Delayed Gratification and The Writer

I hate moving.

A barricade of boxes sits around me as I write this. My mind is filled with questions. Will we get all this packed and moved in time? Where did all this stuff come from? Why can’t I just burn all our stuff in the parking lot?

The biggest question of all is “Why are we doing this in the first place?”

 Then I remember we will save $2400 over the next year just by moving to another apartment down the street.

Moving has been a microcosm of delayed gratification for my wife and me.

 A week of struggle is traded for a year of savings. We could’ve paid the extra $200 a month and continue on without the stress, but is that really worth throwing away all that cash?

If you’re a fiction writer, you live in the realm of delayed gratification.

The payoff for your work is in the distance, but you know finishing your novel will be more satisfying in the long run than binge watching Orange is the New Black. The thrill of accomplishing something you love is far better than climbing the ladder at your day job or getting “attaboys” from your boss.

You’re doing something extraordinary when you choose to the hard road of the writer.

Over 75 percent of the population want to write a book.  You’re doing it!

I hope you’ve been encouraged by this post. I hope you sit down and write today. I hope you remember why you want to be writer and give up all your excuses.

Delay your gratification and experience something better.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pack up a box of hats. Hats? How did we get so many hats?

The Virtue (and Vice) of Stating the Obvious

I overheard a conversation that went something like this…

“Why didn’t you just ask him for help?”

 “I’m pregnant, throwing up in the restroom. He should know I need help with the kids. It’s obvious I need help.”

 “Sometimes men need to be told.”

 “It’s stupid- He’s stupid if he needs to be told. It’s obvious. I’d rather just do it myself.”

fightpicBefore I continue, if your wife is pregnant and blowing chunks, you should be at her beck and call without her asking.

With that said, sometimes the obvious escapes us all, male and female.

Much of life’s anger and frustration is caused by the obvious.
In my day job at a pharmacy, I think it’s obvious prescriptions should be kept together in designated totes. Random prescriptions shouldn’t be littered around our high traffic hallway.   It’s obvious and it angers me when it doesn’t happen.

My coworker thinks it’s obvious a broken paper shredder placed next to the trashcan clearly indicates the paper shredder is trash. It frustrates her when the janitorial service empties the trashcan, but leaves the paper shredder.

Many conflicts could be resolved if only we stated the obvious.

Rather than becoming resentful, we could communicate the information we believe the offending party should already know. (Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not defending cluelessness and thoughtlessness.)

The strange paradox for the fiction writer is, in our craft, the tendency is the opposite.

We want to over explain. We don’t leave room for subtext and imagination. Our fear is the readerIn life, we should seek strong communication. won’t get “it” unless we beat them over the head with “it”. All the while, our editors, writing buddies, and beta readers are telling us “Trust your audience”. Ultimately trust will entice a reader to read a book again and again, which is the greatest flattery for any writer.

A reader may attribute the emotion of anger to a line of dialogue when you intended sadness or she may picture a character as older than you imagined, but these ambiguities are what draws them back, your book becoming fresh to them with each reading.

I propose we strive to turn our worlds upside down.

In our real life relationships, we should seek clarity and strong communication.   In our writing, we should leave some things unsaid.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Is there something I missed?

How Fear is the Culprit for One of the Biggest Writing Mistakes

Fear keeps you from livingI remember the first girl I asked out in junior high. Actually, I took the cowardly approach and had my friend Shawn ask her out for me. Not only did she say “no” but also made gagging sounds to emphasize her point of view. I didn’t make another attempt to date until after high school.

Giving in to fear stops you from living. Period.

 Whether it’s starting a relationship or starting a business, fear freezes you.

And what about writing? Does fear affect that?

 If you’re a writer, you know it does. Much has been said about this, so I’ll let this article from Copyblogger speak to this point.

But did you know fear may affect the QUALITY of your writing too?

Stephen King Stephen King says, “I’m convinced that fear is the root of most bad writing.”

His point is we fear being misunderstood, so we add those unnecessary adverbs and adjectives to our prose. We know this is the mark of an amateur (if you don’t, check out this article on habits to avoid in writing), but we’re still tempted to add those qualifiers.

So how do we handle the fear of being misunderstood?

1)  Trust the reader. Most people can read between the lines. Even if the vision they have isn’t the same as yours, it’s ok. Some ambiguity is good. It may even provoke your readers to reread your book, “discovering” aspects of your characters and plot they didn’t see the first time around. To be read over and over is the highest compliment any writer can get.

2) Before sending your work out into the world, enlist beta readers. You should do that anyway, but ask them to summarize your plot or at least the parts of your novel you think might be misunderstood.

Do you have any more tips to fight the fear of being misunderstood?

If JK Rowling jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?

If JK Rowling jumped off abridgeListen to your mother’s voice.

In high school, she said you couldn’t get a tattoo of a poodle playing bagpipes. “Everybody’s doing it,” you replied. She came back with the classic mother’s rebuttal: “If everybody jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”

In adulthood, we still use the lame “everybody’s doing it” argument.

Even national leaders and media personalities use this faulty line of logic. I’ve heard we should adopt strict immigration policies, high-speed rail, the metric system, and soccer based upon the argument “other nations are doing it”. Their positions may be valid, but their reasoning wouldn’t stand up to your mom’s retort.

When writing, we should also move away from the “everybody’s doing it” mentality.

 It’s normal to copy your idols when you begin writing. Stephen King started out writing tales based on the Roger Corman B-Movies he loved. He slowly became the Stephen King we know.

Too often, we fence ourselves in by “what’s already out there”.

Drop the fence of what’s popular. Certainly drop the fence of what’s expected.

The “expected” dampens creativity.

Come to think of it, expectation dampens much of life. Yes, the expectation to care for your family is good. Yes, the expectation to keep your promises is essential. But doing EVERYTHING “expected” in life leads to mediocrity.

Luckily for you, you’re a writer, so you’ve already chosen an unexpected path.

 But what about your stories? What would you write if you dropped the fences and stopped having an “everybody’s doing it” mentality?  Don’t desire to be the next JK Rowling or John Grisham.  Desire to be the first you.

 

The Worst Thing That Could Happen To You

9218951220_3f84f5549bA man tries to commit suicide and finds out he’s immortal.

 A CEO who gave up her family to build a fortune 500 company discovers her company is insolvent.

 A monkey finds out he’s allergic to bananas.

Writing compelling fiction means asking, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to your protagonist?”

Storytellers are told to give their characters an unyielding desire and then put insurmountable obstacles in the way of that desire. Good writers are sadists.

I could end this post here and send you off to inflict atrocities on your characters, but that’s not what this site is going to be about.

I want to connect fiction writing to life.

Have you ever asked yourself “What is the worst thing that could happen to YOU?”

 Scary question, isn’t it? It causes you to ponder your fears. It sheds light on what really matters to you. It forces you to evaluate your priorities.

This question can be more telling than the tired “What’s most important to me?” question.

Sometimes answering a question in its negative form brings more insight.

Some personality tests use this strategy. They ask a set of questions asking which of the “following four options” sound MOST like you and then ask a set asking which options sound LEAST like you. Usually the latter set is more accurate in determining your personality type.

If you ask me what’s most important to me, I can trick myself into believing God, my wife, ending poverty, finding a banana substitute for those poor allergic monkeys, etc., is most important.

When I ask, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to me?” I get a more visceral answer. I can’t delude myself into believing I’m the man I wish I was.

For me, not being able to write would be devastating. Having a degenerative brain disease scares me to death. My fears are very “me”-centric. I should care more about my wife, my family, and my friends, but I don’t.

In light of the question, I should reevaluate what’s important and work toward a healthier outlook.

How about you? What does the question reveal about you and your character?  

Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/48512944@N04/9218951220/”>Alex Noriega.</a> via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/help/general/#147″>cc</a>