Category Archives: TIL

Use Your Opportunities Wisely

Hi.

It’s been awhile.

No, I’m not quoting a song intentionally. It just came out that way.

I’ve been inordinately busy of late. I won’t make excuses. Just know that if I could have taken the time and energy to keep my Tuesday/Friday cadence going, I would have. Now, let’s get back on track with a short post.

Spending a few days in San Francisco on business is a boon I needed badly. Free time is at a premium due to hours of talks in hotel conference rooms, however, just feeling the hum of the city and seeing, hearing, AND smelling the masses of humanity here is exciting. Yes, I live in Salt Lake, but it isn’t the same.

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I’m in love with the concept of a walkable city where one doesn’t need to own a car. There aren’t many like it in the U.S., but San Fran is eminently walkable. I took the BART from the airport to downtown and walked everywhere. It is not only energizing, but it’s also enlightening. I’ve learned I’m out of shape, for one. I remembered that people come in a lot more varieties than generally show up in Utah. Also, I discovered that a lot of people here smoke weed walking down the street on their way home from work in the financial district. Blew my mind. The world is an ever-changing place.

On my walking trips, I spotted a dozen neat little shops, but the one that caught my eye was a hat shop filled with fabulous hand-crafted hats. As is my standing tradition, I bought one.

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It is lonely and somewhat depressing to be away from family. Though sitting in a utilitarian hotel room and writing at night, with only the hum of the city to keep you company, does provide plenty of time.

All of these variations on life are experiences to capture for writing inspiration.

As a writer, I cannot afford to be frivolous. I must never leave my most peculiar days to the dismal gray of long-term memory.

And so I write.

See you Friday.

Can I Have A Writing Mulligan?

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I’m not a big golfer –the last time I golfed, I rolled a cart– but the word mulligan has found its way into my vocabulary.

Recently, the idea of a writing mulligan came to me. As I’ve been working on Rue From Ruin, I’m increasingly conscious of how much more work I need to do on my upcoming novel, The Galaxy and All Her Charms. I started TGaAHC almost a year ago (November 1, 2014) and over time I finished approximately 15,000 words. This was disheartening because I had already sped my way through half of the planned plot, and my intention was for the finished book to be between 90-110k words.

I had such grand plans and they seemed to be in ruins.

I felt like a putz.

Boooooo me.

Eventually, I began posting here. My goal was to refocus. At first, I just wanted to write something I could actually finish. I had taken a long hiatus from blogging on my family and tech-geek blogs, and it was good to get back in the saddle of writing –and finishing– regularly.

Next came a lucky break. I had a writing prompt that resulted in the first part of RFR. This was a real turning point. I wanted to share it on the blog, but I also didn’t want it to have to stand alone. There was more story to tell. So, I went back to my plot exercises and came out with something I thought would be decent. Here we are, two months and four parts into the serial. Everything is going to plan, although perhaps a bit slower than I initially hoped. I’m using deadlines and great beta-readers to produce something I enjoy. I’ve heard from at least three of you who like it as well!

Some members of my writing group started talking about working on new novels at the same time, providing chapters and critiquing one each month. I agreed to participate and started sending out completed chapters of TGaAHC even though I knew they were flawed. The group’s feedback, combined with reading and critiquing their work, has me thinking: maybe conventional wisdom is wrong for me.

Maybe I shouldn’t just “write to done” my first draft of Galaxy. Maybe after I finish Rue, I’ll start Galaxy from the beginning again.

I’m not saying I’m going to throw everything away. The bones are good. I’m just going to flesh it out better. Give the characters added depth. Add more internal thought. Write better descriptions of locations and objects. Include new scenes and more buildup. Do all the things a longer work needs and deserves.

I think I’m going to take a writing mulligan.

Side note: I have what I hope will be an entertaining piece of fiction lined up for Halloween (or the day before). It may or may not be RFR-related… but it probably won’t be anything like this:

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Backstory And Worldbuilding Are Writing Too

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Worldbuilding is essential to speculative fiction and other genres as well. If we cannot create a plausible, yet fantastical world for our story to live in, we risk losing the attention of our audience. However, there is a strong tendency out there to focus more on building up the fictional world than to write a compelling story. We look at the masters of fiction we admire and say, “I want to write something like that.”

I’m no different. Since I was a teen, I’ve admired the worldbuilding of Frank Herbert for his Dune series. What I (and probably other fledgling writers) have to remember is Herbert had been writing published fiction for almost TWO DECADES before he wrote the first Dune novel.

Developing character backstories are also essential while writing fiction. We research and write the elements of a character’s backstory for important reasons. It helps us learn what motivates people. It informs realistic choices in the character’s story. It lends additional writing experience. To a point, it even helps us get closer to finishing our stories.

But never, not even once, assume that this information is vital to the story.

The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.

― Stephen King

The goal of writing fiction is to provide words that will hopefully enlighten and entertain our readers. If we can attain those two things, we’ve done our job as writers.

What we have to do to tell a compelling story, at least in the beginning, is narrow our scope and vision. Work in worlds that we understand more intuitively. Write characters who’s motivations we can easily comprehend. By all means, create amazing, incredible worlds and histories for characters. Just don’t do that at the expense of finishing things.

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”

― Neil Gaiman

All those arguments aside, try writing backstory and worldbuilding as exercises in storytelling. Tell the story of a character’s past. Tell a story of an event that helped forge the world into what is is today. I’ve done some of this, and would never share the results with anyone. Still, I think it has aided in my quest to become a better writer.

Thanks for reading, all! There probably won’t be an installment of Rue From Ruin this week. Allergies have really bogged me down recently. I promise to have it to you as soon as possible.

Please enjoy this GIF as compensation:

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Writing vs. Having A Life

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It’s my firm belief that writing and having a normal, fulfilling life are not mutually exclusive. I can do both. You can do both. It might be easier than it seems.

“Having a life” might even be completely necessary to writing. For a writer, almost every activity undertaken has value. We just need to use experiences and opportunities that our lives give us to our advantage.

Many of our hobbies become research opportunities. Like to read (I argue you can’t write at all unless you read frequently)? Enjoy watching movies or documentaries? Television? Browsing Wikipedia? Perfecting a tasty dish in the kitchen? Picking up gardening? Watching how-to videos on YouTube? Travelling?  All usable. They just need to be focused properly to subjects that relate to our writing.

Our physical activities help us understand the body’s reaction to strenuous activity and limits. Hiking, biking, running, skiing, martial arts, etc. teaches us about that particular discipline. Exercise also helps to achieve the levels of brain activity that might otherwise be unavailable. Read about it in Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey and elsewhere on the interwebs. We’ll be healthier and live to write longer.

Wasted time becomes writing time. Time spent organizing files (including photos) on the computer is mainly wasted. Time spent playing repetitive games can be reclaimed. People who know me are calling BS right now, but I mean games like Plants vs. Zombies, Angry Birds, Clash of Clans… big time wasters with no real benefit (board games are better… more social interaction). Time endlessly browsing Facebook or Twitter comes back.  The entire topic has been addressed unto itself by countless authors. Here’s one: Top 20 Time Wasters.  We’ve all spent time that is basically wasted. Reclaim that time. It is writing time.

Bonding with children over stories, play, and outdoor activities help refine ideas and remind us what it is like to look at life from a child’s perspective. I wrote a scene about a little girl for my upcoming novel The Galaxy and All Her Charms that would never have been possible if I didn’t play with my kids.

Lunches and dinners out become opportunities to observe people and build character description skills. Dates not only help us maintain healthy, loving relationships with our significant others, they also help our writing. And if you’re doing it like this… yeah… don’t:

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Even sickness, grief, and personal trials help us give meaning to our writing. They enable us to write from experience rather than assumption and second-hand knowledge. I’ve written pieces I really like, for future use, about my experience learning to ski (as an old snowboarder), about personal loss and the fear of loss, and also about a recent bout of food poisoning. Writing about grief and trials is also therapeutic and liberating. It will lighten our burdens.

To be a living, breathing, observing, reading person is all the preparation that is necessary for that person to become a writer.

You can guess my conclusion: the struggle isn’t writing vs. having a life.

Quite the opposite.

Writing IS having a life.

Attention To Detail Is A Must

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Hello, World! I’m back with a short post today because I’m ironing out the revisions for Part 4 of Rue From Ruin.

In the meantime, something exceptional arrived in the mail today. You could call it an early birthday present.

I recently ordered some swag from K. M. Alexander‘s website, and this is the first day I got to hold it in my hot little hands. I haven’t reviewed K. M.’s books here, although I have on Amazon and Goodreads.

I can sum his work up in two words: READ IT.

The world of Waldo Bell is so wonderfully realized and beautiful. Upon reading The Stars Were Right I immediately despaired that I would ever achieve such mastery in the craft of writing. I asked K. M. how he got everything so perfect, and I’ll paraphrase his response: “My work wasn’t always this good. The books are what they are as the result of a lot of hard work and practice.”

The words had the intended effect and I continued to work on my writing.

It goes without saying that he is also incredibly attentive to details. Any work K. M. puts his name on is delightfully fantastic. To illustrate this point, I’m going to share some unboxing photos I took today.

My lesson for the day (mainly for myself) is that great art requires a creative, attentive, and detailed mind. It is inspiring to see what can be produced by someone who has honed these skills.

Enjoy the pictures and please ignore the fact that I’m a horrid photographer.

Envelope with the stamp of the City of Lovat.
Envelope with the stamp of the City of Lovat.
Look what's inside!
Look what’s inside!
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The patch I ordered and a caravan employee registration form to go with it. It even has Waldo Bell’s signature!
Bookmarks, stickers, and pins. Such cool swag!
Bookmarks, stickers, and pins. Such cool swag!

TIL: Writing Is Hard

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There are so many distractions,
The world conspires.
Writing is a priority,
Don’t get that wrong.

Found enigma of obsession,
In minute non-art.
Writing shall fail to come to be,
Feels confronted.

Bring forth the life of life undone,
To eat feast of not.
Writing nourishes the me,
Of harmony.

Advancement of self consumes much,
but this too shall pass.
Writing in the night sets mind free,
To wander now.

WLM

—-

A poet I’m not. This one brought to you by the need for focus. Consider it my form of doodling. I’m going to have a new installment of Rue From Ruin for you this Friday. I’m editing right now. Well. I’m editing this post. I’m also editing Rue Part 3. It’s close.

If you’re feeling like me, it might be a good time to go back and read about The Law of the Bamboo Tree.

Enjoy a free GIF on me:

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Competence Versus Charisma

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Yesterday morning (yes, 2:00 AM counts as morning) I read an article by David Farland. The clickbait on Twitter was something along the lines of: “All the Internationally Bestselling Authors I Know Use This One Neat Trick”.

Mr. Farland has mentored incredibly successful wordsmiths, including some of my favorites, so I clicked the link. In the post, he goes on to say:

Over the past three decades, I’ve helped a number of writers reach the point where they’ve become international bestsellers, and I’ve spotted a trend. Most bestsellers attract an audience in part because they are charismatic.

-David Farland

So, most authors who’ve achieved worldwide fame and fortune are very charismatic. Great. I don’t want to be a celebrity of any kind, although a little fortune might not hurt.

I don’t disagree with Mr. Farland’s statement. He also draws parallels between charisma and four characteristics he says comprise it: competence, willingness to show vulnerability, confidence, and friendliness. If you have the right minimums, he says, you can be anywhere on the scale with each. For example, super competent people don’t need to be as friendly and vice versa. Incredibly friendly people don’t have to show as much vulnerability, etc.

To me, this was the saving grace of the article; I’m not the most friendly person… I’ve been told that sometimes I come off like a jerk because I don’t regularly think before I speak.

It’s true.

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Other times, my brain takes off in a wholly different direction from the conversation at hand, because someone mentioned a problem my cerebrum thinks it can solve. Yes, I have “squirrel syndrome”. The awkwardness sets in when I start to get excited about a side quest in my head, and I can’t stop myself from interrupting to tell people about it.

So, I will continue to practice writing, and hopefully I’m getting better. I need to get higher on the competence and confidence scales, because no one will think that buying my books is a good idea based on shining good nature alone!

This post brought to you by an animation of a few of the many pictures I took of a squirrel in Washington DC last year. Yes, surrounded by breathtaking monuments in our nation’s capital, I was taking photos of a squirrel.

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