My Office Mate

Bruce Banner is the only cat well-mannered enough to visit my office. (I have five cats.) Once in a while, he decides to help me rearrange my action figures, but, for the most part, he’s the perfect writing companion. He either stares out one of my windows or flops in the middle of the floor and snoozes.

Bruce with hulks
Bruce Banner sleeping near my desk with some Hulks he has knocked down.

Writing can be a lonely endeavor. Having another beating heart in the room–whether it’s a cat or a fish–can make it a little less so. I don’t write horror stories, so I don’t exactly scare myself, but sometimes I write violent or intense scenes that make me feel chilled and anxious. It’s nice to look over at Bruce’s sleepy face when my hands have turned to ice and feel human again.

Sometimes I’ll stop and pet him if I’m stuck. Animals can be distracting, at times, but they can also be great sources of inspiration. Being with me while I write seems to benefit Bruce, as well. He is normally a rather high-strung little cat. I think he appreciates having a break from the others. Writing in the office is our special time–even if I’m at my laptop for most of it.

Bruce
Bruce in the living room, where I do most of my editing. He seems to enjoy being around me while I work.

Writer Tools…er…Toys

I love toys. My office is filled with action figures, stuffed animals, and just weird stuff. In my heart, I’m really a nine-year-old boy. Toys just make me happy, and I tend to be more creative when I’m feeling playful. Although I have toys scattered around the room, I keep three close at hand while I write. They are my super special writer toys.

HulkHead

My Hulk head is one of my favorites. I love the Incredible Hulk and will buy almost anything with Hulk on it. I had no idea when I found this rather gruesome ball in a drugstore just how much I would love it. It’s filled with liquid and is fun to smash and slosh around. This is what I grab most often when I’m reviewing my work. I bounce it from hand to hand as I read and mash his head when I’m frustrated. It’s a great editing tool.

Hulk body

Another drugstore find is my squishy Hulk body. This one is filled with some sort of sand and makes a wonderful “walking on the beach” sound when you smash it. His legs are floppy, too, which makes him fun to waggle back and forth. I grab him when I’m stuck on a scene.

DragonSpinner

My husband gave me my newest toy, a dragon fidget spinner. I’ve started playing with it when I’m filling in a scene or trying to figure out where else the plot should go. It’s a nice alternative to squishy Hulk body and has a completely different vibe.

So, if you’re a writer, try playing with some toys to get the creativity flowing. My other tools tend to be pretty boring–I write in MS Word, for instance, and use Excel to plan plots. I tend to jot notes in a spiral notebook, so there is nothing fancy about the way I actually write. I do everything, however, surrounded by a horde of Hulks, Lokis, cats, dragons, and foxes.

Bad Reviews Can be Useful

imageSo, perhaps because bad luck always comes in threes, while I was recovering from a car accident and an unusual esophageal infection that made my doctors take biopsies and suspect cancer, one of my books received a scathing review–my first truly negative review. It seemed strangely personal and hit me as hard as the two physical insults. I was actually so shocked by it that I didn’t cry until the next day.

But I got over it. I had to. You can’t put yourself out there without someone trying to knock you down. People suck like that. So, while I did flail about and whine to my friends, I discovered something helpful.

I wrote a rebuttal, which I might share here later. My only intention ¬†was to release my venom, but something crystallized in my mind as I wrote. I saw, more clearly than ever before, my ideal reader for that book. I already knew a few things–that she was probably female, a Millennial, and politically liberal, but she’s also a bit edgy, appreciates complexity, and has above average intelligence. She understands that characters don’t always say what they mean and do what they say. Sometimes characters, like real people, hide things from others–sometimes even from themselves. She has a sense of humor and is a trifle wicked…maybe more than a trifle.

Having a better understanding of my ideal reader has led me to market that book differently. I’m using more humor and playing up the darker elements.

Don’t ever let a bad review get you down. See if you can turn it to your advantage. Never stop dreaming; never stop writing.

 

Word Counts Aren’t Everything

I don’t know if it’s because of NaNoWriMo or just that everyone likes quantifiable markers of progress, but writers–especially new writers–seem to place an extraordinary amount of emphasis on word count. This seems very wrong-headed to me for several reasons, but I’m only going to discuss one in this post.

It’s easy to let numbers get in the way of progress or become a false marker of it. I hate seeing writers (usually on Twitter) feel deflated because they didn’t reach their daily word count. Writing is a complex art. It’s hard enough without piling some arbitrary goal like the number of words one can click out on top of it. I don’t have a daily word count. I try to write a little every day, but sometimes “writing” means daydreaming about my characters while I do dishes or wash my hair, plotting scenes on a spreadsheet, or reading about writing. I’ve released two novels, a novella, and a short story this year and didn’t fret about the word count a single day.

Sometimes life gets in the way of writing. It just does. This is okay. Sometimes the words flow. Sometimes they don’t. To me, obsessing about word count can interfere with this natural rhythm, stressing out writers who need to relax so they can write more. I often see people setting their daily writing goals too high. So many people want to knock out 3,000 or more words a day. I often don’t write more than 1,500 words on “paper” per day. I write, however, in some form or another, every day.

Writing is too beautiful, too meaningful, to turn into some sort of drudgery. It should be something that is difficult at times, but mostly fun–like a thrilling, high-maintenance lover. It should never be like working at a factory turning out widgets. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your word count requirements, please take a deep breath and remember to ENJOY writing. If you have to back off and read about it, that’s time well-spent. Learning how to craft a story is far more important than banging out some arbitrary number of words.

And here’s the fun part–a good story will naturally result in a good word count. If you have interesting characters, a fleshed out plot with a satisfying resolution, a world of specific details, and stimulating dialogue–I can guarantee that story has a good word count.

Happy writing!

 

There’s Only One Way…

No. There isn’t. There are as many ways of doing something as there are people on the planet. I hate writing instructors (or reviewers) who act as if there is only one way of writing or one kind of book. (I know, I know. You’re not supposed to get upset with reviewers. They are entitled to their opinions, and I believe that wholeheartedly. That doesn’t mean I can’t feel butt hurt when one doesn’t understand the difference between a character-driven story and a plot-driven story.)

But back to writing tips. Years ago, I was in a writing group where one writer berated another for saying she couldn’t control her characters. I knew exactly what the ‘I can’t control them’ writer meant. To some extent, that’s how I write. My characters come to me in an organic fashion. Writing often feels more like an archeological dig than a creative process. I feel like I’m discovering the characters, discovering the story. There’s something profoundly Jungian about it.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to step in more. I’ll have a flash of inspiration for a plot point or an attitude shift and insert them and watch the story reorder itself. Or I’ll give the protagonist a nudge in the ribs. I can’t even fathom the sort of rational mind who views the characters as chess pieces and feels in control of everything. I’m not arrogant enough to think that person is wrong. I realize they are different. It’s okay for people to be different. Why do so many of us have a problem with that?

I was thinking about Kite from Lover, Destroyer today. I pick on him a lot, but I feel deeply sorry for him. As soon as I thought that, I wondered what the Vulcan from that writing group would have said. “You created his backstory! You created him–how can you feel sorry for him? That’s insane?”

Well, yeah. But I didn’t intentionally create him. He came to me that way. Damaged, possessing a frightening power, manipulated into doing something that preys on his conscience for the rest of his life. Technically, I created him. But I swear, he was broken when I found him.

There are many ways to do the same thing. Mine just happens to be a bit insane. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

Writer’s Block or Depression?

Sometimes I get writer’s block because I’m out of ideas for a story, stressed and having trouble relaxing or focusing, or just need to get a better feel for the backstory. These are all things that can be solved rather easily through writing exercises, or simple things like mediation, bathing, or going for a walk.

However, for me, sometimes I have writer’s block because I’m depressed. It’s almost a warning sign that something is wrong with me. In that case, taking a quick inventory of what is happening in my life can sometimes help me track what might be causing the depression. Clinical depression is serious. If you think you may be clinically depressed, please seek help. I’m bipolar, so I see a therapist on a regular basis. I also see a psychiatrist periodically and take medication for my illness.

For me, the red flags that I’m not just having writer’s block but am sinking into depression are:

  1. Either sleeping too much or waking up too early.
  2. Not paying attention to personal hygiene. (Like wearing the same clothes several days!)
  3. Overeating (especially sweet stuff.)
  4. Withdrawing (more than usual–I’m an introvert, so I’m always somewhat withdrawn.)
  5. Not wanting to do anything, not being interested in anything.

Number 5 is where writing comes in. I’m interested in and passionate about many things, but writing is where my heart is. If I’m not writing–and maybe not even wanting to try some writing exercises–I know that’s a big, flashing warning sign that I’m not okay.

One of the worst bits of advice I ever got regarding writer’s block was someone online suggesting to take a break from writing and not write until you feel like it. Maybe that works for some people, but for me it sent me into a downward spiral of not writing that lasted over a year. Not writing led to more not writing, and I became more and more depressed. Once depression gets a toehold, it’s easier for it to get worse.

So, instead, I recommend being mindful of how your body is functioning and how you’re feeling. Make sure that your writer’s block isn’t a cue that something else is going on.

Questions to Ask Your Character When You’re Having Writer’s Block

Sometimes trying to write can be daunting. Here are some questions I ask my POV character when I’m having trouble getting into a scene.

1. Who are you?
2. What are you doing?
3. What do you want?
4. Are you alone? If not, who are you with and how do you feel about them? Why?
5. What are you wearing? Is there anything significant about anything you’re wearing?
6. Where are you? What does it smell like? What does it feel like–emotionally and in a tactile sense?
7. What do you see?
8. What do you hear?
9. What day, month, year, season, time of day is it?
10. Is there anything significant about today?

These things will usually get me moving. Happy writing!