Obstacle #18: Fear

TGIF, am I right? Although hey, it’s Friday the 13th! As expected, it’s been quite a lucky day!

It’s barely been a week since the semester started again (not like I’m counting the weeks of classes remaining, let’s not mention the exams or grading) and like my students, I wish we’d had a longer break. I told them on Monday “you’re complaining now your break was a mere week, but in May you’ll be complaining your summer break is too long!”

They laughed, but they know I’m right. Who has nearly 5 months of vacation!? France, that’s who.

Anyhoo! (Clever, I know.) This will be my first Obstacle Series post in more than a year!? Woah…

But basically, I think I finally put my finger on that feeling that’s been nagging and nagging at me for months. You know the one:

“I wanna write!” *opens document*
*stares at page for hours, rereads everything*
“… Nope. Nothing to say, too much to work on, ‘kbye!”

That first part is a lie. I have a ton of things to say! Just the week before I’d added a paragraph full of ideas and things to tweak, added details to previous genius ideas and and and–!

So what’s stopping me? Scratch that, why am I so actively stopping myself??

Fear, pretty much. In all its variety.

I’m afraid of writing more and seeing my ideas collapse, or finding out that my world building isn’t profound enough. I definitely don’t want to hear that my characters aren’t developed enough, that my plot is cliché or that my writing is overall barely above acceptable.

So instead of adding length to what I managed to write, I agonize over what I do have. “The timeline’s wrong, this detail doesn’t match my revised idea, is this really appropriate where it is, there’s so much to fiiiix!” And basically discourage myself from writing because my perfectionist side can’t deal with imperfections.

But who writes a perfect draft on their first try?

Yet I suppose my fear doesn’t stop just at the current dilemma that is finishing my draft (although it’s the most intense for now). I have a habit of projecting into the future (or not living in the present moment, if you will), and I’m fairly certain a part of me is already stressing about polishing the manuscript to send with query letters. Way, way ahead of the tide.

So what am I supposed to do to battle this never ending fear, which so rudely captured me in the eternal abyss? Cower forever by glimpsing and exiting my word processor, or tie myself solidly and climb my way out of this fear-filled abyss?

I view this post as my first step out. I vanquished the blank post, despite the urge to go back and erase everything or just save this draft and leave it to mold in the unpublished folder. Maybe I can’t climb perfectly or quickly, will end up scraping myself and falling a bit, but it doesn’t mean I can’t gradually climb my way out, inch by inch, hold by hold, away from the fear.

Shout out to all daring adventurers, however far out of the abyss you’ve come, or if you’re still struggling with your holds, or if you slipped, skinned your knees and have to start from the bottom again. Let’s take our next step together, reassured that we’re not alone despite facing similar yet unique chasms and that the surrounding fear will be vanquished by the shining light of perseverance and tenacity (or perhaps, a sea of sweat from our efforts will eventually fill the abyss and take us to the top…).

So for all you conquerors and challengers of abysses, how do or did you deal with your fear(s)?

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Obstacle #17: Follow through

Merry Friday, folks!

I still can’t believe it’s July, despite the urge to cry (from stress) every time I look at my planner for this month.

In any case, today’s post is possibly the last for a while due to 1) international move and correlated job hunting, and 2) lack of topic ideas! You can’t help with 1, but you can really save me with 2! I’ll most likely post something to announce my absence, but in the meantime, use the new, shiny and sadly unused Contact page!

And now, for today’s topic, I give you: follow through. A.k.a: coming up with one (or several) clever turn(s) of phrase, but not be able to follow through for the rest of the sentence/paragraph/scene.

You know, the one where you’re really proud and it’s possibly the best sentence you’ve written, EVER! And the rest just seems bland. So blah indeed that even with a dash of pepper, paprika and turmeric it still lacks that amazing mixed-spices taste that amazing sentence left you with.

When that happens, I usually try to keep writing to avoid getting stuck and when I’m in the mood for editing, then I’ll play with words and tweak parts until it’s about halfway there. When other people read it, they don’t really tell me “Wow that one sentence was awesome, but the rest… meh.”

Maybe like everything else, our loudest critic is our inner voice(s)?

But of course, lack of “follow through”s doesn’t have to be just language-wise, it could be plain idea wise. After this epic twist plot, the rest of the story might not live up to the excitement, or the sadness. When that happens and you’re really stuck, maybe it’s time to think back on your own life on moments where the follow through was disappointing. For instance, a trailer 100x better than the actual movie, some things that make/made you go “Why me?” are good starters.

Take those memories, those emotions and put them in your story. From there, your “if only this had happened” voice will kick in and it might give you a piece of the puzzle you’re creating.

Writer’s block has a huge, complex family, and each family member has one annoying quality we can’t get away from. Maybe with time we get used to those annoyances, but I’m still in the “ugh, go away!” category. Is there a cure? Probably not, and if there was, it wouldn’t be a one size fits all.

Just remember, pobody’s nerfect! If you’re struggling, so is everyone else.

Obstacle #16: Missing bridges

Let’s jump right into today’s topic: missing bridges; or having points A, E and K but not knowing how to get there. I’m still not sure that’s appropriately titled, so if you have a better word or description, let me know. I’d say this topic is closely related to Writer’s Block, so much so I do believe they’re siblings!

This happens to me all the time, mostly because whenever I have a new idea for a story, it’s usually E or K, and when I finally manage to get an A, well– I can’t get to B, or I do get B but I’m stuck at A.5. Yikes.

Sometimes I unblock myself before I’m sitting down and staring at the blinking bar on my screen. Sometimes I decide to screw the A.5 and go straight to B, I’ll figure it out later. Sometimes I just start writing crap and lo and behold, something magical happens… I get a better idea, or I’m more awake when editing.

There’s no time limit in which the bridges build themselves (because, well, they never do), although it might be related with stress levels in your life, I don’t know. Maybe it’s an inverse correlation? Or maybe, and I think this every time I try to write, it’s not related to anything. I mean, it’s the same as forgetting a word (which happens a lot, especially when you’re abroad and losing your Engrish) and then being reminded by someone else talking about a pineapple. The brain works in strange ways… Or our minds just love the random jumps?

Perhaps that’s just how we function. Besides, I don’t think missing bridges is a bad thing though, I mean if you had everything planned out I’d probably be supremely impressed, and probably a little put off and cough something sounding like  “control freak,” but at the same time I know just how painful and annoying these gaps in the road feel.

But maybe we’re thinking about it all wrong, and the missing bridges aren’t actually missing – in fact they’re not bridges at all. We’ve just been paving our road through any land and ended up destroying forests, mountains, deserts or marshes perhaps without looking. But these gaps aren’t gaps; they’re us running out of cement, pausing and actually looking around and figure out where we are. That’s when new ideas happen, and the road you were building suddenly turns to dirt but U-turns and then zigzags off into the horizon. Follow that road, and there’s your story.

Suddenly, Missing Bridges and its evil twin, Writer’s Block,  erupt in maniacal laughter in your face and skip away together into the eternal sunset. The end.

Obstacle #15: Dialogue

It’s Friday! You know what that means… The weekend has come! Along with my blog post.

Today’s topic: dialogue, and possible-pointers-with-no-guarantees.

Voice 1: Soo…
Voice 2: … Yeah?
Voice 1: Nothing, I was just… you know.
Voice 2: Uuh… nope, I don’t.

Isn’t that boring? Granted, there’s no context or back story, but pointless dialogue is pointless (unless you have Up’s Doug, then everything has a point, ha ha–). Of course, most dialogues in writing actually look like this:

“Soo…” said Voice 1.
“… Yeah?” replied Voice 2.
“Nothing, I was just… you know.” said Voice 1, fidgeting.
“Uuh… nope, I don’t.” awkwardly answered Voice 2.

Not much better huh? When I took my Creative Writing 101 class, the instructor mentioned to get rid of all those tags, or anything after the dialogue, when unnecessary. And frankly, you don’t need them once it’s established who’s speaking. Maybe it’ll look a bit more like this:

“Soo…”
“… Yeah?”
“Nothing, I was just… you know.”
“Uuh… nope, I don’t.”

See? No tags, and you still knew who was talking. Hopefully not just from reading the same thing over and over, but because each speaker (supposedly) has their own, unique voice. It’s a little more difficult with more than two people, but if your characters are established and one is known to be snarky, one lazy and one preppy, well– no problems conveying who’s who to your readers.

Even better without the tags, actually, because your readers can imagine each character’s action as they go: if they’re uncomfortable, dominating the room, or anything.

Of course you’ll need a few tags sometimes, but apparently it’s easier to stick with “said X” than anything because readers kind of gleam over that. If your dialogue is good enough, I can see how it’ll work. It’s probably just a lot of trial and error, and even more feedback from readers.

Okay so: get rid of unnecessary tags. But that’s only one aspect of dialogue. Aren’t there writers out there who feel like dialogue is a good buffer, to air out the dense paragraphs or alleviate the text? Personally, I don’t think that’s a good way to look at it, although I’m not sure I can explain it clearly.

Dialogue is… how your characters take over your book. Just teasing, but it’s a way to move the story forward probably quicker than through narration. It keeps your characters interesting when they react to events or other people and it’s really where their personalities can shine. In some situations, dialogue can describe/illustrate something a thousand times better than narration, because it paints a picture.

So does narration, okay fine, but somehow dialogue’s different. They’re all just words we pick and place next to each other after hours of agonizing over which word to use, but dialogue doesn’t have to. Dialogue is human and easier to convey because wow, we have many dialogues X times a day!

Of course, that’s not to say dialogue is easy to write. On the contrary, it might be (is?) even harder to write. You don’t want pointless “Uh huh”s or “I see”s peppered throughout your story that the readers will just skip, so it needs to be clever, maybe concise and be full of character. Humor’s always good, as long as it’s not forced.

Basically, while you might use dialogue as a buffer on your first draft, by the last draft the dialogue should be a crucial part of the story, which also makes it come alive. As always, if you have any tips or comments, feel free to share them. 🙂

Obstacle #14: Comfort zone(s)

Hellosankyuugoodbye. Nah, I’m kidding, although that is what some students say to me in the hallways, go figure. Happy Friday? I feel like my stress levels have only epically increased all week…

Okay so today’s topic: comfort zone(s), and how stepping out of them feels like climbing Mt Fuji. (Actually, I won’t know how that feels until August, so I might have to revise this later. :P) I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but I kept forgetting every week. I’d write something else and remember on the weekend “wasn’t there another topic–?”

So hah, I finally remembered and wrote it down! Step 1 accomplished. Onto step 2, the explaining?

Everyone has comfort zones, whether we acknowledge them or not. I feel like mine include avoiding writing characters who differ from  me, as in, (way) older or younger and possibly any male character, not to mention someone with different origins than me. I can write them, but if you’ve seen the size of my library– well, you know how small it is right now…

I don’t mean to say I never write those characters (although I’m pretty sure I haven’t really tried very hard yet, except for fanfictions when I wrote my characters as Japanese), I mean to say I feel like what I would write wouldn’t be ‘authentic’ (whatever that means). I don’t really remember what it feels like to be a kid, but being around them all day is a good reminder. I certainly don’t know what it feels like to be old (and wise?), or to have kids and be a parent, or to be part of a minority, or or or…

So as a writer, what’s my job? To read a lot about anything and everything? How much research do I need? How much is left up to imagination? I should blend both, right?

Up to now it’s mostly been basing my characters off personal experiences, people I know or have talked to and experiences I’ve read about. But I feel like that’s not enough, and wondering how others do it. Please tell me!

Other comfort zones I haven’t crossed yet: writing other genres, although that’s kind of ironic because 75% of the time I don’t exactly know what genre I write… Pretty sure I don’t write nonfiction, anything historical, or romance.

If I have more comfort zones (let’s face it, I probably do), I don’t think I’m aware of them yet. So tell me what you have trouble with and maybe I’ll find myself nodding along. If you have any experiences, tips or comments feel free to share. :3

Obstacle #13: Tense(s)

I would copy a friend and spell out TGIF in Japanese, but– I don’t think anyone would get it. Instead, hooray Friday!

Thank goodness it’s the weekend, and at the same time… AAH! Yesterday was my junior high school’s sports day (体育祭), and it had been my first whole day out in the sun in a while (long winters are long). Of course I burned a little… oops.

Anyway, I was completely taken ‘by surprise’ for this week’s post because Friday kind of did creep up on me, so I asked a friend for inspiration, and– I got it! So here you have today’s topic: tenses.

How many times as writers (and students) do we get told “here you’re using the present, so why is this in past tense?” Probably a lot. Definitely too often. We’re probably just writing the way we speak – I don’t know how we speak, but it is all over the place, isn’t it? Sometimes a sentence just sounds good in one specific tense and if you have to change it– well, it doesn’t sound as good anymore. I know for a fact that’s not just me, my friend said the same thing. (Gasp, we’re really all humans!?)

Point is, you can’t just go making a mixed salad of tenses, unfortunately. Maybe one day we’ll recognize all tenses have a right to interact as they damn well please, but until then, we’re stuck with some rules. Or are rules here to be bended at will? I’m just rambling, don’t mind me.

So, my fellow writers, how do we fix this?

  • Pick one tense, and only one! I know it’s hard, and believe me I hate it as much as you (if not more), but for continuity’s sake… it’s needed. Are there ways to get around it? Probably. The first one that comes to mind would be to assign it as “making a statement” for style, or something. If I ever get there, I’ll let you know if/how it pans out.
  • Edit, revise and edit again.
  • Spam your (consenting) friends! Send out one draft, or more if you want their input on a certain tense before you decide, or let them confuse you all over again and agonize for days on end.
  • Read it. Oh you did? Again!

These are by no means meant for any order, you can spam your friends before picking a tense, and read and edit as you will. It’s your story, if you want to live on the edge, no one can stop you (except maybe that annoying inner voice).

Things don’t always turn out perfect, so don’t expect to fish the moon out of a lake and you’ll be just fine. Just know that tenses do that to writers, and be on the lookout. A warned writer is a… warned… writer? No pun here, move along~

P.S: I’m not sure what happened to this post, it kind of just flew out of my fingers or typed itself, but I like it!

Obstacle #12: Rigidity

Happy Friday, fellow writers!

I apologize in advance if this post is discombobulated, but apparently I managed to catch an end-of-winter-yay-spring cold, relapsed a fever and trying hard not to hack out a lung…

Today’s topic is lack of flexibility, aka rigidity.

There are as many types of writers as there are books and writing styles, but we do have a few points in common. Flexibility is kind of an all-encompassing term, really, but what I mean by it is the ability to bounce around. Or stretch. Or whatever analogy floats your boat.

Writing itself requires flexibility, right? Whether you start from the beginning, the end, point C or H, you’ll prooobably end up changing course at some point, either to rewind or skip forward. Your plot? It’ll evolve (or sometimes degenerate?). Characters? They’ll start writing themselves, watch out for any punches they throw your way. The world you’re building? … Well, that one could be just as you imagined it in the first place, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it picked itself up and walked out on me. And of course, constructive criticism. (“Kill your darlings,” anyone?)

All that (and more) requires some pretty heavy flexibility, and if you can’t handle any combination– I’m impressed, but a little worried. If you’re unwilling to bend or alter things, I imagine something will snap at some point. Yikes.

But like everything in writing and in life, you set up limits. How much are you willing to change, and what parts will stay rigid? Do you set limits for your writing? How much are you willing to take constructive criticism and un-rigidify your plot/characters/world/style?

I guess it’s pretty rigid of me insisting to post this today instead of tomorrow (don’t wanna be late!), but we all have our– faults? Sorry if this isn’t up to par. I might attempt to fix it later, or I just lost myself at sea and hope to make it back in time for next week’s post.