On this lovely April day, I’m pleased to say I’ve committed the first several thousand words of the third book of The Voyages of the Legend to paper! After several months of collecting images, building a writing playlist, and preparing my outline, I’ve at last begun to write words down.
And it’s been a bumpy couple of weeks. Finishing The Illuminator’s Test last December was like cresting a steep mountain trail, full of exhaustion and accomplishment. Starting the third book was like finding myself back at the bottom again. It’s intimidating to try to compete with your past work. I’d gotten rusty. And sequels are hard: it’s a challenge to work with the same world and characters, but pit them against new challenges and even higher stakes.
My first attempt at an opening paragraph was so bad I was discouraged for two days. The second attempt was better, but still extremely lackluster. Now, on my third go-around, I’m finally striking a pace and tone that I enjoy. And already the characters are beginning to spring surprises on me.
Getting back into the rhythms of writing has me thinking about what writing is made of, what it is. Pick up almost any how-to book on writing, and you’d think writing is a checklist that just takes practice and willpower. But I also think there’s something more. Writing is both a craft and an art.
The internet is saturated with books, webinars, articles, etc. on the craft of writing a book: the nuts and bolts of what goes into a story. Some of them are quite good. I’ve been to a number of classes, conferences, and critique groups that have helped push my writing to a higher level. It’s important to learn the nuts and bolts of wrangling good sentences out of the English language (or at least asking her respectfully for them). And it’s very helpful to study the works of other writers and learn by imitation. I work intensively with my students as they learn the craft of writing: paragraphs, similes, research, punctuation, character profiles. This part is work, and it can and must be learned by instruction and labor-intensive practice. With enough practice, it is possible to achieve a level of excellence in the craft of writing.
But writing is also an art, like painting, like music. And art is a gift. To write well is not only to work and create; it is also to receive. For me, starting to write again is learning again to be open to that gift: taking time to slow down, to be still, to listen, to be in the dance with God. For writing to be anything more than an underpaid day job, a meaningless clacking of fingers on keys, it must be sourced from something greater. That means that being a healthy person is part of good writing. That means that taking time to absorb and appreciate beauty is part of good writing. None of the small moments of life are wasted if seen with eyes of attention. It’s an attitude of cultivating readiness to meet inspiration. In short, living is writing, and writing is living.
I’ve created a new writing space in my office that, I think, reflects this pairing of practicing and paying attention. It’s businesslike enough for all-day scribbling sprints, yet it’s also right next to a window that looks out on the reflective world.
With Memorial Day behind us and summer around the corner, it’s time for something new on this blog. Which is why I’m launching a summer series, taking us “Inside Creative Minds.” Interviews with writers, artists, and other creatives will give us a peek inside their lives and creative habits.
Our first guest is novelist A. R. Silverberry. We became book friends after swapping titles at California Bookstore Day.
Welcome, A. R. Silverberry! So tell us–how did you first fall in love with writing?
Well, I’m in love with other people’s writing! I’m pretty hard on my own. What I love is the creative process, discovering things I never planned or anticipated, discovering connections that were completely unconscious on my part. I especially love when a character steps on stage and announces herself, fully born. All I have to do is get out of the way and let her speak! Other characters, I have to really work at to know, and I better pray they aren’t main characters or I’m in for a tough time. I love writing the first draft. I don’t love writing the final draft. By that point, I’m aware of what I call my Waterloo chapters, those spots where I just can’t complete things to my satisfaction. Ironically, it may be a single sentence that’s hanging me up.
Do you hear that scream? It’s my wife after I’ve asked her for six months straight which permutation of a passage she prefers!
What are some of your favorite books to read?
A Tale of Two Cities,To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lacuna, and all things Tolkien. I grew up on fairy tales, myths, and the Oz books. Nowadays, for pure fun, I read Dean Koontz.
You publish both paper books and e-books. As an avid reader yourself, which medium do you prefer and why?
I had the good fortune to go into a Shakespeare museum and got to look at a book written in 1606. Imagine! Shakespeare could have touched the same book! Physical books are an art form. As long as there are people, art won’t die, and neither will physical books. I’ll always prefer them. How do you cozy up to an e-reader? But darn if those e-books aren’t kind on old eyes. I love that I can enlarge the font, look up words I don’t know, and most surprising, my reading speed increased.
What are your two novels, Wyndano’s Cloak and The Stream, about? Are they related?
They’re unrelated. Wyndano’s Cloak is a fantasy adventure for children. The Stream is tale for adults, in the same genre as Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
Wyndano’s Cloak in one word: Empowerment. More specifically, girl power, though the message to believe in your inner gifts applies to all, young and old alike.
I asked one of my beta readers what she thought The Stream was about. She replied, “Good heavens, what is it not about?!” Here’s the best I can do:
What if your world was six miles wide and endlessly long?
After a devastating storm kills his parents, five-year-old Wend awakens to the strange world of the Stream. He discovers he can only travel downstream, and dangers lurk at every turn: deadly rapids, ruthless pirates, a mysterious pavilion that lures him into intoxicating fantasies, and rumor of a giant waterfall at the edge of the world. Defenseless, alone, with only courage and his will to survive, Wend begins his quest to become a man. Will tragic loss trap him in a shadow world, or will he enter the Stream, with all its passion and peril?
Part coming-of-age tale, part adventure, part spiritual journey, The Stream is a fable about life, impermanence, and the gifts found in each moment.
Wow! Two powerful books, quite different from each other. So who or what inspires your writing?
Ideas tumble into my mind from every conceivable corner. Take The Stream, for instance. The initial impetus was a conversation I was having, where I used the metaphor of a stream. I kept thinking about that metaphor. In a few hours, the character of a small boy, alone, defenseless, trying to understand the ways of the world, popped into my mind. I saw images of him confronting the challenges we all face in life: love, loss, pain, losing your way. The next morning, I put aside the novel I was working on (it wasn’t working anyway), and started writing. It pretty much tumbled out of me and didn’t let go until it was done.
What appeals to you about fantasy stories?
The unique thing about fantasy as a genre is that it’s not limited by the laws of physics. Anything can happen. Magic exists. Unexpected things can and do occur. Conflicts are painted in bold, broad strokes. The hero or heroine is up against unspeakable power, power beyond human ken. If they can triumph over that, I can triumph over the foibles of my life.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to aspiring writers?
Be wary of advice, except mine of course! And here it is: read a lot; write a lot; learn the craft, but don’t be a slave to it; and break the “rules” if it helps the story. Don’t try to write like anyone else. There is only one you. Let the beautiful voice inside you sing.
Do you have another job? How do you balance it with writing?
I’m a psychologist, working primarily with children and adolescents, though I see adults too. I try to write every morning while my mind is clear and closer to the dream world. I wrote Wyndano’s Cloak while commuting on Cal Train! It worked out great. The sound of the train triggered me into writing mode. I wrote three hours a day, five days a week. Between the train and work, I walked for twenty minutes, taking notes about snippets of dialogue or description. The biggest loss to my writing was when we moved away from that train! I have to drive now, but I’m listening to a lot of audio books!
Are you working on a new book now? Can you tell us anything about it?
I never reveal the plot of anything until I’m ready to release it, but I’ll say this: It’s a dystopic young adult sci-fi fantasy trilogy. Say that five times as fast as you can!
Thank you for joining us! It’s been a pleasure!
A. R. Silverberry will be answering questions in the comments today, so ask away! Check out Wyndano’s Cloak and newly released The Streamon Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
About A. R. Silverberry:
A. R. Silverberry writes fiction for adults and children. His novel, WYNDANO’S CLOAK, won multiple awards, including the Benjamin Franklin Award gold medal for Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction. He lives in California, where the majestic coastline, trees, and mountains inspire his writing. THE STREAM is his second novel. Visit his website or connect with him on Facebook or Twitter!
Don’t forget: tomorrow, May 3rd, is California Bookstore Day! Come visit illustrator Amalia Hillmann and me from 10-12 at Village House of Books!
This adorable nook is located at 326 Village Lane, Los Gatos 95030. Free parking can be found off Bachman Avenue.
There will be book signings, food, balloons for the kids, and a chance to see the original Illuminator’s Gift artwork! It’s also a great chance to show support for a local independent bookshop. Downtown Los Gatos is a fun and walkable community, so stop by VHB, then keep wandering!
A day of writers + artists + independent booksellers will = a lot of creativity.
Which leads me to poet John Donne’s famous line, “No man is an island.” (Or woman, for that matter.)
Especially not a creative man or woman.
Much of creative work is solitary in nature–writing, painting, sculpting, knitting, composing. I actually really enjoy this aspect. Too much time with people can wear me out.
But not enough can wear me out, too.
I’ve lately been encouraged by meeting with a few other creative friends. Last Friday we got together for dinner and a chance to collectively discuss/pursue our endeavors.
A calligraphy artist, a painter, a video game designer, a knitwear designer, and a writer sat around a table, ate cookies, talked about canvas stretching and fountain pen brands, made geeky jokes, and occasionally fell silent to be productive.
It was such a fun and inspiring night that I wrote a haiku about it:
Swish of pencils, click
of needles, tick of pages–
nerdy artist friends.
Sometimes, it’s other people who refresh our own creativity.
From an early age, I’d wander around the house singing—sometimes my favorite Disney hits; sometimes tunes of my own making. A Christmas pageant director once told me I had perfect pitch. I took a few voice lessons and sang on my church’s praise team as a teenager. I even ended up in my college’s women’s choir.
When I was younger, I thought I wanted to make this dream into a career. I thought I wanted to be a singer.
But today it’s a hobby.
I still absolutely enjoy singing (especially when the Frozen soundtrack comes on in my car).
But I knew singing wasn’t my passion when I realized I didn’t want to work at it. Glittering stardom and singing my heart out for a packed arena of fans sounded okay. But music theory classes? Hours spent in a practice room?
Ick. It would kill the joy of singing for me.
Photography is another hobby of mine. My family got our first point-and-shoot digital camera in 2004, and almost immediately my finger was glued to the shutter button. I’d never enjoyed analog photography, because when my packet of prints would come back after 2 weeks, half the shots were invariably blurred or featured my finger across the lens—and by then, of course, it was too late to fix them.
With the help of the digital LCD screen, though, I began to play with composition, lighting, and color—knowing I could delete the hundreds of bloopers without cost or frustration. I learned a few things from friends and from books, and for high school graduation my mom upgraded me to a camera with many more capabilities. I did photo shoots for friends and family and even a few paid gigs. I thought about becoming a photographer.
But the fact was—
I didn’t want to work at it.
I may still be the family’s designated cameraperson, and taking pictures with friends is still one of my favorite pastimes. Unless otherwise credited, all the images on this blog are mine, and I’m glad I can make them decent.
But classes and books on color theory and darkroom technique? Lugging around loads of equipment and small-talking about white balance and f-stops?
No thank you.
That kind of work would take the joy out of photography for me.
Storytelling is my passion.
I didn’t always know that. There was a time when I thought writing was my absolute nemesis.
But with some tastes of success, some writerly friends, and some encouraging teachers, I began to feel like I could be good at writing. I began to like it. Suddenly, around age 14, I realized I loved it.
At first, I didn’t want to work at it. I wanted my first drafts to be magically perfect (hey, wouldn’t that be nice?).
But as my confidence grew, so did my willingness to edit, to accept critique. I took classes, formed writing groups with other teens. I read books that inspired me. And soon it became evident.
Writing wasn’t just a hobby. It’s my passion—my calling—my vocation.
And when you find that one consuming passion, you’re willing to work for it. Even if it means cutting up a whole story with scissors, shuffling the pieces around, and rewriting.
“I want to be a writer!”
I hear that a lot.
In elementary schoolers, I encourage it. A dream is something that can fuel you, give you direction. And I’m biased, but I think writing is a wonderful dream.
For older students and adults, though, I add a few words of caution:
Know the difference between your hobbies and your passion.
Not that I don’t want people to become writers. It’s a path filled with beauty, energy, and excitement. I wouldn’t choose any other.
But the road is also paved with risk, anxiety, isolation, and sacrifice.
And to stay the course without losing your joy, writing has to be your passion, not just a hobby.
Have you found your passion? What other hobbies did you dream of making into careers?
With my book, The Illuminator’s Gift, releasing on Amazon in just 9 days, I’m almost done with this whirlwind publishing process. Not much time to sit back and relax yet, but it does give me pause to ask myself: is the self-publishing journey worth it?
Though the process isn’t yet finished, I’d say quite confidently, yes. Here are five reasons I’m happy (so far) with the decision to self-publish:
1. I like a job where I get to wear a lot of hats. As you may know, when I was in kindergarten, I wanted to grow up to be EVERYTHING. Little did I know that I’d get my wish. Since jumping into self-publishing, I’ve gotten to dabble in tax and copyright law and dabble in typography, write contracts and write PR materials, learn the difference between a domain name and a web host and learn the difference between watercolor and acrylic paint. I’ve found myself good at some of these things and bad at others, but it’s all an adventure.
2. It’s been a real blessing and privilege to work with friends instead of New York businesspeople (nothing against them). And this is not only because it’s nice to have a say in the final look and feel of my book. It’s also nice to take breaks from spacing ellipses and evaluating thumbnails to chat about church, relationships, travels. To compare coffee flavors and car gas mileage. To make excited noises about the beauty we’re co-creating. To work alongside other young creatives looking for a place to penetrate the forest canopy.
3. Going to “the publishing house” in my pajamas is a pretty cushy perk! Especially when I contract a very obnoxious illness just weeks before the release date.
4. I’m watching myself develop new traits, from learning the art of the diplomatic e-mail, to accurately budgeting time and money, to negotiating mutually beneficial agreements, to multitasking effectively, to making important decisions without dwelling or worrying. Some of these new skills go against my natural grain. But self-publishing a book that’s very close to my heart has given me the necessary push to face some fears and grow up a little more.
5. On December 2nd, I plan to be viewing my published book on Amazon.com. With a traditional publisher, my five-years-in-the-making manuscript could have waited an additional year or moreto see the light of day. Publishing a book in seven weeks is definitely not something I recommend trying at home or plan on repeating, but with self-publishing, it can be done. All the concentrated labor and anguish will be over very soon, and it will be worth it to hold that sweet, 6×9 rectangle of paper and fresh ink in my hands.
The Illuminator’s Gift will be available on Amazon.com December 2nd! In the meanwhile, I’d be delighted to have you sign up for my e-mail newsletter, like my Facebook page, or follow on Twitter using the buttons in the right sidebar 🙂
Today I’m THRILLED to announce that my long-awaited novel, a middle-grades fantasy adventure, is finished and going to be published! I hope to have it available in time for Christmas. To receive book updates, insider promotions, teacher resources, book-related games, etc., please sign up for my e-mail newsletter at the top right corner of this screen. Thank you!!
*begin blog post*
No matter how old you are or what you do, there are times you feel like you’re a failure. That you’re bad at what you do. That you’re just barking up the wrong tree in life.
But when that happens, often the truth is that we’re tired. (Or lonely, or hungry. Sandwiches have solved some of my life crises.) Sometimes we do need to stop and rest, but there other times when we just have to press on. Move forward. Get it done.
And it’s in those times that motivation becomes priceless.
As a writer, I may have more self-esteem problems than the average person. It’s important for me to stay reminded that I’m doing what I’ve been called to do, what I’m good at doing, what I love to do–especially on the tired days. Even with a book about to be published, it’s easy to get bogged down in the immensity of work and lose sight of the goal.
So I’m sharing with you 5 signs in my home/office that motivate me. They’ve helped me through some dry days, and now they help me celebrate as I get ready to see my dream come true. Most of them are word-based, because I love words, but I think motivation can come just as easily from pictures. When I lived in Seattle, nearly every student’s desk or worker’s cubicle contained a desk calendar with pictures of palm trees and white sand beaches. Case in point.
This one came from Barnes and Noble when I was probably 15 years old. Now I hang it on my door when I’m working instead of a “Do Not Disturb” sign. I look forward to the day when it’ll come true!
This was an “award” I received during my freshman year of college. Apparently it was my dorm floormates’ unanimous prediction. Later that year, I started writing my novel. Thank you, ladies.
This was drawn by my artistically gifted and always-faithful mother on a paper plate when I was in 7th grade. That’s me, doing what I still do almost every day. (Maybe minus the scrunchie.)
This was a Trader Joe’s greeting card that almost made me cry when I spotted it in the grocery store. I bought two, framed one for my wall, and mailed another to my knit-designing friend Audry. When you’re in a career that doesn’t make financial sense and that takes a long time to produce gratification, you need this reminder EVERY SINGLE DAY. Actually, maybe you need it in any career, at any age.
And last, a beautiful picture made by my late grandmother, which she gave me for my 24th birthday. I think it’s made of watercolor, pen, and of course her signature–glitter. Besides representing a heritage of art, this picture reminds me of one of my literary role models, Anne of Green Gables, and all that she stands for: optimism, hope, and adventure to be found in the wild blue yonder.
So happy Friday! Be motivated today!
What signs or images motivate you in your daily endeavors?
Some authors (and other kinds of artists, too) have the luxury of full-time creative work. Others, like the 40 pictured in this article, have had brilliant, inspiring spaces dedicated exclusively to their craft.
But some of us have other jobs. When I’m not writing, I’m teaching kids to craft paragraphs or fixing people’s grammar. I’d love it if my workspace always looked like this:
But more of the time, it looks like this:
Or just this:
Just enough space to sit in the middle of the explosion.
So how do you get your mind to travel to far-off places and create vivid, enthralling scenes when all you can see is the carpet that needs vacuuming or the piles of unanswered notes on your desk?
I’m going to be writing a series of blog posts on where I find writing inspiration. These are my personal quirks to trick my brain into creating, even when the space around me doesn’t inspire or my brain would rather just spend all day staring out the window.
Number one is the playlist.
For my novel-in-progress (which is very, very close to being my COMPLETED novel), I write to a list of songs that take me to the fantasy world of my story and reconnect me with the characters. I’ve developed an almost Pavlovian response to the song “Ora” by Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi (the first one on my list). The first few notes play, and I’m instantly in the story. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write another story to this song. It’s too tied to this set of characters.
Over time, I’ve collected more and more songs for this list. There are now 43 songs on it, for a total of 2.9 hours. I know it’s a good writing day when I finish the last song and have to start the playlist over.
With a few exceptions, most of the songs are instrumental, so the words in my head don’t have to compete with the ones in my ears. Some tunes are classical (like Beethoven’s 7th Symphony or Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”) but more have a Celtic flavor to them. I especially like Enya, Jim Brickman, and Loreena McKennitt.
Soundtracks are also one of my favorite resources. Music that was originally composed to tell a story helps me tell mine. My list includes selections from the live-action Peter Pan, The Lion King, and A Series of Unfortunate Events.
I’ve made playlists for other stories, too, but they look completely different (well, except for the emphasis on instrumental music). One has a couple of Irish drinking songs on it; another emphasizes classical Spanish guitar. When this novel is done, I guess I’ll have to start an entirely new playlist of inspiring songs.
Does music help you to create? What songs get your creative juices flowing?
Which looked kind of like doing Internet research on ships.
I found one that might end up in my final draft. It was known as a packet ship of the Black Ball Line, active from 1817-1878.
Cool, huh? Fast, spacious, well-armed. I won’t tell you what it’s for, but let’s just say it’s making a cameo in this book so it can possibly reappear in the sequel.
And here’s a snippet of what I was working on yesterday:
Ellie took the pen and let it hover above the page. Fill the words with light. Where on earth to start? She closed her eyes, remembering the story. Instead of curly black letters, she saw sailors fleeing from giant waves, a salty hurricane of spray overwhelming them. But then the clouds broke, and the white gull came wheeling down in a shaft of late golden light. The fearsome waves were turned to turquoise mountain peaks, capped with snowy foam–and gilded with light like the Legend in her visions. She dabbed her pen in the dish of blue ink and began to draw. Getting excited? So am I. I’ve only got about 45 pages left to revise!
Lately, my lunchtime reading (out of the enormous stack) has been the book Imagine by Jonah Lehrer. It’s a fascinating investigation into the conditions under which creativity occurs. While the book has attracted some bad press recently, the main messages ring true with my own experience.
I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity lately, because my novel is chugging slowly toward completion. I’m now in the midst of a 4th (and hopefully final!) draft of this 4 1/2-year project, so fostering the conditions under which creativity can blossom is a major preoccupation. While I may not be as scientific about it as Jonah Lehrer, I do have a few favorite ingredients for effective creative work.
First ingredient: chocolate. Chocolate makes everything better. Especially if it also has coffee in it!
Second ingredient: post-it notes. Definitely multicolored (although I’ve heard rumor that the yellow ones are the stickiest). I’m currently using them to color-code my revision notes: pink for introduction, green for body, blue for conclusion, yellow for characters. I use so many that I should probably buy stock in the post-it note company.
Third ingredient: English tea. Yesterday I even got lucky and found a scone to go with it. Tea, scone, post-its, favorite pen, and double-spaced manuscript. Perfect recipe for a productive novel-writing afternoon.
I must have picked up this habit while I was in Britain. I never even liked black tea until I drank it in a window seat overlooking the rugged Welsh countryside. With a book, of course. (That’s Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia, if you’re curious.)
Of course, I don’t take pictures of the long hours I spend slouched in my office chair, or the late nights when I have to push up my eyelids to keep them open. The ones pictured here are the nicer moments. But they’re important to the creative process. Says Lehrer:
“This sort of mental relaxation makes it easier to daydream and pay attention to insights; we’re less focused on what’s right in front of us and more aware of the possibilities simmering in our imaginations.”
I’ll buy that.
What are the ingredients of your creative process?
Since I’m in Seattle today, this post is short. But with Einstein, short is relative, right?
For being a scientist, this famous brainiac sure had good things to say about all parts of life. Living from 1879-1955, he received the Nobel Prize and made enormous contributions to science, especially theoretical physics. But I realized, as I began to accumulate quotations by him, that he was also insightful on subjects from politics to imagination.
Here he is, in his own words. Take a moment to read over these quotations, then think, digest, and weigh in.
“The hardest thing to understand in the world is the income tax.”
“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
“I don’t believe in mathematics.”
“An empty stomach is not a good political advisor.”
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
(quotations found on brainyquote.com and thinkexist.com)
Which quotation is your favorite? What do you think it means? Let’s discuss!