Write What You Need

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Write what you know. One of the most common pieces of writing advice you will ever hear. It’s not wrong either. As writers, we draw from our personal experience to help bring our stories and characters to life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

But it doesn’t always have to be that way.

People are always going to tell you how you should be writing or what you should be writing about. Sometimes they have good advice. Other times they mean well, but they are the opposite of helpful.

Tell the story you want to tell. That you need to tell.

The stories we tell don’t always fit into our personal experiences. Just look at fantasy, sci-fi, and murder mysteries. Literally any form of fiction. While our experiences and opinions influence the stories, you are in no way required to write within your world. Sometimes you need to step outside of what you know and step into what you need.

Writing, in and of itself, is a form of exploration. It is a massive thought experiment full of “what if this…” It is a chance for people to think through things they have always wondered about. A chance for writers to create the world they have always dreamed of. We get to live in a world that is completely our own where, for once, we are in control.

It is a form of escapism for the writer as well as the reader. We all struggle. We all experience hardships. Some of us have struggles that never really go away. We have this baggage that we just have to learn to live with. We all have to face the darkness and there will always be something we wish we could have or experience, that we know will never happen.

Some of the most beautiful stories come from what we wish for, what we want. Writing gives us a chance to hold up a mirror and show the world what needs to change. How the world can be better.

When life gets crazy and things get messy, we don’t need a reminder of how scary the world can be. Life is hard. Life isn’t fair. We are all aware of this. We need to see that things can be better. That life isn’t all bad. That there is hope.

Instead of writing what you know, write what you need. Because chances are the world needs it too.

Why We Tell Stories

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If you have not guessed by now, I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to storytelling. As human beings, we have been telling each other stories as long as we have been capable of communication. We have had this intrinsic desire to share our experiences with others. No matter what part of the world you are from, what culture, what religion, we all have our stories.

And we are creating more every day. Between blogs, podcasts, games, movies, tv shows, books, poems, (and any other medium I may have missed) there are countless new stories created each day. Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat have stories and Twitter has moments. We cannot seem to get away from this need to share.

Why is that? What are stories so important?

Making sense of the world

All you have to do is look at mythology and legends to see how stories help us make sense of the world. Myths are stories people created to explain what was happening around them. They created the gods and goddesses to explain how the world came to be and how humanity was created, as well as all manner of natural phenomena. They did this to feel like they had some sort of control over the world, that they could appease these deities into doing what they wanted. It also gave them something to blame when the worst happened.

The stories of heroes help them understand their place in the world. Whether in relation to the deities or their society, these stories work as a sort of social blueprint. The heroes and heroines and damsels all serve to show people what is expected of them. The evil witches and wizards and temptresses show what is not acceptable.

You also have fairy tales. Short, fantastical stories used to teach children to behave. They usually feature misbehaving children who suffer the dire consequences of their actions. The original versions of these stories can be quite terrifying and, contrary to popular belief, the Grimm fairy tales were not written for children.

Even though we are older and wiser and know these stories to be untrue, they continue to captivate us. Part of this can be attributed to Disney as well as Marvel and DC Comics, of course. But even without that, we are still drawn to these older tales. They are timeless and curious and I can’t help but marvel at how much they tell us about where we came from as humans.

Making sense of our lives

When you read, write, or tell a story, you experience things through the character’s eyes. We identify with them because we see part of ourselves in them. Some people live vicariously through them because their lives are more interesting. We celebrate when they celebrate. We mourn when they mourn. Sometimes we even grow up with them.

Writing the story adds a whole new layer to this. There is a quote that says a writer lives a thousand lives, and it is really true. Reading a book, you have no idea how the story started or what all it went through. There are countless revisions, additions, sometimes a genre shift or two. Some stories may even have started with a completely different main character.

We pour so much of ourselves into the world, the plot, and the characters. It is impossible not too. We use these stories to work through whatever it is we are struggling with. It may seem like we are using writing to avoid our problems but for many of us, it is how we process things.

Journaling is another form of telling a story, although few people ever get to read our journals. The act of physically writing down what is going on in your life is very therapeutic. It is like being able to share all your secrets with someone who never judges and never tells. Here you can work out exactly what you are thinking and feeling with no fear of repercussions. While I refer to writing as thinking on paper, journaling is feeling on paper.

Making connections

As I said earlier, mankind has been telling stories since we were able to communicate. These stories can connect people in ways you may not realize.

Look at fan communities. People bonding over a shared love of a story or series of stories. Not only does this give people a chance to share their thoughts and opinions, but they do so much more.

These communities allow people to build lasting friendships with people from all around the world. They gather together to support each other in times of need. They help teach people that it is okay to be different, to like different things, to have different interests. They show people what it is like to feel accepted.

This applies to online communities as well as when people run into each other and realize they share an interest.

There is another way that sharing stories can help bond us to people. We all have stories we wish were not true of our lives. Things that we have done, things that happened to us, things we have to struggle with. These are the stories we keep to ourselves unless we really, truly trust someone.

We don’t always realize that the people around us have those stories too. By opening up and sharing your experiences and your struggles with someone, you let them know they can open up to you. We are less alone than we think. My personal experience has been that our struggles are not uncommon.

It is okay to struggle. It is okay to doubt. It is okay to share this with people. Friends can help you come to terms with what you are dealing with, help you realize you are not alone, and help you find a way to move past it.

All in all, the world would be a much darker place without stories.

How have stories changed your life?

My Battle with Writer’s Block

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I have competed in NaNoWriMo every year but one since 2011, to varying degrees of success. And by varying degrees of success I mean I have never won but I did finish some of the stories. This past year, though, I had an interesting experience.

Plotting started a few months before November. I had already been chewing on the idea for a while and it was finally the way I liked it. I developed the characters, laid out how I wanted things to unfold. I was ready to go.

64 pages and 23 days in I finally gave up. There were maybe 12 pages that I was okay with. Everything else I hated. I tried at least six different ways but could not for the life of me get it started. I liked the world, I liked the characters, but everything else I couldn’t stand.

So I shelved the story and tried to move on with my life. This is one of the worst cases of writer’s block I have ever had. Not counting the time I finished a story and then could not look at it again for a year.

I could not for the life of me figure out what the problem was.

I continued playing around with the idea every so often for the next few months, hoping I would find some way to make the story come to life.

That is when it happened. Two side characters who had been creeping along the edge of the narrative stepped forward, bringing with them the few pages of another unfinished story. One of them had existed since the beginning and the other showed up in one of the attempted introductions. Both were important to the story, though I could never quite figure out their motivations.

I was a little confused when they came up to me. We all sat down with a cup of tea and they told me the whole story. Their story. Piece by piece things started clicking together. It took some time and a two hour Skype call with a friend to iron out some of the details, but the story was finally ready to be told.

The main cause of writer’s block is because the story is not ready to be told. Either it needs more work or you personally are not ready to write it yet. Anxiety and insecurity can play a big part in this. I will dive further into this topic at a later date.

The good news is, there are ways to cope with writer’s block. Take a break. Try it from a different angle. Talk it through with another writer or storyteller or creative person. Drop your characters down a hole and see how they get out of it. Take them to the circus.

Whatever you do, don’t give up on writing. Just because you are stuck, just because it doesn’t look like things are working out the way you want them to, doesn’t mean it’s the end. Writing is hard. It is also very subjective. Keep an open mind and don’t lose hope.

You can do this.

The Power of Building Your Brand

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Here is a lovely little infographic about social media that was created within the last year.

You may be thinking “why does this matter to me?”

It matters to you because if you want to tell your story, social media is the perfect place to do it.

The power to tell your story

You may be thinking “why does this matter to me?”

It matters to you because if you want to tell your story, social media is the perfect place to do it.

When people talk about ‘branding’, this is what they mean. Each brand is its own story. Each brand has its own message that it wants to share with the world.

And these brands are choosing to use social media.

Now, I know that social media can be intimidating, especially with all of the negativity and stigma. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a positive influence on social media.

Think of social media as a tool. At is core, that is all that they are. Platforms.

Platforms that you can use to your advantage.

The power to be yourself

People crave authenticity.

Think about it. People flock towards those they identify with. They celebrate the celebrities who are open and honest.

There is power in being authentically yourself.

Share your journey. Share your passions. Share your knowledge.

You can start building your audience today. Talk to people. Tell them who you are. Start documenting your journey and people will pay attention.

They will celebrate your highs and rally around you in your lows.

All you have to do is be unapologetically yourself.

The power to reach people

As I mentioned before, there are a lot of people in this world who use social media.

Many of those people would greatly benefit from hearing your story.

They are also people you will never run into during your daily routine.

The wonderful thing about social media, and the internet in general, is that it connects people.

If you decide to build your brand through social media, there is no telling how many people you will reach. I have started to build relationships with people in Canada, Australia, and I even have a follower from Israel (shoutout to the wonderful Galit Balli)

There is no telling just how far your story can travel.

The power to connect

This is another amazing bonus of building your brand. It forces you to connect with people.

When you start broadcasting your interests and sharing your knowledge, you will attract people with similar interests. Case in point, my friend Galit. We both have similar interests.

I have another friend I met through a writer’s group on Facebook. She has been a good friend and writing buddy since 2013. Never met her in person (she lives in Colorado and I live in Texas).

One great thing about connecting with people, is it makes you realize you aren’t the only one.

No matter how obscure your interests are, I assure you there are others out there who are interested in the same thing. They will gather to you. You can create a much needed community.

At the very least you will meet some interesting people. You may even make a friend.

The power to inspire

This is probably my favorite point of them all. It feels me with the warm fuzzies.

You see, there is this thing that happens when you begin to grow a following doing something you love.

You inspire people.

Whether it is what you are talking about or simply what you are doing with your life, you will inspire people. You inspire them to try new things. You inspire them to work to achieve their dreams.

When you are living your life to the fullest. When you are chasing your dreams. When you are connecting with others. When you are living a life that 100% true to yourself. You are showing others that they can do it too.

When you take that first step towards changing your life, you never know who will follow you.

So what is standing in your way?

Why the end does(n’t) matter

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In the 300th issue of Game Informer, they listed the top 300 games of all times.  Mass Effect 3 was ranked #99 (above Breath of the Wild!).

Yet I would be willing to bet money that there are still people who hate the ending.

The most popular argument is that the options you are given in the end don’t match up with the common themes of the game. There are also MULTIPLE jokes about color coded endings.

Image result for me3 3 endings

You have the paragon and renegade control endings.

The Reapers prefer the synthesis ending (it personally creeps me out).

And then you have the destroy ending, the one ending I can’t bring myself to chose.

People have come up with all kinds of theories to explain the oddity that is the ending, the most popular of which being the Indoctrination Theory (I highly recommend Game Theory’s version)

I even have my own indoctrination theory about how the Reapers have been unintentionally indoctrinating all organic life towards their way of thinking throughout the entirety of their existence. More of that later.

Back the point of this post. My defense of the ending of Mass Effect 3.

No matter what your opinion of the ending is, there is one thing you probably haven’t considered.

Let me ask you a question.

How many times have you replayed the series?

I am currently on my third play through. The ending punches me right in the gut each time I play. It doesn’t matter that I pick the same ending, it still tugs on every single one of my heartstrings.

If there had only been one ending, it would not have had as much of an impact. If the ending had been everyone living happily ever after, I may not have been as compelled to live through the story again and again.

This is a game where all of your decisions matter. Where you represent the hope for the future. So, what happens if, in the end, you refuse to decide?  Then it is game over for everyone. The only way to ‘lose’, is to chose not to chose. 

I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as profound.

You can dislike the ending. You can wish there was something more, some way Shepard could survive.

But you will still keep on playing the story over and over again. You will relive the story of Shepard, maybe making the same choices, maybe not.

You will never forget the power of having your choices matter.

You will never forget the power of knowing that Shepard’s story will live on.

What legacy did your Shepard leave behind?