Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Writing hygiene

As my deadline nears (thirty four hours, thirty four minutes) and the words pile up (“not as quickly as I’d like,” she thought, her forehead wrinkling with worry), I’m made to think about writing hygiene, which is a term I just made up, derived from sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene refers to making good habits to increase your likelihood of having a good night’s sleep, such as turning off screens an hour before bedtime, going to bed at the same time every night, preceding bedtime with the same approximate routine (like brushing teeth, reading, etc) so that your body gets trained to expect sleep to follow.

Similarly, I think that having good writing hygiene would help me write more consistently. Currently, I do have a routine, but it’s not consistent enough to train me. I start whenever I want to, by checking my comics and deviantArt and Tumblr, then (allegedly) I start writing. However, Tumblr frequently segues into Facebook and even if it doesn’t, following Tumblr link chains can be an endless activity (and I’m not exaggerating). As a result, I end up being ready to start writing right around lunch time, and then I have to eat, and while I eat, I like to watch a show, which is, I know, a bottomless pit of unproductivity. Meaning, I can’t watch a show during lunch if I have any expectation of writing afterwards. But it’s a very hard thing to resist, when you’ve got nothing else occupying your eyes.

Long story short (“too late!” she cackled, rubbing her hands together gleefully), I need better writing hygiene. It is true that my comics, Tumblr and deviantArt are all inspirational to me and help me get into the headspace of writing, but Tumblr just doesn’t have any convenient early-exit points. It makes me think that maybe I should save Tumblr as a post-writing reward rather than a pre-writing requisite. In addition, I should have a set time of day that I begin this routine—and perhaps, a set time that I end it, though I hesitate to stop myself if I’m on a roll.

But if I write 2,500 words and let the spirit take me until Branden gets home, the next day I feel the letdown of not having done anything to reward my hard work, of simply jumping back into the fray and putting my raw, abused nose right back against the grindstone. I always promise myself, “if you write today, you can play Don’t Starve afterwards!” (“she does, you know,” she griped. “I’m starting to think she never planned to let me go.”) But there’s never time afterwards, and then the cycle begins again.

It’s possible that changing venues might help me with both staying on task and choosing to stop; but all of the appealing venues are ones where it’d be at least a little rude not to buy something. Branden has suggested the library, and it’s a very good idea, but the image in my head of a library includes hard plastic chairs, MDF desks, and a distinct lack of beverages. I think I’m probably mistaken in at least some of these assumptions, but, so far, laziness has won out, and I’m home-bound for writing. Primarily, I write while sitting on the floor of the unbelievably smelly room which houses three five-week-old kittens who think that me and my computer are the hottest ride in the whole park. (“Gee, I wonder why it’s so hard to get anything done,” she sneered, lighting a cigarette.) It’s how I multitask: kittens get quality Elly time and I get quality kitten time and I compose my masterpiece and Everything Is Just Great. Right?

Of course right. Or so I keep telling myself. And I could be right, it’s just a matter of discipline. So, here I sit, in Smelly Kittenville, preparing to write something that looks like Philip K Dick and Raymond Chandler had a hideous mutated Frankenstein baby. Wish me luck!

Word count: 47,372 (뤌)

Monday, April 27, 2015


I’m going to write this post, partially against my better judgement. I’m going to write it knowing that I’m coming from a position of ignorance, and I’m writing it in hopes that I can learn something. Not because I have anything to impart upon you, or because I have some great insight. Please know that I don’t mean to offend or show off my deep stupidity. Sometimes that happens whether I want to or not.

Here is the premise of my inquiry. The foundation upon which it is built. I am made psychically uncomfortable by fiction, particularly fanfiction (though other fictions can fall into this trap too, if they fulfill the parameters), written by straight girls or women, that puts two straight (or sexuality-irrelevant) male characters into a sexual relationship with each other.

It feels exploitative to me, and I don’t at all understand the appeal of writing these relationships. I’ve formed different theories about why so many girls seem to be writing gay erotic fiction, and none of them seem to hold up under scrutiny. But the common theme of these works that makes them feel exploitative is the miasma of “kawaiiiiiiii!!!!!” that seems to accompany them.

A fic I’ve read most recently that seems less exploitative than most others I’ve read specifically regards Sherlock and Watson from the BBC series (A River Without Banks). It’s extremely well-written and laudable in many ways, but I do think that it is a bit exploitative if only because it lingers so long on the sexual relationship that grows between the two. In most respects, the story is not at all erotic: Sherlock has to go back in time to alter the time stream to save the world. Not your typical porno opener. Having graphic sex scenes dominate multiple chapters diminishes the message and the weight of the story, in my opinion.

But, by and large, ARWoB treats the relationship with a level of seriousness and respect that elevates it above the sorts of stories that I’ve seen that can cause me such angst. I pointed a finger at ARWoB because I think it’s good, and people should read it if they want to. I’m not going to point fingers at the stories I consider to be bad. But I will give specific AU examples.

On deviantArt, depending on where you look, you see a lot of slash art for pretty much any video game, movie, show, or other IP you’re interested in. In my specific case, I really like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. But the shipping between Phoenix and Edgeworth became so ubiquitous that I had to unfollow the group I belonged to.

For the most part, the art wasn’t gross, or graphic. It was usually really sweet, actually. It’s just that, throughout all of it, I definitely had the sense that they were being objectified for the pleasure of the artist. Their relationship was “so cute.” Like a little bunny rabbit or kitten. A thing to be marveled over, then put away.

I remember, back in high school, it seemed like anyone (usually girls) who would exclaim so much over a straight couple would do so primarily because they were insane jealous of one of the parties involved: i.e., she really wanted to be that girl. My point is, when it’s a straight couple, almost no one is running around, making art, and squealing about how cute they are. Because straight couples are real couples, and we know that that bitch is cray and that asshole’s just gonna do the same thing to her that he did to Jessica. But the shipping that happens in badly-written fanfics seems to believe that, once they realize how meant for each other they are, nothing will ever be wrong again.

A lot of these poorly-written fics also change the characters once the relationship begins, to be more affectionate or demonstrative or expressive or even jealous or insecure (in a cute way, of course!). I feel like that shows a lack of understanding of the people they’re attempting to portray; not just the specific characters, but the entire demographic of gay men. It’s bizarre, because I feel that straight girls (and women? Not sure) have idealized gay male relationships the way straight boys and men have idealized women’s bodies—possibly for different purposes, possibly not, I don’t know.

Anyway, I think maybe I did inject my own prejudices a little, whoops. Can anyone shed some light on why this seems to be a thing? Or does anyone care to shoot me in the face with an arrow? Or possibly debunk my premise? I definitely might just be making broad generalizations and simply need more exposure. Thanks!

Word count: 46,407 (땇)

Friday, April 24, 2015

May the road rise to meet you.

My good friend, and the mastermind behind the Writers’ Group that has served as such an amazing support and inspiration, is moving away soon. We went to school together in our adolescence, and over the years we’ve been through various levels of closeness, but against all odds, we never lost each other.

Over the last year or so, she’s attended the group less and less as life has become more and more stressful for her. That has meant that we’ve seen each other a lot less frequently. I’m sad—truly—that she’s moving away. It seems so permanent. But I try to keep in mind the fact that though we only attended school together for one year back in 1996, we’ve remained friends for almost twenty years (what the fuck twenty years?! how in ze hell). Though distance may have strained, miles cannot break our bonds of affection. We will meet again. And I’m thrilled for her, that she has found a person who she judges to be worthy of her love. She’s quick to tell me that she wouldn’t move just for a guy, and I believe her—she has some great opportunities where she’s going. But I know that he’s the catalyst to this move, and I know that my friend is anything but indiscriminate in her affections. If she’s willing to uproot herself and her daughter, he must be something special.

So, my friend, my soul-sister, I will miss you. Deeply. May you find all the happiness you seek.

In her absence, I do worry a little about the fate of the Writers’ Group. She hasn’t been attending, true, but somewhere in my mind I still think of it as her group, and I miss her when she’s not there. On top of that, some of the more regular attendees have sorta stopped writing. I wouldn’t presume to judge that—to write or not to write (and to share or not to share) is each person’s decision and many things contribute to it. But...

As I near the end of my second draft, I know I’m going to be taking some time off writing afterwards to, well, get a breather, put things in perspective, and let it all sorta steep. Branden’s finishing his story in not too long here. Rachel has been writing shorts for our amusement, but sometimes she goes months without anything to share. And Becky is going to be finishing her story in the not-too-distant future, and I don’t know what she’s going to want to do at that point.

I love all these people, and without their creative influences in my life, I feel like a part of me would shrivel and die. Several of our members opt to not attend if they didn’t read everything and don’t have anything to share. If enough people do that, the group will have zero members. Every time someone comes who maybe wasn’t planning to, they always say what a positive thing it is and how happy they came even though they didn’t feel like they had much to give. I wish everyone could remember that feeling, the level of support we give each other.

It’s hard to share your creative work, and a lot of writers’ groups fail because the attitude is more competitive. If I didn’t have my girls (which is what I call them, Branden notwithstanding), I think I’d stop writing completely. Let alone trying to get anything published. It’s discouraging when no one cares to read what you write, to give feedback, to validate... and having beta readers is an essential part of writing.

I’m pretty sure it’s my insecurities talking here, but some of my group seems to have a boundless energy and confidence when it comes to writing. To them, writing is an imperative; they would do it whether anyone was reading or not. They deign to scatter their pages before me, like rose petals before the queen (in this metaphor, they are the queen, not I). I scramble to pick them up and consume them, and my feedback, such as it is, amuses them. Maybe for my girls, writing would happen whether we were here or not. But it probably wouldn’t happen for me.

And it’s weird, coming to that realization in this moment. My creativity never hinged on having an audience before. On the other hand, I would only be sporadically creative before. I absolutely wouldn’t trade it.

Word count: 45,383 (녇)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Zombies and the right to survive

A few years ago, with such titles as 28 Days Later and the remake of Dawn of the Dead, the Zombie genre came back into vogue. Then, we started seeing movies, TV shows, and even video games starting to deal with Life After the Zombie Apocalypse, like Land of the Dead, AMC’s The Walking Dead and The Last Of Us for the Playstation 3. Now, of course post-apocalyptic works aren’t new, and I think the issue I’m going to address first began with the genre, but it’s something that has interested me as I’ve observed these more contemporary theories at what that sort of world would be like.

Namely: the longer a person survives in a hellish landscape such as the zombie apocalypse, the more likely they are to be reviled by other survivors (who, ironically, must have survived just as long). I’ll use The Walking Dead here because it’s the one I’m most familiar with, but I’ll also address The Last of Us later on.


In this most recent season The Walking Dead, Rick and company find a housing development that built a very well-engineered wall back in the early days, and have been fending for themselves admirably since the beginning. They were staying below the radar, neither advertising their presence nor allowing others to come and join them. However, for some reason that is far from clear, they decide that they want to start letting other people in. Their “recruiter” follows Rick and company for a while, then offers them the opportunity to “audition” for membership in their group.

When Rick and the group enter the community, they have a hard time adjusting. Their behaviors, which they learned through trial and error, based on the needs of their nomadic lifestyle, don’t apply. They find themselves either relieved or repulsed by the fact that these people have few worries beyond those of pre-apocalypse suburbanites. Michonne wants the group to integrate, Carol seems to look at them as nothing more than a cache of supplies to take from, and Rick thinks he’s going to have to hammer them into his mold in order for everyone to survive.

In the meantime, the members of the community that Rick & Co have joined welcome them without reservation, by and large, until their personalities and ideologies start clashing. Right off the bat, Glen makes enemies with the leader’s son (who later ends up dead by no fault of Glen’s). Rick gets a crush on a woman whose husband beats her. Sasha hates everyone and wants to make sure everyone knows it—she is suffering from PTSD. So, the residents of Alexandria start to think of the newcomers as bad eggs.

It’s a recurring theme in the interactions between Rick & Co and anyone else. From the evil ones, you hear “Yeah, we’re bad, but at least we admit we’re bad—you all still think you’re the good guys!” From the rest, there is a shying away if not a verbal proclamation that Rick and his group are too bad. All of the “good” groups they meet have this feeling of newness, like they just logged on to the zombie apocalypse within the last month or so and boy howdy, things started getting hard when they ran out of toilet paper. It feels a bit disingenuous to me, that so many people would be so scandalized by the fact that Rick’s group has had to kill people to survive. It’s always perceived as their failing; there doesn’t seem to be any benefit of the doubt. Doesn’t matter if they were gonna eatcha, you can’t go around killing people. I myself have met nothing but hippies and eaten nothing but rainbows and bacon since this whole thing started. Can’t you be more like me?


In The Last of Us, you’re escorting a girl who holds the key to the cure of zombie-ism to the rebel movement who is resisting the martial law that was put into place at the beginning of the outbreak and has not let up (twenty years later). You kill zombies, but almost just as often you kill people. In the style of video games, you don’t really have a choice about that: dudes are shooting at you, you shoot back, the game progresses. But the further you go, the more you run into people who’ve “heard tell of the psychopath traveling with the little girl,” just as if you were seeking out people to kill rather than attempting to pass peacefully through an area. TLoU is interesting, though, because it’s a game, and one of the things that makes games different from movies is the idea that maybe you have a choice in how things go. And in TLoU, you really don’t. To a large extent, you can’t even choose to kill as few people as possible; the encounter doesn’t end until every last opponent is dead. In the very end, you don’t get to choose how to handle the “choice” that’s presented to you. It feels very weird, because it really does feel like you have a choice—if you didn’t, why didn’t they just make it a cinema? It feels like Joel is in charge and just lets you think you’re driving. But whatever, that’s tangential to my point.


My point is this: the longer someone survives after the apocalypse begins, it seems the less the rest of the human race believes that s/he deserves it. “The things you have done to survive make you an unsavory character,” seems to be the message. Individuals who view their own actions as being less deplorable than the ones the others have perpetrated feel entitled to judge. But I guess that’s why their group only very rarely, if ever, grows: individuals or other groups hold up their rap sheet next to the protagonist’s and find them to be similar.

That sorta brings up the right to survive, to me. Are we all entitled to do what we have to to survive? A game outside of the genre of zombie post-apocalypse is This War of Mine. (I have not played it, but only heard of it through James Recommends.) In this game, you play a civilian living in a city under seige. You have to make decisions about what you do to survive. You have a group, and you have to figure out how to keep everyone alive. You keep your shelter up, and you scavenge for food. This frequently means you have to choose between taking your supplies from others in this city, or not having enough food for everyone to live. So, you make judgement calls. Will this person you’re stealing from live without those supplies you’re taking? Would they live even if they had the supplies? Do you help a survivor in danger, or do you take advantage of the distraction to take the supplies? What right does a person have to survive?

I don’t even begin to know the answer to that question, to be honest. But it’s a fun brain worm. What do you think?

Word count: 40,808 (齨)

Monday, April 6, 2015

When the story goes in an unexpected direction

So, last Wednesday, when I had my writesplosion, I was writing a scene that had been in my head since I re-envisioned my book and began Cassidy1. Only, when I originally mind-wrote it, it turned out very differently. So, when I finished writing it ’for reals,’ I found myself unsure of where to go from there. I toyed with the idea of redoing it in the way I’d originally conceptualized it. Eventually, with much courage and grace, I decided to leave it as it was for now and see where it took me. I can always come back and change it later if the path fades away, right?

So, unlike Robert Frost, I am taking the road less traveled. So far, it’s helping me to further ensure that the agency is in Cassidy’s hands and things aren’t happening to her, and it’s actually helping me figure out how Cassidy solves her mystery in a way that doesn’t include a villain monologue.

It does sorta feel like jumping without a net, though. Straying from the outline means that anything could happen now. Will the climax I have envisioned come to pass as the book is written now? If not, what will happen?

At times like these, I think it’s important to keep in mind several things as you go forward.

  1. How do you take this and use it to reinforce your character’s... well, character?
  2. How do you take this and use it to reinforce the themes of the book?
  3. How does this new development work towards developing or resolving the main conflict of the book?

As long as you answer these three questions, it seems to me that you can wander as far as you like from your outline and always find your way back.

Well, it’s a short one today. Sorry, adoring fans. ♥

Word count: 36,789 (辵)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Snail crawl

Well, I wrote a bunch on Monday when I was so motivated. But once I’d finished the scene, I found myself back where I was: not sure where to go or how to get there. It was disheartening. But, having a writing binge (purge?) did help me keep my boot on fear’s neck.

I realized something: I hadn’t thought through how Cassidy was actually going to solve the mystery. There are two simultaneous mysteries going on (as there should be; see this for a good guide on how to structure a story), and I had thought my way through one of the cases entirely—the one Cassidy doesn’t know she’s solving. But the case she was hired for, I hadn’t completely figured out how she’d solve it. And now that that time is basically nigh, I’m having to figure it out as I go.

Pro-tip: don’t do this. Mysteries are hard to follow when you’re reading them. They are no less so when you’re writing them.

I’m also finding that shucking things off as #ThirdDraftProblems doesn’t actually make them non-issues. For example, Cassidy’s amnesia. This draft, I’ve mostly ignored it. Sometime recently, I realized that in my efforts to make Cassidy a mostly-well-adjusted human being in spite of her amnesia, I had managed to gloss over it completely. Because of that, I’ve managed to make it seem like she didn’t care. Because of that, I haven’t built any tension relating to it, which makes releasing that tension super hard. Even if I can stick my fingers in my ears and go “lalala I totally built that tension already by now in my third draft,” I don’t know how I’ve built it, therefor I don’t know the most powerful way to release it. Le sigh.

One of my techniques during NaNoWriMo to come back and write with momentum the next day was to stop writing right in the middle of a scene. That way, I’d be excited to finish it when I came back to it. This time around, I haven’t been very good about that. Scenes feel like capsules. When I get to the end and say “now what?” I spend quite a while going “I don’t knooowwww” and despairing. I think I need to go back to the basics and review the last thing that happened in the story.

  1. What did Cassidy learn?
  2. What did the readers learn?
  3. What changes did these discoveries cause?

If thinking about these things doesn’t set off a spark, trying to occupy Cassidy’s head and figure out what she thinks the next move is will probably also help.

Taking myself out of my normal writing environment has also helped me at least start my writing engine on a day-to-day basis. Monday, it was as simple as sitting on my porch in a reclining lawn chair for a few hours with my laptop on my lap. (It helped that it was 80° outside.) Between that, Starbucks, and the library, I definitely have options. Going out helps discourage me from playing video games, since my desired setting while playing Don’t Starve is to have a show on in the background. Being separated from my TV helps me shut off the impulse to play games mindlessly until something better comes along.

So, I am going to finish Cassidy1 in April. This is going to happen. Hopefully early April. I’m ready for my month-long break between drafts and to tackle some of those #ThirdDraftProblems we’ve all heard so much about. Wish me luck, okay?

Word count: 35,150 (襎)