Priorities

I have been having a great 2019, and it is making me feel uneasy. You see I have this pesky life habit.

I get all excited and start seeing possibilities everywhere. I get an idea for a new creative project or amped up to start a new work out routine and start to take on more.

And for a while thing are great! My new responsibilities fill me with excitement.

But in my excitment, I tend to take on more. A lot more. Until I get tripped up.

And even under the crushing weight of my self imposed responsibilities I keep looking for more. Should I be doing something to prevent wrinkles? What can I be doing to stop climate change?

And then I lay there furious at myself that I can’t do it all.

In 2019 I’m going to try something new. If I ever feel like the weight is getting too much, I’m going to take a look at what I’ve taken on and let some things go.

Wish me luck.

Ice Skating and Character Arcs

Sometimes in the sturm und drang of the internet, something flutters to the surface of the cesspit, untarnished and beautiful. Something like Jonathan Van Ness’ progress videos as he learns to ice skate.

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Jonathan is a charming fifth of the cast on Netflix’s “Queer Eye” and host of the podcast “Getting Curious.” While he is an expert in many things, he is bravely choosing to share his process of learning something completely new. What he is sharing isn’t flawless, but it is real. It is so refreshing to see behind the curtain of social media perfection to see a capable person striving to learn something new.

In my sheer joy I texted my BFF Amanda:

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I think we don’t see adults learning something new more often because as a society we somehow think of it as shameful. Surely adults should know everything already? Children are the only ones we force to learn. I think if respected people shared what they are learning more openly it would make children less resentful and adults less ashamed.

Have you ever met an adult who refused to learn how to use their cell phone? It isn’t a generation gap to blame, it is a willingness to learn that is missing. Because an important element of learning is failing, looking silly, and being publicly embarrassed. And as we get older we seem less willing to make ourselves as vulnerable as we need to be to learn something new.

I’ve just finished reading the book “Grit” by Angela Duckworth where she compares the difference between ‘growth mindset’ and ‘fixed mindset’. Those with a fixed mindset have a tendency to think of the world in black and white terms. An individual is either intelligent or they are stupid. They are talented or hopeless. Those with a growth mindset have the perspective that effort can change intelligence. That practice can develop talent. Unsurprisingly, those who believe that they can change their circumstances often are the same ones who put in the tremendous effort necessary to learn, grow and ultimately …change their circumstances.

Now, of course, I am going to bring this all back around to writing. Because I am, after all, me.

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A growth mindset ties in perfectly to discussing character arcs. A story works best when a character learns a lesson and leaves the story different than they began it. (Ideally, the reader/viewer leaves changed too, but that part is out of the artist’s control.)

For example in my work in progress, my two protagonists begin the story with fixed mindsets. Though their worldviews are very different from each other they are both unwilling to question, let alone shift, their personal philosophy. The plot works on my characters, as their point of view is challenged again and again, until finally, they break. The breaking point for me is about the midpoint of the story. Then comes the second half as they practice and test their new point of view.

On the other hand, my villain is confronted by as many, if not more, challenges to his fixed mindset. Unlike my heroes, he refuses to change his mind. Instead, he doubles down on his worldview to disastrous consequences.

I love reading because I get to see characters go through the hard work of growing and changing. It helps to inspire me to follow in the footsteps of protagonists and not my villains.

Optional writing homework: Think about what core beliefs your character has at the start of your story, then think about how they will change at the end. Consider what kind of events or strife will challenge them enough to change this deeply held belief. Do exercise with your protagonist, a side character, and your villain.

Terror and Growth

“Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it. And by doing it, they’re proven right.” – Amy Poehler

As a woman of a certain upbringing and disposition, I want everything I produce to be perfect. All the time.

Logically I understand that it is an impossible standard, but emotionally I just really really want things to be perfect. Hence, I am terrified of taking the next step in my writing and start to consider publishing. Continue reading

Pitchapalooza 2018

I want to share with you all that I learned while putting together my very first attempt at a book pitch.

NaNoWriMo is teaming up with The Book Doctors for Pitchapalloza 2018! In addition to offering prizes, they will be broadcasting a live critique on March 15th. I am excited to tune in then to hear the pro’s advice on how to put together a good pitch. (They are collecting submissions until February 28th, so if you have something awesome to pitch check out the rules.)

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You Can’t Bullshit an Ending

Human’s are natural storytellers, and as such, we can sniff out a bullshit ending a mile away.

At a lecture this weekend, Benjamin Gorman (Not A Pipe Publishing) spoke about the covenant between authors and their readers. While he was speaking about the world-building part of the equation, the set up, I want to talk about the pay off. The ending is where readers find out if you make good on the promises of an interesting, moving, surprising story. If the pay off doesn’t pay out, then you have betrayed the covenant. You’ve lost the reader’s trust.

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Starters and Finishers

I loved reading Gretchen Rubin’s book, “Better Than Before”. Throughout the book she suggests that through knowing yourself better, you can manipulate yourself better. Something I have found to be a powerful tool in self improvement. In particular Rubin loves to divide people up into two groups. The aspect I want to discuss today is the difference between starters and finishers.

Starters love taking the first scoop in a tub of peanut butter, and cracking the seal on a fresh tube of toothpaste or chapstick. Finishers, by contrast, scrape clean a peanut butter jar, push out the last of the chapstick, or squeeze out the last toothbrush full of paste from the tube.

I am a hard core starter. I think I am in the majority here. Continue reading

Celebration In Story

This time of year is filled to the brim with celebration and ritual. There are holiday parties, special foods, and time spent with family. The holidays evoke feelsings of nostalgia, joy, and (for many, a huge amount of) anxiety.

True. But how does that help with writing? The holidays provide rich sensory experiences and extreme emotions that are just ripe to be stolen borrowed for inclusion in your narratives.

The richness of a scene set in the midst of a celebration will add more depth to the world you are creating. Hidden in all the sights smells and sounds are clues about culture, character and society. And as I was reminded on the Mom Writes Podcast: All stories need world building.

And we haven’t even cracked the bottle on the heightened emotions of holidays. Celebrations often occur annually which causes wistful thoughts of years gone by. And ceremonies that mark special life benchmarks (weddings, graduations, funerals) foster feelings of resentement or superiority as comparisons are made. Essentially celebrations are time of self reflection and self assessment which can rear its ugly head in all kinds of ways, which is great for adding drama.

Below I have written a few writing prompts that I hope might trigger something useful for your project.

“Why cant I just have a normal Christmas?” He saidDescribe what his concept of a normal Christmas is and how his reality is different. Who (or what) are obstacles to his version of normal?

“Happy Effing New Year,” she muttered as people jumped and cheered around her… How does the culture you are writing about celebrate new year? When does this celebration occur? (During the planting of crops? The orbit of New Venus around an alien star? Or on December 31st?) What goals do your characters hope to achieve in the new year? Are they haunted by disappoints from the last year?

“I have been waiting for this birthday my whole life!” …How were birthdays celebrated in the childhood of your characters? Have they held on to these traditions or run from them? How does the culture feel about aging in general? How do your characters feel about getting older?

Merry Christmas and happy writing to you all!