Friday, September 5, 2014

Be Not Afraid

I used to be so good at blogging. I just fell off the wagon for a while. But today's writing tip is something I've been thinking about a lot, lately. Enough that I actually remembered to get on and blog about it.

It's natural to be afraid of failure. I imagine this comes from an ancestral fear of the crop dying, or the hunt being unsuccessful. Being unable to eat is, indeed, a failure of dire consequences.

Even today, failure is not a pleasant experience. It hurts to see so much work go to waste, when a project doesn't work out. And sometimes, for those artistic souls among us especially, the amount of food in our house really does hinge on the level of success we achieve.

But failure is also the mother of improvement. Very few ravenously successful inventions or ideas have reached such prestige in their rough draft forms. To use a somewhat cliche example, Thomas Edison didn't hit on the right lightbulb formula on his first try. Or even his first dozen tries.

I didn't make an awesome Harry Potter wand the very first time I picked up a stick of wood and a knife. In fact, I'm a little flabbergasted at the rudimentary level of work, whenever I see those first tries. My wands look like they do now through an enormous amount of trial and error. Many attempts got scrapped in the process. And, even better, many became something else. A newer, prettier, more excellent idea that never would have happened without total failure on some front or another.

Like both of these. They actually were supposed to be something completely different, but accidents happened, and I had to improvise. The end product ended up being much better than the original concept. (Although the cheap phone pics don't at all do them justice, unfortunately.)

History is rife with examples of this, so I won't sit here and list them all. Doing that won't convince anyone anyway. Because we've all heard it before. The straight truth is that it's hard to not be afraid of failure. I get that. But


In the realm of writing, this is as applicable as anywhere. I have multiple friends in multiple places around the world who have expressed similar sentiments.

But what if they don't like it?

What if they think I'm no good?

I just don't think I could take that kind of rejection.

I mean, if you're cool being George 1.0, that's fine, I guess. See you in 30 years, still wearing 90's hair, dead end job, and probably watching old Friends reruns. I'm off to try to be successful. Even if I don't make it, I'll be in a better place than that. And I'll be happy as I do it.  

I think my point is quite clear, here. You can't possibly know what you're capable of if you avoid any and all risk. You'll never change, never grow, and never get anywhere.

Dreams can only be realized through the risk of failure.

Weird concept, but a true one. Risk begets results. Hiding begets... well, George 1. Sometimes those risks work out, and sometimes they don't. But they for sure won't work out if you don't take them. Why guarantee failure when you can reduce the chances of it by a solid 50%?

No one's first ever story is Tolkien. Not even Tolkien's. No one knows just how NANOWRIMO will be the first time they get themselves into it. Even Rowling got rejection letters. But all of those failures build you into who you are. You won't be much of anyone without them.

-Afraid of NANO because what if you don't make it? SO WHAT? You'll have learned a great deal about your writing process. You'll have experimented with new ways of writing (which might end up really working for you.) You'll have grown emotionally by putting yourself out there. And who knows. You might actually make it, and then you'll have accomplished something. There's nothing so good for the soul as succeeding at something totally crazy.

-Afraid of querying agents, because what if they say no? SO WHAT? If they say no, are you any worse off? On the contrary, you'll have learned something about what works and what doesn't, which you can use next time. You'll also learn something about yourself. That first rejection letter really is a critical moment in your life. The way you react will help define the whole rest of your path.

My first rejection really kicked me into gear. Most things I've done thus far usually fall by the wayside when the going gets tough. And to that point, writing was like that too. Casual, lazy, and not really going to go anywhere. And then I got the rejection. Unlike all of the other stuff I'd tried, this rejection sent me careening down a path of "I WILL SUCCEED NO MATTER HOW HARD IT GETS!"

I suddenly knew that I didn't mind the difficulties. I worked harder than ever, and improved enormously. And that never would have happened without the crossroads. If you hit that rejection crossroads and can't take it, well, you're probably in the wrong line of work anyway. And it's good to find that out sooner rather than later. You have to find the thing in your life that you want to work hard for.

-Afraid of showing other people your work, because what if they think you're an idiot? SHOW THEM ANYWAY. Writers aren't islands either. You will stagnate without other people to help you. That's true in any career. And if they do think you're an idiot, then at least you'll know what doesn't work, so you can fix it. (As it turns out, my mother is a spectacular proofreader. She found typos that a dozen other people never saw.)

- Afraid of fear? CAST A PATRONUS CHARM. They're invaluable.

Okay, Okay, I'll let up for now. My point is just that life is meant to be lived. Things are meant to be learned. Mistakes are MEANT to be made.

All I know is that I wouldn't trade all those mistakes for anything. Sure, they hurt at the time. But I don't want to go back to being that same old dumb teenager. I'll keep getting awesomer, thanks. 

And on that note, I'll just leave you with this Making of George 2.0 montage.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

To Dance Again

It's been a long time. And I am ashamed. Things don't always go as planned, and I don't even have a life-altering tragedy to blame.

Just life. Every day ticking of the clock. And suddenly you wake up to realize that two years have passed. Or ten. Or fifty. And you just wonder where it all went.

But I'm back. (from outer space). (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

I'm back, and I have some fantastic news along with it. See, during the past two years, I've been doing some serious learning, growing, and working on my writing. And yeah, I've still got a long, long way to go. But I woke up this week and had one of those moments. Where has all the time gone? What do I have to show for it?

I have a book.

Several, in fact. I've completed a number of novels, but most of them aren't fit for human consumption. Not yet. But Evey... she's been around for a while now. Four years ago, a flash of inspiration hit me. I pounded out 40k words in 3 weeks. Which is not unlike a NANOWRIMO pace. It was crazy. Like a whirlwind romance in 1920's Paris, that you know can't last forever, but you can't tear yourself away either.

It slowed a little, after that. But the writing still went crazy. And I ended up with a crush on this sweet guy named Isaiah, and idolizing the sheer tenacity of this tiny little teenage girl called Evey. No matter what I've worked on, she never left my side. And finally, after a lot of work (and an enormous amount of learning, fixing, re-vamping, and beta testing), Evey is ready.

I'm no Gail Carson Levine. I'm no Suzanne Collins, or John Flanagan, or Agatha Christie. (Great holy spacemonkeys, who ever could be Agatha Christie? The woman was a genius.)

I recognize those things. But Evey hit a point where she was as polished as a story ever gets. I've been using the finest grained sandpaper that exists, and there's nothing more I can do for her.

Except turn her over to you.

This week, The Greenwood Shadow goes up on Amazon. Read. Enjoy. (Or at least, fake enjoying it, so that lots of other people will buy my book and bring me happiness. And by happiness I mean money.)

(But also actual happiness.)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Great Lines

Every now and then, something that I write comes across perfectly. More than that, even. It turns out beautiful.

This is rare for me. So I have to celebrate when it does happen.

This is a line that I did almost 2 years ago, but every time I read it, it makes me fist pump and say "Boo-yeah. Bring it, Sir Guy. Bring it." What can I say? Evey is basically my hero.

“You are right, Sir Guy. There are some people who are better than others. But it isn’t because of where they were born. It is their actions that raise and lower men. And judging by your actions, you are one of the lowest pieces of filth to plague this world. Hang me, if you must. Add one more crime to your conscience.”

Richard is unquestionably, the best Sir Guy ever. ^  (Nothing like the Creepy McCreeperton that Evey faces.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Girls Who Read - Mark Grist

I'm pretty much obsessed with this. Feel free to judge me. I'm not even ashamed.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When a Book Changes Your Life - The Hunger Games

If you get emotionally involved in a story, then it's a good book.

If you can read it a second or third time, and still be just as invested, if not more, then it is a great book.

If your life is irrevocably altered for the better because of what you read, then it is literature of the highest quality. 

Last summer I finished reading The Hunger Games for the second time, and it literally changed everything. 

The movie premiered this past week, so I thought it was a good time to revisit my old blog post. I especially feel that the timing is right, because of some of the anti-Hunger Games sentiment that is going around. 

Every major book is going to have its revilers. For Harry Potter, it was the witchcraft thing. For the Hunger Games it happens to be the brutal combat-to-the-death of 24 teenagers. 

For obvious reasons, I understand where they're coming from. You want me to read a book about young kids being forced to fight each other in a gladiator-esque arena? No thank you. 

I know a lot of people who don't want to read the series because of this. I've even heard people calling it "spiritually damaging." But it's actually the exact opposite. 

I'd go so far as to say that:

The Hunger Games is inspiring and spiritually enlightening.  

Yes, violent things happen. Yes, adorable 12 year old girls get brutally murdered. Yes, people watch it like a sick reality tv show. 

The plot is disturbing. But it's not what the book is about. It's about kids who have to be strong to survive in a hard world. It's about people standing up for their rights. It's about a girl who would offer herself up for certain death, just to protect her little sister. 

Those bad things happen in the plot because they have to be overcome. 

All of those things are inspiring enough to spawn half a dozen blog posts. But there's more. Something that I think we often forget, but I hope I never will. Not after last June. 

As I said, I was re-reading The Hunger Games. The book was awesome enough the first time. That second time though, I really got into it. I already knew the characters and what was going to happen, but I still spent the whole time covering my face and wishing that it would change. Sadly, it didn't. Things still happened, and I still cried.

About ten minutes later, in my after-book stupor, I didn't really know what to do with myself. As usual, I replayed the book over and over in my head, but I'm a multi-tasker by nature. I needed something unobtrusive to do while I analyzed everything. 

I hadn't had dinner, so even though I wasn't particularly hungry, I got in the car and started driving. I didn't feel like having anything I passed, and I ended up at Walmart.

As I drove, I began to be impressed by the sheer absurdity of traffic. How people get so mad at other people, or get so obsessed about their precious cars. I'd thought about that kind of stuff before, so it wasn't new, but it was on my mind more than usual.

Then I walked in through the door of Walmart, and I was suddenly hit with a wave of disgust.

I walked past four or five drink machines, two crane machines, and a red box. The commercialism almost overwhelmed me. The flashy labels. The lights. The totally unnecessary products, and the billions of dollars spent in marketing them.

I have to be honest, I almost turned around and walked right back out then and there. But I needed groceries. So I entered the store itself.

Rows and rows of food, piled up for anyone's taking. Dozens of racks with shirts and pants and jackets and socks. Aisles filled with the most advanced toys a kid could ask for. Video games, movies, cell phones, cameras, TVs, laptops.

I felt like a Capital yuppie.

All I needed were a few clueless people. Selfish, arrogant, decorated and clothed according to fashions, and oblivious to the bounty around them... oh wait, Wal-mart had those too. In abundance. Hundreds of them milling about. Complaining about how hard life is while filling their carts without even a thought.

Isn't it scary? How different are we really? Suzanne Collins might have exaggerated a bit when she wrote the Capitol citizens. But only a bit. A very little bit.

I take so much for granted, and I am guilty of emphasizing things that aren't really important. I'd realized that before, but it never hit me on such a deep, extremely real level.

I was disgusted. Almost to the point of nausea.

There really aren't any words that convey the depth of my revulsion for the society in which I found myself. Suffice it to say that I was shocked in a way that I have never been shocked before.

It's been almost a year since then. I am once again capable of shopping in Wal-mart without puking. I almost wish that I wasn't. If it weren't for that silly thing about needing to eat to stay alive... 

Every time I read the books, I remember that night. And every time, I remember that I am not starving. I have clothes. I have shelter. I have the right to vote. 

I have piles of food. Literally. High quality, disease free, pre-harvested piles of food, to be more specific. And how often do we walk past this without even realizing how fantastic it is?

So word to the wise: Don't go to Wal-mart 5 minutes after reading The Hunger Games. Or better yet, DO. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I posted this on my other blog a long time ago. I was going through old posts tonight, and thought that this was a good one to revisit.

I have begun to accept the fact that I will never be eloquent.

Some people just aren't born to be that way. And I'm becoming increasingly sure that I am one of those people. It sucks sometimes because there are occasions when I suddenly understand some concept really well, or come to a realization about my life that I'm sure would help other people if they got it too. And then I try to explain it and it blows up in my face. I never do it justice.

Like now, for example. I've already erased sentences that were an attempt to explain this idea in a more prosy way. And they were stupid.

This is also weird because I do write things. Like stories. People automatically assume that if someone writes stories, they are good with words. Unfortunately, this is an egregious falsehood.

Maybe I'm too dramatic for prosy, flowery description. I like exaggeration and explosions and sword fights and words like egregious. Things that are just too big for poetry.

Maybe I'm meant to be an understander, but not an explainer. It could be that it's one of my life trials to never be able to clearly communicate what my brain so effectively comprehends.

But also, maybe there are just too many people who use too many words. As nice as it would be to lend credibility to my little speeches through eloquence, maybe that's not what the world needs more of right now. Maybe we need more people who see it and tell it like it is, even if it is rough around the edges. It could be that we need more people who focus on the meat of the issue, and not the saying of it in a favorable way. Who can explain something so everyone can understand it, and not just the "intellectuals".

It's not a great thing, sometimes. People quite often look down on you if you can't present yourself just right. Appearance and sophistication are everything in this world. If you don't have it, you're no one. Which causes for a lot of... left-out-ness. I'm taken as a no one on so many levels. After all, if you're not pretty in the face or pretty in words, what else is there?

But I'm starting to notice that being so very different is good. If every person was the same, the world would be really, really, REALLY boring. It's hard. And there are days when I wish I could just fit in. But most of the time I'm starting to appreciate it. After all, there are things that I have that no one else does, and they do it to themselves. They could be happy in that way, or stressless in that way, or whatever it is. But they don't, because they care too much about pleasing the man.

Even now, while I'm trying to explain that it's okay to not be prosy, I still keep trying. And it's really not that good. But it's an ongoing process. Being alright with not fitting in will not happen overnight. But I'm sure it will eventually.

These things always turn out a lot longer than I'd like. I also have a problem with being succinct.Which I suppose is related to my lack of explaining ability.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Writing is hard. Why do you do it?

I've heard a lot of different reasons for writing. I want to be famous. I want to get rich like J. K. Rowling. I want to work from my home when my kids are asleep. They run the gamut.

But by far, the most common response I hear is:

"I write for me."

Without accusing these people of lying, I ask: What does that even mean?

I'm not being sarcastic here. I really want to know. Because I sure don't spend hours typing, and correcting, and re-reading, and correcting again, and banging my head into the wall just "for me". I don't get it.

When I do say that to myself, it comes across in one of two ways.

1) A pretentious way of saying "You didn't want to publish me? Well screw you. I didn't write it to be published anyway."

2) As a self defense mechanism. "I actually do want to be published more than anything in the world, but if I tell people that I only write for me, then it won't be so crushing when I get rejection letters."

Whatever the case, though, writing is hard. And to do it well takes a lot of work. "I write for me" isn't strong enough on its own to justify all that work. People who say it must have more specific reasons. I just don't know what they are.

Why do I write?

I have a crippling shyness. It is a real process to get me warmed up in a crowd of people that I don't know.

And then when you do get me talking, I don't shut up. On, and on, and on, and on, about things that they really didn't need to know. (My blogs are more like my talking than my writing.) I've shocked a lot of people that way. They never see it coming. The energizer bunny of rambling.

Let's just say I'm really bad with people. The Supreme Chancellor of All Awkwardness.

And yet, unlike a lot of writers, I am not all that introverted. I need people. I need to communicate with people. To connect with them, and share ideas with them. Everything about me works better when I have someone else there to help me.

As you can see, this creates quite a problem.

That's why writing is perfect for me. I can share ideas, tell a story, make someone laugh or cry. I can connect with someone. But I can type it out, read it a few hundred times, and make sure it says the right thing first.

"I just write for me" will never work in my case. Because I NEED the audience. I need to be heard. I need to be responded to. And writing is the only way I can do that effectively.

I write because I need to communicate.

Why do you write? If "I write for me" is applicable, what does it actually mean to you?