Caring for the Writer Inside, Part 1

This is part 1 of a short Writerly Care series I’m starting.  It’s not exactly writing advice, more like advice on being a writer and taking care of the artist within.

Today’s topic: consume good art.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes.

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I’m sure some of you have heard this before, or are at least familiar with the idea that good writers read a ton.  And I agree – I definitely feel like reading fuels me to write. Reading good books (and sometimes bad ones) makes me want to write good books.

BUT.  I also find inspiration in so many other things.

This is the best way I can describe it: seeing good art makes me want to create art.

I love following YouTubers who create things for a living.  I love following artists on Instagram who post their drawings and share their light.  I love songs that blend lyrics and rhythm and notes to make something beautiful and new.

So, this is your friendly reminder that you as a writer need to consume good art.  I have some suggestions if you’re feeling a deficit in your art diet:

1. Poetry

There’s something delightful about poetry.  It’s loud and soft, small and potent.  The words pack so much power in so little space.  I recently discovered Mary Oliver, and I really like her poetry.  I’m sure you’re familiar with some other new poets that are getting a lot of hype.  Go read the poetry, soak in the words, bask in the strength of them.

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2. Music

Browse through Spotify, click around on YouTube, listen to a new genre.  I’ve found that I have a constant need for new music, and it’s part of how I stay inspired.  Expand your horizons.  Try musicals, or soundtrack music, or indie, or country, or rap, or vidoegame music.  Let good music drive you to write good stories.

3. Old Favorites

I re-watched Fellowship of the Ring with a friend last night, and I feel like a new human. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is my favorite movies of all time.  Watching one of these again reminded me just how much stories matter, and how much they mean to people. These movies motivate me to keep telling my stories.

so there I was

Maybe you don’t have time for a 4-hour movie with a friend.  That’s okay; listen to a 4-minute old favorite song that makes you fall in love with being an artist.  Read a chapter from a favorite book to remind yourself why you’re a story-teller.

Consume good art.  Let it fill your soul so that it spills out onto the page when you write.  Take inspiration from the creators and writers and artists all around you.  Find things that you love and enjoy them, and then go create things to share with the world.

And if you need some suggestions to get you started, here’s some things I’ve been enjoying lately:

Music: Dear Evan Hansen (a new musical), A Playlist of My Favorite Soft/Chill Music, Some of My Favorite Instrumental Music

YouTubers (also musicians): Tessa Violet, Dodie ClarkPeter Hollens, Rusty Clanton

Instagramers: Mari Andrew (adorable artist), Inspired to Write (bestest human ever)

Let me know in comments if you experience this too – where seeing some great piece of art makes you want to create as well.  Also, let me know if you’ve found some great music/ movies/ art recently, or what you’re enjoying that inspires you.  Do you have artists you look up to?  Do you have a favorite movie that moves you to tears?  Share your thoughts.

Truth and Lies

I’ve been struggling with writing lately.  Am I really cut out for this?  Should I just give up and do something else with my life?  Is this all just a waste of my time?

There’s a lot of voices in my head. (That’s why I’m a writer, right?)  Today’s post is to put them into writing, and then set them straight.  Time to sort out the truth from the lies.

Lie: My writing is no good.

Truth: Some of my writing is bad, but most of my writing is decent and has potential.  And some of my writing is actually really, really good.

Lie: My work isn’t good enough to get published.

Truth: Even if my current WIP doesn’t have publishing potential, that doesn’t mean that I can’t get published.  Hard work and perseverance pay off.

Lie: If my First Finished Novel isn’t good enough to publish, then it’s been a waste of time.

Truth: If that WIP never gets published, it still has taught me so much about writing (and publishing).  It was still an amazing project and I am so grateful for its impact on my life.

Lie: Writing isn’t fun anymore.

Truth: Writing really is fun.  Not-writing-but-thinking-about-writing is awful.  Also, sometimes working for too long on one project makes it dull and boring, but writing itself is something I really enjoy.

Lie: If I don’t have good plot ideas, I can’t write.

Truth: Most of my plot ideas come to me as I write.  The act of writing generates ideas, and the more I write, the more I’ll be able to.

Lie: Sitting down to write is a waste of time.

Truth: Sometimes, I don’t get anything done when I sit down to write.  But most of the time, if I start writing, the Muses will meet me at my laptop.  Sometimes they don’t, but the more I pursue them, the more likely they are to show up.

Lie: I have to wait for inspiration to be able to write.

Truth: Writing produces inspiration.  Writing is hard, but it’s worth it.  Put in the hard work, and it pays off.

Don’t listen to the lies your brain wants to tell you.  When it lies to you, just say “that’s enough of that.”  Get on with your writing and make 2017 a good writing year.

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Unstuck! (Some thoughts on Writer’s Block)

A short story, by me:

Today, after many, many days of not-writing, I made myself sit down and work on my WIP.  But like the last few times I’d done this, I had absolutely nothing to say.

Nothing to add.  No idea where to take this story.

ARRRG.

I tried to write.  Typed a few sentences, erased them, sighed deeply, figuratively banged my head against the wall, and then gave up.  It was like trying to start a car that’s out of gas.

So I gave up and pulled out my sketchbook.

Then I was struck with the impulse to try something new.  What if I drew this scene instead?  So, pretending that I was writing a graphic novel instead of a novel-novel, I sketched out the people, the place, the facial expressions.  My drawings were horrible, incomplete.  But you know what?

It worked.

My brain suddenly went what if —- ?

A new idea emerged.  A tiny alteration to a scene I’d been in stuck on for a week.  That led to something else; a new idea about how my characters relate to each other.  Soon I had a whole ‘nother scene spinning in my head, waiting to escape onto paper.

Very tentatively, I pulled out my laptop again and opened my WIP.  I lay my fingers softly on the keyboard.  I hit a few keys, holding my breath.

I typed one sentence, then another, picking up speed, and then the computer screen faded before my eyes and I found myself in a brand-new bookstore, staring into the faces of my characters, hearing them talk to each other and laugh and –

And 700 words later I’d written two scenes that I was really proud of.

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Anywho.

Writer’s Block comes in many shapes and sizes.

Sometimes it’s lack of motivation because you just don’t feel like writing.

Sometimes you want to write but just can’t because you’re stuck; your story literally will not go right no matter how hard you try.

Sometimes it’s a mix, one leads to the other which leads back to the first, a vicious cycle.

So here are four things to remember when you’re facing writer’s block:

  1. It’s okay to take a break.  Writer’s block happens to (pretty much) all writers, and it’s a natural part of the process.  Sometimes you need to take a break for half an hour and walk the dog; sometimes you need to take a break for two months and read a bunch of books and chill.  Here’s a great blog post that talks about this.
  2. Don’t give up; don’t let your “break” become a goodbye.  Sometimes you’ll sit down at your WIP and get nothing.  But the act of sitting down to try to write is good enough.  If you keep coming back, your subconscious will keep thinking about this story.  Be persistent, because determination and discipline are huge parts of beating writer’s block.
  3. I’ve found the best way to break free of writer’s block is to change things up.  Sometimes it’s writing in a different place, or at a different time, or on paper instead of on the computer.  Sometimes it’s writing something else for a while.  Sometimes it’s drawing a scene out instead of writing it.  Sometimes it’s just doing something new in your normal life that hits you with a moment of inspiration and suddenly you’re back to writing again.
  4. It will pass.  I was a bit concerned when I didn’t write much of anything for week after week after week.  But if your facing writer’s block, give yourself room to breathe.  Then once you’ve taken a breath, come back and try to write again.  It won’t last forever; it will get better.  I promise.

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The Night Circus

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.”

The Night Circus

This is a book that chills and excites and enchants.  It is one I will read over and over so that I can go back to the magical, tent-covered land of the Circus, because what Erin Morgenstern has created is more than a masterpiece.  It’s magic.

This book review isn’t going to be a standard format, because this book isn’t standard.  It’s extraordinary in every sense of the word.

The writing is breathtaking, the characters are creative, the story is beautiful, the suspense is delicious.

Reading it was a sheer joy.  There were times I had to stop and make myself a cup of tea before continuing because I just couldn’t take all the glory of it.

So go.

Read it.

Now.

But be warned of two things:

First, I got “stuck” about a fifth of the way through reading it.  Don’t give up if you get “stuck.”  It was a tiny bit confusing with all the different plot lines, but DON’T GIVE UP because they all come together.  I promise.  And when they do, it’s magnificent.

Second, don’t read the second paragraph of the synopsis on the back of the book (or anywhere else you see the synopsis – Amazon, Goodreads, etc).  DON’T READ IT.  It contains a moderate spoiler that I believe detracts from the overall enjoyment of the book – especially the climax.

This book is sheer delight.  I’m going to stop talking now so you can go and buy yourself a copy.  It is tingling to the mind as magic might be to the fingers.

Five out of five stars any day for superb story telling.

Where Inspiration Comes From

thought bubble 2Almost three years ago, I had one of those wonderful, fantastical dreams that leaves you breathless.  The type that when you wake up, you try to trick yourself into falling asleep again so you can get back.  Of course, there’s never any going back, is there?

But then I realized that I had my mind.

I remember spending over two hours that day just sitting in my room and creating another world with these characters that I’d dreamed about.  I spent all my spare time that next week keeping up the story in my head, sending my characters on one adventure after another.

Then I started writing it all down.  Soon I opened a word document and started typing, and I turned that dream into a novel called The Sound of Color.  I gave it a plot, more characters, new setting, and a story arc.  I learned that I loved to write.  I got my work critiqued, I re-wrote the first third of the novel, I edited the whole thing over and over, I discovered the online writing community, and I started calling myself a writer.

Which leads to two strange sets of questions:

  1. What if I’d never had that original dream?  Never been inspired to write The Sound of Color?  Would I have started writing anyways?  Would I have still written that story?  Was it God’s plan for me to have that particular dream at that particular time to start me on this journey?
  2. Where does inspiration come from, anyways?

I can’t answer question #1, but I can attempt #2.  I want to share with you different ways I’ve been inspired, and then if you have any cool stories or tips you can leave them in the comments.


Five Things That Inspire Me:

1) Artwork

Soon after I started writing TSOC, I decided to add a picture of my flute to my sketchbook.  I ended up with this:

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Those of you who have beta-read TSOC will know that a magic Flute is central to the plot.  As I put the colors in that picture above, a scene hit me of my characters finding this magic Flute that made all these colors as it was played.  I turned around twice and it was a major story point.

Even as I plan the next novel I’d like to write, I’ve gone back to the drawing board (pun intended), and I’ve loved creating the setting of the Bookstore through drawings in my sketchbook.
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2) Music

You might remember this post from a while ago about music.  But I really want to focus on the one song I mentioned: Arwen’s Vigil by ThePianoGuys.  It was a chilling, enchanting song that I couldn’t help but imagine my two MCs dancing to.  It was a song that brought me back to the heart of their relationship each time I listened to it.  You might even go as far as to say it was the “theme song” for the rough draft of TSOC.

Music has always been central to my writing… it’s a constant source of inspiration, of encouragement.  I even have a writing playlist on Spotify.  (If you wanna listen, here it is, but you need a Spotify account.)

3) Reading.

This should be a no-brainer.  But to prove my point let me say that the novel I’m currently planning (and drawing pictures of) is largely inspired by two fantastic books: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (review here), and The Night Circus (review coming soon).  I like to think of good books as the fuel in the gas tank that lets my writing speed along the highway.  If I go too long without reading, I get stranded on the side of the road.

4) Keeping my eyes and mind open.

You might remember this post that talked about creating characters from real-life people.  Whether it’s an old man across the plane from me, or the sky last night that made me think of my new imaginary bookstore, I find bits of inspiration all around me every day.  A snippet of dialogue.  A picture on pinterest.  A little dreaming and drawing in physics class.  A sunset, a rainy day, a delicious cup of cocoa, a misbehaving horse.  Bits and pieces of new stories surround us every day, and as writers, it’s our job to collect them.

5) Writing.

There have been more times than I can count that I felt like my story was at a roadblock, yet I chose to sit down and write anyways – and in the end, I was hit with a totally new concept, a whole new idea or character or plot point.  (This was basically me throughout the entire month of November for NaNoWriMo.)journal

I’ve heard it said that as writers, we shouldn’t wait for inspiration to strike to start writing.  I agree – often times when I push through the ‘uninspired’ feeling, I find buried treasure underneath.  But one of the most exciting things about being a writer is that “aha!” feeling of inspiration.  The moment when a song, a book, a person, a piece of artwork – or even a dream – latches itself in my mind and turns itself into a part of a novel.  The feeling when I’m laying in bed at night and I have to turn on the light and write down an idea because it’s so breathtaking that I can’t let it go.

That’s genuine inspiration.

That’s what I, as a writer, live for.

There and Back Again – With a Bright New Idea

Yesterday, I returned from an 11-day missions trip to Asia.

Our primary goal was to run a kids’ camp for a week, and show them Jesus’ love.  Which we did.  But God used us in so many other ways that I wasn’t expecting.

Needless to say, I didn’t get much writing done.

But I did a whole lot of dreaming.  With scenery like this, it was impossible for my mind to not wander into my story.

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Snow-capped mountains, herds of sheep, new smells, a foreign language — of course I was planning new scenes for TSOC.  But then… wait.  What if… what if… oh dear.  It seems I have a new story to write.

The idea actually began before my trip, at writer’s club a few weeks ago.  We were assigned to plan out a short story about something that had actually happened, and then embellish it with something fictional.  The girl next to me asked if the embellishment had to be realistic.  “Like, could there be dragons in it?” she asked innocently.  “Sure,” replied the lady in charge.

Well, in that case…

I decided to write a short story about a girl named Emily taking the SAT, something I myself had done recently.  The ticking clock, the quiet scratching of pencils, the glares from the proctor person when Emily’s eyes wandered into hers, the pressure in her mind while trying to figure out a problem.  And then… the smell of smoke.  The sound of a hurricane, and the window behind her breaking, shattering the silence into a million pieces.  Emily’s dragon coming to rescue her from the terror of the SAT.  It was brilliant.  Because, as Tolkien said:

It’s simply not a story worth telling if they’re aren’t any dragons.

So there we had it: normal girl, hiding a very abnormal life.  She trains dragons and other magical creatures, but tries to attend public high school.  I loved the concept.

What does this have to do with my trip to Asia?  Well… the mountains were stunning.  I couldn’t help but imagine Emily and her dragon spiraling through them, looping the clouds, throwing snowballs at each other from the top, or just hiding in them to block out the world.

But on the plane trip home, I added another character.  There was an elderly man sitting across the isle from me.  He was so unique, I instantly started thinking, he would be so much fun to describe.  And then, he would be such a fun character.  And then THIS happened:

Mr. Norrison.  He looked to be at least a hundred years old.  Pale, sullen skin clung to his face.  He had a very hooked nose that gave him the look of a vulture, although the sparkle in his eyes gave him the look of a kind vulture.

As always, he wore a perfect back suit, that if possible, looked even older than Mr. Norrison himself.  Yet like him, it seemed to still be in perfect working order.

“Good morning, Emily,” he said in his raspy voice, laying a small briefcase on the table.  Emily had never seen him without it, but she’d also never seen him pull the same thing out of it twice.

“What do you have for me today?” she asked, leaning closer.  She desperately needed a new animal to train, but she hoped that she could afford the purchase of whatever he was selling.

Not for the first time, he seemed to read her mind.  “You and I are both a wee bit short on money at the moment, darling.  So I have a proposition to make.”  He lowered his bony fingers to the case and unbuckled it with a click.  He smiled, and then opened the top.

Inside lay two enormous eggs, each a shimmering, translucent turquoise color, dappled yet smooth as glass.

“Where — ?” she began, then stopped.  “How much?”

His eyes shone.  “Free.”

She waited for him to continue.

“Train them both for me, my dear Emma, and when they are two years old, we will sell them both and split the profit.”

She bit her lip.  Two years of training with no money put forward.  But still, the profit from a well-trained two-year-old Blue Tongue would be enormous – word on the street was that there were less than a hundred left alive.

She locked eyes with Mr. Norrrison.  “Deal.”

They shook hands.  No paperwork, no magical contract, no drops of blood put into a vial – it wasn’t needed between them.  Emily was a well-respected trainer that had never let a client down.  And as for Mr. Norrison – he might not look it, but he was a more powerful wizard than any she’d ever met.  The unspoken trust between them was utterly complete.

Emily gently took the eggs out of the case that would have been too small for them without magic.  She laid them in a basket by the fireplace, wrapped in a warm red blanket.  She’d check their shell temperature later, but for now, they were fine.

“Thank you,” she said, as Mr. Norrison clicked his case shut.

“Until next time.”  He turned and left, the door shutting softly behind him.

Emily turned and looked at the two eggs, quiet and harmless – for now.  “What have I gotten myself into this time?” she asked to no one in particular.

It feels so good to have another project to work on when TSOC is finished.  I was worried for a while that I might always be a one-story author, that TSOC would forever drain my creative juices.  Hahaha, I should never have worried.  All it took was a night at writer’s club and a trip to Asia.

While Writing, I Listen To…

MUSIC!

It works like this: pull up my MS, pull up Itunes.  Hit “playlists –> Writing Music” and BINGO!  Got my inspiration to write – everything I need to keep my creative juices flowing.

My personal preference is purely instrumental music, at least while I write.  Most of it’s soundtracks from movies.  Recognize any of these?

soundtracks

The far off, fantastic images that go with these soundtracks fills my subconscious with everything needed for dramatic writing and incredible, impossible settings.

What about music for a specific scene?  Sometimes I use a certain song to give me just what I need to plow through a scene.  My favorite time this happened was with the song Arwen’s Vigil by The Piano Guys.

It’s a dance scene.  Oh, what the heck.  I’ll give you the song and the scene.

And now the scene:

A murmur of excitement filled the air as the elves parted to make room for Irsong and Emma. The music began, quiet and mysterious notes of a lonely piano. The sound paused, and Irsong bowed as Emma curtsied.

A hush fell over the crowd. The piano grew louder, and smooth voices of deep stringed instruments joined in. The tempo increased, and Irsong and Emma swirled like phantoms in the night, chasing each other with a haunting beauty.

Star stood transfixed, her eyes tracing the footsteps of the two dancers.

The melody gained a ferocity, a desperation, which drove Emma and Irsong to run and leap about each other to keep time. Star’s heart pounded to the tempo, and images of swirling shadows filled her thoughts, and she was lost in the magic of the music for a time. Ever the song grew ever faster, until it reverberated across the deepest parts of Star’s being, filling her with fantastic terrors.

In an instant, the music slowed, and Emma and Irsong danced lightly to the last measures of the music. Star had a fleeting wish that she had been the one to dance such a song with Irsong.

Another song began, and soon the elvish king entered the dance floor with a lady that Star assumed to be his wife. Then Rella and a male elf, and other couples joined Irsong and Emma in the dance.

More and more of the elves joined in, pairing off and swirling in the light of the fountains.

And there you have it: one of my favorite scenes in my entire MS.  And one of my favorite songs.

coffitivity

Now to shift topics: sometimes I don’t listen to music.  If there’s a seen that just needs my sole attention, a part where my music distracts me… well, then I tend to use Coffitivity.  It’s a website that provides a “white” background noise, simulating the murmurs of a cafe, or the flipping pages and whispers of a library.  Just enough noises to keep your creativity flowing, but not too much to distract you.

And it’s free.

What keeps your brain working while you write?  Do you have some favorite writing music?  Or do you use something else?  And let me know if you enjoyed my dancing scene!