This is Why I Shouldn’t Take Breaks

WHAT’S PLAYING: Christina Aguilera feat. Nicki MinajWoohoo

Recently, I decided to take a break from writing and recharge my batteries. While that might work for some, when it comes to someone as lazy as I am, inactivity inevitably leads to stagnation. The result being that I’ve written precious little in the last four or five weeks. And I’m not just talking about my novel. Blog posts, Facebook, Twitter, hell even my grocery list, all have fallen by the wayside while I languished in the doldrums feeling sorry for myself.

This morning, I decided enough was enough. No more self-pity parties. I got out of bed, sat down and made a list of all the things I wanted to accomplish today.

This is what I came up with:

Yes, I know it needs work, but it’s a process, right?

*Sigh* Don’t judge me.

Writing Lessons from Mom: Patience

WHAT’S PLAYING:  David Guetta feat. Nicki MinajTurn Me On

I prefer to do my grocery shopping at unusual hours, usually around 4AM. My reasons are simple: I hate waiting and I loathe crowds. But, due to a hectic work schedule and a great deal of procrastination, I was recently forced leave my cocoon in the middle of the afternoon in search of sustenance.

What I found instead was chaos.

I ended up in line behind a harassed looking young woman and what I assumed was her son. The kid couldn’t have been more than three or four but, boy howdy, did he have a set of lungs on him. The good news was that our checkout aisle had just opened, so we were the first two customers in line. The bad news was that it was one of the candy aisles.

The boy asked for a chocolate bar. The mother refused.

And then all hell broke loose.

Now, as sorry as I felt for the poor mother, I felt even sorrier for myself. She had obviously learned how to tune out screaming tantrums, but not having any children, I have yet to develop that superpower. I tried to back away and find another checkout station – and damn the short line – but then a woman with not one, but two carts, both overflowing with food, pulled in right behind me. There was no escape. It only took about ten minutes for the mother to pay for her groceries and cart her son away, but it felt like hours. I left the store that day, vowing never to return during daylight.

I never threw tantrums when I was a kid, especially not in public. As I’ve mentioned before, my mother is 6’4”…and she had no problem with corporal punishment. If I acted out in public, she’d not only smack me in the middle of the store, she’d spank me again when we got home.

It was double jeopardy, folks. And I was smart enough to know that candy wasn’t worth it.

Shopping with my mother taught me a lot about patience. I had to time my requests just right. Ask too soon, she’d get irritated. Wait too long and she would be too tired. The best time to ask for a treat was near the mid-point of the shopping trip, and then only if I had been extremely helpful and quiet. But sometimes, even the best behavior wouldn’t help. If she didn’t want to buy me anything that day, then she wouldn’t. That was it. Case closed.

Asking again would only get me into trouble.

But if I kept quiet, chances were I’d get the next thing I asked for as a reward.

I’m trying to apply the same principles to my writing. I’ve learned to accept refusals and move on to the next thing. Eventually, if I’m patient, diligent and persistent, I know I’ll get what I want, whether it’s a publishing contract or a candy bar.

I just have to wait until 4AM to pick them up.

Stuff I Learned the Hard Way: Easy Bake Chemistry

WHAT’S PLAYING: Nicki Minaj & will.i.am. “Check it Out

(In response to requests for more tales from my misspent youth, I present: “Stuff I Learned the Hard Way”. For the record: Yes, all of these stories are true. And no, I don’t have a learning disability…just poor impulse control.)

Lesson #1: If you accidentally leave homemade gunpowder out in the rain, DO NOT use your Easy Bake Oven to dry it out.

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

In Distress — Getting into Your Characters’ Heads

WHAT’S PLAYING: Nicki Minaj and Rihanna “Fly”

Recently, I read an article about two adult siblings who sued their mother for “emotional distress” due to bad parenting.

You can read the full article here:

http://abcnews.go.com/US/adult-children-sue-mom-bad-parent/story?id=14407409

After reading their litany of complaints, my first reaction was “Are you f-ing kidding me?! What a couple of spoiled, entitled douche bags!” When I was a kid, instead of a new toy, my mother would give me a stick and tell me to go play outside. On hot summer days, while other kids were enjoying sno-cones and freeze pops, I had to make do with frozen beef jerky.

After my initial burst of outrage, I tried looking at the situation from a writer’s point of view, unfiltered through the lens of my own experiences. In my ultra-pragmatic mother’s world, a parent’s only responsibility was to provide their children’s basic needs: food, clothing, shelter, and love. (The last item became optional once the kid got past a certain age.) If I wanted something, I had to work for it. It was that simple. Then again, my mother was a blind seamstress raising three kids in one of the poorest states in the country.

The lawsuit siblings grew up in a very different environment, with unique perspectives. Maybe money was the primary way of expressing affection in their family. (Who needs hugs when you can get hundreds?) The point is that, without knowing what went on during their formative years, I was in no position to judge them. At least, not as a writer.

Many times, characters in my stories will act and speak in ways that I wouldn’t. Those are the times I have to become a method actor of sorts, sifting through false memories of parents, friends, childhoods and environments. I have to get inside each character’s head to see what makes them tick. Then, after I’ve assembled a complete dossier, I ask myself if it was really just the abuse that turned this person into a killer/sexual predator/complete asshole. Sometimes people just are who they are, childhood environment notwithstanding.

As a writer, I want to be able to write well about anything and anyone. Whether or not I choose to is beside the point. I want the choice. And so, I think, should you. So, go ahead. Dive deep into your characters’ psyches and see what kind of disturbing images you come up with. Maybe your next great idea will involve a serial killer or a sexual predator.

Or maybe even a couple of spoiled, entitled douche bags.