Nearly three years later…

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If I were to say, “I can’t believe how long it has been!” I would be lying. A lot of time has definitely passed and many things – planned and unexpected – have happened in my life. Writing, on occasion, has been one of them, but it has been more of a journey of self-discovery and growing up. I’m not quite sure how I feel about the past few years, but I am grateful for many of the things that have happened and what I have learned from the other things that I’m not so fond of.

I’m honestly not sure where to begin. About a month after my last post I entered the United States Air Force and began a life I thought I could reasonably plan around, but it took me by surprise instead. New faces, many beginnings and endings that happened without my realization, and a lot of personal growth and shortfalls that I haven’t made time to reflect on and grow from. It makes me wonder how foolish I was to think I could predict my future. Sure, I went to school and, as always, chose majors that would suit future employment rather than personal happiness. It was something that was a part of the plan, regardless of the outcome at the end. I bought a car, though there is no way that I will be able to finish payments on it before the end of my enlistment, and I have traveled California with it. I’ve also made friends, but many aren’t long term at all – maturity and what we are currently looking for out of life create boundaries that I’m not willing to let down.

I’ve sat with men and women who, like me, just joined the military and have done great things, whether it is assisting in patient care, making sure everyone’s finances are in perfect order, in-processing them to their new squadrons, or briefed commanders on their areas of expertise. I’ve sat on console with other members of my operations group and together we have put satellites in space  and tested intercontinental ballistic missiles – something I am sure many of us never thought we would be doing as children. I’ve run alongside my commander with our organizational flag when running was a difficulty for me during my first few months in the military and the slim guy that I once was has picked up quite a bit of muscle (though more wouldn’t be bad!).

A lot has definitely happened.

What does it all mean though? Sure, experiences come together to help forge us into better people, should we allow them to, but where do we go from here? How do we take these experiences and make them into the building blocks that will take us where we want to go in the future? How do we know that the future we are aiming towards is the one that will bring us the greatest happiness?

Three years ago I wanted to write. I wanted to write terribly bad and I was putting forth a bit of effort into the endeavor. Reading books from genres that interested me, buying books that would help me become a better writer, and building worldbuilding documents that would flesh out the universe of my books for myself and my readers. Even after joining the military I continued to pick up books that may help me write certain things more accurately. On my bookshelf is a book that details various types of ships and I still hang onto books from previous classes that I have taken to assist me in adding depth to my characters, like my philosophy books and my diagnostic manual of psychological disorders. Now though? My life is riddled with all sorts of preoccupations. Dating, tending to deadlines at work, juggling both a Psychology and Business Administration major, and fitting in time for friends and other activities that would help me become more social than I was in the past. Writing, to say the least, has taken a backseat to it all.

Is it really the passion that I made it out to be? Many artists, whether they write, draw, or perform in some fashion, have put many things aside to embrace their craft and make it a part of their very being. They build friendships that revolve around and encourage their craft, they sacrifice and endure to see their art come to fruition, and many of them succeed, but those who don’t still press on with their love. What does that say about me? Despite my experiences, where does that put me in terms of what I want to do with my life? Do I even truly want to do it?

I can’t answer this question yet. Right now my aim is simply to survive and wade through the muck to find happiness one speck at a time, but is that how it should be done? Can I guarantee myself happiness in a reasonable amount of time if I take the long, roundabout route to ensuring financial security before I concern myself about wearing a genuine smile? How does the rest of the world do it? Do the majority of us suck it up and live in a world that permits us to survive on the condition that we let go of the things that we truly wish to accomplish?

I don’t know. All I can think is that adulthood really is a bitch, but a part of me thinks it doesn’t have to be. I just wonder when I replaced that drive to achieve happiness through my art with a determination to survive, despite the odds and personal sacrifices that I would have to make. I wonder if I even had the drive to begin with.

When I’m Not Writing…

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I’m, uh… really late writing this and will shorten the post by using bullet points. These are the things I do when I’m not writing:

  • Listen to my subconscious scream at me about why I should be writing.
  • Watch TV (Law & Order, Food Network, Travel Channel…)
  • Fire up the Xbox! Whaaat? Video games have stories too!
  • Read books. Mieville and Feist books are on my desk right now.
  • Exercise!
  • Dread sleep because I’m often too lazy to get out of the bed.

So there you have it! That’s my short list.

Quickie Post!

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Today is a lazy day for blogging.

I usually don’t plan my blog posts, which may be obvious by the varying length between them or the abrupt stop before I can really solidify the point of the day. I’m steadily getting better at the daily posts and have even been planning a few to do in the future. I’m pretty sure I don’t have any regular viewers at this point (which is my fault! I’m not networking much.), but I’m still having fun with this and have been learning a lot from myself regardless.

Today is still a lazy day for blogging! So instead of scribbling up something on a single topic, I’ll touch on a few things I’ve been doing and what type of writing that I’d like to do. Sound good? Great.

I’ve been trying to outline and worldbuild quite a bit lately. Trying is the key word here because there are so many distractions where I currently am and that I place upon myself. That, too, is steadily getting better with practice, but a change in venue would probably help me more so than anything else. There is some good news though! Worldbuilding and outlining aren’t looking so bad any more. I recently watched an interview of China Mieville talking about his writing and his suggestions for newer writers. One of which was to extensively outline and worldbuild your butt off.

I rebelled. To myself, in blog posts, and to people I’ve spoken to. Why write an encyclopedia of information that you may or may not get to use? Why waste all of that time building something that only you would know about?

Believe or not, it helps. It won’t necessarily make writing the story easier, but knowing your world and owning it that much more will make you more confident when writing about it. You don’t have to write an epic, world sprawling fantasy to get to know your world as I once thought you did. I’m not going to touch too much on this since I’m still experimenting with it, but I’m enjoying it more than I was a few days ago.

Shifting topics, I’d like to touch on what sort of writing I’m planning on doing. Science Fiction and Fantasy as a genre is my focus, though that has probably been obvious with my reading list and the frequent usage of the word ‘fantasy’ in my blog posts. Where I used to be unsure, however, was with the multitude of sub-genres that exist and where I would settle down there. It wasn’t until I actually began the planning process for a few ideas – yes, I jumped around quite a bit with three ideas and have several more stashed away – that I realized that it didn’t matter too much.

Between glancing at publishing FAQs and simply needing to get the story written, I figured what will be will be. Dark Fantasy, urban themes, and my recent interest in Lovecraftian lore tend to swing me one way, but my off-and-on interest in manga, Feist, and other fictional worlds has me interesting in a more lighthearted, mystical side of fantasy. A blending of the two every now and then wouldn’t hurt either, right?

So there you have it! Toss in a little reading of The Scar by China Mieville – which I should be finished with soon as long as I keep the distractions at bay – and that’s what I have been up to. If this trend of daily blogging keeps up, then maybe I’ll continue to use Sunday as my lazy blogging day.

Strength in Naming

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Naming has to be one of the most interesting aspects of writing that I’ve run into so far. Everyone and everything has a name, which almost makes naming mundane and trivial. Almost, but not quite. If everyone and everything has a name, then how do those names come about? How is it that someone can name all of their characters, cities, systems of power, and so on without throwing their head back and screaming or giving up before the job is done?

I’m going to be completely honest; I don’t know!

Luckily that isn’t the point of this post or I would be in trouble.

During my outlining process, which has turned from something I meant to keep brief to a massive catalog of information, I’ve had to name a numerous amount of things: characters, organizations, cities, government sects, deities, and so on. Some of these are still unnamed and have temporary labels until I come up with something better, while those that have names are steadily fleshed out to become the great thing or character I have envisioned. So – and here comes the lesson! – this tells me something important.

There is strength in naming!

Think about it. Using an example of the Greek pantheon, imagine if Zeus was merely called the “God of Lightning, Sky, and Air” and Poseidon “King of the Sea.” These names work, but they lack a certain substance that give them more validity and power. Their validity is lessened further when other gods and goddesses are introduced that bear similar titles. If there were many deities of the sky and sea, how would we distinguish between them? Why would we care about them?

Stories and feats can sometimes replace the strength that a name gives, but usually the title has to be unique in its own right. Examples like The Upright Man from Feist’s world of Midkemia or Mass Effect’s Shadow Broker do this well. Through the actions of these people, the titles become strong enough to replace any given name. Without these feats and stories behind them, the titles would be just as empty as the unnamed pantheon. Could you imagine Superman being acknowledged as Superman if he didn’t save Metropolis every now and then? Spider-Man? Ha, he would be laughed at if he simply walked the streets like every other person.

However, I digress from my point! Aside from the above examples, I’ve found that the naming can make a difference in a writer’s interest for certain outlining/plotting aspects. I, for example, couldn’t dive too deeply into the building of my story’s city without giving it a name. The name itself, like with characters, had a feeling that helped define and breathe life into the city. I had ideas in mind for particular buildings and sections for the city, but those ideas lacked a core that brought them all together until the city was named.

Similarly, I’m having issues with a particular organization that plays an important role in the plot. I know what I want it to do for the sake of the plot, but the lack of naming keeps me an inch away from ownership and the next step in its characterization process. It is like wandering through an unfurnished building of my design. I’d like to tell the movers that they can start bringing in the sofas, tables, and so on, but the name is the password that keeps them from coming inside. Cheesy example, but it makes the point.

So, as you can see, I’m still floating through the middle of this lesson, but I’m on the right track to success. Now to keep on writing!

More Lessons From Outlining!

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I don’t often talk about my progress of my current project, but it feels like a great way to follow up yesterday’s post. Outlining hasn’t been my strong suit lately and, like yesterday’s post on worldbuilding, I had to find a new approach to it to appreciate what it is able to do for my writing. Like many other new writers, templates and existing formulas were my guiding light, but I soon found that the majority of those helpful posts weren’t for me. Maybe it is because of the way I think, but if I don’t dig through the trenches myself and struggle a little, I find myself relying too much on outside examples and slowing the progress of my work due to lack of confidence.

Instead of clinging to someone’s preset outline/plotting template, I decided to create my own bare bones approach and go from there. Headings for Plot, Setting, Character, and Notes for miscellaneous systems and subheading when necessary work for me. No overbearing character checklists, quirky fill in the blank plotting helpers, or questions for adequate settings.

I’m not saying that these things are bad or that you shouldn’t make them part of your toolbox as a writer, but being a writer isn’t the same thing as programming in a particular computer language or doing mathematical calculations. Writing, like many other arts out there, takes on its own form once you understand the basics and your success as one doesn’t necessarily hinge on following the same rules as any other writer. That’s my take on it.

Tossing the preaching aside, my new approach – something I recently found out that Brandon Sanderson uses as well – is working wonderfully. There’s more organization now that it isn’t a jumbled mess of parts dragged from different bloggers and guides, and there is a sense of freedom that I felt I didn’t have before when simply following the guidelines set out before me. I can write what is necessary for my work in progress and, most importantly, I don’t feel the need to abandon project after project because of my insecurity with the work done.

I mention insecurity and confidence often because I find that aspiring writers lack these above all else. It is possible to learn technique through all sorts of how-to manuals, writing workshops, and so on, but being able to apply those things confidently is a completely different arena. Many forum goers that I’ve seen on the web often ask their peers questions that they know the answers to, but are usually looking for affirmation to settle their worries and push them to continue writing.

Coming from a science background where you had limited approaches to problems, I found myself clinging to the rights and wrongs of writing without bothering to approach it from my own standpoint. That, as you can tell, has been an underlying focus on these past few posts and is something I think that many writers – especially school-aged ones – keep at the forefront of their mind due to the way we are programmed to learn. As an aspiring writer, this is something that I’m trying to break myself out of and I encourage many others to do the same.

Detailed outlining and plot development are two good ways to do this or so I’ve found. By clinging to templates and guides without providing your own flair, you aren’t claiming your story as your own. So what if your character doesn’t fit into X archetype or your plot ignores Y structure? Stories, while similar in some aspects, are not made from cookie cutters that everyone has access to. They are imagination incarnate born from your mind to be penned by your hand.

Confidence, especially when it comes to writing, isn’t something that can be taught by any book. You can be guided on the right path by all the knowledge in the world, but being bold enough to take that first step is where it all begins. Like I’ve said before, you can always learn and develop through your mistakes.

Learning to Love Worldbuilding

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I have a confession to make: I abhor worldbuilding. I’m not sure if it is because it seems to drain the life from my work as opposed to infusing it with this sense of inexplicable wonder or if my worlds are simply mundane, but I can’t stand it. I know that so many writers enjoy jumping headfirst into constructing a world that their readers will probably never be able to fully explore, but it pains me to do that and I don’t know why.

Rather than run away from worldbuilding completely, I think I’m going to take a few baby steps into it and see where I can go. Perhaps, to me, the entire world is not important at this stage of the plotting. After all, I’m not writing an epic fantasy or planning a trilogy of novels that encompasses dozens of areas. From life experience and reading several books of this type, I’ve learned that you don’t necessarily have to go far to have an adventure and that the layers upon layers of city that we ignore in our daily lives tend to have more to them than meets the eye.

So I’m going to tiptoe into worldbuilding and see where it takes me. Instead of zooming out to take a broader view of the world and describing every infinitesimal geographical feature, I’ll shorten my scope and construct my city to suit the needs of the story, while only hinting to things that serve no purpose to it. This is probably another Duh! moment brought to you by Writing or Bust!, but these faux eureka events are helping me shape my own rules of writing and I love ’em all.

If none of that made sense, then today’s lesson could be summed up as this: Plot and build only what is necessary to the story being told. Everything else is just a headache waiting to happen. Or one that already happened in my case!

Here’s hoping that it actually works! If not, then maybe I’m more of a discovery writer than I thought.

Rules, Advice… Blech!


As a new writer, I tend to surround myself with all sorts of writing advice in the form of books, blogs, and podcasts. I’m sure that all writers do this or had during some point in their careers and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing; everyone needs to learn somehow and should always look to improve in some form.

What I do find absolutely annoying about the advice given to writers is that certain mediums like to supersaturate you with that knowledge on a daily basis. Many writers that I see in forums cling to it all as if it were equal, then collapse under the weight of the ‘knowledge’ dropped on them.

It isn’t all equal, folks!

Speaking from personal experience, I’ve been burnt out of writing on many occasions because of the  multitude of blogs, tweets, and so on that I used to read on many aspects of writing. If it isn’t burning me out, then I find it to be a complete time waster. Many times I’ve hit an overlap of knowledge that I have already sucked up somewhere else or find information that completely disregards what I have learned somewhere else. Talk about confusing!

Now I’m not going to tell you what I think is necessary or unnecessary in terms of advice, but in these short months that I’ve researched information I have created a standard for myself when it comes to taking in someone’s rules, advice, and etc. You most certainly do not have to follow it, but I would suggest that all new writers create one for themselves so that they can focus on what is truly important: writing!

My Personal Guidelines to Advice!

  1. Limit your sources. For example, I use Writing Excuses, SFWA Worldbuilding Questions and many of their other helpful posts, and Lisa Gardner’s Writers’ Toolbox (I’m a sucker for PDFs!). Anything else is for specific inquiries.
  2. Create a toolbox, like the above, to compile your references. The less time you need to research, the more time you have for writing. Books, blogs, podcasts… whatever helps you.
  3. When in doubt, just read a book from your genre. The best learning tool is another writer’s prose. If it is great, then you know what to do. If it isn’t, then you know what not to do.
  4. Shut up and write! It is okay to screw up a little. Make your own rules through revision, rejection, and success. How do you think these rules were created anyway? Divine mandate!?

All advice isn’t good advice for you. What helps someone else may shoot you in the foot or throw you for a loop that delays your future success as a writer. So find what works for you, compile it, and settle down with your work in progress.

Scheduling Time to Write

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You know, this ‘not blogging everyday’ thing hasn’t worked out as much as I thought it would. Once I got lax with posting here, I found it bleeding into my fiction writing and that was not good at all. What was worse were the excuses I would constantly make to convince myself why I wasn’t writing and that those excuses weren’t worth hearing or believing.

Oh, it is too late to write tonight!

I’m (brainstorming/reading/listening to Writing Excuses). That counts for writing!

Mmmm… pie.

I keep getting bothered! Who can write like this!?

So, for myself and others out there, I’d like to say that scheduling time to write is integral to your success as a writer. This is another duh moment brought to you by Writing or Bust!, but it is worth stating over and over again. Slapping the reins on your life and training yourself to get things done in whatever way is best for you is something that all new writers should be focused on. Want to play that video game? Sure, but make sure you knock out your daily writing quota. Read a book? Write a little of yours first. Watch the latest CSI? Psst… did you write yet?

You get the picture. It is tough – and I know from experience of trying – but it is a tremendous help and will help you become a more efficient writer in the process. Your brain will be juiced up and ready for the moment, your muse will have finished eating all of those yummy dream snacks you left for her overnight, and your word processor/notepad eager to begin where you left off.

The point is that being a successful writer is like having a second job. If you want to be damn good at your job and be read by an audience, then make sure you put in the time and effort to get there. You certainly won’t regret it.

Now to practice what I preach and resume my own work.

Lessons from Outlining

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As promised, I decided to write today based on what I learned from the post I so desperately tried to force out last night. Why did I delete it? Not only did I initially feel forced to write something after reading another blog, but the topic I had in mind lost its focus near the end of the post. I was writing about working on Act II  in my outline and how it started to get difficult for me to come up with ideas, but the reason I put the blame to – a horrible ending – wasn’t at fault.

I’m not even sure if you could call my problem a plot-based one. The idea still feels solid and it is something that I’m going to stick with until it becomes an issue. The problem was the lack of substance in my plot and ignoring questions that began to form as I continued shaping the plot.

Why is the antagonist so bent on following through with their plans?

What drives the protagonist and prevents them from doing X, Y, or Z?

Where does the conflict go from the first clash and how can it stay interesting afterward?

When I found that these questions were subconsciously popping up and I ignored them, I felt the passion for my work melt away and the frustration mount higher and higher. If I couldn’t create a solid outline, what hope did I have for making the story interesting? So I did what most people would do around 2AM – I slept on it and let my ideas stew. Before I knew it, I had discovered things about my plot that I had no clue about when I first started writing the outline and these discoveries led to more questions that needed to be answered.

What does this tell me? You need to do some worldbuilding, dude!

Oh, the cities were there, the geography, while in need of work, existed, and the basic racial identities of the world’s inhabitants were there, but I completely ignored the most important – the culture! Without the mannerisms, religion (an integral part in this story), and the do’s and don’ts of this alien society, things just felt so flavorless. Even in our world, something that is done by children in the United States isn’t necessarily the norm in Africa, Iran, or China. This is quite obvious, but the subtleties make all the difference and help to add meat to the skeleton that is my plot.

So, for now, I think I’ll stop pretending that I’m some sort of discovery writer and jump into worldbuilding for a few days to see if I can fish out more answers to my questions.

Today’s Lesson…

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… is not to force yourself to write a blog post. I promise that there will be something interesting to read later today!

Possible topics? That Pesky Act II, Ending Poorly, and The Pitfalls of a Newbie Writer. Maybe I’ll throw them all in a pot and bring them together somehow, which is what my initial post turned into prior to me chucking it out of the window. Oh, trust me. It had an awful smell to it.

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