Tag Archives: writing life

Turning Point – Where I Found my Confidence to Write

Where did you learn to write? Where do your story ideas come from?

These are the two questions I get asked most often. And when I tell people where I learned and how that learning now gives me my ideas, they most often shake their heads and say, “Really?”

I always loved stories and the power of words to whisk me away to other realms and realities. I wanted to write them, to tell them but I felt too shy, too awkward, too inadequate, and too intimidated. To overcome this, I took a university degree in English, and instead of feeling my confidence soar, I was devastated. How could I, a lowly kid from the farm, ever be as perfect, so lauded, or garner so much depth and awesomeness in words? The bar was set high and everything I learned taking that degree didn’t set my creativity free – it only intimidated it.

Oh, I still dabbled with ideas but achieved nothing of substance. I just didn’t know how to make it work. The answer, oddly enough, was found by going back to University, but not in English Literature classes.

My great revelation came when I studied Food Science at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Agriculture. That meant I had to take a variety of classes including Agricultural Economics. I worked for a while in that department because I had a gift for understanding and telling the stories found in numbers. That was second nature to me, but still, that wasn’t where I learned to write fiction.

My fiction writing emerged from studying chemistry and microbiology. In microbiology, I had to observe and explain worlds – what creatures they were composed of, how they came to be, what their effects were on the systems they were found in and so on. In chemistry, I had to explain cause and effect, or stated in writing terms, to observe, document, explain the characters’ (substances and elements) actions, reactions, and the consequences of those actions and reactions. Both courses taught me to be an astute observer, to document, to ask the what-ifs, to understand and explore their worlds.

The formulas for writing and working in a scientific environment are all the same – observe, document, ask the what-ifs, hypothesize, understand and explore.

So hail to economics, microbiology, chemistry, and physics too! They’ve kept me in good stead because now I see the stories in the world around me. For example, I’ve found them in a creek near my house, looking out an airplane window and seeing the Canadian Shield below me, visiting henges in England, on a Moroccan shoreline, in ancient digs in Crete, on an island, in my back yard and in all the people I’d like to know about.

Now I explore the rich world of what-if around me. It bursts with ideas and possibilities and my writing life abounds with stories yet untold. I may never be as perfect as the masters who had once so intimidated me, but I don’t care. All I care about is the world I know and explore and I revel in the joy of sharing it. My world now is filled with What-If?, How Come?, and Why Not? – aren’t those the questions children so often ask? That sounds like another story, for another time…

Happy writing!

A Life of Passion

Life of PassionWho do you love?

What do you love?

Everyone needs a little passion.

The interesting people in story, and in life, are those who embrace what they love with passion. It might be a spouse, family, work, or hobbies. We love people who are excited about what they do or who they are. We respond to passion. Easy example is when people tell us about a recent book or movie that we haven’t read or seen yet.

If they say, “It was all right.” No matter what our previous anticipation level might have been, it now falls a notch.

What if they say, “It was awesome! I’m going to camp out at the movie theater right now and wait until it opens tomorrow so I can see it again”? We can’t help but absorb a little of that passion. It’s contagious and exhilarating.

People do need to find balance in their life, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still feel passion for each component that makes up who they are and what they do. They just can’t let that passion lead to excess and stupid decisions.

One of the most tragic things we see in literature and in life are people who won’t follow their passion. They won’t ask the girl on a date, won’t apply for their dream job, won’t take a chance and LIVE their lives. Thankfully, this character flaw is seen most often only at the beginning of a story to highlight a hero’s dramatic character arc.

A great example is Walter Mitty in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Here’s a guy who has buried his passionsWalter Mitty so deep, he has to escape life in lengthy ‘zoned out’ moments where he dreams of doing great things. He has shackled himself to a boring job and refused to live, even though he dreams of it. The story is beautifully told, includes breathtaking scenery, and excellent music as Walter begins to break out of the repressed life he’s lived for so long and embarks on an amazing adventure that changes everything. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

In real life, it can be hard sometimes to chase our dreams, to live passionately. Are we Walter Middy before or after the moment where he decides to live?

How many times do we hear someone say, “I’d love to do that!” Only to then banish the thought and turn away. If it’s not illegal or immoral or likely to prove fatal, maybe they should reconsider.

Are you holding back, suppressing your passion?

Fear of failure is often the cause. Sure, we might fail, but at least fail while trying. Failure is a way to learn so much, but society has made failure taboo. The problem is, life is full of failures. Why not fail while doing something we’re passionate about instead of failing at life because we lack the courage to try? Here’s what a few famous people had to say about failure:

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” (Michael Jordan)

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” (Bill Gates)

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” (Thomas Edison)

We don’t like stories of cowards, of those too repressed or afraid or timid to live. Usually in stories, cowards are either killed or, if they’re a main character, their initial cowardice is overcome as they rise to become a hero. There’s a good reason for that. Readers don’t buy stories that lack progression.

Not surprisingly, it was hard to find great examples of characters terminally afraid to live their lives, afraid to embrace their passions.

One example that came to mind for me is Pierre Gringoire, the struggling playwright in The Hunchback of Notre Dame who is saved by Esmeralda, but lacks the courage to do anything productive. He is about as completely useless a character as any I’ve ever read. I’ve hated him since I was first forced to read this dark, depressing book as a kid. Pierre refuses to fight for the beautiful woman who saved his life, refuses to fight for anything useful, and eventually slips away from all conflict, taking along Esmeralda’s pet goat, Djali, the only creature who seems capable of dealing with his pitiful life.

So be Walter, not Pierre, and embrace your passions.

What are you waiting for?

Love it. Do it.

Do What you loveMerry Christmas!

This is my favorite time of year. I love Christmas and everything it stands for. It is a time of good cheer, family, and giving, regardless of religious belief. I am religious, so I celebrate that part too.

It struck me this week that Santa represents one of the best examples of someone making a crazy career choice and turning it into a successful, long-term enterprise. Many people regard writers in the same not-quite-connected-to-reality category as Santa Clause. And when we first start out, it can be hard to see past the detractors and the naysayers and keep pursuing a passion that has absolutely no promise of producing any financial return.

I’m a perfect case in point. I’ve been writing for almost ten years, and my expense-to-income ratio so far is so lopsided, it’s laughable. And yet here I am, still writing.

I love it.

I love stories. I love consuming them in every form, and I love creating them. Not only do I love to write, but I’ve set ever-challenging goals to drive myself along this writing path. It may be a long road, but it’s a road I’m happy to travel.

I’m not the only one who believes that working at what we love is the best possible work choice.

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Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.

~Ray Bradbury

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There is no scarcity of opportunity to make a living at what you love; there’s only scarcity of resolve to make it happen.

~Wayne Dyer

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If you are not doing what you love, you are wasting your time.

~Billy Joel

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2014 was a banner year for me. I set extremely high goals, and succeeded at many of them. But what really made the year was that I managed to work more hours writing than I did at my consulting job. I’ve been working toward this milestone for years, but I reached it almost without noticing. I was so busy writing and doing, that I didn’t pause to reflect until I had already made the shift in my schedule.

The purely pragmatic side of me admits to nervousness as I allow my consulting business to trend downward to make more room in my life for writing. My computer work is still how I pay the bills and support my family, and it’s a job I really enjoy. However, I LOVE storytelling. Despite long success in computer-related fields, I made the choice to move toward writing as a full-time career. It’s taken a very long time to get to this point, but to me it’s worth the effort.

Loving this work means I Work at it. This year, I completed three new novels (I set the goal to complete four), along with a lot of other work, including a frantic juggling act preparing novels for a fast-approaching publishing blitz.

2015 will be even bigger. Eight novels published in eight months is the goal, and I’m doing everything in my power to reach it.

I love writing.

So I’ll work harder at this job than any other.

Do what you love. Commit to it and let nothing stop you or convince you that you can’t.

It may take a while, but the time’s going to pass anyway. Why not use it working toward a goal that means something to you?

Who Stole the Goal Posts?

THEY say, “Goals are not set in stone; goal posts can move; better to have a goal and fail then to not have one and achieve nothing at all.” But THEY never said, “Sometimes the goal posts disappear and you’re out of the game!”

So imagine my surprise when my goals to complete a novel, and revise another and research a third disappeared. I was devastated. All my energy was required to heal a broken ankle compounded with a severe sprain. Ten weeks in a cast, three extra months to learn to walk and the energy drain exacerbated my chronic fatigue. Zheesh! “This is a great opportunity to write,” THEY said. But the energy drain left little for creativity and critical thinking. So now what?

I didn’t fight it. Not one bit. Frustration and anxiety bear no fruit. Putting words down for the sake of it and then trying to revise nonsense later made no sense either. Searching for stolen goal posts was counterproductive. So I went on a holiday! To New York, Iraq, and other cool places on this world and others. Even outer space! Yes, I read books and short stories and loved every minute of it.

Isn’t that why we write? So that others will enjoy the tales we tell, become immersed in the worlds we create and form relationships with the characters we give voice to? I threw away the critic’s hat, no learning the craft for me and I went on a holiday of pure literary pleasure!

Somewhere along the way I made notes for the novel in progress. When I felt more rested and energetic, I proceeded to revise another. And now I’m back – revising. creating. blogging and yes, still reading.

Being forced to fail, which is what a health complication can bring, brought me balance and new joy in the world of words. And for that, I’m grateful and I’m on a permanent working holiday now.

So, I practice my three R’s of the craft – Read to learn, wRite, and most importantly, I Read to enjoy!

Happy reading and writing!