Love All Your Characters

Much of my writing advice comes from years and years of poetry. My thoughts on imagery and diction are fueled by my medium. It is this lyrical perspective that gives my prose writing its unique voice. That and my brain is just weird.

But sometimes you have to learn and discover as you go along, otherwise what’s the point of doing anything. And, as a new writer to the world of genre fiction–specifically horror and the multi-omni-many-things-at-once-paranormal genres–there are things that I don’t actually see or realize until I mess them up and then I have the, “Oh, that’s where that went wrong,” moment.

One thing I learned while writing fiction is you have to love your characters. Not just like them and not just the main characters or even the side characters. You have to love all of them. Because if you don’t they won’t sound or look genuine on the page. They’ll look like cardboard stand-ins for real people and, most importantly, they won’t talk to you and tell you what they are doing in your story.

I learned the hard way that characters, much like poems, have minds of their own. Even though I made up those minds I have no control over what they do. That’s part of my creative process. In one of my works in progress, my protagonist’s love interest has changed 3 times. The first one didn’t really want to be with her. And then she didn’t want to be with the second one. And then the third didn’t want to be with her either. Meanwhile, her real love interest was sitting backstage (yeah, my mind is called backstage) with a cup of coffee and a newspaper saying, “I’ll be right here whenever you’re ready, and if you’ve gone to all the trouble of giving me a newspaper there’d better be comics.”

And just so you know, my protagonist’s lover loves Garfield. Garfield translates across time and space. So does Hagar the Horrible. He likes that one too.

But back to what I was saying; those characters didn’t work out because not only had I not properly fleshed them out, I didn’t listen to what they wanted. I tried to force round pegs into square holes.

And I surrounded them with minor characters that existed just to be in this or that part of the chapter. They didn’t work either. And whole chapters of this book have fallen to pieces because I didn’t care enough about the characters to get them where they needed to be.

So, to sum up:

If you don’t love them, chuck them.

You can always make more. Just make sure you love and listen to them.

Love them even if you’re going to kill them. Love them even if you’re going to break their hearts and destroy everything they love. Love them even if they’re the biggest piece of shit-horrible villain you’ve ever seen. Because they are yours. And they matter. Even if they show up in only one sentence, they matter.

Share any funny or frustrating character shenanigans with me in the comments 🙂

Just Another Day

Me: (making a cup of green tea after 2 cups of coffee) I’ve already written 1000 words this morning and committed a heinous act of violence!

Mom: (not looking up from her newspaper) Well, easy come, easy go.

Let me know if you have family and friends who are not impressed when you tell them one of your characters has murdered another because it’s just another day at the office for them.

Self-Sabotage

According to Psychology Today, “Behavior is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems in our life and interferes with long-standing goals. Among the most common self-sabotaging behaviors are procrastination, self-medication with drugs or alcohol, comfort eating, and forms of self-injury such as cutting.”

Mindtools.com also says that self-sabotage includes negative thoughts, indulging in unfulfilled dreams, anger, feelings of worthlessness, and worrying about all the things in all the ways (worrying about “things that really shouldn’t matter” and “fearing that if you fail, others will think less of you.”)

As a general human being and a writer, I do (and have done) all of these things. Some of these parallel with anxiety and depression.

So how does self-sabotage relate to writing if you enjoy writing? Surely you wouldn’t keep yourself from making your deadlines, you want your deadlines, you want your drafts finished. Right? Yeah, right.

There were times when I totally knew what I was doing and that yes, I chose to binge watch 5 episodes of Dancing Queen instead of write. Voluntarily. But there were other times, like when I spent the entirety of my 20s drunk because drunk was easier than dealing with the problems. Is self-sabotage the same as negative escapism? So many parallels.

To break the cycle or cycles of self-sabotage you need to (again from Mindtools.com):

1. Recognize your behavior

2. Monitor your negative thinking

3. Challenge that thinking

4. Make self-supporting behaviors

Easier said than done!

I’m a sociologist, not a psychologist. I can’t make all the bad things go away.

But I can say that, when it comes to writing, self-sabotage is a bitch and the best thing I’ve found to do, for me, is just ignore it and push through.

Because pushing through gets the words on the page.

I was supposed to have two new novels published last year. I’m still writing them because I got in my own way last year. This year I am determined, double determined to not let that happen again.

Because the worst kind of self-sabotage I indulge in is negative thinking. I tell myself this is going to be awful and I’m going to fail. I tell myself if doesn’t matter because I’m not going to meet my deadlines anyway, so why try?

Mr. J constantly tells me to relax and stop being so hard on myself. Easier said than fucking done. And really, there’s no good reason I should be hard on myself, I’m fine, I’m not doing anything wrong. But I could later, and it could all be shit. Therefore the now should be shit too because REASONS. That’s what I deal with in my head every day.

And the best thing I can do with that negativity is ignore it, even thought it’s coming from inside me. I just tell myself to shut up and write even if what I think I’m writing is the worst kind of shit imaginable. Even if I know for a fact I won’t make my deadline, I’m going to do it anyway because I want to, because I love writing.

That takes will power and sometimes I can’t ignore the negativity and I sleep all day because napping is easier than getting drunk and facing all the bad things. But that’s okay to because when I wake up I try to write again.

I have to constantly remind myself that I LOVE this, I LOVE writing and I’m not going to fuck up something I love. The negative thoughts can’t predict the future, my negative self doesn’t have a crystal ball. And neither do I. The negative thoughts are just my imagination and they don’t mean anything.

Mr. J told me no matter what happens, as long as I keep trying, he’ll still love me.

So that’s the advice for today: no matter what, keep trying.

Wounds/Textures

Wounds:

Abrasion

Breach

Break

Bruise

Chunk

Cleave/Cleft

Contusion

Coach

Crater

Cut

Damage

Fissure

Fracture

Furrow

Gash

Gorge

Graze

Grief

Hole

Incision

Laceration

Lesion

Mutilation

Nip

Notch

Pain

Rent

Score

Scrape

Scratch

Slash

Slit

Split

Suck/ing

Tear

Trauma

Textures:

Blistered

Dripping

Ragged

Rotten

Wet

Overcoming Obstacles

This week I watched a talk by Laurel K. Hamilton at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference about things that make her want to stop writing and how to overcome those things.

Watch the video here.

The things that I took away from her talk were:

1. Find what only you can write: Don’t force yourself to write in a genre or style that isn’t compatible with your voice. Know where your voice lies. She says it better than my paraphrasing but the point is, I feel, that you have your own unique story and you need to figure out how to tell it in the way that is YOU, not the way you think you need to write to make sales or the way other people think you should write.

2. If it’s a priority, DO IT: don’t make excuses for yourself like “Oh I can’t write, I have to do the dishes” (I mean, the dishes are important but if writing is MORE important don’t put writing before the dishes) of “I have to stop writing and go to bed so I can be fresh for work in the morning.” I do this all the time and I need to stop because even though earning money to pay the bills is important writing is, aside from keeping my husband and my cats alive, my top priority. I need to treat it like it is, one of the most important things in my life.

3. Treat writing like it’s a job: Even thought I’m tired I go to work, even though I don’t want to work I go to work every day. It needs to be the same with writing. Even if what I think I’m writing is crap I still need to write because I wouldn’t just show up to work and say, “hey, these emails are crap, I’m going to watch YouTube for an hour or so.”

4. Failure is only complete when you give up: Self explanatory.

So some of the things that make me stop writing are:

1. My day job: when I come home I’m tired and tell myself I can’t possibly think one more coherent thought, I need to lie down and watch Netflix. This is not how you write.

2. Not understanding my goals: some people call me an organized and well put together person, I disagree because I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time. Maybe I use organization to make order out of the chaos but unless I take some serious time to plan out where I want a book to go or what I want to accomplish by writing something and unless I’m absolutely certain about the direction I’m taking either nothing gets done or I am dissatisfied with the finished product.

Slowing down and really thinking about what I’m doing is very important and even though it takes time, I need to dedicate that time to the work.

3. Fear: I’m afraid I will never finish a draft. I’m afraid all my ideas will stay ideas and never become finished books. I’m afraid that when I finish a book I won’t think it’s good enough. I’m afraid that my husband won’t like it. I’m afraid my mom won’t like it. I’m afraid everybody will hate me. I’m afraid that no one will read my books and when I die all my stories and poems will disappear as if they were never written.

The thing you have to keep telling yourself is hard to do but you have to do it: writing is fun. You love writing. Don’t stop writing.