Tag Archive: fear

Finding Conflict in Fleeting Moments

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I couldn’t sleep, so I stood outside last night on the deck and watched the stars and an occasional airplane glide through against the dark sky. Then I saw a shooting star.

Oh, my.

A shooting star. If I had blinked, I would have missed it. I captured it in my brain, full of wonder and ignorance about what I just saw. I stood for a bit longer, hoping to see another show, but no. I was satisfied with the quiet, the peacefulness, and the possibility that more worlds exist than ours.

Now I know how science fiction got started – my imagination took flight. What do those creatures look like? Are they human? Have they created a better world, took better care of their planet, are they at peace?

And all at once I created a story in my head. And I realized that my stories are always happy, always peaceful, always full of goodness. People are polite and do things for each other. There are no harsh words, just a few things to get over, but with the help of their friends and sometimes strangers, they jump over the obstacles and celebrate.

I am such a Pollyanna.

It explains why I have such a hard time coming up with an antagonist, a problem, and conflict within the story. I do. I struggle against it. I don’t want it in my life, I don’t want it in my books, and I will do anything, anything, to avoid conflict.

But I realize that just won’t sell books.

I thought back to fairy tales that children love – they all have a bad guy in them, and I never noticed. It was just part of the story – I didn’t categorize good vs. evil. (Boy am I dumb.)

It was just a story. Now I have to pay attention and get clinical about making sure that stuff’s in there.

My husband, like most men, loves the shoot-em-up, blow-em-up, blood and guts movies – I knit quietly by his side or go do something else. Can’t stand it. Don’t see the value in it, think about the damage in it, and worry about children watching it.

I’ve heard that every married couple argues – frequently – and that makes me sad. In thirty-five years, we have never had a down and out argument. I’m just not built that way. I’m not quiet, I assure you, but I state my piece calmly and then walk away. I won’t argue. Conflict completely freaks me out.

So how do I get stories, good stories, ones that have all the requisite angst and mystery, tension, and extreme badness? It’s hard. Really hard. So hard that I feel like I’m damaging a perfect quilt with red wine. It gets messy.

I can’t get into the mind of a person who thinks about bad things. What is their motivation/rationalization for blowing up cities or killing hundreds of innocent people while trying to kill one person?

I don’t get it, but other people do, and it sells. It sells big. Books, movies, short stories, plays, and video games – all have bad guys and tons of conflict – some very noisy.

So in this fleeting moment on the deck, my worlds collided. In the peacefulness of middle night with the dark sky and stars out, I thought about conflict. I recognize the irony.

So if this Pollyanna can come up with conflict, with enough tension to satisfy my readers and sell some books, she can do most anything. But it is not easy.

Most of the time writing is easy for me. I can sit down and bang out a story in no time at all – the editing and revising takes far longer, which is as it should be.

But what I come up with is a Pollyanna story – and I’m happy! I have a perfectly pristine white quilt.th-2

Now I have to go get the red wine.

I have to pull a door open in my head, a squeaky door that doesn’t want to open, to access the meanness I’ve (for some reason) locked within. I have to walk into that dark cave where monsters lurk and dark memories hide under rocks. I have to recognize something that will work, grab it, and escape before it gets me first.

In that fleeting moment something happens, and I run with it. This is where I spend more time than writing the draft to begin with. That was the easy part. Here I have to knit in bad stuff that somehow grabs me and I finally have some fun with it. It takes a long, long time to get it where it’s tough enough.

Pay attention to fleeting moments – a glance between two people can create an entire story. The way a woman holds her teacup gives you some background on a character. The way someone’s voice rises when asking a question gives you motivation –is she asking or telling?

Even a shooting star is inspiration.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/friday-inspiration/fleeting-nature/

Save Your Work!

unnamedDear sisters, brothers and writers of all kinds,

Last Sunday when I was running around trying to get ready for a day out with my kids and husband I stopped for a few minutes to clear some space on my computer. It had been warning me for weeks that it didn’t have enough disk space to run the newest update and for some reason that morning I couldn’t stand seeing the window pop up anymore.

In no more than ten minutes I was able to do what a computer expert couldn’t undo in three hours. With a few clicks of my fingers I wiped every saved document that existed on my hard drive.

Every article was gone, every short story, every word of my novel. In the few seconds it took to realize what I lost, a hundred moments flashed through my mind. All the late nights I’d hunched over my keyboard, elbow pressed against a cold tea cup, my face illuminated by the blue-white screen. Every time I’d passed on building a Lego castle with my boys to get in one more paragraph. I saw all the Saturdays I hid myself in my writing room and heard all the voices I labored to bring to life whispering in my ear. It felt like all of that time meant nothing.

Aside from what I posted on my blog and the few things I emailed to my writing buddies I hadn’t backed any of my documents up. Who needs backup when everything is supposed to be safe in the cloud? When Macs are known for being near indestructible? I didn’t think I needed Dropbox or Google Drive. I wasn’t going to be paranoid and go buy a jump drive. I was fine.

Until I wasn’t fine and I was a writer with no writing.

I cried for a day then made myself stop. I tried to write for the next four days and nothing came. It felt like something heavy was sitting on my hands and my brain was swimming through Jello. Nothing was there but the loss.

It took me two days to find the courage to go through what I could salvage from friends and type up from my journals. As I typed I remembered sitting in middle school on the old school style macs.

We’d bring our floppy disks to the computer lab and type up papers about Shakespeare or The Civil War. Our teacher would walk slowly down each of the rows with his hands crossed over his pot bellied stomach. He’d break up talking with the flick of his unsharpened pencil on someone’s shoulder and stop for brief moments to lean beside someone else and whisper that he knew they were playing solitaire and they’d better knock it off. He’d hum Blink 182 songs and remind us every few minutes in a thick country accent that, “Only morons don’t save their damn work every 15 minutes or so.”

I wrote his crass words on a sticky note and stuck it to the corner of my computer. My husband copied it and made a big sign for the wall beside my desk. My teacher’s words floated in the air around me for days.

I saved my salvaged work, four times. I emailed it to my email address that I set up for the explicit purpose of saving stories. I checked that it was saved right. I double checked. Then I sat, my hands lightly over the keys with a word document opened and I felt its mocking blank stare, the reminder of what happened last time and I typed one word after another and told myself that it’s never all for nothing.

So my advice to you this week is not advice but a command, and it’s not about short stories or novels or grocery lists or articles. My advice is short and clear and sent from yours truly on the heels of a bitter lesson I hope to never be forced to endure again. We are so much luckier than we were a few years ago when saving our work meant not losing our oversized case of floppy disks. We have iCloud and Google, we have jump drives and email, and in my case also a lock box at the bank. We have no excuse to be in a predicament as preventable as the one I’m now facing. So save your work, and be obsessive, and if you need a reminder from someone a little more straightforward and words a little harder, imagine that I’m standing in front of you with my best mock Georgia accent and my finger is in your face and I’m shouting:

“ONLY MORONS DON’T SAVE THEIR DAMN WORK!”

Much love,

Callie

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/save-your-work/

On Being Brave: Or Are We Frozen in Fear?

FrozenI haven’t seen the movie, mostly because I don’t have any little children in the house, but the media buzz is touting the amazing and empowering story of Frozen. I’m only paraphrasing what I’ve heard on TV, but it seems like this Disneyesque story doesn’t rely on the usual trope of Prince Charming swooping in to save the princess and carrying her off on his white steed, but somehow the princess learns to be brave and take care of herself.

I recently mentioned to my writeonsisters that I felt our blogs were taking a turn toward the negative, focused more on the fear and humiliation of submitting our beloved stories to agents and editors, only to have them torn to shreds. And I get that, I really do. But lately I’m feeling more like shrugging off the cloak of negativity and just doing what feels right. I read an amazing post that Robin sent me from an author named Alyssa Rose Ivy. It’s a must read! Immediately I felt relief, empowered, that maybe I can do this myself. We’ve all read about how much dysfunction there is in the publishing world and how the brutal critique from agents can bring you to your knees. Some agents are even taking large percentages from authors they sign while they use the tools available for self-publishing to grab all the profits. Despicable! (Okay, that’s a different movie.)

I confess that I’m not your typical author. I jumped into the writing world late in life and I don’t need to make a living at this, and therefore I, more than others, should embrace the attitude that I can write whatever I want and if I find an audience, that’s wonderful. If I don’t, well…I don’t. But at least I did it my way… Oh, Frank, I can hear you singing to me!

So this makes me consider risk. Nothing new is ever broached without risk. Whether it’s Christopher Columbus or Neil Armstrong, that kindergartener stepping onto the school bus that first day or a medical intern doing her first surgery. It’s scary and it’s intimidating, but really, for writers, what is there to fear? Our lives aren’t in jeopardy like a rookie cop or firefighter, an astronaut or a CIA agent. Come on! Is our self esteem that fragile? Our self-image so tenuous? I do remember being nervous as a student teacher once, fearful of screwing up a lesson on the Krebs Cycle and the Electron Transport System, an intimidating subject in biochemistry, to say the least. My master teacher gave me sage advice: “You’re not working in the Emergency Room, Caryn, if you make a mistake, nobody dies. You can correct it the next day.” Well that put things into perspective rather quickly!

I can only imagine how it might feel to finally get a contract with an agent/publisher and daydream about how many hundreds or thousands of books I’ll sell, and then plateauing at 50. I know someone who this happened to, as well as others who’ve had to return their advance or buy back all the copies that didn’t sell. Now that is scary! So, I get that there’s risk–to one’s identity or social standing, financial risk…or just feeling foolish that you even aspired to be a published author in the first place. And then there’s the risk that comes with success, as Kathy touched on when she announced she’d finally signed a deal, and honestly, something I’d never even remotely considered.

Failure is part of the process that leads to success. It shouldn’t stop you, but only make you pause, regroup, learn and revise. More of a comma than a period. Risk puts us outside our comfort zone but in the process we develop new skills that can be used over and over again. We learn to fix our mistakes and understand that mistakes happen to all of us. How many anecdotes have we heard from the likes of Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates? How many successful people have been fired or became school dropouts because they didn’t fit into the establishment? All of this leads to personal and professional growth. Avoiding risk means you’re playing it safe, enslaved by your emotions, hiding in your comfort zone where no one will judge you…too fearful to pursue your dreams. It’s imperative to manage these negative emotions and this only comes with experience. How many times did you have to fall off your bike before the fear didn’t immobilize you? You fell down, maybe even scraped an elbow or knee, but you soon realized it didn’t kill you and the fear dissipated and before you knew it you were riding like a pro.

Eventually we learn to trust ourselves but only after we have experience with risk. I feared speaking in public until one day I understood that if you talk about something you know, something that is important to you, well, you don’t need many notes and the words flow easily. No more sweaty palms and racing heart. You’re comfortable, you’re at ease. You know what you’re talking about. Being brave isn’t about not having fear, it’s having fear and moving forward anyway.

And I’ve thought a lot about this recently. Maybe for an author the goal is not to be a bestseller. It’s similar to winning the Oscar for best actor. Once you’ve reached that level of success it’s difficult to be there again in people’s minds. Consider J. K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, or E. L James. Can they ever write anything again that will reach that level of success? Probably not, and everything they put out subsequently seems to get trashed. Perhaps we should simply aspire to be someone whose next story is something our readers are waiting for, a story that touches them and might make them think about it long after they finish. That’s all.

Superhero kid

 

 

So be brave… as Sara Barielles sings in the song of the same name.

Put it on your iPod and listen carefully to the lyrics for an added pep talk…

Because I want you to be brave…I really do.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/on-being-brave-or-are-we-frozen-in-fear/

Fraidy Cat

More from our favorite regular contributor Kathy Weyer. Please, welcome her as she shares more thoughts about the bumpy road of a newly signed writer.

I’ve decided I’m just a ’fraidy cat.Cute cat cartoon screaming

In my last post, First Book Angst, I talked about having my book Stitches signed by a publisher – and I had the unmitigated gall to be ambivalent about it. The book was finished, polished, submitted, and signed. It’s out of my hands, like a child being sent away to boarding school. So now I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about my mental health. After all, I wrote a book and someone wants to publish it. Why am I not over the moon? What is wrong with me?

I drew on my education and experience as a therapist. I dove deep into my own psyche (not easy to do, but, then again, only we curious writers and wacko therapists will boldly go where no one dares) and discovered a history of fear dressed up as indecision and procrastination.

It’s scary in here. Lots of cobwebs and memories. But I digress.

We humans like homeostasis, the genetic need to keep things the same – our bodies work hard to keep things on an even keel (when blood pressure rises, the heart slows down, for example). Our psyches tend to do the same thing. We hold ourselves back because of the “what if…” game. What if it’s over-the-top successful? What if I fail? What if nobody likes it? What if the reviews come in, and they stink? Hmmm…notice the proportion of good result projection vs. bad result projection. Have to work on that.

We don’t like change, even though we crave it. We may want to be famous authors, but do we really want the success? Maybe not. It means our lives will be impacted, our income will change, our identity may be that of a famous author on talk shows and in magazines, and our friends may treat us differently. Maybe they will be jealous or resent our success.

On the other hand, do we want to tolerate failure? Absolutely not. Yet another project gone awry, all that time, all that energy, all that planning and work? People will be sad for you. Maybe you see pity or disappointment – shame, even.

Either way, it’s scary. Our lives may change as a result of publication and getting the baby out into the world. We can’t know how much, and that’s scary. We need to learn to embrace failure as well as success. Failure is only a sign that we tried, and success is a sign that we maybe did it well – or were at the right place at the right time – luck has a lot to do with it.

So here’s what I’ve come to:

An editor on the other end of this umbilical cord is looking over my words, my story, my plot line, and my characters, making suggestions and tracking changes, massaging this work of art from a professional point of view. Somebody who knows what they are doing, and what the public wants, is working on this so that I have a better chance of being successful. I am proud of that, and I can’t wait to see what she does with it. I can learn a lot through this process about the craft of writing. How cool is that? I now acknowledge that I have successfully finished my part in this process. I happily release it to this expert to turn it into something better. And if it doesn’t sell well, I will leave a sign that I went at it with everything I had.

If, and I say if rather than when (there I go again) the book becomes a best seller and I am interviewed by Oprah (wait, she doesn’t do that any more) I will have fun. I will meet new people, have new experiences, and enjoy my time out in the world, and let the chips fall where they may as far as the rest of my life. Bring it on!

Either way, I’m good with it all. And I could use a change anyway, the cobwebs in here are getting thicker.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/fraidy-cat/

The 11 Emotional Stages of Writing A Novel: It’s Just Like Restoring a Car

junkcarNow that I’ve written several manuscripts and restored a number of classic cars, I can tell you the emotional stages of each process are nearly identical. I know that may sound hard to believe, so for those lacking the car restoration experience allow me to elaborate.

Passion:
No one would begin a project that sucks up every ounce of free time without a big dream, and a healthy dose of unbridled enthusiasm. The dream part is good. We all need dreams. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm is a product of the fact that you are a clueless idiot. At this stage, you have no idea the process is almost going to kill you. Will likely bankrupt you, and that you may need a tow truck to cart away the wreckage of your tattered soul, or the rusted chassis of a vintage sedan.

Self-Delusion:

It both cases this is an adrenalin fueled decision. We throw down the first few thousand dollars (or words) quickly. We tell ourselves a host of lies to make the end goal sound easy. There is always a little part of us that knows it’s not easy, but without blind faith in our own latent abilities most of us would turn back without ever starting. 

Calm:

There is a zen like lull following that first zap of brain altering hormones. This is when we start to slow down and plan for the long term. We make lists. We buy necessary equipment. We start thinking about the long road ahead of us clearly.

Panic:

Once reality settles in, it’s meltdown mode. You realize everything is going to take much longer and demand more elbow grease than you expected. At this stage, most people stow the manuscript in a file folder. Or drag the car back to the barn of an elderly relative where the darn thing came from in the first place, and pray for spontaneous amnesia.

Acceptance:

If you fight past the panic wave, you enter a renewed commitment stage. You throw out the unrealistic timetables. You acknowledge your own shortcomings with faith and humor, if a touch of melancholy. This is usually when you try to learn some skills, do some research and reach out to humans afflicted by the same madness. At this stage you’re still confident all you need is a helping hand, or a few resources, and victory is yours for the taking. This is a long, hard, get to work phase. This is when you roll up your sleeves and make significant progress.

Bipolar:

You love it. You hate it. You love it. No explanation necessary! The bipolar phase can strike repeatedly and at any stage. Some people flip back and forth between bipolar, panic and acceptance levels several times before arriving at the next stage. Bipolar stage is often linked with an anger component. You can be angry with yourself, or with the project.

Bewildered:

During this stage the project keeps you up at night with a feeling that has no name. It’s a state of confusion that comes from wondering how in the world you landed in your current mess. You start to dissect every decision with a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that something is wrong. You tell yourself it’s nerves, or a touch of the flu. You keep working harder than ever, trying to overcome uncertainty by brute force.

Despair:

This is the darkest hour. This is when you learn the sinking feeling was real, and some horrible defect lurks beneath the new paint job. It’s the finished draft with an unlikable protagonist. It’s the flawed plot, and it sucks. During this stage you want to Free-cycle your classic car (or your laptop), curl up in the fetal position and eat chocolate for a month. Or two. Owning up to the fact that you caused this current predicament by doing something stupid, makes you feel rotten to the bones. However, knowing the only way to fix this nightmare is by destroying months of hard work, and stripping off all the shiny doodads you just worked your butt off to attach, makes you feel even worse.   

redcarOptimistic:

After a long dark tunnel, the last piece of the puzzle falls into place, and you figure out what you need to do to fix everything. You realize it’s not going to be easy, but you’ve come this far. You’ve decided you are no quitter and you will finish this blasted thing if it’s the last thing you do. This stage is accompanied by a spurt of work that leaves you baggy eyed. For the first time you feel the end is near and other people start to notice the difference too.

Fear:

At this stage you’re done, but you just can’t help bemoaning the fact that you can’t find a matching window crank. You need the right verb for page 213 and a better name for a protagonist’s father. And what about those elusive floor mats that match the carpet? This is when you tinker with everything in an effort to protect yourself from rejection. You can’t stand to let go of your baby because the world is a cold, cruel place. For many this is the hardest stage of all, but at some point you must let it go.

Pride:

It’s been a huge job and you know it’s never going to be over (darn those shopping carts and typos). There will always be something to fix. This is when you understand that perfection is an unattainable goal. You learn to enjoy what you’ve accomplished. Getting to this point took your last vestiges of courage, but you made it. Only you know how much you sacrificed to finish. The best part is no one can take that accomplishment away from you. You now own a thing of beauty that you created with your own two hands. Let yourself revel in your prize!

Up Next from Robin…. Romantic Treats

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/the-emotional-stages-of-writing-a-novel-its-just-like-restoring-a-car/

How To Stay Motivated Without Deadlines or Money

No MoneyA little backstory on me… I have not worked a regular, paying job this past year. I used my savings to quit everything and just write a novel. I’ve had many friends ask me how I stay motivated without the threat of deadlines or reward of money. This is how I do it…

1)   Schedule. Pretend you have a normal job and make yourself a schedule of what to do and when to do it. Don’t worry if it takes a few weeks to find a schedule that works for you. Not everyone operates best from 9 to 5. For instance, no matter how hard I try, I am not a morning person. So in the AM when my brain is mush, I take care of things like emails, Twitter, my blog and my website. By late morning I’m awake enough to start writing. Once you find your schedule, stick to it.

2)   Location. Just because you can write from home doesn’t mean it’s the best work environment. At the start of my year off I had trouble getting anything written at home, so a friend and I went to the library to work. It was quiet and free from distractions. I couldn’t do anything except write. Now that I’m well into my novel, I don’t need to go to the library to focus and I write at home, but in the beginning I needed that “office” space.

3)   Don’t Play Hooky. It is tempting take advantage of the fact that you don’t have a regular boss or deadlines by socializing and/or napping midday. Try to resist, but if you do succumb to temptation, don’t shrug and be like, “Oh well, no one will ever know!” Instead, reschedule that lost work time to the evening or weekend.

4)   Rewards. It’s hard to keep working when you want to bake cookies or check Facebook or play with the dog. Instead of denying yourself or giving in, make these things your reward for writing so many words, or writing a certain number of hours. Pay yourself in fun breaks!

5)   Hide The Smartphone. My phone is awesome, but a total distraction when I’m writing. It’s too easy to reach over, turn it on, and check my email/Facebook/Twitter, just for a few seconds. But those few seconds turn into minutes and suddenly an hour has passed! Now I leave my phone in another room where I can’t reach it and only check it every couple hours.

6)   Read. Nothing motivates me more to finish my novel than reading a great book or a terrible book. If it’s a great book, I’m inspired and learn from it. If it’s a terrible book, I’m enraged and motivated to write more because if that lousy book got published, the only thing standing between me and publication is my unfinished manuscript!

7)   Fear. Fear is a great motivator and need not be in the form of a tyrannical boss or looming deadline. I fear failure. I fear running out of money as I watch my bank account dwindle. I fear no longer having a screenwriting career to fall back on since I’ve been out of the biz too long. I’m terrified because I’ve left myself no other option but to succeed! Fear keeps me in line, adhering to all of the above steps, and motivates me to write, write, write!

You might notice that the obvious suggestion “Set Your Own Deadlines” is not on my list. That’s because this is my first time writing a novel and I don’t know how long it will or should take me to complete everything. Setting unrealistic deadlines wouldn’t be helpful. Instead, I write a certain number of hours each and every week, and track my progress. That way I get an idea of how long things take, and maybe for the next novel I’ll set deadlines.

So that’s what works for me. How do you stay motivated?

Next Up from Heather… Writing loglines. Because everyone needs to know how to sum up their story in one sentence!

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/how-to-stay-motivated-without-deadlines-or-money/

Fear

anais-nin-136058

It’s funny how some journeys sound idyllic on paper. You set forth with clear blue skies and total assurance of your own capabilities, and then the wind kicks up. Within seconds, you’re lost among the sodden wreckage, you struggle to stay afloat, but all the pieces drift apart and slowly … you sink.

The Write On Sisters blog started out this way, with my craved for, urgently demanded, and eagerly awaited opportunity to be out there as a fiction writer. As we labored over all the details, I looked forward to every moment I would share with my dearest writer gal pals, and to some future date when we would look back at each other and ourselves with the sweetness of nostalgia.

I can’t say just when the tides changed. It happened without warning and long before I’d typed a single word. While endless white space awaited my command, not a glimmer of an idea yielded my call, and that’s when the blog became something to dread. A job hanging over me, with a ticking timer already in to the danger zone. That’s when doubt set in.

What if I send out something with a typo? What if people say cruel things in the comments area? What if I lose the respect of my friends and family by revealing something ugly about myself? Or them? Fear is a terrible thing for anyone, but worse for a writer. Fear can stop us from taking the big step, the one where we reveal our words to the world.

 Today I defeat fear. I will achieve this by accepting some universal truths.

I can’t please everyone, I’d like to … But … I can’t.

I will make mistakes, and some may even cost me dearly … But … I hope not.

I must surrender control over all the random variables of the web, the blog, the whims of my muse and fling myself face first into an ocean of fear.

To all the Sisters sitting in the darkness of fear, I say … leap! For I have faith that somewhere out there, you will find a fellow writer, a new sister, just waiting to pick you up should you crash during the landing.

Up Next from Robin … What Doth it Profit Thee? Building Historical Vocabulary.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/the-road-to-publication/fear/