The Half-Mature Monster on Holiday

Nature-Summer-WeirdoI work at a school and during summer break calm descends upon the world. Meaning I have more freedom to take vacation days and get home earlier. Before breaks, I spend a lot of time dreaming up all of the things I’ll finally do–go on hikes every day, wake up early and write, read stacks of books, hang out with real human beings.

But then my time off finally comes and once the writing’s done and my Nespresso’s gone cold, I find myself looking ahead at the gray sprawl of time with unease. Distrust.

Okay, I should note that the writing’s never done–by “done” I mean when weird line squiggles and fjifeifejeef lousy up the blank page instead of words. When I’m fed up and begin to wonder if there’s even any purpose to ANYTHING.

With my first book in the far-as-I-can-take-it-for-now pile, bequeathed to the nameless gods for judgment, I’ve been trying to find all sorts of ways to keep myself occupied :coughsanecough:. I’ve taken up more freelance work, started booktubing, inked some bad doodles, hobby gorged under the guise of professional development, and now I’m working on a second book…

This isn’t a sequel or anything like that, it’s a completely new story with all new characters for a different age range. It may seem odd, like I’ve given up on my first book, but I haven’t I swear. Still, I’m not the type who can twiddle her thumbs while waiting and I’m sure that’s not the done thing anyway.

At that LA Times Festival of Books I went to Leigh Bardugo (author of The Grisha trilogy) advised the aging YA panel audience to work on something unrelated while you query. And it was like I’d been given permission to step away from this being I’d put every ounce of myself into; that I’d worked up from the cellular level using an insecure science that leans heavily on the Delete key.

Writing books is like magic. You spend countless hours working on this thing and then not much happens and then you start over again. See? Magic.

I don’t mean that don’t listen to me. Anyway, I’m determined to have some capers both on and off the page. I’m probably not going to hike every day (who even does that?). But I am hiking with a human being tomorrow. And my dishes are washed. Hey maybe I’ll spend the rest of the summer trying to turn into an adult only to reach fall before I’m fully cooked and instead become some horrible half-mature monster. Or maybe I’ll just eat at more restaurants and give this shiny new book some legs. Anything can happen when you have a little time.

Your Precious Personality (or Lack Thereof)

illustration by s. zainab williamsAs a writer or creative, you know what it means to be precious. You know preciousness is a detrimental and alluring trap we’ve all fallen into from time to time. But it wasn’t until recently that I looked at preciousness using a wide angle and considered what it means to be precious with your personality. This is in regards to being an individual generally as well as a creative. This is in regards to having a voice.

A cord of what I’ll shruggingly generalize as strangeness exists in many of our icons in writing and art. Gorey was a crazy cat lady with a fondness for fur coats whose trust benefited animal for god’s sake. Some simply vocalize opinions that rankle and estrange readers, right Bret Easton Ellis?

In this, our age of hacked nudity and eternally archived regrets, the thought of vocalizing or expressing oneself in a way that could one day be uncovered and used against us is galling at best. We wouldn’t want to alert the fanboysandgirls to light their torches and gather their pitchforks. We wouldn’t want to expose ourselves as deviants. We wouldn’t want to write something that might make that one person in SFO feel marginalized. But will we dilute our work to avoid the slings and arrows?

I look at the powder kegs of the creative world and wonder if there’s something to learn from them. They almost can’t help but express themselves. Their voices are so loud they can’t not be heard.

It might not even be a fear of expression that muffles some. I recently received a critique that completely turned around the way I think about editing and voice. Something clicked. I tend to over-analyze and edit to perfect, forgetting to enrich. It’s the academic in me–the technical essayist. It’s a problem. While NaNoWriMo helped me overcome some of that, it’s been writing my serialized, on the spot work Ghost and the Daemon that’s helped the most. It made me look at the way I write Ghost and compare it to the way I’ve been editing my longtime WIP and love of my life, Aurelia and the House of Dire.

I became aware of the danger of caring too much. I realized that you can’t be experimental or playful or innovative when your perspective is locked into making something perfect. I’ve understood avoiding preciousness for some time, but I don’t think I comprehended that it meant more than removing a sentence or even a chapter you had some freak obsession with because it sounded clever but didn’t add anything. It meant letting the IRL opinionated weirdo in me push aside the infallible writer I imagined I should be, allowing it to get in there and do some damage. I am who I am. I’m not what college prescribed and I’m not the writer my younger self wanted me to be. And thank the lawd for that.

I’ve been through a lot in my life and it’s time I accepted myself for who I am as a writer and a person (more and more they’re one and the same), now and in the future. It’s time I stopped giving such an almighty fuck about what everyone else thinks. Because there are a lot of boring sheeple in the world, and a lot of people who will tell you who you should be, how you should write, what you should read, and how you should live your own life. And there are all sorts of notions we can get up in our heads about by comparing ourselves to others. But as soon as we build those boxes, we damn ourselves to create within them and a box is no place for the imagination to thrive. It’s a place where you can be certain your voice won’t be heard thanks to all the others bouncing off the walls, drowning it out.

I almost wish I hadn’t wanted to be a writer for such a long time, developing all of these ideas about what it meant, piling on the expectations and building boundaries. But the good thing about discovery is that it can compel you to change for the better. You just have to find the nerve to break up with who you used to be, embrace who you are, and let the world know.

4 Ugly Truths about Writers and Time Management

Making Time for Writing

In Episode 1 of SZWordeatery, I offered a few tips on time management for writers and admitted that I don’t always take my own advice. We’re all human; sometimes we spend two hours we didn’t have on a quest to read everything the internet has to offer on the life of Bill Watterson because some article stirred up our Calvin and Hobbes obsession.

But we also work against our better judgment to get the job done. Let’s admit to some truths about the dirty deeds we do for our all-consuming need to write. These are the accidental/inevitable ink-stains on the tidy, white life-coaching package.

1. We make unhealthy choices.

Hungry-Writer

We discover that a 6 o’clock grande cappuccino can power us through a full evening of writing and keep us from crashing as a result of the three cups we had earlier in the day.

We also find that, with those three cups+cappuccino, we can be productive, functioning members of society on four hours of sleep.

We realize that food isn’t necessary when we’re caught up in a flight of inspiration. Why is it dark outside? Didn’t I just eat breakfast a minute ago?

2. Our brains throw tantrums at the worst times.

Bad-Idea-Good-Idea-Writing

No matter how well we plan out our day, our brain might want reading when we want writing. It may not want to do anything at all.

We can’t force great ideas whenever it’s convenient to us. We can only force bad ideas and hope to find a gem in the trash heap.

Sometimes knowing we have a deadline just around the corner is enough to make our brains go into a vegetative state.

3. Life gets in the way of writing/Writing gets in the way of life.

Life-Conflicts-Writing

After a full work week of sleep deprivation and caffeine overdosing, we crash and burn hard when we finally have a full weekend to focus on getting things done.

Family and friends need us when we need solitude.

Dirty dishes walk out of our sinks to slap us after a week of neglect.

We either don’t make time for exercise and end up looking like we were shot out to space and forgotten there, or we do make time for it but all the while cursing our bodily needs for taking us away from our work.

4. We make painful sacrifices.

Saying-Goodbye

To make more time, we give up other hobbies and dreams we loved almost equally, but not equally enough.

We forget what it means to have a free day to ourselves; we calendar relaxation. Activities we used to do for fun become integrated into our work lives–they become blog topics, articles, and pictorial marketing tools.

Time with friends and family is the hardest sacrifice we make. We lose loved ones.

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It’s funny how once you decide to make the time to write and make it a priority, you forget how to live without that time. No, you don’t just forget–you simply cannot do without. When I decided I would make time for writing, I didn’t realize this activity would effectively eat up my life.

This all might sound daunting to someone still on the fence about putting writing first, but here’s another truth:

I never feel like I’m missing out.

When I write, I’m complete and so satisfied with what I’m doing that I don’t feel too bad about declining that invitation to go somewhere fun on a whim.  I may grumble about deadlines, but I actually get a thrill from the challenge. Losing people is hard, but giving up or compromising your dreams for someone else is soul-deadening.

It’s not for everyone. You have to love it in order to endure. Listen to Dr. Kelso; remember that nothing in this world worth having comes easy.