Sometimes there is someone you know who you just cannot believe is that shallow. Does this person think about anything? Stop talking about nothing long enough to grow? Have any redeeming quality whatsoever? Now the biggie: is this your character?
Sometimes in the rush to get the words down on the page you might not have a clear idea of who this character is. Do you flesh out the details as you go or just move your paper person around in your world? This is where I run into problems, usually in my prewriting. Why do I prewrite? Because this is where I get to know my characters, my plot, the arcs, the details, all the juicy stuff that I think needs to be in the story. This creation part is where I get to have fun. I torture my characters. I make bad things happen. Then I’m mean and make them cope with it, react to it, or just plain try and run away. But I also have to flesh out that character more for both myself and the reader so that the character, (and incidentally their actions,) is believable. How frustrated have you become when you come across a character in a story that does something so completely out of character you put the book down? Come on, we’ve all done it. In this case the paper person may have been fully formed in the author’s mind, but it didn’t translate to the story. Or maybe, (the horror,) the author didn’t know the character and blithely wrote the scene without a blip.
Invest in your characters. Paper people are fine (sort of) for discovering things, generic secondary characters or just walk-ons. And when you run into them in real life make up a story about them or invent a reason for why he/she is that shallow. It’s a great writing exercise. Write on.
Are you growing in the ground you’re planted in or have you fallen into a dormant phase? I refuse to believe that anyone is dead until they actually are. My biggest nightmare is being trapped within myself. Can you imagine it? Your brain works completely fine, but you have no muscle control or any way to interact with anyone or the world around you. Creepy. But that is a thought for another day.
All of us have an environment that is unique to us. The question is: what are you doing with yours? Even the most mundane environment can be full of inspiration, motivation or evasions. Suspense? A cat stalking a rabbit or squirrel. Romance? Dew on a rose in the morning light. Fantasy? There are gnomes/fairies/smurfs living in the yard. Mystery? Who is the dead guy in the basement? I don’t even want to think about the evasions, but a few spring to mind: can’t write until the dishes are done; the mountain of laundry is going to bury us in an avalanche; the mold has taken over the bathroom. You get the point.
All it takes is a bit of changing your point of view to get to a perspective where you can grow. Look at where you are. It may not be ideal, but then we always have dreams of where we’d like to be. Use what is around you to work for you. Use the dream of where you’d like to be. Anything can work for you, you’re an artist. Our environment is what it is. Don’t like it, change it. But if you’re in this place for a while, find the magic that works for you. We have a choice to see things through our own unique perspective. I can’t wait to read about yours. Grow where you’re planted. Write on, friends.
Sometimes you’ve spent your creative juices doing something that maybe wasn’t the most valuable use of your time. When done, you look at it and go, “What was I thinking?” And sometimes you shrug and move on.
I look at those times as refilling the well. Something inside was just nagging at you so much that you had to do something to get it out of the way so you could continue on your regular projects. I don’t write poetry. I’m an amateur photographer at best because I do it solely for fun. I’m a champion pumpkin carver, but don’t ask me to carve any other medium. I don’t paint or draw much more than stick characters. So I’m a writer. But what, you ask, have I started doing recently in creative land? I’m working with my own graphic elements for my own projects. Which means that in my copious amount of spare time (ha-ha, right?!) I’m learning new software programs. And not just any new software programs, but Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator. Needless to say this is a daunting task.
As I was playing with them the other day, I was worried about what I was actually producing rather than just playing to see what things did. Once I overcame that natural editor instinct I started punching buttons. These programs have a fabulous action called “Undo” that you can always back out of whatever corner you get yourself into. I had a blast. In the end, I even had something that came out pretty good if I do say so myself.
What have you done recently to fill the well? Write on.
Do you flounder through your day? Do you have a to-do list? Is it so long that you wonder how you can possibly get it all done? Do you carry things over day-to-day and never seem to make any progress? We all face this whether it’s daily or only at certain points in our lives. I won’t even go into how long my list is at the moment. I know I cannot possibly get it all done, not in a timely manner that is because some of these things are not just big, but HUGE projects. So what am I to do?
I came across a chapter in Jon Acuff’s book Start that deals specifically with a 5 step process for getting it all done that has really worked for me:
- Admit that you can’t possibly get it all done.
- Give yourself the grace to accept that as a reality, not failure.
- Do the things you can do with your full attention.
- Celebrate what happens in step 3 instead of obsessing over the things you didn’t get to.
- Repeat as necessary.
There are a myriad of systems for trying to get through the things that you need to do, but sometimes you just have to get to what you can get to and let the rest wait until you have more time. Where this is helpful is being sure that you are spending time on what truly is important rather than everything that comes along. What are your priorities? Is that where you’ve been spending your time?
Recently I’ve had to re-evaluate what my priorities are. I wasn’t spending time where I needed to be. I’m working on resolving that. Stop floundering and prioritize. Write on.
Have you ever thought about what you’d say if you wrote a letter now to your younger self? The temptation is to put all your current wisdom in hopes of changing the way things went. I don’t think I could write myself a letter like that and here’s why: I wouldn’t be who I am now if I changed things. Could it be better? Sure. Could it be worse? Sure.
The parts that bother me about writing to my younger self is that I really like who I am now. If I hadn’t made all those mistakes, or what I thought were mistakes at the time, I wouldn’t have learned the lessons I did. I wouldn’t have done some of the things I did (assuming I heeded my own advice.) Our experiences, both good and bad, help make us the people we are. Temptation to go back and only change the bad stuff is strong. Who wouldn’t want to save themselves pain? But pain is necessary to understand what is good and right in our lives. And who is to say that by changing something bad that something worse wouldn’t have happened?! This is what speculative fiction deals with. So write the story where something didn’t happen. Most popular is changing history: what if Hitler had never come to power or become an adult, for example. Change it to what you would have done differently. Write the story, and see where you end up. Are you a free-willer or a designed-planner? Would something else have happened that you could have prevented? Time travel may someday become a reality. What are the ethics and responsibilities of its use? Who gets to decide? This is where writing allows us to explore possibilities, opportunities, or just play and see what happens.
There are those who think that high school was the ultimate pinnacle of our lives. I, for one, am thankful that was not the case. I hated high school. For me it was a time to be lived through, endured, survived. The things that make us unique, what contributes to our voice in writing, are the experiences we have. We are all different. We all have something to add to the great pool of knowledge and life. What makes your voice unique? Write that. Be true to yourself. I couldn’t write that letter to me. The Brad Paisley song aside, I’d want to, but I couldn’t.
Would you write the letter? What would you write? All I know is that today is the day to write something. Write on.
Every now and an opportunity presents itself that you didn’t expect. I recently visited a children’s hospital. I was there for one afternoon in a very limited capacity. The place was amazing. The men and women who dedicate their lives to helping children who are hurt, sick or disabled are some of the most wonderful people you’ll ever meet. However, there were even more people there who can astound you: the children.
These kids are dealing with all kinds of challenges that most people will (thankfully) never encounter. Entire families are affected by illnesses such as cancer, injuries, or disabilities. When you think about the challenges faced by these people on a daily basis it is something that takes your breath away. It can make you aware of things you take for granted, or feel things you never felt before. You can’t help but watch the dramas playing out around you. Everyone perceives things differently, but what I noticed? Resilience. These are children first and foremost. There is joy, wonder and excitement with the world. Yes, there may be difficulties but that does not stop the natural buoyancy of a child to experience life. Want to see what the “wonder of a child” really means? Spend some time around these kids. They still have fun, smile, play, joke, tease, romp, create, learn and laugh. They may also hurt, but they are marvelously still children. It brings a perspective to things that can be lost in the race for the all-powerful dollar, the career, the newest gadget, or the next distraction or entertainment.
Most of us are lucky in that we’ll never need the services provided by such places, but when needed they are there to help.
Are you resilient? Do you bounce back after disappointment? Failure? Can you see the joy in life? Trying again? Never giving up? Try to remember what wonder felt like. It can be stunning. Write on.
Critique groups can be a good thing. They can also be a place where an inexperienced writer takes a beating and walks away bleeding from eviscerating wounds. I personally have not ever gotten anything useful from a critique group that I could use in any specific stories, but I have learned some things from my experiences.
I know what I’m trying to do in my story. I have a plan, a character arc, a plot line and a destination in mind. (I cannot write a story without this, so of course I know it.) What I get from a critique can be anything from a copy edit, punctuation help, a complete rewrite of my plot, warp of my theme, a total anti-character action or any number of other things that don’t fit the plan that I have in mind. Sift through the information that you’re getting. What is the purpose of your critique request (if they let you actually specify what you need help on,) and how can they help achieve it? Do you need a high level plot consistency evaluation? Are you looking to see if your characters are acting out of character? Are your scenes accomplishing the plot advancement? Are you stuck and want brainstorming help for where to go next? When I submit something to be critiqued, I think long and hard about why I’m looking for that critique. Everyone is different. Some people just put it out there and take copious notes on the free-for-all that can happen. Doesn’t work for me, but it may for you.
Interview the type of people you want to be in your critique group. Are they of a similar writing level as you or will they challenge you to grow? What are your ideals or goals for a group? How do you expect to spend your time? How often? Is everyone submitting all the time or is it first in first out? Know what you’re getting into when you get involved with a critique group. Some groups are a huge time commitment. If that is what you’re looking for, great.
Once you’re there, know what you’re looking for when you’re asking for a critique. Keep in mind that when someone else reads your story, they bring all their own likes, dislikes, ideas, thoughts, preconceptions, perceptions and stories along with them as they read. This isn’t a bad thing IF you know what you’re looking for. For example, a mystery reader looks for event type plots. Not useful if you’re writing chick-lit or character driven stories. I prefer not to read anyone else’s work unless I am very familiar with that person. I also always ask what they are expecting from me once I read it. If it is too much to ask of my time, I say no. I would rather not do it than disappoint someone with feedback they do not want or need. I must trust the people I work with because there are all kinds of freaky people out there who are looking for an excuse to gripe. I don’t have time for that. Frankly I don’t have the patience or the tact to handle it either. I may seem mild mannered here, but let me tell you, I’m not. My time is my own and to share it with someone I do not know and trust on a personal level is not in my nature.
Be wise about your time and your resources. Know what you are getting into with and out of a critique. Having this in mind can make you a better writer if you use it right. Write on.