Don’t Skimp on the Friendship

Do you ever stop for a moment and think about who you’re standing next to at any given time?

When I lived in Georgia for two years, every now and then I had this hilarious and awing realization that anyone I spoke to was someone who lived in the state of Georgia and not in New Jersey where I had lived all of my life until that point.

Fair warning, don’t go to Atlanta expecting everyone to say, “Y’all.” You will be disappointed.

Recently I stopped and considered who I’m with when I have friends over to the apartment or when I go out with friends. I first met my current close friends when I started dating Ryan a little over five years ago. They had Ice Cream Tuesdays where they went to Dunkin Donuts and then back to Ryan’s house for boardgames.

In Georgia I met some pretty awesome folks, one of whom is now a Handmaid (bridesmaid) in my wedding. I’ve reconnected or remained relatively close to a handful of people from college and one or two from earlier than that.

I stop and think, “In the story that is my life, these are the people the author includes in this or that scene to make me a more realistic character.”

I can describe each of my friends to you with a little paragraph that sounds like a snippet from a novel because to a deep enough degree of comfort, I like having them around and I’ve gotten to know them.

People don’t exist in this world alone so if you are going to write realistically, unless your character is in a void, there are people around. Some of those people might share enough values and interests that they may call each other friends. A friend is an important person in your life on some level. Maybe you share core personal beliefs about life. Maybe you’re both board game fanatics. Maybe you love the same types of books, food, clothes, places to visit, etc.

When I was extremely active on Fictionpress.com, a few reviews for my big story still stand out to me, one of which was along the lines of, “Ita’s two friends don’t have much personality. You could probably make them one person.”

It was true–and a little hurtful to my young author pride to see such criticism of the characters that I thought were amazingly dynamic. I eventually (much much later) combined the characters after all. One was supposed to be the tomboy sporty girl who could get herself into trouble by acting before thinking. The other was a little shallow and materialistic from being spoiled by her adoptive parents, but had a good heart. Unfortunately, they just didn’t do much individually. They existed to be Ita’s best  friends. That was it.

If the characters around your MC (main character) are flat and boring, it doesn’t create a realistic picture if they are supposed to be close to the MC. Why are they there? Will they help the MC in some way even indirectly? Are they emotional support through some secret the MC maybe didn’t tell them about?

Whatever their purpose is, they have one. If they don’t, if you could cut them from the story and the plot wouldn’t be affected, they aren’t realistic. That’s a lesson I learned in a playwriting class where you don’t have pretty prose to pretend a character is more valuable than they are.

Additional characters are fine to fill a room, especially in school settings or outings to large and commonly traveled places, but if you are going to say they are a friend of the MC, they have to be dynamic, interesting, and real.

Think about the people you surround yourself with daily. If you cut them out, would your plot be affected?

 

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Variety: Life’s Lazy Susan of Spices

Variety is the spice of life. Spices liven up the variety of your food.

Life gets spicy when you vary your day with hobbies.

English is fun.

I mentioned a few days ago that I felt very similarly to how I did pre-job switch. I still have fits of frustration and outbursts of anger or sadness. Not enough aspects of my life are moving towards change for the better. Yet.

I made a few preliminary adjustments yesterday. I was productive at work while listening to DJ Cut Man and chip tunes as well as the next episode of Critical Role. (Please check out both of those if you like gaming.) After work I went grocery shopping for less than $60 and bought sirloin for the first time. Then after the sumptuous burger dinner that my fiance cooked, I spent the rest of the night finally hopping back on Ocarina of Time!

Why is this important? Because it’s different!

I’ve also mentioned in passing that I get bursts of excitement over new adventures or when inspiration hits me. The problem with bursts of excitement, similar to the problem with, say, a passionate summer love affair, is that it doesn’t last. Hot, engorged flames will inevitably peter out unless you stoke the flames and continue giving them fuel. If the fuel runs dry, oh well! Unfortunately, your writing career or hobby can’t survive on, “Oh well!”

I’m attempting to give these passions the fuel they need to keep burning, even if it’s a low, yet steady flame.

For work, I have a lot of down time right now as I learn the ins and outs of my new job. I spent a good deal of it watching Critical Role and obsessing over my own Fantasy Age RPG (role playing game) campaign. I felt the days starting to drag as the novelty of new work quickly subsided and I felt disoriented. So I made a concerted effort to focus on organizing my new space, learning what needs to be done and what actually can be done, and being an exemplary employee.

Schooling taught me to be the best of goody two-shoes.

For gaming, as I said, I’ve been diligently working on my RPG campaign essentially nonstop. It was okay when I thought I could shift gears slightly this coming weekend when our Titansgrave RPG group was going to meet again, but we had a change in plans. So I started obsessing again.

Knowing myself, I was afraid this passion would peter out too so when I got home I made the decision to play something different. I still haven’t beaten The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and yet my wedding ceremony is entirely based on it. I beat a dungeon last night! Ryan said I have to finish it before the wedding. 9 months. Wish me luck!

For health… Look, let’s be honest. I’m being pretty vain with this one. I’m having a wedding in 9 months. My dress JUST fits and I’ve got flabby arms I’d like to see toned up for pictures. There’s a lot of superficial passion for this one. However, I do know deep down that health is more than just vanity. Health is one of the determinations for if I’ll ever be a mother. Health decides what I might like to do should I live to the ripe old age of 90. There are long term decisions at stake here.

But in all honesty, I’m focused on looking good in my wedding dress. I admit it. To keep this passion for health alive long enough for me to focus on the long term, I need to slowly add in a variety of meals. Burgers and broccoli has taken Ryan and I basically to our limits. So I was thrilled to see sirloin on sale at ShopRite. We’re such meat snobs now.

For writing, the problem and solution are the same as the others. I’m doing daily or every other day blog posts because it’s different. It gives my mind something to think about other than just writing a novel or an RPG campaign or play script. Writing a flash fiction shakes up my story writing by catering to that abrupt passion and using it productively whether it lasts or not. It still changes up my habits so they can be longstanding.

Keep your life interesting. Keep it varied. Keep it spicy.

Discover Your “Cornerstone Style”

Is it proper to fall for a hobby because you have fallen head over heels in infatuation for someone who also enjoys the hobby?

I am not sorry at all.

My research on the current catalyst of my overwhelming excitement has led me to Critical Role, a web series by Geek and Sundry and led by the incredibly talented and handsome Matthew Mercer. While I can admit staring at him is no small portion of my reason for watching, he’s also a skillful storyteller and game master.

Writing my Fantasy Age campaign side by side with watching Critical Role has given me a number of ideas to give my story more heft. It started with, “I only know about Ryan’s character so far. Let’s see how I can add some intrigue to the circumstances of what happened to his character’s father.” Then it grew into, “The leader of their ‘country’ wants to meet the local heroes and look better in the eyes of her people.”

Somehow I now have, “The leader of this ‘country’ wants to meet local heroes and now someone is trying to murder her which has brought the group searching for a mystical murder weapon carried by an assassin into a secret cavern of an ancient ruin with monsters that are brainwashed, but also brutish and something about glowing fungus.”

It’s all coming together in a charmingly rough kind of way.

As I read through the seven pages of Google Docs I wrote over the course of a week and change, a familiar concern lifted its ugly head.

Am I a copy cat?

I learn by doing. That is one thing I can say with confidence about myself. Monkey see; monkey do. It’s gotten me through 18+ years of schooling. Whenever I learn something new, I use the exact same tactics. I call it my cornerstone style. It’s the groundwork to how I begin any brand new field.

When I started writing in earnest at age 15, I was reading The Young Wizards series by Diane Duane. The stories I wrote were piggybacked straight from her stories, but with my own characters and in new places that I am more familiar with. I continued reading children’s fantasy books like Chanters of Tremaris series and The Knight and Rogue series. Suddenly I was writing stories about young heroes traversing countrysides and overthrowing corrupt kingdoms with magic and love.

Eventually my stories became much more original. While there’s nothing new under the sun, relatively speaking, I was writing stories closer to the style of Greek Gods in a modern urban setting, which was very unique for the woman who HATES Greek mythology. One novel I finished had a similar plot to a story I never read or knew about so I consider that original content.

Now that I have entered a new writing territory, I watched myself slip back to my square one routine: shut up and do as you’re told. It’s just how I learn.

Is that bad? Not necessarily.

If anyone is expecting the very first word vomit that splats on a page to be a publishable masterpiece of prose, then I highly recommend deflating your ego. The first thing you write will be garbage, but it will be the cornerstone to everything else you will eventually write. It has to suck before it can get better. It’s your cornerstone style.

It is no different for launching into a new genre of writing. My cornerstone is copy cat style writing and then adding originality either to later drafts or to new works. Whatever your cornerstone style is, it likely won’t get you published, but show it to someone you trust and/or someone knowledgeable and see where it takes you.

People need hobbies too, you know. Not just careers.

A Group Project You’ll Actually Enjoy??

Change is hard. Period. End of story. Let yourself have this affirmation.

Change, however, is not impossible.

But it is hard.

I have made a big change in my life recently. I started a new job! Unfortunately it is not the life of the “stay at home and feed your family with your writing” job I’d love to acquire. It is another office job, but this one is significantly closer to home and dramatically less stress than my previous job.

Here is the catch: I have taken away two huge excuses for at least two major issues I have with myself, but I still feel like the same person I was when I would drive fifty minutes to work crying and swearing. My life did not suddenly unravel the storm in my mind. I still feel anxiety and self doubt. My laziness is apparent, and my temper still gets the best of me. These are not positive things.

I thought to myself, “Why am I like this and how can I change it?”

I answered myself, “Not everything will necessarily change all at once.”

Here’s a little side information that is important to note. My fiance is running a tabletop RPG (role playing game) for me and some of our friends right now and I became a little obsessed. I created a family tree for my character and I looked up inspirational pictures on Google for how she looks and the essence of who she is. I even filled out an extensive questionnaire! It’s been a blast!

Because our sessions have been a little sporadic, I was inclined to further immerse myself into a new world on my own time by writing my own RPG campaign using the same system. I can’t promise the quality of it, but it has been taking every bit of my free time since the idea struck me. There is magic and young heroes being thrown into an adventure they didn’t expect. There’s even a little forbidden love.

The interesting thing about RPGs is that while the GM makes the story, the players flesh it out. I give descriptions of the area and the circumstances while they give me the outcome of each encounter. It is shared writing and I look forward to experimenting with it myself albeit with nervous anticipation.

That being said, engaging myself in these RPGs was the next change I made. I’ve taken time to sit down and write a story. It isn’t a novel. It isn’t even for children whom I said I want to write for–it’s a story for 3-4 friends to play out with me as they create my main characters.

The point is, I’m writing and researching and learning new things. I’m listening to experts in the field and reading tips for success. I’m excited in the way I get waves of excitement about things. Maintaining bursts of excitement is hard–like change is hard. However, in my eyes it’s better than being apathetic or angry about doing nothing.

I think deep down, we all want to feel like we’ve made an impact on this world. We want to leave it a better place than when we received it.

I’m nearly finished with the first campaign for my players. While I’m on this current high, I am setting myself up for the next change: lifestyle change.

In the mean time, I have more intrigue to plot!

Procrastination: Writing IS Your Time Now

Society works because of voluntary choices. We choose to be kind, or at least genial, to the stranger on the bus because nothing good comes from starting a conflict with someone who knows public transportation. Do not mess with city folks. We choose to share our loose change with a beggar on the streets because you get more value from giving them away than keeping them and the unfortunate soul gets lunch.

Or drugs. I don’t know. I don’t judge.

Not all of our choices are good, but they are still our choices to make. Procrastination is still our choice.

Writing is already imbued with the mindset of “Oh that’s a cute hobby. So what do you do for a living?” That can be detrimental to the novice who wants to sit down and begin his or her career at long last.

This is when the transition begins and the excuses for keeping our old bad habits are plentiful.

Back in February of this year, without the foresight that my world was soon to be turned head over heels, I decided to help a good friend of mine with a play by being his stage manager.

There may or may not have been some ulterior motives. That was also the time I began an online writing course for children’s novels and I had the opportunity to be around children in their natural habitat. I was using it partially as a case study to help with my writing, which certainly should not be considered procrastination.

Boy, did I learn a lot about teenagers over those few months. Some things remained the same: innuendo is always funny to hormonal teenagers.

I didn’t count on the stress as my life took on major changes elsewhere. My job became overwhelming to the point of tears some mornings. The alternative, however, was not being able to afford rent or plan a wedding. I could go on, but I’m not here to be a Debbie Downer. I’m here to tell you my procrastination stories so you learn from my mistakes.

Here was my schedule for the last few months. Rehearsal commitments were twice a week in the evenings, but that kept me away from home until 10pm the earliest every Monday and Wednesday. My fiance and I had game night every Tuesday and we streamed board games on Friday and Sunday or there were familial obligations such as Easter. Saturday I left the apartment to do laundry and see my family or I cleaned the apartment.

Despite my schooling, I can tell you that this schedule left me with a single evening a week to sit down and focus. Well OBVIOUSLY I couldn’t get any proper work done if I didn’t have at least six to ten hours to dedicate to my craft!

(I’m kidding.)

I just did nothing. Maybe I jotted some notes here or there when I could keep my head afloat. I could pretend my situation would improve with a few scribbles.

What I didn’t let myself believe was that the notes were actually helpful. I can’t write a story in which I feel confident unless I can iron out as many kinks in the pre-writing stages. I didn’t let myself believe that being around the children twice a week, watching their reactions to authority and overhearing side conversations, which shouldn’t happen during my rehearsals, was actually helpful.

In the brief moments when I let myself believe that, I found use in it. When I valued the time I spent, I gave myself the time. Twenty-four hours can be plenty depending on how you use it.If you don’t front load your writing process with fine tuning every little detail as I do, there are other ways to segment your day and still be productive.

Even if I only made minimal changes in Scrivener or I wrote down something funny a kid told me,  I had done something towards my ultimate goal: quitting my 9-5 job and living on what I love.

You can have a life outside of your writing, but your priorities–and they may not currently be what you think they are–will determine how much time you delegate. Don’t let false priorities lead to procrastination. The tricky part is being honest with yourself.

I wish I could jump straight to the happy ending with this story for you, but I’m still writing it.

No One Suspects the Writer’s Exposition!

…the quote goes something along those lines anyway.

Welcome! Please pull up a chair. I’m Brenna Singman, the Voluntary Writer.

That doesn’t mean I write for free. TANSTAAFL baby!

It means anything and everything I do I strive to do so of my own volition. I live to be happy. This is a key concept in my life everywhere from my writing to how I handle day-to-day interactions.

Writing has empowered me and has given me release from a young age. In middle and high school I took writing assignments very seriously. Well, perhaps seriously is the wrong word. I took them to heart and I went above and beyond. I could not be contained by the arbitrary assignment parameters stifling me like some speed limit sign.

I had a story to tell.

Perhaps I knew unconsciously that grades were not the defining factor of my education. However, most of my teachers were dumbfounded that I would ask to breach the minimum page limit rather than beg to lower it as my peers did.

Those assignments may have been the only positive aspect of my 18 year entrapment.

In college, the creative writing aspects of my theatre courses were the moments where excitement leapt from my throat and smoke followed the frenzied tak-tak-taking of my laptop keyboard.

The sporadic assignment of homework that I actually enjoyed left me wanting, but also scared and confused. I wanted more creativity, but all of the authority figures in my life who promised to reward my passions also told me to prepare for a lucrative job in the future. Essentially my fellows students and I were told that our happiness was not lucrative.

Fair enough. Supply and demand is a shifty beast in the arts. I may be a dreamer, but I’m not stupid.

Years went by and I trudged from one retail job to the next after realizing pursuing a career using my degree made my heart sink.

Over time, certainly not in one burst as some people would have you believe, I finally knew that I would never be happy doing office work or 9-5 gigs for which I felt the most competent based on my schooling experience. I didn’t go into the booming STEM fields because I didn’t feel inspired or supported to take on difficult classes. Perhaps I was simply too wild to follow someone’s rules for such long periods.

Through all of this heavy discovery, I always fell back to one comfort: writing.

A year before I was to be married, to be deemed a man’s wife, to finally feel like I entered womanhood, I decided the time was right to finally pursue my writing as a serious career. Again, I don’t know if serious is the right word. It is too whimsical of a notion to be taken seriously, but the time and dedication requirements must become habits. I decided I was ready to make those habits mine.

I’m only sorry to have ignored this craving for so long when it helped me through numerous crises.

Never ignore something that makes you truly and deeply happy.