The Fictorians

Posts Tagged ‘writing life’

Get Out of Your Own Head

19 August 2014 | No Comments » | 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.

The Holy Grail of Creativity

14 August 2014 | No Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Brian Herbert.

There are many pieces of advice I could give to myself if I were a new writer at the start of my career. From the perspective of decades later and millions of words in print, there is much I could say about the decisions I have made, the paths I have taken, the worlds I have created, and the characters who inhabit them. I could encourage the fledgling writer to be observant and keep a journal, to write every day, and to develop a thick skin, so that he doesn’t give up, even in the face of having his stories rejected repeatedly. I could lengthen this list considerably with tip after tip . . details about how to plot, how to build character files, how to build suspense, and how to market his stories. Structural and practical details, and they would be useful.

But there is an even more important piece of advice, one that I consider to be the most valuable of all.

It has been said that a writer should not write for money, that this should not be his first thought when a piece is created. In this line of reasoning, if he discovers and nurtures his talent, the money is sure to come later. Eventually, he will receive piles of cash; he just needs to write without getting paid much for a while, and the income will come later. This advice is interesting on the surface, but if a new writer really has creative integrity, he will not expect the money to come at all. Such a possibility will not even be in the back of his mind. He will be engaging in the creative process for an entirely different reason.

In writing, as in art, many people copy the work of professionals they admire. Art students sit in museums trying to replicate the works of great masters, seeking to learn their painting techniques. Would-be fantasy writers read Tolkien over and over, and then produce stories that mimic the works of the master. They say they were “inspired” by Tolkien. This happens in other literary genres as well—mystery, adventure, romance, science fiction, mainstream.

Many writers are looking for a handy formula, on which they can hang their own words as a sort of façade—a way of masking the fact that they are not being original, and perhaps that they are not capable of being original. Some musicians do this, and produce works that sound very much like those of others. It happens throughout society, with one product looking very much like another one. Automobile after automobile, house after house, commercial after commercial, book after book, movie after movie.

If something sells, it has countless imitators. But I would tell the new writer that taking this path would be selling his creative soul. If he were to take that route—be it in art, writing, music, or any other art form—he is not truly being himself; he is trying to become someone else. The most important thing a writer of integrity can do is to have the courage and honesty to find himself, and to express that self in words.

Originality is a noble goal.

I’m not saying it’s easy to attain this objective. Corporate publishers want material that is similar to other material they have published “successfully” (i.e. that has made money), and writers naturally fall into that trap. In order to sell their stories they think they must copy, because another writer has made a name for himself that way, and writers are desperate to be successful, and to be paid well. So they replicate the works of others (like taking a recipe and changing an ingredient), and make excuses for doing so. After all, certain ideas are already out there being copied, and writers are getting away with it, so why not jump on the bandwagon? Why not be “inspired” by a writer you admire?

There are many temptations leading the would-be writer onto that course, telling him to do exactly this. If he takes the bait, he rationalizes doing so in any number of ways. People are good at rationalizing, at finding excuses for less-than-noble behavior.

Admittedly, I’m being idealistic, considering the trickiness and laziness of human nature. But I’m talking about human potential here, about a writer’s own personal potential. I would encourage him to try going inward, instead of picking the ideas of others like fruit from a tree. Try going deep inward. Have the courage and the patience to do this, and see what is there. Look for integrity and originality, in the deepest regions of personal consciousness. A person might find a real pearl there, instead of an imitation.

The new writer might ask how this can possibly be accomplished, if he needs to make a living. The bad news is, that for this approach, he might need to keep his day job for awhile, and perhaps for much longer than that. Think of the great artists and writers who never found commercial success in their lifetimes, but stuck to what they believed in anyway. They stayed the course, knowing deep within that they were creating important works, and that one day they would be recognized. This type of writing from deep within, this type of artistic expression, should not be done for money, not in the near term or in the long term. It should be done for an entirely different reason.

It should be done for the holy grail of creativity, in a heroic effort to find the writer’s own originality. It has been said that each of has at least one interesting story to tell, at least one book within each of us. I would also like to think that each human being has at least one original thought.

I’m not going to tell a new writer how to accomplish this inward journey, only that he should make the attempt for his own sake, no matter how arduous it is. After all, if I were to provide detailed instructions on how to attain the holy grail of creativity, it would be a formula, and that’s exactly what we are seeking to avoid.

Brian and Jan HerbertGuest Writer Bio: BRIAN HERBERT is the author of multiple New York Times bestsellers. He has won several literary honors including the New York Times Notable Book Award, and has been nominated for the highest awards in science fiction. In 2003, he published DREAMER OF DUNE, a moving biography of his father Frank Herbert that was a Hugo Award finalist. His acclaimed novels include SIDNEY’S COMET; SUDANNA, SUDANNA; THE RACE FOR GOD; TIMEWEB; THE STOLEN GOSPELS; and MAN OF TWO WORLDS (written with Frank Herbert), in addition to the HELLHOLE Trilogy and thirteen DUNE-series novels co-authored with Kevin J. Anderson. In 2013, Brian published OCEAN, an epic fantasy novel about environmental issues (co-authored with his wife, Jan). Brian’s highly original SF novel, THE LITTLE GREEN BOOK OF CHAIRMAN RAHMA, was published by Tor Books in July 2014.

It Takes a Tribe

12 August 2014 | 1 Comment » | Nancy

computer 2


We get it into our head that writing is a solitary art.When we first dreamed of being a writer, who saw themselves as sitting along in a cabin banging on a typewriter? Come on. I see you over there. Put your hand up. You know it’s true. Okay, put your hand down. If you were really advanced in your dreaming you’d have acknowledged on the edges that at some point other people come into the picture – an agent, a publisher, the reader. But that was way downstream. This whole creative gig. It could be done alone. Right?


It’s time we stopped kidding ourselves.

We lose writers – good writers – every day from the profession because they “go it alone.” While actually putting your butt in a chair and writing will almost always be a solo activity (even in a collaboration you are responsible for writing your part) the path that leads you to your keyboard and beyond is filled with other people. Spouses, significant others, and friends give us support, we may bounce ideas or our outline off them. We confer with experts to ensure our writing is accurate enough to be believable. We work with dozens of people to hone the story, the prose, the cover, the blurb, and all the lovely marketing bits. We need our readers.

But the biggest thing your writing tribe does is keep you going when you are in a low spot.

This past week I was in a low spot. I’d been rejected from two anthologies. Two of my stories had been rejected from different anthologies. I was sincerely happy for everyone who made it in but the rejection cut deep. Mostly though, I’ve had some stuff hanging over me for a while and it was coming to a head. I felt so alone. All my husband’s attempts to calm me put me into full-out panic attacks. (Sorry, honey.) So, I did what I’ve never done before. I asked my writing tribe, this tribe, for help. Now, I didn’t really tell them what was happening just that I was going to be facing a ton of adversity in the next 24 hours. The outpouring of support was humbling. Their words of encouragement, thoughts and prayers gave me the strength to go through that trial with grace and a sense of peace. My Tribe had my back. I wouldn’t have come through the crisis without them.

At the same time our Facebook group was discussing another writer the profession had lost because going alone had broken her spirit. She went so far as to announce the death of her pen name. She didn’t have a support group. It broke many of our hearts. It’s a huge loss.

It shouldn’t have happened.

The advice I’d give my younger writing self? Even more than “don’t listen to your high school English teacher. You absolutely can and did write the story that touched her heart.”? It’s this:

Surround yourself with like minded-people who are going through or have already gone through what you are going through.

With your Tribe you can accomplish anything you work for.

Ask for and accept help. This is not a a sign of weakness but of strength.

Know you aren’t alone.




Can You Hear the Voices?

12 July 2014 | 1 Comment » | frank

Do you hear the voices tooGrowing up, I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I was such an avid reader, it just made sense. My mind naturally turned to stories and I invented whole worlds. I could see the fantastic places, hear the voices of the characters.

Hearing voice is not considered healthy in most professions.

I tried to drive the imaginary friends away, tried to tell them I didn’t want to hear their stories, and for a few years I was successful. But they kept coming back.

Eventually I admitted I had to write and I dove into the process, not caring how long or hard or difficult it might be. That proved I was in the right frame of mind to become a writer. I absolutely love the process of exploring my own little worlds and actively seeking out those voices that I alone could hear. And even though some people look at me funny when I tell them I write fiction novels, this is the one career where you’re supposed to hear voices, where it’s all right to carry on conversations with yourself for days at a time.

I have so many people to talk to, I could sit silent for days just listening.

But even better than exploring worlds of imagination, I love it when I can bring those worlds to life for other people. I love talking with someone who has read one of my stories, looking them in the eye and seeing their excitement as they discuss a scene or a character that they felt a particularly powerful connection with. They heard the voices and they saw the scenes.

The story came alive for them.

Power of Books

By Mladen Penev

Those are the moments that encourage me to keep writing, keep striving to improve my craft to bring these stories to life. It’s incredible to think that a few marks on a page can trigger visions of unseen worlds and make real the personalities and relationships of people who never existed anywhere except inside my head. A lot of people love a good story, but not everyone is a storyteller.

I am.

A little crazy I may be, but I’m loving the journey and I’m bringing a lot of other people along for the ride.



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