Inspired | July 2018

Links

Every month, I share the articles and sites that I found most interesting. Here’s what caught my attention in July.

The Complete Suite of Friends a Writer Needs by Isabel Yap

Creative burnout is inevitable. Here are 10 ways to beat it by Co.Design and The Creative Independent: “We’re living in an era when round-the-clock communication is simply a fact of life, and the always-on culture of many workplaces can take an outsize toll on creatives, who need mental and physical energy to do their best work.”

The Complicated Legacy of ‘The Dark Knight’ by Richard Newby

While we so often refer to The Dark Knight as the best comic book adaptation, filmmakers and audiences have largely failed to learn from its creative lessons: comic book characters are malleable. They are able to be grounded or fantastic, able to be prestigious or pure blockbuster entertainment, to be dark and gritty or light, to be character-driven or action-packed, or any variation in-between.

Ten Years Later, “The Dark Knight” and Its Vision of Guilt Still Resonate by Bilge Ebiri

The film, in case you’re wondering, still holds up — especially at a time when superhero flicks, with a few exceptions, have turned assembly-line anonymity into both an aesthetic and a transactional promise. Seen through today’s glut of pro forma blockbusters, The Dark Knight seems like that rarest of movies — a mass-market product that also happens to be a personal picture driven by genuine moral vision.

Magic Mike XXL Is Basically ‘The Odyssey,’ But With Butts by Helena Fitzgerald

The primary point of the Hero’s Journey is that the quest leads up to a decisive victory that can be won; the day can be saved, good can triumph over evil. But Magic Mike, although it seems like a quest, is a story totally uninterested in victory or in achievement.

‘My brain feels like it’s been punched’: the intolerable rise of perfectionism by Paula Cocozza: The pursuit of perfection, taken to extremes, can lead to OCD and depression – and the number of students reporting the problem has jumped by 33% since 1989

Don’t Feed the Trolls, and Other Hideous Lies by Film Crit Hulk: “It starts by acknowledging that these systems are so large and pervasive and such an important part of people’s forward-facing lives that it is intrinsically necessary to protect the well-being of the people on it.”

Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read by Julie Beck: “With its streaming services and Wikipedia articles, the internet has lowered the stakes on remembering the culture we consume even further. But it’s hardly as if we remembered it all before.”

Living Alone and Liking It by Ashley Fetters: “The fraught nature of the “bachelorette pad” ideal, though, could be rooted in layers upon layers of historical anxiety about women living alone, and it takes only a rudimentary knowledge of the world’s power dynamics to understand why.”

What’s the most interesting thing you saw online this month?

NaNoWriMo 2017 Diary | Week 3

Writing

According to the official NaNoWriMo chart, I’m about two and a half days behind schedule. This is after taking four days off last weekend.

That’s not great. I’m not thrilled about it. But I’m not in panic mode, either. I can still make it through the month, and hit 50K—I could take weekends off, and my current pace would still carry me through.

So that’s kind of good.

The real challenge right now is maintaining perspective. I woke up yesterday morning, suddenly very worried about my main character: she’s passive, she’s been rescued twice so far, and she’s not really driving the story.

But here’s the thing: I’ve spent two weeks writing this story. (So far.) I spent months before that thinking about the story, including nearly a month of intense planning. I’ve been living with this story for a long time.

But the story itself has only just started. The scene I’ve been working on for the past few days (it’s a long, difficult scene, for me and for the characters) is the first act break, about 25% of the way through the story. (Obviously, when the dust settles, the story is going to be more than 50,000 words.) I mentioned before that I’m using the Hero’s Journey as a guide for this story… well, up until this exact point, my heroine has been actively resisting the call to adventure. Of course she’s not driving the story yet.

She hasn’t had a reason to. Not until this scene.

So, that’s where I stand right now, half-way through the month: I’m behind schedule, but that’s fine. My main character hasn’t been driving the story, but she’s about to start.

And it’s going to be so cool.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Diary | Prep Week 2

Writing

I got a little bit off-track this week.

I’ve been trying to expand my one-page outline, figuring out my scenes and subplots and character moments and, you know, all the things that turn an outline into an actual story. And, because I’m still tweaking my outlining method, I’ve been looking at what other people say about their processes, reading about outlining techniques, that sort of thing.

(Also: by Tuesday afternoon, I had to accept that I was coming down with a cold. Studying craft was a way to feel like I was being at least a little bit productive, even when I didn’t have the attention span to be working. On the bright side, I’d rather get a cold now than in the last week of November.)

It was probably a mistake.

I’m not going to say the advice I was reading this week was bad. Some of it was, but most of it was… perfectly reasonable. I know that it works for some people, even if it’s not going to work for me. The problem is the sheer amount of advice out there, and the way it gets repeated. Someone writes a book on how to write a best-selling novel, someone else blogs about it, someone else blogs about it but doesn’t mention where they got the idea, and so on, and pretty soon it’s being treated as received wisdom, instead of a formula some random guy came up with sometime in the last ten years.

And if I read enough of these things in a short enough span of time, it starts to feel like if I don’t follow the template exactly, then I’m doing something wrong.

Which is absurd, of course.

There are patterns in stories, common rhythms, but a novel is not a formula; it’s not a bunch of variables that you can plug into an equation and get a consistent answer. (Or… you can. But you’ll end up with a formulaic novel.) I love the Hero’s Journey (and I’ve been using it as a guide for my broad outline, because the symbolism of it works for this particular story), but it can be problematic… and it’s far from universal. It’s a guide, rather than the guide. Even the three-act structure—as close to a ‘universal’ as we can get, in that most stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end (though not necessarily in that order, to quote Jean-Luc Godard)—only applies to most stories, not all of them.

Anyway.

There’s value in looking at the writing process, but I have to remember to be critical about it. I’m better off listening to what the writers I genuinely admire have to say, instead of the rules that the self-proclaimed “experts” insist we have to follow. I have to remember to focus on the art of writing, as much as the craft—and art cannot exist if I’m hung up on formulas. (Formulae?) I have to remember to abandon the maps when they point me in the wrong directions.

I have to trust myself a little more. I’ve done this before, I can do it again.