Image courtesy of Photokanok

     I’ve often been asked what my dream job would be.  Apparently my varying interests (music, writing, baking, etc…) confuse people.  But the repeated question has gotten me thinking about what I would like to be doing with my life if I didn’t have the oppression of paying the bills weighing me down and keeping me from chasing my dreams.  After all, when you are a single mom trying to raise two kids, your dreams take a backseat to the needs of your kids.  And when you have kids at a young age like I did, during the period where most young people are busy finding themselves, you tend to lose sight of yourself altogether until one day you look around and realize you’re stuck in a job you hate because someone needs to pay the bills and keep a roof over your heads.  At least, this is what happened in my case.

     Several ideas of what my dream job would be have come to mind, some are nothing more than a dream at this point in my life and others are still actually attainable.  Narrowing down the list, my top two choices fall at opposite ends of that spectrum.  So to answer anyone who’s asked and to offer an insight into who I am, or rather, who I might have been, here is a glimpse of what I would like to have been “when I grow up”:

In Another Life

     I’ve stated many times before how big a part music plays in my life.  Sadly, I have no musical ability of my own to speak of.  I wouldn’t necessarily say that I am tone deaf, because when I listen to music, I can hear the changes in pitch (even American Idol and other Karaoke type video games tell me that I am “pitch perfect”).  I can actually even feel the music, like it reaches down into my soul and changes me with every beat, thump and thrum.  The problem, is that I hear myself differently; that is until I record my voice and play it back, then I hear the way I sound to the rest of the world and I cringe.

     If things were different, if I didn’t sound like a wounded animal or as though my jaw was wired shut and the world could hear me the way I hear myself, well, then I would have loved to be a musician.  A well rounded musician, with talent and melody oozing out of every orifice.  I envy the talent of musicians like Melanie Fiona whose voice and ear for music work together to create magic.  Seriously, if you don’t believe me, you should check out her cover of Wale’s Bad or Biggie’s One More Chance.  She doesn’t just mimic what she hears and regurgitate it.  With her amazing talent and voice, she completely reinvents it in a way that only she can, giving it a distinct sound this is her signature.  I don’t care what song she is singing, you can always tell that it is Melanie and hear her unique tone.

     That’s what my true “dream” job would be.  To be able to affect the lives of others, while doing something that I truly love and enjoy.  Music has a way of making people feel like they are not alone in this world, like there is someone else out there that understands exactly what they are going through and through music, they were able to connect.  It is like a friend or a warm blanket on a cold winter day, comforting and familiar.  Music is there for you through the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the joy and the pain.

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     When I was younger, I attempted to write a song.  I thought it was the best thing ever and kept it in my wallet for weeks until I lost it.  Afraid that I had lost it somewhere that it would be found by a particular person who I shall not name, I was completely embarrassed.  I started to think that maybe it was really cheesy and this person had found it, giving them a good laugh at my expense.  With that fear and humiliation came doubt and I stopped trying to write songs.  Who was I kidding, even if I wrote great songs, it’s not like they would have ever made it into the right hands, right?

     Recently, after embracing novel writing, I started thinking about how music influences my writing.  The combination of the writing and the music inspired me.  In an attempt to start writing songs again, I seem to have found a knack for poetry.  I was told by someone who read my poem Craving, that it would make a good song.  So maybe my dream of working in music isn’t completely unattainable after all.

     Are you working in your dream job?  If not, what would you rather be doing?  Check back next week for part II, where I offer insight into the dream job that I’m still striving towards.   

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane

     Every writer can attest to the fact that we are our own biggest critic.  No story we write will ever be perfect, the characters will never be quite as real on the page as they are to us and there will always be more to add.  Sometimes, a story will feel as though it is beyond salvaging and so it is set aside for something new.  This can be due to boredom, frustration or just plain lack of potential.  How do you know if a project is truly beyond saving or if it just needs a bit of TLC?

     One way that I can tell that a project is worth reworking is when I set it aside and weeks or even months later, it starts to permeate my thoughts again.  Much like when the story first came to fruition, its voice grows louder and louder until it can no longer be ignored.  A project that refuses to be ignored is one that must surely be worth sharing.  It may require minor changes, or it may require a complete rewrite, scrapping entire paragraphs or even chapters.

     Eventually, we must reach a point where we say that the story is good enough; good enough to be shared with others, even if we still have changes to “perfect” it.  Beta readers, friends or family are the perfect starting point.  Sharing your work with another person is the first step to completing it.

     But sometimes, a project truly is not worth saving.  Maybe it made sense while it was in your head, but once it was put on paper, you found it really just didn’t work.  Maybe the characters were too flat or not real enough and no matter what you tried, you just couldn’t bring them to life.  There are some cases where a project is just beyond repair and despite our best efforts, we must choose to scrap the whole thing and move on to the next one.

     How can you tell if a project is doomed for the scrap pile?

     A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog called Write What You Know, exploring the meaning behind the sage advice that many writers are given.  Delving a bit deeper into the topic, I’ve been thinking about just how this can be accomplished.  

     Great writing contains the perfect mix of truth and creativity.  This mix can be different for each writer and it is up to us to find the mix that works best.  I have said many times in the past that most of my writing is based in reality but there are always creative elements mixed in.  For other writers, their writing may be based on creativity with elements of reality mixed in, but there is always a mix of the two, even when it may not be evident to the reader.

     While working on my new short story compilation, a lot of the work is based on truths in my life or the lives of those around me.  Many things have been changed, left out, embellished or just plain made up.  Anyone who knows me well enough will be able to see some of the similarities between the stories and my life.  But even the people that know me best would not be able to tell without a shadow of a doubt, exactly what is true and what I created for the story.

     After sharing one of my earliest short stories with a friend, his response was, “Wow, that’s pretty personal, don’t you think?”  He was right of course, there was a lot in there that was highly personal to me, but that is what made the story work.  My pain and confusion was easily felt by the reader because it was something that I understood whole-heartedly and could convey to the reader quite clearly.

     While, at times, I quite literally write what I know (variations of experiences that I have had in my life), I get to change the experiences to suit my needs.  Have you ever had an argument with someone and later thought of things that you wished you had said?  Why not include that argument in your work and change it so that the argument goes the way you wish it had?

     Now that you get the picture of how writing based in reality is infused with creative elements, you might be asking how creative works are infused with reality.  Sci-fi and fantasy stories are perfect examples.  Think about Star Wars.  The places, people and in some cases, even the languages were completely invented leaving little doubt that the events in the story never took place in the real world.  So where is the reality in this, you might be asking.  It is infused in the emotion of the characters and even how they interact with one another.

     When creating a completely fictional scenario, an author can make it real by having the characters react and behave the same way the author or someone they know would behave in a similar situation.  Emotions are the realest, truest experience that can be the difference between a reader connecting to a character and being indifferent towards them.

     What mix of reality and creativity works for you?

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     Other than my love of supernatural stories, I’ve also always had a proclivity towards epic fantasy adventures (think The Princess Bride and Legend).  I always wished that I had the type of imagination it takes to create such an adventure, but my stories were always grounded in reality.  The idea of creating nonexistent cities and creatures was a foreign concept to me; anything I couldn’t fact check and verify was beyond my comprehension.

     Recently, I was watching The Three Musketeers and I was visually intrigued; the costumes alone were worth the watch.  The movie got me to thinking, I can’t recall ever seeing or reading an epic fantasy story where a female was anything more than the love interest of the hero or the double crossing vixen that tries to take him down.  In an age where women are proving on a daily basis that they can do anything a man can do, why aren’t there more female leads in fantasy stories.  And just like that, words started forming in my mind, my hands began to type and a story slowly started to fill my screen.  For the first time ever, I was truly writing by the seat of my pants.  My main character was named in the first few sentences, a minor character introduced in the beginning of the second paragraph and a city was erected  just a few paragraphs later.

     I haven’t fully worked out the story or even truly met my characters yet, but I’m excited by the prospect of creating something that I used to think was beyond my capabilities.  Equally exciting, is the prospect of offering my daughter and other young women a heroine they can call their own.  Why can’t a princess slay a dragon or rescue her prince from peril?  Why must the damsel always be the one in distress? 

     With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, this would be the perfect time to flesh out an outline, or at the very least, the character sketches so that I know who I am writing about and what they wish to accomplish.  Unfortunately, with the way my schedule is at work recently, I had no intention of joining NaNo this year.  If I get enough background work done to feel like I can make some real progress on this story during NaNo, then I might have to change my mind and join after all.  Oh what a grand adventure that will be.