Enjoying the Craft

I thoroughly believe you should enjoy your writing (or any craft that suits your fancy). Just like those who enjoy mathematics. Personally, I hate math. Gets too complicated for me, and I end up frustrated and feeling stupid. Now, show me a study guide for Latin, and I’m all over it. Foreign language classes were my favorite classes in school, and I took every language my high school offered: Latin, Spanish, and French. Do I remember anything other than “Quelle heure est-il? Il est huit heure et un”? Nope, I can barely speak a lick of French, but I enjoyed learning about the grammatical rules of the language. Latin was probably my favorite language to study, as we didn’t study it conversationally but rather learned about the grammatical building blocks that made up the dead language. That has helped me a great deal in my own writing. (Not to mention we also studied ancient Roman culture, and that is a fascinating subject.) Spanish has been most useful, and I still remember enough that I can read and write some Spanish.

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

I suppose what I’m getting at is that you should enjoy what you do. Not necessarily your work—sometimes you have to do what’s necessary in order to get by. But your hobbies? I’ve tried a lot of hobbies that I thought I enjoyed, and even dropped some money on—yoga, crochet, video games…the list goes on. The one hobby I’ve maintained over the years? Writing.

Writing isn’t a craft that can be forced, I feel. Don’t get me wrong—there are times I hate my own writing, and I get so exquisitely frustrated with it and want to hurl my laptop out the window. But for the most part, I love it. I love rereading some of my older works and critiquing what I could have written better.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that you should love your work. Yes, you should want to grow as a writer and improve over time, but you should also love what you write, even if you dislike certain aspects of your writing. In fact, disliking certain aspects of your writing is even a good thing — it means you recognize your weaknesses and areas where you can learn and grow. But if you don’t love your work, what reasons are there to want to make it the best that it can be?

If you enjoy the craft of writing, you’ll actually want to make time to sit down and write. That’s why I believe writing cannot be forced. Write because it’s a way to express yourself. Write because you have a story to tell. Write because there are worlds you want to visit, people you want to meet, experiences you want to explore. Write because you have something you want to say, and the only way to express every single emotion inside of you is through words.

Write because you love it. Write because you love the craft, because you love the beautiful structure of a sentence, because only words can come close to expressing what’s inside of you.

New Podcast!

I’m excited to announce that The Lithium Writer is now a podcast! You can currently listen on Buzzsprout or Spotify. Episode 1 is currently up and available for download and streaming.

The Lithium Writer Podcast, cover art by guavanaboy on Fiverr

This is a huge step for me, as I’ve been wanting to start a podcast for some time, and I’m thrilled to announce its arrival. I hope you’ll stay tuned for the upcoming weekly episodes and bear with me while I figure out the technical setup.

I’m also looking to interview authors and fellow bloggers, so if you’re interested in joining me on my podcast, email me at lithiumskylar@yahoo.com. Or, if you have any topics regarding the craft of writing or mental health that you’d like me to talk about, email me or comment on this post!

UPDATE: You can now find it on Apple Podcasts!

Writing Realistic Friendships

I wanted to talk today specifically about friendships — not romantic relationships. Like any relationship, a friendship has dynamics to it. It is a many layered thing, ever evolving, ever changing. There are ups and downs, good times and bad. Most real friendships are not shallow. It’s about give and take, a two-way street.

Look at your own friendships in life. You probably share the good and the ugly with them, and they support you through it all. But you give back in return, supporting them through good and bad times, through the ups and downs. My best friends had a small trophy made for me on the anniversary of my first suicide attempt, and it reads “For Making Bipolar Her Bitch”, followed by a quote from Carrie Fisher.

You also probably share a lot of the same views, whether socio-economic or political, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your characters have to share the same views on everything. In fact, varying views on different issues can create conflict in your story. For example, in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, Harry’s best friend, Ron, believed Harry put his name in the Goblet of Fire for the TriWizard Tournament, even though it wasn’t true, leading to the two best friends not to talk to each other for some time.

So, here are some tips for writing realistic friendships:

  1. They need something in common.
    Whether it’s a common interest, a shared trait, or a common belief, your characters should have something that draws them together. Ron and Harry both love quidditch, hate doing homework, and both are Gryffindors. There should be at least one thing, one rallying point for your friends to agree upon.
  2. It can’t always be happy-go-lucky and stars and rainbows.
    People fight, and while it’s not a fun thing, it can be a natural part of relationships. People don’t always get along 24/7 with loving stars in their eyes. In my novel, The Days Without You, Cat tries to force Kylie to cheer up after the loss of her mother, and when Cat learns that Kylie is throwing away her relationship with Adam, she walks out of Kylie’s life, telling her, “I’m done trying to make you open your eyes. Call me when you do.”
  3. Make sure you’ve fleshed out your protagonist’s bestie.
    While you’ve probably done extensive research for your story’s protagonist, it’s important to also build up your protagonist’s best friend into a real person — someone your readers will care for or relate to in some way. The best friend shouldn’t be just a best friend; they shouldn’t serve the sole purpose of being the best friend. They should have their own wants and goals, their own faults and flaws. In essence, they should be a well-rounded person.
  4. Give them backstory (if their friendship started before the beginning of your novel).
    In The Days Without You, we learn that Kylie and Cat have been friends since kindergarten, from the first day of school when Cat asked her to play with her at recess. But they’ve had their ups and downs, such as the time when Kylie lost her father in tenth grade, grew depressed, and stopped talking to Cat for a few months while she learned to accept her loss.
  5. Give them meaningful differences.
    While, yes, they should have some things in common, your best friends shouldn’t be the exact same person. Everyone has their differences, and this can be a source of conflict for your story. Where Harry can be firm and — frankly — sassy (“There’s no need to call me sir, professor” remains one of the greatest examples of Harry’s sassiness), Ron can be more timid and laid back.

What are your thoughts on best friends in books or film? There are always great examples out there of best friends! Han Solo and Chewbacca, Frodo and Sam, Harry, Ron and Hermione. What are your favorite friendships in literature and film, and for what reasons?

An Ode to Wilson

My house is awfully quiet now. There’s no little nose nudging my leg as I sit on the sofa, wanting to join me. There’s no little creature pacing the kitchen floor when it’s time to eat. I don’t ear the click click click of toenails on the vinyl floor.

This past weekend, I had to put down my dog, Wilson, of thirteen years. He’d been having seizures since November, and he suddenly took a turn for the worse last week. I knew it was time, and I knew he was suffering. But I was still devastated. I cried and bawled until my throat was sore. I’d never had to put down a pet before.

Yes, Wilson was a good dog in some respects, but overall he could be naughty. Before he developed cataracts and went deaf, he liked to steal dirty socks out of the laundry basket. One time, he stole my sister’s underwear while she was visiting and hid them under the spare bed for six months. As a puppy, he ate colored pencils and chewed a hole in the drywall. He liked to chase squirrels and picked fights with pit bulls. (Wilson was a West Highland White Terrier, and around 20 lbs.) He liked to take naps with me, and he enjoyed going for rides in the car and being wrapped up in a hot blanket straight out of the dryer.

Wilson helped me through a lot of tough times. He knew when I was feeling bad and would try to comfort me with snuggles or kisses.

It’s only been a couple of days, but as I write this, I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to go home to an empty house, with no furry little thing to greet me, wagging his tail because he’s happy to see me. I miss his snoring when he was curled up in his kennel. I miss our naps together. I miss when he would raise his front paw for belly rubs. I miss how he instinctively knew when I was on FaceTime and would want attention, right then and there.

If Wilson taught me anything, it was that my heart is capable of infinite love. I loved him more than anything in the world, and he has definitely left an imprint on my heart. I know he’s in puppy heaven, chasing squirrels and picking fights, getting zoomies and running free.

To Wilson: I miss you, and I love you forever.

Writing Software: A Review

There are a lot of writing programs available for use, and it can be overwhelming to figure out which one will work best for you and your writing habits. From cloud-based programs to your basic word processors, which one do you choose? Are you one for frills? Or do you prefer your basic blank page?

Photo by Kasia Palitava from Pexels

Whatever your preferences are, there’s a program out there for everyone. I’ve tried several of them, and here are my thoughts on a few of them.

  1. Scrivener
    My favorite writing application to date, and it remains one of the most popular writing programs out there today. While I’ve attempted to use other programs, I continually drift back to Scrivener. It has settings and features to organize my research and notes, organize my chapters and scenes, and even has functions to export to PDF, .docx, .epub, .mobi, and more. It offers templates to start you out, with editable inputs for when you export the file. The downfall to all these features? There’s definitely a learning curve to it all. On the upside, it’s a one-time purchase of $49; no recurring subscription fee required.

    You can purchase Scrivener at LiteratureandLatte.com.
  2. Dabble
    Dabble is a cloud-based writing program that aims to be like Scrivener, but fails to do so. I found it clunky to use, hard to organize your notes and research, and overall lacking. The only upside was that I could seamlessly move from my tablet to my phone to my laptop, picking up right where I left off. There’s also a regular subscription fee involved with Dabble, although it is fairly low, but again — recurring.

    You can find out more about Dabble at DabbleWriter.com.
  3. Novlr
    Similar to Dabble, Novlr is a cloud-based, online writing program. It offers a cleaner look than Dabble, and is aimed at increasing focus so you can get those words out. There are Day, Evening, and Night modes, with varying color schemes to reflect the time of day. Overall, however, there aren’t many features, but that can offer a more distraction-free environment for those who are prone to wandering minds. Novlr offers two recurring pay plans: monthly and yearly.

    You can find Novlr at Novlr.org.
  4. Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland
    I feel like the premise of this software from Weiland was tight and streamlined, and when I learned that Weiland was putting out this program, I was excited. She has a great series on outlining your novel and the three-act structure. If you like lots of questions and in-depth, thought-provoking prompts to really build your novel, this program is for you. Personally, I found it a tad overwhelming with so many questions, leading me to be let down by the program itself. It has a one-time fee of $40 USD.

    You can find Outlining Your Novel at HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com.
  5. Google Docs
    I’ve used Google Docs a lot in previous employment, and it’s quite fluent in seamless transitions between users. As an internet/cloud-based software, you’ll need an internet connection to access your work. (Although, I think Google Docs has a “work offline” mode? If it does, it’s not one I’ve used.) Users can leave comments, which is great for getting feedback from beta readers or editors. And if your computer ever crashes, you can rest assured your work isn’t lost. Overall, Google Docs is a seamless, clean, easy-to-use word processor.

    You can find Google Docs at Google.com.
  6. Microsoft Word
    The holy grail of clean, simple, easy-to-use word processors. There’s very little learning curve with Word, and you can export to a variety of file types. There is a recurring fee with Microsoft Office 365, but that subscription provides you with cloud-based storage for your files. There’s also an option for a one-time fee, but that limits you to one device. Be sure to save often in case of a crash, however, or you’ll lose all your work.

    You can find Microsoft Word at Microsoft.com.

There are a ton of other writing tools and programs you can utilize, such as ProWritingAid. Sometimes, however, I find good ol’ fashioned pen and paper are my best tools for writing, especially when I’m stuck on a particular scene.

What are you favorite writing programs to use for your craft? Let me know in the comments!

Story Ideas: Where to Get Them

Sometimes, it feels as though the ideas just won’t come. Your brain is dry of all inspiration. You stare blankly at a blank screen, attempting to will yourself to think of something, anything, to write. Maybe you’ve already written one manuscript and are attempting to write a second one. Maybe you’re worried you only had one good idea in you. I am here to tell you that there’s hope!

Photo by iam hogir from Pexels

Coming up with a story idea is just the first step in novel writing. Without an idea, there’s nothing to write about. Fortunately, inspiration can come from anywhere. I personally enjoy prompts, and currently have six or seven novel ideas written down in my notebook, thanks to various prompts I’ve found on the web. The current first-draft manuscript I’m working on, End of Days (working title), was inspired by an episode of Gotham. A lot of elements of my stories are derived from real-life situations from my own experiences.

So, yes, you can find inspiration from all around you, whether it’s a snippet of conversation you happen to overhear, or someone you see in public for a character idea. The world around you is rife with story ideas; you just have to reach out and snatch them up.

Here are a few places you can look for inspiration:

  1. Story/Dialogue/Character Prompts
    You’ll find tons of these on the internet on various writing websites. You can even find them sorted by genre. They’re little one- or two-line bits of text, usually with a premise of some sort of setting, situation, dialogue, or person. Personally, I find these very helpful for coming up with at least a premise of a novel, even if I haven’t come up with an entire plot yet.
  2. The Classics
    There’s no denying that Little Shop of Horrors is a work of pure musical and story-telling mastery. (Okay, I admit it — it’s my favorite musical, and I’m dying to see the current off-Broadway cast.) I was interested to learn that the stage version (not the movie version!) is based on the Greek tragedy of greed — the idea that greed kills anything and everything around you. The lyrics of Little Shop of Horrors also draw from the 18th century German literary movement, Sturm and Drang, to add to the feel of the play. (“Feel the Sturm and Drang in the air, yeah.”) So, my whole point? The classics, including Roman and Greek mythology, can be great for inspiration.
  3. Ask Yourself: What if?
    Real life is great for finding story inspiration. Whether it’s an interaction you had with a friend, someone you saw in public who was intriguing, or that time you were in the hospital, you can draw from the world around you. Take that one little snippet and ask yourself, “What if?” Some of the greatest story ideas start with a simple question: What if?
  4. Fairy Tales, Fables, or Legends
    Similar to looking to the classics for inspiration, you can find great ideas by taking a peek at fairy tales or old folk tales. Wicked was inspired by The Wizard of Oz and tells the tales of the great witches of Oz.
  5. Analyze the Elements of Fiction
    Consider the important elements that make up fiction: character, plot, setting, style, point-of-view, theme. Pick one and really think about what you would like to read in a work that has that element, whether it’s a certain strong character, a particular setting, a theme that’s personal to you.

There are a lot of places to find inspiration for a story idea; you just have to look around! Of course, coming up with a spark of an idea is just the beginning — you then have to build the story around the elements of fiction.

Where do you get your story ideas?

Three Things to Consider Before Self-Publishing

Let’s face it. Self-publishing can seem like a lucrative path — you have control over every aspect of your book, marketing, and you don’t have to share profits with anyone, or there’s no advance to pay back. There are no barriers to getting your book out there, such as agents or acquisitions editors in publishing houses. You’ve dreamed of all those book sales and the money and prestige you’ll earn with self-publishing, or simply of just putting your work out there. What’s not to love?

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Honestly? There’s a lot not to love. To really succeed as a self-published author, it takes a lot of hard work, effort, time, and money. It’s a long, hard slog to get anywhere in self-publishing. You need marketing know-how, connections, and knowledge of what really makes a good, quality book that people will want to read.

Here are three things to consider before you take the self-publishing route:

  1. Money/Investing in Your Book
    To make a quality book, one that meets the standards of the publishing industry, it takes money. You’ll need to hire a proofreader at the very least, not to mention a cover designer. (Trust me, I’ve tried designing my own covers. It doesn’t work unless you’re a Photoshop guru with an eye for book design.) You’ll also need to invest in the interior design. Plus, you’ll want to order copies of your physical book, which you’ll at least order at cost typically. Oh, and don’t forget e-book formatting when you get so fed up with the programs not cooperating when trying to do it yourself. You may also want to pay for advertisements of your book. Overall, it can costs hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to create a quality product.
  2. Time
    Overnight success doesn’t happen in self-publishing. It just doesn’t. It takes time to build an audience, time to market your book. Not to mention all the time it takes to get your book edited, proofed, designed, and printed. You’re not suddenly going to get fifty interviews in just a couple of weeks. No, it takes time to build up to it.
  3. Effort and Know-How
    Okay, yes, so I’ve listed considerations number three and four, but they go hand-in-hand. Not only does it take a lot of time to produce a quality product, but it takes effort. Writing that novel was just the first step. Let’s be honest: Marketing is hard, and it’s a pain in the ass. Trying to network with other authors, creating endless social media posts, building a quality website, trying to get your book featured on various websites to get it seen. It’s a lot of work if you want to make even a dime off of your book. And let’s not forget the know-how! When I first looked into self-publishing, I had no clue what I was doing, especially when it came to ISBNs, barcodes, and distribution. Sure, you can research it all on the internet, but it can be quite confusing if you don’t know what you’re doing.

That’s not to mention the “stigma” that comes with self-published books. Some people believe self-publishing just means you weren’t good enough for traditional publishing. (Which, I know, is not the case at all. I’ve seen some fabulous self-published books.) There are a lot of people who are reluctant to invest in self-published books.

If you’re still up for the challenges that come with self-publishing, more power to you (and I wish you the best of luck). It requires you to put a lot of your time and effort into it, with very few results. I’m certainly no marketing guru; hell, I can barely keep up with my own personal social media accounts. But if you’re into it, go for it!

What are your thoughts on the self-publishing path?

The Reality of Psychosis

You see, my official diagnosis is severe Type I Bipolar Disorder with Psychosis. That, however, is not the point. The point is that I experience hallucinations and delusions from time to time. Not all the time. Stress can induce them, such as when I’m in a big, crowded, noisy store. (I’m looking at you, Costco.) Work was a huge trigger, back when I was working.

But what exactly is psychosis? Psychosis is defined as “when people lose some contact with reality” according to the NHS. As many as 3 in 100 people will experience psychosis at some point. There are typically warning signs leading up to psychosis, such as trouble thinking clearly, suspiciousness or uneasiness with others, a decline in self-care or personal hygiene, spending more time alone (according to NAMI). Psychosis can include hallucinations (experiencing things that are unreal, such as auditory, visual or tactile experiences) and/or delusions (beliefs in the unreal).

I’ve heard of other people having pleasant psychosis, being one with nature and such. Not me. If I wasn’t seeing shadow people or thinking the neighbors were secretly spying on me, there were bugs crawling all over my skin and in my hair, whispering awful things to me.

When many people think of psychosis (those who have never experienced it, at least), probably think of “crazy people” or people who talk incoherently to themselves. The truth is that it’s not always like that. Yes, those people may have mental illness, but we’re not all like that. We’re not all violent psychopaths out to maim and kill people. We’re not people to be scared of. We’re just humans, plagued by our own minds, trying to get by in this life. The real truth? Those with mental illness are no more violent than their non-mentally ill counterparts. In fact, studies have shown that those with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence.

I’ve seen the look upon people’s faces when I tell them I experience psychosis. It’s usually one of masked horror and disgust, one that says, “What do I say to her?” I try not to hide my psychosis. If I’m having a hard time, I want people to know why I’m having a hard time. I don’t want to have to hide the fact that I’m having hallucinations.

Fortunately, however, thanks to the fact that I am no longer working, I haven’t experienced psychosis since November. (It’s January as I write this.) I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that. It’s such a relief, not being scared shitless because I’m hearing a voice telling me to injure myself. I can only hope that the stability continues.

Have you ever experienced psychosis? Yes or no, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Crutch of Show, Don’t Tell

We hear it all the time: show, don’t tell. It’s repeated over and over and drilled into us as writers. But, I don’t believe in “showing” instead of “telling” in every single instance in your writing. Plenty of blogs give advice on how to show instead of tell, so I’m not going to do that here. Instead, I believe in the importance of both showing and telling in your writing, because if you show all the time, in every sentence of your story, your manuscript will end up ten million words long, and who wants to read a book that’s ten million words long? (Okay, maybe there are some people…)

Photo by Agnese Lunecka from Pexels

Some of the greats included telling/exposition in their work. As I’m currently rereading the Harry Potter series, I’ve been enjoying the explicit amount of exposition in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. But it’s placed so well, so artfully, that you barely notice it. Rowling had three books-worth of information to catch you up on, but she leaves the exposition and telling to the important stuff, like explaining why Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black, isn’t in his life.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not saying you shouldn’t show at all. I’m all for showing. Showing emotionally charged moments can help draw your reader in. There’s a big difference between “Her eyes stung with tears, but she blinked them away and swallowed the lump rising in her throat.” and “She was sad but tried to hide it.”

Description is important… in the right amount.

For example, there’s no need to give every little detail of a character turning on a light switch, unless, of course, that light switch has significant meaning to your story. No need to describe in detail a character getting changed out of their day clothes. You don’t want to overwhelm your readers with description.

Save your highly detailed descriptions for the story-significant parts. Save showing for the emotional moments, the moments that will draw your reader in and leave them feeling raw. If you’re writing in first person POV, really think about the details your character notices as they move about your story and setting. Think about your own POV, in your own life—you wouldn’t notice details about every little motion you make or about every little thing in your setting. If we tried to describe on paper every single thing in a room, we’d have twenty pages of paper filled with insignificant minutiae that nobody cares about.

So, where exactly does “telling” fall in all of this? Think of it as a continuum. On one end is showing, on the other end is telling. Exposition would fall towards the telling end, while a particular moment that is significant to the plot and emotionally charged (and, therefore, full of detail) would fall towards the showing end.

Ultimately, the amount of description you put into your work is your choice. But finding the right balance between showing and exposition—that’s the real challenge.

How Long Has It Been?

It’s been since August 12th that I posted my last blog post. I’ve read that it’s “bad business” on a blog to point out how much time has passed if you’ve taken some sort of hiatus, which is exactly what I’ve done. Let me be honest with you: I lost my job back in July. I was devastated. It was quite abrupt. I went in to work on a Friday and was told at approximately 11:30 a.m. to pack up my stuff, go home, and to not return; they were making “budget cuts.” Not going to lie — I cried. I’ve been working since I was 16 (ah, the good old days, when I had my first job at Pac Sun), and in the last 18 years, I’ve never been let go from a job before, especially one that I put nearly three years into.

Photo by Flora Westbrook from Pexels

That’s when I posted Grammar vs. Syntax, just a couple of weeks after being let go, thinking I would continue blogging. The truth was that I was navigating the emotional woes of being unemployed. But I made it. I decided not to return to work, due to my mental illness. Honestly? Being let go from that job was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I was having near-constant hallucinations due to the stress of working; I was constantly sick with my bipolar. I was having tactile and auditory hallucinations, thinking bugs were crawling all over me and in my hair, whispering horrible, evil things to me.

All throughout August, I was attempting to pick up the pieces of my life and recover from being so damn unhealthy. I’m healthier than ever now and have had my longest period of stability in quite some time. I haven’t had ECT (shock therapy) since March. I’m managing better sleep, choosing healthier habits such as eating better, and enjoying time with my husband, my parents, my sister, my nephews. I never could have managed that while working.

I also want to mention that my dog (who is an old man at 13, has had diabetes since he was 3, has cataracts from his diabetes, and has arthritis) began having seizures just before Thanksgiving. I rushed him to an emergency veterinarian, who said he mostly likely either had a stroke or has a brain tumor. Wilson, my dog, gets anti-seizure meds four times a day now, and I never would have been able to manage that if I had been working.

Which brings me back to this blog. I’m finally ready to return to managing The Lithium Writer. I’ve got some blog posts planned already and some ideas I’d like to try out. I’m pretty excited, in case you couldn’t tell!

So, in a way, I’m apologizing for my absence if you follow this blog. I know it’s been some time, but I had my reasons (mainly my health), and I hope you enjoy the upcoming posts in the next few weeks!