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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Categorized: Culture

First of all, I’d like to dedicate this blog post to Mrs. Barbara Bender who taught my high school sophomore year American Literature class. It wasn’t that the reading selections were all that riveting, or that we had any kind of “Oh, Captain, my captain,” kind of moments. What made the class so pivotal in my formation as a writer is the fact Mrs. Bender made us write papers…and we hated it.

papers, writing, blogs

Why?

Because we had to submit an OUTLINE for every single paper, and the points had to match up. The outline had to create and support a logical argument supported by evidence from start-to-finish. It was a pain in the butt. But…wouldn’t you know it, writing outlines before writing papers soon became a habit.

Once I mastered how to outline an academic paper, it was like I was unstoppable. Yes, I know. This sounds like the Passion of the Nerd. In reality though, it’s more like the Redemption of the Procrastinator. But, becoming a master outliner helped me write papers faster and get better grades every time.

papers, writing, blogs

(No, seriously, I spent an entire semester pulling procrastination punishment all-nighters every Monday night cranking out three-page papers for my anthropology of Papua New Guinea class and got an ‘A’ on every single one…all because I could outline!)

papers, writing, blogs

Whether its academic papers or blog posts, creating an outline is a skill that every writer needs, and unconsciously, every reader appreciates. And today, I’m going to share with you Mrs. Bender’s simple-but-magical outlining tips and tricks from the introduction, to the middle, to the end..

The Introduction

Just like in fiction, a good blog post or academic paper starts with a catchy opening. It can be challenging, evocative, shocking, or revelatory.

papers, writing, blogs

Then, we start to circle the topic in general, sharing reasons it is interesting, relevant, worthwhile, etc. A good technique is ‘within, without, backward, forward.’ We address why a topic is important from within the field, in relation to society in general, in the context of the past, and its potential impact going forward.

THE THESIS STATEMENT COMETH. Just like a logline for a story, the thesis statement for a paper or a blog is the BURNING REASON we are writing this. It’s the single argument that everything else—no matter how many thousands of words—supports.

papers, writing, blogs

The Plan of Attack: Right after the thesis statement come the three main points that will support our argument. It’s the old “Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em,” schtick.

Here’s an example of outlining an introduction.

Papers, writing, blogs

The Middle

Now, we’re into the thick of things. We’re sligning facts and logic right and left, maybe even footnoting stuff (Heaven forbid!). But, without a coherent structure, all those facts are going to end up overwhelming us and the reader. Think “I Love Lucy” and the chocolate factory conveyor belt.

papers, writing, blogs

Whether it’s fiction or blogs or papers, the middle is always the longest and hardest part. Luckily, there’s a trick to setting up this section of the outline, from the main point down to the individual paragraphs. Okay, maybe the trick is more like the bastard child of an illicit affair between a formula and a checklist, but it’s still one of God’s creatures, and I love it.

I call it ‘The Telescoping Rule of Three.’ Catchy, non?

Yet, it is an accurate description of both the flexibility and order we need for the middle of papers and posts of all lengths. We need the limit of three to help us focus our high-level arguments. But, at the same time, we need the open-ended ability to drill way, way down into details. We can’t lose ourselves in irrelevant minutiae if we stick to The Telescoping Rule of Three. Even if we do, the structure will guide us safely back.

The Telescoping Rule of Three

The rule starts with the having a plan of attack with three main points that support the thesis statement. This isn’t to say that there are more arguments we could make to support the thesis. It’s simply that these are three points we are choosing to illustrate because we believe they are a relevant, cohesive angle.

papers, writing, blogs
Okay, not precisely relevant, but I couldn’t help it.

Once we are done with the introduction, we tackle each point as its own section. We turn it into a mini-paper, complete with its own introduction with a thesis and plan of attack. From there, we illustrate each of the supporting points with three points…aaaaand you begin to see how this rule ‘telescopes’ to expand for a dissertation or contract for a 1500-word blog post.

It’s easiest explain this with a graphic.

Papers, writing, blogs

‘Three’ is not by any means a hard and fast limit. Think of it more like a boogie board in the ocean. It can help us surf the waves with that rush of speed and ease. But, it can also help us stay afloat when we get swamped by that unexpected swell..and get salt water up our noses like a gratuitous neti pot accident that makes us cough and swallow some of the saltwater while snotting the rest of it back out into the ocean.

papers, writing, blogs
Because we can’t have too many cat memes, especially on a boogie board. Check out Kuli’s story here!

Bonus—Paragraph Structure

Because it’s all starting to come full circle now…

I know you know what’s coming.

The fact that writing a paragraph starts with an introductory sentence that states the point of the paragraph.

The fact that there are three sentences that support that point.

The fact that there is a concluding sentence that segues into the next paragraph.

It’s getting kinda trippy, amiright?

papers, writing, blogs
Don’t hate it because it’s logical.

The Conclusion (in more ways than one)

By the point, it should be 4:00 a.m., and the caffeine shakes should just be starting to kick in.

In the prehistoric times when I was in college, we didn’t have Red Bull. Instead, I drank cold, black coffee from the mini coffeemaker in my room. That’ll wake you up. And put hair on your chest.

papers, writing, blogs
All of the stages are funny-not-funny, and sorry-not-sorry for sharing.

Until I figured out the secret to writing a conclusion, I struggled with this part of a paper. I would even go so far as to shower and fold my laundry instead of writing this bit. I know, right?

However, when I discovered that a conclusion is just an introduction in reverse, it was like the clouds parted and heavenly hosts appeared bearing white chocolate mocha lattes (no whipped cream).

This is the “Tell ’em what you told ’em” part of a paper. I used to feel it was repetitive, but then I realized it was okay. That’s the point of the conclusion. We have to remind the reader why the topic is important and affirm the fact that we proved the bejeezus out of our argument.

papers, writing, blogs

Isn’t it beautiful? Doesn’t the symmetry of it all move you to tears? Don’t you feel like you can write a better, more coherent blog or get a better grade on your paper now? *sniff, wipes away lone tear*

It’s like a full-circle-reverse-rule-of-three-telescoping…oh, whatever. I need more coffee.

SHARING TIME! Tell me your best all-nighter or turned-it-in-by-the-skin-of-your-teeth story! Also, if you’d like to suggest a topic for me to use for a fake paper to illustrate using this outline, put it in the comments. I’ll pick one and work it up. Maybe we can see if I still have the old zip and polish and do it as a timed event on Twitter, LOL!

Everything You Ever Wanted – A Weekend of Cait & Kristen!

Kristen and I are having a teachapalooza this weekend, starting with my class on Friday night – Keywordpalooza: Tune in, mellow out, and learn to love keywords for Amazon.

Then, Saturday is going to be out-of-this-world (literally) with The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle. I’ll be geeking out on world-building for sci-fi, dystopias, apocalit, zombies, horror, paranormal, etc. Kristen and I are co-teaching how to take all that world-building and create characters we love to love and love to hate. Then, Kristen is going to wrap up the day with a master class in plotting for speculative fiction.

Even if you’re not writing this genre, there is so much here that is relevant to all fiction.

You can purchase each class individually, or, you can buy the bundle which essentially is all three classes for the price of two. And if you can’t make the classes live this weekend, they all come with a free recording so you won’t miss a thing.

Hope to see you this weekend!


Keywordpalooza: Tune in, mellow out, and learn to love keywords for Amazon

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, September 7, 2018. 7:00—9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

It’s one of the universe’s great mysteries… the same word can both boost and drown your book in a category (mind BLOWN, man!).

Keywords also seem to evolve every five minutes…or are we the one evolving, like a butterfly having a dream of SEO (trippy, dude!)? Like gravity and Jane Fonda’s hair in ‘Barbarella,’ the popular rules for using keywords value over-inflation and the slavish following of fads.

But, like Talbot’s tweed and mother’s pearls, certain marketing strategies and techniques are enduring classics that stand the test of time. They’re not flashy like bellbottoms, nor do they yield dramatic overnight results like ironing your hair. Yet, ignore trends, and we risk getting left behind…kind of like buying electric typewriter ribbon because that whole ‘computer word processing’ thing will never take off.

This class won’t just help you turn on, tune in, and drop out of the keyword rat race. We’ll also cover:

  • Fully body contact SEO: when and where to use keywords, and what publishers know that you don’t;
  • Fantastic keywords and where to find them: which websites, lists, search engines, and Magic 8 Balls yield the best keyword research results;
  • Mix and match like a Parisienne: no, seriously, how to mix consistent ‘classic’ keywords with the latest trends like a Frenchwoman wears a crisp white shirt with this season’s Hermes scarf;
  • Same bat genre, same bat book, different bat keywords?: learn the differences between keywords for ebooks, print, and audio;
  • And so much more!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Building Planet X: Out-of-This-World-Building for Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Speculative fiction may be a way of seeing the world ‘through a glass darkly,’ but it can also be one of the clearest, most pointed, and even most disturbing ways of seeing the truth about ourselves and our society.

It’s not just the weird stuff that makes the settings of speculative fiction so unnerving. It’s the way ‘Normal’ casually hangs out at the corner of ‘Weird’ and ‘Familiar.’

But it’s trickier than it seems to get readers to this intersection without letting them get bogged down in the ‘Swamp of Useless Detail’ or running them into the patch of ‘Here be Hippogriffs’ (when the story is clearly about zombies). How do we create a world that is easy to slip into, absorbingly immersive, yet not distracting from the character arcs and plots?

This class will cover:

  • Through the looking glass darkly: How to take a theme/issue/message and create a world that drives it home to the reader.
  • Ray guns and data chips: The art of showing vs. telling in world-building.
  • Fat mirror vs. skinny mirror: What is scarce in the world? Valuable? Forbidden? Illegal? What do people want vs. what they have vs. what they need?
  • Drawing a line in the sand: What are the laws, taboos, limits of this world? What is unacceptable to you/the reader/the character? How are they the same or different, and why it matters.
  • Is Soylent Green gluten-free and other vital questions: All the questions you need to ask about your world, but didn’t know…and how to keep track of all the answers.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Populating Planet X: Creating Realistic, Relatable Characters in Speculative Fiction

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

It’s a time-honored tradition in literature to take an ordinary person out of his or her normal life and throw them into a whirlwind of extraordinary circumstances (zombies/tyrants/elves/mean girls optional). After all, upsetting the Corellian apple cart is what great storytellers do best.

It’s also that very same ordinariness and normalcy that first gets the reader to identify then empathize with the characters and stick with them (and the book) through to the end.

But, what do we do when our ‘ordinary’ protagonist lives with a chip implant and barcode tattoo, and our antagonist happens to be a horde of flesh-eating aliens…or a quasi-fascist regime bent on enforcing social order, scientific progress above ethics, and strict backyard composting regulations (those MONSTERS!)?

How the heck is the reader supposed to identify with that? I mean, seriously. Regulating backyard composting? It would never happen in a free society.

This leaves us with two challenges in creating characters for speculative fiction: 1. How to use the speculative world-building to shape the backgrounds, histories, and personalities of characters, and 2. How to balance the speculative and the relatable to create powerful, complex character arcs.

This class will cover:

  • Resistance is futile: What does normal look like for the characters? What’s different or strange, and how to get readers to accept that retinal scans and Soylent Green are just par for the course.
  • These aren’t the droids you’re looking for: What are the discordant elements around the characters? What are their opinions about it? What are the accepted consequences or outcomes?
  • You gonna eat that?: Whether it’s running from brain-eating zombies or fighting over dehydrated space rations, what is important both physically and emotionally to the character? What is in short supply or forbidden?
  • We’re all human here (even the ones over there with tentacles): The basic principles and techniques of creating psychological touchpoints readers can identify with.
  • Digging out the implant with a grapefruit spoon: In a speculative world, what are the stakes for the character? The breaking point? The turning point?
  • And so much more!!!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 4:00—6:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Speculative fiction is an umbrella term used to describe narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes but it not necessarily limited to fantasy, science fiction, horror, utopian, dystopian, alternate history, apocalyptic fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction.

Basically, all the weird stuff.

Gizmos, gadgets, magic, chainsaws, demons, fantastical worlds and creatures are not enough and never have been. Whether our story is set on Planet X, in the sixth dimension of hell, on a parallel world, or on Earth after Amazon Prime gained sentience and enslaved us all, we still must have a core human story that is compelling and relatable.

In this class we will cover:

  • Discovering the core human story problem.
  • How to plot these unique genres.
  • Ways to create dimensional and compelling characters.
  • How to harness the power of fear and use psychology to add depth and layers to our story.
  • How to use world-building to enhance the story, not distract from it.

***A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.

REGISTER HERE

Recordings of all three classes is also included with purchase.

Death characters

I think there’s one thing we can all agree about: it’s pretty awful that life doesn’t have a pause button when it comes to things like death and grief.

One of the things that Kristen always says (I call them Lamb’s Laws) is that real writers don’t wait for all the stars to align, perfect barometric pressure, and a good hair day in order to ‘feel the muse’ and write. That means that I’ve written parts of this blog on a plane from Boston to Indianapolis to grieve for a man who was like a father to me. I’ve written other parts in between condolence visits, remembrance services, and private moments of comforting.

Dr. Shahid Athar was a good man—a very good man, one of the few who truly lived the spirit of compassion, love, and charity that is central to all religions. He was an internationally-renowned doctor who would quietly slip away to volunteer his services in shelters. He was both deeply observant and an open-minded philosopher scholar who sought to bring faiths and communities together. He also had a wicked, sly sense of humor—I remember how he used to make my dad laugh until he cried, or the way I’d do a double-take when I realized he had just deadpanned a gentle burn on me. Oh, and his Fourth of July tandoori chicken barbecues for a hundred people were some of my best childhood memories.

Death characters
Reverend Jerry Zehr, Dr. Shahid Athar, Rabbi Dennis Sasso – Carmel Interfaith Alliance

I got the news on Saturday afternoon that he was slipping away. I reacted as I usually do in a crisis: I made a to-do list. Flights, hotel, car, packing, last-minute work stuff…it was only late that night when I was done that I allowed myself twenty minutes to drink half-a-glass of whiskey and cry. Then my timer went off, and I blew my nose, drank some water, and went to bed.

Yeah, I’ve got a timeshare by a river in Egypt.

Vulnerable Author, Visceral Prose

Let’s be clear. I know very well that I am putting off dealing with all of this. I give it about two weeks before I randomly burst into tears in the middle of CVS on a Tuesday. I get it. But, I also know that every time I grieve, I learn something different about grief itself. And like all good writers with vaguely sociopathic and dissociative tendencies, part of my brain is busy observing and cataloguing all this and figuring out how to use it to gut readers with my words.

The thing is, though, in order to do that, I will have to do the thing I hate most in the world (aside from picking up the dry-cleaning—don’t ask, I don’t understand it either). I will have to allow myself to feel and express emotion.

While there are certain limits to the ‘write-what-you-know’ philosophy like committing serial murder to get the ‘feel’ for it, imbuing characters with genuine reactions requires us to draw on a very personal well of feelings and life experiences.

If we want a truly visceral reaction from our readers, we have to be truly vulnerable. The honesty of deep emotion is what brings us all together, whether we like it or not. *side-eye at Sarah McLaughlin*

Death characters

Echoes of the Present

One of the unexpected things I’ve experienced with this death is what I’m going to call ‘reverb.’

It’s the unexpected way a death can echo other deaths. Losing a man who was like a father to me is not exactly like losing my father. But, there are enough similarities that the great bell of memory rings in the space in my chest, its dark resonance vibrating deep in my bones.

It’s not déjà vu because in a sense, it has happened before. The call. The flight. The last-minute arrangements. The feeling of racing against time to get there for a goodbye. The sense that life turned another corner while you weren’t looking, and there’s no going back.

But, it’s not actually my father. It’s another daughter who has lost her anchor. It’s another son who suddenly discovers just how much business death involves. It’s another mother we are reminded is also a wife as she grieves for a marriage that at its heart began and ended with two people in love. It’s another home where we keep looking up expecting to see a father stroll into the room with a joke and smile for everyone.

When a character is confronted by death, it’s worth taking a moment to ask ourselves who is it that they have actually lost, beyond the labels of friend and family. Was that person a trusted confidant? An enemy who should have been a friend? Even a complete stranger’s death can go beyond the label when we realize that person had a full life of experiences that we would never know.

A person only truly dies once, but memory is thousand mirrors that reflect it back to us a thousand times a day.

Living Death

Death is experienced in its entirety by the living.

I know, but bear with me. Death spans the dying process and the moment of stoppage, but also the moments, minutes, days, and weeks after. It is the living who feel the aftermath.

There is a physicality to death—even a peaceful one—that shocks us and rocks reality down to its foundations. It splits time into before and after, and yet if we think about the paradox of infinitely divisible time, the moment of death exists for its own little eternity. It’s counted in beats per minute, oxygen levels, complex chemical reactions, and the half-life of cellular decay. It’s a creeping cold and a moment of absolute stillness that nothing but death can create.

Death characters

I was at my father’s side when he drew his last breath. We had turned off the monitors. There was no point in taunting us with its cruelly absolute measurements. Instead, I watched the fluttering pulse in my father’s neck. It was so strange to see that little vein gently jumping beneath his skin. Even stranger still was how it faded and stopped. His expression changed, from the soft half-smile of sedation to a more solemn and severe mien as the muscles in his face went slack without the spark of a living brain and the impetus of a manifested will.

When characters behold death, what is it they actually see? Do they smell the crisp, bitter antiseptic cleaner of a hospital room? Do they hear an annoying sniffle of someone who just won’t blow their nose? Do they feel the chilly weight of a hand that will never hold them back?

Death is the end of a single story, but death lives on as a grim rule of punctuation for those whose survive.

There is no Cure for the Ugly Crying Hangover

One of the reasons I hate crying is because I always end up with gritty eyes, a snot-induced sinus headache, and an overall sense of being slightly puffy.

It’s not that I don’t cry. I can and do. *once more, throws shade at Sarah McLaughlin*

Death characters

I know people who don’t really ugly cry. They won’t exactly win any beauty contests, but they don’t do the hiccupping-while-dripping-snot-that-ends-up-choking-you thing that makes people hesitate a fraction of a second before going in for the hug.

I hate those people.

Death characters

Another thing I hate? When people recite to me the five stages of grieving. I want to take that linear progression and beat them with it. In reality, the five stages of grief are really most like a pinball machine.

We ricochet from anger to denial. Acceptance bounces back and forth between bargaining and depression. The first year alone after a death is a grief-stricken jackpot of shock, bad life choices, acting out, and fractured relationships.

I couldn’t wait to be done with all the ‘firsts’ – the first birthday, Fourth of July, Halloween (yeah, that holiday had me sobbing as I watched trick-or-treaters because he loved greeting them and giving out candy). I don’t remember much about the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s because frankly, I was either half-in-the-bag or fully in-the-bag. Not my proudest moments, but I have yet to be judged for grieving in a very imperfect but very human way.

Death characters

The same goes for characters. Sometimes, we struggle to have characters make the bad decisions that give them depth and create the conflict necessary for good stories. Death and grief give characters a way to be irrational and make bad decisions without making them unsympathetic.

Death is a Party

Go to any wake or at-home receiving time, and you will see the same tableau play out. The food might be different, the language might be strange, the gods foreign, but I will bet you two bits* (one of my father’s favorite phrases) that you will see the following cast of characters:

  • The Organizer: Kind, busy, slightly harassed, slightly put-upon-but-secretly-enjoying-the-sympathy-of-being-the-hard-working-one…in other words, the Munchausen by Proxy griever;
  • The Drama Queen: Usually centrally seated in living room, and also usually the prettiest crier in the family…willingly recites the account of how the defunct passed on over and over again for each visitor, basking in the spotlight of their sympathy;
  • The Sh!tface Drunk: Can usually be found brooding out on the back porch because he/she hates people in general and doesn’t have the words to express the depth of their sorrow…also liable to engage the Drama Queen in World War III after the guests have left;
  • The Angry One: A sober version of the Sh!tface Drunk…liable to engage the Drama Queen in World War III while the guests are still there, and also prone to snapping at the Organizer;
  • The Inappropriately Cheerfully Spiritual One: Voted most likely to inadvertently trigger the Sh!tface Drunk and the Angry One into lashing out…also shunned by the Drama Queen because optimism and acceptance totally ruin her grief game.

Death characters

I know this is pure snark, but death often brings out personality traits that usually lie dormant. And, as much as death brings families and friends together, it is also an occasion littered with the landmines of conflict, misunderstandings, and miscommunication.

And, like I said earlier, if you’re like me and have those vaguely sociopathic and dissociative tendencies to always be observing and analyzing, death’s mix of irrevocability, emotion, money, and words is a volatile, combustible substance that practically guarantees good drama.

Like Fathers, Like Daughter

My father was unwavering in his faith that I would someday be a writer. Yes, he was encouraging and supportive when I had other jobs or got promotions, but he would always say at the end, “Just remember, Caity, you were meant to be a writer.” (And just so people don’t get any ideas, only my father, my Uncle Shahid, and his family are allowed to call me Caity.)

I made a deathbed promise to my father to become that writer. I’d like to think he heard me in his sedated state. More importantly, I know he would be happy that I accomplished this goal for my own sake and my own future.

Death characters
Father and Daughter

Uncle Shahid was also an author. He published numerous books about Islam, both for the Muslim community and for the general public in his relentlessly optimistic drive to bring people of all faiths together. He believed people could be better. He believed in the power of words and communication to build bridges over the chasms of fear, ignorance and prejudice. He fearlessly tackled subjects like balancing the advances of modern medicine with the ethical concerns of contemporary Islam, healing the wounds of September 11th, and how to communicate healthy attitudes about sexuality to Muslim youth.

He wrote books of poetry and reflections on prayer. He was a newspaper guest columnist. And, let’s not forget, he wrote scientific and medical research papers for his work as an endocrinologist.

He did all of that while speaking English as a fourth language after Urdu, Arabic, and Hindi. He could also tell jokes in all four languages. As I sit in his study writing this, I am looking at the wall-to-wall bookshelves filled to overflowing with books on everything from the history of medicine, to classic literature, to Native American art. I will miss his passion for the written word.

Death characters
Nine languages, four religions, four immigrants, two citizens born, three life-threatening chronic illnesses, countless heated discussions about cooking…and a lifetime of memories with my family.

Shahid Athar was the father who stood by me as my dad drew his final breaths, and who—from memory—began to recite one of the poems both he and my dad loved:

UNDER the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

– Robert Louis Stevenson

I’d like to think that they are laughing together somewhere, arguing about some outrageously academic, esoteric, political, religious, literary, technological topic…or maybe they are just comparing notes on the daughter who is writing this and missing them.

 

Left-Right: my father Dr. K.C. Khemka, my other father Dr. Shahid Athar. Friends and brothers once more together.

 

Whether it’s grief, love, anger, commitment, or loss, what emotion that scares you the most to put down paper? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Upcoming Classes for August & September


Brand Boss: When Your Name Alone Can Sell

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: General Admission $55.00 USD/ GOLD Level $175
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, September 13th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 

 


Building Planet X: Out-of-This-World-Building for Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8th, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 


Populating Planet X: Creating Realistic, Relatable Characters in Speculative Fiction

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8th, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 


Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8th, 2018. 4:00—6:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 

 


The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8th, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.

REGISTER HERE

Recordings of all three classes is also included with purchase.

 


 


Go Fish: Finding the Right Beta Readers

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, August 24, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m.

REGISTER HERE

 

 


More Than Gore: How to Write Horror

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $40.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: THURSDAY, August 30th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 

 

 


Keywordpalooza: Tune in, mellow out, and learn to love keywords for Amazon

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, September 7, 2018. 7:00—9:00 p.m. EST

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feel, feelings, negative impact of technology on emotions, emotional connection, Kristen Lamb, emotions and writing, depression and technology, negative impact of social media, dealing with grief and loss

Last time, we talked about Impostor Syndrome, how many of us struggle with feeling like a fraud. This often dovetails into a nasty cycle of over-achieving as a coping mechanism to shield us from feelings, failure, pain, etc. But, like many coping mechanisms, they can be great for the short-term but a living hell if we allow them to become a habit.

Habits can be particularly insidious because its behavior so ingrained it’s subconscious. Add on top of this a world that keeps pushing us to go faster, do more, be more. This adds fuel to the proverbial fire.

Our modern world trains us to never hit the ‘OFF’ switch because there’s money to be made if we’re constantly plugged into the Matrix.

Perhaps we work at a computer all day. How do we take a break? We hop on-line, dive into social media, watch Netflix or play on-line games. We’re never taking time to ‘get out of our own head’ which is often why we lose touch with our emotions.

As a consequence, our capacity to ‘feel’ atrophies.

The data’s already piling up. Technology is wreaking havoc on our emotional, psychological and physical health. As technology becomes more ingrained in our everyday world, part of culture, we’re wise to pay attention. Technology is increasing codependency, anxiety, and depression, while also wrecking memory, social skills, and our ability to empathize.

Our Western culture already had an unhealthy relationship with emotions, and it seems technology is making this worse. We’re addicted to distraction.

Socially Acceptable Emotions

feel, feelings, negative impact of technology on emotions, emotional connection, Kristen Lamb, emotions and writing, depression and technology, negative impact of social media, dealing with grief and loss

As humans, we’re naturally imbued with a vast pallet of emotions. No emotion is inherently good or bad but all are necessary and serve a purpose.

When we repress one emotion, it’s like plugging a geyser. That will only work so long until there is an eruption of some sort. For instance, if we believe we don’t deserve joy and shuffle past this emotion to go onto the ‘next’ achievement, it can eventually manifest as grief.

Why?

Playing armchair shrink, we’re grieving the moments of joy that have come and gone that we failed to grab hold of. We lose sense of purpose because if there is no joy, no sense of I DID IT! Why are we even bothering?

There’s this odd social dogma that being happy is good, and, that if we aren’t happy something is wrong with us. Anger, sadness, disappointment, disillusionment, rage, fear, etc. are ‘bad.’ If we can’t be any of these, then busy works just fine and comes with lots of kudos.

When someone is sad, angry, upset, it makes us uncomfortable. We switch into trying to make the person ‘feel better.’ But is this always the best course of action? It is (perhaps) for us, because ‘bad’ emotions make us uncomfortable. Additionally, since we’ve been reared unprepared for these emotions within ourselves, how can we help anyone else?

Grief and Loss

feel, feelings, negative impact of technology on emotions, emotional connection, Kristen Lamb, emotions and writing, depression and technology, negative impact of social media, dealing with grief and loss

On the last post, I mentioned I’d recently come unstitched because I use work and achievement and being responsible to numb out. Yet, if we study human history, we’ve gotten away from many of the traditions and practices which used to accommodate the ‘bad’ emotions.

For instance, let’s dial back a century and look at death and loss. I recently listened to an excellent Southern Gothic, Black Water by Michael McDowell (the unabridged saga). In the book, when there’s a death, those impacted hung black wreaths on their doors. They also hung black wreaths on the front of the cars. Women wore black and men wore black arm bands.

Grief and loss possessed a physical outward expression, a bold honesty to the world claiming pain. Oh and wonders of wonders! This was OKAY.

The community respected, honored and nurtured those hurting. There used to be a mandatory time period for grieving.

Yet, how many of you have lost a loved one and work wanted to know if you’d be back within the week? How many of you have experienced a loss and YOU expected YOU to be back at work within the week?

Modern World & Loss

feel, feelings, negative impact of technology on emotions, emotional connection, Kristen Lamb, emotions and writing, depression and technology, negative impact of social media, dealing with grief and loss

I spent most of my growing up years with my grandparents, meaning my grandmother served also as a mother. I lost my grandmother July 4th two years ago. Problem was she died when July 4th happened on a Monday. No long weekend to get over that one.

Also, since her death was ‘only’ one in a long series of losses, I didn’t mention it a lot. I’d already ‘burdened others’ with four deaths in the previous year. Don’t want to be too needy. Then, after she passed, I lost four more loved ones in the next six months.

To be clear, no we weren’t hit by bad luck or plague. I was extremely blessed with a large family I loved very much, who lived VERY long lives. This meant these great aunts and uncles and grandparents had been a fixture in my world since I could remember. Problem was they were all hitting their 80s and 90s at about the same time…meaning I was losing them at about the same time.

Yet, what complicated my grieving (or lack thereof) was that even if I’d lost ONE person, our culture rushes past death.

To be blunt, our culture rushes past loss in general. Breakups, divorces, job loss, kids going off to college, getting dumped, losing a business, etc. are all ‘deaths.’

Yet, how often are we encouraged to ‘forget about it,’ ‘move on,’ ‘get back on the horse that threw ya,’ and so forth? Worse, how often do we encourage others the same way? *cringes* Our kids cry because they lost a game, fought with a friend, or broke a toy, and immediately we comfort…and distract them. Again, guilty as charged.

Why can’t someone feel sad? Maybe WE can feel sad. Calm down. Baby steps.

How Does It FEEL?

feel, feelings, negative impact of technology on emotions, emotional connection, Kristen Lamb, emotions and writing, depression and technology, negative impact of social media, dealing with grief and loss

Experiences, good and bad, are meant to be FELT. Yet, how often are we thinking when we should be FEELING? Part of me is sad that there are not a lot of pictures of my growing up years.

Cameras, film, processing film cost money. Most regular people couldn’t afford home movie cameras to ‘document’ the birthday, graduation, birth, baby’s first steps, etc.

Yet, I’m also happy about this. The handful of old pictures evoke far more emotion than the 1700 images on my current iPhone. Why? Because BACK THEN, I was fully present in the vacation, party, family reunion, etc. I was free to feel.

I watch those around me (and I’m guilty, too) so busy taking pictures (to post on Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, or to ‘remember’) they’re actually not present in the PRESENT. Left brain (analytical) is so busy documenting the joy, we’re not slowing down to FEEL the joy because right brain is told to wait.

It was tough for me when I visited New Zealand last year. I wanted to take pictures of everything! Film ALL THE THINGS so I could REMEMBER!

I had to chastise myself to stop, put down the iPhone and BE PRESENT. Experience the majesty, the elation, the beauty and FEEL them all.

Imprint the moments in my bones and my mind. Viewing mountains through a small screen was a shill for stopping to simply enjoy the view.

We’ve turned into a world of documentary-makers. Yet oddly, what good is the film or picture to recall a moment where we failed to be fully present?

If we’re not experiencing emotions during the graduation or the wedding, then what is that short video truly going to bring back? What will we feel?

Paralysis of Analysis

feel, feelings, negative impact of technology on emotions, emotional connection, Kristen Lamb, emotions and writing, depression and technology, negative impact of social media, dealing with grief and loss

If we’re numbing and avoiding grief and emotionally absent from joy, this has a cumulative effect. Over time, we drift away from what makes us human (our feelings). When we are hurt or angry or sad, we analyze it away.

Google a blog about how to handle being dumped. Enjoying a good time? Grab the phones and DOCUMENT.

It’s fair to say most of the population over thirty is growing increasingly concerned with how much people are staring at their phones all the time.

We see families at dinner in a restaurant talking to people on-line, ignoring the ones across the table. Couples on vacation busy taking pictures of ‘moments’ instead of making real moments.

I’m old enough to remember when beauty parlors (salons) were hives of talk, chatter, gossip and laughter. Now, when I go get my hair done the women all sit staring at tablets and phones, checking email and Facebook.

I’ve made it a point to interrupt them, especially the young ones.

One time, I interrupted a young 20-Something on her phone to talk. I asked her about what she was doing, why she was there to get her hair highlighted…and she gaped at me like a deer caught in headlights. Smiling, I said, ‘Facebook will be there in an hour. Promise. But I won’t be. Tell me where you’re going to college?’

Initially she seemed on the verge of apoplexy, but over time was smiling and telling me about how she was going off to UT Austin and was hoping to go to law school. Within minutes, she was laughing and excited and had forgotten all about her phone.

Put the Phone DOWN

feel, feelings, negative impact of technology on emotions, emotional connection, Kristen Lamb, emotions and writing, depression and technology, negative impact of social media, dealing with grief and loss

This seems like strange advice from a social media expert, but it’s actually okay to put the phone away and to not document every moment for posterity 😉 . That image posted on Facebook will be gone in a couple days. Yet, make an authentic memory and that’s there for life.

When my nephew graduated and everyone had phones aloft, I simply watched, listened, and enjoyed. Let myself feel. I guarantee that memory will be far more visceral, hold exponentially more emotional weight than the times I was ‘busy’ taking pictures of every minute. I was too distracted to take in the smells, sounds, textures, and feelings.

We only have so much time, and we have a choice. Reality or virtual reality? I believe the more willing we are to be present, the more comfortable we’ll become with our emotions. If more of us do this, the more comfortable we’ll grow with other people’s emotions.

Let Them Cry

feel, feelings, negative impact of technology on emotions, emotional connection, Kristen Lamb, emotions and writing, depression and technology, negative impact of social media, dealing with grief and loss

Ever hear that advice for babies? Crying is good for us. We need to let ourselves CRY. Crying releases stress hormones and increases the feel-good hormones. Besides, the emotion will be there in one form or another. If we fail to feel it real-time and at full strength, we hammer it flat.

Flattened emotions take up more metaphorical surface area. Thus, instead of gut-wrenching grief that lasts only a month or six months, we might be left with dull, aching depression spanning years.

If we don’t dive into joy so intense we feel we might burst, we could be left with saccharin memories (artificially sweet and not quite ‘the real thing’).

As writers, being emotionally attuned is critical for superlative writing. Empathy is our greatest tool, but empathy demands we’ve experienced an emotion. If we keep numbing, avoiding, documenting, and checking out, it shows in the writing. We end up with talking heads, plot puppets and ‘bad situations’ instead of drama.

We remember great stories for one reason and one reason only: How they made us FEEL. Want to be a great writer? Less thinking, more feeling 😉 . Pay attention to feelings (ALL of them) because it will make you healthier as a person and stronger as a writer.

In the End

Moderation is key. I love social media, blogging, chatting with people all over the world. Yet just because the world doesn’t have boundaries doesn’t mean boundaries aren’t a good idea.

My goal with this post is to challenge us to FEEL, because what makes us humans and not robots is we FEEL. We feel happy, sad, elated, crushed, proud, jealous and we NEED to feel those emotions and MORE.

I, too, am a work in progress. But, I believe if I work on slowing down, learning to feel the good and bad and ugly I will get better at it. Like all things, practice makes perfect. Setting down my iPhone for more of the iFeel 😉 .

What Are Your Thoughts? (Then Feel FREE to Go OffLine!)

Do you seem to struggle more in our modern age with being able to feel? When a negative experience hits, are you (like me) quick to go look up a blog, binge-watch HBO, or scroll Facebook? Are you afraid to feel? Unused to being able to feel? Have you turned into a mini-documentary maker, too?

Have you become addicted to distraction? Are there childhood memories that are SO REAL (even decades later) because you didn’t have any technology to interrupt? So you remember the smell of the grass and Coppertone, the feel of the sand, the bite of saltwater up your nose when you first dove into the ocean…

If you do? SHARE! I’d LOVE to hear about these authentic moments!

I love hearing from you!

What do you WIN? For the month of JUNE, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

 

Today I have on my sassy pants because there’s a messy task ahead. Oh it will be a TON of fun, but messy. We are going to tip over some sacred cows like how fun is evil and misery is awesome.

Granted I am from Texas and have heard stories of those miscreants who’ve sneaked (snuck? snucked?) in under cover of darkness to traipse across pastures littered with steaming cow poo…for the sheer joy of pushing over sleeping bovines.

I, myself, have never indulged in this innocent mischief and remain dubious this “cow-tipping” thing is even real. But supposedly the boogeyman isn’t real and yet–even as an adult–I never sleep with a foot off the edge of the bed.

#AreUCrazy

I can’t see how tipping over innocent cows could be half the fun we hear it is, but I assure you tipping these sacred cows?

LOADS of FUN.

Sacred Cow #1—Fun=Ineffective Time-Waster

Remember being a kid and it was actually okay to have fun? Then something weird happened in adolescence and everything got super serious. Teens of course have hormones and the whole “forging a distinctive identity” thing to blame, not to mention *ugh* high school.

But what is our excuse?

As kids we longed to grow up, to be ADULTS, so we could be…FREE.

About that. We humans are weird.

Give us anything that might liberate us and make life BETTER, and we will quickly turn it into a soul-sucking chore. It is simply astounding all the stuff that is fun…that we RUIN.

Bear with me.

We might start at the gym because we know going for a walk is good for us. We also know the gym is climate controlled so we won’t be able to use rain or sun or wind as an excuse to not get some exercise.

We start walking and feeling better. Yay, lower back feels great. Thirty minutes. Happy endorphins and we are very proud of what we have done.

We bask in the glow of our one month of walking five days a week for thirty minutes. In fact, we feel this self-discipline thing really isn’t so hard at all!

THEN…

A personal trainer notices we’ve been at the gym regularly and steps in to…help.

DON’T FALL FOR IT! IT’S A TRICK!

Sacred Cow #2—TRUST the “Experts”

Mere moments earlier, we felt AWESOME, only now realize how misguided we were. Oh, thank goodness this expert saved us from destruction!

The trainer, deeply concerned for our welfare tells us with all kinds of statistics and studies that our silly walking is not enough.

No, we must add in weight training. Not just any weight training. No, it needs to be high weight low reps. No, high reps low weight. Scratch that, high intensity!

No! You fool! You are overtraining! You need recovery time. Oh, you took recovery time because you can’t sit on the potty without a Life Alert bracelet? You’re just going to have to suck it up.

Did we mention your diet?

Remember, simplicity is KEY.

If you do cardio, eat carbs 90 minutes before aerobic exercise and protein 30 minutes before weight training. Then protein within 90 minutes after doing cardio.

Post-workout, rub your body in coconut oil (unrefined, of course) and stretch but only when Mercury is in retrograde–and within the 123 minute window after cardio–or the stretching and expensive coconut oil all a waste.

Got it? No. Okay, let’s create a plan for you. Mastercard or Visa?

The next thing we know this FUN time at the gym has now turned into a personal hell where we are prodded by macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients all using pointy vitamin-supplement pitch forks.

We cling to that trainer who saved us from our pointless 30-minute walks and toss money at her if only she can help it all make sense (or she will go away)!

More often than not, we return to our blanket fort…where there are snacks.

We adults do this crap ALL THE TIME. Hey I am guilty, too. We know as adults we should want to be better, do better and we start out well-meaning enough.

Yet we fall for it…

Sacred Cow #3—The More It SUCKS the BETTER!

From books on “simple home organization” to “better parenting” to “eating healthier” to “financial freedom” we generally tend to fall into this bizarre belief that the more it sucks, the better it must be.

Like the crappier food tastes, the healthier it is!

Right?

Soon, we start shackling ourselves to all kinds of bizarre and UNFUN legalism. We wanted to be free (of extra weight, too much clutter, too many bills).

Yet all these books and courses and virtual tools to save time and make life better…kinda just make us want to drink heavily and OD on brownie batter.

We soon find we avoid the gym we once loved like Ebola, are afraid of our mailbox, and with our spouse and kids? We turn into the HULK only meaner and in yoga pants (because those won’t split when we “turn”).

THIS IS A SPONTANEOUS SCHEDULED FAMILY FUN SESSION AND SO HELP ME YOU BETTER START SMILING OR I…WILL…END…YOU!

Hmm, maybe just me.

Why DO We DO This?

Much can be blamed on Western culture (Americans being the most guilty). Many of us are taught from youth that FUN=BAD.

We’re riddled with guilt about pleasure and fun (and sure, we can probably blame those sour-faced Puritans for laying the groundwork).

*stabs Plymouth Rock in my mind*

Yet kids are robbed of recess, daydreaming is forbidden, and only school-sanctioned imaginative activities are allowed (refer to why my son was kicked out of preschool for liking zombies). Put a kid in sports, gymnastics or dance and see how long it takes for all the fun to get sucked right out of THAT.

Why does all this happen?

Because fun-stealing is big business if we allow it.

Cruise lines can sell us a package of joy and harmony and relaxation. Then, the pharmaceutical companies step in to sell us the anti-anxiety meds required for taking a whole week off to have…*gulp* fun.

We return to our day jobs and 547 unread emails is our penalty for being so selfish as to believe we might actually need to rest now and again.

Maybe we should buy that app to check messages at sea.

Many Americans proudly wear the “I Haven’t Taken a Day Off Since Y-2K” badge of honor…even though we all secretly hate them and know if they took a little time for fun, they might actually not be such frigging jerks.

*breathes deeply*

And Ms. I Never Take Vaca is there to sneer at us for our “weakness.” She embodies FUN! Because the sheer joy of leading the PTA, baking a zillion nut-free GF cookies, and zooming her kids to every social event imaginable is fulfillment in and of itself and all the “fun” required for “good mothers.”

*stabs her in our minds, too*

And Mr. I Never Need Holiday is there at work (where else?). He recommends the Intensive Weeklong Fasting and Time-Management-Leadership-Be-Your Best-Self-in-Less-Than-Nine-Minutes-a-Day-Retreat…which is of course, conveniently offered on-line.

Also, he can reach us every minute of the day via text or email…unlike when we were so naughty as to take that cruise.

It’s madness. I know!

Yet here we are. All staring at each other on the crazy train wondering how the heck we keep meeting again.

Follow the Money

Honest truth is authentic fun is not near the moneymaker as the “shill” of fun. Look at all those “activities” I mentioned that should be fun and who’s there to step in? Experts.

Who happen to make money.

Who can help us with our exercise, diet, meditation, and train our kids for the Olympics!

***Even though little Mackenzie just liked doing cartwheels and we thought gymnastics class would be fun—silly us!

When we were kids who simply had FUN, we didn’t count how many minutes of cardio we’d done riding bikes four hours straight. We gave no thought to the carbs or lack of macro-nutrients in that giant cherry Slurpee we inhaled.

Then we grew up and used our larger and more highly developed brains to think all the fun out of well…pretty much everything.

I see this over and over in social media.

The greatest tool writers have been handed to become free, is being used to enslave us.

“Experts” tell us that an author platform is serious business. If we’re having fun, then we aren’t being professional.

We need automation and vlogs and podcasts and to be everywhere on every site all the time contributing mind-blowing content for exposure!

*feels dirty inside*

Then there is the gathering emails, decoding analytics, sales strategies, promotional tactics, targeting our market…

Call me crazy, but does any of that sound like ANY FUN? SERIOUSLY! We all started this writing journey because we are the dreamers and find imaginary people more interesting than real ones (because they are). We wanted to write to be FREE!

To have FUN!

Granted, a brand is important and social media is vital, and selling lots of books way more fun than selling no books. But anyone who’s shoveling out manure from one of those sacred cows we tipped?

RUN!

Refuse the Kool-Aid

On social media FUN is SUPER effective. People are drawn to it. The world is a dark and dreary place and getting gloomier by the second. Fun stands out.

Authenticity is priceless! We know it when we see it because joy shines bright!

It creates genuine connections (code for relationships). But here is the kicker! Friendship, trust, care, hope, joy and fun cannot be measured in metrics 😉 .

And when stuff is fun–as in truly fun–we ENJOY DOING IT. When we enjoy it, we don’t have to outsource it, set reminders or pay people to do it FOR us.

I am not completely eschewing all experts because um…that would be dumb. Experts who empower us are great! Who teach us how to set up properly to avoid injury, waste or pain? Yay!

But experts who make us into permanent revenue streams because they’ve overwhelmed us and made us hysterical?

RUN!

Because many will convince us the more something sucks the better it works…but they (benevolently) have an affordable plan to deliver us from this suckage.

Yep.

Blunt truth is if we don’t tip some of these sacred cows, it just leaves us the cash cow.

In the end, life is short. Enjoy it.

What are your thoughts? Are you like me and struggle with fun? Then try to do something fun and overcomplicate it and wreck it? I know I do. Hey, I am a work in progress too!

Do you feel like “experts” are constantly there to pounce on you and wring cash out of you? Do you fall for the “It only works if I am miserable”?

Hey I write this blog for FREE and constantly look for experts, but to stay on top of scm, trends, business, craft, I have to be SUPER careful. I strive to be better to help y’all be better and that is not always easy *deletes 765 unsolicited emails from experts*

I LOVE HEARING FROM YOU! And I am NOT above BRIBERY!

What do you WIN? For the month of OCTOBER, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

To also prove social media is and should be super fun and that while you might need a little training, you DO NOT need a team of professionals paid to “manage your brand”:

I have two upcoming classes Social Media FREEDOM–Harnessing Passion & Creativity to Cultivate Fans & Harnessing Our Writing POWER–The Blog

I highly recommend you sign up for one of our upcoming classes listed below. ****Note, those who subscribe by email, the visual gallery doesn’t show, so please click through and sign up! We look forward to seeing you and serving you in class! Helping you be the best you can so your work can stand apart 😀 .

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It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday! Though, at this point, it’s more of a sublet than anything. I was planning on writing something snarky and funny today, but I woke up with the first sentence of this blog screaming in my head. Clearly, someone forgot to give my muse her decaf.

Naturally, though, we begin with the obligatory Denny Basenji picture.

Dear Leader is pensive this morning.

Please don’t worry that I am about to abandon the magnificent and wonderful tradition of this blog in staying the f*ck away from politics, etc. However, I found that the recent ugliness that claimed the life of an innocent woman raised a truly poignant, pertinent question for writers:

How do we as writers properly use ugly things?

Sure, a lot of us stay away from these topics or avoid writing in the genres that might land us in cultural minefields. But, we all reach a moment when our fingers pause over the keyboard as we wonder if we really should use that word, or describe a character with a particular label, or hint at a certain belief. It’s universal and unavoidable, really. Because when we are telling stories that mean something to us, that meaning is by nature complex and reflective of the entire spectrum from white to grey to black.

What are your intentions toward my novel, young man?

Writers are sneaky. We like to explore our vulnerabilities, controversial or dark thoughts, and unpopular opinions using the cloak-and-dagger of “plot” and “characters” and especially “the antagonist.”

This is absolutely the right thing to do. Our ability to slip in and out of disguise, to inhabit other lives and other worlds, is the Promethean gift to writers. Actors are similar to us, except they do it in a way that is physical and immediate. Whereas, we writers sip our tea, smile a little, and ponder if gutting the host with a cheese knife would leave enough forensic evidence for the pathologist to know that we were served camembert instead of brie.

This is all well and good.

Things become sticky when we fail to be honest with ourselves about our motivations. The ability to “shape shift” into our fiction comes with an equal measure of responsibility. We need to look at what we are saying and why we are saying it. Not just the general theme or message. We have to ask the hard questions of ourselves:

  • How did we get to this point in our lives where we need to write about this theme?
  • Could my message be seen from a different viewpoint? Can I accept that? Why or why not?
  • What does this message say about me as a person and what I believe and value?
  • Am I doing this to work off a grudge? Against whom or what? Why or why not?
  • Am I doing this so I can say things I am not normally allowed to say in society? Why or why not?

Notice that little phrase I keep using? “Why or why not?”

We can’t just stop at the first level of answers we give ourselves. If we are going to be authentic, honest, and meaningful, we must push ourselves to look unflinchingly at the truth – good, bad, ugly, and bad hair day – of who we truly are.

It is only when we are truthful about our own motivations that we can be meaningful…and careful when we handle ugly things.

You have the right to remain silent.

Writing difficult, ugly, and controversial things is a privilege, not a right. I mean, technically, yes, we have the First Amendment on our side. But, the moment we write something carelessly or thoughtlessly, we forfeit our alibi with our readers…and ourselves.

This is not about political correctness, identity politics, or anything like that. Those are incendiary labels that get shot back and forth in society like flaming tennis balls at the Wimbledon from hell.

This is about being honest with ourselves and doing the work to think through not just why we are writing something, but also tapping into our empathy to see if we are carelessly or thoughtlessly saying something that is needlessly hurtful to others.

That’s not to say that as writers, we can’t use stereotypes, prejudices, etc. We absolutely can – and often should. The difference is in our motivation and the care with which we do so.

Please note the second half of that sentence: the care with which we do so.

Because if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, thoughtful writing craft is the GPS of salvation. 

Handling ugly things requires the care and skill of a Ming dynasty vase collection curator. When we we use an ugly thing, we need to slow down, maybe even come to a full stop. This is a moment for analyzing what we are about to say, why we are saying it, which character/POV is saying it, why we chose that character/POV, what are that character’s motives and beliefs, and is this truly necessary to the story at that moment?

Ugly things are powerful. Ugly things evoke a visceral reaction in a reader that few other aspects of fiction can do. Ugly things can bring up ugly memories, traumas, deep fears, blistering rage, and gut-wrenching sorrow. Ugly things can turn the reader’s world upside down or make them face a world they had been hiding from.

This would be a moment to insert that old chestnut about absolute power corrupting absolutely. Sure, we as writers may not be making the kind of bank that a hedge fund manager or anesthesiologist makes, but we have the ability to haunt someone’s waking moments for weeks – if not months – after reading our words. That, my friends, is absolute power.

If we cannot or are unwilling to do the work to use our power responsibly and respectfully, then perhaps we should remain silent…

Speech therapy.

I have been toying with the idea of offering a class on this subject. I’d want it to be something where we really get into the weeds of how/when/not to use specific words, stereotypes, etc. However, it’s all too easy for a class like that to degenerate into a session of everyone complaining about the wrongs done to them as a person or as a writer. I include myself in this worry because this topic is a slippery slope. No, wait, it’s a glass slope covered in ice, with a layer of oil poured on top, and paved with banana skins for good measure.

Still, I think it might be something worth trying out. If you’d like to be part of this experiment, leave a comment and let me know!

***

For the month of AUGUST, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***

CATCH THE LAST CLASSES FOR AUGUST AND WATCH HERE FOR OUR WHOLE NEW LINE-UP OF SEPTEMBER CLASSES!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds and award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson. So click on a tile and sign up!

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