On Spoons, Steampunk and Socialising

The alarm went off twice this morning. Well, I think it was twice. Maybe it was three? I cracked open an eye and cringed back into the sheets away from the sunlight streaming through the curtains. The alarm blared once more. My hand slapped the off button. I groaned and dragged myself out of bed.

I'm really not a morning person, especially after draining several days worth of spoons with an all day event. (The spoon theory is an effective way of describing how chronic illness or disability affects life. If you're not familiar with the theory, you can find out all about it here.) Friday's 13-hour celebrations for steampunk's 30th (naming) anniversary left me depleted. It was a long (but fun) day.

Socialising takes a lot of effort for me. It's exhausting. It's not you. It's me. In public, I spend most of the time trying to fight the urge to run away and hide. Anxiety does that. I usually organise my social events carefully, with a few days after to recover those precious spoons.

Fortunately it was an online event and it was celebrating something I love: steampunk. (Otherwise I would've been a gibbering mess if I'd spent all thirteen hours face-to-face with so many people without a break.) Large crowds, particularly in shopping centres with their cacophony of noises, crush me.

This got me thinking. Why do I do this to myself? Why do I do conventions? Why do I do talks...? Why do I walk out the door at all?

There's a stereotype: the starving writer (that's a whole other blog post just there) scribbling away in a lonely garret - alone, with only the artistic muse for company - locked in the struggle to create the perfect prose.  But, despite this romantic (Victorian) vision, writers need company too. I need company too. I need to experience life, not just write about it.

So why do I keep pushing myself to attend events - social or professional?

Because, deep down, I like people. I love conversations where I suddenly realise the sun is rising and we've been chatting all night. I love talking writing, science, art, Doctor Who, steampunk. I'm fine one-on-one or in a small group. Where I feel safe.

On a bad day, I push myself to do online socialising. I can cringe in the corner while I type supposedly confident words - and no one can see my fear. But I'm still engaging with the world.

A couple of years ago I found an online steampunk forum, The Steampunk Empire. Tucked away in a corner was a writers group, The Scribblers Den - a band of steampunk writers spanning the globe. We chatted about writing, steampunk (lots of steampunk), events, shared pictures and stories. I felt comfortable there.

Unfortunately, as online entities often do, it disappeared. Some of us had seen the cracks. Some of us lived in denial. On a, soon-to-be bleak, day in March I logged onto the forum and - horror of horrors - my beloved Scribblers Den had dissolved into the aether!

But, never fear, my dear Reader, we had a plan (albeit a very vague one). Soon the Refugees of Steampunk Empire assembled on Facebook. We lamented, explored a few new enclaves and finally found a new home; the Steampunk Dominion was formed. My dear Scribblers' Den had returned from exile! (Thank you to the intrepid pilgrims - especially Lee and William - who founded our new realm.) I could once again frolic in steampunky goodness and forget about my anxieties.

You can now find fellow steampunks on The Steampunk Dominion's webpage and forum, or on Facebook group - The Steampunk Dominion (our bolt hole in case of future host demises).

Writing through Writers’ Block

"What?" you ask. "How can you write through writers' block? Doesn't it mean you're stuck, and can't write?"

Well, yes... and no.

Here's how Cambridge dictionary defines writers block: the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.

I'm currently in the middle of writing the third (and last book) in the Adventures of Viola Stewart, The Illusioneer & Other Tales. The first story rolled onto the page. In From the Depths, Viola is in Scotland, recovering at a beach resort after her ordeals in Eye of the Beholder.  Of course, she is swept up in a series of unexpected events. We meet a new character. This story ended up twice as long as previous shorts. I didn't want it to end.

I started on the next short story, Tomorrow, When I Die. This is a more convoluted story, requiring fiddling of ... (spoilers!) and some fun research on Victorian Christmas traditions. Then it happened. It crept up on me, taking me by surprise; the realisation that this was to be Viola's last set of (traditional) adventures. ("Gasp!" I hear you say.

Never fear, dear Reader, I have a few plans up my sleeve - but that's for another time, another blog.)

About this time, a late bout of dust-induced summer bronchitis hit. I felt like shite. Being ill is certainly not helpful when trying to build up the will-power to wade through the dreaded marshland I designate Writers' Block. I see it as a marshland as it is inconvenient, an impediment to moving forward and I must plan my way to proceed or sink further down.

First find the cause: why do I get writers' block?

I've thought about this in depth (perhaps way too much!). It seems to strike me at two different stages:

  1. When I'm staring at a blank page. I know the gist of the story. I can usually see the end scene in my head, the mood I want to create. But the words refuse to flow from my brain onto the screen. At this point, I am usually working pen on paper; words seem to flow better with a pen or pencil in my hand.
  2. when I am nearing the end of a story. I'm finally having fun. The characters are co-operating, even enjoying themselves. Then the penny drops; it has to end. I panic. I don't want it to end. I don't want to leave my characters behind. But I must. Perhaps if I don't write those final words...?

These are things I have to deal with. They are not new. In 2014, I had almost finished the first draft of what I thought would be my first novel, The Department of Curiosities. I had about four scenes to write. Crunch, the writers' block hit me.  What was I to do? I started on a short story, (reviving) a character from An Eye to Detail, short listed the year before in Australian Literature Review's murder and mystery short story competition.

The block shifted. I kept writing Viola's s adventures with gusto (There were minor blocks but nothing as long-lasting as that with DOC.)  I'm now ready - and can't wait - to return to The Department of Curiosity - my next project after The Illusioneer. 

How do I Tackle Writers' Block?

I have a box of story ideas. I keep getting them. Not all are worthy of a full story, but they are there. I usually have at least three (sometimes four or five) stories on the go. When I hit the wall, I redirect my energies toward another story and let the original one bubble away in the background - ensuring I move forward, and not wallow.

This time I was side-tracked onto a story to submit to a (absent) Sherlock Holmes anthology: write a story in the Holmes mileaux, sans Sherlock himself.

Bang! The main character was there. Her enthusiasm was contagious. I could see, hear, smell the final scene. This short is now being polished with final edits and about to be submitted. Wish me luck. (And another series is born. I can't wait to write another story with my new detective and her soon-to-be-drafted side-kick. Though I need to finish The Illusioneer and the DOC first.)

Short stories are fantastic. They give me a brief holiday from my main project, just enough time to let the original story gurgle back up to the surface.

April is Camp NaNoWriMo and I'm ready to plunge Viola back into her adventures. I hope you'll join the ride.

Photo © 2017 Karen J Carlisle. All rights reserved.

Photo Friday: Life and Death(?), and a Flash Fiction Bonus

Rumours of my impending doom have been wildly exaggerated. This week I got the results from my twenty-four hour cardiac monitoring I've tried new strategies to curb the heart palpitations and flutterings. Nothing devastating but I do need to have further investigations. (If only I could control anxiety.) I'm working on new strategies - and I've managed five nights in a row without an episode.

  

Writing (and not discussing my previous career) has helped distract me from counterproductive thoughts. I've almost finished rewrites for the first (longer) short,  From the Depths, in Viola's third journal of adventures and am reworking the second story, Tomorrow, When I Die.

We've had record summer rains and everything is so green and full of life (usually everything is dry and brown this time of year).  We've had a few chill nights (huzzah!); I've even finished another octoscarf to sell at the Salisbury Secret Garden markets tomorrow afternoon.

 

And now for a bonus flash fiction.

The girls at the pbafm Words Out Loud radio show have a tradition. They randomly choose five words from a book of their guest for the day. The challenge is to write something, using all five words, in just ten minutes. Contributions get read out on air in the following session. On my visit on the show, the words were from John Malone's latest book of poetry, Seeing Things. The words were: red, yield, snail, piranha and Gazebo. They challenged me on the day; this was my contribution.

Enjoying the View

©2017 Karen J Carlisle

Humphrey was a fashionable snail. At least he thought he was. He'd recently taken up residence by the river. He lounged under his brand new red gazebo and surveyed the spectacular view. A wooden sign by the water shaded the yard from the midday sun. A fine crop of broccoli provided an abundant yield for his supper. Ripples glistened on the water. Perfect. He just couldn't understand why his friends hadn't joined him. Water splashed. He crawled out of the shade and edged toward the water. So cool. So inviting. Why had his friends been so concerned? Humphrey, don't go near the water, they cried. Humphrey leaned closer and touched the water. It shuddered. A large eye blinked under the surface. The piranha licked his lips, flicked his tail and swam away from the bank.
THE END
Why don't you have a go at the five word challenge? You have ten minutes to write something containing all the words: red, yield, snail, piranha and Gazebo.
This fortnight's words from my book, Eye of the Beholder & Other Tales, were: grinding, tranquil, warden, sputtered and jaundiced.
Post your stories or poems in the comments below. I'd love to see what you come up with.
Photos ©2017 Karen J Carlisle