Category: Motivations

Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up

I feel like I’ve woken up, and I’m kind of mad at myself. I hadn’t realised I’d fallen asleep. I started this blog because I love to write. It’s my happy place. Yet after a while it became a place of apology, excuses why I wasn’t the writer I thought I should be. Word count flops, failure to publish… a barrage of shame. Rather than dreaming of other realms, the whole writing process had become a bit of a nightmare.

However a chance comment the other day was a wake up call. A bucket of ice water followed by a triple shot of something caffeine laden. A friend of mine was involved in running a writing course and she was bemoaning the excuses our writing peers *coughs* wrap themselves in. This is the gist of what she was saying:

Why are these people wasting our precious time together complaining about why they can’t write, making excuses for their inability to write and talking about what doesn’t work? As writers we have so little time together to collaborate. We should be sharing the things that give us joy, encouraging and inspiring each other, and learning from those who are further ahead and are happy to share their knowledge and experience. Everyone has something to offer that doesn’t involve accolades, or best sellers, or even finished works. Share the pleasure of words on paper, those precious moments where the words match the vision and flow effortlessly, or just rejoice in the success of a colleague.

It struck a nerve. A big raw one. Why had I wasted so much time feeling like a failure? Like a fake at my own writing group, because I hadn’t made progress on my book? When all along I have been writing.

Wait – I have been writing. That great stuff I love to do. The words on paper. Nothing to do with my book, but I’ve journalled a lot, written cards and two plays. The Stand Famous Five and the Mystery of the Disappearing Donkeys, which has been performed at work by both staff and children on several occassions.

And The History of Christmas: An Angelic Perspective, which is a multimedia affair – part pre-filmed and part acted which is being performed at our church Christmas Eve Service. We’ve spent the past few weeks, making costumes, building sets and traipsing around Kapiti filming. It’s been a lot of work, but so much fun watching my vision come to life and seeing the kids having fun. From the footage I’ve seen so far it’s looking great and should be both encouraging and entertaining for everyone watching it. It helps when you have a 16 year old budding film-maker with boundless energy and ideas on board. Collaboration is a wonderful thing!!!

I am a writer. It’s what I do. Letters, articles, speeches (I even did a debate against one of the children at work, which involved me working just as hard as him to craft an argument), and teaching programmes. I am a creative person, and I have no idea what possessed me to box myself into such a narrow view of what a writer should be.

Well no more. I am awake.

A World of Backstory

As a budding fantasy writer I remember rushing off to George R. R. Martin’s blog to glean some advice from a master. As luck would have it the very first questions on the FAQ page was: ‘I want to be a writer. Can you give me any advice?’ I devoured his response: Read widely young apprentice and let your curious creative soul be nourished by others that have gone before. And then, fledgling writer, do that thing that draws you back to the page again and again – write, grow strong and develop some writing muscles. (Of course I am paraphrasing for effect, but you get the drift). But then he said something that deserves to be quoted in full:

Given the realities of today’s market in science fiction and fantasy, I would also suggest that any aspiring writer begin with short stories. These days, I meet far too many young writers who try to start off with a novel right off, or a trilogy, or even a nine-book series. That’s like starting in at rock climbing by tackling Mt. Everest. Short stories help you learn your craft. They are a good place for you to make the mistakes that every beginning writer is going to make. And they are still the best way for a young writer to break in, since the magazines are always hungry for short SF and fantasy stories. Once you’ve been selling short stories for five years or so, you’ll have built up a name for yourself, and editors will start asking you about that first novel.

Cue needle skidding off the record with a jarring discordant thud. Hang on a minute, I’m rubbish at writing short stories. And five years worth? Five years? Five! But George I have this great whopping story in my head that is desperate to get out. And the problem with writing any fantasy for me is the world building involved. Write a 2000 word story and it takes me three months to build the world. Sorry George, it’s not going to happen.

Well a few years on, and this word of advice doesn’t seem quite so outlandish. Because one thing I’ve discovered about writing a novel with a handful of POV characters, set in a fantasy realm, is that it’s really complicated. And as the story progressed I began to see that there were great big holes that required details as rich and as commonplace as the world we experience everyday.

Perhaps I should have cut my teeth on short stories.

However being in this deep with the story, I’ve had to forge ahead and do whatever it takes to keep this novel going. This has meant spending a lot of time world building and working out backstories, and evaluating whether the story still works on the crisper canvas.

Surprisingly rather than just adding colour, the world building and backstory has really influenced the story too.

For example, there is a ring in my story. Not a ‘one ring to rule them all‘ type, but a small identifier in some larger action. I’d sketched it in and not really given much thought to what it looked like, symbolised, or why the character had it in the first place.

However while I’ve been working on the backstory of one of the characters, and coming to grips with the culture this character lives in, I found myself focussed on this ring. I’d written it as being pretty insignificant in appearance, but of significance to a small group of people. As I pondered what it looked like, it not only became very vivid in my mind, but I realised there needed to be something special about it that evoked a reaction in this group of people. As the details were pinned down, so was the impetus to move the story forward.

It’s not possible to nail down a backstory for every little detail in your novel, but the right detail can motivate your characters to action and kick-start a stalled story.

Do you use world-building or back stories to help you push through a knotty plot? Or have you ever been surprised by some seemingly insignificant detail that took the story in a whole new direction?

The Best Writing Advice Ever

I know I’ve succumbed to hyperbole with this title – but I promise I’m not selling anything. *checks pockets* Nope all out of snake oil. But I would like to offer you a story today. A story – one of many that have been told around the tables of Cafe Novella during the course of the Kapiti Speculative Fiction Writers’ Group. A story that on the face of it doesn’t appear extraordinary, but unexpectedly struck a chord within me. A life-changing, writing-changing chord that has already impacted the way I write, and has inadvertently rekindled my love for storytelling.

Such is the power of a good story. At just the right moment.

Now you probably won’t believe this, (especially if you are new to this blog *coughs*), but I have been known to bemoan my lack of progress trying to write The Fall of the Kings. Admittedly not one of my finest attributes. But every month I turn up at our writing group, and we discuss how our work’s going. And for a little while now I’ve felt like Mike Noonan, the blocked author in Stephen King’s Bag of Bones, relying on older work to cover up a disappointing lack of output.

So, last month, knowing my writing hiatus was at an end, I figured I needed to come up with a solid plan to move Kings forward. I was quite hopeful about it too. Basically I told the group I’d figured out the best way to break out of the rut was to rewrite the start of the novel and follow the story from one character’s perspective only. This would also neatly avoid some of the difficult characters I’ve been struggling with.

It was a perfectly logical response, and something I’d not tried yet, so I was expecting some positive feedback. Or at the very least – insincere platitudes.

What I didn’t expect was Pat, our awesome group leader, to say this: (Bear in mind Pat has read the first 50 pages of Kings and his feedback was very positive).

Pat’s parents both liked to paint. His father painted sporadically. Whenever the urge struck, he’d pick up a brush and paint out whatever it was that was within him. He was a gifted artist and his work had that inexplicable freedom and spark which set him apart from the hobbyiest. Pat’s mother on the other hand worked at her art diligently and painted all the time. Often she would come home with composition sketches that showed she too had a good eye – that hint of something special. But then she’d sit and paint, and paint – until she’d painted the life right out of it. The paintings themselves were fine. But they could have been really great.

It’s the difference between joy and toil. And with any piece of art, you can tell the difference.

And, yes he effectively told me to stop killing my writing. But he was right.

I have a head full of stories. Amazing stories. Interesting characters. And a vision of what they will look like, fleshed out – writ large. But sometimes I get insecure about telling them just right – getting the details just right that I squash the playfulness, the natural flow or whatever that indescribable thing is that makes my writing special.

So how do I change those ingrained bad writing habits? For me it’s realising that I don’t want to write my stories to death. I don’t want to follow all the writing rules at the expense of the joy I feel when a story comes alive on paper. I know the basic outline of Kings and I love it. It has a killer ending which I can’t wait to write once I’ve built the bridge over this rocky middle. But until I get this internal editor under control I’ve had to park Kings for the time being – because every time I look at the middle section I want to scream. It’s toil and right now you can tell.

Fortunately, I’ve taken my new, enlightened attitude into The Moon is Made of Glass, and I’m letting this new story emerge organically. I’m enjoying the research (such a hardship reading the old celtic fairytales again…), enjoying this new world that is unfolding, and celebrating each unexpected character or development as it’s presenting itself. I haven’t started writing the story yet, (apart from the prologue) – but am looking forward to NaNo as the vehicle to knuckle down and do it.

Do I really believe this is going to sort the problem?

Well I’m practising already. I’ve started an ugly story. One that will never see the light of day. A story that’s been floating around in my mind for ages and I’m writing it as it comes out. Bad grammar, poorly structured, and boring at times. But as I’m letting go, I’m also starting to see those lots of little gems starting to emerge. The ones that got me excited about the story in the first place. The joy has already turned up.

Don’t get me wrong, as the good book says, there is a time for everything; including editing, grammar, and cleaning up the story structure. But now isn’t that time. Now’s the time for rediscovering my love for my stories.

Have you ever felt like you’ve lost some of the joy of writing? What keeps you on track? What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?

A New Leaf

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A weekly blog hop
where writers get together
to discuss what inspires them.

I might have well and truly missed Thursday this week, but hey – if we’re sticking with the rhyme I quite like the sound of Friday’s child too!

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A carpet of gold…

Inspiration, at least has been all around me. The big flowering cherry at the front of our garden held onto its leaves well into winter this year, and finally dropped them with a flourish; turning our front lawn into a shimmering golden carpet. I wish I could have captured the way the light changed on those leaves all day, and how for a short time early in the morning and as the last fingers of sunlight played across them, they would light up and glow with an unearthly fire.

On a still day I could hear the leaves fall steadily, with a gentle shush like the brush of angelic wings. I was captivated.

I found myself constantly looking out the front window in awe and running outside to try and capture the moment on film. It was an exercise in futility. The first pictures I took on my ipod (and there were a lot because I just couldn’t quite capture the magic) refused to download or be sent by any electronic format.

The leaves continued to fall.

So I hunted out my camera only to find the charger had disappeared. As I searched through cupboards, in drawers and even a big box of ‘things to be filed,’ I prayed the wind our region is famous for would hold off until I got at least one photo.

Children frolicked through the ankle deep wonderland, and miraculously (despite leaves under the bed, down the hallway and in my wardrobe) the lawn remained covered.

One afternoon I found the charger. Some of the leaves were starting to turn brown, and I was having rake-guilt for letting them lie so long, but hope retuned… Maybe, just maybe, I could capture this moment and have something to hold onto when the sunlight grows thin and the ground hardens.

However the battery was so flat it refused to hold any charge until the sun had gone down.

In the dark, I was horribly aware it was becoming hard to hear the rustle of angel wings.

The next morning, having missed the time-between-times trying to get my own fairy court ready for school, I finally managed to get a few pictures – including the one above. Although the picture doesn’t do it justice, it’s enough to remind me to appreciate the changing beauty all around us. I want to always look for it and keep that sense of wonder.

A few days after I took that photo we were hammered by the biggest storm to hit the Wellington region in my lifetime. The winds roared up off the south pole and slammed us with an icy fury. The leaves were tossed and scattered, before driving rain turned them into piles of slimy brown jobs-to-do when the rain stops…

It pays to appreciate the moment when it comes, in life and when we’re writing. Illness and an overflowing schedule have kept me away from my own writing recently, and I’ve realised I’m going to have to make some big changes to keep my writing dream alive. If change is scary at least I know the new season will also have its own moments of wonder.

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After the storm we discovered a new water feature. Goldfish maybe?

Many thanks to the women behind this blog hop – Rhiann Wynn-Nolet (who’s hosting and moving house this week *acknowledges legendary status*) and Kristina Perez. If you want to join us (even this late), or check out what’s inspiring everyone else, click on this linky.

Kindness: Thursday’s Children

thurschilbadgejpgA weekly blog hop
where writers get together
to talk about what inspires them.

Someone once asked me what I hoped for my children; what parental dreams and aspirations I had for them? Did I want them to be clever, funny, sporty or creative? They’re great kids, and as any parent will tell you I want the best for them – that they realise all of their God-given gifts and find genuine happiness. But if I’m honest, I hope I’m raising these children to be kind, because sometimes an act of kindness can make an enormous difference to someone who is struggling.

I know, I’ve had a difficult week and I’ve been the recipient of many small, but hugely significant kindnesses. From the ((twitter hugs)) from my Wednesday WIPpeteers, who missed me this week when I did not have an ounce of anything left to post on Wednesday. And ReGi who tweeted an old link, so I could still be part of the group! Although I’ve never met any of you, I feel part of a writing community that’s more than a date in the diary. Thank you. You totally rock.

So this week I am inspired by acts of kindness!

One of the most moving moments in my life occurred when I was at University and our youth group volunteered at the city mission. We’d gone down to prepare and cook lunch for local homeless people, and when we were done we were asked to go out and eat in the main hall.

I ended up sitting with an old Maori gentleman, who looked very much like an old uncle of mine. After exchanging hellos I was horrified to find I couldn’t think of anything to talk about. Everything that came to mind seemed trite or irrelevant. Last week’s rugby scores don’t mean much to someone who doesn’t have a television. So we ate in silence and smiled and nodded at each other, and I felt like the most useless person in the world.

When this gentleman got up to leave, he stopped and squeezed the top of my arm gently. In a very soft voice, not much more than a whisper, he said, “Thank you for eating with me.” I can still see his face all those years later, his eyes glistened with tears and his smile was heartbreaking. All of 18 years old, I bolted out to the kitchen and bawled.

Sitting with him had cost me nothing, but it certainly seemed to mean something to him. Wordsworth’s Simon Lee, has always seemed to sum up that experience for me: (If you’re not familiar with the poem, the narrator chops a few logs for an old man. What is no effort for the narrator has a huge impact on the man). The final line is:

The gratitude of man hath often left me mourning.

That’s exactly how I felt.

Because sometimes it is the smallest things that make a difference. A smile from a stranger. A kind word. Or waiting patiently while the stressed out shop assistant deals with a funky computer.

In life I try to look for opportunities to be kind, because I remember the time when my child screamed for an hour on the plane (despite my best efforts to calm him) and my husband got stuck in traffic and didn’t meet us at the airport. Just as I was about to dissolve in tears a woman stopped to tell me that she’d been through it herself and that I was doing a great job.

Or the time when we were backpacking students and my husband’s final pay didn’t go through on time, so we found ourselves in a foreign country with no cash and no idea what to do. A stranger in Carlisle told us she trusted us to send the money for our accommodation when it came through (we were anticipating sleeping at the train station). The money turned up the next day and we were able to pay her before we left. Her kindness had a huge impact on me.

I try to keep this in mind when I’m writing. A well timed act of kindness can change a story, add hope and lightness and can powerfully impact both a character and the reader. In my current WIP, an act of kindness is a game changer, ultimately saving lives and eventually a kingdom.

On a final note, I am encouraged to keep writing even when real life has so many balls up in the air I’m only aware of what they are when they come crashing down on my head.

My friend and writing buddy called me up and said ‘write something – even if it is only a paragraph. You need to do something for you.’ I laughed. Out loud. Every time I’d been near a pad or paper this week it had been to write a list. (There have been a lot of lists). But she wouldn’t let me laugh it off and her words stayed with me.

So when I ended up with an hour to kill (waiting for a child to finish an activity) I pulled out a notebook and wrote a short story entitled, The Moon is Made of Glass. There was no planning, only words and a story which didn’t involve any sort of kindness at all. But it was good for me. Because I remembered that something in me needs to write. To that friend, you know who you are – thank you. Your few words did me a great kindness.

I hope you have all been the beneficiaries of loving-kindness this week. Please feel free to share you own experiences in life and in writing in the comments. Many thanks to Kristina Perez and Rhiann Wynn-Nolet for hosting this blog hop (and for being so patient when I’m consistently turning up for Thursday’s Children on Friday).

Is Your Plot Bunny Leading You on a Wild Goose Chase?

thurschilbadgejpgA weekly blog hop
where writers get together
to talk about what inspires them.

This week I’m inspired by plot bunnies. Those marvellous story ideas that turn up at the most inopportune moments, dazzle you with their clever brilliance, and then bound off at speed, so you have no choice but to follow and see where they end up.

In my experience chasing a plot bunny is by no means a sure thing. Sometimes you follow a character, a twist or an idea that leads nowhere. When the initial excitement wears off, you realise it’s chewed up a big chunk of your writing time and hasn’t taken the story anywhere.

But at times, and what times they are, the plot bunny delivers an unforeseen twist that grabs a floundering story by the lapels and infuses it with new life.

For me, the most enjoyable plot bunnies include unexpected characters. Characters that were supposed to have a small role in the story, but manage to shoulder their way into the action and demand the story take a whole new course. Usually with them centre stage.

I was seduced by one such character a few months ago. She wasn’t supposed to have a big role, but at one point I seriously considered telling the story entirely from her POV. For a heart-stopping moment, a considerable part of the WIP was in danger of being shelved, all because this character couldn’t possibly have been involved in it.

This time, caution won the day and I indulged her by writing about six chapters in a row entirely in her POV (unusual for me). Although I love this new storyline, once I got it out of my system, I can see how it will work just as well woven into the larger story.

I think.

The verdict is still out.

But what a fun character…

More recently I‘ve been struggling with a stalled plotline. Where I’d planned myself into a corner.

No matter how I hit this particular point in the story, the result was sleep-inducing scenes. And when you’re putting yourself to sleep, what hope does the reader have?

Honestly, I was a wee bit desperate. To the point when I wanted to send ReGi McClain’s plot ninjas in to cut off everyone’s head. You know how it goes: Josiah stands up to dedicate the Sanctuary, a ninja swoops in – zwhack. Marcus is crowned, and both head and crown hit the ground. Stella flirts with Artemis, surely she won’t lose her head over him… Sorry I know it’s bad, but you get the idea. Things were pretty dire.

Fortunately another true blue plot bunny turned up.

Follow me, it seemed to say. You know that insignificant scene you wrote about the dedication? The one you were thinking about cutting – well maybe there was something in that look. Maybe that one little look started a whole chain of events leading to kidnap, blackmail and opening up a whole can of emotionally charged worms. Maybe the bad guy isn’t as bad as you thought. Maybe he was manipulated by someone… er, badder?

Really? I answer casually, reaching for my notebook. Badder you say? Tell me more. I’m totally prepared to step away from my carefully plotted, but at this point totally uncaptivating outline, and explore this new path… (Notice the calm tone of voice – in my experience plot bunnies are very easily scared off).

So have I found my story equivalent to the Rosetta Stone? The telling moment that might pull everything together? Or am I off on another wild goose chase?

Who knows? But all of sudden my WIP is looking exciting again. And if some of the twists and turns leading on to my (already planned) out ending are shrouded in the mists of wait-and-see, I think I can live with it. Because the muse is up and hopping again!

If you want to know more about plot bunnies, and the myriad of forms they come in – check out this awesome, funny and scarily true post from wikiwrimo, entitled simply Plot Bunny. You may be more familiar with them than you realise…

Many thanks to Rhiann Wynn-Nolet for hosting this blog hop. To join in, or check out what’s inspiring the other participants click on this linky.

Thursday’s children according to the rhyme, have far to go. This week I’ve travelled all the way into Friday to post this… so wishing you all the love and best wishes Friday’s child can deliver. Happy writing!

Seasons of Change: Thursday’s Children

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A weekly blog hop where
writers come together to share
what inspires them.

We all know everything changes and nothing stays the same – but it doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Today I had to farewell a close friend, who is moving away. She’s returning home (to the States), into a new and exciting phase of her life. I’m happy for her and can see how this is perfectly timed and a good move, but this new season also comes with a heavy-handed sprinkling of grief.

No more hanging out in her car before school pick-ups, no more looking over my shoulder in the movie theatre during the enthusiastic commentaries, and no more hours discussing the finer points of writing.

Yes there’s still all the virtual stuff, and we’ll keep in touch. But I’m going to miss her terribly.

So apart from feeling sorry for myself, how is this inspiring?

Firstly, my friend was one of the first people I’ve really been able to share my writing journey with. She’s helped, encouraged and cheered me on when I’ve felt I’ve all the talent of a limp biscuit. So even if she is off in far-flung realms, I can take all these miserable, unsettled feelings and pour them into my writing. I can also keep writing, so we can continue to share our lives through the stories we write and the characters we’re coming to know.

Stories are always centered around change. How our characters cope, adapt, choose to grow through the process or refuse point-blank until the choice is taken out of their hands.

I’ve got a new story simmering at the moment, where the characters stand on the edge of each other’s worlds. Trying to make a life together will come with a cost, and in the story the piper is fast approaching. Understanding how they balance their relationship and the pull of different origins and backgrounds is always interesting to unravel. The pain of saying goodbye? Yes, it’s in there too.

Like the people in the Game of Thrones, winter is coming to little ole NZ. It’s not my favourite season; the garden all but goes in to hibernation, it’s cold, wet and the hours of daylight grow short. However, I can also snuggle in by the fire, wrap up against the cold, enjoy the sound of the rain on the roof and look forward to the first signs of a new spring.

Sad yes, but looking forward to this new season too.

If you want to join the blog hop, or see what’s inspiring everyone else click across to this linky and check us out. Many thanks to Rhiann Wynn-Nolet and Kristina Perez for hosting.