I Can Only Care About Me

Kind of a pretentious title, don’t you think? And yet, that’s precisely what one learns in certain circles.

I can only control me; I can only choose my actions, and that’s how I will cope: by choosing me, by focusing on me. I’m “sorry” if you feel differently, but your opinion—you—no longer matter in my world.

No wonder people have become more and more self-centered.

I remember a great man once said, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Whatever happened to the people who checked up on you when you were going through a hard time? Where are the friendly neighbors who cared? When did we decide that helping someone else was a sacrifice we’re no longer willing to make?

We’re so busy looking out for number one that we don’t see the pain we’ve inflicted, the hurts we could heal if we honestly cared.

My sadness is that the person who’s going to come out the other side of this modern view in therapy is a stranger, no longer the one I once knew and loved. It was never about saving someone else; it was always about love.

My Heart Won’t Get the Message

It’s been 3 lifetimes, and yet only just over a month since I died. I’m a walking corpse, a shell of the person I once was.

I wish I really were dead. Then I wouldn’t have this hole inside, a gaping wound that’s swallowed everything. There are no words to describe how deeply I hurt, this soul-crushing pain I face every waking moment.

I hoped that after getting to today, I could start to breathe again. That the permanence of it all would sink in, and I could put you behind me and move on.

But my heart won’t get the message that you’re never coming back.

There are mementos everywhere, memories of the love and laughter we shared, the tears we carried each other through. Even last night, I couldn’t help wishing I could have shared that experience with you, instead of being across town and a million light years from each other.

But it will never be. I know that. There’s not a single question about it.

If only my heart could understand.

Where Characters Come From

This morning, after yet another dental appt, we went to a breakfast café in the upper crust section of town, little imagining the effect it would have on a young woman’s story.

I don’t normally eavesdrop, but the lady at the table next to us caught my ear when she started ordering.

She didn’t like anything on the menu and just wanted a tomato, lettuce, and cheese sandwich. (What? Why not a BLT? Is this a new trend? The CLT! er, I can see why that might be a bad idea…)

When given bread choices, she asked if the rye had seeds and after being told yes, quietly ruminated before settling on the ciabatta. Then she asked if they had sprouts.

“Hoity-toity” came to mind, and I almost wanted to go sit at her table and observe everything about her. She just stuck out, and I knew she’d make a great character.

But I don’t write stories with hoity-toity women in them.

When we got home, I told my husband about my experience, and he mentioned the rom-com idea I’ve been working on. (Charity Girl)

Yes! PERFECT!

A mother who’s an over-bearing health nut would easily drive my heroine into the predicament in which she now finds herself. Sweet!

So, my new character has found a home, and my charming, overweight heroine has a monumental complication.

Flickr Free Use Photos Pool

An Anniversary I Don’t Want to Celebrate

I am my own history buff sometimes, and that means I tend to mark anniversaries and remember what I did on a certain date years before.

For instance, at the end of January ten years ago, I quit the third job I’d worked for over a year (meaning I worked a full and two part time jobs all through 2003—not my third job ever😉 ).
It was turn down service at the Grand Floridian, if you’re curious (the expensive rooms on the top two floors of the main building).

credit: sanctumsolitude on Flickr cc (cropped)

credit: sanctumsolitude on Flickr cc (cropped)

Two years ago, I finished editing chapter 26. Little did I know it would be the last full chapter of forward motion.

I’d like to think I’ve come a long way since then, but it’s still disheartening to realize how much further I have yet to go to get back there.

One day…one day.

Giving Myself Permission to Play Again

An editor friend of mine recently began a series of posts outlining “a clear editing method that will help prepare your manuscript for submission…” This piqued my interest, making me think I’ve been missing some grand checklist that would’ve made my editing process a breeze. Today, she finally posted that checklist, and I eagerly downloaded it.

By the third line, my eyes had glazed over. The list is a wonderfully concise plan for wading through all the editing how-tos, but my resentment toward the information finally hit the breaking point. When I read the bare-bones rules of writing, I get the same sense of elation most kids have while writing a term paper.

Photo by Jassim madan

Photo by Jassim madan

I don’t know if I’ve applied all this to my work, or accomplished these things correctly. I don’t want to sit there and analyze what I’ve done, or second-guess myself even more. I’d spend far more time trying to answer the question of whether or not my characters are sympathetic than editing my words.

And that’s when it FINALLY dawned on me.

My writing has always been my creative and emotional outlet. My stories were fun; I didn’t have to worry about rules or reality. (What do you mean there’s no way in the universe a super popular boy band would hang out with random middle school chicks?) Like the Reading Rainbow theme song said: I could be anything. The rest of my life was work; writing was my play.

Photo by Jassim madan

Photo by Jassim madan

Children learn through play, and they learn best when they don’t know they’re learning.

I had always cringed under the structure of HOW TO WRITE. “Outline” was a four letter word, and the thought of putting scenes on note cards brought back nightmares of school projects.

This slowly changed for me thanks to a panel by Christie Golden at Star Wars Celebration V—coincidentally titled “Things I Hate (But Learned to Do Anyways, and So Can You)”. When she detailed how she outlines her stories, I realized it was something I already held in my head about my own novel. It didn’t have to resemble the outlines I’d done in school. (A, B, C, i, ii, iii…)

But just because I’d started to learn about and accept THE RULES of writing didn’t mean I was ready to analyze my own work in such a cut-and-dried manner.

Part of my personality loves dealing with absolutes, with the concrete instead of the abstract. But if the concrete concept looks brittle, I shy away.

For example, in my early school days they made a big deal out of putting together competitive “problem-solving teams.” The students would pick a large-scale problem (ie world overpopulation, which was such a big worry back then) and go through specific steps until they arrived at solutions that could be implemented. Ugh. I’ll pass, thanks.

Yet, those same problem-solving steps are exactly what happens when doing puzzles. I love puzzles. Sudoku, Bejeweled, Solitaire, Mah Jong, Dr. Mario, Tetris…yes, please. No one ever pointed out the similarity, so I shied away from “problem-solving” when it was something I already did.

So it is with the rules of writing. Not every how-to book appeals to me. I’m still scratching my head over Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, trying to figure out if I’ve implemented all those things as well as in the examples shown (high literary works, almost none of which I’ve ever read or want to). I have a much easier time with Jeff Gerke’s writing books, which use movie examples and popular genre works.

Something else about Jeff’s teaching style: he makes writing sound FUN.

Photo by Daniel Chodusov

Photo by Daniel Chodusov

And that’s what’s been missing since I started revising my work and trying to implement THE RULES.

No wonder I’ve been so frustrated and burned out and questioning why God won’t let me trash my book and do something else.

Yet, I’ve managed to throw off the restraints enough and revel in STORY enough to get 13½ great chapters. So, somehow, I’ve got to do that more often. I have a lot of story left to edit.

For instance, take the scene I’m editing now. It’s emotional and there needs to be a break. But all of my minor characters are otherwise occupied, and cutting away to them would make what they’re doing more important than it is. Why write a throw away scene?

So I’m crafting a reason to cut to the villain.

What she’s doing isn’t that important in the overall grand scheme and might, in fact, undermine the surprise of what happens when she and my protag next cross paths. But, in figuring out a reason, I discovered I could highlight a tiny detail that might show her motivation. (ugh. a rule.)

The cut-and-dried method says, “Show her motivation, show the details of the scene and keep the tension high while making sure to engage the reader.”

omg. I’d rather do the dishes!

The fun, appealing method says, “What if the villain were to see a small child at play while torturing a monster and milking him for venom like an über scary snake? Bonus if you can describe a lab with 70’s era decor and not use the words ‘shag carpet.'”

The print finishing room of the Atlas Laboratory at CERN, in the 1970s.

Credit: ESO

Yeah. Can’t wait to see how it turns out.😉

He Loves Broken People

Last night I finally finished Chapter 15 after having worked on it since November. At the end, the mentor character points out how the protagonist’s actions contributed to the devastation of an entire country. It’s a heavy scene that embodies the theme of the entire work, and I LOVE how it turned out.

Chapter 16 is supposed to be a continuation, where the protag and mentor talk through the fallout of the action of the previous chapters. It’s an important conversation, but I’m having the worst time trying to work through it. Three years ago, when I jumped (face-first) into this rewrite, this is the chapter that derailed me so badly, I’ve never really recovered.

I mean, how do you portray this type of conversation with God? One where you just found out you’re responsible for so many deaths and you almost caused more in your selfishness? But He’s not finished with you? In fact, you’re the key to His plan of redemption for others?

I also figure my problem with it has to do with my own father issues. I love my dad, but we’re too much alike, and our relationship has left me crying out for something more. We’re both emotionally distant on the outside, though we feel very, very deeply inside. As a result, I feel like I’ve never really connected with him. And it hurts to say that.

I know in my head that God is not like that, but I can’t feel it. What is it like to be secure in the knowledge that you’re completely loved and accepted by the only One who matters?

That’s what I want to portray. That’s what I want my protagonist to feel, to experience, to know. I want her to understand that despite her faults, her past, and her actions, there is NO ONE else he would choose for her purpose.

Because that’s what this life is all about.

It’s January Already?

One year ago today, I received a message that changed my view of writing and unlocked the vise-grip of doubt that had killed my creativity. I promised myself I’d blog about it.

Instead, I threw myself full-steam into yet another rewrite of my novel, this time changing it to present tense. I made big changes, joined a writing group, a site for writing, a critique group, went to meetings, went to conferences and got major feedback. I promised myself I’d blog about it.

And just like in journals I’ve kept, I’ve never caught up writing about all the changes, events, and people that have impacted my life.

In a way, that’s a good thing. It means I’m busy living life instead of just writing about it.

This January, even more changes happened, and I find myself once again in the vise-grip of doubt.

The question I have to pose to myself is one I always thought a no-brainer: Will I keep going if no one but me ever sees what I do?