TED Talk – How I Started Writing Songs Again

A meditation on community and using what you know in a unique way.

Advertisements

Sometimes You Have to Say “No”

“Creative people say ‘yes’ until they have enough work that they can say ‘no.’”

Austin Kleon (Austin has several wonderful/amusing form letters about saying ‘no’ on his tumblr.)

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this month, you have to say no to something. That might be not watching TV with the family after dinner. It might be bowing out of a night of drinking and debauchery. (Why not try a write in, instead? A lot more coffee, but random conversations that will make you wonder what’s *in* that coffee. And you get some writing done.)

But even if you aren’t, the holiday seasons are upon us. They’ve pounced with the ferocity of a reporter on a Donald Trump quote. This season, more than any other, is when you need to think about your own sanity. You will have a lot of people who believe you have unlimited time to devote to them. This might be family. This might be friends. This might be a boss who has fourteen new projects that need to be pushed out by the beginning of January.

You need to take care of you. So, you need to be able to say “no” to things. “No, I’m sorry, I can’t make sixteen dozen cupcakes for tomorrow.” Or “Sorry, I won’t be able to make your party on the 16th! Have a wonderful time and eat a slice of pie for me.”

And here’s the nasty little secret people always forget: You are not required to explain why you are saying “no” to an event. “I’m sorry. I won’t be able to make it. Thank you for inviting me.” Feel free to copy and paste that sucker whenever you want.

When it comes to projects? Remember that quality trumps quantity. Can you take on 3 freelance projects and get them done on time and make enough to live on/pay the bill you need to pay? Take on 3 projects. But remember to start truly evaluating when the next possible project comes down the road. Will taking on a 4th project result in all 4 of them going off the rails? Say “I’m afraid I won’t be able to take this project on until [Date]. Will that work for you?”

And right here and now is when I point out that I am a total hypocrite about this. I almost always take on enough to push me to the edge.

But I have learned my lesson. 50 pies I’ve never made before? Sure, I can do them. Just not tomorrow. I’m going to need some notice for that sort of thing.

“I’m gonna make you a star!”

It’s the run up to NaNoWriMo (give me a minute to stamp the panic back down, I’m really not ready) and I’m trying to crash through the rest of my pre-November to-do list. I could write a few thousand words about how well it’s going (or I can give you two, it’s not) but you’re probably more interested in things that might mean something to you.

So. In the attempt to finish all the things, I’ve been watching a lot of non-fictional Netflix the last week or so. It doesn’t require me to actually pay attention, and when I’m in the midst of editing or file creation that’s sort of helpful. I fall down a hole with Netflix though, almost as badly as I do with Wikipedia. Case in point, the other night I started off with some creepy freaking show about a dude who kept his daughter locked in a dungeon in the basement and made her have his babies for like twenty years. Yeah. Ick.

From that I went to watching a bio-pick about John Denver. If that’d been intentional it would have worked, right? Because some sweetness and light (even with a sad ending) can help chill you out after watching something horrible. But no, I wasn’t intentionally making the night less weird. Apparently weird is my drug.

I told you all that, because I heard something really amazing in the middle of that John Denver show, and I’d like to share it with you.

“You can’t make someone a star. Nobody holds a gun to your head and says ‘listen to this record.’ All I can do is bring the people to the artist and let them shine, let them be who they are.”

–Jerry Weintraub

I hear a lot, in the online communities about how so and so got that major deal because they know somebody, or so and so knows the way to become a multi-platform best-selling author and all you have to do is be exactly like them.

I like Jerry’s advice better. The man has had a multi-decade spanning career in music and movies, organizing giant concerts and fostering talent in a lot of different ways. And up there, he’s basically telling you to be yourself. Shine. There’s nobody exactly like you, and that’s the best advantage you’ve got.


Keep an eye on our social media in the next few weeks. We’ve got a whole lot of fun stuff coming down the pipes!

The Importance of Fun

So it’s October, and I have a thing to pimp, and I was looking for a way to do that that wasn’t just “I HAVE THING, LOOK AT THING!” and somewhere in the midst of that I got to thinking about NaNoWriMo, and about how much that license to suck has helped my writing.

Sit back, we’re going to talk about something huge and important: Fun.

A few months ago, Kate, the Minion, and I came up with this grand idea. See, we’re trying to launch a new romance line, and driving traffic to a website that’s not really a website yet is a bit like building a baseball field in the middle of three acres of corn. Just because James Earl Jones said the people would come doesn’t mean anybody with sense believes that’s going to happen.

And lo, Romancing the Rainbow was born. One story for every color of the rainbow. The most ridiculous, off the wall, out in left-field (hehe, more fields) erotica/erotic romance/romance stories the first seven people we could lay our hooks into could come up with.

You have no clue how many times I had to tell people ‘no, it’s okay, I really do want ridiculous.’ We’re authors, and sometimes we get serious about our craft. Sometimes we get so serious about craft it becomes craft and it’s about on level with an actor talking about process and rational minded human beings begin to twitch with the urge to strangle you.

And this is what NaNoWriMo gives you. It’s not just about permission to suck alleviating the pressure of creating the next Great American Novel. It’s about fun. It’s about permission to run whooping through the halls of your creativity–to steal a phrase.

It’s a semi-naughty story about a butter churn, or pan-dimensional space cats, or–in this week’s release–woad-stink girl and a fairy princess.

So get out there and belt up for Nano, come up with the craziest, most ridiculous story you can think of. Give yourself permission to be that kid in elementary school art who never followed the directions.

And if you’re looking for something to read, you should totally go check out Romancing the Rainbow. We’re down to Violet, and the only hint you’re getting is that it releases just before Halloween…

A thin, thin, line

There is a line. A line we draw and say “thus far and no further.” That line is different for everyone.

Today, someone in my life drew that line and left an abusive relationship. I will not reveal more than that for their own safety.

So, for today’s post we are going to 1) signal boost where to get help. 2) discuss abusive behaviors. 3) rage, rage against abuse and give you ways to help.

Where to get help:

    For Women:

US: call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).
UK: call Women’s Aid at 0808 2000 247.
Australia: call 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732.
Worldwide: visit International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies for a global list of helplines and crisis centers.

    For Men:

U.S. and Canada: The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men & Women
UK: ManKind Initiative
Australia: One in Three Campaign

Abusive Behaviors:

Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal abuse to violence. And while physical injury may be the most obvious danger, the emotional and psychological consequences of domestic abuse are also severe. Emotionally abusive relationships can destroy your self-worth, lead to anxiety and depression, and make you feel helpless and alone. No one should have to endure this kind of pain—and your first step to breaking free is recognizing that your situation is abusive. Once you acknowledge the reality of the abusive situation, then you can get the help you need.

Help Guide.Org

A quick checklist from the National Domestic Violence Hotline:
Look over the following questions. Think about how you are being treated and
how you treat your partner. Remember, when one person scares, hurts or
continually puts down the other person, it’s abuse.
Does your partner…
…

  • Embarrass you with bad names and put-downs?

 

…

  • Look at you or act in ways that scare you?

 

…

  • Control what you do, who you see or talk to, or where you go?

 

…

  • Stop you from seeing or talking to friends or family?

 

…

  • Take your money or Social Security, make you ask for money or refuse to
    give you money?

 

…

  • Make all the decisions?

 

…

  • Tell you you’re a bad parent or threaten to take away or hurt your children?

 

…

  • Act like the abuse is no big deal, it’s your fault, or even deny doing it?

 

…

  • Destroy your property or threaten to kill your pets?

 

…

  • Intimidate you with guns, knives or other weapons?

 

…

  • Shove you, slap you or hit you?

 

…

  • Force you to drop charges?

 

…

  • Threaten to commit suicide?

 

…

  • Threaten to kill you?

 

If you checked even one of these, you may be in an abusive relationship. If you
need help, call the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance
Abuse Services’ “Safeline” at 1-800-522-7233 or the National Domestic
Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

How you can help RIGHT NOW:

  1. Signal boost. Share the information in this post. Link to it. Copy it. Post it on your own blog. Facebook it. Tweet about it.
  2. Donate to your local women’s shelter.
  3. Volunteer at your local shelter.
  4. Donate to one of the organizations in the first section
  5. Send this post to someone who needs the checklist.
  6. Look around your home and consider if you have the ability to shelter a friend or a friend of a friend who’s escaping a situation. Think about what you would do. Make sure there’s a plan and maybe lay in an extra toothbrush and sundries, just in case.

It is my sincerest hope that you will never need this information. But if you do? Here is it. And here’s a virtual hug from me to you. You are heard. You are believed.

The Longest Character Workshop Ever Part 2: Meet Marty!

I have an eerie feeling we’re going to get up into the triple digits with this thing. Like every time I sit down to write a blog post and I don’t have any kind of topic it’s going to be another number in our everlasting workshop.

Anyway, today we’re going to talk about Author Insertion! You’re excited, right?

Marty Meets Mary: Examples of what not to do.

My favorite example of author insertion is Clive Cussler. If you’ve ever tried to read a Dirk Pitt novel you’ve come across this. And I’ll be nice to Mr. Cussler here because utter freaking train wreck that I find his novels occasionally, I have actually finished a fair number of them.

So you’re cruising along, following Dirk and Al across the desert or the jungle or whatever super rugged, stereotypical expanse they’re crossing this time. And you’ve gotten used to some of the things a Dirk Pitt novel treats you to—strange plot asides, crazy coincidences, quasi-misogynistic behavior. You’re good. It’s an adventure, and sometimes you just remind yourself he started writing these in the sixties, and it was okay to hit your girlfriend when she was hysterical then.

(Yeah, as an aside here, I’ll tell you Matthew McConaughey made me like Dirk Pitt before I got around to reading him. It’s a complicated relationship, like all his relationships with women…)

You’re cruising along, and suddenly this dust-blown drifter comes onto the stage. He’s older, and rugged. He’s in possession of serious plot material he has utterly no reason to have. He’s strangely debonair (and crazy as a loon) and you’re confused. You’ve already aligned yourself to the idea Dirk Pitt is Clive Cussler as he imagines himself in the darkest nights. The man he wishes he was. The man he believes he could be (or is, I’ll give Cussler this, he does actually do all the NUMA stuff).

So who’s this guy? Another version of Cussler? How does that even work? And seriously, dude doesn’t have a name? And he winks all the time?

The list of authors who have been accused of serious author insertion over the years is pretty serious. Dumas, Christie, Hemmingway, Sayers. There are all sorts of theories about Shakespeare. And if there’s all this wonderful company, then why is this a thing to be worried about. The greats do it, right?

Wrong.

Look, a certain level of author insertion is unavoidable. There will be bits of yourself with wind up in things you write. Sometimes (often) without your express permission. Sometimes without your even realizing it. And that’s a situation that can make something wonderful out of your little story about a band of renegades on the edge of the galaxy, or the knight in dented armor who decides to be the good guy.

It’s when it goes off the rails that you get into trouble. The sad, depressing fact of life is that nobody cares as much about you as you do. Some things are universal, sure. A lot of things aren’t. You have to watch for the things that aren’t. It’s fine to give up a piece of yourself for a character, but watch how big a piece it is.

Nothing good comes from trying to write your own happy ending. It’s better to go off and live that one.

Write all the others.

As a complete side note, our fall is looking so insanely busy there’ll probably only be about one post a week on here, for the foreseeable future. If that doesn’t feel like enough for you, you can of course either send us a post (hint hint) or comment and beg us for more. We’re amenable to bribery of all sorts of forms…

Racism has physical effects

Racism is nasty, evil, and insidious. It’s something to watch for, not only in writing, but in life.

But as writers we need to go one step beyond and actually think about how racism affects our characters. Here’s a side-effect I’d never thought of before. It turns out that dealing with racism can increase risk-factors for illness.

Controlling for other factors that might cause stress, including socioeconomic status, health behaviors, and depression, researchers found that adults who had reported higher levels of discrimination when they were young had disrupted stress hormone levels 20 years later—and that African Americans experienced the effects at greater levels than their white counterparts.

“There’s sometimes a tendency to say, ‘Oh, they are just kids—they will get over it,'” says developmental psychologist and head researcher Emma Adam. “But it turns out there can be lasting impact.”

Using participants from the Maryland Adolescent Development Context Study—a large-scale, 20-year survey that included adolescents from a broad range of socioeconomic backgrounds—the researchers were able to compare levels of the stress hormone cortisol in adults to the responses they gave as 12-year-olds.

You can read the full Mother Jones article here.

What this generally means, is that the levels of stress hormones remain elevated in those who experience racism. High hormone levels can lead to heart disease, diabetes, chronic fatigue, and depression. So, let’s think about this in a regular fiction way and then in a science fiction way.

In regular fiction, you have a character who is from an historically minority background who has grown up with racism (overt or insidious). They are now an adult. This adult is now put into a stressful situation. His heart is weaker, having had high stress levels on a continual basis for most of his life. How does he react? More quickly? More slowly? Does he suddenly have a tingling in his hand and shortness of breath that he writes off as the normal background of his life, rather than the mild heart attack it is?

In a science fiction way, we have a minority character — an alien. How does this alien’s physiology react to long-grade stress? Does it change the color of the alien’s skin (<– playing with race to fit in with the dominant culture. Adaptive physiology?) Does it make the alien sick? Aggressive? Passive?

Or, if we put humans under the dominant alien culture. Humans have to work twice as hard to been seen as good as the dominant species. How does this affect the rates of exhaustion? Do they age more rapidly? Die more easily?

What are your thoughts/reactions?