On Writing, Ranée

Here It Goes Again

In a previous post, I wrote about how I’d made a complete mess of the story that I was working on with my disorganized, haphazard approach to writing. Well, as it happens, I wasn’t just plagued by my chaotic storytelling; in RPG parlance, I not only got too caught up in creating my characters’ backstory but also got distracted by a silly side quest.

It’s taken me over a year and a half to realize what this story is actually about—not what it started out as or what I intended for it to be—but what it truly is. It didn’t really hit me until I wrote my book pitch for Paper Cuts a couple of weeks ago. When I did that, I realized that the book I was pitching wasn’t the book I was writing. So what do you do when you find yourself faced with such a realization? Well, after cursing yourself (a lot) and vacillating between pressing on and giving up, first you reevaluate and then you take action—reboot.

During meditation yesterday, I asked my guides if I should continue with this book and they said yes. I’m not gonna lie; I wasn’t fully on board with that right away. So, I spent much of yesterday evening reevaluating this project, including talking through my dilemma with my husband. He asked me what I liked about what I’d written so far and that helped me to get to the heart of the matter, to see where the real story lay. If you find yourself lost, then I highly recommend you take a moment to analyze what you’ve got and, if necessary, ask a trusted soul to help you with this process. Most likely, there’s something that’s worth salvaging, but, often, we are too close to our work to see it objectively. Once you determine what those salvageable pieces are, do some further examination to see how they do or could fit together. That, fellow ink-slingers, is your real story.

The story that you’re actually writing may not be the one that you set out to tell. If you find that’s the case, then the next step is to decide whether or not you’re OK with that. For me, realizing that the story I thought I was writing wasn’t the one that I wanted to write was like finally breaking the surface, lungs burning, and gulping in fresh air; I’d been under water for far too long. I feel a huge sense of relief just accepting that the story I told myself I wanted to write wasn’t what I was really interested in writing and I’ve decided to continue with it. If, however, you’re not OK with a realization like that, then it’s probably best that you put your project aside. DO NOT TRASH IT! While present you might be 100% positive that you never want look at it again let alone try to fix it, a future you may feel quite differently some day and could approach it with a fresh perspective, so, trust me, just put those pages somewhere out of sight for now and move on.

If you choose what I feel could be the harder path and decide to press on, well, then you’ve got some work to do in terms of regrouping. You can keep everything you’ve written so far together in the same place (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and just continue on with the new aim in mind or you can start fresh with the pieces you’ve decided are the keepers, tucking the others away to keep for future use. In the name of clearing the chaos, I’ve decided to do the latter. I’m also beginning some focused journaling to help me gain further clarity (huge thanks to one of my best girlfriends for this timely gift!). Some ways to get reorganized include creating a new outline and/or mind map with the true story in mind, engaging in some focused freewriting to flesh out plot points, and taking a little break before diving into your project again.

In addition to regrouping, I’m giving myself a deadline. My goal is to spend the remainder of winter working on this draft and, if come spring, I find that figuring out the real story hasn’t made any difference and I’m still struggling, I will move on. Deadlines are always a good idea.

In any case, if you find yourself in a similar position, I hope that you won’t despair (at least, not for too long), but that you’ll carry on and take another stab at it.

On Writing, Ranée

Disorder

Creativity requires a certain amount of disorder—a good kind of chaos, if you will, and I fully admit to being a bit Scarlet-Witchy (OK, more than a bit). However, in this post, I’m talking about the bad kind of disorder, the sort that comes from a lack of clarity and has nothing to do with creative spirit.

I’ve spent some time this week migrating content that I’ve written for my current story from my notebooks into Scrivener and, in the process, I’ve come to an important realization—I should not be writing when I’m depressed or stressed out unless I’m just writing about how I’m feeling. I haven’t got much of substance to show for the months when I’ve been trying to write while feeling bad; the little that I do have is a jumbled mess. All of the more organized threads that flow into actual chapters were written prior to depression and anxiety setting in. It is exceptionally difficult for me to maintain a decent level of concentration and to organize myself when I am depressed or anxious; that’s always been true. The difference now is, I’m aware of it. I know now that this was the real reason I could never finish a book let alone really get one started—my emotional struggles caused me to lose focus to the point that I just couldn’t get it together.

The other lesson I’ve learned is that I need to follow my own advice and when nothing good is coming or I’m just not feeling like working on a particular project, then I need to write something else, whether that something is journaling, writing a blog post, or working on another creative project. With regard to the latter, I’ve been forcing myself to stick with one creative writing project at a time out of fear I’ll never finish anything if I don’t make myself plow through, but I’ve realized that, by doing this, I’ve been hampering my own creativity (and as I noted above, the real problem for all those years was depression, not my tendency toward chaos-witchiness). I hate doing the same thing all the time; I get extremely bored and end up feeling constrained. I certainly need some structure to keep me on track, but instead of forcing myself to push on when my heart’s not really in it, I should instead embrace my own dynamic nature, be flexible, and work on whatever project I feel like on a given day (employ an organized chaos, so to speak). My hope is that by changing things up, I’ll avoid stagnating and will instead keep the embers of my creative fire burning.

Along the same lines, while my story ideas tend to be nonlinear, with scenes/flashes coming at random, I need to write in chapters. If I have a scene in my head, then I will write it but I also need to write what goes around or with it, connecting the dots. This will save me having to go back and fill in loads of blanks later and will help to keep me organized. I mean, even when Wanda was completely disrupting people’s lives, she still provided a substantial amount of structure. The least I can do is turn random scenes into full-fledged chapters (the fact that I have already done it is proof I can do it again).

So this will be my new process once I’ve moved over the stuff I’ve got in my notebooks. Maybe I’ll even consider going back to writing on the computer. Ha! Sorry, but computer writing for creative projects is reserved for revising . . . unless I find a good electronic approximation for a pen and notebook that can be transferred straight into the computer and integrate with Scrivener, but that’s another topic for another day.

On Writing

The Writing’s on the Wall

Or, as the case may be, in the song, in a perfectly brewed cup of chamomile tea, in your dreams . . . Literally, anywhere.

A while back, the topic of discussion for Paper Cuts, our monthly writers’ group, was inspiration. Our conversation got me thinking about ways to maximize or play to your different sources of inspiration. I’ve put together a short list below, but since, as I’ve noted above, inspiration can come from almost anywhere or anything, feel free to note your specific sources in the comments and I’ll suggest some ways to make that work for you and your writing. Note that all of these are also good tactics for battling the beast known as “writer’s block.” However, keep in mind that your triggers shouldn’t be a distraction from your writing; if you find that you’re spending too much time setting the mood and not enough actually getting down to business, then your source of “inspiration” is really just a procrastination strategy and you should let it go.

  • Music. If, like me, you’re inspired by music, then why not listen to music while writing? Put on a record, create playlists to accompany your work, or just allow some ambient music to play in the background. Going to a concert, orchestra, symphony, or other musical event is another way to tap into your source.
  • Atmosphere. If you find that there’s a certain type of atmosphere that’s conducive to your writing, then create that environment for yourself or seek out that ideal writing space (library, coffee shop, etc.). If you need a cup of coffee or tea in your favorite mug, a glass of bourbon, candles, certain smells, a particular writing implement, absolute quiet, a blanket, whatever it may be to get you ready to write, then make it happen.
  • Dreams. If you’ve ever woke up from a dream thinking, “That would make a great/weird/cool story,” or if you often find yourself getting ideas from dreams you’ve had, then try keeping a dream journal. As soon as you wake up, jot down all of the details you can remember from any dreams you’ve had so that you can use those notes to generate future content.
  • Nature. I often find that going for a walk in my favorite nature preserve/park stirs up new ideas and images for me. If you’re also inspired by nature, then do your writing outdoors or choose a spot facing a window with a view. If, like me, you’ve got a particular place with which you feel a connection, then go spend some time there and see what comes up for you.
  • Images. Put up pictures or artwork in the space where you write so that those visual cues are prominently displayed where you can see them as you work. Alternatively, go to a museum or art gallery or watch a film that you find inspiring.
  • The Zone. If you’re inspired when in “the zone,” then try meditating on your project before getting to work to help you get into that highly creative space and tap into your subconscious. You can also do some automatic writing to see what ideas flow up from beneath the surface.

Again, these are just a few strategies that come to mind for me. I welcome your thoughts to build upon this list.

Ranée

Welcome to My Nightmare

We sweat and laugh and scream here
'Cause life is just a dream here
— Alice Cooper 

When I was a kid, I was terrified of clowns. And when I say terrified, I’m not exaggerating. Whenever I saw a clown, my heart would start beating rapidly, I’d feel my throat constrict and my body start to sweat in a panic, and I wanted to either scream or run away. I remember being so frightened of them that I felt safe marching in parades as a majorette because if I was in the parade, then the clowns who were also in the parade couldn’t approach me to try to talk to me or give me candy.

If there’s one incident from my childhood that illustrates just how frightened I was of clowns, it’s the time that my dad’s cousin-in-law, Bob, came to our house wearing clown makeup. The instant I saw him at our back door, I screamed in terror, raced back the hall to my room, crawled under my bed, and hid there. I scared the shit out of my little brother so badly that he ran with me to my room and crawled under the bed too. Bob, still in clown makeup, came back to my room, knelt down on the floor, peered under the bed and tried to tell two screaming, frightened children who he was and get us to come out, but all I saw was a creepy clown reaching under the bed to try to grab me. It was my worst nightmare come to life. I didn’t stop screaming or come out of hiding until that man had washed all the makeup off his face and it took me a long while to calm down after that scare.

I’m no longer scared of clowns and haven’t been for some time, but I still find them creepy; the same goes for ventriloquist dummies and puppets and, to a lesser extent, mannequins and even some dolls. The episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer titled “The Puppet Show,” gave me the wiggins (to use the Scooby Gang’s lingo) and to this day, I have refused to read or watch Stephen King’s It because I was afraid that it would resurrect my childhood fear and give me horrible nightmares.

Over the years, I’ve pondered just what it was about clowns, dummies, and the like that scared me so much as a kid and I think it was the fact that they’re a grotesque mockery of the human. Dummies, puppets, mannequins, and dolls are meant to resemble humans but they’re not. Clowns, although they’re actual people, wear exaggerated face makeup that makes their features look unnaturally large and phony. To my child self, these things weren’t interesting or cute or amusing but downright monstrous.

Recently, I had a dream about conquering my childhood fear of clowns. I facetiously said to myself, “Well, I guess it’s time for me to finally read It,” but that dream actually meant something quite different and a great deal more to me. I despise lying and deception, dislike phony people, and get particularly disgusted with those who deliberately try to fool, deceive, or manipulate others (really, who are they trying to kid?). To the adult me, clowns, dummies, puppets, and such are a metaphor for the masks that people wear and the very nature of reality, the phoniness and lies that pervade society. It’s a sick sort of reminder that the face that others choose to show to you often isn’t real, that we can’t trust how things might appear on the surface. The message is clear: I need to see the puppet show for what it is—don’t watch the little figure performing who’s trying to distract me, but keep my eye fixed on the one behind the scenes pulling the strings (the true self). I must look closer, deeper, to truly see. If I do, then the truth can never be hidden.

There is another part to this, though. I think my subconscious is also telling me that I need to start outright letting people know that they’re not fooling me. I don’t mean just calling people on their bullshit (the ones who are pretending for meanness sake), but those who show a different face to the world because they’re hurting or afraid or in pain, those for whom the mask is a form of self-protection. Telling people that I see who they really are, that I care, and letting them know that they don’t have to pretend with me or hide from me is even more important.