Taking it Day by Day

Have you heard of that cliche that you should take things day by day? It’s cliche for a reason because I often find myself overwhelmed by the bigger picture. I’ve had my worries about the future for most of my life and I don’t know if it will ever truly go away, but one of the things that helps me maintain my sanity is taking things day by day.

I’m at a very exciting, albeit difficult, time in my life. For the past 10 years I have ignored my life’s calling to pursue writing with the bullshit excuse that it’s not very profitable or sustainable as a career, and that it’s “unrealistic” to find any success with it. Always worried about having enough money to survive, I’ve limited my choices on how to earn it, along with my happiness.

So what I’ve done is settle for typical 9-5 jobs working at warehouses and retail stores, and although I got my financial needs met and that anxiety would go away when I can see several digits in my bank account–I’ve always ended up feeling empty when I hit a certain point.

Whether it was a certain amount of money or a level of mastery at the jobs I had, I could never ignore this sinking feeling inside me that I’m missing out on something big. A sinking feeling that has paradoxically woken me up every morning while also pinning me to my bed with dread.

Even when it came to the jobs I loved at first, especially the ones I had most recently, there was a certain point where I would resist going to work because I’ve grown tired of it.

As of this post, it’s been 11 months since I quit my last job managing a friend’s business. I took plenty of time off this year finish the 3rd draft of my novel, play video games, and continuously expand my music library thanks to my discovery of K-Pop. I gave myself the privilege, that not many people allow themselves, of living hedonistically without shame. That is to say, everything I did was meant to please me and only me, as that was my primary goal every single day.

Why?

Because I have spent my life in service to others whether it was through my caregiving jobs or retail. Even more notably was when I managed an escape room hosting 20 people an hour on an almost daily basis, only to come to home to have my sick grandmother to look after when she was still alive.

Needless to say, I lost connection with myself, and when she died, it gave me the proverbial shock of realizing how short life really is. I kept managing the escape room place for a couple months after her death, and I never felt the same. All the high energy and genuine interest in giving my guests the best experience possible started to become fake until I couldn’t fake it anymore.

I lost my patience. I lost enthusiasm. I lost myself.

I had to quit and give myself all this time to reconnect with myself to remember what has been the most important thing in my life all along; writing.

No matter what I’ve been through the past decade, writing has always been there to keep me sane and possibly from giving up on life. Whether it was writing a novel, going to school for creative writing, or even doing BSBS Reviews last year, anything to do with writing has kept me from giving up.

Nowadays I find myself shedding the hedonistic shell I built for myself this year, and once again want to be in the service of others. Only this time, I am sharing my true gift, which is the wealth of wisdom I have acquired from my many years of studying the art of writing.

I am hosting bi-weekly writing workshops at a cafe I love frequenting, and no matter what the turn out is, I am happy to just be doing something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and that’s to teach other writers how to improve their craft. Another cliche they say is if you wanna learn something, teach it because that’s how you can reinforce what you’ve learned while also improving on it within yourself.

I don’t know what the future holds.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get a sold out workshop.

I don’t even know if I’ll ever wow anyone enough at these workshops to inspire them to hire me as their writing coach.

In fact, tonight being my third workshop ever, the feeling of wanting to run away has yet to leave me. I’m scared of failing, but I’m also more scared of succeeding because I’m not used to this. I’m not used to putting my all into something I love and having it be my primary source of income, let alone activity. Writing has always just been a side hobby until now.

One thing I know for sure is that I made a committment to show up. Rain or shine, empty or full attendance, money or no money, I want to get up there and present my knowledge to the world for as long as I need to because I have a yearning burning desire to do so.

I’ve been booked from September to November to host bi-weekly workshops, and as much as I want to run away and cancel all of this, I remind myself to take it one day at a time. To enjoy all those days and hours I spend perfecting my presentations, writing and rewriting what points I want to deliver. To enjoy all those days and hours I spend stressing over whether or not enough people will come.

 

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Your Write to Live

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Everybody’s got a story to tell. Whether you’re recounting your real life experiences or engaging your imagination as you day dream about fictional characters, we all connect through stories. Storytelling has been around long before the written word and has been a vehicle to illustrate life lessons.

Back in the Hunter Gatherer days, a hunter may have recounted his run in with a deadly boar and lost a limb, so he would gather everyone around the camp fire and tell his story to make a point: “don’t mess with the boar or you get the horns. Now let’s make long pointy things to stab them with so we don’t have to fight bare handed.”

Yes, that’s a true story. To some degree.

Now I’m pretty sure they didn’t talk like that back in the day, but the lesson and experience is universal: mistakes were made and a committment to improvement was made to mitigate any future problems. That’s all stories really do in the end. They reveal human folly, illustrating just how flawed and fallible we are, but also celebrate our capacity to correct course.

Think of your favourite stories. What do they all have in common?

Whether you’re aware of it or not, they all feature a variety of fuck ups made by the main characters, and you got worried about them. You wanted them to achieve their goals, but something got in the way. You related to how they felt when they didn’t get what they want, thus invoking a sense of panic in you to the point where you couldn’t help but turn the page or watch the next episode to find out if they could escape a dreadful situation and come out on top.

Now think even deeper, further beyond the surface situation your favourite characters were confronted with. Think about what their goal was and what it meant to them, what it meant to those around them in their immediate world, and to the entire world at large. Was there a higher purpose to strive for? A moral principle to be uncovered? Some hidden nugget of human knowledge, new or old, that would benefit the growth humanity?


If that sounds too abstract let me give a few brief examples of how there’s so much more beneath the surface when it comes to popular stories:

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is fundamentally about grieving the death of a child, as the story goes, but also serves as an allegory for Alice’s survival as a rape victim herself. She may have survived physically, but mentally, a part of herself died and was reborn into Susie Salmon, the novel’s main character.

Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs is fundamentally about human adaptability. How we are much weaker we are compared to other species, but it’s our wit and human invention that allows us to conquer even the most dangerous of beasts and environments.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is fundamentally about self-ownership and personal choice when it comes to suicide. It may have the basic components of a romance novel; boy meets girl, boy can’t stand girl, but will later need girl. But at it’s core, it’s about the difficulties of living with a disability and the moral complications of suicide.


Now before I go on a long winded bender pointing out the deeper meanings of stories and shamelessly advertising my old BSBS Reviews (for those of you who clicked the links per title), here’s the bottom line:

Storytelling is fundamental to the human experience.

The human experience is fundamental to storytelling.

Writing and telling stories is how we validate our experiences in stylized fashion, emphasizing certain details to illustrate a point and engage each other. Stories invoke empathy, inspire action, and challenge our preconceptions of the world.

Consuming a story is basically putting yourself in a state of voluntary vulnerability in order to experience somebody else’s point of view and learn from their trials and tribulations so you can further improve the use of your own thoughts, words, and actions.

And then on the flipside you can tell your story to provide that experience for others.

It’s Our Write to Live.

My Write to Live

blood on paperWhen I was a teenager I had suicidal thoughts, and on some unfortunate occasions, suicdal tendencies. I was bullied by the other kids and wanted to turn to the school staff for help, but most of the teachers I had were authoritatian tyrants or simply uncaring of my well-being. A vice principal I once had talked at me with throwaway advice without taking any time to understand how I truly felt. That same vice principal would later in the year fail to prevent a fist fight I got into, even though I had provided him a ton of evidence it was going to happen. Needless to say, I didn’t have the school staff’s trust because whenever I would defend myself from bullies, I would be the one who would get in trouble and shamed for my behaviour, for my emotions. With nowhere to go and no one to turn to, not even my own family, I felt completely and utterly alone.

Or so I thought.

One of the few things I would find solace in was the music of Korn,along with other angsty nu-metal bands, but Korn was my all time favourite since I was a kid. I related to the raw frustration Jonathan Davis’ lyrics were written with and they inspired me to write some of my own in the same vain. Whether the lyrics were about the bullies I wanted to take down, the girls who rejected me, or the general feeling of emptiness by the end of the school day, I wrote lyrics to release these feelings somewhere safe where I wouldn’t get in trouble or be shamed for my behaviour, or my emotions.

Fast forward to my adult years, there was a time where my life was falling apart far worse than I had experienced in my teen years. To name very few issues I had out of a myriad of others, I was getting into intense fights with my family, had to leave a writing critique group due to fundamental philosophical differences, and worst of all found out that an ex-girlfriend of mine had committed suicide.

It was August 2014, I was unemployed and directionless. I had very little money left from a caregiving job I was severely underpaid for and felt empty. Now having grown up and survived my adolesence, I no longer contemplated suicide, especially considering the tragedy of my ex-girlfriend. I no longer cut myself and no longer imagined myself beating my chest until my heart gave out, but I still felt like my life was meaningless and that I didn’t have much reason to live.

Not until I journaled about everything that has been going on for me at the time. Not until I remembered that I had a half finished 2nd draft of a novel just sitting on my computer left untouched for many months. That novel of course was It Starts at Home, the very same anti-child-abuse themed novel that I had fundamental philosophical differences about with my writing group, likewise with my family, both of which, of course, are stories for another time.

For many months after leaving my writing group, I felt discouraged from ever writing again. But when I got back into it and got on my way to completing the second half of the 2nd draft, those feelings of inadequacy and meaninglessness disappeared. Those feelings of regret over my existence were all gone as well, for I rediscovered the joy and meaning I found in writing this story. Sure I picked myself up, applied for work, and got two jobs I put a ton of passion into, but they could never compare to my true calling. My true calling that I drowned out with the noisy distraction called “work.”

Of course! The answer to the question “what am I gonna do with my life?” has been right in front of me all this time, right under my nose, hiding in plain sight: I need to write.

And I stress the word need because writing is a necessity to my life just as much as blood is. To me there is no difference between the blood that drips through my veins, and the ink I bleed on to the page.

I was born a writer. Even when I was as little as seven years old I would skip school to write stories and draw comic books. I’m in love with stories. Whether they’re acted out in a TV show or film, printed in a book or set of lyrics, stories are what makes my life worth living. Not to mention the stories of our lives as I also find a great interest in the real life stories of those around me. All of our lives on this planet are a bunch of stories complete with their own twists and turns, character development arcs, and crossover narratives.

Stories, in any form, help me feel like I’m not alone. To know that others feel the same way I do about life and the human condition, that makes my habitual confusion and anxiety managable. From the lyrics and books I’ve read, movies and TV shows I’ve watched, all my favourite stories have resonated with me on an emotional level. They put the storm in my head into words and action, sequenced in honely crafted narrative that express the growth of character and the universal human desire to overcome life’s many obstacles.

As a writer, this is what I want to achieve. I want to strike a chord in those who read my lyrics, comfort those who will read my books, and let them know that all these confusing and conflicting emotions are all part of simply being human, and although there is no cure to them, they can be managed and understood.

As a writing coach, this is what I want to inspire in other writers. I want to help other writers, as I’ve painstakingly helped myself, to realize the power they have in putting their innermost vulnerable thoughts into the written word. The power to make readers, like myself, feel a lot less alone when life gets them down and when meaning seems all but lost.

The written word is My Write to Live.

It’s Your Write to Live.

 

Blooper Reels and Humility

woopsI don’t know about you, but I personally love watching blooper reels from TV shows and movies. It’s nice to see the imperfections in performances before the piece gets polished up into consumable perfection. But while it is enjoyable to watch highly skilled and highly paid actors mess up their lines, break character, and fumble over their words, it is often hard to look at our own mistakes with the same amusement.

Why is that? I think I’m starting figure out what it is about blooper reels that make them so appealing, and before I shed my thoughts on that that, allow me to share the process that sparked my revelation.

Today, I am trying to edit my BSBS Review for The Girl on the Train and the whole recording process took about an hour and a half to do last night. This includes me gaining momentum in delivering my point, only to lose steam, delete the recording, and start all over again. The more I record, the more I have to edit, and I often fear that process.

It’s the same almost every time; I feel like I need to get it right the first time or I shouldn’t keep the recording. Then I eventually  tell myself that this is what I have editing software for! To cut through the awkward pauses between my points and compress them together in a deliverable format. Even then, it’s a battle between getting it perfect and getting it done.

When it comes time to editing, that’s where the real fun begins. That’s where I can create the illusion that I am a coherent speaker who can stay on point and deliver my message clearly and concisely–when in reality, everything that happened in between some of the cuts is anything but concise, clear, or coherent.

The more mistakes there are, the more shame I feel about it. I have all these thoughts and opinions about a story locked up in my head, all begging to be expressed or it’s going to bug me for not being able to share it. Having difficulty in conveying my thoughts adds to the pressure of wondering if it’s even worth doing these reviews considering that my videos have had hit or miss engagement in terms of viewership, comments, and likes.

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Did I Really Just Say That?!

After an hour or two of editing the initial recording and cringing at my mistakes, I eventually start laughing at myself for not only the bloopers, but also laughing at how stressed out I get from them. I know it’s horrible, but I often compare my moments of impeded speech to the way that Jimmy Valmer kid from South Park stutters when he speaks. Sometimes to the point of taking a whole minute to say a simple five word sentence. And Jimmy has it worse!

When I’m finally done experiencing all this creative mania, I relax and decide to just get the job done.

It’s not about the viewership, the likes, or even the comments–though of course, these are things I would greatly appreciate. It’s more about me having fun with reading these books and giving myself the treat of watching it all play out on the big screen. Not to mention  the chance to goof off on camera and deliver my thoughts in a place that doesn’t remain stuck in my head are huge pluses.

Sometimes…

  • The first recording gets edited to completion and uploaded anyway. I realize it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.
  • The first recording gets edited to completion, but it still sucks despite my attempts at polishing it up. I see it as a rough draft/rehearsal to show me where I can improve in the re-recording.
  • Right away, I see how horrible it’s going to be. At least I don’t have to fear messing up THAT badly again, and I can jump back into the studio with much more confidence! I know I can do better, so I’ll do better.

Cut! Action! Print!

movie-production-clapper-board_249x201I’ve been doing BSBS Reviews for 9 months now and this is how it’s been for me. Today, I resolve to accept it as all part of the process. As much as I would like to get it all right the first time, it is incredibly rare for me to record a 15 minute video with not much editing required vs the usual 30-60+ messy minute mania.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to deliver my point without any editing and master this lip flapping, tongue slapping, noise making device installed in my face. Until then, I’ll keep practising and polishing up my craft.  I will accept that this may be my process for now or forever.

This is what made me realize why blooper reels are so fun to watch. There’s humility in showcasing some of the mistakes actors have made before post-production. It’s to show that they’re human too and just trying to find their way through the scene.

After all the missed cue lines and involuntary laughter, they eventually get it done. And more importantly, even though there is work to be done, the production can still have fun in the process. It’s nice to hear laughter erupting in the background from the people who are off screen, along with the ones on screen, because that signals to us that it’s okay to make mistakes and try again.

We just have to keep working at it until we get it right. If we care enough about what we want to create in our lives, we push through all the difficulty and learn from our mistakes. After all, every expert out there was once an awkward novice. No one is born skilled. Talented maybe, but I agree with Will Smith when he says talents are useless until you practise to turn them into skills.

The final product may be close to perfect, but the process doesn’t have to be. Creation is usually a messy experience, but that’s where the fun is at!

The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 2: Characters

Your story’s objective is only as powerful as the characters that convey it.

Each member of the cast must represent opposing sides of the main argument, thus providing several different angles to perceive your story’s philosophy.

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I’ve already written a couple of other posts about characters, both of which you can check out here for more:

Crafting a Character Series

Goal, Motivation, and Conflict

–but for today, let’s focus on why characters  should be as extensively explored as I have in previous posts.

Me, Myself, and Who Am I?

Fundamentally, every story’s main character is on a quest to achieve self-knowledge. This goes for both putty characters and pebble characters. Think of throwing a pebble at a wall, the physical structure of the pebble remains the same, whereas throwing a blob of putty will cause it to reform.

That’s what characters experience; being thrown against a wall, so to speak, and they either change or don’t change throughout the course of your story. Either way, their purpose remains the same; to argue for one or several sides of the objective.

I know that there’s a plethora of stories where morality is ambiguous (and that they’re usually much more interesting), but for the sake of simplicity, let’s take the basic concept of Good vs Evil to illustrate how characters argue for each side. And by argue, that could mean verbal or physical combat, or in just the way that they conduct themselves.

Generic Good Guy is a law abiding citizen, doing some good for his friends, family, and community. Everything he does in the story is for the benefit of others or for himself without hurting anybody except possibly…

The Typical Bad Guy whose sole purpose is to watch the world burn. He causes destruction everywhere he goes, expressing his preference to be evil and not care about hurting others because it’s what he intends anyway. Generic Good Guy may hurt other people unintentionally, but he usually owns up to it, while Typical Bad Guy has no remorse for the pain he causes.

In this basic story dynamic of Good vs Evil, the argument is (usually) that good triumphs over evil, all the time.

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Who Would You Be Without Adversity?

To convey this, Typical Bad Guy will have to test Generic Good Guy on the grounds of his ethics, philosophy, strength, and integrity by throwing obstacles in his way. Perhaps Generic Good Guy’s objective is to a safe and adjusted life, but TBG is getting in the way of that by hurting GGG’s social circle and disrupting his day to day life.

It is through adversity where Generic Good Guy will discover or grow into a force for good. If he’s a putty character, maybe he’s a weak underdog type who has to train in order to defeat the almight Typical Bad Guy. Or perhaps he’s a pebble character that has strength and prowess, but hasn’t had the chance to exercise any of it because he hasn’t been challenged yet.

In either case, the end result is the same. The character has developed some level of self-knowledge by fighting for what he believed in, whether he won or lost against his opposition. He now knows what strength he’s capable of, or made himself capable of it through hard work and determination.

Pouring Some Sugar in Generic Brand Oatmeal

Now, that was a very very basic example I had to keep simple in order to elaborate on a more complex concept. Stories these days have many more layers in their examination of the objective, and even more layers in their characterization.

Ultimately, characters are meant to represent several sides of an objective, and they do that by trying to express their personal preferences, only to have them attacked or dismissed by the other characters.

The key ingredient to conveying Objective is having characters disagree with each other and fight over who gets to assert their preference, or if any common ground can be met between them in less black and white type of stories.It is through disagreements between characters that we are given the opportunity to passively experience different sides of an argument–and decide for ourselves which characters we agree with, if any at all.

Stay tuned for The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 3: Setting…