Tag Archives: Inspiration

Big ideas and unique contributions

Lin-Manuel Miranda is currently sitting on top of the world. The Broadway musical he wrote and stars in (“Hamilton”) is a massive hit. He was recently announced as in talks to star in Disney’s remake of “Mary Poppins”. He even wrote some incidental music for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and the score for Disney’s upcoming “Moana”. The man I had barely heard about a few weeks ago is a household name.

Last year he did an interview with PBS NewsHour in which he discusses one of his driving “Big Ideas:”

“What the thing that is not in the world that should be in the world?”

See below for more:

As mentioned, his first musical, “The Heights”, grew out of his desire to star in musical theater, even though there are very few Latino roles (he is from Puerto Rico). So he wrote a musical full of them.  He sees the artists role to find their unique contribution to their art:

“What the thing that only I can contribute? … If I don’t get this idea out of my head and onto paper it dies with me.”

So there it is. What’s the story you feel needs to be told? What’s the idea that, if you don’t write it, no one else will? What is the unique thing you bring to the table, whether it’s writing, or drawing, or singing, or even some combination of talents that is distinctly you?

Find it, and you’ll have found magic.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

Deep Writing Dreams

Natalie Goldberg, in her Writing Down the Bones, noted that some of her students had been doing what she calls “practice writing” — some of them for as long as three years. So one night, she asked them “Where do you want to go with writing? You have this strong creative voice; you’ve been able to separate out the creator and the editor. What do you want to do with it?” She told them that “There comes a time to shape and direct the force we have learned.”

Then she re‑couched her words: “What are your deep dreams? Write for five minutes.”

I haven’t read every short chapter in her book, but I always leave a marker where I’ve left off. I DO like many of her ideas. I opened to my marker this morning on p. 59 on which I’d highlighted, some time ago, “What are your deep dreams? Write . . .”

In other words, I wasn’t about to write for “only” five minutes.

I was literally shocked to see this particular exercise pop up as the next thing to do. For the last several weeks, I’d been collecting my thoughts on where I want all my UNfinished writings to go. In fact, to facilitate my dreams of writing, I’d already given notice to one writer’s blog, that I would stop writing my weekly blog for them by June 1, because here were (some of) my Deep Dreams:

Before the end of the year, I will finish the first full draft of my historical novel, which I have done many, many hours of research on, written one full screen‑play, and a 36-verse (rhymed & heavily accented “Celtic”in iambic pentameter) poem about my MC’s full story, to be printed with intermittent verses dividing chapters within the novel. All I need to do is re‑read extant copies of historical documents, past writers’ critiques, my poem, invent a new “order” of events to fit the story as it now should appear, and BEGIN WRITING. That’s a lot to do between now and Dec. 31, 2016.

After that? Write my three non‑fiction books (shorter and much easier): My journey through 30 years of ever‑changing cancer treatments; My Spiral Life, where my students, for 50‑plus years, taught me how to be a Teacher; THE Trip, illuminating how I managed to survive, and return to Utah from a trip in 1967 which took me to California, Hawaii, then by cruiser to several ports in Oregon, California (again), Mexico, through the Gulf, into the Caribbean Islands, onward to Portugal, France, eventually England. Which was where I bought my mo‑ped and traveled England, Scotland, France, Italy, and Spain before flying to Copenhagen, then on to NY, and eventually Utah, for my one‑and‑a‑half years of Grad School.

Meanwhile, I’ll be working on trying to sell small pieces (already completed, and sitting in my files): a little poetry, humorous essays, and scholarly articles.

When that’s done . . . I may have to write down my next Deep Dreams.

 

 

What Is Creative Non Fiction?

Last night I went to a League of Utah Writers’ meeting. The invited speaker, Meg Kinghorn who teaches at the U of U in the Lifelong Learning Annex, talked about “Creative Non‑Fiction.” I’d heard the term many times in the last few years and thought I knew what it was, but wasn’t all that sure. Meg managed to assure me that “Creative Non‑Fiction” can be exactly what I thought it was: a story, essay, whatever, told from a particular viewpoint and explored to find a (maybe) hidden or “special” message of great meaning to the writer.

I told the group about the time I found myself in Rome looking in great awe at the statue of The Pieta: Mary, holding her crucified son across her lap. I’d read Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy many years before. In it, he’d described Michaelangelo’s dissatisfaction with the placement of his magnificent statue, presented to the Pope, but set up in an out‑of‑the‑way alcove. According to Stone, the artist sneaked back into the area at night and boldly carved his full name across one of the straps holding Mary’s robe together. He did NOT want his work to be ascribed to some other . . . think Da Vinci!

And there it was: his name, boldly proclaimed across Mary, shoulder to lap.

Tears came to my eyes. For many minutes. And do, again, as I tell the story, or write it down.

I don’t know if that was when or why Michaelangelo did that part of the carving or not. How can we know, centuries later? But I DO know Stone was particularly noted for his meticulous research. His Men To Match My Mountains was once used in a court of law to prove particular property rights. So I chose to believe him.

Meg Kinghorn said to write Creative Non‑Fiction, we need to “behold” something. Look at it. Really see it. Wonder why it has some power over us. What that means. How it can be shared and made viable so a reader may also “behold” and connect with that item. Think of the old broach handed down from your grandmother. Or your mother’s fancy gloves she wore on the last day of her life. Now, write about it, including all the many emotions it dredges up. Let your reader in to your snapshot of what and why that item meant so much to you. Let it remind him or her of something precious in his/her life.

That is Creative Non‑fiction.

 

How LTUE saved Christmas

HowMurraySavedChristmasOkay, perhaps it wasn’t that dramatic, but attending Life, the Universe, and Everything 2016 in Provo this past week has, once again, made a significant difference in my writing. Every year I’ve been has been wonderful, of course, but there have been a couple of specific occasions when it may have literally saved my writing career.

The first time was two years ago. I was halfway through a novel I had spent a year working on and getting nowhere. I was making progress with a sledgehammer, and everything just felt wrong. It was a struggle to get myself to write, and I nearly gave up. Instead I went to LTUE, and within the first two panels I had figured out what was wrong with my novel. I had over-outlined and, in the process, lost sight of what the story was about.

I ended up starting over on that novel, choosing a new beginning that focused more on the heart of the story, and within six months I had the entire novel finished. It’s probably my best writing to date.

This year things weren’t quite that extreme, but giving up on writing had occurred to me at least a few times in the past month. I’ve been world-building and planning for several months in order to really do the setting justice in this next project, and I had largely lost interest in the entire novel. Outlining had helped build a little enthusiasm, but when I started writing it just felt like…work. Nothing flowed. I felt like a hack.

Then I went to LTUE last week, and after the first two days I felt my enthusiasm returning. I could do this! But what I needed was to set that project aside and work on that YA paranormal romance that I jokingly said I was going to write as an April Fools gag last year, but later decided was actually a cool idea. I wasn’t really ready to write the other project. I could bury it for a few more years.

The breakthrough this time came not from a panel, but from a conversation with Julie Frost in the dealers room. We were discussing our various projects and she mentioned how an editor had told her once to either take one of her characters out of the novel or give it something to do. She ended up removing that character and finding the story was better for it.

The light clicked on. That was precisely the problem I was having with my new project I was just starting. I had convinced myself I needed certain characters in the novel, but in creating my outline I had failed to realize they weren’t really playing any important part in the story. I need to remove them or give them something to do.

Realizing that one thing felt like a weight had lifted. I had maneuvered myself into a corner again, thinking that just because I had begun planning with a specific idea in mind–in this case, what characters I needed–I had to continue on regardless of whether that idea was still what the story needed. The added freedom of realizing the story likely didn’t need those characters, and might be better off without them, made all the difference. I’m excited about that project again, and ready to try again.

Of course I now have the problem of having two projects I’m excited about and need to do. But hey, even LTUE can’t solve everything!

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

“What Scares You Most: Writing? Or NOT Writing?”*

I’m told fear itself is not good and it’s not bad. No more than a weather vane: it just lets us know if we’re ready to meet or anticipate the challenge before us. Fear is only problematic if we do — or sometimes, don’t do — something to avoid feeling what’s bothering us.

Scared to pitch to an editor in that crowded elevator? Watching floor numbers overhead won’t help. What’s the worst that can happen? The editor might say, “I’m thinking of my up‑coming speech to the group. Could we talk about this after the next meeting?” Or, “Sorry, I’m not looking to pick up any new clients just now.” So, what were you so afraid of? And why? Both answers are civil, straightforward, easily understood. And one of them contained an invitation for further congress.

So we need to swallow some lessons about fear. How do you know when fear’s got you by the throat? You pass out in the elevator? Run, screaming, from the confines of the sliding door. Some real signs of fear:

A. You consider giving up writing.

  1. You keep revising. And never finish.
  2. You write in a frenzy, for hours . . . and its still not “good enough”

B. You’re afraid . . . so what?

  1. Admit (even just to yourself) what you’re afraid of. Out loud. Then let it go if it sounds silly.
  2. It’s OK to let the fears have their say inside your head. In fact, if that’s where they are, learn to ignore them while they’re talking.
  3. Find a way to prevent that fear from taking over; stopping you from moving forward.

C. Change your focus from the doing to the results.

  1. You think your book isn’t going to be good enough? And you’re only on chapter 2? Start working on chapter 3, and forget about “The End” result.
  2. Check out what your intentions are with this book, all the commitment you’ve put into the first chapters, the love you’ve had for any part of the process, your ultimate goal. Your intent could become to follow through, whether the ending is what you wanted or not at the beginning.

D. Are you a Perfectionist?

  1. You’re not perfect. Neither am I. Neither was J.K. Rowling when she started. I suppose she really isn’t now either. What she is, is dedicated to finishing what she starts.
  2. Acknowledge what, in the process, you are dedicated to — and keep that in mind.
  3. Study the genre or type of writing you’re attempting. What can you do which will bend your story to the will of that genre or type?
  4. Aim for “finished” rather than “perfection”.

E. It’s not that hard . . . so don’t make it harder!

  1. It’s not time to panic about how to self‑publish; or what to do for a “selling” cover, or where to find an agent.
  2. None of those things, and a myriad of others, matter until you type “The End”.
  3. Staying up all night to write chapter 4 probably won’t help. Pace yourself. Set achievable goals that are in reach from the way that you write — is being “driven” your style? Or a sign of your fear?

F. Examine your writing habits, and decide what they mean.

  1. Avoidance? You keep putting off getting back to chapter 7? Is it because you’re stuck? Or scared?
  2. Rewrites? Maybe you got to “The End” once. And now you’re on your 10th complete rewrite? You won’t reach ultimate perfection. If it’s good — and your critique friends say so — consider, that might be fear talking to you. Set limits. “3 times per scene, then move on.”
  3. Substituting housework for writing? Haven’t written for days because you had to sweep the back porch? Do last week’s laundry? Walk around the block, so you can “think”? Fix dinner for your sick hubby? Well, OK. Some of those things probably do need to happen. Can you give a “chore” 15 minutes, then give your writing 15? If you alternate, maybe you’ll be surprised at how much gets done, of each.
  4. Whatever you do should be done in the spirit of re‑training your bad habits, glorying in your good ones!

G. Does writing scare you? Good! Let it !

  1. Is the “scare” going to harm you? Scared of starting? Writing slowly? Going too fast? Letting anyone, even your trusted writing friends see it? If it won’t harm you, do as much of it as possible until the fear goes away.
  2. You’ve finished a book. Now someone in your women’s club has asked you to speak to them about writing. Just Do It.

H. Focus on the feat, not the fear.

  1. You write a column that’s accepted for a gardening tract in your town.
  2. Focus on the gardening you love and how to express the how to’s and the where and wherefore’s.
  3. Don’t focus on the fact that you’ll have to face this group, and talk. With coherence. You can do it!

I. Worst‑case scenarios should be faced.

  1. What’s wrong with my story? I’m a terrible writer. According to whom? My non‑writing neighbor. Or the magazine which turned it down.
  2. Why can’t I finish my story? Because it’s hopeless, it’s bad. If I never finish, I’ll never have to send it. I’ll never know — but I’ll be safer then.
  3. But if I finished, and got some feedback, I might improve. Wouldn’t that put me one step closer to reaching my goals?

J. Free your Fear

  1. Realize, fear isn’t the problem. “Fearing the fear” is the problem because it stops us in our tracks.
  2. Will getting rid of the fear mean that all my dreams will come true? No. But they may come one step closer to being realized.
  3. Your writing is important. Important to friends and family. Important to you! Your life is important, to all those same folks, including you!

Step it up. Identify the fear. Face the fear. It’s your fantasy. It’s your need to write things down. And it’s your Life. Make the most of them all.


*These 10 general ideas about challenging fears were garnered from The Writer’s Digest online from an article by Sage Cohen, entitled “10 Ways to Harness Fear and Fuel Your Writing,” Jan. 3, 2012. If the above wasn’t enough, look it up and read his take on these ten challenges.

A Middle-Grade Reading List by Brenda Bensch

Writers are wonderful people. They are compassionate, helpful, sharing kinds of people. And I have the proof:

I was actually looking through my online files for old copies of The Writer’s Digest or The Writer for ideas for a new writers’ blog, when I happened across a years’ old message where someone calling herself the “Provo granny” had asked for mystery series suggestions for a grandson who read at a 4th to 5th grade level. The suggested readings intrigued me too. I’d kept all the suggestions so I could make a reading list of MG books “some day” for myself. These were all posted five or so years ago, so I know this “list” needs to be expanded, but these suggestions still have their merits.

Isn’t it great how so many kids books can live on, and on, and on? Think of some of your old “favorites” ‑‑‑ how many of them are still on the shelves at your local library? Or, better still, on your shelves at home?

KIDS SERIES’ BOOKS TO READ

  • Alcatraz Vs. The Evil Librarians ‑ Brandon Sanderson
  • Box Car Children
  • Chasing Vermeer ‑ Blue Balliett (& The Wright House, The Calder Game
  • The Edge Chronicles
  • Freddie the Pig ‑ Walter Brooks
  • The Gravity Keeper ‑ Micael Reisman
  • The Great Brain ‑ John D. Fitzgerald
  • Hardy Boys
  • The Lucky Series ‑ Dean Hughes
  • Mysteries in our National Parks ‑ Gloria Skurzinski & Alane Ferguson (Wolf Stalker & others)
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society ‑ Trenton Lee Stewart
  • Pendragon series ‑ D. J. MacHale
  • Secret Series ‑ Pseudonymous Bosch (The Name of This Book is Secret, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, This Book is Not Good for You)
  • The Seems ‑ John Hulme & Michael Wexler
  • Shadow Children series ‑ Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • Sideways Stories from Wayside School ‑ Loouis Sachar
  • Skullduggery Pleasant ‑ Derek Landry AKA: The Scepter of the Ancients
  • The 39 Clues (starting with The Maze of Bones)
  • The Three Investigators ‑ Robert Arther
  • The Time Warp Trio ‑ (John Scalzi ‑ U.S. Ambassador of Children’s Lit 2009 ?)
  • The Warriors
  • Whales on Stilts ‑ M. T. Anderson
  • Wolves of Willoughby Chase ‑ Joan Aikin

Thanks to all who sent these to “Provo granny,” and to each other, way back when. In case you lost track of the list, here it is again. This is an interesting, though not necessarily definitive, list. What books would you add to it now? Since I’m not the particular “granny” mentioned, I won’t even restrict you to mysteries. Or to series. How about some of your cherished single-title MG books? What were/are some of your favorites of any MG genre? Which ones have you read over again as an adult. How did they stand up now. PLEASE answer in the comments: we’ll ALL benefit from your suggestions.

Happy Reading ! ! !

AGING, GRACEFULLY — OR NOT ! ! !

WOO‑HOO ! ! ! I just saw something GREAT online. It was a guest blog for the online Writer’s Digest by a stunning red‑head named Babette Hughes. She called it “The Big Lie of Age and Writing” and opened with “Age is not a disability, it is a second chance at life. I’m 92 years old and Post Hill Press has just published my three‑novel Kate Brady series . . .”

WOO‑HOO, again ! ! ! I just survived my third bout with cancer (over a nearly 30‑year period), and, with radiation NOT an option for already radiated flesh, I opted to go the surgical route: a double mastectomy. My birthday was one week after surgery: I turned 76. So I figure, I STILL have time to get published . . . SOME day. But some DAY sooner, than I’d been working toward.

Wanna back track, and go back to your youth? I sure don’t! Somehow, I got through several “shy” years, when we moved back from Hawaii when I was ten: everybody already HAD a “best friend” by the time I got here. I’d known all along that I wanted to become a teacher, so I rushed through three years of college to get there. Meanwhile, I’ve endured three marriages, two divorces, three bouts with cancer, a total of 46 radiation treatments, and all the indignities which go with mammograms . . . especially when they’d call or write back time after time after time, to get me to come back for a re‑do. . . they weren’t “sure” about something they were seeing on the first shot.

All this, along with the regular worries of a teen emerging into adulthood, and, as Ms. Hughes said, “career worries, relationship worries, money worries, kid worries. A time with no idea of who we are or even what we want in life [at least I had THAT one nailed] . . . Age gives us the freedom from those hectic years with the wisdom and time to write.”

I think, at my age, I deserve to “let go ” of some of the angst I’ve always carried with me. And a brand‑new year is JUST the time and place to do it. Hughes claims that LIFE, “comes in a bundle ‑‑‑ the good, the bad, the disappointing and even the tragedies are all of a piece.” Our acceptance of “the whole bundle” ‑‑‑ with “moral nerve and a certain toughness” means that “we choose life.” And Life chooses US, right back. Accepting all that comes with Life, instead of choosing “the chair and the TV” (in other words, giving up) makes us emotionally, spiritually able to survive the hits, and “endows depth and richness to our writing.”

And look what Life‑choosers can still accomplish:

Doris Haddock (89) began walking between L.A. and Washington D.C. ‑ a 14‑month journey

Kimani Maruge enrolled in first grade at 84.

Grandma Moses (75) began painting and lived to be 100 ‑‑‑ still painting.

Tao Porchon (93) and her 23‑yr.‑old partner swept ballroom dancing competitions in New York, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico.

Mieko Nagoka (80) took up swimming, and at 100 became the first centenarian to complete a 1500‑meter freestyle swim

Hidekichi Miyazaki (103) holds the world record for the 100‑meter dash (29.83 seconds) in the 100‑104 age group. They HAVE a 100‑104 age group ? ? ?

These last two women are from a culture “Japan’s ‑‑‑ that, unlike America, reveres old age.”

That mastectomy I told you about? I decided to go “all the way” because I was still pretty healthy at 75 (for another week); then I turned 76. I wanted to get this DONE, OVER WITH, so I wouldn’t have to do it at 78 or 79, or 83 or 84. Because I’ll be too busy then.

I’m NOT going to make New Year’s Resolutions like all my old ones: lose weight, get more exercise, REALLY find a “working” diet, finish writing five of my books before next year. But I AM going to quit a few bad habits:

No more:

  • “I’m too old,”
  • “I’m not strong enough,”
  • “I’m too tired,”
  • “I’m not flexible enough,”
  • “I’d rather just watch TV,” etc., etc., etc.

Now it’s going to be:

  • “Wow! I can still do that!
  • “Hey! I’ve never tried that before ‑‑‑ let’s go!”
  • “Sure, RIGHT after we take a nap!” (got to keep it practical ! ! !)
  • “Sounds like a GREAT book ‑‑‑ may I borrow it when you’re through?”
  • “I’ve never written a steam‑punk story before . . . I’ll give it a shot.”
  • “I’m going to send my poem to that contest.”

What can you give up for the New Year?

What will you try that you haven’t done before?

 

Writing is slow, painful misery?

I was reading Brandon Sanderson’s recent annual post on his accomplishments for the year and plans for the next several when something leapt out at me:

However, sometimes there’s also this sense—from fans, from the community, from us authors in general—that whispers that being productive isn’t a good thing. It’s like society feels artists should naturally try to hide from deadlines, structure, or being aware of what we do and why we do it. As if, because art is supposed to be painful, we shouldn’t enjoy doing our work—and should need to be forced into it.

Is that really how society sees us? Is that how we see ourselves? And if so, is it deserved? Well, first let’s take a look at each piece of that accusation separately–they’re not all the same, nor equal.

“Being productive isn’t a good thing.” I have an idea where this comes from. There are writers out there who crank out multiple books per year, and many of them are producing mediocre work at best. But is that necessarily true of all writers? Sanderson himself turns out several books a year. It just may be harder to notice, as he spreads them across genres and target age groups. If you can afford to write professionally like Sanderson, why not?

I can write a 100,000-word novel in six to eight months working an hour a day. So it stands to reason that an author working at least four hours a day should be able to produce four good-sized books in a year. And, if they’re a good writer, what’s wrong with that? Speed–or the lack thereof–is really no indicator of quality. There are certainly the Patrick Rothfusses and George R. R. Martins of the world, but there are also the Brandon Sandersons and James Pattersons.

“Artists should hide from deadlines and structure.” I’m less certain on this one, as I’m in the middle of reading “Altered Perceptions” and finding out how many authors struggle with mental illness. That’s not something you can necessarily control. When it hits, it hits. It doesn’t wait until it’s convenient, or when your deadlines are all met. Even when it’s treatable it can still knock you for a loop.

That said, can be hard to make yourself write. It’s very much a mental exercise, and while it’s easy to talk brave about writing when you don’t feel like writing, it’s easier said than done. But one can develop stronger discipline, like you would develop a muscle. I’ve learned not to squander my one writing hour per day. I’m not perfect at it, mind you, but I’ve become reasonably skilled at making myself write, even if it’s not my best writing. I think we owe it to ourselves to try to develop that discipline. Being someone who can deliver consistently and on time will make us more attractive to editors, I suspect.

“Artists avoid awareness of what we do and why.” I’m not entirely sure what Sanderson means by this, but it may tie back into the previous points. There probably is this idea out there that authors shouldn’t write for the money. We should be pursuing Art, not dollars. To do otherwise amounts to prostitution, right?

Eh, no. We don’t expect NBA players to play for the love of the game. We don’t expect bus drivers to drive bus for the joy of driving. We don’t ask actors to do movies for free because they’re creating Art. They expect to be paid. They need to be paid. Why should writers be any different?

If we just write for the fun of it, that’s another thing. When I try out for a community theater production I’m doing it for fun, not money. But if you’re trying to become a professional author–or at least a paid one–then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with treating your effort like a business; a business for which you plan to be paid. James Patterson is not a sell-out because he writes with selling his books in mind. Your approach may not be the same as his approach, and that’s fine. But never feel embarrassed about wanting to make as much money as you can. Dead authors please no fans. It’s okay to want to be supported by those fans. With money.

“Art is supposed to be painful; we should have to be forced into it.” Now, there’s no denying that writing can be painful. But it can’t be all that painful or we wouldn’t do it. Truth is, we write because we like it, and even the painful parts are enjoyable, like when the massage therapist works on that one knotted muscle that really needs to be relaxed. “Come on baby, make it hurt so good!”

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying writing. I heartily recommend it, actually. It makes it so much easier to do! If we have to be forced into it we should probably consider something else. Something fun! Or at the very least, something more lucrative.

Nor should we feel we have to play coy with our readers. “Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly write another book yet. Why, it’s just so hard, you know? And I’m just not sure I could meet your expectations! But…if you really, reeeeeeeally want another one, okay. I’ll write one more. Because I love you enough to go through all that trouble one more time. For you!” Puh-lease! Go into acting.

I’ll never be another Brandon Sanderson. I’m not trying to. But there’s one thing he and I agree on:

People thank me for being productive, when I don’t consider myself particularly fast as a writer—I’m just consistent. Fans worry that I will burn out, or that secretly I’m some kind of cabal of writers working together. I enjoy the jokes, but there’s really no secret. I just get excited by all of this.

Consistency counts. It’s okay to view writing as a job–a fun job, of course, but still a job. It’s okay to want to be paid. It’s okay to develop discipline so that you can get paid more often. It’s okay to be a steady, reliable producer of stories your audience enjoys. We don’t have to live up to the stereotype, and we don’t need to let other people guilt us or impose restrictions on us. Whatever makes you the most successful as a writer and achieve your goals–do it!

There is no right or wrong way to be an author. But we would do well, I think, to not buy into the stereotype of the suffering artist, bound to the caprice of a fickle muse, destined to be tied to the keyboard each day while an eagle rips out our liver and delivers it to our editor. Our readers will be just as appreciative of our bringing them “fire” if we actually enjoy what we’re doing.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

DON’T WORRY — BE HAPPY ! ! !

Yesterday I wrote a short piece for Carol Lynch Williams’ blog, Throwing Up Words (If you don’t read this blog, and you’re a writer with Utah ties, you ought to give it a shot). She’d commented earlier on the fact that time “seems to speed up these days.” I could not have agreed more, having just gone through a few weeks of family problems, personal medical issues, familial pressures, money problems . . . well, you know, the “regular stuff” we all have to deal with while also preparing, then surviving Thanksgiving, and immediately being shoved into deadlines for preparing Christmas festivities.

After I’d put my two cents’ worth in on the subject of “time” and “too much to do” within time’s available perameters, I read a Fictorians blog on “Creating the Time” by Victoria Morris. She related her comments to the “schedule” which she claims keeps their house busy, to “say the least,” and functioning within acceptable realms. She was attempting to spin the various plates above everyone’s heads: her oldest daughter’s athletic endeavors and entailed travels to various tournaments; her younger daughter’s angst about “when is it my turn?”, Victoria’s own attempts at keeping up with a “creative” life both writing and illustrating, i.e., writing and its concomitant writing “events.” Much of the time she, like so many other mothers (and probably fathers too), felt things slipping through the cracks.

Don’t we all?

To give time to one of these areas was to “rob” that time from every other endeavor. And it was the lack of balance among her most highly prized “to do” lists that had her bamboozled. Having taught full time in colleges and high schools all the time my own two off‑spring were in school, I understood and related to her frustration, sense of “not quite making it,” and angst of pitting one area in competition with all the other areas crying out for attention.

Happily, Victoria eventually came to a startling realization by looking at her immediate past year. Her older daughter had done exceptionally well in her athletic endeavors. The younger really HAD managed to have “her turn” from time to time. And, unbelievably, even Victoria had found time to write, time to draw, and even time to have something published.

“That’s when I realized,” she said, “I need to just stop worrying.”

Given time, pieces of everyone’s needs were met. The “stop worrying” gave her permission to consider that the next year would be just as successful. Even her “me time” had worked itself into her sacred “schedule.”

Like Victoria, I am a person who worries (or at least “feels bad”) about the things which are not necessarily in my control. If you are like this too, try some forgiveness.

Forgive one family member’s angst over “not having a turn” because you know it will happen eventually.

Forgive yourself for moving priorities to attack the most pressing family issues first.

Forgive yourself for making time for “YOU” when you need it most.

Forgive friends and family for demanding time when you had other plans ‑‑‑ and find ways to work around those interruptions.

And stop worrying about . . . ALL the above.

There is, as they say, a time to sow and a time to reap.

There is a time to mourn and a time to celebrate.

There is a time to love and a time to let go.

There is a time to care for friends, for family.

And there is a time to care for yourself

Back to the well

They say that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. As authors, however, it might also be said that those who do not learn from history are missing out on a great source of ideas.

Take Jack the Ripper, for example. Not much is known about him, which makes him a fertile ground for borrowing. He’s been used as a nemesis for H. G. Wells in the movie “Time and Time Again”, as well as countless other movies, books, television shows, operas, video games, and even art. He’s a figure guaranteed to evoke an emotional response, as often instant recognition. And yet so little is really known about him that with only a little work a writer can fit him into just about any story.

One of my favorite episodes of the sci-fi series Babylon 5 (yes, yes, I’m writing about B5 again!) uses Jack the Ripper in an unusual way. Two of the series’ main characters are supposedly “chosen”, the right people at the right time to turn the tide of the never-ending war between good and evil. And yet one of the races backing them has doubts about whether these two really are chosen.

So they call in Jack. In fact they recruited Jack the Ripper right off the streets of London in 1888, interrupting his own career as a “chosen one”, to the world. They show him the error of his ways, and then they put him in cold storage, only to pull him out whenever they need to check to see if the latest person to assume they are “chosen” really is so.

In a sense, these aliens give Jack (called Mr. Sebastian in this episode) a new divine purpose, a new mission to fulfill. They bring him out and turn him loose on our two protagonists, with fascinating results. With just a little imagination he fits quite nicely into the larger story.

History is a ripe field from which to draw. The world is full of mysteries from the beginning of recorded time. Some could very easily be used to add new depth to a story, or even as the core of a larger story. With a little investigation you never know what interesting character or situation you might come across.

Who or what are some of your favorite sources of ideas in history? What ideas have you seen borrowed and done well? Drop us a comment below!

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…