Category Archives: How To

Don’t be Quick to Accuse; Research First


 

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

 

Jumping to conclusions is, I believe, part of being human. However, this doesn’t mean that you need to RESPOND with that jump to conclusion without doing your homework first to be sure that your “jump” isn’t going to land you in quicksand.

Don’t be so quick to make accusations without researching a problem, issue or situation and gathering all the information you can to make an informed, adult decision – and therefore, appropriate response. By making accusations and judgment calls instead of asking questions and seeking evidence, you may damage or even destroy a relationship, whether personal or professional. And along with that, the level of trust that existed in that relationship may be difficult to regain.

Now, people who know me well may say that I’m the pot calling the kettle black. But if those same people are paying close enough attention, they’ll realize that in most cases, I don’t just throw out accusations or spout off without doing some thinking and research first. When I DO respond to a person, or situation, it’s with some facts to back up my position.

I have a temper, and historically, have been quick to judge and offer my often unsolicited opinion (well, I still do that, but it’s usually from a place of experience and knowledge instead of just wanting to hear the sound of my own voice). I also am about as far from “politically correct” (an oxymoron, if I’ve ever heard one) as you can get and still be somewhere in the realm of “tact.” In the past few years though, I’ve been striving more to consider the thoughts and feelings of my fellow humans (you’re welcome), by applying The Golden Rule to my responses and opinions.

In case you’ve forgotten the meaning of The Golden Rule, it’s simply this: to treat others the way you wish to be treated.

Here are a few things that I’ve learned to employ that help me with this:

  • I write out my “rant,” either in the notes on my iPhone or in a Word doc on my computer. This helps me word vomit my feelings and jumps to conclusions without need for editing or considering how harsh or sarcastic my language. I know that THIS version will NOT be shared with anyone, so I’m free to be my most instinctive self in this medium.
  • I pray about it. I know that praying should be first, and quite often it is, but there are times that I’m so angry or so hurt or offended that my default engages…my default is to write. So often I pray while I’m word vomiting. Whichever comes first, I usually do both.
  • I “vent” to my mother. Sometimes this venting session is immediate, sometimes it’s after the word vomit, if I need a voice of wisdom. I thank God daily for my mother! She’s been my sounding board for years, and I trust her more than any other human on earth.
  • If there is research to be conducted or education to be obtained (the issue is political or religious or scientific or some such), then I research multiple sources across the spectrum so that I at least have an idea of what I’m talking about. If there is no research to be gathered (it’s a personality conflict or difference of personal opinion with a co-worker or a friend, etc.), then after the word vomit, praying, and sometimes after the venting session to my mother, I’ll sleep on it.

I’ve discovered that all of this is important to my mental health. Recently I’ve discovered that if I don’t set boundaries with people, when my knowledge and experience are challenged (I don’t mean that people are asking my qualifications, I mean they are flat-out accusatory or demanding something I’ve already stated is either beyond my abilities, or impossible within a certain timeframe), I experience mini panic attacks. I HATE panic attacks! And the more birthdays I have, the more often these mini panic attacks happen if I don’t set proper boundaries. Therefore, the older I get, the less nonsense (“nonsense” as defined by me) I’m willing to put up with, the less compassion and tolerance I have for peoples’ drama (“drama” also as defined by me), and the more bridges I’m willing to burn.

These are all reasons WHY I employ the above steps before responding in most situations. As much as my knee-jerk reaction is to flood my social media and text messaging with hurricanes of sarcasm, virtually burn bridges both personally and professionally, the part of me that’s still in touch with reality in those moments realizes that by giving into those thoughtless reactions, I will end up marring my integrity and (mostly) good reputation. And my integrity and spiritual and mental health are more important than the momentary satisfaction that comes from a hurricane of sarcasm.

 

How about you? What methods do you use to avoid knee-jerk responses and less-than-thought-out reactions on social media or in private emails or text messages?

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Filed under Anxiety, Emotion, Family, Friendship, How To, Life, Mental Health, Real Life, Relationships, Research, Sarcasm, Writing

From One Writer to Another: A Short “How To” on Writing Fiction


I wrote this post for my friend and colleague Rachel Thompson’s BadRedhead Media blog several months ago. And now it comes home. 🙂


Photo Source: Unsplash.com/MindJournal

Photo Source: Unsplash.com/MindJournal

Do you have an idea for a great story? Does something inside push you to string letters together in complete sentences that end up filling multiple pages? Do you feel as if you’ll burst if you don’t stop RIGHT THIS MINUTE and record those scenes and that dialogue swirling round and round in your head?

Welcome to my world, and the world of so many others like me. Welcome to the world of WRITING. What do I do NOW? you may ask. I’m so glad you did. I have answers for you. 🙂 In this post, I’ll address writing historical (specifically, medieval) and fantasy fiction, as they are the setting/time period/theme of my current Work in Progress.

While writing fiction can be as simple as sitting down and setting pen or pencil to paper (or fingers to computer keyboard – whichever your preference), it isn’t always so. It surely wasn’t that simple for me. Oh, the words may flood your imagination and before you know it, you’ve written a complete chapter. Good for you! I sincerely hope it’s that easy for you. Quite often, though, research is necessary, even if it’s just looking up the meaning and best use of a word or phrase.

Research

If like me you write historical fiction, then your setting (geographical) may be a place that exists or did at one time exist in the real world. If so, you’ll need to be sure you know a few things either before you begin writing the story or at some point before you’ve finished your first draft:

  • Where in relation to the rest of the world that place exists (or did exist, if it doesn’t anymore). Part of my book takes place in medieval Silesia, Poland. While it still exists, the borders have changed over the centuries and today it’s divided between Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia.
  • Topography – mountainous, plains, desert, etc.
  • Climate(s)
  • Culture(s) – how the natives interact with one another and with foreigners/visitors.
  • Cuisine
  • System of exchange – bartering, coin money, etc.
  • Native/national costume/style of clothing (if any). I say “if any,” because in America for example we don’t have any one national style of clothing.
  • Weaponry, soldiers/armies, defense/offense, justice system
  • Sexuality – discrimination between the sexes, expectations and perceptions that separate the genders, local/national traditions/norms for single persons, married persons, etc.
  • Language(s), dialects
  • Medicine/healing
  • Travel between cities, towns, villages, countries

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start. The necessity for research is one reason why some books and series take years to write and publish; all of the research that must take place before pen is even set to paper, research that continues while writing, and then the redrafting, polishing, editing and proofreading. If you’re going to spend the time and energy writing a story with the intention of publishing, then you want to be sure it’s your best work. Every time. Your writing skills may improve with each successive book – in fact, they almost certainly will improve. That doesn’t mean your earlier works weren’t your best; they were your best at that time.

all-great-literature

Historical Fiction

So. What will you write about? Will you write a coming-of-age tale? Will you write a swashbuckling adventure full of pirates and damsels in distress? Whatever you choose to write about, you’ll probably discover the truth of one of my favorite quotes of all time about writing. Leo Tolstoy said, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” The first time I read this quote, I took it as a challenge – a challenge to find a book that WASN’T about one of those two stories. So far, every story I’ve read (literally thousands) has supported this statement.

All fiction is based on one of these two ideas, and you build upon them. Even if the story doesn’t begin with a journey or an arrival, one of those is still present. While, as Patricia C. Wrede points out, a hero going on a journey or a stranger coming to town aren’t plots per say, they ARE precipitating incidents that introduce the plot; they are where the plot begins. They are the foundation upon which all fiction is built.

Fantasy

And what about fantasy? On one hand, writing fantasy can be easy – it’s often make-believe, after all, and subject only to the limits of each writer’s imagination and motivation. On the other hand, it needs to be believable. And if your fantasy is set in the real world – sort of a small step off the beaten path – then you still need to research the setting, time period, etc. This is what I did in my book, SERPENT ON A CROSS, and its work-in-progress sequel, VEIL OF MENACE. I combined real-world historical events and places with fantasy, mythology and Jewish mysticism/esotericism. Some of the fantasy-related research that’s gone into this series is:

  • Eastern European (mainly Russian and Polish) mythology and folklore
  • Jewish folklore and superstition
  • Jewish proverbs
  • Jewish esotericism (NOT kabbalah – my story predates traditional kabbalah)
  • Other writers’ works on any of these subjects

The Actual Writing

Even though writing fiction may not always be as simple as sitting down and setting pen to paper, it doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect; it shouldn’t be. In my case – because I love research so much – the actual writing was sometimes set aside in favor of the research. I finally had to make myself stop (or at least pause) researching and start (and finish) writing the story. Of course, my impatient characters often made their presence felt, usually in the middle of the night, not letting me sleep until I wrote down the scene(s) beating at my imagination.

As for what to write about, the sky is virtually the limit (actually, I’m pretty sure outer space still has vacancies as well). Write about what you know and want to share with others…write about things that scare you that you wish didn’t scare you…write about something you’re interested in learning more about.

One of the wonderful things about writing a story is that you will always learn something, whether about yourself as a person or as a writer, about the subject, about the location. Perhaps all of the above. Such a wealth of knowledge awaits you as a writer. What are you waiting for?

Recommended Reading

Some general research recommendations (all of which I have read) for writing fiction and fantasy:

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Filed under books, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, How To, Reader, Reading, Research, writer, Writing, Writing Tips