Small Things Shine Brightly

Recently I had the fun opportunity to visit a lighthouse that had been moved to the shore, after it was decommissioned. At the top of a second set of very narrow stairs, I found the light itself and snapped this photo of the upside view of the water outside when looking through the light.

As anyone who has visited a lighthouse before knows, while the glass around the light is quite large, the light bulb itself is small. Of course there’s some excellent science involved about how a small light can extend miles away to show the safe path home for those at sea.

Small things can always shine brightly, which gives me hope and a reason for optimism. It’s easy to get discouraged when things don’t work out the way that we hoped, but important to keep shining anyway.

As a writer, it can be easy to feel discouraged when someone else doesn’t share the same joy after reading your novel or first chapter. However, those moments also provide opportunities to improve and grow.

The novel editing process can be like the trial and error involved in building the first lighthouse light designs. Each improvement and even small adjustment can result in that final, dazzling beam of light which can illuminate and connect with readers.

Keep shining brightly. Eventually the fog will clear, the glass will be adjusted, and that small light will dazzle in brightness.

Changing Perspective

Writers talk a lot about point of view and for good reason. How each character sees and understands the world is what makes them genuine and unique compared to other characters. Several characters could experience the same event, like attending a cherry blossom festival in spring, yet only one of them noticed this view of the sky.

Perhaps the other characters focus on the crowd, another on their uncomfortable shoes, and yet another on a remark from someone else in the group. Sometimes scenes can read rather flat, until the author changes perspective and finds a unique twist for the characters in terms of perspective.

This photo is one that I took recently after being a little overwhelmed at a cherry blossom festival, sandwiched into the mob of tourists and locals out to see the trees and their splendor. Whenever I travel to places like this or deep, green forests, I always end up with at least one photo looking up.

The wonder of this perspective is how timeless it is, and with cherry blossoms, how fleeting. The blooms will only be around for a very short time before they shake off their pink flowers to transform again. Yet, this image could be seen by almost anyone who catches a blue sky day and looks up while the trees are in bloom.

In both writing and travel, perspective changes everything. We could walk away from any experience or chapter, focused only on the flaws or complexity. But, if we are really lucky, the genuine moment is what we take with us. The magic of the shades of pink, floating in a clear sea of blue sky.

Wherever April takes you, I hope you have the opportunity to find a little magic in the April showers, frogs singing at night, or the pink cherry blossom flowers floating gently toward the green grass. Happy spring, everyone. Here comes the sun!

Starting from Scratch

Something inspired me to start baking bread from scratch. It was probably a cross between thinking it was an impossible task and not finding the Finnish cardamom bread I wanted to eat within a twenty mile radius. Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure this won’t turn me into a food blogger.

Building on my experience of seeing people make bread on television in a period TV drama series, I decided that I would give it a go. I found a recipe, bought all the supplies, and went to work. If you haven’t ever made bread yourself, I’d recommend giving it a go. There is something wonderfully creative about it. The feeling of throwing stuff in a bowl and kneading it, then letting it rise and shaping it into bread.

The reward of your house smelling like a dream bakery is another bonus. To my sheer delight, the bread turned out perfectly and I felt like a genius with my newly obtained bread making skills.

It also reminded me a bit of the writing process, how any new novel starts from scratch with a few ideas and builds from there to create a new world with characters that someone will hopefully enjoy reading about. Both bread making and novel writing result in something tangible and crafted with care.

Will I end up becoming someone who only bakes their own bread each week? Maybe – I suppose time will tell. It did encourage me to spend a little more time on crafting up excellent food and there’s something fun and creative about the whole process.

Wherever you find inspiration, I hope that you embrace it. One never knows where it will take you.

 

Taking Time to Edit

Editing a novel or, well really anything, can be tricky. As for me, I tend to write quickly and let the ideas flow before going back to tidy things up and link everything together. It’s an iterative process for me because I’m constantly editing and drafting. I’ll typically edit something a few times before sharing it with someone else in a writers group or simply with a friend.

Getting feedback from someone who isn’t as close to the work is a wonderful gift to any writer. It really helps to get perspective from someone else who isn’t as close to the characters and the setting as the writer is. Another opinion adds a different view on the material and helps the writer know if they’ve managed to successfully convey the characters and their lives or not.

After I’ve run through something a few times, then gotten some feedback from a few people, I rework things again myself. I’ll also usually share it again with probably the same friend to see if it’s getting better. And then there’s more time spent editing.

I also have a trick that works well for editing drafts several times, which is to take a break and let the draft stew a bit. Doing something else and focusing on other things for a while, like the gym or spending time with the friends I’ve ignored while madly writing something, helps provide some distance.

Distance is a key ingredient of better editing and I know from experience that I’ll find more things to fix if I’ve spent a few days away from a manuscript than if I try to edit constantly.

Wherever you are in your writing, I hope that these tips are helpful. Find someone you trust to help you edit and really listen to their feedback. Keep editing while drafting because writing is an iterative process. Give yourself some time in between editing sessions, so that you can look at the manuscript with fresh eyes.

Most importantly, keep going with your writing (and editing).

 

 

Writing that Novel

January brings us a brand-new, shiny year that is all fresh and ready for us to add things to buckle down and start fresh. Perhaps you are planning vacations or getting serious about going to the gym or writing that novel. Sometimes they are resolutions or just recurring New Year themes.

I’ve been very busy writing a new novel and what’s funny is that my house is either spotlessly clean while I’m brainstorming or avoiding time typing – or it looks like a band just left for the night after a big party – when I’ve been typing away and building the new world of the latest novel. There seems to be very little in between! LOL!

One thing all writers can relate to as they are writing that novel aside from lack of progress on domestic tasks is keeping track of word count. Novelists talk about progress in terms of how many thousands of words they are from their goal and how many they have completed that week.

Typically most novels range between 65,000 and 80,000 words, which generally speaking is close to 300 double-spaced pages in a typical word processor with an average font size. Novellas are much smaller than that at somewhere below 40,000 words, or about half the size of a regular novel.

I also pay more attention to word count than pages and, in my latest project, my writing goals relate to words per week instead of pages per week. For example, if you are starting a novel or planning the work, it can be helpful to think of the writing schedule in terms of words. If your goal is to write 80,000 words within 8 weeks, then that means 10,000 words per week to stay on schedule.

At the end of the day, writing a novel means A LOT of time sitting at the keyboard and carving out the time to keep forging ahead. In my case, it all means a rather messy house during that same time and I haven’t seen the inside of the gym since 2019 rolled out. But, I’m keeping up with my word count goals, so that’s the current priority.

Whatever your writing project of 2019, I wish you much success! Keep going and remember that building a new world within a novel takes time and a lot of patience. Remember that your characters will help you build things along the way and that you don’t have to have everything planned out ahead of time – there’s a fog in fiction that you can drive through a few feet at a time. Just keep going! Happy 2019, writers!

 

Updating the Author Photo

Recently I updated my ‘author photo’ and, dear readers, it must be said that it took quite a bit of my time and thought. After reading a lot of articles about author photos and reviewing photos of many of my favorite authors, I decided to hire a pro which was a big step and a decision that I felt most comfortable with.

After that though, there were still many decisions to make – mostly focused on what I wanted the image to convey. The biggest issue that I spent the most time on was determining whether or not to smile in the photo or not.

Was I less of an artist if I smiled? Did it mean that I wasn’t serious about writing? Would my fashion choices last a few years or age the photo too quickly? I’ll spare you the many other running questions and concerns that I considered, but you get the idea.

In the end, after quite a lot of research and various polls of my very patient friends, I opted for the smiling photo. What tipped me over to that decision? In the end, I decided that writing is something that I enjoy, which made me happy, and the old quote of ‘smile and the world smiles with you’ probably was worth going along with. 🙂

That I’ve also spent a lot of time in the orthodontist’s chair also helped tip the balance…

I hope this is helpful for other fellow authors and artists, perhaps even starting a new trend where we see more smiles in bios than serious looks. Either way, I hope you all celebrate your own true beauty, and, many thanks to both my photographer and my orthodontist. All the best to you and yours, and please, don’t forget to smile!

Two Things to Resolve Before Writing Magic

I’ve been writing in Magical Realism for a while now and I’ve picked up on a few tips that are key to sort out before adding a little magic to your novel. I hope these help if you are considering adding in a little magic in your work in progress. 🙂

  1. Determine the rules of magic – Like any other plot feature, magic needs rules to operate in so that it makes sense in the world being created. For example, things to figure out before you start typing are the details like who can use magic and for what? What are the limits to the magic? What is the source of the magic? How does the character learn about their capabilities and what mistakes do they make getting used to it? What are the consequences of using magic? Are there different kinds of magic in the world being created? If so, how is it different and by what rules?
  2. Introduce magic slowly – Building a new world that includes magic is a bit more realistic when it’s introduced somewhat slowly. In my novel, The Magic of Cape Disappointment, the protagonist has an ability to influence the weather, however one that she’s unwitting of for several chapters. In these chapters, the weather events around her become more extreme but there is no reference to her thinking that it’s anything but bad luck or a freak storm. Magic introduced slowly also helps with rolling out the rules of the world that the characters live in. Further, this type of approach also helps the writer move the story along without having to explain all the rules of magic in this new world all in the first chapter, letting the reader sort of slowly step into this other world and learn the rules themselves in pace with the characters.

Adding in a little magic to a story takes a lot of prep time, actually, for the magical world created to feel ‘real.’ The author must know all the rules of magic of this new world before starting out the story development, otherwise magical situations added to the novel can feel more like a convenient story prop and not an integral thread of the story.

Best of luck to you! Magical realism is such a fun genre and worth the effort.

 

Keeping the Plot on Track

There are quite a few books and articles out there about the small number of plots, usually a number well below ten, that all stories can be mapped to. Editors and reviewers will often quickly spot the type of plot and then grade the story by how well it adheres to the typical and related plot map.

Perhaps the quest doesn’t start early enough or the monster isn’t menacing enough, whatever the case, plots can be made a little too paint-by-numbers if we aren’t careful. Generally, the plots are the planned stops on the trip and everything else that happens are the small detours and other (occasionally unplanned) stops along the way.

I like to keep the plot on track, but still give the characters a little freedom to take some unscheduled stops along the way. Whatever the method, the goal remains to keep the plot going while still making a story feel fresh and new.

I took this photo in Scotland on The Jacobite steam train, as I jockeyed for space at the window in a sea of other tourists to snap a photo as the train edged along the Glenfinnan viaduct. In trying to allow everyone to have a few seconds at the window, I didn’t even have time to really see the photo until I had sat back down at my seat (and I barely had time to appreciate the view).

That entire train trip was made completely unique when the track curved along the viaduct, resulting in a trip like no other. Yes, there are other beautiful train trips in the world and other trains that cross viaducts. And yes, there are millions of miles of train tracks that are all the same, with maybe a handful of differences. But, like a great novel, there is only one that takes this exact journey and that makes all the difference. Keeping the plot on track is every writer’s responsibility, as is providing a unique journey for the characters that is still unlike any other. What a wonderful challenge!