“Just Keep Writing” – An Emerging Podcast

“A podcast for writers, by writers, to keep you writing.”

“Just Keep Writing” is, at the time of this writing, a fledgling podcast that boasts a modest five episodes. I don’t expect this number to stay low for very long. Listening to the podcast, you can tell that the two hosts, Marshall and Nick, are both incredibly passionate about elevating their amateur writing hobbies into bona fide career opportunities. Between the two of them, they cover an impressive swathe of life experiences and motivations, with previous podcasting history under their belt, and connections within the writing industry. The fruits are ripe for a long-term podcast.

Even this early in the lifespan, the podcast has gained a decent following, with an active Discord channel where fans and fellow would-be authors can communicate and learn from one another. The highlight for me so far was their interview with guest Maurice Broaddus, author of many a fantasy and horror novel, including the upcoming steamfunk adventure, Pimp My Airship (which might be one of the best novel names I’ve ever heard). In the episode, Maurice gave us some insight to the inner workings of his daily grind, as well as explored his passion in community development for the black community. If this is the standard for guest episodes, then I have a hard time believing that Just Keep Writing will be anything but successful, especially if the regular episodes keep bringing the quality writing tips and challenges as they have insofar.

If nothing else, they have at least one new fan in me.

Back from the Dead

Here we are, back from the dead, and I come with an announcement.

My first foray into the kaleidoscopic, harrowing territory of self-publication is just beyond the horizon. This February, my short story anthology, “Each and Every Phantom,” will be finding a home in Amazon’s in-house publishing service. The exact date is yet to be announced, but will be posted here as soon as it’s confirmed.

Loren Stump (@acrylix91 on Instagram) did me the honor of designing the cover, which is beautiful and everything I could have wanted.

Updates and details to come as we approach release.

Thanks all you happy people.

Thoughts from the Kitchen (#5 – Bad Obligations)

Writers are, or at least should be, familiar with deadlines. Even those which might be self-imposed. In general, I consider this a good practice (as I would, seeing as I’m doing it right now), but I have created a situation for myself which is leaving a rather bitter taste, and I’d like to talk about that.

As I’ve discussed before, I chalk up goals for every new quarter of the year. One of my present goals is to “write an installment for the Puppet Kitchen every other week.” However, I should have known this wouldn’t work, because that’s not how I operate.  The purpose of this specific goal was not about writing in specific time frames, but instead to ensure there would be material available in those intervals, through delayed publication.

On the one hand, this is something I should know how to do.  To successfully pre-generate all of those items would suggest an ability to perform forward thinking and put my nose to the grindstone.  While this is my final article for the quarter, I’m writing it half way through July.

The reason this is a bad thing is because I gain immense satisfaction from completing these goals, so in order to gather some momentum and check off a few of them, I first aim for the lowest hanging fruit.  In doing so, I sacrifice quality for speed.  This is my sixth post of the last three months, and if you look at those which immediately precede it, you may notice a lack of…I don’t know, life? Enthusiasm?

They drip with the essence of obligation.  I see those things and I can only read between the lines, to see what I was thinking at the time of their conception, and you know what they say?  “Go! Go! Go!” and “Only one more article after this one!”  Each of them are rushed to death, and devoid of personality.  No pictures, no unique formatting. Yet, I do not feel bad for having done this, because it means my quaint little “completion” bar is going to be sitting at 100% long before this article drops, and I’ll be able to move on to my other goals uninhibited.

But that’s pointless.  That does no good for my readers, nor myself.  I am fulfilling an empty obligation and damning my integrity as a writer in exchange for a little dopamine hit.  So, next quarter, I’m not going to include any goals related to my blog.  If I want to write something, or share something, I will do so.  Not because a marker board with a shiny 50% bar says I should, but because I want to or find it interesting.

To do anything else is a waste of your time, and mine.

(Here. So this post breaks the cycle, I’ll include a gif from my favorite new anime. You’re welcome, I guess.)

 

Thoughts From the Kitchen – (#3 Ten-Thousand Voices)

I once heard a story from a musician, in which he was telling a story he heard through a musician buddy, about another musician that likely neither of them knew (assuming the subject of the story is real at all).

In this story, the front man of a popular band was looking over the crowd which gathered for that night’s show.  He was exhausted from months on the road, bitter to the state of the music industry, and overall weary of singing the same songs time and again.  Yet, when he called upon his stage persona, he did so with enthusiasm and purpose. When he presented himself to the thousands of people before him, jumping and hollering along with the words he sang, he did not let his bitterness influence his performance, and for quite a simple reason:

He believed in the message of his song, and every single one of the ten-thousand voices in that sea of faces were singing for a different reason.  A unique and personal reason.

I like this story, because it acknowledges how we internalize narratives and meanings independently from one another.  Even if the overall narrative leaves little to the realm of subjectivity, the experiences we bring to the table will be rife with our own specific purposes and struggles.

“Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world.”

The sole identifying emotional word in that famous Journey intro is ‘lonely.’  If you fulfill the ‘small town girl’ aspect and feel lonely, this automatically applies to you.  Yet, you could be a small town girl, and be lonely for a completely different reason from the first person who identifies with the track.  Even more, you don’t need to identify as anything, and can simply appreciate the somber tone of the song on the mere grounds of acknowledging that yes, the world is lonely.  So on, ad infinitum, until near-most everyone has a different purpose for lifting their voices in harmony.

Writers have a similar power (yet, entirely different, as music is it’s own beast).  When we write, it’s in the ultimate hope of submerging the head-space of the reader into our world, our rhythm, our timeline.  If we are successful, especially in characterization, then we create a similar effect to the singer on the stage.

Think of your favorite character. The reason they’re your favorite is likely different from why they’re someone else’s favorite. Even if your surface-level reasons are the same, the nuance and personal element behind them can vary infinitely.

This is why we we sing, write, and create. Because art is the only thing capable of this, this relationship between expression and perception.

Visiting Tropes #2 (Syndromes & Curses)

In this series we explore various, popular tropes found in media. This is done by tapping that nifty “random trope” button at tvtropes.org, reading the base material of three results, and throwing our thoughts at the wall to see what sticks.

As we do.

 

“Occam’s Razor”

Occam’s Razor is a phrase for which I’ve read the definition at least five separate times and can never remember what it means. Hopefully writing this piece will break that pattern and actually cement the phrase into the wet blob of grey meat between my ears.

Basically Occam’s Razor is believing a theory based on the fewest number of “stretches” or leaps in reason or logic.  It is an anti-conspiratorial guideline (not a rule) which condemns the need for grandiose assumptions.

“When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not unicorns.”

Tvtropes.org has a nifty ladder of concepts to help us understand this on a step-by-step level:

There have been theories that ancient aliens built the Egyptian Pyramids instead of humans. For this to be true, we’d need the following givens:

  1. aliens exist
  2. they are intelligent
  3. they exist contemporaneously with humans
  4. they develop interstellar/intergalactic travel
  5. they know how to find us
  6. they can build pyramids
  7. they would not leave any evidence of their existence
  8. they would waste time building pyramids

The more normal theory only requires that:

  1. humans exist
  2. humans can build pyramids
  3. humans would waste time building pyramids.

 

…and we don’t even need to ask if humans would waste time building pyramids. We have proven time and again that we will go to much greater lengths to sacrifice our most precious resource to the gods of futility and vanity.

The most infamous example of abandoning Occam’s Razor I have in my arsenal is the reveal of Obito as the man in the mask in Naruto. There was soooooo much material absent from this reveal, yet the majority of the fans suspected this development, while the minority of us who actually cared to do research knew it couldn’t be him.  The majority were dropping so many “but maybe if”s and it was maddening.

Not as maddening as them actually being right in the end, but still.

 

“Golden Egg Syndrome”

Plot twist! This isn’t actually a trope, but rather a concept related to storytelling and cognition.

I first heard this on the Writing Excuses podcast (check dat crap out, yo. It’s da shiz) and it resonated with me because I was guilty of it.  Have you ever developed a story idea in your head?  Did you become really emotionally and mentally attached to that story?  When time came to write/draw/whatever something other than your story, could you do it?

The Golden Egg Syndrome is what happens when we’ve spent so much time and energy incubating our perfect creative product that we end up being unable to create anything else. You are either intimidated by the prospect of starting from the beginning again, your new creations end up being the Golden Egg with new skin, or you think whatever else you make won’t be as good by comparison.

I managed to break this eventually (thank you fan-fiction, for being close-to, but not entirely worthless), but I have at least one friend who is currently in the throes of this problem.  He’s so far along in his ‘mind-story’ which has been developing for over fifteen years that he wouldn’t even know where to start writing it.  But he doesn’t want to reboot it, or do anything else, so he resigns himself to squeezing out every ounce from a plot and world which should have concluded long ago.

People who’ve never experienced Golden Egg Syndrome might think this is ludicrous, and it is, but it’s also very real and much harder to break than you’d suspect.

 

“So Beautiful, It’s a Curse”

This one’s probably self-explanatory, but lucky for you we get to delve a little bit into nuance.

At its core, this trope orbits the perception of other characters and the feelings it places upon them.  If you have a supermodel walk onto a scene (whether casually or with purpose), it’s likely to inspire some level of jealousy in those nearby.  If not jealousy, then maybe intimidation, suspicion, or other negative emotions.  Because of this, the supermodel becomes open to multiple different avenues of maltreatment, such as being noticed only for their stellar good-looks and not for their character, abilities, or values.

Now, if that sounds absurd, guess what, that’s another part of the maltreatment. After a certain threshold is reached, your feelings become less important because look at you, you’re gorgeous. You can’t be suffering that badly.  And you know it’s true, because you’ve probably heard somebody say it before.  And if you haven’t, then as they say, it might be you.  Beauty can be a blessing, sure, in the right conditions.  Outside of those conditions it’s grounds for dismissal in any serious matter and makes you a lightning rod for disdain.

But wait, there’s more! This trope really has a lot going on, so we’re just going to gatling-gun some points, here.

People cursed by beauty run into the (expected) probably of easily being victimized in the cheap ‘rape as drama’ narrative, and can be further influenced by the culture around the medium.  They also get kidnapped a lot.  Cough, Princess Peach, cough.

Have you ever thought pretty people were, by default, mean people? Of course not, because you’re all decent human beings. But for those of us who don’t shine everywhere we go, there is an occasional gut response to staggering beauty which makes us assume the person is fundamentally unlikable.  This, as you can imagine, makes it difficult to form meaningful friendships.

And then to wrap it up, let’s draw a quote from one of my favorite websites on the internet: Cracked.com.  The following passage is from their article: “5 Things You Think Will Make You Happy (But Won’t)” (I recommend you read the whole thing, bee-tee-dubs):

“…attractive people have the same self-esteem problems the ugly people do. Like money, attractiveness is relative and if you’re hotter than your friends, at that stage you start comparing yourself to people in the media. You know, like the magazine covers we mentioned before, the ones that that have had the living shit Photoshopped out of them.
It gets worse: You know how when the hot girl at the bar tells an unfunny joke, all the guys laugh anyway? Or when the office stud makes a mistake, the female boss laughs it off? Attractive people live in a world where most feedback they get is bullshit. The compliments mean nothing — they’ve learned that’s just the sound people make when they walk by. That’s why studies show they tend to dismiss the genuine compliments they get in other areas (their work, personality, sense of humor, creativity) because it gets lumped in with the same counterfeit flattery they’ve been getting their whole lives.”

Thoughts From the Kitchen – (#2 My War Against the Beginning)

I used to think the beginning of stories were the easiest parts to write.  Lo, ’tis not.

The more I develop my knowledge in the minefield of writing, the more I am convinced the original conception of a story might be the most difficult, especially in the case of fabricating entirely new universes and/or timelines.  It’s all so front-heavy.  The balancing game between when to exposit and navigating exactly how much is insidious.  What’s more, at the same time, creating this framework is one of the most invigorating parts of the whole process.  The contradiction isn’t discouraging, though whether it’s daunting or not is hardly a question.  I am madly daunted by the act of creation.

We are in Quarter 2 of the year, and I’m well on my way to reaching my writing goals. (Wait, did I forget to make a post about my writing goals? Whoops.) But hey, I’m a fully functional and cognizant human being with a head on my shoulders only half filled with brick, so I’m able to recognize a decent chunk of the patterns which pass me by.  Try to pick up the trend:

  1. “Write an installment for the Puppet Kitchen at least once a week.” (25%) (About to 37.5% baby. Word up.)
  2. Write two short stories (0%)
  3. Read at least one short story each week. (37.5%)
  4. Write 10,000 words of long-form (0%)
  5. Read at least two full books. (100%)
  6. Determine new outlining system/method. (100%)
  7. Build coherent image reference gallery. (100%)
  8. Finish the “Trope Project” (50%)

There’s two goals in there with zero percent accounted for, and would you look at that, they both tie back to writing the beginnings of new stories.  Wow.  Thematic relevance.

Now, I’ve always sucked at writing short stories, so I’m honestly not bothered by that so much. In fact, I’ve got more going on in that department than the long-form.  I’m a-brewing a nasty little romp tentatively titled “The Priestess” which will count for 50% of that goal, I just haven’t filled in any of the percentiles because, well, I don’t know how far along I am in the projected 3,000 word process.  Hard to say.

The subject which frays my edges a little more violently is that long-form catastrophe. My progress has been somewhere between horrifyingly abysmal and you should just quit and die, but I’m buoyed by the knowledge that, at least, I haven’t been entirely stagnant. The outlining aspiration did give me decent reason to step back a bit before plunging into a new cosmic, supernatural urban-fantasy landscape. But you see, I’ve since figured out my new outlining format, and still the world-forming pen stays idle.  Oh, it’s not that I haven’t done any worldbuilding, either.  I’ve taken care of all that silliness and more.  No, I just can’t seem to actually write the damn thing.

Sort of.  I technically have three chapters. But this story surpasses all of my earlier endeavors in just about every regard, including the quantity of nuts and bolts. I have a pretty healthy understanding when it comes to the first draft and how it’s pretty sufficiently doomed to be a dumpster fire, regardless of who you are (unless you’re Stephen King, who I’m convinced has better first drafts than most people have final manuscripts). But I can’t seem to grasp the foundation of the story.  There’s such an abundance of available detail, and I know I have to key in on only a small handful of the most relevant information and characters, else risk death by a thousand cuts and an early grave.

But choosing those details and doing them well, while maintaining the extracurricular world which must be at least vaguely consistent around the events of the early narrative, is harder than it’s ever been in my life. In a way, I feel as though this is a good thing. My plotting, characterization, world-building, and general ideation are all objectively better than say, when I was crafting “Doubting Puppet,” my last true plunge into long-form.  But I’m not quite good enough to wrap myself around the story.

It’s like I’ve been training to overcome a wall of my own construction.  I wanted something to test myself, so I formed a wall which would loom, clad in ornate platinum or polished marble.  Something which could tower and stretch a great shadow.  I even figured out how I’d climb it.  Running start, one or two vertical steps skyward on shoes made to grip, deep breath to focus and reach.  I grab the lip of the wall!

But I can’t crest the edge. My arms are so tired from building the blasted thing, I can’t so much as lift my own body-weight enough to steal enough leverage to gracelessly yank myself over the top.

That’s where I am.  I have the wall, a tapestry of stones alchemically chosen to be unlike any wall I’d seen before.  A wall which captures my voice, with a tonal and environmental aesthetic which performs beautifully and has never been done in the scope of my knowledge, yet isn’t contrived or steering too close to the anime curse of prioritizing a unique premise over a functional one.  It plays to my strengths in its emotional narrative, character social webs, mode of conflict, and low-key moral agendas.

It’s a beautiful wall.

Which I can’t seem to climb.

Not yet, anyways. I do hope to turn the tide soon, once I shrug off this inky black creature on my shoulders with the upside-down smile I like to call procrastination.

For the moment, I take solace in that I’m not simply twiddling my thumbs.  I’m definitely enabling myself to divorce the responsibilities of certain goals from my daily schedule, but the distractions are wearing thin. Here’s hoping that when I finally become lucid enough to kick myself in the tail and just buckle down, that lucidity will come with something I haven’t felt in a long time and sorely miss: my inherent and volcanic indignance to be better.

So here’s to cracking open the crude, molten shell which has swallowed my fighting spirit, and resurrecting something worthwhile for the sake of writing a story which might, I pray, eventually evolve into something bigger than myself.

Time to write.

The Puppet Masters (#5 – We, the Failures)

failure_by_anokazue-d4w47o2My last couple of weeks have been delegated to conventions.  First came WorldCon (MidAmericon II) in Kansas City, and then Pax West in Seattle.  While the latter is a predominantly video-game themed convention, it is not without many other elements of fandom.  Among the many panels, tournaments, and exhibitions were a few outliers, such as the indeterminate hour occupied by a panel simply titled “An evening with Patrick Rothfuss.”

Any who know me are familiar with my love for this author in all of his quirky variables. This was my third time seeing him live and he simply never becomes boring.  If you ever get the chance, please dedicate some time from your day to be in his company.  You do not even need to know who he is in order to enjoy yourself.  You can hold me to that claim.

To the point, there was one rabbit hole Rothfuss descended during his panel which caught my attention more than anything else.  I cannot remember what exactly prompted this discussion, but it was during a Q&A.  The subject was about the perception of writing as a hobby versus writing as a profession, and how there is an unfairly strict expectation attached to the relationship between the two.

author_patrick_rothfuss_-_h_2015
The Great, Bearded Badger, Patrick Rothfuss.

Paraphrasing his words: “Writing is really unfair, because it’s the only hobby where, if you don’t make it professionally, you are seen as a failure in the public eye.  Never do you see somebody playing basketball and think they are a loser because they aren’t in the NBA.  Never do you see somebody gardening and think, well, if they aren’t on Home & Gardening, then they clearly didn’t make it.  The gardener is allowed to enjoy gardening because it gives them satisfaction and joy.  But god forbid, if you’re a writer and haven’t published anything, then you’ve wasted your time.”

There is a titanic burden placed on writers (and most creative arts, really) to become published or publically recognized.  Naturally, this is not going to be a common end for most who aspire for it, as not everyone who writes (read: many, many people) will become professionals at the craft.  Why are those people then labelled as failures, when they are doing something they love?  Now of course, if the writer has a deliberate goal of reaching publication and do not reach it, at this point they might be considered having failed at least in that regard.  But writing should not be, as a primary approach, treated like a business.  This isn’t to say it can’t be a business, only that it shouldn’t be business first, creative endeavor second.

I’ve never felt like I was wasting time in my writing.  Even if I never get published, writing has afforded me an outlet for thoughts, emotions and stress which I haven’t been able to get out by any other means.  For that alone, the journey has been worth it.  I do aspire to reach publication one day, for at least one book, but I won’t consider myself a failure if I don’t make a career out of it.  I’ll still continue to write, because I love it.  I may not always like it, per se, but I’ll always love it.

So please, if you write, or paint, or craft in any way that is seen by others as following in a similar social stigma, do not lose heart.  Even if your story never sees the public spotlight, do not believe yourself a failure.  As a whole, we struggle enough with depression and anxiety and self-deprecation as is, so we needn’t pile onto the weapons against us.  To do so is disrespectful to the art, toxic to your soul, and above all, a lie.

God bless and take care.

(If you want to check out Patrick Rothfuss, I suggest beginning with “The Name of the Wind,” the first in a projected series of three novels.  Both it and it’s sequel, “The Wise Man’s Fear,” may be found on Amazon.)

Image provided by Anokazue from Deviantart.
http://www.deviantart.com/art/Failure-295808978