On the Necessity of Writing Sabbaticals

restIf you’re, like me, an obsessive-compulsive writer who gets stressed out by not finishing things, taking a break can be difficult. This is especially true during November, or as most of you know it, NaNoWriMo. I have never participated in this insane push to write a novel from start to finish in one month, partially because the past six years of my life have been stressful enough without trying to write a whole book in such a condensed period of time, but also because the pressure I put on myself is enough to make me crack without additional external pressure. I seriously hate taking a longer than anticipated time to finish my projects; it’s stressing me beyond belief right now that I haven’t done much with my novel in two months, despite the fact that said lack of progress is due to moving to another continent and taking up a new job. Y’know, normal adult stuff that is naturally going to get in the way of side tasks in general. But something I’m learning right now is the benefit of taking a break from my writing. Not just one project, mind you. I’m talking all of my non-RPG projects. As of today, I’m on a complete writing break for a week. I find that when I’m having trouble writing and am unable to put words to paper, taking time off for a bit, even if it’s just a day or two, helps me re-exert control over the process. Suddenly it’s not that I *can’t* write at that time; I’m *choosing* not to write. That simple act of controlling the situation actually helps me with the writer’s block when I return to my work because then I’m in the mindset of “I chose to rest; now I can go back.” This only works if I take a sabbatical from writing altogether. No idea why, but that’s the tru9h of it. It also relaxes me by taking my brain out of freak-out mode and allows me to redirect my creative energies elsewhere, such as into dancing or learning Polish. If I try writing another project during a mental freak out, I end up just stressing out about how much I should be working on the other project and how annoying it is that I can’t progress any further. Sometimes, you really do just need to take a break. It’s okay to take time off (though maybe not this week, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo). Just make sure that you set parameters for yourself: how long the sabbatical will last, what other hobbies/projects you’ll work on during that time, and what you’ll start work on when the break is over. If you’re exhausted and haven’t gotten much writing done lately, take a break. Have a Kit-Kat. Listen to a Dalek Relaxation Tape. Your stories will thank you for it.

 

Parody in Practice: “How the Scrinch Spent Thanksgiving”

My first post for this blog was about parody. I explained how parodies, even though they’re by nature lighthearted and somewhat silly, can still be well-done stories with at least some serious meaning. Today, I’m revisiting the subject because I recently worked on a parody. About a year ago during the post-Thanksgiving/pre-Christmas holiday season, I wrote a narrative poem that was nothing less than a blatant rip-off of Dr. Seuss‘s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and this year, I converted that poem into a quirky, tongue-in-cheek, animated short film. To get some context for this post, if you want to read what I originally wrote about parody, you can find that here, and if you want to watch the humorous and heartwarming video that is “How the Scrinch Spent Thanksgiving,” you can do so here. (The video is probably more fun.)5

I’ll try to run through a bit of what I did with the narrative aspects of the video and how that applies to parodies overall. Maybe it’ll help you make cheesy but lovable holiday stories of your own, or at least to expand your writing horizons in some useful way.

Parodies play around with common tropes and conventions of fiction.

The point of parody and satire is usually to exaggerate and poke fun at things from existing fiction, whether it focuses on one individual work or author, or an entire genre or style. Obviously, my video of “The Scrinch” takes many of its cues from “The Grinch.” But it also borrows a few elements from A Christmas Carol, Elf, and just about every Lifetime movie in the history of Christmas in which a disgruntled, jaded, or heartless adult gradually comes to learn the true meaning of the holidays. Heck, if you take out the Christmas part and merely focus on a grumpy older person being softened up a bit by an enthusiastic child, then you could also add Despicable Me, Up, and even more Lifetime movies to the list of that trope’s appearances.

In a parody like “The Scrinch,” I wanted to incorporate that trope somewhat, but I also wanted to subvert it so as to avoid too much sappiness and mushy feelings. That’s why, instead of the Scrinch’s heart growing three sizes, I made it his stomach. I mean, let’s be honest–which one of those is really more likely to grow around the holiday season?

Parodies are funny.

This may seem obvious, but parodies are usually supposed to be fun and funny. People don’t really expect them to be brilliant, profound, original works of classic, sophisticated literature, so the reader and the author both have some leeway to let loose and have fun a bit. And they can use at least a few different types of humor. Parodies inherently rely on referential humor, which isn’t all that original, but at least it works; audiences like it when you can say, “Hey, I’m making fun of this thing you know about,” or even just, “Hey, I’m giving a slight nod to this thing you know about.”61

But parodies also have a lot of room for odd juxtaposition, for combining something funny with something that is usually serious. For example, “The Scrinch” uses somewhat elevated language, or at least a strict pattern of rhyme. When someone is reading rhyming poetry in a formal tone, the listener doesn’t expect jokes to come at them; they expect something warm and fuzzy about the holidays, or something old-fashioned from Dr. Seuss’s time, or maybe even Shakespeare’s. But instead, in “The Scrinch,” they get modernized and familiar terms like “ramen,” “Doctor Who,” and “Breaking Bad.” They also get quirky, uncommon words like “isthmus” to rhyme with “Christmas.” And, let’s face it, “isthmus” is a funny word no matter how you spin it.

If you have any skill or interest in the art or animation field, and you’re able to add visuals to your story like I did, then go for it! Silly, simple visuals can serve to increase the humor of a parody. That’s totally the only reason I went with MS Paint and Windows Movie Maker for this project, and it’s not at all because I have no skill with or access to any actual moviemaking technology whatsoever.

Parodies can still have some meaning and significance.

Just because parodies are fun, lighthearted, and cheesy doesn’t mean that they’re completely devoid of significance, or that you can just throw random elements together to make them work. No, parodies still have to adhere to certain conventions of genre and storytelling (even if they do so in an exaggerated way), and they still have to be well-made for their intended purpose. In many cases, satire and humor can be used to deliver a serious or relevant message, subtly criticizing or pointing out the flaws in a work, a genre, or even perhaps a real-life social institution.

I don’t claim that “The Scrinch” contains much subtle, profound social commentary on the nuances of real life. But it does contain a message about breaking out of your own priorities and appreciating family, friends, and fellowship during the holidays. Yes, it’s sappy and unoriginal, but it’s still a true and important message. As I mentioned earlier, I tried not to make that the main focus or spend too much time on super-serious sentiment, but hey, it’s in there somewhere.

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Also, the Scrinch here seems to be a disgruntled, introverted twentysomething bachelor grad student, in a story that, coincidentally, was also written by a disgruntled, introverted twentysomething bachelor grad student. If I didn’t know better, then I might even suggest that the story contains perhaps the slightest hint of an autobiographical quality about the real life situations of its author. Good thing I know better, right?

Overall, parodies such as “The Scrinch” are a fun and enjoyable way to tell a story, but they, like any story, can still contain some depth and meaning as well. If you’re not sure what to write about this holiday season, try a parody (whether Christmas-y or not) and be sure, first and foremost, to have fun with it. (Then, maybe, if the mood strikes you, you can make a video of it and become the next YouTube sensation, but hey, one step at a time.)

Merry Christmas and happy writing, everyone.

Sunday Picture Post

So, I am deliriously happy at the moment. I finished my first major Ph.D. level research paper last night. It is twenty pages long (double-spaced), has a twelve page appendix, and about forty sources. It also tops out at a hundred footnotes, but that includes the appendices. I have it edited, and I’ve got two readers who are planning to look through it and give me feedback before I submit the paper. All in all, I’m fairly happy with it, and if it goes over well, I think I might try to publish it somewhere. A lot of work certainly went into the paper, that’s for sure. So, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past three days. How have you all been? Seriously, leave a comment and let us know. Also, as of sometime this week the blog is officially at 2000 followers. I have to admit that I’d love to hit 3000 by Christmas. We’ll see if that happens. Anyway, I did find something that I thought was worthy of expressing my inner joy at the moment. If you get it, good for you. If you don’t… well, I pity you.

Star Wars Cast

Sunday Picture Post

Vintage-Polish-Posters_Franciszek-Starowieyski_OniWelcome, welcome, welcome! You’ve found yourself in a den of madness and glory where the impossible comes true and your strangest wishes might be granted. We like to call this place… Imagination! Mwahahahahahahahaha! So, now, put yours to the test and engage all your senses, physical and metaphysical, in the adventure of a lifetime!

So, I’m feeling a little… sanguine at the moment (take that term in either of its primary meanings… also, I wish I knew how to do a smiley with vampire teeth). Instead of a picture post today, I thought I’d put up an extra writing exercise. So, here’s your task for today. Take the above lines and write me a story about the people and places they inspire. Enjoy yourselves and write me something interesting!

Sunday Picture Post

Welcome to Sunday, everyone! I hope that you’ve all had a wonderful weekend. As of today I have only 40 pages of my reading left, and then my paper. Yay! Anyway, as you all know we take Sundays off here at the art of writing. However, I went and found you a little something to fill the day. I think that it might be suitably odd:

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Sunday Picture Post

Welcome to the day after the Sabbath. Yes, I know, I’ve mentioned this before… I just like mentioning it. Anyway, you probably know that we take today off from the blog. So, instead of a nice 400-1000 word post or a 200-400 word writing exercise, you get my random ramblings (that was intention… just in case you didn’t notice) and a weird picture that I dredged up from the depths of the google search engine. Also, apparently I’m boring. I’ve been informed of this by several people now, so if you hadn’t realized it yet, I am. I thought I should let all of you know :D. Here’s your picture:

I love this piece. Not sure who did it. I couldn't find any source information. However, if it is yours, please let me know. I would love to give you credit.
I love this piece. Not sure who did it. I couldn’t find any source information. However, if it is yours, please let me know. I would love to give you credit.

Sunday Picture Post

So, welcome to Sunday! It’s that time of the week again for us to take a break. So, I hope that you’ve all had a wonderfully fulfilling and engaging week and that all of your wildest dreams have come true. Obviously, this probably didn’t happen, but I can still hold out hope that it did. I also went and found this for all of you! I hope that you enjoy it.

I'm not sure who this belongs to, but I found it here. If it's yours, it is awesome!
I’m not sure who this belongs to, but I found it here. If it’s yours, it is awesome!

Sunday Picture Post

Well, we are definitely into the new year. Has anyone else had an long week? I have to say that I am definitely happy to have an evening to just relax at home. Anyway, you all know that we take Sunday’s off here at The Art of Writing. However, I did go out and find something special for you:

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Sunday Picture Post

So, I wanted to find you an awesome picture with which to ring in the new year. Well, from experience, I can now tell you that if you type ‘New Year’s Fantasy’ into a google image search you get a very strange melange of results. However, a few of them are fairly awesome, and this one in particular was pretty, thoroughly amazing! So, happy New Year!… China style apparently…

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Sunday Picture Post

It’s Sunday, which means that it’s time to take a break. I hope that everyone has had a good week, my fellow writers especially. I know how busy they are, and sometimes having to write posts here as well can wind up being a lot more work than you might think. This blog wouldn’t be what it is without the contributions of Paul, Selanya, Neal, and Abbie, and I hope that everyone appreciates how much work they put in to the blog. I know that I do. Now, as always, I’ve dredged something up from the deep for you, just in case anyone was wanting to write a dystopian story, here’s some brain fodder:

dystopia