Confessions Of A Horror Writing Mummy

#3

This confession should have been let out a long time ago. Right now it seems that I’m employing old techniques of procrastination to try to get out of writing it. I’m hungry, get a snack, sit down. I’m thirsty, get up. I better check my emails, get up. I’m still hungry … It just keeps going on and on … well not today.

It’s hard being a person. Being a writer on top of that doesn’t make it any easier. To me it doesn’t make it harder, it just seems to get a little more complicated sometimes. I’ve said before that life can get in the way. And I suddenly realise that there are aspects of my life that need to be shared. I almost gave up on my dream—the dream of becoming a writer. It stayed with me through a lot of heartache and sorrow but there were days that if one more thing went wrong I could have easily given up.

So where do I begin?

I begin by saying that, hopefully for those of us who may not know one another, but have shared this experience, you are not alone. Giving up on writing, or any other dream you have, can have devastating consequences. So don’t give up.

I’m stalling.

After completing my diploma of professional writing and editing, (which by the way wasn’t as pleasant as it should have been) my dear mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. This was the woman who pushed me along in my dream of becoming a writer. She looked after the children while I was studying. I still think that her begging me not to quit was a ruse so she could spoil the grandkids even more.

Watching my mother through the highs and lows of her battle with this cancer didn’t put my writing on hold, I did write, but not for publication. I couldn’t concentrate long enough or I was too emotionally drained and had a tendency to fall asleep as soon as I sat down.

On the good days she would ring and ask me to take her shopping, something that used to give her pleasure. I kind of missed the days where she would always be leaving me behind. She was such a fast little walker. Now it seemed I was leaving her behind.

Watching my mother shrivel into a woman who was more concerned about how everyone else was feeling really broke my heart. She had always been strong, and vibrant. Now she slept most of the day and could hardly eat.

There was a time when anger fortified itself inside my mind. The treatment that was keeping her from being strangled by her cancer was killing her. For three years until her final fight there were a few times we were rushed to the hospital to say goodbye. She fought bravely, right up till the end.

We had many conversations while we were together in the hospital ward on our own. Some good, some bad and some were embarrassing. I already know what makes a man, my man, happy in the bedroom thank you very much mother.

But the one discussion we had, which was odd because at the time the infection she caught had made its way to her brain causing a lot of damage, was clear and aimed at me and no one else. She started telling me off for not bringing in my writing pad and pen. I told her that I hadn’t written anything in three weeks.

I didn’t tell her that it was because I was juggling the children and her, of course. She told me that she was sad because she forgot what her dream had been. She stopped everything because she had me when she was eighteen. Then she had two more children and decided to try to be the best mum she could be.

That one statement: I forgot my dream, really honed in the sacrifice my mother made in her life to ensure her children were happy. She was happy but there were days I could tell there was something missing. She told me not to make the same mistake. Having children wasn’t the mistake, she reminded me. It’s not doing everything in your power to get what you want out of life.

Three weeks after that conversation she passed away.

I wish I was a drinker; a wine would be great right now.

It was if she was reading my mind. I was going to give up on writing. It probably would have driven me nuts, but hey, life would have been less stressful.

My mother is in a much better place. Watching her die over three years was gruelling. My grief was mixed with confusion because I was happy that she was gone, because she’s not suffering any more. A couple of days after the funeral I was writing whether I wanted to or not. Clarity came a knockin’.

It’s funny. Now when I feel like giving up I think of my mum and suddenly I feel like her foot is kicking my butt. And to push the fact that she is still around and thinking of me, the first anniversary of her death fell on Friday the 13th. So what kind of mother would I be if I told my children that if something was too hard just give up?

Thanks Mum for being a great role model.

Through this heartache and release of grief I have gained a lot of character insight and not just for my writing.

I have experience.

I have grown.

No doubt life will throw another spanner at my head, but if I fall, I will rise again and again and again.
I hope that you can turn your troubles, stresses and grief into something positive—a challenge, an experience, a moment to express oneself. It’s hard. I know.

Now that I’ve shared, had my fair share of new tears, felt like a fool for crying and being relieved of some of the angst, I feel surprisingly uplifted. Sharing is something that helps lift the burden of life. As for writing, life fuels what goes inside the story. Overcome and you will feel better about yourself.

SO, never ever, ever give up on something you love. I know I can’t, otherwise my mother will descend from heaven and slap the back of my head for all eternity or until I pick up a pen.

Confess you later,

EJ

The Rejection Connection

I woke up this morning, accidentally hit the email button instead of my snooze button on my phone and was politely informed that one of my submissions had been rejected.

It is one of the most professional rejections I have received. It showed respect.

What a way to wake up!

But instead of complaining, bitching, grumbling, being upset, ready to soak my bed sheets with tears, I simply rolled over, told the husband, ‘I got another rejection.’

He sighed.

But I was smiling. This means I have another opportunity. I have many opportunities. The rejection doesn’t come for poor writing. It’s all about finding the one person who likes my sense of humour, who will take a risk. They are out there.

An epiphany gives me a ding moment. I’m not so fragile anymore. Every writer needs to have a backbone that’s covered in titanium and then sealed with cement.

Just remind yourself that with every rejection there is another opportunity, you just have to find it. And the most important aspect writers should keep is their determination.

Bring on the acceptances. I’m ready.

EJ

Experiment My Pretty.

Sketch by Georgia McLaughlin (age 11)

Sketch by Georgia McLaughlin (Age 11)

Who’s my muse talking to? Oh that would be me. If we never try to experiment we won’t learn what we love, hate, what we’re good or bad at and we definitely wouldn’t learn from our mistakes. I’m talking about writing and not drugs, sex and other aspects of life, like food.

I found myself in an emotionally bad place the other day and decided it would be a good time to start a journal. Only one problem. After I wrote the first word—one word—a character by the name of Dahlia stepped all over my brain and demanded that this story is her story and to hell with what I was planning. By the time I wrote the second line, the story was hers.

Maybe there was some stupid muse high on authority, maybe even drunk, insisting that I push myself to the limit and write the story in present tense.

Present tense.

ARE YOU NUTS?

Now who’s been experimenting with drugs?

Okay, so I caved. I wasn’t in a mood to fight. I was in a dark place and so was my character Dahlia. Actually she’s in the boot of a car. So the muse stamped her higher authoritarian feet all over my imagination and creative side of the brain.

I suppose I should be grateful. I was thinking about the story with all my concentration and I forgot about all the other stuff that was hindering the creative process.

Just when I thought the muse had collapsed on her bed with a hangover, she stuck her two cents in again.
Shorter sentences.

COME ON!

@#$%& BLEEP BLEEP!! @#$%

That’s it. I’m going to imagine one of my kids (when they were younger) banging on pots and pans for the next twelve hours.

The muse is amused.

Did I resist? Heck no.

It actually sounded like a good idea. After I calmed down that is.

So doing something completely opposite was actually not only nerve wrecking, I mean nerve wracking, but I did have some fun doing it.

Now for the scary part of being a writer—workshopping.

But the muse hasn’t finished with me yet …

Mused infused and definitely abused,

EJ

Where Art Thou Creation?

I hadn’t written a single word of fiction for two weeks. It was killing me inside. I write fiction not just because I love it but because it’s an excellent stress relief tool. I reached out to the tarot for guidance, to help me find a way out of a desperate and tense state of mind. Every time I dealt out a spread, the creativity card kept coming out. I know I’m creative, that’s the problem! Face your fears was another. But how do you face the fear of not being able to create when you can’t write a single word? A lot of card shuffling happened and a card flipped out and landed face down. The universe was trying to tell me something. I took a deep breath. Somehow, I knew what card that was.

Creation imposed itself in my brain. I put the cards away, and began to write. Of all the things to write …

Waiting for the immovable chance of moment

seeded in conception

spreading through amniotic protection

laying bare the foundations of soul and secretion

hounded by limitations

spearheading contradiction with useless darkness

spurring meaningless incantations of cynicism with lashings of boiled light

engorging

knitting ideals one solitude at a time

burning images to the blind

purge and the words will come

streaming, steaming, writhing, slithering,

naked and …

Unwritten

I am creation

What’s your excuse …

Normally I leave poetry to those who have the gift. I struggled learning it while doing the Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing. But sometimes, poetry pops into my already crowded brain and drops a line or two. I wrote this at a time that was dark, scary because I couldn’t even tap on the keyboard or hand write a single word. It wasn’t writer’s block because I could still work on my assignments. It was the issue of doing too much all at once.

No sooner had this poem popped out, I decided to take a deep breath, answer the question it asked of me. Doing too much wasn’t my fault. Life piles things up on you. My excuse was I was letting it get in the way of what I truly wanted to be. A writer. So I decided I needed to take a break from homework and rest up.

I now love this poem because it made me answerable to the predicament I was in. Writing it out somehow ex-or-cised the deeemons. The homework will soon end.

Poetry is like a blade on a knife. It can graze the surface, dig in an inch or plunge right into the heart of the matter. You take out whatever you need and as long as you write poetry that comes from the heart, soul and mind it will always help you to express yourself. I’ll take creativity anyway I can.

And yes I know it doesn’t have a title. Does it really need to have one?

The Muse was proud of this one,

EJ McLaughlin

The Apologetic Writer

It’s a sad day when a writer has to apologise because she hasn’t had the time or the emotional capacity to write a blog post other than this one. I humbly apologise. I know that as a writer you have to build up your platform by being consistent. Although I do understand the significance of such actions (after all I’m a professional writer) sometimes life gets in the way.

Please let me explain.

Every time I see sadness in my little boy’s deep brown eyes, my heart feels as if it’s ready to lurch out of my chest. A seven year old shouldn’t be subjected to bullying, not by his team mates (who believe it only takes one person to lose a soccer match) and not by students who are nearly four years older than him. He has been humiliated for no other reason than to make others feel good about themselves. No child should have to deal with bullying on their own. When I was bullied for preferring books and getting good grades, I was told to deal with it: sticks and stones, etc. I unfortunately had to deal with it on a violent physical level and eventually had to resort to fighting back. I know how I felt about it then and I know how I feel about it now. My son has my support, is now enrolled in a sport that will build up his confidence, which has hit an all-time low. So that’s where my heart is at the moment.

My patience has been worn as thin as a stretched out strand of cotton candy. My ten year old going on sixteen daughter has decided that now would be a great time to test out a new attitude. The devil is definitely laughing at me now, especially since my daughter’s hormones have started kicking in. I know I was like that, but I was a late bloomer. I’m trying to remember what it was like but I was never a ten year old girl who was beginning to develop. I was ten once but I remained flat chested until I was seventeen.

Have I mentioned that I’ve gone back to being a student, so I can teach at an adult level? As though I didn’t have enough to deal with such as family, working fulltime, trying to write, I’ve gone and added learning to my list. We all know that when you are learning there’s usually a lot of homework. I have ten activities due in three weeks. THREE WEEKS! There’s work, school holidays, (kids fulltime at the same time. ARGHH!) and in the middle of that my husband makes the lovely gesture of deciding that we needed a holiday to relax. I’m all for it which now means I have TWO weeks to finish my homework.

So there you have it. I suppose it could be seen as a weak excuse, but there’s something in all this mountain of stress and heartache that every writer should be using. The emotions, the reactions are all real. Use them when you put your characters through similar circumstances.

Trying to find the positive in all this negative is the only reason I haven’t given up yet. And other writers out there facing the same or worse problems need to remember that this is life teaching you a valuable lesson, not just about yourself but for your writing too! The bad things in our lives will eventually go away, and what you write on the page whether you like it or not has a little you in it, so use the experience and the trauma to enhance every sentence.

The apologetic writer,

EJ McLaughlin

Delidio’s Cadence

Delidio’s Cadence is one of those stories that started as a short story then progressed into a novel. We’ve all had those. However, this story soon developed into a nightmare that rivaled Freddy Kruger. Forget being slashed while you slept, Delidio was killing me with incisions of indecision. Something just wasn’t right. I experimented with voice, style, narrators and different points of view, but nothing was working. Then I had (as if I didn’t have enough challenges in my life) a revelation to split the book into character sections and have the main character doing a first person point of view but, because she is a soldier, I wrote her passages in first person with one small difference. There weren’t any I’s, me’s or my’s. It was hard, challenging, and I have to admit a little fun, but something was still not right. Aaaaarrrrgghh! It was like Freddy showing up in one of my nightmares with butter knives and spoons for fingers. It just isn’t right. A little hilarious but still not right.

No matter what I tried, it wasn’t working. Then came the wave of getting back into my screenplays and like a small meteor landing inside my bubbling pot of bolognaise sauce and making a mess, Delidio’s Cadence slapped me to attention and forced me to surrender all other stories. My orders, whether I wanted to follow them or not, are to adapt my novel into a screenplay. I’m only a civilian damn it!

Where do I begin?

I had been drafted.

I was being punished. The hardcore formatting issues, the translating prose into descriptions, the deleting of obsolete scenes and characters, not only hurt my brain, my eyes and my poor fingers, but the theme of the story changed too! I was amazed that my laptop hadn’t conked out due to being abused and continually poked at.

Eight days into my conscripted service and I had finished the first draft. Say that again because I don’t believe it myself. The story and the characters all fell into place.

I once had a tutor and manuscript assessor tell me that it read like a movie. Am I feeling like an idiot? Of course I am. I still have a few issues of world building and some other tiny issues with some character relationships, but it’s a first draft and a first draft is better than no draft at all.

Not everyone’s heart is in tune with humanity’s; that’s the tag line for the moment. For the first time I’m writing a uniquely Dark Urban Australian Fantasy and I’m feeding on the fear and uncertainty; why? because that’s what life’s like for my characters living in a world that doesn’t care about doing what’s right.

I’ll keep you posted.

The screenplay soldier,

E. J. McLaughlin

Engaging The Rules Of Workshopping

Rule Number 1:

This post isn’t about sticking your finger up your nose and picking a winner. Although gross, it is however, much easier to do and probably less traumatic than workshopping your manuscript.

You see, like most writers attending classes or workshops, we nervously accept the fact that we have to eventually show our work to others. Through the shuffling of paper, our voice squeaks, and suddenly we’re apologizing before we’ve even read a single word, making excuses as to why the story might suck. We do this to rationalise the attack that we think will ultimately destroy our resolve and confidence. What we are really doing is being defensive. It’s not hard to be when you have other writers or fellow students attacking you. And that’s exactly how it feels.

We apologise to defuse the attack, but by doing so, we are making ourselves as wide open and as uncomfortable as a woolly mammoth stuck on a tropical island with one coconut tree. We inevitably give the people working our stories ammunition. Most go on the attack because they haven’t learnt good workshopping skills yet, but there are those out there who go on the attack to make themselves feel better.

Until you find yourself in a professional workshop environment, you won’t ever feel comfortable. You will always leave yourself vulnerable to the bombardment of criticism. Harsh criticism and personal remarks do the most harm and I am sad to say that the good and constructive criticism gets lost in all the negativity.

Rule number 1: Don’t make any apologies unless you’ve accidentally clogged the toilet with biohazard waste material that chokes the air with leftover tuna casserole.

This rule came about because of a telephone call with a fellow workshopper. ‘Do you remember how we used to always make excuses before workshopping?’ The horror! The horror! But something was said that gave me a ding moment that was so exceptionally loud, I though the microwave just had a conniption fit. “What are you worried about? You don’t do that anymore. You tell us what you want. You own what you think is wrong with the story and the writing and get us to look at it.”

Upon reflection, she was right. (I hope she doesn’t read this post.)

I own it. It is my story. Instead of worrying about what others might think about the genre I write in, or whether it was a reflection on my person, I trained myself to focus on more important things. So how did I get from being defensive and apologetic to taking control and being confident? (Yet I still get butterflies when I workshop a story. I own those too. It’s who I am.)

Clause 1a: Repeat after me. I am not what I write. There is one exception—autobiography—but we’re discussing fiction. Repeat it again: I AM NOT what I write.

NOTE: I am not a demon who loses herself in a moment of torturous pleasure when fishing for a kidney.

Clause 1b: I will not apologise for writing horror, fantasy, comedy, romance, science fiction, thriller, detective, urban fantasy … If any unprofessional workshopper tells you they don’t do … tell them you’re workshopping your story, not the genre.

There are some other words you could say to them, but it would be rude and disrespectful and we are professionals, are we not?

Clause 1c: I will not say: I think the pace might need looking at, I think I have a problem with my character, there may be too many ideas in one sentence and I definitely will not say I need you to find all the mistakes. The Horror! The Humiliation! The Inevitable Attack!

Instead, I will say: Please look at the pace; my character feels like he needs more development; I know there are too many ideas in some sentences, could you help me find them; and I will always ask, what’s good about the piece.

Don’t always assume that workshoppers will tell you what’s working because sometimes we tend to focus on the questions and tasks in front of us; we naturally assume you already know what you’re good at. (I will discuss this in a future rule.)

Clause 1d: Through your writing journey, do not apologise for anything you write because deep down you’re apologising for existing and that isn’t what a writer or “normal” person should be doing. (Is there a concept of normal when so many of us are different?)

A writer, a confident writer will embrace what they write, create new life and help take their readers on a journey. For me, that is a very good reason for living. (I better include that my family is also a very-very-VERY good reason for living.)

By not apologizing for all the mistakes and inconsistencies, by owning them, you will find the most important feature a writer needs to have—Confidence—in yourself and in your story.

Until the next rule,

E. J. McLaughlin