Better Together

I had never been one to believe in writers’ groups. The couple times I had attempted they were too awkward and uncomfortable for me to do on a regular basis and I always ended up leaving them for one reason or another. Little did I know that it was because of passing on these opportunities that I ultimately floundered.

I completed my first real novel length work of fiction in 2009. Since then I have attempted multiple times to edit the beast, but with no success. I would get to a certain point and stop because I would listen to the inner critic telling myself “this is terrible” and “I’m a horrible writer.” When you’re working on art with an analytical approach the artist gets upset. And when you’re more of a creator than an editor it gets overwhelming.

What I have since discovered is that having someone or a community to bounce your art off of really helps with the process.

I met my buddy Matt through a former friend of ours. This previous friend used to be Matt’s writing partner but for reasons they have since parted ways. Luckily for Matt and I, we have since gotten together to talk about our projects.

Matt’s passion for the written word is contagious. The past few times we’ve met up to discuss the craft I have left our sessions feeling so energized and overwhelmed with confidence. He and I wax poetic about the other’s pieces, but also offer advice and critique when needed. He is stronger in some aspects that I still need a little polish and vice versa. Together we are helping the other through it. Plus having him (other than myself) excited about my ideas is the best high. (I’ve never done a single drug though, for any kind of comparison.)

From these get-togethers I finally understand why so many books on writing recommend participating in a writers’ group. Working alone gets exhausting, and when it’s just you and your own viewpoint on your manuscript it can get incredibly negative very fast. And I should know, it’s been that way every time I’ve worked on my book before.

When one has a supportive place to share his techniques and ideas it really keeps the fire burning. And my fire can only stay burning for so long without adding some potent fuel.

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The “Shut the Hell Up” Two-Step

It’s truly astounding how much I want to see myself fail. Whenever I gather up my will to accomplish something and make even just the tiny bit of headway in regards to my novel, my inner critic pipes in and likes to remind me how “shit” I am at writing. It happens without fail. Every time.

In the past I would inevitably listen and give up. The proof is in the fact that the last time I attempted to edit my book was 5/28/2014 (28/05/2014 for those abroad). At the very least that was the last time I opened the word documents. What’s even more excruciating is that I completed this novel length work of fiction in 2009. This December the 6th will be 10 years. That’s insane. But the delay has all been due to my submission to my self-hatred.

I wasn’t always this way. I used to be relatively confident in my ability. It wasn’t until I went to work for an office that treated me like I was a fucking moron that I started to cave so easily. “What’s the point?” Became my mantra. When those around you talk down to you, in the voice of your inner critic, you start to listen.

As of late, it usually gets the loudest after my initial read through of a chapter in “rough” condition. But I tell myself to ignore it and just keep reading. I start at the top and work my way down, and when I come across something that gives me pause I fix it immediately. The voice will chime in and I “talk over it” to myself “You can do this.” Even if I am mid-paragraph, that doesn’t need any real change, and he decides to tell me how horrible my writing is I restart at the beginning. It’s almost like learning a dance routine. If I miss a step, back to the top.

This time I absolutely refuse to give up or give in. Whenever the fucker pokes his head into my thoughts I knock him square across the jaw and then kick his dazed ass to the curb. In the words of Ms. Bianca Del Rio “Not today, Satan.”

#WriterProblems

I am almost certain I have come to this fork in the road once before, when I attempted to edit my novel in the past. Evidently though I chose not to do anything about it and keep it the way it was, for whatever reason. Maybe I thought, “Well I’ll just fix it after I revise the whole thing.” Which is downright ridiculous because the changes required ripple through the rest of the story. Jesus, I really hate myself sometimes. Past Josh was an idiot, to be quite frank.

Here is my dilemma, my novel takes place in the mountains northeast of Boise, Idaho on New Year’s Eve and there is absolutely no snow.  The things that occur very much show no snow and adding it would make things difficult for both me and my protagonists.

When I was editing my Chapter 9 (‘yay’ for making headway) the question that came to mind is, “Wait, could this actually happen?” In this chapter I describe a broad green valley cut in two by a stream. Green… In January… In the mountains. Naw, girl. That doesn’t sound possible. So I did a quick google search and discovered that snow covered 99.5% of the landscape. So, you’re telling me that there is chance of snow. Then that information made me wonder if there would even be a stream.

Luckily I have a buddy who moved from my hometown to a town in Idaho. So I started asking him these very questions. And that kicked me back to the beginning.

When I originally wrote this book I did not have this particular plot point about an alcoholic father and it being New Year’s Eve.  I added that AFTER the fact to answer another couple questions that arose that needed clarification. However, because of them, this has created quite the conundrum.

How do I solve this issue? Do I go back and add in the snow and change the action to handle the new dilemma OOOOR do I just move the date of the story to a spring month? My one hang up is that it would seem too forced for the alcoholic father to have a HUGE change of heart in regards to his substance abuse. With the “New year, new you” mentality it fits better, in my mind.

The other option I had was maybe move it up to May, and make it a birthday thing. Like “Now that I’m 40…” And it could work but AGAIN another plot point comes under attack in the forms of a character that HAS TO put on a jacket. (That is 100% non-negotiable.) Is she still going to ask for a jacket?

Oh, writer problems.

My husband is such a dick. He’s making fun of me by saying that I’m going to be eighty years old still working on this book. “I just need to add one more thing.”

Anyway, I’m probably just going to go back and put a winter layover. I just don’t want to do it.

Writing Through the Depression

Writing has always been my outlet, ever since I was a kid. Primarily because I am (what I have been described as) a very cerebral person. Living in my head is a dark and dangerous place and putting it into written words always gives me some sense of peace I could otherwise not find elsewhere. I typically don’t speak my thoughts because they are random and I easily get lost trying to find the right word, especially if I am speaking to someone (I talk a lot to myself). I have discovered that most take what I say as gospel and that is not how my mind works. I’m constantly working things out. Which is why I choose writing more than anything else.

The only problem with my writing is that it gets me into trouble sometimes. I always assume whatever I write on my blogs will be lost to the depths of the internet, but sometimes it finds its way into the hands of others. It’s irritating but the nature of the beast, and more often than not it doesn’t ever get discovered. I find that comical for a few reasons but the number one being I have shared my site with others in the past but no one can be bothered to ever look. Unless of course they’re mentioned in the thing and then all of a sudden it’s a hot commodity. Otherwise no one gives two shits. It’s like inviting a friend to the play you’re in, or the stand-up show you’re doing at the local open mic, or if you’re performing anywhere. People can’t be bothered. In my younger days I would let it bother me, but now I just shrug and realize that’s the gamble no matter what.

Yesterday I was feeling way down. I got to the point that I wanted to isolate from my entire life. I liken it to “running away.” The very thought of just leaving everything behind and hitting the open road crossed my mind but unless I’m carrying cash that isn’t going to happen. Plus, how would my sudden disappearance affect those in my life? It’s always that thought that keeps me grounded.  It’s hard pushing against the current of my depression but I know I have to make an effort or suffer the consequences of severe depression.

Last night I returned to my “finished” novel to restart the process of editing. For once in a great long while I did not get upset. When I found myself spinning my wheels, I told myself to just start back at the beginning and re-read again. It was nice. Then whenever the voice of my inner critic attempted to creep in, I ignored it and thought “I can do this.” Even this morning I told myself (as I doubted my efforts) that I am just out of practice. To get to a better place I have to keep trying. It’s like that lawn mower that’s been sitting in the garage for months. It takes a couple pulls to get it going, and even when you do get it started you have to let it run for a bit to get it to where it’s able to do the job it was designed to do.

For my own sanity I am not going to make any grand pronouncements of finishing my novel by a certain time-frame or even at all. It always ends in misery and self-loathing. Instead what I will do is feel proud that I got to the task and am content with the results.

National Novel Writing Month

This Thursday, November 1st, marks two of my favorite things. The first being my wedding anniversary (5 years) and the second being the start of National Novel Writing Month or what it is colloquially known as NaNoWriMo.

If you haven’t heard of it and are a budding/want-to-be writer, I suggest you check it out. Their website is: www.nanowrimo.org. I went to their site to brush up on how and where it all began, (because I have this vague memory that it was started by a bunch of college students who wanted to finish their manuscripts) but I couldn’t find any sort of mission statement. So, I may have just made that shit up in my head. Who knows. If I did, that isn’t the first time I imagined reading information in regards to the event.

The idea behind it is that every day for the month of November you write a minimum of 1,667 words until the 30th when you reach the ultimate goal of 50,000, which amounts to a novel length work of fiction.

When I first participated I could have SWORN I read somewhere that you just write, you don’t ever go back and revise or re-read what you’d written, and instead charge forward until you’ve accomplished your goal. Once at the finish line you can look back and begin the process of editing. When I participated the following year that whole piece was absent from their website and, just like my fantasy of “how it started,” may have concocted the whole thing in my imagination. Regardless, that piece of advice is what I pass on to those I try to entice into the event. What I discovered is that this is EXACTLY how I like to write. In addition, I don’t like to plan that far in advance (however if that’s your process have at) because I enjoy having the story unfold for me as if I was reading the book. My good friend Matt told me that is the style in which Stephen King writes and I take that as a shining omen for my process.

The first time I participated I wrote my first ever novel and, also, the one I have since attempted to edit. (That was back in 2009, to get some perspective). It sits on my desktop taunting me. It wants to be published, but the thing I hate about writing is editing, and that is all writing is, to be quite frank.

From that first novel I wrote two subsequent sequels in the same NaNoWriMo style. One of them was absolute trash and once I was complete I ended up printing it and shoving it in some dark drawer, never to see the light of day. The one I wrote after that though was fantastic. I guess I just needed to get all the bad ideas out first.

It has been a few years since I did NaNoWriMo. Life has just gotten in the way and each year I set out with the intent to do it but ultimately told myself that I didn’t need the added stress of trying to write 1,667 words a day for an entire month added to my plate. This year is no exception. I’m just as busy (if not more) like before, which made me realize life is constant and I’ll always be “busy” but that isn’t an excuse to forego my art. Going against my better judgment, I have decided to rejoin the fun, but with an added twist. I will publish my work, to my blog, as I trudge along in all of its terrible, raw glory. (I may give each sprint a little run through the Grammarly program, but otherwise it will remain unedited.)

I encourage you to follow along, because it’s interesting to see how things turn out. Full disclosure, it will also be a train wreck, which is also kind of fun to watch.

P.S. I will be saving each entry under the category “Cursed.”

NYC Midnight – Flash Fiction Challenge #1

I am a sucker for competition, especially in regards to trying to prove my intellect or skill. When it comes to writing contests, there is no other drug I would choose. I love the stress and panic that comes with the possibility of winning. The awards given would prove, once and for all, that I was worth-while and had talent. However, only until recently have I even received any kind of recognition.

As I’ve mentioned before, I won third place for my column “Gay Agenda” in the Renegade Rip.  That award gave me so much self-worth I didn’t know what to do with it or myself.

When the chance to compete in the “NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge” arose I had to enter. Sure it cost me $50, but it guaranteed two of my stories would be read and critiqued by the judges; and it entered me into a chance at winning a cash prize.

The idea behind the contest is that the entrant is put into a group of around 30 people, and in that group each person has to write a 1,000 word story in a specific genre, that takes place at a designated location and must include a single item. Whether the item is crucial to the plot is up to the writer. For the first challenge, I was given the genre of Sci-Fi. My location was “a man-made island” and the item to be included somewhere in the story was “a skeleton.”  I have included it below so that people could read it. Followed immediately after is the feedback I received, and I have to say I agree with everything noted, with the exception of one.

Without further ado, here is my first entry into the flash fiction competition, brought to you by NYC Midnight Madness. I placed 13th out of 15 spots, in a group of 31 contestants.

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SCHIFF’S ISLAND

Darris Shiff stood on the shore of his newly formed island with his arms crossed over his chest. His eyes bounced from one aluminum robo-mech to the next as they bustled about the land mass spreading like a bubble across the surface of the ocean. 

“What do you think?” he said, gesturing with both arms to the scene. 

The young woman with chestnut skin glanced around at the construction with a blank expression. 

“I imagine the Terrestrial Brethren will be pleased.”  

“Good. All it took were a few quadrillion global credits, and here I stand on the precipice of a new age, away from the stench of poverty and war.”  

The young woman licked her lips, turned, and walked to the small table that had been set up for the meeting. A large blue and green hologram spun counterclockwise at the center, with a series of dots typing out flags of data. The sound of the robo-mechs and the waves lapping at the shore dulled the sound of the robotic voice reading each tag. 

“Your assistant informed me that the expected completion date is two weeks from now. That will not sit well with the Brethren. ” 

Schiff sighed, “No, it won’t, but you can’t rush progress. So, it will have to do. Most of the heat and salty ocean air has had a hand in the destruction of the majority of my mechs.” 

“And yet you persist.” 

Schiff turned to her with a broad grin. 

“One does what they must to survive.” 

The woman circled the table and examined the hologram. The grid of illuminated digital lines formed the peak of a single mountain rising like a beak from the tropical foliage and numerous buildings, turrets, and barriers surrounding its base. 

“I could survive here,” she said.  

Darris walked to the table and pressed a single button on the panel at its side. The hologram flickered away.  

“When can we expect them? I am ready for the Dalian Eclipse.” 

The woman smirked. “Are you so certain of that?” 

“Who are you to-” started Schiff, but the loud hum of an approaching ship cut through his response.  

The two looked up toward the sound to see a hover yacht emerged from the dense fog that circled the island. A long, red flag trailed from the rear to signal their station and identity. 

“Finally,” Schiff said. 

The woman narrowed her green eyes at the back of Darris’ head. 

The leisure cruiser pulled close to the island and dropped anchor only a few meters from where the two stood. A shimmering electron gangplank birthed forth from its side and rested at the edge of the shore, as a group of five men in billowing gold garments stepped to the edge of the craft. 

Schiff rushed forward and took his spot at the end of the walkway, as he tugged, tucked, and pressed his clothes to impress. 

“It is a pleasure to meet with you, gentlemen,” Schiff said, with half a bow. “Welcome to my island.” 

The man at the head of the group, with a gaunt face and a hooked nose, pursed his lips together and nodded. 

“Indeed, Mr. Schiff.”  

The men stepped around their host and walked onto the shore. 

“As you can see, everything is coming along nicely. I have developed the technology to build new lands, away from the coppers, for those willing to pay the price.” 

The five men moved about and appraised the scene before them like a flock of birds. 

“Pay?” one of the five said. “Hopefully, that does not include us. Considering what we’re offering you.” 

“Of course not, gentlemen.” 

The men chittered their approval. 

Schiff stepped next to the table and ignited the hologram.  

“As you can see the look of the finished product. We have all the amenities to protect us from pirates and the poor.” 

The Brethren circled the display and gestured to each of the features with their commentary. 

“You’ve done well. A man with your talents deserves what the Brethren offer.” 

Schiff moved to speak, but his voice escaped him. Instead, his jaw opened and closed like the limbs of one of his malfunctioning robo-mechs. 

“Provided you guarantee our own private property in this ocean world, you can join the brotherhood and live forever, like us.” 

Schiff nodded. 

The man with the hooked nose grinned and pulled from a pocket a clear plastic box that contained a single squirming creature that resembled a grub. 

Darris’ hands shook as he lifted them to grab his prize. For so long he had heard the rumors of what it took to be a Brethren, but he had never believed it until the leader placed it in his open palm. 

“Thank you.” 

The growl of an engine drew the attention of everyone gathered on the beach to the ship that exploded from the fog flying a tattered acid-green flag, adorned with the skeleton of a shark. 

“Pirates!” One of the men shrieked, sending the brethren into a panic. 

The young woman seized her moment. With moves as quick as lightning, she pulled a pistol from her boot and shot a single bolt at the gangplank where it short-circuited the walkway, trapping the men on the island. 

“You’re not going anywhere.”  

“We will give you money!” one of them shrieked. 

The young woman sneered. 

“I don’t want your filthy credits.”  

The young woman fired a charged bolt into each of the Brethren’s heads and stopped when she came to Darris. 

Schiff dropped to his knees, with the box still clutched in his hands. 

“Why are you doing this?”  

“One must do what it takes to survive,” the woman said. “And the world without your kind is better off.” 

Schiff glanced from his captor to the dead men on the ground, to the Kubuli in his hands. 

“Thank you for building us a beautiful new world.” 

With one final bullet, the Brethren were no more. 

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JUDGES’ FEEDBACK:

{1751} I truly appreciated the revenge that the young woman takes on the people who would obviously have only used the newly invented land to serve themselves (because that’s what they do best).  {1739}  Schiff’s struggle to join a secret society is intriguing. The tech that he has developed to prove himself, makes him a sympathetic character.  {1743}  This is quite a taut and penetrating flash science fiction.  The slam bang ending is a working hologram itself, italicized with a “Kabuli.”  That pirate ship bursting through fog, flying its shark flag is a real keeper.  Fine piece of writing, this.  WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1751}  It seems astounding to me that the men who have such power and wealth would have no bodyguards and only one ship on and off the island; you might improve the story if the young woman had disabled even more obstacles, such as bodyguards or more ships, as it might make her victory seem less miraculous and more plausible. However, this is only a suggestion.  {1739}  The story really begins once the Brethren arrive. Consider truncating the opening sequence. Nothing is written that makes the Brethren or Schiff bad people. They all seem to be pretty hard working folks. Schiff mentions that steps are taken to protect against pirates, yet his facility is immediately overrun. This is a big conflict.  {1743}  An em dash is rendered as: –.

A Promise to a Life of Action

I need to get back in the habit of writing. The idea of having this site is two-fold: one, it’s a way for me to continue my column from the Renegade Rip as I have timed out my time in the class (the KCCD deemed that it was inappropriate to repeat courses for funsies); and two, because I want to be a writer more than anything and most literary agents, I have read, want the author to already have some sort of platform built. The second one annoys me, but it’s all in an effort to play the game and I refuse to do self-publishing. I don’t mean to insult anyone who has gone that route, I just know that I am a lazy self-promoter (at best) and peddling my own wares (which I paid for) is not in my wheel-house.

There is also a third thing, but it has more weight and can’t really be lumped in with the other two. (The reason why has escaped me. Maybe it’s because I miscalculated my reasons and instead am sticking to my guns refusing to re-write.) The thing that keeps me coming back is because this bitch has to write.

I don’t know what it is but I have to put my words out there. Whether it be a story or my own personal thoughts doesn’t matter. As long as I am putting my mental musings into the world I am happy. I find excitement and worth. To not do such things leaves me feeling jaded. I suppose it’s my own form of therapy.

What is strange about this notion is that while I know how much I love it and truly do enjoy the task more than eating French fries (and this bitch loves him some French fries) I make all the excuses in the world to not put pen to paper. Or in this case, fingertips to keys. I say, I’m too busy, or that my husband would be upset if I stowed away into the office to write. Sometimes it’s just that I am tired and don’t want to. But, not writing kills me and, also, not doing it keeps me rooted to the spot. (In both my life ambition and self-care.)

That is why I have chosen to promise myself, and to the select few that traverse this site, to deliver some sort of content on every Friday. There is no excuse for me not to do it, truly. I have the wordpress app on my phone and can even write a tiny blurb on the run. I just don’t want to continue this life of nothingness, where all I do is work and sleep and work and sleep. I get nowhere and do nothing. I want to live. And living involves action.

I was reminded of this fact the other day when a friend of mine, a mentor, quoted one of my most favorite movies to me. “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” It’s one of the most quotable lines from the Shawshank Redemption. (Which is easily one of my top 5 films.) In the past I never paid it any mind because I only took it into the context of the film, where Andy has had enough of his prison life. With it taken out of the scene and just read to me, and forgetting where, how and why it was said, it’s really some great advice for life. Life is meant to be lived, however that may be. For me it’s a need to be heard, to be understood. It drives me and pushes me to a reality I long for.

So stay tuned. I don’t know what I will write, I just know that it will be something, and I will try to make it my best. Maybe one day something will come of it, and maybe something won’t. But the only terrible thing I could imagine is looking back on a long life and feeling as though I have not lived.

P.S.
As of late, I have returned to the first draft of my first completed manuscript to start the process of spit and polish. I am trying to stay strong as I sit there and attempt to pick it apart, because after all it is a FIRST DRAFT and is filled with holes, splinters, and rough edges. For a short while I wasn’t sure that it would be this particular manuscript to pick back-up, but seeing as how it has a gay protagonist in a real world fantasy realm, and I did win an award for my column about gay life, it only seems right to begin here.