Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.
The same can be said for your work. If your book, work, art, passion or whatever is still inside you, it is too dark to see it. Get out there and get it done. You’ll feel better.
Creation of any kind is work. What separates artists from the herd are the ones who work. If you’re not working it is a choice. You can call it being blocked or uninspired or whatever. It is a choice all the same. Sometimes there are real things that do have to get done in life to keep everything going. If this is not one of those times, and you know what they are: disease, death, survival, or any number of things around those themes, you choose how to spend your time. Today, I’m writing. Write on.
No matter how old I get there is always something I’m scared about. I have a feeling that it is always going to be this way. Fear is a part of my life. Is it part of yours? If not, why not?
I look in the mirror and I see two reflections of myself: one the young me afraid of everything but still ready to take on the world, and the other the current me who has lost some battles, done some really stupid stuff, and yet done some really cool things that I never would have imagined. Fear affects how we think, what we decide to do, and the way we see things in the world. Ever feel like you’re a fraud and you don’t really belong here? Ever think, “Wow, someone is going to realize what tripe this is and laugh me out of the room.” This is the fear I’m talking about. Do you really have any idea what you’re doing? I don’t. And I’m ok with that.
Fear is a motivator for me. It pushes me to do bigger things. I look around while I’m doing these things and if I’m not afraid then it might be time to change something. You cannot change directions while you stand still. If you try you’re spinning in circles. What are you afraid of and why does it scare you? Did the answer surprise you?
Here’s the thing about fear: we all feel it. The key is to do it anyway. Do your best. Put your work out there. Challenge yourself to do more, be more. I believe that to be human is to be afraid. I’m scared no one will understand this. I did it anyway.
You don’t know how to write. Who would read this? It’s boring. What are you doing? You’re wasting your time. You really can’t write. Just don’t bother. Go about doing the chores and don’t worry your little head about creating something. You don’t have anything new to say. What makes you think that if you write it someone will want to read it? Where do you think you get your ideas? This has all been done before. You call that entertaining? You think you know how this other person will react? You can’t recognize truth if it bites you. And you will piss off people. You can’t possibly think that this is the only way to handle things? Your writing sucks. You might as well just use it as toilet paper because that’s all this is good for. People will hate this. And what makes you think that you have something worthwhile to say? No one cares what you think or write. Just get over yourself and see the writing on the wall. You’re nothing, nobody, and don’t have anything to say that anyone else would ever want to read.
This is your internal editor or critic trying to get the best of you whenever you attempt to do something creative. Have you been listening to it more than you want to admit? We all do. It’s always there. Why do you think anyone cares? Because we are all people and the human condition drives some of us to try and create, write or speak about it. Being human isn’t easy. We doubt. We let potential go to waste. We are fragile in ways that we are afraid to admit to others. Embrace that fragility and help someone see that it is okay to be different. You write. She paints. He sculpts. All of these things are wonderful because they are part of who we are. Turn off the editor. Say no to the critic. Do. Be. Create. Write. This is the beauty of life that is sometimes lost or forgotten. Your uniqueness is what makes these things interesting. Not everyone will like it. That is okay too. But you’ll never know if someone does if you don’t create in the first place.
You know those things that tempt you away from what you’ve set out to do. Or it could be anything that is preventing you from doing what you want or need to do. They crop up when you least expect them.
There is always something out there that is pulling you away from your goals. I don’t know what it is about setting a goal for yourself that brings these things to the forefront when you’ve committed to yourself (and maybe others) that you’re going to change or do something different, but they do appear. Family obligations that have to be done just then. Sudden minor emergencies. People who insist on calling, texting, e-mailing, tweeting or whatever while you’re trying to work. Whatever it is, if it isn’t life threatening, it can wait.
Guard your creative time. These interruptions are just distractions. People don’t really mean to invade your work time, but they do it. I hate to say it’s human nature, but it is. People are competitive. When you start to do something different, unexpected, or change in any way, challenges come from those who can be closest to you. These people are used to the way things were. If the phone is the problem, turn off the ringer. Don’t check your email. Turn off the distraction, whatever it may be. If you don’t respect your work time, no one else will. And I guarantee you, if you don’t respect it you won’t get anything done.
Distractions are just that: distractions. Don’t get pulled off course from your goals. Write on.
The literary world is full of them. Elizabeth Bennett, Sherlock Holmes, Scarlett O’Hara, Captain Ahab, Anita Blake, Robert Langdon, Stephanie Plum, Miles Vorkosigan, the list goes on and on. What is it that makes them great? Any number of things depending on who you ask. In my opinion, it is that we can define what it is about those characters that help us define the greatness. In the writing world I call it clear characterization. In the reading world I call it empathy.
Clarity in characterization for me means that I understand the character’s goal, why it’s important and what conflicts come up in the attainment of that goal. Goal, Motivation and Conflict. Simple. Deb Dixon wrote a whole book on this that clarified why these elements must be present to help the reader empathize with a character.
When I was just a reader, devouring books at every opportunity was mostly what I was interested in. So many times, I’d wander into the stacks of the library, pick a book at random and start reading. The librarians all knew me. I’d be sitting on the floor just about anytime I wasn’t supposed to be somewhere else, and often times when I was, reading. They weren’t all classics. They weren’t all fiction. I can get lost in a non-fiction book just as easily if I can understand the subject. (I read a 400 page biography last Wednesday for an example. Yes, all of it start to finish.) I could fall in love with a character or hate them based on what was written on the page.
When I tried to write my first story I didn’t know anything about writing, I just wanted to write about characters that did things. The things they tried, did, experienced, failed, worried about or just plain didn’t do should make you feel. Anger, sadness, fear, happiness, hope, joy. It doesn’t matter what the emotion was, just that it was felt. That, in my opinion, is what makes great characters. Little did I know I was starting my journey in writing emulating Characterization and Plot.
Are your characters great? Write on.
Sweet intoxication. The new idea that charms its way into your thoughts and makes you feel invincible. Driven you run to the computer, tablet, stone & chisel and start working on this new masterpiece. But soon the attraction fades. You stumble. The words are harder to come by and you yearn for the nectar of the idea that was. Larry Brooks puts it best in Story Physics (p 100):
In fact, your passion for a story, the very thing you might believe is your biggest asset going into the writing, might instead be silently, insidiously overwhelming it to the point of smothering the story entirely. It’s like a lover who drowns you in affection yet gives you nothing that you need.
Ever done this before? I have. Too many times to count. The idea is seductive, but in my case the idea is not a premise. I need more than an idea to work with when I’m trying to tell a story. Ideas are possibilities, premises are foundations. I’m working hard to ensure that I have the focus I need to succeed with this story. I love this story. I’m passionate about what it is, who it’s about, and how it’s going to get to a reader. In order to do that, I’m focusing that passion to give me something I need: a plan. I set a goal of when I’d start writing this tale. I beat it out by a whole month. For the first time, I feel like the story has a chance.
What is your passion for your story? Is it working for you or is it smothering you? Write on.