T – Truth

That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.
Tim O’Brien

Humans are born with this amazing ability to replay scenes in our minds, to edit them, recast them, and alter actual events on our mental stage. It’s psychological benefits an be enormous (or destructive depending on the person).

Fiction is a bit like that. We can tell deep truths in stories that we can barely verbalize in the real world. We put our characters through emotional trials that are universal to humanity, allowing the readers to identify and invest in those characters from the front cover to the back. We can rewrite our own experiences and give our characters different reactions and results. That is just one way writing can be cathartic.

There is so much we say, both knowingly and unintentionally, in our work that is truth. What do you think of the quote? What does it bring to mind for you?

Take Responsibility for Your Writing Life

Well. I’m a little red-faced today. The crime scene series will continue. As soon as I find it. Don’t worry, I have backups of backups. I just transferred everything to a new computer this week and apparently missed a few files. Embarrassing! And entirely my fault.

But it got me to thinking.

I like excuses. They seem to provide lubricant for slipping out of situations in which I am at fault. However, I try hard not to make excuses because, really, who cares? They don’t change the failure, right? They can’t undo a missing post, a lost opportunity, or a broken promise. Excuses might appease and reduce the fallout, but doesn’t let us own our mistakes and face them.

For that, we need to take responsibility.

As writers, aren’t excuses just easier?

  • I was too busy to write today.
  • The boss needed me so I couldn’t write.
  • The kids are sick so I was too tired to write.
  • I just wasn’t feeling it today. Maybe tomorrow.

Who are we appeasing? Ourselves, of course. We don’t want to acknowledge our failure or our lack of commitment. It’s easier to excuse ourselves to ourselves than admit we blew it.

What would it look like if we take responsibility instead?

  • I chose to spend my time elsewhere.
  • I elected to focus on something else.
  • I decided not to write while the kids napped.
  • I didn’t care enough to sit down and start.

It might sound a little harsh, but it’s honest, right? And it also requires us to own up to our choices rather than hide behind circumstances or other people.

Life does sometimes get in the way. That’s just a fact. But taking responsibility rather than making excuses gives a much better picture of our writing life and a much better gauge of our resistance.

Do you make excuses for not writing? I still do, even as I want to take responsibility instead. How do you feel after you tell yourself an excuse? A little relieved? A little dirty? I do, and ashamed besides.

How does it feel different to take responsibility? For me it feels a bit grim, but also honest, like a hard look in the mirror. Sometimes it’s clear there wasn’t much I could do. Most of the time, what’s clear is that I was lazy, uncommitted, or scared. Then I get a little mad. Taking responsibility has gotten me back out of bed to do my daily writing because I don’t want to see myself as a person who can’t fulfill her commitments.

For the next week or two, listen to what you tell yourself. Examine the excuses and rephrase them as taking responsibility.  If you need help, call your accountability partner (or get one). Holding myself accountable to another person who wouldn’t accept  excuses was how I began to understand the whole subject in the first place.

If you struggle to get your writing done, ditch the excuses, take responsibility, and get a little mad.

 


Which positive outcomes might we find by moving from excuses to responsibility?

Humble Pie and the Return to Writing

IMG_6923I’ll just come right out and say I’m happy to see the back end of 2015. Here’s to a good 2016!

So, you know my often expressed views that discipline and routine are what get words on the page? Let’s just say I now have a deep compassion and more insight for writers who struggle with both. With 30+ years of experience, I never thought it would happen to me, but humble pie is good for the soul, right? Or is that digestion…

I’ve thought about hiding the near collapse of my writing life, but it wouldn’t be right. We’ve always been honest with you and won’t change now. Besides, if my recent lessons and experience can help even one person, I’ll be glad I swallowed my pride instead of putting on a mask.

Though it’s been a busy, disruptive year, the primary way I spent my free time was indulging in voracious research, some of which you’ll soon see. There’s an overview series on the elements of a crime scene coming up as well as a series on how the dead can speak to investigators through their remains (don’t worry, I’ll give warnings before the squeamish bits). Other upcoming posts deal with elements of romance (a touch of which belongs in every genre), suspense, and how to get your characters to talk to you.

And that’s just me. Michelle, Amanda, Chris, and I will be posting on a different schedule this year, but are working to bring you interesting and useful information. Mostly, we’re just happy to be back. We’ve missed you!

The Writer’s Google Search History

http://www.flickr.com/photos/86979666@N00/7623744452/Here’s a new twist on an old feature here at The Sarcastic Muse: Inquiring Minds. This time, I want to know.

We writers joke about our Google searches. Though someone in a secret bunker somewhere might raise an eyebrow at some romance genre searches, it’s the thriller and international crime writers that interest me most. My inquiry has several parts.

First, do you think the government is actively watching based on keywords, times visited, or length of time spent on sites for some optics? How active are they? What lands a person on the proverbial watch list?

Second, is anyone actually worried that a government employee might see their search history? (I worry more about my family as I’ve been researching the psychology of killers for years.)

And third, which is probably the heart of my question, do the alphabet agencies care about name, ethnicity, or other profiling data? If my parents immigrated from Serbia or my dad still writes to his cousins in North Korea, Afghanistan, or <insert geopolitical hot spot here>, or my brother took a new name when he converted to Islam, does that make the watchers watch more closely? What about ex-pats living in hot spots around the world? An average middle-class person who doesn’t hold a passport probably doesn’t worry too much.

But what about the rest of the world? Terrorism in all forms has become an increasing part of our lives, and, by extension, our fiction. Whether we need to know the blast radius of a pipe bomb, the epidemiology of an anthrax outbreak, what the FBI play book says about dealing with militia groups, etc, writers turn to Google. How concerned are writers in general? How concerned are writers with even casual ties to people or places the government is watching for?

This inquiring mind wants to know.


Comments are open to everyone. We can’t learn if we don’t ask.