IWSG: The Development of the Writing Dream

Questions: What started you on your writing journey? Was it a particular book, movie, story, or series? Was it a teacher/coach/spouse/friend/parent? Did you just “know” suddenly you wanted to write?

As an infant, I was surrounded by written works. Someone, possibly my mom, bought me encyclopedia sets in the year of my birth. My father, I’ve been told, read National Geographic magazines to me. Although he later hated that I was an avid reader, he must’ve been one of my biggest influences in learning to read sometime around the age of three. I couldn’t talk well, yet I could read. Learning how to write was easier for me than it seems to be for most children. And in school, we were expected to tell stories through writing.

So I wrote.

I hid much of my writing. That my stories could be criticized the way everything else did (generally, harshly and without prompting). In my diaries, I often self-censored to avoid leaving content that could be used to harm me. I buried one elementary school diary that I’d been too honest in using as a record. My notebooks for fiction were covered in the closet, stuffed under my mattress, or kept at the bottom of deliberate messes in my room, when I had a room and unboxed stuff of my own. (Home was a precarious thing in my childhood.)

Meanwhile, when I completed those school assignments, teachers praised my stories. One summer in my early teens, I read the community library’s copy of How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card. The praise and the steps I saw described toward publishing inspired me to believe I could one day be A Writer ✨.

Several moves and other major life changes later, I was in my 20s, working full-time, and processing the news of my first cancer diagnosis. It was a only little cancer, I was told. That’s not what it felt like. The diagnosis frightened me into reconsidering my life goals.

I still wanted to a writer. Specifically, I realized, I wanted to be a published writer, an author, preferably in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Why? Because that was what I had most enjoyed reading, watching, and plotting out in the privacy of my mind since I had seen Star Wars for the first time at nine years old. Someone suggested that movie was a part of Science Fiction. I looked for books like it, starting with Star Wars Expanded Universe tie-ins that introduced me to the works of authors such as Kevin J. Anderson, Timothy Zahn, Dave Wolverton, and Rebecca Moesta. Then at thirteen years old, I read over my sister’s shoulder a book titled Ender’s Game. That is what led me to looking up all the books by Card that were marked with spaceship and unicorn stickers in my community library.


Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

This January 8 posting of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group (IWSG) was co-hosted by T. Powell Coltrin,Victoria Marie LeesStephen TrempJ.H. Moncrieff.

The purpose of the IWSG is to share and encourage. Writers may express doubts and concerns in their posts without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. The groups is meant to be a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. To see a full list of IWSG authors, click here.

IWSG: To Live the Writing Dream

Let’s play a game. Imagine. Role-play. How would you describe your future writer self, your life and what it looks and feels like if you were living the dream? Or if you are already there, what does it look and feel like? Tell the rest of us. What would you change or improve?

Imagine a better future. That’s an interesting challenge.

For me, part of the challenge is to decide whether or not to imagine I am living with all of the disabilities and marginalization of today. Politics will obviously play a part in the reality. We are not supposed to discuss political topics within IWSG, so in this post, I will simply imagine a political environment that has not significantly worsened so that where I live in this future scenario can provide my preferred social services.

My Successful Future

In my ideal future, I am living in comfortable home. Perhaps it is a 2,000-square feet house on a sizeable piece of property, enough for watching the wildlife in mature trees. No smokers live in the neighborhood, as far as I’m aware. I can walk during writing breaks around my property or down the street without worrying about attacks from dogs or humans. A bus or light rail stop is nearby for errands, because a writer needs groceries and meetups.

The city where I live contains restaurants where it’s safe for me to eat. I meet up with critique partners for coffee (or their drink of choice). Writing groups organize regular gatherings. Bookstores–and there are several–and libraries–including one where I am a frequent visitor– hold wonderful events where I can give readings, sign books, and talk to audience members.

I’m making enough money to attend a few literary conferences or conventions a year.

The cause of my perpetual back pain and fatigue was identified and treated. I have access to decent healthcare and use it as needed. What this means for my schedule is that I can write everyday at the most efficient times for creativity, such as from early morning to lunch then in the late evening, instead of squeezing in lines at the least agonizing times. Most likely, Mondays through Fridays, I start with novel scenes, tackle poetry in the transition to making lunch, and end the day with short story

Mid-afternoon is when I check social media and take care of household chores. The early evening and weekends are when I can give the most attention to my child.

My child, by the way, attends a safe public school where the teachers prioritize her (and all the students’) well-being. We do not need to spend too many hours each week on educational projects. She can play without having to compete, as she friends who we both can trust. We create together.

I write everywhere on a tablet in my home and while on trips. However, I keep a clean desk with a computer in my home library (perhaps 20% of the house space for all the bookcases).

What Am I Writing?

Novels. Short stories. Poems. A mixture of mundane fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and horror (because I appear to be incapable of avoiding it). The occasional autobiographical piece, and related essays.

Not all of what I write is published, yet enough goes out to an eager audience that I can talk with confidence about my projects.

My novels and/or short stories are nominated for awards. When I release a poetry chapbook, someone I have never met both buys it and reviews it.

Changes That Lead to This Future

In our present time, my house is about 1,200 square feet on a nice property in a relatively peaceful neighborhood. This residence is considerably safer than our previous house, which had been lacking modern air conditioning (problematic for concentrating during record-breaking heat waves), had been surrounded by cigarette smokers (troublesome for allergy management and infant care), and periodically swarmed by loose, aggressive dogs that would provide a distraction during writing breaks but not allow for any rest. There has been progress, in that I can now sit either inside or outside at home most days without fearing an attack.

Part of that safety comes from remaining reclusive, however. My current community is poor, conservative in the rural “We want to return to the 1950s!” kind of way, and unsupportive of authors. We have no public transportation, no restaurants or coffee shops that can accommodate special needs, no bookstores, one small group of mostly transplanted and cautious writers, few medical resources, and not the best shopping options. (Supplies and new clothes for public events are purchased online when the internet connection isn’t too slow.) Not mentioned above is that the literary conventions I want to reach would be either in a nearby metro area or easily accessible through that city. Where I live is several hours away from those options.

The hard truth is that for part of my dream, I will need to move, again. My happiest dreams are in the Pacific Northwest, close to where I grew up. That is on the opposite side of North America, and that will be expensive move. My spouse might not go with me.

There is no guarantee that I will be able to access healthcare before it’s too late. I will continue looking at options, but life is unpredictable. So are death and disabilities.

The struggle to reach my dream that I know how to control at this point is to write everyday. When I can’t work on novels, I try to focus on short stories. When those are overwhelming, I strive to complete poems. Anytime the physical acts of writing by hand or typing are too painful, I aim to read. With too many distractions to read a complete work, I squeeze in writing analysis in my mind.

I am a writer. That one part of my oldest dream has long been achieved.


Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

The purpose of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group is to share and encourage. Writers may express doubts and concerns in their posts without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. To see a full list of IWSG authors, click here.

Writing as Self-Harm

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has started.  Already, the event has been educational. This post is about what I learned on the first day of November.

I must make begin by making an awkward confession. Looking through an old novel draft helped me understand the strength of my self-loathing.

Writing novels has been intensively painful for the past ten years, despite the previous years of study of the craft. The reason why appears to be in how I latch on to the most difficult stories I can conceptualize–stories that require literary techniques that only the greatest writing masters might use successfully–then tell myself the story should be easy to write.

I was a high jumper way back in high school. If you don’t know the sport, it’s basically sprinting a short distance to jump over backwards over a high bar. Before my time, high jumpers used what’s known as a barrel roll to face the bar during the jump, but people nowadays go over backwards to land on a thick crash mat. The biggest risks of botching a jump are in hitting the bar, usually when it’s too high. Training involves moving the bar an inch higher each time a skill is improved.

The bar could be higher for this jumper.

Writing can be similar to high jumping. For example, the primary skill that NaNoWriMo is meant to develop is working out a routine for quick novel draft writing.

I have won NaNoWriMo before. Pushing out 50,000 words for one project in a month was tiring and frightening at times. However, making a mess with an unusual book I intend to never share in its entirety was fun, overall. That project felt like jumping without any major disabilities over a series of low foam hurdles.

Every novel-length projects intended for publication has been like a bar on top of a wall that’s taller than my head. I’ve slammed against the wall and scrabbled at it, fallen at bad angles and refused help in recovery, all while insisting that anyone who deserves to jump could make it over. I couldn’t see until now that the skills needed for each wall are beyond what even brilliant writers start out with. Talent only gets one over the lower bars.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had much talent, anyway. Innate skill can’t be as easily measured in writing. There’s no actual bar in publishing with a measuring stick of success beside a story. Competition isn’t the same as in sports. Success is too varied; though, on a personal scale, injuries will interfere in almost any activity.

Working on novels has caused me physical harm that I won’t describe at this time. The emotional toll might’ve also cost me a paying career or two. I don’t want to go into what I’ve tried to write, because those are explanations for another time.

I will give a vague but serious warning that throwing yourself into obstacles that are not yet the challenges you’re meant to take on is dangerous. When you’re waking from nightmares with thoughts about how life would be better if you could only figure out the problems in a story, that story was a wrong choice.

Writing, supposedly, is supposed to fun, or it’s fulfilling. Hitting a wall over and over again means you’re facing the wrong direction. It means the wall needs bars as footholds for climbing.

I haven’t been building up for the climb.

What does this new understanding mean for my partially completed novels? I guess that if I were to assume that my advice is good enough that even someone with low self-esteem and weak assessment ability can follow through on it, then I need to focus on building the needed skills one by one.

The walls are for climbing, for play and for work, not for abuse.

Creative Outlets: Take 2

I shared yesterday what my creative outlets have been through recent years. Lee Lowry’s post on A Taste for Murder reminded me of another outlet on my better health days: graphic design.

I put together several of the design elements across my website, including headers and the donation badge in the site footer. However, my favorite design activity is to create book covers.

Pulling apart a story into pieces to form a cover that can suggest what a reader will enjoy about the story is about a satisfying as picking apart the remains of dinner to make food sculptures for the family. (Does anyone else do that? I might have missed several of my creative outlets in the first list….)

While some of the covers are for publication (for example, “Grotesquery”), others are to test out how I feel about a story. Here are a few of the ebook covers I’ve designed for myself.

 

 

 

Motivation

It is a race

With no one else

I hate my pace

I’m too slow

I must go

FASTER

I push, my mind

It realizes

I can’t be kind

My body

Will comply

“Yes, master”

There is the line

I see my goal

I’m almost there

Can’t quit now

Shoulders low

GO FASTER

 

This poem was originally published with a personal essay, “Motivation” (2011).

Image of Jupiter from a moon's mountain range

Post-Convention Thoughts and Reimagining

quotes and lessons from MileHiCon 50, a literary speculative fiction convention

Image of Jupiter from a moon's mountain range
The gas giant Jupiter from a moon (artist’s rendering) © AlexAntropov86

Modeling the World in Fiction

There’s a quality of fiction that’s modeling–that’s showing a model of the world.

Author Paolo Bacigalupi said this last Friday during a panel discussion. His line is one of the best things I heard at the convention. That’s one of my favorite uses of fiction: the modeling.

The World of Horror

Bacigalupi shared a showcase slot with another author, Lawrence Watt-Evans, a former president of the Horror Writers Association (HWA). He explained that Horror has gone through cycles since the late 17th century. The “Horror” genre label developed in the 1970s.

Do you remember when I was trying to figure out if I write horror stories?

We’re calling it Dark Fantasy now. Because people don’t know they don’t like that.

I really should’ve asked Watt-Evans more questions about what counts as a dark fantasy while I had the chance. Since that opportunity has past–Do you agree? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments about the Dark Fantasy and Horror connection.


Imagining Fiction for the World

There’s a question I repeatedly asked myself at last weekend’s convention: Why am I not sitting on panels?

I can often answer audience questions. I’ve been watching the publishing world that long. (I mainly attend panels anymore to see interesting authors talk, not as much to hear what they say.)

Of course knowing how to answer questions isn’t enough. My uninspiring author’s bio is a problem. (Uninspiring? It’s depressing.)

Where do I see myself…?

MileHiCon (ten years ago?) was the first big literary event I’d seen. One of my writing dreams since that first experience has been to sit on an authors’ discussion panel. I imagine sitting at the table with professionals, facing a room full of people willing to listen to our thoughts about storytelling. Someone else is the moderator in this dream, so I’m only responsible for playing the part of a new panelist.

With the type of luck woven into my life, I’m fairly certain that first time would have its nightmare moments. A fellow panelist might pick a fight, an audience member could interrupt every few minutes, an emergency can divert everyone into defensive mode, or anything of the kind would happen. I would gratefully accept the risks.

How does imagination become reality?

How? I’ve decided to try harder to sit on an author’s panel at an upcoming MileHiCon or another worthwhile event.

I need credentials in publishing or a related subject. Why should anyone care what I say? (Why do you?) For credentials, I need more experience.


Related to the need for more authorial experience, I have reconsidered setting aside a short story I love, one that’s been cycling through readers and rewrites for too long. I’m publishing that short story under my Blacklyn byline.

Upcoming eBook Release

“Grotesquery” is a melancholy fantasy about a wizard, a grotesque stone guardian, and their medieval-fort city. The story is also social commentary about today’s world, though that might only be my interpretation.

My goals in publishing this short ebook are (1) learn more about Amazon Kindle Direct to test out features I might need for longer works, if self-publishing, and (2) share this fantasy story with more people.

Please help spread the word to any readers who might like literary short fantasy.


Thank you for being a reader of Shadows in Mind.

2018 Winner of Camp NaNoWriMo header

Goodbye, Camp NaNoWriMo 2018

2018 Winner of Camp NaNoWriMo header

When I posted “NaNoWriMo 2018: Late to Camp“, we were already in the second week of July. I’d committed to a new project and no cabin for encouragement. Feeling alone and behind schedule makes for an intimidating start.

Fortunately, Camp is far more relaxed than the big NaNoWriMo challenge in November. A few people joined me in a new cabin. They helped me commit to my goal.

🦉
Woot! says the cabin’s mascot

PROJECT GOAL::
Fifty (50) pages. Rewrite / Rework and polish several short stories to make them ready again for market submissions.

SHORTS::
✅ Grot: 20 pages (Queer Historical Fantasy)
✅ OneL: 4 pages (L/L Sci-Fantasy)
✅ Bloo: 6 pages (Dark Contemporary)
✅ Fami: 4 pages (Science Fantasy)
✅ Conn: 8 pages (Urban Fantasy)
⭕ Vamp: 8 out ~10 pages (Dark Fantasy)

The checks are for finished stories. I also wrote at least one new story from scratch, with characters I hadn’t worked on before. The most recent newcomer to my story files is flash fantasy.

My virtual backpack is full of the thousands of new and polished sentences collected this month. I want to thank all the Scribes for Queer Stories members for helping me focus. You three gave me a reason to log on and encouragement in the story that’s the hardest for me to finish.

Horror Lesson during Camp

Tw–aesthetic-bloodysetting
A setting #ThursdayAesthetic for one of my Camp stories

Genre labels are hard! When works fit into multiple sub-genres, choosing which one feels the most accurate can take a few tries. I changed the genres of several stories through the month.

One of the lessons I’ve learned this month is that recognizing a horror story is a unique challenge. In most literary categories, a general consensus determines the categories’ boundaries. As a genre of emotion, the responsibility for choosing the Horror label is placed on the author. What was the author’s intention?

I wrote in “Hands Writing Ire” that “I’m not sure I can understand the writer whose primary goal is to frighten or disgust readers.” Now I’m not sure that wanting to disturb readers “encourage new thoughts and feelings” is significantly different.

What is the story when frightening and disgusting the readers is the intention to create another mood?

Let’s talk about that next week. I’ll gather published opinions during the wait.


a plane's wing with the sunlit sky in the background

Self-Propellent to a Mile High Convention

Update: The campaign has closed, and the event has passed. A following post shared my thoughts after MileHiCon 50.


Hello,

This is a different type of post than I’ve written before. Below is an excerpt from my GoFundMe fundraiser.

MileHiCon is an annual literary speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy) event in Colorado. It’s not a huge event like WorldCon (a literary event) or ComicCon (for comics, often focused on speculative fiction), making it considerably less expensive. It’s more accommodating to marginalized participants than most. For me, it’s the best for connecting with friends and publishing experts. This year is special in that it’s bringing together big names in the industry to celebrate the convention’s 50th anniversary. The list includes authors we would love to see again.

Connecting with my writing peers is important. I have none to meet up with in person unless I travel. The people I’ve already met offline will be at this year’s MileHiCon. After this opportunity, I might not see them again for years.

My husband has fewer contacts online and no local friends.

Attending MileHiCon this year is important for our mental health.

The money I make from writing is not enough to cover trip expenses. My husband’s work covers most of our daily expenses. We need a break from our daily lives. That also includes a break from worrying about how much everything, from toothpaste to a hospital visit costs. In this case, the break we want is from worrying about how we’ll pay back the cost of flying to and from our previous home.

couple posing in front of
MileHiCon 49 was a good experience in 2017

I was raised to believe that the only people who deserve wealth of any kind are those who work for it. That made sense to me as a child. What I knew best was chronic pain and criticisms. I was hungry, hurt, scared, and living in unsafe environments because I wasn’t the right combination of smart enough, strong enough, or appealing enough. Somehow, I could work my way to a better life despite all of my flaws.

That’s not true. Most of us aren’t born with the right amount of luck for wealth.

Knowing that, I still can’t shake the feeling I don’t deserve “handouts”. I’m guessing this is a common feeling in Americans who have lived near poverty lines. It’s one of the misconceptions about poverty and the value of a person.

The feeling that I shouldn’t ask for help doesn’t reflect how I respond about others asking for help. One of the first things I do (which I was also told was wrong) when I receive money I wasn’t expecting is to divide it. I might always owe more than I can give, but I want people to know that I appreciate their help, whether it’s for free services or inspirational art. (I am horrible at sending friends and families gifts; however, that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of anxiety-saturated complications.)

The desire to share windfalls, interestingly, a reaction that’s studied. British researchers recently found that we tend to share more when we luck out than when we fight for a resource.

If you gain a high status through effort rather than chance, she said, you are more likely to want to keep what you earned. When your wealth is limited, you have more of an incentive to cooperate.

The concept that people get what they put into works out for the lucky. For many of us, it leads instead to injuries, trauma, exhaustion, and depression as we attempt to work harder for a system that consistently awards those at the top the most.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that I feel the need to justify asking anyone for anything, even if it’s $5 that can save a reduce anxiety for a week.

Sincerely,
A.M. Lynn

 

a plane's wing with the sunlit sky in the background
© Free-Photos on Pixabay

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