As I sat at my desk with my therapy light going, trying to come up with something to write about for today’s blog post, I remembered a similar feeling from well over a year ago. From most of my life, actually. I’ve always been of the opinion that it is best to say nothing if you don’t have something worthwhile to say. We’ll, that particular thought has always been in my mind. It’s difficult to draw the line between something I’ve come to believe and something I was taught from an early age. They’re often related to each other in ways that aren’t necessarily clear. This one, though, is probably something I was taught early in life and internalized deeply enough that it became a strongly held belief.
Looking back, it’s pretty easy to see where I learned that lesson. As the second oldest of (eventually) five kids, it was difficult to get my parents’ attention. Not for me specifically, but for any of us. There was just so much going on as my parents tried to make not just their lives but the lives of the four little children they had (the youngest showed up a seven or eight years after the second youngest). They taught us a lot of things in order to cope with the sheer number of requests for attention, like waiting silently if someone is on the phone rather than constantly saying “mom” until we got a reaction. Or placing a hand on someone’s arm if we wanted their attention rather than yelling their name. Or going to look for someone to talk quietly rather than shouting across the house. Or trying to solve problems on our own before going to our parents. Or taking the time to decide if something was really important before bringing it to them. All of it points toward consideration for other people’s time and a thoughtful selection of what’s worth vocalizing.
There’s plenty of room to debate on whether or not thing was a good thing. I’m sure it made my parents’ lives easier when it actually worked and it taught me to be deliberate in everything I say which has helped me avoid saying something I’d come to regret when dealing with anger or sadness. The only real problem I see with it is the idea that holding back until you have something important to say lends power and worth to your words isn’t really how the world works. It may be how the world once worked, but I suspect that’s a bit of fiction we collectively tell ourselves to make it seem like the past was a more civilized time. I’m willing to bet the quiet considerate people who spoke only when they felt it was important were just as ignored back then as they are now. For similar reasons, too. I remember my first manager at my previous job telling me that I needed to speak up in meetings more if I wanted to climb the ladder. I told her that I generally didn’t have anything useful or constructive to add and I’ll never forget her response. “That’s not the point. You just need to appear like you’re contributing to the meeting so always say something about anything that comes up in a meeting.”
Needless to say, I refused. I still think this particular attitude toward meetings and competence is part of what’s wrong with corporate culture in every company or institution I’ve ever been a part of or heard about. The idea that someone will get promoted by constantly saying nothing important just so they appear to be involved in everything is probably why there are so many terrible managers in the workforce. Companies are literally promoting people who have done nothing useful except attach themselves to the accomplishments of others. It’s insane and I’d rather never get a promotion that get one because I’m faking competence.
Where this whole idea gets problematic is when it gets applied to my writing. I have had three other blogs before this one, all of them with the goal of updating every day or at least every other day, and none before this one ever survived very long. My common refrain, when talking to friends or writing teachers about it, was that I just couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to say or write about. For a long time, the first year and a half of this blog’s existence, I did the same exact thing. I created this blog because I had something to talk about that I felt was important, and then I self-edited myself into silence by saying it wasn’t worth posting about all the time or by telling myself I should never repeat myself. Deciding to post every day for a year is what saved this blog from eventually be consigned to the trash heap like all the others. It also taught me that I have a lot that’s worth saying, even if I’ve said it before. A lot of things worth saying are worth saying multiple times and in many different ways. It takes practice to be able to do that, but so does every kind of writing.
I still often feel like I don’t have anything important to say, but I know that I still have a lot that’s worth saying. So even today, when I sat down and felt like there was nothing important on my mind or stirring inside me, I could find something worthwhile to say. It has taken a year of practice and several hundred thousand words worth of blog posts, but I can finally say that I’ve gotten over this particular hump. I may not be constantly keyed into all of the most important issues in the world, but my views and my thoughts are worth writing about. It’s really difficult to be a writer if you don’t believe that on some level or another. It still feels a little conceited sometimes, to be constantly putting my thoughts out there for everyone to find, but at least I’m not running an anti-vax or flat-earth blog. At least what I have to say isn’t really hurting people. Like the description of Earth from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I’m proud to say the worst I am is “mostly harmless.”
Well, I’m sure I’m also a little caught up in my own stuff from time to time and there are probably a lot of people who find my inability to get directly to the point frustrating, but all that kind of fits under the “mostly harmless” descriptor in my opinion. Even if I’m not doing everything I want to be doing, I still feel like I’ve gotten past one of my major hurdles to writing. It’s a good feeling, to be honest, and I think I should add that to my list of personal triumphs to be celebrated.
I hope your holidays are wrapping up nicely and I hope you got a lot of writing done! Or, you know, at least ENOUGH writing done. We’re on our last calendar week of the month and we’ve only got six days of writing left, but that’s still enough time! It might take a lot of work (I’ve got eighteen thousand words left to write), but if we dig deep we can get it done! I believe in you and I am here to support you as best I can! Good luck!
Humans are endurance hunters. We aren’t really faster than most of the creatures we’ve hunted over the course of history, but we’re certainly more durable than most. Animals often die of shock from a single broken bone and yet humans can live through things that take all their limbs. On a less gruesome scale, we’re also really good at enduring long periods of stress and strain. We can go without sleep for a while and are generally pretty quick to get back into the thick of things once we’ve recovered. How does your protagonist handle this kind of endurance? Are they graceful under long-term stress, or will they crack quickly without proper care? Can they deny hunger or exhaustion when the chips are down and they need to keep moving forward? Write a scene showing us how well your protagonist can endure whatever you’re throwing at them.
If you need a new book series to read or a fantastic series of fantasy books that’ll make you see the potential of Fantasy in a whole new light, you should check out The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. Technically, they’re classified as Urban Fantasy, but they helped solidify the genre as its own independent genre that doesn’t need to rely on vanilla Fantasy for shelf space. It still usually does because most bookstores dislike that level of granular sorting in the books since alphabetizing things is a pain, but I’ve gone a bit further afield than I meant to. The series is creative, the protagonist actually grows from a misogynistic egotistical jackass into a real human being who is CLEARLY out of his league and only surviving due to a mixture of luck, audacity, and lateral thinking. At least at first. More recently, things have changed pretty significantly so there’s been a big shift in the formula for the stories and that’s super exciting. You should check them out and get into a great series whose newest book COULD be coming out soon! Sometime in 2019! Probably!
If you’re having a difficult time working your way through a scene, trying drawing it out. Not lengthening it, but putting a pen or pencil to paper and representing it with images or something. I like to use bubble charts when I’ve got a busy scene to write and I need to keep track of too many people to juggle while writing. Since I play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, I’ll do “round graphs.” The idea is that I represent the movements through the scene in six second intervals (skipping ahead a bunch when no one is moving) without attaching dialogue to the rounds because talking is a free action. If there’s a lot of dialogue between a lot of people who are also moving around, I’ll add dialogue trees to the rounds. If I’m trying to get some key element of a scene worked in smoothly instead of tracking a bunch of people or their speech, I’ll write down the core of that element and slowly wrap layers around it until it can fit in the scene. For instance, if I’m trying to show grief in each of the characters, I’ll start with what they’re sad about, how they feel about their grief, how they show their grief, how they think they’re showing their grief, and how other people see their grief. From there, it’s easier to just plop it into the scene where appropriate because I can just go to the correct layer for each character depending on narratorial perspective. The idea can work for pretty much anything, so I recommend experimenting with it until you figure out how to apply it for your own writing.