Author Archives: Dylan Blacquiere

That Warm and Fuzzy Feeling

So, I did it. 40,917 words. 113 pages. All in three days.

Now I have a novella to show for it – one that needs massive editing, mind, and one that I’ve been finding little narrative holes all through the more that I think about it – but nevermind. It’s done. I entered the Three-Day Novel Writing Contest and I made my goal. I got the e-mail from the contest organizer that proves it. In January I learn what they thought of it and whether it was enough to get on the shortlist (my oh-so-Canadian goal).

Now, of course, the writing has to take a back seat to work and life and all of those other things that I put off. There are lots of scientific papers to write and other duties at work to complete. There’s a house to clean before the in-laws get here for Thanksgiving. There won’t be time to sit down and write anything more for a while, but honestly? That can’t wipe out the sense of accomplishment that this gave me.

I wrote this. I sat down and wrote a story that I like and that I’m happy with, beginning to end. The three days bit was fun and outrageous, but that sense of completion? I would have that whether it had been three days or three years.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt that satisfied. Like many writers, I have a hard-drive full of unfinished drafts and false starts, and sometimes I go back in my weaker moments to try and recapture the creative energy that seemed to come from those beginnings. I’ve often felt a strange nostalgia in reading these – a sense of the possibility that the story held, and a moment of sadness that it didn’t seem to take off from the ground. There were always reasons why they didn’t work – a plot point too unbelievable, a character too unsympathetic – but there was always some spark there, and I sometimes wish I could take those fragments and keep going on them.
Maybe someday.

But there comes a point when you need to finish something, and when you do, even if it’s not as exciting as publication, it always feels like the biggest thing in the whole world. This is the first story I’ve finished in a long, long time, let alone something I’m happy with, and I’m looking forward to letting it stew for a while before tackling it with an even greater vigour, trying to craft it into something even more than it is now.

I’d love to hear how other people feel when they finish. Do you get pleased with yourself, like I do, or does it just spur you on to greater things? What’s been the most accomplished moment you’ve had lately with your writing?


There comes a time, when the inspiration runs dry and nothing seems to be happening to get the words out on the page, when you realize that only a drastic measure will get things moving and keep you on the path of writing. Some people take the nuclear option and get rid of everything they’ve been writing, others shove it in a drawer for a while and move on to something else, hoping that inspiration will come back later and they’ll be able to start again with fresh eyes. I’ve found a new strategy that seems to be doing the trick; do something drastic. Like, say, write a whole novel in three days.

Not to shill for any one particular challenge, but the Three-Day Novel contest is a particularly fine example of the literary marathons that have been proliferating in the past several years. Most people are familiar with National Novel Writing Month, running since 1999 and in which participants commit to writing a novel of at least fifty-thousand words through the month of November. This contest is much less well known, but has actually been going on longer; it began in 1977 with a handful of people, and has now expanded to accept hundreds of entries a year. I did it before, two years ago; I produced a Very Literary Work that didn’t make the shortlist and in retrospect probably had very little to distinguish it from what I’m sure were a hundred other Very Literary Works, all earnestness and messages. This year, in a bit of a writing rut, I am trying again, and trying to write something truer to my voice, along my fantasy roots. We’ll see if it works. I will be holed up for the Labour Day weekend writing, and perhaps the next time I post I will have some update on how it went.

The reason I bring this up is that it seems like a perfect idea to strike a spark in the act of writing, some big ridiculous gesture that will have at its end a product that I hope will win the contest and be published. But in the end, such writing contests are about more than that. They are a way to impose a deadline , a defined end by which the act of writing has to be completed. I am the sort of person who has difficulty without a limit, as the lack of a certain amount of anxiety seems to keep me from doing what it is I set out to do. Many others will say the same, that the limit of as writing contest can be just what’s needed to kick-start a frustrating stall in the writing process.

I’d be interested to hear what others think about the use of writing contests as a way to get things moving. Is it a technique you’ve used in the past? Has it worked? In the meantime, I will post an update once the Labour Day Weekend has passed to let people know how it’s gone.

On Biases

I have a deep respect for writers who can tackle what I’ve heard referred to as “high fantasy”; to be able to conquer an epic world filled with magic and sorcery and its own cosmology has always been something I’ve been highly envious of, especially those that have done it well.
And yet, it’s never been something that I’ve been able to really sink my teeth into.
That isn’t to say there aren’t examples out there that I’ve enjoyed, but it seems to take me a lot of effort, and I don’t understand why. A dear friend of mine once began raving about Tolkien – before the movies, even! – telling me that I had to read the Lord of the Rings, it would be one of the most spellbinding things I had ever read, and so on.
So I tried it. And I got a hundred pages in, and set it aside, and have not picked it up since.
I’m not sure what it was. I know Tolkien has his detractors, and I can see their point in a lot of places, but I can’t help but shake the feeling that the story just wasn’t written for me. There are people that enjoy it, and that’s fine. Likewise, most high fantasy has been the same; I don’t think I have the constitution to be able to truly appreciate it. I end up starting series or novels and usually end up setting them aside. I’ve done the same for some sci-fi greats as well; this may be blasphemy, but Asimov tends to be someone I can take in small quantities. Again it’s not that I think the stories are not well-written, but in reading them, I get the sense that they are not written for me.
The ones that do grab me – the Neil Gaimans and the David Eddings and the Jasper Ffordes of the world – well, I can’t really think of what they truly have in common, apart from a healthy dash of humour. There is something in my heart’s core that really jumps at the thought of a good sense of humour in a work, even if it’s a very, very dark one, such as that of Gaiman or Stephen King, another writer whose books have long been friends of mine.
So I look back on my list and wonder if I’m okay for having that bias, because it means that I’ll probably never pick up much Tolkien ever, or I wonder if the humour is there and just too subtle and I’m suffering from preconceived notions about what will reach my sensibilities. Am I being unfair? Am I missing something?
I’d love to hear from other people about how their biases affect what they read – and even better, how that bleeds into our writing.

What Worries You

One of my favourite writing adages is by a Canadian author named Alistair MacLeod, who noted that “writers write about what worries them”. I happen to believe this is true, although I’m biased, as most of my writing tends to involve medicine in some way and I’m terribly worried every day by the thought of misdiagnoses and worst-case scenarios.

I like this statement because it contrasts with the standard advice given to writers starting out, which is to “write what you know”. I’ve never found that to be profoundly helpful, mostly because I feel that people know lots of things and end up writing about things that don’t particularly interest them simply because it feels familiar. To write about what worries you, though – that makes more sense. As science-fiction and fantasy writers well know, writing stories in a setting removed from our day-to-day surroundings leads to richly inventive stories that transport and entertain, but the best of these genres also make us think about issues that matter. The best speculative fiction has been written by people who have things to say about our society, and who use the fantastic or the futuristic to make readers think about problems and their possible solutions. (The worst can do this, too, if the writing is clunky and heavy-handed enough, but that’s another matter.)

What does this mean for people starting out in the business? I don’t mean to imply that every story written needs to have a Message, something important that will change the world if only the right people read it, damnit, and I would even caution against starting out with the idea of holding a mirror up to the world at large. But I do think that adage may help people to hone in on where to start when they stare at the blank screen, trying to call to mind all those tips and tricks about worldbuilding.

Why does this story matter to me? Why is it that I want to tell it? What is it that makes this the story I want to have people read?

For me, thinking of these questions makes it more likely that I’ll be invested in what I write, and that my attention to the craft of characterization and plot and conflict will be that much stricter because of my emotional involvement.  I’m worried about trying to fix people, trying to change the story that they’ve been telling themselves about who they are so that I can offer a treatment plan that will prevent that next stroke or delay that move to the nursing home. Therefore, in my first novel, I am writing about someone who can change people’s stories, for better or for worse, and what that does to the people around him and the people who might want to take advantage of that. If ever I get lost in the details, I can always come back to that worry, and that helps keep me going to the next part of the actual writing.

I’d encourage you to do that, if you’re starting out. Think about why you want to write that story. Think about what worries you, and start from there. It won’t help with the grammar or the editing or the elusive publishing deal right away, but it will make the story matter, and give it that extra bit of meaning to push it down the long road of publication.