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 44-50. Unbearable Fiction Fad #2: The overly insecure female

Unbearable Fiction Fad#2: The overly insecure female.

I was once a teenage girl.

In my teenage years, I dealt with the typical insecurities of a young woman. Growing up as a woman is difficult. From a very young age we are bombarded with images of women with perfect skin, big boobs, and high cheekbones. Ahem, Victoria’s Secret.

I know how it feels to think of yourself as inadequate. I know how it feels to see a beautiful woman, and suddenly hate a random part of your body.

I still hate my kneecaps. They’re weird.

So yes, I understand why there are so many insecure young women in literature today. As a writer, you want the reader to relate to your protagonist. If you’re target audience is young adult females, then you’d better throw some self doubt into your character.

However, there is a line and it’s not a fine one.

First of all, there is a time and a place for insecure thoughts. This is especially true in literature when our protagonists are dealing with conflict beyond the average person’s threshold. If she meets a dreamy man who is holding the hand of a gorgeous woman, it would be natural to take a hit to her self esteem. Why can’t I look like that?

For example, every time I see a picture of John Krasinski with Emily Blunt, I die a little inside.

BUT! It is not the time to worry about her looks when she is holding a gun (or other weapon) and she’s about to kill zombies (or other evil beings). That doesn’t make any sense. The ability to attract males should not come into question when your life is in danger.

Marco will never notice me if I continue to wear this bulky bulletproof vest! Wah 😦

Second, you should be realistic about her insecurities. If you’re going to make her into an overly insecure female then you can’t pair her off with the hottest guy around. Is she ugly or not? I understand you can use it as a way to show that even the most beautiful women struggle with self doubt and yadda yadda yadda. However, it doesn’t really support her idea of being “average and boring” if you just hand her off to the nearest underwear model.

At most, you should couple her up with the awkward male best friend who always saw her true beauty. It’s about time we inspire young girls to remove the nice guys from the friend zone!

Third, she needs to grow. Let’s say your character is Mona and she’s insecure. You choose to use Mona to save the world. She becomes a hero and a legend! She single-handedly prevents the demise of our beloved Earth.

If at the end of your story, Mona picks up a pint of ice cream and starts an internal monologue of self loathing, you’re doing something wrong. Mona just saved the world! The only thing Mona should be thinking is “Damn. I’m a bad ass!”

This is not to be confused with “Damn. I’m a fat ass.”

In conclusion, the majority of writers want their characters to inspire. I know I do. I want H to show that you can rise above oppression of any kind. I can’t depict this accurately if I keep her as the insecure, whiny butt head she was at the beginning. I want to use her as a tool to show young women that you can overcome yourself.

Sometimes, the only strong role model your reader has is your character.

I think I need a tissue…

I’ve come to realize that a good rule of thumb is to do the opposite of Stephanie Meyers. That’s my number one writing rule. Do not write another Bella Swan. Please.

Days 41-43. Unbearable Fiction Fad #1: The Love Triangle

I’m starting a series on this blog. It’s going to be called Unbearable Fiction Fads. Basically, I’m going to complain about what I consider to be overused in today’s books. This will include plot lines, characters, descriptions, etc. You know, whatever is annoying me at the current moment.

I want to make clear that I am not trying to insult anyone’s work in any way.

Yes, I realize it should be a red flag when I have to start my post this way.

But seriously. This is just my opinion. If your story contains any of these features (or even all of them), just ignore me. I’m sure your book will still be wonderful. There is an audience for anything, really. I have faith that you can pull off what so many other writers have poorly executed. I never said I was above being proven wrong, and I have taken part in my own literary clichés as well.

So take a deep breath and please turn off the caps lock.

Unbearable Fiction Fad #1: The Love Triangle

I am a firm believer in art imitating life.

Sometimes in life you’re only liked/loved/lusted by one person at a time. Sometimes in life there isn’t another equally wonderful and heroic stud fighting your affections. Sometimes in life you nab one mild-mannered nice guy/girl, and you’re happy with it. You accept this. You get married, have babies, and buy matching burial plots in the shady part of the cemetery.

So why it that in so many books the author throws in a love triangle? Of course, this is excluding when the love triangle is the main point of your plot. I get that. However, if your protagonist is off fighting demons/witches/ghosts/vampires/other children in the 74th annual Hunger Games, then do you really need to throw a torrid threesome onto their plate? I think they’re busy enough just trying to survive.

As a reader, I find it really distracting.

Oh my god, Katniss! Is this really the time to be thinking about Gale? YOU’RE ABOUT TO GET KILLED BY AN ELEVEN YEAR OLD! You better stab her before she stabs you! Also, Peeta is the obvious choice so I don’t know why we’re having this conversation.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t have a love story at all, even when your story is mostly action. It’s just that there are PLENTY of issues for a relationship to have without throwing a third party into it. Maybe the boyfriend/girlfriend is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Maybe they’re secretly a serial killer. Maybe they decide they want to have a sex change and start their own show in Vegas.

Get creative! Do something that hasn’t been done numerous times before. I didn’t even have to try that hard to think of those examples. I just had to look in my journal….

All lame jokes aside, just how great do you think your protagonist is? I know we all think our characters are the bee’s knees, but I know for a fact that my main character isn’t going to have a swarm of hot guys wanting to pollinate her. Too far with the bee metaphor? I’m realistic about her. She doesn’t really have time to wage an internal war between two lovers. No, she barely even has time to think of one guy. Anything more will just seem like bragging.

Although my story is not a love story by any means, I’d rather spend my efforts and energy building up a great love story between two people than to have lackluster chemistry between three. I’ve read too many books in which I didn’t care about either of the candidates. As an author, I’m pretty sure you want the reader to care about your characters. You don’t want them spending the entire book thinking KILL THEM BOTH!

Maybe you do, if that’s what you’re going for.

As I said before, I’m not above being proven wrong. If you put enough effort into your love triangle, maybe it will tear me in two as a love triangle is supposed to. Maybe I’ll actually buy one of those “Team so-and-so” t-shirts, and have heated debates with my friends about who really is the protagonists soul mate. It would be a first but then again there’s always a first for everything.

On that note, I wonder how many cliché phrases I used in this post.

Days 41-43 are down. 141 days to go!

P.S. I was going to include the god awful love triangle from Twilight, but if I get started on Twilight I won’t be able to stop. I have to physically restrain myself right now.

So I reached 55 followers, which is a really big deal to me. My ego hasn’t been this inflated in years. I actually have a headache now! Thank you to everyone who has followed my blog. Writing on this blog has been incredibly therapeutic for me. It’s a wonderful way to get all the crazy out so that it doesn’t bleed into my story. Thank you for being a part of that.

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 28-31. Are you SURE that can’t be done? It’s the future!

Writing my story, which takes place around 100 years into our future, has made me realize how convenient futuristic stories can be. Consequently, it also encourages me to be a lazy writer.

Can’t figure out how to get your protagonist to the top of a building that’s infested with zombies?

Have no fear! It’s the future! Your protagonist has a handy wrist band that allows them to propel themselves onto the building and into the safety of the waiting helicopter!

Convenience!

I just want to add that my story does NOT contain zombies. That was an example. I watched a zombie movie the other day so they’ve sort of been gnawing at the back of my mind. Get it? Get it?

Anyway…

It seems the lazy writer in me has figured out this new little trick. When I am stuck on a scene and unsure of the exact details of how I want something work out, it invents a futuristic device/law/setting that fits all my needs. It’s actually quite impressive.

The problem is the more methodical side of me feels there should be a reason behind the device/law/setting. What caused the need for this? How was it achieved? How can I explain it in a believable way?

To which the lazy side of me responds “Hey, shut it! I solved all your problems.”

It is very tempting to give in to my lazy side. Why not shed all of my inhibitions and create the most mind boggling future ever? That could be a lot of fun.

It would completely undermine the point of my story, but it would be fun.

Why pin point the exact timeline of the changes made to society when I can just make it up as I go? Who needs explanations for every little difference? Why not give everyone a device so they can read everyone else’s minds, and they talk it out in their heads and all conflict is avoided?

It’s very easy to get carried away when the lazy side is in charge.

I’m curious to know if anyone else has any experience with futuristic stories. Did you feel it was a tough line to walk? How did you decide just how far advanced your world would be?

Days 28-31 are down. One month is completely gone! I’m not freaking out, I swear….

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!