Monday, June 29, 2015

5 Problems Writers Face...with a Couple Solutions

1. Writer's Block
The dreadful writer's block creeps upon even the best and most creative writers at some point in their careers. The blank screen just seems intimidating, the words feel forced like scraping paste out of your brain, or there's an obstacle that is even worse--lack of time. There are so many ways to overcome this and many blogs that discuss it. You need to do what works best for you, since everyone is different. Besides a lack of time to write, I've overcome every instance of writer's block easily. What I do is simply keep writing, something else of course. Be it a blog entry like this, a new short story or new premise to a novel, I write no matter how bad it is. I actually am always "working" on about 5-8 pieces. When I'm stumped somewhere, I move onto a different one. Rarely do I get through looking at all the projects and still am unable to write. Every blue moon when that occurs, I go into my own slush pile, comb through the ideas, snippets, and drivel I've written years ago (I've kept manuscripts written in high school). If there's nothing there that inspires me to write I read a book. It takes me out of my own plot for a couple days, and then I get back to work. Another great tip I've seen out there is to change your medium by handwriting if you're used to typing, or record your voice telling the story. I also bounce my ideas off friends and let them contribute. More than none the ideas don't end up in my draft but their ideas spark some of my own.

2. Perfectionist Tendencies
This is a hard one. Being a perfectionist is rough in writing because it never is perfect. You edit draft after draft, and revise it until the book is now rotted pulp on the bottom of floor of a paper factory. It feels that bad. Then after you get it professionally edited (huge internet debate where some claim a good writer needs no editor, but that's nonsense because no one is perfect), which I still do despite being an English professor, someone finds a missing comma and you want to throw yourself off a bridge. You simply have to learn to let go. It's tantamount to dropping your kid off at school for the first time. You've prepped him, prepared him, but you won't be there to ensure he is perfectly behaved or does well. You have to--in the words of Frozen's Elsa--"Let it go." I had someone criticize my blog because I  had a few typos (I posted and then proofread when able to back then), and this person said, "It's not worth doing unless you can do it perfectly." I lived that way for a long time, which is why I  never had a blog, never tried to get published, and never let anyone read my book. I would never get anywhere in life if I only acted upon things that would be perfect. I don't think anyone would because no one is perfect, especially in a subjective business such as writing where style and content are almost as equally valued as perfect grammar.

3. Bad Criticism or Reviews
The subjectivity of the industry leads to this one. Recently on Facebook I saw a link writers were up in arms about. An author verbally attacked a reader for giving a bad review. It was your average bad review, not even scathing, just the reader admitted that she did not like the novel and it was falsely described as similar to other novels in the genre. The man went insane on her as far as accusing her to stealing the food out of his mouth and ruining his career. All my writer friends could not believe the audacity of the author. Yes, we all take bad reviews and negative criticism badly. It's like someone criticizes your child as a failure because you've put so much sweat, tears, and energy into creating the novel. However, you must learn to handle it and turn it to constructive criticism. After I initially get over the negative feedback, like swallowing cough syrup, it fades. Then I go back and read it and see what I can glean out of it to improve myself or my writing. I really hate still when someone is not constructive--"I hated it. I don't now why, but I just did"--does not help anyone. Every review I leave, whether good or bad, I spell out what I thought could use improvement and what I thought worked well. There's no real advice on how to get over this hurdle but just know they happen and you should never verbally challenge them unless the reader is absolutely wrong. I saw this once where a reader proclaimed historical inaccuracies and the author sent the reader a very nice response with a link to educate the reader that in fact the author had it right. This peaceful exchange made the reader add another star to the review. Authors and readers are all people, so treat them that way. Even though they can't see each other's face, cyberbullying is ridiculous and childish.

4. Test Groups
This one is the largest challenge for me. It is always a good idea to have about ten readers to read your book and give it feedback if you've never been published. I have seen this advice on many publishers and agents websites, one even wanting a list and their written feedback. This is problematic. If the book does not yet have a copyright you want to give it to people you trust. I know a man who had his poetry stolen, put into a contest where the woman won, and had to sue and prove his copyright to get the prize, money, and the magazine even paid and interviewed him about the incident and how it is a problem today to post writing on the internet. Fearing this kind of situation, you give it to friends and family. However, these people will rarely give you negative feedback; in fact, I'm learning that although they are very interested in helping you by reading your story, they actually don't do it. They either don't make the time, or worse, they can't get into it or dislike it but don't have the heart to tell you. I sent my novel to ten people to read. Two read it and it's been six months. One was a glowing review, one had some constructive criticism but read the roughest draft I had. I am still trying to figure this one out.

5. Time Constraints
Whether it is a deadline, a full time job, childrearing, or a full social calendar, writers lack time to actually write. This is the largest problem I have and there's little advice out there about what to do except to make time. And I do. Some days it's twenty minutes of sketching out a plot or writing out an exposition scene that establishes a character; I do something--every single day. At times it is only jotting down what my daydreaming yielded on the way home from work or writing a scene in my head before bed, mentally saving it for later. No matter what, I find the time. Even right now my three year old son is looking over my shoulder telling which letters I'm pressing. To be a writer, you have to write, and ignore distractions, so you truly must make time. Sometimes my notes, plot outlines, character sketches, and random scenes don't get used until summer, where I don't work much. Then I have plenty of time to hang out with my child and to write.

No matter what, writers have obstacles. It s a hard, subjective business, that takes a lot of effort and work. Not everyone can do it. But there are ways to make things easier if it is simply letting go of notions of perfection or making the time to hone your craft. These all can be overcome with some conditioning and by making small changes in life.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Contest Season: "Skin" (A Subverted Fairy Tale Office Romance)

Meet the Hero...

Chapter 2

                Russell had been at Lordon PR and Marketing for seven years but rose up the ranks for doing an exceptional job. He was efficient, finished before deadlines, ideas came quickly to him, and he had a lot of free time. Being a reserved and kind man, he never really got to date much. A few girls in the past were bold enough to instigate a relationship with him, one being Sally whom he dated for three years. The relationship became companionable, so much so that when she suggested marriage he refused and they parted ways. There wasn’t even a fight. He never even missed her. He actually was quite happy to give her the apartment and moved into a much bigger one downtown.

                He worried from time to time about his lonely and dull life with its constant routines: coffee shop mornings, work, the gym, watching TV or reading a book, and Friday meeting up with friends. On the weekend he’d clean the apartment and take care of all the other miscellaneous things life needed to run smoothly. One Sunday every month, he visited family: golf, dinners, or a BBQ at his older brother Jim and his partner Larry’s house in the suburbs.

                His life was full, but there was no spark. His friend Brian made him meet up with girls every Friday, always scheduling double dates. Sometimes Russell slept with them, sometimes he didn’t, but rarely did he ever pursue them. He longed for something to happen to him. Brian lectured him that he had to drop the “adolescent apathetic act and grab life by the horns and make his own adventure,” but he just couldn’t figure out how or who to start the next chapter of his life with.

                Then one day, a bubbly, blond intern walked in the door. Goldie was beautiful so he knew his boss George, who thought with his cock all the time, would hire her. Russell liked to watch her, not in a creepy way but he found everything about her to be exciting. She was like a live wire, always full of energy. In meetings her foot would tap on the floor driving him to distraction; she would bite the end of her pen when she was thinking hard. She was outspoken always giving input, and she was intelligent, although for some reason she seemed to hide it. She made herself memorable and when they had a meeting to discuss hiring on one of the interns, he suggested Goldie by listing all of her good work and the accounts she helped in. No one thought anything of his recommendation, since Russell was known to be punctilious about everything. They thought he just kept track of everything about everyone.

                Russell couldn’t fool himself though. He was beginning to have a thing for her; the more he learned about her, the more he liked. Finally that spark he had been looking for was happening. He was just too damn timid to randomly ask her out. He listened to her talk about terrible boyfriends and horrible dates to Kelly, her only co-worker friend (a former intern herself a year before), with tolerance, at times subduing the green monster within him. He listened to colleagues criticize and belittle her, the men with a lustful “respect” towards her “real assets” and the women with venomous and thinly veiled jealousy, digging desperately for flaws to make their more unappealing looks be comparable to the stunning Goldie. A few guys even tried to ask her out, but she turned them down gently with the cliché I-don’t-date-co-workers excuse. This backfired on her when Martin, the “copy guy,” quit in hopes to go out with her and she denied him. He scampered back in with his tail between his legs begging for his job back. He didn’t get it. Now George had her in his scope and only two things happened to the women at the firm after George made his advances: they’d sleep with him or he’d find a legal way to fire them. He wondered when he should act, when he should talk to her even. All the banter between them was a few sentences in board meetings about work related things. She hardly even ever looked at him or acknowledged his presence.

Patience, he told himself repeatedly. An opportunity must arise to throw them together, he told himself; isn’t that the way in movies and novels after all?

Then one day while he was handing over the Dormer account information to Sara, the crone mentioned Goldie getting her raise in conference room A while lewdly poking her tongue in her cheek to gesture a blow job. He found his opportunity. Without even think about the repercussions or what he was doing or saying, just thinking about poor innocent Goldie in the clutches of George he opened his usually passive mouth.

“Sara, that’s the kind of gossip that will get you fired,” Russell said quietly with a smile. Sara’s mouth dropped open in shock and she flustered and stammered out something unintelligible. The two other women whose names escaped him scattered off back into their cubicles like ants in the rain. “Conference room A you said?” Then he left her, her mouth dangling open still.

Not knowing how to quell the storm of rage inside of him, he walked down the hall. He was about to get fired because he’d never let George get to her, not Goldie, not someone who represented perfection and innocence wrapped in beauty.

George stormed out of the conference room with a smug grin and walked briskly down the hall. Russell sighed with relief that his boss didn’t see him approaching or talk to him because Russell knew what he’d say would in fact lose him his job and any hope of references.

Russell, heart pounding wildly in his chest, stood outside the door hesitant on what his next move should be.