Permission to Suck

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I’ve been writing for the past four or so hours and I’ve managed about 1600 words.  That isn’t a lot.  I haven’t been writing straight, mind you.  I keep taking breaks to drink, surf the net, post status updates on Goodreads or comment on other people posts, worry about my diet, post to Twitter, consider cutting fresh lettuce in the garden, changing out the movies in the DVD player, consider starting a new game of ME (I know!), chat with my kids, play a few games of Scramble…

It’s just that I know that everything that I have written sucks like a vampire.

Do you know how hard it is to just let yourself suck?

Learning: the meaning of SUCCESS PistoCasero via Compfight

In the past, I wouldn’t put down a word unless I had good clear pictures in my head and knew almost to the letter what I wanted to write.  Let me tell you, going for perfection will promise a wretched bout of writer’s block if nothing else will.

So, I have this story, Bilqis, the first installment of The Hinterland Chronicles that I want to write.  Bilqis has been talking to me for years now.  At first she was just whispering, then chattering, and now she is straight up yelling in my head.  Oh the echos.  I need to write her.  I need to tell her story.  Good lord, I’ll go nuts if I don’t.

So, new tactic.  I said to myself, “Khaalidah, just put down the bones.  You’ll clothe those bones in lovely supple flesh later.”  Yeah?  Sounds simple.  Right?

Only it isn’t.  I feel like a failure for not being just so, perfect, exceptional right out of the gate.

I’ve been reading books about outlining (Thank you K.M. Weiland, your book is great.) and editing, and how to this or that.  A couple of posts have come to my inbox recently that basically say “just do it”, so here I am, just doing it.  And I am sucking like I’ve brushed my teeth with alum.

But, despite my apparent ADD, and my moaning, and my sadly low word count after so many hours, I feel exhilarated.  After all, 1600 words is better than 0.  Yeah?  Okay, so get out of here and let me write.  And hey!  Don’t you go wasting time.  Do something you’ve been meaning to do, something you keep making lame excuses for not completing.  And while you’re at, suck as hard as you please.

“That Girl”

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You’ll think I’m terribly under-informed, and you’ll probably be correct, but I only heard of the term “Mary Sue” about a year ago from a writer friend.  Based on the context of her remark I knew that whoever Mary Sue was, she wasn’t good.  I did my research.

You’ve probably met Mary Sue many times in the past.   Mary Sue is “That Girl”.  The one you wish you were but can never measure up to because you’re human and so instead you wish she’d just die.

In brief Mary Sue (or Gary Stu if male) is a character that supposedly represents a super positively depicted self-stylized version of the writer penning the story.  So, if I were going to write a Mary Sue:

  • She’d look like me or what I wish I looked like, but prettier.
  • She’d have essentially the same interests as me only she’d probably be more proficient and talented.
  • She’d hold the same beliefs that I do.
  • She’d be desired, loved and respected by all including her nemeses.
  • She’d get away with murder and have no faults or weaknesses that weren’t also considered attractive and endearing.
  • She would be extra smart, extra genuine, extra kind, extra talented.
  • She’d be the perfect woman.
  • She’d be perfection itself.
  • Her picture would be in the dictionary next to the words perfect, beautiful, awesome and don’t-you-want-to-be-like-me?.
  • She’d probably make you sick, or at least she’d make me sick.

I find Mary Sue to be generally annoying.  Actually, I’m feeling a little nauseous just thinking about her.

Mary Sue represents author wish fulfillment.

In all fairness, Mary Sue, by nature of the definition, is a term based on some speculation.  How can we be certain that our suspected Mary Sue is actually a representation of the author?  We can’t, unless we know the author personally.  Putting the “self-stylized” part of the definition aside though, we can make a fairly good go at identifying Mary Sues in our literature, which is why I have a difficult time tolerating some of today’s popular literature, namely YA of the supernatural/romance bent.

* Floating * (Dedicated to my dear friends Eddi & Alice) These very pretty, perfect, awesome, fairy tale princess-like protagonists are an extreme annoyance.  I like to see my favorite protagonists succeed in the end, but I also like to know that they had to overcome real challenges to reach their goals. Hard won successes are the seeds of character growth and as such, a Mary Sue by nature of what she is, can have very little.  She’s already perfect, although sometimes she is unaware of her perfection until her knight in shining armor falls madly in love with her and tells her at every opportunity, “Mary, you are so perfect.  I can’t stop thinking about you.  My life was nothing until you walked into my world.  The sun’s brilliance pales in comparison to yours.  Woman, I’d drink your bathwater.”

Ahem.  Yeah.

Mary Sue characters are one dimensional.  Another huge problem with Mary Sue is that often readers are generally told what to think of these characters either via the character herself or by supporting characters and are not allowed to inspect the facts and decide for themselves if Mary Sue is deserving of all the adoration.

But, a lot of people seem to like Mary Sue as evidenced by the popularity of such books as Twilight.

In all honestly I have liked some Mary Sues in my time.   I like Saya Otonashi from the anime Blood+, although I can only tolerate her for brief periods of time.  She’s breathless, clueless, and innocent.  A tad cloying, really. Another favorite is Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, although honestly I prefer his tortured half-brother Murtagh.  I really appreciated Eragon in the first two installments of the Inheritance Cycle because despite being ever so good, he was very wet behind the ears, a little floundering, and had suffered huge emotional upheavals and losses.  But he eventually became so saccharine I started to wish for his failure.  When I read Inheritance, the last book in the Inheritance Cycle, I actually skipped huge sections of the book to get to the parts about Murtagh, who was generally unwanted by his parents, abused, emotionally and physically scarred, and tainted by a precarious sense of morality requiring true internal growth in order to extricate himself from impossible circumstances.  I felt that he should have been the main protagonist.  Even when Murtagh was being a jerk I rooted for him, wanted to see him realize his true strengths and capabilities, to see him find hope in his hopeless situation, and achieve the happiness he deserved.  (Spoiler: FYI: He doesn’t. Paolini dropped the ball on this awesome character.  But that’s another post altogether.)

Three well known Mary Sues are:

  1. Luke Skywalker (Star Wars)
  2. Bella Swan (Twilight)
  3. Wesley Crusher (Star Trek NG)

But, I bet you can think of others.

Want to make sure you don’t unintentionally write a Mary Sue of your own?  Check out The Mary Sue Litmus Test.

Am I A Writer?

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What does it mean to be a writer?  There a million answers for that question.  Well…  Not a million but I think you know what I mean.  Right?  For me, the answer is pretty simple.  A writer is a person who writes.  So if you want to get intellectual about it, we can delve deeper and ask, “If a writer is a person who writes, then how much must they write to qualify?”  At the risk of sounding contrary, I could ask, “If I write one word a day, is that enough to be considered a writer?”

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eelke dekker via Compfight

I’ve been giving this significant thought lately because I have not been feeling particularly writerly. I’ve been looking at old writing.  I’ve been tweaking and editing.  I’ve been thinking and have internal conversations with characters.  But, I have not been putting anything new down onto paper.  The longer I go without actually creating anything new the more comfortable I become being a passive writer.  The more guilt.  The less I actually do. Bad bad cycle.  Right?

Maybe not.

I work as a breast oncology nurse.  I’m good at what I do, if I do say so myself.  I work five days a week for anywhere from 8-12 hours a day depending on the state of my clinics.  I interview and communicate with 70-140 patients a week either in person, by phone, or via email. I try to treat each patient as if they are my only patient.  I like what I do.  And yet, every three months or so, I am so cooked that I require a break.  I take a few days off during which my mind very infrequently wanders to anything remotely related to my work.  As a matter of fact, after a long day at work, I’m usually able to leave the job behind me until the next day.  I call it selective engagement.

I don’t think it should be any different with my writing.

There are times when I am in a writing roll.  Characters live with me.  Prod and poke me. Cry out to me.  And in listen and I chronicle their stories. I give in to their need of me. I submit.  Then, there are times when though I may wish to, I simply can not muster the energy for them.  I close the door on them.  I play games.  I read more or less.  I watch old episodes of Star Trek.  I meditate and pray more fervently.  I turn inward.  During that time I may not write a single creative word.  Why should in feel guilty about that?  Why should I feel the need to turn in my “writer’s membership” card?

I don’t think I should.

At the end of then day I think that only I can decide if I am a writer, and only I can define that for myself.

So… What is the definition of a writer?  A person who writes.

How much does an writer have to write to be considered a writer?  As much as they can.

Am I a writer?  Absolutely, yes.

Are you?