writing

Things I did during reading deprivation

While I couldn’t completely keep myself off of social media and online articles, I did refrain from reading any books or watching my typical movies.

Here’s what I did:

  • On day two my stomach hurt, so I simply cradled by pillow and stayed under the covers, doing nothing at all. It was actually quite lovely.
  • I cooked a bunch of potatoes. I haven’t cooked since March!
  • I went to a birthday party, went to a gay bar, and ended up having a meaningful conversation with my friend from Afghanistan.
  • I cleaned house by swapping all my summer wear for my fall wear. Got rid of a ton of clutter from the cupboard under the sink. The change is invisible, and yet the studio feels so much cleaner and breathier because of it!
  • I talked on the phone with my mom–per usual.
  • I jogged twice on the weekend. The weeks before I might have jogged once and went for a couple walks.
  • Made my studio nice and clean–of course I do this any ways but it’s still an accomplishment!
  • I did my Louise Hay meditations, as usual
  • I “buried” my fantasy life (what should have or could have happened in my life), so that I could let go and work with the present. I have yet to burn it, but I expect I’ll do this on the full moon.
  • I lit incense did a new moon ritual and wrote down everything I want to let in to my life.
  • I made a friend on the train, who gave me a stem of tuberoses and of eucalyptus.

This, I suspect, was the point of reading deprivation–we were meant to explore what activities or creations we could make outside of just consuming entertainment. It’s actually kind of nice!

 

Strange Catalysts (the Artist’s Way)

In “The Artist’s Way,” Julia Cameron mentions that synchronicities might begin to appear in one’s life, things might begin to change, and creativity might become unstuck. I came into this with the sole intent to revive my writing inspiration. Instead, I’ve achieved a different kind of transformation. I did receive small manifestations–from a free chai latte, to a one dollar meal (my childhood favorite of arroz con platatanos/rice with bananas), getting the opportunity to collage over my ugly notebook cover, and receiving a stem of tuberoses and eucalyptus. When I went on a spontaneous lunch adventure, I found Elizabeth Gilbert’s book on creativity, which mentioned all my fears, the need to let go of our worries so that we can be open to ideas when they come. Also at the time of trying to let go of a negative situation, I ended up accidentally getting into long conversations with the Afghanistan doormen at my apartment building, specifically on letting go of the past and just living in the moment and enjoying the present.

Even though I have not found a speck of inspiration more than when I started, I have opened myself up to mini adventures, having spontaneous conversations and making new friends. Last week I had a major revelation that the reason I was being so hard on myself was because I wasn’t perfect. Instead of recognizing that logically, I felt it deeply. It seemed so ridiculous, because no one is perfect! How could I expect that from myself? How could that be a prerequisite to being worthy of my own love? Two days later, a friend showed me a book she was reading by Brene Brown, and I knew I had hit the hammer on the head. This revelation shook me up, because my defense mechanisms of self hate were fighting back harder, to keep myself protected. I had created the defense mechanism to protect myself from the scrutiny of others, and to motivate myself to work harder to achieve. But at some point, it became detrimental because I became paralyzed. Nothing was happening.

At this time I became ravenous for the next few days, with nothing satiating my hunger. I wasn’t sure if this was another defense mechanism, or a backlash from my medication which had previously been suppressing my appetite. In my desperation, I was thinking of a way I could add more starch in my diet, to keep myself satiated. This led me to several YouTube channels and articles on being able to eat in abundance on a vegan high-carb starchy diet. So I figured–why not, I have nothing to lose. Apparently I am now going to become a vegan. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while (I was vegetarian for 7 years and pescatarian for 1), but never really knew how to achieve that without severely limiting my options and making sure all my needs were met. Now I think I’ve found a way, and I’m going to try it. This is completely insane! Again–not a speck of writing inspiration has come into my life–but, I’m making both minor and major shifts. I’m wondering if anything else will happen, or what my life will look like at the end of the 12 weeks. While it concerns me that I’m not making any progress as a writer, I’m looking at the things I’m beginning to do- draw, play the guitar, cook again for the first time since March! Not planning a thing for my weekend and yet having long spontaneous and meaningful conversations with new friends. It might not be a lot, but something is happening.

Artist’s Way Week 4-Slip ups begin

I am the kind of person who likes to do all the exercises and activities within the required week. Sure, I’ve forgotten to do daily affirmations sometimes or had an artist’s date that wasn’t exactly pre-planned, but these were minor. This week’s mission was reading deprivation. While I was able to stay away from books and movies (movies being the hardest part for me), I was unable to stay off social media. By day 2 I already accidentally skimmed a couple online articles.  By day 3, I was looking at several online articles and watching a couple Youtube videos.Day 4 I worked late so I managed not to read by default. On Saturday, I was doing the exercise of getting rid of/donating an outfit, but since I live in a studio my wardrobe is already more limited, so instead I started going through zines. I accidentally read a couple of the entries to see if I still wanted them, and had looked at some articles earlier in the day too. On the plus side, I finally cleared out a gazillion bags from the cupboard under the sink, which was long overdue.

My plan for the weekend was to do all my chores on Saturday so that I could have my full day outing for my artist’s date. Here I had failed as well. I did a closet overhaul of switching summer clothes to fall clothes, cleared out the cupboard, did laundry and made the bed. Normally I only have energy to go grocery shopping, so I was proud of myself. However, I spontaneously went to a birthday party I’d been invited to, and didn’t sleep until 3 am. I of course didn’t wake up properly until ten, which pushed back all my plans. It took me an hour to cook (something I hadn’t done ever since I moved into the studio), went for a run, and by the time I got around to errands, it felt like I hadn’t made any progress yesterday at all. I still had to do everything that I normally would put off until Sunday. Which leads me basically to this point in time where I am writing this blog. I feel I desperately need some me time, which I haven’t really done between cleaning house and socializing. I still haven’t done my artist’s date, which I plan to do tonight.

I think this taught me a valuable lesson. My prerogative is to “get it right” each week so that I can get the maximum out of the experience. I didn’t want to miss any of the exercises or take longer than a week to do them. But honestly, from being on the Facebook group and watching Youtubers detail what they do; I learned it’s more important to just do your best. Some people skip the exercises, or take a few weeks to complete the chapters. Some people don’t even do artist’s date, and do lunch pages instead. We all have busy lifestyles. Even though the goal is to get us to put time aside for creativity, which is very much needed, we can’t always “get it right.” The experience is really for you. I may still try to “make up” for my artist’s day outing next week, but honestly, I have no desire to redo the chapter or backtrack. I’m just going to keep moving forward.

 

Artist’s Way Week Three-Childhood Memories and Girl,Interrupted

This week’s theme was the childhood creativity. As I recalled my childhood room, so many memories came back to me as I filled out the details. These were memories at the deeper recesses of my mind–not lost to me, but certainly not recalled since my teenage years. When we had to write about our five childhood treats–I suddenly remembered something I didn’t even know about myself since I was a child! Apparently I used to eat arroz con platano (rice with bananas), something which I even forgot existed. We were challenged to eat some, so on Friday I ended up going down the cafe, bought a banana for a dollar and was told to take another one. I went to a small Asian restaurant and grabbed a bowl of rice. I reached for my wallet and the lady kept saying it was okay, “Listen to me. You don’t have to pay.” So I got my lunch for a dollar! They probably thought I was low on cash for food or something, but I’m still happy about it! I also manifested a free chai latte earlier that day.

I’ve also been looking at lists of novels with important themes, in this case mental health. One of the titles I looked at was “Girl, Interrupted.” Then yesterday for some reason I was looking at a “shipping” video of Harley Quinn and the Joker, which then led me to looking at a flashback of Jared Leto’s roles over the years–one of which was Girl, Interrupted. At this point I decided I had to watch it. So, after discovering a mini nature trail next to a high school in Andersonville, hearing someone play a ritual drum, going to a Mediterranean bakery, and heading home, I found some short clips on Youtube and then found the movie itself. I was completely mesmerized by Lisa’s performance and then shocked once I realized that was Angelina Jolie. It amazed me how all the big names were in that movie–Winona Ryder, Whoopi Goldberg, Jared Leto, Angelina Jolie. I don’t even know if they were household names yet. Although honestly having seen a couple of Jolie’s later films I was actually disappointed seeing just how amazing she was as Lisa (her best performance I think), and then playing flatter characters like Lara Croft or Mrs. Smith. Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. As I expected, the story humanized the girls–however I was pleasantly surprised by their bonds and friendship, and the way they helped and hurt each other. I will definitely have to read the book. After that, I talked to an Afghanistan door man below for a few hours. It was amazing to learn about his life, the country he came from, and his life values. In a way he kind of addressed my inner critic- reminding me to let go of the past, and enjoy life. While I accept that, I am also strangely resistant to that–because if I have no standards, what if I just accept mediocre work and never strive to make it better? But that critic does at some point become detrimental instead of motivational, and I think that’s why some of us get blocked.

Until next week!

Artist’s Way-Week Two

This week was actually far more challenging. I was exhausted after a week of waking up at 5:15 am every day, and I quickly dropped my exercise, instead adding on Louise Hay’s morning meditation.

I used my morning pages much more heavily for dream work, and was having better dreams, possibly because of Louise Hay’s evening meditations. It was both impressive and frustrating that I started to need four or five pages to record my dreams in their entirety. For my second week, I was much more proactive about reading all the activities from the get go, and reading the whole chapter within the first two days. I did as many activities in a row as possible, and set my artist’s date for Thursday at the Art Institute of Chicago to see the Thorne mini rooms.

Though I was proactive on paper, I was feeling very vulnerable underneath. I was going every work lunch to Barnes and Noble since the previous week for “idea shopping,” and thus far had only managed to write a few short paragraphs based on Hozier’s “Like Real People Do.” This of course was better than nothing, but I was becoming frustrated at my lack of inspiration. I thought about Kiki’s Delivery Service and how Kiki had lost the ability to fly a broom but recovered it. This sent me down a nostalgic path of listening to the soundtrack and some of Miyazaki’s other musical pieces. My heart was filled with longing for the initial thrill I had a thirteen year old, to go on the same kind of adventure and coming of age ritual as Kiki had. The only time I really ever felt like that was when I studied abroad in Spain in college. I was inspired to look up the dialogue Kiki had with Ursula, her college artist friend who lived in the forest. It struck me how relevant the passage was. Ursula said that she used to create things without even thinking, until suddenly she couldn’t any more. Then she said she had to find her inspiration, or her reason to create again. It struck me that this was exactly what I needed. Up through high school I just had a spring of ever flooding ideas, was always inspired and stayed up nights and woke up early mornings just to write. College made me doubt my abilities, and from there my inspiration and my passion dwindled. Today, I struggle to think of anything new at all.

The combination of the Artist’s Way and meditations brought small micro-changes to my world. Some of my tweets from 2014-2015 had been rediscovered, liked and shared out of nowhere, with 9 different interactions within nine minutes on a random Wednesday morning. I was getting spots on the train and time opened up for me to draw. We got to play a board game during yesterday’s meeting and get off half an hour early. On Friday, I took on a more proactive approach and decided to go to a stationary store instead of Barnes and Noble. It was the wrong stationary store than the one I had in mind–but it was across the street from a bookstore. And in the bookstore was Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.” She addressed all my fears. That I was not descriptive enough, that I had wasted all my time writing and would continue to do so, that my ideas were not important enough, that my best writing and ideas were behind me, that it was too late, that no one would ever want to read my work, so what was the point? She talked about letting go of daily fears and anxieties of the past and the future, to become receptive to the ideas around us. I did not get any new ideas after reading this, but I got a new excitement about the possibility of having them. Maybe a good idea would find me after all.

I have now drawn for the first time in about a year, and done all my exercises but one: play the guitar. I’m guessing I will do that tonight or tomorrow, and get started on reading Chapter Three!

My Pal from Minnesota and More C2E2!

Initially, Laura and I were brought together again because of our mutual love for Lord Huron. While things didn’t work as planned (the tickets sold out by the time we were ready to buy them), I think we had an even more amazing time than we would have in Chicago!

I felt bad because she came in on a rainy day, and even said MN was warmer than Chi! It was still cute though, because I ran towards her with two multicolored umbrellas and when she saw me she shouted: “Zoe, I’m so excited to be here!” That entire morning, she said even though it was raining and we were in a grocery store she was excited. I confessed I was too. Who cares when you’re with your best partner in crime?

That said, I was relieved that we had C2E2 plans on a rainy day. Mother Nature couldn’t have coordinated with us better. After eating breakfast and catching up, we rode to the McCormick Place. This time I went sans cosplay (though we both got complimented on our t-shirts) and got to enjoy other people’s costumes instead. It felt weird being on the other side of things. This time I was the one who got to be excited and throw myself into the arms of the Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters and hold hands with the Skeksis from Dark Crystal. And yes, we did nerd out on taking photos with awesome cosplayers. The Beetlejuice couple was another favorite of mine, which got featured in the official C2E2 Twitter video. This time I wanted to relax and enjoy the experience with my friend, plus I hadn’t got to see the artist’s alley yet, so I went lighter on the panels. That’s not to say they didn’t happen though.

The first panel we went to was “Reinventing the Heroine.” The Texan female author was the funniest of the group, and I appreciated the mixed panel of reinventing the heroine from both a male and female writer perspective.

Reinventing the Heroine

  • Consider inverting stereotypes- the example given here was a male prostitute, but essentially, break apart every male and female stereotype and mix and match those traits to the opposite gender to make characters feel more dimensional.
  • Consider modeling villain after someone you like in real life, and the hero after someone you dislike in real life.
  • Find universal commonalities. (George R. R. Martin for example explains that he always though of women a people).
  • Read widely on perspective from outside your own regular experience. One of the panelists recommended “The Fisherman” which follows four brothers in Africa. I believe she is referring to the novel written by Chigozie Obioma.

There was nothing on the agenda until 3, but I’m glad Laura and I headed out half an hour later to wait in line for “Authors of Epic Fantasy.” We had just made it to the end of the blue tape line, and there ended up being four lines just to get into this panel. There were a lot more people attending on Saturday than Friday, and by now large lines were forming ahead of time just to get into a panel. At least that meant a lot of amazing costumes!

I am embarrassed to say that for such a popular panel, one that I insisted I would run people to get into no less, I did not recognize any of the names at the panel. With a years long work in progress fantasy novel under my belt, I just really, really, really wanted to get in. All the authors at the panel however, were extremely insightful and hilarious. The four authors were: Peter V. Brett (The Demon Cycle), Kelley Grant (Demon Rising), Naomi Novik (Uprooted), and Patrick  Rothfuss (the Kingkiller Chronicles).

Authors of Epic Fantasy

  • Epic fantasy is:
    • vast world, conflict, story
    • heroic character arc
    • high stakes, rise of nations, kingdoms
    • world building, typically Eurocentric middle ages
    • breaking tropes
  • Find key points, add complexity around it

Laura and I split up at the very end, and within fifteen minutes were already missing each other. It was the first time we’d seen each other since October, but it was funny we had a three day weekend ahead of us and were already having a hard time staying apart. I decided to end my round of panels the way it started. I went to “Breaking Female Stereotypes” and was surprised to see a familiar face, Ryan who I had met the day before, introducing the panelists. I really liked the woman who worked on tabletop games. I felt the panelists got along well together and even handled an awkward moment at the Q & A session well. The comic industry is more behind than TV and movies in terms of adding variety to the female body type, or giving her a non-objectified role. The emphasis here was to give a woman agency, purpose, and layers.

The night of course, was far from over for Laura and me. After resting and catching up for a couple hours, we went straight to a friend’s birthday party. We ended up partying like the good old days, have an emotional sobby moment on the couch where we reconnected, played cards of humanity and made friends. We were considering leaving instead of going to the Owl because we planned to meet an old coworker at 9 in the morning, but as I always say, No Sleep ’til Brooklyn. And yolo. That meant climbing trees, hugging the Logan Square statue, and drinking and dancing ’til four in the morning. Scott’s shirt even got a little torn up. In all it was a very successful day and night,

Too Many Panels, Too Little Time

‘Twas Friday, the first big day of C2E2. For newcomers like me, view handy tips on preparing for the convention.

The first panel Lindsay wanted to go to was “Self Publishing Unmasked.” I personally am biased towards traditional publishing since the more difficult aspects such as marketing, finance, book covers and printing can be delegated instead of all handled by myself, but I do think self-publishing is becoming more and more a viable option these days. While waiting for the panel we even made a friend, Natalie! Always worth it to reach out and talk to people. You’ll never know how much you have in common until you take the chance 🙂

Self Publishing Unmasked

  • Err on the side of simplicity and tradition for book covers.
  • Authors can be too close to their work, typically best to have someone else design book cover.
  • Edit professionally (not you, friends or family)! This is huge.
  • Be a good literary citizen. Spend equal time on everyone else, great way to meet people.
  • Consider print on demand.
  • Have your own website.

The next panel Lindsay and I both definitely wanted to go to was “Write or Wrong: ‘How to Manage your Brand as a Creator.'” This panel was led by Dirk Manning, in charge of the “Write or Wrong” column,

Write or Wrong

  • As an aspiring or established creator, you already have a brand, through various social media.
  • Four simple steps: do the work, create/release product, build audience, manage brand.
  • Make sure you prioritize your budget and time towards making comics, if you want to create comics.
  • Maintain positive professional presence as active creator. Comics is a small world.
  • Only hype finished products.
  • Success: work hard, be nice, no excuses.

At this point Lindsay and I split, as I wanted to learn about writing for video games. What I learned, is that I definitely don’t want to be a video game writer. Turns out you already have to be established in the field as an expert in Spiderman, Tron, etc. and that you are actually the last person to be brought into the creative process. The characters and game play has already been decided, and you just have to bridge the gaps between. A lot of times you have to cut content to meet a budget, and a lot of times you write battle chatter. I am ultimately glad I went as this saved me a lot of time and trouble. And luckily, I ran into Natalie again and exchanged contact information.

How to Write for Video Games

  • Writing something you’re not the creator of
  • Three factors: Game Play, Level Design, Story
  • Your job is to make sense of the game so the player can enjoy the experience. Create flow, no plot holes
  • Hierarchy of importance: Game Play experience, Budget, Pacing, Story
  • Story/Dialogue must be extremely brief and concise
  • Keep Game Play going, narrative should flow nicely in over it
  • Inject life into characters with clever phrases, quick personality traits
  • Serve game design mission
  • Work with your larger team

Next I went to “MARVEL: Breaking into Comics the Marvel Way.” What I learned from hearing the five different men’s stories (uh-oh all male panel, I wonder what the female story is here), is that there is no real “way” to get into Marvel. They made a joke that getting into Marvel is like breaking out of prison. Once you get in, they make sure to block off that way so that route can’t be used again, and you have to break in your own way. One man said he had actually given up until he realized he was still 35, there was still time. So he interned there, lied about using it for college credit, and ended up getting hired on the team officially. Another man from the UK said he was actually working on comics back when Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean were just “working on a book.” My mouth watered at the mere mention of the pre-Gaiman DIY days and reminded me once more of Lindsay’s and my dream of being the next female powerhouse duo.

MARVEL: Breaking into Comics the Marvel Way

  • Networking: hunting vs. fishing. Instead of focusing on one person, try “casting a line” to multiple people and seeing when one person tugs back. Focus on accessible network.
  • Try to get published at a smaller company first.
  • Do a small series, submit to anthologies. You never know who’s head hunting for talent.
  • Work with junior and assistant editors.
  • Completed comics with art preferred.

Creator Connection- Presented by Comic Book School and IBM

Being a big fan of networking, I wanted to go to one more panel before meeting up with Lindsay again. Although it was a fun event and I got to meet a lot of people, this panel made me realize how lucky I am to be friends with Lindsay and have a mutual understanding with her. I never realized approaching an artist for a big project was essentially going up to the hottest person in the bar and asking them to marry you. Good thing her and I are already “married” as there was a lot of protocol in the introduction I didn’t know.

I was reminded that artist’s need to at least be paid minimum wage what they could be making elsewhere, plus paid on top of that for their education and talent. Artists also do not exist merely to illustrate our work, and likewise, writers also spend lots of time and effort into their stories and need to be getting something out of the exchange as well. I like that Manning made slides from both the writer’s and the artist’s perspectives before beginning the networking rounds. Among people I met was Ryan Morrow, who started up his own site called OneSquaredStudios. I was impressed when he said that he wanted to make comics–so he did. I didn’t even know he would be introducing one of the panels on Saturday which ended up catching me by surprise!

Last but not least, I rejoined Lindsay for a very informative panel called “Closing the Deal: Everything You Need to Know About Publishing Contracts.” I was worried the panel would be dry, but it was actually presented by a man invested in both law and comics, and tied it together with fun memes and no nonsense bullet points covering on each topic. I won’t list everything out here, but definitely check what rights you are signing away! It’s crazy scary that you can sign away all your rights for a set amount of money, and if they end up capitalizing on a film adaptation big time, you get zero compensation. One of the previous owners of “Walking Dead” ended up getting screwed big time because he signed all his rights away before it went big. Aim to retain copyright and only transfer a limited subset of rights. You should reserve your right to fix story and approve of major plot point changes. Don’t give your rights away to someone who isn’t in the business for it; for example don’t give video game rights to a small publishing house. And of course it pays to get a lawyer first to look over the contract instead of paying out for a big lawsuit afterwards!!!

Tips When Dealing with a Contract

  • Get it in writing.
  • Keep language simple (we agree).
  • Spell out details, number your paragraphs.
  • Specify payment obligations.
  • Agree on circumstances that terminate the contract.
  • Agree on a way to resolve disputes.
  • Pick a state law to govern the contract (state you live in).
  • Keep it confidential.
  • Read entire contract, including reference documents.
  • Use clear, simple language when possible.
  • Beware the passive voice,

Get lawyer if you need one! Lawyer- aware of law. Agent- knows how valuable your work is, what you can negotiate.

Good luck on all your creative endeavors, hope to see you next year!