Believers

The Art of Finishing: Characters are Real People Too

Outside of the soon-to-be consistent blog posts and the journaling I do when I’m wrestling with my emotions, all of my writing is fictional. I make up worlds, characters, and story lines for fun. I lie as a form of creative expression. However, I recently realized how close to the truth most of my work is. In one way or another I identify with all of my flawed and unsympathetic characters, even the worst of them.

My characters are the hidden reactions I stifle in order to survive in the free world. They are the what-ifs. What if I had been born at this time and had to deal with this manner of injustice? What if my parents were proud but weak? What if I was a wife who hated her husband but needed to be loved by him?

The characters I write are not nice people. They are misogynists. They are indifferent to the plights of those who struggle around them. They are selfish, impatient, and cruel.

It makes me nervous to think that when readers meet my characters they will judge me for allowing those people to live inside my head. I am a believer, but my imagination is not easily explained and probably not justifiable. It is filled with brokenness.

Does that make me wrong – to have so many flawed people inside my imagination? This is one of the reasons I have had trouble finishing a draft of my novel. I’m afraid of what it might say about me.

Uncategorized

Nanowrimo 2019 – It’s a Mood

Nanowrimo starts this week and I’m preparing for it by lying on my couch with an entire blanket coiled around my neck. (My throat hurts and I’ve convinced myself that the blanket is a healing agent.) I have a mug of salted caramel tea steaming on top of my Star Trek: The Next Generation coaster, a handful of cough drops, and yesterday I checked Dreyer’s English out of the library. I’ve already read the first chapter. As far as I’m concerned, I have my tool kit! I’m ready to write.

For reasons I’m not entirely sure about, I chose not to prepare an outline or chapter guides… and I barely remember the names of the characters I was hoping to cover in the next sections of the story, but I have hope. I hope that when I sit down in front of my laptop the words will pour out of the large black void I call my imagination and ooze onto the lines of my Google Doc’s page. I hope that whatever talent I was able to muster during my two and a half year-long master’s program will snap back into place.

I haven’t won Nanowrimo since 2015. I haven’t been consistent about writing since I finished my MFA and I need a good kick in the butt. The judgmental gaze of my family hasn’t done the trick. Maybe the 50,000-word count goal is the answer. Maybe Nanowrimo will reignite my focus.

120 Writing

The Struggle

On Craft: I watched a Tin House Workshop featuring Mitchell S. Jackson and Kimberly King Parsons. The topic was voice. What I want most in 2021 is to find mine, and not just with my work in progress but in every area of my life.

On Creativity: Published writers recommend daily writing. I want the successful writers out there to know that I’m sort of trying. Wait. Does this blog post count? 

On Me: I have become a slow reader. Before 2020 I was the Black Rory Gilmore. Before the pandemic I would take a book with me on walks and consume whole chapters while getting my steps in for the day. I was working full-time, raising a child and reading at least two books a week. These days I struggle trying to read two books a month. 

Uncategorized

A Crushing News Week


On Craft:
Sometimes it is necessary to abstain from work. There are times when closing my eyes against the world’s troubles is the littlest thing I might require. Only the journal matters, the blank page, the pen, the awful feelings.

On Creativity: I have been having wonderful fantasies. I’m not writing them down, only relishing. This week, in my imaginings, I won the lottery, purchased a small apartment in Paris, ate savory meals on the balcony of my lovely beachfront property in Venice Beach. My dreams have been very wealthy and free.

On Me: I’m listening to Chanel Miller’s audiobook Know My Name, remembering how easily one can become undone. I played sections of the book in the car with my teen son, wanting him to witness her shattering, wanting him to know that a brokenness like that is real.

120 Writing, Uncategorized

On Defense

On Craft: Yesterday I read Hanif Abdurraqib’s The Paris Review column. In On One On One he writes, “Defense is solely an act, a willingness to be fooled.” I can’t stop thinking about how foolish I’ve been these past forty-one years.

On Creativity: If writing is a conversation between the author and the reader, it turns out that while I have not yet uttered a single word to another living being through text, I have proven myself to be a wonderful listener. It is my turn to speak. I must prepare my voice.

On Me: As of this writing, I am six days into the new year, six days into a journey I am yet wary of. I am placing one foot before the other one toe at a time. Only God knows how far I’ve come. Only God knows how far I must go.

120 Writing

Without Grace

On Craft: The process of writing is not graceful. My process has been filled with false starts. My novel has tried me. I’m tired of talking about it, tired of thinking about it, tired of wanting it but yet I still do.

On Creativity: I’m nervous about what comes after, about what might appear around the corner. Will it be new? Will it be as it was before? I have no idea what to watch for. Change creeps so slowly that I can’t prepare. 

On Me: Some introverts shine on social media, especially writers. They glow in the face of strangers and know, almost instinctively, how to behave, how to interact, how to appear confident before strangers. They trust their words out in the open, alive. 

120 Writing, Uncategorized

An Update: Craft, Creativity & Me

On Craft: One of the writers in my monthly group recommended Story Genius by Lisa Cron. I’m in forty-four pages and have just learned that there is no point to my story. I’ve been working on my novel for three years.

On Creativity: Does forgiveness factor into creativity? Does it close doors? Was my transition already available before offense came? Is forgiveness closure, a last stop for unwanted travelers? If so, I want to offer it. My offenders don’t deserve to come with me, not any further.

On Me: When I try to hear my unhealed heart sifts through voices, stories, intentions, and gives name… good, bad, liar, Ahab, Jezebel, manipulator. I know that I have no right to judge. I want to hear clearly.

Check-in

Writing Fiction When the World is on Fire

I am not one to make excuses when I’m not productive. I am remarkable at abstaining from any activity that would challenge or stretch me. It would not be totally incorrect to call me lazy.

Oddly enough, this week, I found that I had a great desire to work. For five days straight writing is all I wanted to do. And not just journaling. I wanted to sit my butt in a chair and get real work done. I reordered ten chapters of my novel in progress, revised several sections, and wrote a new chapter. I got a lot done.

Under normal circumstances I would be proud of myself, of my recent stint with discipline. However, it doesn’t feel OK to do so. Not this week. It feels like, in the midst of all that productivity, I might have been hiding.

While I’ve been writing, in a number of cities around the U.S. protestors are challenging American’s comfort. Families are mourning. And while world changers are fighting for accountability in high places, I am making up stories. I am escaping.

I’m writing this post mostly to check in with myself, as I’m not sure if it’s OK to do this: to work, to create, to focus on anything other than the world and all of the many troubles that are yet so close. I’m not looking for anyone else to accept my guilt nor to tamper it. I am writing this post because I don’t know how to transform it. I am writing this because I don’t know if I have the right to.

Uncategorized, Writing Goals

What’s the Excuse?

I worked at home for a month. An entire month. I had a plan: wake up, attend to a few chores, make tea, report to my home office, turn on the computer, spend the mornings on work-related tasks and during the afternoons, write a novel. Easy enough, right?

For years, I thought my day job was to blame for my apparent lack of creative discipline. I thought I was spending too much time and energy at work. I thought I didn’t have the brain power left at the end of the day to be creative. I resented my responsibilities. I thought they were robbing me of productivity.

After a month of sitting in front of my computer without writing, what I realized was that the only thing stopping me is me. Not a lack of time, not a lack of energy. I lack discipline.

My blog posts are all the same. I am constantly coming up with different strategies that never work. I make excuses. In the meantime, everyone else I know is making progress with their creative projects, full-time job or not.

I don’t have the answers on how to go about finishing. All I know is that I really want to. I want to commit to myself and to the work. And I don’t believe its too late to figure out how.

Writing Goals

Writers Write: Five Hundred is the Goal

It’s no secret that I have trouble committing to anything I’m not getting paid to do. I also procrastinate. For instance, I was supposed to write this post on Sunday evening. I can’t imagine that I was doing anything that would have warranted my not writing the post then. I had the task written on my calendar. I had the freedom and time to keep my word to myself.

I found last week that in order not to lose the voice and tone of my novel, I need to work on it daily. I didn’t just pull this goal out of the air without reason. So, I’m going to fight to keep it. Even when it mess up. I’m going to keep trying.

This weekend I said I would give myself the goal of writing five hundred words towards my creative writing project a day. Even while exhausted I should be able to keep this goal. Even on posting days. I realize I may miss Wednesdays – that’s a day where its normally impossible to find the time to do anything. But on every other day of the week, I’m going to make writing a priority. I deserve this commitment to myself. Wish me luck.

Writing Goals

The Art of Finishing: Maintaining Voice

I’m a one-off sort of person. Every now and then I may say or do something inspired, maybe even profound. I have commanded attention with my brilliance, but before I can really revel in the moment, before i can pat myself on the back, I am equally known to follow up my greatness with blatant and embarrassing stupidity.

A fear years ago I was sitting in a lecture when the writing instructor spat out a list of rules and terms he wanted us to use as a writing prompt. I had one of my one-off moments in that lecture. I totally killed the prompt. It as glorious.

For the first time in my life, a one-off moment seemed as if it would last forever. I was able to stretch that brief exercise into nineteen chapters. The new writing style was unfamiliar but every time I sat down to work the characters, the plot, the setting, the voice – all of the confidence of that moment came back to me. It felt like I wouuld be able to pull it off forever.

And then I finished the MFA program and took a break from creative work. In that short time period, I lost it all . I could no longer find the tone, the voice, the pacing. None of it felt accessible.

Since last month, when my writer’s group decided to come back together again, I tried to reenter the story. I tried reading aloud, editing chapters, and freewriting. None of it worked. I only got discouraged.

As I mentioned last week, one of the ladies in the group suggested I work on a character diary so I could get to know my characters’ motivations. And I did. I wrote through different narrator so that I might free myself over the loss of my voice. I wrote knowing that I would never use any of the words for my final project. I wrote and wrote.

Last night, while rereading the last section I’d written in the diary, it all came back. The voice reappeared out of nowhere without warning.

Writers like King and several of my MFA mentors believe in a daily writing practice. Ive tried to commit to such a practice and failed. But now, afer these months of sitting before a blank screen waiting to fall in where I left off, I realized that the secret to consistency is practice. I have to keep the fires burning. Voice, especially this unfamiliar one, needs for me to come back every day in order to interact with it. The voice and I have to remain in constant conversation if we’re ever to know each other well enough to grow together. We have to make whatever sacrified we need to make in order to carry each other through.

Uncategorized

2020 Goals: #1 Adding Backstory

Last week my writer’s group met for our first meeting of the year. I was an hour late because of an extended church service and arrived just in time to have the first four short chapters of my novel critiqued 😟.

I didn’t get terrible comments but what I did get were lots of questions regarding my characters and their motivations. Although I could provide ideas and explanations that were none too convincing even to me, I realized I didn’t honestly have any definite answers.

During my MFA years, I thought creating a character diary was a waste. I figured that as a true pantser it would all work out. Plus, I only had so much time to spend on writing. There were always due dates and other responsibilities looming over my head.

That’s not the case now. I don’t have a lot of free time but I do have just enough to take my craft seriously. So, for the next two weeks I’m going to finally create my first character diary. I’m going to set a goal to break down the backstory of every character in the novel: their childhoods, their hopes, dreams, family dynamics and motivations.

If do it right, by the next meeting I should be able to answer any questions that may come my way. If I’m lucky I may have enough info to write a short story or two to send out for publication.