NaNoWriMo, the US 2016 Election and Motivation

At the moment, I’m sitting at around 15,000 words on my NaNo project. On Tuesday and Wednesday though, I didn’t write.

It was a motivation thing. I had the need to write, but we all get to that place in our projects where it feels like you’re paving mud instead of bricks. You just don’t feel confident about the work that you’re slapping down and it’s hard to make yourself work on something if you don’t feel confident about the stuff that you’re putting down. Everyone was telling me to push through the suck, like just by hearing the words I was going to be able to find that inner strength to Do The Thing.

As a contrary person who dislikes being told what to do, I procrastinated. Instead of noveling I focused on national and local events. I focused on the 2016 Elections.

I live in the state of Mississippi. It is one of the most misunderstood and joked about states in the USA. At least, when you’re living in Mississippi, that’s how it feels. It feels like you are always at the bottom of everything. Our education scores are low. In my town, only 2 of the public schools scored an average grade, a C. All the others scored D’s and F’s on their last review. We still struggle with illiteracy, a slow economy and a limit in opportunities. Our main breadwinners are usually men and our main caretakers are usually women. Traditional roles are the backbone for most visible successful families and values other parts of the country consider outdated are very much a litmus test for what makes a successful family.

The town I live in is service-oriented in most of it’s employment: Nurses, Doctors, Military staff from our little base. We’re full of servers and house cleaners. We have craftsmen and professors for our university. But the people that surround us make up the majority of the state’s population. They are the truck drivers, oil drillers, farmers, livestock managers and factory men and women. They are the people who bring America food, grow the food, find the fuel that lets the country run and the last of those who create American goods within the country’s borders.

They are deeply religious and hard working people who have been living in some version of the poverty scale for a long time and experience very little thanks for the work they do for the rest of the country. Yet they are also smart and kind; people who want to be friendly and to show courtesy. People who care, deeply, about the value of hospitality and good manners. People who watch one another closely to hold each other up to their values of their community and who, during disasters and crisis, reach out. Mississippians are proud and independent.

I often feel like a bit of an oddball where I live. I don’t have the same values, I don’t have the same interests as many of my neighbors and coworkers. I don’t have the same dreams. But I can’t help but be inspired by what I see around me. I even set my current project in a Deep South city because I wanted to show others the dichotomy of living a progressive and modern world view in a society that values different things.

Yet the last two days have struck me hard. The division that is in our country is so much more than just who was elected. It’s a division of values and focus. There are amazing and excellent people in the Urban zones, and by Urban I mean  big cities, who have found community in focusing on education, accepting that not all families look a certain way and comforting themselves by vilifying those who live differently. Communities that do no rely upon the weather for their job, or who need to spend week and weeks away from home just to make ends meet. In the Urban zones, (of which I grew up in) you can go to the store and your things are nicely lined up. There isn’t as much a need to cook because you can find tons of restaurants at decent prices all around you. Eight years ago, those urban people reached out through their grassroots and called upon the people to rise up and help them make a change. And so the world did. And when it did it ignored and shucked off the things those rural people found important.

In 2008, I was on my way home from college with a cold and stopped at a restaurant for food when I saw my country elect it’s first black president. When they happened, I was so proud. Because here were were, making progress.

Yet here I sit, eight years later. A full-time and working home owner in a state that has seen very little help or progress from the change I wanted in the world as a college student. I see people who I work with and live near and exist harmoniously with presented as two-dimensional on all my media. I see the outrage of the LGBTQ community, of which I am apart, at anyone who reached out for the message that the candidate Trump had and paint them with one color: Hate.

“They Hate Us” is what I’ve heard. “This was an election based on Hate!”

Yet for years, all we have done is mock them. For years we have held up their beliefs and mingled in our message with scorn and disdain.

“It’s time to step out of the past,” we’ve cried as we fought for equal treatment. “It’s time to put away your bigotry and your close mindedness.”

But if, for the sake of example, I am a Mississippi woman who’s husband is an oil man and gone for weeks at a time, if I’m a mother, do you know who helps me? My church. My christian church who supports me and loves me. My God who I have been warned others will scorn and try to get me to turn against. If I’m that woman, I don’t see a group that is trying to give love a chance, I see the devil wrapped in the clothing of lies because that was what I would have been taught to guard against. Who is going to listen to the lies that a stranger is telling them when around them they are surrounded by voices protesting on their side. They are in a bubble of acceptance and ignore the message that the left is giving them in favor of standing by the people they know and trust.

And we, those people who voted in the change and who voted in the new updates never took a single moment to think of how to connect with the people we were changing. We dismissed them and put ourselves in a bubble to try and be ‘Safe’. We created echo chambers in the name of ‘Feeling Okay’ and ‘Protecting ourselves’.

I’m done with the safe places. I’m done with the echo chambers and done trying to use simple terms to explain and understand complex problems. I haven’t written in two days because I’ve been digesting and processing what this new development in the setting of my life is going to mean. I’m not going to stand for unacceptable behavior. If I see racism, I’ll call it out, but now I’m going to try and figure out how to do it in a way that actually changes the behavior instead of insults the person behaving. If I see sexism, I’m going to try and make the conversation. If I encounter bigotry, I will deal with it but that extends to both sides. That extends to my side as well as their side. Because at the end of the day, we’re all on the Same side. The side of the United States of America.

For the next two years, I’m going to be connected. I’m going to absorb and focus on what I can do without alienating those I need to stand beside me. Make no mistake, we need each other and we need to stand alongside one another. I’m going to keep writing as well. Because just like the soggy bit of my novel where everything seems a mistake, I have to keep living in the world that feels like a mistake. I have to move forward in both prose and life.

Thank you for being on this journey with me. Keep breathing and keep writing.

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The rollercoaster

Every morning when I sit down to pound out on my current Work In Progress, I’ve been checking in with where I am in this story.

I am historically terrible when it comes to outlining. As in, I never did it.

Previously, this was how I planned a story:

-Idea, then at some point, This will happen…then thing 2….then thing 3 and…I’ll figure it out from there!

Welcome to the chaos that has been my writing process since, I dunno, forever.

It used to work. I could write 50 or 60 pages on an idea unbroken for days, just me and a piece of paper that I would add to until I was done.

It was always a matter of, “Well, that was fun, what else?” with no real focus on structure or story. The result was that I’d have these long and boring stretches of my characters talking to themselves until I’d come up with an interesting bit of dramatic imagery or action. Then…it would meander until I got frustrated and ran off with a new idea to repeat the same cycle.

My other major barrier has been that after I work on an idea for a few weeks, I’d get frustrated or distracted and quit trying. Then, it would be months before I picked it back up, and what do you know, the cycle continued.

Until this year. Here I sit, over three months of solid work in on the same manuscript. I’m pleased.

So, this month, it seems like I’ve been focusing on learning Structure and How To Outline.

In 2014 at a DragonCon Panel, I asked Jim Butcher, one of my all time favorite writers for pacing, how the heck he did it. How, Mr. Butcher, do you get your scene and sequel to remain to tight in your novels?

He told me that he imagined his story as a rollercoaster, building up on itself, each scene moving the car a little farther up towards the top of the ride, and then just let the momentum and tension push it towards the end, an end that he always has firmly in mind.

So I ask myself when I sit down to do the words, “Where am I on the rollercoaster?”

Click.

Click.

Click.

Top 3 Writing Podcasts and Staying the Course

I work a day job that has nothing to do with writing or creating in general. I’m passably good at it and it pays my bills, lets my husband go to school and generally keeps us fed and clothed. It starts at 8am and ends at 5pm. It goes Monday through Friday and gives me vacation during the year. It’s stable and I feel incredibly grateful that I am blessed enough to have gainful, paying employment.

But despite reaching this achievement of the American Dream, in so many ways, I look forward for the day that comes when I can hang up the office scrubs and stay home full time to write and work on my projects. I look forward to one day being able to really push myself as a writer and to sell that which I have been sweating at alone to craft.

It’s hard to keep my motivation up when the wage labor gets intense. After all, what I’ve been doing the past two weeks is training myself to do a part time job along with my full time one. I am so excited to tell y’all that it has been FIFTEEN DAYS of consistent writing. I have gotten up at 5:30am, I have put my butt in the chair and on each of those days have managed to work on SOMETHING that is going to be one day (hopefully) sold to readers.

The best motivator during this time of growth has been podcasts. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to listen to music or podcasts while they’re working, and I recognize this might not be a solution for everyone, but I have found that if I can at least squeeze one or two episodes of a writing-centric podcast while I’m doing some of the more repetitive tasks at work, I’m able to stay focused on what I’m going to write for the next day. It’s the best of both worlds: I am fulfilling my wage labor obligations while also hearing this encouragement from fellow writers.

So, here are my top three recommendations from the last two weeks.

1.I Should Be Writing / Ditch Diggers:

First up, I’m going to cheat and count these two podcasts as one entry because they share a host.  Mur Lafferty caught my attention with her podcast “I Should Be Writing” that is aimed at beginning authors. It was the second/third day of my own personal writing challenge and she was talking about despair and how it can get to you while you’re trying to do a creative thing. I was hooked, because Lafferty  gets it. She truly understands what fragile and in contrast, strong creatures creative people can be.

http://murverse.com/podcasts/

She does a joint podcast with Matt Wallace for her second one, which is Ditch Diggers. This ‘cast has a totally different feel from ISBW. Matt and Mur are speaking to the professional writers who do the writing gig every day. They talk about struggles that professionals face and how they overcome it. They’re hilarious and their banter and chemistry as cohosts really drives the episodes. They also do some pretty excellent interviews with fellow indie artists and creators. I’ve learned lots for my future with them and I hope everyone who needs a little solidarity will pick them up and give them a listen.

2. Upgrade Your Story

http://www.upgradeyourstory.com/podcast/

Ally Bishop is an editor who puts out the ‘Upgrade Your Story’ podcast in an effort to help newer writers and seasoned vets improve their craft. While Mur’s casts are about the lifestyle and motivations of a writer, Bishop is a mechanic for the nuts and bolts of writing. I have found that listening to her podcast while on my way to and from work have helped the editing side of my brain when I am working on tweaking my few finished stories for sending out. Give her a listen. She has over 90 episodes so she’s likely covered something useful to you.

Finally, last but certainly not least,

3. DIY MFA

http://diymfa.com/category/podcast

One of my mutual Twitter followers just finished her book a few months ago and is in the querying/synopsis stage of Agent-hunting. She posted a link to Gabriela Pereira’s ‘cast about Query letters and as I listened I realized how useful all of this advice was to me.

Lafferty and Bishop deal with the writing and lifestyle aspects of the craft, Pereira has framed her cast as if you were taking a remote MFA class. She has interviews with many different professional writers on each episode and lets the listener take to the episode as if they were in a class, learning and growing through a lecture series. I’ve found listening to her while doing things around the house, driving to work and some of the more tedious data-entry that’s required in my job has helped me shake lose areas where my stories are stuck. Plus, because she has so many different interviews, it lets me grow my perspective on what others do.

So that’s it. That’s my list of people who have helped me keep my motivation as I work my way through finishing some of my projects that I have on my task list right now. These are my own opinions, as always, and I’m not receiving any compensation for recommendations made on this blog.

Who inspires you when you’re doing non-writing things?

Influence and Heroes

I see that a lot of published writers get asked about influence and who inspires them. The answers, just like the authors, are all different. So this week I pondered who my biggest influences were and found the answer to be really eclectic. I was able to break it down into three catagories: Personal, Professional and Creative. (Man I wish I’d come up with another p word. Alliteration is the best.)

We all have those people who influenced us growing up. When it came to writing, I think it was the act of reading that first gave seed to the plant. I’d read tons of stories so the natural course was to write my own. My mom, a poet who used her writing as a type of therapy, always encouraged me. When I got older, I joined with friends who had similar interests and now have a carefully chosen network of fellow writers that are constantly challenging me to push myself beyond where I’ve already reached.

Professionally, I feel that Orson Scott Card, Hilari Bell, Kristine Katheryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have really inspired me. Maybe inspire isn’t the right word. Inspire doesn’t really sum up the kick in the tail that I feel when I read their writing and publishing advice. They are to inspire as a boot camp drill Sargent is to ‘persuade’. While I don’t know any of them past the words that they put out into the net, I never walk away from any of their non-fiction posts without feeling at least like pushing a little harder in my own endeavors.

Finally, Creatively. This category belongs to the books that I’ve read over the years that hit those emotional notes for me. Mercedes Lackey’s understanding of growing up in a world where adults aren’t as smart as they think they are and where young people become the very adults that they once admired. The Lark and the Wren changed my entire world outlook when I was young. If Rune, the illegitimate daughter of a tavern wench could save a country, then so could I. I didn’t have to be the chosen one. I didn’t have to have some magical star over my crib to do great things. Just like Rune, I would work my ass off and get what I wanted. Other books brought technical thought into play. David Edding’s early work gave me a love of the quest in fantasy and introduced me to Arthurian legend as a base for world and story building. Jim Butcher, the best pacer ever in fiction, taught me about building up your climax and making your pay off count. Kresley Cole has taught me the importance of a dynamic character and how relationships can push a story to it’s final conclusion.

In the end, I can’t BE any of these people. As Oscar Wilde is oft quoted, I must ‘be myself for everyone else is already taken.’ Yet I’m proud of these influences. Proud to push forward in my hopes of finishing what I start and to achieve the dreams that keep me walking on this road.

Who influences you?