Best Laid Plans (Watch This Space)

Some weeks start by slamming right into you…and only get harder from there. This was one of those weeks. I got sunburned, sick, injured, and my household’s moving budget just lost a significant portion of income that we were counting on.

So, we’ve spent the week huddling close and spending more family time together, because while we don’t know what to do, we do know that before the end of the month my sister-in-law will have headed off to a different part of the country (her travel was previously arranged).

I haven’t been able to get back into my short story writing–for those reasons, as well as other creative ones. My next couple of blog posts will help explain why. In the meantime, since I haven’t been writing, here’s an excerpt from Crossers, the book I published in 2015 on the Goodreads platform before reclaiming it for further revision.

Today’s excerpt: “You’re going to love it,” I told him, snuggling up against his side on the sagging couch. 

“It doesn’t sound like I’m going to love it,” Ben replied skeptically. “It sounds like we’re going to spend another two hours watching people sing about being really happy and then really sad, while no one points out how weird it is that they’re all singing in the first place.”

“That’s how musicals work! We’ve been over this.”

“But it doesn’t make any sense!” He pointed at the basement television. “Nobody actually starts dancing down the halls of our high school. Nobody ever breaks into song in the grocery store.”

Giving him my most winning smile, I fluttered my eyelashes. “But don’t you think they should?”

“No. You know, I really don’t. It’s kind of unsettling just seeing actors do it.”

I attempted to sneak the remote out of his hand, but he knew me too well. Instead of relinquishing the power, he pressed a kiss to my temple and hit play.

“Alexa,” he added as the trailers began, “I’m never going to love musicals. No matter how hard you try–or how cute you are doing it. But you know what?”

“What?”

“I’ll keep on watching them with you.”

“And you’ll keep on complaining.”

“Yes.”

“Good.” I reached over to slide my hand into his. “I’d be sad if you stopped.”

Best Laid Plans (Watch This Space)

Flexing Your Fingers and Taking a Leap

I have Bipolar 1 disorder. I tend to tell people this a lot, possibly more than other people with the disorder do. Probably more than people who encounter me wish I would. 😉 But I do so for two reasons:

  1. My personal hero, Carrie Fisher, fought the same mental illness until the day she died, and she did so openly, trying to destigmatize it for others. If I can live up to her example in any way, I’ll be proud.
  2. I don’t think mental health should be a subject of shame and avoidance. I am bipolar–it’s a fact just like my height, or where I was born. If I pretended it didn’t exist, it would affect me all the same.

Having this disorder requires knowing what that means for me, and trying to work around it as best I can. Even at my healthiest, I’m still a person who will have a mental illness for the rest of my life; it’s not as though taking my medication every day makes me not bipolar.

So, what I’ve learned since I was diagnosed and began paying better attention is that I have “up” modes and “down” ones, and during the down ones I can go months unable to write at all. But today, we’re here to talk about the up times, when I’m manic or hypomanic. For me, a manic period equals less sleep, more productivity, and increased creativity. I have all the ideas! I want to do all the things! Nothing could possibly stop me!

Manic periods are temporary, and they happen this way for me because I also have ADHD–unless I’m manic, the ADHD keeps me too scattered for my work to amount to much, so I’m even more determined to Get Stuff Done once I hit an up patch. Who knows how long it’ll last?

Today, I’ll be posting my first WriteMania fanfic, and it’s based on an anonymous request I got a long time ago via tumblr. The reason I prefaced all of this with an explanation of mania is because I got this request, and a few more, after soliciting them with a specific goal in mind: to challenge myself.

If you’ve joined me for WriteMania, you’re likely noticing the pattern already. When I get manic, I want a challenge. Not just want, need–and feel I can handle. Suddenly I’m ready to do big things, and truly believe I can…which sounds inspirational, and isn’t inherently bad, but does usually lead to a downfall when I return to reality. Because if I’m manic, I’m not thinking clearly, so there’s almost always a downfall.

Now, I’m lucky, because compared to other people’s manic periods, “didn’t live up to my goal” is a harmless consequence to face. But it doesn’t change that fact that I regularly get manic–and once, when I was, I decided it was time to stretch my writing abilities and try my hand at writing “smut fic,” or I guess what could be thought of as erotic fan fiction. Even in these stories I don’t get terribly explicit, but my usual style is much tamer, so it really is a stretch for me.

However the challenges are induced, I do think stretching myself as a writer is good for me. Challenges, trying new things, improving through failure–all of it is good.

What are you doing lately to challenge yourself, and do you feel like you’ve grown as a result?

Flexing Your Fingers and Taking a Leap

IWSG: Details, Details, Details

IWSG badge

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group is a collective that offers angsty writers (like me) a home. You can check them out here.

The optional question of the month is about times when we’ve felt like calling it quits–but I have yet to experience one of those. During my darkest days, I often feel like maybe I can’t do it, but I’ve never wanted to not do it. I can’t fathom the idea of giving up because I honestly don’t think I’m capable of doing anything else. This is what I’m meant to spend my life doing.

Instead, here’s my current, most pressing insecurity: that I’m not capable of handling all of the non-writing aspects of being a writer.

According to those who’ve succeeded at it, being an author now is like owning a small business. It’s not just about drafting, or even revision; making it to the point where the book feels ready is only the beginning. If you’re going the traditional publishing route, there’s putting together query letters and research, trying to find an agent or a publisher.

Then, if you’re looking to indie publish, the list seems endless! Book covers using only legally permissible images, formatting your books for different e-readers, navigating the different sales sites and their pricing options, building a network of other authors to increase your chances of exposure.

And none of this even takes into consideration keeping up a social media presence, which has become essential these days. It all makes a nap sound like the best possible choice. 🙂

My executive dysfunction is pretty bad (my ADHD is untreated, because medication could worsen another disorder I have), so I look at the above list of everything I would need to do to have even a shot at success, and am definitely full of insecurity.

So I’m trying to keep in mind two things:

1) Not everyone has my challenges, but all writers have their own. I can’t afford to pay others for help yet, so any e-books I release will have to feature covers and formatting I do myself. But I’m lucky that that’s even an option, that I feel comfortable trying to take that on. Before this digital age, I couldn’t have self-published without material resources.

2) While my challenges are unique to me, every writer that’s succeeded has figured out how to push past their own. It’s going to be an uphill battle to figure out the “executive management” of my writing–and take more effort and time than maybe it does for authors–but it’s entirely up to me whether I want to put in that work or just keep stalling on my possible future.

No excerpt today, in honor of IWSG–but tomorrow kicks off WriteMania! See you then.

IWSG: Details, Details, Details

Art Fuels Writing, Writing Fuels Art

I have always been a multifaceted artist. Being considered a “polymath” or “Renaissance person,” a creator whose interests and skills are broad rather than deep, is the highest of compliments for me.

When I was a child, this expressed itself through a new hobby every week, sometimes even every day. I would meander through the library stacks, teaching myself origami or palm reading or cryptography. Now I can see this as a classic ADHD trait: my interests flitted about along with my attention span, ready to move on to the next new thing.

So while I’ve been a writer for longer than I have memory of it–my mother recorded my first stories before I was old enough to handwrite very well–I’ve also always been an artist in other ways. I grew up making beaded animals, yarn coasters, and friendship bracelets, and I once hand-wove a paper birthday pinata with only the structural plans I crafted and tested myself until they worked.

While I enjoy adult coloring books these days and have some experience with knitting and crochet, I’ve primarily become a digital artist. I write on a computer instead of by hand (most of the time anyway), and my other art pursuits are Photoshop-created graphics I share over on tumblr.

As WriteMania fast approaches, I’ve found myself wanting to return to making graphics, which would seem totally counterproductive to my goals for the next month. But this is actually quite normal: I have an artistic pattern of swinging from lots of writing to lots of graphics, then back again.

They can feed into each other, letting me have a breather from one side of my creative brain while I keep working on the other. So for now I’m letting the art pull me where it may, until it’s time to knuckle down and get typing. 🙂

Today’s excerpt: “So it’s true, then?”

Julia flinched, reluctantly replied to Nora’s brusque question. “Yes, it’s true. I’m really sorry. I couldn’t stay there any longer. I couldn’t keep living every day like my life was never going to be any different.”

“Who are you apologizing to?”

“You. Myself. Everybody,” Julia sighed. “I don’t know.”

“Did I say I needed an apology?” In her usual way, Nora didn’t try to soften her words, but was still more comforting than a million distant words from Julia’s parents had ever been. “I’m glad you left.”

Julia choked on her drink. “You are?”

“Heavens, yes.” Nora wrinkled her powdered nose at her favorite adopted child. “That was a terrible job you had. It made you miserable. Of course I’m glad.”

Clarie raised a finger, interrupting the conversation pingponging around her. “It’s not a terrible job, Mama. I love it. You’ve never said one bad thing about my job.”

“It’s a fine job for you, Clarie. You enjoy it. It has great benefits, all of that. But Julia was never happy there, just busy.”

“You never said any of this to me, either,” Julia pointed out. “If you thought it was so bad for me, why didn’t you say something?”

“What good would it have done?” Nora leaned over, laying a hand on Julia’s cheek. “You didn’t know that it was killing you. Now you do. So be happy you got out and have the chance to start over.”

Julia frowned, watching her sister laugh across the lawn with the other mothers, perfectly secure in her place. “Starting over sucks.”

“Not as much as staying put.”

Art Fuels Writing, Writing Fuels Art

Ghosts of Novels Past

One of the hazards of posting excerpts when I’m not actively drafting, it turns out, is that I go diving through my old drafts…which reminds me how much potential is buried in there. Then I get the itch to go back to them.

That might sound reasonable, but I’m aware that turning back to an old story is really just another form of procrastination on whatever project I’m trying to stick to. Bouncing between novels never serves me well.

So I have to resist that urge with all my might, and remember my current goal: stick with my MirrorWorld. To that end, today’s excerpt will be from unfinished book number three in that trilogy. (I drafted numbers one and two but have yet to revise them, and then got stuck in book three because I had not worked out enough of the plot for it.)

My challenge with novels I’ve written is that I do always have affection for them, whatever the problems that led to their abandonment. It’s too easy for me to remember the good times and get pulled off course.

Basically, danger lurks on all sides for us as writers, whether as the “shiny new idea” or the “comfortable old idea.” I try to use the older drafts to boost my confidence without diving back in, and use the new ideas as rewards for the future when my current work is done.

Is it just me? Or do you experience this temptation with your WIPs if you have any set aside?

Today’s Excerpt: “I remember you talking about someone named Liam,” he added quietly. “Someone who looks like me. Someone you miss.”

She couldn’t look at him then, hearing the way his voice got soft and sympathetic. It wasn’t appropriate. He didn’t even know Liam. He didn’t know her.

The silence stretched out for what felt like hours, but she kept her gaze fixed on the floor, resolve firm. Then she watched, her mouth dropping open, as he sank down into her view, crouching on his heels to look her in the eye.

“I remember you saying that you were lonely.” He searched her face, so close she couldn’t look away. “Did I imagine that?”

Maybe he has power of his own, Elle thought dizzily. He might as well have bewitched her. She couldn’t do anything but tell him the truth.

“No, you didn’t imagine it,” she whispered.

When he stood, she felt like she’d just stumbled off a carnival ride, one of those big spinning ones. She could breathe deeply again, but she was shaking on the inside.

Ghosts of Novels Past

Focus, Planning and the New Shiny Idea

Anyone who knows me, online or off, knows that I’m easily distracted. Writers as a species seem prone to the “new shiny idea” siren, even neurotypical ones–so my ADHD brain bears only part of the blame for that. But whether it comes down to “Oh, look, a puppy!” or “Wouldn’t it be really interesting to write an interracial lesbian teen Sherlock Holmes series?” I’ve got more ideas than I can write all at once, and I’ve begun way more of them than I’ve finished.

I suspect most of us are at least a little guilty of letting our gaze wander from time to time. I also know that it became a greater problem for me as soon as I started trying to truly “pants” my novels. When I drafted my first two, that’s what I believed I was doing: writing “by the seat of my pants,” thus the expression…but I wasn’t. Not really.

My first two novels were set in a world I’d started mentally building in high school. By the time I finally committed to writing the first one, I had over a decade’s worth of character planning, short story prompts, and huge plot arcs to back me up. So while I didn’t know it, I went into that first NaNo session as a planner, not a pantser.

Since those first two drafts, I’ve only finished one additional book, despite beginning at least five more–and in most cases, getting in quite a few words on each of those! When I’m working, I can’t see the forest for the trees, but having taken a step back over the last year, I can recognize the pattern.

No matter how much I love an idea, then how much lip service I pay to planning it out, I only gain a shallow level of understanding about it. There’s a limit to how well I can truly know my characters or my plot without putting in the time–and there’s a limit to how much time there is when I’m constantly starting new stories!

So here’s to a better understanding of my weaknesses, and a renewed focus on…well, focus. 🙂 Today’s excerpt comes from one of the aforementioned unfinished first drafts.

Today’s Excerpt: “It was four more years in the same small town,” she replied. “Same high school, same classes. I kept on being a television geek, and she took a boy her parents liked to prom.” She paused for a moment, just looking at him. He had such striking features, but his eyes were kind.

“This wasn’t just the first time I’ve spoken to her on campus,” she confessed. “This is the first time she’s spoken to me in three years, period. We lived in a town of three-thousand people and she just avoided me until graduation. I thought I was over it. And then she sat herself down next to me at a party like nothing ever happened.”

Focus, Planning and the New Shiny Idea

Writing Differently

I have a lot of trouble writing, though I’ve been a writer since before I knew my parts of speech. The strange part is that I don’t remember having difficulty with the act of writing when I was younger.  As a child and teenager, I felt fulfilled just by sitting down and putting pen to paper. Somewhere along the way, the result began to matter more than the process–until I couldn’t write at all, for fear that what I created would be imperfect.

No amount of reasonable reminders that all humans are imperfect can help me with that feeling. Something about being who I am means that even hearing a rational defense of flaws only causes me to feel uncomfortable with the fact that I am one of those flawed people. I’m human, like everybody else? My stubborn, Autistic brain struggles with that very basic idea . Coupling my perfectionism with entrance into the world of adulthood meant that I stopped writing for fun at all.

However, I did continue dabbling in the world I’d created, putting together mixtapes and profiles for my characters instead of telling their story. I couldn’t let the idea go, even though I couldn’t bear to write it. Many years passed, and multiple attempts to start fresh with the story have helped me to pinpoint the obstacles that stand between me and a real novel.

One of these is the fact that I write differently than other people, which may be partly due to the fact that I read differently than other people. I’ve always been a fast reader, but I was an adult before I realized that was not due to awesome reading skills. Rather the opposite, actually. I’m a skimmer, whose gaze flits all around the page while I try to force it to focus on the sentence at hand. I don’t retain much of what I read, though I enjoy it at the time.

My difficulty with reading contributes to what interests me as a reader: everything involving dialogue, and little else. I struggle mightily with descriptive writers, who place importance on the design of a home or the way that a fictional country is structured. It’s not that there’s something wrong with that kind of writing–there absolutely isn’t. It’s just that I can’t absorb it the way that I absorb interactions between characters, or their thoughts and internal monologues.  Unless where the bedroom is placed or what’s in the salad directly impacts what happens in a story, it’s irrelevant for my reading efforts.

Therefore it’s probably not surprising that I prefer to write dialogue and reflective scenes for characters. World-building was essential for most of my favorite books as a reader, but I struggle with the idea of “setting the scene” as a writer, because I feel like the scene is irrelevant compared to the characters and their actions. Obviously that’s not true, because the action needs a place to occur or it couldn’t exist, but that reality doesn’t help me to conjure a setting. Because snatches of dialogue and disjointed reflections are my focus, I always have more ideas than completed scenes. Even my own ideas fail to hold my attention for long, so I move from character to character or year to year within my long-term story…and all progress halts when I sit down to write in a linear fashion.

After years of struggling to write a story from beginning to end, I decided this time to embrace my unusual writing style and see what happens. There’s no reason why I couldn’t start writing a trilogy in book two instead of beginning with book one, since book two is what really interests me. There’s no rule that says I can’t write a book from both the heroes’ and villain’s points of view. If I think it makes the story stronger, why shouldn’t I sprinkle the chapters with flashbacks from an unidentified perspective? Why on earth have I been trying to make myself sound like other writers for ten years?

As I embark on this grand experiment ten days from now, I’ll use this blog to hold myself accountable via social pressure and (hopefully) write every day until I’m done. But I will also try to build a story in whatever form it needs to take, even if that is a form that I have never seen before in a successfully published work. I hereby declare that no matter how hard I wish to become a published author, I will write while pretending that only my opinion matters. With luck, I may just rediscover my love of writing aside from the possibility of praise and recognition.

Writing Differently