Friday, March 31, 2017

Influential versus Supportive Word Choice

I maintain that it’s the details that affect the success of a story much more than the concept, the plot, or any of the big picture items. Whether it’s a tone of sincerity or just accuracy in the mundane, the difference between a good book and a great book are the small things.

Word choice in particular. Anyone who has given me something to read has found most of my focus oriented around deleting and altering sentence format and style. I am exactly the sort of editor to cut the word “stupid” and yet ignore the fact that your character is now walking in the park despite having died twenty pages ago.

It’s not necessarily a good thing. In fact, I’d argue you want to seek out readers who do not do this, at least not in the earlier stages.

That being said, I’ve developed an eye for the way that small words change the mood of the entire scene, and it’s not as simple as the anti-adverb coalition wants to make it. Though the balance between big picture and little picture details is important, today I’m only going to focus on the more ignored side.

Word choice can change everything about a description without requiring alteration of the events. It is powerful because it is always an option, something that is easily fallen back on when the author needs to fix something, but wants the story to stay the way it is.

This is why many “rules” supplied to us by creative writing teachers center around inane things like “don’t use said,” and “beware passive-sentences!” Despite being irritatingly exaggerated and seemingly miniscule when it comes to their importance, this commonly repeated advice does has a point and a huge benefit.

However, it’s not so much about bad or good. Instead, it’s useful to see words as “influential” versus “supportive,” a concept that will hopefully lead to a lot more understanding when it comes to seemingly inane editing comments.

Most words are influential. They, by nature, sway the tone, atmosphere, and general feeling of the reader to the intended direction. Supportive words, however, are better defined as neutral, sustaining the tone, atmosphere, and general feeling to keep going with whatever it has been so far.

Take for instance the difference between “screamed” and “said.”

Screamed is influential. When used, it illustrates a specific context. Said, however, is supportive. It can mean anything we want it to. While we can only scream something in a limited number of ways, the way we can “say” something is infinite. I can scream when I’m upset or scared or maybe even excited, but less so when I’m calm or tired. I can say something while terrified, upset, calm, angry, happy, or pretty much any emotion I might be experiencing.

Supportive words tend to be, what I call, base words. They are often used in the definition of their synonyms, accompanied with an adjective. Screamed, for instance, might be clarified as, “he said loudly.” Things like “walk,” “sit,” “look,” and anything else you might find in a “Dick and Jane” book will often be supportive.

As anyone who’s ever been in a creative writing class is aware, the concept of whether or not to use said is a fairly heavily debated one, teachers often commenting to “never” or “only.” This, of course, causes a lot of confusion because, like anything absolute, neither never nor only is correct.

How do you know when to use the base word and when to come up with something more creative? Most commonly, and off topic, it has to do with how many times it’s been used in the past. Essentially, don’t over do it.

More to the point, teachers will further that someone should only use said because the tone should be clear in the dialogue. This, of course, is ridiculous because there’s lots of ways for text to be interpreted, which is why your text messages to your girlfriend always get you yelled at.

Sometimes, and this is an important technique to utilize, we can alter a text to hint at what we want, which solves the problem of having to tell them fairly well.

Yet, for those of us who don’t want to do that, it comes down to a simple question of why is the word said, or lack thereof, a problem?

“Said,” being a supportive word, adds nothing to the conversation. It benefits the writer when he wants to either a) tell the reader who is talking or b) lengthen the time between two pieces of dialogue.  It supports whatever has already been indicated and does not conflict with the interpreted tone.

Other words, however, influence the reader, introducing a new tone to the situation. This can be beneficial and negative depending on the situation. As a consequence, it may contradict an original assumption, making the sentence jarring. In fact, there doesn’t have to be an original assumption for this to eject the reader. If they had none, the sudden introduction still throws them for a loop.

Positively, the influence persuades the reader to read it the correct, or at least intended, way in the simplest manner possible, whereas a supportive sentence doesn’t.

Take, for instance, the phrase, “Hello.”

A dog hops up onto a man’s lap. We can say:

“Hello,” he said.


“Hello,” he laughed.

The first leaves some mystery and doesn’t clarify how he is feeling about a dog in his lap. It can be assumed, based on the context, that he isn’t mad. But, on that note, it doesn’t really indicate any actual opinion. It supports the scene by allowing it to go in which ever direction the author may lead. It does, as a positive, make the scene appear more organic. On the other hand, the second announces the man’s clear opinion on the subject, which, as I’ve discussed before, is always more interesting than no opinion. Though the first doesn’t make the man unlikable, the second influences the audience’s feelings much faster. We know he likes dogs without having to specifically say it. Showing, not telling.

Sometimes you’ll want the first and sometimes you’ll want the second.

Often, the use of the word said is best when any other opinion tweaks the events in an undesirable way.

The most common example I give of this is a story in which twelve children are introduced through nothing but dialogue.

First, it must be noted that the author was clearly trying to come up for a synonym for said in each sentence. This is an important factor because, in writing, the audience should never (as a default) be thinking about what the author is doing. The problem from not using said comes from this very instance of the story not being organic and simply looking like the author is trying to come up with more than one word.

The sentence, however, that stayed in my mind was:

“‘How would you know? You’re like twelve,’” she informed him.

Informed is an influential word that alters my image of her facial expression. In this case, it guided me in a direction I didn’t want to go.

Firstly, informed is not technically correct. She was not explaining his age to him, she was mocking him. This sort of thing we can over look because, hey, the author is entitled to have some sarcasm here or there. The main focus of the issue is that, while I pictured the sentence as blunt and disgusted, informing made it feel condescendingly smooth. It changed the motivation of why she was telling him, her tone, and her facial expression. In this case, it was in a manner that ruined the humor in the sentence.

Influential words can be dangerous because it now restricts and limits the mood. Readers are more imaginative and better at organically filling in the blanks than what an author can explain. Supportive words allow for more leeway, giving the author the reader’s benefit of the doubt. These base choices leave out details, meaning that the writer does not need to think of them or admit to them.

That being said, attempting to waddle in indecision is a common mistake for an author. Books are supposed to be influential, the writer is supposed to tell the reader what the creator is thinking, and, in all honesty, influential words are much more interesting.

Knowing which words are supportive and influential and what affect that has on the sentence, description, story, and tone, allows the author to really recognize why he, or someone else, doesn’t like his sentence. Have a problem with a moment? Consider the influence or lack thereof. Changing one word can switch directions without any effort.

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Monday, March 27, 2017

I Find My Favorites in Clichés I Hate

I love Gotham. The Batman spinoff, reboot, prequel or whatever you want to call it is a television series featuring the city of Gotham in the time from when Bruce Wayne’s parents are put down up to… hopefully he becomes the full-blown Batman.

Now, for me to say I love Gotham is quite a feat in itself. For one thing, I don’t like anything. I mean, I appreciate a lot, finding quality in many of the things that don’t particularly bring be joy, but when it comes to something that makes me excited, obsessive, and invested? There’s not a lot.

This has been made a great deal worse in the last few years due to my life’s choices resulting me in an unhappy situation. A bad relationship combined with constant moving, lack of financial security, and a tendency to keep to myself instead of socializing, I found a huge amount of stress and depression that prevented me from being happy period. For a time, I could not find anything that would excite me enough to take my mind off things. I couldn’t even focus long enough to create.

But even still. Since November when I finally signed a lease in New York City, little pleasures have been coming back. I noticed as I took a four hour flight that I was laughing and enjoyingmovies for the first time since… forever? Things have been picking up. I liked Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  and got into Galivant pretty well, but I still have struggled to find an intense love for anything.

The reason why it’s Gotham is actually pretty shocking to me.

For me, the Batman world begins and ends with Batman the Animated Series. Everything I learned about Bruce Wayne, I learned from that show. Justice League had some effect, but for the most part, I consider the vast majority of Gotham-based creations to be non-canon.

One of the reasons I never got that into superheroes was due to my obsession with continuity. The world had to have a consistent set of rules, the storylines needed to remain true. If I “saw” it, I didn’t want it to be contradicted at a later time by some reboot. I like information to go into a pile of truth and not have to willfully ignore my disbelief when some writer changes his mind.

It’s for that reason that I don’t like the vast majority of books that aren’t written by the original author. I read them with one foot out the door. Anything you say is now speculation by an outsider, and I don’t trust it.

Why is Gotham different?

I gave it a chance after looking over my then-boyfriend’s shoulder as he watched it, and decided half-hearted to add it to my Netflix list along with all the other superhero shows. Batman was my first superhero love—Storyline-wise. The playboy, brooding billionaire never did it for me. During my first impression on Gotham, I didn’t like how they portrayed Selina Kyle, didn’t like how they were changing the mythos, didn’t want to enjoy it.

But I was enamored with Penguin. From the second he came on screen, his character was interesting, motivated, and filled with emotions. He was not my favorite villain as a child, but he carried the show for me now.

What’s interesting is that this is not the first time this has happened. One of my favorite books of all time is The Prize Winner, a memoir about a mom from the 1950s who earned her impoverished family’s financial security through winning poems in contests.

I don’t like memoirs. Or the 1950s.

I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but normally can’t stand urban fantasy.

I like Game of Thrones despite hating sad endings, political intrigue, multiple viewpoints, grotesque violence, male-oriented sex scenes, and sword wielding princesses who are bound and determined to fight being a lady.

People ask me why I spend so much time reading books that I don’t like, and the truth is because I don’t trust my first impression.

And it’s not just me. While watching Say Yes to the Dress, a dress consultant said, “When a woman comes in and tells you she doesn’t want a mermaid silhouette, she’s going to choose a mermaid silhouette.”

We often find gems in places that we wouldn’t normally show up.

My point is, it’s important to write what you want without worrying to much about the “red flags” you’re creating. Sure, you need to be savvy about how you’re deterring readers, but just because someone says, “I don’t like that kind of book,” doesn’t mean your book can’t be good.

Take it from a reader who can’t stand change, doesn’t like new things, and will write something off before she even gives it a chance: sometimes it’s valuable to write something that people claim they don’t like.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Should You Force Yourself to Do What You Don’t Want to Do?

Things I hated on a first impression:

Gotham, The Martian, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Rick and Morty, Bob’s Burgers, Adventure Time, my first boyfriend.

To be fair to my first boyfriend, it was about 8 a.m. and he was way too cheerful.

I like to complain. I think that’s evident from any single quote you can get from me. Part of the reason is because it really does help me get over something if I discuss it. It also helps me to problem solve. But mostly I think it comes from a deep seeded belief in my non-credibility. People tend to think I’m lying despite my gross disinterest in doing so. I’d say I lie a lot less than average, and when I do, I’m not very good at it. I notice things, come to conclusions, and then have people question those conclusions that seem to fly out of nowhere. Yet, when you make a point to speak every mild irritant, people are more likely to believe you when the problem gets bigger.

Now, from my complaints, understandably, you have quite a few people asking, “Why don’t you just not deal with it?”

Why are you reading that book if you don’t like it? Why did you let that guy talk to you when you weren’t immediately attracted to him? Sometimes you should just accept that you don’t like socializing and stop guilting yourself for it.

True. Somewhat. I mean, if I accepted “how I am” as just being “how I am” I wouldn’t be a writer. Procrastination, laziness, a short attention span… Pretty accurate to who I was as a teenager. Is true for me now when I let it. I believe most skills can be learned, and not accepting something because you’re afraid or just begrudging isn’t going to change your life.

But I do spend a lot of time doing things that I don’t want to. Not that I don’t spend a lot of time doing what I do want to, nor do I mean to imply that most people don’t have to do things they don’t like. What I mean is, I spend a lot of time doing what I don’t want to do in my free time for “fun.”

I force myself to go out. I force myself to finish a T.V. series I’m not really enjoying. I force myself to drag myself through a novel I hate.

This week I saw a flyer at the library for a writing group. I picked it up thinking, I really should go to that, but I’m kind of dreading it. I’ve always enjoyed writers groups, and in fact remember them as being some of the best times I’ve had in the last few years. But I hate meeting people, and there is always this moment of territorialism you have to contend with. You have to stomp your feet and piss on your chair to assert your dominance before you guys can settle down into a more collaborative, friendly environment.

It’s actually not that hard to do. If the writers are experienced, they’ve already calmed down, and if they’re not, they are easily influenced by a good attitude and an obliviousness to their competitive side. But someone often tries to prove themselves upon your first meeting, and while it’s not that difficult to deal with, it stresses me out.

Plus, I have to curb my ego as well, which can be exhausting.

Truth is, I like staying home all day. I just feel guilty for it. And I’ll be the first to admit about how important it is to get sunlight, fresh air, and exercise in if you want to feel good, especially if you’re at risk for depression. Forcing myself to go out into the world—which is a lot easier now that I live in New York because you kind of have to—tends to make the day go better.

Socializing and even being touched are pretty important necessities that you don’t think about until you suddenly experience it again. You don’t know why you’re feeling badly until, WHAM, social contact, and you realize what you’ve been missing.

I want a family. After last year’s break up and a couple of run-ins with harassment, romantic notions had fled me. The thought of being with someone didn’t excite me anymore, mostly because I didn’t have any hope. I suppose I had always wanted a relationship with someone sort of like Calvin had with Hobbes. Even just a friendship, where the two of you had a deep bond, inseparable, important, irreplaceable. I had hoped that I would have that kind of connection with a husband, but so far I’ve found me taking a back seat in both my relationships. Prior, I hadn’t cared about being the pursuer and just wanted to make someone else feel good, but in return I received massive neglect, betrayal, and heartache. Guys won’t leave me alone, but they won’t exactly put any effort in either. Even brushing their teeth is asking too much.

When I found out how much my ex separated love and sex, I searched out signs that this was just a personality trait, but was told by guy after guy, in not so many words, that no, a man’s sexual attraction means nothing.

I sat behind a young guy on the subway yesterday. He was staring at an Instagram photo. Not a sexual one, just a girl’s face, a profile picture. He gaped at it for a solid minute before flipping to a picture of a totally different woman and gaping at that one too.

I had a guy who was attracted to me. Until we grew close. He was attracted to a lot of women, and all it seems to mean is that they’re going to bother you for your attention until they get sidetracked by someone else.

Oh, sure, it doesn’t mean anything. They can still love you and feel attraction, right?

Well, what if you don’t? What if the one person you wanted, the only person you wanted, was constantly using other people to get excited? What if they were doing things that you’d never even been tempted to do?
It was wrong. It was wrong, and I tried to force it, to fix it. I loved him through the bad. I loved him through the really bad. I loved him long after I shouldn’t. It was so hard to make myself leave, knowing I was depressed, knowing I was lonely, knowing that I needed to do what was right for me otherwise be trapped with someone whose talk of marriage included informing me that his friend said, “Shit or get off the pot.”

Oh you charmer.

I suppose I rather be the one who isn’t tempted to stray than the other way around. I like the fact that I could feel that way for someone. I like that being in a relationship won’t make me pained on what I might be missing out on. I like knowing it’s easy for me to be a trustworthy, devoted partner. But it begs the question: How much do you settle for someone who does things you would never do back? Even if there was no ill-will?

Am I unique in my devotion? I can’t imagine that’s the case. And maybe the desire to look at other people really doesn’t mean anything. Maybe if I find someone who is accessible and misses me when I’m gone is enough. But that certainly seems like settling to me.

I struggled to see myself in a relationship again. I want someone to see me the way I am capable of feeling for someone else. I want someone to be devoted to me, to not screw me over because I don’t constantly vocalize my needs, to take care of me when I’m feeling weak, and who will step up when I can’t put in the effort anymore.

Last year, the dog my ex and I got together died. It was after I had left, and I was mostly in a state of shock. He was just a puppy.

I remember when we took him swimming for the first time. He was a little timid at first, but he took to it like a duck. Or an otter, really, my little otter, who when I was swimming out in the deep, he dove right in and bravely plowed through the distance to come to me so I could catch him.

I miss him so badly. I think about him every day. I hardly think about my ex, and usually when I do, it’s more about the anger I feel towards the distrust I have now, the lack of optimism, how he’s skewed how I see men. But I miss Storm more than anything.

I want a dog. I want a puppy who I connected with at his birth. He was a velociraptor, bitty with tiny little needles for teeth, and I remember swearing, “Next time we get a dog, it will be an adult!” But I want to teach him to swim. Train him to sit. Be woken up by kisses at six a.m.

I want a family, a home, children, and a friend. Someone who I can count on when I need him, who will hold me when I’m scared, who will show me he cares about me and not sit back and let me do all the work. I’m in a new city, alone, trying to make decisions, be optimistic for the future, and all I can think about is how badly my past went, how the family I tried to make disintegrated before my eyes. It was like trying to hold sand keeping it together. It was so hard, and in the end, all I had to show was humiliation and anger.

For a long time, I didn’t want to date again. I didn’t want to leave my house. I didn’t want to meet people. I didn’t want to read that book.

Until I do. I know if I go to this writers group, I’ll have fun after all is said and done. Maybe not a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll be begrudging it every step of the way. Maybe if I finish this book, I’ll change my mind about it. Not a lot. It was still a pain to read, but at least I’ll feel better. Maybe if I give a guy a chance, he’ll prove funny and caring. Maybe not enough to date, but at least he’ll remind me of the good feelings that can come with it.

Or maybe I’ll fall in love. Maybe the group will excite me, inspire me, help me blitz out a couple of pages that night. Maybe that book will become my favorite, something to be read time and time again, getting better the more I am open to it. Maybe I’m skipping over the love of my life, in whatever form, by avoiding change and risk taking.

I started talking to someone again and positive associations returned. Hopefulness came by forcing myself to try. Getting myself out there, doing things that I didn’t want to do helped me want to do them again.

Life is too short to spend it reading bad books, but it’s too short not to take a chance on something either.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Creativity or Half-Assery?

I care too much about what other people think. Or rather, I care too much about knowing what other people think. Sure, sometimes being disliked or a hindrance influences my actions. I’m not capable of making an impatient person wait for me, even if I have every right to take my time, for instance. But overall, I can handle interaction with a person who staunchly despises me over a kind person who might just be fake.

Not worrying about other’s judgments is considered an ultimate goal for most, many proudly proclaiming, “I don’t worry what others think.”

And you know what? By caring what other people think, I improved. Once I really began to acknowledge the importance of other people’s opinions, I developed my skills much faster and began to gain credibility from a first glance. I focused on cramming the forgotten corners of my talents, tending to aspects that I didn’t necessarily enjoy or respect.

But it came with a price. As expected, my creativity was lost, my personality, the uniqueness and style to my work. The things I was making seemed more stilted and homogenized, less exciting, more typical. Overall, I even felt less inspired.

It’s also difficult not to enter into a room and constantly be fixated on what everyone is thinking and doing. It’s not all bad. I’m extremely perceptive, good at taking care of the needs of others, being a team player, and handling the situation. I’m an attentive listener and people do tend to have a shallow fondness for me.

The problem is when it directs all my energy and incapacitates me from doing what I want to. Even when I know an opinion is wrong or it’s none of their business, being aware of what they’re thinking can sometimes cause me to cease up.

When I was younger, being watched didn’t bother me in the least. Nowadays, doing something well in front of someone is substantially more difficult when someone is standing there than when I’m by myself.

The “I don’t care what people think” ideology has come up several times in the past few weeks, making me reassess what exactly is going on. It’s pretty frequent in the writing world overall, and it can be a point of contention. If you look through the biographies of many successful writers, Jack Kerouac as a more obvious example, you can see how they were criticized for writing the way that eventually made them a household name.

An author posted a comment, “Many of you may wonder (in regards to my books/designs) why I don't go by the "standard" formats/rules. Here is why: when it comes to creative expression...TRUE creative expression; there is no rule, there is no standard.”

I, of course, went and looked at his cover designs to find them fairly lacking. It wasn’t that they were uncreative, they were different than most, but they seemed amateurish, simplistic in an easy way. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem. I actually did somewhat like the concept, or perhaps the colors, yet I thought it could be done better. There were some issues in them, like typos on the back cover, random capitalization in some places and not in others.

The other problem is that he uses the series’ title first, putting the book’s title beneath it. At first it seems like they are all called the same until you realize what he’s actually done. Is this really a big problem? Not necessarily, but with self-publisher’s habit of changing cover art frequently, I could see how you would miss that this is a sequel and not just a new version of the first.

Bias confirmed, his fight for creativity proved exactly what I would expect; it seemed half-assed more than inspired.

I suppose that calling it “true creativity” irritated me. I don’t necessarily think that stream of conscious ideas are preferable to brainstormed ones, as in, slapping an idea on a paper and calling it a day isn’t necessarily more creative than analyzing the pros and cons, positive and negative influences, receiving feedback, and questioning overall effect of a decision.

Being creative isn’t exactly about being different. It’s more about finding a new way to have an impact, or even just finding a new tact to do… anything. There’s a lot of occasions in which someone has done something that deviates from the “norm” and I wouldn’t call it especially creative. I’m more inclined to call it lazy.

Intelligently experimenting, trying new things with focus (over just spewing random thoughts) is often oriented by understanding how people think. It’s recognizing how people react to things, it’s recognizing how people don’t react to things. In fact, people who tell me they don’t care what others think seem to be more overwhelmed with their inability to get the desired response.

You don’t have to adhere to other people’s expectations or assumptions, but understanding how the average person will hear/see something enables you to decide if and what to change about it.

I genuinely don’t know how to improve as a writer if you never think about what other people are seeing. I also don’t find that people who only do what they’re naturally inclined to are being all that creative. They often come across as the opposite; doing what everyone else is and mostly unaware of it.

That’s not entirely the case though. Patrick Rothfuss described a character who had learned to play music on her own compared to a musician who had studied all his life. Music was like a city, and the musician knew every inch of it, each street and corner, each shop, and he could move around quickly and easily, while the girl moved naturally as well, but that wasn’t because she knew where she was going, just could walk through walls, unaware that she couldn’t.

There’s something to be said for being honest and not over thinking it, and how people can restrict you. I find my concepts were far more inspired than as of late, with half-assed execution that kept them down. Once you know the rules, it becomes difficult to organically ignore them, like if someone were to tell you not to think of an elephant and you tried to think of an elephant a normal amount.

Doing what feels right can create something far more relatable and new compared to the clinical following of certain standards of protocol. I am by no means a rule follower, but I’ve come to have a harder time ignoring people’s two cents.

Recently, I started to come to terms with exactly what was the problem. I’d been talking to a guy that I really liked, but was slightly embarrassed by the age difference between us, and it was putting a wall between us. There came a point where I realized that he was actually a little younger than he had originally claimed and it was like I had been socked in the chest. He had rounded up when we first met, thinking that he wouldn’t stand a chance otherwise… and he had been right.

Nothing changed about him. Nothing was different, but to hear that specific number mortified me. I had to process it, and I finally sat back and accepted what was really bothering me; I didn’t want people to think I was dating a younger man.

Putting that into words, it all sounded so stupid. I began to realize that most of my guilt and unhappiness had to do with appearances, not my actual actions, not the actual situation. The understanding lifted a weight off of me.

Being true to yourself is hard because you’re flaws don’t have to limit you. My lazy ass self would be a shut in most of her life, but she wouldn’t have learned the lessons she did, or find the things she enjoyed otherwise. I can’t say how much we should stay true to ourselves and how much we should push ourselves to be better, but we all go through the same sort of shit, and it’s important to recognize when image (or laziness) is getting in the way of what is actually best.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Rewrite, Resubmit, or Restart?

After reading the first few chapters of my manuscript in a writer’s group, I mentioned how the last was one of my least favorites. Something was wrong, I felt. “I don’t like it much.” A woman looked at me, honestly baffled, “Why?”

It was her favorite, by far. It was also the oldest. The pages prior had been completely rewritten, over five versions of the beginning. The truth was, it didn’t have the same pomp for me because it wasn’t as new and shiny as the rest. But it stayed for a reason.

The submission process goes as expected, but a shocking result is my lack of interest in writing all together. As I trudge onward, one step at a time, I look to my next manuscript and consider its potential, what it lacks, and feel overall… apathetic.

I’ve lost interest in writing over the last few months. Unlike when I was in the height of my depression, where I didn’t lose the desire, just the focus, I haven’t thought much about my books or my career. I’ve been examining my life outside of it.

I came to New York because I didn’t know what I wanted, and I figured I’d go to the city that has everything. It’s been fun, but I’m starting to wonder if it’s for me. I love it here, but the high cost of rent doesn’t seem to make sense for what I really want to be doing…

Creating. Without the pressure of doing it well.

Don’t get me wrong, the challenge of doing it well is part of the fun. Analyzing the success, editing, tweaking, planning, and the hopes of having it impact another person are all motivators. But right now I just want to sit at home and play the violin. I want to quilt. I want to paint. And yes, I want to write, even though it has rarely crossed my mind.

This the first time I’ve been this broke, this worried about money. Lucky me, yes? Yes, actually. I do feel grateful that if I needed a thousand dollars I could find it somehow. Not easily, of course, but I have some options before I get knocked out on the streets. I knew all my pay would be going to rent, and I didn’t mind it, thinking of my frugal, minimalist lifestyle. But what I realize, as I sit here in my small room wishing I could quilt away for the day, is that if I’m going to live like that, why not be in a place where I could do so cheaply? Get more time out of my “starving.”

I’d always wanted to live in New York City, but the stress of money problems doesn’t seem to make sense. On the other hand, I can’t keep moving. I can’t keep getting up and leaving, never establishing myself, never taking roots. It’s a part of the reason I feel stressed all of the time. And, obviously, making money is more about building something—a good resume, a good reputation, a good foundation of customers and reliability. All of which is about just sticking to something.

You’ll see this problem with aspiring writers constantly—they write. They write a lot. But they keep starting over. Keep scraping the first couple of chapters to fix them, or changing their attention from one novel to the next, never finishing.

But I’ve also stuck things out longer than I should have. I tried to endure a bad situation, thinking I could solve it, but the ingredients were bad from the start.

I’m doing well, surprisingly enough. I’m going to Ireland in April, I like my job, I like my apartment and my roommate, I have some friends, some plans for Saint Patty’s day, and this has put me in a position to really consider what I want, instead of chasing some invisible dragon who very well may not exist.

I’ve come to an epiphany recently that perhaps my pursuit of happiness has been targeting my image rather than who I really am. I won’t criticize it, not as much as the mainstream tends to do, because everything is about moderation. But maybe instead of guilting myself for not meeting ridiculous standards, I need to focus on more self-honesty about what my perfect life—and perfect manuscript—would look like. I was inhibited, in the past, for not making a good enough impression, for not having any credibility, but now my credibility and enjoyment is being inhibited by worrying about appearances just a little too much.

I’m afraid of moving again. I’m afraid of starting the publishing process on a new novel. I’m afraid that I constantly scrap when I really should be revising. But luckily, I have six months to worry about it until my lease is up.

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Well, History Repeats Itself

Yesterday was an emotional mess combined with all the fun of headaches and anger towards absolutely nothing that encompass who I am. Today, the ‘today’ of when I’m writing this, started out much the same until I gave into the urge to paint and took up the vast majority of the day doing so. It is nice when, at five o’clock you have done something you’re proud of while not having dragged through the hours.

When my roommate then slid my W-2s underneath the door, I immediately jumped in and did my taxes, spurred on by the success of my creation. Afterwards, feel proud of my being responsible and not a lazy slob, I had to sit back and think. What is something productive yet no so much of a pain that I could end the day with? I decided to clean up my computer files because it’s very important. So important, that I haven’t sorted them since 2006.

Many years ago I indiscriminately jammed all my files onto my new computer, and then proceeded to do the same for every subsequent computer since. The vast majority of it is garbage, but there’s quite a bit of writing and drawings with, bare minimum, sentimental value.

I also found something interesting.

In 2009, I decided to start querying the fourth manuscript I’d written for the first time. It wasn’t well edited and the query letters are cringeworthy to say the least, but what’s struck me is that as I looked through my list and copies, I recognized some of the names. Fact is, many of the (few) people I queried back then I have also hit up this year. What’s more interesting is that one of them never responded to the first, but sent me a pleasant, “No thank you,” to the second. I’m clearly getting somewhere!

In my virtual travels, I also found several documents containing names and passwords of many of my high school friends. Upon a quick text they confirmed, “Yes, that is still my password.”

“Good to know!”

But what I found most alarming was a letter I had written to my first ex… that could have easily been mailed to my last.

I suppose I have answered my question on how much control I have over the reoccurring pattern. There’s a good chance that, whether or not it’s who I pick or how I act, the problems were caused by me, and they probably will continue until I know how to break the cycle.

It’s unnerving, because my exes’ personalities different on fundamental levels, but still, the exact same larger issues applied in both. Even the guy who doesn’t count was mentioned in my letter as being a part of the pattern.

It’s empowering, in a way, because it means that maybe I can learn from it. In a strange twist, the fact those men have the same problems is actually more suggestive that it’s not just “how men are” but how the men who I was attracted to are. They seemed like different people on the surface; at times I wished I could put them in a bag and shake them up. But at their core, they had the same goals and the same tactics which conflicted with what I needed.

I know that doesn’t seem to make much sense. But, from the way I saw it, I sought out someone who seemed more passionate than my first, someone more physical, more aggressive. Not too much, of course, because I can’t stand pushiness or being told what to do, but someone who appeared both sensitive and assertive in life. Truth was, he was only one of those things, and not entirely in the way that I meant.

I was looking for the wrong things. I wanted a direct solution to the passionless friendship of the last and found someone who I could tell contained deep feelings and a need to be loved. But what I didn’t worry about was something that I didn’t expect to receive from the jump: respect and love back.

Unfortunately, I don’t mean respect in the assumed sense of a relationship. It wasn’t that they didn’t respect my boundaries—a big reason why we were able to get close—or that they objectified me, talked down to me, or pushed me around.

It was that they didn’t respect me artistically. They didn’t respect anything I did for them. My first ex cared far more about the opinions of everyone, especially males, over mine. He once held the door open for his friend and her girlfriend before shutting it in my face.

It was not intentional, of course, just a representation on how much he thought of me when there were bigger fish to fry.

When we worked together on a project, he was far less experienced than I was, was perfectly fine with plagiarism and clichés, and overall ignored how much I was making the play he wanted in favor of the few things I said point blank no on.

While my latest ex didn’t pander to anyone and paid more attention to my needs, he also needed to be constantly told what I needed from him, ignoring the things I did to make his life easier and constantly seeing what he could get away with. Every morning I’d clean his greasy mess of a white uniform in bleach, scrubbing it down, washing, and ironing it to get it crisp before he had to go to work. I didn’t have a job at the time, on a visitor’s visa, but survived mostly off of my savings, spending a great deal of money and time setting up our lives while he spent most of his money God knows where, but certainly on himself. Ignoring all of that, he would see how lazy he could be, refusing to even carry it inside for me after work. I mean, he began to do it after I told him how insulting that was, but the fact is, I had to tell him.

These things may seem petty, and that’s why you stick around. Trying to glue two lives together involves compromise and not keeping track of who’s done what. Plus, I like working. I don’t enjoy much else. Being productive and in control makes me happy most of the time, so doing all of the household chores, even when I do have an actual job, can actually be meditative for me.

I don’t mind doing the chasing. I don’t mind picking up the boring jobs. But what I mind is realizing a year into the relationship that he’s merely there because he’s comfortable. He has no passion for me, he rues the women he’s potentially losing out on, he has every reason to break up with me, but he just doesn’t.

Sure, he loves me. He cares about me. I’m not stupid enough to believe that they didn’t. But I had to come to terms with that even though the constant criticism was small, even with the antipathy of understanding the effect of his actions, even though they were not the same person, the underlying issue was obvious: I need to find someone who knows how to take care of me sometimes.

I cut them slack because I’m an idiot too. I cut them slack because I want to be forgiven for my callous mistakes. I stuck around until I was absolutely sure that we were never going to grow into the bond I was looking for… and I came out feeling like no one was ever going to care enough to stand by my side.

They are there for me when I make it happen, and I’ve guess I’ve come to expect that. I chose when it started, I chose when I left. They put little energy into making either come to pass. And it makes sense. I believe in self-fulfilling prophecies and no matter what I’m doing, I never depend on other people coming through for me. When they do, great! But I always have several backups in mind.

The underlying issue? They weren’t there for me. Not when it counted. They had be to instructed, fought, and their pouting ignored when I tried to solve my problems. Stopped asking him to take me to the airport? Had to put up with a hissy fit. Asked him if he wanted to come to the movies with me instead of trying to schedule a date that will never happen? Had to put up with a hissy fit. Not only could I not depend on them, I had to take care of them emotionally when I tried to do something for myself.

Why did my letter to my ex make me hopeful that it could change? Because I realized I never try to depend on anyone assuming that they’re going to abandon me the moment I do need them. I don’t bother to vet for reliability, devotion to me, because of course it’s not going to be there in the beginning… or because I don’t think it will happen period. I come up with backup plans and try to fix everything myself and find myself fighting someone who should have been helping me in the first place.

I always say not to write off your younger self as an idiot; you’ll be much more likely to repeat your same mistakes. I read a letter written six years ago when I was nothing more than a “dumb college student” and realize that I had a lot more insight than I do now.

Yes, it was my doing in that I can control it, but even then I recognized that my feeling of worthlessness to the person I loved wasn’t going to be fixed by trying to become more valuable. If I want to find someone understanding, I just need to look for someone who is understanding instead of trying to earn it.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

One Blind Step at a Time

For the first time in nearly fifteen years, I haven’t felt much like writing at all. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t write all of the time. But typically, I feel bad for it and at least plan on making up for it (to moderate success). It’s not surprising that I don’t want to write, what’s upsetting is that I don’t want to want to write. I’m not constantly thinking about my books or much of anything at all.

Of course I’ve come to accept that moving stresses me out a natural amount and my transient lifestyle could be blamed for a great deal of lack of focus. Yet, I don’t think that’s what’s causing my apathy towards books and my career.

The road to publication has been going pretty much as expected. I know enough about myself and the process that there’s not a lot of disappointment or negativity involved. I plan to trudge onward, turning my attention to the next book, but it has caused me a literal existential crisis (versus the overdramatic existential crises I pretend to have) in which I somewhat wonder, what’s the point of it all?

The realization that I may never have a family unit in the way that I originally imagined has changed my options quite a bit. I strongly considered joining the military, and if the political climate (and our fearless leader) wasn’t (who) it was, I may very well do that. Travel the world, experience things no one else even gets to see? I get up at six every morning anyway, and tend to live a perfunctory lifestyle on my own. Without a family to return to, a military career could sustain me and show me a more adventurous life, my only concerns being a woman in the military and I really don’t want to have to kill anyone, though my dad, a Vietnam vet, says that in the heat of war, you rarely know if you actually shot anyone or not.

My thoughts also turned to the one thing that I know I can have: a dog, my cat, and where I can live that would give them the best life possible. After my planned two year stint in New York, I might move out to Boise, Idaho, aiming to get a place with a lawn and start teaching children the myriad of useless skills I’ve acquired. It’s possible that I might lend my life to helping those in need, though that requires money that I don’t know where I’d get.

Today I made a to-do list that didn’t even reference writing. I didn’t even plan to open up my document. I am so close to finishing a first draft of a book, I could probably hash it out before six tonight if I wanted. But I don’t.

I always assumed that with drive and a flexible definition of success, I could be a writer, but now, even with the very expected responses (or lack thereof) and slow going submission process, it’s not that I think I’ll fail, it’s just that I don’t feel like keeping it up. Do I self-publish? Do I turn around and pitch the next one? Then the next? Do I keep rewriting this one and submitting?

A part of it, admittedly, is that my tastes have changed. I used to love young adult books. But now that my reality is jaded, reading about a smug and broken 17 year old boy help build up the self-esteem of an unaware diamond-in-the-rough is getting old. Things are way too spelled out for me—which has always been a concern of mine—and the events are often formulaic and slow.

This matters, of course, because that’s exactly what I’ve been writing. I mean, not exactly. No one would ever accuse me of being simplistic, and though my characters were young, their histories made sense for their ages, and in many ways I worked to correct the concerns I had with the young adult fiction I was reading.

But still. I’m looking for something else now, and I have no idea what it is.

Is this a phase? I think so. The other day I came across F.P. Spirit’s blog post, “Cover Art Doesn’t Just Happen,” and fell in love with the image. It made me realize that I wanted non-stop weird, impactful events with sarcastic characters in visually fantastic worlds. I wanted a book with a cover like that, that met with the expectation of what I’d liked to find inside of it. I felt a surge of inspiration in that moment, but I suppose, knowing it would be gone long before I could ever achieve what I was going for, I didn’t take it seriously.

But it could be there, and that’s the point. I think the publication process is getting to me, the reality hitting me that you’re still going to be left in the dark as of what to do next even when you do start progressing.

I’m slugging along though. Posting blogs help me feel productive and the more productive I feel, the easier it is to do more. Stay with me guys. We just gotta keep going, one step at a time.

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