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Godzilla is here! Quick, call a meeting!

Do you like monster movies? If so, take thyself to your nearest screen and watch Shin Godzilla. Released in 2016 and considered to be a critique of the government’s response to the Fukishima disaster, Shin Godzilla is a wacky combo of monster movie and Japanese political satire.

Cheri points at a Godzilla statue while making a fake-scared face.

 

A Film That Hates Red Tape

This movie has things to say about meetings and it is not subtle. So if you despise bureaucracy, ineffective leadership, and group think,  Shin Godzilla is here to champion your cause.  As a professional facilitator, some of the dialog made me cringe, and laugh, and prickle with recognition, all at the same time.

“The Monster is attacking!"

“Yes, but what shall we call the monster? I demand a subcommittee!"

🤣🤣🤣

I was surprised to learn that Shin Godzilla cost only 15 million dollars to make. Compare that to the 200 million spent on the recent failed Hollywood blockbuster: Godzilla King of the Monsters. I was so excited about that film, but despite its breathtaking visual effects, the story was a disappointing mess.

But Shin Godzilla didn’t disappoint. At all.

Of course, like all Godzilla movies, Shin Godzilla had some cheesy bits. But I loved the setting, the satire, and the battles.  Especially the final battle!  Fun stuff.

Amazon has it for a few bucks, if you want to check it out. Here’s the trailer .

The Cozy Experiment, Part One

Well, it’s official. I’m cheating on Power Play with another manuscript. My indiscretion began innocently enough. I was outlining a new cozy mystery novel and I found myself tempted to jump in. And BOOM, 2.5 weeks later, I’m about halfway into the new story and zooming toward the exciting conclusion. At this pace I expect to finish the first draft by the end of the month. Wheee!

Today’s post is about how I’m changing up my writing process in order to release more books, more quickly. So feel free to skip it if you don’t care how the sausage is made.

Mmm… delicious murder-mystery sausage!

The Problem of Too Many Ideas

Have you ever seen that black-and-white clip from I Love Lucy where Lucille falls behind on the assembly line? Before long, she’s stuffing her mouth with chocolates from the conveyor belt to try and keep up appearances, but we know she’s out of her depth. Too much chocolate! Too much good stuff! Yikes.

That’s how I feel about my story ideas. I can’t keep up pace with the stories I want to tell, and I feel bogged down when the writing process goes on for too long. Boggy writing leads to boredom, and boredom is poison to the creative process.

Based on past experience, I figure I can comfortably work on a story for 3-5 months before I want to light the thing on fire, throw it into a dumpster, and push the dumpster off a cliff into the angry sea. Thus my aspiration is to become one of those fast writers I’ve read about.

In a perfect world, my writing process would look something like this:

  1. I have a fun idea!
  2. Quickly now… I’ll write it down.
  3. Done? Kewl. Time to proofread the story and boot it out into the world.
  4. NEXT! (snaps fingers)

Imagine me at my computer, writing, having fun, and then raising my fingers periodically in the air to snap them. NEXT! NEXT! NEXT!

Stephen King famously said a the writing process should last a season or so, and that feels about right to me. And it helps to stow my ego. My books aren’t intended to be masterpieces, like Michelangelo’s David.  Spending years or decades on a single book sounds like torture. Instead, I want my books to be like delicious muffins, fresh out of the oven. Tasty. Consumable. And available in packs of four, six, or twelve.

MOAR MUFFINS, I’ll shout, while my fingers form a blur on the keyboard. I DEMAND MOAR MUFFINS!

Quasi-Valid Reasons for Writing Slowly

My slower-than-preferred speed comes from good intentions, mostly. And I’m not ready to abandon my good intentions, because I see the wisdom in them.

Caring about Quality makes me want to hang onto my manuscript until it’s as perfect as I can possibly make it.

My desire for Personal Growth makes me take on ever-more challenging writing projects.

I fear workaholism and that thing known as “the grind.”

And my less-valid reason for slowing down is that I procrastinate. My favorite forms of procrastination are cleverly disguised as important activities. Reading business articles, writing blog posts, and so on. None of those things are inherently bad, but I do sometimes put them ahead of my work.

The Cozy Experiment

A few weeks ago, in light of my too-many-ideas problem, I some changes to my writing process. Here’s what I’m trying to do and accomplish:

Three Cozy Goals: Have More Fun, Write More Books, Publish More Frequently.

Four Helpful Rules:

  1. Write a “good enough” book and release it promptly. Obviously I’ll still edit and proof my work (I’m not a monster), but there’s a difference between responsible editing and obsessing over unreachable “perfection.”

  2. Spend 80% of my time writing within my comfort zone. Murder mysteries are fun, and they’re within my comfort zone. On the other hand, sprawling multi-POV espionage novels like Power Play are fun but much harder to write. My new notion: What if I allocated 80% of my time to writing what I can easily write, and about 20% of my time to more challenging projects?

  3. Set a reasonable number of work hours, then focus on having fun and being productive within those hours. For now, that looks like 5-6 hours a day, with at least one day off per week. And I’m not letting work torpedo important family stuff, so there are extra days off for things like visits to the parents, and vacations, and so on.

  4. Use fun/procrastination activities as a carrot. This blog post is a good example. I’ve been working on it for a few minutes every day, but I decided not to publish it until I hit the halfway mark on my manuscript. And that was oddly motivating. 🙂

And My Three Anti-Rules:

  1. Don’t track numbers other than a quick glance at “how many words I wrote today.”

  2. Don’t worry about story length, because the story will be as long as it needs to be.

  3. Don’t put too much emotional importance (ie: angst) on any one story, because I’m making muffins, right? MOAR MUFFINS!

Taking Action

To put these ideas into practice, I’m picking up one of my ideas for a cozy mystery series and running with it. And I tried to make it as easy on myself as possible. I spent three days building a super-basic outline of one paragraph per “story beat.” I also made some character sheets, with basic stuff like names, physical descriptions, family background, and so on. That way I don’t get bogged down thinking up names when I’m in the middle of writing.

My new mantra is “Don’t overthink it! Have fun and keep it loose.

Once the setup was done, I sat down for 4-6 hours each day to have my fun, and I watched in surprise as my word count stacked up pretty quickly. So far, so good! The story has diverged from the outline a few times, but that’s not a problem, it just means my characters are waking up and asserting themselves. That’s what I like to see.

This whole thing has been a shift in mindset, I suppose.  I’ve turned my fun/relax dial up, and my stress/control dial down. And while I’ve got more to figure out, so far the experiment is going well.

Introducing Ellie

Well, I’ve got a delicious story-muffin in the oven, so I’ve gotta run! But if you followed me this far, let me quickly introduce you to Ellie, my new heroine. She’s a 55 year-old retiree taking her first cruise, and she’s heading off on a bigger adventure than she could ever imagine. Murder. Intrigue. Exciting Ports of Call. Fruity Cocktails!

More to come!

Letters: Getting Unstuck

Today’s post is about overcoming problems during the writing process.

Dear Future Cheri,

Hey! How’s it going? I’m sending you this letter to remind you what to do when you’re stuck writing the same few chapters over and over again. Sometimes we beat our head against a too-familiar brick wall, and this particular wall has a head-shaped dent in it! So here are some helpful reminders for the next time it happens:

Why You’re Spinning Your Wheels

If you’re rewriting the same section of your book repeatedly, it’s probably due to one or more of the following problems:

1) You’re not setting aside enough consecutive writing days.

When you take too many days off, you lose track of your story, and you’re constantly reviewing old material instead of moving forward.

2) You don’t have enough plot details in your head.

Sometimes, you’re able to sit down and write the story organically. But other times, especially when you’re in the middle of the book, you you feel lost because the vision in your head isn’t detailed enough.

3) You’re bored with what you’re writing.

It’s possible that what you’ve come up with simply isn’t exciting enough, and no matter how well you write those chapters, they’re gonna seem wrong.

Specific Things to Do

Here are some things to try when you’re stuck:

  1. Schedule at least 4 consecutive writing days.
  2. Take a walk and/or a nap, and visualize the story. What are the images/emotions you need to create?
  3. Ask “is this part of the story exciting enough?” and “are the stakes high enough?”
  4. Go big picture! Review your high-level story outline. Does it still feel right? If not, update it.
  5. Go small picture! Ask “am I clear on the purpose of this chapter and what it needs to accomplish?”
  6. If the story still feels vague, use notecards to outline/construct the section you’re working on.

What Not to Do

  1. Don’t force another rewrite. Wait until you know what to write and you feel excited about what you’ve come up with.
  2. Don’t feel like you need to solve the problem in a day.
  3. Don’t start a new project. Instead, keep your mind focused on the issue at hand even if you’re “not writing.” Word count isn’t always synonymous with progress.
  4. Don’t rely upon logic too much. Keep asking good questions, and let your subconscious work.

Most importantly, future Cheri, don’t view these “stuck days” as negative, because when you notice that you’re stuck, it’s great! Noticing stuckness means you’ve encountered a tangle in your story, and untangling those knots is an essential part of the job. So instead of getting frustrated, get curious.

Keep on going. You’ve got this!

Your friend,

Past Cheri

The Night Muse

Five years ago, on my birthday, Litreactor published an essay by Peter Derk called The Pleasures of Writing at Night. I’ve read it several times now because it makes me laugh.

Pleasure is a feeling, and feelings aren’t always based in science. Feeling something and knowing something are two different things. It’s why the Black Eyed Peas say “I got a feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night” instead of “I got scientific evidence that backs my thesis, which is that tonight will be a quantifiably good night.” Although we ARE talking about a band that did a song called “Let’s Get Retarded” so I’m probably not using the best example.

And:

With late coffee, in the afternoon or the evening, it’s not even night and already you are living a different life. Outside the law of men.

Ha! Indeed. Writing after dark can be a delight.

Writing at Night

I love working at night because the world is quiet, dark, and still. We live in a one-room studio in the center of a noisy city, so eleven at night to three in the morning is the best time to find that serene environment.

Of course, staying up until three a.m. can wreak havoc on one’s schedule. I’ve tried napping mid-day to take the edge off my daytime bleariness, but that doesn’t work. The spirit is willing but my brain requires a solid chunk of slumber.

More recently I’ve had some success in splitting my writing across two sessions, afternoon and late evening, with my second session done by 1am so I can sleep from 2am-10am. That’s my compromise schedule. Late enough to embrace the night, not so late that I disappear from the daylight world entirely.

At night, I sit at my keyboard (or journal) with only the soft glow of a computer monitor or a single book light to bring my focus down to a small area. It’s far easier to see imaginary worlds in the dark.

The Night Muse

First you get as comfy as you can in your chair, and then you turn out all the lights, and you sit very still, and you wait for The Night Muse to arrive. Then she whispers something in your ear, a little hint, and you chase-chase-chase it until next thing you know it’s two in the morning and your eyes won’t stay open. It’s fun to chase the story! It flows!

But I’m not claiming this routine is a practical one. At all. It takes up a lot of time. And each writer has to figure out what works for them.

So much advice given to writers seems to consists of routines. So-and-so writes every morning while chain smoking menthols, while that other bestseller writes every morning and then takes a brisk walk. The implication is that if famous writer does X, perhaps you should do X too. This type of advice strikes me as entirely useless.

It amuses me to imagine a podcaster, Tim Ferris probably, interviewing Picasso and asking him to detail his daily routine and what brand of paintbrush he uses.

To which I hope Picasso would say: I’m freakin’ Picasso, dude. Hand me some old Q-tips and silly string I’ll make something that’ll blow your damn pants right off.

Whenever I hang out with the Night Muse, she reminds me that an optimized writing routine isn’t what I want or need. Instead, what I love most is staying up half the night chasing a story around dark corners, letting it surprise me. And once in a while, when the words flow real easy, I want to keep at it for as long as I can and then crawl into bed just before sunrise, my eyelids heavy and my hair a wild tangle, feeling like I’ve barely escaped from some parallel universe. Passion is what makes night writing such a joy. And passion is easier to come by under the cover of darkness.

Whenever I have a night like that, I feel exhausted the next day. But also very happy.

Some things are worth losing sleep over. For me, a good writing session is definitely one of them. 🙂

My Problem with Influencers

In his long essay A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, author David Foster Wallace talked about the problem of ads pretending not to be ads.

An ad that pretends to be art is-at absolute best-like somebody who smiles at you only because he wants something from you. This is dishonest, but what’s insidious is the cumulative effect that such dishonesty has on us: since it offers a perfect simulacrum of goodwill without goodwill’s real substance, it messes with our heads and eventually starts upping our defenses even in cases of genuine smiles and real art and true goodwill. It makes us feel confused and lonely and impotent and angry and scared. it causes despair.

This passage still feels relevant even though Wallace wrote it in the nineties, long before the rise of social media. Perhaps that’s because the trend of ads-pretending-to-be-other-things has only sped up over the years. As a result, we’re living our lives alongside a bizarre set of social norms that I’ve come to think of as influencer culture. Influencer culture is most visible in the world of advertising, but it trickles into our politics, communities, and nearly all internet-mediated communication.

Influencer culture says:

  • Deceiving others is fine if it gets you more attention.
  • To succeed, pretend to be offering personal and unbiased recommendations, when in fact you’re getting paid for them.
  • It’s best to hide ads within thickets of “content” to obscure them, making them appear not to be ads.
  • Cultivate the illusion of friendship and camaraderie with your customers, for the purpose of earning a sale later.

Like Wallace said, these kinds of behaviors contribute to the lowering of trust and a kind of creeping despair about the world. Does that perky world traveler really like your photo on Instagram or is it their intern trying to create the illusion of admiration? When a self-help author calls you sweetie in a comment, are they expressing familial affection to a total stranger, or are they speaking in language aligned with their carefully branded persona? Oh, and last week when you read that darkly sardonic article on the web, did the author truly mean what she said, and did she believe her words were fair, or did she slant the message to be more controversial because controversial gains 20% more clicks?

We’re surrounded by soft lies, and every time we notice someone’s duped us, we can only become less willing to trust. This is, I suspect, how we’ve arrived at this current moment, in which the overarching headline might be: Everything is Garbage, but No One Cares, so Nothing Will Be Fixed, Ever.

But even if you hate influencer culture it’s difficult to escape it, especially if your livelihood requires selling. A friend of mine recently hired a social media strategist for her business, and they told her to hire an intern to go online and like people for her so people will like her back. Come on! Is this the world we want? My genuine, talented, friend is being told to farm out fake likes so she can have a career. And the worst part? For all I know, the consultant might be right!

I guess my problem with influencers isn’t that they’re trying to sell me something.  I’m a fan of capitalism, not to mention living in a world where valuable products and services improve my life. My problem with influencers is that they seem emblematic of a shift in our culture, one that says we can only thrive by exploiting and deceiving one another. This mindset encourages lies at scale, something that’s corrosive to our society and our emotional well-being as individuals. If I’ve gotta walk through the world with my skepticism turned on high, all the freaking time, sure, that’s gonna hurt.

Wallace saw the rise of cynicism and detached irony in American culture and suggested that we needed a new sincerity combat it. I like that idea! At a basic level, sincerity might be as simple as: Say what you mean, and mean what you say. I’d argue that a sincere marketer wouldn’t be ashamed to share an advertisement, but they wouldn’t deceive their audience either. A sincere publisher wouldn’t put a fake-controversial title on an article to get clicks, right? And a sincere customer would respond to any obvious deception with a frown and a remark that “This isn’t cool, and I’ll do my business elsewhere if that’s how you’re going to treat me.” That all seems pretty reasonable to me.

At the risk of sounding corny, I suggest we combat the evils of influencer culture by choosing to be sincere in our dealings with one another, and by (sincerely) sharing our disappointment when others try to deceive or manipulate us.

Sincerity likely won’t fix all of society’s problems, but it seems as good a place as any to begin. You be straight with me, and I’ll be straight with you. Let’s start there, and see where it takes us.

Note: This blog post was influenced by the following sources:

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
E. Unibus Pluram: Television & US Fiction by David Foster Wallace
The Massively Popular Construction Guy Influencer Account Was Actually Created by an Ad Agency to Sell Coffee by Buzzfeed News
Fake News is an Oracle by Corey Doctorow
The Problem with Irony (video) by Will Shoder

Pagination