Reading

Even if I don’t say it, I’m here

Let me tell you a little about the podcast listener, reader, and audiobook listener I used to be.

I didn’t read, I devoured.

I would stay up until 11:30 pm and then went “well…I can just get the next book and like read the first chapter” and then it was 3 am and “well, I’m not going to sleep now so I might as well get the next one”…and then go to work and sneak off on every break I can to read and then do it until I finished the series. (I have now had to ban myself from reading novels during the work week or I will miss work.) I ruminated. I would spend days thinking about the world, the implications, and how it changed my life to have read that book. I totally wrote fanfic in my head (though I didn’t really call it that because I didn’t know). I would occasionally spend Sunday brunches rehashing all of that would a good friend.

I loved books. Books helped me survive breakups, job loss, and deaths. Books comforted me when I couldn’t get out of bed. Books were my friend when I felt utterly alone.

Podcasts and audiobooks?

I wasn’t just a listener. I never work out without them. Frankly I don’t know that I could leave the house without earbuds and something I’m looking forward to listening to. Every walk I’ve taken, every trip to the gym, every time I took the long walk home from work…It was always a podcast or audiobook.

Rethinking work? Planning a novel? Need a new organization strategy? A new to do app? Want to learn…anything? It was always podcasts and audiobooks. The amount I have learned and the ways I have changed my life thanks to podcasts and audiobooks is immeasurable.

Something missing?

But you might notice something is missing from how I interacted with those things. I never joined a Facebook group, emailed, joined an email list, visited a website*, or tweeted. I never interacted with the authors, creators, hosts, producers, narrators. I honestly never even thought about it for a moment. I never had any interest in connecting. I absolutely thought of those people as real, I would often see or hear their journies in ways that I could follow very closely. I never reached out to tell someone that they made a tremendous difference in my life. I never conveyed that someone helped me get out of bed when I felt like I was too depressed to get up. I never told an author, a podcaster or a narrator that they made me feel like I could do it, that they gave me the confidence in myself, that I stand taller because of them.

But they did. All those things. Authors, podcastors, narrators, creators. You did that.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person like this. Because people like this (me) don’t speak up and tell you they exist. Not everyone engages. Some just consume. We quietly download, buy, listen, and love. We cherish, adore, rage, and admire. Even though we never engage on social media.

I retreat

When I am stressed, busy, tired, sad, whatever…I retreat to this position. Consuming, so much consumption. But not so much engagement. Because it’s something I don’t understand. It’s not intuitive to me. Consumption is intuitive.

I just wanted to let people who feel like only the engaged consumers care…others are out there. We just…are different.

 

*I have occasionally check show notes to follow a link to a story or paper, but usually just went right to google myself and only went back to the show notes when I couldn’t find it on google myself. And I would be more likely to give up than go to the show notes.

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The Year of Story

There are a lot of New Year’s Resolutions and 52 weeks of and 365 days of things. I generally like to try to aim to build on and do things without imposing too much structure because then I become a overly, inappropriately devoted to the structure instead of the things. So I like the Year of idea. (Thank you Cortex!)

 

Year of…

I’ve been thinking about what my year is. I didn’t have a great plan or strategy. A few ideas sort of floated around and I kept working on the things I knew I wanted to work more on.

I feel like all of those things I’m thinking about are now sort of focused on the thing that it has all coalesed behind, so I don’t know that I can be even objectivish about it.

So what is it?

The Year of Story

It sort of all came together. I’m not entirely sure how. A moment of clarity, or confusion, depending on how you see it. This year is the year of story. In writing, in podcasting, in work. I’m not entirely sure what this means for me as I keep going.

I’ve been reading a lot about storytelling, both the art of stories for fiction and for stories of a kind at work. I’m going to be doing more work with other kinds of stories at the office. The trainings I’ve been a part of this year have talked a lot about story. And I may or may not have pushed them that way…

Much of what I’ve been thinking about is the power of stories and the way they are told.

I don’t know that I’ve come up with anything that changes anything, but it will help to coalese some of these things in my own head.

 

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Switching Costs

I use mostly Apple products at home.

I’ve had a few issues and questions and some people have asked me why lately. I also listened to an episode of Cortex (that I can’t seem to find anymore) that talked about switching costs.

So why do I use Apple products?

(I don’t exclusively, but enough that it is my prominent computing tool at home.)

NOT Microsoft!

Because I use MS tools at work and when I get home I want to NOT have to fight with Microsoft tools anymore. After the last couple months where I spent a huge amount of time fighting with a bunch of Microsoft tools this is the prominent reason in my mind. I do NOT want to leave the evils of those jerks who were personally attacking me and my limits (not really but it felt like it) and deal with it more. Just let me go home and not think about work.

My first

Because it was my first primary computer. Long Long Ago before apple was cool, I was given a handmedown machine for college that was an apple laptop and it was awesome. I learned a lot of how to compute on that machine. It was natural to keep working in that sphere as I grew up and finally got to the point of buying my own machines.

Less support

Because I don’t support windows machines for my friends and family. I don’t work under the hood of personal windows machines. I just don’t. So I don’t know much. And I’ve let myself drift farther and farther from what I’ve known. Anyone who has been the techiest person in their sphere has gotten asked to fix something. At this point I just say I don’t support anything that isn’t apple. And I know if it is an apple and I can’t quick fix it I can direct people to the apple stores. I don’t need to keep the name of someone on me at all times. Just go to a store and ask for help. If they can’t help you I can’t then I don’t know what to do for you.

Other

I’m already bought into the software. I know how to use it and it would be very time expensive and money expensive to switch. I own a lot of books in iBooks.  So many other things.

Switch

I’m not interested in switching. The amount of new software I’d have to learn is less now than it used to be because now I’m a part of a lot of online based tools. But it would still be a tremendous amount of learning, time investment would be tremendous. I’d have to spend weeks to learn it and go through the frustration of that to get to a fraction of where I’m at with the tools I currently work in.

It would be expensive to rebuy everything.

I’d have to come up with new ways to say, no, I’m not going to help you but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you, it just means that I don’t enjoy spending hundreds of hours working for free on this thing I find boring and frustrating.

Does that mean I think it is the best or the way I’m doing it is right? Nope. It just means it is what works for me and I’m not interested in switching at this point. May I in the future? Sure…the math on it might change in many ways so I may change. I may feel comfortable splitting at some point and using different tools rather than staying in the same sphere the whole way. So many things could change.

But this is where I’m at right now.

(I just really hope to see a new high end desk top machine from apple in the next year or so…)

 

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!

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.