The Hero’s Journey: For Writing & Life

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You are probably on a journey; I know I am. For me, it’s a writer’s journey, but it’s a hero’s journey, too. Writers have our own battles, allies, and enemies to navigate. Whether we realize it or not, the characters we write about, and ourselves, have embarked upon The Hero’s Journey. Cinch down your cloak, replenish the ink in your sharpest quill, and let’s talk about it.

hero with a thousand faces 1.jpgThe Hero’s Journey is a concept I first read about in Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell explains that there are reoccurring themes that run through almost all stories, myths, and even religious texts. The theme is The Hero’s Journey. Once it’s broken down into pieces, you can’t help but noticing it in most of the books, movies, and mediums you see everyday. Even aspects of our own lives conform to the structure.

While Campbell introduced the idea of The Hero’s Journey, Christopher Vogler does an amazing job of breaking it down into component pieces in his book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters. Campbell basically said, “There be dragons ahead,” and Vogler took that statement and wrote a book on how to slay those winged beasts.

Vogler’s step-by-step model of writing stories has been adopted by many writers working in different mediums. You’ll have a hard time finding a Pixar or Disney movie that doesn’t adopt this structure outright. The reason? Well, for one, it works. Two, this plotting method is relatable to most people, because our life experience seems to tie into the myth of the story.

Vogler explains, “The Hero’s Journey, I discovered, is more than just a description of the hidden patterns of mythology. It is a useful guide to life, especially the writer’s life. In the perilous adventure of my own writing, I found the stages of the Hero’s Journey showing up just as reliably and usefully as they did in books, myths, and movies” (p. 5).

With Vogler and Campbell’s twin stars on the horizon as our guide, lets learn about the journey. Also, let’s uncover how it applies to our writing and our lives.

hobbit holeThe Ordinary World. This is where the writer introduces the hero/heroine in their normal environment. Of course, they aren’t a hero yet. They are a street rat (Aladdin), hairy-footed Hobbit in a hole (LOTR), or girl living in the coal district (Hunger Games).

For the writer, this may be the time before you started writing. Maybe you thought about writing. There was a nagging feeling, but you ignored it. You stayed in the comfort of your Ordinary World.

The Call to Adventure.  This is when an external influence causes the hero/heroine to consider abandoning the Ordinary World.  This call to action is often times them learning of a threat to the safety of their Ordinary World.

For writers, this is the moment of inspiration.  Maybe a book, friend, teacher, movie, flash of clarity, or all of these combined, turns the nagging feeling into something more.  The words are calling to you.

refusing the call.jpgRefusal of the Call. This is the moment of doubt. The budding hero doesn’t want to leave the comfort of the Ordinary World. Family, doubt in ability, lack of incentive, and fear are often played upon refusals.

These are those first doubts you feel as a writer. “I can’t do this.  I don’t have a story to tell. I don’t even know how to write well.  Is writing worth it?”

Mentor Pops Up. Aladdin had a genie, the hobbits had Gandalf, and Katniss had Haymitch. These are their guides to push them along.  Some act as a moral compass, some simply push the hero, and some are there to meddle.

A mentor doesn’t have to be a person when it comes to writers. It can be, sure, but it can also be a book/idea/dream that inspires you. Something to guide you along your path and help you step outside of your comfort zone.

door to a new world.jpgCrossing the First Threshold. This is when the story starts getting interesting. The hero puts his/her head down and embarks on the quest.  They accept the adventure, leaving the Ordinary World and entering a special one.

For you wordsmiths, this is when you say, “Screw it – lets do this thing.” You sit down and begin the process. You exit the real world and enter the creative whirlpool. I see many authors quitting their jobs and taking up writing full-time. No doubt, they are crossing toward the First Threshold.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies.  Here we start getting elements sprinkled in. The hero/heroine meets friends, learn of and encounter enemies, and begin facing minor trials. They battle threshold guardians and sometimes, almost always, they come up short. The hero/heroine haven’t yet honed their skills. Or perhaps they haven’t built a strong enough connection with their allies to be effective.

hercules.jpgFor us scribblers, this is the beginning of the process. We seek out others like us. We deal with writers block and creativity issues. We learn that the initial fire, that spark, won’t sustain us. We need something more: dedication and habit. We often fail, but in the process, we begin to get better at the craft.

Approach to the Inmost  Cave. At this point, the hero/heroine (and allies if applicable) have honed their skills, and are preparing to face the enemy.  They stand at the gates, swords/wands/pens in hand with a determined look on their faces. Their scars, whether metaphorical or very real, are a testament to the journey they have taken to this point.

For writers, this when you start getting deeper into the work. You’ve knocked out a couple hundred pages, maybe told a few people what you are up to, and now the pressure is mounting. The end is in very near, but you still have work to do. You hope your resolve and skill will carry you to the end.

The Supreme Ordeal. This is the, “oh crap,” moment when the hero stares death in the face. For the reader/audience, you wonder if they will survive. The hero/heroine does survive the conflict, often barely, and realize they are more powerful/resourceful than they thought.

For the writer, this is the moment when you almost lose the writing battle. You step away for a few days, weeks, or months — sometimes longer.  You reappraise what you are doing. If you are the writing hero I know you are, you’ll return to the desk and finish.

flying carpet.jpgReward. For the hero, they seize the reward after beating the boss; the battle is won. Many times, they gain a boon, trophy, or magic item. The reward may simply be the realization of power they didn’t know existed within themselves.

My friend M.L.S. Weech always says, the more times you type, “The End,” the more confident you will be in your skill. He also says the more of them you type, the easier and quicker the next one is to get to.  This is sentiment I’ve heard echoed by many of the writers I work with, or consider to be mentors in my own journey. Needles to say, for a writer, typing The End is a major reward.  It is also the realization of hidden potential.

The Road Back. The hero begins the return journey back to the Ordinary World with the reward in hand, or inside them.

For the writer, I equate this to the real world versus fantasy world we live in while we write. You improved your skills while you wrote, you finished the work, now you must come back to the Ordinary World and edit/promote/sell it.

TheKnightAtTheCrossroads.jpgResurrection. The hero may have slain the dragon and seized the magic sword that heals the land, but now the dragon’s mother is in pursuit. Often times, the hero must deal with the consequences of their Supreme Ordeal. When power is found, unlocked, or a magic item is gained, there is often the issue of wielding this power responsibly. Sometimes, those around you become wary of what you have become, or what you are capable of.

For the writer, this is the realization that writing The End is just another beginning. There are edits, rewrites, book covers, email lists, agents, publishers, and critics to contend with now.  More ordeals spring up like weeds.

potion.jpgReturn with the Elixir. It’s all meaningless for the hero if they don’t return to the Ordinary World clutching their spoils. These spoils can by physical: an item to cleanse the blighted land, or powerful weapon to protect it. The spoils can be mental: they now have a story to share, become a mentor themselves, or offer insights to protect and enhance their Ordinary World.

For us writers, these are the moments of impact after the book, or work, is out there. The email from an appreciative reader, the five star review, the kind words from friends and family. Maybe your elixir is to compile a book to illuminate the way, much like Campbell and Vogler did for me.

That’s The Hero’s Journey.  This was a longer post, if you made it this far you’ve completed a reader’s journey.  In the future, I want to elaborate on each step, but we needed a point to jump off from – hence the length.

I hope you found this helpful. Do aspects of your life (writing life/life in general) fit The Hero’s Journey? Do you feel like steps are missing or are incorrect? I’d love to talk about it.


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Rolling the Dice and Creating Chaos

predictable plot.jpgHow many books have you read where you can guess exactly what is going to happen to the characters?  I know as a reader and editor I’ve been through a few.  It’s not that the characters are bad; they just don’t follow Murphy’s Law.  I get it.  Your character is the fastest gun in the land.  He/she can outdraw and outshoot anyone.  That can get pretty boring.  Or, you have to create insanely elaborate situations for them to navigate to challenge their prowess and entertain the mob (your readers).  Here’s an idea, instead of writing what should happen, leave it to fate.

This concept is pulled from the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) realm.  For those of you who aren’t giant nerds like me, D&D is basically a game where one person creates a story and friends come and navigate it.  Each role-player has a character they created and they use dice to determine the effectiveness of their characters actions throughout the story.

The transition into using this in your own writing is simple.  Roll a die and let that determine how effective your character is at dealing with a situation. After all, even the fastest shooter in the world is still impacted by luck.

dice.jpgTake a die.  It can be a six-sided die like you find in a board game, or go to a hobby shop and grab a 20-sided one.  If you roll a one, that’s the worst possible thing that could happen.  If you roll a six (or twenty if you are using the 20-sided beauty) that’s the best outcome that could happen.

Here’s the application.  Let’s use my own character, Drake Nelson, from my upcoming book Wastelander: The Drake Legacy.  Drake is chilling out in a settlement and needs to go to the bar to quench his thirst.  He walks in.  Sitting at a table is notorious bad guy #3.  Notorious bad guy #3 smacks women around, steals milk from babies, and once killed a man for his horse only to let it run off into the sunset for dramatic effect.  Drake looks up at me and I know—notorious bad guy #3 must die.

Now Drake has ninja speed with his pistol.  If I stuck with his character blueprint, this would be an easy confrontation for him.  Especially because bad guy #3 is just a lousy thief, not an experienced gunfighter/renegade maverick like Drake.  So instead of sticking with the boring, I let the dice decide.

Critical Hit.JPGIf I roll a high number, the normal thing would happen.  Drake doesn’t say anything, he simply shoots the man in the face and notorious bad guy #3 falls backwards out of his chair.  Everyone in the bar cheers.  Women throw panties at him.  The bartender pours him a drink.  It’s kind of funny, but it’s also kind of boring.

If I roll a middle number, it can go either way.  Drake pulls the pistol from his hip.  The iron sights flash into focus for a millisecond and he begins applying tension to the trigger.  The town drunk, Steve (it always has to be Steve doesn’t it), stumbles into the bar and bumps Drake in the back as the gun recoils.  The bullet punches a hole in the ceiling and chunks of plaster land on notorious bad guy #3’s head.

Critical Fail.JPGIf I roll a low number, (say a one) that would be a critical fail. Drake doesn’t just fail, he fails miserably.  Drake grips his pistol and pulls it from the holster.  His hand moves so fast it’s a blur of black and silver.  Unfortunately, a bird had shit on his pistol handle earlier.  The feathered feces is still glistening and fresh. The slickness causes the pistol to fly from his hand.  It sails across the bar and smacks the unaware bartender in the forehead. Worse, the bartender is the mayor’s brother.  Now Drake has revealed his intention to notorious bad guy #3, disarmed himself, and assaulted the mayors brother.

Try it out for yourself.  Mix a little luck and chaos into your writing.  While I obviously don’t recommend you use this to drive all action (or even major plot points), it is a fun way to create an unexpected turn.  It’s especially useful if you aren’t entirely sure how your character is going to deal with a situation and your writing is stalling because of it.  This tool allows you to write some potential outcomes and if you feel they are lackluster, blame the dice and bad luck.

question-markIf you give it a try, let me know how it goes.  It usually is amusing to say the least.  That’s it for today.  Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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The Golden Hour: For Writers

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Take a basic course in photography and you will likely learn about the Golden Hour.  It’s a special time right after sunrise, or before sunset, when the angle of the sun casts brilliant reddish hues over everything.

I remember my photography instructor gushing about the amazing possibilities this little window of time would provide.  I was attending the Defense Information School at the time learning how to be a Navy journalist.  I recall thinking, “I came to learn how to write, not take pictures of random nonsense!”  My younger self didn’t realize how much photography would grow on me, and it became more than just a part of the job—it was something to fill my free time.

camera-1240219_960_720.jpgSo when people ask me when the best time to write is, I always think of the Golden Hour. While writing is different than photography, they are both art, and they both require the artist to show up.

The thing with the Golden Hour is you can charge your batteries, pack multiple lenses and filters, strap a tripod to your back, and lug it all out to the perfect location, but there is no guarantee you will get a single usable image.  Maybe clouds roll in.  Maybe you just have a bad day and don’t get an interesting angle or inspired shot.  Maybe you just sit there and get lost in the moment and don’t take a single photograph.  But every now and then, as long as you keep trying, you will get that one photo that takes your breath away when you open it up to edit.

Writing is the same way.  While you don’t need to wait for sunrise or sun fall (or lug heavy gear), you still have to be present.  On any given day, you may find inspiration or you may flounder.  Those mental clouds can roll in and ruin even the most perfectly planned day of writing.  If you stay consistent and keep hitting those keys, eventually “it” will happen.  You will have a moment of perfect clarity.  A moment of pristine mental light.  In this Golden Writing Hour (or maybe multiple hours if you’re lucky), all those rough days will be worth it.  The result, well, it might just amaze you more than any photograph could.

The Editor[Editor’s Note]

This is one of the first posts I generated here on QE.  Since then, I’ve taken a book with a handful of chapters and finished it (and edited a couple others).  During that time, there were more cloudy days than golden ones.  The lesson I learned is bounce back.  For me, that’s the ability to forget about a lackluster day and treat a new one with an open mind.

With that being said, when those golden days shined, they changed my book in big ways.  On some of those golden days, I didn’t write within the manuscript at all but simply remapped and re-outlined sections to enhance the story.  I saw additions and concepts that weren’t fully formed solidify.  Honestly, I attribute this to simply being present.

This is why I encourage those I collaborate with to at least take a small amount of time each day and write.  Even if it isn’t to tackle the ever-looming word count, progress comes in different ways.  Sometimes, all it takes is for us to be present and willing.

question-markThat’s it for today!  It’s fun for me to re-read and give some of these older posts a second life, and it’s also interesting to think about where and what past-Corey was doing back then.  Do you have a Golden Hour in your writing life?  Do you have a method you use to help you bounce back from a rough day?  I’d love to talk about it.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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The War of Art: Book, Blurb & Collage

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This book spot is a bit sentimental for me as it’s the first one I ever posted here on QE.  I’m recycling it because when I initially posted it four months ago I didn’t have much of a following.  On a side note, the image up above (which I talk about in a second) is what inspired me to take select quotes and compile them into collages for this webpage.

Now to the original post…with a couple additions at the end.

I found this beautiful collage while searching for the cover of the book, The War of Art.   Steven Pressfield wrote the book and I’ve found it to be a solid call-to-action type read.  The collage above comes from Sunni Brown, and I linked it to their website.

Sunni Brown, the owner of this image and creator/owner of the linked website, offers some amazing eCourses.  If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to be a creative taker of notes, these courses will be right up your lane.  For me, I find doodling notes really helps cement the concept material in my mind.  It was also the source of much scolding during my younger years.

war of art.jpgBack to the book!  If you were considering snagging The War of Art, I would encourage you to do so.  It’s a look at the struggle writers face as they pit themselves against the many obstacles they encounter.  It also works to highlight what differentiates a wannabe writer from a professional one.

“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t.  When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us.  The Muse takes note of our dedication.  She approves.  We have earned favor in her sight.  When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings.  Ideas come.  Insights accrete” (p. 108).

I don’t know if I believe in the “us versus them” mentality of a writer versus a wannabe writer.  In my opinion, if you are writing, you are a writer.  I don’t care if you never publish a word.  If your words somehow find a way to influence the way a person thinks or feels, that’s worth more than monetary reward.  Heck, if the writing is just for you, you’re still a writer.  After all, this blog isn’t making me rich (unless you count the $2.30 I’ve made from Amazon referrals…cha-ching!), but I sure enjoy sharing insights and collaborating.

[Update] Despite this being a book I read a while ago, it still holds up for me as a book that offered me inspiration.  I remember struggling with aspects of Wastelander: The Drake Legacy, and thinking of passages from this book to help motivate me to finish.

QE from four months ago forgot to mention the premise of the book.  It’s written like a series of letters to a friend.  Each letter addresses a way to fight Resistance (I know Thomas, there’s a purpose for the capitalization though).

To Pressfield, Resistance is basically anything that gets in the way of you completing your work.  Resistance is capitalized because Pressfield works to enforce the idea that distractions and self-doubt are universal forces conspiring against you.  They are the enemy that must be defeated to reach your potential.

The War of Art now lives in my bathroom.  It’s written like a daily devotional, so it really is the perfect bathroom companion.  Plus, with a book, I don’t have to worry about dropping my cell phone in the toilet…not saying that’s ever happened to me.

question-markThat’s it for today.  If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read, you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here.  I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same.  If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for more books to devour.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Public or Private: Writing & Environment

Many of us have a vision of what a writer should look like.  At least, what they look like while they are working.  Maybe you see a woman in the coffee shop who pounds away on an oldschool, manual typewriter.  Perhaps you envision a man smoking cigarettes, drinking brandy, and clicking away on a computer in a crowded corner of his house surrounded by books and papers.  For some, it could be a cottage overlooking a lake with a sweating glass of sweet tea as a companion (I want that…someday).

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Image courtesy of NY Public Library Digital Collections.  (My favorite place to final public use images.) 

 

Some of these visions are based on real people we have seen become successful. Others are built from what we observe in television and movies, or read about in books.  Ultimately, many of us model our writing environment around these examples.  Just go to the local coffee house to see this in action.

As I have become more serious about my own writing, I’ve been thinking more and more about the space I work in.  What environment best compliments someones ability to be creative and push out words?

Stephen King, in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, offered his opinion:

“The space can be humble (probably should be, as I think I have already suggested), and it really needs only one thing: a door which you are willing to shut.  The closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business; you have made a serious commitment to write and intend to walk the walk as well as talk the talk” (p. 155).

elephant house.jpgOn the flipside, in Marc Shapiro’s book, J.K. Rowling: The Wizard Behind Harry Potter, Rowling is attributed as saying, “Writing and cafés are strongly linked in my brain” (p.77).  This makes sense seeing how her first two Harry Potter books were supposedly written in The Elephant House, a coffee and tea shop in Edinburgh.

From what I’ve found, some people write better while experiencing the world and others write better shut off from it and creating their own.  I feel the takeaway here is the ability to shut, or open, the door.  Whether the door is a heavy physical thing, or a mental one, it’s important to be able to be focus in a way that allows you to create.

In this way, I really do think environment matters  Just take a look at your current projects.  How many words are coming and are you meeting your writing goals?

the-kiss-of-the-museIf your answer is, yes, then you may have just read this whole post for no reason.  But if your answer is, no, have you ever tried changing your environment for a week or two and seeing if those numbers change?  Maybe isolation isn’t your game.  Maybe the muse isn’t interested in co-sharing a room with you.  Sorry.  I doubt it’s personal.  For you public space writers, maybe the muse is too distracted by the hustle and bustle of your surroundings to deal with you.

Whatever your deal is, the end goal should be taking the story marinating in your head and converting it into words on paper.  If something is stopping you from accomplishing this, change it.  If you can’t figure out what “it” is, maybe try a change of scenery and see if this knocks the gears loose.

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That’s me!

For me, I have a study, noise cancelling headphones, and a daily writing schedule.  I could drag my butt in front of the computer and type in my pajamas if I wanted to—especially as a stay-at-home dad and freelancer—but I don’t.  I don’t write or work effectively like this.  If I’m approaching the job of writing half-assed, then I write half-assed.  If I eat, change into “outside people” clothes, and hit the keyboard, the words make their way out easier.  My mind knows it’s time to at least act like I’m a pro.

question-markFake it until you make it I guess.  What’s your daily grind looking like these days?  What environment encourages the best results from you?  Do you know any stories or accounts of authors who thrive in bizarre writing environments?  I’d love to hear about it.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Feature Friday #3 (Bloggers & Books)

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Welcome to another Feature Friday!  We’ve survived another week.  Today we’ll cast a blazing inferno on some bloggers who are consistently generating insightful posts about the written word.  I try to dedicate time to broadening my understanding of the craft, and these folks seem to deliver on a regular basis.  I’ll also be compiling the books I used to generate my blog posts this week into a one-stop-shop.

spotlight-facing-rightThe first blogger I want to talk about is QuestingAuthor.  Not only is this a blogger who offers great comments on my page (thanks!), but this blogger also writes a variety of really enjoyable content.  If you scroll down to the bottom of their page, you will see all kinds of info-rich categories that include things like writing advice, processes, analysis, and inspiration (to just name a few).

The post that prompted me to reach out and share the love is called, Three Tips to Spice Up that Fight Scene.  I know many writers struggle with writing believable fights scenes, and this post offers some enjoyable advice.  Not to mention Final Fantasy was used as an example (which is a win in my nerd book).

spotlight-facing-rightThe second blogger I wanted to give a shout out to is Andrew, over at The Idiot In Tin Foil.  Some of you have mentioned how impressive it is that I generate a post each day, well, Andrew writes enjoyable short stories every day.  The last time I stopped in, he was on Day 161 of his 642 day challenge.  You heard me right.  For me, Andrew serves as a source of inspiration.  Plus, his short stories are a lot of fun to read.

While I don’t have a specific short story to point you all toward, Andrew has taken the time to categorize his content.  You will find short stories that creatively explore the following: violence & murder, sky pirates, the supernatural, superpowers, the bleak wasteland, and many, many more.  When I feel my creative well getting dry, I look at Andrews page and say, “If he can write an entire short story every day for 160+ days, I can at least pump out a few pages.”

spotlight-facing-rightThird, I wanted to point folks over to Jenn Moss, over at Rough & Ready Fiction. Her page is neatly organized, and her content is always full of insight.  She recently updated her page and has done a fantastic job of breaking down her posting schedule.  Jenn is also a regular comment contributor here at QE, and often offers very informative tips to help me expand my content and improve collaboration.

While I enjoy all of her writing, I’m a sucker for Meta Mondays as well as Tarot Tuesday.  Meta Mondays cover a range of topics, but really they are a way for people to collaborate and discuss varying concepts.  For instance, within Meta Mondays she recently posted Anachronisms—Nay or Yea?  It’s a great topic for discussion, and her comment section almost reads like a web forum because there are so many thoughtful posters.  As for Tarot Tuesday, I find this series to be one of the most insightful explorations into character archetypes, as well as symbols and metaphor.

thanksAs always, I wanted to take a moment to thank all three of these folks for (1) contributing regularly on my page, (2) being a source of inspiration, and (3) consistently encouraging enjoyable discussion about both fiction and non-fiction.  You all rock!

resources

These are the resources I used this week (Friday to Friday) to create my posts.  I’m a voracious eater of greens and believe in the power of self-study to improve writing skill and understanding.

Writing Monsters, by Philip Athans [Amazon] [goodreads]

Theory and Technique of Playwriting, by Howard Lawson [Amazon] [goodreads]

How to Write Dazzling Dialogue, by James Scott Bell [Amazon] [goodreads]

Writing Novels That Sell, by Jack Bickham’s [Amazon] [goodreads]

The Sense of Style, by Steven Pinker [Amazon] [goodreads]

For a more comprehensive list of books I have utilized to build content here on QE, you can refer to this post.

hourglassThat’s it for today!  If you would like to be featured next Friday, contact me.  It always helps if you let me know what specific post you would like to be featured.  My goal with Feature Friday is to connect like-minded individuals with one another.  The blogoverse is a giant place, and it’s nice to be able to provide some navigation. Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Bird by Bird: Book, Blurb & Collage

bird by bird, Anne Lamott.jpg

This is a quote collage I tossed together to highlight some of the content from the book.  Clicking the image will send you over to Flickr where you can view it in high-res.  This is free to share and use however you would like.

I finished reading Anne Lamott’s, Bird by Bird, a couple weeks ago and am happy to share it with all of you today.  This is a call-to-action book about writing that I would highly recommend.  It was suggested to me by theherdlesswitch, here on the blog.  Thanks for pointing me toward such a fun book.

bird by bird.jpgIf you’re unfamiliar with Lamott’s voice and style, it’s witty and has some kick to it.  For me, that’s always a plus.  What she does amazingly well is talk from the heart about the struggles most writers face (more on that in a second).  It’s unapologetic, truthful, and very easy to connect with.

Given I’ve read a gazoodle (a number more than ten and less than twenty) call-to-action books now, many of the subjects she covers have been tread upon before.  As with many of these autobiographical type writing books, she pulls from personal experiences to drive her agenda.  For me, it was an effective and entertaining read.

I will say that Lamott often makes it feel like writing is akin to having your skin peeled from your body while being whipped with lemon-soaked rags.  With that being said, if you are riding the euphoric waves of writing right now, you may feel slightly disconnected from the content of this book.  But eventually (and unfortunately) those waves are going to likely break and the riptides of self-doubt, jealousy, and self-loathing are going to start pulling on your ankles.  When that happens, this book might just be what you need to stay afloat.

The book is broken down into four main sections (1) Writing, (2) The Writing Frame of Mind, (3) Help Along the Way, and (4) Publication—And Other Reasons to Write.

Corey Truax.jpg

One of my photos from back in the day.  Marines carried rocks to build land bridges to allow vehicles to reach a village that had been destroyed by a mudslide in the Philippines in 2006. 

Personally, I really enjoyed her insights on publication.  My focus is often on pushing the product to publication, and I think we all have varying expectations when it comes to this.  Back when I was a military journalist, I can remember when a story I wrote was circulated globally for the first time.  News outlets from around the world began snatching up the story and publishing it.

Guess what though, no one really cared.  Network news didn’t email me and ask me to come work for them when I got out of the Navy.   Half of those places stripped my name from photos and the story and replaced it with, “Courtesy of U.S. Navy.”  The friends I grew up with didn’t start flooding my inbox with virtual congratulations.  Now, I can’t even find those news stories when I search for them online—I can only find the corresponding photographs I took to accompany them.  I tossed one on here for you all to check out.

That was my first taste of publication “glory” and it wasn’t the last time this would happen.  My expectations for my current works (Wastelander and the novella) are tapered by these experiences.  Books like, Bird by Bird, really force us to look at our current works with realistic expectations and understand the struggles we face as writers are struggles that are shared collectively.

question-markThat’s it for today.  If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here.  I’m constantly eating my greens and I encourage you to do the same.  If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for more books to devour.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Wasteland Wednesday #3

*Language and Content Warning*

skull and crossbones.jpgskull and crossbonesUnlike QE’s normal informational blog, Wasteland Wednesday is potentially full of foul language and post-apocalyptic nonsense.  I’m talking f-bombs, thrice-bosomed mutant women, and buckets of gore.

Wasteland Wednesday

Welcome to the third edition of Wasteland Wednesday!  Today I’m going to introduce you to an important and deadly lady.  Instead of applying epic creativity, I’m going to share my unedited original character concept with you.  Plus a couple author notes about the character from me at the end.

Full Name:  Alexandria [Last name unknown]

Nickname: Lex

Age: 30

Bio: Lex has only known the world as a wasteland.  She was born on the day the bombs decimated the United States.  Drake and her paths converged five years after the destruction.  Drake’s original party found Lex scavenging on the outskirts of Columbus.  She was dirty, alone, and starving.  Lex was also bordering on feral.

At this point in time, Drake’s group was starting to transition from deadly survivors into a disorganized band of raiders and slavers.  When a raiding group discovered Lex she was captured and brought back to central Columbus.

Conflict 101: Man vs ManThe general census was this young girl would be used by the group for morale (raped) and then traded to one of bands of slavers taking hold of the area.  When Drake saw the girl she reminding him of his dead son Jonathon who was roughly the same age as her when he was turned into radioactive dust.  This, combined with his depression and overall disillusionment with the group, caused Drake to attempt to free the girl and allow her to escape.

All of these events culminated with Drake getting blasted in the head.  In the confusion he generated, Lex did manage to escape.  Drakes presumably dead body was stripped of everything and left to rot.  Once they finished stripping Drake’s body and left the area, Lex returned to Drake.  He was still alive, but practically a vegetable.

Lex stayed with Drake bringing back whatever food and water she could find.  She also cauterized the holes in his head.  It took a while, but eventually Drake’s body recovered.  His mind never would.

Despite this, Lex knows that under the madness and insanity is a decent man.  Lex has stayed with Drake, often in the shadows, no matter how many half-hearted attempts Drake has made to rid himself of her.  They have traveled together for twenty-five years now.

Abilities:  Lex is perhaps more deadly than Drake.  Put another way, she is deadlier in different ways.  She thrives in the shadows and plays in the chaos Drake seems to endlessly generate. Drake has noticed that as she has matured her gun sounds before his sometimes, and that means she is perhaps faster.

While Drake is a master of chaos driven insanity and confusion, Lex prefers subtlety.  This natural inclination to shadow was fostered through her formative years with Drake.  Drake often told her to go and hide when trouble came, which eventually morphed into killing people from those hiding spots.

subliminalPersonality: Lex has an extreme aversion to being touched.  Especially being touched by men. For every settlement Drake has been chased out of for killing people, Lex has gotten them banished out of another for killing men who attempted to touch her.  Sexually, she will only pay for the companionship of females.  She only chooses to sleep with prostitutes because it ensures there will be no real emotional connection, just the promise of a needed release.

Many of Drake’s personality traits have been inherited by Lex.  With that being said, she is far more calculated with what she says and tends to think things through instead of speaking and acting on impulse.  Much like Drake, she has a soft spot for children.  Also like Drake, she has no problem killing someone if they say the wrong thing to her.  She’ll just wait until they are sleeping to deliver the blow.

Motivation:  Most people’s motivations in the wasteland are centered around survival.  This is true for Lex as well.  However, Lex also realizes the power of a story and a name.  Drake’s legend, while based on truth, has been largely fabricated and exaggerated due Lex’s influence.  Part of the reason she pays for female prostitutes is because she knows they like to talk and spread gossip.

rifle breakdownEquipment:  Lex learned a lot from Drake during their travels.  She adopted his, “one mind, any weapon,” philosophy and is proficient with most killing implements.  Her tools of choice are stealth weapons.  Knives, bows, and other projectiles are her bread and butter.  She does carry a rifle and pistol, but she normally uses them as a last resort.

Author’s Note:  Lex was a late addition to my book and required some sweeping rewrites (which I always advise against doing in a first draft).  I felt my book was a bit of a sausage fest and lacked the value of a female perspective.  But beyond just injecting a female character into the story to have one, I wanted a strong character that would add a level complexity to the story.

Alexis Final.jpg

My concept work for Lex.  I digitally painted this in Photoshop using a photograph I took as a blueprint.  It’s rough, but I’m getting better (slowly).  This image is owned and created my me.  If you would like to use it contact me.

Lex also allowed me to reveal more of Drake’s personality and backstory.  What is also solid about her character is it enabled me to do this through dialogue and action, instead of info-dumping or weird internal dialogue mechanics.

I have grown fond of Lex because she is like Drake in many ways, but better than him in others.  I also like Lex’s character because she isn’t a victim.  She is a capable predator.  She doesn’t play the damsel and she doesn’t pretend to be in distress, she simply kicks ass and collects heads (mutant inbreeder heads).

Additionally, she makes Drake’s survival and legend in the wasteland a little more believable.  Especially in regards to it being coherent in the story world.  When I first wrote the story, I made the assumption his legend would spread by word-of-mouth.  But there were issues with that assumption.

Did a slaver go to random settlement and tell a story about the man who came back from the dead and starting killing them?  Why is a slaver in a settlement chilling out and not trying to enslave people?  A raider certainly wouldn’t be telling this story in a settlement, he/she would be killing people.  Is Drake the kind of character I want to portray as someone who would blather on about his own legend?  These were the issues I was dealing with in making the legend of Drake believable.

Lex allowed me to propagate Drake’s legend and backstory in a realistic way.  She also has the ability to be a stand-alone character with a powerful backstory.  The book could be rewritten from her point of view and likely be just as interesting.  For me, that’s a good thing.

That’s it for today’s wasteland news!  I hope you all stop by next Wednesday for more information about Wastelander: The Drake Legacy.  I’d love to know what you think about Lex’s character. (I’m sure Drake will be jealous she got a full-page character breakdown before him.)  Until then, keep hiding, keep hoarding, and as always – stay alive.

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The Right Writing Routine

Routine Quote EB White.jpg

I generated this quote image (free to share).  E.B. White wrote Charlotte’s Web and co-wrote The Elements of Style, as well as other books too. 

 

I don’t usually preface a post with quote, but this one is appropriate today because we are talking about writing routines.  M.L.S. Weech, my spirit animal/writer/friend, recently wrote another stellar post about writing.  Specifically, he wrote about his routine.  A routine I’ve seen him practice ever since I’ve known him (many years).  The post is simply titled: My Routine: One Writer’s Habits.  If you don’t read the rest of my post and just read his, you’ll glean some great information.

I‘m cheating today because I’m going to steal a comment I wrote on his post and add it to this posting to explain one of my writing processes.  I’m also going to offer some articles I’ve bookmarked and reference when a writer contacts me and is having trouble with their process.  There are also a few books I found helpful (if you’ve spent any time on my blog you know how I love books on writing).

As writers, many of us thrive on a delicate homeostasis.  Put simply, most of us have our own processes that we refine over the course of our writing life.  However, balance is key.  What worked once doesn’t always work, and to maintain balance we continuously need to tweak conditions.

Dragonspeak.jpgWith that being said, in our craft, there is no way around the actual application.  We must find some way to transfer thoughts from our brain housing unit into another medium.  You can use Dragonspeak or some other transcription tool, but you must get the words down.

This is the method I currently use to hold myself accountable and reach my goals.  It’s successfully propelled me through one book, and I’m using the same technique to draft a novella.

Here is one of my methods.  When I sit down to write I look at the time and make an estimation. How much time can I realistically give to my project today? I look at my current word count, which is stuck to my monitor on a Post It note. I add 500, 1000, 1500, or whatever (depending on the amount of time I have) to the number and write that post it notes.jpgnumber on another Post It note. I then stick the new one next to the old one. That becomes my goal and reason for existing.


T
hen it’s time to put my money where my words are.  I attempt to set myself up for success. I close out everything, put on some music, grab my writing hat, and get to it. I write, without fail, until I at least reach the new Post It note number. Even if what I’m writing makes my skin crawl (usually it’s not as bad as I think it is). If I exceed the number, I one line it at the end of the session and write the new number.  The old word count Post It note gets crumbled into a nice victory ball and chucked into the trashcan.

For me, the idea is every single time I sit down at my computer there is visual cue that says, “Hey Corey, I know you want to watch videos of cats playing keyboards, but you have this book to write. This is how far you are into it. What’s more important to you, cats playing keyboards or writing your book?” Sometimes the answer is cats playing keyboards. But the point is it makes me instantly aware of looming work. You can’t tuck it away and hide it when it’s staring you in the face.

That is my current process.  Like Matt mentioned in his post (assuming you read it) him and I hold each other accountable by “clocking in” and “clocking out” with each other via messenger.  It’s harder to shirk your writing duties when another motivated individual is clocking in every day and telling you about it.  It’s a constant reminder that there is someone out there who is hungry for success.  Are you hungry for it too?  I am.

Resources.jpg

Here are the web resources I spoke about earlier in this post.

7 F***in’ Great Ways to Build Your Writing Routine, by Phile Jourdan.

The Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers, by James Clear (This is the article where I first found the quote I offered at the beginning of this post.)

11 Successful Writers Share Their Writing Routines, from Product Hunt

Non-Fiction: Eating Your Greens

You Are What You Eat.jpgI refer to, “eating my greens,” often on here.  It occurred to me that I’ve never really dedicated a day to talking about what greens are, why I eat them, and why you should too.  I thought it might be smart to generate a post we can link back to in the future.  With that being said, grab some dental floss and let’s get munching!

I credit my longtime friend MLS Weech with coining the phrase, “Eating your greens.”  I did an internet search and couldn’t find another origin to cite.  So unless he comes up with something, we’ll say it started with him (congrats bud, your legacy grows!).  Greens are simply non-fiction books.  Desserts, on the other hand, are fiction books of the genre you enjoy.  I believe in a balanced diet, but mine tends to be heavier in greens.

My approach to understanding and teaching writing is the same approach I took when I was taught how to train people in the military.  When I was combat cameraman, one of my extra jobs was training my comrades how to shoot (firearms, not cameras) and operate tactically with small teams.  I didn’t just fall into the job, I had to be trained to do it.

My first instructor always would say, “One mind, any weapon.”  It was his standard response when someone would say, “I’m good with the pistol, I’m just not familiar with the rifle.”  It was a simple, but very intelligent idea.  Grasp the basics, and you can apply them to anything.

Training for Grammar War

What he was saying, in regards to weapons, was if you train yourself to understand the mechanics of handling a firearm, you can apply those fundamentals to most weapon systems.  In this way, if you would pick up a weapon you’ve never seen before, you would still be able to apply sound weapon handling skills (gripping the weapon, stance while firing, proper trigger pull, site alignment, etc.).

mushroom cloud.jpgFor me, eating my greens is how I ensure my weapon fundamentals are sound.  I’m not training myself, or anyone else, to go to war anymore.  I’m training to write and edit.  It’s a different kind of war.  In this war, the participants are their own nations.  They carry the weight of their own worlds on their shoulders.  Should they fail, they simply fade from existence.  For this reason, I train.  I don’t plan to sulk quietly into the night.  I plan to leave mushroom clouds and destruction behind me.  What’s your plan?

*Corey takes a cleansing breath*

All right, back to eating greens and shooting guns.  When I first began training to teach people how to shoot, I was terrible.  Not at shooting; I was a great shooter.  I grew up in the rolling hills of southeastern Ohio on a 100+ acre farm and had been hunting deer, rabbit, and squirrel since I was a young boy.  Our freezer would be packed by the time winter would come (sorry vegans).

There was a problem though.  Explaining the process and demonstrating it were two very different things.  I needed more depth of knowledge and tools for instruction.

My instructor understood this and developed training.  He would stand on the firing line with his rifle while I observed safely to his side with a whistle in my mouth.  I would give him directions and he would purposefully make mistakes for me to correct.  After he finished firing and we cleared his weapon (took away all the dangerous things, like bullets) I would provide coaching tips.

Teaching Socrates.jpgTo each piece of instruction he would smile and say, “Why?”  It was super frustrating.  I knew what I was saying was right, I just wasn’t always sure why it was right.  That was a problem.

I had worked with people before who subscribed to the, “Just believe,” philosophy of training.  They would say something like, “Just press the believe button and accept this is how it is.”  I hated that.  There had to be logical explanations.  Not every person can press the believe button.  I didn’t want to teach like that.  Especially not something people needed to have unshakable faith in.  If you are going to war, you need to truly believe in the training you’ve been given.

rifle breakdownSo I studied.  A lot.  I spent hours and hours going through illustrated parts breakdowns of the weapon systems (which look like nuclear missile construction plans).  I found books from successful instructors.  I watched videos.  I spent hours on the range and dry firing (shooting without bullets).  I attended schools for instructors.  I walked around in my house and pretended to give instruction to nonexistent people.  I made it personal.  Slowly, I developed my own style of teaching and depth of knowledge.

It was successful.  Kyle (my instructor) had his method of instruction and I had my own.  Between the two of us, we were able to provide a more robust curriculum.  Everyone we trained came home from their deployments in one piece.  Never once did someone say to me, or in an after action report, that their combat tactics instruction was insufficient.

The stakes aren’t quite as high now.  Regardless, I still care about training.  The methods I obtained back then I apply here.  Most of my blog postings are attempts at turning a green I’ve read (or personal experience) into consumable and actionable pieces of advice.  I’m not going to tell you what is right or wrong; I’m just offering you an understanding of the weapons.

subliminalFor me, writing is a constant negotiation between the creative and analytical halves of my brain.  Both sides battle for control of the writing process.  Because I am naturally imaginative and creative (only child, imaginary friends, miles away from nearest neighbor) I have to reinforce the analytical side of my brain with greens.  It’s how I create balance.  If you are very analytical, you may need to eat more desserts (fiction).

This blog is how I feed the analytical side.  My creative side gets exercise when I write my own stories.  Much like when I was a weapons instructor, I try to feed all sides information without letting them kill each other.  I encourage you to also develop a, “one mind, any weapon,” mentality in your own writing path.

samurai swordTake the time to examine what makes writing resound with you.  Study the craft.  Strip it bare, expose the components, and use them to wage your own war.  Make it personal.  Fight your battles with the desperate insanity of the samurai.

“Do not rely on following the degree of understanding that you have discovered, but simply think, ‘This is not enough.’ One should search throughout his whole life how best to follow the Way. And he should study, setting his mind to work without putting things off. Within this is the Way” (Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai).

That’s it for today.  More of a rant than anything, but hey, my brain is happy now.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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