Monday Challenge: Unassailable Truths

“I’m beautiful, so I can do whatever I want. LOL.”

Aaaaand I’m back. Good things: Australia was awesome! I have a new tattoo! Peacocks are assholes! Bad things: Krys* wouldn’t fit in my luggage! I’m still so jet lagged I got confused by a fork!

You know one of the best things about vacation? Aside from the new places and new people and familiar people and food? It shakes you out of your routine. Me, I love my routine. I helps me get shit done. But that doesn’t mean a break from it isn’t a good idea now and then.

After coming back from a three week break from virtually everything that defines my days–home, writing**, blogging, art, exercise, gaming, continent–I find myself rejuvenated and refreshed. And a hell of a lot more creative. On vacation, it was actually getting weird at a certain point: I hadn’t written or painted for weeks, and I was starting to feel…full. Like if I could have juiced my brain, pure artistic endeavour would have come out. And maybe some lol cats.

I learned many things on vacation. Among them:

  • -Peacocks are assholes
  • -Lamb ribs are a big fucking deal
  • -Scrotums can appear unexpectedly***.

Anyway, if I’m back, you know what else is back: the Monday Challenge. Now updated in real time instead of scheduled weeks in advance!

Today’s Challenge: write me someone learning a fundamental truth about the world. Fire is hot. Things fall. Australian rules football makes no sense but is awesome. Someone somewhere has learned an inalienable truth about their world and must now incorporate it into their life.

Out. I got stuff to do.

(Housekeeping: I didn’t have much access to the blog whilst meandering around Melbourne, so some comments went unapproved until recently. If you submitted one but still haven’t seen it, let me know and I’ll check the spam filters. Sorry for the delay and thanks, as always, for the comments!)

*You might remember her from her blog, On The Road To Ithaca, or guest posts like this and this.

**Okay, I did some of this while I was away. But it was different stuff, all right?

***Related: if you have a wardrobe malfunction, you should just own it.

 

Guest Post: How To Be A Writer

Take the blog! Don’t look back!

[As a special feature for the time I’m on vacation, Bare Knuckle Writer is bringing you Guest Posts by random mental patients friends of mine. Be nice to them.]

I want to be a writer.

Cool. Then write. Goal accomplished.

Smartass.

No, for real. One of the many beautiful things about writing is that anyone* can.

You want to be a pilot? That, my friend, will be an expensive process. Want to be in a rock band? You need other people who share your vision. Olympic gymnast? I hope the gods gave you a flexible spine. And possibly a severe eating disorder.

But you have to be in fairly dire straights not to be able to get your hands on pen and paper. And if you’re reading this post: my friend, you are not in those straights.

No, I mean a writer writer. Like, published and paid. People wanting to make movies and TV shows of my creations. You know, like George R. R. Martin or J.K Rowling.

Ah. I understand. What you want, then, is not to be a writer, but to be famous. Or rich. Or both. And that is something different. Unfortunately, I cannot help you with those things, as I am neither rich nor famous.

I am, however, a writer, however intermittently these days. I have universes in my mind, and I occasionally use written language to render those private imaginings into a form which I can share with others. And whether I ever have anything of significant length published or not, at the end of my days I will count the hours I have spent penning into notebooks or toiling over my laptop as time well spent.

Because I loved it, for the sake of it.

I love that there are fully formed characters walking around in my head, many with emotional imprints as strong as the flesh and blood people in my life. Is that psychologically healthy? Arguable. I’m all right with it, though.

When I write I am a god. I create worlds, histories, climate patterns. I control the seasons, even how many seasons the world has.

When I polish a poetic description of a crisp and golden autumn day, or feel my fingers move like quicksilver to script the casual banter of two too clever characters. . .whenever I feel I have succeeded in crafting a segment that could lift you the reader up or break their heart or produce a genuine gut laugh, it’s a victory. And that victory exists whether the words I have created reach ten eyes or ten million.

Many people have this flawed idea that people who ‘make it’ always knew they would. That those writers didn’t have to carve time out of already busy schedules, didn’t have to sacrifice family time for story research or deal with doubt or worry about working two jobs to pay the bills during the course of their novel creation. Like, the process was easy because the result was somehow guaranteed.

I may not know my ass from my elbow some days but my 32 years have granted me at least this much wisdom: no result is ever guaranteed.

That is why it is of such dire importance to spend our days doing what we love. Now. Not what we we think will yield us riches and prestige 5 or 10 years down the line, but what we love in this present moment in which we exist.

I don’t care if what makes you happy is crafting surrealist spoken word poetry or spending as much time as possible with your children or taking extraordinarily long showers with detachable shower heads— make the time to do it.**

Maybe you only like thinking about writing ideas, but the actual process of ‘type type edit curse delete curse question existence’ makes you think Bukowski was onto something with the whole ‘drink self into oblivion’ plan. That’s cool (the not writing plan, not the chronic alcoholism plan). Just imagine, then. Be an imaginer.

But if you love writing then do that. Write. Create something that makes your heart sing and your chest swell with pride. Don’t worry about the whys or wherefores. When it is done, if you think you have something of value and the idea of dollar signs and your name in lights seems appealing, then worry about how best to market the completed product you now have. If it’s something you crafted lovingly and poured yourself into with fiery abandon, it may not be all that hard.

Maybe. Again, see above point: No result is ever guaranteed.

No result except this: If you do what you love, your days are well spent. And that is true whether the fruits of your labour are justified with dollars and TV contracts or no.

Nomadic since the summer of 2007, Krys C is a former traveling tattooist and current aspiring pro fighter. Her wandering has thus far brought her to somewhere between 26 and 31 countries, depending on your politics. She occasionally writes things at The Road To Ithaca.

*[Anyone literate, anyway]~Pedantic Vacation Steph

**If you love all of those things and more besides. . .well, sugartits, it is time to be realistic. You can do one thing well, ten things decently or twenty things poorly***.‘How to prioritize’ would be a whole different post. Series of posts. Novel. Series of novels.

***Actual numbers may vary depending on person, existence and tasks.

Monday Challenge: In Between

No airport I’ll be in will look this cool.

I’m probably in an airport right now. What airport, on what continent, I don’t know yet, since I can never remember the time zone conversions, but if you’re passing through one and you see a woman wearing a giant robot t-shirt sacked out in a departure lounge chair re-reading Harry Potter and the Something of Something for the millionth time, say hi. It might not be me, but she still sounds pretty cool.

Airports are weird places. They’re in between. A place you pass through on your way somewhere else. Which only makes it weirder when you have to spend time there. There’s the distinct impression that you should be moving on.

They’re not the only places like that. Waiting rooms, bus stations, other people’s guest rooms, hotels, highway rest stops…these are places that you inhabit only temporarily. No matter how welcoming, no matter how comfortable, you will leave. That’s the point. Unless you’re that guy from The Terminal.

Monday Challenge: write me an in between place. A place you’re not supposed to stay. What makes it that kind of space? What hints did the builders add in to make it perfectly clear that you have to go? Uncomfortable chairs? Awful paint scheme? Chorus of shrieking demons? And what’s it like when your character has to stay there?

I’m going on the hunt for a power outlet.

 

Monday Challenge: Springy

The worst power up ever.

Maybe it’s because my lawn is finally starting to look like something other than the Devil’s frozen asshole, but I feel…springy*.

I’ve been doing a lot of digital cleaning. Mostly because, when my hard drive took a long walk off a short pier, I had to restore everything from a backup. Which took forever. But, being the sunny natured optimist that I am, I found something good in it: I could now reorganize my hard drive. After all, I had to erase the whole damn thing. Since I have a clean slate, it seems like a good time to think about an organizational structure.

I likened it to renovating after a house fire: yeah, I probably could have lived with things as they were, but now that it’s been burned to the ground, I might as well fix the weirdly shaped kitchen, patch that crack that was always in the floor, and clean out the nest of sentient crab spiders that roosts in the attic and throws parties on Tuesday mornings. It’ll improve things in the long run, and it’s not that much extra work compared to the Herculean effort that was already going on.

The result is a digital workspace that is better, cleaner, and more efficient. So the whole ‘my computer shit itself’ week had at least one good outcome: the laptop feels brand new again. And with a fraction of the cost–though a thousand times the work–of actually buying a new computer.**

Monday Challenge: write about something old made new. Spring springing, phoenixes rising, old ladies stealing the bodies of children to continue their quest for immortality, galactic armadas siphoning the power of a young star system to breathe new life into their war machines.

I’ll be over here, digging through the remains of my hard drive like a renegade archeologist looking for the Holy Grail. Or at least some interesting porn.

*To paraphrase Scrubs, ‘springy’ like the season, not like the inside of a mattress.

**Though I wonder how much longer I’ll get out of this machine. Like a double agent that claims it’s really on my side, I no longer trust it.

 

6 Things I Learned From Not Writing* For A Week

“Away From Keyboard” for those of you who either aren’t gamers or aren’t good at acronyms.

Aaaand we’re back. Did you miss me?

The last week has been fun, but the time for computer tinkering is past.** Now it is time for writing.

This last six days was an enforced vacation for me. I could write, but most of my software was burned to the ground, and the documents along with it. Almost all were recoverable, so no need to freak the hell out on that front. But still: a week in which I couldn’t work as I’m used to. Here’s what I learned:

1) I really have to write. You ever see one of those horrifying medical shows where someone has a giant thing that has to be periodically drained lest it kill them? I’m pretty sure that’s my imagination. If I can’t siphon off whatever unspeakable fluid lives in there, things get…weird.

Like my dreams. Mine are normally pretty bizarre; this week was beyond strange. The most normal one was where I was auditioning to be Batman and realized that I’d make a better Punisher.** The others…let’s just say ‘weird’ and leave it at that.

By the end of the week, I was so fed up with doing technical computer tasks that I started at least making notes old school: composition book again. I still have to transcribe everything I wrote there into the computer, and I have no idea if it’s decent. But it scratched the itch.

2) I know way more about computers than I thought. Weird, because I’ve never taken a single course in computer science. I’ve mostly just…you know, picked up stuff here and there. Which turned out to be hella useful, because I had to run a variant of an operating system from an external drive in order to start fixing things.

Knowing how to fix the thing that you use all day every day is a valuable skill. If I learned it from forums and articles, so can you.

3) You can never have too many backups. I had offsite backups, but had neglected my onsite external hard drive. As I now try to recover a terabyte of data from a remote server in Texas, you can bet I won’t be doing that again. More on backing up next week.

4) The standing desk fucking works. Because I was tinkering instead of writing, I’ve been working sitting down. Not something I usually do. And now I remember why.

This week was a cacophony of twinges, aches, and random muscle twitches. I scared the crap out of my yoga teacher because I flipped completely over doing headstand; my shoulder muscles were cranky and misaligned because of a week hunching over the laptop and external hard drive.

Lesson learned: keep the standing desk.

5) I’m really glad I have an iPod classic that holds all my digital music. Because you know what would have been worse than spending a week tinkering with my faulty device? Doing that without music. Like a fucking caveman.

6) No matter what, no matter where, I will always find a way to write. Broken computer? I can work around that. Hand cramps from pen usage? Whatever. Forbidden paper by the warden of my futuristic prison cell? Fuck you, I’ll write on the goddamn walls.

There is no version of me that doesn’t write. Right now, I’m writing this in Google Docs. I’ve heard some mixed reviews about Docs for writers–stuff on privacy, file control, terms of service, and problems with long files mostly–but I’m using this as a time to test drive. I sync everything offline to a hard drive (not the fucked up one) and back it up online. And it doesn’t need another piece of software to run, a very important qualification to me right now.

If it wasn’t Docs, it would be the note function on my phone. Or a composition book. Or something else, because, man, I just have to.

So, ever had catastrophic computer failure? Or another enforced vacation? What did you learn?

*More like ‘not writing the way I’m used to’. I tinkered and made notes, but didn’t get the 15,000 words I usually produce a week out.

**Well, not really. The files haven’t even been fully restored yet.  But I’ve at least got a shell that I can work from on this computer again.

***I also realized I was in the wrong comic universe.

 

Monday Challenge: I Like My Coffee Like I Like My Stories*

I love you, too, coffee.

Back in the long ago, Krys and I used to spend boring moments—bus rides, waiting room visits, that sort of thing—discussing every possible preference of fictional characters. Favourite drink. Preferred cigarette brand, if they smoked now or ever did. Favourite leisure activity. Sexual preferences. So many things that never make it into the story, but which real people do.

The one I remember most is a classic morning question, asked in diners and unfamiliar kitchens the world over: how do they take their coffee?

Don’t scoff. Anyone who’s ever had to deal with a cup that’s over-sugared or far too bitter knows that, while it might be personal preference, it’s still kind of a big deal. And, for lactose intolerant me, having someone else dump cream into the cup pretty much ruins the experience.

And it’s not just the taste. There was one character that, after much argument, we decided took his two ways. When he was around others, he’d order it strong and black, but when he was alone, he added so much goddamn cream and sugar that it must have been like drinking dessert. Because he had decided that he wanted to be the kind of guy who took his coffee black, even if he didn’t like the taste all that much. Anyone who’s spent time around insecure teenagers pretending to like the taste of beer has seen this phenomenon in action.

So, assuming you haven’t just skipped down to the bold text, you know what today’s writing prompt will be. If you have just skipped down to the bold text: seriously? It’s less than 400 words. If I can write it on the teensy amount of sleep I got last night, you can manage to read it. God.

Monday Challenge: how does your character take their coffee? Black and bitter? Sweet? Floating in cream? Decaff? Irish? One of those coffee-milkshake things available at Starbucks? Do they not drink coffee at all because of an ulcer, or PTSD because of the incident with the carafe and the monkey? Tell me what they’re ordering because that tells me about them.

I’m going to go make another pot.

*Dark, strong, and able to keep me up all night.

Skinny Dipping In The Fountain Of Weird: How To Get More Ideas

Sweet, sweet weaponized death.

I get a lot of questions about the way I think. Not all of them the good kind, either; about half those queries are phrased “What’s wrong with you?” That’s because, if you spend any significant amount of time with me, either in real life or online, you’ll eventually be exposed to the Fountain of Weird. This is what I call the part of my brain dedicated entirely to Weird Shit: dinosaurs with tanks for heads, six-limbed cat-people, a five-dimensional intelligent ebola virus, Soviet Russian weaponized cupcakes that eat you. Everyone who reads this blog? You’ve already been exposed. I hope your shots are up to date.

The questions, though—or at least those ones that don’t cast doubt on my sanity—are mostly about the process. How do I think of stuff? Why is it so easy? Why the hell would you say that out loud?

The reason I think of this stuff is because I’ve trained my brain to say yes.

It’s easy to dismiss things as childish or silly or ridiculous or wrong. It’s especially easy when those things don’t actually exist. But by taking the time to consider them, no matter how fucking weird they are, you open the doors to creativity. You’re allowing your mind to play. And that’s where the good stuff comes from.

If you’re always saying no, then sooner or later your brain will stop presenting you with the strange and wonderful and often downright disturbing stuff that it comes up with. It won’t do work that’s not rewarded.

This is why so many writers say that coming up with new ideas is never a problem. They’ve trained themselves to think this way. To say hell, yes to the sentient muffin bakery with the side-mounted cannon* that just crawled out of the dark recesses of their mind. Because what looks silly at first glance might have a great idea hidden inside.

And if not, you just spent five minutes imagining a sentient bakery firing muffins through windows**. How is that not awesome?

So, teach yourself to say hell, yes before no. Teach yourself to consider before you reject stuff outright as stupid or wrong or, my personal favourite, ‘a waste of time’. Give that weird thing some time, even if it’s only a minute or two.

Because the weird things, my little badgers, are the best things.

*”DO YOU KNOW THE MUFFIN MAN NOW, MOTHER FUCKER?”

**I’m officially stuck on weaponized baked goods today.

Monday Challenge: Chocolate Death Rain

Sadly, the candy coating did not help them survive the explosion of the Death Star.

Just a quick post up today, since I’m in the process of of both cooking a giant ham and cleaning my house so that we can have an easter egg hunt for seven people in their thirties today. Because when you’re too old to look for plastic eggs hidden among your friend’s erotica collection, you’re too old for life.

But I haven’t forgotten you, my sugar-addled little word badgers of doom. Despite it being an extra long weekend for a lot of people, there’s still writing to get done. So here’s my prompt for today.

This is a holiday closely associated with death, resurrection, chocolate, and pastel colours. There’s some cognitive dissonance there; think on it too long and you end up with a chocolate coated Angel of Death in a lilac robe. I don’t know if that would make the end better or worse, but it sure as hell would be a surprise to see it.

Monday Challenge: write something that involves both death and candy. If you have a diabetic character, you can probably get both of those together pretty easily, but work a little harder. Give me your Fondue Pits of Doom, your Pixie Stick of Life and Death,your Big Rock Candy Mountaineering Accident. Make it interesting, make it weird, and above all, make it sweet.

*Ever been whipped with one of the big ones? They hurt.

Coffee, Create, Repeat: Planning Chaos

My schedule is not that different from this. I even schedule a nap some days.

I have a daily routine: get up, read articles, drink coffee, get dressed*, write, exercise, lunch, shower, edit. Nearly all of the aforementioned activities are accompanied by music and the occasional caffeinated beverage. It sounds boring. That’s because it is. And that’s by design.

The less random daily shit I have to devote brain power to, the more space gets freed up for actual creativity. In other words, every second I don’t spend deciding if I’m going to read articles before or after my run is a second that I can use to think of reasons why my main villain seemingly devoted his entire life to being a giant douche. You know, the important stuff.

People think creativity is all about chaos: the endless swirl of energy that moves ideas around in your head and makes you spew them out on the page or the canvas or the eight-track**. And, you know, that’s part of it. But only part. Because the secret is to balance chaos with order. Very little gets created when you’re standing in front of the open fridge, wondering if you should have lunch now or later.

And then there’s the matter of time management. If your writing routine consists of ‘sitting down whenever I feel like it and scribbling down a few words before not looking at it for a month’, then you’re not going to produce as much work as someone with a more regular routine. Because of that, what you do produce will likely be of lower quality as well. Not because of talent, but because in order to get better at something you have to work at it consistently. I started a routine a couple of years ago, and the improvements I’ve seen in my writing in that span of time have kicked the living shit out of the improvements I saw in the years before when I was flailing around and figuring things out.

Now, what ‘consistently’ means to you is variable. I have to write five days out of seven, but I often do more because I want to. A lot of weeks I write every day. But not everyone likes to do that, even if they can. Maybe you’re a Saturday writer. And that’s fine. Maybe your routine involves getting up at 2 am to paint yourself with chocolate frosting and run naked through your neighbour’s backyard. And that’s fine, too.*** Whatever your routine is, just make sure it works—i.e., it makes you write.

And don’t forget to break your own rules every now and then. It’s a routine, not a prison sentence.

* I don’t like working in my pyjamas, though since I work from home, I totally could if I wanted to. That’s right: I’m just throwing that opportunity away because I can.
**I know there are artists out there who record on vinyl; is there anyone who’s doing eight-tracks?
***Just stay out of my backyard. I’ve placed bear traps.

The 7 Faces of Doubt, Or How To Never Get Anything Done, Ever

 

That bat-faced little shit in the bottom right, he’s the Distraction Of The Internet.

Doubt is the worst of all demons. You can keep those weird ones with the goat faces that haunted Sunday School when I was but a wee impressionable young thing.* Doubt is the worst because 1) it’s insidious and 2) most of the time, you’re the one producing it. I’ve never met a creative person who wasn’t, at some moments, a festering boil of doubt. You’re being your own demon, which I imagine is a big savings for Hell. Teach people to condemn themselves, save demon-power. Of course, it’s non-unionized work, but you can’t have everything.

But doubt it a tricky bastard. It doesn’t always look the same, and sometimes it brings friends. Sometimes it takes the form of something so different that it could be mistaken for something sensible. But it’s a lie, and you need to be able to see through it.

So, to help you with your daily projects, writing and otherwise, here is my spotter’s guide to doubt:**

1. Procrastination: If you never get around to it, it doesn’t count as ‘failing’, right?

2. Research: I just need to know how yaks were essential in to the culture and economy of the mountain people of Outer Mongolia***, and then I can start.

3. Tiredness: Oh, I was totally going to get to that today, but I didn’t sleep too well last night because I had that dream about the robot otters again. And, you know, there’s not enough coffee, and I could really use a cookie, and *indeterminate waffling noises*. Tomorrow. Tomorrow’s fine.

4. The ‘Muse’: I just don’t feel it. You don’t expect me to work when she’s not here, do you? Art cannot be rushed!****

5. Distraction. OH MY GOD I LOVE TWITTER SO FUCKING MUCH.

6. Perfection: I can’t start until I have the perfect opening line. And I can’t move on until I’m sure that everything is in place. It has to be perfect, or there’s no point. It’s not like there’s a thing called ‘editing’.

7. Timing: Ehn, it’s not really a good time now. I haven’t had enough Yak Butter tea*****, and it looks like it’s going to rain. Besides, I only start things on the first day of the month, and this month that was a Sunday, and I don’t work on Sundays. Maybe next time things will line up right. Today….mmm, doesn’t look good. Sorry.

So, what form is your doubt taking today?
*Honestly, I’m surprised more Catholics don’t write horror. The shit they tell you in Mass is fucking terrifying.
**At the moment, I’m dealing mainly with #3 and #7, with a side order of Holy Crap Am I Busy.
***…I actually wrote ‘yak’, realized I was just going on old movies to assume they were in Tibet and the like, and had to take a ninety second research break. IRONY FOR THE WIN.
****Fuck yeah it can. In the words of Henry Miller, “Even when you can’t create, you can work”. It’s not all fairy dust and magic wands; sometimes you need a sledgehammer.
*****Now I’m stuck on yaks. Though using the reference twice means the research is less a waste of time, right?