Some days the well fills faster than others…

I think I might have posted on this before, but I firmly believe that creativity is a finite well. For creative people, and I count myself among them, the desire to create fills up steadily and itches to be released. That release can be through writing, art, or even work, if you happen to have a job that involves building something with a lot of independence and flexibility. In fact, that is dangerous for writing, as the well can be emptied at work and leave only exhaustion for other creative outlets at the end of the day. I’ve had a number of days like that. Good for those who look for work to fulfil that desire, dangerous for those who wish to write.

So if you have a boring and monotonous job, congratulations! :)

The other challenge with the creative well, is that sometimes going to it too often scrapes the bottom dry. Sometimes it helps to let it fill up, take a break, and then come back later. But this is a dangerous line to walk too, as it can slip into procrastination! And not writing makes sure you get no books into the world, whatever else you’re doing (writing posts like this included, ironically).

When I was learning art, I learned to switch back and forth between drawing new things (outlining) and doing monotonous non-creative work (coloring and shading) to always be able to use time effectively, whether the well was full or not. Maybe I should try to segment my writing better to be able to switch back and forth the same way. Maybe this means having two projects going at the same time, and alternating creativity and editing. It’s an interesting idea.

But one thing I know, the worst thing you can do is try to scrape the well dry. You’re only going to burn out and either come up with an empty bucket (a bad book) or a lack of enthusiasm to go back to the well at all (burning out and not wanting to write at all).

Why am I writing about the Well now? I’m not getting much done and trying to approach that problem in a thoughtful way. Part of my current challenge is priorities (work, kids, and moving), where writing falls a sad fourth, unfortunately. But I also want to make sure that I have the motivation to get back to writing when I have the time. That I don’t burn out the well, or scrape it painfully. I love writing, and want to feel the desire and reward that comes with it. Right now, I’m not sure I have that balance exactly right…

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The image is an oldy, a pencil drawing of a shield in a river. I think the rough water and ominous mood is appropriate here. :)

And on the personal side, we have sold a house, bought a house, and moved in this week. Overwhelming, particularly with my escalating work demands. But I love the new property, which includes a pool, which I’ve never had before, and it’s nice sometimes to shake things up, even if it means muddying up the well. :)

Wag that Tongue. Dialogue is how we get to know people

It may sound incredibly obvious, but in real life, the most common way for us to understand someone’s personality is when we hear them talk: the words they say, the way they say it, the topics, the tone, and the body language. And yet, sometimes in stories, we skip conversation for interior thoughts, assumptions, and the narrator telling us why someone is doing what they are doing. Why? Why ever replace a powerful relevant conversation that has a place in the story with exposition (non-dialogue) instead? This is something I’ve caught myself doing recently and am trying to fix. I think the answer is it’s easier. But easier isn’t better. Those words, even if they’re incredibly obvious and expected, help build character in a way that actions and expressions don’t.

I remember when I was a teenager, before Kindle and story samples online, that I would flip through books to get a sense of writing style before buying a book. And I would put one back down that had too little conversation (I remember some with almost none). I didn’t know why, but those books felt sterile and dense to me. They weren’t as fun or easy to read.

Dialogue is a great benefit to our writing. Don’t neglect an easy benefit to your writing! Let your characters talk…

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I had some fun painting the Broken Cowboy / StoneDragon cover image. It’s not done yet, and this was a quick snapshot with a cheap camera in bad lighting, but I’m looking forward to when it’s done. I’m also on vacation, getting a little bit of momentum going again on the story, which is nice. At this point, I’m just focused on ‘chopping wood and drawing water’, getting the revised words on page and letting any judgement on quality wait until the end. The only thing worse than an imperfect book is no book at all!

The Beauty of Clean Tight Lines… In a Book

The curve of a sports car.

A silhouetted woman’s form. Or man’s.

A whippet in motion.

Strength, simplicity, power. It comes from tight, focused, and uncluttered composition. It is that wow factor, that comes from seeing something that seems almost effortless, but comes from a lot of behind-the-scenes work, whether that’s Tesla’s engineering department, a person’s well-used running shoes and weights, or the many squirrels that a whippet pursues in its joyful life.

We should aspire such an outcome in our writing too.

I’m not saying I’ve achieved that plateau. Or that it’s easy. In fact, it’s hard. It shouldn’t be so hard, but it takes a lot of polishing to get that kind of effortless perfection. And lots of false starts. Kind of like my early dating life. :)

But as my significant other is small and wonderful, so too should be your paragraphs.

(That should get me in the good books for an hour or two. At least until the mess by the kitchen sink is discovered…)

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This image is a 30 minute doodle while I was watching the Voice. :) Of a whippet obviously, which was the breed of our last dog. They are beautiful to watch in motion.

On the personal life side, I got swamped with house selling and buying and work, to the point little creative stuff was happening, but managed to tidy up an entry for Writers of the Future yesterday, and I also finally finished binge reading Robert Parker’s Spenser series. All 40ish books in about 3-4 months, I think. 😀 So I am hoping to have a bit more creative time this summer, maybe even do some drawing.

I’m a bit torn on StoneDragon, as I’m not feeling much creative drive to work on it, but I do want it finished, in the best shape it can be, or else I’ll feel even worse for leaving it half-finished. So I’ll try to kick my butt into gear on that too… It’s a good story, but I’ve lost perspective on it, and it’s a grueling thing to do so many edits. Oh well, hopefully I look back on it one day as a worthwhile exercise, one way or the other.

 

What makes a good Fantasy Story

Not that it’s easy to do, but this is what I think is needed, as I hammer up from little to big (not the way you’re supposed to learn, but in writing, it’s like catching fireflies to get all the writing advice you need, so in some respects, it is the only way to learn). So big picture, I think you need:

  1. A sense of wonder (an emotional reaction, created through: premise, which in turn encompasses: setting, big picture conflict, magic system, character types and attributes)
  2. A cool plot, that catches interest early, picks up speed, and ends in a crescendo (plot, obviously)
  3. A song of emotion, through the story (have the character FEEL intensely, see the story through an emotional lens, have it tie together consistently and have clear backstory to create it, and clearly share it to the reader in your scene and POV choices).

Three things. Simple, in a way.

Execution, however, is incredibly difficult and complicated. And, of course, execution is 90% of the battle. But that first 10%, getting the big picture right, is essential. If you miss that, you miss it all…

(I might have to revisit my writing mountain and refresh the top layer. It seems to tie into that thinking)

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This is another sketch from StoneDragon (Broken Cowboy), for one of the characters which dances along the line between good guys and bad guys. I apologize for slowness on my progress here (or should I? Some days this seems like a big assumption that anyone cares. :) ) But even for me, it’s quite discouraging that I’m still early in the most recent structural edit. I’d give a lot to be working on a new, fun and exciting story instead, instead of something that is feels so chewed over. But anyway, I will finish it. One day. One way or another! 

If you haven’t guessed, I’m feeling a bit run down, and (evident from the less frequent posts) very stretched for time. We have been house hunting, just bought a new house (after several auctions), and now have to sell our home. Work is still crazy, to the point that the older kid wants to know why I’m working so much more, and why I don’t find another job, and it’s not easy to fit writing and art into what is an exhausting schedule already.

But I’m trying. It may just be slow. Hopefully the rest of the stuff slows down and my battery recharges…

You don’t sand a tree to get a table (Priorities)

My first job was in a woodworking company, which made custom cabinets and furniture. We lived in a small town and I was fifteen and wanted to save up for a car, so I walked around town, handing out my carefully thought out CV (grass-cutting for allowance money, etc). The family-run woodworking shop must have had the same cutting edge attitude as I did, because they said ‘sure’, and put me to work right away—literally. I dressed up for what I thought was an interview in a nice sweater and they put me to work on a big belt-sanding machine right away. At the end of my efforts, they hesitantly told me to dress more appropriately for the next shift.

So what has this got to do with writing? Well, what I quickly learned was that you do things in a certain order. The company would get great big sheets of wood, then plan what the pieces they would need to cut out, cut it on a great ban saw (I saw that saw fling a chair across the room once, when someone wasn’t holding on properly, so cool), sand it, dowel it, seal, and stain or lacquer it. And that sequence never changed. Because it would be a waste of time or materials to do it any other way. You measured and planned what pieces you needed first, so you didn’t waste the great sheets and people’s time experimenting with different sizes and seeing how they looked. You cut the wood down before sanding, because why would you sand what you never planned on using? And in fact, I once got in trouble for sanding a part of a table that no-one would ever see or touch. Why waste the time they were paying me for to do that? It was a waste of money and time. No-one would ever know the difference.

It’s taken me a while, but it’s finally sinking in that it’s the same with writing. It’s very tempting to write the chapter of a first draft, then go back and polish the language. Make the dialogue better, correct the grammar, tighten words. It makes me happy. But it’s also wasting time. My time has an opportunity cost. If I was paying me by the hour, like my old woodworking boss did, I’d be livid. Because the scenes are not yet cut to size, or attached in the right order. It’s like I’m cutting down a tree, giving it a few swipes of sandpaper, then taking out the chain saw. It’s the wrong order. It doesn’t hurt the project, but why on Earth am I wasting the energy and time? There are better uses for it.

So when you’re writing: plan, write, do big picture edits (chopping, resizing, shuffling things around) and THEN polish. Tighten your words, dialogue, and shine at the end, not the beginning.

And if you do get an interview at a small woodworking shop, you may not want to wear your nicest sweater. :)

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An oldie but goodie image. I like this little dragon a lot. If I had more time, I’d do more art like this (posed more dramatically), but work is very consuming right now, as I may have mentioned. Not that it’s bad, just a lot to manage, so I’m struggling even to keep my StoneDragon edit going. Art has unfortunately taken a backseat. Hopefully that will change at some point…