Monthly Archives: February 2011
I’d like to announce that this Tuesday I finished the complete rewrite of my 2006 Nanovel, Moonshadow’s Guardian. This project has been through several rewrites and the story has changed drastically over the years. That said, this rewrite was more about splitting up the book into two novellas.
The first half, which has kept the name of Moonshadow’s Guardian, is about a demon named Riana who is summoned to protect the kingdom of Moonshadow. A plague has struck the kingdom-a strange plague which they believe to be caused by Telars, mages gifted with telepathy. Riana’s job is to find out who is causing the plague and to bring an end to it before it kills the heir to Moonshadow’s throne. She has two constant companions-a dragon named Rolf, and the king’s brother Andre, who she falls in love with on the journey.
In the second half Riana colonizes and restores what was once an endless wasteland and is quickly becoming fertile again. She makes many friends along the way-but when the telars strike back, Riana’s life is torn entirely to pieces. The war was originally with a different country, but I’ve decided that it makes more sense-and it’s more interesting-if the war is fought against the telars.
I’m very excited to start editing this project-but every writer knows that you have to let it sit for a while. So in the meantime, I’m going to finish the worldbuilding for Some Secrets Should Never be Known, and then I’m going to start the book.
But first I’m going to celebrate with some good friends and good chocolate…
How do you celebrate when you finish a project?
I believe that writers must always be committed to learning. We must be committed to learning more about the world around us. We must have a desire to know all kinds of things-different languages, more about our language, history, mythology, science-and we must be able to follow through on that. Everything we learn has an influence on what we write, and the more we know the better our stories become. That’s why I made today’s prompt:
Write 500 words about Learning
I learned almost everything that I know from Evelyn. I was only ten when she found me in the streets, begging for change. To this day I do not know why it is me out of a dozen begging children that she chose to take under her wing, but I am eternally grateful.
Evelyn gave me a home, my very own room in the temple. It was the first time I’d ever had a room of my own; I had lived inside a small house with my parents and my brother before that, but the plague took all three of them. My brother and I had shared a room, and it was a miracle that I did not get sick too.
It would seem that my life up until the day Evelyn died was full of miracles. My survival was the first one, and Evelyn finding me was the second. She was not an ordinary woman; Evelyn was said to have grown up in the Wilds, and while she never admitted nor denied it, it was not hard to believe if you knew her well. She knew how to hunt, how to trap animals, how to make things grow. Her skills exceeded those of ordinary city people.
Now that I was making my way in the forest, everything Evelyn had taught me was incredibly useful. It was she who taught me how to set up the traps which caught the rabbits; she who taught me skills with a bow to shoot the deer from afar; she who taught me how to skin the animals and clean them properly. It was even Evelyn who had taught me how to fight.
I was practicing fighting with a tree when I heard them coming. There were no horses, only the sounds of voices coming out of the forest. I picked up my sword and drew it, stepping away from the tree and looking around.
A woman and a man walked into the clearing, arguing about something. The woman had red hair and green eyes and looked to be feisty, and the man had brown hair, brown facial fuzz and brown eyes with a sparkle to them that made it seem almost as if he were smiling. Each was carrying a bucket. They stopped by the pond to collect water and it was only then that the woman noticed me and nudged her friend. Both pairs of eyes landed on me and stayed there.
“Who are you?” the woman asked.
“Does it matter? Who I am is just a name,” I said, raising my eyebrows.
“Then you will not ask us who we are,” she said.
“Perhaps not, but I might ask why you are here.”
The man narrowed his eyes. “Who are you working for?”
“Nobody. I am merely finding my own way.”
The man and the woman looked at each other. Their eyes met and she raised an eyebrow at him. He whispered something in her ear and she whispered something back. They stayed on the other side of the little sparkling pond. After a moment’s whispered conversation, he turned back to me.
“Then perhaps you should find your way among my people,” the man said. “We live in a small village a half day walk from here.”
“Are you the barbarians they tell us about in school?” I asked, grip tightening.
The man chuckled. “I suppose we are, though we can read and write just like you can. They call us barbarians because it makes us look bad.”
“So if I come with you I will find that your village is well taken care of, that you treat your women well, and that you worship the Gods of Llyr?”
“Perhaps. I would let you be the judge of that though.”
I sheathed my sword. “Then I will follow you.”
“Good,” the man said, filling his bucket with water. “Then come along, we haven’t got much time to get back before sunset.”
So far I’ve talked a lot about goals. The 10 Commandments of a Serious Writer are rules which every writer should remember. These rules, if followed, will allow you to reach your goals much more easily. But it’s not just for your current goals-these rules will help you throughout your whole writing life.
1. I Shall Write
Writing is obviously the most important part of being a writer. This commandment is about writing regularly and writing the best that you can. It’s about butt in chair.
2. I Shall Read
It’s not just important for writers to write, it’s also important for writers to read, and not just in their genre. Reading not only expands the mind but it allows you to analyze other writers’ technique and to learn from the masters.
3. I Shall Edit Thoroughly
This means making sure that the story makes sense, that the characters stay in character, and that the plot flows properly. It also includes making sure that you haven’t used a semicolon wrong or missed an apostrophe; it’s not just about story, it’s about grammar. You want to edit it at least partially before you let anyone else see it-even your critique group.
4. I Shall Hear Criticism With an Open Mind
Writers must always be open to criticism. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with every comment somebody makes on your work; but it does mean that you have to seriously consider what they’ve said before you dismiss their opinion. And remember, if four or five people read your work and all agree on something, the one or two who like it are probably wrong.
5. I Shall Always Be Learning
While it is important to hone your craft and to put a large amount of focus on becoming a more skilled writer, it’s also important to learn other things. The best writers don’t just know about writing-they are always going on new adventures and looking for new things. They observe the world around them and take everything in. And they learn all kinds of things, not just about writing but about every aspect of life.
6. I Shall Push My Boundaries and Step Out of my Comfort Zone
I believe that all of the best writers-and all the best artists-challenge themselves. Not only to become better, but to try new things, to step out of their comfort zone. As writers this usually means experimenting with form or genre. It’s not just about writing though-stepping out of your comfort zone and facing your fears in all aspects of life can help you grow as a person.
7. I Shall Submit My Work
A writer does not need to submit; an author does. Somebody who wants to turn writing into a career needs to submit. Somebody who wants to make writing their future needs to submit. If you don’t submit, you can’t complain about not getting published. If you don’t submit, you’re not taking it seriously as your future, you’re treating it like a hobby.
8. I Shall Not Submit Too Early
This means that you edit your work, submit it for critique, edit it again, submit it for critique, and edit it again. It means that you spend time making sure all the character arcs go the way they’re supposed to and that the plot just comes together. It also means that you spend some time working on your query and your synopsis, so that the whole package is appealing. If you submit before you’ve edited, you’re dooming yourself; you’re submitting crap.
9. I Shall Accept Rejection Graciously
Every writer gets rejected. You must learn not to take rejection so hard; it happens to everyone and all it means is that you’re trying. Collect your rejections. If you get a specialized rejection, jump for joy and put it on your wall. It’s hard to see your baby rejected, but in the end, those rejections are like badges of honour.
10. I Shall Give Back to My Community
It’s important to give back to your community in one way or another. As a writer you can do this by volunteering your writing for local causes or by volunteering in your real life community. But you can also give back by blogging about your writing, by creating a newsletter, or by teaching a course. It’s important to give back to other writers and to help those who are not as far along the path as you are. It’s also important to give back to the wider community-but a writer must always be connected to other writers.
These ten commandments separate the serious writers from the would-be writers. They are the mark of a professional. Somebody who never gives up and who always follows these rules is a lot more likely to be a publishing success story.
I try my best to follow these rules each and every day. I am always looking for new ways to better myself both as a person and as a writer.
Preparing to become a professional writer means making myself more disciplined. It means learning to say no to distraction. It means learning to ensure that writing time is always writing time. It also means that I must stay productive, even when I’m not actively working on a novel project. Prompts are one way to ensure that you stay productive, even if you’re not producing your highest calibre of work.
Write 500 words about Meditation
For the first several days I stayed near a small shrine to Astra, Evelyn’s goddess. It was only half a day’s ride away from the city but it was a land of solitude. I lived in a small cave and set out traps for anything that might come across them. I meditated by the river each morning when I woke up. I sent words to the sky to Evelyn. I might not have cared about the Gods, but I didn’t believe that this life was the only life.
At the end of a week, with a rabbit in my pack, I moved on. I traveled southward, towards the city of Duranth. I stayed on the road and kept my senses focused on the forest. Barbarians and terrible monsters were said to roam the woods; I had seen no such things, but Evelyn spoke of them as though she had. I believed in Evelyn more than I believed in the Gods she worshiped.
I traveled slowly; I did not know what I sought, and I was in no rush to find it. I hunted and scavenged food and I kept myself alive. I slept near the road, under the canopy of tall silver birch trees and once an oak tree. I did not get lonely. I preferred the company of the trees and the birds, to be honest.
At the fork in the road, just a day away from Duranth, I stopped. Something, perhaps the call of a strange bird, perhaps the sound of a woman singing, called me away from the road. I jumped down from Taea and led her along by the reins. I could see something blue and sparkling in the distance, and it enchanted me.
I reached a clearing filled with a small, sparkling blue pond. It was not connected to the river, and it seemed cleaner too. I dipped a hand in and it felt fresh and clean. Taea drank from it and she seemed to be smiling at me afterwards.
I set up camp and then sat down by the pool cross legged. I closed my eyes and focused on the world around me. The birds were quiet and the sun would soon set. The air was clean and the energies of this place pure. A deep calm washed over me, filling me with peace. Evelyn’s face appeared in my mind’s eye, smiling down upon me. My own mouth smiled instinctively, as though she could see my response.
Perhaps she could. And perhaps she had led me to this place… Perhaps I would find my destiny here.
I ate only a small meal that night. I drank the water from the pond and it tasted clean and perfect. My final thought before I fell asleep was that this pond could be a sign that I was going in the right direction.
As writers it is easy for us to stay inside our houses and ignore the world around us, but it is also the most crucial mistake that we can make. Our writing grows as we grow and we grow through experience more than we grow through age. Every writer should live their life to the fullest, not just so that they can tell their grandchildren stories, but because it adds depth to the stories we share with the world as well.
I do dream of making a living off of my writing by the time I am twenty-five, but that doesn’t mean I will not experience life fully. While I hope to make a living off of my writing by the time I’m twenty-five, I don’t necessarily want to be just a writer when I’m twenty-five. I’ll probably want to have a part time job of some kind-both as a backup plan and just to gain experience in the ways of the world.
Really, how I want to experience life is by traveling and studying. I want to see the world and I want to study it, its myths, its stories, its history. I want to learn about different cultures, from the Scottish that I am descended from to the Japanese whose cartoons I avidly watch. I want to study them, but I do not want to study from afar; I want to study right there, among the people of that culture. Being a full-time writer and traveling around the world is a big dream, but it is a dream.
But how does the average writer live their life to the fullest?
Slow down and take in the world around you. Appreciate the details. If you walk through a park, note each tree as you walk by, connect to the earth beneath your feet. If you’re on a train, look out the window and watch the world pass by-you never know what you might see, and there’s something thrilling about how it all seems to run in the other direction. Don’t eat your meals at top speed; slow down and savour them, appreciate the taste-and don’t forget to file a description in the back of your mind for when your characters eat the same thing.
Take the time to really appreciate life. Notice the little details in the world around you, especially the little details of nature-the call of each bird, the design on each leaf. You will be rewarded with a greater appreciation for the world around you and extra depth in your descriptive passages.
Break Out of Your Routine
Try new things, break away from the norm. Take your first yoga class or buy your first yoga mat and training DVD. Try a bellydancing course. Experiment with group meditation. Go to a center of learning from another religion and ask questions-but always ask them with the utmost respect.
Ultimately living your life to the fullest includes having some adventure. Some people are more adventurous than others; I like to go on fairly regular adventures, often with no real destination in mind. Follow your heart instead of your mind for a day and see where it takes you. Break away from the mundane and into the magical. Go out for a walk on a route you’ve never taken before. Go out to a poetry slam or a night of songs. Find something interesting to do and do it.
Adventure allows you not only to meet new people and have new experiences, but it gives you a feel for what true spontaneity is like. It adds depth to the strange turns of events in your novel if you’ve experienced a few strange turns of events yourself.
Be Open to Other People’s Views
You don’t have to accept somebody else’s point of view, but it’s important always to listen and consider. If somebody makes a statement you disagree with, ask them why they believe that. Listen to their story; you might learn something about humanity, and the more you know, the more your writing develops. You don’t have to initiate conversation, but if somebody starts talking to you, listen to what they have to say. (Unless they’re trying to shove their religion down your throat.)
Remember that every story has value, and no story is a waste of time. You will take something away from every conversation, even if you don’t consciously know what that is.
Face your Fears
It is often said that only by facing our fears can we overcome them, and that is part of my argument in favor of facing your fears. If you’re afraid of heights, not only will standing near the edge of a cliff or a tall building help you overcome your fear, it will also make a great descriptive exercise. It will give depth to both the fear in your characters and the scenes where they must face that fear.
I’m not telling you that if you’re scared of spiders you should go hang out with a tarantula; I am telling you that you should get out of your comfort zone and do things that make you squirm. You’ll grow as a person and you never know, you might find something wonderful sitting outside of your comfort zone.
Learn something New
Specifically I am talking about skills. It is one thing to read something in a book; it is quite another to go out and learn a new skill. Learning a new skill has all kinds of advantages. If you’re learning carpentry or basic plumbing, not only do you have a new skill, but you can also fix up your house, and you can write about a character who is a carpenter with more authenticity. To me the best kind of person is the one who is always seeking to make themselves better in a variety of ways, and the greatest writer is the one who seeks to make each story better than the last.
As a fantasy writer I would love to learn to ride a horse, shoot a bow with more precision, and to properly fight with a sword. I know that these things would add unimaginable depth to my writing and I believe it is almost essential to know these things to write medieval style fantasy, but I also think that they would be fun to learn. Never learn something just because you feel the need to learn; always seek out something that you enjoy.
Putting it all together
To be a great writer, you need to experience more than just the writing life. You need to experience and learn all about the world and the people around you. So when you plan out your days, make time for writing, and make time for adventure. Make time to walk around and enjoy the world. Make time to go out and learn new things, because without life experience, your writng will always be just words on a page.
Over the last few weeks I’ve talked a lot about creating-and meeting-your writing goals. I’ve made it clear that 2011 is going to be a year of Discipline in my writing. But it’s important to remember that while writing is certainly a part of me and always will be, there are other aspects of life where I need to put in effort and set goals. Taking care of me is the most important factor here, and I must remember that taking care of me doesn’t just mean focusing on my writing.
So what else do I need to focus on to take care of me? Well, it’s a pretty basic list:
This one is the obvious one and, depending on your standpoint, it is the most important thing for me to focus on right now. By focusing on school I don’t mean that I need to pass, because I haven’t been failing. But I do need to make an effort to work harder. I am capable of high marks in most of my classes, but I’ve been doing just enough work to get by, and most of that at the last minute.
My commitment to school is a commitment that I will set aside an hour each week specifically for homework. I don’t get too much homework; most of my work can be done in class fairly quickly. But just because I can do half my class work in the last week doesn’t mean I should. That means most of my semester is easy and there’s one week that really, really sucks. I come out of the end of that week too drained to write. While I do end up having fun with my friends all weekend, I should be able to get at least some writing done every weekend.
As a writer, it’s really, really easy to ignore the rules of good health. It’s not hard at all to forget to leave your house for days on end; it’s even easier to bypass the healthier meal in favour of the faster meal. Apparently less than 20% of Canadian adults get the weekly physical requirement of exercise, which is approximately two hours of moderate exercise a week. Some weeks I know I get a lot more than this-but other weeks I barely make it out my front door. And while I’m confident that I get two hours of exercise most weeks, I also know that I don’t walk in the recommended increments: 30 to 40 minutes five days a week.
Because I can’t cook and I don’t do the grocery shopping around here, I don’t have all that much control over what I eat. But I can make a commitment to walk for 15 minutes every day. It’s not quite what the doctor ordered, but it’s close enough. Besides, that’s about how long it takes to walk to the nearest 24 hour store and back. As part of my effort to quit smoking, this is a non-smoking walk. If I want a smoke, I have to wait until after I’m finished the walk.
As somebody with a lot of friends who make up their own family-in fact, having been adopted into two families of friends-I don’t spend a lot of time with my birth family. I don’t necessarily need to see them all of the time, but it is important to make sure that they know I care, and that it’s a two way street when it comes to communicating with my family.
My commitment to my family is that I will make an effort to maintain regular contact with my close relatives.
Perhaps this last one could be placed under health, but in that section I wanted to focus on the body, and here I focus on the mind. Living a busy life is often stressful. Having a lot of friends is great, but it means you’re three times as likely to get a call from somebody in tears or to have to help somebody deal with a bad situation. There are rewards for helping people, and it’s a good experience. The whole thing feels good all the way around. But it does take its toll on a person, especially a person who is also going to school and trying to write the next great Canadian novel. I need to learn to take more time for myself, and when I do have time to myself, I need to remember to actually renew myself. I can do this by meditating, free writing, connecting with nature, and listening to certain kinds of music, particularly African drums. Dancing around a bonfire is the most renewing thing I’ve ever done, but it’s not something you can just do.
My commitment to renewal is that I will spend ten minutes every day meditating or free writing. This will give me a little bit of extra calm every day, and you never know just how much that ten minutes will change your life. I’m probably going to do it before bed as a way of winding myself down from the day’s events, but lots of people would recommend such a thing in the morning.
Staying Committed to Yourself
Once you’ve made a commitment to yourself to take better care of yourself, you need to make sure that you stick with it. Calling it a commitment rather than a goal is part of that: if it’s a commitment, it’s your responsibility; if it’s a goal, it’s just something you’re trying to do. Write your commitment down and put it somewhere that you’ll see it all the time. Reward yourself when you accomplish something. Since the goal here is to take care of yourself, junk food shouldn’t be your reward; stickers work well for small rewards, and if you manage to keep your commitment for six months, plan on taking yourself out to have some fun.
It’s important to be committed not just to your writing but to yourself as well. You are a writer, but you are not made up entirely of words. You need to take care of yourself and pursue your other interests in order to write the best that you can write, and it all starts with making a commitment to yourself.