The Fictorians

Archive for the ‘The Writing Life’ Category

Write On

29 August 2014 | No Comments » | frank

TimePieceHave you ever heard anyone say, “Wouldn’t it be great to go back in time to high school and re-live those days knowing what we know now?”

I’ve always thought, “No way!”

If I could take my hard-won experience back in time, it wouldn’t be to high school. Maybe to college. At least then I’d be an adult and I could apply that knowledge to something useful. High school was a pretty crazy time. I didn’t know who I was yet, and no one around me knew who they were either. Getting stuck there with the wisdom and experience of an adult would probably drive me nuts.

There are no shortcuts to wisdom, and that’s probably a good thing.

One ancient proverb says:

Wisdom is knowing when not to do something stupid.

Wisdom is gained through experience after doing something stupid.

We can’t go back in time, but enough wisdom has been shared this month to prevent us from wasting a whole lot more time than we might have to if we all had to learn it all the hard way. I’d like to thank everyone who participated this month. Writing is a long-term commitment and the journey is rarely a simple cruise with smooth sailing. Then again, it’s from those struggles of life that we glimpse the greatest truths and learn the hard-won lessons that really matter. Hopefully now we understand a little better how to pick our battles.

Thanks to the excellent guest bloggers this month. Mark Leslie, Bobbi Schemerhorn, Lisa Mangum, Brian Herbert, and Peter Wacks.

At the beginning of the month, I suggested we’d hear some great advice, and this month’s posts exceeded my expectations. I hope you enjoyed the outpouring of hard-won wisdom and can apply some of it to your life and/or your writing.

Write on.

Notes to My Younger Self

28 August 2014 | No Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Mark Leslie.

Mark Leslie at 13For almost as far back as I can remember I knew that I wanted to be a writer. One of the most prevalent memories was the summer that I spent down in the basement hammering out a Dungeons & Dragons inspired fantasy adventure novel. There I was, thirteen years old and hunkered down with my notes, my hand-written first draft, my research material and the typewriter, working hard at typing the revised draft of what I felt was an epic that the world was eagerly awaiting: The Story of Aaron Boc. The rise and fall of a noble barbarian whose name would ever be hailed in the history books of my fictitious universe.

My friends were out on their bikes, hanging out at the beach or playing football or baseball to pass away those two precious summer months that seemed so fleeting to a child. And I remember, clearly, feeling the angst of not being with them, not participating in the social activities that I really wanted, because, to me, finishing that novel was something I wanted even more.

So it seems that, even at that young age, I knew in order to be a writer, you had to actually write. And that meant making time for writing, which often involved sacrificing other activities that you might be doing at that same time. I later found a quote from Hugh Prather from his book Notes to Myself that reads: “If the desire to write is not accompanied by actual writing, then the desire is not to write.

So, no, I wouldn’t go back to ensure that my younger self knew the importance of carving time, ideally every day, in order to write, and that would mean lots of sacrifice.

I might be tempted to ensure that the thirteen year old Mark knew that it was okay to suck in the first draft; that you could always revise and improve upon mistakes from the first draft when you wrote the second one. But it appears that the thirteen year old Mark who hand-wrote the first draft before typing in the revision had already begun to appreciate that concept.

But when I look at this young and eager writer, I do find something that I believe I can share with him after three decades of experience as a writer who has come to embrace both traditional publishing and self-publishing.

I think I might tell him that, despite his deepest inner belief and the thrill coursing through his heart, that the world isn’t waiting to read his stuff.

Yeah, I know, it seems cruel to tell him that, but that statement would immediately be followed by the fact that while the world isn’t just waiting, breathlessly, for his epic novel, there WILL be people who will enjoy his writing enough to eagerly anticipate his next piece. And THAT is what counts.

No, there won’t be hoards of people flocking to bookstores asking, every day, if the next Mark Leslie book has arrived. But there will be some folks who, having enjoyed his previous works, seek out his latest.

The lesson, I suppose, is for him to not lose focus on the story he is trying to write, and ensuring it’s the best possible story, true, entirely, to itself, and nothing else, if perhaps a single adoring reader. That if he pauses and tries to consider the larger picture, of how that story might appeal to a broad, mass audience, he might lose sight of the actual readers who are quite pleased with the words that naturally flow from his pen.

Write the story you feel deep inside. Be true to the tale that you are creating. Don’t worry about whether or not the masses will love it – worry about whether or not you love it, whether or not the story is honest and real. Be true in that first draft, and then work at polishing and carving out the uglier bits in the second and third drafts.

And sometimes the entire manuscript becomes an ugly bit that will never see the light of day, but indeed does contribute greatly to your craft and skill. The Story of Aaron Boc and the sequel novel written the following summer, The Search for Aaron Boc remain in drawers and will likely remain there permanently. They weren’t the best written books, some might even suggest they were terrible, but they were written with heart and passion, and the process of writing them taught me so much about the mechanics of plot and sub-plot, of character and setting. I had to write those novels in order to hone my skill. And that ongoing learning as a writer never goes away.

Oh, and I’d also suggest that the younger Mark enjoy the feeling of having hair while he still can, because as fleeting as the thrill of having finished and published a work can be, so too can that fleeting moment in life where one’s hair is thick and rich and full.

But if I start offering advice about things like that, we could be here all day. And you have stuff to write, don’t you?

Mark LeslieGuest Writer Bio: Mark Leslie lives in Hamilton, Ontario and has been courting a serious addiction to writing since discovering his mother’s Underwood typewriter at the age of thirteen. The editor of speculative fiction anthologies such as North of Infinity II (2006), Campus Chills (2009) and Tesseracts Sixteen (2012), Mark also writes a series of non-fiction paranormal books for Dundurn which include Haunted Hamilton (2012), Spooky Sudbury (2013) and Tomes of Terror: Haunted Bookstores & Libraries (2014). Mark’s first full length novel, I, Death is out in the fall of 2014. When he’s not writing, Mark tacks “Lefebvre” back onto his name and works as Director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations for Rakuten Kobo, Inc. where he heads up the Kobo Writing Life team.

Images: 1) Mark Leslie at the age of thirteen, working on his “epic fantasy novel” while his cousins play video games and his Baba tries to get him to stop writing and come eat some lunch. 2) Author pic

It Will Not Always Be Easy

27 August 2014 | No Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Bobbi Schemerhorn.

There are so many things that I would tell myself in the beginning. I walked into this career path with my eyes shut in many ways. I thought that my writing could do no wrong, that there were only minor skills to improve upon.

So in the beginning when I first started my Guardians Series I sent out several chapters to a friend to read. The woman whom I sent them out to was extremely critical of them. She was harsh with her critiques and I felt attacked in many ways. My arrogance was my undoing, her words hurt me, deeply.

My response to this was to quit, I walked away from it for many months, even years. I now doubted my story and my ability to tell it. But I wanted to write, I felt it in my bones, I knew in my heart that I was meant to write. I felt at peace in many ways when sitting behind a keyboard or with my pen in hand telling my stories.

So I returned to the book with open eyes, knowing that I was in no way infallible. I had so much to learn, I’m still learning every day. Although critiques can be harsh and painful at times to take, I do my best to see them for what they are. Not sharp daggers intending to kill my writing spirit but rather a gentle hand guiding it into a brighter light.

My advice would really come in two parts. The first one being, don’t give up on your dreams. There are always going to be obstacles in life. School, work, kids, spouses, etc., so you need to make time for it. There is nothing easy about being a writer, its hard work. So make sure that you want to be a writer as badly as you need to breathe.

My second piece of advice is, see the criticisms for what they are. Take the notes that are most helpful, the ones that are aimed to help you improve and disregard the rest. There will always be people out there that will want to see you fail. But the people that matter in life want you to have nothing but success.

I know that the strongest piece of advice that is given all the time is, grow a thick skin. That is sound advice, but I don’t think that it is always appropriate.

To say grow a thicker skin may not be the words that I would use. Because I feel that it doesn’t always fit the situation. An old African proverb said: When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.

This work isn’t easy, it’s challenging, frustrating, and sometimes even heartbreaking. But it is worth every word, sentence, paragraph, and second.

Bobbi SchemerhornGuest Writer Bio: Bobbi Schemerhorn has always come up with wild stories and characters since a young age. Many played out in school yards role playing but never written down. Till she entered seventh grade her teacher had handed everyone journals to document their weeks events and activities. Instead of speaking about her weekend, she created worlds and people within them. As the years passed the writing ceased and did not return again till her early thirties. When the characters and world for the Guardians Series came to life for her. It took many years of encouragement from her husband before she gathered the courage to follow a dream that had always been in her heart. Now she spends her time doing what her soul always knew she should be doing.

Future Wisdom

26 August 2014 | No Comments » | Tristan Brand

I’ve got a few things I’d like to relay to various past versions of myself.

To eighteen-year old me:

You love reading. You do it all the time, especially when you should be doing other things, like paying attention in biology, or sleeping (though, granted, that’s hard to do when you’re reading Stephen King). Half the time you’re not reading, you’re daydreaming about fantastical worlds, places, and people. Sometimes you even open up a word file and type a few sentences to start off a story.

Why then, have you decided you can’t be a writer? I know you think it’s magic, that it requires patience and care you don’t have, but you’re wrong. Writing is a skill like anything else. That it looks like magic at the end is a function of the time and work the authors put into developing it. You can do that too, if you only believe it’s possible.

Sure, maybe you don’t have time, with college just around the corner. But if you aren’t going to start writing now, make sure it’s for the right reason, and not because you’ve given up before you’ve started.

To twenty-seven year old me:

Great, you’ve just written your first novel! It has a plot, an opening, something vaguely resembling a middle, and a climax. You know it’s not exactly a Hugo winner, but you’re proud of it, and man, now you’ve got a plan and a schedule. Four practice novels a year for three years. Add in some critiquing, self-reflection, and a few workshops, and you think you’ll have it made!

The optimism is admirable, but it should be measured. There are difficulties in writing you don’t get yet, and you’re raising the bar so high it’s going to be hard not to fail to reach it. Again, it’s okay to stretch – but be sure you know you’re stretching. Writing is hard. Make sure you give yourself the time to appreciate that before declaring yourself the next Brandon Sanderson.

Finally, the immensely wise future-me has been kind enough to step in and give yesterday’s me some advice:

Yeah, your planned weekend of writing turned out mediocre, at best. Sort of like the rest of the year’s writing sessions. And yes, it hurts. You’ve got some hard problems to work through that you’re not going to solve over night. But remember that you have a vision and that people believe in you. It’s not going to become any easier, but every day you write – even when it seems like the writing sucks – is a day closer to the novel you know you’re capable of being done.

And don’t forget to have fun. After all, that’s the reason you started doing this in the first place.


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