Writing: 7 Ways to Cure the Dumbs

Recently I’ve been experiencing a pretty extreme case of the dumbs. man-869215_1920People battling the dumbs often have a difficult time performing ordinary tasks: like replying to emails, speaking in full sentences, or remembering that their spouse asked them to pick up that thing at that place for an immediately forgotten but very, very important reason.

Writing has been painful this month. And, when I say painful, I mean that writing has been like pulling teeth. If the teeth were attached to my eyeballs, and my eyeballs were on fire, and I was being dipped slowly into piranha infested lava.

Despite the leaps and bounds made in today’s technological age, the dumbs are hitting people harder than ever. Information is readily available. Forget the name of your hellion’s teacher? Look it up on the school website. Want to learn how to cook the perfect scrambles eggs? Watch a Gordon Ramsey tutorial on YouTube. Need to know the name of the song playing over the radio? Shazam will tell you.

Retain much of that information?

Forget it.

A wide number of independent studies led by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators have found the web is actually changing our brains. The online world promotes hasty reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Yes, the Internet opens access to an unfathomable amount of information, but it’s also turning us into shallow thinkers with less of a need to exercise our brains by storing the information we seek for use later.

And don’t get me started on shows like The Bachelor and Keeping Up With the Kardashians, which make society dumber as a whole.sub-buzz-2156-1484677751-3

A recent study done in the University of Texas actually found that the mere presence of smartphones where we can see them — regardless of if they’re ringing or on silent mode, facedown –dramatically reduces brain power.

The dumbs can hit working authors harder than anyone. When we aren’t allocating large portions of time to surfing the web for research on our current WIPs (or watching the Kardashians while we’re supposed to be), the very act of sitting in front of a monitor all day to write can be damaging to our brains (and eyes) all on its own. Not only that, it increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.

So, how do we beat the effects of extended computer use?

How do we overcome “the dumbs?”

1. Eat Properly

Eating too much junk food affects the way you think, negatively affecting brain synapses and several molecules directly related to learning and memory.

Increase your brain function by adding these “smart” foods to your daily eating regimen: Blueberries, wild salmon, nuts and seeds, avocados, whole grains, beans, pomegranate juice,  freshly brewed tea, and dark chocolate.

2. Get Plenty of Rest

The need for sleep can vary between individuals, but most people require between 7 and 8 1/2 hours per day. 

People who are exposed to sleep loss can experience a decline in cognitive performance and changes in mood. Sleep deprivation can often lead to a rise in blood pressure and a decrease in things like metabolism and immune response.

Side note: the proper amount of sleep can help the way our bodies respond to stress.

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Writers? Stressed? Never.

3. Take Breaks

A five minute break every hour to throw in a load of laundry, walk your dog, or toss some food in the slow cooker will improve your brain function and general well-being. Unsure whether Harry and Melinda end up together or Melinda runs off with Ricco? Making decisions like these all day can wear down your ability to reason, leading to simplistic decision making and procrastination (not to mention bad books). Breaks can restore motivation for long-term goals, productivity and creativity.

Which is great, especially for authors tackling an entire book.

4. Get Plenty of Exercise

Hellions 1 & 2, working it out.

The benefits of physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise, range from the molecular to behavioral level. Exercise releases endorphins and makes people happy.  Exercising for as little as twenty minutes per day improves information processing and memory functions.

On Sunday I opened my WIP to find myself incapable of editing a single word. I removed a word here, added another one there, and immediately erased all of the changes. My brain was peanut butter. A large part of the problem is getting the right amount of exercise in winter. I have an active job, but it’s not the same as flat-out, heart-rate topping, good old fashioned exercise. So, I went online to find a human hamster wheel, and two hours later I was setting up a brand new elliptical in my basement. Having only gone on it twice, I can already felt the effects of working out reinvigorating my brain. Writing a blog typically takes me three hours. (I’m slow, I know.) This one was finished in an hour and a half, after I had already achieved my goal of editing Old Souls for four.

5. Fuel Your Creativity

Your creativity is a living organism. If you don’t nourish it, your ability to think creatively will whither. If you find yourself incapable of working on your writing project, try passing a little time on something else. Meditate. Write something by hand. Paint. Listen to music. Daydream. (Shower daydreaming is ideal — just keep a pen nearby because you WILL forget all of your brilliant ideas the moment your hair is dry.) Laugh. Sit in a coffee shop. Drink writing wine. Loosen the hell up.

6. Talk to People

Yes, yes, we all know the vast majority of writers are introverts. But a conversation that lasts as little as ten minutes can actually increase your brain activity. In fact, simply looking at someone activates the brain’s language system. 

Keep in mind, not all conversations are beneficial. When you talk with someone you’re competing with, the cognitive benefits disappear.sheep-2372148_1920

7. Read

Reading a novel you enjoy enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function.

It can drastically boost a writer’s vocabulary: a good novel is a dictionary and a thesaurus crafted with the express purpose of being interesting. Novels teach a writer how to develop tension, write dialogue, and create engaging characters. They offer writers inspiration. Writing is often hell, but reading is almost always fun, IF you find the right book.


We did it! 7 Ways to Overcome the Dumbs. Now we’re all just a little bit smarter.

Do YOU experience winter dumbs? What are your best tips and tricks to rally cognitive function?


Author Alter Egos and the Future of Scribbles

interscope-records-eminem-new-albumI watched a video on Facebook the other day chronicling Eminem’s rise to superstardom from the trailer park. (Yes, I WAS avoiding work on Old Souls, thank you SO  for pointing that out.) I planned to link the video to this post, but like so many other things on Facebook, it seems to have fallen into a rather unfindable abyss. The video detailed the struggles the rapper endured throughout his childhood: his mother’s abuse, and the bullying he was subjected to as a white kid in a predominantly black community.

He began rapping as a means to cope. He memorized the dictionary. He entered rap-battles.


And he lost.


It wasn’t until Eminem adopted an alter ego that he became a household name. Slim Shady was the man who made us all stand up. He took hold of the rap scene in 1999, and held on with murderously tight death grip for years afterward.

The narrator went on to allege Eminem would not have risen to the success he achieved if not for the invention of Slim Shady. Is that true? Maybe. And, Marshall Mathers III’s alter ego wasn’t the only one to peak public interest. So did Lady Gaga’s. Where would Sean Combs be without the media firestorms incited by the billion times he’s changed his name over the years? That said, not all alter egos work well. Garth Brooks is a country super star. Chris Gaines? Kind of a schmuck.SCHMUCK.png

In any event the video got me to wonder, could authors benefit from having alter egos?

In today’s day and age, writers have to do pretty much everything. They have to write books (already very hard) and they have to promote themselves. YOU want to be a writer? You’re going to need to get on Goodreads. You need to blog, tweet, Flipboard, stumble and Facebook. You need to appear at Writing Conferences and book signings. You need to have Swagger in the Age of the Author Brand.

Authors have a reputation for being *cough* slightly introverted. The other thing we’re known for? A little thing called Impostor Syndrome. “Impostor syndrome refers to the feelings of fraud and self-doubt often experienced by high-level achieving individuals.”


The unfortunate news for WRITERS is that we don’t have to achieve high levels of success to feel like impostors. The mere admission that we’re *gasp* WRITING can cause us to break out in a cold sweat.


That means that in the age of the author brand, introvertism (I don’t think that’s a real word) and Impostor Syndrome have a very real shot of crushing our writerly careers before they even begin.

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It might also be a picture of me trying to get upstairs on my birthday. Who’s to say, really?

I chose to use the moniker J. A. in place of the words people usually toss my way (Jenny, why are you late again) for two reasons. One: so that I could protect my real identity when I rocketed to superstardom — an obviously very likely scenario — and two: so that it would take people a little bit longer (like a half a second) to figure out I was a woman when they picked up my book.  At the time I believed the general public preferred male fantasy writers over female ones. While planning to write this blog, I held a Twitter poll.

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The results were eye-opening. To me, anyway. I was surprised even further when some Twitter followers (men included) commented on the poll, saying that for various reasons, they would actually be more likely to purchase a book written by a woman than a man. Which makes the 12% of people who said they would be less likely to purchase a book written by a woman virtually obsolete.

Which in turn, led to my next Twitter poll.

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I was baffled. When I shop for books in a bookstore, I look at the covers. If the cover looks good enough, I’ll pick up the book to read the blurb. IF I make it past the blurb, the book gets opened, and the author bio gets studied. Only after the author bio passes the test will I CONSIDER flipping through the pages.


Is this because I’m a writer? I don’t know. Many of the people who follow me on Twitter and participated in the poll are writers. I think. Well, they say they are. The majority could very well be robots.


OR, is it because we writers have a FALSE perception that people are thinking about our PERSONAL worthiness before examining the quality of our work?

Wait a minute . . .

Is that where our impostor syndrome comes from?

*pauses*

*clears throat*

The polls seem to suggest that who the writer is is becoming less important than ever before. Yes, we’ll rush out to buy a book by the authors we love . . . but, their accomplishments? Whether or not they have a master’s degree in English? Whether they’re male of female?

Not important.

Because Old Souls is not quite finished, I wondered what this information means to me as a blogger. Which (of course) led me back to my new favorite obsession: Twitter polling. screenshot-2018-01-08-at-12-54-19-pm.png

Hardly anyone participated in this poll, which was too bad because the results were the most interesting to me, personally. Seeing that this was my third poll in three days, maybe people were tired of all the questions. Or, maybe this particular poll didn’t ruffle as many feathers as the male vs. female question. In any event, based on these stats it would seem that people pick up books based on the appeal of the content. People follow blogs to get to know the author.

I’ve been considering changing up the format of Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins for some time. Outside of the summer Scribble Challenges, the theme of the site has generally revolved around my writerly insecurities and attempts to get over them. The problem is I’m getting kind of tired of writing about that. That means, YOU’RE probably getting kind of tired of reading about it. Which is WHY I’ve been considering an author alter ego to go along with my authorly moniker, J. A.

(By the way, J. A. is always on time for everything.)

That said, I’m not about to tie you to the bed and set the house on fire. My alter ego will not be all that different from me. I will still be Mother of Hellions, Hater of Spiders, and Drinker of Wine. I’ll still be an aspiring kicka$# author.


But I will also be confident.

Because writers need to be confident.


41% of voters admitted they don’t follow author blogs, eliminating the necessity of including their feedback in this change to Scribbles — which is a blog. (Haters gonna hate.) But, a whopping 39% of voters said they follow blogs to get to know more about the author.

Bearing that in mind, Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins will likely get a little more personal.GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT


But not too personal.

Nobody wants to hear the nitty gritty.

Think: late night talk show personal.


I’ve also been considering adding a writer interview series to the site. Why I Write would be a more INTIMATE look into the forces driving individual authors to create, and the influences that helped mold their perspectives on life and the world today. The authors would (of course) have an opportunity to promote their work, but the bulk of the interview questions would take a more personal approach.

Depending on interest, this series of interviews might begin as early as February.

So, if you’re a writer interested in being featured on Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins, shoot me an email!


ScribblesonCocktailNapkins@gmail.com


And hey, if you’re a blogger, I want to know, what do YOU blog about? How do you keep your readers ENGAGED? What do you think about the necessity of author ALTER EGOS?


 

Present Presence

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Well, it’s happened again.

Another year has gone by, proving the adage true: time moves faster with age.

According to my (beloved) hellions, growing up takes “forever.” And we’ve all been there.  We remember a time when age only served as a boundary sectioning us off from accomplishments like staying up till 8 o’clock, watching scary movies, and getting our license — and when the only way to achieve our goals was to simply to wait.

To age.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, I feel like the hellions grow out of shoes overnight. They begin their school week and come home for the weekend in the same breath. They need haircuts in what seems like every time I turn around.

But, it isn’t just the boy’s lives that seem to be moving so quickly. Mine is too.

My new year resolutions have remained fairly consistent over the last few years: all aimed toward the completion of Old Souls. And yet, the bane of my existence *ahembook remains irritatingly unfinished.

I find myself asking, where the hell is all the time going?

I recently realized that this swift passage of time may partially be my fault. I am wishing time away, frittering it away, and in general, not paying attention to the time I have.

I’m easily distracted.

As it is with many working parents, to suggest I am “busy” would be an understatement. I don’t mean to say that the hellions themselves are distracting.c8b22e03af860900d35b8325a15b4ade But, the boys need help with homework. They require chauffeuring to music lessons, sports, and friend’s houses. They like being fed occasionally — roughly fifteen times a day — and usually return the favor by leaving towering piles of dishes, laundry, and Lego in their wake.

When I’m not dealing with that (or working), I’m editing Old Souls.

I manage the bulk of my daily tasks begrudgingly, consoling myself with the promise that one day when I quit my day-job to focus on writing, or I hire someone to help with the cleaning, or the kids move out, there will be magically be more time. In the throes of endless to-do lists, I’m often thinking of the million other things I should be doing, wondering whether I’m spending my time efficiently enough, and berating myself for not utilizing my time properly in the past, putting myself in the situation of having to complete whatever task I’m doing . . . now.

In all this running around, in all this doing while distracted, and planning for future success and mumbling about past failures, I’m missing opportunities to be fulfilled, and to recognize the success in the moment I am in.

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My 2018 mantra.


I live for summer heat. The beaches on Prince Edward Island are the main reason I moved here in the first place. But, to live on the island means to accept the good with the bad. And the bad? (In my my mind, anyway.) Maritime winters. I hate Maritime winters. No, I abhor them. I hibernate. I sulk. I suffer. I wish all of the gray slushy days away. And here on PEI, winter is the longest season of all. Which means effectively, I’m wishing 1/3 of my life away every year. I’m missing the opportunity to be happy.

It’s something I’ve resolved to change, which means purposefully acclimating to winter in 2018, and choosing to be comfortable in the cold by spending time outside, throwing snowballs, and going for walks, because I don’t want to wish 1/3 of my life away.


I want to THRIVE in the in the moments I’m in.


I’m going to choose to be mentally present in whatever task I’m working on. I’m going to weed out distraction. I’m going to stop, and be present in the present tense.

When I’m with the hellions, being mentally present will mean making an effort to transform time spent en route to basketball, futsal, and music, or even *shudder* while helping with homework, into quality time. Because, I want to be a witness to their lives. I want to experience their hell-raising. And when they move out one day, I want to know in my heart that I soaked up every ray of sunshine the little monsters wreaked through my house, and in my mom-van, and wherever the hell it is we’ve been.

Being mentally present means paying attention, so that while I’m writing or editing, I’m actually writing or editing, and not flitting time away doing something else that simply does. not. matter. Like watching people fall off hover boards.

What was I saying?

I’ve come to believe that when we allow ourselves to be distracted too often, we risk losing sight of our goals. We risk ours lives slipping away unnoticed by ourselves.

We’re missing the moments we have: the very lives we’re building for ourselves.

So, in 2018, I’m going to be present in the moment I am in. I’m going to pay attention the the task I’m tackling instead of thinking about the billion other things I could be working on.

I’m going to make an effort to appreciate daily life, the good and the bad.


I’m going to finish Old Souls.

And I’m going to do it by accomplishing MORE in the time I have.


A while ago, I purposefully stopped blogging, and cut back on Facebook And Twitter in an attempt to propel my Old Soul writing project to its final conclusion. A week went by without a blog post. Then two. Three months have come and gone since then, and interestingly enough, I’ve found that my Old Soul output is more consistent while I work on the blog on the sidelines.

So I’m back. Once again, I’m going to actively participate in the platform that has been so fun to build, because I love it, and because it works to actively fuel my creativity.


If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do. –Lucille Ball


All that said, Old Souls IS almost done. I’m going to be looking for beta readers sometime in March. If you’re interested in becoming a Old Soul beta reader, contact me directly at:  

Scribblesoncocktailnapkins@gmail.com


It’s been a long time since we’ve talked. I want to hear from you! What are YOUR resolutions this year? And, how do YOU stay present in the present?


 

Split Ends and House Flies


They say you need to write every day. I don’t necessarily believe that—mainly because I can’t write every day.


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Shut up Jean-Luc.

Like most aspiring authors, I have a day job. I have a (very) busy family life, errands to run, a house to maintain, and air to breathe. Writing every day just isn’t feasible at this stage of the game.

And, writing in summer? Impossible.

Taking two months off my WIP was a decision I made to ensure the hellions enjoyed their annual eight weeks of freedom. I’m glad I did. My oldest is eleven. In a few years, he might not want to spend his school vacation camping/beaching/laser-tagging with his parents. Now, he does. And I want to spend time with him, too.

All that said, I am fully aware that maintaining a consistent writing schedule is enormously beneficial to writers at every stage. Perhaps all-too-fully aware of it now, as I sit at my computer trying, trying, trying to get words to magically jump from my fingertips onto the computer screen. Getting back into a regular writing schedule after an extended period of time off is hard as hell. Like any skill, the ability to communicate clearly and concisely degrades without practice. Those who don’t write often risk a dramatic step-back in their very ability to work.


Boo-bloody-hoo.

Writing is hard. We all know it.


Life happens. We all have jobs. We all have bills, stress, and the very human desire to socialize every now and then. What separates an author from a wannabe is the ability to get back on the writing horse and stare at the blinking cursor until it starts to move.
Today, I tried to write for three hours AND NOTHING HAPPENED.

Well, that’s not true. A fly buzzed around me as if willfully trying to drive me insane for an hour and a half . . . until I finally killed it. Has-Only-1-Day-Of-Life-Spends-It-All-Trolling-You-Funny-Fly-MemeThen I ate lunch. Then I divided the splitting ends of my hair for fifteen minutes, thinking about Sean Spicer’s appearance on the Emmys last night.

I finally settled on attacking a blog post, because I didn’t really want to think about Sean Spicer anymore and it was obvious it just wasn’t an Old Souls kind of day.


But you know what? Tomorrow I’ll work on my book again.

One day soon I’ll get back into my writing groove.

A little while after that I’ll finish Old Souls.


And it all will have happened solely because I didn’t give up today.


Falling into Gear


The rain is falling outside my window, and for what seems like the first time in months, I can hear it.


Two hours ago I dropped the hellions off at school.  Today my sons head to grades six, five, and two. It’s been a busy eight weeks, filled with days of trampoline parks, camping, laser tag, mini-golf, water-gun fights, and theme parks.


I love summer. I’m not going to lie.


walkway-2030319_1920.jpgI love watching the hellions play soccer and baseball, seeing their hair turn bright blonde and their cheeks become freckled and tanned. I love heat, and Prince Edward Island beaches, and sprinklers on lawns, and the smell of freshly cut grass.

I love everything about summer. Even the storms. Especially the storms, even though they can be hard to hear over the gentle roar of every neighborhood kid in a ten block radius descending on my kitchen to raid the cupboards like a swarm of locusts attacking a crop.

But, I have to admit that fall isn’t so bad, either.

Near the end of every summer I get the same old itch. A creative current seems to electrify the air. And, even though I enjoy spending summer vacation with the boys, every night for the last two weeks I’ve been fantasizing about what life will be like when they head back to school. This morning I woke up up early to go for a run. The sun wasn’t up, so I promptly threw that idea out the window. (Maybe tomorrow?) I got the hellions ready for the day and out the door. Soon, I’ll take a shower, begrudgingly devote an hour to housework, and finally sit down to work on Old Souls.

The goal is four hours a day six days a week of writing, one hour a day five days a week on social media–including the work I put into Scribbles–and, at least a half hour every day of reading.


A couple exciting things are set to happen in the next two months.


I’ve contributed a story to an anthology, The Box Under the Bed, that will be released on Amazon October 1st. (It’s available for pre-order now, btw.) My submission, Cassie, will be featured alongside the spooky stories of twenty spectacular indie authors, just in time for black cat season. The anthology has been compiled and edited by best-selling Amazon author Dan Alatorre, who many of you will recognize as a regular here on Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins.

Shortly after the book’s release, I’m heading to Altamonte Springs to present two workshops at the Florida Writer’s Conference. (And hey, you can register for that here and find out more about my workshops here.)

But, even more exciting than that is while the boys take their hell-raising act to school, Old Souls will once again receive the attention it deserves. The characters will come back to life in my imagination, and soon, they’ll be living and breathing in the imagination of others, too.

Because the book is nearly ready to slip back into the trusted grip of my critique partners. And you know what happens after that?


Publication!


(JOKING.)being-a-writer-its-easy-its-like-riding-a-bike-men-s-t-shirt

There are still a few steps to go after that. But we’ll get there.

Until then, you can expect a more consistent posting schedule here. I’ll be uploading more short stories this year than in previous years. And, as Old Souls becomes tighter, I’ll be able to release a few more deleted scenes. I’m hoping to host quite a few guest blogs too, so: if you have a piece you’d like to share, shoot an email to me at scribblesoncocktailnapkins@gmail.com.

I’m excited to kick the upcoming writing year into full gear.


As always, thanks for coming along for the ride.


J. A.


8 Things You Must Do BEFORE Buckling Down to Write that Novel


It happens all the time. People read a crappy novel and think, hey, I can do better than that. A fraction of those people have an idea for a plot that potential readers might find interesting—if it’s raining. And a Tuesday. Because people love reading on Tuesdays, especially if it’s less than seventy degrees and the wind is coming from due north.

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A fraction of that fraction of would-be authors decide to sit down and plot the idea out. A fraction of that fraction of that fraction is able to fend off the inevitable self-doubt monsters whispering that the book is going to suck, and churn out a reasonable first draft. And, a fraction of that fraction of that fraction, of THAT fraction is able to outlast the procrastinatory distractions offered by the interwebs, members of their real-life family, and pesky employment obligations to COMPLETE a (somewhat) viable book.

1nv0qjIf that book happens to be bumped into on Amazon or *gasp* picked up by someone in a bookstore, it has a one in one hundred (okay, thousand) shot at being purchased, and even less of a chance of being enjoyed . . . by anyone. Because you know, how often does the wind come in from the north while the skies unleash a bit of rain on a Tuesday?

Having nearly accomplished the arduous task of completing a novel myself, I have compiled a list of the top 8 things you should do BEFORE buckling down to write your first book.


And hey, in advance, you are welcome.


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1)     Write your idea down on paper with a new, freshly sharpened pencil. It doesn’t matter it is has an eraser, because your idea is golden manna from heaven. You will make no mistakes here, friend. Be as vague or specific as you like. Already know how the book is going to end? Great. Write that down too. Look closely at your work. See the idea before you in all its splendor. Imagine the feelings of pride and accomplishment you will experience when you see this glorious idea come to light in the form of a book with your name on it.

2)     Make five copies. Smell the paper. Repeat the words, I am an author, over and over in your mind. Own that shit.

3)     Lift the first copy of your beautiful idea from the others, and crumple the paper into a ball. paper-1484048_960_720Listen to the sound of the paper crunching in your fist. Now, go outside. Light a match. And set your idea on fire.

4)    Drive the second copy of your idea to a farm. A hog farm is ideal. Rip your idea up into little tiny pieces. Rub the fragments of your idea all over your hair and your face. Take a deep breath. Inhale the scent of manure around you, and drop the idea into the slop pale to be consumed by the pigs.

5)      Rip the third copy of your idea into five perfectly even parts and mail a piece to Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Mary Poppins, and just for kicks, one to Satan himself. Never check your mailbox again in case the idea is accidentally sent back.

6)     Pack a bag. Do not tell anyone where you are going in case they (foolishly) try to stop you. Go for a walk. Do not stop until you come to a volcano. Drop the fourth copy in.nuclear-2123685_960_720

7)       Take the fifth copy to the ocean. If you live somewhere like Manitoba (as I once did), a lake will do. If you live in the Sahara, have someone Fedex you a f^%@ing conch shell, all right? The point is to listen to the sound of the water. Be at one with the liquid around you.  Tune yourself into the miraculous substance that first birthed life onto our planet. Now, fold your idea into a paper boat, whisper, “It’s not f&@!ng worth it,” and set your idea free.


8)     IF at the end of all of this, you find the desire to flesh out your idea in the form of a book is still too impossible to ignore, take the original piece of paper on which you wrote your perfect, unspoiled, pristine, theoretically block-busting idea and look at it closely. Bask in the perfection of your penmanship and the wisdom behind your prose. Tape it to your computer. KNOW THAT COMPLETING YOR BOOK WILL NOT BE EASY.  But, you are a rockstar, on the cusp of greatness. Because, even if your novel does suck, it never sells, and people leave their homes in droves for the sole purpose of making fun of you, when you finish you will have accomplished something that only a very small percentage of humans on earth have done. Writing a book.

And that’s pretty fucking awesome.

May the Gods be with you.


Chapter 35, A Time Capsule


q1Right now I’m editing Chapter 35 of Old Souls. That means I’m about 90,000 words deep in what currently stands as a 138,146 word novel. This isn’t the first editing run for Old Souls, and it certainly won’t be the last. Likely, the book will require two more passes before the manuscript is forwarded (again) to my critique partners, and yet another draft before it goes to betas. The good news is that each editing endeavor becomes substantially easier than the last. As every gaping plot-hole gets filled, the characters become sharper, and the stakes more clearly defined.

And that acceleration of pace is more than welcome, because the last time I edited Chapter 35 was in 2015.

The first time I saw that “previously opened” date on my file, I was a little floored. How is it possible that so much time has passed?

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We all know that writing a book is hard. Writing a fantasy book can be even harder—much harder than I ever suspected. Typically, fantasy novels are longer than books in other genres (which is great; because 138,146 words). Not to mention (except I’m mentioning it) fantasy novels play by different rules. Case in point: Old Souls is about a man who forgot his past lives, and the “great family” who claim he abandoned after a massacre ten thousand years before. So, reincarnation rules must be made. Worlds must be built, and details must be maintained throughout the manuscript to create a cohesive, believable story.

While digging into this particularly dust-riddled section of my story this week, I realized that allowing work to rest for two years had created a sort of time capsule of my previous strengths and weaknesses. The last time I edited Chapter 35 was at a time in my writerly journey when I’d obsessed over the writing tips and tricks I’d picked up in critique groups. And, it showed. The draft had become clunky. Seeing how this obsession had affected the story led me to reflect on how I had grown as a writer since then.

6a9252e5fdc632e1f48cbc9fe22647e8When I first started to write Old Souls, I obsessed over the sentences. I wanted to write beautiful words, and subsequently thesaurus-ed the shi@% out of my work. As a direct result, shooting out the first chapter of my “beautiful book” took forever roughly a year, and the chapter was absolute garbage.

To stand a hope of writing “The End” I needed help. So, I to turned to writerly books and blogs in search of answers. Everyone seemed to say the same thing: just write. Write for yourself. Write to get something, anything, on the computer screen. So that’s what I did. And when I finished, I had a rambling string of words which no one–including me at times–stood a chance of understanding.

But, I had created something from nothing. Which was outstanding, even if that something needed a LOT of work.

I found that to improve on what I had, I needed to follow an outline. Many writers “pants,” their scenes, writing at whim. My whims had whimmed up a mess. I bought several plotting books and selected my favorite outline for Old Souls: writersjourney3rddropThe Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler, an outline based on the ideas brought forward by Joseph Campbell in, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. And while some writers might argue using an outline inhibits their creative freedom, I found structuring my story within the steps of the Hero’s Journey to be infinitely liberating.

By the time I completed the draft of my story utilizing Vogler’s words of wisdom, I had been working on the manuscript for years. To be fair, I had also brought a couple hellions into the world and moved across the country. There had been large gaps of time where I never worked on the book at all.

Throughout all the time I worked on Old Souls, I hadn’t shown a word to anyone. Except for four people, no one knew I was writing a book. I was fiercely self-conscious. But, the time had come to ask for help. I found a small critique group based out of Western Canada; and when I outgrew that one, a larger critique group, where I met my writerly besties. At first, I soaked up every bit of advice offered, ecstatic that other writers were taking time from their own work to improve mine.

And that’s where I left Chapter 35, two years ago.

Since then, my writerly abilities have grown. And, a lot of that growth can be summed up in one word: Confidence.

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Anyone who’s written anything decent can tell you writing is hard. But, the hardest part isn’t learning to choose the active voice over the passive. It doesn’t have anything to do with dialogue tags, showing vs. telling, or the multi-faceted characterization of villains. The hardest thing about writing is trusting your voice and your story.

It’s a truth that packed a punch when I saw Chapter 35 was probably better before I started taking advice. There are no dialogue tags, there is no passive voice, and no adverbs. But, the story has a stuttered flow, and the action tags read like the characters are participating in a play instead of a book.

So, what has my time capsule taught me? A good story uses writing rules as an aid, not a crutch. Yes, excessive passivity is cumbersome to read. He said, she said can become annoying. The overuse of adverbs is slovenly. These are terrific guidelines. But sometimes, to paint the best pictures, we have to go outside the lines. What has to matter the most–before anything else–is the story. Because, your reader will forgive almost any “mistake” if the story is good enough.

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