The Writer’s Toolbox

I’m having motivation issues, so fear is my first topic revisited. I came across this quote as I was working (or in this case not working) on my writing. This one is from Dwight V. Swain:

Only if you stand ready to make mistakes today can you hope to move ahead tomorrow.

So yet again fear seems to be a theme. I don’t want it to be. I would like to convince myself that I am over-empathizing with my main character who is WAY outside her comfort zone, but no.

Rather than letting myself be paralyzed, I am looking outside myself for help. I once read a book by Julia Cameron called The Artist’s Way. It has lots of tips and tricks for letting your inner artist out, working through tough times, and pouring inspiration back into your creative well. Ms. Cameron has a blog now where she posts regularly on letting your inner artist free. Check it out if you’re into motivation or need a little spark to get you going on something. Another book that I read way, WAY back is by Gabrielle Rico called Writing the Natural Way. Ms. Rico does this clustering model that allows you to free up ideas and make some associations that your subconscious doesn’t even realize is there until you do it. If you’re into free writing, poetry or just curious, check it out. They are just some of the things in the writer’s toolbox that pop out when I’m in the place where nothing seems to be working the way it should. What is in your toolbox?


Spare any change?

I actually mean the change other than money but I couldn’t resist the title. Change can be good or change can be bad. It depends on the circumstances. But the one thing that I do know about life is that change happens. Cope with it and move along in life.

I myself am not all that adverse to change. I’ve been through enough restarts, moves, and sudden shifts in direction that I usually take my moment to emote, cry a few tears, celebrate, let the shock wear off, or whatever and then go on. It is just the way I am. I like doing new things so even if it might be a bad change I can usually bring myself around to think of something positive.

So the big change recently, I set time aside to write. Oh boy, you’d thought that I’d asked people to cut out their major organs in sacrifice to my whim. I think the big mistake is that I told certain people I was doing this. My time management has gone to pot these last three weeks. Now granted, personal and family stuff always comes up and you cannot always plan them. I knew about my sister’s wedding and I knew it would take time. I consoled myself that I would make time to write AFTER the wedding. Great, wonderful. I did that.

I get home from said wedding and another crisis has arisen. I am keeping my promise to myself in that I am ignoring the phone, messages, texts, chat and everything else on the planet just trying to get something written. In this case my minimum goal is the blog. Ok, I wrote the blog. (More like a personal rant, but still, it’s written.)

When I made the change in my life to write, and write regularly, I knew there would be resistance. I just didn’t realize how much resistance there would be. I keep harking back to “Resistance is futile”. But in MY case, resistance is NOT futile. I will resist other’s demands on my writing time. Now there is change for the better.

Plotting or plodding?

I am working on my plot this week. I never really thought about what plot is until I started struggling with my own version. I have the major ideas that are not character or setting based, but when it came down to the sequence of events that happened either to force the characters to react or not I got stuck. When I get stuck, I have the habit of reading writing blogs, books, websites, magazines or whatever I can get my greedy hands on to work through it in my subconscious. (Yes, I know I’m a writing geek.) I came across this sentence in Patricia C. Wrede’s Fabulous (my word not hers) Blog that really got me thinking (to the point that I wrote this without finishing the rest of her blog on Plot until afterwards.) She wrote:

A plot, by my definition, is a sequence of events, nearly always tied together by causality, that involve characters and take place in a setting. I prefer the sort that have a problem to solve and some sort of resolution or closure at the end.

What it got me thinking about was that I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been talking to other writers and they think they are talking about plot but in reality they are talking about character issues or setting issues. Not that it’s right or wrong. If that is what they are focusing on, great, it’s their book not mine. I like plot. I love how I can make something happen that the characters now have to deal with. Remember the pool with the shark? If the shark is hungry or the character is bleeding it is no longer sink or swim . . . it is live or die. So plot can do a lot with a story. Turn it in a direction you’re not expecting. Or the plot point hit and the character is now doing something you didn’t expect. I love those moments of discovery in my writing. The hope that I keep experiencing these things and enjoying them keeps me sitting down to see what the characters do next.

Back to the plodding . . . I mean plotting. Is my sequence of events moving too slowly? I am beginning to think that instead of plotting I’m plodding. I might have added too much detail of what is going on (for my taste) in how a book is paced. I know there are a lot of writers who can focus on the small details and really make it come to life for a lot of readers. Robert Parker comes to mind with the descriptions of cooking or food in his Spenser novels. Science fiction writers like Arthur C. Clarke, Stanislaw Lem, and Poul Anderson come to mind where they go into great detail of the science of how things work. My dirty secret: I skip these parts. I’m a character person, a plot person, a setting person . . . a story person. I could care less how the dish was made, what ingredients went into it, or how it tasted to the characters. I don’t want to know how the faster-than-light-engine works, or the super-duper-insta-trasporter broke and how we’re going to fix it unless it is a key part of the plot. I know people who love that kind of story because that kind of detail makes it real for them. But that is not my thing.

I think I’ll try and adjust the zoom lens on my internal camera and see if putting the plot into less granular detail helps me move ahead with this story. Just gotta remember where the key points are and keep going. Maybe then I’ll stop plodding and start plotting again.


Author’s note: Apologies for the week hiatus. My sister was getting married and I didn’t account for how much I would get sucked in to doing things around and for the wedding. Therefore I got NO writing done.

Fear or Fear Itself?

Fear can be a huge motivating or limiting factor in life. What are we really afraid of? As writers we are putting our hearts, souls, thoughts, ideals, values and blood, sweat and tears out there for others to examine. For a most people those are risks they are not willing to take, hence there are so few writers. Fear is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as both a noun and a verb.

n. an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

v. be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening.

Now I personally believe that fear, when it comes to writing, is mostly linked to the pain or painful part of those definitions. No one likes to be criticized. Even if true it can be hurtful. But the thing I keep learning as I get older is that what I once thought as huge, big, scary and I-am-NOT-doing-that changes due to my experiences and attitude. Growing up I lived in fear of the “what if”. What if I ask and they say no? What if no one likes me? What if I do something someone doesn’t like? I spent a lot of negative energy consumed with these questions. Age, and a few hard knocks, made me realize that I was paralyzed by the fear, mostly by the last one as no one liking it. So in order to try and change my perspective, I tried looking at the other side of the equation. Basically I asked myself what is the worst that can happen? Now I’ve always had a creative side to me and I can make some really intense worst case scenarios. But I found that what it all really boiled down to in most cases was someone said no or didn’t like what I was doing (hmm, I think I’m seeing a theme here).

Of course the next step was critically looking at what that possible worst case scenario meant to ME as a person. Was it really ME they were rejecting or my work? The first part of that was what did I do if it was a rejection of me? Well, I am usually my own worst critic. I generally don’t go around inviting other people to disprove of me on a regular basis. I don’t need that kind of toxicity in my life. In that case, nice to meet you and have a nice life. Secondly, almost always it was the work. Could I live with that? You bet. Writing in fiction isn’t supposed to please everyone. It cannot by default. Everyone has their own opinion about how things should be done, how things should end, and how we should try to get there. Try to please everyone and everyone will be disappointed. So the one person that you should be trying to please is yourself. There are others out there that may agree with none, all or part of what you are doing. Don’t do it for them, do it for you.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Always do what you are afraid to do.” Take a risk. Try something new. You might surprise yourself. Remember that at one point in time NONE of us knew how to speak, walk, run, read, write, do simple math, and any number of other things. We all had to try it the first time. Once we took that risk most of us thought, hey, I can do this. The point is that we didn’t give up. Do something positive for yourself. Now keep doing it.

Is it Important?

What truly is important? The question is different for everyone. You have to look at your life and determine if what you are spending your time on is something that will make you happy, a better person, more fulfilled, or any number of things. These are the things that are important to you. What is important to you may not be important to the next person and that is where conflict might come in. As a writer, conflict is a big part of what I do. I love to toss characters into the pool and see if they sink or swim. Can the character even swim? Once in the pool what if there is a shark lurking in the depths. If the shark isn’t hungry it’s going to be a very short story. Don’t like sharks? How about a hurricane? You get the point. Writing fiction is about complications. What happens next? If you’re a story geek like I am, this is very important. Writing non-fiction has its own challenges, but that is a topic for some other time.

Dwight V. Swain said, “A story is the triumph of ego over the fear of failure.” But wait a minute. Isn’t ego bad? I don’t want to be “stuck up” (boy, I’m dating myself with that one, aren’t I?) Most everyone associates egotistical negatively. Man that guy/gal is SO egotistical. For some it can be as simple as self-interest. I don’t mean in the Narcissus way. If you take time to do the things that you want to do you WILL run into resistance. If it doesn’t come from outside, it will come from inside. A friend comes to you with something that just has to be done now. This is not doing the dishes or the laundry or any of the normal life maintenance stuff. This is also not the type of life-changing stuff that happens sometimes, like cancer or an automobile accident or loss of job. That stuff happens too, so give yourself a break if the major stuff happens. I’m talking about the minor resistances. All of a sudden, out of the blue stuff that just appears to have to be done right now. Do you, or your friends/family/coworkers/fill-in-someone, come up with emergencies when you take time for yourself? Mine do, I even do it to myself sometimes. Don’t get me wrong. I love all my resistors. But I have had to learn to say no. It is amazing how clear things become when you realize what your priorities are and make time for them. When I did, all this random stuff came piling out of nowhere that just had to be done and done NOW. I hate to say it, but I had to schedule it. It was starting to become a “me versus you” scenario. So I just had to take a block of time out of my schedule (literally I had to put it ON my calendar) to make time for me. Then I sit down and write. How did I schedule an emergency? Phone rings, “Well, you need me to do X? How about tomorrow afternoon at 1:00?” See, that time is not my me time and I can use it for others, emergency or not. I have found that unless there is something specific looming, like tax day, most people are ok with having a specific time and place where you are dealing with what is bothering them. Tomorrow doesn’t work? Ok, when are you available? And I pick a time that is definitely not in my me time. Does it always work? No, but most usually it does. Try it. I can finally say that I have my own self-interests at heart. And you know what, over time it became easier to make that work for me. If I have become egotistical, well, I can live with that.

The BIG secret

Did you know there are a ton of sites out there in the Interweb that are all about writing? And who am I who has the temerity to actually think about starting another one? There are lists of do’s and don’ts, how-tos, and just about anything that you can think of. Some sites are really good and resonate with a lot of people, John Scalzi’s Whatever and Patricia C. Wrede’s Blog are two that immediately come to mind. They aren’t always just about writing. That is the beauty of life, writing and the fluid nature of the Interweb. But there is one thing that I have noticed about all sites about writing. I bet if you sit and think about it for a minute, you’ll come to the same conclusion that I have. They all have one major key to success. There isn’t any great big huge secret out there that will make you a good writer. There isn’t a trick or a tip that will make it all just suddenly happen. The big, huge, absolutely enormous secret to writing? WRITE.

Some sites say write what you know. Some say write from the heart. Some say write to make people think. Getting the picture here? To be a writer . . . Write.

Do I have anything more to say than the next person? Probably not. There are a lot of people out there that are much smarter than I am. They know a lot more about some things that I would have ever believed possible. As people we all have value, talent and something unique that makes us who we are. The thing that makes some people go out there and do things, take risks, make mistakes, and by golly, keep growing as people is what makes them interesting. All this to say, if you want to be a writer, then BE a writer. You know what to do. Now do it.