Andi Winter

Writer, Reader, Tea Drinker, Chrononaut

Month: June 2016

How to get started doing anything

Let’s say there is something you want to do (or worse yet, need to do), and yet you just can’t get yourself to do it. In fact, you will do every-any-thing else, even things you can not stand (dusting, anyone?), to avoid doing what you want/need to do.

I’m not going to delve into the psychology of why we procrastinate (that blog post is coming soon).

I am going to tell you what to do when you have something you want/need to do, but you can’t get yourself to do it.

Take the first step.

  • Want to write? Open up a word processing program, or take out a notebook and a pen.
  • Want to read more? Pick up a book and crack it open.
  • Want to run? Put on your running shoes.
  • Want to clean the house? Grab a sponge.
  • Want to walk the dog? Put a leash on him/her/it.
  • Want to practice a musical instrument? Play a single note.
  • Want to get in touch with a friend? Dial their phone number.
  • Want to get outside? Open the door.
  • Want to introduce yourself? Say, “Hi.”
  • Want to workout? Do a pushup.

Take the first, tiniest step.

Your goal is to take that first step. Anything after that is gravy. Did you get your running shoes on? Fantastic! You’re good for the day. Job well done!

Now don’t get all “But doing that one thing doesn’t accomplish anything! How does ‘grabbing a sponge’ get me to cleaning the whole place?”

Just start and see how it goes. More often than not, clearing that one tiny hurdle will ease your way into doing the thing. It falls into that “Since I’m here . . . ” concept.

Since I have my running shoes on, I might as well step outside.

Since I have my word processing program open, I might as well write a few words.

Since I did one pushup (and it felt pretty good), I might as well do another, since I’m here on the floor.

Too easy? Then do the thing for fifteen minutes.

Small moves, Sparks.

The difference between plot and story

I was reading Chuck Wendig’s blog post about “What exactly makes a damn good story” and got frustrated. While I liked Wendig’s take on The Hero’s Journey (he’s brilliant at summing up some things rather succintly, with NSFW language), and he gave the answer, he didn’t elaborate enough for a young/new writer to act on it.

Conflict.

Conflict is the building block of story. Conflict is what makes you pore through a book. Conflict is the core of any story, whether a book, a movie, a game, a song, a joke.

What is conflict? It’s simple*: somebody wants something, and something gets in their way**.

Put mathematically:
WANT + OBSTACLE = CONFLICT

Now, just having Someone Wanting Something and then Something Getting in Their Way (of getting what they want) is not a story. I may want to win the Olympics, but I don’t have the skills — oh so sad. How many times have you heard a friend say they wanted to do X, or achieve Y (lose weight, run a marathon, write a novel, get a better job), and then they did nothing? How did you feel hearing about that? Me, I tend to get frustrated or annoyed. To my mind, if you want it, then do something about it, even if it’s something small.

Which is why, for a story, that Someone Wanting Something has to take action and do something. Otherwise, the reader is thinking, “What’s the point?” and even worse, probably putting down the book (or worse yet, writing scathing reviews).

So we add action to the equation:
WANT + OBSTACLE + ACTION = a good start to story

Now we have Someone Wanting Something, then Something Getting in Their Way, and then the Someone Taking Action. How does it end? Does the Someone get what they Wanted? Does the Someone fail? Does the Someone fail and then discover something else they want?

To complete the story, there has to be resolution: what happens? Was the Someone successful? Did they get what they wanted?

Which completes the story equation:
WANT + OBSTACLE + ACTION + RESOLUTION = STORY

Want a longer story? Keep repeating the equation, generally with the resolution being “failed,” so that the Someone either continues to pursue the initial Want, or they change direction and have a new, different Want.

tl;dr: Plot is a sequence of narrative events (this happened, and then this happened). Story is a sequence of narrative events that occurs as the result of a character trying to achieve a goal despite various osbstacles.

 

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*Yeah, it’s simple. Doesn’t mean it’s easy.

**Special thanks and so much appreciation to Jerry Cleaver and his book Immediate Fiction. His book was the first one I found that actually defined “conflict” without getting caught up in loosey goosey airy terms.

Mini Art Month summary

Mini Art Month was my attempt to regain some artistic control of my life. I lost the month of April due to Life Happening*, and I needed something to bolster my artistic spirit. I tend to get caught up in the myth** that I have to have huge chunks of time to do my “art,” and I’ve discovered time and again that’s just a way to procrastinate. Why am I procrastinating, especially when art is something I want to do?

The Critic*** warns me away or offers helpful suggestions like “you should research that some more.” Occasionally I call it “Perfectionism”**** if I want to make myself feel better.

So let’s just call it what it is: Fear.

Fear of failure. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of succeeding. Fear of wasting time. Fear of what others might think. Fear of discomfort. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change.

Fear. It sucks.

With Mini Art Month, my goal was to make the making of art as easy and consistent as possible: something small, every day. Did I achieve that? Nope, not every day, but over the course of the month, I did more art (esp. writing) than I did in previous months.

The numbers:

Days of Art:
24 out of 30
(started on May 2)

Types of Art:
7 different kinds
(poetry, photography, baking, planting, coloring, display making, and writing)

Takeaways:

  1. I need to set priorities and create limits. If something is important to me, then I need to make it a priority. One way to make it a priority is to do it early in the day before the chaos ensues. As difficult as it is for me,  I’ve found that I feel better (and actually write better/more) if I do my writing first thing in the morning. That gets the bare minimum done for the day, and anything else is tasty gravy. I also work better if I have tiny limits, like “Write for 15 minutes.” For some reason,  using time as the work metric frees me; I don’t have to worry about having enough words or if they’re any good. I just have to sit my ass down for fifteen minutes and write. Simple and effective.
  2. Writing is my path/practice. Writing is what I need to stay sane, and doing it every day, even in small bits, is good. While it often feels like I’m not getting anywhere, let alone fast, it all adds up. Until I reviewed my MAM posts, I thought I had only been working on one story (my current one). I didn’t realize that I finished two stories in May, and then started the current one, for a total of over 6000 words (20-ish pages). Huh.
  3. But I need to lighten up and have fun. For some reason, I get very serious about writing. Combine that with an innate need to create schedules/plans, and I set myself up for failure (oops! missed a self-imposed deadline. i am such a loser. i should quit), which is Not Fun. Since writing is something that I choose to do, maybe it should be fun. After all, should I really be taking the writing of fantasy/sci-fi short stories and novels seriously? Come on — werewolves, robots, zombies, talking dogs, time agents . . . is this really serious content? Here’s a strange thought: PLAY.
  4. Mini Art Month is a great way to get back into making art. Looking back at it, I can’t honestly call the baking, planting, coloring, or display making, “art” (and even the photography and poetry is a bit dodgy). However, they were helpful for jumpstarting my creativity and for getting me to try some new/different things. I’d like to keep trying my hand at photography because it’s good to actually see the world (and not just get caught up in my head), and I’m seriously considering a daily haiku exercise to get my brain thinking more lyrically and succinctly.

Was Mini Art Month worth it?

YES, because it gave me a structure to fall back on with tiny, easily achievable goals (make something small! every day!).

And most importantly, YES, because it got me back in the habit of writing every day. It feels good and I’m making regular writing progress, which feels even better.*****

 

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*Note the use of quasi-passive tense. It certainly didn’t feel like I had an active role in the chaos that was April.

**Which of course I wrote about earlier. Yes, it’s a lesson I keep needing to relearn.

***Call it the “Critic,” “Inner Editor,” or one I heard recently “Obnoxious Roommate” (one that lives in your head). It’s that internal voice that tells you to not bother, it’s not worth it, there’s no point to it, you’re going to fail, you’re not smart/talented enough, etc. Yeah, that voice.

****Elizabeth Gilbert’s description in Big Magic has stuck with me: “Perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat.”

*****I want to give a huge thanks to David Seah for inspiring me to try new ways of creating and then analyzing them publicly. It’s nice to know there are other folks out there struggling with similar creative/productive issues.

Mini Art Month 08

The final week-ish of Mini Art Month, which just happened to coincide with Hell Week at the place of employment (the annual last minute rush to get ready for Summer Reading), so I got my five hours of writing in, but it wasn’t pretty. Still, I guess I managed more art than I realized.

Monday (5/23): 603 words.

Tuesday (5/24): 608 words.

Wednesday (5/25): 509 words.

Thursday (5/26): 300 words. Did a fair bit of cutting of the story, and then added the 300 words. I usually just write fast and then edit after I’ve finished the first draft. Using the “Writing into the Dark” method, you treat the first draft as the last draft, so you edit and revise as you go. It’s a whole different way of approaching fiction writing for me.

Friday (5/27): 409 words.

Saturday (5/28): Coloring book. I needed some down time and pulled out my colored pencils and colored in a “meditation” page of a presumably Japanese temple. I will say that it was rather relaxing.

Sunday (5/29): Made peanut butter rice krispie treats. It was nice to be able to make a dessert that did not involve turning on the oven.

Monday (5/30): Planted containers of lettuce, basil, snow peas, radishes, and chives. Gardening feels like art to me — there is a creativity to it, some organization/planning, taking the time to actually do it, and then the fretting about “did I get this right?” So yeah, gardening counts as “mini art”.

Tuesday (5/31): Nada. What is it about the day after a holiday that gets the world all wound up? Did do some good work helping family, and there is certainly an art to that, but nothing that I can really point to and say, “I did that.”

Summary post to come soon. After I get my writing in for the day.

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