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.)

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?

Nothing Wrong with Writing Romance

I am one of those oddities who actually got a degree in creative writing, because I followed the advice of “go to school for something you love” and not worry about making money. Happiness is more important than dollars. Here’s the thing: One of the biggest impacts my CW program had on me was to instill a deep-seated insecurity about my chosen writing genre(s). I didn’t really realize it at the time, but now, years after graduation, it has dawned on me that while teaching me some important lessons, it was also subconsciously cutting me down. The entire fiction program was focused on getting us into grad school, and Grad Schools Don’t Want Genre Fiction. They Want To Know You Can Write Real, Literary Fiction.

So I spent three years not writing scifi, not writing fantasy, and not writing romance.

Don’t ask me what the hell I did write, because I honestly don’t remember. I wrote specifically to get a grade, and tossed the pieces to the side as soon as I could. When people asked me what I liked to write, I would reluctantly admit scifi/fantasy. I never admitted I wrote romance, let alone gay romance. Writing romance is like, ugh, bottom of the barrel in skill-level, as far as my creative writing program was concerned. Anyone can write romance.

Right?

Right?

WRONG.

Fuck that!

Do you know how much bad romance I’ve encountered? And I don’t mean the kind with weird outfits.

bad-romance-2
The more I watch this gif, the more I wonder if these ladies were really meant to be flailing around so haphazardly.

I never wanted to go to grad school for writing. That was never in my end goal. The entire program was devoted to teaching me how to do something I never planned to do, and in its pursuit of preparing me for a goal I did not want to achieve, it taught me that the things that I did want to do Weren’t Good Enough.

Ugh, no, no, no. I graduated from that program in 2012. It has taken me five years to get over that and embrace who I am and what I write. It took me finding the m/m romance genre–specifically starting with Josh Lanyon, and realizing that holy shit, there are authors who write this, exclusively this, extensively this. And write it well. Josh Lanyon uses some really great figurative language, beautiful descriptions, strong dialogue, realistic emotion–all that kind of shit my creative writing program encouraged me to write as “literary fiction.” There it is, all those Good Things… in a book featuring gay romance as a major element of the plot.

Well hot damn.

And look! There are all these other authors that do the same thing! I found Aleksandr Voinov next–gay scifi romance?! Oh my god. THIS. IS. A. THING. I. CAN. DO! THIS IS A REAL THING! THIS EXISTS. PEOPLE DO THIS. PEOPLE DO WHAT I WANT TO DO. AND THEY HAVE FANS.

Count me in!

There is absolutely nothing shameful in writing romance. I’m still getting over that preconception. I don’t go gallivanting around talking about my writing in real life, because that’s annoying, but I do mention it in passing (given the fact that I spend 98% of my free time doing it, it’s hard for me to hold a conversation without mentioning it). To my great relief, no one really ever asks what I write. But if/when they do, I always hesitate before admitting to romance. Based on blog posts I’ve read off and on over the past few months, I’m not the only one who is afraid of some kind of stigma surrounding the title of “romance writer.”

But I noticed this weird thing when I did start admitting it: No one fucking cares.

No one judges me for it. No one thinks I am any less of a skilled writer than if I was trying to write a modern To Kill a Mockingbird or Great Gatsby. In fact, the average person is probably more interested in romance than “literary fiction.” People read romance. People identify with romance. Most people read for fun and entertainment, not to get some kind of deep message ingrained into their souls. There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing specifically and exclusively for entertainment. As it would turn out, only people who teach creative writing to college students are going to think that my chosen genre of writing in any way reflects on my skills as a writer overall.

This year I’m all about self-love and embracing who I am. As it just so happens, I’m a lady who writes gay romance, and the only thing you can judge me by is the quality of my writing.

Which isn’t published anywhere yet.

So good luck judging me.

(If you really want to judge me, I suppose you can go based off my blog. Bring it on. I’ll fight you.)

I’m curious about your experiences with talking about your writing. Do your friends and family know what you write? Do you feel like there’s a stigma around the romance genre?

 

Everything in Moderation

Moderation is not my strong suit. I’ll put that out there right off the bat. I am either all-in on something–be it a band, a book, a food, a video game–or I am 1000% disinterested. I have basically stopped watching all TV over the past year or so because I refuse to let myself get sucked into a weeks-long multi-season binge and I apparently cannot portion-control myself.

how-my-brain-works
Never has a more relevant comic existed

My inability to do things in moderation is a blessing and a curse. It makes me be super productive! I set goals and I go at them hard and fast (hehehe). I don’t let myself get distracted. I am single-minded on my goal until it is achieved.

…or until I burn out.

You know how, the faster you’re going in a car, the harder it is to control the vehicle in the event of an unexpected ice patch or pothole or deer or bad driver? So if you go fast and boom, suddenly a deer!, things aren’t going to end well.

I’m like that with my goals. I fly at them with blinders on, determined to meet them in an efficient and timely manner. In order to meet them, I ignore ALL OTHER THINGS. I want to finish every goal as soon as possible so I can move onto the next one. If I start reading a book, I will binge that book until it’s done–days off, evenings, lunch breaks at work, I am reading. If I start revising a draft or writing a new story, all reading is forgotten. My husband won’t see me for weeks except in passing. “Hi, I’m home. Okay I’m going upstairs to write.”

When this is how you operate, sometimes all it takes is a little bump from Life and suddenly you’re spiraling into deep space, trajectory lost, instruments non-responsive, no idea how to find your path again. Should you be reading? Writing? Revising? Binge watching every season of every series of Star Trek to ever air? YOU JUST DON’T KNOW. So you drift, aimless, not particularly passionate about any of your goals. That’s where I am now.

And oooooh buddy, it sucks.

Life just gave me a little tap–okay, a couple little taps in quick succession over the course of a week–and now I am floating in oblivion without road signs or any sense of direction. Just drifting in space. I have lost interest in the goal I was working towards, but I am loathe to set it aside and start on something else.

And yet… they say “everything in moderation.” So perhaps I need to learn that working towards and single goal and neglecting all else is, perhaps, not a good idea? Not healthy? Perhaps, maybe, I should be okay with working a bit more slowly on multiple goals at once, so that this burn-out doesn’t happen…? MAYBE I should let myself have a few hours of mindless, non-goal-related entertainment every once in a while? IT’S OKAY TO RELAX, LEIGH.

I’m not sure about all that, but for now I think I must set aside the goal I fizzled out on and work towards a different one. I have plenty of goals. I just need to pick one and take off…

How do you guys manage your goals? Do you believe in “everything in moderation” or are you a “burn twice as bright for half as long” kind of person?