The Fictorians

Archive for the ‘The Writing Life’ Category

Beating the Learning Curve

1 August 2014 | No Comments » | frank

Better choiceLast month we explored the many reasons we love being writers and some of the things that help keep us motivated. Now that we’re filled with optimism and eager to get back to work, hopefully we can find ways to work smarter. The reality of writing every day can be tough, but we’re ready to face the truth.

Truth Number 1: Becoming a professional author takes a long time.

Writing is a process, an evolution of skill and craft and voice and a hundred other components all merging together to become something brilliant. It’s one of the few jobs that usually requires years of investment with no real promise of a profitable return to show at the end. Most people who follow the Muse and begin writing a novel never even finish. Those of use who do then learn that the writing of the novel was just the beginning. Still we slog ahead, motivated by those moments of excellence that remind us why we love what we do, and encouraged by the second universal truth of writing.

Truth Number 2: Determination and consistency matter more than simple brilliance.

Every established author repeats the same mantra: keep writing. Those authors who keep trying, keep learning, keep producing will eventually find some measure of success. This is a truth that is easy to lose sight of when we get discouraged by yet another rejection or by those debilitating second thoughts and self doubt. Just keep going and we’ll get there.

Of course some of us take longer than others. Writing is a learning curve, but some writers seem to enjoy a gentler slope. The rest of us make mistakes that delay our progress or we just take a while to learn important foundational principles. Could we have shortened our up-front investment time by learning things sooner, by seeing clearer?


So this month we are going to share advice we wished we had received earlier in the process. Imagine findingBack to the future a way to go back in time to visit yourself as a brand new writer, just starting out. Imagine we handle that time paradox well. Assume that we don’t just decide to focus our energies on making a quick fortune investing in all the things our older selves could predict would be winners. In fact, we focus the brief message only on writing.

What would we say?

What advice or encouragement would we give ourselves? What could we do to help ourselves find a better way to success, a greater mastery of craft? Would we even try?

This month, we’ll find out.

Hi! My Name is Nathan, and I’m a Writer!

31 July 2014 | No Comments » | Nathan Barra

Several years ago, my company sent me overseas for a few weeks of training. Since I was already enduring the long trans-Atlantic flight, I decided to take some vacation time to make the most of my trip. I booked my flight a week early, and paid out of pocket to delay my connection in Frankfurt. I had been wanting to do a backpacking-via-rail trip for a while, and so I booked a Frankfurt to London round trip in order to take the opportunity to spend 10 days exploring the stretch of the UK between London and Newcastle.

Knowing that one of my friends participated in an study abroad program during college in Newcastle, I asked her what I should do with my few days in the city. She recommended that I take a bus ride up to the gardens at Alnwick. As she told the story, the gardens were created in response to a local student dying from a drug overdose. The city decided to create a poisons section in their local botanical gardens with the intent of educating visitors on the dangers of drugs.

Writing BookshelfMost writers I know are gigantic nerds for trivia and other useless tidbits. I am no exception. Just take a look at the bookshelf I have reserved for my writing references and you’ll see why the idea of a garden devoted to poisons appealed to me. One morning, I made my way to the Newcastle bus terminal, and spent the some time watching the beautiful countryside. Before long, I made to Alnwick. After paying my entrance fee, I spent a couple hours wandering and admiring the gardens.

Eventually, I found the poison gardens, which occupy an open space roughly the size of a small parking lot. Alnwick’s Poisons Garden is sectioned off from the public areas by a heavy, black wrought-iron fence. The only access is a gate that is kept locked at all times and is decorated with skulls and crossbones. Hard to misinterpret the message even if you don’t speak the local language.

As I approached, the tour guide waiting outside the gate informed me that a tour had just begun. When I asked her when the next would be, she smiled and assured me that waiting would not be necessary. She would open the gate and I could simply catch up the tour.

Once inside the gate, the Poisons Garden didn’t appear to be significantly different from the larger public space. There was a small path that meandered through flower beds and the plants were protected by mesh cages to keep people from touching. Otherwise, the deadly plants appeared to be unremarkable. However, I listened to the last three quarters of the tour aptly, taking pictures for reference material, and writing notes as appropriate. Upon leaving the poisons garden, I saw that another group was already forming to start their tour.

In one of my less-than-bright moments, I decided to catch the first quarter of the tour with the new group. As it turned out, each of the three guides gives their own version of the 20 minute tour, and with over 100 plants in the Poisons Garden, there was plenty of material to choose from. Enthusiastic for new information, and not thinking about how it looked to the locals, I decided to join the third tour as well and see what else I could glean.

As I left the gardens for the final time, I found the first two tour guides standing together and casting nervous glances at me. Concerned, I moved close enough to eavesdrop and began digging through my bag. The word “constables” was especially alarming. I did not have the time to be arrested in a foreign country; after all, I had a flight to catch from Newcastle to London the next morning so I could continue on to my company mandated training. Thinking fast, I did the only thing that I could to avoid being arrested.

I walked up to them with a smile on my face and introduced myself.

“Hello,” I said, “my name is Nathan Barra, and I am a writer. I came to the gardens to do some research for a book. Thank you for the tours, they were very informative, but I was hoping that you ladies could clarify a few questions for me.” The two women who had just been looking at me as if I were prone to poisoning the town’s water supply lit up and became passionate about helping me. Turns out, the the information on the tours is nothing compared to what the tour guides will give you if you make friends.

And that, is why I love to be a writer. Yes, there is joy in creating, relaxation that comes from the control of an entire world, and the sense of pride and accomplishment from a completed book. But in the end, writers get to do, and get away with, things a normal person wouldn’t have access to in the name of “research.” I have writer friends who gone on special tours of NASA, have shadowed prison guards, and are on a first name basis with rock stars. All in all, the perks of being a writer are pretty sweet.

This month, you heard from Fictorians and our friends in the writing community about why we love being writers. I hope y’all have new insight into our worlds and some inspiration to pursue your own dreams and craft. Life is only as interesting as you choose to make it. So go out, and make awesome choices.

Small Compliments

30 July 2014 | No Comments » | Tristan Brand

Writing is a quiet hobby. You spend hours lost in your own mind, spinning scenes together strand by strand. Novels take shape slowly, over weeks or months or even years. The only immediate feedback are the emotional echoes in your head as you write, which for me alternatively love and despise each word with little rhyme or reason. Often after a writing session I’m left vaguely frustrated, uncertain if what I’ve done had value.

One cure to such solitary angst is to find like-minded souls to talk with. I’ve found that my favorite moments as a writer come in those conversations, often in the form of unexpected compliments.

The first few years I wrote, every week or two I’d call up my best friend Sean, and talk through what I’d been working on. Sean isn’t a writer, or even much of a reader, but he’s a great listener and would sit in rapt attention as I rambled on about my worlds, my characters, my plot. He’d ask questions, make comments. Those conversations were vital to my writing sanity. They gave me perspective and made it seem like I was doing something real and worthwhile.

Then there’d be moments where I’d say something and Sean would say, “Oh, that’s really cool.”

I’d paused. “It….is?”

“Yeah. I’d love to read about that.”

A year or so after that, I signed up for David Farland’s Novel Revision workshop. As part of the workshop each student supplied the others with the first twenty pages of a novel. Every day we’d go through the selection as a group, making comments. I remember the first sample I read. It was an urban fantasy piece and it was phenomenal. The writing was crisp with a strong voice and a great hook. It could have come straight from a bookstore’s shelf. Shoot, I thought, thinking about my own pages and how awkward they were. What was I getting myself into?

I went through the workshop, getting great feedback on my own piece, but still feeling a bit out of place. It turned out the writer of the urban fantasy and I really clicked, and at the end of the workshop agreed to stay in touch. We were chatting after, and I mentioned to her how good I thought her stuff was and how I figured she had to have been already published.

“It’s funny,” she said. “I thought the same thing about yours.”

I laughed, suggesting that was very nice of her to say that. But she shook her head. “No, I’m serious. It’s really, really good. You should absolutely publish it.”

It’s funny how big an impact small compliments can have. I can say with the utmost sincerity that conversations like that have kept me going. Even this year, with the day job taking up most of my energy and my projects not progressing the way I want, I’m reminded, every once in a while, that those whom have read my work sincerely enjoyed it, and look forward to what I produce next. A small audience of readers, but proof that perhaps I can one day have a large one. But even if I don’t, I’ll at least know I did something worthwhile.



My Writing Journey

29 July 2014 | No Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Monique Bucheger.

The journey of becoming a writer and/or a published author is different for everyone who does it. My journey began in high school when my creative writing teacher, Mrs. Johnson, encouraged me to transfer the stories in my head to paper. This endeavor started out as multiple class assignments and quickly turned into a love of storytelling. I wrote a lot of short stories in high school and then branched out into larger works.

Shortly before I turned 18, my husband proposed and I agreed to marry him. Everyone wished us well, except my creative writing teacher. She shook her head and said, “You are too smart to get married so young.” When I asked her what that meant, she sighed and said, “If you get married now, you’ll have a bunch of kids, but you won’t write the books that you need to write.”I assured her that I could do both.

Twenty-two years later, I had twelve kids (and am very grateful to have them) and no books, and was (and am) still married to the same man. Then one day, Mrs. Johnson’s son went up in the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and I started thinking about her more. In return, she began haunting me (she had died a couple years before). After I kept hearing her ask, “So, when are you going to write those books, Monique?” I decided it was time to keep my promise to her.

I remembered a fun, spirited twelve-year-old half-orphan I had created as a tween. Before long, I started writing her story. Then I wrote more of her story. And I kept right on writing. My “story” took on a life of its own until I had a book the size of four novels—which I broke into three.

Then the real work began. I exchanged chapter critiques with other writers and realized that simply writing 300 pages of a story didn’t make it readable and publishable. I met amazing people who took the time to explain what I was doing wrong—and right—with my storytelling and I learned the value of both editing your book until it shines and hiring a good editor to make it even better.

I found people like David Farland, an internationally best-selling author, who is also a wonderful teacher. His love of story and his knowledge on how to craft a great story is inspiring. Dave is open and approachable and willing to help those who ask. He has several online classes as well as weeklong workshops.

Life experience, interests, passions, and hobbies also have great bearing on how and what an author chooses to write. The years I didn’t write, I devoted to my family and became a foster mother to over 100 kids.

Now I write realistic fiction—think Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary—two of my literary heroes. The four published books in my “Ginnie West Adventure ” middle-grade series deal with tough subjects like child abuse, abandonment, being orphaned, and alcoholism in uplifting and empowering ways. It also deals with other subjects important to kids: friends, family, fitting in, figuring out how the world works, horses, finding acceptance, and other assorted adventures. I like to think the series does so with a bit of humor and grace.

I want abused kids—and the people who care about them—to make sense of a world they’d rather not live in and to realize certain things are not their fault. Most importantly, I want kids to know they have power to change things. Choosing how you react to an event—good or bad—is powerful. And whether you let it defeat you or strengthen you can be life-changing.

The truth is, real life can be messy and it can be hard. It can also be fun, invigorating, exciting, and full of wonder. I try to embrace each of these elements—and more—in each book I write. Recently—I have met several readers who have told me that my series has influenced them in a positive way.

Formerly abused kids (who are now adults) have found comfort in my series. Mothers have shared with me that they have read my series with their kids and had meaningful conversations about how child abuse happens and what it means to be a good friend—both subjects I deal with in my series in an age appropriate way.

Last month three different tween girls told me they love the relationship between my main characters, Ginnie and Tillie—fun-loving BFFs who are trying to figure out this thing called life—together, in spite of being tossed some pretty crazy plot twists. The girls really care about Ginnie and Tillie and want to know what will happen to them.

Not long ago, a friend devoured my first three books in two days and informed me, “You know the Wests are family now, don’t you? I love them.” It is during these moments I find validation and strength in my decision to become a published author … and these moments are why I keep writing.


Guest Writer Bio: When Monique Bucheger isn’t writing, you can find her playing taxi driver to one or more of her 12 children, plotting her next novel, scrapbooking, or being the “Mamarazzi” at any number of child-oriented events. Even though she realizes there will never be enough hours in any given day, Monique tries very hard to enjoy the journey that is her life. She shares it with a terrific husband, her dozen children, a son-in-law, an adorable granddaughter, two cats, and many real and imaginary friends. She is the author of several books and plans to write many more. Monique’s Musings can be found at:



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