Tag Archives: balance

Wisdom in Abundance – The Characters of Daniel Abraham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve touted Daniel Abraham’s work on this blog before. It’s no secret I admire his writing as much as any other author working today. Recently, a friend asked me why. There’s plenty of reasons that come easy to hand: prose that is neither too flowery nor too spare, his ability to balance plot, pacing, character, and depth of worldbuilding into a melange that doesn’t rely too heavy on any one ingredient. But of course, there are plenty of other authors that can claim similar skills, and after my friend asked, I realized I’d never really figured out that extra something Abraham brings to his work that keeps me coming back.

The Special Sauce, if you will.

I turned my gaze inward and pondered this for awhile, and hit upon the answer in the most meta way possible. Because that very act was my answer.

Whether he’s writing epic fantasy that spans the lives of a small handful of characters, co-writing a science fiction series (with co-author Ty Franck) that somehow manages to be space opera, hard(ish) sci-fi, and character-centric all at once, or writing a different epic fantasy that does so much awesome stuff I can’t even describe it without making this sentence absurdly long (I tried), Abraham’s books have one constant: characters who think about their actions, both before and after, in the larger context against which they are set. He brings a literary quality to his characters, not enough to bog down plot or pacing, just enough to make them real. Let me try and explain with a few character sketches:

A widow who mourns her husband while acknowledging that he died fighting for the wrong cause. She contemplates the pointlessness and waste–and inevitability–of war even as she sets out to steer her war toward the least bad conclusion.

A detective who believes that saving one missing person from becoming just another statistic in a hardscrabble universe can redeem him from a lifetime of bad decisions he made almost unconsciously. And all the while, he drives a wedge between the human connections that could actually save him, and does so entirely knowingly.

A former priest of a dangerous and destructive cult who recognizes what he once represented as both evil and false and walks away from it, only to find himself drawn back into the fight to stop its spread years later.

A mage who destroys the world through his desire to protect those he loves and their way of life, and in his guilt and desperation to repair the damage, risks destroying even what little remains.

A gentle boy long tormented by his peers until he grows into a man capable of immense cruelty while a portion of him still remains kind and gentle. He is (entirely believably) both monstrous and good at the same time.

These characters act in altruistic manners, or they self-deceive for self-interest, or they desperately try to right wrongs they believe themselves guilty of, falsely or not. Yet in Abraham’s expert hands, all of them have something in common, a hard-won, often tragic wisdom that comes from self-examination (sometimes too late) and a desire to do what is right even if they can’t see what that is.

I know many readers aren’t fans of so-called “navel-gazing” (a term I hate) as a trait in characters. But trust me when I say that Abraham handles this with the same aplomb and balance as he handles his books’ other elements. I’m not certain self-examination of the depth Abraham explores occurs with the same frequency in real-life people, but to the author’s credit, it never bogs down his stories, instead strengthening his recurring themes of growth coming at a cost.

Regardless of what genre he hops into (he’s also got a paranormal romance series, and I can’t wait to see what characters his promised cosmic horror novel novel introduces) Abraham brings us the same quality and depth of characters. It’s this knack that keeps me coming back over and over to his writing.

 

 

About the Author: Gregory D. Littleheadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. His novels Unwilling Souls and Ungrateful God are available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, and Dragon Writers: An Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

Why Finding Balance is Impossible.

A Guest Post by Jen Greyson

I’ve recently returned from two weeks immersed in writing conferences—the Superstars Writing Seminar and LTUE—with many of my writing mentors and peers, people I admire both professionally and personally. They’re both phenomenal and I always come away with lots of great nuggets about the business and industry. But this year I came away with something a little different.

While my professional life has been on a solid upward trajectory, my personal life has been headed in the other direction. The day before I left for Superstars, my husband asked for a divorce. It’s been a long time coming for lots of reasons, and I’ve asked for one prior to that day, but it still left me trying to find my feet as I showed up on the first day of the seminar.

For the days that I interacted with the people of my tribe, I was emotionally unable to stay upright. There was no balance in my life. In the same hours I was riding a professional high, my personal life was crumbling beneath my feet, making balance impossible. The juxtaposition had me leaning on the emotional strength of the people around me in an effort to find my footing (something that’s incredibly difficult for me).

The struggle to find balance is a common theme in every life, especially for artists as we often get to add our passions in the “extra” hours of our days after work and family take up the rest.

During the days of the seminar, I realized that I’d been looking at the balance of my personal and professional life through the wrong set of lenses; I’ve always thought balance was a set of scales, but I was wrong.

The balance we seek isn’t finding a way to make the scales weigh the same; the balance is finding our equilibrium.

One of my favorite life lessons came from the last line of Glennon Doyle Melton’s Carry On, Warrior. She said (I’m completely paraphrasing), “Stress creates pressure and we all know the feeling of it pressing in so hard on us that we think we can’t bear another second. We’ve been taught that pressure is bad and painful and uncomfortable, but what if it’s not? Maybe that pressure is what holds us up. It would be a great tragedy to have nothing important pressing in at all.”

Without that pressure, perhaps we’d fall over.

It’s the same with balance. Balance is finding your equilibrium in the middle of a storm standing in raging seas, dealing with the loss of support groups, or support at home, or a job, or financial support, or one of the many forms that support comes in. Our support needs shift and change just like everything else in our life and we are constantly relearning how to find our equilibrium. I think the secret to blending a writing life with a normal life is finding our equilibrium and doing it not by thinking we have to stand on our own two feet 100% of the time, but rather by not being afraid of leaning on the people in our lives when we must.

On the last day, I heard the perfect thing that summed up so much of what I’d misunderstood about how I’d been feeling for the days leading up to the end of the most favorite week of my year. Lisa Mangum (from Shadow Mountain Publishing), when asked about finding balance between a writer life and a normal life, said, “We think the two lines of our lives run parallel to each other when in fact they’re completely interwoven. They criss and they cross and zig and zag, some times they’re very far apart, sometimes they’re very close together, sometimes they’re overlapping so closely that you cannot see one from the other.”

Again, I’m paraphrasing what she said, but within the imagery that came as she spoke was a clarity that there is no way to separate writing from normal life because as writers—probably true for all artists—we see beauty and art in everything we do, whether we’re driving a car, or help our kids get dressed in the morning, or listening to a news story. There’s always a what if, there’s always a story idea that comes from everything we touch and see and smell. Switching out one life for the other isn’t as simple as changing hats or closing our computers and walking out of our office. Being a writer is not something we do—even for those who’ve been able to turn it into a business and treat books like products and not babies—but no matter what kind of writer you are, it is still who we are inasmuch as it’s what we do.

Storytellers were the community builders, they were the ones who drew people together to share common emotions, whether they were telling a thrilling story of a hunt, or a scary story about the woods, or a legend about two lovers. All those stories held one thing in common, emotion and connection. That’s who we are as storytellers, but we must not forget both sides of the story. Too often we focus on the emotion that comes in the telling of the story and we forget about the connection that comes in the creating of the story.

Balance (equilibrium) comes when we search out—and accept—the connection during the creation.

Balance is impossible because we can’t weigh the tasks and pressures, taking one kilogram from this scale and adding it to that. Equilibrium is possible. Equilibrium comes from setting our feet, and looking ahead, and being okay with the people who come alongside us and shore us up in those moments when a sneaker wave crashes against the boat and makes us lose our footing.

Jen Greyson:

Jen Greyson was first published by the international publishing house that launched the blockbuster, Fifty Shades of Grey. She has written over 45 published books and her ghostwritten works have appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. She writes new adult fantasy and science fiction along with NA and adult contemporary romances. Sign up to receive alerts about her next release: http://eepurl.com/5pAE5

Promises To Keep

 I have a commitment issue.

Okay, maybe it’s better to say I have an overcommitment issue.

I describe myself as a mommy, writer, lawyer. Needless to say, each of those things is a full-time job. So, necessarily there are instances when the time required by each of them add up to more than 24 hours in a day. I’m in one of those periods right now. But I’ll end up waking up at midnight, carving four hour of work out of the night, and then napping for a few hours before I have to get up to feed the horses. In other words, I make it work until I fall down. Not the best strategy but it’s who I am.

There are a number of downsides to this very A-type personality trait. One of which is when other people fail to meet their commitments to me, it is a source of annoyance. But, that’s a different post. Balance is the issue.

Most of us haven’t reached the point in our writing careers when we can give up the day job and write full-time. Those who do write full-time often work on more than one project at a time. Oh, the luxury of only having one thing to work on at a time. But, reality is that life rarely is that simple. We juggle. Animals need to be fed. Kids need to be reminded to shower. They need to be taken to school, or sports, or a friend’s house. We need to meet work deadlines, and get new work. We need to write, and edit, and market our writing. And somewhere between managing our life, we need to live it.

There’s all sort of advise out there about how to fit writing into the rest of your life. You’ll often be told that we have to write every day. And that’s great. For when you can. I have a post on my blog about inching toward sucess – having low daily writing goals so I feel motivated to start every day. I was recently listening to Get-It-Done Guy’s podcast “How to Juggle Multiple Projects,” and realized his advise, as it often does, applied to many areas of my life.

So, how do I juggle? Sometimes very poorly. I do try to stay on top of my commitments so I can spent time with my family and honor all my other obligations. The following is what (mostly) works for me:

First, I follow the Get-It-Done Guy’s advise.: prioritize my “to-do” list.

Second, I focus on one task at a time. Have you ever walked around in a circle because your attention is being pulled in too many directions? I have. My kids think it’s funny. My husband knows to get out of my way because a melt-down is coming. We’ve been sold this idea of multi-tasking, but we really can’t work on more than one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is really serial attention focusing. Focus on one item and work on it until done, or until you reach its time allocation, see #3 below. I turn my e-mail alerts off and my phone to “do not disturb.” Because I’m not starting and stopping tasks, I generally can accomplish my goal for that session. Minimize distractions.

Third, I schedule my tasks by Time. I’ve been a lawyer long enough that I know that most routine matters will take a certain amount of time. If I need to write a memorandum that’s going to take 30 hours, I can break that time commitment up to 3 hours a day for ten business days. Because I’ve broken down my time allocation, I can start without feeling overwhelmed. It’s only three hours after all. The Get-It-Done Guy takes this one further and suggests putting the time blocks on your calender. For me, this doesn’t work because I see all the working “appointments” and die just a little. The blocks of time on my calendar become a wall I have to overcome and create more stress for me as I run “late” between tasks. But it might work for you.

My writing time is 9 pm to 11 pm. I’ll write when I can steal minutes (the Get-It Done Guy also has a great post on maximizing and using down time), but those two hours a night are my time. I write blog posts, edit, review other people’s stories and write in that window.

Fourth, I try to set realistic goals. My daily word count goal is only 250 words and amounts to about 15 minutes of time. Remember my two hour window? The 250 word goal means that on any day I can write, I’ll met the word-count goal. Because the goal is so easy to reach, I can beat back the need to sleep to get it done. After all, it’s only 15 minutes. The nights I write I average 750 words? What does this mean, it means I generally meet my weekly word goal (1,750 words per week). Writing isn’t a chore for me when I think about it in these terms and get to mark a check in my “goal completed” column. If you are the kind of person who needs the tangible reminder, go ahead and make a chart to show when you’ve met your goals. I use a word-count comment in my WIP so I can see I’ve met that day’s goal.

Fifth, deadlines are your friends, but unlike real friends you should manipulate them. There are some deadlines you must meet, and others that are aspirational. Use aspirational deadlines in advance of any hard one. If I’m writing for a November 1 submission deadline, I’ll have a September 15 completion deadline. Why? I’m very deadline motivated. I will push off matters with later deadlines to get to priority items. The aspirational deadline builds in a “catch-up” window. It also ensures I meet the “real” deadline without pulling an all nighter whenever possible.

Finally, I give myself a break. Not too long ago, I was in trial or other hearings nearly every day. Because my lawyer-ly matters were back-to-back my preparation time spilled out of normal office hours (7 am – 7pm – yea, I know – not so normal working times). I was at the office trying to get exhibits ready until 2am the morning before a trial. Needless to say, I didn’t write that night or any night that week. I forgave myself for missing and started in fresh with the new week.

For me balancing my family’s, writing’s and day job’s obligations is a constant dance. With some planning, I manage to limit the times I stumble. I hope a look at how I work to keep a balance between the important pieces of my life will help you do the same. For me, it’s time to have dinner with the kids.

Check out my newest release from Musa Publishing: Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl. Karma is a bitch, and Jack Gorman is about to find out how much.