters? And how do they deal with it?

I’d love to hear about it in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading.

Timelines

Hi everyone.

I’m currently stuck on my novel’s timeline, so I thought I’d share a bit of that hellishness with anybody out there.

Obviously timelines are important in any story, but especially in long,  complicated stories such as in a novel. Not only do you need to know what is happening in your novel, you need to know when it’s happening.

And if you’re a visual person like me it is so much better to see the important events in your story laid out in front of you than to merely think about them.

That’s where timelines come in. You can:

  • make your own with pen and paper,
  • use a calendar, or
  • find a program online.

 

 

I have, in the past, tried making my own and found that my ideal timeline consists of one, long sheet of paper tacked to my living room walls — satisfying, but not very practical.

Calendars are probably a lot of fun to use, but all those little boxes feel confining to me. Don’t judge me.

I’ve recently come across an online option on writershelpingwriters.net. They have a resource called One Stop for Writers that includes a 2 week free trial of all these cool features like Character Builders, Story Maps, Scene Maps, and you guessed it — Timelines. So far I’m really liking it.

Just so you know — I’m not affiliated with this group at all. I just thought you all would like to check them out.

Anyway, back to playing with my timeline.

How about you guys? Do you find timelines useful, or just another excuse NOT to be writing?

Please let me know in the Comments.

Thanks for reading.

10 Ways to Stay Creative Despite Everything

Writers, like most people, fall into slumps – you know where our brains aren’t capable of much more than wondering what to make for dinner? And even that can be too much sometimes.

So when the dreaded slumps hit you know it’s time to shake things up.

 

 

 

It used to be that just going out and socializing with friends would do the trick – talk all night about non-writing subjects, eat some tasty junk food, and maybe have a few beers – only that’s not really a good idea now, despite what some ignorant asshats say.

 

 

 

 

So, here are 10 ways to kick start your creativity in the Covid19 world we live in now.

  1. Create an Inspiration Board – also known as Vision Boards or Mood Boards —  This can be for your current novel or something else entirely. I made my first inspiration board when I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. I covered a large piece of foam core board with pictures of beauty and health, along with images of my ideal environment (a beach house down the shore). I placed it over my monitor and looked at it every day. It helped a lot.

2. Listen to music – I listen to instrumental stuff when I’m writing because the lyrics in songs just distract me. But when I’m not writing, I love rock, pop, rap, R & B, metal, and even — God help me — some country,  (hey, Kacey Musgraves and Shania Twain… ‘sup, girls?). Music wakes up my brain and fills my soul with gladness.

3. Meditate – I started meditating a few months back, and once I got into the swing of it I realized it really did spark my writer’s brain. Plus, doing it makes you feel just a little bit virtuous.

4. Watch Netflix – when your brain is running on empty you need to pick other people’s brains. Movies and TV shows are loaded with the creative ideas of many, many people so dive in – the water’s fine.

5. Get a new hobby/learn a new skill – depending on what you choose, this can be either relaxing or demanding. Either way it will get you out of your accursed writer’s head for a while.

6. Read books – both fiction and non-fiction. I’ve found that reading in my own genre tends to make me either contemptuous or envious – neither of which is good for me. So I try to read in other genres when I read fiction. Non-fiction really ignites my brain, especially the well-written stuff. Unfamiliar times, events, and people turn me on and always give me new ideas for stories. Reading Dragon Teeth, by Michael Crichton right now.

7. Doodle or sketch – even if you’re not artistic. This is tough if you’re not artistic, but once you chain your ego to a parking meter outside (where it can bark its little heart out), it is very freeing and a lot of fun.

8. Take naps – oh, I can hear people screaming about naps being “a waste of time” now, but really, studies show that a refreshed brain is a productive brain. Take that, Corporate America.

9. Learn how to cook a new cuisine – if your idea of “ethnic cuisine” is Taco Tuesday, maybe you should branch out a little. So far I’ve cooked vegetarian, Indian, Ethiopian, Chinese, Mexican, and Japanese meals. Be brave. Even less than perfect meals tastes great.

10. Have sex – this is kind of a tricky one as far as stimulating one’s creativity goes. Some people feel energized afterwards, while others just feel sleepy. However, considering the amount of physical, emotional, and psychological energy being exchanged here it certainly couldn’t hurt.

 

 

 

 

 

Safe sex, everyone!

How about you?

What are some of the ways you keep your creativity all shiny and new?

Let me know in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading.

3 Things I Do Before I Write

Hi everyone.

Writing is such a personal, intimate act – when we’re not letting total strangers take a peek inside our innermost thoughts and dreams, we’re spilling our guts for them – so it makes sense that every writer has their own process for getting in the mood and/or making the writing habit happen. Some people can’t write without burning their favorite candle, or listening to their favorite music/white noise (hello, Coffitivity). It’s pretty much guaranteed to be different for every single writer out there.

Today I want to share some of the things I do to prepare my own brain for writing.

#1 – COFFEE. Duh.

 

 

 

 

#2 – BULLET JOURNAL – I write in mine every morning listing all the stuff I want/need to get done during the day. In addition, I also note the following items without fail — these are the date, the weather, time I got up, and what song was stuck in my head when I woke up. (Today’s earworm was “If Our Love is Wrong,” by Calum Scott.)

 

#3 – TAROT and ORACLE – No point in just charging into a big, uncaring world all willy-nilly. Absolutely anything could be out there waiting for you.

With that in mind I invite the universe to give me a “heads up” every morning by pulling one card each from both my tarot deck and my oracle deck.

Today I got THE DEVIL (be careful about chaining yourself to the things that pull you down) and the WOLF (practicing tolerance will help balance out some of that agitated wolf energy), respectively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I’m not sure if these are for me, or the characters in the book I’m working on.

Either way, by this point I’m usually ready to take my reheated coffee upstairs to my office and start writing.

How about you?

What are some of your writing habits or routines?

Let me know in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading.

Terrible Strange: Behind the Scenes

Hi everyone.

Today I’m going to take you behind the scenes of my first novel, tentatively titled Terrible Strange. I started this and completed a rough first draft when I was in grad school a couple of years ago. However, there was so much wrong with it that I decided to put it away for a while – it just wasn’t speaking to me, you know?

Anyway, it did start speaking to me a few months ago so I set about rewriting it. I’ve changed the POV, made the characters older, took them out of high school and put them in grad school, got rid of the clichéd “angry dad” character, and did a LOT more digging into my protagonist’s backstory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have also left behind “pantsing” in favor of plotting.

I’m not gonna lie – it’s been a struggle to make such a big change to my writing process, but whenever you combine pantsing with ADD all you get is a hot mess that kinda looks like a story. At least, that’s been my experience.

 

 

 

 

So, I checked out a bunch of different plotting books – there are so many good ones – and loved two books in particular: Save the Cat Writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody and Story Genius, by Lisa Cron.

I was already familiar with Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat series from my screenwriting days, and Lisa Cron’s blueprint method of building a story that has both internal logic and a sense of urgency is brilliant. Plus, constantly asking yourself, and your characters, questions – as she recommends – really, really works. Who knew?

 

 

Anyway, despite my lack of productivity – God, how I wish I could regularly churn out 2,000 words a day like my OCD girl idols on YouTube – I have still managed to reach the midpoint in my novel. Yay!

How about you? Have you ever rewritten something from scratch because the story just wouldn’t let you go? No matter how hard you tried to leave it in the box of shame, or the folder of forgetfulness?

Please let me know in the Comment section.

Thanks for reading.

What the HELL is a Johari Window?

Hi everyone.

I recently discovered an amazing writing tool, courtesy of another writer. (Shout out to Kristen Lamb @authorkristenlamb.com).

It’s called the Johari Window.

It was created by two psychologists in 1955 – Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham. They thought it would help people to better understand their relationship to themselves and others. Self-help groups and corporate team-building exercise leaders loved it.

Ugh, I know. Snoozefest.

However, if you stop reading right now just remember this – these two guys named their creation after themselves – JO for Joseph and HARI for Harringtion – which is kinda cute.

Still here?

Great, because if you don’t think, Wow, this would be a great tool for character development the first time you see a Johari Window, then I don’t know what I can do for you.

That first box – OPEN (sometimes called ARENA) – this is all the information that your character knows about him/her/their self and that everyone else knows, too. Like – he used to be a lap dancer, but then he became an EMT, and now he’s a convicted felon out on parole.

That second box – BLIND SPOT – contains stuff about your character that other people know, but that your character is currently ignorant of, or blind to.

Like – she feels worthless and ashamed because she can’t afford name brand clothes, but other people see her as creative and stylish.

The third box – HIDDEN (sometimes called FAÇADE) – is full of all the crap your character knows about themselves, but that they keep hidden from everybody else.

Like – they have a shoe fetish, only no one can tell because they have 40 pairs of the same style shoe.

 

 

 

 

The fourth box – UNKNOWN – is where all the stuff that no one in your story knows about yet.

Like – aliens have been keeping an eye on your character ever since they were born, because your character’s bio-dad is the leader of a great civilization on Alpha Centauri.

Once you use the Johari Window to map out your protagonist, you can continue to use it to structure your story. The way you do that is to design a story problem that will eventually help your protagonist finally see their blind spot and how it’s negatively affecting their life and other people’s lives too. And in the process of doing that, you want to shrink that UNKNOWN box by the story’s end with the goal of ending up with a more balanced, whole person who knows who they are, likes who they are, and knows where they’re going.

Have you ever seen the Johari Window before? And have you used it in your writing?

Let me know in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading.

How long should it take to write a novel?

Hi everyone.

If you’re at all like me, you alternate between “good” writing days (you know, where you actually get some writing done), and “bad” writing days (all those other days where you barely string two sentences together before deleting them anyway).

So I wondered what other writers’ creative flow looked like.

Here are a few of the most famous works of fiction along with how much time the authors spent writing them.

  1. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne.  Published in 2006, the movie based on it came out in 2008. Boyne finished the first draft in 2.5 days. 
  2. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien.  Originally published in 1954. It took Tolkien 16 years to finish it.
  3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone in the U.K.), by J.K. Rowling. Published in the U.S. in 1998, it took Rowling 6 years to complete it.
  4. A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin. First book in the fantasy series, A Song of Fire and Ice. It was published in 1996 and it took Martin 5 years to write it.
  5. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley. Published on January 1, 1818, it took her a year to write it.
  6. IT, by Stephen King.  Published in 1986. King says it was first conceived of in 1978, but that he didn’t start writing it until 1981. It was finished in 1985.
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Published in 1960. It took Lee 2.5 years to complete it. 
  8. Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer. Published in 2005. Meyer wrote it in 3 months.
  9. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Published in 1843. Dickens completed it in 6 weeks.
  10. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Published in 1886, Stevenson knocked this out in 6 days.        So there you go.

We now know it takes anywhere from 2 and a half days to 16 years to finish something worth reading.

I feel better already. Don’t you?

Does knowing how long it took some of your favorite authors to write their novels help, or hurt?

Let me know in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading!

Writer’s Journal vs. Writer’s Notebook

Hi Everyone.

Today I want to talk about a topic that came up online recently — what is the difference between a Writer’s Journal and a Writer’s Notebook?

It’s all just a bunch of  OCD writers once again obsessing about stuff that doesn’t matter, you say? Oh, you are so wrong.

Not only does this stuff matter, it matters A LOT.

At least to us writer types.

Let me explain.

Writers’ Journals are kind of like specialized diaries. This is where you put all the writing that should probably never see the light of day.

For instance:

  • If you do daily writing prompts — this is where you put your responses to those prompts. Five ways to describe a dung beetle!
  • If you spend the first ten minutes of every writing day writing I don’t know what to write today. Do that here.
  • If you’re thrashing around, trying to nail down a difficult scene that’s not quite ready to be introduced to  the rest of your manuscript, this is a good place to do your thrashing.
  • If you need to get the boring, every day stuff off your chest before you can be creative, then unload that crap here.
  • If you sometimes find yourself compulsively writing Zarry or BTS fan fiction, because … well, just because — then this is a safe space for it.

Writers’ Notebooks, on the other hand, are where you get to live as a writer.

Here’s what goes in your notebook:

  • Your thoughts, feelings, ideas, opinions, observations, bits of overheard conversation
  • Pick a place, like a coffee shop, and move around the room listing the things you hear, smell, taste, wonder about — you can use these bits to flesh out a setting or a scene later on
  • It’s where you collect random — or not so random — ideas
  • Bits of poetry or song lyrics you like
  • Topics and themes that are important to you, or that you find yourself coming back to over and over again
  • Character sketches of strangers
  • Bits of dialogue — even if you don’t know who will be saying this dialogue yet
  • Doodles or sketches of people or places that intrigue you for some reason
  • Quotes from books or authors that turn you on
  • Words that you just frigging like the sound of
  • Lists of things
  • Whatever else you feel like including — as long as it’s personal

Believe it or not, all of this stuff is valuable. These are the tiny bits of grit and sand your writer’s mind will use to create pearls.

So get yourself a couple of blank notebooks and make one your Journal and the other one your Notebook. Add something to each of them every day.

You’ll be glad you did!

Do you have a separate writer’s journal and writer’s notebook? Let me know in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading!

The Year of Living Dangerously, 2020

In 1978 Christopher J. Koch wrote an amazing novel about the 1965 failed coup attempt to oust Indonesian dictator “Bung” Sukarno. In the aftermath of that failure over 1,000,000 people were butchered. The book was called The Year of Living Dangerously and it was made into a movie in 1983.

 

 

 

 

 

Sukarno was president for 17 years and suppressed Indonesia’s parliamentary system in favor of an authoritarian “Guided Democracy.” Endowed with a “larger than life” personality, Sukarno’s personal and political excesses, and his infamous cabinet of 100 corrupt and cynical ministers, induced a continuous state of national crisis.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, welcome to my world.  There don’t have to be exact parallels between Sukarno’s rule and the current president’s rule for you to get the chills and the heebie jeebies.

Americans have always felt immune to the harsh realities of life in other, less fortunate, countries. You know, those places where sociopathic dictators  gleefully destroy their own countries for the sake of ego gratification and money?

This shit only happens in other countries, not America. Right?

However in the few minutes it took to stage that ridiculous “photo op” in front of St. John’s church America’s plight became all too clear —

      • there was the obviously timed escalation of a peaceful protest into a “violent” protest (which simultaneously diminished and demonized the BLM protesters who were seeking justice for George Floyd and everyone else victimized by racism);  
      • followed by a mask-less Trump’s meandering walk across the street (accompanied by his band of equally mask-less minions, because, well, The Boss doesn’t wear a mask! and because Fuck Science!);
      • ending with an already-disinterested Trump holding up a Bible for the camera.

 

 

 

Thoughts? Comments?

Thanks for reading.