Are you an Aspiring Writer?

I hear many people say they are an aspiring writer. I read a lot of blogs – by writers, written for writers – that talk about being an aspiring writer. But I disagree with that term, and here’s why.

To aspire to something is to reach for it, hope for it, dream about achieving it. There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to greater things in life – in fact, everyone should have at least one or two things they aspire to. Otherwise you have no goals and dreams, and frankly, life’s pretty bland if you’re just existing.

So what if you’re wanting to be a writer? Well, let’s break this down. Do you want to be a published writer? Do you want to be a full-time writer (as in you’re published and selling enough to quit your day job)? Do you want to be a successful writer? (This means different things to different people. For some it might mean getting one story published in a magazine, for others it might mean having a book on the NY Times Bestseller list). Continue reading

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A Writing Weekend Getaway

This past weekend I treated myself to a mini writer’s retreat. I rented a little cabin through Airbnb (free plug here for the Airbnb site and this cabin in particular). While there’s nothing particularly stressful about my home life, I just wanted to get away for a couple of days, and give myself an excuse to not get distracted by the hundreds of little things that can pop up when you’re sitting at home trying to write.

This little cottage was perfect: cozy and rustic but still had all the amenities (air conditioning and wi-fi being the most important), easy to find but not in the middle of town. Being surrounded by nature is relaxing and inspiring for me. It was refreshing to wake up to a rooster crowing, and take an afternoon stroll down the road and be greeted by a horse at his pasture fence. Even though nothing I’m writing on right now features farmlands or roosters, this sort of environment pus my mind and spirit at ease and therefore lets the creativity rise to the surface.

Here are a few take-aways from my writing weekend:

  • Two nights is not long enough. Next time I decide to take a writer’s retreat (whether by myself, or with a group), it needs to be longer.
  • I didn’t feel guilty about being anti-social. Actually, I spent several hours chatting with my wonderful host (who is also a writer) and had a lovely time. A writer needs to be a keen observer of people, which is hard to do if you’re a hermit. But for just a couple of days it was nice to not put on makeup and not leave the house except to sit in the garden and write.
  • I really need to live in the country, preferably near the mountains. While I don’t want to live so remote that it takes an hour to get to the nearest grocery story, it’s nice to drive down a two-lane road and not see a traffic light—or a traffic jam—for a few miles.

So now I’m back to my regular life, driving through the bustling city and wearing makeup and looking presentable. But I came away from this weekend feeling refreshed, inspired, and with several writing tasks checked off my to-do list. The trip was well worth it and I hope to do it again soon!

My view of the garden when I sat outside to write

My view of the garden when I sat outside to write

Taking My Writing Seriously

I was going to write a post about all my reading and writing goals for the new year. I was going to muse about all the books I did (and didn’t) read last year, and how this year I’m going to read more. I was going to write about all the writing goals that I didn’t hit last year, and all the writing successes that I had. And I might still do that soon.

I’m still working through my goals and resolutions for this year, and reflecting on everything that happened in 2014. But one thing that I’m certain of is that this year, I want to take my writing seriously.

I’m still working out the details of daily word count goals and when I want to have draft one or draft two finished. All of that is important, but if I don’t resolve to actually take my writing seriously, then word count doesn’t matter, and I probably won’t stick to my goals anyway.

A mindset, the why behind a goal or an action, is the most important part. So I have to decide for myself that if I want to see any of my lofty writing dreams come true, I need to know why I want them to come true. If I want to be taken seriously as a writer, then I need to take myself seriously as a writer.

My life is busy – just like everybody else’s. I work multiple jobs, I like to spend at least a little time here and there with my friends, I like to kick back and veg in front of a movie. But if I continue to treat my writing as a frivolous hobby and not an intentional habit, then nothing serious will ever come of it.

This year I resolve to put a high priority on my writing, and take myself seriously as a writer.

What do you want to take more seriously about yourself this year?

What Not to Say to a Writer

I am not a published author yet (as of the time of this writing), and I may not be as experienced as many writers, but thus far in my writing journey I have encountered well-meaning people who say some really not-so-great things.

Writing can be not only a lonely pursuit, but an odd one. Let’s face it: we walk around with whole worlds in our heads, every horrible or bizarre thing we see would work great in a story, and we struggle with choosing between two different words that actually mean the same thing. So I guess it’s no wonder that a) most regular people don’t understand us, and b) because of that, questions that would otherwise be polite or innocuous are not viewed that way by us.

Whether you’re a professional writer, or you’re just getting started and have told more than two people that you’re working on a book, I’d be willing to bet that you’ve heard at least one of these comments from someone. And if the comment didn’t annoy you or confuse you, then just wait.

Please note: I mean no offense to anyone reading this who isn’t a writer, nor any offense towards well-meaning family and friends of writers. My purpose here is to shamelessly elicit sympathy from other writers help non-writers to understand where we’re coming from.

How’s your book coming? (Or, when can I read your book?) When I’m able to answer this question with “The first shipment of my new book should be here next week,” I probably won’t mind answering this. But otherwise, this question really bugs me, and here’s why: no matter how much writing I’ve done lately or how well a project is going, I’m always thinking I ought to be farther along at this point and that the writing could be better quality. I’ve taken to answering the “when can I read your book” question with “when it’s finished.” And then when they ask when that will be, I repeat “when it’s finished.” Yes, I have some specific goals set for the stories I’m writing, but I don’t feel like telling people “I plan to be finished with draft three of chapter four of book one by next month.”

I wish I had time to write a book. So do I. So do all writers, probably. Nobody really has time to write a book. Those who want to write make the time. It’s not easy. Everyone is busy with jobs, kids, daily life. But writers figure out how to carve out time and write. If you want to write badly enough, you can do that, too.

My mom/brother/neighbor’s cousin wrote/published a book. You should talk to them! I love connecting with writers of all experience levels, and I believe there’s something I can learn from anyone.  The mom/brother/neighbor’s cousin is probably a great person and fine writer, but usually when I get this comment from a friend (or a stranger), the person talking can’t remember the name of the book, has no idea whether the author is self-published or traditionally published, and doesn’t know if said author is working on anything new. I appreciate the thought and wish the author all the best, but I don’t think I need to spend time figuring out if the published work is a series of main-stream novels or a church cookbook.

How do you write something that long? I can’t even write a short story. (I get this one a lot because I write epic fantasy. You might get some variation of this comment depending on what your format or genre is). When I bother answering this question, I usually laugh and say that I struggle to write something short (which is true). Then they laugh, and have no idea what to say next. I’m working on some short stories right now, in addition to a novel, but the two are totally different animals. Writing a novel is not just taking a short story and adding 40,000 words to it. I write long stuff because that’s what I like and what I’m good at.

Where do you get your ideas? This one annoys me the most. It’s not the fault of the person asking the question – they’re genuinely impressed by my creativity, and I should be flattered. But when this comes as a question, I truly don’t know how to answer it. I don’t go out searching for ideas – they come to me. Whether I want them to or not. I do understand that some writers need more prompts and inspiration than others, and then of course there’s writer’s block in all its forms. But my ideas usually come unbidden and at random times. Driving at night, I see a lamp post and get an idea for a story. A line of a song leads to an unrelated thought, and then there’s the seed of a story idea. I read a book, and that kicks my creativity into overdrive. If you’re looking for my secret idea formula, I don’t have one.

What other “please don’t ever say that to a writer” questions or comments have you encountered?

For Writing and Life: Where Are You Going?

In the TV show Babylon 5 there are four questions that are central to the series’ theme, and that are asked by different characters throughout the story: Who are you? What do you want? Why are you here? Where are you going?

In this blog series, I want to cover each question individually – what it means to me, and what it means to you. If you’re a writer (or pursuing a creative passion of any sort), I think these questions are especially important.

As a writer (and reader) of fantasy tales, I believe that one of the strengths of the genre is to give us a new and deeper way of looking at reality. The best fantasy always points to the truth. And so, I ask this question:

Where are you going?

Each of the four questions in this “writing and life” series builds upon the previous one. If you’re figuring out what your purpose is, and what your goals and dreams are, then next you need to look ahead to see where you’re going.

Intentional action

Answering all of these questions for yourself is good, but without a plan of action, you will not get to where you want to go.

In Babylon 5, the Vorlons have a plan for defeating the Shadows. This plan, centuries in the making, remains a mystery to all of the other characters until it’s almost too late. But the Vorlons know what they are doing, why they are doing it, and where it will take them.

Everything the Vorlons do, they do with deliberate intention: everything from the genetic altering of other races to create telepaths, to their involvement with the Rangers, to their assistance with Delenn’s transformation. Their questionable ethics aside, the Vorlons know how to be diligent in following the path they have decided upon.

Intentional writing, intentional life

If you are a writer (or pursuing some other sort of creative passion or career), deliberate action is necessary if you want to hit any goals. If you are pursuing your creative endeavors outside of a full-time job, then the intentional and consistent action is even more necessary. Creative bursts can come and go, but to actually finish a project, discipline is required.

Determine where you want to end up, map out a plan to get there, and then follow your plan. Do you want to finally publish that book, get that degree, take that trip? You can accomplish all of that and more with intentional action, backed by a secure understanding of who you are, what you want, and why you want it.

Enjoy your journey!

Who are you?

What do you want?

Why are you here?

Where are you going?

“All my life I’ve had doubts about who I am, where I belonged. Now I’m like the arrow that springs from the bow. No hesitations, no doubts. The path is clear.” -Sinclair, “War without End, part 1”

 

For Writing and Life: Why are You Here?

In the TV show Babylon 5 there are four questions that are central to the series’ theme, and that are asked by different characters throughout the story: Who are you? What do you want? Why are you here? Where are you going?

In this blog series, I want to cover each question individually – what it means to me, and what it means to you. If you’re a writer (or pursuing a creative passion of any sort), I think these questions are especially important.

As a writer (and reader) of fantasy tales, I believe that one of the strengths of the genre is to give us a new and deeper way of looking at reality. The best fantasy always points to the truth. And so, I ask this question:

Why are you here?

I believe that every person was created for a specific purpose. Whether you share the belief of a loving Creator with divine intent, or you believe humanity’s presence is more random, most people agree that to feel fulfilled in life, you should try to find your purpose.

Destiny, choice, or a combination of both – the details don’t actually matter that much. I believe what matters is your pursuit of your purpose or calling. Or the pursuit of discovering your purpose.

“Why are you here” builds upon knowing the answers to the previous questions discussed in this series. If you know who you are and what you want – or are actively learning and discovering these answers about yourself – then it follows that you may soon understand why you are here.

The journey

Discovering your purpose is a valid life pursuit. If you’re a writer or other creative type, you’ve probably been on this journey of self-discovery most of your life. What I find sad is that so many people believe that they are accidents or mistakes and have nothing of value to contribute to the world, and so they never even try to discover who they are, what they want, or why they are here. Who’s to say that your journey of discovery itself isn’t your purpose? You can grow as a person and add value to the world all along the way.

In Babylon 5, some of the character actively engage in the journey of self-discovery more than others, but all of the main characters pursue their purpose – even if they don’t know that they are. The characters of Sinclair and Sheridan, who both commanded the Babylon 5 station, have destiny and purpose thrust upon them. Zathras lays out their callings as “The One Who Was” and “The One Who Will Be” in the episode “War Without End, part 2.”

But it’s still up to Sheridan and Sinclair to walk out their journeys. Sheridan doesn’t know everything that’s involved in being The One Who Will Be – what he’ll have to do, have to sacrifice, or what the results might be. Still, he decides to embrace this destiny, and he continues to do what he believes is right, for himself and his world; and he uncovers his purpose more and more with each step.

It’s your choice

Even if you have an idea about what your purpose is, you can choose to ignore it. The capacity of free will gives us that right.

Londo Mollari is one of the most tragic characters of the series, largely due to the choices he makes involving his purpose. Right from the beginning of the story, Londo knows the answer to the question of “Why are you here?” He believes he has a destiny to do great things – great things for himself, for the Centauri empire, and for all of history.

He does accomplish great things that change the course of history, but not in a positive way. Londo willingly makes choices that propel him to the greatness of an architect of disasters. In his journey of self-discovery, he finds himself to be a guilty, weak, and broken man.

Your choices, more than anything, I believe, determine your destiny. If you know why you are here, then pursue that calling with wisdom. If you don’t know, then choose to begin the journey of discovering.

Why are you here?

“You’re not embracing life, you’re fleeing death… Your friends need what you can be when you are no longer afraid, when you know who you are and why you are, and what you want. When you are no longer looking for reasons to live, but can simply be. … It’s easy to find something worth dying for. Do you have anything worth living for?” -Lorien, “Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi?”