Last of the Summer Series: Brandon Sanderson BYU Writing Class

Children are back in school, pumpkin spice lattes are making a reappearance, and I’m getting back to a more normalized schedule.  Fall is here and I have one last link to share as a part of the summer series of YouTube videos (and podcasts) I have found helpful for writing.

I was able to spend a lot of time this summer listening to writing podcasts and an assortment of audio books at work, all of which I believe have helped to strengthen my craft.  I’ve also developed a taste for Yoga and I’m hoping the introduction of a new discipline will also aid in getting back into the regularity of a writing routine (though bribing myself with pumpkin spice lattes are also likely to help).

That said, here’s the video of the week.  Brandon Sanderson, in addition to hosting “Writing Excuses”, also teaches a creative writing class over at BYU wherein the assignment of the semester is to create a novella.  I believe one of the stipulations of him teaching the class is that his lectures must be allowed to be available online.

What that means for the rest of us is a free workshop on writing fiction with one of the great high fantasy authors of our time.

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Writing Excuses

The name of this post is a bit of a double entendre.  For one, I’d like to point those interested in writing to the podcast titled “Writing Excuses” put on by Wesley Chu, Piper J. Drake, Mary Robinette Kowal, Mary Anne Monhanraj, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, and Dan Wells.  It contains fantastic information and writing advice from established authors, I have enjoyed it and found that it does help my own writing.

Now, the other reason for the title is my excuses for not posting as often this spring.  I have been deep into edits and my day job has been extremely busy as of late, and both have cut into the time I have for keeping up with the blog as often as I’d like to.

There is some good news though, I have gotten a good deal of notes prepared on my novella and have been working on rewrites.  The short story collection I’m working has been put on pause for the moment.  I do have a few micro fictions I’d like to get posted here in the next few weeks.

And in the section of general geeky updates, I’m finding myself identifying more with Dr. Strange out of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes.  This has a great deal to do with my recognition that I need to take care of myself and not just my projects.  I tend toward worrying and anxiety, both of which have been catching up with me.  As a result, I’ve been looking into the benefits of yoga and aromatherapy to help keep myself centered and grounded.  There may be more here on that later.

Hope you are all having an amazing day!

Weddings

Between my family and friends I have seen my fair share of lives changed by the united utterance of “I do.”  One such time was this past weekend.  Two of my more recent friends committed their love and lives to each other, and it was utterly beautiful.

In the midst of their love, there was also a larger scale showing of support.  I’m not sure I have ever seen so many friends instead of family take lead on throwing a wedding together, but we did (not to say the family wasn’t involved, just that the brunt of the wedding day set was taken care of by us).

Again, it was beautiful.

Tying that back to me, there’s a term I absolutely love: husbandry.  I have always conjured up this image of a farmer being wedded to the land.  A man or woman committed to the land through the good and the terrible, in an unshakable relationship.

Maybe that’s why I keep writing.  I am wedded to the work in a way more deeply than I had ever comprehended when I started.  It’s an overly optimistic obsession (much like farming).  And the writing contains my blood, sweat, and tears just as much as the land that I work on.

However, a marriage doesn’t work without support.  Just like how my friends and I love and support each other, without their support I would likely not be as far along in my projects as I am now.

I suppose if I were to sum it all up: without commitment rooted in love – the books, the farmland, friendships – all would fail.  We need each other.  We need commitment.  And a wedding is an amazing symbol of that.

Finding a Niche

Last month, I had a conversation with an acquaintance discussing my future and how it is really hard to find a day job that fits well with me.

Anyway, to shorten this story a bit, I was told very few people ever find a niche that truly works for them.  The idea was that I should settle for something I was good at, but hated because very few people find their niche.

I walked away, wondering why anyone could justify quitting the search for something that gives you a sense of fulfillment, just because most people never find it.

I had already written Skipping Stones by this point, and this story was more a reaction to current world events, while thinking of the “Green Fields of France” by Eric Bogle.  And now, it’s my first published work. It’s obviously not perfect, but no writer is ever totally perfect* and I am very pleased that this story is the first.

And I am also very pleased with my decision soon after to make a career transition.

—–

*Not only do many authors face rejection after rejection, but I’ve found typos and a grammatical issue or two in even my favorite published first editions.  My point?  We’re all human and working on our craft.  It would be ridiculous to quit after a first draft isn’t a masterpiece so why do we do that in “real life”?

Steps

Often when faced with uncertainty I freak out, pray, breathe, freak out, line out the steps that I need to take, breathe, freak out, and take action.

This does not always happen in that order.

The last week has been challenging.  I am in a week gap between an old and a new job.  I just moved quite a ways and went through more good byes than I like.

And then, a family emergency hit.  Next came the news that my short story “Skipping Stones” will be published over at Flash Fiction Press in January.  And meanwhile, I have all sorts of work to do in order to finalize the move.  People to notify, work to do, and oh goodness, lots of organizing and storing of miscellaneous boxes to do.

There are at least two takeaways from all this.  The first, coloring is actually quite therapeutic (I had gotten books as presents for other family members and might have also tried it out myself). The second, it does no good to worry about what you have no control over.

Put another way, the serenity prayer really does ring true:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Another quote I’m fond of is from Victor Hugo

“Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.”

So those are my takeaways. I’ve already discussed my misgivings about this year, but I am hopeful. There are books I will finish this year, short stories I will publish this year. We’re all still here, and we’re all still walking through this life step by step, together.

Taking Stock: 2016

A lot of people have been incredibly disappointed in 2016.

And they’re right.  A lot has happened that scares us sensible people.  I’m still hopeful for the world, but I have to admit there are events both nationally and globally which are very concerning.

It’s one of the reasons I realized that I need to become more involved in politics on the grass roots level at minimum.  I have always been a big believer in people changing things, not politicians.  Don’t worry though, this blog will not be a constant soapbox.  I am also a believer in addressing these issues on a person to person basis.  And, if you’re reading this and have issues with what has occurred this year, I also encourage you to become more active.  Not just online, but in person at rallies, conferences, and other events.  Write letters to your government officials and the newspapers. Get involved as more than just a passing commentator.

Now, on a more personal level: Four older family members and family friends passed away this year.  I miss them.  I miss several others who also passed this year whom I had only known for a brief time.  When I think of their legacy of compassion and character, I feel challenged to run with the torch they have passed on to me.

There have been some amazing people whom I have met this year.  Without their encouragement, I would not have been able to deal with some of the harder stuff that came along this year.  For them I am grateful and filled with the knowledge I have found life long friends.

Now, for the year’s statistics on my writing projects:

-First draft of Book 1 of my Spirit Walkers trilogy is complete.

-First draft of my novelette, Renegade, is 50% complete.

-Three short stories in my One Short Sleep Past collection are written and awaiting edits.

-One flash fiction piece, Skipping Stones, has been submitted to a publisher.  If they accept it, I will let you know, if not I will adjust if needed and continue to submit.  Either way, I hope to make an announcement here sooner than later.

Have a merry Christmas! A happy Hanukkah!  A joyful Kwanzaa! And, have a fantastic new year!

The Definition of Insanity

I was wondering what I should post about this weekend.

It came to me after spending a good forty minutes trying to sort out why I couldn’t upload my new profile picture.  (Not because I’m technologically illiterate – just a weird glitch in the system).

But isn’t that what the definition of insanity is according to Albert Einstein*?:

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Now, I’m as guilty as anyone of trying something for a while to see if it will work out.  My writing is filled with all sorts of experimentation in this regard.  Themes that repeat, plots are similar to other plots, among other trends.

I think the key to being a good author is knowing what to keep and what to change.  The problem is that I am very biased toward my own work.  I have a select group of friends I use as a sounding board for ideas and pieces of my stories.  Through them, I can see with a fresh perspective in order to cut what needs to be taken out and to change what needs to be revised.

Many times when I identify a problem spot in a story, I keep turning it in my head like I am solving a brainteaser toy.  I’m testing it and carefully observing what it is currently and where it seems to be heading.  It takes a lot of patience and groundwork.

Similarly, my life is in this flux at the moment as well.  I’m in the middle of a job transition and I am holding the parts of my own life and taking stock as I head in a new direction.  For the last four years, I’ve done more of the same.  It’s time to mix it up a little, just as it is time to mix a few pieces of my own stories up.

Life, as in writing, takes a whole lot of patience, some perspective, and the determination to experiment a bit.

*There is some debate as to the identity of who actually coined this phrase.  If you’d like to see a bit more background regarding this you can take a look at Did Einstein really define insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”? on Quora.