Story: My New Return

It’s time for a story. Most of the ideas I originally had for this turned into things that will be longer stories instead. Thankfully Azelyn came to the rescue with a writing exercise.
The prompt: Tell a dreamlike story/memory using only 50 words.

I ended up basing this story off the prompt and my memory of a piece of artwork entitled “Isolated Migration” by Justice Lowman (image below used with permission).

My New Return
Water seeps into my shoes as I take step upon step into the waves towards the shack in the middle of the sea. Glowing blue, green, and orange, the jellyfish float towards the stars, guiding my feet, my soul. Then, in the window, she appears, ready and waiting for me.

isolated-migration-by-justice-lowman

Want to use the prompt yourself? Go ahead!
I’d love to see what stories you end up with!

Anxiety and Outlining

When it comes to my blog posts, I plan really far in advance. I know it isn’t exactly an outline, but it works as one. Then there are my short stories and my novel. For these, I’m usually a “pantser,” writing everything that comes to mind as it arrives. But I’ve learned over the last year that I can’t write a novel like that. Short stories? Maybe. But a novel? That ain’t happening.

So I’ve spent hours continually going through the vague idea in my head, attempting to create a tentative outline, and it stresses me out to no end. But overall the idea of finishing it and actually working on the book has been inspiring. At one point, amidst my excitement and motivation, I messaged Azelyn to tell her how determined I am to finish the first draft of my novel this year and that I was actually trying to create an outline, which obviously surprised her. What she didn’t expect was a stream of messages over the next few days (or weeks, really) complaining about the process of outlining a book that I’ve been wanting to write for years now. I wasn’t even complaining about the process as much as I was about the fear of not being able to create the themes I want to flow through the book.

I kept telling her I would finish the outline and send it to her for months. Then one day, I forced myself to sit down with a cuppa, a container of Cheerios, my computer, and Facebook Messenger and type away. I set goals for the book and then for each section. After that, I thought about every major thing that I wanted to happen, and I tried to organise it and fit it into the sections and then into chapters. I finished my outline.

After months of procrastinating, complaining, and staring at a blank screen, I finished it.

But here I am, actively writing a book, still freaking out about my outline.

Will I even be able to use it?
Will the lessons I want to teach through it ever be realised?
What if something I don’t expect happens to the characters? How will I work that in?
How will I be able to fit all of these scenes together?
Is there even enough stuff here to make a story long enough?
Or is there too much?

I’ve already thought of some scenes that I had been so excited to write that I now have no idea how to fit into the outline, and that scares me.

But that’s the thing about an outline: It isn’t set in stone. You can change it.

Don’t let your fears or anxieties stop you from outlining, but more importantly, don’t let them stop you from writing. I know it can be stressful, overwhelming, and confusing, but it’s worth it. You’re worth it.


Are you a “planner” or a “pantser”? How do you handle your anxieties about outlining and plotting? Let me know in the comments!

My Top Three Pet Peeves

This certainly isn’t a topic I’d usually write about, by why not give it a go?

Let’s start with the lowest first, shall we?

  1. People clipping their nails in public.

I’ve never understood how people can do this. I understand wanting to even them out and trim them, but why not wait until you’re home? Okay, I know this one is a little ridiculous, but I hate the sound of it. I don’t know why, but I do. The sharp clicking and snapping that occurs as the metal pinches through the keratin makes me gag. I don’t even like hearing the sound when I’m clipping my own nails, and I can handle it far better than when I can hear others doing so. I definitely know how it feels to break a nail and to want to fix it, but you can use a file for that and shorten the others when you return to you abode. Am I right?

  1. Not following the enter and exit signs for stores and the like.

Seriously? They are clearly labeled. Very clearly labeled. Unless it’s the Walmart Neighborhood Market across the street from where I’ve been staying…then one door is marked “Entrance” with the small red “Do Not Enter” sign below it, and the other is marked “Exit” with the small green “Enter” sign underneath it. When it’s raining or you’re in a giant hurry, it can be really tempting to go in through the exit if it’s closest, but taking one or two seconds longer to enter won’t make that much of a difference. Plus, it makes it difficult for those who are (italics) following directions to get through the doors. Yet again, this is fairly silly, but there are stickers and signs everywhere.

  1. “Learn English!”

This is by far my biggest pet peeve, especially when these words are uttered by travellers. I’ve met countless Americans who only speak English that think anyone and everyone in the world should as well. When I hear people say, “This is America! Speak English!” it breaks my heart. Many of the people who are recipients of such verbal abuse do speak English, sometimes as their first language, but they are communicating with others who may not or prefer not to speak English. But also, if just going on holiday or on a brief business trip, one might not want to or be able to fully learn a new language.

When I was returning from my first stay in France, Karissa and I were in the waiting area near our gate at the Montreal airport, and we heard a group of people talking. They were clearly American and were speaking loudly about the announcements coming over the PA system.

First man: “What is that? Is that two languages?”
Woman: “I think it’s Spanish.”
First man: “No, I think it’s Italian.”
Second man: “Why on Earth would they do that?”
First man: “Don’t they realize we’re in the US of A??”
Woman: “Apparently not.”
Second man: nearly yelling “Why won’t everyone just speak English?!”

Clearly, they didn’t know we were in Canada. And even though they’d been on our flight from France, they couldn’t recognise the French language in the least bit. They continued complaining until we were boarding our flight to Chicago.

If these people had put any thought into what they were claiming (even if we hadn’t been in Canada at the time), they would have noticed their blatant hypocrisy. They were complaining about people not learning English while traveling and the like, when they had just spent time in France without learning French. This isn’t something that many Americans think about, specifically those who make these remarks, but it’s true. They wish to force foreigners to speak English, but they are not usually willing to learn the languages that are spoken in the countries to which they are traveling.

I’m on the opposite end of that spectrum, as I’ve gone a little overboard with the amount of languages I study. I’m currently studying French, Spanish, and Italian, and although I can’t speak Spanish or Italian at all, I’m certainly willing to try. I just wish others were as well.

What are your top pet peeves?

Talking about Writing

All writers do it. We babble on and on about our current and future projects, we make promises we have every intention to keep, but no determination to do so, and we talk about our work some more. We can spend hours—years even—talking about our blog, novel, poem, and short story ideas. But if we never start planning and writing, what is all the rambling about?

We spend too much time talking about what we’ll write and not enough time putting the words on the page.

I am just as guilty of doing this. I’ve spent nearly three years talking about my novel, but at the beginning I only wrote around 350 words, planned about four scenes, and jotted down a semi-detailed plot. Two years later, I completely scrapped everything but two specific characters and the overarching plot. Now I have approximately 6000 words written, but I haven’t touched it much for over six months. I keep talking about it to everyone, but I never really try to create Zoe’s story.

Don’t get me wrong, talking can be a huge help in plotting, writing, and getting past writer’s block, but it can also be a wonderful tool of procrastination and even kill your desire to write.

When you spend all your time telling others about your ideas and giving them detail after detail, you may lose your yearning to actually create the work you’ve been rambling on about for ages. You start to feel as if you’ve told everyone who matters all the important things about your project, and as a result, you don’t feel as though you need to write it anymore. This has definitely happened to me, multiple times. It happened when I first started writing my novel. That’s one of the reasons I started over almost completely. It happened when I started my blog back of last time. I talked about it, but when I sat down to type my posts up, I couldn’t think of anything because I had already told a large part of my audience what I would be saying in my posts. At that point, it didn’t seem to matter anymore. So I stopped writing as much, and eventually stopped writing altogether (though there were other circumstances that played into that poor decision as well).

Speaking to your friends about it can actually wear you out and cause you to get bored of the project. I’ve done this with a few short stories. I’ve talked about them so much that I got tired of them, set them aside, and never picked them back up again. Thinking of which, I should probably look through some of those. But if it’s all you talk about with people, they’ll start to think it’s the only topic you want to discuss, so they’ll ask about it. And you’ll have to talk about it more, answering questions that may or may not be sincere and wishing you were talking to a cat about sleeping all day instead.

If you’re rambling on about your project, make sure you’re actively working on it as well. And leave some mystery! Don’t delve into all the details, just mention what you’re stuck on, how much you’re writing or plotting currently, or some broad ideas. When you omit details in conversations about your projects, you may spark their interest and they may become one of your most avid readers. Leave a possibility for intrigue, work your butt off, and see how your stories flourish.

How do you talk about your writing projects? Do you indulge your listener with loads of details? Do you talk about it until you’re bored? Let me know in the comments!

Andrew: I Love the Sound

I’m starting a blog. I’ve never done this before, but Zoe has been bugging me about it for a while. I’m not super sure of why she wants me to, because her reasoning is ridiculous. She says that one day we won’t live so close to each other anymore and that it will be the best way for us to keep in touch. I asked her what I should write about, and she just told me to write about myself and the things that happen to me. Because those things are so exciting. I managed to talk her into sending me some blog prompts though.

Oh yeah, my name is Andrew. *waves from a distance*
I work in a shop. My grandma is famous. I live in London, but I’m actually from The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Tennessee. And that is basically my entire life.

Anyway. The first prompt is “I love the sound of…”

Do I just list these?
I guess so.

  1. I love the sound of popcorn in the microwave.
  2. I love the sound of a movie on the tv.
  3. I love the sound of American bacon in the pan.
  4. I love the sound of Zoe’s laugh.

This looks really stupid…

I love the sound of:

  1. Carolers in the park.
  2. Friends knocking on my door.
  3. The pizza delivery guy knocking on my door.
  4. My best friend’s singing (she sounds awful).
  5. A filling bath.
  6. A movie in a theater.
  7. The kettle whistling (because tea!).
  8. My grandma’s weird accent (she’s half British, half American and sounds a bit like Angela Lansbury).
  9. Zoe yelling at her computer.

So yeah. I hope you all have a great day. I don’t know if I’ll ever post again.

Someone Once Told Me

I don’t have the best memory for facts, what people say, or even what I’m doing at any given moment. My memory is truly awful. I have a calendar on my phone, a bullet journal in my bag (or in my hand), to-do lists on Habitica and in notes taking up all of my phone’s memory, and screenshots of things I want to remember on my cell and my computer. But there are some things I won’t ever forget, like my friend Amelia’s laugh, the fear caused by a car accident, the feeling of a salty wind blowing across my face, or how I got so excited to make Doctor Who snowflakes and eat peppermint ice cream with Karissa that my heart problems started acting up.

There are certain things that just become a part of you, whether you want them to or not. Sometimes those are emotions, events, the feeling of something against your skin, or words someone said to you. I’ve received so many amazing compliments over the years; half of them seem pretty cliché when typed out, but they were entirely sincere and followed by very detailed and encouraging explanations. One of the best compliments I’ve ever received wasn’t really one of the best because of what was said, but because of the circumstances it was said in and how it was said.

Earlier this year, I went on holiday to London with my best friend and her brother, staying in a rather nice part of the city. Our last night there, I walked to the Italian Garden in Kensington Gardens to spend some time alone, read, and bid the beautiful park and neighbourhood goodbye. It was wonderful. The sky was cloudy; but along the horizon, the white fluffs parted, and a glorious sunset was starting to shine over the lands. Just as the sun started to paint the skies with orange, red, and purple hues, I started my way back to the hotel, my nose buried in On the Other Side as I walked down the pavement. When I made it back to our street, I glanced up to ensure I wouldn’t collide with any unsuspecting travelers as they came out of the inn and hotel doors scattered along the road. When I looked, I saw a couple and their dog about 150 yards away, gracefully walking in the direction from which I was coming.

They were decked out in gorgeous clothes and were obviously on their way to some sort of fancy event. The woman was one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen. Her mixed skin was glowing, her black hair was luxuriously bouncing in tight curls, and her lace, seafoam green dress was swirling with the wind. I read a couple sentences more, but as we approached each other, I turned and said, “I’m sorry; I love your dress!” I wasn’t even really expecting a thank you in return, but she definitely responded.

“Thank you! I’m so glad you said that; I was wanting to tell you that you’re gorgeous! I love your style! Keep wearing it. I love your clothes. You’re gorgeous!”

I couldn’t help but beam. My back straightened out, and my mouth opened in a smile that hurt my face because of its size. The confidence that had left me early that morning rushed back tenfold.

When I first got dressed, I was so excited to wear the outfit I had chosen for our final full day in England. I put on my black DeLorean tee, a brown plaid, wool skirt, my Minnie and Mickey Mouse shoes, and bright red lipstick. I knew it was a slightly odd outfit, but I really enjoy expressing my moods, interests, and personality through my clothing. However, after breakfast, I lost a lot of my excitement for the day and my anxiety started to take over. I still had a wonderful day and was in a fairly nice mood, but my self-esteem plummeted. I spent a large portion of the day worrying what others thought of my appearance, even though that is something I usually don’t care about, and I felt as if everyone was staring at me the entire day, making me incredibly uncomfortable and self-conscious.

But this astonishingly attractive and seemingly successful woman had apparently been wanting to compliment me, a rather eclectic, plain girl who had spent the majority of two days hiding in the pages of a book because she didn’t want to look into the faces surrounding her—well, and because the book was just so wonderful she never wanted to put it down. This compliment not only made me feel better about my appearance, but about my interests, my passions, and my eccentric personality. I don’t really know why, but it did. And I won’t forget it anytime soon. Because it took place in the city I long to live in, it was from a woman I could never compare to, and it was at a time that I had started to question everything about myself as a person. It reminded me that being me is a wonderful thing, and I should never sacrifice myself to meet the social standards and ideals.

What is a compliment that left a lasting impression on you? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Writing with Anxiety

Having an anxiety disorder is always difficult. From getting out of bed to looking into the mirror and from saying hello to ordering food, general and social anxiety find way to take even my most positive thoughts and turn them on me. Even my favourite compliments can turn into my greatest enemies. Upon waking, if my first thought is the least bit negative or stressful, my anxiety plagues me horribly the rest of the day, and it’s difficult for me to accomplish anything. When I look in the mirror, I usually see that I’m unhealthily skinny, but I still think I’m pretty dang gorgeous. But on bad days, I’ll fixate on the fact that my face is slightly curved or on my deviated septum or just how stinking skinny I am, and then for days, I’ll cover my face when I’m talking or laughing or cross my arms to try to hide my “faults” from the prying eyes of other human beings. Saying hello to anyone can cause me great fear that I’m being clingy or annoying or awkward, even though saying hello is usually perceived as just that, a greeting. Ordering food or drinks at cafes and restaurants stresses me out so much. I get overwhelmed by the amount of choices (and I’m already super indecisive when I only have two options), but speaking with the person behind the counter, even when I know them, can cause me to freak out internally, although they think very little of what each person gets. And these are more minimal things that my brain tends to find overwhelmingly terrifying.

So when pursuing a career in editing and writing, my anxiety is a major battle. I know I am mainly writing for myself. But I do also write for others. So what others may think about my stories, blogs, and poems is incredibly important to me. I’m constantly receiving support and encouragement, but I do also receive critiques and negative comments. Usually I take those and use them as constructive criticism, even if they aren’t meant to be taken that way. I know I can’t please everyone, but I still like to take what each person says to mind.

Anxiety can keep you from writing.
I’ve struggled with this countless times. I let my fears of failure to meet my goals or my fears that people won’t like what I write keep me from writing. So instead of working past my worries, I dwell upon them, and they become all I can see. When I do sit down to write, I can’t get words out because I keep thinking about if I’ll use the right words, if people will be impressed with my plot or my characters, and if I’ll being able to meet my word goal.

Anxiety can stop you from sharing your work.
I don’t want to know how frequently I’ve written something for my blog or for reading nights and not shared it because of how terrified I am to hear what people think about it. I spend hours preparing it, I’ll even print it off or save it as a draft for my blog, but then I get to reading or posting it and back out at the last minute. The fear of what others might say overwhelms me too much, and I just can’t bear listening, even to the compliments and positive feedback.

Anxiety can take the positive feedback and encouragement you receive and turn it against you.
I do this constantly with many areas of my life, but I think the most difficult to handle is when it is in reference to my writing. Just the other day, I was told that my unique, sassy, and quirky voice in my writing is a favourite thing of my Creative Writing professor’s. She has encouraged me to pursue fiction and to never stop writing more than I could have imagined possible by a teacher. So when she complimented my bizarre writing voice, I couldn’t help but awkwardly blush and thank her as I searched the recesses of my mind for a response. But just a few hours later, I sat down to write for about fifteen minutes, and all I could think was that I’ll never be able to write that quirky of a voice again, even though it’s my favourite way to write. I sat, overwhelmed in fear that she is the only person on the planet who could ever like such a tone in fiction, despite the fact that I know of at least ten other people who have told me that they adore how I write.

A couple days later, a friend complimented my blog posts, saying that she could definitely hear my own voice flowing through my posts. Now this is something that should be happening, whether I try or not. But after she said it, I fixated on the fact that the voice in my head might be the one that people hear, and that is the last thing I want. I don’t want the negative thoughts that overwhelm me to plague the minds of my readers as well. I want my blog to be a place that people can read and be uplifted. I want my blog to be overwhelmingly positive and optimistic. But my voice can frequently be mingled with the voice in my mind that tells me everything is rubbish, so even the best of compliments can turn into anxieties.

Anxiety can cause you delete what you’ve written.
I’ve done this so many times. I’ve spent hours, sometimes days or weeks, working on a writing project and then been so overwhelmed by all the possible negative outcomes or the fears of how others may (or may not) respond that I delete the entire project from my computer and my blog and tear it out of my notebook (I’ve even burned some works before) because I’m too full of negative thoughts towards my abilities and those particular works.

Anxiety can get you to abandon writing.
This happened to me just earlier this year. I didn’t tell anyone that I had outright given up, not even myself. But I did. After losing my blog and about six months of work as well as all the feedback (positive especially), I didn’t want to try anymore. What if such a thing happened again? What if once I started writing again people didn’t like my work? What if I couldn’t meet the expectations that had arisen in the minds of my readers, friends, and family because of the previous website? What if, what if, what if? I completely stopped writing for about six months. And I wouldn’t let anyone call me a writer, claiming it was because I wasn’t actively working on any projects. I had abandoned writing.

 

BUT!!

 

Anxiety isn’t your master.
It doesn’t have to control you. You don’t have to succumb to the fears and the negative thoughts. I know it’s incredibly difficult to fight them, but once you start, each day tends to get a little bit easier. The fears may still be running through your mind constantly, but you can push them to the side and remind yourself of the truth and of the positive aspects of yourself, your readers, and your writing. Sometimes it might require additional help through medication, tea, yoga, breathing exercises, and the like, but you can fight your anxiety. And you can win.

Anxiety can be a tool for your writing.
Lately, I’ve been taking my negative thoughts about my writing and myself and using them as motivation to prove myself (and potentially others) wrong. When my thoughts are overrun with negativity about not being able to write in my favourite voice, I run through a few short writing exercises to get into that voice to prove to myself that I can and will write like that again. When I fixate on the idea that no one will ever appreciate, let alone like my work, I look back through the comments I’ve received on my blogs and from different writing exercises and critiques in my writing class and see that there are already many people who do, so why wouldn’t others? When I get scared that I won’t meet my word count, I create a special reward for meeting my goal and force myself to write until I meet it, thus proving that I can while getting a treat.

Anxiety won’t stop others from appreciating your work.
Even if you can see past the thoughts that others hate your work, there will always be someone who appreciates what you write. There have been things that I’ve written that I’ve been proud of and incredibly excited to share, but nearly no one has even given it a second look. But there has never failed to be at least one person who has come up and paid me a compliment on my work. I know it’s incredibly rare for me to read something and say “I hate this so much that I can’t even appreciate it!” I usually find at least three reasons to appreciate the things I’ve read, if not hundreds.

Anxiety may plague you, but you can overcome it, time and time again.
These negative thoughts might not ever leave. You might battle them day after day and moment after moment, but you can do it. Each tiny step to improvement is just that—improvement. Even on my best days, I struggle with my anxiety more than I would ever care to admit, but on those days, I tend to be so happy, positive, and focused that I can easily ignore the negativity or take it and change it into something positive. Whatever you do, don’t give up! Work through the hard days, take breaks when you need to, and open your eyes to how much you and your writing truly is appreciated. Because you are special, and no one could ever write about the things you do the way you do it.