Change, Perfection, Positivity

Change happens all the time. As someone who suffers from Asperger syndrome, I can tell you that change to routines and patterns, stepping outside of my comfort zone, has never been easy. Change, especially when it occurs outside of my control, sends my mind spiraling, and I feel trepidation.

But change can lead to benefits. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been making efforts to cut back on social media time, but I’m also seeking to change my online habits, too. During the COVID shutdown I spent more time online, especially Twitter. I did get the word out about my work more and made some new connections, but now the hashtags I followed haven’t helped with book sales. The same’s been happening with tweets asking for book recommendations. These habits and the time spent on them and other sites feel more like a hindrance. To counter them, I’ve tried walking more, and for that, I’m glad.

With most sites, I’ve gotten down to generally 1-2 logins per day. Nevertheless, that is also something that could change in the future. Sometimes, I’ve found myself going up again if I need to do something specific, like website maintenance. I’ve felt if I can limit myself with those moments, I’m fine.

Nevertheless, the temptation is still there, and it can eat time. Plus, I’m aware these efforts could turn into new patterns that could become just as constrictive and worrisome. I need to curb the scrolling, searching, and that addictive, time-eating cycle that can result, but simultaneously, I also shouldn’t try to control everything, because anxiety always comes from not being perfect. It’s been said that with reviews, quantity over quality. With online time and content, it’s the opposite. Now I need to put it into practice.

Likewise, I’ve tried getting back into the writing routine I’ve mentioned before. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, and other times I do not get the word count I’d like, but I need to remind myself that progress is progress, no matter how small. I need to see the fun in writing again, as author Nour Zikra put it. This year, I hope to be more positive about my writing, my online/social media time, my habits, and, most of all, myself.

I realized through prayer that I need to think more positively. Then, at the beginning of Advent, when I was feeling low and anxious again, after an earnest prayer to God, I opened my copy of the Bible without any specific section in mind. It opened to Psalm 77, and as I read it, I knew my prayer had been answered. Even if you’re not Christian or religious, I hope you too will remember all the good that’s been in your life when distressed. If I need to make changes to meet new circumstances, I will have to do so.

P.S. Enjoy these videos of my readings from last year’s open mics!

Spotlight

When a writer’s work is published, it not only goes out into the spotlight, but so does the writer. People who read books are pretty much guaranteed to be interested in learning more about the people who wrote the words, to find out more about the mind behind the stories they become devoted fans of. But the spotlight can be a double-edged sword.

Writers need to use public appearances and speaking in order to help spread the word about their work and build a network with other writers. It’s part of the marketing process. The nice thing about these events and conferences is that a writer can plan ahead to prepare for these events.

On the other hand, sometimes the spotlight can bring about negative feelings. The simple fact is not all people crave or seek the spotlight, especially introverted people like me. It’s especially negative when one hasn’t had the time to prepare, and it feels that everyone’s converging on them. That’s why I haven’t liked it when people unexpectedly start singing on my birthday.

There have certainly been a number of famous writers who haven’t craved the spotlight, such as Harper Lee and Emily Brontë. With the latter, it was her sister Charlotte who got herself, Emily, and Anne on their publishing ventures; had Emily been left to herself, she may not have published anything in her lifetime. J. D. Salinger went so far as to become a recluse and gradually cease publishing (though in his case, it may have also been due to unresolved PTSD from his service in World War II as well as fans of his magnum opus).

And, of course, the spotlight can have negative effects in another way. If people start scrutinizing your life, it can lead to mental trauma and even scandal. Throughout the news there have been numerous headlines about rough patches and downward spirals that many celebrities have gotten into, with gossip about what they are doing, especially in their personal lives. I definitely don’t want that.

It’s good to get away from the spotlight and the Internet sometimes. That’s why I’m taking my efforts to balance scales further by cutting back more on the number of logins per social media site per day, with reassessments of my social media activity.

When publishing, especially these days, it’s no longer possible to avoid the spotlight, but privacy is still something worth guarding. Therefore, it’s a good idea to prepare for public events such as reading, and it may be possible to satisfy the public’s curiosity without giving away too much, regulating what can be shared and what isn’t. They don’t need to know everything. One’s privacy is one’s own and no others.

To my fellow Americans, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. Be thankful for home, family, and privacy.

Great Ideas: Search and Find

It is a question every writer is asked at some point in their careers: “Where do you get your ideas from?” It’s become a cliché, really. Still, there are others out there suffering from writer’s block who feel their well has gone dry, so to speak. Or perhaps you’re in the middle of an ocean of ideas and don’t know which fish to bait for. Well, I’ll elaborate on some familiar answers, which in my opinion aren’t always suited for every situation.

Write about what you know.

This has been said a lot of times, and it is logical. You’re pretty much guaranteed to do well with ideas you are knowledgeable about. The situations and experiences from your own life can help provide a far more solid base upon which to build a story. Such examples can include professional experiences (Jeremy Lloyd drew on his experiences working in a department store for Are You Being Served?) or places you have visited or lived (Stephen King’s stories are often set in his home state of Maine or in Colorado, where he went on vacation once he was financially able to do so). Then there are personal hobbies and interests, which leads to the next point.

Write about what interests you.

Writing about what you know won’t be enough if passion isn’t in it. It will show in your writing if passion was absent. Interests and hobbies are a great source of ideas because the writer can share those passions through stories and perhaps spark interest in readers. Plus, your passion can compensate because you will compel yourself to drive and learn more about your passions/interests in order to write a better story. Bram Stoker spent seven years writing and developing Dracula, and he never visited Romania, where a good portion of his book his set. He drew on research and his own imagination.

So perhaps in the end, perhaps you need to draw on a combination in order to make a blend. And in my case, certainly, I need to remind myself to not stress over it, which I admit is still hard to do. I must keep hope that ideas will come, especially when I’m not looking for them.

Further Reading
  1. Adams, Jamie. Where Can You Get Story Ideas From?
  2. Aldridge, Alison. Where to find great story ideas.
  3. Elliott, Anna. Summoning the Muse at Writer Unboxed.
  4. Rodriguez, Asa. Great ideas.
  5. Zikra, Nour. How To Have Fun Writing Again | Writing Advice.
  6. Zikra, Nour. How To Brainstorm Story Ideas + Where To Get Started.

Marie Sinadjan Interview

Many thanks to singer, songwriter, and fellow fantasy author Marie Sinadjan for the opportunity to be interviewed on her blog:

Author Spotlight: Andrew McDowell

P.S. I’ll be giving my Importance of Names presentation once more, at the Cumberland Chapter of the Maryland Writers’ Association on the 20th at 7:00 PM EST via Zoom. If you haven’t seen it yet and still want to, register online! It’s on Facebook, too! It will also be a hybrid meeting for those who want to be at the chapter in person (my Events page has the address). Though I will be on Zoom, I hope to see you all there either way!

Young People Reading

Once when I was at the gym, a gym buddy told me how he felt young children these days aren’t as engrossed with reading as they used to be, that nowadays they are in essence glued to technological escapes rather than literary ones. In many respects I think he isn’t wrong. Technology is constantly changing, and certainly isn’t what it once was. In many ways it has improved our lives, but in others it seems to have taken over our lives as well.

Reading is a great way to escape all that, just as walking or exercising is, because it’s good to unplug and recharge, if you take my meaning. For young children, studies have said it’s important for them to not get glued to technology, because what they really need is that connection and interaction with their parents.

Certainly one of the best ways, if not the best, to get a child to love reading is for parents to read to them from an early age, and it establishes that necessary connection. I remember my own parents reading to me many books when I was little, especially before bed. It’s a great way not only to get children to love reading and spark their imagination, but to forge a bond between parent and child.

Once I was a volunteer for a library that had a special annex. The books there—all children’s books—couldn’t be checked out, just read, and I had to watch over the annex for a few hours. Once in a while, I would offer to read to a child, and even though it didn’t happen often, I loved it.

Some of the best children’s stories began with people telling stories and/or playing with children. A. A. Milne was inspired to create Winnie-the-Pooh by watching his son Christopher play with his stuffed toys. When Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s son (coincidentally also named Christopher) was sick, he told him a story about a sad little steam engine named Edward, which was the beginning of his Railway Series (yes, Edward came before Thomas, as did Gordon and Henry). Lewis Carroll and J. M. Barrie also interacted with children, through which they were inspired to write their respective masterpieces, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan.

I have no children of my own (yet), but I do hope to be a father someday. I definitely would read to them my favorite books and series from when I was a child, but I would also encourage them to find their own favorites. Parents have tried to keep children from reading certain titles, even going so far as to ask for books to be banned. While parents seek to protect, I feel they need to let their children make their own decisions too, and teach them to approach reading with an open mind.

The important thing is whether a book entices a child to keep reading. I remember how on an Amazon Prime documentary about Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, a single father raising a daughter said that he knew little about R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, which his daughter read, but knew if they were banned, his daughter might lose the drive to keep reading because those books specifically were what motivated her to keep reading.

Further Reading
  1. Cheadle, Robbie. Teaching your child to read.
  2. French, Charles F. Benefits of Reading Revisited.

The Hero’s Journey: Departure

Anyone who’s an ardent Star Wars fan will know of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and how it influenced George Lucas. He outlines similar steps within what is known as the hero’s journey, which has been found in ancient myths, folktales, and modern fantasy/science-fiction stories. I received my copy one Christmas and poured over it, understanding these points. It’s among my recommended reads for writers! Whilst editing Mystical Greenwood, I tried thinking of the plot I was forming in terms of what Campbell outlined. In the end, I came to see the book as the Departure Phase, which consists of the Call to Adventure, Rejecting the Call, the Threshold Crossing, and the Belly of the Whale.

In my own observations of other fantasy works, I’ve seen two kinds of heroes who receive the Call to Adventure. The first is the protagonist dissatisfied with life and yearning for something more. The other is essentially the opposite, perfectly content. When creating the two brothers at the heart of this story I tried envisioning them as such. But in the end, I had to pick one to be the central hero, and that was Dermot, the one who was dissatisfied with life.

Often the mentor in fantasy is an old wizard with a long beard. Early on, I felt such a mentor at the beginning giving them the Call might be too much of a cliché, so I had that character appearing not until three quarters of the way into the book. The teenage characters instead traveled on their own and chose to do so, though there was a character who did in a way give them the Call to Adventure. But later on, I realized that scenario was not going to work. A mentor figure was needed in order for the hero and his allies to survive and be properly introduced to their world’s magic and their abilities. So that original herald was vastly reworked, evolving into the true initial mentor figure instead of my wizard.

What made me go ahead without risking cliché was that this mentor was going to be a woman. I sought to have her be an embodiment of Mother Nature, who is associated with three stages of womanhood, each of which I gave her attributes: maiden (her face), mother (her personality) and crone (her age/hair). This deviation, if you really want to call it that, shows a story doesn’t need to follow the Hero’s Journey to the letter, such as when Frodo fails the final temptation at the end of The Lord of the Rings. Changes from tradition can make the story stand out and give readers a nice twist.

I hope to continue with the Hero’s Journey in the rest of the One with Nature series, with the next book being the Initiation Phase. This month marks four years since the paperback first came out (April will be the Kindle anniversary). Please read and rate/review if you haven’t yet!

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Further Reading
  1. Winkle, Chris. The Eight Character Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey.

Looking toward the Future

Once again, it’s that time of year to reflect on the past and look toward the future. For me, I still feel like I’m in a state of limbo. I’ve talked about moving on to the next step, and posted about resolutions and updates, but I’m still not at the regular writing output that I want. I didn’t have the creative output that some other writers I know had had when everything was shut down. True, as I’ve said before, I spent more time online, and that didn’t do me good. Ever since Mystical Greenwood came out, everyone’s been asking when the sequel is coming out. Believe me when I say I don’t like having to keep telling them I don’t know.

So, I do have some goals/dreams for where to go next in my writing. The main objective, of course, is to be more consistent when it comes to writing. I’ve heard many writers talk about how they have a daily writing routine. Well, a few months after I first sought to balance the scales, I set about reducing the number of daily logins per social site, especially with the Big Five, from three to two, of which I’ve been successful and happy to do. So far, I haven’t been able to set about a daily routine as I’d like (aiming for the morning), but I know I must persevere. I’m going to try and see if I can do writing first thing when I turn on the computer in the morning.

Another thing I’m going to have to remind myself again is that first drafts/early words don’t have to be perfect. They just need to be done. After all, Mystical Greenwood wasn’t as it was when its first draft was completed. It’ll take time to get into the habit of working on writing every day, but I need to remember to believe in myself and my writing.

I also need to be more mindful of when on my sites of what I’m doing. As a result of the situation that had occurred with last month’s post, I duplicated it and deleted the original, so now in my stats I’ve got an “(unknown or deleted)”. A little annoying in its way, but still, I guess it’ll be a reminder that I need to be careful.

Another thing I would like to do in future is go on a writer’s retreat, once the COVID threat diminishes. It’d be nice to go somewhere unfamiliar and spend time on writing. I’ll need to save money and eventually set aside time for that. Like so many things when it comes to the world of writers, sometimes opportunities present themselves they’re not expected or being searched for.

And it would be nice to come up with a new writing presentation. I’ve done my importance of names one 3–4 times now, and I even expanded it to include pen names—for writers and for real people in memoir. It is time for something different.

Further Discussion

  1. Zikra, Nour. How To Find Time For Your Writing.

Readers’ Wants

Back when I did my first blog post, I talked about what I called the “Misery Complex” (in reference to Stephen King’s famous novel), and how writers’ and readers’ wants can clash. Granted, not all fans are crazy and obsessive about authors and fictional characters, like Annie Wilkes, but there is no denying that once a story is out there, it can touch so many people in individual ways in that they feel a special connection. And as they become attached to fictional characters, it’s still important to consider their feelings. Or isn’t it?

I’ve noticed this especially in drama and TV shows, like Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones, with fans theorizing and predicting where the story and subplots will go or could’ve gone, along with characters, and expressing their upset when things don’t happen in a certain way. The latter is especially true when characters die, don’t end up together, or character growth just vanishes. To be fair, with killing characters, writers cannot always be hated and blamed the way they have been, especially in drama, when actors decide they want to leave and pursue other projects. It’s not always easy to explain a character’s absence once the actor leaves. There may not be actors in books, but still, it’s easier to put unwarranted blame on writers.

It’s true not everyone has a happy ending, and sometimes one bad turn can in the end lead to a good one, but is there a line that ought not to be crossed? I certainly cannot argue how upsetting it is when a story seems to building something or someone up only to not lead there at the end. When there’s an anticlimax to anything from a story line to a character arc to a romance, it is usually disappointing. I sometimes find myself imagining (not always in great detail) where things could’ve gone in a story where I felt writing was lazy. That’s what’s lead to a number of fans writing fanfiction.

But at least there’s one point on which writers and readers can agree: stories and characters matter, as does what happens to them. Nevertheless, they originate with the writers. I said in my importance of names presentation characters are the children of an author’s imagination. Well, the same can be said of stories as a whole: an author sires them, and then they venture out into the world. That’s why I firmly feel the author should have the final say in what happens in his or her work, and I’d hope readers would respect that.

But I’m not unfeeling towards readers. After all, writers seek out the opinions of others in beta readers and critique groups while they are developing the story. So yes, readers can have input, and sometimes fans’ suggestions can ignite a spark in the writer’s imagination when they can’t figure out where to take the story next (even if it isn’t what readers specifically want), especially within a series. So, in conclusion, they both matter. Readers’ opinions should be considered, but the final decision belongs to the writer alone.

P.S. I want to apologize for the inconvenience for those who saw this post in advance a few days ago. I meant to schedule it at a different time and clicked the wrong button. This was not intentional, but given the post’s subject matter, I can’t help but feel the irony. Happy Holidays!

Dusting Off Stories From History

Many thanks to historical novelist Anne Clare for this opportunity to discuss my feelings on using historical fiction to shed light on lesser known events in history!

Guest Post By Andrew McDowell: Dusting Off Stories From History

These are feelings I hope to follow when I venture into historical fiction someday!

Brain to Bookshelf Conference 2021

The Maryland Writers’ Association hosts a writers’ conference every year, except, of course, last year’s conference was cancelled due to the COVID shutdown. Normally held in March, they were able to host this one this past weekend. The main takeaway for me was being able to see a number of friends I hadn’t seen in so long, including authors A. L. Kaplan, Meg Eden, and Michele Chynoweth, and be in a familiar setting in person again, not unlike how it was when my critique group started to meet in person again a few months ago in our familiar haunt (no pun intended).

There were a number of interesting presentations from authors, including Jane Friedman, Mary Tilghman, Andrea Johnson, Edward McSweegan, Susan Moger, and Harrison Demchick, and I learned more about Balticon. I met a number of new people, and I was able to sell a few books! But there were some hard lessons I had to re-learn. When it comes to attending events such as this, pre-planning is vital. This was something I didn’t fully take into account that morning. I didn’t manage my time and drive well, and I made it there just in time to hear the first talk. What’s more, even though I signed up for both days, I didn’t realize until too late (shortly before the conference) that I had doubled-booked Sunday and couldn’t attend the second day. Still, I had a good time for the day I was there.

We’ll see what happens next year. I know now to remember to plan better in a number of ways. I guess I just had to get back into the rhythm of things. Maybe next time, if I can think of a new writing-related presentation, I can give it then. It is time to think up some new topics for presentation.

Speaking of presentations, I’ll discussing the importance of names for the third time next month on the 13th at 2pm Eastern Time. I hope to see you there! See my events page for the registration link.