Serenity Owwww …

Image Courtesy of 'MPMthe1' @ stock.xchngWhen one of my writing buddies suggested I write some posts about the origins of my latest WIP, I thought at first that I had no idea where this story came from. It seemed that it had always been there, sprung from nothing, unearthed with shovels and then toothbrushes from the tomb of my subconscious. But, since she’d prodded me to blog about it, I dug a little deeper and found some answers, curiously enough right from my own life.

It started with an outrageous doctor’s bill for a routine test. An innocuous envelope, that when opened revealed a bill quadruple what it should be. I know how much it costs because I’ve been having this test done for years at the same place by the same doctor, and since it’s under the deductible for my health insurance, I pay for the entire amount out-of-pocket. I was shocked and, thinking this must be a mistake, I made a few calls.

It went down something like this. Of course, the phone call was being recorded, just not by me, so I paraphrase.

Gathering up my gentlest inside voice, I asked, “But tell me, why does an ‘outpatient’ facility cost so much more than an ‘office’ facility?”

“Because it’s a hospital,” came the disinterested reply.

“Okay.” I breathed deeply. Serenity now. “So why does a ‘hospital’ cost more than an ‘office’ facility?”

“There are more costs associated with a hospital.”

“But it’s exactly the same place. Why does it cost more now?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“I would understand. I work in a laboratory. What kind of costs? Accreditations? Quality control?”

“It’s now affiliated with the hospital. So it costs more.”

“You already told me that. Why does being affiliated with a hospital cost more?”

“Because we can only use one chargemaster, so the rates have to be the same as at a hospital.”

“Fine. So the rates have to be the same.” (Cleansing breaths here.) “But, what I’m asking is why the rates are four times, FOUR TIMES, what they were six months ago for the same test, on the same patient, by the same technician, at the same facility?”

“I don’t know.” By now customer service was getting testy. “I don’t ever worry about that. I just get my stuff done through my insurance.”

Huh? Really?

Why do people not see the complete idiocy in this? Where is the money going? Why is nobody honest anymore? Why are we are tearing our country apart with crap like this?

I ended up paying the bill, with a reduction for prompt payment. But I was still outraged. This seemed unconscionable to me. I’m lucky. I’m healthy and (still) pay about a fifth of my take home pay for health insurance. What about people who can’t pay four times as much as they used to for a routine test? What about people who have conditions that preclude them from having health insurance at any cost?

My subconscious has been stewing over this. Is it right that some people are free to live their lives with the security of health insurance and others live in fear that the next doctor visit will force them into bankruptcy or worse? Who chooses which people get treated and which don’t? What kind of system charges obscene rates to those people least able to afford them? (Read this Time magazine article for more insight on these questions. It’s non-partisan, like me.)

My stories always seem to start with ‘what if’ questions. What if our elected officials handed down arbitrary guidelines about who lives and who dies? How would those sentenced to die react to such a policy?

My Muse had the answer: Vampires.Image courtesy of diego medrano @ stock.xchng

“What? That’s silly,” I replied.

But I’ve learned to listen to that silly voice. It said. “You know, like immortals that pay a high price for their immortality.”

“But, vampires?” I protested. “Does anybody read about vampires any more?”

His soft laugh told me I was onto something though.“They can be sinister,” he suggested. “And dystopian. I know how you love to play with the question of who is worse: the person who chooses evil to survive, or the person who makes him choose.”

And thus my dystopian vampires story was born.

How do your stories reveal themselves? Have you ever written a story because your were outraged? And does anybody still read about vampires?

Blood image courtesy of ‘MPMthe1’, mosquito image courtesy of diego medrano, both @ stock.xchng

IWSG: A Bridge Between Clouds

InsecureWritersSupportGroupWelcome to this month’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group post! On the first Wednesday of every month hundreds of writers all over the world-wide web gather to share our insecurities and support and encourage each others’ writing endeavors. For more info, check out Alex J. Cavanaugh’s website, where you’ll find the linky for our little blog hop.

This month I discovered an interesting facet of being an insecure writer as I learned the real reason behind my reluctance to make scene cards to guide me through my novel drafts.

I’ve come to think of writing a story as crossing a very large and often treacherous body of water. Here I sit on the shore of my beginning, and, if I squint real hard, I can see the end on the other side. There are rocks and rapids and sharks in the water, but my scene cards are like a bridge to keep me above all that–because I really don’t want to swim. It’s too easy to get off course when you’re fighting just to stay above water!

My scene cards look sort of like this:Screen shot The Whole of the Moon

Looks nice and organized doesn’t it? But in reality, all the words on my virtual corkboard look a lot more like this:Image courtesy of Enrico Nunziat@ stock.xchngi

Trusting my Muse to fill in the missing pieces, I start across despite the rickety construction. I’m more of a discovery writer and so I’m not afraid of building scenes as I find out more about my story. Often, my bridge even starts heading to a different part of shore. I’ve heard that’s normal and okay for a first draft. But what to do with those obsolete scene cards? And what does this have to do with being insecure?

For an insecure writer like me, discarding scene cards might be the psychological equivalent of building the Image courtesy of Marco Michelini @ stock.xchngwrong bridge. When I show up with my new improved story blueprint, my Inner Editor turned engineer-math-whiz project manager glares at me from under her hard hat and barks, “Don’t you know you’re wasting precious time and resources with this change in plans? Who told you that you should attempt to write a story? Give up and let a real writer do the storytelling around here!”

I know. The resources in my case are pixels and paper, but my Inner Editor eagerly pounces on anything that could possibly represent failure.

Maybe the analogy between building stories and building bridges can only take me so far. Maybe stories aren’t really rivers and bays, but are more like clouds and planets. They shift in position; they can even change shape for no apparent reason. I can try to build bridges and plan roads between their beginnings and endings, but imaginary roads can easily change direction. All I need to do is note things down. I can even chart a new course again in revision. It’s all part of the journey.Image courtesy of Piotr Koczab @ stock.xchng

Is your Inner Editor a math whiz? Does your insecurity micromanage your writing schematics?

Jetty image courtesy of Enrico Nunziat, hard hat image courtesy of Marco Michelini, bridge into fog courtesy of Piotr Koczab, all @ stock.xchng

IWSG: Intervention

InsecureWritersSupportGroupThanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh, I now have an excuse to expound upon my self-doubt without fear of reprisals! If you’d like to join us at the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, click on this linky, and prepare to meet some of the nicest writers on the web. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.

Today, I’m going to share something I’m worried I will never overcome. It’s this: I’m a horrible plotter, and even my characters are getting tired of my haphazard plotting. So fed up …well, how about I show you how fed up they are? Here’s how it went down …

***

Image courtesy of Emiliano Hernandez @ stock.xchng

My footsteps echo in the front hall of the Muse’s palace. “Muse?” I call. “You in here?”

“Over here.” His voice resounds on the stone walls. He’s in the library. Of course.

As I near the room, I hear whispered conversations, snatches of phrases like, “… tears of stars … walk in dreams … rock god …”

Then a loud ‘shhh.’

“What’s going on?” I ask as I enter. The lights come on.

Omigosh. The room is full of people I know, although I’ve never met them in real life. These are the people in my stories. Nick Moore from The Tempest’s Serenade stands near the front of the group, his arms crossed over his chest, watching my reaction with concern. On the opposite side of the group towers Teragus Swansong from The Whole of the Moon. The implacable steadiness of his golden eyes makes me shudder.

“Nick?” I ask, because he’s still the one I talk to most. “What’s going on?”

Image courtesy of 'miamiamia' @ stock.xchngNick takes a deep breath. The rest of the crowd has gone back to conversing amongst themselves. Rafael from Lost Wax, with Abigale wrapped in his arms, is exchanging Italian phrases with Noelle, the lithe ballet dancer from Constants, while Aiden, the numbers-addicted protagonist of the same story is immersed in conversation with Griffin of March, the gem collector and heir to the crown from Bridge of Light. Dr. Andria Morgan from my latest story–which doesn’t even have a proper title yet– looks forlorn as she stands off to the side. Despite the ill-fitting black Regulation uniform disguising her tiny frame, she has managed to attract the roving eye of Stuart Livingston.

“Who’s the new chick?” Stuart, Nick’s sidekick from Tempest’s Serenade, asks me.

Andria, with her as-yet-uncolored-eyes narrowed, faces him and answers, “I’m from her latest project— one that actually has a plot and an ending, I might add.”

“That’s what our Writer told me too when she started,” Rigel Mondryan from A Crown of Thorns sneers. “Just wait until she gets to the middle section. You’ll see. It’ll all fall apart just like it always does.”

Andria gives me a furtive look.“Hey, that can’t be true, our Writer has an outline this time—”

“Silence!” bellows Lord Swansong. He steps in front of the melee, his arms stretched wide. His son-in-law Rigel continues to bicker with Griffin of March until they come to some sort of agreement and break out in guffaws.

I spot the Muse sitting on a bookshelf high above the fray and hope he knew what he was doing when he put this gathering together. This many alpha males in one room can only lead to trouble.

Nick nods in acknowledgment as Teragus Swansong begins. “Writer, (because, to avoid confusion, all my characters simply call me Writer.) We’re here to stage an intervention.”Image courtesy of 'deafstar' @ stock.xchng

“An intervention?” I stammer. “For what? The hardest drug I do is coffee.”

I hear Stuart Livingston snicker. He jumps as his girlfriend elbows him in the gut.

Lord Swansong continues, “It has come to our attention that you are seriously deficient in the plotting department. We fear that you will never tell our stories properly.”

“I’m trying, really I am,” I reply. “I’m taking a revision course. I write every day. I read blogs.”

Rigel disentangles himself from his wife Cerule’s arms and stands. He’s wearing his crown, so I know I need to be careful what I say or he’ll be inside my head reading all my wicked thoughts. “Nick over there—” Rigel indicates the dark-haired, steely eyed protagonist of Tempest’s—  “Tells me you’ve been agonizing over his story for years now. Don’t you think it’s time you figure out how to get it right and get on with it?”

“I would if I could, but a novel is so big, it’s hard to keep track of everything. I’m doing my best. Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a novelist— ”

Nick holds up his hand to stop Rigel from perturbing me any further. “I think she gets the point.”

Cerule Swansong, silent up to now, stands. She smiles at me. With her silver blonde hair and her graceful yet powerful motions, I can see why Rigel fell in love with her. “We only want to help you, Writer. It’s not just about us. It’s about you. We want to see you successful, perhaps even published.”

“That’s what everyone tells me.” I sink onto the chair that Nick has pulled next to me. “I just don’t know how to stop writing and plan something. You guys just spill out onto the page and I write and write and can’t stop–”

“Which is why we’re staging this intervention.” Libra Duvall, Nick’s mysterious Muse, has left her window seat to stand next to him. “We want to be read, Writer,” she says as Nick absent-mindedly strokes her long blonde hair. “It’s why we exist. But your stories need to make sense.”

Nick continues, “We have some ideas for you. To get you back on track.”

I scan the faces before me. Teragus, Rigel, Cerule, Stuart, Libra, Nick and all the rest stare back at me expectantly. Their fate lies in my hands. I feel so helpless.

41GtFMuVhWL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_“I don’t want to let you down,” I say. “But the only book about writing I’ve read is No Plot, No Problem.

“Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered,” Nick says. “We picked out a few craft books for you.”

Aiden chimes in and stands, holding a stack of paperback books. “Here are a few to get you started. Writing the Breakout Novel , Story Engineering,” He winks. “A personal favorite.”

“Well, you’re the numbers guy, after all,” I agree.41zE6Pp83tL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

“There’s more though,” Cerule says. “Techniques of the Selling Writer, Save the Cat.

41KYQst9aIL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Abigale chimes in, “You’re going to love Bird by Bird!”

“And this one,” Rigel offers, “The Art of War for Writers. And Nail Your Novel. You loved Memories of My Future Life so I’m certain you’ll appreciate Roz Morris’s advice.

I hold the books in my hands, quite a stack, and see the concerned looks on their faces. “Wow, you guys are the best. I really hope I don’t let you down. Wish me luck.”

***

So, writers, any other suggestions to help me with my plotting woes? What’s your favorite writing craft book?

Images: rainbow of books courtesy of Emiliano Hernandez, talk bubbles courtesy of ‘miamiamia’, chairs courtesy of ‘deafstar’, all @ stock.xchng.

IWSG: A Whole Lot of Why

InsecureWritersSupportGroupIt’s time, once again, for the Insecure Writers to unite and encourage each other. If you’d like to join the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, all you have to do is click on this linky and add your name to the list. Alex J. Cavanaugh has hosted this group years now, and I can assure you, there is no nicer group of writers on the web.

In the past month, I’ve had a lot of insecurity about why it is that I’m driven to write. When I see everyone around me rushing to publish, and all I read is about the many ways to bring readers to my words, it sometimes freaks me out a little. Is this really the reason I write? Or is there an even more important reason I keep coming back to my words? As I often do, I discussed the matter with my alter-ego Muse, and found answers that surprised me.Image courtesy of marija jure @ stock.xchng

I come home to an empty house and the Muse is waiting. He watches me get ready to write as I pour my Pepsi and sort my bills. He’s humming in the back of my head. He has something to tell me.

I open my laptop. Since I haven’t done my morning words today, I decide to write what I please for a while.

The Muse rests his chin on his interlaced hands, doing his best Brandon Lee impression. “Glad you’re back,” he says without a trace of irony in his voice.

Ink Blot 2“I’ll always come back,” I type. But I know he’s had doubts.

“Thought so,” he says, hiding his misgivings. “So tell me, what’s eating you?”

“It’s all the commotion about publishing. Everyone’s publishing, and if they’re not publishing, they’re at least critiquing, exchanging manuscripts, blogging a novel … Sometimes I feel as if it’s all about who can get their words to the most people the fastest.”

He points at the title at the top of my blog to remind me. “I worry sometimes,” he says.

“What? You worry? You’re a Muse. You’re completely made up, a figment of my overactive imagination, less substantial than feathers and moonbeams.”

He looks at the ground, his shoulders sag and his wings droop. “That’s just it,” he mutters. “For the longest time you never even noticed me.”

My fingers stall on the keyboard as I remember. I had a dry spell so long I thought my words were an abandoned planet, without air, without water or sign of life. I wanted to be a writer way back in high school. I took classes and read craft books, but ultimately made the wise choice—

“Which was?” the Muse asks to prompt me to talk to him, instead of ruminating endlessly.

“I live in a safe neighborhood; I have a great job. I can sleep without worrying about where I will end up a few years from now.”Images courtesy of marija jure @ stock.xchng

“But something’s missing?”

“You bet something was missing. I felt mute, empty, adrift. But I didn’t know why.”

“Should I remind you of why?” the Muse asks. Though he will defend me to the last, his eyes burn with accusation.

“No, you don’t have to remind me of why. There’s a whole lot of why …” I take my hand off the keyboard to change the playlist. The Muse waits patiently and eases back from my desk once the song begins.

“You’re afraid of something,” he prompts.

 I hesitate, then type, “All this commotion about publishing reminds of what I felt like when I abandoned writing.”

Images courtesy of marija jure @ stock.xchng“How did you feel when you left writing?”

“I felt that what I had to say was unimportant, that my words were insignificant when compared to the great writers, and that if I didn’t have anything ‘important’ to say I should just shut up. I was certain that no one would be interested in what a girl who grew up in a quiet town in Wisconsin, who went camping and sailing and loved rock music, had to say.”

“What makes you think you’d feel that way again?” He folds his hands across his chest and the corners of his mouth turn serious as he tries to imitate a shrink.

“Well—” I pause as I try to visualize him and write down his body language. “A lot of writers have advice on building a brand, on how to reach readers, on how best to market a book, on how to escalate a plot, on how to keep adverbs at bay …”

“So?” the Muse asks. “That’s all good stuff, and I’m happy to help you with all that.”

“You have no idea how much I appreciate the offer. But that’s not what bothers me.”

“Then what does bother you?”

“That it stops being about the writing. I worry that I will find myself torn away from writing the next book. I’d rather just write. I need this for me. For you.”

The Muse purses his lips thoughtfully, and I cringe as another adverb pops up on my screen.Images courtesy of marija jure @ stock.xchng

“Can’t we do a bit of both?” he asks.

“I can try. But don’t you see? That’s why my blog has a destination name and not my real name? I don’t want this to be about me. It’s about the words.”

The Muse holds up his hand. “This is morning words so you can stop here. How about we take this up again tomorrow?”

“But tomorrow is IWSG day.”

“Then the next day. This isn’t a contest. This is for you.”

I close my laptop gratefully, confident that I’m not going to stop writing just yet.

Image courtesy of 'kuleczka' @ BigStock

How about you, insecure (and secure!) writers? What’s the why behind your words?

Related posts: What My Writing Teacher Should Have Told Me

Ten Days in the Life of a “Non-Writer” by Katherine Checkley

Images courtesy of marija jure @ stock.xchng,  and ‘kuleczka’ @ BigStock