Raven's Pen

Writing, Reading, and Ruminating

Author: N.J (Page 1 of 11)

Musings: Authenticity

Five, four, three, two, one… let’s visit the emporium.

Are you ready for disjointed ramblings?

Great! Hop on!

We, as humans, wear dozens of masks… I think it is easy to become inundated with the theory that we must please everyone. We are swept up and wrapped in yards of fabric to take the appearances of whoever we believe we are supposed to be. Often, there seems to be a voice lingering over our shoulders, shouting: this is what you need to be. This is what you need to do. No, not there! Look here! Look at how great this fellow is! Look at what they have created– what sort of fool are you? Try to fit in!

Fitting in, in my opinion, can be a very dangerous pursuit. It is easy to discount our own capabilities in an attempt to conform to the various guidelines that we believe we must follow in order to achieve– to achieve what?

Let’s slip backwards for a moment… perhaps one of the most recognized Greek words is arete (αρετη)– probably originating from agathos (αγαθος), ‘good.’ Roughly translated, it means ‘striving for excellence in all pursuits,’ whether mental or physical. Arete is largely an umbrella term, exactly what its definition is depends on present context, for example: according to the ancient greeks, there was a certain sort of arete relegated to women (they were, in most respects, extremely sexist), a different sort assigned to warriors, another assigned to civilians and so on. For the purposes of this rant discussion, I would like to regard arete as a general concept with the loose, aforementioned definition of ‘striving for excellence.’*

There importance of theories such as arete should not be understated; after all,, doing your best is the most important action a human can take. However, I think that the concept of universal excellence can be a problem… let’s look at “well-roundedness.” If you have been involved in any sort of discussion about education, you have probably heard about “keeping all of the doors open” and “offering the best that can be given in order to ensure that all students have equal opportunities in all fields.”

Equal opportunities are extremely important, but that is not today’s topic… I thick the “all fields” and “all doors” parts can be a problem in regard to art and passion. This whole idea of “well-roundedness” seems to emphasize spending equal time on all subjects. Now, while many passionate and creative people throughout history have been proficient in, if not masters of, many things (in fact, it is difficult for me to think of someone who was, or is, not), there is usually one thing that draws us more than the rest– it is this one thing that seeps into us. So it must.

Let us say that we follow this thing as ‘our own’… we defend ourselves against doubt, and we try to stave off fear (even when met with little success).

We, undoubtedly, rely on passion: it should not minimized or ignored for a single moment. And yet, it is easy to turn out attention toward the little voices screaming inside of our heads rather than our own certainty. (D0 I sound like enough of a touchy-feely, topic-jumping help manual yet? Bear with me.) Art without passion can be art-ish, but it is not Art with a capital A. It does not have any substance, it does not breathe or slyly deposit thoughts inside of onlooker’s minds, it does not exist as an entire world– it is flat, like a line that someone draw down the edge of a notebook because they were board, but not because it was needed.

The art that lives inside of our passion is our own (or, at least, I would like to think so). And yet, it is easy to turn out attention toward the little voices screaming inside of our heads rather than our own certainty– societies views are bound to conflict with the art that is ours. Maybe there are a few who can look down the table of contents in a writing manual and check off every box with a “yup, I got that; it’s prefect for my book,” however, I am inclined to believe that such people are a rarity.

Will you forgive another leap?

Lately, I have been trying to read fiction as a writing-person as well as a regular-ol-reader. Recently, my extremely unknowable attempts to analyze the things that catch my attention, I have found that I often dislike the very things that I am certain I “should” like. While this cannot be an entirely bad thing, it is sometimes slightly jarring– especially when you look to your own writing and start picking at it.

Here, we come back to the beginning… fitting in: when we pay too much attention to the things that we are certain ‘should be;’ including the analyzed notes from whatever book we last read, it is easy to kill the passion in our thing (anyone up for making this a technical term?). We become worried about fitting in and so we end up killing our precious art-with-a-capital-A. Its dead weight hangs around our necks.

So, how do we avoid killing our precious thing? My current suggestion is this: we must become so close to our own thing that we will not will not analyze our work so closely that we are determined to “fix it,” and inadvertently suffocate it in the process. Easier said than done, right?

Certainly, we need to pay attention to whatever feelings we have that something is not quite right, as well as whatever advice we receive, but I think we must be selective. Everyone has their own opinion after all. We simply cannot please everyone without some ogre potion, but we can strive for our own, personal, version of arete.

 

*It must be noted that other cultures retain their own versions of arete; usually ‘excellence’ is a one piece of a social or moral code of ideals (for example: consider the Japanese Bushido code).

There is a thorough description of arete here.

Flash Fiction: “49”

June, 12, 2016.

Remembered, always and forever.

 49

Ashes fall from the sky—only, it is rain cold enough to match heartache.

Gold: the color of a tie around a young man’s neck

Blue: a shade of eyes staring upward.

Red: the color of blood pouring across a glitter-speckled floor.

The world could be sleeping- listless in a haze caused by deafening noise.

They could be sleeping, fallen across legs and arms, a cacophony of a thousand words for silence.

How could anyone be so still?

A cell phone rings somewhere underneath a fallen coat, splattered by spilled drinks and tinted with crimson, barely dry. A hole mars the sleeve; an almost perfect circle ripped at the edge.

The world is shouting, but ringing phones deafen cries. Batteries have not lost their voice- the empty songs that used to remind laughing hands of a perfect sunset or a first love blend together.

Are you safe?

When are you coming home?

How could anyone explain that the answer is never?

Flowers line the sidewalk in front of a theatre, candles burn with wax dripping in rivulets immortalized, rainbows decorate the sides of buildings, but they do not bring back the dead.

Mourners cry. Some say that each life lost was just another death, but 49 are not just one. 49 is the number of a small plane, it is a birthday party or a gathering of friends spanning two houses.

49.

It is too great a number—people killed for their love.

Tipping, one by one.

Hands clutch cracking chests; streaks line the floor now.

Maybe, just maybe, if eyes beg enough, memories will thicken into lifelines for the dead.

Foreheads disappear underneath thick bags, backs bending underneath their weight.

These flowers may be trampled tomorrow; bleeding onto tear stained sidewalks. Whispering: human lives are just as fragile as sheets of ice created by wind.

The living link arms to last against the storm, knees clenched underneath swaying bodies.

Life: an act of rebellion.

 

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All rights reserved.

Quote of the Month: June

Ah, how time passes! At least it brings the necessity for a new quote…

A well-composed book is a magic carpet on which we are wafted to a world that we cannot enter in any other way.”~ Caroline Gordon

Returning– again…

Hiya, everyone!

Holy frickin’ flying cows, it has been a looong time since I posted. Let’s see, the last event was Camp NaNo, yes?

I hope that everyone found spots of fun during April, whether or not you participated in Camp NaNoWriMo. Whether or not you reached your ultimate goal: I commend you for doing your best! You’re awesome! Hold your accomplishments up high for a moment and rejoice.

Between the end of the semester, looking at colleges, trying to make plans for the summer, and avoiding being sucked into the news, life has been pretty busy… hence my contained absence.

(A secret from the back-end: I am currently attempting to reevaluate what this blog should contain… I think the future is bound to be exciting.)

Let’s see…

Errant Frost is slowly moving along. I suspect that it will become a series since 100k has come and gone and the story is only reaching toward its halfway mark. Still, I may have begun to fall in love with its characters– I am hopeful for what will come. There are many, many things that I could mention (a few wonderful readings that I was privileged enough to attend, a few plans for the future, etc.), but I think it is best to allow each post to speak for itself for the moment.

Hopefully,  you will bare with me (and keep checking back) while I detangle this blog’s unruly threads…

Quote of the Month: May

Holy cow!

Another month already!

“And by the way, everything in life is writable if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ~ Sylvia Plath

Camp NaNoWriMo: Update

My goodness, the days seem to fly past!

Are you surviving so far?

Let’s see… an update… Camp NaNo started just over two weeks ago and my novel has hardly spread its wings, so to say. Unfortunately, I still have not written a synopsis… or made a plot outline beyond a few scribbled notes… or done anything that looks official besides updating my wordcount.

But just because my handwriting is messy and life can be crazy does not mean that this post is immune to organization.

For ease’s sake, here are the facts– probably more than you bargained for:

Book Title: Errant Frost

Genre: Fantasy (well, post-dystopian fantasy-ish with assassins, broken friendships, blackmail, LGBT+ characters, and a lot of blood.)

Word-count Goal: 60,000

Current word-count: 37,109 (but the day is still young)

Current music list: Audiomachine, Two Steps From Hell, E.S. Posthumus, soundtracks by John Powell, Henry Jackman, Steve Jablonsky… and anything else that appears on Pandora.

Because this is just too much fun… and, hey, procrastination!

The month started like this…

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A character who was supposed to be a future love interest decided to become a villain instead… I think I’m going to leave it, for now.

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So far, the story has felt a bit like this…

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And this…

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It’s all good though. Well, mostly…

 

Quote of the Month: April

My oh my, this year is leaping past!

Here we are again…

“To write something you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” ~ Anne Rice

It’s Almost Time!

*takes a deep breath*

Ahhhhhhh!

Do you hear the clock ticking? The piano lid closing? The sound of pens cracking? Cottage gates opening?

It’s time, my friends.

NaNoWriMo is here. (Did I mention that I am participating again? Surprise!)

tim burton alice in wonderland cheshire cat

You know what that means, my friends.

It’s time to morn a lack of preparedness, finish the last of the preparations that can be foreseen, and wonder where the plot I thought I was starting to understand went.

Did I mention that I am one of the crazy people who starts at midnight? I attempt to hit the first keystroke exactly as the clock hits twelve. Who needs sleep anyway?

Is anyone prepared for NaNo?

I am definitively not… this will be my forth year of camps, but it is almost as nerve-wracking as it was the first time. Since I doubt that I am not the only one (I hope?) who is entirely unprepared, here is the list of a few things that I often find helpful to getting words on the page. Some of these pertain more closely to waking up in the middle of the night to write, but pajamas are justifiable anytime of the day:

  • Be prepared to take notes. Empty flashcards are lifesavers. Truly. I use them to keep track of characters and scribble down random plot points or pieces of dialogue. They are also the perfect size for miniature paper airplanes.
  • Find your soundtrack. Music is a great tool to help get into a character’s head: what would they listen to? What fits their emotional state? What is the soundtrack of your novel? Of course, some people prefer silence, and that is a soundtrack of its own.
  • Don’t feel like you need to know everything about your story. Whether you are a hardcore plotter or a fire-drill style pantser, it is probable that you do not know everything about your story (if anything at all). Be willing to explore along the way. Sometimes unexpected plots will jump out of you and change your manuscript for the better; let yourself consider every possible option.
  • Have something to drink nearby. Whether it be coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or even spiced cider; just think of the procrastination potential. While something so simple may seem strange, it is sometimes surprising what you can come up with while taking a sip of something delicious. Besides, who has time to get up for a cup of water when pounding at a keyboard?
  • Find a cosy space– or surround yourself with as much coziness as possible. Another clique, but one that I follow every single year. Fuzzy socks? Check. Pajamas? Check. A sweater (or cloak)? Absolutely.

Now… I would stick around, but the minutes are ticking. I’m off to make a cup of tea and negotiate with characters before the clock strikes midnight.

Good luck to everyone rushing into their manuscripts tonight!

Productivity Can be Smaller than You Think

Take #69… no, #74.

I mentioned that I added another rough manuscript to my stack, yes? Finishing a draft usually sends me jumping between projects in a ‘what-do-I-work-on-now’ fog for a few days; it’s like standing in the middle of the sahara at night with your feet sunken in shadow from the lack of a moon. It maybe comfortable for a few hours, but, eventually, anxiety sets in.

Typically, that anxiety is a spiral of unfocused work interspersed with questions about whether or not I am actually getting anything done. It is hard to step back and evaluate our accomplishments. When we do pause and look around, it is often difficult to understand exactly what we are looking at–especially considering the state of the *ahem* world at the moment.

Let’s face it: an extraordinary number of things are happening right now, and a lot of them are processed with intense emotions. I know, I know, how dare I bring politics into this. The point is this: it is easy to be unsettled.

Unsettled-ness can often bring thoughts of ‘oh, what is the point.’ It is difficult to be optimistic when the world is rumbling in our ears; and, often, our perceptions of productivity rely on optimism. Our moods drastically affect the way that we see the world. Which is why the proper side of the bed should be marked in red paint, “put your feet here when you wake.”

(To those who are unsettled, I say: take a breath. Yes, sign your petitions, send your emails- read the news if you must- but, please, do not forget to breathe. No matter what sort of chaos surrounds you, please remember to do something for yourself– even if it is small.

Bake a batch of cookies. Knit the next row of your scarf. Walk around your desk a few times. Now, let the state of the world fade for a moment. Let’s talk about you, and me, and all of the other people out there who are trying to do creative work.)

Productivity is an incredibly important word, but I think it is one that is often skewed. When you are in school, productivity is finishing your homework (perhaps, if you are very organized, you complete it before the due date), but creative work is often not defined by a teacher’s deadlines; it is not something that you do at the last moment because you must. Yes, some people apply the same principles to both, but- unless you have an extremely engaged publisher peeking over your shoulder- creative work is entirely dependent on you.

How do you structure the day? Where are you going to put your attention? You must find your own time and choose how to use it. Time management is an extensive topic that I will attempt to ruminate upon in a separate post but, for now, let’s focus on the aforementioned word.

First of all: How do you define productivity? Currently, I think of it as getting things done. A productive day is one where I have focused on topics that I know will propel me toward the future. It must be noted that that does not necessarily mean that I have accomplished everything on my list, or completely avoided procrastination. Nor is this a perfect definition of productivity, but I think that it is a broad umbrella: we are here to complete the lists sitting in our minds, are we not?

Productivity, I think, must be based off of persistence. Continue on, keep working, no matter how hard it is. Even if you are only able to work in small chunks, you are still moving forward. I urge you to acknowledge the small accomplishments that you make, and warn you not to beat yourself up when your day does not go as planned; especially if the state of the world (let’s shorten it to SOTW in the future, shall we?) is distracting you.

Persistence creates. And so, perhaps, persistence is a much better word than productivity. Let’s be persistent without fear. It is easier said than done… but goblins can be slain and dragons can become best friends.

I believe more posts about persistence are in the future. ‘Till then, a happy late St. Patrick’s day!

Stepping Back (and “Artist Dates”)

How time passes my friends!

And, my oh my, do I have a lot that I want to talk about with you.

I had planned to post about productivity this week (what does it mean, how do we persist etc.), but I am going to interject for a brief moment and hopefully share the planned post within the next few days– it is worth noting that I wrote myself into a bit of a corner and now I must find a way to form a coherent train of thought.

Let’s jump to it, shall we?

First, will you forgive my use of a short complaint as the introduction? Do you remember those spinning teacup/pot rides at carnivals? They feel like a good illustration for the last week, or two, of my life. I have been relatively unproductive; I have a tendency to jump between projects with a few hundred words here and a few more there without entirely focusing. Frankly, it is frustrating.

Regarding many of the conversations that have spread throughout the household since the beginning of the year, I suspect that I am not the only one. Focus is often a hard thing to catch; you lay your tuna-sandwhich traps out and build gingerbread houses, maybe you become desperate enough that you decide to dress up like a saguaro cactus, or hide in the henhouse with a rusted shovel.

In my experience, a lack of focus can create whirlpools of feeling like you will never be able to work again; the small successes that arise can often feel irrelevant or ‘not good enough.’ Of course, that is preposterous, but sometimes it is hard to remind yourself of such things.

It is not easy to pull oneself out of disparaging thoughts, but it is certainly not impossible: yesterday, my parents reminded me of the importance of stepping back and giving yourself a break. I know that it sounds contradictory to success, but everyone needs time to think.

As mentioned by my parents: in The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about having an “artist date” every week; essentially, it is a block of time that is set aside to meander or do something that will help you to recharge. It could consist of reading for an entire afternoon, going on a walk somewhere that you do not typically visit; maybe you prefer to meander through library shelves, or spend hours testing pens in a small shop tucked against the sidewalk.

Despite its contradictory nature, sometimes stepping back is the way to get more things done. It is easy to become wrapped up in our doubts and fears, but they only lead us deeper. I think there is a common misconception that we must always be busy, that sitting still is often not a viable use of time, but wondering always is. Taking time to review your surroundings and goals is always important.

Stepping back from your work is a way to gain prospective: we become wrapped around certain facets of our lives so closely that we forget what truly matters, and we forget to find ways to inspire ourselves every week. Cars run out of gas, and so do we… Of course, I, at least, will not assume that prospective is an easy thing to discover. We have to chase it; and, sometimes, that means we must let go of our worries about rushing forward.

How long you should step back for is, I think, entirely based off of the way that you function. My amateur advice is this: start with a short duration of time. Let one day slide; do not worry about how much you are accomplishing until you wake the next morning. When the sun rises, begin with some sort of tradition; find something to help you settle: choose a favorite piece of music, make a cup of something hot, or wear your favorite sweater.

Settle down in your chair (or couch, or bed, or tree trunk) and start slowly. Begin with something. Do not worry about your grammar or punctuation. Let yourself babble for a moment; write something that is for your eyes; something that does not need to be perfect or appropriate. Letting yourself run free for a moment can be an excellent way to pull yourself out of the bogs and back into your work.

I am curious to hear about your own experiences: what works for you? What does not?

Until next time, my friends! (And I promise that it will be relatively soon.)

Oh, and Happy Pi Day!

General Electric animation design science ge

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