It’s a deluge on the West Coast today. There’s no sunny California and it hasn’t snowed in a few weeks here. And contrary to popular belief, I do not ski, snowboard or surf. My hair is not bleached blond. I am not lazy and I am not liberal. Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of these things, but people frequently assume these things about me solely because I live in the Golden State, California. This brings me to my topic today: assumptions.
We assume a lot about people on a daily basis. I am guilty of it as well and quite frankly it can either make for great or really terrible writing. Here are some prime examples of assumptions.
1.) When a homeless person asks for money, they are going to use it to buy booze or drugs.
a. The reality is that we just don’t know what they will do with the money. Now, I’m not saying go hand over your money to a homeless person, but this is an assumption even I make.
2.) A man should put the toilet seat down.
a. Men use the bathroom just as much as women. Why should we assume that the toilet seat should be down (Okay. I know I probably just won over a lot of the men and ticked off the women, but still. It is a valid point)?
3.) Because a book is a classic this validates it as good reading
a. Have you ever tried to read Anna Karenina? My apologies to anyone who loves this book, but I hate it. The author takes several paragraphs to say what he could have said in one sentence. I keep trying to read this book because it is a “classic,” but I just can’t get through it. In my opinion, is terrible reading.
4.) Men think about sex more than women do.
a. Okay. This one might be true in most cases, but probably not in our home. Assume what you will from that statement (wink, wink).
5.) Renters don’t take care of their property.
a. This is outrageously untrue! I have many friends and family who rent and take pride in their homes. I actually think it is a rarer occurrence to have a renter not care about the place they call home and they are the ones who ruin it for everyone else. I also know quite a few homeowners who do not take of their homes.
These, or course, are just a few assumptions, but there are so many others. And the key to using them in your writing is to use them well. Pick a character that is ignorant and always makes assumptions or use assumptions as a way to twist your plot. Get the reader to assume your plot is leading one specific way and then craft your plot twist. Readers love a good twist.
So really, as much as I hate assumptions, I also love them because they are a part of the human experience. Good writing stems from the reality of these human experiences and tells a relatable story using these elements. So, while I recommend not vocalizing your assumptions, put them in your writing instead. It can give your writing the edge of reality it needs. Or is that just an assumption?
Keep on writing fellow freaks!
Stephanie D. Birch loves colloquialisms such as when you assume you make an ass out of u and me. She can cripple you with her super power, writing, in an instant and can leap tall piles of books in a single bound. To learn more about her, visit the About Stephanie page or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, November 26, 2012
And apparently I am not the only one to feel this way. On the recommendation of my Aunt Kathie, I started reading this book that has made me feel a whole lot less isolated and I found camaraderie with its author.
First, let me pay tribute to my Aunt Kathie, who is an amazing writer! She has written a book that she had bound, but not published and I really wish she would. She is brilliantly creative. When I read words penned by her, they melt comfortably into the recesses of my imagination, painting a vivid, unforgettable picture. I hold her responsible for my desire to write and I hold her equally accountable for my love of reading. She single handedly turned me into a book worm. I used to hate reading. My parents didn’t push reading very much and the school’s required reading made me want to run screaming to the nurse’s office swearing to a litany of rare and incurable diseases. But my sensational aunt gave me a book she thought I would like, The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks, and I was SOLD. I couldn’t believe someone could write words so poignantly. I connected to this story on a profound level and I wanted more. And so began my love affair with words.
Stephanie D. Birch is a neurotic artist of ink and paper and she likes it that way. To hear more about the voices in her head, or to read a sample of her work, email her at email@example.com
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
I made up some things to do at family holiday gatherings to entertain yourself. In case you get bored on Thanksgiving.
This post is not about writing. Not today anyway. Unless you are writing a prank book. I have more writing stuff to say and lots of updates, but today I just feel kind of goofy and not at all serious, and in that vein I choose to write something a little off topic.
So here's some ideas of ways to mess with your relatives on Thanksgiving. Because it's fun. Because you can't take life too seriously, even when serious stuff happens. I'd rather laugh than cry. I’m not including things like getting drunk and sticking the turkey on your head. That’s been done. Like a lot. Once you’ve seen them do it on Friends about a billion times, it loses its appeal.
- Change the words to Christmas songs to make them dirty, because Christmas is constantly stealing Thanksgiving’s thunder. Someday I'll make my version of Frosty The Snowball Man available to the public.
- Complicated: Find some dog doody and when no one is looking, steal people’s shoes from the pile by the door and “step” in the poo. Then return the shoes and presto! Someone gets blamed for having poo shoe. Problem: Not everyone takes their shoes off during holiday celebrations, and you’d have to go scouting for poo, unless you brought your own, and the mission could take longer than expected and you could be easily discovered with your hand in the poo cookie jar, as it were.
- Simple: Steal one of each pair of shoes from the pile and put them in a linen closet or similar when no one is looking. Bonus: Try to get all the lefts.
- When bringing potluck stuff: Make sure the dish is covered, and write a fancy calligraphy label with an elaborate title that includes at least one word that is also euphemism for a bodily function or a dirty act (ralph, pinched loaf, chunder, choked chicken, salami surprise, whatever).
- Convince all the children that their parents are aliens and see how many agree to be on your alien destroying ninja team. Bring Nerf weapons and supply the troops.
- Walk around wearing a big sweater with big pockets filled with ping pong balls. Drop them out of your pockets occasionally, until people start wondering why the hell there are ping pong balls everywhere. Stick some in a kitchen cabinet for fun, so that the next person that opens it gets balls all over them. This would never work at my family celebration, because there are constantly people in the kitchen. Food pranks are also hard as the grown-ups keep an ever-vigilant watch over the food in my family. I’m not sure why.
- Walk around to any unattended water cups and put a little bit of distilled white vinegar in when no one is looking. Do not get caught doing this because when people taste it and spit their water out they will be really irritated, especially if they take a big gulp to wash down the residue from Aunt Mabel’s fruitcake. Be far away when that happens.
- Go into the bedrooms and change the times on the clocks. It really freaks people out.
- Teach all the kids in the under two set curse words. Wait, that’s mean. Plus in my family we’re the only one with an under two. And he already knows all the curse words. Scratch that one.
- Switch the dill pickles with sweet pickles. Not everyone puts pickles on the table for Thanksgiving. But we do. And I hate sweet pickles. So it’s funny when people get an unexpectedly wrong pickle. And it’s fun to say pickle.
- There’s this stuff called basting tape. People use it for sewing. I use it to (temporarily) shorten the sleeves on everyone’s unattended coats and sweaters. People loosen their belts on Thanksgiving but who would think their arms would grow too?
- Whenever someone sets down their cell phone, move it somewhere else. See how many people you can make completely crazy. Bonus: When people have identical phones, try to swap them around. Don’t let them go home with the wrong phone though. That’s just mean and has the potential for a lot of extra driving/wasting gas.
- Stand next to people having an in depth discussion and whisper stuff under your breath. See if you can get someone to stand on the other side of the circle or sit across the table and do the same, so everyone gets super confused.
- Bring duct tape to any family gathering. It’s fun and you never know when you will have a chance to use it for something cool. Like….I don’t know. There are so many uses for duct tape. I’ve always wanted to try to tape a small child to a wall with it. But my smallest kid already weighs 29 pounds. I’m not sure it would hold. Plus he’s really wiggly.
- Any time someone makes a comment, answer in rhyme. Or with a limerick.
You could have a really entertaining holiday, or just establish yourself as the weirdo of the family. I already hold that position (and trust me, in my family, it’s quite a competition for the title) so I’m good. But I still like to do stuff to make people laugh or sometimes to make them cry (but just a little, and only my little brothers because even though we’re all technically adults, I’m never coping to it or giving up my big sisterly rights to traumatize them whenever possible).
There are so many things at “the holidays” that feel repetitive (people call them traditions) that I feel like messing with people's minds. It’s not that I don’t know how to behave. I do. Don’t blame my mother for any of this. I’m a classic case of nature vs. nurture gone wrong, where the nurture was really good but I still ended up kind of nutso. It’s okay though. I’ve accepted it. And hey, my family still invites me for holidays.
What about you? Got any good holiday style pranking you'd like to share? Comment below-- bonus points for an update after TG on how they worked.
Julie Simmons-Wixom is a social pariah with six fingers on her left hand. If you have a question, email her here.
Monday, November 19, 2012
The holidays are upon us! My husband and I had our portrait session a week ago in preparation for our Christmas cards. Hopefully, I get them back this week so I can send them out. And I’m not the only one preparing for the holidays in such a manner. I have no doubt that soon I will be receiving holiday greetings in the mail from loved ones. I love these, but there is one that makes me cringe. As a writer, there is nothing worse than receiving heaps of those holiday newsletters from friends and family alike. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love the pictures and the cards, but the newsletters just HAVE to go. They annoy me, every year. Why you might ask? Let me explain.
There are two categories of holiday newsletters: the bragger and the bellyacher. The bragger is the most annoying. These typically go on and on detailing the exaggerated state of some wonderfully blessed and charmed life. It isn’t realistic. Nobody’s life is so sweet that rainbows and unicorns are counted among their other equally sickly sweet themes for the year. Here is an example of one such newsletter:
Dearest Friends and Family,
This year has been quite a year! Jason is doing wonderfully in school. Yes, our honor roll student has just been accepted to Harvard Medical School. He is very excited about this, as his deepest desire is to be a part of the program Doctors Without Borders. He spends his spare time volunteering at the local church and comes home on the weekends to help his Dad out with household chores. What a son we have!
Dan just got another promotion at work! He has also decided to go back to school for his PhD in Business. Earlier in the year, he surprised me with a trip for two to Hawaii for a week for our anniversary. It was like a second honeymoon. He even got down on one knee and asked me to still be married to him, presenting me with a diamond anniversary band. Wow! What an amazing husband I have!
I have been busy at home remolding our entire house. It is SUCH hard work, but I know it will be worth it! I also started learning another language and have also decided to go back to school for my Master’s Degree. I am also planning a trip to Europe for the whole family. We will leave in a few months. We are excited!
Well, that is what is going on with our family! We hope you and yours had a fabulous year!
The Disgustingly Perfect Family Where Nothing Bad Ever Happens
Do you see what I mean? I don’t want to know how perfect your life is because the reality is that nothing is THAT good. Who are you fooling anyhow? Personally, I think you are just trying to brag and elicit jealousy in others. So, poo-poo on you!
Dear Family and Friends,
This year has been a difficult year for our family. Dan’s grandmother died, and then his uncle. After the shock of losing two family members, our family dog ran away and we have not been able to find him. We miss him very much and the kids are simply distraught.
Janey is struggling in school. We aren’t sure she will pass her high school exit exam. She has failed twice already. If she doesn’t pass, she will have to repeat her senior year. We wanted her to go to college, but we bought a time share and ran out of money to pay for it. We tried to sell it, but nobody wanted it. So, we had to take all of the money out of Janey’s college fund to pay for it.
Sarah is fine I suppose. She wasn’t going to go to college anyhow. We decided to pick our favorite child and that one would go to college, but it is all a moot point now anyhow.
I have been in and out of the hospital all year long. I was diagnosed with a peanut allergy, but I love them too much to give them up. I keep eating them, and I keep ending up in the hospital with anaphylaxis. I’ve lost a lot of pay because of it and now we are facing a pile of medical bills we cannot afford to pay.
Our house flooded recently during a freak cold snap. The pipes froze and our house flooded. Insurance will pay for it, but the dress I bought for the company holiday party is ruined. I tried returning it, but they wouldn’t take it back. Oh, well. I guess I'll go nude.
We are looking forward to next year. Hopefully it will be better.
Merry Christmas, if you can even call it merry.
The Family That Wants to Depress You, Then Get You Commiserate in all of Their Misfortunes
Stephanie D. Birch is a Writer Freak who isn’t above fabricating a story for a holiday newsletter that will inspire, entertain and make you laugh so hard that your drink comes out of your nose. If you want to read her version of her own holiday newsletter, comment below or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, November 16, 2012
I hate when people say things like "turn that frown upside down". I realize I said it, but I hope people know me well enough to realize I'm being facetious. It’s almost as bad as when people refer to their spouse as “my hubby”—way too cutesy—or when they say “Hey stranger” if they haven’t seen you for two days. Just don't do that.
This has been a fantastically craptastic week for me, in all honesty. It happens. We all have weeks where we break shoelaces and step in gum and run into sliding glass doors that are super clean at full speed. I've done my whining and complaining and had two pretty serious hissy fits, and I'm over it. I'm over feeling uninspired and blocked, and I'm over feeling like I ticked off the universe and now karma is having a field day on me. I've thrown one hell of a pity party, and it really wasn't super fun. The word "party" in there is deceptive. Self-pity is useless and ridiculous and a complete waste of my time, and I'm going to knock it the hell off.
How? I could just use my super awesome strength of will and kicky bootstraps to pull myself up. But just for fun, I also have a couple remedies that I think work -- I had more, but it would be a super long post and I have ninja training later so I’m sticking to five. Whenever you feel like driving a railroad spike into something just because railroad spikes sound vintage and destructive, or like dumping Borax into someone’s koi pond because their yappy little dog kept you up all night (been there, done that, don’t recommend it), do one of these things instead and you’ll feel better. Instantly. *Disclaimer: This is mostly just for people trying to sally forth and carry on from their minor issues or writer's block or bad haircut blues... if you have serious depression, see a doc, take your meds-- do what you gotta do. This is not intended to be advice as from any kind of mental health professional. PS: Click on the YouTube Video above. It's The Kinks, Everybody's gonna be happy. It makes people happy. The one below with the kitty is also pretty funny.
- Skip for fifteen minutes. It sounds ridiculous, and if you’re a big tough guy reading this and you think wow, I’d never do that, it’s absurd, preposterous, outlandish and totally nutso, think about the last time you skipped. People skip because they’re just too freaking happy to simply walk. It’s the reason I dance eighty percent of the time, even when I’m walking, which can cause trippage and major injuries to shins and knees, but it’s totally worth it. It just makes you happy. It’s impossible to skip without smiling. Can’t be done. Hula hooping would also work if you’re worried about your neighbors watching you skip.
- Listen to “Defying Gravity” from the Wicked soundtrack. Wait, scratch that—listen to the whole Wicked sound track. It’s just that good. You will feel better.
- Watch animals doing silly things on You Tube. If you see a video of a cat dancing in time with the music while eating licorice, you will feel better. No one stays dumpy after that. It’s a cat. Dancing. Eating licorice. That’s some funny stuff.
- Hold a baby. I’m not kidding. Don’t just go grab someone’s baby though. That’s illegal. Find a baby you know and get the parent’s permission first. Holding a baby is therapeutic for a few reasons. One, if it’s a nice well behaved baby, you can smell that baby smell, enjoy the cuddle, and get the thrill of being close to a starter kit for a human being. If it’s not a well behaved baby, and it squirms and spits up on you and does all kinds of gross things, you can give it back and go home thinking yay, at least I don’t have to take care of that baby anymore. You’ll feel happy and relieved and ready to go live life to the fullest until such time as you have no choice but to hold babies because you had a part in making one.
- Go outside. I don’t care if it’s raining, snowing, hotter than hell or colder than Antarctica. Go outside. If it’s summer turn on the hose and stand under it. If it’s winter make a snow angel or just taste some snowflakes. If it’s raining let it get you soaked. Splash in puddles. Get wet. If you think you are above this, you are not. Going outside makes you feel good. It just does. It's science. Plus, if it's wacky weather, you come back inside and feel super nice and cozy and drink ho-cho or if it's hot you come inside and eat fro-yo.
|Cute baby I get to hold a lot|
You might think I am just crazy, but when you’re stuck or unmotivated or you just don’t feel like looking at that stupid blinking cursor for one more second or picking up one more dirty sock or crunching one more number or whatever it is you do that you don't feel like doing, it’s worth a shot to try something different to give yourself a boost. It’s interesting. And when you sit back down to write, you feel the wind on your face, or you feel like giggling, or like you could run a marathon even though you can’t because it’s really hard and you have to train a lot, and blamo!-- You're just inspired again.
PS: I did indicate that I had a rough week, but mostly I am just being a gigantic whiny baby so don't worry about me. All is good, and I know people might read this and be like oh, poor Jules, hang in there kiddo, etc... But hopefully you read the above and have the good sense to save your sweet sympathy for the sad three-legged puppy or the guy who just can't seem to pass his final exam at clown college and feels like a complete clown failure. That's real tragedy. Me, I'm all good. I have my clown degree and the ability to skip, unlike the three-legged puppy.
What are some things that give you the mean reds? Leave a comment below if you have some super interesting ways of dealing. Julie Simmons-Wixom is a talented circus performer who spends her spare time training cats to act like dogs. Email her here if you want free ninja lessons.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
|Epic battle scene with vampire covens, |
werewolves, and the Volturi
This Friday, at the stroke of midnight, thousands of Twihards will get in line to watch Breaking Dawn Part 2. And this Writer Freak will be attending the Twilight Marathon with a bunch of other 20 and 30 somethings, right amongst hoards of screaming teenage girls and the occasional guy who was drug there by his girl and is dutifully suffering through it all. What is the Twilight Marathon, you might ask? Just what it sounds like: sitting in a theater from 11:00 am on Thursday watching all five installments, finishing up with Breaking Dawn Part 2 at midnight Friday night. Oy vey! I MUST be crazy to do this, right? Well, yeah. That goes without saying.
|My very own Jacob. The shirt-off |
version is for my eyes only.
While I haven’t been successful (yet) in publishing my own manuscripts, I am starting to notice a few trends and it has sparked a theory. It all boils down to simplicity. We writers tend to over think things. We add plot and character details and edit so much in hopes that the last tweak to our manuscript will give it the edge it needs to get some attention. Maybe, just maybe, this is where we go wrong. You’ve heard the phrase, keep it simple stupid? Yup. These series all have that in common. They keep it simple. Vampires have been popular since Stoker wrote about them in the late 1800’s. It is the seduction of evil (or bad) versus good. Other simple themes: love, power and of course, sex. I think that if writers can narrow in on a simple theme such as one of these and then try to pinpoint a plot based on the pulse of American culture, they will inevitably have a Best Seller. That whole pulse of America thing is harder to read sometimes, but right now I see some common themes: fantasy is big, and revolution is huge. To me that means, American’s have had enough, are tired, and need an escape. I think if you write for this kind of an audience, your readership will increase. Of course, this is all based on hunches, but it is the hunch of a Writer Freak and my Writer Freak Sixth Sense makes me feel prickly and tingly when I’m on to something. You be the judge.
Stephanie D. Birch is an official card carrying Twihard and Hunger Games fanatic. To see her dressed as a vampire or as a citizen of the Capital, leave her a comment. If you are dying to hear more from this Writer Freak, contact her at email@example.com
Monday, November 12, 2012
I'm from the future.
I woke up this morning with wrinkles. I aged 30 years overnight. Or I slept on a pillow crease. Either way, scary. At least my time machine works. Now what did I come back here for? That’s the bad part about having a time machine and a bad memory. Instead of forgetting why I walked into a room, I forget why I traveled 30 years in the past to this very day. This very important day. Today is the one month-a-versary of Writer Freaks. You can’t say anniversary because “anni” means year. Or anyway annual means year and I’m not a freaking word scholar but anyway you can’t have an anniversary after one month. And yesterday was Veteran’s Day and today everyone is off work because of it, except for people who work from home and are never off work, and the day before was the Marine Corps birthday (Semper Fi) and all these milestone-type deals make me think about time.
|If I could time travel for real I would go back to when I was this awesome|
“If I could keep time in a bottle, if dreams could make wishes come true…”
It’s not that there aren’t enough hours in the day. There’s at least 16 usable hours in a day, if you get the recommended eight hours per night of sleep. Sixteen hours. That’s forty minutes shy of 1000 minutes. A thousand minutes sounds like a lot of time. How is it that I can’t manage to get everything done in those sixteen hours per day?
I decided to do a time motion study on myself, to see where I’m going wrong.
5:16 am. Woken up by baby. Bring him into our bed and try to convince him to fall back asleep.
5:38 am. Give up on baby going back to sleep. Go in living room/kitchen to change diaper, give bottle, make coffee.
5:39 am. Discover abundance of ants crawling all over coffee maker, despite three hours of Internet research and application of several “home remedy” prevention techniques. Curse Internet people who advised vinegar, chili powder, cinnamon, borax and peppermint oil as ways to prevent ants. Wonder if using all of them at the same time was the problem. Discover baby wipes pulled out of package and strewn about living room while dealing with ants. Clean up all messes. Curse.
6:04 a.m. Wake up girl child. Rub her back, sing a little song, pray that today is a good wake up day. Leave room realizing it is not.
6:04-7:04* Kids get ready and leave for school. Note that I am not going to detail this hour as it is jam-packed with kid issues—finding lost socks, signing papers that should have been signed the night before, cleaning up spilled milk, finding jackets, checking teeth brushing, arguing over clothing choices (yes you have to wear a jacket, it’s cold today), breaking up fights, etc. It’s enough to say that nothing productive happens between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Ever.
7:04 am. Sit at table with phone and coffee. Check Facebook. Check email. Comment on three Facebook posts. Wander to fridge. Open, contemplate breakfast. Smell something bad. Search fruitlessly for whatever has died and begun stinking. Give up. Add “clean fridge” to To Do List.
7:11 am. Return to email and Facebook. Note several emails that need responses. Try to do it on phone, decide they need more lengthy responses. Turn on computer. Watch news. Find interesting video about cool vacation spots. Google each one, look up plane fare. Remember bank account total. Sulk quietly for several minutes.
7:41 am. Feed baby. Clean baby. Sing songs, make goofy faces. Try to change diaper. Spend nine minutes chasing down naked baby. Attempt to clothe baby. Give up, allow baby to remain in diaper only. Drink more coffee, find baby has removed diaper and is naked again, peeing on carpet. Clean carpet, clothe baby despite kicking and screaming.
8:01 am. Return to email. Decide on emails that need response. Write “respond to emails” on to do list. Heat up coffee in microwave. Write “clean microwave” on to do list. Return to fridge. Stare inside. Close fridge, eat protein bar. Find more ants. Write “kill ants” on to do list. Return to computer. Read more news, search blogs.
8:58 am. Play with baby. Chase, read books, sing songs. Put baby down for nap. Return to computer. Write “write down writing goals” on to do list. Stare at screen. Write “go for a run” on to do list.
9 a.m. Search for freelance jobs. Note several and begin writing. Stare out window. Remember bills. Decide to pay bills. Decide to reorganize filing system. Make bed. Decide to shower before baby wakes up. Prepare to shower. Roll eyes as baby wakes up when water turns on. Abandon shower and throw on clothes. Feed baby lunch and clean baby. Play with baby.
12:30 Return to writing. Write several pieces and work on manuscript. Feel good about self for five minutes.
2:30* Kids home from school. From this point on my time management study went to hell because nothing very productive happens from 2:30-8 pm when the kids go to sleep. It’s all cooking, homeworking, breaking up fights, playing, talking, arguing, eating, cooking, cleaning, bathing, disciplining, etc. I snuck in a few more minutes of writing here and there but basically the productivity was over.
By the end of the day, I had spent a cumulative total of 90 minutes trying to clothe/diaper my child, 2 hours and 30 minutes preparing and eating food, two hours actually writing, and almost three hours reading other people’s blogs, news, YouTube, Facebook posts, and emails, without returning a single email, or doing one item on the to do list.
I realize some of those time wasters are necessary or unavoidable. It’s hard to make a 17-month-old comply at all times. So that one is on him. Cooking—I spend a lot of time deciding what to make and then preparing it. Kids take a lot of time. But other big time wasters are social media and general computer junk. I can waste a whole day not writing a word of my own, just messing about on other people’s blogs. And I want people to read my blog. That’s why I write it. So how can I call it a waste of time to read other people’s blogs if I want them to read mine? It’s research.
(Had to put Marty McFly on a time travel post)
I decided my schedule needs some reform. I need to figure out how to utilize social media and also ignore it to some extent so I can actually do what I’m trying to do. It’s harder than it sounds. I haven’t figured out how to create this reform or put it into practice yet. Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted.
Do you have a suggestion? Leave a comment below and please help me with my time management. Clearly, I need serious help.
Julie Simmons-Wixom is a time traveling writer diva. If you want to connect with her via email, click this link. She will respond to you from the year 2021. Just for fun.