Pulling Teeth and Other Things I’d Rather be Doing

The hour before 8pm, where I have decided that I will write everyday for the month of November grips me with this rush of anxiety that is like the anxiety felt when one quits smoking. I’ve had a lot of experience with that last idea (I’ve quit smoking about 5 times in my life, not unlike Mark Twain).

Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times. – Mark Twain

And I always crave it a little more when I have a notebook in my hands — or a cup of coffee…getting side tracked.

I’ve scheduled time to write this month. I’ve made a point to start each session off with a post (except for one time where I pushed the post after…mistake). There are moments leading up to the time where I force myself in to the office, shut the door, put in the headphones and turn on the computer –where I would rather be doing anything else. Going to the dentist, washing all the pots (which was my escapism tonight), making dinner, vacuuming, or literally all the things I hate.


I’m not sure why I allow all of this build up. But I do fear sitting down to write. I fear what I write will never be read or somehow more horribly that it will be and it will be judged and the court will decide I am a horrible writer and human. Not sure what court, but these are fears or tiny paranoia. They swim up and down the surface of my mind.

Sorry…not sorry lots of Schmit gifs

But so far, I’ve made time to write, I’ve pushed everything else out of the way even when it wasn’t the best idea (there were 2 nights where I was a little low on the word count due to interruptions). Here’s to the last 9 days of November and where they might take me.


What Character: A people first design.

Characters provide the foundation of good and memorable stories. They are relatable, if larger than life. They breathe into the story and they give the reader a reason to continue even if the plot is unexpected. I think the 1980-1990 version of a character where it is extremely constructed (thinking of television series here) as opposed to the late 90’s – early 2000’s reality tv shows where we lost a sense of dimensionality. Stories became about the bimbo and the stud. But there was no deeper meaning and less relatability. We wanted or craved stories that were unrealistic and impractical. Ah, disillusionment.  I think written works need to avoid making characters that are two-dimensional and without reality.

“The purpose of a character profile is twofold: to assist the writer in creating a character that is as lifelike as possible and to help with continuity issues in the story.” –The Lazy Scholar The Internet Writing Journal, June 1998

The most interesting advice I’ve seen is telling the writer to allow for the characters to fit within a cliché. But this cliché doesn’t last for long, because as soon as you add a personality or quirks, they become their own person and you begin to care about them. They become more important the more you get into their heads. You want to describe how they feel and what they are thinking, but you need to give them life.
Another tip that I found was to allow the character to live with knowing more about what they do and not what they like. (and characterization had some helpful links as well)

“We remember characters because they do interesting things. We forget characters whose favorite food is pizza.” – Joe Bunting

In addition to the above, I’m going to challenge myself to think about who my characters are by looking at three different points about them. Care of Michael Novak’s thoughts. This probably reflects more on Christian Theology, but I think it applies to writing and creating characters as well.
– Private Beliefs, what they think
– Public Beliefs, what they say (and mean in the moment)
– Core Beliefs, what they do

Wrap Up

  • Characters should reflect life
  • Characters will always be clichés, but should have a distinct personality
  • Characters have distinct personalities when they do interesting things
  • What characters do, defines them (more than what they think and more than what they say).

Letters to a middle-aged poet

My hands then gropingly reach out for love,
because I want so much to pray sounds
that my hot mouth cannot find.
-Franz Kappus, “Sonnet”


Do not assume that he who seeks to comfort you now, lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life may also have much sadness and difficulty, that remains far beyond yours. Were it otherwise, he would never have been able to find these words.

Rainer Maria Rilke, from “Letters to a Young Poet”

I’m not middle-aged according to our current life expectancy, but for romantic, modern and beat poets, I’m middle-aged. If you look at the places where I find security in writing, in life, and in relationships, you would also assume I was middle-aged. Looking at the last 10 years of my life, I’ve had more than my share of experiences, careers, losses, and failures. So arriving at this point I should feel some great wave of wisdom going forward, but I’m actually right in line with Socrates:

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.
― Socrates

I have arrived at this age without having anything figured out. I know absolutely nothing. Before I write my next 5-year plan, I want a direction. Currently, my only goals are short-term. Tangible. Plannable. Changeable. And yet, I know that this is not a solid or long-term solution. I’m just trying to add positive habits to my life. Starting with writing, working, time-management and brainstorming. Next up is changing diet.

While some thing have been exceptionally difficult to get over, get through and get by, it has rewarded me with some strength. But it has also made me timid in situations and anxious in public. Somehow, I am making it.

Slowly, vaguely, and with a few guides and a lot of prayer.

The Editor Strikes Back

“No, I am your…Editor”
“That’s…that’s impossible!”

Someone please cut off my hand already.

Things were going great. Nano was going ok. And then I overwhelmed myself this weekend, studying, working, taking the GRE’s. Then yesterday, my editor reared it’s head and started ruining my progress with judgment.
I did write 17000 words.
Yes but how many of them will you actually use again.
Exactly my point.

My editor, like all editors, is cruel. She captures princesses and destroys planets in her wake. She does not know how to use the force yet, but she’s still training. She cut me down to size and she made sure that I had a very low word count yesterday. (Does writing two essays for the GRE count towards my WPD? Didn’t think so)

So today I’m swallowing my pride and I’m turning on Hemingway mode and I’m not looking back.

My editor will just have to wait till December.


Getting Unstuck: Finding the Words

This was me for a long time.

I’m one to talk. I’ve had adult onset writers block for five years. I told myself that my day job would give me time and the ability to write at night. It was a lie I told myself. I’m not sure where I was able to ditch the 8-7 (9-5 is also a lie).

But I know I can force myself into writing. I can trick myself. I’m rating these on normal to “unique” (think of the most patronizing way you can say that) and none of these should actually be used to fix an actual diagnosed case of writer’s block.

Hopefully, I can overcome this feeling some day…

  1. Timed lists (write as fast as you can in bullet points about your character for 5, 10, 15 minutes).
  2. Generate plot with a plot generator (google plot generator)
  3. Timed sentences (write as many coherent sentences as possible, see #1.
  4. Draftin.com in Hemingway mode. (This is my favorite tool for writing, it is distraction free and Hemingway mode makes you keep going without a backspace. No editor. My perfectionist right brain nightmare. But it works.)
  5. Alcohol. A small amount, 1-2 drinks is the perfect elixir for the writing anxiety that accompanies starting, make goals for yourself. Example: at 1000 words start the second beer.
  6. Brainwave meditation tracks to increase focus and creativity. YouTube search for more brain wave meditation or therapy tracks and really limit your time to 2 hours so that your brain can go back to a normal cycle quickly.
  7. Meditation. Sit and breathe.
  8. Maybe imagine your characters in different places or times and how they would react. Get to know them by asking questions.
  9. Exercise. A brief walk with your characters can change your mind about them or where you are taking them.
  10. Imagine how the story would be if it were a movie, a screenplay, a poem. Write the scene as this new genre.

Go get ’em!

A Mountain in a Month

Our Nanowrimo pep talk to day was from Veronica Roth, it spoke about how the process of a novel in November is a mountain and how the plot structure is also kind of like a mountain. A manuscript mountain. It is in a way a grand feat to force yourself to sit down. To look at the blank page or flashing cursor and to determine the next word.

She also talks about letting go of the process. Not being bound by being a plotter or a pantser (the analytical outline vs. the whimsical flight). This was exactly what I felt the week and month prior to my writing. I thought that I was going to have this elaborate plot map. I had started with the 3 x 5 note cards of varying color coordination. I mapped out each portion of the scenes. And then when November 1st session started, I chickened out. I hated the plot that I had created and although I’m veering back to it, I still abandoned my previous notions.

Veronica Roth also talks about the importance of getting desperate. Of the characters getting desperate, of the author getting desperate to reach the summit of Mount Manuscript. I’ve felt that anxiety of desperation but I have never been involved with something that actually allowed me to feel like I might be able to overcome my internal “perfectionist” editor bitch and just write. I am desperate to complete this thing – to win this. To allow myself the feeling of getting to 50,000 words and not stopping there.

In The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron asks god or God to take over the quality if she just produces the quantity.

The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel

  • Piet Mondrian

Straightaway the ideas flow in upon me, directly from God.

  • Johannes Brahmns

November First Post

So I've made a commitment to myself, for myself and by myself to write 50,000 words in one month and a blog post a day. I've allowed that blog post to be either a string of sentences, a quote from a famous author (and why I am interested it it), a review of a movie, a recipe I've made, a discussion about sports or politics, or a photograph – painting or story. I'm not going to use this blog to discuss the other portion of my life, technology. I'm currently trying to draw a chasm between the two. Today for the first time in probably 5 years I sat down and wrote for 3 hours. It's crappy trash, and I've never felt so awful about a string of sentences, but I wrote. I did it, I wrote my 2000 words, I didn't overly edit and I didn't stop to fix it. It's just going. I'd tried to set aside time to come up with an outline or characters. But instead I just did the character sketches this morning, and I wrote about the characters I just created. They aren't really based off of people I know but their ripples. Like after you throw a stone in a pond, just glimpses of people that I know. Its liberating, its also frightening, because I'm writing in a cave. And right now it feels like each new area of the novel are different stories, and they are fighting for superiority.

In addition, I have a lot of fear and shame attached to writing. It creates a lot of exposure that I have not allowed myself to experience or take part in. Since college, I have really not let myself become near to too many people. The closest people in my life are my husband and my sister, and then our families. I really have not allowed a lot of people into my life.

I'm proud that I have done one day so far. Hoping that I can write faster tomorrow, as 2 hours to just get down character sketches will make me a little crazy. 9-12 is a little too long to write for.