Creator Tropes

This month’s topic is tropes, and I have decided to swerve a little into another interest of mine for this months blog, although it does touch on another form of writing. The kicking off point for this blog came from a comment on an interview I listened to a month or so ago where the guitarist of Alice In Chains was talking about, among other things, the bands new album. The guitarist/vocalist, Jerry Cantrell, said that he had not written what he called a “bendy riff Alice tune” for this album, but his fellow guitarist/vocalist, William Duvall had. The reasons this simple comment was interesting are:

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  1.  Jerry is aware that his band is known for bends in their riffs.

  2. It is such a big part of their recognizable sound that his bandmate, who he stated didn’t like the bends to begin with, has now started to use them.

 This example is just one of Alice in Chain's creator tropes. Creator tropes are instantly recognizable and the hallmarks of a creators style. They span the whole creative spectrum, from writing in all its facets, to art, film, music, and crafts. It’s Tim Burton and his use of vertical stripes. Terry Pratchett and dry wit. Zakk Wylde and pinch harmonics. It may be linked to genre, but it is separate from it, often following a creator as they stretch into other genres and mediums.

 The interesting thing about the Alice in Chains example is, although the bendy riffs originated organically, and is a trope Jerry has carried into his solo work, it has now been adopted by a band member who joined almost 20 years after the band started. The band has an awareness of this trope and maybe others they are known for to the point that their newest member has incorporated it into his playing. So why does it seem like the originator of Alice in Chain's “bendy riff" trope not create one for the new album?

 Unless he decides to tell us we will never know if it was a deliberate choice to step away from the trope or he simply didn’t have an idea for that kind of riff. What we do know however, is being made aware of our little quirks can make us extremely self conscious to the point that we try to stop the behavior. Things like twirling our hair around our fingers, or a particular way of saying something can be with us for years, but all it takes is one person to mention it, whether nicely or not, for us to retreat from the behavior as fast as we can. Sometimes, the backing away from the behavior is not deliberate. In a long running collaborative role playing story, my fellow writer pointed out that one of my characters had nicknames for four other characters, and he never mixed them up even though they were all variations of “sweet one” or “precious one”. I was aware of the nicknames, but not the fact the four characters had their own. As soon as I was aware I started to mix them up. This was not deliberate, I just became hyper aware and second guessed myself every time. Maybe it is the same with creator tropes? Being made aware of them makes us super self conscious of their existence and , in doing so, makes it less natural and more a deliberate choice to include them.

 Unfortunately, being made aware of our own creative tropes is not something that can be put back in the box, but the awareness will dull with time. Until then, we just have to put up with cringing every time we notice our trope and try to remember that they are part of our own personal style, and we are free to use or not use them as much as we wish.

 

More Nasty, Less Trope-y Women, Please!

Cigar smoking woman in Cuba  Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cigar_smoking_woman_in_Cuba.jpg

Cigar smoking woman in Cuba

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cigar_smoking_woman_in_Cuba.jpg

With so much great content out there on so many platforms, it’s a necessity to be a little picky about what I consume. There is already enough of an onslaught of judgment, disdain, and even danger that anyone who identifies as a woman puts up with in real life, I can’t stand spending my wind-down time watching something that plays into that. 

 Case in point: I recently gave up watching I Feel Bad with my husband because, well, the main character just felt a little too bad. While the show is overall cute and funny as sitcoms go, and it did sometimes address how a lot of the things Emet felt bad about are things women in general are guilted for, I felt it downplayed it to just a joke. She felt bad for not being more involved with her kids because she worked (even though her husband, David, worked just as much and was not guilty or guilted); she felt bad for wanting some time for herself, away from David and the kids and work; she felt bad for not being more accommodating to her parents, etc. SO many things women have to worry about in terms of their expectations from themselves and society as a whole. I realize the whole point is to poke fun at the guilt-trips many women face, but I also wanted the show to do a little more with punching-up at the status quo. I want all media to do a little better with that, to be honest.

 Indeed, a woman can totally be serious about her career and other personal goals (ya know, have a life), but as soon as she partners up, it's “when are you getting married?” And literally on their wedding day, if that happens to occur, it's “when are the babies coming along?” Before I had coupled up with my husband, people asked me what I was up to, asking me how I was doing in school and work. This is where I feel the rub lies: men never stop being asked about how they're doing at work or school or whatever else they're up to. Women not only stop being asked these questions, they often instead start being asked when they're going to pop out kids. For my own experience with this, I felt it was nevermind that I had started new jobs at a scientific publishing company and a creative writing community school that were both fulfilling huge dreams of mine-- I had just gotten married, so why wasn't I pregnant already? And you bet no one ever asked B where the baby was, they asked him about the promotion he received shortly after we got married, shortly after I started my new gigs. If we're still going to tell the happily ever after stories, why can't there be diverse happy endings? I love when people fall in love, I'm definitely that sap who cries at every wedding, but falling in love and committing to someone else, no matter one's gender, can involve more than getting married and having children, or can include these things at different times. Maybe characters can fulfill lots of different dreams, just like people do in real life.

 Lest I start sounding like The Angry Woman (another trope, although I find it perfectly understandable that women are a bit miffed at the state of things), let’s bring up some tropes that I'm not sure can be flipped to punch up or question gender roles, so maybe we can just let them rest: woman must die to further a man’s story (aka fridging), woman (especially a woman of color) must save man from himself and/or fix him. The latter is probably the umbrella problem here: women must not only do the aforementioned work of raising family and making home, but all the emotional work as well. And because the societal expectation is that being coupled up, even if it's a toxic and harmful coupling, is better than being alone, women in particular are expected to stay and “fix” the man. The movie He's Just Not That Into You came out ten years ago and Gigi and Janine's characters still haunt me. The former desperately tries to cling to any man who will speak to her as The One, making her the creepy, thirsty chick who needs the mentorship of the cool dude, who calms her down enough to end up falling for her himself. Poor Janine is finally getting the home she's always dreamed of, only to discover the man she wanted to share it with only married her because he was too scared to break up with her. In a way fridging is just another example of this trope. In the otherwise perfectly enjoyable movie Deadpool 2, the title character's fiancee is (spoiler) killed, so of course he must plunge into a wave of sorrow to the point of trying to kill himself, even though he's essentially immortal, then eventually realize he wants revenge. Revenge turns to discovery of his self-worth, which any character arguably deserves, but why does it so often have to be tied to the death or suffering of a woman? I could think of a number of other things that would make just as much sense to his character that could catalyze his grief and subsequent ass kicking of baddies. Maybe not as many women in real life get literally fridged, but there are thousands of women who stay in unhealthy, even abusive relationships because we should be able to fix the man, to shape him into the partner who'll take care of us and make us whole. Talk about doing all the emotional work, and literally sacrificing everything for the man.

 In short, these films and shows only play into the tiresome if not down right harmful tropes that, frankly I would love to do without. Show me all the badass, vulnerable, multi-dimensional, complex characters, and I will turn on the channel and bring the popcorn.

Rebelling with a Cause: Know Your Tropes Before You Break Them

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where a trope starts. If I had to guess, the badass biker in the leather jacket apotheosized into pop culture with James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. It’s a film that seeped into my brain through parody and homage. I’ve never seen it, but when I see a leather jacket in a film, I’ve got an idea of who the character wearing it is, or at least how they want to be seen.

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It’s harder to pinpoint when a trope evolves, how it turns. One of the things that comes with the badass biker trope for me is the emotional baggage. It might not be for everyone, but I can’t see a leather jacket (even though it was a jean jacket in this film) without thinking of the scene in The Breakfast Club where Judd Nelson talks about his father putting cigarettes out on his arms. At that point, the rebel started  having a cause. A deep, dark one.

Here’s where it gets tricky: your reader may have seen Rebel Without a Cause and not The Breakfast Club. They may associate leather jackets with the LGBT community. There’s probably others that I haven’t anticipated. Tropes are a form of cultural shorthand. Cultural scholars who study them keep up with every mutation of a trope, but your audience doesn’t necessarily. You don’t have to be an expert to use them in your writing, but you need at least a passing knowledge.

That knowledge allows you to do two things. The first is to avoid the offensive ones. The black guy dies first. Kill your gays. (Shannon talked about other offensive LGBTQ+ tropes earlier this month). Interracial love leads to suffering and then death. Fridging. There are too many offensive tropes to make a comprehensive list, but I can’t turn on my television without seeing those. When you use offensive tropes, you hurt the people you’re writing about by using a reductive approach. They’re treated as cannon fodder, not humans. When you do that, you bounce the people you’re writing about out of your story, as well as the audiences that are aware.

Awareness also allows you to turn tropes, to use them with a slight change and by doing so breathe new life into them. My favorite example is from David Lynch’s movie Blue Velvet. The main character, Jeffrey, has been dating Sandy, who’s also dating the captain of the football team. Jeffrey and Sandy pull up to the curb outside his house. The captain of the football team and his friends slide in around them and pile out of the cars, letterman jackets everywhere. Jeffrey gets out of the car, and as he’s going to be beaten, a traumatized and naked Dorothy Vallens runs over to embrace him, howling in agony. It’s an amazing moment, because the audience is stuck with the high school boys, unsure of what to say or do. They eventually pack back into their cars, unable to emotionally deal with the realness of Vallens’ emotions.

That scene, and Lynch’s power in it, come from the audience being on the same page as Lynch about the trope. There’s supposed to be a fight. So when we get a crushed Vallens screaming for support instead, the whole moment is transformed. Much of Lynch’s success as a filmmaker comes from the way he twists tropes.

You can do that too. But first, you’ve got to study tropes by reading. By viewing. By absorbing as many damn stories as you can in whatever form you can find them in. You can check out TV Tropes (I’ve wasted a good many days there), but there’s no substitute for doing your own research. Read, read, read!

Smart Rebellion

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Writing, like every other profession in the world, comes with rules. But the people that seem to succeed at writing, or indeed any creative medium are the ones we label innovators, which is really just a fancy word for rule breaker. It's not as simple as ignoring everything your English teacher ever taught you. Rebellion, when done right, isn't mindless anarchy, it's smart.

 The old saying is correct. To break the rules you must first know what they are, and in writing there are two main sets of rules. Hard rules and soft rules. Hard rules are things that are needed to make a piece of writing understood. Basic language rules, spelling, grammar. They also include genre specifications such as horror must be scary and romance must include characters falling for one another. Soft rules are ones that can be played with, carefully. In fact most breaking or bending of soft rules is widely acceptable. Hard rule bending or breaking on the other hand needs a careful hand and a thick skin.

 Language, spelling, and grammar contain the hardest of the hard rules. Failure to follow them means we run the risk of not being understood or people thinking we have made mistakes. But even the hard rules of language can be bent.

 Most languages of the world are not dead, meaning the constantly evolve and take on new words. Never has this been more evident than in the internet age. I could write a story today, use the word Google as a verb and almost everyone would know what I mean. It's the same with tweet and blog. But before the prolific invention of new words in the internet age there were a few innovators out there constantly bending the rules. One of which was Lewis Carroll. Have you ever read the Jabberwocky? I urge you to do it to see what I mean. He made up words as he went along, but by using words that are emotive of the feelings and images he wanted to portray he largely got away with it. A word like “galumphing” sounds like a joyous almost skipping motion, just heavier footed. It could almost pass as a real word. In fact, thanks to the riotous imagination and quest for nonsense in my grandfather, I never knew this wasn't a real world until I was well into my teens. It did enter the dictionaries after many other writers used it, which technically makes it a real word now.

 A lot of words we use today originated with people like Lewis Carrol bending the rules, and not all of them started life in nonsense poems. William Shakespeare came up with many words we use today without batting an eyelid. Despite the love and adoration these writers get making up your own words, unless its a few thrown in for a fantasy or sci-fi race you have come up with, will normally be met with confusion and appeals for an explanation. Tread carefully if this is a rule you wish to break.

 There are some soft rules in writing structure too Breaking up a book with chapters may be expected, but a few writers don't use them at all (Terry Pratchett for example). Some stories start at the end and flash back throughout. Some take on multiple points of view, like A Song Of Ice And Fire. In general, not keeping to a chapter by chapter chronological account is not going to raise many eyebrows.

 Genre is much easier to rebel against, in fact, it is often applauded.  Subverting the tropes of genre is opening up a world of stories with a more diverse cast while still sticking to a formula that people expect. People are going to find it very hard to believe that a story about a blossoming friendship can be marketed as a romance without those friends actually hooking up, but a story about group of people exploring polyamory is a romance. They typical heroes journey has been played out so many times, but it can be turned completely on it's head by a simple shift of perspective I.E. the villain telling the story and believing himself a hero.

 Breaking the hard rules of genre is hard. Any hope of bending the rules will often lead readers to believe your work belong to another genre entirely. That doesn't mean you should be unduly hemmed in by genre definers, just be prepared to explain your choices.

 In short, rebelling against writing rules can help writing evolve and grow, but it is a slow change. By all means, don't let the rules hold you back, but think carefully about the hows and whys of your own personal rebellion. Who knows? You could be the next innovator.

 

The Neutral Approach to Grammar Rules

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If you’re reading that title and scratching your head in confusion, allow me to explain. In roleplaying games, neutral is one of nine choices for a character’s alignment. The neutral character is neither good nor evil. Neither lawful nor chaotic. Neutral characters attempt to keep balance in the world through their actions and decisions. For them, laws are meant to be broken or followed depending on how it will balance out an equation. A real-world example of this could be that a person wouldn’t murder a corrupt politician, but he also might not stop someone else from doing it. Or, a person doesn’t mind going five miles per hour over the speed limit, but they always use their turn signal and wear their seatbelt. There is a give and take that balances everything out for them.

The same can be done when it comes to the rules that govern grammar and writing. If you’re anything like me, you loved English while you were in school. You loved learning about the parts of speech, and sentence structure, and how to diagram sentences, and learning how to properly use commas. When you write, you pay attention to how you write. How your characters speak and think. There is precision and perfection. That’s all well and good. There’s a place for that type of writing.

However, that type of writing can become boring and repetitive. It can lead people to feel disconnected from your characters and your writing style. The world is full of people who don’t follow grammar rules when they’re speaking, and it’s okay to have those same types of people in your writing. It adds spice and nuance to an otherwise overly perfect world that is unbelievable.

An example of this would be the character Epiphany from my novel Ride the Train. Epiphany doesn’t use contractions when she speaks. Her delivery is very blunt and almost deadpan at times. She could be considered the epitome of the droning speaker that bores you to tears. (Another example of this would be Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Bueller... Bueller... Bueller...) The great thing about Epiphany, though, is that she is a no-nonsense woman, and she kicks some major ass. Her speaking style is used to convey the lessons she wants to impart to the people she has been charged with saving. There is an economy of words that matches her precise actions. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and everything about how she presents herself backs that up.

Then there are characters who can barely be counted on to form coherent thoughts. They speak as if they’ve never heard another person using the language or as if they’ve never been taught how to string words together. They end sentences with prepositions. They talk in run-on sentences. Their sentences have a subject but no verb. It’s a mess. But, it’s true to life. We all know people like this. Sometimes, if we’re honest, this person is us. Usually after we wake up and before we’ve had our coffee.

Let’s face it, English is one of the hardest languages to learn for a reason. There are so many—some would say too many—rules to learn. That’s not even taking into account the weird pronunciations and homophones, homonyms, and “ou” words that probably shouldn’t exist. Sometimes you don’t know whether you should use a comma, a semi-colon, or an m-dash. And when did they start getting called m-dashes and n-dashes anyway? I certainly wasn’t taught that in high school. It was a hyphen and a dash. That was it. It was good enough for us, and we were grateful! It’s those darned Millenials and their darned text speak that is destroying the English language as we know it!

Except, it’s not. English—like most languages, I would assume—is a living, breathing, growing, changing, evolving entity. Words are added and taken away from it every day. Rules that were rigid, required constructs one hundred years ago have died and been forgotten. Geoffrey Chaucer wouldn’t recognize the language today, just like most of us can’t read the untranslated Canterbury Tales without getting a headache... or summoning a demon.

Before you start wondering where I’m going with this meandering road map of strung-together words, I’ve said all of the above to say this—there really isn’t a wrong or right way to write. As long as the reader understands the meaning you are attempting to convey, the world—and grammar rules—are your oyster to do with as you please. The caveat with this, though, is the rules you break have to be broken consistently and similarly throughout a piece. You can’t constantly change it up. That way lies madness—and frustrated readers that are going to curse your existence and put down your book.

Then there are commas. (Insert ominous music here.) Now, if you have listened to the podcasts we do for A Murder of Storytellers, you know how I feel about commas. Woe unto they who don’t know how to use commas! Improper comma usage has led to me ranting and foaming at the mouth more than people who don’t know the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars. Or when it’s called Star Track. If you can’t use commas properly, please learn how to do so. Or do what another author I know does—learn how to write without them. That means varied sentence structure and length, which leads to a writing style that is interesting and unique.

The summation of this would be to consistently break any rules you want, but just know that comma misuse is the surest way to get me to go from neutral to chaotic evil in less time than it takes a Horta to dissolve a human.

 

When Resolution Meets Reality

I try not to get too excited about resolutions, but the fact is that it is a new year and it is inspiring to think about all the things you’re going to change in the new year.

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I was going to create an actual vision board with goals for my writing and my podcasting. I’ve always wanted to be able to draw, so I was going to have a spot on there for drawing one face a day. I was going to clean/organize one thing a day every day. I was going to get healthier - exercise, lose a reasonable amount of weight. I bought this great organizer. I was going to do this 12 day challenge to jumpstart your writing. I was going to be SO ON TOP OF THIS BLOG.

Then I left the cardboard for my vision board on top of my car and it landed in a mud puddle. Then I just never got around to watching the videos on how to use the organizer (yeah, it requires learning how to use it). Then we had a slab leak in the house and for two days had no water. Then we learned the leak was on the hot water side and so then we just didn’t have hot water - I drove to another city to take a shower at one point. Our flooring is all torn up and we have had workers in and out of the house every day for more than a week.

Tl;dr

I accomplished none of my goals. Notice that I’m scrambling to get something posted on the last day of January instead of the 20th, when it was scheduled.

Am I going to give up? No. I’m going to pick myself back up. Maybe buy a new piece of cardboard for that vision board. I’m going to finish my 12 day challenge. I can start drawing faces tomorrow and it’s not too late to learn to use that organizer. And here I am, getting a post put up under the wire.

Resolutions are fragile things. I think people know them more as things we don’t accomplish than things we do. But you only really fail if castigate yourself for the challenges life throws at you. If you beat yourself up for allowing a house with no water full of noisy workers to distract you, then you’ve failed. If you realize no one could work under those conditions and give yourself a break, you’ll do fine.

Reality is cold and hard. Human are resilient. Pick up and try again.

Attainable Goals

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So it’s obviously that time of year again where people look towards starting the new year on the right footing. Obviously, it’s both arbitrary and understandable to craft resolutions with the hope of self-improvement. You could do it at any time, but we’re so culturally used to the idea of, “New year, new me,” that it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the excitement and tradition and make one for yourself.

Of course, we all know that, no matter our good intentions, we’re still the same person we were on either side of midnight, and becoming someone new is more difficult than buying a new calendar. The easiest way to change is to do it a little bit at a time, slow enough that you never notice your face in the mirror changing. And the easiest way to manage that is to make small, discrete goals.

I won’t lie, other than blog posts and Hangouts messages, I wrote next to nothing for myself in 2018. I can blame it on depression or anxiety or the world swiftly becoming more and more of a raging garbage fire, but other creative people (including many that I’m friends with) managed, so at least part of it comes down to my own lack of discipline. So this year, I’m going to work between two different goals, based on my own schedule (and shamelessly stolen from people I’ve forgotten on Twitter): a modest word goal of 200 words per day, or a minimum of 30 minutes writing time per day.

Neither are particularly difficult, by design. I’m not so busy that I can’t spend 30 minutes during the evening tapping away at my keyboard, and despite my own lack of focus, 200 words isn’t really much of anything to brag about. Hell, it would take an effort like NaNoWriMo from one month to most of a year. What they’re designed to do, however, is to get me sat down and focusing on whatever work in project I add to that night. They’re small enough that, on days that I have other plans, or if I’m too tired to do anything else, I can meet the bare minimum and move on to something else. The goal should be small, digestible, non-intimidating, because the goal is to take the anxiety and doubt out of writing. If I meet the word goal quickly, or at the end of the timer I’ve hit my stride, nothing’s stopping me from writing more. They’re not end points, they’re starting points.

The benefit to this thinking is how easy it is to tweak depending on my focus. If 200 words begins to be too easy (or, though I dread to think it could be, too hard) for long enough, bumping it up a bit at a time is no trouble. Just like adding more weight to a workout regimen, until my writing muscles are built enough that it doesn’t feel like work anymore. Building discipline will take time, but that’s my goal.

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CJ Miles IV

CJ Miles IV is a member of Nevermore Edits and the Oklahoma Writer's Federation, Inc. He lives in Tulsa, OK, spreading the unspeakable word of the Old Ones. He does not write or blog nearly enough, but, much like spotting a blurry sasquatch, you can occasionally find him on his website or Twitter.

[Come Up With a Witty Title]

The New Year is upon us, and as most people are growling in frustration as they still end the date in 18 instead of 19, writers are setting up resolutions and goals for their annual projects. Great amounts of time, thought, and energy will be spent as optimism flows as freely as booze at a party. While writers aren’t alone in making resolutions that they hope will govern them over the coming year, they’re also not alone in the fact that most of them will not keep those resolutions. For those of you, like me, who have any form of anxiety, this is where the problem of resolutions truly arises.

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We all know that most resolutions of any kind aren’t kept for a lengthy amount of time. You know this is true if you’ve ever resolved to lose weight and started going to the gym. The first few weeks of January, the building is packed. You can’t find a free piece of equipment. There’s so much sweat in the building it doubles as a sauna. And then, just two to three magical weeks later, BOOM! Instant ghost town. You have the place to yourself. You can luxuriate in the amount of space and free equipment. The lack of humidity is painfully noticeable. Is it because everyone dropped the pounds they wanted to in that short amount of time?

The answer, in a word, is NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE! (Bonus points if you read that in the voice of Lana Kane. Double bonus points if you know who Lana Kane is. Triple bonus points if you don’t know who Lana Kane is but do some research to find out. Quadruple—Ok. Sorry. I resolve to stop there.) People fall back into old habits, or they don’t see the results as quickly as they want to, or they get frustrated, or any and all of a myriad of different reasons why people don’t keep their resolutions.

If you’re the type of person who sticks with resolutions and goals, you are sincerely to be commended and applauded. I have no idea how you do it, but good for you! For some people—and we’re going to focus on writers now—not keeping those resolutions is no big deal. They shrug it off and carry on as they would have anyway. But if you have anxiety, every part of the resolution process can be painful. Sometimes it can even be destructive for your creative flow and writing process.

You step into the New Year knowing that you have to be just like all the other authors you know, admire, and adore. They’re posting about it on Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram, and their personal websites, and EVERYWHERE ELSE YOU LOOK. You’re inundated with how they’re going to write 15 million words by the end of the quarter. They’re going to finish 30 novels by lunch on the second Tuesday of the third full moon following the spring equinox. They’re going to be so much better than you ever hope to be, and they’re proving just how much you suck as a writer, and, oh my God! Why do you even bother trying to write when you’ll never be as amazing as these people?!

Or…

You miraculously manage not to see any kind of social media posts from any author about their amazing writing resolutions and goals, and you set your own without comparing yourself to anyone else. Your list is numbered or bullet-pointed. You’ve taken the time to truly consider each one. You’ve moved the list around until it’s in descending order of most to least important. You’ve not only set goals, you’ve color-coded those suckers. And you’ve also taken the extra step of promising yourself a specific reward for crossing each item off of your list. You’re going to do it! This is the year you’re finally going to have every item crossed off of that list. You’re starting now! You make the first day’s goal of writing X amount of words. You feel great!

And then comes the first stumble. Your child gets sick and stays home from school. You have to deal with the co-worker or customer from hell. The dog threw up on the brand-new pair of shoes your partner bought you for Christmas, and you really wanted those shoes, you longed for them, yearned for them, promised Santa you would do anything for them, and now they’re covered in Fido’s barf, and you just can’t deal with it right now! But you’ll relax. You’ll make today’s word count. You’re Super-Author. You’re energized. You can do anything. …Anything except force yourself to sit in front of the computer and write.

But you’ll do it tomorrow. You swear. You promise. It’s just one day. You’ve got this.

And then…

Oh my God! You didn’t write yesterday. Now if you want to make your end of the day/week/month/quarter goal, you’ve got to write at least double what you should be. You can’t do that. You don’t do that. You miss the target by 500 words. You’re a terrible person. You’re a terrible writer. Why did you start doing this in the first place? You’ll never be as good an author as (insert person’s name here). Why do you even bother? How could you be so arrogant to think you could do this? Why do you even bother? You knew you couldn’t do this!

No… No. You’ve got this. Tomorrow will be different. Or better. Or…

It won’t.

Anxiety is a legitimate thing. It is a debilitating and crippling thing. No matter how much you know it lies to you, you cannot shake it. It’s not your fault, but another insidious aspect of anxiety is that you can’t believe that it’s not your fault. You feel like you should be in control. You should be doing these things no matter what your brain is telling you. But you just can’t do it. It’s okay, but you can’t let yourself believe it’s okay. And you spiral ever downward because you took the time at the beginning of the year to say you were going to do a thing, and then something—even your own brain—prevented you from doing that thing.

If this isn’t you, I’m sincerely, truly happy for you. The truth is—as I said above—I have anxiety, and this is what it’s like for me and others who have anxiety. For some, the experience varies. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you shouldn’t set goals or make resolutions. What I am saying is that you have to know yourself as both a person and a writer, and you have to determine if resolutions are right for you.

For me, resolutions don’t work. I know that if I say I’m going to do a specific thing it’s going to cause me anxiety. If I don’t do what I said I would, it’s going to cause me anxiety. Eventually, I’m not going to do anything that even closely resembles writing. So, I don’t make resolutions or goals for writing. I try to be relaxed and just know that I want to do a thing, and I’ll work on it when I work on it. That’ll be okay. I’ll still experience anxiety about it until it’s finished, but the pressure won’t be as bad. I’ll do what I do best, which is to set a deadline—and I know that’s a goal, of sorts, but calling it a deadline works for me—and I’ll have it finished by that deadline. Hell, I’ll have it finished well before that deadline because if I’m on time then I’m late.

I’ll still be the best writer that I can be. I’ll still get it done. I’ll just do it the way I know works best for me.

I’m a firm believer that we do not compete with each other as authors. We support, applaud, and admire other authors, but we get to determine what is successful for us. Your idea of success as a writer might be publishing your first novel, or winning first place in a competition, or just sitting down once a week to write as many words as you can before you have to go clean dog barf off of something. (Seriously, though, if Fido is vomiting that much, see a vet.) Do what is right and best for you. If you don’t have anxiety and can set goals or make resolutions, do it. If you have to trick yourself with semantics and call them deadlines instead of goals, do it. If you need to message me on Facebook and rant about what an idiot I am… Well, don’t do that, but you get the general idea.

Know that you are not alone. Know that it is okay to not do what everyone else is doing. Know that it does not say or mean anything about you as a person or an author. Just have a happy 2019 being the best author, the best you, you can be. However you accomplish that is okay. Tell your anxiety I said so.

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Shannon Iwanski

Shannon Iwanski is the former president of the Tulsa-based writing group Nevermore Edits, a member of Oklahoma Writers' Federation, Inc., and Editor-in-Chief of Inkubus Publishing, LLC. To learn more about him and his plans to turn the world into a dystopian society, check out shannoniwanski.com.