Nothing Like Fireside Rum Coffee during a Pandemic

Good Afternoon Everyone!

While the world falls into a steady pandemic decline, nothing comforts like a hot coffee. All the more so when the weather decides to hit a cold snap after several days of spring.

I’m sitting here stretching out my writing muscles on my keyboard. Muscles in my wrist fight against the motion unused to the strain. I haven’t written much this week. My motivation has been stagnating these last few days much like the US economy. I’m unsure whether it is appropriate to make such jokes while the trauma is still fresh. (Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s poor taste but I know no better way to cope in such times than to find jokes and brighter sides).

Here’s a brighter side! Due to the scares, my job closed down for the next two week. There’s still a lot of uncertainty there but that does free up my time a bit. I can catch up with writing, watching movies, trying out some recipes, and finishing up some books in a messy pile by my bedside. Self-quarantining doesn’t have to be boring.

I wish I could talk about something else here. I’m picking my brain for something–anything–but my brain keeps returning here. Even while watching Carmen Jones (1954) on Turner Classic Movies an hour ago with my family, my thoughts went back to the hour and how if things were different I would be dressing for work . That’s the panicky workaholic in me sitting in my pajamas wondering if this was all real. Shouldn’t I be elsewhere?

You see! I returned to it again.

I hope we all can find some comfort during these trying times. I ultimately believe things will return to some sort of normal but it’s best to be cautious.

Stay safe everyone. Wash your hands and don’t touch your face.

(She says, before repeatedly doing so while editing…)

A Few Innocent Obsessions

Let’s share a few obsessions from the last month.

I went through a week where I was obsessed with “Evil” by Interpol. The strangely alive and haunted eyes of Norman drawing me into watching the music video for at least once a day like it was a curious prescription.

This obsession spilled over to their other music. “C’mere” and “Slow Hands.” I realized that eras of my life had a sound and the strangeness of that thought. I’m in middle school marinating in early 2000s alternative with bass lines I can feel in my bones and my heart aches.

One weekend I binged on Ari Aster films getting pleasantly disturbed by the flowers of Midsommar and the slow breakdown of a family haunted in Hereditary. And then there’s the VVitch where I was reminded of the slick blood spilt by paranoia and the taint of fanaticism.

I’ve been trying to get more into movies in general so in between the horror, I took Booksmart as a light palate cleanser. A beautifully shot comedy dealing with the elation of female friendships and the growing pains of moving on. The stylized shots of The Last Black in San Francisco with its commentary on gentrification and history. The house as a solid anchor to family, love, and healing the two as something so intrinsic to yourself.

And writing. Writing has been an obsession again fueled by camaraderie. I joined a local writing group with the write-ins and creative electricity in the air.

The mind hungers for an outlet. My fingers spill ink that chews through paper and I feel like myself again.

Blood, Ink, and Nightshade

I’m going to pick my brain a moment. Prick it with a pen until it absorbs the ink and makes something beautiful. Blood and black blending into deadly nightshade.

Creativity’s a tricky beast. It haunts you, stalks you, makes you feel. I’ve been lured in by its intoxicating scent for more than a decade now. I can track my life back through all that it inspired me to produce and the tortured things that never got the chance to grow.

Creativity slips away. Or that’s how it feels like sometimes. That’s how it feels now. I call but nothing answers. It doesn’t speak to me how it used to. My mind buzzes with the effort, my fingers go numb with the strain, my eyes drowned by the emptiness in front of me. I’m stalling. I flounder. Nothing works.

But creativity is only lost when you don’t chase after it. It never willingly came to me. It never put in the work to stay. Like a light in the dark, it shines brightly. It warms the room. Gives you comfort. You’re surer in your footing as you walk forward. But it vanishes just as quickly. Forces you to stumble and trip as you claw your way out of the abyss. You have to force yourself forward hoping the light will come to you again.

I hope that this small offering, this bit of effort, will bring it home again.

Photo Credit: elqu @ Wallhaven

Wishful Thinking

Very little is accomplished just through wishful thinking. I wish a lot, inspired by the fairy tales I drank in hungrily from Disney movies and fiction. The notion of simply believing in something hard enough would make everything work out, in the end, was a belief sewn into the fabric of my being. If I wanted my happily ever after I had to believe in it. Like really, really hard!

Of course, now I know that wishful thoughts can only be made a reality through lots of sweat and optimism. If you have a dream, you have to put the effort in. You have to be willing to swallow down failure and learn from it. You also have to accept that failure will be more constant companion than your successes worth all the more.

I’m no stranger to failure. I often wear it like a cloak, bearing down on my shoulders as I make my way through the world. It has a bitter tang and weighs on the heart like a damp towel. Despite these feelings, I do believe in my heart that I am better for them. They make me want more. To do more.

But then there’s wishful thinking. A part of me still clings to the idea of a happily ever after but at the current moment, I have no idea what that looks like. There are so many things I want to do with writing, in particular, but I don’t really know where to start. And so I close my eyes and hope that something works out. But I know it never works that way.

And so I’ll offer up this promise to myself. To stop wishing. To simply do. Knowing that some things won’t work out but other things will. Nothing will be done if I don’t muster up the courage to do it.

Writing With Profundity (Or Lack Thereof)

Oftentimes, when I sit down and (try to) write something, I get hung up on the idea that I have to have something profound to say. That a lot of thought and research has to go into an idea before I’m allowed to say it. 

Do you know the backlog of half-completed ideas I have that get stalled because I felt what I had to say wasn’t important? The hours of research wasted because I couldn’t come up with an “original concept.” How many ideas just became scrawls between notebook and journal pages after getting so hung up on how to carry it out.

My pretentiousness has other ways of manifesting itself. I’m quite humble in my day to day life but I expect my ideas to be great from the get-go. Where I think my brain will automatically do the work of spinning perfection as soon as pen touches paper (or finger hit keys). I find myself so frustrated with the editing process sometimes because my spun gold ends up looking like piles of hay and it’s tough being diligent and dedicated enough to get it close.

And I do know better. I know effort makes a story shine but too much effort–trying to get it perfect before you even begin, is just as much of a story killer. Trust me, this piece took me less than 10 minutes to write. This is just me stringing thoughts together giving no care to how they come across. Okay, that’s not completely but the usual agonizing on whether I have something profound to say didn’t stop me from writing this. And that really shouldn’t be the end goal anyway. Write it if you feel the urge to say it. That is all.

Oh, and as a side note, I’m happy that no one will see the handwritten draft of this. It’s atrocious! It’s messy! But it started this something.

Little Miss Perfectionist Hates Editing

Editing and revising is the most stressful part of the writing process. I think most people would agree with that but if you’re normal, unlike me, you knuckle down and just do it, right? Work is work no matter how much you love it.

My ideas and I go through a bit of a honeymoon period. When I first get them, they’re the most beautiful thing in the world. I daydream about it, heap upon it undeserved accolades, and the urge to just get down and dirty with it (the oh so titillating writing process) is too strong to be ignored.

First bumps in the road come with writing. We have our issues. It pushes me to the limit. Sometimes I question our relationship. The rosy glasses shatter and I see it for what it is. Something very flawed and struggling like the rest of them. But it’s okay. We can perhaps work through its issues.

And then editing. This is pretty much when I start burning the furniture. It can do nothing right. There are too many flaws. I hate it more than I thought I could hate anything and I want nothing more than to shove all its ill-conceived concepts in a hole and set fire to it.

But like most troubled relationships, there’s something thrilling in the dysfunction. I come back time and time again to the idea–thinking I can fix it. Sometimes I can, more often I have to live with it until the cycle starts all over again.

What that too elaborate metaphor was trying to say is that editing is hard. It’s impossible, or at least it can feel that way. But I’m too much of perfectionist to just let a story be. I get something from agonizing over grammar, dialogue, scenes, the plot. Tinkering with everything just sends me off on this rollercoaster of emotions that I just get off on.

I go through cycles of love and hate every time I tear into a piece. So yes, little miss perfectionist does hate editing. But she also loves it. As with anything I’m passionate about, I invest too much time and emotion to words, to characters, to ideas.

Even this piece, in its hasty construction, will get the fine editing treatment. I’ll cut lines, rearrange passages, tone down some parts, amp up others, and I’ll love detesting it. Or I’ll hate loving it.

 

How Outlining Has Taken Over My Life

For the longest time, I detested outlining. Well, maybe that’s a bit too dramatic. I was largely indifferent to it.

In the first phase of my writing passion (middle school to high school), I thought writing outlines was pointless. I just wrote. Brazenly, passionately, badly. I was discovering a part of myself that I never knew before and things like planning and outlining were foreign hindrances that I didn’t bother indulging in.

Even as I grew more self-conscious about my writing, I still didn’t think outlines would help me. After all, I was more of a free write writer. My first “novel” was me coming up with ideas at the spur of the moment and then carrying onto the next thing. Why spend so much time on something I may not follow through on? What’s the point of planning stuff out when the best strategy would just be to get the idea down and see where it would take me.?

But those years are filled with basic idea sketches, character thoughts, isolated scenes and WIPs that went nowhere. My early writing self couldn’t get my mind out of  (what I pretentiously termed at the time) “novel-length” concepts. Ideas that couldn’t, wouldn’t, will not fit in a short story. They were epics of adventure, love, magic, and chaos!

But I wouldn’t  put the work into those ideas. I obsess over them, write out the basic start, then move on.

In college, I started to reject the notion of “novel-length” concepts in favor of short stories. I didn’t want to start anything that couldn’t be finished in 20 pages. I got caught up in finishing stories. A lot of ideas were allowed to die because I didn’t think I could complete them. On those rare occasions when I tried to go beyond that, I found myself stuck. I write passionately for 20, 40, maybe 60 pages but then I would get stuck somewhere.

I didn’t truly start to embrace outlining until 2017 when I started the Festival of Shadows. I wanted to write a story centered around a group of characters I created. I also wanted to try my hand in a long cohesive narrative. So I tried outlining and I’ve been converted.

Now I live by the outline. Outlines have become my guide and savior. I worship at the bullet point altar and weep at the feets of schedules and planning. Every major project I prelude with an outline. I’ve finished three different outlines for stories at the moment. Two, I’ve officially started acting on.

But of course, outlines aren’t sacred texts. A good 50 percent of the Festival of Shadows outline was changed, rearranged, or ultimately discarded because I wanted to do something else. My outline kept me on track, however. Even if I didn’t like the initial route, writing it down gave me a better sense of what I wanted to do instead. The writing process usually helped me decide (rather than hoping my imagination would drop me a sign, out of the blue to help me fix all those dirty plot holes).

Outlines help me visualize the plot. I’m pretty good at coming up with the beginning and end of a story. The middle tends to be this big gray blob with bits of clear details sprinkled in. When I try to reach for them, they’re lost in the mess of this big unknown.  I tend to get really intimidated which leads to a lack of motivation. I do all I can to make the idea more and more concrete lest I lose interest (which has happened to me with too many other stories).

My outlining process tends to be pretty involved. My most recent one numbers 14 pages, single-spaced, with lots of bullet points (I’m OBSESSED with bullet points). And that was the second draft of it.

I wish I can be a low key outliner who can get their whole novel planned out on a single sheet of paper. That’s the real dream.

The Sometimes Excruciating Chore of Writing

I’ll admit it. I sometimes hate writing.

I go through frequent periods where nothing seems to go right. I hate the idea. I hate writing it. I hate editing it. I hate the finished product. Nothing seems to go right and I wonder why I’m even bothering.

I think we all go through a cycle of hate when trying to engage with any creative project. I can’t be alone in this right?

I’ll be honest and say that, at the moment, I’m going through an extended rough writing patch. Finishing an idea has been one of the biggest hurdles of the last few weeks. Starting just a smidge easier. (Meaning I’m just about struggling with the entire process, now doesn’t it?).

But if I took anything from 2017, I won’t always feel like writing. Every idea won’t be spun from gold as soon as I decide to dedicate actual words to it. I won’t have one of those moments always depicted on television where the ideas just flow–face aglow with that glorious a-ha as I furiously type. (Heck, that isn’t even me on a good writing day.)

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A more accurate representation of my “a-ha” moment

Much of what I wrote last year was me sitting down and forcing myself to get it done. And there were times where I violently loathed every single word that I etched on the page but I continued.

Even when I end up hating a line, a paragraph, a scene, a concept, I can engage in a more proactive hate when its given concrete form. I get a better sense of what I would rather do and can more actively engage with the idea I most fiercely despise.

When something’s an ephemeral concept, it’s harder to challenge it. Your brain is charged with a billion things any given second and it has an annoying tendency to take shortcuts with abstract concepts. You only come away with the idea that something must be a pretty good or pretty bad idea and without action, it’s hard to articulate why or for anyone else to articulate it either.

So write through the hate.

On the Days When Your Brain Just Can’t

Or when your brain decides to go on strike causing nothing but creative frustration!

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I’m in a bit of a creative nadir.

Throughout most the year, I was riding on a bit of writing high propelled by a long-term writing project which, in its own way, motivated me to do others when I didn’t feel like working on that monster. But that writing project is over (it’s stewing in its own metaphorical juices until revision) and every minor project that I wanted to do has been finished in one way or the other.

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And now I can’t…

I mean, I have other writing projects I want to do but I just can’t…

See! I’m even struggling to create a sentence because my ideas just kind of die. They get a bit of steam and then they’re already passed out on the floor and refuse to do anything productive to get themselves to their destination. My hands are wishy-washy about picking up a pen or tapping away at keys. Character voices get lost in the ether and I struggle to find their echo.

But perhaps I’m trying too hard. Perhaps, after 10 months straight, my brain is taking the time to recoup and I shouldn’t stress by the decline in output.

But stressing is kind of my second nature so, of course, I’ll do that until I get something productive done. But then I’ll stress out over whatever project I get back on the horse with.

I can never win…but I love it.

I love stressing about my writing. It’s a better alternative than stressing about the lack of it.

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