Day 3: Creation and Consumption

Day three, and I’m already immediately distracted and avoiding my writing! Hoo-rah. I just spent the past fifteen minutes looking at YouTube videos (most of which I’ve seen already), instead of committing to writing.

Because of that, I want to talk about creation versus consumption. I love media, in case you haven’t picked that up from my previous posts. I think storytelling, in any medium, is one of the most beautiful things in the world. The ability to create and share stories and experiences is part of the human experience.

Being a writer, I’m constantly torn between consuming as many stories as I can and creating my own. Especially when I’m trying to make something that is unique – the massive amount of stories makes it impossible to make it completely separate, but I also don’t want to be repeating the same thing which often ends up being the case.

Going through college, I learned how to analyze literature. This ability to pick up on patterns, character choices (and inconsistencies), worldbuilding, and even the subtle styles of different writers has permeated everything I experience. Whether it be video games, music, television/movies, or books. One of my favorite examples of this is The Fame and The Fame Monster by Lady Gaga. The first album shares similar tones and address distinct aspects of dealing with the joy of fame from sexual/romantic relationships, money, paparazzi, etc. There are even motifs throughout the songs, and then the second album deals with the darker side of these feelings – relationships in the spotlight, narcissism, truth. It’s a very well-composed set of music.

Consuming is easy, and above all it’s cathartic. I frequently watch YouTube series that analyze movies, and I love to compare my own notes. I don’t have to be an active participant of the world, just an observer. I experience the wonder, the emotions, from a safe perspective (sort of), and then I get to go back and think about whether or not it’s believable.

Creation has, in the past couple years, alluded me. I sit down, and if I just write without thinking I begin to notice the inconsistencies of character, the lack of direction, and more often than not: struggling with how to describe what I see in my head. I play my stories in my mind like a movie, and often it’s difficult to put it into words. Of course, I just need to go back and edit but my perfectionism is like “NO!”

Creating stories in my head I do all the time, it’s just putting it from the mind to the page that I struggle with. Living in the technical age, we are surrounded by a constant feed of media. This makes it even harder, because with two clicks I can be enveloped into a story without having to put in work.

My hope with this writing challenge is that I can knock some of that back, and rediscover the joy of creation. I am going to try and not repeat any topics as well, so this will be a fun challenge.

Day 2: Writing

I don’t remember exactly where I heard this, but there is a quote along the lines of, “The best fiction will alter your reality.” Basically, the most important writing is the writing that changes how you view the world. It’s something that has always stuck with me as a writer.

Now, I don’t like to read. I like Audible a whole heck of a lot, but when it comes down to staring at words on a page, unless it’s really good I will have lost interest in about ten seconds. The usual response I get to this is “OMG Corey, how can you be a writer if you don’t read???” Well, Barbara, no one asked you.

When I do come across fiction that captures my attention, it’s the ones that fall into the alter-my-reality category, and I believe this viewpoint is something that spans across all artforms. I have a few television shows, books, and music in my collection that have fit this description. These works of fiction have made me who I am.

I was a very imaginative kid. Like I mentioned in my last post, I pretended and even half-heartedly believed in other, magical worlds different than our own. That is something that came from reading the books I read as a kid. Even as an adult, books like The Age of Misrule, or the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has affected my perception radically.

When I was young, I prayed that I would never lose that sense of wonder. I think sometimes it even bordered on the line of delusion sometimes, but I knew I never wanted to become stiff. All the kids and adults around me wanted to be mature. I got in trouble for being silly, or not being serious. This “seriousness” often translated to me as being stoic, or serious. They called it grounded, but it felt more like being stoned…in the Biblical sense, not the marijuana sense.

That is why I’ve wanted to become a writer; I have always been, on some level, dissatisfied with reality. When I was a kid, it was an escape to relieve me from being a lonely child. Or, just contempt for the way I was treated by my peers. I would write self-insert fanfictions about my favorite movies or fandoms to pretend I was embarking on an exciting adventure. I would play pretend games up until I was fifteen, and sometimes I still am playing those games in my head.

Oddly enough, I never wanted to be anyone but myself on these adventures. My cousins always play a certain character, but I would often confuse them when I created my own. I wanted an adventure, something that I could experience and no one else. The writers that I followed, like C.S. Lewis, Mark Chadbourn, and Cassandra Clare, all helped me do that. I want to be what those writers were for me. I want to tell a story that brings an escape for someone out there who needs it.

Day 1: Travelling

Author's Note: I have started the My 500 Words Challenge by Jeff Goins. Anything tagged as such will be part of this challenge, and often not edited or changed. It's just my stream of consciousness as I try and get the habit of writing going. Wish me luck, and hope I don't suck!

- - -

Julia and I at our first stop in California, in Crescent City.

Julia and I at our first stop in California, in Crescent City.

I think travelling is one of the most important things someone can do. I grew up in a small town, where leaving Shelton meant going to the mall in Olympia that was a twenty minute drive away, or going to one of the casinos that was on either end of the city.

When I was growing up, I was constantly enchanted by works like Alice in Wonderland or The Chronicles of Narnia, or even this nineties’ movie called Magic Island where a tween falls into a magic book that has pirates and pizza growing on trees. There was something about ending up in a different world that always drew my attention. I can’t really say where my interest in fantasy came from; it’s something I’ve had ever since I was born.

As a kid, I would go to Seattle and spend weekends with my sister. I loved the city. That was the magic world that I got to travel to when real life was getting too dull. Since then, I have always considered travelling to a fantastic experience. My best friend and I recently drove down the California coast and these similar feelings welled up throughout the ride.

I don’t think we can fully understand each other as people if we don’t travel. Even if it’s just to another state, or the opposite coast. Experiencing somewhere different than what you’re used to, getting out of your comfort zone, is vital to the human experience.

Obviously, there are some people who do not travel. I don’t mean to put them down or anything, because sometimes the means to so are difficult to come by. I once knew a man from Shelton who had never ventured past Olympia until he was well into his forties!

Okay, that’s a little extreme, but you get my point.

With all of the talks of racism and homophobia going on in America right now, it makes me wonder how these people can find fault in others for something like appearance or preference. Part of that comes from the fear of the unknown, and I think being part of “the unknown” for most of my life, that’s something I’ve never fully grasped (but that’s a different blog post for a different time).

This fear of the unknown comes from a lack of experience. It makes sense. Doing anything we haven’t done before scares us, even if it’s perfectly safe. So when people have a limited experience of other people, it’s easy to dehumanize them and feel a need to protect against them.

Obviously, this is a very narrow-sighted view and only a small facet of the real issue. But in terms of experience, I think travel is the most helpful thing we can do. We should be going to other places and experiencing what life is like in places far from our own. Even somewhere like Canada which isn’t very far, is a massively different culture from our own. Having this experience, creating bonds with people, I think that’s something that everyone needs.

The Dystopian Wave of Young Adult Novels

Writing fiction, especially when aiming for an audience, I have trouble keeping my work strictly in a specific genre. I have always been fascinated with Young Adult as a genre, especially since it experienced a boom after the popularity of Harry Potter and Twilight. In fact, the novels I have most enjoyed have usually fallen under the YA category. While it has technically been around decades, I don’t think it has ever been as distinguished as it is today – now we have entire sections in every bookstore dedicated to Young Adult stories.

In 2009, the United States published over one million books, and the collection of literature continues to grow insane amounts every year. Because of this, speaking specifically on fiction, it seems the genres and rules for what separate the genres are beginning to thin.

I was talking with my friend earlier, and we were discussing what exactly what defined the genre called “Young Adult.” At first, I thought it was simply the use of teenagers between the age of 13 and 18 as the main characters, which is certainly an obvious characteristic. I think there is more to it than that. There are a plethora of different tropes and clichés abound in YA, just like how 50% of fantasy fiction is a bastard love child of Lord of the Rings.

There are specific ideas that come to my mind: love triangles, discovering magical powers, dystopian settings (this one still feels new and oddly left field to me), and very clear good vs evil distinctions. Yet, the demographic of YA isn’t always clear. The Harry Potter cult has taken over most adults that I know who either grew up reading it, or reading it to their children. Now we have an entire theme park dedicated to it (but no lie, I totally wanna go) and every adult I have met knows exactly which Hogwarts House they’d be sorted into! So what is it that defines this genre that seems to expand across the generations?

I think a lot of it stems from the relatable problems that teenagers have, but they’re addressed in a simpler, easier-to-understand way. It brushes the surface of adult problems, but doesn’t always approach it in a real or truly painful way.

I appreciate when teen-directed texts address sexuality, violence and adult themes in a mature way. When I was in high school I would always get annoyed at the excessive censoring we had to endure. No cussing, nothing provoking, nothing that could really promote real thought in any way. Books like Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird were banned for their “racial insensitivity,” which, you might as well just lie to us about American history.

Oh, wait.

From the young adult novels I’ve read, some of these more adult themes aren’t really addressed head on. It is something that I have noticed in strong contrast to some adult novels of similar genres.

In the case of sexuality, there has been a rise of characters who represent a gender-sexual minority, which is a fantastic thing. They often still occupy minor characters instead of main characters, which is a fine way to ease into normalizing LGBT+ individuals into popular books. In the case of The Mortal Instruments, two of the secondary characters are male and in a relationship. It was featured in a way that made it seem like a normal part of life, rather than an overbearing message about how okay it is to be you (which has sometimes been the case, I’m looking at you Glee). Naturally, the representation of gender-sexual minority individuals is an entire different subject that I am sure I will broach in the future.

In general, sexuality plays a huge part in teen literature, as it does in most of human art. In this case, as far as I’ve read, it never gets explicit. Sex is usually tip-toed around, or we get a scene’s end right when do gets done. Now, since it’s (mostly) a universally shared human experience, I’ve never felt the need to censor it. There is a beautifully written scene in The Age of Misrule in which two of the main characters have intercourse while high on mushrooms, and the scene details the whole experience. Since sex is such a taboo subject in our society, I know why it is not detailed, but that isn’t something that is a trope to teen fiction alone. Still, I haven’t seen any young adult novels address it in a truly graphic way, which is why I include it on this list.

Violence is treated similarly to sex, but it toes the line a bit more. As we all know, reading about someone’s dismemberment is much more desirable than genital mashing. I only include this because of the extremity I’ve seen from other genres of novels. Going back to the Age of Misrule, we have some graphic torture scenes that are gruesome to read, or Jurassic Park’s novel had Nedry get disemboweled on the street rather than the shaking car and fade out in the movie version. While teen fiction, especially the dystopian novels, address it with a bit more normalcy, it still keeps behind that line between suspenseful, and graphic.

Ultimately, as we grow older and the world’s knowledge expands, we see younger people get exposed to more things. This can be a scary thought for some, but we are headed in that direction regardless. So most likely, the young adult novels of the future may address some of these topics more thoroughly. With the constant increase of published books as well, we will surely see the lines between genres become thinner and thinner.

Is that a good thing?

Beating the Writer's Block

I’ve been staring at my computer screen all week. A lot of it is filled with documents from previous endeavors, but any thoughts lately have been eluding me. It’s nothing new, I have spent countless hours wondering what to write, or how to make sense of the blank buzzing inside my head that almost always appears when I try to put words on the page.

Writer’s block is hard. I have it a lot. There are times when I think of all the great things I could write. I plan stories in my head, or my mind begins expanding on a topic for countless reasons. It’s not planned, it just happens. Yet when I sit down to actually create something my mind goes blank and I get tired almost as if I’m trying to struggle through an essay or work that I don’t want to do. It is the oddest thing, because when I think of writers I often think of people who couldn’t contain their words even if they tried.

My imagination is strong. It has been ever since I picked up my first copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I go from a familiar to new place and I’m not just driving to another city, I am going from one world into another. When I am alone in the forest, I can feel and hear the vibrations of the trees and the water and the air. Anything and everything can plant the seed for a story. Yet when I go to create them, they disappear.

When I was younger, I became enveloped in my writing. Maybe it was just the onslaught of technology that made my brain over-stimulated and it can’t slow down long enough to let it flow. Or, maybe it’s laziness, or some other lack of motivation.

In these moments I have been trying to beat the block (#beattheblock). I was reading Lauren Graham’s book and she brings up the egg timer method: removing all technology except your laptop (no wifi), and putting on a timer, writing whether it’s your project or twelve pages full of “I hate writing.” And when I’ve done it, it seems to have worked. I’m doing it now.

I mentioned in my introduction post that my intention with this blog is primarily to keep writing. Even if I end up typing out a page of random gibberish. Something that always stuck with me (conveniently received from Lauren Graham’s other book, Someday Someday Maybe) is the idea of quantity becomes quality. A fancy way of saying practice makes perfect – you constantly write, and even if a lot of it is crap there is always something that will be good. Like job hunting, you may get a million failures before you succeed even a little.

Here is my challenge for myself and anyone reading: Work on something without focus. Don’t worry about what the product turns into or what others might think. Start with the quantity so that it has the chance to become quality. Make your goal to work, not to succeed.

#beattheblock

 

Stop Procrastinating! (Or, at least pretend.)

The last couple weeks I’ve been struggling with something. I’ve been in this weird space of being motivated to write my novel, but being too distracted/lazy to start. I am sure it is not an uncommon feeling for most people. The lack of progress made me frustrated. So, I started making promises to myself: I’m going to make time tomorrow, I will definitely dedicate my next day off to writing, or—the biggest lie yet—writing more will be my New Year’s Resolution!

I’ve been doing a New Year’s Resolution every year probably since I was twelve. As I’m sure many people I know do. Here is what I have decided: A New Year’s Resolution is just an excuse to procrastinate.

Now, if some people follow through with their resolution, then great! Keep going! Most I know do not do this. Usually we make the resolution, follow through for a week at most, and then drop it.

About half-way through December, I was planning on losing weight starting the new year. Losing weight has been something I’ve been struggling to do for about three years, but due to lack of restraint and the allure of cheeseburgers I have failed. Finally, I thought to myself: “Wait, why am I waiting?” Truthfully, because I didn’t want to start then. I wanted to have more time to be unhealthy. I think on some level, everyone does this with different situations.

Time to stop that.

We all have changes we want to make. Some flaws are big enough that we actively work to reverse them, but others aren’t as bothersome. It is about what we value more. Obviously there are other complications like mental health, genetics, or what have you. But at the end of the day, everyone has struggles to overcome. It takes strength and determination. The past several weeks, I have been going to the gym as often as I can, eating healthier, and I am making strides towards my goals.

I want to stop the mentality of “I will do it soon.” I want to encourage the idea that “If I don’t do this now, it will never happen.” That’s what I’ve been telling myself when I see some unhealthy food, or think about skipping the gym without a real reason. I want this to apply to my writing as well! I want to write a novel, and finish it! Let’s quit procrastinating, people.

 

George Michael and the Role of Pop Culture

The best media we consume are the ones that change the way we see the world. The experience of human existence and popular art constantly feed one another, and it affects our individual realities. With the death of George Michael over Christmas, I began thinking about this. His music shaped how I think about love and sexuality. I don’t know if I would call that a form of mourning, but my reverence for his work has continued to expand.

In 2008, there was a short lived show called Eli Stone about a lawyer with a brain aneurism that caused him to have prophetic visions, usually in the form of a George Michael musical number. I began listening to his music religiously (Get it? Religious? Prophets?) and it introduced me to what love meant, being comfortable, even open with sexuality, and ultimately what it meant to be gay. I even used An Easier Affair as a roundabout way to come out to my best friend.

The more I thought about it, influence of an artist, in this case a musician, on our lives is astounding, increasingly so since we have so much being fed into the media. The effect of popular culture on the population comes down to “we are what we eat.” We have something loosely coined as “art pop.” I’ve seen multiple definitions of this but the best way I can describe it is using popular culture to create something that is grounded in the expressions of human experience.

Speaking specifically to music, many artists have described their work similarly to “art pop,” (see Lady Gaga’s album ARTPOP), though some can be considered more genuine than others depending on your taste. Some of the most notable to me would be Madonna, P!nk, Heart, Halestorm, and, obviously George Michael. He was unique in that he didn’t necessarily want to be in the spotlight especially later. In Freedom! ’90, he has the guitar, juke box, and leather jacket from the iconic Faith video burst into flames when he wanted to effectively change the way people viewed him.

The lyrics of his songs featured change and hinted to his sexuality until he came out. Because of the content of his music coming to me in years when I was facing massive changes, I believe I was able to navigate them a bit easier.  Outside was one of his most influential. This video and song were created in response to his arrest for sex in a public park. It features him dancing in a men’s restroom, wearing a police uniform, while the video features different types of couples engaging in erotic acts out in the open.

When I saw the video, I was coming to terms with what being gay was and how my life would develop upon accepting it. I watched couples who differed in age, same-sex couples – I even learned one of the men in the video used it as a means to come out to his family. This idea of openness, of harsh honesty was wildly appealing after growing up in a world where many of my questions were met with avoidance or flat-out dismissal. Obviously, getting arrested isn’t enviable, but the metaphor of “going outside” with everything you have on your sleeves – that was something I wanted to see for myself and in the rest of the world.

Other songs like his “coming out” anthem (An Easier Affair), a love song for his partner (Amazing), and confronting the fallacy of religion (Hand to Mouth) have helped me come to terms with my sexuality, create a comfort level with it, and even mesmerize about what I want from a relationship. His music inspired thousands of people in countless different ways, and many other artists have helped to inform our individual realities.

The products of these people create community and catharsis, even if it’s from an up-beat dance number like Too Funky or an emotional ballad like One More Try. George Michael’s particular influence was not enormous but fierce, and he joins the likes of Michael Jackson, Robin Williams, Carrie Fisher and David Bowie in those who have influenced our culture and the way we live our lives.

Why am I Writing a Blog?

Cliché (noun): a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse. e.g. Beginning a personal essay, or blog post, with a definition of a word pertaining to the content.

Noncommittal (adjective): not committing oneself, or not involving committal, to a particular view, course, or the like. e.g. Being unable to commit to a project for more than fifteen minutes.

When I was growing up, I dreamt of becoming a writer. I would spend hours typing out new stories to post on fanfiction.net (Who else wrote a self-insert fanfic about Dragonheart, the 1996 movie in which Sean Connery plays a dragon and cons villages with Dennis Quaid? Anyone? Just me? Cool.). The first project I ever did in school was a very compelling short novel about a dinosaur who ate too many leaves and got fat, and had a harrowing journey into thinness by not eating as many leaves.

For most people who grow up, interests tend to change. Not I, writing was my life’s purpose, and I didn’t care what it would take to create the greatest novel of our century. It was my destiny! My art! My passion! I wanted to dedicate my life to art, even if that meant suffering for it. Yep, I was dreaming of pulling a RENT and living the bohemian lifestyle if that was what it would take.

Then college happened and my desire to write was like, “Bye, have fun with your never ending reading assignments, analyst papers and existential dread.” Thanks, college!

I still love writing. If anything, college made me love writing more because now I understand it better. The flow from one sentence to another, the subtle twists that turn sentences into coherency, characterization, plot structure; these are all things I think about when I consume movies, books or music.

I’ve become very noncommittal (scream for the word of the day!) with my writing endeavors. I have a novel that I’ve been working on, another novel I want to return to and countless attempts at short stories. I just can’t sit down and do it. I haven’t sat at my desk and become enveloped in my own stories since adolescence.

So why the hell am I writing a blog? I can’t carry out something like this! The only project I’ve followed through was re-watching Gilmore Girls for the seventeenth time. It will take me two weeks to think of a topic to write about and then another three weeks to decide how I want to write it, and then a month or so of wondering why I haven’t written anything before I finally abandon the post all together.

But hey! Not this time! I have a secret to success. I’m going to write in advance. Yep, gonna compile a list of topics and be ready. Call me Jessica Simpson, because I am getting pro-active!

I still feel like a writer. Despite the decrease in activity since graduation, I drive down the road and see things I would write about. Or a story comes into my head when I look at someone across the street. That desire is still inside of me, and I think the goal for anyone with that desire is just to do. Fight the laziness, ignore the martyrdom of writer’s block, and just create – no matter what comes out. We won’t get anywhere if we wonder, especially if we don’t try.

Seriously, I mean it this time.