Donna

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I’m crazy late posting this week’s blog. Why? Because life got away with me and I’m pretty freaking tired. I picked up some extra hours at work which are sorely needed. I handed in a book earlier this month, but then had to play catch up, including this month’s column for the Romance Writers Report. And editing – my clients are awesome, but getting a bit behind on one has had a trickle down effect. No, more than that – a snowball effect. In any “free” time, I’ve been trying to do my judging for the RITA awards, the Golden Heart, and you know, do some housework. All that overwhelm ended up with me being angry.

I’ve been tempted to do that “It will be better next week/in March” thing, but I promised myself back in November that that kind of thinking had to stop. Because I can only deal with the RIGHT NOW. And do one thing at a time.

Yesterday I worked at the store until almost 1:30. Which sounds like an early day! But then I picked up my kid from school and we ran a few errands that needed doing – things like picking up paperwork and going to the bank. I got home at 3:15. My other kid called. Then my husband got home. I’d put meatballs in the crock pot and quickly made some rice and veg to go with them and we ate early because it was also payday which means groceries. Groceries means coming home and putting them away. Which then meant me sitting down at my computer at 7:30, and staring at the screen because my brain cells were pretty much toast. I haven’t been sleeping great this week, so I don’t have a lot in reserve.

I did a few tasks. And then I had to do something that didn’t require a lot of focus, so I started some housework.

And I got angry about it.

And I stewed. And fumed a little bit. I won’t go into all the details, but let’s just say… I was feeling overworked and perhaps a little undersupported. I finished the dishes at 10:15. The load of laundry finished and I put it in the dryer. Dumped the compost and let out the dog. And fumed some more.

And then I went to bed.

And I had a choice to make.

I could take to heart the “don’t let the sun set on your anger” thing, or I could stew and fume quietly and not say anything.

I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t overly cuddly, either. But I held my tongue.

Tsk tsk, some people might say. You should never go to bed angry.

But I think it’s okay, and I’ll explain why.

If I had said anything about how I was feeling last night, it would have caused a fight. I would have accused. People would have defended. I probably would have cried (yes, I’m that tired). The whole tone of the conversation would have been confrontational and “spirited.” And I would have laid awake after that, anyway, and I’m pretty sure we would have awakened this morning still being a bit sour about it all. And I would have said things I didn’t really mean, or at least said then in a way that was, frankly, not helpful.

So I slept on it.

It’s okay to sleep on anger. We usually tell people to “sleep on” a big decision. Take your time. Give it some hard thought. So why not anger? Is it really best to air that grievance when you’re already angry and exhausted? Maybe you’ll feel a little differently in the morning after some rest. Maybe what seemed really big and overwhelming isn’t. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll have gained some perspective.

And then maybe you can articulate what was really bothering you in a calm, productive way. And make your point without causing a huge blow out of an argument. This morning I got up and said in one or two calm sentences what I would have exploded about last night.

I totally understand the “don’t go to sleep angry” idea. But I also think we need to do more thinking before speaking – and not just at home but everywhere in life. When we comment on social media. When we talk to other people. The difference is this: we have to stop REACTING and start ACTING. Measured responses. That is something that society is surely lacking these days.

As a writer, this is comparable to an MRU  – Motivation Reaction(or Response) Unit. A stimulus happens, we have a physical and emotional reaction to it, and then we make a decision and act, creating a new stimulus.

If I had gone upstairs last night and said what was on my mind, I would have been stuck in the middle of an MRU. I would have let my anger have priority without thinking. While it’s great to resolve things before sleep, it’s also okay to let cooler heads prevail. To think about what you want to say to have a productive, calm conversation. I don’t think it’s any kinder to blow up at those close to you than to wait, calm down, and express your thoughts or feelings.

So go ahead. Sleep on it if it means better communication with your partner (or whoever else you might be ticked at).

Stay cozy, read a good book, and smile at a stranger. Have a great weekend,

Donna xx

The other day I was talking to my eldest about creating characters, particularly when she was saying that character development is one of her weaknesses in her writing (she writes a lot, and is taking a creative writing class this semester). We talked about why her characters sometimes seem two dimensional, how bits of ourselves come through in our characters, and I gave her some useful tips for trying to write more well-rounded characters.

When we were talking about one character in particular, I asked questions about that person. Why would they do a particular thing, and what would the consequences of that be? In that case as well, what did accepting those consequences mean for both the character and the other person in the scene? Did it make them vulnerable? Were they making a choice to trust, when trust had been in short supply?

So I gave her some tools, like the List of Twenty and 5 Whys and a series of questions to start with when planning characters – questions that she could add to if she wanted. Things as simple as their favorite food is so much more than taste – perhaps there’s a memory attached to it that has personal significance. What would they never do, no matter the cost?  The list of twenty can work this way as well. Twenty things about your character – you’ll probably start with appearance and occupation and then get into the nitty gritty. And the 5 whys is so fun – Your character wants…. a new job, for example. Why? So he can make more money to support his family. Why? Because he feels it’s his responsibility. Why? Because he grew up being told that that was the measure of a man. Why? Because his father had been the sole breadwinner in their family during a time when women stayed home and cared for the family while the man brought home the bacon. Why? Because his father had been brought up that way, too, and it’s become a “belief” that having that particular division of labour = happiness. But now those traditional values are causing friction in his marriage, because his wife would prefer to have a partner rather than a provider, and feels she could have more to contribute than being “kept”.

So, after all that, how does this make me a better critical thinker?

Because I look at people and issues like I would a new character. I examine from several different angles. I try to put myself in their shoes. I ask questions like WHY. In real life, sometimes this seems like making excuses for people. Like “maybe that person was snippy because they’re having a bad day” rather than calling them out on their behavior (a bad day doesn’t mean you get to be a jerk). But I do think it contributes to a greater understanding. It’s why I don’t like speaking in absolutes (the majority of the time). It’s why, in a time of massive political polarization, I have my beliefs but I also try to see various sides of the issue and LISTEN so I can understand why people think and feel as they do (even if I don’t agree. Which is often.).

And it’s led me to the conclusion as well that no one has their mind changed because someone shouts at them all the time that they’re wrong. Minds get changed through active LISTENING. Encouraging dialogue. Coming together to find solutions rather than trying to prove that your position is the only one. It’s why I find politics incredibly stressful at the moment, and why anti-intellectualism and careless social media posting drives me crazy.

Last year at the RWA conference in Orlando, Faith Salie spoke to the PAN members about the art of listening. I think of that session often. As I get older, I try to listen to many points of view before making my own point, or of asking questions to peel back the layers of an issue for a complete picture rather than rushing to snap judgments. The great thing is, I’ve been doing this with my characters all along. And isn’t it great that fiction gets to trickle over into real life, rather than always being the other way around?

It’s still a big standing joke that a liberal arts education trains you to ask “do you want fries with that,” but it was a liberal arts education that showed me I wanted to be a writer, and taught me how to at least try to get a 360 view of the world around me and the people in it. And, in my opinion, the world could use a lot more of that right about now.

Stay cozy, read a good book, and smile at a stranger. Until next week,

 

Donna

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