The Need To Be Liked

I talked about the freedom of being phone-less recently, and since I’ve replaced my sad cracked-screen with a much more expensive but narrowly different model, I’ve been trying to limit my use of it. I could do better (damn you, Hogwarts Mystery!), and admittedly it hurts to drop a few hundred dollars on something just to be like “NO, DON’T TOUCH THAT!” but when I am using it, I’m really starting to pay attention to how it affects not just my production, but my mood, specifically my self worth. And it’s…a lot.

I like to think I’m less easily swayed by what I see on social media than the average whoever, not because I’m superior–of course I feel jealousy like any other human, and when I see an ad for pizza I WANT PIZZA–but because 1) I’m actively thinking about how these things are making me feel, and 2) I’ve put in effort to work past that jealousy stage so that mostly when I see someone who is successful, attractive, and happy, I’m inspired. I’m interested in how people that I follow got their ass to look that way, produced such riveting content, managed to smile after heartbreak. It helps that I try to follow people who are very open about their flaws, but I don’t have that sort of control over everything I’m exposed to, and sometimes I’m left feeling, well, let’s say contemplative.

The path to success is shrouded in mystery, especially when your horse is a creative endeavor and your satchel is stuffed with naught but pencils and a thesaurus. Practice, work hard, risk failure, fail harder. These are some of the trials of our hero’s journey, and don’t get me wrong, they make a great journey, but then you bump into the already popular knight brandishing his shiny teeth and stylish but hollow swordplay, and you wonder: WHAT THE FUCK? His troupe consists of a grizzled, retired mercenary who’s universally loved but misogynistic as hell and frankly devoid of any actual personal development, and a sidekick that’s just like always there, and loud, and why is he always there? But sometimes the righteous and pious and good make it to the top, and you’re so happy for them, so pleased, but it’s still so terribly confusing. Success isn’t wholly unfair, so you wonder if there’s a formula, a way to make it all worth it. I’ve only come to the conclusion that luck is playing a role, and that’s not really just to make myself feel better about failure–I just don’t have any other explanation.

I don’t want this post to come off as whiny. I do think the effort is worth it even if you never go anywhere with your work and you die alone, penniless, rotting away from the plague. It’s, you know, the journey or whatever. Plus there’s always the possibility of being posthumously discovered and your words, your art, your music, reaching someone who cares and gets joy out of it all (presumably you’re producing something in order to bring joy to others). I’m just trying to figure out the how (you can’t bring joy to people without reaching them), and trying to govern my own ego along said journey.

the journey

I don’t buy the saying “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Yes, if you’re doing what you love it’s exponentially less stressful and difficult and soul-crushing than doing something you hate, or something you tolerate, or even something you like, but no one’s creative passion isn’t actual work. If you’ve ever encountered something good, you’re experiencing the result of somebody’s labor and at least one broken mug, a handful of abandonments, and infinite swearing sessions.

It’d just be nice to know it’s all probably leading somewhere.

I see this mirrored in this one weird trick that I’ve been noticing a lot on both Twitter and Instagram. People will follow you, like a handful of your posts, then unfollow you a couple days later. I’m assuming this is done through a bot and they’re doing this to all the users posting under a specific tag and probably get enough people following back and sticking around to be worth it; it’s just so insanely shallow. These are not real views, not real fans, and when I’m trying to promote my actual work I just find it frustrating. Maybe I should be thankful? That’s a handful of likes I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise that might push my post up higher in some reverse-Robin Hood algorithm where the popular get more popular (which is its own bullshit ranty blog post), but it’s not genuine. It doesn’t let me really gauge if I’m reaching anyone, and worst of all these users clutter up the tags we might use to actually reach real readers.

And then I realize I’m guilty of this too when I use tags. Maybe not to the gross extent I’m seeing out there, but if others are playing the game that hard, don’t I need to at least engage to be seen at all? In the end, tags are words, and I love words, and I’m a little pissed at how this makes them lose their meaning.

But in the end it comes down to this, the contemplative self-worth part: maybe I’m just not that good.

That thought it scary and intrusive, but legitimate. I don’t have much else to say beyond that except that I’m actually glad I’m having the thought (not that I haven’t always had this thought, it just takes on a different shade in the world of social media). I think it’s helpful, kind of like seeing a fitspo model’s perfect ass on my Instagram feed. Yeah, I feel bad about my ass, but I might be able to have that ass if I work at it.

Might.

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Upgrade – Flash Fiction

pexels-photo-247791

“What are you doing? I want to go.”

“Five minutes,” he pulled open a drawer, it contents rattling against themselves.

“No, now,” she stood with purpose, but didn’t move from the spot.

Ben locked eyes on Lucy then slammed the drawer shut without a word.

When he turned to another drawer and began to rifle through it, she moaned and dropped herself back on the couch, “There’s no way what you’re doing is more important than the previews!”

Ben paused just before wrapping his fingers around the tiny screwdriver, something catching in his throat at her words–or were they his own–but he pushed the feeling away. The tool was small enough to hide in his palm, though it wasn’t as if she’d recognize it. Probably not anyway. Not this time.

“Ya know what? No, fuck it,” Lucy stood again, grabbing her purse, “I’m going without you. You didn’t even read all the comics anyway.”

“Don’t,” he sighed, rolling his head back and regretting introducing her to the extended universe, “Can you just wait a second?”

“I’ve been waiting a second all day!” she ripped her bag open and pulled out a tube of lipgloss as she stormed her way to the mirror in the entryway, “I’m always waiting on you, doing whatever you want. Don’t you ever give a shit about what I want?”

Even as he moved toward her, he felt something inside him pulling him back. Was anything she wanted different from what he wanted? He came up behind her like a ghost, his reflection over her shoulder, but she didn’t even glance at it. The pink she swept across her lips was bright, too bright for Ben’s liking, but the rest of her was nearly perfect. She’d been worth the cost.

“That’s what I thought,” she turned on him, pouting full lips, narrowing heavily-lashed eyes, “Nothing to say. Fucking loser.”

Ben felt her words hit him in the gut so hard he nearly doubled over. “Lucy,” his grip tightened on the screwdriver, “Please.”

“I’m leaving.”

There was blood, there was always blood, and it never failed to surprise Ben, but it was fleeting. The only way to really hide the jack was to cover it completely in organic matter, he’d been told, and accessing it should always be a last resort, but this called for a hard reset. He’d lost track of which number this one was.

Lucy gurgled, her throat flushing itself with a viscous fluid in reaction to the stab to her neck. It added to the cleanup, but it at least muffled the screams. She flailed her arms, but he pinned them expertly behind her back, trapping her between himself and the wall. Ben jiggled the screwdriver against wet, soft tissue until he felt it jab something hard. Back and forth he scraped it across the metal, Lucy making things exponentially difficult as she tried to squirm away. Her eyes had gone red and puffy immediately, and he thought to ask them about disabling that feature.

Finally it clicked, sinking it and catching, and with a twist and push, he’d begun the clock. Now he just had to count and wait, backwards from eight. He whispered the numbers, his mouth against her ear as he held her in place. Something in her eyes recognized what was happening, they always did around five, and he closed his own so he didn’t have to see.

She writhed against him, and if it hadn’t been for the watery sound in her throat and the hot, wet blood on his hand, he might have found it arousing, but he finally reached one, and all at once Lucy stopped moving.

She was heavy then, even for such a little thing, and he crumpled with her onto the floor. The bleeding stopped itself, but the thick black liquid would have to be drained out, and he wasn’t going to bother cleaning anything up until after they’d come to patch her. He was a genius with software, but hardware was a whole different game.

Rolling her body off his, Ben headed for his study. He had a lot of code to rewrite, and he was starting with her affinity for pink.

Night Librarian – Flash Fiction

pexels-photo-590493Gabrielle sprinted past the thrillers, her breath catching in her throat. With each row of stacks she passed, she felt her heartbeat quicken, expecting to find the flames at any moment swallowing up bookcase after bookcase, barreling toward her with the unstoppable fury that only the kindling of thousands of old, dry pages can provide, but they never revealed themselves. She skidded to a stop at the end of the room in the midst of the mysteries. Where was the smoke coming from? It was so thick, so pungent, so…everywhere, and yet–

She turned on her heel and flew down a row to the dark corner that was philosophy. The books were untouched, and she let out a short breath: she didn’t want to find the fire as much as she did. Chewing on a lip, she looked up. Why had they left her alone? It was only her first shift on the job, and they hadn’t even shown her where the extinguisher was!

Gabrielle clanged her way up the metal spiral staircase, and in a dizzying blur, she tripped out onto the landing. The smoke splayed out before her in all it’s cloying, ensnaring glory, curling up over the tops of the stacks below and slowly descending on the ancient tomes. The catwalk that ran the outer perimeter of the library was already so thick with smoke she could not see its far side.

Racing past the biographies, she cursed her predicament: she only wanted to be lazy, to sit back and scroll through endless nothingness on her phone with her feet thrown up on the desk, the doors locked until sunup and get paid for it. Was that so much to ask? They put the ad in, after all. It wasn’t her fault the position seemed absolutely pointless!

The cloud was thick and she couldn’t see where she was going until she ran face-first into shelving on the far wall, knocking a book free. She picked it up, glancing at the title, A Concise Introduction to Logic, and started waving it in front of her face. “Shit, should I have called 911?”

It was then she realized the smoke was everywhere but she wasn’t coughing or even winded. She took in a deep breath, the musty smell of old pages and varnished wood, but no smoldering, not even any heat. And the alarms–if there were any–had yet to sound.

Gabrielle turned, gripping the banister and looking out over the whole of the place, the criss-crossing shelves, the long oak study tables, the chair still spinning in the flurry that she left it moments earlier behind the desk, and of course the originless smoke. It swirled before her and she reached out a finger toward it. As if it were alive, it shot away from her hand, and she gasped, jumping back. The smoke came together then, in front of her, away from the books, moving on its own above the cases. Silently she watched it twist and contort until it became recognizable, letters, forming two words in the sky:

GOT YA

Then as fast as it had appeared, it cleared in a single poof. Gabrielle shuffled back into the shelves and slid down onto the ground, taking in big gulps of air. In her slide she’d knocked a book free and it had landed at her side, a dragon on the cover.

This is why they need a night librarian.”

Preparing for Camp NaNoWriMo

Camp NaNoWriMo will be upon us in four short days. Dear Reader, I am psyched! Here’s how I’m getting ready.

Packed My Tent – Since moving, we’ve turned one of our two bedrooms into an office. I’ve got my desk in the back of the room, looking out onto it (so no demons or ghosts can sneak up on me, of course), and I’ve got a table set to my side holding important notebooks, my world’s “bible,” and my big desk calendar. That’s where I’ll be camping out.

Prepared For My Badges – I know I can write 30k words, I’ve done it before, and in the last couple weeks I’ve been ramping up how much writing I can fit into a day. Past success really is the best motivation which is kinda a bummer when you think about it because it’s a circle you almost can’t break into.

Practiced Relay Races – I’ve been working out regularly and intend to continue throughout camp. I find the time on the treadmill to be good for zoning out and letting my mind wander in my character’s world. Plus a healthy body can often keep a mind healthy, and the crazies are all too easy to set in on this journey.

Packed My Bags – And they’re mostly full of snacks. Seriously. I ordered two of those sample boxes from Amazon filled with protein bars and healthy-ish foods. Not that writing is a real physical thing, but if I’m on a roll, I don’t want to stop to make something, I just want to grab 200 calories of whey powder and chocolate and go! Similarly, I’ve been writing down recipes and cataloging my thoughts on them as they’re made and consumed, so I’ll be more decisive about what to cook for dinner. No hour of scouring the web for a recipe, everything will be planned out and set!

Prepared My Letters Home – My NaNo novel will be far from the only thing I’ll be working on in April, but one thing that I don’t want to compromise is Vacancy, so I’m getting every post for April queued up ahead of time. Just a warning, it gets pretty silly in the next couple installments .

But here’s where I’m a little stumped: Do I write out my camp itinerary? That is to say, should I outline? I’ve tried writing outlines in the past but usually I outline as I write so I can go back later and make changes without having to scroll through the whole document and guess at what I did. I typically get certain scenes in my head and have a good idea of where I want things to end up, with all the middle bits to be made up on the spot and heavily edited later. But has that served me well in the past? Or has that just lent itself to procrastinating? I know I succeeded (well, 30k succeeded) with NaNo last November because I had many of the episodes planned out, at least in general, ahead of time.

So my question here: do you outline? And if so, what’s your favorite method?

 

Here We Go Again: Camp NaNo

Remember NaNo? Well, apparently they do a spring edition (and I think a summer one too), and I guess I’m on board!

I consider last year a success even though I didn’t win. I completed 31,882 words over the course of the 30 days that was November 2017, and it felt pretty damn good, especially now that those words are being put to use in Vacancy. So why not try again, eh?

The difference between November and April is apparently the April “camp” is a bit more laissez faire. You write whatever you want (of course you can do this during November as well) and you set your own goal which is appealing as fuck. I know I can complete 30k words, so I set my goal there. Not really challenging myself, I admit, but if I can succeed, and perhaps succeed again come July (and maybe at 40k?) then by November, 50k words should be easy peasy, right?

I plan to write these words on a new piece, the second in my nameless dragon trilogy (which is all saved under a folder called “Medieval Vampires” in my Google Docs which really gives you a sense of where my head was at years ago when I was brainstorming this stuff), while maintaining Vacancy, my blog, and a couple other side projects, but I think it’s doable. 1000 words a day is a nice number, don’t you think?

As an aside, it’s come to my attention that I’ll have been working on this blog again for six months when we head into April. There have been times when I’ve posted very little, and when I’ve posted every day, but she’s been in the front of my mind for a good half a year now, and that seems pretty solid, because what is a habit or practice without time?

And that, Dear Reader, is partially why NaNo doesn’t necessarily work to make you a better or more prolific (because those are two very different things) writer: you create a habit by doing it every day, but “it” must be sustainable. Vomiting out words to reach a numeric goal isn’t sustainable. But like, it has to work, right? Something has to!

This OnE WeIrD TrIcK Got My Motivation Back

Ew. I am SO SORRY about that title. That’s awful. But it’s true, there is one kinda odd thing I started doing maybe a week and a half ago that got me motivated to write more, and I’m going to share that with you now. But seriously, sorry.

So I have been on a slow but steady recovery from a bout of sorrow and grief, and it was super unfortunate that the place I was at in every word-related project I was working on at the time (my serial, my novel, and the book I was reading (A Casual Vacancy, lol I have a theme)) were all quite death heavy, but I knew I needed to push through on at least one of them, and Vacancy seemed the most pressing (Vacancy, my serial, not Rowling’s book which is, by the way, amazing). I needed motivation and inspiration, but from where?

I’m not proud of this, but I have a Pinterest. Hear me out. I both love and hate Pinterest. A link to a Pin should never come up in a Google search (Pins are the worst, almost never have any helpful info, and sometimes don’t even link to the actual image they’re showing!); however, the search feature on the site itself is pretty damn sweet. If you’re looking for actual how-tos or explanations, it’s a fucking crapshoot, but if you want images to create what the hipsters might call a “mood board,” this is where it’s at.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but I realized I could use this to my advantage with writing. I even had a “Writing” board already, but didn’t put this together til now. I was stuck on Part 1.10, afraid to push Lorelei into the seance, so I was floundering over the basement description and just wanted to look at photos of caves and lakes. As I mentioned, Pinterest’s search is surprisingly adequate at returning what you’re looking for (the catch is that you need to have an account to really utilize the site correctly), so I searched “lake underground” and I got what I needed.

So you’re wondering how this is different from Google image search, eh? Well, you can “save” Pins to your own “boards” for quick access later. I believe the original intention of this was to save links with eye-catching images, but somewhere along the way the users of Pinterest ruined it by adding and not maintaining links to actual sites, so there are a lot of pictures of cool crafts with no explanation how they’re done. But still you can save as many images as you want to a board serving some greater purpose. And you can modify the description of that image/link to whatever you want. It’s usually already a description of whatever’s there (or supposed to be there), but if I’m brainstorming or looking for inspiration, I replace the description with what the image inspires for me.

Pintrest save

You can do this for specific places, of course, but it would work equally well for characters, atmosphere, and of course writing in general to save non-image based links (there’s functionality to save anything as a Pin, so you could take, say, this post and Pin it, and if you’re a responsible user, you’ll get the link right).

Once you’ve saved some Pins, you can go back to that board for inspiration when needed. Here’s a quick example of something I might throw together for a character:

Kimber Board

Since you’re using this for personal reference, I don’t object to losing the written attributions for images by writing over the descriptions, and if the images actually link out properly, you will still have the sources, which is nice.

Anyway, that’s my quick and dirty one weird trick that’s been quite helpful to me these last few days. Maybe you all already do this? Maybe there’s a better site for it? Pinetrest sure isn’t paying me to do this while simultaneously dragging them, so any suggestions you have, I’d love to hear!

An Excerpt

Since I’ll very soon be able to focus on writing and editing a trilogy of fantasy quest stories I’ve been working on over the last *muffled number* years, I thought I’d share a little excerpt from the first book. The series is as yet unnamed which is probably a mistake on my part, but it is what it is.

Jayn’s first memory was of a bucket of dirty water going clean. She held blurry glimpses of a time before, a smiling woman in violet robes, a moonlit field of white flowers, but her first real memory was of a bucket she wished she didn’t have to drag outside, dump, and refill, and then–somehow–she indeed did not.

Jayn had detested trips to the well and back, but the purified water that ran indoors was for drinking, cooking, and occasionally bathing only. Mistress insisted. Her small stature, young age, and sheer boredom made the task tripley difficult. The wispy girl found, however, by concentrating very hard, she could make use of the first bucket she carried in from the local well all day. It was something she couldn’t explain, but after watching Master do all sorts of tasks with what seemed like only his mind, she never felt the need to explain it to anybody. A lucky thing, that was.

A much older Jayn, who now found herself traveling away from the place that bucket resided with no hope of returning, knew that what she had done was manipulate aether, the invisible force within all things, and, though it was no secret that this magic existed, she had developed a different kind of need to keep her ability hidden. As she pressed herself into the cushioned seat of the carriage and peered through a slight break in the curtains, she saw that dirtied bucket of water all over—the color of the ground, the sky, the murkiness beyond the horizon–but this she had no chance of making clean.

The skyline bumped along as she traveled farther away from Mulrennan, and she could almost feel the town breaking away from her as she went, every jar in the road ripping it off a bit more. It stuck to her like sap and though it was not particularly well-loved, it was all she had known, and that, she thought, was far better than the unknown.

There had been another girl, an indentured housegirl like Jayn, who had shown to have similar abilities, and much to the dismay of her masters, the garrison had taken her. The girl had been excited to go, but to Jayn the circumstances felt ominous. While magic wasn’t a secret, it was highly guarded. The family to which Jayn was beholden was one of the few who openly practiced, but they operated their shop with an edict from the royal court that Master would serve on the village’s council, providing his services when needed. And though Jayn had seen her do little things beyond explanation, Mistress swore to the gods she had never manipulated aether, and as far as anybody else was concerned, she was common: the magic was passed down through Master to his sons. Mistress was many things, and chiefly among them smart, so Jayn mimicked that she too was common for as long as she could, and so she was doubly annoyed that her skill with aether wasn’t at all what had gotten her into her current predicament.

The carriage had taken her passed the farthest farms supplying the village, travelling down into a grey fog, distorting what lay beyond. Fog was rare in Mulrennan and considered foreboding. Though Jayn found the superstition silly as there hadn’t been anything more fearsome than the odd wolf sighted in Mulrennan in longer than anyone could remember largely thanks to the temple of Seele a few days’ ride north, she suddenly felt perhaps there was more to the tales of fog delivering demons and monsters than she had once believed. Yes, travelers came to the village and spoke of shapeshifters, lycans, and even the odd draugr, but her home had always been safe. Safe from the monsters beyond the village, at least.

But there had been an air of change in town, specifically since Baron Allaire had died and his son had taken hold of Mulrennan and the neighboring villages. He’d recently returned from the capital, Helmsrian, and had gone, what some called, “a bit off.” Jayn had heard them, the ladies gossiping, while she picked up fruit and bread at market. When she dallied with the other housegirls along the river before heading home, she heard them more crassly proclaim that the new Lord Allaire had gone absolutely mad.

He’d taken to restoring a fallen manor in the heart of the moors that had last been home to Allaires so long dead that no one living had known their children’s children. While his father frequently made visits to the other villages and lived in the largest of homes in the heart of Mulrennan, his son only came into town every moon or so, and when he left, a letter would arrive at the home of one or two of the housegirls in town requesting the permanent services of the girl. Of course, to call it a request was a stretch, but Allaire was at least generous enough to send a purse of gold in exchange.

The ladies being served lunch at the tearoom in the town square spoke in hushed whispers that the lord’s newly begotten hobby of training and marrying off the common girls to his friends from Helmsrian, which of course was what he was doing since he needed replacements so often, was almost charming if it weren’t so improper. The girls working in the seamstress shop argued that his abduction of their cohorts, never to be seen or heard from again would be suspicious if they didn’t agree that they too would abandon this life if someone swept them away to Helmsrian to be some wealthy merchant or lord’s wife. Now, as Jayn sat within the carriage she’d only previously seen amble through town with the shadowy form of someone she once knew inside, she was fairly certain everyone was wrong.