Writing about what hurts

Ernest Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts”.


Why? Writing is hard enough. It’s hard not to have a fear of judgement when writing in general, why open oneself up and share one’s darkest moments? Isn’t it good enough to just craft a good story, follow a decent outline of some sort, and just write?

One of my favorite words is chiaroscuro.  It means simply the contrast between dark and light.  It in particular applies to oil paintings, but I like to think it has anagogical applications. In honor of the season I’ll include a picture that has excellent chiaroscuro:

chiaroscuro-1
The Adoration of the Child —
Including painful moments or negative emotions gives depth and character to your work — just as the painting would not be the same without the dark.

In Threads of Fate I included dark moments from my life fictionalized. It was hard to write about my life at first.  I’m a private, introverted person and I don’t share my innermost thoughts usually.  Why should I fictionalize them?  I suggested recently that one of my friends start a blog and he said that sharing his life on Facebook (which he does) was the most he felt comfortable doing. Was writing Threads of Fate cathartic?  Not exactly. It caused me some anxiety due to the personal nature of a few of the scenes when I sent out the rewrites and started receiving feedback from beta readers, especially since I actually do know some of my beta readers and interact with them on occasion socially. Then I got over it for the most part.

Why Else?  Some of you don’t write fiction.  You don’t want to twist fictions to fit any worlds floating through your heads. I challenge you that it can be as cathartic as you want it to be, and you also don’t have to share it with anyone. Sometimes writing a page and then shredding it can be relieving.

If your writing is only for yourself, then it can still be helpful.  I know someone who is going through a rough time right now and writing is helping them — letter writing.  This isn’t quite Collateral Beauty level letter writing, but the letters are a safe release of what’s filling the writer’s heart.

It can be cleansing. Once I had a recurring nightmare that I would be strangled in bed — someone was standing over me in my sleep and I would wake up with an unknown attacker.  I fictionalized this into a short story about a young woman who is attacked by a random stranger in her car.  I stopped having the dream after writing the story.
How? The adage if it bleeds it leads is probably familiar to most of us. As is curiosity killed the cat.  We can’t look away from the darkness.  It’s an affirmation of life. I would suggest focusing on a negative event or emotion in your life and exploring it for all it’s worth. How would this event happen in your characters’ lives?  This negative event or emotion does not have to be the central conflict of the story, it can rather be an internal conflict that moves the story along.

Also an emotion can have repercussions that last — in the TV show Benched Nina has to deal with the aftermath of having a very angry moment seemingly ruin her career.

Take what has happened in your life and condense it down to the basics.  Once you have limited it to the simplest facts, you can then transport those facts into the confines of your universe.

These are excerpts from The Writer’s Survival Guide from Chapter Four: Your Psychohistory:

A writer’s personal psychological history is a hidden treasure, because the creative imagination can take any experience and develop it into a unique story… Any emotional state that you have uncovered can be woven into your work with a twofold consequence–you’ll be purged of unresolved feelings and you’ll create an original piece of writing.

I don’t believe that we can truly be original, but at the very least we can be authentic.  I’ll explain my stance on originality in a future post.

Tara Brach wrote in her recent article, “Facing My White Privilege“:

We need to be able to name where the hurts are; to be able to name our sorrows and fears; to not be afraid of anger. So often in Buddhist communities, anger is considered bad, but anger is a part of the weather systems that move through our psyches. We have to make room for these emotions, and there are wise ways to do that.

Tara’s article has nothing to do with writing, but as soon as I read those words I wanted to share them with my readers. I felt that they had practical implications. I hope you find wise ways to balance the weather system that is your psyche.

Revisions: the returns of the writing world

 

“Christmas is saying thanks for some gift you’ll return” Francesca Battistelli belts out. We all know that December 26th is a big day for gift returns and that gift giving is one of the most stressful parts of Christmas.

Writing is kind of like gift giving.  It’s hoping that the reader will like this story that you’ve toiled over in quiet for many long hours.  With writing it’s many people in different stages of their lives that are going to be hopefully enjoying your work. Each person reads your book differently because they have different expectations leading into the experience. One workshop I attended harped on audience and said that audience was so important that this fiction writer would put a sticky note on her computer that read, “Subject. Audience. Goal.” One teacher I had in college harped on every word in the story leading towards the mood and tone of the story down to alliteration insofar as emotional words having more vowels and intellectual words having more consonants.


On the other hand, another school of thought says to write what you love and that there is an audience for everything. With seven billion people on the planet you’re bound to find someone who will like what you write.

One of my critique partners, Eric Peterson, wrote:

Don’t worry about what the reader thinks about the story.  There were choices I had to make that the reader may not have wanted but they had to happen for the sake of the story… At the end of the day you have to ask yourself what is good for the story.

In Stages of a Fiction Writer Dean Wesley Smith says, “Words now are still important but only in the service of the story and nothing more.  Words can be tossed away at will, just as cards are tossed away in poker.”

I read this and know exactly what stage of fiction writing I’m in because I collect words like poker cards (not a good sign). I actually have a note in my phone of words I like.  I read it before I write and try to use them (and fail to incorporate them usually). I was delighted when I actually was able to use caparisoned legit.


How does one mitigate the stress of writing between these two schools of thought? In the words of the bard – to thine own self be true.  If you’re a pantser, someone who writes by the seat of your pants, then stick to what works for you. If you’re a planner, then stick to the plan.


Revisions are the returns of the writer’s world. They are performed silently and no one need ever know how many times you work on a particular scene before you get it right. Waiting a few weeks to gain perspective and then picking up a piece again can be extremely beneficial. I let a piece rest for a few months – I was working on it during Camp NaNoWriMo over the summer and then put it down, but now I’ve picked it up again, and I’m excited to be working on it. That time was what I needed to gain perspective and new appreciation for the piece.
Now if you work with beta readers, you do have an audience that witnesses those painful first drafts, so you have to decide when the timing is right to send those drafts.


There is no limit to how rough a first draft can be.  With that in mind, most first drafts aren’t perfect.  Heinlein’s Rules say not to rewrite except to editorial request, but who can live by those rules? That will be a different post. I didn’t give myself permission to let the first draft of Dark Fate suck and I struggled writing it in parts because I wanted it to be perfect. I re-read it and noted all the inconsistencies and things that I would like to fix and expound upon and all the pieces that I would like to change in the next draft. Then after sitting on it for a while I’m going to fix those things and re-read it. Once I’ve expounded it to the second draft, then I may open it up to beta readers.

Game Review: Better Me: the Game of Growth

This is not a traditional game but is a platform for conversations and unique challenges. The play begins in “The Forge” and the game play loops around on itself so there is no clear end to the game.  My husband and I played until we were both “fulfilled” in each category. When we played with a larger group we played for a time limit and were not fulfilled in each category.

To become fulfilled in a category one has to gain three points in that category. Often when it is someone else’s turn one will have the opportunity to share and thereby gain a point. This can make for interesting conversations.  Often the cards will offer for one to accept a challenge and other players can often participate in these challenges as well. Once one is fulfilled in a category then that category becomes wild for the player and the player can choose other categories.

Better Me is worth adding to your game collection if you’re open to exploring personal growth, but be forewarned that some of the questions might be difficult to answer if you’re being honest with yourself.  This game seems like it was intended to be played with people that you’re not very familiar with but at the same time could get very personal.

There is a timer included. We did not have to use the timer to limit turn length when my husband and I were just playing, but when played in a larger group the timer was more important. Also the age appropriateness didn’t occur to me and we played this game with a group that included a younger child – the questions were monitored. We haven’t worked our way through all the questions so we simply don’t know if some of them would be inappropriate, though I don’t think they would be just possibly difficult to interpret. Examples of some of the questions that were awkward for very young children were questions about how does it physically feel to be you, or questions about body image and self talk.

That was one question that I had to answer this evening that was difficult for me – do I talk to myself in a way that I would talk to other people? The answer is no.  I’m much harsher in self talk than I would be with a friend or a stranger. It’s a game of growth, so that’s something I’ll admit that I need to work on.

Commitments I agreed to make this week were to compromise on the temperature in our bedroom so that it’s more comfortable for my husband, and to actively seek inspiration.  We’ve been keeping it warmer for me and it’s been a little too warm for his sleeping. I’ll also seek inspirational stories each day for a few minutes.  He agreed to walk at his lunch breaks and to seek out stories about hope.

I think this game would be fun to play with family members and with friends that want to get to know us better.  One last commitment this game had me make was to spend fifteen minutes learning about mastermind groups.  This game can be played to be like a mastermind group, which is a focused group of people that brainstorm and work together with group accountability. I realized that I basically used to be a part of one in the writing group that I used to participate in. I had to stop because it conflicted with a class I was taking.

Better Me is a beautifully designed game and makes for incredible conversations.  

In the Bleak Midwinter – Solstice Wishes

The star wheel has turned and even though we’ve had a warm winter with the drought and wildfires it still feels bleak.  Gray has finally washed over the landscape.  

The solstice is here and with it I’ve made a silent wish for peace in myself and in the world.  We watched Vice news last night saw the conflict in the Ukraine.  It looked like the movie set of a post apocalyptic film. It was hard to believe that it was happening in Europe.  

“War is over if you want it” croons the modern Christmas classic. We all know that’s not true.  It’s kind of like the law of scarcity.  Poverty might be eliminated but scarcity will never be eliminated. The same logic seems like it should apply. At the same time Harvard has proven that we are living in less violent times. Maybe my wish for peace has been answered but I just don’t have the eyes to see it.  

Another wish I have for solstice is for serenity. 


What wishes do you have for solstice?

Diversity in Writing 

In my writing I try to include characters that aren’t white Anglo Saxon Protestant men. I try to write about people of color and with different backgrounds.


Right now I’m researching writing gay characters because I don’t feel confident about the four characters I’ve written so far that have been homosexual. This is an unfamiliar territory for me to be honest.


These are the best articles I’ve read so far:

It’s given me ideas about rewriting the male character I’ve most recently written.   I think I can more confidently write Rupert. I wasn’t sure about his character but now I think I understand him better.   This character in particular I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around. It’s hard enough to write the opposite gender, but writing Rupert was an even larger challenge for me. Writing lesbian characters was naturally easier, and the last male character that I wrote was much easier for me to write for some reason.

Why have I chosen to write LGBTQ characters? Because realistically they make up part of our society and will add an element of realism to the society that I’m creating.  Because they’re an underrepresented group of people and that’s something that should be remedied.

I know that women are underrepresented in media, so I wonder how much more so for LGBTQ people.  I’ve had a hard time finding statistical data regarding this, which leads me to believe that it hasn’t been amply studied.  Or I’m just not looking in the right places.

Will I get it “right” in my books? Probably not. I probably won’t make every reader happy. I’m not perfect and the characters I’m writing about aren’t perfect either. What’s important is that I’m making an effort for diversity in my books.

We need diverse books because people come in all shapes and sizes.  Books should be written about people who fit all shapes and sizes too, but they’re not. Books are written about what sells and what sells fits a formula.  Booksellers have an idea of what is salable and that’s what is released onto bookshelves when there is a great mass of books — good or ill — that never makes the cut. We need diverse books because books are an evocative salve to the reader, cathartic to the soul filling a void. I believe that different genres fill different needs for readers.  We seek romance or mystery, fantasy or horror and so fill our hearts with these books. We need diverse books because the vastness of humanity has many voices that all need to be heard.

I end with these words:

“We are a gentle, angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives…
We are gay and straight together and we are singing, singing for our lives…
We are a gentle, loving people, and we are singing, singing for our lives.”
We Are a Gentle, Angry People, Holly Near, 1979

 

#MondayMotivation Christmas Time is Here

It’s Christmas Time and getting in the holiday spirit can be a challenge. Winter has never been my favorite season and with my father passing away at Christmas time a few years -ago, this is not an easy time of year for me. This time of year is quite busy for us — it seems like we’re bustling from one activity to another and the stress of these activities just adds up to add insult to injury.  So how do I keep in the holiday spirit?


My husband and I were discussing this just yesterday as we were listening to saccharine festal tunes in the car on the way to a solstice service.  One way is by listening to those very same holiday tunes.  I have a set playlist in Spotify of my favorite music. I listen to this playlist in every spare moment of my free time. Songs like “Marshmallow World”, “Winter Wonderland”, and “Christmas Waltz” brighten my day.

Here’s a quote that sums up how I feel about winter beautifully:

Winter is a table set with ice and starlight.  Winter dark tends to warm light: fire and candle; winter cold to hugs and huddles; winter want to gifts and sharing; winter danger to visions, plans and common endeavoring — and zest of narrow escapes; winter tedium to merry making.  Let us therefore praise winter, rich in beauty, challenge and pregnant negativities. — Greta Crosby

How do you keep the holiday blues at bay?

 

Delighting in Winter Lights

Tonight I relished the cold as much as I could with my sweetheart at the NC Arboretum.  To be fair I have a metal plate in my neck and I’m quite aware of it during the sub freezing temperatures that we walked through listening to carols and admiring sparkling lights.  

There was a certain joie de vivre though that we seized as we listened to the jazzy renditions of holiday tunes and my hubby took umpteen pictures of bonsai LED glowing in the dim. 

I thought of three different poems tonight and I hope these three poems will light your winter:

1- You, Darkness

You, darkness, that I come from

I love you more than all the fires

that fence in the world, 

for the fire makes a circle of light for everyone

and then no one outside learns of you. 
But the darkness pulls in everything-

shapes and fires, animals and myself, 

how easily it gathers them! –

powers and people-
and it is possible a great presence is moving near me. 
I have faith in nights.  — Rilke


2 – Song of The Open Road

Next was Whitman.  There was a Christmas wishing tree.  My husband asked if I wanted to write a wish for the tree and my answer was, as it typically is when posited with these dilemmas:

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune. 

This is one of my favorite poems, though exceedingly long. I like the excerpts of it in “Singing: The Living Tradition”.

3 – Shab-e Yalda

Lastly this poem was read at a special solstice service a few years ago by an incredible woman who goes to the UUFF. 

This winter solstice fires will burn all night,

with sparks cascading; messages in flight

I’m always excited to learn about other cultures and traditions.  

The walk was highly ontological–chilling enough to be present.  I didn’t really focus on poetry during the walk but now that I’m home am glad I can.  


Do you have any poems that brighten your winter?

Bring Your Own Book

This game seems like it would be fun to play with a book club. 

It is quite possibly the most stressful game that I own.  It feels like a test that you did not study well enough for.  
We played with Atlantis Rising, Merlin’s Dragon, Earth and America because they all had Tables of Contents.  I picked up The Hero and the Crown, which I have read an embarrassing number of times and then put it back down when I realized how difficult it would be to play with.  

While you bring your own book, you swap books after winning two cards so don’t expect to keep your book for the duration of the game.  

The picker can use his or her time to familiarize himself with his book while waiting for the other players to pick the answers. 

The only thing that seems to need a time limit/house rule is the amount of time it takes for the first player to find the answer for the card.  After that everyone else has one minute.  

As goes for most things in life, it’s not fun if you don’t go fast. 

I give this game three of five stars.  

Themed Writing Games for Exposure 

One way to gain Twitter followers and have fun is to play games.  

Here are some of the games. Their themes are announced weekly:

     #musemon

     #2bittues

     #1linewed

     #thurds

     #fictfri

     #slapdashsat

     #sunwip

My favorite are #2bittues and #1lineWeds. For some reason they seem to work with my schedule the best.  

Are there other games you like to play?

The Ending 


I’m so happy to finally have finished my first draft of my second book.  

I’m looking forward to starting revisions.  


I know it’s too short at this point but know I’ll expound upon it in the revisions just like I did for the last one. 

My critique partner gave me good feedback about my villain – that she felt too rushed in many of the scenes.  

I’m also happy that I feel like I’m able to finally give my readers the ending that they wanted with the first book.