Thursday, February 10, 2011

Write Like a Sword-Wielding Martial Artist

Good morning! I've been super busy as we get the Notes from Underground anthology underway. The final release date is for March 1st. Let us hope and cross our fingers that this sticks. This is going to be one sweet book, you guys. You. Will. Want. To. Buy. It.

Today is a treat! One of our loyal readers and authors who will be in the Notes anthology is guest posting here today. Read this post! It's made of awesome. It talks about swords and what lies at the heart of what we should face as writers.

Welcome, C.N. Nevets!
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If you've been around the Literary Lab for very long, you've heard this message: write bravely. There are other variations, but it's a theme that comes up again and again. Over the past year or so, this has been one of the greatest challenges set before me in my own writing, and I'd like to cover some of what I have learned. I'll present these as confrontations, because I rather like the image of myself as a sword-wielding martial artist fighting against the evil hordes of my own worst bits of writing.

Confront Your Inadequacy. Try writing something you don't feel adequate to write. Challenge yourself. You can do it in baby steps, but the more times you accomplish what you previously felt you could not, the more stories you will be empowered to tell. I did this with a flash fiction piece I called, "Discipline." It's a story that's inspired by the story of my great uncle, an underage soldier in the Pacific theater of WWII. I didn't feel I could do it justice, and when I look at it I know it could have been better. But I've gotten a few precious bits of feedback that tell me that, at least for a few readers, the message got across. For me, that means it was well worth while.

Confront Your Darkness. Darkness comes in a lot of forms, but the kind that you need to confront is the internal darkness. I personally struggle a lot with writing the kind of things I do whenever I'm confronted with the reality of terrible evil. This past year, I've had more than one brush with this, including a teenage suicide and the disappearance of a good friend and his wife. The darkness you face may be less Hollywood. Perhaps you write YA romance and are suddenly uncomfortable with it because of the heartbreak your daughter goes through. Perhaps you write epic fantasy and face pressure that makes you feel guilty for dealing with fantasy rather than the real world. Some writers go a long time before facing this kind of darkness; few avoid it forever. If you face it, deal with it, and then write. It's okay to take a little time to sort through something, but there's no reason to let your writing be silenced.

Confront Your Detractors. Every writer has stories that get rejected. Often times, we develop nemeses who just plain don't like our writing and want to make a point of it. Sometimes it's just a bad comment on a single website, or an unfair review. Whether your detractors are critics or those annoying kids in your writing class, you cannot write in order to avoid their scorn.

Confront Your Supporters.
Perhaps the hardest thing I've yet done in writing was to submit, "I Need This," to Domey, Michelle, and Scott.The writing itself was risky. The voice thick and easily misconstrued in a blind reading. The topic was dark, and portions were frankly vile. The Literary Lab had shown some confidence in my writing during the Genre Wars contest, and I didn't want to jeopardize my standing in their eyes. Writers spend so much time being rejected, it can be very hard to risk losing the support of those who have accepted our writing -- but you can't write for them any more than you can write to avoid your detractors.

Confront Your Self-Image.  
What made "I Need This" extra difficult is that, within it, I crossed a few of my own lines. I wrote things I never thought I would write. I took on the voice of the kind of person whose work I had grieved when I was doing forensic anthropology. I integrated photographs in a way that felt very uncomfortable for me because of that work. Much of this would not have been hard for any of the rest of you. And that's the point: there are few things that are harder than challenging your own idea of yourself. But by doing so I threw off chains that were weighing me down.

A lot of this can be boiled down to this:

Confront Your Inside Voice.
When it comes to writing, use your outside voice. I'm not saying there's no place for restraint in language, or for quiet prose, or for still moments. What there's no place for, though, is fighting against your self and holding yourself back.

The benefits of writing bravely are many, from self-satisfaction to improved quality. Sometimes, the benefits are even practical.  I'm currently finishing up a novel, Sublimation, that I will be querying for publication. I've had to write bravely several times in the course of this work. When I posted a synopsis and a quote from the book on my website, it got the attention of one of my writing heroes, who then reached out to me to express his appreciation and support. That has been a tremendous encouragement to me -- and it could not have happened if I had not taken the leap into writing bravely.


.Nevets.


(p.s., If you care to read, "I Need This," you can do so by going to to the http://www.nevets-qst.com/">Nevets-QST website and clicking on the Websclusives tab. "Discipline" can be read at the same website, under Flash Fiction.)

51 comments:

  1. Great advice, Nevets! I am very excited to have a fresh, hot copy of this book in my hands.

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  2. As usual, you hit the nail on the head, Nevets.

    Sometimes I think that I don't push my writing enough...

    But where do I begin...

    :-)

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  3. It's going to take a little while to digest this (weeks, probably), but I do so appreciate the theme.

    You've hit on 4 of my issues and I am grateful to read about the struggles of a writer I admire. I'm trying hard to be braver, doing it in 'baby steps', as you say. This post helps. I'll keep it on file...

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  4. It's like the mongoose and the muskrat in Riki-tiki-tavi. While the mongoose is out in the middle of the room, challenging the cobra, the muskrat is creeping around the outer edge of the room, hoping to go unnoticed. Everyone knows the mongoose is Riki-tiki-tavi, but, quick without grabbing your Kipling, what was the muskrat's name?

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  5. The broad sword is my favorite weapon right now and just for fun, I took a class in the Hae Dong Gum Do style a few weeks ago.

    Martial arts aside, I find the self-image and the inadequacy parts the hardest for me. Facing others is not easy, but facing myself where I can hide nothing: that's the part that makes it hard to even breathe sometimes.

    Thanks for the article, Nevets.

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  6. Nice post, Nevets. For me, confronting my darkness is the biggest issue. I'm always fascinated by dark stories and dark people, and I tend to write about them a lot. But, I constantly have to fight the fear that no one else will connect with the material I'm interested in.

    You also make a great point about confronting your supporters. You made me realize I have that fear a lot!

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  7. Great post! You said everything I needed to hear!

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  8. Sometimes you just have to risk alienating everyone to try out your ideas and see how many flaming hoops you can jump through. The more outlandish or difficult the idea, the more excited I am to work with it, and I try very hard not to back down from ideas that scare even me.

    Last night over dinner, I told Mighty Reader that I had a cool idea for a future book: I'm going to write three endings that will all come one after another and will all be different. She said, "I don't like that at all." I said, "I am not disuaded." She sighed and said, "I know you're not. But I still don't like it." Mighty Reader is my number one supporter and toughest critic.

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  9. I've been struggling with the Darkness one. In one of my novels, the MC tries to commit suicide.

    A few months later, two of my cousins succeeded in killing themselves. I don't want to hurt my family members by leaving it out there . . . there's so many complex layers to deal with here.

    Gosh it's hard.

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  10. Amber, what a tough situation that is. I'm so sorry. I've had similar parallels like that in the past and I never know what to do about it.

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  11. Great post.

    Confronting my inadequacy: Yeah, that pretty much sums up this past year for me.
    The pressure of measuring up to you guys, or rather, trying to be accepted in a group of capable and worthy writers, dissolved the moment I realized that every one of you talented folks were once at my level. At that point, I started to relax. It also helped that every one of you seem to love to share your knowledge generously. So thanks.

    More than anything, I've learned to open up completely in my writing. That elusive voice people keep insisting is so damn important, I am developing. (I think) That, you guys will have to judge.

    ...with Tiger claws, naturally.

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  12. Amber, I'm sorry to read about your cousins. Suicide is something I couldn't fathom until I tried it myself.
    I was the type of person that worked out my depression internally. No one knew (knows) about my thoughts. A main character in my first book attempted suicide. Writing it helped me see the foolishness of it. The dialogue among the characters helping him was literally me talking myself out of it. It's raw and honest. For me, it's the beauty of writing.

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  13. @Genie - Thanks -- and me, too! :)

    @Misha - Thanks, I do try. With the scale of your monster WIP, it's probably intimidating to think about pushing it. So you push it (see if this sounds familiar) one word or phrase at a time.

    @Bridget - I'm glad to have given you food for thought. That's really what I aim for and it's nice when it works. And thanks for your kind words, as well.

    @Chuck - I do not remember at all.

    @Yat-Yee - I envy your Hae Dong Gum Do experience. I love that stuff. I've done some aikken but very limited. Self-image is really where I struggle the most. The kind of writer I think I am is both an encouragement and a stumbling block.

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  14. @Domey - Confronting the darkness is the most vivid struggle for me when it arises, but fortunately it only comes up every couple of months or so. I think what's finally helped me minimize my fear of losing my supporters is the realization that I don't withdraw my general support for a writer I respect because I don't care for one single project, or even a couple. Remembering that helps me feel less apprehensive about my own supporters.

    @Amanda - Awesome! I'm glad!

    @Scott - It seems like, with my cursory familiarity with your personality, an initial, "Yeah, I don't like your idea," or, "Hmm, I'm not sure you can really pull that off," would be the ultimate catalyst toward your embarking down the very path.

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  15. @Amber - I'm sorry sorry about your family's loss. I do not envy you dealing with that either personally or in your writing. I've had to grapple with very similar things on more than one occasion. I wish I had advice for you, but I just know it's hard. I will say that if you ever want to talk through the struggle with another writer who's been there, just drop me a line.

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  16. @Charlie - Even better, we're all still developing and learning ourselves, too! :-D

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  17. This post rules almost as hard as Kenjutsu. Great post. Do not go gently!

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  18. I'm with JB, going to bookmark this and come back to it to read several times, a lot of good stuff in there, Nevets, thank you for it.

    Charlie, I just have to say thank you, I appreciated your comments so much- thank you for posting them. (I hope that you have more good days now, than bad.)

    Amber, I am so sorry for your losses and I hope you can listen to your heart and find a solution that you can feel okay about going forward with your work.

    ~bru

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  19. Excellent post.

    I know I struggle with confronting inadequacy; most of the time I feel like foregoing any idea that feels like something I wouldn't be able to match with my writing level.

    Amber, I'm so sorry to hear about your cousins.

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  20. Each of your points resonates with me, but I think the strongest one for me is confronting my inadequacy. I'm always, always feeling that, but I'm getting braver about writing things I wouldn't otherwise. So far it's turning out well.

    Thank you for this post, Nevets. These are important things we as writers need to consider and reflect upon. It is this type of reflection that I think gives us our biggest push. Not reading a book about writing or taking a class, but confronting ourselves.

    Charlie: I honestly think you're farther than you think. Be brave enough to realize not only your potential, but what you have already reached.

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  21. Amber: I too am sorry about your cousins.

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  22. I love confronting my inadequacies. I learned early on to challenge myself and I firmly believe it's made me a better writer.

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  23. @Matthew - HAI!

    @Bru - You're very welcome! I'm so glad you found some useful material in here.

    @G'Eagle - I haven't seen much of your fiction, but I know your written communication really well (obviously) and I can see your intelligence, maturity, and deftness. Put thoughts of inadequacy behind you! :)

    @Michelle - I know your view of yourself as a writer is less than my view of you as a writer. I'll keep coaxing you towards the truth. :) But I also get that there's more to it than that. I understand some of the reasons for hanging on to ideas inadequacy, and I do some of them, too.

    @Clarissa - Yes! The best way to grow and develop, I firmly believe, is to tackle something you think you can't pull off, whatever the reason.

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  24. "The best way to grow and develop, I firmly believe, is to tackle something you think you can't pull off"

    I try to build this sort of challenge into every one of my novels, and try to add more as I go along. Playing it safe is not for me.

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  25. And that is why someday, like it or not, you will be Brilliant.

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  26. No, people like Nabokov and Hemingway and Atwood are brilliant. They're rock stars; I'm just a garage band.

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  27. I'll take the White Stripes over Boston any day...

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  28. IS it time yet to hijack the comment section?

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  29. Oh yeah! Ready--go!

    I had the best spaghetti for lunch today.

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  30. Yat-Yee, why have you waited this long?

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  31. Well, y'know, trying to be kind and all.

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  32. If so, I must say that that possibility of Hae Dong Gum Do classes in the area is yet another draw for me to the Fort Collins area...

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  33. See! I told you I'd forget! I had spaghetti for lunch too. Don't know what's for dinner.

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  34. The restaurant at which I lunched was out of CO2 so their pop was flat. It didn't make me happy but I didn't complain about it because I've eaten there for years and I like the woman who owns the place.

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  35. I had the best Thai stir fry for lunch and then the absolute most gorgeous foam in my cappuccino.

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  36. Pop? You mean soda, right?

    And, discussions about foam are fine as long as they stay on drinks. I'm not into the new foam trend in gourmet restaurants lately

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  37. Lunch was a homemade grilled chicken wrap with a mild homemade red curry. Dinner on the other hand will be frozen fish.

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  38. Well, in that particular class, we spent most of our time learning how to hold the sword, and then standing on one leg holding the sword up while Master Parnell went around the room pushing students to make them fall. As soon as one person puts down both legs, everyone gets to start all over again. Not much on the skills-learning part, but lots of mind-over-muscle drills.

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  39. Are you going to eat the fish frozen, Nevets? At least thaw it out...

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  40. Soda is un-sweetened, carbonated salt water. Pop is drinkable candy, possibly with caffeine happiness.

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  41. @Yat-Yee - Mind over muscle drills, properly taught and properly followed, can be awesome.

    @Michelle - I'm on-call and Meghan's getting ready for work. Thawing the fish might be optional. If you stuff it into an ice cream cone it breaks down the psychological barriers that make eating it frozen seem weird.

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  42. I second thawing the fish first, Nevets.

    Domey: yeah, fish mousse and red pepper foamy things are gross.

    Now that I have succeeded in hijacking this, I shall go prepare dinner. Eggy tofu and ground pork.

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  43. Yat-Yee, not your dinner, I meant Nevets' comment. :)

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  44. Now I will forever think of Nevets as "Fishsicle"

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  45. Michelle: I won't feel insulted if my dinner grosses you out. I thought you actually mean that foam foods gross you out.

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  46. Now I'm really hungry with all this food talk. It's not even dinnertime yet. Sigh.

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  47. I don't know why I said "pop." I never use that word. I always say "soda." I'm not myself.

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  48. I had a gluten-free cheese burrito for lunch. It was surprisingly tasty. Though it was immediately followed by dark chocolate.

    Dark...mmmmm. Yum.

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  49. Alex, anything gluten-free should be followed by chocolate. :)

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