Version 2

Reading (when everything is a) Challenge

Last week I tweeted about how excited I was to smash my 2017 50-book reading challenge on Goodreads, since I was ridiculously proud of my mere 30 in 2016 (recap, and, okay, a bit of justification: 2016 was not a smooth year for me). I WAS excited, I noted, until I’d decided to re-read J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE SILMARILLION and THE LORD OF THE RINGS this year (the latter being my absolute favourite book of all time).

Don’t get me wrong — I’m euphoric about reading these. It’s been several years, and while I try to watch the LOTR trilogy every Christmas, reading the books takes a bit more time. My books-read counter is going to crawl over the coming weeks. Not because I’m a massively slow reader, but because these words must be  s a v o   u   r    e      d.

As Pippin quoted Treebeard:

So I’ve started THE SILMARILLION, this time with a Tolkien dictionary and map beside me (for following all those Valar and Maiar and Quendi around). But it got me thinking.

Reading As Respite — and Motivation

Truth is, in times like these where concentration is hard to come by due to current issues, the best thing to do is dive into what inspires you, and remind yourself of what makes you feel hopeful, and strong, and creative, and motivated, and just plain good. And just as Tolkien described in his beautiful essay, On Fairy Stories, this isn’t about escapism in the negative sense:

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used . . . Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he . . . thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.

And as C.S. Lewis said in OF THIS AND OTHER WORLDS regarding the reader of fantasy: “He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”

So. Rather than buckling down and sticking to my usually-demanding daily word count (or, when editing, scene tally), I’m giving myself a bit more grace. If my struggle to focus is throwing up brick walls (or walls that look like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and news outlets…), I need to step back and not beat myself up for it. And in the evening, maybe start my reading a little bit earlier. Rather than staring at a screen and berating myself for sub-par productivity, I’m trying to tell myself it’s okay to just go to words I love, and sit there for awhile.

Granted, I’m not on a deadline other than any I give myself right now…

Why I Write

I love what Tolkien said about his Elves in the preface to THE SILMARILLION:

Their ‘magic’ is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations . . .  And its object is Art not Power, sub-creation not domination and tyrannous re-forming of Creation.

The Elves used their abilities to add beauty to the world, not control it nor become its master.  Tolkien wrote much about writers as sub-creators, made by a creator they’re naturally inclined to wish to imitate. “We make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made.”

But this is WHY I write — with the hope I can also create a world of a story and characters and events that might someday be someone else’s respite, inspiration, or encouragement.

We create to inspire, and we read for inspiration. While my productivity might be a bit lower currently, my well is being filled, and that’s no bad thing. It’s the very thing I need to prepare me for the next set of words, and the next set of days.

I hope you’re filling your well with words that inspire you. <3

Share Button
Version 2

Pitching Helped Me Focus

A bit dusty around here, right?

I was away for 5 weeks in late March-April-early May, and it made this year start to fly, but also kept me off the internet. I missed a ton of #WIPMarathon posts, and generally feel like everything in the world happened on Twitter, and now it’s too late for me to catch up. But if I have to choose, I’d rather be living life then reading about it, and in April I was able to attend RT Booklovers Convention in Las Vegas with my sister (also a writer) 🙂  So it’s all good!

Book Fair at RT
Book Fair at RT

I wanted to review the convention but given it’s been a few months now, it feels outdated. I will say that for a first big American convention (since I’m in the UK and it’s not as easy to attend), I had an overall fantastic experience. I got to hang with one of my CPs (the fabulous Jessica Gunn, whose debut, GYRE, is out now), meet and pitch to agents, listen to some great teaching at the pre-con bootcamp as well as a handful of inspiring and motivating panels and workshops.

Look closely & you'll see my husband & sister on the zip wire at the Rio. I did not take part in this event.
Look closely & you’ll see my husband & sister on the zip wire at the Rio. I did not take part in this event.

One of the most memorable was a workshop on prose by Kate Brauning and Nicole Baart, about the sound of language, Latinate versus Germanic words (which I’m ashamed to admit I never considered before — if you want to see how Jane Austen used language to reveal character, check this out), synaesthesia (sense given to something abstract), transferred epithet, and much more.

Pocket Picard checking out Yosemite
Pocket Picard checking out Yosemite
“When you’re tired, you take a nap-a, you don’t MOVE to Napa.” – Carrie Bradshaw

It was a great opportunity to meet other writers at various points in their journeys, published authors, agents, and editors, and I am so grateful I was able to attend. Highly recommended! I appreciated that many of the writing workshops were not genre-specific, and there were a good handful aimed at SFF writers or targeted areas of the craft such as fight scenes.

Maybe the most useful outcome has been honing pitches. I pitched to agents in person for the first time, and I was ridiculously nervous. But after a few workshops and some advice from the supportive writing community around me, when I sat down to work, in about 20 minutes I put together a 3-minute pitch, managing what I hadn’t been able to do ever before: communicate the hook and meat of one of my manuscripts in under 3 minutes, comps included.

I can’t lie. I often struggle to be concise. My first drafts are about 30% longer than the final draft. But this exercise forced me to stamp down on the feeling that I HAVE to mention XYZ about my plot, oh, and this character’s arc, oh, and this bit of world-building, and this theme, and … and … Something just clicked in my head, and I’m confident that if I focus on what I can say in 3 minutes or less, I’ll have boiled down the concept and the hook and can stop right there. For me, it was about what I would say verbally to another person. I always stumbled over elevator pitches to friends and acquaintances who asked what my books were about, but this forced me to see it as a useful strategy for finding the focus of the story and sticking to it, throughout the writing, editing, and pitching process.

After RT, the Scotsman met me in Vegas for a California road trip through Death Valley (beautiful, especially seeing the highest and lowest points within the continental U.S. without moving my feet!), through Napa and down Highway 1, which I never drove all the time I lived in California. Despite the fun travels, this spring was a very difficult time for personal and family reasons, making 2016 the most stressful and challenging year I’ve ever had. It all made me more thankful for my friends than ever — I was able to meet up with seven old friends in California and Vegas, many of whom I haven’t seen in 10 years or more, as well as spend a weekend with both my sisters together. By the time this year is done, I’ll have seen every one of my dearest friends in the same year, which has *never* happened before. I’m reminded how amazing each one is, and that while distance sucks, it doesn’t stop us from picking up where we left off 🙂

I’ve been learning so much, not just about writing and publishing but about myself, where I want to be, and how and who I want to be. It’s a daily struggle, but I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve been able to learn and hopeful that I can implement them to make the rest of 2016 a more joyful and positive time. I think the theme for this year has been cutting away the unnecessary to get to what really matters. Practicing pitching has, in a strange way, helped me focus on what’s actually important in life as well as in my stories <3

Yosemite
Yosemite
Share Button
Version 2

We can be heroes

It’s been over a month of the Earth spinning without David Bowie and Alan Rickman still on it, still creating art. I wanted to write about it right away, but it seemed too fresh, and now that time’s passed, I feel like I can better put into words what it’s meant.

Some people say it’s pointless to have “heroes” or look up to celebrities because they’re as fallible as the rest of us; that they’re “nobody special” and I didn’t know them personally nor they me, so why are my emotions involved?

Well, I can take that argument five steps further than most, because I *have* known some of my heroes personally. I dated one of them for half of my twenties. I can tell you that what you think you know about someone whose work you admire may be twenty miles from the truth. But what I can also say is, whether you have a real-life connection or not is not the point. The point is the work, and the gratitude you have for that person’s willingness to share it with the world. A person’s work can say different things, specific to each person who receives it. And that’s part of its beauty. That’s part of what makes living beautiful.

Like a lot of people from my generation, I suspect, Labyrinth was my childhood gateway to David Bowie. Still one of my favourite films, partly because my biggest creative hero in life, without realising it for many years, is Jim Henson. Sesame Street and the Muppet Show played a huge role in the kind of person I grew up to be. Sesame Street in the 70s & 80s was *magic* and it taught kids so much. It’s still teaching today. If you ever get the chance, check out Jim Henson’s biography by Brian Jay Jones, one of the best books I’ve ever read.

What Jim did was devote his life to his passion, through incredibly difficult times, through painful rejection on his most beloved projects that he put his entire heart and soul into, and he never gave up. He was also taken from us too soon, though it’s mind-boggling to think he could’ve given more than he did. He drew teams of other visionary artists around him, and they made worlds of education and love and storytelling come alive. People toss around the word “legacy” with little consideration for its weight, but Henson, Bowie, and Rickman truly have left us their legacies.

So Labyrinth was a big deal for me, and Bowie was genius casting. He was Jareth. He was a goblin king of both light and dark, unafraid to face both sides and question each. As I got older and played in bands, one band covered Ziggy Stardust, and our guitarist gave me the album as a present (thank you, Jeremy). I was enthralled. It had taken me that long to dive into Bowie’s music, and as trite as it sounds, he truly lives on in it. He’s not gone from this planet. He’s here for as long as we are.

If you missed it, another of my heroes, my favourite actor Gary Oldman, gave the most perfect and moving tribute to Bowie at the Brit Awards, along with Annie Lennox. I don’t think anyone could put it into better words than these two.

And Alan Rickman. Another of my favourite actors, This was such a hard week and I think I must have said, “No, that can’t be right,” in utter confusion for several minutes when scrolling through headlines. I loved Alan’s work since Die Hard, from music videos to personal projects to Hollywood blockbusters, to Snape, to my favourite philanderer in Love, Actually. He was also an artist who gave his everything, not for celebrity or red-carpet moments, but because his soul’s expression was through the characters he brought to life. You could see the passion written on his face. You believed him, every time, utterly. And if you read his quotes in recent tributes, you know he believed his talent was a responsibility. It was serious work, to him. It wasn’t a job – it was a calling in life that he could not refuse or ignore. He knew he had a platform to do good things, and he used it.

The similarity between Bowie and Rickman isn’t just that we lost both during that horrible week; it’s passion. Both reached inside and brought it out with every creation. There was no half-assing. They could do nothing BUT give us their all.

So why do I look up to the people I call my “heroes”? If they’re fallible and imperfect like the rest of us, and they just happened to be born with drive and talent and innovative minds, and they got money and fame in exchange for doing it, why do I look up to them?

Because they didn’t stifle their creative voice. They did something with it that’s inspired me to share my own. There are hundreds of pop songs, fun books, films, TV shows, theatrical shows, and actors I enjoy immensely — but there are only a *handful* of creative people I call heroes. They’re the ones who bring me true joy, who make me feel alive, whose work shows me something important about life. They’re the ones who’ve inspired me to live better, work harder, create more, and not give up on my own passion.

We all have passion inside us for something, but sadly, I don’t think we all chase it as though our life depends on it. These two did, and I’m grateful to God for it.

“A film, a piece of theater, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world.”
– Alan Rickman

<3

Share Button
Version 2

Final Check-In for 2015

Hey, Merry Christmas!

I hope you’ve been enjoying a beautiful season. <3

Christmasy Harrods
Christmasy Harrods

This post is both a #WIPMarathon Check-in — the last for 2015 — and my declaration of New Year’s resolutions.

I’ve been the set-and-and-forget-it type when it comes to New Year’s resolutions in the past, but with the best of intentions. Usually it’s a few things I already really want to be doing but just lack the willpower. But I hope that stops here (a resolution in itself!)

Things I’m Glad I Did In 2015: Continue reading “Final Check-In for 2015”

Share Button
Version 2

Unsocial Media

Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh
Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

Helloo! Happy Autumn, or if you’re in the UK like I am, happy fog!

Basically, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live in the UK and haven’t watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail a thousand times like I have, here you go:

Except we don’t usually get the summer bit 😉

Anyhow, it’s been awhile since I’ve blogged for two reasons:

1) I’ve been to the States twice since August, and up to Scotland shortly after, so I’ve had little time to write let alone blog *about* writing.

2) As much as I love reading all the wonderful content out there, not just about writing but about people’s lives, their adventures, their struggles, how they handle and overcome those struggles, most of the time I don’t feel a great need to blog about my own.

When I do, I post something, but lately I feel strongly that what I add to the bulging-at-the-seams interwebz needs to be meaningful, even if just in a small way. I don’t want to post about how much I wrote or didn’t if it doesn’t matter to anyone but me. I guess I don’t know exactly what my blog should include at this point, but along with the updates I share with #WIPMarathon and other writer buddies, I want it to say *something*, even if it’s just, “This is what I learned this month.”

Which brings me to this post’s point. Yesterday I read about Essena O’Neill‘s departure from social media Continue reading “Unsocial Media”

Share Button