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NaNoWriMo Prep Pep Talks

Have Courage

A pep talk for first time NaNoWriMo writers

One of the scariest sensations to a human being is that of the unknown. Will I get that job I interviewed for? Will I ever find love? Will they renew my favorite show next season despite low ratings? (We sure hope so!) Not knowing how something will turn out keeps many of us from doing the things we want to do, because somehow to our minds, not doing the thing at all is easier than the notion of trying the thing and “failing” at the thing.

NaNoWriMo is here to shut that argument right up, and remind you that you got this.

This #RoadToWriMo pep talk is here for those of you who have never tried NaNoWriMo. It’s for those who have waited in the wings of the internet during the month of November, watching everyone else try and write their novels, while you go, HA! That’s crazy! Who would attempt such madness?! (All while silently telling yourself you want in on the madness.) I’m here to tell you that you can do it, and the only thing you have to do is decide. You have to take the leap, even if you can’t see where you’ll fall. From my experience with NaNo, the place you land always ends up being way cooler than where you jumped from. Because here is the real point of NaNoWriMo. Lean in close for this one…It’s not about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s about trying.

It’s about flinging every inhibition you have ever had into the wind to try something that quite frankly should be impossible, but isn’t. It’s about telling a story–your story. It’s for those of you who feel adventures whispering inside of you aching to be free. NaNoWriMo is about letting go, taking a risk, and seeing what magic can come of it. Sometimes that means 5,000 words, sometimes it means 20,000, and sometimes it means going the whole 50K. The point is that you tried, and you ended the month with more words than you had when you started.

So many writers tell themselves that they just don’t have what it takes. But take a moment to imagine where we’d be if Jo Rowling hadn’t taken a chance? How boring would our lives be without Angie Thomas or Ray Bradbury? Madeleine L’Engle or John Green? All of these people were individuals who were bigger on the inside, with something to say about the world and the unique way they saw/see it. People just like you. The only thing separating you is that you’ve yet to take the first step. I’m here to tell you take it. Seize the opportunity to tell your story like you’ve never seized anything before. Carpe the heck out of this damn diem. BEGIN. YOUR. BOOK.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo thirteen times, and I’ll be honest in saying it never gets less daunting, and there will always be times when you doubt yourself and think you can’t finish. But the reason I’ve stuck with NaNo, and why so many people do too, is because of the community. When you hit that I can’t do this anymore moment, there are others doing the same thing along side you to remind you that every word counts. There are strangers from every corner of the world fighting the same battle as you. NaNoWriMo takes away the solitary nature of writing, and gives you an environment full of comrades so you never feel alone. It will be one of the most rewarding things you can ever do.

So, potential future WriMo, I hope to see you this November. I hope that no matter your Hogwarts house, you muster up enough Gryffindor courage to take on this challenge. Your friends here at IndiePen Ink, and the many WriMos around the world, will be there for you if that courage ever fails.

See you out there on the road, new WriMos. Let’s boldly go.

Carry on my wayward writers,


 

 

 

 

 

 

Craft Creative Editorials Inkademy Research-a-torium Sass Setting Worldbuilding

A Fantastic World Does Not A Story Make

We’ve all done it at some point – built a story to fit within the framework of a kick-ass world we’ve created. Writers get so wrapped up in playing God by designing beings, shaping geographic features, creating languages, or constructing epic histories that trace backwards through a dozen generations, that they completely forget what the hell they are supposed to being doing – telling a story. Writing isn’t about building a world, it’s about writing the story that could only happen in the world that has been built.

Crafting a story is a complex process, and building a world to serve as a rich setting is important, especially in speculative fiction. Setting is one of the five elements required in a proper story. Setting helps to understand character personality and development. It can serve as an obstacle creating conflict, or help to move the plot forward. The problem occurs when a writer focuses all their energy on creating the world, and no time focusing on the story that takes place within said world.

Back in January of 2015, on an episode of Fiction School, co-host Tommy Zurhellen discussed one of the biggest mistakes he sees made by his students. In his humorous story about “Scantron 7”, Zurhellen explains that when he asks writing students about their story, they spend several enthusiastic minutes describing their setting, their characters, elaborate government or belief system, the epic conflict that rocked the world a thousand years ago… but when asked the question, “Yeah, but what is your story actually about?” they draw a blank.

At the end of the day, no matter how epic and elaborate the setting or how fleshed out the characters, if there is no story at the core, or worse, no conflict to drive that story forward, then the writer really has nothing but a cool place with cool people.

To avoid falling into this trap, a writer must keep in mind that every addition they make to their world needs to be relevant to the story. That is, anything about the world worth mentioning. As the writer, there is nothing wrong with knowing every corner of the created world. That does not mean that the reader needs to know all those inane details. The more fleshed out the writer makes the world, the more real it will feel, but providing a millenia of history or recounting the entire text of a holy book is simply not necessary for the reader to understand the significance of a religious or historic event on the modern day.

As a writer, you can never know too much about the world within the story, because you never know what information will become useful later on, or my inspire new story lines. But, it is possible for a writer to tell their readers too much about their world. Avoid info dumps, and save that information for supplemental content (like rewards for people who support you on Patreon!) or later stories in the same world. Or, if you feel really bold, incorporate the method used by the author of Nevernight, Jay Kristoff. When the opportunity for history or cultural knowledge to came up in the story, instead of dropping a load of backstory that broke with the narrative, Kristoff simply placed an asterisk in the text, and kept moving on with the story. At the bottom of the page, he included footnotes for each symbol. This strategy worked perfectly, giving the reader the choice to break the narrative to read the footnote, or to keep reading until the end of the page or the chapter, and come back to read the backstory about a god, a cultural practice, or reference to a historical event in the history of the world.

If readers truly love the world a writer crafts, they will come back for more. The trick is leaving enough for the readers to have a reason to return. Giving away too much in the beginning does one of two things- overwhelms the reader, boring them with over-information, or satisfies them to the point there are no questions left for them to answer.

If you’d like some help training your world building muscle, sign up to beta test our Worldbuilding Workshop taking place on June 25th thru July 8th by sending an email to indiepenink@gmail.com with the word “Inkademy” in the subject line.

And, keep an eye out for announcements on the opening of the Research-a-Torium, which we hope to build into the ultimate world building resource!

Write on young savior,

 

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Craft Creative Research-a-torium Resources

The History of Storytelling: Part II: Traditional Storytelling

Part II- Traditional Storytelling

For Part I of this articles series, click here.

Stories were not originally intended for entertainment- they were the best method our oldest ancestors had to mass educate the people of the tribe or clan. It was only by making the stories entertaining that the messages stuck. Thanks to the inventiveness of the earliest African griots, our ancestors avoided the dangers of the environment around them, and survived to leave the continent, spreading farther and farther with each changing generation, until eventually they spread across the entire world. And, with each generation, another story keeper memorized, told, and added new tales to the collective consciousness of mankind.

Stories can be  self-fulfilling prophecies. All the evidence you need to understand that idea is to look at the impact something as seemingly whimsical and insignificant as Star Trek: The Original Series. A science fiction television show that barely lasted three seasons ended up having a profound impact on 20th century society. Some viewers were inspired by the imaginary technology of the future and turned it into the real life technology you are probably reading this post on, while others were inspired by the social messages the themes advocated to take a stand in a time of social and cultural strife.

Fables, legends, and myths of the earliest humans eventually became those of the ancients, then the middle ages, the ages of trade, exploration, industry, and now the modern digital age. Much like a game of telephone, over the years parts of the original stories have been changed for cultural reasons or skewed in translation for one language to another (and, yes people, this even includes the bible). As a result, some cultures have different versions of the same story, or the story ends differently based on the lesson that the specific society wanted to emphasize.

Mythology

As mentioned in the first article of this series, the cultures of Mesopotamia are the first credited with the writing down of stories. These tales of mortals and gods were referred to as epics, and within these stories, we find the beginning of one of the most important elements of storytelling that has become a staple of fantasy and science fiction through today- the hero’s journey. This is the tale of an average, and yet remarkable, person who goes on a quest, usually with the help of a mentor and a ragtag group of people, to complete a task for the betterment or himself or his people. There is also a separate heroine’s journey, and just like sexism intended, they are both different based on the gender, and one is considered to to be intrinsically better than the other (which you can read about here and here.)

 

 

Images lovingly stolen with respect from sources that talk about this way better than we do- Joseph Cambell and Mythcreants.com.

 

 

The earliest hero’s journey stories were  written in long form poetry. Examples range from Epic of Gilgamesh, Mahabharata, Beowulf, and the related stories of the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid. The hero in each story is forced to make choices and conquer obstacles, often put in their way by angry gods, on the way to their objective. The mythology and beliefs of the culture played an important role in these epic stories, and that is because mythology was an extremely important aspect of daily life in the ancient world. Before human beings began to understand enough science to explain the mysteries of our world and universe, mythology served to answer the big questions about human existence, nature, and creation. Every time a child asked “Why?” mythology was there with an answer. Prometheus stole fire from the gods to give to man, creating the birth of civilization. Maui caught the sun and hung it in the sky for the mortals to have light. The Great thunderbirds of the Americas were the source of the fierce storms that hit the United States every spring. Before humans had enough technology to understand the science behind the forces of the universe, everything was attributed to magic. 

In these stories men and women often crossed the gods, or were lusted after by gods, or got tricked by gods… and then, cursed by gods. How they hell was the moral of these stories not “DO NOT TRUST THESE BATSHIT GODS”? (Then again, I’m kinda coming from the bias end of the pool here, as I write a story about angry gods and their human playthings.) But again, the point of these stories was to provide an explanation for things human beings had not figured out yet.

Legends

While myths recount the stories of the gods and their human playthings, legends are more specifically written about the heroes themselves. These stories are not full-fledged epics, but they are adventure stories that take a partial truth and exaggerated it to grandiose proportions. The exploits of real-life figures may have been the initial inspiration for these stories, but the figures they were written about were rarely anything like the caricatures they became.

Legendary figures exist in every culture, and every era. As an American, and a history teacher, this was an issue I dealt with constantly. One of the reasons I loathe teaching American History is because I have to wade through the bullshit. The hardest part of teaching US history is the reteaching I have to do. By the time students get to their junior year (age 16-17), which is when US history is traditionally taught in high school, they have been indoctrinated by these legends which are regarded as fact. The worst part is that they have already been through a watered-down version of US history in their 8th grade year (age 13-14) of middle school, and yet many of these bullshit, propaganda stories aren’t questioned or corrected.

Presidents like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, JFK, and Reagan have become larger than life figures. The amount of elevation given to the Founding Fathers (note the lack of recognition to any mothers) is nearly vomit inducing, especially when you actually read about their personal exploits. Alas, every society needs heroic figures, despite how counterproductive they tend to be.

Folk Tales

These are the closest to the original oral traditions of storytelling. Theses stories were passed from generation to generation, shared among the community until they became a part of the culture. Once these cultures integrated writing, they wrote the stories down. In some cases, the folk tales have never been written down, and remain oral histories or stories relayed to the community or to children from the storytellers.

These stories were meant to teach a lesson, and that is why they are often attributed to children. The lessons were meant relate to real life, even if the content of the story was fantastic, to impress upon the people the importance of choice and consequences. These folk tales became the roots for the fairy tales and fables that defined our childhood.

Although, the difference between the original stories and the Disney-fied versions, is that the fairy tales and fables that were inspired by these cultural folk tales were much more gruesome. Karma was quite the bitch in these original stories. Cinderella’s step sisters chopped their own feet to fit into the shoes. Mulan is haunted by PTSD, and kills herself. Mermaids were vicious predators who preyed on sailors, not save them.

The Appeal of Lore

As a history teacher, this is my biggest pet peeve with the way the social studies are taught. When we teach history as memorized facts, and not as stories passed from one generation to the next, the context disappears. When history becomes legend, and the origins are lost, we gain a heroic figure, but we lose the gruesome, violent, or dark truth of its inspiration. This is why despite the cliched anecdote that “those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it” we ironically never learn from history. It isn’t the fact we need to learn and pass on, it is the message and the meaning behind the story in which we find the fact.

Storytelling in the root of culture. It is where the foundation on which a culture is built and from where its traditions stem. Every religion has a holy text filled with parables used to teach the scriptures associated with their teachings. The practice of storytelling was our first form of history. Prior to written language, oral storytelling was the only way to pass on information from one generation to the next. Humans have come to depend on storytelling, not only as a form of entertainment, but as the purest form of passing on knowledge. Without storytelling, we would not have history. We not would have a past to learn from.

Write on young savior,

Craft Creative Research-a-torium Resources Sass

The History of Storytelling: Part I: The Invention of Story

As modern humans, convenienced by information available at our fingertips, we take for granted a time when communication and access to knowledge was not instantaneous. The knowledge of history, technology, food and medicinal resources, was once proudly guarded information, determined to be the property of a privileged few.

According to a recent study by Marshall Poe, a professor of the history at the University of Iowa, the history of human communication can be divided into six stages. These stages of development are organized as: oral (speech), manuscript (handwriting), print (presses), audiovisual (recordings, radio, film), internet (hosting, posting), and digital (pdf).

Using these six stages, we can examine each of the unique ways that humans have ever interacted. Each one has become a integral in the way humans pass information along to others, or most importantly, to the next generation. This has always been the most effective way of ensuring survival of future generations. But, while Poe’s categories neatly summarize all stages of communication throughout our history, human beings have been telling stories long before most of his stages came into existence..

“Without a single word, this ancient artist who painted the walls of Lascaux was able to record one of the first stories of the human experience, and with every generation that has passed since, we have never stopped.”

Early Storytelling

The caves of Lascaux, France are one of the most significant archeological finds ever to be uncovered. They are not, however, open to public view. If exposed to the elements, these irreplaceable works of art would be destroyed very quickly. That is why they have been sealed off, made accessible only to the scientists and historians that are allowed to study them. Discovered in 1940, the ceiling and walls of the cave interior are painted with immense portraits of ancient animals that once roamed Europe alongside our ancestors. The incredible thing about these paintings is that they are sophisticated. The artist drew them in such a way that represents movement and dimensions. Many of the animal drawings feature shading  and have been depicted with multiple legs, representing the motion of the animals as they ran, and their three-dimensionality. In addition to the archaeological significance that this find represents by providing evidence for our ancestors’ intelligence, it also represents their need to record and preserve their daily lives. Whether this was just an early attempt at expression, or an early attempt to record history to pass on to later generations, it serves as one of the earliest examples of storytelling.

The boss-ness that is the Lascaux cave art.

Without a single word, this ancient artist who painted the walls of Lascaux was able to record one of the first stories of the human experience, and with every generation that has passed since, we have never stopped. These original stories may not be as complex as we modern humans are used to, with all our fancy story elements, and our literal and figurative language, but they served the most important function of a story. This image was able to explain what a day in the life of an ancient Europeans looked like. This moment in history represents a greater monument in human development, providing evidence of one of the first moments in which humans began to demonstrate critical and analytical skills beyond those needed for survival. This is evidence of the earliest moments of human consciousness.

” The history and beliefs of a culture became legends, the trial and error of generations became lessons, and the technological advancements led to surplus, riches, and war, which were recorded as history.”

Human beings may have been telling stories long before language and writing, but the inception of both led to an explosion of culture. Pre-civilization societies determined record keeping to be one of the most important jobs. This meant that they held their cultural history and knowledge in as high a regard as collecting food. This makes sense, being that the sharing of the collective history of their people was tantamount to survival. By passing on the knowledge of animal migrations, dangerous areas, medical practices, and the crafting of technology, they increased the chances of survival of their children, their people, and their culture as a whole. Storytelling was the ultimate form of self-preservation.

Often, a select few individuals were tasked with the responsibility of learning, memorizing, and retelling the stories of the tribe or clan. This was vital in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, the birthplace of humanity, where geography was known to play a huge role in isolating groups of people within miles of each other (which is why Africa has the most genetic diversity on the face of the planet). According to Reference.com, over three-thousand distinct tribes are known to inhabit Africa, speaking two-thousand known languages. And those are just the ones we know about, since much the inner continent is still very remote, and may still keep hidden people, languages, and stories that we have yet to uncover. That means, that since the birth of vocal communication, just in Africa alone, storytellers, known in these cultures as griots, were memorizing thousands of collective histories in thousands of languages.

A modern day griot recites a story to the children of the village.

Over time, pictures became pictographs. Pictographs became symbols. Symbols began to represent words, and not ideas. Then eventually, sounds and not words.

Indus script that probably tells the sickest, most epic story we’ll never know.

Crossing the Red Sea, much like our ancestors did when they left Africa, through the Arabian Peninsula,  we come to  South-Central Asia, where the birth of writing occurred. The earliest archeological evidence of writing can be found in Uruk on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in modern Iraq, and in Mohenjo-Daro on the Indus River in modern India. Cuneiform, the famous wedge-shaped writing system that is the first known in history, was deciphered by George Smith and Henry Rawlinson. The Indus script on the other hand, remains completely unknown to us since no codex has been discovered that would allow the translation of the symbols into another known language, as was the case with hieroglyphics in Coptic and Greek by using the Rosetta Stone. Once translated, scholars were able to read the earliest literature ever written, the great Mesopotamian works: Atrahasis, The Descent of Inanna, The Myth of Etana, The Enuma Elish, and the famous Epic of Gilgamesh.

Cuneiform text, probably a receipt for goats.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is particularly fascinating as a story, since it is one of the best known examples of a story archetype that is shared by nearly all the great societies and civilizations of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas: an epic flood story in which the gods wash clean the earth to start again. The truly awe-inspiring aspect of the flood story mystery is how these cultures, who have no historical evidence of contact until the last few thousand years, not only share the same base story idea, but also share them with cultures in the Americas, that at the earliest evidence we can find, did not have consistent contact with Europe or Asia until after 1000 CE.

“…since the birth of vocal communication, just in Africa alone, storytellers, known in these cultures as griots, were memorizing thousands of collective histories in thousands of languages.”

While these incredible, larger than life stories discuss the cultural beliefs of the earliest civilizations, other written artifacts from this time serve a purpose more like the paintings of Lascaux. Most of the written documents of this time were not for public circulation. These stories were recorded for posterity, but for most common people of the Mesopotamian region, they would have still be told orally. Literacy has only been commonplace for the last few centuries. But, whether the everyday merchant class of the Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, or Nineveh knew it or not, they were preserving snippets of the story of the everyday life of ancient Mesopotamians through record-keeping. Granted, most of the documents preserved from the first known civilization are basically contracts and receipts … for like…. goats (Seriously, there is an inordinate amount of livestock transactions in Sumeria), but like the cave paintings, they give us a glimpse of the story of ancient life.

The Presentation of the heart of the dead by Horus,Thoth, and Anubis to Isis and Osiris for judgment on entering the afterlife. (FYI, if you were bad, that croc-hippo-cat gets to eat yo’ heart.)

Whether images, symbols, or letters, these written marks began to grace the walls of public spaces, the surface of burial monuments, and scrolls of vellum and paper.  The history and beliefs of a culture became legends, the trial and error of generations became lessons, and the technological advancements led to surplus, riches, and war, which were recorded as history.

Read on young saviors,

Craft Editorials For the Ladies Pep Talks Sass

Wasted Space

When you say you wanna be a writer… but, you just end up writing wish fulfillment.

A rant from Sass:

Scroll through any random writing forum, especially any topic under “writing help” and you will find the following:

“NEED HELP! I really want to write a story, but I need an idea! Thanks!”

“I have an awesome idea (insert extremely long, detailed physical description of a character and nothing else) but now I’m stuck. How can get over writer’s block?”

“I’m writing a story about a werewolf/fairy/vampire love triangle about a teenage good girl who can’t decide between two bad boys (who she can totally change), but I don’t have a plot yet. I need ideas!”

UGH! I swear to this dear, merciful fucking universe, if I see one more post like this in a forum, I am going to Hulk smash the internet. Not my keyboard. Not my monitor. The entire fucking internet. Oh… I’ll do it. Watch me. I’m that upset.

Why? It’s because people that say this don’t really want to write a story – they want to write personalized escapism. It’s like the mature version of those Barbie books your Grandma used to get you for your birthday, where they put your name in the book with a Barbie that looked like you… remember those, child of the Nineties? (Yes… I know we’re getting old. Don’t change the subject.)

For anyone who has ever posted a topic like the ones above in a forum, I’m calling you out. I’m not trying to shame you. I need you to stand up and be counted so that I can ask you a serious question, and I expect an honest answer:

Why in the hell are you writing a story?

Not, what is your story about. Not, what is your main character like? Honestly. Seriously. Think about it for a second, and tell me why you want to write a story.

If the answer is anything less than: “…because I have this thing inside me, consuming me, and if I don’t get it out somehow I am literally going to die.” … well then, you really have no business writing a story. At least not yet.

“You’re so desperate to escape that you’re blinded to the fact that you are escaping to a prison of your own design.”

It took me a really long time to call myself a writer, to have the confidence to back up the statement when I said it. After all, writers produce stories, finished stories to be exact, which is something I have yet to do with original content. (Yeah… I write fan fiction. So what! Wanna fight about it?) So, without having produced a finished original work, how could I have the audacity to call myself a writer?

Easy. I’m a writer simply because I write, and I have been actively doing so since 2009. Actually, I started much earlier than that, having written since my childhood, filling notebooks with silly knock-offs of my favorite stories where a placeholder character of myself was living out a fantasy like one of the ones I wanted to experience.

There is no crime in that. That’s why fan fiction exists in the first place. And, if that is truly what you want, then that is what you need to write. Start with worlds and characters that have already been fleshed out, and play with them until you sate that desire to escape. Then, go back to the real world until it destroys everything good inside you, and return to your fan fiction until you have the will to live again. I get it. Escapism is a powerful thing, especially when you are a young girl. That, I get even more. I’ve been there, done that, and all I got was this crappy t-shirt.

“Write a character worth escaping into, who does all the things we dream about doing, that we as women are told we cannot do or cannot be.”

If you are a woman, young or old, the world is not a place made for you, especially if you are a woman of color or a non-Christian. Society does shame you. It targets you. It whispers stupid shit into your ear about how you’ll never be pretty, or loved, or have worth… unless you buy this awesome deodorant, or wear this mascara, or lose ten pounds. It pits you against other girls. It traps you under a glass ceiling and pays you seventy-seven cents on the dollar compared to the men you see gliding through that glass like water, and tells you that you should just be grateful for the opportunity to even see the glass. Society traps you in pretty pink boxes with prescribed labels from which escape is nigh impossible.

Perhaps that is why I get so irate when I see “I want to write a story but I don’t have an idea and blah and blah and blah…”. You’re so desperate to escape that you’re blinded to the fact that you are escaping to a prison of your own design, another trap set for you, filled with Mary-Sues and pseudo-conflicts designed to create love triangles because that is all a girl needs- to be loved.

If you want escape, I don’t fault you for that. But, if that is all you want, why in the hell would you write a story? Writing is not easy. It’s not just something that manifests once you have the idea. It requires research, planning, revising, and restarting. Writing a story is possibly the most feminine thing you can do- you are literally giving birth. You are like a goddess creating an entire universe from scratch, making something from nothing. That is no simple task. Taking on a project like that requires an intense amount of time and energy. So, again I ask, why do you want to write a story?

If you really want to write a story, you would know it. It would consume you, burning inside you like a Roman candle. You’ll daydream about taking walks along the streets in your world. Your characters will have conversations with you in your head. You’ll be wrenched out of deep sleep at 3:17 in the morning to write down the incredible idea that resolves your entire plot thanks to some weird dream.

When a writer is ready to write a story, their story, they don’t need to beg for inspiration. They already have it. When you find your idea, it will call to you to write it, and once you do, you will be a writer. Until then, practice in the kiddie pool of fan fiction because the deep end of the fiction pool is terrifying when once you take off the water wings.

“If you really want to write a story, you would know it. It would consume you, burning inside you like a Roman candle.”

…And, when that happens, ladies, please, please, break the fucking cycle. Write a character worth escaping into, who does all the things we dream about doing, that we as women are told we cannot do or cannot be. Make her strong, dynamic, complex, and opinionated. Force the plot to bend to her will based on her actions, and not make her a victim of its abuse. For fuck’s sake, be bold, and dare to write a story about a female protagonist who *gasp* doesn’t have a love interest!

We need female voices. We need women writers of every shape, size, creed, color, orientation, and ability, because women out there deserve stories worth escaping into, and we all need different ways to escape. When you’re ready, IndiePen Ink will be here to support you, to coach you, and to help you flesh out that plot instead of inventing it for you.

You have a story inside you, and it is worth being told. Advocate for yourself, for others like you. Take up space. Demand that your story be told.

Write on, young savior,

Editorials Pep Talks Sass Writing Styles

If I Tell You That You Suck, Can You Get Over It?

A Letter from Sass:

At some point in the epic history of fiction writing, writers developed a strange obsession with perfection. The why and how have been lost to history. Perhaps that burned up in the Great Library of Alexandria? Yet, despite not understanding why they have this obsessive compulsion, writers of all levels fall into this trap daily.

I’m not singular in suffering from writer’s block. Every writer I know, regardless of their ability, preferred genre, and levels of experience and success, admits that they sometimes hit a point where they just can’t write. The problem is, as the dry spell continues, they simply don’t move on by planting the garden; learning a new recipe; finally cleaning out the closet. They wallow. They let their brain start to warp their confidence in their abilities. Suddenly, they are a no talent hack, and always have been.

This mindset is toxic. It is also counterproductive, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that takes root in the mind of a writer and prevents them from moving forward, even when inspired.

“At some point in the epic history of fiction writing, writers developed a strange obsession with perfection.”

Let’s get personal for a minute. Currently, I have a Google Doc with 30+ plot points, in chronological order, that I have already planned for in my story, Intrepid. I am not want for ideas — I am want for prose. The idea is fleshed out, and I know exactly what I need to write. I just can’t write it. For weeks, I went through the motions of my usual routine: I sat down to write with my trusty Ink Joy gel pen in a funky color, a thick DIY legal pad made out of my favorite lined paper glued together with cardboard backing, and a full pot of steaming tea, and I put on a Epic Instrumental Music video from YouTube from one of my many subscriptions.

In times past, I would have cranked out 1000-3000 words for whichever scene I had decided I was ready to write. Recently, I have been lucky to settle on a mere hundred words I didn’t want to crumple up and throw across the room.

The worst part is that I had absolutely no reason to be blocked. The depression that tends to hit me two to three times a year was not lingering around, and my anxiety is under control currently. My job, while stressful, is manageable now that I have developed a rhythm. Marriage, immediate family life, and finances are all strong right now. My friends are all doing reasonably well… so what the fuck is my problem? Why can’t I write?

Well, that is because I suck. I’m a great writer, but I am a fucking awful drafter. It feels impossible to just sit down and free write without analyzing my own word choice or flow.

Why did my character do that? Why would I write that? Where did that idea come from? Why can’t I think of a better word!?

“It has taken me a really really loooooong time to accept that sucking is not only okay, but necessary.”

Why? Because, the first draft sucks. The pre-write sucks. The first time words hit paper, they are an unruly mess. And, it has taken me a really really loooooong time to accept that sucking is not only okay, but necessary. At the risk of inspiring a chorus of that’s what she saids, let me repeat that again: Sucking is necessary.

On the days I mindblowingly, ultra suck, I try to keep these quotes in the back of my mind…

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s simply writer’s embarrassment.” –  Andrew W. Marlowe

and

“Do something. You can always correct something, but you can never correct nothing.” – Dale C. Bronner

They’re brilliant. The kind of brilliance that you only register once you read it or someone says it too you. It’s the kind of brilliance that makes you feel like a moron for not realizing the simplistic solution it delivers. It is exactly what every writer needs to be reminded of when they sit down to write. In fact, I think these two quotes should be visible to a writer in every writing space.

So, that being said, I have made graphics of condensed forms of these quotes that writers can print and hang in their writing spaces…

The first step in conquering writer’s block is realizing that the block comes not from a lack of creativity, but a lack of confidence. Not being able to write well is a phobia that is so stifling that it makes writing impossible at all.

In later articles, we will be exploring the reasons people suffer from writer’s block, and offering creative solutions to overcoming your fear, rather than stimulating your creativity. Until then, I leave you with this: If I tell you that you really do suck, can you get over it already? We all suck. Get in line kid — the queue starts with me.

Write on, young savior,

Editorials News Pep Talks Writing Styles

There’s a Good Chance This Is Completely Worthless

A message of caution, from Sass:

As a teacher, I often struggle with the fact that my students take every word I speak as gospel. While the thought of having a horde of minions waiting to be beckoned, preaching whatever I tell them would be wonderfully effective if/when I choose to take over the world, as an educator, it is extremely counter-productive to teaching students the most important, non-subject related skill they need to acquire in school: problem solving. Now, this would be an easy point for me to launch into a scathing critique of our public education system, and how through lacking high standards and pushing testing we have totally lost our ability to teach our students the skills they really need, but I won’t. It’s really, reaaaaally hard not to, but it’s not the point of this blog post.

I use this example only to make the point that as products of this system, we are not always taught how to read information selectively.

As with any information, even that delivered by teachers (who are often, but not always, experts in their field) it should still be analyzed. Writers, like any person working in a craft, should always be willing to learn and improve techniques to develop as writers. Teachers do this through professional development. I attend meetings and conferences multiple times a year that are meant to introduce or to strengthen my knowledge of teaching methodology. But, all teachers are different—we each have a teaching style, based on many variables such as experience, school culture, resources, and student needs. Writers also have a style that is distinct to their particular experience, genre, voice, and process. I have left sessions completely enthused and ready to utilize a brand new method to transform my classroom. I have also walked out of sessions laughing my ass off at some “consultant”, with no prior educational experience, who just got paid thousands of dollars to tell me how to do a job they have never done themselves. Or, even if they have, came out of a perfect, suburban school where all the students have stable homes, speak English, have safe, updated buildings, and are given more resources than they know what to do with. Learning how to be a better teacher is no different than learning how to be a better writer- the advice you take is completely subjective to your needs and experience.

Which is why it is extremely important to keep this thought in mind: Any advice, resource, or lesson given to you by another writer needs to be analyzed for its usefulness to your specific needs.

While the core concepts for writing—character development, setting, and plotting—are universal in writing, the methodologies used in practice are completely dependent upon what and how you write. If you want to be the next Rowling, don’t go to Patterson for advice. If you want to be the next Flynn, don’t go to Sparks. I don’t have anything against any of these writers, but they each have fundamental differences in their genres, writing styles, and process.

That being said, I am also not suggesting that a mystery writer cannot help a science fiction writer write better. What I am saying is before you take every piece of writing advice, really sit down, analyze it, try it out, and see if it even applies. Or, if it can be adapted. Does it even work?

At the end of the day, there might not be a single thing on this website that helps one person become a better writer, yet another person could credit it as the secret to their success. Neither person is wrong. In special education, we use the term Specific Learning Disability to cover a wide range of learning struggles. Two different students can be labeled SLD in reading, but one can have issue with transposing letters while the other has issues in reading comprehension. But, both are considered not to be able to read. Trying to strengthen a student’s reading fluency may help the dyslexic student, but won’t do anything to help the one who doesn’t understand or retain what they are reading. This same idea can be said for two writers struggling with the same problem. If two writers are both struggling to develop static characters into dynamic characters, no one approach will be universal to help both, especially if the stories are different genres or viewpoints.

All the information we post on IPI is intended to be helpful but not all of it will be. Or all of it will be. Or none of it will be. The point is, this is not gospel. This is a collection; an anthology if you will, of what we consider the best advice we have collected from around our writing circles, the internet, and our dangerously high stacked towers of writing books. There is bound to be a better method out there for something we post in IPI, and we encourage writers to seek out information. Never stop seeking knowledge.

As the illustrious, sardonic, and outrageous Oscar Wilde once said, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”

So, when you do find something better, please share it with us. Help us add to the Research-a-Torium or update a post or offer a suggestion on a tutorial. This isn’t just our site, it’s our site—yours, mine, and ours. If advice exists, and it helped, we want to have it collected, organized, and ready to be absorbed. Help us help you and help us help others. But, remember, only take what you need to help yourself.

Write on, young savior,

 

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Editorials News Pep Talks Resources Sass Writing Styles

Hey Guys! Watch This!

An open letter from Sass:

There is a small assortment of books collecting dust on my bookshelf these days. These books were once some of my most coveted, habitually read, and referenced tomes. I carried them in my bag on trips and methodically marked and annotated passages. Interestingly though, these books are neither classic literature, nor contemporary favorites. In fact, they’re non-fiction. They are my craft books – the first books I began buying and devouring when I finally decided to take the terrifying leap from saying “I write” to “I am a writer.” The books that helped me learn the basics; that built the foundation of my writerly knowledge.

Now, nearly a decade later, as I plot story arcs, develop characters, and invent universes, they sit idle, neglected and forgotten. Why would I need to read these books now? I’m not a novice writer anymore – I get this shit. I’m done with theory. Onto the practicum! Yet, when I sat down to make notes over the tutorials and concepts I wanted to cover on IndiePen Ink, my head emptied as quickly as a broken vacuum seal clears out a cargo bay on an interstellar ship. I realized that I needed to go back to my source, to my humble beginnings, and work backwards, taking my acquired knowledge and using it to create a curriculum of what I would have liked to have learned early on as a writer.

The problem though is that the stuff I wanted -needed- to learn was not the basics. Now, granted, while they are the important foundation on which the skill of writing is built, understanding the elements of story makes you little more proficient than a high school freshman when it comes to writing… I know this because I teach high school English to freshmen. So, instead of reaching for the craft books on the basics, I reached for my intermediate books – the ones on style and expression – and, decided to take a look through two of my trustiest reference books: Better Than Great and The Elements of Expression, both by author, Arthur Plotnik.

And, lo… what I have forgotten/ignored/never learned/breezed past in haste to get to the “good stuff”…Did you know that there are twenty-five types of figurative language? Because I sure as hell didn’t! The weird part is I had it marked, as if I had either read it and forgotten, or never got back to it after thinking “Ooooh! This looks important!”.

This brought me to a realization – I had thought I had read these books, scoured these books for information; devoured them and digested their contents – but in truth, I had done no such thing. There was no doubt I had depended on these books and used them constantly, but for an intended purpose. A purpose from which I am eight years removed and hardly remember, but at the time they gave me information I craved. I read it, absorbed it, and it became habit. Then, I threw it on the shelf and walked away more confident in my ability than before, and thus satisfied I had taken everything I could from that text.

“I wanted a resource – the ultimate resource that could be the place where I could go to get help, specific to my needs as a writer at that time.”

It’s this realization that leads me to believe this is the reason I roped my friends into creating IndiePen Ink. I wanted a resource – the ultimate resource that could be the place where I could go to get help, specific to my needs as a writer at that time. Those needs change over time, and new resources have to be sought.

Middle of the road writers, like myself, have fallen into a chasm of sorts. We still need help while writing, but it doesn’t come from our foundational limitations, it comes from isolation. Writing in a vacuum is horrible. It’s inside the black hole where all your incredible, original ideas stagnate, your characters go flat, and your dialogue becomes trite and stifled. This happens not because you don’t have talent, but because you have no place to keep skills sharp or be held accountable.

In essence, you need a proving ground. A playground, if you will, to mix and mingle, to refuel and get hurt when you slip off the fictional monkey bars. This place needs to be flexible, inviting, tolerant, and empathetic to the needs and diversity of writers, and those writer’s stories. But, the playground also needs an assortment of equipment, and not just one of those plastic jumbo monstrosities with seven slides and towers and glider handle thingy… what hell do they call that thing? It needs separate play areas where we can go and play and learn, and when we conquer that area, we can move to another; make new friends; fall off new toys and get back up again.

Consider IndiePen your playground. Make friends. Try new stuff. Revisit and take comfort in old stuff. Share. Write. Fuck up. Try again. We, as the creators of IndiePen Ink, want you to help us make this playground the first place, and only place, you go when you fall down the writing well and can’t crawl out again. We’ll throw you a rope, and pull you back up to the playground.

“Make friends. Try new stuff. Revisit and take comfort in old stuff. Share. Write. Fuck up. Try again.”

The playground is small right now, but it won’t always be. This isn’t going to be just some corner park they used to fill space in a subdivision. We’ve got big plans for this playground (think Leslie Knope plans). So, come to our playground. Tell us about yourself, your needs, and what toys you want to play on. Tell all your friends to meet you at the sweet, new playground. Until then, we’ll be here waiting. You’ll know us – we’re the cool kids hanging out on top of the monkey bars.

…and I’m the kid writhing on the ground after shouting the famous words, “Hey guys! Watch this!”.

Write on, young savior,

 

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News Savvy

We’re Going On An Adventure…

Authors, imagination travelers, and word weavers — the world needs your story, and we at IndiePen Ink are here to help you tell it.

The mission of IndiePen Ink is to serve as a multiverse of writing resources, providing blog posts, web shows, podcasts, and more, all to help independent writers and creators embrace their passion of one of the world’s most ancient crafts: storytelling.

Founded out of a mutual adoration of books, writing, and pop culture by C. Brennecke, Elayna Mae Darcy, and Rebekka S. Leber (with the help of friend and web wizard Elan Samuel) the site will include such things as thorough and engaging writing prompts, raucously weird yet informative web shows, and even a bi-weekly podcast by and about women in literature and the media. What we are not is a static, cookie-cutter operation with click-baity titles that don’t actually help you become a better writer. Our focus is on building community, helping creators with their unique problems and struggles, and having a damn good time while we’re at it.

We believe that you care about the stories you tell, and we want to be there for you to help you tell them in a way that leaves a positive mark on the world. Think of us as your support system as you endeavor to write your books or other creative works. When you need guidance on the next steps of your quest, consider us your Obi-Wan Kenobi. When you need logical advice or help with research, let us be your Hermione Granger. And when you need encouragement and someone believe in you, we’ll be your Samwise Gamgee.

Starting out on a new adventure, be it launching a website or writing a new book, can at times be a daunting thing. But if we, the creators of IndiePen, have learned anything, it is that sometimes the biggest leaps of faith lead to the most rewarding and magical journeys of all.

Ready for whatever comes,

The IndiePen Ink Team
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