Posted in Blog Post Museum

The Importance of Being Earnest: The Fiction Writer’s Purpose

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

 

Rose asked a question that I set aside, just for this article:

Personally, I’m looking for something that reminds me why I wrote in the first place since I’ve recently come to a crossroads in my life. If you can write stuff about the spirit of writing and what writing really means…

This is where I ultimately wanted to spin this series. Why does a writer write? What’s our purpose?

When Logic Gets in the Way

gotpurposeI’m a creative person. But I’m also a technical, logical person. This is good for the day job (technical writer), but not always so good for the creative side of things. I often get stuck on whether something I’m doing or creating has a purpose. I measure something’s worth based on the outcome and what it can do for other people. This includes my writing.

I suppose many writers are a bit like that. We search for an audience and hope our words have meaning for someone else. But what do you, as a writer, do when your logical side tells you to “stop that silly scribbling” or whatnot? How do you personally tackle the question of whether your writing has purpose?

I think this is especially difficult when you feel like your work hasn’t found an audience (or maybe it’s found an audience that tends to be shy to respond and identify itself). That’s the tough thing about being a creator. You never know whose life you’ve touched because, often, the important changes you’ve made within someone else are invisible to you.

In that way, I suppose looking for a purpose in your writing requires you to have faith in your message, especially in the beginning.

Authors’ Answers

I decided to do something a little different for this article. I had a few answers when I asked myself “What’s the purpose of a fiction writer.” But I wanted to do some extra research and brainstorming before I wrote this post.

So I took the question and posted it up on the Writer’s Forum in the Kindle Boards. For the most part, I got a lot of really good replies (from a lot of writers I haven’t met before, so these are totally uninfluenced answers).

The take-away I got from this is that authors tend to agree on a writer’s purpose overall. Some of these purposes are to:

  • communicate moral codes
  • maintain traditions
  • feed the human imagination
  • entertain
  • inspire
  • make people think
  • experience places and situations normally not accessible
  • create and spread myths
  • teach
  • create an emotional response
  • tell the truth unencumbered by the facts
  • sort through the author’s life
  • allow the author to find comfort
  • explore the human condition
  • explore the effects of humans on the human condition
  • provide an outlet to driven authors who simply can’t NOT write
  • provide perspective on reality
  • heal and reassure others
  • provide a means for an author to communicate to a reader
  • offer shelter from the hardships of life
  • help people stay sane
  • get in touch with something higher and bigger than ourselves
  • connect human beings together

Wow. If that’s not an inspiring list of reasons writers need to keep writing, I don’t know what is!

Talk to Me

  • Can you see a few points above that fit the purpose of your stories?
  • Are there things on this list that you never even considered your work could do?
  • Are there things on the list that you might want to focus on more when you write and edit your work?
Posted in Blog Post Museum

Shy Writers: Sharing Your Work

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

 

In the previous two posts of this series, I touched on the fears writers have that may keep them from sharing their work and how to deal with the different kinds of feedback and criticism. This time around, I want to focus on answering the original question, which was how to work up the courage to display your writing to people on the Internet. Some of the replies answered along the same lines as I would.

proudwriterFirst, I would start small. Find someone you trust to be your beta reader, someone who is going to provide you solid feedback that helps you to improve your work. If you can find more than one person and have a small group of writer support, that would be great, too.

Believe it or not, after revising my work, I feel more confident that it’s in better reading shape than before I’ve made any changes to it. Having feedback from other writers or readers helps you to polish your work. And once you’ve polished your work into something you’re proud of, it’s not so scary to post it to a larger audience later.

If you have the opportunity, try to take a writing workshop in your community or in your school. This was a mandatory part of my writing degree and it really helps to work up your confidence. It really helps to learn that most of the other people taking the class are as nervous as you are when it comes to sharing writing! Plus, the act of giving and listening to other writers’ feedback helps you to develop an eye for better self-editing and makes you a stronger writer over all.

Join or create a writer’s critique group online. This is similar to the writing workshop idea. I’ve considered founding one of these in the past, but have just lacked the time to get something like that off the ground.

Once you have a bit of confidence, try something a little larger.  Join a writer’s online forum that allows you to post and critique work or ask for help. This can be a place to step it up some by sharing your writing in a writing section of a forum for only the forum community. Once you get feedback there from multiple people, and continue honing your work, you’ll find yourself becoming less and less nervous about showing your work.

Join public RP groups if you enjoy role play online. This helps you to write and share your writing with other people and become less nervous to display your real writing over time. Basically, anything that makes you flex your public writing muscle will over time give you confidence.

Just keep in mind to choose your editors, groups and forums wisely. As with anything online, there will always be a few people who come around just to hurt other people’s feelings and cause drama. This is when you have to go back to determining if an  individual’s feedback is worth letting your feelings get hurt, or is genuinely something that can make your writing stronger.

Q&A

What other things have you done to work up your courage in showing your writing online?

Do you have any experiences with writing groups, and if so, any suggestions on how to find them, what to look for, or what to be careful of?

Posted in Blog Post Museum

Shy Writers: Dealing with Feedback

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

feedbackAs I stated in the previous post, one reason writers may be afraid to share their work is a fear of rejection or criticism. While no one wants to hear people bash in their writing, the truth is, feedback, editing and proofing is all part of the process. That doesn’t mean all feedback is created equal, though.

Listen to any professional writer, or even your writing professors, and they will all tell you that to be a published writer, you have to have thick skin. Pretty much every published writer (even your favorite author) has been rejected — sometimes many, many times — before they found a place that accepted their work. This has, up until now, been one of the most difficult parts of the publishing process. I say “up until now” because with the dawn of the digital era, writers can now skirt around needing an agent or a publisher and go directly to online eBooks and print on demand.

To learn and grow as a writer, you have to be able to disconnect from your work enough to see the value of other people’s feedback. You have to be willing to scrap what doesn’t work, edit what does work, and polish things to a gleaming shine. This sometimes means making difficult choices and going against your emotions. It sometimes means having the courage to let other people into your world so that they can help you make it better.

Types of Feedback

There’s a few different kinds of people who give feedback, some more useful than others.

The I Like It. These are people who probably really do like your work, but don’t know how, or don’t feel qualified, to offer suggestions for changes. They try to be a good friend, though, and encourage you to keep going by telling you what you hope to hear – that your work is good and someone likes it. However, that doesn’t help you make it better. If you have friends like this, don’t get too frustrated with them. Just recognize they’re probably not going to be the ones to go to if you want serious suggestions. (Though sometimes if you ask a few “why” questions, or for very specific feedback, you can get a bit more out of them!)

The Trollface. These are guys who never like anything and rarely have anything nice to say. While there might be something useful in their drivel, I’d take it with a grain of salt and not try to sift through the garbage too much. Chances are, they’re not trying to help and only trying to bring you down.

The Nitpick. These are people who can get annoying, but actually may have good points for you to consider. They often pick about every little fault they find (which can be annoying), but some of these faults may be good questions to ask yourself about your story and characters. If you deal with a Nitpick friend, insulate yourself and know that you don’t have to change every little thing that someone else suggests.

The Balanced. These people are hard to find! Not only are they honest about what they do like (and tell you why they like it), but they also are honest about what doesn’t work in your writing, and are not afraid to tell you. They are really trying to help you make your writing a better piece and tend to offer you good suggestions from a reader’s perspective.

In the end, you as the writer must decide what is best for your story.

At the same time, don’t dismiss an idea just because it hurts your feelings. Try to be open to ideas that other people offer you without losing your own identity. Writers have to create a feedback filter and learn to identify what will make the work stronger in the end. Writers also have to create soul shields and not allow the writing sprit to be crushed when you deal with people who simply have nothing better to do than criticize.

Approach sharing your writing as a learning experience or another form of brainstorming. Let your writing be fluid and always ready to change, never set in stone.  Don’t take feedback personally and learn to identify people who honestly want to help. Those are the people you want to keep sharing with – just make sure you let them know how they’ve helped you and how you’ve implemented their ideas!

Don’t let fear of criticism be the thing that keeps you from opening the doors to other people. If your favorite authors have lived to see many rejections, know that you’re not alone. It’s those who keep writing despite the rejection that eventually make it.

Q&A

  • Do any of your favorite authors talk about their experiences and rejections before becoming published?
  • What sort of feedback helps you most in your writing? Do you keep an open mind when editing your work?
  • What sort of feedback do you give other people?
Posted in Blog Post Museum

Shy Writers: The Fiction Author’s Fears

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

 

In a previous article, I asked if authors had any concerns about the move to digital publishing. Quinis asked a very good question that I wanted to examine in a full-blown post series:

How did you get over the hurdle of showing your work to anyone and everyone?

forever-aloneI don’t know if most people around Sygnus realize how terribly shy I really am. Maybe it’s because I’m chatty in comments and posts online. But the truth is, I don’t talk about my creations, writing or art with people who aren’t a part of the website community. Most people IRL have no idea I’m a writer, artist, webcomic/webmaster/geeky gamer girl (well, if they stumble upon this blog, I guess they know now). I’m terrified to show someone face to face my stuff . But posting things online? Not so scared. I can’t tell you why.

Writers (especially shy ones) have it hard. On one hand, we create things with the express idea to share our creations with others. On the other hand, we pour our hearts and souls into our characters, plots and creations, so much that we fear displaying our work should we have to experience the disappointment of rejection. This rejection can be in the form of other people’s criticism (even helpful criticism can be scary sometimes) or the form of having no one pay attention at all!

So let’s take a look at what we’re afraid of and how to face these fears!

The Root of All Fears

So how do you get over the hurdle of showing your work to a vast audience online? The first thing I’d do is ask yourself WHY are you afraid of sharing your work with other people? What do you feel you have to lose?

Completely normal fears about sharing writing include:

  • My writing sucks (and no one will like it).
  • My writing is unoriginal (and no one will like it).
  • No one will read it even if I post it (Forever Alone).
  • People will think my ideas are stupid (and no one will like them).
  • People will think I’M stupid because of what I write (and no one will like me).
  • OMG… I just re-read what I wrote a month ago and now I think it all stinks (and I don’t like it)!

Let me tell you a secret. I think most writers, even writers you think are good at the craft, have been hit (hard!) over the head with one or more of these self doubts. I have. Every single one of those thoughts has afflicted me at some time or another. You’re not alone! 

Our writing reflects a deep, sometimes secret, part of ourselves. It takes a lot of courage to open the doors and let other people in. We don’t know if others will understand our stories, our characters, and ultimately us. That’s a scary thing to face!

Another scary thing to face is criticism, even when it’s helpful feedback. In my next post, I’ll talk a little about how to deal with criticism. Then, I’ll work on a post that gives some tips in breaking the ice and working towards overcoming the fears that keeps us from sharing our writing with others.

Q & A

  • Have you ever felt any of the above fears as a writer?
  • Do you have additional fears or doubts that you can add to the list?
  • What did you do to overcome these feelings?
Posted in Blog Post Museum

Q & A: Hand to Hand: Neglected?

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

 

I was wondering if you could give me tips on how to write hand to hand combat. I know I should be more specific, so I was think outside of the realm of weapons and more into the realm of grappling and martial arts. I know a few things, but it’s not enough to help my figments. We would appreciate your help!

Rose

I consider hand to hand a very personal type of combat — after all, you’re bashing faces and making pain with your own body. That’s a lot different than busting butts with a weapon. When you go in with just your fists, the way you fight tells a lot more than just your battle skill.

If you want to write believable hand to hand battles, you may need to study what you’re trying to write. This might take some time, but you will certainly learn things about combat and about your figments that will carry over to writing battles of all kinds.

Personality & Philosophy

Photo by By clear_image@sbcglobal.net
Photo by By clear_image@sbcglobal.net

If you’re thinking martial arts, don’t just think about action and movement. Consider it an extension of the warrior’s personality and philosophy. Many martial arts have codes and ideas that warriors uphold — some may be a bit more stringent than others. That’s when becomes a mindset more than just a method of battle. If you are developing a hand to hand style for a figment you know well, keep that in the front of your mind. Study the styles of martial arts that exist in your world and find a philosophy that seems to fit the character you are writing for. Consider morphing it into your own school of fighting, perhaps.

If you don’t know the figment well, choose a style that interests you and see what you can learn about that figment’ s philosophy and personality based on that. How much do they follow or stretch their code when they fight? Do they like to go against the grain? Do they like to spice it up in battle and keep the opponent guessing? Or are they like those darn Smash Brothers button-mashers who stick to the moves they know best and repeat them over and over and over… *huffs*

Resources to help:

Study Movement

Once you have a good idea of the philosophy behind the combat style, do some video searches. Watch marital arts practices, drills and competitions on YouTube. Just make sure you’re watching the authentic stuff. Also watch the screw-ups — all warriors who aren’t as cool as me will make mistakes sometimes. Watch the mistakes and figure out how they might fit into your writing and make your fights interesting.

Plan the Environment

Just like any other type of battle, your hand to hand fights aren’t being fought in a vacuum. Set the stage before you write the fight and decide what props surround your warriors. The better you can imagine it, the more options you can give your warriors. Is there terrain that makes it easy or hard for them to fight? Are there buildings and structures they can use to duck and hide or bounce off of? What’s the weather like — does it help or hinder the fight? Don’t be afraid to let them fight dirty — dirt in the eye, throwing something at the opponent, using something as a temporary shield.

Storyboard It

Once you have an idea of the style and the environment, consider drawing a short storyboard. This can just be frames of stick figures acting out the battle on paper. It gives you an idea of the flow and helps you create a timeline of events in a battle. This can be especially helpful if you have a long battle or a series of battles to plan. It also prevents you from coming up with a really cool move and forgetting it later when you try to put it into words. Just remember to stay flexible with the storyboard and don’t get overly involved. It’s a planning tool, not something set in stone.

Resource to help:

Writing It

When you write a hand to hand fight, consider all the senses that come into play in the battle. Unlike a fight fought with weapons, you don’t have all the clangs and slashes and bashes of metal. But you do have parts of the body coming into contact with the opponent’s body. What does that feel like? Bones breaking and organs bleeding? The nasty clammy skin of some guy from the other side of the bar who hasn’t washed in weeks? Can you smell him? Can you taste sweat in the air? What kind of damage are you taking? You feel the muscles working hard?

Really jump in the warrior’s shoes and make it a personal battle. Keep sentences short and to the point to speed up the action. Choose language that fits with your fighting style. Is it ruthless and bloodthirsty? Is it measured and precise? Is it honorable and patient? Is it defensive or aggressive? You’ll be surprised how much detail you can still squeeze in there if you consider the type of words you choose.

Hope that helps you out, Rose!

Posted in Blog Post Museum

Q&A: Mapping Your World

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

 

I have a question about cartography, actually. You see, I think my story could be a whole lot easier to write and much more realistic and interesting if I knew specifically where everything was, instead of ‘village x in the east gets attacked and the heroes flee back to the capital’ sort of vagueness. But I’m not sure how to start. I have a bunch of rough map drafts, but a lot of things on them are quite arbitrary and could move around at a whim. Flairé would help me out if he could, but his memory is so hazy it’s not really very helpful.

How should I go about this?

Thank you!
Illinia

middleearth
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth

Hey there, Illinia — thanks for the great question! As a matter of fact, map-making was something I’ve wanted to touch on for a while. So I appreciate you giving me the chance to talk about it.

I fancy maps, myself. I feel that creating a map of your fictional world is not only a great tool for reference, but a great process for learning more about your world. Putting a map down on paper helps to make things more solid in a visual way while promoting geographical consistency in your world. There’s nothing worse than writing a piece and accidentally contradicting yourself location-wise simply because you haven’t nailed down a map for your own reference!

I’d say, the first step is to have fun with it. Don’t take it too seriously or it’ll become something more overwhelming than it needs to be. You mentioned having rough drafts, and I think this is a great way to approach map making. You are world building… and like everything that you build, it will develop in stages, possibly over periods of time. So don’t get frustrated with yourself for not having all the answers from the get-go.

A map doesn’t have to be a work of art, either. Draw some upside down “V”s and you got a mountain range. Some squiggly stuff works as a forest. A patch of dotty land is a great representation for a desert.

wheeloftime
Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time Map

Start with what you know. Nail down the location of your major cities and big points of interest for your story. Just suck it up and put some dots on the page.

Consider what climate and land-type surrounds your people and their settlements. Or vice versa — sometimes the culture and the people will tell you what sort of climate they should live in. Do you have sea-fishing peoples? Great excuse for creating their own little sheltered bay… or stormy ocean. Do you have folks in the desert? Throw a dangerous desert surrounded by tall mountains that harbor that one safe oasis of life.

Consider the traveling distance between locations. Have you already written about some of these places in your story? Go back to your scripts and see how much time to took to move from place to place. That will give you an idea of how close or far away to put your major locations on your map.

Allow the flexibility for future expansion. Know that any map you create is a work in progress. You and your characters are always going to make new discoveries that you can pencil into your map as they come. Give yourself some space to do that… there’s nothing more “blah” than a world where you already know it all!

Eddings-Marked-Maps
David Eddings’ Marked Maps

Developing the map can go either way. You may learn more about the landforms as your characters travel through these places. Or you may wish to have the basic climate and landforms already drafted on the map to help give your journey a foundation. Maybe a bit of both.

Check out maps of stories you enjoy and study them a bit. It’s always good to have references on hand. See as a reader what you felt worked or didn’t work in those maps and use the best aspects to help develop your own.

Here is a great little article that helped the development of Dreigiau maps. May you find some of this information here, or there, of help!

Posted in Blog Post Museum

Genetic Creativity

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.
23andMeLogo_MagentaLimeSo today I spat a ton of my DNA in this little plastic tube, sealed it up and will mail it off to 23andMe tomorrow. Doesn’t sound pretty, I know. But that’s apparently how they run DNA testing.

Not that I know a whole lot about DNA testing — it was my birthday present from Syn (when it was on mega-sale for DNA day). She got her own DNA tested earlier this year and found some really interesting things about her history, ancestry and her genetic make-up. She says there’s even a gene that tells you how creative you are in a genetic sense. Very cool!

It’s a curiosity to think that people can be born with a creative gene. It makes me ponder if there are different kinds of creative genes — genes for those who love to write as compared to those who love to draw, make music, design crafts or build things with their hands. Or if it’s all a certain gene-type that says “Yo, you’re creative! BAM!” and then your upbringing and environment helps to guide you toward what sort of creativity you have.

Just curious ramblings! I’ll have to do some research to find out. Or maybe some bio-wonder could drop a line and tell me how it works!

Either way, my spit is in the mail tomorrow. Yummy!