Channeling it Into Writing

Fair warning. What follows is a fairly whiny and scattered rant. I’m writing it in hopes of expelling the negative energy.

I had a big writing plan today. Big chunk of time to myself, plenty of ambition, just enough coffee. It was almost perfect. I say almost because I haven’t seen the sun in about a week (I think. I’ve lost track). Not that it’s perpetual night here in Chicago, but it’s been overcast for days and when I’m working the day job, I’m in a windowless room so even if it does come out, I’m not there for it. This has definitely brought the energy level way down. That and eating nothing but marshmallows for lunch. Don’t judge me. It’s the weather’s fault. Not mine.

But I was feeling it today. Big time. So, I fired off one angry email this morning, honestly assuming it would go nowhere (since everything else surrounding said email has gone nowhere. It’s a long story about a battle I’m fighting. I’d say more, but don’t want to mess it up. Social media is a surprising powerful thing).

Shockingly, said email resulted in a response, which I had to respond to. So, now that’s off my plate since I know (because of what was said) it will go no further today.

But, it’s really not off my plate. It’s still eating away at me. Bugging me. I said what needed to be said so it’s not like there’s any nagging, “Oh, I shoulda’ said this!” bumping around my brain. And it’s not like I was smacked down. In fact, it was the opposite. I smacked the other side down (sort of. And, I’m not proud of it. I hate it when I have to do that and can’t work with you as a partner. But, it had to happen, unfortunately). It’s just sort of still sitting there. Hanging around.

In part, that’s my fault. I got worked up and anxious. Not like I was scared or worried but just revved up and ready to go. Ready to battle. Maybe I should have done my primal warrior call to ease the tension. I don’t have one, really, but maybe I should get one. Anyway, the anticipation combined with coffee, never a good thing for me. My heart is still thumping away and shows no signs of slowing down even though it’s over. For now.

Anyway, I find myself unable to write. I know what I need to do in the WIP. In fact, I delete the beginning of Chapter 2, that’s how sure I am, but I can’t seem to find the inspiration. I’m pacing the house, thinking, thinking, thinking. About nothing, actually. I’m just pacing, letting my mind wander and feeling my heart thumping in my chest. I’m deep breathing, I’m doing this blog post, but I’m still a bit crazed.

And, I hate it when that happens. People wonder why my day job is not that of “writer.” I find it hard to explain that I only have a certain amount of creative in me per day. I have no idea if other creative types have this problem, but I do. Once I’ve used up my creative for the day, that’s it, I’m done. If I’ve given it all to a client (or steady job) I can’t do for myself that day.

While technically I did nothing creative this morning, I did have to thing creatively and craft the right response. Angry without being condescending. I think I nailed it. But, as a result, I’m creatively drained right now. Which makes me angry. I had to waste all my creative on something stupid. Well, not stupid. It’s important, but I shouldn’t have to deal with it because it shouldn’t have happened to begin with.

So, I’m using this blog post to vent today, in hopes that I can expel negative energy and get back my creative. See, my fear now is that this negative will end up in the WIP. While that could be a good thing, it’s not really where the MC is in the story and I don’t want to write 2000 or so words today only to have them in the trash. I know that happens a lot, but if I can foresee it happening and avoid it, I’d rather do that.

Or, I could try to use it to my advantage. Maybe the MC is angry today about stupid stuff. Maybe I can channel this into something awesome. Would that mean I have to thank the people that pissed me off today in the book? We’ll see what happens.

ETA: It worked. I got the negative energy out and pumped out about 1500 words today.

When Words Fail

When you’re a writer, people often assume you always have the right words for any moment. They don’t know about the whole rough draft/editing/tearing your hair out/throwing it all out and starting over again process. Also, they must not realize there’s a delete key that we use often and when you type something utterly stupid you can delete it and it’s just like you never typed it.

There is no delete key in speaking. Or angry emailing. Or drunk texting.

But, when “things” happen, people sometimes (usually more often than not) turn to you to figure out how to best discuss the situation. That’s not meant to say they expect you to give good advice. I don’t think people think of writers as being like Dr. Phil necessarily. I think that’s there’s a presumption that you’ll easily encapsulate what is happening and say it so eloquently that “no truer words will be spoken.” Or something like that.

Writers don’t always have the right words. We have words, usually lots of them. But they aren’t always the right ones. And, even if they are, there’s our voice. It can be snarky, dismissive, condescending, whatever. The voice, the tone, may not be appropriate for the situation. Sometimes we can’t read a situation, sometimes we don’t really how our words come across and sometimes we use humor and snarkiness to deal with a situation because we are just as uncomfortable dealing with it as everyone else.

It’s hard trying to help someone with something when you can’t really help. When there are no actions you can take, no deeds you can perform to help resolve it. Or solve it. Or ease someone’s pain. In those situations, words are sometimes the only thing you can offer. But, sometimes there are no words. It’s not that writers have a hard time finding the right words it’s that there are no words. No words we can choose from our vast vocabulary to help. No words that can fix it or ease it or resolve it. No words at all. Even with the right tone, all the words are wrong.

For a writer, that’s hard. Words are everything to us. The reason we exist. The reason for getting up in the morning and the reason for breathing. And when they fail us, not through our doing or even their doing, it’s the worst feeling in the world. The one thing we love more than almost anything else, can’t help us. Can’t heal. They fail us.

To avoid an “open mouth insert foot” situation, we stay silent. Don’t be angry. Don’t be hurt. It’s sometimes smarter to stay silent, to avoid making the situation worse. In life, there is no delete key, something we all forget, but something we should all remember. Because sometimes words fail us and we, the writer, don’t want to fail you. We don’t always have the right words. And we don’t always have the delete key. So, we let the silence speak. And it says, “Sorry, there are no words.”

It Feels Like Forever

I tried writing this post about an hour ago, but couldn’t come up with any thing. Every topic that came to mind was either boring or whiny. In some cases, boring and whiny. I decided to be productive while my muse was away (hopefully to someplace sunnier and warmer than here) and get cracking on the holiday cards.

In order to do that I need the list so I know exactly how many pictures to print and in what size. The list is pretty static from year to year, but it’s not like I remember exactly what from year to year, so I need that list in front of me to do this project. It’s a Word document that I update yearly (change addresses based on who’s moved, change names based on marriage, kids, divorce, add you to the list if I think you should have one, subtract you if I think you shouldn’t).

A few months back (May, I think), I got a new computer. Finally. It was running Windows XP and, well, it had seen better days. When I bought the new one, I didn’t get a new monitor because the one I have right now is pretty awesome, still works and I didn’t want to pay whatever it was HP was charging. I figured I’d just pick up a cheap one when I had a chance and go from there. I didn’t worry about it because, if nothing else, I knew I could download whatever I needed from my cloud back-up.

And I downloaded a bunch of stuff from the cloud back in May. Most of it was photographs, so it took forever. Felt like it, anyway. So after 20 hours of restoring (I really don’t think it was that long, I have high speed Internet but it really did predict it would be that long) I got annoyed, downloaded a few important documents and figured I’d get the rest later.

I didn’t really need the other documents, which is cool, I guess, until today. I needed the holiday label list and couldn’t get it from the cloud. I don’t know why. I’m sure it’s because I did something wrong.

So, I had to disconnect the monitor from the new computer and hook it up to the old one and transfer the files to a flash drive and then reconnect the monitor to the new computer to transfer it. Not a huge deal except A) I was sweating by the end. Not so much from the physical labor (though that old hard drive is not light) but from the anxiety of having to deal with my own stupid and B) I disconnected the speaker on the new computer and can’t figure out how to reconnect them. I’m sure I will, but I need music to create. And ambient noise.

Such problems I have.

I figured since it was such a PITA to do all this, I should grab a bunch of files while I’m connected to the old drive because I am not doing this again. And I came across a bunch of old novel writing attempts. If I include what I found on that hard drive with my current attempts, I would say I’ve actually written 5 novels. Four whole novels over the last 7 years.

I don’t know how I feel about this.

On the one hand, not a single one of them has been published and probably never will (a good thing, no doubt). The ideas are solid, I think, but, without even looking at them, I know they are a mess. First drafts are always messy, of course, but these are awful. No sense of plot, structure, or character. The things that can be kind of important in a novel.

And, it kind of depresses me to think that I’ve been trying to do this for seven years. Sure, I’ve been writing and even getting paid for it, but it’s not novel writing, where my passion lies. And, the way this year has been going, it feels like it might be another 7 years before I even get close.

On the other hand, I feel like I can say, with some amount of confidence, that I’m getting closer. I’ve made a huge effort to learn about plot, structure and conflict. My MC is still a little flat but through my studies I’ve learned that’s OK. Flat character arcs are fine if you’ve got a decent plot. And, I think I’m getting there. Has my writing improved? Some. I’m still not great but it’s better compared to these early attempts.

I doubt I’ll read them. They will probably make me cringe, but it’s nice to know they’re there, prodding me forward. Not in a mocking way, in an encouraging way. Like they’re reminding me to remember that while it’s been a long road, I’ve come a long way. Maybe, for fun, I’ll post some of it and we can all laugh at me together.

That’s all for now. I’ve really got to figure out how to reconnect the speakers to the computer. I need decent audio to work today.

Holiday Madness

Yesterday, the conversation veered toward Thanksgiving plans. Makes sense since Thanksgiving is next week. When I was asked about my plans, I paused then said, “I think we’re going to do absolutely nothing this year. It’s just too much trouble in our family to deal with it and this year, I’m out.” Some at the table were in agreement, with one commenting that she wondered when it became such a traumatic nightmare for some families to be together on holidays (something like that).

Ignoring the incredibly awful commercialization of the holidays (I mean, really, who needs to go shopping for gifts at 6AM on Thanksgiving Day?! You can if you want to, I suppose and if you have nothing better to do, it’s something to do, but this holiday creep is insane) I’ve really come to dislike this time of year.

There’s the feeling that this time of year is supposed to be about being with family and that everyone is supposed be together and happy. If that could happen for everyone, that would be amazing. If you could be with your family – however you define it – and everything were as cheery as it seemed on TV, I think the world might be a better place. And if you have that, I envy you. Really, I do.

Because there seems to be this pervasive feeling that there’s something wrong with anyone who can’t get it together long enough to be around their family for the holidays. Even though, deep down we all know that not everyone lucked out in the family lottery and can’t have that. It makes great fodder for movies, the family torn apart by something, but by the end they’ve solved their problems, come together and are all enjoying some eggnog around the fire. Together, united as one big happy family.

We all know that doesn’t happen in real life, yet many of us pretend that it does. Or we suck it up and don’t say anything.

And those that do say something – for whatever reason – get “the look.” The one that says you’re the one with the problem. Or worse, you’re told “but, it’s family.” That may be true, but if being family were enough, would the problems that drove them apart exist? If being family were the be all and end all, why are there so many problems?

It’s like saying being biologically related trumps anything and everything else. Like just because you share some common DNA (or are married or adopted or however your family came to be) everything else that’s been bad about the relationship doesn’t mean anything.

Shouldn’t being related (however you are related) trump the other stuff? Shouldn’t being related mean you work these problems out? Or that they don’t happen in the first place? When did being related become and excuse for piss poor behavior? Piss poor behavior that you’re supposed to ignore because “it’s family”?

I’d love to see a movie, advertisement, even a Hallmark card that more accurately captures the essence of the season for (I’m suspecting) a lot of people out there. Perhaps Hallmark needs to have a line of holiday cards that express the sentiment of “Yeah, we’re family. So what?” (Note: new freelance idea to pursue.)

So, for all those who don’t have a loving family to hang with this holiday season, I feel you. There’s nothing wrong with it. It is what it is. I hope it gets better, but, if it doesn’t, that’s OK too. Because sometimes being family just isn’t enough.

The Inspiration Well

I’m very glad I opted not to participate in NaNo this month.

I thought I had a very good plot outline going, then I looked it over and decided I didn’t. I was making some tweaks to it and got stuck, distracted, overwhelmed and uninspired. Among other things. And now, it’s the 17th and I’ve written exactly 0 words. Is there a badge for that?

It doesn’t really bother me in the sense that I wasn’t planning on participating (officially anyway). It does bother me that I’ve been unable to find the right way to fix what’s wrong. I know exactly what’s wrong but can’t find the words or ideas to make it work. And I planned on writing this month and it’s half over and I’ve accomplished nothing, save for irritating myself seeing how little I’ve done.

Which also doesn’t bother me, per se. I know that sometimes it takes me time to find the right idea and work it out so it makes sense. If I ever do get the hang of this writing thing, I know for certain I won’t ever be called a “prolific writer,” the kind that cranks out a book a year. Or every other year. Or every five years, I’m guessing. And I’m OK with that.

What is bothering me is the other thing that’s inspiring me right now: angry letter writing. Actually, angry email writing to be exact, but you get what I mean. There’s an issue I’m trying to deal with and it’s something I’m passionate about and if you read my last post, you probably have some idea how I feel about the whole thing.

I was sitting in the office doing what has become my afternoon ritual of listening to Pandora and beating my head against the desk, trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with my WIP when an email response finally came in to something I’ve been expecting. I waited two whole weeks for this response. That’s a long time for me to keep my mouth shut when I feel strongly about something.

I took a deep breath and a walk (and by walk I mean into the kitchen to wash the breakfast dishes with a pit stop in the laundry room to switch loads) before I responded. Fortunately (for both of us) the person I’m now dealing with seems friendly and warm and actually willing to listen to my concerns instead of hurl insults (don’t ask). But, I’m still annoyed with the foot dragging and stalling. I needed a few minutes to compose my thoughts and make sure I didn’t come off as utterly obnoxious, given “something else” has come up and now she can’t examine my stuff for another few weeks. (Side note: uh-huh. Sure, you can’t. Whatever.)

So, I’m typing the response, and it took about 30 minutes to compellingly craft a five sentence response that was kind yet firm. And that was about 25 minutes too long, in my estimation. See, my mind kept wandering, I was so inspired by writing this response that I found myself drifting to another project.

This blog post. Sigh.

I found myself composing the paragraphs for this post while I should have been working on those 5 sentences. I kept thinking about all the things I wanted to say and rant about, and how it would be an excellent blog post. It was hard, but I managed to force myself to finish the response first before I came over here to craft his amazing blog post. (I know, it’s nothing special, but I need this right now.)

Well, it’s not the WIP, and it’s not perfect, but I guess it’s something. I know that realistically, as a writer, I can’t wait for the muse to show-up (thought it would be nice if it would show up at 9AM, coffee in hand, ready to go like I am). I have to chase it. Or work without it, But my current frustration isn’t that I’m not inspired to write. I am. I just don’t want to write a bunch of jumbled nonsensical crap that I end up throwing out. I know that’s my specialty, but I’d really like to diversify.

I wonder how these prolific writers manage. How do they crank out a book a year? I know there’s rumors about ghostwriters, but assume they aren’t. How do they do it? How do people work when the muse is AWOL?

Inspiration can come in many forms, I guess. I just wish what so easily inspired this blog post could inspire the WIP. That would be nice. Less frustrating. Or, if something, anything, could easily inspire the WIP. But that doesn’t seem to be happening, so I’m back to beating my head against the desk. It helps. Happy Monday!

Tenacity or Too Aggressive?

From time to time, I freelance. Lately, I haven’t thanks to a consistent part-time job, but sometimes, when I’m feeling adventurous (or poor) I’ll pick up a gig. I much prefer the consistent part-time job these days even if it has nothing to do with writing, because it actually pays. On-time. Every pay day. I don’t have to hunt it down, make angry phone calls and send letters threatening legal action just to get paid for work I did. Which costs me even more money. It just magically shows up in my checking account each month.

This tale is something I’m confident any freelancer can relate to as they’ve likely experienced it, especially if you’re just starting out and haven’t quite learned how to spot the scammers. You learn after the first few times you get screwed.

Since I’ve been personally screwed several times, I’ve become quite good at spotting when someone is avoiding me. These are the people who somehow don’t see my email until three days after I sent it, even though I sent a response minutes after they emailed me. I mean actual, literal minutes. Time date stamps are funny that way. It’s the person that says they didn’t have access to their email because they were out of the office then forget to delete the “sent from my iPhone” at the bottom of the response.

I’m sharing this information not just to be helpful, but because I’m sitting here waiting for someone to call me back about something important (but not about money since this had nothing to do with a freelance job). It’s about a personal matter but I’m dealing with a public agency and (potentially) elected officials.

It’s a really long story, but I get the impression that the entire office has been instructed to gently ignore me. A month ago I contacted someone about an issue I noticed and I wanted to know how I could get it fixed. I went back and forth with the contact person for a while and ultimately, she was rude. I was waiting for a response to my question but she never responded to me so after a week of waiting, I wrote an e-mail to her boss (not knowing who else to go to at that point. I wasn’t trying to escalate anything. She wasn’t responding so it seemed like the next logical step).

I was passionate and logical in that email. I feel strongly about this issue. I was also wordy (because I’m a writer and wanted to make sure they understood every point) so it was about 6 pages long. And included pictures in case my words weren’t strong enough. It’s important to me, in case that wasn’t clear.

A week went by and the Assistant Supervisor person emailed me back basically stating she was now the point person on this matter. Great! I emailed her back 9 minutes later (time date stamp, you know) to state I was available that day (Halloween in case you care) at 2:30 and she could call me back at a particular number. I rushed home to take her call an she never called. OK. Technically she never confirmed. It happens.

Then, she emailed me Sunday night and said, “Sorry, didn’t see your email. When can we talk this week? I’m at a conference Monday and Tuesday.” Fabulous. I emailed her back right away and told her any time on Wednesday. She never responded. OK. I’m not thrilled about that. So, Tuesday morning, I emailed her (knowing full well she was at a conference) saying, “Want to confirm we’re on for Wednesday. What time?” It’s about 10:15 Wednesday morning as I type this, and I have no email response and no phone call.

I get that she’s busy, but so am I. I’m not waiting by the phone with baited breath over this. Because, for starters, I’m not 16 anymore. But these tactics (because I don’t know what else to call them at this point) seem startlingly familiar. See above where I described clients who are trying to avoid paying me.

Anyway, I’m debating calling her right now just to say, Hey, I get you’re busy but when can we talk? Doesn’t have to be right this second, but I’d like to nail something down so I’m not wasting every one of my day’s off waiting on you. But, I worry that I’m crossing the line. I’d even consider another email saying “Hey, did you get my last one, what’s up?” But I worry that’s pushing it, too. And, once I’ve crossed the line to “crazy ranting person” they won’t take me seriously and nothing will be accomplished. Except I’ll be labeled “that crazy ranting person.”

The 6 page letter I had sent was beautifully written (if I may say so). But, it was also very direct. I wanted to let them know up front I wasn’t willing to negotiate and that I was very angry about their decision. Also, how their office then chose to handle the situation was less than stellar and a bit offensive. I’ve been nothing but professional and respectful, but I’ve also been very direct. And I know this can be very off putting (that’s a thing, right?) to some people.

However, the flip side of me is saying that she’s using the non-paying client tactics and I should say “screw it” and call her. Because it’s clear she doesn’t want to actually talk to me and deal with the situation. Particularly because I told them I won’t negotiate. (Side note, the reason I wont’ negotiate is there can’t be any give or take in this situation. It’s impossible. It’s not like buying a house where I start at one price and you at another and we try to meet in the middle. This is an all or nothing situation, just because of what it is.) That’s not a pleasant thing to have to face. I know because I’ve been in her position, dreading making that phone call. Which is why I’m trying to be nice about this, but it’s been going on for a month and I’m wondering if they’re hoping I give up and stop trying, even though I told them that wouldn’t happen.

So, I’m sitting here, waiting, even though I’ve got stuff to do, and wondering when being “aggressive and tenacious” becomes “please don’t call us again or we’ll get a restraining order.” I should probably get in the shower, because you know that’s the exact moment she’d call. Sadly, I’m beginning to think my day will consist of sitting here, waiting, stewing and getting annoyed.

The Death of Words

As I write this, I can’t help but think of “Video Killed the Radio Star.”

I’ve spent some time researching how to create a better blog. While I’d much rather spend time on crafting the best novel I can, I know it’s important to keep the blog up. Not just keep the blog up but to write interesting things, attract followers, and so on and so on. I’m confident that everyone that blogs knows that attracting new followers is a big thing. While I can write, marketing and selling has never really been my thing.

So, I’ve turned to the experts. By that, I mean, the Internet. Seems like the right place to go in this case.

I’ve never been an early adapter. I like taking risk (like jumping out of airplanes) but new technologies, not so much. Let’s just say when I was a kid, my dad bought the family a Betamax, convinced it was the perfect purchase. If you don’t know what that last phrase means, you should Google it for fun. I come to this blogging thing a bit late. In large part because I really don’t have anything interesting to say and also because when I ghost blogged, I learned how easy it can be to lose control of original content. And how hard it can be to get it back.

Late to the party, the experts have shown me that blogging is kind of over. Not dead, per se. Just passe. It’s all about You Tube stars (vloggers and people doing crazy stuff). Please. I can barely summon the courage to do this blog. I’m supposed to put my face to it?

Other advice has consisted of including gifs – or at the very least, pictures – within the text to break-up the monotonous chore of reading. No one wants to see too much text without pretty pictures apparently. Not to be obnoxious, but I can’t think of the last novel I read that included pictures, even YA novels. There’s also the ever popular listicle (a completely interesting word on so many levels). I have no problems with the list format as a method of writing and disseminating information. I worry, though, that it doesn’t improve my writing.

What really worries me is that the shift to these styles of communication and media (since vlogging isn’t exactly writing) is that it isn’t helping us as readers. I’ve gotten used to Twitter shorthand and now accept the fact that questionable spelling and grammar are necessary, required even, because of the 140 character limit. But when I’m getting advice like “stick a picture in there so your readers don’t have to read so much,” I get concerned that as a society, we’re failing ourselves.

Pictures on a cooking blog or a DIY blog make sense. If you’re giving me instructions on how to re-roof my house by myself, a couple of diagrams and pictures, even gifs, might prove useful. Of course, if you’re able to explain it clearly and I get it and can then do it without pictures, you’re an awesome writer. However, I feel that no one is that awesome, so again, pictures seem necessary.

But on a blog that’s sort of about writing? Or, let’s be real here, nothing in particular? I kind of feel like that says that I, the writer, doesn’t trust you, the reader, to fill it in. That I don’t think you can figure out what I’m trying to describe. Doesn’t that mean I’m not such a great writer? Shouldn’t I be able to create that image for you in your mind’s eye? Or worse, does it mean that I think that you, the reader, lack the critical reading skills to figure out what I’m saying so I just say, “Fuck it. I’ll throw a picture in here, just in case you don’t have that ability”?

What does this say about the experts that advise me to do this? Yes, I know, I went to the Internet for advice, so I kind of get what I deserve. And, also, I do know there is the giraffe picture on this blog. But it’s one picture. At the end of a post. And it’s a great picture of a giraffe.

I worry this means that we, as a collective group, are watching the death of the written word as a form of communication. Not just in terms of sharing stories, but in terms of sharing ideas, information, and even history. I know a picture is worth a thousand words, but what about when you don’t have a camera handy. A rarity these days, for sure, but it can and does happen. And then what? What happens when we lose the ability to describe something without a snazzy gif? How will that change things? How will that change how we communicate in any form?