“Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain”

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Image Source: Vintages, Antiques, and Collectibles

“Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain” is an old baseball “rallying cry” that has been shortened into this nice, pithy saying.  If you want the full details on this saying, there is a great synopsis of it on billjamesonline.com.  My uncle used to say this to me, not often, but every now and again.  According to Bill James, there are two interpretations of this saying: 1) Lack of pitching depth on the Braves’ roster, so praying for rain to help you get back to your most consistent and valued pitchers, or 2) praying for rain so that you wouldn’t have to face these two reliably dominant pitchers.  My uncle most definitely used it in the 2nd sense: Go out with your best!

Sci-Fi and Fantasy are my favorite genres–be it books, games, movies, television, comics, what have you.  Generally speaking, I’m going to gravitate to those genres before everything else.  So it makes sense that I’d concentrate my writing efforts on those genres as well.  I love the sense of adventure and wonder that Sci-Fi and Fantasy allows me to have in a mundane world of bills, intolerance, rudeness, and a general lack of concern for one’s fellow man.  Now to be sure, you can find those things–and more–inside the wrappers of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, but at its best you can find true wonder and adventure as warriors fight mythic beasts, starship captains struggle to keep their ships and crews safe, and young boys and girls grow up to be powerful warriors against the struggle of tyranny.

If I’m going to go out, then like Spahn and Sain, I want to go out leaving everything on the field and giving it my best and trying find a way to do so at a consistently high level.  Just as Spahn and Sain were masters at their craft, so too I strive to be a master at mine.

That’s why I continue to both read, watch, play, and write things that are Sci-Fi and Fantasy related.

For the sheer wonder of it all.

Hope I’m not Overdoing It

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Image Source: Pinterst (Calvin and Hobbes, Created by Bill Watterson)

Every since I was a lowly undergraduate, cruising the English Department offices at U.T. Knoxville (& later U.T. Chattanooga) and seeing all those wonderful English related comics strips taped to professors doors, I’ve thought to myself that I’ve always wanted to something like that “when I grew up.”

I’ve never been one for customizing my “workspace” as the colleagues who I worked with at the public library can attest and I’m rarely at my workspace to begin with if I can help it.  However, you could always find one or two comic strips (like the one I found above by Bill Watterson) adorning my workspace in some capacity–either on the desk itself or in a drawer or stuck unobtrusively to a wall.

Now that I’ve completed a year at MTSU, I’ve begun to do the same with the small cabinet  that I was assigned in the Graduate Teaching Assistants office.  However, for some reason, I also find that I want to add copies of the first pages of my published work.  I hope I’m not trying to “show off” or “impress” the other G.T.A.s (nothing good comes of me trying to show off–I’ve learned that  through HARD experience).

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Image Source: Greensoul

Yet, I feel the need to customize my space, and to say, “hey, I’m a creative writer and this is what I do.” Perhaps, it is because at this level, creative writing is somewhat frowned upon.  There’s this idea that you’re not a true academic, that you’re not truly one of us, if you’re not writing papers for conferences, for (academic) publication, and for scholarly pursuits.  Perhaps, customizing my workspace is my need to say, “no, my creative writing is just as hard and matters just as much as your academic writing, maybe more so, because I’m doing both . . . your academic writing and my creative writing.”  I just hope that I’m not overdoing it and setting myself up for a fall.  It would be awesome to be able to put clips from both cartoon strips and my own published writing on my very own office door one day.

A Few Thoughts on Time Travel (in general) and the Star Trek Universe (in specific)

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Image Source: Topgentlemen.com

Time Travel is a favorite concept of Sci-Fi writers as it allows us to explore the possibilities of “What If . . .” and to mull about changes in the time line that did not occur vs. the reality that we see around us.  Popular culture is replete with television shows, movies, and other media that delve into the notion of what might happen if you could go back and change time (in effect, mulligan a decision or choice) to see what effect it would have on the timeline (if any).

I guess the reason that I’m thinking about this is two-fold: 1) Star Trek Enterprise has quite a few instances of Time Travel (in fact, most of the show’s 3rd Season is built around the idea) and 2) as a PhD student, I’m supposed to pick two areas of concentration.  As Creative Writing was off the table, I chose Composition and Rhetoric and Popular Culture.  There was a Call For Papers (CFPs) on the topic of Time Travel and how it affects/manifests itself in popular culture.  I didn’t get a chance to write a paper for it during the last semester (too busy trying to stay afloat!), but now I’d like to write at least a rough draft of some of the things that I’ve noticed in recent Sci-Fi shows/movies/media that I’ve watched recently (Doctor Who, Star Trek Enterprise, Dark Matter, and Mass Effect Andromeda to name a few) about how time travel is used (what effects does it have on the characters’ lives), and what pop. culture currently thinks about it.

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Image Source: Cellcli.com

One thing that I’ve notice that popular culture seems to use time travel for is the idea of Erasure, or righting a wrong and then resetting the timeline (so as to start again–from scratch as it were).  Now, the movie Back to the Future used a “literal” erasure from the timeline itself–and that’s not what I’m talking about.  This erasure is more of a “mulligan,” a do-over, a way to say hey, no that’s not the outcome I desired, let’s start again and try for a better outcome.

I think writers like this technique because it allows them to go into some wildly divergent territory with characters, but it doesn’t mean that they have to commit to changes to the characters (as the characters can be “reset” back to their pre-time travel/time incursion selves or entities).  It means that writers (and actors and directors) can stretch themselves creatively without destroying the likability of the characters.  In other words, characters can act and grow in ways contrary to their original characterization and then be reset.  I think audiences don’t find the this element of time travel as appealing because many times it seems like a “cheat” (much like the “and it was all a dream” cliche’).  Audiences want to characters change and interact in new and novel ways to conflict, but they (we) are fickle . . . change too much and we might lose what we like about a character.

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Image Source: Den of Geek

Star Trek (in general) and Star Trek Enterprise (in specific) seems to be a perfect test-bed for the idea of erasure.  While many of the elements and changes to the characters have “stuck,” most have not and most of the characterizations that have not stuck, or been “erased” through time travel are more radical characterizations/plot lines.  While I won’t know for sure until I finish STE, I’ve noticed that, unlike Doctor Who, for instance where there are often “cusp” events that are fixed and where time is more malleable (“Timey-Whimey, Wibbly-Wobbly”), events in ST’s universe, specifically STE tends to be more recursive (circular, or fractal–like the beginning image above.)

While this is a deeper dive than I normally do in a blog post, I wanted to just get a few thoughts down on the nature of time travel (esp. recent developments in media) down on paper.  I’ve done another post on time travel, Where You End is Not Where You Begin: Time Travel in Movies, and I will probably combine these two posts before the summer is over and develop this idea into a longer academic paper over next school year.  I don’t think that I can use this as my dissertation (I think that has to be Rhetoric or Composition based), but it is an interesting paper idea–and more importantly, seems to be something that I can be VERY LONG-WINDED about! 🙂

Keeping it Simple

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Image Source: iTunes (Apple.com)

When I write rough drafts for my stories, I’ve discovered that almost anything will work for me–notebook paper, notepads, scraps of paper that are around, the computer, the Notes App on my phone–pretty much anything that will allow me to get the idea into a fixed form.

However, once I’m ready to start drafting the “Working Draft,” I try whenever possible (for fiction) to move to SimpleNote.  I like SimpleNote because it is free (at least it was for me when I signed up at simplenote.com), but even more than that, I like it and use it because it allows me to quickly and easily sync between all my devices and as well as wherever I may be.  It has a website that you can use and log into, or an app that you can download.  I personally use the website on my laptop and the app on my phone and tablet.

For instance, I started Project OPaK on my phone at Walgreens Pharmacy while waiting on a prescription to be filled.  I hadn’t intended on waiting for the prescription, but since the pharmacist said that it wouldn’t take that long, I waited and in that time, I was able to write 3 basic paragraphs on my phone.  I can now log into my SimpleNote account on my computer and expand those paragraphs more.  Also, if I want to, as long as I log into my account and bring up the story beforehand, I disconnect from the internet while I’m writing to give myself a distraction free writing session and then when I reconnect to the internet, I only need to hit the little “save” button on the screen and my changes are uploaded to the server.

For me, SimpleNote gives me the flexibility to work on the working draft of the story pretty much anywhere even if the conditions aren’t ideal.  If I were ever to have enough time when school starts (which is doubtful) and I wanted to work on my story, I could log into my account on the school’s library computers or the writing center ones and use them to work on Project OPaK or any other story that I’m writing (so at least I know the capability is there should there be any downtime).  Now, before this starts to sound like an ad, there are many other apps that do the same thing/similar things (EverNote and OneNote are two that come to mind immediately), but in my quest to work “smarter, not harder,” I’ve found that SimpleNote helps to increase my productivity by allowing me to access my stories everywhere I go and it helps my writing process because I know that I always have access to the most current version of my story available for editing on SimpleNote’s servers.

Breakfast and a Blog

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Image Source: Hostelling International Blog

Long time readers of the blog may have noticed that I have blogged six days out of the week (Monday-Saturday) for the past two weeks.  This is highly unusual for me and you might be wondering why I made this change.  Well, to be succinct, I’ve been wanting to change my writing habits for a while.  I’ve wanted to follow the advice of one my professors who suggested that life as a PhD student would be much easier if you found a regular time to write that works you and you stuck to it.

Now, I have a lot of dedication, but I tend to be more mercenary with my time as an adult than as a child.  As a child, I read every night from 10:00pm to 11:00 pm (my curfew) without fail.  Even as an adult, I read regularly on my 30 min. breaks at the Public Library (17 years of regular reading).

Yet, as an adult I’ve written (creatively) on my lunch hour when I worked at Eastgate Public Library (the air conditioning was too cold, so I’d sit out in the car) and that’s how I wrote, revised, and published my first article.  I’ve written short-stories at 7:00 pm (right after dinner), 8:00 pm, 8:30 pm, 2:00-4:00 pm, 5:00 pm (right before dinner), etc.  My point is, unlike my reading habits, my writing habits have been much more scattered.

I’ve attempting to follow the advice by regularly writing this blog as I eat breakfast.  This gives me a chance to collect my thoughts and put them down on (digital) paper before the day starts for me–no matter how hectic the day is.  I’m finding that by doing this, I’ve been much more creative and I’m enjoying the writing process even more.  I also try to keep the blog entries much shorter and tighter, and I try not to write more than 30 minutes (I’m actually at 35 mins. right now) in order to not to be too long-winded.  Here’s hoping that I can keep up this routine as I really enjoy the effect that it is having on both my enjoyment of writing and the production of entries on this blog–and here’s hoping that I can find a way to transfer this technique to my creative writing.

I don’t know if you read the blog, but thanks for the advice, Dr. R!  It has been really, really helpful!

The Outline’s the Thing (to Catch a Story) Redux

Outline

Source: bcourses.berkeley.edu

OUTLINING (Why the Hate?)

When I mention (either in person, or on the blog) that I outline, people react violently as if it is wrong to want/need to plan out a story.  There’s almost an elitist attitude toward creative writing without a plan, as if it is some badge of honor or mark of genius to just sit down and start writing and hope that the story will come to you as you write.  However, I think a lot of this anxiety over the outline comes from the image above.  Outlining, as you can see from an outline that I found online, requires much forethought and planning.  Inside this particular outline, you have topics, subtopics, and even nested subtopics.  If you look at this outline, however, you could write this paper.  The thesis (main idea of the paper is clearly listed and each topic relates back to this one idea.  You would only need to go and research those individual topics to craft a paragraph (or chapter) on each of those subjects, right?

Boring!  This is what makes academic papers so hated by so many students because they don’t see the need for this highly stylized way of writing.  They don’t understand the conventions behind the academic essay nor do they see the need for creating an outline that helps you to write in this formal way.  They hate it and, by extension, they dislike the process of outline.  This is too much trouble.  Why in the world would anyone put themselves through this willingly?

The reason is simple: It gives a concrete roadmap as to where the paper is going.  You, or I, with enough research could write this paper.  We know what we need and we know where to put it.  Now that the outline is done, we simply just need to find out what we don’t know about the subject (the research) and then start drafting it.

CREATIVE WRITING 101

So, do you need to outline like this for a story?  No, of course not–an outline can be as simple (or complex) as you need it to be for your own purposes.  For me, I use a slightly modified version of this outline:

This has the bare minimum that I need to tell my story.  I need to know the setting (where and when the story is taking place), the major characters and any minor characters that I’ve thought up.  I need to know what the main character’s problem is  and why it is so important to them.  I need to know the three main scenes that happen in the story (beginning, middle, and end)–I used to use five scenes and I would structure it like a Shakespearian play, but I discovered that it was making my stories too long for many markets and it wasn’t really adding a whole lot to the story–that’s why I’ve gone back to just the essentials.  I also need to know the outcome of the story (how does it end).  I’ve also added one thing: the Theme (why does this story matter, or what am I trying to impart to the reader).  Now, I’m not trying to give a moral to the story, but I do want to have the character discover some “truth” about themselves, life, or others at the conclusion of a story and knowing what a possible theme could be at the beginning helps me to do this.  Outlines don’t inhibit creativity; rather, they provide a sense of knowing one’s destination and the steps needed to get there.

AN IMAGINARY TRIP TO FLORIDA

So, right now, I could go jump in my car and go to Florida.  I know that Florida is south and east of me and I know which direction southeast is from where I sit as I’m typing these letters.  I would only need to get on the highway, keep going in a southeasterly direction, and eventually I would make it to Florida.

google maps 2

But in real life that’s not what I would do, nor most of us, if we’re truthful.  We would open up Google Maps or Apple Map or some other mapping application on our phones (or other navigational aid, or, if you’re old school, a physical map) and we’d plan out our trip and use the app or navigational aid to help us navigate the highway system.

So, how is this any different from outlining a story?  To quote Yoda: “No, no different, only different in your mind.”  Just like I could get to Florida by heading in a general southeasterly direction, I could write a story by just jumping in without outlining, but there would be so many wrong turns, dead-ends, and general confusion, that I wouldn’t be having any fun and I would most likely abandon the project before I finished (or to continue the metaphor, turned around and went back home in frustration).

SAVING THE STORY, ONE OUTLINE (STORY MAP) AT A TIME

Now I’m a great proponent in finding the process that works for you as an individual.  No two writers are going to write in the same way, using the exact same process.  I’m also a great proponent for the idea of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”  If what works for you is to jump write in without an outline, and you’re a successful writer (aka making a living at it), then don’t try to change it.

However, I’m also a proponent of tinkering and adjusting something that’s broken until I get it to work (longtime readers of the blog know of my almost year long quest to find the solution to my wi-fi issues back in 2014-2015–read the posts from that year for more info).  If you find yourself not as successful as you’d like to be as a writer, or you are abandoning story after story, or that you can’t your stories to match the vision in your head (like what was happening to me about a year ago when I wrote the original blog entry “The Outline’s the Thing (to Catch a Story)”), outlining should be a technique that you should at least try in order to see if it might work for you.  My process was broken because I need to outline.  Just jumping in only results in frustration for me.

In conclusion, writing is such an individual process that the only way to know what works for you is to try it.   The advice to just dive right in and not to worry about outlines, while well meaning, isn’t really helpful or useful advice unless that’s what works for you.  If it doesn’t, it’s like telling a drowning man, “hey, just suck it up and keep struggling, you might just learn how to swim eventually,” whereas the process of outlining could be the “life-preserver” that the drowning man can use to keep himself afloat.

P.S. In case you think I’m the only one who thinks this way, I’d encourage you to take a moment to enjoy some of these quotes by other writers who “think” the same way I do:

I force myself to outline, but not too closely, so I guess I plot by the seat of my pants? My natural instinct is to dive right in, but I know I’ll get stuck. I like to stick with the architect vs. gardener metaphor. I guess I’m a gardener who plants tomatoes. I have the sticks in the ground and let the vines grow along those parameters.
–Victoria Aveyard

I am a big outliner. For my adult book, ‘The Visibles,’ I did not outline, and it took me two years to write because I just didn’t outline, and I had no path.
–Sara Shepard

I am a writer who works from an outline. What I generally do when I build an outline is I find focal, important scenes, and I build them in my head and I don’t write them yet, but I build towards them.
–Brandon Sanderson (one of my personal favorite authors at the moment)

If you take a few days to write an outline, you’re just making up scenes that you think will work, that you think will be interesting. But as you write it, other ideas occur – better ideas that have to do with what you’re writing.
–Elmore Leonard

I have a number of writers I work with regularly. I write an outline for a book. The outlines are very specific about what each scene is supposed to accomplish.
–James Patterson

and probably the most telling of all:

I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write.
–J. K. Rowling

(Source: http://www.brainyquotes.com)

Working Smarter, Not Harder

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Source: Lifehack.org

 

WORK-LIFE BALANCE

As I work to perfect my “Work-Life” Balance, I have found that I haven’t been utilizing my time and resources as effectively as I could and this blog entry details some of the ways in which I have developed to address this imbalance.  In 2015, I wrote a lot, but did not maximize the submissions part of my writing.  In 2016, I wrote a little, but I really focused on the submissions aspect, and did not really focus as much on my writing.  This year, I’ve tried to focus on both, but the amount of schoolwork has limited my ability to really write creatively, as you can see through the lack of blog entries that I have posted this year.  So, I had fallen back to prioritizing submissions as a way to still feel connected with the creative writing part of my life.

STEPPING STONES

However, after recently dusting off an older story that was already published and sending it to a market that accepts reprints, I realized that I already have a cache of material, that with a little reworking, that I can use as “stepping stones” to create longer, and more lucrative works.  Ship of Shadows (SoS) is a story that I created, submitted and was published in Visions IV: Space Between Stars.  I have detailed its genesis in this blog entry.  I am really proud of this story, but rather than try to reprint it in other Visions IVanthologies/markets (although I totally could as the rights have reverted back to me), I wondered if there was a way to “expand” upon it in some way, and to make it longer and more in-depth.  In other words, was there a way that I could revise (“re-vision”) the story and take the same “kernel” of the story, but “re-see” it in a new, longer form work?  I then began to brainstorm what that would look like.  First, I would need to know what longer form work is it that I’m envisioning.  The options that I would be interested in working on at the moment are graphic novels, screenplays, and novels.  In my mind, the next logical stepping stone up from a short story is the graphic novel–it is short enough to be read in one sitting (in many cases), but tells a more elaborate story.  I already know that the characters, setting, and plot are strong because it was published (& something an editor paid to publish), so why not work smarter and try to “build” upon a structure that I already know has the potential for success?  So I am currently working on outlining the graphic novel version of SoS.  I am hopeful that I will be able to write a strong rough draft from my outline during my Summer Break.  I will, of course, be detailing its construction in this blog.

MAXIMIZING FREE TIME

Okay, look, I’m a PhD student.  My days are jam-packed with reading, teaching, reading, working, reading, writing (academic), reading, grading, reading, reading, reading . . . you get the picture.  Heck, even as I type these very words, I have a 5-7 page paper to complete and an annotated bibliography to start, so my time is precious to me.  This, unfortunately, means that creative writing has gotten the short shrift during the past two semesters.  I realize, however, that I have a lot of time (free) built into my days that I’m not utilizing in a very productive way.  On those days where I’m “free” (i.e., no classes, I should take an hour as I’m eating to simply write on the current draft that I’m working on).  On the days I have to “work” (i.e., days where I have classes or academic commitments, I should simply outline/rough draft future works).  That way, I’m always working on something current and will be ready for those extended “Breaks” (Summer & Winter) when I can devote my full time and resources to the things that I’ve outlined or rough drafted.  On weekends, my time should be used for preparing submissions.  If I can somehow achieve and maintain this balance, I think my writing production and my satisfaction with the writing process will improve immensely.

Well, that’s all I have time for this week.  I’ve got assignments to write, papers to grade, and books to read, so I’ll sign off.  Here’s hoping you have a successful week, and with luck, hopefully I’ll have a successful writing week as well.