Variety is Spicier Than You Think

produce variety
Photo by Lukas Budimaier on Unsplash

I’m gonna sound like the biggest nerd, but I’m pretty sure that most people already think I am, so there’s really no going back, now.

I had this idea to pan fry some sweet potatoes as a side dish for dinner, this week. A novel idea for me, as this would be the first time I ever bought fresh sweet potatoes to cook. A lot of my side dishes will include some sort of grain (usually brown rice or quinoa) and a vegetable, so I get in this cycle of eating the same meal archetypes all the time. However, I recently remembered that, oh hey! I like sweet potatoes when they’re a little salty and crispy, so why not make my own sweet potatoes? I usually get sweet potato fries because they’re so easy to just throw in the oven, but there’s like, added sugar and stuff and I’m trying to limit the amount of processed food I eat, so this seemed like the next best thing. A little more work, but I think it’ll be worth it.

Now, the sweet potatoes are sitting in my kitchen, and I’m getting so damn excited to cook them. Like, I’m unrealistically excited to dice them up, add some salt (and maybe some rosemary), and cook them in a pan. Yeah, total nerd.

It seems like such a simple thing to get excited about, but it’s better than, y’know, not being excited about something, right? Like, here’s this nerd on the internet rambling about how he’s really excited to cook some sweet potatoes, and maybe you might think it’s weird or annoying that he’s rambling about his pan-fried sweet potatoes, but certainly it’s better than hearing about why he’s sad all of the time. Not saying that he’s necessarily sad, but maybe he’s just had a hard time finding that spice in his life. Maybe a few sweet potatoes are what he needs to remind himself to change things up, every so often. 

I think we can find ourselves doing the same things over and over, not really inspiring ourselves to try new things. Parents encourage their kids to try new things not just to make sure they actually eat a vegetable, but also to add variety and excitement to their food options. Meanwhile, as adults, we can still find ourselves eating the same things, going to the same restaurants, taking the same trips, doing the same activities with friends; all of these things can be fulfilling, but sometimes it adds some excitement to know that you’re about to try something new. As long as it’s a new thing that gets you excited, that could be all you need to add some of that spicy variety to your life.

Go to a new coffee shop to get work done. Meet your best friends at a restaurant none of you have tried, before. Try a new vegetable. Try a new dessert. Try baking a new dessert (even if you think you’re terrible at it, you could surprise yourself). Explore a new city in your state. Do something you’ve never done before, but maybe have always wanted to.

Just get out of that zone of familiarity and try something new. Even if it’s the most minuscule thing you can think of, and as long as it’s bringing that excitement of trying something new, get into it. Do that thing. Even if it’s just buying some sweet potatoes and throwing them in a pan, start changing things up on regular basis. Give yourself things to get excited about.

The Finite New Year’s Resolution: Does it Work?

2018 is here, everyone! So it’s that time of year where we’re trying to tell ourselves that we’re going to get things done in the new year. We’re setting goals for ourselves that we all mean to work on, but…you know, might forget about in the next month or two. We have this newfound resolve to turn our lives in the right direction, and honestly, that’s amazing. However, whenever I hear people talking about “resolutions,” I can’t help but feel like that sounds like they’re trying to reach their final form in the span of a year. Rather than making a resolution with a finite end, I think habit-forming resolutions that turn into long-term change work better for setting us up for success. 

I’m at a point in my life where I want to put forth all of my energy into developing my writing career, to the point where I’m trying to push myself to crank out a novel/novella (a shorter novel, for those who just asked “a Spanish soap opera?” in their head.) So when people have been asking me what my new year’s resolution is, I’ve been saying “to publish a novel.” However, a novel is a huge thing to write, edit, and get published all in the span of the year. Will I actually complete all of that before December 31st, 2018? As long as one or both of the two insane world leaders don’t decide to push the button for the nukes, then sure! It’s possible. A more attainable goal that would work both in the short-term and the long-term would be to commit to working on a novel/novella every day (or several times a week), and it would create the good habits in me that would get me closer to publishing a novel in 2018. There are outside aspects that could interfere with the finite goal of publishing a novel, but it’s more feasible, and it would create more of a trajectory for success if I created the habit of working on a novel throughout the week. It’s not to say that publishing a novel this year would be too lofty, but rather, getting myself in the routine of putting my energy into this kind of writing project is something I have way more control over.

We often see these finite resolutions in the form of body image, diet, and career success, and they’re usually a be-all end-all sort of deal. It’s usually something like “I want to lose X amount of weight,” or “I want to get a promotion,” and while those are good goals to have, forming good habits that get you beyond those goals would be even better. If you say “I want to eat better and go to the gym more,” you can set yourself up to create a plan and schedule for a weight loss goal to happen beyond your expectations. If you say “I want to be more proactive at work and contribute more ideas,” then you’ll set yourself up to have these useful skills no matter where you’re trying to get a promotion. Instead of making a resolution to go straight to the finish line before the year is up, you set yourself up for more success by focusing on the part of the track that you still have to run on. 

I’m not saying that goals with finite ends are counter-productive, because I think they can still help us get started on achieving great things. I think me saying that I want to publish a novel in 2018 is a good way to get me started on a big writing project, but if I don’t actually finish said project in the upcoming year, I’ll look back on it with some disappointment. I’ll feel more stressed about trying to get it done rather than equipping myself with the ability to work consistently on something that I’m passionate about. I think that committing to working on the skills that will help with publishing a novel would set me up more for success in 2018, because while publishing a novel would be a dream come true, it’s a dream I’d want to come true beyond 2018, as well. Making the goal to chip away at a novel more often in 2018 will form the novel-creating habits I need to be successful, and will make me feel more accomplished as I look back on the year in full, whether I end up publishing it or not. Once I pick up the momentum from working on novels (or even short stories) more this year, it’ll be easier to crank more out as the years go on. At least, that’s what I’m thinking will happen.

Goals are what keep us going. If we didn’t have something to work toward, life would be pretty boring. However, making goals with a finite end, as opposed to making resolutions to work on lasting change, set us up to only work hard until that goal is reached. Making those finite goals can definitely help those who need to see an end point to whatever they’re working on, but I think making smaller goals that will lead up to those bigger, more distant goals is what will drive the momentum for us to succeed in our endeavors.

What resolutions have you made for the year? Let’s talk about them in the comments!

Do I Even Know My Protagonist?

 

So we’re more than halfway into the National Novel Writing Month adventure, and though my progress has been much slower than I anticipated, I’m still chugging along at a speed I’m pretty happy with. I recently passed the 10,000 word mark, which most of the participants are WELL over, by now. I, however, have been trying as hard as I can to not beat myself up about it. I’ve been doing as much as I can whenever I can do it, and that’s definitely what matters most! Now if only I can lock myself away in a cozy café (like the one above) and tell the world to stop bothering me so I can reach this 50,000 word goal, that would be pretty great.

One thing I’ve been noticing as I’ve gotten deeper into writing this novel is…I don’t think I really know my main character as much as I thought I did. This isn’t a new phenomenon in my world of writing. I had a novel I started where the main character must have had like, ten mood swings, five personality changes, and was both terrified and apathetic at the same time. I mean, I knew who he was, and what he was supposed to go through. I can’t quite grasp why I felt like he needed to be a completely different person on every different page, but for some reason, that’s how it subconsciously (and, well, consciously) happened. 

I feel it happening again in this story, but not quite to the same degree. I keep making choices for Leo (the protagonist in my current novel) that make me have to stop, take a few moments, and think “is that something he would actually do?” It becomes difficult, because I desperately try to convince myself that the choice is within his personality. It’s hard because I start conflating what needs to happen for the story to progress with what my protagonist would do in the situations I put him in. So as the story progresses, I’m seeing that I could, yet again, have a character that goes through a few different personality changes that make absolutely no sense.

Despite this insecurity about my protagonist, I don’t think this is a rare problem. Despite all the planning you might do for the personalities of your characters, you could always get stumped by the situations that they end up in. It’s very possible that you could know your character inside and out, but once they come face-to-face with say, an abusive ex who gave them all kinds of seemingly irreversible trauma, it’s hard to gauge what they would truly do in that moment. Shoot, it’s hard to know what I’d even do if I came face-to-face with a guy who simply broke my heart; I can understand not knowing what a fictional character would do in a much more intense situation. 

Just like most things in life, we learn through experience. You can be as intensive as possible during the prep-work of writing a short story, novel, etc., but still get taken aback when you’re now putting your characters into uncharted territory. The thing is: that’s what first drafts are for. We’re not writing these to be published immediately after they’re created, and all that we wrote for these characters isn’t useless or a waste of time. It’s us taking the time to learn about them as we go, to see what works best for their personalities as we take them through the story. Sure, we may end up deleting that moment where the main character told off his ex boyfriend because we wanted him to have a “hero” moment to kick off the story, despite him starting off as a generally timid person, but that doesn’t make the writing we did for that scene completely useless. It was a necessary step to get a feel for whether or not it would actually work, and for us to work with it, molding it into something within the realm of the world we created.

We don’t have to know everything about the novel as we’re writing it; it’ll develop itself as we continue to create it. Though this will make the editing process pretty daunting, at least we go into it with a better sense of who are characters are, the environment they’re interacting with, and the kind of story you want your novel to tell.