Everything else, Writing

Rebellious Creativity

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When I was about ten years old, my paternal grandmother started teaching me to crochet. Really all I learned was how to chain and single stitch, and I never learned how to stop, so for a while I made blankets for my Barbie dolls but I couldn’t figure out what to do at the end and eventually I gave it up. About eight years ago, I picked it back up again. Other than that little bit of instruction I received when I was a kid, I’m entirely self-taught.

A while back, I learned about something called freeform crochet. In freeform, you basically do whatever the heck you feel like doing. This idea appealed to me on so many levels. (Hold tight. I’m going to make writing parallels. Be patient.) I started small, making tiny freeform pieces. Then I connected them. And got braver and braver with the things I was willing to try. Now I’ve got this gigantic freeform shawl I wear all the time, and people stop me everywhere I go to ask where I bought it. It delights me to know I made it and it can’t be duplicated.

Here’s the thing, though: I wouldn’t be able to do freeform if I hadn’t learned basic stitches first. I’m not a huge fan of patterns, but I am capable of following them when needed. I wouldn’t be able to do freeform if I hadn’t learned how to do increases and decreases already. Or how to connect granny squares. Or many of the other basic things crochet entails. I’ve been crocheting steadily now for about eight years. At first, my efforts were plain silly-looking. Patterns didn’t make sense. But as with any new skill, you learn. It takes time, but soon enough, it’s second nature. Now I crochet so fast I rarely have to even look down at my fingers while I work. Over the last year, most of what I’ve been crocheting has been freeform. Spirals, mandalas, shawls, random pieces that grow and grow until I figure out what it wants to be. I love the whole idea of not trying to match colors, or stitches, or adhere to a pattern fifty-million other people have made. The point, I suppose, is that in order to break the rules, first you have to learn the rules. I know how to DC2TOG (double crochet 2 together) when I’m crocheting. Since I’ve mastered that, now I can deliberately DC2TOG and then add a bullion stitch to it. Or pull a second color in to it. Or stick it in the middle of six trebles. Or whatever strikes my fancy. In freeform, it doesn’t need to match, or turn out even, or turn into anything at all. I just enjoy what I’m doing in that moment, and see where it goes. No pressure. No need to be certain edges line up. Freeform celebrates crooked art. I like that about it. It’s very… well, freeing.

(The parallel, as promised.)

There’s a lot of writing advice bandied about that goes something like this, “Good writers break the rules.” I believe that to be so. I certainly don’t want to create books that sound exactly like anyone else’s, and I get bored really quickly reading an author that has the same form for every book. By page ten, I’ve figured out the villain, the plot twist, and the ending. No fun. In fact, when I was writing Heckled, I wrote it backward to begin with. Even once I went to chapter one and started writing, I had decided I was going to write that story exactly as I saw it in my head, without consideration for who might read it or who might take issue with it or what the backlash  might be. And there are lots of people who don’t like that book. Of my novels, Heckled is the one I receive the most private messages IN ALL CAPS about what I wrote. That’s okay with me, though. I’m pleased with how that story turned out. It’s real. It’s raw. And more honest than most people probably realize. But I definitely broke some rules during the writing of it.

Breaking the rules is where imagination gets wild. Where creativity and voice really show. Breaking the rules is exciting. But here’s the thing: you can’t deliberately break the rules until you understand the rules. It’s important to study the craft of writing. It’s important to get a handle on how a story should go. (Not how it “must” go.) While I absolutely do not believe there’s only one great way to write a book, there are elements that should probably be present in some form. It’s important to read lots and lots of books of different styles and genres. Older writers. Dead writers. New writers. Read, read, read. When you stumble on something that really strikes you, pay attention to how the writer accomplished that task. Stick that knowledge away for later.

Any writer worth her salt has learned you shouldn’t use adverbs. Adverbs are devil’s spawn. Putting adverbs in a story is like putting rotted apples out for your fancy luncheon. It’s never okay. Really. Pick up any book about How to Write Things and this advice will always, always be included. So learn to write powerfully without adverbs. Stretch your skills. Use your imagination. Get a solid handle on doing it. It’s important.

Once you’ve got it down pat, break the rule. Because it’s ridiculous to never, ever, ever use an adverb in writing. It’s dumb advice, really. It’s a rule meant to be broken. But only after you know how to write without adverbs should you attempt it. You’ll learn something writing with and without them. Once you’ve learned to slash them completely from your own writing, you’ll notice how many adverbs are too many when you’re reading. You’ll get a feel for how many you can sprinkle in and still pack a punch.

There are so many rules like this that practically beg to be busted into “freeform.” But… but it’s imperative to remember that even the wildest, most rebellious writer on the planet must still adhere to some rules. You can play with grammar. You can’t entirely disregard every grammar rule ever written. Punctuation serves a vital purpose. There are ways to mess with some of it. Some of it, sorry, you really can’t. There are occasions you need to splice a comma. Other times, the words are more powerful as sentence fragments. (Yes, you can write sentence fragments in a book. YES. Absolutely you can. Fight me, bruh.)

Freeform crochet is a beautiful thing. Truly. Look it up on Instagram or Pinterest. It’s just stunning, the art people come up with working freeform.

However.

Even with freeform, there are elements that must be included. You can’t pick up a spool of thread, a block of cheese, and a squeaky dog toy and announce you’re about to make some freeform crochet because there aren’t any rules about it. Well, I guess you could announce it. But it wouldn’t mean anything, because you don’t have the correct tools.

You’re smart. You can draw your own parallels here.

And if you think crochet lessons have nothing to do with storytelling, then explain why long, rambling stories are often referred to as “yarns.”

No, seriously. Explain it.

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Everything else, Writing

Art By the Numbers

 

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The important thing, when considering your artistic path, is to figure out how many Facebook likes your page is probably going to get.

I mean, you can’t be an artist without at least five thousand Facebook page likes.

Everyone knows that.

And any artist that was creating art before the advent of social media, well –

I guess they weren’t really artists.

The amount of people who validate your art by commenting on a post is what determines the worth of the piece.

… right?

Maybe take that idea a little deeper. Exactly how many people need to like your art before it becomes “real art?” Ten? A hundred? A thousand? How much profit must be made off an art piece before it becomes “real art?”

Which leads me to another question. How many people need to lay eyes on the art in question before it’s real?

Let’s say two people make the exact same quilt. They spend the same amount of time and money to create it. When finished, the quilts are identical. One sells hers for two thousand dollars. The other keeps his on his bed and enjoys it for the next thirty years, but nobody else ever sees it.

Which one is an artist?

Now, if one is attempting to make a living off creating art, then of course, numbers become the driving force. There’s nothing wrong with that – rent needs to be paid, groceries bought, kids clothed. But the amount of revenue isn’t what decides whether or not a piece of art is real, or if the artist is truly, well, an artist.

If there is a talent, a drive, time spent over making the piece just right – man, that’s creating art. If ideas slam around in your head at night and you’re getting excited over picking up your paintbrush or crochet hook or laptop or musical instrument – that’s art. If the doing of the thing is what makes your soul light up and makes you smile without realizing it – that’s making art.

Life is so extraordinarily brief. If the desire to make art is burning inside you, MAKE IT. Enjoy it. Learn how to do it better. Immerse yourself in the joy that comes when you succumb to creativity. It doesn’t require a certain amount of Facebook likes or comments; it doesn’t require a certain amount of Twitter followers; it doesn’t require a certain amount of cash to exchange hands before your art is real.

Your art is real when you create it. The quality may change over time. Your abilities will stretch and grow. You’ll try new things. You’ll look back in ten years and groan over your first efforts.

But you will have done it. It will be yours. It isn’t art anyone else can make.

Exactly how many people need to like your art before it becomes “real art?” Ten? A hundred? A thousand?

What if only one person loves it, but they love it so much, they connect with it on such a deep level, your art changes their life?

Is it still worth it for just one person?

And what if that one person is you? If you’re the only one satisfied by the piece you’ve created, is it still real art? Is it still worth doing?

Absolutely.

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Everything else, Writing

Feast or Famine

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Writing is weird. Sometimes difficult. Often joyous.

But always weird.

My brain seems to function on a feast or famine basis when it comes to writing. Right now, I’m writing and writing and even when I’m not writing… I’m still writing. The story is moving along in my mind, I’m hearing the characters, I know exactly where it’s going and where it’s been and where it will be in another five years.

When I’m in this mode, it feels more like I’m a vessel for the characters in my head and I’m more or less transcribing their story. I’m less the puppet master and more the marionette. I love it. Regardless what time of day I’m able to sit down and write, it’s there, right at my fingertips, ready to roll. But it isn’t always this way. Some days, my brain is dry as a desert. Some days, I spend three hours moving a comma. Some days, I can’t stand to even look at my laptop.

And that’s okay.

Social media can be cool, in the sense that it feels as though it brings us closer to those we admire. I mean, twenty years ago I would never have known what Stephen King thought about the president or that he has a dog he calls the Thing of Evil. I would never have known when Diana Gabaldon had a new grandbaby. But as I pull back more and more on social media, as I unfollow and unfriend more and more writers, I find I’m enjoying the act of writing more and more.

I wondered why that was.

Presumably, following and friending other writers should make me feel surrounded by a community of like-minded artists. Supported. Encouraged.

I haven’t found that to be the case.

As much as I love art, as much as I love words and books and writing, as much as I love seeing the creativity of my friends’ minds coming to life, the more I watch their journeys taking shape –

the more I realize other writers stress me out.

Not all of them, of course. I’ve made some wonderful friends over the last few years. But the ones who post obsessively about writing – I find that stressful.

The ones who constantly post how stressed out writing makes them – I find that stressful.

The ones who constantly want something from me – stressful.

The ones who talk about missing out on milestones in their children’s lives, or their wedding anniversary, or their eighty-year-old mother’s birthday party because they were writing or trying to make a deadline or just couldn’t stop editing –

Man, just the thought of these things stresses me out.

Don’t get me wrong. I love writing. I mean, I love writing. When I’m in that zone, when I’m planning twists, when I’m cracking up at a funny scene I’ve written, it’s the best feeling. It makes me feel whole. It’s my passion, one of my greatest joys.

I don’t want it to become one of my stressors. I’ve done the whole writing full-time gig before. I didn’t enjoy it. I felt like I was supposed to. I began to dread writing. I felt anxious that my bills being paid depended on my ability to write enough words in a day.

I see this in other writers as well. When they talk about writing being so stressful they cry over it. When they are so panicked over a deadline or a cover reveal or getting enough reviews they can’t sleep. They are missing out on life because of the stress writing brings to their life. They’ve lost the joy, the passion, the pure wonder of creating a world and people and events in their brain. I don’t want that. I get asked if I hope to make the NYT bestseller list –

the answer is no.

I get asked if I hope to  be able to live on what I make from writing books –

the answer is no.

I get asked if writing is the most important thing in my life –

the answer is no.

Last week, I attended a funeral visitation for a three-year-old child and her twenty-seven-year-old father.

A three-year-old child.

Listen:

I love to write. I’m sad when I can’t. It hurts – physically hurts me when I can’t.

But there is so much more to life than writing.

This year marks twenty-five years since I married my husband. My marriage is more important than writing.

My youngest baby is about to celebrate his sixteenth birthday. A blink of time ago, he was a chubby-cheeked, toothless baby. My oldest child is nearing the end of her Bachelor’s degree program. My middle two children are finding their balance in life as young adults.

I love to read. I love to write. I love to hold the books I’ve created in my hands.

But I don’t love any of that more than I love my kids.

When other writers say things like, “Nothing is more important to me than writing” –

that stresses me out.

Lately I’ve unfollowed or unfriended the bulk of writers I used to interact with. Not the ones I have developed actual friendships with.

And I mean… not Stephen King. Because, obviously.

There is a lot of pressure on writers and artists in general, I think – a notion that says if you don’t want to be the best, be at the top of the list, have bajillions of reviews and followers, then you just don’t want to succeed hard enough.

Maybe. Maybe not.

I guess that depends on what your personal idea of success happens to be.

I accepted a long, long time ago that my brain works differently than other people’s brains do. What I cannot accept is the idea that if I’m not out to make a million, it’s worthless. If I’m not ignoring my family and making writing my number one priority, it’s worthless. If I’m not stressing myself to the breaking point or making my livelihood reliant on it, it’s worthless.

I’m content with my writing at this point. I have a little band of readers who love what I’m doing, who are invested in my characters and have all my books on their shelves. I love not freelancing anymore. I enjoy not being so constantly stressed over deadlines. I am happier writing this way. I’m not making a million dollars. That’s fine – I never intended to.

My vision of success is to continue to write my weird books to the best of my ability for the foreseeable future. I will do what marketing and promo I’m able to do, and let it rest. I trust that the people who need my books will find them.

What I won’t do is be a martyr for my art. I won’t give up everything else in my life for the sake of writing.

I love to read. I love to write. I love making books.

I also love my family. I love to walk barefoot in the grass, and look up at the stars. I love  to sit still and ferret out the meaning behind song lyrics. I love to listen to the rain. I love to hear my children laugh. I love to crochet. I love to try new things. I love to hear my husband tell me about his hopes and dreams. I love to look back at how far we’ve come and think about how far we’re going to go. I love to daydream.

I love to write, and while some days, it feels like my ideas and ability to write is feast or famine –

I don’t believe my dedication to the craft always needs to be one or the other.

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Everything else, Writing

Blocked.

 

 

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Writers block isn’t real.

It’s just an excuse to be lazy.

Real writers write. Every day.

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard some version of these statements. I’m not sure what the people offering this non-advice hope to achieve, but personally, I think such words are extraordinarily detrimental.

For one thing, nobody gets to tell an artist how to do their art. Some people naturally create more in certain seasons. Some artists work a day job (or two, or three) and only get to be creative on weekends. Or every third Thursday. Some artists are single parents, and the idea of creating on a daily basis is so laughable as to be fiction.

Beyond these things, though, is the harmful notion that a struggling person just isn’t trying hard enough. There are all sorts of reasons a creator might be blocked. Maybe they’ve been ill. Maybe there’s been a death in their family. A divorce. Maybe the season of life they are in has them caring for elderly parents around the clock. Depression. Anxiety. Insomnia. Maybe there’s no reason other than that they need a break, and their brain is trying to get that message through to them.

Real writers write. That’s true. You’ve got to write something. You don’t need to write every day, unless that’s the way you work. Pressing unrealistic expectations on someone already barely keeping their head above water isn’t helpful. Despite the overwhelming amount of advice suggesting writers are machines, meant to work every day, all day, without regard to physical or mental health or other difficult outside factors –

You know what? We’re not.

We’re just people. And sometimes being a person is hard. Sometimes the difficulties in life kill our creativity. That doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. That doesn’t mean we’re no longer writers. It means we’re human beings who need a break. And that’s okay.

Take it. Rest. Go outside. Deal with the things you need to deal with. Read. Learn something new. Spend time with your family. Your friends. Laugh. Cry. Heal.

And come back to it. Your story isn’t going to run away because you left it alone for a little while.

If you aren’t a writer but you know one, and they’ve shared with you that they are blocked, telling them they are making up excuses or being lazy isn’t helpful. Instead, encourage them. Remind them they deserve rest like anyone else.

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Everything else, Writing

Anti – Alpha

Let’s talk about alpha males in fiction for a minute. The men who resemble gods – they’re all about six-foot-five – with perfect teeth, perfect hair, rippling muscles. They always get the girl, even though a lot of the time, they act like absolute jerks.

Yeah.

I really don’t like the whole alpha male thing.

Which is why I enjoy writing my character Rogan so much. Since I wrote the first Windy Springs book, he’s been my all-time favorite character. I see and hear him so clearly in my head, I feel like I could just reach in and pluck him out. He’s fiercely protective of his family and friends. He’s been hurt, but doesn’t wallow in it. He loves to read and is well-spoken. He’s emotional and open about that. When he’s upset or overwhelmed, he cries. Because he’s a human being with feelings. He’s kindhearted and gentle.

He’s also five-foot-two. Bald. And has crooked teeth, because his parents couldn’t afford to get him braces when he was young. As a child, he was bullied.

He’s grown up to be a good, good man. He’s short and strong. Not short but strong.

Short and strong.

He’s comfortable with who he is. He’s a sensitive guy, but unafraid to fight if it’s warranted. Hardworking, but doesn’t have some glamorous job. Lives frugally in a single-wide trailer, but is not some “trailer trash” stereotype.

Rogan is freakin’ awesome. And hell yeah, he gets the girl.

I’m so excited to share with you that the second book in the Secrets of Windy Springs series is now available for preorder. When Knowing Comes will release March 10th. Book three is already in the works.

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Everything else, Writing

Making Strange Art

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One of the coolest things about indie art is the variety. The art I tend to love best is the kind that doesn’t fit into any neat category. It’s the work that colors outside the lines, the brave ideas that forge a new path that catches my eye.

Maybe those artists don’t have a huge following, but that doesn’t mean their style of art isn’t worth making. Creating art for public viewing is scary enough as it is, even when you make it “to market”, when it’s the trendiest and likely the most accepted sort. Creating art for public consumption that is weird and likely to be scoffed at…

Man, that’s pretty terrifying.

When you pour your heart and soul into a piece of work, shine it up the best you can, and let it fly – it’s like sharing a piece of what makes you tick inside. It’s sharing a bit of the part that makes you, well, you. 

And regardless what sort of art you make, there will always be people to tear it down. Always.

But there will also be the people who have just been waiting for the sort of art you create, and when they find it, it will speak to their soul in a way that connects you to them. They’ll recognize it as something they’ve always needed. They’ll love it. They’ll share it. They’ll tell people about it.

I read a comment about my work where a person who has never met me stated, “She just hasn’t found her voice yet, that’s all.”

Oh, honey. I’ve found my voice.

My voice is multi genre. My voice is weird. My voice may be different, but it’s mine, and I intend to continue writing my strange books to the best of my ability for the foreseeable future.

People will like them. Or they won’t. That’s not my problem.

My burden lies in writing my books as well as I can, and putting them out for other fringe souls to find.

Make your weird art, and know the people who need it will find it. Don’t conform for the sake of an audience. There is a crowd out there waiting for the art only you can create.

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Bits and Whatnots, Writing

A Daring, Hopeful Diagnosis

 

typewriterI’ve always thought everyone else was simply better at being a person than I was.
In every aspect of my life, including writing, I have struggled to maintain my focus. Not in the way most people do – where they get distracted by a noise or a conversation for a second and then bounce back to what they were doing. I zone out, come back, and realize I’ve been signed up for a committee I didn’t want to be on or some other unwanted responsibility. I can’t remember most things I need to do through the day if I don’t write them down and pin them someplace where I know I’ll see them – so my house and desk at work are full of post it notes and scraps of paper with notes to myself scribbled on them.
I want to remember. I just can’t.
I get very frustrated with myself when I can’t make myself remember, or when I can’t sit still and feel actual pain if I don’t move some part of my body. I feel frustrated when I’m in public and snapping my fingers or tapping my fingers together or bouncing my knees to the point I annoy the people around me. I try to stop. But then it feels like bees are swarming around inside me instead and I’m going to lose my mind if I don’t start moving again. I wonder how other people manage to control that feeling. I marvel at writers who consistently sit and write for hours every day.
Most of my dedicated writing or creativity time looks like this: write for five minutes, get up, walk around, read a paragraph of a book, crochet for five minutes, walk around, remind myself to write, try to relax so I can, start bouncing my knees because I need to move, remember I was supposed to call someone today, try to find the piece of paper I wrote the number on, chastise myself for not washing the dishes, start clean water to do it, sit back down to write, forget I turned the water on, remember ten minutes later when the sink is overflowing, clean that up, berate myself for being stupid, sit back down to write, remember I still had to call someone, try to find the paper I wrote the number on again…
My brain has always been this way. I’ve put it down to being an extremely creative person. High school was a struggle. College was a struggle. Anything that has more than three lines of instructions on it is a struggle for me. I didn’t know everyone’s brain doesn’t work like this.
I’ve only ever had the one brain, so I couldn’t compare.
Turns out, not everyone thinks this way. They aren’t just better at controlling it than I am. They aren’t just better people. They aren’t just smarter than I am.
I’m not lazy or stupid or less of a person.
I just have ADHD.
I’m 42, and when I was in school, ADHD was just getting to be more widely known. At that time, it seemed to mostly be a label stuck to little boys who couldn’t hold still or listen to directions in school. I was well-behaved and did my work and sat still – with great effort.
But as I’ve gotten older, it seems to be getting worse. And since my brother’s death, it has worsened exponentially. I’m used to being scatterbrained, but this is a whole new level. It feels like I’m trying to think with a brain made of Swiss cheese. I know grief can do a number on our brains, but I was beginning to feel like I couldn’t trust myself to function on a daily basis. The anxiety is worse, as well, and I’m in treatment and trying to learn ways to cope with that. It’s hard.
Now that I know what the problem is, I can get help for it. I’m thankful for science and medication, and having a prescription to try and coping mechanisms to learn makes me feel like there might be a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I know there are other writers and creatives who have ADHD and have managed to produce beautiful art. It gives me hope.
I’ve finished When Knowing Comes and it has gone out to the editor. I’ll soon have a pretty website (courtesy of my talented and intelligent daughter) with a newsletter – something I’ve tried and failed to do multiple times in the last few years. I have an assistant now who is helping me streamline and keep up with the social media end of writing. I feel much less overwhelmed. And I’ve been on medication for just over a week. I can actually feel my brain becoming less scrambled. It’s weird.
I will likely always be scattered and impulsive and struggle with focus to some extent. But for the first time in a long, long while, I’m excited to see what the future holds.

I’ve got a long ways to go, but I’m confident I’m going to get there.

 

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