KM Weiland is a gift. Her books, Structuring Your Novel and Outlining Your Novel have been incredibly helpful tools for me over the past few years. I cannot recommend these books enough! In her latest blog post, she uses some examples from The Last Jedi (which I loved, but which was also kind of a mess) to talk about five crucial secrets of good storytelling. Check out this blog post and definitely consider her books if you’re at all like me and could use a hand creating plots that more powerfully hook your readers.
I’m not really the biggest fan of New Year’s resolutions – they tend to be based in a sort of effervescent optimism that so often dies off in a few weeks. Myself, I believe in constant self-improvement regardless of what month it happens to be. All the same, I’ll take this changing of the guard as an opportunity to lay out some of my goals for the following year:
- Publish three pieces of fiction
- Be accepted to Viable Paradise or another intensive writing workshop experience
- Sell Widowmaker
- Visit Portland, OR
- Roll out the proposed changes to Columbia Writers
- Continue exploring creative activities that help me manage my anxiety
- Wrap up my tabletop campaign in the Elysium system
- Continue running my Blades in the Dark campaign
- Foster another parrot for Phoenix Landing
- Find ways to enjoy a funerary trip to Europe in memory of my mother
What is it the kids say? “Lord help me, I’m back on my shit?” Something like that.
Folks, I have an albatross around my neck that has haunted me for four years now. It is a 6,000 word, genre-busting story about disability and humanity and I cannot, for the life of me, sell it. It’s won an award, but no one is buying it. It’s starting to drive me a little crazy.
Widowmaker is a time-travel mystery set in the old west, starring a cyborg laden with a sense of self-loathing. It’s a project that I love and believe in, but which haunts me to this day. It just went through a round of critique with the Columbia Writers group that I run and I have some ways I can tighten and pace it better… but I have a lot of my own ego all tangled up in this thing.
I’ll be submitting it to Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction in 2018 because I suffer from chronic body-wide pain, depression, C-PTSD, and anxiety (I’m a hot mess, but it’s part of my charm) and because the story also examines themes of trauma, pain, and examining ones own humanity in the face of disability. I feel like it’s perfect for the anthology, but the fear of rejection is exceptionally high for me this time.
Generally, when I receive a rejection, I shrug it off and try to improve the piece before submitting it somewhere else. I don’t take it personally and I don’t give up. The worst thing I do is shelve a project to come back to, pull apart, and rebuild into something new on another day.
But Widowmaker? Widowmaker is very personal to me. The protagonist’s struggles to accept her damaged and flawed body and mind mirror my own. Her self-doubt and transformation into a confident, fully-realized version of herself is the story of the past year and a half of my life. A rejection of Widowmaker is going to sting a lot more than anything else I’ve had to deal with before. A rejection of Widowmaker is a rejection of my own journey.
I need to be strong. I am baring my soul with this one and that which makes us vulnerable also gives us the greatest opportunity to grow.
Everyone should watch a few videos of Harley the cockatoo. You won’t be sorry.
For over ten years now, myself and my friend Marty LeGrow have had a little tradition: we participate in a doodle-a-day challenge for the entire month of December. These usually take the form of little one-panel comics, starring cartoon versions of ourselves, our friends, and our pets, and with silly punchlines or visual gags. There are also a lot of in-jokes that have developed over a decade, which tend to carry over into each year. And, to be totally fair, we rarely manage to finish all 31 days. But it’s the thought that counts.
This sort of deadline/challenge is a great way to force creativity out of me. I really do work best under pressure. It’s even motivated me to purchase a new drawing tablet (a really basic cheap one – I don’t do enough drawing to justify anything fancy) and to start learning how to work in Adobe Illustrator (holy crap, anchor points have changed my life!). The learning curve on Illustrator is really steep and I’m slowly working through a series of video tutorials with exercises, so it’s going to be hand drawn doodles for a little while longer while I hammer that out.
At the end of November, Marty and I each come up with a list of about 15 themes and then merge our lists to give ourselves a month’s worth of daily prompts. Here’s this year’s list
A Bad Plan
Learn a New Skill
The Very Best
Your Favorite Color
Haters Gonna Hate
Taking Out the Trash
Hats For Everyone
The Elves Are Back
Deeg and Marty’s Bodexcellent Radventure
Every winter for several years now, I’ve been a part of a Secret Santa with some bird people I met on instagram and facebook. I usually hand make something – generally a plush of the person’s bird(s) – but this year I was paired with an extremely talented costumer and I’ll admit I felt like my rustic little toy just wouldn’t cut it. So I got a little bold and made that cross stitch cockatiel, and while there was something a little bit self-serving about using that project to help manage my anxiety, it is the act of giving itself that is truly transformative.
I’m hard-wired to want to make other people happy, which is perfectly fine by me. I love creating things and giving them to the people in my life – it’s how I show I care. If I cook for you, bake for you, sew you something, write you something, ply you with food or drink… it means you’re important to me. There is something both selfish and selfless about giving and I genuinely believe it can be both at once – and this is not a bad thing.
Giving someone a gift or your time may be a comfort or a rush for many of us and it’s understandable to want to ride that high and feel elated. I suppose there are worse ways to improve your mood, but it can go too far in some cases – like when someone has issues with boundaries and gives too much of themselves in a way that hurts their emotional well-being.
The holidays can be taxing for this reason – expectations to give are high and we often let this rule us. It casts giving in a negative and stressful light for many, who are – in some cases – doing it out of a sense of obligation. Striking a balance here is hard because we never want to disappoint our loved ones, but our own personal boundaries of what we can handle emotionally and financially are important, too.
One thing might be to give to yourself. I know, it sounds a little silly. But there’s something known as self-care and it involves re-centering on your own emotional needs and ensuring that the house in your heart is in order. This might mean buying yourself an actual gift, but it could also be a hike somewhere, a bubble bath, dinner with a friend, or just a quiet night alone with a book.
Don’t forget to take care of the most important person in your life – you!
Don’t get me wrong, writing is soothing to me, but it can be kind of high pressure. Not entirely like an athlete, it’s a matter of ongoing practice and consistent performance if you want results. Sometimes, it’s what I do to unwind. Sometimes, though, I just need to put on Food Network and do something relatively mindless with my hands.
Lately, I’ve been getting back in touch with my artsy-craftsy side. My D&D DM arranged for a mini painting night at a brewery near where we play (Mully’s in Prince Frederick, MD, and if you haven’t gone, definitely check them out!) and, since I’d never done it before, I decided to haul ass down there on a weeknight (two and a half hours in traffic UGH) and try out what I knew might be a new hobby.
Well, I was right about the hobby bit. I really enjoyed hunching over and squinting a bunch and painting my first mini. I definitely made a lot of rookie mistakes with the way I approached the black sections, but one of the other players/painters, Brian, really gave me some great pointers.
I tried my second mini a few nights later at home and definitely improved by leaps and bounds! I only had a handful of paint colors, including a bright turquoise aqua, that I managed to muddle down to a deep green for the cloak. I found it so completely comforting and relaxing to do for about two hours that I feel like it’s a way I can use to deal with anxiety.
I find that the best things for my daily moderate anxiety (thanks to a traumatic event in July 2016) are those that keep my hands and mind busy, but aren’t too stressful. Sometimes video games are great for this, but sometimes the pressure to achieve something in combat can be a bit much and I need something more mellow.
I also am trying cross stitching for the first time (seriously, anyway, I’ve dabbled before) to make a present for a friend for the holidays. That, it turns out, is also very soothing. Cross stitching and a glass of wine while listening to D&D podcasts is really fantastic. I had a pretty high anxiety day yesterday and was finally able to calm down in the evening once I started to stitch. It’s no wonder art therapy is used so widely with patients with depression or PTSD.