Choices, Choices

St. Paddy’s Day was fine. I almost got through it without diving into sadness. But, alas, a great friend of mine reminded me that I mourn because I care(d). It did make me feel better after.

But life moves on.

I’ve been given a choice in my career, which is astounding. I’m so unbelievably privileged for so much in my current career. I do have to credit a woman that re-did my resume for me on Fiverr. I’m going to have to re-write my review for her, send her a thank you note, maybe write a testimonial. Just days after I updated my resume, I was contacted by the World’s Sweetest Recruiter (TM), who got me my start where I am now. My job changed almost immediately after I started; I was hired as a Tech Writer, and warned that the Learning Development team was going through changes.

I became a Tech Writer with responsibilities in instructional design, course development, course design, and by accident just because a coworker heard me speaking one day, voice acting, audio engineering, and video editing. It was the most incredible, welcome whiplash I’ve ever had. I only had experience in editing, but I’m always game to learn something new.

It’s been two years, and my responsibilities are being spread around. More work. Less time. Less budget.

I have to make a decision on what I like doing best, and what I’d like to drop.

Trouble is, I do like all of it, and I would miss giving something away completely, though I can’t sustain this course of action. What parts of my job are my favorite? Or rather, which parts of my job will help me build my lifelong dream career?

I’ve been asked this question a few times the last few weeks. I’m trying to keep my opportunities open. “Give [myself] the opportunity for choice” as an old manager once said. But I have to choose at some point.

Is there a job out there where I could just dedicate myself to working with plot lines? One of my favorite things in the WORLD to do is to read a story, analyze the plot, setting, characters, and give tips to improve them. I don’t quite care as much for grammar or anything like that.

But I don’t know if that’s a job. Hm.

Someone @ me if that’s a job that exists, haha.

The Cycle Starts Again

So guess what time of year it is! It’s time for Aly to mourn by writing Abracadabra! I knew it was coming, but somehow I always forget until it does. The melancholy is tolerable this year. I’m nervously going through February, aware that mid-March, Saint Patrick’s Day, is approaching. I don’t know how I will feel this year. But I have the whole weekend booked for DND and excessive alcohol intake in hopes to glide right past it.

(To catch you up if you don’t know, I wrote Abracadabra with an online friend, Courtney in 2011. We wrote over half a million words together. She died of Ovarian cancer. Every year around January, I suddenly start wanting to work on the story again. The urge dissipates after Saint Patrick’s Day.)

I mean…come on, Brain. I didn’t know Courtney that well, when I get down to it. I knew her favorite things, sure, but she never even told me her brother’s name, or about daily, stupid things. I knew about her cat, about her drive to help animals. I knew she loved chocolate beer, that she loved Flogging Molly and that she had no idea they were based in LA the entire time she lived.

But I didn’t really know her. And at the same time, writing with someone is so intimate, especially with the characters interacting like ours did. The days we’d title our snippets we’d send to each other with Tangled references because we were both obsessed with it at the time.

But I didn’t really know her.

I don’t know. I’m feeling a little…irritated at myself. For the past few years. She died in 2014. I knew her since 2011. Why am I mourning her longer than I knew her? Why does it bother me so much? I take death very hard. Obviously.

But here’s why I’m irritated at myself. I have considered Abracadabra one of my best works—which kind of sucks, because part of the reason it’s one of my best works is dead, and it sucks to have your best work be tied to another person. Something I literally just realized a half hour ago?

I haven’t actually contributed to the damn story. Everything I’ve written has been a re-write of what Courtney and I already did. My best work isn’t even fully mine. And for all I know, all my ideas are why it’s not The Best Ever. The story could be good simply because of her influence.

She died nearly five years ago and I’ve made no progress. The initial years, deviating any bit from Abracadabra felt like a total betrayal to her. But now…looking back, I’ve been stuck in the same cycle over and over again. And no one is affected but me.

No one cares. Just me.

And I’ve contributed nothing additional to this. I’ve altered some things, I’ve completely put my spin on it, whatever. But plot-wise? Same spot. I feel very Groundhog Day. Except I’m the only thing repeating. And I don’t know what to do.

I’ll end with some irony.

Courtney died on Saint Patrick’s Day. Abracadabra’s plot halted right after a Saint Patrick’s Day parade.

I don’t know what it means, and I’m not spiritual enough to figure out a meaning. Let me know if you have any thoughts.

Newly Discovered Mortality

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So I just learned that I'm mortal recently. And when I say that, it sounds obvious. We're all mortal (so we're told). We all die. I've never met an immortal, so why would I feel like I was?

I don't have a logical answer to that. To get too personal, I spent a great chunk of my adult life wanting to die. That's a symptom of a mental disease called depression. Lots of people have it, and those that don't really don't understand it. But I don't want to digress.

I recently discovered I have Type 1 Diabetes, insulin dependence. Now the thing that was so unique about my diagnosis is that it was discovered by accident while I was--aside from the pancreas thing--pretty healthy. I had blood labs done just five months earlier and was deemed a very healthy person. But for this... I happened to go to a Health Fair put on by work just for fun. Whoops, then they discovered my pancreas was getting murdered by my immune system. 

I've spent a couple thousand dollars this past month on this new discovery. Insulin, as some may be aware, is not cheap. And this month I had to look at my finances, see where I could stretch, where I could cut corners so that I could afford this thing that I needed to start taking. My doctors/specialists were sympathetic. They kept saying, "Yeah, we need to find a way for your insurance to work with you, because if you don't take insulin, you will die."

For a couple weeks, I was able to go on without that sinking in. 

Last week, I had to explain to someone what Diabetes 1 is. She was unfamiliar with it in English--I'm sure in her native language she knows more than she could say to me at the time. I was letting her know why she hadn't seen me in a while. "I was just diagnosed with Diabetes 1, so I have to be really careful now."

"Oh but you're better now?"

"Well, no."

"But you will be, because they will fix you, yes?"

"...no, this is...forever. I cannot get better from this. My pancreas is dying and I can't get it back."

It was that night, actually, that I accidentally miss-calculated how much insulin I needed with dinner. Then, my fiance and I went to bed. I couldn't sleep because I started shaking and feeling nauseous. When my fiance asked what was going on, I couldn't even articulate myself correctly. I just took my blood sugar and showed him the number "34." (Context: normal blood sugar is 100. If your body drops to 0, you are dead. I think of it as a health bar.) Then we went down stairs and I started eating sugar to get better. After a couple hours, we were able to sleep.

Fiance came home the next day, completely horrified. His coworker (a friend of ours) let him know that if we didn't immediately act, or if I kept trying to go to sleep, I could have had a seizure, gone into a coma and died. I've had several of these low sugar incidents while I'm learning about my body and insulin. My specialist wants me to get something that will monitor my blood sugar automatically so that I have less of a chance of just dropping dead. Except I can't afford it. My insurance sucks.

So it's a delicate balancing act: as my pancreas is failing, I need to slowly discover what my body needs, when, without being able to constantly check theories. And while I'll come out of this alive and knowledgeable, I am living the very real life where if I can't manage to pull the same amount of money out of my ass as I did last month, I cannot afford my insulin--that I need to live--and I could die. Those Kickstarter and GoFundMe stories of kids found dead because they didn't reach their goal of the insulin expenses... I never thought it'd affect me. I used to just feel pity. But now I feel fear.

Now that I want to live, my choice in the matter has been limited somewhat. I thought that only happened in stories.

A New Way to Develop

When I was younger and had  an imagination that couldn't be trampled by reality, I had a really awesome way to create stories.

I'm a very visual storyteller, in that, I have to imagine it like a movie and describe the scene in my head before I can really write it down. This isn't a unique style, I know; when I learned that others did this as a kid, I had also learned about virtual reality at around the same time.

The machine in my mind worked like this: You stood in the middle of your scene. You select what you want it to look like, the walls, the trees, anything. You touch where you want the clouds and gesture how fluffy you want them. You'd create a person a similar way--stretch them, poke their face for their freckles, the like.

Then you wrote the dialogue, chose what gestures they would use, how they would speak. Set how watery their eyes were, adjusted their shoulders, everything like that. Then you'd step back from your scene, adjust to how you'd like to watch it, and press play. Then your scene would unfold and you could see if it's what you really wanted before you wrote it down. 

You could say, "I want another pause here." Then use the entire environment to find what would give you that pause.

It's basically animating and sculpting at the same time, but a little more...technological than claymation. 

This idea popped back in my head again due to some research I'm doing for work. I think it was a pretty cool idea; I don't think it'll be something I'll see in this lifetime. But it sounds awesome. And if you're some VR developer and you think you could make it, do! I'll be your test subject. Or not. Or just give me a copy when you're done. 

Wouldn't that be cool, though?

What do you write for?

March 17th is a particularly difficult day for me. A friend of mine died today four years ago, and I've "dealt" with it by curling in a ball, crying, feeling mortal, drinking, or otherwise pretending the day doesn't exist. Today I was graced by the Migraine Gods to wipe out this day forever.  But time isn't going to stop my sorrow or grief. I'll always have that. When I don't use the day as a vessel to cope with loss, I use writing.  I didn't notice the shift, but I was working on  Parvenu  quite extensively before I jumped on  Abracadabra  and got the bug to re-vamp this site.  Abracadabra  was started in late January, and we worked on it for--was it three years? Regardless, this time of year gets me thinking about  Abracadabra , and it peaks in March, when Courtney died.  And today I noticed the pattern, which can be corroborated in my "last edited" logs. I seem to always feel a small relief whenever I reach the ending again. But I know it's temporary, and it always will be. I'll never get the real ending that was meant to happen with Courtney, because she died before we could write it.  When people ask, "What do you write for?" I often say to communicate. But I'm not entirely certain of that answer. Sometimes I write for spite. Sometimes I write to try and understand the world.  But sometimes it's for sorrow.  And I guess lately it's been for sorrow.

March 17th is a particularly difficult day for me. A friend of mine died today four years ago, and I've "dealt" with it by curling in a ball, crying, feeling mortal, drinking, or otherwise pretending the day doesn't exist. Today I was graced by the Migraine Gods to wipe out this day forever.

But time isn't going to stop my sorrow or grief. I'll always have that. When I don't use the day as a vessel to cope with loss, I use writing.

I didn't notice the shift, but I was working on Parvenu quite extensively before I jumped on Abracadabra and got the bug to re-vamp this site. Abracadabra was started in late January, and we worked on it for--was it three years? Regardless, this time of year gets me thinking about Abracadabra, and it peaks in March, when Courtney died.

And today I noticed the pattern, which can be corroborated in my "last edited" logs. I seem to always feel a small relief whenever I reach the ending again. But I know it's temporary, and it always will be. I'll never get the real ending that was meant to happen with Courtney, because she died before we could write it.

When people ask, "What do you write for?" I often say to communicate. But I'm not entirely certain of that answer. Sometimes I write for spite. Sometimes I write to try and understand the world.

But sometimes it's for sorrow.

And I guess lately it's been for sorrow.

Affiliates Wanted: I'm Lonely.

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So this whole web site thing is actually quite isolating, if you're doing it by yourself. I'm kind of shouting into the void and hoping someone hears me.

And, really, it's not like this is supported very often. I don't have any ads at the moment, so any clicks I'm getting from this site must be from my limited social media, Tumblr and Twitter. There are billions of people doing the same thing, all with a similar purpose of finding like-minded individuals to connect with. How do you even stand out? How do you matter?

So if you find yourself stumbling onto this little site, and you're in the same boat, maybe we can help each other out. What if we have different genres of sites? Maybe you sell boats. I don't sell boats. I don't even really know the different parts of a boat. But that doesn't mean I can't learn. I have several instances of my novels where characters are on boats and I probably sound like an idiot, so I could really use your help on that. In exchange I'll...let you know if you should have a comma there, or something.

Or if you write stories, we could do a swap!

Or maybe you just want to chat about the Oxford comma. (I would not be opposed to that very specific topic, FYI.)

As narcissistic as creating a web site about yourself is, I'd like to use this as a way to connect. That's all I've ever wanted, anyway. 

Why should I (Reader) ever listen to you (Aly)?

You don't have to. 

But I was an editor, and it got monotonous. 

You should be doing separate drafts involving all of the methods I mentioned before you even see an editor. You want your editor to be happy so they can extract the most potential you possess out of you. Your work will only end up better if you give them the best you can do on your own before you turn for help. I advised about 80% of my writers to do the treatment or reverse outline. If I didn't have to do this, I could get down to the nitty-gritty details of word choice and culture-building. When I work with novels that have already gone through this, I really get to nit-pick things that might otherwise go overlooked. I get to really interact with the raw potential of my writers, which then releases their creativity into crafting some beautiful works of art. It's simply lovely.

Treatment

A treatment is a detailed outline. Each and every chapter has its heading, but each and every chapter only gets a few sentences to summarize what happened with as much detail as possible. Think of each sentence or section as an abstract for a scientific paper. They're nightmares to write, but it can help you watch your pacing.

 

If a chapter is thirteen pages, but only needs a sentence in the treatment, there might be something slowing down your plot in there.

 

If your chapter is a paragraph long (James Patterson, is that you?) but you need three sentences to describe what's going on, you've got too much going on in too little time. You can't just have a moment where your Main Character goes, "Oh, this is too fast!" That's not going to make it any easier for your reader to understand. If your MC says things are too fast, you still must give the plot to your reader in bite-size, easily-digestible pieces. They might not be happy if you just shove a whole cake in their face without a fork.

Reverse-Outline

I) This section will be an example of an outline.

    A) Outlines are popular for taking notes.

    B) They are useful in academia to sketch thoughts out before you write them.

         1) However, they are just as useful when you create them after you've written.

              a) I'm not a fan of following outlines.

                   i) If I outline, I end up breaking the outline to do something different to keep myself interested.

                       a] This is not a good habit to get into.

         2) When you're done writing your first draft, create an outline while you look at it. Summarize it all, get detailed, if you want. 

               a) Here's the catch if you work with me: you can't look at your manuscript while you do this.

         3) When you're done with the reverse outline and your first draft, that's where the major editing process begins.

 

Reverse outlines are a thing I use to sneak out of doing a traditional second draft. It's fast and effective. When I reverse outline, I do not look at my draft. I wait a couple weeks (at least) before I try to outline what I've written by memory. Then, I go back and read the draft with my outline. Oops, I forgot a scene. Guess it wasn't that important, then, and I cut it. Or, if the scene ends up being really important and I just forgot it, it's not memorable enough, and I need to operate on it. I flag it as something to re-write when I'm going through the story again.

 

Looking at the outline lets me see if everything is connected. If there's a sentence in my outline that seems out-of-place, it might be because the scene is. 

 

The reverse outline is my buddy. It keeps me on track. I get in trouble a lot of babbling, so this keeps me on topic.

World-building

World-building is when you make the setting of your world. I'm not talking about bus stops and graffiti. I'm talking about the old lady that smokes on her stoop every morning at 7:48 while Bruno the Pomeranian pees on the tree your MC wants to park their bike at, right in front of the church.

 

People are sometimes mistaken that setting only has to do with the five senses we are lucky enough to have. This is only short-changing yourself. The old lady lets Bruno pee on the tree in front of the church because the pastor of said church and her got in a fight a decade ago about her cheating on her second husband. It's her way of flipping the man a bird without buying a ticket to the Hell she believes in. Why is this important to your main character and your story? Because this is something your MC will know. Your MC goes to that church and sees how the pastor looks at the dog and to the old lady, how he subtly stares with irritation while your MC tries to talk to him. Your MC might even feel like the pastor isn't listening, which may cause your MC to trail off and think about their problem as they explain it out loud. 

 

The pastor is worried about the old lady's soul, and your MC is worried about their problems. However, both can exist at the same time, and make the world feel more realistic. Your reader doesn't have to have blinders on just because the MC does.

 

World-building often ties into fantasy. Religion. Social cues. Shaking hands--is that good or bad? Does one sneeze into their hand or their arm to be polite? 

 

At the risk of receiving death threats, I will say that perhaps with a little more world-building, we would better understand why Harry Potter's bones could be healed with a potion, but not his eyes. This is just a practical example I hope many readers will understand. (For the record, I'm a Ravenclaw. Surprise.)