Tension and Intensity

As much as characters are the very heart and soul of fiction, none of them really matter unless they come across conflict. After all, without conflict there is no story, you would just be reading about people’s everyday lives. And why would you want to read that unless there were significant moments explored where these people took up the challenge of overcoming insurmountable challenges?

Whenever we experience a story, we put ourselves in a voluntary state of tension. It may sound a little masochistic at first, but when you really stop and think about it, you really are taking on the emotions of the characters. This of course allows us to empathize with them because we may have been in similar situations or have feared being in them, and getting to watch or read characters overcome obstacles inspires the hope that we can one day do the same.

Here is how you can inject meaningful conflict in you writing:

1. Opposing Opinions

Give your characters strong opinions about something, and then pit them against characters who are in the absolute opposite spectrum of the same thing. For instance, if you have a character who believes in animal rights and wants to stop the distribution of meat, their logical antagonist could be a butcher shop owner. One wants to end animal cruelty, while the other’s entire livelihood depends on this job they actually genuinely love.

2. Personal Philosophies

Now that you’ve got opinions established, it’s time to give these characters some motivations behind their opinions, along with names while we’re at it. Let’s call the animal rights activist Wendy, and the butcher shop owner Joe. Now it could be pretty easy to paint Joe as a horrible guy and make him the clear cut bad guy of this story, but I think if you gave him some redeeming and empathetic qualities, his conflict with Wendy could be more meaningful and insightful to your audience.

Perhaps Wendy wants to stop animal cruelty because she lived on a farm and she witnessed the slaughter of cows and chickens she grew fond of. Then on the other spectrum we got Joe who is just fascinated with the whole process of butchering animals, and serving them to happy customers in order to provide food for his children, and a roof over their heads.

In this story, Wendy’s goal would be to put Joe out of business possibly because her vegan restaurant is losing business due to Butcher Joe’s higher customer rate. And couple that of course with her moral stance on animal cruelty, you got yourself some grade A tension!

Point is: give characters believable and empathetic reasons for their beliefs so that you can understand them all, but make them so contrary to each other that it creates conflict due to those opposing opinions.

3. Secrets

Harboring dark secrets could also create tension in a story, especially if you reveal them after you’ve spent a good amount of time endearing the audience to your characters. There’s a weird feeling I personally get when I come to admire a character, only to find out about a secret of theirs that almost feel like a betrayal. Though it is a reminder that nobody is perfect and we’ve all got skeletons in the closet.

Secrets, and the threat of them being revealed, create tension the closer and close other characters come to discover them.

Maybe Wendy once ate her childhood pets and feels guilty for enjoying how they tasted, all despite the love she had for them when they were alive. If people found out about that, her activism in animal rights could be compromised and she’d be seen as a hypocrite!

Then maybe Joe, despite being a good family man and salesman to his customers, could secretly be an animal abuser. His endearing personality can make it forgivable to a degree that he cuts up animals for a living, but if it’s revealed that he takes a dark seated pleasure in murdering animals, rather than being stoic about it for the sake of the job, this could skew his public persona.

And maybe even in this case, the pleasure he gets is his way of coping with a traumatic event in his childhood where a dog attacked him. Who knows? I certainly don’t, I’m just making all this up as I go along!

4. Limited Choices

And lastly, to create some serious tension in a story, you could limit the choices available to characters. Situations where characters are forced to sacrifice their dignity or act against their own moral principles–sometimes for the sake of a greater good, other times with no clear benefit other than mere survival–these are the situations where we get to learn what truly matters to these characters.

We’ve all been in situations where we had to make tough choices and it wasn’t clear which one was the right one. Sometimes there is no right or wrong, rather there only exists the most sensible choice over the others where we lose the least of what we have. So then…

PLOT TWIST!

What if Joe and Wendy, amidst this public battle to reign supreme as the hot shot business of a sub-urban plaza, actually begin to fall in love with each other?

Yeah this just got weird, but bear with me here.

If there’s a turf war between a vegan restaurant and a butcher shop, there would obviously be customers who rally behind each respective business getting caught up in the crossfire.

Wendy ends up with the choices of either continuing the attempt to shut down Joe’s business, or give it up so that she can marry him and be the new mother to his kids because they’ve taken a liking to her.

Joe would then have to give up his life long passion and his stable income if he really wants to be with Wendy. Or he could just reject her, leave his kids without a mother figure, but at least keep his business going.

In Conclusion

Alright, so thank you for dealing with my craziness in this post. I hope you can forgive that and glean the value I’m trying to provide in exploring how you can amplify the conflict in your story, to not only make your story more entertaining, but also more meaningful and thought provoking.

If you have other tips of your own on how to amplify the conflict in fiction, feel free to leave a comment below!

Otherwise any other questions and feedback on this post are also welcome!

 

 

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Being Ready For Never Being Ready

We come into existence safe and secure, hugged snugly by the womb

We start off as the largest and only thing in a tiny cozy world only to become one of the many tiniest things in a world much larger than ourselves.

We are born naked and crying in a room full of strangers, and apart from its complete opposite (death), it’s actually the scariest thing we have to experience in our lives if you stop to think about it.

Being put in the world is a pretty daunting thought because we are tasked with the responsibility of creating an effect in the world just as much as the world has the responsibility of creating an effect in us. We come into this world knowing nothing but what our environment will allow us to know, and then we have to learn how to unlearn some of the limiting beliefs we’re fed as we grow.

I think everybody is born with tremendous potential and due to circumstances out of their control, along with mindsets and choices that are, that potential wanes and the world misses out on whatever unique gifts some people possibly had that could have been contributed to the world.

This is the perspective I come from when I try to battle my own self doubt.

I’ve often felt unready to take on the world throughout my life. Whether it was going to school, finding a job, and fast forwarding to now; running my own business. There’s no safety and security in entrepeneurship like a normal job offers; I am not bound by a schedule other than what I grant myself to work in, and there’s definitely no expected amount of money on a regularly scheduled paycheck. My income rests solely on the amount of work I’m willing to put into making sales at my workshops and coaching spots.

It is now near the end of 2017–and after spending the first half of the year in solitary seclusion, writing the 3rd draft of It Starts at Home and for the most part living like a hermit spending the rest of my days gaming and listening to music for countless of hours–I have finally officially launched my business and still feel unready to do it. But I am doing it, which is the crazy thing.

The only difference now compared to my hermit days is that I feel just a tad more ready than before.

It has taken a lot of my own will power and discipline to realize that I am capable of so much in my life, especially if I have been able to provide value to the coaching clients I had in the summer of 2016. Knowing that I possess this rare gift of active listening and questioning that makes writers geek out about their stories, it reminds me that I do have value in the world after all.

Furthermore, when it came to booking and preparing the writing workshops I’ve been hosting the past couple of months, a lot of resistance came up due to feeling unprepared in several areas. I worried that I wouldn’t have content, attendees, let alone the confidence to talk about writing for 2 hours biweekly–even though I spent the past couple of years in customer service jobs where I had to speak to hundreds of customers on a daily basis.

What helped me push onward was to prepare myself as best as I could.

That meant buckling down to write up the workshop presentations, refining it over and over again until every point was succint and important, cutting all excess. It also meant putting the work into inviting people to the workshop and even more work into reminding myself that I’ve done so much public speaking in my life already.

From hosting escape room introductions to talking about writing concepts that came solely from within was a hard transition because now I was sharing something that wasn’t created by anyone else but myself. But nonetheless I persisted.

And when it all came down to it, on the days I have hosted workshops, I still felt unready.

In fact, many times I wanted to cancel on the account of nervousness.

Now whether or not there was a huge turn out or not, in the end I decided to just go with it. I am thankful for the times that several people came, and even more thankful for that one workshop where nobody showed up because that was my biggest fear, and to have it manifest and not actually feel all that bad, it has been an incredible experience being prepared for either outcome.

That’s the most we can ever do for ourselves in this life. To prepare ourselves for the best and worst case scenarios because even it only softens the blow of disappointment, it at least teaches us to prepare better next time. And of course when things do go our way, we can also be grateful to ourselves for having put the effort into preparation in the first place.

I’m sorry if this post was very scatter brained, I’ve probably rewrote it several times and I’m still unable to put it as concisely as I wanted to.

But if there’s one take away from it all, it would be this:

Trust in yourself.

Trust in your own abilities.

Trust in your ability to recover and take it easy on yourself if you “fail.”

You have tremendous potential and just because you miss out on a single chance  to share your gift, it doesn’t mean you are completely barred from ever getting another opportunity in the future. You pick yourself up and try again. If you need time to recover like I granted myself, you give that to yourself too, but always be back to reengage with the world.

 

NaNoRouMo

Routines!

They are incredibly important for thriving during NaNoWriMo.

You gotta establish one.

Why? Because creating a routine for yourself can help you with consistently getting pen to paper on a daily basis. And more importantly, getting the 1667 daily word count down with a lot less resistance than you would without a routine.

Now, if you’re a writer who can easily buckle down and write those 1667+ words, then massive praises to you because I envy you. However, if you’re a procrastinator like me, or just someone who needs a little extra push to get motivated, then this post is for you.

So here’s a routine that worked for me and why engaging in these particular activities helped me stay focused when writing for NaNoWriMo last year. Mind you, I didn’t follow this to a tee, as it did waver from time to time, swapping one activity for the other when it didn’t work out.

1. Do something physical!

What normally worked for me was doing yoga in the morning. whether I woke up at 5am ready to take on the day with all the motivation in the world, or 12pm feeling a bit of resistance toward writing (because it got harder over time), yoga helped me keep my body from feeling restricted.

Since writing is normally an activity you do sitting down, you can risk cutting blood flow throughout your body and letting muscles tense up being in the same position for extended periods of time. It’s important to get a stretch and/or full work out to keep your body active because the mind and body affect each other. They are not mutually exclusive, and one cannot work without the other.

After getting all stretched out and sweaty, I would then take an ice cold shower to invogorate my senses.

This sounds scary to some people, but I assure you I didn’t start off cold right away, that would be too shocking. It’d be warm water for the hair and skin care part of showering, and then when that was done I would turn the knob down a bit until I felt a jolting chill go throughout my body.

If you have worked up a sweat from your work out, the cold shower wouldn’t be too hard to settle into. Actually it’s pretty refreshing and teaches you to slow down your breathing in order to endure.

This challenging of the self to withstand discomfort primes you to withstand the discomfort of writing. Not the physical part, but the mental part as I’m sure you will find yourself focusing on nothing but how freaking cold the water is.

2. Eat some gooooooood food!

I have phases where I prefer pancakes in the morning, scrambled eggs with home fries, or a simple bread with spread, along with the complimentary coffee.

After yoga, I would feel incredibly hungry and much able to really enjoy my meal, again getting my mind off writing and focusing on nurturing myself first.

Then the coffee of course is the staple drink of writers, whether you pound back pot upon pot, or need one little mug to get you going. It feels good to have something warm and tasty to sip on while I wrote.

Whatever it is for you; coffee, tea, or even a smoothie, get a drink or snack that you can sip and/or munch on while you write. This creates the association in your brain that that drink goes hand in hand with writing. Literally.

3. Write!

Write your ass off.

No further words needed.

4. Treat yoself!

As I said in my post last week, you gotta treat yourself!

Whether you pump out 5000 words or 500 by the end of your writing session, be sure to reward yourself with your favourite recreational activity.

For me it was gaming! I liked playing Brawlhalla, something that requires mostly muscle memory and reaction speed to play, as opposed to anything else that would be intellectually daunting.

For you it might be playing with your children if you have some, or binging your favourite show on Netflix. For others it could be hanging out with some friends and partying.

Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something easily available to you so that you can prime yourself to expect it at the end of a writing session.

5. Be kind to yourself.

And as always, this post is about self love at its core.

Writers put a lot of pressure on themselves to write compelling fiction and often doubt themselves if what they’re writing does not match the ambition they have in their head. We often feel imposter syndrome thinking “who am I to write this story?” Among another myriad of typical self doubting thoughts I will cover next week.

But for now I will leave you with this suggestion to form a routine.

You obviously don’t have to do yoga, eat what I eat, and play video games like me. And it doesn’t have to be in this order. You can even go far as to treat yourself first if you feel like you can honour that self indulgence with a productive writing session.

Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you can manage on mostly everyday you possibly can, and brings you the equivelant joy and motivation your NaNoWriMo project deserves!

Giving to Get vs. Genuine Giving

Recently I discovered that I had a mentality that clashed with my values and held me back from truly appreciating what I have to offer others. The mentality of giving so that I can expect something in return often soured what could potentially be genuine acts of charity and good will.

Now I don’t say this from a high horse, more of a neutral pony, but I possess the ability to ask hard hitting questions that really get people to introspect. I’ve found great pleasure in feeding my curiousity about others and in return getting them to step outside of themselves and imagine their lives. So much so that I’ve inspired creative people to get back into their craft whether it was in the visual, literary, or musical arts.

I seem to have a knack for reminding people why they love expressing themselves through the mediums they excel in. Whenever I receive their gratitude and hear that they are picking up their creativity back up off the floor, I feel a sense of warmth and accomplishment that is beyond living through them vicariously. I genuinely do enjoy getting to know people better by asking them about what their passions.

With all that said, I realized a tinge of greed within myself when I’ve tried to engage a few people I’ve helped out. I had spent so much time understanding where they were at in life and why they have neglected their creative abilities, played a part in getting them to reconnect with their creative expressions, but got little to no space to share what was going on with me.

I felt resentful.

That I could spend so much time asking question after question like an ask-a-holic, only to not get any questions asked in return about how I was doing in life.

What the hell?

Just a few weeks ago I felt justified to write people off as selfish and ungrateful because if they were good people they would take the time to understand me right?

Well from a life coaching session with my own brother Oliver Manalese (check out his work, it kicks ass), I learned that being understood was what I missed out on in my childhood. Being understood is what I needed the most and I feel like I didn’t get it from my parents, teachers, or any other adults in my life.

In turn, I have grown up to become the adult I wish I had around when I was a kid; and that is a genuinely curious and encouraging person.

Despite feeling a little miffed when people don’t give me the same curiousity, within the moments I am prying into people’s minds, I am genuinely interested in them. But then to later twist it as something I do in order to extract an obligation I realize now is just madness.

That’s giving to get.

Not genuinely giving.

It was genuinely giving in the moment, but my ego turned it into a symbiotic exchange.

Thanks to my brother’s insights, he came to conclude that there really is no need for me to have to share the details of my life to the people I help in order to feel understood. To expect reciprocity in the same vein of others being able to interview my soul was actually a very greedy thing to do.

Why crave to be understood by getting a chance to talk about myself when the very act of me showing up in people’s lives, asking them these open ended questions that inspire them, is how I am being understood?

I am being understood as someone who shows up for others.

I am being understood as someone who gives a shit.

I am being understood by the simple fact that my questions are being thought about and answered honestly.

And then later of course getting a tremendous word of thanks from the people I took the time to understand. To know that I had an effect on them that they revived creative pursuits that seemed dead and gone–that is how I already am being understood and acknowledged.

I’m who I wanted when I was a child. Someone who could ask the right questions and motivate me to pursue my passions with all the love and energy they deserve.

This rare ability to do it for others and knowing that I am capable of doing it for them should be enough to grant that curiousity and inspiration to myself. Seeing the effects of my curiousity and encouragement through other people’s actions validate for me, within myself, the sense of aliveness we all try to strive for.

I don’t think any form of absolute altruism exists. Even if you give to charity and help people out, there are selfish motives involved, but the concept of selfishness is so demonized that people deny they even have it.

We’re all selfish.

We all want things.

But that doesn’t make us bad, it makes us human.

So in giving to others, what we intrinsically get in return is pride when someone expresses their gratitude for your good will. It’s not a bad thing. It’s reaffirming that as a human being, part of this massive social species, that we matter and we have value from the very act of providing value.

Realizing all this I strive to genuinely give from now on.

I will give of myself the curiousity and understanding I wish I got as a child. For the people I help with this ability, I will bask in their gratitude and their strength to take action partly thanks to my encouragement (I won’t take full credit since they’re the ones who ultimately decide). They don’t need to know the details of my life and my thoughts, their presence and willingness to answer my questions should be enough for me.

And for those rare few individuals who can provide that curiousity and understanding, the people who can actually ask good questions and keep a consistent and engaging conversation, that’s what will set them apart from others. I’ll hold them dear in my heart.

Not everybody has to be a motivational gumshoe.

People provide value and reciprocity in different ways, and I’ve come to accept that.

So from this day onward, I strive give genuinely without expecting anything in return. Why expect when giving is its own reward?

 

 

How to Thrive During NaNoWriMo

Today is the day writers all around the world take part in National Novel Writing Month, an annual event that challenges them to write 50,000 words all within the glorious (or grueling) 30 days of November. Whether they are glorious and/or grueling is completely up to you. I know this from experience.

I’m not going to pretend I have an on going track record with NaNoWriMo as I have only done it once last year when I rewrote my YA novel, It Starts at Home, completely from scratch a third time in a row. My advice is drawn more from the past decade of novel writing, things I’ve observed about myself, that in turn I hope you can relate to and glean some value from.

So without further adieu, here is how I learned not to beat my head against the wall during NaNoWriMo:

1. Remember Your Why

Amidst the commotion of trying to write 1667 words a day, remind yourself why you write in the first place. Perhaps there are some injustices you want to expose through your fiction, or you simply want to entertain. Whatever your reason, it has value because you want to provide value through it or at least have something burning inside you, urging you to express it. Let the call to adventure ring loud and clear. Make it more about the message than about reaching a quota.

2. Don’t Make it About Word Count

Sure, it’s important, as it is a measurable guage of how much you’ve done, but don’t sweat it if you can’t reach 1667 a day or the 50,000 at the end of November. Word count is important, but it shouldn’t take precendence over expressing yourself and possibly spreading your message. Especially if you have controversial topics to cover in your book, accept that it’s not going to be easy, and the fun is in the challenge of finding ways to convey your philosophy through fiction.

3. Don’t Find Time, Make Time For Writing

This is something I hear often from working parents with children, and anybody else with very busy working schedules. It’s important to know that no matter what obligations you’ve got going for you in life, whether you show up or not is completely up to you and it is your life to manage. No one else’s. Don’t find time to write, make time to write. Make it a priority. You don’t have to do a million things in your life. Yes, pay bills. Yes, feed your children. But if you have the free time to sit around and play Candy Crush, maybe make time to write and see that as your leisure time. Scratch that. Writing is leisure time, no matter how difficult it gets at times.

4. Keep a Progress Journal

Give yourself 10-30 minutes a day to free write about your book, detailing all your progress and intetions with it before every session. You gotta warm yourself up to writing and what could help is giving yourself the opportunity to write whatever’s on your mind will free up space in your brain to focus on the narrative. This works especially if you’re stuck at certain points. The more stuck you are, the longer the progress journaling session should be. Progress journals are also where you can remind yourself of your why in a more concrete way than just repeating the mantra in your head.

5. Let Yourself Write

This is a no brainer, but basically what I mean is to not get caught up in syntax and style. If you have trippy sci-fi or fantastical fantasy concepts in your story, that’s fine, but don’t let all your wordiness get in the way of simply telling a story. And who cares if it doesn’t make any sense or if it isn’t eloquent? This is most likely just another draft to be improved on later. So let yourself write to your heart’s content and kick perfectionism to the curb where it belongs!

6. Write in Tiny Bursts

If you can’t stomach 1667 in one 20-60 minute writing session, do little by little throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be done all in one sitting. Do 500-600 in the morning, another 500-600 in the afternoon, and the final 500-600 at night. Before you know it, you’ll reach the daily quota without burning yourself out from one intense writing session in the day.

7. Let Yourself Fall Behind

It could happen. In fact it happens to a lot of writers, even published ones. Let yourself fall behind and be okay with it. Despite what I said about making time to write, sometimes life gets in the way, or worse, our egoes prevent us from putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). If and when that happens, accept it with grace and don’t let it deter you from getting back into the groove. You never know, you just might write 3500 words in one day to catch back up with the daily average.

8. Exercise

Writing is a very physically limiting activity where you are confined to a chair all slouched over and giving your mind a massive work out. Don’t forget to give your body a work out, too! Exercise can help release some muscle tension as well as clear your mind when you focus on the sensations your body goes through during exercise. Go for a run, lift some weights, or do some yoga. There’s an endless amount of options for physical activity, and often times it is due to physical stagnance that our minds also refuse to work, so go and create a little communion between body and mind.

9. Write a Crappy Story on the Side

More often than not, the novel you choose to write for NaNoWriMo is “The Big One,” and that’s all well and good. However, with that comes the pressure to make sure it’s done right, even if you follow tip #5. In addition to letting yourelf write, I propose you let yourself write crap. Yeah, if you feel stuck with your main work in progress, go start a side story that you write for the express purpose of writing as poorly as possible. This is a sure fire way to pump out 3000 meaningless words before hunkering down and writing your finely honed 1667 main manuscript words for the day.

10. Reward Yourself

When it’s all said and done, be sure to reward yourself. The time it takes to write may seem like a huge price to pay with little to no tangible, immediate return on investments, so it’s best to make one for yourself. This can be treating yourself to a bath, a Netflix binging hour (or five), or if you’re a gamer like me, a gaming session could feel incredibly better after having written. In the wise words of my cousin, after all your hard work you gotta “treat yoself!”

11. Sleep!

And as a bonus tip: sleep! We live in an unhealthy culture that rewards and promotes the notion that “sleep is for the weak,” and busy bodies often proclaim that they’ll sleep when they’re dead. I sure as hell hope you don’t buy into mythology, as sleep is a very important human function. Yes, it sucks that eats away the time we could be doing more more more with our lives, but deal with it, sleep is a fact of life. You need to recharge your batteries in order to operate better than you would hopped up on caffeine and a single muffin.

What all these tips come down to is: treat yourself kindly.

Happy writing!

 

Preparing For the Best Case Scenario

Have you ever been so paralyzed by fear that you couldn’t take action, let alone think straight? Does your mind swarm you with fear, constantly imagining the worst case scenarios? Why can’t we give ourselves a break?

Even when we’re anticipating days that we’ve since longed for, there is always the fear of things not working out as we expected, or even worse, we fear everything blowing up in our faces.

It’s only natural since human beings are hardwired to scan for danger and prepare for the most convenient survival strategy. While this is our ancient repitilian brain keeping us safe, I think in our modern world, we have evolved beyond plain survival. I think we have evolved to strive for more since becoming more intelligent and ambitious.

We’re no longer here just to survive. We’re here to thrive. We’re here to live.

For years, I’ve silenced the sound of my life’s calling. Why? The typical excuses that writing doesn’t generate any profit. That it’s a hard market to break into. That I’m better off working a safe and secure day job.

Furthermore, for the past couple years in particular, I’ve had the intention to host writing workshops, but never had the nerve to host any because I doubted my own abilities. I didn’t think I would have the public speaking skills, let alone ability to create and present my work at these supposed workshops.

This past summer, after several months of taking a break from life and deciding it was time to revive my business, I felt even more resistance with the added fears of people being bored at my workshops. That it wouldn’t be anything new or compelling to them. Maybe I’d even speak too fast or be unable to articulate my incredible ideas, only to convey them in a way that makes them sound stupid. Or worse, having nobody come to my workshops, making all my hard work and anticipation a massive waste of time.

And it’s that kind of thinking that held me back for a very long time.

It even prevented me from booking my events for a couple weeks after creating my first ever Power Point presentation which would later serve as the introduction to my workshop series: The Four Pillars of Fiction.

After a while of obsessing over these possibilities and feeling intense anxiety, I finally got sick of myself. I realized it was all in my head and I was doing this to myself. The days and moments in which I thought this way, I was pretty safe from harm and embarassment living my life in solitude with the freedom to work or not to work.

What made me decide to finally start working was realizing I should stop preparing for the worst case scenario, and start preparing for the best case scenario.

I realized that if I were to host workshops at my self hating state, the way I would show up would reveal that to my guests. Why show up all strung out at an event I should be excited for?

It took some work, but I decided that I would focus more on how things can go right and stop doing what I’ve been doing all my life, which is obsessing over all the things that could go wrong.

Why not get excited and start fantasizing about the tremendous value I could provide to other writers? Why not get excited and start fantasizing about the connections I would make with wonderful people? Why not get excited and start fantasizing about the idea of stepping out of my shell and doing something I’ve been wanting to do for so long?

When I shifted my mindset from anxiety to excitement, things started to take an unexpected turn. I gained the confidence to work my ass off to craft the workshop introduction. I gained the confidence to book my workshops with a wonderful cafe that provides event space to the public. And as of today, I have hosted four workshops so far in the past two months, and in regards to those, I gained the confidence to show up and present my work.

And you know what?

It’s been the best time of my life by far.

Getting to geek out about writing for two hours, talk everyone’s ears off about all the things I’ve learned from this past decade of self directed study, and even more compelling is the participation I’ve gotten from workshop guests–it’s more than I can ask for.

When I see my guests’ eyes light up, or resounding oohs and ahhs when I’ve introduced a concept about writing that they haven’t previously thought of. When I see my guests’ hard at work answering the questions I pose at the end of each section of a presentation. All that makes my stress and anxiety go away, and makes all the hard work and dedication worth it for me.

And none of this would be possible if I hadn’t given myself the permission, the option, the power to prepare for the best case scenarios.

I prepared the presentation, thus ridding my fear of having nothing to talk about. I prepared the workshop dates, thus ridding the fear of not having a venue to express my work. And most importantly I prepared myself self-confidence, thus ridding the fear of showing up with intense anxiety and inability to deliver my work with the energy it deserves.

It doesn’t mean I’m completely free of fear and anxiety, but at least with this new mindset I’ve adapted, I’m better able to manage these limiting thoughts and feelings, and move toward my goals more.

When it comes to taking a risk and starting new adventures, my suggestion is to make the appropriate preparations for the best case scenarios. It doesn’t guarantee the best case scenarios will happen, but it sure as hell gets you close to it! And on the times you do experience the best case scenarios, it can actually be pretty intimidating.

But at least then you’ll be prepared for it. 😉

 

How Being a Wallflower Improves Your Writing

It is a common stereotype that writers are quiet people, and often feel isolated even in a crowd of people out in public. While this is a generalization, and I know that there are some charismatic and extroverted writers out there, their introverted counterparts and extroverted writers themselves can benefit from being wallflowers.

Wikipedia defines it as: “A wallflower is someone with an introverted personality type (or in more extreme cases, social anxiety) who will attend parties and social gatherings, but will usually distance themselves from the crowd and actively avoid being in the limelight.”

Wikipedia goes on to explain how wallflowers would much rather observe a social setting than engage in it, and this is where today’s writing tip comes in. You don’t have to suffer from social anxiety or introversion–as if it’s something to “suffer” from, as most people come to believe–in order to utilize today’s writing tip.

Whenever you find yourself out in public in a moment of silence, take note of how people behave and what the setting looks like. You can either write this down in the notepad of your mind, in an actual travel sized notebook, or even on the notepad app on your smartphone if you have one.

What this will do is give you a myriad of ingredients you can use in future writing. Even if some details never make it on the pages of a manuscript, it still helps to get the mental exercise flowing in order to sharpen your ability to observe and absorb. Here is a list of things to pay attention to and take note of:

For People

  • How do they express themselves physically? Do they use grand hand gestures and speak loudly, or do they move minimally with hushed tones?
  • What are they talking about with their conversation partner? How excited or bored are they in engaging in this conversation?
  • Take note of the contrast of these two “characters,” if there are any.
  • What kinds of clothes are they wearing and are their wardrobes congruent or juxtapositional to their behaviour? Maybe they’re wearing fancy bowties and suits while swearing like sailors, or sporting some baggy low riding pants and talking like gangsters.
  • Pay attention to physical and verbal ticks. What kinds of words do they use often and what noticable movements do they make? Maybe they like to say “like,” a lot like it was like a comma. Or maybe they tend to rub their eyes with the heel of their palm whenever they are disagreed with in conversation.

Just remember to keep in mind that you shouldn’t watch too hard or they’ll find it creepy. Best to use your peripheral vision and pretend not to be listening. Since it’s none of your business what they’re talking about, you don’t want to eavesdrop too much. Just enough  to notice a few patterns.

For Settings:

  • Inspect the architecture of your surroundings. Is it all brand new and recently constructed, or has this place existed for quite some time? What are some details that give away its age? This can range from burn marks in the cement from too many smokers having step foot upon it, to smooth and undented walls.
  • How does it feel to be there emotionally and physically? Is it cold or warm? Do you feel comfortable or uncomfortable?
  • Are there any noticable scents or odours pervading the air? If you’re at a restaurant, perhaps the aroma of fried chicken triggers your gut to hunger for it, or if you’re in a warehouse the stench of dirt makes it hard to breathe to the point of even tasting the duskiness of the environment.
  • And here’s my favourite: close your eyes and pay attention to the sounds that surround the environment. Is it noisy or quiet, or even somewhere in between? If you’re at a mall, pay attention to how assaulted you are with different radio stations playing different types of music as you move from store to store. Or if you’re at a cafe, notice the low hum of patrons conversing or that university student’s fingers click clacking against their laptop keyboard as they rush to finish an overdue paper.

And as my last point was about to do there, a story then begins to take place. Whether it’s a story you’re inventing in your head or a story that is unfolding right before your very eyes, noticing all these details will help you craft more detailed scenes in your writing. We don’t notice details until they go missing, and the mark of good writing is incorporating them in a way that integrate into the scene without drawing too much attention to itself, rather they help embellish the main focus of a story which is human interaction.

Being a wallflower has its perks (no pun intended in reference to the YA novel). Chances are people around you will leave you to your own devices and you can take the opportunity to jot down details of your environment in order to build your vocabulary and the wide range of possible ideas you can use in your writing.

Have you ever paused and taken a social situation in as a silent observer?

What kinds of details and sensations have you gleaned for doing so?

If you haven’t been in wallflower mode before, how does this whole suggestion feel to you? Let me know in the comments below!