Picking Up the Thread of the Story

It’s hard to jump back into a WIP cold-turkey. Even if it’s only been a day, the expectation of the blinking cursor just staring at you to pick up where you left off is intimidating. It’s like diving straight into the ocean without a chance to get used to the cold. While sometimes you’ve just got to swim for it, occasionally it’s more productive to ease yourself in.

I have different tricks to break myself into starting to write again for different projects. For the Book of the Dead (my current project), I either listen to part of my playlist for the book, flip through my notebook that contains all of my research, or re-read the last chapter or so to entrench myself back into the narrative. Three visual or auditory triggers that push my brain back into the mode. But other projects have different cues that I use. For one project that I’m titling World Tree for now, almost every time I begin research/writing, I draw out the diagram of the universe I’m working with, actively placing myself into the world I’m about to write about.

It can be as simple as stacking the right books and pens beside the computer or a stricter progression of events done in the right order. Anything to jolt my mind and fingers back into the right story mode. Especially the right story, instead of the one I really want to work on. Anyone else have similar tactics?

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Pictured above: Multitudinous story threads. Make sure you pick the one you’re supposed to. No, not that one.

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Family Trees: Get to the Root of Your Characters

I’m in my dream class on mythology right now, and our professor had us make a family tree for the Mesopotamian creation story. The tree is a vertical line of boxes for several generations, not exactly what you’d call healthy by our standards. But there’s only so much you can do when you start with one or two creator deities emerging from primordial chaos. It was interesting to hear the reactions of everyone who’d never exactly been exposed to the type of godly incest that occurs in most creation myths.

I can’t say I’ve written any families as strange as the Mesopotamian gods, but I certainly have written families. It’s kind of a requirement, really–a character must come from somewhere. When I plan out a character’s family, I can’t usually get very far without drawing some sort of visual aid. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter who your protag’s great-great-great grandmother was, but in the Book of the Dead (my current project), it does, because that character is in the book. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to . tick the generations of grandmothers off on my fingers.

Family Echo is a cool online family tree maker that can probably help some people out with that, if you want to see everything very neat and orderly. It’s very customizable, and has an option for a nonbinary gender as well as adding character details/info. So go crazy! I might make some mythological trees on it, now that I think about it. I’ll post the chaos on my tumblr blog if I do.

Excursion at the Rock ‘N Roll Emporium (and Used Book Store)

We have a very cool shop in Boone, NC called the Rock ‘N Roll Emporium. It hosts, among other things, an impressive collection of used books. Most are absurdly hilarious old sci-fi, high fantasy, and romance novels–and of course about seven shelves full of Start Trek novels. There are two main ways to have fun in such a place: reading each other excerpts from the ridiculous romances, and appreciating the astounding and outlandish cover art of the sci-fi and fantasy. I did both of these with two good friends the other day, and took pictures to boot.

Here are some of the best selections. (If you’ve read any of these books, please comment on their quality and/or hilarity.)

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“An all night beer session at the end of the cosmos” is a compelling description if I ever heard one. Even more compelling is my new rabbit/roly poly friend.

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This one folded open into this absolutely lovely picture–now this is what I’m talking about.

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GREAT TITLE, GREAT COVER. Look at him go, those birds don’t stand a chance at stopping him.

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Eric Brighteyes looks like a guy I’d want on my dodgeball team.

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Honestly, this cover is beautiful and I want to read this book. The colors, the people…yes. If only it wasn’t the third in the series.

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OUTLAW OF MARS. We have a viking-like warrior on the back of a t-rex, on mars (?), facing a majestic mountain + eagle duo. A masterpiece.

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This one wins coolest cover. Look at that fire snake. Check out that boob armor.

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Not the most sensational cover of all time, but the enticing blurb made it worth it. “The most beautiful and erotic courtesan in the galaxies of tomorrow” sounds like someone I’d want to meet.

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My personal favorite, I think. The colors. The style. The horse-dragon’s incredibly proportional legs.

In all honesty, these covers are amazing, and I would love to see the outlandish, saturated style make a comeback. There’s something very honest about it, as if to say, yeah, my protagonist harnesses a bunny-centipede and rides it off into the sunset, and I’m proud of it. 

Charlottesville

This was going to be a second post about Ecuador or a first post about my new apartment (which is why it’s a day late, I was busy moving in), but these things seem absurdly trivial after the events in Charlottesville. The country, myself, and my friends are still reeling from the violence and the sheer insanity of the state of the nation. I cannot add anything valuable to the discourse at the moment–I’m still slightly in shock, trying to absorb the tilting state of our society, which seems to veer constantly from bad to worse. I can only say that white supremacy must be more than challenged–it must not even be allowed a voice. And that voice was denied on Sunday, after three deaths, over thirty injuries, and many, many wounded hearts. We can all only hope to be as brave as the counter-protesters who stood in the face of nazis yesterday and did not back down.

 

5 Travelers I Met in Ecuador

I’m back from a month in the Amazon! Myself and my research partner were at an ecotourism cooperative in a place called Shiripuno, working with the indigenous-women-led ecotourism cooperative AMUKSIHMI. My time was spent doing ethnographic research at breakneck pace, learning Kichwa, and also doing volunteer work. I have never experienced the level of exhaustion that was pretty much constant for the entire month. In the aftermath, I’m still exhausted, emotionally and physically, my brain is trying to operate in three languages when only one is necessary, culture shock is inevitably going to set in, and I have to move into an apartment a state away in one week.

I will doubtless have many more things to say about my trip, but for the first post-Amazon post I wanted to talk about the travelers that passed through the ecolodge, because they were of an incredibly interesting and quirky stock. They are as follows:

1 Motorcyclist from Switzerland: he was motorcycling across Ecuador alone on his summer break from teaching. I gave him my papaya in the one morning he spent at the ecolodge (I don’t like papaya). I asked him how it had been so far, and he said that his bike was expensive, but he was having a good time. He was headed to the Quito and the coast next.

1 French Tour-Site Evaluator: She couldn’t have been much older than me, but she was traveling across Ecuador on her own, evaluating small community-tourism organizations so that her French business could advertise them. She nonchalantly told us that the night before she had slept in a bus station in Tena.

1 Linguist Grad Student: whom we had heard about all month but only met on our last day. He was studying Kichwa as well and was headed to Honduras next to study the Tol language. He had some seriously cool stories about past travels.

2 Cyclists Biking from Alaska to Argentina: and the only ones that will be identifiable here, because they also run a blog: We Lost the Map. Two very, very cool people, a woman from Oregon and her Finnish husband, with whom we talked about immigration, the state of the world, house loans, gap years, and our shared journeys. In their most recent blog post, my research partner and I are the two students they mention 🙂

It makes me very happy to think that, though these people all passed by me in a brief time, I know a bit about their lives, and they are still out there on the road. Where are they now? Did the French girl sleep in another bus station? Has the motorcyclist made it to Quito? And all of the other innumerable tourists and travelers that passed through the ecolodge, how are they faring? We’re all just out in the world.

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Pictured above: Touci the toucan, who is a wild pet bird with a taste for powdered coffee creamer.

Just Keep Writing

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We all experience the high that comes from beginning something…and the drop when you have to finish it. If I had a penny for all the starts in my drafts folder, I’d probably have, like, a dollar. But the show must go on through the murky middle of a novel, and here are a few ways I keep myself excited about the long slog.

  1. Playlists: I can’t listen to music while I write, but I make playlists for the story/characters/relationships to listen to before I start writing in order to refresh my inspiration/motivation.
  2. Looking Back: Often when I feel like I’m walking through a swamp, I’ll pull out my planning notebook, which contains all of my research and plotting and doodling for the current WIP, and flip through it, reminding myself how I got to my current point, and why exactly I should carry on.
  3. Exercise: Go for a run. Go to the gym. Don’t listen to music, don’t listen to anything. I just let my brain float for a while. It deserves it.
  4. A New Cup of Tea: If I’m stalling and my mug is cold and sad, I break for the ten ritual minutes it takes to prepare a cup of tea. Back at the computer, warm mug in hand, I’m rejuvinated.
  5. Just Push Through: It must be done. The bottom line is always that if I don’t finish it, it won’t be finished. Chant it like a mantra. Write it on your ceiling above your bed. You must finish in order to truly begin.

✴This has been a queued post, as I am currently in the Amazon with no Wifi. Returning next week!

Creating the Write Environment

Here are the parameters of my ideal writing environment. Any deviation results in severe under-productivity. In desperate circumstances I can of course make do, but below is the Platonic ideal of my writing situation.

The preferred setting: a Barnes and Noble cafe, near a wall

The second-best setting: any cafe (still near a wall)

The I’ll-take-what-I-can-get setting: library or kitchen (must be well-lit)

Writing implements: laptop, with notebook and pen on hand for emergencies that must be drawn out or diagrammed 

Music: NONE, or low-volume cafe ambiance music

Tools: a cup of tea, black, with sugar, best if in a mug, manageable if in a to-go cup

Clothes: comfortable, no jewelry to get distracted fiddling with

Writing program: Microsoft Word, background tinted a light mint green, 0, 10 pt line spacing set to at least at 1.15 pt, Times New Roman, 12 pt font

Other people: at least a seat in between us, preferably quite a bit of room, and not talking loudly near me, or I end up eavesdropping instead of writing

Things that throw off my groove: people’s music playing too loudly, people talking too loudly, being forced to sit at a table in the middle of the cafe, running out of tea, getting distracted texting (but that last one’s all me)

Until writing this list I didn’t quite realize how picky I am…

✴This has been a queued post, as I am currently in the Amazon with no Wifi.