Emotional Somersaults

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On the day before Valentine’s Day, take a moment to reflect on your relationship with your writing. If you’ve written for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that there are good days and bad days. There are days when you love your novel, your short story, your screenplay, your work, both in general and specific to the project at hand. Everything falls into place, almost effortlessly, and you ride a tide of euphoria and bliss. Those are the days when you can’t imagine being anything other than a writer.

Then there are days, often many long, hard, dark days, where you hate your work. You hate the process. You feel the plot is generic, the characters lifeless, the words boring, and the entire enterprise both fruitless and trite. Every writer dreads such days, and all too often those days overshadow all of the good. At those times, you feel like a failure, like you are wasting your time, your life, chipping away at some impossible dream. Those are the days when you feel it would be better to be anything except a writer.

I’m here to tell you that those feelings are normal. It’s normal to go through these emotional somersaults. It’s normal to have periods of fierce pride and joy countered by times of terror and self-doubt. Sometimes all it takes is a day or two away from the desk to walk, dance, read, and get reacquainted with the spark that set us on this artistic journey in the first place. But no matter how you feel, you must come back. You must return to the desk, to the paper and pen, to the screen and keyboard. No relationship is without its difficulties and low points, especially not one as fraught with intimacy as the one between a writer and their work. Remember that no night, no shadow, and no storm lasts forever.

Do not give into despair.

Return.
Continue.
Persevere.

Love the work.
Love thyself.

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Inspiration vs. Appropriation: Where is the Line?

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There’s a term that’s been popping up a lot lately in regards to story-telling which has caused a great deal of friction online: “cultural appropriation.”  The strict dictionary definition states that: “cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements from one culture by members of another culture.”  When you put it like that, it doesn’t sound so bad.  I mean, cultures all over the world have adopted from one another via trade or conquest since the dawn of human history.

But now this term is being seen and used in a completely negative fashion.  Worse, it seems to have no limits or boundaries.  It seems that one can come under fire for celebrating Cinco de Mayo if you’re not Hispanic, wearing Native American costumes (especially the admittedly tasteless and stereotypical Halloween versions) if you are not a Native American, or for wearing cornrows if you are not of African descent.

Those are fairly benign modern examples, although there are more disturbing ones.  Like the wearing of blackface, which was used to reinforce negative stereotypes about blacks to maintain segregation in post-Emancipation America, or Hollywood continuing to cast Caucasians into roles that really should be given to someone else.  (See the controversies over having Matt Damon save the Great Wall of China or casting Scarlett Johansson as the Japanese cyborg Motoko Kusanagi in the upcoming live-action version of Ghost in the Shell.)  So, obviously there is negative cultural appropriation that has happened in the past and continues to happen now.  But where do you draw the line between legitimate concerns and people making a mountain out of a mole hill?
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The Wellspring

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Some time ago, I read an article in The Guardian that Neil Gaiman wrote about his friend, Terry Pratchett.  In the article, Mr. Gaiman said that fury was what fueled Terry Pratchett’s writing.  I was reminded of this when I came across a more recent article posted by the Los Angeles Times, which held an interesting addition:

“Terry [Pratchett] was many things, but he was not a jolly old elf. I think each of us tends to take something and use that as the place where you begin making your art. If you’re going to make good art, it’s likely that you’re going to go to the place where things are dark, and use that to shine light into your life and, if you’re doing it right, into other people’s lives as well. For Terry, it was always anger. There was a deep rage in him that allowed him to create. For me, it tends to be sorrow or loneliness or confusion.

The pat answer that I’ve often seen given by writers, either in person or via books of advice, is that their art comes from joy or curiosity or wonder or passion.  The emotions referenced are often positive or at least neutral.  This seems to be the more socially acceptable answer.  It’s a little more unusual, even slightly morbid, to hear someone say that their art, regardless of the tone of the end product, stems from a darker source.  Usually we think that your emotional state should match the emotions evoked by your creation.  I mean, really, would you have guessed that the hilarious absurdity of Discworld stemmed from a man’s rage?  It certainly surprised me.

That surprise made me stop and reflect on what emotional core drives my own creativity.  While all emotions are necessary to craft a convincing piece of fiction, I was curious to know what the wellspring consisted of.  Did my writing come from joy, sorrow, anger, loneliness, despair, amusement, fear, cynicism, or some other emotional core?  Was this consistent or did it vary from project to project?

I’ve turned the question over in my mind, and as I trace down the central emotional motivation for characters in my various works-in-progress, I think that the answer might be fear.  The main characters in Ravens and Roses, All’s Fair, Astral Rain, Rinamathair, Jewel and the Skyrunners, Moon’s Fire/Moon’s Water… almost all of them are all driven by fear of something.   For many of them this fear is about losing something or someone, and almost all of them are in denial about it.  Some of them manifest this by being shy and adverse to risk while others become bold and abrasive in an attempt to hide what they see as a weakness.  A good portion of their narrative journey is spent recognizing that fear, admitting it to themselves or to others, and then working to overcome it.  Some succeed; others don’t, at least not completely.

I don’t generally share the same specific fears as my characters, but the sensation is the same.  Even though I prefer to write while feeling happy or content rather than angry or depressed, the underlying motivation is fear.  It’s a little weird, since I’ve never run into anything truly dangerous in my life so far.  But the sensation, be it a small, niggling sense of unease or full-blown panic, is always there.  And as I think about what Neil Gaiman said in these two articles, I think that might be my fuel, the part that gives the stories and characters I create that little extra push into realism.  The soul-spark that makes them come alive.  Because fear, like anger or loneliness, is a universal human emotion.

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Original artwork is by Amuria on DeviantART

 

Reflections of Contentment

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Lately, I’ve done a lot of complaining about not having enough time, or feeling like my time is not my own.  That I am subsumed by other responsibilities and then do not utilize what free time I do have to its fullest capacity.  It’s an old song, one that I think every writer or artist sings throughout their lives.  It is rare to find an artist who is happy with the amount of time they spend on their art.  It always seems to be too much, which leads to burnout, or too little, which leads to intense frustration and despair.

But I’m not going to talk about that today.  You already know about that particular current, so let’s appreciate the scenery for a while.  Let’s look up and see where the river is flowing.  Because despite all of the moaning and groaning about set-backs, I’m surprised to find that, right now, I’m actually pretty happy with myself.

There’s a text I got from my onii-san after I told him that I hadn’t won the Dark Crystal Author Quest contest back in 2013.  I hadn’t honestly expected to win, but I didn’t even make it into the top five.  It was discouraging to receive no tangible reward after putting in so much intense work for so long.  But David reminded me of something important:
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Creative Origins – ”Astral Rain”

Happy Vernal Equinox (Ostara) to you all!  With the increase in temperature and amount of sunshine, my creative instincts are stirring slightly.  I haven’t quite been able to get back into writing on a regular basis, but at least the interest is slowly returning!

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost April.  Last year around this time I was preparing the script of my graphic novel Astral Rain as my entry for Script Frenzy.  Because of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about Astral Rain recently and thought it might be interesting to share the origins of the story.

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Creative Spaces

Where do you like to write?  What kind of place is the best to get work done, to focus your thoughts on writing?  What kind of environment do you need to write?  And do you have that space already or are there improvements you’d like to make to the one you’ve got?

All writers have special places they like to go and write.  Some like coffee shops and cafes with the background noise of other people while some prefer to hide at a desk in their attic or basement.  Me, I’ve always been a fan of sitting alone at a computer in a homey office.

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Outlines and Inspirations

HAPPY PECULIAR PEOPLE DAY!  Yes, today, January 10th, is the annual celebration of the peculiar people in your life!  (If you’re like me, then this is the perfect excuse to dress in as many insane, non-matching articles of clothing as possible.)  Hope all of you have a wonderfully peculiar day!

Okay, back to the serious writing stuff.  Like outlines and such.  ^_^

There seem to be two major “schools” of the writing process:  those who outline and those who don’t.  I’ve heard the arguments for and against both sides of this amiable conflict.  Outliners like the sense of direction and control that outlining gives them, establishing a sense of order and importance to the story and combating the dreaded writers block.  Free-writers like the sense of mystery, evolution, and surprise that comes from just sitting down to write with nothing more than a general idea.  They like the spontaneity, the twists and turns in both plot and character that take them places they didn’t expect.  Outliners accuse free-writers of being too flighty, spending time on areas that may be fun but aren’t conducive to the plot which wastes time or sitting staring at a blank screen because they’ve written themselves into a corner.  Free-writers claim that outliners are too stuffy and rigid, suffocating their stories with the weight of outlines and predetermined outcomes that lack true originality.

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10 Ways to Get Inspired

Every writer needs inspiration and we all have different ways of bribing our muses to stick around and help us finish our projects.  So, here are ten different tricks that you might find helpful, or just plain fun, in your quest to complete a book!

1)  Listen to music, especially themed playlists.  Whenever I hear a song that makes me think of a scene or character, I take note of the song and what it made me think of, then add it to my playlist.  For Astral Rain, I actually have a “theme” for each of the main characters.  Listening to that music when I’m trying to write a scene or just to have in the background when I’m writing for a story helps me drift into the writing mindset.

2)  Look at artwork (photographs, paintings, sculptures, etc.) that reminds you of a character, a setting, a mood, and event that helps propel your writing.  A photograph of a landscape that looks like your world, a painting of a person who looks like your character, a piece of abstract art that just gets you in the writing mood.  DeviantART is my favorite place to go for this, but the art can really come from anywhere.  Also, if drawing your characters or a scene works, go for it!

3)  Watch a movie that gets you in the mood to write.  This happens more for Foxglove than me, but I know that when I watch anime, I get in to mood to write anime-style stories or characters (although this can lead me into writing fanfiction rather than focusing on my own work.  ^_^;;)

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One Writer’s Evolution

A thought struck me as I was rereading passages from some of my older, unfinished works:  “Wow.  I’ve certainly changed in the last decade.”

Rereading old works can be both cringe-worthy and heart-warming.  Cringe-worthy because, hopefully, if you’ve been working to improve yourself, you’ll be thinking, “Good grief, I had NO grasp of pacing,” or “My magic system in this story made NO logical sense,” or “AHHH!  SO MUCH FORCED CHARACTER DESCRIPTION!”  (I’ve always been über-descriptive in my writing, so that’s always been a problem of mine.)  But the cringing will hopefully be followed by the realization that, “Hey, I’ve come a long way since then.  All those problems seem so obvious to me now and I know how to avoid them.”

I don’t know about you, but I also always get a warm, slightly nostalgic feeling when I reread my old stories.  I’m like a parent amused and indulgent with her children’s finger painting and story-telling antics.  They might not make sense in the adult world I now inhabit, but there’s a great deal of old-fashioned charm in the nonsensical-ness.  Horses used doors and buckets, magic was thrown in willy-nilly to make up for a lack of opposable thumbs and tornadoes were a perfectly acceptable method of transportation.

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Handling Dry Spells

Every writer goes through dry spells.  Some people call this phenomenon “writer’s block,” but I think writer’s block and dry spells are two different things.  Writer’s block is when you are working on a story and keep hitting a brick wall.  You have a scene you need to write, or an assignment to finish and you just sit and stare blankly at the screen.  You want to write, but the words just don’t come.

In contrast, I think of a dry spell as a time when your very creativity dries up.  It’s not that you don’t know what to write or how to write it, but rather you don’t even feel like writing.

Personally, I find dry spells far more terrifying than writer’s block.

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