present mind, writing hands

As I sat down to write the post I thought, “This is great. I need to do this every day. I need to make time for writing outside of my fiction projects.” Other random, obscured thoughts circled my mind in a series that eventually formed some sort of long drawn out idea or concept. One after another like a flip book of procrastination. All my mind wandering halted when I released I wasn’t writing anything down. I also do this when I’m drafting. Think, and not write. I’m forward not present.

I talk a lot on Too Many Words about listening to the gut whisper and how part of knowing your process is understanding how every day it’s a little or completely different from the day before. Thinking and writing usually means one of three things.

  1. I haven’t given myself enough backtrack thinking.
  2. Free writing is necessary.  -OR-
  3. I need scribble down the arc for a short that won’t be quiet.
  4. Lunch is necessary.

The common thread between all three is that I need to be doing something other than what I can’t help but stare at. Even switching from computer to notebook helps. Hell, it’s the last day of NaNoWriMo and I completed my 50,000 words. Actually, I got to 52,010 words but who’s counting?

Isn’t that point?

Yes, and no.

Everyone who sets out to do NaNoWriMo has there own reason, even if it’s just the comradery of committing to write 50,000 words in one month with a collection of writers all around the world. I like that feeling. I needed that boost to get me working on this incredibly intimating, dragon-sized rewrite. Now as we enter December I am nearing the midpoint of the project and I am just gonna keep going until this phase is at an end.

My life feels too full lately (or always). We as a family unit are operating at faster frequency, with two kids in elementary school and activities they want to try ontop of both me and my husband working. (Something many juggle.) It’s tough for me to see either of my kids have a stressful time. At the end of the day my main goal as parents is that my children feel supported. I remember how hard school was. Gosh, I barely made it out. But I do best to be present when they are, to give them a steady backing because not having one as a kid made everything harder. So when I sit to write, to work, I think of it as for me, because  I love and need it. I do not treat it like the blistering, humbling hell it sometimes feels like.

It’s tricky balancing life and work and family and self and breathing. I am still working and grinding toward my goals so when I look at a day where I wasn’t as productive as I’d like to be or ended up needing to do a whole bunch of things I didn’t count for in my 2 am planning it can feel impossible to accept all I did do. It’s hard to see accomplishment when it’s this gradual, forever process of building a writing career, of writing a book, of revising. Whatever, sometimes it just doesn’t jive or flow or really I just need an apple and a walk to smooth the thoughts out. Stepping away feels like the worst thing in the world because it feels like failure.

Repeat after me, “Taking care of yourself isn’t failing.”

As I have mentioned on Too Many Words recently, I’ve been managing my anxiety disorder. I have known that anxiety is dragon I have to tame. I’ve had panic attacks when I was a teenager. Socially, forget about it. But over the last year and a half, my anxiety built a mega city and now I need to practice tools and exhaust myself with yoga so I don’t chew on my leg like a dog that needs a walk. I have been practicing yoga most mornings before the house is awake. I push myself and breath and am gradually working up to a handstand (I’m close) One of the schools of yoga is Hatha. Which is basically holding different positions. One after the other until you’re sweating, tingly, and you’ve forgotten what’s plaguing you because you’re tired and starving.

When I am doing a side plank with my knee to my nose all I am thinking about is not pulling a muscle I didn’t know I had. I am breathing through it. I know what my stomach is doing. Every muscle holding me up is at the forefront of the mind. Once I settled into the moment, once I’ve mastered it, then it’s time for the next position. (Warrior 3 is my favorite.)
I’m not telling you to do yoga but the act of fully being present and then repeating it with different positions is a lot like the mind needed for drafting. Ease back on the toes. Write down character’s nagging motivation. Pull in the navel. Fold into the scene. Find out what’s important. Lower back pinches so you ease forward. Your hand is on your calve instead of the floor. Switch voices. Jot that idea down and then come back.

It’s all a dance. All of it.
As I come to the end of this post I have the element I was missing for a scene I planned on writing. So I’m gonna get on that.
As always thanks for reading.

-J

Episode 54: Heather Mason

54 promo.pngPop Culture journalist and host of Obsessed Right Now, Heather Mason joins me this We talk about Heather’s six weeks on the road, changes in weather, and the pressure to binge-watch Stranger Things 2. Before Heather comes on I get into the twisty world of my writing process and thoughts for those participating in NanoWriMo. The weekly book recommendation of the week is “All The Crooked Saints” by Maggie Stiefvater.

 

Listen. Share. Subscribe.

iTunes: https://goo.gl/yNRqS2
Stitcher: https://goo.gl/MB9rpF
Google Play: https://goo.gl/2H6Shz

Support the show on Patreon https://goo.gl/S94MmS

back and even better!

51promoHey guys!
Too Many Words returns with the wonderfully prolific and friend of the show, Oli Jacobs! He is the author of several horror and science fiction novels. Oli gets into his latest horror novel Deep Down There. We talk the brilliance of H.P. Lovecraft, leaning into voice, the power of walking away, and how every writer needs a dog. I had a wonderful time chatting with him and I  hope you enjoy listening.
Before Oli comes on, I get into what I’ve been up to and the show’s switch to Patreon.

Download. Share. Subscribe.
iTunes: https://goo.gl/YVAAzZ
Stitcher: https://goo.gl/W49YJf
Google Play: https://goo.gl/q9po9Z

You can now support the show on Patreon! https://goo.gl/WQYhgt

 

Mind and body, it’s complicated

 
I kept sitting down to write this essay I promised for a collection. The theme of the piece needs to boil down to one thing: my relationship with my body and mind.
Easy, right?
*chokes*
When I took the assignment I was excited to dive in, to be honest, and maybe even help someone. What do we do with our minds and bodies while we have them? What is done to them? How do we grow? People often struggle with this—I sure as hell do. I mean it’s kinda the whole life deal, isn’t it?
When it came to sitting my butt in the seat and writing, as it often does, collecting my thoughts onto paper was harder than I expected. I kept choking out a line then grimacing at it. We all know this isn’t how to get anything accomplished. But after a few aggressive dance-offs, I grabbed my collar and said, “Time to make it happen.”
And, I did it. I wrote the allotted amount of words, took a walk, did some yoga, and with a smoothie in hand, I reread it.
Bleh.
My first impression was, “Am I that scattered?”
I didn’t like how I jumped from thing to thing. It left me feeling like I didn’t know myself at all, or that I haven’t made any peace with all my hang-ups.
I scowled at the lines shifting from my eating disorder to my ever complicated relationship with my mother.
Later on I was vacuuming, lamenting about how unfocused the piece was and it hit me. It wasn’t unfocused, it was complicated.
Body’s have a past, present, and future and the mind is as mysterious as the deepest oceans. My connection it isn’t singular, it’s layers and layers of trial and error and turning points.
Now, I’m editing it with nicer things to say and drawing the lines that make the whole piece, that make me. It’s hard for me to listen to myself. My upbringing and anxiety disorder have ingrained distrust. As I work on this as an adult so I don’t implode with unnecessary amounts of stress I find more slivers of peace and more understanding in the actual craft itself, both in drafting and revisions. It’s the game of seeing what isn’t there, of reading between the lines. Of, feeling purpose behind action.
 
Maybe, don’t be so quick to dismiss. Listen. Learn. And, feel.

Humbled by Stories and Pie

Fall is approaching. The kids are back in school. My house is quiet. Cinnamon is suddenly more appealing. Our planet seems to be crumbling down around us. I spent the summer writing scenes that never needed to exist for the story I was telling because I thought I was writing another one. I discovered the amazing world of paleo-style cooking in a nobel attempt to be healthier and have a hobby outside of words.  I’m currently sitting at my desk ready to crank out some smaller pieces in hopes of earning modest piles of cash. It’s been too long since the last blog post, nerves were starting to climb my legs, so I popped over here to write this. The moment my fingers hit the keys my mind started jumping all over like a confused frog with no tongue.
I’ve learned so much in the last eight or so months. I did it with crash-course grace, and my head is still spinning on its side. I made so many mistakes with my latest project—the one that I’ve been obsessing over and nothing else. (Part of the problem, btw.) I know what you are thinking. “It’s all part of it.” “Probably not as bad as you think.” “That’s what editing is for.”
No, really. I broke it. For now. I wasn’t listening to the character’s true voice and allowed my goals to distract me. The first moment I started the project till right before I finally listened to myself, was a continuous and reactionary series of events. I walked away for its own good. This was a hard thing to swallow. Really hard. Making mistakes is sometimes the best way to learn. My husband always says to the kids, “If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t growing.” So, I guess I grew up a lot over the last year.
As a parent I watch my kids slip in and out of these developmental phases. There is nothing like children to remind you of how temporary life is. Oh so humbling. I so seldom pay attention to my cycles of learning and moods. If you are only a little familiar with me, you know my love for Alice in Wonderland. The story is so much more than children’s fantasy. It’s a story about growing up and how our environment messes with us as we go. We have choices, and they have consequences. It’s a metaphor for life, for writing a story, and periods of time that have more of an impact than others. Lost innocence is the place we all visit at some point. Wonderland can symbolize many things, but sometimes I think of it as a representation of a phase. The thing about life? ‘Our now’ feels forever. For me, it’s those milestone birthdays or the realization of how old Moe the cat is that really shows me all that’s changed. This summer that just soared by was on the other side of a door in a hole. I’ve been chasing this project for the last eight months (or more) that didn’t want to be chased. There is a story there, one I have to tell, but my mind is on other projects that are ready for me now. Sometimes a story has to wait. It hurts, and it always sucks. I trust that my path with lead back to it.
As disappointed as I am that my WIP and I need some time apart, I am equally excited about all the short fiction I have in the works, essays of thoughts, working with Rebecca Clark on The Shadow Bearers again, and another wave of Too Many Words Episodes. (More info on all that soon.) The words will find me, as they will find you.
I wrap this up with:
Keep the critic in your pocket, listen to your gut, and have fun tormenting your characters that all want something.

control issues and an obsession with mortality

I sat down at my desk with the mindset to do some character work. The plans were in place, and enough thoughts were bouncing around in my head that there was no question about the amount of material. I spent the whole weekend filling up my mental bucket. I had certainly lived life for a few days between all the hiking, gardening, family time, and mini-breakdowns. I put my fingers on the keys and wrote a generic, easily deletable first sentence then stared at a blinking cursor with a blank mind.

Instead of staying in the document and doing what needed to be done, I pulled up my browser and googled stomach issues and smoking cigarettes. I’ve been trying to quit smoking. I hit 13 days without one on Saturday. It was one of those long and trying days but the kind that’s completely on my shoulders and can’t be pointed in any other direction. I’ve been experiencing stomach issues (which seem to have gotten much better without dairy and excessive alcohol), and smoking isn’t helping.  But Saturday night after skipping lunch, freaking out about my inability to collect my plot-related thoughts, and throwing an adult-sized temper tantrum, I bought a pack of smokes and lit up. I’ve had four since.

I’m prone to anxiety, by prone I mean consumed by it a lot of the time. So smoking is a way I deal with that and have ever since I was twelve when my mother handed me a cigarette after the worst day of seventh grade ever. The monkey has been on my back ever since—one of the many things I can thank her for. I also hate not being allowed to do things. So telling myself, I can’t have one makes me want one even more. The kicker here is lately my anxiety has been focused around my health.

When it’s time to write or sleep or relax, my eyes fix on the mole on my arm or the gurgling in my stomach and think of all the horrible ailments I have. I’m not at my healthiest at the moment, my eating, sleeping, and drinking habits haven’t been great. I’m working on it. Smoking and panicking about health issues don’t go together. Yes, I could die at any minute. Some elements make the possibility of dying sooner and in more painful ways more likely, but this isn’t something I have control over.

I have no control over when I die. None of us do, and that scares the shit out of me. I think about it a lot. Death is a reoccurring theme in my writing. The loss of someone, the desire to live forever, how someone lives on if we come back, the afterlife. I read about it and write about it and am currently revising a world built on it. The fear of death isn’t my own. I know many share it, but it isn’t a fear I had for most of myself. I didn’t suddenly become terrified of dying the moment I got married of became a mother, or a mother of two. Almost two years ago I looked in the face of mortality as I watched life slowly leave one of my best friends. She was the kind of person that was so sweet and comforting that I could only feel like a bitter asshole because she was so naturally and genuinely sweet. Her smile was so bright. Lit up eyes in a sea of freckles, framed with red hair.

She was sick for roughly eight months with persistent pancreatitis and other aliments before we learned her cancer was back, everywhere, and untreatable. The moment she found out, she got to work on writing forty years of birthday cards to her children as well as other gifts for her loved ones, wrapped Christmas presents, and organized all her items and made labels for who they went to, so the grieving didn’t need to worry about it. I spent as much time as I could by her side in the last few months feeling humbled and broken. She’d call me her angel, and I only felt like a fraud, a useless cog in the wheel of life.
When she passed away, I wrapped a blindfold around my eyes, dove into one project after another and picked up drinking. Looking back at it I guess I could have handled it all better. I could have let myself really see my surroundings and how it felt. The writer part of my brain scolded me for running when I should have been inspecting. If I’m honest, I didn’t only grieve for the loss of one of my favorite people, I also mourned all the future deaths I couldn’t control, including my own.

Suddenly I was surrounded by the lack of control we all have in this big game. The rug can be pulled from us at any time and in an endless amount of ways. My death could be quick and unexpected, or it could be slow and painful and known. There is no way to know until we are there.

All the painful words and drugs and traumatic moments between my mother and I have helped me become the person I am today. Somedays I like that person better than others, but for the most part, I think I’m okay and know I’m lucky. I have my family, the one I built, and it’s beautiful.

I experienced a personal epiphany this weekend while I was hiding in the dark of my backyard behind the pine trees sneaking a cigarette like a troubled teenager. There were clues I had been ignoring but at that moment both disgusted and entranced by the act of smoking my first cigarette in thirteen days it hit me.

I have control issues, and it’s because I’m terrified of fucking up my life through a dormant chain of events I set in motion the way my parents did. I can flicker through my memories and see my house around age six, and everything seemed together. Maybe it never was Okay, but there was a point early on I thought it was. Every year things got worse. Disorangzation and house cleanliness were the first to go. It was addiction and misunderstood mental illness the moved the storm through my family, through the cookie-cutter house I grew up in that stood in line and looked like all the others. On the surface, we just looked messy, but no one really knew how bad things were on the inside. So between watching how things can fall apart so tremendously and how disfunction can pass as function messes with my head. I have trouble just living and going with the flow. I’ve been under this misconception that if I make enough lists and check off enough items that I’m in control, that I am not like them and my kids will let me be apart of their lives when they are grown up.

I do think there is some validity to that. Business needs to be tended to. Bills have to be paid, and meals must come together but being so wound up and terrified of losing it all isn’t a way to live. I don’t have to run and hide to avoid a verbal attack when a door slams but there is still a part of me that feels that need to squirrel away and protect myself.

Self-management and care are important. I think part of me is scared and the other part wants to chill and enjoy. So, maybe there is the halfway mark where I can build a tiny house and find some peace and balance.

That’s a good note to leave on. I’m going to eat some lunch and get back to character work instead of googling all the ways I could be dying. I have to remember the lesson that was so fresh in my mind while I was losing my friend to cancer or while my mother destroyed all my father was trying to hold up on his own. Life needs to be lived. There is no giving up. We will all die at some point and all the moments we missed worrying about all we can’t control will seem silly and a complete waste of time.

 

characters and their insides

Character, something we can have and what we are as individuals. Some more than others. The quirky, witty sidekick softens the hard front-runner. The insecure and flawed villain makes us do more than simply hate them. The smiling stranger somehow soothes the rush of grocery store anger. Creating a character that thinks and feels and bleeds and grows, is an exercise in sleepless obsession.

And so the frenetic spiral of passion and creating begins. The hero. The villain. The conflict. The quest. These early stages of story building are some of my most favorite aspects of the whole deal and the first for me to become familiar with on my writing journey. The spark of a personality, the lines of the face. Knowing what ideas to take further isn’t always clear, and if it becomes so, it is usually after sitting down and writing it at least once. Every word written is a lot like a pebble tossed into a pond. Ripples form, they glide into others and create something brand new. Words help find ideas. Anything can slip out if you just write.

This is hard for me. My brain likes to collect every possibility and burden and task item and try to think about it all it once. My chest tightens, and I am far from a creative place. I’m learning to get into a rhythm and when to listen to the change needed. Writing and living life as a writer is in itself a living organization. Something that changes and morphs and grows. Knowing this and accepting, helps everything.

Writing full-time isn’t how I imagined when I was a kid and proclaimed to be a great author someday. Some moments are dull and frustrating; some even feel pointless.

Scene:

Dogs huddle near my side asking for their walk. Laundry piles build walls, locking us into my home office. My fingers idle above the keys. Notebooks are open. Ideas aren’t coming, and I question all my life decisions up to that point.

A similar scene:

A great, long walk with the dogs. Laundry all folded and where it belongs. Ideas are flowing, slow and steady. I’m having fun.

The main difference between the two here is perspective. Perspective is powerful. It alters the story, the taste, the sheen.

Is anyone going to figure out what’s wrong with a character arc if all they are doing is telling themselves that they can’t? (Yes, I’m talking about myself last week.)

The answer is no.

I made a lot of missteps on this draft, and once they are pointed out, they scream. It took a minute for me to digest the issues, find them, and now I’m piecing together how to fix it. Word by word, I’m mending and tightening and all the good stuff.

There is no reason why this shouldn’t be fun. The fine-tuning of fantasy world can be like ripping your hair out with hot tweezers, or it can be like riding bareback on a unicorn through a forest of talking trees. Fun and wonder can be found everywhere. That’s why I love reading and writing.

I get caught up in cycles where I fret and worry too much about the outcome and clean floors and forget how to enjoy. I think focusing on the good is something we can all do more. Not just writers or artists, but people, us humans. Having our backs isn’t us fooling ourselves.

There is so much upheaval and reaction. Slowing down and take a whiff of our surroundings helps. I’m talking to myself and to you and possibly to the angry dude with the ignorant sign by the baseball stadium. Self-awareness is an important tool. We should all use it.

Perhaps I went off the path a bit, but I don’t think so. The character’s path isn’t a clear, straight shot. Remember that as a writer and as a human. I have to. Complexity and twists out of our control. Emotions and logic. These are natural occurrences and ones that generate conflict. A sum up of that I am saying?

Have fun writing characters and the world that they live in—both in the fictional world and the real one.