It’s a Kitty!

You guys! I got a cat!

A. Cat.

Sure sure, you are probably rolling your eyes at me a bit right now. I mean, it’s a cat, right? People love their pets and all, but does it really warrant exclamation points and grammatically incorrect period usage?

Yes. Yes, it does.

You have to understand, I have always wanted a cat. I’m creeping up on 40 this year and have never had my own cat. My husband is allergic. Nonetheless, through the magic of somehow not being allergic to long haired cats, I got a cat.

She was entirely unplanned, but it turns out a friend of mine has been keeping his eyes open for a long haired cat for a while and when he came across her he knew she was perfect. (And he was right.)

Going from a house that has no pets to a house that suddenly has a pet has been an interesting experience. First, while I grew up with farm cats and a healthy appreciation for how easily a cat can scratch you, my children have not had that sort of first hand experience. There was a lot of educating involved and with that a spate of explaining things through metaphor.

One of my favorite learning moments happened with my son, who is 5, asked me if perhaps Tilly is nocturnal. I give mad props to PBS Kids and, probably, the Wild Kratts, for teaching my child that word. Cats, however, are not nocturnal. So… I did what all responsible parents who don’t know the answer to the question their child is asking do… I Googled it.

And this is why I am writing a post. According to the featured snippet, “Cats are crepuscular…” And lo, a new word was entered into our collective family vocabulary.

I’d never heard of an animal being crepuscular. I’d never, honestly, even heard the word crepuscular. And while the snippet does define the word for me I went a bit further to look into the word’s actual definition.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary crepuscular refers to “(of animals) active or appearing at the time of day just before the sun goes down, or just after the sun rises, when the light is not bright.”

And… because I’m a bit much sometimes… I also looked into the etymology of the word. It’s a harsh term for something so soft and luminous as dawn or dusk. Sure enough there’s an older version of the word (dating back to the 1540s) that I think fits just a touch better: crepusculine.

In any case, Tilly is absolutely a crepuscular cat. We notice her moving about the house and checking on her people first thing in the morning and around dinner time. She prowls a bit, but then follows us up to bed, and spends lots of her days lounging in sunny spots and wherever things are soft in the house.

Finally, I leave you with this moment of amusement. For as enthralling as the word crepuscular is, XKCD’s graph showing the correlation between intelligence and human proximity to a cat still stands true.

If you’re not familiar with the utterly delightful XKCD you’re missing out. Check this comic (and others) out here.

Thusly… if you find I’m making next to zero sense these days you can safely assume I am happily cuddling with Tilly. After all… “SHE’S A KITTY!”

Advertisement

Hiatus

Photo by George Milton on Pexels.com

Hello Gentle Reader… It’s the last day of 2022 and the writer in me always has this strong desire to write something — meaningful.

I’ve felt like that for as long as I had any sense that starting a new year was an occasion as opposed to just another day. And my teenage years are fraught with journal entries at the turn of the year with lofty teenage angst-filled idealisms about the new year and what the year closing meant to me.

This is not that kind of post.

Instead of doing that I want to share two words with you! First up:

Hiatus

Fun fact. WordPress keeps track of how many days pass between posts. My average and/or typical span is 5 days. Sometimes less, but very very rarely more. I know it’s only been a few months, but I think that’s notable. It’s particularly notable because it’s been 9 days since I last wrote and as I contemplated that and the reasons why (spoiler alert… it’s the holidays… I have kids…) the word hiatus came to mind.

In the past I’ve felt bad about taking breaks. It’s not something I’m particularly good at. But the concept of a hiatus gives me the feeling of cozy moments, cuddled up with a book and a coffee under a soft blanket. It makes me think of warmth and safety and rest. And so I was curious about the word itself.

Here’s what etymologyonline.com has to say:

hiatus (n.)

1560s, “break or opening” in a material object, especially in anatomy, from Latin hiatus “opening, aperture, rupture, gap,” from past participle stem of hiare “to gape, stand open,” from PIE root *ghieh- “to yawn, gape, be wide open.” Sense of “gap or interruption in events, etc.;” “space from which something requisite to completeness is absent” [Century Dictionary] is recorded from 1610s.

So at first blush this actual sounds almost violent to me. Break. Rupture. Gape. But those words, in and of themselves, are not violent. One of my favorite examples of the word “break” comes from an absolutely amazing man who I reported to for a time at my job. Ian is a delightful gentleman from a beautiful area of England who encouraged me to make sure I use all of my vacation time.

Maybe the concept isn’t a bit deal, but as an American who was child-less at the time it felt selfish to even take a whole week off without a specific purpose. If I was off work then I must have some other obligation to fill the space, right?

No. Ian’s advice was simple. Always take two weeks off back to back. You need to take a break from your job long enough to forget how to do it.

He didn’t mean forget the job itself… but the routines of it.

I work from home. My email is accessible from my phone. So is the company chat system. It’s painfully easy to just “check” when I am supposed to be taking a break. Ian pointed out to me that it takes a week (at least) to fall out of the gut instinct to do the work things and then you have another week to truly rest and rejuvenate. It’s some of the best advice I’ve ever received.

So when I was tempted to write in the midst of the crazy, not because I wanted to, but because I felt like I should, I reminded myself that no. A hiatus was ok. You will all still be here when I come back.

So hello to you from me and my family at the end of 2022. I hope you get to experience a hiatus from the things that pull at you.

And may we all have more time for a hiatus when we need it in the year to come.

(Ok, maybe this was one of those meaningful posts after all… See you in 2023!)

Fancy Christmas Anxiety

The other day this bit of silliness showed up somewhere on my Facebook feed:

I saw it and, dear reader, I giggled. It wasn’t the giggle of someone who just read a funny joke. It was a knowing giggle. The one that sounds almost nervous and ends with “Oh my word…”.

Some variation or another of this meme is also floating around my feed:

This version comes from Scribbler and can be purchased as a Christmas card!

Guys, the holidays are hard.

Don’t get me wrong. They’re beautiful. They’re special. They’re warmth and love and opportunities to love on people.

And they are hard.

Yesterday I was wrestling with my own anxiety. My brain was full on “you’re not enough” as if someone had handed it a bullhorn and suggested it go to town.

Later my husband asked me why I was anxious. He wasn’t judging. He wanted to understand what had triggered it. I’m lucky to have a husband who has truly listened to what I need when I am anxious and knows how to ask.

But as he asked he, chuckling, added… “I mean… other than…” And then listed off all the things going on in our everyday lives. At first I wanted to say I wasn’t sure why I was anxious. When it’s a lot of things sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint. But when he added to his question I paused and admitted that no… it was just all of those things feeling overwhelming…

You see my daughter was home sick. I had taken time off this week to get things ready for the holidays. I like, when I can, to sort everything out well ahead of time so I can sit back and really enjoy the gatherings and special moments. But kiddos get sick and there’s never a good time for it to happen.

My plan, originally, had been to get out and pick up Starbucks gift cards for teacher gifts. I was going to take care of any groceries needed and that one gift that always gets left to the end. I was going to start wrapping presents.

I had a plan.

If you have anxiety then you know what comes next. The spiraling recalculation. Like the GPS notifying you that you missed your turn only every turn you make is a missed turn. Ok… if this is needed by this time then this needs to be changed. Etc, ad nauseum. I couldn’t take a sick kiddo to the store. And I couldn’t wrap when she could interrupt. And suddenly what had felt so perfectly arranged was a long to do list. One that required adjusting and digging into time I had hoped to rest and relax.

To be clear. Because it needs to be said again. I am immensely lucky. My husband was glad to pick up my slack and the things on my list weren’t world ending. They could be sorted. The friends who got a bit of the brunt of my anxious spiral were gracious and forgiving. None of this was world ending.

And if I am in this very privileged place so many others have it harder than I do. They have family who aren’t speaking to each other or they’re far away from their people. This week I learned a former coworker passed away suddenly. My heart aches for his widow. There are others who feel the strain of finances or job uncertainty or… This is a never ending list.

Here’s the thing. It’s not that these things aren’t always going on. It’s that at the holidays there is a quality to them that makes it feel harder.

And those of us who struggle with anxiety are right there with everyone else… steinging lights around our fancy Christmas anxiety.

Whatever battle you’re fighting today friends, know you are not alone. The holidays are often hard even in the midst of the beauty and the love. And that is ok. I see you.

Sunrise Cookies

I know that Christmas cookies are one of those checklist items for the holidays. Plenty of people bake and have their own “must have” confectionary treats. But when I tell you that my family’s cookie baking is an event unto itself, I am not kidding.

We plan 3 major holiday events at the end of the year — Thanksgiving, Christmas, and… Cookie Baking Day.

There’s an actual book of notes dedicated to this. I am fairly confident it goes back literal decades. Who was responsible for what cookies to be baked beforehand and exchanged. How many “goes” of those cookies did we make last year and how many do we think we need next. Should we switch something up and try a new cookie or is everyone attached to that one? What icing did we use and who brought it… We do this for the holiday events too with notes about food and time and location that get pulled back out the next year for planning.

Cookie Baking Day, though, goes back as far as I can remember. I recall doing it when the old farmhouse that I grew up in was my grandparents’ house… before we moved into it when I was 6. My job (and that of my cousins) was to unwrap the Hershey’s kisses for the peanut butter blossoms.

My aunts and mom, grandmother and great cousin, seemed to flit around the space of the kitchen and dining room in what was, surely, some sort of choreographed chaos. My dad and my grandfather and some of my uncles were around to do quality control, sneaking cookies from the cooling racks on the basis that they didn’t look quite right when we all knew they were perfectly fine to eat. Cookie Baking Day resulted in dozens and dozens of cookies, the sight of which makes me grin even as I type. Just coordinating the counting of said cookies to make sure everyone got an even amount was a task.

When I was old enough I became a contributor of cookies and not just a helper. I took over making the Holiday Yeast cookies for years and now am the proud baker of the White Chocolate Craisin Pecan cookies.

Baking cookies at this scale isn’t, generally speaking, a small task and let’s be honest even with an organized baking event other things need to be baked or prepared; dinners still need to go on the table and more appetizers than anyone can count are brought out for parties and small get togethers. December is a time when those of us who love people with food get to go wild.

So when I say that getting three goes of my assigned cookie done at the end of the week last week seemed like a gargantuan feat, I am not kidding.

I have two small children and all of the fuss that goes along with that at the holidays. They’re on different schedules and I work full time. My husband and I serve in different capacities at our church and to add to that my husband’s birthday is in early December, so we’re careful to make time to celebrate him without the trappings of a holiday. A couple hours to bake cookies without interruption is the sort of thing that comes at a premium in my life right now.

And yet… my mom did the same thing. There were three of us, not two, to be underfoot for her while she prepared for Cookie Baking Day. My dad’s hours were often long and just like now every December brought with it gatherings and obligations.

And on any number of mornings I would wake up to the smell of baking.

I didn’t understand this at the time. When life is so busy and there’s so much going on why get up early? Why not just work late and then enjoy the sleep of someone who doesn’t have to wake up to another morning obligation? (I didn’t know then that when you’re a mother you never wake up without morning obligations… it’s just a matter of the flavor of the day.)

And so, this year, and some others in recent memory, I found myself awake at 5:30 in the morning on Cookie Baking Day. If I wanted to have cookies to contribute it was going to come down to the night before or that morning and I had been so tired the night before that I couldn’t have dreamt of baking. I would have fallen asleep in my mixer.

The morning, though, was quiet and peaceful. I was awake and nursing a cup of warm coffee without any demands on my time or attention. I was doing something that was immediately gratifying in its agency. Christmas music was streaming quietly from my phone. It was magical.

About an hour in, as the sun was peeking over the horizon and beginning to filter into my dining room and the second go of cookies had just been mixed, it hit me.

This.

This is why my mom got up early to bake.

Why she did so without complaint and why she had a smile on her face when we finally trooped downstairs to the smell of butter, sugar, and flour making the magical transformation from ingredients to cookies.

There was a stillness in my house at that moment that I rarely get during the day and that I am often too tired to appreciate after my children are asleep. It was the kind of stillness that I think some spend their whole lives chasing. A small moment of peace in the midst of the busy rush of the holidays. For just those few hours, while my hands did the work mixing and scooping and removing from trays to cooling racks–I got a reprieve that had nothing to do with baking and everything to do with the time of day and the quiet in my house.

I don’t know what your sunrise cookies are, friends. Maybe it’s stepping away from your computer for lunch and picking up an actual physical book rather than looking at a screen. Maybe it’s taking a late night drive to see the Christmas lights in your neighborhood by yourself. Maybe it is staying up late to do something that gives you the agency to create. Whatever it is, though, I hope you get it.

That’s my wish for everyone during the holidays this year. May you have the peace that baking sunrise cookies brings.

Saturation Point

Photo by DS stories on Pexels.com

Fun fact… I am an emotional sponge.

I used to think that this concept was silly. In fact it’s only been in the last year that I’ve had words to explain this concept or even understood that it isn’t something everyone experiences the way I do. And even then, when I really take a moment to consider this aspect of myself, I can be easily mortified by it. Or, maybe more correctly, easy convinced I am making it up.

I’m not though.

I am an emotional sponge.

What, exactly, does that mean? To me, it means I am able to feel what other people are feeling with them. I don’t mean this in some sort of telepathic mind powers sense. It’s not like that. But if someone near me is struggling, I struggle right along with them. Likewise if someone is exuberant, it’s hard for me not to join in the excitement. I’ve considered where this comes from and while I still haven’t unlocked it, being aware of it has gone a long way toward unwinding some of elements of anxiety that I struggle with. Identifying when an emotion I am feeling is coming from someone else’s struggle makes it much easier to shut down a trigger. But for that to work I have to acknowledge this thing for what it is.

The word that I should use here is empath. We all experience empathy at varying degrees. It’s part of our ability to connect with other humans. But some of us just naturally empathize without thinking about it. It’s as easy and frequent as breathing.

When I say the word… empath… it’s hard not to cringe. Images of Betazoid counselor Deanna Troi come to mind, falling down in intense pain at the alien emotions that she experiences. The concepts of telepaths and empaths in science fiction makes the actual concept of being an empath seem like I should be putting on a tin foil hat and hiding from our new overlords.

It’s really… not… like… that…

I could spend dozens upon dozens more words explaining the concept, but really what I want to do is talk about the impact of it. Whether you use the word empath or describe it as being an emotional sponge or having a particular high ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, at the end of the day the reality is you carry around lots of emotions that aren’t your own.

It’s a super power and it’s kryptonite rolled all into one.

I love my emotional sponginess. It makes it possible for me to love people well and to see them as who they are. It’s a reason that I see so much beauty in people who hardly see it in themselves. It’s a tool that allows me to show up… to really show up… when someone I love is struggling and in need of help. When people who feel invisible need to be seen.

But there’s also a scientific principle for sponges that I think can apply here. Every sponge, eventually, reaches its saturation point. Saturation point is the moment when a sponge cannot hold anymore water. It is full. The only way for it to absorb more is to release some of what it has. I think that emotional sponges have saturation points too. It’s the point where we are so full up that we begin to struggle to discern what is ours and what we are carrying for someone else. It’s the point where we can fail to recognize our own needs because we have taken on those around us. Saturation point can drown us.

So… if you are an emotional sponge here are some things you can do to help.

  1. Be mindful. I know this sounds a bit like new age gibberish, but all this really means is pay attention. Notice what you’re feeling. Notice when a feeling comes on and pay attention to who and what is around you when it does.
  2. Process. If you’re an introvert this may mean more alone time. If you’re an extrovert this may mean processing through things you’re feeling with someone you trust. Someone you know won’t judge you for it.
  3. Write. You had to know this was coming. I’m the strongest possible believer in writing and have even gone so far as to describe writing as meditation. But put the feelings somewhere. Get them out of your body; out of your head. Release some of the water you’re holding.
  4. Learn healthy boundaries. Oh this sounds so easy and is oh so hard. Boundaries are not drawing a line in the sand. Boundaries are saying “for me to do X, I need X.” For me to support you, I need you to give me a moment to think. For me to love you well I need you not to raise your voice at me. So on and so forth.

If you have read this and, to borrow a friend’s description, now want to look at me like I have two heads, here are some things you can do for the emotional sponges in your life.

  1. Acknowledge their sponginess. You don’t have to give them all of the things you’re feeling, or let them take over and make you talk. But telling them that you are feeling X and you know they’re aware can go a long way to making them feel seen. And it may help you get some space if they seem to be particularly on you about your feelings.
  2. Encourage them to tell you what they’re feeling–particularly if your spongy friend is an extrovert. Getting things outside of themselves helps them process the emotions.
  3. Help them find or create peaceful spaces. Detaching from the input can be as simple as unplugging… turning off your phone… reading a book… taking a walk. It can be as extravagant as creating a blanket fort with a cup of hot tea and a reading light.

At the end of the day, a little bit of awareness goes a long way toward keeping your emotionally spongy self healthy.

Silenzio Bruno

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I have small children. Because I have small children I watch a lot of animated kids movies. Truth be told, I don’t mind this as long as we don’t have to watch the same movie over and over and over and over and… etc. ad nauseum.

One of the movies that pop up fairly regularly on my kids watch list is a recent release from Disney. Luca is a story about a sea monster boy who wants to live on the land. He and his friend Alberto set out to do this by winning a race that will get them enough money to buy an old Vespa which they plan to use to explore the world.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie happens near the beginning when Luca and Alberto build a poor facsimile of a Vespa out of spare parts and decide to take it for a test spin. Having very little experience with being human, the two boys set the thing at the top of a very steep hill leading to a low cliff that launches them into the water. (The ramp at the bottom is even propped up on a turtle… for good measure.) At the top of the hill Luca hesitates to get on the homemade Vespa and this is the exchange that takes place:

Alberto: I know your problem. You’ve got a Bruno in your head.

Luca: A Bruno?

Alberto: Yeah. I get one too sometimes… Alberto, you can’t. Alberto, you’re going to die. Alberto, don’t put that in your mouth… Luca, it’s simple. Don’t listen to stupid Bruno.

It goes on with Alberto telling Luca that he needs to yell “Silenzio, Bruno!” to get the inner critic in his head to be quiet. Luca does it and they go back and forth until both boys are yelling “Silenzio, Bruno!” and Alberto asks “Can you still hear him?” to which Luca answers, “Nope! Just you!”

What, you may ask, does this have to do with anything? (As it turns out the phrase Silenzio Bruno gets used all sorts of places now, mental health care among them.) Today, I want to suggest this phrase to you as a response to your inner editor.

As writers we all have one. It’s that voice that says “ugh… that was a terrible word choice” or “wow, you think that’s good dialogue?” or “you seriously just used that word two sentences ago.” It’s the voice that stops us dead mid-paragraph; a portent for writer’s block. Our inner editors can be terribly obnoxious Brunos.

Nathan Pyle, the amazing creator of the Strange Planet cartoon, posted this amazing example of a Bruno on his Facebook yesterday:

Shameless plug… You absolutely should be following Nathan Pyle anywhere he can be followed. His work is delightful and will bring a bit of extra joy to your day!

Here’s the thing. Our inner editor does have a place. We all want to be good at what we do and without the impulse to improve and check and edit, we can simply toss word salad onto a page and forget about whether it’s any good. Our editors help us craft that randomness into something meaningful.

But our editors are also loud. They’re critical. They make us doubt ourselves and some of us… (See… exhibit A: Beth) are really good at doubting ourselves to begin with. That’s where our editors stop helping and become a hindrance.

So how… exactly… do you tell your editor “Silenzio Bruno!”?

I’ve found a couple tactics that can help. These may vary by person and personality, but the following have worked for me:

  • Don’t Re-Read — When you’re writing something for the first time do not read what you wrote until you’re done writing it. If you do, your editor will be tempted to edit and eventually you’ll lose the creative thread that you started with trying to perfect the first few words.
  • Set a Time Limit — If you’re going to have trouble resisting the temptation to let your editor run amok, then try setting a timer. Give yourself 20 minutes where you just put words on the page regardless of what they are. Then give yourself 10 minutes to review and tweak. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
  • Write in the Dark — This one is a bit more unusual, but when I have really struggled with my editor this has helped me. On a few occasions I have taken my pen and paper and sat in the dark and written the words on the page. Fun fact… they’re often very hard to read afterward. But since you can’t see what you’re writing it’s very very hard to edit as you go.
  • Let Someone Else’s Bruno Edit — I always find this one difficult. So my caveat here is make sure you have a trusted friend for this. But instead of going back and doing the first round of editing yourself, ask someone else to do it for you. Just to read and review and point out things. The reality is that your editor is… sometimes… a bit too close to your narrative and can’t always see the beauty or the blemishes that someone else may see.
  • Write to Improve — While the other elements can help in the moment, this more of a long term silencing of your editor. When you write, approach your writing with a goal of improving. That means do the work to expand your vocabulary. Use a thesaurus. Pay attention to spell check and grammar check. Learning to spell words isn’t just for elementary school students. We live in the age of systems that help us with these things, but these systems can also set off our editors by hitting us with squiggly lines and intelligent word suggestions. Try to ignore those and instead focus on getting better at the core of your craft. Sure we’ll make typing errors, but over time some of those squiggles and suggestions will go away and you’ll find your editor is less tempted to pipe up when you’re in the midst of drafting.

And, when in doubt, you can always just stop writing and shout…

Silenzio Bruno!

Defining Features

I work in the ed tech industry as a product manager. One of the more interesting discussions that product managers get to have is whether a thing is a feature or a benefit. Features are functions of the product. They’re the pieces that make it do what customers want. Benefits are the ways the feature (or product as a whole) help solve a problem for the customer.

A feature, by itself, is not the product. It’s just a piece of the whole. But a benefit can encompass the whole thing.

Sometimes products get known for certain features. Take, for example, the first flip phones. It’s not that it’s a functional phone that mattered. There were plenty of those. It’s the flip feature that we cared about. But the phones did plenty of things that were also valuable features — texting and calling and storing contacts and whatnot. Important things.

Ever worry that some part of yourself is the only “feature” anyone is going to notice? I do.

Here’s how I started thinking of this tonight…

I don’t know who created the image, but would love to credit the artist, so if you know please drop a note!

I worry, sometimes, that if I tell you (you being literally anyone) about my anxiety that you won’t see anything else.

It’s the ultimate anxious tic to being anxious about my anxiety. But there it is. I have, literally, spiralled over this. Because what if my anxiety makes you uncomfortable? Or what if you don’t believe me? Or what if I am just too much effort to be friends with? What if we work together and you stop trusting my judgement? What if everyone secretly wishes I would just stop bothering them with it? What if they want me to go away? What if… What if…

See how easy that was?

So when the image above was posted in a Facebook group tonight I read it and breathed, for a moment, a sigh of relief. Somebody, at least, knew that my anxiety was just a feature even if my brain, itself, is sometimes inclined to treat it like a benefit… and a really crummy one at that. Anxiety is just a part and not even the defining one at that.

So to the person who made that image. Thank you for proving that other people know that I have much more to offer than that single, frustrating, thing. I didn’t even know I was holding that breath tonight.

DOS and Character Development

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Before I get into the point of this post I would like to point out that stock photos of computers are slightly ridiculous. Have any of these people met someone who works on a computer on a regular basis? Truly? I know of no one whose desk is EVER this clean. And, frankly, if mine is then you’d better believe there’s a pile of stuff on the floor just out of view of my camera.

That, however, is not the point. The point today is writing prompts. Or, more specifically, writing prompts with the purpose of getting into your characters’ heads.

Someone I know recently posited a version of the question “What’s something that you remember that a younger person wouldn’t understand?” I’ve seen this question asked dozens of times and it’s always kind of funny to think about. My answer today was “Some PC games had to be launched from the DOS prompt.”

If you do not know what the DOS prompt is then you are unquestionably younger than me. Congratulations.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I thought about how funny it would be to really try to explain DOS and PC games of that era to someone with no context for the information. How do you do that? And then suddenly, in my head, I was composing a scene between characters where this conversation is being had. What started as a random funny question became a writing prompt.

If I’m honest I haven’t, for much of my writerly life, bothered with writing prompts. It’s not so much that I haven’t ever looked at them, but more that I always felt like I was trying to shoe horn something into a space it didn’t belong. Trying to find a creative way to add the words herring, turbulent, and morose into a young adult fantasy novel always felt like more work and less flow.

Over the last two years, though, I’ve found a way of using writing prompts that augments rather than distracts from what I’m doing; specifically for the purpose of character development.

I would venture that 99.9% of the time the writing I do with a prompt never makes it into a story. Maybe, if it does, it’s obliquely referenced. There is only one such prompt, co-written with a friend, that has become core to a character’s storyline, but mostly what these prompts have done for me, is unearth the character I am trying to know.

It’s kind of like literary archaeology. I may already know the essence of my character. For example, Rafe is secretive and protective, loyal and dutiful, and madly and frustratingly in love with Sydney. But these sorts of prompts tell me more. They tell me about what Rafe does when no one is looking. What his mannerisms are like and how he reacts to things like holidays and unplanned obstacles. These bits of writing aren’t integral to the plot. They don’t tell the story. What they do is help me see a fully formed person. And when you really know your characters you write about them differently.

My acronym loving friend–the one who likes to give me grief about big words–and I write a pair of characters together for whom we’ve developed an entire alternate history for. Why have we done this? Mostly to address a question about how their relationship would have developed if we threw a key plot twist in early in their development–something that in their main story we very deliberately made sure not to do. And it has been interesting to see how the characters develop along these two drastically different paths. Just from this simple exercise I know my own character better and can write him more realistically within his main storyline.

In almost all of these cases (the last one being an exception because it came more out of curiosity) the writing prompts are driven by things that are around me. Not sure what to write about? Well… what’s going on in your life right now? What are people talking about? What’s happening in the world? What about in your house? What would happen if your character encountered something similar? The whole point is to get into their heads and see how they tick, so placing them into “what if” scenarios guarantees you’ll learn something about them.

Knowing that I leave you with the following writing prompt ideas:

  1. Describe how your character celebrated their birthday. (Or coming of age ceremony, or other age-related occasion.)
  2. Write about your character’s mundane moments–brushing their teeth, taking out the trash, getting through a boring shift of their job, falling asleep. Whatever it is focus on the minutiae of day-to-day life.
  3. Describe your character celebrating a holiday. Maybe it’s a holiday that they are deeply familiar with or maybe they’ve been thrown into a holiday that they’ve never celebrated before. Either way write about them in the midst of the celebration.
  4. Write about your character’s return to school. Whether it’s a return to some sort of advanced training or their first day of primary school, tell us what that was like.
  5. Develop a scene where a character has to go to work or school, but is very tired. What does their morning routine look like? How do their deal with the tiredness? What made them so tired? Does it get them into trouble?
  6. Spend some time thinking about how your character deals with career disappointment and then write a scene where they get passed up for a promotion or get a bad review. Maybe they’re transferred somewhere they don’t want to go, or they don’t get into the university they wanted. Maybe they get saddled with a new person at work that they really don’t get along with. Or perhaps they mess up and there’s career-impacting consequences.
  7. Boredom! Set a scene where your character is bored. Be sure to fully describe the feel and reasons for boredom. Then… have something unexpected happen to them to break up the boredom.
  8. In honor of the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season in the US, pick two characters and write a conversation between them about whether it is ok to decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving.

Happy writing!

Filter (Not Quite) Failure!

Five days ago I shared with everyone that the Internet thinks I should join the Navy. In that post I talked about the algorithms that help shape our search results. I also had to pull up a few different resources related to the Navy to craft that post.

So naturally I decided to do an experiment. Every couple days I pulled up my phone’s browser and scrolled the recommended articles. I didn’t open any, but did pay attention to mentions of the Navy and snagged a screenshot when I saw them.

What makes this experiment interesting is that I wrote the post about the Navy on my laptop. All of these results were pulled from my cellphone. As the name of this post suggests this isn’t exactly filter failure. The algorithms, rightly, have figured out that I am interested in the Navy and this time, at least, it hasn’t sent recruitment ads.

Without further ado, I present the results of my algorithm…

So there you have it… My Google algorithm is clearly alive and well!