Random Thoughts: Still wearing that hat?

Right. So it is somewhere between 4 and 5 am and I cannot continue the fight against insomnia, so I figured maybe it is time for a blog post. I know that my output here doesn’t look like the next statement is true, but I do write every single day. Fiction and journaling work marches on though it goes, mostly, unseen. Once upon a time I tried to keep some pretty rigid rules for myself around what I put into a public space, particularly if it isn’t related to writing work, but you know WWIII could start tomorrow so screw it.

It’s no secret that sleep has been sort of hard to chase down. I suspect this is true for a lot of us watching events unfold and dealing with the impact of this political moment in our daily lives.

I have probably discussed this one before, but it is hard to describe the sense of alarm I feel whenever I see one of those red hats with that bullshit statement on it. Any red baseball cap in that red color makes me reach for my mace and I still don’t relax even if it turns out not to be THE hat. But the notion that there are people still, at this point, willing to advertise their enthusiasm for fascism in the White House disturbs me for a couple of reasons. One: If this one person is gauche enough to announce this affiliation to the world how many are there out there that I can’t identify? Two: The ones in the hats seem particularly rabid and hostile. Three: How does the person not understand that no, I don’t want to talk to them and why that might be?

I’m not saying that noticing someone’s proud republican bumper sticker hasn’t caused any reaction in the past, but I can’t remember actually feeling afraid in the way that I do when I see a Trump hat. Someone’s poster declaiming political views that I don’t share might irritate, or spark some sort of ranty internal monologue, but I have never reacted with the level of paranoia that the Trump hat engenders. I’m not saying it’s right, but I am saying it is something I have to work through to get through my day. I am not alone in this. And this is only a very small detail involving American life under the current regime.

You know, on inauguration day eve in my new town, I saw one person wearing that hat. It was a young person, he was by himself and all smiles. I avoided eye contact and kept on walking, probably at a slightly faster pace. I was on my way to a march in a major city nearby. At that moment, I did not feel all that threatened, the only threat I felt was the possibility that the person might draw me into unwanted conversation if I did the friendly thing and smiled back in spite of the hostility implied by his head wear. I marched and felt hope for the first time since the election. There was a moment when I was struck by the beauty of all the voices raised in solidarity echoing off of the tall buildings and I cried. I am in a new place. Everyone there was a perfect stranger to me, but I don’t remember a time when I felt so connected to the humanity around me, so at one with something so much bigger and more important than my own individual turmoil. At least, it has been a long time. Selfishly, it turns out, civic action just feels amazing.

And then the week after inauguration happened.  ( If you want a list of all the atrocities already in play, I recommend presterity.org. ) Of course I’ve got the day to day to attend to. Day job. Bill-paying. Chores. Writing and workout schedule. All the usual stuff we would be grumbling about at any other time. But during all that there is this constant backdrop of anxiety, anger, restlessness. A desire to be doing something further than making phone calls and ranting on twitter about what is wrong with the political landscape right now, a need to do something meaningful about it. Sometimes the road is clear and then sometimes it is not. There is one firm, incontrovertible constant and that is that this is wrong, it is not normal and we must stand against it and support others who are standing against it. It is the guidepost that keeps me moving forward.

The next time I saw a Trump hat, it took me by surprise and it upset me more than I thought possible. But by then it had been a week and the terrifying executive orders had started. I believe that day the issue that had my brain spinning was freedom of the press. I was at the laundromat. When I do laundry I tend to go for a walk between wash and dry cycles, rather than sit around waiting. But during the dry cycle, it’s a habit to take advantage of the television there. It is always on local news. I don’t have television at home, so it is kind of a nice thing. Standing in front of that television was a guy in that hat. I wasn’t exactly sure what the broadcast was about except that I heard the word “Trump” and saw the guy in the Trump hat standing alone with a smile. I saw him before he saw me and so I went over to the corner where my laundry was in the process of losing the last of its moisture and hid behind a long row of machines. Why did I hide? Well, one of the things about hanging out in a laundromat is that generally, people like to engage in small talk. It was crucial, at that moment, to avoid the possibility of interaction with that person. His smile at the mention of the Neon Narcissist’s name registered as creepy. And anyone, who by this particular time could proudly declare support of that man, seemed a person to avoid, at best.

One thing that crossed my mind is that all of these people in their creepy red hats might be baiting the opposition. Do you think they might be baiting us? If they are looking for a reaction, they certainly have one. In my case, it is simply avoidance.

The trouble with that is there are plenty of scenarios where we cannot avoid them. The co-worker who voted for Trump and won’t stop talking about it even when you politely decline to engage for the sake of a harmonious workplace and, oh, I don’t know, keeping the job. The family member you have to see at holidays and family gatherings if you have a desire to maintain relationships with other, less insane family members. How do you balance the mandate to rail against with the need to survive your daily life? The answer is somewhere in that old cliché, pick your battles. I have no easy answers. There is no panacea. Sometimes the stream is clear and other times the river is muddy. (Feel free to use that quote for pee jokes, Alec Baldwin.) I’ll speak freely with my allies and strategize for meaningful action. I’ll yell on the streets in a march, I will state my case on the phone or in a letter to my representatives in congress. But I can’t reach across the aisle to directly engage with what amounts to Nazi support.

So how about you guys? How do you navigate the daily with this crap in the air that we breathe? What do you use as the metaphorical face mask to filter out the poison? What are some of the small details in your day to day that are different? I ask because I think it is important to note these things. They are the things that will become normal and hard to pinpoint later. There’s more to say, there always is, but for now, coffee, workout and words in the fiction project I am working on. Fingers crossed I see no red baseball caps today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Random Thoughts: On Writing, Politics, and Silence

Today, I am supposed to be writing a dinner scene among a family between whom there is no political agitation. Given the political agitation that is currently in the very air we breathe this is no easy task. The brain desperately wants to engage with that while the particular demands of the story I am writing now require that my brain engages with something else. The fictional family’s conflict that I am writing about has to do with combatting negative paranormal energies that they are, as humans on the living side of the equation, unaware of. This has nothing to do with politics, as far as the moment goes. Except that I remember in fiction, as in politics, conflict arises when character agendas diverge and come into opposition. So maybe I can use the present turmoil as a way in, as I write, even though the characters are fighting with ghosts rather than an oppressive regime. Maybe, if I can trick my brain into understanding that all conflict in story is still a mirror of conflict in general I can make it do what I want it to do. In a sense, this is sort of what writers do every day under any circumstance when we sit down to confront the blank page, the story that we are trying to write that has nothing to do with our real lives. Except that these aren’t normal circumstances, are they?

I don’t have any easy answers. We still have our work. We still have our voices whether we are writing escapist fiction or political allegories or essays or articles or engaging in rigorous journalism. But one of the thing artists of all stripes do is use everything around them in their work. Of course, we will use this too. This isn’t the only thing I think about of course. What we present online, on social media, or in fiction can never tell the full story of what is in our heads.

I’m thinking a lot lately about silence. There is power in silence at certain times. The silent protest, the vigil, the silence you employ in your personal life to protect others. The silence you choose in the workplace because you want to pick your battles wisely. The silence you choose because it is better in some cases to listen than to shout. Example: when someone speaks about marginalization that you yourself do not experience it is better to listen than to weigh in. Example: when you are in a classroom setting and are there to learn something that you previously did not know. Example: when you do not know if you can trust the person in front of you with personal information.

There may come a time very soon when some of us choose silence in order to use resources other than our voice in order to save others.

But when someone demands your silence you can bet your ass that something very shady is going on. Someone’s rights are about to be violated. Someone’s dignity is about to be forcibly stripped from them. Abuse is about to occur.

It is not comfortable for everyone to get loud. But now is the time to get very loud. It is past the time to get very loud.

In the past I often opted for silence on certain topics because by nature, I am a harmony seeker. I wish to understand before I speak.

One thing that I understand right now is that silence is no longer appropriate. Human rights are being attacked. The government currently is trying to push progress back. The arts are under attack, and yes, science is under attack. All of this will negatively impact human beings. It will negatively impact all of us, even those that support the Neon Narcissist because here’s the thing. Narcissists require approval. They are a sucking hole of need in this regard. When that man stops hearing accolades, or the accolades get repetitive enough that they begin to register as insincere his paranoia will grow stronger, and even those heaping accolades on that man will come under attack from him. He is already doing this with the press. You, in the Neon Narcissist’s line of sight, you might suffer last since you are playing along, but trust that you will suffer the worst. Do not be silent about his abuses when they happen. Get very fucking loud.

I know what happens when you remain silent in the face of an abuser who is like this. The behavior escalates, because when they can’t get accolades, they will seek a reaction, any reaction, even a negative one just to feel like they are in control. They are not in control, they are in chaos. This should frighten every single one of us. This should frighten those in the inner circle the most. This should give pause to those who are in support of the administration. Because the Neon Narcissist will not stop with attacking the enemies that he can see in front of him, he will go on to those he imagines are enemies. And eventually, those people who experience his wrath will be those who supported him.

Random Thoughts: Just Checkin’ In

Hey, everybody.

So the political landscape right now I suspect has a lot of us fiction writers both distracted and energized, focused and scattered, angry and hopeful. All of these swirling and conflicting emotional states are tough to cope with. We are distracted from the work of writing fiction because the horror show of what is going on in American governance seems like dystopian fiction. It is hard to look away to focus on our work, it is hard to believe that our work is significant enough to merit stepping away from the news cycle and missing something crucial. But our lives and our work are crucial, too. Stories are important. Whenever you lose sight of that remember politics is also made of story. Want to change the stories that play out in real life? Write stories that nurture empathy in your audience. Reminder: All stories, whether escapist fiction or literary, nurture empathy in an audience.

So that’s the distracted part, here is the energized part. We are all seeing people come together to work against injustice and tyranny. Anger, when channeled into action can be a wonderful motivator. This is true of fiction writing also. There are some writers who do beautiful work that is fueled by anger. Anything that we experience as artists can be used as food or fuel for art. Use it for your work as you are using it for action. This, also merges with where we are focused. We know what is causing the anger and that cause points us in certain directions regarding our work and our civic duties.

But we are also scattered. It can be overwhelming to decide which call to action to heed. Which organization to volunteer for, whether to go out in the world and march or stay home and use your time to call your representatives. The American people are being attacked on so many different fronts right now it can be difficult to prioritize. And we have our personal limits. We have families and day jobs and obligations. We have things in our lives we must attend to because if we don’t no one else will, but the call to action right now is the same. If we don’t no one else will.

So pick something. Easier said than done, I know, but if we all choose at least one action, large or small, we can and will make a difference. Use your art, or not, but know that art itself can be an act of political defiance. When I wrote about the LGBT characters in Getting On With It, it did not feel like a political act. The manuscript was completed before November 8, 2016. It absolutely feels that way now. Like I said, any story asks for empathy for those who might be unlike you, whether that’s the author’s intention or not.

When I was in college, I remember having discussions about different political stances and movements and types of discourse and ways of approaching causes. There was a lot of judgment and blame bandied about in those discussions. (There still is.) This person isn’t doing enough, this group is too aggressive, this one is too quiet, this other one is too loud. At the end of those discussions it can feel as if there is nothing that you can do right even among your allies in a particular cause. This is difficult to confront, but we have to decide as individuals how we will approach things. We have to choose our own paths and stick to them. No one can do it for you, which seems lonely, but I guarantee you will find other people walking alongside you on the same path.

Whatever else you decide to do, though, keep writing.

 

Writing Life: On Being an Indie Author During #GrabYourWallet

So this one is a bit thorny and I suspect a lot of us are dealing with it. It is no secret by now that politically, I am firmly against the Predator-Elect and all for resistance. One of the ways in which we can enact that resistance is with where we put our hard-earned and sometimes difficult to come by cash. Shannon Coulter brilliantly began something called the #GrabYourWallet campaign, a call to boycott all business carrying the Trump brand. An up-to-date list can be found here.

If you opened a link you will note that one of the first companies listed is Amazon.

Amazon is where you can find my recently released book, “Getting On With It.” It is currently the only distribution platform for that book.

The plan to publish there was made before the election, and I chose to follow through for the sake of consistency, the ease with which the Amazon as a platform makes it available to potential audience. I’m not going to pull my book, though the conflict of interest is quite painful to me. As an indie author the difficulty is obvious. Amazon is still the distribution platform with the largest reach.

I am also aware that during the #GrabYourWallet campaign, it is very likely that my numbers through that platform are likely to be lower than anticipated. Folks who might be drawn to read my work are very likely the same people engaging in #GrabYourWallet. Career-wise, I should be concerned about this, and I am, except not really. Some of this has to do with my perspective on writing and getting the work out. Slowly building an audience has been the expectation since I started self-publishing. The kind of success authors dream of is not something that happens overnight, it is even slower when you have very little budget. But there will be other projects, other work, other paths, other things to try. So I’m worried but not. Maybe it is more accurate to say that I am concerned more for this particular work than I am for my career overall.

That said, I hope that audience who were anticipating the work will not forget about it, and of course make the purchase eventually. (Link, for ease of discovery.) Digitally there will eventually be a release through Smashwords. Keep an eye on my various digital spaces for that.

I mentioned already that I can’t be the only indie-author using Amazon for distribution and struggling with this particular conundrum. But I also think that the situation we are facing offers something useful, at least for the #GrabYourWallet campaign. That useful thing is an argument. It might be a weak one, since corporations are not well-known for their conscience, and since individual indie authors have little impact on Amazon’s practices as a whole. However, as a collective our value to Amazon is more significant. The longer they carry the Trump brand, the longer our livelihoods might be impacted negatively. That is something that Amazon should consider. If we don’t make money, they don’t get their cut. I just mention this as something you can use when you speak up and tell Amazon why you aren’t shopping with them this year. Do I think it will contribute to a desirable outcome for the #GrabYourWallet campaign? I have no idea. But it is something to think about. It is something that can be leveraged.

So my question is, who has data? Because that would be useful going forward.

 

 

Random Bloggery: One of those writing days….

So today is one of those days in the writing life when I open up ye olde work in progress, stare at the screen, position my hands over the keyboard ready to write and then…. nothing. Most of the time, I just write without worrying about the outcome (something I learned how to do, in part by participating in NanoWrimo.) Most of the time, I am able to squeeze something out of my head and onto the page when I have set aside time to work on fiction, but these days do happen. As I write this blog it is still early in the day. Not even noon. But my brain seems to be spinning out a bit for some reason.

So, I take a deep breath, a step back, and consider where I am with the work.

And then I remember that I have a novel that is just about ready to be published. All I need is cover art and a few tweaks to the back cover blurb and BEHOLD A BOOK SHALL BE UNLEASHED UNTO THE WORLD.

Then I think, “Holy crap!”

And I remember how creative endeavors have their own cycles. When a project is this close to completion, it makes sense that I need to relax for a few beats about productivity  with first drafts. I always hit this moment and try to push through in spite of myself. And I also hit the same moment of frustration each time. There’s a moment when I have to put a lid on the self-generated pressure to produce. I have to remind myself that the words and ideas will still be there and it is okay to take a break.

It is kind of strange that this moment hits on the first day of NanoWrimo, the month in which word count is king. Maybe there is something there, though. Yes, push through, hit those goals, do your best to finish the thing, but its good to remind ourselves that we are human and need breaks. Take those five minutes, get a coffee, do that chore that you’ve been procrastinating on. Then come back to the writing work happy that you no longer have to do that irritating chore.

It seems counterintuitive but it is true that sometimes increasing productivity means taking a little break when you hit the wall. As a person with workaholic tendencies I can tell you that I have wasted time trying to push through when my brain simply would not co-operate. When I am self-aware enough to understand what’s going on I take that needed break and end up producing more and better work than I might have without it. The thing is that it’s hard to recognize when that moment hits sometimes. Everyone’s cognitive/creative process is different, nuanced, and only we can know when a break will benefit us and when it will not. Advice? Pay attention to yourself to figure out when that is. I said before that you can learn a lot about your own process when you participate in NanoWrimo. This could be one of the things.

 

 

 

Random Thoughts: Sometimes When I Can’t Brain…

*note : “I can’t brain” is a phrase borrowed from Che Gilson, who borrowed it from somewhere else.

So this past week was a bit of a blur in Reggie-land. I had all of these plans (do a proper video for the new Patreon page, get at least two chapters written on the new sf novel, start the first round of proper edits on the sequel to Haunted, make evil marketing plans, finally teach the parrot how to swear properly… you know.) In all of my well-intentioned plan-making I completely forgot that two very major family events were occurring.

Event the first: Brother visited from several states away to celebrate his birthday, Lutz-style, before event the second, my uncle’s wedding. YAY!

Somehow in the midst of all this excitement and wonder I thought I would still get these things done.

Yeah. I know. That was probably not the brightest assumption to make. (Also, I definitely need to check the workaholic tendencies. )

Anyway, a good time was had by all and my brother received more cowbell. He needed more cowbell. Trust me. I think we all need more cowbell, sometimes. (Translation: He sometimes makes songs and a cowbell was my gift to him.)

Then everything was over and I had to confront the neglected task list...

…which had grown, somehow. This completely stopped me from getting anything accomplished for at least half a day. It shouldn’t have. But I felt like I had to reprioritize everything. (Which I did have to do, but it should not have taken the hours it did.) Anyway, I hit the “I can’t brain” moment, and ended up stuck there while my head bounced from one task to another without being able to settle on one thing at a time. Which is crazy. I’m always telling people (who ask) that things only happen by taking one step at a time, like if you start a bunch of little projects without finishing them you just end up with a huge mess and returning to the first thing is like starting over so you end up wasting time.

Sigh.

That’s what writer brain was doing.

Then I went outside. As soon as the door fell shut behind me something huge came flying at me out of the trees behind my house. Writer-brain shut off as I dodged the creature. Finally it landed on the door I’d just come through.

 

 

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Luna Moth

 

So I just stopped and hung out with the Luna Moth. According to some myths the moth represents rebirth and renewal. In this case, it made me stop the frenzied, internal monologue and just appreciate something wondrous and fragile, it forced me to be in the moment.

And when the Luna Moth was done with her visit, I was much calmer and able to “brain.”

Which I thought was pretty cool.

How about you guys? When your head starts spinning, what helps you make it stop?Reconnecting to the natural world in any way can function this way for me.

 

 

Random Thoughts: In Which I Take Issue With Some Commonly Trotted Out Advice

Yeah, so sometimes I think I’m out of stuff to say about writing. When I keep hearing the line from Ani DiFranco’s Outta Me, Onto You going through my head, “You know there isn’t much I have to say, I would rather just shut up and do…” it usually means its time to ignore everything except working on the next project. I often feel that everything that can be said about writing has already been said about a bajillion times by other folks. But then I start to see some of the same old sayings floating around and it turns out that some of those things either need to be repeated or argued against.

I think the people giving the advice mean well but that it can fall short of being useful. I don’t think that when folks dispense writing advice that the intention is to steer new writers in a bad direction, but who knows. A lot of these are phrases that only have useful meaning after you’ve been doing this for a while.

That said, I have a big problem with the idea that if someone isn’t upset by your writing then you aren’t doing your job. It lends itself to the message that all writing is necessarily antagonistic and that antagonism should be the goal. I also don’t think that the level of anger in your readers is good barometer for your work. While it is true that anything, and I do mean ANYTHING, that is created by an artist and then comes into contact with the public has the potential to cause drama, discomfort and in some cases, rage, I don’t think antagonism is the point of writing. It can be for some. I think it is essential for certain kinds of expression (punk comes to mind) but with fiction I think writers can get lost in writing with the express purpose of being antagonistic. If that’s your voice as an author, then great, but I think maybe telling everyone that their work must be intentionally fight-inducing or it has no value is kind of a crappy thing to do. Particularly for new writers who haven’t figured out what they want to achieve with their writing yet.

The same is true about shock-value but I’ve also seen advice moving in the opposite direction, that to me seems equally bad. The old, “You shouldn’t write just for shock value,” bull.

Sigh.

Here’s the thing. Some authors will be interested in writing about subjects that are shocking. And that’s okay. It has to be okay. WE ALL GET TO TRY DIFFERENT THINGS. Sometimes the work might be shocking or antagonistic. All of it is fine. But my point is that neither shock value nor antagonism is the measure of a good work. The measure, for the artist, should be whether or not your finished draft told a good story and accomplished what you set out to do. But advising people to write in order to make certain that they do shock or don’t shock an audience seems crazy to me. It is also something that is based on taste, and everyone knows that taste is arbitrary. Some folks like to read shocking, antagonistic work. Some like to steer clear of things that make them uncomfortable. That’s for the reader to decide. The reader doesn’t get to decide that about your work until it is finished and available for reading. (Also need to point out that what is shocking to one person barely registers on the freak-out radar for others.)

My answering advice is write what interests you regardless of its level of antagonism or shock value.

I could keep poking at that one, but I think that when you receive free advice from any source, think it through before you pick it up and run with it.

What about everyone out there in the blogosphere? What’s some writing advice that rubs you the wrong way?

 

Random Thoughts: Writer’s Toolbox: Critique Groups III

Okay, so in the last post about critique groups, I mentioned ground rules and that I would do a post about the afore-mentioned ground rules in critique groups. There’s plenty out there on this topic, but I’m going to talk specifically about those that I felt helped everyone get the best out of critique, and gave everyone a fair shot at both receiving and giving critique.

Before I get into ground rules, I just want to mention the obvious, which is that critique groups work best when they meet regularly and face to face (whether online or in a coffee shop.) It adds a level of accountability and helps everyone maintain a level of momentum. I recommend once a week or once a month at a set time. How much time you spend can vary, but generally, the groups I’ve been in settled on an hour of focused work. In those groups, we exchanged work a week prior to the meeting, to give everyone a chance to read thoughtfully and make notes and comments. (If the author has specific questions they’d like the group to consider, it’s good to include that with the work when it is shared. ) This seems like a small thing, but it leads to a better, more thorough critique, though I’ve known of groups that read the day of the meeting. Here I’d just like to leave a reminder that I’m talking about what has worked for me.

Some folks prefer to handle the process of critique organically. But the best experiences I’ve had is when ground rules have been established. Ground rules can be as extensive or as general as the group needs, but I think the more basic the better.

The first ground rule about critique is that work shared within the group is not meant to be shared with anyone outside of the group. Obviously, this is to help establish trust. No one wants their word-baby exposed to the world before it’s ready.

The second ground rule, generally, has to do with structure. At the beginning of the meeting, the group will choose which piece to go over first, and then go in a circle, allowing everyone to offer critique. It’s best during this time for the author not to interrupt the feedback, to just take it in and then ask for clarification at the end. This helps to eliminate cross-talk, which is the biggest criminal in terms of sucking up time. Cross-talk is going to happen no matter what. In CLAW, with Rune Skelley, we came up with a safe-word to get everyone back on topic when this happened. It is possible we had way too much fun with that…

Anyway, at the end of that first round robin, it’s usually time to pick the next vict… er… piece and start over.

The third ground rule that we developed was to leave grammar and spelling out of the discussion to focus on the content of any given piece. Largely this was because the author generally received a rough or digital copy with those things already pointed out, so for purposes of the meeting it was redundant.

Last was not so much a hard and fast rule as it was a suggestion, and that was to remember the management technique of “the compliment sandwich.” You know what I’m talking about, when the person says, “Well, I think you do a really good job with x, but y needs some work. This z, however was really great.”

Obviously, due to the nature of what a critique group does, that y section takes up a lot more words. But it is as important to note what is working about another author’s work. Sometimes that can point out a solid direction for rewrites as much as the rest of it.

It would sometimes happen that in a particular week we didn’t have work to look at. When that happened, we’d choose a topic regarding writing to discuss and sometimes we’d pull out writing prompts to do, just to get the idea engines moving.

 

Random Thoughts: Self-Sabotage – Waiting for the Muse

Ah… the muse. This is an idea that comes from Greek and Roman mythology wherein there are 9 goddesses who inspire. Usually personified in the singular, the muse is responsible for providing inspiration. While it is certainly a seductive notion and it can sometimes feel, during the process of creation that some magical force is guiding the work, there is no muse. The muse is you. The magic happens during one of those rare moments when all of your accrued skills are working in tandem more beautifully than you think is possible on your own. But it is still you.

Waiting for inspiration to strike is another excellent way to prevent you from finishing things. I’ve said before in this series that not every moment of the creative process is joyful. Sometimes its painful, sometimes, the words are sluggish, or you feel distracted, or some other activity seems more promising. The idea of the muse, though, is pervasive and there are ways that this notion hurts writers beyond preventing us from finishing drafts, which I’ll get into later.

I repeat, the muse is you. Inspiration or story ideas come from everywhere, overheard conversations, a news story, a science article, something you and a friend were talking about, weird notions that present themselves to you in dreams, that guy that made you angry at work, or any number of things. The point is that inspiration comes from the real world around you, it is what happens in the creative person’s brain that turns it into magic, but it doesn’t turn into magic unless you roll up your sleeves and turn up at the page regularly, prepared to work. Working writers often have a host of rituals, tips, tricks and processes to court ideas that lead to craft. Rune Skelley has two awesome writing prompt generators to help get the creative juices flowing. If you use them, you might not end up with a story that works, but you will be working on craft and generating ideas that are new to you and could lead to something greater.

There are books out there that contain nothing but writing prompts if you need a jump start. There is no quick and easy fix to courting inspiration, but my advice is to try new things and most importantly, pay attention when you are out in the world. You never know what will capture your imagination in a useful way. If you wait for the muse to strike you might never reach your goal, which is a finished draft. When you do have one of those moments where a story arrives in your brain, seemingly complete, embrace it, celebrate that, but recognize that it is still coming from you, and don’t wait for the moment to arrive. Chase it down, make it happen. And that’s all I’m going to say about the self-sabotaging aspects of the muse idea.

The muse is a pervasive myth about writers and artists, that I think is detrimental in a couple of other ways. Everyone knows that there are frequent, and necessary, conversations in writing communities about paying the writer. (I would extend that to paying the artist, just to broaden the conversation. It is a bad problem in the arts. I should note that my fave business blog can be found here.) There are a lot of factors that lead to writers and artists not getting paid for their work, but I think that this notion of the muse has something to do with how art and the work of art is perceived.

The idea of the muse adds to the perception of non-creatives that art itself is not actually work, or that if it is work it isn’t hard work. If the perception is that all creatives are inspired by some genius that comes from outside of their own effort, that makes it easier to justify not paying artists. And that, my friends, is just disgusting. Those of us in the trenches know that creating is fraught with challenges and difficulty and it is a hell of a lot of work, sometimes with very little material reward. Yes, we do this because we love it, we can’t imagine not doing it, but it isn’t magic. It takes time and effort. A magical muse did not dump a story or painting whole cloth into our laps and say, “Sell this and reap the rewards!” To be honest, I don’t know if I would be interested in this work if it was that simple.

Anyway, that’s my perception of the muse. What do you guys think?

Random Thoughts: Self-Sabotage – Chasing Markets or Shiny New Ideas

Another way that writers prevent themselves from completing a first draft of a project is by chasing things that are a) moving unpredictably or b) new and more interesting by virtue of being new.

Chasing the market is when you start paying attention to what everyone else is doing/writing/selling and the ambitious side of you adopts the seductive idea that if you write towards trends that you’ll have a better chance of producing publishable material that people will want to represent or buy. The problem with such a strategy is that by the time you are hearing about a trend, the trend is either already changing or there are writers out there who have completed drafts of work that speak directly to the trend. You also might want to consider whether or not you have a genuine interest or accrued knowledge about the trend in question. The bottom line here is that if you stop work on something that you’ve made real progress on in order to write to a trend, you are killing a project before you’ve given it a fair shake. Finish the thing you started.

Consider why you were drawn to writing fiction in the first place. For most of us, it’s because we fell in love with stories and wanted to start telling our own. I’m not saying that in the process of creation you will love every minute of it, but do the thing that personally as a reader and a writer excites you. Check trends when you have something finished and see if the finished piece matches. Chances are you will, by virtue of talking to readers and writers, be aware of trends already, regardless of whether or not you happen to be tracking them.

There are many roads to publication, but crafting with trends at the forefront instead of placing the story at the forefront is a good way to keep you second guessing yourself, and to keep you from finishing. This is one of those areas that I advise trying to compartmentalize. When you are working on fiction, work on the fiction, and if you have to, carve out some time to stay updated on the publishing world and consider your goals. Do not let that distract you from making progress on the work. You have to put the work first or none of the other information about publishing will matter. Keep in mind I am talking specifically about first drafts for novels. Things with short stories can be a bit different with calls out for themed anthologies. Do it if the theme and genre excite you, don’t just do it to be mercenary about submitting to as many places as possible.

The second thing I think is one that we all, at some point, fall prey to: the shiny new idea that hits you just as you are gaining momentum on a project. I think this happens to every writer. We’ll be working on a piece and then something tangential to the main story will suddenly grab hold of our imagination and give birth to a new idea. Because the new idea is new, unexplored territory and we haven’t hit the point where that new thing feels like work, sometimes we’re tempted to chase it in favor of the thing we’re working on. The advice here is not to disregard the shiny new idea, but to write it down and come back to consider it later.

Something that has started to happen for me, when I put that into practice, is that while I’m working on the current draft the new idea sort of percolates when I’m doing other things not related to writing. Details about the new idea will arrive when I’m at the day job or doing daily household maintenance. It doesn’t hurt to write those down when they arrive, but keep working on the current project, and hang on to those notes. The notes for the shiny new idea will help give you direction when the current project is done and you can dive right into the next first draft when it is time to let the current project sit for a few days or weeks which will enable the critical distance needed for editing. Doing this instead of abandoning the current project is a habit that will help you maintain momentum in writing fiction. It also prevents you from scrambling for ideas on the next project because you’ll already have something you can build on.