Here’s that encouragement you need

I’ve got a friend who’s been fighting depression, the kind of battle that needs all the encouragement we can muster. You can imagine my disappointment and anger when he posted that some people had sh** on his creative project, which was one of his outlets for dealing with his affliction.

I’m tired of reading awful comments that go unchallenged, so I’m going to stand up for others when I can. The creative process is hard enough without people trolling for the sake of trolling. Here’s what I wrote for him, which I’m sharing in the hope it helps others, too.

I’m going to take one sentence to call out people who would sh** on a person’s creative project: Do something better with your life and look at this person as an example of someone who is succeeding at that.

Now, on to more important things. I’ve spent years trying to create worthwhile content for people, and I know it’s hard to set aside a project. But take heart: all the creatives we love have unfinished projects, whether they’re musicians, writers, or painters.

I’m encouraging you to keep that creative door open a crack. Then walk away and take a break. Don’t look at it. Don’t try to force it open. Don’t dwell on it. Just let the door remain ajar. You’ll likely find that when you’re waiting for coffee, playing with a kid, or waiting for sleep’s embrace, that a light will shine through that narrow opening. That light is an idea. It could be a title, snippets of lyric, or simply a feeling you want to convey. Capture whatever it is. Even if it sucks. Then capture the next one. Occasionally, pull out that growing list and read through it. Maybe something will spark; often nothing will. When you’re ready, and it will probably be sooner than you think, you’ll realize you have something that forces you to pull that door handle to let a little more light into the room. Let me give you two personal examples:

1. I started my list in high school, well, a couple lists actually. One would eventually be named ‘Titles Without Stories’, which is exactly what it sounds like: catchy or intriguing names that might spark to life someday. Sixteen years later, I pitched ‘The Demon and Mrs. Chang’ to Marvel Comics. I received a very nice boilerplate rejection letter in response.

2. I’ve spent four years writing a novel, capturing ideas like I described above. Now, I’m pitching to agents and working on a follow-up. I’m currently 0-3-1 with agents, btw.

Will either of these make me money or see life in print? Dunno, but that’s not the point of this comment. As your friend wisely said, it’s a learning process. Every project teaches you something about your craft. Each one makes you better: artistically, spiritually, and mentally. And that’s what is really important.

Ars gratia artis

There’s enough darkness in the world that we shouldn’t be eager to snuff a struggling light. As a society, we have given too much power to trolls, and I want to take it back.

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, June 2020

Squeezing in writing time

As I mentioned in Whatcha writing during isolation?, I hadn’t been doing much writing. Thinking, yes; time at the keyboard, no. I also stated that I was taking a break.

I think that means different things to writers than many other people. You see, much like the famous Ross and Rachel argument on Friends, whether I was on a break could be debated.

We. Were. On. A. Break!

Since it’s Fathers’ Day, and I’m writing, I think you know the winner in my particular debate.

I was putting a lot of thought into the future of the series, and I don’t mean whether I’d get published or whether I should shelve the project. I was contemplating the ongoing storyline and the eventual intersection of Tildy and her lost brother, Samor (for a little preliminary info on him, go here: the Prince).

Much needs to happen to create the dynamic between them when they meet. Without being too spoiler-y, they are both heirs to the throne. Due to the patriarchy of their society, many will favor him; however, as the first-born, Tildy will also have a legitimate claim, as far a many are concerned.

Before I digress too far, there are beats in the story that must be hit and I need to determine the best books for them to occur. When does Tildy realize this? Book 2. When does Samor achieve that? Book 3. And so on.

So, I’ve been taking notes. Lots of ’em.

Yesterday, I found myself with a little free time. I pulled up Evernote and started popping notes into the appropriate manuscripts. After an hour or two, I’d added maybe 30 total notes into nine manuscripts. You can verify that here: Progress Tracker.

That’s….an ambitious project.

Yeah, which is why I need to understand where the overall story is headed. Otherwise, the – let’s call it writing math – isn’t going to add up at the end.

Equally important, it was a telling thing because I wasn’t “in the writing mood” and the house was hardly free of distractions. The perfect writing environment isn’t sustainable for a married guy working through a pandemic as Summer arrives with two dogs and two kids. I’ve changed my approach to ensure I’m spending my time working, not waiting. Fortunately, I started that transformation years ago.

For me, writing has never been limited to words appearing on a page. Having a similar philosophy will help you spend more time working and less time waiting. Good luck!

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, June 2020

Whatcha writing during isolation?

Nothing.

I should be writing something. I always should be. But I’m not.

At least, I hadn’t been.

When Covid-19 started to get serious back in March, but before a pandemic was declared, I’d been working on agent submissions. That carried me into early April.

I don’t know whether this is the worst time or the best to query. I guess we’ll see. At the very least, maybe it will provide some interesting insight into the industry. If you’re wondering, I’m 0-2-1 right now. When the agent just stopped repping my genre, I’m counting that as a tie. Glass half-full, people!

But the stresses of two parents working from home with a special needs child began to mount. Additionally, I no longer had those simple moments where I just worked on the story in my head: the daily commute, waiting in line for lunch, boxing class, pumping gas, and so on.

I tend to be a creature of habit. I’ve created a number of different ways to get my brain ready for writing. I’ve described them here:

Unfortunately, stress, frustration, and exhaustion have been deadly foes these last eight weeks. Something had to give – or break – and it certainly wasn’t going to be me. As Clint Eastwood said in Magnum Force:

“A man’s got to know his limitations.”

So, I created a new tip. I took a break. In hindsight, it was 50% conscious and 50% deliberate in the way that a person stumbles down the stairs but stays on their feet.

Physically and mentally, some pressure was relieved. I didn’t attempt to write. I didn’t blog. I even paused my agent submissions. I’ve written through some tough situations – insomnia, unemployment, hangovers, work stress, death – but I knew this situation was different.

However, that small voice between my ears kept reminding me that something was missing. I listened, but knew I’d get back to it once we’d sorted out life in isolation.

And so, here and there, I’ve started working in my head again. Rolling over in bed, half asleep, to jot something down (note: that’s how the reptilian slither-withers came to life). Giving myself permission to chase a character down an unfamiliar path. Write this post. It feels good – natural. I’m not surprised, but the reassurance that your skills haven’t dulled, well, that’s a nice feeling.

A loss of momentum for writers is inevitable. Some call it writer’s block. Others, the vengeance of an angry muse. Regaining your momentum is no guarantee of success; however, giving up is certainly a guarantee of failure.

Don’t give up on your writing!

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, May 2020

I Did That Thing I Hate #1

Yeah, this is likely be the first of several posts in this category because I keep falling into traps of my own devising.

movie poster

Before Christmas I did that thing I hate. I’ve heard from several unpublished authors who do the same thing, and they hate it, too.

A note of preface. I’m going to overuse air quotes throughout this piece so you can see how ridiculous one “writer’s” brain is.

So, at an event in December, someone introduced me as an “author”. Gasp!

Because many of us are hardwired to distinguish ourselves from authors who have been “actually” published, I said something self-deprecating to ensure these people knew I wasn’t a “real” author. I needed to forestall the inevitable questions about my “book”.

It didn’t work.

The awkwardness probably didn’t phase them and I’m certain neither of them is writing about the exchange two months later.

To many of us writing a book, “author” is a title of veneration which we cannot “earn” until our work appears on the shelf of a “real bookstore”.

Now, I’ll pause here for a moment so you can say something like, “Man, writers are weird/dumb/insecure gumble-goos.”

Yes! Thank you! Sigh.

While you’re SMDH’ing, I’ll mention that it took more than a decade before I’d even accept being called a writer. Seriously. I say this as a person who’s been paid for copywriting, editing, proofreading, and (lord, help me) straight up creative writing. I even had the title ‘Letter Correspondent’, but I wasn’t a writer because that wasn’t “real” writing.

Tired of the quotes yet? I am, and I fricking wrote this.

Ralphie from a Christmas story

Anyway, I knew I was doing that thing I hate exactly as I was saying it. Much like Ralphie in A Christmas Story as he drops the F-bomb, except things worked out a smidge better for me in December.

You see, I was secretly pleased that the subject had been broached, though I’d never say it aloud. I was pleased because there are a few days a year where writers do want to talk about their craft. As a result, we had a nice conversation during which I explained the plot, my protagonist, Tildy, and my motivations for writing a book with a thirteen-year-old heroine.

Not only did it help break me from my shell, it helped me practice my pitch, which for many writers is harder than completing an entire book.

And so, WRITERS (you see I abandoned the air quotes several paragraphs ago), be proud and unafraid, even if it requires you to rewire your brain a smidge.

Good luck with your non-air-quoted writing!

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, February 2020

Organic growth in your story

I’m spending a quiet Saturday afternoon writing and playing around with some scenes in Project Two. I was struck by how one thought led to another, and before I knew it, I had connections to two different scenes and to Tildy’s book (Project One).

Stephen King's On WritingIt reminded me of a section in Stephen King’s On Writing, which I’m reading for the fifteen time. In the first part, entitled C.V. (section 28 for those of you who own it), he talks about the genesis of Carrie. He wasn’t actively writing a story; he wasn’t even working on an idea. A memory led to a thought, which led to the recollection of a magazine article. “Pow!” he writes, “Two unrelated ideas, adolescent cruelty and telekinesis, came together, and I had an idea.”

The following example isn’t the lightning that Mr. King caught in a bottle for Carrie, but I think it’s a nice look at how organically this stuff happens sometimes. You’re not steering toward something; you’re just holding on to see what happens. Suddenly, you discover that two unconnected scenes have a common thread. It’s new to you, but it’s the kind of revelation that makes you feel like it already existed, you just finally uncovered it.

  1. Tildy celebrates her birthday in The Starfall Omen, so I have a similar scene with Samor, her brother and the hero of Project Two. Contrary to her experience, his is a disappointing day. He receives three gifts from his father: the first is books, and to contrast with Tildy, he isn’t happy. The other two gifts are TBD.
  2. Tildy has a scene in which she prepares to sneak out, and I describe the items she’s wearing and packing. Samor goes through the same, buckling a traveling belt that he’d received as a gift. At the time, he grumbles because he was never allowed to leave the castle.
  3. Pow! A convergence of scenes that are several thousand words apart. Gift + birthday = now I have a second disappointing gift for my birthday scene. Expanding upon it, both Samor and his father, the Steward of Empyrelia, realize that it will be some time before he can travel with it – they must keep the Steward’s son safe, after all.
  4. Finally, I go back to Samor’s dressing scene in which he’s preparing to sneak out. Instead of recalling his disappointment in the gift, he’s smug about being able to use the traveling belt much sooner than his father intended.

Part of this change happened because I set myself a mystery. Not a whodunit, just an unanswered detail (Samor’s birthday gifts) that I knew I’d fill in later. It sat their, lurking, until I remembered its presence when I had good use for it. If you’re counting along, you know there’s one last gift to discover. I can’t wait to learn what it is.

Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

–Mike


© Michael Wallevand, February 2020

Cast of Characters – Project One

I started Project Two in the last month, and I’ve begun defining a number of character traits. Including my protagonist, Samor, I’m starting to see some life in my soon-to-be colorful cast. Earlier this week, a blurb (i.e. snappy synopsis) for a new character popped into my head and it inspired me to think similarly about my other characters.

So while I’m not ready to share Samor’s cast (Project Two), Tildy’s book is complete (Project One), and I can easily whip up something to share. A bit spoiler-y to those who want to enter the book with no details whatsoever.

*     *     *     *     *

an example of Tildy's approximate look

Tildy’s skin tone, though her hair is lighter and much shorter.

Tildy – Our heroine! A princess smuggled from Evereign as the kingdom fell and her parents died. She was lost in the wilderness, the sole survivor of the caravan taking her to safety. No one knows that she – or her fraternal twin – still live. She is whip-smart, well-read, and fearless, inspired in equal parts by Hermione Granger, Princess Leia Organa, and Jean Louise “Scout” Finch. She is a shapeshifter of a sort, which means she can be any kind of girl in the world, whether in skin tone or body shape. Unlike most girls, however, she gets to choose the form she is most comfortable in. Well, sometimes, which makes puberty more challenging. Marvelous as this talent is, her ability to grow wings is what she values most. She hasn’t quite accepted the witch as her adoptive mother, despite their twelve years together.

The witch

The witch describes herself as a butternut squash.

The witch – Long has she lived as a recluse of dangerous reputation in an equally perilous garden. She has a power hinted, but not seen even by Tildy, and a darkness that sometimes shadows her face. Wants nothing more than to hide her adopted daughter from a world that despises the unusual. Unnamed for now, for it is well-known that one does not use a witch’s true name, even in a book, lest terrible things befall you.

Fietha – A clever merchant of impeccable reputation…to the wary buyer. He is one of the few men the witch seems to trust, and his friendship with Tildy sets her adventure in motion. This is the character readers wanted more of – sorry, you’ll have to wait for Project Three!

Demensen – An old crofter from the witch’s past, lately returned with tales of monsters and death, and nowhere else to turn for help. Continue reading

Project Two Begins

Officially, on December 30, 2019, amidst busy holiday activities and the search for a lit agent, I began the second book, though it has two previous beginnings which I’ll cover below.

For those of you following the creation of Tildy’s story – and I thank you for that! – we now travel hundreds of miles north, to the borders of the Frozen Blight where lives Tildy’s brother in the ice fortress of Yrrengard.

Similar to his sister, Samor was also presumed dead but smuggled from the capital city of Evereign. Whereas she was lost in the wild, he escaped under a dead child’s name to be raised by new parents who will always see him as a reminder of the son they lost. To add to their bitterness, they are raising the heir to the throne, a weighty duty that overshadows any affection they might feel toward the baby.

Tentatively entitled: Continue reading

Author’s Journal – 12-20-19

It’s been a lazy writing week since my last post, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on the project.

1. I got kicked in the face by the flu. Knocked me out for two days, and it’s about the only thing that keeps me from putting any thought into my work. Through the fever and lethargy, I did manage one related thought, however: I wonder when my print order will be complete?

2. Turns out, it was done in a day. I work for Thomson Reuters, and our Copy Center gives us a nice deal on personal printing. I ordered six copies of the 373-page manuscript and had them spiral bound with plastic covers. They’re now taking up considerable space on our table as I prepare some mailings.

Wonder Woman pushes buttons

Continue reading

Eight Seconds To Sidewalk – Writing Exercise

As I prepared to write about hitting 100-post mark, I stumbled upon this other post from three years ago: Flash Fiction: An exercise in editing. If you’re unfamiliar with the style, the post will give you a quick understanding. Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait here.

In the post – which you may or may not have just read – I’d promised to share an example. Now, three years later, here it is. It’s about 550 words and a quick read.

Eight Seconds To Sidewalk – 2009

Tom opened his eyes. He saw the top of the skyscraper falling away from him as he plummeted backwards toward the street below.

He was falling. Falling! He only had a few seconds to figure out why. He wouldn’t have time to be angry. Or regret the things he hadn’t done. He wouldn’t even have time to panic, though somehow he didn’t feel like he could if he wanted to.

He was always logical, figuring things out. His brain told him to sort this out. He needed to know why this was happening. It mattered. For some reason, it mattered. And it was mattered that he knew who was responsible.

Continue reading

Author’s Journal – 12-11-19

As I mentioned in my post The Book Is Done, I completed the final edits and locked the book. It’s as final as it will be until I connect with a literary agent.*

Here’s what’s happened in the last week.

Tildy Silverleaf and the Starfall Omen1. *OK, so when I said I “locked the book”, that doesn’t mean I can’t add the updated title treatment or move the page numbers to the side margins (this saved me six pages, which will add up when I pay to print it).**

2. Upon posting that the book was done, I received dozens of congratulatory messages from family and friends, which was fantastic. I also received one apologetic note from a Trusted Reader who was embarrassed for feeling like he wasn’t qualified to provide feedback. He didn’t hurt my feelings and I told him so, basically what I wrote in That Time I Shared My Writing #2.

3. Bought some supplies for a mailing. Tuesday night I did some testing of the materials. I’m going to be vague because it’s part of a surprise for a few Trusted Readers, but there’s a tease on Instagram.

4. I’ve done some other blogging: Let’s get kids to love stuff talks about encouraging kids in the things they love, and in 100 posts already? I talk a little about my goals for the website and share links to some of the more popular topics.

Busy week; lots of good stuff happening.

–Mike

**NOTE: Writers promise they’ve locked the book all the time.

John Mulaney stand-up "New in Town" (2012)


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© Michael Wallevand, December 2019