How to get Ready to Write

Sometimes I’m hanging out, probably doing something mindless like playing The Sims or listening to music while I do dishes or something and the urge to write a particular scene sneaks up and propels me to the computer. And then I type like a maniac and when I look over what I’ve done, it’s genius. It brings tears to my own eyes. I’m sure that’s happened to everyone– you blackout and come to and see that you’ve written the most genius scrap of fiction of your life.

But most of the time, you probably get all geared up for writing, sit down and freeze up. Everyone is afraid of a blank page. Hell, I’m even more afraid of pages with stuff written on them, because I’m afraid what I’m about to add is going to somehow completely ruin everything! It’s especially hard for me to edit and change stuff I’ve already written because I’m afraid of the repercussions– whether it be that I write something so stupid that it ruins everything or I write something so good that I realize I now have to rewrite my whole novel to make that perfect section work with the rest of the story.

But being a writing means getting past these pitfalls. So here are some ways I get myself geared up to write, followed by some ways I avoid being avoidant.

  1. Get a ritual. You probably have a ritual you act out every night before bed: eat a snack, watch an episode of your favorite anime, brush your teeth, shower, read, etc. It signals your brain that it’s time to get sleepy. So come up with a ritual for what you’ll do before you write to tell your brain it’s time to be creative. My ritual is to get a Special Beverage. No, not whiskey. I either make a fresh pot of coffee, brew some peppermint tea or heat up a cup of apple cider. I do the same thing when I’m about to play a video game or read. It’s like telling my brain that it’s time to have some self indulgent me time. After a while, whatever ritual you chose will start to have the same effect on you. Plus, it just makes your writing time feel more planned and orderly and it kind of eases you into the process.
  2. Take care of business. Run to the bank, get dinner started, let your dog out to poop: do whatever you can to ensure you’ll have a little bit of uninterrupted writing time.
  3. Listen to music. Have a playlist set up just for whatever project you’re working on. Add songs who’s lyrics inspire you and music that reflects the mood of your piece. A lot of what I listen to is moody and melodramatic because that’s what my writing is like, but I’ve been inspired by silly pop songs too, so don’t limit yourself or try to be cool. Put headphones on so no one will know that you’re inspired by Katy Perry or Third Eye Blind. Music will help you visualize your scenes and it will also block out distracting stuff that’s going on around you. If you don’t have an iPod or you don’t own the music you want to listen to check out Spotify.com, Playlist.com or Pandora.com for free streaming music. If you’re not sure what kind of music to listen to, think of a movie or video game that’s similar in mood to what you’re writing and check out the soundtrack. The song ‘The Kraken’ from PotC 2 always helps me write climatic scenes and awesome character introductions.
  4. If you need a bit of help getting inspired and the music isn’t doing it, read a few pages of a book that inspires you or watch clips from movies. There has to be some TV show or movie or novel that you desperately wish you’d written; that makes you hungry to put your own stories on paper. You might just need to remind yourself why you’re passionate about what you’re doing. Just don’t get caught up and forget that you’re supposed to be writing.
  5. Get a folder together on your computer of images that inspire you. They’ll help you envision characters and image scenery much more vividly. If you don’t know where to look, check out deviantart.com and flickr.com for starters.
  6. Be comfortable. I love writing in the bathtub. Frankly, I can’t believe I’ve never sunk a laptop. When I’m not in the tub, I like to sit in a clean room, in nice clothes, with my hair done and make up on. Don’t ask me why. I just have to feel prepared for the day before I can get anything done. But if you’re more comfortable in sweats and a ponytail, then do what you’ve got to do. Write wherever you feel happiest– outside, at a coffee shop, in your sun room, or (if you’re lucky enough to have one) in your home office.
  7. Get off of Facebook. Turn off your phone. Don’t be Googling ‘funny cats’ instead of working.
  8. Read over stuff you’ve already written. If you’re working on a long term project, read over the last chapter and make some corrections. I bet that before you know it, you’ll be writing.
  9. Write the fun stuff. Don’t force yourself to write a scene you’re not feeling. I promise, there will come a day when you feel like adding in all the exposition needed to propel the storyline, so don’t force yourself to do it now if you’re tingling to write something else. I like writing emotional confrontations; that is my absolute favorite. But I used to make myself hold off because I didn’t want to spend all my time writing fun scenes and nothing else. Now I wish I’d written those scenes when I was feeling most passionate about them, because I don’t always have the emotional energy to do it. So, if you’re feeling sexy, write a love scene. If you’re sad, write depressing dribble. And don’t make yourself write your story in order from first page to last. You can patch scenes together as you go.

And to avoid giving up before you start:

  1. Don’t be worried about what’s going on around you. Let your family known that you’re not just goofing around on the internet: you are writing and you’d prefer to be uninterrupted. If you’re sitting in the living room with your hubby or sister or roommates, don’t look at the TV or  try to listen to what everyone’s saying. Put your headphones on and focus. You can watch TV and socialize later.
  2. I often get discouraged by my writing at the get go and give up. I decide I’d rather do something fun than torment myself by trying to write when everything my fingers type is garbage. If you feel like this too, the only advice I can give is keep writing. A lot of times it takes about ten to fifteen minutes to get over hump. The first few paragraphs you write might be awkward or overloaded, but give yourself a chance to get warmed up.
  3. Do a warm up: If you’re having trouble getting started do a journal entry, write a poem, draw up a quick review of a book you read– anything to get yourself into writing mode.
  4. If you’re getting interrupted constantly, don’t give up. We all have real lives and responsibilities outside of being a writer. Most of us can’t dedicate 8 hours a day to writing– and if we could, we probably wouldn’t want to anyway. Just write when you can– in little spurts if that’s all you can mange. People have written entire novels on the bus ride to and from work. Don’t say ‘I’ll write this book when I have more time.’ You will never have more time. The older you get, the more responsibilities you have and your personal time will shrink to next to nothing. Write your story now! Wake up an hour before work and write (True story: when I was a kid I got up at 5 every morning to type my story on a word processor before school. I wish I still had that kind of initiative.) Write on your break at work. Write in the ten minutes before you pick the kids up from school. Just sneak in the time where you can and don’t make yourself feel guilty because you had to stop and fix dinner or go to the movies with friends. Social, work and family obligations are all valid reasons not to be writing, so don’t let yourself get frustrated when your writing time gets compromised. Just remember that writing a little is better than not writing at all.
  5. Set goals, but don’t be outrageous. I did Nanowrimo and won but I can tell you that writing roughly 1600 words a day is a bummer and it’s not something I could manage all the time. I got my book written by making it my goal to write 600 words a day and believe me, I wasn’t anywhere near perfect about adhering to my plan. Make your goals realistic. You know how much you can handle. If you set the bar too high, you’re likely to give up because you can’t attain your own standard. If all you can manage is 3oo words, three days a week, it might take you a while to get your book finished, but it will get done.

And if you completely fail at all of this, just remember:

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Rough Character Sketches

Hey, it’s a page of roughed out ideas for how my characters for Year of the Rabbit are going to look. Yay!

It’s funny, I spent about an hour on this and I could feel myself improving just in that miniscule amount of time. Drawing became easier and things just started looking more satisfactory. My hand movements just started to feel right to me and shapes like noses and eyes were coming out they way I have them in my head. I hate when my hand isn’t moving the right way, or when it gets all spazzy, or when things are just really clunky and off. I’m not saying what’s up there is a work of brilliance. It’s clearly not. But I feel like I’m starting to stumble into the right style for this comic.

I have this thing where before I even start drawing I imagine it going poorly. I see myself drawing little kid crayon hieroglyphics and sobbing because I’ll never be able to draw well enough to get this story on the page and I get discouraged and don’t even try. But today I got a random burst of inspiration for a character and I had to give it a shot. After a few bad starts, I finally go into a groove. I’m actually reasonably pleased with what I came up with.

I’ve got some scripts written up for the first chapter. I’m not sure how much I should write before I start drawing pages. I don’t want to draw a bunch of stuff and realize I have to change it.  Still, this is fun for me because it’s something I’ve never done before. It’s like making my own movie– casting, costuming, writing, directing, story boarding etc.

So yeah, it’s neat.

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Another Web Comic Idea

I guess I haven’t quite settled on an idea for the web comic thing. Here’s something else I drew for what would be a different series entirely. Again, it’s an idea I’ve had for a while with a fair amount of pre-writing done.

The biggest thing I miss about writing my old novel (a snapshot of which can be viewed under the “Check Out My Novel” tab) is having one set idea to focus all my energy on. I feel really aimless without a definite project. I like to be long term committed to what I’m working on.

Anyway, Year of the Rabbit would be a three part story. YotR would be followed by Year of the Dragon and Year of the Snake. It’s more of a viking/fantasy type of thing involving totems or spirit animals. Protagonist in little girl form is shown.

I’m still trying to find a drawing style that looks nice but is easy to maintain. I can’t produce something overly complex for a sustained period. I can sometimes draw things that are above my level of drawing, but it takes a long time and a lot of effort/erasing/touch ups. AKA I can’t do it all the time. And as I’ve said, while I enjoy drawing, I hardly ever do it and I get easily frustrated.  I prefer writing because I put in the effort to learn to do it a lot time ago, so it’s way more effortless and I tend to be happy with what I produce. Not so with drawing.

Anyway, I noticed I had a few more hits than normal on my last web comic post so I thought I’d do more.  (I mean A FEW. Like 3. But that’s a big deal for my 25 hits a day blog). I like having an audience, even a small one.  So if you’re reading this now, THANK YOU FOR STOPPING BY STRANGER!

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One Soul

This might be a weird question to ask: but have you ever been bummed out by the fact that you can only experience one lifetime, one time period, in one body, and in one set of circumstances? Sometimes it just doesn’t feel like enough when the human experience is so vast and varied.

One Soul by Ray Fawkes takes a completely unique perspective by playing out 18 stories simultaneously from birth to death– essentially creating the experience of living multiple lifetimes at once. Each character is born at a different time to different life circumstances. There are babies born in straw huts, icy castles, on foggy mountainsides and in florescent hospital rooms. Their parents are warriors, potters, slaves and can-can dancers. Each character ages at the same time, facing disappoints and struggles that mirror one another. And each character faces death. When they’re gone, their panel is blacked out, but their thoughts continue to emerge in the darkness. As the end of the book nears, survivors are far and few between until finally, you’re left with a 18 empty panels.

I loved the novelty of telling 18 stories instead of one. Each character’s inner dialogue is broiled down to the purest, simplest of thoughts, which are communicated in an almost stream of consciousness style, and thus even if the character’s circumstances are extremely different from your own, their reflections on life are relatable. You can read the book page by page (noticing how each person‘s life events reflect the others‘), or try to follow one character’s story at a time. Or you can flip back and fourth.

I highly recommend this book because of it’s powerful narrative and unique way of telling a story. If you don’t check it out, I can honestly say you’re missing out on something that’s unlike anything you’ve ever read before. It’s undeniably touching and infinitely re-readable. One Soul is a truly one of a kind graphic novel.

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Starting a webcomic

After much deliberation and one really weird, headache induced lucid dream, I finally got started on my webcomic idea. I finished one page (gasp! so far along!) and I have ideas for probably five + chapters, plus I’ve done character bios and a lot of pre-writing. I don’t think the story is going to pan out exactly as I originally thought, but that’s the fun of writing something episodic.

So far, I completely revamped my protagonist after I fell in love with a random doodle I did at work. Then, after two days of an unrelenting heinous headache, I was laying in bed with all the lights out (trying to rest my blistered synapses) and my brain sort of played a little mini movie for how the first chapter should play out. It was not at ALL what I had been thinking of doing, but I was filled with such woozy confidence in myself during this headache dream, that I decided to go with it. Sometimes I have to get sick and delusional in order to believe in my dreams. Hurray!

Riding on that current of self assurance, I sketched and colored the very first page. It took me way too long and I’m not satisfied with it, art-wise, but if I wait to do this until I’m a good artist, it will NEVER happen. I just don’t practice enough. Hopefully doing this will force me to improve. Or at least be able to produce the same level of art consistently. I’m really trying not to batter my fragile sense of self confidence in my art here. I’m not demanding perfection, or even A level drawings. I just want to keep making pages, and if they look bad– oh well.

I’ve heard (and agree with) this advice given to those who want to start a webcomic: Don’t post anything until you have at least twenty pages or a chapter. That way people have something to look at and judge. You should also have a buffer of finished pages in case you end up falling behind when you begin posting. So I won’t have anything up anytime soon. I would hope that I can have something to show in a month from now (at the earliest). More realistically, it will be two months. It took me two days to find the time to draw and color my first page.

But just to get the word out: The comic is called Starlight and it’s a space opera like I said I was going to do. Here’s a small sample of what to expect:

Hope I have more to report soon!

ETA: I’m aware of the typo. Grrrr.

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Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation

One of the side effects of having read A LOT of books in my life is that at this point, very little surprises me. I’m savvy to most plot structures and character archetypes and I can usually tell where a story is headed. That’s what I thought going into reading Gunnerkrigg Court by Thomas Siddell, but I’m pleased to say I was completely wrong.

Though it may sound like a story you’ve already heard– 12 year old orphan, mysterious boarding school, talking stuffed animal sidekick who‘s really a demon– but the book immediately distinguishes itself with it’s novel and sometimes bizarre plot twists. The creativity involved in this story is staggering. The plots unravel like a dream, where familiar events turn surreal and no matter how odd the story is, there is a real emotional impact on the reader. And though the setting is moody and off kilter and the characters are often strange (such as a girl with blacked out eye like some kind of creep from a j-horror flick), the story immediately endeared itself to me.

Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation is actually a collection of chapters from a web comic. It’s the winner of multiple Web Cartoonist’s Choice Awards, including Outstanding Newcomer (2006), Outstanding Environment Design (2007), Outstanding Dramatic Comic (2008), and Best Comic, Best Long Form Comic and Best Writing (2009). It also has at least one big name reader: Neil Gaiman, who praised it on his blog. It won it’s first award just a year after it began running, which should prove inspirational for anyone working on a creative project who fears toiling away in obscurity forever.

Early in the book, the art is a little awkward. The main character, Antimony Carver, looks like a cross between a Brats doll and Hey Arnold– and I say that in the most loving way possible, because I do like the early art for is ugly cuteness. I gathered from an interview I read with the series’ creator, Thomas Siddell, that he made an active choice to draw heavily stylistic characters in the beginning, and as he became more skilled, the character designs became more refined and elegant. The art improves dramatically over the course of the story. I really enjoyed watching the gradual shift and frequently flipped back to see how different characters had evolved. The art change works for the story– as the reader becomes more familiar with the environment and the characters, everything seems to soften and become more friendly. It’s especially a significant for the main character, Antimony, who begins as a somewhat awkward and stoic girl and eventually reveals herself to be a very warm and likeable person, all of which is reflected in the subtitle changes in her character design and coloring.

Gunnerkrigg Court has an outstanding balance of mystery and humor. It rides the line between being fantasy and science fiction– it’s a little bit of both. Death and magic are common themes. Mysteries are established and answers are slowly revealed. Each chapter is a standalone story, but together they lash together a sprawling plot where seemingly incidental events are revealed to be significant precursors to future storylines. I went into it feeling like I was taking a leisurely stroll through a breezy little fantasy and somewhere along the way I became embroiled in an epic storyline. I’m sorry to be so brazenly corny, but the story touched me like nothing else has in a long time, and it’s hard to breach my icy exterior.

If you can’t spring for the books, the entire story can be read here: http://www.gunnerkrigg.com/archive.php

I can’t recommend this story highly enough. This series is the only set of books to receive the coveted spot on the bookshelf next to my Harry Potter collection. And you can read it for free. You have no excuses not to. Go to it!

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Graphic Review: Echo The Complete Series

Everyone once and a while I just get a good feeling about something I know nothing about. That’s how I felt when Terry Moore’s Echo: The Complete Series arrived at our store. I actually waited to check it out and started reading Strangers in Paradise instead, but Echo kept on calling to me so I finally broke down and bought it.

Echo is the story of Julie Martin, who happens to be out in the desert taking photographs when an explosion overhead rains down strange metal beads that stick to her skin and can’t be removed. Once she’s home, she finds that the beads have migrated together, forming a silver chest plate with a strange symbol on the front– and it can‘t be removed. What follows is a riveting action story, with Julie forced on the run by the mysterious company that created the suit. She makes friend along the way, faces down sinister bad guys and is ultimately faced with the challenge of saving the world.

What elevates Echo above the countless other action stories that follow the same basic ’on-the-run’ plotline is it’s instantly relatable characters. The protagonist, Julie, is remarkable well drawn and interesting. She feels like a real person and her reactions to her spectacular circumstances are believable. Terry Moore is known for his realistic portrayal of women, particularly their physical shape. Julie and the other ladies in the book are not rail thin with inflatable boobies (like so many other woman in comics)– they have some minor fat rolls, thicker necks and generally softer bodies. While that in itself is refreshing, they’re still presented in a fairly sexualized way. The heroines clothes disintegrate every time she used her powers, and there were countless scenarios concocted solely for the purpose of having one of the females in the story strip down to her undies. I’m not complaining; I don’t have a problem with fan service. But in the past I’ve heard T. Moore’s work being touted as “feminist” and I have to say that while he does write endearing women, he’s absolutely writing from a man’s perspective.

Since we’re already on the topic of character design, I want to address the artwork, which is some of the best  I’ve ever seen in a comic. This was one of those books where I was eager to get to the next page, but I felt like it was a shame not to pour over the intensely detailed artwork, particularly to geniusly executed gore. The more disturbing, grotesque panels are fascinating to look at. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the jawless villain who shows up mid story– it was just so interesting to look at something that could not exist in the real world illustrated in such delightful detail. And I love that the entire book is in black and white. That coupled with the clean layouts makes Echo a visually superior read. It’s almost tranquil.  

In summery: Echo is a thoroughly engrossing story featuring a handful strong female characters, great dialogue and stunning art and while it features the curvaceous woman and the hints of intimacy between female characters that Terry Moore is know for, it‘s probably a bit more accessible than his other popular (but less polished) work, Strangers in Paradise. This is definitely a book that appeals to a wide audience and could be enjoyed by anyone. It ‘s not a book you read and put away; it demands to be reread and lingered over.

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