Psychics Versus Skeptics

I’ve always had a deep love of the paranormal. From a young age I enjoyed TV shows and books with a fantasy element. Then when I started writing, I mostly focused on the supernatural genre. The novel I’m writing now highlights psychic phenomenon.

Oddly enough, this transitioned to my real life. Over the years more than one person told me about their psychic experience or encounter with a ghost. At this point I’m not even fazed by it. If a friend tells me “hey, I saw a ghost!” my response is “okay, cool, what was it like?” I’m not so gullible that I believe every story I hear, but it’s happened often enough now that I don’t dismiss it either. Besides, it’s something interesting to talk about for the moment. Why not?

I’ve never seen a ghost myself though, or had a notable psychic experience. Go figure. Apparently I’m just a magnet for people who have.

The novel I’m working on explores psychic phenomenon, but with less fantasy – meaning I’m not going to throw in vampires and werewolves later on. In the real world there are psychics who inspire TV shows and work with the police. I’m fascinated by this weird dynamic going on – thousands of fans believe in mediums, while a major percentage of the population doesn’t believe at all. (Well, I realize the dynamic isn’t unique to this issue – it also applies to religion, climate change, etc. – but I’m talking about psychics.) Every psychic who emerges in the spotlight is immediately called a fake or a scam artist. Since all video can be edited, I wonder what it would take to convince non-believers once and for all. Maybe one day scientists will produce indisputable proof.

Then again, that would bring on another set of problems. Maybe we’re not meant to know for sure.

Working on my novel led me to read some non-fiction written by psychics. The first was The Other Side and Back by Sylvia Browne (with Lindsay Harrison). Talk about weird coincidences – this book had been in my house for years and I finally decided to read it. Apparently my mom got it from someone, so for a long time it was “that random book under the table in the basement.”

I found myself interested in her version of the afterlife. I’ve always liked the idea of reincarnation – it sounds so much more exciting than floating around on a cloud for eternity, you know? I even started a novel about reincarnation before…well, moving on to another story. Browne also talked about angels, spirit guides, and learning what you’re supposed to learn in this life so you’re more informed in the next.

These elements showed up in Theresa Caputo’s (and Kristina Grish’s) There’s More to Life Than This. I don’t watch Long Island Medium on a regular basis but I relate to her. We have vastly different personalities, but I’m also an Italian, Catholic New Yorker. Queens is right next to Long Island, so there’s actually a – very slim – chance we could cross paths one day. I thought it was interesting that, like Browne, Caputo spoke about spirit guides, angels, and learning life’s lessons.

Side note – I like that she explained how she can be Catholic and believe in reincarnation. I struggled with that concept myself and never expected to receive reassurance in a book. Plus, in a book about signs from Spirit, she kept referring to the date June 9th…which is my birthday. It’s also the day Caputo’s grandmother passed. When she mentioned her daughter’s knee surgery and June 9th in the same section, I was a little spooked!

But I’m a skeptic at heart. Really, I swear. I’m open-minded but I’m not naive. Any skeptic worth their salt would argue that Caputo copied Browne’s version of the spirit world and added her own voice. Maybe she did read Browne’s book at some point. However I still find the similarities worth pursuing, especially when I might be able to incorporate them in my novel. Next on my list is Allison DuBois’ Don’t Kiss Them Good-bye. And yes, I was a big fan of Medium!

 

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More of the Same

I missed my one-year anniversary of blogging! This blog was first created out of desperation on April 26, 2016. Let’s see, back then I was freaking out about my company closing, and about needing two knee surgeries instead of one. All perfectly logical reasons to freak out, in my opinion. While I’m more focused on other projects now, I’m glad I started this blog when I did. It’s nice being able to look at my thoughts and progress from the last year. Sometimes I’ve wanted to remember milestones from the first surgery, so it’s handy being able to look back through my blog.

I haven’t been updating because nothing changed in the last month – except for my recovering progress, of course. My walker has been sitting in the corner of my room since last month, I moved to the cane, and now I don’t even need the cane when walking around my house. I’m still wearing the small brace though. My original follow-up appointment with the doctor was May 18th, but she’s going to a medical conference, so now I won’t see her or the hospital’s physical therapist until May 30th. Frankly I don’t mind. At this point I think I just need to do my exercises until I’m fully recovered.

One sort-of interesting change is that I’m using a muscle stimulation wrap that was (hopefully) covered by my insurance. Electrodes literally zap my quad muscle to make it stronger. Plus I control the strength through an app on my phone. I’ve experienced this in physical therapy before, so I guess this is the home version.

Not to jinx myself, but writing has been going really well too. There was a break in freelancing assignments so I got to work on my novel. It’s close to 30,000 words now and I finally have a clear idea of what the ending will be. This might be a little too optimistic but I might even finish this draft by the end of the year.

I haven’t returned to baking yet, unfortunately. I should flip through my cookbooks again and pick something for this week.

Shameless Plugs and a Recovery Update

I know I haven’t been posting again. This is what happens when I have too many writer-ly things going on at once. There’s freelancing, my novel, plus I’ve recovered enough to start having a life again. However I did find time to churn out this ranty piece about a Hallmark movie I regretfully watched with my mom. I’m the first person to enjoy Hallmark movies for what they are, but this one succeeded in creating an emotional reaction from the audience – it pissed me off.

The Worst Male Lead in a Hallmark Movie I’ve Ever Seen

FYI, I’m really starting to miss baking too. I’ve followed a ton of food accounts on Instagram and Snapchat (add me on both @jgiarletta), so whenever there’s a particularly yummy post I want to make the recipe. As stated above I’m getting around much better now, which means I should be able to bake soon. Of course now it’s boiling in my kitchen since the weather decided to skip spring and go right ahead to summer. Maybe I’ll try no-bake desserts.

Full Update on Knee Surgery Recovery: The physical therapist worked a miracle when she taught me how to walk the right way. Soon enough I barely needed my walker. When I saw the surgeon for a follow-up on Thursday, she was thrilled (yes, female surgeon who’s an expert on the surgery I got). She – thank the Lord – switched me from the big knee brace to the smaller brace. That was a pleasant enough shock because I did not expect that to happen yet. Then she said I didn’t have to go to regular physical therapy yet either. This is also amazing because I won’t have to pay freaking fifty-dollar copays yet. I’m hoping that, when I see the physical therapist again in a month, she’ll tell me I won’t have to go at all. At this rate I’ll be walking normally again – with the brace on – by the time I see her.

Counting My Blessings

While I’ve neglected this blog, I have been a busy little writer bee lately. I hit thirty pages for the new version of my ongoing novel project (I lost track of how many versions there’s been so far). On top of that, a freelance gig assigned me new blog posts that are longer than the ones I previously wrote for them. All good things, but between that and recovering from my knee surgery, I haven’t had much motivation left for this blog.

As usual my recovery has been the standard roller-coaster of emotions. My knee is a lot less stiff than the other one was because the surgeon completed this procedure in half the time. On the other hand, I had much more trouble walking this time around. Before I wasn’t so concerned about walking correctly because I still had one knee left to do. When trying to “be good” over the past month, I could barely out-shamble a zombie and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. Thank God for the hospital’s physical therapist, who I saw for my belated four-week appointment on Saturday. Apparently I should be leading with the surgery knee instead of the recovered knee (wouldn’t you think it was the other way around??). The therapist made sure I had the technique down pat and showed me exercises to make sure my “muscles fired.”

I’m so grateful to be on the right track again. On Saturday night I went to my aunt’s house, my first social outing since the surgery (though I’ve had visitors every week). I’m still struggling a bit but I’ve improved more these last few days than I have the entire month. I’m also glad I didn’t miss dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house because I got to see my cousin and her new husband after their destination wedding last week. Although, watching their wedding video made me wish I could’ve gone to Jamaica! At least I wasn’t the only relative who couldn’t make the trip.

I’ve had a more positive outlook these past few months. Instead of cursing my misfortune of needing two consecutive surgeries, I’ve been grateful to have the opportunity to fix knees that have bothered me my whole life. Still living at home at my age turned into a blessing because I didn’t have to worry about giving up an apartment and moving back home post-surgery. I’m grateful for my two best friends who have visited me every weekend in the last month. I’m even feeling optimistic about my writing again. While I still doubt I’ll make a living selling books, I’m hopeful about eventually publishing my current work-in-progress.

That said, I still dread getting back behind the wheel of my car in a month or so. I just have to remind myself of all those hours I wasted taking public transportation.

 How I Get Ideas

I often use terms like “brainstorm” when talking about the writing process. Putting words to computer screen only happens if there’s a crapload of activity swarming around in your brain. Whether you’re a pantser or a planner, there needs to be something going on up there before you open a text document. Thinking about your future best-seller is just as important as the physical act of writing it.

So how does an aspiring writer* get the proverbial juices flowing? Where do great ideas come from? (*IMO, the phrase “aspiring writer” is a misnomer. If you create a story, you’re a writer. People should say “aspiring author” in reference to someone who wishes to be published.)

In my limited experience, there are two parts to this answer.

Inspiration

Inspiration can be a good angel or a bad angel. It’s a good angel when you’re really stuck and have no clue what the hell to write. It’s a bad angel when you’re midway through a novel and a shiny new story idea distracts you from a project you’ve been working on for months. We’ll address the positive aspects of inspiration here.

You can harvest ideas from literally anywhere, and I do mean literally. The trick is opening your mind to them. While you’re out in the world, working at your day job, spending time with friends or family, listen to what’s going on around you. The same applies when you read a book or watch TV. My own novel-in-progress combines elements of shows I’ve loved over the years. (Mostly Disney Channel’s So Weird, a show with a permanent place in my heart. There’s also some of the dynamic from  ABC’s Castle, and the premise will probably make people think of X-Files.)

So when you’re not writing, grab on to anything interesting and expand on it in your thoughts. Add a plot line, characters, settings, themes. I picture the process as a Rubik’s Cube, where you have to move all the pieces around until they finally click together. When a scene takes shape (any scene, not necessarily the first one) you’re off and running.

Playing Twenty-Or-More Questions (Or, How to Drag Yourself Out of Writer’s Bock)

This is a technique I use when my surroundings don’t feel particularly inspiring. I’m the type to ask myself the tough questions when things aren’t going right, so I apply this to my writing. It’s also a great way to pull a story idea from thin air.

For starters I’ll ask myself these types of questions:

What do I want to write about? (Can mean anything – person, place, theme.)

What story line would fit that topic?

Which characters would best demonstrate what I want to say?

Am I in the mood to write something light or dark in tone?

Which genre appeals to me right now?

Answering those questions always gets the ball rolling. When I inevitably hit a wall after the first few chapters, the questions become a little more difficult.

Why am I stuck?

If I don’t want to write the next scene, why is that? 

What can I change?

Does this story suck and I haven’t realized it yet? (Ignore that one.)

Where do I want the story to go?

Keep playing the game until something breaks loose. The only way to defeat “writer’s block” is to think long and hard about why you’re not writing.

Finding My Balance

I’m a lot less cranky than I was after my last surgery. Since they didn’t put me on strong pain killers this time, I felt alert as soon as I got home from the hospital. I took a nap then went on my computer and read as usual.

I’m also getting around so much easier since I have a strong knee to lean on. I can’t believe the difference from last time. I feel like I’m a month ahead of my recovery when it’s only been exactly a week.

Even before the the surgery I began thinking about my life afterwards. First item on the to-do list is to get back into driving. Then I need to find a full-time job. I’m trying to be optimistic about both.

I think of the fun stuff too. I’ll be able to ENJOY my summer without worrying about my knee going out when walking on a slippery pool area or sandy boardwalk. I’ll be able to spend all day outside without worrying about finding enough places to sit. I can finally go out and DO. When I get settled in a new job, maybe I’ll even find a yoga class or something. God knows my balance needs all the help it can get. (Having friends who are into exercise helps. They can’t wait for me to go hiking with them.)

This frame of mind is new for me because I’ve always been content to sit in front if a computer and write. I never had much natural energy. While I still want to write, I also want to experience more things that can inspire me to write. The trick will be balancing my newfound outdoorsy self with my former couch potato instincts.

Now Posting Some Content on Medium.com

My writerly self has been all over the place for a long while. I don’t know if I want to work on fan fiction, original work, even personal essays. Plus The Holidays are distracting so when I’m not with family I’m watching Christmas movies on Netflix or Youtube. Maybe it’s time I read an actual book again rather than online articles about how much the Gilmore Girls revival sucked.

Anyway, while rambling on tumblr about how much I can’t stand Rory Gilmore, I remembered a website I bookmarked a while back. Medium.com is basically a social network for the types of posts I like to write, aka, long-winded editorials that make the author sound smart when we’re really just ranting about the world. Any posts related to media and pop culture – mostly TV shows – will be posted here. I might move my baking posts there depending on how it goes.

Thanks for reading! Happy Holidays everyone!

When All the Simplistic Writing Advice Makes Sense

I hate those catchphrases for writers. You know the ones I’m talking about – “write every day,” “show don’t tell,” etc. No one ever explains how to apply them. What if they don’t work for me? Am I a bad person if I can’t write every day? Which part of the story is “showing,” and which is “telling”?

Over time these pieces of advice make more and more sense. I’ve experienced “eureka!” moments, when a nugget of wisdom finally clicks into place. The onset of NaNoWriMo got me thinking about my writing practice and how I’ve come to understand these common phrases. (I’m not doing it this year but support those who are.) Hopefully my interpretations save you years of frustration.

“Write Every Day”

Writing every day is not realistic for most people. They have jobs and social lives (so I’m told), or they just don’t feel up to putting words on the page that day. Here’s a secret:

It’s fine. You’re not a bad person.

I believe this advice refers to keeping up a regular writing practice. You’re only a bad person if it’s been six months and you haven’t even opened a text document. It’s happened to me before. After a week or even two, I’ll feel antsy about neglecting my writing. Either I need to fix my Work-In-Progress, start a new one, or pick out a book to read. Speaking of which…

“Read”

I talked about this in another post, so I’ll just tack on an addition. Read bad books along with good ones. I don’t mean you should seek out a book and hope it’s bad. All I’m saying is, if you start a book and roll your eyes at the writing style, don’t put it down right away. Ask yourself why you’re rolling your eyes. Why does this story turn you off? Is it the passive voice, the slow plot? Are the characters one-dimensional? I’ve read a lot of bad books this summer and have no regrets about sticking with them. Noticing writing “don’ts” in someone else’s novel teaches me what to avoid in my own. This leads me to…

“Show, Don’t Tell”

I’ve always despised this “advice” in particular. What the hell does it mean? For the love of God, what’s “show” and what’s “tell”? Aren’t you “telling” the reader the whole freaking story? Can’t a character’s stream of consciousness “show” the readers more of their personality?

Reading bad books helped me see the light. “Telling” instead of “showing” doesn’t ruin the book completely, but the story becomes a chore to slog through. Make sure the character’s internal reactions add to the reader’s understanding of recent actions, and that’s it. I’m also not a fan of the main character making judgments like “he’s so sweet” or “he annoyed me.” It’s okay once or twice, but you need actions to back up the character’s assessments. The last book I read drove me up a wall by repeating the same exact thought every other paragraph.

It makes me think of TV shows. Doesn’t it bug you when the writers say one thing in dialogue and show another through a character’s actions?

Fix this by adding consequences or new actions that support/replace what you wanted to “tell.” I’ve always been a character-and-dialogue person myself so I understand how difficult it can be to build up a plot line.

“Use Action Verbs/Active Voice”

I confess to this crime too. Sometimes you can’t avoid “was” or “had” no matter how you rework a sentence. Sometimes a sentence makes more sense when you use passive verbs. I never liked this advice either, because using active voice all the time feels daunting when you’re not used to it.

I’ve accepted this as a bad habit we all need to break. Too many instances of “was” or “had” grates on the nerves, there’s no way around it.

“Write What You Know”

This one confused me for the longest time. “So I’m only supposed to write about experiences I’ve had? I’m not that interesting!” Now I get it. The expression refers to writing about topics that appeal to you on a personal level. Don’t choose your novel idea based on a trend. If you can’t do what your characters do in your story, at least you’ll have enough interest to research the hell out of it.

Also, whenever possible, base your characters’ actions/choices on what you’ve done or seen others do. Characters should be relatable whether they’re dealing with school drama or using their magical powers to save the world.

Okay, all that’s out of my system. I feel better now.

Filling the Void

(Or, Why We Don’t Write When We Finally Have Time to Write)

I never thought I’d be the type of person who hates being home all the time. When I had school, or work, or something to focus on, all I wanted was a couple days to stay in my pajamas and write. I never minded if some weekends turned out to be less full than others. The more time I had to myself, the better.

These days I have all the time in the world to stay in my pajamas and write. This drastic change in schedule alters my perception of what’s “work” and what’s “play.” Writing a novel and creating blog posts are now the things I should do, not the dreams that get me though the day. Focusing so much on hobbies then puts more pressure on producing an actual result. Without external motivation, or milestones achieved, it’s harder to delude myself into thinking my hobby will lead anywhere.

The absence of external stimuli creates another problem. Writing becomes much harder when thoughts calm. I think it’s why a blank page intimidates us. An average day provides us with menial tasks and responsibilities, so when we find something shiny to distract us (like a story idea), we grab onto it. That motivation is nowhere to be found when we finally get home and sit in front of our computers. Again, writing becomes the responsibility, not the distraction. We want to relax, and in that particular moment, small accomplishments like chores feel more satisfying than a few pages that probably won’t be any good anyway.

Hell, maybe this is just my version of “writer’s block,” aka “I don’t want to put real effort into my writing so I’m blaming the world.”

It’s partly because I’ve been writing for such a long time. I feel like I should have several stories published already, if not a novel. Once in a while I have to step back and remind myself there is no “deadline” in life, that everyone achieves at their own pace. A couple months ago I posted some of my original work to Scribophile. This might not seem like an accomplishment to anyone else, but it is for me because I never sought out constructive criticism like this before. Sure, I’d post on websites where I barely got readers, or send it to friends. Scribophile was the first place where I submitted my work for professional-quality criticism. All readers had good things to say but they also made me see that publication was a long way off, even further away than I’d thought.

But then, I suppose you could call that a milestone. It only took more than fifteen years to submit my writing for detailed feedback. Maybe I’ll submit to a publishing house in another fifteen years. I’m sure tons of writers are published for the first time in their 40s. How old was J.K. Rowling again?

This uncertain time in my life is messing me up. It looks like a chance to start over and finally start a career in writing, but in reality, it’s whatever I make of it. If I’m not ready, if things don’t work out, I have the rest of my life to try again. A writing practice happens without formal guidelines and restrictions, so I think sometimes our brains settle into a rut. We hold ourselves to outdated standards and forget to re-evaluate our goals. To use a smartphone analogy, it’s like we’re trying to operate a new phase in our lives without updating the software.

Going back to the blank page after a busy day, I think self-imposed timelines tie into  the “work vs. play” dilemma. It’s easy to fantasize about writing when we can’t actually sit down to write. When we do sit down in front of a computer to type up a masterpiece, we subconsciously pressure ourselves to write something good. We have limited time so we want to be productive when we do write. What we don’t realize is that, when we aim for perfection, we don’t write at all to avoid failure.

Maybe we should redirect this pressure. Maybe it’s time to view the blank page as a bigger failure than bad writing, that typing out crap is better than not typing at all. If we make an effort to write crap on a semi-regular basis, we might eventually produce non-crap on a regular basis. So for the moment I’m forgetting about publication, ignoring all my experience,  and aspiring to crap.

Getting My Groove Back

I consider myself a big-picture person, but there are times when even I can’t see the forest through the trees. It’s easy to get wrapped up in daily challenges. Lately, I’ve felt frustrated with both my writing and physical therapy process, overwhelmed by apparent lack of progress in both areas. My knee had loosened up after being stiff for well over a month, and the new sensation of being able to move it freaked me out – even though that’s what was supposed to happen. I couldn’t help associating it with pre-operation fears, despite knowing that the problem had been fixed.

On top of that, I’d hit a wall with my writing. The idea of writing everything I had planned, then editing it all, then doing something with it…it seems like too much. Then I have to hope that people will actually read it. I got a little depressed thinking of the future, realizing a career in fiction is probably not going to happen, and wondering what else I want to do with my life if not that. I even freaked at the thought of applying to publishing houses. The possibility has always been in the back of my mind, but then I think about the interview. An earlier post here explained why I haven’t read many classics. While it sounds perfectly reasonable on my blog, I doubt a hiring manager will agree.

Confidence in my knee has since improved. I’m getting around better without the walker again, and from here on it’s just a matter of practice. I often have to remind myself that it depends on my state of mind. My knee has been fixed, so it’s all on me to believe I can walk on my own.

I can’t say the same for  a writing career. While I still don’t think I’ll ever make a living from selling my books, but there could be a niche writing/media/communications-related job out there for me in the future. It’s frustrating though because I have no idea where I will eventually end up. Without knowing what kind of writing job I want, I can’t work towards it now. I’m more lost than ever before and I don’t know what to do with myself.

Hoping inspiration will strike soon. Hell, these days I’ll be happy if I decide which book to read or TV show to watch.