This was something that emerged from a “deep dive” annual review of the 2020 course that I took. I wanted to do the course not to fix a problem but understand what I wanted to do in the future. It was so much more than that.
One of the huge lessons learned out of this was how important it is to treat yourself well. It’s not just eating right and exercising regulations, but the things you say to yourself.
I’ve been talking a lot about that here, with my battles with the inner critic while I work on the Great Challenge, a short story a week. As part of the review, I made a list of all the stories I wrote in 2020, which included 16 short stories and 3 flash fiction. It was amazing to list all those and remind myself about the fun I had and the accomplishments I got with them. Teddy Bear Man won Silver Honorable Mention in Writers of the Future.
It’s too easy to focus on the negative, what went wrong, what I didn’t do. It’s not as easy to focus on the good.
On one of the stories, Giant Hunter, I got stuck and had to go to Plan B. I didn’t think I was going to make the deadline—and I didn’t want to fail on Story #7. Yet, I found a way around the problem and completed the story. It’s on my list. I had to make sure I didn’t start thinking negatively on that one.
All of this inner critic starts early in our lives. We get it in school, sometimes from well-meaning people who aren’t thinking through the impact of what they’re doing. I think those are the worst.
I was a terrible student when it came to physical fitness. I didn’t know it, but I had flat feet that didn’t look like flat feet. Since the feet are the foundation for the rest of your body, this makes a lot of exercises pretty hard to do. I was a clumsy runner, and terribly slow because of the amount of effort my feet were forcing on the rest of my body.
One time, we did bean laps around the field. You run one lap, the teacher gives you a bean. When time is called you count all your beans. I always had the fewest of all the girls.
They were probably trying to encourage more exercise by peer pressure. Instead, the inner critic moved in because I wasn’t going to be any better than what I’d done. I didn’t have any way of knowing why (a trend that continued into the Army, which also did a lot of the same things).
So early on, it becomes very easy to focus on the negative things and not on the good. You see this with writers all over the place.
They blast their writing, saying how terrible it is. This leads to all kinds of craziness:
- A writer finds a typo in their just rejected short story. Convinced that this is the reason for the rejection, they seek perfection on their stories and cringe at the smallest typo.
- Every time they get a form rejection for a short story, they revise it before submitting it again.
- Every time a reader posts a review on Amazon, they revise their novel to address the review.
It really takes a conscious shift to not think like that. You have to be aware of the negative thinking, and also the emotions that trigger it. You might have to work on resolving those before you can get out of the negative thinking.
In the early indie days, I was wrestling a lot with a self-caused problem that snowballed into many other problems. All of it resulted from reactive decisions to “fix the problem” that I made without understanding what was happening.
I took a writing class from Bob Meyer because, as I told him, I needed some way of dealing with my “screwy writing.” I’d resigned myself that my writing was going to be a mess and that it was a function of my writing process.
He told me not to put down my writing because there are so many people who will do it for you. That’s very true. As a panster (a writer who doesn’t use outlines), I’ve gotten a lot of negative comments—story unseen—about my not using an outline. That trend has slipped into negative comments from the writing into the dark crowd. Everyone will tell you you’re wrong.
The only thing you can do is keep from saying those to yourself.
And here’s what I wrote on all the stories from last year:
Mask Pretty: My first story in the Great Challenge and I used emotion as the focus. I got it done within the initial deadline I wanted (Sending it in started the challenge). It was in the final 31 for Kevin J. Anderson’s Unmasked. Ends the year in submission to a contest.
Teddy Bear Man: Another story that worked the emotions in a fantasy world with ghosts and uses Havliah’s house. Story received a Silver Nomination from Writers of the Future, my best level yet (I have four Honorable Mentions).
Hunted: This was a redraft of Sasquatch-Woman, which I retired because it had something wrong in the middle. The story turned out to be very different and a lot stronger.
The Patron: This was a redraft of Sky Hair. Completely different direction, using AI and blending it with art. A fun character piece.
Spooner’s Cove. An attempt for an anthology call using a redraft of Monkey River. When I finished it, I realized it hadn’t hit the anthology theme strongly enough.
Lake of Whispers: A character piece for the same call, about a house on a boat on the shore of the lake. The idea was based on the house mover who put his house on a boat and got into problems when the county objected.
Giant Hunter: I started with a different story, a science fiction on long life. I tried scene after scene and couldn’t make the story work. Wednesday, I called it and started a new story. I put a dog and a man in an urban fantasy story and added a giant. Breathed a sigh of relief I got this done.
Malice in Morro Bay: My first cozy mystery. It has little plot, and a lot of characterization, Hollywood, 1940s, and dogs. Lots of fun to write. I was shocked when it turned into one of the longest stories I’d ever written. It amazed me that even despite the length and time it was taking, I wasn’t worried about finishing it on time.
Death at the Fair: I liked the characters so much that I wrote a second cozy fantasy, based on passing research I ran across while I was writing the first.
Murder on the Set: Story #3 in the cozy series. Since I have an actor, I plopped a film crew in Morro Bay, right on the beach. Lots of fun because there was some pretty awesome stuff I learned about why silent film stars didn’t make it to the talkies. It was learning how to act all over again!
Mayhem in the Library: I thought of Scooby Doo and the haunted house. Research made me go ah-ha and I used Prohibition and booze in the story. That was such a nice way of using my knowledge.
King’s Port Clash: This was my first sword and sorcery. The skills I worked on was to blend the action and pacing with characterization.
Campfire Terror: Back to urban fantasy again and the dangers in the darkness. This pulled on my campfire class a few years ago. Working the action, pacing, and characterization muscles again.
Ship of Dread: Heard on a Science Channel about a map that said “Buried Ship,” so this story was the launch of that. I was really glad I’d been on a tall ship. Made so much of a different building the interior of my ship. I realized that I had spent too long in the opening getting the characters to the ship and not enough on the ship. First for this: I realized the problem as I finished the first scene. I added a note. The next day, I started writing as if I were doing the onboard scenes. Then I removed the coming up to the ship parts. Worked well.
Hawk’s Landing: This was the longest of the sword and sorcery, initially weighing at 5700–and the longest story to date. A different entry than the other stories and from the male character’s POV. After I did the story, I highlighted all the “was”es, of which there were 68. Then I went through and eliminated them, and some extraneous scenes. Zap, zap, zap. It went down to 18 instances of was and was at 5,200.
Temple Terror: Inspired by a commercial of the Volcano God. One of the characters is doing this mission out of guilt to a dead friend who he doesn’t realize manipulated him.
Treacherous Cliff: A 250 flash fiction and I nailed all the elements. That went to Alfred Hitchcock’s contest (still out. I have a previous Honorable Mention for this).
Broken Agreement: Flash fiction redraft of green cats (another story I wrote several years ago), except with a dog. I saw the title and couldn’t remember this one at all and had to re-read it. 250 words.
The Bridge: Also 250. I remembered Josh Whedon’s blond girl who looks like a horror movie victim and she’s the one that’s the bigger threat. Add a bridge and mayhem happens. Horror.
And it felt wonderful writing about all these stories I wrote and the fun I had writing them.