Write Until You Die

We are born as writers.

We will die as writers.

We are wholly dedicated to the life of writing.

(Warning: this video contains blood. Should I mention the people munching too?)

(Now that’s a life dedicated to writing…)

Writers write until the day they die. Nothing can contain or stop the wild words in their hearts. Writing makes up the core of a writer’s existence — its in their blood, in the very breath of their life.

We have ink in our veins and pens for fingers. Words flow effortlessly through our brains and onto paper. A habit that is uncontrollable, unbreakable, untamable.

Imaginations illuminate our worlds, a never ending cinema in our minds. Stories eternally unfurl from a reel and we must share the script with the Universe. Through the written form, we bring new realities to life.

Yes, there are days when we are in a slump. There are days when the words are in a traffic jam and we can’t even spell them out. There are even days when we think that the words have completely disappeared, but in reality, they never abandoned us.  They are always there, just sometimes hiding in the dark recesses of our minds… watching, waiting, building up for the pivotal moment of release.

When blocked, we must find that spark and light the fuse to burst the dam. Force the flood of words back into our lives. Read poetry, take a hike, sing a tune, drink a coffee, do cartwheels, or go bungee jumping. Do something exhilarating to invite the muse and turn on the flow of words.

Writers always persevere. Keep positive and keep productive because writers can’t ever stop writing. Our brains won’t allow us. The words won’t allow us.

When the day comes that we finally do stop writing, that’s the day we die.

Write until you die… or are eaten by Titans.

 

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Do You Write What You Know?

What do you think about the old adage of writing what you know?Hosseini Quote

I asked that a couple years ago in a post, and I’ll ask it again. That question still conflicts me.

Back when I was reading Margaret Atwood’s biography, I remember pausing over her process, pondering the way she frequently pulled from the familiarity of her own life to write intricately woven stories. She used Canada as a setting, places she’d been, streets she’d walked, people (or at least an outline of them) that she once knew. Her experiences influenced her fiction—and still do to this day.

However, Margaret Atwood is also known for her speculative works, which are based in the future, just a few of many possible alternative conclusions (scary as her worlds would be) of our current trajectory. She doesn’t know the future or which elements of the future in her novels will eventually (if ever) come to pass, and yet, the fearsome thing about her work is that it is easy to believe it could happen.

So, going back to the first question I wonder: Which is better? A mix of “Write what we know” and “Write what we’d like to know”? Or should we change our approach entirely to “What can we imagine?”

According to BRET ANTHONY JOHNSTON over at the Atlantic, we should go with the latter. When he started writing away from the familiarity of his own life, he found that “the shift was seismic.”

Delving into the deeper unknown and pursuing the more difficult, untreaded path is never easy.  I am a notorious perfectionist. The problem I have with writing what I don’t know is that I run into the feeling that I should know it. Then I start researching. Then I expand that research. Then I have this tendency of trying to know everything about everything and nothing gets written.

But I also have frequently submersed myself into the speculative world, envisioned a future that is not my own, of which I know absolutely nothing, and it has been a freeing lesson in creativity. In this world, my characters and the environment have rules, but they are not necessarily the same rules by which I live. Instead of pushing my own agenda upon them, the well-lit paths of my own past, for instance, I get to witness a new kind of life: one that is not my own to live, yet one that I will live anyway, through them. One that I will come to know, time and again, through my characters.

In that sense, maybe our characters do know best.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pull from the aspects of your life that you do know. It’s entirely possible to bridge the gap between both worlds, writing authentically about the strange, abstract unknown while still drawing from familiar outlines: the sprawling sunset you witnessed on a mountainside, learning a language in a foreign country, meeting a person that all but confounds you. These are real experiences, but they don’t have to meet the same fates as your own.

Abstract elements are combined and reinforced within the tangible nature of fiction. It’s not so much about what we know—it’s about what we could possibly know, and what we continue to learn, with each and every day the we experience the mundane, the novel, the risks.

So my conclusion? Write about the possibilities.

Stories aren’t about things. Stories are things.
Stories aren’t about actions. Stories are, unto themselves, actions.

-Brett Anthony Johnston

Elements of Writing Horror: Something Must Die

(c) hotblack

(c) hotblack

The goal of horror is to elicit an intense fear, and there nothing that humans fear more than death. Death is the last curtain call, the ending to the show. Everyone, whether they admit it or not, has some level of terror about the final end. Fear of death is universal. Horror stories feed off this trepidation. Every single tale of the macabre contains a death, which is essential to amp up the panic in a character.

The purpose of a story is show the growth of a central character. In order to grow, there needs to be a triggering event that transports the character in a positive or negative direction. Yes, characters can grow negatively and fall from where they originated. Typically in the genre of horror, the main character does descend. Eternal loss is a plot tactic for this catalyst. The build up to death is what generates the character’s (and essentially the reader’s) fear — the intrinsic element of horror.  The key to utilizing the tactic of death is to create the eternal loss of the one thing that the main character holds most dear. The event of the death will be the crux of growth for the character: the moment of his / her turning point.

Fear is an aid to the warrior. It is a small fire burning. It heats the muscles, making us stronger. Panic comes when the fire is out of control, consuming all courage and pride.

— David Gemmell, Lord of the Silver Bow

The principal death in a story may not always happen to a human. Death can be existential, relating to non-human, inanimate, or intangible things.  The death may be of a beloved pet, favorite notebook, or prized vehicle. Think about how Louis reacted to the hit-and-run of Church in Pet Semetary, and the horror that developed out of that death… and disturbing “funeral”.  Then look at what happened with the death of Gauge. Stephen King really upped the fear factor by viciously killing off Louis’ cat and kid! A death can also be the demise of hope, happiness, or dreams. There is nothing more horrific in the world than watching the hope in someone wither away and die (think Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights).

Sometimes the best death to play up is the “death of oneself”. Fear of one’s own mortality is experience by every human. We are all afraid of when we will die. Add to that, there is also the fear of how we will experience that final moment. I think everyone hopes that they will go peacefully in their sleep. Yet, in most cases, that can’t be further from truth. In brutal honesty, most of us will go with some amount of pain from this world. Detaching from a body that has carried us through the years is not something that I can believe to be easy (or painless). Sending your main character on the downward, negative spiral through the stages of their own death, and fighting to come to terms that they are about to be snuffed out, will hold the reader in suspense and fear until the inevitable end.

If you are looking to include horror in your story, death must be a component. Your character, within the realm of this genre, cannot evolve (or depending on your plot, “de-evolve”) without it. Deduce what type of loss your main character dreads the most. Lead up to the final moments with accelerated heart beats, sweaty palms, and rapid breathing. Make them question or go through the seven stages of grief. Continue to evoke apprehension in the protagonist that they may one day lose this “thing” that they treasure, and then make them suffer in agony as you brutally tear it away. Your character’s anxiety and despair will transfer to your reader, pulling him / her deeper into your story and rouse their empathy. You will make them resonate with the loss and tremble in fear. And that is the ultimate goal of horror: to make your readers scared.

If you want to be successful in writing horror, something must die in your story.


If you are interested in enhancing horror in your writing, check out these other Elements of Horror posts by The Sarcastic Muse

Writing with Deadlines

Writing with DeadlinesSo, you want to be a writer? My condolences. It’s not all luxury mansions, penthouse apartments, and crime solving like the idiot box suggests. There’s a lot of hard work goes into producing a submittable manuscript and every writer worth their salt will tell you that, sooner or later, you’ll be up against deadlines.

Now, this is an apt topic area this week as all of the muses are suffering from deadline-induced panics. All expect Amanda. Amanda is buying mountain bikes. Yeah, I don’t understand it either. What’s up with that? Anyway, I thought I’d take the time to share with you a few tips on meeting (and beating) those deadline blues.

1) Set realistic deadlines

Some deadlines are set for us and we have little control over those. Others, we set ourselves. Call them what you will — goals, aims, chocolate rewards — a deadline is a deadline. Sometimes these can help keep us motivated, especially on longer projects like novels. But, when used incorrectly, they can hinder your creativity and leave you wanting to give up.

When you set your own deadlines, ask yourself “Is this realistic?” You’re going to get disheartened if you constantly set unachievable targets and miss every one. While we would all love to complete, edit, and submit a novel in a month, it just isn’t feasible. However, it is reasonable to aim to complete a first draft in three months.

2) Don’t be afraid to say no

When deadlines are outside our control, we reserve the right to say no to them. This can be difficult for new (and even seasoned) writers, but it’s important. It’s better, and much more professional, to tell an editor that the deadline is too tight than to rush and submit something that doesn’t show you at your full potential.

The publishing industry is fast moving and we all have to turn down anthologies and other work sometimes just so that we can cope with the projects we already have. On the flipside, new opportunities come along just as quickly.

3) Plan your time

This is important so I’ll say it again, slowly:

Plan. Your. Time. Carefully.

Most deadlines are achievable if you have a plan and stick to it. Sure, you need to build in flexibility, but a plan is imperative to keep you on track and to get you to that due date.

4) Write when you’ll say you’ll write

This should be a no-brainer, but I’ve been guilty of it myself. Facebook, Twitter, emails, they’re all big time sinks. An hour spent on Facebook equates to three earth years (it doesn’t really, but it’s still time you should be writing). Use your plan to keep yourself on track and disable your self-control is anything like mine.

5) Factor in time for editing and proofreading

Writing isn’t the end of the story (haha…story). Your first draft will likely be terrible no matter what you think. Factor in time to let your stories sit before you edit them. Trust me, after a week, you’ll hate your story as much as I hate all mine. That’s where the fun begins. You need to give yourself enough time to read it back, edit it, re-read it, edit it again, cry a few times, one final polish, and then it’s out the door. Anything else and you’re selling yourself short.

6) Reward yourself

You met your deadline? Great job! Go you! You deserve a pat on the back for that and so you should give yourself one. Better still, buy yourself that bike (I still don’t get this bike thing, Amanda) you always wanted or, go and see that movie you really want to see. You’ve done a fantastic job getting here and you should be proud. Show yourself some love.


What are you current goals/deadlines and what strategies do you have for meeting them?

 

Writing Resistance: The Writer’s Worst Enemy

My fellow muses, I have a problem.Be Willing to Write Crap

(Drumroll please.)

It’s called resistance.

There, Robyn, I said it. Are you happy? (Robyn is over there in the corner vehemently nodding her head.)

More than ever, my resistance is ruling my writing life. Some of it is, admittedly, related to external issues—lots of work, lots of study, lots and lots of excuses. Even now, I’m late with my blog post. You know why? . . . Okay, I forgot it was my day, but that’s besides the point . . .

They say to write what you know. Half of the time, I feel that I don’t know anything about anything, and so I feel hardly qualified to post here. But resistance and I are old friends.

What’s resistance?

You know that feeling of impending doom you get when you sit down to write, and all you do is watch the blinking cursor for a good five minutes before heading to your email, or Facebook, or somewhere that is not a blank page?

Resistance.

You know when you start thinking about writing and talking about writing and wanting to write but not actually writing?

Resistance.

You know that feeling you get when writing begins to feel a lot like trying to drain the last drop of blood from your body, and you suddenly would rather just jump into the coffin, close the lid, and never again see the light of day if it means not having to write?

Resistance.

Resistance comes in many shapes and sizes, none of them the fun and cuddly kind. I can joke about it a bit, because I can occasionally finish a poem or something. Once a year. But let’s be honest.

Resistance is lethal to your writing life.

Why do we resist writing?

We’re perfectionists. The greatest of resistors, in my experience, are also plagued with perfectionism. And what does perfectionism lead to? Fear, of a sort. The fear of choosing the wrong, crappy words. The fear that if it isn’t perfect, our work will never succeed. That we will never succeed.

It’s a vicious cycle.

We’re also stubborn. We don’t have anything to prove by not writing, and yet, we still refuse to do it. Why? Because resisting is easier. We routinely get away with it without repercussions, allowing ourselves to have our own way and avoid the hard stuff (the actual wordy part). No one wants to write on command. We’ve gotten so good at ignoring our own drive to write—self-motivation fails, mental pep-talks are no good—that it’s even easier to resist the friendly prodding of our fellow writing group and evil coaches (ahem, Robyn, ahem).

(I’m kidding. Robyn is the best coach. She hasn’t killed me yet.)

Lack of control. The second we put words on the page, they become real. Sure, you can delete them, but it doesn’t undo having written them in the first place. What happens if we finish that novel we’ve been working on for ten years? Then what? Perhaps it’s the unfamiliar that frightens us into being servants of saying “no” to our writing careers.

Resisting is something we’ve accomplished well. It’s hard to trade that in for the unknown.

Why do we get away with resistance?

To be honest, we’re good at making excuses. And I don’t just mean the “I don’t have time” excuse (although that one is part of my arsenal).

Excuses to avoid writing aren’t always so clear-cut.

Here are a few I know that I’ve used:

1. I can’t work on a daily schedule/word count because I don’t like schedules. (I really don’t, but if writing was so important to me, I’d work harder at actually doing it.)

2. I can’t write because my peak creative hours are at night, but my schedule doesn’t allow for me to write at that time anymore.

3. I don’t like the environment I’m in for reason x, y, z.

4. I’ll start tomorrow. (Don’t start tomorrow . . . it’ll never happen. Trust me. Start today!)

5 I can’t just write for five minutes at a time in between class or when I’ve got a free minute at work or on my lunch break.

6. I’m too tired.

This list is not exhaustive. It’s just the beginning of a downward spiral into a too-many-excuses hell.

What’s the antidote?

Well, I’m still trying to solve this issue myself. The advice everyone gives me is just . . . write. Sit down and start typing typing typing. Robyn even told me she didn’t care if I wrote ten pages of “I don’t know what to write” over and over, so long as I was writing something. (I resisted doing even that.)

Mostly, though, I think the key is to resist resisting. Basically, overcome our resistance to writing with an even strong resistance to resisting it in the first place.

Beat resistance with more resistance. We all like irony . . .

We can do that, right?


How do you resist resisting? Is resistance a problem in your life? Have any secrets you can share with the rest of us?