Monday, August 31, 2015

An interesting realization

I’ve been rereading Becky’s first novel for the purpose of critique (and enjoyment, of course). I’m a bit nervous about it, because I don’t pretend to be an authority on writing quality, literary virtues, or writing clichés one might want to avoid. Every time I find something I want to “pick on,” I second-guess my own intellectual authority on the subject. It’s not going to stop me from giving my complete critique, but it makes me want to poison the well in advance, before she’s even gotten to read it.

But I’ve been thinking about my “qualifications” as a reviewer, and I’m realizing that I may not be the most unqualified person on the face of the planet to give meaningful critique. That’s a nice feeling.

Until our writers’ group was formed, I’d never really had the opportunity to give critique to an unpublished work, and especially not one that was intended for eventual publication. Because my group are my friends, my first instinct is to be kind and pull any punches that I might feel like throwing. For you writers’ group members who may be reading this, I’m never ever dishonest; I just have a tendency to emphasize my positive feedback. Recently, I polled the group to find out what we are all hoping to get out of it, and discovered to my delight that some of us are actually looking for the most rigorous critiques we can get. So, for those who want them, the gloves are coming off.

But something to keep in mind while critiquing is what audience the author is aiming their work at. You don’t want to rip apart the lack of wooly sheep in a book that is hoping to appeal to fans of rhinoceroses, for example. I am, at this point, hoping to write a book that has “literary merit,” by which I mean, “has subtlety, symbolism, allegory, themes, and a moderate amount of currently-relevant politics.” That is not what everyone wants, and that is okay. I don’t want anyone to think that I think that kind of writing is better than any other kind. It’s just that, right now, I’m highly attuned to that kind of writing: looking for the themes, looking for the hidden messages, looking for the slight twisting that gives a story ambiguity. If I don’t see it, I throw up red flags, and I have to remind myself that not everyone writes that way. It’s a balancing act.

But something else I realized is: I actually feel qualified (well, as much as I ever do) to give critique on pretty much any genre of story. My sci-fi teeth aren’t as sharp as some other people’s, but I’m able to keep up, I think. I won’t spot tropes and traditions in that genre as quickly as many of my peers, but that’s not always a bad thing. I’ve definitely been made to rethink choices I’ve made in my own book because of observations made by people who aren’t well-versed in the hardboiled genre. </tangent> I read almost every genre of book, from popular literary classics to literary classics few of my generation would have been exposed to to Poe to Shakespeare to Silverstein to King and Koontz to Scalzi to Grafton to Patterson to Niffenegger to Vinge to… well, the list goes on and on and on… and on. I’ve read Interview With a Vampire, I’ve read Dracula, I’ve read 30 Days of Night. (Not the Twilight series, though.) I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think that about covers the spectrum of the vampire genre? And that’s just the example that is closest to the surface right now. I read almost anything with words on the page, and I’m… fairly discerning, at this point. I can enjoy bad books, but I know they’re bad.

So… maybe what makes someone an “authority” is extensive study of a topic, rather than someone pinning an “authority” badge on them. Maybe I do have the intellectual authority to give meaningful critique.

I’m still working on reading through it, Becky, but so far I’m enjoying it, and I hope that my (eventual) critique will be helpful to you. ❤

Word count: 3,278 (೎)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tips for overcoming writers' paralysis and cultivating enthusiasm for your writing

Long title is long!

I was at the gym yesterday and I was finishing up my stretches. After stretches, I do ab workout—situps, crunches, leg-lifts, or jackknifes, depending on the day. Yesterday was jackknifes. After that, weights, then a half-hour of cardio. And I was lying on my back, looking at the wasp nest in the highest tippy-top of the cathedral-vaulted ceiling and dreading every single step of it with my whole self.

I probably don’t need to tell you, but dread is one of those ingredients in a workout (or any other chore) that really dominates the flavor and ruins the dish.

So I thought to myself, “Self, stop it! Why do you dread this so hard? You know it exactly. You have done it so many times you could do it in your sleep. Dreading it only makes it take longer; and when that’s not true, it sure makes it seem to take longer!”

“But, Self,” I protested, “What should I do to dispel this awful funk? You make it sound easy. I assure you, it is not.”

“Fear not, Self,” I laughed, “There is a solution! Behold!” I flourished my cape. “When you started coming to the gym, you were infused with feelings of accomplishment, pride, and self-power. These feelings have waned as the gym routine has become mundane, but in truth, the fact that the gym routine has lasted long enough to become mundane is an indication of exactly how accomplished, proud, and powerful you should feel!

“In short, do not focus on the mundanity, the sloggishness. Focus on the things that made you start coming in the first place! The way it draws into focus the ways in which your body is succeeding at being strong, beautiful, bendy—what have you. After all, what are you anxious for? Have you elsewhere to be? I think not. Now is your time. Enjoy it.”

Well, it got me through the rest of the workout, and I realized that the same technique can be applied to most things we dread. Staring at the blank page, fingers poised over the keyboard, thinking, “I know I was gonna say something… what was it again?” we have started looking at our writing as an obligation, a chore. What if we spent a few minutes right before we start writing to remember exactly why we write? If we can recapture the feeling of the joy of creation, the freedom of crafting a world to our own specifications, the way it used to be an escape rather than a prison, then writing will be a breeze.

Yesterday, after my workout, I was victim to a sustained headache and stomach ache and did not return to the world of creation, but I’m going to try out this technique today and see if it works as well for writing as it did for finishing my gym routine. Happy writing, everyone!

Word count: 2,778 (૚)

Inksoldiers poetry challenge: Day 3

Even moonlight makes shadows.
Where else can the beasties hide?
Between the leaves,
Behind the fence pickets,
They wait, just for you.
As the moon gets brighter,
The Nightlings swarm;
They smell the romance and
They claim it for themselves.
The brighter the blue,
The higher the risk,
And what walks back into your bedroom
Will look like you,
But now you will drink moonlight
And crave the misbegotten lovers,
Forgetful of who you once were.
But where’s the fun without the risk?
Airy, light, so very bright,
Come share my starry night.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Inksoldiers poetry challenge: Day 1

Daylight fervor
Chores, errands, friends
You see purpose.
But when sunshine wanes
Your cup is empty.
Nothing remains
To testify to your day.
In the blackness of night
Your eyes develop their true sight.
You see the world you hide
From yourself when
You pretend that living
Just to continue living
Is enough.
Awake, exhausted, floating and lost,
Your spirit’s eye searches for the Art
You called “frivolous” when you left it behind.
The sun rises, watery and new,
And you push away the ache to sleep
And remind yourself how “happy” you are.

Challenge source

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I'm gonna talk about it now.

I promised myself when I started this blog that it was not going to become mopey mopey Emoville. So I’m writing this post in the spirit of grabbing my demon by its horns and showing it to the world. Maybe doing that will help me fight it. Or maybe it’ll just get me a little leeway with my gentle readers when I don’t blog every single M/W/F or write as many words as I should.

I’ve mentioned my fatigue and my MS before. I’ve tried to downplay it, or to only give it a glancing blow on my way to more upbeat things. But I think the result of that is to make myself look like I’m failing to achieve (or even approach) my goals for… no reason. And I don’t like giving it power over me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t already have it.

Fatigue is a lot like depression. So much so that I don’t think I can safely say I don’t have a certain amount of depression. Fatigue is different from being tired. There are days when I feel like I have energy; I have no desire to nap, but I simply cannot bring myself to do anything productive, be it chores, errands, or writing. For chores, even the first, smallest baby step seems like a mountain, or a sheer rock face. For writing, I open my document and I read the last thing I wrote and I put my fingers on the keyboard, and then… nothing comes. I do what they tell you to do: I write nonsense or I write journal-style just to get the words flowing, but the heart isn’t beating. I can squeeze out a few drops but that doesn’t make it flow.

Fatigue is present in most people with MS even if they have no neurological symptoms or lesions, like me. For me, fatigue is crippling. I fail to fulfill social and familial obligations. I have to cancel activities that I was really looking forward to. Almost everything I do, I have to force myself to do. Except on days when that’s not true. Some days, I feel almost normal. I can do three or four whole things (or, alternatively, write a couple of thousand words) before crawling into a deep dark hole. If I’m not careful, I can spend all the energy that I have that day and overspend into the next day’s energy, leaving me twice as wrecked as I would otherwise be.

And those days are almost worse than the others, because they make me feel like I’m failing all the rest of the time.

I have a problem moderating myself, separate from MS. As long as I can remember, I’ve been inclined to follow rules that I set for myself as though they were set in stone. I think that’s because I went through a phase where having no rules resulted in me failing out of college. So, if I “break the rules,” I have no safety net. I eat a bag of Doritos, drink a 2-liter of Mountain Dew, and play Don’t Starve while Law & Order: SVU plays in the background. My therapist tells me that sometimes I can’t be productive, because, uh, I have MS. But “being kind to myself” looks, to me, a lot like breaking the rules. And the more I break the rules, the easier it is, and the harder it is to “be good.” So, being kind to myself may actually result in me losing all the good habits I’ve made over the past eight years. Can you blame me for getting mad at myself for backsliding? There are only so many things I’m proud of—I’m not going to forgive myself for losing all of them.

So, I have no energy. So I turn into a person-sized slug on the couch, incapable of doing anything else. So I get mad at myself for slugging. And that sucks more energy out of me, because (just like kids whose parents say “no” more than “yes” end up feeling like they can’t do things,) if I don’t have my own support, I’m not going to feel empowered to accomplish anything. So the next day I have even less energy. So I can’t write, or do anything else. So I get mad at myself. At a certain point, I can’t even sleep anymore, I’m too busy being pissed at myself. So, guess what? No energy. And on and on it goes.

It’s bad enough knowing that I could never support myself anymore. If Branden were to upgrade to a newer model, I’d be up a creek. It feels like I was robbed, since I was aimed at a master’s degree in architecture when I had to admit defeat to the fatigue and confusion and the lack of balance, sensation, and coordination—like the weeping angels touched me, my potential was stolen from me, and I am doomed to whatever scraps I can get now, from my tiny cage lined with wood chips. But I feel like my brain is my enemy. And when your brain is your enemy, what could an ally possibly offer?

I am trying to learn brainhax to trick myself into moderation. Make good habits of self-regulation. But when even that feels mountainous and unattainable… I feel like I’m in Inception, just falling deeper and deeper into limbo.

So… that’s where I’ve been for the last few weeks. Please stay with me. I can’t do this alone.

Friday, August 7, 2015

New and unanticipated difficulties, hooray!

I was so excited to start writing narrative. My outline was complete and finally everything made sense: all the clues pointed in all the right directions, and I’m no longer relying on Cassidy’s biases and lack of experience to create tension where there really isn’t any. I think—I really do—that this book is going to be good.

So why can’t I write it?

I think the biggest problem is that I haven’t found Cassidy’s voice yet. Exploring the feminist/sexist aspect of the story was a choice that I made from the get-go, but it’s really not fun to write the scenes, especially so early in the writing process. (Note to self: maybe I could put this scene on hold and come back to it once I’m on more secure footing?)

So, Cassidy is less inexperienced in this version. She needs to start with a good amount of confidence and authority so that when the shit hits the fan, her loss of objectivity and her feelings of being “at sea” are more powerful. There are clues gotten from interrogation, from intuition, from observation, and from hands-on investigation. (In my reading, it seems that all of these things are necessary to make the hardboiled detective who s/he is.) There is a world outside Cassidy’s investigation, and some of the people-of-interest have other shady shit going on that is unrelated to the case but will influence they way they deal with her. And, she gets to start building contacts in her new city.

But when I sit down to the keyboard, the words don’t seem to come.

Here’s the kind of stupid shit I do to avoid writing but still claim I’m “being productive”: I made an HTML version of the Google doc of my story so far. I mean, I set the page width, the font, font size, there’s a gray border around the “page,” there are page breaks and page numbers and everything. Why? I dunno. Cause. Now it’s in a format I could, theoretically, email my friends and it wouldn’t take as long to load as a Google doc. Also cause playing with CSS is fun. And it’s both easier and more technically challenging than writing. I am just so... tense about writing.

It’s super bizarre, too, because over the last few days (weeks?) I’ve really started understanding, intellectually, that I can’t “screw it up.” Text is so much kinder than any other creative medium if you make a mistake: you just hit backspace. Yes, you might end up deleting entire sentences, paragraphs, pages... or even entire drafts. But you can try, try again at virtually no cost. So why am I so freaked out?

There are no words.

But I’ve decided I’m not going to beat myself up. It really doesn’t do any good.

Word count: 1,989 (߅)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Pets or Pests?

I haven’t been productive. I wrote on Friday, about 1,200 words, but since then I’ve been frozen, forlorn. On Monday, I played Don’t Starve all day. Yesterday, I didn’t even do that much.

Today, I feel like I could happily destroy every fragile thing. I don’t know where this is coming from; nothing is different from yesterday. But I’m trying to defuse the bomb of my mood, as well as possibly be productive today. So, I’m writing a blog entry. Since I have nothing to say about writing, I will tell you all about my Real Life Animals.

Monday, I picked up two bottle-baby kittens. They are three weeks old, which means they are pretty much past the “failure to thrive” threshold, but are still mega-tiny and needing of regular feedings. Monday night, I got up at one am. to feed them, but that was only because I had only gotten them at six-thirty and didn’t know when they’d been fed before I picked them up. I wanted to make sure they had plenty of food. Last night, they were fed at 10:30pm and then I fed them again this morning when I woke up.

So, we have two cats who are fourteen years old. They both have kidney compromise. Then, we have one four-month-old kitten with a cold; or possibly a deviated septum. He’s very snotty, snuffly, and whuffly, but doesn’t seem sick other than that. Finally, two bottle-baby foster kittens. “Bottle baby” means what it sounds like: they need to be bottle fed every three hours or so (except at night, as I mentioned above). So, mornings and evenings are a madness of feeding, medicating, and (at night) preparing for bed.

Squish, one of the fourteen-year-olds, needs a joint supplement morning and evening. Happily, this is a powder that gets sprinkled on his food and is apparently quite tasty, plus the others can safely eat it, in case Squish doesn’t quite finish it before wandering away. Tayler (other fourteen-year-old) and Squish each get a tiny pill for their kidneys. Gnar (four-month-old) gets a dose of lysine paste on his food, morning and evening. The babies (working titles Mist and Smoke) need to be stimulated to use the bathroom, then fed Kitten Milk Replacement (KMR) with a bottle, then stimulated again, then “given touches,” which is to give each ear, tail, and nose a quick rub, and rub the bottoms of all four feet, so that they are accustomed to such touching in later life. Then they go back into the carrier, which rests half-on-half-off a heating pad, and is covered with a blanket. They spend most of their days sleeping. Then, in the evening, Gnar gets his teeth “brushed” (actually, rubbed with a bit of gauze) because dental work is damned expensive. He’s getting used to it, every day he protests less.

Gnar, unlike Squish and Tayler, is very interested in the babies. At first, they would approach him and he would leap away, frog-like. But after a few hours, he got braver. He started wrestling with Mist.

I watched them like a hawk, and he was extremely gentle, even though it did look quite rough: his “bites” never closed, his claws were all sheathed, and he would let Mist go any time Mist wanted him to. Also, Mist would wander away, then come right back and start climbing on Gnar again. So, I decided that they were safe.

But after a few more hours, it became clear that Gnar was getting more and more worked up about the babies: he was less in-control when he was bouncing around them, tackling them, and wrestling with them. So now, I have to keep them separate while feeding the babies. Feeding my animals takes most of an hour, it seems. But that’s okay, because they’re great and I love them.

Today, I will write or know the reason why I didn’t. Love to everyone.

Word count: 1,270 (Ӷ)