Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Eeek! A Spider!: Arachnophobia and Other Strange Fears

Fear is a powerful emotion. If it is allowed to rule us, it can be the driving force in almost everything we do. Unfortunately it seems to have become the weapon of choice among many governments in the world today. When a human being is afraid, they are much more willing to make sacrifices or accept unhealthy changes to avoid whatever it is they find terrifying.

A fear of death or a large natural predator is understandable. After all it is fear that has kept us alive for so long as the world developed and we developed along with it. Some of those fears are remnants of thousands of years of survival  that is so ingrained in us that we can't shake it.

Take arachnophobia for example. I don't like spiders. I don't want them crawling on me or near me. I am disturbed when I see one and it vanishes. I would say my fear of spiders is moderate. My husband on the other hand is absolutely terrified of spiders. If one is spotted near him, he will not rest until it has been disposed of.  He has used everything from shoes to lighters to put an end to the reign of any eight legged menace that dares enter his territory (aka: his visual range).

At times the fear almost seems irrational. To step back and take an objective look would make anyone with a fear of spiders appear as though they have lost their mind. The creature is a mere fraction of our size and weight. We can easily crush them under a boot heel. Most of the time  they are just hanging out on a web or wall, not really hurting anything except the pests caught in their trap. In most places, the spider is not big enough to bring significant harm to a human being. Not to mention the many spiders that are probably lurking in the walls or hidden places in the average home on a daily basis that never do anything to harm us.

Yet many of us still fear the spider as though it was a killer waiting for us to turn our backs so it can creep up our pant legs and get at our throats. The emotion isn't purely learned, either. Our ancestors feared poisonous spiders, and with good reason. My husband and I here in Pennsylvania really have no significant poisonous spider population to worry about, yet we still experience the same unsettling fear.

It is both a physical and mental reaction. Thinking about it makes us nervous, but the fear also causes skin to crawl. My husband often complains of feeling itchy, as if things are creeping up his arms. It's mostly paranoia, but it is still interesting to see how that tiny little arachnid could cause such a powerful reaction that has a real physical impact.

Even looking at it from this perspective, I still would rather not have a spider crawling on me no matter how small it is. And I probably won't be visiting Brazil anytime soon.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Creative Vs. The Necessary

For a very long time I told myself that I was going to finish my first novel, hit the querying hard and finally get my fiction writing career off the ground. Surely it would be that simple.

I finished the first draft of a 96,000 word dark fantasy - which is an accomplishment in itself. It may not sound like much to someone who has never sat down to write out an entire novel, but trust me when I say it is a lot of work. There are days when you want to stop and walk away but you can't. You have to keep the story moving. Procrastination can end a career before it has a chance to begin.

After finishing the first draft, the work is really only just beginning. If you don't have the cash to hire a professional editor, then you're going to have to do it all yourself. That means reading through every chapter not once, not twice, not even three times but as many times as it takes to completely polish and perfect it.

One thing I have learned is that when I think a chapter is ready to go - it's not. I self-published a couple small dog care and training guides a while back (search for Shel Gatto on Amazon if you want to see what I'm talking about -they are quite short). These were relatively basic layouts with many photos. Being someone who is not trained in design of any kind, getting the layout to work was challenging enough. I spent hours resizing all my photos, adding a narrow border and getting them onto each page so they didn't fall off the side or shift the text in an unappealing way.

Then there was the text part. I went through each book a number of times. When I finally stopped finding typos, I thought it was safe to start selling. One of the biggest problems I have found is that the content gets "hot." I don't know why, but I have always associated this with a temperature. A new book is cold. I haven't read it and I don't know what's in it. It is new and exciting - even refreshing. Reading through it makes the words familiar or "warm." Going over the same text a number of times eventually makes it feel "hot" each time I return to it.

When the text becomes hot, it gets much harder to see typos. It's a weird phenomenon but one that is very much there. Waiting a while to go over each chapter again can help, but that means a lot more down time which is not easy to swallow for a new author who's chomping at the bit. It's a matter of being too close to the text while trying to satisfy the drive to finish it.

I found a few errors after my initial uploads. They were relatively minor, but when you're selling something you want it to be 100% perfect. So I go through the process again, reading and reuploading and waiting for approvals only to find later that I still missed a couple things. I repeated this a few times before I felt that the books truly were ready to go.

Why do I bother explaining all this?  I think it's important to understand just how long, tedious and frustrating the writing process can be. It is not simply a matter of sitting down, typing out the words then presenting it to the world.  For the average person, this endeavor is even more intimidating when you must continue making money in the meantime.

Despite all the heartache, it is totally worth it. There is a unique sense of satisfaction that comes with completing a personal project like this. I believe that every author puts a little piece of themselves into each page. Scattered ideas and concepts are gently gathered and nurtured into something worthwhile and original. It's one of the best feelings a human being can experience.

They say money can't buy happiness. I can fully agree. I am at my happiest when I finish a creative project. The problem is that money does make life much more comfortable. I think the key is to find a way to balance the necessary and the creative until you can push the creative to the forefront and it becomes purely necessary.

Don't forget to savor the emotions and experiences felt as you overcome the obstacles that come between you and your goals. You never know when something might trigger an idea that can be used later. Edgar Allan Poe said it best::

"Sensations are the great things, after all. Should you ever be drowned or hung, be sure and make a note of your sensations; they will be worth to you ten guineas a sheet."

The road is long, winding and sometimes it seems to end and you must venture out and find it again on your own. It's not an easy journey but it is one worth taking. You may get started just to see what lies at the other end of the path only to find that there is a lot of breathtaking scenery to admire along the way.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Why Hello Internet, It's Been a While

Wow, has it really been three years since I posted anything to this blog? The older I am getting the busier life seems to become. I remember being a teenager in high school thinking that I had too much to do with two jobs, homework and a social life.

I certainly don't go out as much as I used to but I feel like time is in even shorter supply. Paid freelance work is a necessary evil and one I must maneuver my personal projects and work for family members around along with the usual grown up commitments of babysitting my awesome nephew, cooking, cleaning and caring for the pups. I don't mind it - just wish I had more time and energy to tackle it all. 

Hopefully things will change and I will putting more effort in the areas I know I need to. Anyone who has ever trudged through a creative undertaking probably knows what I'm talking about. You want to devote all your time, energy and focus on this one project but that is usually not the work that comes with a paycheck. Since the utility companies aren't too keen on IOUs or a promise of payment when you hit the jackpot and become a bestselling writer, famous musician or celebrated painter, there's always going to be a need to take on mundane jobs to put food on the table. I am thankful to have the work, but now is the time to learn to juggle like a pro.

So I hope to include this blog along with a few other personal endeavors on my list. Who knows, I might even find some interesting tidbits to discuss here beyond my personal scheduling challenges (which I'm sure are not unique to me). So here I go...trying to figure it all out and bring my dust-gathering ideas to life.