This week on No Wasted Ink, I have several great articles on general writing tips for you. A reference article about writing wolves. Also, great comments about creating a body of writing work. I hope you enjoy them!
Writers need a platform to reach their audience. Don’t know where to begin? Podcast #6 of the CHWG Podcast with Wendy Van Camp discusses it. Plus Scifaiku (Science Fiction Haiku). Hosted by J Bryan Jones. Available on YouTube, iTunes, and CHWritersGroup.org now!
Welcome to another Monday of Writing links. This week I found plenty of general writing links that are sure to benefit the writers that come to No Wasted Ink. There is a nice article about archery terms for you fantasy authors too. Enjoy!
The act of creativity has been a subject that fascinates me. I have always been a creative woman, I can not stop creating things any more than I can stop breathing. It is a major part of my life and shapes who I am. When the desire to write burst within me in 2010, a single character demanded that I start to write his story. More characters in the story followed and together all these people have become a steampunk science fiction series that I will one day publish. Yet, a single series does not an author make. From time to time, I have been asked to contribute a story to an anthology or a magazine and I found myself frozen, unable to write a word or meet a deadline. I was forced to let these opportunities go without submitting a single word.
Outline The Problem
I became determined to overcome my science fiction writer’s block. While I have published memoir shorts and a regency romance, I consider myself to be a science fiction and fantasy author. I am well versed in the genre having read most of the classics from Robert A. Heinlein, Issac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, to a range of women science fiction authors such as Vonda McIntyre, Andre Norton, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. This has allowed me to become familiar with the genre tropes and style of the “golden age” of the 1950s and 1960s when science fiction gained its footing in popular culture. Yet, how to generate science fiction ideas for myself eluded me.
My first thought to solve the problem was to listen to other authors in the genre and get an idea of how they developed their ideas. I attended convention panels with Vernon Vinge, Todd McCaffery, Greg Benford, David Brin and other famous authors to glean how they came up with material that gained them Hugo and Nebula awards. Over time, I realized that each of these authors had a system to store ideas for themselves related to science fiction. Every author had a different way of obtaining these core ideas. Some had buddies who worked at JPL or NASA, others were scientists themselves with years of training in their chosen field. They attended science conferences or read journals about the world of technology today, took these raw facts and concepts, pushing the ideas into the future and giving it a literary twist.
The Past Through Tomorrow
Being a collector of fountain pens and notebooks, I had read how people in the past had kept journals known as “commonplace books”. This was a compilation of ideas and information that the author thought relevant. It was popular with the thinkers of 15th century England and eventually became a scholarly tool adopted by major universities. I liked the concept of the commonplace book and wondered if I could apply it to my science fiction idea generating problem.
To find the basic facts to form ideas from, I signed up for free science journals on a variety of subjects. I joined science fiction clubs and listened to what concepts intrigued the readers.
My paper notebook failed.
There is such a barrage of information in the journals, many fields are expanding their knowledge at speeds that make it difficult to keep up with, that copying the information by hand became overwhelming. I switched to using Evernote and set up folders where I could cut and paste various science-based articles that I thought might have a possible idea to base a story on. Using this collation method proved to be easier to maintain and slowly, I began to have folders of possible science-based concepts to write about.
Sharpening The Tools
Although I was generating facts to draw on, I was still having trouble generating science fiction stories except for my Opus Magnus. An author friend of mine suggested that instead of writing short stories, I should try poetry. The form was short and wouldn’t take up as much time to write. I had also taken an online writing course put out by the University of Iowa where one of the lessons said that to practice scene building, try writing haiku first. Haiku was about describing a single moment in time, which are the building blocks of stories.
This is where my love of Scifaiku was born. The poems are only three lines long and I can do them in batches. I would start with facts from my commonplace folders in Evernote and then apply an emotion, setting and time to them. It worked. I began to assemble science fiction poems and much to my surprise, people seemed to like them.
In September of 2015, one of my online writing communities held a writing challenge. Write one flash fiction story a day for the entire month. If I did the challenge to the end, I would have thirty flash fictions to show for it. I decided to try. I would focus all my creative energy on writing science fiction or fantasy and see where it led me. As it turned out, writing with a group of authors gave me the support I needed to complete the challenge. Not all the stories I wrote are good enough to submit, but a number of them were good enough to either send out as a flash fiction or to expand into a longer and better story in the future.
I have followed up with doing two more challenges in 2016. For the first time, I have a backlog of science fiction and fantasy stories to draw on. What is more, I seem to be able to create new characters and plots without the strain that I used to feel. This practice has sharpened my skillset.
Today, short stories and poetry come to me more easily. I have established a method of generating science fiction stories that works for me. As time passes, my files grow richer with more science-based concepts to draw from. I hope that by outlining my creative process this gives you ideas on how to be more creative in your own writing.
Murray Lindsay is an indy author from Canada. He writes science fiction with a wild west twist. Please welcome him to No Wasted Ink.
My name is Murray Lindsay and I’m a proud flatlander. Really. Born and raised on the rolling prairies of Saskatchewan, no matter where I have travelled or how long I lived elsewhere, I have returned with relief. My most recent return met with even greater-than-usual revitalization as I met the woman of my dreams and we have recently moved into the perfect (no, really) house.
My mother (a teacher) taught me to read well before school started. What I read is down to my father and grandfather (Mom’s dad). I grew up devouring a back library of Astounding, Analog and hundreds of SF&F books. I recall being confused when visiting other little chums and asking “Where are your books?” and they’d point to a couple on a coffee table.
I am a graphic artist and illustrator by lifelong trade, sometimes in a shop, currently freelancing out my home. Writing has always been fun. Being an author is heady stuff.
When and why did you begin writing?
From pre-school onwards. My parents kept my childhood doodles and explained the tales I made up to go with the drawings. Why? I can only refer to the fact many kids start out drawing and telling stories. The mystery is rather why a scant few of us keep on going while our peers dump their creativity. I have no answer. Perhaps growing up in a house full of books kept my imagination alive.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ve considered myself a writer my entire life. I won’t claim to have always been a good writer, but I wrote. I usually received the accolades of high school English teachers. I wrote a piece of fiction for a final essay in my university class on the History of Ancient Greece. I’ve always loved penning letters, trying to make them fun and informative for the recipient. I’ve Game Mastered hundreds of hours of roleplaying games, which were all set on a world of my own creation. The saga has many stanzas.
Only with the publication of “Home on the Strange” did I dare to call myself an “author”.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
“Home on the Strange” is my first published novel. I have this month finished a fully science fiction adventure with the working title “Patient Zero”, involving a take on “where are the aliens?” question that puzzles scientists and nerds alike. Next on the list is to get back to the next “Brewster & Brewster Adventure”. I fancy the twins will have a trilogy before I’m done.
What inspired you to write this book?
I unexpectedly became filled with the urge to write a Western. I wanted to slap a saddle on a horse and go like stink.
After I realized this loco idea was not going away, I started to think on the matter. I found no desire to travel the very well-worn trails of the American Wild West. Which sent me north to the days of the Canadian frontier. The Canadian west was not too “wild”. I did not fancy fancy-stepping around historical events trying to generate an adventure.
The my first love of SF&F came to the rescue. Off to parallel Earths and divergent histories! A wild west in another Earth’s 21st century!
Do you have a specific writing style?
Energetic and adventurous with humour layered in for seasoning. My fans, friends and family flatter me by agreeing I have a “sparkling way with words” and that my dialogue is pretty snappy.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
The final result is a western with a hefty dollop of oddness and SF poured over it. “Home on the Range” became “Home on the Strange”. I web searched and couldn’t find but a couple of books with that title, and nowhere near the part of the book store I’d be in. Feeling it too good to be true, I added “A Brewster & Brewster Adventure” to guarantee avoiding infringements. Not only that, but it gives a vintage ring that suggests sequels.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Honesty being the best policy, I have to say “no”. It’s a tall tale, some far-fetched fiction, a rootin’-tootin’ race for life and limb across the western Canadian prairie. I’m told it’s a fun ride. That being said, there is a definite undercurrent praising loyalty, friendship, blood-is-thicker-than-water and such values.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find
I’d rank perhaps my major influence as Keith Laumer. An underrated, I feel, SF writer of the 1960’s. Life and death challenges abound, but the hero still slips in a wry observation or sarcastic witticism. I think that blend of comedy and crisis results in an excellent creation for the simple reason it mimics life. And what that guy could do with a simile!
After him there ranks a legion. Jerome K. Jerome, Damon Runyon, Poul Anderson, Glenn Cook, and etc.
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?
I can’t claim any literal mentors, other than perhaps the members of my writing groups. Some of those wonderful folk are a couple of spaces further along on this game board than I. But, all their advice and comments have been so useful at assorted times that it’s impossible to single one out.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
In point of fact, I did all the illustrations (cover and inside), design and layout. “Graphic artist” is my day job, you see. I cut myself a helluva deal in negotiating the fees. Used those skills to lay out and create a proper ePub edition as well.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
For writers, I’ll say my greatest epiphany was when realized that many “Writing Rules” are a matter of taste. It was like seeing parents argue when two favourite authors gave totally contradictory “Rules”. I advise reading many many “How To” books and sources to get a sense of the actual foundation principles. Then pick three of those gurus and follow their teachings. (Of course, I mean award winning, well-regarded, have sold a bushel of books, gurus).
For those going the full publishing route: I feel great sympathy and embarrassment for authors who can not or will not use a professional artist for their covers. Land and sky, but there’s a multitude of wretched covers out there. My advice: if you have no access to a professional, then you should keep the cover as simple as possible.
Don’t think of a basic cover of essentially fonts and colour to be “boring”. It is “neutral”. Better the reader starts Page 1 in a neutral frame of mind than the mocking, sour sneer an amateur cover engenders.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
For my book, and any author’s work, I ask “Tell your friends”. One honest opinion-review from a buddy is easily equal to a hundred “thumbs up” from strangers. And they tell two people and they tell two people…
Home on the Strange – A Brewster & Brewster Adventure