My brain is high maintenance. It needs constant stimulation, becomes quickly bored and is easily distracted by bright, shiny objects (read: new ideas). Its ability to focus is either laser-beam obsessive or all-channels-blaring scattered. Thoughts follow no logical pattern, instead dancing around like independent drops of water on a hot skillet. And I’ve no filing cabinets; if I don’t write something down, it’s quickly forgotten.
I have ADHD.
Now, I know some of you doubt its existence. And I do believe it’s misdiagnosed and abused by some people wanting the ADHD prescriptions (I don’t take them; hate the side effects). This post isn’t about the ADHD debate. It’s about managing one’s ADHD well enough to accomplish any writing goals.
If you’re reading this blog, you know I’m writing a novel. Getting the thing planned and executed is excruciating. I have trouble logically connecting the details, and my brain keeps changing things around. Just when I think I’ve pinned the plot, characters, theme or setting, the next element sparkles irresistibly and throws everything else off. It’s like trying to grab mercury.
My prolific writer friend, Ryan Jacobson, says to just stick with something and start writing already – even if I don’t know where it’s going. I know that works for some people, but in me it only creates writer’s block. How can I write something if I don’t know what to write? Besides, building a story I don’t like feels like a colossal waste of time.
The problem is, I get BORED with my story elements when they’re no longer new and exciting. And if I’m bored, 1) why would I want to waste my time writing the story, and 2) why on earth would anyone read it if I did?
Am I bored because my story elements stink? Or is it because my ADHD just wants something new? I’m not experienced enough to know. And I don’t know any experienced writers with ADHD. (If you have feedback, let me know!)
My biggest problem is that boredom stifles creativity. So I’m bored and stuck, and I need something new to “un-stick” myself – while still keeping my novel-writing dream alive.
Well, I’ve finally come up with an idea to keep things fresh.
And in my next post, I’ll tell you what it is.
It looks like I just moved in, doesn’t it? Somehow over the Christmas weekend, my entire blog got wiped out – and all my posts!
Okay, it was only a FEW posts, but still… So please forgive the echoes and come back soon. I’ll be ready for company the next time. (I promise.)
In my last post, I mentioned that it’s important to write truth. It’s tempting to dance around an uncomfortable scene or phrase. But if it needs to be there, the story takes on new life and throws a hard one-two punch when it’s added.
Safe writing is boring reading. A vicarious, “real” experience is why we love to get lost in a story. We writers need to be in-your-face with truthful storytelling.
First, let me tell you that I rarely swear. I’m not a prude – and trust me, I’ve used salty words on more than one deserving occasion – it’s just never been part of my vocabulary. (My grandmother always said that swearing showed either ignorance or laziness on the part of the speaker; either they didn’t know a better word or couldn’t bother to find one.) My parents rarely swore, nor did my relatives, friends or most of the folks around me. I didn’t hear it on TV (until cable, that is), not from my teachers and not in my professional life.
Swearing, in my experience, has always been a spice reserved for intense flavor. I mean, face it. Sometimes a good swear word is the only thing that fits.
Used too often, it loses its punch.
I was eleven years old the first time I ever heard my mom swear. We had just returned from a long day at the laundromat – spending the last of our meager budget, I’m sure – in the middle of a torrential downpour. She hefted a towering basket of freshly washed and folded whites from the car’s back seat… and promptly tipped it over into a huge mud puddle at her feet. She closed her eyes and said, “Sh_t.”
A surprising new word from her, but my thoughts exactly. It was the perfect word for that moment. Had she used the word regularly, it wouldn’t have had anywhere near the impact. Nor would I probably remember it decades later.
But society’s changed a lot since I was a kid. Swearing is much more commonplace now; just check out any playground, online forum, Facebook page, cable entertainment or best selling adult novel (“cozies” and religious books being the exception). In fact, in a story about bad guys – my genre, the mystery novel – swearing almost seems mandatory to be considered authentic. And it’s not just the bad guys doing it; today even the main characters – male and female – use colorful language as their regular vernacular.
What’s a non-swearing, truth telling mystery writer to do?
Defenders of cuss-laden writing will say it’s much ado about nothing. That it’s hypocritical to seek entertainment in murder and mayhem, yet nitpick about off-color language. I disagree. When I read/write about bad guys and the things they do, it’s with the agreement that they are bad, and with the desire to see them punished. My entertainment isn’t their dirty deeds, it’s the satisfaction of seeing them brought to justice. Language – plain or salty – is simply how I receive the story.
As a basically non-swearing gal, it’s not that I consider swear words offensive. I really don’t. It’s that I noticethem. They’re jarring because I’m not used to hearing them from people (protagonists) I hang out with. For me, they interrupt the flow of the story. It’s like years ago when I discovered Dean Koontz; he had a love affair with the word “preternatural,” a word I never read elsewhere but in his books – and he used it regularly. It jumped out at me every time and pulled me from the story, something no author wants.
From reading other blogs and forums about swearing in today’s popular mysteries, I know there are many readers who prefer tamer language in their books. (Lots of people swear regularly these days, but lots of ordinary folks still don’t.) Their solution is to read cozy mysteries, where the characters are often little old ladies, knitting circles and quilting societies. Very fun, lighthearted reads.
But I’m not a writer of cozy mysteries. It’s probable that many of my characters would swear in real life. So how do I make that authentic without bleeping the entire manuscript?
I like the way it’s handled on network TV. They’re not allowed to use hard four-letter words, but many a good cop show is written without them. By writing in-character speech and showing character through action, both good and bad guys show their true colors. Readers are smart enough to know if a character swears or not. A bar-brawling drunkard who beats his wife will speak differently than a heart surgeon giving news to a patient’s family. Swearing isn’t even part of the equation.
Still, some scenes simply call for a spicy swear word, and nothing else will do. If so, write it. Or use the @#$%* symbols. Or simply say, “Leroy spat on the ground and swore violently.” Your readers will get the picture.
How do I handle swearing in my writing? I go back to what Grandma said. Never use salty language out of ignorance or laziness. Cussing every page to show characterization is overkill. Our characters reveal themselves through more than just language. Save the spice for impact.
But if the situation demands it, by all means, go for it. Don’t be afraid to tell the truth of your story. Sometimes a dish isn’t right without some good salt.