WDTWFM #1: “Real Artists Have Dayjobs” by Sara Benincasa

I am starting a new series (well, I hope it’ll become one eventually) where I look at a thing I enjoyed and, more importantly, WHY I think enjoyed it. I hope that’ll help me to figure out what I am actually looking for with my entertainment – and how to make my own creations better.

I swear the bookstore in Waterloo Station is in cahoots with South West Trains. Half of their revenue probably comes from people bored out of their mind because the trains, once again, run late.

That’s exactly how I ended up with “Real Artists Have Dayjobs”  by Sara Benincasa during Southwest’s latest “no train service for two hours nyahahaha” outage. It had a cute cover and I was stressed and thus in the mood for some potentially helpful fluff.

And while I’d prefer more punctual trains, I don’t regret purchasing that book at all.  I genuinely enjoyed my time spent with this paper back.

So, what is “Real Artists Have Dayjobs”?

A cheap-ish self-help paperback, of all things.

It contains of 52 essays, some long, some short, all with a rather funky chapter-title type-setting. And it has far less to do with artists and dayjobs than the title suggests – only the essay the book’s named after dealt with this particular issue. Instead the author spends more time talking about her mental health struggle and how to adult when life’s hounding you, which is far more entertaining than it sounds.

Is it good?

Eeeh… Yes. Not great, but good. It’s definitely entertaining, though.

Some of the essays had me nodding along, others roll my eyes, but all in all reading the book was time well spent. It didn’t contain any new, ground breaking things, but few self-help books do. Humans had to deal with being humans for thousands of years now.

Why did this book work for me?

  1. Voice.
    This book is really funny and personable. I mean, it better be, consider it is written by a comedian, but I find many, many comedians just plain boring. This book however managed the rare feat of making me laugh on the train.
    I do not know yet what exactly I liked this author’s voice so much, beyond the fact that it felt earnest instead of patronizing. It was fascinating enough I looked for her blog – but unfortunately she isn’t blogging currently.
  2. Affirmation
    It was good to read about someone relatively successful despite not having all her shit together. It helped to read about someone struggling, succeeding – and backsliding into struggle again, because, you know, that happens to me, too. It helped to see someone’s coping strategies detailed, even though they definitely wouldn’t work as mine.
  3. Quick, Easy Read
    The fact that this book wasn’t particularly deep actually helped my enjoyment, since I started reading it after a quite stressful day at work. Thanks to the essay-structure it hit the sweet spot of being interesting enough to keep my attention, but not too challenging for my work-fried brain.

Would you like it?

Maybe.

This book is not for you if you don’t like reading about other people’s struggles, be they petty or life-destroyingly huge. You will hate it if you don’t like the author’s voice.

But if you like reading about people finding the funny bits in their dark and hard stuff, and share that authors sense of humour, you might love it.

Audience reaction seems to be split, some love it, some hate it. But I think it’s definitely worth to checking it out to see if it might be for you. You can pick it up on Amazon, and the Kindle edition is at the time of writing this less than £2.

Brainstorming plot can be quite useful…

But only if you can focus on the part of the story you right now have to work at.

No brain. NO. I do not need ideas about Theo’s first marriage. It’s at least five years ahead from where we are in the story. I need a character-appropriate ways for Nyx to smash things. Not her reactions to people trying to put her into a dress, as funny as they may be.

Brain, no. BEHAVE.

Detail work like editing seems to help, at least a bit.

At this stage, all my writing’s plotting.

So, lately I have been hammering out the scene count for Nyx+Nyssa, my fantasy-horror romance (is it still horror if the main characters WIN?) and the outline is shaping up nicely. Ideally it gets done this week and I can hammer out the rough script next month during NaNoWriMo.

It’s quite interesting to work on book per book basis – there’s a metric asston of story there; but I can only fit so much into the roughly 100 pages of each book. 100 pages are 25 scenes on an average of 4 pages per scene. That’s actually damn little space for a full fledged fantasy story, and I have to pick and choose my scenes very carefully.

But that also made me realize that ToC needs editing badly; oh boy, sooo much editing. For starters the whole Another Life Sektion needs to go – it is just as good as the main story, but they mix strangly. Even ToC has an end I am working towards, but I’ve never paid any attention to page count or where my nifty ideas would take me. Alas – this Sin of Plot has already been gleefully comitted and unless I want to yoink ToC again, it’ll stay where it is, visible to all.

(I do not want to yoink ToC again. I am finally getting somewhere with it. There are just a few superfluous characters that need some story appropiate culling.)

It’s funny how different those two books are. One’s written chapter by chapter in a way that usually involves cliffhangers, the other insists in self-contained books and refuses to yield any attempt at a chapter breakdown.

I don’t think I could write one without the other: ToC-style stream of nifty ideas gave me some of the most awesome pay-offs in Nyx+Nyssa; while the scene count discipline gained from plotting the later tremedeously helps me with dedicing what to include in ToC.

Creative cross-pollination. Apperantly it’s a thing. I’m glad it is.

On repetitive thoughts…

If I ever figure out the human brain, my first act will be to install accurate error messages.

My stint with depression ended eight years ago and I still have to deal with intrusive and repetitive thoughts regularly. Maybe I am just more aware of them than I used to be, self-awareness is self-defence after all. But I know that people who lucked out in the brain department get them too: Have you ever dieted? Suddenly you think of all the things you want to eat and where to get them and how well you they’ll taste. And eventually willpower will run out and you give in. That’s a prime example of repetitive thoughts, here caused by the intentional self-starvation.

But here’s a neat trick I learned: Repetitive thoughts go away if you remove their cause,* even if it sometimes takes a while for them to peter out – thinking certain things can become a habit, too. But you CAN starve them out: I’ve beat most of the depression specific ones long time ago.

Carina learned to deal! +1 mental health!

And so my intrusive thoughts became particular specific and highly focused on my art. I kept having the same repetitive thought to restart ToC – something I really, really do not want to do. And after a month or two struggling with it, I learned that my desire is not to restart ToC, but to actually spent more time drawing, writing and developing the story itself and maybe do some world building. That’s it. I desire to write and draw more, because I did too little because of the new work.

Seriously. Brain. What the hell?

I almost toppled everything I reached so far, because I didn’t spent enough time on ToC and as opposed to a „draw and write more, plox, time’s been tight…“ I got a „ABORT, ABORT, RESTART, RESTART AND ALL WILL BE BETTER!“

I knew before that intrusive thoughts are a marker something is off, but would it kill my brain to actually report the underlying problem accurately instead of barking „You need to do this! You need to do this!“ at me?  It’s annoying to be always vigilant so I can figure out what I really want.

 

——
* Which really, really sucks if root-cause of those intrusive thoughts is not something that can be dealt with straight away.

Budgeting Time

Last month I’ve stumbled about a series of very interesting tweets:

(The whole account is chockfull of helpful tips and very much worth checking out)

I’ve never thought about time in that manner before. Oh, of course I’ve heard about “schedule drawing time every day” and “set deadlines and hit them”,  but somehow I didn’t put two and two together and made the connection:

You can budget time like you budget money.

(Time IS money, I hear the goblins in WoW yelling, and damn, they’re right.)

These days drawing time is precious – Between job and chores and relationship I rarely manage twenty hours a month – twenty precious hours. And, like the second tweet says, I always tend to overwork my art, since I always had a “it takes as long as it takes” approach, even if it meant that stupid tree takes five hours.

(Writing time is tight too, but not quite that precious. I can find it here and there, a pen and a notebook can be carried almost anywhere, while for my art I need to be on my desk.)

This whole thing is definitely worth a try.

Creating characters to match your plot

Over at webcomic underdogs a fellow comicer posed the question of how to come up with characters to match the plot. It’s a good topic (give it a read) and it made me think, especially considering that my usual writing style is “find character, throw her or him at the world”.

This is my answer to that question:

Characters are the lifeblood of a story – a story wouldn’t happen if they didn’t interact with the world.

So, I think the question you need to answer is “What kind of person would choose to act like this plot requires?

For example, your plot requires a young teenage girl to shoot her father to protect her brother, so you need to etablish that your character capable of enough love to stand up for someone else in the most scary way possible, that she loves her brother enough to do so. You need to etablish that she’s CAPABLE of that kind of violence (even if she doesn’t know it yet) and that she’s the type of person that, when pushed, ACTS as opposed to freeze or hope the problem goes away. She needs to be someone who’d chose to kill instead of watch their loved one die, which means, no matter how kind or generally harmless she is, she needs to be someone with a certain ammount steel in her spine.

If your characters aren’t chosing to act or can’t make choices and thus are just pushed about by external forces, you have major problems with your plot. People don’t like reading about passive people being pushed about. Agency is important.

Find the choices your characters make. Then find out what kind of person would make that choice.

Hm. Now I kinda want to write a story where I start with the plot as opposed the characters. Might learn a lot.