Days 51-64. The TED Talk that changed my writing…

I like to listen to NPR while I’m daylighting as an account representative. I realize this makes me seem more intellectual than I actually am. Don’t be confused, I also spend my time watching crappy teen dramas on Netflix.

I like to stay well rounded.

The TED Talk that has really stuck with me is with Elizabeth Gilbert. She’s the author of the freakishly popular book, Eat, Pray, Love. I haven’t read her book. These days it’s almost impossible to convince me to read a book that isn’t a dystopia or doesn’t contain aspects of science fiction or fantasy. A woman traveling around the world to “find herself and her spirituality” isn’t exactly up my alley.

You’re probably all going to comment and say I should “expand my literary horizons” and yadda yadda yadda.

Before I listened to her TED Talk a few months ago, my writing process was rather punishing. I would write a few lines and then immediately think about quitting.

I couldn’t understand why this elusive idea that just came to me didn’t arrive fully developed and wrapped in a pretty bow. In my mind, though this idea appeared out of thin air, it came from me. Due to this view, I was particularly hard on myself for not being able to easily expand on it by 400 or so pages. If I could think up this idea so randomly, why wasn’t I immediately able to construct all the ins and outs? Isn’t that how inspiration works? Didn’t J.K. Rowling think up the entire story of Harry Potter on a freakin’ train ride?

Okay, I know she didn’t think up ALL of Harry Potter on one train ride. However, it’s difficult to remind myself of that when I’m halfway through a pint of Chunky Monkey and unable to see reason.

I would grow more and more discouraged each time I would sit down to write, and I couldn’t find the perfect words. Why didn’t it just happen? Why did every word I typed feel like I was passing an extremely jagged kidney stone? Why did I suddenly feel like drinking in the middle of the day?

In her talk, she discusses the idea of creating a protective psychological construct such as geniuses and daemons. A long, long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away) it was believed that divine spirits were responsible for an artists work.

“They believed that a genius was this, sort of magical divine entity, who was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist’s studio, kind of like Dobby the house elf, and who would come out and sort of invisibly assist the artist with their work and would shape the outcome of that work.”

I think this brings up an intriguing idea. If you have this protective construct, then you are less likely to play into the stereotype of the tortured artist. If your work is wonderful, you can’t take all the credit for it. If your work is terrible, it’s not entirely your fault.

To me, it’s not that crazy sounding (although, my characters do talk to me all day, so my idea of crazy may be a little more lax than yours). I can’t explain how I thought of my story. It just popped into my head. How many times have you described something that way?

I think it provides a security blanket of sorts. It’s okay to sit down to write and not have a huge “aha” moment like that first day. It’s okay to feel like your awkwardly fumbling through each sentence (like I do).  You should still write. That’s your job. Your job is to write when you have a stroke of brilliance, and also when you can barely string two words together. You shouldn’t fault yourself as long as your writing.

Disclaimer: I’m not saying you should use this as a way to avoid holding yourself responsible for your actions. There’s quite a bit of technical gibberish that goes into being a good writer, and I’m not discrediting that at all. I just think this is a great way to avoid torturing yourself with the pressures of writing.

I think she explains it perfectly:

“Maybe it doesn’t have to be quite so full of anguish if you never happened to believe, in the first place, that the most extraordinary aspects of your being came from you. But maybe if you just believed that they were on loan to you from some unimaginable source for some exquisite portion of your life to be passed along when you’re finished, with somebody else. And, you know, if we think about it this way it starts to change everything.

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be. If your job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine, cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed, for just one moment through your efforts, then “Olé!” And if not, do your dance anyhow. And “Olé!” to you, nonetheless. I believe this and I feel that we must teach it. “Olé!” to you, nonetheless, just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.”

Here is her TED Talk:


Days 35-40. Writing is jeopardizing my mental health.

I’ve come to realize that becoming a writer is sort of like becoming a voluntary schizophrenic.

Is that just me?

I’ve always been drawn to first person narratives. When I began writing my story, I knew from the beginning that it would be first person. I like the freedom that it gives, and it really allows me to get to know my characters. I would say it allows me to get inside my characters heads, but really it just allows them to get into mine.

Which leads me to my problem…

I feel very lucky that I can hear my characters voice so vividly in my head. When I first started to write, all of my characters felt undefined. I couldn’t pick out their voice from the overwhelming noise of my story. It was very difficult to focus on who they are and how they’re feeling. Over time, I became more familiar with my characters. I started to see them grow into full-bodied visions, instead of the imaginary wisps they had been previously.

The problem, I’ve found, is getting them out of my head when I’m not writing.

I’ve already talked about H (my main character) visiting me in my dreams. What I have failed to mention (for fear of being burned at the stake) is that she also talks in my head all day. Her internal monologue is constantly running through my mind.

For example, I called in to work on Monday. Now before you judge, I was under the weather and I had sick days left. As I was trying to fall back asleep, a voice kept nagging at me.

H: You know, I wouldn’t  have called in. I’m off doing difficult and important tasks in your book. I am becoming a very strong female character, and you are in your pajamas at noon on a Monday.

Me: What the hell, H? You live in a religiously corrupt dystopia so a boring accounting job isn’t available for you! You’re doing difficult and important tasks because I am making you! You are only a strong female character because I am providing the words that fuel you! Furthermore, these are not pajamas! They are lounge clothes!

This is the moment that the very walls of my mental health came tumbling down. I was arguing with a fictional character in my head.

I can hear all of you lighting your matches and picking up your pitchforks.

Now, she feels the need to butt into almost all of my daily decisions.  Instead of a WWJD bracelet, I just need to wear a WWHD bracelet. What would H do?

In the beginning of her birth as a character, I think this would’ve been a creative character strengthening exercise. Asking what your characters would do in your own daily tasks would be a great way to get to know your character. It’s easy to predict how your characters would react in the context of your own story, but you can gain a deeper understanding of them when you remove them from that.

Since H is visiting me in my dreams and talking in my head all day, I’m past that point. I need that to turn off now. I want my own inner monologue! I miss my own whiney voice!

If I would’ve known that writing a strong female character would only cause her to turn around and point out how I am not a strong female, I would’ve chosen a male character.

You hear that, H? It’s not too late…

Well, maybe it is for me.

I’d like to think this isn’t some downward spiral into Crazyville, but rather a sign that I am fully immersed in my story. That’s a believable theory, right?

Days 35-40 are down. I don’t know if I can keep my sanity for 144 more days.

Days 32-34. You’re my favorite character! Too bad I kill you…

I’ve always admired authors who had the guts to kill off their own characters, even when it resulted in tear-stained pages because I couldn’t bear it as the reader.

As writers, we become attached to our creations. We breathe life into them through our own words. They start out shaky and unsure, kind of like a baby giraffe learning to walk, but it’s not long before they become full-bodied with a mind of their own. It’s easy to fall in love with your own characters, and it’s natural to want to protect them (even if it’s from your own words.)

In the Harry Potter series (yes, I do bring this series up frequently. It’s kind of a big deal to me), JK Rowling kills a whole heap of characters. She can classify as a literary serial killer. I won’t name the characters, of course, but some of them are very well-loved and respected. I’ve been reading Harry Potter for 11 years and every time I reread the series I still feel the same ache.

Even as I cursed her for killing a few of my favorite characters, I respected her for having the courage to do so. By writing their deaths, she showed the reader just how bleak times had become.

So I knew in my story people would die. They would have to.

In particular, one important character would die at the end of book one. For explanation purposes, let’s call them Sam. It can be male or female. I’m not going to specify.

I planned this in the early stages of my idea, so it didn’t weigh too heavily on me. I knew that I wanted to build Sam up to a certain level of importance to ensure their death would be felt deeply enough.

The problem I didn’t see coming is that I would start to feel the loss myself. I haven’t even gotten to Sam’s death, and I am already desperately searching for ways to back pedal. I’ve put so much heart and effort into developing this character that I can’t bear the thought of killing him/her.

I know Sams death serves a purpose (I mean, I planned it out myself!) but doesn’t it seem a little rude? I created this character to be killed. I spent all this time on this character just to turn around and kill them. Thais a little sick…

I don’t know if this happens with anyone else but it’s given me a strange God complex.

Ah, here is my little world with all of its little people. Isn’t it quaint? Oh look, there’s Sam! I love Sam. I spent a lot of time on Sam. I used only the greatest traits, a magnetic personality, a vibrant laugh, and a fierce sense of loyalty. Yes, I do love Sam. Oh, would you look at the time? It’s time to kill Sam!

Seriously no one should have that much power!

Can you see how I am still trying to talk myself out of this?

Also, Sam is inspired by a friendship I had when I was younger. What if they read my book one day? It’s a long shot, I know, but what if they did? What if they recognized themselves in Sam? I’m sure that would be a lovely surprise for the first half of the book.

Hey, this Sam character is kind of like me. That’s very sweet of Mariah.

Then they get to the terrible shock at the end.

Oh, what’s happening? Oh my god! She killed me! What a jerk!

I’m starting to think this isn’t the best way to show an old friend that I care.

Have you had to kill off a beloved character? Did you hesitate or try to look for a way out?

Days 32-34 are down!

I just want to add a huge thank you to anyone who has viewed, subscribed, or commented on my blog. I never thought I’d even get one subscriber so to have more than one is a pretty big deal. I really appreciate all the support 🙂

P.S. Stop by next time to see how I explain that being a writer is like becoming a voluntary schizophrenic.

Days 24-27. It’s my pity party and I’ll pull my hair out if I want to.

You are cordially invited to my party of pity. This party will provide the perfect opportunity to dredge up old disappointments and “woe is me” stories. You can indulge in comfort food such as ice cream and mashed potatoes while listening to a heartbreaking medley of emo music and Sarah McLachlan. There is no dress code, so it is considered appropriate to show up in those 2 day old sweats that you couldn’t bear to change out of. I do ask that each guest bring a beverage for the party, alcohol is preferred. Spaces are limited, so please RSVP as soon as possible.

I think I’ve figured out why writers are viewed as such tortured souls. I think the majority of us do not begin writing already tormented. Writing is the cause not the effect. The constant self loathing and second guessing causes our naive and hopeful souls to twist into something unrecognizable. The person who once ran to the page with a glowing optimism now shrinks away into the shadows of the corner.

Wait, is that just me?

My name is Mariah, and I suffer from self-doubt. I constantly have to talk myself down from the literary ledge. The backspace button on my keyboard is far too large and tempting. I swear it whispers to just give up, that this will be worst book ever written.

Of course, then my own self doubt chimes in and reminds me that it’s almost impossible to be the worst book ever written. That would be considered an achievement in itself. No, this will just be middle of the road bad. It will be read by 3 people, at most (including family members). They will all shrug their shoulders and say “meh”.

Those are the thoughts I have every time I sit down to write.

You would think that being picked on as a child would help thicken my skin. I suppose it did but only against other people’s criticism (not by very much, I’ll admit). Against my own vicious judgements, however, I am completely helpless. I know everyone says “you are your own worst critic”, but damn I really am a bitch to myself.

Do you ever doubt your writing? How do you overcome it?

I’m almost positive my main character will visit me in my dreams tonight. She’ll probably throw my laptop at me and tell me to grow a pair.

157 days left! Yikes!

Days 19-23. My fancy schmancy writing process!

Exciting title, right? Aren’t you just dying to have your socks blown off with some spectacular writing tips and tricks?

Is that setting the expectations a little too high? Probably.

Today’s post will be a bit of a departure from my usual. I don’t have any frustrations or complaints to hash out. There most likely won’t be any sarcasm or snarky remarks.

On second thought, there may be a few. It is me.

Today I thought I would explain my writing process. Now, it’s not something I’m necessarily proud of. I don’t think I use a mythical process that is superiour to anyone elses. I’m just sharing this information in hopes that someone can share a few of their own helpful suggestions, or maybe take some of mine for themselves.

When I started writing my book, I researched constantly. I scoured the internet day after day, searching for some lucrative advice. I was hoping to stumble across the hidden secret to tackling such a giant project, that one golden nugget that would “click” into my mind and turn me into a writing machine.

What I found instead was more overwhelming. There are tons of processes and guides out there. Everyone writes differently, and everyone has their own opinion on how you should write. I quickly realized I couldn’t find a single process I agreed with whole-heartedly. So I improvised and took a few tips from each one.

Side note: I was going to commit to the snowflake method, but do you realize how complicated snowflakes are? They are nothing like I used to draw as a child!

After forming my own mental collage of tricks, I nailed down my 3 step system.

Step One: The Moleskine.
Now before you say anything, I know this is a “hipster” notebook. I also know it makes me sound kind of pretentious, but when I was younger I used to lust after those overpriced notebooks. Every artistic person I admired had one. I dreamed of one day being deserving of such a notebook. (As it turns out, you don’t need artistic abilities to own a Moleskine. You need about 18 bucks.)
Anyway, I love to take notes. I can’t really work something out in my mind unless I put it down on paper first. In my Moleskine, I write my ideas as they come to me. I write it down even if I don’t think it’ll make it into my book. Instead of just mulling the idea over in my head, I write it down and move on. If it needs to be revisited, it’s in there. If it turns out to be crap, I can cross it out. This is where I write down characters I think up, plot lines I haven’t completely figured out, bits of conversation I hear, etc. I usually carry this around with me so I can jot things down on the go. I’ve noticed that inspiration hits at the most inoppurtune moments.
Also: it’s a conversation starter. You can’t just whip out your Moleskine in a frenzy and not have someone notice!

Step Two: The Binder
While my Moleskine is an idea dump, my binder is where the final information goes. I have it divided into tabs. There’s a tab for the outline, characters, facts about government/society, and scenes. (There are a few more but they’re unique to my story.) When I finalize a character, I write down a basic summary of the person. When I finalize a scene, I write out the setting and dialogue. This binder houses the most important pieces of my book, so all that’s left for me to do is connect them through writing.
Now I say everything is “final” in my binder, but that’s not always the case. As anyone who is writing a story knows, things change and adapt. So sometimes I have to rewrite things in my binder. (Sometimes this is because my main character visits me in my dreams and yells at me. It’s true. See previous blog posts.)

Step Three: Write!
This step is pretty self explanatory. I write. I find it really useful that I have so many of the big pieces written out in my binder. This means that writing, for me, is mostly just expanding and connecting. I write everyday. I write even on days I don’t feel like it. I write even when everything I write is crap. Having the binder and Moleskine makes it a lot easier for me. I always have an idea of where I’m headed, and a reference point to look back on.

I know this seems a bit extensive to some. I wish I was one of those people that could just sit down and write. Unfortunately, I am a meticulous planner. I can’t focus unless I have the next 10 things planned out. So this is what works for me.

Do YOU have any tips/suggestions on how I can improve my process? What process do you use?

Days 19-23 are down! 161 days to go!

P.S. Further defending my madness: My story doesn’t take place in society today. It actually takes place about 100 years into the future. Having this system helps me plan out what the world looks like at that point. It might not be necessary for a story that takes place in this time period.

Days 16-18. My imagination has ADHD.

Just a few days ago I had the worst writers block. I spent hours in front of my laptop trying to will the words to form. Every single sentence felt like I was wading through sludge, up a hill, in the rain, and with only one leg.

I actually became desperate enough to entertain the idea of a “writers block exorcism”. There just has to be some holy writer who can sprinkle water on my laptop and shout “BEGONE WRITERS BLOCK! LEAVE, YOU EVIL DEMON!”


Thankfully, it hasn’t come to that just yet. Though I am still keeping a lookout for this elusive holy writer. You know, just in case.

It seems my imagination finally decided to get off its lazy bum and spin me some ideas. It just wasn’t in the way I had hoped.

My imagination threw up its hands and declared “To hell with book one! Let’s move on to the sequel!” Yesterday, all I could think about was the sequel. Idea after idea just came pouring into my head. New characters, new scenes, and even some snippets of dialogue. I have 70% of the framework completed for my sequel. (That includes a couple of hastily written scenes I wrote on my work computer and emailed to myself. Shhh!)

Just in case a refresher is needed, I haven’t even finished writing my first book. You know the one that is supposed to come before this sequel. It just happens to be the same one I’m supposed to finish by the end of the year.

Of course, I’m thankful for the ideas. I can’t ignore that it’s probably a good thing to know the basic outline of the sequel. I’m sure it will help me better navigate the first, provide a clearer picture of where everything is headed, and yadda yadda yadda. I just wish my imagination wasn’t’ so scatterbrained. It’s cantering off to the second book when I need it to focus on the first.

Side note: Does anyone else’s imagination remind them of the 11th Doctor in Doctor Who? My imagination makes me think of Matt Smith running frantically all over the Tardis, pressing buttons, and rambling about all the places we can go. Anyone?

At first, I tried to coddle my imagination. What a great idea, sweetie! Look at you go, this will be perfect for the second book! Now, how about we figure out this complex scene? I know you can do it!

Now I’ve moved on to threats. I’m not going to even THINK about writing this sequel unless you get your act together and give me some ideas!

Neither has worked.

For now I am forced to do what my “Doctor” imagination tells me to do. I will hold tight and pretend it’s a plan.

Days 16-18 are down. 166 days to go!

Days 9-15. Writers block is kicking my ass.

So it’s been a while.

I wish I had some grand excuse but really I’ve just been busy. (Busy is a fancy way of saying I’ve been sitting on my couch watching an embarrassing amount of the Office.)

Also, I’ve been dealing with writer’s block. It’s kind of been kicking my ass. I still force myself to write every day, like I am supposed to. It’s just becoming more and more difficult. I know that everyone has these days when the words just don’t seem to flow. I have to admit though, it’s still disheartening. Everything I’ve written feels like crap (so much so that I can’t even think of a more eloquent word for crap.)

I think writers block just amplifies my pessimism to an obscure level. All I can think is that I’m never going to finish this book! This will be the worst book ever written! People everywhere will throw darts at my picture during their book club meetings!

Of course, I know that watching The Office is not helping my creative abilities. I may have tried to force one of my characters into saying “That’s what she said.”

Even writing this blog post is a struggle. How do I write about how I am unable to write? What can I say other than “this sucks”? And where the hell is Rita Skeeter’s quill when I need it?

Anyway, Days 9-15 are down. I’m moving along, one crappy page at a time.

Apparently “writer’s block” causes my vocabulary to deteriorate to that of a 12 year old.