And that’s why I need my morning tea: I’m looking for my brain.
Category Archives: frustration
by Lillian Csernica on February 28, 2017
Writing is hard. We all know that. Some days we get sidetracked by avoidance behavior. Some days we procrastinate out of laziness or confusion about the story. Some days we’re just plain stuck.
Today I’m having one of those days. Here I sit, working on a blog post, when I’d meant to be making progress on my latest short story. Well, at least it’s productive avoidance behavior, right?
In the spirit of solidarity with my fellow struggling writers, I offer this list full of tips, information, and excellent methods to restart the writing engines. Enjoy!
by Lillian Csernica on February 21, 2017
Opportunity cost. Cost/benefit analysis. Return on investment.
I remember these terms from my Economics and Accounting classes. Little did I know I would one day be applying them to which writing projects I chose to pursue.
So far, the Flower Maiden Saga has inspired me to write three consecutive novels. The farther I go in editing and polishing Book One for the big agent pitch, the more of the causes and consequences of the main storyline I see. The core plots for Books Four and Five have already presented themselves.
This is wonderful. I’m excited about all of it. The thing is, my first love is writing short stories. Reading short stories in Asimov’s and Weird Tales and my English Lit. classes made me want to become a writer. The first time I walked into a bookstore and picked up a copy of The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXI and saw my name on the table of contents right there with Ramsey Campbell and Ed Gorman, I very nearly exploded with happiness.
Short stories are great, but novels are where the money is. I’ve heard that many times. Novels take a while to write and a while to polish and package for publication. Not so with short stories. Short stories will get your name out there and keep it out there.
These are the five main perils of writing short fiction:
- Why waste a good idea on a short story? These days it’s all about writing novels. Give the readers what they want, over and over again. Build that brand. Make more money. Fine. If that’s what you want, go for it. Bear in mind there is much to be said for the art and craft of the short story. Hemingway’s “The Killers” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” remain vivid in my mind thirty-five years after I read them in high school.
- Short stories are often just one shots. That one shot might be brilliant, but then you have to go write another story. Is that one brilliant story continuing to earn royalties or selling well as a Kindle Single? I visit various writers’ groups online, and I find the emphasis on money to be disheartening. Short stories can be built into a novel. One of my favorite fantasy novels, A Bait of Dreams by Jo Clayton, started out as three short stories that appeared in Asimov’s.
- It can be difficult to pack a complex story idea into a limited word count. On the other hand, doing so can result in a stronger story. When I wrote “Fallen Idol,” my first short story sale, I got so caught up in all the research and characters and how-to books’ advice I thought I could rise to the challenge of writing a real novel. Fortunately, I had an attack of reality. All the research and ideas imploded, resulting in a much stronger short story.
- Unless you’re selling to the top professional markets, short fiction doesn’t pay much. If you’re sending out enough stories to generate an acceptable amount of sales, way to go! That’s not easy to do, even for the Big Names. I will say that anthologies that pay up front then give you a cut of the royalties can provide some worthwhile income.
- Here’s the Peril that cuts to the heart of what it means to be a writer. Are you going to write about what you want to write about, or are you going to write what you think will sell to the markets where you want your work to appear? The Digital Age has opened up a whole lot of markets. They may not pay much. They may not pay at all. Still, you can get your words out there. Targeting a particular market is a perfectly reasonable career strategy. My first sale to Weird Tales was another day for joyful explosion.
It comes down to those basic questions we all ask our main characters:
What do you want?
How badly do you want it?
What are you willing to give up in order to get it?
When you’ve answered these three questions, you will be on your way to navigating through the perilous process of telling the stories only you can tell.
by Lillian Csernica on February 13, 2017
Finally scheduled the physical therapy for my sprained knee. Here is yet another excellent example of “Be careful what you wish for.”
Those of you who have had physical therapy will know what happens first, especially with a joint problem. The physical therapist (PT) works the joint to see where the mobility issues are and just how serious your discomfort levels may be. In short, you spend the first fifteen minutes being tortured while your PT gets the lay of the land, so to speak.
My PT explained and demonstrated the exercises she wanted me to do in order to help heal the ligaments and get the knee cap realigned. No problem there. One exercise involves a rolling pin. That one I really must use in a story somewhere.
Now for the weird part. A nice young man wheeled in a machine on par with a fast food cash register that included an ultrasound gadget and one for infra red light. Ultrasound can break up scar tissue. I had no idea. The infra red light promotes healing. Don’t you just love science?
For me, they brought out the electrodes. One pair above my knee, one pair just below. This is where my anxiety spiked. I know what those kind of electrodes do, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. As much as the tech assured me this procedure was designed to reduce my pain level, I wasn’t buying it. Sure enough, Step One would be “adjusting the level to suit my needs.”
Translation: Finding out how much I could take before my muscles spasmed and I started swearing.
Ever seen Showdown in Little Tokyo? Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, and Tia Carrere. WARNING: Our Heroes do start swearing.
You see where I’m going with this, right?
It got even weirder when my PT wrapped my knee in an ice pack. So first it feels like I’ve got all these little needles jabbing me, then the ice pack helped numb the area. Even so, when the tech tinkered with the voltage I freaked out, laughing like a maniac. It TICKLED. Sounds funny? It wasn’t. I kept doubling up, working my non-existent six-pack, laughing until I thought I’d have an asthma attack.
My PT said to the tech, “I think she’ll be low level.” Gosh, ya think so?
The tech adjusted the voltage, then set the timer for about ten minutes. My PT told me to yell if I needed anything. Then the tech offered me this silly piece of comfort:
“Now remember, this machine cannot hurt you.”
Really? Tickle torture, muscle spasms, and making it hard to breathe? All that didn’t count as “hurting” me?
I survived the ten minutes without too much discomfort. To be fair, for the rest of the evening my knee did feel better. My PT said she expects to see improvement in six weeks, so I’ve got six more sessions. I confess I’m hoping I can do without the electrodes VERY soon!
by Lillian Csernica on January 18, 2017
Tonight I consumed my last pint of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra.
Tomorrow morning I begin a medically supervised accelerated weight loss program.
When I was ten years old, my parents took me to see a dietician. I was already 5’6″, and already 152 lbs. Not good. Now I’m forty years older and 100 lbs heavier. Time to stop kidding myself about the health problems that are right around the corner if I don’t do something about my weight problem RIGHT NOW.
This is not a New Year’s Resolution. This is me deciding to act like a grown-up and stop indulging myself while blaming the depression, the difficulty of my life, some writing setback, or whatever other chaos afflicts me at that moment.
I have a plan. I have professionals backing me. I have a guidebook and a journal and a food scale and the necessary supplements. I’m going to do this.
There are so many stories waiting to be written.
There are so many birthdays and Christmases and personal triumphs ahead for both Michael and John.
There are so many places in the world I have yet to see, just in Japan alone!
There may be setbacks. That’s OK. I know how to deal with setbacks. You just take a deep breath, focus on the next indicated action, and start moving forward again.
I can do this. I will do this. For me, for the kids, for my writing.
by Lillian Csernica on December 23rd, 2016
Some time around last Friday, I sprained my good knee, the right one.
Don’t know how I did it. I suspect it has to do with all the getting in and out of the car while Christmas shopping. I tend to push out with my weight on my right leg, and that’s the first leg in the car when I climb back into the driver’s seat.
I expect this kind of thing from my left knee, but it came as a nasty shock when my right knee exploded into a great big firework of pain. Spent the weekend hobbling around the few times I was on my feet. Ibuprofen and even Extra Strength Tylenol mean nothing to whatever is wrong with my treacherous joint. The Spousal Unit took pity on me and offered me one of his Vicodin.
Matters hadn’t improved by Tuesday, so I went to the local Urgent Care clinic. Two hours and three x rays later, the diagnosis came in. A sprain, along with the possible onset of an arthritic condition. They wrapped my knee up in two Ace bandages, taught me how to use my crutches, and sent me home with my own Rx for Vicodin.
I know all about being sick for Christmas, but this is ridiculous.
So now I’m off my feet, icing my knee, wrapping it when I do have to move around, and hoarding the Vicodin for those times when the knee starts throbbing. Nobody has had the bad taste to make any Tiny Tim jokes yet, which is a good thing. Crutches might be padded in some places, but elsewhere they’re good stiff metal!
Tomorrow I’m up with the sun to pull half the morning shift with Michael. Can’t take any Vicodin, because there are a few last Christmas errands to run. One does not take Vicodin and attempt to drive a car. Operating crutches while taking Vicodin is enough of a challenge.
God rest ye, merry gentlefolk. God bless us, everyone!
by Lillian Csernica on December 15, 2016
1) Thou shalt slow down. We’re all in a hurry. It’s that time of year. If we can “proceed in a calm, orderly fashion” the way we’re directed to do during emergencies, then maybe we can avoid the kind of emergency that will ruin everybody’s day. Yes, I mean traffic. I also mean elevators, escalators, check out lines, and any other point where the crowd tends to hit a bottle neck.
2)Thou shalt hurry up. This means have your ticket ready when you exit the parking garage. This means get off your cell phone and stop blocking the aisle. This means know what you want to order by the time you get to the head of the fast food line.
3)Thou shalt have mercy on servers, salespeople, and other customer service representatives unless and until they demonstrate deliberate rudeness. Once that happens, demand to see the supervisor or manager. Take the time to make sure those rude people get busted for their bad behavior. You deserve polite service.
4)Thou shalt give no gifts that require labor or maintenance unless by prior explicit agreement. This means any living creature in the pet category, any plant growing in a container, anything from any DIY category on Pinterest, and especially any of those “In A Jar” projects.
5) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s parking space. This goes double for the handicapped slots. Just because you can’t see why a person has a handicapped placard or special license plate, that doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have a disability that qualifies.
6) Thou shalt contain thy children. This includes both physical movement and volume control.
7)Thou shalt prepare, taste, and evaluate any new recipes before inflicting them on innocent and unsuspecting family and/or guests. Have you ever wondered why the women’s magazines bring out all those bizarre recipes for the holiday season? If those food items are so delightful, why aren’t people making them anymore?
8) Thou shalt keep thy receipts. Big stores like Toys R Us and Macy’s are pretty good about “gift receipts,” making returns possible without the person knowing exactly how much you spent on the gift.
9) Thou shalt not put up so many Christmas lights, inflatable snowmen, animatronic reindeer, etc. etc. that you create a traffic hazard by either distracting drivers, blinding them, or both.
10)Thou shalt cover thy nose or mouth in the event of a sneeze or cough. Come on, people. Do the elbow thing. Do NOT use your hands, because you will then spread whatever germs didn’t already escape into the air.
11)Thou shalt send actual written thank you notes. I know, this must sound unbearably old-fashioned in the Digital Age, but it’s the right thing to do. My sons send written thank you notes, and everybody knows Michael and John both need some help to do that. People are surprised and very pleased. Word gets all the way back to my mother, who sat me down and made me write thank you notes as soon as I had learned how to write.
12)Thou shalt give thyself permission to stop trying to make everybody happy all at once, especially when that means losing sight of making thyself happy too. Figure out what really makes you happy, be it baking cookies or driving around looking at Christmas lights or going to church or playing silly board games with your friends. Do those things. Give yourself the gift of “Peace on earth, goodwill toward Man.”
by Lillian Csernica on November 13th, 2016
It’s a good thing women are neurologically wired for multitasking. Without that advantage, I would be a smoking pile of rubble right now.
In addition to cranking out seven pages of fresh writing every day on my NaNo novel, I’ve had to edit and polish two short stories. The first weighed in at 3300 words, the second at 5300. Both were due today. I sent them to my editor last night. Go, me!
As if all that wasn’t enough fun, I’ve had brainstorms for at least two new short stories.
This is all good, but it feels like Finals Week. I’ve been downing so much caffeine I’m surprised my arrhythmia hasn’t started up again. The only cure for mental fatigue is getting away from reading and writing for a little while. (I never really thought of grocery shopping as being therapeutic, but today’s trip to the market qualified!)
So this is what the Big Names do all the time. Wow. Let’s hope I can keep this up after the formal end of NaNoWriMo. It’s good to be preoccupied with my writing. That really keeps the depression under control.
by Lillian Csernica on November 6, 2016
I’m sitting here yawning. Yesterday I left the house at 11:30 a.m. and didn’t get home until around 10 p.m. That means ten and a half hours. I spent three of those hours driving.
When I finally staggered up the stairway to my office and dropped my bags, I realized I had 90 minutes to get the day’s NaNoWriMo quota done. At midnight, that’s it. You’ve either written that day or you haven’t.
You know how your car engine sounds when you turn the key and the engine tries to turn over, but it just won’t catch? Yeah. That’s the sound my brain was making.
I was a bit ahead of the minimum total word count for Day 5, so I was strongly tempted to just let it ride for one day. No no no. I’d signed up for NaNoWriMo, so I’d made the commitment to write every single day in November. Every. Single. Day.
I did cut myself some slack. Make it to the ten thousand word mark, I told myself. Write that much, and you’re off the hook. That meant three pages, or 750 words.
Great. Now what? <sound of car engine failing to turn over>
At times like this I brainstorm. I write down every horrible thing that I could possibly do to my characters. It doesn’t have to make sense, really, it just has to be possible within the story content already established. If all goes well, inspiration will strike, the engine of my imagination will turn over, and the writing flows.
Want some specific examples of how I torture my characters and get the day’s writing done? I’m happy to share.