The Fictorians

Get out of the Way

21 August 2014 | No Comments » | Jace Sanders

turtlesRather than discuss what I would tell my earlier self, I decided to write about what I tell my children.

From age six to about nine or ten, I spent my days with two turtles, Sammy and Willy. They travelled the ocean stirring up trouble, then mystically transformed into astronaut bears who made it an effort to visit all the forests of the universe and then somehow mutated into aliens that went to scout camp. My friends grew as I grew and helped me experience fantastical adventures.

When I wasn’t with my turtle-bear-alien friends, I explored the realms of Narnia and Middle Earth. I lived on a boxcar and ate fried worms. I travelled to Oz over and over again and eventually sailed with Captain Ahab.

I remember when I announced to my dad that I had discovered what I wanted to be when I grew up. I made my case:

- I was good at writing
- I loved it
- Other people liked reading my stuff
- And I was guaranteed to be successful because every book I had ever read was written by someone famous.

“Tell me one author that isn’t famous?” I demanded. He didn’t refute my claim, but persuaded me to go into the computer industry (we didn’t call it IT back then). I didn’t discuss my writer dream with others after that; I kept it tucked away in the back of my mind.

When I was a junior in high school, my papers were decorated in red with nice big Cs and Ds on top, quite the change from my sophomore year of A+s. From the encouragement of my tenth grade English teacher, I wrote more and took greater risks with my craft. My eleventh grade teacher didn’t like my exploring beyond the lines. I know I deserved the negative marks; I misused semicolons and my vocabulary wasn’t very strong, but the red ink didn’t teach me why my sentence structure suffered or how to fix it, just that it wasn’t good. During that year I slowly became disenfranchised with writing.

More than a decade passed. I didn’t go into IT, but business. Occasionally I’d hear my turtle friends calling from the recesses of my mind, begging me to let them out to play. I’d entertain them every now and then, but mostly I told them that I was too busy.

Another decade passed. A friend of mine from high school (quite possibly in that same English class) had a book published. My turtle friends woke up. Then I heard that my neighbor had written a short story for an anthology. I asked her about it.

“Do you write?” she asked.

“I used to.” Sort of. I want to. I really want to.

“If you’re serious about it, you should come to Superstars.”

My turtle friends begged to go and that was it. I was hooked, living my boyhood dream.

Since attending SWS, I’ve written a dozen short stories and one novel. I write everyday. I write a lot. I write to escape; I write to understand. I write for fun and for serious. But mostly I write to inspire.

A tribe helped free my turtles. I believe that It Takes a Tribe, to become a successful writer, as Nancy discussed earlier this month.

My son just turned nine. He’s been writing since the age of six. He’s fought dragons and explored alien worlds. He hangs out with friends known as the Knights of the Shadow Kingdom.

To him, I say, cheers. Write on my friend, write on.

Another son just started Junior High. He told me yesterday that he knows what he wants to be when he grows up—a photographer.

To him, I say, cheers. Let me know what I can do to help you. I believe in you.

Another son just started high school. Some of his teachers are “tough”. He tells me that their teaching is “all wrong”. We’ve explored his perception and identified that their teaching is—different.

To him, I say, cheers. Don’t get discouraged because you don’t understand. Fight to learn, fight to understand, and fight to be understood. And most of all, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do or be what you want. I’m here for you and support you. I know you can do it.

I think that the greatest thing we can do for young people is to get out of their way.

Unfortunately I can only go back in time in my stories. I would love to have not waited twenty years to do what I always wanted to do, but as the saying goes, it’s better late than never. Cheers. Write on my friend.

 

 

Fighting the Huns

20 August 2014 | 3 Comments » | Quincy Allen

It’s always been easy for me to write, especially with the advent of the computer and keyboard. It’s safe to say that writing was what got me through college and even added to the reasons why my IT employers kept me around over the years. I can’t think of a job I had over the past twenty-five years that didn’t involve writing of some kind, whether it was technical specifications, user guides, or policies and procedures for the departments I was involved with.

However, there’s a difference between writing as a facet of your job and turning your writing into a career. That’s an entirely different kettle of fish. I’ve mentioned it before, but part of what kept me from pursuing writing as a career when I was twenty had to do with being convinced by someone else that I didn’t want to be a starving artist the rest of my life. There’s more to it, though. There is, in fact, a litany of reasons why part time and hobbyist writers don’t undertake the challenge of becoming a full-time writer. If that litany of reasons has a name, then that name is fear.

There is certainly the fear of not earning enough to pay the bills. The bigger fear, however, is the fear of actually making it: of putting your words out there for all the word to read. Writing is not unlike streaking, albeit in an intellectual rather than physical way. Writers pour themselves into their words. All their fears and hopes, all of their creativity becomes manifest upon the page for anyone and everyone to see. And in that process, there’s a sense of something akin to violation, or perhaps desperation is a better word for it. We have these words inside us, and we want to put them out there as a method of being accepted and even enjoyed. We hope that our words will prompt emotional responses or take readers to places they’d never even dreamed of. And if we do this, if we make the countless hurdles that must be crossed in order to achieve even a modicum of success, then there becomes an expectation on the part of readers that we’ll keep doing it.

I’m reminded of the Pink Floyd’s song What Do You Want From Me. It encapsulates this emotion of how hungry an audience can become. And as an artist, having achieved the successes that we all hope lay ahead, there is a feeling of obligation that can consume a creative mind… an obligation to continue feeding the need. For some that obligation has led to self-destruction.

And on the flip-side of achieving success is the haunting question “Will the words be good enough?” Will people hate what I do or, worse yet, relegate me to the abyssal ignominy of never-having-been-heard-of. Will all of my endeavors, pouring heart and soul into my writing year after year, go utterly unrecognized or somehow misconstrued and reviled?

Add to that the sacrifices that I now know are necessary to make it as a writer, and you get a volatile mixture of pain and sacrifice and responsibility that make the whole gig, if broken down into those disparate parts, something that doesn’t sound at all appealing. However, looking back on the past five years—five years where I’ve never been happier stumbling and bumbling and failing here and there—I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

You see, all of the trials and travails, the doubts and fears, they are all nothing more than Huns at the gate of a writer’s sanity. They can stop us from trying, instill us with a fear that freezes us and prevents us from chasing the dream. I was forty-two years old when I finally overcame the Huns and decided to chase the dream no matter what the cost.

That’s what I would tell my younger self: ignore the fears, take the sacrifices in stride, and face down the fears like so much ash on the wind. If I had started doing then what I’m doing now, I’d be well ahead of the game. I’d already have made the transition into full-time writer and created at least a couple of noteworthy compositions. As a result of letting the Huns get to me, I’m twenty years behind schedule and have a long, uphill battle to get where I’m going. And now that battle is made more difficult because I’m fighting time as well. In your forties, when your back hurts and your knees ache, when the silver and gray creeps into your hairline, and that hairline starts to fly south for the inevitable and utterly final winter, you realize that the clock is ticking, has always been ticking, and of late seems to be ticking faster.

There is no time like the present, and I should have realized that when I was twenty, not twice that age. They say youth is wasted on the young. I’m here to tell you that if you’re young and you have even a glimmer of hope that you can become a full-time writer, get started now. Suck it up. Give the finger to your fears and invest in your future now. It only gets harder the longer you wait.

 

Q

Get Out of Your Own Head

19 August 2014 | 1 Comment » | frank

Calving HeadI loved to write as a teen-ager. I even completed drafts of two novels by filling hundreds of pages of notebook paper with my cramped, almost illegible handwriting. I was going to be a writer, I just knew it. Then I got to college and got side-tracked into other things, including a computer programming career.

My decision to begin writing again years later came rather abruptly and I dove into the process with great enthusiasm. If I could go back and talk to myself as I pounded away on my first monstrous epic fantasy novel, I would applaud the enthusiasm and the tenacity.

I would also say, “Get out of your head.”

I wrote in a vacuum. It was just me and my imagination and my computer. I labored for what became years on revision after revision, with little input from anyone other than my wife until I completed a novel that could never be published. And still I wrote on.

That process did provide ample opportunity to write hundreds of thousands of words, to develop plot and character, and build the basic foundational skills of crafting sentences and chapters. I improved my writing technique, but I missed out on so much more.

Many aspects of writing are solitary, but not all of them. Sure, I have to sit down and type or take up my voice recorder and dictate. No one can do those things for me.

But the truth I wish I had known earlier was that we are not alone.

It was not until I attended my first professional-level writing seminar after years of writing that I began to see the truth. The knowledge gained there helped dispel long-held misconceptions about what it meant to be a professional writer, not just a hobby artist. The writing group the students formed after the seminar became a source of great support.

Since then I have attended many other seminars and conferences. Every time, I’ve met more great people. As my network has grown, so too has my confidence. At first I was usually on the receiving end of advice and wisdom, but that is slowly transitioning. Now I find myself sharing my own experiences and giving advice to newer authors, most of whom are a lot smarter about getting connected sooner that I did.

Writing may be a solitary art, but being a writer is not.

Maybe Don’t Start With Everest

18 August 2014 | No Comments » | Gregory D. Little

When an experienced writer offers advice, novice writers would do well to listen. So when in 2011 I found myself sitting with a number of other writing hopefuls getting writing advice from Brandon Sanderson at the SLC edition of Superstars Writing Seminar, I was all focus. I listened as Brandon laid out his guidelines for what writers should avoid when writing their first novel. With a growing hollow in my gut I coupled with a kind of hilarity, I realized I had violated every one of them.

You see, about six months prior I had finished my first novel manuscript, An End to Gods. I’ve written a little about it before on this site. I love the book, and while now I see how much work and polish it still needs, I still believe that the bones of the story are strong. But it is a shining testament of everything not to do with a first book. It’s as if I one day decided to take up mountain climbing and turned my naive, untrained eyes to Mount Everest. “That,” Metaphorical Greg said, “looks like a good place to start.”

Brandon advised sticking to a single POV. I had over a dozen. He advised keeping the number of plot lines small. I had at least as many plot lines as POVs. At least. He said one of the greatest pitfalls of new writers is trying to put every idea in their head into one perfect, magical, glorious book and then focusing all their efforts on publishing that book and never moving onto anything else. For that reason, he recommended new writers avoid fixating on writing the story of their heart in their first attempt. Yeah… guilty.

So did I do anything right? Well, I finished! Granted, it took me either seven or eleven years, depending on how you count. But in a way that makes it more impressive. Right?

Past Self, your future self agrees with EVERYTHING Brandon Sanderson said to me/will say to you. Your ambition, while admirable, will delay your serious pursuit of writing by a number of years and lead to immense frustration along the way. You will turn aside from other, easier projects in your need to finish the first, enormous one.

But that ambition will also teach you to learn to write around the time you have and the value of dogged persistence in the face of said immense frustration. It will teach you to be willing to trash hundreds of pages of work on a project and start over when something at a fundamental level isn’t working. And it will make the structure of every novel you write thereafter feel simple by comparison.

So all right, maybe it wasn’t the worst mistake in the world, Past Self. But still, if there’s a parallel universe version of us somewhere out there getting ready to embark on his first serious attempt at novel writing, let’s see if we can convince him to keep it down to like six POVs. You’re right, I don’t think it will work either.

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