It’s been a while since I’ve posted any new writing. There is a reason for that: busy, busy, busy relaunching my first book under my own name, busy revising the sequel so it might be ready in the new year, and well, Life keeps happening. And another thing: being in this writing group of mine has really done a number on me.
Being primarily a genre writer it was a stretch for me to jump into a group that consisted mostly of lit-fic writers. But I wanted the challenge; I wanted to see what I could glean from the experience. It has been great, and I have learned a lot. But it has also been confusing. “Rules” that have been drilled into my head in all my learning over the years and which apply generally to genre fiction (“No head popping”, “cut out ‘to be’ verbs as much as you can”, “show don’t tell”, “pacing is key”, “make sure you hook your reader in the first chapters” amongst others) seem to be thrown out the window in favour of the story–at least that’s my take. I’m also being exposed to different types of writing I’ve not come into much contact with before (creative non-fiction, for example). So, when it comes to thinking of writing a story, suddenly I’m bombarded with a slew of questions before I even begin: why am I writing this? Is there some larger application or meaning to this and how can that best be shown? Can I even figure out how to blend the old and the new into a comprehensive story?
None of this is bad. It’s just taking time to figure it all out and turn it into a language (voice) I can use. That’s why that ‘silly’ writing experience last week was so important to me: it reminded me why I write. I write because I like it, not because I feel I have something to prove. Since then, the stress has diminished.
Today, I wrote two poems. I don’t consider myself a poet but when Life Happens, as it has in drastic fashion over the last few weeks, I find poetry helps unblock me. They might not be great but at least creative expression is flowing. Oh, and I usually write poetry by hand. This is a tactic I usually hate, since I think faster than I write, but for poetry I find refreshing. I’ve heard it said that handwriting uses a different part of the brain and forces the brain to slow its thinking. Perhaps this is what contributes to that ‘unblocking’ alluded to before. Anyway, since this is a writing blog here’s the second of the two poems written today. Enjoy, or not. I told you, I’m not a poet 🙂
Goodbye is holding a palmful of water, watching crystal rivulets trickle back into the pool from whence they Came.
Goodbye is standing on a mountaintop, listening for an echo only to find it’s been dispersed by trailing winds.
Goodbye is me standing, waiting; while your shadow, my essence, passes me by.
The pieces of us Are scattered on the floor. I pick them up Put each one in their designated place. Only they fall. Some things just aren’t meant to stay together.
I dig, shovel and stack grains of sand. Destined to ruin no binder no glue, my constructions always collapse.
Our castle I will build, this habit I will tend. And this goodbye, petty and ridiculous
as a house built of sand will remain unfinished.
Fall has certainly lived up to its name this year; so far I’ve dealt with the ‘fall’ of significant relationships and most of you have already heard of my grandmother’s recent passing. Folks, it’s been a tough few months. And we haven’t even hit November yet.
Still, there have been a few high points. After wanting to for a really long time, I finally got the courage to terminate the contract with the company that published my book, The Purple Morrow, so that I could regain full publishing and distribution control. So, for the last few weeks, I have been learning to format and, poof! like magic, the book is now available on Smashwords and its affiliates. And the best part is it wasn’t hard. I might be blogging about that experience soon so I won’t get into all of that now. Re-launching on Kindle (and eventually CreateSpace) is next. But major thumbs up to me for going ahead with this, as I’ve been afraid to tackle this project for months. Yay, me!
…What else has been going on…? What else…?
Oh yeah. The madness.
Last week, the day after our family loss, I went for supper with Sharon from my writing group. She’s such a neat lady: great-big smile, super-smart, funny, and endowed with a really unique writing style and voice. Earlier that week while feeling blah from the falls of Fall, in the hopes of jump-starting my creative flow I had put out a call to the group to see if anyone was into doing a collaborative writing activity. Also, I’d been in ‘editing mode’ so long it was hard to transition back into ‘creation mode’. Anyway, Sharon was game and we met at some neat little local restaurant/microbrasserie. She stuffed me good with the restaurant’s massive onion rings while she sampled their beer and I sipped red wine.
Anyway, a little while later, my stomach full of fries and sausages and onion rings, she pulled out her laptop. I was scared. I mean, okay, this was the reason we’d decided to meet in the first place but…I hadn’t written anything new is ages! And this was Sharon, English lit maven, smooth-talking poet…and then there was me. Internet-bred writer and sorta graduate (not at all) from the Writing School of Hard Knocks and Getting My Ass Kicked by Better Writers. I started to sweat. Grabbed my glass and gulped water. Signalled the waitress for more.
“Throat’s dry. Keep it coming.”
“Beer? Wine?” the waitress asked.
“Hell, no! Water! I’m thirsty!”
She nodded and walked away, but as she withdrew I thought that maybe I should have more wine. Then I could pass out, avoid this terrible mistake of a meeting and, when I came to, blame the whole thing on the ‘the spirits’.
Mercifully, Sharon went off to powder her nose but then I was stuck with the blank screen, cursor flashing like its sole purpose was to remind me that I had nothing to say. At all.
I’m going to suck. Whatever I write is going to suck. She’s a serious writer. The group is made up of serious writers. I’ll suck and she’ll tell everyone. I’ll have to quit, or move—we might see each other at the mall or Target. Everyone will know I’ve lost my voice. Craaaaap!
I started to write. I’d been staring outside the restaurant’s back door and noticed the street light was casting a greenish-yellow light across the boughs of the trees; the effect was kind of neat.
Capture the mood and then go from there. If it sucks, well, it sucks.
So I continued to write. 350 words was the limit we had agreed on before handing off. Now, I at least I was writing. It wasn’t so bad. But what was, was knowing that Sharon, who had since returned, was waiting to follow-up on what I had started. From over the top of the screen, I could see her politely giving me my space, looking at her phone…
“Alright, done”. I handed her the laptop. “I have no idea what I wrote, but…”
She took it, scanned what I wrote and was off. Damn, she was fast!
So, we go back and forth like this a while, all serious about the sacred activity of writing, of creating–until she started to giggle. I have no idea what she read that set her off, but suddenly, she was smiling, nodding and typing away. She kept on giggling and kept on typing while I wondered WTH was so funny since I hadn’t intended to create a comedy—what’s funny about a sociopathic teenager bent on a bloody home-invasion???–but I wasn’t really disturbed. I figured at least she was writing and not looking askew at me, gnashing her teeth as she snaps the laptop closed to dash off to hail a cab out of there.
I read her section. It was good. It contained her trademark style. Cool. But it also had some funny stuff in it.
I started to giggle. And giggle some more until I couldn’t stop. Then we were both giggling, laughing out loud like no one else was in the place, writing, handing the laptop to the other, giggling and writing some more…
The night finally ended. We had to go home. But I didn’t want to. I’d had way too much fun.
Clearly, in light of the last few months I’d needed that. But on the other hand, as we talked, we remembered that writing should be fun. Yes, as writers we have specific goals and we work hard, striving to get the next project done, submitted, or edited. But fundamentally, writing should be something we do because we enjoy it—something that leaves us elated, pleased, content. I had actually planned to post the story we’d written, for kicks. I’m just waiting for her permission, if she gives it. Later that night, though, she emailed me saying that long after getting home, she was still laughing, and I admit that for a few hours afterwards, so was I.
I write best when I don’t care about people’s expectations. That night’s experience was a reminder that I should write because it’s fun, that I should worry about the rest (finesse, editing, ‘perfecting’) after I’ve gotten the story out onto the page.
So the message? Enjoy yourself! Write nonsense if you have to. If you’re feeling stressed or stuck about a project, stop, breathe, and think about why you are doing what you’re doing and reset your goals. Or, try an interesting writing exercise with a friend and feed off their energy. Laughing, BTW, is an excellent stress reliever. It can help clear out the crap and leave you feeling relaxed and focused so you can tackle that troublesome project.
Anyway, I just might post that story one day, so stay tuned. And stay tuned for more information about The Purple Morrow and the sequel, Wolf’s Bane, which I am beginning to prepare in earnest for release in the New Year. I’ll be posting updates, excerpts, and maybe even a cover reveal, too, as the release date approaches. And as usual, drop me a line. I love to hear from you. Do you have any funny writing stories? How do you deal with getting stuck in a rut or feeling insecure, untalented, or like the well has just plain run dry?
In the posts mentioned above, I was very honest about my struggles. I had thrown myselfinto writing, trying to learn the craft and the business aspect at the same time. Like most, I sacrificed a lot–money, family time, energy and sanity to move the mountains necessary to succeed at this thing. The more I pushed to ‘make it’, running around like a possessed chicken without its head, two things were happening: 1) I was burning out, and 2) I was beginning to accept that success doesn’t happen overnight, no matter how hard I wished it to. Notice I said accept. See, I’d already realized that truth on a brain level but not at an emotional one, and the latter is where the magic happened this time around. Both points were excruciating to swallow.
But that’s the great thing about life experience. You can learn from it and grow stronger…if you allow it. I hated being in that Black Hole. It happened during a rough personal time (I was recovering from surgery which kept me off work for 3 months) and when I felt I needed support and encouragement the most, nothing happened. My blog seemed to lose steam, some good writer friends had gone in different directions, and I just didn’t have the energy to actively pursue promoting my book and maintaining social media, are some examples. After going so hard for so long, it felt like I’d been cruising along in a manual transmission car that had suddenly broken down and was now stuck in idle.
It sucked. I hated every minute of it. But as the walk through the Black Hole continued, I started to see the benefits. With the frenetic pace slowed to a crawl,I had time to think. I had time to assess my journey. I was able to make choices about what was really important to me and what wasn’t. And best of all, I finally felt free of social media’s yoke. Don’t get me wrong. I love using it to stay in touch and it’s a great resource, but for a long time I felt like it was mastering me rather than the other way around. I almost did a happy dance once its reign of terror was over.
So, how did I spend those quiet months? I got busy in other, more effective ways. I revised Wolf’s Bane, the sequel to The Purple Morrow, twice—once before sending it to beta-readers and then again afterwards; I beta-read my friend’s manuscript; worked on the final book in the Papilion trilogy and finally named it (Berserker); launched my writer’s website, and a whole lot more. I did all that on my time and because I wanted to.
Last thing: when I used to watch Dr. Phil, something he often said stood out in my mind and it relates to how we define success. Before I descended into the Black Hole, I thought the only way to feel I’d ‘made it’ was to have sold tons of books, to be featured here and there, or to have the words, “best-selling” after my name. The Black Hole experience caused me to confront the biggest demon of all, answering the one question I’d been trying to avoid: “What happens if I fail?” After all the work I’d put in over the years failure simply wasn’t an option.
The beauty is that facing that question is what led to making it out of the Black Hole. Once I was able to say, “So what if I fail?” the anxiety drained away and I was able to see and appreciate the things that were working. Like, there are certain online friends who just seem to know when I need a boost because that’s when I’ll get an encouraging email, or a Like on FB or a Share on Google or a surprise mention on some other social media platform. Or, I’d remember the people who told me how much they were moved by one of my stories. Last night, my aunt left me a FB message thanking me for pursuing my dreams. It’s not the first time someone has said that to me, which reminded me how privileged I am to do what I love to do. Last week, I posted an interview featuring local writer Su Sokol,and later that same week we met for coffee and talked for two hours about writing.
And last Friday, I visited my daughter’s class to talk about writing. It was fantastic! For the activity, they broke into groups and wrote a story based on writing prompts they came up with (I will be blogging about this soon). I’ve written it before and I’ll do it again: something magical happens when we take writing out of cyberspace and into the real world. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.
Success? We define it for ourselves, not the world. And if we keep looking ‘out there’ for it, we’ll miss the ways we are successful close to home, which, in most cases, are the most important. My daughter was proud that I came to her class. How do I know? Because she confirmed that I hadn’t embarrassed her. For anyone who has an 8 year old, you know how much that speaks!
Anyway, more on this line of thought to come as it has totally changed my outlook on what I write and why, as well as what I hope to achieve. But in the end, I just hope that anyone who is wandering through their own Black Hole will take heart and see that it’s not all bad. In fact, in can launch you to places you never could have gotten to otherwise.
How about you? Have you walked through a similar journey through the Black Hole? Share your story below!
Please welcome today’s guest author, paranormal/science-fiction/fantasy writer, Sarah Baethge. Today, she shares a little about her passion for writing, her new book, Radiant Shadows: Beginnings (which is currently free on Amazon until May 12th!), as well as the poem that inspired the book.
Hello, Sarah.Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?
I am Sarah Baethge. I live in Texas at my step-mother’s donkey ranch. I currently have no job, and try to write whenever possible because I enjoy doing it.
Are you interested in other forms of artistic expression besides writing? What keeps you motivated/inspired?
I like to listen to music and to draw silly/cartoony pictures with a pencil. I have always enjoyed reading and more than once have been told that I have quite an imagination.
What forms of writing and genres do you prefer and why? What can you never see yourself writing?
I write short stories and am working on a series of novels that has a mad-scientist main character. I occasionally write poetry. You can read the free poem that inspired my latest book on Goodreads-And I was Hungry
As a reader, what do you think makes a good story? What’s one thing a ‘bad’ book taught you to not do in your own writing?
I dislike it when characters just accept what they don’t like or agree with, it makes me want to slap them. I suppose that has taught me to try to not let my characters become irredeemably irritating.
As a writer, what elements do you find are the most crucial to include in your stories? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
I want to make the motivation of my characters clear. Even if the reader doesn’t agree with what my people do, I want them to understand why an action was done.
Who/what are the biggest influences in your writing? How do they influence what you write?
I like Stephen King and Michael Chrichton. Dean Koontz is pretty cool too.
What draws you to your preferred genre?
I like paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy because anything is possible. It’s great because the only limit is the author’s imagination. I can’t say why other people like it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the reasoning is somewhat similar.
Can you tell us about your books? What other projects are you working on?
My newest book, Radiant Shadows: Beginnings was built upon the thought of “What if Edward just ATE Bella?” My bigger project that I have been working on for some time is a series that I call The Speed of Darkness. It involves a man whose self-experimentation that allows high sped travel results in an evil company’s wanting to hold him as a test subject, along with their secret zoo of supernatural test animals (mainly werewolves).
What do you find is the most difficult aspect of writing and how do you cope with it?
I’ve gotten lost in my own imaginary worlds so far that I stop paying attention to what is happening in real life. To avoid that I try to only let myself write from noon to five/six pm. I don’t want to lose all realism in my fantasies.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
I like the same writers who inspire me because they paint my dreams.
What advice would you give to new writers, especially those looking to break into your genre?
I would say that if you have an idea or story in your mind, you should go ahead and write it. If you’ve no ideas, perhaps writing fiction isn’t your thing.
I hope you enjoyed meeting Sarah Baethge as much as I did. Sarah, all the best in the release of your book and in your future projects. Readers, thanks for stopping by again today, and please leave Sarah Baethge a message here and on her other social media links. 🙂