how not to lose your mind when faced with a blank screen and blinking cursor, or, the benefits of free writes

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If you write, it’s happened to you. It’s pretty much happening to me right now.

But it’s not the end of the world.

There’s a great way to bust though the “I don’t know what to write about” rut: Free writes!

Are you having flashbacks to creative writing class?

It’s okay, I’ll give you a moment to process…

Seriously though, free writes are great for getting your brain moving because you can write anything you want, even if it’s just a completely random, stream-of-consciousness run-on sentence riddled with typos.

Just set a timer for ten minutes and type! It can be as weird or dumb as it needs to be. Don’t judge yourself or try to keep up with correcting mistakes. Just type until the timer stops. It clears your head and then you’ll be ready to work on your manuscript or whatever you’re working on.

 

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Surrounded By Cats: Where I Write

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Evan not actually sleeping on top of any computers or books.

Until fairly recently, my writing corner was my computer desk. It’s littered with stacks of notebooks and mugs filled with pens, Sharpies, and highlighters for when I feel like doing things the old school way.

But then I splurged on a small laptop and transferred some of my writing files onto it so I can grab it and take it anywhere.

While using the laptop makes working more convenient for me, it also makes it easier for my cat Evan the Destroyer, head of the local chapter of Cats Against Literacy (CAL) and its sub-chapter, Cats Against Writing (CAW) to make herself at home on top of it.

At least Elder cat, Rory Cupcakes, is content to hang out on the bed or the papasan chair most of the time.

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Where do you work on writing? Are you surrounded by cats?

 

A Gnat on Speed: Writing While Distracted

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I have the attention span of a gnat on speed.

My writing process is very distracted and disorganized.

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gif of how my brain operates

Typically, I have a bunch of tabs open in my browser.

It’s the usual suspects: Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, random astrology site, IMDb, Pinterest, dictionary.com…

I tend to have at least three writing projects going on at once, not including my blogs. If I closed my browser and focused on one thing at a time, my productivity would probably go up 577%.

The  strategy that usually works for me is to set the timer on my phone and write until it buzzes. I don’t engage in social media or anything during the timed blocks of writing.

I’m aware of apps that block your Internet access so you can work undisturbed but I haven’t tried any of those yet.

Do you write while distracted? How do you overcome it?

Deleted Scene from The Brumal Star

(This scene of Jamison, Cole, and Lorica having dinner at Elira’s house is one of the earliest that I wrote when I began working on The Brumal Star. It showcases the evolution of the characters as well as ideas that became canon to the story, such as Edmund Warde’s distrust of magic users.)

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“I remember when I was little, my mother had these really big scarves and I could wrap myself up in them and they would my robes, and I pretended I was a magic user. I would go outside, and pretend the birds and the squirrels could talk to me. And I’d convince myself they could understand me,” Lorica said.

“One day, Edmund came home early and saw what I was doing. He got really upset and didn’t let me do it anymore. I don’t know why. I think he never trusted magic users.”

“I would never want to be a magic user. I heard that if you flunk out of magic school, they follow you around for the rest of your life,” said Cole.

“Pff, where did you hear that?” said Lorica.

“My cousin said so,” said Cole.

“I’m sure it’s just a rumor. They would never be allowed to spy on people!” said Lorica.

Jamison raised an eyebrow. “I should think you’d both be wiser than that by now, especially you, Lorica.”

“What do you mean?” asked Lorica. She spooned more potatoes onto her plate.

“The Abele-Calare, wherever they are, are never above domestic surveillance. Just in case, of course,” he said.

“Why?” asked Cole.

“Well, let’s put it this way. You know the old adage about if there’s a rule about something, it’s because someone screwed up somewhere, and that’s why the rule exists?”

“I guess so,” said Cole, chewing his roll.

“Well, the law that states that all former students of any magic school on Ransara who drop out or do not graduate under the guidance of a master must be watched thenceforth. This is because many years ago, there was the young man in Caldrie who dropped out of their Araskolsa to become a baker with his uncle. The story goes that he never really wanted to be a mage in the first place but that his parents were the ones who pushed him to do it. Anyways, he had the talent, but it grew stronger than he could manage.

“He used it here and there to cheat his duties in the bakery; you know, to help mix the ingredients or speed up baking times. Mostly harmless stuff. Except this one fateful day, he cast an incantation to get the bread dough to rise a bit quicker as they were under a holiday crunch and were extra busy, so he thought this little trick would help move things along.”

“Well, the dough kept rising and rising, and rising, and showed no signs of slowing down until it had overflowed right out of the pan onto the floor, where it kept on growing until it reached the corners of the kitchen. He knew he was in big trouble when it started oozing out the windows and flowing out of the building and down the alley. By then, it had become sentient and rampaged its way through town, sweeping citizens along its path and engulfing them completely.”

“A killer bread dough that escaped!” said Lorica.

“They said it was like a humongous dough-worm creeping down the city streets,” said Jamison.

“I’ll never look at a loaf of bread the same way,” said Cole. “So what happened?”

“The Council in Caldrie were called in to subdue and destroy it. They rescued who they could, but there were a lot of fatalities, and many more injured. There was lots of damage and the uncle nearly went bankrupt paying for some of it. The rest had to come from the town’s coffers. He lost his business. Of course, he disowned his nephew, who went to jail, and when he got out, he was forever watched to make sure he never used magic ever again.”

“Wow,” said Lorica. “That seems unfair that the uncle lost the bakery because of what his nephew did, though.”

“I agree,” said Jamison. “The entire account is described in the Magic on Ransara book Elira gave you. I recommend you take a look at it. There’s also an account of a student who dropped out of the Araskolsa in Gansell to become a horse trainer. He spontaneously grew powers that were beyond his control.”

“What happened?” asked Lorica and Cole, in between bites of roast pork.

“He had been trying to use magic covertly to train the horses but it backfired terribly. The Calare of Gansell had to intervene before any more horses sprouted ten or twelve extra legs and other body parts, stampeded into the city streets, crashed into market stalls and people and whatever else was in their way.”

“That sounds ghastly!” said Lorica. Cole agreed.

“Indeed,” said Jamison. “This is what happens when magic is not contained. But wasn’t a complete disaster. Some of the horses only levitated out of their corral. They all had to be ‘corrected’ by Calare mages. You can be certain they mustn’t have been too pleased to be charged with that task.”

“No, I suppose not,” said Lorica, wiping her mouth. These stories were enough to scare anyone off magical training.

Too bad there wasn’t a single thing she could do to get out of it.

 

4 Questions: Q&A With Myself

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1. What is The Brumal Star about?

The Brumal Star is a fantasy set in the world of Ransara. It’s about a delinquent teenager named Lorica Warde, who’s been idling her way through life since being expelled from school. She runs away from home with her bat friend Scout when she overhears her father’s plans to send her to the Sisters of Durainne, a recently revived religious cult.

Lorica reluctantly teams up with ex-sorcerer Jamison Undrand,  who’d had his powers taken and then was banished from his sorcerer council. Together, they go on a quest to seek the Brumal Star, an ancient crystal rumored to grant powers to those it deems worthy, until they become unwitting targets of a vengeful, human-sacrificing enemy.

2. Did you start with the story or the characters?

A little bit of both. I’d had the germ of the idea written in an old notebook since the 90’s. It really started off being Jamison’s story. Back then his name was Liam. I wanted to explore the idea of this guy whose life basically implodes. He’s betrayed by his own council, forcefully lost his magic, his family, his home, and then he’s exiled. What would you do if that happened to you? Where would you go? What would become of you?

Gradually the runaway teenage delinquent character made her way into the story and they become unlikely friends. But she wasn’t always a teenage delinquent. Originally she was older and was going to be a love interest, but that romance-angle  ended up not working out in the grand scheme of story-planning.

3. What led you to write it?

I don’t even remember anymore, honestly. I had the story idea and two of the characters written down. And I figured if I didn’t sit down and figure out the rest of the story, I’d never finish it, I’d never find out what happens to these two characters. It would end up being something else, another in a long list of things I tried and failed at, that I didn’t have the attention span to complete. That bothered me, because I get bored and distracted very easily and it was hard to see it through to the end.

4. What authors or stories inspire you as a writer?

I really love Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, Kaitlin Bevis, Dick Francis, P.C. Doherty, Michael Crichton, Dorothy Parker, Edgar Allan Poe, the DragonLance books, the brothers Grimm fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen, and Greek & Roman mythology. The story of Hades and Persephone is my favorite.

I’ve been interested in the occult and the paranormal since I was a kid. My mom brought me home a book from the library about UFO sightings when I was seven years old. I read everything my local library had on UFOs and aliens, ghosts and hauntings, cryptozoology, demons, Ouija boards…

I also really love astrology so I read a lot of books and articles about it. Many of the themes and archetypes you find in astrology, as well as numerology, animal totems and other symbolism, made their way into some of my writing.

Messing around with book covers

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This is a collage I made for the tentative cover of a short story called “Where the Golden Plain Meets the Dark Peaks” I’ll be publishing through Kindle Direct Publishing soon. It needs to be cleaned up a bit since it’s a little blurry and there are some flecks from the scanner, and it needs to have the text added, but this is the basic idea for the story’s imagery.

The sky is tissue paper and acrylic paints. The mountains are also tissue paper with India ink, and the plain is watercolor painted paper.

Map of Ransara, rough sketch

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This is a map of Ransara, the world The Brumal Star takes place in. It’s a bit squished together since I only did this up quick on a sheet of copy paper, and the continents are all weird sizes, but I wanted to get everything out of my brain and down on paper.

You can see where I changed my mind on some of the locations and I struggled a little bit with the Azulie River. I still have some changes to make, like switching Frore and Isedhek.

I’d been planning on creating a map for a while months but was a little overwhelmed with creating it. Sometimes you can freeze when you have too many ideas, which I suppose is better than its terrible cousin, Writer’s Block.