Balance and Tough Self-Care

As I’ve mentioned previously, balance is not something that comes easily to me, and I’m not just talking about my tendency to tip right over whenever I’m distracted from important stuff like where my feet are and how gravity works. It sometimes feels like I’m either ignoring all my other responsibilities to focus on work, doing all the things except work, or taking a mental and/or physical health day that stretches into a week of feeling guilty and frustrated. If it were possible to make a three way see-saw, that’s what it’d be like in my head.

Still, I think I’m in a better place than I was a few months ago. I’m sleeping consistently, instead of every other night, and running a little closer to normal person time in terms of appointments and deadlines. Work is happening. 

I’m getting better at being kind to myself instead of breaking down when I feel like I’ve failed, but I still need to learn how to be tough on myself without the breakdown. When I’ve been hard on myself in the past, it was pretty much just self-bullying. It had no purpose, it certainly didn’t motivate me, and it was absurdly out of proportion to anything I had actually done or not done. That was no good, but without any internal structure I tend to lose track of important things and miss out on opportunities to move toward my goals. 

Self care has been discussed to death lately, but what I really appreciate are the posts that remind me that self care isn’t just bubble baths and scented candles and wine with breakfast. (Or whatever you do with wine. I don’t really know.) 

Practical self care is taking care of yourself the way you’d care for a friend or a child. Or, as one person put it, like a demon taking care of its host body so that it won’t fall apart. Whatever works. There’s being your own personal bully, which absolutely sucks, and there’s being your own coach, which seems pretty valuable to me.

Till I get better at this, Toci has been appointed my temporary coach. So far, she has ordered me to sit in multiple uncomfortable positions so she can use me as a throne. I assume this is some sort of wax-on wax-off, hidden wisdom type shit. Probably to teach me endurance or something. 

For Writers With Depression – Just Keep Picking it Back Up

There’s a lot of debate about the merits of daily writing. It’s definitely good to write regularly, and writing every day basically guarantees more rapid improvement than if you only rarely make time for it. There are some ableism issues if it’s framed as the best or only way, since many people literally cannot write every day. Lots of the arguments against it sort of boil down to “but then it’ll feel like work.” If you’re trying to make writing a career, then letting it feel like work is probably a necessary part of that. If not, then it’s probably just fine for it to be a fun hobby that you only do when you feel like it. I think a lot of the time the issue is when people don’t want writing to feel like work, but do want to improve dramatically and be “successful” without putting in the effort.

I’m kind of stuck in a weird middle place. I struggle to finish projects, and I always have. Finishing my first, first draft was one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. It took a huge amount of dedication, and I’m proud of it when I remind myself to be, but I still didn’t work consistently and I constantly got down on myself for that. It took a lot longer than it could have. Feeling guilty about not writing consistently made me want to quit, pretty much every day. I was probably more consistent about berating myself for not writing than I was about writing, which I would not recommend as a motivation strategy. It is less than effective.

I’ve always had really nasty drops in mood because of depression and they randomly knock me on my ass. I used to (and still sometimes do) fantasize about not bothering to get back up because it’s just exhausting to know that it’ll happen again and again, but I always do get up. The weight just lifts, or the right person says the right thing, or the right song comes on, and I manage to tweak my mental state back into something functional. I’ve developed tricks that help, if I remember them when I need them which is never guaranteed. My dogs help, because the imminent threat of floor wetting and canine starvation is motivating in a way that kind of sidesteps my emotional issues and gets me into pants and a shirt and usually shoes.

One shitty thing about mental illness is that it makes things impossible, but they never feel like they should be impossible. I don’t sit in front of the laptop scrolling mindlessly through Facebook for hours because I know for a fact that I can’t write. I always feel like I’m just on the cusp of working. It might be executive dysfunction stopping me, but physically I could do it. My hands are on the keyboard. The manuscript is there. The fact that looking at it for a few seconds made me feel sick and panicky doesn’t register as anything other than weakness. I have no perfect or even consistent solution for this problem, really.

Building a habit helps, because it lowers the initiation energy required to get moving. It’s hard to build a habit, though, and easy to break it. Building a habit requires consistent effort in the first place, which is unbelievably draining if you’re already dealing with mental illness.

Sometimes I can just push through it, usually around 3am, and then I’m often surprised by how easy it feels once I get into the zone. Then, the next day, I’m shocked by how hard it is when the flow doesn’t come.

Prioritizing writing over basically all my other tasks feels impossible, but it seems to be one of the biggest barriers I’m facing right now. It’s a little easier to take out the trash and do the dishes than write a challenging scene, but if I try to do all three in a day, writing is almost always the thing that gets bumped off the list when I run out of energy. If I have to socialize, that burns me out, but I don’t want to admit that or disappoint people.

The only really solid advice I can offer to anyone who wants to write but is dealing with something like this is not to let it stop you from picking the story back up again, no matter how long you stall, or how bad you think it is, or how disappointed you are in yourself for missing those days or weeks or months in between. I’d love to be able to write every day. Maybe someday I will, because I have been slowly improving my skills and reorganizing my life and I have supportive partners who encourage me, for which I’m really grateful. But for now, just picking it up again after a week of feeling miserable about it is more important than doing it every day. It’s been a while since I went a month without working, and I think part of the reason for that is I don’t spiral quite as hard into all the guilt and feeling bad about it. I’ve made a conscious effort to prioritize something over perfect or even good, even though that idea feels like nails on a chalkboard to my brain.

I wasted a whole day on Minecraft and laundry, but Somnolence is sitting there at the bottom of my to-do list, do I:

A. Tell myself I’m garbage and stay up super late to punish myself?

B. Promise myself I’ll do it tomorrow and write today off as a lost cause?

C. Literally open it for five minutes and rewrite one sentence so I can cross it off my list?

It’s silly, but C is usually the most daunting option for me because it means facing that scary mountain of stuff I need to do and just doing this one tiny, inadequate, little thing and every part of my personality rebells at that. A sentence is still better than nothing, though. I don’t write every day, but I have managed to produce a blog post, albeit often an embarrassing full day late, every week for a few months now. Late is better than nothing, too. The only way to guarantee that it never gets done is to put it down and never pick it up again, but every day is another chance to try again. If I pick it up again enough times it will eventually be complete, and that is truly the best I can do right now.

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If they were good enough for Frida Kahlo, they’re pretty darn awesome. Hers were the Mexican Xoloitzcuintli and mine are Peruvians, but still. Something, something, artist goals.

P.S. I did not feel like I had any thoughts to share when I opened the page to write this. I thought it would just be crap, but damnit, I showed up with my crap anyway and I’m proud of that.

P.P.S. The breed history in that Frida Kahlo link is totally wrong, but it has cute pictures of her and her pups.

A Rant, a Personal Update, and a Writing Thingy

The rant: I’m re-watching Doctor Who from the beginning, because it’s fantastic! It’ll be a while before I hit the Clara train-wreck seasons. I really love the beginning even though Ten will always be my doctor. Even cranky old Nine still chose to see potential in the human species. That was the whole appeal to the show for me; it was hopeful. Plus, he respected Rose and everyone else he interacted with who did the right thing. Twelve, on the other hand, not so much. His vaguely misogynistic refusal to recognize Clara from other humans isn’t funny, and I super didn’t need another show in my life with a rude, misanthropic white man in the lead who everyone tolerates because he’s “brilliant.” Like, really. No one needs that. Ever. Remove the brilliance and that’s just everyday life.

It went from a show about adventure, and encountering and embracing difference, and the potential for good in every person and situation… to a show about a white dude who is awesome all the time, wearing the old show like a creepy flesh suit.

I stuck in there for quite a while after the spark had faded for me, but that season finale with Missy and “the cloud” just… ick. I’m viscerally angry that they got me to sit through it all the way to that appalling end.

I’m probably going to start watching again to see the female doctor, because that’s a big deal and because Moffat is gone. (Thank god.)

Personal update: I made a real human friend, which is very cool. I actually met people in person and did socializing correctly – it’s amazing! Also, I was able to help someone new to Seattle settle in and find cool stuff, so I must be a proper local now. Maybe eventually it’ll feel like that.

My love of caffeine has prompted me to pick up a new houseplant. I now have two little coffee plants in my living room. I must hoard cheerful green things indoors because winter is coming and I’ve got all the seasonal depression.IMG_20170914_212406_800

Writing Thingy: I’ve been using Skillshare for a while now to learn more about writing and marketing. It’s really handy. It’s like a streamlined version of what I use Youtube for, without all the distracting fish unboxing and college humor videos. You sign up for a subscription and then you get access to a ton of videos and classes on different subjects. I like that there’s a lot of info on marketing and business practices for artist-types, because that information can be pretty difficult to come by and sift through.

One tip: I’d recommend watching a lot of the videos on Skillshare sped up slightly. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but many of them are sort of slow going, possibly because the people who make them aren’t all experienced vloggers. They make it easy to speed them up, though, and I find that I get more out of them that way.

Writing Dirty

Recently, someone in a writing group I follow asked for advice on good words to use when writing a sex scene. They got a lot of answers, many of which could be broken down into two categories: strangely clinical* and childish euphemisms. I feel like it all missed the point, though.

Even beginning writers generally know that they need to develop a distinct voice for each character. Failing this, the characters all sound exactly alike and it won’t be believable. A teenager probably shouldn’t sound the same as a fifty-year-old ex-mercenary. Although, if they do, that could be a pretty distinct character voice right there, provided they’re surrounded by people with contrasting speaking styles.

I think the issue when it comes to writing sexy scenes is that people get nervous and stiffen up. (Heh.) They’re afraid they’ll sound silly, or they’re afraid the subject matter itself will spark a negative response, and they want to word it perfectly. It’s also kind of hard to toe the line between a sexy, romantic scene and straight up porn. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter, but it may not be what the writer is going for. I’m sure a list of suggestions can be very helpful in this situation, but it won’t do to just pick and choose an array of words that sound good to the writer.

The writer is piloting the characters, and the characters still need to sound like themselves. Even if the story is in third person, it’s best to use words that the POV (point of view) character might use. This draws the reader in and makes them feel close to that character. It sets the tone. There are times when distancing the reader is fine, but a romantic or sexy scene really isn’t one of them. That’s exactly when you want that closeness, so the reader is emotionally invested in what’s going on.

In first person, this is even more vital. The writer absolutely has to choose words that suit the character. It makes no sense for them to switch into a different mode as soon as things start to get steamy. The biker can’t go from cursing the air blue to referring to their partner’s genitals as their “tenderness.” It’s just weird. If the character would use terms that make the author uncomfortable, the author is gonna have to deal with that or wind up creating a very inconsistent narrative. The words should also go together well. Switching tone mid-scene is confusing and will push the reader out of immersion.

So, what would the character say? That’s it. Asking around for inspiration is great, but it all has to be filtered through the character in the end.

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I tried to find more suggestive flowers, but this was the best I could do. I apologize.

*  Anatomy tip: The vagina is on the inside and the vulva is on the outside. Unless there’s penetration involved, no one is doing anything to the vagina. I was a little concerned by the number of people who suggested penis and vagina as the only terms any writer really needs for a solid sex scene. For a number of reasons.

 

Wonder Woman and Revisions

I saw Wonder Woman, because of course I did. I’m not gonna go into detail, so there are no spoilers to follow, but I’m not as excited about it as I kinda wish I could be. The thing is, it’s only revolutionary compared to the bulk of really fantastically sexist crap up to now. It’s still good to see, and it’s a step in the right direction, but they could have gone a lot farther. I enjoyed the fight scenes as much as the next person, but there were a lot of points where I wished for a little (or a lot) more boldness and awareness. I feel oddly uncomfortable with the amount of praise it’s getting, even though I understand why it is, because treating a female superhero like a male one shouldn’t be anything other than normal. They still played into the born sexy yesterday trope, so they didn’t even quite treat her like a male superhero, but even if they had. That’s what we should expect every single time, from every single movie. That’s not something we should have to celebrate, and we shouldn’t have to ignore any problematic elements to encourage them to make more. I’m glad I saw it, but I’m sad that basic non-shitty storytelling isn’t common enough that we can just shrug and call it a decent superhero movie with some issues.

I’ll say this again and again. Sexism, racism, ableism, etc are all elements of bad storytelling. We shouldn’t be saying “well, it was a great movie except their female characters were all basically cardboard cutouts with boobs, and the only people of color were evil, as fucking usual.” We should call that a bad movie, because it is both incredibly lazy and harmful to rely on the same offensive stereotypes and narratives. Normalizing equality is important, and while it’s totally understandable that we treat anything that gets even a little bit close as exceptional, it’s still a serious sign of how messed up things are that Wonder Woman is such a huge goddamn deal.

On that uplifting note, I’m still in the midst of revisions, and I’m hoping to be done with them by the end of June so I can stay on track and get Somnolence off to be line edited. We’ll see how realistic that is, but I’m pretty sure that if I give myself more time I’ll get complacent and slack off.

I’m also preparing to buy some ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers.) That’s a whole thing. You need a different ISBN for every version of the book to be published, and the pricing scheme is kind of bizarre. At the moment, one number costs $125 and a batch of 1000 numbers costs… $1500. Bowker is the only source for these numbers in the US, so I guess they can basically do whatever they want. There are also some midrange options, which I’ll be taking advantage of, but the scale is still a bit startling.

Don’t Blame the Muse

 

It seems extremely odd to me that handy little lists off of Tumblr, such as this one below, inspire as much ire as they do from members of the writing community. 18557056_1394586123913674_8439391497564996321_n.jpg

Few things seem to piss off some writers more than telling them, even indirectly, that, while they’ve diligently studied the art of creating a solid story arc and researched medieval warfare extensively, their lesbian character might need some serious work to be anything other than a walking cliche. For some reason, every other aspect of writing is craft, and we generally accept that we should work hard on it to improve, but when it comes to characters and world-building, suddenly it’s all down to the ineffable and unquestionable work of the muse.

It’s interesting to note that the aspects of writing which are most rigid and subject to strict judgement are the parts that make it more difficult to succeed if you’ve not had access to an extensive education, you don’t have the funds to hire an editor, or your habitual speech patterns aren’t considered “proper english.” It’s also interesting to note that the areas where creativity and the muse are allowed to reign supreme are the parts that make it easy for those with social privilege to ignore the real experiences of people unlike themselves, while still using their identities as spice for their fiction. This indulgence allows writers to freely rely on lazy stereotypes and racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist narratives because art.

The thing is, the characters who pop into your head are not coming from some magical artistic inspiration. It’s your brain that cooks ’em up, and when they pop into your conscious mind already formed, it was your unconscious expectations and cultural programming that made them what they are. That means that, in spite of all the little details you may change to make them interesting, they’re just different pieces of you and your experience. If your only experience of asexuals is seeing them portrayed as damaged or confused, you’re going to be inclined to default to that tired, harmful trope. This does a disservice to everyone. Stereotypes are boring, they hurt vulnerable people, and they drag down the quality of their creator’s otherwise hard work.

In response to these helpful but oddly controversial lists of suggestions and warnings, the advice I often see is to ignore all that SJW crap and to just write the person first and then basically slap the label you want on top of the personality you’ve created. I think the basic intention here might be good. You don’t want to fall into the trap of making your character’s entire personality revolve around one aspect of their identity. The opposite pitfall, though, lies in the myth of the “real” person hiding underneath all the things that make people unique. Every aspect of every person affects their view of the world, including whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality, being able bodied, and all the other default character settings that too often go unchallenged. Yes, we all share a great deal in common and we can draw from that, but there’s an important difference between trying to imagine someone else’s experience so you can empathize with them, and imagining that they’re really just like you underneath all the things that make them who they are. Doing the latter results in characters that have maybe stretched a little, but can’t be much more than reflections of the way you already see the world. Doing the former involves listening to the lived experiences of others and respecting what they say, and it opens up a whole realm of possibilities you literally couldn’t have come up with on your own. That’s where the magic can really happen.

 

Outlining Fun with Scrivener

While I wait for Somnolence to come back from the editor, I’m working on some older projects. At the moment, I’m organizing a story that I started during national novel writing month a few years ago. I did get to around 50,000 words only to discover that I actually had two books worth of story on my hands, and I had only written about half of each of them.

I’ve been using Scrivener for a while, now. It has tons of features, many of which I’m sure I haven’t figured out yet. At the moment, I’m using it for outlining the material I’ve already produced and filling in the blank spaces. It allows me to make a virtual cork-board and to organize my plot points on it as little index cards. It’s pretty cute, and it works nicely.

Behold, this beautiful sample creation.Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 10.54.57 PM

*Obviously, I don’t own these lyrics. They’re from Crazy Ex Girlfriend, which is the hilarious creation of Rachel Bloom. I watch a lot of TV. Like, a lot. Too much.