#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.

* * *

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!

State of the Blog

Hello, friends!

Once again, sorry for not blogging in a while.  Today, I want to give you a quick update on what’s happening with me and my writing.

In October, some stressful things happened and derailed all my writing plans for the month.  But even before October happened, I felt like I was stuck in a writing rut.  I’d write hundreds of words per day, adding up to thousands of words per week, and yet I still felt like I was making absolutely no progress.  So my muse and I have agreed that it’s time to take my writing in a new direction.

Some decisions have already been made regarding Tomorrow News Network and other projects that I’d previously been working on.  Other decisions will be decided soon.  But I do know that my research process is going to stay the same, and this blog will continue to play a key role in how my research process works.

The #1 best way to learn is to try to explain whatever you’re learning to other people.  Doing that can reveal where your knowledge is strong and where it is still kind of hazy.  The discussions we have in the comments sections of my blog posts have been invaluable to me.  And also, I honestly do appreciate it when someone in the comments tells me that I’ve made a mistake.  Those discussions are invaluable to me, too.

My blogging and social media presence will be somewhat sporadic for the remainder of 2022, but I expect things to get back to normal in January of 2023.  Sciency Words will return on January 9th, and I hope to stick to a schedule of one to two posts per week after that.  The new direction I’m taking with Tomorrow News Network has already led me to some surprising and new (or at least new to me) science facts, which should lead to some fun conversations in the months to come.

So thank you, friends, for reading, and I look forward to talking with you more very soon.

#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: We’ll Fly When We’re Ready

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 Lajevardi, Cathrina Constantine, Natalie Aguirre, Olga Godim, Michelle Wallace, and Louise – Fundy Blue.  To sign up for IWSG and to learn more about this amazingly supportive group, click here!

In my last two blog posts, I wrote about the Indian space program and the American space program.  Both have suffered recent delays and setbacks.  Both are still moving forward with their space exploration plans, despite those setbacks.  Whenever I read about real life space programs, I’m always struck by the parallels between space exploration and writing.

Whether we’re talking about space or writing, we’re talking about big ambitions.  Big aspirations.  We’re talking about a lot of hard work (but the fun kind of hard work, the exciting kind of hard work).  We’re also talking about constant setbacks and delays, with certain financial realities looming over us at all times.

A couple years ago, I published my first novella-length Sci-Fi story on Amazon Kindle.  My plan was to follow up, quickly, with a sequel.  Around the same time, I also launched a store on RedBubble so I could sell prints of some of my art.  And then… setbacks.  Delays.  Real life problems.  It was like trying to plug fuel leaks on the Artemis 1 rocket.  As soon as I fixed the problem here, I’d discover liquid hydrogen was spraying all over the place over there.

I can report that 2022 has been a better year for me.  Slowly—very slowly—my writing and my art have gotten back on track.  I’ve been blogging more.  I’m making progress on my next Sci-Fi novella.  Also, I’ve started uploading new art to my RedBubble store for the first time in two years.  But writing takes time.  Art takes time.  As much as I want to rush forward with all my creative dreams, I need to be patient with myself.

After NASA scrubbed the launch of Artemis 1 not once but twice last week, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson had this to say: “We’ll fly when we’re ready.”  Right now, as I get back into the rhythm of writing and illustrating, that’s my mantra.  My muse and I… we’ll fly when we’re ready.

Artemis 1: Haters Gonna Hate

Hello, friends!

My gosh, certain people sure do love doling out criticism.  Even the slightest mistake or delay, and the critics come out in droves, robed in all their smugness.  I see this all the time as a writer and an artist, and on Monday I saw a smattering of critics online smugly criticizing NASA’s Artemis Program.

On Monday morning, NASA had to scrub the launch of Artemis 1, an uncrewed test flight of the spacecraft that will soon return American astronauts to the Moon.  Apparently there was trouble with one of the engines.  Most people, I think, understand that technical problems happen and that safety must come first.  But a few folks out there saw this as an opportunity to take cheap shots at NASA, the U.S. government, and America as a whole.

Now look… (heavy sigh)… okay, there are some valid criticisms to be made about all those things.  The United States has problems.  NASA has problems.  The Artemis Program, in particular, has been politicized from the start, and whenever things get political in the U.S., bad decisions ensue.  But even if none of that were the case, even if NASA could somehow operate independently of Congress and politics, problems would still crop up.

Taking time to stop and fix the problem with Artemis 1’s engine—that’s not a sign of weakness.  That’s not a failure.  If anything, it shows that the people at NASA are doing their jobs, taking the proper precautions, and learning from past mistakes.  Ignoring the engine issue—plowing ahead with the original plan, regardless of the danger—potentially allowing a multi-billion dollar spacecraft to blow up on the launchpad?  That would have been a real failure.

But no, a few people out there think delaying the launch for a few days is a “huge embarrassment” for America.  There will always be people like this who act super smug while lobbing lazy criticism at others.  Whether you’re a national space agency or just some writer/illustrator on the Internet, try to ignore this sort of criticism if you can (or rant about it on your blog, if you must—just don’t dwell on it for too long).

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

Fran, from My Hubble Abode, posted a wonderful video on YouTube reacting to some of the nonsense people have been saying about the Artemis 1 launch delay. Click here to check it out!

#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.”