The Importance of Side Projects

One of the biggest criticisms that I have gotten from well… everyone… when I started taking my writing seriously, was that I needed to focus on one project at a time. Unfortunately, my brain doesn’t work that way.

My brain is always spiraling and circling. I might be working on one project and then it sparks a connection that needs to be written down immediately. I have files of notes for one story so that the inspiration can be applied to the story that I am not working on.

Stepping away from one thing can give you a better perspective when working on the original project. When you devote yourself to only one thing, you are essentially putting all your eggs in one basket. Not to mention the writing might become stale and your muse might abandon you.

Having tunnel vision may get the job done, it may get the work written, but it often comes with an empty nest feeling. Let’s be honest, writing is like giving birth. You gestate the idea for months, sometimes even years and then after painstakingly massaging it into a viable creation, you release it into the world. This can give a feeling of relief at first, of accomplishment, then ultimately fear because now you need to start something new.

But! Hark! If you have something else that was brewing and steeping on the back burner while you were working on said main project then you can just dive right back in and save yourself the inevitable post project depression that comes. Keep moving forward.

I felt this way after I finished my first novella. It wasn’t a project that I had been working on originally but I had a deadline for it. It was in all efforts an exercise in writing incited by a mentor. It sat on my desk unreleased for two years and then I finally decided to self publish it. I let it go. That allowed me to really start working on more of my own stuff. 

My muse likes to flit around giving me bits and pieces of this story. She makes no demand other than I immediately write it down. It’s almost like she gives me bread crumbs to see if I will snatch them up. And I keep these in a myriad of places and often the decision is never about coming up with a new idea, but more like deciding on which idea to begin writing on now.

It is often easier for me to work on paid projects because I have a goal and a deadline that are somewhat fixed. However, my own projects suffer so I strive to make time for them when I take breaks in doing work for others. Writing for others creates a constraint that in a way negates creativity but the creativity then spills onto your own projects.

So I would say that I am a firm believer in having multiple projects going on at one time, at the very least two. It keeps the ideas fresh, the work from being tunnel visioned and avoids the post project completion sadness that can come (after the relief, of course).

Do writers really need emotional chaos to create great works?

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It’s been three years since I have had any romantic entanglements and I have gotten closure from any residual issues surrounding them. The only thing that bothers me is the way the lack of an emotional touchstone in that area affects my creativity. I tend to be the most creative when I am in pain or in love. The lack of either of these, while amazing in terms of emotional drain, stress, and personal productivity; have left my writing with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and a bit mechanical. Music helps alleviate some of this and leads to great inspiration, but that raw edgy cagey feeling you get from unrequited love or destructive passion is hard to replicate with just a song. Even sense memory and lucid dreaming has its limits. Time may heal wounds, but it certainly leaves a necessary forgetfulness that dulls the impetus to some great moments of written word.

I recently over the Xmas holiday decided I needed to develop a “drink” that would be my signature as a writer. Something gritty like whiskey or bourbon, you know, a real writer’s drink. Something to toss back in the middle of a surge of brilliance to dull the pangs of doubt and over-thinking. But I am not a drinker and nothing went down smooth enough to make me a believer in its necessity.

Many writers develops methods, patterns of behavior, or just throw themselves into dramatic elements to derive their written words from. Write from experience! Write from what you know! Research, discover, live! All these amazing writers that I admire were drunken lushes, cheaters, married several times, had drug addictions, financial problems, and torrid love affairs. Is that why so much fiction now is bland, formulaic, and passionless? Writers pound words into programs and structured templates instead of just bleeding it out, letting it ooze from the pores of the life that they are living and experiencing?

Am I less of a writer because I am not living hand to mouth (yet) and lying prostrate on a lover’s floor fresh from the tousle preparing to gather my emotions, clothes, and probably dignity to walk out the door?

I look at my older stories, the ones written after the Mexican hat dance of some young beautiful boy that teased me with nights of wondrous love making and post coital talk of secrecy, discretion, and pleasure that no one knew about us, and see it there. That thing.

Or the words written during and after the years spent with the Viking that destroyed me not once but twice, and the writing was tangible, dark, and full of all the love that I wanted to give to him?

But my writing now is clear and purposeful, free from confusion and rambling. So which is better? I can’t say anything other than a real earnest feeling that something is missing. Something I can’t quite put my finger on but I have a strong inkling that where there is no pain, there really might not be very much gain. Then again, it could be that I just need to go sit by the ocean for a few hours. :P

How to stop saying meaningless words…

Have you ever wanted to expand your vocabulary but you just don’t know how? You have bought the word of the day calender, or added an app on your computer or phone to help? The problem is that those words aren’t always the most applicable in daily use or you have to struggle to find a way to apply them. The old standard was to say it in a sentence a few times a day. But how often did you forget the word or you just couldn’t find anything applicable? Another word bites the dust!

Well, here is a trick that expands your vocabulary, recall, and flexes your creative muscles as well. When asked a question, such as how are you, how was your day, or what’s the weather like; use ONE word that truly encompasses the actual answer. Don’t say fine, great, ok, hot, cold, good, bad, etc. Search for that right word. The one that tells the whole story. Move past the Anglo-Saxon words that stunt expression, instead use those 25 cent words! But not in a sentence that might wear the listener out, use just the word! There are approximately 100,000 adjectives in the English language.

For instance:

Hi! How are you today? Enervated. 

How is the weather today? Blustery.

How was your day? Harmonious, or Arbitrary.


Flex those language muscles and see how bigger words can relieve monotony and repetitiveness, especially for those who are socially active and end up answering these questions several times a day. You will find yourself looking for better words that really describe your feelings and opinions acutely. You might just change a flat conversation into an interesting one! You might pass on interest to someone else as they go look up the word. Who knows you might just fall in love with English again and actually move past the monosyllabic and guttural noises that have become the standard and not the exception in our society today.

Warning: Those who speak in Textiing Acronyms might be beyond help!

Go, hunt those words, use them with abandon! Liberate your creative mind! Express yourself! (I know you sang Madonna in your head just then.)

Co-written

There are many ways to co-write properties. I have at this point done them all.

I have ghost written, where someone says:”Hey! I have a great idea, will you write it for me but I don’t want anyone to know that I didn’t write it.”

There is the co-written exercise of writing exactly what someone else wants you to write where they have the power to veto what you wrote, essentially what most comic books are today that come from the major publishers.

There is the actual co-writing where you write some pages, they edit or comment, then they write some pages and you do the same to them til you have a cohesive piece. This is what my business partner and I do with our film scripts.

Then there is the rewriting of another’s material to improve or embellish it. That was the most interesting one because I went from feeling like I didn’t write enough to maybe I embellished too much and that resulted in a long process of editing and re-editing. And I still pushed the book farther than I think the original writer would have liked ( I don’t know I still haven’t gotten the feedback yet).

I am not sure how I feel about this. While I feel immensely honored that people like my writing and trust me to work their material, there is this insatiable desire that I am not getting my own writing done. Yet, I need the collaborative material to develop a reputation and to make a living. It is an interesting conundrum.

The key I believe is to choose projects that are so far from your realm of personal writing that it helps you grow as a writer.  For me, it is not so much the genre but the character development that I like to work with. Plots are pretty easy to come by, but the who and why seems to be the thing that people don’t flesh out enough. That is where I like to work. I like to get inside a stranger’s brain and ask those questions… why did you do this, how would you have done this, and how would this have created a reaction with another character.

I don’t write much sci-fi or horror though I can write both, so co-writing them is always an experience to delve into another side of me with a little plot push from someone who likes those genres. I think in a way writing is a form of ego. I don’t know if I could ever ask someone to write something for me. Not that I don’t think someone would do a great job, I just feel like I would be so reticent to accept their point of view from what I had envisioned. This is why in the filmmaking world I don’t like to direct as much as I prefer to write and produce. I don’t want to miss out on the chance that another person might see a way to visually tell the story in a way that really promotes what I wrote in a much better way.

The name game

When you are writing fiction, you have to give your character a name. Now if it’s modern fiction the way to proceed would be to do one of two things: (1) Give the main character a memorable name that will start a new baby name trend or (2) give the character a simple name that others with the same name can identify with.

If you write historical fiction then you want to choose names that were common for that time period to encourage a feeling of authenticity in the world you are creating.

However, in sci-fi and fantasy typically all bets are off. I have heard from many authors that they struggle with names. Some steal names left and right from baby name books or other cultures where English speakers may be less familiar with them so they sound made up when they are just exotic. Some create complex combinations of hard to pronounce vowel consonant combinations. Some mix and match such names- regular and created names- which I have to admit tends to throw me off when I read them. The best two ladies of fantasy that I know of who create the most amazing names are Melanie Rawn and Mercedes Lackey. They really did a smashing job of naming their cultures and characters!

Recently I had a dream about an epic story that I am now writing in the background to my other writing work. This story, if I had not grabbed it from the ether that my muse alerted me to with the dream, would have been surely told by someone else at some point in time which is why I knew I had to grab it and write it to cement it as mine. The story takes place in a world where fantasy and sci-fi combine much like Star Wars but a little less fantastical (no alien cultures and no jedi). Anyway, the issue of names became prominent. I am one of those odd writers who cannot write a story without these two things happening first… the title and the names of the lead characters. Why? Because I consult numerology to see if the names fit the personality that I want the character to have and because the title instructs me as to the intent of the story.

So I began brainstorming the names of the leads… I quickly fell in love with Ayres for the hero. I wanted the female to be Soquel but my friend informed me that it sounded too much like some medicine that someone takes to sleep or for a cold. I didn’t want that to be invoked when my strong and quirky heroine was read so I worried over it for a few days and came up with Mayte after I did some research. Now Mayte is a combination of Mary Theresa they say, but the pronunciation is actually May UH tay… because the a is long. It has a soul number of 6 which means strong family bonds, and a destiny number of 1 which means leader. These are the prominent characteristics of my gal. These two names set the tone for how I wanted to start naming the other characters in my book. Short four or five letter names with mostly one or two syllable pronunciations. This led to a formula of taking parts of existing names, truncating them or reversing them to find the combinations that fit the scheme. I ended up with over 250 names. All of them are names I would love to hear read aloud. They are interesting without being complicated and each one seems to already resonate with a personality.

Names are terribly important to me and I can tell you that when I read the description of a book or a synopsis of a book; it might come down to a name that attracts me to pick it up.  Especially in franchises… a few come to mind that stuck out for me… Hermione Granger and Katniss/Prim Everdeen.  Brilliant names.

So chose your names wisely because no one forgets great names… Holden Caulfield, Hubbell, Gatsby, Atticus Finch, Scarlett O’Hara, Tarzan, Eeyore, Moriarty, Boo Radley, Spock, and so many more.

Writing is vulnerability

As my current roommate is fond of telling me that I am cold emotionally, I think of this accusation with earnest, always eager to analyze the truths that come from what others perceive. Not one to really put too much stock in other people’s opinions of me that are not people I have an admiration or respect for, I still find that the best way to keep an ego in check is to always take some heed in what some might vomit your way. Most of the time it is a reflection of a trait that they don’t like in themselves. Sometimes, however, there can be a truth buried.

I am a calm, rational person. I prefer to analyze and observe before reacting and this took years of self training because I was not raised in a calm and rational home. So to some people that tend to have dramatic flair ups or do not have a reasonable self possession, I can appear cold I can admit. I prefer the term detached or stoic but that is semantics.

However, in light of the person that has been fond of throwing disparaging remarks my way; I found it interesting in what was revealed over the course of these last few months. As a writer, the constant barrage of negativity has left me completely uninspired, unimaginative, and with a muse that is inconsolable.

As a writer, I consider my home as my foundation. It is the place from which I draw solace, inspiration, and build worlds. While at times this can be a portable experience (writing), knowing that I have a refuge to return to is sacrosanct. When that place is fouled, and since I have never really had that happen before to such a degree as this, I have found that it is devastating to my creative process. I already knew that I am pretty protective of my space- very rarely am I one to invite people over or entertain- but this situation has reaffirmed my desire to protect my place of writing and has almost tempted me to look into a place that is off-site that is independent from my actual home. While I won’t be having roommates of the adult version again for some great length of time because of this, I do now understand the need that some writers have to have an office. I always saw this as a unnecessary endeavor but I have now seen the value of this perspective as I have lost out on about two months worth of work because of this situation.

I, in short, am vulnerable. I do not like this. I feel “out of order”.

Easy Peesy

After I self published my first novella, something that I knew that if I didn’t get it off my desk rotting I would have never continued writing; I thought to myself I have a plethora of stories to tell, many of them about my life and my experiences. Since everyone who read UNVAMPED liked it, albeit they wanted more from it than just a novella, I decided to write a short story collection called “Things I learned from Ghosts”; a true story account of my paranormal experiences. Writing about your own experience should have been so easy…

It isn’t. As I sat down and began to write one of the stories, “Miss Victoria”, I couldn’t find an angle that seemed interesting to me. If I went the route of the allure of downtown Savannah, it seemed that I would end up spending more time writing about architecture than about ghostly encounters. Decidedly, I went the route of what was happening in my life at that time, but then I discovered that to really have the reader develop an understanding of that time in my life and the people I was around would reveal things about my past that I haven’t disclosed to many people I am close with. I don’t like secrets but I also don’t like to explain myself so I decided that going that route may not be the best thing either. I am simply not brave enough to put that out there yet. Maybe after I get some successes under my belt, I might. But first I would have to sit a few people down and fess up.

After much pondering, I decided that I should turn the short story collection into a “based on true events” so that I could add that clever element of fiction to the story without giving away too much about certain realities in my life. Yet, I have been tortured about it because I dislike being deceptive with my readers. However, the stories aren’t supposed to be about me insomuch as my choices at that time but more about the ghosts that I encountered.

So I offer this advice to writers, while all writing has a piece of you in it, you don’t have to give yourself up. Writing creative non fiction is a test of how much of you can you weave into the story without getting autobiographical. As I learned, I can’t just sit down and bang out events that happened in my life with ease. Like any type of writing, it still needs to be massaged and coaxed and delivered in an interesting way. It just ain’t easy peesy quick and breezy!

Tangents

Too often the biggest obstacle to the creative mind isn’t a block or inability to manifest a new idea; in fact it is the opposite- having too many creative ideas.

Most people that are successful as writers have one thing they write about. They carve out a niche for in their particular genre and they keep regurgitating variations on that theme for many years. This is what publisher’s like. These people are easy to market and easy to gain followers or sheeple that will propel them into popularity.

But what of those of us who don’t have a niche, or that the niche is within several genres? I am best at character development. This skill fits anywhere, into any genre, and into any type of writing. I recently had a meeting with a literary agent who told me that he was less impressed with my varied and diverse body of work, and would have been more impressed if there had been just ONE idea or story that I was so passionate about that I would die if it didn’t get made. This was so unbelievably retarded to me. Banking my whole life or career on ONE idea. Really? That just seems so unfathomable to me because I keep drawing ideas out of the ether everyday. Yet, look at J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Todd McFarlane, Clive Cussler, James Patterson, and the list goes on. It is a tried and true formula. Even my favorite author Jane Austen only wrote about social issues within tortured romances. I just can’t seem to do that. While there is an element of paranormal in most things I write, there are many others things I am working on that are nothing but a bunch of humans running around. Some things are about romance, some are about lost chances, some are about the disappointment of expectations. The reality is that all stories have the same core elements and all we as writers get to do is try to throw some clever twists on them to make them seem less typical.

However, I can understand the issue. I myself have a tendency to work on too many things at once. I suppose it’s a type of creative ADD. Having more than one project going keeps me sane, but the problem is that in the midst of one project, another idea for something else will brew. So I have that little notebook or file on the computer that all my tangents are written in, and one day I will revist them, add them to an existing plot, or file them away for when I can’t think of anything else. Though I am acutely aware that this may not happen to me for many many years.

So what is the trick to keeping these tangents at bay? To focusing on one idea at a time until it’s completion?  I don’t know, I really don’t know. But someone let me know if they have a clue. For now I will just keep plugging away until I get things done. Deadlines be damned.

#2012

Impetus

Have you ever noticed that really great plot lines have to be fouled up with a romance or a murder? For instance, secrets are discovered by a lover, or a murder happens and a cop and or reporter must investigate? Why are these situations a go to impetus to begin a great story? What is it about these relationships that are needed for a story to revolve around? Love and death. The two things that we are still searching for answers to? When I start a story, it almost never begins with these two things, but then again I am into character development. I like to start a story with a great character, flesh out the quirks, personality flaws, and then move into a reason that I want to tell a story with this character. Sometimes love does come up, or a death happens, but I really try in some of my more beloved stories to move past these two things and discover other things about life that are notable. These two situations are the catalyst in so much of our lives that can a story truly be complete without them? These are what are called a slice of life moments. These are my favorite stories to write.

Does being invisible make you less of a writer?

 When you are trying to ply your trade every one has an opinion. For instance, I will write anything but when I was given a job to write articles for a website that was a privatized version of ehow with really strict rules, “the facts only ma’am” type stuff. I don’t know whether it was the state of mind I was in at the time, having just become a hotel dweller because I lost my loft, or because the relationship I was end came to a brutal end and I was beside myself. However, I could never muster the willpower to do this job. So I declined it, and moved on. As I really began to push my writing into creative fiction, I noticed that what people read and what I write are vastly different in the genres that I am working in, comics and movies appeal to well, a lesser developed sense of literature because they are aided by visuals. Novels are my real passion but who has the time or finances to become a full-time novelist until you actually publish the first one? So I put myself out into the ether and decided that I would not turn down any advising, editing, or ghost writing jobs that came along to pay the bills. Some people who are trying to make it in the business of being a pro writer would cringe at being a ghost writer. While you get paid, you have no claim to the material nor do you get any credit. So is ghost writing a good way to be a writer? Well I would say that it allows you to ply your trade without being called out if it is not up to par. You could use it as time to perfect your prose and develop more style. However, it would also take up precious time that you may have to write your own stories. For me, I think it is a win win situation.  I don’t think that it makes anyone less of a writer, and it can fill your coffers with much needed funds so that you can take that month off to go to the beach or mountains and write your great novel. I think that as a writer, you have to try it all, because you might be better in some areas than others. For me, I know that I do not like to write reviews. I get asked time and again for reviews and I refuse to do them anymore. Why? Here’s my philosophy: Those who can’t do, teach, those who can’t teach, criticize.  The world is full of people who would love to tell their opinion about something. I myself am rife with lofty opinions. But the question is: Do I want my opinions to determine the success or failure of something? Is that what I want to define me? I say a firm and resounding, “no”! I would rather be invisible.

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