The Creepy Side of Writer Brain

Me: Arrrgh.  I’m paralyzed by nausea.

Brain: This does suck.

Me (later in the day): As if the nausea isn’t bad enough, now my whole body aches (seriously, my toe joints hurt). 

Brain:  Yep.  I feel your pain, quite literally.

Me: This is so miserable.

Brain: It is, but you know, there are two positives that come out of this.

Me: You can find positives in this?  What the hell?

Brain: You meditated a lot today.  And you have recent direct experience to inflict upon your characters.

Me: You’re kinda evil, you know that?

Brain: Can’t talk.  Plotting.  I’ll get back to you with some characters and a story arc post-haste.  Try to get some sleep.  I’m going to need you at peak condition.

Me: Yeah, cause that’s gonna happen. 

Check out all the Writer Brain shenanigans in reverse chronological order here.

The Return of Writer Brain

Brain: So, these speed writing challenges are pretty fun, eh?

Me: Yeah. I’m having a blast with them.

Brain: I’d noticed.  Are you liking the plot depth and details I’m providing?

Me: Definitely. They’re turning out developed and with a nice arc in a short time frame. I couldn’t ask for better. I mean, we both know this is not my natural story length.

Brain: And the potential for later expansion, how’s that working? I’d hate to overload you…

Me (finding the sentiment difficult to believe): Not at all. These are great.

Brain: Is there a anything else I can help you with?

Me: Actually, there is.  The one I’m working on now is… tougher than I’d expected. The idea from the prompt seemed straight-forward enough. But it took two speed writing sessions to get down my initial plan. See? I’ve got two different scenes that don’t feel connected. I was thinking the right bookends would pull them together.

Brain: Great idea, how about this?

Me: That’s a thing of beauty, right there.

Me: 600+ words in.  Oh crivens. This thing’s gone off on its own tangent.

Brain: Gotchya!

Check out all the Writer Brain shenanigans in reverse chronological order here.

Even More Writer Brain

Brain: So you know that idea I just gave you?

Me: Which one?

Brain: This one, here, see?

Me: Oh. Yeah.  You’re not going to take it back are you?  I’ve started thinking about it and have some pretty good plans for developing it.

Brain: No need to worry.  I was just thinking…

Me (very quietly): Uh oh.

Brain: Do you remember this fragment of an idea?

Me: Yeah.  It’s cool, but I have no clue what to… oh… I see.

Brain: Neat how they fit together, eh?

Me: Yeah.  They do fit very nicely together.

Brain: I’ll just leave you to it.

Check out all the Writer Brain shenanigans in reverse chronological order here.

More Writer Brain

Brain: Soooooooo.

Me: Oh, hello.  What’ve you got for me today?

Brain: You know.  The usual.

Me (uncertainly): Errrrrr.  Best… story… ever?

Brain: And you think you can’t be taught.  Here.  Let me just lay this all out for you here…

Me (puzzled and concerned): This seems vaguely familiar.

Brain: I want you to pay particular attention to these character details.

Me: Uhhhhh.  Wait.  I see where this came from.

Brain: Pretty neat, eh?

Me: You came up with this entire thing based on like 15 words of banter on Tumblr with someone I follow.

Brain (proudly): Yep.

Me: No, no, no!  I can’t write this.  It’ll be obvious where it came from and I’ll look like a weird stalker or something.

Brain: Pffft.  You’re a writer.  Anyone you encounter, in either the physical or digital world has the potential to spark a story.  It’s what we do.

Me: I kinda feel like I should wear a warning label or something.  Not everyone I meet signed up for this.

Brain: Public domain, baby.

Me: I’m not worried about the legality.  I’m worried about the awkward social consequences.

Brain (soothingly): Don’t worry.  It’s not like they’ll read it.  It’s not like they’re a mutual or anything.  And nobody ever recognizes themselves in fiction.

Me: Ergh.

Brain: Now the world’s a bit underdeveloped, but I figured you could do that, since I already got you a character, descriptions, and a plot. 

Me: But… how can you do this off 15 words?  I mean, seriously.

Brain: Hey, if you think this is cool, you should see what I can do with a visual.  Or a smell.

Check out all the Writer Brain shenanigans in reverse chronological order here.

The Benefits of Writing Tech

I grew up as a writer, it was the one thing I was always comfortable with. As a kid, I claimed I was going to be a pharmacist, just like my dad. But he’d seen my math scores and knew better.

My earliest stories were written in pencil or pen in spiral notebooks. I had atrocious handwriting. Still do, actually. My dad gave me his college typewriter when I was ten, and suddenly my writing gained new clarity. The typewriter was probably twice my age, and it was one of those cheap models with no frills. Frills such as an exclamation point or the number 1. It had no correction ribbon, and whiteout became my new best friend. If I typed too fast the keys would stick together. The carriage return was completely manual. The shift key lifted up the whole carriage with a heavy clank, dropping it twice as loud. My skinny little fingers would sometimes get stuck between the keys, and when I look at it now I wonder that my ten-year old hands were able to bang away for hours at the thing.

The affordable home computer changed the world of writing forever, at least until we have a zombie/plague/asteroid apocalypse. Writers can now concentrate on creating rather than the agony of retyping their five-hundred page masterpiece for the sixteenth time because they’ve made some revisions. Typos are easy to fix. We have the luxury of cut and paste, spell check, and a printer conveniently located in our residence. Many of today’s writers didn’t have to endure the pre and early techno days. Others have locked these memories away behind a tightly locked door with a sign that says do not open until Armageddon. Well, except for Stephen King, who appears to have a fondness for Underwood typewriters.

It’s good to reflect on the changes in the past thirty or forty years simply because it is our heritage as writers. How can we know where we’re going, if we don’t know where we’ve been or how far we’ve come? And it’s good to remind ourselves, when we’ve got a virus or our hard drive has crashed, that there was a time when we didn’t have it so easy.

Early word processors, the dinosaurs, were an improvement over manual typing, simply because you could save your work. My first word processor was called Magic Desk, and it was a cartridge for the Commodore 64. I had to save each page separately. Cut and paste didn’t exist. The five-inch floppies were difficult to take care of, and disk cases were out of my price range. There was no saving to the hard drive in those days. Spell check involved keeping Webster’s close at hand.

Then there came such advancements as Word Star and Word Perfect, the DOS versions. Hitting the wrong key combination could be devastating in those days. What you saw on the screen was not necessarily what you got on printout, but there were a bundle of new features in this state of the art hardware and software. There would be no more manual underlining for me. Insert and type-over were a sheer delight, once I’d figured out which was which. And the cut and paste features were beyond my expectations. I met my first spell checker, and it was good.

With today’s word processors, the art of writing has become streamlined. We’ve removed some of the tedious and unpleasant tasks associated with editing and revising, other than working with the words themselves. We’re no longer required to have perfect spelling, though homonyms are still problematic and grammar checkers continue to suck. We have voice recognition software for those who have difficulty with typing. There are programs specifically designed for writers that help you organize your character, world, and plot details. Publishing continues to work through its massive upheaval, with electronic and print on demand options opening doors for a lot of writers who had no chance with the traditional model (and not because they’re bad writers).

Despite all these advancements, it is still essential for a writer to have a grasp of the language she writes in, or she’ll fail to tell the story she intends to. We still need to practice and hone our craft, trying new things and stretching once in a while to create things that are new and interesting. No matter how sophisticated the programming, technology alone will not make you a writer. It can only aid you in getting the job done. Writing itself has not necessarily gotten easier, even if the peripheral aspects have. That which is truly worthwhile is rarely ever easy, though it’s nice to be able to focus on the words and the story more than the mechanism for recording them.

The Continued Adventures of Writer Brain

Brain: Ahem.

Me: Yeah?  Oh hi.  Do you need something?

Brain: Me?  Naah.  I’m good.  But I think you need something.

Me (suspicious): Really?  I’m full up on things, just now, so no need to trouble yourself.

Brain: It’s no trouble.  Honest.

Me: Uuuuh.  I wouldn’t want to seem greedy.

Brain (radiating hearts and rainbows): It’s a gift!

Me: My birthday’s not for two months.

Brain: What, can’t I give you a gift just because I love you?

Me (stumped and terrified): Ergh.  Sure.  I guess?

Brain: Check out THIS!

Me: <Blink.  Blink.>

Brain: Isn’t it totally awesome?  It’s the best thing EVER, and it’s so perfect for you!

Me: WTF.  This isn’t even my genre.

Brain: Sure it is.  See the opportunity for angst?  That’s totally you.

Me (indignant): I don’t write angst!  

Brain: <Raised eyebrow>

Me: Okay.  So, some of my stories get a bit more… dark and tragic than I intend.  But angst isn’t even a genre.  And, look at this thing.  It’s a freaking beast.  It’s at least a novel.  Maybe two.

Brain (proudly): Yeah.  I know.

Me (resigned): Fine.  I’m just going to summarize this idea here, in my ideas folder –

Brain: Isn’t that the folder where ideas go to die?

Me: Uuuuh.  No.  No.  This is where totally awesome ideas go, when I need a little time to truly appreciate them and do them justice.

Brain: It looks like the folder where ideas go to die.

Me: I promise, it’s not.

Brain: If you say so.  You should probably back it up to the network… and your flash drive.  You know.  Just to be safe.

Check out all the Writer Brain shenanigans in reverse chronological order here.

Random Advice for Young Writers

In 2018, I got an ask over on Tumblr requesting advice for young writers, so here you go.

Read a lot, figure out what kind of stories you like, what styles you like, and what authors do a really good job at what you want to write.

Write a lot. Some of it will not be worth sharing, and that’s okay; you still learn from your failed stories, they still fulfill a need for experience.

Once you know what genre(s) you like to write, find a community of writers who are involved or interested in that genre.  This actually matters because there are lots of conventions or practices that don’t transfer from one genre to the other, and there’s ugly genre bias. My community includes going to science fiction and fantasy conventions, being in a writers group, and meeting writers online.  We talk shop.  We commiserate.  We celebrate each other’s successes.  And we bounce ideas off each other.

Look for feedback from people who can actually tell you what’s wrong with your work (structurally and grammatically). Really listen to them, unless they’re tactless jerks who take joy in verbally beating you up (dump those folks immediately); no matter what feedback you get, in the end it’s your story and some advice won’t be useful for what you’re trying to do.  Learn to give this same kind of feedback to others – it makes you a better self editor.

The traditional publishing world is harsh and ugly, so take heart in the fact that there are other options available now that weren’t available when I was starting out.  You can do your own thing in your own way. 

If something is too good to be true, step away from it.  It’s a scam.

It’s okay to ask other, more seasoned writers for help figuring out terms of service and contracts (most of us can’t afford lawyers for this, so we learn how to read these).

Embrace rejection.  It’s a part of being an artist, and it proves you’re doing what you can (writing and putting stuff out). You can’t always hit the right editor, with the right story, at the right time. 

Finding Motivation

I’m not going to lie.  This can be really hard at times, but there are also times when you’re going to be wickedly motivated to write stuff. 

Writing what you want to, is the best way to stay engaged, especially if you’re not being paid to do it.

Explore new places for inspiration.

Try new things in your writing so you can learn more.  This is fun and helps you grow.  The first time I wrote something with the goal of making the reader cry, and I succeeded, I was so happy, because that was hard for me to evoke at the time. But understand that you won’t always succeed on your first try. I spent a year dumping experimental stories on my writers groups as I tried to get a better understanding of plot. Some were great. Others were really not.

Writers groups with deadlines can be great motivators.  Or writing prompt challenges.  Or blogs with regular updates.

Getting Your Writing Out There

There are a lot of ways to do this, some better than others.  The key is that you want to make sure you keep your intellectual property rights.  This means you need to read those terms of service if you’re participating in an online forum.

Submit stories to magazines that print your genre.

Submit stories to reputable contests (many contests are not reputable).

Post stories on your blog.

If you’re middle or high school aged, the New Voices Young Writers contest is highly recommended by a friend of mine.  You may also find Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy useful if that’s a genre you enjoy.

Change of Venue

Everyone needs a little change of pace now and again, and it’s doubly true for an artist. While many of us may find some measure of inspiration in our daily lives, there is little more energizing than a change of setting. Away from our usual locale, we may find ourselves less hampered by intrusions and extraneous activities and more able to give ourselves over to our muse. In the end, a trip away from home may be just what the doctor ordered to get a writer back on track and into a productive mindset.

Even as a child I enjoyed writing outside. While I can get a bit wordy and floral in my descriptions, I have always found nature to be a bit of a natural boost to my creativity.

I’m currently sitting at the base of an old cedar in a grove of similar trees. I’m surrounded by wetland. The combination of water and layers of decomposing organic material makes the ground just soft enough to give a little under my feet. The mosquitoes have finally forgotten I’m here. Ants and daddy-longlegs are running around me in their usual scurry of daily life. In the distance I can hear the calls of a variety of birds, some chirp, others whistle, and the annoying ones squawk. When the breeze blows through, I can smell the lake and the pine turpines. When it’s calm, I can smell the damp earth and rotting pine needles. I saw two deer on my walk here. I am aware of but can ignore the occasional buzz of a motorboat speeding across the nearby lake.

In the past four days my productivity has increased dramatically. I wrote a short story in a single sitting, and started a second new story as well. I’ve edited two older shorts that I’ve been hanging on to for months. Sometimes editing is more difficult than creating, and the writer can face it with a foreboding sense of dread. There’s no one here to bother me, so I can work undisturbed in a place that motivates and inspires me.

Every artist runs into disruptions and life issues that compete with their art for time. It’s likely the single most aggravating aspect of being an artist. No one will let you alone to do your thing. Sometimes getting away from it all is not only a solution, but a necessity. How are we to succeed if we can’t get any work done? If we’re not creating something, we’re generally an unhappy lot. I know I don’t sleep well if I haven’t been writing. The ideas keep me awake. It’s in the best interest of my sanity, and my family’s happiness, that I get the chance to prove to myself every now and again, that I really am a writer, and I really would accomplish a lot if I didn’t have to be involved with the rest of the world.

For some it is the fast pace of a city, for others it’s the calm of wilderness, but for most of us, any change of venue is enough to get us going. When you start to get frustrated because you’re not doing the things you most want, it may be time to take a break from the rest of the world. Leave the dog with family, trade babysitting with the neighbors, be selfish and find the place that helps you write. And never forget that it’s there.

Writer Brain… Again

Brain: Pssst!

Me: Hubba wuh?

Brain (eagerly): Check out this killer opening line–

Me: Stop that!  I’m already up to my eyeballs in the not-so-short story you tricked me into “briefly” setting aside the novel for.

Brain (baffled): So?

Me: And I’m currently stuck in the middle of an overgrown patch of raspberries, getting savaged by insects.

Brain (still baffled): And your point is what, exactly?

Me: I don’t have anything to write with.  I’m busy!

Brain: You could carve it into that rhubarb leaf over there, with your fingernail… or a stick.

Me: That’s not rhubarb.

Brain: It’ll literally take you twenty seconds.

Me: You’ve obviously never tried etching an opening line into a leaf of burdok.

Brain (seriously): I’m beginning to think you don’t really appreciate me.

Me: <eyeroll>

Brain: I give everything to you.  And you take it all, but you can’t spare thirty seconds for me when I need you.

Me: You’re getting a bit melodramatic, don’t you think?

Brain: Actually, I think you’re selfish.  And I haven’t had a vacation in a while.  And maybe I should go find someone who wants me around!

Me: Oh, come on.  You know that’s not true–

Brain: Just you wait.  You’ll come looking for me, and I won’t be there.

Me (resigned): *sigh*  I’m sorry, all right?  I didn’t mean it.  I’m a horrible person, and I don’t deserve to bask in all your awesome.

Brain: True.

Me: Please don’t go.

Brain: <dramatic pause> Fine.  I’ll stay.  This time.

Me: Thank you.

Brain: So about that opening line…

Check out all the Writer Brain shenanigans in reverse chronological order here.

Writer Brain in Action

Brain (talking fast): hey, hey, hey!  Lookit, lookit, I have a shiny cool idea.  

Me: I’m in the middle of a novel; I really can’t be distracted right now.

Brain (insistent): Best idea ever!  C’mon. Just take a look.  You can jot it down for later.  Cause you know I’m not gonna remember.

Me (placating): Fine.

Me: Hmm. This is a pretty good idea.

Brain: See.  I told you.  Have I ever lied to you?

Me: Uhhhh.

Brain: Don’t answer that. Focus on the shiny idea. Hey.  It’s pretty short.  Probably 2,500 words tops.

Me (thoughtfully): Hmmm. This won’t take long to write.

Brain: May as well do it now, right?  That’s the efficient thing to do.  Then you’ll have another story to foist onto people.  And it IS awesome.

Me: Yeah.  I can probably knock this out in one sitting, and it’ll be a nice break from the novel.

Me: *500 words in and realizing I’m not done with the set up.*

Brain: PSYCH!  It’s totally a 7500 word story!

Brain: You should see all the backstory and research I did.   It’s gonna be awesome.

Check out all the Writer Brain shenanigans in reverse chronological order here.