Stuck (pt. 1)

I haven’t blogged in quite some time. An emergency hospitalization of my grandmother (for whom I’m a caretaker) which required me to spend both nights there; followed by week-long bout with the flu (which I probably picked up from the hospital, but I digress) doesn’t bode well for the creative process. Even as my full recovery drew nearer, and I did my usual “write it in your head” part of my process, I faced a crisis that strikes fear in the heart of every creative:

I got stuck.

Once I was able to stop sleeping for long periods of time, and managed to stop coughing up a lung, I tried to work on the rewrite of next book in my Bastille Family Chronicle series, which is Dominic’s story. I made major changes to his love interest, which required more research (shoutout to Cynthia and Ekaterina for the gamer info!)–which required a recalibration of the plot, especially after I added some different tension points to the love interest. But the flow still wouldn’t come.

Then I pulled up the first draft of the novel I started for National Novel Writing Month 2012. This was a more serious book (the BFC series are contemporary romances), which take longer for me to write. Tinkered with that some, made some progress. But I felt guilty because I wasn’t working on the BFC book, which my readers are looking for by spring.

Then I managed to write a science/speculative fiction/fantasy (SFF) short story for submission to a magazine. The story was based on an SFF book I started back in…2006, or somewhere around there. Anyway, that was kind of fun, and made me think about revisiting that book again. And the guilt over writing another BFC book took over.

I had to ask myself why I felt so guilty. Was the thrill gone from the series already (I’ve only published the first one, and have five more to go)? If so, why? I’ve gotten positive word-of-mouth feedback from readers so far, and the excerpt seemed to work toward introducing me to a broader audience of fans. My readers are looking forward to the next five books, as well as a stand-alone spinoff. The book is selling, again via word-of-mouth. So what’s the problem?

I thought long and hard about it, and my conclusion wasn’t pretty. And I have The Ninja to thank for it.

More on this in a later post. Thanks for stopping by.

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Seeking Your Own Level

Much ado has been made about writing workshops. For many, they provide safe spaces in which to share work and (hopefully) receive informative, constructive criticism. With the advances made in technology, face-to-fave workshops are no longer the default. There is now a plethora of virtual writing workshops that are just a mouse click or a hash tag away.

I’ve done both virtual and in-person workshops, with varying results. The virtual one didn’t help my writing much in the short term (it was comprised primarily of poets and since I was a prose writer, getting critiques was a challenge), but I still keep in touch with my writing partners from that time: one of whom has been instrumental in eyeballing and critiquing my current two books. The in-person one was more helpful toward my long-term writing, as I got more hands-on instruction from a more established (and published) writer.

Having been on both sides of the workshop aisle, I have come away with the following mantra: seek your own level.

All workshops are not created equal. Sadly, what starts out as a place to get helpful feedback quickly turns into too comfortable a zone. It is not uncommon to find people who have participated in workshops for years, with little progress toward getting their work out to the masses. This does not necessarily mean publication, though that’s a goal. But not even so much as a blog, or a Facebook group, or some tweets? That’s a problem, especially when such people are telling you what’s wrong with your work.

One of the things I liked most about my old in-person workshop was the caliber of the participants. All of us were on somewhat equal footing: we all had to apply for entry into the workshop (some more than once) and we all wrote at roughly the same level. We also all wrote prose, though different genres, and we all had the same goal: publication.  We met daily for two weeks (eight hours a day), had one-on-one meetings with the workshop facilitator (a critically acclaimed author), and at the end had a polished novel.

My virtual workshop was a lot more lax, with writers not just in different genres, but at different writing levels. People posted critiques as they pleased, which meant some pieces went uncritiqued for long periods of time. Some people wanted to be published, some wanted to improve their writing, and some were just there for the social aspect. Having attended the in-person workshop some years after the virtual one, their differences were made obvious, as was the environment that best facilitated my writing and learning.

If you are serious about your craft, you have to surround yourself with like-minded people. Only those who are traveling in your direction will understand–and encourage–the work that needs to occur en route to success. Water, like harmony, seeks its its own level. While finding your tribe is great, there comes a time when you have to leave the safety of the tribe in order to move toward that which you seek. Everyone in the tribe won’t be happy for you, and some may try to deter you–particularly if you may succeed where they have failed. At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself if the tribe is worth the sacrifice of your dream.

Thanks for stopping by.

The Paradox of Creative Silence

I spent my New Year’s Eve in typical nerd/getting older fashion: playing Words With Friends, eyeballing Twitter, writing down my goals for 2015, doing my vision board (via PowerPoint–makes a great screen saver/wallpaper!), and reading. While perusing my timeline, this interesting post came across it from author/activist Olivia A. Cole:

Now, I follow her on Twitter, and on her blog, so I know that she is a very vocal, passionate activist based on her posts.  Still, I was saddened by the fact that her author friends want her to focus on her writing and stop being so political.

Really? Where they do that at?

Creative people are creative because we have something to say, and we choose our preferred media in which to express ourselves. Indeed, the creative channel is sometimes (and, in some areas, the only time) we get to address the ills of our respective worlds without being immediately arrested or killed. However, by and large, the fruits of the creative’s labor is seen merely as entertainment–nothing more, nothing less. Much in the same vein as a professional athlete, our purpose is seen as providing an escape from the realities of everyday life–not reminding folks of them. It’s a paradox to expect us to express ourselves on paper/on the field/on the court/in a song, but to shut up outside of those prescribed parameters.

Hey, I get it: Ms. Cole’s people are looking out for her. They don’t want her to damage her “brand” for the sake of social activism. They want her to keep collecting as many ducats as possible, and to keep her reputation as pristine as possible in order to continue the fattening of her pockets–because hey, mad people don’t buy her books or follow her blog. This is a blanket argument/explanation for anyone with at least a modicum of fame, to step away from sociopolitical hot-button issues.

Last night, I rewatched (for the umpteenth time) the indie movie Dancing in September, starring Nicole Ari Parker and Isaiah Washington. The movie is a story about an aspiring TV writer (Parker) who wants to write a show that portrays Black people in a positive light. She is hired by a new network executive (Washington), who goes to bat in bringing her positive family show on the air. However, as the two fall in love, the personal affects the professional as Parker is increasingly pressured (by the network, via Washington) against her better judgment to “make it funny”, which turns her show from a highly-rated positive portrayal of Black family love into a declining buffoonery (and, dare I say–and she says–coonery), all for the sake of keeping the ratings high enough to keep the show going.  When she wins a Portrayal Award (a thinly disguised NAACP Image Award) for the show, she states in her acceptance speech that she had turned a blind eye to the personal issues of the show’s star because she was chasing ratings and if she’d paid more attention, she could have helped him more. She also stated that TV and other visual media producers had a responsibility to their audiences to uplift, educate, and encourage, instead of just entertain.

In the same vein, so do writers and other creatives. Yes, there is always the risk that you will lose readers and/or fans because they will not like what you have to say on social media. The same risk exists every time a new book/blog post/painting/etc. is put out there for public consumption. But we are in a new age of social awareness, mainly in part to the 24/7 cycle of social media. there is an ever-increasing group that wants to know the person behind their favorite forms of entertainment. They want to know what kind of person is getting their hard-earned money–or not. They want to know if they person that they see on a TV screen, or is on the cover of a book, is the type of person they’d like to hang out with in real life. They like being acknowledged by such people via replies, retweets, favorites, likes, shares, and forwards. And while boundaries must still be respected, this creator/consumer engagement is becoming even more preferable than admonishments to be like The Rock:

I say all this to say: to Ms. Cole, and the other artists, entertainers, and athletes who are not shy about saying what they think and feel: keep doing what you do. I hope more celebrity-types follow your lead because there are some things bigger than money and fame.

Thanks for stopping by.

On Clarity

In 2013 (or rather, early 2014), I wrote a two-page letter to myself outlining what I wanted to accomplish in 2014. I sealed it in an envelope and wrote across the flap that I should not open until Dec. 31, 2014.
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Some things got accomplished, like self-publishing two books (although not the two books I’d envisioned), improving my health via more exercise, and paying down some debt. Others, like getting a beagle; finding (and keeping) my Mr. Right-For-Me; and meeting some of my favorite authors like Steven Barnes, Nikki Giovanni, and Marcus Samuelsson–not so much.

As I read through the letter and alternately chuckled and grimaced at my stated goals, I noticed one thing: it was rather vague, overall. While I wrote in declarative sentences, I didn’t feel that same sense of confidence. The letter came across as a bit too “wish upon a star”-ish, instead of “let’s get this done”. Which brings me to reiteration of this point: you can wish and hope all you want, but you’d better be really clear on what you want to accomplish; roll up your sleeves and make it happen; and you’d better believe, deep down, that you will make it happen.

When I wrote this 2013 letter, I was in a different head space. I’d just relocated from another state to help care for my ill mother & grandmother (who were more ill than they’d let on). I’d taken on a new position with a former company that granted more responsibility and, given the nature of the job, required a lot of hustle. I was now living in a place to which I had never planned on returning on a long-term basis, with a job in a company that had once only existed to me as a fond memory, to step into a caregiver role that I thought I’d finished when my other set of grandparents died over ten years ago. To say I was discombobulated was an understatement, and my “goals” letter reflected that undercurrent of uncertainty.

This year, I got back to my practical roots and simply wrote three pages of a “to-do” list for 2015 (the pages were only 6″×9″–about the size of a large paperback book–and I wrote on one side of each page, lest you think I’m even more of an overachiever LOL). As I wrote, I felt a sense of confidence that was missing from last year’s letter. Perhaps because I had achieved personal/professional milestones. Perhaps because I became more confident in my craft, and finding new ways to navigate the seismic shift the industry is undergoing. Perhaps because I found tribes in the most unlikely places, where I can be both nurtured and challenged to be my best self, both personally and professionally.

Perhaps the greatest thing I gained in 2014 was clarity, and I am forever grateful.

Happy New Year, everyone. Let’s get it in the 1-5.

Thanks for stopping by.