Am I Passionate Enough?

“If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Have you ever talked to an artist who seemed so passionate you couldn’t help feeling they had better chances than you of “making it”?
Revolucion 02-watercolour
During my second creative writing course, one of my classmates said he had an online writing friend who affirmed that she “couldn’t not write, that she needed to say things, to avoid complicity with injustice and fight for what she believed in, no matter the personal cost”. Intense, uh? In a market filled with that kind of writers, how can someone who only writes for the fun of it find their place?

I’ve known a lot of artists who feel like they’re not “real” artists because it seems to them like their passion doesn’t equate that of others—and they’re not any less talented or successful. That being said, most of the time, I don’t share that feeling. Of course, when anxiety kicks in, I might have an inch of doubt about my level of passion, but otherwise, I’m too busy trying to control my passion so it won’t burn me to ashes.

Passion is overrated.

Unlike my classmate’s friend, I wouldn’t say that I’m “fighting” for anything, as in: I don’t have a grand political agenda. I need to write to make sense of the world, to understand how other people think and feel, and to express all those emotions that, despite my knack for words, I am unable to express in any “direct” way. I can only express those subconsciously, with metaphors and symbols, much like in a dream…

cloud-2

I haven’t always felt that way. I’ve had to go through a lot to realize how strong my own passion was. I used to think that I could just give up writing, like I gave up drawing or swimming… but when it repeatedly resulted in my losing a sense of purpose in life, I finally got the point. And that was two years after my depression, during which I became suicidal and the only regret I had contemplating my own death was that I’d never finished a novel. Yeah, I have the emotional quotient of a robot.

Unrestrained passion can be destructive.

Through my own experience and that of all the passionate people I’ve met, I know that too much passion looks very much like an addiction… an obsession. It can get in the way of your personal life until your passion is all that’s left. But you can’t live on passion alone; you need to take care of your body, to have people around you for moral support, etc. Having a job is already not so fun, but it’s a nightmare when every single one of your brain cells screams that it’s a waste of time. Not to mention that you don’t feel too good about yourself when you finally manage to make time to be with your loved ones, yet you feel like you’d rather be writing.

Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood describes very well how some artists sacrifice themselves on the altar of their craft, and how it sometimes end up in a suicide.

Passion is fuel.

Use it well, and it will be a valuable tool; misuse it and it’ll explode in your face. Use your passion to fuel your work, but don’t let it consume you. When it comes down to it, what really matters is putting in the work. Mozart might be considered a genius, but he still worked a lot. Bach wasn’t a genius… he worked even harder. In the end, the non-genius achieved a comparable level of greatness as the genius. Isn’t that inspiring?u20a

Go write now, you hard-working bundle of passion and creativity.

“I worked hard. Anyone who works as hard as I did can achieve the same results.”
– Johann Sebastian Bach

If you’ve enjoyed this post, subscribe (right menu or at the bottom on tablet & phone) to receive an email every time I post a story or article, or follow me via Twitter or Facebook!

Advertisements

Review: Outlining Your Novel

outlining-your-novel-km-weilandContext

I’ve already written about K.M. Weiland, saying how impressed I was with the free learning material she offered. Among the books she has for sale, Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success is the first I bought. It’s one of my best investments ever. This 187-page book is my new bible.

I’ve struggled a lot with outlining in the past. My attempts at pantsing all ended with two or three elegant chapters, abandoned when structural issues or plot holes craters came in the way. My first attempts at outlining were not very successful either. I didn’t know how to do it properly. I half-pantsed, half-outlined my first complete novel, and as a result, I had to re-outline it and rewrite half of it from scratch. I don’t mind; I enjoyed the learning process and I’m confident that, once I’m done, the result will be as great as I could expect for a first novel. But Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success made me confident I can do it right next time and not waste so many hours fixing the mess.

Review

As usual, I’ve enjoyed Weiland’s voice: the writing it tight and to the point, with a pinch of humour. It’s pleasant to read. It’s also well structured, with handy checklists at the end of each chapter. There are a few typos, like words broken off by hyphens in the middle of a line, but nothing awful.

The book covers everything, from brainstorming to character development to setting, with examples from famous books or movies. It brushes lightly on story structure, but if you struggle with it, you can always get Structuring Your Novel from the same author. There are also interviews with other writers on their outlining processes, which I thought was a nice touch; some resonated with me a lot, other… not so much. That’s okay; it means the approaches to outlining are varied and there’s something for everyone.

I loved that the author takes you by the hand and tells you exactly how to outline the way she does. You couldn’t wish for a more comprehensive approach. Some writers might prefer a less lengthy process, but my control-freak self will have a lot of fun with it.

outlining-you-novel-after
What my copy of the book looks like now

I didn’t just read the book from cover to cover; I worked my way through it over three months to re-outline my novel for the rewrite. I added self-stick tabs at all the important places and even savagely highlighted important passages. For a “new” book, one that’s still at the stage of idea in my mind, it would take longer. If you get the book, I encourage you to do the same. Take your time with it. Enjoy it.

There is an accompanying workbook, which I haven’t bought yet – I prefer working on loose leaves in binders over anything else. However, I got the free sample from Amazon and it does add a bit to the content of the main book, with infographics, so I might get it later.

Rating: 9.5/10

Who would I recommend this to? Every fiction writer should read this, whether they’re just starting out or a bit more experienced. Even pantsers could enjoy it and learn from it. I have no doubt it will make me able to write strong stories faster, and that it can do the same for you.

 

Declutter your text: Don’t dump details

There is such a thing as too much information.

I know how tempting it is for beginning writers to tell the complete history of their world in chapter one, or to describe characters so thoroughly that no place is left for the imagination, backstory included. “Been there, done that,” like they say.

When you have a very detailed image of a character or place, or when you’ve spent hours over hours working on world building, it’s normal to want to share all of it. But what keeps people reading is the plot, and an excess of information can get in the way, in much the same manner that an excess of pretty words can create a heavy and somewhat dull sentence (see Use modifiers in moderation). Anyway, there is only so much information that the reader can remember at once.

bird3a

Details are to be sparkled, like spices. I like to compare words with images. Look at the picture on the left. You see the shape of a bird’s body, hints of feathers, a closed eye and an open beak, from which a heart is coming. You don’t have to think to see that 1) it’s a bird and 2) it’s singing a love song. Simple, yet effective. Stripping your text to its bare essentials is a great way to understand what the bare essentials are. Once you understand that, it’s easier to manage huge amounts of details, should you decide that simplicity doesn’t suit your style.

I like to pretend that I am writing a mystery, and what needs to be discovered is what characters look like, especially inside. If my lead female is an undiagnosed autistic, for example, I don’t just go and say it. There are loads of undiagnosed high-functioning autistic people out there, and they don’t go wearing a label on their forehead. But they go interpreting people’s words too literally, and they go anxious that they will miss social cues and embarrass themselves, etc. Instead, I show my lead female paranoid of being accidentally rude, realizing too late what people’s intentions are, internally debating whether something was said in a sarcastic way or not. And I show her pissed off when she feels like others think she’d dumb because she has trouble figuring out social interactions. I don’t even have to say that’s she’s been picked on because of it in the past. It’s backstory sans backstory.

Same if my lead male is pushy: I show him pushing and pushing until the other characters feel he’s overstepping the boundaries, and then I show him trying to restrain himself from pushing too hard, because of course that’s been reproached to him in the past. It might even have cost him a girlfriend or ten. Again, backstory sans backstory. Both examples also illustrate the right interpretation of “show, don’t tell,” which I used to find tricky since stories are inherently “told”.

Every time I write something that is not immediately linked to the plot, I ask myself:
blue flower3

  1. Does it reinforce the characters, the themes, the scene or the voice/tone?
  2. Does it provide the story with an important element, like a hook, a comic relief, a change of pace?
  3. Could I write it in a more concise way, integrated into a plot-oriented scene?

Sometimes I’ll ask myself those questions during the first draft stage, but most of the time, it’s during the second draft… and all the ones that follow.

Of course, sometimes bits of historical information dumps are necessary, or a character’s backstory is an integral part of the plot, and such like. When that happens, there are a number of ways to make those more immediately interesting: you can insert a bit of history to slow the pace between two scenes heavy in action, for example. Or a sweet memory can add some relief to an otherwise angsty main plotline.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post! You can check out the following articles for more writing advice on how to declutter your texts or subscribe to be notified when I post a new article. Take care and happy writing!

Other posts in this series: Narrow your scopeUse modifiers in moderation, Beware of repetitions.

Confession of a scatterbrain, or how to fail fast

Pile of files
What my pile of projects end up looking like…

It always starts with good intentions. “I’ll focus on this one book,” I think. “Plus my blog. This one book and my blog, I can manage that much! Well, that plus a creative course once in a while. Oh, but here comes a short story challenge! I want to try that too! Just one short story per month, I can manage that much! And what a nice – free – writing contest! I want to try!” Urgh.

I get exhausted. I miss blogging weeks, I neglect my novel.

I translated something a few weeks ago on the concept of “failing fast” in business: you try new products, give up quickly those that don’t work and pursue the ones that do – it’s often more cost-effective than extensive market research. At the time, I failed (haha) to see how I could use it in my own life; it seemed more of a business-oriented concept. Plus that implies… you know… actually failing. I hate failing more than the average person. I hate failing like only a perfectionist can. I’ve been to unreasonable lengths to avoid failing.

That’s plain stupid.

In February, I said how Joanna Penn’s How To Make A Living With Your Writing inspired me to make a plan for my writing career… Career. I’ve always been disgusted at the idea of considering writing as “work” because, for me, work was inherently boring and repetitive, and something you’d never do if you were rich enough. I could be a billionaire, I wouldn’t stop writing. Writing is what I live for. I want to write for a living only so I can have more time to write. But now might be the time to change my mindset regarding work.

Because if writing is work, then I am allowed to fail any writing project. In fact, sometimes it could be desirable that I do. So, here’s me failing fast (and publicly) at the 12 short story challenge and the writing contest. I tried those on a whim, they got in the way of my novel and my blog, so they’re a failure and I need to let those go. And you know what? I don’t feel like I am a failure like I thought I would.

I feel free.

Now I can focus on what really matters right now: my novel and blog, and nothing else (writing-wise, I mean). Maybe a creative writing course in May if my finances allow it. Two projects plus my continuing education. Right now, with work and a preschooler to raise, that’s all I can manage, and it’s okay. Time is a precious – and limited – resource so I need to use it sparingly.
Cage1
But I know very well that I’ll still want to take on new projects… Hanging loose, they’d fly round and round my head and keep distracting me. So I made a list of those projects that tempt me the most. It’s an adequate cage for such creatures; I can go on my merry way, knowing that I can come back later, when I have more time, and pick one up without being scared of them flying away forever.

I failed and it freed me.

Of course, applying the “fail fast” strategy will be an ongoing journey, but I’m confident now that I can stop my hatred of failure from interfering with my productivity.

On another note, I’ll experiment with deadlines for publishing my blog posts in the following weeks… Mondays have been especially busy for me these last few weeks, so one less thing to worry about on that day will be much welcome.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
– J.K. Rowling

Review: Negociating with the Dead

Negotiating with the Dead coverContext
In my first creative writing class, three books on writing were recommended to the students: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (click to read my review of it); Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood; and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Having read and loved The Handmaid’s Tale, I figured I absolutely needed to read Margaret Atwood’s non-fiction book on writing.

Review
Negotiating with the Dead is unlike any other books on writing that I have read in the past. I couldn’t describe it better than Atwood herself:

. . . what I had in mind was a grand scheme in which I would examine the various self-images – the job descriptions, if you like – that writers have constructed for themselves over the years.

It reads like a university-level book assigned for a literature course, which isn’t really surprising since it derives from lectures she gave at the University of Cambridge. The tone is rather formal (though sometimes witty), the language is recherché (sometimes even obscure for a speaker of English as a second language), the subjects explored are highly philosophical and of very little concrete use. However, the lack of concrete use does not equate with the lack of value. I enjoyed the autobiographical bits which, though interesting on their own, also explained Margaret Atwood’s style and her choices of subjects and themes as a bonus.

Margaret_Atwood_2015Born in 1939, Atwood has grown up in a Canada that’s very different from the one I know. As a result, some of the matters she explored felt outdated (e.g., I’ve never felt any less likely to succeed or be respected as a writer because I’m a woman – the prospects seemed equally bleak for both sexes). Most matters, however, remain true: I especially resonated with her chapters on the duplicity of the writer (how the writer seems to be a different entity than its human host… hello, persona), the Great God Pen (how easy it is to neglect oneself in favour of one’s art) and temptation (the correlation – or lack thereof – between the artistic value of a work, it’s popular success, and whether its author “did it for the money”).

The author supports her exploration of “being a writer” with a multitude of extracts from classic works, which contributed to that feeling of it being assigned for a literature course; it also resulted in my despairing at the sudden explosion of my want-to-read list.

At first sight, there is no recognizable structure. I kept on waiting for “the point” of the book, but after I finished it I realized the musings were it. Where Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird, felt like a mentor giving her good friend the reader advice on how to deal with “the condition of being a writer” and how not to bang their head against the wall or commit suicide, Margaret Atwood feels like a university professor philosophizing about said condition, observing that it does bring its share of pain:

The suffering will come whether you like it or not. Suffering is a result of writing, rather than a cause. Publishing is like being put on trial.

She asks a lot of questions, most of which remain unanswered like all philosophical matters.

Rating: 8/10

Who would I recommend this to? Writers, especially older, more experienced ones. If you love history and philosophy, that’s a plus. I’d recommend staying away from it if, as a general rule, you dislike the way philosophers talk or if you’re looking for a book that will be useful to you as a writer.

Review: How to Make a Living with Your Writing: Books, Blogging and More

How to Make a Living with your Writing coverContext
I have first heard of Joanna Penn through Twitter, then found her podcast on a list of podcasts for writers. From there, it wasn’t long before her non-fiction books caught my attention. Two weeks ago, ready to take my writing career more seriously, I finally bought How to Make a Living with Your Writing: Books, Blogging and More.

Joanna Penn is an independent author claiming to make a multi-six-figure income, and considering she makes almost 20k a year just on Patreon, I have no doubt she’s telling the truth.

Review
The book is written in a tight, conversational language, which I always like in non-fiction books. In the introduction,  Joanna Penn briefly explains how she became a full-time author. I identified with her a little, despite our different personalities, and was motivated by her success story. A few years ago, getting a book published seemed next to impossible to me, let alone making any money with it; now, even making a living with it seems possible.

In part 1, she discusses traditional publishing, self-publishing and independent publishing. That changed my point of view on both traditional and independent publishing: I have stopped idealizing traditional publishing and now see indie publishing as an equally good option, depending on the book and my goals for it. There is also valuable information on what to look for when reviewing a traditional book deal.

How to Make a Living with your Writing companion coverIn part 2, she talks more about her other streams of income, for you see: only 50% of her income comes from actual books sales. The rest comes from affiliate commissions, course sales, professional speaking, consulting and podcast sponsorship. There is also some information on marketing.

The last part of the book gives pointers to plan your writing career and make your first few bucks with your writing. That was my favourite part because it made me feel able to create a solid career plan – I’m getting on it as soon as this post is published. There is a separate paper-only companion workbook. I’ll tell you all about it later: I should get my own copy in about two weeks.

I wish the book had been longer and more detailed. However, all through the book, there are links to additional information (mostly free), which I’m sure will be useful. There are also multiple book recommendations.

Another thing I loooved is how this book teaches by example: it provides great value for the reader while also promoting all of the writer’s other products! It sounds like a good marketing strategy to me!

Author20Blueprint_coverIf you’d like to know what you can expect before you purchase anything, I recommend downloading a free sample through your favourite ebook retailer or signing up to her mailing list to get her free book Author 2.0 Blueprint. I am currently reading it myself and I find it very interesting. The author also has a free thriller for sale through her fiction website.

Rating: 8/10

Who would I recommend this to? Every writer who wants to make it pro, especially if they’re considering the indie path. It’s short and fairly inexpensive and offers great value.

12 Short Stories Challenge

xmas-65-x-smallWinter isn’t a very good season for me. I used to love it, but in recent years it’s meant exhaustion and sickness (I blame my working from home for the weakness of my immune system). I sat down yesterday to write a post while wishing I was napping with the rest of the family. I ended up writing a discouraging post about hope. Or was is a hopeful post about discouragement? It’s good for my mental health whine once in a while, so long as it allows me to move on. I’ll never post it, but it did help me regain some fortitude.

I was ready to write something better.

xmas-64-x-smallHowever, I didn’t feel like taking on the rewriting of my novel. I’m too tired and too busy for such a long project. I wanted to write short stories, but not one per week; it wouldn’t have been realistic in my current situation. That’s when somebody from my writing community brought 12 Short Stories to my attention. The goal is to write one short story per month, based on the given prompt and word count. Then you post it on the deadline and read and comment on 4 other stories.

It sounds doable.

I like that it’s not completely open: you get to share stories with a restricted audience composed of other writers and receive feedback. You get to never publish it publicly if you don’t want to, or to revise your piece using the feedback received before you do.

So I’ll try that. The January story is due on the 24th though – in two days – so I’ll start next month. Who’s with me?