Tag Archives: the process

…*IF* you can pull it off.

7 Dec

I’ve been sitting on this for at least a week now. The truth is, I don’t really know what to say. Of all the things I’ve written about in this blog, my marriage to my best friend and our future together as writers was sort of the main topic. Now neither one of those things is going to happen.

The how and why of the matter aren’t that important, and are hardly the topic for a blog post. All anybody needs to know is that I had my reasons for ending both relationships, and I don’t wish her any ill will. We are not on speaking terms, but I hope that in the future when things have settled that might change. Above all else, I wish her happiness and great success in all her future endeavors – both in love and art.

But what about me? Where do I go now? What do I do?

I’m happy to say that in spite of the emotional roller-coaster of the past two weeks, I am still writing. The Midsummer Prophecy was always my idea, going back almost twenty years now, so I will continue to work on it solo. In the past two weeks I’ve made leaps and bounds moving forward with the short story collection, and I have every intention of still honoring the early-2013 release date. (Please check out the website for updates.)

I’m also happy to announce that I am beginning the process of moving to Southern California with my family. After “Superstorm” Sandy and the nor’easter a week later, it was decided that I cannot continue to live in New Jersey. Southern California offers a better climate and all the cutting-edge research for fibromyalgia is taking place there. So that’s where we’re going. It may take us a year to make it all happen, but we have begun the process of relocation.

I have a lot to focus on and keep me busy in the upcoming months. I can’t pretend I’m sorry about that. Distractions are welcome right now…

Sometimes Life throws us a curveball, or gives us lemons, or a million other metaphors for sucking hardcore. We have no control over it. Shit happens, simple as that. But what we do have control over is how we react to that shit. Do we take it on the chin, or go crazy from it? Conduct ourselves with grace and class, or get drunk and act like an idiot? I’m not saying it’s an easy choice, but the older I get and the more I learn, the more I realize it’s one of the only truly free choices we’ve got!

For my part, I’m doing my best to handle this with grace and to stay true to my dreams, even if some of them feel too broken to save right now. Nobody is perfect, and I have no doubt that I’ll make plenty of mistakes as I go, but I hope that in end I’ll be able to look back on my life without any regrets and say I lived my dreams. Hopefully when I look back on this time period in my life, it will have been one of bittersweet transitions that helped me grow into the person I want to be.

I look forward to the next chapter of my own adventure!

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Knowing a thing is not the same as understanding it

4 Nov

I think one of the hardest parts of life is losing momentum.

When I first wrote that sentence, I initially said “one of the hardest parts of being an artist” but then I stopped to think about it and realized, no, it’s just life in general. Whether it’s an art project, career endeavor, relationship issues, a new diet or exercise routine… if you lose your momentum, it really sucks, and it really messes with your world. It’s hard to get back into the swing of whatever it was you were doing, and the longer you take to get back to it, the harder it gets to do so.

Sometimes it’s a case of losing skills, as with things like drawing or say, parkour, which require regular practice to be good at it. Sometimes, it’s a case of losing motivation, like with a diet or exercising, because eating cake and watching TV is infinitely and more immediately gratifying than making a salad and hitting the gym. But sometimes, and these are the worst times I think, sometimes you lose your passion. Those are the times when you feel like you’re dying inside a little each inert day, as the moments slip away…along with every missed opportunity.

Those are the worst!

I get that way a lot. It’s probably my greatest obstacle when it comes to being a successful… well… anything! I get really into something and then something happens and, for whatever reason, the fire in me goes out. I lose my passion. It manifests in the form of writer’s block, or self-sabotaging, or simply not being interested anymore. Everything from a nagging sense of doubt in the back of my mind that plagues me until I give up, to extreme anxiety attacks and profound health issues. I am my own worst enemy.

Or I was, anyway. That was the old me; the version of me that lived for the moment and couldn’t concern herself with how she might feel come morning, let alone six months down the line. Fact was, I lacked patience and I lacked discipline, and what wound up happening was that I let myself flit from thing to thing, helter-skelter, with no real purpose or direction, until the next interesting thing catches my attention and then I’d be all about that for a while… until the next thing. You get the point.

The problem with that is, besides the obvious of being a quintessential flake, that you can’t be like that if you want to write. I suppose there are exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking writing is a very lengthy and lonely craft, as I’m coming to learn. It requires a level of dedication that is only rivaled by perhaps keeping bonsai trees. Put bluntly, it takes time to get words onto a page. Back in college I remember being impressed with myself that I could pump out a 5 page, double-spaced paper inside of an hour. Novels are a lot longer than that. Then add to that the research, and the time spent crafting your tale… It adds up, and it adds up quickly. Writers need patience and they need stick-to-it-ness (which I believe, in the days before George W. Bush, was called “determination”).

Along with learning how to outline a plot arc, and how to write with a partner, I also had to learn how to be patient and not get fed up at every bump in the road. Because the honest-to-goodness truth is that I don’t have a stellar track record when it comes to sticking things out or taking them to the next level. My pattern is to get into something and do it for as long as it’s fun, but as soon as it gets hard I lose interest. I’m not naturally this born go-getter who’s willing to make sacrifices because I’m looking at the big picture. I had to learn how to do that. I’m still learning how to do that.

Over the course of the past three years that I’ve been working on this story with my partner, I have had to overcome many challenges. None of them have been as hard as losing momentum, though. It’s something we still struggle with to this day, and something I’m sort of struggling with a little bit right this moment. And what I’m starting to realize, is that maybe this part of it never really goes away. Maybe it’s always easier to eat cake and watch TV. Maybe it’s just a matter of learning how to deal with that and developing the ability to see the bigger picture. Or maybe it just takes a little passion.

Once you get the passion going, it’s one of the best feelings on earth! It’s like a combination of being in love, hanging with your best friend, and eating your favorite food while watching your favorite movie in your favorite place, with a dash of healthy obsession for zest. And just like the inertia of not doing anything feeds into the despondent mental state of losing momentum, accomplishing goals feeds into the passion-driven euphoria. The more you do the thing you love, the more you want to do the thing you love, the more accomplished you feel, the happier you are. And not just “oh I found a twenty!” kind of happy, but deep, intrinsic, soul-satisfyingly happy.

But then just like that! It can disappear and you’re left wrestling with the doldrums of un-productiveness.

I tried to write this blog post several times before, but I wound up deleting it every time. Not because what I’d written was all that bad, but it felt self-indulgent to post it. I was writing for the sake of writing, in an effort to get the passion going again. I was faking it until I making’ed it (I wanted it to still rhyme – don’t take this from me). Everything I was writing though felt very self-serving and none of it was worth sharing with other people.

But I think this draft is a little different. I’m coming off a month of very little progress. Everything from my writing to my sleep and eating habits fell to pieces in the past four or five weeks, and while I’m not happy about it, I did do some serious soul-searching about it and I am taking away a lesson. It’s the lesson that I think is worth sharing, and why I’m writing now. I learned that it’s never going to be truly “easy”. I will have to hone my craft, learn new skills, really focus and apply myself, and there will always be more appealing things than doing what I’m supposed to do. But the trade off for getting my personal goals accomplished is that it fuels my passion. Maybe I wasn’t born with some gift that allows me to buckle down and focus, but I can learn how to do those things. And maybe it’ll get going only to suddenly be hard and passionless all over again, maybe it’ll always be a back-and-forth, give-and-take between moments of passion and moments of struggle… But I’d rather be excited and feel my soul on fire with passion at least some of the time, than not at all.

For a long time I’ve said “the only guaranteed way to fail is to stop trying”, but until recently I’m not sure I really believed in it. I believed that it was a true statement, but I wasn’t sure I believed I could live by it. But I think I can, and I think so long as I keep trying and faking it until I making it (not a word), that I’m on the right track. It doesn’t matter how many times I fall down as long as I always get back up. It took me my entire adult life thus far to really internalize that concept, but I think I’ve got it now. And that’s what I wanted to share, in case anybody else was struggling to understand the same thing.

Writing With A Partner Is Better *IF* You Can Pull It Off

28 Aug

When Meggie suggested that I should take the story I’d started for us 18 years ago and turn it into a real book, I don’t think she meant to do it with me. And when I responded by saying she should do it with me, I honestly think it was motivated by the fact that I’m the kind of person who likes to have a “partner in crime”. The truth is I really don’t like doing much of anything by myself and if I can drag someone along with me, I will. I can’t tell you why she went along with it (I like to think it’s because she’s known me for so long and she figured this was bound to be an adventure of ceaseless wonder and excitement), but I can say that neither one of us knew what the hell we were getting ourselves into.

Writing with a partner is not easy. I don’t think it’s really any harder, per se, than writing solo, I think both ways have their ups and downs, but I do think that if you can pull it off and make it work for you the final product of writing with a partner is better. But there are two major obstacles standing in the way of achieving this.

The first hurdle of the process is that there is very little positive support for would-be team writers, as Meggie and I discovered. So what is already a difficult process full of self-doubt and questioning becomes compounded by most people being negative. You would think that in an industry that is fueled by the imaginations of its primary workers, such as in the world of fantasy writing, people would embrace the individuals who try to do things their own way. It would make sense to assume that in field where originality is worth more than gold, being able to think outside the box, or doing something your own way would be rewarded and encouraged. The logical mind would conclude it absolutely stands to reason that in the realm of the writer, there would be open arms and warm embraces awaiting anyone who dared to create in an unconventional manner.

And you would be wrong.

What Meggie and I discovered was that almost everyone said something like, “writing with a partner is twice the work for half the money”, with some people being as straight to the point as to flatly say, “don’t do it!” Despite the fact that there are plenty of books written by more than one author, and that many of them were perfectly successful (Good Omens, anybody?) It didn’t matter. People simply didn’t do things that way – not if they want to succeed – and the more we insisted it was what we really wanted to do, the more it only seemed to prove how un-serious we must be about it. At pretty much every turn, when we said we were writing a trilogy together, people would either try to talk us out of it, or politely nod their heads and plaster a wide-eyed, pained smile on their faces and say something like, “oh woooooooow, yeah, that’s really great.” To say it was discouraging would be understating things, grossly.

For a long time, I was angry about it. How dare they stand in judgement of our dreams?! At least we HAVE dreams, right? At least we’re DOING something about it! But ok wait, hold up a second. There’s a reason why they don’t think we can do it. BECAUSE IT’S FUCKING HARD!!!

If I were to show you some of the first stuff Meggie and I wrote, you would probably pat me on the head and do that obnoxious wide-eyed, pained smile thing I just described above. It wasn’t horrible, and to be honest, most people couldn’t even tell that two people had written it. Our transitions were literally seamless in that regard. But we didn’t know how to tell a story for shit!

Every fantasy writer has to learn how to tell a story at some point. It’s just how it goes, you can’t avoid it. Fantasy stories aren’t delivered like TPS Reports, with graphs and numbers and memos key people don’t get. At some point, the aspiring fantasy writer must learn the art of telling a story. This is the process where you learn how to “show, not tell”. More importantly though, this is the process where each writer (hopefully) learns how to stop writing for themselves, and how to tell the best story they’re capable of telling. It’s a complete divorcing of the ego where you surrender yourself to the Muse and focus on crafting the best story – not catering to a particular demographic, or trying to fill a market, just the pure, unadulterated essence of The Story.

Which brings us to the second roadblock on the journey to tandem-author stardom. When you’re writing with a partner, you have two egos to deal with, two personalities to keep away from the plot, and two opinions about how everything goes down. Ah, you’re starting to see why people think this impossible, aren’t you? It’s NOT though! Let me tell you!

Meggie and I spent the first year, maybe as much as eighteen months, working on learning how to work together. I had lost my copy of the original story years ago, so to me it was all relatively new again. I didn’t have as much of a problem stepping back objectively and saying, “this is good” or “that should go” because I didn’t have an emotional attachment to the story or characters the way I used to. Sure, parts of it stood out and showered me in nostalgia, but most of it I simply didn’t remember anymore. The same was not true for Meggie, however. She not only had her copy, she took it out every year or so and read it again, and then wondered what I had in store, or how I might have ended it. To her, these characters and their story was sacred. Changing it was blasphemy. But all I have to do is explain that this was written when we were 13-16, and there’s a part where a dude offers to cure this chick he just met of an evil spell…with his penis…and you can see why changes were necessary. (To be fair, she was never against changing that part…)

We had to learn how to check our egos at the door, and we spent pretty much most of our discussions in that first year-to-eighteen-months going back and forth on trivial crap that was leftover from the childhood version. Credit where it’s due, too, because I truly believe lesser people would have told me to go fuck myself where Meg struggled to let go of her attachments. I was kind of a bitch about it sometimes too, which was something I had to learn to stop doing. Pretty soon we started to see that it couldn’t be about us, though. It had to be about doing this story justice. And that process was hard, but in a way we had an advantage. We had each other there to keep one another honest and on track. I imagine solo writers may let some things slide, allowing a character or reference to make it in because it amuses them or is some kind of inside joke (this is what I tell myself every time George R.R. Martin loses me), but we couldn’t do that unless we both agreed that it wasn’t going to detract from the overall delivery. That meant most of the silly stuff that was just for us got left behind as we structured a story that we could both agree was absolutely, without a doubt, the best version of it that we could possibly craft.

Maybe you’re still thinking “this doesn’t sound so hard”. But oh, believe me, it’s is! See, there’s more to it than that. It’s not as hard when it comes to accepting that something you wrote isn’t as clever or good as you thought it was, or that your idea is in direct conflict with something you already wrote into the plot – that’s actually kinda easy to get over. You do it once or twice, and you get the hang of it. No, the hard part is when your partner has been banging out 1,000 words a day for a week solid and you haven’t even read the 2 page document they sent you two weeks ago, let alone wrote anything, because you’re blocked. That’s when it gets hard. Not having an ego allows you to step outside the situation and simply acknowledge that work is getting done. You have to focus on the part of your glass that’s still half full.

You see…

Meggie has strengths that I do not have. For example, she is amazing at keeping track of a sequence of events, and she is a stickler for details. She also comes up with beautiful pieces of detached imagery that don’t necessarily fit neatly into a scene. I am the poster child for ADHD, and have been known to do things like – and I am not exaggerating, or pointing to a single instance, this happens frequently – forget to finish sentences, down to and including not even completing the last word. On the other hand, I am much better at writing dialog than she is, and I am better at emulating different styles and speech patterns.

And if she’s writing while I’m blocked, then shit man! At least someone is still writing!

If you want to write with a partner, you need to be able to acknowledge these kinds of things, without an ego or attitude about it, and you need to work with each other to fill in one another’s gaps. I am blessed that my best friend, and the first person I wanted to work with on this, turned out to be perfectly suited to compliment my strengths and flaws. Make no mistake about it though, it still wasn’t easy. As much as we love each other, we still fought like crazy (and probably will fight again, I’m sure), and at one point we nearly went our own ways. It was still hard work. But it was work worth doing because what we’re getting out of it is better than what we would have gotten without it.

It’s not about who spends more time at the keyboard, or who comes up with more ideas, or whose ideas were the best. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you put your heads together to come up with a better story than you could have come up with on your own. THAT, my friends, is the great advantage of writing with a partner, and why I say it’s better. Because they come up with things that you would never dream, and vice versa. They supply something you cannot, and if you tried to do it alone the end result would be lacking. Not because you’re a shitty writer, or you can’t tell a story on your own, but because you’re only you. You can’t think up what they think up – you can only think up what you think up. It’s really as simple as that.

Alright, we’re goin’ to war!

20 Aug

(If you read the title of this blog in Batty’s voice from the movie “Fern Gully”, please hug yourself for me. I love you in the face!!)

I recently read a book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and it changed my life. No really, it did!! Not because it told me anything I didn’t already know, in fact nearly all of it was stuff I’d come to suspect on my own. It changed my life because it confirmed what I already knew. What this book did for me was calm me down and say, “you’ve got this” in as firm and reassuring tone as a book written by someone I have never met could. As my friend Adam (who also recommended it to me in the first place) put it: “it’s a reminder from the trenches to get back IN the trenches.”

The book talks a lot about the concept of Resistance (capital R), which is that stupid part of all of us that comes up with perfectly legitimate and reasonable-sounding excuses for why we can’t do [fill in the blank]. Diets, exercise routines, careers, relationships, art/writing/film projects, all these and more are destroyed by this evil menace called Resistance.It also talks a lot about how to overcome Resistance and make sure your motives are genuine and pure so that the final product is satisfying no matter what. This was the part of the book that spoke to me the most, I think. This idea of making sure you’re doing things for the right reasons. It talks about how you have to do things because it’s what you’re driven to do, not because you’re trying to make money or please a particular demographic. If you were the last person on Earth, would you do it anyway? If the answer is “yes”, your motives are right on track.

Ok now put a pin in that, we’ll be back in a moment.

As many of you know, I have been working on a trilogy of fantasy novels with my best friend Meggie for the past three years. It’s been a long, hard journey, with a lot of pitfalls and setbacks as Meggie and I learned how to not only create an entire universe and write down a compelling story about it, we learned how to do it with a partner. (This is the most complicated process in the world, and one that I plan on exploring further in this blog. STAY TUNED!!) During that time, our story has evolved and mutated, changed and grown, and all for a number of different reasons. Most of those reasons had to do with telling a better version of the story, but we also went through a phase where we got completely caught up on genres and demographics and appealing to this or that crowd. Needless to say, we started and restarted, wrote and rewrote time and time again. Sometimes the reasons were…reasonable, but mostly they were excuses. That’s the truth.

By the time 2012 started, Meggie and I were both silently questioning whether or not we’d ever finish. I’m not sure either one of us ever verbalized it, but I’m pretty sure we were both wondering if we were kidding our selves or what at that point. We had maybe 100 total pages of fragmented bits and pieces of the first book, almost none of which went together for more than 10 pages at a stretch. There were hundreds of hours of voice notes that never got transcribed going back nearly three years. Each of us had stacks of books exploding in a rainbow of Post-its and page flags, and notes galore, and no idea how to organize it all. What the hell were we doing anyway? We had everything we needed to write a book except one, irreplaceable thing: a love of writing.

But then a marvelous thing happened. People were assholes. For very separate and personal reasons, Meggie and I found ourselves very alone for a few weeks. Now, I can’t talk about her experience, so I’ll focus on mine, but know that we have both come to alarmingly similar conclusions.

I sulked off to my lair in the basement (I think I’m a lair kinda gal) and contemplated how my life had brought me to that point. What I came up with at first were a bunch of really good insights in my blog, Anti Eff Bee, but the thing that really changed my perspective was that I found I enjoyed the writing more than anything. I wanted things to write about. I wanted it so badly, I would sit around and self-reflect and ask myself questions just so I could write about it.

Ah-HA!!!

When I took away all the people and distractions from my life, and I was left with nothing to do but entertain myself, what I discovered was that nothing fulfilled me the way that writing did. The first short story I finished a couple of weeks ago was only about 1,200 words. That’s barely over a page. I have never felt prouder! I had finished a story concept. It had a start, a middle, and an end – something I couldn’t say about pretty much anything I’ve done in years. Submitting it for publication, even though I knew I’ll probably be rejected, was such a rush!! It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Like one part rockstar center-stage, one part graduate student submitting a thesis, and one part ALMIGHTY GOD creating with my very words! And I wanted more!

The funny thing is, this is nothing I didn’t already know. 18 years ago, I started a story for my best friend (yes, the same one), so we’d stay in touch. It was a different time – one without email, chat, or long-distance phone calls that didn’t charge by the minute. We were kids, we couldn’t drive, and it was way too far to ride our bikes. The only thing we had was the United States Postal System. And I could have drawn her pictures, or just written letters, but what I decided to do was tell her a story. I wanted to write about something so amazing, so entrancing, so captivating that she could never, ever leave my life because she had to know what happened next.

Ok now remember that pin? We’re back.

For a hot second I worried that this whole story was born out of misguided motives. I started questioning if it was really good to anybody but ourselves, and if maybe we were kidding ourselves…maybe we should give up. No, that’s Resistance talking. It doesn’t matter that I started the story to keep our friendship going. It matters that when I needed to do something that mattered, I chose to do it by writing. Because writing is what I love to do. If there was nobody else on the planet, I’d still be writing. For me. Because I love it. Always have, always will. It’s who I am.

I’ve been writing a lot these past days, and I’ve never been happier. And when I say “I’m happy” I don’t mean some creepy manic upswing where I’m laughing too loudly at everything or something like that. I mean that I feel peaceful where I used to feel restless. I feel fulfilled where I used to feel empty. My days feel like they have purpose and meaning in a way that nothing else I have ever done has made me feel. It makes me glad I read that book. It makes me glad I remembered who I really am.

One day I will learn that I’m really only good at being one person: me. Until then, I shall give thanks to people like Mr. Pressfield for his notes from the trenches.