10 Quotes About Humanity to Inspire the Science Fiction Writer

One of the things I love best about Science Fiction is the scale of thematic elements that we get to explore. This is true for creators and consumers of SF art. Of course, the best SF still tackles tangible “real life” conflicts. Some of the most common themes in literature are equally represented in Science Fiction:

  • Coming of Age
  • Courage and Perseverance
  • Love
  • Revenge
  • Good vs Evil
  • Redemption

However, the scale of these conflicts is often scaled up in Sci-Fi to encompass the world beyond human experience. What does it mean to fall in love with a machine? Is humanity ultimately good or evil? Will the planet seek revenge for the things we’ve done to it? Is there any way that humanity can redeem itself?

So I’ve collected some quotes about humanity that might inspire your next creative work. Enjoy!

#1 Educated Monsters

The more humans learn, it seems, the more monstrous we become. Tribal societies of the past were often brutal and difficult, but humans have survived by their capacity to form strong bonds and work together within our communities. It seems that the more we learn, the more we become distanced from one another. What is it about knowledge that twists our humanity? What does the future look like for our knowledge seeking species?

#2 Control Freaks

Humans love to feel in control: of themselves, of their environments, of their destinies. But the more we try to control, the more things seem to get away from us. This quote encompasses two great thematic questions from SF works. What happens when we lose control? and How do we continue in the face of our own destruction, when our enemy is our own hubris?

#3 The Human Race

People love to have an Other. The people who represent, to us, everything that we are not: human/animal, black/white, rich/poor, scientific/religious, liberal/conservative. We like to draw lines between ourselves and feel superior in our perceived “normalcy.” But what happens when the Other is bigger than we are? An alien species, perhaps. Or sentient beings of our own creation. What happens if we have to band together against a threat against our very humanity? Can people abolish the lines drawn in the sand between us in order to save our species? Or will we fragment and be defeated by imaginary divisions?

#4 We’re Fucked

Perhaps the ultimate hubris of humanity is thinking we have any say in what goes on here at all? The planet has been around for billions of years, seen the rise and fall of species far more long-lived than ours. We like to think we’re pretty important, “saving” the whales, “saving” the planet. Arguably, the best way for humans to save anything is to disappear. Blink! Like the tiny inconsequential specks of space dust we really are.

#5 The Comparison Trap

We still have a lot to learn about being human. As far as we know, there are no other species out there that are quite like us. The more we learn about other creatures, the more special we seem to become (in our own eyes, at least). The human brain is the most complex computing organ/machine there is, and even we don’t understand exactly how we work. But this won’t always be the case (hubris again!) will it? What happens when we create an intelligence beyond ourselves, and bigger than ourselves? What will we be taught about our perilous superiority then?

#5 Compassionate Intelligence

Okay, okay. It’s not all doom and gloom. We are the ones attempting to create an artificial intelligence, so we must have some say in how it turns out. Right? What if, from the very beginning, we teach this AI compassion and kindness? How might compassionate computers, robots, and eventually sentients change the world? Hopefully they don’t decide the most compassionate outcome for earth is to eliminate humanity… Better double check that coding.

#7 Human Together

Being human is kind of a team sport. As communal animals, the entire makeup of our brains becomes a bit off-kilter when we’re left to our own devices. This is why the dangers of distancing ourselves from others, and from our humanity, are such poignant themes in literature. Without a “you” who am “I?” What does pure isolation do to a person? Can I be human if I’m the only one left? Or am I just another animal, waiting to die upon an ancient and indifferent space rock?

#8 Human Computers

If AI is an extension of human intelligence, are sentient robots Humanity v.2.0? Will we cause our own extinction by forcing human evolution and effectively rendering the Mother Species redundant and obsolete? For centuries now, scientists have been accused of playing God. What happens when we really do create new life? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein offers up one suggestion, which has been explored repeatedly in SF media. But what if, like Victor Frankenstein, humans are the true monsters and our creations choose to slay us rather than worship us? Humanity is dead, long live Humanity.

#9 Idealist Humans

Like the idea of compassionate AI, it is nice to wonder about less bleak eventualities on the human timeline. Perhaps scientists have a breakthrough on empathy research, causing people around the globe to truly feel one another’s pain? Octavia E. Butler explores this idea in The Parable of the Sower and… well, lets just say it’s not easy to be a chemically induced empath. She does pose in important question, though. If everyone were forced to literally feel the pain of those around them, how would society change? What are some other ways that humanity might rise above its petty concerns with religion, race, and nationality? Maybe there is hope for us beyond the alien invasion scenario in #3.

#10 No Hard Feelings

Back track to #4 again, and we’re fucked. Unless humanity addresses it’s destructive tendencies, there isn’t really any way for the development of self-teaching AI to end other than in our own demise. Even we know we’re pretty bad for production in the big picture. Is there any way around being offed by our own robot babies? What redeeming feature does humanity have that no other creature can recreate? There’s an argument for creativity, I think. There’s an argument for mythology as a way to communicate with people (and possibly other species) that we don’t know. Will it be enough to save us? You tell me…

Discussion

What is your favourite book that discusses the potential and limitations of humanity in the future? Have you ever addressed these themes in your own work? Have any of these quotes inspired your next project? Let me know in the comments!

If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out 10 Gardening Quotes to Inspire the Sci-Fi Writer as well!

Creativity and the Fear of Being Seen: Guest Post by Katri Soikkeli

Creativity and the Fear of Being Seen: Guest Post by Katri Soikkeli

Today, I have a wonderful post on creativity and courage from one of my most favourite creative souls of all time, Katri Soikkeli. She brings a sense of whimsy and joie de vivre to everything she does and has inspired me with her kindness and her playful view of the world.

I hope, after you read this post, you will visit her website and Instagram to tell her how much you loved it! And head over to the Protagonist Crafts Etsy shop to do a little holiday shopping.

Without further ado, here is Katri!

Katri Soikkeli Bio

Creativity and the Fear of Being Seen 

If you’re sitting on a creative project that you’re afraid to share with the world, you might think the people putting themselves out there have something that you don’t. Something that makes them impervious to whatever it is that you’re afraid will ruin you as soon as you let the world see you.

I have a little secret for you. They – we – are not that different. We just made a decision.

If you don’t know me yet, I can tell you I am a published writer and I continue to write and try to get my work out there in front of people. During the corona crisis I started an Etsy shop while knowing pretty much nothing about selling handmade products, and later I started a blog that celebrates living a creative life your way. All the while I’ve been active on Instagram where I continue to share my struggles with creativity, my mental health and ADHD and life in general. Knowing this you might think I’ve been made particularly brave, or that I just have a knowing that my work is “good enough” to be shared, whatever that means.

You would be very silly to think that, but I don’t blame you.

I am a highly anxious, highly sensitive person, which doesn’t seem to be uncommon among us creatives. You should know I once got disqualified from an entrance exam because I didn’t speak up in group when it was my turn. Although it had nothing to do with creative work, that school was my dream at the time, and I still didn’t find it in me to speak up. That’s how afraid I was of people hearing my voice, of them realising they would dislike the very concept of me. That is the level of being afraid to be seen that I started from.

Katri Soikkeli, having fun at work.

If you’ve been alive on this planet for more than five years, you’ve probably heard of Dan Brown, the writer of Da Vinci Code. Most people probably have the impression that he was just hanging around, sitting on his laurels until he decided to churn out a best-selling novel that would be turned into a top-grossing film which would immediately launch him into success and into being regarded as a Real Author.

What you probably don’t know is that Da Vinci Code is Brown’s FOURTH published novel. His other best-seller, Angels and Demons, actually came out before Da Vinci Code, not after, which you might not have known either. We are not here to discuss the quality of Mr Brown’s prose, as that is a subject for another blog post which I have no intention to write, this is just a great example of how even well-known people have been plucking at their trade even before we became aware of them. Do you think Brown sat frozen at his desk, proclaiming that he wasn’t going to put his work out there until he knew he would become an instant success? I doubt it, because he would probably still be there.

Let me confirm something that you’re probably afraid of: your work isn’t perfect. Some of it might not even be great. If you’re feeling a bit rattled right now, GOOD, because that means there at least is some work for you to feel insecure about. If, on the other hand, you’ve been too paralysed to start because you can’t let even yourself see your imperfect work, please, for the love of all that’s good and beautiful in the world, remember how short and unpredictable life is. Write that stupid poem! It’s going to be terrible and then you’ll make another and another and another, and eventually one of them is going to be better!

Not saying I’m psychic, but I happen to know what’s really your problem.

Your “I don’t know how” and “I’m not as good as Jane” are just excuses, and you know what they say about fighting for your excuses? It means you get to keep them. Your real problem is that you’re scared of being seen. You don’t feel like you’re really good enough, so you’re hoping you’d come up with something that’s so great that you’d get to hide behind it, use it as a shield. You don’t want to expose parts of yourself that might be vulnerable to scrutiny, and thus you would rather suffocate them than ever give them a chance to grow. You don’t want to be seen starting out, because the world would get to see the supposedly imperfect parts of you, so you never start. But if you’re still reading this, I know there’s a small part of you that still wants to create something, maybe even change the world somehow, no matter how small portion of the world it might be.

Do you finally want to know what the decision was that I mentioned in the beginning of this post?

Let’s go back to the entrance exams, although slightly unrelated, because that was my first decision. Ever since my horribly failed exam, I found out you get extra points if you’re the first person to speak in the group, so I decided to do exactly that the next time. It felt like throwing up. Actually, it felt like taking off my shirt, climbing onto the table to sing Happy Birthday to someone who didn’t have a birthday and THEN throwing up, but I did it anyway. Twice, because I didn’t get in that first time, although it was close. (You could say the Universe had other plans for me, because at the second school I met the father of my children. You never know when a no is actually a yes to something else.)

Other things that I have decided since then: Sending out novel manuscripts that were not perfect, connecting with other writers despite the insecurities that years of being bullied left me with, registering as a sole proprietor before having a clear idea of what I was going to be doing, changing that vague idea to another during the pandemic, starting an Etsy shop despite having kind of ugly product photos and no idea how to market a handmade business, and most recently writing this guest post despite having awful brain fog this week and no idea what to write about. [We’re so glad you did, Katri! — Sarah]

I am constantly putting myself out there and I’m terrified while doing it.

Then I go to bed and do it again the next day. Just last week I posted something that I later realised was kind of boring and uninspired, but I would have never learned that if I hadn’t written and posted it first. None of this has killed me yet and I’m slowly growing my resilience so that I spend a little less time agonising over everything I allow people see.

Putting myself out there to be seen also means that people are free to bypass me completely. It’s natural to want to be liked and approved of, our survival as a species used to completely depend on it, but once you get started. you’ll soon realise you can withstand not being applauded for everything you create. Then, one day, someone is really going to see you, and you will experience the joy of your creations resonating with another person. That is true connection, and in my opinion, the core of human experience.

You don’t want to deprive yourself of that joy. Get out there and be visible. You were made for this.

Links:

Instagram – www.instagram.com/protagonistcrafts

Website – katrisoikkeli.com

Etsy shop – www.etsy.com/shop/protagonistcrafts 

Other posts:

Creativity and mental health https://katrisoikkeli.com/creativity-mental-health/ 

Ode to uncool interests https://katrisoikkeli.com/ode-to-uncool-interests/ 

Discussion

Thank you so much, Katri, for this fabulous post! You’ll notice some similar themes here if you’ve been reading some of my posts on creativity. Allowing yourself to be seen, as Katri has put it, is an essential part of the creative process. If you have any questions for us, please drop a comment below. And, of course, don’t forget to give Katri a follow at the links above!

Creative Business 101: Tips on How to Identify your Audience

Creative Business 101: Tips on How to Identify your Audience

Have you ever stopped to wonder why you are a creator? Many of us create as a hobby, for personal pleasure or relaxation. But if you are starting a creative business, you need to reframe this question.

“Why do you create?” becomes “Who are you creating for?”

In this post, I will share some quick tips for identifying your audience and how to use that information to design content that will appeal to your ideal reader or customer.

Creative Business 101: How to Identify Your Audience

What is an Audience, and Why Does it Matter?

When we talk of “audience” in the world of creative entrepreneurs (or any kind of entrepreneur!) we are referring to a pool of potential buyers of our work. Your work might be a novel, a painting, or a hand-knit sweater. It could be a song you’ve put out on YouTube or a film you’ve made. Even if you are not ready to sell your work, you can still make connections with your future customers. These people are your audience.

Identifying your audience is the first step you need to take when you decide to transition from being a hobbyist to a career creator. Who are you trying to reach? The answer seems simple. We want everyone to love us and buy our stuff. We want fame and riches and global recognition of our awesomeness, right?

(Okay, if you just nodded your head, go back and read Defining Success as a Creative Entrepreneur.)

The trouble is, if you cast your net too wide it doesn’t get deep enough to catch any fish. If you try to market yourself to everyone, you end up attracting no one.

How to Identify Your Audience

You cannot market yourself or your work to everyone on the face of the planet. We all like different things, and respond to different personalities. Identifying your audience comes down to two things: who you are, and what you do. This becomes: who is going to like me? Who is going to want what I have created?

Many creators don’t really stop to think about these things until after they have completed a project. We feel inspired, we work in a wild frenzy of creative activity, and after some crises of faith and existential dread, voilà! We have a thing!

If you have never considered your audience until this moment, that’s okay. I’m going to help you out. Once you go through these tips and you do know your audience, your next project will be much easier to market!

First, let’s talk about you.

“To Find Yourself, Think For Yourself.” –Socrates

Who Am I?

I don’t necessarily mean this in a deep, existential way. But if you know exactly who you are, this part will be easy. When I ask “Who are you?” I mean “How do you present yourself to the world?” Here are some questions to consider:

  • How old are you?
  • What is your gender identity and sexual orientation?
  • What are your religious beliefs?
  • What are your political beliefs?
  • What is important to you?
  • What charities and causes do you support?
  • What kind of people do you like to be friends with?
  • What kind of people do you not get along well with?
  • Are you a cat person? A dog person? Do you like animals?
  • What kinds of food do you like?

This is basic stuff, but it’s surprising how many people never really sit down and think about these things. Go back to the days of those 20 questions surveys you used to be tagged in back in the early days of social media. Take a few, just for fun.

Now how many of these basic info-bytes make it into your work? Is the protagonist in your novel similar to you or different? Do you draw themes for your art from your personal belief system? Do you curse like a sailor or prefer a family-friendly dialogue with your friends?

These are all important clues in order to answer the next question.

Who is my Audience?

It can be difficult to make the leap from “Who am I?” to “Who do I create for?” because it isn’t always a conscious part of the process. Think of a particular piece or project you want to find an audience for. Think of one, ideal person coming along and seeing your work and thinking “Yes! This is exactly what I’ve been looking for!” Who are they? Who will get the most out of everything you’ve put into this piece?

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Level of Education
  • Political Views
  • Income Level
  • Religious Views
  • What is important to them?

Your audience might be exactly like you, or they might be quite different. For writers, your audience might be more similar to your protagonist than to you. For example, if you are a middle aged woman writing a YA romance, your work is more likely to appeal to a 15 year old girl than someone who is married with children, and a full time job.

On the other hand, if you are writing a science fiction novel about climate disaster and you are passionate about saving the environment in real life, your audience will likely share this passion with you.

Example: The Timekeepers’ War by S.C. Jensen

I am going to demonstrate the different between “Who am I?” and “Who is my audience?” by using myself and my first book as an example. You don’t need to have read The Timekeepers’ War in order for this to make sense. [If you have, great! You’re my favourite ;)]

QuestionsS.C. JensenAudience
Age?3618-45, geared toward 20s or people who remember their 20s
Gender?FemaleMainly women
Race?WhiteAny, characters are racially diverse
Sexual Orientation?BisexualAny, queer friendly
Level of Education?Bachelor’s DegreeAny, but must be curious, have a strong vocabulary, and be interested in exploring “big” ideas
Level of Income?Upper Middle ClassAny, especially people who have experience with poverty
Religious Beliefs?AtheistAtheist, agnostic, or spiritually curious
Political Beliefs?LiberalSocialist, or people who like to explore many political models and belief systems
Interests?reading, SF&F, outdoor activities, cooking, new medicine and scienceSF&F, readers, dark humour, sci-fi concept art, alien species, post-apocalyptic preppers
Place in life?married, homeowner, business owner, mother, well-balanced and contentyounger, still trying to figure out where they fit (or remember this feeling), ambiguous identity, searching for meaning in life, discontent, questioning everything
Discovering your audience example, The Timekeepers’ War by S.C. Jensen

You can see where there are a few places where my audience and I diverge from one another. Partly this is because people change, and we often draw on past experiences in our creative work. Sometimes it is easier to discuss difficult themes and ideas after the fact, and our work will resonate with both people who are currently experiencing similar issues or who have in the past.

Remember, the more specific you can be in identifying your audience the easier it will be to market your creative business or product.

“Your Attitude is an Expression of Your Values and Expectations.” –Zabid Abas

I Know My Audience, But How Does This Help Me?

Once you know who your ideal audience is, it’s time to produce some content that will interest them. If you are stumped about what to write about on your blog or socials, imagine your audience. What is your ideal reader/buyer interested in right now?

  • Does your work tie in to any current public events?
  • What interests do they have?
  • Have you read any books or seen any movies that would appeal to them?
  • Can you provide insight into a problem they might be facing?

You must use what you know about your ideal audience and apply that to everything you put out into the world. Your content is the bait you use to lure future customers to your feeds. People can’t buy your work if they can’t find you, and they won’t buy your work if they don’t find a personal connection with what you post.

How Do I Cater My Content to My Audience?

As a Writer:

  • book reviews in the genre you write in
  • top 10 books you look forward to reading this year
  • current events with parallels to your novel
  • personal stories that parallel the issues your characters deal with
  • entertaining tidbits in your shared interest categories
  • book nerdy posts about how to select your next read, organize your bookcase, or how to handle the emotional turmoil of a book buying ban

As an Artist:

  • behind the scenes in your studio
  • sketches to finished piece
  • other artists who inspire you
  • practical guidance on how to select a piece of art, how to hang a artwork, how to critique a work of art
  • news stories that connect with themes in your work
  • personal stories that your ideal buyer will relate to

As a Musician:

  • behind the scenes in your studio
  • live recordings
  • footage from performances
  • stories about your experiences as a performer
  • news stories that connect with themes in your work
  • venues reviews for areas you have performed in or would like to perform in

These are some idea to get you started, but as you can see knowing your audience is the key to producing creative content that works.

Be Valuable

In Creative Business 101: Defining Success as a Creative Entrepreneur we discussed the importance of providing value in your content. In order to do this, you must know who your audience is and what is valuable to them.

Use your platforms with intention, and focus on the platforms you feel most comfortable with. I spend most of my time on Instagram and WordPress, because this is where I like to hang out. Others enjoy the Twitter or Facebook experience. You don’t have to do everything at once, but whatever you do, you must product content designed to appeal to your ideal audience.

Discussion

Is there anything else you need to know about identifying your audience? Let me know in the comments and we can brainstorm!

If this article was helpful to you, please like and share so that it is easier for others to find.

As always, thank you for reading!

Creative Business 101: Defining Success as a Creative Entrepreneur

Do you ever think about all the things you have to do in order to “make a living” and feel overwhelmed? Does that overwhelm stop you from pursuing your dreams?

I know that fear well. My husband and I are small business owners–we own a trucking company and I am a freelance business writer–and I am in the process of turning my fiction writing into a full time job. I have learned a lot in the past ten years about what it takes to turn your passion into a career. I still have a lot to learn, but I’d like to share this journey with you and help ease some of the fears you may be feeling.

How to Define Success as a Creative Entrepreneur

What Does Success Mean to You?

There is something to be said for the safety and security of a regular job. Anyone who has considered starting their own business knows the hardest thing to do is to step away from a regular paycheck and into the vast financial unknown of self-employment.

If your passion is creative–if you are a writer, artist, musician, or actor–making that leap is even more difficult. Society tends to think of creative pursuits as hobbies, not careers. Most people can’t imagine anyone making a living in a creative field. Sure, there’s your Beyonces and your J.K. Rowlings, but statistically we know it is more likely that we’ll win the lottery than to become wildly rich and famous as an artist.

And becoming wildly rich and famous is the epitome of success, is it not?

Redefining Success

Many people hold full-time jobs and create as a hobby and are perfectly content. But for those of us who are driven to create more than anything else, whose work days are consumed by the desire to get back to our true passion, it is not enough to create as a hobby.

Yet becoming a creative professional doesn’t seem possible. When you consider a creative career or starting your own business, the biggest concern you are likely to have is this: How much money will I make? Can I make a living this way? Will I be able to survive?

The Starving Artist Myth

Society tells us that being creative is not “a real job.” The world, which consumes vast amounts of creative products every day, simultaneously tries to sell us the Starving Artist myth.

I’ve written about this myth and the other toxic mindsets that creative people and entrepreneurs face in my articles 5 Toxic Myths About Creativity and Imposter Syndrome: Why You Are Self-Sabotaging (and How to Stop!) I encourage you to check these articles out, and identify any self-defeating beliefs you might be holding on to.

But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The work of creative professionals is all around us, from the digital art on our favourite websites, to the songs we hear on the radio, to the books we read and the movies we watch and the clothes we buy. The list goes on. And the people who create all the products we buy and the media we consume are not working for free.

Creative Success

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” — Albert Einstein

Creative Work Has Value!

Success to most people is defined by recognition and financial security. I have good news for you: It is absolutely possible to achieve success by this standard as a creative person!

But it does not happen right away. And almost none of us will succeed by the impossible standard–of wealth and fame–upheld by society.

So, what is the point of chasing a dream so unlikely to “succeed?”

Achieving success as a creative person requires a shift in perception. When you are taking your first steps toward a creative career, it is important to let go of traditional definitions of success. You must redefine your goals in terms of value.

Why Value?

It can feel entirely pointless to maintain a blog when your posts get fewer than 10 hits a day. How are you supposed to write a newsletter for an empty mailing list? Why should you sweat over the perfect shot and caption when your Instagram feed has more crickets than comments?

Because success starts with value.

It may take years before you are able to quite your day job and become a full-time creator. You may have to make changes to your spending habits and your material expectations in order to “make a living.” Financial success and public recognition will not happen overnight.

But your skills and experience have value NOW. In order to be financially successful, people need to be able to find you. Your audience is out there. There are billions of people in the world, and there are thousands of people who want exactly what you have to offer. That is a big enough pool of future customers to make any creative person a financial success. But they have to find you first.

Great Expectations

Measuring your success in financial terms when you are first starting out is a recipe for failure. I fell victim to the trap of my own expectations after I released The Timekeepers’ War. I had no idea how to market myself as an independent author. I just wanted to write. I wanted my books to sell themselves. I had slaved away on that project for years and I wanted to see some kind of return!

But I didn’t have a foundation in place. I released my book into the wild and let it run free…

And it disappeared.

Feelings of frustration and overwhelm quickly became resentment. It built up in me for years until I hated even thinking about my blog or drafting my next book.

I became frozen by my frustration.

But being frustrated was not my problem. The frustration was a symptom of a bigger problem. This is what really threw a wrench into my gears:

I was focusing on my own success (or perceived lack thereof) rather than on providing value to my audience.

I was putting the cart before the horse.

It’s tough to motivate yourself with “success” as your only measurable. For one thing, it means different things to different people, and even different things at different stages in your career. For another thing, success takes time! You aren’t going to write one blog post and skyrocket to the top of Google’s search results.

So what do you do in the meantime? Where do you start?

You start with value. What is your ideal audience interested in? How can you help them? Because you can provide value at any stage in your journey as a creative or an entrepreneur. You don’t work for the audience you have, you work for the audience you want to have in the future.

A man should have duties outside of himself; without them he is a mere balloon, inflated with thin egotism and drifting nowhere.” –Thomas Baily Aldrich

Who Are You Creating For?

I want you to stop thinking about yourself for a minute. Stop thinking about you want from your creative business and start thinking about your future customers. Who are they?

Who is your audience?

  • How old are they?
  • What kind of education do they have?
  • Are they married? Do they have children?
  • What are their hobbies and interests?
  • What are their beliefs and values?

How do you provide value to your audience?

You have skills and knowledge that are valuable. You have to share it with the world in order for your audience to find you. It’s as simple as that. And when you start out, being of value is not going to immediately translate into financial gain. Your success as a creative person will be defined by how well you connect with other people, and how much value you can provide for them.

What has value?

  • entertainment: tell funny stories or share fun facts on your blog, let people hear the outtakes from your last recording session, share a sketch that went wrong, take people behind the scenes and show them what it’s like to be you, make your audience laugh!
  • education: share your tips for how to be successful in your creative field of choice, share books and videos that have helped you or inspired you, review products you use
  • inspire: tell your story, talk about your challenges, talk about your successes, let yourself fail and share what you’ve learned

Strategies for Success as a Creative Entrepreneur

Success for the creative entrepreneur boils down to value. It sounds simple enough, but can be difficult in practice. I have some strategies for how to build success as a creative professional and I will be sharing them with you in the coming weeks. I plan to cover topics like:

  • How to identify you audience
  • How to provide value to your audience
  • How to optimize your website, blog, newsletter, and social media accounts so that they are working together instead of competing with one another
  • How to convert your followers into customers
  • and more!

I hope you’ll join me on this journey and we can walk together on the path toward success, however you choose to define it.

Discussion

What has been your biggest struggle with getting your business (creative or otherwise) off the ground? What is holding you back? Please let me know in the comments if there is anything you’d like me to cover in this series. Thanks for reading!

Creative Business 101: 5 Toxic Myths About Creativity

When you think of artists, or writers, or musicians, what is the first thing that pops into your head? One of the greats? Or some reclusive weirdo who seems perpetually at odds with “the real world?”

Creativity is often viewed as a mysterious thing. Something some people have it and others don’t. It can drive people to do incredible things. Or it can drive a person mad.

These dichotomous images of blazing success and blistering failure are burned into our cultural retinas. Often when we feel blocked in our creativity it is because we have internalized society’s ideas about what creativity is, where it comes from, and who is allowed to be creative.

What if it’s all a lie?

What if all our notions about creativity are wrong? Where does that leave us creative people?

Let’s take a look at 5 of the most toxic myths about creativity that could be standing between you and success.

#5 “She’s so talented!”

We all know people who are better than us at something. Maybe it’s math homework, maybe it’s painting, maybe it’s public speaking. It is tempting to believe that they are simply talented in a way that we can never be. In fact, having to work at something can feel discouraging.

But the fact is, talent has very little to do with skill. Sure, some people have a natural inclination towards some things more than others. While that might give them an initial boost, what really makes people “talented” is good old-fashioned hard work. No one gets good at something without trying, failing, and trying again. What separates average people from the talented ones is this: Talented people work harder.

#4 “You must suffer for your art.”

This myth is particularly toxic because it validates a lot of negative behaviours and mindsets that we really should work to fix. The very parts of our brains that help us to be creative–asking why and what if, deconstructing ideas and analyzing them, thinking differently from other people–can leave us feeling overwhelmed, isolated, and alienated from society.

Instead of seeking help when this happens, creative people often choose to numb themselves through substance abuse and self-harm. Depression and anxiety are common in creative people.

There is an idea out there that truly powerful works of art come from a place of great pain and suffering. While it is true that creativity can provide catharsis for past trauma, you do not have to suffer in order to be creative.

Treating your depression, anxiety, or substance abuse will not block your creativity. In fact, getting help for your mental health will more likely unleash a wave of ideas and inspiration that you can draw from for years to come!

#3 “He’s a starving artist.”

This is a big one. The starving artist myth allows people to take advantage of you and your creativity. It is the myth that makes it okay for people to suggest you work for free “for the exposure.” It is the myth that causes you to undervalue your own work.

See, we have this idea that you can’t make money as a creator. Writers, artists, musicians, crafts people… we just do it for the love of creating. We don’t actually expect to make a living at it, do we? That would be crazy.

Well, call me crazy, but I like to eat. I like to have a roof over my head. I like to be able to buy new shoes for my kids when they outgrow their old ones. And just because I’m a writer doesn’t mean I should have to work another job in order to do those things.

Creativity is a highly sought after commodity in the world. We need creative people to design our websites, to write ad copy, to entertain us with music and stories, to decorate our spaces. Your skills are valuable. The world wants and needs your skills. So whatever you do, don’t undercut your earnings by devaluing your own work.

#2 “Wow! What an original idea!”

Creative people often get blocked by this need to “be original.” We try so hard to be different from everyone else that we run out of ideas entirely. Why? Because original ideas do not exist. Like perfectionism, the quest for originality is a wild goose chase. Quit while you’re ahead.

I talked about this in my post “But I have Nothing to Say!” and Other Lies. You do not have to have a completely new idea in order for your work to be worthy of an audience. The way you approach a familiar idea is what makes your work interesting and unique. Your “you-ness” is the real product here. That is what you do that no one else can do.

#1 “She’s a bit of a loner.”

Are creative people introverts or extroverts? Most people would answer introverts. But they would be wrong. The truth is, creative people can be introverted or extroverted or anywhere in between. The idea that creativity is some kind of mad genius magic that only works in total isolation is about as crazy as it gets.

Even if creative people prefer to do their actual work in solitude (which not all of us do!) we cannot create in a void. We are all inspired by the works of other people. Successful creatives have a strong network of other creative people to bounce ideas off of, share with, and get feedback from. If you’re an extrovert, these connections might happen in galleries and coffee shops and other public places. Introverts might prefer online groups and the intimacy of small critique circles. The important thing is that we share our work with others.

Conclusion

So there you have it. Anyone can be creative. You don’t have to have an innate talent, you don’t have to be depressed and miserable, you don’t have to be perpetually broke, you don’t have to have a “new” idea, and you don’t have to work alone.

Can you think of any other myths about creative people that might be getting in the way of your creativity?

If you are still feeling creatively stifled and don’t know where to turn next, check out my post on Imposter Syndrome.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

“Making Suds” by S.C. Jensen: 2017 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition

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Note: This is a re-post in order to make my short stories easier to find. You can read the original here.

Once upon a time, when stories flowed like rivers and rivers were never what they seemed, there was a girl. Her name was Suds. It wasn’t her real name, but her parents were soap-makers and they thought themselves very clever.

They were also very sad. Suds’ parents longed for another child. In fact, the soap-makers whispered that they were cursed.

Suds knew that was nonsense. But that was the way of grown-ups, she thought, always wishing for more and forgetting what they’ve got.

Then, when Suds was twelve years old, her mother gave birth to a baby boy. Suds loved her brother. Everyone was very happy.

With her parents so distracted, Suds enjoyed her freedom. She roamed the woods outside their village, picked berries, snared rabbits, chased pheasants, and never once thought about making soap.

The weeks turned into months, and her parents’ infatuation with the new baby grew. The family needed money. But neither the mother nor the father could bear to leave the boy, not for a moment.

“Suds, we need you to go down to the river today,” her mother said one morning. She rocked the baby boy and cooed.

“For what?” Suds asked.

“You must leach the lye and make the soap,” her father explained. “Or soon we will starve.”

“Alone?”

“Your brother needs us,” her parents said. “We need you. Please go to the river today.”
Suds collected her tools and glared at the soap-makers.

“Don’t forget your gloves,” her mother said, looking at the baby. “And don’t talk to the Nixe.”

Down at the river, Suds built up a fire. She hauled the great iron tub up over the coals, filled it with water, and waited for the water to boil.

All the while, a creature watched her from the bank. Suds never looked directly at it. If she did, it was sure to start talking to her. River spirits loved to talk to children, especially children who were not with their parents. The thing crept closer. It smelled of rotting fish.

“What are you doing, child?”

Suds ignored the Nixe and stirred the water in the tub. She hummed quietly to herself and waited for the water to boil.

“Where are the grown ones, girl?”

Suds ignored the Nixe and watched the bubbles begin to rise from the bottom of the iron tub. She hummed quietly to herself and shovelled some ashes into the boiling water.

“Let me try, will you?”

At this, Suds looked up. The Nixe cocked its head. Milk-white eyes rolled in sockets of water-logged flesh. The fish smell was much worse up close. Suds knew better than to make a deal with a river spirit. But she longed to go exploring in the forest.

So Suds showed the Nixe how to keep the fire hot, boil the water, scoop the ashes, and skim the lye. And, most importantly, she showed the creature how to protect its delicate skin from burning with the heavy leather gloves. Soon, the creature was doing all the work for her.

“Delightful!” The spirit’s black tongue flashed out between its lips and it tugged at the gloves. “But this soap-making is giving me an appetite. Let us make a deal. I will do your work for you if you bring me something to eat.”

“I can fish,” Suds replied warily.

“I hate fish. All I eat is fish. Cold and slimy and flip-flopping,” the creature said. “No. Bring me a basket of berries from the forest and I will make fifty bars of soap.”

Fifty bars of soap was twice as many as Suds could make in a day. It was a deal worth taking. So she went off to gather berries and enjoy a day in the forest.

When she returned with the berries, the Nixe bared its sharp teeth in a smile. It gobbled the berries up, presented the pile of soaps, and leapt into the river with a splash. Suds carried the soaps home to her parents.

The soap-makers were thrilled. They hugged Suds and praised her and wondered how they had been blessed with such a wonderful daughter. Suds basked in their love and privately vowed to make a deal with the river spirit again tomorrow.

“I will make one hundred bars of soap for you,” the Nixe said the next morning. “If you bring three plump, juicy rabbits to fill my belly.”

Suds knew her snares were full and she looked forward to another day in the woods. She took that bargain, too. And when she returned, the Nixe had all of her soaps prepared. Again, she returned a hero to her parents. The next day the price was six pheasants. Suds thought herself very lucky.

But on the fourth day, the Nixe was harder to please.

“I am very, very hungry,” the river spirit said. “Today I need something more.”

“What is your price?” asked Suds.

“I will make your soaps for the rest of your life,” the Nixe fluttered its gills and sniffed. “But you must bring me the baby.”

“That,” said Suds, “is something I will not do.”

“You will,” said the Nixe. “Or I will have you instead. I am very, very hungry.”

“No!” Suds lunged at the Nixe, but it was a slippery creature and much wilier than the girl. The river spirit slipped right out of Suds arms and it shoved her into the hot tub of lye.

The Nixe knew just what to do. It pulled on the protective gloves, and stirred the pot. When Suds’ bones had dissolved, it made the broth into soap.

Then, the river spirit drew upon its glamour. It turned itself into a girl, very like Suds, but for the wet hem of its dress and the rumbling of its stomach. And it brought the bars of soap to the grateful mother and father.

And everyone lived happily ever after. Except, of course, the soap-makers.

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“Making Suds” was my submission for Round Two of the 2017 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction competition. My assignment was Genre: Fairy Tale, Location: a hot tub, Object: a pair of gloves. I placed third overall in my group. The judges feedback is below:

Judges Feedback:

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1651}  This has all of the elements of a classic fairytale. We gets a strong sense of Suds and that she would rather play in the forest than make soaps.  {1597}  I really enjoyed the classic fairy tale structure you used, complete with negligent parents and children who just want to wander in the woods. The kind of Faustian deal with the Nixe was fun to read about. The ending is dark but satisfying.  {1739}  In the beginning, Suds seems to be clever and her deals are basically made in the hopes of her parents’ adoration. The anticipation built as we work toward the payoff is well paced.  WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1651}  If a creature told you that it was going to eat you, why would you lunge for it? Instinctually, it does not make sense. I also didn’t understand the ending; why did the soapmakers not live happily ever after? For all they know, they still have their two children and all the soaps they can sell.  {1597}  One flag that was raised for me is that since the parents are aware of the Nixe and warn her not to speak to it, they would probably be suspicious when she comes home with 50 perfect soaps on her first day. It seems strange they wouldn’t have suspected and put a stop to it. Also, I wasn’t sure I believed Suds would be reluctant to sacrifice her baby brother. I’m not sure if you need that last line.  {1739}  If the Nixe has the ability to ‘glamour’ why hasn’t it done this already and worked its way into a home? Why would a river sprite be able to live in disguise as a human? Suds doesn’t display any love for her brother. Why wouldn’t she agree to hand him over?

“The Hollow” by S.C. Jensen

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The lifeless eyes hung level with Ginny’s gaze. Blue nylon cord twisted around the thing’s naked body, diving in and out of the flesh like a hungry worm, so that she couldn’t see where it was tied. A mask of blood matted the fur on the tiny face and pooled in its ears. The rest of it was hairless. It looked a bit like a cat, but Ginny couldn’t see a tail.

Behind her, Bea made a sound in her throat almost like a laugh.

“I told you,” Ginny said. “I told you something like this would happen.”

The fallen leaves crunched beneath their feet. Bea blew out a cloud of steam in the crisp autumn air. It hung like a ghost between them. “This is bad, Gin.”

The sun sank into the trees behind their house. Rose-gold spears of evening light broke through the remaining leaves of the season and cast an otherworldly glow over the macabre scene.

Ginny reached out a tentative hand and recoiled quickly. The body was still warm. “I don’t what to do anymore, Bea.”

“Well, we can’t tell anyone.” Bea cupped her hands around her mouth and blew into them, trying to stay warm. “That’s for sure.”

“I didn’t do it,” Ginny said. She rubbed her fingers against her pants. A smear of blood stained the denim. “You believe me, don’t you?”

“They’re going to take you away, Ginny. You’re going to celebrate your sixteenth birthday in a straight-jacket.”

Silence fell between the girls until the air quivered with it. Ginny’s body shook with more than the cold; her heart hammered painfully against her chest. Spots swam at the edges of her vision, like ghost-lights. Will-o-the-wisps. An aura of light seemed to swell around her sister’s face. Ginny was afraid she would pass out if Bea didn’t say something soon.

“Go get the shovel.” Bea turned toward the tree. “I’ll cut it down. Mom’s going to be home soon.”

Ginny walked to the garden shed on legs like sandbags. She kicked each step forward, feeling the impossible weight of her body with every step. Bea was right. No one could know about this. They were just waiting for an excuse to lock her up. Voices rose, unbidden, to whisper in her ears. Maladjusted, delusional, unstable…

Her therapists and social workers said they were on her side, but she could hear the excitement in their voices when they talked to her mother. A very unusual case. Like her mental health was a sideshow they could observe from the front row, munching on popcorn and planning their next sabbatical project.

She heard the kids at school, too. Freak, psycho, bitch… Sure, she threatened to cut Bradley Schaeffer’s pecker off with a pair of sewing shears in home-ec. But Bradley had started to look at Bea the way he used to look at her. The way he looked at her before that night. Slut. Ginny wasn’t going to let that happen again. Not to Bea. Bradley would stay away from both of them from now on.

Ginny’s hand pressed against the weather beaten door of the shed. Her coat sleeve fell back to reveal a cross-hatch of raised silver flesh on her wrist. Ginny didn’t like to look at her wrists. Her limbs felt like they belonged to someone else, dull, heavy things she had to lug through life. The ghostly chains of her sins, hanging off of her, dragging her down. She pushed the door open with her hip and stepped into the frigid darkness inside. The shovel was there, just as she’d left it.

The thing was on the ground when Ginny came back. The frayed cord lay in a tangle at Bea’s feet, electric blue and unnaturally vivid against the dead flesh and dead leaves. Bea said, “Give me that.”

The girls trudged through the forest behind their house, single file. Bea held the shovel against her shoulder, like a rifle, and led the way to the Hollow. Ginny dragged the mess of meat and twine behind her. The creature deserved better, but she couldn’t stand to carry the body in her arms. The skinny limbs, red and wet and going cold. It was too much like—

“Here.” Bea stopped abruptly and stuck the blade of the shovel into a patch of churned up earth. “Put it next to the other one.”

Ginny released her grip on the nylon rope and took the spade from her sister. She pressed her foot into the top of the blade until she could feel the edge cutting into her foot through the sole of her shoe. She pressed until it hurt, but the blade wouldn’t pierce the frozen soil.

“Hurry up,” Bea said. “Mom’s going to be home any minute now.”

“I can’t.” Ginny threw all of her weight on top of the shovel. The handle dug into her ribs. “It’s rock hard.”

“Well put it in with the others.” Bea’s exasperated voice burst out in another cloud of steam. “You’re really cutting it close this time.”

Ginny eyed the fallen leaves at their feet. If you didn’t know to look for them, no one would ever know they were there. Little mounds arranged in a pyramid. The original on top and, supporting it—or maybe keeping it company—the tributes. Servants in the afterlife.

“The big one,” Bea said, suddenly. The ghost of a smile touched her lips. “It’s the freshest.”

Ginny’s heartbeat slowed. It struck with the great, anvil-clanging blows of a blacksmith. She forced her eyes to see the other grave. This one was easier to spot, even if you didn’t know to look for it. But after another good wind the raised earth would be completely camouflaged by the last of the leaves. With any luck, it would stay hidden until spring.

“Or do want Mom to find you like this?” Bea whispered. Something like glee tainted her voice. “She’d lose it. You two can be roomies in the nut house.”

Ginny pushed the shovel into the softened soil of the largest mound and flicked it aside. Something had gotten to the body, already, cold as it was. Black holes stared up at her from where the eyes should have been. Greying flesh sunk into the bones beneath the sockets. Teeth smiled up at her, liplessly. Ginny held her breath.

Like she was proving a point, Bea said, “There.”

Bradley Schaeffer’s face, what was left of it, glared up at Ginny accusingly. “I didn’t do it, Bea. I swear I didn’t.”

“Of course you didn’t.” Bea’s voice dripped with scorn. “You never stand up for yourself, do you? That’s why I’m here.”

Ginny’s limbs began to weigh on her again. It wasn’t possible. Not this. “Bea?”

“Come on,” Bea said. “Tuck it in with him nice and tight.”

As if being moved by something outside herself, Ginny crouched next to the shallow grave. She tugged the mass of meat and twine through the leaves and, lifting it by the rope, lowered the thing onto Bradley’s chest. Bea was right. It suited him. She dropped the twine and the raw, naked body rolled. It caught in the crook of Bradley’s arm, like—

“Just like a baby,” Bea said.

Ginny’s legs began to cramp and she stood slowly. Without taking her eyes off the bodies, she dragged the shovel through the leaves and dirt she’d churned up. She pulled it over the pair like a blanket, gently. Tears stung her eyes and burned her cold cheeks.

“Good.” Bea’s voice cracked like a twig. “Now let’s go. The last thing we need is for mom to see you out here. They’ll put you away for sure, even if they don’t find this mess.”

“Stop saying that!”

“Come on, Gin. Wandering around the forest with a shovel, crying and talking to yourself. You look like a bloody lunatic,” Bea looked pointedly at the stains on Ginny’s clothes. “No pun intended.”

“I’m not crazy! You know I’m not. You’re just trying to upset me.”

“Upset you?” Bea’s mouth twisted into a cruel sneer. “That implies that you were settled in the first place. We both know you’re off your rocker.”

“Don’t you turn on me, too” Ginny whispered. “I need you.”

“I,” Bea said, “am not going anywhere. That’s your problem.”

“Tell them we were just out for a walk,” Ginny begged. “They’ll believe you.”

“Me?” Bea laughed, then. The harsh, joyless bark of sound shook the leaves off the trees. “Who exactly do you think I am?”

Bea’s face flickered in the waning twilight. Ginny had to concentrate to focus on her, like looking through murky water at a mirror. Bea had her dishevelled hair, her tear-streaked cheeks, her blood-stained clothes. They were identical, except for Bea’s cruel smile.

Then the cruel smile softened. Bea reached out and took Ginny’s hand, her damp fingers like ice, and led her back to the house. She said, not unkindly, “You really are crazy, you know.”

Ginny knew.
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This is my piece for the January prompt for 12 Short Stories. The prompt was “No one can know” at 1500 words. “The Hollow” came in just shy at 1498. I don’t technically submit this one until the 30th, so if you leave comments and feedback, I have time to apply it before the official due date! Please do. I am now awaiting my assignment for the NYC Midnight Short Story competition, which will be arriving at midnight EST. I wanted to get this one out of the way so I can focus one NYC Midnight next week. Stay tuned for that one, too! As always, thanks for reading.

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Flash Fiction Friday: “Hagfire” by S.C. Jensen

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The lineup to get into Hominids spilled into the street and curled back onto itself, a coil of black, twitching entrails. The hopeful clubbers huddled together in the cold-air burn, shifting and twisting impatiently as they waited for their turn. The shadowy tower at the core loomed above them; throbbing bass shook the blackened windows. Outside, the queue pulsed in response. Half-clothed and shuffling, dancers let the music move them closer to the centre. Hominids was always worth the wait.

“We’re not getting in.” Min blew smoke through her cupped fists. The streams jettisoned between her fingers in thick tendrils. She leaned into Viki to take another drag. “Fuck. Fuckfuckfuck.” Skanky smelling puffs of air burst above their heads as she cursed.

“We’ll get in.” Viki pulled Min’s icy, bare arms into a tight hug. “I told you we’ll get in. And when we’re in, I’m buying.”

“I need it, Vik.” Min’s body shivered. It wasn’t the cold that shook her. “I shouldn’t have waited this long. I thought I was chill. I’m not fucking chill.”

“Yeah. I know, benni.” The skin around Viki’s drug port crawled up her arm. She kept checking to make sure it wasn’t really moving. “The skad is blacker than I thought it would be.”

“So black.” Min rubbed her arm against the faux-leather straps on her bondage dress, itching. They had planned on hitting the 80s floor. Min loved the goth lounge, Bauhaus Bitch. Synth keyboards blaring and boys in dripping eyeliner. Viki didn’t mind as long as Min still came home with her. “No going back, say?”

“No going back.”

The line-up lurched and shifted closer to the doors as another group of hopefuls were turned away. This better work. Viki’s neck twitched like horseflesh. The bugs were at her now.  Hominids towered upward, a shadow against the starlit sky above them. Green tinged auroras danced with them, flickering in the magnetosphere. Min watched the lights, rocking on her heels. Viki held her close.

The meatsacks at the door thumbed away a group of neon bedazzled ravers ahead of them to a chorus of cursing. They stumbled their way to some other club in the strip, lighting up the night with pink and yellow glowsticks and shooting ecstasy mocks. They’d find a home. Rave-play was all-benni this year. Viki stepped up to take their place on the chopping block, Min tucked under her arm protectively. She flicked the butt of her joint into the gutter.

“Bauhaus is at capacity,” the meat on the left said and made to shove them off.

“Fuck. Knew it.” Min stiffened against her.

“Not Bauhaus,” Viki said. She caught him by the eyeball and held him there. “Hagfire.”

“Where’d a tart like you hear a word like that?” The meat smirked at his partner. “What do you want with Hagfire?”

“None of your fucking business.” Viki snapped her eyes to the other guy. He appraised her, silently. “But we’ve got business.”

An arm shot out from the quiet one.

“Hey!” Fat sausage fingers closed on Viki’s forearm like a vice. She pulled back, but it was like trying to move stone. “What the fuck?”

“Just a civvy?” The man’s voice was low and soft, gentle almost. He inspected the drug port at her wrist, a hack civilian job, but it did the trick. His eyes lingered at the raw, scarlet line inching away from the tube and up her arm.

“Not a fucking soldier, say.”

“How long since she hit?” The meat nodded at Min. She still rocked on her heels and stared at the northern lights, fading fast. Viki felt the fear creeping in. The oh-shit-we-went-too-far fear. Edge-of-the-abyss fear. Blackest skad.

“Night before last.”

“Benni.” He dropped her arm and stood back in his shadow. “Let them in.”

“You know where you’re going?” Other meat pushed open the heavy metal door. Behind them, the crowd stirred. Whispered.

“All-benni.” I think. Viki pulled Min through the door and into the pitch beyond. “You still with me?”

“I’m here.” Min’s voice vibrated, half-pitched and off-kilter. “Where are we?”

Not good.

Viki didn’t bother to reply. She twined her fingers into Min’s and led her into the belly of Hominids. The main floor was always dark and always deserted. Above them, each floor was dedicated to a decade in pop music history. It was kitsch and superficial and wildly popular, the heart of the city. She and Min had worked their way through every floor, every room. Getting in the elevator was like time travel.

Vik wished they were going up.

The only lights on main floor were on the elevator wall. They danced along the chicklet markers that topped each set of doors, blinking and shifting across the floors, ‘M’ through twenty. Five lifts moved constantly, but the sixth lift was lights out. It always was, as long as Viki had been coming to Hominids. A maintenance elevator, she had assumed. The only one with an extra marker. ‘B.’

“I’m cold, benni.” Min tucked into her, eyelids drooping. The port-arm still rubbed against her dress, faster now. It was like all Min’s life and vitality were being pulled into that limb. It flipped and twitched and made Viki’s skin crawl in sympathy.

I’m not that far behind her.

Viki pushed the unlit arrow on the dead lift. Down. Downdowndowndowndown. She watched the lights flitting above the other five elevators. Still nothing on hers. C’mon. All-benni. Work, say?

The doors rocketed open, shakily, like the thing was rusty. The shuddering sound made Viki’s guts lurch, but she stepped inside and pulled Min in with her. The doors hammered closed, shutting off what little light had spilled in from the elevator lounge. The lift was pitched.

Viki blinked away the amoebas that floated in her eyes. Her eyes adjusted and one of the floaters solidified. A soft, green chicklet of light. Phosphorescent green. ‘B’ for benni. All-benni. She pushed the button with a hangnailed finger.

Nothing happened.

Viki jammed it again. And again. Counting. Onetwothreefourfive. Onetwothreefourfive. Fucksake. Work, say? Onetwothreefourfive.

“Easy, say?” A voice crackled overhead. “You chill?”

“Yeah.” Viki talked to the ceiling. “Yeah. I’m chill. For now. But my friend—”

“You’re in the wrong lift, benni.”

“Hag—” Viki’s voice caught and cracked. She coughed and spat. “Hagfire. Please.”

Silence.

“We can pay. I can pay. I have cash.”

Silence.

“She’s not chill, say? She’s not chill and I’m blacking. Fucking Hagfire. Benni, please.”

Silence.

Viki’s stomach hit her throat. The lift dropped so fast she thought they were crashing. But the doors shuddered open and someone grabbed her by the wrist again. Min was wrenched from her grasp. A woman with a cigarette stuck to her lip grinned at her.

“Civvys, yeah?” She checked Min’s pupils and pressed at the now-raw drug port in her twitching arm.

“Yeah.” Viki winced. Min didn’t even register.

“When did you hit?”

“Thirty hours, maybe.”

The woman whistled.

“Who keyed you? Who locked you up?”

“We were chill.” Viki’s arm was doing the twitch thing now, too. The bug were under her skin now. Picking at her.

“All-benni, say? Thirty fucking hours?”

“I have cash.”

The woman turned on her heel and walked down the concrete hallway. Lights buzzed and flickered on the walls. Their yellow glow made the woman’s skin golden brown and her white sleeveless top dirty. Min trailed behind the woman, a sleepwalker. Viki followed, her eyes taking in the narrow waist and muscled back and heavy steps.

Militia, then.

The edge-of-the-abyss fear was back. Viki was teetering, vertigo slamming in her chest like a heart. The woman led them into a room full of people and Viki fell off the edge. Panic kicked her in the ribs and pumped her lungs. The room was full of other women, hard glassy eyes blinking at the newcomers. White tanks and brown slacks and black boots. They sat or sprawled across the ragged chairs and sofas that made up the waiting room. Waiting for what?

“These your freshies, Banks?” A blonde buzz-cut head lifted up. Red lips flashed.

“Shit. I thought you were dead, say?” Viki recognized the woman who’d given them the hit in Bauhaus Bitch two nights ago. Her cold blue eyes knocked over Min and landed on Viki. “You still chill?”

“Black fucking skad, benni. I’m blacking.”

“You’d better be. That one’s gone.” Banks stood up and kicked the boots of the woman next to her. “Hit her before she gets ugly.”

“Round two?”

Banks nodded the other woman led Min into another room.

“Where are you taking her?”

“She’ll be okay.”

“I want to go with her.”

“Do you, say?” Banks held out a vial of crystalline red fluid. Hagfire, she had called it that night. All-benni. Cutting-edge high. And the edge was cutting, alright. Viki felt it in her guts like a knife. She forgot Min. Banks pulled her hand away. “Most people don’t make it past twenty-four hours before they’re knocking on our door.”

“I have cash. Three hundred. For both of us.”

“Thirty fucking hours later, you waltz in. Still chill.”

“Not for long, benni. Please.” Viki thrust the green roll of twenties at the woman.

“Keep your money, say.”

“I need a fucking hit.” Hit’ echoed off the concrete walls. Viki winced. The soldiers were watching her. Blink. Her arm twitched and she rubbed it into her side to kill the bugs.

“You don’t know how true that is, benni.” Banks grabbed her arm and jammed her thumb against the port, opening the little mouth to her veins. Viki ribcage hummed. She couldn’t tear her eyes off the vial as Banks gave her the hit. Half a hit. A fraction of a hit. Just enough that the bugs dropped off her flesh and she could pull herself out of the abyss, back to the safety of the edge.

“Where’s Min?” Banks dropped Viki’s arm and stepped aside. Viki stepped a little closer to the edge. She pushed her way through the women and into the doorway Min had been taken to.

The room had six beds. Four of them were empty. One had the sheet pulled up and over, like a shroud.

One had Min. Pink froth frosted her black painted lips. Her dark green eyeliner left trails where it ran and pooled in her ears.

“Min? Benni?” Viki fell to her knees next to the cot. The fingers on Min’s right hand were sticky and red. A ragged hole in her wrist was all that was left of the drug port. But the blood wasn’t pumping anymore. “No going back, say?”

“No going back.” Banks spoke from the doorway.

“Fuck you!” Viki reeled on the woman. “What the fuck did you do to her?”

“Me, say? I didn’t do anything to her. What did you do?”

“What is this skad? She’s dead. She’s fucking dead, say?”

“The ones who make it to Hagfire are already dead, benni.” Banks wrapped a strong arm around Viki’s shoulders and picked her up off the floor. The shockwave hit her before the heat as the drug fired into her veins. “Right now, it’s the only thing keeping you alive.”

“Why?” Viki could barely move her lips to form the word. She drifted away from the edge, floating above the abyss, invincible.

“Because desperate people make good soldiers.” Banks half-dragged, half-carried Viki back out to the main room. “And we are in desperate need of good soldiers.”

Banks spun Viki into the small, dark-skinned woman who had led Min to the infirmary. Viki blinked her eyes and wrapped her arms around the bundle of clothes the woman pressed to her chest. She watched herself from a distance, feeling full and empty.

“All-benni, girls,” Banks shouted. “Say hello to the new recruit.”

The women stomped their feet in unison and pounded her on the back as Viki float-walked to the back of the room, following her keeper.

“Hagfire!” They shouted when she made it out the other side. “Hagfire!”

“Hagfire,” Viki said, with them. The word fell from her lips and plummeted into the abyss.

NaNoWriMo: “The Hunger” UPDATE

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Since it’s now December 4th, I should probably give a final update on my 2nd attempt at NaNoWriMo and my project “The Hunger.”

Last year, for NaNo 2016, I managed to get just over 3000 words into my project before I gave up and decided that writing 1666 words a day was basically impossible. But I plowed ahead with my writing, joined some online writing groups, dove into flash fiction and short fiction, and continued to focus on honing my craft.

This year, encouraged by some fellow writers and emboldened by my development as a short fiction and flash fiction writer, I decided that maybe–just maybe–I could do this NaNo thing. 1666 words was still more than I was usually writing in a day. But I was also having days where I wrote 2-3K, and I thought I could balance it out in the end. 50,000 words in one month is huge, but I thought I might be able to do it.

NaNo 2017 started really strong for me, you can read some of my progress here (Part One, Part Two, Part Three). I had a couple of challenges that I didn’t plan for right off the starting mark–friends of ours were in a very serious car accident at the beginning of the month and it was very hard to focus on anything for a while (it still is some days). I pushed hard for the first two weeks and managed over 25K, and also was able to complete my third round of the NYC Flash Fiction Challenge. Then I hit a wall.

The wall was about 2/3 emotional exhaustion and 1/3 poor planning. What I discovered with my NaNo 2017 attempt is two fold. First, 1666 words a day is totally doable. In fact, I usually exceeded that goal if I was able to put my ass in the chair and turn my phone off for a could of hours. If I wanted to push myself even harder, pairing up with another writer for a series of short (half-hour) sprints could easily yield 2-3K in a mere 1.5 of actual writing time–it’s amazing what a little timer and good-natured competition can do for silencing self-doubt. The word count, for me was not the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge was keeping it a daily habit, once you miss one day it snowballs pretty quickly and once you’re behind it’s easy to talk yourself into quitting.

The second thing I really learned with this attempt is that I NEED TO PLAN MORE! I’ve always been a pretty proud pantser, and I’ve resisted planning, outlining, etc. pretty hard over the years. And that works fine if you’re just weaving your way around, rewriting scenes, and editing as you go (like I did when I was writing The Timekeepers’ War) However, when you need to just plow forward and get your basic plotline down, it pays to stick to your outline! I missed a scene, and ended up writing a complete different story than I intended because of it. The good news is, I like my new version better. The bad news is, I had to go back and add scenes, kill a couple of characters, and rethink a lot of what I had originally written. And I stalled out. I couldn’t just ignore those issues and keep writing, knowing that I hadn’t set the stage for them. I don’t know if that is something I will ever be able to train myself to do–I hope I can–but that played a big part in my slow decline at the end of the month.

So I didn’t “win” NaNo 2017. But I’m still very glad that I did it, and I’m exceedingly happy with the half-novel I wrote in a mere 2.5 weeks. I’m going to continue with this project, and plan to self publish the results early next year. Thank you all for your support along the way. I’ll be getting back to my regular blogging schedule this week with reviews, thoughts, and flash fiction. Thanks again!