Brevity & Inevitability: “Remember You Will Die”

In The Austere Academy volume of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Latin phrase “Momento Mori” is inscribed over the gates of Prufrock Preparatory School.

The phrase means, “remember you will die”. It seems morbid for a children’s school. I know, it’s a downer especially for a Monday, but it felt important to bring up because of something that happened recently to me. Continue reading “Brevity & Inevitability: “Remember You Will Die””

Error: Insufficient Resources

Minimalism and mindfulness have their own places on the shelf of life. Sometimes we need to put them back in their places. Maybe your experiences are different but I’m going to share mine.

Minimalism. The oft praised design concept that conjures up fresh tiny houses, Scandinavian designs, Japanese zen gardens, and futuristic serenity come to mind. Jane Cumberbatch’s Pure Style Living has maintained a treasured spot on my bookshelf for over a decade with its praise of white, sterile, industrial inspired function. #goals

In contrast I have a maximalist house. It’s overly large (we’re planning on expanding our family). It’s overly cluttered (I’m working on that). My life is anything but sterile. It’s functionally chaotic.

An article I read talked about the mental stress that clutter causes. I had a hard time explaining it to my husband before reading the article, but this really helped. Clutter causes anxiety for me because it represents endless to-do lists and embarrassment. I want the house to look like a magazine cover, but it’s a mess. I don’t think I could ever have someone help me clean up either – I’m too particular, and it would make me very uncomfortable. When I first brought the baby home, a few close friends or family offered to help, but I had to turn them down. Having anyone else clean up my mess would rack me with guilt.

In the spirit of reducing and destressing, I tackled the closets, the bookcases, and some keepsakes. The Marie Kondo method really has helped me trim down my closet to clothes I enjoy wearing.

Why own clothes that don’t make me feel good? Why keep books or keepsakes that are just collecting dust? If I don’t treasure them, then why not give them a happier home with someone else?

Like The Decemberist’s song, “[A]nd if you don’t love me, let me go”.

Marie Kondo’s method of folding socks and t-shirts has transformed my drawers. The idea of treating my belongings with respect has truly increased value for objects I otherwise disregarded.

I have not read her book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. It’s in my To Be Read list, as is Margareta Magnusson’s The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.

Someone who has read Kondo’s book was telling me that there’s an idea expressed that if your house is cluttered it’s because you’re choosing chaos, and that if you’re choosing chaos in your most intimate of physical environments it’s to distract you from the disarray in your own mind. Again, I have yet to read it, so I can’t speak to the quote and tone.

That idea, however, been bothering me for a few days. Am I choosing chaos in my home to avoid chaos in my mind?

I’ve been trying to get as much done as I can, but I seem to consistently fail. I definitely relate to having chaos within, and I’m doing my best to tame the chaos around me.

Someone else told me that they choose to view chaos in their physical environment instead of as the result a choice (blaming oneself) as merely a case of insufficient resources. They view it not as a personal failing but as a symptom of too little time/energy.

This brings me back to mindfulness.

Mindfulness.

Studies upon studies tout the line that mindfulness meditation has health benefits, improves mental health, etc.

What if you can’t get into it, though?

I’ve had to deal with some intense physical pain during my life. Sitting and focusing on what I’m experiencing in the moment isn’t always good for my mental health personally.

Mindfulness sometimes employs labeling: naming experiences, condensing actions into an idea to limit internal monologue to allow more time to focus on the present.

An example of labeling might go something like this:

Inhale. Thinking. Exhale. Itching. Inhale. Shoulders heavier. Exhale. Tummy relaxing.

It brings acute awareness to physical sensations. For me that sensation tended to be pain.

My mindfulness labeling went something like this:

Inhale. Hurting. Exhale. Hurting. Inhale. Hurting. Exhale. Still Hurting.

It sucked. I don’t want to just sit and think about how much pain I’m in. I can’t negate that being the most poignant part of my experience in those moments. Mindfulness that focused on labeling the present was not for me.

Does it help others? Yes. More power to them.

For me meditation that focuses on controlling thoughts is more helpful: mantras, focused breathing (especially square breathing).

Shelve It.

Sometimes this sad vending machine is a pretty accurate depiction of me.

Minimalism, for all its beauty, isn’t working for me. I’m trying to tackle the clutter one type at a time and trying to become better organized. That’s one tool that I’ll have to shelve for now.

There are cleaning guides I’ve looked at as well. They seem to over-simplify cleaning. Focusing on a single room a day sounds like a great approach, but it hasn’t worked for me. I can’t do just one load of laundry a day or one load of dishes either. I mentioned this to a friend who said they think this only works if your house is clean to begin with and you’re just doing maintenance cleaning instead of nitty gritty cleaning and you live by yourself. With a baby and pets, laundry and cleaning are constant. I also have to decide – do I want to treasure this moment with my child (who will only be this size right now), or do I want a perfectly clean house? Cleaning can wait.

The same goes for meditation: mindfulness isn’t my cup of tea. With so many types of meditation, I’m lucky I’ve found other ways of quieting my mind.

My go-to meditations besides square breathing are simply counting one on the inhale and two on the exhale and trying to free my mind of any thoughts; and a singing meditation:

When I breathe out, I breathe out peace. When I breathe in, I breathe in love.

https://youtu.be/kijYkPIvR6g

My goal right now is to shelve those thoughts deriding myself for perceived failures in organizing my physical and headspace and to just accept that sometimes I have insufficient resources. I don’t think the Serenity Prayer was meant to be applied this way, but I definitely need “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.


What are your favorite ways of creating order in your headspace and/or physical space?

“It’s Not About You” (Or Me)

It’s about the audience!

Often as I’m using Twitter (not as much on WordPress), I see tweets that don’t make me as a reader want to a) read more tweets by the author, or b) want to read the author’s book.

The reason that so many of these tweets are off putting is that they are hard sells. The hard sell is all about the writer. A soft sell is all about the audience. The generally accepted ratio of output for marketing is 80% content and 20% sales. The hard sellers output mostly sales pitches and do little to engage their audience.

Here are the five points I use in approaching my writing platform:

Continue reading ““It’s Not About You” (Or Me)”

In time of silver rain

The poem by Langston Hughes came to mind when I saw rain drops clinging to the branches this morning.

I read his poem and realized it was about spring. To me there are parallels from the beginning of greenery to the end of it. Some of the flowering trees of Spring are so colorful they bring Fall to mind. The berries on some Autumn trees make me recall Spring blossoms.

Poetry is not my forte, but I hope you will enjoy this poem I cobbled together as an autumnal follow up to “In time of silver rain“. Yes, I know, his poem rhymes and mine does not, but I hope you will still enjoy it. I tried to match the number of syllables versus his poem.

I would be remiss not to mention that I am referencing “Late October” by Maya Angelou in the line about tinny dying.

In time of silver rain,

The sky

Lets fall the autumn tears:

Tinny dying –

As leaves, their emerald shed.

Browns and scarlets descend.

Cyclical life

Spirals on,

Gales up,

Drifts down.

In time of silver rain-

Final repast

Before the chill-

Hoarding cozy comfort,

Red squirrels, frenetic,

On ground yet soft

Scratch troves to shield treasures:

Acorns, crab apples, odd berries.

Anything to fuel them

Through Winter’s Bleak.

In time of silver rain,

When leaves

Fall off,

Spiral down.

Long Time No Post 

I learned a lot from the Seymour Agency’s 2017 Writer’s Winter Escape. This has made me want to reinvent my blogging experience completely and I haven’t entirely worked that out lately. I’m still doing a lot of reading. 

So very soon you can expect a post on a book I read and loved (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms) and board games we’ve bought over the past few months (Back to the Future, Mysterium, and a few others). 

On the topic of board games, my husband and I went to MACE West a few weeks ago and I was exposed to some wonderful board games that I can’t wait to share with you:

– Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure 

– Nevermore

– Defenders of the Realm

– Cave Trolls

– Fury of Dracula
This year has been full of changes but I”ll soon catch my rhythm. 
Best Wishes! 

Heinlein’s 5 Rules on Writing

Last year one of my critique partners, Richmond Camero, gave me several ebooks.
Two of them were written by the bestseller Dean Wesley Smith.  One of them was on Heinlein’s Rules. 


Heinlein’s Rules, if you’re unfamiliar with them, are:

1 – You must write.
2 – You must finish what you write.
3 – You must refrain from rewriting unless to editorial order.
4 – You must put it on the market.
5 – You must keep it on the market.

These rules were penned in the 1940s and are controversial in the writing world because they seem almost impossible to follow despite their simplicity. 


Dean Wesley Smith breaks these down in his book Heinlein’s Rules. Smith swears by these rules and attributes them as a game changer for his career.  

Rule Number 1 makes sense.  Who can argue with “You must write“? 


Rule Number 2 is one that according to Smith trips up most aspiring writers: You must finish what you write.  It makes sense.  I have a ridiculous number of projects that I’ve lost steam on and not finished.  Because of that I’ve picked up an old project and I’m working on it now while I wait to gain some perspective on my last project, Dark Fate. Because I plan on rewriting it.


Rule Number 3 is where I think many of us have a problem: You must refrain from rewriting unless to editorial order. It’s easy to get caught in an endless loop of rewriting and rewriting. After all — first drafts usually aren’t the best.  This is when you’re telling yourself the story and have to work the kinks out. I have to admit that Threads of Fate went through five drafts before becoming what it is now.

By rewriting Heinlein does not mean avoiding fixing typos, according to Dean Wesley Smith. The intent was to avoid endless loops of revision. He says, “Everybody in this modern world looks for ways and reasons around this rule”.   Guilty. He later comments, “If you’re rewriting, you are not finishing”. Can’t argue with that. I can only try to do better and one area in particular where I am committing to keep rewriting to a minimum is short stories.

Dean Wesley Smith also reminds us that an agent is not an editor, and a paid editor is not what Heinlein meant either — he meant an editor that will pay you from a publication/publisher. 

It’s easy to take criticism from a professional like an agent, or an amateur like a beta-reader, and immediately want to change your story.  The problem is that you can’t please everyone and that your book will never be perfect.  You have to decide when it’s good enough.


If you’re like me and plan on breaking rule number 3 (at least for my novels), here’s a good article on how to do so with grace and hopefully less rewrites than Threads of Fate: How to Know When You’re Done Revising.


Rule Number 4 should be the ultimate goal of a writer: You must put it on the market. I have to admit with the screenplays I’ve written and the other novel and short stories I wrote that this has been a breaking point for me as well. I have only queried one agent for one piece of fiction that I’ve written. I have had such a fear of rejection that I haven’t queried.  Now querying still frightens me, but I’ve learned that the worst that can happen is that they’ll say no and if you don’t ask the answer is already no.


Rule Number 5 is another breaking point for me: You must keep it on the market. With that in mind one of my goals for this year is to start writing short stories, but not so many that they interfere with my other writing. I would like to start putting the short stories on the market. If that’s a goal for you as well, here’s Where to Submit Short Stories: 23 Website and Magazines that Want Your Work. Since joining the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is also a goal of mine, I’m going to focus on this list.


So all in all, Heinlein’s Rules seem simple yet difficult to follow.

Which of these rules is a challenge for you?

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.