Sprouting Symbols in Stories

Planting the Symbolic Seeds

We’re all pattern recognition machines. Whenever we experience repetition through objects, places, and actions, they implant an impression in our minds to create future expectations. And within getting those expectations met, the reward system in our brains releases dopamine, making us feel not only a sense of joy, but also a sense of comfort and familiarity.

This is why babies love when you play Peek-A-Boo with them. When you cover your face with your hands or hide behind the couch, they expect you to “pop up out of nowhere” and make a silly face that gets them giggling their cute little baby laughs.

In fiction, you want to do the same thing. You want to play a literary form of Peek-A-Boo through Symbolic Action. A reoccuring object, place, or action engages your audience’s sense of familiarity and by letting them feel safe from an expected routine, you are given the opportunity to also trigger the part of the human brain that thrives on novelty.

Or simply put; you want to mix the new with the old.

What this does is symbolize how an aspect of your story is progresses over time. This can range from how an important plot item is used throughout the story, the state of a physical location your characters frequent, or how characters relate to each other through repetitive actions.


Papa Can You Hear Me?

Today we’ll focus on reoccuring actions and how they symbolize ever changing relationships between characters. In particular, I will be using the father and daughter combo from my work in progress It Starts at Home; Antonio and Johanna Pascual.

The story starts off with Antonio blasting his heavy metal music as he drives Johanna to her first day of high school. He just wants to drop her off and go to work, unaware of how nervous she is, and thanks to the rockin’ tunes he’s so used to pumping on every car ride, he’s even more oblivious to how reluctant she is to start this new chapter in her life.

She wishes she could say something. That she’s not ready yet and wants to stay home for the day. Or worse, that she actually feels sick to her stomach and is unsure if she can physically manage herself in this new environment.

Johanna tries to speak up, but her tiny voice is buried beneath pounding drums and distorted guitars, and all that Antonio can offer her is yelling “you’ll be fine,” before returning to his mini headbanging session. She keeps trying to complain and his solution is to remind her to not be afraid and be sure to make new friends.

Needless to say, Johanna ends up feeling ignored and down right invisible.

What this symbolizes is the distance between father and daughter, even though Antonio drives Johanna around quite often. The fact that Antonio chooses to listen to the noisy music of his own teen days over the soft tiny voice of his teenage daughter comes to show their giant lack of communication between each other.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Throughout the book, similar car rides occur where Johanna has a desire to communicate with her father, but the metal music continues to serve as a point of contention between them. He uses it to drown out the nagging voice of his wife and the whiny voice of his daughter, both of which have valid things to say to him, but tension rises the more he attempts to ignore them.

Furthermore, his wife Miranda is actually offended by his choice in music. Because she immigrated to Canada from a traditional Filipino family, and that she met Antonio at a youth church group, she feels that Antonio is listening to “the devil’s music” which clashes with their Christian values.

Over time though, Antonio gradually learns to put the volume down when the ladies in his family are speaking to him. Most of the time it’s much to his detriment, but it’s a hard pill of pride to swallow to actually start listening to his family. And even on the flip side, for his family to respect his preferences because Johanna and Miranda spend a huge chunk of the novel judging him for everything he likes.


Reaping What You Sow With Symbols

Along with my favourite aspect of fiction being character, I have recently fallen in love with recognizing symbols and how they can serve as tools to further describe the progress of a story. It greatly reflects how our lives change over time despite some of the routines we engage in from childhood up into our adult lives.

Think about how you celebrate your birthday compared to how you used to when you were a child. Sure, cake and candles are the staple of every birthday celebration, but as you depart from your childhood you outgrow the need for face painting, clowns, and bouncy castles. (Unless you still do face painting, clowns, and bouncy castles well into your 20’s, I won’t judge!)

To celebrate and symbolize your ongoing maturity you begin to add different elements to your birthday parties like alcohol, expensive vacations, or whatever else floats your boat.

Likewise in fiction, you want to use symbols to implant familiarity in your audience and take them on a ride toward growth by letting your symbols sprout.

Are there any symbols that you appreciate in your favourite stories?

Have you used symbols before? Upon reflection, were consciously or unconsciously planted?

With expanded knowledge on symbols, do you plan to employ them in your work? If so, how so? Let me know in the comments below!

(Stay tuned for more on symbols in the future…)

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Putting the “I” in “Interests”

Photo Credit: http://www.tinyme.com

What are your favourite books to read right now? What are your favourite shows to binge? And what have been your favourite movies in recent memory?

Now compare all those things to your favourite stuff from just five years ago.

How does it feel and what do you notice about your interests?

I ask this because today is the day I decided to visit my young adult novel, It Starts: at Home, for the fourth time and fourth year in a row.  And whenever I buckle down to rewrite this book for the first time in each respective draft, I get all sentimental over how I conceived the idea for it.

This is mainly because my world was completely different before I ever got invested in YA literature. Long story short, I was into fantasy and sci-fi before I fell madly in love with the complexities of interpersonal relationships.

Much like my novel’s Philipino protagonist, Johanna Pascual, along with her friends and family–I have also grown into a more muti-dimensional version of myself over the years. This has allowed me to bleed my own personal insights into the characters I’ve created for this drama that tackles the day to day conflicts of being in a dysfunctional family and equally dysfunctional high school environment.

As I said, I was into fantasy which meant magic and epic battles, along with sci-fi and advanced technopoly that all served as but an abstract symbolization of human ability.

I am not here to say that fantastyand science fiction are devoid of interpersonal complexity amongst their respective casts of characters, but over the years I have outgrown them and prefer to experience stories with a more clear cut representation of our reality as it is right now.

Not before, not the future. Just this eternal present we all share in our daily lives.

Obviously art cannot exactly replicate reality, but it can come pretty close while also showing us–as all fiction is meant to do–what we are also possibly capable of if we’re willing to grow as human beings.

The things we’re interested in either grow with us or we out grow them if they no longer serve any significant personal benefits.

For the things that stay with us, our reasoning for our continued interests evolve.

For the new things that enter our lives, they are a representation of how we’re growing.


I Am Vengeance, I Am the Night, I Am Batman!

Now let me stop being abstract and get a bit more concrete here.

Taking a simple example, Batman has been my all time favourite superhero for my whole life. The character and all his reiterations have stayed with me since I was a child, ranging from Adam West’s campy and corny Batman, to Christian Bale’s dark, broody, and realistic Batman.

As a kid I just liked watching The Caped Crusader beat up bad guys. Whether it had the POW! WHAM! and KABLAMO! sound effects or had the slightly more ironically realistic fight choreography of Batman: the Animated Series.

But then I remember watching Batman Returns, directed by Tim Burton starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne, and Danny DeVito as The Penguin. I can’t remember exactly what scene it was that made me feel this way, but I do specifically remember feeling sorry for The Penguin.

Batman Returns’ take on The Penguin was my first experience of ever empathizing over a villain rather than hoping that he would just get beaten to a bloody pulp.

So that stuck with me for years I have come to accept that in the Batman world, especially when done right, the villains are meant to have tragic backstories that reveal these bad guys are just sad guys, expressing their pain and torment in a way that’s more psychologically unhealthy as Batman expresses his. (At least he beats people up for a good cause right?)

This is an example of how my continued interest in Batman evolved in terms of my reasons for liking the character. With so many reiterations to represent different eras of time in my life, there was a Batman for every age!


Dungeons and Daughters

Now throughout my teens I was into Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fantasy, and to some degree Lord of the Rings. I thought it was pretty bad ass for characters to have special races and skillsets based on their character class to make them different from each other.

Excuse me while I geek out too hard. *Pushes invisible glasses up the bridge of his nose*

Futhermore, just like with Batman, I liked how they beat up bad guys all in their own unique abilities, whether they were proficient with swords or magic. But as time went on, and I began reading Dungeons and Dragons novels, all the combat and fantastical voodoo became more of a spice sprinkled into stories about interpersonal relationships between characters with very different personalities from each other.

Soon I found myself intrigued by the ideological differences between knights and thieves, assassins and priests, and so on and so forth. The black and white nature of their characterization made it obvious what they stood for.

Though after an over consumption of fantasy, especially including being part of two Dungeons and Dragons campaigns–one with my friends, and the other with my family–I started to get tired of the genre. I outgrew it and no longer had interest in this idea of an unlikely band of warriors, mages, and hobbits coming together to stop some evil being from stealing all the crystals or whatever sought after magical relic that provided infinite power.

What remained was my interest in how characters relate to each other, and nowadays I can say I do love stripping away the abstraction of magic and technology to cut down to the bone of human relationships. I now prefer contemporary stories with the kind of people you can run into in your daily life who face pretty much the same, relatable issues they you may face in your life.

Existential woes of what to do with your life: finding the right career, the ideal romantic mate, or finding your tribe to name a few.

Interestingly enough, my introduction to contemporary fiction involved strong female lead characters who did not have to have superpowers to be admirable. In fact, they just had to be vulnerable, open, and honest, coupled with the desire to grow themselves personally in order to survive and thrive in their environments.

Where I once loved the story of an assassin turned priest, trying to find peace in a land that only knows blood (Diran from the Blade of the Flame Trilogy by Tim Waggoner)–I became fascinated with the deeply personal story of a middle aged mother of two struggling with early onset alzheimer’s (Ruby from Island Girl by Lynda Simmons).

Both equally incredible characters, both experiencing things I hopefully never have to, but get the privilege of thanks to them taking me on their journey through their respective books.

But when it came to Island Girl, I felt much more invested and centered than I have ever been because it was the first book I read where there was no need for magic or advanced technopoly to wow me. Just plain out, regular human being with her flawed personality and relationships with her daughters, and the incredible human determination to make sense of her life and personal relationships.

Again, I am not bashing on fantasy or sci-fi, but personally for me, I really want to cut away from the abstraction and just relate to everyday people being fictionalized and their psyches explored through realistic drama. It makes it easier this way to explore the concept of interpersonal relationships because I don’t have to spend energy compehending how magic spells work or what the stallactites in a dungeon smell like.

This is how I have outgrown fantasy and moved on to enjoying contemporary works of fiction. I’ve gravitated towards the feels and away from the epic fighting. In fact, there are some pretty epic arguments between contemporary characters that have intrigued me infinitely more than large scale battles involving orcs, mercenaries, and good ol’ medieval weaponry and magic.

I still like it, but I don’t love it like I love arguments between seemingly real human beings whose goals and motivations I can relate to much easier.


Values, Variables, and Virtues…Oh My!

So while I have rambled about my favourite stuff and how I relate to them, I hope you’ve kept in mind the stuff that you value and favour. After all, if you think about why you gravitate towards different types of stories and media, it really does serve as a reflection of what you virtues you value in humanity.

Maybe you like politically charged punk rock.

Maybe you like lovey dovey pop ballads.

Maybe you like both and everything else in between!

Whatever your interests may be, please feel free to share how you put the I…in Interests.

 

Progress is Progress

If there’s a big goal you want to achieve, there is definitely an even bigger picture where it belongs.

It’s easy to be blinded by the bigger picture and feel lost in the tapestry of it all.

One way to break it down into tinier, more managable pieces, is to appreciate the progress you’ve made thus far.

This is something I need to remind myself of quite often because I constantly find myself getting lost in my journey. It has been a year since I quit my last job and decided to go full time with writing. Reminding myself that progress is progress has been the only refuge I’ve had available to me because although I may be poor financially compared to last year, at least nowadays I’m not as spiritually poor as I was when I was stuck building someone else’s dream.

It shouldn’t have come as a shock to me, but surprise surprise, starting your own business is incredibly difficult. And quite often it is hard to see any tangible results of my hard work other than my own self assurance that I try to keep as objective as possible (because let’s face it, I do want to keep my spirits up, but I don’t want to delude myself into thinking I’m succeeding more than I think).

Throwing away the steady and predictable paycheck is the cost entrepeneurs need to pay, and all the security that comes with it is something all of us need to deal with before making our big breaks. Some entrepeneurs are able to take off and create a steady income early on, while most of us, more often than not, need to work harder than we ever have working a 9-5 job in order to simply make a decent buck for ourselves.

Now despite all these challenges, and I am not deterred.

I am proud of what I have done so far.

I am happy with the choices I’ve made.

The choice to focus on finishing the third draft of It Starts at Home, and the much scarier choice of hosting creative writing workshops, have gleaned more spiritual, intellectual, and emotional “income” than I have ever generated working 9-5 jobs. I am not so flippant to dismiss the value of money as I do appreciate making the money I’ve made, since I spent the past 10 years buying books to educate myself at my own pace based on my own individual interests.

All I’m saying is that as good as it felt to made all that money, it feels a lot better to be creating value and giving of myself to the world. Sharing my gift and inspiring others. Whether they were coaching clients who I spoke to one hour a week to give them the space to geek out about their works in progress, or people who have attended to my writing workshops.

Rest assured, I finally feel I’m doing what I was meant to do with my life.

Hosting writing workshops has been a desire of mine for two, three, or even more years now, and to finally have done it feels like a nice big checkmark off the bucket list.

Before every single one, I’m a nervous wreck.

I wonder if people will even care about what I have to say.

I fear if no one’s going to show up.

Early on I had to remind myself to prepare for the best case scenario so I could stop driving myself crazy. The energy I carried with that allowed me to promote my events and present my work with confidence and it sure as hell felt good to have had amazing turn outs with several people coming to some workshops, and equally as good to have only a few people coming to other workshops.

Sometimes it felt too good to be true that this was happening. That people were coming and showing their interest in what I had to say, and it took everything in my power to not self sabotage.

To make a very long story short, the past three months have allowed me to feel incredible success as well as horrible failure. I had many fears about people not caring about what I had to say, tripping over my words, and the worst one of all; no one showing up to my workshops.

All of these things happened; I experienced what it was like to see someone show that they were losing interest in the workshop as the night went on. I tripped over my words, lost my breath, and had to take a moment to recollect myself. And even worse, there was one workshop where I had 0 attendance.

And you know what?

I survived.

Don’t get me wrong, I felt disappointed, maybe a little angry, but not as much as I thought I would when I ran those disaster scenarios in my head beforehand.

The way I see it is that this was my chance to work out the kinks of an ongoing process. Now that I’ve gotten used to the flow of creation, promotion, and presentation, I think I am better equipped next year to bring the Four Pillars of Fiction series back and try to reach a wider audience than I already have this year.

My numbers may not be as big as I first hoped in terms of income, attendance, and clients signing up for sessions, but it’s definitely a lot more than the resounding 0 I would have to face had I not tried.

At the end of the day, I am proud that I at least created my first batch of workshop presentations and don’t have to worry about making anything from scratch in the next go round. I am proud that I reached some people and got some noggins nodding whenever something clicked with them if I made a valid point about writing they hadn’t considered before.

To me that’s worth it.

To me that’s progress.

It may not be much in a conventional sense, but progress is progress.

Now enough about me, how about for yourself? In what ways can you acknowledge yourself and your progress? If your goal is still very far from reach, what accomplishments can you celebrate today to motivate yourself to continue tomorrow?

 

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!

 

 

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?