Where are the Muses

So, sort of ironically here, I was lacking inspiration on my blog post for this week and saw the The Daily Post’s word of the day. Writers, and other artists, like to talk about the mythical muses quite a bit. Anymore, we tend to use the word as a manifestation of our creative side. Oftentimes, when we can’t manage to find the right words or the motivation to create, we blame the muse for not showing up or for not talking. We impress upon others and ourselves that working on our project would be so much simpler if inspiration would just talk to us!

Unfortunately, the best way to find the muses is to stop waiting for them to show up. There’s a couple of ways to go with that idea. First, you could toss out the need to be inspired all together, but let’s face a fact. It feels great when you have a muse perched on your shoulder. Inspiration makes your mind fly with ideas and for a brief, happy time, your creative work feels completely golden. Those moments in the zone are the moments creatives truly enjoy. The world and its worries are left behind for the glorious joy of making something.

So consider a different mental approach if you’re having trouble finding the muses. The best way to find anything is to lure it out into the open. If muses love creativity, then start up your project and do some work. Draw a line, write a sentence, find a prompt, whatever you need to just begin. Don’t worry about the muse showing up or whether or not inspiration will strike you. The practice of creating will bring them out. You’ll have tiny whispers that blossom into full blown muse-irific tangents if you simply keep working.

That’s not easy advice, especially when you’re struggling. And it’s something you hear a lot–“Just write every day and it’ll happen!” how many of us have read that over and over? Thing is, sometimes that’s all you can do. Butt in the seat, words on the page, pencil marks on the paper, chords on the instrument–somedays that’s all you’re going to have. Keep at it though. My own ability to knit stories together is growing, and I’ve watched friends go from struggling to write a few hundred words to writing a couple thousand in the same amount of time. Practice has made all the difference. Sometimes those muses still elude us, but showing up and getting to work makes it much more likely we’ll find them. Don’t worry. Lay out the bait of some creative thoughts and those muses won’t be able to resist showing up.

Feel free to comment or share your own thoughts about muses!

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NaNoWriMo Tips

National Novel Writing Month kicks off on November 1st, which is this Sunday!

Okay, for those panicking (much like me), remember that nice deep breaths are your buddy. NaNoWriMo is exciting for sure, but it can be a little overwhelming even if you’ve won challenges in the past. In the last couple of days, my brain’s been running over a series of tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years that will help make my NaNo easier. I thought I’d share a few.

  • Remember, writing is fun!

This can be a hard to remember in the middle of a draft. I get thinking about everything I’ve done, everything left to go, and I lose track of why I sat down at the keyboard in the first place: Because I like it. Because I have fun telling stories and getting words out to share with other people. Sometimes, I need a reminder that, hey, this is supposed to be an awesome experience! Going to write-ins or using the message boards helps me refuel my excitement for my project. Simply knowing that other people are also working their way through the 50k challenge makes me continue pushing for my own word count. I’m able to commiserate for a few minutes (Writing can be hard and solitary) and then find my fun groove again.

  • Planning or Pantsing, anything can work.

More than a lot of hobbies or professions, writing is a lot of trial and error to find the process that works for you. I’ve had a NaNo where I didn’t know much about the book except for the main character and a bit about her world setting. My other NaNo, I knew the cast of characters and the circumstances completely. NaNo is about discovering creativity, about getting that book out of your head and onto the page. And you’ll hear this advice over and over, the writing process has to be tailored to you. I’m sure a lot of people are like me–I’ve discovered that I do best with a mix of plotting and pantsing. My words fly onto the page when I’ve got just enough planned, but not every scene mapped. If you’re feeling anxious about reaching 50k, I recommend doing some plotting. If the thought of knowing too much of the story beforehand frightens you, don’t worry about it. NaNo is all about finding *your* groove.

  • Believe that Writer’s Block is a myth

Since I started working the mantra “there is no such thing as writer’s block” into my writing practice, I’ve had far fewer creative hurdles to jump. Frequently, in the past, when I was ‘blocked,’ it was because I didn’t feel a muse’s divine inspiration, or didn’t know what to do with the characters next. Sometimes–more often than I care to admit–I was blocked because I’d driven my characters into a plot that wasn’t in their personalities. NaNo doesn’t leave time for second-guessing. Never erase during NaNo, never go back and rewrite, but I’ve found it useful to write new scenes as if I’d already fixed the problem. If I feel like the story’s not going anywhere, it’s time to add a new character or to up the tension by having the worse possible thing happen. I think Kirkman, writer of The Walking Dead, likes to joke that if he needs something to happen, he just throws a zombie into the mix. Same can be said of Lost and Battlestar Galactica. If you’re worried about being stuck, get spontaneous. Throw in something you hadn’t considered before, or ask ‘what would make the characters’ lives worse?’ You’re the writer, you’re the god of the story. You get to be Murphy’s Law to their lives. And if that won’t work, find a friend or a forum to start explaining your story. I find myself making connections and new plots constantly when I try to tell someone how the story works. It’s just the little seed I need to keep going.

  • Guard your writing time.

This piece of advice comes up frequently, but I didn’t start taking it seriously until the last couple of months. It seems like such a natural, obvious tidbit: eliminate distractions from writing time and space. I wasn’t really following it though. I started to and my daily word count jumped incredibly. For me, it means getting out of the apartment (away from my television) and getting to a quiet spot in the library, making sure to use a quiet reading room or a study room because frequently other patrons can cause disruptions (the amount of small wailing children in libraries will surprise you. I’m never angry or upset with the parents–small children cry, this is a fact of life. I simply seek the corners where it’s harder for sound to reach). It takes a lot of discipline for me, but I tell myself that I can’t go surfing on the web until it’s break time.

For a lot of others, this means telling your loved ones that when you sit down to write, it’s your time. Don’t feel guilty for carving out time for what you’re doing. You’re finding fun, you’re creating. Guard your time (and creative space like a desk, or the kitchen table while you’re working at it) like Gollum with the One Ring. Keep those sneaky Bagginses away from your Precious. They’ll have their turn with your time later. Getting your family to understand why you’re protecting like this might take a lot of conversation (for at least a year, my mom seemed to have this uncanny ability for calling me while writing, but this doesn’t happen nearly so much lately because we’ve talked about the hours I’m usually at the keyboard), but hopefully they’ll be supportive and understanding in the end.

  • Set-up a rewards system

This is one that can be really tricky for me. I like telling myself “Oh, I won’t do X until I reach the word count!” buuuuuut I often go for “Oh, well, I reached Y. That’s good enough.” This month I plan on sticking to my goals a lot more, especially since I plan on taking so much. For me, it means no catching up on last night’s episodes until I reach word count. Or delaying that bit of desert until after the writing session. I find something to keep me moving during the writing sessions and push until finish.

  • Drink enough water/Have water on hand

Okay, this is a bit of an odd one, and something that might be just me. But when I’m really getting into the groove, I start getting thirsty. In order to eliminate this distraction, I have water near me. Some people prefer their coffees or sodas, but lately, I’ve been trying to keep down the sugars at the keyboard and make sure I have enough water. Plenty of water is supposed to be good, so it’s a win-win.

  • Remember, writing is supposed to be fun!

It’s on here twice because it’s that important. This came back to me full force during the NaNo Meet and Greet the other night. I hadn’t realized that I lost the fun there for a while, but I had. Stress of getting a project done can obscure the reason for getting to the keyboard in the first place. That makes me grumpy and winds up building over time. So, I’m thinking of making it part of my process to take a minute before each writing day to remember why I’m doing this. It’s not just that the story is burning up parts of my brain, begging to be put on the page. It’s not just that these characters want to talk. It’s not just that I feel that I have to. I write because telling stories is fun. Because I like getting something in front of a reader and getting them to laugh with me or curse me as the prose moves them. I write because creating is a joy that I don’t find anywhere else.

So, there it is, my list of small reminders to make my NaNo easier. You might discover that some work for you, you might realize that none of them do. That’s how it should be. Writing is different for everyone who approaches it. You wouldn’t expect two painters to describe the exact same process even if they paint similar pictures. In On Writing, Stephen King talks about filling up your own toolbox. It takes years, and hundreds of thousands of words to find the tools best suited for your approach. I’m still constantly shifting things, picking up new ideas and chucking them when they don’t work. Don’t be fooled, writing is a science like any other art. Trial and error are a big part of the process. Don’t be discouraged by the error parts. Remember, NaNoWriMo is about the fun and joy of creating a story. Deciding to take on the challenge is already a huge accomplishment. Be proud of whatever comes next. I know I can’t wait to see what we write in the next month!

Got any other tips or tricks you want to share? Feel free to comment below! Make sure to sign up for the 50k challenge at nanowrimo.org!

Demons and Dialects and Writing

Right, so recently I started the rewrite of Possession and Other Invitations. I’m taking the story slow this time and making sure to compile all the needed notes for things that–well most of this will never get a mention, but there’s something gratifying about being able to answer literally anything about my story and world setting. This doesn’t mean I’m writing every little thing down. I focus on crafting the world setting guidelines. See, with enough principles in place, knowing every detail is easily done and doesn’t actually take up that much headspace (which when you’ve got multiple worlds competing for brain power, simplicity is a mind saver).

I made a heinous mistake in my last draft of the book when I didn’t name the infernal dialect used by the demon in the opening scene. So, I started digging through what I knew about my world and researching languages. Since I was talking the other night to my friend about how I developed character and world together for Starfell, I thought I’d share a bit of my process on how world setting and ideas affected each other to establish a world setting rule in Possession and Other Invitations.

All right, first step in adding new world building–decide which rules are relevant. World settings are huge vast, things, and while most rules will interplay, it’s easier to start with the basic block and then build up from there. In this case, languages spoken by demons, the building begins with Belief = Power. The second being Low Level Psychic Fields Exist.

Those two rules affect nearly every decision made about the world setting and are the basis for the magic system in Possession. See, the idea is that the more something is believed, the more likely it is to be true. You get enough people thinking the same thing and it starts warping reality to that thing. The opposite is true, too. If too many people don’t believe in something, it gets nearly impossible. The magic system example I like to use is a fireball. People–even the wizards of the Society–don’t believe that magic fireballs are possible in our world. That shared thought/belief creates a psychic field which in turn helps the physics of the world stay in place. Okay, that’s something that gets harder, what gets easier? Well, there’s a lot more people believing in ghosts and the ability to talk to the dead. Get a room with the right people and the right mood and contacting the dead is like flipping a switch.

Okay, I’ve got to add in the rules The Spiritual Plane Is Linked To Our World and Belief = Greater Power in Spiritual Plane. While the Spiritual Plane exists on its own, it’s highly influenced by the world. In fact, Religions have enough psychic fields behind them to create realms inside the Spiritual Plane. Possession‘s world has a multitude of Heavens, Hells, Purgatories, Nirvanas, and other after-mortal-life areas.

How does all this affect language choice? Well, Religion is a cultural aspect (see another rule slip in there?) and culture is passed from person to person primarily through language. Language then becomes a part of that psychic field that has an effect on the Spiritual Plane. That part of the plane is influenced to adapt to the language component. So human languages are spoken in the Spiritual Plane. However, many people think that demonic/angelic/other worldly languages are going to sound different, which has also had power over how the denizens of the Spiritual Plane speak.

That all sounds a bit obtuse, doesn’t it? I’ll run through an example.

Catholicism is a large, multi-cultural, international religion. In modern era, masses are said in local dialects and the religion will take on cultural aspects from where it’s being practiced. But Latin is still an important language to the religion and is still used for some ceremonies. Latin helps bind a few of the bigger Catholic concepts (one God, redemption through Christ, Heaven for the saved, Hell for the unrepentant) and gives the large psychic field a strong foundation. So, Latin is spoken in those related Hells, Heavens, and Purgatories. In fact, the older a demon (or angel for that matter) is, the more likely it will speak a dialect of Latin–assuming it lives in one of those related realms. If it comes from, say, an older Lutheran realm, it’s more likely to know a dialect of German.

I say dialect because it won’t be exactly Latin. First of all, there is no exact. There’s a standardized version, but each place that speaks it will have variance. The same is true of the Spiritual Plane. Demonic dialects of Latin are going to snarl, hiss, and spit more than the standardized according to region. The specifics of their dialects are going to be based on region. So if there’s, say, Seven Layers of Hell, the First Layer is going to have differences from those demons in the Seventh. To an outsider, it’d be like picking out the difference between the Midwestern Illinois Dialect versus the Chicagoland Dialect. A lot of it comes down to word choice (like soda versus pop), but get someone talking long enough and you’ve got an idea of where they come from. A skilled exorcist, like Wes in Possessions, is going to need to be a linguist as well. While some basic chants will work, an exorcism is going to be more efficient if the demon is bound in its native language. That’s going to take some knowledge and a keen ear.

Knowing all of this is going to help me create a naming system, so that the next time I need to name a dialect, or hell to even know what language is important, it’ll be a bit of research and then bam! idea. Uh, this was also a glimpse into the insanity of how detailed my brain can get on a subject. Deepening world setting can be easy if keep asking ‘why does it work this way?’ That’s all I did here. Just a repetitive cycles of ‘whys’ until I understood Possession‘s world that much more. Thanks for reading. Got any interesting world building factoids of your own?

DestielCon

This last weekend I went out to Cincinnati, Ohio for–well, as the title says–DestielCon. I must admit that I felt a bit like I was sneaking in because while I adore Castiel and Dean separately, the Destiel ship has kinda sailed out of my fleet. I think that there’s a way it would have worked back in some seasons, but not in the recent ones. And I really don’t think that the Supernatural producers would ever let the show take the plunge–Anyway, this post is supposed to be about the lovely time I had and not the shitty parts of the show. So, *ahem* back to my con recap.

I got in on Thursday and was honestly glad I took the extra day to drive out. My route had like ten different construction zones, and traffic would have to slow up considerably. But hey, I made it without too much delay. Pre-reg for the convention was open that night, so after meeting up with a few people (thanks for doing that by the way!), I was able to get my badge and surprise gift since I’m a panelist. This was the fourth convention I’ve paneled at, but the first time I got a present for it (other than one of the attendees giving me a pretty origami piece at 221B). DestielCon gave us mugs with the con logo and year. It’s nifty.

Friday was a blast. There were a bunch of panels and I had the pleasure of sitting on two that day. The schedule went from 3pm until past midnight that night without a break. I think that’s one thing the con could actually improve upon–leaving one hour in the evening free from the discussion panels. I overheard a couple of times where people said “I don’t want to miss anything, but I gotta eat.” With the free hour, people won’t wind up missing anything and hopefully remember to do that important bit of eating. (Con life, sometimes you get wrapped up and forget a meal).

Late Friday night was karaoke. Someone got up to sing “Let it Go” and I cringed for about three seconds, until it turned out the song was only to the tune. The lyrics were completely different and that song was pretty awesome. Another two did a different version of “I don’t care, I love it” but it was “I don’t care, I ship it.” And then there was Deanmon singing “I’m too sexy” with Cain and Abbadon dancing to the lyrics in perfect synchronization. Pretty sure they didn’t practice that. All in all, an awesome night.

Up and down seemed to be Saturday’s theme for me. I submitted words to the writer’s workshop and yeah, that didn’t go what I’d call ‘well.’ Critiques are like that, though. If they go too ‘well’ then you’re either already some kind of insane perfect writing machine, or you’re not putting your material in front of the right people. Hell, even when I glanced at the words the night before, I figured that the next day was going to be rough. But sometimes you don’t know how to fix things anymore without clear, fresh eyes. And honestly, I got some of the same advice that I’ve been working on a lot in the last year. Besides all that, the first two hundred words of a story are hard. Nailing them alone is an art form. Yeah, I got stressed out after the critique, but it wasn’t just hearing about where the story was failing–I’d been getting psyched up for the con all week and I live alone so I’m not used to so much socialization anymore. In other words, stress levels were already pretty maxed out.

I also got to pitch my book Possession and Other Invitations to the visiting publisher that evening. It was a phenomenal experience, because, well, if you’d told me a year ago I’d get to talk with a publisher face to face I would have dropped over in awe. And the pitch actually went awesome–especially since this was the first time I’d ever talked to a publisher about my work. Don’t get too excited here. Wasn’t a ‘oh I want to buy this now!’ situation. But the advice boils down to ‘sounds like strong character arc, strong world, but that execution I got a glimpse of sucked.’ If I want a chance, I’ll have to rewrite the book. That’s a lot more hard work, but you know what? Some of the hardest–character and world–are fine at the core. It’s the writing that needs improvement and honestly, the day I stop trying to improve my prose is probably the day I’m dead (Cause there is no way I’m giving up on writing). Saturday wound up a little rough ’cause my brain was attempting too many calculations about the work and about how to change the book, but now that I’m a few days out? I’m giddy as hell. A publisher said I had interesting ideas. I can rip this story down to the foundations and rewrite. And I’m not going to be discouraged if I do all this work and don’t wind up getting published by them. The critiques set off a firestorm in my head and now that it’s over, I can see where the story had strength and where it was completely failing and I’m ready to give it another go. It’s going to be a stronger piece in the end and that’s the important part.

Heh, back to the convention. Sunday was another relaxing day. I spent the morning talking with Euclase and crap I forgot the darling girl’s name but you’re awesome, and then got lunch with Winjennster, and then more talking with Dori, then watching the fanart workshop for a bit (I’ve spent all my time with words and reading and roleplaying and video games. I barely know anything about drawing, and not enough to practice in public). Then I went over to the other panel on gender discussion. After that I got to sit on the Fandoms Unite and then Villains panel. Unfortunately I had to leave right after my panels ’cause I had a long drive home.

Leaving con spaces is always hard. Cons are these wonderful, peculiar liminal spaces. They are rituals of a sort–I’d have to dig out my textbook, but I’m pretty sure they fit the definition. I mean, you go to a specific place, at a specific time. There are clothing options specific to the space (in this case cosplay). It’s a celebration/worship of philosophy or at the very least of what the attendees consider important cultural products. The weekend is intended to foster community and creativity. Yeah, sounds like a ritual to me.

And this convention was so great. I’ve gotten too used to like the massive size of Dragon Con where you only get to know a handful of people if you’re lucky. Both 221B and DestielCon were much smaller and I had the chance to get to know people a lot better this year–which is a good thing since I usually wind up going to these gigs solo. I had such a great time and I can’t wait to go back again next year. I’d say I’m missing everyone intensely, but you’re all over my tumblr feed now. I feel like I just gained like two dozen friends 😉