A Fear of Failure, A Fear of Success (hello blank page, my old frienemy)

There is a reason why they say that you must write everyday. But do you want to know a secret? It is not just because practice makes perfect, no, if only it were that easy. It is because time can make the tiniest hill feel like a mountain. When you hide from your words for so long, your tools become rusty and old. They do not flow as freely as they once did, your syllables squeak as they bend and pull along the line of their sentences. This tiny daily task becomes daunting and unwieldy. Suddenly you find yourself staring at this blank page, desperately needing a profound spark of genius to make it all feel worthwhile, to make it feel like you didn’t waste weeks of your life on nothing.

Stagnation; that is the fear. You are Sisyphus with your chosen art form- you push and you push every day, but if you slip- you must start back at the bottom with your damned rock. It is perhaps made even more difficult because you have seen the view from those higher peaks. You know what you are capable of creating, and you know how hard it will be to get back to those lofty places.

This is why the best advice any writer will ever give you is to simply write. Write everything, all day every day. Write out two lines on a sticky note at your desk between phone calls, pull out your journal when you get home, dictate a few sentences in the notes on your phone. But whatever you do, don’t stop. Don’t take a couple of days off- even if you only write for two minutes: do those two minutes, toss every brain cell you have at them.

Refining your craft and discovering your voice is a lot like working out. You may have the grand vision of your best seller in your mind, you may know all of the key plot points to hit along the way. But, just like a marathon, you can’t go out there and do your best work if you haven’t been training. You might finish, but it won’t have that spark you envisioned, the elements that makes it stand out above the rest. It will be missing an integral component: the true voice of the creator, unshackled and free.

It took me a year of daily writing (especially when I didn’t want to) to find my voice, to discover the flow of the syllables and the tempo of my paragraphs. It took only a fraction of that time to let the voice fade. I expect it will take me another year to get those muscles back in shape. But if you love it- then it’s worth it. I will push that boulder up the mountain once again; wiser because I’ve done this before, stronger because I know what I am capable of creating- and I was so damn proud of it.

So I sit here and I stare at the blank page that is refusing to back down. But instead of putting it away with a sigh and an “I’ll try again tomorrow when I have the energy,” I start writing. And it’s clunky, it’s hard, it’s unforgiving- it isn’t particularly good. But with each word a little rust chips away. Here’s the beautiful secret of a blank page: it won’t judge you for what you decorate it with, it will simply be pleased that you took the time to adorn it with a crown of your own making.

Camp NaNoWriMo (let the adventures begin)

The time has come once again my literary lovelies, wordsmiths, ink-slingers and syllable-stringers; it is time for summer camp. Lucky for you, being outdoors is optional (though highly recommended), you won’t have to share any of your snacks, and you can wear your plot bunnies as slippers from morning til night if you wish. The July edition of Camp NaNoWriMo is just around the corner. Yes, it’s true, you can really do anything on the internet these days: even summer camp.

For those who don’t have a clue what I am talking about, let me just back up a step or two. Camp Nano is an offshoot of the main Nano, also known as NanoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a virtual writing challenge where thousands of people across the globe sign up to tackle a single venture at the same time. The main event takes place every November. The challenge: to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

Camp Nano is the figurative little brother of the November session. It has more of a community focus to it. If you sign up, you get the option to join virtual cabins- either of your own creation or through a bot that will randomly place you. You also get to set your own customized goal- whatever you want it to be. You can track words, pages, lines, minutes, hours, and you can be as nice or ruthless with your goal as you want (this time around I’m being a little bit mean and going for a ‘double Nano,’ which means 100,000 words in 30 days). Every person in your cabin has their own project to work on, but you get to network and talk throughout the month as you all embark on the adventure together. Rest assured, it is a virtual camp- there is no travel required, and no real roughing it unless you decide to take your laptop out on the back patio.

I am addicted, I’ll tell you that upfront- and if anyone reading this is interested in writing- I strongly suggest you give it a shot, what do you have to lose? It’s such a positive community, it is one of the few places where I feel completely accepted. My oddball interests and quirks suddenly aren’t so strange anymore. Plus- there are thousands of writers who have years of experience, tips and tricks to share. And they are more than willing to help anyone who stumbles across their path.

I had never lost a Nano until this last year when a few things went a wee bit sideways in my life. I’m hoping that July will be my redemption. I have a few projects that are halfway finished, so I’m going to try to push through to get them ready for editing. I can’t wait. I haven’t decided if I’m joining a cabin yet this year; I’ve found a new writing group that mainly uses Discord to keep in touch through the year (all 60+ members met through Nano and have kept each other motivated the past few years), and I’m really hoping I can sleuthy-sneak my way into being one of the regulars.

Adventure awaits, my friends- do you dare take the first step to meet it?

To Create, To Experience, To Live

You are a creative soul; that’s why you are here, that is how you found this tiny little hobbit hole in the great expanse of the internet. You dare to dream in the middle of the day, you find inspiration in the most unlikely of places. You, my friend, are a kindred spirit. You can see shades of the world that others cannot or will not acknowledge. You have a flame that burns inside of you; some days it is just an ember, and on others it roars with a passion that could rival all the stars in the universe. Your work is your physical soul molded by your own hands. You tirelessly give your energy to this creation without realizing the magic you are wielding. There is a beauty in the way you bring something tangible to life, something that was born from the firing neurons and synapses in your brain. You have a passion that demands to be explored, a gift that the world would be priveledged to experience.

Art takes many forms, some are more subtle than others. We are all artists to a degree. The writers, the painters, the musicians, the actors; yes, these are easily counted. But there are others: a chef who plays with the ingredients, a mechanic bringing an engine to life, a mathematician calculating the mysteries of the universe, a lawyer crafting an argument that turns the law on it’s head. Our mediums may be different, but our love is the same. The things that we give life to in this world are often the same things that also give life to us.

To make lasting art you must step outside of your comfortable corners. To breathe life into your work you must first soak up as much of it as you can. Your new knowledge will color your creations, bleeding into the corners, etching the nuanced edges until they gleam and entice the rest of the world. An art piece bursting with life is a piece that demands to be witnessed, it is a creation that carries within it the power to change the world. To invest in your work you must first invest in yourself. It doesn’t matter how perfectly crafted your sentences are if they drop lifelessly from your pen. Interesting things do not need a perfect presentation to be noticed.

Invest in yourself, in your experiences, in your knowledge. Let your interests guide you and teach you. Pick something that you love; a place you want to travel to, a book you want to read, a skill you want to learn- and dive into it. Find a class for tarot reading, go to the post office and get your passport, find your way to the nearest museum, watch a documentary on the Stone Henge and UFO conspiracy theories, go to a Chinese New Year celebration even if you don’t know a soul there, read books about people that inspire you. Never stop learning, never stop investing in yourself, never stop feeding your passions. All of these tiny things, these new experiences, these tidbits of random knowledge will find a way into your heart, your mind, and your work. They will create an authentic story, they will grant you a new perspective that you can share with the world.

You will create something beautiful, something that will resonate with people. You may not change the whole world, but you will have the power to change a single person. You will have the power to inspire them. Your work will find it’s way into their own, over and over again until we find ourselves staring at a beautiful tapestry of the human experience. After all, that is what art is; it is passion, it is the spirit personified, it is an interwoven story of all of the things that have made us who we are. Be proud to be a part of this tradition, be proud of your contribution to it. Invest it in, nurture it, and never be afraid to dive headfirst into it.

Weeds and flowers (the dandelion is stronger than the rose)

We tend to demean the the things that harbor an inner strength we will never be able to touch. We look down on those who remind us that being broken does not mean being defeated, or that being unorthodox does not mean being unwanted. We sneer at the strength of those who do not bend to our will, those brave souls who will never allow the crashing waves to erode them. After all, a dandelion can grow through the cracks in the pavement, and yet we snidely call it a weed.

Did you know that the only difference between a weed and a flower is intention? A weed is something you did not plan- it sprung up of its own accord without apology or permission. A flower, however, was wanted, planted, cared for and nurtured; it was intentionally cultivated. I find it strange that we give such a negative term to these brave little blooms who brazenly display their strength and resilience.

I think I would rather be a dandelion than a rose; in many ways I think that perhaps I already am. I am not conventionally beautiful, no, I have never been guilty of that crime. Nor do I make up for my lack in grace with my winning charm- I am awkward, uncoordinated, too quiet, too loud, too anxious, too serious, too silly, too much of a dreamer, too much of a realist; too much of this and too little of that. And yet here I am, still standing, probably where you didn’t want me to be.

I am not sure who decided that those little yellow buds and delicate wishers were a nuisance instead of something to be celebrated. Surely it was not I; this little girl who proudly plucked and presented the bouquet of sunshine for my mother. Surely it was not her; this woman who would carefully put them in a vase in our kitchen for everyone to see. Perhaps it was those few souls who feared the things that did not need them; a rose will need your guiding hand, your love and attention. But not the dandelion, no, it only needs a little patch to call it’s own and to be left to it’s own devices.

I tend to discover the most beauty in the things I could not plan for, the moments that sprout up unannounced and unexpected into my life. There is no edge of anticipation to taint them, no expectation to warrant disappointment. My favorite moments in life were ‘dandelion’ moments; unexpected, perhaps occasionally unwanted, and yet they brought color to a drab world. My writing is like a dandelion- these words that color my soul, though they were not planned, not thought out, not properly executed. They were not the career that I had spent years attempting to cultivate. They simply existed, always right there, surviving when nothing else could.

Mimosa Musings: To fan the flame or blaze on your own? (The fight over fanfiction)

Good morning my literary lovelies. I don’t know about you, but brunchtime mimosas usually send my mind wandering down unusual paths, and this weekend was no exception. My dog has been on bedrest for a few weeks now, and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to keep the 85 pound mass of energy contained. To keep both of us sane I decided to pull out my tried and true method: reading him some of my favorite books. Naturally, Harry Potter was the first one to pop up in my littler arsenal.

Now, I have never been the type of girl to love by halves; when I am in I am all in. Expert or novice, I immerse myself in the imaginary worlds that I love, whether they be the Marvel or DC universe, Middle Earth, Narnia, Rhyme and Reason’s kingdom, Panem, or our very own Hogwarts. I fall in love passionately and without apology. These worlds that we love to explore come to life within us. Each person who reads, listens to or watches these stories creates their own little dimension for the characters involved; the author holds the original, but new incarnations come to life in each of us. I’ve always found this fact to be the most magical of all; my perspective of Luna Lovegood or Jyn Eros will be very different from yours simply because we interpret the author’s world very differently. This concept has never been more clear than in the realm of fan fiction.

Personally, I love to read the stories tossed up on the Internet for anyone who is interested. I find it fascinating to discover what these stories have inspired in other people; often I learn that their imaginings are far different from my own. People online grow passionately supportive or opposed to different ideals (have you ever looked at a fan board discussing Draco and Hermoine pairings- hell will freeze over before those two camps find some common ground). I’ve dabbled in the realm, finding the idea to be fun practice and good inspiration for other pieces I am working on.

Authors, however, have very strong opinions on the subject. Some have belonged to the ranks of unknown fanfiction authors, such as: S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders) has written some- even going so far as to post fanfiction stories of his own books under a different pen name. Other known authors include: Lev Grossman (The Magicians), Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries), Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings (Beautiful), Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game), Cassandra Clare (Mortal Instruments), Neil Gaiman (far too many amazing books for me to name one). In fact, some have even had their fanfiction stories re-adapted into bestselling books, the most well-known being E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey series, which began as Twilight fanfiction.

Now, in the realm of original authors, there seems to be some disagreement about how to view and handle these new creations. There are those who find it flattering that others will love their characters so much to create their own stories about them. However, many do caution about crossing the line into using these creations for monetary gain (as someone who has worked in legal for the past decade, I would strongly advise against commercializing this type of work without getting the advice of a copyright attorney, as it is a slippery slope that could land you in court opposite your favorite writer’s legal team). Some authors have read and added to their fandom, going so far as to mark certain stories as ‘canon,’ meaning true to the original work. Others will send you a cease and desist letter threatening legal action if you do not remove the offending story.

In these murky waters, I can’t help but wonder: what do you all think? Is it flattery or theft? Do you write it yourself? Do you post it online? Are you a reader? Or do you steer clear of it as much as you can? Would you be flattered or offended if someone wrote stories based off of your original work?

Camp NaNoWriMo on the Horizon

Holy guacamole Batman, I can’t believe that time is already upon us once again. My literary lovelies, my wordy birdies, my alliteration afficionados: camp nano will be back in full swing this April, and for any of you planners (and a few of you plantser) out there- now is the time to get started.

A few of you may be wondering what kind of gibberish is escaping my keyboard today, but never fear- I won’t leave you hanging out in the cold today.

So, a quick breakdown for those who have never heard of Nano: NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an annual writing challenge that takes place every November. The brave souls who choose to gather their writerly weapons and embark on the ambitious quest have a single challenge: write 50,000 in 30 days. You can share in your successes and failures on the message boards, full of thousands of other writers who are just as crazy as you.

But what about the other eleven months of the year, you ask? Oh, how glad I am that you brought it up. These brave warriors armed with their pens and laptops started to get anxious when they weren’t engaged in their quests. They knew that any brave adventurer needed to train, to prepare for their daring November mission. So they created the notorious Camp. Think of it like Camp Half-Blood (for you Percy Jackson lovers), but for the writerly world. This Camp is a safe haven for the writer, meeting in April and July every year.

But don’t worry, my daring friends- you need not travel far to engage in this adventure. This Camp is a virtual endeavor- you sign up, create a project, and can even join a cabin. The cabins are probably my favorite part. You can join a group of other writers and have your very own private message board. You can meet other people who are just as crazy as you, bond over books, snacks and beverages, share stories, obstacles and successes. You can cheer each other on and participate in short writing challenges to boost your word counts. I’ve met many amazing people that I have kept in touch with over the years. I’ve made connections forged in the fires of the pages, bound together through the fluid chains of words.

Another feature you get to see during Camp that you don’t get for your November challenge: customizable goals. During Camp you can do whatever you want- you can set your finish line anywhere you would like. You can be ambitious and go for the coveted Double Nano (100,000 words), or go lower if you know that life is going to be crazy for you that month. You can set your goal to words count, pages, hours- anything you wish.

But wait, you say- I am not a novelist, why on Middle Earth would I want to join a writing challenge? Another good question, my fearless friend. With Nano you can sign up for any kind of project under the sun. Do you want to start writing in your journal more? Register it as your project- you are now mired in the pits of nonfiction (but beware, my dear- reality is often much stranger than the fiction that we write). Or perhaps you are hoping to pump up your blog (I know most of my dear readers have one), well sign up and start creating those beautiful posts so many are waiting to gobble up. The choice is your, my friends- this is a choose-your-own-adventure of a sort.

The challenge, if you choose to accept it, can be found at Camp NaNoWriMo. It is never too late, my friends. We shall embark on April 1st, but you can still join after that start date. You will always be welcomed with open arms in this crowd. I’ve never found the support that these fellow adventurers have bestowed upon me.

In the immortal words of Albus Dumbledore, “Let is step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress adventure.” Writing is predominantly a solitary endeavor, perhaps finding a few friends along the road wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. Are you ready? The world needs to hear your words, find others who will raise their voices with you.

A Blind Date with a Character (when we all look the same)

I’ve always been in love with the concept of a blind date with a book. The book is almost always wrapped up in plain brown paper with a description written in sharpie on the cover. You read these little hints, and you never know what book you are choosing until you’ve selected your perfect little match and finally get to unwrap it. You almost always discover a little gem you would have browsed right past on your own.

This is a beautiful concept that I would love to see more of in the world, but recently it got me thinking. What if we did ‘blind date with a character?’ What would it look like if we chose our favorite characters from our favorite books and wrote a little blurb about them on the brown paper cover?

My fear is that everything would look the same. Our men would probably be white, straight, young, able-bodied, good looking, physically strong. Our women would probably be white, straight, able-bodied, good looking, preoccupied with love. I read voraciously, and while I notice slight differences in the personalities, the stereotypes are still present. There are variations and outliers. But the main plots center around characters like this.

Truthfully, it breaks my heart. We all deserve to see ourselves in the books we read, the movies we watch, the songs we listen to. These imaginary worlds we escape to have infinite power to make us better people, to show us sides of life that we might not see, to show us that we are capable of far more than we thought we could be. They remind us that the world is much larger than the little piece of it we claim, and that we belong to something much bigger than we could imagine. They remind us of our shared humanity and grant us the gift of compassion. So what happens when we are only told one story? When we only see the humanity found in people who look or live like we do?

Name one book who’s main character is overweight where the sole focus isn’t her dropping pounds to look like ‘those other girls.’ Name one book about a person with MS. Name one book about an Asian girl who wants to go to broadway, or a black girl who wants to be a NASA scientist. Name one book with a boy who is desperate to teach a younger generation about the art of meditation and humble living. Name one book with an old man who is raising his granddaughter on his own. Name one book about a Muslim man or woman advocating for equal rights, or a gender fluid individual trying to make their place in the world. Name one book that focuses on mental health, or chronic pain. Name one book where the nerdy boy or girl with glasses that fog up in the rain saves the day. Name one book that is different.

The only books that I can point to as examples of these are all nonfiction. The irony is not lost on me that every single example I can give comes from real life, but not from our fictional literature. And I find this troubling. The world is so much more than the stereotypes and story tropes we have created. So why don’t our books reflect this rich culture?

Most studies have centered on diversity within children’s literature, so I’m going to focus my statistics in this area, though I think there is a strong correlation that can be found in young adult and adult books as well. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, diversity in children’s literature was pretty stark. Based off of ethnicity alone, representation was as follows in 2015:

  • American Indian/First Nations: 0.9%
  • Latinx: 2.4%
  • Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans: 3.3%
  • African/African American: 7.6%
  • Animals/trucks/etc: 12.5%
  • White: 73.3%

To be clear, these are specific to children’s literature and do not discuss other subsections of minority literature, such as sexual orientation or ableism. But it’s a good starting point when analyzing our own work. We spend far too much time telling a single story when the world is full of so much more.

As a writer, I am also guilty of this crime. I don’t show enough representation in my character groups. While I try to have some diversity, I am painfully aware that most of the diversity is found in my supporting cast. My main character is all too often a girl who looks a lot like me. This isn’t inherently wrong, because everyone deserves representation, but women like me oversaturate the market. I can see my physical likeness in a book whenever I want. I’ll probably have to follow along with a love story in the process, but I am present in the pages. How lonely it must feel when you never get to see yourself? Why can’t I ever find a girl who struggles with debilitating anxiety and panic attacks when she enters a room? Why can’t I find a book about someone who has been physically injured and doesn’t know if they will ever feel normal again? Why can’t I find a representation of my less common traits? It isn’t fair to us as writers or readers when we don’t get to fitness the full picture of the world we inhabit.

When you don’t see yourself in the pages of a story you can’t help but wonder why. What is wrong with you that made your traits undesirable to a writer? What flaws do you possess that make you less important than the people who get to see themselves. I struggled with anxiety and depression- these aren’t struggles that the heroines in my stories face. The absence of them adds to the sense that there is something wrong, something ‘other’ about me. When we continually write about single characters, we are doing ourselves a disservice. We represent so much more than one story.

Now, the contributing factors to this issue are complex and interconnected. Perhaps it is the fact that there is not enough ‘minority’ representation in the literary world (though I see issues with this mindset). Perhaps it is the makeup of the publishing industry itself choosing books that look like them. After all, studies have been done in this area too.

Credit: blog.leeandlow.com

And then we come to the issue of recognition in terms of prizes and awards given within the industry itself, as well as time and money spent on advertising the books that we create. Large literary awards lean heavily towards male authors and male characters. When you review the gender-split of winners for the major literary prizes over the past 50 years, you will see that female representation makes up only about 10-35% of the winners in each contest group. In fact, the ‘most equal’ award presented was the Man Booker Prize, which sat at 35% representation of female winners, the Pulitzer cane in a close second with 34%.

This correlation is also present in the gender of the characters written about in the winning books. In the instances where women do win, they are usually writing from a male perspective. When looking at the Man Booker Prize (our most ‘equal’) you will see that out of the past 15 years, 80% of the winning books were about male characters, 13% were about women, and the remainder was split with two main characters of opposite genders. If you review the results from the Pulitzer, out of the last 15 years, not a single book written by a woman about a woman made the list. Not one.

It appears that the issues regarding representation go much deeper than simply reflecting on what people are writing about; the publishing and publicizing industries still hold a lot of biases that we see in our culture on a daily basis. These don’t disappear overnight. And while self-publishing can help with the availability of more diverse books in the market, it is difficult when your readers cannot easily access or find your special work. The problem needs to be solved from the ground up; more readers demanding representation and more writers willing it provide it, in spite of the challenges that may be faced during the publishing process.

We are writers. It is our responsibility to tell the stories that the world needs to hear. We’ve always told stories, we’ve always had the ability to bring people together or tear them apart. There is great power with this concept, with this ability, with this passion. We must be self-critical and aware of our place and our role.

Representation matters. It mattered when Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Shuri, and Daredevil showed the disproportionately represented that they could be heroes. It mattered. It mattered to me when I saw a woman who looked like me play a role that traditionally went to men. It mattered to my friends when they saw someone who looked or thought or acted like they did in a role that was usually meant for someone very different. Representation matters. It always has, it always will. And as writers, we are in the perfect position to bring these stories to life, to inspire the love and passion that burns in the hearts of those who see our creations within themselves.