Outside the Box

I have a story I’m working on as this gets published. As such, I won’t spend too much time on this random thought. 

I took part in a Twitter chat session this past weekend about overcoming fear in writing. I shared a few things I’m fearful of. One of those fears, and thus the reason for this post, is writing outside my genre. 

In case I haven’t mentioned this on my blog or Twitter or Facebook, I write short stories. And all those stories fall into the category of mainstream, or general, fiction. It’s what I’m most familiar with. But as I read Twitter bios and “About Me” pages on blogs, one thing stands out: how authors of multiple genres influenced what they wrote. I’m fascinated and, at the same time, feel this sense of shame. I didn’t read much except what was assigned in school. But it’s not to say I can’t start now. As I peruse bookstores, I look for books outside my “expertise.” But a writer I follow on Twitter, Nicole Rivera, told me that I shouldn’t read to “find” something; that I should absorb stories I like and see if it leads me to write in that genre. That’s a good point. Yes, we learn what works and what doesn’t in a particular story, but we shouldn’t strive to write our story the same way. Our stories are unique, and should be written as such. 

What scares me about writing in a different genre is that it won’t be any good; that what I write will come off as too cliché. But a fellow writer reminded me of something: there will always be that fear of our writing not being any good, no matter the genre; that the important thing is to try. It’s true. I won’t know if what I write will be any good if I don’t jump in. And another piece of advice I received is to start small. Write flash fiction or short stories. Will there be clichés? Sure. But that’s why we have critique partners and beta readers: to learn about those clichés and discover ways to either avoid them or make them better. 

I recently read a post about the progression of why writers write from when they started to today. In it, the author pointed out that when writers started writing, it wasn’t about making money or recognition; it was about having fun and experimentation. Even the most seasoned writers didn’t have an established formula. They experimented with different forms and genres. As I read that post, I thought about my stories of the heroic Detective Falcon  in middle school. I thought about a story I wrote in the form of a journal that got published in junior college. I remembered writing a couple of romance stories as I pursued my degree in Creative Writing. I didn’t think half of them were any good, but it didn’t matter. I got joy out of writing them, and that’s what the post encouraged writers to get back to. 

Looking back, I wish I experimented more with writing. It probably would take away some of the anxiety. But it’s not too late to try something new. I can get back to writing for fun, even if no one reads it. I can experiment and see if it fits me. Anything is possible. 

But before I do, I have another story to finish. 

Living a Life Worth Writing

This past Thursday’s StoryDam chat covered voice. It’s one of those topics that never really gets old because everyone’s definition is different. I know I covered this topic in one of my A to Z Challenge posts this year. But there was something that I didn’t really think about until recently. 

There are many elements that go into a writer’s voice: characterization, plot, dialogue, tone, theme. All these elements most people know. But there was one element I never thought about before until a writer mentioned it: life experience. 

Life experience. It’s one of those aspects that define who we are. In writing, I believe it’s what ties all the elements of voice together. Most of our stories are ripped from significant moments of our lives. The characters we create, the dialogue that moves the story, the themes that resonate. It makes sense. I think that’s why the phrase “write what you know” carries so much weight.

Now depending on the writer, life experience can be a supply a never ending well of creativity. For others, not so much. I fell into the category of “other.” For the most part, my life wasn’t that adventurous. I thought of myself as “the good kid.” I did what my parents said. I got good grades in school. I hung around other “good kids.” I graduated from college. Got married. Had two kids. You know, typical stuff. Now, I had some rough patches off and on. Who didn’t? But I wouldn’t consider them mold for stories.

I think I lived a shielded life. Not much to where I can write a book or something. And I think my characters and theme resonate that “lack of experience.” And that’s why I hate the phrase, “Write what you know.” Because apparently, I don’t know much about anything. 

But then, someone made this point: “Life experience isn’t always about what you’ve done, but also what you’ve observed.” I hadn’t thought of that before. And looking back at over thirty years of working, moving, renting, marriage, and kids, I realized there was more to my life than I realized. I’ve seen love, death, divorce, miracles, the unusual, everything. In my life as well as others. Thinking about all those “experiences” got me thinking about some truths in writing. One, only I can tell my version of a similar story. Two, I can create characters similar and different from me based on said experience. (Most writers say to create characters that are nothing like you.) And three, it’s pointless to compare my writing journey to someone else’s. No two journeys are exactly the same. 

I still struggle with finding my voice. But I used to think that I didn’t have a life worthy of writing, I would never find it. It was one of many reasons why I wanted to give up on it. But after this chat session, I realized there was more to life than what I did; it was what I observed about the world around me. 

2016 Goals Update

I can’t believe 2016 is halfway over. Summer officially starts in a matter of days, though it feels like it’s already here. I probably mentioned this before, but it feels like time passes faster than what I’m used to. Having kids certainly makes it so. 

Having said that, it is time to update the goals I set this year. I set some lofty ones, which is good because I need the challenge. So, let’s look at what’s been done, or not done. 

  1. Write a Novel. In Progress. As I said earlier this year, this is the biggest I set for myself. For a long time, I had issues with even brainstorming ideas for a novel. Until about two months ago, as I was working, when this idea struck. And it lingered for a while. I created a Pinterest storyboard with setting and characters. I have a notebook on Evernote with a cast of characters so far. As it stands right now, it’s still in the idea stage. I think I made a mistake by telling too many people—five—about it. I heard there was a danger in telling people your ideas because it can take away from the creativity and set unhealthy expectations. I didn’t believe it then, but I feel there may be some truth to it. I think it’s showing because I haven’t begun writing it, not even an outline. But I think this goal will start to gain more steam when I focus more of my energy into it. 
  2. Post “The Cell Games” Stories. Cancelled, for now. This was another endeavor that I talked a lot about on Twitter and my blog. The main reason for cancelling this project is that I lost my zeal for this project. Getting into specifics, I felt there was no real storytelling; just a lot of info-dumping. And I didn’t feel my characters wanted to be in those situations. This also may be a case of telling too many people too many times. But it may be that it’s not time to write these stories. So there is a possibility that I might come back to this at a later time. 
  3. Enter a Short Story Contest. In Progress. I have doubts about submitting any short story into a writing contest. But the fact is that I haven’t sought contests to enter. Most stories I write fall into the genre of mainstream/literary fiction, and from what I have researched, the submissions are outside my comfort zone. But this is a goal I want to fulfill. Being a better writer means being flexible. So I am willing to give these genres a try.  Being a better writer also means dealing with adversity, and rejection letters. That is the one honor I’ve not had yet. Time is running out on this goal. I need to step it up. 
  4. Complete the 2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge. Done. This may sound like an easy one, but it was anything but easy. I decided to go without a theme this year, which made creating topics much more difficult. This year, though, I planned out my posts so that I wouldn’t feel the crunch of coming up with posts, which meant I could read more blogs. In the simplest sense, I accomplished this goal. But looking back on them, I feel like I could have done better. I rushed them so I could get them set to post and didn’t take the time to edit and revise. Granted, they were based on my opinions, but I felt like they could have been better. I guess that’s when you know you’re a writer. 
  5. Write for 15 Minutes a Day. In Progress. I say in progress for this goal because it’s something that can be expanded upon. The key is making writing a priority.  And while I don’t write every day, I make it a habit to set my timer for 15 minutes. I type or write as much as I can, as fast as I can.  It’s not easy. It’s those moments where I remember Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind. In it, she harks on not stopping; start statements with “I remember…” There have been few times where I implemented that strategy. And it helps.  

So, I must say that my writing goals have not progressed as well as I hoped. Last year, I accomplished most of the goals I set for myself. It’s easy to look at the lack of progress as a bad thing, but I’m trying to look at the glass half-full. Compared to last year, I feel like I am taking the right steps to be a better writer.

What about you? How are you doing in your goals? Have you made amendments to them?

    Technology Bites

    Frank strolled into the local coffee shop and couldn’t help staring at the number of patrons with their heads down, looking at whatever was going on their phones. He felt disgusted. He thought it was disrespectful to be on a device while in line. His phone rang, but he did not bother to answer it. The phone kept vibrating, but stopped after five pulses in his pocket. It was his turn. Continue reading “Technology Bites”