The First Tentative Steps

I entered a writing contest. Back in January. Why am I only telling you this now? Honesty compels me to say that it’s because I was scared to mention it. Still am, really, but more in an uncomfortable-place-of-vulnerability way, than a heart-pounding-hyperventilating kind of way. I did post that I had taken the plunge on Facebook, but let’s be honest, in a news feed full of political memes and cat videos, this is precisely the sort of thing that gets lost in the shuffle.

Specifically, it was the NYC Midnight short story contest (www.nycmidnight.com).

Why? Both because it sounded interesting, and because it gave me a chance to flex (ok, develop) some different writing muscles. I’ve been focusing on longer works, and haven’t written a short story since junior high (which was **quite** a long time ago). The contest has three rounds, each with decreasing word counts and time frames to complete your story in. You get assigned a heat, and the top five from each heat move on to the next round. Round 1 closed January 28, and the winners will be announced the week of March 20 – just over a week away!

Originally I was going to wait until the results were posted, but decided to treat all you lovelies to a copy of my story now. Come on, who doesn’t love treats? I thought it would be nice for you to have access to it, without knowing if it was selected to move on to round two or not. No preconceived notions this way 😉

For your reading pleasure, Agua Fantasma. Would love to hear your comments!
(Clicking on the underlined text will give you a link to open the story from).

“What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.” – Brené Brown

Where Inspiration Lurks

I’m one of those lucky people that suffers from migraines – thankfully I don’t get them as often as I used to, but I had them on what seemed like on a weekly basis in elementary school. If you’ve ever had one, then you know the struggle of praying for the unconsciousness of sleep, but being in too much pain to actually have it happen. As a child, the only thing that would help put me to sleep was a recording of Pachabel’s Canon. To this day, it still calms me, and makes me feel like all is right in the world. 

Music has always been a massive part of my life – I’ve played multiple instruments, and have always been happier when music is present. When we would go on car trips as a family, I would “entertain” everyone by singing my way through the score for Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. At age 9. I’m still sort of surprised my family didn’t make me walk the rest of the way. I’m constantly on the search for new tunes, and about the only genre that doesn’t appear in my music library is polka.

It’s also had a major impact on my writing – I find much of my inspiration for stories and characters in the verses of what’s coming through my headphones. Each of my novels have their own playlists – they start out ridiculously long (as in, it could play for days without repeating a song), but get whittled down as the story is written and edited. I also have them for my characters. It’s not a true playlist, as it tends to be a handful of songs that speak to me about each of my characters – be it motivation, backstory, or a pivotal scene that they are in.

Here’s the song list for one of my favourite characters in my current project:

It’s the Fear – Within Temptation
The Resistance – Skillet
Muddy Waters – LP
I Apologize – Five Finger Death Punch
The Night – Disturbed
Far From Home – Five Finger Death Punch
Face Everything and Rise – Papa Roach

What clues does this list give you into my character? What songs have inspired you? How has music shaped your story?

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to imagination, and life to everything. “ – Plato

Creating Logically

This sunny Saturday morning brings us halfway through January. How can that be? The beings that co-reside with me are doing their usual things, and I’m sitting at my kitchen table, trying to make this thing one of mine. Hubby’s playing video games, one cat is sitting in a box, another sleeping on the couch, and the third meowing at the door to go out. Note: when I say meowing, I mean yowling like he has the worst life ever, and is being tortured (I promise he’s not). I mean, I know I just said January is half over, but we’re far enough north that there’s still snow on the ground, for crying out loud. And he HATES snow.

January also bring that lovely time at work called “year end”. Oh sorry, did I say ‘lovely’? I meant dreaded. Must have been a typo. It’s definitely not a boring time in the office, that’s for sure, but it does suck up a lot of time and energy. I’m blaming that for this post being a few days late (definitely not my procrastination skills at work). Seriously though, it’s taken a toll on my creative energy, and desire to write. Rather than shirk that responsibility entirely, I’ve turned to working on the story structure, including character development, outlining, scene pacing, etc. It keeps my brain connected with my novel, and makes use of the logical side that raring full speed ahead from all the detail oriented going-ons at work.

I’ve been relying heavily on a few different resources, and have fallen in love with them. In a totally platonic way, of course. Anything else would just be creepy. I love them so much, I’m sharing them with you (one at a time, mind you. Don’t get greedy.). New Year’s resolution to lend humanity a helping hand ? Check 😉

K.M. Weiland is the author of a number of resource books, including Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. I’m in the juicy middle of Outlining Your Novel at the moment, and it’s been invaluable for getting my mind stuck out of the rut it’s been wallowing in with The Rogue Saint. It’s refreshing, as it talks about a task that authors know is essential, but approaches it with just a slightly different twist. Rather than plowing through the usual suspects of Inciting Incident, First Plot Point, Climax, and so on, it talks about asking the ‘what if’ questions, brainstorming, and general scene sketches. Don’t get me wrong; it’s almost impossible to have an outline book without discussing the aforementioned Inciting Incident, etc., however the book doesn’t make them the focal point. She discusses the advantages to writing your prep work and initial outline by hand, which I’ve found to be a super useful exercise. The main novel will still be written electronically (if you so desire), however there’s something freeing about have pages filled with your own chicken scratch. Three cheers for tangible progress! Plus then you can pick up your handwritten outline, and plunk it into a useful tool like Scrivener (note: not a sponsored post, I just freaking love the program), and not go wandering off into the electronic void with your story.

She also has an amazing resource website, http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com, which cheerfully carries along in the same vein as her books. It approaches well-known topics such as creating conflict, and where to start your story, but from a place a step, or five, to the side, discussing the topics in a new way. Her novel approach (see what I did there?) to tired material makes it fresh again, automatically stimulating all that grey matter in your brain. It’s amazing – learning about the logical pieces of a book, yet feeling a stirring in that beautiful, dark mess of your inspiration, from which your novel is given life.

Unfortunately, my giant lotto win has yet to come in, and I can’t finance a copy of her books for everyone just yet, but if you’re stuck and grinding your gears, please; do yourself a favour and check her out. This little dose of inspiration may be just what you need. You’re welcome.

“Creativity is a wild mind, and a disciplined eye.” – Dorothy Parker

Welcome to Midnight

“Change takes more than a moment, but maybe there’s also something to this celebration of a moment, something to the way it speaks to us, something to the way we fear it, and dream it to be true. Maybe it’s the most honest moment of the year.

It’s possible to change.

Welcome to Midnight.

Here’s to the possibilities.”

Credit: To Write Love On Her Arms blog (https://twloha.com/blog/welcome-midnight/)

I’ve never really made New Years resolutions. Ok, I lied. I’ve made them, but only quietly in my head, and never firmly. That way when (yes, I mean ‘when’, not ‘if’) I failed at them, I could say, “well, I didn’t really make one.” I think it’s pretty obvious that this method was doomed from the start. Ergo, I’ve decided to do it a little different this year – I’m making a public statement so the internet can hold me accountable (yikes, I’m already having second thoughts about this).

But before we get to my goals, first things first: I can’t take credit for the awesome title. It’s from the To Write Love On Her Arms blog. TWLOHA is an amazing non-profit “dedicated to presenting hope & finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, & suicide.”(https://twloha.com/). The blog post talks about change, possibilities, and the idea that midnight, especially on New Years, wipes the slate clean. It explains so well how I feel about this starting over on the first day of a new year. It doesn’t matter what I’ve tried and failed at – what matters is that I can try again.

Health

  1. Do yoga regularly: Ideally I’d like develop a home practice, and have a session at least 6/7 days a week. To kick things off the right way, I’ve signed up for a 30 Day Yoga challenge. A new video will be posted daily for the next 30 days. So far I’m 1/1 😉
    Want to join me? https://www.doyogawithme.com/30-day-challenge
  2. Cut back on drinking: I did this last year too, but January 2017 will be dry. No booze until February. I’ll need a metric to measure against after January, so throw any ideas you may have my way (note: zero drinks is not a valid suggestion)
  3. Complete strength 30 day challenges monthly: I’m trying for two in January; a wall-sit, and a plank challenge.
  4. Run 3x a week: to be fair, we got like 10cm of snow today, so this one may be on the back burner until the sidewalks are clear-ish.

Writing

  1. Blog: In January 2016, one of my quasi-pretend NY resolutions was to start a blog. I did manage to get this up and running, but s-u-c-k-e-d at posting regularly. My goal is to make posts at least 2x per month – I’m currently eyeing the 10th and 25th of the month as my due dates.
  2. Create more balance: I sit on the couch, and spend hours on my computer/phone (I’m looking at you Candy Crush). In an attempt to waste less time, for every 30 minutes of non-productive screen time (Facebook, Pinterest, games, etc.), I have to have an equal amount of time writing or editing.
  3. Finish my novel: it’s becoming increasingly embarrassing to admit that I still haven’t finished  The Rogue Saint. 2017 is going to be the year. I am going to schedule writing time, and make a daily habit of it, even if it’s only a few words. I’ll start small, and build. For example, January’s daily word count goal will be 200 words per day. February will be…umm…ok I haven’t gotten that far yet. 300 words? maybe 400? Anyways, that’s the general idea. Again, please feel free to make (reasonable) suggestions. Anyone who says something ridiculous like 5000 words to start is asking for it. What is ‘it’? Not sure, but be assured that I’ll come up with something suitably diabolical & fiendish.

Miscellaneous

  1. Develop a budget (and stick to it of course)
  2. De-Clutter: I HAVE to stop buying stuff (0bvs this will help with #1). I also have to work on my early hoarder tendencies. Hubby has set me a goal to get rid of one bag of stuff a week, and truly, it needs to happen. I kind of want to just empty my house on to the lawn, and start over (other than hubby, kitties, and at least one pair of clean underwear).

Whew. Glad to have that all off my chest, and into cyberspace. I’m going to update y’all regularly (i.e. quarterly) on how I’m progressing with all of this, so please feel free to harass me about it. The world is a scary place, and I know there’s a lot of uncertainty as to whether or not we’ll even still be in existence at the end of this year, but there’s not a lot I can do about that. What I CAN do, is work on being a better me. Change is hard, but at least how I change is something I have control over. Why not change for the better? Be kind, love more, and be a more authentic me.

Welcome to my midnight.

Finding the Light

It’s been a good week, and a not-good week.

Bad news comes first, then things can start looking up. I’m not happy over the outcome of the USA presidential election. That’s all I’m going to say about that, though there are a plethora of things that could be said.

While I was VERY (extra emphasis goes here) grateful for that extra hour last weekend, the time change is killing me. Having the sun go down at 5pm is making me soooooooooooooooooo tired. I’ve been hovering around something zero-to-negative energy at night; even coming up with something besides toast for dinner makes me want to collapse on the couch. This lack of energy/motivation/creative juice leads to the following.

I’m crazy behind in my NaNoWriMo word count – like over 6500 words – and I am not enjoying my novel at all. There’s a little voice in my head that keeps telling me it’s worth saving, and I believe it, but ugh. Having that translate into time and words has been a massive struggle. This is probably the most difficult NaNo I’ve participated in since my first year (starkly contrasted by 2014 and 2015 where I finished ½ way through the month).

To top it off, I got my first rejection letter from a publisher.

But I can’t dwell on any of this, or it will drag me down into the oblivion of depression. Newton’s Third Law says, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Well, here are my opposite, if perhaps not exactly equal, reactions.

There’s nothing I can do directly about the new president of the USA (taking over the world doesn’t happen overnight, but I’m working on it), however I can speak up for the things I believe in, so they won’t be swept away completely. I can spread love, and reach out to those hurting. I can offer my spare bedroom to the refugee Americans who flee the country before the wall goes up.

As for the darkness, and lack of energy, I can watch the sunrise from my desk at work, and be thankful for the warm weather we’re having, making the transition easier. I can spend time on my deck in a t-shirt, even though we’re almost halfway through November.

There are so many amazing things about NaNoWriMo, even when you’re failing at it. There is such a supportive community online, who will give you encouragement, plot suggestions, and even a virtual hug when you need it. I’m not talking about people I actually know, but complete strangers in the forums, and in Facebook groups. I can celebrate other people’s wins, and enjoy the creativity that’s flowing, because ultimately, that’s what NaNo is about.

One rejection is not the end of the world, and let’s be honest, it’s going to happen, and probably more than once. I can let myself feel sad about it, but not let that sadness take root. I can use the feedback to improve future submissions. I can acknowledge that I’m much further ahead than I thought I would be a year ago at this time.

How will you push back?

“Sometimes you have to go through darkness to get to the light.” – Unknown

The Other Side

I should probably start out with a lovely little introduction to myself, my goals, what I want to accomplish with this, but meh. I’m going right for the heart of why I’m doing this. This is attempt number…well, I’m not even sure what number I’m on now. In any case, this is yet another try to write my very first blog post. First it was going to be one of my new year’s resolutions, then one of my weekly writing goals, and finally part of my Camp NaNoWriMo portfolio. And every single time, it was a complete and utter fail.

Why does this matter? I love to write, I really do. I know, I know; the aforementioned desperation doesn’t really reconcile with that sentiment. I blame human nature. Or maybe it’s just my nature. Any time I start to make progress on something, my subconscious freaks out, and pulls a self-sabotaging act. “You’re excited about something, and it’s going well? That can’t continue! Something might change, and then you’d have to branch out into the unknown.” Terrifying thought really, the possibility of success. Obviously it will just fall in my lap, without any hard work, or dedication on my part. **insert eye roll here** Even now, I’m trying to avoid the temptation to jump on Facebook, or download some new music. Instead, I’m just going to keep typing away, and somehow get some words on the page. Disastrous or not, at least they’ll be there. Good things can arise from even the ugliest train wrecks.

In Paulo Cohello’s novella “The Alchemist”, the thing that hit me the hardest was the idea that when you are working towards what your heart desires, the whole universe conspires to help you. And it’s true. I’ve seen the evidence more often than not in my life. When you reach for something, that wish of your heart, momentum builds, and you get catapulted along the path you’re meant to be on. However, since we’re not all living the high life, things don’t always work out quite that simply. I can’t speak for the times where people’s lives get railroaded, just for my own. I’m like that bratty kid from when you were growing up, who lived down the street, and constantly tried to put that damn stick between your spokes every time you biked past him. Except I do it to myself as I’m biking. Because stupid. There’s no other way to explain.

I have to admit though, that I prefer writing fiction, than something like this. I suppose it goes back to the whole “fear” thing that underlies the rest of this post. It’s exposing so much of myself when I talk about what’s going on in my head. It’s hard for me to get excited about it. Terror gets in the way, making it hard to do this, creating an atmosphere that makes it damn near impossible to force myself to sit down and write. Throw in the fact that I really have no idea what I’m doing, or how to ‘properly’ write a blog just adds to the whole disaster.

By this point you’re probably asking yourself, why all the doom and gloom? If you’re really hating it so much, why persevere? The answer to that, my friend, is actually simple. How better to overcome fear than to try to face it? I’m trying to put myself out there, in that scary place we call the real world. It’s important for personal growth, platform building, reaching out to new people, and maybe, just maybe, attracting the attention of the universe.

“Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear” – George Addair