Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

I don’t normally subscribe to using dreams as a basis for book ideas.  I mean, that’s what Stephenie Meyer did with Twilight, and look how that turned out.  I mean, she’s a millionaire and all, but… actually, maybe that was a bad comparison.  Let me start again.

I don’t normally subscribe to using dreams as a basis for book ideas.  Most of my dreams are nonsensical at best, with the occasional cinematic narrative type dream that seems to make sense for about ten minutes after I wake up, and then I realize how silly it actually was.  But once in a great while I have a dream that can plant the seeds of interesting ideas.

I have a journal I sometimes use (meaning that I should be using it much more) to write down ideas for my works-in-progress.  There are two entries in there with dreams I had that I thought might be interesting to use.  The last one I wrote down was in 2008.  And that one wasn’t really that great.  The one before it was pretty cool, though.  I’d tell you, but I don’t want you to steal it.  It’s copyrighted by my brain.

The one I had last night was so vivid and narratively interesting that I had to capture it on paper.  And my brain continued to come up with ideas and explanations for things that happened.  Chances are, it’ll be more than a year or two before I even get around to actively thinking about using it, but it’s there.

I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t ever waste an idea.  Whether it’s a dream, a question, a newspaper article, a joke, or whatever, write it down and save it.  Maybe you’ll use it, maybe you won’t.  Maybe you’ll look at it in a year and think, “That’s garbage.”  And then you’ll look at it again in another year and realize that it’s brilliant.

Somewhere in the pile of boxes in my living room is a file folder labeled “Inspiration”, where I saved many a clipping or note that would aid me in my future writing.  I haven’t opened it in years, but it might be time to sift through it.

Maybe it’ll stir up more dreams to write down, continuing the cycle for years to come.


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It’s always funny how the muse strikes me when I’m least expecting it. I’ve recently been schvitzing about Blood of the Father because I haven’t had time to work on it. When I don’t have time to work on a story, I tend to fall into the trap of telling myself negative things about it.

“You’re using too much exposition and not enough action.”

“Plot, man! Where’s the plot??”

“Seriously, why did you think this story was a good idea?”

I don’t know if this is something other writers can attest to, but I’m least worried about my writing when I’m actually writing. When I’m left to stew about it, that’s when the negativity monster rakes me with its deadly claws of self-doubt. Which is good when I’ve finished a story and I want to go back and edit it, but not when I’m 1/4 of the way into the story.

But sometimes I get lucky and my muse will step in front of the negativity monster, and she’ll slap him around a bit. She paid me a visit yesterday, and rather than wading in a pool of self-deprecation, I had flashes of inspiration. One led to another, that led to another, and so on. And then I found myself energized and excited to work on the story again. Which is good, because I have a writers retreat this weekend and I need to keep that ball rolling so I can take advantage of the writing time.

I wish I knew how to thank my muse, other than to continue writing that is. Do muses like gift cards?

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Well, my new experiment is already off to a roaring stop. This was such a busy week that I couldn’t even think of writing a blog post until today, and now I actually have something to write about. That’s a “problem” I can deal with, though.

Recently, I jumped into some old files on my back-up drive and was reading my earliest work. Some people might cringe at that thought, and sometimes it makes me cringe, too. But typically it’s a humbling experience.

My very first novel that I ever wrote to completion was called The Dragon Slayer War (or rather, that was the title of the series; I can’t recall what I named the first book). At the time, I was proud of it. I shopped it around to agents and received a number of rejection letters (which I still have in a binder as trophies of a bygone era). After a while, I decided to take another pass at it and polish it up, as well as change up a few things that started to bug me about it.

Thus began a chain of uncompleted rewrites that ultimately resulted in the hard decision to scrap the project altogether. I just could not get it to a point where I was happy with it. I was depressed about the decision, but at the same time it felt good to untether myself from it and to move on to other things.

However, as I was reading my old pages this past week, I began to feel very wistful about the project. Sure, the writing is terrible. It was a story I started writing at the beginning of high school and completed by the end of college (with the ensuing rewrites taking place over the course of several years after). I’ve gotten much better and more self-aware of what I’m doing since then. But the story…

Yes, it’s overcomplicated and convoluted. Yes, there are one or two Mary Sue characters, as well as characters that don’t need to take up page space. Yes, the dialogue is hokey and unbelievable. But I found myself sucked into it. Sucked into my own story. And that’s when it hit me.

I spent much of my time during the rewrites trying to make it less of a traditional fantasy. I had elves and dwarves and an evil villain in there, and I was worried that it wouldn’t be taken seriously, that it needed to be original and different. And I was so worried about that, that I forgot how fun the original version with the elves and dwarves and evil villain in it was. I had written a story that I wanted to read, something like the Dragonlance books that I had grown up reading (sometimes over and over again). And I realized that its a book – and a series – that I want to see completed.

It may not be the next book I work on, but I think I’ve decided that it’s time to once again take a pass at this monster that I created nearly two decades ago. Because, seriously, I think at its core it’s a story that’s worth sharing. I just need to mold it into something that works and that I’m proud of. And I need to just say “Who cares?” to the fact that I’m putting traditional fantasy elements into it.

I’ve spent so much time trying to write “different” stories that I think I’ve earned the right to be self-indulgent for once.

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This post will not be an overly positive one, but that’s the point of it – life is not always positive. So, if you don’t want to look down the barrel of a negative, albeit realistic, post, you might want to wait until I do my next album review post later in the week.

I grew up hearing the age old axioms “If you try enough at something, you’ll succeed” and “If you want it bad enough, you’ll get it.” And I fell into the trap of believing that for a long time. But when you boil it down to its essence, it’s just words.

Now, I’m not saying don’t try. I’m not saying you shouldn’t want something with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. I’m not saying that you’ll never achieve your goal or succeed at something important to you. I’m telling you that much of what gets tossed around as inspiration pep-talking is not infallible doctrine, so don’t build up yourself on that foundation.

I’m only thirty-four. I understand that I have many years to try to become to a successful writer. But it’s hard to maintain that positive outlook when I’ve been writing non-stop since I was fifteen or sixteen, working my butt off at publishing my own stuff, and sacrificing so many things to do both, and I still feel like I’m treading water. And guess what? There’s the distinct possibility that I might never reach that success point that I’m aiming for.

My realizing that doesn’t make it a forgone conclusion. My realizing that doesn’t mean I’ve given up. What it means is that I’m not blindly running forward going, “I’m going to win, I’m going to win, I’m going to win…” I might never reach that finish line. Then again, I might. But I can’t be sure.

I know people who believe in the power of positive thinking. And I do try to stay positive. But as a writer, I’m aware of reality and what life really is, and what it can do to someone. I can’t turn a blind eye to that; I have to accept it, but at the same time I have to keep up the fight. Why? Because the possibility is still there.

In short, don’t be a fool and leap blindly, trusting for the best. Check to make sure your parachute is fully functioning and jump with knowledge that you might hit the ground hard.

I warned you this wasn’t a lighthearted post.

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I swore that I had written a post about this subject a while ago, but I combed through my archives and couldn’t find one. Maybe I’m going crazy…

Anyway, I’ve been plugging away at my current writing projects, one of which is Blood of the Father. However, my productivity level seems to be down. And I know it’s for a number of reasons, but I believe one of the big reasons is that I haven’t had a “writing area” for a long time now.

Because of life circumstances, we have been renting space from my father-in-law for a while now. While it has been a huge help to us, it does carry with it some certain inconveniences, such as utilizing his furniture instead of our own and not being able to set up rooms the way we would like. And Katie has taken over the extra bedroom to use for her sewing room (and rightfully so; she does have the job that brings in a steady income). So I’m left with only a few spots in the house to write, and none of them are very conducive to a good writing experience.

To be fair, I’ve never had a “perfect” writing area. The closest was when in a rental house we lived in from 2010 to 2011. There was a bedroom that was big enough for us to use as a half sewing room and half writing office. It was rather pleasant. Otherwise, it’s always been a pain to make a little corner of an apartment an “office”. Occasionally I’ll find a coffee house or something to call home for a little bit, but I haven’t been able to do that much since my son was born.

So I push on, moving from room to room with my laptop whenever I get a chance to write. We’re at the beginning of the long journey of finding a house of our own, and on the wish list is an extra bedroom or spot in the house that I can use for writing. Hopefully that wish will materialize. Until then, the couch will have to suffice.

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Like many writers, I have my little routines and habits that I have to adhere to when I write. For example, just as I was about to write this entry, I realized that I didn’t have a hot cup of coffee next to me. I like to drink coffee while I’m writing, not because of the caffeine or anything, but because it’s something that puts me in the writing mood. Occasionally at night I’ll swap the joe with a glass of bourbon or scotch, but that’s neither here nor there.

One of the major things I need to have while writing, though, is music. I like to have something playing in the background while I dig into a story or a blog post or whatever. Music has been a passion of mine for a long, long time. My taste in music changes from time to time, but my acceptance of different genres is extremely broad. I listen to everything from classic rock to 90s alternative to punk to progressive metal to jazz to new age to… well, I could keep going on and on.

I used to listen to just about anything when I’d write. Sometimes I can still get into that zone. More often these days, though, I have to listen to stuff that doesn’t have lyrics. And I prefer something with complex or experimental melodies. For a long time I’d listen to Orbital (and I still do) because their music is mellow and rhythmic with a lot of complexity to it. And after learning about him through the animated series The Venture Brothers, I would rotate in J.G. Thirwell’s experimental music.

Recently, however, I’ve discovered a slew of musicians that do lyric-less metal in a variety of sub-genres – progressive metal, djent*, jazz metal, and stuff that kind of defies labeling. I like stuff like this because it’s heavy enough to keep my juices flowing, but complex enough to keep the wheels in my head turning.

I know the word “metal” makes a lot of people turn away, thinking of things like screaming bearded guys and screeching guitars.  That’s not what this stuff is, I assure you.  If you’re interested in checking any of it out for your own writing needs (or whatever), here’s a list of stuff available on YouTube for you to listen to. Many of these musicians are also on Bandcamp, so if you like their music, please consider actually purchasing their albums (I’ve purchased a handful already and have plans to binge a little bit more).

Sithu Aye: A musician from Scotland whose metal is “happy”. Seriously, it’s amazing – and, at times, heavy – music that doesn’t sound dark or ominous. I suggest starting with Invent the Universe, one of my personal favorites.

Wide Eyes: These guys put out an amazing amount of music in each album. Much more metal than Sithu Aye, but with great complex riffs and solos. Their album Volume is great if you like a little bit of electronic mixed in with your metal, and Samsara is great if you like a slightly softer edge.

Plini: Less metal, more progressive rock, but awesome nonetheless. Superb guitar playing and songs that you’ll be happy to have stuck in your head. Took me a little bit to get into them, but the album Sweet Nothings is one of my staples now.

Anup Sastry: The drummer from the band Intervals (which is another great band with lyric-less music) has a sound that I’ve never heard anywhere else. It’s heavy, it’s fast, and it’s great if you need an adrenaline rush while you’re writing. The album Titan is amazing (though far too short).

Modern Day Babylon: Heavy, ambient, driving, and melodic all at once. Travelers is one of my favorite albums to put on when I’m not sure which sub-genre to listen to.

God Is An Astronaut: A recent find for me, these guys are not metal at all. They’re labeled as post-rock, but I just consider them ambient rock. It’s… ethereal I guess would be the best way to put it. I love it, and the more I listen to them, the more I love it. Start with the album All is Violent, All is Bright.

Deathmole: Anyone who has read the webcomic Questionable Content should at least have a passing familiarity with this “band”. In reality, it’s just one person – QC artist Jeph Jacques. His death metal/post-rock sound is perfect background music (as well as great music to listen to in the car). I suggest the album Permanence (not available on YouTube, but you can listen to it on Bandcamp).

*I am aware from hearing many metalheads argue the point that “djent” is not an actual genre, but more of a style of playing.  For the sake of my post, though, I am leaving my statement as is.

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Recently I purchased and starting reading the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, the 1954 novel that inspired The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, and the 2007 Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend. I have seen all three of those movies, and only am I now delving into the book. And I’m glad I am; it’s a great read, full of suspense and introspection into the life of a lonely man.

One the things I’ve realized in reading it is that despite the fact that the book was written in the 50s and depicts a post-apocalyptic world in the 70s, it seems pretty timeless. Sure, there are the occasional clues to the fact that it was written six decades ago, but for the most part you can read it and almost imagine that the events were taking place right now. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but my view is that it was a lack of details that leads to this timelessness.

Perhaps “lack of details” is a bad choice of phrase for this. I might be better of saying “the strategic use of ambiguity”. This is something I often employ in my writing, most specifically in my Mystery, Murder, and Magic series. In that world, I wanted to give the impression that the events were taking place somewhere between 30s and 40s and in a large city that goes unnamed. Why? Because I feel that by locking down specifics, you force the reader into a preconceived set of rules. By leaving things ambiguous, the reader can imagine that it’s New York City in the 1930s, or Chicago in the 1940s, or even their own city in a later decade (heck, it’s an alternate world, so it could be the 80s for all intents and purposes).

It’s certainly not a stylistic choice that is for everyone. Some people get very detailed in their writing, and sometimes that works out great for them. Other times, in my eyes, it becomes very distracting and sometimes tedious. The best example I can think of is Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove, which was a great story, but man, he got very wordy with the descriptions of the guns.

On the other hand, being too ambiguous and leaving out too much can be detrimental, too. You want to leave some things up to your reader, but you don’t want to leave them to do all the work. If that’s the case, you may as well just dungeon master a game of Dungeons & Dragons. You want to find that golden line of just enough detail and try not to step over it.

Whether or not this really is the case with I Am Legend, it was something that I noticed. And it was intentional, then I tip my hat to Matheson and I will definitely enjoy reading more of his writing, because he was obviously a masterful writer. If it was unintentional, well… at least I got a blog post out of it.

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