Compulsion

I see something come up fairly frequently in conversations about writing, becoming a writing, why you write. Some people talk about it like it is a compulsion. It isn’t for me. I don’t have to write. I won’t die if I don’t write. Writing isn’t like breathing. I have during times of my life not written fiction at all. This is sort of two fold…

Not a compulsion

Compulsion for me is when I stand at the door to my apartment and check the handle for the 4th or 5th or 9th time to make sure it’s locked. It’s when I hit the elevator button and then go back to check anyway. It’s when I get all the way down and out of the building and struggle to not turn around and go back to check one more time. Just one more time. That’s compulsion. The fight with myself to not do the thing that my brain is telling me I HAVE TO DO OR THE WORLD WILL END. For me that’s check to make sure my door is locked when I’m stressed.

Writing is none of those things. I like it, I feel better when I do it, I enjoy it. I get frustrated with it. Sometimes I even stay up to late doing it. But my brain never says the world will end if I don’t do it. I have never had to grab my own hand and pull it away from the keyboard.

I’m not saying this isn’t true for everyone. It might be. But it isn’t for me.

Sometimes I’ve even not written

Gasp to those who say that writing is like breathing. But I’ve gone long stretches in my life where I didn’t write. Where I was convinced that I wasn’t creative. That I wasn’t interesting. That the words I thought weren’t worth the paper. I would feel like maybe I was good at the thing I was good at, but that was it, that was what I got to do with my life and that way that.

I would read things and it was the same thing. I’ve always know I’d write. I’ve written forever. Writing is like breathing. Not a lot of, “Hey, so listen, writing is hard fucking work. It’s not always, or even usually, rewarding. It’s not shiny. It’s not easy. It’s not magic. It isn’t a panacea. It won’t change the way anything happens overnight. But you can do it. Even if you don’t breath writing. You can do it.”

And you know what? It is way more the second than the first. It is much more, in my experience at least, work and hard and not magic. It’s not like fairies and dancing bunnies. Maybe it’s fairies and dancing bunnies for some people. But if it isn’t? And you still want to do it? DAMN RIGHT! Keep putting that pen to paper or those fingers to the keyboard.

So no, I don’t feel a compulsion. I can go to sleep having not written another chapter. (And on a good night without having triple checked the door lock.) But that doesn’t make me not a writer. Or a bad one. And if you are unsure because you don’t feel the same compulsion to write as you do to check to make sure your door is locked (or whatever you may or may not have a compulsion to do) that’s ok. You can still do it.

It’s hard work. But I can do hard work. And so can you.

Stories

Stories drive everything. One of my day job goals is to do more, and more effective storytelling. Something I feel is lacking in my stories is plot. Just not enough of it. I tend to drive away from conflict personally, so sometimes I do too much of that in my stories. So one of my writing goals is to conflict more. (In my stories…not in my life.)

Stories and Pixar!

Pixar has a class on storytelling at Khan Academy. You can get a free class on stories from Pixar. It’s got a few activities, some videos, I highly recommend it so far. The one for storytelling is out already. There is more on characters coming up.

If you’re enjoying videos there’s a playlist of Ted talks about storytelling.

Science Story

But there were creatures with mouths far more frightening than that of any shark. They lived at a time before fish, even before backbones, and they fed on their neighbors with a nightmare apparatus of moving mouthparts.

That’s good story telling! It’s from Scientific American about this creature.

This is actually one of my favorite written Scientific American articles and I’ve been saving it, go read the whole thing. Here’s another tidbit…

Pamdelurion could push their creepy mouth cone outward into a kind of pyramid before flinging open to present their spikes and close around smaller, softer prey.

Stories at work

Not just our day jobs. Writing is work too. And it is interesting because I think that, at least from what I see, sometimes authors (especially myself!) forget to tell the story to convince someone to buy the story. It’s sort of like how you wouldn’t want a resume from a proofreader littered with errors. That’s literally the tool they are using to sell themselves. Well authors should be amazing at telling the stories to sell our stories.

I feel like I just got too meta.

More from Harvard. (I promise this is the last one for a while! I’m almost at my limit, though I think I could get more through the library!)

Information and Confessions

Information is critical

You are undoubtedly not surprised by this. If you are, I’m concerned about you. Seriously. Sci Am points out that the free flow of scientific information is critical for democracy. You should also not be surprised by this. But it is a very good article about it. About what is reasonable and what isn’t.

And for sharing that information? The Sunlight Foundation has a list of who is allowed to talk and who isn’t.

It is actually hard to keep track of what is happening today. Which day is today? Something changed. My head hurts.

Information matters. You want a pretty picture of why? Indexed has ALL THE PRETTY

Confessions

I’ve been trying to do the #authorconfession hashtag questions from J M Sulivan every day this month. Take a few minutes and think about your work in progress. Think about it from a different angle, answer a different question. It’s good to keep my brain in the game rather than having it run off screaming which is what it wants to do.

 

Reading as a Writer

So I’ve been looking around a bit for a good blog hop kind of thing for this year. Ronel the Mythmaker had a recent post about plans for 2017 and she mentioned The Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Finally a group for me!

The question prompt for February is How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader? which even more so made me go, this is for me!

Insecure Writer’s Support Group

Reading

I used to be a good reader. When I get into reading I can be a good reader. Staying up until the next day, reading all day through, doing everything while holding the book (or ipad which is how I read these days, or listening).

But I get into ruts these days. I slow down, way down. I focus on all the wrong things. Because I stop and slow down and can’t stop thinking about the writing craft of it. Why did the author make this choice? What made the author select this tense? Why this character? What was the motivation? But this thing here didn’t lead to that thing. How did that happen? But what happened to her bag? The body was in the trunk for so long it must have gotten stinky, did they take it to a detailer?

I have a hard time making reading fun and completely immersive right now. Still stumbling. I haven’t finished a book joyfully and enthusiastically in a while. I’ve read several, I’ve done a lot of reading and even enjoyed it. But not completely immersed in the world to the point of not seeing the seams. I feel like I am really seeing the seams right now.

I was having a similar problem last winter and I managed to hit a pocket where I was able to fall into books. As soon as I hit the pocket I managed to stay in it for a couple months and read through books at a very good pace. And then I fell out. As soon as a seam was spotted, now they are all there again. I keep stumbling over them.

DNF

I’ve not finished several books that I’m sure were very good. I just couldn’t break that barrier. I’m going to keep trying until I fall out of this hole.

Audiobooks are generally better, not perfect, but an audiobook at 1.25 is harder to find seams in because first, I can’t see any errors in the text, and they are often moving fast enough in the ear that I miss them. Second, I just don’t have as long to pause and ruminate on each section as it runs past. I have to dig out the device and pause it, and by the time I do that I’ve often missed it. Which is great. But right now I’m even failing at that.

Bad writer. No cookie.

Strong women

So this is a post I’ve been thinking about for…months? At least. Strong women. Strong female characters. I’m writing this Sunday after the marches around the world yesterday, which, great, now what? And what does that mean? And whole lot of other stuff. This is going to be a messy post. I’ll come back and edit later, and it will still be messy so be warned. And crabby…I get crabby…

A story about strong women

We Can Do It woman flexing poster (Rosie the riveter)
We Can Do It poster

I’m sitting having dinner with a friend of mine. She would tell you that she is more feminist than I am. (I’m not 100% sure that’s true, but splitting hairs either way.) We are talking about books and I’m trying to get her input. She’s a reader, not a writer. She reads in the genre I write and in others. We are talking about romances. I bring up some questions about books I’ve read and their audiences. Let’s say we are talking about 50 Shades of Grey (we weren’t, but it will work for this) and who the audience is for it and what they like about it.

I was trying to explain the plot and some of the key pieces. She kept trying to simplify it down to just a thing.

Her: Oh it’s about money.

Me: Well not really, or only only, because a big part of it is rejecting the money, she doesn’t want the money, she doesn’t want him for the money, it is important, but not as in he buys her a whole bunch of stuff, that’s not the focus of that.

Her: It’s about sex.

Me: Yes, a little, but not entirely. If it was just sex it would be just sex but in this tome there are only like 3 scenes. And the sex isn’t the story driver, and isn’t the character driver.

Her…: I’m not sure, but I’m sure I wouldn’t like it. I like strong female characters.

Ahhh there’s the rub isn’t it.

But that character, and …quite frankly? Most of the female leads in most of the books I read will tell you they are strong. My friend is not the only one who says she wants strong women.

Everyone has their own idea of what makes a character a strong female lead. The problem seems to be, to me at least, that we start stacking these. You can’t just be one thing. You have to be ALL OF THEM.

Strong Women

Some of the examples from books I was reading at the time that I brought up to her, each one she sort of shrugged and eh but’ed.

  • Woman who takes care of a child on her own, single mom, handles shit from others who think that’s bad, makes the kid turn out fantastic
  • Woman who likes sex, knows what she wants, goes after it, isn’t afraid to say yes or no loudly and frequently
  • Woman who works really hard and has an amazing career and is well respected in her field
  • Woman who overcomes extreme anxiety to become a singer

I could go on and on and on. So you stack them up and you have a single mom who spends a ton of time with her kid, a ton of time at her career, has a very active and healthy sex life, and is going to be a breakout star.

Fuck you.

No seriously, why does a character have to have all those things? And you know what happens when you stack them up?

Mary Sue. Which are 2 words I could 100% live with never seeing again.

So you can’t be strong because then you are too strong and you can’t be only one thing because then you aren’t strong enough. (And yes, heaven-for-fucking-fend if you have any intersectionality.)

I have seen a few things about complex female characters, which sounds a lot better than “strong” and even might include some intersectionality in there. But I don’t know how to really get across that…I don’t want strong women only. I want a range of women. I want a range of people. I want people who aren’t only one thing and who aren’t all things. And I’m going to keep calling this friend(s…this is actually a compliation of a few people, I love my friends, we are all always learning) out on this shit and seeing if I can keep shifting opinions. One beer or coffee at a time.

And in the mean time I’m going to do my damnest to write them and read them and share them.

I Write for…

My niece. She’s not old enough to read my work. (And if my sister reads this, don’t ever let her read a few of them!) She may never actually read my work, and I’m entirely ok with that. But I write for my niece anyway.

I remember reading when I was a wee bite sized person and clearly I could never be any of those book people. I mean obviously. They were mostly men. They were brash and ballsey (again, dudes). They were adventurous. They had all the money. They were always talking to people and conning people (or being charming). I don’t…do those things. I’m not a fancy talker. I’m not good with people. I’m not outgoing. I’m not charging forward into anything. I’ve got brain stuff. I’ve got other stuff… and mostly I’m…not a protagonist.

My niece has a lot of that, and she’s not white. At least some of the book people looked vaguely like me, prettier sure, but still.

I want her to never experience running out of books in the library and still feeling like there is no place for her. I don’t want her to feel like she’s read everything she’d like and no one like her exists in the world. I never want her to think she can’t do cool things because the cool things in books always happen to other people, to the main characters and if she’s really lucky she’d be a side character.

It is deeply selfish. But that’s why I write.

That doesn’t mean all my MCs look like her, but some of them sure do. (I want other people’s nieces to have good experiences too.) They aren’t always the most adventurous person in the book. Sometimes they are deeply concerned about people around them. Sometimes they are a little too self-centered. Sometimes they are quiet. Sometimes they are loud and unheard. 

But every single time, they are because I want her to feel like there is a place for her in the world. That the world wants and needs her in it. Each word I put down I want to try to make sure that there is a chair pulled up to the table for her. I never want her to have a Christmas without a present. I never want her to feel like she isn’t deeply loved and wanted in the world.

I hope that helps not just her, but others in the world as well, feel like there is space for them. I want to keep pulling chairs up to the table until everyone has one. The table is more than large enough. There’s always enough food.

So for my wonderful and amazing niece, I will do everything I can to make sure there is always a chair for you.

(Side note? I have a nephew too. He’s going to be just fine I’m pretty sure. He’s all the outgoing and charming and adventurous and brash and every single other thing. I hope that the world is better for him too, I hope he sees himself in many things. But I think he’ll be just fine. )

Critique sites (Critters)

So I’ve tried different Critique sites. Critters and now giving Scribophile a shot. I’m…frustrated.

Critters

Critters
Critters

I actually really like Critters. It would be the site I’d recommend for SFF short/flash authors. But …I’m me? And I have my own personal bullshit to deal with. This means it is good and bad.

Pros

It really encourages you to review something every week. Make a habit of it. Sit down, read, give feedback. It has great information about how to give a good critique. I think I’ve gotten a lot better at giving feedback because of Critters. And not just feedback for writing, in general, at work. I really appreciate the skills I’ve learned.

You also get to read the other critiques later (scribophile seems to let you do this right away – which I don’t like) so you can learn. Do you view things the same as other people, differently? How did they say something? Is what you are saying valuable? But without feeling (for me) like I need to read everyone else’s critiques first. That is probably something I can get over, but with Critters? Not even an option. As an author, this is great because you get multiple critiques and if 5 people say the same thing, pay attention. If only one person does? Eh..maybe it isn’t as big of a deal.

MORE CRITIQUES. From what I’ve seen Critters is usually much better for the number of critiques. Almost everything I ever sent in got at least 10. The basic number for Scribophile is …3 or sometimes 6?

No…bullshit? I mean yeah, sure there is bullshit. But, basically, it is unseen. Or it was to me. In the years I participated (under more than one name – sorry Critters, I know you have a real names only policy, but you are letting clearly fake names in so whatever) I never saw more than a couple of blog things, which will be in the cons below.

No other stuff. 99% critiques. Yeah, there are forums, I went there once, that was enough, there wasn’t much there, I left. It was ok. No one sent me messages saying I had to read them. I never felt like I wouldn’t get critiques if I didn’t make friends. Making friends wasn’t even encouraged. That’s my kind of people!

More short fiction and flash fiction. For me, this is a pro. For others, I’d think it is a con.

The weekly cycle. You don’t have to always be looking for new stuff, you just get the message once a week and you know you’ll have until the next Wednesday to do your critique and get credit for it.

Cons

The website feels so old. Like 10,000 internet years old. Everything about the site feels super old. The colors, the layout, the way it works. So old. So dated. But that is really all surface, it works fine everywhere I went.

You have to push to take full advantage of it. This is my biggest problem. By so very very much. I’ve done a lot of critiques. To fully take advantage of the site you need to always have something in the queue. If not? Your % goes down and you might as well have not critiqued at all. This is honestly 100% of my problem with the site. I’m bad at going HERE READ MY SHIT! And all the work I do every week I don’t send something in for critique is wasted, other than the value of doing critiques, which is a value! Don’t get me wrong. That is a huge value. Would I have kept doing Critters for several years if it wasn’t? (…Well maybe…)

I do find other ways to get feedback, but then…why am I doing this? This is the point where I throw up my hands and deflate like a popped balloon.

So?

I don’t know. I really don’t know. More stuff later this week about Scribophile. I don’t know.

Utopias

Utopias are an interesting thing, and quite often a topic of lots of sci-fi. (And their more dramatic half dystopias.)
Atlas Obscura has a great map of failed utopias in the US. 

I was kind of surprised by the nudist colony in the 1900s. And apparently not just one of them but there were lots? What? Huh. It does reinforce the idea that we just aren’t that shiny or new. There are lots of things that seem progressive that have much older roots.

I did get lost in the wikipedia article on utopias, I’ll just share the list of fictional ones.

They are nearly always used as a background for satire, political or philosophical discourse. I can’t think of anything that is a true utopia (not a GASP! It’s really dystopian!) that is a romance or is a thriller or a myster. Utopias must have romances, but maybe they don’t have the misunderstandings that lead to drama? Hm.

Travel

Travel. I don’t really like it.

Hermitage
Hermitage – Winter Palace – I’ve been here «© A.Savin, Wikimedia Commons»

Sorry!

I feel like this is a very controversial stance. Or maybe just not a very cool one. At least in my spheres, I hear a lot about travel. How much fun it is, how it makes you a better human being, how it makes you more open to the world, how you haven’t really experienced life until you’ve been to every country. (Maybe exaggerating for effect, a little.)

I’m really glad the people who like it, like it. Good for them. But I want to stay home.

Home…

Home is safe, home is full of routine, safety, consistency, known factors. I know a lot of those are basically dirty words. But the routine of getting the same thing for breakfast? Lets my brain spend the energy it would have spent on that thinking about how Jenna would respond to a statue in her park getting up and challenging her to a duel.

Travel is full of tiny decisions all day long eating away at your brain power and exhausting. Which is fine if you are getting your brain power worth of enjoying spectacular views, or eating amazing new food, or talking with different people, or visiting museums or theme parks. Whatever is the thing that makes you go, oh this is awesome!

Those things just don’t appeal to me. I love the views where I am, and I try to partake in them often. I enjoy surfing through photos of breathtaking locations online. I know it isn’t the same (yet) as being there in person, but I do enjoy that. I try new food, I will go out with a friend to a new place and try new things, I know that is on my agenda and do it. Not all the time, but I do. (My favorite coffee shop changed menus and I’ve been trying a new item each week, I’ll pick one thing and settle on it for 90% of the time after I’ve tried it all.) I talk to people online, it’s manageable! And museums have amazing collections online, with much smaller lines, and just as much detail.

My kind of travel

I do try very hard to expand my world and travel through books, articles, podcasts, and even videos. Exploring what is out there, exploring the inner world, exploring the magical, fantastical, the future.

I read. I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I can do that while walking along the beautiful local sites. And still come home and sleep safely in my own bed.

It doesn’t make me a bad person. Plenty of other things, sure, but not this. It is also important, I think, to remember that the ability to travel is not something everyone can do. (And don’t talk to me about the magic of working around the world, there are a whole bunch of assumptions that go into that too.) So travel isn’t a magical thing that is the perfect solution for all problems and all human interactions.

I happen to be a person who doesn’t do well with travel. I’m glad that others have the opportunities and take advantage of it. I would also be one of the first people to push someone who has never traveled and has the opportunity to go to another city, state, country, continent GO! Try! Experience. And if you don’t like it? I’ll go out to eat at the new restaurant down the street and we can see how that goes instead.

Audiobooks and Audible

A brief update about audiobooks and Audible.

I narrated a book a few months ago and it is finally out on Audible. So you can listen to me read a very geeky urban fantasy with wolves and where I say the word bitch a bunch.

Howling Dead by M. H. Bonham

Howing Dead
Howling Dead by M. H. Bonham

Which earrings look best with fur? Kira Walker is a geek and UNIX systems administrator who has a bad hair day at least once a month. But when a wolf attacks Kira and her BFF in downtown Denver around the full moon, she’s devastated. Now, like it or not, Kira is unemployed, and the head of Denver’s werewolf pack is getting a little too friendly for her tastes. And, oddly, she keeps finding herself naked in front of road workers. Caught in this new world, Kira discovers there are sinister forces at work. Rogue werewolves have declared war against humans, and when Kira’s other BFF is kidnapped, it gets Kira snarling mad. Can she solve the riddle of the Enchanted Forest before the rogue werewolves kill again? Fashion-challenged Kira will learn that werewolves have a strong bite.

Want to know more about using Audible? I came across a great Guide to Audible from Sajan Parikh.

And if you want to try Audible for yourself you can sign up for any of the three giveaways to get a chance to win a free audiobook. (Which you could use to listen to me narrate Howling Dead.)