Writing with Focus

I have recently decided to let go of my decision (which now seems arbitrary) to post here every single week. It was a good lesson in disclipline for 2017, and helped keep me focused on maintaining my online world, but it also took a lot of time and energy. I also had a goal of sending out two newsletters a month (which I almost met) and continuing some pretty major work on my next novel, and some adult fairy tales.

That’s a lot of writing and heck of a lot of deadlines.

I tend to get pretty locked into all the “shoulds” and “supposed tos” of the world. I’m supposed to keep my blog current, right? I’m supposed to maintain weekly or semi-weekly contact with my audience, right? I’ve even spent a lot of time researching the websites of my favorite authors to see what they feature there, if they blog, and how often they (or their web designers or assistants) update their content.

That didn’t help, at all. There were so many different types of websites out there for each of them – some with blogs, some without. Some websites were masterfully designed with animation or themes that matched their upcoming release. And some were downright awful – basic templates with zero detail toward design and branding.

So that research didn’t give any shoulds or supposed tos. But it did make me see that everyone is doing it differently. And that that’s okay. Some of the authors with the crappiest websites are some of the most successful authors on the NYT Bestseller list. It really didn’t seem to matter one way or another whether or not they were blogging or podcasting. They’re all doing pretty well, so far as I can see.

I feel a little relieved by that. Sometimes the pressure to blog makes me feel like I’m forcing the issue. And it genuinely takes away from my time writing the projects that matter to me so much more.

I also talked recently about how and when and where to share more honestly and that’s something I’m still debating. Is that something I want to live on my blog? Or do I want to go more deeply into my newsletter? That’s definitely something I’m thinking about.

In any case, as I consider my next steps, I know it’s important that I start putting more energy toward my high priority projects. So I might be posting a little (or even a lot) less around here. Or maybe transitioning into newsletters. Or podcasts. Or…?

There’s a lot to think about this winter, which is exactly what winter is for. Thinking, renewing, gathering energy for the next move. I know I need a lot of clarity about not only what I want to do…but WHY.

What I learned about communication from the process of recording an audiobook

As I write this, I’m in the middle of the process of recording The Poison Box for its audiobook debut. I have always wanted to do this. I work so hard, in my fiction writing, in particular, to make my prose as poetic as possible, and the act of speaking those words aloud, in the tone and rhythm that I intended, gives me such a wonderful sense of completion. I love hearing my world come alive, and hearing the sound of my characters’ voices even though those voices are only my own (I’m not an actor, and as such, I thought it would be a wiser decision to just use my own voice with an attention to tone and timbre that would match the character and his or her emotion.)

 

This project has also taught me so much about myself and communication that I did not expect. For one thing, I learned that I do not enunciate very well. (Who knew?!) I had to record so many retakes, and later, it was discovered that there were even more enunciation issues that had to be fixed.

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2015-2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2015-2017

 

The culprit, I think, is talking faster than I’m thinking. There have been many times in my life when I felt that I was on a timer the moment I opened my mouth – as if I’m either actually being timed or I only have a certain allotment of words that I can use before I run out. There has also been the influence of my introversion, which eschews the spotlight, and as such, wants to finish speaking as quickly as possible so I’m no longer the focal point of someone’s attention.

 

But…what an absolute pleasure it is to experience holding that attention with my words for such a prolonged period of time. What a pleasure to learn to speak every word slowly enough to hear every phoneme. Slowly enough to taste each sound.

 

This attention to detail – to clear speech – has also brought other lessons to light. It is so important, I realized, to speak clearly and with incredible attention to detail and intention. What are we trying to communicate? Why? Is the tone clear? Are the words enunciated? Is there sufficient context?

 

Communication is so vitally important. Whether verbal or non, it is the bridge that connects us to another person. Words, whispers, glances, expressions, touch. I realize more and more as I work through this project that we should always be so mindful, so careful about how we communicate. All our forms of communication are literally the threads that bind us to one another. Unclear communication creates barriers that weren’t meant to exist. And worse, careless communication creates fraying at the threads of our connections.

 

Lastly, I am reminded of the importance of seeking and speaking truth – something that’s incredibly relevant to American culture right now. The Poison Box circles around a set of stories – “facts” that are carelessly (one might even say vindictively) circulated by people who were not witness to the events and who, as such, don’t actually know the truth. The reader has no reason to question these accounts, trusting, like we all do, their narrators (in this case, the characters who tell those stories) until, a few chapters later, I revisit those stories from the perspective of the person who was actually involved. Suddenly, the reader discovers they don’t know what actually happened, at all, and that everything that was taken as fact by other characters was either entirely untrue, or was true but with a very important piece of missing information that made the event look a whole lot different once that piece of information was gleaned.

 

Misinformation and assumption have been weighing heavily on my mind, thanks to the state of the media and politics right now (and honestly, for a long time). It’s so easy to listen and believe whatever we hear, forgetting that there might be an agenda behind the information that’s being spread. There might be falsehoods or, at the very least, interpretations that create inaccuracies.

 

It’s so important to go straight to the source when we want factual information. It’s so important to question what we hear, to recognize the filters that information travels through. It’s so important not to react to information until we’ve done some solid investigating. And it’s critical that we don’t share it until we know what we’re sharing. Inaccurate information is like a virus – it’ll spread quickly and destructively if we aren’t careful to keep the germs at bay.

 

As a writer, I’ve always known our words are a great gift. So much more so than I think we realize. The chance to communicate in any way is such a blessing. But we were given even more than that – the ability to paint pictures and evoke feelings with words. The ability to share our stories with each other in any way we please.

 

This is a gift that deserves to be honored for the privilege that it is. We cannot afford to keep throwing words into the world without forethought or intention. We have to be the stewards of truth, of thoughtful, considered speech, of impeccably researched information.

 

It’s easier and far more dramatic to let our mouths (or fingers, if you’re a writer) run away with us. Sloppy communication and incendiary information boosts the ratings. Because of this, I think it’s safe to say that the media will not change this trend. Politicians will certainly not change it.

 

The change is up to us. We don’t need to be writers or public speakers or journalists. Even in our small circles, being impeccable with the information we share will create huge ripples of change. In a world this full of noise, this full of incisive inaccuracies, people will take notice of deliberate, intentional communication.

 

So thank you, Poison Box, for a million gifts, including the reminder of how beautiful words are, how important it is to speak precisely, and how much this world longs for truthful, intentional communication.

 

Say Something

There is a stunning, almost Dali-esque dream sequence in Gilmore Girls in which Lorelai, after finding Luke wants some time to think about their relationship, finds him in the Black, White, and Read Movie Theater. There, the two watch a scene from their past, sitting at her kitchen table, Luke telling her he is "all in."

Lorelai just sits there, staring eerily into space.

The dream version of herself watching this movie version says, "Say something," then, more forcefully, "Say something!"

 

Copyright: 2016 Yancy Lael

Copyright: 2016 Yancy Lael

 

There's more to it (that blue ribbon…gives me the chills every time), but that's the basic story, and I often think of that scene whenever I witness a situation in which people stay silent even when silence is dangerous.

Say something!

I have written recently about how important it is that we think before we speak and that we don't litter the world with an endless stream of thoughts, words, and opinions. So often, we allow ourselves to default to reactionary behavior that ultimately doesn't help anyone or anything. We argue endlessly on social media, for instance, forgetting that our personal accounts are not actually public platforms, and that posting and sharing isn't a substitute for our civic duty as citizens of arguably the most vibrant, powerful democracy in the world.

However it's also important our intentional communication includes speaking out against what threatens our country, our lives, and, ultimately, the state of the world. We need to communicate this not just to the people who make and protect our laws, but to those in our immediate vicinity. Our children need to see us lay down a firm boundary.

 

::It is not okay to persecute (in any way, even subtle ones) a whole group of people just because of their religion.

::It is not okay to hold the highest office in the nation and to use that position to spread blatant lies, generate suspicion of the media, and promote family businesses.

::It is not okay to silence a woman (two women, if you think about it) on the senate floor, based the selective enforcement of an obscure rule that doesn't appear to apply to male senators. That is absolutely NOT OKAY.

::It is not okay that the leader of the free world has publicly made incredibly sexist and misogynistic comments about women on multiple occasions and has never addressed that or apologized.

 

I find myself perplexed these days, watching very carefully what is and is not being said. I see a lot of backlash from the left, predictably, on social media, in the news, and even in my everyday observations out in the world.

Yet there is silence in places I didn't expect to find it. An almost deafening silence. I'm not sure where those voices are or why they are remaining silent.


So yes, we need to be careful with what we say, intentional, responsible, and compassionate. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't say anything, at all. Now, like never before, we need to speak.

Say something.

Intentional Words, Intentional Action

It is a noisy world out there. These days, it’s noisier than ever. I find myself both addicted to and repelled by social media. I want to see what’s going on, what people are saying and sharing, but I also feel like I’m going to come out of my skin listening to all the squawking (including the squawking in my own head).

I’ve noticed that I’m feeling compelled to share everything on Facebook. If I see an article about something I like or something that’s upsetting me, I feel such a pull to hit ‘share’ and post it along with my opinion. I have to remind myself over and over again that the Facebook contacts on my personal page (friends, family members, and colleagues) already know my opinion. It won’t surprise them or enlighten them to hear that I’m against the Dakota Access Pipeline, for instance. And as for my Author Page, it’s important for me to respect the people who are supporting my work by not cluttering their feed with endless links – I’m sure they’re seeing enough of that from their own friends and family.

I’ve also noticed there are interesting parallels between the social media world and the White House right now. There’s a lot of noise over there, too. A lot of overlapping voices. A lot of words whose truth, meaning, and/or consequences are, as yet, unclear. A lot of anger and defensiveness. A lot of squawking.

We are all storytellers, whether we are writers or not, and we’re all trying to tell our story the loudest.

Unfortunately, the noise is making us all a little antsy. A little louder than usual. And more prone to reactionary storytelling than we should be. Just like on Facebook, we’re randomly spewing ‘shares’ and opinions even to those who already know our opinions. Even to those who don’t care about our opinions. Even to those who don’t need to know our opinions.

My time on social media is pushing me to be more intentional with what I put out into the world. I don’t want to contribute to the noise. I want to create and protect beauty with my words.

The truth is, my friends and family, for the most part, don’t need to wade through a stream of shares and opinions from me. They already know me. Sharing these things isn’t going to change anyone’s mind if they disagree. And it’s not going to change the situation I’m squawking about, either.

While I’ve found it important to share my feelings about political issues from time to time, for the most part, I’m trying to be more intentional with my voice. I’m writing to my representatives. I’m working on editorials. I’m weaving my thoughts and feelings into my work as a fiction writer and a feminist artist.

Photo copyright: C. Martin, 2015

Photo copyright: C. Martin, 2015

I ask myself these questions over and over:

What am I hoping to gain by sharing this?

What are my intentions in sharing this?

Is this going to protect the beauty of the world or create more of it?

I think it’s important for us all to go deep and get very clear about our intentions whenever we speak, write, or communicate in any way. There’s been a lot of change and the world is a little topsy-turvy right now. We have to right ourselves before we can start getting clear about who we are and where we want to go. That’s going to require a little silence which means we’re all going to have to learn how to cut out own unnecessary noise.

Now the big challenge for me is implementing this in my personal conversations. In general, I’m doing pretty well, but I have to admit, with my very small inner circle, there’s a lot of squawking going on. I’m going to have to start thinking about the relationships in my inner circle as a social media feed. Then I can start asking myself whether or not I really need to share what I’m sharing.

In the meantime, I, like so many, am navigating my way through this dark forest by the light of my lantern. One step at a time. And as intentional as I can remind myself to be.