The Little Things that boost our Creativity.

pen-and-paper

Writing a first draft, or even beating it into submission editing it afterwards isn’t always sunshine and daisies. There are days when you feel like doing anything BUT sitting down to write. Heck, there are days when I’d rather clean the entire house from top to bottom and do the dishes (by hand) rather than forcing words onto the page.

 

All of the writers I talked to agree that establishing a routine and sticking to it helps a lot when you have one of those days. And a routine doesn’t only mean pick a time dedicated to writing every day and stick to it, though that’s a very useful advice. There are other elements that incite you to pick up the pen (or put fingers to the keyboard) and write. So I thought to make a list of the little things that put me in the mood or motivate me to get on with my writing.

 

1. The right pen and a stack of recycled paper.

 

I know a lot of people chose to type their first draft directly on the computer, and I must admit that it certainly is faster than writing it by hand. I do that when I need to write a lot of words fast, like during NaNoWriMo, when I have to meet my quota of 1667 words per day. When I’m not in such a hurry however, I prefer to write the old fashioned way – by hand.

 

And while I’m not very particular about the paper I use, preferring to recycle printed pages that would have otherwise gone into the trash at work, I am VERY particular about the type of pen I use. I have tried many pens in the past year and I have arrived to the conclusion that the Pilot G-2 gel pen is the best suited for my needs. It glides over the paper almost effortlessly, and my hand doesn’t hurt so much even after a long writing session. Oh, and it has to be blue ink. No other color will do.

 

I know that my method is slower than simply typing on the computer directly, but I find that it lets me concentrate better on what I want to say. Also, I go through the first round of edits while I type everything into my Scrivener file at the end of the day.

Finish what you start!
Finish what you start!

 

2. Background noise is good, but music is distracting.

 

I can write in a crowded coffee shop or restaurant, in a park, in the waiting line at the post office or even in my car. The background noise of conversations doesn’t distract me. In fact, I find it rather stimulating. Which is good, considering that I often use my lunch hour to put 300-400 words on the page. At first, waiters in the local restaurants used to give me funny looks when I showed up with my pen and plastic folder full of loose papers, but now they got used to the crazy lady scribbling furiously in a corner during lunch.

 

I can also write with the TV on, as long as my husband refrains from poking me every 5 minutes and wanting to discuss the series he’s watching. And my patience grows very short indeed when he does that. I’m sorry, dearest. I transform into a fire breathing dragon all of a sudden and you have no idea why. And it could easily be avoided if you just let me be for an hour or so!

 

I know a lot of writers work with their headphones on and even compile entire playlists with their “writing” music. I discover however, that I can’t write with music on, especially if it’s music that I like or that has words in it. I end up either listening to it or singing along instead of concentrating on writing. I don’t know why background noise is fine, but music isn’t.

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3. Using visual media for inspiration.

 

I have a pretty good idea of what my characters look like when I sit down to write about them, but just before NaNoWriMo 2014, I discovered that Pinterest could be a nifty little tool for gathering all the visual information I need to boots my creativity. I created several boards for all my ongoing projects and spent several days happily hunting around the Internet for pictures of people that looked more or less like my characters or places that I could use in my stories.

 

The advantage of having these boards is that I can always look at them when I feel sluggish and it will inevitably push me to write. Plus, it’s harder to get the description of a character wrong if I’m staring at his picture. If you are interested, you can visit my Pinterest page and see what I have been up to.

 

The downside of Pinterest is that it’s a huge time sink. No matter what you start looking for, you always end up going on a tangent. And the next thing you know, two hours have gone by and you have a bunch of Dragon Age pictures in your dedicated board and nothing about the Norse mythology you had wanted to research…

 

So these are the little things that help me get in the writing mood even when I don’t feel like writing. What about you, dear readers? What helps you or hinters you? I’d love to hear from you!

Magic Burns (Kate Daniels Book 2) by Ilona Andrews.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I started reading this book with a lot of apprehension and even fear, because in my experience with other series, the second book is usually the weakest one of the lot. And since I had really loved Magic Bites (which I also reviewed), I really didn’t want to be disappointed by book 2 and stop reading what was promising to be an excellent series.

Well, I’m glad to say that Magic Burns is the exception to the rule. This book is just as good as Book 1, if not better.

Ilona Andrews continues to develop the wonderful world she has created and gives us a little bit more insight into Kate’s past along with a few explanations about how she came to be as kickass as she is. I’m happy that she isn’t one of those heroines that just wakes up with superpowers. No, Kate had to work, sweat and bleed for every single one of them. And this is also so very refreshing, after reading about some indestructible heroines who seem to acquire a new level of badass with every consequent book without seemingly lifting a finger.

So far, Kate is by far my favorite Urban Fantasy heroine, with October Daye just a little bit behind. She is smart, she is strong, she is badass, but she is also very human and vulnerable in some things. She really feels like a living breathing person.

The wonderful world she lives in has also been developed further. In an alternative Atlanta where magic comes in waves, people (both magical and normal) have learned to adapt to the changing nature of their environment. They have electricity as well as runes and magelights and use either one of the other depending which wave is upon them. And car rentals and garages have both normal as well as magically altered cars, and even horses. But every seven years or so, an exceptionally powerful magical wave rolls over the land, leaving destruction in its wake and often drastically changing both the physical and the metaphysical landscape. One such wave is coming, and Kate finds herself smack in the middle of its path, even if she doesn’t want to.

All of the characters from book 1 get further development in this book, and we are introduced to several new people as well. I love the fact that they aren’t there just to play second fiddle to Kate. They all have their own lives and agendas, and even though most of that happens outside of this story, you still can feel that.

And for the lovers of paranormal romance, the relationship between Kate and Curran develops even further. I love the fact that those two don’t go all love / lust at first sight like it so often happens in other books. I love the progression of their relationship from rivals to reluctant allies who come to respect each other and realize that they can count on the other to have their back in a fight. Trust is a very important aspect to any relationship and it’s not easily gained, especially  for people with difficult pasts like Kate and Curran.

I also like the fact that Kate finally decides to make herself vulnerable enough to actually connect with other people and acknowledge that she might consider some of them friends. And we are introduced to several other strong female characters that are not portrayed as rivals or complete b$#%es or anything else we often see in the paranormal romance books. Ilona Andrews shows us that having other strong women as the protagonist’s friends doesn’t bring the protagonist’s awesomeness down at all. In fact, it makes her even more awesome.

So, as you have probably gathered from all the praise in this review, I think Magic Burns is a must read. I love this series and I will definitely pick up book 3 very soon.

Write What You Love.

WordCount

Since the beginning of my writing adventure, I have often heard it said that you should write what you know. And I agree with this statement.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that you need to be a quantum physicist in order to describe a new form of space travel in your science fiction books, but you need to at least do your research and consult with one to make sure that your ideas are not too farfetched. It also means that when you are creating your own world and magic system, you need to think it through, put down the ground rules and stick to them throughout your book.

So this is sound advice, but lately I have come to the realization that there is another piece of advice that works even better for me – Write what you Love.

I know this might be self-explanatory and some of you will think that I’m reinventing the wheel here, but I felt like this was an important realization I wanted to share with my readers. So let me explain what I mean by that statement.

 

  1. Write in the genres you love reading.

What books do you enjoy reading? What TV shows, movies or video games you like the most? Chances are, that’s the genres you will find the easiest to write in because you know them inside out by now. Also, if you are excited about something, if you love your idea and your genre, your readers will feel that. Hence, your book will be better for it.

For example, I really love fantasy and science fiction, with a dash of paranormal, a good mystery, and a sprinkle of horror from time to time. Now if I look at the works I’ve finished so far, what do I see? Of Broken Things is a science fiction mystery. The Choices we make is definitely set in a fantasy world. Mists of the Crossworlds is also a kind of weird fantasy. And The Eye of the Norns cycle leans more towards dark fantasy and horror.

Those are all the genres I love reading, so I naturally gravitated towards them because that’s the kind of stories I love telling. Would I be able to write a non-fiction self-help book or a romance? Probably… If I REALLY put my mind to it. I would suffer every step of the way and the end result would probably not be worth reading though.

snoopy-writing

  1. What characters do you like? What characters do you feel the most involved with?

We all have our preferences, certain types of people that I would find absolutely fascinating, or could relate to, but would leave you unmoved and bored. And this is wonderful, because this means that no matter how strange, or damaged, or bookish your characters are, there will be someone out there that would love them. This also means that when we write about the characters we love, they tend to come out more “alive” because we are invested in them so much more…

I have a funny (and eye opening, at least for me) story about that.

I had an interesting discussion with one of my best friends and fateful beta readers the other day. We are both fans of the Dragon Age games and, girls being girls, we were talking about the different romance options. I told her that I found it weird that I found the romance with Cullen in DA: Inquisition so satisfying when I couldn’t stand romancing Alistair in Dragon Age: Origins. I always picked Zevran over him (and Fenris over Anders in Dragon Age II).

So I told her, “I guess I’m just a sucker for strong, if slightly damaged men.”

And she answered, “Duh, it’s kinda evident from your own work.”

I must admit that I had never thought about it before, but after she said that, I went back to analyze my own characters and I had to admit that she was 100% right. Aiden, GMS798, Sky, Brand, Gabriel, all of them are exactly what I told her – strong if slightly damaged men. So I think this example perfectly illustrates the truth of this statement.

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  1. Forget the genres, write what you love or genre hopping is permitted.

A lot of writing and publishing advice tells us to pick a genre and stick with it, because that’s what your audience would come to expect from you. I might be stating a controversial opinion here when I say bull&$#!

Write what you like. Does your story shape out to be a hybrid between fantasy and science fiction? Go for it. After all, Iain M Banks did exactly that with Inversions and it turned out to be an excellent book. You feel like adding a good murder mystery to your fantasy world? Why not? You don’t feel like writing science fiction stories your whole writing career and want to try your hand at horror? Go ahead.

My point is, write what you love. As long as you love the story you’re telling and the characters you are writing about, the readers will feel it. They will love or hate your characters, depending on their personal preferences, but they will stick around to find out what happens to them regardless.

 

The Secret Dead by SW Fairbrother.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

Did I mention that I love discovering new exciting series to read? It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, because I know that I still have several more books to spend exploring this new world. The Secret Dead is one of those books. It’s the first one in the London Bones series and it’s a very strong beginning of what promises to be an excellent series.

SW Fairbrother has created a very complex world where the supernatural has coexisted with the “natural” for centuries (or maybe even from the beginning, it’s not quite clear). So everybody considers this as a natural order of things, even though conflicts still arise between different factions. There are laws and regulations in place to facilitate interactions between normal people and supernatural people, though some are better enforced then others.

And of course, there is the small matter of the necroambulation virus that turns people into flesh-hungry zombies after they die. 98% of those who contract it (either via a bite from a zombie or via sexual contact, like an STD) die within 24 hours, then they reanimate and unless they keep consuming human flesh, they slowly lose their mind and become nothing but rotting shambling corpses. The other 2% survive and become carriers and live the rest of their lives knowing that they will turn zombie as soon as they die. There is no cure.

What I like about this new take on zombies is that in this world this virus has existed for generations, and society has tried (and often discarded) several different ways of dealing with it, including burning their newly zombified neighbors in their homes along with all their families. This option was later discarded for being too barbaric. Now the zombies are just thrown into a huge underground pit to rot in the dark, which isn’t a much better solution, one might argue…

Anyway, this whole situation creates a wonderfully complex world that I absolutely loved exploring. And I also loved the protagonist because she is so not the typical female heroine that we so often see in this genre. Vivia Brisk is a hag, a death witch who can travel the world of the dead at will. Problem is, her body dies every time she does that, so she comes back to a more or less advanced state of decomposition, depending on how much time she spent in the Underworld. And even without that unfortunate side effect of her abilities, she is no beauty even in the best of days.

But despite of that, she is a very engaging character that I enjoyed following. Despite a rather gloomy family situation and not particularly sunny future prospects, she never feels sorry for herself, never whines or moans or wallows in self-pity. She goes on with her life, trying to do her best with the cards she’s been dealt, and I can’t help but respect her for that…

My only complaint, and the reason this book got 4 stars instead of 5, is that the ending feels rushed. After a slow and steady build-up of the rest of the book, everything is sort of jammed in the last 20 pages or so. And it ends in a huge cliffhanger. But I didn’t even mind the cliffhanger that much because I am getting the next book in the series anyway.

So in case you haven’t yet noticed from the glowing review above, yes, I definitely recommend this book. Buy it, read it, enjoy it!

The fear of the blank page.

I had to go back to the drawing board and re-outline my novella Mists of the Crossworlds, because I have realized that there was more to the story than I first thought… like at least 10k words more. This novella is slowly turning into a novel.

But this post is not about yet another transformation this ever-changing story is putting me through. Now that I’m forced to continue this story, I am faced with of the banes of a writer’s existence – the fear of the blank page.

When I first started writing, I thought this was a disease plaguing only new writers, but a year and a half and several finished projects later, I still get paralyzed by the sight of a blank page. The first 200 words of so of each daily session are the hardest to write. Sometimes they feel like pulling teeth. I have a detailed outline. I know where my story is supposed to go. And usually, once I get going, I can put up to 1k words on paper in one session without problems, but those first 200… they are always hard.

Before I started panicking, I dived into the wast ocean of the Internet and discovered that I’m not alone in my plight! That was strangely reassuring, actually. I think all of us creative types (writers, artists, painters) have this moment of fear when we begin something new. We stare at this yet unmarred page (or canvas) and we get scared to waste it, to create something unworthy. We forget for a moment that this is just the first draft, that any mistakes we make now can be corrected later. And no matter how many books you wrote and sold, how much money or recognition we gained, this fear will always be there…

I think it’s important to recognize that and not let it paralyze you. So I decided to analyze what helps me get past this fear and write anyway.

Sometimes, just sitting down and putting pen to paper, no matter what mood you are in, helps, because after those first excruciating 200 words, the story finally starts flowing again.

But sometimes  summoning the enthusiasm to write isn’t as easy. I found that reading good books on writing helps me fall in love with the process all over again. I have two books that I always come back to whenever I am in need of a pep talk. I’m gonna post them here in the hope that they might help somebody else as well.

First of all, I need to mention this book, because without it I wouldn’t be writing today. On Writing by Stephen King gave me the courage necessary to start that very first story a couple years ago. It will probably never see the light of day again, but It nudged me into the right direction. It’s a wonderful view into the life of an author, and while it doesn’t have a lot of technical stuff about the whole writing process, it has a lot of motivational and heartwarming insights. I still come back to it whenever I am in need of inspiration.

Another wonderful book to have on your bedside table, or on your Kindle is Write, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt, Johnny B Truant and David Wright. It has a lot of nuts and bolts of how to write and publish books, but also funny stories and plenty of encouragement. I think this book is a must read even if you are not planning on self-publishing your stories. I find it extremely motivating.

Another wonderful motivator is going to other writers’ blogs and reading their stories or hopping on Twitter and talking to a few fellow writers about it. Writing a solitary process, yes, but it doesn’t mean we are alone in this struggle. We all have good and bad days. We all get paralyzed by the sight of a blank page from time to time. So reaching out and just talking about it with people who understand exactly what you are going through helps a lot.

So there you have it. My struggle with the blank page and my ways of coping with it. What about you? Do you get blocked by the fear to start something new? If so, how do you get past it? I want to hear from you!

Time Patrol (Area 51: The Nightstalkers) by Bob Mayer.

Stars: 3 out of 5.

This book has a lot going for it. It has time travel / time slip. It has secret organizations dedicated to correct attempts to change our timeline in the present and the past and other secret organization protecting unsuspecting citizens from things that go bump in the night. And all this is supported by some interesting and not too farfetched scientific explanations… All in all, it was an entertaining read.

So why did I only give this book 3 stars? Several reasons, some of which are probably due to the fact that I am new to the series and have never read any other books about the Nightstalkers.

I am not familiar with the characters. I haven’t had time to get to know and love this rag-tag team. So Scout was the only person I could more or less emphasize with because she is also relatively new to the team and gets a little bit of character development. All the others? I could care less if they live or die, so even the death of one of them in the first third of the book didn’t have the dramatic effect it probably should have had on me.

So my first advice would be: don’t make my mistake and go read the first 3 books in the series before getting to Time Patrol. I’m sure that for a reader who has followed the Nightstalkers through many adventures and learned about them in the other books, the death I am talking about was a blow.

My other problem with this book has nothing to do with the fact that I’m not familiar with the world or the series. I found the pacing to be very slow, especially in the first third of the book. We start with the Time Patrol disappearing, but then we have several chapters describing how the various members of the Nightstalkers experience little time slips and inconsistencies due to that disappearance.  While that might be relevant to the story, it also completely kills the forward momentum, because by the time we finally get back to the Time Patrol, it’s 100 pages down the road and I have been yawning through the last 30 of them.

But this complaint put aside, I actually liked the world Bob Mayer has created. The idea of a Time Patrol that would track and correct attempts at changing our timeline throughout history needs to be explored more. I loved the fact that the time patrol has agents in different times, or that arts is the surest way to communicate and send messages about possible changes in the timeline, because art, unlike anything else, survives the ravages of time.

I also loved the concept of parallel universes or timelines and the space between, where things and people who disappear from our timelines sometimes end up. In fact, I liked those concepts so much that I’m debating about going back and getting the first book in the series to familiarize myself with this team and this world some more.

So my final verdict for Time patrol is – very good book for those who are already familiar with the series, but will probably be off-putting for those who aren’t, like me.

PS. I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley.

Mists of the Crossworlds – the story changes yet again.

Not over

First of all, I wanted to thank all the wonderful people who had agreed to beta read this story. Your advice was priceless and very insightful, and I owe you big time! You took the time out of your busy life to journey with Lori through the mists of the crossworlds and bring back your impressions, and the story will only get better because of them.

… and the result of it is that the story will change yet again. Oh, all of my beta readers loved the Mists in its present iteration, and I could probably publish this novella as it is, but upon reading the comments, I realized that there was yet another layer to the story that begged to be explored. So I decided to postpone the release to see where else this story could take me.

If you have been following this blog for a while, you probably know that Mists is one of my works that had undergone the most transformation since its inception a year ago. It had started as a measly 4k words short story which described how Lori lead a caravan through the crossworlds. Then It grew to 8k and sent Lori looking for her friend and bringing him home. But then I decided that Theo wasn’t a lot puppy and that having him brought back home safely wasn’t really the end, so they went on another wild adventure that jumped the word count of Mists to 20k and transformed it from a short story into a novella. And now this new layer will add at least another 10k on top of that.

I’m afraid that by the time I’m finally done with them, Mists would have grown to the size of a novel. I am a bit baffled. I have NEVER encountered a story that just kept throwing new content at me every time I thought I was done with it before. It’s almost like it doesn’t want to be finished or something…

Bangs her head on the desk

Sobs hysterically in a corner

Goes back to the drawing board to outline the rest of the story

So yep, I’ll keep you posted on the progress of this one. Now the tentative release date for Mists is June 1st.

On the bright side, I finally found a beautiful cover for it once it’s done and ready to go out into the world, and you are the first to see it. Ta-da!!!!

 

Mists of the Crossworlds.
Mists of the Crossworlds.

Isn’t it beautiful?

And now I’m going back to my dark writing cave to put some more words on the page. I have a vague idea where this story wants to go, so I need to work out the details. Hopefully, once I’m done with this rewrite, Mists will be truly and finally finished and ready to be published. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that though, since I’ve said that at least twice before…