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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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creative challenge

So, about those creative blocks…..

……you have one.

Or two. Or more.

The project you’re working on that previously seemed to flow with ease and inspiration is now suddenly, inexplicably, choking and sputtering to a halt. You curse the blank page, the blank canvas, the uncluttered sheet music, and attempt to plow through.

But nothing comes out. Or, if it does, it’s only in spurts, like a car lurching forward, eating every last drop of gas and oil.

This happens to me more than I’d care to admit. I still work the story, still write down questions and notes that spring to mind, but the actual writing of it feels like plowing through quick-dry cement – slow, painful, suffocating.

This is where I turn to another creative form, to replenish the artistic side and allow my subconscious to work out the knots in another way.

This is helpful for every creative art form that you pursue – whether you’re a musician, singer/song-writer, painter, potterer, you name it – if the flow is not there, it’s time to rest that muscle and seek some other artistic outlet and let your imagination play.

My favorite thing to do, when the muse refuses to speak, is to do water colors or sketch or just doodle on scraps of paper.

Like this guy:

Pen sketch; note the rather arrogant look in his eye.

That took me about ten minutes or so to sketch out.  Because I’m a writer, I always have a notebook handy, either to write down plot ideas or bits of dialogue.  Most of the time, however, I doodle.

A lot.

The horse to the left is an example of my doodling.  It’s relaxing, takes me out of my logic center and the best part is that I’ve given myself a chance to unhook from the current project I’m working on.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a recognizable figure – a lot of the time, my doodles resemble swirls of…….stuff.

Other times, I simply push aside all projects involving the written word and just do ART.

Lately, I’ve been inspired to create on canvas the worlds I write about.  Not necessarily the people, although I’m sketching out a couple of ideas, but most definitely the locations.  This helps me define the geographical features of the area, as well as give my stories life in a new form.  I always start out with a sketch, just to get the general idea of what I want it to look like out onto paper.  This is something I’ve learned to do – it saves time and energy when painting the images onto the canvas.

Like this:

Rough sketch of Wolf’s Head Bay by J.J. Brown, Wordslinger

What you’re seeing to the right is a rough sketch of my fictional town of Wolf’s Head Bay, as featured in my novel, Secrets & Howls.  I’ve always known that it would be a coastal town, that there would be a lighthouse and a harbor, where the fishing boats were docked.  I also knew that the mountains that loomed over the town had a distinct look to them – wolves howling at the moon above.

The featured image of this post is the final result – only, there is no lighthouse and no harbor.  The sketch is of a more recent view of the Bay, whilst the painting visualizes what the area looked like prior to settling.

Except…..is it unsettled?  Look closely, there might be a fire.

So, the upshot of this post is this – whatever your main medium of creative output, don’t close yourself off from other creative outlets, even if it’s completely the opposite of what you do.  It will give you another way of tapping into your subconscious and allow you to find your connection to your main creative expression.

For me, it’s painting and sketching, with writing as my main creative outlet.  For you, it might be pottery or singing or photography.  Every creative skill you can find will always benefit the one you have passion and drive for.

Go find it.

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So, my Patreon site is live……

……and I’ve posted some things there, so that it’s not a blank canvas to newcomers.  It took some time to work things out to my satisfaction, but I’m excited by how I’ve got it set up.  As time goes on, I hope to add to what I’ve already established.

There are a few posts that I’ve made open to the public, which I’ve done as introduction to who I am as a writer and budding artist.

Then, in their own words, my cat, Henry the Gray, and my horse, Best Bud Mare, will narrate their daily lives for those subscribing to the $3 tier.  I’m approaching it as an on-going series of children’s stories or bits of levity in a world that feels a little dark.

In subscribing to the $10 tier, I’ve designed posts that focus on my love for traveling and how I use location as inspiration.  Subscribers to this tier will also have access to the $3 tier.

For the $20 tier, I’ve challenged myself to write two serial novels. One is a fantasy/mystery and will involve reader participation – there will be four options and whichever option receives the most votes will carry the story forward.  The second serialized novel is based on myself and my friends as kids and the true-life adventures we shared in that really actually, never happened (but should have).  There will be a few other things there, as well as access to what is posted in the other two tiers.

There are also some posts open to all patrons who subscribe.

Right now, the second serialized novel’s first entry is open to the public, which I will close on March 10, 2017.

This is my site on Patreon. I encourage you to stop by and take a look at it.

IMG_20160227_115204-2-2-2

So, awhile back, I was talking to a friend about life……

……..the universe and everything. She mentioned the need to vent, but not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings in the process. I suggested a journal, but she felt it was too personal and could be easily read by unwanted eyes. Privacy was important. This led to a discussion of writing things down to purge them from the mind and heart, then tossing them into a fire place or barbecue pit and lighting a match, to maintain privacy.

The other idea I had was to take all those feelings and thoughts and create art with it, so that the only one who knows what it truly means is the creator. To anyone else, it would be art and what they got out of it would be what they brought to it (personal feelings, experiences, etc.).

My friend demurred, saying she was not creative like that. I encouraged her to think about it, because it would be only for her, not for anyone else, and that not even the great artists of all times started out brilliant.

But it got me thinking, about being creative, about needing to express feelings that are hurtful or loving, about being vulnerable to the process.

Because that’s what it takes, to be creative. It is a leap of faith, in opening yourself up to the blank page or the empty mixing bowl. And what if you’re not sure you are creative, but find a variety of things (like painting or ceramics or singing or knitting or writing or cooking) interesting? What if you find all of them interesting? What if you just don’t know where to start?

My suggestion? Try them all. Maybe not at the same time, of course, but try one type of creative art for one month. If it’s a chore or it just doesn’t sustain your interest early on, give yourself permission to stop and try something else. The point is to have fun expressing yourself in an artistic form.

Whether it’s mindless doodling, a few words in structured form or tiered cake, the point is, you’re creating. It’s for you alone. You don’t have to share it with anyone unless you want to. The point is that you create with your heart and translate it to canvas, clay or paper.

 

Edited: This article is published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County. JJB

So, I really love to read…….

…….which is kind of obvious to anyone who knows me. It’s also one of the most important tools for a writer to have. Fiction of any genre, non-fiction of any topic, it really doesn’t matter. If you are serious about writing, the authors you encounter on your sojourn as a teller of tales will teach you how to write well, how to shape a scene, create believable characters and three dimensional worlds.

You’ll also discover, by sheer happenstance, whether or not you can handle a series that develops over multiple books. As a reader, it requires a certain level of commitment to follow the author on a tale of adventure or mystery. It takes that first novel for a reader to be won over and want to read the next one and the one after that.

As a writer, it takes more than commitment. It takes discipline and focus to map out, if not every last detail, then a rough idea of where the overall story is going. If the tale is to be told over the course of more than one novel, it requires careful planning, timelines, and which character is to be the primary focus of which novel.

There are authors  out there whom I marvel over in terms of the breadth scope of their vision. The cast of thousands that rival any Cecil B. DeMille epic would surely give some modern filmmakers pause. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is one example; Andre Norton’s Witchworld series; Anne McCaffery’s Pern; Frank Herbert’s Dune, to name just a few.

I don’t fault any of these or other authors for following their dreams and characters into stories yet untold. For me as a reader, however, my capacity for reading a series has shrunk to five full novels. This is particularly true in a mystery series, I’ve recently discovered. I’m not exactly sure why my interest wanes after book 5, but it is not due to the quality of the story (which are always top-notch) or the characters themselves.

I suspect it’s either my attention span or I’ve gained knowledge on structure, character and world-building that I needed without realizing it. It happens like that with the people in your life, why not with books and the authors who write them?

So, the upshot here is that each of my series (including the titles that have been published) will be no longer than five novels. This is what I’ve decided works for me. At the moment, I’m developing Book Two in each of the current series you see in the cover photo. There are complications and rewards to the process. I’m also working on a novel that, while also a first in a series, is also indirectly related to Secrets & Howls. This has proven to be helpful in giving me insight into what happened after S&H.

As you practice your craft (and it is a practice, it’s a life-long one), you’ll find your own methods in writing. The books you read and the authors you follow will challenge you to do better.

I’ve said it somewhere on this blog and on my author page, but it’s always worth repeating – read. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Pulp, romance, mystery, history, science, fantasy – read it. If it’s poorly written, it showed you how not to construct a novel. If it’s well-written, it will challenge you to meet it at its level.

Writing is reading.

So, I’m feeling a bit kerfluffled…….

….about my Current Work In Progress. Although approximately two-thirds written, I’m at a point where the story is starting to balk and refuse to move forward. The characters are trapped on the staircase in a forgotten and abandoned house, someone is at the front door, and the only way out is back the way they came – upstairs.

I know what’s going to happen after this bit, who it involves and the eventual wrap-up that is the final page, but I’m not sure of how I’m going to get there. Or what connects the current bulk of the manuscript to the final pages.

I also don’t want to write it.

Which is probably why the story has balked at this particular point and why I’m feeling kerfluffled. I don’t know why I don’t want to write this next section of the story, but I can feel it every time I sit down to work.

I’m avoiding it, I want to avoid it. Badly. But, like the characters in the story, I’m trapped. The only way out is not through an upstairs window, but moving forward and trusting the words that come out of my pen to show me the way.

Besides, it’s not like anything terrible is going to happen beyond betrayal, self-discovery and falling in love.

*Special Guest*: Author Harry Connolly

Writing Advice You Won’t Hear From Sensible Authors: Always Blame Yourself

I have one piece of writing advice that always seems to startle people. It’s simple: Whatever happens with my career, I always blame myself, when I deserve it or not.

Let me tell you a story that’s probably apocryphal: A first-time director is shooting a film, and the production has a terrible day. They don’t get the shots they need, they’re disorganized, the actors are unhappy, and a few more days like it will break the budget. The producer storms into the office, angry, and begins berating the cinematographer.

And the cinematographer smiles.

Why? Because the person who takes the blame is the person who has the power. By yelling at the cinematographer, the producer has put him above that noob director.

When I first heard it several years ago, this anecdote became a weird obsession for me. Suddenly, everywhere I looked, whenever I saw credit or blame being laid out, it was always about power. A boss who blamed an underling was admitting that they didn’t have control over the project. A boss who never shared credit was taking away any sense of authority their staff might have. And so on.

Writers did it all the time. Editors didn’t recognize their greatness. Marketing people didn’t understand the book. Readers only cared about the latest fads. Writers took credit for every sale and positive review, but when something bad happened, it was for reasons beyond their control.

Which meant they were giving away their power.

My response was that I began to horde blame. Every rejection was my fault. When something wouldn’t sell, I told myself it was the writing, not the market. When books didn’t sell, it’s because the writing wasn’t exciting enough. When readers left reviews that seemed to describe a story written by some other Harry Connolly in some alternate universe, I decided that they must have skimmed because I bored them.

What can I do to fix this for next time became my mantra.

I have certainly had opportunities for spreading blame. The Twenty Palaces novels were sold before the huge economic crash but were published after, when things were really tough for a lot of people. Sales were never going to match the profit/loss sheets written up when Del Rey was figuring out my advance. And Circle of Enemies didn’t appear in brick and mortar store for two weeks after publication date because Hurricane Irene damaged a pallet in the warehouse.

But you know what? It’s my job to write a book that overcomes problems like that. Other authors, like Seanan McGuire and Kevin Hearne, released urban fantasies during the recession, and they found a thriving readership. If they could do it, I should have been able to do it, too.

It’s my job to write a book that is undeniable.

And I know that, on some level, all this self-blame is ridiculous. Sometimes a story is rejected because an editor is having a bad day, or they just bought s very similar story, or something else that has nothing to do with the author. Sometimes books get terrible covers. Sometimes readers assume your book is going to be crap based on the cover or the genre, then skim it to convince themselves they’re right.

Sometimes it really isn’t the writers fault.

But who cares? Taking the blame anyway means focusing on the work to make it stronger and better. It means putting your time, energy, and attention into things I can control. Was a particular story rejected because that particular editor, for example, hates zombies? I don’t even entertain the question; the best thing to do is to assume that the story simply wasn’t good enough and try to make the next one better.

Because the alternative is to believe that I am already good enough, and that way lies stagnation.

The Way Into Chaos Cover

The final book in my new epic fantasy trilogy (about a sentient curse that causes the collapse of a mighty empire) is out right now. Have I mentioned that it got a starred review in Publishers Weekly? Quote: “This twisty, subversive novel will win Connolly a whole new set of fans.”

You can find out more about that first book here, or you can read the sample chapters I’ve posted on my blog.

And hey, if none of that sounds interesting and you don’t want to click, no worries. I know who’s to blame.

 

BIO: Harry Connolly’s debut novel, Child Of Fire, was named to Publishers Weekly’s Best 100 Novels of 2009. For his epic fantasy series The Great Way, he turned to Kickstarter; at the time this was written, it’s the ninth-most-funded Fiction campaign ever. Book one of The Great Way, The Way Into Chaos was published in December, 2014. Book two, The Way Into Magic, was published in January, 2015. The third and final book, The Way Into Darkness, was released on February 3rd, 2015. Harry lives in Seattle with his beloved wife, beloved son, and beloved library system.

So, I’m working on a scene……..

……….in one of my Current Works in Progress and I found myself cringing, blushing furiously, and muttering “Oh, my God, I can’t believe I just wrote that” several times under my breath. It was a scene of pure sensation, one that required me to get inside the character’s head, to immerse myself into her experiences. It was difficult, agonizing, frightening and I wanted to bolt, to avoid writing it.

This is not the first time this has happened to me – indeed, this fight-or-flight reaction occurs with almost consistent regularity. This is particularly the case when the scene in question either threatens to touch old wounds or inspire feelings that I’m not in a position to resolve. It’s neither bad nor good – it simply is. It’s my path as a writer.

What allowed me to finally get the scene down, on paper, was to treat it as an intellectual exercise. I had to distance myself from what was occurring with the character, her self-awareness and her own journey of discovery. By using that approach, I was able to get past my reservations (or discomfort, both work and both apply) and get the bare bones written.

When I go back and revise, polish and make this particular story shine with its own merit, I’ll have the framework ready for me to expand upon. I may still have reservations, discomfort and fear, but the fact that I’ve got something to work with will give me the courage to go further, to challenge myself even more and to fully embrace the sensations and feelings this story evokes.

Good stories, regardless of genre, make you feel everything – emotionally, physically, intellectually. To make that happen in your own work, you need to find the little tricks and tools that will facilitate it. There is no right or wrong way, just your way.

Which, of course, goes back to reading and continually pushing oneself to be a better writer, but that’s another blog for another day.

So, Hemingway once said…..

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest Hemingway
July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961

So, I was contemplating………

………my earlier post about the ease and/or difficulty of writing in a genre outside one’s comfort zone (whether it’s erotica or something else entirely, it’s all the same). To challenge myself as a writer is to better myself at the craft of putting words together and coming up with magic.

Most of my stories reflect my life, as I’ve mentioned in at least one other post. When I mention to friends that I’ve taken on erotica, to a one, the response has been only positive. So, I know this story will be received with a lot of love and support.

But there is a huge amount of fear attached to this.

I have a tremendous fear of letting go of my intellect and embracing my passions.

In short, I have to go from icy logical Vulcan to fiery impulsive Romulan.

Because, you see, I’ve been saying over and over for awhile now that I want passion in my life. Passion for what I do, in the creative sense. Passion for what I want, in the professional sense. Passion in all of its glorious and beautiful and frightening and positive glory.

What is erotica but a tale of two adult people surrendering to fiery, impulsive passion?

“To create out of logic rather than emotion is not logical.”

I think Spock would have said something like this. Whether or not he agreed with it, he would have seen its truth.

To create something, it must be born out of emotion by way of passion.

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