The Good Cry

depression-20195_1920Writing. Drawing. Painting. Sculpting. Singing. All are forms of express, which engage others in some way. These disciplines take what is inside transform it to a relatable form that others empathize with. Through this process a soul deep connection can form between two strangers.

These are forms of art, but they are not the only forms that deep expression may take. Crying is an innate, instinctive expression which humanity is born with. In recent years, I’ve seen regular references to what is known as ugly crying. This phrase is appropriately descriptive, as ugly crying usually involves blotchy-face wailing, swollen nose, blood-shot eyes and a depletion of an entire box of tissues. It’s not pretty. Thus, it is ugly crying. And such a bout of raw emotionalism can leave a person drained and feeling ugly.

The good cry, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of that.

Tears may flow freely, but the expression they carry with them can be cathartic, releasing tension or a mix of emotions for which we do not have names. As odd as it sounds, sometimes we just need a good cry. The trick is to have the good cry without devolving into ugly crying. Releasing pent up emotional tension can be like the opening of a floodgate. The good cry opens the gate just enough for the emotions to pour out, but not enough to drown in one’s own tears.

sad-468923_1920The best ways I’ve found to trigger a good cry come through song and film. The right song can pull on the heart strings just enough to get the tears flowing and offer that cathartic release. The right movie will build to an emotional climax that tums the faucet of tears to a medium trickle for a little while, then slowly shut off. The flow should be substantial enough, but not enough to overwhelm.  In my experience, it’s best to imbibe those forms of media which draw me into other people’s pain. This shifts my focus away from myself, and keeps the good cry from devolving into a pity party. (If absolutely you must have a pity party, set a firm time limit on it.)

Crying is one of the aspects of the human condition which is not always the easiest to handle, in others or ourselves. It is usually associated with a whole host of negative emotions and often a solitary endeavor. No one wants to feel bad, and most people don’t wish to see others in pain to the point of tears. These are noble desires, but it’s not realistic to assume they will be fulfilled every day. Even if we don’t wish to see tears, they have a place and purpose in our existence. Ignoring or denying the need for such raw expression is not a healthy way to handle the negative emotions we all feel. Sometimes, we just need a good cry to make it through the day.

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The worst advice ever.

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So, years ago I heard the phrase “Fake It Till You Make It.” The idea is that you pretend to be something you aren’t until you successfully become what you are pretending to be. Though offered with good intentions by someone I respected, I cringed at the thought. I found the concept to be disingenuous, shallow and inauthentic. Years later, I began hearing about a thing called “Imposter Syndrome” After hearing it described, it was clear to me that those who suffer from the most intense bouts of “imposter syndrome” drank some version of the “Fake It Till You Make It” cool-aid.

“Fake it till you make it” is tailored to result in the development of imposter syndrome. In whatever a person is attempting to achieve or succeed at, be it sales, or painting or writing, they feel like a fraud while trying to convince themselves and other they are the genuine article. This is to say they feel fake. Regardless of the degree of external success, the individual does not feel successful on the inside. For those who do not have external success, the feeling of being a fraud is intensified that much more.

It’s hard to motivate yourself to go out into the world an work towards a goal if you believe you aren’t authentic in those pursuits. Beyond hard, there are: times it in nigh impossible. This kind of self-deception can lead to devastating disappointment and depression.real-3166208_1280

Given the initial gut-clench reaction I had to this advice, I opted not to follow it. I chose a different way of approaching my ambitions. I chose to adopt a modified version of “Practice makes perfect.” Why modified? Because back in the day when the phrase was coined “perfect” had connotations of ‘complete’ or ‘whole’ rather than “flawless.” Though flawless execution might be a worthy goal, it is not always a realistic one. To avoid confusion, I modified my approach to “Practice Makes Progress.”

So, how does that work? And how is it any different from faking it? When practicing a skill or activity, I do so acknowledging my inadequacies, my insecurities, and my uncertainties. I do not try to convince myself or others that I am “perfect” (flawless or complete) in what I’m attempting to do. I give myself permission to make mistakes with the caveat that I’m learning, improving and growing from those mistakes. This approach allowed me the honesty to realistically recognize the difference between what I am and what I desire to be. It exposed the gaps between the two, and provided a direction for growth to bridge those gaps.

I am 4′ 10” tall. animal-3021591_1920

If my passion were becoming a professional basketball player, I would need to have an extra-ordinary amount of natural athletic talent to compensate for my stature in order to become a professional basketball player. I would also need to demonstrate that talent repeatedly to convince others that I would be an asset and contribute to the success of any team I played for.

If I my talent were average, yet I spent a lot of mental energy trying to convince myself and others that it was above average, I would absolutely feel like a fraud. The Fake It Till You Make It philosophy asks a person to do just that.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying a short person with average athletic skill should not play sports. I am saying it is necessary to be realistic about the amount of success such an individual would be able to achieve in such a scenario. Are the returns worth the effort? Or is there more satisfaction in just playing the game for fun? Or coaching? Or scouting?

Given the limitations I have (height, and a distinct lack of athletic skill), it would never be reasonable to see myself as a professional basketball player in the making, regardless of how many hours I spend dribbling. It would not be reasonable for me to expect others to see me as a professional basketball player in the making.

To do so is to be unrealistic to the point of being delusional. It is to be fake. It is to be an imposter.

As someone who desires to be a novelist, I practice putting words out into the world. This practice makes me a writer, but it does not make me a novelist. Publishing a novel will make me a novelist, but this hasn’t happened. Yet. Every class I take, every seminar I attend, every new writing technique I learn is another step in reaching the goal of being a novelist. Does this mean I never suffer from doubts? No. I have my moments of insecurity and this is normal. At times, it’s even helpful. Insecurity tells me I have a weakness. There is an area that is not secure, and it needs to shoring up. Examining the source of the insecurity can offer insight on places where growth can occur.

This progress is genuine. It is authentic to pursue the skills, disciplines and attitudes needed to fulfill an ambition. It is okay to be  in the process of becoming, and by being honest about this rather than faking it, the mechanisms of imposter syndrome are short-circuited.butterfly-2436395_1280

Pantsing my way through…

Pantsing My Way Through 2-2021This seems a significantly appropo topic at the moment. I have nothing planned for this post, and, as the title suggests, I am pantsing my way through it. Pantsing my way through many creative projects has resulted in abject disaster at times. There are times, when I will wing it and on occasion, those times produce some real gems.

Unfortunately, none of those examples are coming to mind at the moment.

For those who are a bit confused about the phrase, I will explain. “Pantsing” is a slang term for “Flying by the seat of my pants.” No plan. No goal or objective. For writers, it means sitting at the keyboard and letting whatever thoughts flow through your fingertips hit the page. It’s not exactly the same thing as free-writing. Free writing tends towards stream of consciousness and pantsing is a process by which a narrative should unfold. I rarely pants my way through anything. Staring at a blank screen is a bit on the torturous side for me, so I usually take my time and decide what a project will be, who it will be for, the purpose and goals of that project and steps for achieving that project. It gives a frame work which lends itself to productivity. The process begins with a clarified vision of some thing and ends with that thing manifested into reality.

There is nothing so frustrating as staring at a blank screen, or blank canvas, or blank wall, yearning to express, but without the slightest idea of where to begin. This is often where process can be helpful. Process, in general, is good for creativity. It provides a context in which creativity can emerge. It offers small, step-by-step actions with results that can be anticipated reasonably well. There is a drawback, however. 

Process for the sake of process can hinder creativity. The routine begins to feel more like drudgery than genuine creativity or authentic expression.  In times like these, the spontaneity of pantsing can break one free of that feeling of drudgery. Pantsing – diving in and going for it- is a good way to short circuit the mental ruts that can develop as a result of being process oriented. It frees the creative brain from the constraints of the logical brain used during process and planning. The idea of pantsing your way through a creative endeavor is less about the product, and more about the raw act of creativity. Instead of writing a story it is about finding a story.

Now, if you’re like me, what results from these on-the-fly creative projects is not usually stellar in nature. It may come out lopsided or be too reminiscent of what is already out there, however, it is the opportunity to engage in raw creativity that is exploratory rather than purposeful. No one may be interested in an epic space opera entitled Ode to a Stick-Figure. And it may not be the best work you’ve ever done, but exploring raw creativity can inspire other projects, stretch and strengthen creative muscles, and even inform other endeavors which are percolating your mind. 

Creativity is more than just paint on a canvas or words on a page. It’s a way of seeing, a way of thinking and a way of living. It sees the possibilities – the what ifs, the maybe-we-cans, and sometimes it thinks so far outside the box, the box can’t even be found any more. Pantsing has a place in creativity, and in creative living. Where and how big of a place is unique to each individual. It, like most other things in life, needs to be balanced against other creative approaches. There are going to be those out there who, unlike me, find they are incapable of creating any other way. To such individuals, I say go for it. For those who haven’t tried pantsing, I say give it a go! What have you got to lose?

 

Spiraling

Image credit: Skeeze @ Pixabay

For some time now, I’ve been stuck on P&PP. I’ve mentioned this in previous posts. There are issues with the middle of the story, and its pacing. I have subplots I want to incorporate, but haven’t even been plotted out. Because I haven’t been able to conceptualize the ending, I’ve focused on world building, character creation, and backstory. It feels like I’m going in circles with this story instead of moving forward in developing it.

I can, metaphorically speaking, see the destination, just not reach it. I go around, and around in circles, and with each pass, I get a little closer to the understanding I need to make the story work. It’s frustrating to realize, but sometimes the way forward is a path that spirals inward. There is an understanding I don’t have with regards to storytelling, and this process is opening me up to that understanding. It’s impossible to define what is being learned as it is being learned; you can’t know what it is you don’t know until you know it. I’ve seen other writers go through this process, and I’m certain I have before. Now, though, I’m hyper-aware of this frustrating process.

There have been more than a few “helpful” distractions along the way. Well-intentioned writing advice and apps designed to make writing easy (as if that were possible) along with podcasts or articles on some aspect or element of writing which doesn’t remotely relate to what I should be focusing on. The study of craft and the use of tools are meant to supplement and support to the process of writing, not serve as as a substitute for putting pen to paper. These distractions have proven to be temptations to step out of this difficult spiraling path because it’s easy to convince myself these things will help me make progress. They won’t. Painful as these retreads are, they are necessary.

Though the path from point A to point B might be a spiral rather than a straight line, there is progress in going back over the creative choices I’ve previously made to ensure they were the correct choices for the story. So, while backstory and world building have felt like a substitute for productive writing, I suspect they will prove critical to development. Both of the conclusion of P&PP and of myself as a writer.  To find the way forward, I’m creating retro-outline of the story as it is so far. The aim has been to discover the shape of the story, and it’s theme. The hope is that with these critical pieces of information, I can map a path to the conclusion, one that doesn’t have me going in circles.

Life, The Universe and Everything

The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Writing Symposium you’ve never heard of.

LTUE Logo smallI recently had the opportunity to attend LTUE, an annual writing symposium that takes place in Provo, UT. The focus of the symposium is science fiction and fantasy writing, with a little horror and romance thrown in for good measure. It’s small in scope, with hundreds of attendees rather than thousands. After attending only a handful of panels, faces became familiar with smiles and waves of recognition warming the atmosphere to friendly. Most attendees were Utah natives, though a few, like myself, had traveled in from out of state. Everyone proved as interested in sharing their projects, as they were in hearing about the work others were doing.

The panelists, all professionals, were knowledgeable and approachable. Between panels, it was possible, even encouraged, to strike up a polite conversation, and get your questions answered. I occasionally did this, and was rewarded with additional insight on topics such as voice, plotting and theme. Pros such Kelly Barnhill, Brian McClellan, Janci Patterson, and…really just too many to list out here, shared their best tips and tricks on the craft of writing, the business of writing, and encouraged attendees to press on in the pursuit of their writing career. While I learned a lot, mostly, I learned what I still have to learn about the art and craft of writing a novel.

The dealer’s room for this convention felt intimate, with perhaps, the smallest dealers room of any con I’ve attended. Everything that was to be seen could be seen in a twenty minute stroll. Offerings were primarily the books of the pro-authors also attending as panelists, but not exclusively. Authors and a few cover artists were available for signings on the spot. An art show allowed cover and graphic artists to display larger images throughout the symposium, while Artist’s Alley provided attendees the opportunity to meet with many of those artists.

While I came away from LTUE with a generally positive feeling about the amazing teaching offered at the symposium, I did discover a few treasures I’m especially excited about. The first is a bit of software known as Plottr.

Plottr is a no frills story plotting app (available for Windows & Mac, as an iPhone app with apps for iPad & Andoid in the works ) that streamlines the process of structuring a story. The program is intuitive with almost no learning curve. Once the plot has been structured, it can be exported to other programs like Scrivner or Word for the actual writing of the story. Incredibly affordable with exciting updates planned, I immediately put the program to use as soon as I got home.

In addition to Plottr, I discovered a source of additional teaching. Maxwell Alexander Drake presented a panel entitled “Dynamic Story Creation” which absolutely blew my mind. This author and creative writing teacher condensed a six-hour class into a two hour panel, which detailed the heart of storytelling and absolutely sold me on his ability to teach creative writing. He makes additional teaching available via his website, Drake U.com. Be warned, though: Drake’s blunt, “tell-it-like-it-is” brutal teaching style may not be for everyone.

Finally, I had an opportunity to connect with a few members of my tribe. That is to say, I attended a meet and greet with other Young Adult fiction writers and editors. The twenty of us or so congregated, presented a bit about our history as writers, the projects we are working on. Many of us were looking for writing groups to be a part of, even if that group met online via skype. As the years pass, it is going to be a treasure to watch how each of these writer’s careers develop.

As it is, I do not know if I will ever be able to attend LTUE again. I would like to, as it proved both instructive and invigorating. Anyone looking to grow as a writer, particularly a genre fiction writer, should definitely put LTUE on their “Must-Do” list.

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