Category Archives: Writing

Tips and Tricks for Balancing Life and Writing

Writing is hard enough without having a life to live on top of it. Right now I’m back to working full-time while my co-worker is on vacation. It’s a temporary arrangement, but it has reminded me how hard it is to find time to write, especially when you have a full-time job, are a student, or have children.

While I can’t claim to have the perfect solution, I have been at this long enough to have some advice for you writers out there struggling to find time for your craft.

Prioritize
As with any long-term goal you set out to accomplish, if you want to write a book you need to make it a priority in your life. However, you have other priorities, too. Obviously you need to make sure you eat and sleep. Having income (and therefore, a job) is important to provide that food and the roof you sleep under. Then, we all depend on our relationships with others and entertainment. This list is kind of rough, but you get the picture. Our lives are busy. If you find you don’t have time to write but you want that time, you have to do without something else. I am lucky enough to have a flexible employer, so I made the switch to part-time at work. It meant less money in our bank account, but it was a sacrifice I and my husband were willing to make. If cutting hours at work isn’t an option for you, perhaps consider cutting out some pleasure time in your evening. Instead of watching a TV show, spend half an hour working on your book.  Both Samantha Shannon and Veronica Roth wrote their debut novels while still in university. Both said they had to give up things to do it.

Schedule
Scheduling your time more deliberately goes hand-in-hand with prioritizing. One problem I often have is letting other activities, like errands, get in the way of my writing time. Not everyone does well with a schedule, but I recommend trying it all the same. Perhaps, one day a week, make a spreadsheet of the rest of your week. Work out what you have to do and how much time it takes. Schedule whatever time you can to write, whether it’s fifteen minutes or two hours. The next part is the trickiest: stick to your schedule! It’s hard at first, but once it becomes a routine, it’ll make things a little easier on you, and your craft will benefit from the regular work.

Get Help
Maybe you have already tried prioritizing your life and working out a schedule and you still can’t find the time. In this case, it’s time to reach out to those in your life who care about you. Going back to my job situation, it would have never worked if my husband was not fully on board with me contributing less income. Perhaps you could ask a friend to watch your kids one day a week so you can have some alone time to write. Maybe a friend at work could trade shifts with you. We all need people to help us get through life. Just don’t be afraid to ask.

Plan For the Future
The sad truth is sometimes we go through periods in our life where it is impossible to find the time. Perhaps you’re a stay-at-home parent in the Yukon with no nearby friends and no time to yourself. Maybe it’s the busy season at work and you’ve been asked to work overtime. Maybe you’re a student. When I was a Sophomore in university I had to choose between writing a book and attaining the goals I set for myself in school. It was a tough decision, but I realized that I couldn’t do both and decided to postpone working on a book until I graduated. Making the decision to put off my big project helped me to focus back on my studies. These sort of life situations are often temporary. We will graduate. Our kids will start to go to school. Our jobs can change. If you can’t find the time to write now, work on a plan for the future when you can write.

So, does anyone else have any life balancing tricks you can pass on?

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My Favorite Writing Advice Blogs and Resources

I spend a lot of space on this blog offering advice based off my own experiences. This is my blog, after all. But, I feel I would be doing a disservice to all of you writer’s out there if I didn’t also share some of the goodness I’m learning from other blogs. I’m semi self-taught as a writer, and I owe a great deal of what I know (and what I therefore pass on to you) to many different, invaluable sources. So, what follows is a list of my favorite blogs and writing resources. I hope it’s as helpful for you as they have been for me.

Writing Advice Blogs
WriteWorld: Offers various writing tips as well as “Writer’s Block” exercises.
Small Blue Dog Publishing: Great advice for writing, traditional publishing, and self publishing. Her beta reading advice was particularly helpful for me.
Slithering Ink: Very thoughtful, general writing tips as well as book and movie reviews.
Yeah Write: More of a community base than strictly an advice blog, offering loads of resource links, ways to connect with other writers, and inspiration.
Legit Writing Tips: This blog offers loads of tips and answers reader questions regularly.
Writing With Color: A very good blog for any writer, but especially if you’re considering writing the stories of people of color.

Author Blogs
Fishing Boat Proceeds: John Green’s Tumblr blog. He mostly just reblogs/shares, but occasionally he opens his Ask Box.
Samantha Shannon: Samantha Shannon’s Tumblr blog. She regularly answers questions about the publishing and writing process and is also generous with reblogging other writer’s advice.
N.K. Jemisin: Author N.K. Jemisin’s blog. I only recently found this blog, but she gives great advice. Also, she talks about video games, which rocks.
Kate Elliott: Kate Elliott’s blog. Another great writer offering really good advice.

Resource Links
Behind the Name: A good jumping off point for finding character names. However, be wary if picking a name from an unfamiliar culture. It’s always best to do further research.
Good Reads: A good spot for connecting with other writers or your readers if you have published work.
TV Tropes: Despite its title, this site is not limited to just television. Great for checking your story for problematic tropes.

Do you guys have any favorite writing advice or author blogs?

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Four Teas for Writing

All writers should be familiar with the soothing powers of tea. Aside from numerous health benefits, tea can be used as a mild stimulant to get your brain working or a sedative to help you relax and recover. Case in point: I’m in between revisions of Footfall and looking to find other things to keep me occupied. Spending time worrying about starting my next draft just makes me unnecessarily anxious. So, I’m taking a short break from writing and I’m enjoying several regular cups of my favorite herbal and rooibos teas to help me relax. It’s a simple pleasure, but sometimes returning to simple pleasures is just what we need to make it through a difficult period of time. Here are a few of my favorite teas for writing, whether I’m powering through a draft or trying to recover from burnout.

Jasmine Green Tea
Brand: Sunflower
Why I Drink It: This is a very straightforward green tea with a very nice jasmine flavor. Unlike some jasmine teas, it doesn’t taste like it’s been sprayed with perfume. Also, the caffeine level is moderate, so it’s a good drink for when I need a mild boost but don’t want to be up late.
Where To Find It: I’ve seen it in several Asian groceries stores and I know Amazon sells it as well.

tea1

Summer Evenings Herbal Tea
Brand: Victoria’s Lavender
Why I Drink It: As with most herbal teas, I find the warmth and smooth flavors help keep me calm, if not down right drowsy. Also, this is a very satisfying blend of flavors, none overpowering any other. It’s good hot or iced and is what I’m drinking right now to help me relax.
Where To Find It: You can order it online here.

No. 18 Georgian Blend Tea
Brand: Harrods
Why I Drink It: This black tea blend is smooth but powerful, packing a nice punch of caffeine. I used to drink it in college when I needed to stay up late. This tea also goes nicely with cream and sugar, a little bonus when I feel like treating myself.
Where To Find It: Harrods in London or you can order it online. However, shipping to the US is nearly three times the cost of the tea, so be warned. As far as I can tell, Amazon does not sell it.

tea2

Market Spice Cinnamon Orange Tea
Brand: Market Spice
Why I Drink It: Mostly I drink this for sentimental reasons now, since it was a favorite of my mother-in-law. However, this tea does stand on its own two feet, offering a robust orange-cinnamon flavor. Market Spice makes it in black or rooibos tea blends. Both are tasty, but the rooibos is caffeine free, which is a nice option.
Where to Find It: Their store in Pike Place Market, their online store, or Amazon.

Are you guys tea drinkers, or do you prefer coffee or something else? I like coffee, but have learned that it upsets my stomach if I drink it too late in the day.

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Filed under Inspiration, Uncategorized, Writing Advice

3 Recommendations for Finding Inspiration

I don’t actually believe in writer’s block. If the words don’t flow, there’s a good chance you are just bored with your project and you need to either a) figure out how to inject more energy into said project, or b) put the project aside and start something new. However, I do think that blockage of creativity can sometimes be caused by mental fatigue or a lack of inspiration. In this case, I have a list of recommendations that have always helped me get back into my groove

Exercise
In general, most creative types I know (myself included) are not very physically active. We like to read books, watch movies, and sink into indoor hobbies. However, I cannot stress enough how often I’ve felt mentally fatigued, gone out for a run, and felt 100% ready for more writing. There’s been a lot of research into the mental benefits of exercise. The American Psychological Association says here that exercise boosts mood and fights depression. The little mental boost you get from a game of tennis or bike ride might be just what you need to get through your creative slump. So, if you’re having trouble writing a scene or have been struggling with a project for a while, I suggest getting out and doing a favorite activity. It doesn’t have to be running. A nice nature hike or walk in the park could work, or anything else, really. Just as long as you get your body working.

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An inspiring view from an inspiring hike.

Art
Inspiration can come from many different places, including other forms of art. When I’m stuck on a story, sometimes I find sketching a character or a location can help me find that source of energy I’m lacking. If you haven’t explored art outside of your own writing, give it a try. You don’t have to be good as long as you stay relaxed. If drawing or painting doesn’t work for you, try more three-dimensional forms, like clay. If you can’t get into your own art enough to feel relaxed, try going to a gallery or looking at other people’s work online. Deviantart can be a great resource for finding fantasy or science fiction artists. Also, many reputable museums have online galleries which are FREE to access, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We shouldn’t forget poetry either. Sometimes the images or word sounds a poem produces are perfect creative fuel for getting back into your novel. So, if you’re not sure what art form will be the most inspiring for you, experiment and see what happens.

Adrienne__s_Library_by_CptHandel

A quick sketch I did a few years ago of a character’s room . Drawing scenes like this help me better understand my characters and get my creative juices flowing.

 

Music
I’ve already explained on this blog how I find music inspiring. Sometimes I can write to it, sometimes I can’t. However, I always find a story popping into my brain when a song plays. I find classical music gets me going the best, but everyone is different. If you don’t own a lot of music or want to explore other artists/musicians, try finding playlists on YouTube or Pandora of your preferred genre. If you’re looking to set a specific mood, 8tracks.com has a pretty nifty set up where you can input a variety of search terms and find user-made playlists. Live music can even be better, so look for concerts in your area or clubs/restaurants/coffee shops that host live musicians.

I hope these three recommendations for battling mental fatigue and finding inspiration are helpful. Do you guys have any tried and true mental boosters to help you write?

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Two Approaches to Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding is one of my favorite aspects of storytelling. Whether the story is fantasy, science fiction, or some dystopian future, a great world design can make or break a story’s credibility and inspire countless future stories. In celebration of this marvelous act of creation, I’m going to share two basic approaches to start building your new world.

But first, let’s discuss what worldbuilding actually means.

Forgotten_villa_by_CptHandel

Sometimes I like to start my world building by sketching . Here’s a building I sketched for one of my older stories.

Define: Worldbuilding
Worldbuilding is the creation of an imaginary setting, whether it be a small town or an entire universe. These imaginary worlds should have internal logic based on geography, history, biology, and so forth. They can be used for fictional novels, video games, tv shows, movies, and pretty much any other story-based media form. The best created worlds serve the story, enriching the setting of the characters and plot but not overwhelming them.

There are many aspects of a world you can latch onto when starting your story. However, I’ve found that there are two basic but reliable approaches to starting the worldbuilding process.

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This is Ofrina, an early map of a continent I created. I used political map because I was trying to decide the country borders.

Top Down Approach
A fairly common approach to worldbuilding is what I like to call the top down approach. The concept is simple: you start with the details of the world you want to build, and then work backwards, figuring out the world’s history and so forth to support the end product you want. For instance, say I wanted to tell a story where my main character was a member of a tribe of blue-skinned people. To build a world to support this idea, I’d need to work backwards, and ask myself questions about how this group of people came to exist. Are they the only blue-skinned people in this world? Were they created by a higher being, or did they evolve? From these questions, I can start to branch off these few details I know and create a fully realized world.

The top down approach has its positives and negatives. It works well because it allows for a clear picture of the end product. In this way, it’s easier to not forget the story and be overwhelmed by the immensity of an imagined world. It helps with early character creation, too. However, if the creator doesn’t have a clear understanding of what the world should look like when they start, the top down approach might cause more problems than it solves. If I change my mind and make my blue-skinned people have the ability to fly, I might have to go back to the drawing board. So, for people without a clear picture of what sort of world they want their story to be set in, it’s better to start with the bottom up approach.

The Bottom Up Approach
The bottom up approach begins with the very foundation of the world you’re going to create. Basically, you start with creating a world (earth-like or not) to serve as your canvas. To this, you add geography. What does your world look like? Also, it’s a good idea to decide how the sciences play out in your world. Some storytellers are happy saying that physics, biology, chemistry, and so on are just like earth’s. That is just fine. However, if you want to play around with those, feel free. Just make sure you research things so they stay internally logical. If you want to build a world where photosynthesis doesn’t exist, you better know what photosynthesis is and why it’s important for plants. Now is also a good time to decide if your world has some special aspect, such as magic or a unique energy source.

Once you have your foundation, it’s time to add the people/life forms that inhabit this world. How does this environment affect them? It’s probably not a homogeneous group (and if it is homogeneous, you better have a darn good reason why), so adding various cultural makeups is a good idea. From here, it’s a matter of figuring out details like language, politics, history, and so on before refining the final product to fit your story. It’s important to keep that internal logic you spent so much time crafting, but you also want to make sure you leave room for your story. Hopefully a this point your imagination is firing on all cylinders, and you’ve found a great source of conflict or a really interesting idea for a main character.

So, how do you guys feel about worldbuilding? I’m considering writing a second post with finer details about what we need to think about when we build a world, like infrastructure and political systems. Would that interest people?

P.S. Sorry I missed last week’s post. My husband and I were a bit under the weather, and also I’ve been trying to finish my latest draft of Footfall.

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My Characters and a Q&A with the Artist Who Drew Them

Oscar and Mary Drake. Art by Michelle Luise.

 

I’m so excited today. Why? Because I finally have a visual representation of my work-in-progress’s main characters, Oscar and Mary Drake. This picture is so beautiful. I love the lighting, particularly how it streams through the trees. I love how you can get a little glimpse of Oscar and Mary’s personalities just by seeing their faces. It’s just so AWESOME!

I’m also pleased as punch to say the picture was drawn and colored by artist (and good friend) Michelle Luise. She did such an amazing job. What’s more, she agreed to answer a few of my questions on her art and her process. I hope you guys enjoy this interesting insight into an artist’s world!

H: How long have you been an artist? Did you go to school for it, or are you self taught?
M: That’s a bit of a tough question! I’ve enjoyed creating art for most of my life, but I would say that I really started to draw consistently around 2001, so I guess about fourteen years at this point! I’m primarily self taught, though I did take art courses throughout my college career, as well as several courses over the past decade dealing with graphic design. It’s been in the last four years that I’ve begun to take art more seriously as a potential career path.

H: What is your favorite medium to work with?
M: My work is done primarily using digital means, and I would say that is my favorite medium to work with! I currently work with a decade old Wacom Intuos 3 tablet, and the bulk of my work is done using Paint Tool SAI, though I will occasionally use Manga Studio/Clip Studio Paint for inking. Working digitally allows for me to cut down on art supply costs – while a tablet and art programs are expensive up front, I don’t have to worry about the costs for canvas or paper, etc. When it comes to traditional mediums, however, I do enjoy working with charcoal or graphite.

H: When you decide to draw a person or a scene, how do you start? Is the picture fully formed in your mind at the beginning, or does it take shape as you go?
M: It depends on the piece! A lot of time, when I’m constructing a piece, I do have one particular part in mind but not necessarily the entire image. I will often times know the expression that I want, or I know one tiny piece that absolutely needs to be included, and the whole image can be built around that. A recent piece I did, for example, was constructed around wanting to draw two characters clasping hands – from that point, I worked to figure out how the rest of the drawing would work in relation to that part of the pose. For the painting of Oscar and Mary, I decided early on that I wanted to position Mary facing the viewer, with Oscar behind her. Their exact poses changed a few times, but where they were in relation to each other stayed the same. Other times, I will have a set goal in mind when working – I want to use negative space effectively, or I want to use a particular color scheme. There are, of course, times when I have a full, complete image in my mind. Actually, at initial concept stages, I do almost always have a complete image. However, I try to focus in on what parts of the piece I consider the most important aspects and work around those, and I do try to be flexible, as sometimes the complete image I have in my mind does not translate to a drawn image quite how I envisioned it.

H: Are you strictly interested in producing portraits/drawings, or would you also consider working on cover art or book illustrations?
M: I would absolutely consider working on covers or illustrations! In general, what I most enjoy drawing is the human face and figure, but that by no means limits me to only portraits. I have actually done some work in the past with designing book cover images, and I’m currently working with a close friend on a short comic. Drawing more complete scenes and paintings is something that I am certainly interested in working on more!

H: Are you currently accepting commissions?
M: If I was answering this yesterday, I would say yes, but I am now actually fully scheduled with commissioned work! I will likely be opening up commissions again in the next few months.

H: Where can people see your art work?
M: I am currently working on putting together an online portfolio where people will be able to view my artwork, though I do not yet have this up and running. This is another thing which will be hopefully up and running in the next few months!

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Four Great Female Friendships From Classic Literature

Literature is full of great, timeless friendships. Currently, however, there is a scarcity of really great female friendships circulating publishing these days, especially YA. This is sad, because with all the great heroines we’re getting, it seems a massive oversight. Look at The Fault in Our Stars, a great YA book with a female heroine and no important female friendship of note. Or, even consider The Hunger Games. Again, there is a strong female character, but Katniss’s most important female friendship is with her little sister (who she sees almost as a daughter to be protected).

I’m so interested by female friendships because I see them as a key cornerstone in establishing more diverse books. If a story’s heroine has a solid relationship with her female friend, it also goes to say that the book has more than one female character. Also, the great friendships show that a woman can draw strength from her relationships without having to relate through a man.

So, to remind the world that lady friendships can rock in works of fiction, here are my four favorite female friendships from classic British Literature*.

Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Lucas: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The relationship between main character Elizabeth Bennet and her friend Charlotte Lucas offers a great example of a female friendship. Both women depend on the other for emotional support. Even though Pride and Prejudice is seen as a great romance novel, Elizabeth and Charlotte’s relationship is not defined or motivated by either one’s relationship to Mr. Darcy, Mr. Collins, or any other man. Another reason Elizabeth and Charlotte’s relationship is so great is because it’s not even intrinsic to the plot. I feel a lot of writers worry that if they invest too much into a pair of characters’ relationship to one another, it’ll overshadow another relationship. However, with Lizzy and Charlotte we see a natural, important female friendship that does not overshadow any other aspect of the book. Another bonus to Pride and Prejudice is that Elizabeth is really good friends with her sister Jane as well. So, we not only have one great female friendship, we have two!

Lizzy and Charlotte

Besties through and through

 

Jane Eyre and Helen Burns: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I first read Jane Eyre  at a point in my life when I still enjoyed reading romance, and petulant, Byronic male love interests were my favorite. However, if we look at the tragically short relationship between school-aged Jane Eyre and her friend Helen Burns, we see a beautiful female friendship. What I love most about Helen and Jane’s relationship is how much Jane grows from it. Jane has a hard upbringing, but from Helen she learns not just kindness, but also how to deal with the idea of people not liking her through no fault of her own. This is a hard life lesson, but a genuine one that Jane carries with her for the rest of her life. 

Beatrice and Hero: Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Cousins, Beatrice and Hero are an example of how even relatives can become great friends. Beatrice teases Hero about her affections for Claudio, and Hero schemes to get Beatrice and Benedick together. Their affection for one another is genuine and free of petty jealousies and rivalries. In fact, when Claudio accuses Hero of being *ahem* not a maiden and breaks off their engagement, Beatrice storms into one of my favorite lines in the play:

Is [Claudio] not approved in the height a villain, that
hath slander’d, scorn’d, dishonour’d my kins-
woman?–O that I were a man!–What, bear her
in hand until they come to take hands; and then,
with public accusation, uncover’d slander, un-
mitigated rancour,–O God, that I were a man! I
would eat his heart in the market-place.

You read right folks. Beatrice just threatened to eat the heart of the man who scorned her best friend. It’s just so awesome. There’s so much solidarity between Beatrice and Hero.

beaucoup de bruit pour rien

“Touch my cousin and I’ll cut you like a fish!”

 

Clarissa Dalloway and Sally Seton: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
There’s a passion and uniqueness to Clarissa and Sally’s relationship. Clarissa loves Sally’s lack of inhibition and frankness. Clarissa even recounts Sally kissing her in the garden to relay an element of sexual tension in their relationship. What I love most about Clarissa and Sally’s relationship is how it spans years. It does not end with Clarissa’s youth, but continues on into their adulthood. Also, even though Clarissa and Sally have not seen each other for some time, when Sally arrives at a party Clarissa throws she still clearly considers Clarissa a very close friend.

 

So, what are your favorite female friendships? Can you think of any great friendships from modern literature, film, or television?

*I studied mostly British literature in college; hence, my favorites are all from British literature.

 

 

 

 

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Villains Part II: Crafting the Ideal Foe

Last week I discussed a few of what I see as the key archetypes for villains in literature and pop culture. I had a lot of fun researching it, but the discussion left me wondering what separated my favorite villains from the rest. In other words, what makes a good villain. Continue reading

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Villains Part I: The Archetypes

Villains are a great storytelling tool. Not only do they usually fulfill the role of antagonist, the opposing force to the protagonist, they also serve as a source of bad or evil in the world they inhabit. Without a villain, our hero’s morals would never be tested. Continue reading

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Seven of My Favorite Songs for Writing

Not every writer wants to or can listen to music while they write. I know there are some days where any form of sound, music or otherwise, will distract me or throw off the natural rhythm of my typing. However, there are times where I really do need music to help me set the scene in my head. For those times, I have a ready list of go-to tunes that help me reach my emotional center. Here are my seven favorite songs to listen to while I write. Continue reading

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