Exploring cultures in fiction

As I am expanding my writing projects, and I am interested in exploring ideas outside of strictly science fiction and fantasy, one “wall” that I have run across is my interest in writing fiction taking place in feudal Japan. So far, I don’t have an interest in many other cultures, and I don’t take the interest lightly. I’m wondering this primarily because I currently have a Japanese ghost story in development. I have already written a series of vignettes about the life of a Japanese woman in the Muromachi period. It’s not my own internal misgivings but I am reflecting on mostly external debates.

I am a lifelong “Japanophile,” or someone who has a love or admiration for Japanese culture. Though I am Caucasian, I grew up eating Japanese food and today cook authentic Japanese recipes, I write haiku, I wear real kimono, I read Japanese history, I watch Japanese TV shows, and I took a year and a half of Japanese in college. I also have recently delved into the world of anime and manga, but it’s only a beginning interest. I have a strong interest in traditional, pre-1860s Japan and especially pre-Tokugawa shogunate that formed in the 1600s.

But, does this give me legitimate grounds for writing fiction based in feudal Japan with Japanese characters? Some would argue that space should be reserved for Japanese writers, or at the very least Asian writers. To some people, I am incapable of truly understanding the Japanese mindset and that a Caucasian writing about the Japanese experience diminishes the voices of Japanese writers. On the other hand, some would argue that fiction needs to broaden its cultural horizons no matter what, so any respectful exploration into other cultures is welcome and helps everyone.

But is there a sense that Japanese culture, with its ubiquitous presence around the world, is treated as on par with American culture? They are able to represent themselves equally on their own terms, so I am able to explore that culture. Would it be different if I wanted to represent a lesser-known culture – maybe the Hmong from southeast Asia, or the Maasai from Kenya – in my fiction? Is there a higher standard?

I am not here to argue for either side and condemn anyone. I am merely stuck in the debate as a well-intentioned writer who wants to craft stories in a culture I love. Interestingly, I know more about Japanese history and culture than I do about all of the European cultures at any point in time combined, so I would be more capable of accurately representing feudal Japanese culture than I would of my own ancestral Italian, English, or German cultures.

On the other hand, manga and anime creators have not shied away from writing stories based either directly on or synthesized from non-Japanese culture and ethnicities and I think this is perfectly fine. I want the best possible story told. Hell, the iconic anime Cowboy Bebop featured Native American culture and, to be honest, it was the emotional highlight of one of the best episodes. I am not Native American but it seemed respectful to me. Fullmetal Alchemist is set in Amestris, a country based on numerous European cultures with distinctly white, Asian, and vaguely Middle-Eastern characters. In my opinion, disrespectful representation of any culture can happen anywhere and that representation should be all held to the same standard.

On the other hand, I don’t subscribe to the idea that there is only one way to represent a culture and I make great allowances for creators to handle the diversity of this planet respectfully but also in a way that the represented people feel both included and sufficiently a part of the global imagination. I would not want to be a part of a group that is seen as unable to join in the fun of fiction. Part of why I am interested in writing about feudal Japan is largely because so much of America’s cultural perspective of Japan is anime and geisha (which are seen as prostitutes who can also sing). I see a deeper, much richer world to dive into and it’s the kind fiction I want to read.

There are also several things to consider in my story: it’s fiction, set in a historical period, so it would not be representing any one particular modern — and thus fundamentally relatable — POV today. I also believe that the structure of storytelling works across cultural boundaries, and anyone from any culture enjoys a good read. It’s also going to be steeped in the enigmatic mythos of Japanese ghost stories — or kaidan — which is a seemingly bottomless pit of variety and characters. That’s appropriate, since ghost folklore has existed in Japan since before the Heian period — or, 800 AD or so. That seemingly monolithic library, however, is impossible to represent 100% accurately, especially in the span of a short story, so it’s a fundamentally limited undertaking. Perceptions of ghosts have changed: would I try to tell it in a contemporary style, or can I embrace kaidan as a whole, cultural shifts and all? I will need to simplify and synthesize, but honestly, there are few differences in the basic tropes in kaidan and western ghost stories.

I feel confident that with conducting research and writing it in the spirit of how they would have been told, while also giving it basic themes that can be found in any culture, I can craft a respectful story that gives the unfamiliar an eye into a lesser-known aspect of a famous culture. Would I be brave enough to publish these stories, however? In a sense I can’t please everyone, but also the public publishing world is both fairly and unfairly ripe with landmines. It’s not an easy decision to make, and I don’t know the best way to approach it, but I am learning and open-minded.

What are your thoughts and experiences with the world of multiculturalism in fiction? Am I completely off-base? Let me know.

Featured image: “Perfect shape” by Peter Thoeny. Licensed under BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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On Crappy First Drafts

So in the time since the last post on Wonder Woman, I’ve managed to get my pet project rolling along, albeit slowly and cautiously. I’ll write another post on how I got out of that hole later, but I wanted to first share my thoughts on the oft-given advice that the first draft of a novel should be, will be, and has no other way of being anything other than crappy. I also think this advice is narrow and short-sighted.

It’s usually given in the spirit of helping the frustrated, stuck writer get words on the page. Certainly, many writers stall for years out of perfectionism and fear that what they write will be terrible. Many people see the beginnings of their first draft as the novel they are going to publish and it must be a finished work. That attitude will kill your manuscript. To put it another way, we don’t not water freshly planted seeds because they don’t grow into the adult plant bearing fruit overnight. We know the seedling will be an imperfect proto-plant that needs tending.

If the advice was strictly that “perfectionism will kill your manuscript,” I would say it’s great advice. Like many things, though, the simplification gets the point across more easily but loses something in the process. This advice is not to just write crap because it’s the first draft and it’s supposed to be crap and you’re supposed to just finish the story and iron out all the problems later. I have read of authors taking that approach, and it annoys me. I want to spend a bit of time talking about why this advice does not work for me.

#1 I don’t write crap

To put it simply, I don’t write crap, and I’m not going to short-sell my skills by calling them that.

Second, I choose words carefully. Every word I put on the page is exactly the word I want to use at that moment – yes it can change, and no that does not mean I don’t make typos or change my mind mid-sentence. What it means is that I can’t peacefully move on to the next sentence/scene/chapter until it is where I want it to be. I don’t work with words in limbo. I know what I want to say but I just need to find the right words for it. I don’t put just anything on the page to complete the scene and get to the plot points.

To get to the plot points, I will cut corners on details which can be filled in later. I make sure all the necessary points are there. I don’t cut corners by simply writing words I don’t mean knowing I can change them later, which reminds me…

#2 Words remind me

I tend to revise any of my written works with the attitude that those were the words I intended on using. If I leave things out, I will not remember them later – if I want to remember why I wrote something, I need to record them in that instant. If I write words I don’t mean because I am writing garbage, later I will assume that’s what I meant to say and get super confused. I learned this lesson early on, that it causes me more grief later to figure out what I meant than to just be clear and exact the first time around.

#3 I outline enough that it shouldn’t be crap

I am a planner, not a pantster. I spend a lot of time planning works that longer than three thousand words or so. I cross-check the plot by pinning it to various outlines – the Hero’s Journey, the 3-act structure, the 7-point structure, etc. Each character has a basic motivation and arc. I make sure that themes can be woven into the manuscript right from the start. I spend time fine-tuning the plot so there aren’t any major problems. If it’s a longer work, I even expand on the plot points in the form of paragraphs, so the outline serves almost as the first skeleton draft.

I need to have as many ducks in a row before committing to that first draft. By the time I get there, my first draft shouldn’t be trash. It should be actually a respectable manuscript worthy of later revisions, which leads into the next topic…

#4 It wastes my time later

Poor, hastily written, devil-may-care first drafts waste my time. I like my writing to be efficient: would I rather spend the time upfront getting it right the first time, or spend time later trying to dig through nonsense and get something decent out of it? For me the answer is clear: I don’t write bad first drafts because they are inefficient.

What are the costs of this method?

This method is not without its drawbacks. I write slowly, and cautiously. I get great bursts of creativity followed by long dry spells. I will mull over a sentence until it’s just right – I’m getting better at writing the right sentences earlier on, though. It definitely takes practice.

It also does not mean that when I return to a first draft of a story, it’s perfect and doesn’t need revision. In fact, I may have considered changes after finishing a draft and enact them. However, every draft I write is exactly the way I envision it at that time – they are simply still malleable down the road.

Third, it doesn’t mean that I get story structuring right the first time. Problems still eek through at times, and I usually end up stalling again as I figure out the problem and revise the first draft (collective gasps over my blasphemy). Yes, I revise first drafts. Not often, but I will do it if necessary.

I aim to get it as right the first time as possible. If I am not, I don’t see a point in writing it. I guess I’m a perfectionist in my own way.

What is the advice good for?

It’s good for remembering that the first draft is rarely published, so don’t treat it like it needs to be perfect. Just write it and get it over with. The first draft is not publishable, so don’t act like it will be. You wouldn’t want it to be, anyway. It’s not an excuse to churn out garbage. Part of the first draft is learning how to edit your own work critically and honestly and improve your craft.

Has this advice worked for you? Do you think it’s crap, or valuable? Let me know.

Featured image is “Writing” by Ton Zijlstra. Licensed under BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Weird Writing: Wonder Woman was awful

Short post because I’m sick and have been sitting on this long post for a couple of weeks and just want to get it out there.

What are your thoughts on last year’s Wonder Woman? I recently saw it and it had really mixed feelings about it. This is the only DC Extended Universe film I have seen.

There were things I liked – such as the mix of characters who teamed up with Diana. I liked that the Amazons were not sexualized, and Diana’s self-confidence, courage and idealism. Often times writers assume that courage and being a woman are mutually exclusive so that was refreshing. I like that she tried to encourage those around her, and they communicated her kindness well. I recognize what the movie was trying to accomplish.

There was so much I did not like, however:

  • Diana’s lack of emotional processing in several key moments, such as almost killing Antiope with her bracelets, and learning who her father is (and thus who Ares is)
  • Weird myth origin story, including Zeus and the cowardly Amazons. They were not called on said cowardice – how can such mighty wariors be so nonchalant about the people they were made to protect destroying each other?
  • Diana just kind of…. skating through all of the conflicts. She’s absolutely perfect!
  • Wasted villain potential – Dr Poison was a complete waste and unnecessary. I was expecting some twisted relationship between her and Luddendorf (and if anything he would be Ares) so it could be a foil to Diana and Steve
  • Calling out how beautiful Diana is multiple times
  • The Amazons fluently speaking languages completely unrelated to (liguistically and geographically) ancient Greek
  • Diana doesn’t develop – she stays the naive, idealistic girl who left her island throughout the film and doesn’t come off as very wise (wisdom comes from experience. I don’t expect her to be wise at the beginning). Learn from what happens around you.
  • More on Diana, she’s basically perfect at everything she sets her mind to.
  • Ares was real – there was no need to have a real (or still living) Ares because it said in the beginning of the film that he had corrupted mankind from the outset. He should have, ideally, been a metaphor.
  • The power of (romantic) love – not compassion or sacrifice, but romance.
  • Her mother letting her trapse off to fight the god of war without letting her know who her father is – she didn’t have a good reason to do that, unlike Obi Wan and Yoda did in not telling Luke. That… was a really bad decision.
  • Finally, her sword not dripping with blood while it sits in Luddendorf’s dead body.

There are more things but those stood out to me. I thought the CG was pretty cheesy, though that’s not really related to storytelling. The origin story was cheesy as hell. I expected a lot more philosophical weight, with the mythology and whatnot.

That is my favourite aspect of Marvel’s Thor, in that there is this strong conflict between the two brothers and Loki struggling with his identity and heritage and all of these consequences from “well it seemed like a good idea at the time” decisions, and decisions made out of mercy and with good itentions. No it wasn’t a great superhero film, especially because Natalie Portman’s character is really annoying, but it definitely sets up a great family struggle.

Maybe if Diana had realized that Ares is her brother, she could struggle with someone so evil being related to her – who fights for good – and weigh the consequences of her decision to kill him.

I know a lot of people liked Wonder Woman and so I feel like I am a bit on on the outside with this position. I’d generously give it maybe a 6/10. It felt very contrived and shallow in a lot of areas.

Did you love the film and think I’m crazy? Agree with me? Start a conversation – I love a good debate!

More in “Weird Writing”…

 

February 2018 writing updates

Since this blog is about writing, I thought I would update you wonderful readers regarding my own writing.

I am currently waiting to hear back from the Short Short Story Competition held by Writer’s Digest, at the end the month! I actually don’t expect to place because it’s a huge contest and the entry wasn’t my strongest, but I created an interesting new world that I can use for other stories. They also extended the deadline considerably so I imagine they have a ton of entries.

I discovered A Writer’s Path’s Short Story Writing Contest which has a comfortable 4-7k limit – much more workable than the Writer’s Digest’s 1500 word limit O_O It’s nicely open-ended with few content rules so I might just enter that one too. There’s nothing like a deadline to inspire me! 😀

The story I wrote about in December, the pet project that won’t die, “the adventurer,” is experiencing growing pains. I’m getting down to the root of why I am struggling to write it – frankly, I think it’s the “space chase” middle section of the book. FTL-travel can help big expanses of space go by quickly – this isn’t a trek across Middle Earth – and seem rather boring. A bit like how I stop reading when I run across Tom Bombadil in The Fellowship of the Ring, my creative mind shuts down when I get to the space chase. I’ve retooled the beginning and I know the end, but overall it feels like it will be a short work – and when you’re scared of writing novels, that’s comfortingly familiar as a writer but isn’t necessarily best for the story. It’s a hero’s journey, for crying out loud.

In other news, the first story (“the magician”) I wrote for the Writer’s Digest contest – which turned out to be too long – has proved to be quite fertile for new ideas. I’m melding another story idea I had into this world and coming up with a second short story to “the magician.”

I have yet to make good on my writing resolution of posting a work of mine to the awesome Scribophile community, but I am thinking about it… go check that place out, it’s a good growth tool!

In poetry news, I won a Daily Deviation for three of my tanka poems, which were written in response to the immortal Ogura Hyakunin Isshu collection of Japanese poetry (One Hundred Poets, One Hundred Poems) from the 13th century (the original collection was published in the 13th century). Thanks for the recognition!

Do you have any updates/achievements/disappointments you want to share?

Featured image is “The chipped table of dakar” by Graham Holliday, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

My writing tools

I wanted to write a bit about the tools I use to write. It might seem that “everyone” is using Scrivener (is it “scrihvner” or “scraivner” and is the first “e” silent? asking for a friend). When I used the trial version of it, the layout seemed too linear and detailed for my tastes. It felt very confining, so I don’t use it.

Planning stages

I use a wonderful little desktop wikipedia program called Zim, a little linking encyclopedia for anything I want to write about. One of my projects was growing to the point that I needed to keep it all in one place and I quickly realized how handy it could be for lots of other projects.

As much as I love the romanticism of leather-bound journals with rustic, creamy-smooth paper, I don’t do well with pen(cil) and paper (I would erase or scratch out too much, or toss entire pages). Here is a screenshot:

zim

There isn’t much of a learning curve as it’s fairly intuitive to get started. It works on Windows and Linux, but I am not sure about Apple. You can format and even insert images. I wish there was a table option but alas, that’s where cherrytree enters the picture. I used that one for years of schoolwork and is also perfectly suited to keeping notes.

So everything goes in zim, including notes on my freelance work and other employment discussions.

Brainstorming

When I have a basic idea in my mind and it’s bigger than a simple short story, I move the project to a mind-mapping program.

I am an intuitive thinker, and mind-mapping is my friend. Mind-mapping might feel like it comes out of the same shallow productivity drives that created inspirational office posters, flow-chart generators, and “working smarter, not harder,” but it’s actually an awesome tool/platform.

Mind-mapping has gotten quite a name for itself and these days there are slick and fancy online mappers you can pay for. These typically have a limit of maybe 100 free nodes or one free map – I’m sorry but 100 nodes is a baby mind-map for me! I also see no need to pay for something where there is a perfectly superior free version available.

That version is the aptly titled FreeMind – it works with Windows, Apple, and Linux.

freemind

You start with a project and build out from there. I can hide and show any node at any time, or link around to key points. I keep a handy little library of personality information off to the side (as shown in the picture). I can apply colours, icons, and more. I love it. I have built an entire class worth of notes in this program.

I also use Pinterest to brainstorm the visual side of my writing and have several big boards just for creative inspiration.

Actually writing

Here is where I have evolved. I once used Google Drive exclusively for everything (including brainstorming which was completely unhelpful), but it really worked well for the actual manuscripts – as long as I didn’t have to export and share my documents, due to formatting issues. It was a convenient excuse for not getting feedback, hah!

I went through college, wrote a couple of theses (including a master’s thesis) and really came around to Microsoft Word. I can hear the collective gasps now. Lots of people hate Office 365/Office 2016 or whatever, but I like it. It’s the most versatile (albeit expensive) and I don’t need to worry about formatting issues. It’s not perfect by any means and can sometimes be really idiotic, but I think it’s the standard for word processing for a reason: it just works. I never seem to have issues using most programs that other people have, which can dog  a program’s reputation, so I might be unusual. No program is perfect.

When it comes time to retire my subscription, I may go over to LibreOffice (which is free and I like) but it still has formatting issues when converting to .doc files. Google Docs just doesn’t work in the long-run, at least for now. I’ll figure something out.

Organizing it all

So what I liked about Google Drive was the cloud, and while I use MS Word for writing, I still keep everything in Dropbox. I never trusted flash drives, especially after I lost weeks worth of a class project that I had to throw together again in two days (and nights) when my flash drive bit the dust for no good reason.

In summary

So that is my seemingly convoluted “virtual desk” of writing tools. It’s a bit all over the place but it works. I get antsy if I stay in one program too long and this set-up provides me a regular change of environment.

Are you a Scrivener fan? Like the old pen and paper? Don’t plan anything at all? Leave a comment.

Featured image is “Leatherpress Tools” by Corrado Dell’Orto, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Is killing lots of characters realistic — or lazy?

I’ve been pondering the trend in current fiction of killing lots of characters. I’m not a writer in that vein and so I feel like I’m on the outside looking in, and  have formulated a few thoughts on the topic.

I believe deaths should be meaningful and add something to the story or move it along, and I can talk about deaths in fiction that fall under this category. Certainly, high death counts can also be meaningful. I’m not talking about those, though – I’m referring to deaths for the sake of deaths.

I have two hypotheses on why we see so much death in fiction:

  1. Increasingly complex stories
  2. We reject heroic transformation

I will discuss both, but I admit the second one is a bit more out there!

Increasingly complex stories

It’s no secret that expected manuscript word counts are significantly higher today than in the early 1970s before The Sword of Shanara Chronicles and The Wheel of Time series. Now it’s hard to get published if your manuscript is under eighty thousand words. No doubt a single-thread novel-length idea won’t produce an 80k manuscript, and sub-plots are necessary. Since your main character can only be in one place at one time, one must create more characters so that sub-plots are possible. I’m not talking about nameless minions and armies – I’m referring to named characters that we come to care about.

What do you do with all of those extra characters? They can’t all stand on the podium with the hero, and killing them is the easiest way to get rid of them. Also, some authors are all about shock value and enjoy killing characters, and believe falsely that higher death tolls mean more realistic, more emotional story-telling.

Death is a part of life, but fiction is not life. It’s not reality. If we fudge physics, create magic rules on the fly, craft characters with impossibly fantastic appearances and bodies, I don’t think it’s hard to expect some fudging in how we portray death. I have never thought once that a story with a low death count was not portraying real life. I don’t understand the attitude that it is unrealistic to let your characters live.

A death should advance the story or illuminate the theme in key ways. Though Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire is famous for its high death counts (and sex), Martin’s attitude is that all men die, especially when playing a game where only one man (or woman) can win. It both advances the plot and illuminates the theme. Like all things, though, the superficial is mimicked and the underlying message is lost. Death is everywhere. What author doesn’t want to be a George R. R. Martin? It must be because he kills off all of his characters! Let’s create tons of characters and then kill them in fabulously grotesque and traumatizing ways!

Wrong. If you don’t have a good reason to kill your character, don’t do it. If you’re pondering if the character needs to die, don’t do it. Consider the alternative: what if your character lived? How does this character’s death fundamentally change the story? What if that character ended up being your most endearing character?

We reject heroic transformation

My more out-there idea is that in stories where lots of characters die, metaphysical/spiritual death has been replaced by physical death.

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Luke and his dying father

For example, in the Star Wars original trilogy very few “main” characters die – Vader is a prominent example. Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are also. The Rebellion loses men and women but those are casualties of war. However, Luke undergoes significant metaphysical and spiritual changes as the hero. At the beginning of The Return of the Jedi, Luke is not the naive young man who left Tatooine years before. He has endured pain and suffering, learned much about himself, and sacrificed his old shell and emerged as a greater and deeper character, in the true spirit of the hero’s journey.

Three deaths in Luke’s life – the Lars (taking up the call), Obi Wan (the hero is alone), and Death Vader (fulfilling his purpose) – are all necessary for Luke’s growth. In all three cases, Luke is devastated and must process these significant moments. Even at his father’s pyre, where does he go from there? They are turning points in his life.

Is Star Wars not portraying reality correctly with a low death count? Absolutely not – more deaths are emotionally unnecessary and would actually clutter the simple plot. The the main arc – Luke’s transformation – is a figurative death and satisfies the audience’s emotional needs. The culmination of Luke coming into his own is cathartic all by itself.

One simple beauty of the hero’s journey is that we relate to the hero. His or her journey is our journey for that short period of fantastical escape. Be it Paul Atreides in Dune, or Bilbo/Frodo in Tolkien’s works, the hero’s metaphysical death and growth is the heart of the story and something that we all see ourselves partaking in. We should strive to improve ourselves.

Tony Stark in Iron Man
Tony Stark in Iron Man

This is why I find Tony Stark (Marvel Cinematic Universe) to be such an interesting character. He has undergone tremendous changes from a selfish asshole to a jerk with a heart of gold. In doing so, he sacrificed his pride, made a lot of mistakes, and tried to right his wrongs. He found reasons to live other than for himself. He is still flawed (as human beings are) but time and again he finds that all of his brains, money, and technology cannot make nearly enough difference as human action in the right direction can. Interestingly, very few named characters die in his arc and the ones who do urge him to change his life.

Returning to Star Wars, are the slaughters in Rogue One or The Last Jedi examples of more realistic, emotional, and superior storytelling? Absolutely not. The films have higher death counts but we have a concurrent lack of emotional processing from those who survive, and the main characters learn nothing (or die themselves). Rey is a complete deviation from the hero’s journey (to her detriment). Jyn is not even heroic.

Nonetheless, though, the audience still needs their emotional needs met. A story cannot reach a cathartic conclusion without metaphysical sacrifice from the hero, and in its absence we are left with a weak story. We try to fix this by throwing bodies around as examples of the great sacrifice our heroes are paying while they themselves aren’t required to endure any great transformation because in the end, they aren’t any different from us..

Note on plot armour

I want to make it clear that keeping your characters alive is possible in a realistic way without resorting to unbelievable amounts of plot armour a la The Last Jedi. For one, don’t create impossible situations where only luck/plot armour gets them out alive. Two, don’t slaughter everyone but your character. Characters should survive generally because they are the competent ones, not the lucky ones.

Conclusion

Feel free to call me crazy and cite all sorts of modern fictional works where you have tremendous character growth with high death tolls. I am curious! I am just weary of the idea that a ton of characters need to die in order to craft a realistic and emotionally impactful story, when fantastic stories have been written in the past without huge death tolls, and I am figuring it out in my own mind why. It could truly be as simple as we’re desensitized to death and the only way to reach an audience is through killing beloved characters, but I don’t want to be that cynical.

Wanna kill your characters?! Fight me 😛

Accomplishing (writing) resolutions

Resolutions might seem overrated, overdone, and underachieved, but the root of the word “resolution” is the Latin word resolūtiō, or a “loosening” or “solution.” A related word is “resolve.” To have resolution today means to be determined or to have a strong will. I think it might be helpful to look at the “solution” aspect of the word.

While resolutions can be fun, they aren’t supposed to be. Losing weight is not a pleasant experience. If you are making a resolution, likely you are trying to solve a problem. Resolutions for writers aren’t any different. Some of my writing friends resolve to accomplish goals that aren’t really problems per se but just a matter of time. I am not speaking to those magically productive people, those “good writers.” I am speaking, instead, to those who say “tomorrow” when they mean “the day after that.” In other words, myself and those like me: I want to be a “good writer.”

Being a “good writer” is all about discipline

If I was a good writer, I would write everyday. Right now I write for a living but it’s not the type of writing most of us think of as writing.

If I was a good writer, I would not let a pile of half-baked story concepts sit for months before I poke them with a stick to see if there are any plots hidden underneath.

If I was a good writer, I would read more books.

If I was a good writer I would put my work out in the public eye for helpful feedback.

If I was a good writer, I would hack away at my pet project and finally solve its problems.

When I say “if I was a good writer,” what I should say is “if I was a disciplined human being.” We don’t need to discipline ourselves to partake in activities that bring immediate gratification. No one disciplines themselves to zombie-scroll Facebook every day, or else Mark Zuckerberg would have a few fewer billions. There is a reason why so many writers struggle to write: being creative takes discipline, self-reflection, and most of all, simple hard work.

Why do we struggle with resolutions?

The key to achieving a resolution, I think, is figuring out why you do it or why you have a certain problem. Drinking sodas on a superficial level will put on weight, but why does someone drink soda instead of something healthier like water or tea? If a person struggling with their weight can answer that question they may unlock more information than just why they prefer soda.

Why do I let this pile of story concepts sit and never go anywhere? Why do I ignore the pleas of my pet project to be finished?

Simple answer: I am lazy, but for basically non-malicious reasons. We’re all lazy. We all have distractions everyday, some necessary and some not, that keep us from accomplishing certain goals. We get tired, we just want a drink at the end of the day and watch Frasier.

Another simple answer: it is uncomfortable. When you’ve been wrestling with a project or pattern of non-productivity for years – or even that extra twenty pounds you’ve carried around since two holidays ago – you get depressed and defeated, and scared of failing again. When all of your best, well-intended efforts seem to be in vain, you want to stop. When it requires different thinking on another level, my brain is like “WAIT STOP LET’S CARRY ON AS WE HAVE BEEN IT FEELS GOOD” and I close zim wiki for another day. It’s easy to resign and say “I am not a writer.” Maybe tomorrow’s sunlight will cast my problems in a new light and I will find inspiration.

Beating back that flame of laziness

Sometimes it works by inspiration but usually it’s hard work and accepting temporary discomfort to achieve a better self. I will need to just sit down and talk with these concepts and find out what stories they want to be. Some will cross the big binary bridge in the sky. Others will flower into something more. None of it will happen unless I work at it and accept my failings so far and hope to improve from here on out.

No one can pull you across that finish line. Only you can.

Have you succeeded in achieving a resolution? Having trouble? Join the conversation.

Featured image is “[1] New Years Resolutions” by Emily Price licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0