Weekly Musing: Dear Former Me

Sometime in the past

Dear Soon-To-Be-DH Hanni,

Why is this letter addressed to someone named DH Hanni? That most certainly is not your name. Soon, though, it will be a pseudonym you come up with to publish under. Publish you say? Publish what? What’s one of the few things you’ve always felt came naturally to you?

I hope the answer was writing. Remember how easy the words usually came when you wrote all those papers and essays? Pity you never got assigned creative writing. Perhaps you would have discovered earlier your writing skills extend beyond the purely academic. Sure, you’ve messed around here and there starting a story or written down ideas. My point is, in a short amount of time, in about a couple of years, you’ll pick out the name DH Hanni to write under. Spoiler: You’ll even get published under it!

Future me apparently harbors some delusion we can time travel. We can’t; it’s still not a thing. Never mind the details. If time travel were possible, here’s what I would have told myself years ago.

  • Go ahead and write. Write it all down. Some stuff will be good, some will be damn good, some stuff will be meh, and some of it should be set on fire. Just write.
  • Hold onto the joy you feel when you write.
  • Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid of any idea, of any character, any genre, or any emotion that scares us in real life. Don’t be afraid to express anything. Even if someone or a group of people don’t like it, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you.
  • Because of your personality, you’ll start researching everything you can about writing including the publishing industry. Don’t do this! There’s such a thing as too much information. Just focus on writing. The more information you learn, the more it will stick in your mind and follow each word you write. You’ll begin to overanalyze every idea and dismiss many before you even write.
  • If you read this is 2010 that idea you’ve got right now? You’ll work on it on and off for years, investing hundred of hours in research, writing, re-writing, re-re-writing, before concluding the project has run its course. It’ll be a “file this in the bottom drawer” type of book. Don’t beat yourself up over it.
  • You’ll continue to be an outliner, but it’ll be different from how you did it in school. No strict way to do it, thank goodness. You’ll also discover whatever you’ve outlined will pretty much be thrown out the window. You can be quite changeable. It’s super frustrating.
  • Be careful about who you listen to and what advice they give. Especially when you gather the courage to allow others to read your work and give you feedback. A lot of what you hear will honestly make little sense. A lot of people, including yourself for a while, will regurgitate advice from famous and not-so-famous authors who are themselves regurgitating advice they were given. I’m not saying completely disregard everything, quite a bit is valid, but really question it. Not all of it applies to everyone.
  • It’s okay to have your own approach to writing. This ties in some with #6 as over and over you’ll hear that a “real” writer writes every day and writes no matter what. Don’t buy into this. Damn real life, you bitch. Find whatever works best. Each writer has their own process and that’s okay. In fact, don’t read anything about the best process; it doesn’t exist.
  • Don’t worry about learning anything about the publishing until you’ve got something you believe strongly in. The sooner you learn about the industry, the more discouraged you’ll feel. Just concentrate on the writing itself.
  • Don’t spend any time brushing up on it. Go ahead and get a couple of grammar books to look up things. There are people who can help as well. You’ve always been solid in this area, though there are rules we’ve forgotten, you don’t have to spend time trying to learn it all over again.
  • You’re a better writer than you think you are. You’ve got solid fundamentals. It’s your mind more than anything which interferes with your creativity. Cut out the noise before it even begins.

There’s definitely more, but I want you to know that you’ll finally conclude writing is something you’ve always wanted to do and explore. It’s such a great fit. Pity we didn’t think about it sooner. For you, future self, writing is how you express yourself best. You’ve always known this. Now is the time to go for it. It’ll be a long, unpredictable road (and you hate unpredictability, I know), often with nothing concrete to show for it. Just stay focused on the writing and don’t beat yourself up so much as you are prone to do.

Be kind to yourself.

Love,

Present Me

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Weekly Musing: What I Like About You

Readers have favorite types of characters. They could be characters opposite our own personalities allowing us to live vicariously through them. They could be like ourselves, but do and say things we wish we could do and go on adventures we dream of. Favorite types of characters can be found in genre fiction as each genre has tropes readers expect. Other times favorite authors have their own character tropes readers love.

As a reader, I gravitate toward strong female characters. They don’t have to be physically strong; I’d prefer if they weren’t because I don’t lift, bro. Rather females who are smart, resourceful, and flawed. Humor is also a plus, but it depends upon the appropriateness of the story. I also prefer them to not fit into societal expectations, who stand out, and either are equal to men or fight to be an equal.

In some ways, my favorite female characters are like me; usually the intelligence, humor, and being deeply flawed. Overall, though, they differ greatly from me. They are bold and brave where I feel weak. Adventurous whereas I’m a homebody. Speak up where I’m too scared. Or if they are a villain, they tap into my dark side.

There is also a certain type of male character I enjoy. Like the women, I prefer the men to be smart, funny (without being childish), flawed, but also kind without being boring. Likewise, it’s great when they buck expectations, be it society’s or the reader’s. I appreciate it when a male isn’t just a warrior or a brute and I certainly don’t understand the “bad boy” trope. A level of vulnerability is great as well though I don’t see that as often as I’d like to.

Having favorite types of characters is true for authors as well. As a writer, I try to write characters I myself enjoy. Sometimes upon first glance they fit a standard trope, but through the story I try to reveal they don’t fit. Other times from the start I make it clear this person isn’t like everyone else and this difference is one of the struggles they will deal with.

For some reason, I frequently feel more comfortable writing male characters. Perhaps it’s because I like it when men are portrayed differently and want readers, especially female readers, to see men in a different light.

I struggle writing females. Since I’ve always felt as if I don’t fit in with my own gender, I worry my women won’t connect with female readers. It’s a contradictory philosophy, especially when compared to my philosophy of writing male characters. But a lifetime of blank stares and mouths agape expressing views and opinions counter to what many females feel and think has had an impact on my writing. That being said, I am working on when I do write women, to keep in mind there are plenty of examples of “different” women who connect with readers.

While we all have our favorite character tropes, it’s import for both readers and writers to explore outside your comfort zone. Within those characters something special can be discovered. You can also safely tap into other parts of yourself you are afraid of. Similarly, it’s a great way to delve into diversity on multiple levels.

Weekly Musing: Something New

You never know when or where inspiration will strike. Sometimes it comes from an observation, a news story, from a book currently being read. Sometimes there’s no explanation for it. We can either follow this and fall into a rabbit hole of creation or we can ignore it.

Not looking for a new novel idea, I have plenty, I was nevertheless inspired by a recent post on the Dirty, Sexy History blog. Despite the name of the blog, not all of it’s posts are dirty or sexy. Their focus is to bring up unique tidbits of history normally never mentioned in books. The post which has inspired a novel I have started working on is about a period in Victorian England where floriography, or the “language” of flowers, was quite popular working alongside Dating to ancient Greek and Roman times, flowers and plants have stood as symbols of love, friendship, dislike, and a rainbow of emotions.

Intrigued, it got me thinking and soon inspiration for a novel came about. I’ll not go into too many details because I don’t like discussing whatever I’m working on. In my opinion, whatever I’m working on could be for myself, could be for a themed anthology, or it could be a novel I may or may not want to pursue getting published. What I will say about my new project is I’m exploring the idea of communicating emotion through flowers. In doing research it became apparent people would create arrangements expressing complex emotions. It’s a very Victorian thing to do. In an age defined by repression of emotion, floriography was a way to creatively let your thoughts and feelings out.

I began thinking about how could I use this to create a story? Unlike so many of my other stories, this is a project where the characters are of my own construction. Beyond a vague concept of the main character, I’m allowing the research to drive the development as well as the setting and plot.

Since this isn’t my first foray into historical fiction, I’m using lessons learned on previous projects. For example, there is such a thing as too much research and it’s easy to get sucked into a research black hole. When I start worrying about nitpicky details then I need to back off. I also set myself a time limit on research. After a month, whatever I had is what I was going to use to develop the characters and the story.

Or so I thought. Admittedly there are knowledge gaps and research, particularly in historical fiction, is never truly done. However, instead of stopping in the middle of writing to go back to research, I’m using the weekends, a time I normally do not write, to work on it. My hope is this will prevent me from overthinking and only stick to relevant information. I’m also hoping it will keep me focused on this being a piece of fiction and not a research paper.

Something different for me is I started writing without a finished outline. I’m a writer who is a hybrid; not a pantser, but I do struggle to have a complete plan before writing. Even with a full outline it changes enormously as the characters and new ideas take over. But for my sanity on the weekends I’m working to flesh out and rework the road map.

I’m excited for this project and hope it will be different from anything I’ve written before. The uniqueness of the subject matter as well as a unique main character is energizing me. I don’t know how long this rough draft will take and I’m not setting a concrete deadline.  So, while I’m nervous, this new approach I’m hoping will work for me.