process, writer's life

The Growing Roar of Approaching Deadlines: Weekly Update

Okay so maybe I haven’t been the most productive I could be.  I don’t have reasons to offer; just excuses.  Well, not even those.  Between you and me, when too much stress piles on, I just shut down.

But when I’m staring that deadline in the face, it’s a defibrillator to the face.

My deadline isn’t so close that I can count the freckles across its pert little nose, but I can hear it coming a mile away like an approaching freight train carrying the weight of my career.*

I have exactly two weeks left.

My existence right now comprises mostly of me alternating between internally screaming and taking yoga breaths.

Since last checking in, I’ve written exactly two more pages.  (IN A WEEK.  TWO PAGES IN SEVEN DAYS WHAT EVEN?–okay, yoga breaths.  Deep breaths.)

Last night, however, I did write the first four (pretty damn decent) pages of the 10-page story I have to submit by November 2 for my next residency (in January, where we’ll sit around in groups and critique these stories.)  It’s about a girl who was drowned in the ocean and became a mermaid and the girl who helps her try to find her murderer.

Tomorrow, the goal is at least three more pages.  Also tomorrow, a dear friend from work is going to help me tackle my plot so I can write the greatest labor ever put on the shoulders of a writer my synopsis.

So here’s my plan for the next week.

Say it with me: manageable tasks.

I’m going to tackle the two 700-word assignments so they are out of the way, not gunking up the works.  With those two out of the way, the only things I have to worry about are the next twenty-five pages of my story and the two to five pages that say what’s going to happen in my story.  That’s it.

And make the conscious decision to write every day, at least a page.

This isn’t about doing battle.  This is about choosing to put another stepping stone in the path to the career I want to have.  No one is forcing me to do anything.

This next week, I’m going to change my vocabulary to replace “I have to” with “I choose to.”  Because I made the choice to get an MFA.  It was an informed choice; it has a clear end goal.  These assignments are a part of that, and I should take advantage of this opportunity to grow while I have it.

In reading news

I finished The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch.  SCARED. THE. CRAP. OUTTA. ME.  I physically cringed several times throughout the book.  If you’re a sci-fi fan who loves time travel and doesn’t mind graphic violence and gore, definitely check this book out.  To me, it was the book version of that long flat note they play in the background of ghost shows.

In other news

I’m trying to learn this Disney medley on the piano.  Just goes to show how long it’s been since I’ve challenged myself on the piano and fallen into the comfortable groove of the styles of just a few (*cough*one*cough*) artists.  It’s taking me forever to get this down.  Which is fine.  There’s no deadline here.  So far, I’m semi-comfortable playing the first section (Go the Distance from Hercules) and today I worked on the next one (Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid).  The part I’m really looking forward to is Zero to Hero from Hercules, about halfway through the song.

How’s your week going?

* alright so it isn’t THAT big a deal, but that doesn’t seem to matter to my stress levels, which are determined to churn out anxiety at the highest rate of production as possible


Currently playing: Beautiful by Bazzi

Currently reading: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

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process, tips, writing advice

The Practicality and Morality of Being a Magpie

I advise you to keep your writer’s notebook handy when you’re reading, because you want it right there when inspiration strikes, and if you’re a writer and a reader, odds are you’re most likely to be the receiver of the inspiration fairy when you’re reading.

Some people are probably feeling some low level panic right now. “But I don’t want to steal someone’s ideas! I don’t wanna be a copy cat!”

Okay, I hear you.  I used to worry about the exact same thing.  I’d worry about “stealing” ideas or of being “too influenced” by a particular author or book.

My short response, dear hearts, is this: don’t worry about it.

There are two aspects to this pressing concern: the practical side and the intellectual/moral side.

On the practical side, ideas change so much from conception to final product that the original idea will most likely be unrecognizable.  I, for one, find it highly unlikely that you’ll be able to recognizably replicate the book that inspired you.

On the moral side, I find it admirable that you place emphasis on originality and responsibility for your own ideas.  As writers, we’re bred to seek after the previously unexplored.  We’re expected to unearth the buried.

On the practical side, this expectation of Absolute Originality is unreasonable, because even in Biblical times, there wasn’t anything new under the sun.  And, paradoxically, anything you generate will be original anyway (at the very least in execution) because it came from you and not anyone else.

On the moral side, I think the emphasis ought to be placed on authenticity.  Instead of the aesthetic details of your world or your characters or your magical system, consider them vessels for your personal meaning.  Because without something Deeper, the aesthetic will be empty and essentially meaningless.

On the practical side, you are a human being, which means you are graced with the remarkable ability to discern minuscule details from one another.  So consider this difference:

  • I like this idea of two mismatched eyes, one totally black, the other normal, and how it signifies they have blood magic that can transport them between worlds.
  • I like this idea of wands.  I’ll do something with wands.

I’ll bet–and I’m confident that I’ll win this bet–that you are able to discern the degree to which these two thought processes are different.  The first example is very specific to the world and plot of the story from which it came (A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab).  The second example, however, is a general concept that could apply to any number of stories, including my current WiP.

I would personally consider the first example worrisome and yes, edging too close to the idea of “copying.”  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the second example, though, because it leaves the limitless question of, “What about wands?” hanging in the air, leaving you to answer it however you please.

On the moral side, you probably want to continue to grow as a writer and a creator.  So I urge you to ask yourself this question when you come across something shiny that catches your eye:  “What more can I do with this?  What else is there to explore with this idea?”

On the practical side, writing down the spinoff inspired by the story you’re reading in no way commits you to doing anything with that idea.  You’re a writer.  Like magpies and ravens, we collect shiny things to add to our hoards.  It’s a Thing.

I’ll leave you with this.

I’ve found that the more confident I became in my own writing and storytelling abilities, the less I coveted the ideas I found in published works.  This tells me that the problem does not lie in the copying itself, but of the lack of confidence that causes it.  Instead of worrying about being a copy cat, consider instead your confidence in yourself.  The more confident you become in yourself, the less demand you will feel to claim someone else’s work as your own.

goals, process, tips, writer's life, writing, writing advice

Drawing up Battle Plans: Weekly Update

It’s not that I have a million things that need doing this month, but the items on my to-do list feel so big and insurmountable that it feels like there’s an army of to-do soldiers charging at me.  (Something akin to Mulan facing down the Hun army on the mountain.)

First step to dealing with stress:

The space around you is your first line of defense.  Armor up.

The first thing I do when I’m getting ready for battle to write is clean up my space.  Doing this on the front side minimizes the occurrence of “Well, I can’t think of what to write next, but look, that pile of papers could use a sort-through, that’s very doable.”

It also makes me feel more prepared.  Exercising control over my environment makes me feel more in control of myself.  Which is a good feeling to have when sitting down to write IMHO.

Desk clean, I get into it.

Current battle: the dreaded synopsis

Now there are those of you out there who love writing synopses.  You’re all freaks.  That’s fine, but it isn’t my thing.  Especially when I have to write a 2-5 synopsis for a story I haven’t outlined yet.

This is the to-do item that has taken on Godzilla-like proportions, and of course it’s making a feast of my fear.  Thing is, I’ve never written a synopsis before.  And whenever I approach something I’ve never done before, there’s the possibility hanging over me that I won’t be good at it.  Fortunately, I’ve gotten to the point in the last few years that I acknowledge I’m scared but do it anyway.  In this case, the only thing getting my butt in the chair is the fact that I have to do this.

(Which was the main appeal of doing an MFA, not gonna lie.  I need the damp breath of a drill sergeant on the back of my neck to get me to do things I don’t want to do–like write 25 pages a month and figure out a synopsis for a story I haven’t planned out yet.)

The Battle Plan

Obviously, I’m a list person.  So when I’m panicking about getting stuff done, I make a to-do list.  Only this time, that wasn’t enough.  I needed a comprehensive approach to exactly how I was going to tackle this Godzilla problem.

Fortunately, I know that when I’m stuck like this, the thing to do is bring in outside help.  So I’ve recruited one of the girls I work with, who has no previous knowledge of my story, to sit down with me next week and help me brainstorm the rest of this novel.  A fresh pair of eyes is just what this novel needs.

My goal is to make a first attempt at it myself by this Saturday.  And then work with my friend next week to see what we can come up with.

And of course, this isn’t the only major thing I have to do this month.  I have to write 25 new pages (versus my critique partners, who are working on revising their first 50 pages).  I have to read a craft book (Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig) and write a 700-word response to it.  And write a 700-word self assessment.  The 700-word responses induce only nominal stress.  The 25 new pages and the 2-5 page synopsis are the things that get me.

That’s just for my writing course.  I also have to read two novels this month and write essays for each for my reading course.

Until next week!


Currently playing: Side Effects (feat. Emily Warren) by The Chainsmokers

Currently reading: The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch