Sunday, 30 November 2014

Writing My First Draft

For the last two years I’ve been on a vision quest.

Actually, I’ve been writing a novel, but the similarities between the two are astronomical. Almost – dare I say? – cosmic.

For those of you unaware, in some Native American cultures, there is a ceremony called a vision quest. It is a rite of passage, a means for an individual to discover themselves and their life purpose as they enter adulthood. The person on the quest would wander for days in seclusion with only nature at their side, stomachs empty and wanting from fasting, and likely tripping balls from psychedelic drugs. Once attuned with the spirit world, dreams and visions for the child’s future would come to them, and they were blessed with direction.

While I did not wander through the wilderness, fast, or partake in hallucinogens, there was a shaman involved. (Don’t worry; he’s a character in my story. I haven’t resorted to a drastic change of lifestyle. Yet.)  

No, I was seated at my desk, fueled by caffeine, and restrained from the internet over the course of seven hundred thirty days. Well, mostly restrained. I’ll get into that later.

In that time frame I discovered plenty about myself, the craft of writing, and the supportive communities that exist for writers. This is about my journey writing my first draft of Lucidity, the lessons I learned and the meaning I found through my trials.

Lesson 1: Time Must Be Made for Writing 

For the past few years I’ve been in quite the transitional period in my life. Not only was I brainstorming and outlining my novel for about a year before I started writing it, but I was consumed with obtaining a job I could turn into a career at the same time.  

I acquired an entry level position, worked my way into full time permanency, took on leadership roles within my team, and then decided it was time to develop my skill set further. Currently, I am in a new department with new challenges. Since I’m a sucker for punishment, I’m not daunted at this point. I find anything that tries my patience and wants to bend my will is a good beast to tackle. And I love a good wrastle

That said, times have been stressful; taxing on my health, even. Aside from future-paving so I could build the rest of my years with a solid 9-5 (or 7-3, in my case) foundation, I was also writing. Through the tough times, I was exhausted. I didn’t want to write. Sometimes I was too overwhelmed to focus my thoughts on my story at all.

But, thankfully, writing is my fuel. Even at its most frustrating, writing is something that elevates my mood, allows me to reflect, and gives my ideas free reign. It’s solitude with paradoxical access to worlds and people I’ll never meet but know by heart. The magic of the craft fills me with so much joy that I have to return to it. It’s an addiction to words, a submission to imagination. Nothing compares to it, so even though my literary reserves tap out, they replenish.

Because they have to.

I forced myself to write on breaks at work, to spend nights in instead of out with friends, to get my butt sitting and focused in front of my keyboard when I’d rather stare out of a window. Or at a wall. Or pen. (It’s amazing what a writer finds to be distracted by.)

I made sure my dream was worked on like a goal - something real, tangible, and achievable with hard work and determination. Not to mention bullheaded stubbornness. I didn’t want to let my dream slide through my fingers because I wasn’t holding on tight enough. 

So time was made.

I set myself deadlines. When they passed, I didn’t get discouraged. I reevaluated my plans. Refocused.

Life is busy. It always will be, but unless you practice time management, you’ll never hit your deadline. You’ll never make your goals. They’ll remain dreams. It’s only up to you to make them a reality. 

Lesson 2: Motivation Trumps Inspiration

It's spectacular getting hit by that lightning bolt of literary glory known as inspiration. Suddenly, you're a conduit for your story, the words are an unstoppable torrent, and BY GOD - before you know it, it is 3 am and you work in 4 hours.

Those days are magic.

They rekindle within you the passion of storytelling, that spark you feel when you're inside your
story and it’s perfect. It’s not a jumbled, struggling mess. It’s not hitting your head against a wall or wanting to flip your desk over. It’s … how it always should be, dammit!

However, those days are about as rare as true magic. 

Sometimes the well of creativity is dry, the characters don’t want to listen, or writing from Point A to Point B is suddenly like trying to follow a treasure map written by a directionally-challenged, dyslexic pirate. And, let’s face it, you’re that pirate. 

Suddenly, instead of hunting for treasure, you’re marooned. It makes that pistol loaded with a single shot an attractive option.

But there is a better way to bite the bullet.

For me, when inspiration fails, I rely on motivation. It’s the desire, the will, to do what you gotta do. We all have different things that stroke our fires, get our forges hot and ready. (I’m not being perverted. You’re projecting.)

What gets me going is the future.

When I am stuck, I enjoy interviews with published authors, those who achieved success through their efforts. I love hearing what they’ve learned, their varying experiences. They’re a reminder that if I don’t stop, I can see my work in print.

Speaking of seeing my work in print, my goal is to get traditionally published, so something else I do is research literary agents, various publishing houses, and advice on writing query letters. I have information stored and filed away for later use. I have quite the roster of agents, publishers, and selection of tips. It’s fun and exciting to think about being at that stage, where I can start sending out my work, seeing who bites. But, clearly, in order to get there, I have. To. Finish. What. I. Start.

So I sat back at my desk, or I rested my laptop atop my knees in the living room, and got back to my manuscript. I disconnected the internet from my personal office computer. I only kept my phone at my side to stream amazing playlists of ambient music I found online. (I’d listen to songs with lyrics, but I find them distracting. It’s like trying to mentally swat mosquitoes away. Kind of like this Larysia Fact shoehorned between these brackets! Enjoy!) The majesty of an orchestra tends to stir my muse into action and words return to my hands. 

From those words come even more, and soon, inspiration returns. Sometimes, when the universe doesn’t offer you magic, you just have to make your own with self-motivation. Guaranteed, you’ll find that’s the best kind.

Lesson 3: Don’t Make Excuses

Ah – ah – ah!

Protest all you want, but I can feel your shame.

I should know – I’ve made many excuses. I’ve been tired, cranky, and frankly, lazy. Eventually I realized that being all those things meant I wasn’t going to be successful. Every time I gave myself a reason why I couldn’t or didn’t want to write I knew better. And it felt awful.

As writers, we understand the power of words. This is no exception. Every time we say we can’t, there’s no time, or something more important has come up, we give excuses more cushion. It makes us comfortable with being unproductive.

Mind you, some days I did need a rest from stress overload. When things became too hectic, I took a few days off. By the time the mental fog had cleared, I could return to a story full force. 

Distinguishing between an honest intermission and an excuse, however, is the trick. The second you’re truthful with yourself, it’s easier to accept what must be done. Reinforce that with a routine and the discipline to stick with it and that completed draft gets closer every day.

Distractions are everywhere. Real world obligations are en masse. Writing is hard. But still, your work won’t get done unless you do it. Pitter patter!

Lesson 4: Building Discipline Doesn’t Happen Overnight

I can talk about discipline, try and give pointers, but they’ll mean nothing unless you find what matters to you.
My experience with honing discipline has first been finding that part of me that respects myself enough to ensure I follow my dreams. It’s the part of me that loves the craft, that’s called to storytelling, that above all else, wants to show myself I can follow through.

Once you establish your mental anchor, setting a routine is a lot simpler. However, it doesn’t make the process easier, per se.

It’s a lot of trial and error. A lot of failure before success. It’s experimenting with finding your groove, determining what times you’re most productive, or what you need to feel accomplished in a day. Basically, creating your routine. I’d have fancy tips for that, but all I have to say is actually sit down and write. You’ll figure it out soon enough.

What works for me is word count. If I can write bare minimum 250 words a day, I’m happy. Of course, I’m much happier when I aim higher and hit that target, but if I can get at least that amount, I’m pleased.

Goals don’t have to be huge. Small steps lead to great things. Every little bit matters. It all adds up, so don’t be discouraged as long as you’ve written consistently, which is key. Making yourself write honestly is a labor of love, but there’s nothing greater, frustration and reward-wise. Just keep at it – especially when you don’t want to.

Lesson 5: Two Heads Really Can Be Better than One 

Writing may be solitary by nature, but sometimes a writer needs to be in the company of other brilliant minds. This, perhaps, is where my lonesome vision quest analogy strays. Actually, it probably went a little off topic when I started talking about pirates, but I digress.

Whether you’re stuck, need support, or a fresh set of eyes, getting yourself involved with a writing group or community is one of the best ways to meet helpful kindred spirits. 

I started my local writing group, the Scribe’s Society, because I wanted not only to have a handy army of beta readers when the time comes, but also because I want to be immersed in the culture of writing. It keeps me on my toes, fresh, and up for new challenges. And dang, do we get challenged sometimes. (Definitely more on that another time.) 

I can always count on them to let me know when something is off, what else needs work, what can really add pizzazz. Being surrounded by bright minds with vivid imaginations can help immensely. Not only that, but they’re supportive and encouraging, a wonderful morale boost. They make me excited to share my work. I absolutely recommend becoming involved with a group. 

However, if you’re more private or can’t commit to a group, there are wonderful writers online in different communities who are more than willing to network. Personally, I’ve found a lot of fantastic writers on Twitter. I was surprised, to be honest. For years I thought Twitter was remarkably vapid and pointless. Then I went to a writing convention and learned about platforms. That, however, is a beast to slay another post. 

I’ve encountered the fantastical poetic plumber, Eric Syrdal (@Blade4hire), whose verses paint remarkably beautiful imagery with the evocativeness of a true wordsmith. 

I’ve also come to know the charismatic J.D. Estrada (@JDEstradawriter), the philosophical author of “Only Human,” with more excellent works in progress on the way!

These fine fellows have been very communicative, expressing interest in my work and offering advice or feedback. Not only that, but I’ve come to know them as friends and am thrilled to have such ingenious people in my life. They each hail from a different part of the world (America and Puerto Rico, respectively), but I feel as close to them as I do the members of the Scribe’s Society. It makes this Canuck feel very fortunate, indeed.

So don’t be afraid to reach out.

You never know what wonderful people will reach back. 

While I’m certainly no elder, those are the pearls of wisdom I learned on my vision quest. I’ve come out of the experience of writing my first draft smarter, more mature, and prepared to handle the next trial - revisions. I know I still have a long way left yet, but this is one monumental step in the right direction. And while I didn’t encounter anything too trippy on this journey, I still came to believe in the power of my dreams and the promise they hold. 

Thanks for reading and take care!


Monday, 13 October 2014

The Origins of Halloween


Ray Bradbury described the atmospheric month of October perfectly with the prologue to his novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. He wrote: “And if it’s around October twentieth and everything smoky-smelling, and the sky orange and ash gray at twilight, it seems Halloween will never come in a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bedsheets around corners.”

The most anticipated part of the month comes at the very end, leaving children and adults alike on their toes for weeks. They wait, partaking in a long tradition of reveling in spooky tales, wild superstitions, and ghastly creatures until finally dressing up and trick-or-treating on Halloween night.

But how did such a peculiar holiday come to be?

Well, like all holidays, it started as a holy day.

Halloween’s roots date back to pre-Christian times. The Gaelic peoples in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man celebrated the pagan festival of Samhain (pronounced “sow-en”). This holiday marked the end of summer and the onset of winter. It was also a day that rejoiced in the plentiful harvest that would sustain their peoples during winter. But above all those things, it was a mystical time of year, a time when spirits and faeries could easily move between worlds, entering our own. Dark spirits wanted to possess and torment the living. To frighten them off, the Celts dressed up as monsters and illuminated the night with fire. But not all spirits were sinister. The Celts also set their tables with an extra plate to welcome the souls of lost loved ones. As much as the pagans feared the holiday, they embraced it with the bonfires, guising, and sacrificial offerings their spirituality demanded.

Then the Romans came along.

During their four-century reign over the Celts, two Roman festivals seemingly replaced - or at least complemented - Samhain. One commemorated the passing of the dead, Feralia, and the other celebrated the Roman goddess of fruit and nuts, Pomona. Not only was the supernatural element kept, but as was the one of harvest. In fact, Pomona’s symbol was the apple, and many believe that it was what inspired “bobbing for apples.” But again, times change.

In the medieval era, the Roman Catholic Church was looking for ways to spread the good word and convert pagans. In order to do so, Pope Gregory IV made All Hallow’s Eve the same day as Samhain. At least, according to popular belief. And, of course, new traditions became custom while some old ones remained.

Across Europe, church bells rang for souls in purgatory. Criers clad in black would ring a bell in the streets, asking for Christians to pray for those stuck in spiritual limbo. An event known as souling (the baking and sharing of soul cakes for christened souls) began around this time, which many believe to be the origin of trick-or-treating. The impoverished - mainly children - would go door-to-door, acquiring soul cakes as a means to pray for those in purgatory. Also associated with purgatory, it seems, are the jack-o-lanterns, their inner light said to be a spirit trapped between Heaven and Hell, wandering the earth, protecting guisers from diabolical ghosts who arose from their graves one night a year to cling to their earthly ways.

Evolving still, the holiday made its way overseas, reaching North America through immigration. As cultures mixed in the new world, the customs transformed yet again to the modernized ones we practice now. For example, “trick-or-treat” had been coined in the 1900s; the earliest printed reference of the phrase appearing in Alberta in 1927. The “trick” aspect was added along with the “treat” when the day served as a means for mischief and vandalism. Interestingly, trick-or-treating was even banned during World War II due to sugar rations, however its popularity resurged during the baby boom shortly thereafter.

As we can see, Halloween has come a long way from souls and sacrifices being quite literally embraced. However, remnants of the old ways still linger, playfully interwoven with the threads of our modern tapestry. Undoubtedly, All Hallow’s Eve will change yet again, but it seems for certain that ghosts of the past will stay to haunt us with a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bedsheets around corners.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Juggling Priorities

Juggling is an art; don't let anyone tell you differently.
I never put much thought into the physical aspect of juggling until I spoke with my neighbour who performs at the Street Performers Festival. She’s short, quirky, and more than enthused about her act. She juggles three multi-coloured bean bags while singing and cracking jokes. The day we spoke she was doing just that as we waited for our bus.
I marvelled at her coordination. She modestly told me that juggling wasn’t so bad at all! For starters, it was about knowing where your hands have to be. Then, it was timing, getting your hands into position. Throwing the bean bags in the air only started an intricate routine that was just that – routine. Practice became ingrained in muscle memory, making the action automatic.
It got me to thinking that juggling all of my priorities is much the same.  I have to know what they are, I have to rank them so I can work on them appropriately, and I have to make sure I keep myself disciplined enough to keep up with everything. When that routine is down-pat, everything is no longer laborious – it becomes reflex.
So, to start, I’ll list my priorities and I’ll delve into the details.
  1. The Day Job
Well, this is a given. Every week 37.5 hours are dedicated to earning my livelihood. As much as I adore the (current) pipedream of just writing for a living, I’m not there yet. Of course, I may never be there.

That said, I have an abundance of opportunity to grow and advance in the company if I so choose.  The job I have is very different from anything remotely creative, unless I am thinking outside the box, trouble shooting, or problem solving. But I love doing that, too. It makes me utilize a part of my brain I wouldn't normally if I was just writing. It's a technical job, working with systems, numbers, and investigating details. It makes me appreciate when I can let my imagination loose even more. And I guess that's a solid lead to my next priority.  

  1. My Novel, Lucidity
This right here is my baby, my pride and joy. When I wake up in the morning, it's so that another word of it can be written down. Truly, it ranks up there with The Day Job. Actually, emotionally and mentally, it surpasses it. The only reason it falls a smidgen short on this list is because so far it offers me little financial security. (A lady needs to pay her bills!)

But I get so much more from it. Creating brings me joy and happiness. I feel fulfilled when I bring characters and worlds into existence. Nothing else makes me feel like I have purpose like writing does. I'm sure many writers can relate.

I've worked on Lucidity for the last two years. I started it back in high school, but didn't have the fortitude to finish. I lost the original version of it ages ago and decided to begin anew, which was for the better. Now I can say I've matured enough to not only stick through the thick and thin of the writing process, but I also can bring depth to the story. I ... ah ... know it didn't have nearly as much before.  I will certainly get into details on my novel later, but at present, all I will share for the sake of this post is that my goal is to finish the first draft by October 31st. It will be attained. If not, at this point, someone can feel free to flog me.

  1. Getting Ripped
I am a firm believer in "healthy body, healthy mind." I want to get in better shape not only for the sake of my physical health, but because a writer needs to get their mind working, too! All that blood pumping through your system gets everything moving. An active lifestyle can balance out hormones and neurological systems. That leads to a happy brain with more energy and less stress. BROSCIENCE! (But it's pretty legit.)

Also, when I work out and the tunes are ensuring I'll need a hearing aid in my later years, my imagination soars. I can brainstorm epic scenes, I can hear dialogue I couldn't find the words for, and so much more. Well, at least when I'm doing cardio. When I'm doing weights I'm watching that form in the mirror, son! Awwww yeah!

  1. The Work Newsletter
I work with a group of creative folks on the newsletter. I thoroughly enjoy writing articles because my job, as I've stated before, doesn't really give me the opportunity to express myself. Not in a way I'd prefer, at least. So this is a great way to share what I honestly love doing with my team.

In the future, I'm going to share my articles on this blog. A lot of my articles are Edmonton event-related, but some aren't. For example, not only will I have an October in the City of Champions (Edmonton is actually called that. The City of Champions. It's on a sign as you drive into the city. Proof enough, right?) piece up, but one on The Origins of Halloween, as well. So, some content will be a crapshoot, but a well-written one!

  1. The Scribe’s Society
A few months ago I started the Scribe's Society. It's a writer's group. Not a covert neo-Nazi group. (I just really liked the alliteration.)

I have a group of friends interested in writing, but with the exception of one person, they weren't part of a writing guild. So, considering the fact we were sharing our writing with each other anyways, I founded the group.

We meet weekly, partaking in many writing challenges and exercises. I intend to share some examples of challenges I've completed on this blog, too. For now though, that's all I'll say, because the Society deserves a standalone post dedicated to its awesomeness.

  1. Let’s Plays with Walking Casino
If you've seen my previous blog posts, you've potentially clicked on a video. For better or worse, you've come to listen to the deep manliness of WC and the nerdy girlishness of myself. (I am amazed at how non-threatening I sound when I curse.)

He's been a friend of mine for ages and we used to play videogames all the time. Now I don't get to play as often. This is a great way to not only hang out with a great buddy, but to also just unwind, have fun, and in general be silly.

I find my writing shows the side of me that's more refined, polished. Mature, even. And while those are elements of myself, that's not always me when I'm relaxed or casual.  I find it's another way to get to know me better. That's even the point of me writing this tome right here!

During the Let's Plays there'll be plenty of commentary where you'll learn about me and/or endure my silliness. Or inappropriateness. However you want to label it. Feel free to comment on the videos! Even though it's his channel, I can respond to you, too! Also, in the future WC will be doing reads of my stories and posting them on YouTube, so he'll provide some complementary material!  And who doesn't love complements?! I BET YOU CAUGHT THE PUN I WAS MAKING, DIDN'T YOU?!
Even though I have this list, that's not all. Besides chores, cooking, sleeping, so on and so forth, I now have this blog. That ties into something much bigger - building a platform. It's also a way for me to connect with other writers. There are so many talented people I've come across who have blogs. I want to read them all! But dammit, I need time! Trust me, I'm going to make it.
That's the true trick with juggling, isn't it?
Timing. Practice.
I do my best to manage my time and tackle projects with discipline.
When it comes to writing, I throw the concept of waiting for inspiration out the window. It’s great when you feel that creative surge flow through you, but let’s face it – it’s fickle. Personally, my muse gets going after I fight to get words down for an hour or more. I have to prove my dedication to her before she slips inside my hands. Then I become story as much as she does.
I wish I had something fancy or clever to say for all of those other things, but I don't. Keeping up with any schedule or set of obligations requires discipline. It's not very glamorous. There isn't an ounce of whimsy. Practice, practice, practice ... until it's reflex. Until you don't flinch. Until it's second nature.
I'd like to say I'm that perfect, but I get tired. I can't always keep up with my schedule. I don't beat myself up about it when I do, though. I keep my resolve. Then look at ways to improve my methods, to improve my routine.
That way, I won't get balls to the face.
... At least, ones I don't want.
Thanks for reading!


Thursday, 11 September 2014

It Begins!

At long last, a writing blog!

Seems like it has taken me forever to finally set myself up with one of these. Speaking of which, I’d like to thank a couple people for the proverbial kick in the pants. One would be the too-charming-for-his-own-good Roger Jackson, and the other would be WalkingCasino, an entity in a league of his own.

You have helped me make the decision to unleash my blight upon the literary world, gentlemen. Well, at least via blog. The idea for novels and short stories came from my fevered mind ages ago.

So, I figured I should make my first post a little about myself to make this an easier process for online stalkers.


Writing is a passion I’ve had for as long as I can remember. As a child, it was determined that I had a wild imagination, and once I started going to school, a knack with words. I fell in love with books at an early age, and later on, movies.  B and horror movies to be exact. And if by some unholy matrimony the two joined forces then I was in heaven.  

Sure, I grew up watching X-Men, Batman, Spiderman, The Tick, and various anime, but the horror movies always stuck out for me the most. Maybe because my mother felt inclined to show me The Exorcist in Grade 3. (She, ah, found it amusing.)

Since then I’ve been immersed in the spiritual, supernatural, and fantastical. Horror and urban fantasy are genres I love to write. Epic battles between good and evil out on the streets does it for me. I adore the feeling of larger than life scenarios becoming tangible, embedding themselves in our reality. Mix esoteric grittiness into a world ever-changing with technology and you get a combination that gets my brain going.

On that subject, I have been working on a YA urban fantasy novel for the last two years. At this point I am a few chapters away from finishing the first draft. I also have horror short stories on the go at all times. Some are completed and some are works in progress.  I am currently unpublished; however, my goal is to change that in the near future.

And this gets me to the point of my blog. This is to share my writing journey. Not only will it feature my updates on my projects, but also information on the writing and publishing process.

I want to stay driven, focused, and determined when it comes to my writing goals. Besides my personal WIPs, I’m juggling a full time job, articles for the work newsletter, facilitating my writer’s group weekly meetings, and training to become an Amazon. So, I hope this will be a great way to keep me motivated and constantly learning about my craft. Not only that, but I’d love to network and get to know anyone who visits my blog!