W.I.P #1.2 Story Genius

I am absolute shite when it comes of consistent blogging. Sorry. But at least this month I have an excuse! Because we all know what month it is!

NANOWRIMO! WOOOOOOOO!

Okay so yeah, I’m a little slow on the uptake but I am happy to say that for the first time ever competing in NaNo, I will be finished early. I clocked in at 42k this afternoon and I’ve been writing between 2k and 4k every day. HECK YES. Also, this will be the fourth year out of nine that I have actually finished. DOUBLE HECK YES. What is the secret to my success? I attribute it to three things:

  1. A fierce desire to avoid school work. (Copy editing is the equivalent of accounting for the written word)
  2. Trying to read WattPad stories and getting pissed off at the bad writing, which spurred a cynical short story that turned into something bigger
  3. Story Genius by Lisa Cron, a wonderful book on outlining and writing

It went like this.

I had fully planned on trying to continue my Faustus WIP and completing a zero draft on it so I could put it away for the year and work on something else. But then Copy Editing had to get involved so I decided to try and practice on Wattpad stories. I figured that it was a free source for me to edit in the privacy of my own failure and also try to absorb short story formatting, something I am not familiar with. Plus, I wanted to get into the book publishing industry so why not see what’s out there, right?

Let me tell you something about WattPad. IT IS NOT FOR ME. I clicked on a few stories and some of them I couldn’t even get passed the first chapter of. Some of them were interesting but only gave me a sample before asking me for money to continue. (Seriously? What the hell?) I could not subject myself to the bad writing. I’m sorry. You can call me a cynic or a bad person or whatever but I just couldn’t do it.

Naturally, this spawned a response story in which a copy editor is hired to fix one of these bad stories and an unexpected history started to unravel. This copy editor’s name was Juno Marsi, she had a roommate named Benny and this job was the cherry on top of a really crappy year for her. She fell from the ranks of editing stardom because of her misogynist boss and was then forced to take crap jobs and hand outs to make a living.

My brain matter bubbled with possibilities. Why did she fall? What happens next? And that’s where I turned to Story Genius. I had been reading it previously to try and figure out what the heck I was going to do about Faustus but stopped in the middle because that’s how I do. I am not an Outliner by nature but I was desperate to try and finish this damn thing.

Turns out that this Lisa lady knows what she’s talking about.

In the beginning she takes you through the trenches of your main character. Not just the height and hair color but the guts of what makes them tick. She starts you off by asking what truth or lesson you want your MC to learn. Why are you reading this book? What moral or teaching moment do you want your readers to enjoy?

Think about all those clichés out there: “Beauty is found on the inside”; “Love conquers all”; “Family isn’t always blood”. What journey does your character have to go on in this story to learn that lesson?

Now flip that lesson on it’s head. “Beauty is only skin deep”. “Love is pain”. “You can only rely on your family.” (Sounds like an Italian mafia story, haha.) This is the misbelief that your character will start out with at the beginning of the story and Lisa encourages you to write the scene that starts it all, usually something that happens in childhood. It could be something big like a death or something small, like the MC’s parents didn’t show up at the school play. Whatever it is, it has to cement in the character’s brain that THIS is what the real world is and the lesson will follow them throughout the story.

Lisa then has you expand that one scene into three other scenes in which your character’s misbelief is reinforced. Did she not become beauty queen because of an ugly birthmark? Did someone get left at the altar because their partner got cold feet before the wedding? Did a family member abandon the MC during a liquor store robbery and make them take the heat for it from the police? (This really is a mobster story!) Try to make the scenes a variety of big moments and private small ones. Take your time and don’t worry about perfect. You can always go back and edit or add different scenes but you can’t edit a blank page.

Now, having done that, you have to decide what the character wants above all else. What drives her to continue forward instead of staying in one place? What inner desire burns and festers inside them? Is it to stand up for herself against the mean girls? To live happily ever after with their best friend? To find peace with a criminal that murdered his mother? To join the Paralympics after a horrific accident?

Now pit these two ideas against each other. The character wants this thing, but this lesson learned keeps him or her from getting it. This is the struggle that will drive your story forward and keep readers invested. This is the heart string you tug to callously hurt your MC and make them move out of their comfort zone. Always keep the Misbelief and the Goal in mind as you write and it will add tension and meaning to all your scenes.

All it took was me to read that far into Story Genius (maybe 100 pages?) and my fingers were off. I felt like Zeus birthing Athena from his head. I would sit in my desk chair, trance-like, only my arms moving, for hours at a time. I wouldn’t even notice that my legs went numb and my butt had been complaining that it was over this sitting crap. I wouldn’t even notice that my coffee had gone cold and I hadn’t eaten breakfast and it was already past noon.

I did not expect to be writing this one off snarky little story. It is completely not my thing. It’s so…normal and literal. Not a whiff of magic or paranormal angst anywhere (unless you count the obnoxious but well-meaning Drag Queen and the eccentric Italian father).

My NaNo word count every day right now is 800 words to finish with 50k by the 30th. I can hand write that in under half an hour. I did it at work yesterday in fact, on my break. I am curating a playlist already for this little nothing story and it’s full of love songs and break up songs and girl power songs. I have to delete music off my ipod because of all the new additions! Madness! I am highly partial to “Good Things Fall Apart” by Illenium and Jon Bellion and “I’m never getting over you,” by Gone West, Colby Caillat’s new band. Also, I have discovered Lewis Capaldi ❤

I know, I said I was slow on the uptake already!

I am shocked this story got its hooks in me so fast. I’m calling it “Sand Paper Soul” at the moment but it will most definitely change. On my iPod it’s just “NaNo 2020” after I realized that I have a penchant for using double S’s in my story titles; “Silver Sun”, “Sidhe Seeker”, “Sand Paper Soul.”Maybe because of the double S in my name. Hmm….gotta psychoanalyze that later.

Point is, check out Story Genius if you want a thorough talking to about starting your story in the right place. It worked for me and I can only hope that at some point in your writing journey, it will work for you as well.

Take care and write on, friends ❤ Hulk Smash that word count!

Life Goal Lottery

I felt it was appropriate, considering the anniversary of what happened this day and the current situation, to deviate slightly from my usual writing banter to address a slightly more personal story: My Life. (And yours.)

This is a long one folks. Settle in. (I promise it’s not all doom and gloom!)

2020 has been life changing, has it not? Whether you’ve been living under a rock since March or you’ve been out in the field in the trenches with the rest of the working class, CONGRATULATIONS ON KEEPING YOUR SANITY. Humans don’t adapt well to sudden change and our Jumanji year so far has dealt blow after blow. It is a never ending game of Dominoes. Pandemic. Fires. Riots. Shootings. Political campaigning. Financial destitution. Death.

No one has remained untouched by this. NO ONE. Not everyone has had a death in the family or had to evacuate their home. Sometimes the damage is done inwardly. This is where I stand, looking out into the destruction with apathetic eyes then looking at myself and thinking, WHAT AM I DOING?

WHAT AM I DOING? If my life ended today, would I have been proud of it? Would I have done everything I wanted to do? Would my loved one have felt that I cared for them? Am I on good terms with my Divine Spiritual Guide? Do I have someone appointed to take care of my stuff, my animal, my kids? Was I a good person? Was I a good worker? Did I give more than I took?

It doesn’t matter if you can answer yes or no to these questions. What matters is that you can read them and apply them to yourself at all.

Whether people want to or not, they are having to face their shadow selves; the inner personas we keep buried in a closet and ignore. There’s nothing like a universal crisis to create a mirror for our lives. We live in a world of instant gratification, easy communication, massive distraction, and media-driven greed. What happens when that is lessened or taken away altogether? We have to sit with ourselves. We have to detox our brains and listen to the absence of chatter.

We have to listen to ourselves.

I spend too much money. I eat out too much. I ignore my kids. I’m cheating on my wife/husband. I’m over-medicating. I’m working too much. I don’t need to see the doctor. I live in filth. My car means more to me than my family. My jeans don’t fit anymore but I don’t want to buy bigger ones. No one wants to be around me because I complain all the time. I make an excuse for every solution. I have feelings for someone the same gender as me but I don’t know what that means. I was raped as a child and it has limited me in my adult life. My sports injury ruined my teenage life and now I am nothing without the glory days to look back on. I was fired from my job because my boss is a racist (not because I didn’t do the job well).

Not a lot of souls are ready to face their shadow selves. Humans don’t like to admit they are wrong or that there is a problem and many can’t even see there is something wrong. Or, if they can admit it, they don’t know how to go about fixing it. It’s even harder to try during the pandemic when therapists and gurus and all the suggested methods of coping are out of reach for us. Even our loved ones are cut off from us.

It can feel defeating, realizing all at once that you are the source of your problems. It is depressing and often debilitating, especially when we have a slew of them lined up in front of us and we don’t know which one to start with. Not only do we realize we have these flaws but now we’re supposed to fix them ourselves too and we are way out of our depth. It’s like getting fat; you did this to yourself and now you have to do the work to get rid of it. There’s no miracle pill, there’s no “Get Fit Quick” scheme that will work better than hard work.

Hard work. What does that mean? Bingeing on Self-help books? Pouring over motivational YouTube videos? Talking to a Life coach? Confronting your childhood demons face to face (should it happen to be a person)? Cutting up your credit cards and consolidating your debt? Pouring out all your alcohol and quitting cold turkey?

To some of these I would advise NO, simply because you aren’t ready. (Some of you may be. If you feel like it is the right choice, go for it). Hard work means trying your best every day to contribute to your goal, even if your best that day is only a few minutes of journaling or one small decision to grab an apple instead of a donut. Hard work means creating life changes with good habits. It means studying the problem from an analytical point of view and removing your emotion from it. If a friend had this problem, how would you explain it to them and what would you recommend to help them through it?

I am in the middle of this process myself. I have been fighting with my weight since I had my second daughter 12 years ago, remaining at a steady 165. I can feel how hard the extra weight is on my joints and how this sedentary lifestyle I’ve lead has impacted my children. Not getting myself out and moving has lead them to being slothful as well.

I am a shit budgeter. I’ve battled with money all my life and never got a handle on it, even when it meant eviction or not going to the doctor because we had no money.

I have been struggling with confronting my marriage and subsequent divorce, being honest with myself that HE was not the only problem; that I contributed plenty to the degradation of the union.

I am struggling with abandonment/commitment issues, starting with my dead biological father who killed himself. I don’t let anyone get super close to me and I don’t get invested in people beyond the surface because I’m afraid they’ll leave me.

I am struggling with failure and perfectionism. I refuse to try new things because I don’t want to fail. Or I don’t try for the things I really want because I might fail or be disappointed I made the wrong choice.

I am struggling coming to terms with my molestation both as a child and an adult and the objectification I had in my school years because of my “sexy” hourglass body. I shy away from intimacy and hide my body under layers of clothing.

I am a judgy bitch on the inside. I often feel superior to people because I think I know better and they are idiots because they can’t see what is right in front of them. (Although I hide it pretty well under a thick persona of helpfulness and positivity).

Sorry. That wasn’t supposed to be a pity party. I wanted to show you real examples of what a shadow self looks like.

Instead of looking at these problems in a group and allowing them to bury me with their importance, I picked one. ONE that I can tackle and break down and make changes to. ONE to start with. Admittedly, some of these problems are going to require more work than others. Some of them I can’t throw a kale smoothie at or meditate a few minutes a day on. Eventually I’ll get there when I have more confidence and knowledge on how to deal with them. I picked an easier one first.

I picked my budgeting problem. I looked at how I grew up poor and how I treated money over the years and asked myself WHY. I saw my future looking bleak, working at the ripe age of 80 to cover rent and bills that SSI didn’t. I saw my kids not going to their dream school because they couldn’t afford it and my mom living paycheck to paycheck because rent and credit card debt eat her money. She makes $22/hr. (But she also lives alone in southern california.)

Seeing this scared me. So now every day, I do something that has to do with finances. Every morning I get up a little earlier and while I drink my coffee, I crack open the computer and look at investment videos on YouTube. They are free and there are so many good financial planners giving you real advice you can trust; the good, the bad and the ugly. Andrei Jikh and Investing with Ro$e are good ones to start with. At night I read financial books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Unshakeable by Tony Robbins. Even one chapter is immensely helpful and creates a good habit of reading something other than young adult fiction. I keep my money problem the center of my focus.

As a result of the work I’ve been doing, I started my Roth IRA on Fidelity and bought my first Bond, valued at $15. In a two week period, it has gained $5. I don’t know how that happened yet but I DID IT. I was proactive about it and I feel so damn accomplished because of it.

This happiness led me to exercising for ten minutes after I finish my videos. JUST ten minutes. If I feel like doing more, great. If I can only do the ten, then I can add that to my accomplishments for the day. I have to admit I am not consistent with it yet. I make excuses not to like it’s too hot or my body hurts or my exercise clothes aren’t clean. But I am aware of the problem and I am trying.

My friends, I wrote this to tell you that you aren’t alone and that your problems ARE fixable. You may feel that no one could possibly understand exactly what you’re going through or you may feel that you have to do it alone. All I ask is that you pick one, JUST ONE, and try. Every day, do something to educate yourself about it, or fight it, or accept it.

Humans don’t like sudden change. So don’t stress yourself thinking you have to suddenly come up with an answer. Better that you start slow and keep plodding on, building good habits, rather than fast-tracking and falling off the ladder and feeling defeated. You got this. You got US.

Stay safe and keep trying. It’s okay to fall off the wagon as long as you get back on it.

WIP Diaries #1.1 Preptember

Nano is coming. It’s two months away and I can already feel the anxiety creeping over me. Work. School. Writing. Finances. And then there’s the problem of addressing my failures. So fun.

My Faustus WIP has been hanging over my head for two years now. I tried to finish it for NaNoWriMo last year and I didn’t even get to the Murky Middle. That was 30K of the first Act and I AM STILL STUCK THERE.

So shameful.

I started a Zero draft of it to try and just get the ideas out so I can break them into chapters and start making sense of the timeline. That’s when I decided that I need to finish and put it on the shelf for awhile. I’ve been poking and prodding this story for ages and I have a beginning and an end. Sort of. But it won’t get any better unless I make a hard decision about the story beats and just write them the feck down! I can edit later to make it make more sense but dammit I need words to edit and I do not want to go into NaNo 2020 with this still hanging over my head.

When I received an e-mail from NaNo asking me to announce my new 2020 project I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t think too deeply about it, I just picked one of my many plot bunnies and went with it: Love and Death in the Pixel Scene. (That’s a cumbersome title I know but it is by no means the final pick.)

Runners up were a humorous story about a trio of old grumpy demon ladies that run a fabric store and they hire this insanely perky and happy woman that drives them crazy. But when this girl gets kidnapped, the demons set off to find her and bring her back.

Another one was kind of a personal autobiography turned fiction about a girl with a crooked eye and how she rose up from depression to become a beacon of positivity and inspiration for others (but I wasn’t quite ready to put that one into the world yet).

I’ve already done some writing for Pixel Scene so I’m not going in totally blind. I know the main characters and the love interest. I know the basic plot and the sub villain but not the main one and I’m not sure how to approach the ending. Not sure if this story is completely reality based or there will be a magical aspect to it. I do want it to be a stand alone. So many of my books turn into duo or a trilogy. *siigghhhhh*

Honestly, it would be nice just to finish a full draft. I’m a cowardly, inconsistent, lazy writer.

My Goal: Finish the Faustus zero draft beginning to end writing at least 500 words a day, break it into reasonable chapter lengths, consolidate all the documents into one folder and not touch it until the beginning of the year.

Sub Goals: Find a writing buddy I can bounce ideas off of or an online writing group. (Hopefully NaNo can help with that), Zero draft my new NaNo project by December (regardless of the 50k goal), try to apply Story Genius practices to the new project,

What are your projects? Are you starting your Preptember right away? How do you kick yourself in the butt and finish things?

Hello. How are you?

I would tell you that I’m fine but I’m really not. You don’t want to hear the truth and that’s fine. You’re not obligated to listen to me or care. You have your own anxieties and stressors and problems without me adding to your burden, especially now in the time of the Rona. So instead of telling you, I am going to ask you:

How are you? What’s going on?

Yeah I know it’s hard right now with the shut downs. Frustrating right?

Yeeeep. People are crazy. I think they forgot how to drive while being isolated, haha. I’m afraid to go to work these days even though it’s only a few blocks away. I nearly get t-boned every day by unobservant, impatient drivers. No Joke. Try not to get mad though. It’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

Oh really? You really did get t-boned? That sucks man. It’s everywhere. At least mechanic shops are open! Mhm, you see it in the grocery stores and fast food places too. People complaining that workers are too slow or the time it takes to clean the pin pads and conveyor belts. Like, you’ve been sitting at home stewing in your own anger and negativity but we don’t need that here. Please be a nice human for the half hour you’re outside.

YES! The worst are the people that don’t wear masks! I understand your right to freedom or whatever but do NOT endanger my health. GAWD! Have a little consideration please.

Ahh yeah the political atmosphere is really heating up too. I don’t watch it too much because it makes me angry. I worry about the economic side of things. I’m glad that Trump released the stipend. It seemed to help but you know, maybe the country shouldn’t have been shut down entirely, you know? Set us back a lot. I felt like it was Y2K all over again haha. Hoard the water and toilet paper!

Oh sorry. I didn’t realize you thought Trump is the antichrist. He’s not perfect but he did do a solid—

You know, I don’t really follow political stuff but it does amaze me how people are so ready to believe whatever fits in with their own truth but not actually find out the whole and complete story. Like that Kenosha kid or whatever. There’s uproar that he killed some people and he’s seventeen and he crossed state lines blah blah blah. I say that people should dig deeper than Yahoo news and find footage of the WHOLE story before creating a witch hunt on an underage kid. Seriously, what is the world coming to? Even defacing hisotrical statues and calling for rebranding. I’m just…aghast.

No I’m not for or against Black Lives Matter. I understand why it started and why it caught fire but I’m not going to buy into it either way. ALL lives matter to me. Things do need to change, I agree, and it does require something more drastic than what has been tried in the past. But people should at least call it what it is. It’s a Revolution against Racism and it’s probably going to start a civil war. So I’m going to stay here with my kids and my guns and wait. If it comes to my door, we will see if it gets a bullet to the face or a handshake.

Ahh…see? Angry! No bueno. I don’t like being mad about stupid things.

Yeah, mhm, I respect your opinions but I don’t have to agree with them. I’m not interested in starting a debate and making you upset, that was merely my opinion. We can have those still, at least, right?

So is there anything good happening in your life? I know it’s hard to switch gears because there’s so much angst and negativity going on right now but I want to hear about something good happening with you.

Ohhh you finally got your yard done! How excellent! I know it was kind of in limbo for awhile haha, projects everywhere. I bet the family loves the new shaded patio and flower beds. It’s really good you worked on it together.

OH MY GOSH and you bought a dog! Oh wow you bought one because the shelters were EMPTY? Holy cow that’s amazing! My cousin just rescued a cat from a friend that died. It was a sad affair but the cat couldn’t have found a better owner. His meow is so cute but he hates her dog haha. I want my mom to get a cat because I know they’re stress relievers but she’s straight up broke at the moment. I would foster but we would get too attached and never let them go.

Yeah I kinda miss being able to do things in groups. I miss going to the shelter and volunteering or going to the gym. Especially going to the gym! I miss the treadmill and weight machines. At least if we’re all fat and sweating, we’re all in a place where it’s judgment free and acceptable! If anything I’ve gained ten pounds during this shut down. You’d think we’d all be ripped and running triathlons or something with all this free time. So shameful…

Yeah I know there’s zoom exercise classes and tons of free exercise classes online but there’s something psychologically empowering about going to a place specifically to exercise or learn or pray. It’s been a hard switch carving out space and time at home to do these things without distraction or privacy.

Mhm you’re totally right it has brought families closer together. We need social interaction and kids need their parents to be there for them. It’s one of the few things I am grateful for with the pandemic, you know? People putting more emphasis on relationships and being together. It’s wonderful to build that bond and work through problems.

I bet there will be lots of babies in the winter, HAHAHA! December baby boom!

I think that on the flipside of that though, people have to face their demons. They have to be with themselves without distractions and it’s scary shit. This modern age is really the age of instant gratification and distraction where problems can be put on the backburner and depression can be “solved” with a pill. Now people are starting to see the shadows in themselves and they don’t know how to deal with it. They are scared and it’s like the blind leading the blind. I guess it’s always kind of been that way. Unless you have serious money to have a psychologist help you figure out your shit, you have to turn to self help books and motivational YouTube gurus.

But it’s going to be all right. Transformation is hard. Change is hard. As long as you keep moving forward and continue to improve, I think your life will ultimately be satisfying in the end. Some says it’s not about the goal but about the journey. So maybe this pandemic is all part of a huge journey we’re taking together. We all have different goals and aspirations but we are all muddling through the trenches together. We can’t be afraid to reach out.

A burden shared is a burden halved. You feel better, right?

Yeah, me too. It was good to talk. Thank you.

Pull and Ebb

Coffee.

I just want coffee. Caffeine. Warmth! Energy!

Please, dear god, don’t let there be a line. I trudged through the snow, head down, one mittened hand covering my face against the artic chill in the air, the other hand grasping my lap top bag weighing me down like an anchor. It was my fervent hope to grab a table and thaw out with some writing time and a large cup of dark chocolate cherry espresso before moving on to the boring work stuff. I would have stayed home except dark chocolate cherry was worth a bit of frost bite.

I grasped the handle of my salvation and bring my eyes up to face the lights, blinking back tears from the windy assault. Ahhhh, the smell of ambrosia. There was a line but there were tables free so I grabbed one and piled my stuff on top of it, hiding my bag under my ginormous coat and assortment of cold weather accessories. I scanned the loiterers, looking for any suspicious lap top grabbers. Everyone seemed to ignore my presence, absorbed in their own conversations and tasks so I felt safe enough to get in line. I was close enough to the door that I could tackle anyone trying to steal my property anyway.

Should I try something new? I wonder, looking at the menu. They have a white chocolate caramel…nah too sweet. I could get a S’more ice blended coffee. Ooohhhh I wonder how they get the marshmallow flavor in there? I wonder if they can make it hot? Maybe I’ll splurge and get some mini donuts too or a croissant. Can’t write on an cold and empty stomach.

I bring my hand up to warm them with my breath, subtly bopping to the coffee shop groove when I hear a noise. There are lots of noises in the shop and really I shouldn’t have been able to hear this noise over everything else. I shouldn’t have been able to hear this noise again EVER in my life. But my ears were acutely tuned to it, trained for years to respond to it like a Pavolvian Dog. It was a raspy cat meow coming from the voice box of a human, loud enough to be heard over a crowd. It was a call; a call to ME to come hither and serve.

I hated how my spine stiffened, the way it always did in response and I just barely prevented my head from swiveling around to locate the owner of the annoying proclivity. Nope, I think. Nope, of all the towns in all the states, it’s impossible. It was a ring tone notification, I told myself. A cat meow to throw people off. Relax! I stepped forward purposefully and gave the coffee barista a big smile, swallowing the lump in my throat and ordering my coffee, a banana and three mini donuts.

Rrraneow! It came from my left, farther away by the window. Not a ring tone. No one would put that obnoxious noise on their phone. It would put their teeth on edge after the first day. Or maybe they would think its adorable and endearing like I once did. Fools. I swiped my card after collecting my treats and stepped out of line. Shit, I had toward the noise to get my drink. My heart drummed a staccato rhythm against my ribs and my eyes furtively swept the area. I felt a simultaneous stab to my gut and my back when I saw her familiar hazel eyes staring right at me.

At first I didn’t recognize her. Gone was the long coppery brown hair tied back with barrettes and jeweled head bands and in its place was a red curl that looked wrong with her tan skin. It was too brassy, making her look sallow and ill. She would have looked better with a wine color or burgundy to make her eyes pop and bring out her natural tan. I self-consciously swept a stray pink tinted lock behind my ear. But who cared? Making the wrong choices was always her forte.

The barely-there tank top she wore (that hadn’t changed in the least) exposed smooth skin that was now covered in colorful tattoos. I recognized her art style in some of them. When she stood, her paint splattered shorts nearly exposed her lady bits they rose so high up her legs. It  made me wonder if she still didn’t wear panties. Yikes for her then. I saw that most of her legs and thighs had been inked as well. She must be doing well for herself then because that was well over a two grand in ink. But I guess if she ended up in a ditch somewhere then someone could identify her by her tats alone.

When she moved, she jangled, dragging several pairs of eyes to her. Just how she liked it. She didn’t see that it was in annoyance. Naturally. Her wrists and neck were layered with metal jewelry and when she turned to step out from behind the chair I saw her ear was loaded up with studs as well. And that’s when my brain clicked and I realized she was coming over.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I was in a creative rut. The canvases hated me, the charcoal broke in my hand, the ink smudged—I needed a break. I needed a fresh perspective. The bars weren’t open yet and my weed supplier wouldn’t wake up for another two hours so to the coffee shop I went. If I took my drawing pad and sketched in public someone would probably come by and strike up a conversation. I hoped it was someone interesting.

I sat facing the window, drawing long imperfect lines for the skeleton trees across the street. A quick rectangle for the bus bench, a blobby stick figure for the man walking by in a red hat and a furious sweep of downward strokes to represent his dog. Lord, this was shitty. I hate snow. I sighed and sat back, tossing my pencil down and taking a bracing sip of my green jasmine tea with a hit of Tennessee Honey Whiskey. It was my second cup and so far there was nothing and no one interesting. Not on the page or talking to me.

I turned to get up and order a sandwich, maybe strike up a conversation with the cute barista, when I saw her. Chunky white sweater, jeans, knee boots—as if she’d stepped straight out from one of my high school memories. The half pink, half natural gold hair was new. I think I approved. And was that a tattoo behind her ear? I quickly looked down at her left hand. No ring. I sat back in my seat with a surprised plop. What was she doing in my city? How long had she been here? Where was she staying? Did she have a boyfriend?—a girlfriend? She looked fatter than I remember but who could tell from the baggy clothes she always favored?

My body flushed with adrenaline. No matter. This day just got so much better. My throat vibrated instinctively with the sound meant only for her; the sound that had brought her to me so many times. Rrraneow! I watched her closely and a fissure of satisfaction opened when I saw her straighten. She only just managed to keep from looking around for me. She stubbornly fought the instinct. Was she still mad? After all these years? Someone needed to let a grudge go. Or maybe she thought she was hearing things. I tried again after she finished paying and this time—finally—she looked for me.

I’m glad I opted for a tank and shorts even though it was below freezing outside. I stood and I watched her take me in from head to toe. The curly red hair, the tattoos, the jewelry, the body hugging clothes. Do you see how much I’ve changed? I made it, just like you said when you shoved me away. Look at me. LOOK AT WHAT YOU’VE CREATED.

She pinned her gaze on my face. I swallowed and felt my lips curve in a tentative smile. Those intense green eyes never failed to make my heart sing. Even after everything, I bloomed under her attention, like a flower under sunlight. My muse. I don’t know why she was here but she is exactly what I needed. Perhaps she always has been. I took a step forward.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

How does one react upon seeing an unpleasant ghost from their past? Ignore them and give them the cold shoulder and be a dick in public? But then that would make me the bad guy and I certainly was not. It would be a victory to her in her twisted imagination that I refused to speak to her. It would mean that she knew I still harbored some sort of feeling for her and she still affected me. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling but that didn’t matter did it? It was still something. So should I act friendly and unconcerned and casual? I shuddered and curled my metaphysical lip at the prospect of inviting any sort of friendliness between us. That left me with what…unemotional freak show? Polite citizen?

I was neither of those things. I wanted to hurt her with my tongue and watch those eyes shutter closed in pain. Karma clearly hadn’t wasted its time on her, deserving wretch. But that would spark more of those damned abandonment issues to life and she would know just how much she’d been on my mind since she left. She would love that. I would hate that.

I decided I would just grab my stuff and leave. I would be a coward and give her the satisfaction of a victory to save myself from humiliation (or a public homicide). Why did I disrobe first? I could have grabbed my coffee and ran because I was “late for an ‘insert-blank-here’”. She took a step forward and my muscles shifted away from her, dying to run away. I tried to make the movement casual, like I was switching feet and I grabbed my elbows. My lips returned her smile with a pinched rebuttal.

God I was screwed.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

“Hey stranger.”

“Hey.”

She was guarded. Impersonal.

“What are you doing in my neck of the woods?”

“Oh, you know. Life.”

She looked away from me but I couldn’t look away. Her tattoo was of a treble clef and base clef shaped into a heart. For a former lover? A current one?

“Funny how that goes some times. Do you think it’s kismet?”

I wanted to hug her so badly my arms kept twitching. I wanted her to feel me, to see me. I wanted to break through her God-damned polite wall. I wanted to paint her lips red and release her pink hair from its messy bun. Gold and pink and verdant green, all for me . A thousand images of her overlapped in my head like a flip book until it stopped on the one I could never bear to look at for long. The last look she ever gave me with blood shot eyes, cracked and bleeding lips and my hand print forming on her flushed cheek.

“Nah.”

Vanilla. Beige. Ecru. Bland. Boring! I stepped purposefully over to the pick up counter in front of her and leaned against it, challenging her. I jangled and stood like an art piece statue. Look at me, I urged silently. She didn’t. She gave nothing away. An ice princess where my warm amber jewel used to be. Looking at her this closely, my hands itched now to pick up my pastels and brush creamy peach onto the page; to dot it liberally with shades of brown—adorable. Blush for the curved lips and a scratch of white for the scar. MY scar. I’d mix three different greens in a star burst and then anchored them in a dark brown-black. A riot of orange, red, yellow—and now bright pink framing everything in curls and life and sunlight.

How long had it been since I painted this beautiful face? Years. Eons. Too long.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

“Order up!”

She was in my way. She was always in my way. She blocked me from the things I wanted; took more than she should and took things she never should have touched in the first place. There was a moment, staring at a stylized bird on her shoulder, that I allowed myself to be filled with the trapped feelings from my past. A slurry of betrayal and blame stirred up in me and my throat swelled with the need to word vomit it out. Almost. It was right there and she was right there. A conversation. Closure. The end of this nightmarish chapter of my life.

No. It wouldn’t make a difference. Not for me or for her. There was no end. Just distance.

I would have to touch her if I wanted my coffee. She planned it that way. I shifted the banana and bag of donuts in my hand. She’s nothing. She’s been nothing. She is nothing. She will be nothing. I can do this. I can do this–

“Miss?”

I looked up over her head and my coffee was there clutched in the hand of a sympathetic barista. Had he seen what she could not? How typical. I reached up and grabbed it. He had already sleeved it for me and put a stopper in it. Ready to go. I didn’t have to linger. I clutched the beverage to my chest and half turned away.

“Well. Bye then.”

I tossed it over my shoulder like a used rag, limp and unwanted. I turned and felt my jaw unlock to let out a relieved breath. I didn’t run. I took measured steps toward freedom. I heard her move. I didn’t care if it was toward me or away. I made a beeline for my stuff and started to layer myself in protective gear once more. Distance. Calm.

“That’s it?”

I kept my eyes on the floor as I wound my scarf around my neck and jammed on my beanie, settling my messy bun in the hole at the top. She smelled faintly of paint thinner and whiskey and her signature musk oil. Her thin graceful hand was resting on my lap top bag. I saw more scars there than I remembered and a ruby ring—MY ruby ring—on her ring finger. My inner snarl turned into a roar and my gut tightened with a need for action. Stop! I’m almost free. Don’t give in!

“Hey! So that’s it? Just ‘bye then’?”

I shoved the food into my pockets and jammed on my mittens, coffee in one hand and the handle of my bag in the other one. Finally, one last time, I looked into those shrewd hazel eyes, just managing to close the door on my true feelings so she wouldn’t see. I would give her nothing. She deserved that most of all.

“What else can there be?”

My bag slid from under her hand. Her bracelets were a disbelieving cacophony on the table top. I turned toward the door and claimed my freedom in the cold.

 

 

 

How to Start a Story from Scratch

I’m going to say something that I hope will put you at ease. They are the words I often remind myself of when I’ve been staring a a blank page for ten minutes trying to force answers out of my brain.

“Making something out of nothing is hard to do. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

Now your brain might argue that there’s no originality left in the world and no story is ever truly “from nothing” and it would be right. But I mean, have you WALKED into a book store? Hard counterpoint here, there are whole walls of books that are all the same genre and yes, all the same base concept. Westerns are about bandits and moral codes and heros. Mysteries are about crime and police and justice. Fantasy is about magic and cultures and war. And there are hundreds of thousands of books to choose from. A thousand versions of Cinderella.; ten thousand versions of Jack the Ripper and we, as readers, are always seeking a new spin on the story because we LOVE THE STORY.

So you can’t logically use that excuse to stop yourself from starting. It’s the first step toward clearing the way for your new project. Now trying to start from ground zero and find originality within yourself as a writer is a little harder. (Trying to gag the inner critic to prevent it from spewing negativity is a lifelong struggle. There are books on that too.) But no one knows YOUR version of the story and you need to write that. Lemme help you start.

I’m going to share some tips here about how I start a new novel. There are a plethora of blogs and books and videos out there on the very same subject and there might not be anything new here for you to take away but I will say this: If you keep coming across the same advice over and over, there’s a reason. IT WORKS. However, if you keep ignoring the advice, looking for an answer that resonates with you or a routine that you can “try out” like a new diet, I say you’re looking for the easy way out. A quick solution to a hard problem. When you’ve exhausted all the ways to try and get around the mountain, let me know. I’ll be here waiting to help you over it.

The reason I came up with this list is because I kept seeing the same questions come up in writer’s forums and author interviews and I decided to turn them on myself. If I were at a book signing and I had a young reader come up to me an ask, “If I wanted to write a book, where should I start?” what would I tell him/her?

How To Start a New Novel:

Gathering ideas

  1. Start with what you love– It is always easier to talk about the things you like in everyday conversation. I can rattle on and on about books and reading and stories. (You may have surmised this fact on your own, haha.) What about you? Is it the stock market? Is it charity work? Is it hunting and outdoor life? Do Fairytale retellings make you quiver in your seat? Do you love to set tables for tea parties? Do you like to play Scrabble? Make a list of the things you love to talk about, read about, watch on Netflix. It can be random subjects and not in any type of order. Maybe even some dirty little secrets that you’d never tell anyone but give you a rush to jot down. (No one will ever see the list anyway. Be Brave.)
  2. Start with the things you want to talk about– Are there issues in the world or in your life that you would like to have a voice about? Try to dig inside your life and see if there is anything that jumps out and seizes your muscles as if you’re preparing for an argument. Does climate change make you sit up straight? Does Human trafficking make your jaw tighten? What about Medical malpractice? Veganism? Feminism? The Green New Deal? Space Travel: good or bad? Robotics as weapons? I know for me shedding light on the Autism Spectrum is a big deal, having had a high-functioning autistic daughter. Bullying is another subject that I want to have a voice about since I was bullied as a kid for my crooked eye.
  3. Start with the things your curious about– have you ever wanted to know what BDSM was all about? Do you want to know what it’s really like living in a third world country? How a murderer goes about his everyday life without getting caught? How do birds navigate such great distances? Why do people believe in Tarot and palm reading? Research fueled story ideas often tend to write themselves, I’ve found. I read articles and interviews about a subject and my mind starts to see if from the author’s point of view and then the curiosity finds a main character who then finds herself in a bit of trouble….BOOM. A story appears!

The possibilities for stories are endless.

Quick tip #1: As a newbie it is easier to write about the things you already know about because if you love the subject and you feel confident about it, the more likely you are to stick with it and have fun with it. Writing about what you love doesn’t seem like work.  

Quick tip #2: Choose the subject that interests you most RIGHT NOW. If you have a story idea that keeps coming back to you at random times throughout your day, it’s probably a good indication you want to write it. 

Quick tip #3: Plot bunnies will attack you out of nowhere. These are ideas for plots or characters or villains that have nothing to do with your current story but will beg you to pay attention to them. Write them down on a separate piece of paper or in a new word document and set them aside. Don’t be distracted by the new shiny book idea. You will never finish anything if you go down the rabbit hole every time. True fact. 

Deciding your genre

I’d say that when you first start out that it’s the same advice as above. Write what you know because when you start out it’s all about practice. And of course, read extensively in whatever genre you’re interested in. You can always flex your muscles and try to reach outside your box and write something totally unfamiliar to you to challenge yourself. You can even write fusions of two different genres (some of my favorites to read!) Here are a few to get you started though there are many more sub genres and categories out there:

  • Fantasy
  • Mystery
  • Western
  • Science Fiction
  • Contemporary Fiction
  • YA Fiction
  • Children’s
  • General Fiction
  • Literary Fiction
  • Religious/Spiritual
  • True Crime
  • Biographies
  • Philosophical
  • Political

Figuring out the Format

Most of your ideas are going to want to be novels. It’s true. It is really really hard to write a short story because your brain will not be satisfied with writing one tiny sliver of a world with so much more to tell. At least for me it’s hard. I’ve successfully written exactly one short story in seven parts but I have several in the works. I tend to lean more toward flash fiction pieces for my blog. (I’m not sure if I do those successfully or not but they are fun to write and that’s the point of writing sometimes. Plus its practice!)

Play with all the formats. Do it all! Be free and discover what you like and don’t limit yourself to one.

One Line stories: I think Twitter and Instagram are famous for this now. Tell a story in one or two sentences.

EX: He left. She left. He turned back. She didn’t.

EX: “Are you a woman or a man?” “I’m hungry, sir.

Elevator Pitch Stories: A story in a paragraph. These are some good ones from Reader’s Digest.

Poetry: Self explanatory I should think. There are many different forms of poetry; there’s something for everybody and a ton of examples out there. (Secret tip: Poetry gets you lots of likes on WordPress :D)

Flash Fiction: Usually one-two pages of words. I enjoy these types of stories because it’s some quick and dirty satisfaction both to write and read. Your brain sees a glimpse of a story and then upon finishing it goes into a bunch of “What if” scenarios and starts to fill in all the things that the author never showed. It’s a great way to start a blog too.

Fan Fiction: This is a great way to pair your love of movies or books with your own story writing. You can borrow characters to write your own scenes or end the story the way you think it should have. (As an aside there is a great YouTube channel called HISHE that re-writes movies and books. It’s hilarious!) You can ship unlikely characters, gender bend and switch hero and villain characters. You can do cross-overs from different shows/books. I admit that I haven’t actually done any fan fiction. Or read any. GASP! SHOCK! I KNOWWWW! I think I’m afraid of people ruining perfectly good stories. It is the final frontier of writing for me.

Short Stories: Generally under 7,500 words. Wattpad has an assortment of examples you can read. I’m not going to say they are good or bad. Reading is subjective. *shudder* I prefer to pick up a collection of short stories in a familiar genre or from an author I admire. Currently I’m reading “Fragile Things” by Neil Gaiman but I have collections by my favorite fantasy authors and paranormal romance authors too.

Novelette: Between 7,500 and 17,500 words. Edgar Allen Poe was a master with this format. Here is a good article that outlines what this entails.

Novella: Between 17,500 and 40,000 These are some famous novellas you might have heard of or even read yourself.

Novel: Over 40K Easily the hardest format to write. There’s a lot to unpack here. Dictionary lengths of information to unpack but this is a post about starting out, haha.

Characters

Characters are the single most important piece of your story. Not the plot. Not the setting. No matter what other advice people may give you, character development is going to drive your story. Readers will always remember the characters that they felt something for and connected to. Heck, your story idea may have started with a character idea. However, this is the basics we’re talking about. In-depth stuff comes later. Starting out you’ll need:

Basic description: Name, age, height, hair, eyes, skin, distinguishing marks (freckles, scars, birth marks, tattoos etc), ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, birthday,

(Fun tip: If you’re having trouble thinking of a name or if you want a ethnic specific name, use baby name books or websites. I like to find names whose meaning matches the personality of my character. i.e Alexi= defender of humanity, Noah=comfort Marie=Bitter)

Family: Mother, father, (or guardian/care giver/foster parents), siblings, grandparents, adopted family, not-blood-related family,

Personality: List a few basic traits you want your character to have, something that really defines them and makes them KNOWN for that thing in the story. Kindness/meanness, generosity/selfishness, cleverness/naivete, shy/bold, positive/negative, Whimsical/logical, shallow/deep, philosophical/fun-loving, serious/humorous.

(Fun Tip: You can use horoscopes to determine character personality traits i.e Leo= temperamental, generous, attention-hog, brave. Cancer= tender-hearted, emotional, holds a grudge, helpful. You can also try to take the Meyers-Briggs personality test from your character’s point of view and see what they get.)

Goals: WHAT DOES YOUR CHARACTER WANT? This is the most important concept pertaining to your character that you could devise because it is the singular motivator that will drive him/her through the story. It is also the thing you, as the author. will create conflict by preventing them from getting. No pressure.

Some examples:

  • Love– of self, of a partner, of a spiritual being, of children,
  • Revenge– against a company, a boss, a parent, an ex, a criminal, a villain,
  • Purpose– in life, in a job, in religion, of self,
  • Friends/Family
  • Redemption– for a crime, from a God, for being a bad person,
  • Respect– from coworkers, from family, from a partner, from the antagonist,
  • Independence– from country, from religion, from family, from religion, from abuse,

Conflicts: Once you establish a goal then you get to make a fun list of things you can do to your characters to prevent them from getting it. Not just physical obstacles like distance, money, bullies, a physical limitation or restrictive parents but inner conflicts too. Fear of germs, fear of failure, selfishness, doubt, lack of knowledge, fear of rejection, fear of pain are a few that can stop your characters from achieving their goals. Do not be afraid to hurt your darlings. You will have a boring story and the story won’t be relatable if your characters can’t overcome basic human conflicts.

(Special tip: The best villains are the ones who’s back story and goal is believable. Try to think of them as heroes who didn’t achieve their goals; THEY think that whatever it is their doing is the right thing and the Hero is just an obstacle in their way. They need to be just as fully fleshed out as your main and secondary characters.)

World Building:

Nooowww comes the fuunnn part!

-You need to decide where and when your story is going to take place. Past, present or future and you need a date to start with.

-You need to decide if you’re going to keep the story in your hometown, in your state or your country.

-Or if it’s going to be in an entirely different world altogether. There’s quite a bit more work that needs to go into an alien or fantastical land but also a lot more freedom. For authors who love made up languages and magic systems and intricate political intrigue, a made up world might suit very well.

So here you are 😀 A quick-start guide for writing stories! I hope you find inspiration from it and have the courage to actually start. Write on my peeps ❤ The world needs your words. You just don’t believe it yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excerpt from “The Faustus Affliction”

“I know you’re worried Zei,” she said quietly. “So am I. And I know you think I’m silly for making a big deal out of this, but you know why I need to.”

“I do.”

“We’ll survive,” she declared into his chest, speaking to him, his heart, his soul. Their mantra since she was small.

“We’ll survive…and live.” He echoed, completing the fervent wish.

Lexi looked up at him then, her eyes flitting to his mouth. A silent question. She saw the battle on his face, weighing what happened today, almost getting caught, against his need for reassurance. She saw his decision before he moved. A little fissure of triumph went through her when he acquiesced and covered her mouth with his own.

Gently; a butterfly kiss over the skin of her lips. He was achingly gentle. He had to be with her, though it made her scream in frustration. She’d seen him cleave a branch off a tree trunk before, his rage swift and deadly. He’d broken bones between his thumb and forefinger with no effort at all. His speed stopped a negligent car from smashing a child running into the street. Yet it was always careful consideration around her; the fragile human girl too stubborn to let him walk away. Fragile like a bomb, he would say to ease her angst, right before he lit her inner fuse and made her come alive with his touch. His kryptonite.

At times she’d felt his hunger. Felt it in the pressure changing against her lips to something more insistent and demanding, his hands digging into her body, greedy for touch and closeness. Her clothes didn’t last long during those times. They’d never broken the forbidden rule but they flirted on the cusp of it. She offered up her scarred body for his enjoyment and he indulged ravenously. He cracked her headboard with his forced restraint once when they’d been frightened and desperate for action one night after she’d returned home from the hospital. They were always too close to death and too desperate to live, stealing every second while they could. They created heat and life between each other, cultivating it to last through dark times.

This was not one of those needful times. He was not careful out of fear or anger; he was careful because it was too much to let out. He shared her fears, had been party to them her whole life. He had his own dark secrets to atone for; some she knew and a lot she didn’t. He was weak against them, needing her to remind him why he fought so long over the centuries. Lexi battled against her fears every day, but needed Zeizal to bring her back down, to remind her that she could die for hers before they were ready.

The kiss they shared now was a reminder to be patient and to comfort a friend who would always be there; had always been. Lexi rose up and deepened it, hands bending Zeizal downward to grant her better access and he allowed it. This was what they needed back on the steps at school when too many eyes could bear witness. This was their one and only sin and it was only a step above the most unforgivable of them all. Fornication with a demon meant death, no questions asked, and Zeizal and Lexi meant to live.

They stood in the middle of her room and let the tension ease with proximity and pleasure. They urged sighs of contentment with tongues tangling, teeth nipping sensitive flesh and murmured encouragement. Every grin and deep throated purr broke off pieces of hard edged fear until they could bear it again. They yielded and took and gave back. Love. Support. Promises. A demon and a human. Friends and almost lovers.

“Let me make you food while you bathe,” he murmured against her lips after a time. Darkness was settling in outside.

“Okay,” she said softly, regret filling her green eyes when he retreated and took the perfection of his mouth with him. His hand cupped her face and she leaned into it, letting the sharp talons stroke her lightly.

“I don’t deserve you,” he said.

“Of course you do,” she said, turning playful to ease the sheen of pain she felt in him more than she saw. “Who else will but the fear of God in you but the broken human with the bad heart? It was preordained punishment that you should be stuck with me.”

She tugged a strand of his silver white hair.

“See? I already turned your hair white. Good thing you can’t have heart attacks.”

White teeth showed through Zeizal’s swollen, love-bitten lips. Her snark made his eyes light again and he darted in to give her mouth a quick punishing peck. Her heart leapt with glee.

“You do your best to try me though. Go bathe, heathen.” he demanded and was gone in a tornado of wind.

“Okay but that means I’ll have to get naked!” she shouted.

A pan dropped on the tile floor a second later and her laughter floated down through the house.

Being Organized: Clever isn’t exactly Helpful

For anyone who has an artistic soul, organization isn’t exactly our strong suit, is it? At least not when we’re in the middle of a project. Parents tried to kill the creative spirit by forcing us to put away our supplies every day but we fought back as adults!

YEAH!

I’m going to keep that scrap pile of paper out for my junk journal as long as I want because I don’t know if the page looks finished yet. No I will not move my knitting project from that side of the couch so you can sit down. You’ll have to take the chair. I don’t want a nest of yarn to pick through later. Mother, DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT CLEANING THOSE PAPERS ON MY DESK. If they get out of order then I’ll have to stop and find things and you’ll slow down my process.

Haha, sound familiar?

It’s one thing to have a small area of chaos while in the midst of a project because you thoughtfully and purposely chose each item for use. Usually, you can even put the items back in a group of similar items in a somewhat generalize location. (As long as it makes sense to you, it’s fine, no matter what other people say.) Gold star for you if you have labels and boxes for everything.

What about for writers though? I’m not talking about binders full of notes and printed chapters with red pen marked on them (although it’s helpful if those are neatly tabulated at least). I’m talking about on-screen files. The D and C drives full of documents, folders and files, the multiple USB sticks crammed with megabytes, the cloud storage overrun with info and back ups.

Recently I had a slow and painful descent into panic while I was combing through my computer and USB trying to find a specific draft of my WIP. I know I was writing it for NaNoWriMo and probably named it appropriately “Faustus NaNo 2019”. Yeah well uh—that file was a bust. As was “FA NaNo notes” “Nano Ongoing Draft 2019” and “NaNo Revisions.” I thought I was being efficient by grouping files together by adding a time marker into the title like “NaNo”.

After ten minutes of careful but increasingly desperate searching, I never found the file.

Can you feel my horror and panic now? The stream of logical explanations and the explosion of action opening tabs and shoving USB sticks into slots. Was it deleted? Did it never get saved? Was it corrupted somehow? Did I mislabel it? Is it saved in my e-mail? Which writing program did I use? I can’t remember! I once hand stenciled and painted a beautiful t-shirt that was stolen off the bush in front of my house when I set it out to dry. (I live in the ghetto. I should have known better.) Not finding that file draft felt like something had physically been stolen from me and my body rang with stunned disbelief. All that work…gone.

*hysterically sobs in silence*

Having computer clutter can be more of a pain in the ass than physical clutter. It’s not like you can see at a glance that the Character Bio document you created at the start of the project is no longer valid, like a dried up pain tube. You have to read it and decide if there’s anything you need to cull from it and if there is, you need to figure out if you tack it on to the more recent Character Bio file or put it in a separate MAYBE file for further consideration.

This has partly gotten me into trouble because when my current logical and reasonable brain makes a new file and fills it with whatever is needed, I know in that moment what I made it for and what its purpose is. I fully intend to come back and address it. Three months from now, it won’t make sense to me at all and it becomes another file to shuffle on top of the pile of “TBR” (again).

Now that I think about it, my journals and notebooks are the same way. I can never keep just one notebook for one story, it’s always sprinkled throughout 2 or three. Or 5.

Story File screenshot

This is an actual screen shot of my documents file on my laptop. It isn’t even the complete list. There is a whole other list just like this in my e-mail and on my keyring thumb drive and an app on my phone that holds even more notes. I’ve gotta say, looking at this really stresses me out. I’m the kind of person (and I should KNOW THIS by now) that doesn’t like to look back on previous notes and files. I like to keep everything just in case but looking back through it bums me out.

I’m a mess.

I’ve been writing the same story for…oh gawd…has it really been 20 years? NO. When did I start it? 14? And I’m now 34…(Oh my god T_T Please excuse me while I have an emotional break down.) The reason it hasn’t been completed is because it keeps changing and I can’t stick to one outline. Or I’ll start to write a draft of it and then I’ll quit and start a new one because “What The Hell was I thinking writing that crap?”

It’s the starting and stopping that gets me into trouble. Until I seriously started writing, there had been no room for perfection in my life. My room was a mess, my clothes were mismatched, my backpack flowed over with loose papers and half-filled journals. Then somehow I decided I had to be the total opposite of my normal self and write perfect drafts; an impossible feat. And yet the mess permeates even my computer!

I need to disillusion myself of this madness, trying to be something I’m not. I’m not black and white lines. I am paint splatters that miss the canvas entirely.

My writing life would be much easier if I could draft from start to finish on a deadline. No stopping for months at a time; no “Save and Forget” default in my Documents folder. But that won’t happen overnight.  Or even over a month. So what is the first step? Maybe you guessed it.

I’m going to organize my story files. Copy and Paste were invented for a reason. I’m going to keep one copy of them on my computer and one copy on my thumb drive and I’m going to keep one folder for each component of the story: Characters (each with only one file), World Building, Notes and Queries, and finally, Drafting. I may break this up into Act 1,2, and 3 so I’m not scrolling forever through word counts. Point is, I don’t ever want to panic about losing a draft again and I want to integrate a system of organization into my life that will set me up for success when I do become a published author and have deadlines to meet.

Decluttering your computer is just as important as spring cleaning your closet, especially as a writer who spends more time using one more than the other. Find the balance between letting your creativity flow naturally and keeping it contained to one place where everything is within reach.

Leave a comment below if you feel the struggle or if you have any helpful tips for a poor nub like me to stay organized. Spread knowledge (not germs)! Stay safe hoomins ❤

You put the lime in the coconut: How to get yourself right when you have no inclination

Screw it. I’m tired of “drinking it all up.”

I need to put the lime in the coconut and blow this crap up. Covid-19 is driving me ape shit.

(A HUGE THANK YOU to those who are still working during this awful pandemic, who choose to work, and put yourselves at risk for your families and the greater good. Health care workers, farmers, truck drivers and toilet paper stockers…Heroes don’t wear capes, they wear face masks and a crinkly-eyed smile. We feel it! So much heartfelt gratitude coming from Southern Cali ❤ )

Alright so, covid-19. My work shut down March 18th and I am now unemployed. I wasn’t as upset about that as I should have been (because I was in a somewhat financially secure situation.) There’s nothing I love more than a good book, a mug of liquid (depending on the mood it’s either coffee, tea or whiskey) and a comfy place to rest my rump. For the first two weeks of the #stayathome movement, it was great! A vacation I believe we all sorely needed. I got to hang out with my mom (we’re best friends) and the stress melted off of us as we ate through our first 5 pounds of cookies and binge watched “Once Upon a Time” and “Blind Spot.” Our bodies healed (thanks retail hell). We planted flowers and started new quilts for the first time in a year. The only thing that could have possibly made this better was if my boyfriend was with me to share the time with. (Might have been a little awkward though with all of us staying home…*blushes*)

Scientists say you can catch up and store sleep. I think I’m nearly there though I’m not opposed to more.

Psychologists say that creativity helps fight depression. Cross-stitch, anyone? How about starting that CGI video game you’ve been brainstorming for years!

Kinesiologists say that rest and time is the best medicine to heal the body. (I can attest to that. My Baker’s Knee is nearly gone!)

Science-y types also say that the best ideas/solutions some when your brain isn’t thinking about the problem, like Isaac Newton with the infamous apple. He wasn’t thinking about gravity (we assume)–it just happened and because his brain was relaxed it was able to think clear.

…………………………………………………….F*&K THIS……..

Who are we kidding? Humans are social creatures. The inertia is starting to tarnish even my blissful hermititude.

Okay my peeps. You literally have all the time in the world right now. Most of us anyway. So what are you doing with this reprieve from mandatory reality?

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(I would like to add “-Healthier” to the list but I’m going to be realistic here. We all be stress eating…)

I found this on my facebook feed and it hit me hard. What HAVE I done with my time? I’ll tell you what I’ve done–I’ve distracted myself with books and Netflix and ignored facing the true source of my anxiety:

LAZINESS.

I wrote a post on passion a few days ago (here) and how I didn’t possess any. Now having had over three weeks to sit with myself and slowly sink into the quiet desperation of self-reflection, I have to fully face the fallout of a passionless existence. I have to recognize and accept that my dreams are not going to come true unless I learn some discipline.

Now I don’t want to make this all about me. This is supposed to be a “How to” post and we’re all in this together.  I wanted to establish a rapport with you because YES I know what I’m talking about and YES I absolutely feel your frustration if you’ve been realizing the same thing. We have the perfect opportunity to start making strides to better ourselves but to do that we need to face our demons head on.

We need to put that sour ass lime into the sweetness of our coconut existence and BLOW THIS UP.

No one is going to do the work for you.

HOW TO: Get Yourself Right when you have the time but no inclination

#1—First things first, find out what your goals are. For the week, for the month, for the year, for the next 3 years. Really sit down with yourself and write anything and everything that comes to mind. Doesn’t matter how stupid or trivial they sound, just do it.

Setting Goals (Tony Robbins)

GOALS (Abbie Emmons)

#2—Next thing you need to do is find some motivational videos and books that align with your goals. (These are some of mine.) Whether that is–

financial freedom (Dan Lok)

F.U. Money by Dan “the man” Lok

Career goals and Personal Branding (Sunny Lenarduzzi)

spiritual awareness (Christina Lopes)

weight loss before and after stories (Fitness Blender)

Better Study Habits and Productivity (Thomas Frank)

The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha

#3—Develop a routine that works for you and hack that motivation!! This will be the hardest step for you and it will take the most time. This will also be the step that you fail at most often. START SMALL and forgive yourself for back sliding but get right back on the horse. It’s not a race and not a competition but it is a behavior change and the only only to succeed at it is going forward.

Self-discipline (Thomas Frank)

Scheduling and Routines (Jordan Peterson)

The Motivation Hacker by Nick Winters

#4—Exercise. Yep, I know. I KNOW. I feel you rolling your eyes. I don’t like to either but only because it’s hard to start out and not very fun. It is the most important thing you can do, honestly, to lengthen your life and stay healthy. Plus it makes endorphins and dopamine, chemicals that make your brain happy.

Low Impact (fitness Blender)

One Mile Walk at home (Leslie Sansone)

Strength training (HASfit)

#5—Introspection. Do you really know who you are? Is there a boundary you’re not willing to cross within yourself? Do you keep your promises? Do you tell the truth? Are you morally sound? (Do you even know what that means?)

Core Values (TEDxtalks)

Meditation (Yoga with Adriene)

Qigong (Eight Pieces)

Morning Pages (Journal writing)

#6—Be creative. It helps fight depression and it gives you a flush of accomplishment finishing something. I know this is probably a groaner for some of you but it doesn’t mean you have to take up crochet or become picasso. You know where to look for those. I don’t need to handhold here. Or you can do something for charity.  I hear there is a pandemic going on so maybe you can start making face masks and cloth diapers…

#7—If you’re worried about money or have a great idea about a side business, DO IT NOW. Get it started while Online Shopping is at an all-time high. Get a Side Hustle going. Start your YouTube channel or Etsy store. Be a driver for Postmates or Instacart. Start that blog! Publish that indie book on Amazon. You can be a virtual assistant or a text translator. You can be an online teacher or tutor. Seriously, the possibilities here are nearly endless if you don’t let fear of the unknown stop you. (Or the fear of a negative bank account.)

Well, that’s it then. For now. This is how –> I <– am trying to combat the isolation and frustration of my laziness and lack of discipline. Your plan make look different. Or if you look at this list and you’re still shaking your head, telling yourself it’s all bullshit, then you simply haven’t reached rock bottom yet. You haven’t gotten to the point where the disgust with your laziness/fear/lack of motivation hasn’t pushed you over the edge yet.

That’s okay.

Everyone goes at a different pace. Eventually, you’ll want to change and there are many avenues and ways you can go about it. There is no wrong way except backwards. You can quit something if it doesn’t work for you but replace it with something else. Starting over isn’t failing; it’s trying something new.

Good luck. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

WIP Diaries #1.0 Refocus, Revamp, Rewrite,

There is a book. (There is always a book!)

It’s kind of changing the way I see my stories. I picked it up at the suggestion of an AuthorTube personality named Abbie Emmons. A lot of her advice and story set up is derived from this book and I can see why she recommends it. It’s a book about the psychology of storytelling; WHY we like certain kinds of stories. It’s brain science for writers.

 

Lisa breaks down novel writing from a character-driven, emotional point of view. Abbie breaks down the research in videos on her channel by giving examples of movies that are plot driven vs character driven and how we connect to each kind. One is entertainment with fast action and suspense and shallow motives whereas the other gets us to gasp and cry and think about the story long after the credits have finished rolling.

Abbie wrote a book called 100 Days of Sunlight that applied the book’s advice and I MUST say it’s a soaring success. You connect with the characters because they are written with flaws and weaknesses and hidden strengths. You don’t care that the book is predictable because the EMOTION is so high. And no, I could not stop thinking about the book for weeks after finishing. A+ Abbie Emmons.

I realized as I came back to The Faustus Affliction (my frustrating WIP) that the book was mainly plot driven. I think almost every fantasy writer starts this way as we navigate how to write a solid story. Character development gets put on the back burner in favor of thrilling scenes and world building. Admittedly, it’s easier with contemporary fiction to focus on characters and emotion but when there are wizards and thick plot braids and magic systems to juggle, the “character-driven” idea gets a little tougher I think. For new authors that are already laden with doubt and confusion, this is a fresh new hell.

However! (l I guess you can imagine where this is going–)

Story Genius is teaching me to look at my story a different way. I want my readers to connect with the MC and her journey of redemption more than I want them to appreciate her kick ass decision making skills and cyborg arm (haha spoiler). In light of this new bookish information, I’m going back and fleshing out Character sheets for all the Mains, villains and secondaries. I’m filling out backgrounds, personalities, emotional arcs and POVs. I don’t even know my sister half as well as I know my MC now and that’s the way it always should have been.

I was lazy and too eager to jump into the plot. I admit it. *hangs head in shame*

I’m both surprised and pleased though that even without fully filling out the biographies before I started writing that I have a pretty solid lock on who these people are supposed to be and what they want to do. (Except Zeizal. ALWAYS the problem child with his fluid personality and opaque goals. Grr.) I will tell you though that figuring out each character’s belief/lie is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do so far. This concept is the thing you will constantly be coming back to; the thing you will be writing your scenes around: The inner conflict between the character trying to be happy and avoiding pain at all costs. Having a character that has a strong misbelief (the thing that they think will make them happy) and alternately what it is they REALLY want deep down (that they find out toward the middle/end of the story) and the obstacles they have to either fight or flee to make it all happen.

At first it’s hard to avoid cliches like “He wants to be happy”. Everyone wants to be happy. The author wants his/her little darlings to be happy too! But generalities don’t sell heart-wrenching tales. The misbelief has to be specific and concrete:

“I want to find the strength to live my life away from my overbearing parents and show them I can be successful without them.”

“I want to find my high school sweetheart and apologize for leaving him standing on the altar.”

“I want to run a 5k marathon before my open heart surgery.”

Alternately, the true belief they realize has to be just as compelling and concrete:

“By living away from my parents I was able to grow as a person and appreciate all they sacrificed for me to live a comfortable life.”

“I found freedom and independence not trapping myself in a marriage early in life and was able to find real love by sacrificing my happiness back then.”

“I realize that being selfish and putting my health at risk for a stubborn goal could have cost me more than my life.”

Okay so they’re not the greatest examples but you get the gist. Here’s the clincher though. I think conceptualizing the Belief/Misbelief is something that is hard to plan ahead of time because if you’ve ever written even the briefest segment of a story you know that sometimes things don’t go as planned. Characters tend to drag the story in unexpected directions and motives change and so the story changes. So if you don’t have a solid grasp on the lie/belief for your characters, eventually you’ll see a pattern through your writing and it will come to you. Having an idea of what drives your character’s motivation is a very good start.

Writing goals for the month:

Explore this new inner conflict concept and apply it to my writing.

Refocus on character arcs and let them drive the story.

Write. writewritewritewritewritewritewrite–

GO WRITE!!

(and stay the wonderful hermits that we know you all are. Be smart, be healthy.)