Creating a Soothing Writing Space

With the current trending news climate, many of us may be experiencing a little more time at home than normal. For writers, this is a golden opportunity to get through all the projects that we’ve started and been meaning to finish. Personally, I’m plotting out my Camp NaNoWriMo while also planning to finish two short stories and make some changes to an old manuscript that was submitted as my master’s thesis.

However, our quest for solitude might not be as easy as we think. A global pandemic might mean that we’re not alone in our own space. Children might be sent home from school, spouses may be working from home, a whole 20-pack stack of toilet paper may have moved into our office space, Netflix’s delightful programming might seem even more delightful – there’s plenty of possible distractions.

So, what can we do about these distractions in order to get the most out of Armageddon? Well, through trial and error I’ve come up with a couple ideas to create a calming writing area to get stuff done.

1) Turn Off or Limit Social Media

Social media is a great platform to market yourself as an author and promote your books, but it’s also a black hole of panic – especially when it comes to world affairs. While yes, the memes coming out of the thing are hilarious, there is also a lot of misplaced panic and misinformation being spread as well. Therefore, for your own mental health and focus, it’s a good idea to take a step back. Not worrying about the latest trending hashtag helps you get into a writing frame of mind: calm. In addition, it also helps you avoid that late night social media spiral that keeps you up and leaves you unrested and irritable the next day.

2) Take a Walk

Before you sit down to write, it doesn’t hurt to get out of the house for a few minutes and take a walk around the block – especially if you’re feeling a little cabin feverish. As a very cliché coffee shop writer, I’ve been finding myself having a difficult time not going to my favorite coffee shop with my laptop or a notebook to write. So, I’ve been doing my best to recreate the coffee shop setting at home. However, I’m not going to lie, the cabin fever has gotten to me a bit. That is why I’ve found that going on a short jaunt around the park across the street kind of helps to get those jitters out. Fresh air definitely helps. If you have a garden you don’t even need to go out for a walk you can just enjoy the outdoors from the comfort of your backyard. It will help get you into a relaxed frame of mind where you can think about writing.

3) Recreate a Chill Space

Like I said in my previous point, I’m a writing cliché, I love to write in coffee shops come the weekend. However, since recent global events have left my part of the world on lockdown, I need to find alternative ways. So, in my quest to carve out a place of my own to write, I decided that since I couldn’t go to my coffee shop, I’d bring the coffee shop to me. That meant that I cleared a little nook at the dining room table where I lit a rose-scented candle, played a little café jazz music on a playlist, and brewed myself a cup of coffee. In these uncertain times, it’s basically all about the little joys in life. So, carving out a portion of paradise for yourself is just what you need in order to keep writing during this time. Whether it’s your living room couch, bedroom, kitchen counter, or elsewhere, pick a place in your home where you can set up a nice little nook for yourself. It doesn’t necessarily have to be exactly like mine, but it should make you feel good and safe. So, that could entail putting yourself a vase of fresh flowers, setting out some yummy writing snacks, playing your favorite music, wrapping up in your coziest blanket – whatever relaxes you and inspires you to write.

Hope you’re all keeping well and staying safe! Happy writing!

Travel Writing: How to get inspired by your vacation

Vacations. They’re a time that we so desperately need every once in a while to de-stress, relax, and unwind. And that came come in various forms for people, depending on their personal tastes. Some of us like to veg out on the beach for two weeks straight with a daiquiri in one hand and a mojito in the other; some prefer to get lost down the winding streets of some charmingly medieval European town; others prefer to get up at the butt-crack of dawn to go on a sunrise hike followed by morning yoga then another several other high-intensity activities throughout the day. Whatever your vacation style is, there is one thing we can all agree on: as writers, vacation time can be the perfect inspiration for writing – so long as you can find the time.

I recently returned from a trip to Malta, and as I was sipping my morning latte while watching the sun rise, the thought occurred to me: how exactly do you make your vacation work for you? A writer’s work is never done. Plain and simple. While other professions can easily clock out while enjoying vacation, those of us who are writers – either paid or unpaid – are constantly on the clock. The Muses have no concept of vacation time apparently. Here is a list of everything that I discovered while on break that will hopefully inspire you fellow writers to use your vacations to fuel your writing progress:

Set a schedule

I know, I know. This is probably the last thing you want to do, but hear me out. Setting a writing schedule during your vacation is actually a good thing – it means you get actual writing work done. And there is no need to carve out a whole two hours of your day, 20 minutes is totally fine. I personally found that 20 minutes over breakfast in the morning, then 20 minutes before bed was plenty. It was more a way to organize my thoughts and ideas each day. And of course, if you do happen to have a free day where you can just hole up for a couple of hours in a picturesque café or beneath a beach umbrella to write, that’s even better. But if you’re constantly on the go during your vacation, 20 minutes is plenty.

Keep a travel diary

When I go on break, I like to keep a diary where I document everything I saw, ate, smelled, heard, felt, and experienced during my day. For one, even if you don’t do any work on your manuscript or short story, you’re at least keeping your writing muscles flexed. Plus, going back and re-reading your travel diary when you’re home can help you get back into that feeling of awe and inspiration in order to do some creative writing. I have also found that sometimes you describe things in such a nice way, you want to recycle those descriptions into your writing – and that is totally fine!

Learn about the local history through a guided tour

Local history is a great source of inspiration. In Malta, we did several guided tours and day trips and they definitely helped to get the creativity flowing. Learning the history behind that cool-looking building or discovering more about that historical figure will definitely be of benefit to your work at a later point. Some of the stuff I learned about the founding of Valletta and the Knights Hospitaller definitely had me writing down plot ideas for several projects I’m currently working on.

Take in the scenery

Besides being fantastic backdrops for selfies, picturesque places can help inspire ideas. Whether natural or urban, different panoramas can evoke all types of inspiration. I suggest that if you have the time, take a small notebook with you and just start to jot down whatever comes to mind. If you’re in a particular place that you find thrilling, then imagine a scene playing out. It doesn’t have to be a fully realized story concept or anything; just something that can be a starting point for you. And neither setting, either city or countryside, is more beautiful than the other. They both have different kinds of inspiration to give. In addition to taking in the scenery, don’t underestimate the power of people watching. If you’re out to dinner, or on a tour with different people, or chilling on the beach/poolside take some time to observe the scenery between people – those are potential stories waiting to be written.

Airports are the perfect place to write

Unless you’re going on a cruise or planning a road trip, most of us travel to our vacation destinations by plane. Airports are usually over-crowded, over-priced petri-dishes where we go in order to catch a flight to somewhere magical. While they’re no fun, they do provide perfect places for people watching. And following on the point above, airports are a goldmine of potential stories waiting to be written. How many of us have sat in an airport and noticed someone who, for whatever reason, catches our attention and has us wondering, “Where are they headed?” Well, if you’re not doing anything for two hours till boarding, why not imagine their whole story? That woman wearing a fur coat in the middle of summer, the man in an all-black suit with a briefcase, the couple wearing matching shirts – they all would provide a great foundation to interesting characters and storylines.

Show, Don’t Tell

When I was home in California last Christmas, I was clearing out a box of my things at my parents’ house. As a writer, sometimes it’s fun to look back at your earliest work and see how far you’ve come. I got to go over some of my earliest hits, like the very first short story I ever wrote: a ten page fantasy from fourth grade about the world’s richest rabbit. I also came upon my first manuscript ever: the historical novel I’d penned in high school. Reading through that was tragic.

It was very tough reading through my early works because I noticed I did a lot of showing, rather than telling. As you foray deeper into the world of writing, you’ll probably come upon this critique more and more from professors, peers, or just other writers in general.

So, what does that mean exactly?

If you struggle to differentiate between showing versus telling, don’t worry because you aren’t alone. Plenty of writers struggle with it. It all refers to the actions in your story. When you “tell,” you’re basically just informing the reader of what is going on rather than letting them deduce it for themselves. In other words, you’re just supplying them the information by stating it. Think of it as being the Captain Obvious of your own story. Examples of this would be telling the reader that the character is “upset,” “hungry,” or “cold.”

Instead, showing is basically painting a word picture for the reader to see in their mind’s eye. Rather than tell the reader the character is “angry,” “hungry,” or “cold,” you describe it to them with action. So your character can “slam a door so hard a picture falls off the wall,” or they can “take a sip of water to try and quell the feeling of acid burning in their stomach,” or they can “reach for an extra blanket.”

Instead of telling your reader what is going on, try to make them an interactive part of the experience – make them be able to close their eyes and see it as if they’re reliving a memory. I mean, we’re all readers ourselves so we know there is nothing better than being a reader with an active role in the narrative.

If you need more concrete examples, I’ve written some below:

Tell: When she hugged him, she could tell he’d been smoking.

Show: As he wrapped his arms around her, the faint waft of stale tobacco hit her nose.

Tell: Emily was blind.

Show: Emily’s white cane struck the side of the curb.

Tell: It was late fall.

Show: The orange leaves crunched beneath our feet.

Tell: The man was a plumber and he asked where the kitchen was.

Show: His coveralls were stained with white paint on the left leg. Wrenches of various sizes hung down from the leather belt around his waist. “Point me towards the leak,” he said.

Tell: The date was going well and Tom let his food go cold listening to Lisa’s stories.

Show: Tom’s baked potato had lost its halo of steam as he smiled and asked, “Please tell me the end of that German hostel story.”

Now, you may be wondering if telling is ever acceptable? And yes, it is. However, keep in mind that telling is just summary narrative. It doesn’t add any value to your plot/conflict/character/tension arc, but it can be used when you have to include the mundane but necessary information. In short, you want to do a majority of showing, but sometimes you have to tell some of the smaller, less important things. It’s a writing yin and yang – showing and telling both balance each other out. You just need to figure out the balance that works for the story.

The Perfect Way to Write Your Novel

Here it is: the cure-all secret that will revolutionize your writing. Are you ready? Do you want to know the perfect way to write a novel? Alright, here is a step-by-step guide below:

1) WRITE!

Thought I was going to let you off easy? Nope. The whole point of writing is to write. It doesn’t have to be good; it just has to come out on paper. That is what editing is for. The key that you need to focus on is sitting down to that laptop or notebook every day and writing something down. There really is no magical secret to writing a perfect novel. Everyone’s novel is perfect in its own way. The real magic lies in actually starting it so go write!

2) Set Realistic Goals

If you’re struggling to get writing, then setting yourself a goal of 5k words a day is a little unrealistic. In fact, it’ll feel next to impossible because when you sit down to write, you’ll get intimidated and suddenly your shower will be in urgent need of cleaning. And if your shower gets cleaned, then you should do the toilet and the sink while you’re at it. And hey, your living room could probably use a dust, and if you dust, obviously you need to vacuum too. Oh look, it’s bright outside. Why not go for a walk? If you’re going to walk, might as well make it productive and take a walk to the grocery store with the canvas bags because it’s about time you stop killing the environment and start meal prepping. If you’re going to eat healthy, might as well exercise in order to lose that gut so you should sign up to a gym. In fact, let’s take a drive to the gym to test it out? And – NO! JUST STOP! Rather than set unrealistic goals for yourself that will then be met with copious procrastination methods, take a deep breath and settle for something more achievable like 500 words. You can even set yourself a time goal instead, like set aside an hour every morning or evening to get some work done. Either way, start small and then work your way up to bigger goals as the smaller ones start to become second nature.

3) Take a Short Break

This is key. Short breaks are good for keeping your sanity. While it’s fun to immerse yourself into your work, short breaks help to avoid burn out. Rather than trying to schedule an eight-hour writing session on Saturday, try to go for six one-hour sessions spread across the week, and a special two-hour day on the weekend. And throughout those writing sessions try to factor in a quick 10-minute break where you can stretch, make yourself some tea, and just step away from the computer or notebook for a minute. It is also a good idea to give yourself a couple days a month where you just don’t write at all. Instead, go for brunch or binge Netflix. Do something that gives your brain a break from your work. It’ll actually make your work even better when you go back to it with fresh eyes.

4) Don’t Give Up

Inevitably, we will all hit a wall at some point in our story. It might happen early on, it may occur in the middle, or it might even come at the end. Either way, the proverbial writer’s block comes for us all. But the key is how you deal with it. Give yourself no more than 48 hours of a break and then get back to it. Even if after 48 hours you still feel like you’re blocked, power through. It’s better to write utter trash that can later be edited than to sit and wait for the brain fog to clear. Writer’s block is the leading cause for stories to go unfinished. Don’t let it happen to yours.

5) Repeat

This one is pretty simple. If you paid close attention to Step 4, you should have a finished product to show for it. Good job. Once it’s been edited and sent out into the world, you can move on to the next project on the agenda, and that is to repeat the cycle: Write, Be Realistic, Take Short Breaks, and Don’t Give Up. It’s not a magic formula, but in following the simple steps you will feel like you’re creating magic.

Happy Writing!

Serving Real Life, But Make it Fantasy

Oscar Wilde once said, “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you.” I love this quote because it’s so true, and given its truth, this is why I’m a fantasy writer and not a comic.

There are a lot of people out there that think fantasy is for children, or it’s just a made up world with weird names and magic. But in reality, the fantasy genre has so much more potential than that. Fantasy can actually be real life mirrored back at us but from another realm.

A few years ago when I was 25, I somehow managed to get accepted into the Creative Writing Program at Trinity College Dublin where I completed a Master’s in creative writing. Besides getting one of my best friends out of the year-long program, I also got a wealth of knowledge from my professors, as each one of them was a creative expert in their chosen medium. One of them wrote extensively on the problems facing modern Irish society, yet many of his novels are set in the past.

Why was that?

He had a very straightforward answer when confronted. He told the workshop, “I’m not a journalist. I don’t have to bore you with facts. I’m a writer so my goal should be to entertain you, while helping you draw the parallels yourself.”

It was this bit of wisdom that encouraged me to write strictly fantasy. What he said that day about giving readers the tools to make the connections themselves really stuck with me. As writers we all want to think that our words make a difference to people, or that we’re somehow making a fresh impact on social issues by incorporating them into our work.

And while this is probably true, I have found that setting things either in the past or, better still, in a whole other realm is one of the best ways to drive home a particular point that you may want to make about society.

Especially in this heated political climate we live in, there is so much we can write about and draw inspiration for, for stories. But there are also plenty of opportunities to offend people and draw out the more comments should you choose to set a politically-charged story in modern days on top of making a point to give your direct opinion.

But you know where you can get away with all that? The past. Or better still, a whole new world. Think about big controversial topics like the environment, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, religion, etc. All these can cause a stir if you write about them directly. However, rather than write about them directly, if you create another world where you allude to similar parallels, you can actually have a much more impacting effect.

So, yes, fantasy can be a wonderful outlet if you want to get people to think about the modern world we live in. Some very beloved stories do just that. For example, Tolkien was heavily influenced by WWI and it shows throughout his series of Lord of the Rings where war and conflict and change are at the core of the story. J.K. Rowling is another writer who has strong ties to modern problems in our society. The plight of the house elves and other problems facing the magical world all stem from her experiences working for Amnesty International. Suzanne Collins and her work for The Hunger Games was heavily influenced by the Iraq War, as well as her own father’s experiences in the military. These are probably some of the more famous examples, but you can see my point. These stories each carry powerful messages within them, but they wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if the writers didn’t provide their point a little distance.

So, that is why I am definitely a proponent of fantasy as a walk of reflecting life back to society. Just keep writing and when in doubt, make it fantasy.