Posted in Writing

Shake it Off

shake it off

You waited all day to show Bobby your short story. Bobby doesn’t know it, but you’ve been editing the piece for weeks. You’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into every single word, and your stomach is fluttering with excitement at the thought of his reaction.

Finally, the fated moment comes when you slip your 10-page story over to him, fighting not to bite your nails or jump up and down as he…. glances at it, says, “I’ll read it later,” and goes back to scrolling through Facebook on his phone.

I’m sure you’ve all dealt with a similar situation – there you are, completely and totally thrilled about something you’ve created, and there someone is, not really caring about it.

It’s not that they’re trying to hurt you or downplay what you’ve done (unless they have some weird vendetta against you for stealing their Cheetos), it’s that they don’t get that you essentially just handed them your baby.

It’s easy to end up feeling hurt in these situations – like they don’t care about what you’ve done, or they don’t respect the work you’ve put into it.

The thing is, if they don’t write, if they don’t do whatever creative thing that you’re passionate about, they can’t possibly get where you’re coming from.

Here’s the truth: Just because someone may not be as excited as you are about a piece of your work does not make it:

  • Bad
  • Useless
  • Terrible
  • Lame

In the end, one opinion matters: yours.

Don’t get me wrong, I realize if you’re writing for an audience or an editor, things get trickier, but if you end up stressed because you’re trying to please everyone else, you lose sight of why you started writing in the first place. You lose sight of writing because it’s a passion, because it makes you happy. Don’t let writing become a chore because you’re jumping through everyone’s carefully placed hoops.

Write for you.

Edit for others (if need be).

And when it comes to showing off your work, find a critique partner. Find someone who will be as excited about your work as you are, or at least who is willing to give you constructive criticism. Someone you trust.

In the meantime, shake it off.

Hold your head high.

Walk on.

Write on.

If your writing is important to you, that’s what matters.

If that short story is important to you, that’s all that matters.

You matter.

Your writing matters.

Your dream matters.

And don’t let anyone ever convince you otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing

The Importance of Distractions

Last week I sat down with the intent of editing one of my short stories, but instead found myself sucked into the endless pit of social media.

I wasted away the next two hours scrolling through multiple sites, learning about Becky’s lunch adventure with her fiance, that Jordan’s kid finally decided to start walking, and that Michelle got a new car (the names and very exciting life events have been changed to protect the innocent).

By the time I’d had my fill of social media, it was time for me to go to bed.

To put it simply, I was quite put out with myself.

I’d had so many goals for that evening, and I’d pushed them aside to fill my mind with the goings on of the world instead (it was obviously very important for me to read about Becky’s lunch).

Here’s the thing though – it wasn’t a terrible thing for me to do. The next day I was well-rested and made a ton of progress on my short story.

I guess my point is this: don’t be afraid to be distracted… sometimes.

Balance is super important if you’re a writer or do anything that has to do with creation and inspiration. Don’t punish yourself for being distracted, reward yourself by allowing yourself to be distracted… and thennnnnn whip yourself into shape and write those 10 story ideas that have been circling around your brain for months.

You have to keep yourself on a diet of distractions. Allow yourself 1200 calories of distractions a day for the best results. Letting yourself rest and think about something other than your looming projects is good for your health, blocks potential burnout, and makes you more attractive (maybe just because your hair is less frazzled).

Don’t burn out.

Let yourself rest.

Embrace your distractions… at least for a little while.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing

Break a Leg!

arrow to the knee

Before Gregory leaves for war, he’s a happy, upbeat boy. He loves singing and drawing and hanging out with his little sisters. He’s active and chipper and never misses an opportunity to make someone laugh.

Gregory leaves for war.

Gregory returns 5 years later.

Gregory hasn’t changed. He’s still a happy, upbeat boy. He loves singing and drawing and hanging out with his little sisters. He’s active and chipper and nev-

HOLD IT!

STOP THE TAPE!

Is it just me, or is there something completely and totally WRONG with what I just wrote?

Let’s try again, from after our hero, Gregory, returns:

Gregory is no longer a boy. He doesn’t talk much, he doesn’t sing, and when he tries to draw, all he can picture are images of his dead comrades; his dead friends. He still hangs out with his little sisters (who are much bigger now), and even though he tries to make them laugh, they notice that his smile doesn’t last as long as it used to.

Phew.

I’m feeling much better now, are you?

Poor Gregory (what is up with me torturing Gregory in my blog posts?) has been through the ringer and we can clearly see that, because of his experiences, he has changed and developed as a character. 

One way any book can make me a cranky-pants (who leaves lengthy, impassioned reviews on Amazon) is by not realistically portraying  a character’s development or by not forcing characters to face consequences. 

Here’s the dealio:

Characters need consequences.

Characters need development.

Also, shit happens.

Break a leg! A character’s leg!

Character arcs are important.

If 6 beloved characters roam into a war-zone, I honestly wouldn’t expect all 6 to come out unscathed or unaffected, or ALIVE even, in some cases.

Innocent Gregory isn’t going to waltz into battle and walk out the other end the same Gregory he was, you know, unless he’s insane, and then our wonderful Gregory has other problems to deal with.

How would you have felt if Frodo got home after his traumatizing hike across Middle Earth and just… went back to normal as if nothing had happened? Even if he had stayed in the Shire, the people who knew him would have been faced with a new Frodo. Yes, still the Frodo they knew before, but a Frodo with some weight on his shoulders.

PSA: I’m not against happy endings! I’m nit-picky about happy endings that portray the character as unaffected from all the crap a writer just put them through.

I’m gonna name-drop two series that I think do the whole consequences and character development thing really well:

Game of Thrones –

Seriously. If anyone is a master at letting his characters face consequences for their choices and actions, it’s George R.R. Martin. As much as I hate it sometimes (and cry over it and throw things), he really knows his stuff. Don’t read the next part in this section if you don’t want potential spoilers.

One specific character that comes to mind is Oberyn Martell. He duels a man he has a vendetta against, and when he thinks he’s won, he begins boasting. The big surprise for Oberyn? The “defeated” man darts up, grabs him, and basically pops Oberyn’s head between his gargantuan hands in a scene that will haunt my dreams for the rest of time.

Now that you have that image in your head, let’s move on to…

The Hunger Games

Okay, not my favorite series ever, but Suzanne Collins does a fantastic job of showing Katniss’ slow journey to her breaking point.

The point is this – at the end of your story, your character should not be the same as they were when you started out. You don’t have to break their leg. It could be a positive change. Maybe they learn to love. Maybe they learn how to sew (hey, I have no idea what you’re story is about). Maybe they learn to be a soldier.

If your character is stagnant, you lose the opportunity to connect with your readers. You lose the opportunity to make them go “OH MY GOD WHY IS GREGORY DOING THAT THING?”

A stagnant character does not an emotional connection make.

Break a leg, or, you know, teach your character how to swing dance or make a really tasty pot of tea.

Give them something they didn’t have before… or take something away. 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing

You Take the High Road and I’ll Take the Low Road

high-road-low-road

People often ask me how old I was when I started writing. To be honest, I’m always a little hesitant about answering that particular question.

The truth is, I’ve been writing/storytelling since before I actually could, well, write. I’m 99.99% sure I was born with a pen in my hand (although my parents swear I wasn’t). I used to force my mom to sit down so I could dictate my stories to her. She was like my own personal Dragonspeak program… Momspeak.

Why am I reluctant to answer the aforementioned question? Because I’d hate to cause anyone to to feel insecure when I tell them I’ve been writing since the ice age. 

I know many writers; some are like me, born with the affliction, other take awhile to bloom.

Guess what?

It doesn’t matter when you started or start writing. What matters is that you love it!

Everyone has a different road to travel. A different creative journey. My road is not your road, and vice versa.

When I tell newer writers how long I’ve been at it, I usually sense:

  • Intimidation
  • Jealousy
  • Awe
  • That they think I’m an elitist
  • That they think I’m full of crap
  • A weird combination of any/all of the above

Of course, there are times when the other writer is like “TUBULAR, DUDE!” and then we high-five and run off into the sunset with brightly colored surfboards in hand.

(I’ve never been on a surfboard in my entire life. I’d probably die.)

Here’s the thing:

Your passion and dedication are not measured by how long you’ve been writing, how many times you’ve been published, or how many likes you got on your latest social media post.

I’m all for writers. All of them. Regardless of age, regardless of chosen genre, regardless of how long they’ve been at it. Writing is hard. Writing takes effort. Writing takes heart. Writing is a HUGE sacrifice of time. And yet we still choose to sit here and do it. 

We need to stop comparing ourselves to other writers.

Every single writer’s journey is unique.

YOUR journey is unique.

It’s way too easy to look at other writers (or creative people in general) and start keeping score.

Well, Susy Lemmon’s latest post got 200 likes and mine only got 30.

How come Arnold can write 5,000 words in a day and I can only write 2,000?

Angie got a PUBLISHING DEAL! I’m still querying agents! I’m useless!

Why can’t I be that inspired?

Why can’t I outline like that?

This manuscript is amazing. My books will never be this great.

I will admit that I’ve done it. We all do. It’s easy. It’s easy to let that evil little voice inside of you tell you that you can never live up to everyone else.

I submit to you:

Let it MOTIVATE you, but don’t let it DEFEAT you!

A little competition never hurt anyone. 

Make a goal. 

You want to up your average words per day? Practice.

You want to get a publishing deal? Keep on it!

Why can’t you be that inspired? Go for a walk! Read someone else’s book! Take a break! Let your mind rest and rejuvenate and try again!

The completed manuscript is better than your WIP? If you’re holding a published book, do you know how long it took to prepare it for publishing? Do you know how many editors and changes its probably been through?

Bram Stoker didn’t write Dracula until he was 50! Mind you, it wasn’t his first novel… but 50!

Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of The Little House on the Prairie series, didn’t actually start writing until her 40s. Talk about late blooming.

Millard Kaufman, author of Bowl of Cherries, didn’t get published until he was 90 years old. Let me say that again – 90 years old.

On the flip side of the coin, you have young authors like Amelia Atwater-Rhodes who signed a publishing deal at the early age of 14.

All the authors noted above have had varying degrees of great success, and they all walked their own roads to get there.

Sometimes the journey will be long and hard. Sometimes it’ll be uphill. Hell, sometimes it’ll be hailing and you’ll have no umbrella. You’re going to run into roadblocks that the person next to you doesn’t have to face. Sometimes you’ll look over and wish you were walking their road, but trust me, their road is filled with struggles, too.

You take the high road.

I’ll take the low road.

I’ll bring snacks in case one of us gets hungry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in NaNoWriMo, Writing

Befriending My Self-Doubt

NO CAPES

Every creative person wears a cape of doubt. It hangs there, constantly weighing at our backs, flip-flopping when the wind isn’t quite right, and trying its best to trip us up.

Whenever I voice this doubt, the (amazingly supportive) people in my life tell me, “Morgan, you can’t do that to yourself. You’re a wonderful writer. Don’t doubt, just create.”

I do appreciate the encouragement, but sometimes I have an incredibly hard time ignoring my doubt. In fact, ask any creative person and they will probably tell you the same.

I’m sure all of you have heard the saying that goes, “you are your own worst critic.” Sometimes I shrug off the actual meaning of the saying because I hear it so often, but there is a frightening and resonant truth to it that I can’t ignore –it’s me. I’m the one letting the doubt drown out my hopes, dreams, and aspirations. I control the volume.

Sylvia Plath said, “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

So here’s the thing: I had a thought! Maybe, just maybe, we should be looking at our doubt, our “capes”, from a different perspective.

Stick with me here!

I’d like to introduce you to Susan — Susan is a wonderful person. She spends her free time running three children to various school activities and loves keeping up with the latest celebrity gossip, but she claims that she isn’t creative. When she sees you, creative person, she’s jealous. You have something she doesn’t; a pretty cape.

Little does she know how heavy that cape, that doubt, truly is.

Susan can’t see your struggles, nor the inner-editor that constantly nags at you. All she can see is your passion, your talent, and your ability to create something from nothing.

Your cape, to her, is one of the the most beautiful things she’s ever seen.

~

I decided several months ago that I needed to start looking at my doubt in a different light; that I needed to let it stoke the fire as opposed to snuffing it out.

Ever since I made that decision, I’ve been more productive. I’ve written, planned, edited, and even read more.

I’m not saying this is an easy battle. There are times when I want nothing more than to rip off my cape and tear it to shreds, but then I remind myself that my cape is a gift… a gift that not everyone receives.

Some days are easy. Some days are hard. Some days I require ice cream and drinks that you can’t purchase from the soda aisle.

I’m slowly learning to befriend my self-doubt.

And from now on, I’m going to (attempt) to do this cape justice (sorry, Edna).

Join me, fellow writer, fellow creative person.

Don’t give up on yourself.

You are truly amazing and talented and your dreams do matter.

Turn down the volume on your doubt and march forward.

Your ideas are worth it.

You are worth it.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing

Write What You Don’t Know

calvin-and-hobbes-write-what-you-know

Every time someone tells me, “write what you know,” I have the inappropriate urge to slap them.

Don’t follow my example. Write what you know is good advice. Actually, it’s great advice. Also, you probably shouldn’t go around slapping people and telling them I encouraged you to do it.

Write what you know = write what you’ve experienced. Fear, jealousy, trauma, loss. Write what you know. Write what you feel.

The reason the term irks me is because people tend to use it incorrectly. Someone asked me a few months back what my current novel was about. I mumbled a broken explanation (or something like one, I’m terrible at explaining my plots verbally), but I’m pretty sure she got the gist of it – that it’s about a post-apocalyptic circus. She blinked at me and said, “Ooooh, but you’ve never worked in the circus!” Yeah, and I’ve never experienced an apocalypse, either.

Now that I think back on it, I should have spun some grandiose story about my former circus days, but in the moment I wasn’t so clever. I confirmed her suspicions, and then she shrugged, told me I should “write what I know,” and sauntered off.

I was honestly quite stunned for a moment, but then I shrugged it off and moved on with my day (okay, maybe there was a little more rage, but I kept it to myself).

It did get me thinking, though. With the sometimes blatant misuse of the term, why not coin a NEW term?

Write what you DON’T know!

Besides, what fun is it to stay stagnant in your writing?

Why not write about a political diplomat who gets involved in extreme origami competitions? Even if you know nothing about politics or (extreme) origami! Research is the spice of life.

I know so many random things that I never would have cared about before I had the need to research them for a story. This also leads to me having an extremely interesting Google search history… which we just won’t talk about.

Writing is about discovery. Writing is about freedom. Writing is reaching. Writing is creating something bigger than yourself, so why should you think small?

Discover. Dream. REACH!

Write what you know AND what you don’t know!

The sky’s the limit.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing

I Cannot Be Held Responsible for My Characters’ Actions

 

Blameo

Around three weeks ago I received a call from one of my beta-readers. She was about 75% through my novel Set the Circus on Fire and wanted to let me know her thoughts, which I was both anxious and excited for. While she had many positive things to say, the conversation ended in a rant about my main character Capella, and how she (my beta-reader) thought that I should stop forcing Capella to make tremendously bad decisions.

I laughed.

I choked on my coffee.

I laughed some more.

And then, as gently and as trying-not-to-sound-incredibly-crazy as I could, I attempted to explain to her just how this writing thing works.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty, I should probably let you know that this post may or may not make me sound like the most mentally unstable person you’ve encountered on the internet today.

That being said, let’s move this train right along.

I’ve heard other writers mention that having characters is much like having children. You create them, you give them a name, you bake them cookies at 2 AM in the morning because they broke up with their boyfriend Fred.

I don’t have any children, but I agree with their sentiments.

Much like a parent, you watch your character grow, you watch them go through struggles, overcome, fail, succeed. You cheer with them, cry with them, and yell at them. You get frustrated. You forgive (most of the time). Sometimes you have no idea why the hell they’re doing what they’re doing.

Sure, I can set the scene, I can drop in random elements of chaos, but when it comes down to it, my characters are living, breathing people that are quite capable of making their own decisions and mistakes without my input. While it’s slightly disturbing to think that I have a bunch of independent people jammed inside my brain, it’s also a comfort. I would feel empty without them.

That doesn’t mean that I’ve completely lost control (I say to myself stubbornly). I still make decisions, I still lead the plot along, but sometimes I am just as surprised as the reader when Character X decides to kill Character Z because Character Z stole his girl.

So, I say this in defense of all my writer brothers and sisters:

Please don’t hold us (completely) responsible for our characters’ actions.

Don’t yell at us. Bring us cookies.

Maybe pie.

Chance is, the writer of a story is feeling the loss and/or bad decision of a character on a much deeper level than the reader ever will. Either that, or they’re cackling through it… it can go either way, really.