New Semester, New Year

Welcome back to the blog. I’ve been quiet for quite a while and there really isn’t much excuse for that. It’s been a little hectic with family life and work but really a great summer. I finished the first draft on a new short story and have begun working on a science fantasy project. I’m excited to see where that is going to take me, as I explore topics of diversity, racial hatred, and compassion.

The spring also brought some great opportunities and challenges. I taught my first course, Fantasy Writing, at my alma mater of Washington University in St. Louis. I will say this. There are times in life when you start something new and it fits. You realize that this is what God built you to do. It just fits your skin perfectly and you can’t imagine giving it up and doing anything else. That was and is teaching for me. I spent a couple months planning out this course. Each week I would stress over my powerpoint slides and my lecture notes. But the moment I stood in front of the class, the world slowed down. Time became this arbitrary medium that no longer affected us. For those two and a half hours with those ten students, all that mattered was the words on the pages and the information I was imparting to them. We all learned something new each and every class period. It was intoxicating, this feeling of having the students’ complete attention as I shared my passions with them. With that feeling firmly rooted in me now, I can never imagine doing anything else. I love teaching. I must teach, to maintain that feeling.

I can happily say that as of today, I will be teaching again this coming spring. It looks like I will be teaching a Horror Writing Course and once more, I find myself stressing over the syllabus, wondering if this story is better here or there. But the benefit of having a semester under my belt already is that I know I can do this. I know what is to come when I finally step in front of this new batch of students. And I can’t wait.

Writing Advice #1

I recently received an email from a Buzzfeed Article titled “33 Essential Tips for Aspiring Writers“. I found a lot of the advice to be quite good and it sparked an idea. Over the next many posts, I’d like to take a piece of advice from the Buzzfeed Article and expand on it with a bit of my own advice. Hope it helps some people out.

01. As Kandinsky says, “Everything starts with a dot.” Sometimes the hardest thing in writing a story is where to start. You don’t need to have a great idea, you just have to put pen to paper. Start with a bad idea, start with the wrong direction, start with a character you don’t like, something positive will come out of it.

-Marion Deuchars, illustrator and author of Let’s Make Some Great Art

I think this is a great piece of advice and very well placed as the first piece of advice on the page. Also, with today being Novmber 1st, it’s the beginning of NaNoWriMo and many writers are taking part in the challenge.

So many young writers that I talk to have great ideas for stories and novels but don’t know where to start. They ask me “Where would you start?”

And I find this question to be one I struggle with myself. The answer is quite clear here in this bit of advice. It doesn’t really matter where you start, as long as you do start. (Although I have a few good ideas that can get the creative juices flowing.) You can’t get any writing done until you sit your butt in your chair and start somewhere, anywhere.

A bit of life experience from my life:

When I started graduate school, I had a very vague idea of a story. But I had no idea where to start with it. So I started in the middle of a fight scene. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t able to explain everything I wanted to. The important part was that I had started. I made progress and once I started writing, there was no stopping me. Later, when I went back to do revisions, I realized where I started wasn’t really my start point but three chapters later. And that was okay, because without having started and made it all the way through the first draft was I able to see where I actually needed to start.

So, like I said, it doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you do start. In the end, that’s the most important lesson.

But, young writers do ask “Where would you start?” And I do have a bit of advice on that.

  1. Start with something that gets your blood pumping. For me, it’s a bit of action, some fight scene or point of tension. For you, it might be a bit of romance. Or a coffee shop in Paris. Whatever it might be, if it gets you pumped about writing, then that’s where you should start and remember you can always change it later. That’s the joy of writing.
  2. Start with a character sheet/POV writing. Sometimes, when starting a new project, it can be helpful just to write for a little while in the head of your POV character. Once again, it gets those creative juices flowing, gets you in the mindset of your character, and when you are ready start writing material for the story, you’ll be off and going.
  3. Outline, outline, outline. I can’t stress this enough but put some thought into an outline. It doesn’t matter if you change it later. It’s totally fine. But if you feel like you’ve got the gist of the story on paper in an outline, you’ll be more inclined to start writing it.

Those are just a few bits of advice. Any thoughts from you, readers? I’d love to hear any suggestions on where you like to start writing at.


How Do You Find Time to Write?

I’m finishing up my masters right now from Seton Hill University and to be honest I couldn’t be happier. I’ve received both of the required “passes” from my two mentors and now it’s time to coast to January. But by no means has it been an easy road. I was talking with some friends from my undergraduate days the other day and one of them asked “How do you find the time to write?” I stopped for a moment and really had to collect my thoughts on that.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard that question. I get it from students, friends, co-workers all the time. And to be honest, it sure as hell isn’t easy. I work a full-time job at my alma-mater, Washington University in St. Louis, plus I have a two year old and a wife who I love spending time with. So yeah, to be completely frank, finding time to write is the hardest thing to work into my daily routine. But writing is my career, not my job, and I want to put the time in.

When I first started writing, I wrote whenever I felt like it. I’d get inspiration right when I got done with class and spend an hour outside writing. Or I’d be in class and be scribbling “notes” when I was actually writing a new scene. The worst times was when it’d be 1:00 am and my mind would be buzzing with ideas. I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I got out of bed and put pen to paper (I really do enjoy writing in my journal more than typing.)

The problem with writing whenever inspiration struck was that I’d often go days or weeks without writing a single word. That’s no way to work on your craft. It wasn’t until I started grad school that I got my act together and began using my time more wisely.

So you ask how do I find the time to write? Well, I use a few different methods that might help others out:

  1. Carry a journal… everywhere. This is perfect for those moments of inspiration throughout the day. When I get to work, I pull it out of my backpack and set it right next to my computer, just in case something a student says or some random thought pops into my head.
  2. Lunch Breaks are key. I get an hour for lunch every day at work. And it only takes me about twenty minutes to eat my lunch. (Thank you 15-minute high school lunches for training me to inhale my food.) So that leaves me with about 40 minutes of extra time during my lunch break. I’ve gotten so much writing done during these forty minute breaks. That’s how I’m writing this post right now.
  3. Set a certain time to write. I’m sure you’ve heard the advice that writers should write every day. I’d say that you should pick a time every day in order to write and stick to it. This primes your mind to be ready to write during those set blocks. For me, it’s about 9 to 11 or 12 every night after my son has gone to sleep and I’ve spent a little time with my wife. But others do early in the morning before they go to work. Some write as soon as they get home from their day job. It doesn’t really matter what time you pick as long as you pick a time and stick to it every day.

These are only a few suggestions. Each writer is different and should figure out what works best for them. But following this schedule, I get about 3-4 hours of writing in every day and that has really kept me going. And the more writing I have done, the easier it has been to write during these blocks and the faster new material has flowed onto the page. Hope this helps someone.

What about you guys? Does anyone else have suggestions or strategies that have worked well for them to get writing done?