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Denise D. Young

Stories of Magic & Moonlight

Story Planning

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Photo by Alvaro German Vilela | Dreamstime Stock Photos

For the time being, I have given up pantsing. It’s only been successful for me with a handful of short stories (around the 5K mark). With longer books, I end up with first drafts that either go unfinished and languish in a drawer somewhere, or first drafts that are a pile of mush, plot-wise, and require massive rewrites.

Earlier this year, as I worked on Goblins and Grimoires, I was thrilled with my word counts. But I had no plan, and the result was a manuscript that needs a complete rewrite. I think the mess that was that novella was a tipping point. I didn’t realize it, but I needed a different way.

If I’m being completely honest, I’m still trying to find my way out of a writing dry spell. But I do know that I don’t want to write unusable first drafts. They don’t have to be perfect, but they have to at least make sense.

So I’ve gone back to studying story structure, especially Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering. Armed with a couple of beat sheets—one based on Brooks’ thoughts on structure, another for romance writers and based on Blake Snyder’s work—I’m trying to move forward with a new story. (Note: Both beat sheets were created by the talented Jami Gold and are available at her website.)

I think part of it is that structure doesn’t come naturally to me. I come from a background in poetry, and poetic structure isn’t plot structure. I also have a background in magazine writing, and that’s more of a get-everything-on-the-page-and-cut-and-paste deal. But fiction? Fiction is its own beast, and I have to find a way to grapple with structure that doesn’t lead to massive page-one rewrites.

I’m starting small. A few years ago, I started a holiday-themed short story, Under the Mistletoe’s Spell. I only managed to write an opening scene, and figured the story was just for dabbling. But a few days ago I had a brainstorm—lightning and everything. What if the story wasn’t a contemporary paranormal, but a historical fantasy setting? Add in a Regency-inspired fantasy world and two characters with high stakes, and that could be one smoking holiday fantasy romance. And since the holiday season is upon us, what better time to pen a Yule-inspired tale?

Tonight I plan to gather my beat sheets and the rough synopsis I’ve written and start hammering away, working the story into a structure that hits all the right plot points at all the right moments. This is an experiment. If it works, this method will definitely help, especially with longer stories. And since this is a shorter work, it should be a good place to experiment with story structure.

I’d like to dedicate the next few weeks to finishing a first draft of this story. I keep hopping from story to story, idea to idea, with nothing really sticking. And that’s not really usual for me. Usually I settle in and finish a draft (even if it’s awful—and some have been awful. Not all, of course, but some).

So this is an experiment. Let’s see if it works. If it does, it could go a long way to helping me plot my stories before I begin them.

ROW80 check-in:

  • Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. Saturday: Read a chapter in Finding Water by Julia Cameron and did corresponding exercises. Sunday: Brief brainstorming session with hubby. Monday: Wrote 921 words in Under the Mistletoe’s Spell, along with a rough synopsis. Tuesday: Created two beat sheets for Under the Mistletoe’s Spell.
  • Reconnect with my spiritual practice. I wrote a couple of brief Pagan songs, so progress on this front. And I’m starting to realize that much of my poetry has a strong spiritual basis, so any poetry I write is very much connected to this goal.
  • Start a regular yoga practice. No progress to report.
  • At least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Nothing yet.

What about you? How do you handle story structure? Does it come naturally, or is it an area you’ve grappled with? Any hints, tips, or tricks?

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A Thanksgiving offering

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Daniaphoto | Dreamstime.com

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I feel like today’s post should offer some profound insight into the nature of gratitude. But I’m not sure that I can do that with a blog post. Still, I wanted to offer something as the Wheel of the Year turns, as late autumn is about to give way to early winter, as we enter a season in which we both celebrate our blessings and turn inward, for the season of reflection. I’ve started writing haikus, enjoying the deceptive simplicity of the form and also the challenge the limited word count and structure offer.

So, here it is. My Thanksgiving offering to you:

Red candle. Ah, spark,

there you are. Glow against glass

that mirrors night rain.

Hope you enjoyed. Happy Thanksgiving!

Writing check-in:

  • Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. Sunday: Wrote six haikus. Monday: Brainstormed for a new series, came up with names for three sisters in my new trilogy, the Daughters le Fay. Tuesday: Wrote 337 words in a series summary for the Daughters le Fay series; 1,746 words in a rough synopsis for Autumn Elemental, the first book in that series (a little less than halfway through the synopsis); and 258 words in a scene snippet for Spellfire’s Kiss.
  • Reconnect with my spiritual practice. No progress on this so far this week.
  • Start a regular yoga practice.
  • At least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Tried a new recipe, French onion chicken casserole. It was good, although a little too salty.

What about you? How are your writing goals coming along? What are you grateful for this holiday season?

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Turning inward in the search for the creative spark

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Photo by Adam Borkowski, Dreamstime.com

Perhaps it is that late autumn is a period for introspection, for turning inward, but I feel that I am starting to ask the right questions. Not, “Is who I am today who I was meant to be?” (which is what I would’ve asked a few years ago), but “Is who I am today who I want to be? Is this the type of life I will want, someday, to have led?”

I am starting to see that I lost myself in word-count tracking, asking, “How fast can I write?”

That, I have learned, is the wrong question—at least for me. For me, the real question is, “How deep can I go?” And, “How closely can I listen?” “How much can I open my heart to this story, this poem, this piece of work?” “How much of myself can I give?” “How much am I willing to lose?” “How much risk do I want to take?”

Turning inward is reconnecting me with my inner artist, the creative part of me that is linked to the creative energy of the universe. Turning inward is reminding me why I write. It is helping me to be open to myself and to the universe, or whatever you’d like to call the mysterious source of creative energy that guides our hands as we shape our creations.

In light of that, I am preceding slowly. At first, I hated that I was no longer writing 2K or 3K a day. I hated that I couldn’t see a story start to finish. My art went from being a list of “to-do’s” to this intangible thing that I couldn’t grapple with. After all, how do you wrangle a creature made of air and shadow and rainbows and mist? (And yes, somehow it seems to be made of all of these at once.)

I quit wrangling. I am a vessel, waiting for rainwater. The autumn wind has been fierce this weekend, and the heat has kicked on, and I am sitting with my laptop, drinking English Breakfast tea and allowing poems to murmur in my ear, and opening the door to the blustery night to find a strange new character standing there. She is setting out a saucer of cream and a loaf of soda bread as an offering to the faeries. Her life is about to change in ways not even I, the writer, can currently conceive. But this character has come to me, and if she wants me to, I am willing and ready to pen her story.

So where does that leave me on this week’s writing goals?

  • Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. I met this goal, I’d say, five days out of seven: penning four poems; typing out the opening page of a novelette, one that I hope will be part of my Faerie Forest series; and reading poetry by some of my favorite poets (among them, Mary Oliver, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Joy Harjo, and Langston Hughes). I also started reading Autumn Thorns by Yasmine Galenorn, another of my favorite writers, and I bought a short story¸ As Good As Gold, by Heidi Wessman Kneale, to jump-start my creative process with the short story/novelette I’m penning.
  • Reconnect with my spiritual practice. I wrote a spell/meditation for the February full moon. My goal is to add one spell/meditation/ritual for each full moon and every Sabbat to my Book of Shadows. Not right away. Just over time.
  • Start a regular yoga practice. Yeah, not so much. I was supposed to attend a yoga/gemstone workshop on Saturday, but it was canceled. I’ve been lazy on this one.
  • At least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Made ranch chicken tacos in the slow-cooker. The recipe was super simple, turned out really well, and—best of all—we got two nights worth of meals out of it. I also put “new” bedding on our bed. I pulled out a quilt that my husband’s aunt made for us for our wedding seven years ago. It is a work of art, and one that suits us perfectly, blue with a wave pattern and a smattering of star-patterned fabric, but we were always too scared to actually use it. I decided that I wanted to honor her hard work by actually putting the quilt on our bed. I added a few throw pillows pilfered from another room in the house, and now the bedroom has some water energy (flow and movement) and a touch of fire (passion, creative spark) where before it was only earth energy, which provides stability and balance, but can feel stagnant without balance from the other elements. I also bought new ottomans and throw pillows for the living room to bring some color into that space, since it was looking a little bland. So I’ll say this goal was a success this week.

Part of me is, perhaps, a little sad and frustrated that I’m not meeting mad word-count goals and finishing stories left and right. I am trying to learn to go with the flow, to embrace the shifting nature of creativity, and to be thankful that my stories and poems, my life’s work, have chosen me as their storyteller. That, in and of itself, is a blessing.

So instead of lamenting a period of slow writing, I am trying to embrace it. I don’t know whether it will be the new normal, but I am trying to lean back, sip my tea, and simply listen for a while.

What about you? What goals did you work on this week? Do you view hometending as a creative process? How do you revise your goals during slow periods, if you experience them?

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What the Tarot had to say…

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As a practicing Pagan, the Tarot is sacred to me. It’s a way to commune with the Goddess and God, to seek out their guidance, to find a light in the dark when I’m fumbling in the shadows of midnight.

Reading Tarot cards is a regular part of my spiritual practice, a guiding light in my life when the path is shrouded in darkness. So, recently, I turned to the cards for guidance in my writing career.

The card I drew was The Hanged Man, one of the cards in the Major Arcana. It wasn’t surprising, given that I’ve been making really slow progress lately. This card depicts a man hanging from his foot from a tree, and it represents a period of stillness, but one in which we are still in order to learn the secrets to freeing ourselves.

As Biddy Tarot writes of The Hanged Man:

“This is a card that is all about suspension and waiting, and suggests that this may be just what you need to do in order to allow new possibilities to arise. Sometimes not acting will help to shed more light on what other options are available to you and will allow more attractive opportunities to emerge.”

I realized that what I’ve been doing is grappling with my writing, confronting it and demanding it move forward. I used to have a beagle, a beautiful, gentle soul named Angel. When she found a scent she wanted to study, there was no moving her. She would lock her legs and refuse to budge. Trying to move my writing forward has been like trying to urge a beagle onward. For whatever reason, it wants to stay where it is.

This card can represent a period of waiting and gestation in between chapters in life, and my intuition tells me that change is on the horizon. My writing career is going through a period of incubation that precedes a transformation. We will see where this leads.

In light of this, I’m revising my goals for the remainder of 2016 to be more fluid. Here they are:

  • Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc.
  • Reconnect with my spiritual practice.
  • Start a regular yoga practice.
  • At least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui.

So far this week I’ve written two poems, written a meditation/spell for one of the full moons, and started a couple redecorating projects around the house.

What about you? Have you ever entered a period of stillness in your creative life? What did you learn?

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Thoughts on ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert

big-magic-by-elizabeth-gilbertIn the midst of a writing dry spell, desperate to break out of a creative funk, I walked into Barnes & Noble, determined to find something, anything to rejuvenate my creative self.

I ended up in the self-help section, searching for Enneagram books. (Don’t ask me how I thought that would help. I have thoroughly explored my Enneagram type and squeezed as much guidance out of it as I probably can.) Instead, another book caught my eye: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. The cover was gorgeous, a sea of watercolor splashes and simple text, and I read the subtitle with a sigh of relief: “Creative Living Beyond Fear.” Ah. This was what I needed. I read the first page, liked what I saw, and promptly bought it.

I was not disappointed. Gilbert’s book reads like an eloquent permission slip. It teaches us to let go of the need for external validation that lives inside of all of us. Creativity, she says, is not about that at all. It’s only about making things for the sheer joy of making them. And you don’t need anybody’s permission for that. You can’t be too young or too old; you don’t need an M.F.A. from a prestigious university; you don’t need to be a bestselling author or world-renowned artist.

You just need to realize that nothing stands between you and the creative energy of the universe. Her book was, in short, exactly what I needed.

I devoured the book at a writing retreat, and it helped me understand what was blocking me. First of all, I was asking too much of my creativity. I was asking it to support me, to help me keep up in a society where everybody is curious how much everybody else makes and we tie our self-worth to the size of our bank accounts. I was creatively stifled because I wanted my creativity to do something for me that I had no business asking it for.  Ego got in the way; self-doubt got in the way. I had lost the sense of entering a story and a world with infinite curiosity. I only wanted to finish the story. I didn’t want to immerse myself in it.

As Gilbert writes,

“You can live a long life, making and doing cool things the entire time. You might earn a living with your pursuits or you might not, but you can recognize that this is not really the point. And at the end of your days, you can thank creativity for having blessed you with a charmed, interesting, passionate experience.”

I’m still trying to figure out how to balance my goal-driven, competitive ego with my spiritual, rebellious inner self, the one who doesn’t really give a frack what anyone thinks, she’s just going to create anyway, to replace the need for approval and recognition with the desire for creation and connection.

If you’re facing the same dilemma, I recommend Big Magic. It doesn’t have all the answers, but it can help you figure out where to look for them—or that, maybe, you don’t need answers anyway. You just need to create.

Writing update: Not a whole lot. Trying to figure out Michael’s character arc in Spellfire’s Kiss. That story is whispering in my ear, and I’m trying to listen, like pressing my ear to a seashell. At the retreat I wrote a few thousand words in Silver’s Stray, which started out as a 6,000-word short story but is quickly growing into a longer work. I’m also exploring poetry again, after years away.

What about you? Have your read Big Magic? What were your thoughts on it? How are your projects coming along?

 

Creative Renewal

 

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By Natasha Hanova, WANA Commons.

After my creative dry spell, I’m trying to move more slowly. I’m still not sure what caused this fallow period, whether it was creative burnout, or frustration with my path, or self-doubt, or if the well had simply run dry and needed to be refilled. Or perhaps some combination of these factors.

I do know that as I move forward, I’m going to proceed slowly. I’ve started a new project, and I was half-tempted to jump in NaNo, but then I realized that a writing marathon isn’t what I need right now and that I could end up back where I was a month ago, unable to write—or to do anything creative, really.

I also know that I want to live a creative life—to write stories and poems, to write spells and rituals and add pages to my book of shadows, to try new recipes and decorate my home with care. And to spend time in nature—because nature is the most creative force of all, and it is a great source of inspiration and renewal to me. I am coming back to that after a frozen period, and like the return of spring, the thaw is gradual—but even the first tiny flower clinging to the earth, or the slightest warm breeze, brings with it the promise of summer sunshine.

That being said, I have made progress this week. I wrote 1,250 words in Entwined Magic and have been more active on Facebook and Pinterest—I even pinned my published works to a new Pinterest board, with links to Goodreads for more info. And I’ve decided to change the name of my current series from “Into the Faerie Forest” to simply “Faerie Forest”—because while the first one has a nice ring to it, it’s awfully clunky once you see it on Amazon.

I’m reading two books about creativity/writing: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, which is helping me reflect on the nature of creative living, and Just Write by James Scott Bell, which is getting me back into thinking about craft. I’ve loaded a fair number of new stories onto my Kindle and hope to dig into some of those in the coming days. I’m especially excited to read Rose Red and Black Bear by Gwen Williams.

So that’s what this round of ROW80 is all about for me: creative renewal. Exploring new stories and playing with language, getting a couple short stories out into the world, and reconnecting to other avenues of creativity—such as working on my book of shadows, doing some guided meditation, and trying new recipes.

What about you? What helps you renew and reengage with your creative side?

Beyond Word Counts: Embracing the nature of creativity

Antique cup with tea bag.
Photo from Jabiru, at Dreamstime.com.

Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my creative path. There’s a lot of chatter in the writing blogosphere about word counts—how much we have written, or how much we should have written. I’ve heard some writers say they write 500 words a day. I’ve heard others say that if you can’t write at least 2,000 words a day, you can’t make it as a professional writer.

I’m a full-time writer. This is my job. But creativity is also a spiritual thing. Some people might say it’s not—and maybe for others, it isn’t. But for me, my stories, poems, etc. are gifts from the goddess. She sends them to me, and it’s my job to write them down and share them with others.

And sometimes, when I’m tracking word count, I forget that. Take, for example, the story I wrote this summer, Goblins and Grimoires. I wrote an average of 2,500 words a day on that story. And there were days when I was pushing myself to meet that goal. I would get stuck on the story and sit there until something popped into my head, and then force myself to keep writing until I met my goal.

And the first draft of that story is a mess. And now I see why: Because for me writing needs to steep like a cup of tea. You can’t just plop a tea bag in and start sipping. You have to wait for the flavors to release—and the stronger the brew you want, the longer you have to wait. Sure, some stories arrive nearly fully formed. Others emerge slowly.

For me, thinking is part of writing. And that’s why my crazy word count goals failed. I need time to think over a plot point. Time to mull over character arc and development. Time to figure out how to weave together romance and fantasy.

For now, I’m going slowly. I have plans to revise two short stories and a poem, indie publish one short story, and submit the other short story and poem to magazines. I played around with the poem a little this week and jotted down a few notes on one short story, Spirits of Embers. I’d also like to finish a final draft of Spellfire’s Kiss and submit it to publishers by early next year.

I’m also playing around with new stories as well, to keep the creative juices flowing. I’ve written 1,672 words in Entwined Magic, a new-adult fantasy romance novel, and 574 words in The Magic of Harthwaite Manor, a steampunk romance. I’m not setting deadlines or establishing expectations for those stories. For now, I’m playing.

And that’s the plan. Getting back in touch with my creativity—and the spiritual side of that creativity. Still moving forward, but allowing things to unfold at their own pace.

One of my other goals is to work on my social media platform. I’ve been doing a bit of that. I’ve been present on Facebook more and become approved as a Goodreads Author (yay!). My next steps are to set up my Amazon author page, reengage on Twitter, and create a Pinterest board for my published books. I’m behind on responding to blog comments and visiting blogs, so hopefully I can catch up on that soon.

All in all it’s been a productive week so far.

What about you? Do you think there’s a spiritual element to creativity? Do you need time to mull over your stories as you write, or do you just write without stopping? (And, of course, because creativity is a strange and intangible thing, there are no right answers.)

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Surviving a Creative Dry Spell

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I have been absent from the blogosphere for a while, taking a sort of mini-sabbatical. In the past two months I’ve rekindled my love of poetry, discovered the perfect banana bread recipe, and mostly just tried to figure out my next steps.

It happened like this: I was going strong, often writing 2,500 words a day. I was churning out manuscripts like crazy. Three years ago, I left my magazine writing job, and it was like all of these stories that had been bottled up for years came pouring out. And then, one day, I woke up, and that creative deluge was gone.

At first I thought it was writer’s block, but the feeling wasn’t the same. When I have writer’s block, I desperately want to write, and can’t. This feeling was different, a sense that I no longer wanted to write.

I’m a very driven person, and I need goals to focus on. Without those goals, I started to drift, feeling like I was wandering aimlessly through life, completely disconnected from my creativity. I had, in short, entered a dry spell.

I almost gave up on it, losing faith that I would ever again pen fiction. I tried to write new stories, but my imagination couldn’t cook up plots. I read articles about authors like Ursula Le Guin, inspiring tales of the creative process. It didn’t help. I still couldn’t write.

One day, I sat down in the café of a Barnes & Noble, my laptop in front of me. “Write something,” I told myself, unable to drift any longer. “Anything.” If I couldn’t write anymore, I’d decided, I would create a new goal. I dreamt up possibilities, but nothing stuck. I longed for the days when stories flowed like spring rivers fed by melting snowpack. I longed for the days when every moment held creative possibility. My creativity had always defined me, and it seemed to have disappeared.

That day in Barnes & Noble, I wrote a poem, the lamentation of a dragon whose kind have lost a war and are on the verge of extinction. If I couldn’t write fiction, I would write something else, I decided. I came home that day with hope that I could, once again, create.

I wish I could say that that day the dam broke. But it wasn’t like that. It was more the feeling of the first fat drops of rain falling on your head. A splatter here, a splatter there, but not yet creative energy in full force.

Drop by drop, my creative energy is returning. Perhaps what I felt was creative burnout, the result of penning story after story and setting completely unrealistic expectations for myself, expectations that went against my own creative process.

My plan is to publish another short story later this year, a piece titled Silver’s Stray. I’m not going to push myself to meet a lot of deadlines. I’m not going to set crazy goals. My goals are simple:

  • To really work on my author platform
  • To finish and polish Silver’s Stray and publish it by the end of the year
  • To finish and polish Spirits of Embers, a short story, and submit to at least one magazine
  • To launch my editing business

That’s it. I took a detour, saw a glimpse of what my life would be like without the creative drive that I wake to each day. It’s a drive to write something, anything—a journal entry, a spell, a story, a poem, a blog post. It’s a drive to create, however quickly or slowly. It’s a drive to give something meaningful to the world.

Have you ever gone through a creative dry spell? How did you handle it? How were you able to begin to create again?

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A Midweek Check-In—and a Request

I know I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’m on sort of a mini-sabbatical. I feel like I pushed so hard with my writing for a few months, and I’m feeling a little burned out. I’m hoping a few weeks off will help me recharge my batteries.

So there’s not much to report on the writing front. I do need to do some editing to my short story Silver’s Stray and send it to my critique partners. We’re meeting later this month, so I hope to dig into that story tomorrow and Friday and get it sent to my CPs.

As far as reading, I just finished reading Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie. It was a little darker than I remembered it being at some points, but I hadn’t read it since grad school, so it was time for a reread. My mother-in-law lent me Shadow of Night and The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness, so I think I’ll dig into those next.

I do have a request, though. I published two novelettes last week, The Beltane Kiss and The Faerie Key, and I’m offering free review copies to whoever wants them. A free e-book in exchange for an honest review. Let me know in the comments or via my contact page if you’re interested. And thanks in advance!

Click here to connect with other ROW80 participants.

What about you? How is your writing coming along? Have you ever taken the time to reread a book you haven’t read in years? Did the reread surprise you in any way? Are you interested in a free review copy of one of my stories? Let me know!

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