Trust Your Broccoli

If you are a writer and you’ve never read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, GO DO IT NOW. I read that book in college and it literally changed my life. I’ll wait.

2000 years later

All right, so there’s a chapter in Bird by Bird called Broccoli. In it, Lamott cites a quote from a Mel Brooks skit: “Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.

What does this mean? Well, in the context of writing, it means “Listen to your story, and your story will tell you how to write it.” In other words, listen to your intuition. Listen to your gut. Writing is a very heart-and-soul driven process, and if you try to over-think it, analyze it, make it a science, it’s not going to work.

That’s the gist of the piece, but I highly recommend you read it for yourself. That one and “Shitty First Drafts.”  “Shitty First Drafts” is the reason I finished my first novel instead of letting it waste away half-finished somewhere on my hard drive.

ANYWAY.

I had my own “listen to your broccoli” moment this past week which kind of blew my mind. I’ve written before about how music ties into my writing process. For my current WIP, I’d been listening to Saul’s music — dark, sultry, heavy on piano and violin and angst. I was writing from Saul’s point of view, so listening to his music made sense.

I hit a turning point in the story and I started slowing down. I was getting stuck. I slogged through it with help from a friend, and then I got stuck again. My brain suddenly decided that I MUST LISTEN TO FOLK MUSIC. Folk music? Okay, I thought, this is Alex’s music. He’s a small rural town kinda guy, bluegrass and folk and country-esque music is prevalent there. So, we’re listening to Alex’s music now, like the flip of a switch. Saul’s is absolutely not acceptable anymore. Alex was reaching a turning point in his character arc, so that made sense I guess.

But I was still stuck. For days. I was fighting my way through, feeling that the writing was slow and boring. I couldn’t figure out how to make it interesting. I kept thinking, “It’s really hard to show this from Saul’s point of view.” and “I have no idea where this is going.”

And one night I just hit a wall. I couldn’t write. Nothing. It wasn’t happening. I didn’t know what was supposed to happen next. I had ideas in mind, but none of it seemed right. The pacing was off if I executed the vague plotline I had in mind. It just didn’t work. I was so, so stuck.

Of course, I took to Twitter, because Twitter is my people.

I had a bit of conversation, and then an epiphany.

And something tumbled loose in my brain, like there’d been a rock stuck in the gears and that idea knocked it loose, and I starting thinking “Yeah… this might work. This would solve a lot of problems. This would solve so many problems. THIS WOULD SOLVE LIKE ALL THE PROBLEMS.”

And the gears started turning again. Slowly. It takes a little while for the machinery to go from total standstill to functional again. I went to sleep that night with a thought. The gears clearly kept turning while I slept, because the next day, I woke up with ideas. I tossed them out on Twitter so I wouldn’t forget, and then I kept simmering on it during the first half of my work day. On my lunch break I sat down with a notebook, and the flood gates opened. The clouds parted and sunlight broke through. I put pen to paper and the entire ending of the book spilled out over my brain with drunken enthusiasm. The pieces clicked together easily and logically.

Here’s where I get to the point. Remember up there where I said my brain randomly decided that Saul’s music wasn’t working anymore and it was time to start listening to Alex’s music?

DAYS before I got stuck, DAYS before I thought of switching POVs, my broccoli knew.

It knew.

broccoli

Writing is hard. There’s all kinds of advice out there. Not all of it will work for you. Maybe your broccoli is a lying little shit… but I doubt it. Your broccoli is your heart, your muse, your innermost self. Trust yourself. When you’re writing and things get rough, try to get quiet. Tell the doubts to shut the fuck up. Ain’t no one got time for doubts and fears. Cuss and swear and scream and throw things if that helps, and then get quiet. Sit. Focus. Stop trying to force words, and listen. Somewhere in the back of your mind, there’s a little green sprout saying “Do this thing. This is the thing to do. Trust me.”

Trust the broccoli.

(if you hate broccoli, feel free to think of that little voice as something else. Muse. Subconscious. Tiny person standing in your brain cavity shouting at you. Whatever form it takes, let it exist and listen to it.)

 

Let’s Talk About Depression!!!

I have depression. I used to refer to it as seasonal depression, because it lasted from October to March[ish], but over the past couple years it’s sort of becoming “all the fucking time depression.” I have high points and low points regardless of the season (okay, in winter I have low points and even lower points).

I’m writing this because I just got past a low point. I went five days without showering. I felt nauseous for two weeks. I didn’t want to go to work. I didn’t want to leave bed. What little energy I had went into feeding my pets and going to work. Eventually, I sat down at my dining room table and couldn’t move. I just didn’t have the energy. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to pet my dogs, I didn’t want to talk to my husband, I didn’t want to fucking be alive. After a while, I broke down sobbing and curled up on the floor. I cried for a while. My husband lay down on the floor with me, bless his heart. Then my cat came over and sniffed my face, very thoroughly, as if my tears were some fascinating substance… and then she ran away as fast as she could, like she’d finally determined they were poison. And I started laughing. And I started feeling a little better.

And today I took a shower! And I feel sort of excited about an idea I have for something. And I give a shit about the tiny plants I have growing in seed trays on my porch again. Hooray, heading back up to the land of the people who aren’t zombies.

This happens to me often. Varying lengths of time, varying levels of seriousness.

I have never actively considered suicide. Not really. Depression, for me, is apathy. It is deep, unyielding lack of interest in life. When I am depressed, I want to lie on the floor and stare at the wall or ceiling until existence just stops happening. I don’t want to die, I don’t want to kill myself, I just don’t want to deal with life. Existing is hard. 90% of existence is bullshit. When I am depressed, every action I take, every word I speak, only comes about by scraping my fingers through the muck and mud in the bottom of the well inside me, cobbling together some slimey, filthy shreds of energy to keep me staggering through everyday existence. I am constantly digging, trying to find something to keep me going, but for every one speck of energy I find, the world demands three more. You got out of bed? Great. Now you have to get dressed. You have to fix your hair. You have to pack a lunch, even though you don’t want to eat. You made it out the door? Remember there’s a detour, you have to go a less familiar way to work. There’s construction. There’s traffic. It’s raining. So on, so on, so on. Little things that are minor inconveniences on a “normal” day to a non-depressed person have me dragging and drained by 8am.

This piece from Hyperbole and a Half describes my relationship with depression pretty well. Especially this:

hyperbole and a half

I’m one of those “high functioning” mentally ill people. Anxiety and depression make me absolutely miserable and emotionally unstable, but I can go to work and carry out all the functions expected of me at my job. Usually. Maybe I’m a little quieter than usual. Maybe I make more jokes about the eventual heat death of the universe, or the fact that in the grand scheme of things, this job is absolutely pointless and contributes nothing to the world. But I can function. When I tell people I have anxiety and depression, they say, “Really?! I never would have guessed.”

Why? Because I’m at work? I’m wearing clothes? I’m not sobbing uncontrollably?

Trust me, I am a fucking mess. Human interaction is a nightmare. Eating is a Herculean feat. Don’t even talk to me about showering. Count yourself lucky that I put on deodorant. I smell like four-day-old sweat tinged with freesia.

Being a writer is hard. Being a depressed writer is just awful. How do you find the energy to write when you don’t have the energy to eat?

Be gentle with yourself. Sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you just can’t. If it takes everything in you just to get out of bed, it’s okay that you don’t write that day.

I am a strong advocate for mental health awareness and self-care. For me, self-care means being gentle with myself. Some days I shower and get dressed and eat salad, other days I eat an entire bag of M&Ms and lay around in the same pajamas I’ve been wearing for two weeks. Usually I just sort of… float, for a couple days or weeks. I exist. I stagger through this existence, gasping and panting, tripping and falling, but I keep existing. Usually I reach a breaking point where I break down crying. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Crying. Twenty minutes of gross sobbing flips a switch in my brain and reminds me what a “feeling” is, and my brain goes “Oh! There are other ones, too. Check it out.”

There is no tried and true magical cure or methodology for getting past depression. It is a huge ugly dark thing with its fingers tangled in your hair, scrawny legs wrapped around your waist, whispering lies in your ear, and it won’t. fucking. let. go. I don’t want to spew hackneyed word-vomit about things getting better. Things are mostly okay. The world is not rainbows and unicorns. The world is a dumpster fire, but there are good things. Find a good thing. Cling to it. Maybe it’s a flower. A cat. A good deed. An internet video. A kind word. Look for other good things. Cling to them. Good things are flotation devices in the sinking abyss of gross blah that we live in. If you string together a few good things, maybe you can stay above the abyss. If you string together enough good things, maybe you can make it to the shore of the sinking-abyss-lake and drag yourself out onto solid ground. If you need help, please don’t hesitate to seek it out. Try not to wait until it’s unbearable. Know that there are people who understand. You aren’t alone.

I am open about my anxiety and depression because so few people are, but so many people experience it. I hate the feelings of isolation that surround so many mental health topics. If you’re depressed, please know that I understand. I don’t expect anything of you except that you remain alive. We can join hands and watch paint dry together. Lie down in the yard and watch grass grow because we can’t muster the energy or enthusiasm to make it any farther. And remember that the people who “don’t seem like it” are just as likely to be unhappy as the people who obviously are unhappy. Neither is more or less deserving of care.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (it’s free): 1-800-273-8255
and their website

I love and appreciate everyone who reads my posts and if you ever need to talk, Twitter is the best method to reach me. Direct link to my profile here – DM or @ me so I’ll get a notification on my phone. I am by absolutely no means a trained professional, but I can listen/read and sympathize. Sometimes all it takes is talking/writing your feelings out to someone, and you feel better. I am willing to be that someone.

This post got way more serious than I expected it to. Have a funny comic to lighten the mood.

sad owlturd

Source

Writing Process, Step Three – Writing

Ah, finally, the vital step. Writing. The first two steps are the fun and exciting steps. Then we get to writing. Writing is hard. Writing is the painful, strenuous, miserable, hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing, fist-shaking, curse-shouting step. Writing is the step where everything can fall apart.

But it is the most important step in the writing process. You can get all the ideas in the world, develop them, plot them out, profile your characters, but if you can’t park your ass in a chair and put words on the page, then there’s no point.

For me, a typical night of writing looks like this:

Start up laptop. Open Word. Open Twitter. Open YouTube (FOR MUSIC!). Check all notifications on Twitter. Interact with some people on Twitter. Start trading gifs of Jensen Ackles and Tom Hiddleston back and forth with people on Twitter. Realize you haven’t started writing yet. Open appropriate document. Check Twitter again. Tell Twitter friends it is time for you to focus on writing. Open Facebook. Check Facebook notifications. Maybe interact with some people on Facebook. Realize you don’t have a blog post written for this week yet. Open WordPress. Brainstorm for blog post. Check Twitter again. By now it is 11pm. Realize you still haven’t written anything. Start writing. Fall asleep on laptop 20 minutes later. Wake up at 3am, delete the 3 pages of the letter s you wrote while asleep, put laptop away.

next bestseller
Actual post from my Facebook a couple years ago. This is an ongoing trend.

It is a true miracle I ever accomplish anything.

…okay in all seriousness though, I have a pretty good writing routine down. I write every day. It took me years to develop this habit, and I did not develop it because all the writer advice websites say “write every day.” I developed it largely because of anxiety, depression, and sleep issues. I used to have trouble getting to sleep at night, until I developed a habitual nightly writing routine. I’ve written previously about psychologically manipulating yourself to get results. This is another way. Attach writing to something in your routine. For me, I attached it to going to bed. I would go to bed, get out my laptop, and write. At first I did this because I had trouble getting to sleep, and writing gave me something to focus on besides every embarrassing thing I’ve ever done in the past 25 years, but before long, I did it because it’s just… what I do. It keeps my mind occupied so I don’t lie awake brooding, and it keeps me productive. Even if I go to bed at midnight and have to be up for work at 6:30, I get out my laptop (usually in these cases, I just fall asleep on my keyboard two minutes later, but if I *didn’t* get out my laptop, I wouldn’t fall asleep). I do write during the day on weekends sometimes, but for me, writing is a “once you start you will not stop” habit. If I start writing in the morning, all other activities for the day are gone from my mind. Writing at night also saves me from having to stop for any reason. I’m in bed. The day is done. Leave me alone. I can write until I can’t write anymore.

Anyway, each night without fail, I go to bed around 8, get out my laptop, and write. If I go a day or two without doing this, I get anxious. I can’t focus. I get irritable. All I can think about is going home and writing.

So let’s face it: I’m addicted to writing. And I think that’s how it should be. Writing should be something you enjoy. Even in all its teeth-gnashing, hair-pulling glory, you should enjoy it. If you enjoy it, you should make time for it in your life. If you do not enjoy it, then why are you doing it?

I try not to get preachy or spew out advice about “how to write” or “how to be a writer” or any of that. Everyone’s routine is different, everyone’s process is different, everyone’s life is different. But I do think that it is important to develop a routine if you want to see any results. Just like with any skill or art, you have to put a lot into it if you want to get anything out of it. You have to practice in order to get better. Whether it’s 1000 words a day, a page, a paragraph, a sentence–whatever it is, do it consistently. Writing is not a spectator sport. You can’t read a book about how to write, sit down, and immediately tap out beautiful sentences, vivid imagery, and realistic characters. I have been writing since I was a tiny little child (as you all know, if you saw my 500 Followers Celebration Post). I started writing “seriously” when I was 11 (thank you Dragonball Z).

In other words, I’ve been writing “seriously” for over 15 years–I have a degree in creative writing–and I still think I’m awful.

But I keep writing, because I have to, because that’s all you can do, because that’s the only way to get better, and that’s the only way the words are gonna end up on the page. You gotta sit your ass in a chair (or on the floor, on your bed, on a bench, I don’t care where you put your ass, you could even write standing up, but it’s gotta stay there), you have to suffer through that self-doubt and anxiety, you have to accept that it is NOT going to be perfect (definitely not on the first draft… probably not after 5+ revisions, either. Just accept it), and then you have to start writing. I use a laptop. Some people write on a desktop. Some people write by hand. Some people use special pens or special notebooks. Some people write at home, some people write at coffee shops. Do whatever you need to do to make it happen.

One important thing to note about my writing process is that I am a pantser. That means I don’t outline in advance. I usually know what’s going to happen like 1-2 scenes in the future, and beyond that, there’s some vague notions of what might happen. Sometimes, I hit a wall. I get through those 1-2 scenes and then…. where do I go? What do I do? HALP. HALP. HALP!
When this happens, DON’T QUIT. You may need to take a day off. You may need to do more research. Sometimes you just down have the knowledge base to generate the ideas. This happened to me recently. I had some vague notion that Something Bad Happens, but couldn’t figure out exactly what. I was up against a wall. So I talked to a friend, figured out a direction, and then did some research to figure out a plausible way for that direction to be taken. I let the ideas stew and simmer for a couple days in order to coalesce in my mind, and now I have another 2-3 scenes in mind to write. After that, I once again don’t know what will happen, but fingers are crossed the boys will tell me when I get there.

If you’re having trouble with the writing step, I have a couple things for you to read. These two pieces stuck with me the most of any “writing help” I’ve ever read:

Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” (and really, the entirety of her book Bird by Bird) changed my life when I read it in college. I never finished a novel draft before reading this piece. I kept getting stuck on the idea of perfection. I’d edit as I wrote, I’d get caught up on things, and eventually fizzle out. After I read this, I finally managed to finish a novel-length draft!)

Neil Gaiman’s NaNoWriMo pep talk If Neil Gaiman can feel horribly insecure about his own writing, even after being published and awarded and praised extensively… maybe my writing isn’t as bad as I think it is, either.

Also for fun, a conversation between George R. R. Martin and Stephen King (I haven’t watched the video, just read the article) wherein Martin expresses his own insecurities about his writing.

I also highly advise participating in NaNoWriMo. It definitely helps with developing a routine.

So to summarize… Step Three – Writing = develop a routine and be consistent. Get words on the page. They are gonna suck, and you are gonna hate them, but you can’t make them better if you never bring them into existence. Once they exist, we get to move onto Step Four – Revision!!! MY FAVORITE STEP. (Jk I hate it)

Writing #OwnVoices – You Are Enough

I’m asexual. I wrote about this just a couple months ago when I realized it for the first time in my 10+ years of adulthood. Since then, I have joined the #ownvoices movement by starting to write a novel with an asexual gay man as a main character.

Let me tell you: It is hard. It is really, really difficult for me, despite being asexual myself. The temptation to put these guys into a regular old sexual relationship is strong. It’d be a lot easier to write. Despite not being sexually motivated or driven myself, writing sex is natural because it is everywhere, and I know it is expected, and a lot of readers live for the sex scenes.

Writing anything is hard. Writing gay men as a straight[ish] female[ish…person] is hard. Writing romance with a character who is not driven by sexual desire is a hard. Put all this together and add a heaping dose of crippling self-doubt on top, and it’s a miracle I’ve put a single word on the page.

“Self doubt?” you say. “Why are you drowning in self doubt? This should be easy. You’re asexual. You’re writing an asexual character. That’s like being a writer and writing about a writer. Right?”

Except I only realized I’m asexual like two months ago, and only decided to apply/embrace the label several weeks later. All in all, I’ve considered myself a part of the asexual community for like, maybe 5 weeks now. So who the fuck am I to write an asexual character? I have no idea what I’m talking about. Right? What if I accidentally write bad rep? Even though I am ace, and I have been ace forever, I could easily write something that offends someone else. I could write it wrong. The internet is a terrifying place. There are a lot of outspoken, aggressive people on every side of every issue (especially on Twitter, where I spend most of my time). What if I write this asexual character based on my own personal feelings and experiences, and someone comes along and says “He’s not asexual.”

But he’s based on me! And I am! Does that mean I’m not?!

What if I write this #ownvoices book and someone comes along and shits on me for it because I’m not repping enough? I’m not outspoken enough? I’m not… I don’t know what, but what if I’m doing it wrong?

TAKING RISKS IS TERRIFYING.

Somebody save me.

Do you see my issue?

And then, while I was musing over this hang-up I’m struggling with, here came Ana Mardoll with a miraculously well-time tweet thread:

If you could just pardon me for a moment, I’ll be in the corner, sobbing.

misha crying

Okay. Better now.

So this is what it boils down to, kids: You are enough, and the world needs your voice. No one is more enough-y than you. No one can write a marginalized character better than a marginalized person, and no one can tell you that your feelings and experiences disqualify you for the group you feel you belong to. There has been a lot of hate flying around lately–transphobia and biphobia, erasure of all sorts. There is no better time than now for writing #ownvoices, and there is no better person than you.

So I’m going to go on writing my asexual gay man, and if he wants to have sex, he will. And if he doesn’t, he won’t. He’ll find his boyfriend attractive, he will be infatuated and in love and make flirty comments and sexual jokes, and if anyone reads about him someday and says that his relationship is unrealistic, I’ll give them a great big middle finger, because I am an asexual person, and I have sex, get crushes, flirt, and make a hell of a lot of sexual jokes. Those things do not disqualify me from the a-spec. I am asexual enough to write an asexual character, even if I just realized it a few weeks ago. It’s my identity and no one will take it away from me.

(If you want snippets and lines from Alex and his asexual D/s adventures, you can follow me on Twitter. I post quite frequently.)

“Write What You Know”

There’s loads of writing advice batted at writers, packaged down into short, easy absolutes: Show don’t tell. Don’t use adverbs. Write drunk, edit sober. Never use semicolons. Don’t use “very.” And, of course, “write what you know.”

Let me tell you something about these hackneyed tidbits of “advice”: they are often misinterpreted. I believe the most common interpretation of “write what you know” is  “write about your own life”. That can be very discouraging, because the average person does not lead a novel-worthy life–if I went with this interpretation, I would write about cats, dogs, gardening, writing, and libraries.

A more accurate tidbit of advice would be “use what you know” or “start with what you know.” No where in that four-word writing quip does it say “write ONLY what you know.”

Here’s the thing: You know a lot more than you think you do. You know pain, you know loss, you know anger, joy, happiness, confusion, stress. You know friendship and family, you know hunger and thirst, you know what it’s like to want something you cannot acquire.

That’s your base. Emotion is vital for any story. Maybe you’ve never had to watch your entire village get slaughtered or decide to let one person die to save twenty, but you have experienced strong emotions. Use those.

And here’s another fantastic thing about “what you know”: you can actively decide to change what you know. If you don’t know about something, find out. Do Your Goddamn Research.

but its hard

Yes, there is such a thing as “creative liberty” and “author’s prerogative.” These are especially pertinent in scifi and fantasy. When you start engaging magic and setting things 500 years in the future on another planet, creative liberty and author’s prerogative become all the more powerful.

BUT

You have to have truth and fact and reality at the core before you can take liberties. There has to be a seed of relatable knowledge there to help you create the beautiful sprout of a novel you plan to write. Your characters should express true, believable emotions.

There’s a highly pertinent quote I’ve seen credited to Pablo Picasso: “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.” This applies to “write what you know” as well. Learn the facts like an expert so you can bend them for your novel.

But you have to start with what you know and be realistic. You have to start with that basis of truth, that honest emotion or basic fact. If you are writing something completely outside your realm of experience, sprinkle in pieces of what you know to lend a feeling of authenticity to your story–for example, I spent four years in college, so if I include a college campus as a setting, or a college professor as a character, I have plenty of knowledge I can use. Maybe the college campus is actually a huge summoning circle for the forces of evil, or the college professor is an alien. I don’t know anything about that from experience–but I do know the basics of dorm life, campus events, student attire, the kinds of conversation you might overhear on a campus, etc, and I can use that basis as a springboard for the rest of my idea to give it an authentic feel despite being about something utterly outside my realm of experience.

If you write an MC who has been raped or abused, who is instantly cured by falling in love with someone, you clearly have not put yourself in this MC’s position and bothered to lay down that foundation of truth, the kernel of realism from which your fiction can grow.

If you write a scifi novel and I read it and think, “Okay, this person has clearly never watched or read ANY scifi in their goddamn life,” then you’re doing something wrong.

No one expects you to become an expert on thermonuclear astrophysics overnight, but you should be doing research. You should have a list of resources you’ve consulted that you can go back to if you feel uncertain at any point. You should feel knowledgeable enough that if someone came to you and said, “Can you give me the basics on this topic?” you could spout off some knowledge and point them in the direction of some articles that you found helpful.

A writer’s job is to take threads of reality and weave them into something interesting, exciting, and entertaining. What you know–through research and experience–gives you the thread you need for your beautiful tapestry, but thread alone can’t make art. If you only “write what you know,” you’re basically just taking all those threads and hanging them up to flap in the breeze. Everyone will look at them and say “Huh, yeah, that’s thread all right.” If you don’t “write what you know” at all, you’re basically trying to weave a tapestry out of pure imagination. Everyone will look at your tapestry and go, “…oh. It’s uh… Very… uh, not really real.”

You have to use imagination AND thread to make a tapestry. What you know and what you don’t. “Write what you know” is good advice, as long as you know how to interpret it.

tapestries

For some other perspectives on this misunderstood piece of writing advice, check out The Most Misunderstood Piece of Good Advice Ever and Write What You Know – Helpful Advice or Idle Cliche?

What do you guys think? Is this much-repeated advice actually any good? What other frequently-uttered writing advice do you think we’re all interpreting wrong?

Writing “Process,” Step One – Birth of an Idea

As a writer, you hear a lot of “what’s your process?” and “How do you start?” and “Where do you get ideas?” and so on and so forth.

I’m starting a new novel draft for Camp NaNoWriMo, so I figured I would share my “writing process” while it’s still fresh in my head — at least as it pertains to this particular project, because to be honest, I don’t think I have a universal process. I don’t have a tried and true “method” for “getting ideas” and “prewriting” and then “writing.” Maybe writing this will help me figure out a more efficient method of shaping my ideas into coherent drafts, as well as give you guys some ideas.

I often start with a concept or emotion. For my NaNoWriMo draft back in November, I started with a concept along the lines of “opposites helping each other, sort of against their will.” For this new draft I’m starting, I woke up one morning with a thought in my head: I want to read a gay romance with a dom/sub relationship…. with asexual characters.

BDSM is a very sexual thing. I find it appealing in books because, as I discussed in my post a couple weeks ago, I am intrigued by the exploration of power dynamics in relationships (especially in m/m). BDSM is power dynamic exploration to the extreme. But it is very sexual, but given my recent realization about my own sexuality, I thought… how would a couple with at least one asexual member explore their BDSM kink?

So first, with this concept in mind, I went on a quest to find books to read for research. I wanted characters that are explicitly identified as asexual, so after posting a question on Twitter, my Facebook, and the Facebook M/M Romance group, I consulted the wonderful Aro/Ace Speculative Fiction Database first (maintained by Claudie Arseneault). There, I found one entry mentioning a D/S relationship, in the web series Iwunen Interstellar Investigations

Next I moved on to the M/M Romance Goodreads group and looked through their shelves. No shelf for asexuality, so that was a bust (get on that, guys).

I found a different Goodreads list of asexual characters – any gender, orientation, or genre, as long as it has a confirmed asexual character (with a whopping 105 books on it). I browsed through that and found one published novel that fit my ace BDSM criteria, from Dreamspinner Press – City of Soldiers by Sam Burke. I bought it.

Then I went back to my Facebook posts where I’d asked for recs. Nothing. I had three people who were interested enough in the same topic to follow the FB post, so I provided them with the two items I’d found.

So after several disappointing hours of searching, I decided FUCK IT. Guess I gotta write one. I’ve always thought there is nothing original left to explore in the world, but APPARENTLY, asexuality is pretty damn original. Asexuals are like unicorns or something.

So I had a concept, and two vague character archetypes to plug into the concept – In addition to wanting to write a “no sex” BDSM relationship, I also want to write a sub who is more physically imposing and/or financially successful than his dom and a dom who is not a suave millionaire stereotype. (on that note, if you have recs for m/m BDSM books with a dom and/or sub who fit those criteria, please drop them in the comments for me – they can be explicitly sexual, I don’t mind, since this is a different aspect of research than the asexuality aspect).

Anyway, with my concept in mind and a fair amount of excitement (I’m exploring new territory here, apparently), I went and got in the shower, because as a human being, I must sometimes do mundane things such as this.

And I got like FORTY MILLION IDEAS while I was in there. Thank God no one else was home because I kept going “Ooh!” and “OH MY GOD.”

When I got out of the shower, I sat down and wrote out about 2-3 single spaced pages of brainstorming. It was going to be urban fantasy. Magic! Danger! Curses and cures!

And then I went to bed, and at work the next day, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. It wasn’t quite right. Needed refining. The characters weren’t quite right for the plot I was trying to put them into. So I yanked them apart–these characters were not meant to be in this situation. So then I had characters in need of a plot, and a plot in need of characters. I also needed to do some worldbuilding, because if I’m going to write urban fantasy, I need it to be original. Urban fantasy is pretty popular these days and I don’t want to copy the Dresden files… So I consulted my sister for worldbuilding advice. We exchanged lengthy emails about worldbuilding for this story idea I have.

After another day of simmering, I ended up splitting the characters up, too. They had too many clashing aspects. I’d gotten excited and attached some feelings to one of the characters that I couldn’t shake off him, and they didn’t mesh with the other character. So I pulled my sub and dom apart, gave the sub a new dom, gave the dom a new sub……… and then I split some aspects out of each of those couples to create 2 more couples that could explore even more aspects of this idea I’d had.

So at this point, I had 4 potential couples/plots to work with. The characters were all still in the “vague concept” mode, but the plot was starting to have some substance. To decide which characters to work with and put into this plot, I brainstormed careers — I texted some friends and talked with my husband for career possibilities that would allow someone to be physically strong/imposing/able to handle themselves. I put together a list, but the vague notions I had for the plot immediately latched onto one career choice as soon as it came to mind, so the decision was easy. The same thing happened for the other character. I asked Twitter for career possibilities and the second I saw one of the suggestions I said YES. THAT IS IT. Almost like the characters were there, they’re in my head, but they don’t have any vocabulary yet. They know themselves, they know what they are, but they can’t provide the words. I have to drop words into the well with them and see which one they throw back at me, saying, “This one.”

It took me 2-3 days to shape that initial brainstorming session into something useful, and in the end, the characters that came out of it are nothing like the ones I initially thought up. This is why you don’t share first drafts! My original couple that I got excited about while showering was a magic-using bodyguard (dangerous/physically imposing sub) and a scientist (not so physically imposing dom). After shaking them down and peeling them apart and kicking the dust out of my plot idea and gathering that dust up and making a new plot out of it, my final couple is a personal trainer (or physical therapist, I have to do a bit more research) and a sociology professor. No magic. No danger. Just a nice, normal, contemporary romance… with an asexual character in a dom/sub relationship.

The characters’ names come to me with varying amounts of difficulty. One of them has had a name since I thought up his initial concept in the shower. The other one… I knew his name started with S. Throughout the day at work, various character facts come to me, rising up to the surface of my mind like soap bubbles, popping into existence with brillaint “a-ha!” certainty. I also begin to get flashes of scenes as those facts begin to appear, snippets of dialogue, vague notions of plot and events. All of this goes into my handy-dandy little memo book which stays on my desk at work and comes home with me each night, full of new ideas.

So to summarize, the birth of a new story, for me, goes: 1) concept or emotion, 2) research, 3) wild, excited brainstorming, 4) simmering & refinement. Of course, it’s not a nice even neat progression of events. It’s more like having a bucket of lego, and there are a few really cool bricks and a bunch of other pieces that aren’t as exciting, and you immediately grab onto the cool bricks and think I’M GOING TO MAKE SOMETHING WITH THESE. But then, when you try, it turns out you actually need all kinds of other pieces in order for the cool pieces to fit together, and some of the cool pieces just won’t fit no matter what you do, and you try rebuilding a couple times with a bunch of different types of pieces in a bunch of different ways in hopes of making your original “something” work, but eventually you have to discard some of your precious “cool pieces” and accept that your lego house will be better off if you sacrifice a little bit of “cool” in exchange for structural stability.

I’m always curious about others’ writing processes. Where do you guys get your ideas? How do you refine them down to something useful? Do you actually have a process? Let me know in the comments!

Saying vs. Doing, or, the Art of Psychologically Manipulating Yourself

How are those new year’s resolutions going? I hope you’re all clinging to yours like gum to the underside of a chair. (Ew, gross analogy, sorry)

Now that it’s nearly April, I assume most people who waxed poetic about “new year, new me” have long since fallen off the bandwagon and are back to their old habits. I, however, am 98% on track with my goals for this year so far. No one knows it but me, because I refuse to announce my goals and resolutions.

Why is that, you say? Why do you hate new year’s resolutions? Why don’t you tell anyone what yours are?

I don’t hate new year’s resolutions, I just can’t keep them if I announce them to anyone. If I tell anyone my goals, I won’t accomplish them. It’s a basic tenet of my personality. It’s actually a basic tenet of human nature. There have been numerous studies done on the topic. One study notes: “Other people’s taking notice of one’s identity-relevant intentions apparently engenders a premature sense of completeness regarding the identity goal.” (PDF here)
In English: Y’all tell people you’re gonna do something, and suddenly you feel like you’ve already accomplished your goal because other people know about it.
And then you don’t do it. Because you already feel accomplished.

As writers, we can’t afford to make this mistake. Writing is hard enough without human nature interfering with our goals.

Being a productive writer requires a stupid amount of discipline, and discipline requires self-awareness. You have to reflect on your own habits and behaviors. You have to be brutally honest with yourself and hold yourself accountable. No one else is going to, and if you claim that telling 172 people on Facebook that you intend to write a novel will help you write a novel, that’s just a lie you tell yourself to justify the feeling of false accomplishment described above. Aunt Sally on Facebook will not help you achieve your goals. Aunt Sally probably never even achieved her own goals. Don’t rely on Aunt Sally to keep you going on your writing. You are the only one who can do that.

Basically, being a writer requires you to be psychologically manipulative… to yourself.

You have to pay attention to yourself. Figure out how your own mind works – know what motivates and depresses your creativity, what time you’re most productive and under what circumstances, what you have to tell yourself in order to get results, what music helps and what doesn’t, know how other people can affect your productivity and adjust your interactions accordingly.

To me it’s almost a game.

You have to trick yourself, psychologically condition yourself like Pavlov and his dogs – ring a bell and the writer puts 100 words on the page! Tell yourself that if you don’t write every single day, the sky will fall, an army of vicious aliens will invade the planet, the sun will go supernova. Whatever works for you. But you have to figure it out. You have to pay attention to your own psychology. And talking about how much writing you’re going to accomplish does not help you accomplish it.

Here are a few things I’ve found that work for me:

  1. Self-talk. When I find myself dilly-dallying, especially out of some sense of anxiety (starting a new story, starting edits, avoiding a difficult-to-write scene), I have a little chat with myself – sometimes out loud, sometimes not. My self-talk is, erm, more along the lines of drill sergeant than encouraging momma. I have to be harsh with myself or I’ll take advantage of my own lenience. (i.e., “LISTEN, YOU STUPID BITCH. WRITE YOUR FUCKING STORY OR YOU WILL DROWN IN SELF-LOATHING, AND YOU WILL BE MISERABLE.” “ugh okay, you’re right, self”)
  2. Plan/Schedule. If you work a regular dayshift job, it’s easy to fall into a kind of slump in the evenings. You work all day, get home, you’re tired, you just kinda… meh, do whatever, watch TV or something. I tell myself every day, “I have to write tonight.” Or if you have something to do after work, “All right, I should be home around 9, I’ll write for half an hour and then watch an episode of whatever and then go to bed.” Work it into your daily schedule. It doesn’t have to be a huge time sink. If you write one sentence, you’re doing better than if you write nothing. But make it part of your daily schedule. If you want to take it seriously, treat it with as much responsibility as you do your actual paying day job.
  3. Frequent Small Goals + Reward System. Dangling a proverbial carrot in front of my own face does tend to work. I typically reward myself with food and breaks. I set small, daily goals in addition to my overall goals. That’s a tactic I learned from running for fun – when you think you can’t do it, pick a small landmark, a tree or pole or pot hole, and say, “I just need to get to that.” Once you get to that, pick a new one. Before you know it, you’ve run 3 miles. In a writing context, your overall goal may be to write a novel, but setting a small, achievable goal such as 500 words a day, or thirty minutes of writing, can help keep the sense of accomplishment alive so you don’t get discouraged. I like to set goals with rewards such as, “If I finish my short story tonight, I will make brownies tomorrow.” or “If I finish my novel draft by Friday, I will marathon the Lord of the Rings movies on Saturday.”

I will put a caveat here: As writers/bloggers/artists who maintain our own social media presence, sometimes we have to talk about our plans. You have to have content for your feeds, you have to keep your audience interested and updated on what you’re doing. I still advise you not to talk about what you’re going to do, but rather what you are doing and what you have done. Mentioning your future plans is okay occasionally as long as you still have actual content to share just as often (or more often).

Here are a few articles with interesting tips to trick your mind into being more productive and better focused. They are kind of generalized or intended for office work, but it can easily be applied to writing as well: Six Lazy Ways to Trick Your Brain into Being Productive, 5 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Being Productive When You’re Just Not Feeling It, and How to Trick Yourself Into Doing Tasks You Dread.

For more specific writing-related motivation, Camp NaNoWriMo starts this Saturday, April 1! Camp NaNoWriMo is kind of like normal NaNoWriMo, except that you can set your own goal, and you get to join a “cabin” of up to 19 other writers who will help encourage each other. If you’re not sure if you should participate, 1) yes you should, 2) maybe my blog post about NaNoWriMo will convince you.

Do you guys have any tips or tricks you use to keep yourself on task?