Roller Derby and Body Positivity

roller derbyFor a long time, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to really live because I’m fat. I kept thinking, “Oh, when I’m skinny, I’ll…” It was all in the future with this mythical tiny body. I believed that being fat meant that there was very little I could do. I thought it held me back.

If you’re ever feeling like that, go to a roller derby bout. Seriously.

I went to my first bout on Saturday night. It was a home game for the Naptown Roller Girls. There’s a whole lot that’s awesome about roller derby, and I’m pretty sure it might become a sport that I actually follow. It’s a sport dominated by women and, even better, these women come in all shapes and sizes. They run all across from short to tall, skinny to fat. If you can skate, you can be a derby girl, and each body type comes with its own advantages. Little girls can slip around the other skaters. Big girls can easily block the opposing team or slam through the pack.

Watching the bout made me feel kind of amazing. I don’t know if I could personally ever do roller derby because I bruise easily and don’t always have the best balance, but neither of those have to do with my weight. If I wanted to ignore the bruising and learn to skate, I could be a derby girl and my weight wouldn’t be holding me back. It would even give me advantages that the skinnier girls wouldn’t have – just like they’d have advantages over me.

If you struggle with body image issues, go to a bout. If you aren’t sure what this whole body positivity thing is about, go to a bout. See those women of all sizes working as a team and kicking ass, and you’ll start to feel a lot better and find a great understanding of body positivity.

Writing in a Funk

This is the saddest sloth I could find. Sloths don't get gloomy. What is your secret to eternal happiness, sloths?
This is the saddest sloth I could find. Sloths don’t get gloomy. What is your secret to eternal happiness, sloths?

One of the most difficult things for me to do is write when I’m gloomy, and that’s been me this week. Maybe it’s the cold, maybe it’s because I didn’t get the job I wanted, maybe it’s because I really miss Game of Thrones. Whatever it is, it has me in a considerable funk. I can barely get myself to do homework, much less write.

This week’s writing check in proves it. I only wrote 837 words between 1/16 and 1/22, and I had five zero days. That’s worse than last week on both counts, and most of those words were written yesterday when I was trying to sleep. Not the best writing routine in the world.

I try to write in this mood, sure. I open Scrivener and stare at my chosen story, but my brain just empties out. I am inexorably drawn to iPhone games or the sweet, sweet release of the midday nap. I think that if I can just start writing, if I can just get a few words down, those words will turn into sentences and into paragraphs and pages and I’ll feel better.

This post isn’t about me having a magic answer to this problem. I’m still trying to find it. I know that I need to learn to power through these moods and write. If I want to write for a living – which I do – then I have to learn that I can’t be so prone to skipping writing for a week just because I’m blah. Writing is what I love, yes, and it can be fun and exhilarating and magical – but it’s also work. I need to be able to write even when the magic’s not quite there.

Writing Fat Characters

This is a lot funnier if you know YA cover trends.
This is what your headless YA heroine could look like.

I’ve been reading and writing for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been significantly overweight for just as long. I have always been the fat kid, and you can bet that caused some baggage. I had trouble fitting in desks. The idea of going on an airplane terrified me simply because of the seat size. I could never find cute clothes in my style that also fit. I got teased. For most of my life, I’ve heard over and over again that most of America is overweight – so where were they? Why was I the only one in almost all of my classes?

What’s a ten or thirteen or seventeen-year-old bookworm to do but escape into books? Books, after all, are a refuge. They take you into other worlds where anything is possible. You could captain a pirate ship, defeat dark wizards, fly, and, of course, get the fairy tale romance.

Unless, of course, you were fat. If you’re fat, you’re the ugly friend. You’re the villain. You try too hard, and people pity you. You’re jealous of all the “pretty” girls. You’re the sassy best friend with a brain full of quips and no character depth. You don’t get the guy unless he’s also been presented as equally undesirable, and then you’re a loser couple to laugh at.

And let’s not forget the guys. Fat guys are the lazy, sloppy stoner friends and the nerdy virgins that the protagonist has to put up with and will maybe teach them something or other about acceptance. Also, again, the villain (though recently, conventionally attractive villains have been more popular so of course they’re all toned muscle).

I love young adult fiction more than anything else. For the most part, the body type of a character doesn’t bother me. I don’t really pay attention. But when you’re a fat girl and every protagonist is slim, it gets to you. You start to get the message that you don’t count and don’t deserve to have adventures and happy endings. You start to think that your life won’t really begin unless you get skinny.

If an author does try to give other body types a try, they’re tall, skinny, and awkward. The default is for all the guys all have defined abs and arm muscle and their bodies are all hard and the girls are all soft and it’s totally not euphemistic at all. When a fat girl does show up, they usually mean that they’re a few pounds overweight, or they fall into the aforementioned categories.

But wait, you might say. There are YA books with fat protagonists! Why are you complaining?

Look at those books. They’re all about how horrible it is to be fat, and how the protagonist has to diet and get thin. Eventually there’s some theme of acceptance, but they usually still end up skinny in the end. Don’t get me wrong, bullying due to weight and eating disorders are very real problems and should be addressed. But there are other sides to being fat. It’s entirely possible to be fat and happy with yourself. With the society we live in, it can be really hard, but it’s a thing that does happen. I’m really fat and I spent most of my life dealing with self-esteem issues. I still do. But I’ve also learned that I’m fucking beautiful and not just “on the inside”. I’m not a skinny girl trying to get out of a fat body. I’m me, and I’m just as worthy of respect and being treated with decency as anyone else.

I want to see a fat girl in YA fall in love, and not have it be hopeless. I want to see her get kissed, but not out of pity or a cruel prank. I want to see her have amazing sex (and trust me, I’ll be talking about sex in YA later). I want the same for fat guys, too! I want to see a fat couple that isn’t the subject of pity. “Awww, at least they have each other!” They’re people, and I want to know the trials and tribulations of their relationship and fuck yeah I want them to have amazing sex. I want a fat girl to end up with the hot guy or the average guy or the fat guy. I want her to end up with someone that truly loves her and not despite her fat.

(For more on the sort of things fat girls deal with in the dating world especially if you’re wanting to write a fat girl but don’t have first-hand experience, you should really check out this post.)

I want to see a fat girl go on an adventure. I want her to go to Faerie and be just as tempted by fairy food as anyone else and not think about the calories. I want her to ride dragons and steal magical artifacts and seduce a pirate captain (I really like pirates, can you tell?). I want a fat guy to get into a sword fight over a lady’s honor and win. I want him to defend a castle, or be the best mage in the land.

More than anything, I want to have fat protagonists in YA and have them be treated as more than their fat. I want it to be a fact of their character – they are fat – and then that’s it. Their entire lives don’t revolve around them being fat. It doesn’t run their life and it certainly doesn’t ruin their life. Can we just have that? Please?

Of course, being a writer, I can’t expect to just put this plea out into the universe and not do anything about it. I try to have a lot of body diversity in my stories, because I think it’s important, and my preference is to not make a big deal out of it, because I think normalization is also important.

I’ve struggled, though. I’ve been afraid that people will see me writing fat characters, see that I’m fat, and go, “Ohh, that’s why the girl’s fat. Self-insertion/wish fulfillment/etc.” Being fat does lend me towards being really passionate about having more positive fat characters, especially in YA since it’s what I want to write, but it’s not about wish fulfillment. Still, I always feel the need to defend myself and I hate that.

I want to get to a point where I don’t feel awkward or ashamed at all of the fact that I’m writing a fat protagonist. I want to celebrate the character just like I would any other, and give him/her just as much attention and love and care. I want to think more about her personality and her emotions than about the fact that she takes up a little more room in the world.

I spent a long time going out of my way to never say the word “fat” or to never talk about eating a lot of food because it was like, “Oh no, they’ll all notice I’m fat!” I hated being that way. Now it doesn’t bother me at all. I can suggest that I shouldn’t be one of the people in the crowded backseat because I’m bigger and not feel ashamed. I can talk about how pizza is a godsend and not feel like everyone thinks I’m a pig. I want to write characters that can do the same, that don’t feel like they have to somehow hide their bulk. This includes not necessarily using euphemisms like “curvy”. What’s wrong with the word “fat”? What about chubby or plump? (Plump is my favorite because it has all sorts of beautiful connotations to do with really good fruit and fertility and things.)

Being fat does have an every day impact. A lot of fat girls I know deal with chafing thighs. It can be hard to fit through narrow spaces when you have a large belly. There are plenty of small, practical details that could go into the story of a fat character just like they do for anyone else. And yeah, being fat, especially in a society like ours, can absolutely have an impact on your worldview. There are loads of things that impact your worldview but don’t take over your life, though.

What about the issue of health and fitness? I know you’re thinking it. How can a fat character go on an adventure if they’re out of shape and can’t run from the bad guys?

Here’s the thing. Being fat doesn’t mean being unhealthy, and being skinny doesn’t mean being healthy. That’s the same for whether or not you’re in shape. There are fat people who can easily run a mile, and skinny people who struggle to run a block. The default for most YA protagonists seems to be “in shape”, even if they never work out or do anything to keep their bodies fit. You can certainly write a fat character who struggles with the running aspect. You can write a skinny character who does, too. Just know that you can also write a fat character who’s in shape. That is something that exists. For more on fat health, totally check out this blog, which also links to even more resources on the topic.

I want to give fat teenage girls someone to look up to. I want them to see that, oh, this girl is fat like me and she’s still having an amazing adventure. She has confidence, but also struggles with the sort of things that I do. She has depth. She is fat, but she is more than that. There’s no point in ignoring the fat of a character, it just shouldn’t be the only thing that they are. They’re also people.

Here’s the part where I ask for your opinions. What do you think about this? I’d love to get a dialogue going on this. And if you have any book suggestions that involve fat characters presented in a positive or human way, please share them! I’ve been pretty critical here and it would be great to have some positivity. I’d also like to do a post in the future for Tuesday Reads about good YA with fat protagonists.

Editing

editing slothEntries for the Dell Award are due tomorrow. I have one short story that’s currently being read by some friends, so that I can get critiques and edit it. So, today, we’re going to talk about editing and my love/hate relationship with it.

In writing this, I’ve been trying to think about what the hardest step in editing is for me, and I think it’s actually step one – sending an unpolished draft into the world.

More often than not, the stories I send out for critiques are recently finished and I haven’t looked over them at all. They’re missing pieces I haven’t even thought of yet, there are plot holes and awkward sentences and typos. These brand new, zero-draft short stories are misshapen, vulnerable parts of me and I’m giving them out to be examined and criticized. It doesn’t matter that I give these drafts to people (usually other writers) that I know and trust. It doesn’t matter that they know how much first drafts suck. All I can think is that they’ll see it as a reflection of me, and if that first draft is too awful, they’ll think I’m a terrible writer and terrible person.

Part two of step one is waiting. I’m in that stage now with my Dell story. I’m still waiting on two of my five readers to get back to me. Five, for me, is a good number of readers (though three will be fine, too). With 3-5 readers, I can see what they’re all agreeing on and get a variety of opinions. I also don’t get overloaded with too many opinions.

Once I get all of my crits in, I’ll move on to reading them and sorting through all of the edits and suggestions. When I’m on less of a deadline, it can take me awhile to do this. I’m eager to see what was said and to make my story better, but damn, it can be hard for me to read crits. I get really stressed out and am prone to hiding my face when a particularly embarrassing mistake is pointed out. I’m still in the stage of worrying that my draft readers are going to think I’m a terrible writer/person.

Eventually, I get into a groove. I print out my story, print out the comments, and take a lot of notes. I figure out how big of an overhaul I’m going to have to make. It can be anything from adding/subtracting a couple scenes to deciding that the entire story was told incorrectly and starting over. I have one reader who frequently tells me that the short story needs to be a novel, and frustratingly enough, she’s usually right.

Once I know how much I’m going to have to do to the story, I can make a plan. Based on the responses I’ve gotten on my Dell story so far, I think it’s going to be mainly adding scenes and making existing scenes actually, you know, make sense. I’m going to worry about these big things first. I need to make the story flow and make sense before I can worry about the sentence level. When I’m ready for that, I’ll print the story out again and read it through. Often I’ll read it out loud. If I have time, I’ll send it back out to a few more readers, sometimes the same ones.

Unless I’m on a strict time limit (as I am now), it becomes difficult for me to get out of the cycle of rewrite and critique, rewrite and critique, over and over, trying to make it perfect. It can be hard to find the time to just stop and send the story out to a magazine. Eventually you just have to let it go.

What’s your editing process?

Merry Christmas! Have Some Apps!

Before we begin this post, some updates. I changed my Goodreads goal to the much more reasonable 80 books since I have that whole holidays and Dell Award thing happening. The widget sucks at updating, but I’m at 70 books now so that leaves me 8 days to read 10 books. That’s not so bad.

Now, on with today’s post.
I said awhile ago that I’d talk about apps for writers, and then I think I got distracted. But here, now I’m posting just in time for Christmas. If you’re scrambling for a gift to get for the writer in your life here in the eleventh hour, consider an iTunes gift card and this list of apps. (Note: Not all of these are iPhone apps. Just a lot of them. Even if you don’t have a Mac or iPhone, it might give you an idea of similar apps to look for.)

Since I really love all of these and couldn’t decide on an order based on quality, I’m going with my favorite kind of organization: alphabetical. Oh yeah. Are you ready?

agent obviousAgent Obvious (iPhone)
Price: Free!
Are you at a point where you want to sell your book or you’re thinking about wanting to sell your book? Or maybe you’re just kind of baffled by the publishing industry in general. Agent Obvious is a good app to get. It offers tips on agents, editors, and publishers, and generally gives you a lot of insight into the industry and how to present yourself. Some of these tips are so obvious that you might not have even thought about it. Super useful.

Baby Names (iPhone)baby names
Price: Free!
There are LOADS of baby name apps and books out there. I just happen to have and like this one. You can search for names using a criteria like meanings, origins, and popularity, and you can keep a list of favorites. The part I really love, though? The list of 1000 last names ordered from most to least popular.

dropboxDropbox (multiple platforms)
Price: Free!
Oh, Dropbox. It took me a little while to discover how amazing this is, but once I got into it – ohhh. Oh man. I have it on my Mac, my iPhone, and online. I put files into it and then I can access those files in any of those places. This is especially great for a writer because it’s like an instant backup system. I just keep my entire writing folder in my desktop Dropbox and as I write, everything is synced online and with my phone. I also have shared folders with multiple friends, enabling me to easily share stories and critiques. And when something’s ready to print, I don’t have to worry about a jump drive. I just get on any computer connected to both a printer and the internet, sign on to Dropbox on their site, and there’s the file I need. You do get a limited amount of space, with multiple ways to get more both for free and at a price, but as a writer I use a very small amount of my 3 gig.

Evernote.175x175-75Evernote (multiple platforms)
Price: Free!
I’m actually using Evernote right now. It’s what I use for notes in class, and to keep all of my blog posts organized. You make notebooks and notes, and it syncs with pretty much anything you want it to. I just have it on my Mac and iPhone, but they have other options to check out. With this and the WordPress app, I’ve written and posted blog posts just from my phone. I kind of love it.

f-ing word of the dayThe F-ing Word of the Day (iPhone)
Price: $0.99
This is, perhaps, not for the little writers among us. It’s a pretty standard word of the day app, with a 6-day memory (though you can favorite words to keep them around forever). The difference is that the examples for the words are foul and often sexual. Fun way to learn new words, though.

goodreads_appGoodreads (multiple platforms)
Price: Free!
If you don’t have a Goodreads account, you absolutely should. And if/when you do, you should get the app. You can search for books, update your lists, check on activity, and even scan the barcode on a book to add it to a list.
My-Writing-Spot_iconMy Writing Spot (iPhone)
Price: $4.99
Yeah, yeah, if you have something to write on the go and you have an iPhone, you can just use the Notes app that comes automatically installed. But I really like My Writing Spot. You make a new document, write in it, save it. You can email it anywhere and, my favorite part, it keeps track of your word count.

3405-1-oxford-american-writers-thesaurusOxford American Writer’s Thesaurus (iPhone)
Price: $24.99
I know. Ouch. That price is going to be a bit much for most people to swallow for an app, but I’ll tell you why I was willing to spend that much, why I’m happy I did, and you can make your own decision. The Writer’s Thesaurus is like a regular thesaurus, but better. It gives you synonyms that work in the context you’re looking for. It helps you find the words that have the right feel. So basically you’re carrying around this amazing little thesaurus in your pocket with thousands and thousands of synonyms and, oh yeah, it updates wirelessly. You’d pay $25 for a hardcover thesaurus, so why not for this?

scrivenerScrivener (Mac or PC)
Price: $40 – $45
Scrivener is my favorite writing program. It used to be that I only used Microsoft Word and had a million different documents and had to scroll around in a whole novel. Scrivener lets me have one .scriv document per novel (at least, that’s how I do it) and then one for my short stories. One .scriv document holds all of my drafts, all of my notes, and all of my research. If you’re an organization junkie, this is the program for you.

self controlSelfControl (Mac)
Price: Free!
Do you ever have trouble concentrating on your writing because the internet is there, distracting you? You might try to turn off the wifi, but if you’re like me, you just keep thinking, “I can turn that back on.” On SelfControl, you make a blacklist of the websites that most tempt you, select a time from 15 minutes to 24 hours, and turn it on. Those websites are blocked, and I me Add Mediaan blocked. Turn off the program. Restart your computer. Hell, delete the program. Doesn’t matter. You’re not getting on those websites until time runs out.

word tyrantWordTyrant (iPhone)
Price: $2.99
Do you ever set writing goals for yourself? Like, 3000 words on short stories this month, 6000 the next, plus 2000 words of blog posts and 10,000 on that novel? Maybe give yourself a couple thousand for miscellaneous words? How do you keep track of all that? Easy. WordTyrant. You create however many projects you want, set your word goal, and it keeps track. There are graphs and everything. You can set goals months in advance, and go back to any month you need. It gives you the number of words you wrote every day you entered a count for. Totally worth the three bucks.

mzl.cmloraxx.175x175-75WriteChain (iPhone)
Price: Free!
This is another way to keep track of your words. It’s also a way to get yourself to write every day. You tell the app how many words you’re aiming to write a day, what grace period you want to give yourself, and then you start entering your word count every day. Every day that you meet your goal for the day is a link in the chain. If you go past your grace period, then the chain breaks and you start all over.

write or dieWrite or Die (multiple platforms)
Price: Free! – $10
If SelfControl isn’t working for you, this is something else to try. It’s especially useful for NaNoWriMo when you really need to up your word count. You can do this online for free, or download the desktop version for $10. Set an amount of time to write for, the grace period, and the level of punishment. My favorite way to do it is 20 minutes, maximum grace period, kamikaze mode. What this means is that if I stop typing for around I think 5-10 seconds (not sure), the program starts deleting what I’ve written. There are other punishments – annoying sounds, blinking – but the only one that works for me is kamikaze. It’s like capital punishment for writers and it keeps me going.

writing promptsWriting Prompts (iPhone)
Price: $1.99
Finally, an app for when you have no inspiration whatsoever. Grab this, and you get 60 sketches, 285 scenes, 600 text prompts, and 400 random word prompts. It will also randomly search for a news story. You can go for a specific type of prompt or go for random. You can favorite ones that you particularly like, and if you get inspired, there’s a place to write. If you need more, you can buy them.

Hopefully, some of these will interest you and help you with your writing. I know they’ve certainly helped me.

There’s not going to be a Tuesday Reads tomorrow, so I’ll be seeing you next week! Now go have a great rest of December, whether it’s Christmas or anything else.