Fitting in Writing ANGTFT (Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That)

I have a thousand things to do today and writing is just not one of them.  This statement represents well the challenge of people working full time, managing the hustle and bustle of life while also trying to squeeze in writing.  Often times when I share with friends and colleagues that I enjoy writing, the number one question consistently asked is, “When do you have time to write?”


I must admit it is a valid question to ponder.   While working a full time job clocking at least 50 hours a week and attending classes five hours a week on a personal quest to earn a Phd, it is a reasonable question to ask.  I find the answer to be one simple truth.  You frankly make time to do what you want to do.   There is no magic potion for finding time to write.  There is no miracle formula that works universally; it’s simply a commitment that one has to make and stay the course across all obstacles until the desired writing objectives are complete.

When people shift to a healthier lifestyle, their eating and exercise habits must change in order to sustain success.  Writing is no different.  To sustain a healthy pattern of writing, you must watch your writing habits.

My writing has not been a perfect journey, and I haven’t yet hit all of my writing goals.   What I do have is a few habits that I keep coming back to that will refocus me as needed.  No matter how long I step away from writing, these three triggers work to get me back on track.  Identifying your writing triggers is a revelation we all need. Here are my top three:

Writing is therapy for me. My best writing is triggered by moments of pain.  I came to know this through the experience of losing my job as well as the loss of a dear friend.   These moments of pain and loss created my best writing pieces.  This has helped me to take advantage of opportunities to bring my voice forward in the turmoil of dark times.   Writing heals me.  Over time, I have learned to embrace the pain and stop myself to write during those times.  Never let a good crisis go to waste.

With a little help by friends I get by. The best thing that happened to my writing practices was joining a writing group and developing a group of friends that support my writing ups and downs.  I joined a writing group because it was something different and sounded like a cool idea at the time.  My co-worker invited me to the group.  He was the King Blogger of a large corporation and I was always fascinated by his writing style.   This group is the glue that keeps my writing going.  We meet every two weeks and read each other’s’ projects and celebrate successes and rejections.  Peer pressure still works and you just do not want to show up three straight times without something to show and tell.  That pressure will have you rising up early mornings or late nights to get something written down.  We all subscribe to the belief that it doesn’t have to be perfect but it does have to be written down.   Simply attending our sessions give me enough mojo to dust myself off and get back up again.

Be kind to myself when I’m off track. I am my worst critic and when I do not hit a writing goal, I go inward and it creates a downward spiral that lands me in a place of being stuck.  Over the years, I have adopted a lighter attitude about not hitting every single deadline on time.  Writing is something I get to do.   It’s not something I have to do.  And each time, I get to write, I treat it as an honor and a privilege to bring my voice forward. By being kind to myself during my writing lulls, I find that I shift out of the lulls much faster.

Writing is a gift and as the William Faulkner quote says, “if a story is in you, it has got to come out.”  So, I hope this blog inspires you to uncover your writing triggers if you haven’t already and bring your stories out.   I would love to hear your ideas on how you manage to “fit in writing.”  Please post your tips below because we all could use them.  Happy Writing!

I’ve Got Your Back: Buddy Stories and Female Archetypes

by Scott Shields

Buddy stories date back to the beginning of literature, and they are a fantastic vehicle for writers to display their characters’ personalities.  Whether it is Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Frodo and Sam, Butch Cassidy and Sundance, or “The Dude” Lebowski and Walter Sobchak, countless male examples abound in all story genres.  Yet when looking for female versions of the classic buddy story archetype, the list becomes substantially shorter and the characters’ roles are often different than those of their male counterparts.

The first thing to consider is the moniker, “buddy story.”  The term “buddy” typically carries male connotations, yet there is really no other word in English to describe close female friendships in this way.  Women often use words like “girlfriend” or “sister” in this way, but these words are not exclusive to describing friendships, and they can carry very different connotations in other contexts.  In recent years, the abbreviation “BFF” (Best Friends Forever) has come into vogue, and this seems to be used primarily by females.  Still, no one currently talks about experiencing a “BFF story” in print or on film.  So for lack of a better term, I will stick with “buddy story” in describing tales involving two female characters on a fictional journey.

Very often, female buddies appear in comic roles.  Mistresses Ford and Page from Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor set the precedent for female friends who get themselves in and out of trouble together for the sake of a good laugh.  These character types would later appear as Lucy and Ethel in the 1950s and two decades later as Laverne and Shirley.

What is interesting here is the roles these female comics play compared to their male counterparts.  In comic roles, the male buddies usually have two roles:  the straight man and the fool.  The fool is often brunt of the straight man’s jokes or the victim of other characters’ actions.  There is also a hierarchical structure to these relationships;  one of the guys is clearly in charge, whereas the other follows orders.

This dichotomy of roles seldom exists to this extent in female buddy stories.  Instead, the women are either equal in their foolishness or they are the normal “everywoman” characters trying to overcome the foolishness of those around them (more often the idiotic men around them).  Does this suggest that audiences are uncomfortable with the notion of witnessing a woman being victimized in this way or being made to look foolish?  Or is it simply easier or more natural to cheer on female underdogs as they navigate a foolish and oppressive society together as equals (perhaps a more realistic scenario for women, historically speaking)?

Sometimes female comic roles dabble in the dramatic sphere and depict the various life stages of women.  For example, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell portray good friends who navigate the minefields of men and romance together in the comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams explore teenage friendship in the history-spoofing film Dick.  Likewise, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion features two lifelong friends who have supported each other through the travails of adolescence and adulthood.  Cultural differences are bridged in the comedy-drama Bend It Like Beckham, as are the realities of domestic abuse in Fried Green Tomatoes.

Law enforcement, a long-standing platform for male buddy stories, has its feminine counterparts as well.  The television series Cagney and Lacey broke new ground in its portrayal of women detectives, and in the comedy The Heat, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy play a female odd couple waging a battle against crime.  In this female cop version of The Odd Couple, Bullock’s character plays the straight role while McCarthy plays the uncouth fool.

When surveying women’s roles in dramatic films, none conjure the female buddy archetype better than Thelma and Louise.  In a picaresque story reminiscent of Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Jack Kerouac’s On The Road (a story that mirrors many elements of Twain’s novel), two friends are brought closer together as they race west while dodging the law.  While they are on the highway, life is good.  But with every stop along the way, they find themselves getting deeper into trouble until they run out of road and there is nowhere for them to go but down.  Truly, they are BFFs to the end (or at least to the end of their steep downward journey).

The buddy story archetype has long been rich ground for writers, particularly where male characters are concerned.  Nevertheless, the list of female examples is rather sparse, comparatively speaking.  In thinking about the roles that women have in these narratives, it is striking how many films depict the female buddy archetype not so much in pairs—as is most common when the characters are male—but rather as an ensemble of female characters.  Is this because close female friendships do not exist in pairs very often in real life, or are there other factors at play?  Perhaps this will be the topic I explore in my next article.

Paralysis of Analysis

Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smok...“Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.” (Harriet Braiker, American psychologist and writer)

For years I’ve had a recurring dream. I’m on stage in a concert arena drumming for one of my favorite bands. The lights are flashing. The crowd is cheering. And then on cue, we launch into some complicated instrumental break. It’s at this point that I look around and realize that I am not really in this band, and there’s no way I’m talented enough to play the sorts of things I find myself playing. My hands grow heavy, the song falls apart, and the crowd becomes an angry, screaming throng.

I can only guess what Freud would have to say about these dreams, but I’ve always viewed them as a sobering commentary on both my aspirations as well as my limitations as an artist.

In his collection of journals entitled Confessions of a Barbarian, the twenty-five-year-old Edward Abbey ponders the progress he is making on his first novel:

“At times I’m afraid to read what I’ve written, almost superstitiously afraid—and then at other times I do work up enough courage to hastily read snatches chosen at random. The effects are mixed—parts of the book seem hilariously funny, beautifully written, packed and quivering with life. And then I’ll read the same passage again, or another, and it will seem dead as junkyard iron, pretentious and false, weak, thin, spineless, empty and hideous.”

I think all writers who are honest with themselves can relate to these sentiments. We have a vision of what we would like our words to achieve, yet in the process of giving form to this vision, we worry that something has somehow gotten lost. We rework the material—often to the point of draining away its life—because we fear that we’ve missed the mark artistically.

At a certain level, these sorts of self-doubts may be healthy, for they spur us on to perfect our skills. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of talented writers whose work is in a perpetual state of revision, and they never seem to muster the courage necessary to submit their material for publication.

Speaking personally, I realized a long time ago that I may never be as skilled as some of my favorite authors; that level of talent is rare in this world. Yet I still have a voice, and I’d like to think that I have at least a few things to say that others might be interested in reading. Will these pieces be perfect? Probably not, but that’s okay. Like a diamond, it’s often those slight imperfections that provide the most luster.

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 from The University of the Arts (Phl) on Vimeo.

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What Are You Waiting For?

Line art representation of a Quill

Line art representation of a Quill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, it’s a good news/bad news kind of thing.

The bad news:  no one has been posting and our poor little blog looks downright neglected.

The good news:  we haven’t been posting because we’ve been busy with other writing work.

Some of us are even stupefyingly close to that terrifying step.  The p-word.  Publishing.

It’s a saturation point basically.  When you finally finish that first draft, that piece that you know is a bona fide, honest-to-goodness, real writerly work; you’ve hit a milestone.  But it’s only one milestone on a many mile journey.

You have to rewrite it.  Maybe more than once.  You need to give it a line editing pass and get somebody else to line edit it as well.  Then you need to make those changes and maybe just give it another polishing draft.  Eventually, you have to decide if you’re going to stay in the comfy confines of endless reworking, or take the plunge and publish.

I decided to publish.

But here’s the thing, publishing and writing aren’t the same thing.  They’re intertwined, sure, but you quickly realize there are even more miles to go.  And you thought you were so close!

Don’t despair.  Help is out there.

With all the opportunities that epublishing offers, getting your work out there is pretty close to DIY.  You’re taking on a lot of the tasks that a publishing house would handle in the old model, but I think that’s a good thing.  You have way more control of how your final product and brand come out.  Who wouldn’t want that kind of power?  But there’s no question it’s also intimidating.  What to do?

Get help of course.

Jeff Moriarty, the guy that runs this blog, has quite a few different irons in the fire.  One of those irons is ePublish Unum that he started with Evo Terra.  Last summer I attended one of their live seminars that gave sort of a broad overview of how digital publishing works.  It was great stuff, but the real powerhouse is The Quick and The Read.

This is a web-based, six week course for writers to take you from finished work to published author on  Yes that is challenging, but it is also totally doable.  It’s online, so you’re not limited by location, but you still get a live class/lecture once a week (How does that work?  Hey, these guys know their digital stuff).  You learn what to do, why to do it, and most importantly, how to do it.  They give step-by-step breakdowns on formatting, cover design, sales copy, and that all important publish button.

I took the course and can’t recommend it enough.  A lot of this was new territory for me, truly starting from zero.  But, as promised, I went from a final draft that I wasn’t sure what to do with, to a real live eBook.  I’ve been taking some time to set up a digital support system for when the book comes out.  My own blog, a website, that sort of thing.  I’m on track to publish the first week of June.  Watch for West of Dead:  A Nathaniel Caine Adventure on Amazon!  Hey, might as well give myself a plug while I’m at it.

So, take the plunge.  You can publish you’re writing.  Don’t say “just one more draft”.  Don’t say “it’s not long enough”, or “it’s not good enough”.  Above all, don’t say “I don’t know how”.  That’s just not an excuse anymore.

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Storytelling and Literary Fiction

Freytag's Pyramid, which illustrates dramatic ...
Image via Wikipedia

I once heard someone jokingly define literary fiction as: “A type of book where nothing really happens, but you still feel sad at the end anyway.” While this may be something of an exaggeration (albeit a slight one), much of what today’s literati label as “moving” or “evocative” is often devoid of what most readers inwardly hope for when they crack open the pages of a critically-acclaimed novel—a good story. This is not to say that for a book to be engaging it must be exclusively plot-driven. It’s just that many of today’s novelists, in an effort to be taken seriously as writers, focus primarily on developing “style” rather than crafting engaging characters or storylines.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who has noticed this trend in modern fiction. In the introduction to his recent memoir entitled My Reading Life, the novelist Pat Conroy notes:

“The most powerful words in English are ‘Tell me a story,’ words that are intimately related to the complexity of history, the origins of language, the continuity of the species, the taproot of our humanity, our singularity, and art itself. I was born into the century in which novels lost their stories, poems their rhymes, paintings their form, and music its beauty, but that does not mean I had to like that trend or go along with it. I fight against these movements with every book I write.”

While there’s truth in Leo Tolstoy’s assertion that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way (and certainly, Conroy makes ample use of dysfunctional families in his own writing—i.e., Prince of Tides, Lords of Discipline), not every unhappy family is a worthy subject for a novel. Unfortunately, many of today’s writers miss this point, and instead of crafting stories that truly have something insightful to say, they focus too much on trying to sound “original.” But as we all know, originality is no guarantee for success. (Take Finnegan’s Wake or the film Ishtar, for example). Without engaging characters and a solid story to cling to, even the best-wrought phrases are in danger of falling away into the abyss of literary oblivion. And as Conroy states, “The writers who scoff at the idea of primacy of stories either are idiots or cannot write them.”

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