It’s Not About The Monster

by Christina Lay

It’s Not About the Monster

Beware of the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world. -Ben Okri, poet and novelist (b. 15 Mar 1959)

I just finished writing an entirely different post about the TV Show Stranger Things. Then, after walking away from the computer, it occurred to me that I hadn’t said a single thing about the flashy bits. You know, the monster, the cool other dimension, the ick and awe factor, the “strange things”.

Spoiler Alert – If you haven’t watched Season One yet, you might not want to read this

If you don’t know, Stranger Things is an Amazon original series that I would put in the genre of “Cozy Horror”. It is cozy because our favorite characters tend not to die, and good triumphs over evil, eventually. However, people do die, either at the hands of a rogue government entity or at the ick-dripping talons of the monster.

However, it doesn’t really matter how they die or who/what is chasing our heroes around. The source of The Horror could just as well be an infestation of pissed-off dragons, or powerful magic gone awry, or a swarm of giant ants, or an out of control disease. Personally I prefer monsters. What is important in a show like this is the characters, and how they react to The Horror.

In the first post I wrote, I discussed how we as writers might make up for the fact that we don’t have a three-dimensional Winona Ryder who will leap out of the page and bring our brilliant prose to life for the reader. I’m full of admiration for Winona’s skill and her excellent job of bringing Joyce Byers, the distraught mother in Stranger Things, to life. She is a lot of what makes this show so compelling. So as writers stuck with mere words, we can focus on character development, adding layers and depth to our characters by giving them everything from quirks, gestures, odd habits and facial tics to long and murky histories, skewed motivations, poor coping skills and a smorgasbord of emotions that may or may not control their actions. Winona and the true-to-trope hard drinking sheriff with a murky history, skewed motivations and poor coping skills get most of the action, character-development wise. The true-to-trope gang of nerdy and plucky kids are all great, as is “The Chosen One” with the powerful magic gone awry. A couple side characters like the Princess and The Loner/Outsider have some good moments, and even the good-looking Jock/Jerk gets a shot at redemption. They’re all interesting in their way, adding to the fun by roping us in with their charm.

But it’s Winona as the mom and David Harbour as Chief Hopper who really get to face The Horror, which is what this show, and most stories like it, are all about. In facing The Horror, a character is either destroyed or they prevail. There are so many ways either can happen. One, they can get their head ripped off. That is the ultimate failure. But they can also fail to face their fear, they might run away, they might turn their backs on their friends, they might join the enemy, they might deny the existence of the Horror until it shows up and rips their head off. They might choose to destroy themselves, with alcohol or a supremely reckless act, all the while denying those repressed emotions that are controlling them. The sheriff is drinking and denying in order not to face the emotional truth of having lost a child. The mother, on the other hand, steamrollers her many flaws and actually utilizes them in a supreme effort to save her child. Sometimes, it is an asset to be slightly crazy.

To prevail, one must survive the season (or the novel). Beyond that, the hero must grow, realize her own strengths, identify what is most important, listen to her instincts and intuitions, trust in her allies if they exist, overcome all those cleverly developed character flaws, and defeat the monster. At least for now.

Some viewers might disagree, but I believe this is the key to a successful show, not the cleverness or wow factor of The Horror. Don’t get me wrong, I think the monster in Stranger Things is cool. The Upside Down is a creepy and clever concept that they do well. But it would all put me to sleep if it weren’t for the people who are dealing with, reacting to, dying in the face of, and kicking the ass of The Horror. If those people are one-dimensional, shallow, too true-to-trope to swallow, or just flat out dull, no amount of pyrotechnic evil wizardry is going to keep me tuning in.

This brings us to the question of why we do this to ourselves. Why do we like to watch clever, likable, heroic characters be tortured and tested in this way? I think the answer is pretty simple, and it’s why we tell stories at all. We all have a Horror in our life, maybe several. Maybe they’re small horrors, but the world is full of big horrors and it takes very little imagination to conceive of The Horror being visited upon ourselves. A cozy horror TV show like Stranger Things allows to process some of that pent up fear, and it lets us watch “ordinary” characters take the bull by the horns and defeat The Horror. Yes, it is cathartic, and it is just scary enough to let off some of scream steam and, possibly, allow us embrace the happy for now ending and the hope that good not only can but will triumph over evil.

Now Non-cozy Horror, where everyone dies? I don’t know what’s up with that. Liz?

 

 

 

 

 

A Creative Career Path

by Matthew Lowes

I was recently asked to speak to a high school freshman careers class about my work as a writer and independent game designer. This was at the school where I work, so many student were surprised that I had this other life writing fiction and games. I talked a little about my creative work, about The Labyrinth of Souls tarot card game, and about my novel, The End of All Things, which just came out. Then I answered a series of questions they had put together, which I’ll reproduce here. If there are any young people out there interested in pursuing creative work, here’s an inside look at how that’s unfolded for me … and few tidbits of advice.

1. How did you discover your love/passion for this activity or line of work? Is your career different than what you wanted to do when you were in high school?

I played with writing stories at a pretty young age, so that was there from early on. I read a lot of comic books when I was little. I also tried to tackle things way beyond me at the time. Actually my failure to read and comprehend The Iliad at around the age of ten may have turned me off from reading for a while. Nevertheless, at some point, everybody who loves books finds a book that really resonates with them at that moment in their life, and for me that was The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux, which I read in the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school.

My junior and senior year high school English teacher really helped solidify my interest in writing and literature. He was very demanding and a hard grader. He would never accept work even so much as an hour late and had the expectation that we would produce publishable quality writing. This really impressed upon me the importance of editing and always meeting your deadlines, which is incredibly important for a professional writer. But it was his love for literature and writing that helped me realize my own passion for the work I do now.

As far as games, that goes back a long ways too. When I was around nine years old my brother and I started playing Dungeon & Dragons, and I played a lot of roleplaying games right up until around middle school. A few years ago I got interested in games again, and since I spent the last twenty years or so working on writing, it wasn’t long before I was writing my own games. Games combine everything I love about fiction and narratives with math and logic. It’s a wonderful balance between creative and the analytical elements of thought.

2. How long did you consider turning your passion into an income before you went for it?

I wanted to be a writer, and really started writing with that in mind, when I was a freshman in college. I tried submitting a few stories almost right away, but got more serious about it a few years after I graduated from college.

3. What kind of schooling/training/qualifications is required in order to do your job?

There are no official requirements, but the unofficial requirements are vast. One must have passion, determination, and perhaps most importantly, vision. What I mean by vision is you have to have something to say, not in the sense that you have an opinion or a belief or a point of view, but more like you have an image of something you want to create.

I have a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a Master degree in teaching, but school is only a starting place for learning. A formal education and teacher can take you only so far. If you wish to excel, you must take it upon yourself to educate yourself about every aspect of what you’re doing. You must take complete responsibility for your knowledge and skills.

4. How long did it take to go through the training to do your job?

My whole life.

5. Is this career what you expected it to be?

Nothing is ever what you expect it to be. That’s what makes life so interesting. Everything you think you know about life and living now comes from a particular point of view that is shaped by the situations you find yourself in. Those situations and that point of view will change continuously throughout your life. Perhaps one day you will come to a place where you have no point of view whatsoever. But that is another conversation.

6. What do you enjoy most about your career? What is the best part of your job?

I enjoy pursuing my creative impulses. I enjoy taking an idea or vision and turning it into something concrete that others might find enjoyable, interesting, or inspiring.

7. What adventures/memorable moments have you had?

There is a wonderful satisfaction in finishing a large project you have invested a lot of time and energy into. I spent some twelve years writing a trilogy of fantasy novels, with a total of around 300,000 words, or some 1000 pages. When I finally got to the last sentence of the last paragraph of the last chapter of the last book, there was an indescribable feeling of triumph. I hope everybody can experience something like that in their life. Those books are actually not yet published yet, but when they are that will be another memorable moment. Every project I complete, whether a short story, a game, or a novel, is like that to some degree.

8. What is the most challenging part of your career? If you could change one thing about your job what would it be?

One must be prepared to work long hours, months, and years, potentially without any encouragement, validation, praise, or income. That has been a challenge. There was a long period in my life where I would have given anything to have the time and resources to devote myself full time to my creative work. But eventually you see that every aspect of your life is part of your creative work, is fueling it, and so there is no point in changing anything. In any case, things are constantly changing anyway. So one day I may yet have that luxury.

9. Are there any dangers in your job?

The biggest dangers for people doing creative work are psychological. We don’t live in a society that makes pursuing any kind of art particularly easy. So there is a danger of becoming frustrated, jealous, depressed, self-loathing, or bitter. I suppose there is also the danger of simply not being able to pay your bills, but that’s a part of the whole package.

10. How much stress is connected to your career?

Stress is all in the mind. Some situations are typically more stress inducing than others, but it is our response that creates the stress, not the situation itself. Whatever you do in life, you will encounter stress, but if you keep this in mind, it will be a lot easier to deal with.

11. What are your typical weekly hours?

I work four days a week at the school. For my creative projects, often I will work about two hours at night, and twelve to twenty hours or so over the weekend. It varies depending what projects I’m working on and where they’re at.

12. Is family time restricted due to job duties?

Yes. Because I essential work two jobs, a lot of my would-be free time or social time is taken up working on creative projects.

13. What is the expected income for an entry level position? How often do you get paid?

For someone doing independent creative work there is no expected entry-level income. It all depends on what you do and if people buy it.

14. Salary or hourly position? Do you make enough money to be comfortable?

I support myself through my job at the school. As an independent writer/game-designer, my income has increased over the years, but I don’t make enough money to support myself doing only that. That job has no salary and no hourly wage. I make something, and if people buy it I get a percentage royalty after production and distribution costs.

15. What benefits are offered with your job?

My job at the school has good benefits, like health care, holidays, sick leave, and so on. My job as a writer and game designer has no such benefits. If you take a path like this, you have to find a way to sort out life’s logistical details, so you can continue to do your creative work.

16. What is retirement age?

What is retirement? What is age? There’s plenty of time to think about these things later in life. Focus on what’s happening now and you can never go wrong. For someone in a creative field, there is no end to creative possibilities.

17. Is there possibility for promotion/movement within the career?

There are always possibilities. Opportunities are abundant, to take good actions, to better yourself, to learn and expand your sphere of influence. These opportunities appear every day for everyone. You need only notice and embrace them.

18. Are you happy with your career choice?

I am very happy with the course my life and my career has taken. Sometimes things in life choose you, but if you embrace whatever happens, you will find happiness.

19. What advice would you give this class as they start their career search and preparation?

Here’s some strange advice, but it might work well for the right person.

Pick something obscure and learn absolutely everything about it, become the best at it. For example, if you want to play in an orchestra, don’t become a violin player, unless you can’t help it because that’s what you love or you just have extraordinary talent for that. Instead, if you become the best bassoon player in the world and you will always have an interesting job.

A while ago, I was doing some research on mummies for a story I was writing. It turned out there was one guy who was the world’s most renown expert on mummies. He knew everything there was to know about it. He had a mummy-related job and whenever something mummy related came up, he would be consulted. That’s the kind of possibility I’m talking about.

Beyond this interesting idea, I would say take responsibility for your own education. Read widely. Learn everything. Follow your interests, but don’t forget to take care of practical matters.

Finally, stop complaining, and simply take good actions.

20. What would you have done differently in high school?

This is a strange question, since I could not have done anything differently than I did. I was who I was at the time, and I am who I am now. But if you’re asking me what I think you should do while you’re in high school, I would say you should take advantage of the great opportunity to learn and better yourself and your situation. Study hard, learn as much as possible, but don’t worry too much about the future, other than to consider it and make some appropriate plans for what you will do after high school.

If you feel overwhelmed or depressed, ask for help. You’re not alone and people care about your well-being. Finally, don’t do anything foolish, like taking up drugs or drinking alcohol. Your brain and your body are still developing. Don’t risk messing yourself up for life. Maybe some of you are already doing these things and are thinking that it won’t mess you up, but you could be terribly wrong. You don’t even really know what messed up is, because you don’t really know where you’re at or what your true potential is.

Try to find out what your true potential is. It’s way bigger than you can even imagine.

Free Yourself From Your Work

by Matthew Lowes

rainbow-road

The experience of hesitation just before one starts writing is something all writers have probably felt at some time. Whether from doubt of our abilities, the fear of what might come out, or the aversion to collapsing our grand nebulous ideas into something concrete, we hesitate, sometimes only for a moment, and sometimes for a lifetime. In the middle of a big project, doubt may seize us and again we hesitate, certain the work is a mess. Likewise, when we have expressed ourselves freely and fully, we may hesitate to rewrite and to put it out there, to let others see what we have done. And all these fears, all these doubts and hesitations, spring from one simple thing. We identify ourselves with our work.

In this day and age, when we are encouraged to brand our work and our identities to suit the market, this tendency to internally identify with our work finds ample reinforcement. It may prevent some from writing all together. It may prevent some from finishing a great book. It may prevent some from doing their best work, from fully opening themselves to writing the most challenging, most daring words they have to offer. And it may prevent some from sharing with others what they have written.

Of course, one must be critical at times, especially when learning the craft and while in the midst of doing any edit or rewrite. But to cling to this criticism or to identify ourselves with any work, is not only to suffer, but to stifle our own creativity. The creative mind is free and open, unlimited by any expectation, and unhindered by self doubt or personal identification with any work, past or present.

Don’t allow this tendency or pressure to identify with your work to stand in the way of your creativity. Whenever you feel this hesitation or doubt, just remember that you are not your work. The work itself is just a stream of words on a page, just symbols on paper. And while you have a right to the act of putting these symbols down and arranging them as best you can, you do not control the origins of this act, nor its ultimate ends.

Our own true nature will always be beyond all words. So free yourself from your work, whether it is the work you are about to do, a work in progress, or the work that you have already done. Our work is really not our own anyway. For we do not know what thoughts will arise in the act of creation, nor from whence they come. It is all a spontaneous happening. Just allow it to happen.

 

How Do I Pitch MY Genre? by Eric Witchey

Cover_BullsLabyrinth_Text_AllCentaur

How Do I Pitch My Genre? by Eric Witchey

After teaching a class, volunteering to help Timberline Review sell subscriptions, and signing my newly launched novel at this year’s Willamette Writer’s Conference, I was walking along a hallway minding my own business and wondering if I could get back to my room to take a nap before I had to face another room full of 100 people. A personable guy said hi and caught my attention. He was a volunteer gate keeper outside the pitch and critique room where aspirants bring their hearts and souls for fine tuning before presenting them in ten minute chunks to agents and editors looking for commodities from which to make a living. Making eye contact, I became aware of my surroundings and realized that the room was understaffed and several people were waiting for a chance to get what might be critical advice. So, I volunteered to take a few pitches and help hone them.

Mind you, there’s actually plenty of help for this kind of thing. The conference ran pitch practice sessions before the conference. They ran pitch practice sessions at the conference. Most of the people pitching had practiced with friends, family, and crit groups. And, as a last chance for final revision and preparation, the conference had a pitch practice room, into which I walked.

I sat down, and the kind people at the conference showed four nervous writers my way—one at a time. I had fifteen minutes to help each.

The four writers had been coached to provide half-page synoptic summaries of their books, and each showed up with pages that did that. The idea, as I understood it, was to give a sense of genre, of character, of content, and of market potential.

Well, that list seems pretty obvious to most people. After all, a science fiction adventure isn’t the same as a historical romance, right?

Wrong.

What was not so obvious is that these people were terrified and clinging to every bit of advice they had ever been given in the hope that it would touch the hearts of jaded professionals and give up a result that would change the writers’ lives and let them connect their hearts through their words to the world.

Can you say, “TERRIFIED?”

One had a fantasy romance. One had a historical novel. One had a non-fiction book on how to talk to kids about sex. One had a cryptobiography. All had decent concepts that could fly in the market. Mind you, I hadn’t read the stories themselves. I only had access to a few pages of pitches and the problems the writers had encountered in trying to sell their stories.

So, we got to work.

In three of the four cases, I realized I didn’t have much to add to the long-form pitches the writers had honed. However, I did have the communication consultant skills and personal experience of 25 years of freelance work. So, I gave all three exactly the same thing.

Emotion.

Twenty years ago, in 1996, I pitched my first novel—a novel that later sold in Poland, but that’s another story. While practicing with my good friend Gail McNally (no, not the actress), I was proud of what I had done and of the fact that I had memorized my pitches cold. Gail listened kindly—eyes closed, nodding, pinching her nose. When I was done, she said, “That might work if you put the emotion in.”

Huh? Obviously, she had missed something because I knew it was a brilliant pitch. After all, I had read about pitching. I had talked to other people. I had carefully crafted my pitch. I had a 30 second pitch, a three-minute pitch, a full page pitch, a five-page synoptic outline, and a full synoptic outline. I was freaking loaded for literary bear.

What the hell does emotion have to do with selling the product?

So, long story short, I lost the argument and rewrote it all with an emphasis on character emotional change.

My first time pitch nailed an editor and let me choose between several interested agents.

Why? I now know it was because stories are not about things or events. Stories are about how people change emotionally and psychologically. Things and events only facilitate the changes.

Yes…. The things and events have to be “interesting and unique,” but they are only truly interesting in that they are connected to emotional change.

So, I helped each one of my three fiction charges fashion a one- or two-line pitch that captured the three Cs:

Character, Conflict, and Change.

You could say it is really only two Cs because Character is really made up of an emotional/psychological state, and Change is really just the character as they appear after they change because of the conflict. So, really, it’s just Character, Conflict, and Character, but that’s a bit confusing and doesn’t really sound right in a culture that likes to think in threes.

Essentially, we put our heads together and came up with statements like:

Soul and psyche torn down to nothing by the murder of her family, outcast 1940’s gay homemaker Millicent Monroe faces insurgent Nazis in the Iowa farmlands and consequently discovers deep connection to the community, land, and country that persecuted her.

Okay, that’s not really one of them, but maybe I’ll write that book. We’ll see.

Anyway, three of the four walked away with a similar statement and some communication consulting advice about how to speak, how to make eye contact, when to pause, and how to manage the transition to their larger already prepared pitch.

One, however, didn’t. That one makes the other three all the more interesting. The fourth person had career as a sex education lecturer, consultant, and therapist. She had a values-neutral book about how to talk to kids about sex. Her problem was also emotion, but it wasn’t the emotion of the book and characters. Her problem was that every time she pitched the book, people’s “sex stuff” came up and interfered with their ability to see the product she offered. Her problem was that she needed to disarm her audience’s emotions in order to allow them to look at her work.

That was interesting, so we worked the same problem from the opposite direction and provided her with language that identified her platform and established a context in which the content created result for the readers who bought the book. We brainstormed keywords that would frame the conversation in terms of platform, product, and market. I also recommended that she add an additional agent I knew to her pitch list.

Results?

Over the following couple of days, one-by-one, each of the four sought me out to share their excitement and success. Each one hit—and not just once. They all got requests from every agent and editor they pitched. All of them.

Why?

Here’s the bit that isn’t as obvious. These writers had been prepared by professionals to walk in and deliver fairly lengthy pitches that made use of the time available—ten minutes. Those pitches might have done fine by themselves without my help. However, agents and editors don’t take pitches in order to hear the story that takes a book-length manuscript to tell. The take pitches to filter the masses through sieve in order to find the writers who control character and story. If a writer truly controls the craft of presenting character and story, then the writer can state character, core conflict, and change succinctly.

Conversely, if a writer can state character, core conflict, and change succinctly, it is likely that they control craft well enough to deliver story. When a writer succinctly states the emotional core of character, the conflict that changes them, and the new emotional makeup of the character, agents and editors hear much more than is stated. The result is that they sit up, quite literally, and start to ask questions that can only be answered by reading the manuscript. So, the pitch creates a conversation that leads to a request for pages.

In the unique case of the non-fiction writer, the emotionally charged material wasn’t the problem. The problem was to help people see the product rather than let their emotional response to product become the primary experience of their encounter. It is really a mirror image of the same problem.

But it’s different for different genres, right?

Nope. Genre doesn’t matter on the heart and story level. Never has. Never will. Genre is marketing category. Yes, you don’t pitch space opera to a commercial woman’s fiction editor. Don’t be entirely daft. However, genre isn’t story. Genre is only a taxonomic label for expectations concerning things and events. Sometimes, genre influences the mix of techniques used for telling a story, but genre has nothing to do with heart and soul and hopes and dreams. The story comes from the writer’s heart and seeks to touch the reader’s heart. Pitching is about letting a potential buyer know that the writer understands heart and controls story craft well enough to deliver emotion to the reader.

-End-

The Space Between

By Cynthia Ray

I’ve been exploring the space between things over the last few months, in my life and in my art. It all began with Viktor Frankl. In Mans Search for Meaning, he says, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Frankl.jpgWhat he said about the space between stimulus and response fascinated me, because our words and actions seem so automatic, I couldn’t imagine having that much self control, so I spent time observing, trying to find that space. After a while, I was able to slow down enough to feel the space between, but not enough to change or stop my response. I kept at it, and eventually, after much practice, I was able to slow down even further, and could remain poised there, between the catalyst and my reaction, long enough to choose a new and different response than I had automatically followed in the past. It’s an exhilarating and powerful tool, but like anything, requires practice.

But the space between things is much more than the space between stimulus and response. All of art is about the space between. Where things are placed, how far they are from each other in relationship to each other in a painting is more than just perspective. It is balance between what is and what is not. Music is the space between notes. If that is true, then writing is the space between the words.

space between notes

The Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading by Paul Saenger talks about how the spaces between the words were consciously created to move us from oral to a written tradition. We take all of that for granted now, but it was not always so.

He says, “Over the course of the nine centuries following Rome’s fall, the task of separating the words in continuous written text, which for half a millennium had been a function of the individual reader’s mind and voice, became instead a labor of professional readers and scribes. The separation of words (and thus silent reading) originated in manuscripts copied by Irish scribes in the seventh and eighth centuries but spread to the European continent only in the late tenth century.” This resulted in the spread of reading and education among the common people, not just the elite.

Not only does the space between words give order to the story, and make it possible to find the story in the words, but those spaces also carry deep meaning and impact. What is happening in dialogue? What is not said? Sometimes what is not said is far more powerful than what is said and carries a message that can break us apart.  Its not the words that are said, but the ones that are not.  Sometimes the best dialogue is not dialogue.

I started watching what my characters were doing in the space between their actions, in the space between their dialogue, in the space between the catalyst and their response. It is a wonderful place to explore interaction, feeling and nuances.  Looking at what is not, rather than what is, or at what is between what is and what is not.

nebula

If we slow down and take the time to pay attention to that which is hidden right in front of us, we can find those vast in-between spaces in ourselves and the universe we live in to inform our relationships, our lives and our art.

In the space between

the in breath

and the out breath

lie all the worlds

In the place

between heartbeats

all the worlds

tumble to silence

between one thought

and the next

stillness extends out into the universe

                                       C. Ray

Bring It All

By Cynthia Ray

“If you want to write something, you have to be quite sure that the whole of your being wants this kind of expression. ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 612-613

This quote made me wonder if my whole being wanted to write, and if so, what it meant to bring ALL of me to the writing process. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that our writing reflects where we are in our journey to become who we really are.  The journey isn’t about becoming a writer; it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t you, so that you can write.

For me, writing is a kind of personal alchemy, a seemingly magical process of transformation and creation. I write and discover hidden things about myself, about others and the world. Writing facilitates my mystical journey of discovery and unbecoming.

alchemist1

As Jung points out, if you are called to writing, you can bring nothing less than your whole self; your flesh and blood, your darkness, your crazy, your passion, your joy, hope and despair. Anything less and your writing will die an insipid death, missed by no one, not even yourself.   Don’t leave any part of you behind when you sit down to tell your story, especially the parts that come kicking and screaming.

Wholeness brings power into your voice; a power that can touch, change, heal, give hope or stir others to action (or cast them into despair). Think of the most powerful things you have read, and how they changed your life, or view of the world or yourself.

There is no part of you that will not be required. You have to engage your will, your mind, your heart, your body, and your spirit, and at different times, each of these elements will challenge us.

body mind spirit

WILL and DESIRE

Desire motivates your will, and will is the force that carries you forward when things get tough (and I mean reallllly tough). When life’s demands crowd out your precious time to write, will finds minutes and hours where there were none.   When you have poured yourself into a story, and have to throw it out, will gives you’re the courage to start over. When the writing you love is not “publishable”, will keeps you writing anyway. When you receive the 20th or the 220th rejection letter in your inbox, will gives you a way. Will keeps you going, but will and desire alone are not enough.

MIND

Our conscious, analytical mind revels in story structure, character arcs, point of view, correct use of tense and grammar, setting all the pieces in order, and comes up with some great ideas. So called left-brainers probably outline everything in great detail, while right brainers are more apt to be pantsers. We spend a lot of time thinking consciously thinking and planning our stories, and we learn what works for us.

And then, in our daydreams, our meditations, up from another part of our mind, that murky subconscious, arise wonderful creative sparks, unexpected inspiration and all that stuff that scares the pants off of us. But keep going, if you dare. There is an even deeper place in there, where all of us are connected, that we also draw from-what Jung calls the collective subconscious.

The more we embrace and explore our endless depths, the more our characters take on dimension and fullness, and our language and stories become tastier and more satisfying.

collective unconcious jung

HEART

Sure, you can have the perfect story arc, precise and beautiful language and fascinating characters in awesome settings, but without the tapestry of feelings, passions, and emotions–without heart–no one cares and our story is a dry husk. We care when we feel connection, and connection emanates from the heart. If we want our stories to beat with the pulse of our readers’ hearts, we have to reveal what it is to be human on the page and close the distance between our words and the reader. Naturally, if we are cut off from our own feelings and emotions, it is unlikely they will show up in our characters.

jung quote

BODY

Energy! You need energy to write, and the best way to energize your body is to get that butt up from the seat and get out and move. It seems counter-intuitive to leave your writing, but take a break and walk, run, garden, or whatever works for you. Take care of yourself and you will have the energy and clarity of focus to put to the demanding task of writing. Research shows that if you don’t get enough exercise, depression sets in, and you won’t feel like writing (or doing anything else for that matter).

 

SOUL/SPIRIT

Sometimes we are caught up in inspiration, and things flow through us without effort; we swim in the current and spirit of creation. What a great feeling!

Just as tangible as the body, our spirit infuses everything we do. The Hebrew word for soul (Ruach) can also be translated as spirit or breath. You breathe yourself out into the world through your words and stories. It is a gift, a sound or tone, if you will, that is uniquely you. Your voice/sound merges with all the others.

Hazrat Inayat Khan says, “When one bell is rung, by the sound of that one bell others bells will also vibrate . So it is with the dancing of the soul … It produces its reaction, and that again, will make others souls dance.”  Our words are the vibrations we put out into the world.

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So, my fellow writers and alchemists, I wish you an unraveling and unbecoming of all that is not you. I wish you wholeness, transformation and abundant creative “juice” to overflowing. Write on!

Tale of an Introverted Misfit

By Lisa Alber
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I’ve spend much of my life feeling alienated, like a perpetual outsider, like there’s something fundamentally out of sync with me. And for as long as I can remember, this feeling has chafed at me like psychic sandpaper.

After awhile, feeling like this, anyone could start to believe there’s something fundamentally wrong with them. When really, the only thing that’s “wrong” with many of us is that we’re introverts in a society that worships what author Susan Cain calls “The Extrovert Ideal.”

As a Psychology Today article entitled “Revenge of the Introvert” states, “Introverts today face one overarching challenge—not to feel like misfits in their own culture.”

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It’s not like my being an introvert is news to me, but I’m just starting to understand the impact of our cultural norms on my general health and wellbeing, and my self-perception.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as related to being an author. I’m preparing to go to a conference called Left Coast Crime next week. I’m a social creature, and I do pretty well in social situations. But, I get overstimulated fast. I need lots of down time. After awhile, if I’m not careful, the first thing out of my mouth in every new interaction is, “I’m sooo tired.” I lose my paltry grip on small talk. It becomes painful to even try.

Most of us introverts have learned to take on extroverted qualities the better to get by. We can’t not, in point of fact. But what does that mean for us?

If you’re anything like me, it means that you get more drained, are in need of more down time, get depressed, and so on. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s almost like we aren’t allowed to accept ourselves as we are. The insidious nature of, well, everything around us constantly signals us that we need to change. We need to be more social, more into group activities, and participate. This is called self-improvement.

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All this, when there’s nothing. wrong. with. us. except that we don’t adequately mirror the larger cultural norms.

Last week I started reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s fascinating and puts so much into perspective. I’m currently in the middle of a chapter called “When Collaboration Kills Creativity.” It reminded me of a classic introvert-in-a-extroverted-world incident from years ago.

Corporate job. Team-building exercise. Are you groaning? It’s every introvert’s nightmare. The point of this particular exercise was to prove that groupthink yields better results than  individuals thinking on their own.

On our own, we each rated a list of items from most to least important for wilderness survival. Then, we worked together as a group on the same task. Then, we scored our individual results and the group’s results.

The group’s score was supposed to prove the point by being higher than our individual scores. And that was true for everyone in the group–but me. I did better thinking it through on my own without the loud-mouthed extroverts in the group clogging up my thoughts.

Most of all I remember my boss’s disapproving reaction: as if by doing better than the group, I’d actually failed. I was made to feel bad about my better score. No wonder so many of us are prone to anxiety.

Imagine my satisfaction reading this in Cain’s book (page 74):

One of the more interesting findings … was that the more creative people tended to be socially poised introverts. They were interpersonally skilled but “not of an especially sociable or participative temperament.” They described themselves as independent and individualistic.

That’s me in a nutshell, my friends.

She goes on to make the connection between creativity and introversion by pointing out that solitude is often a catalyst of innovation and since introverts are by nature more solitary …

Given all that, it probably makes sense that I’m a writer. The problem is that the writing game I call “author-dom” is way too bloody social. It’s beyond frustrating. More and more it feels like I’ll only get ahead if I get involved. Become a Mystery Writer’s of America officer. Do more talks. Teach workshops. You know, be more of a public-speaker type of person.

It’s like freaking high school all over again–participating in extracurricular activities I’m not interested in so I can get into a good university.

In her Atlantic Monthly article, “An Introverted Writer’s Lament,” author Meghan Tifft asks, “Since when did the community become our moral compass—our viability as writers determined so much by our team spirit?”

Amen to that, sistah. The pressure to be an extrovert is as alive and well in the author biz as in the world at large. It’s disheartening.

So, next week I’ll go to the conference, and I’ll have a wonderful time. I will. The thing is, I love my writing community and all my writing pals; what I don’t love is the feeling of having to be a part of one, like a constant blistery pressure.

I’ll have a grand time — I can party with the best of them — but I’ll also be popping extra beta blockers and worrying that I’m not talking enough and yearning for afternoon naps and room service dinners.

Are you an introvert? What do you do to recharge your batteries in our increasingly hectic world? What about you, extroverts–what’s your take on all of this?