Category: Behind The Scenes

Ever wonder what happens BEFORE the book hits the stores or the comic hits the website? Well, everything in here. That’s what.

Aeon Timeline 2 Introduction

I’m fascinated by how much there is to learn about using computer programs. To that end, I’ve made it my side quest to show the wonders of a few programs and techniques I use to keep track of all the random stuff necessary to actually craft a world.

Among them is Aeon Timeline, an amazing software only 13 months old in its current incarnation. Which means no one has reached expert user level yet. After all, you need 10K hours of practice, and 10K hours have not yet passed since this software came to market.

Thus, I’m still learning, and I want to share as I go, because once you’ve got the hang of this tool, it may replace losing post-it notes for some of you. And so I present to you Aeon Timeline 2: Introduction or Everything You Want To Know BEFORE Getting Started.

CyborgScribe Tutorials: Reboot and Re-energize

Ever tried to write a book? Most people I speak to haven’t. It’s tough. It’s even tougher without proper tools.
Nowadays, those tools often come in the form of software. I’ve got a few programs I can no longer function without.

So, I’ve decided to do something a little different with Wednesdays. I’d like to actually bring you behind the scenes and show you what my writing process looks like.

We’ll start next week with a redo of my first Aeon Timeline tutorial. In the meantime, let me tell you a bit about some of the programs I’ll be showcasing on my YouTube channel. And yes, you’ll be able to find the videos through my blog.

Scrivener

The first program I picked up to help streamline my writing process, it’s done so much more.

Effectively, Scrivener combines the traits of a database and a word processor. It’s simple to write scene by scene, move chunks of writing around simply and without fuss or mess.

Now yes, it has a learning curve. In fact, take a look at the sidebar in the screen-shot of this post’s draft.

Yeah, there’s a ton of stuff there. Color coded flags for days of the week (each indicating a different theme/category) and all kinds of other stuff.

The Fiction template has a similar number of folders.

Yes, this program confused the heck outta me for a while. Now? Not so much.

Then there’s its partner in crime.

Aeon Timeline

This is literally the only functional timeline software I could find. And since I can’t often make heads or tails of WHEN something happened, well, I needed it. It’s also learning intense bit of software, and I’m learning as I go. The website has some blog posts and things, but I’ve decided that in order to learn this thing, I need to know as much about it as possible.

To that end, this will be the first focus for my Wednesday tutorials. Especially since I found it, got excited, and made a few rather bad tutorials. Watch them if you dare.

So, if you want a peek into how my mind works when I’m writing, drop by my YouTube channel, and click subscribe. That way YouTube will actually tell you when I’ve got new videos out.

World-building Without Instinctive Norms In The Way

Want to know the best bit about writing fantasy (or science fantasy)? I get to break my own belief system on a regular basis, because if I don’t I end up writing entire character concepts wrong. I know, I know. If I make all of this stuff up from scratch, how can I write any of it wrong?

Most speculative fiction isn’t built completely from scratch. It’s a Frankenstein work of real life and imagination.

And yes, I’ve gotten entire characters wrong.

I even had to give one a sex change. Had him written as a female.

This is what happens when we let our cultural assumptions and beliefs get in the way of the story and the world. Weird, right?

So just how did this character start as a female and end up a male? The same way I’ve had some fascinating conversations with Shay about Dragon Hoard Books. I let social norms I felt as instinct get in the way.

Instinctive Norms

Remember the beliefs I wrote about Monday? The ones so ingrained they’re practically instinct? That doesn’t just happen with hijacked survival instincts. The first beliefs this happens with are social norms.

We don’t need the “differences between the sexes” spelled out for us, because when we’re children, we observe men and women behaving differently. We internalize those differences through imitation. As a child, I internalized the “wrong” behavior set, and thus the social machine moved to correct me through parents, peers, relatives.

Gender is not the only social norm this happens with, either. Morality and the good vs. evil dichotomy. Political leanings. How we determine those we spend time with.

All these actions can trace back to what I call Instinctive Norms. These norms aren’t instincts. They’re social structures. Yet we believe and embrace them instinctively, because they were never extrinsically taught.

If you grow up in a community full of similar-looking people, it’s not unusual to have a strong curiosity about those who look very different when you leave that community.

If you grow up in a community full of all types of people of varying size, body type, racial disposition, and cultural background, then move to a more homogeneous community, it’s not unusual to feel displaced and out of sync with the people around you.

We humans learn better by watching, experiencing, and doing than virtually any form of rote learning when it comes to social expectations and culture. We pick up these expectations especially fast as children—information sponges that we were back then.

Unfortunately, I can’t stay within the same framework if I want to write the stories in my mind.

Instinctive Norms & Writing

I know it’s two days later, but do you still have that list of five differences between women and men? If not, jot down a new list. Create a heading for each gender, and write five traits under each.

Now cross out the headings and swap them, any assumption not involved in child-bearing. That’s what the culture of Nexeus Elves looks like.

My character’s submissive tendencies and love for fashion made more sense for a Nexeuan man.
And then there are Core Elves. They don’t really HAVE gender roles. At all.

So yeah, building Vermillion has been a wild ride. I’ve had to prevent my own Instinctive Norms from sabotaging the depth and breadth of my world-building.

How about you? Have you ever created something with one intention and realized your own Instinctive Norms got in the way? Or is it something you’ve ever looked at?

Why Writer’s Block Is A Lie, And You Just Need A Craft Book

Yesterday, we discussed 10 Career-Killing Doubts and How To Squash Them. And I promised you a full post today on doubt # 3.

There’s something wrong, and I don’t know what to do.

Remember how I said you’re probably too creative for your own good?

Story time.

I started my novels at age 19. After pounding out about two or so chapters, I hit a wall of writer’s block. Hard. That’s a lie. Writer’s block is a lie. And yet, after reading my draft, a well-meaning friend (and English major) told me I didn’t need to go to college for writing. I had the gift. The creative touch with words!

Can anyone spell ego trip, even with my low self-esteem?

Unfortunately, this friend never mentioned the caveat to that.

The truth is, I had no clue what I was doing.

A novel is not a 10 page paper, and I had to learn my craft.

You see, all the talent in the world won’t get you a dime if not paired with a stiff dose of practice and a stiffer dose of Irish whiskey… Okay, skip the whiskey. Sober is best when creating. Or in general, really. 😀

Drinking jokes aside, I had no clue I still needed to read about the craft, consume everything I could, and learn the art and form of storytelling. I thought I could just let my characters tell their stories, and I’d have a great novel. Which ended up looking like this.

Two and a half confusing chapters, four point of view characters, no discernible main character, and no discernible story.

I wrote those chapters roughly ten years ago.

In November of 2015, I wrote another 45,000+ words in eight days. (Side note: Never do that untrained. It’s bad for your sanity.) The only problem was they didn’t mesh with the first few thousand words I had.
Character-driven and character-written are not the same. How delightfully naive…

I had a problem, and I didn’t know what to do.

Now I needed to fix it. But how?

Read A Craft Book

No, really. Go to your local library or bookstore and get a book about structure. Read a blog about story structure or scene structure. I’m not talking some feel-good, spiritual path-finding through your creative art mumbo jumbo. I’m talking books on heroic structure, Hollywood structure, archetypes, mythic structure. Drop $99 and go take one of Kristen Lamb’s classes (or Joel Eisenberg’s). Kristen’s also got great blog posts on story and structure.

Because nine times out of ten, it’s not the creative content of your story that has a problem, it’s the structure. And yes, if you’re anything like 20 year old me, you don’t want to here that.

You don’t want to be weighed down by structure and rules. You want to be a maverick. Tell a story no one else has ever told, in a way no one else has ever told it!

Fine, but there are some things that MUST remain. For example:

Soiuej wmty zoyuw vnwy qoy ww tooyt.

I have just created a sentence no one else has ever created. And it made NO SENSE AT ALL. To quote Stephen L. Gillett from World-Building, “Sure, lots of letter combinations are prohibited by the rules of English, but no one seriously considers that a drain on creativity.”

Granted he was talking about using real science in world creation, but the point remains the same nonetheless. Utilizing the rules of sound storytelling gives you a framework and the added value of craftsmanship. And this is why the SECOND sentence came up.

Swallow Your Pride

I’ve mentioned 19 year old me a few times. Well that person was an arrogant sod who thought they knew everything there is to know about writing, story-telling, and the world. After all, you just let the characters tell you the story, and you’re good.

How wrong I was.

In the last three days, I’ve completely rearranged the beginning third of my first novel, changed the gender of a key character, and removed another character entirely. I’ve learned the value of letting little darlings die.

I didn’t always know that value, though. There was a time when I would’ve clung to the pink-haired psycho because she seemed to give the real villain some redeemable quality. Well, that does nothing for the story. Good bye, pink-haired psycho. Especially since you’re like a bad anime villain, poorly written by a high-schooler. And that high-schooler was me.

The real trick about pride though, and I’m talking the pride that halts your progress as an author, is it gets tricky to recognize. Sometimes, it takes the form of false humility. Statements like:

  • Oh, it’s only a hobby for now. Someday, I hope to make it a career.
  • Yes, I’m a writer, but I’m struggling with writer’s block right now.
  • Well, I’ll finish it someday, when conditions are right.

Yes, I still consider these marks of pride, the kind born of fear. The kind that says, I can’t do it because I must be perfect first. And so you must confront it. The best way I know to do that is step one. Find that book that’ll challenge you to get better, and read it.

And finally…

LISTEN TO THE BOOK

Really. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t. All the craft books in the world don’t do a bit of good lying on a shelf collecting dust while you scroll your feed. In fact, if you have one you’ve been meaning to read, step away from this blog and go spend a half hour on it right now.

Well, not quite right now. First, tell me which step you’re having the most trouble with. What do you hate most about reading craft books? What’s the most difficult part about implementing their ideas? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll respond when I’m online!

World Building: 3 Steps to Constructed Languages

What is a con-lang and why do some linguists hate them and others love them? I had no idea slang existed for what I wanted to do until I actually decided to start building an Elven language. What started as one become four varieties of Elven, also all the other racial languages on Vermillion. No, I don’t have all of them built yet. I’ve set myself an approximate pace of one language per book. Approximately. And eventually I’ll get to Old Elven, Ancient Elven, and all those other Middle, Old, and Ancient variants. Oh, and Dragons also have a language, though I’m not sure what the natives call it.

I digress. A con-lang is the shorthand for constructed language. Klingon, Esperanto, and Middle Earth Elven are a few common ones that come to mind. Now, I am not a linguist. Closest I ever came was taking a 301 linguistics course in which I realized I HATE the idea of attempting to apply hard science principles to soft science constructions like idioms. (Incidentally, I flunked out.)

So WHY would I bother trying to build a language, if I’m not a linguist? Well, the same reason I bought a science fiction guide to world building when I technically write fantasy. I wanted to. So welcome to my three main steps to language construction from a non-linguist.

Step 1: Understand the Framework

So, language is this funny thing that both acts as framework, and is constrained by it. First, it acts as a framework because every language has its own structure and rule set governing word use, placement, etc. Often, these rules are influenced a great deal by cultural marks and impressions. One great example is the difference between English and Japanese. Even without speaking much Japanese, I know enough about the structure of a Japanese sentence to know that, grammatically, it is possible to indicate social status simply by adding a syllable in the right place, not even an extra word. And you definitely don’t have to craft an entire extra sentence to “put someone in their place.”

It’s fascinating, really. There’s also the concept of color. It’s actually a psychological phenomenon that if you do not have a word for a given color, it’s actually harder for you to perceive or at least describe that color. Additionally, some languages have no tense equivalents for things like past tense or future tense.

Some languages don’t even have pronouns English would recognize.

So, the language presents a psychological framework, and yet the culture the language is used in also presents its own framework. I’ll use quite a simple example here. Two people with Ph.D.s in quantum sciences are deep in a discussion about a breakthrough in their field of study. A high school graduate interested in experimental psychology overhears them. All three individuals are native English speakers. Yet the high school graduate might understand snippets and half-sentences, because each branch of the sciences has its own unique jargon, which is in many ways a cultural use of language unique to the science in question.

So not only did I needed to understand the interplay between how language use affects our psychology and culture, and how psychology and culture affect our language. That’s Framework.

Step 2: Grammar As Groundwork

A funny thing happens when you first start trying to build a language. You take words from the language (or languages) you know, and try to make up words in the new language as literal, direct translations. This is known as re-coding. And I started re-coding English into Elven.

Well, a funny thing happens to creative writers. Eventually, our characters and places become very real to us. And my Elven characters started throwing Elven IDIOMS at me! Things that make absolutely ZERO sense translated literally! Like…if I can think of one off the top of my head, or at least the translation. Ah, yes!

Weaken their armor, sink the fangs in.

This is the closest literal translation to a Nexeus Elf saying that is the idiomatic equivalent to the English “divide and conquer.” It’s because idioms come from cultural use and other things. Most idioms make zero sense when literally translated into other languages. I was also faced with words that I had NO equivalent for. The Nexeus Elves have three different words that can be accurately translated as either marriage or civil union, yet each of those words denotes a very specific type of ceremonial promise. Æther Elves have only one word for every color past a certain level of darkness, and thus believe all those colors to be black.

So, when I realized that this re-coding thing wasn’t working, I started from the ground up. What sort of grammar structure could have one language branch off into something that holds little care for social standing and more concern for immediate survival, and another sister language so wrapped up in its own pomp and circumstance it would be next to impossible for someone not raised with it to understand every nuance of speech that could potentially be insulting?

Back to my English vs. Japanese example I found the Japanese grammatical structure. It’s served quite well as a framework.

Step 3: Syntax Specifics

This is getting long, but there’s one last step. Syntax, which is a word I might be using improperly, and I don’t care, because I need lunch. Correct me if you like, and I’ll fix it. 😉

Basically, vocabulary and phonemes, because you can’t figure out vocabulary without phonemes. Stop looking at me cross-eyed. Phonemes aren’t complicated. They’re just the tiny bits of sound that make up words. Each language has a basic set of phonemes they use, and some they don’t. It’s why people have accents in different languages. Sometimes we literally can’t hear certain sounds those other languages use.

So I had to figure out the basic phonemes Elves use, then start building the words they use, and that, friends, is a far too simplistic three steps to con-langs.

4 Tips to Solid, Consistent World Building

It’s Wednesday, so why not? A world-building post before the new year begins. I haven’t done one in a while. Mostly because I’ve gotten some interesting reactions from Shay while we work on the first several issues of Dragon Hoard Books.

And I’ve had a variety of people in the last decade ask some variant of the question, “What’s taking so long?”

Well… World-building is taking so long.

Seems in the writing world, most people start with a genre other than fantasy or science fiction (or some odd blend of both). I suppose I’m the odd one, then. I started with an odd blend of both, because I wanted to, and I could.

Problem is, you can’t just start writing a Dragonriders of Pern fanfiction and call it your own, or pick up a drow ranger, drop him in modern times, and say you built this story. The characters have to have a world to move in, to be part of, and most importantly, to call home. You know, a world where if a major fact of it changed, they’d freak out, scream apocalypse, and panic would ensue.

In short, it’s taken me ten years to get even close to finishing novel one, because I had to learn a few things.

Stuff Authors Do For World-Building

Solidify Your Idea. Okay, so you’ve got this great idea for some sort of dragon/dragon-slayer romance set in a far off galaxy with space aliens and star ships. Great! What aliens? What star ships? How many worlds? And don’t tell me it’s Star Wars with dragons and leave it at that. Because that’s not synergy, that’s fanfic.

Research, Research, Research. Raidon, Raidon, I’m writing fantasy. I don’t need RESEARCH… WRONG. Even fantasy needs research, or you end up doing silly things like, oh, I don’t know, turning a serious fantasy into a Terry Pratchett novel? Terry Pratchett is great! I love his stuff. However, his work is designed to never take itself or its genre seriously. You need to know how stuff like psychology and culture and physics work if you want to break them. At least the basics.

Build A Repository. I call mine the Encyclopedia Vermillion. It’s the Scrivener file that houses books on Vermillion cultures, races and their biology, language, geography, mythology and religions, hidden organizations, and all manner of other information, including a complete directory of character profiles. (Well, it will. I’m not QUITE there yet.)

I did this so I could keep the world consistent. After all, when you know there are at least ten novels on the same world you want to write, well, it helps to have something to keep you on track. Come to think of it, I should give it its own USB drive…

Learn to Live There. Yes, I do believe this is necessary, because I’m of the school of thought that thinks stuff like book covers should, I don’t know, fit the world? And that authors should be allowed to okay them. I SHOULD be able to look at a picture with the wrong color sunlight and wonder why it looks off. I should be able to see a picture of a member of one of my races and know whether it’s decently correct or not.

If I can’t, I don’t know my world very well.

In other news, I’m off to finish a bunch of stuff for said webcomic, including the Patreon, then plug some more things into the Encyclopedia. Enjoy your day. Try not to spend too much time mourning our dear Carrie Fisher.

Art Synergy: When The Whole Is Greater Than The Idea Parts

I’m sure you’ve heard the adage:

Good artists copy; great artists steal.

It’s a saying that’s been bugging me this past Christmas weekend, so what better use of my time than following the link-rabbit hole to find information about origins and things. Found a fantastic article from 2013 by Quote Investigator.  Read it. Mostly because it talks about how the possible origins of this phrase actually dismissed thievery as an artistic negative.

I found another intriguing message in most of the origin quotes, as well.  One I believe can be summed up neatly in a single word.

Synergy: When The Sum Is Greater Than The Parts

What nineties kid didn’t love Power Rangers? If you didn’t that’s fine, but the Megazord is a rather nerd (or is it geek?) example of synergy. Five dinosaur robots come together to make one massive humanoid robot that’s more powerful than the five individual robots.

Also in the nineties, a slew of business mergers occurred based on the concept of synergy, though in this case it ended up being more of a buzzword. But that’s not really the point of this post. No, I want to propose a slight alteration to the above adage.

Good Artists Copy. Great Artists SYNERGIZE.

So quick tutorial on the creative process. Ready?

  1. Have an idea – This is the seed. The inkling.
  2. Expand this idea – Observe the world around you. Find other ideas to introduce.
  3. Create – Blend the ideas into a work.

As an example, the webcomic coming out this Saturday. The original idea came from Dungeons & Dragons concepts, which in turn came from world mythologies. Also, some ideas came from other authors. Then those ideas blossomed into novels. Those novels then spawned other ideas. One of those ideas became the Dragon Hoard Books webcomic.

Thus the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

Dragon Hoard Books: The Webcomic! When, How, and Why.

How to start a webcomic in three simple steps.

Step 1: Be a writer.

Step 2: Find an artist.

Step 3: Realize you have no clue what you’re doing, and go for it.

That about sums up the last month of why I’ve been (sadly) neglecting this blog.  That and I’ve been trying to figure out how to get enough calories while eating mostly vegetables. Which involves feeling like you’re eating a lot more, and ending the day a lot more satisfied, actually. Is good.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, webcomic.

Most of you know, I’m a writer. Even if I was just blogging, that’s still writing. However, I’ve also had this idea simmering for somewhere around…wait for it…a decade. Yes, a decade.

So Why Not Write The Novel?

I am. As we speak, I’ve got a 48K draft in development. However, I’m not a wizard, and building a world I’d be happy reading about has proved quite the task. I could write probably a month of posts about world-building by itself. In fact, I’m that odd wonder that likes realistically set planets with fantasy included ON them.

I freely admit, Star Wars had a lot to do with this, though I’m not certain how realistic many of those planets were. Sue me, I was maybe 10 when I saw A New Hope.

Anyway, like all mega-projects, it started small. Really, really small. In fact, it started with a single question.

What would happen if you put a drow and a high elf in a rock band together?

That was it. The beginning of ten years of furious scribbling, random role-play to figure out dialogue, and my family and friends putting up with a whole lot of shenanigans. Until Jan 2016, I was still a hobbyist, though, and as much as I loved writing, the idea of FINISHING the book? Of baring my soul and my work and my art for the world?

Then January 2016 happened. I wouldn’t call it a New Years’ Resolution. That’s not accurate. I just realized that I was tired of waiting to have enough time/energy/money, tired of listening to everyone who said it couldn’t be done.

I invested $15 in my career. Oh, I’d bought craft books, and 90 Days to Your Novel, and things like that. Never finished them. Rise of the Machines – Human Authors in a Digital World was the terrifying one. This one was about the dreaded five-letter word. My BRAND.

I never looked back.

And the Dragon Hoard Books Webcomic?

World-building, as I said, takes a lot. Especially when you start FROM SCRATCH. There’s the prehistory, ancient times, modern times, etc. And then there’s the cities and all that other stuff.

Enter a little bookstore featured a few times in the novels.

I wrote a few flash fiction pieces a while back, intending to turn it into a series.

But then I didn’t, and I read somewhere posts with images do better than without, and thus the cycle of doubt started. Though then the doubt became productive. I reread them.

I had no access to art that could encapsulate Vermillion.

But I knew an artist.

I knew that artist could be trusted with my writing.

Flash fiction was short enough to write a comic script.

The only questions now were: could I write a script and would the artist want in?

The answers were yes, and yes. And so, on 31 December 2016, Dragon Hoard Books, the webcomic, goes live here on this blog, and also on Patreon. Don’t get me wrong, I like blogging, but I LOVE my fiction.

Weapons of a Warrior Artist: Identity – Know Thyself

‘takes a deep breath, and heaves a sigh’

Sorry, I made the mistake of looking at Facebook after the 9th.  Not a good plan.  Really, folks, click this post, and take a fiver.  After all, Warriors are amazing, and so are Artists, so what happens when you have a Warrior Artist?

In Dungeons & Dragons, we call them Bards.

(I love Lindsey Stirling!)

For some, the weapon is music, for some it’s the written word, and for still others, it’s visual – whether digital or physical – art.  The medium doesn’t truly matter for these Warrior Artists, because what they have in common is passion, belief, and identity.  Right now, I want to focus solely on Identity, as it’s foundational to everything a Warrior Artist creates.

Who Are You?

Before we go on, I want you to do something.  Get a piece of paper and a writing implement.  Now, write down between five and ten words you would use to answer the question, “Who are you?”

Now get another piece of paper and do the same thing for this question.  “How do you identify?”

Got those down?  Chances are, if you really look at both lists, they’re a bullet by bullet of characteristics and skills.

Now, crush that piece of paper into a ball, and toss it across the room – no, not in a trash can.  Why?  Because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Individuals are the smallest forms of synergy.  With me so far?  No?  Alright, let’s take a quick look at your lists.  Pick one thing on yours, I’ll pick one thing on mine.

Mine will be writer.  (Note, I could as easily go with transman for most of this.)  Now, writer is a profession, a set of skills, and a characteristic.  I could identify as a writer, and say that writer is my identity, but that’s only part of me.

I’m also a hobby sketch artist.  And a transman.  And I have ADHD.  And I could keep going.  However, none of these defines all, or even half of me, because they are all PART of me.  Yet I have no singular claim to any of them.  It is understanding – or striving to understand this – that is the key to Identity when it comes to a Warrior Artist.

I could (actually did) dedicate an entire blog post to the concept.  My post Dismantling Self: The Distorted Reflections We Show The World came up in September as my way of describing my experience with this whole concept of identity, self, and why it’s no longer something I cling to.

I Can Skip That, Right?

If you’re an artist reading this, and you’re tired of wondering why creative block is still a thing, you absolutely can’t skip trying to understand this.  Back in February, when I first ventured into the blogsphere, I wrote about a cultural shift that will allow us as artists to stop ourselves from falling into the bondage that is working for free and making other people money.  The problem is we – as individuals – are notoriously bad at standing up for ourselves when it comes to our art, especially at first.

We crave hearing that we’re great.  That someone loves our work.  That’s fine, and that is also why Identity and the ability to take apart the way others see us and stay true to our own values – NOT our characteristics – is vital.  It’s what allows us to know when someone is genuinely interested in our work and our capabilities and our success, or when they’re blowing glittery smoke up our tails and trying to convince us to do something for them that will, in the end, leave us with nothing more than the ghost of a good feeling.  Most of all, it allows us to hold the bearing of a professional, and utilize all that go pro advice wandering around the internet.  When we take ourselves seriously, others have no option but to take us seriously as well.

The Benefits of Knowing Identity

Writer's Tools

The largest benefit I’ve seen has been from first-hand experience of other professionals.  They know what they love, they know what they want.  It’s the knowledge they have of their own Identity, their own Core, that carries through in their art, and it changes the way I see the world.  Yes, I’ve encountered works clearly created by people who knew this about themselves, but until the beginning of this year, I didn’t know anyone personally.  Then I met a few.

Kristen Lamb of Warrior Writers and author of Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital Age gave me renewed purpose in my own writing.  She’s also currently my boss, and the only reason I ever started blogging.  And we met through a chance encounter on the internet.  My Facebook threw one of her blog posts at me.  I loved her no nonsense style and the sense that here was a woman who made no apologies, took no prisoners, and knew what she wanted and where she was going.  If you read my blog and enjoy it, thank her for writing ROTM.

Maria Grace of Random Bits of Fascination has done the impossible, as well.  Her Regency work Pemberly: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon managed to get me interested in Regency fiction, enough that I’m planning to read Jane Austen’s original Pride and Prejudice at some point.  After all, who doesn’t love dragons?  It’s an honor and a privilege to work with her, and she’s another I would consider to know exactly what she wants out of her art and out of life.

These are two I can think of most quickly, and there are many others.  My point is, when you encounter the works of a Warrior Artist, you KNOW it.  You know it because it doesn’t feel like just another book or just another picture.  Whether the subject matter is real or not, there is a gravity to the work that doesn’t exist without the creator’s willingness to include a piece of themselves in the creation.  It is that gravity, that sense of reality, that changes people.  When that happens, an artist can begin to change the world.

What pieces of art – be it visual or written – have you encountered that changed your life because of that quality?  That sense of the artist’s presence in the piece?

Inspiration Abyss: Unblocking The Creative Block With Practice

Four days into National Novel Writing Month, and I’m behind.  I’ll admit it.  Some types of writing I find come easier than others, and I got far too comfortable pantsing (for those unfamiliar with the term, that’s where all your writing happens by the seat of your pants.)  About a month ago, I looked at the 48,000 words of raw novel ore I do have, and realized I’ve got that, hours on hours of audio recordings based in the same world setting, and a thousand and one nights more ideas for this little star system somewhere among the galaxies.

I looked at my work in progress and panicked.

Now, my 21 or even 24 year old self would have panicked, cried writers’ block, and curled up in a corner until the Fairy God Muse swooped in and wrote my Encyclopedia Vermillion themselves.

Yeah, right.

We talked about this.  That’s why I buried the rotten liar.  And yesterday in a conversation with another writer friend, I realized part of why we creatives have come to rely so heavily on this ephemeral concept of “the Muse.”

Unhealthy Is Not Artistic

I'm a Greek goddess, fool, not your personal neuroses.
I’m a Greek goddess, fool, not your personal neuroses.

See, there exists in our digital world a distinct creative culture, spurred on by what forces I couldn’t say.  I’m not a sociologist and don’t pretend to be.  However, this culture embraces all manner of practices that, in the end, lead only to obscurity, failure, and the idea that no one truly understood my genius.  No where is this more prominently displayed than the concept of the creative block.  For writers, this is termed writer’s block.

It’s the idea that some force is preventing the creative from producing ANY NEW WORK.

I’ve met a number of people who want to create art of a variety of types for a living, yet claim they must rely on their Muse in order to work.  Conditions must be perfect for them to “feel the flow.”  They are artiste and so must be in the zone before the magic can happen.

Yes, it’s true, creatives – for whatever reason – seem to have higher rates of things like depression, anxiety, [insert other psychological condition here].  I deal with them too.  We can’t let those challenges dictate our dedication to our craft.  Remember, you are not your diagnosis. Neither is your art.  Plus, I don’t believe these are truly the cause of creative blocks anyway.  I suspect it’s fear.  Fear of not producing at our best.

So let’s crack this open a little further.  If we do face these kinds of challenges, but we still want to create, what do we need to learn?

Find Your Drive

Remember how yesterday we took the piece of the Muse we actually needed?  Passionate drive and dedication will serve you far better than any Muse ever will.  The fact is, your creative zone is a function of your mind.

I suspect it’s far easier for those in a physical artistic discipline to remember this, but The Zone comes easier with practice.  I used to dance five days a week, twice a day three of those days.  Finding The Zone in a dance was as easy as breathing during that semester.

Yet those of us who regularly practice an art that’s more based in the mind, whether it’s writing, drawing or painting, what have you, seem to cling to this notion that we have to wait for our mind to be ready.  That we can’t find ways to MAKE it ready.  And also, we seem, especially at first, completely unaware that the more often we give our mind a taste of where that Zone is, the more likely we are to be able to put ourselves in The Zone and stay there.

After all, you’ve heard of Neuroplasticity, right?  In simple terms, it’s the trainability of the brain.  Train your brain that this is what we do, and it will learn.  Also remind yourself, especially if you want to make a living off your art, your writing, what have you…

This Is My Job

If you want to get paid, the creative block does not exist.

Why, you ask?

Let’s pick a job.  Coffee barista, as an example.  Let’s say you call in to your boss and say, Hey, boss, I’m having a “coffee barista block” today, I can’t work.

Really?

‘raises eyebrow’ …Reeaallly?

I think we both know that wouldn’t fly.  In fact, I think I can hear the You’re Fired echo from here.

Most creatives making any living at all with their craft are A) not millionaires, and B) for the most part self-employed.  We set our own hours (often outside of regular work hours, because many of us still need a day job), we sit down, and we make ourselves work.  And if we don’t do those things, there is NO PAYCHECK.  So we may as well fire the employee.  Oh, wait, that’s us.

Maybe you have health problems.  I do too.  Maybe you struggle with a mental disorder or illness.  I do too.  That can make it tough.  But it also makes the success that much more sweet when it does come.