Preflight checklist

Hello my darlings,

Couple of things on the horizon:

  1. Starting a writing group with a friend with our very first session tonight!
  2. I feel like I’m going to have to get used to performing, specifically in regards to storytelling. Not sure why yet, or what platform (possibly any) but I am getting that vibe.

Anyway, this post is about things that keep me from my work. While technically I can write under almost any condition if an idea strikes or if I’m really being dedicated, I have noticed a few things that I usually make sure I do or have before I get started in the morning. Calling it a preflight checklist is my way of covering up the fact it’s mostly things that help me procrastinate, but there’s also something to be said for taking time to get yourself into work mode. Sort of. Again, mostly procrastination and excuses.

The ultimate list (a fairly legitimate checklist)

  1. Clean workspace: Doesn’t have to be spotless, but clutter is a no-no.
  2. Liquid: If I don’t have something to drink at hand when I start, I will invariably get thirsty while my timer is running and be horribly distracted. Slightly less important, but still valid, is having the right kind of drink. If I’m writing, I usually want something light like water, juice, tea or some mixture of those (Arnold Palmers? Yes please!).
  3. Potty break: Again, something to address before the timer is running. Common sense.

The secondary list (things that distract me and either shouldn’t, or at least not to the extent I let them)

  1. Clean hands: If I’ve just eaten, especially if the food was greasy, I need to get my hands clean before I put those fingertips to the keys.
  2. Comfy nest: If I’m writing in bed, which is definitely a thing that happens, I usually have to rearrange everything to keep warm. Particularly my shoulders, since they’re not tucked in.
  3. Clean teeth: Since a lot of my writing is done in the morning, I want to get my morning brushing in before I start. It just feels nice.
  4. No stray hairs: I have long hair. I shed. It’s disgusting. If I see a hair on my blanket, that thing needs to go away ASAP.
  5. Trimmed nails: No joke, I have used this as a way to procrastinate.
  6. Clean rest of the house: Out of sight, out of mind? Not so much.
  7. Checked Facebook, email, daily internet things: Obviously. (Blech.)
  8. Music: This one actually almost made the first list. If my music is too loud, it can be distracting. If it’s a genre that’s messing up my groove, that can cause problems. My biggest problem is wanting to dance or sing along with it. Musical and foxtrot music is usually banned for my own good.

So, what’s the most ridiculous thing that’s ever kept you from doing what you needed to do? Do you have a preflight list? Let me know in the comments!

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In which many things were good

Hello darlings,

I realized in reading over some old posts that some things I was keeping you updated on kind of disappeared. This is just going to be a quick post to let you know what’s up in life (in short: it’s good).

First off, I am no longer having anxiety problems. I’ve been able to get back to a lot of the things I dropped in order to deal with it, and after having had several months of curling inwards and feeling like all I was doing was taking (pity, prayers, support, love, shoulders to lean on) I’m starting to open back up. I feel ready to take less and give/serve more. Exciting!

Secondly, while still not sure exactly what I’m going to do with my life, I have come a long way in figuring out how to approach the question. Silly as it may seem, I only recently realized I could do more than one thing with my life. I’ve always had being an author at the forefront of my mind as my one life plan. This became prickly when I lost my job because my writing hadn’t/hasn’t “taken off” yet and I wasn’t (still am not) sure what to do with the extra, unplanned gap. In trying to work that out , hand-in-hand with starting to realize the implications of approaching my relationship with God as a relationship instead of as a check-list (something I’d claimed for years to already do and am only now starting to understand), and a couple other things, I realized that my one life plan was/is not going exactly as well, I’d planned. And that’s okay. I’m not saying I’m throwing my dream in the trash or anything, but it has been freeing to realize that if that dream changes in scope or time frame, or if I find other things to do alongside or in places even instead of it, that’s okay. It might even be part of the plan. That’s the cool thing about God.  If some days He says, “Let’s do something different,” that’s going to be just as fulfilling, exciting and fun (in the long run. It might be scary, confusing or hard at the time) as Him saying, “Let’s write a book,” or, “Hey, I want to hang out today. What do you have in mind?”  Because relationship. Awesome.

On a similar note, I feel like a lot of creative things are stirring right now in a lot of different directions. On a personal level, I’ve been writing more, will be helping a friend co-start a writing group, and have been asked to come alongside several other friends in new, collaborative ways. It’s been cool to watch because while I feel like I am not the main driver of these things, as is usually the case when I write, I feel like I am being given more opportunities to be a part of things. I feel as though a lot of artists are moving at once right now and I’m getting a chance to witness, support, work with, and help them as they build. It’s a very different dynamic for me, and one that I’m excited to pursue. It’s also exciting because while I’m not a master of any of these other disciplines like they are, coming alongside might mean pushing myself out of my comfort zone, as a writer, performer, or more. I’ve got at least eight things cooking right now. We’ll see where any of them go.

Finally, since I’m sure you’re all dying to know, for cross-stitching, I have now finished Cog’s horns, Rick’s arm and hand, and about half of the outside of Cog’s ear. It’s not as far as I might have hoped at this point, but progress none the less.

Thanks for reading! I’ll keep you posted on where things go!

P.S. If anyone knows of good movies/plays/books/musicals/etc. about the Southern United States around the depression era, I’d love to know about them in the comments. Thanks!

Plotting questions? Just ask.

Salutations darlings!

Ongoing updates:

  1. Cross-stitching goes well. I’ve finished Rick’s arm now and started Cog’s ear. This project has also inspired my first foray into flash fiction, which just might get its own post later, so, neat!
  2. Anxiety has dropped to pretty much nothing. Sometimes I feel like I’m just barely clinging to my claims of being excited about what’s up next from my Back in the saddle post, and sometimes I worry it’ll come back, but generally I’ve been on an uphill (in a good way) slope.

The rest:

Starting work on my next book, something wasn’t clicking. I’d already written two versions, one 40 pages long, one 24, neither of which is much good, both of them rambling, inconsistent and aimless. Finally taking the time to figure out just what it was, I realized (or let myself admit) the problem lay/lies in these three snags.

  1. I don’t know where I want this to end.
  2. I have several plot points that I’ve come up with that I want to hit and no clear way to connect them.
  3. I’m not exactly sure just what it is I want to say.

The following is two options I tried to fix it, and the third one that did.

Option 1: Plot it out, step by step.

Most of my writing is done with minimal plotting. I come up with a beginning and end, not necessarily in that order, think up a few key markers, not necessarily before I’ve started, and fill in the gaps as I go. Unfortunately, not knowing my ending, this method had little success. Nor did my back up methods (usually used for hashing out the gap fillers) of writing it out point by point or sitting and/or pacing to think and/or talk it out. Again, with no goal in mind, going step by step just didn’t work. Even when I came up with cool ideas for plot points, with no aim for what comes after, none seemed any more effective, useful or meaningful than any other path I could choose. Aside from time saved in writing, it was no better than my current ambling. On the plus side, I will say I developed a highly Sherlock-ian habit (in addition to the pacing, though I had that before) of holding my fingers in front of my face while I think, which is obviously flat out rad (photo credit).

Sherlock
This is what I look like when I write.

Option 2: Writer’s dice.

You can find out more about writer’s dice here, but essentially you get a die, and each side represents a word: “but”, “or”, “and”, “as”, “if” or “so.” You roll the die, and then use the word to supply a transition between your plot points. The goal is to protect your plot from being all about THEN, THEN, THEN, useful indeed. It’s also a good way to check that your plot has variety if you go back and look for those words after the fact. I tried using mine a little as a self-check during option one attempts, but unfortunately for me, using it in that manner is not enough to propel a plot, and though a great idea for a short story or improv, with this plot, the length and the characters involved, I really wasn’t willing to leave it all or mostly to chance.

Option 3: Ask characters questions. Freeflow solutions.

When options one and two didn’t work, I started taking a closer look at what I had. I started questioning why I had made certain decisions and looking at just exactly what any of them actually did. I saw much of what I’d written was just writing for writing’s sake, and subsequently decided it was time to start paring things down, looking at what I had in both versions to see what could be saved. I looked up some resources on plotting (including this incredibly helpful article on whether or not to outline in advance), and then began working on a sort of flowchart hybrid of outlining and free writing, writing my “opening challenge” scenario in the top left corner of a page in my sketchbook and branching off possibilities (including the ones I’d already written) to see which ones could survive. The free flow nature of it freed me up to explore more options than the point by point approach, the visual mind-web aspect helped me see more clearly which ideas connected well or fizzled out, and the process of writing it down before hand helped me save time over constant re-writings.

That is, until I got stuck. I knew the step after the next one for each branch, but couldn’t quite find the connector, much like the problems I’d previously faced with the failures of option one. Frustrating. Until I realized that, given the format, it might be just as reasonable to start a new set of branches, growing the opposite way. I could start at the end and work my way back! If I had an ending…which I didn’t. Foiled again, I started asking myself why. Why didn’t I have an ending? Why, no matter how hard I tried, couldn’t I figure one out?

That’s when I realized I hadn’t asked. When so much of my work is based on questions, answers, hypotheticals, morals or lessons, it can be surprisingly easy to forget that I’m really working with (at least close enough to) people. I’d spent so much time figuring out what these characters and their relationships represent or are meant to show that I hadn’t asked any of them what they wanted to do. Sure, as the writer I’m given a certain amount of authority to take them places or set them up, but as I’ve said before, my main purpose is to be their window. Once you have a character they start to take on a life of their own. That means the things that motivate them as much as what you throw at them drives the story. It was time for me to ask.

Since then I’ve already narrowed down what I can do, focused what I want to say and gotten a better idea of the shape the world I will have when the rest of the story is through. And, perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve been surprised. No matter what you think you know about your characters, there’s always more to know, much unexpected.

Now, I haven’t figured it all out yet. I still don’t have answers from some characters, am still working out an ending and still need to find some more markers, but with my characters’ help and this super helpful new flow chart way of plotting, well, I think there’s hope for us yet.

Takeaways:

Spend time with your characters.

Being a writer is so, so cool.