Pancake-Making as a Metaphor for Writing

I’m getting better at making pancakes.

Rather, I’m getting better at making pancakes the way I like them, which is, of course, the point. Buttery golden brown, soft in the middle, with a rim of good, light crunch around the edge.

Weekend mornings of my childhood featured light smoke drifting from the kitchen into the living room, dancing within sunbeams that glanced in through wide-open windows. The heavy scent of frying batter and sizzling butter. Usually my dad but sometimes my mom in the kitchen, making the perfect pancakes.

Weekday mornings of my adulthood are comprised of the harried rush to arrive at work on time. I have a hypothesis that every person has a low-level curse and this is mine: always late. No matter how early I wake up. No matter how many grooming ritual corners I cut. I wonder what I did to receive this curse as the stress slowly eats me away.

So, no pancakes. Just precooked turkey sausage browning in a skillet over medium-low heat while I scrape myself together for another day. Darkness outside my window. Cereal to round out my breakfast.

My parents taught me to make pancakes once, a long time ago. But the measurements were approximations and by then we had started using Splenda instead of sugar, so these pancakes were no longer prefect. My brain has deleted the instructions, perhaps out of defiance. But several months ago, I took a shot at making a recipe I found on Pinterest. Pancakes for one. They came out thick and chewy and awful.

Restaurants present tasty pancakes, but not the ones I want. Online recipes strive to recreate these restaurant pancakes, instructions leading to a place I already know I do not wish to go. Just the same, books present tasty stories, but not the ones that fill the gnawing hunger within me. Tips and advice for writers describe recipes for recreating stories already published. Still not right. Never-ending cycles of popular consumption.

I just have to make them myself.

The weekend arrives and I try again for the perfect pancakes. For good stories. The kind I like to eat.

Experimentation and regular practice help. At its basic essence, a pancake is a pancake is a pancake, requiring at least the usual ingredients. The spin you put on those ingredients makes the completed project yours. A little extra water? A splash of vanilla? Cooking spray instead of butter? Nope, definitely not cooking spray. Same with writing story. Basic recipe, with a personal take. A little extra diverse representation? A splash of magical wonder? Gritty realism? No, no grittiness for me.

Endless weekends to keep trying.

This morning’s attempt at the perfect pancakes got very close. Just a little too crunchy on the bottom. Perhaps the story I write this week will turn out similar – close but crunchy. Or maybe not. Each batch presents new challenges, but every weekend, I’m getting better at making pancakes.

Thanks for reading!

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Word Nerd Scribbles Joins #Spooktober 2019

Fall began a week ago, but now. Now. Finally and at last. Today. October has arrived. The season of spooks, monsters, and creeps. It’s here! The best time of the year.

With the arrival of October begins #Spooktober, a time of Halloween-flavored media in movies, fiction, art, gifs, and more. Whether you prefer gory horror or light-hearted creepiness, #Spooktober has it all.

Word Nerd Scribbles will be joining in on #Spooktober 2019 with four spooky, creepy, and scary Hopeful Wanderer tales. Departing somewhat from the usual serene mood of the Wanderer’s adventures, because everyone experiences frightening things. Tune in each week to find out what goes wrong when the Wanderer makes mistakes.

Since October has five Thursdays this year, and the last one falls on Halloween (!), Word Nerd Scribbles will continue last year’s trend of presenting a Halloween Special. An original spooky short-story all on its own. Be on the lookout!

For my part, I don’t get enough time to watch all the scary movies, read all the creepy books, or attend all the spooky parties I want in October. So this year, I’ve picked Annihilation to watch, starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac. I haven’t seen it before, but some of you said it’s really good!

What are your October plans this year? Throwing a party? Making a costume? Let me know in the comments! For now and the rest of the month, my fellow spooks:

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Books Full-Circle

Just had a weird, lightning strike moment, sitting here at the laundromat. I went in search of a specific writerly thing that may only exist on Tumblr. Though I didn’t find what I sought, I wound up on an article called 12 Author Websites That Get It Right.

As I scrolled, taking note of ideas to apply to my own website, I happened across a screenshot of the webpage for Austin Kleon. I liked it so much that I visited his website itself for a closer look.

After reading a few of his blog posts, I clicked on his books page. Feeling drawn, somehow. The titles were interesting but unfamiliar to me.

Then I landed on this book:

Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon

I owned this book, Newspaper Blackout, a long time ago. One of the few I splurged to buy brand new when I was a starving college student (and the first few poems of which I read while on the job working at Barnes & Noble). As Kleon points out on his website, folks often use his books as bathroom readers and mine was no exception. The softback cover got destroyed by the moisture and I eventually had to throw it out.

Though never much of a poetry person myself, I recall enjoying the poems contained within. Likely, as an active artist, I would appreciate them more now. However, Newspaper Blackout did inspire me, several years later, to make my own blackout poetry out of a book I truly despised, but I won’t be saying which one.

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Author Update – Patreon

Presenting the long-promised Patreon!

We hit our followers and subscribers goal! Yay! Now, those hoping to take their involvement in this community to the next level can show their support @ patreon.com/sgbaker.

If you’ve been enjoying my work here at Word Nerd Scribbles, join my creative journey and let’s achieve new heights together!

Promising shout-outs, early access, and more! Check it out!


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Writing Life: Time Change

I have one particular writing nemesis, and that’s the time change.

Every year at around this time — when it’s getting dark at 7p and earlier — my writing suffers. I write in the evening, after coming home from work, but now, the encroaching darkness tricks my brain into thinking it’s bedtime. I can’t possibly write right now. Not enough time, not enough time…

I think I read somewhere that the cold and the dark are what triggered the idea for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to happen in November. Now that Halloween is over, what else are we writers going to do?

Yet as the nights have grown longer in the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a downswing in my productivity. I cannot even imagine trying to drag 300 words out of my brain right now, let alone 1600+. Better to slowly get used to writing after sunset again, until sweet, sweet Daylight Savings Time rolls back around.


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Writing with Anxiety: Be Afraid and Write It Anyway

Anxiety in writing often derives not from a fear of writing itself. In truth, we writers fear audience judgement.

Word Nerd Scribbles Turns 100 Posts Old

We hit the 100 posts mile marker last week with the review for All Systems Red. Such a momentous occasion deserves something special, so today’s 101st post will mark the beginning of the addition of semi-regular Tuesday posts, complementing flash fiction publications on Thursdays and book reviews on Saturdays.

While in search of ideas for a spiffy 101st post topic, I ran across The Writeous Babe’s article 100 Blog Post Ideas and My 100th Post, stuffed full of excellent suggestions. If you writers ever run dry on post ideas, I suggest wandering over there. Two of the suggestions that intrigued me were “Write the story of how and why you got started blogging” and “Post an inspirational quote and what it means to you.”

We will, in a way, cover both as we explore my personal methods for dealing with anxiety as a writer.

Be Afraid and Do It Anyway

As a young person harboring both anxiety and ambition, I had to adopt the mantra of be afraid and do it anyway just to accomplish anything, including my goal of becoming a writer. The phrase echos Susan Jeffers’s book entitled Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, which may be where I got the idea. I’ve never read her book, but the basic premise of my attitude runs thusly: accept that you are afraid–impossibly afraid, too afraid to ever make the move, submit to the contest, post the article online–and then make it, submit it, post it, even if you do so blind with panic. Being afraid and doing it anyway landed me my first job, got me into (and, when necessary, out of) relationships, and convinced me to start showing readers my written work.

(Disclaimer: I’m fully aware that anxiety is a difficult disorder to deal with, especially when it involves actual panic attacks. When applying this principle, your mileage may vary.)

Anxiety in writing often derives not from a fear of writing itself. We like writing; it’s fun and brings us satisfaction. Lots of writers write just for themselves or trustworthy friends and while this may involve its own sense of anxiety, I myself haven’t experienced such in my own experiments with personal journaling.

In truth, we writers fear audience judgement–how our work will be received by friends and strangers, whether it will be “good enough.” By good enough, I mean entertaining. We hope so much for those likes and kudos and gushing comments, which follow effective entertainment, and fear the lack of them. Yes, yes, we’ve read those remonstrations that writers must develop a thick skin (all true), but anxiety cranks that fear up to eleven. If you write with anxiety, you may never develop that thick skin. May never feel ready to share your work with an audience.

Do it anyway.

Methods for Writing Anyway

Every anxious writer starts somewhere. While my experience may differ from yours, below are my suggestions to get you started writing in spite of anxiety, based on what helped (and helps) me write while afraid.

Because I write fiction, my suggestions live within the realm of crafting story more than in the various aspects of creating non-fiction. Be afraid and do it anyway still applies to all types of writing, as well as to living life in general.

  • Show it to a very trusted friend

Make sure you’re presenting your work to an audience that will be receptive to what you write. So don’t show it to just any friend. If you hand off your piece to your friend who doesn’t read much, you’ll probably get that “it’s nice” response that no artist wants. You stand a better chance of getting useful feedback/a desired response from friends who read, especially if they like the genre you write (i.e. if you write mysteries, hand it to your friend who likes solving puzzles and/or reading mysteries). Matchy-matchy.

I started this (and discovered who my First Reader would become) by offering to write fiction about characters my friends were playing in a tabletop game. People love reading your words about something they made, so you could even offer to write about the original characters your writing friends have created. Just ensure that you do those characters justice.

  • Write (and post) fanfiction

Writing fanfiction has a freeing effect on the anxious writer. Since the characters, backstories, settings, and plots have already been established, have already drawn in what might be a huge audience depending on the franchise’s popularity, you as a writer can capitalize on the readership of fans who like the same thing that you do. They’re hungry for more content and you want to improve your craft, so churn out coffee shop AUs and original plots and everything in between to hone your skills, drawing in enthusiastic readers who expect to be forgiving of amateur work.

I wrote and posted four Fallout 4 fanfictions before I got serious about creating original work. It’s gratifying to watch that views counter rise (in active fandoms) and even receive a kudo or a comment. More importantly, comparing the progression of your works shows you how much your writing has improved with practice. You can take the lessons learned in writing fanfiction and apply them to crafting your own original fiction.

I suggest Archive of Our Own as my favorite fanfiction forum, with Fanfiction.net as a close second. AO3 is much easier to navigate and post stories, but requires a request to join, while FF.net lets you get started immediately, even if the document uploader can be tricky to use. No reason why you can’t sign up for both for more wider audience variety.

  • Put it on your blog

Got a Tumblr? WordPress? Blogger? Reddit? Even if you don’t, it’s not hard to get set up on these websites and start posting your content, be it fanfiction or original work, short-stories or novel snippets. All of this for free with no gatekeepers to turn you away. Consider making your own little writing domain on a more open website like WordPress or Blogger and then crossposting your work to forums you must join like Tumblr. All of these boast an anonymous function if keeping your own name off your work will help you be braver about posting publicly. Liberal use of tags helps readers find you.

Keep in mind that what you post on the internet, most magazines, quarterlies, journals, and contest websites will consider published. It’s great to post original fiction on your blog, but make sure it’s work you’re willing to give away for free. Hold back any pieces you hope to submit or sell.

Word Nerd Scribbles (a blog I had created but rarely used) became a great place to post my profile pieces written about friends and family for a Facebook social project. You can read about how that went here.

  • Write it for you

In the end, the audience member who matters the most is you. Whether you write just for yourself or you want to garner as many appreciative readers as possible, you are the one who has to like what you write. Don’t be too hard on yourself, accept your own criticisms with a grain of salt, and remember to forgive yourself as much as you would forgive another writer.

In On Writing, Stephen King says, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” Meaning to help alleviate that anxiety, forget about audience altogether. They don’t matter until you get to the revision stage; your writing is for you.

Do you as an anxious writer have any tricks for powering through that fear and writing anyway? If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments. Happy 101st Post!


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Reasons to Skip NaNoWriMo This Year

I want to address some arguments for NaNoWriMo and present other solutions to your writing woes.

 

What if I told you you don’t have to do NaNoWriMo? Meme Source: https://imgflip.com/memegenerator/Matrix-Morpheus

 

Today is the last Monday before November 1st, a day known for the past 18 years as the beginning of National Novel Writing Month. As November creeps up, writers start considering whether they’ll participate in the grueling one-month effort to write 50,000 words in pursuit of a novel draft, at a rate of 1,666 words each day. It’s like a one-month celebration of writing in which the measure of fun is in how much agony you’re experiencing.

I read an article from Chris Brecheen early this year that examined the detrimental effects NaNoWriMo can and often does have on writers. He maintained that trying to write 50,000 words in a month without doing regular writing throughout the rest of the year is like attempting to run the Boston Marathon after going for a few morning jogs. Such an ambitious but ill-advised undertaking only results in hamstrung legs and dreams.

The one time I completed NaNo left me feeling sick of words and incapable of writing for a long, long time afterward. I haven’t participated in it whole-heartedly ever since. Yet every year, I find myself getting caught up in that fever-pitch of anticipation as those around me gear up for another stab at that 50,000 words. As NaNo looms, I hear other writers (and myself) giving common reasons for why they might just roll up their sleeves and dive in again.

I’m skipping NaNoWriMo this year. Those aforementioned arguments often stem from guilt and misguidance, so I want to address some of them and present other, less detrimental, solutions.

#1 “It’s been so long since I’ve written and NaNoWriMo will get me back into it.”

Getting back into writing doesn’t have to wait until November. Also, it doesn’t have to take the form of writing an ocean of words every day. It’s as simple as picking up a pen and writing one sentence. Then doing that again the next day. And the next. The more writing you do, the easier it becomes and the more you’ll write.

Neil Gaiman was posed a question with this sentiment almost word for word on Tumblr. He gave an excellent response, saying that to get back into writing, putting down just 300 words a day will net you a 90,000 word novel in a year. That’s almost twice as much as NaNo, using a method that won’t destroy you.

#2 “Writing is so lonely, but NaNoWriMo gives me a sense of community with other writers.”

The advent of those new-fangled internets has connected writers all over the world. There are loads of websites, social media tags, critique groups, and match-ups available out there. With just a quick Google search, I found:

Critique Partner Love Connection – a forum set up to connect potential critique partners
Inked Voices – what looks like a GoogleDocs-esque group collaboration
Writers Online
– a database for seeking online writing groups
Writer’s Relief – featuring a list of writing groups by state or region

Most of these were just on the first page of results. Give some of these a try and get yourself some writing pals.

#3 “I just can’t seem to write without NaNoWriMo word count goals and deadlines to motivate me!”

I can see how “just write your goals down!” may not be concrete enough an answer to this dilemma. There’s something delicious about watching that word count line graph rise and rise the more you write. A physical, visual affirmation of the work you’ve done. (For me, a measurable distance for how much farther I have to go.)

There are some great programs out there that measure your progress toward your goal against a deadline of your choice. Give these a try!

MyWriteClub
Pacemaker
Writeometer
WriteTrack

#4 “It’ll be easier to write if I don’t have to think of the quality, just the quantity.”

But you will. While NaNo gets it right in encouraging writers to get those creative juices flowing through actual writing, it’s entirely possible to do too much. The more crap you sling at the wall, the louder that voice in the back of your mind will whisper this sucks. It doesn’t take long to succumb to the understanding that not only have you written total garbage in pursuit of that word count, you’re also not going to want to look at that mess long enough to edit and revise it in the future. It’s going straight into the trashcan.

This is because there comes a point where you pass productivity and cross over into word-garbage. Brent Weeks has been asked several times about how much he writes in a day. His answer (in a tweet somewhere that I can’t find now) was 500-1,000 words, saying that if he tries to go too much over 1,000, he starts to outstrip his creativity.

I discovered the exact same problem myself earlier this year when I was shooting for 1,500 words a day on a novel. It hurt. It resulted in a serious writing slump that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t overtaxed my creative muscles.

So avoid this problem by not setting such a high 1,666 daily word goal for yourself. Something reasonable, like 300-500, is a great way to start. Then, when you reach that mark, maybe you’ll feel like you want to keep going, more and more, until you hit your limit. You’ll know it when you do. At that point, all you have to do is stop…

…and start again tomorrow.