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Rebekka Leber

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When Writers Don’t Write

A Rant from Sass:

It’s 10:26 am on Christmas Eve. My husband is currently working a sixteen hour overtime shift (at triple time – don’t feel bad for us. He signed up for it.), and I have the house all to myself. I don’t have anywhere to be until tomorrow. It’s cold, and the snow that started last night is still accumulating. I have a cozy little fire going in my wood burning stove and a piping hot cup of sweet, black tea steeping as I type. My cats are curled up at my feet. It’s literally a perfect day to write…

…so, why the hell don’t I want to write?

I’m a writer. You kind of have to do writing for that to work. But, meh… I just… whatever.

It’s not writer’s block. It’s not even writer’s embarrassment. I just look at my project, shrug my shoulders, and think Nope.

I have writer’s apathy.

I’m nine months shy of being a decade into my main writing project. I’ve fleshed out all the characters. I’ve outlined the entire story, the conflict, the character arcs, the twists, the turns, the reveals, and the resolution. I’ve written over 50,000 words of the chronological story, and who knows how much out of order.

The story is there. It’s ready to be completed. I love my characters, I’m happy with my style, I’m proud of the theme and message I want to resonate through the story…

…so, why can’t I finish this damn story?

Have I fallen out of love with the idea?  Am I hitting the limits of my own creativity? Or, is it simply the manifestation of something I just can’t accept – maybe I am not really a writer at all. A creator, sure. I made an entire world. That happened, and it can’t be denied. But, am I trying to create my world in the wrong universe?

Am I sabotaging myself because I subconsciously fear I’ve invested ten years in a project that will have absolutely no significance?

The worst part isn’t the not writing. It’s the fact that everybody that reads what I have written loves it. My husband, my writer friends, my best friends, strangers who’ve read it on the few places I have posted it on the internet – I’ve had tons of positive feedback. They are desperate for more. They are begging me to finish. And, when they tell me this, I want to finish. I have hope I can. I believe I can… for about, like, a day. Then it’s straight back to excuses and apathy.

“If platitudes could be burned as creative energy to motivate my ass to complete this story, it would probably be a whole damn series by now.”

Most of the time, my writing dry spells have coincided with depression. On the reverse of that, my best writing periods have coincided with manic periods. But lately, when I sit down to put words on paper – despite knowing what I need to write, and how I want to write it – just feel lethargic. Creatively devoid. Bored, even.

So, why don’t I just walk away, you ask? Many reasons…

  1. I don’t often walk away from things I start – I’m too competitive, even with myself.
  2. I keep talking myself out it.
  3. The desire to have her own fandom is strong with this one.
  4. I know in my heart that someone out there needs this story as bad as I needed it when I started writing it.

“Your words are going to change someone’s life, even if it’s your own.”

My writer friends encourage me, giving me pep talks all the time.

“It’ll take as long as it takes.”

“I know you’re going to finish this story.”

“It’s a fantastic story that needs to be written. You’re going to do it, I promise.”

If platitudes could be burned as creative energy to motivate my ass to complete this story, it would probably be a whole damn series by now.

I wish I had answers. I wish I could peel back my consciousness and poke around inside it with a stick until I figured out why I am motivationally blocked. But, alas, no dice.

I’m just going to have to keep plugging away, working when I can, and trying not to feel like I’m made of excuses when I can’t. Writing is an art, not a science. It’s an act of creation. The pressure of manifesting something literally from nothing is overwhelming sometimes. It’s intimidating, especially when you add on the fact that you are second guessing your every move as you do it. Every writer wants to create something new, undiscovered, and original, because every writer needs to feel those things about themselves.

Writing is an act of affirmation.

As the often contested quote says, “Writing is easy. You just sit down at a typewriter, and bleed.” In other words, a writer pours everything out onto that page that makes them. They spill their essence across the page in a flow of words – their thoughts, their beliefs, their fears, their desires, their strengths, and their limitations. A writer leaves everything they are on the page, and waits for someone to love it. A writer perceives love through the admiration of their work, because if they can lay out their essence on a page, flaws and all, and still find someone who finds beauty, joy, revelation, and kinship in that mess, then they have truly been accepted for who they are.

That is terrifying and alluring, and the secret desire of every writer. They want someone to read them like their book, and say “I love this exactly as it is. Never change a thing.”

Dear merciful universe, I will finish this book. I don’t know how long it will take, or how I will find the momentum, but I will do it for one simple reason: Finishing this book will say more about me than anything I undertake for the rest of my life. It’s become a metaphor for my entire life struggle.

“Am I sabotaging myself because I subconsciously fear I’ve invested ten years in a project that will have absolutely no significance?”

I am not good enough. I will never be accepted. Nobody gets me. What’s the point in trying?

My story is not good enough. It will never be accepted by the mainstream. Nobody will get it. What’s the point in writing it?

Because it already exists. I exist. I think, therefore, I am, right? Saying this story isn’t worth writing is like saying my life is not worth fighting for anymore. It’s creative suicide. As long as people want it, I know it has worth… and, as long as I know I can write it, I too have worth.

I have to find the courage, conviction, and fortitude to keep writing. I have to tell my story as it is, without hesitation. I have to keep writing, living, bleeding out, otherwise… what is the point?

Writing is scary because it is the most honest thing you can do to accept yourself. Don’t give up. Keep fighting, even when it hurts, even when hope seems lost. It’s worth it. You’re worth it. Your words are going to change someone’s life, even if it’s your own.

Write on young savior,

 

 

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Craft Creative News Research-a-torium Resources Sass Worldbuilding

What Makes a Fictional World?

The beauty of writing speculative fiction is that anything is possible. Magic. Time Travel. World peace… (is it too cynical to think that the two formers are more possible in our real world than the latter? #writerprobs #historyteacherprobs) …and, while working in a world that will be shaped by your hand means the possibilities are endless, it also means that you have to play god, and literally build a world from scratch.

How the hell do you do that? Simple. And, lo, on the seventh day, god researched!

Writers research, period. Authenticity is key, regardless of whether you are writing realistic or fantasy driven fiction. While authors writing crime drama need to understand the mechanics of police procedure and writers of historical fiction need to understand the protocols of social status and gender, they both have the luxury of using anecdotal and empirical evidence to help them write authentically. Spec writers… well, we just make shit up, right?

Wrong. Well… kinda wrong. Wrongish.

You cannot just create matter from nothing. All cells come from previous cells. As too, with speculative fiction; you don’t just create something from nothing. The facets of the real world serve as our inspiration for fantasy worlds. The conflict that develops in fantasy setting may be fueled by metaphysical, magical, or technological issues, but it all stems from issues we encounter as real world people. Any fan of Star Trek: the Original Series will tell you that what made the show so amazing was its ability to take real world, contemporary issues and work them into a science fiction context. Species were based on cultures of Earth, albeit some were done in woefully poor and racist taste. Religious, ethical, political, ecological, cultural, and economic issues were not limited to human beings — they impacted species across the universe.

If there is one universal truth, it is that sentient beings, no matter how utopian and peaceful their society is, will always have shit to fight about. And that brings me back to my point: some aspects of the real world are universal to any society. If you want to build a fictional world, you have to start with a foundation, a template, and customize from there.

“If you’ve done your due diligence when building your fictional world, it will bleed into your writing without any great effort on your part.”

So, what makes a world? Here is the basic structure of any society, regardless of time period, culture, or race.

  • Setting
  • Political & Economic system
  • Shared cultural beliefs
  • Science & Technology

Setting

The variables of setting are very important to your world, and can either structure your world, or limit the possibilities. One of the most important ways to show authenticity is to make sure that the setting reflects every other aspect of your society.

  • Geography — What resources are available in this region? How do the people regulate resources, and does that create conflict? Do the seasons change? Are their multiple environments in one land, or is it all the same? Do the people adapt to the environment, or do they adapt the environment to meet their needs through modification and technology? What kind of flora and fauna live in the environment, and how does that impact the people?
  • Time Period — What freedoms do people have, and what limitations? For lack of better words (because as a historian, my brain throws up red flags and sees these words as ethnocentric), how “barbaric” , “primitive”, “advanced”, or “civilized” are the people? What constitutes the difference between the meaning of these words in their world? Are people treated differently based on race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other minority qualifiers? What changes has your world seen over its existence? Who has power, why, and has that changed? What historical events have shaped the world currently?
  • Science — What is technology to your people, meaning any device that makes life simpler? Do magic/paranormal/metaphysical components exist in this world? What is the difference between science and magic and religion, and does that distinction cause conflict?

Political & Economic Systems

What kind of political system(s) exist in the world, and how are they organized? Who created them? Have they always existed? What is considered to be the responsibility of the government, and of the individual? How are children educated, if at all? What is considered a well-rounded education? What are the laws, who created them, why, and how are they enforced?

It’s easy to overlook, but a nation’s government and economy are intrinsically linked. The attitudes towards making money, public services, and other ethics about business will impact how governments make laws, protect their people, and provide services. What kind of economy exists in your world? Who controls it? What kinds of goods are made, and what kinds of services are offered? Does the environment and resources play a role in that? What jobs are available?

“If there is one universal truth, it is that sentient beings, no matter how utopian and peaceful their society is, will always have shit to fight about.”

Shared Cultural Beliefs

What unites the people of this world? What do they eat? What do they believe? How do they dress? What is sacred and blasphemous to them? What language do they speak? What are the customs and traditions in this world? What happens when parts of this culture are changed/forgotten/ignored, and does that cause conflict? Are multiple cultures fighting for resources/rights/autonomy, or do they live in harmony? How does the culture impact class, gender, age, and what expectations are held for those qualifiers? How has history played a role in the development of the culture(s)?

Science & Technology

A huge misconception modern humans have when it comes to technology is that it has to be digital, futuristic, world of tomorrow kind of stuff. But, from the historical perspective, technology is really anything that has made life easier. Many people would automatically jumped to the progress made my weapons and tools, but it gets even more simple than that. We may be spoiled with our personal pocket computers, but at one point, all those things a cell phone or tablet does, were distinct forms of technology. Printed books, brought about by the printing press, were an incredibly advanced tech in the Middle Ages. Pencils were cutting edge shit. A writing system in general changed to world, drawing the line between recorded history and pre-history, forever dividing us civilized people from those primitive savages. With this idea in mind, think about everything that makes your life safe, comfortable, and simple. Now, examine what the people in your world would need to feel the same way?

  • How do people communicate?
  • How to they move goods and people?
  • How do they fight?
  • How do they farm?
  • How do they learn and discover?
  • How do they heal?
  • How do they play and relax?
  • How do they record information?

Even if not directly important to or acknowledged in the story, these are the bare minimum elements of the world that should be addressed. The reader doesn’t need to know all of the details, especially if it will amount to endless pages of backstory and context, or if it’s irrelevant to the basic plot. But, as a writer, these are things that need to be considered to have a fleshed out understanding of how your characters will act, react, view, and function in their world. If you’ve done your due diligence when building your fictional world, it will bleed into your writing without any great effort on your part. You will be able to avoid heavy-handed exposition and your readers will appreciate the opportunity to fill in some of the blanks themselves.

“You cannot just create matter from nothing. All cells come from previous cells. As too, with speculative fiction; you don’t just create something from nothing.”

Remember too, that when you are building your world, the real world is full of inspiration for the elements you need to make it seem authentic. That requires research. Good research- not a cursory skimming of a Wiki page. All of us at IndiePen Ink know just how complex and time consuming proper research can be. Lucky for you, our strife has turned into your benefit, as it has inspired us to create a truly helpful research resource for writers unlike any other: The Research-a-Torium. A writers reference source that can guide you to online resources and services, as well as services and titles you can find at you own local library. Thanks to the tireless work of our Lady of the eLibrary, Caitlin, we expect to be opening the doors by the end of July.

COMING SOON TO AN INTERNET NEAR YOU!

Start working out those worlds now, and when you get stuck, come see Caitlin in the Research-a-Torium for a world of resources guaranteed to inspire.

Write on young savior,

Craft Writing Styles

The Five Senses, and Beyond—Using Sensory Writing to Heighten your Narrative

Close your eyes.

Quit whining, and do it.

What do you notice about the space you are in?

Is the TV or music on in the background? Is there a breeze coming through the window? Can you still smell the popcorn you accidentally burned in the microwave? Can you feel the lump in the old couch cushion under you, or the numbness of your butt from time sitting on that hard seat? Is there a constant drip in your bathroom, or the ticking of a clock? Is your mouth dry, or is the taste of your now cold coffee still clinging heavily to your tongue?

Were you aware of any of this things prior to this moment?

Now, what’s really going to bake your noodle…are you even awake, or are you dreaming.

Perception in writing is incredibly important to making a scene feel real. When a scene is described with complex sensory detail the readers feel immersed in the narrative, as if they were there alongside the characters, experiencing what they are experiencing. This is the key to writing the type of story that readers get lost in.

And, the key to writing good sensory details is using all five physical senses alongside with what the characters are able to perceive. Sensing something goes far beyond just sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. In a speculative fiction story, the characters may have extra-sensory abilities, which need to be established and recognized in the narrative. But, even without abilities beyond those of mere mortals, human beings are conditioned to perceive many other types of senses beyond the physical. Even the five physical senses become multifaceted when one starts to think about all the things we can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel, and how we experience those things.

The Five Senses, sensationalized.

When I was in middle school, I had a revelation … I’ll give you a moment to get out the crude jokes about self-discovery and puberty…

Are we good now? Fantastic. Let’s move on.

Joking aside, I do remember having one of those Ermahgerd moments in seventh grade science. One of those moments where you realize you’ve always known something, but it wasn’t apparent until someone told you it was there. Seventh grade science was biology, and we were talking about the senses. My teacher was talking about the absolute thresholds, the parameters and limitations of the human senses (fascinating and informative image included below). When talking about smell, he also mentioned something that Febreze has been marketing on for years now, though he didn’t call it this, he talked about going “noseblind” (go here, because Mental Floss)

When he described the idea behind walking out of room you’ve been in for a while, and then re-smelling an older smell when you walk back in, that idea literally blew my mind. It was one of those, I thought I was the only one who noticed that things. I realized what an important part of my childhood that concept was the next time I visited my grandparents house. The moment I stepped into their house, I always smelled a distinct smell- cigarettes and fried food. Long story short, my grandparents were not healthy people, but I digress… it was a powerful smell. It became a sense memory for me. When I smell meat being fried, I am immediately reminded of Grandma standing over a stove with a pork chop frying in the pan with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. And, I remember when I got home from my visits, I would change my clothes, because I realized that even though I had become desensitized to it over the period of time I spent at their house, my clothes reeked of grease and smoke when I stepped into my non-smoking parents home.

When we think about the senses, we usually think about their most basic functions. I look, I see a thing. I listen, I hear a sound. I pick something up, I feel the texture in my hand. But, our senses allow us to perceive so much more than just the literal thing they do.

Vision allows us to perceive variations in light and color, even when our eyes are closed (don’t pretend you didn’t play that game as a kid where you lay down in the grass, close your eyes, and stare at the sun). We can discern depth and perspective, as well as movement.

Hearing allows us to not just notice a sound, but how the sound it made and from where it is coming. Rhythm patterns, pitch, tone, and volume are all things we perceive about a sound without even thinking about it.

Taste is complex, and we can experience five different sensations- sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savoury (some even argue more).

Touch is really thought provoking when you really examine how many things we feel, even when we are not touching something. When you make physical contact with an object, your brain identifies so much more than just “Oh, hey look! A thing!”. When we touch or hold something, we are identifying temperature, texture, moisture, and weight. But, within your own body, you can also feel things. Pain for example is a sensation of touch we experience from the inside. Our nerves are being activated internally. Same with heartbeat, muscle tension, hunger, thirst, and that horrible numb-before-it-becomes-horrible-painful-stinging feeling we get when we sit cross legged and cut off circulation to our feet.

And, smell seems simplistic and obvious… you just smell stuff right? Wrong. Even though the act of smelling doesn’t consist of much more than a simple act, experiencing smell evokes memories and emotions, as evidenced by my story above. In animals, smell is an incredibly important sense, one that could mean the difference between life and death. It’s one of the primary instincts used in mating. And, like our animal friends, we use smell when determining potential mates, even during falling in love. Experiencing a smell is to literally experience a chemical reaction in your brain. It’s directly linked to our ability to taste… (think about that next time you smell a fart!). An odor, either good or bad can alert you to danger, ruin your day, ruin your moment, wake you up, elicit hunger, make you sick, make you sneeze, turn you on. The smell of a mother can soothe a crying baby.

Going Beyond the Five Senses

Once you’ve opened your mind and really thought about what sense is, you will start to notice the other things we perceive, some things real, others invented, that we also experience as human beings.

One feeling that we are often completely unaware of is how often we are aware of things. Awareness and consciousness are things we feel, that we experience. We can clearly discern between being awake and asleep, the feeling of clarity when we understand something, and the muddled sense of confusion when we don’t. We can also imagine things, creating a false sense of awareness of things that aren’t even really there, or convince ourselves we experienced something when we did not, and make a believable memory of that event. This means not only can we perceive reality from non-reality, we can turn the latter into the former with our brains.

Another thing humans feel is emotion, which is a truly amazing feat in the fact we can turn an intangible mental experience into a physical one. We can feel physical pain when we are sad or depressed. Nausea when we are scared or nervous. Cry when we are heartbroken or when we are elated. And, as if that wasn’t magical sounding enough, we can also detect emotions in other people. Human beings are equipped with this incredible feeling called empathy that allows us to interpret the emotional state of others. Or, in some cases, such as Autism (or Republicanism), completely lack the ability, or have it greatly impaired. Even the inability to feel or interpret emotions still has a feeling of emptiness and confusion for those who experience it.

Then, there is the strangest sense of all, which is going to get very meta here, because it helps us perceive a thing that doesn’t exist at all- time. We are able to discern the passage of time to a point, as anyone who has tried to avoid looking at a clock will know. Humans aren’t particularly good at it, which is why those extra seven minutes on the snooze button felt like thirty seconds, and why waiting for the doctor to knock on the door feels like hours when it’s been less than ten minutes. But, how we perceive the passage of that time is relevant to our mood and alertness.

Being able to properly express these experiences when writing characters and scenes is vital to creating a fleshed out story. Readers want to get lost in stories by escaping into them, and without a fully dimensional world, they can’t do that. Since reading is limited to the screen of the imagination, of which some people have a hard time using to envision the world of the story, using sensory details grounds the story in reality and makes it easy to relate to and envision.

Craft Creative Editorials Inkademy Research-a-torium Sass Setting Worldbuilding

A Fantastic World Does Not A Story Make

We’ve all done it at some point – built a story to fit within the framework of a kick-ass world we’ve created. Writers get so wrapped up in playing God by designing beings, shaping geographic features, creating languages, or constructing epic histories that trace backwards through a dozen generations, that they completely forget what the hell they are supposed to being doing – telling a story. Writing isn’t about building a world, it’s about writing the story that could only happen in the world that has been built.

Crafting a story is a complex process, and building a world to serve as a rich setting is important, especially in speculative fiction. Setting is one of the five elements required in a proper story. Setting helps to understand character personality and development. It can serve as an obstacle creating conflict, or help to move the plot forward. The problem occurs when a writer focuses all their energy on creating the world, and no time focusing on the story that takes place within said world.

Back in January of 2015, on an episode of Fiction School, co-host Tommy Zurhellen discussed one of the biggest mistakes he sees made by his students. In his humorous story about “Scantron 7”, Zurhellen explains that when he asks writing students about their story, they spend several enthusiastic minutes describing their setting, their characters, elaborate government or belief system, the epic conflict that rocked the world a thousand years ago… but when asked the question, “Yeah, but what is your story actually about?” they draw a blank.

At the end of the day, no matter how epic and elaborate the setting or how fleshed out the characters, if there is no story at the core, or worse, no conflict to drive that story forward, then the writer really has nothing but a cool place with cool people.

To avoid falling into this trap, a writer must keep in mind that every addition they make to their world needs to be relevant to the story. That is, anything about the world worth mentioning. As the writer, there is nothing wrong with knowing every corner of the created world. That does not mean that the reader needs to know all those inane details. The more fleshed out the writer makes the world, the more real it will feel, but providing a millenia of history or recounting the entire text of a holy book is simply not necessary for the reader to understand the significance of a religious or historic event on the modern day.

As a writer, you can never know too much about the world within the story, because you never know what information will become useful later on, or my inspire new story lines. But, it is possible for a writer to tell their readers too much about their world. Avoid info dumps, and save that information for supplemental content (like rewards for people who support you on Patreon!) or later stories in the same world. Or, if you feel really bold, incorporate the method used by the author of Nevernight, Jay Kristoff. When the opportunity for history or cultural knowledge to came up in the story, instead of dropping a load of backstory that broke with the narrative, Kristoff simply placed an asterisk in the text, and kept moving on with the story. At the bottom of the page, he included footnotes for each symbol. This strategy worked perfectly, giving the reader the choice to break the narrative to read the footnote, or to keep reading until the end of the page or the chapter, and come back to read the backstory about a god, a cultural practice, or reference to a historical event in the history of the world.

If readers truly love the world a writer crafts, they will come back for more. The trick is leaving enough for the readers to have a reason to return. Giving away too much in the beginning does one of two things- overwhelms the reader, boring them with over-information, or satisfies them to the point there are no questions left for them to answer.

If you’d like some help training your world building muscle, sign up to beta test our Worldbuilding Workshop taking place on June 25th thru July 8th by sending an email to indiepenink@gmail.com with the word “Inkademy” in the subject line.

And, keep an eye out for announcements on the opening of the Research-a-Torium, which we hope to build into the ultimate world building resource!

Write on young savior,

 

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Craft Creative Research-a-torium Resources

The History of Storytelling: Part III: Modern Storytelling

Part III

For Part I and Part II of this series, click here and here.

Modern Storytelling

Never before in the history of storytelling have so many options been available to the average storyteller. Nor, have so many forms of storytelling even been considered actual storytelling. A story is anything that meets the requirements of having the five basic elements of story: characters, setting, plot, conflict, and theme. No matter the media, if it has all of these elements it qualifies as a story. That means that modern storytelling has a plethora of vessels for relaying a story.

Books

Books are what we classically think of when we think of “stories”. Most of the reading we do outside of work or school comes in the form of novels. Even those who read short stories typically do so by buying an anthology in book form. But, fiction can come in variety of lengths, depending on the intention of the writer. Works shorter than one thousand words can be considered micro-fiction, flash fiction, or simply a short. A short story tends to fall into a range between one-thousand and seven thousand words. A novelette is seven to twenty-thousand words, and a novella is twenty to fifty-thousand words. A story is not typically considered a novel until it makes it past the fifty-thousand word mark, and anything longer than one-hundred thousand words is considered an epic.

Because of the visual aspect used to express the story, graphic novels and comic books are not traditionally considered books. But, like traditional books, they are just as much a story. Graphic based storytelling still uses the same elements as written stories, they just rely on a visual method to express them. Character development is seen through the actions of characters and the emotional reactions on their faces. Conflict and plot are dramatized by the way the boxes are set within the panels. Tone and theme are presented in the stylization.

Audio

Thanks to the internet making digital audio and video files accessible to everyone, a storytelling method from the early days of radio is making a comeback – the audio drama. Audio books have been around for a long time, easing the pain of long commutes and long hours of data entry by allowing busy people to listen to readings of popular books when they have the time. Along with the rise of Satellite Radio in the early 2000s, as internet speeds increased, and switched from relying on phone lines to fiber optic cables, podcasts became the new pirate radio shows. Suddenly, anyone could have a blog and a show, and both exploded during the 2000s. As podcasts became more available, with shows ranging into all areas of human interest, and downloads and listeners increased, storytellers realized that once again, audio was a format that would allow them to share their stories. Shows such as Welcome to Nightvale have made it possible for entire series to exist, serialized much like modern day soap operas, one episode at a time.

This is perhaps the closest thing we have today to the oral tradition that served as the function for the root of storytelling itself- passing information from one generation to the next by sharing a story verbally.

Video

When people first saw Train Pulling Into a Station by the Lumière brothers in a theater in 1896, they thought they were witnessing magic. Ever since, cinema has become one of the biggest and most popular ways that we share stories. Allowing for the chance to actually witness the story in front of you, it adds a whole new dimension to what can be done with the imagination. Filmmakers take stories from pen to paper and paint it fully with the help of production design, sound engineering and musical scores, and the thing that makes us connect with them most—actual people. With films and television shows, characters are no longer imaginary figures in our minds. They become tangible before us, which while sometimes can be disappointing when it comes to adaptations, is largely something that makes people love and connect with films so much. It evolves story “telling” into story “showing”.

As MTV taught us so well, video certainly did kill the radio star, but YouTube isn’t killing podcasting in any way, especially when streaming a podcast takes less data than watching a video. But, YouTube is allowing for a Renaissance of independent film. Filmmakers are creating entirely new content, like Broad City, which went on to get picked up as a half hour scripted comedy by Comedy Central. Others, like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries by the folks of Pemberly Digital, or Hamlet the Dame by Remarkable, Singular, Curious Productions and ParaFable, are making names for themselves by adapting well beloved stories into vlog style web shows. StarKid Productions, famously known for their musicals, such as the Very Potter Musical series, have been able to capitalize on YouTube and help them find an audience by filming their productions and posting them online. The creation of Vine (before it was dropped by Twitter) was the visual version of flash fictiona snippet of a story told visually, usually in the form of a song or a joke.

With cameras on every phone it is now easier than ever to tell a story through film. And, there are more venues to display your visual art every day. Streaming services are a dime a dozen these days, and they are all climbing over each other to produce original content, hoping for the next “it” show.

Gaming

Despite being a huge industry, and a huge art of the modern creative arts community, video games have never really been given the credit they are due. With the inclusion of voice acting and intricately designed cut scenes, some video games have the production value of movies, and have character voiced by celebrities from the A List to those with cult following. The story lines have to be even more complex than the average story because most video games offer the player multiple endings based on choices made at turning points in the game. Games such as the Fable Series and Dishonored build their entire story around the choices, actions, and leveling options the player makes during gameplay. A player may have to play a video game like this several times, changing their choices from the last game, to fully experience the totality of the story options.

One of the best, yet completely underrated forms of storytelling, is roleplaying games. Anyone who has played a tabletop RPG (roleplaying game), classics such as Dungeons and Dragons or Vampire: The Masquerade, will know just how much storytelling, character development, and exposition goes into a game. Game Masters will spend weeks creating a story arc, plotting obstacles to throw in the characters way, forcing their characters to use their traits, skills, resources, and cunning to overcome them. Characters may fight monsters, solve puzzles, or seek treasure, but they can only use the predetermined elements in their character that were designed at the beginning of the game. An RPG is probably the purest form of storytelling, and the closest we have to the original roots of storytellinga group of people gathered around to listen to a tale of adventure.

Virtual Reality

The coolest thing about modern storytelling is that it is evolving before our very eyes, with advanced new technologies like virtual reality. Already being incorporated into gaming systems thanks to the advent of devices like the Oculus Rift, there’s so much as-yet undiscovered potential in this technology to do as others have before it. Only time will tell if this will actually become the next big thing, but it certainly gives hope to those of escapists who’ve always said things like, “I wish I could be in the story I’m reading!”

 

Virtually experiencing the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones like…

 

And So Much More

From street theater to ballet to scrapbooking and back again, there are now so many forms of storytelling that it’s hard to keep count. And that’s a wonderful thing! We here at IndiePen Ink would love to hear what forms of storytelling you enjoy, so please share your favorites in the comments!

Write on young saviors,

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The History of Storytelling: Part II: Traditional Storytelling

Part II- Traditional Storytelling

For Part I of this articles series, click here.

Stories were not originally intended for entertainment- they were the best method our oldest ancestors had to mass educate the people of the tribe or clan. It was only by making the stories entertaining that the messages stuck. Thanks to the inventiveness of the earliest African griots, our ancestors avoided the dangers of the environment around them, and survived to leave the continent, spreading farther and farther with each changing generation, until eventually they spread across the entire world. And, with each generation, another story keeper memorized, told, and added new tales to the collective consciousness of mankind.

Stories can be  self-fulfilling prophecies. All the evidence you need to understand that idea is to look at the impact something as seemingly whimsical and insignificant as Star Trek: The Original Series. A science fiction television show that barely lasted three seasons ended up having a profound impact on 20th century society. Some viewers were inspired by the imaginary technology of the future and turned it into the real life technology you are probably reading this post on, while others were inspired by the social messages the themes advocated to take a stand in a time of social and cultural strife.

Fables, legends, and myths of the earliest humans eventually became those of the ancients, then the middle ages, the ages of trade, exploration, industry, and now the modern digital age. Much like a game of telephone, over the years parts of the original stories have been changed for cultural reasons or skewed in translation for one language to another (and, yes people, this even includes the bible). As a result, some cultures have different versions of the same story, or the story ends differently based on the lesson that the specific society wanted to emphasize.

Mythology

As mentioned in the first article of this series, the cultures of Mesopotamia are the first credited with the writing down of stories. These tales of mortals and gods were referred to as epics, and within these stories, we find the beginning of one of the most important elements of storytelling that has become a staple of fantasy and science fiction through today- the hero’s journey. This is the tale of an average, and yet remarkable, person who goes on a quest, usually with the help of a mentor and a ragtag group of people, to complete a task for the betterment or himself or his people. There is also a separate heroine’s journey, and just like sexism intended, they are both different based on the gender, and one is considered to to be intrinsically better than the other (which you can read about here and here.)

 

 

Images lovingly stolen with respect from sources that talk about this way better than we do- Joseph Cambell and Mythcreants.com.

 

 

The earliest hero’s journey stories were  written in long form poetry. Examples range from Epic of Gilgamesh, Mahabharata, Beowulf, and the related stories of the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid. The hero in each story is forced to make choices and conquer obstacles, often put in their way by angry gods, on the way to their objective. The mythology and beliefs of the culture played an important role in these epic stories, and that is because mythology was an extremely important aspect of daily life in the ancient world. Before human beings began to understand enough science to explain the mysteries of our world and universe, mythology served to answer the big questions about human existence, nature, and creation. Every time a child asked “Why?” mythology was there with an answer. Prometheus stole fire from the gods to give to man, creating the birth of civilization. Maui caught the sun and hung it in the sky for the mortals to have light. The Great thunderbirds of the Americas were the source of the fierce storms that hit the United States every spring. Before humans had enough technology to understand the science behind the forces of the universe, everything was attributed to magic. 

In these stories men and women often crossed the gods, or were lusted after by gods, or got tricked by gods… and then, cursed by gods. How they hell was the moral of these stories not “DO NOT TRUST THESE BATSHIT GODS”? (Then again, I’m kinda coming from the bias end of the pool here, as I write a story about angry gods and their human playthings.) But again, the point of these stories was to provide an explanation for things human beings had not figured out yet.

Legends

While myths recount the stories of the gods and their human playthings, legends are more specifically written about the heroes themselves. These stories are not full-fledged epics, but they are adventure stories that take a partial truth and exaggerated it to grandiose proportions. The exploits of real-life figures may have been the initial inspiration for these stories, but the figures they were written about were rarely anything like the caricatures they became.

Legendary figures exist in every culture, and every era. As an American, and a history teacher, this was an issue I dealt with constantly. One of the reasons I loathe teaching American History is because I have to wade through the bullshit. The hardest part of teaching US history is the reteaching I have to do. By the time students get to their junior year (age 16-17), which is when US history is traditionally taught in high school, they have been indoctrinated by these legends which are regarded as fact. The worst part is that they have already been through a watered-down version of US history in their 8th grade year (age 13-14) of middle school, and yet many of these bullshit, propaganda stories aren’t questioned or corrected.

Presidents like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, JFK, and Reagan have become larger than life figures. The amount of elevation given to the Founding Fathers (note the lack of recognition to any mothers) is nearly vomit inducing, especially when you actually read about their personal exploits. Alas, every society needs heroic figures, despite how counterproductive they tend to be.

Folk Tales

These are the closest to the original oral traditions of storytelling. Theses stories were passed from generation to generation, shared among the community until they became a part of the culture. Once these cultures integrated writing, they wrote the stories down. In some cases, the folk tales have never been written down, and remain oral histories or stories relayed to the community or to children from the storytellers.

These stories were meant to teach a lesson, and that is why they are often attributed to children. The lessons were meant relate to real life, even if the content of the story was fantastic, to impress upon the people the importance of choice and consequences. These folk tales became the roots for the fairy tales and fables that defined our childhood.

Although, the difference between the original stories and the Disney-fied versions, is that the fairy tales and fables that were inspired by these cultural folk tales were much more gruesome. Karma was quite the bitch in these original stories. Cinderella’s step sisters chopped their own feet to fit into the shoes. Mulan is haunted by PTSD, and kills herself. Mermaids were vicious predators who preyed on sailors, not save them.

The Appeal of Lore

As a history teacher, this is my biggest pet peeve with the way the social studies are taught. When we teach history as memorized facts, and not as stories passed from one generation to the next, the context disappears. When history becomes legend, and the origins are lost, we gain a heroic figure, but we lose the gruesome, violent, or dark truth of its inspiration. This is why despite the cliched anecdote that “those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it” we ironically never learn from history. It isn’t the fact we need to learn and pass on, it is the message and the meaning behind the story in which we find the fact.

Storytelling in the root of culture. It is where the foundation on which a culture is built and from where its traditions stem. Every religion has a holy text filled with parables used to teach the scriptures associated with their teachings. The practice of storytelling was our first form of history. Prior to written language, oral storytelling was the only way to pass on information from one generation to the next. Humans have come to depend on storytelling, not only as a form of entertainment, but as the purest form of passing on knowledge. Without storytelling, we would not have history. We not would have a past to learn from.

Write on young savior,

Craft Creative Research-a-torium Resources Sass

The History of Storytelling: Part I: The Invention of Story

As modern humans, convenienced by information available at our fingertips, we take for granted a time when communication and access to knowledge was not instantaneous. The knowledge of history, technology, food and medicinal resources, was once proudly guarded information, determined to be the property of a privileged few.

According to a recent study by Marshall Poe, a professor of the history at the University of Iowa, the history of human communication can be divided into six stages. These stages of development are organized as: oral (speech), manuscript (handwriting), print (presses), audiovisual (recordings, radio, film), internet (hosting, posting), and digital (pdf).

Using these six stages, we can examine each of the unique ways that humans have ever interacted. Each one has become a integral in the way humans pass information along to others, or most importantly, to the next generation. This has always been the most effective way of ensuring survival of future generations. But, while Poe’s categories neatly summarize all stages of communication throughout our history, human beings have been telling stories long before most of his stages came into existence..

“Without a single word, this ancient artist who painted the walls of Lascaux was able to record one of the first stories of the human experience, and with every generation that has passed since, we have never stopped.”

Early Storytelling

The caves of Lascaux, France are one of the most significant archeological finds ever to be uncovered. They are not, however, open to public view. If exposed to the elements, these irreplaceable works of art would be destroyed very quickly. That is why they have been sealed off, made accessible only to the scientists and historians that are allowed to study them. Discovered in 1940, the ceiling and walls of the cave interior are painted with immense portraits of ancient animals that once roamed Europe alongside our ancestors. The incredible thing about these paintings is that they are sophisticated. The artist drew them in such a way that represents movement and dimensions. Many of the animal drawings feature shading  and have been depicted with multiple legs, representing the motion of the animals as they ran, and their three-dimensionality. In addition to the archaeological significance that this find represents by providing evidence for our ancestors’ intelligence, it also represents their need to record and preserve their daily lives. Whether this was just an early attempt at expression, or an early attempt to record history to pass on to later generations, it serves as one of the earliest examples of storytelling.

The boss-ness that is the Lascaux cave art.

Without a single word, this ancient artist who painted the walls of Lascaux was able to record one of the first stories of the human experience, and with every generation that has passed since, we have never stopped. These original stories may not be as complex as we modern humans are used to, with all our fancy story elements, and our literal and figurative language, but they served the most important function of a story. This image was able to explain what a day in the life of an ancient Europeans looked like. This moment in history represents a greater monument in human development, providing evidence of one of the first moments in which humans began to demonstrate critical and analytical skills beyond those needed for survival. This is evidence of the earliest moments of human consciousness.

” The history and beliefs of a culture became legends, the trial and error of generations became lessons, and the technological advancements led to surplus, riches, and war, which were recorded as history.”

Human beings may have been telling stories long before language and writing, but the inception of both led to an explosion of culture. Pre-civilization societies determined record keeping to be one of the most important jobs. This meant that they held their cultural history and knowledge in as high a regard as collecting food. This makes sense, being that the sharing of the collective history of their people was tantamount to survival. By passing on the knowledge of animal migrations, dangerous areas, medical practices, and the crafting of technology, they increased the chances of survival of their children, their people, and their culture as a whole. Storytelling was the ultimate form of self-preservation.

Often, a select few individuals were tasked with the responsibility of learning, memorizing, and retelling the stories of the tribe or clan. This was vital in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, the birthplace of humanity, where geography was known to play a huge role in isolating groups of people within miles of each other (which is why Africa has the most genetic diversity on the face of the planet). According to Reference.com, over three-thousand distinct tribes are known to inhabit Africa, speaking two-thousand known languages. And those are just the ones we know about, since much the inner continent is still very remote, and may still keep hidden people, languages, and stories that we have yet to uncover. That means, that since the birth of vocal communication, just in Africa alone, storytellers, known in these cultures as griots, were memorizing thousands of collective histories in thousands of languages.

A modern day griot recites a story to the children of the village.

Over time, pictures became pictographs. Pictographs became symbols. Symbols began to represent words, and not ideas. Then eventually, sounds and not words.

Indus script that probably tells the sickest, most epic story we’ll never know.

Crossing the Red Sea, much like our ancestors did when they left Africa, through the Arabian Peninsula,  we come to  South-Central Asia, where the birth of writing occurred. The earliest archeological evidence of writing can be found in Uruk on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in modern Iraq, and in Mohenjo-Daro on the Indus River in modern India. Cuneiform, the famous wedge-shaped writing system that is the first known in history, was deciphered by George Smith and Henry Rawlinson. The Indus script on the other hand, remains completely unknown to us since no codex has been discovered that would allow the translation of the symbols into another known language, as was the case with hieroglyphics in Coptic and Greek by using the Rosetta Stone. Once translated, scholars were able to read the earliest literature ever written, the great Mesopotamian works: Atrahasis, The Descent of Inanna, The Myth of Etana, The Enuma Elish, and the famous Epic of Gilgamesh.

Cuneiform text, probably a receipt for goats.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is particularly fascinating as a story, since it is one of the best known examples of a story archetype that is shared by nearly all the great societies and civilizations of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas: an epic flood story in which the gods wash clean the earth to start again. The truly awe-inspiring aspect of the flood story mystery is how these cultures, who have no historical evidence of contact until the last few thousand years, not only share the same base story idea, but also share them with cultures in the Americas, that at the earliest evidence we can find, did not have consistent contact with Europe or Asia until after 1000 CE.

“…since the birth of vocal communication, just in Africa alone, storytellers, known in these cultures as griots, were memorizing thousands of collective histories in thousands of languages.”

While these incredible, larger than life stories discuss the cultural beliefs of the earliest civilizations, other written artifacts from this time serve a purpose more like the paintings of Lascaux. Most of the written documents of this time were not for public circulation. These stories were recorded for posterity, but for most common people of the Mesopotamian region, they would have still be told orally. Literacy has only been commonplace for the last few centuries. But, whether the everyday merchant class of the Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, or Nineveh knew it or not, they were preserving snippets of the story of the everyday life of ancient Mesopotamians through record-keeping. Granted, most of the documents preserved from the first known civilization are basically contracts and receipts … for like…. goats (Seriously, there is an inordinate amount of livestock transactions in Sumeria), but like the cave paintings, they give us a glimpse of the story of ancient life.

The Presentation of the heart of the dead by Horus,Thoth, and Anubis to Isis and Osiris for judgment on entering the afterlife. (FYI, if you were bad, that croc-hippo-cat gets to eat yo’ heart.)

Whether images, symbols, or letters, these written marks began to grace the walls of public spaces, the surface of burial monuments, and scrolls of vellum and paper.  The history and beliefs of a culture became legends, the trial and error of generations became lessons, and the technological advancements led to surplus, riches, and war, which were recorded as history.

Read on young saviors,

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Work Smarter, Not Lazier

Why the easy solution to writing problems is a bigger problem in itself.

Worksheets are the root of a vicious cycle.

I’ll freely admit, I have used worksheets, workbooks, and many templates over the years. And, just as I have come to loathe them in my teaching, I am starting to loathe them in writing as well.

Worksheets are making me lazy. They are also making me a less creative person. And the the weird part is, I cannot figure out why.

In teaching, the reason I hate worksheets is that they don’t make the students think. They are just fill in the blank boxes that regurgitate content from the book. They don’t require you to rework the material or think about it in a new way. Perhaps this is why I am starting to hate worksheets for writing. While, unlike their academic counterparts, they do make you think about what is being written, the responses tend to be vague, unthoughtful, and in general, nothing you didn’t already know or have figured out prior. I do not find myself inspired when using worksheets, let alone discovering new, inventive ways of engaging with my material.

But, I still cannot figure out why?

The usual suspects for these types of “workstuffs” (or in other words, the outside resources we use when organizing our stories) tend to be character questionnaires, setting templates, and plot outlines. They are always lengthy… I’ve seen character question sheets titled “100 Questions for Complex Characters.” Why the hell do you need to answer that many questions about your character? Knowing their favorite ice cream has no bearing on how they make their decisions, which does have bearing on the story, as a strong character’s decisions are what drive the plot.

This brings us to our first problem with workstuffs.

“Writing well in a vacuum is impossible. You cannot write a strong story in a dark closet all by yourself, which is the problem with workstuffs. It’s busy work that you do by yourself, with only you to evaluate the results.”

As I often do when I have my own writing dilemma, I threw the question out to my writing slack, where I keep my ever so handy treasury of writers. It’s like having a bunch of experienced writers on retainer… or as I like to think of them, having their souls trapped in my laptop for eternity in order to do my bidding. Yes. Yes….

 

So, having thrown out the question: “Do you find worksheets and workbooks helpful, and if not, why?” this was the analysis of the responses I collected:

Workstuffs, through some amazing, dark sorcery, manage to be incredibly long and yet lack substance. As Christine Brennecke, author of Seven Shards: the Colors of Wine, said in our conversation about why workstuffs suck, she summed it up best by saying, “Too many words. Not enough good words.” Somehow, they say a bunch of crap, yet say nothing at all while providing no assistance to really solving your problem.

Which brings me to the point made by Elayna Mae Darcy, author of They Are the Last and producer of the podcast SpeakBeasty, “They basic AF!”. Yet, they accomplish this while still being incredibly complicated to figure out. Often times, they serve as clickbait to get you to a writer’s website, where they do the majority of the hawking of their wares. “Throw up a 99 Questions to Ask Your Character worksheet on a website, and suddenly there is an unspoken agreement between writers,” as Elayna calls it: ‘If I help you, you’ll buy my shit.’

The unfortunate problem with that agreement is you’re getting the short end of the stick. Chances are that the content wasn’t even original. It was probably just some regurgitated crap they saw on another website once. Seriously, compare and contrast these resources next time you are tempted to use one. It is surprising how often material gets re-purposed. Author and Editor Elan Samuel, of The Warbler book review blog and Story Perfect Editing fame, pointed out the big flaw in this system: “They’re usually a very basic concept, something every writing tip/instructor/resource delivers, with the intent of driving more traffic to the site.”

“Fundamentally I just find the entire concept of ‘worksheets’ useless if you’re not directly involved in a course/class where your work is going to be actually evaluated by another human being. Just putting up these random ‘exercises’ for people to use with no supervision or guidance is always useless, in my opinion.” – Liam Dynes

Many of the workstuffs you find on the internet, especially on author websites, are the most basic format and the most basic methods. Another valid argument Elayna Mae Darcy makes against workstuffs is that despite being a visual method of organizing your thoughts, they fail at stimulating the user visually. “They don’t visually engage me, like at all,” says Darcy. “I LOVE worksheets and forms to print, but I can legitimately never find ones that are interesting looking enough to keep my attention past the title.” This became a general consensus among the other writers, and even I could relate to this one. I don’t know how many times over the years I have revamped pre-made worksheets in my History and Special Education English classes. Sometimes I cut them up and reorganize them, cutting out pieces I don’t want, adding pieces I do, taping them all back together into a new form. Other times, I just take ideas from them or a section of reading, and make my own handout from scratch. In many cases when I do this, it isn’t because I don’t think the worksheet is visually stimulating in an aesthetic sense, but rather, it confuses the student just by looking at it. It does not generate a logical train of thought when working. Good design, in both form and function, solves this problem.

On that note, this was also a downfall of workstuffs in the opinion of Liam Dynes, author of Rockets. Workstuffs are meant to be universal, which tends to make them generic. As a result, they often focus too much on the mechanical, rather than rooting out the real source of a writing problem. As Elan Samuel said, “The exercises are often vapid and don’t dig into the problems of writing beyond the mechanical.”

Content-wise, they are all form and no function, which is completely the opposite problem of what we see with their design.

As a teacher though, I find the absolute worst issue I have with writing worksheets is the second point Liam made about how to evaluate what you actually put into the worksheet.

“Fundamentally I just find the entire concept of ‘worksheets’ useless if you’re not directly involved in a course/class where your work is going to be actually evaluated by another human being. Just putting up these random ‘exercises’ for people to use with no supervision or guidance is always useless, in my opinion.” – Liam Dynes

While workstuffs are inherently filled with surface flaws, even if those flaws were remedied, this would still be a major issue. Without someone to review the work you have done on the worksheet/workbook/workstuff, how is a writer to gain any actual insight into the problem they were trying to fix?

“Throw up a ’99 Questions to Ask Your Character’ worksheet on a website, and suddenly there is an unspoken agreement between writers…  ‘If I help you, you’ll buy my shit.’” – Elayna Mae Darcy, They Are the Last

Perhaps, the one bright side of worksheets is that they do help you to see the flaws in your story. If you can’t fill in the blanks, then yes, ultimately there is a problem. But once that is discovered, workstuffs seem to be the worst way you can fix that problem. This is why it is incredibly vital, not helpful, but vital to find a writer’s group. Writing well in a vacuum is impossible. You cannot write a strong story in a dark closet all by yourself, which is the problem with workstuffs. It’s busy work that you do by yourself, with only you to evaluate the results.

Luckily, we live in the age of the internet. Finding a writing group has never been easier… *cough* if you live in a big city *cough*. But, even those who do not have luck with finding local groups, can still interact and exchange writing with real people in writing forums, online communities, and other writing spaces, like NaNoWriMo.

Over here at IndiePen Ink, we hope to begin cultivating a rich, inclusive and supportive environment. One of our future ambitions is to have a forum and several targeted writing communities. If you would like to help us start growing our community, reach out to us on twitter @indiepenink or email me: sass@indiepenink.com.

If you are really tripped up by a writing dilemma, no matter how specific to your story, visit our Savvy, Snark, and Sass page. They’re like RPG healers, specifically trained to heal your writing ailments. Leave a message for them describing your specific writing issue, and any possible solutions you have tried that did not work, and the girls will give you three different possible solutions based on their writing experience. They are currently taking submissions that will be used in a future show, hosted by Indiepen Ink, Savvy, Snark, and Sass (…Save Your Ass).

Coming Soon to an Internet near you!

 

Write on, young savior,

 

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Wasted Space

When you say you wanna be a writer… but, you just end up writing wish fulfillment.

A rant from Sass:

Scroll through any random writing forum, especially any topic under “writing help” and you will find the following:

“NEED HELP! I really want to write a story, but I need an idea! Thanks!”

“I have an awesome idea (insert extremely long, detailed physical description of a character and nothing else) but now I’m stuck. How can get over writer’s block?”

“I’m writing a story about a werewolf/fairy/vampire love triangle about a teenage good girl who can’t decide between two bad boys (who she can totally change), but I don’t have a plot yet. I need ideas!”

UGH! I swear to this dear, merciful fucking universe, if I see one more post like this in a forum, I am going to Hulk smash the internet. Not my keyboard. Not my monitor. The entire fucking internet. Oh… I’ll do it. Watch me. I’m that upset.

Why? It’s because people that say this don’t really want to write a story – they want to write personalized escapism. It’s like the mature version of those Barbie books your Grandma used to get you for your birthday, where they put your name in the book with a Barbie that looked like you… remember those, child of the Nineties? (Yes… I know we’re getting old. Don’t change the subject.)

For anyone who has ever posted a topic like the ones above in a forum, I’m calling you out. I’m not trying to shame you. I need you to stand up and be counted so that I can ask you a serious question, and I expect an honest answer:

Why in the hell are you writing a story?

Not, what is your story about. Not, what is your main character like? Honestly. Seriously. Think about it for a second, and tell me why you want to write a story.

If the answer is anything less than: “…because I have this thing inside me, consuming me, and if I don’t get it out somehow I am literally going to die.” … well then, you really have no business writing a story. At least not yet.

“You’re so desperate to escape that you’re blinded to the fact that you are escaping to a prison of your own design.”

It took me a really long time to call myself a writer, to have the confidence to back up the statement when I said it. After all, writers produce stories, finished stories to be exact, which is something I have yet to do with original content. (Yeah… I write fan fiction. So what! Wanna fight about it?) So, without having produced a finished original work, how could I have the audacity to call myself a writer?

Easy. I’m a writer simply because I write, and I have been actively doing so since 2009. Actually, I started much earlier than that, having written since my childhood, filling notebooks with silly knock-offs of my favorite stories where a placeholder character of myself was living out a fantasy like one of the ones I wanted to experience.

There is no crime in that. That’s why fan fiction exists in the first place. And, if that is truly what you want, then that is what you need to write. Start with worlds and characters that have already been fleshed out, and play with them until you sate that desire to escape. Then, go back to the real world until it destroys everything good inside you, and return to your fan fiction until you have the will to live again. I get it. Escapism is a powerful thing, especially when you are a young girl. That, I get even more. I’ve been there, done that, and all I got was this crappy t-shirt.

“Write a character worth escaping into, who does all the things we dream about doing, that we as women are told we cannot do or cannot be.”

If you are a woman, young or old, the world is not a place made for you, especially if you are a woman of color or a non-Christian. Society does shame you. It targets you. It whispers stupid shit into your ear about how you’ll never be pretty, or loved, or have worth… unless you buy this awesome deodorant, or wear this mascara, or lose ten pounds. It pits you against other girls. It traps you under a glass ceiling and pays you seventy-seven cents on the dollar compared to the men you see gliding through that glass like water, and tells you that you should just be grateful for the opportunity to even see the glass. Society traps you in pretty pink boxes with prescribed labels from which escape is nigh impossible.

Perhaps that is why I get so irate when I see “I want to write a story but I don’t have an idea and blah and blah and blah…”. You’re so desperate to escape that you’re blinded to the fact that you are escaping to a prison of your own design, another trap set for you, filled with Mary-Sues and pseudo-conflicts designed to create love triangles because that is all a girl needs- to be loved.

If you want escape, I don’t fault you for that. But, if that is all you want, why in the hell would you write a story? Writing is not easy. It’s not just something that manifests once you have the idea. It requires research, planning, revising, and restarting. Writing a story is possibly the most feminine thing you can do- you are literally giving birth. You are like a goddess creating an entire universe from scratch, making something from nothing. That is no simple task. Taking on a project like that requires an intense amount of time and energy. So, again I ask, why do you want to write a story?

If you really want to write a story, you would know it. It would consume you, burning inside you like a Roman candle. You’ll daydream about taking walks along the streets in your world. Your characters will have conversations with you in your head. You’ll be wrenched out of deep sleep at 3:17 in the morning to write down the incredible idea that resolves your entire plot thanks to some weird dream.

When a writer is ready to write a story, their story, they don’t need to beg for inspiration. They already have it. When you find your idea, it will call to you to write it, and once you do, you will be a writer. Until then, practice in the kiddie pool of fan fiction because the deep end of the fiction pool is terrifying when once you take off the water wings.

“If you really want to write a story, you would know it. It would consume you, burning inside you like a Roman candle.”

…And, when that happens, ladies, please, please, break the fucking cycle. Write a character worth escaping into, who does all the things we dream about doing, that we as women are told we cannot do or cannot be. Make her strong, dynamic, complex, and opinionated. Force the plot to bend to her will based on her actions, and not make her a victim of its abuse. For fuck’s sake, be bold, and dare to write a story about a female protagonist who *gasp* doesn’t have a love interest!

We need female voices. We need women writers of every shape, size, creed, color, orientation, and ability, because women out there deserve stories worth escaping into, and we all need different ways to escape. When you’re ready, IndiePen Ink will be here to support you, to coach you, and to help you flesh out that plot instead of inventing it for you.

You have a story inside you, and it is worth being told. Advocate for yourself, for others like you. Take up space. Demand that your story be told.

Write on, young savior,

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If I Tell You That You Suck, Can You Get Over It?

A Letter from Sass:

At some point in the epic history of fiction writing, writers developed a strange obsession with perfection. The why and how have been lost to history. Perhaps that burned up in the Great Library of Alexandria? Yet, despite not understanding why they have this obsessive compulsion, writers of all levels fall into this trap daily.

I’m not singular in suffering from writer’s block. Every writer I know, regardless of their ability, preferred genre, and levels of experience and success, admits that they sometimes hit a point where they just can’t write. The problem is, as the dry spell continues, they simply don’t move on by planting the garden; learning a new recipe; finally cleaning out the closet. They wallow. They let their brain start to warp their confidence in their abilities. Suddenly, they are a no talent hack, and always have been.

This mindset is toxic. It is also counterproductive, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that takes root in the mind of a writer and prevents them from moving forward, even when inspired.

“At some point in the epic history of fiction writing, writers developed a strange obsession with perfection.”

Let’s get personal for a minute. Currently, I have a Google Doc with 30+ plot points, in chronological order, that I have already planned for in my story, Intrepid. I am not want for ideas — I am want for prose. The idea is fleshed out, and I know exactly what I need to write. I just can’t write it. For weeks, I went through the motions of my usual routine: I sat down to write with my trusty Ink Joy gel pen in a funky color, a thick DIY legal pad made out of my favorite lined paper glued together with cardboard backing, and a full pot of steaming tea, and I put on a Epic Instrumental Music video from YouTube from one of my many subscriptions.

In times past, I would have cranked out 1000-3000 words for whichever scene I had decided I was ready to write. Recently, I have been lucky to settle on a mere hundred words I didn’t want to crumple up and throw across the room.

The worst part is that I had absolutely no reason to be blocked. The depression that tends to hit me two to three times a year was not lingering around, and my anxiety is under control currently. My job, while stressful, is manageable now that I have developed a rhythm. Marriage, immediate family life, and finances are all strong right now. My friends are all doing reasonably well… so what the fuck is my problem? Why can’t I write?

Well, that is because I suck. I’m a great writer, but I am a fucking awful drafter. It feels impossible to just sit down and free write without analyzing my own word choice or flow.

Why did my character do that? Why would I write that? Where did that idea come from? Why can’t I think of a better word!?

“It has taken me a really really loooooong time to accept that sucking is not only okay, but necessary.”

Why? Because, the first draft sucks. The pre-write sucks. The first time words hit paper, they are an unruly mess. And, it has taken me a really really loooooong time to accept that sucking is not only okay, but necessary. At the risk of inspiring a chorus of that’s what she saids, let me repeat that again: Sucking is necessary.

On the days I mindblowingly, ultra suck, I try to keep these quotes in the back of my mind…

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s simply writer’s embarrassment.” –  Andrew W. Marlowe

and

“Do something. You can always correct something, but you can never correct nothing.” – Dale C. Bronner

They’re brilliant. The kind of brilliance that you only register once you read it or someone says it too you. It’s the kind of brilliance that makes you feel like a moron for not realizing the simplistic solution it delivers. It is exactly what every writer needs to be reminded of when they sit down to write. In fact, I think these two quotes should be visible to a writer in every writing space.

So, that being said, I have made graphics of condensed forms of these quotes that writers can print and hang in their writing spaces…

The first step in conquering writer’s block is realizing that the block comes not from a lack of creativity, but a lack of confidence. Not being able to write well is a phobia that is so stifling that it makes writing impossible at all.

In later articles, we will be exploring the reasons people suffer from writer’s block, and offering creative solutions to overcoming your fear, rather than stimulating your creativity. Until then, I leave you with this: If I tell you that you really do suck, can you get over it already? We all suck. Get in line kid — the queue starts with me.

Write on, young savior,