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…


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

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A change of pace

cat25I don’t know why – it might be the cold temperature or the desperate need for sunlight – but typically, in February my whole body aches for a change of pace. If I was a little wealthier, I think I’d plan an annual trip to some Carribean beach in February every year.

I had a meltdown last Sunday that prevented me from editing the post written for that day. The cause was fairly minor. It was actually more the result of accumulated stress resulting from the scrapping of our car (see my previous post) and other minor bad lucks that happened after that). But it was as clear a sign as could be that I needed a breather.

At the moment, not posting anything felt a bit like a failure. I was missing a week. Then, I’d miss another, and next thing I’d know, 2 years would have gone by and I would not have posted another thing. It sounds a bit dramatic, but it has happened before, which made it even scarier.winter_essentials38

But here I am. I’m not going anywhere. I needed a change of pace, and I took it. I had a job interview last week and a few other things to do, but aside from that, I gave up my entire schedule for the week. I spent one whole day watching guilty-pleasure TV series. Then I found a Japanese language learning podcast which I started listening to intensively while knitting (my scarf is almost done!).

cat-with-yarnIn the end, I had a very restful week and I am back on my feet, ready to start Camp NaNo with my tribe (we’re doing it a month early). I’m ready to be productive again.

This year, my “change of pace” was fairly short. Last year it lasted a month – I had accumulated fatigue. I think it is healthy, at times, to get out of your routine and indulge in guilty pleasures. It can be as simple as buying pre-made food instead of cooking, putting on your pyjamas as soon as you get home from work or forget the existence of Internet for the weekend.

I think “being productive” is important to a lot of people, but sometimes, in order to remain productive, you’ve got to take a breather.

Be well, you all. Take care of yourselves.


My creative process: writing the first draft

Bakuman illustration by Takeshi Obata

Learning about people’s creative process or “watching them create” is one of my favourite things. I’ve spent hours watching  YouTube videos of Takeshi Obata just drawing (he’s the mangaka who drew Hikaru no Go, Death Note and Bakuman, among other things). So I thought today I’d talk about my own creative process, because it’s fun to share and because maybe next year or in two or three years I’ll look back to this post and be amazed at how much my process has changed. Or not.

The idea

It all starts with an idea. It can come from vastly different things: a passer-by can sprout a character, a feeling can become a theme, etc. You have ideas, you know what I mean.

The daydream

There is a kind of natural selections in my ideas. I almost don’t consciously “choose” which one I’ll pursue, I just go with the one that obsesses me the most. After all, I write for fun. So, that natural selection occurs during my daydreams. Because I’m busy, I don’t just lie down to daydream like I used to when I was a teenager – I daydreaming while doing other things. rainbow-1445337690d8qMy personal favourite moment is while waiting for sleep, since I can just lie down and be happy in my own world for 15 minutes to 2 hours. It has the added benefit to keep me from worrying about… you know… real life.

The first words

When I have daydreamed a lot and I’m scared I might forget those dreams, I start writing. No plan, no plot, no nothing, just my ideas and my daydreams. And maybe notes taken in earlier steps. Normally, a “good” idea will get me to write over 10k words (sometimes even up to 20k words) virtually effortlessly. Those words would be written very quickly, like 10k over the weekend or 20k in two weeks.

The plot

Then, I stare at the mess reread the thing, and see where that could lead me or what I’d like to do with it. I write down key words for my different scenes on small pieces of paper and paste them on my wall. The mad artist look at that point is desirable. Then I try to come up with any missing element or plot point.

My wall; there are 7 books there. And a drawing of Haruma Miura because… uh… whatever. Who needs a reason to put up drawings of beautiful people on their wall?

The research

During my initial 10-20k words, I will most likely have broached subjects I know little about, so while plotting, I’ll do some research and see what fun ideas emerge. Then I go back to plotting and alternate both until I have a pretty strong sequence of events.

The plan

Yes, because I don’t consider “plotting” as planning. For me, planning deals with questions like: How long’s it gonna be? What kind of narrator will I use? What artistic direction do I want to use? Stuff like that. I’ll also create an actual outline of the plot with target word counts in Scrivener.

patrick_jane_s_cup_of_tea_by_carlaoliveira-d7bv5fdThe first draft

Then I go ahead and write the first draft. I used to write by bursts until I found that writing between 500 and 1,000 words a day worked better for me. I work on my story every day unless there is a special occasion (Christmas, a wedding, etc.) or I’m sick. At first, it needs some getting used to, then it gets addictive, and finally it becomes a routine that you simply won’t question.

Typically, I’ll do some research all along the way (I try to limit this to 30 minutes a day, otherwise it tends to take up all my writing time). After a chunk of 10-20k words, I’ll also go back to what I have written, rearrange things as necessary (this usually takes 2-3 days, no more than a week), and then go back to drafting. That last step is crucial. I have been caught in a loop of editing the first 20k of a manuscript forever and ending up never finishing the thing. The saddest part is: I now plan on finishing that story at last, and I might just end up scrapping that whole beautifully written intro and starting from scratch.


That’s it for this week. The editing process will require a post of its own when I’m done with my current novel, which probably means much later this year.

I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.
– Shannon Hale

How to use Myers-Briggs to create life-like characters

My favourite aspect of storytelling is creating life-like characters. For some characters, I’ll have a rather vivid image of their personalities early on because I’ve thought about them so much. For others, usually secondary characters or extras, it’s more difficult. It’s usually because I’ve always had a hard time understanding people with their personality types so I can’t empathize with them. When that happens, I use Myers-Briggs personality types.


First, I’ll identify that character’s personality type. You can use the test and answer as your character would, though it might be hard, at this point, since you might not know your character all that well. I tend to go with the main characteristic of a character and look up the personality types that could fit.

Here’s one example: popular party guy. I don’t know a lot of popular party guys so I don’t understand them much. I know enough about that guy to know he’s: 1) extroverted (E), 2) feeling (F). That reduces the possible personality types to 4: ENFJ, ENFP, ESFJ and ESFP. Now, the main thing about him (aside from his popularity) is that he fails at having a career.

In my head, “popular guy” looks like Justin Zabinski

This guy also has an ENTJ brother and they’re fundamentally incompatible. When I look in ENTJ “Friendship”, it says they can difficulty get along with observant (S) types. So now I just have to decide ESFJ, aka the consul, or ESFP, aka the entertainer? He definitely seems like more of an entertainer than a consul.

A look at ESFP’s strengths and weaknesses tells me that people with this personality type are poor long-term planners and unfocused. Sounds to me like a good recipe for failing at having a career. They also have excellent people skills and those are especially useful to be popular. The website I linked above even provides well-known examples any selected personality. An example of ESFP  is Penny from Big Bang Theory. Spot on.

So it’s decided: that character is ESFP (interestingly enough, I’m INTJ, his absolute opposite – not wonder I can’t understand him!). Now I read all relevant sections (or all sections if I feel like I need all I can get) about that personality type and see how it sparks my creativity.

Now, if this guy was more important in the story, I’d go even further. I’d tweak his personality a bit: replace some of his characteristics with another personality type’s. No character should be 100% stereotypical, but with minor characters, the reader will know too little about them to know whether they are or not. With main characters, it’ll be clearly visible.

I took the test from popular guy’s point of view. I might have exaggerated the extraversion feature – few people are 100% anything.

So I’d go and find a second personality type for him. You can make relatively any mix, so long as there are at least a few similarities. People can even be almost equally extroverted and introverted. One only has to think in terms of “range”, like in the image to the right (I took the test from popular guy’s point of view; I might have exaggerated the extraversion feature – few people are 100% anything). The more extroverted you are, the less introverted. The two highest percentages represent the most distinctive features of the personality, whatever type it is. The two lowest is what you might want to play with. In this case, his “second type” could be either ENFP or ENTP.

I would never, EVER have thought of making ENTP his second type, but as I’m writing this, it suddenly makes awful sense: he is an awesome debater. He is extremely charismatic and very argumentative; that’s how he manages so easily to get whatever he wants. He’d make an excellent public personality or… salesman. Yup, I always kinda pictured him a potential high achieving salesman. So when his father will “cut the cord”, which he will, he’ll struggle and then start selling stuff and be good at it.

You can also use Myers Briggs to “test” possible relationships, whether platonic or romantic. It can help you make sure your characters are compatible, or if they look absolutely incompatible, to find clues as to why it still works for them. For example, a friendship between an INFP and an ESTJ is improbable, yet because they are so completely each other’s opposite, they could be fascinated by one another. Both would have a lot to learn from the other, provided they care enough to try to understand each other. Or, you know, if they’re locked up together and have to cooperate to get out. Fun things.

Do you like Myers-Briggs? What type are you? I’d love to know! I’m an INTJ (T) with some INFP’s characteristics (mainly creativity, idealism, and impracticality).

I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.
– Marilyn Monroe (said to be ESFP)


What skills are necessary to write good fiction?

carouselleriecreative_pinkishblooms_elements_berries-11When I was in 14, I would have answered that question with: good mastery of language and creativity. Now, I would categorise the necessary skills in two categories: language and storytelling. Creativity is more like the very essence of any art. If skills were flowers and foliage, creativity would be the roots. That being said, you can consider it a skill if you want to, it’s a free world.

Language speaks for itself: you have to master grammar, punctuation, spelling, syntax and *drum roll* style. No, style isn’t just the product of coincidence, there are rules to follow, too. The better you know them, the more efficiently you can break them to create your own aesthetic. Examples of style rules would be not to insert 4 adjectives and 3 adverbs in a 15 words sentence, to vary the length of your sentences, etc.

All of this can seem obvious, but to quote On Writing Well: “Few people realise how badly they write.” So let’s do our homework and study style. Every writer does in one way or another.

Which leads us to storytelling, woo! The one part I almost completely ignored until very recently. You read that right: I tend to obsess over details such as style and forget the big picture. Besides, the story itself is the very reason I started writing in the first place, it should be pretty straightforward, right? Yeah… not so much.

There are many ways to break down storytelling. Larry Brooks breaks it down in 6 core competencies: concept, characters, theme, structure, scene and voice. I prefer to break it into smaller chunks: concept, characters, conflict, setting, theme, voice, tone, structure, scenes and audience. Although this last element is much more abstract than the others, there is something to be said about the wisdom of perfectly adapting your story to your target audience.

Knowing this helps me self-assess my own storytelling skills to know what my weak points are.

It also helps with estimating a story’s difficulty. If you’re a learner like me, consider that if your first attempt at novel writing is a high-concept high fantasy series, featuring characters with mental health disorders and an unreliable narrator… you might as well try to self-diagnose cancer. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m just saying you might not have the tools to make sure you got it right.girl-5-copie

A good educational approach is generally to focus on one difficult element at a time.

The good news is that in today’s world, the amount of self-help available is virtually limitless. It can come in the form of how-to books, writing blogs and websites (I’m a fan of Writer’s Digest), creative writing courses or workshops, etc. Reading extensively also helps a lot. But then you also have to write, try things, experiment, have fun. Awesome! Those are all of my favourite activities!

I’m leaving you on one of my favourite quotes by one famous author I unfortunately can’t fully appreciate (I’m sorry; I get why he’s great, but then he’s so depressing).

It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.
—Ernest Hemingway