Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Writing

Learning the rules before breaking them

There’s a saying in writing that you have to know the rules before you can break them. I agree. And I am at the point where I knowingly break rules I think don’t make sense. Such as using a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence as I did in the last sentence. Or ending a sentence with a preposition. That is one I do a lot because I don’t see any reason not to do it. That’s pretty much my excuse for anything I do that breaks the rules in writing–it makes the flow better. I’m about communicating, not about the stiffness of rigid rules. I will not give up my semi-colon, however; that, I will not do.

There’s a similar thing in taiji. The first thing you learn is the Solo Form, which is the basis for everything else in taiji. I hated the Solo Form when I first learned it. That was over a decade ago. I got used to it, but I never liked it. With the long form (Master T.T. Liang’s form), there were just so many things I didn’t like about it. A few years ago, my teacher’s teacher modified it to be more in line with Master Choi’s teaching and suddenly, I liked it much better, especially the Fast Form. I was talking about it with my teacher during our last private lesson because I was saying how when we used to do the whole form, my lower back would start to hurt at the end of the first section. By the end of the third section, nearly twenty minutes later, my whole back would be cramped up and it would hurt. I didn’t understand how this was supposed to be good for me!

In addition, I had the habit of collapsing my back knee which gave me tendonitis around my knee. I had mentioned that to my teacher when it was the worst (about five years ago) and she gave me tips to deal with it. They helped, but it was a lot of effort to reverse the damage. Anyway, I was saying how I could do the whole current form without my lower back hurting and I couldn’t figure out why. My teacher mentioned the change in form and it clicked in my brain. I mean, of course it made sense that changing the form would ameliorate the pain, but I just didn’t think about it. My knees don’t hurt, either. The difference is that this form is focused on the martial arts applications whereas the old form was more for health benefits. It was more theoretical and difficult to get exactly what you were supposed to do.


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NaNo Rebelled it out…and eggs

There are two more days in November as I am writing this and I have been hard at work for NaNo Rebel. I have a cycle when I’m writing or when I’m trying to hit a goal that is a tale as old as time. In the beginning, I’m fresh and excited, eager to tackle the new project. A few weeks later, I’m in the middle of it, just slogging away. I have my head down, ignoring the junk along the way. Near the end, I suddenly rebel, kicking and screaming. I hit 91,000 words and suddenly just did not want to do it any longer. In the Before Times, 100,000 words in a month would have been fairly comfortable for me to do. I’m not saying it would have been easy, but I wouldn’t have stressed out about it too much.

During the pandemic when my state is exploding with new cases–let’s talk about that for a second. I live in Minnesota. We went from being 30-something in terms of cases in the beginning of the pandemic (not great, but not terrible) to being in the top ten–and not in a good way. It’s because Iowa and South Dakota are 1 and 2 in testing positive (over 10%), and North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Wisconsin are 1, 2, 3, and 4 respectively for most cases of COVID per 100,000. Guess which state is surrounded by those states? That would be Minnesota.

Anyway, all that is to say that I’ve been understandably distracted a bit by *waves hand around self* Writing these days is very fractured. I’m not happy about it, but I’ve accepted it. Ten minutes, then surf the net. Ten minutes, then grab a smoke. Ten minutes, then have a snack. When I hit 91,000 words with four days to go, I suddenly didn’t want to do it any longer. I wanted to quit and be done with it, which is sadly how I operate in general when it comes to projects. I lose interest at the end for one of two reasons or both. One, I have my next project set up and am raring to go on that. Two, I hate the end of things. I always have and it’s the reason I still haven’t watched the last Prime Suspect episode even though I loved the series.


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50,000 ways to write a novel

Let’s talk NaNoWriMo for a minute. Or, in my case, NaNo Rebel. As I’ve mentioned, I have no problem writing 50,000 words in a month (that’s not a humblebrag. Just an outright brag) and I’ve long since decided to do my own thing instead of holding down the basics. Another rule of NaNoWriMo is that you start the novel on the first day of the month and not a moment before. I found that to be restrictive as well because I was usually in the middle of something by the time November arrived. This time, I already had 25,000 words written and I was aiming for 100,000 more. I’d done it before for NaNoWriMo before–and more–but this year is not like any other. *waves at the world around me*

My meta-goal is to finish this novel by the end of the year. The other two novels in this trilogy are roughly 230,000 words each and I see this one being similar. That means 100,000 words in November and 100,000 in December. I have a 20,000-word excerpt that I wrote during the last novel which I decided fit better with this one. I don’t know where I’m going to pop it in, but I’ll find a place for it. It’s not finished, either, and it has some implications for the bigger picture. I’m also going off on a weird tangent that may or may not make it into the final product. It’s interesting and sheds a light on a character who was minor in the second book, but is emerging as a main player in the third.

I’m interested in doing a side project that has a short story about each character’s backstory. I’m not sure I’m going to do it, but this weird side tangent is similar to that. While my original goal is to finish this novel by the end of the month, there’s another part of me that is more interested in going off on all these tangents. I don’t know if it’s because of my usual distaste for the end of things or because I truly just want to remain with these characters. They seem to have more to say and it’s not necessarily related to the main story. It’s like the sidequests in video games–they may not be necessary for the main game, but they certainly make things more interesting.

This book is really interesting in that I know how the last fifty pages are going to go–until the very end. I don’t know how I’m getting there and the motivation for the main character I previously mentioned has drastically changed. I had one idea in mind for her and then one day, another idea hit me. I liked the second idea better and could make it fit with the rest of the story. Now, I’m building for that end, but I’m not sure how it fits in with the bigger picture.

It’s good that I have this side stuff to invigorate me because I’m struggling with the main story. I don’t know how to get where I need to be, which is why I’m taking all these side trips.


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NaNoWriMo Rebel Yell

I’ve done NaNoWriMo several times over the past decade or so and for the first few years, I just followed the edict of starting a new novel and writing 50,000 words. I wasn’t trying to push myself because I was new to the whole NaNoWriMo thing and I didn’t want to make waves. The thing is, though, that I didn’t have a hard time with this goal. I am verbose and can write for days. Or at least, I could in pre-pandemic times. I’ve been struggling in the past few months, churning out fiction that was functional, but didn’t have that pizzazz to it. I’m not unique in this as I’ve read and heard that many people are having difficulty concentrating on daily tasks.

For the past few years, I’ve set the goal of writing 2,000 words of fiction a day. I’ve done it almost every day (I think it’s every day, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed one every year or so). That means that I’m meeting the NaNoWriMo number count every month. What I’m saying is that it ain’t no thing. And, yes, it’s a not-so-humble brag. I know there’s no way to say it without sounding arrogant so I’m just laying it on the line. I will add that I have a flexible schedule and plenty of time to do it in, which helps a ton. However, I can take a modicum of pride in the fact that  I do it every day because many people don’t, even with good intentions.

I started getting bored with NaNoWriMo. One year, I decided to set a goal of 5,000 words a day. I made it and then some, which was amazing. I didn’t do NaNoWriMo for a few years because I was bored with it, to be frank. There was no challenge except whatever I added to the basic formula. When I went back to it, I decided that I would add my own twist. One year, I edited a novel instead of writing one. One year, I worked on an existing novel. Last year, I think I did the same thing. I looked it up. I just wrote about whatever I wanted to write about apparently.

Last year, I became aware that there’s a subset of people who do NaNoWriMo but with their own goals. They call themselves NaNo Rebels. They do whatever they want within the month of November as long as it has something tangentially-related to writing and it spoke to me. I liked the idea of being a rebel so I embraced the name to my bosom.


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Free to breathe

I have a problem doing what I need to be doing. In this case, mailing in my absentee ballot. I’m registered to vote and requested my ballot in the beginning of September. I didn’t get my ballot and didn’t get my ballot so I checked the SoS website. It said it was sent September 18th. What??? I only checked my mail once a week (Sunday when I went to put out the trash) and there it was–two weeks after they said they sent it. Which meant it took at least five or six days to get to me–which shouldn’t be the case.

Then, I set it on my counter and didn’t do anything about it for two weeks because that’s how I roll. We had a bit of snow yesterday and it was predicted we’d get 5 – 8 inches today (now downgraded to 4 – 6) and it was getting uncomfortably close to the election for my taste. So, I went to mail it (I don’t trust my mailbox for good reason) and it felt so damn good to be driving with the windows down in 30 degree weather. I felt alive and refreshed; I had forgotten how much I loved doing that.

By the way, voting in my small city is so easy. I just Google candidates for about fifteen minutes and bob’s your uncle. Even for ‘non-partisan’ (yes, in quotes) positions, it’s fairly easy to tell where they stand on issues. If the first thing they mention is taxes, they’re not the candidate for me. If there’s no mention of social justice (especially with the current events being what they are), hard no. If there’s no challenger such as with judges, I don’t vote. I’m not feeling great about this year’s election for many reasons, but I knew I had to vote.

Being in the car with the window down, the brisk wind reddening my cheek, that felt good. Now, I’m on snow watch and it’s coming down hard. I can feel my soul expanding as I watch it fall. Oh, this is another reason I am not good with people. I love winter. I love snow and the cold. When the weather drops below forty, I feel more alive. Other people get SAD in the winter; I get it in the summer. Or rather, I get irrationally angry when the temperature rises about seventy. Put me in zero degrees with my weighted ‘cool’ blanket and a mug of dairy-free hot chocolate with my cat on my lap? Hell to the motherfucking yes!


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Blocked blocked (writer’s) blocked

Let me start by saying that I don’t get classic writer’s block. Or rather, I got it once, but that’s it. What I do get, however, is an overwhelming feeling of doom that my writing sucks, that there’s no reason to do it, that no one wants to read it, and that I might as well give up. I still write during this time, but it’s not with any heart.

It’s strange because when I go back and read what I wrote several years ago, I marvel at how fresh it seems. Even something I’d read several times. There are very few mysteries I’ve read that has a similar take, and while I don’t tie up all loose ends, I come to a satisfying conclusion. And, I actually prefer not tying up all loose ends, but I worry that it doesn’t seem deliberate. Sometimes it isn’t, but it still works out in the realms that I have set up.

Currently, I am trying to write new stories that are set in the current hellscape that is the pandemic plus police brutality plus political bullshittery. Since I write mysteries, I wanted to tackle what to do when I (protag) see a murdered body but have no faith in the police. It’s been going ok, but I’m not really feeling it. I’m trying to write a few other mysteries set in the same situation, and it’s really limiting. I mean, it’s supposed to be, yes, but it’s REALLY limiting.

One thing I do in my spare time is re-read old things I have written. There are two trilogies (I usually write in trilogies if not a standalone) that I wrote fairly recently–ok. Let me back up. They are not completely written. In the first case, one whole novel (230,000 words) and half the second one (125,000 words). In the other case, two finished novels (122,000 words and 128,000 words respectively) and the third not yet finished (57,000 words).

These are my two favorite trilogies, probably because both are fantasy in nature.

Side note: My brother likes to rant about how much he hates the fact that sci-fi and fantasy are mixed together because he loves the former and hates the latter. I heartily agree with him but because I’m the other way around. I don’t care much for sci-fi, even though I keep it mostly to myself. In most nerd circles, it’s taboo to admit you don’t like sci-fi. It’s also irritating that fantasy is seen as lesser to many–probably because of the gender skew. Sci-fi is seen as more logical (why, I don’t know, as it’s all made up shit, anyway) and fantasy as more emotional. You can probably guess as to the skew here.


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Breaking free of my mind shackles through NaNoWriMo

I’ve been in a writing rut for quite some time, and while the product is still decent, there is a sameness to it that bothers me. Most of my protagonists are Taiwanese American bisexual older women with black cats who do taiji. In other words, me. I don’t have a problem with that because there are exactly none of those in fiction, but it’s not a stretch for me to write. Oh, also they are empathetic, yet prickly to a varying degree. It’s fun to write the characters, but I feel as if I’m coasting.

It’s November, which means NaNoWriMo. As I’ve written in the past, the stated goal of 50,000 words a months (starting a new novel) is not an issue for me. I write 2,000 words a day as it is, so I can meet the goal without breaking a sweat. In the past, I’ve set other goals for myself, such as writing 5,000 words a day (made it), edit a novel (easy-peasy), working on something I’m already writing, and whatever else I felt like doing. It’s become a Thing to set your own goals for NaNoWriMo, so much so that the NaNo rebels as they are called have their own forums on the website. I’ve been a rebel more than I’ve been a regular in the past five years or so.

This year, I thought about NaNoWriMo about a week ago, remembering that it was coming up. I’m going to Philly this Thursday for five days to visit my BFF, so that has to be factored into NaNoWriMo as well. I’m bringing my laptop when I go, but we have a lot planned, so we’ll see how much I actually write. I wasn’t sure I was going to do NaNoWriMo this year, and I knew if I did, I wouldn’t do what they wanted me to do.

Look. I understand the sentiment, and it was a great way to get me to write on a daily basis when I first did it…ten years ago? Something like that. That was the best thing about my MA program, by the way (Writing & Consciousness)–it got me to write every day. For the first few NaNoWriMos I participated in, that was good enough for me. I felt virtuous for writing the 2,000 words a day (I rarely wrote less than that), and that was the whole point of NaNoWriMo.


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What is ‘normal’ isn’t universal

run, run away.
Just looking at her makes me tired.

It’s wearing to always be the weird one. I have to get that out there before I start blathering about whatever is on my mind. Fair warning: I woke up feeling as if I was hit by a dump truck (not as bad as a Mack truck, but still), and I’m slightly dizzy and nauseated. So, I’m going to write until my brain gives out, which could be in five minutes or it could be in an hour.

One common wisdom people give about depression is to write about your feelings as a way of tracking them. It makes sense, but I refuse to do it. Why? Because I write a lot on a regular basis, and I don’t want to make it a chore, rather than something I enjoy doing. Telling myself that I have to jot down every feeling I feel is a sure way to make me not want to write. I do it, anyway, in these posts, so making myself journal seems excessive to me.

Another common wisdom to counter depression is to get some sun and to exercise. I’ve heard the latter so much, it’s embedded in my brain. My experience with exercise, however, begs to differ.

Side Note: I have SAD in the summer instead of winter, which is yet another way in which I am not normal. I love winter. I roll down the windows in my car until it’s zero degrees. I used to do it sub-zero, but I’m more sensitive to cold now that I’m an Old. My thermostat is set at 62º during the day and 60º during the night. I did not wear a coat all of last winter, but I also didn’t go out during the coldest days. I think we reached something like  -50º including the windchill, which is cold, even for me. I do appreciate the sun, but in small doses. I like it better than gloomy weather, but it has to be paired with cold.

Back to exercise. I’ve heard it all my life, and I’m sure you have, too. “Exercise drives away the depression!” Well, no. That’s not true. I found that it didn’t make my mood worse, but it didn’t help, either. No endorphin boost for me, except when I did dancing as exercise. Fast walking (and I used to do four miles a day) just made me actively angry, in part because I was getting hot and sweaty while doing it. I sweat. A lot. More than most people. I don’t have a problem with that, but it’s not fun to be bathing in it. Also, being in the heat makes me actively angry. Anything over seventy is not my happy place. I read about the office temperature wars, and I have to shake my head. Most people seem to think 70º to 75º is the comfort zone. In fact, women in general prefer a higher temp than men do. Me, I would cuss everybody out if I had to be that hot every day.

People who like it warmer complain that they have to cater to people who like colder temps, but it’s because at some point, we can’t take off any more clothing. One person on this temp war thread said their dad started a new job at a place where a woman kept the thermometer cranked to 85+º. Eighty-fucking-five. PLUS. The commenter said their dad almost fainted, and I would have fainted. The dad also kept his thermostat at 62º during the winter, so he’s my kind of people.

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Writing & aging don’t always mesh

all. the. questions.
Huh?

I’m reading the second book of a trilogy I’m working on, and I noticed that I completely left out a scene that I had setup to write. It wasn’t a huge setup, but I was carefully making it seem to be something important. Then, I just…forgot about it? Got distracted? I’m not sure, but probably the latter because I had setup another important scene, and that one I actually wrote. I’m going to have to write the scene and make it seamless, and I have to have my character talk to another character whom I introduced and noted I had to talk to, but then never did.

It’s not like me to forget entire scenes and characters, and I think it’s because I’m getting old. I hate to admit it, but my memory ain’t what it used to be. In my heyday, I worked in a department that had five hundred people. I checked in people to training classes, which meant I met most of the people in the department as many of the training was mandatory. I only forgot the name of two people, and one was because she was perhaps the blandest person I’d ever met. I felt bad about it, but it’s still a pretty good track record.

I’ve been losing the lyrics from 80s songs, which I’m fine with. I don’t need them, and they take up way too much brain space. It’s disconcerting, though, because I’d been carrying them around with me for decades only to have them disappear. Not all of them and not even most of them, but some of them–and that’s weird enough. I know it’s human nature to lose your memory capabilities as you get older, but it’s disconcerting. My mom and i have had several discussions about this because my father is rapidly losing his memory. He’s always had a terrific memory as well, and now, it’s really bad in some areas. To complicate matters, he never remembered anything he didn’t want to remember. If he didn’t consider something important, it didn’t register in his brain. For example. He never went to any of my activities when I was a kid unless my mom made him. He never showed any interest in my life, and I doubt he knows anything personal about me except I like cats and the color black. In addition, when he was the president of an economic research company, he had an excellent secretary (they still use that word in Taiwan) who would print out his emails for him. That’s not all she did, but that’s the extent to which his helplessness was extended.

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An alien in isolation

the glasses are what makes it work.
However you do it, just write.

I read about how to write from time to time, and I recently learned about the Snowflake Method. I’m not going to link to it, so you can Google it if you want. I was not impressed with the website because the guy was hawking it HARD. I can get past that, though, because I know that’s part of writing these days. I skimmed through all the self-aggrandizement and hard sell bullshit to see what his actual advice was, and it would be fair to say I was skeptical from the start. I have a bias against named systems for most things, especially creative endeavors,

Putting that aside, I reached the part about him saying something like, “If you’re like most people, you dream about your novel long before you write it. You research it and–”

That’s where I tapped out because it just underscored how weird I am. I’ve seen a version of this given as advice or how that particular writer works many, many times. “I have an outline”, “I write down the names and how everyone is related to each other in beforehand”, etc. People talking about how they do all this research when they build a world is common as well.

I’m not disputing that this works for other people, obviously. In fact, it seems most writers have some sort of outline/plan/research thing they adhere to. I don’t. At all. I don’t think about a novel before I write about it. I have  ideas come into my mind, and they are usually fairly fully hatched when they arrive. I write mysteries for the most part, so let me give you an example of my creative process. Note, I tend to write trilogy, so this is what happens when I’m starting a new one.

I’m finishing up a novel, and I have an idea rattling around in my mind. For example, at one point, I wanted to write about abortion. Or rather, have abortion as a main driver in the story. I let that marinate in my brain for days as I finished whatever I was working on. Then, suddenly, I knew how abortion was going to be featured, how it would affect the arc of the story, and who was going to be murdered (the doctor who performed the abortion). I also knew that the anti-choice movement was going to be featured because of course they would be given the topic. I also knew the reason for the murder, although I wasn’t quite sure who the murderer would be. With that knowledge, I started writing.

Another example is a short story I wrote, which is still one of my favorite stories that I’ve written. I wanted to write about depression and the color red. I am inordinately proud of this story because it’s actually beautiful prose, which is not my style at all. I am not one for elaborate descriptions and an exquisite turn of phrase. I’m good at dialogue and building characters. The rest of it, eh, not so much. This short story, however, I paid more attention to my phrasing, and it was almost lyrical.

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