The Paralysis of Choice

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By Jane Bigelow

Sometimes I feel like a fictional character.

Allart Hastur of the Darkover series has a terrible gift: he can see all the futures branching off from each decision. Some with this type of precognition are so overwhelmed by the torrent that they withdraw into their own minds, stop eating, and die.

What a writerly threat to one’s life. My characters can live multiple futures without starving. The Main Character (once I’ve decided who that is) can sneak out of the castle, but at the last minute be bitten by the moat monster and have to find a healer, which may or may not lead to a romantic relationship, which may or may not be anything other than a distraction. MC can be caught sneaking out and therefore see the monster swim up, maw agape, as the character’s captor hauls him-or-her back by the heels, and then–Egad. I just had to delete several lines of possibilities here, and I don’t even intend to write that story.

I’m not going to die of writerly indecision. I do think I’ve done my career some damage by spending so much time writing out all those futures that couldn’t coexist even in fiction.

What to do? Here’s what works or doesn’t for me. Your mileage will vary.

Outlining doesn’t solve the problem for me. It can even make it worse by trapping me in an infinite series of decisions that smear into a blur of pixels.

Talking about it is a mixed bag; sometimes it solves the problem and sometimes it kills the story.

An old-fashioned technology, the index card pinned to a display board, helps. It’s easier and faster to sketch out a scene on an index card than to write it out in full, and to move it around. Far easier to tear up an index card than to admit that entire chapters have to go.

It shows me the shape of the whole. That’s what I can’t get from computer programs like Scrivener, and it’s essential. It makes it so much easier to choose among all the charming possibilities. There are lots fewer wasted scenes.

Now the computer’s my friend again. I can shove some of those written possibilities into a folder. They’re not gone; they’re only sleeping. And it’s just electrons. Nobody really dies, or even gets hurt.

Now I need to forget about those saved alternatives, at least until I finish the WIP. Of course, I could always do that linked set of short stories from different POVs that a certain Wild Writer suggested. That would be fun.

 

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  • For me, seeing the shape of the story is what it’s all about–whether you use index cards, an outline, Scrivener or…whatever. Being able to see the shape is what matters.

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THE NICK OF TIME…TRAVEL

Whiney WriterSo I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out why everything I’ve submitted has been rejected. I mean, I’ve written novels in every possible genre…romance, mystery, suspense, comedy, sci-fi, fantasy and on and on and on. Then last night at approximately 11:36, the idea came to me (I think it had something to do with looking at the clock). The one thing I haven’t tried is time travel. I bolted up and raced to the computer to begin work on my new time travel short story. I mean, how hard could it be to stuff your character into some made-up apparatus and send him back in time, a time which I studied in school thus eliminating the need for research which I’ve found to be very TIME consuming – ha! Get it?. Once my character arrives, I just need to have him solve something, somehow. Perfect.

Within 2-1/2 minutes, I had the first line written:

 

It was near midnight when Nick finished building his time travel apparatus.

At this point, though, it occurred to me that the term “apparatus” might be a bit vague so I googled time-travel mechanisms. Crap! I was hoping to find suggestions wrapped up in one neat little paragraph, not all these long drawn-out theories about wormholes and black holes and relativity and, well, you get the point. But I wanted my time travel story to sound authentic so I closed my eyes and picked one, and continued writing.

Luckily it had rained the night before, sending millions of night crawlers out of their holes and into the garden. As luck would have it, Nick stuck his big toe in one of those wormholes and the next thing he knew, he was being sucked through it, traveling back and back through time until he found himself laying on the soggy ground, looking up into the eyes of George Washington himself, holding an ax and wearing…

Crap! What did they wear back then? Back to google. A couple of hours later, I finished the sentence

…a home-spun shirt and breeches.

I looked at the clock. 2:45. It’d taken me over three hours to write 72 words. But I reasoned that with the research complete, I could finish at warp speed.

Mr. Washington flung back his ax, ready to chop down what appeared to be a perfectly good apple tree.

Brilliant! My character’s mission would be to save the apple tree.

“Mr. Washington,” Nick said. “Why are you chopping down that lovely apple tree?”

The would-be president stopped, holding the ax in midair. “Because it seems to have some sort of disease.”

“That’s no reason to cut it down. It’s probably just beetles and can be treated with…”

Crap! I mean, crap’s not what you’d treat a diseased apple tree with, but I’d need to research tree diseases and cures just to find an answer for this simple question. Then I’d have to find out if they even had access to those treatments back then.  And by now, lots of other questions began to surface. What if Washington didn’t cut down that tree? Would he do something else instead, leading him to meet and marry someone other than Martha which in turn would lead to different children, preventing the birth of Washington’s actual children one of whom might have been Nick’s relative and without whose birth Nick might never have existed? So, I completely changed my storyline so that Nick’s mission was to retrieve some apple seeds because all of the apple trees in his village had blown away in a storm.

The people of the village thought Nick was gone forever until his hand suddenly appeared through the only wormhole left in the garden.  The villagers watched as he grunted and struggled to pull himself through the hole.

“Look,” one of the villagers cried. “He did it! He traveled all the way to the eighteenth century and made it back with apple seeds just before the wormhole closed.”

And that’s how he came to be known as THE NICK OF TIME.  The end.

I’m tired. I’m going to bed now.

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3 comments to THE NICK OF TIME…TRAVEL

  • Jane Bigelow

    Bless Whiney’s literal mindedness! This is funny and instructive–as well as striking uncomfortable memories of times when my own research process resembled Whiney’s.
    Thanks.

  • Ceil?? I think you are Whiney’s alter ego today. Very funny. Love how Nick goes through an actual earthworm hole! As well as having fun, you pinpointed some of the difficulties of historical research and time travel.

  • Going through a wormhole! Why didn’t I ever think of that. 😉

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Writing through the Hard Times

Laura K. Deal

 

By Laura K. Deal

My brother used to say, “It wouldn’t be an adventure if nothing went wrong.” What’s true of adventures is true of life. Beloved family members and friends get sick, or they die, and the healthy and living are left to pick up the pieces. We struggle to find the emotional space to turn attention to our work when life crashes around our ears.

But hard times are why we write in the first place. Sharing stories is a human way to make the world less dangerous. We can help others when we teach them about life’s struggles, and we can learn from those who’ve struggled here before us.

That doesn’t make it easy when life throws the hard stuff at us. In the last few months, I’ve had to help my father get back on his feet after a hospital stay, lost a dear friend to cancer, and nursed a sick cat back from a near-death experience. It’s not the hardest time I’ve had in life. It’s starting to feel like the norm. And if it’s the norm, then I need to find a way to honor my creative life in the middle of it, because I can’t count on it getting easier.

My sister once saw Terry Pratchett at The Tattered Cover, and said he talked about writing being the locomotive that pulled him through the hard times of his parents’ illnesses and deaths. That was true for me during my father-in-law’s final month of lung cancer. I wanted to let writing go, because it seemed too hard to hold on to my dream while my family experienced such a shock. Paradoxically, putting words on the page let me escape the drama around me for a few minutes, and that saved me from drowning in the grief. We do what we can to navigate this life with the tools at hand.

Honoring a creative impulse when life demands too much of my time isn’t easy, but no one ever said art would be easy. Even when art is hard, it keeps me on my feet so I can take the next step, and the next. I hope that the stories I write to get myself through, might one day help someone else endure their hard times.

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Reflections on UtopYA 2015


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by Lisa Brown Roberts

 

A few weeks ago, I attended my first UtopYA conference. I traveled to the event with some local author friends, and also connected with some other authors who I’d previously only “met” online. I’ve attended a lot of conferences over the years, from small and regional to huge and national, and I have to say that UtopYA is one-of-a-kind.

The vibe is positive, inspirational, and at times positively giddy. Most of the attendees are self-published, and many of the books are paranormal, so I wasn’t sure how I’d fit in as a traditionally published, contemporary romance author. I needn’t have worried.

UtopYAns are some of the friendliest people I’ve met. From the first night’s “newbie bingo” to the final night’s award ceremony, featuring the most awesome lip-synch contest ever, I never lacked for companionship. I met other writers, bloggers, cover artists, and librarians who’d come from all over the country (and even South Africa) to bond, inspire, and be inspired.

UtopYA photosForming and maintain community is so essential to a writer’s sanity, and it’s something that UtopYAns excel at. The community continues year-round on their Facebook page, which is also one of the most supportive online groups I’ve encountered.

Yes, it can be expensive to attend conferences, especially if you’re traveling out of state, but the intangible benefits of connection, inspiration, networking, and learning have always justified the cost, for me. There are several conferences I consider “musts” and attend every year, or every other year, depending on my budget and other commitments.

I encourage everyone who is serious about pursuing their writing dreams to explore different conferences. You just might find your dream con!

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2 comments to Reflections on UtopYA 2015

  • I’m so thrilled you had such an amazing experience. It sounded like a blast and I so agree about community – it’s vital for writers. And like Hilari, going for camaraderie and to offer what you have to others is a great reason to go to a conference. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sounds like a great conference–and the right reasons to go to any conference.

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