The Muse: Writing is Healing

Hello, and welcome to the newly rebranded Muse. Hopefully, you tuned in to C’s last update, because things, they are a-changin’. Essentially, responsibilities, adulthood, and the pursuit of free time have put an end to our rigid posting schedule and we’ll be focusing on delivering high-quality content on more of a monthly timeline.

So, yes, the Muse will no longer appear strictly on Mondays, but I think this will result in more inspired posts as opposed to the “oh-shit-it’s-Monday-what-can-I-write-about” pieces of the past.

With that in mind, I present to you, Cacti community, my first new Muse.

It’s Tuesday. Two days ago, my family made the difficult decision to say goodbye to our beloved dog, Fritz. He was almost 14 and debilitating arthritis was getting the better of him. The vet said he was suffering. He said it was time.

This weekend easily ranks as one of the worst in my life. Fritz was a sweet, loyal, neurotic wookie-like bear and it pains me that I couldn’t say goodbye in person. I spoke with him via a video chat with my dad the evening before, wishing I could reach out and scratch his ears. He was pretty alert, though he couldn’t do more than lie there. He knew it was me and listened to my words: the hollow “good boys” and choked up “the pain will all go aways.”

I made my parents promise to stay with him until the end. They kept their word, braving those final moments and making sure Fritz was surrounded by people he loved.

This was of significant importance to me, because one of my greatest regrets is that I wasn’t there when our cat was put to sleep. Granted, I was in high school at the time, but I was a snivelling coward and I left a scared animal that I cared deeply for to face the unknown without a loving friend nearby.

It doesn’t make things any easier and it certainly doesn’t make up for my past mistakes, but knowing that Fritz was accompanied by family and that he went peacefully provides a kind of closure I never got the last time I lost a pet. Fritz knew he was loved and cherished. That’s all anyone could want in their final moments.

Now, obviously, this hasn’t exactly been a Muse, but I feel that writing and sharing my grief is an important part of the healing process. Putting my thoughts down and taking a moment to reflect is my next step forward. Keeping my thoughts locked in while crying in the fetal position probably isn’t healthy after a certain point. So, let the healing begin.

A

Advertisements

Monday Muse: Inspiration for the Uninspired

It’s Mondayyyy. And, lordy, was it ever a long one. BUT, I’ve been a very bad blogger as of late, so I’m going to put together a Muse even if it kills me.

So, lately, I’ve been pretty uninspired. I’m tired, I’m bored, I’m feeling unproductive, and the news/political nonsense have me on edge. All. The. Time.

Also, I haven’t done much writing. This, in spite of the fact that I’m pretty much always daydreaming about my latest projects. I take notes as necessary, but trying to sit down and find the right words for these characters seems like a Herculean task.

I’m slowly crawling out of this funk, and the catalyst was undoubtedly having the chance to meet Imbolo Mbue. Her author talk back for Behold the Dreamers provided tons of inspiration, but it was after the event that this uninspired writer truly found inspiration.

I spent a few minutes speaking with Ms. Mbue one-on-one, asking her writer-y questions that she graciously answered. I was most interested in the fact that she is a “self-taught” writer. She has several degrees (none of them in writing) and she never intended to be a writer, it was just something that felt right.

As someone who has loved writing forever, but never really gotten a chance to take a “formal class,” this gives me so much hope. My writing could, indeed, be worth publishing even without a master’s degree in writing. It’s all a matter of being true to the story and knowing that sometimes the process of writing is going to feel like I’m chipping away at a house-sized hunk of rock.

Mbue described writing as a journey of self-discovery even as you discover the story and characters that speak to you. Writing is an extension of yourself, so, yes, it has ups and downs. The important thing is to come back and keep chipping away at that rock, because eventually you’ll end up with a diamond.

A

Monday Muse: Writer’s Journal Woes

Hello readers, and welcome to the Monday Muse! Today’s topic: the mythical writer’s journal. What is it? How does it work? Is it the right path for you?

So, here’s the backstory… I want to make time to focus on honing my writing skills this year. This decision was partially spurred by a “resolution-like” exercise I participated in during a yoga class. Please, don’t judge me.

Anyway, after setting an intention (shut up), I set out to find ways to educate myself. I researched conferences, retreats, online certificate courses, and other expensive ways of basically saying, “look at me, I have money and all the leisure in the world.” Or maybe a wealthy husband… In any case, it occurred to me that I should probably start small before startling the credit bureau with uncharacteristic expenditures.

That’s when I stumbled upon several articles touting the amazing benefits of keeping a writer’s journal. That sounds doable, I thought to myself. But then every post I read from that point onwards was vague and unhelpful regarding the actual method of journaling as a writer.

Surely, I thought, there must be more to it than a daily journal. So, I did some more research. What I have found is that a writer’s journal can be anything you damn well please. But, see, I don’t find this particularly helpful. I thrive when I’m given assignments and I understand where and why there is growth.

Should I use a writer’s journal to delve into the parts of my stories that remain a mystery to me?

“Sure!” They said.

Should I use it to write observations on nature and daily life?

“Why not!” The internet quipped.

So. There’s no structure at all?

“Nope.”

Then how can I be sure I’m writing the right thing or even improving my writing??

“Well, as long as you write more, you’ll improve.”

Fuck you internet. Now I have a gigantic notebook full of days worth of random scribbles and no friggin’ idea what I’m doing.

It’s a scam, I tell you!

But, I am doing a lot of extracurricular writing, so I guess it’s not all bad?

Thoughts?

A

Monday Muse: On An Early Tuesday Morning

Hey.

I realize it’s actually after midnight, so it’s technically Tuesday, but I was kinda worded out after my NaNo-ing today, so I needed to rest for a bit. I didn’t write this weekend for reasons of I had to adult, so I needed to spend today making up for everything. That meant almost 5000 words in one day, which is actually a lot for me. I managed to do it, though, and introduce a secondary villain to the novel.

Freyja’s a bitch, y’all.

I’ve noticed over the years a strange phenomenon in my writing. I seem to be able to write as much as I have to to meet a deadline, but I can’t write beyond that. If I need a twenty-page paper, you’ll get twenty pages easy. I could even do it in one day if it was due and I waited until the last minute, which I learned by waiting until the last minute over and over again in college. But with something like NaNo, I can rarely get more than a day ahead, and that’s because I round 1667 up to 2000 a day. And once I hit that 2000, I can’t write anymore.

Unless I don’t write anything for a couple of days, in which case I can write 5000 words at once, but only until I reach the point where I’ve caught up. And then nothing.

Weird phenomenon, eh? My brain has strange boundaries.

I hope NaNo’s treating you well if you’re doing it. And if you’re not, I hope this run-up to the holiday season hasn’t been too overwhelming. They were playing Christmas music at Starbucks the other day.

I wasn’t happy.

C

Monday Muse: Names are Important, But Let’s Be Real…

Hello and welcome to the Monday Muse! It’s been a while since I did a Muse, due to busy schedules, date confusion, and general forgetfulness. For this, I apologize.

But I’m here today! And I’ve been thinking about this particular topic for quite a while, to be honest. So, it’s time I finally put it down in writing.

As writers, C and I have repeatedly advocated the importance of world building, backstory, and names. Every little detail you put into your story helps create something that is multidimensional and believable (within the given parameters of your world, of course). 

Now, sometimes overzealous writers get carried away with the nuances they’ve created, and feel that it’s important that every aspect of their work has a hidden meaning. More often than not, this also applies to the names characters are baptized with. And, also more often than not, it results in lame, cheeseball revelations that most people saw a mile away… “Ezra means “help” so this character’s issues stem from childhood trauma.” “You can’t trust Janus, she’s two-faced.” We get it, you know how to use Google.

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is: yes, names are important – super important – in the journey to creating great characters and great places, but there is also a fine line we must dance as authors. Don’t overdo it with the magical, mumbo jumbo names that somehow manage to foreshadow your protagonist’s entire story.  And give it a rest with made up names within the context of a story that is supposed to take place in our reality. It’s unnecessary. And it takes away from how the story stands on its own.

I’ve been struggling with “overnaming” myself lately, and I think it’s important to step back and be as objective as possible when you ask: “is this character, under this particular name, believable? Would I make it through this story without scoffing at the title character’s prenom?” You might be surprised.

Also, please don’t name your characters something that’s so jarringly dramatic to the ear that it becomes off-putting. I know… Hard to do objectively, but that’s why you have bookworm friends to give you beta reader feedback, amiright? Because somebody should have sat Rick Riordan the f**k down and steered him clear of “Magnus Chase.” 

Long time followers will know that I have a soft spot for the Percy Jackson series, but I think Riordan has gotten a wee bit carried away.  I literally did a spit-take when I saw the cover of his new book – and I wasn’t even drinking anything! 

Magnus Chase? That’s not a name, that’s a punk rock band. Or a luxury sunglasses company. Or maybe what Kanye West might name his pet jaguar. Or his next kid… Hmm, maybe it’s not the most unbelievable nonsense name.

Anyway, for those of you participating in NaNo, I salute you. Name your characters wisely, and with love, and they will serve you well. 

Happy writing!

A

Monday Muse: LET’S GET READY TO NANO!

Hey, guys! It’s Monday, so it’s time for a Muse! And it’s also October 30th, which means it’s just about time for NaNoWriMo!

First of all, though: Happy Halloween to everyone! Well, I guess mostly our American listeners, since apparently the rest of the world hasn’t caught on to this most awesome of holidays. Guys. Dressing up. Trick or Treating. Scary things! The Nightmare Before Christmas and Hocus Pocus and Halloweentown and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! HOW DO YOU NOT HAVE HALLOWEEN, PEOPLE?!

*cough* Sorry. I love Halloween. And I’m deeply unhappy with the fact that, because of my current living situation, I can’t go all out like I want to. Also… I have no friends within event-sharing distance, so that also puts a damper on things. But it’s OK. I shall persevere!

I shall also head to Target on Wednesday and buy candy because it’ll be on sale and because it’ll be the first day of NaNo, and I always allow myself candy and snacks during NaNo.

Oh, that seems like a natural segue into NaNo! Once again, let’s talk about NaNo set-ups. You know… getting that writing spot set up so you’re ready and raring to go when the day comes (you know…Wednesday) to begin churning out that 50k. Because… you do know it’s best to get as far ahead as possible in the early days, right? Shit is always going to go down, and if you’re American, you know that last week of November is terrible for sitting down to focus on your writing, even if it’s only for 30 minutes a day. Plus, that second-week slump is real.

IT IS REAL, Y’ALL!

So. Here are some things I’ve learned during all my years of NaNo:

  1. If you’re a plotter, plot. If you’re a panster, pants. NaNo is NOT the time to try a new style.
  2. Set up your writing space and KEEP IT SET UP. Don’t give yourself any excuse to get up and do something else.
  3. If sprinting works for you, sprint. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t sprint just to get the word count up. 50k of nonsense really isn’t going to help you. (If you want to sprint, writeordie.com has a free sprint thingy.)
  4. If you absolutely need to edit in order to keep writing, limit yourself to the last page you wrote. No more than a few hundred words. I understand that editing slows you down, but if not editing is going to slow you down even more, edit smart.
  5. Be willing to break the rules if that’s what helps you. Need to work on multiple projects? Do it. Need to work on an old project? Do it. There are no NaNo police, guys. The point is to get writing.
  6. If writing with other people helps, WRITE WITH OTHER PEOPLE. If it’s just distraction, don’t write with other people.
  7. Turn off the internet, especially if you’re prone to distraction. If you sit down and actually focus on writing, 1700 words won’t take too long. If you allow yourself to be distracted, you turn NaNo into an all-day, every-day affair, which it doesn’t have to be.
  8. Let yourself have treats. (That candy I mentioned, for example.) Create some reward systems to push for, as well. We all respond better to the carrot than to the stick. And, plus, there’s no reason to punish yourself. Punishment doesn’t help creativity (I mean… unless you’re into BDSM, or something. In which case, does that make the stick… the carrot? I need to ponder this.), and creativity is what we want.
  9. Above all, DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. Writing more is the goal. Even if you don’t follow the rules, you win if you write because you’re one step closer to completing your project.

So. That’s it for me. I’m The Lady C over at NaNo if you want to be my buddy! Come watch me not follow my own rules, lol.

C

Monday Muse: Getting Your Writing Groove Back

Hey, guys! Welcome back to Nerd Cactus land! I know we’ve been a little wonky since the Stratford trip (which was amazing–you should go read the blogs we wrote if you haven’t already) and the whole hurricane debacle, but it’s officially time to get started again, so… here we go.

I am not one of those writers who can write every day. I just can’t do it. Writing–well, the drafting part–is very draining for me. It’s like driving a car; it uses up the tank, whether that be gas or electric or both. I know there are a lot of people out there who gain energy from writing, for whom the act of writing is like filling the tank, but I am not one of those people. I actually get more energy from editing than drafting, which I suppose must make me some sort of alien creature, but there it is.

I get the most energy from worldbuilding and research.

But, whatever the case may be, I cannot write if I am not in the right frame of mind. Maybe that’s laziness talking or lack of discipline or whatever, but it’s just how I am. I have a very compartmentalized brain, and if I want to do anything, I have to shut out all the noise from all the competing compartments. Unfortunately, the writing compartment–the Writing Zone, if you will–is not one of the louder, more aggressive parts of my brain.

That would be the scholarly portion, aka the Hysterical Historian (which is the name of my future blog, which I should probably set up eventually), who wants to Hulk Smash ignorance and replace it with intellectualism. Or at least critical thinking, because I’ve been around some intellectuals who are completely useless at anything else. They don’t just live in the Ivory Tower, they’ve bricked themselves in like an Anchorite and plan to die in there.

But that’s a very loud portion. Another loud portion is the part that needs constant entertainment. I drain very easily. Emotionally, physically, spiritually… life takes it out of me. (YAY for anxiety issues, amirite?) So there’s a very loud portion of my brain that needs to be refilled, that’s constantly screaming that it’s bored. And when I get bored, the depression comes creeping in. I don’t need much, really. Usually a change of scenery or something beautiful, tasty, life-affirming, etc. It’s why I feel so healthy up in Stratford; it is a week, no matter how much walking up-hill I have to do (Floridians do not do hills), that exists purely to appease this portion of my brain.

Then I got home and a hurricane. Which, admittedly, worked out OK for me. The storm ended up hitting the opposite coast, leaving us with tropical storm force winds in an apartment I’m convinced is made of Captain America’s shield. But that chaos took every ounce of revitalization, happiness, and creative spirit I possessed and drained it out. I couldn’t have a creative thought if my life depended on it. There was just nothing there. The well had run dry, and I couldn’t figure out what to do.

So I entered a contest. A daily contest that forced me to think about my world. OK, so I entered before I went to Stratford and the hurricane completely messed up my ability to enter on time every day, but whatever. My friend was running the contest, it was just a couple of us involved, and it isn’t for anything remotely resembling a prize (bragging rights and a virtual ribbon), so it ended up being OK that my internet got patchy, my brain couldn’t squeeze out words, and all I wanted to do was to pull an IT Crowd.

 

giphy

 

I did end up getting everything in before the deadline, but some of the early entries are crap. Complete and utter crap I couldn’t even begin to show the world. By the end of the thing, though (as in… half an hour ago), I was churning out whole scenes I didn’t even hate, coming up with new details for Esmeihiri I didn’t already know, and writing entries over 1000 words! And while I’m not sure I’m back yet entirely, I can feel those wheels beginning to turn. I even had an idea for a play, though I’m not sure how to structure the idea to fit a play. As I understand it, ideas that work for a novel won’t work for a play, and my brain automatically goes to novel.

But, still. I think it might be coming back. If I include this blog, I’m over 4000 words for the day, which is nothing to shake a stick at.

So… there’s my advice for how to get your writing groove back. Enter a contest with very low stakes and daily prompts. Wanting to meet the deadline should get you writing again, and eventually, you’ll find a prompt that unlocks something.

Mine was having a blind man who’d never encountered a horse before learning what a horse was.

It was cute.

I’ll be back on Friday with a Boozy Books. I like the book I’m reading now enough to pair it, or I can pair Daniel Deronda if I can get over how complicated it is enough to write a succinct summary…

C