The other day I was listening to a campaign speech by Bernie Sanders. The one thing that struck me was the authenticity of his anger. Most politicians, at least to me, sound like politicians expressing anger in a glossed-over sound-bite kind of way. But with Sanders, I actually believed his anger. I could feel it, the way it would catch in his throat. It was the kind of anger that drives people to action.
It reminded me of a quote from Rick Jarow (of the truly fantastic “Ultimate Anti-Career Guide”) who said that sometimes people don’t make changes in their own lives until they get angry enough.
The other day I went on a rant on Facebook. I was feeling angry. In the past, I’ve not been much of a ranter. I’ve been more of a mediator, an empathetic ear, someone who consciously practiced uplift in the world. Ranting is too easy, especially on social media. Ranting makes you feel like you’re doing something, but really, you’re not. At most you’ll get self-righteous affirmations from other ranters.
When my anger still hadn’t cleared by the next morning, I starting designing a 2nd rant. Half-way through it I realized I was just going to trigger other people with it. But I still wanted to do something, so I turned my post into something more like a call for help and a call to action. I asked people to share ways they were consciously making changes in their lives to lower their carbon footprint so they could inspire others who were too overwhelmed to take a step. And the conversation started. And I learned some new things and got inspired.
I think anger is useful, but a lot of the time we don’t utilize it. Anger in the form of rants into the void (i.e. social media) usually just end up in name-calling and raising hackles and no one changing their views on anything. Anger in the form of self-righteousness is just as useless, because that creates not just a me vs. you mentality, but an “I’m better than you” mentality. Not productive. And believe me, I’ve danced in the self-righteous zone many times.
I think the cure for self-righteous anger is empathy, and that one way to turn anger into action is to tap into that empathy. Empathy is not inactive. It is not wimpy. It is not the same thing as condoning (anyone who’s read Amanda Palmer‘s book The Art of Asking has seen how many people often mistake empathy for condoning behaviour). It is just recognizing everyone as a human being. It is thinking in terms of uplifting all of us, so that none get left behind. We are created by our circumstances and our surroundings. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we are often scared by what we don’t know. We are not born hating, judging, mocking, condemning, etc, etc, etc. We learn that stuff.
YOUR WRITING WORKOUT
In your story, what fuels your protagonist’s anger? And where in your story does his/her self-righteous anger transition into an anger that finally calls him/her to action?
Set your timer for 5 -10 minutes per start line
When timer starts: write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.
(just do it!)*
1) The anger that burns inside my protagonist looks like . . .
2) The fallout from my protagonist’s anger destroys his/her . . .
3) When my protagonist can’t take it any more he/she . . .
Now write your next scene . . .
*If you want to try various ways of writing try short sentences, long sentence release (no punctuation, just connect everything by conjunctions), or listing.
1. to lift up; raise; elevate.2. to improve socially, morally, or the like.3. to exalt emotionally or spiritually.
4. to become uplifted.
noun5. an act of raising; elevation.6. the process or work of improving, as socially, intellectually, or morally.7. emotional or spiritual exaltation.
For the past few months I’ve been thinking about the ideas of UP and DOWN in terms of language, emotion, and physicality. When we are UP we are high, exalted (“closer to the heavens”), floating, light, standing tall, open. We love looking up – – to the sky, birds, clouds, sun, moon, future. When feeling liberated, joyous, elated we throw our arms up. We want to “reach for the stars” not “dig ourselves” anywhere.
When we are DOWN we are de-pressed (I picture a giant thumb pressing into me, squishing me like a bug), hiding, covered, bent, small. You’ve heard of the lowly worm.*
After my recent bout with depression (the extreme side of down), I decided that I didn’t want a giant thumb pressing into me and squishing me like a bug. I wanted a really powerful antidote for myself instead. I wanted to be uplifted.
The opposite of DOWN is UP!
I began to think about the small ways (especially habitual or subconscious) I sometimes de-pressed myself. And then I began to see that sometimes I de-pressed the people around me. Not because I’m mean, not because I’m malicious or vengeful, but because I’m human and sometimes I can’t see the light and sometimes I am afraid.
But what if, in the moment before I said something spiteful or petty or threw a piece of my pain back at someone, I practiced using uplifting words instead? What if I paused and thought of them as bright stars waiting to be released into the sky? And what if I kept coaxing those stars, inspiring those stars, championing those stars so that more and more and more were released and we lit up the entire sky?
I decided to try a little experiment. A few months ago, I inked the word UPLIFT on the inside of my cell phone cover, so that every time I opened the cover to make a call, text, email, tweet, or to use facebook it was a reminder to be impeccable with my word and to use language as a means of raising the spirits of the people around me.
It always makes me proud to love the world somehow –
hate’s so easy compared.
I made it a rule (the cell cover a constant reminder) that I had to always act or speak from this idea of being uplifting. And as I did, it started to dissolve my own self-negativity. The act of consciously UPLIFTING others on a regular basis helped me to get out of my own ego. It helped me to choose being happy over the need to be right. It created a new kind of momentum that fed on itself (in a good way).
And if someone else was not in a space to be uplifted (as I wasn’t at the end of last year), I didn’t take it personally. It wasn’t my job to fix them. Being uplifting isn’t about providing the answer or giving advice.
Being uplifting isn’t just about saying nice things to people either. It’s about paying attention to others and their own fears, wants, and needs. It’s about being conscious in and of the world. It’s about giving people space and taking care of each other and being of service. It’s about affirmation. It’s about intention.
Now, as I go about my day, when I catch myself in a small moment of pettiness or jealousy, I envision myself being an agent of UPLIFT. I envision our communal star-ness, together in the bright sky.
*in defence of “lowly worms” – I love worms. I help them across the sidewalk. I relocate them when I’m weeding. I mourn them when they are squished.
In our fiction, it’s necessary to be mean to our protagonists. I always tell my students, Don’t be nice to your characters! Turn up the heat! Give them painful challenges! Make life hard! Pile it on!
I rarely talk about the moments that shine a little light on them. But, at some point in the story, I think a little uplift is in order.
By uplift I don’t mean everything solved in a grand deus ex machina moment, but something beautiful and meaningful and a bit more subtle.
When your character is at their lowest, when they’ve failed and failed and failed some more, when they have been beaten by the blows of life (or even the physical blows of bullies) it’s time to allow something to give. And if done well, it will break your reader’s hearts just a little.
It could be a memory. It could be a small act of kindness. It could be embodied in an invaluable object they take with them along their journey. Imaging in the movie version of it, the music turns melancholy, and a sense of hope or determination pierces the gloom.
Write without too much thinking, without stopping, and without rereading & editing
Start with any of the lines below (or all!) and keep writing for 7-10 minutes.
The most precious object in my protagonist’s life is . . .
The voice in my protagonist’s head that gives him/her hope sounds like . . .
The kind gesture that comes when my protagonist least expects it happens when . . .
A wise friend of mine once observed:
Every action we take or don’t take is driven by one of two things:
Fear or Love.
I’ve been sifting through this idea for a few years now, wondering if this were actually true (being the “inward bound” workshop/personal development/human potential geek-junkie that I am – and yes, I am the kind of person satirized on shows like Portlandia). But I’ve discovered that whenever I break my actions or inactions down to the basic essence, my wise friend is right. I just have to be brave enough to tell the truth about it once in a while, especially when it comes to the fear end of things. I’m quite good at justifying my fears.
I also think that there are levels of fear, and I can always tell when I get to the fear behind the fear behind the fear (to that essence), because it just goes THUNK when it finally gets to that simple statement of belief I hold. You know, the one that isn’t really serving me.
For example: Even though I say I love to write and share and talk story and writing practice is INVALUABLE, I haven’t blogged for almost two months. I could easily tell myself I just haven’t had time. And I could list all the stuff that’s been going on in my life to enroll everyone in that story.
However, I didn’t really have to watch 3 episodes of Scott and Bailey in a row and then stay up until 2 AM playing Angry Birds feeling guilty and telling myself, Pulitzer Prize author Michael Chabon doesn’t stay up all night playing Angry Birds. (Although I certainly invite him to tell me otherwise.) He’s a real writer. He writes.
And I didn’t have to start at least 8 posts when an idea inspired me, only to finish none of them.
I know procrastination when I see it. And I know procrastination stems from fear. So when I finally broke it down, it went like this:
Why didn’t you finish those posts?
I was afraid I’d lost my momentum on the ideas and they wouldn’t be as good as I thought when I was inspired to start them. (first level of fear, logical enough that I could just brush it away)
But so what if they’re “not as good” as you thought they would be?
I’m afraid that if they’re not very good people will figure out that I’m really a fraud and I’ll lose readers.
First, you’re not a fraud. Second, so what if you lose readers?
I’m afraid if I lose readers I’ll look stupid and people will judge me for that.
Then no one will like me. (I am now 9 years old)
Completely unannounced, Byron Katie’s voice barged in on my thought process and asked me: And WHO would you BE without that?
Who would I be without the fear of people not liking me? If that fear were simply gone from my life, what could I accomplish?
And what is the price to myself if I hold myself back because of this fear?
A few years ago at a SCBWI conference, author Laurie Halse Anderson said that one time when she’d been whining and complaining about some niggling thing to do with her writing, her husband told her: “You know what? You’re gonna die.”
He didn’t say it to be mean. She got it. The things that were holding her back weren’t worth paying attention to in this limited time on the planet we all have. Her fear of not doing those things became greater than her fear of doing them. And sometimes, that’s the place I also need to go to get my motivation back.
On the flip side, the love I feel for what I do when I’m actually doing it, and not trying to be too perfect or precious about it, is also life-fulfilling motivation. And even though fear (and anger) can be incredibly useful procrastination busters, I think “doing” from a space of love is where I’d much rather be.
YOUR WRITING WORKOUT
What is the fear (big or small) that holds your protagonist back? If you look deep enough, what is the essence of the fear? How does she justify her actions/inactions around this fear?
What price to herself for inaction? What will she lose if she does not act? Her freedom? A friendship? A position? A lover? Her self-worth?
And is there a moment when her fear of not having/doing something becomes greater than her fear of doing/having this thing?
TIMED WRITING GUIDELINES
Set your timer for 5 -10 minutes per start line
When timer starts: write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.
(just do it!)
The excuse my character gives him/herself looks like . . .
The fear behind all of my character’s fears tells her . . .
The price of my character’s inaction is . . .
The scene where my character breaks the bonds of this fear happens when . . .
Now write your next scene . . .
a round of kidney stones
two head/chest colds
an ear infection
one bookshelf dropped on head
~ ~ ~
Despite the physical ailments, the renters who flaked out on us TWO DAYS before we were to move, and the ferry schedule to get the Uhaul to the Sunshine Coast and back in one day, we have done it!
We have moved to a greener, slower, more remote location. And I already love it, even though it has been nothing but grey, and I am surrounded by unpacked boxes and unorganized kitchenware. I love the quiet growing of our surroundings. I love the nestiness of our new space.
It is much smaller, alas, so the Den of Destiny is no more, but I have found a fabulous new cafe that opens early. I have decided it is my new office:
I’m far too mind-fuddled to write a truly original post today. But wanted to share that I have a story on QuarterReads called “Second Lives” (which I suppose you could call a literary memoir or prose poem or poetic memoir) about my father’s passing.
Wait, you haven’t heard of QuarterReads?
It’s a very clever site. Writers submit stories for online publication and readers pay .25 to read them. Writers get 88% of earnings and 100% of “tips” – which readers give if they really like the piece and are feeling generous. I don’t think anyone’s getting rich through the site, but it’s a lovely way to get a story out there and make new fans.
… as a bonus, I wanted to share one of my favourite reads this week:
From Maria Popova’s fantastically engaging website Brain Pickings:
Audio version of Fernandez’s whole commencement address may be found here.
Our ideas regarding success should be our own, and I urge you to pursue it simultaneously from both the inside and the outside…
As artists, it will be especially difficult to measure these ideas of what success may be because you have chosen a practice that is entirely dependent on being willing to possibly fail, over and over again regardless of any successes that do come your way.
I’ve been told before that “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” If packing to move were compared to my general flight path in life, I’d have to agree. What takes my far more focused husband a few hours, will take me days as I flit around and get distracted, inspired, or pulled into a side-project.
I started reading a fabulous book called THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. In her book she advises to do all your discarding first before any organizing, and to do it by one of five categories, rather than by room. She even suggests the order in which you discard (from “easiest to hardest”) starting with clothes. I loved that part. Giving away clothes that weren’t “bringing me any joy” knowing that someone else might find a better use for them.
But next on her list is books. And she admits that books are very challenging for many people to let go of. That’s an understatement for someone who once held a good-bye ceremony for a box of poetry books and cried the whole time.
Of course, MOVING is not tidying up. Moving is picking up all your belongings and assembling them in what you hope will be a tidy and organized fashion on the other side. This time around, we’re temporarily downsizing in a new city. And as I’m not a big fan of long-term storage, I thought this book might help me to tidy first before we moved. Alas, the moving date is now a tidal wave and I’m still on the beach deciding which shells I want to keep.
Marie Kondo, I am sorry I did not follow your system of discarding books. I will be more disciplined next time.
I have moved 10 times in 20 years. I have made culling, packing, moving, unpacking, and reorganizing books an art form. I start early, knowing it will take weeks for the entire process. There will be drama and tears and at least one bookshelf landing on my head. (I currently have a tender bruise right above my “third eye.”)
I started with discarding the easy ones – I’ve read them, they don’t belong to a friend, and I’ll probably never read them again. I’ve been giving them away to anyone who stops by and on non-rainy days this box goes out in the yard:
Since we’ll be in a smaller space for a while, I next created a “NOW BOOKS” box – books I have been thinking about reading for a while and “might” be inspired to read in the next 6 months.
Then there’s the box of “Poetry books I probably won’t read in the next 6 months but are too precious for me to store anywhere,” my “Oz Books” box (yes, they have their own separate box), my “books I keep in my bedroom for some reason” box, and another box of all my “educational / teaching” books JUST IN CASE.
The rest I taped up and created a fortress of boxes called “I’m okay with us putting these books into storage for 6 months. I think.”
But then yesterday, I was reading this lovely article and suddenly realized I had no Henry Miller in my box of “NOW BOOKS” and that article must have been sent to me by a higher force! Henry Miller must have something to tell me about this phase of my life!
It only took reopening two boxes of books for me to find this:
~ ~ ~
Sometimes I look at my bookshelves and feel like a fraud. The majority of books on my shelves are of the “haven’t gotten around to reading” sort. And for some reason, when I see other people’s bookshelves I immediately assume they HAVE read all those books and all that juicy content is dancing around inside them. My friends assure me they, too, have neglected to read many of the books on their own shelves. So perhaps bookshelves are less of a trophy case after all and more of a to-do list.
In the past, when I packed up my books, I wavered from inspiration to melancholy to guilt. But this time, considering them an attractive to-do list, I thought instead, Why don’t I make this the Year of The Bookshelf List? The books are probably tired of sitting around getting dusty, only to get their hopes up when I reach for them for yet another move. It’s time to love some of them up and move them along.
So, in honour of this committment, I hereby dub this the
YEAR OF READING MY BOOKSHELVES
The deal I have made with myself is that for this entire year I will always be reading at least one book that has been on my “read someday” bookshelf list. And if it doesn’t bring joy (thanks Marie Kondo!), off it goes to bring it to someone else.
I just hope I put the right books in that “NOW BOOKS” box.
Pick a book from your shelves that you’ve been meaning to read. Go ahead, open it right now.
What is it? How does it make you feel opening it up?
Happy New Year.
It’s half-way through January, and I still don’t feel like I’ve landed in 2015.
I was late to the party. I don’t know what the rest of the world was up to over the holidays and transition into the new year, but I was deep undercover. I mean literally under my covers, not eating, shuffling around like a zombie, and then alternating between uncontrollable anger and despair. My condition might have been a side-effect of inflammation combined with “perimenopausal rage.” It might have been S.A.D. and a disconnection from Spirit… or any combination of the above. At the time, it didn’t matter. I was in the relentless grip of the “Grenade Monster” (launching its violent attack upon me and my world).
Almost every person I have ever known has suffered from some form of depression. There’s the ebb and flow of life, difficult spiritual growth spurts that I believe are a healthy part of being alive and human. I’ve heard others speak of a one-time extended “dark night of the soul.” For some, it’s a challenging recurring pattern over their entire lives, causing much suffering for them and their loved ones. Generally, the Grenade Monster shows up for me every few years or so, gifting me with some form of epiphany afterwards.
This book would never have been written if it weren’t for the following: Sleeplessness, Self-Doubt, Depression, and Anxiety. So, thank you demons. You guys are the greatest!
~from inside of Andrew Smith’s 100 SIDEWAYS MILES
Those familiar with deep depression know that there’s no way to think oneself out of it. Even when you recognize your thoughts as completely illogical. The Grenade Monster is a bully and a liar and feeds on our deepest triggers, twisting other people’s words and intensions.
I’m generally known as an optimistic person. I’ve been called the “Sunshine” on many occasions. I have attended so many personal development workshops, read dozens of self-help books, and have quite the stash of tools. And yet, in the grip of the Grenade Monster, I couldn’t use any of them. I didn’t even want to use any of them. The Monster launched “shut the f*** up” Grenades at anyone offering advice. Compassion for self and others completely shut down. I decided at one point I was going to buy a used car and move to Nelson, BC where no one knew me and no one could find me.
My husband (a leadership skills development specialist) was a great person to have around. During one of my crying jags he told me, “I’m just going to let you feel what you’re feeling, and you can tell me if you need any kind of support.” He didn’t get caught up in my drama; he didn’t try to fix me. I could cry and rant and rave, or hide away from the world, without judgement or chastisement. So, I cocooned myself inside my depression, refusing to leave. I didn’t want to let go of it, because (as silly as it seems now) I was afraid if I did, I wouldn’t have anything left.
Yet . . . even though it was painful, even though my thoughts were dark and twisted, even though in the throes of it I couldn’t remember what Sunshine felt like, and it felt impossible to find it again – somewhere deep inside I knew it was all temporary. I knew I’d eventually get out the other side to a better space. When I started to see some light, I told one of my friends, “I better have one huge friggin’ epiphany after this one. I’ve earned it.”
How did I manage it? To stay in the world, I forced myself to pick one small thing to do every day. One day I sent a query (that was a big day), one day I put some pads on a door that was slamming into a wall, one day I did laundry. It was as much as I expected myself to do. The important thing was that I allowed myself to feel what I needed to feel without adding guilt or shame on top of it. What would be the point of that?
My first two trips outside were not pretty. I was a balloon blown up so tight that anything even grazing me could make me burst. The first time out a woman closed a door in my face and I burst into tears.
On my third trip out into the world, I concentrated on my breathing to try to get away from the Maze of voices in my head. I started paying attention to my body, how my arms and legs were moving as I breathed. Eventually, I began to share with my friends where I had been and began to listen to others – seeing their suggestions as loving gifts that I could at least consider. Or seeing my friends as simply parts of me reminding me how to take care of myself.
I AM GRATEFUL FOR JELLO
Several years ago I had a friend with whom I shared a private “gratitude” blog. Every night we’d try to post 5 things we were grateful for. We were both in pretty bad financial straights at the time, and we used it to stay positive. My friend was in far worse shape than I. She had this knack for getting into bizarre situations. At one point she didn’t have money for rent, so she decided to risk the small amount she had at the casinos. She won several thousand dollars, only to have it stolen from her within hours. She had to move to a cheaper place, but the movers demanded more than they quoted, and when she couldn’t pay, they kidnapped all her belongings.
In her new place she had nothing in her cupboards but a package of dried spaghetti and a box of jello. She ate the spaghetti the first night. The next night in our online gratitude journal all she wrote was: I AM GRATEFUL FOR JELLO. It made us both laugh and cry.
My friend Rev. Angelica also keeps a regular gratitude journal. One time she told me that no matter how depressed she gets, she can always write in her gratitude journal: I am grateful for my cat.
Half-way through my depression, I was curled up under my blankets, despondent, and Frederico Suave snuggled up against my legs. I remembered what Angelica had said, and I began to chant: I am grateful for my cat. I am grateful for my cat. I am grateful for my cat. Over time this became, I am grateful for all cats. And then, I am grateful for animals in general, they’re awesome. And since my husband had been especially awesome, I started being grateful for him too (he jokes now that he falls two below cats, but I think Freddy would probably agree).
There is a surprising amount of power in gratitude. Really feeling it from the heart and expressing it on a daily basis is a surprisingly simple thing you can do if in a dark cloud. If you’re in the middle of a truly debilitating depression, you might not be able to get there at all. It took me several days to even get to my “cat gratitudes.” But, if you’re open to it, give it a try. Whether in the grip of the Monster or not.
Want to read more?
Many other folks on the interwebs have blogged about depression:
*Tell me of any others you found helpful and I’ll add them to the list!
I am developing an online course called Getting to the Story to begin in February 2015. This blog post features a sample from the coursework. If interested in taking the class, contact me HERE.
~ ~ ~
According to NaNoWriMo stats, about 23% of their participants finished their 50,000 words by the end of Nov. If you were one of them, congratulations. You have a big pile of words to play with!
And if you were one of the 77% (hi there!) who didn’t finish, whatever you wrote you still have, and whatever you learned you’ve still got on your tool belt.
The joke around here is that my NaNoWriMo became a DecNoWriMo, and now I’ve succumb to the fact that it’s really a JaNoWriMo. But that’s fine by me, because when I started my NaNo this year, I realized I didn’t know this story at all. During NaNo month, I didn’t have the time to figure it out, so I just started telling my story, rambling down a long summary.
In the end, I have to start somewhere, and it’s always new.
After NaNoWriMo was over, I took a look at what I had and went, “Ugh.” It was the literary equivalent of waking up to a pot of crusty half-cooked noodles I’d left in the sink the night before.
I know from experience that I couldn’t just think my way out of my lumpy noodly mess. If one thinks and thinks and thinks about the mess, it doesn’t magically become a story. I believe the only way the story gets written is to write it.
And so, I set the mess aside and pretty much started at the beginning again.
First thing, I had to get to the story…
GETTING to the STORY WORKOUT
I teach an outline style called Sequence and Beat. I teach my students to write out the major sequences of their stories and then divide those up into “scenes” or “beats.” But how do I figure out what those sequences and beats are? Usually by writing exercises where I discover it on the page. (NOT AT THE COMPUTER — these exercises should be hand-written)
Think in terms of Big Action
In the following exercise, you’ll divide your story into three parts (Beginning, Middle, End). In each of these parts, there will be a BIG ACTION that crucially changes the status quo (some call this a reversal). There will be other minor reversals and complications. The Big Ones are the set up of the story (conflict) and the journey (trials and tribulations) that result in achieving (or not) the over-arching goal. If you keep these Big Actions in mind, it will help you move your story forward cohesively.
For instance, if the over-arching goal of the entire story is for a man and woman to be together, there will be things that drive them apart. Maybe small things at first, but then something that seems insurmountable to them both happens. Maybe the Big Action by the end of the first section is the woman marries someone she doesn’t love. Bummer. Boo.
In Book Four of my White Forest series, the over-arching goal is for Narine to “reset” the world’s balance. Before she can do that, she has to find the one character who knows her destiny. That character is in mortal danger and Narine has to save her. The Big Action in part one is saving this character, but there’s a lot of things that stand in her way.
All the sequences that lead up to the Big Action make sense
The sequences that lead up to this point – the woman marrying someone she doesn’t love, for example – need to make logical sense and/or force the character into this position. What things get in her way and redirect her into doing something she would not have done at the beginning of the story? Did her kingdom become enemies with her lover’s and another kingdom demand her hand for their prince for their allegiance? Or was it more subtle – neither party recognized what the other felt and the man took a job in another country out of heartbreak?
Please write without too much thinking, without stopping, and without rereading & editing
1) Start with the line below and keep writing for 5-7 minutes OR until you think you’ve covered all the events leading up to the Big Action.
The first section of my story all leads up to __(Big Action)___. This event is inevitable because . . .
2) Repeat the exercise for parts Two and Three using the following start lines:
After the events of Part One, my protagonist is left to . . .
In Part Two, the Big Event that propels/ignites my protagonist into taking action is . . .
In Part Three of my story, the over-arching goal is achieved after . . .
(scroll down to skip straight to the Weekly Workout )
I came to the realization last Friday that I’m not going to be finishing my NaNo this year. Of course, a tiny piece of me keeps saying, “You can do it! Wake up at 3 am! Power through!” but that’s just because I’m stubborn like that. I really hate to lose, especially when it’s just to myself.
My hope had hung in there for a while, because last year I managed to pump out 30,000 words in one week… but I was on a porch swing in Hawaii at the time. Right now I’m working full-time on a movie, house-hunting for an upcoming move, and involved in a major protest on Burnaby Mountain.
So, life has been a bit cray-cray (wait, are women over 40 even allowed to use that term?). And in the cray-crayness of it all, I’ve done my best to take care of myself. To not exist on 5 hours of sleep per night. To watch what I eat and find some quiet mind each day.
Truthfully, my heart just hasn’t been on my NaNo, but up on the mountain with the other protectors. My blog posts suffered, because that was all I could think about in my spare time, and I have purposely steered away from posting political issues on this blog. Not that I don’t want you to know my politics (TRUST me, I will happily tell you), but because I want to feed other parts of myself and express other parts of myself. I could never be 100% political activist 24/7. I think I’d burn out and/or get cynical after a while (or both). I need to step away from all that once in a while in order to take care of myself.
Part of taking care of myself was supposed to be feeding the writerly side of myself, but that got pushed to the way-side, so here I am with four days left of NaNo month and 39,000 words left to go. (on the positive side, that’s 11,000 more words than I had Oct 31!)
The NaNo is not happening, I keep telling myself. I need to be okay with that.
Have you ever had that sinking feeling that something you really wanted to accomplish just wasn’t going to happen? You weren’t going to finish that marathon? Complete that degree? Climb that mountain?
Did you ever kick yourself later and say, “If I had only pushed harder…” I don’t think it’s really healthy for us to stay in that place of “I should have done better.” Sometimes we just aren’t up to it for whatever mental, emotional, physical, or environmental reason. But perhaps remembering what it’s like in that precarious space of “I can do this” and “I can’t do this” you can have sympathy for your characters and an idea of how to bring them to the breaking point and push them over the edge.
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In your current story, where is the place when your character is so exhausted she doesn’t know if she can continue or seriously questions whether she will be successful at reaching her goal? HOW do you give her that last push to get her through SPLAT and to the other side where redemption lies? How are you pushing her to the edge, and have you really pushed her far enough?
write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.
1) SET YOUR TIMER for 5-7 minutes.
Start with this line: In this scene, my character wants nothing more than to…
See where this takes you.
2) SET YOUR TIMER for 7-10 minutes.
Start with the line: In this scene, my character is up against…
Again… Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.
3) SET YOUR TIMER for 10-12 minutes.
Start with the line: In this scene, my character is pushed to her limits when…
Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing
4) SET YOUR TIMER for 12-15 minutes.
Start with the line: In this scene, my character breaks the bonds of what’s holding her back by…
Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.
Now, go write the scene in which your character is up against this obstacle, is pushed to the limit, and makes it out to the other side. And have a great rest of your week!
NEWSFLASH: This weekend I will be at Geek Girl Con in Seattle. My publisher (Hydra House) has a booth (#309) and I will be presenting “Imaginary Worlds for Kids” in Rm LL3 Sat at 11 AM & Sun at 3 PM and doing a signing Sat at noon wherever signings are. Probably by the book tables.
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Up for the Clown Challenge? Where do I Start?
I love a good challenge. Especially a writing challenge. I’ve completed NaNoWriMo twice, dozens of “10 day challenges” (writing a short screenplay, short story, or poem each day for 10 days), or doing themed challenges. It’s how I wrote my first (and only) literary zombie story. I saw a challenge. I saw a way to push myself in a new and unexpected direction.
While I was
procrastinating researching today, I found a journal I was unfamiliar with:
Coulrophobia is the abnormal fear of clowns. Which instantly reminds me of Poltergeist, a movie I loved as a kid.
I know many people dislike clowns, who find them sad or creepy, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with true coulrophobia. I immediately decided I needed to jump on this one. Why? It gives me an excuse to do something I wouldn’t have done otherwise.
According to the Unlikely guidelines:
… open to anything involving clowns in some significant way … think Sacred Clowns and Holy Fools. Horror, humor, existential angst, and tears of, we’re open to all that and more, in any combination. Heck, why not see how many different genres you can fit into a piece of flash fiction?
As if that didn’t sound like challenge enough, a recent tweet from the magazine mentioned that ALL submissions so far had been from men. They need more women to submit. How could I pass that up?
It’s a flash fiction issue (1038 words max) and the deadline is Nov 1.
So, how does one go about facing such a challenge? Here’s ONE way:
Even if you’re not interested in writing about clowns, you can still use this workout to begin a story, any story. I’ve used it at least three times and each time come away with an interesting short story, and ideas for a dozen more.
1) Write 50 opening lines.
Write them in one sitting as fast as possible. Put the image of a clown (or any other image if clowns don’t interest you) in your mind and then just GO. Don’t think too much about each first line. Just jot them down. Don’t judge them or edit them. These are potential first lines for a story. (in this case, a flash fiction story)
If you can’t get 50 first lines down, do as many as you can until your brain stalls or melts. I do recommend pushing through to the end if you can. If nothing else, you’ll have 50 first lines to possible stories.
2) Pick your top 5 first lines and write 5 opening paragraphs.
If you can’t decide, share with your writing group if you have one (or friend, spouse, kids) and let them pick their faves. Just whittle the list down to the 5 most inspiring lines, then write 5 opening paragraphs from those 5 first lines. Again, without thinking too much, and certainly without editing. Do this as fast as you can, whatever flows from the pen (or keyboard)
3) Pick your top paragraph and go from there…
It’s that simple. From 50 first lines to the idea for a story to the story itself. It’s a numbers game, really. With 50 first lines to choose from, one of them is bound to inspire you and send you in a new and unexpected direction.
Surprise yourself! And feel free to share your five first lines below.
Have a great weekend and perhaps I’ll see you at Geek Girl Con!
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Last weekend marked the largest collaborative Climate March in our world’s history. Over 2,500 events in 162 countries during which citizens marched in solidarity a few days before the UN Climate Summit.
And I wasn’t there.
To be fair, my household was represented by other members of my tribe. But, I still felt a bit guilty for not going. This is a huge deal and it was a great historical event.
I have attended rallies and marches in the past. Sometimes they simply overwhelm me. Other times I get inspired, and then the immediacy of life takes over and I get caught up in my daily to-do.
I was left at home wondering what more I could do. I’m not a scientist, but I can support those developing solutions for our climate problems. I’m not a politician, but I can support those making ethical decisions regarding our communities and planet. I don’t work for any non-profits (although I want to start a foundation some day), but I can support those doing the hard canvassing and clean-up work.
I am a children’s author. I write and perform and teach Imaginary Worlds classes to kids of all ages.
What does that bring to the table?
In the past few years I’ve read about several studies linking reading with empathy. These studies show there is a direct correlation between children who read frequently and their level of empathy for others. An article in Scientific American said that, in particular, reading fiction that focuses on “the psychology of characters and their relationships” teaches kids “values about social behavior, such as the importance of understanding those who are different from ourselves.”
Reading novels as a child — implying literary engagement with life’s social, cultural and psychological complexities — can have a positive impact on personality development and social skills. ~Why Everyone Should Read Harry Potter
An article in Psychology Today suggests that the “simplest, easiest, cheapest thing we can do to build connection between people is to read to every child.” Because reading fiction opens us up to multiple perspectives, it improves our ability to navigate relationships.
Reading allows children to conceptualize a world beyond the world of “self.” ~Raising a Reader, Learning Empathy
These studies make complete sense to me, because I believe reading a wide variety of literature as a child helps us to realize how connected we all are, but still how unique each individual is. They can also inspire by demonstrating the resiliency of the human (or faerie) spirit.
This is what I was thinking about last Sunday, when I decided to stay home and write and prepare bulk meals for the week (I am dealing with an auto-immune disorder and must cook all of my own food from scratch) while the rest of my family attended the march:
No matter what we do for a living, there is always a way for us to make the world a better place through our vocation.
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We’ve got a tough road ahead of us as world citizens, and addressing these serious challenges will take a lot of empathy, a lot of creativity, and a lot of cooperation.
It sounds cliche to say that the children are our future, but THE CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE! What part am I playing in creating the future of our planet? Through my writing, teaching, and performing I’m doing the best I can to leave the next generation with the tools to work together harmoniously, to inspire ingenuity and creative thinking, to expand curiosity, to encourage compassion and inclusivity, to support a world of love and possibility rather than fear and divisiveness.
And through the empathy, innovation, and willingness of our future generations will the problems compounding today be approached with more cooperation and a collaborative spirit.
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YOUR WRITING WORKOUT
Actions have consequences and ripple effects, some make major ripples and some affect only a handful of people.
How do your character’s actions create consequences not only for her, but for the people around her?
We can create empathy for a character whose small action sets off a chain of disastrous events beyond her control. We can also root for a character who redeems herself with a good deed that has a positive karmic ripple effect.
1) SET YOUR TIMER for 7-10 minutes.
Start with the line: Out of spite, my character decides to … and it causes …
While you’re writing, think of every single person this action could affect.
Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.
2) SET YOUR TIMER for 10-12 minutes.
Start with the line: In response to my characters actions, CHARACTER B …
Now think of all the responses / reactions that could possibly happen. GET BIG about it.
Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.
3) SET YOUR TIMER for 12-15 minutes.
Start with the line: My character’s redeeming action happens when . ..
Now think about the ripple effect in the positive direction
Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.
And have a great weekend!