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Friday, July 13, 2012

The Kindness Project: Selfish Kindness

The Internet is a very unkind place.

Sure, you can talk all you want about how the writing community or YA community or whatever-the-hell community you belong to is, like, oh my god, so supportive, but that hasn't been my experience. The circle jerk of lick-you-lick-me? That I'm more familiar with.

I guess that's why this post has been so hard to write. (And why it's late, natch.) Right now I can't find it in me to believe that people--not necessarily the people blogging today (er, the day before yesterday) but people in general--really want to be kind to one another.

Years ago, a mommyblogger friend of mine was invited on a mission trip to Cambodia. The idea was that she would go, take a few pictures, write about her experience, raise awareness for the charity. The backlash was enough to make her give up her online presence. That was the first time I'd ever heard the term "poverty tourism".

Not that the concept of people doing kind things for selfish reasons was all that foreign to me. But still. Until then I'd never considered that the people "raising awareness" for these charities really didn't give a hoot about them. For them, it wasn't about the charity or the people supported by the charity. It was about the exposure. It was about--God, I really do hate this word--marketing. Selling something. Promoting themselves.

So I've been struggling. I struggle every time I see someone on Twitter begging for help and not getting it, because they're not important enough to be talked to in open forum. I struggle every time a notice comes in that an RWA contest is short on judges, and see the inevitable response of, "Gee, I'd love to help, but what's in it for me?"

And that's the thing, isn't it? Gee, I'd love to help, but...

Kindness--genuine kindness--isn't always clean or neat or tidy. It won't always fit into your schedule; sometimes it will take your schedule and blow it the fuck up. It won't always leave you feeling good; sometimes it will hollow you out and break you. Kindness is costly. Kindness is exhausting. Kindness tracks dirt in the house.

There was a time in my life when I had far less responsibility than I have today, and I remember thinking I was so busy. Too busy. Too busy to help people, too busy to do things that didn't benefit me. I don't think it's a coincidence that this period of my life was also one of the unhappiest.

I was selfish then. I try to be less selfish now. But I wonder if that's enough. I wonder if it makes a difference. I wonder if I'll always be this angry that there are more people who would rather look the part than be the part.

I don't have any answers yet.

Other Kindness Project Posts:

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Save the Cat Summer: 7 Beat Sheet Myths Busted

Myth #1: You have to fill in ALL! THE! BEATS!

Truth: No one expects you to know everything about your book before you write it. So focus on what you do know--even if all you know is intangible, like a mood or a feeling--and then start writing. Those blank spots will fill themselves in as you learn more about your book.

Myth #2: Theme doesn't matter.

Truth: Don't overthink or undervalue theme. It is the mirror in which the events of the story are reflected.

I would be willing to wager that all of us, at one point or another, got a quarter of the way through a book and thought, "I understand what's going on action-wise, but I don't know if it's good or bad, or why it matters."

Theme is what the book is about. Theme is the story you're telling, the question you're asking, the point of it. Theme gives us the proper context in which to experience the myriad of events that will transpire throughout the rest of the book. Which is why it's front and center.

The good news is, theme isn't something you add to a book. It's something already there, a question your subconscious keeps trying to answer off and on throughout the story. All you have to do is find it.

Myth #3: If your beats aren't lining up just so, your book is broken.

Truth: SAVE THE CAT is a screenwriting book, and the beat sheet, in its original form is intended to show how one can efficiently squish a story into roughly 90-110 minutes of film. We book people, on the other hand, have a little bit more leeway.

A more accurate way to look at the Save the Cat beat structure is to think of it as a recipe. Here are all the ingredients you will need to make for a satisfying dish. You can flavor to taste.

Myth #4: Some people just don't have the plotting gene.

Truth: Plotting, like most everything else, can be learned. Instead of giving up on plotting altogether, ask yourself why you have such an aversion to it. Is it because not knowing what happens next makes you nervous? Or because knowing too much ruins the story for you?

"That doesn't always work for me" is better than "I can't do it" any day.

Myth #5: "Formula" is a four-letter word.

Truth: Math, science, the universe, and pretty much everything else is made up of some kind of formula. Your DNA? A formula. Your favorite beer? A formula. The way your mind works when coming up with stories? A formula. The beat sheet is no different.

Myth #6: It's impossible to cram the happenings of a 400 page book onto one beat sheet page.

Truth: Can't fit your whole story onto one beat sheet page? Easy. Use more than one beat sheet. Separate your action plot from your romance plot from your subplots and map them each out individually.

Myth #7: This isn't working for me, so I must be doomed for failure.

Truth: Not every book on writing will help every writer. Everyone's different. There are hundreds of books on writing out there. They won't all help you. But a handful will. Keep reading and trying new things until you find them.



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