Tag Archives: Writer

Fantasy Literature: Writing Groups: On the Web or Face to Face?

So you want to be a fantasy writer? Good. The two most important rules of writing are: 1) write, and 2) read. Do lots and lots of both, as often as you can. The third rule is 3) join a writing group. Nowadays, anyone can be part of a writing group of some kind. The Internet has opened up whole new avenues of expression. There are a plethora of writing groups on the web; just do a search, and you’ll find lists of groups filled with fellow writers striving to improve their craft. Here’s one from the top of a google search: Critters.


The question, though, is which should you rely on? An on-line writing group? Or something off-line where you can meet face to face? There are advantages to either.


An on-line writing group opens you up to more potential criticism (this is actually an advantage). You can get lots of feedback from a great many knowledgeable people. In this day and age, every writer should be getting feedback from somebody; you don’t have an excuse to write alone, except maybe timidity (of course, that’s what I’ve been doing lately—so, I’m pretty much a raging hypocrite here). And if you want to be successful as a writer, you have to get over your timidity. Get your work out there and get some eyeballs on it. The more you do this, the more you accustom yourself to criticism, the better you will get at accepting and dealing with such criticism. Responding to constructive criticism is how a writer learns to grow. There is a disadvantage to an on-line writing group, though, or any writing group, for that matter. There is such a thing as too much criticism. Any piece of work can be criticized from some angle. And if you are striving to reach a point where your work can no longer be criticized because it is perfect… you will never get there. At some point, you have to decide the work is ready and you have to start submitting to editors.


On off-line writing group is a slightly different animal. There is a significant difference in receiving feedback face-to-face. There is more of an ebb and flow. You can respond to the criticism as its happening and you can learn to more effectively defend your work. For myself, I like the more personal touch of a face-to-face writing group (at the moment, I’m not in one, I’m getting all my criticism done via e-mail by my sister). But again, there are drawbacks. I get put off whenever the writing group gets too large. I prefer a group with maybe four or five other writers of comparable or superior skill; this gives you quality feedback from which you can learn a great deal. And not so much that you’ll be overwhelmed.


Anyway, those are my thoughts on the subject.

Seeking Inspiration for Fantasy Literature

Twisted ancient gods, demonic plant men, or wild creatures from the darkest deeps of the earth… where do such things come from? A fantasy writer’s mind, of course; but does that do it justice? Creativity is a strange thing. The muse comes and goes. Sometimes it lies dormant for weeks… months, even years, then you get a surge and the ideas start coming. Professional writers, though, don’t have the luxury of waiting for it. No, they must get inspiration for their work on a regular basis. How is it done?


For myself, I seek inspiration from a number of sources. My short story, “The River’s Eye,” for example started when I was at my uncle’s house and caught sight of an interesting picture on his wall. It showed a house, a small stream, and a young woman with an umbrella by the stream. There was a certain feel to the picture; a certain ambiance. I looked at it for a while, and ideas began to percolate in my mind for a story. I could imagine the young woman looking for stones on the banks of the river. What if one of those stones had mythic powers? What if something strange lived in the water? The ideas kept coming, and before you knew it, I had the idea for the story. I started with the title, “The River’s Eye” and the story grew up around it.


That is one of my more common inspirations for stories: beatific scenes portrayed in paintings. But there are others, from the feeling I get from a song—something I feel can be expressed in greater detail in a story—to the very ambiance of the very real weather on a particular day. Visual arts tend to be the most effective for me: posters, paintings, even the covers of other books. I formed an idea of what the story behind the “Dragonriders of Pern” by Anne McCaffrey would be based on the cover. The actual books were completely different from my idea, but I still have that germ of a notion, that perhaps someday I will expand into a full length story. So art can feed art, and the creative muse can find inspiration almost anywhere.


Another powerful source of inspiration—although, again, it is primarily visual—is dreams. The subconscious is a powerful thing. Not only can dreams provide the kernel (or perhaps even the bulk) of a story, they can help to iron out wrinkles you’ve encountered in the writing process. Sometimes, a night spent in the Sandman’s domain is enough to figure out just how your character is going to escape her predicament, foil the bad guys, and save the day.


Last, but not least, is the process of stream of consciousness writing. Sometimes it helps to just sit down at the computer, open a document, and let your fingers take on a life of their own. I haven’t used this technique often, but it works. Sometimes I don’t even begin writing words; I’m so frustrated I pound letters like “lalskjhar, dljjdtrlckdm.” And on and on… eventually I get bored with that and start typing actual words. Perhaps, I’ll begin with just a phrase or two, but sooner or later, I’ll be pounding out concrete story ideas.


Anyway, those are a few of the places I get inspiration from for my fantasy writing. I’m sure there are other methods. What about you?

Writing 101: Rules for Writers

Writing books for aspiring writers are chock full of rules… okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it seems everyone is bent on giving advice to the newbie writer. Some of this advice is right on the mark, but other times it flies astray. The most important rule to remember, I think, is the fact that every writer is different. What works for one writer, might not work for another. For example, one of the most quoted aphorisms for the aspiring writer is “Write every day.” I wish. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m not supposed to be a writer, but I’ve tried. I’ve really tried. And I can’t write every day. I’ll go through phases and write consistently for several weeks at a time, then burn out and be unable to function for a week or so. I think, perhaps, the better advice is the advice a writerly friend once gave me: “Do something writerly every day.” Write on those days you can. Read on those days you can’t. Or take a look at poetry to study the economy of word usage. Set a day aside for world building. Another day for development of your craft. Having a varied approach to the discipline can be quite effective. This works much better for me, if for no other reason that it alleviates the stress that comes with the utter conviction that I must write every day. I’ve learned to pace myself somewhat. Keeping that in mind, I’d change the rule to “Write as often as you can.”


The next rule is: “Revision. Revision. Revision.” Don’t ever stop revising. The first draft is never the final draft. You will always be able to improve a piece through revision. And besides, this will probably take up as much of your time as writing, or very close to it. I know it takes me about an hour to complete a rough draft of three pages or so. A typical chapter measures fifteen pages in length, which gives me five hours of typing. Then, I revise the chapter at least four times at about an hour or two for each revision. These are all rough estimates, but it is clear that the time spent editing and revising is comparable to, if not greater than, the time actually spent writing. And that’s a good thing. The more you edit and revise, the more you improve your craft… that’s where the real learning the ins and outs of writing happens.


The next rule is: “Get feedback.” Ideally, you should join a writing group of people whose writing ability is at least comparable to your own, if not superior. That’s the best way to learn—from those who know. Even if you live out in the country, the Internet can provide access to a great deal of writing talent. Just do a search for on-line writing groups.


Next is: “Patience.” If you are going the traditional route, expect to be rejected. Over and over again. It happened to me so often, I just said to heck with it and decided to publish on my own. If you are like me and want to go the self-publishing route, you get to do all the work from writing the manuscript to marketing it. If you don’t have the skills, you will have to develop them.


The final rule is: “Build your reputation.” It can be a little overwhelming at first. Begin with a blog and/or a web-site. Consistently provide value to your site and the followers will come. It’s a time consuming process, but you should devote a certain amount of time each week to marketing and building your reputation. As a general rule, I try to write all my blog entries in advance so I’m not running around like a chicken with its head cut off when it comes time to publish them. It saves on the stress and blood pressure.


Well, those are five (or is it six?) of the most important rules of writing. Follow those and you’ll be on your way.