Tags: control

On When It's Never Good Enough

So...this weird thing has been happening. 

I've been giving people bits and pieces of my work. Short stories, snippets of CM, a few pages here and there. 

And the oddest thing happens. I don't really know what to do about it.

People don't totally hate it. In fact, some of them even like my stuff. 

Really. They LIKE it. Do you know what that means? It means that to someone out there, I don't suck. It gives me hope that maybe I can actually take my WIP somewhere for real—that perhaps, someday, an agent might fall in love with it as well, and that I might be able to share it with people in a form other than a MSWord document with typos and red squigglies underneath the occasional Swedish word. If I could, it would be wondrous. That's a beautiful feeling. 

Granted, of course, these are things I've always wanted—but the knowledge that people who-are-not-me like it, even in its rough draft format, makes it seem slightly more feasible. I mean, of course the story is fine and dandy in my head—I'm supposed to like it, because I wrote it—but if an outside, relatively unbiased source also thinks it's not horrific, that comforts me tremendously. It means that I'm not entirely delusional. 

And then, after I have a few moments or hours of heartwarming belief in myself, I start to worry. What if that itty-bitty piece that Very Kind Person liked was just a fluke? A rare moment of good writing amidst a sea of adverbs, passivity and telling? What if I really am a talentless hack, and said Kind Person was under the influence of some Doctor Who-style perception filter? 

Or—if the piece really was decent—how do I know I can ever do it again? What if the rest of it doesn't live up? 

And, by that point, I'm usually overcome by All the Angst. 

Yet, the last time this happened, I realized that I've heard that exact same fear voiced many times over by countless authors—you  know, published authors with contracts and all that. The same fear of what if seeps through the Internet, apparently, infecting countless authors—highly talented people with incredibly masterful storytelling ability. 

It wasn't just me. It was everyone.

I realized that I will never be good enough for myself—pursuing perfection is nice in theory, but inherently disappointing in practice. It doesn't matter how many drafts I write, because there will always be things I could do better. I will keep learning for years, I imagine, but striving for perfection can only result in failure, and those what ifs are poison in the storytelling veins.

So. No more what ifs. No more not good enough. Just writing, and reading, and learning. 

That really is all I can do in the end. 

The Power of Words

I've said before that I believe words have incredible power, and I wholeheartedly stand by that. But today I don't want to go into that again—it's floating somewhere back in my blog archives, so if you'd like to read it you can scroll down a bit. 

You see, on August 12, I finished my first draft of Cuddle Monsters. I was ecstatic and heartbroken at once—my little story needs work, but it's still very dear and magical to me, and the thought that it was the end of the beginning was terrifying. But—overall—I felt gratified. My hard work—those days of writing 3k or 4k or, in some blistering moments of utter stupidity, 5k—had paid off. I had the beginnings of something that could be beautiful. 

On August 13, my grandfather died. 

It wasn't really a surprise. He was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer in July 2011, and the fact that we had this past year with him was a gift in itself, but he was such a fighter. I had been up at my grandparents' house only the day before—the day I finished my draft—and when I told him goodbye, I knew this was it. Somehow. It cut into my heart and bone, that last goodbye, but I couldn't let myself cry. I had to think positively. He could still pull out of it. Yet...I knew.

So I wasn't surprised, but it hurt. How it did hurt. 

I'll write more about him later—when it's not quite so fresh, so that I can give him his due—but the point is that the Very Good Thing of finishing my first draft was immediately bookended by the death of someone I loved very much. 

I cried and mourned, but I've cried in secret many times. Nothing I could do would change what had happened, and I couldn't just snap my fingers, whisk everyone up in a TARDIS and fix everything. I couldn't even dry their tears, so how could I absolve their pain?

I pulled CM open and reread the beginning. The voice was off—you know how the characters are sometimes not totally established at the beginning? Not quite themselves yet, even if you know who they are and what needs to happen? That was it. 

I could fix that. 

So I did, as much as I could, and I tinkered away with it. They were short, almost mindless revisions—the sorts of things I should've never missed in the first place—but still. I worked with them, fiddled and fumbled until it looked a little better. The ache never dulled, but that silly little project of mine, the child of Hamlet and Elektra and the Brothers Grimm through Science, helped. Not much, not in the long run, but just an increment. That increment was enough.

Writing is cathartic, in a way, although I can't and don't write as a release (that is—if I'm genuinely in pain, there's no way I can write).  The ability to create—to make something beautiful, or something with the potential to be beautiful—salves wounds, though it can never take them away. Words give us the ability to do remarkable things, whether hurt or heal, and sometimes just the ability to do that helps. After all, language is how we communicate—how I talked with my grandfather, how he told stories about silly things like green bugs perpetually reincarnated only to be squished while crossing a road, how all those lovely memories are created. 

And it was language funneled through my dear baby WIP that, however distantly, helped me in the wake of such sorrow. 

Words are beautiful and powerful. Use them wisely. 

Heroes! Villains! Shakespeare! Cuddle Monsters!

So. I've been working on my new project a lot recently (it's up to 15k after about five days of writing—way faster than I usually write). You know the one. The one with the very odd codename of "Project Cuddle Monsters" or, if I want to make myself feel all official, CUDDLE MONSTERS (it does have a different working title, but I'm not convinced that it will stick). The one that has resulted in copious Hamlet quotes, and pictures of iron necklaces and keys, and sketches of Jane Austen characters all dwelling in harmony in my Evernote folders. Not to mention the memes I've built for CM while snerking the whole time. 

But Cuddle Monsters lives up to its codename: it's a very strange little project, and (as a result) evokes all sorts of feelings from me. It's the first project I've actually planned out the scenes/acts/etc. for, and maybe as a consequence of that foresight has been relatively easy and quick to write (of course, whether or not the words resulting from that quick and easy writing are any good is a different matter—I'm still battling the Inclination To Distance Reader From Character, Passiveness, etc., but I trust that I can overcome that in edits *crosses fingers*). Its strangeness extends beyond that, though; it's an entirely different sort of project from what I usually try to write. It's much more quiet (well, aside from the monsters) and intense, with the majority of the drama being drawn from family dynamics (hyper-dysfunctional family dynamics complicated by the presence of monsters, but still). It's also startlingly unfunny—humor is almost totally absent, at least in part thanks to the source material and otherwise from the natural development of the characters. Speaking of which, in spite of my plotting, I've had a positively magical time discovering new things about the characters and storyline. They've stumped me a few times, actually—the character that I thought would be Snark Warlord 2012 ended up being much, much more interior of a character than I imagined. But as a result of that, I realized exactly how hard it would be on this poor character's brain to contain, absolutely and unyieldingly, all those rapid-cycling emotions 24/7, and said character is much more interesting for it. 

As a result of CM's plot, which is inspired by all my favorite plays ever (read: lots of revenge, and tragedy, and murder), the characters all get to have moments of Ultimate Darkness and half-descents into madness, etc. which fits nicely with its tragic roots, but is actually also a way of letting me poke around with my ideas of heroes and villains. The moral grey area of revenge plots is a perfect place to torture characters examine what these situations would do to a person psychologically, and how even good intentions can go awry. The ways in which heroes and villains are made complex, tested in their missions, and how they become the people they are are fascinating to me, and I think that a thorough understanding of those factors can really deepen the manner in which a story plays out.

At the same time, though, the scenes involving that depth are the hardest ones to write because they scare me. They evoke abject terror, because while those contradictions and complex manners of thought and deed are wonderful when done well...I don't have faith in myself to actually do them well. Of course, if I never write it, then I certainly won't get better, and will doom myself to Perpetual Suckitude. But not doing something because of fear is an absolutely horrible way to live, and no way at all to write. So, with quaking fingers, I write the scenes. Some of them make me cringe, and the ones that do are the most important of all because that's where the most is at stake for me. I've spent so much time analyzing heroes and villains that now, when I try to write some of my own, I'm terrified to do it and fail. It would be far more humiliating for me, having done all this stuff on how shiny characters are, to fail at developing my characters than it would be otherwise. 

But I want to do it anyway. I want to write those characters so vivid that they can reach out of the pages and shove their presence down your throat (not literally), the characters who make tears well in your eyes from the sharpness of their pain—the ones you want to hug when they break. I want to write those Shiny characters, even though I know it will involve potential embarrassment and suffering on my part. Isn't that weird? 

I think this means either than I love my project deeply, or I've really lost it. Maybe a bit of both. 

So tell me, you 5.5 people who will read this post—if you're a writer, have you had Fear of the Shiny and, if so, how did you deal with it? Non-writers, how have you conquered fear of taking those risks in your own life, and what makes characters stand out to you? I'm all ears. 

Loss of Power both Metaphorical and Literal; On Being an Idiot; and Ice-Showers

Chances are that you've heard about the colossal storm that so politely ripped its way through half of the eastern United States and sent my state hurtling into a condition of powerlessness that is, at least on my road, in its fourth day. The town in which I live actually has power, but inexplicably my street does not; as a result, we've vainly attempted to save the contents of the refrigerator via generator and only last night managed to make the internet work properly (also thanks to the magical Generator God). Thus I actually have an excuse for my blog-absence, rather than simply being a neglectful blogger. 

Anyway, spending a week (if repairs go as expected, I'll have power back this Friday—a full week after it went out) without any sort of lighting aside from candles and no hot water and no air conditioning (during a massive heat wave and drought, I might add) has been a unique experience. I have become a master at gritting my teeth and diving underneath ice-cold showers, which is not an experience I would urge anyone to undertake if they have a choice, and I've discovered which of my clothes are not good for humidity at all. 

The funny thing, of course, is that it's not the heat and humidity that makes me grumpy in itself. What bothers me is that I don't have a choice in being exposed to said heat and humidity. I can live with the whole bathing-in-arctic-fishing-hole thing because I choose to do it—to have that choice removed would make it just as intolerable as the rest of the situation. 

So, y'know, while we've literally lost power, the whole experience is also very connected to the concept of losing power in general (that is, losing control of a situation). Very often, I think, we control very little in our own lives, but those things that we can control we tend to hold onto so tightly that we risk losing them altogether (and by 'we', what I actually mean is 'I'). It's not a terribly healthy approach to life, but it manages to get us through the day. 

And, interestingly enough, the entire idea of losing control and power over one's own situation is connected to my next topic—"On Being an Idiot". Recently, while I was having my latest moment of panic and abject terror at the possibility of the future, it occurred to me that my past is sprinkled by memorable instances of mind-numbing stupidity. Not the kind of stupidity that other people would notice, necessarily, but rather decisions that I made on a very small level that—in retrospect—were absolutely moronic and short-sighted. When I look back on those moments, an unmistakable sense of desolation and irritation at myself overwhelms me, and it makes me want to hit my head on my keyboard repeatedly. Or, to put it in a way that is more in line with my actual thought process at the time, "OHMIGOSH WHY WAS I SO STOOOOOOOOPID?!?" which was then in turn resolved into, "By Castor and Pollux, what foul sense of idiocy and absence of mind compelled me to act in such a mad way?" and then into, "You know what? I give up. SOMETIMES I JUST SUCK."

The worst part, though, is that now I realize how dull I was at the time, and it's far too late to do anything about it. I don't know that anything can ever be done about it again. That's the way it is, but I wish I could change it. I really do. But, you know, if I tried to rectify things now, I think it would only come off as very strange. 

But I kind of want to try, anyway. 

Life is funny that way. It contains elements of all the best stories and all the worst, like a vortex filled with swirling emotions and experiences shared by so many and yet unique to each person. Which, perhaps, is why stories have this way of living on thousands of years after first being written, and why a good book can make us laugh and cry and be happy and sad all at once. We're all the heroes of our own stories, anyway...although I still haven't managed to get my life to conform to a four-act structure. I have lots of tension, though, so I think I should be a bestseller. (<--this is a snark. I am not actually trying to market myself as a book.)

Writerly Statistics
Current Project: CUDDLE MONSTERS
Progress: Attempting to Plot (sacrificing to the gods of plotting)
Inspiration: This picture.

"Don't mind me, I'm just having a villainous breakdown!"

...well, I'm not. I'm having a writerly breakdown, but really—have you noticed that so many villains have random breakdowns before they turn into The Big Bad Guy, and no one seems to notice? It's kind of ridiculous. I mean, dude. The entire story could've been prevented if the villains had a nice chat, tea, and pudding after their breakdowns.

Er. That was off-topic. 

(Mmm. Pudding. Rice, chocolate, vanilla, bread...)

I'm having a rather difficult phase with my writing. As I pointed out below, I had a shiny new idea—but it's been a few days, and there is still no plot for that shiny new idea no matter how many articles I read on the four-act structure and character development and so on. I love my being verbs, because I like making statements about what the essence of something is (see what I did there?), and I like the passive for no other reason than because I've translated it so very many times in Latin. I have a couple of projects that I love  to death, even though they're positively riddled with cliches, and even though I know I need to rewrite the first draft of one of them already because of how radically the story has changed since I first began. I can tell you what I love in heroes and in villains and in plots, and what makes them truly work, but I can't apply it. I haven't actually 'finished' a project since June of last year; that one now sits and rots in the dark galleries of my computer files. I can't come up with brilliant ideas in the snap of a finger. 

In short, I'm really tired of sucking so much. 

I love writing. I love storytelling. If, by some wild chance undoubtedly occurring only when the planets (Pluto included) are in full alignment and the world is entirely at peace coinciding with Friday the 13th and the transit of Venus, I could actually write something worth reading—something that people really liked—I would be blissfully happy. But—instead—I keep turning out Stories of Ultimate Crappiness. It's really amazing, actually...one would think that eventually I'd manage to finish at least one draft with a decent structure and humbly interesting characters that might, conceivably, have a chance of being enjoyed by someone, but instead...

But it's not as though I can simply stop writing and walk away. I think I would go thoroughly insane within a short period of time if I tried. I value stories far too much to give up creating them; it's the quality that bothers me. I'm trying, of course—I try very hard, and maybe too hard. I know there are critique partners and other such mystical creatures out there, but to seek a critique partner implies that your work has, y'know, a semblance of plot or uniqueness. I think that if I manage to snare some poor person into critiquing my work, they would be wasting their time. 

Okay. I'm going to go find tea, and chocolate, and a warm, fuzzy blanket.

Stupid WIPs. *sniffle* I just want you to be good. *sniffle* Where on earth is my tea? 

(The author is not to be blamed for the significant amount of angst and whinage in this post. Well, actually, she is, but asks you not to blame her anyway.)

Ballet Shoes

                                                                         

I am, without a doubt, one of the world's worst ballet dancers. Well, that might be an exaggeration--I just started, earlier this academic term, and so I'm not expected to be able to do what the ballerina in the above picture is doing. At least, what her feet are doing, anyway. At any rate, I'm still learning, and in consequence I do some very odd things while practicing.

The thing about ballet, of course, is that even if you know it takes excruciating amounts of hard work to be able to perform like the famous dancers do, it looks so effortless and beautiful. With sports, you can typically see the athletes' sweat and effort as they run for the goal or whatever it is that athletes do--ballet dancers, on the other hand, have to exert essentially the same amount of effort and still make it look beautiful and free. Still, you (by which I mean I) have no idea exactly how much work it involves until you actually try to do it.

All the same, in the short time that I've been trying to learn, I have become acutely, and sometimes painfully, aware of how much hard work and dedication it must take to be a professional dancer. Never before has the fact that all my muscles are quite connected to each other been so obvious as when, upon attempting to do a simple tendu, I find that I actually have to use other parts of my body in order to correctly slid my pointed foot out onto the floor--because you can't just blissfully slid your foot out. Instead, it has to resist up against the floor until the last possible minute, keeping your entire leg tense and in control, while making sure that your hips remain even, pelvis not tilted one way or the other, and the arms--heavens, don't make me mention the arms.

Still, it's wonderful--even for a beginner/non-dancer-person like myself. In that simple tendu or releve, I am more aware of the way in which my body works than I am throughout the entire rest of the day. I have utter, complete control over those moves that I can do well--and the ones that I can't will come in time. Ballet is something for which you can't help but work hard, and the faded, now-strained threads on the bottom of some of my socks testify to it.

Strength is not always outward and obvious. There are, at times, strengths that do not appear like strength, because they run deep beneath the surface.

                                                                             

Here, for example, is Elisabeth Maurin. She looks as though she's suspended in mid-air effortlessly, simply hopping up on her toes for a moment or so with no pain whatsoever. In reality, it takes incredible strength to do what she's doing in this image for even a few seconds.

This is the kind of beauty that has to be worked for, and some of us (coughmecough) will never look as lovely while dancing as Ms. Maurin does up there. The point is, however, that it is not effortless--it was something she strove for and sought, working hard to get there. The things worth doing in life are seldom easy and painless, and more often than not involve enough suffering to make us wonder why on earth we're doing what we do. But, at the end of the day, some things are just worth striving for.

Between Control and Cancer

Times exist when it’s very hard to be an optimist.

Of course, I’ve never been an optimist. My method of dealing with situations that could turn out either good or bad is to assume that it’ll be bad, in hopes that if the bad does happen, it won’t hurt as much. The problem is that it doesn’t work.

As it was, when I did was at Regionals for mock trial, I knew that there was a very low chance of my team moving on. I assumed we’d lose. When we did, it still hurt. A lot.

I can’t learn my lesson, though, because to this day, I assume the worst. It’s exhausting, and not something that I recommend doing. I’d prefer to take a neutral view of things, if only to make Stuff easier, but it doesn’t work that way for me.

As some of you might be aware, one of my grandfathers is currently very, very ill and the other, although doing fine now, has also had troubles recently. We’re not sure what’s going on with either of them. Even if we did know exactly what has happened, though, it wouldn’t make a difference--I still can’t do anything.

All that I can do is stand aside and watch as life goes on. I can’t stop the tears from falling, whether out of my eyes or my family’s, and I can’t force the hands of time to stop or break or turn back. Life doesn’t work that way. The issue is entirely out of my control. The only thing that I have control over is my response to it.

I hate it.

At the end of the day, I can’t shut down the thoughts that run through my head. I can’t just turn off that part of my brain that says maybe if you had done this, that wouldn’t have happened or you can fix this, you just won’t or something equally absurd. There is nothing in the world that I could do, through my own agency, to stop cancer.

I’m a passable public speaker. I can do a decent job at convincing people of this or that because I can control what comes out of my mouth, and--to a relative degree--I can control how they receive it, through word choices or so on. I can control the papers I write. I can’t directly control whether or not my professors like me, but by being engaging, studious and diplomatic, I can increase the chances that they will like me.

I can’t control this. Can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t. No matter how many times I write that, it doesn’t make it easier to accept.

It’s easy to get existential in this sort of situation. When it comes down to it, I don’t make a difference here. What happens will happen regardless of me. I don’t matter here. I have no idea when I do, but I know that I will do what God wills of me, regardless of the outcome.

I have to accept that this is not about me. It’s not about my control over stuff.

I’m just not sure how.