IWSG April: I’ve got insecurity, You’ve got insecurity, We’ve all got insecurity!

Here’s some advice I recently came across on tumblr, which is apparently the source of most of my critical thoughts these days. (Which is… terrifying, honestly, because the site is kind of a dumpster fire. Oops.) Technically it was referring to sending emails at work, but it applies to any kind of writing.

Edit out “just.”

As a word, just strives to lowball the statement it’s attached to. “I just wanted to check in to see…” “Just saying!” “It’s just that, I was thinking…”

No. You’re checking in about something for a reason! You said something for a reason! You were thinking something for a reason! Be firm, don’t let that insecurity shine through! And yet, I write this way all the time. Women, especially, tend to be socialized to apologize for any strong opinion or statement they have. There’s a whole bit about it in Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens, where the girls stranded on a dessert island vote to eject the word “sorry” from their vocabulary. (And then forget, say it, and are like, “Oops, I forgot. Sorry. Oops!!” Because hey, it’s a comedy.)

As I’ve recently started a new set of duties at my part time job, I’ve gone through the email templates and phone call scripts to… well, check the basic sentence structure and stuff, do my usual “too many of these sentences/paragraphs start with the same word and it’s driving me up the WALL” thing… but I’ve specifically edited out every instance of “just” I can find. The results are messages that sound a lot more sure of themselves. Especially when it comes to leaving voicemails, which, while often preferable to the hassle of having to utter words to a live stranger, actually records whatever comes out of your mouth for posterity.

I have yet to really wade neck-deep into editing “just” out of my fiction. There will definitely be exceptions, because a statement like “I just started a few days ago” doesn’t lowball so much as indicate that something happened quite recently. It’s going to depend on where the emphasis is.

What do you think? Are you prepared to go on a crusade against “just,” or any other words?

Can you really never go home again?

Conventional wisdom holds that reading fanfiction you wrote six or seven years ago should be a cringe-worthily horrible experience. So… am I weird?

Because I’ve spent the past week reading through stuff I wrote in the last year or so of college and slightly after, and I don’t hate it. After all this time I’m basically my own, relatively unbiased beta reader and I’m polishing things up to post on Archive of Our Own.

Of course, I’m being selective. It’s only one specific fandom and only one specific pairing from it. Well… mostly. I have, like, three favorite characters that didn’t lead me to write things that make me want to dash my head against a wall and/or get a super-sized insulin shot from all that sugary sweetness crap.

That said, even some of the stuff I still like is pretty weird. Like, ‘oh my god why did I write this’ weird. But in a funny way.

Continue reading “Can you really never go home again?”

Monday Musings #16 – Writing About Relationship Problems and Families

I love my family. Really, I do. I’m lucky enough that my grandparents and aunt’s family on my mom’s side have lived nearby since I was a year old. But at the same time, I don’t have a lot of patience for family drama. Add that to one of my favorite people in the world while I was growing up kind of being a drama faucet at just about every available opportunity and, well…

In lieu of actually ranting, though, I’d like to turn this into a writing exercise. Might as well turn it into something potentially productive, right?

Everyone who has been in a romantic relationship has had some amount of relationship hurdles. Even if it’s just small but frustrating stuff like “for the love of god if you finish a roll of toilet paper and don’t put a new one on one more time…”

Anyone who hasn’t is lying.

But here’s something I didn’t fully appreciate until recently: those hurdles can affect the people around the couple, and when they do it can be a significant effect.

Say you have two couples. Couple A has their issues, even serious ones, but they keep it behind closed doors. Their friends and families aren’t particularly aware that they’re having a rough time, and therefore no one ends up dogpiling in with their two cents. That’s not going to have much of an effect on anyone around them, except eventually they might break up and it will come as a surprise to everyone.

For better or for worse, couple B is not as discrete. There’s a lot of different ways that could manifest. Maybe one of them is the kind of person who wants the people around them to pick sides. Are their friends and family the kind of people who would…

  • Take one’s side and be nasty to the other just on principle
  • Take one’s side and offer support, while remaining non-confrontational
  • Take no one’s side, at least not officially, but stay out of it and on okay terms with both
  • Take no one’s side, at least not officially, but privately think they’re both in the wrong and gets more and more pissed at whichever one is more responsible for dragging everyone into their drama but will never say so because ugh, confrontation
  • Just really try to ignore it and not take sides, with minor exceptions when one of them is being totally insufferable
  • Not say anything to their faces but casually try and defend the underdog when the meaner one is really laying into them about something

Other factors to ponder:

  • Does the couple have kids together?
  • Are the in-laws drawn into the fray?
  • Does it become a factor at family gatherings like birthdays and Christmas?
  • Who’s sad, who’s angry, who’s both?
  • Who accepts it as just something that’s happening, like whatever?
  • Who’s frustrated and wants everyone to just shut up?
  • Who has a lot of feelings but has no one in the family they feel like they can discuss it with, rather than just telling/venting/dumping and getting no response back?

Families are complicated organisms. We all know this, and we’re frequently counseled to write what we know.

What family dynamics would you add to these lists of possibilities?

Wednesday Words of Wisdom #7 — Doing the Dishes

“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” ~ Agatha Christie

I’ve done a lot of things while doing the dishes, but mostly my main goals while doing so are (a) getting the dishes washed and (b) getting dirt from under my fingernails.

But I get the point. A lot of story planning often happens while taking care of menial tasks that don’t require a great deal of thought. Mild boredom leads to idle speculation, idle speculation leads to new character or plot ideas, new character or plot ideas lead to the write side. Continue reading “Wednesday Words of Wisdom #7 — Doing the Dishes”

A to Z Challenge #22 — View

A couple weeks ago, I stepped off my second flight and into the Indianapolis airport. I’d never been to Indianapolis before. I don’t think I’d ever even been to Indiana before. But I already had my shuttle ticket to get to the hotel, and the shuttle stop was easy to find. It was also my first business trip, and my first experience with the certain knowledge that even if the hotel room wasn’t already paid for, I would be reimbursed in full. In return, I just wouldn’t leave the hotel at all that weekend in favor of attending seminars for the conference I was there for.

Continue reading “A to Z Challenge #22 — View”

Wednesday Words of Wisdom #4 — Hostages

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“If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favorite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable.” ~ Joss Whedon

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I am not surprised to see a quote like this come from someone who’s created some of my favorite characters and then murdered them. Why Wash, why? Still, this is classic advice.

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” ~ William Faulkner

As writers, we like our characters. We like our plots We like our settings. And sometimes we get so overfond of them that it’s hard to hear the constructive criticisms they sometimes need. We “kill our darlings” and resurrect them in another form with every fresh round of editing — or maybe we put them to rest and let them stay there. Maybe they’ll reincarnate in a different story entirely someday.

Joss’ quote is more like… holding your darlings hostage. Because taking your best idea out? Your best idea? (My immediate suspicion is that my favorite idea or scene is central, the one I’m building my entire story concept on.) Either you grit your teeth and do it, or you kick into high gear and figure out how to save it. You bargain. You manage another page so that you can justify keeping your favorite.

When it really comes down to it, what would you do? Would you take this advice? Would you need someone else to tell you to write more or cut it? I know I would. Could be a cool group writing exercise.

Wednesday Words of Wisdom #3 – Writing Time

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“Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e. do not cave in to endless requests to have ‘essential’ and ‘long overdue’ meetings on those days.” ~ J. K. Rowling

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I am not the kind of person who sets up writing days for myself. I do try to put blocks of writing time on my calendar, but those are subject to, um, forgetting to do that. On the occasions when I do have a writing day, it’s both wonderful and ineffably spontaneous.

But the appeal is undeniable. I’ve seen lots of advice along the lines of not waiting for “the right mood” because then you might end up waiting around forever, rather than writing the whatever it is you know is inside you somewhere. Once you manage to carve that out of your life — which takes a greater combination of energy and willpower than I have at the moment— hang onto it with tooth and nail. There will always be other priorities to consider, but that’s just life. If your writing time is important to you then carve out time somewhere else for the other stuff.

So far this post is a little “do ask JK days and not as I do.” Oops. On the other hand, I have set this posting schedule and held myself to it. Since doing so, I’ve written more than I have in years! So maybe I do have writing times, albeit more in the form of self-imposed deadlines. This strategy might not work for everyone, but since I never fell into the write-it-the-night-before camp in school I think this is just what works for me. It might not be writing days but I do put up a fight when it comes to getting my posts up as planned.

What’s your writing time strategy, blog-writing or otherwise? Do you have different strategies for different types of writing?