Returning and Reevaluating

Hello, blog world – it’s been awhile. I haven’t updated this blog since late August, and I haven’t made a substantive post since early August. I apologize for that. I could blame my radio silence on a lot of things, but ultimately, the truth is that I haven’t been writing. I haven’t written anything during the month of October. I wrote less than 3,000 words in September, and I wrote about 5,500 in August.

What’s going on? I wish I had an answer for that. I think a part of me feels stuck. I have one completed project that’s pending revisions, but I don’t feel like it’s ready to go to a beta reader or an editor. I’ve been trying to get someone close to me to read it, just to give me initial feedback on the pace/idea, but so far, that person hasn’t actually done so. I need to suck it up and stop waiting around for him and just take matters into my own hands. But I don’t have the energy to do it, for whatever reason. I have three projects that are about halfway completed, and I need to sit down and outline the second half of those stories. But, again, I just can’t find the motivation to do it.

New ideas still come to me, and every now and then I’ll get the urge to write. Mostly, though, I feel like whatever fire was burning inside of me for this pursuit has dwindled. I want to get it back. I need to get it back. But I don’t know how.

I need to reevaluate my goals for my writing and for this blog. So, here we go: I want to update this blog at least twice a week. I want to get back to posting monthly recaps. As for my writing? I’m still working on reevaluating those goals. Nano is coming up soon, and I don’t know whether I want to participate. I have plenty of ideas, but do I want to start yet another project when so many remain incomplete?

Readers and fellow writers, help me out. How do I get back the motivation to do what I love? 

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Why Do You Write?

Readers: I’m reblogging this post, because it comes at an interesting point in my own writing path. I haven’t written a word in 11 days, which I think is the longest I’ve gone without writing in almost a year. I’m struggling between stress in other areas of my life, thinking that my ideas are fruitless, and getting into a negative cycle of, “Why do I even bother doing this?”

That being said, it’s important to remind ourselves why we do the things we love, even when it’s challenging and even when the road ahead looks tough. I’m going to be thinking about this question for the rest of the day, and I encourage you to do the same: Why do you write?

Kate M. Colby

Why do you write? What I love about this question is that there are infinite answers. Every writer has his/her unique reasons and those reasons can change based on mood, a phase in life, and/or the particular writing piece.

On one level, this can be a practical question. Seriously, why do you write when it is such a difficult field to succeed in? It can also be a spiritual question. What in your soul calls you to this creative outlet? From other writers, it can be a call for help or community. Why do we do this when it is so hard and it dredges up such painful insecuritiesMy favorite is when it is a question of wonderment and fascination. How in the world do you think up these ideas and what magical force compels you to see them through?

I’ve been going through a bit of a…

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July Recap: Not quite there

July was not what I expected. I was so ready to tackle Camp NaNoWriMo. I was ready to finish a project. I was ready to write. Buuuut things didn’t really work out the way that I planned.

Writing: In total, I wrote 24,330 words in July. That’s better than all of my other non-challenge months, but it’s way lower than the last Camp in April. More importantly, it’s less than half of my goal of 50,000. Going forward in August, I need to make some decisions. I need to decide which project(s) I’m going to work on, so I stay focused. I didn’t write yesterday, and I may not tonight. I feel a little lost with my writing at this point. I know that I need to go back and finish a couple projects and edit The Travelers, but I also have an urge to start another new story. I know, I know. It’s a problem.

Reading: I read 10 books in July, and they were all lovely. My favorite was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. If you’re a child of the 80s and you love nerdy things, you must read this book. It was incredible. I found out that Steven Spielberg is making this into a movie, and it made me so excited. I also read a couple of more books by a horror author I really enjoy, Ania Ahlborn. If you like scary stories, I highly recommend her works.

Watching: I finally finished Daredevil! Liked it, didn’t love it. I also finished the most recent season of Orange is the New Black, and I am almost caught up with Hannibal (RIP, lovely show). I’m still watching True Detective, even though I’m not a huge fan of this season. I’m currently in the middle of another X-Files rewatch, in honor of the upcoming revival. I am very excited. I think this is the fifth time I’ve done a complete rewatch, but I’m not entirely sure. Up next: finish X-Files, rewatch Twin Peaks, watch Heroes (or, at least, season 1).

How did July go for you, readers? Here’s hoping you were able to meet your goals!

A Tale of Two Camp NaNoWriMos: Victory vs. “Failure”

With only three days left to go in July, you know where you are: you’ve either set yourself up for success, and you’re going to meet your word goal, or, you’re like me, and there’s no way that’s going to happen. This post is for both situations.

If victory is in sight…

Congrats! You’re so close to accomplishing your goal. No matter how many more words you have – 1,000, 5,000, 9,000 – you can do it! Now is not the time to give up. Now’s the time to push forward and pump those words out. Write on your lunch break. Write as soon as you get home from school or work. Write for at least an hour tonight, no matter what your plans are. Your goal is within sight – go grab it!

If you’re staring at a very, very small status bar that seems to be taunting you…

It’s okay. Really. You’re not going to meet your word goal. Maybe you’re 15,000 words behind or 30,000 words behind, but it’s not going to happen. And that’s fine. Maybe the well of inspiration ran dry. Maybe you got distracted. Maybe you’re like me, and you had some unusual, time consuming personal matters (both good and bad) pop up unexpectedly. Your writing career doesn’t end on July 31. If it’s been awhile since you’ve written, maybe open up your Scrivener doc tonight and write 500 words. Ease yourself back into it. If your project isn’t working, switch to something new – or old.

I realized about halfway through the month that I wasn’t going to make it this year. Despite my earlier post that insisted that you can always find time to write, things came up that prevented me from following my own advice. Once I got out of the habit of writing every day, my creativity faded, and I found myself with no urge to write. There were times when I wished I could write, but I didn’t have/couldn’t have my computer with me.

But, oh well. August is a new month. The project that I was working on during July isn’t bad, but I think I want to go back and finish one of my older projects. It’ll be tough to get back in a routine, but I’m a big believer in routine. Perhaps I’ll start tonight.

How did you fare during July, fellow writers? Did you hit your word count goals?

The Lasting Legacy of Fiction: How The X-Files Shaped My Life

For writers, it’s sometimes hard to see why we are doing all of this. “What’s the point?” we ask, when we hit writer’s block or some other obstacle. It’s not always obvious why our stories matter. I want to tell you that your stories do matter. They matter a lot, to people you don’t even know.

The X-Files is my favorite show of all time. I have been in love with this series since fall 1996, when I started regularly watching the show during its fourth season. I still remember the first episode I saw (“2Shy” – it was a summer repeat), and I still remember the episode that hooked me (“Unruhe” – so creepy).

But The X-Files was more than just a hobby for me, as an 11 year old. It was an obsession. I became enthralled with stories, with characters, with mythology. The X-Files wasn’t just a show that I watched – it invaded every part of my life. I had every book ever published on this series. Every season recap, every nitpicker’s guide, every biography on the actors – I had them. When we got the internet in 1997, I used every available second of that dial-up to look up X-Files websites and message boards. I got mIRC for the sole purpose of finding X-Files groups, and I soaked up all the fan-fiction I could. To say that it was part of my life is an understatement.

I’m currently in the middle of a rewatch. I think this is the fifth or sixth time that I’ve watched the series the whole way through. I was trying to explain this to my husband, and I realized something: the X-Files wasn’t just my favorite TV show. It changed me.

I was in sixth grade, middle school, when I became obsessed with this show. My fandom solidly pushed me out of any “popular” group in school and pushed me to the weird periphery. I had various taglines written on my Trapper Keeper in White-Out. My fandom was obvious and excessive. And yes, this isolated me. It wasn’t cool to be obsessed with a sci-fi show when I was 11. I had maybe 3 friends (one of whom is still my best friend – thanks, Ashley, for dealing with me!).

But I didn’t back down. I stuck to my show. I stuck to these stories, even when I knew that people thought I was weird or when I was called the dreaded word: a “loser.” That decision – to be the weird kid – has been with me through my whole life. I was never part of a “clique.” I’ve always been more introverted. The choices I made in middle school carried through high school and then into my “real” life. I’m an adult now, obviously, but I think that the way we are in our early stages of life profoundly impacts how we approach life as an adult. I thought, as I spoke to my husband, what if there was no The X-Files? Would I have still been that weird kid? Maybe so, but maybe not as obviously. Maybe I could have passed for one of the cool kids. But what would that have done to my creativity? To my self-sufficiency? Would my love of story-telling be different? Would I still love science fiction as much?

My point is this: as creators of fiction, we have no idea what impact our stories will have. Your story could impact someone for the rest of his or her life. It could set someone on a trajectory that he or she had never anticipated. Sure, most fiction doesn’t impact us in this way. We absorb so many stories, and they slip out of our minds, without any effect. But you never know what story will stick in someone’s heart, or what story will change the way someone looks at the world. Value your work. Value your fiction. To someone out there, right now, it’s changing their course.

Atticus Finch, the Importance of the Narrator, and the Writer-Reader Relationship

Recently, I finished Harper Lee’s new novel, Go Set a Watchman. While there are a plethora of issues surrounding the quality of the book and the mystery surrounding its publication, I wanted to focus on a narrow issue: the characterization of Atticus Finch. What can we learn, as writers and readers, from the controversy surrounding this so-called change in his characterization?

Some spoilers within, but probably nothing worse than you’ve read elsewhere.

As a preliminary matter, I like To Kill a Mockingbird. I don’t love it. I’m not a lawyer because Atticus Finch inspired me and made me believe in equal justice. I think part of this is because I was too young when I read the novel to really appreciate it. I was curious to see how I would enjoy the sequel (though it was reportedly written before Mockingbird by Ms. Lee) before I heard about the uproar regarding Atticus’s character. If you’re not aware, in short, people are upset because in Watchman, Atticus is quite adamantly a racist. There’s little indication of the great hero for justice with whom people fell in love while reading Mockingbird. Readers were appalled and couldn’t believe that Ms. Lee would assassinate Atticus’s character like that.

On the one hand, maybe it’s not character assassination: some articles have argued that Atticus was always racist (See The New Republic and Jezebel). Further, Mockingbird is told from Scout’s six year old, first-person perspective. She worships her father, and through her narration, we learn to worship him as well. But Scout isn’t an unbiased narrator. She’s a child who loves her father. In contrast, Watchman is told from a third person perspective, though it still focuses on Scout, now going by her given name of Jean Louise. Jean Louise is now an adult and has the ability to view her father how he truly is.

This teaches us a very important lesson about writing. Your narrator matters. Had Mockingbird been told from a third-person perspective, or from the first-person perspective of another character, would the reader have fallen in love with Atticus as much? Or would the readers have had a clearer view of his personality from the beginning?

Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that this is a change in Atticus’s character – that Ms. Lee drastically changed this beloved character’s heart. In some ways, this is realistic. People change. Twenty years have passed between Mockingbird and Watchman, and perhaps it’s unrealistic to think even someone as idealistic as we want Atticus to be would stay that way forever.

But finally, and maybe most importantly, I don’t necessarily believe that Ms. Lee owed it to her readers to keep Atticus the same. It’s sad for some readers, but without Jean Louise realizing her father’s true personality, there is no conflict to the story. The entire novel is essentially a coming of age tale where Jean Louise begins to see her father, and the world, for what they really are. Further, as much as readers love Atticus and feel an ownership over him, he’s ultimately Ms. Lee’s character. We never like it when our favorite characters do something out of the ordinary or act in a way in which we believe is contrary to their personality. But we aren’t the writers in these cases. The writer has reasons and motivations beyond what we, as readers, can understand.

Now – if you are still an active writer, especially one with a small following, I wouldn’t recommend tearing down the moral compass of your stories. As evidenced by the drama surrounding Watchman, it’s easy to make your readers mad by the way you treat your characters. But Harper Lee is Harper Lee – she’s the author of one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved books in American history. She can pretty much do what she wants (presuming she wanted to do this, but that is a conversation for another time). It certainly wasn’t a popular decision, but maybe she felt it was the best decision for her narrative.

I would love to hear your thoughts, especially if you’ve read Watchman. Was Atticus always a racist? Did Harper Lee screw over her readers by presenting Atticus this way? What exactly do writers owe their readers? 

Camp NaNoWriMo: Tackling Writer’s Block

So, it turns out that this month has not exactly gone the way I anticipated. I’m behind on my word count, and I’ve missed a lot of writing days. I wish I could chalk this up to some easy excuse–working more than usual, personal stress, etc.–but it’s a combination of stress, exhaustion, and just not wanting to write. I’m beginning to wonder if my idea really has the teeth to make it to 50,000 words. So far, I’ve hit a little over 20,000, and I’m not entirely sure where it’s going. That can be good, but I don’t know here. Also, it’s a horror story, and quite frankly, it’s just not scary enough. I need to amp up the fear factor.

That being said, I wanted to take on a common problem for writers: writer’s block. I know some people will try to convince you that writer’s block isn’t real, but I am not one of those people. Sometimes, the well runs dry. You can look at a blank page and just have no idea what comes next. There’s no way around it: this sucks. But it happens to everyone. The trick is figuring out a method that works for you to combat the block. Here’s a list of things that I have found help me:

1. Write something else. If you have a blog, write a blog post. If you have another work in progress, switch over to that for an hour or so. If the block is specific to your current project, “breaking the ice” on something else can be all that it takes for ideas to flow again.

2. Read something. Basking in the creativity of other people can be a huge help. For me, it helps to read something else in my genre. I get motivated by reading great stories by other people. It makes me want to write an equally great story.

3. Create a Pinterest board for your story. I know, this might sound silly. Hear me out: I like to do this anyway, but if you’re having trouble with inspiration, a little visualization can go a long way. Cast your story. Research the city where it’s set. If it’s a science fiction/fantasy story, and it’s not a real place, search for artwork on Pinterest. Finding pictures that match the tone of your story can help get you back in the mindset you need to write.

4. Create your story’s soundtrack. Go back through what you’ve written so far, and imagine what songs would be playing in the background if this was a movie. Or if your reader wanted a recommendation for what to listen to while reading, what would you suggest? Music is critical to my writing. I have a giant playlist full of instrumental music that I use while writing, and I would encourage you to do the same, if you like listening to music while you write. Another musical option is to pick out your story’s “trailer music” – again, imagine it like a movie and think of what the trailer would look like. What are your key scenes?

5. Work on character development. If you google “character development questionnaires,” you will find a plethora of resources. Fill out one of these for each of your main characters. Even if it doesn’t actually inspire you to go back to the project right away, it’ll give you more information on your characters.

6. Take a walk. The world is full of inspiration, and sometimes, the best thing to do is to get out of your house. This is especially true if you’ve been staring at a computer screen for hours. Take a walk. Get a cup of coffee. Engage in some quality people-watching. Keep your mind as clear as possible, and you might be surprised what ideas jump in.

7. Don’t writeThis may seem counter-intuitive, but if you really can’t break the block, just walk away for awhile. A lot of writers say that you just need to power through it, put some words, any words, on paper, but that’s not always healthy. Sometimes you just stare at the screen. There’s just nothing coming out. The longer you sit at your desk, the worse you’re going to feel about yourself. With every passing moment, you start to doubt and criticize yourself. If you know that you’re not going to be productive, take a step back. The project will be there tomorrow. Take the time to recharge yourself.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are simply a few things that I’ve used in the past that help me. Writers, how do you battle writer’s block?