#IWSG: The Patience of a Muse

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop created by Alex J. Cavanaugh and cohosted this month by Jacqui Murray, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Pat Garcia, and Gwen Gardner.  If you’re a writer and if you feel insecure about your writing life, then click here to learn more about this wonderfully supportive group!

I like to write, but I don’t like to talk about writing.  Whenever I talk about writing, I end up reminding myself just how tedious and frustrating the writing process can be.  Fortunately, my muse is always eager to talk about writing, even when I’m not in the mood, so today I’m going to turn the floor over to her.  My muse has something to say, and perhaps it’s something you and your muse would like to hear.

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They don’t tell you this in muse school, but we muses need to play the long game with our writers.  Writers are born to write, but that does not mean they’re born with all the skills and abilities necessary for writing.  The day I first met my writer—the human I was assigned to guide and inspire throughout his creative life—I found him utterly unprepared and woefully ill-suited for writing.

We had to start with the basics.  I began by encouraging my writer to take an interest in the alphabet.  He had these wooden blocks with letters on them.  Those helped.  Then I got him interested in words.  Spelling was a challenge for many, many years, but we worked through that.  Then came grammar, syntax, rhymes and rhythm—allegory, metaphor, irony, parallelism—comedy and tragedy—classic literature and genre fiction…  We made progress.  My writer has learned much since I first met him; he also still has much to learn.

But writers are human, of course, and they can be stupid in the way all humans are stupid.  They like instant gratification.  They want quick, easy solutions to their problems, including their writing-related problems.  But writing is a skill that improves slowly.  Gradually.  The growth of a writer happens so slowly and so gradually that it may be almost imperceptible, even to writers themselves. Some writers may fool themselves into believing that they’re not improving at all, or they may start to fear that improvement is not possible.  They forget how far they’ve come, and they worry themselves sick over how much further they still has to go.

Needless to say, as a muse, you must never give up on your writer.  More importantly, though, never let your writer give up on him or herself.  Make your writer keep writing.  Make your writer keep practicing, keep trying.  Do that, and the writing will get better.  I promise.

#IWSG: Perpetual Self Doubt Machine

Are you a writer?  Do you feel insecure about your writing life?  Well then the Insecure Writer’s Support Group is the support group for you!  IWSG is a monthly blog hop created by Alex J. Cavanuagh and co-hosted this month by Jemima Pett, Debs Carey, Kim Lajevard, Sarah Foster, Natalie Aguirre, and T. Powell Coltrin.  If you want to learn more about this amazingly supportive group and see a full list of participating blogs, click here.

Hello, friends!  For today’s IWSG post, I’ve decided to turn the floor over to my muse, the magical fairy person who encourages me (sometimes by brute force) to do my writing.  She has something to say, and perhaps it’s something your muse would like to hear.

* * *

My fellow muses, what do you do when your writer stops believing that they’re a writer?  Writers write.  It’s the most natural and normal thing for them to do.  And yet many writers (my own included) make themselves miserable with self doubt.  My writer often starts asking himself questions like “Is writing really worth it?” or “Why am I doing this to myself?” or “What if it’s time to quit writing?”

From talking with other muses, I’ve learned that many creative humans struggle with these questions.  If only there were a way self doubt could be used to generate energy, the perpetual self doubt of writers and artists could be used to solve the humans’ energy crisis.

Recently, another human said a thing to my writer.  An insensitive and cruel thing.  As a direct result of this thing that was said, my writer started asking himself more frequently and fervently: “Should I give up on writing?”  Again and again, day and night, for weeks on end: “Should I give up?  Should I give up?  Should I give up?”

Obviously, the answer is no, but it was equally obvious that doubts and insecurities of this kind had been simmering beneath the surface for a long time already.  Otherwise, one single, careless comment would not have caused so much duress.  So rather than simply saying “no” to all this self-doubting and self-questioning, I offered a different question: “Should you, perhaps, give up on writing this one project—this one particular project that you’ve been stuck on for the past two or three years?”

That gave my writer pause.  That got my writer thinking again, got him wondering what he might write instead of that old writing project.  It got him to consider ideas that were fresh and new, ideas that are true to the person my writer is today, rather than the person he used to be several years ago.  Of course, my writer did not come up with these fresh new ideas without help.  I contributed to the process.  I am his muse, after all.

So, my fellow muses, if your writer keeps getting stuck on questions like “Should I give up on writing?” a simple “no” may not be sufficient.  A better answer may be to change or rephrase the original question.

#IWSG: Putting Science Into Science Fiction

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop created by Alex J. Cavanaugh and co-hosted this month by Joylene Nowell Butler, Chemist Ken, Natalie Aguirre, Nancy Gideon, and Cathrina Constantine.  If you’re a writer and if you feel insecure about your writing life, click here to learn more about this amazingly supportive group!

I write science fiction.  That’s the only genre I’ve ever wanted to write, and I doubt that will ever change.  But when I was younger, I kind of hoped I could get away with writing Sci-Fi without really understanding science.  And you know what?  Maybe I could have.  I’ve read plenty of good Sci-Fi stories that went a little wishy-washy on the science.

At some point, though, I made the decision to do my research.  I made a commitment to learn the sciency stuff so that I could write better Sci-Fi.  Doing that research has helped me in more ways than I anticipated.

Suspending the Reader’s Disbelief with Science

I have a touch-and-go attitude about putting science in science fiction.  Sci-Fi doesn’t need to be 100% scientifically correct about everything all the time, but if you touch on a scientific fact now and then, it adds credibility to your story, and it makes it easier for the reader to suspend their disbelief when you start making stuff up.

Alternatively, if you make a laughably unscientific mistake, like describing the sound of an explosion in outer space or having a character see a laser blast coming straight toward her before it hits her, this will break the reader’s suspension of disbelief real quick.

Over the years, a few fellow writers have told me not to worry so much about scientific accuracy.  The average reader, they claim, won’t know if I get a science fact wrong.  And maybe they’re right, but science fiction readers are not the average reader.  It’s important to know your audience, and if you write science fiction, your audience includes a lot of people who are more scientifically literate than the general population.

Science if Full of Writing Prompts

I think I have a pretty active and vivid imagination.  I asked my muse, and she agrees with me about that.  But as imaginative as I may be, the universe out there, as science currently understands it, is far weirder and wilder than anything I could have dreamed up on my own.

Did you know birds recognize the constellations and use them to navigate?  Because they do.  Did you know there was a seventy year period of time when all the sunspots mysteriously vanished from the surface of the Sun?  Because that happened.  Did you know there are naturally occurring nuclear reactors on this planet?  Because there are!  Could any or all of these random science facts be used as writing prompts?  Yes.  Yes, they could.

Just about every time I do my science research, I find new ideas for stories.  Or, if I don’t find a totally new story idea, I find something new I can add to a story I’m already working on.

Using Science Role Models as Writing Role Models

If you ask most writers who their role models are, they’d probably point to people like Hemingway or King.  Those are perfectly fine role models, of course, but as I’ve fallen deeper and deeper down the science research rabbit hole, I’ve discovered curious parallels between the life of a writer and the life of a scientist.

The way Albert Einstein solved complex scientific problems with his imagination (for example, by imagining what might happen as trains and elevators accelerated to the speed of light), or the way Marie Curie kept doubling down on her research into X-rays, “uranium rays,” and other forms of radiation (which ultimately killed her, of course, but I still admire her relentless dedication to science)—these people are my role models now, in addition to people like Tolkien, Asimov, or Roddenberry.

Whenever I’ve struggling to write, whenever I’m stuck on some story problem that seems unsolvable, I think about people like Einstein or Curie.  I think about how they kept plugging away at the problems in front of them until they found solutions.

I’m not going to tell you that if you write science fiction, you must do your research.  I hate that “if X, then you must do Y” kind of writing advice.  Every writer is unique.  Every writer has their own approach to writing.  Do whatever feels right to you.  It is absolutely okay to make yourself the exception to the rule.

But doing my research has helped me in ways I never expected.  So if you’re not already doing research for your stories (Sci-Fi or otherwise), then I’d say its worthy giving research a try.

Thanks for reading, friends!  I look forward to chatting with you in the comments!

#IWSG: Involuntary Writing Breaks

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop created by Alex J. Cavanaugh and co-hosted this month by Diedre Knight, Douglas Thomas Greening, Nick Wilford, and Diane Burton.  If you’re a writer and if you feel in any way insecure about your writing life, click here to learn more about this amazingly supportive group!

At some point, every blogger has to say “sorry for not blogging in a while.”  This is then followed by the usual list of excuses: illness, family stuff, trouble at work, etc.  Today, it’s my turn.  Sorry for not blogging in a while.  I got sick (bad mayonnaise, probably), then there was some family stuff, plus a whole lot of trouble at work.  As I result, I didn’t have much time for blogging, or for any kind of writing, all month long.

Sometimes life forces you to take a writing break.  It’s frustrating for two reasons.  First, there’s the involuntary nature of this sort of writing break.  And second, even when life does settle down again, it takes time to get back into the rhythm and flow of writing.  Today, I’d like to share a few of the tricks I use to help myself bounce back from an involuntary writing break.

Drawing My Muse: As regular readers of this blog know, my muse is very real to me.  She started out as just another character in a story, then she evolved into something more.  I like to have a picture of my muse nearby whenever I do my writing.  So when I’m trying to bounce back from an involuntary writing break, my first step is to draw a new picture of my muse.  Like this new picture:

Re-Reading My Story: If my involuntary writing break interrupted me in the middle of a writing project, odds are I cannot just pick up again right where I left off.  So I’ll go back, re-read however much writing I got done before the break, and try to immerse myself in that particular story world once more.  This may take some time.  I may end up spending a few days—or perhaps a week or more—editing and re-writing stuff rather than working on new material.  But eventually, I’ll remember what I was trying to do with my story, and I’ll be able to make forward progress once more.

Writing an IWSG Blog Post: And lastly, another great tool to help me bounce back from an involuntary writing break is to write one of these IWSG posts.  I’ve made a commitment, both to myself and to the group, to do this once every month.  It’s a strong enough commitment that it keeps my writing habits alive, even in stressful times, and it’s always helpful to hear from fellow writers, whether they have advice and encouragement to offer, or whether they merely want to commiserate over the struggles we all face from time to time.

So do you have any tricks or techniques that help you bounce back from an involuntary writing break?  Let me know!  Seriously, please tell me.  I think I have a pretty good writing recovery strategy in place, but I’m looking for ideas to make it even better.

#IWSG: In Defense of Regrets

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh and co-hosted this month by Tonja Drecker, Victoria Marie Lees, Mary Aalgaard, and Sandra Cox.  To learn more about this amazingly supportive group, click here.

I knew a girl once who lived by the motto “no regrets.”  She was rather insistent about this.  She insisted that no matter what happened, no matter how badly things turned out, she would never, ever have any regrets.  And… well… I don’t want to go into any details here, but… this girl seemed to keep making the same mistakes over and over again.  Regrets aren’t necessarily a bad thing, you see, so long as they help you learn.

Next year, I’ll be turning 40, and I have a lot of regrets.  A few too many, perhaps.  My biggest regret has to do with being queer.  I came out of the closet a few years ago.  I regret not coming out sooner.  You don’t know how heavy of a burden it is, carrying around a secret like that, until you finally put that burden down.

My second biggest regret—which is really not one big regret but a constellation of interconnected little regrets—has to do with writing.  So many opportunities came my way when I was younger, but I didn’t take them.  Sometimes it was fear that held me back.  Other times it was pride.  Whatever the cause, I missed out on a lot of things.  Maybe those things wouldn’t have worked out anyway; I’ll never know.

For those of you who are familiar with Star Trek, I sometimes feel like that alternate timeline version of Picard who never rose to the rank of captain and who was, instead, stuck as a junior grade science officer his whole life—all because he was too scared to take a risk.

I have other regrets, too: times when I hurt people, times when I let other people hurt me, times when I should have spoken up, and times when I really, really, really wish I’d kept my mouth shut.  I could wallow in all these regrets, of course, or I could treat them as lessons learned.

By acknowledging my past mistakes, I’ve learned to be kinder.  And when others are unkind to me, I’ve learned to have the self respect necessary to walk away from the situation.  Should I have come out of the closet sooner?  Yes.  But I’m out now, and I’m never going back.  And as for all those writing opportunities I missed… the real topic of this Insecure Writer’s Support Group post… well…

Despite what they say, opportunity does not strike once in a lifetime.  Opportunities keep cropping up over and over again throughout our lives.  It’s never too late.  Sure, I missed out on some opportunities when I was younger, and those specific opportunities are never coming back; however, there are other opportunities in front of me today.  And today, I know better than to let fear or pride or any other silly excuses hold me back.

I’m not going to end this post by asking if you have regrets or by saying “please share in the comments below.”  That would be super inappropriate!  But I do hope this was useful and encouraging to somebody, and if so I’d love to hear that.

P.S.: I do hope this post is helpful to somebody, but this is also my way of giving myself a pep talk.  I’m about to try a thing.  I’m about to take a risk.  It might not work out, and that’s fine.  If it does work, you’ll be hearing more about it in the future.  The important thing right now is that I’m trying.

IWSG: Fear of Author Harassment

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop created by Alex J. Cavanaugh and cohosted this month by Tara Tyler, Lisa Buie Collard, Loni Townsend, and Lee Lowery.  If you’re a writer and if you feel in any way insecure about your writing, click here to learn more about this amazingly supportive group!

Earlier this year, the Bookangel Club conducted a survey on author harassment.  The Insecure Writer’s Support Group posted an article reviewing the results of that survey (click here).  Those results were unsettling.  Depressing.  Given the kind of harassment authors report facing, both online and in real life, you may be left wondering if this whole writing thing is worth the trouble.

Now as a science blogger, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention something: the survey results are almost certainly skewed by selection bias.  This was an opt-in survey.  Authors who experienced harassment were probably more likely to opt-in to taking the survey then authors who’ve never dealt with harassment.  Therefore, we’re not looking at a truly random sampling of authors.

Still, what the Bookangel Club’s survey does show is that you don’t have to be particularly famous as an author before you risk attracting the wrong kind of attention.  As authors, we put our hearts and souls into our creative work, in the hope that others will read and enjoy what we’ve written.  Some people will take that for what it is; others will take it as an open invitation to say or do whatever they like to us.

In my own case, I write a blog about science.  So naturally, I attract the attention of Flat Earthers, Anti-Vaxxers, Moon Landing deniers, the One World Government conspiracy theorists, and so on.  I also get comments from religious zealots fighting against my “atheist lies” (I’m not an atheist, by the way).  These people can be… persistent, and when I don’t bow down to whatever “truth” they’re trying to spread, they can get mad.

These situations, thus far, have stayed on Twitter or in the comment sections of my blog posts.  They have not (yet) affected me beyond those online spaces.  I’m a pretty small-time author/blogger, and so the harassment I’ve faced has been proportionately mild.  But it’s not nothing, and that’s my point.  Even a small-time author/blogger like me has to deal with a surprising amount of unwanted attention.  And if my author platform starts to grow (as I hope it will), I fully expect the nonsense I have to deal with to grow as well.

Despite the selection bias issue I mentioned, I think every writer should read up about that Bookangel Club survey.  I think every writer should be aware of the risks we take when we put our creative work out there.  But I also want to tell you that, despite the risks, writing is still worth it.  Publishing is still worth it.  I have this blog, I’ve written a few articles for other websites, and I have a novella-length story published on Amazon.  Far more good has come from all this than bad.  In my experience, there are far more nice people on the Internet than there are Internet trolls.

Basically what I’m saying is this: you should know what you’re getting yourself into as a writer.  You should know what might happen.  But don’t let fear stop you from writing, publishing your work, and pursuing your dream.

#IWSG: Do the Write Thing

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop created by Alex J. Cavanaugh and co-hosted this month by J Lenni Dorner, Janet Alcorn, PJ Colando, Jenni Enzor, and Diane Burton.  To learn more about this amazingly supportive group, click here!

One day, I told my muse what was happening in the news: all the bad stuff that had happened that day, and all the worse stuff that I feared was soon to come.  In response, my muse had only one thing to say: “Do the write thing.”

I tried to make my muse understand how frustrated I felt, how angry I’d become.  I tried explaining how fearful and helpless I was in the face of all these bad things happening in the world out there.  My muse nodded sagely as I talked; then finally, when I ran out of bitter words to say, my muse said again: “Do the write thing.”

She doesn’t understand, I thought, so I started up again.  I told my muse how there’s so much hatred and greed, so much war and disease.  The oppression is relentless, and at some point they (whoever “they” are this week) will even come after me!  How can I protect myself?  How can I protect others when the world is so cruel and heartless?

My muse was patient and kind as she looked me square in the eye, and she said again: “Do the write thing.  A well-told story can do more good than you think.  It can open a mind that was closed.  It can make people think, make them see from a new point of view.  A well-told story can inspire someone to do better, or it can give comfort to someone who needs comfort most.  At the very least, a story may give someone who’s suffering an escape—a brief respite—from all those troublesome things that keep happening in your human world.

“So the best thing you can do, both for yourself and for others, is set your fears and anxieties aside for a while, get your pen ready, and do the write thing.”

#IWSG: The Planets Make Me Write

Hello, friends!  Welcome to another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a monthly blog hop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh and co-hosted this month by SE White, Cathrina Constantine, Natalie Aguire, Joylene Nowell Butler, and Jacqui Murray.  To learn more about this amazingly supportive group, click here!

I read somewhere once that every writer has a “thing”—something that they’re desperately trying to say.  It’s something that’s hard to put into words, a feeling or an idea that defies the conventional use of language.  If this “thing” could be said in a simple and straightforward way, we writers would just say it and move on rather than spend the bulk of our lives writing.

What is that “thing” for me?  I wish I could tell you!  It would be so much easier if I could just tell you the “thing” that keeps poking at my mind, but of course I can’t.  All I can say is that my thing has something to do with the stars.  It has something to do with the slow and stately motion of the planets.  It has something to do with that feeling I get whenever I look up at the nighttime sky.

Is it curiosity?  A sense of wonder at the vastness of the cosmos?  I guess that’s part of it, but those words feel wholly inadequate.  Wonder and curiosity are nice, but there’s something more.  There’s so much more!  The planets and stars inspire something in me that simply must be said—something that must be put into words, no matter what—it must be!

But no words ever seem to express this “thing” well enough.  So I keep trying.  I keep writing, in the hope that maybe someday I’ll find a way to say the thing I don’t know how to say, and maybe somebody else will read my words and understand what I’m talking about.

So, friends, do you have a “thing” that you’re trying to say through your writing?  Care to give us a clue (if you can) about what your “thing” might be?

#IWSG: The Spice of Life

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop created by Alex J. Cavanaugh and co-hosted this month by Kim Elliott, Melissa Maygrove, Chemist Ken, Lee Lowery, and Nancy Gideon.  To learn more about this amazingly supportive group, click here!

“Do one thing and do it well.”  I’ve heard this aphorism over and over again throughout my life, and there’s a certain common sense simplicity to it that I find appealing.  Whenever life gets complicated and I feel like I’m being pulled in too many directions at once, I really wish I could pick just one thing to do—I wish I could be permitted to focus all my time and energy on just one thing, without any distractions, so that I could have a chance to do that one thing exceptionally well.

Last month, I participated in the A to Z Challenge.  For anyone who doesn’t know, the A to Z Challenge is a month-long blogging event.  Participants post twenty-six blog posts, one for each successive letter of the alphabet.  All of my posts were about humanity’s future in outer space, or perhaps I should say humanity’s potential future in outer space.  Our species has so much potential!  But I do realize there’s no guarantee that we’ll live up to our potential, though.

In order to ensure my success with the challenge, I canceled any other plans I’d made in the month of April.  I used up a bunch of vacation days at my job.  I made sure I got my taxes done super early this year.  I put a few of my other creative projects on hold, temporarily.  I engineered my whole schedule so that I would able to do just this one thing: blogging.  Did I do it well?  That’s a subjective thing, of course, but I feel that I did the best I possibly could on most of my posts.  And it felt good.

However, there came a point when I started to miss working on my other creative projects.  Being able to “do one thing and do it well” feels nice, but to really thrive, I need variety in my creative life.  My muse was kind enough to hold back on new ideas during the A to Z Challenge.  Now, however, there’s a backlog of ideas that my muse would like me to work on—and I am eager to get to work on those new ideas!

“Do one thing and do it well” can be good advice, for a short time.  When life gets complicated, sometimes we need to stop and have the simplicity of doing one and only one thing for a while.  But when I think about my lifelong goals, when I think about my own future as a writer/artist/blogger, there’s a different aphorism that I’d rather live by: “Variety is the spice of life.”

#IWSG: How Long Will This Take?

Hello, friends!  Welcome to April’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop created by Alex J. Cavanaugh and co-hosted this month by Joylene Nowell Butler, Jemima Pett, Patricia Josephine, Louise – Fundy Blue, and Kim Lajevardi.  If you’re a writer and if you feel in any way insecure about your writing life, click here to learn more about this amazingly supportive group!

So right now, I’m participating yet again in the A to Z Challenge, a month long blogging challenge where you have to write twenty-six posts (one for each letter of the alphabet) over the course of April.  My theme for this year’s challenge is “Our Place in Space.”  For this theme, I’ve been researching a lot and writing a lot about human space exploration in the distant future.  And there’s something I’ve noticed, a lesson that’s relevant both to space exploration and to writing: every project takes longer than initially expected.

Already this month, I’ve covered proposed missions to send astronauts to the moons of Jupiter and robotic probes all the way out to the nearest star.  In today’s A to Z post, we’re talking about building an elevator to space as a way to save money on rocket fuel.  And in upcoming posts, we’ll visit a methane lake on Titan, build floating cities in the atmosphere of Venus, and go digging for fossils on Mars.

I always do my research for these posts, and I always get super excited about the things I learn.  All these things are possible!  We humans could really do all this stuff someday!  But then I get to the part of whatever article I’m reading where it says “in the next fifteen to twenty years…”  I always roll my eyes when I get to that part.  Yes, we can do these things.  Some of these things may even be within our reach using existing technologies.  But space exploration is, and always will be, really hard work.  We need to have realistic expectations for how long this stuff will take.

I understand that.  And yet, when it comes to writing, I keep telling myself, “Oh yeah, that’ll be easy.  I can write that in like an hour.”  And then I’m always surprised when I spend all day writing that supposedly easy thing and still can’t finish it.

When will I learn?