I’m back

The only thing harder than beginning is re-beginning.

I've been gone a long while, I know. I've wanted to write many times, wanted to share some thoughts that never materialized into words. I've also wanted to skip over the bit about me taking such a prolonged leave of absence and pretend no one has noticed or wondered what has happened to me.

But these questions, ultimately, need to be answered.

I really wish I had some teriffic reason – something other than breath being breathed, work hours being put in, writing fitting in the cracks. But that's the story; I've been busy meeting people, finding a place for myself once I looked up from the page long enough to regognize how much life there was here for me.

I've been finding new friends, taking a weekend trip to Las Vegas, staying out too late dancing, working long hours on aching feet, discovering local bands, planning grand adventures and having a few of them here in my own backyard.

I spent 2012 learning a good deal about writing–maybe almost as much as I need to know for a while. Certainly all I need to know about getting shit done and on time at all costs.

But I needed more. I needed to have mistakes and make experiences, find passionate nighttime arguments over whisky, travel long coastline road trips, giggle all night with friends. I needed a new kind of bravery; the kind that lasts when all else fails. And all time I spent writing, I kept wondering:

I could write, but could I live?

Could I live vibrantly enough to shake off the fears, the rejections, the heartbreaks, the joys? Could I live wholy enough to save it all in my heart, to make better art with all I experience with compassion and fearless perception?

Could I be a person and a writer, both?

So I have been existing, hibernating, practicing being whatever this creature is that I call Myself, and trying to do a better and better job of being the truest version of me, practicing being awake to all of what being a human means.

I wish it didn't have to be so poetic, but life in motion is poetic. My last six months aren't a novel, but the part we skip over in a montage, a summary of what the hero is doing when they're not being the hero of any story but their own.

As I live, I am a better writer. My understanding of my characters deepens as I find greater intimacy with myself, as I watch others do things that make no sense unless I know that they are human and confused just like I am. The richness of my descriptions comes from the places I've been, foods I've tried, books I've devoured.

And because I am a writer, I live more fully. I must, I know, remember every twinkle in an eye, every flutter of excitement in my chest when I meet someone new, the bitter taste of secrets. I am awake and accepting to the discomfort of living because I need to know these things – I need to know what it is to be alive. So I can write true.

I have been gone because I have been busy being myself.

Until now, I've been doing these things in silence. Noveling and pondering and learning.

But now, I want to share, to open back up and bring you with me.

The greatest adventure of my life approaches, and quickly. It's immense and magical and intense. And I'll have to save the details for another post.

But.

Next month, I'm going to Japan.

To meet new friends, to research my novel, to play with swords, and to feel what it truly means to be out of place – a stranger in a strange land.

I'm terrified and excited and even reluctant.

But it's happening. I'm going to Japan.

 

I’ve been gone, making the gods laugh

My view right now.

I know, I've been away. For months.

There is a saying out in the world, often attributed to either the Irish or Woody Allen interchangeably, but the origin makes it no less profound.

If you want to make god laugh,

make a plan.

 

I started out this year with a plan. I was fresh in the elation and exhaustion of writing twelve novels (ok, 13) last year. I was going to get straight to editing, I was going to self publish, or at least have a rough draft by NaNoWriMo, I was going to burn through 2013 with all the rocket fuel of the notoriety and lessons I gained from my project.

I was going to take over the whole damn world with my words.

This was my plan.

And lo, the pantheon of all the world's deities looked down upon me with a giant collective smirk. Doesn't she know better, they asked one another, we should really help her understand how this works.

You can probably guess that everything went wrong.

Everything. At least with The Plan.

Life has taken its pleasure in twisting my road. My job continues to require full-time hours. There have been new friends to welcome and spend time with, and new relationships take nurturing. There have been old things – habits, friends, possessions, beliefs, to let go of and grieve.

There is a trip to Japan to meet an Australian kindred spirit to plan and save for.

Martial arts classes to attend, and a subsequent injured shoulder to heal.

And there is self-reflection. Writing changed me, living is changing me, and I'm not the same person who built the structures of my life anymore. Some days, everything looks so alien, even the clothing I wear, the books on my shelves all looks alien. I itch and burn in my skin, wondering who I am, what I want.

I don't know why I haven't blogged about it all, and I wish I had an answer. There's not been a day I didn't wake up and promise myself to write a post – about where I've been, what is happening, how busy I find my days, and all the reasons my heart aches constantly.

I don't know why it has taken me so long. I also don't know if I'll ever find the words or courage to tell the deeper levels of my year, more than the happenings, the distractions, the heart breaks.

Maybe I will. I'm not sure.

But I still exist. I'm still here, not gone off into the purgatory path of many abandoned blogs.

What I can tell you is that I have never stopped thinking of myself as a writer, and I have belt forgotten about all the people who have supported me through last year and into this one.

And I do still write. It isn't as much as last year (obviously), but I do write. I'm working heavily on the project I started a a prequel for my Big Novel called Cult of the Sun. It's going to take time to iron out to post more online, but this is something I will have up and running, the langhing gods be damned.

Regardless, I'm back. Just in time for November and NaNoWriMo.

 

The Weary Soul and Artistic Angst

The Happiness Brunch

I think sometimes we all feel like this.

The day started out promising with an early start and something to do. As I mentioned in the previous post, I ventured into the unknown by going to a brunch where a group of lovely and amazing people all discussed a chapter of The Happiness Project by Gretchin Rubin, and went over solutions to one another's blockages and triumphs. And of course there was amazing food.

I came home inspired and ready to get into writing. Since I started my new job, this is my first real chance to devote myself completely to The Novel for a day.

I've done hardly anything. I feel dead, dry, bleached.

I question my plot and my characters, then I start to question my decision to self-publish and think maybe I ought to look into agents, excepts agents preferred finished books, so I open my word processor. And stare at things. I get up, make some coffee, take a picture and post it online, get ink on my fingers as I doodle.

No, I tell myself. I'm the one who wrote a novel a month last year. I can write through anything.

I go heat up my coffee instead.

The resistance is so high in me it's palpable. The sounds of children playing outside echo and bother me like an itch, the noise of the television in the next room might as well be a chainsaw. I want silence, but I cannot think of anywhere to go, so I sit and ignore and stare at things some more.

Even the most inspirational blogs and books I can think of bring only more angst.

Today, I feel like a ghost; a cranky ghost rattling the chains of what I know I can do. I wander and sigh and sulk and feel my only real day for a solid block of writing slipping past me in a diabolical haze. It's not writer's block, it's living block, thinking block. Even the task of scooping an armload of laundry into the washer brings me to the brink of psychic collapse.

And as I reheat my coffee for a sixth time, I realize how much has happened in the last few weeks.

I quit the job I've had for the last two and a half years, and in doing so have gone from being able to stay up late into the silent hours to write, and now I get up at six each morning. As I quit my job, I worked at both places, putting in sometimes ten hours on my feet each day.

I've learned a new job in a week. I'm working with different people, kind and creative people who inspire me to fill my being with who I am instead of keeping it hidden. I've met many new faces and smiles, talked to so many people, made more coffee than I ever dreamed I would in a day.

A window of treasures at my work

And decided for the first time to go to a book group.

With all this change are so many emotions, highs and lows and anxiety and relief. The recovery from the emotional stalemate between me and my old boss, the sudden open-air feel of jumping headlong into new things, the realization that I've been keeping myself smaller by not welcoming change before this.

The way I feel today makes me think of the first few days after a new workout – the immobilizing stiffness and soreness as the body strengthens itself by healing the tiny tears all through our overdone muscles.

And I think that sometimes our souls get sore.

After a period of sudden growth and change, I think we are torn-up at the fibers of who we are. We walk around ragged and weary, our edges frayed, our emotions erratic.

Any attempt to make it do what it normally does only results in more pain, more resistance.

Just as it is difficult to move an overstrained body, it is harder to move a strained spirit. It is stiff and slow and reluctant. It wants to sleep and relax and eat sugary things, and even if it wants to create, it needs a gentle hand.

Like paint by numbers, or a set of Crayolas.

Or a blog post about what it feels like trying to write with a ragged soul.

 

Soon enough, I will be repaired from these changes, and stronger for them. I will have more energy and time, I'll have repaired the emotional damage done by my last job, and be better settled into the new one.

I also need to take time to reevaluate myself, my book, my goals. There are adjustments that need to be made to accommodate my new life, adjustments like when I'll write in the day, what I do with my free time.

But that will all come. For now, I only need to rest my weary soul and keep moving forward.

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiration #29: Whenever you read this, and wherever you are…

I went to a book group for the first time today, and after a few hours of talking about creativity and making dreams come true, I reached into a big clear bowl of colored paper slips on the table, and this is what I found.

“Whenever you read this, and wherever you are, you are in the right place to begin.”

~Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project

 

Developing Characters Part Two: Conflict and Plot

For Part One of Developing Characters, go here.

I'm sorry for the delay on part two, I've been learning a new Day Job and that's been a bit of a time suck.

But anyway, now we have our characters, we need to have our characters do something–there is a story they're involved in, a story we want to tell.

We call this story thing plot. There is a lot of great discussion on plot in the world, so I won't take the time to go over it now, but basically a story begins when conflict is either created or recognized as something to act on, an the conflict worsens and continues to increase pressure on our characters until the main conflict is resolved. Even if the ending isn't a happy one, there is a sense of resolution to it.

In a nutshell, plot is about change.

Conflict is an important part of any story; if plot is about change, then conflict is that drives the changes, and thus the plot, forward.

Once we have our characters formed and know what their comfortable (or at least normal) lives look like, then we can start to introduce conflict. We have to get them to move, to change. We introduce a love interest, a new job, a world conflict, a new bad guy, and we see what they do to react.

Then, just when they start to feel safe again, we pull a rug out from under them. Their love interest is the son of an arch enemy, or the wrong religion, or race, or might not be such a good guy after all (or maybe shouldn't be a guy). Their new job is actually working for the Devil, or goes against their morals, or requests them to move away from everything they know. The new bad guy knows a secret, has resources beyond our protagonist's knowledge, or holds some powerful weapon.

The list goes on. Plot keeps moving as long as we keep the conflict going, our main characters always on their toes, taking them away from what they think they want.

Writing instruction tells us that there are basic versions of conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Society, Person vs. Themselves, Person vs. Nature, Person vs. Fate.

These are all neat and tidy, very good for diagramming and categorizing books being read, very good places for coffee and cigarette debates about what Camus's Stranger actually was fighting against. And that's great.

But rarely has this kind of thing helped me as a writer.

I try to put a person against fate, but come up with the big question: Why? Why is this person fighting against fate? It's fate–just go with it. The same happens with every other conflict – what is it that makes them conflicted? Why not just marry the handsome prince, why not just let life take it's course?

Every character has an option: just give in and stop fighting. To give in is easy, it's usually painless, or at least without the most heartache,

So again, we come to: Why? Why not just give in?

I believe that all conflict is at its core internal, or Person vs. Themselves.

Without a character's sense of what ought to be, what is right and wrong, what limits they will not cross and what lengths they will go to to protect these morals. Without these limits their lives would be much easier, but the story not as compelling.

It's the people who do not give in to conformity that the stories are written about, no matter how painful being different becomes. It is the dissonance, the cognitive pain of wanting two differnt things – the desire to go back and the need to move forward – that is the true conflict in any story.

It's important to find a character who can carry this conflict within themselves.

A woman in a brutally oppressive marriage falls in love with someone else. We all know she could leave at any time – even if the crazy ex might chase her down, she could go to the police, flee the country, kill the husband.

But she can't do those things until she herself is free in her mind. The importance of this story isn't about her falling in love with another person, but about how she responds to it. The lover is a new conflict, she has become free enough to let in love, a crack in her life appears and begins to widen, and she cannot go back.

We want to know why she stayed in her marriage, why she married the man to begin with. We want to know the shape of her bonds so we can read along and help her untie them.

She cannot leave her husband until she is not longer in her own cage. Sometimes this is impossible for our hero and she takes the only exit she can on a railroad track. But eventually she is free, and in some way so are we. The conflict is resolved.

But of course, a story is rarely just about one character and their inner demons driving them forward. It involves other characters who work with and against our protagonist. There are societal issues and past baggage that interplays between characters, and they work to make the plot move on its own to the inevitable if not obvious conclusion.

If we have done our ground work and made real people as our characters, this happens more easily.

But I'll have to get to that in my next installment. I still have The Novel to work on this night.

Happy writing.

 

 

Priorities

From a table in Alchemy Coffee

Firstly, I do have the second installment on characters in a rough draft on my iPad, I promise. If life treats me well, that should go live this weekend. I wanted it to be up last week, but it's a lot of information to wrangle, and my life has taken a turn for the interesting.

I don't normally talk much about the details of my day to day–the plot of my life–here, but I need to chat.

So pull up a chair and have some coffee. Lets talk.

I've needed to take a break from writing–especially blogging–to do some soul searching and to make some big decisions, the real-world kind that involve life and money and happiness with my work.

A long story short, I needed to change jobs. I needed something different than what I've been doing for the last two years–working as the only employee in a little deli in downtown SLC. It has been a good job for me, but running a little stale, and my soul has been aching for something new.

And as these things tend to work, even before I was truly ready to change, I was presented with two possibilities, both by chance, both in coffee shops, and yet with two very different lives in store.

A new coffee shop is opening in town, a place called Karma Coffee, a place with big dreams and a vision with writing rooms and meditation rooms, a place to gather community, all in a beautiful converted house in a charming neighborhood. As someone with past dreams of opening almost exactly the same kind of coffee shop one day, it would be the perfect experience to try it – a place to give myself over to and help it become what it can be. I might not have time to write as much.

A few years ago, I would have given my eye teeth for that kind of opportunity.

Then, another job at a little place called Alchemy Coffee mere minutes from my house. It's cute and very well established, and incredibly busy all morning, lines of amazing regulars lining up for some of the best coffee in town. I would be an employee there, the business established, the worry of anything but my own duties taken care of. I happened to be there one day when I mentioned I wanted to work in coffee again, an act of serendipity. After my interview, I knew absolutely I could be happy there.

And I could see it there, as if I was a character in my own novel: my path diverged into two lives. I had to choose who I wanted to become.

One, the eventual coffee shop owner I thought I would be – the life I thought I would have before last year and writing and loving writing.

The other, working at a beautiful little coffee shop with people I enjoy, being able to learn and grow. And most of all, being able to focus on writing when I'm not there.

(And of course staying where I am, but we all know that's not how a good plot works, and I prefer to have an interesting plot.)

I'm sure you can guess which one I chose.

I gave up Karma for Alchemy.

I let go of my old dreams and opened myself up to the possibility of my new dream with no holding back, no old cobwebs of the things I once dreamed with their bits of dried corpses and trails of dust, no more wondering if I should go back to what I once wanted.

My old life is over. I'm a writer now, a writer who works at a cute corner coffee shop with mismatched furniture and local art on the walls, who smells like ground espresso and has ink-strained fingers, and is happy with the choice she made.

Even if it has meant taking time from blogging and The Novel to learn my new job, I will be happier in the long run.

Thanks for listening. I'll be back to posting as soon as possible.

Cheers

 

What is Happenning in Istanbul?

PartlyPixie:

There are important things in this world. Massivel,y massively important, and what is happening in Istanbul is one of them. Please read this, and please share it. This is what the Internet can do for us, it’s what writers can do, we write what matters, we share what others write.

Please read, please share.

Originally posted on İnsanlik Hali:

To my friends who live outside of Turkey:

I am writing to let you know what is going on in Istanbul for the last five days. I personally have to write this because at the time of my writing most of the media sources are shut down by the government and the word of mouth and the internet are the only ways left for us to explain ourselves and call for help and support.

Last week of May 2013 a group of people most of whom did not belong to any specific organization or ideology got together in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Among them there were many of my friends and yoga students. Their reason was simple: To prevent and protest the upcoming demolishing of the park for the sake of building yet another shopping mall at very center of the city. There are numerous shopping malls in Istanbul, at least…

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Inspiration# 28: There is only one plot

“There is only one plot–things are not what they seem.”

~Jim Thompson

 

Inspiration #27: Stories may well be lies..

Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things and sometimes pay the rent.”

~Neil Gaiman

 

Developing Characters Part One: Getting to know you

There's nothing better than a good character; the kind of person you wish you could dive into the pages and buy them a drink, just to spend more time with them. A good character can save the times a plot needs to become tedious, and it can save the writer a lot of work when we have to explain why the Big Conflict is so big. If we care about the character, if we know that what the others want from them or to do to them, we can care about the outcome without a lot of This Is Really Bad explanations.

But, of course, we know this. Every writing book worth it's salt talks about the importance of character, every writing article brings it up.

We get that we need to do it, it's the actual doing that's the issue. It's an art, a craft, one when done right makes the story so much more pleasant to write.

And for some reason, several of you have asked my advice.

I'm not a published writer (yet!), an English major, or any kind of expert. In fact, I feel a bit dumb giving any kind of writing advice like this because I'm none of these things. All I have for credentials is my collection of years writing and reading, and a tenure acting besides (which is helpful for making good characters).

But I've been told I create some good characters, so I'll share how I wrangle the process. Maybe it will be helpful for some – but as always, your own way will be better for you.

Normally, a story will come to me with a character already in tow, one ready to string me along their journey.

But if not, I get casting for the right characters, asking: “What kind of person would be able to handle the story I'm trying to tell?” Someone essentially cowardly and passive won't survive the zombie apocalypse, even with the best weapons and a badass sidekick. A lantern-jawed Scottish hit man named Mikey isn't likely to be the lead in a high school romance (though it would be funny).

I keep looking and thinking and daydreaming until someone rings true–sometimes this may require tweaking the original idea a bit to meet he character, but it's worth it. Then, I start writing.

I write to discover my characters. Sometimes, I start with one character and change to another one. There are false starts, ideas set aside for another idea.

It's like falling in love, in some ways. As I write, I ask them questions, take notes on their histories and damage. And because so much of this being done as I write into my first draft, it's done as I get into the story.

It still takes time, though, lots of time and energy.

Our characters are people – people we're giving free rent to in our heads, sometimes for years. And they ought to be worth that time to create, to find the right one for the right story.

Personally, I get bored with the gorgeous girl who falls in love with the quarterback. If any of my characters are glowingly beautiful, you can be guaranteed they have some nasty scars somewhere. I like characters who live a little left of center, who daydream about owning a bar while pinned down fighting an epic war, characters who wish they were fat, or love the person who most frightens them. I like the smallest character to be the wildest fighter, the one everyone is afraid of. I like a djinn working as personal assistant because their master refuses to use her three wishes, I like vampires who work as priests.

I like my characters to be weird, human, flawed, opinionated. I want them to get on their own nerves and in their own way, to have inappropriate senses of humor, to talk about their friends behind their backs, and to be hopelessly, romantically embittered by their past.

As I get a sense of their shape, I write them into corners. I ask them questions, I take their safe places away.

I want to know things that make them human – not just what makes them pretty or interesting, but if they have any scars of moles and how they feel about them (for extra neuroses, what their parents thought about them). Are they gay or straight? Seeing anyone? Do they like their relationship or not?

I figure out where they grew up, especially if it involved any kind of religion, fictitious or not. I live in a city dominated by Mormonism, and the religion a person is raised with has long-lasting effects, even if they don't believe it anymore; especially if they don't believe it anymore.

Background itself is so important. Our past is what colors our future, what we want or don't. An Irish Catholic will see the world differently than a Boston Jew, a corn-fed country boy will be more open, a man with two moms will be slightly guarded about the subject of his family, a landlocked wild child will yearn for the ocean – probably in Bali or Australia.

It's human nature to carry these things with us, our past fears and superstitions, our present desires, even more so if every effort has been made to distance ourselves from what shaped us early on.

I keep in mind that people always want what they don't have.

What can't they stand in a person, and why? How do they do just this thing all the time and not realize it?

I find out about my character's bodies. How do they feel about them, feel in them? Do they like being taller than other people, or are they afraid of their size? How anout their hair – curly haired people want straight hair, straight haired people want wild manes. If its a man, does he wear a ponytail, a Mohawk? Why? What kind of clothing do they feel most comfortable in? Least? (I'll always get them in this sometime).

Even if I don't mention these things often, I keep them in mind.

Each of my characters has at least one one thing – a place, an object, a memory, that represents them, something they unnecessarily guard against all threats. (Usually to be destroyed and taken away later.)

In one of my favorite series The Dresden Files, the main character, a wizard, says “Stars and stones,” his vampire friend says, “Empty night.”

You can tell a lot about someone by how they swear. If they say “god” or “fuck” or “balls.” Or maybe they say “Gods” or “Hells.” What a person swears on gives tiny, constant clues into what is important to them. I make sure I know – because if I'm doing my job, they'll be saying it a lot.

Then there's what they do for fun. Stay in and read? Beat up on bad guys? Go out dancing and to movies, but only if wearing their special cape? If a person makes food all day for a living, then do they prefer to have someone else make them food for dinner? What kind of music do they listen to?

And so on. As I write, I keep an eye out for clues into my characters, getting to know what they want, what the ystrive for, how they handle themselves. I ask more questions; I try and create intimacy with these people I'm writing, try to know them well enough that our interaction is effortless, well enough that they will tell me when I've gone wrong.

Listing this all out in a row makes it sound like a ton of work. And it is.

It happens slowly, as we go. It happens as I write, as I listen. I'm not just making characters, I'm making people–glorious, beautiful, fucked up, cantankerous, opinionated people. People who will lead me to a better story than I could ever do on my own.

And even better, I start to understand what everyone really wants – not just what I think they want, but the real ,dirty, blood-and-guts-makes-your-heart-squirm kind of want.

Now the real fun can begin.

In part two, I'll talk about how plot and conflict emerge from this preliminary work I've done.

Until then, please check out some previous posts:

Irowboat's Guest Post: Your character may be a mugger if…

And my Living Multiple Realities

 

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