Monday, January 30, 2017

Take a Ride with Fibromyalgia (and Aspergers)

I have fibromyalgia and Aspergers.  Both are conditions that often come with extra-sensory issues, and I definitely have them in magnitude, particularly when I'm having a bad health day.

And this has been a bad health year.

Over the past 12 months, Nathan and I have come to realize that I cannot go anywhere more than about 20 miles away--there is just too much sensory overload, and by the time I get to where we are going, I'm too tired to really cope with all the issues at the actual event. This has been really hard, but thankfully most people in my life have been extremely accommodating of this issue. (So many friends and family have arranged to come to our house so that they could actually see me. It means the world.)

That said, even for those who love me, I know that it is difficult to understand how a simple car ride can be so overwhelming. So I decided to write up a blog post that will give you a look at the world through my eyes.

It starts before I even walk out of my house.

At home, I often wear the equivalence of pajamas all day, to save my body every possible bit of sensory overload. Going out means putting on outside-world acceptable clothing, which puts extra stresses and strains on my body. Some days it is more bearable than others, but if I am having a day where I am extra achy, just getting properly dressed can bring on a headache or stomachache.

(I know, right?)

Then I walk out to the car and buckle in to a pretty restricted position. At home, I am always switching it up, as one key to keeping fibro pain at bay has been not overstressing any muscles. I even try not to sit in my extremely comfortable chair for too long. I cannot sit on our regular dinning room table chairs - if we eat at the table or play a game, I have to sit on a special comfy office chair. Obviously our 20 year old car is not nearly as comfortable, and the seatbelt heavily restricts the positions I can take. This is the single biggest reason why I cannot ride more than 30 minutes at a time.

But there are other issues too. There's the vibration of the car. The noise of passing traffic. The smells that make it through the air system when we pass something really stinky. The changing lights. And above all, the constant barrage of changing visual images.

Everyone experiences these things all the time, of course (unless they are sensory deprived in an area), but Aspergers+Fibromyalgia heightens each sense. Most of us know that bright lights and loud noises can trigger headaches in people, but my tolerance is much, much lower than average, and it applies to every conceivable sensory issue.

Furthermore, we believe my fibro symptoms are in part triggered by skeletal issues, rising from the '3 accidents in 3 years' I experienced when I was 16-19. All three accidents occurred in bad weather and two of them resulted in months of health problems (one kept me in bed for about six weeks). This means that every single time some driver does something crazy, or we have to brake suddenly, or our car slips or slides for a moment, my body absolutely freaks out. Those of you who have been in traumatic accidents can probably relate to this feeling--and it doesn't help an already overloaded body at all! (We live in Minnesota. Bad weather car stuff goes on half the year.)

Finally, I'm deaf. I cannot listen to the radio in the car. I get nauseous trying to read. And while I can talk to the driver, it's extra taxing to lipread in the car, from the side, expecially from the right. So either I'm being strained and social, or bored and...bored.

So my body has to cope with all of these things before we ever get to our destination. Then I have to deal with the stresses there, (lipreading, social situations, food allergies, more sensory everything, especially when people have scented stuff in their house, etc), and once that is done, I have to go back through all of the driving stuff again. So, as you can imagine, keeping driving distance as short as possible is really important!

The weirdest thing is that healthy Elizabeth finds riding in the car peaceful. My parents used to find that one of the best ways to get me to go to sleep. Sometimes, when I have a migraine, I can weirdly feel better riding in the car than I do laying on my bed. Probably because I'm zoned out and on my way to help (the ER). But my body just can't tolerate everything about riding in the car enough for it to work well these days. If I want to enjoy the point of the outing (social times with loved ones, shopping) we have to keep driving to a minimum.

Once again, I am so thankful to everyone who has been accommodating of this. I hope this blog post was informative and helps clarify some of the issues! I really hope that as we continue to work on my health this will eventually not be such a big issue. I've already had to miss one wedding due to distance, and I see more in the future that will also be lost memories if matters don't improve. But I try to remain hopeful and optimistic. We keep making baby steps...

Monday, January 16, 2017

I Don't Want to Write this Tribute

I really don't want to have to write this tribute. I don't want Carrie Fisher to be dead. I don't want to face the realization that we will never see her Princess Leia on screen again.*

 *CGI doesn't count. And yes, at the time of writing this post, Episode 8 is not yet released so we have that to look forward to, but anything beyond that will not be Carrie's Leia.

I grew up loving princesses. Belle, Ariel, Pocahontas, Jasmine...these spunky heroines shaped my life in many ways. When I got older, I became captivated by real princesses in my obsession with English history.

But Leia stands in a place of her own. She was a spunky space princess who had intelligent, witty dialogue, was strong enough to do anything the boys did, but was also kind. empathetic, and diplomatic, winning the Ewoks to the Rebel cause by her own awesomeness (and the faithfulness of her golden protocol droid).

As a child, I always wanted more Leia. Finding a Leia action figure was my quest for the holy grail, and when I got her (and a Han to go with her!) she became one of my most treasured toys. I dressed as Leia for Halloween, played her in the first short film we ever made, and (in one of my favorite memories with my cousins EVER) got to BE Leia on the day when we re-enacted all three of the original Star Wars films. (I grew up as an only girl for a long time, which was really lonely except when we played Star Wars and I got to be Leia with no contest. Hurrah!)

I read a few of the novels, but none of them ever satisfied my desire for more Leia. My own adventures with my action figures were FAR more awesome. I'm really glad that I didn't discover "The Courtship of Princess Leia" until I was an adult and able to handle the awfulness of it, because it would have ruined a significant piece of my childhood if I'd consumed it at a younger age.

To this day, I remain passionate about only wanting Star Wars memorabilia with Leia on it, as a stand against my childhood when NOTHING had Leia on it. I refused to play the Star Wars Destiny game put out by my husband's company (Fantasy Flight Games) until he got me the Leia cards. While I adore many other characters in the films (Han Solo, Young Obi Wan, Padme's Dresses...), none of them comes close to the awesomeness that is LEIA.

When the new films were announced a few years ago, I tried to hold back my excitement. I knew Leia could not be the same pivotal role in this new trilogy - they would need to initiate a new cast with more longevity. But still - MORE LEIA!

Episode 7 brought some frustrations for longtime Leia fans - not enough screentime, and a sad ending to an epic romance. However, with Han getting a significant amount of screentime in this film, and Luke cued up to play a major role in VIII, I thought it highly likely that they were planning to give each of the original trilogy one 'focus' film, and Leia's was going to be IX.

The tragedy of Leia is that - unless she was due to die in VIII anyhow (as some have predicted) - we will never see her story played out on screen as planned. However it ends now, it will be different - likely a short tribute 'death', but also possibly a recast or (very remote but not impossible) a CGI recreation. Whatever it is, it will be a poignant reminder that Princess Leia was a remarkable character, played by a special and unique woman.

Which brings us to the other part of my tribute. As a child, it was Leia whom I knew, not Carrie. Even today, the loss of 'Leia' hits me harder, because it was that which played such a significant role in my own life. But Leia would not exist without Carrie, a real woman who is being deeply grieved by the family and friends who did know her.

However, while I never got to meet her in person or watch her one-woman show, I did enjoy her gift of writing. Someone told me to read "Wishful Drinking" and "Shockaholic" saying "no one else is writing about mental illness like this." And it's pretty true. Carrie is refreshingly honest, not afraid to laugh at herself, which is tremendously healing and encouraging (I struggle with depression alongside my other chronic illnesses). Ironically, I own "Postcards from the Edge" but have not yet read it. I've not yet been able to bring myself to buy "The Princess Diarist." I'm not ready to face the reality of it being Carrie's last book.

And I kept putting off this tribute, even though I knew that the longer I waited, the less relevant it would be and the more 'bandwagon' it would seem. I didn't want to face that she was gone.

But, regardless of these feelings, I owed it to her to write this. Leia was my princess, and I will be forever grateful to Carrie for bringing her to life so wonderfully and ironically.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Behind the Scenes - Thoughts on the Writing Process

Hello from 2017! It's been a bit of a hiatus on this blog over the holidays, and I thank you for your patience! Internet issues+new computer adjustments have put me behind on a lot of electronic obligations.

Today we are going to talk about writing, specifically by answering the following question I received today:

Hey Elizabeth!
I've been trying to finish writing at least ONE novel in my LIFETIME, and I'm finding it's hard to get motivated to sit down and write--especially when I get stuck.
I'd love to hear more about your process as a writer. How much of your process is planning, and how much is spontaneous? Do you always know what will happen next? Do you create a story first and then populate it with characters, or vice versa?
Anytime you can respond would be helpful, I'm just looking for some friendly advice and guidance  - Sharayah

Thank you for your question! Although I've written some on these subjects before, I figured it was worth doing again now that I have a properly published novel to my name!

First of all, a word of encouragement! I didn't get my novel published until I was 27 years old, and by a lot of standards, that is fairly young. However, since my personal goal was 25, I am still annoyed by this. (lol.)

Secondly, I would add that I wrote a TON before I got a novel completed. This includes numerous fan fictions (some reaching novel lengths), over a thousand blog posts, various short stories, and perhaps a dozen different novel beginnings. I also have a novel that I wrote twice (yes, two times), each of them hundreds of pages and MANY drafts. This novel will never be published in either of those forms (a common occurrence among authors, btw).

So all that said, be encouraged. You have plenty of time to get that novel done! Now, specifics!

The hardest part of being a writer is sitting down and typing the words.

I will go into more detail about some of your specific questions, but I cannot stress this first piece enough. No matter what your process, the single biggest obstacle for ANY writer is pushing past the initial "open word processor, type sentence."

Writing is, quite possibly, the easiest thing ever to procrastinate on. It is an entirely mental process, so you have to be fully engaged, and it is also extremely public. Even though you are writing in the privacy of your own home, the intent is usually to put those words out to the public, and any worries at all about how good your story is will put a cold freeze on your fingers! Reorganizing the bathroom looks a lot more appealing than risking public derision, right? Or, you know, writing another Facebook status...

(Admission - I am writing this blog post instead of my next novel this morning. However, I have been neglecting the blog and I really wanted to make sure I answered this question, so...)

Anyhow, the first tip to overcoming this is to remind yourself that no one is ever going to see these words unless you let them, and you probably have at least 3 rounds of revisions before that happens.

Award-winning comic book writer and illustrator Ben Hatke once told me of a recommendation he'd gotten to always end his day's work in the middle of a sentence. The benefit there is that you will always have something to immediately do when you open up your project. Personally, I write until I am too tired or know that my writing quality is about to take a dive, but more and more I find myself stopping mid-scene. (Can't resist finishing those sentences though. Slightly OCD there, I think.)

Another suggestion I've gotten and found to be extremely helpful, is to open your laptop and tell yourself that you only have to write for ten minutes. If at the end of ten minutes, you are still facing writer's block, you can close it down. However, if you are on a roll, there is NO STOPPING YOU! And most of the time, after ten minutes, I do find myself heartily engrossed in my project.

One year I made myself write first thing in the morning - before I even got out of bed, if I remember correctly. I got quite a good start on a novel that I hope will be one of my next projects after "The Song of the Fay." I dream of reinstituting that practice, but with a puppy in the house, that's no longer an option, since I have to get up and let him out, and once I get up myself, I need my own food first. However I'm still trying to force myself to get my writing done before anything else in the day.

For "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" I spent a lot of time in coffee shops. If I was going to spend $3 on a hot beverage, I had to 'earn' it with a few thousand words. However, once I stopped being able to drive or tolerate caffeine, this wasn't an option and I had to really buckle down and force myself to just WORK. (ugh). But it did get me through the first two drafts of the book, so it obviously worked!

How much of your process is planning, and how much is spontaneous?

Ah, the age old debate! Pantser or Plotter! I'm a mix - sorta, although I have become more of a plotter. I do find that my books work MUCH much better with a detailed plot synopsis from the beginning. (M&U's was about 8000 words). This is a huge deterrent to writer's block, because you always know where you are going. I do love the creativity of writing a scene and seeing what happens - BUT I usually find this leads to more doubt later on, and requiring more work in the form of rewrites, as your 'surprises' require changing more later on. (George RR Martin is a Pantser, which is part of why his books take so very long to finish writing).

Diana Gabaldon (Outlander) has an interesting process, where she writes 'scenes', each in their own file. This means that her books are not written chronologically, but 'sewn' together later on. I'm fascinated by this approach. Writing out of order annoys me terribly, but sometimes I have such a vivid image of a scene, that I need to write it down before I forget it. Having a full plot outline makes this a little easier (And less risky!) to do.

At the very least, I think it is important to have your endgame in mind - to know what you are writing towards.

Another tip to utilize - your first draft does not have to be 100k long. My first draft of "The Professor and the Siren" was just 40K at 2/3rds of the intended story. Now I am going back and adding more scenes, side plots, and character development to flesh it out into a novel-length manuscript. But it is relaxing to already have the major scenes and plot arcs written!

There are actually a ton of systems (And even software!) out there for plotting your book. I have tried several, but found that, honestly, I really like creating a list in WORD, and then adding and expanding as necessary.

Do you create a story first and then populate it with characters, or vice versa?

Depends on the story! I am a huge believer in really strong characters - and a good character will usually inspire a good story. Book #3 of "The Song of the Fay" came out of the character of Kate emerging in "The Mermaid and the Unicorn". I became fascinated by her, and she demanded that her story be told properly. So did the titular characters of "The Professor and the Siren", who are also secondary characters in "The Mermaid and the Unicorn."

However, "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" itself came out of a worldbuilding idea that was originally intended for another series for Chesterton Press. I asked to join that team, and to write something set in Europe. Specifically, "Mermaids and Unicorns in Paris." I was then given a side character from that series to develop, who became Daphne, and the requirements for her character directed what the character arc (and thus plot) needed to be for the book.

Mentally recalling my other projects, I'd say that generally the main idea comes first, then I develop who the main character(s) needs to be, which then refines the story perimeters.

One big requirement I have found I have is allowing my stories time to breathe. I did NaNoWriMo twice (won once) and 50,000K in one month is way WAY Too much for me - the end becomes absolute drivel. If I write more than 2K on a single project in a week, in generally is too much. I need to give my story time to stew in my brain. However, 2K a week turns into 100K a year, which is a really great way to write one first draft a year. This schedule changes once you get multiple projects going, of course, but that's not a bad thing. This past year I did the final revisions on "The Mermaid and the Unicorn," while writing half of the 40K of "The Professor and the Siren" while "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" was with Beta readers and editor! I also got 10K done on "The Selkie and the Queen" when I needed a break from "The Professor and the Siren." If I manage to keep that up, that translates to a new published book every two years, which is a really good schedule for a part-time author. (And most authors ARE part time, because very few novelists can actually consider support themselves by writing fulltime until they have at least ten decent-selling books out. And also, having enough creative juice to write fulltime is exhausting! I certainly can't do it!)

Brandon Sanderson, author of the "Mistborn" series, is a famously prolific fantasy writer, and often comes out with multiple books a year. He purposely switches between projects to keep his creative juices fresh, and it is a method which works very well for him.

(I DO recommend doing NaNo at least once, however, because it trains you to become a prolific and driven daily writer, but don't expect that first draft to be worth much!)

Okay, enough blogging! Time to take a break from the computer screen, then follow my own advice and get pounding the keys on the next novel!

For further writing tips, check out my page on Good Writing. If listening is more your style, I have gotten excellent recommendations for the free podcast "Writing Excuses."