My Circus, My Monkeys

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Recently I’ve been focusing a lot on developing characters for a new story-and yes, I said NEW story. As in not the unfinished one I’ve been working on for the last few years…as in the voices in my head that have been nagging me to tell this other(totally unrelated) story,won. They won, I lost. Well, technically I guess I won and I lost. Internal battles are like that.

I’ve noticed that there are usually two main types of writers: the ones who think of characters and develop the plot around them, and the ones who think of plots/storylines and plug the characters into those. I’ve realized that I tend to be more like the latter. I have pages and pages of scribbled story ideas that come to me at random times (like I mentioned in an earlier post), and I might have  general character ideas to go along with the story, but I usually only flesh those out as I’m outlining the plot.

I tend to start by visualizing what each character looks like, and try to find a photo of someone who resembles them as reference. I’m definitely  visually oriented, which is why I normally see stories play out in my mind like movies. Also, considering my profession involves meeting new people and hearing their various backgrounds everyday, one would assume that creating characters would come easy to me. One would be wrong. I think that fact actually works against me, because I tend to be so detail and back story focused I get stuck. Just another example of how over-thinking can be a writers curse, I suppose.

There seems to be a recurring question that comes up among writers about what the “right” amount of back story for a character is. Too much backstory can work against you by drowning your story in unnecessary information. Too little backstory  can leave readers confused and/or not invested in the character. Admittedly, I don’t know the widely accepted “correct” answer to that one yet. What I do know, is that if I feel like knowing a certain part of a characters personality is important to the story or would improve the story were it included, then I’m putting it in. I of course could be very wrong about it…but then again, that’s what editors are for, no?

This new work in progress I have is one that is very near and dear to my heart. It’s an idea I’ve had for quite some time,but I kept putting on the back burner because it seemed too heavy and I was afraid I wouldn’t do it justice. Well, those voices I mentioned earlier just increasingly bugged me to the point where I felt like I had no choice but to at least attempt to flesh it all out. I’ve decided to use some of the characters as an homage of sorts to some of the ‘real’ people that were involved in what the story is about. I’m also nervous about that aspect, since although i’m not using any real names, it means a lot that the key pieces of their personalities are depicted authentically. You know, no pressure, just trying to honor people’s memories.

I once saw a few signs that I just loved because they ring so true. One said: “Careful or you’ll end up in my novel.” The other said: “If a writer falls in love with you, you can never die.” Everyone we’ve come across that has been any part of our lives, any place we’ve been, any experience we’ve had…although some of the memories fade, they all leave a little bit of themselves embedded within us. Sometimes that little bit left behind is a gift; something that awakened a new part of you, or a wonderful memory that you’ll keep forever. Sometimes what’s left behind is a deep seeded fear of commitment and a nervous tic.

When it comes to being a writer and creating characters, you have to use all of it. Just like heroes and heroines, villains too originate in the mind of the writer who created them, and they all are born from something. For instance,  the motivation for Lord Voldemort? J.K. Rowling’s first ex-husband, Morty. Ok that’s a lie, I made that up. But if you know a writer, don’t be an ass hole. Because in a world of circuses-real or imagined- sometimes you’re the ringmaster, and sometimes you’re the monkey. 

 

 

 

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Stop Shoulding on Yourself

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Once upon a Grad-School I had a great professor who, at the time, everyone half-discounted because we all thought was “out there and wacky”-as professors can sometimes seem. Most likely because they are alternating between over-caffeinated and slightly drunk to be able to deal with generally impudent and overconfident grad students everyday. (Side Note: I wasn’t one of those…I was in the “vacillates between over-caffeinated and slightly(ok,moderately)drunk boat” through grad school myself) However, in the clarity that hindsight undoubtedly provides, I realized he was actually borderline genius. Among the many wisdom-bombs he dropped on us during our two-year stint, the one that has stuck with me the most is the phrase “Don’t Should on Yourself.” It was meant as a word of caution, a way to communicate that it is all too easy and all too common for people to second guess themselves prior to/while doing something or berate themselves after. You can, of course, do this in any aspect of your life, which I unfortunately have a history of doing. Here are some shining examples of how this can manifest in the life of a “shoulding” writer: 

 “I know I already have characters and a plot for this story, but what if I SHOULD go in a different direction? Maybe I SHOULDN’T set story here…I SHOULD probably change that. Then change the characters. I SHOULD probably just start over. “(Result: sitting at your computer,not writing anything, yet simultaneously feeling like you suck at writing.)

” Wow, that book was awesome, I SHOULD have thought of that plot!” (Result: Feeling bad about yourself because you “aren’t as creative as Author X”, then contemplating what changes to make to your story instead of actually writing something.)

I am going to be honest, I’ve had plenty of times in my life where I “shoulded” and “what-if’d” myself into borderline-paralyzing indecision. (Just ask anyone who has gone out to eat with me a few times-WHAT IF I ORDER THE PASTA BUT WISHED I ORDERED THE CHICKEN?!) I’ve also spent a good part of the last two and a half years, since deciding to write this novel, over-analyzing and over-thinking everything from character traits to story arcs. Guess where that has gotten me? Partially finished chapters, hours of ‘as-you-go editing’, and tons of totally unrelated story ideas for books that “might be a better idea than this one.” I HAS NO NOVEL. 

So this blog post is a declaration. A declaration that I’m going to work on changing my shoulding ways. I’m going to recognize when I have a shouldy thought, and i’m going to make the conscious effort to let it go. You should to. You should catch yourself when you mentally note a “should-have” or a “what-if”that comes along and say, “Not today, brain!” Make the decision to not allow the planting of those self-doubt seeds. Don’t allow anticipatory regret (or actual regret) to take up residence up there. Do your best. Make the best decisions you can in the moment with the information you have. Sit down and just write (i’m talking to you, me)- worry about the editing and perfecting later. So don’t let the shoulding thoughts eat your brain. Brain eating is for zombies. Go write about zombies…you’re welcome. 

Writing is the New Running

Runners….but, why? I ask because I do not, for the life of me, fathom how people become “runners.” In the spirit of full disclosure I have, in the past (the distant past), tried my hand at running. I’ve always enjoyed certain forms of exercise, but running has never been one. However at one point I started to wish it was, because it was a lot less expensive than what I had been paying for my kickboxing classes/yoga classes/wine tasting trips. That last one just slipped in there. I quickly learned couldn’t hang in the running world. Maybe more so didn’t want to than couldn’t. I hated it. I actually had a visceral response to it. This included obsessively checking my watch to see how much time had passed (normally it was about 25 seconds more than the previous time I checked) and mentally berating myself for deciding to do it in the first place.

Most runners I’ve talked to about this, in my pursuit to understand, have said that it’s because running is “decompression time.” Time to clear their minds or to work through and process whatever is going on in their lives. (I mainly tried to process the fact that my knees hurt while simultaneously clutching my side due to the sharp stabbing pains I was experiencing.) That part I do understand, as should everyone, because we all need something that allows us to work through our shit. I’ve learned first hand what happens when you don’t make the aforementioned shit-processing a priority. That happened after I had our first daughter, as I mentioned in my first post, and it took a while until I even realized what the problem was. I was mentally un-stimulated and lacking a sufficient outlet for my thoughts and emotions. Not a winning combo.

This brings me to the title of this post. Writing serves me in the same way that running serves those masochistic “runner folk” (no offense, I still sometimes kind of wish I liked it). But when I’m writing and can get into a really good flow, it can be like a meditation of sorts. It can also be cathartic, especially if I’m writing about my own experiences or ‘free writing’ whatever comes to mind to get the creativity flowing.

Someone once told me that our minds are like rain barrels. Your rain barrel can be filled to the brim, full of everything you’re dealing with in life, and if it’s kept at this level, just one tiny drop (your kid uses your lipstick for wall décor, or your dog uses your carpet as a bathroom perhaps) can cause it to overflow-for you to lose it and for things to feel unmanageable. So we all need to proactively drain our rain barrels. We need to find whatever it is for us that gives us a mental reset, makes us better able to handle all the ‘rain’ life throws at us, and gives us an outlet for how we’re feeling.

Writing is how I drain my rain barrel. It’s my “running”…minus the cardiovascular benefits. But, then again, someone also once told me that drinking a glass of red wine a night is equivalent to spending an hour in the gym (here’s proof-you’re welcome)…so if you need me I’ll be over here with my laptop and my glass of Apothic Red, workin’ through my shit, and workin’ on my fitness.

But,why you blog?

Obviously, from the title of this website, you know I’m a mom. I’m a mom of two little girls, in fact. But long before I was a mom-in a time which I now in hindsight refer to as the “take everything for granted years”- Before my days were filled with all tasks relating to keeping small humans alive (and trying not to psychologically or physical ruin them), I had all the extra time in the world to immerse myself in good books. I escaped into novels- romance, mystery, historical, almost anything- to give myself a break from my monotonous life of working and then being free to do whatever the hell else I wanted whenever I wanted to do it. Go sit at a coffee shop and read in a cozy corner? Yep. Spontaneously make plans to go do something fabulous and fun with my equally responsibility-free friends? Totally. Take weekly hot yoga and kick-boxing classes for ‘stress relief’? Check. Or sometimes just plop down on the couch and watch mindless television, uninterrupted? pssh, everyday. What an ass hole.
Okay, I wasn’t an ass hole, I was just living my pretty great (most of the time) life blissfully unaware of what a much smaller amount of that “me time” I’d have in the not-so-distant future. Like a much smaller amount….like a fraction of a fraction of it.

Don’t get me wrong,I of course love my kids and would never change having had them ever…but this shit is HARD. Some days are great, but some days I just want to have a frustration-fueled meltdown and down some boxed wine. A lot of the days…all the wines. Sometimes the temporary solution to life’s problems is housed in a plastic bag of vino that’s housed in a square cardboard box. Or in glass, I drink  out of bottles too, there’s no discrimination here.
So anyway there I was, going along trying to work and raise my two kids under three and all that comes along with that, realizing that despite my attempts at holding onto the things I was once passionate about in life, they’d all but disappeared. I still read though, I never stopped reading, I just read less efficiently. Then one day I thought, you know what…I want to write a book. No, I NEED to write a book. Yes, I’m going to write a novel! Oh, sweet, idealistic, impulsively motivated me…bless your heart.
I actually did start writing a novel back then. Two and a half years ago. I wrote down (and continue to write down) my almost constant stream of story ideas as they came, and stole a few hours here and there when I could get the time away to write. Fast forward to today. I have pages of different story ideas (unrelated to the story I had started writing) that I think were pretty great. I do not have a novel. Or even a good portion of a novel. Oh, I forgot to mention I also suffer from chronic, borderline crippling procrastination. I’ll talk more about that later…probably. If I remember.

That brings me to why I decided to start this blog. Renewal of motivation, maybe some accountability, and some good old fashioned catharsis. A place to share with other like-minded people, or people with totally different minds than mine who just might get it too.

So, this is my blog. My blog reviewing the awesome books I read that give me the feels. My blog to talk about my attempts to reclaim the “me” that has fallen by the wayside over the years. The “me” who is still damn determined to write my novel, despite the pile-ups of life that get in my way. This is also a blog for the “me” who just needs an outlet for the crazy shit life throws out. If I can’t look at it all in a humorous way every so often, well, I’ll probably end up being one of those “crazy shits” being thrown into the lives of my family members and friends. So help my family and friends, read my blog.