Of Writers and Prose: Writing after an illness.

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxI have a very unusual factoid about myself; I went into the emergency room of the local hospital once a year for about seven years. A few times it was minor (seriously sprained ankle) a few other times it was serious (mild concussion, appendicitis), but even with the minor health problems, it still knocked the hell outta me, and put me off of my writing routine.

Getting sick can throw a writer off faster than anything. It’s a strange feeling too look at the open word file and know I wanted to write, but the words weren’t there. My mind goes silent. It’s disconcerting as my brain is constantly at work; plotting out ideas, dialogue or scenes. From the moment I wake up until I fall asleep, that’s all I think about, and not always about the same WIP. I have distractions, work, games, life and the internet, but even at night as I try to relax and fall to sleep, I play out in my mind a plot or idea for a story.

Out of all the health issues I had, the concussion was the worst. Not only did I not feel like writing, I didn’t feel like doing anything. It was a good week before I even entertained the notion to open a word file and fell into my nightmare. I stared at the words on the page and no matter how many times I read or re-read, nothing came to me. I literally had no idea what to write. This wasn’t writer’s block. This was something else and it scared the hell out of me. The idea that I may never create another story scared me so much I refused to look at any word files. My fear turned to anger and I deleted the story desktop icons on my screen. I wanted nothing to remind me of what I couldn’t do anymore. My husband was incredibly supportive. “Just leave it alone,” he said. “It’ll come back to you. Do something else.”, but that was it. I don’t know how to do anything else. I can’t paint or draw, can’t sing or play music. Writing is the only creative outlet I have and I’ve been doing it since I was seventeen. For those few weeks, I never felt so absolutely useless. I don’t’ know how else to describe it.

I focused on work and played games. I was still in a fog at work; and they gave me short shifts to help me heal. It was a good two weeks before that feeling set in. You know the one; you’re supposed to be doing something, but you don’t know what. That was my brain telling me that I hadn’t written anything for a while and I need to get my ass in gear. I was excited. It was another week before I opened a word file, but the words didn’t come easy. I found my attention drifting to other things, things that didn’t require me to think. Games mostly, but in that non-thinking mode, it would poke at me; and I’d go and look at the file again. Slowly, over the course of another week the words came, but not in the way I expected. I was writing new words, but revising the pages I already had. I re-read scenes and found countless ways to improve them. I was pleasantly surprised to find my creativity had kicked up a notch. This is part of the reason why I re-opened my zombie survival novel.

The second worst was my appendicitis. Three weeks of recovered and I had to be careful how I moved so not to rip my stitches. Any kind of pain is a creative killer for me. Game over. Done. It drains my energy and forces me to focus on being comfortable instead of creativity. The recovery was a slow process, but I did manage to get a few pages written.

I’ve told you all of this because I’ve always been a strong advocate for being in the best mindset for writing stories. I dislike the adage of a writer having to write every day, because quite fucking frankly, we’re not always up to it and forced writing to me, it worse than not writing.

If you’re sick, take care of yourself. You are the instrument in which the stories flow. If the instrument is not in proper care, the story suffers. Be good to yourself. That’s all that matters.

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Of Writers and Prose: Looking Back at 2017 & Goals for 2018.

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxIt’s that time of year, folks! Time to look back and see what we wished we’d accomplished, and how it ranked up against what we actually did.

2017:

First off, I didn’t make a New Year’s Resolution in January because I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to keep it. I was right. Between work and real life, I couldn’t guarantee that I would get any writing done, and when I set a goal and then don’t accomplish it, I feel like crap. Plus, I have other interests outside of writing that I want to explore and there’s only so many hours in a day. Anyway, those are my reasons for not getting as much done, writing wise. One thing I did do good on was blogging. Hell, right up until September I was on FIRE! Blogging takes a lot out of me, especially when the topic is writing. What the hell can I say that hasn’t been said a thousand times over? Not a lot, but I did explore some of my other hobbies a bit more and I want to keep doing that.

I wanted to get two WIP’s finished and maybe an episode or two of my tv series, and while I did get a few of the scripts done, I ended up trunking the two WIP’s. I was on the fence about them from the very beginning, and I was having a difficult time ‘finding’ their story. These problems cause me to distance myself from them, and once that happens, it’s all over. Maybe in a few years I might come back to them, but for now they’re better off left alone.

That doesn’t mean I stopped writing. I don’t think I could ever do that.

 

2018:

I resurrected two WIP’s that I’ve played with on and off for the last couple years. The first is my plague/zombie novel SURVIVAL RULES (which is the first book of a trilogy), and it sparked my interest again when I came up with a new t.v. show. The show (Malice) is set in the future world of the zombie novel with a new twist on some old monsters. There are all these shows about the end of the world, but very few on what happens afterward. I originally wrote MALICE as a novel, but found it worked better in script form.

The second novel I’m working on is my Steampunk detective novel. Again, it’s the first book of a series. The think I like the most about these books have to be the names (yes, I have the names down already). I have a general idea of what each book is about, and have linked them all together.

The third WIP, and the newest, is a YA witchy book that is set in the 80’s. The main reason I don’t write YA is because I’ve never been able to identify with the characters. I can’t. I’m not that age anymore, but when I think back to what it was like to be a teenager in the 80’s, this idea came to me.

For 2018 I want to focus more on the first two. Dare I might say that I want to make a resolution to complete them by 2019? I also want to do some vlogs. If I have to set a goal it would be to do at least one vlog a month.

I don’t know. It feels too much like tempting the Fates, and that’s the last thing I want to do.

What about you? How did you fair this year?

Of Writers and Prose: I am the Muse and the Muse is me.

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxYou hear a lot from writers about the Muse; that wonderfully invisible entity that bestows upon us lowly creatures the plots and creative inspiration so we can write our novels, but many tend to use them as an excuse to not write.

“My Muse isn’t talking to me today,”

or

“I wait until my Muse whispers in my ear before I write.”

Sound familiar? While that may sound like divine intervention the reality is, we are the muse. I read this article on how our mind use its synapse to co-ordinate activity across a several parts of the brain, and delves into a hypothesis of a ‘mental workshop’; a cognitive function if you will, where the brain engages several key areas to manipulate images and possibly ideas.

How Imagination Works

Our brain is a complex organ and we’ve only just begun studies on it. T act that it can take a familiar idea and rearrange them into a new concept to me is incredible.

Creative Thinking

I believe our imagination is a muscle skill. As we learn how to create new ideas, the stronger the skill becomes. I learned this first hand when I upgraded my math. At the beginning of the course, I could barely work on fractions but come the end, I could calculate an equation like Charles’ Law  in my sleep. Like those who are more skilled at singing or math, I believe that some people are more ‘hard-wired’ to be creative than others. Does that mean those who creativity doesn’t come ‘naturally’ are any less creative? No, but it may take a little longer for them to achieve the level of creatively they desire. You can’t sing opera after one lesion; so is it with writing.

Even with all this new information, I still think the notion of an invisible entity whispering in our ears is romanticised, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s only when we use this this idealized fascination as an excuse for not doing something that it becomes a problem.

Remember, the Muse waits for no one.

Of Writers and Prose: The 3 F’s of Writing.

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxWe’ve all seen those writers who claim their story idea is ‘a million dollar idea’, and we quietly snicker behind their back in haughty derision at their inflated egos, but I think we could all stand to take note of their self-confidence. These are people who, for better or for worse, ignore that negative voice that tells them their story isn’t as good as everyone else’s; they ignore the possibility that their novel won’t be read or that their writing is crap. Now I’m not saying get all egotistical about our work, but learning to love our writing is a hard thing to do, especially when we read other people’s books and we see such a perfect story.

F #1 – Frustration: Frustration comes when we constantly compare our work to other writers. I’ve talked about this before (as have others) how we must NOT compare our writing career with other authors. Whether it’s style, ability or even financial, they’re not us and we’re not them. I dislike hearing new writers say they want to write like Stephen King, or Anne Rice or whomever they idolize. They set lofty goals, and when it’s not achieved, they fall into depression. That’s when those nagging voices take over. You know the ones. The voice that says we’re not good enough.

F #2 – Fear: Fear comes when we’ve convinced ourselves that our work will never be as good as the author we’re trying to mimic. I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t worry about my writing. I worry no one will read it or that my stories aren’t good enough. Notice the present tense? That’s because this is something that’s with me all the time, but I don’t give into that fear. I accept all the fear and the worst case scenarios. Unlike frustration, fear can be an easy thing to dispel. If you’re afraid your writing isn’t good, then do what you need to improve it. Read more or take a class on creative writing. Talk to other writers, and you’ll see you’re not alone. If you’re afraid no-one will like your book, understand that no one can write a book that relates to everyone. If you’re afraid no one will read your book, join the club. That is a fear that we all have but if you write what you would like to read and I can guarantee someone will read it.

F #3 –Fulfillment: Fulfillment is like a breath of fresh air to a writer. It can start out as a small thing, like writing for an hour a day, and slowly increasing to encompass a lofty goal like getting an agent or publishing a book. Fulfillment’s grow and change over time and we have to make sure we grow and change with them. We must push ourselves to the next level once a fulfillment is complete. We grow each time we succeed, and even if we fall back into an old pattern, we can’t let that keep us from achieving our goals. We can’t let ourselves go backward and give into our fear or frustration, otherwise we’re f*****.

Of Writers and Prose: WARNING! YOU’RE LOSING MONEY BY NOT DOING THIS ONE THING!

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxDid I get your attention? Of course I did. No one can resist clickbait and if you say you don’t fall for it, I call bullshit because you just did.

Just like clickbait, writers need snappy titles on their blog posts to attract potential readers. It’s hard enough to come up with original material on topics that have been done a gazillion times before, but trying to put your personal ‘spin’ on them can be even harder. Maybe that’s why writers have let their blogs fall by the wayside over the last couple years.

When I first started blogging way back in . . . (I can’t even remember) people blogged about all sorts of things, and then someone realised you could sell more books with your blog and (I feel) it went all to hell from there. Just about every writer out there started their own blogs and wrote about writing and their books. It became more about the number of subscribers and ‘hits’ than making a connection and or discussions. Naturally, people got bored of re-reading the same stuff, stopped reading and suddenly . . .

BLOGGING IS DEAD!

It isn’t dead. It just got bored.

I’ll admit, in the early years of my blogs (at one point I had three), I was one of those people who wrote only about the industry, and then I read an article about how writers needed to expand topics and attract readers who weren’t writers. We were trapped in this bubbled known as the ‘writing sphere’ and in order to to increase your readership we needed to step OUTSIDE of the sphere.

Wait? You mean promote to ACTUAL PEOPLE?

Here is where a new age of blogging begins; a renaissance even. Blogging was once about important global conversations that had to be said; opinions that needed expressing. Now it’s personal. It’s about the smaller, but just as important events that happen in our lives. Non-writers read books too, but we need to connect with them on a different level; a more personal level but that doesn’t need to be a scary thing. You don’t have to blog about every part of your life, but we should include other aspects of our lives on our blogs. Hobbies they like, or shows/movies they watch. A multi-topic blog can (in theory) bring new readers; readers from OUTSIDE the writing sphere. This is where our audience waits for us. Let’s connect with them again.

Of Writers and Prose: Do All Stories Need Romance?

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxI once had a beta ask me when two characters were ‘getting together’. It caught me by surprise because I had no plans for any romance to take place between these two, and I didn’t think I’d written anything to suggest there would be. Naturally, I started playing around with the idea that maybe a romance should happen. After all, romance is a big seller and there’s nothing wrong with a little nookie every now and then, right?

Uh . . . maybe?

Look, I have nothing against romance (I used to DEVOUR Harlequin novels), but I don’t/can’t/won’t write it (I’ve tried), and I HATE it when it’s forced on characters simply to make a sale. Romance in a non-romantic story needs to be organic; a secondary element that doesn’t overshadow the plot. Is the main character in your crime drama falling for a suspect? That’s an awesome tension-builder and can cause conflict between them, but you need to remember why he/she is there – a crime. I’m not a fan of any romance in zombie/end-of-world scenarios either, at least not during the mayhem that reigns supreme in the first few weeks/months of said apocalypse (don’t get me started on the whole Carol/Daryl thing). For me, the idea that life as we know is on the verge of going bye-bye is NOT a good time to hit that ol’ charm button for another survivor. Would YOU be thinking sex during an apocalypse?

I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, just realise that if romantic feelings do occur between your characters, make it valid and not something you think will let you sell more books or list your book in more categories. Allow them to flirt a little or look longingly when they don’t think the other is looking. Better yet, if they do end up getting close, have them in a platonic relationship. Two people who become good friends is just as good as plausible as romance. As a matter of fact, it might be a breath of fresh air.

Of Writers and Prose: Putting ourselves into our novels.

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxI finally watched the last two episodes of THE CROWN. In the ninth episode where Churchill is having his portrait pained, he gets into a rather deep discussion with the artist about his work. Churchill, trying to find some fault with the man and his work, cajoles him on the bleakness of one print in particular. The artist agrees, stating that it was painted during a mournful time in his life; right after his infant son died and then retaliates by pointing out that Churchill has painted one particular scene a multitude of times; a pond located on his property. The artist says he sees something in the way Churchill painted the water; something painful; emotions that lay deep under the surface. Churchill clams that he paints it often because he cannot get the look of the pond just right; that it eludes him. After a fashion, the statesman acknowledges that he built the pond short after his own young child died, and realises his own grief may be the reason he constantly paints this particular scene. It’s a beautifully poignant moment.

As artist, writers pour their hearts and soul into their work so it’s not unheard of that pieces of our lives, emotions or experiences also end up in there too. Even our hobbies can be added to give our characters a more realistic feel to them and possibly connect with readers. Sometimes, like Churchill we unconsciously add details about our lives into our work. For example, I worked at several restaurants in my youth and therefore I understand that particular world and what goes on behind closed doors. Just about all my stories have a scene where the characters are eating or at a restaurant. Even my short stories have a brief moment of foodie love in them. These are easy references that I am knowledgeable about, so I have no problem including them. This is how we make our characters more ‘real’ or three-dimensional. Every writer has some real life experience they can include in their stories to bring their characters to life and connect with readers. Bad experiences as well. Last summer I got into a fight with a bus stop sign and had a nice trip to the hospital via an ambulance. You can bet that at some point, I’m going to use that experience in a story. Everything about that day it etched into my memory; the way I felt, the ride, even my experience in the emergency room is still fresh. My only regret is that I should have asked the nurse to take a picture. Apparently I looked like I’d been in a horror movie.

Life experiences can add a world of colour to our stories, no matter what genre you write. Don’t be afraid of including even painful experiences. Chances are you’ll connect more with your readers, and in the end isn’t that what we all want?

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