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Why You’re Not Writing: Making New Worlds Requires Meeting Your Needs

From years of teaching in rural, low-income areas in Central Illinois, and after being a product of one myself, I have seen and experienced the impact that deprivation can have on a child’s ability to learn. The biggest impact is on their motivation, their curiosity, and their perseverance through frustration. A kid who has been deprived of one or more needs struggles to see the point of school. But, even a kid who is fed, clothed, and has a place to sleep can still be majorly deprived of the needs a human being must have met to be successful. According to Dr. Abraham Maslow, a human being has needs that go just beyond the physical.

Credit : Simply Psychology

In fact, he formulated that there was a pyramid of needs, five tiers high, that built upon themselves to create total fulfillment. In the top tier, a person is capable of reaching the full potential of human beings, which Maslow called “Self-Actualization.” In order to produce, create, and find the drive to do so, a person must reach the fifth tier at the top of the needs pyramid, but Maslow stated that this could not happen until the bottom four tiers were met, each building on the foundation of the one below. In other words, until your most basic needs are met, it’s impossible to move to the next tier, and impossible to create.

Credit: WikiCommons

 

Hierarchy of Needs

 

BASIC NEEDS

  1. Physiological Needs- water, food, shelter, warmth

If we are expending all our energy on trying just to survive, we cannot expend energy on creative productivity.

It’s obvious that humans have physical needs (yes, including those physical needs… ya perv…) that are required just for survival. Humans need water, food, clothing, and shelter to survive, which is why makes up the first tier, the foundation of the pyramid of needs. Unfortunately, we live in a world, even in countries considered first world, that fail to provide these basic human rights to everyone. No progress can be made unless these basest of needs are being net, and met regularly, which is why the second tier is just as important as the first.

2. Security Needs- stability, consistency, healthcare, resources, employment

If we are expending all our energy trying to secure our resources, we cannot expend energy on creative productivity.

Human beings must have their basic needs met, and be comfortable that they will continue to be met. Living in constant fear of being hungry, cold, vulnerable, broke, creates toxic amounts of stress on the human body. This is why poverty is the root cause of so many health issues- the constant threat of losing everything in the blink of an eye. Many families in my school district are just skirting disaster, one unforeseen event, bill, accident away from collapse.

When living in this constant anxious state, toxic stress becomes a major obstacle. When unable to get out from under the stress, it leads to health issues from an impaired immune system, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and strain on relationships, personal and professional.

So, perhaps, your basic needs are being met, but just not consistently. Are you worried about your job security or struggling with unemployment? Is your health a constant battle for you, mental or physical? Are you worried about access the health care?

“Living in constant fear of being hungry, cold, vulnerable, broke, creates toxic amounts of stress on the human body.”

PSYCHOLOGICAL NEEDS

3. Socio-Emotional Needs- belonging, intimate relationships, affection, touch, family connections

If we are expending all our energy trying find a sense of belonging and identity, we cannot expend energy on creative productivity.

The biggest revelation I have had in my study of teaching children with trauma has been the impact of relationships on a child’s ability to learn and function socially. From the very first connection a baby makes with their caregivers, the roots of social, emotional, and physical needs are established. If these tiny humans establish healthy, trustworthy relationships with their caregivers, research shows that over the course of their life they will be better students, better regulators of stress and emotions, and better able to develop healthy relationships with others. Evidence has even shown that “problem” students can be helped, not with strict punishments and zero-tolerance policies, but simply by forming a trusting bond with an adult. This is especially true for children who have been deprived fulfilling relationships with their caregivers.

They also build the foundations of strong Executive Functions, or in other words, all those other things our brain does beyond problem solving and bodily functions. Executive functions include memory, organization, prioritizing and planning, task initiation, impulse control, flexibility, emotional control, and self monitoring. These are the areas of the brain that are critical for success in school. And, they’re the same skills needed to formulate a new idea, the creativity to develop it, and the motivation and inspiration to carry it through to the end.  In essence, anyone who has experienced trauma has a higher chance of deficits in their executive functioning.

Credit: Lisa Woodruff

These executive functions are the same parts of the brain heavily impacted by Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, meaning that exposure to trauma can have the same impact on learning and create the same deficits as ADHD and Autism.

It may seem like a far leap to say that your relationships directly impact your abilities to think and learn. After all, relationships are social and learning is cognitive. But, human beings are social animals. Our evolution has been heavily dependent upon our ability to build communities; they create security and safety in ancient and our modern times. We crave interaction and affection, and that in itself creates its own sense of security. Belonging is crucial. And, as discussed in the second tier of the hierarchy, security is important on the path to self-actualization.

This may be the area in your life that may have the least structural foundation, and may be the cause of your writing issues. Writers are a lonely lot. We are esoteric, eccentric, and many enjoy being alone, preferring to watch from the sidelines rather than participate in society. This can lead to feelings of isolation. If you’re struggling with rejection, identity, or building healthy relationships, that fear of loneliness may be impacting the creative processes. Rejection in your personal life can easily translate over into the fear that your creations (the purest expression of you) will be rejected too.

“Evidence has even shown that “problem” students can be helped, not with strict punishments and zero-tolerance policies, but simply by forming a trusting bond with an adult.”

4. Esteem Needs- Self image, confidence, mental health

If we are expending all our energy trying find a sense of belonging and identity, we cannot expend energy on creative productivity.

When the word self-esteem enters a conversation, even I will admit, I find it hard not to roll my eyes and sigh. It’s hard not to immediately conjure images of participation trophies and posters of kittens on “hanging in there” on ropes. But, while self-esteem has become a millennial buzzword in the extreme, it remains an important part of our mental health despite the obnoxious reputation the word has garnered. In this particular case, self-esteem refers to the image we have of ourselves in our own heads and how that impacts how we interact with other people and engage in activities because of it.

A person with healthy confidence will feel comfortable around others and when alone, knowing that a healthy balance can be found in in both. They will also have a healthy respect for themselves, be able to take constructive criticism, and be able to make positive choices for their life. They will know that they have self-worth simply because they are a human being and they deserve to have their needs met.

A person who is struggling with self-esteem, especially conditions resulting from abuse and neglect, will be in constant need to validate their self-worth. This validation can come in the form of many ways- praise, physical contact, attention, and other positive forms of interaction with people. In some cases, when the need for this validation is high but does not occur, the result can be mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self harm, and/or drug addictions that develop out of a need to numb the pain of worthlessness.

The biggest issue that can be a result from lack of having self-esteem needs met, especially when pursuing creative projects, is imposter syndrome. This is the deep seated feeling that you are a talent-less fraud and a paranoia that you are about to be “outed” as a fraud the minute someone sees your work. This alone is the reason some people never share their artwork, their writing, or their creations with other people, even close family and friends. Ironically, the validation for that work is what they crave most, and would actually help.

Since this need is the most cerebral of the human needs, it tends to be the most overlooked area. You can see a person physically starving, but you can’t always see self-esteem issues until they manifest physically, such as the weight loss of an eating disorder. Another sad aspect of this issue is that because they suffer from worth issues, those suffering from low self-esteem are trapped in a vicious cycle of believing that it is okay for them to feel worthless, because in their skewed belief system, they are in fact worthless.

Does this sound like you? Are you terrified to let others see your creative work for fear of rejection or ridicule? Are you fighting a battle with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self harm, or addiction because of trauma and self-worth issues? Until you feel that your work has worth, as an extension of your own worth, you may be too paralyzed to create and share that work.

“Rejection in your personal life can easily translate over into the fear that your creations (the purest expression of you) will be rejected too.”

SELF-FULFILLMENT NEEDS

Self Actualization- reaching full potential through fulfillment of all other needs

The term self-actualization sounds so mystical and profound; to achieve self-actualization is to become the Buddha, to reach enlightenment and higher planes of existence. But, in the sense of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-actualization is much more simple and attainable than breaking the karmic cycle.

When speaking of Maslow’s hierarchy, the term self-actualization simply means generating an original idea, initiating the task to bring it to fruition, and seeing it through to completion. And, according to Maslow, this process of creation cannot happen unless you have met all the needs in the bottom four tiers.

Maslow described Self-Actualization as:

It refers to the person’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. The specific form that these needs will take will of course vary greatly from person to person. In one individual it may take the form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in still another it may be expressed in painting pictures or in inventions.” (Maslow, 1943, p. 382–383).

He also identified 15 common characteristics of “Self-actualizers”:

  1. They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty
  2. Accept themselves and others for what they are
  3. Spontaneous in thought and action
  4. Problem-centered (not self-centered)
  5. Unusual sense of humor
  6. Able to look at life objectively
  7. Highly creative
  8. Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional
  9. Concerned for the welfare of humanity
  10. Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience
  11. Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people
  12. Intense or exciting “Peak” experiences
  13. Need for privacy
  14. Democratic attitudes
  15. Strong moral/ethical standards

How many of these traits do you have? If not, why? What are you missing from life that you need? How can you resolve this need? Who can help?

If you’re not writing, painting, creating, actualizing… stop and ask yourself- Are you unable to do so because one of your needs is not being met?

Are you struggling to survive?

Are you struggling to maintain your survival?

Are you isolated?

Are you mentally healthy?

 

Once we resolve the obstacles to our own unmet needs, we will be able remove the blocks in our creative endeavors.

 

 

 

Information on brain science, development, and learning provided from Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approaching to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom by Heather Forbes https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17695490-help-for-billy

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

Imposter Syndrome (APA) http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx

Executive Functioning https://organize365.com/adhd-affects-getting-organized-part-1/

 

Editorials

Writing Resolutions 2018

Happy New Year, writers of the world! We hope you’ve all had fun celebrating the end of 2017 and are starting the year without too much of a hangover. Even better, we hope you’ve made time to write this weekend and are making time to write today too. If you haven’t, then perhaps a few writing resolutions are in order. We’ll share ours with you, in case you need some inspiration:

Elayna’s Resolutions

  • Publish something for reals: 2017 was pretty amazing, in that I got to publish my first short story in a literary magazine. But now having had a taste of that, I really want to focus on publishing something entirely my own this year. I’ve got a few ideas about in my brain, so we’ll see how it goes, but I’m really hoping to make this happen in the new year.
  • Start properly querying agents. By the time this article is published, I will hopefully have completed the first draft of the second book in a YA trilogy I’ve been working on. I want 2018 to be the year that I take the manuscript of the first book, and really focus my energy on trying to find an agent to get traditionally published.
  • Focus more on writing for fun. Usually, my writing time is entirely devoted to projects I plan to release, whether that on my blog or something I want to publish. My hope in 2018 is to spend some more time writing just fun things for me, to help me not only grow as a writer but also to just have something special and separate from the work I put out into the world.

Christine’s Resolutions

  • Finish something. Anything. Then finish something else. I’ve made the mistake in the recent past of only finishing things whose future was dependent on other people finishing things of their own. This year I’m focusing that finishing energy on things that are dependent on me and only me.
  • Learn the art of saying no, because saying no = more time to spend writing. I’ve been practicing my no’s, but I haven’t really gotten good at it yet. This year I want to figure out how to no like a boss.
  • Practice pitching. I’m one of those that freeze up whenever anyone asks me an unexpected question, and I freeze doubly so when said question is about one of my creative projects or books. No more, I say! No more.

Bekki’s Resolutions

  • Fall back in love with my writing. The passion is gone, but what I have is still fantastic.
  • Stop shaming myself, for basically everything writing related. Own my ability and accept compliments when they are due.
  • Find acceptance in indeterminability of finishing. Stop trying to force it, because the harder I push, the less I accomplish. This is not a race. It will happen when it happens, and it is out of my control.
  • Find a group of dedicated beta-readers who will: A) actually read and B) offer useful feedback. Avoid: C) sharing it with anyone and everyone out of desperation.

Of course, we have some resolutions for the website as a whole to share too. They might not be writing-specific, but you may find that they can apply to your writing goals too.

IPI Resolutions

  • Shift our focus from creating to curating. Last year was all about building the site and starting a backlog of content. This year will be dedicated to establishing a high bar of quality and making sure we’re connecting to you.
  • Launch IndiePen Press. More on that later. 😉
  • Become too legit to quit. That’s right, 2018 is the year that IndiePen Ink becomes an official business. That means paperwork, taxes, and all that fun drudgery. Shit’s about to get real, folks.

So what about you? Do you have any writing resolutions this year?

 

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Editorials Pep Talks Real Talk Sass

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 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 Editorials Resources Savvy Snark & Sass

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,

 

Craft Editorials For the Ladies Pep Talks Real Talk Sass

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,

Editorials Pep Talks Real Talk Sass Writing Styles

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,

Editorials News Pep Talks Writing Styles

There’s a Good Chance This Is Completely Worthless

A message of caution, from Sass:

As a teacher, I often struggle with the fact that my students take every word I speak as gospel. While the thought of having a horde of minions waiting to be beckoned, preaching whatever I tell them would be wonderfully effective if/when I choose to take over the world, as an educator, it is extremely counter-productive to teaching students the most important, non-subject related skill they need to acquire in school: problem solving. Now, this would be an easy point for me to launch into a scathing critique of our public education system, and how through lacking high standards and pushing testing we have totally lost our ability to teach our students the skills they really need, but I won’t. It’s really, reaaaaally hard not to, but it’s not the point of this blog post.

I use this example only to make the point that as products of this system, we are not always taught how to read information selectively.

As with any information, even that delivered by teachers (who are often, but not always, experts in their field) it should still be analyzed. Writers, like any person working in a craft, should always be willing to learn and improve techniques to develop as writers. Teachers do this through professional development. I attend meetings and conferences multiple times a year that are meant to introduce or to strengthen my knowledge of teaching methodology. But, all teachers are different—we each have a teaching style, based on many variables such as experience, school culture, resources, and student needs. Writers also have a style that is distinct to their particular experience, genre, voice, and process. I have left sessions completely enthused and ready to utilize a brand new method to transform my classroom. I have also walked out of sessions laughing my ass off at some “consultant”, with no prior educational experience, who just got paid thousands of dollars to tell me how to do a job they have never done themselves. Or, even if they have, came out of a perfect, suburban school where all the students have stable homes, speak English, have safe, updated buildings, and are given more resources than they know what to do with. Learning how to be a better teacher is no different than learning how to be a better writer- the advice you take is completely subjective to your needs and experience.

Which is why it is extremely important to keep this thought in mind: Any advice, resource, or lesson given to you by another writer needs to be analyzed for its usefulness to your specific needs.

While the core concepts for writing—character development, setting, and plotting—are universal in writing, the methodologies used in practice are completely dependent upon what and how you write. If you want to be the next Rowling, don’t go to Patterson for advice. If you want to be the next Flynn, don’t go to Sparks. I don’t have anything against any of these writers, but they each have fundamental differences in their genres, writing styles, and process.

That being said, I am also not suggesting that a mystery writer cannot help a science fiction writer write better. What I am saying is before you take every piece of writing advice, really sit down, analyze it, try it out, and see if it even applies. Or, if it can be adapted. Does it even work?

At the end of the day, there might not be a single thing on this website that helps one person become a better writer, yet another person could credit it as the secret to their success. Neither person is wrong. In special education, we use the term Specific Learning Disability to cover a wide range of learning struggles. Two different students can be labeled SLD in reading, but one can have issue with transposing letters while the other has issues in reading comprehension. But, both are considered not to be able to read. Trying to strengthen a student’s reading fluency may help the dyslexic student, but won’t do anything to help the one who doesn’t understand or retain what they are reading. This same idea can be said for two writers struggling with the same problem. If two writers are both struggling to develop static characters into dynamic characters, no one approach will be universal to help both, especially if the stories are different genres or viewpoints.

All the information we post on IPI is intended to be helpful but not all of it will be. Or all of it will be. Or none of it will be. The point is, this is not gospel. This is a collection; an anthology if you will, of what we consider the best advice we have collected from around our writing circles, the internet, and our dangerously high stacked towers of writing books. There is bound to be a better method out there for something we post in IPI, and we encourage writers to seek out information. Never stop seeking knowledge.

As the illustrious, sardonic, and outrageous Oscar Wilde once said, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”

So, when you do find something better, please share it with us. Help us add to the Research-a-Torium or update a post or offer a suggestion on a tutorial. This isn’t just our site, it’s our site—yours, mine, and ours. If advice exists, and it helped, we want to have it collected, organized, and ready to be absorbed. Help us help you and help us help others. But, remember, only take what you need to help yourself.

Write on, young savior,

 

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Editorials News Pep Talks Resources Sass Writing Styles

Hey Guys! Watch This!

An open letter from Sass:

There is a small assortment of books collecting dust on my bookshelf these days. These books were once some of my most coveted, habitually read, and referenced tomes. I carried them in my bag on trips and methodically marked and annotated passages. Interestingly though, these books are neither classic literature, nor contemporary favorites. In fact, they’re non-fiction. They are my craft books – the first books I began buying and devouring when I finally decided to take the terrifying leap from saying “I write” to “I am a writer.” The books that helped me learn the basics; that built the foundation of my writerly knowledge.

Now, nearly a decade later, as I plot story arcs, develop characters, and invent universes, they sit idle, neglected and forgotten. Why would I need to read these books now? I’m not a novice writer anymore – I get this shit. I’m done with theory. Onto the practicum! Yet, when I sat down to make notes over the tutorials and concepts I wanted to cover on IndiePen Ink, my head emptied as quickly as a broken vacuum seal clears out a cargo bay on an interstellar ship. I realized that I needed to go back to my source, to my humble beginnings, and work backwards, taking my acquired knowledge and using it to create a curriculum of what I would have liked to have learned early on as a writer.

The problem though is that the stuff I wanted -needed- to learn was not the basics. Now, granted, while they are the important foundation on which the skill of writing is built, understanding the elements of story makes you little more proficient than a high school freshman when it comes to writing… I know this because I teach high school English to freshmen. So, instead of reaching for the craft books on the basics, I reached for my intermediate books – the ones on style and expression – and, decided to take a look through two of my trustiest reference books: Better Than Great and The Elements of Expression, both by author, Arthur Plotnik.

And, lo… what I have forgotten/ignored/never learned/breezed past in haste to get to the “good stuff”…Did you know that there are twenty-five types of figurative language? Because I sure as hell didn’t! The weird part is I had it marked, as if I had either read it and forgotten, or never got back to it after thinking “Ooooh! This looks important!”.

This brought me to a realization – I had thought I had read these books, scoured these books for information; devoured them and digested their contents – but in truth, I had done no such thing. There was no doubt I had depended on these books and used them constantly, but for an intended purpose. A purpose from which I am eight years removed and hardly remember, but at the time they gave me information I craved. I read it, absorbed it, and it became habit. Then, I threw it on the shelf and walked away more confident in my ability than before, and thus satisfied I had taken everything I could from that text.

“I wanted a resource – the ultimate resource that could be the place where I could go to get help, specific to my needs as a writer at that time.”

It’s this realization that leads me to believe this is the reason I roped my friends into creating IndiePen Ink. I wanted a resource – the ultimate resource that could be the place where I could go to get help, specific to my needs as a writer at that time. Those needs change over time, and new resources have to be sought.

Middle of the road writers, like myself, have fallen into a chasm of sorts. We still need help while writing, but it doesn’t come from our foundational limitations, it comes from isolation. Writing in a vacuum is horrible. It’s inside the black hole where all your incredible, original ideas stagnate, your characters go flat, and your dialogue becomes trite and stifled. This happens not because you don’t have talent, but because you have no place to keep skills sharp or be held accountable.

In essence, you need a proving ground. A playground, if you will, to mix and mingle, to refuel and get hurt when you slip off the fictional monkey bars. This place needs to be flexible, inviting, tolerant, and empathetic to the needs and diversity of writers, and those writer’s stories. But, the playground also needs an assortment of equipment, and not just one of those plastic jumbo monstrosities with seven slides and towers and glider handle thingy… what hell do they call that thing? It needs separate play areas where we can go and play and learn, and when we conquer that area, we can move to another; make new friends; fall off new toys and get back up again.

Consider IndiePen your playground. Make friends. Try new stuff. Revisit and take comfort in old stuff. Share. Write. Fuck up. Try again. We, as the creators of IndiePen Ink, want you to help us make this playground the first place, and only place, you go when you fall down the writing well and can’t crawl out again. We’ll throw you a rope, and pull you back up to the playground.

“Make friends. Try new stuff. Revisit and take comfort in old stuff. Share. Write. Fuck up. Try again.”

The playground is small right now, but it won’t always be. This isn’t going to be just some corner park they used to fill space in a subdivision. We’ve got big plans for this playground (think Leslie Knope plans). So, come to our playground. Tell us about yourself, your needs, and what toys you want to play on. Tell all your friends to meet you at the sweet, new playground. Until then, we’ll be here waiting. You’ll know us – we’re the cool kids hanging out on top of the monkey bars.

…and I’m the kid writhing on the ground after shouting the famous words, “Hey guys! Watch this!”.

Write on, young savior,

 

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