Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


Hitting the Home Stretch (and a taste of Siberia)

One week until March! Woo-hoo!

Wait, the weather guy said next week will be a copy of this week. Cold, not so cold, freaking cold, not so cold, and cold again. Last week, minus thirty-five degrees F in International Falls–Sooo glad I don’t live up north! Today’s high temp might reach zero. Maybe.

Hear that whistle? It’s the Siberian Express! Step on up to the platform and the conductor will check your tickets.

Remember, the vernal equinox is March 20, less than a month away. Keep thinking of that. Equal parts day and night, and the official start of Spring!

Not much for today’s post; sorry, gang. On a roll with the NaNo project. Ever get to a certain point with a manuscript at which the creative energy starts to boil over? Sometimes it’s slow going until you hit that one scene, then the rest just tumbles out from there to the final scene. I hit that yesterday, so I got my word quota in for today as well. My Muse is kicking back and looking pretty damn proud. Don’t hurt yourself patting your own back, T!

Since I’ve got my quota, working today on polishing (again) the first 10k words of another mss for a contest entry. One thing I love is the writing community. I found a new CP in a writing group, and she’s doing a wonderful job helping me out with the mss. If you don’t have a critique partner, I suggest finding one. Having another writer (preferably more than one) review your work is essential in the process, in my opinion. Those other writers can see the things you can’t as the author, and you do the same for them when you review their work. Check out this post for recommendations: 40 Places to Find a Critique Partner

Technology is so awesome these days; my CP and I were both looking at my mss in Google Docs (I don’t like to promote any one online service over any other, that’s just what we are using) at the same time! So cool! Take advantage of it if you can with your CP.

Word count yesterday: 39,408

Write on and stay warm!


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Public Service Announcement

Any time we can inspire a father, brother, husband, uncle, or good friend to get a cancer screening is an opportunity to have that person in our lives for many more years. Thanks, Craig, for sharing. Congrats on no cancer!

Entertaining Stories

I’m going to invite everyone to re-blog, tweet, and otherwise share this post today. We all wish our posts got that much love, but this one is important. If you are a man, love a man, or maybe both, this post is important.

I debated long and hard about sharing this at all. It involves personal information, and I like to keep a bit of privacy. I had to weigh the fact that my mother reads this blog, along with at least two co-workers, against the possibility of helping someone else. Someone else won.

Popular rumor holds that a man should have certain things checked medically once he turns 50. In typical male fashion, I waited until I was 53 and 8 months to schedule my colonoscopy. This is a degrading procedure that involves shoving a camera into places that aren’t visible by design. I thought it was degrading, but…

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Valentines, Holidays, and Muses

Happy Belated Valentine’s Day! Happy Mardi Gras (yes, I know it’s actually been “Mardi Gras” for a month, but these last few days seem to be the best known)! Happy President’s Day (US)!

Did I hit them all (US)? Hope everyone had a good day yesterday, whether you shared it with someone or spent a day solo communing with your muse(s). Yesterday was the coldest Valentine’s Day in over seventy years. Boo. Hey, Winter, it’s February. Ease up on the single-digit temps, would ya?

Holidays always seem to be great muses when it comes not only to writers, but to any creative type. Think about it. How many Christmases, Halloweens, Thanksgivings, Valentine’s Days, etc have there been songs and stories written about, or stories set in? A romance set around Valentine’s Day? How about a witch spell-weaving party on Halloween? I’ve used Samhain (Halloween) in one of my own stories. What about Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro? And Christmas is a popular one for everything from estranged relatives’ I-still-can’t-stand-to-be-around-you reunions to OMG-I-haven’t-seen-you-forever reunions.

Holidays inspire, each for different reasons. Christmas because of the obvious: family, giving, and for those who resist the commercialization–a Savior’s birth. New Year’s Eve/Day because of the end of the old year and the chance to start fresh in the new year. Thanksgiving is another, again because families gather. The occasions are a great source of inspiration, from the romantic overtones of Valentine’s Day to the dark spookiness of Halloween.

How often do you use a holiday in your stories, either as a backdrop or as the focus of the story? Set a story in New Orleans the day before Ash Wednesday, and you have a great atmosphere for everything from a one-night stand to a heinous murder. Same with New Year’s Eve in New York City. Don’t restrict yourself to the big holidays or the widely-known ones, though. How much fun could you have with Oktoberfest in Munich (more than you can actually being there, trust me)? Or Independence Day (US) in Washington, D.C.?

Even local celebrations are muses, and sometimes better ones than the others. What sort of story could you tell during a Smalltown Strawberry Festival? How about a Smallertown Town and Country Days? Do you create these sorts of celebrations in your fantasy or science fiction stories? Oh, that’d be great fun! How about the Hug-an-Elf Festival in (name of small village in fantasy story here).

Listen to your own Muse, to the ideas she floats by you when the dragon dances down the street during the Chinese New Year festival, or when King Boreas is crowned during the Winter Carnival (St. Paul, MN) (yes, we celebrate winter–hey, it’s MN). Try tweaking your story to include something about the current local holiday or celebration. Research the traditions in your setting location; maybe you can incorporate them into your story.

Happy Writing!

Word count for yesterday: 25,012. Halfway through!

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Teasing Spring

Guess what? We’re halfway through winter. It’s all downhill from here. Oh, I know the East Coast is getting slammed by snow and sleet, and I know the West Coast is getting hammered by the Pineapple Express (why does that make me think of Hawaii?). Here in the upper Midwest we’re enjoying some above-freezing temps. On the local news, they keep talking about wanting more snow, since we’re about a foot short for the season (and that has nothing to do with my height 😉

I’m good with less snow this season. Really. And I got out to enjoy the sunshine and near-40 degree temps yesterday. It feels like spring, even though I know we’ve still got the rest of February and all of March yet to go before spring arrives. And we can get some nasty weather in the next couple months. Not below zero, bone-chilling, OMG-will-we-ever-thaw-out weather, but the oh-crap-freezing-rain-with-six-inches-of-heavy-wet-snow weather.

Which leads me to the question (through a few detours and roundabouts) of weather and setting as characters in your story. Setting is often a backdrop for the main story, a place to host the characters and their actions. And often the most the setting does is anchor the story in a place we may or may not be familiar with. I just finished the last Hollows book by Kim Harrison. Cincinnati is Rachel Morgan’s home–well, a portion of it. The city is a bit more than a backdrop, but doesn’t figure into the story so strongly that the whole story can’t be picked up and moved somewhere else. J.D. Robb’s In Death series is set in a near-future New York City that lends a bit more than a backdrop; the story really needs to live in a chaotic metropolitan area. I suppose Los Angeles or San Francisco would work, but the weather does play a role in the story, and there’s not much snow in winter in LA.

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum lives in Trenton, New Jersey, in a neighborhood called the Burg. The setting plays such an integral role in the story, since that’s where Steph grew up, that relocating the story, I think, would also encompass some character changes. It’s the neighborhood rather than the actual setting that feeds the story. Many stories are like that, tied to the setting by virtue of the main character’s history with the place.

Consider Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang. Now think of them someplace besides Alaska. Yeah, doesn’t really work, does it? The setting, both location and weather, are integral to the stories. Imagine Robinson Crusoe on one of the tiny islands at the southern tip of Chile, or on one close to the British Isles. Or Stieg Larsson’s trilogy somewhere other than Sweden. Doesn’t quite work, especially with Larsson’s work. The attitudes of Swedish society about women are integral to Larsson’s work, and the weather is another factor, primarily in the first book.

In your writing, is the setting a backdrop, or more of a story-shaping force? Would your characters behave the same way in a completely different location? What about the weather aspect of the setting? I think of weather because, well, we are still in winter, and the coasts are each dealing with less-than-pleasant versions of it. I believe Poe used weather often to set the mood of his works. You can use the setting, including the weather, to set the tone of your story, as Poe did. I had a story published (and got actual real money for it as opposed to contributor copies) I wrote as an exercise in setting story mood using description. It’s a dark, gloomy night, or it’s a quiet, respite of evening. The rain can be forboding, or washing the world clean.

Use the weather as a muse. Consider how the setting, and your descriptions, can change the whole feel of a story. Try it out. Pick a setting and describe it in a way that creates a bit of dread. Then take that same setting and describe it in a way that brings out a bright, upbeat feeling. The similes and metaphors you use are powerful tools in creating that atmosphere.

Oh, and my Week 1 word count is 13,137 words. Still on course for 50k by the 28th. Happy writing!


Close Eyes, Jump In

Sunday was the opening bell for my self-imposed NaNoWriMo. I aim for 2,000 words per day, which should get me to 50,000 words by the end of the month with a 6,000 word buffer.

The key being those 2k words. Every. Single. Day.

Which is the whole point of doing NaNo in the first place, at least in my mind. Everywhere we turn for writing advice, someone–well, many someones–say those three famous words: Write Every Day. And we all nod, smile, and make a mental commitment to do just that. And we do it today, tomorrow, and the next day, and maybe the next.

Then we skip a day because (pick one or more reasons): child sick, parent sick, self sick, sister had baby, sister-in-law had baby, daughter had baby, someone graduated and there’s a party, someone retired and there’s a party, there’s a party, the friend you haven’t seen in years is in town for one day only, the dog finally managed to swallow that stupid sock he’s been chewing on for the past week, etc.

Okay, we’ll get back to it tomorrow. We write a day, then something else comes up. So, we skip another day. And the next day something else comes up. Before we know it, it’s been a week and we haven’t written a word.

Sound familiar?

Yep, been there. Visit there on a regular basis, which just gives my guilt plenty of fodder for dragging my creative energy down. At least now I’ve learned (and yes, it took a looong while to learn it) I need to just sit down, pull out the pencil and paper (because it’s faster and more convenient than my laptop), and just scribble something. Anything. It especially helps when I write a note to my Muse; it’s like a siren’s call to him. And I need to do it every single day. Luckily, I now get paid to write–I switched from an IT career to technical writing, so technically I do write every day.

I’m talking creative writing. I’m talking the stuff I want to write. And I know nothing will get written in any reasonable amount of time if I don’t write every day. Hence, NaNoWriMo. Ten years ago I decided to try it for the sole purpose of forcing myself to get into the habit of writing every day. In October of that year, I started getting up at 4:30 in the morning so I’d have at least an hour to write before the kids got up. And it worked well, at least until I changed jobs and acquired a 45-60 minute commute (depending on weather and traffic). Now, I don’t write in the morning except on weekends. And I’ve fallen out of my daily writing habit. And I need to write a new book because I didn’t structure it right the first time when I tried writing it during NaNo a couple years back.

According to the experts (whomever they may be), a new habit takes about 21 to 28 days to form (but no one’s really proven that out, so we’ll just use the numbers as a ballpark). NaNoWriMo is perfect, then, because it’s 30 days. So, in theory, if you want to “win” NaNo, you have to write every day. And since I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing every day since the daily schedule-shattering chaos of the holidays, I need to do something to get that habit back. There’s still time to join the marathon–any takers?

Oh, BTW, so far I’m on par with my word count for two days in. I’ll try to remember to post my actual word count on Saturday–accountability is key. If I tell you all I’ll do it, well, I’d better do it. And I’d better make the quota so I don’t look bad 🙂

So, a take on Dory’s little ditty from Finding Nemo: Just keep writing, just keep writing, just keep writing, writing, writing.