Category Archives: Writing

Calling Your Writing Muse

I used to think that I had to be ‘inspired’ in order to write.  I waited for those all-too-rare moments of brilliance – I was foolish enough to believe that I needed them, or else I couldn’t write.

Turns out, that was totally a lie.  I have a lazy muse, that’s all; one who would rather lounge about her pajamas eating fried food and watching old Firefly episodes.  (Turns out my muse in uncomfortably like myself.)  Is it any wonder I never finished anything?  I’d start something in a high excitement, and then…the inspiration faded.

Since then I’ve discovered the secret of muse-management: Your muse is not some willowy blonde with a sheet and a sulky disposition, your muse is a dog.  If you call it, it comes, and if you train it, it learns to be obedient.

Set aside one hour a day.  It works best if it’s always the same time of day, so pick an hour that you can be consistently faithful to.  And when that hour comes, I don’t care what you feel like, you pick up your pen, or you sit down in front of your computer.  You tell your muse that if you and she write X number of pages (I used three, because I’m a pen and paper writer), you can leave as soon as they’re done, whether the hour is up or not.   If you don’t finish your pages, it doesn’t matter if you don’t write a single word, you will not budge from your desk or put down your pen.

It’s likely your muse will throw a tantrum at first, and you’ll feel all rebellious and like you’re wasting your time.  You may have an hour or two where your pages stay blank except for doodles.  But after a surprisingly short time, you’ll begin to write.  Sometimes it will feel like the most terrible writing you’ve done, and sometimes you’ll finish the minimum three pages and that will be it for the day.  But more often than not, because you called it, inspiration will come, and when the hour is up, you’ll still be writing feverishly and you won’t want to stop. Instead of three, you’ll get a fabulous six pages, or ten, or fourteen.

It works.  I only wish it hadn’t taken me so long to figure it out.

I Don’t Know How This Escaped Me…

….but Robin Hobb is releasing a new book on Jan 26th – two days after my birthday! (How’s that for a birthday gift?)  She’s one of the foremost writers of fantasy, and after I read her Liveship trilogy, I’ve been desperate for more about the Rain Wild.  My wishes are granted, because this new book is ALL ABOUT the Rain Wild.  It’s called Dragon Keeper.  Here’s a youtube video with Robin Hobb talking about the new book and writing in general:

Also truly exciting in book news is the just-barely-released copy of The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.  I’d be even MORE excited by this, except that by now I feel Brandon Sanderson is wasting his talents on The Wheel of Time.  He’s so much better than Robert Jordan ever was.  Still, I’m grateful for an ending in sight (finally!) to The Wheel of Time saga, and whatever Brandon Sanderson says in the prologue, the story will be better with the reins in his hands.  I’m only a few chapters in, and already I can tell.

And in more personal writing news, I entered a short story in the big Writer’s Digest writing contest, and out of nearly twenty thousand entries, I won an honorable mention.  And not even at the bottom of the honorable mentions; out of 100 winners,  I came in at number 49.  That’s not too bad.  Okay, okay, that last was a failed attempt to be humble.  I suppose you can tell I’m pretty thrilled???  🙂

Totally confirming what I already knew…

I adore reading non-fiction about how the brain works, and a couple of days ago I was browsing through a hugely oversized book called “The Human Brain” by Rita Carver.  The pictures were pretty to look at, but I wasn’t truly interested by the book until I came to page 168: “Creativity and Madness”.  Here’s a quote:

Creativity and certain types of insanity share certain features, such as intense imagination, a tendency to link things that may seem unconnected to others, and openess to ideas that others may swiftly discount.  The difference between highly creative people and those who tip into madness is that creative people maintain insight.  They recognize that their imaginings are not real and remain able to control any bizarre symptoms and channel them into their work.

I always knew I don’t think the way ‘normal’ people do – now I know what sort of people I do think like.  I guess I’m not kidding when I say I have an insane brain!

Local Data

Rita Carter continues that: Very creative people score highly on tests for mental disorders but rarely fill the diagnostic criteria for these conditions, so their mental states can be seen as somewhere between normal and insane.

Yup. That is me all over.  Then she includes a cool little graph that shows the results of those test scores.  Insane people, are, as you might imagine right there at the top, in the 90%.  Normal people are at about 30-40%.  Writers (and yes, she did chose writers as her ‘highly creative’) score in at about 65-70%.

All this made me interested enough to do a quick google search.  I came up with this article, called “Creative Genius or Psychotic?”  Here’s a quote from the article:

Those who are gifted with a high level of creativity, are also predisposed to certain forms of psychoses. Indeed, even some of the traits long since considered to be associated with certain forms of mental illness are shared by those who are inherently creative. What follows will be a breakdown of creativity, intelligence and psychoses, and how they all are interrelated.

Is is psychotic of me to think this is deeply cool?

Me and Cool Stuff not Related to Me.

Okay, so I was doing pretty good at this blog thing for a little while there.  I was posting regularly at least!  My only excuse for failing lately with the regular posting is that I was costuming like a crazed thing.  Yup.  And for all that, I actually only completely two costumes: Elizabeth Bennet, Zombie Slayer and a steampunk outfit.  We won’t discuss the projects still laying about in various stages of completion…at least not here.  The fire has burned through, I’m in a relatively sane, quiet phase of my costuming (which means no deadlines for finishing anything until Halloween).  If you want pictures, etc, they are on my other blog.

This not to say that I’m sane, however.  What fun would that be?  It’s just that my mad-doctor focus has shifted back to my doll-making and writing.  Where it properly should be, perhaps, giving that those are the things which actually bring in some funding for the costuming.  It’s a vicious circle.  Sigh.

The dollmaking will be spoken of later, when there are pictures.  The writing, well, okay, let’s talk about that.  I’m about 13,000 words into my new novel.  It’s set in a mad, poisonous Elizabethan court in a city much like Venice (except that the water in the canals is not exactly…normal).  There are two girls, one a Queen trying to keep her throne, and the other a girl just trying to hold onto her mother’s life.  There’s a serpent/dragon, and Six Very Dangerous Men and at least Six Very Dangerous Women.  To help myself keep on track, I’m posting it chapter by chapter on Goodreads.com, right here.  You can check it out, if you wish – I adore comments, suggestions, and all feedback.  I’m trying to put at least one new chapter up a week, as I write it.  Slightly scary proposition, since I could easily write myself into a corner I can’t get out of, but it worked out okay last time…and it was fun.  And it kept me focussed, since there’s nothing like a message in my inbox, begging for a new chapter, to inspire me to write another ten pages instead of just sitting down to watch t.v.

And in the wider world of Cool Things, my deeply beloved author Scott Lynch is back from his mysterious disappearance, and is regularly blogging on his livejournal account once more.  He says he’s deep in revisions of the next Locke Lamora book, so I can finally breathe once more.  And better still, he’s posted author notes to the first chapter of Red Seas Under Red Skies, AND a first chapter of his upcoming novel, The Republic of Thieves. Right here.  I’m so conflicted.  So far I haven’t read it, because I’m one of those people who don’t read advance chapters.  Ever.  I’d rather wait and sit down with the entire book – it just feels so much more special.  But part of me just wants to make an exception.  Because it’s Scott Lynch.

BUT.  And here’s where it gets so cool I just might be about to pee myself, Scott Lynch is also writing a different, non-Lamora novel, and he’s posting it chapter by chapter on his website. For free.  Because he loves us, (and maybe he’s just a little sorry he vanished for so long?).  Go here.  Go now.  I have yet to read it, because I’m savoring the anticipation just a little bit.

qmain

What else?  The glory of that has temporarily blocked all blood to my memory…

Oh yes.  Bloglovin’.  Ever had that feeling that you read too many blogs?  And while you keep checking your favorites over and over hoping they’ve blogged something new, other blogs just keep slipping through the tracks and you don’t remember to check them for 6 months?  Been there, done that, will never do it again: I’ve discovered Bloglovin’.  Thanks to a reader of my site who apparently has my very own blog saved to that site (the incoming address showed up, and I got curious), I’ve discovered how awesome this site is.  You simply save all the addresses of the blogs you like to this site, and it checks them for you.  As soon as one of those blogs updates, Bloglovin’ shows a link to it on your personal Bloglovin’ page.  You only have to visit one page for all your blogging needs!  And if there’s a particular blog entry you like and want to save, simply click the little red heart next to it, and Bloglovin’ saves that entry for you on a separate page.  So you will be able to find it easily and visit it whenever you wish.

Before I found this site, I was using MyYahoo to keep track of my favorite blogs, but it lists the last five posts for every blog you follow, no matter how long it’s been since the blog updated.  Bloglovin’ shows only the new posts, so you don’t have to remember if you’ve read a particular entry or not.  My most genuine thanks to the reader of this blog who inadvertantly led me to Bloglovin’!!!

And finally, here is what’s stuck inside my brain this week:

Too much eye make-up, dude, but the song’s friggin’ addictive!

Book Snobbery

Someone I know asked how I liked this YA book she knew I’d been reading.  When I shrugged and said that the plot had sounded really good, but the book hadn’t lived up to my hopes for it, she said:  “I bet you wish someone would re-write it for adults.”

At the time I let it go, but the more I think about it, the more this sort of “adult book snobbery” is starting to offend me.  I see examples of it all the time, people who come into the library and ask for a specific book, but when I lead them to the Young Adult section, say “Oh, I didn’t know it was a kid’s book” and leave without it, automatically assuming (like the woman in the first example) that books written with children in mind are somehow below par.   And sometimes they are, of course; there are sub-standard books written for children every day and an unfortunate number of them are published.  But there are also plenty of sub-standard books written for adults. A good, well-written story cannot be predicted by which side of the library it’s shelved on.

Thankfully, but gradually, this perception is beginning to change.  Look at the success of Harry Potter; whole families (including grandparents) all reading and loving the same series of books.  Lest the adults who shy away from “children’s fiction” be embarrassed to be caught reading them, the publishers even came out with an “adult version” of Harry Potter – the same book, only with a less childish cover!  And now there’s the success of The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman.  When he turned the manuscript in to his publishers, they didn’t know what to do with it; was it for children?  For adults?  Which side of the Great Divide was it to shelved on?  Finally, they came out with multiple versions of the exact same book, ones to be shelved with the adult books, and ones to be shelved with the children’s fiction.

One of my favorite quotes by C.S. Lewis states: “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest,” and this is absolutely true.  No, I don’t wish that YA book I didn’t enjoy was ‘re-written for adults’.  I wish it had been written well, period.

“You have to write the book that wants to be written.  And if the book will be too difficult for grownups, then you write it for children.”

– Madeleine L’Engle

“Writing for children is bloody difficult; books for children are as complex as their adult counterparts, and they should therefore be accorded the same respect.”

– Mark Haddon

“You must write for children in the same way as you do for adults.  Only better.”

– Maxim Gorky

“There are good books which are only for adults, because their comprehension presupposes adult experiences, but there are no good books which are only for children.”

– W. H. Auden

The Tweet of Disappearing Authors

I was doing my daily check of author Neil Gaiman’s blog (for those of you who don’t know, he’s funny, witty, very down-to-earth, and his blog is frequently charming in a number of different ways), and discovered he’d answered an interesting letter from a fan.

The fan wanted to know if Neil thought that author George RR Martin was breaking faith with his fans by not publishing (as of yet) the next book in Martin’s epic series.  The fan wanted to know whether – in this age of Twitter, blogs, and Facebook – George RR Martin has a responsibility to keep his fans informed on his writing progress.

Neil’s answer (short version):  George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.

http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/05/entitlement-issues.html

Which made me laugh, because while I too am awaiting the next volume of A Song of Ice and Fire, I’m also a writer.  And I understand how these things go, how you can’t always put a noose around your muse’s neck and drag her to your laptop.  And I can only imagine how annoying all those rabid fan emails must be, baying for the blood of your next-born novel.

But still.  If an author has made the effort to reach out to his fans via a blog or tweets, and if he knows he’s waaaay past his publishing deadline, wouldn’t it be at least common courtesy to let the fans know what’s happening?  I haven’t been following George RR Martin’s blog all that much, so I really don’t know what he’s done to notify the fans, but I’m thinking of another author here: Scott Lynch (whose book I am honestly more excited about than Martin’s).  Scott built up a relationship with his fans, answered letters, replied to comments on his livejournal, and then missed two book deadlines and…dropped off the face of the earth.  Completely gone.  As in nothing left to Google.

I really, really, don’t think I’m asking him to be my bitch because I’d like to know whether he’s still alive.  If he’s got personal stuff going on, fine.  He doesn’t have to go into detail – or any sort of detail at all.  But a brief note saying he’s alive would be nice.  Which, yes, he finally did – two years after his infamous hungover livejournal post (which led to all sorts of speculation that he had dropped of alcohol poisoning, that he had fallen to WarCrack, and all sorts of even more outlandish fates).

So please, to you authors out there with personal traumas, stubborn muses, or general visibility issues….just a little tweet next time before you disappear?

Of Seagulls

I had a conversation with a friend about my favorite birds.

#1 Ducks.  The way you feel when you see a human baby?  That’s the way I feel when I see a duck.  That makes me weird, I know, but I grew up handraising ducklings and taking walks in my garden with my Indian Runner, Sebastien, him heeling perfectly beside me, while we discussed the flowers and the work that needed to be done.  He had a lot of very insightful things to say.  If I’d understood Quack, I’d have picked up a lot of helpful tips.

#2 Crows.  How can anyone not like crows?  They’re so gothic and clever and interesting and opinionated – more like people than a few people I know.

#3 Seagulls.  And here’s where my friend stopped believing I was telling the truth.  He simply couldn’t believe that anyone would choose seagulls over something like, say, a meadowlark.

So partly for George, here’s a list of why:

1) Seagulls are art on the wing.  It fills me with pure wild happiness to watch them soaring and balancing on the wind, their long and delicate wings tipped to catch the blue of the sky.  No other bird flies with such grace.  I could watch them for hours – and I have.

2) Songbirds may have prettier songs, but the cry of a seagull is melancholy given voice.  It tears into me and sends shivers through me.  I count the seagull’s call as one of my favorite sounds – and not just measured against other birds’ songs, but against the world itself.

3) Seagulls have such personality.  Sit and throw french fries to a group of them, and after twenty minutes you’ll be able to tell each bird apart just by its personality.  Some are bullies, some shy, but even the shyest has a brashness, a bold belief that, yes, he is a marvelous bird, and deserving of respect.  We humans could learn from that.

Seagulls are a glory in this world, and people who think of them merely as “garbage birds” miss out on seeing so much.  People are conditioned, I think, to love songbirds, admire eagles, respect owls, and be charmed by chickadees and hummingbirds, but none of those birds are any more marvelous than a seagull.  It’s just that seagulls are so common that we overlook them, the way we overlook the reflection of mud puddles, and the magic of every ‘commonly’ exquisite thing.  That’s a great pity, and our great loss.

For myself, I never fail to look up in parking lots and parks, beside the water, and over the asphalt, seeking the glint of a soaring white wing, and listening for the shivering lonely cry.

If I could be any bird in the world for a single hour, I’d choose to be a seagull.  They fly the way my soul flies.