Category Archives: Writers/Illustrators of the Future

In Favor of Failure – A Guest Post by Colton Hehr

A guest post by Colton Hehr.

“Don’t quit” is  one of the most common adages passed around the writing community. Don’t quit writing, don’t quit submitting, don’t quit your day job. We’ve all heard some variation or another and it’s not bad advice. Writing as a career requires playing the long game, so consistent effort is a prerequisite. Yet, at the end of each year, most of us can look at a check list of projects and find that we stopped working on one or set aside another. At some point in our efforts, we quit. 

If you asked most of us, we’d probably admit to quitting more readily than to failing, not only in writing but in other areas of our life: you rarely hear someone say “I failed my diet.” They say “I quit my diet.” Or “I quit going to the gym.” Or “I quit playing guitar.” We almost always couch these situations as quitting rather than failure. Failure has negative connotations and if we quit before we fail, then the failure never really occurs, does it?

I want to argue in favor of failure. I think it’s more useful to us as writers than quitting is. The terms might be synonymous to some people, but let me split hairs for a moment. Quitting and failure are only similar because they happen at the same time. To use a sports analogy, quitting is when you stop playing the game because you’re losing, and failing is when you play to the end and accept your loss.

The first reason I prefer failing to quitting is an unfortunate reality of commercial writing: I know that I’m probably going to suffer some failures or setbacks in my career, at some point, purely from circumstances outside my control. Maybe my manuscript gets passed in the slush pile because an agent has too many books from that genre. Maybe I send in a short story to an online market that goes under.  Any number of things could affect my career negatively, all completely outside of my control.

By holding myself accountable and acknowledging my own personal failures, I’m more prepared to deal with those uncontrollable failures.  It might be disappointing, but it won’t be debilitating. Our personal failures are sort of like callouses, they help us come to grips with whatever the world might throw at us.

The second benefit to failing is that I think we learn more from it than from quitting. When something ends, whether in failure or in success, there’s a sense of closure that quitting doesn’t provide (or, at least, that I’ve never felt from quitting). Failure is an important teaching tool in several endeavors, from music to athletic, and it can serve the same purpose for writers. 

Think of failure as a diagnostic tool.  When we acknowledge that we’ve failed, we can step back from the situation and examine it to find out what went wrong. When we’re at the point of failing, there’s three questions that we ought to ask:

1. What caused the failure?

2. Is it something that can be fixed?

3. If so, is it more beneficial to accept the failure and move on or to try and fix it?

As an example, I recently stepped away from a project in its outlining stage. I had been worldbuilding and outlining for what was supposed to be a horror novel. At some point, it evolved into a train heist story and I found myself stuck in a rut. Before I made the choice to set the project aside, I asked myself: 

1. What caused the failure? The setting gave me the opportunity to write a horror story, but my focus in the outline had drifted away from that and towards an adventure story. I’m not against organic story development, but the project had shifted completely from my original intent and it stopped me dead in my tracks.

2. Is this something that can be fixed? Yes. I could walk my way back through the outline and rework it from the beginning. I could set aside the first outline and start fresh with a new story, new characters, and a more conscious effort to focus on what I had originally wanted to write.

3. If so, is it more beneficial to accept failure or to fix the problem? In this case, I had another idea that I wanted to write, one that I felt was much more tightly focused. I also realized that, while the train heist wasn’t what I wanted to do in the first place, it still had the germ of a good story. In the end, I accepted my failure, set the project aside, and moved on to something else. I still have all the material, so I can come back to it another time, free from any of the frustrations that came from my initial failure.

Of course, a lot of the answers to the first question are outside of our control. Sometimes the “failure” is that we’re depressed, or that our day job has grown more demanding, or that unexpected opportunities have brushed aside other obligations. That’s okay; because failure isn’t negative, we don’t have to beat ourselves up over it. We can accept it for what it is and move on. When I looked over my list of 2017 projects, quite a few boxes were left unchecked. Each one of those was a failure and I did my best to learn from all of them. I don’t feel bad about a single one. 

Neither should you. Next time you feel like you need to quit a project, give yourself permission to fail and then learn from it.

 

About Colton Hehr:

Colton Hehr currently works as a direct care counselor in a residential treatment center for teenagers and adolescents. When he isn’t writing, reading, or lifting, he tries to pet as many dogs as possible. He lives in Norman, Oklahoma with his girlfriend Ariana. Colton’s first professional sale will be in the upcoming Writers of the Future 34.

Six Jedi Mind Tricks for Writers

A Guest Post by David Farland

    1. Write in your sleep. The day before you plan to write, stay up a little late and plot out the scene you will write. As you do, consider where it will be set, who will appear in it, when it will occur in relation to other scenes, who will be your viewpoint character, and what actions or changes will occur in that scene. Write a quick sketch of a paragraph or two about the scene, then go to bed. You subconscious mind will worry about the scene while you sleep, piecing it together, and in the morning it will appear vividly in your mind so that you write it with ease.
    2. Create a “Sacred Writing Space.” When you plan to write, some people find it helpful to write down the goal: I will write tomorrow from 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM. Then, when you go to work, do not let anyone violate your time. That means that you don’t check your mail or talk to friends on Facebook. Your writing time must be dedicated to writing only. If you plan to start at 6:00 get your butt in your chair a few minutes early, open your files, think, and begin typing at or before 6:00. In the same way, the space where you sit must also be dedicated to writing. Some people find that over time, they get in a habit of doing some things—like watching videos—in a certain chair. It might be difficult to break that habit consciously, so it may be easier for you to move your chair or move into a new room to create your sacred writing space. I don’t know why, but I tend to write with fantastic ease while sitting in airports.
    3. Shut the freak up. Doctor Jerry Pournelle once pointed out that the desire to write arises out of a profound need to communicate. If you stop communicating with others—by turning off your television and your radio, stop talking to friends, don’t answer emails, and simply let the silence grow around you, you will find that very soon your imaginary characters in your story will start speaking to each other, so that you will find yourself writing dialog. (This may take a couple of hours, but it works!)
    4. Put yourself in the writing mood. Sometimes you sit down at your writing desk and just don’t feel in the mood to write. You may be anxious about other things, or tired, or whatever. Don’t let your mood derail you. Simply close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, then remember as vividly as possible a time when you were writing freely and without effort and enjoying the act. Hold that emotion for thirty seconds. If you don’t feel ready to write, try it again, only time hold in your mind a time when you felt excited to right. Hold it for thirty seconds. If that doesn’t work, try it again, only this time sit and remember times when you receive praise or awards or publishing contracts for writing. Hold the emotion for thirty seconds. You will soon find yourself “in the mood” to write.
    5. Develop the habit of getting into your “Writer’s Trance.” We all have times when we slip into our imaginary worlds fully. Sometimes it happens when you’re driving, or exercising, or washing dishes, or late at night while listening to music. Once you find yourself in that sphere, simply stop whatever you are doing and write! I often keep a notepad in my car, for example, so that if I find myself vividly imagining scenes while driving, I can stop and take notes. In the same way, listening to music late at night often gives me inspiration, as does lying in bed and thinking about my book before I fully wake up. Find out what works best for you, and learn to court your muse.
    6. Learn to think. Many times, a writer will try to sit down to write, only to find that he doesn’t know what to do next. Perhaps a certain character’s voice won’t come, or the writer hasn’t plotted his novel well enough to begin composing. Many writers feel intimidated at this point and feel “stuck.” Instead of giving up, simply imagine that you are getting up from your “stuck place,” and you are moving to a more creative spot. In other words, focus your mental energy on solving you writing problem. Getting stuck is a common part of the writing process, and it’s perfectly natural. A real writer doesn’t give up—instead he begin brainstorming, thinking about how to handle the upcoming scene. Simply put, you have to brainstorm the scene, looking at it from all sides, until you get excited about writing it. As ideas come to you and you look at the scene from different angles, some of those ideas will feel so “right” to you, that you’ll find yourself growing eager. When you’re ready, just write!

David Farland:

David Farland is an award-winning, international bestselling author with over 50 novels in print. He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for “Best Novel in the English Language” for his science fiction novel On My Way to Paradise, the Whitney Award for “Best Novel of the Year” for his historical novel In the Company of Angels, and he has won over seven awards—including the International Book Award and the Hollywood Book Festival, Grand Prize—for his fantasy thriller Nightingale. He is best known, however, for his New York Times bestselling fantasy series The Runelords.

Farland has written for major franchises such as Star Wars and The Mummy. He has worked in Hollywood greenlighting movies and doctoring scripts. He has been a movie producer, and he has even lived in China working as a screenwriter for a major fantasy film franchise.

As a writing instructor, Farland has mentored dozens who have gone on to staggering literary success, including such #1 New York Times Bestsellers as Brandon Mull (Fablehaven), Brandon Sanderson (Wheel of Time), James Dashner (The Maze Runner) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight).

Farland judges L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future, the one of the largest worldwide writing competitions for new fantasy and science fiction authors. In the video game industry, he has been both a designer and a scripter and was the co-leader on the design team for StarCraft: Brood War. He set the Guinness World Record for the largest single-author, single-book signing.

David Farland has been hailed as “The wizard of storytelling” and his work has been called “compelling,” “engrossing,” “powerful,” “profound,” and “ultimately life-changing.”

What “Rejection” Really Means

A Guest Post by David Farland

For the last few weeks I’ve been scurrying to finish up judging on a large contest. I’ve had to “reject” thousands of stories. I hate the word “reject,” because it doesn’t really express what I want to say.

Very often I will read the opening to a story and it is obviously the first work of a very young writer. It may have a multitude of problems—from simple typos, to a lack of understanding as to how to set a scene, to clunky dialog. I know that I can’t accept the story for publication, but at the same time, I wish that I could shout some encouragement to the budding writer, much the way that my mentor Algis Budrys did to a young Stephen King.

I think that people need encouragement. It may be the only thing that will spur a young writer to greater effort.

So what does the word “rejection” mean to you as a writer? I think it’s simply: “Try harder.”

A lot of fine works get rejected. The bestselling works in nearly every genre experienced rejection. Lord of the Rings was rejected by several American publishers. Dune was rejected by all of them. Gone with the Wind made its rounds through every major publisher. Harry Potter was rejected by all of the biggest houses, and Twilight was rejected by a dozen agents before it got picked up—yet all of these novels became the bestsellers in their fields.

So does that mean that these were all bad novels? Of course not. It means that the author didn’t find an editor with a matching taste, a matching vision, right at the first.

Very often when I read a manuscript that is close to being publishable, I think, It’s a shame that the author didn’t try a little harder to . . . That’s what “rejected” means to me.

I was talking to international bestselling author Laurell K. Hamilton last week, and asked her to confirm a rumor that I’d heard. With her first novel, she received over 200 rejections before she made a sale. She said, “When people tell me that they’ve been rejected five or ten or twenty times, I just tell them that ‘I don’t want to hear about it.’”

Laurell has the perfect attitude toward rejection. Try harder.

davidfarland_storydoctor

How to Keep Your Writing on Track When Your Life Goes Off the Rails

A Guest Post by Kary English

2015 was one of the worst years of my life. As dramatic as it sounds when I type it now, the truth is that I lost six months of productivity because there was just too much to deal with and still be able to write. Let me give you a run down of the series of calamities I had to deal with.

I endured the wrath of the internet for six to eight months while the Hugo kerfuffle played out.

My best friend of more than 10 years succumbed to cancer. I had to leave a writing workshop mid-week because we’d been trying to squeeze in a final trip together and her doctors said “Go now.”

A family member slipped far enough into Alzheimer’s that she no longer knows us.

My son’s school was rocked by a shooting threat.

My husband had to take a pay cut, and then our landlord chose a major holiday to tell us that we had to leave our home of more than 10 years. Combined with the high rents in the town where we live, that meant uprooting my son from a school he loves, leaving all of our friends and travelling more than 200 miles to find a place we could afford.

Now that I’m through it, that I’ve survived it, it doesn’t seem as bad. But at the time it was completely overwhelming. Luckily, it taught me a lot and when Nathan asked me to guest post, I decided to share the lessons I’ve learned about how to keep your writing on track when your life goes off the rails.

 1) Be gentle with yourself

Self-doubt, impostor anxiety, survivor guilt, perfectionism, procrastination, distraction, denial. I can usually make three-of-a-kind or better from that list, and that’s on a good day. Add in a major life upheaval like the ones I was facing and the result was overwhelming.

Be gentle with yourself. Feeling overwhelmed doesn’t mean you’re weak, lazy or a failure. Beating yourself up if your productivity suffers only makes you feel worse, so let me repeat this again: be gentle with yourself.

If you’re grieving, give yourself permission to grieve. If you’re exhausted, give yourself permission to rest and recover. If you’re stressed and overwhelmed, give yourself permission to relax, do nothing and take care of yourself first for awhile. If you need help with something, give yourself permission to ask for it and accept it when it’s offered.

2) Get outside

Many writers are introverts, so when life gets bumpy, it’s tempting to hide out from the world until things get better. Don’t pressure yourself to socialize if you’re not up to it, but try to get some fresh air and sunlight even if it’s just a walk by yourself. I’m lucky enough to have a beach and a nature preserve within walking distance, and regular visits are not only good for my mental state, they’re good for my productivity, too.

3) Compartmentalize as hard as you can

When life gets chaotic, I need two things to keep working: time and focus. That sounds easy, but when life goes off the rails it’s almost impossible to get both together. Your solution may be different, but I cope best through vicious compartmentalization. I block off a section of time, turn off my phone and my internet, and for the space of that time, even if it’s only half an hour, I focus on my writing.

Sometimes I can accomplish this in my own home and sometimes I can’t. When I’m at home, I’m a wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend in addition to being a writer, and sometimes those roles conflict. When I’m at home, my name isn’t Kary English; it’s “Mom-can-I” or “Honey-where-did-I-put.” If things have been chaotic, there’s probably a mountain of laundry and other tasks that beckon with whispers (or shouts) of guilt and procrastination. So sometimes the solution is to go elsewhere–a coffee shop, my car down at the beach, or even a week in a hotel when I can afford it.

When I’m not at home I can let those other roles drop away for a little while and be just a writer.

4) Take a break if you need it

Sometimes the words won’t come no matter what you do. If that happens, it’s OK to take a break from writing. If you have to take a break, plan it. Make it explicit by telling yourself that you’re taking a break, and it’s OK not to write. Set a date to re-evaluate your situation and mark it on your calendar whether it’s a week, two weeks, a month or longer.

If you’re like me, not writing makes you feel guilty even when you have a crisis to deal with, and taking time to write makes you feel guilty for not dealing with the crisis. Making the break official relieves the guilt and lets you focus your full attention on the crisis. The check-in date is there to remind you that you haven’t quit; this is just a break.

If you find yourself feeling guilty about taking a break, go back to #1: Be gentle with yourself.

5) This too shall pass

No matter how bad something seems, it will end, things will stabilize and your ability to produce will return. Believe that, and trust in it.

2015 was pretty awful, but 2016? 2016 is going to be an amazing year.

Kary English:

Kary English grew up in the snowy Midwest where she avoided siblings and frostbite by reading book after book in a warm corner behind a recliner chair. Today, Kary still spends most of her time with her head in the clouds and her nose in a book. To the great relief of her parents, she seems to be making a living at it.
Kary is a Hugo and Campbell nominee, Amazon bestseller and Writers of the Future winner whose work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Grantville Gazette’s Universe Annex, Writers of the Future, Vol. 31 and Galaxy’s Edge.