My Hands Are Out Of Shape

You know what really, really stinks?

Finally, after months and months, really getting the urge to write again.

Having ideas flowing and inspiration coming and actual words happening when you put fingers to keyboard.

Creating narratives and having characters responding and the glorious creative juices flowing juicily.

And then…

AND THEN…

Finding out that after months of barely touching the keyboard except to write the odd tumblr post, your once-brisk typing fingers are slow and your sturdy novel-hammering-out hands have become creaky, fragile things that start to ache after only a few thousand words. I swear, I’ve lost eight words a minute off my typing speed, my accuracy is down, and the backs of my hands are burning along every tendon after only 1200 words! (Admittedly I did nearly seven thousand yesterday)

Where has my writing stamina gone? Now that the brain is finally willing, the flesh is proving abominably weak!

Oh, well. No pain, no gain, right? Time to tape ice-packs to my hands, get coffee, and keep at it!

 

 

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Static

I’ve been having static trouble lately. Both kinds.

Type 1 Static: Sheer bloody inertia. Putting on clothes, brushing teeth, making coffee… too much effort. Nope. None of that. Going to sit perfectly still and play Farm Mania and watch Play School with the ninja until my brain liquefies.

Type 2 Static: Annoying fizz between ears that inhibits creative thought. Nothing shifts it – playing stimulating music, watching Avatar: The Last Airbender, hot showers, all the usual things? No, they will not be working now. Now all your creative neurons have collectively rolled onto their backs, making an irritating fizzing sound and refusing utterly to cooperate.

Type 1 is linked to depresssion and anxiety, and I’m following the prescribed steps to deal with it. But Type 2 Static is just… argh. I don’t even know what it is, sometimes it just happens and it’s the most irritating thing in the world because I can’t think and I can’t imagine anything and I get so very bored. I really don’t realize how much time I spend creating stories in my head – original, fan-fiction, silly songs, whatever – until I can’t do it and suddenly the walk to the train station or the shops is twice as long and so very, very dull because there’s nothing going on in my head and nothing going on outside my head and I get so bored.

I was having trouble with that yesterday – usually I enjoy pacing up and down at the station waiting for the train, listening to my music and creating a Tyrion and/or Zuko fanvid to Lion King 2‘s ‘One of Us’ in my head. Just for a random example.  But yesterday I couldn’t kick my imagination into gear at all, so I was getting bored and frustrated as I paced, and then this guy showed up to wait for the train too, and he was just… standing there. At the edge of the platform. Just standing, doing nothing.

I really, really wanted to ask him how he could stand it. I was moving around. I had my music. And I was still bored out of my skull because of the stupid static. And he was just standing there staring at the train track. I can’t do that even when I don’t have static!

I didn’t ask, of course, because it would be rude. And maybe he was just absorbed in the My Little Pony/ Gargoyles epic crossover he was writing in his head, I don’t know. Maybe he was reviewing football scores or composing a breakup speech. Who knows?

But he looked bored. And yet he was just standing there.

Does anyone else ever look up from their book or their game of solitaire or whatever on a train or in a food court or something and see people just sitting and think ‘aren’t you so bored? how can you stand it’? I do, all the time. I’d really like to know, actually, so if you do know, fill me in please!

Stupid static. I’m going to go make myself more coffee and see if it budges anything.

Result!

It took me all day but I wrote 376 words which did not entirely suck.

Given that I haven’t been able to manage fiction at all for months, I am calling this a victory.

Also my motley lot of survivors have a completely reasonable reason for surviving the Mysterious Disappearance.

They’re all in prison.

As prisoners.

Or guards.

They’re all locked in together behind the sturdiest doors on the whole station.

Yes.

I like it.

Victory.

Why Do I Do This To Myself?

So I’ve spent the last few days compulsively reading the English translation of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, or ‘When They Cry‘. It’s a jolly little Groundhog-Day-style repeating story with serial killings and insanity and people getting murdered in a thrilling variety of gruesome ways.

This was a bad decision, for the record.

It’s one I keep making. I watched Ghost Ship and had a pillow over my head for half of it. I watched The Ring and had nightmares for a week. I keep reading creepy urban legends and then not being able to sleep. I don’t know why, but scary stories have a terrible allure for me even though they freak me out and I couldn’t even watch Sweeney Todd without hiding my eyes during the bloody bits.

When They Cry kept me awake until two in the morning, way too creeped out to sleep. And I didn’t have all of it, so I’m going to read the other arcs and do this to myself again. I know it’s a bad idea, but I’ll do it anyway because I need to know what happens.

As far as I can tell, most people who enjoy horror stories don’t actually have nightmares and hide under pillows and find it impossible to sleep after finding out the latest horrifying twist (SHION WHY). I don’t even enjoy them most of the time. But every now and then I pick up a DVD case and read the back, or happen across a review online, and I get curious and think I’ll just take a peek and YOU WOULD THINK I WOULD KNOW BETTER BY NOW. Apparently I have sub-conscious self-destructive urges that express themselves by putting thoughts in my head like ‘I’m thirty-five, surely I am now sufficiently jaded to handle a horror comic meant for teenagers’.

I am not.

This is why I had nightmares about my baby being either a vampire or a zombie after she was born. Didn’t improve the post-natal freakout one bit.

I have very rarely tried to write creepy. This is probably my best attempt. I would actually really like to, but I have the little problem that I completely terrify myself and can’t finish and don’t want to think about it because scary. Like writing mystery, it’s something I really want to do but find myself fundamentally ill-equipped for. Do any of you have a genre you like reading and want to write but just can’t seem to get the knack of? (Or can’t do except during day-light with cartoons on and someone at hand to distract you at need?)

The Mystery Of The Self-Doubting Writer

Well, it’s not all that mysterious. Writers are a notoriously neurotic bunch. We were once presumed to be interestingly malnourished, probably drunken creatures holed up in an attic with a typewriter, now we’re popularly supposed to be uninterestingly malnourished, probably anxiety-ridden creatures holed up at a desk with a computer.

I will poke my pale, timidly quivering nose out from behind my computer to concede that yes, I am in fact anxiety-riddled and prone to holing up, although I do it with my three year old, the TV and a supply of fruit and healthy crackers, so only for a given level of ‘holed up’. And that’s probably why I’ll never write a mystery, as much as I’d like to.

Whoa, there, Salmon, that’s quite the leap you made there. How are those two connected again? (I’m sure you were wondering.)

I love murder mysteries. I adore Hamish Macbeth, Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple, Tom Barnaby, Phryne Fisher, Detective Inspector Frost, Monk, and that strange little man Columbo. I love the puzzle-solving and the clever little clues and (as mentioned in my last post) the way the main characters are relatively safe.

The tension of mysteries comes from a very different place than the tension in most other genres. It’s not peril to the major characters – although some of them go with the perpetually-in-danger-of-losing-job semi-tension – it’s the mystery itself. And some peril. A bit.

Mysteries have to be a bit clever. I don’t know how mystery-writers do it. Whenever I try, it seems so painfully obvious and all the clues stick out a mile. How can you tell if a clue is subtle enough when you know it’s supposed to be there? Beta readers may be the answer – get a fresh pair of eyes on the story and see what they pick up. But I get so frustrated at not being able to come up with anything even remotely clever that it never really gets to the point where I can show it to someone else.

So if you write mysteries, well, I salute you. You are braver and more devious than I.

A Place In The World

Something that drives me right around the bend, especially when reading fantasy, is blank-slating the protagonist. Killing off the parents is very popular. Brothers and sisters too, if they exist – and it’s sad how often they don’t. If the protagonist is the long lost heir to something or other, then – like Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru – the foster-family will usually bite the dust by the end of the first chapter.

Unless they’re evil, of course. There’s the Cinderella trope, where the protagonist has no ties because her family/guardians/whatever just hate her even though she’s sweet and wonderful and beautiful and all that crap. Or the protagonist could be a loner for one reason or another, living by her wits, thieving or hunting or whatever it is she does all alone with no family ties to interfere with the story….

No, no, and hell no. This is the absolute laziest, least original protag-starter there is. It’s easier to write a tie-less character setting off on an adventure, yes, this is true. But easier is not better.

Look at Katniss. She volunteers because she loves her sister, because she has a life and ties and someone she loves enough to give up her life for. And that is so meaningful and important and the story would be utterly different if she didn’t have that intense, personal love and motivation. (I haven’t even read the damn book and I know this)

People want to connect to other people. Our herd or pack or group or whatever instinct is powerful. The NaNoWriMo group I belong to is full of people (including me) who come to regular writing events and drinking-get-togethers despite a whole rainbow of social and anxietal issues, because even the most anxious shut-in sometimes wants to hang around other people, and fellow shut-ins are kindly and safe people to hang out with who know how to cope with a panic attack.

It is vanishingly unlikely that a protagonist would have no ties at all. There are exceptions – Anna from the ‘Alpha and Omega’ stories starts out having been deliberately isolated from all outside ties by her pack, and that forced isolation is clearly presented as abusive and wrong. Nevertheless, she has made a friend whose phone she can use to call for help, and the isolation is ended in the course of the story because it’s an awful thing to do to someone. Don’t do it to your protagonist!

Dorothy Gale has a loving family she wants to get back to.

Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie have parents they are forced away from by circumstances.

Spock loves his parents, but leaves to pursue a career that is meaningful to him.

Miles Vorkosigan loves his parents, as far as I know.

Nita Callahan and Kit Rodriguez have parents and siblings who are part of their daily life.

Yet somehow, their authors manage to pitchfork them into adventure anyway.

A protagonist does not and should not exist in a vacuum. Unless you’re writing a very fresh post-apocalyptic, in which whole swathes of the human population have been killed in some way or another, they shouldn’t be functioning alone – and if they are, then there needs to be a good reason for it, and a history behind it. There are ways to get rid of the family tie – youthful dedicates to a religious organization, for example, young apprentices sent away from their homes, there’s loads of ways to put parents at a distance or out of the picture. But don’t strip your protagonist of human connections altogether.

Give them friends – not just one, who can be killed off at the beginning for motivation and manpain, but more than one. Acquaintances, teachers, that annoying guy who hangs around with your group and you don’t like him but you can’t tell him to fuck off or everyone else will get mad. Nothing humanizes a character – and gives you a basis for them not being a raving sociopath – like having a place in the world. Ties to people – and to places, such as Harry’s deep love for Hogwarts – gives them that. Makes them more, for lack of a better word given that not all protagonists actually are human, human.

A good protagonist doesn’t leap from the page, blank and empty, without ties to place or person and ready to be filled with purpose. She needs to be uprooted, gently or harshly, from her place so she can move forward, but she must have roots to begin with. (And if you must kill off her family, for heaven’s sake, let her be upset about it. That kind of loss is devastating.) It’s not quite as easy, but it’s a lot more interesting.

Getting Started

I’ve heard it said that the hardest thing about a new endeavour is to get started. Make a commitment.

This is utter bollocks.

Getting started is easy! Anyone can start writing a book, or reading a book, or cleaning their bedroom, or eating healthier! Anyone can produce two hundred words, or a load of laundry, or a lettuce!

Finishing, now. Finishing is hard as hell. There are many hurdles between you and your finish line. Here are some (not all) in no particular order.

Hurdle One: Later. “Meh, I don’t feel like it any more. I’ll do it later. Tomorrow. Definitely tomorrow.

Hurdle Two: Lost Inspiration. “Where did all my ideas go? Man, I’m tired from picking up all these clothes. Cooking from scratch is hard. I’ll leave it just for now. Tomorrow. Definitely tomorrow.

Hurdle Three: It Sucks. “Everything I do sucks. I might as well just give up and watch a movie while I balance a pizza on this pile of dirty laundry.”

Hurdle Four: Equipment Failure. “I don’t have the right research books, and the vacuum cleaner is making a funny noise and I think the broccoli’s gone limp. I’ll have to pick this up again when I have all the stuff I need to do it really properly.

Hurdle Five: Haven’t I Done Enough? “Well, I’ve got half the first draft, I can see the floor, and I ate a vegetable just yesterday. I think that’s enough for now. Hooray for me!”

Hurdle Six: I Am So Very Busy. “Well, these other things really are more important. I’ll have to get back to that side project of all my hopes and dreams and also my bodily health after I finish alphabetizing these paid bills.”

Hurdle Seven (optional): Perfectionism. “My first sentence is terrible! I think I saw a cockroach poo in one of my drawers so the whole house needs fumigating! I’m still putting sugar in my coffee! I CAN NEVER BE FINISHED UNTIL IT’S PERFECT.”

Side note: I quit processed sugar once. Turned me into a raging harpy for three straight months. My husband eventually begged me to give in and eat some chocolate, if I loved him or our daughter at all. It turns out that while I can give up coffee and *almost* all forms of sugar relatively painlessly, I am hardcore addicted to chocolate and the sugarless kind doesn’t do the business.

There are lots more hurdles, of course. A lot of them are personal ones (a major one for me at the moment is the fact that sitting down at the computer makes my kid think ‘ooh, lap’ and come over to sit on me, which makes typing quite hard), but these are a few that I’ve discussed with others and know are at least somewhat common. All you can really do about them is get to know them well enough that you can see them for what they are – a trap and a snare, not the voice of reason they pretend to be – and go around them instead of being tricked into trying to jump and winding up flat on your face on the track wondering why you even bother.

You can’t always do it, of course. Three and Five still get me on a regular basis. But knowing your enemy can help!