Weekly Musing: The Care and Comfort of Your Writer

Writers and many other creative types have a reputation for being a little, well, out there. It’s what makes us able to create our art. But sometimes we get a little too wrapped up in our world. It’s not unusual to put off social interactions, ignore health issues or routine check-ups, fail to clean our house, forget to walk the dogs, or even acknowledge family. Us creative types are probably the worse at self-care. Self-care is the idea that each and every day we take care of our emotional, physical, and mental well-being. It’s something everyone can and should practice.

With creative types, though, self-care is difficult. Our brains are constantly working either subconsciously or consciously. Inspiration can strike at any time and must be captured at that moment or it flies away. We can become so completely absorbed in our project we forget to eat or eat more than normal, drink too much caffeine or alcohol, forget what time it is or even the day, etc. Essentially we forget about life outside of our work.

Since we are so terrible at self-care, it can be up to our family and friends to remind us to get out there and live. So how does a family or friend support the writer? A lot depends on the writer’s personality. We are humans after all and vary.

What are the types of situations a friend or family member should pay extra attention and what are some ways of helping the writer in your life?

Acceptance or Rejection: Obviously when your writer gets a work accepted and published, celebrate with them! You know how much work has gone into the piece so feel free to share in their success. Even if the writer doesn’t realize it, your support in whatever form is what kept them going.

When it comes to rejection, let the writer feel whatever he or she is feeling. Some will cry. Some will rage (a lot of that depends upon how the rejection was worded and from whom). Some will shrug it off. Some will eat their way through their feelings. Whatever their reaction is, be there for them. Give them a hug, a word of encouragement, remind them someone, somewhere will accept their work, and ask them what they need from you at that moment.

Writer’s Block: This one is admittedly a little bit difficult to for family and friends to pick up on. Hopefully your writer will admit they are stuck and discuss their frustrations. More than likely our brain just needs to recharge and doing something else. Even simply resting is more beneficial and productive than staring at the wall or computer screen in agony. If your writer admits to writer’s block, suggest they take a break from the piece and work on something else. Yes, the break may cause a bump in their timeline to finish, but honestly if your writer is struggling their project is already delayed. Or take them outside the house. Suggest a walk or some other activity which physically gets them away from the keyboard.

If your writer doesn’t talk about it, be on the lookout for increased crankiness, seems distracted, seems more quiet, or anything else that is out of the norm. Ask them how their project is going and offer up words of encouragement. Ask what you can do to help them. Don’t be afraid to suggest taking a well-deserved break. Another suggestion is to encourage them to discuss what’s got them tripped up with other writers.

When I get stuck I prefer to take a break and do something else. Once I get over the guilt of stepping away, the rest leaves me more alert when I come back to a piece. I also do a lot of venting to my spouse.

Working Too Much: Over and over writers are told to establish a routine and stick with it. We are told to write every day, ass in chair. We see posts or tweets by our fellow writers about how much they’ve written in a day. It’s easy for us to over work ourselves regardless if we have a deadline or not. Like anyone else who works too much, this leads to a lot of stress. If you aren’t seeing your writer very often or when you do they are acting different, they could be suffering from working too much.

Depending on the writer’s situation, the level of support you provide will vary. If they are facing a deadline, you may have to pick up extra responsibilities. Only do these if you can because you can’t completely sacrifice your own life for someone else.

Even if there isn’t a deadline, see if there are little things you can do to lessen their stress. Bring them a meal. Surprise them with their favorite thing. Drag them away from the computer for a few hours to spend time together. Remind them fatigue isn’t good for creativity or productivity. Encourage them to sleep. Tell them social interaction once in a while will not torpedo their project. Finally, talk about their schedule.

Personally I discovered when I wrote every day it made me incredibly tired physically and mentally. I also was more irritable and even resentful. When I switched to working five days a week, I started feeling much calmer. I come back to whatever story I’m working on more excited and energetic. Plus it allows me to have a life.

 

What it all boils down to is if you have a writer friend or family member let them know you are there for them. Remind them it is okay to talk to you even if you don’t understand some of their frustrations. Be patient, lend an ear, and remind your writer they are human.

Weekly Musing: How Much Research is Too Much Research?

For the past few months I have been deep in once again revising a historical fiction novel I’ve been working on and off for years. While I put in months researching before even drafting a single word, with every subsequent draft I’ve found myself continuing to conduct research. At first the research was to ground myself in the history of the events, the people involved, and give myself a general idea of the culture of the time period.

One of the challenges for me with research has been to figure out how to restrain myself from putting in every detail I come across I find interesting. For example, when buttons were introduced in late Middle Ages Europe they caused a minor scandal as clothing was now easier to put on and take off. Another challenge is how much my own pre-conceived notions change from learning the facts. I go into my writing wanting to correct all the relatively little falsehoods I’ve read and seen in movies. But then I realize in order to move the scene along it may very well just be easier to cut corners. I’m sure there is a way of doing it both correctly and in narratively smooth way.

But the biggest challenge is when to know to back off on over research. Getting tripped up over mundane details which no one will care about yet I’ve somehow convinced myself someone out will be paying attention. For example, I got wrapped up in trying to figure out what was the specific breakdown of the late 14th century currency in England for one scene where one character pays a fee to get his brother out of jail. Luckily I stopped myself from taking it further and trying to find a schedule of fees for such a thing because I’m sure it exists in a library collection. This type of research is a waste of time.

I should be focusing my time on are the different types of castles which factor massively into the story as well as armor and weaponry and battle formations. Things such as landscape and other setting details like food, clothing, building materials are important but not as much. These are the types of details a savvy reader are apt to call an author out on for bungling up not if I said 10 pennies made up 1 shilling in 1403 England. Most importantly the research I should be paying attention to are the things which the characters would care about.

What I must constantly tell myself is a phrase I saw a few years ago: “Don’t overdo the research, don’t overthink the research.” See my brain, which is still so used writing research papers, wants to write in a style of throwing in facts. It wars with the artistic side which constantly reminds me what I now work on is fiction written within the confines of history or whatever reality the story is based on. The fiction is what ultimately should win out. Until I somehow get that through my head, the research struggle shall continue and I shall continue to clog my brain up with curiously wonderful facts that maybe I’ll be use to scream out while playing Jeopardy at home.

Weekly Musing: Diversify Your Portfolio

Diversity in reading and writing has always been an issue. In recent years it has rightly gained more traction and become the source of debate and discussion within the publishing community and amongst readers. Readers want books from different voices not only in the characters on the pages, but those who write. The publishing world is listening and working to give readers what they want. This is fantastic and is something which is very overdue.

As I’ve mentioned a few times I am a firm believer in expanding one’s reading. This can be accomplished not only by exploring other genres, but by also trying new authors. But when I take a look at my library I notice a trend. The authors on the self are overwhelming white. The protagonists and antagonists within the pages are white. To get even more finite, the characters are straight, not disabled, and if they are religious, fall more in line with the Christian faith. You get the idea. Take a look at your own library and you’ll more than likely find a similar trend or if not necessarily white, you’ll find you fall into some kind of pattern.

This isn’t based on any inherent bias I have nor do I think there is any inherent bias the publishing industry has. At least I hope the publishing industry doesn’t have one. A lot of it is based upon what is available and what sells. I do, though, shoulder the responsibility for what I choose to read and realize I need to do a better job of diversifying my library. This is something I have slowly started to work on. One great resource has been my book club. The leader of it picks books set in different parts of the world as well as choosing non-white, non-Western authors. Another resource has been going to book festivals and conferences. This allows me to meet and speak with authors about their work. And finally, yes, looking at that photo but only if the story sounds fascinating.

But one area when it comes to encouraging diversity in literature is in how books are marketed. Marketing is tricky no matter what, but factoring in such selling points as race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender, it makes things even messier, in my opinion. While it makes sense to market books based upon genre, why is it okay to market using labels based upon race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion of the characters or the author? I understand these are underserved markets but whereas a label like Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, or Western is based upon the story, labeling a section based upon race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion seems bizarre.

As a reader I find this troubling. To me it doesn’t actually help with diversity in fiction, it hampers it. Does it help the average reader discover new and more diverse voices? I don’t think it does and instead this type of labeling reduces an author’s audience into a niche. This has the potential to hamstring an author’s ability to attract new readers. A diverse audience of readers which is what I think all authors desire. We want our stories to connect with people of all backgrounds because we hope something in that story, be it the plot or the character, will resonate.

One of the most beautiful things about literature is the ability for a story to transcend race, religion, culture, time, age, gender, sexual orientation, and genre. A well-told story connects with readers regardless of barriers. It’s why someone who never reads fantasy may fall in love with Harry Potter. Or someone who never reads westerns may love Lonesome Dove. Or why someone who is white can feel the pain and strength expressed in Maya Angelou’s poetry. Literature can teach us about people’s lives and make us better people by forcing us to see the world through another’s eyes. That metaphorical walk in another person’s shoes.

As a writer I am working to better incorporate diversity in my characters. I admit it is a struggle since the characters who come to me are white, straight, and not disabled. Unfortunately any characters who don’t fall into these categories tend to be supporting players. My biggest quandary is do I try to force changes which don’t fit a character purely for the sake of diversity? My hopes this will change as my own reading habits evolve as I am frequently inspired by what I read. Again, it’s the power of literature to show me something outside myself and I am hopeful it will come through in my writing. Everyone’s voice deserves to be heard.