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Tom Flanders World

Some story arcs are flat, and that’s OK

Not all story arcs reach for the stars.

story  arcsSome story arcs are gently rolling hills and plateaus. Now I just have to get the inner critics to agree.

Here’s what led me to this train of thought; I was meditating and a worry cloud drifted in. My new novel is forming well but didn’t seem to be going anywhere. There was no big story climax on the horizon. Then I realized that’s OK. I’ve read and enjoyed many novels that had no car crashes or explosions.

Now that I’ve gotten over that for my current novel, I realize that was the problem with the recently abandoned novel as well. I was forcing all the characters into an artificial drama that even I couldn’t make sense of. I will however finish the current project before I go back to the other one.

The current novel is the story of a woman’s life. My attempts at plotting have concentrating on some big and explosive way for her to die at the end, but that just doesn’t fit the character or the message I think she is trying to send. Now I realize that she must die quietly and oldly to make her life complete. She is a survivor, so she must survive as long as humanly possible.

I attribute the desire the need for explosions and car chases to an inner critic I call The Manly Man. He thinks I have far too feminine an outlook on life. He’s one of those go big or go home kind of characters, but since he lives in my head he’s already home.

He is usually quieted by a vigorous bike ride and watching a Shakira video or two, but as I’ve managed lately to calm most of my other inner critics he’s gotten pushier. I think he enjoys the increased attention.

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100 Words – Roman Numerals

Norman started normal. Gwen did not. Roman numerals were the undoing of them both. Norman by way of a mistake at a Superbowl party where he mistook an L for an I and was the subject of so much ridicule that he never chanced speaking out loud again. Gwen on the other hand was traumatized by a misaligned sun dial.

They met one day at a support group for unsupportable neuroses. They found each other among the folding metal chairs and Styrofoam cups and lived silently ever after in a cute little house with no clocks or periodic sporting events.

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Making Friends With My Inner Critics

Yes, the inner critics can be a force for good.

inner criticsFor years I’ve tried unsuccessfully to ignore my inner critics. Those voices in your head that point out every weakness and mistake and make your life generally miserable. And for years I’ve failed to drown out the little buggers.

Then I read this article about how a woman learned to love them. She explained that the voices are actually on your side but like so many well-meaning obnoxious relatives they don’t know how to help so they focus on insults and criticism.


I should mention here that what I’m talking about are the self-generated voices in your head, not the external ones that come from supernatural possession or mental illness. Those voices are almost never helpful.

For me, the strongest voice is the one that tells me my writing is no good. I’ve never been able to block out that voice. Now what I’m doing is agreeing with it. Yes, my writing is no good, but it’s a first draft. First drafts aren’t supposed be any good. What I’m doing now is promising to rewrite it and make it better. That seems to be working.

What I’ve also discovered is that instead of one inner critic I have several. Realizing this has been very helpful. It allows me to address each as a minor problem rather than one big negative force. Among the voice I have found; the perfectionist, the guilt-tripper, the manly man, the voice of doom and others yet to be labeled.

This process has led to an understanding of the positive side of the voices. The voice of doom for instance; while it comes up with horrible possibilities it also the part of my brain responsible for my wild imagination when I’m writing. You can’t have one without the other.

So now instead of saying to the voice of doom, “That could never happen,” I say, “Yes, that could happen, but I will try to avoid it.”

I’m still struggling with the likes of the guilt-tripper. It keeps inventing potential guilt for things I’m not likely ever to do. As usual, this is all a work in progress.


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Writing is a salad of tears, fears and beers

Fortunately I hate salad. Doesn’t make sense? Of course it doesn’t.

salad of tearsI sit here at the keyboard dealing with a huge ego and debilitated self-esteem. By definition those two should be mutually exclusive but in practice they are separate entities. What it boils down to is that I feel I should be a great writer, but don’t believe that I am. As every teacher I ever had would say, “I’m not living up to my potential.”

The worst thing is that it’s no longer mass-production educators looking at standardized tests defining my potential, it’s me. You always think you outgrow these sorts of things but you don’t. For your entire childhood the phrase is hammered into your head. It gets pretty stuck down in there.

So now I’m the one setting the target of potential and I pretty much suck at it. The worst thing is that I know that I have unrealistic expectations but can’t seem to lower the bar. On the other hand I have this fear that if I lower the bar too much I’ll become a veg.

It’s weird because at work, when I have such, I’m an expert at cutting big problems down to achievable chunks. However when it comes to real life, and especially my writing projects, I can never get past the enormity of a project.

As I work on my new novel I try to concentrate on the scene, but I find myself using the current scene to set up the next scene that I haven’t started yet. That’s not fair to the current scene at all. Dare I say, I’m not letting it live up to its potential.

So what’s my point? Actually I just realized that I’m having this bitch session to shield my new characters from all this negativity. I guess I’m afraid of hammering negative attitudes into their impressionable little personalities. I don’t want them to suffer as I do.

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A case of distracted writing

It’s not the external but the internal noise that leads to distracted writing.

the key to distracted writingIt’s not writer’s block, because I’m still writing. The problem is that I’ve taken on all these projects and I jump from one to the other. I’m having trouble working on the new novel and instead work on the blogs and social network posts and trivial real life things like looking for a job.

It’s easy to prioritize the small stuff because it’s doable. This blog post I’m writing now will be done within the hour. The ability to finish something is attractive. It satisfies my creative need and allows me to move on.

The novel on the other hand is not finishable. Yes someday it will be done, but that someday is a long way away. Months of work are ahead of me. I’m not complaining about the effort because I love getting lost in the creation of a story and its world. The problem is how do I put aside the little projects that satisfy my need for closure.

I come back again to my Puritan work ethic. Writing is what I do for fun, so it’s seen as something to do when work is done. In the back of my head work is more important than play. I don’t seem to fully believe that just because I enjoy something doesn’t mean it isn’t work.

I’ve started a dialog with my inner critics on this subject, but haven’t found the right one yet. It turns out that I have several inner critics, not just one. Each one has a different set of roles and concerns. I used to just try to ignore these critics but I’m learning to listen to them and work out compromises that are mutually beneficial.

The problem is that distracted writing is caused by several distinct critics. The perfectionist, the guilt-tripper, the gratification-seeker, the approval-seeker and other yet-defined voices are at play here. Satisfying all of them may be difficult.

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