Saturday, December 21, 2013

Victory Tastes like too Much Caffeine

A Novel Coming of Age Story

Today, I put the last words into the rough draft of Immortal Blood.

At last, it's finally finished.

This project has been especially important to me because I finally discovered an incarnation that would allow me to bring this universe into the world.

This is the fourth time I've tried to get the Chronicles of the Immortal Blood going.

The first incarnation was cursed with the lack of a strong climax. I'd started writing it back when I thought the characters would create the story, and I didn't need to be concerned with where I was going so long as I was going somewhere.

I learned from that mistake and began my second attempt to bring the universe of the Immortal Blood to life. Unfortunately, I fell into the trap of trying to tell too much too soon and created a story with two climaxes that mattered to two different characters...and managed to pen a full sequel before I recognized the flaw in my design.

After that failure, I pulled the two story lines apart, shelved the original setting, and tried to write something reminiscent of the Roman Gladiators with mutant powers, Gods that intervened in not so subtle ways, and technology that would have baffled the people of the time. I loved the premise. Words spilled out from the keyboard. I thought I'd found the path for which I'd been searching so hard. Then I hit reality. As cool as the setting and the idea might have seemed, the story I'd woven into my outline couldn't sustain itself for more than 50,000 words without being padded with useless fluff.

I felt like I'd hit a dead end.

All the hours I'd put into this world and nothing I did could bring it to life.

I put the Chronicles of the Immortal Blood on a shelf and drowned the sorrow of my failure in gun battles with Sven Nulis.

But as I toiled through two large rewrites of Sven's debut, ideas kept poking at the back of my brain. What if I combined the original setting with my idea for Gladiator-style battle? What if Zero was a bandit, a free agent not tied to the government? How about I pull the Gods further into the conflict? Could I get away with using personal philosophies to shape the reality of life in this universe? Wouldn't this be better if the terrible fathers had complex motives for their actions?

I started scribbling notes. And a new outline began to take shape.

A year and a half ago, I decided to give the Immortal Blood one more chance.

Today, I have a completed zero draft three months ahead of schedule. I feel like a zittery bundle of energy and a sleepy kitten all at the same time. I'm excited and exhausted, gearing up for the next phase of bringing Zero's story into the world.

And the joyous pride is a high I'd be happy to feel at the end of every draft.

I'd say all the hard work was worth it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Reality of Intent

I'm sure we've all heard, or said, or thought the words, "I didn't mean to." Some variations: "That wasn't what I meant," or "I didn't intend to," or "I didn't mean it that way," or "That wasn't my intention."

I know I have.

This reaction is a reflexive response meant to combat the guilt we feel for doing harm to another person because no one wants to feel like the villain.

So imagine my discomfort (indeed, the discomfort of many) when I first heard the phrase, "Intent isn't magick," and was thrust into a world where naming my intent didn't offer solace to the person I'd hurt. Where I learned that naming my intent often did more harm.

But then, opportunities for growth are rarely comfortable.

I've had time to think about intent, and I began to wonder what use it really had. If it could offer nothing to the people we hurt, what was the purpose of having intent?

At it's most simple, intent is just a contract we make with ourselves. It is a promise that, so long as we want something, we'll do what we can to bring that something into our lives.

Through this contract, our intent should drive our actions. Holding ourselves accountable for our side of the contract requires that we do things that would lead us toward attaining the thing we desire. Likewise, it requires us to avoid doing those things that lead us away from, or prevent us, from attaining our goal.

Sometimes the difference between the two isn't as clear as we'd like it to be. That's where learning and growth come into play. For just about every undertaking that exists, there is someone who can help guide us when we hit a snag. The difficult part is accepting the difficult teachings, the ones that require us to change.

And that brings me to the hardest lesson I've learned about intent.

Refusing to change a counterproductive habit means we didn't intend what we claim. For example, if someone says they want a deeper relationship with us, yet he or she refuses to respect our boundaries or shames us for having them, that someone didn't really want a relationship with us. They wanted to be able to boast having a connection with us without putting in the work. Or if we say we wish to be an ally to a marginalized group, yet we cling to an oppressive slur because it's "just a word" or we're so used to using it that changing our language would be "hard," we didn't really want to be an ally. We wanted to claim the label without putting forth any effort.

That, really, is the truth behind intent.

It's meaningless without effort.

A contract is meaningless without both parties being invested in keeping their parts of the agreement.

When it comes to intent, the only party invested is ourselves.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My Apologies

For the second time since the regime change at the night job (that currently pays my bills), I find myself dealing with the kind of ridiculous treatment I'd only experienced through the words of feminist bloggers and childhood memories.

I'd convinced myself that no "professional man" would dare be so blatantly biased and dismissive of the accomplishments of an employee just because she wasn't six feet tall and composed of testosterone. I told myself this was a dying breed and males acting like entitled children when their errors were presented to them was the thing of elementary school and spoiled jocks. Somehow, despite all the evidence, I made myself believe that misogyny was becoming a rare thing, that the Boy's Only Club was losing members.

Unfortunately, those spoiled boys sometimes turn into entitled men. Men who can't stand to admit their mistakes, especially when those errors are presented by a woman. Men who can't work with independent, empowered women because they have no idea how to speak to women as equals. Men who reward sterotypical displays of masculinity even at the detriment of the social environment and the businesses to which they show loyalty.

One of those men dug through the professionally spoken interview he conducted with me and came to the conclusion that my experience, work ethic, and sparkling history could be ignored because I admitted to a habit of explaining concepts in more detail than was necessary. And by ignored, I mean treated as so insignificant that a man with none of my experience or skills was deemed a better candidate.

This experience shook me, caught me off guard. Despite everything I'd learned and read, I wasn't expecting the treatment.

I knew there were women all over the world dealing with this kind of treatment on a daily basis, but somehow thought myself immune. I now recognize this thinking, and the patterns of behavior around me that led to its formation, as a form of bias, and privilege, all its own.

Subconsciously, I held myself as too exceptional to be treated with the same indignity as the average woman.

And that was shitty of me.

To all the women everywhere, I apologize. I regret having internalized the Exceptional Woman trope to the point that I was mentally discriminating against the members of my gender who don't have the privilege of my skill set. I'm sorry. From this point forward, I'm going to check that internal gender bias and do better.

And I plan to start by using what privilege I have to make it as uncomfortable as possible for the aforementioned men to continue treating women the way they do. Even if the only recourse I have now is to demonstrate to them that "sometimes info-dumps on people" and "lacks communication skills" are not the same thing.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Feeling Pretentious

I would wager that most artists have had instances when the image in their heads wasn't making it to reality intact.

When scenes were being pesky. When the characters had all gone to their trailers, boycotting the plot. When the note dancing in the imagination can't be found in the piano. When the red on the canvas wasn't deep enough to rival the mental one. When the right word was a cousin of the only one that agreed to present itself.

Those times can lead us to ask ourselves, "How will I ever do this justice?"

Sometimes they even lead us to wonder, down in the quiet and terrified parts of ourselves, if we deserve to call ourselves artists at all.

I'll confess. I have one of these episodes in the middle of every first draft. My writing hand stutters and falls impotent. Every sentence becomes a battle against the white page. And I start to doubt my commitment, my ability to write long term.

I only get one day a week to do any serious work, and my uniform isn't exaclty professional (as can be seen from the picture above). The demons of the Valley of Doubt like to use these facts against me when I've hit a rough patch.

It hasn't gotten any less frustrating or terrifying over time. Even knowing these times yeild some of my most creative breakthroughs doesn't ease the worry that I'll never write anything worth reading again.

But I have picked up tricks to help manage the doubt.

1) Plan for the slump.
I plan my writing goals to reflect the time I'll be spending grappling with doubt.

2) Give myself permission to make something awful
This helps during the first draft slump when everything I put on the page looks like utter garbage.

3) Push on until the goal is met
When I get to the point that I need to make a goal, I bang away at it until I hit the word count, even if its stiff and will get the editting of its life come next draft (see number 2).

4) Allow myself a short break.
Sometimes, if it's a temporary slump, I can get the brain moving by giving the old sinews a stretch.

5) Project planning
Putting ideas down for another project, brain storming a brain worm, or fleshing out the details of the scene I'm stuck on can be just the thing I need to break through the barrier.

Doubt is something we will all have to deal with at some time in our lives. We will suffer at least one crisis of faith. But these times can be overcome, can be useful. They will either solidify our resolve or lead us down a new path that is better suited for us. Either way, as horrible as they seem at the time, these episodes serve an important purpose for my art and my path. I'd wager it could be useful for all of us.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Making it Work

Some days I work well under fire. The pressure of a looming deadline is enough to burn out the detritus. I throw words down, caring more about the getting there than the how.

Other days, I follow a meandering path. The feel of an idea tugs me along, begging to be expressed. The what of the work is more important than how far it takes me.

Still other days, I might as well throw darts at the dictionary and see how many times I can use the skewered word in a paragraph before the sight of it turns my stomach. At least doing so would result in sentences being produced.

I've breezed through 2500 words in one sitting just to struggle with 500 the next.

Conventional wisdom tell us to write every day. Doesn't matter what or how much. Just hit the page.

But if, on those slow days, it takes me four hours to get those 500 words down, wouldn't my time have been better spent doing something else? Planning a challenging scene to come? Making notes for potential revisions? Networking? Blogging? Research?

And that doesn't even take into account the spontaneity of life.

For those of us who live in a world where we're forced to pursue our dreams part-time or not at all, writing everyday is not only impractical but impossible.

Thus, the insistence that we must do so in order to be "real writers" serves only to  heap on guilt and doubt. And we can do that to ourselves without any outside help.

So what's a more realistic alternative?

Do what works for you.

Each writer is different and works from a different environment. It should go without saying that we'll all approach the work in different ways and at different paces. Yet we're told to adhere or have our pen privileges revoked in the name of protecting the efforts of "serious writers."

Completely ridiculous.

If you have to take notes through the week and power write on your day off, do it. If you need to spend months on a super-detailed, moment-by-moment outline, have fun. If you need a little less (or a lot less) structure, go with it.

Every trick and technique in the world is a tool, not a taskmaster. Make them work for you.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Lessons from the Revision Desk

Making Time

The adage goes that if something is truly important to us, we'll make time for it.

If we really cared about our writing careers, we'd make time each day or week to put words on page. If our art was truly important to us, we'd schedule the time to work on it, with it. If a relationship has value to us, we'll take time to be with the other person and make it grow. If we want to acheive anything, we'll give your energy to it.

But what if it takes so much energy that we have none left for anything else?

When I first added this topic to my list, I'd planned to make it inspirational. I'd planned to use it as a way to demonstrate that taking time for ourselves is just as important as putting in the long hours on a project. I wanted to show that giving ourselves time to do the things that fullfill us is just as meaningful as chugging along to the tunes of others' needs.

This week I received a little taste of reality that brought home exactly how difficult all of those things can be.

I'd always known they weren't easy things to do. I've been struggling with them myself for two years now.

And I'm pretty sure I've just had a major setback.

The idea of guilt and the idea that we owe anyone our time are tools of control. Tools that have worked effectively for generations to keep communitites together and working toward a common goal. They still work today, even though our increased ability to communicate with one another has made them obsolete as community growth tools. And these ideas are ingrained in many of us from the cradle up.

I come from a family that uses "family comes first" as a mantra and a guilt tool. As I've aged, I've come to understand that the latter was, and still is, unintentional. The family group, to my relatives, was a safe place, a normal place, a place that didn't change (even when it needed to). To an unconventional child, it was a prison, and it takes a powerful control tool to keep a caged specimin where one wants it.

I mention both of these things as context for the story of my wake up call.

My grandmother passed on this week, and I've done some crying. But it wasn't until this morning that I realized I'd been crying more because I wished we'd had a stronger relationship than because she was gone. (Part of me had, honestly, been wishing for her suffering to end.) But I couldn't bring myself to visit because that cage was too small for me, now. The expectations and the demands of those around her were too much for me to bear just to interact with her. To see her just once would put me in a downward spiral of listlessness that would last for two days afterward. My life would suffer, my work would suffer, and I would suffer.

I wanted that relationship with her. Yet making the time to nurture one required me to sacrifice everything else.

In the end, making time isn't just a matter of shifting hours in a day. It's a matter of deciding if this thing you want is worth the energy expenditure it will take to get it. And if the answer is "yes," only then would a schedule change be necessary.

Our priorities are our own. As much as the guilt tries to tell us otherwise, we have to accept this fact, because acknowleding this idea is the first step into truly taking control of our lives.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Myth of the Solo Success

Have you ever heard the phrase:  "I've worked for everything I have." ?

Or how about: "I've never asked for anything I didn't earn." ?

It's a nice sentiment, right? It brings to mind ambitious individuals who aren't afraid to do what needs to be done. isn't true.

Mind you, this doesn't mean successful individuals are exaggerating their accomplishments or the effort they put into their goals. It simply means they have forgotten an element to every success story.


The inherent advantage they have merely by being who and what they are at a specific moment in time.

These individuals did not earn the basic education that allowed them to pursue their fields. The privilege of being born in a time and country that values education gave them that. The did not earn the cerebral capabilities to do what they do. Genetics and biochemistry contributed that without any effort on their part. The ability to stand, talk, care for themselves, use technology, even to make their own decisions are things they didn't earn.

But these things were necessary for the success they have.

Success isn't a measure of hard work alone. Success is a better measure of privilege than effort.

How much privilege a person has, how well that privilege stacks toward his or her goals, and how well said person manipulates that privilege effects how the work translates into success.

For example: let us consider two writers. They have the same amount of free time, work ethic, and they can produce the same amount of words each day. The only difference is that one writer (I'll call her Sally) has access to a home computer and the other (Hellen) does not. At the end of six months, each one has a rough draft, one digital and one handwritten.

Unfortunately, agents won't accept handwritten manuscripts, and self-publishing also requires a digital copy. Therefore, without doing any extra work, Sally is a step ahead. In fact, to reach the same goal marker, Hellen will have to work harder.

Yet we're told that the success Sally has when compared to Hellen is proof that she put more work into her goals, when the reality shows the exact opposite. And that example assumes Sally only had one advantage over her counterpart. Real world gaps are much wider than that.

The truly insidious part of this myth is that the individuals who claim it as their own don't purposely erase the role of privilege in their narratives. They actually don't realize they have any.

LIke many of us, these individuals mainly interact with others who are like them. Which is good for cooperation and self-esteem. But it normalizes their experiences, and makes them incorrectly assume that everyone has the same advantages they have, which in turn leads them to believe what separates them from the unsuccesful is only work.

The solo success myth.

And we're all succeptible to it.

That's why being an ally takes vigilance and the willingness to listen. It's also another reason why the idea of a socially acceptable form of success should hit the wastebasket at terminal velocity.