My professor once told me, after reading a short story I’d written (I refuse to let anyone see the crap I wrote in college… so, so, so, so bad…) that killing characters is an easy way out for writers.

The challenge, he said, is in letting them live. That’s where the stories are.

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Gosh, it’s hard to believe, but about a year ago I decided to get serious about writing my blog and sharing my work, The Aldersgate Cycle through a podcast.

Now, nearly 23,000 views and countless connections later, I came to a big realization.

I’m about a lot more than one book!

In fact, as we speak, I’ve got about four books either finished or in progress. I’ve published a short stories, and have more ready to go out there in the world.

What’s the big problem, then? Well, this website was created to be a hub for The Aldersgate Cycle and steampunk related goodness, with occasional quips about writing and fantasy, etc. But the more I write, the more I realize that aside from the first two in that list, the other contributions really belong on a blog about, well, uh… me?

Yeah, so. Enter nataniabarron.wordpress.com. I’ll still be updating here, of course (with a concentration on Alderpod, etc), and hopefully cross-posting most of what goes on from here to there. But if you’re intersted in discussions about writing in general, poetry, randomness, and the daily doings of a stay at home/write at home geek mom, well, that’s the place to go. It’s very much in… um its nascence at the moment, but I promise there will be coolness soon.

Thanks to all who’ve made this year so incredible! Here’s to another.

Yes, I promise, by the end of today you will have something completely unrelated to NaNoWriMo and, hopefully, lacking in any tone that could be construed as whiny, annoyed, agitated, pathetic, or irritating. It’s the least I can do, after all.

But… But! Stay with me!

I wanted to report that I am indeed still on track for NaNo. In spite of my better attempts to the contrary, I sat my derriere down last night and coughed up (that’s a milder word for the term I used last evening to my friend Karen, but hey… I’ll be nice) enough to bring me up to date and then some by a few hundred. Why this sudden ability? This fortress of strength?

It’s my husband. While I wouldn’t say that Michael hangs on my every word–which would be, let’s face it, kind of annoying–he’s consistently there when I need him most. I had a crappy day. A Crappy Crappy Day (capitals intentional). And I was admittedly feeling sorry for myself, which is a state I generally don’t suggest.

So, after dinner I informed Michael that I Was Not Under Any Circumstances Writing in the NaNoWriMo Book Because–and I Reiterate, BECAUSE–I Want to Kill it With Fire and, After Today, I’m Just Going To Play a Video Game.

Michael is a handsome guy, though he doesn’t believe this. He looked up at me with his tousled hair, blinking through his dark glasses, and raised an eyebrow over those remarkably blue eyes. “You signed up for this, you know,” he said. “It’s not like you’re not capable.”

Me: “But I don’t wanna!” (Or something to that effect; I do spend most of my time with a two year old, so it rubs off, y’know?)

Michael, shaking his head and smiling a little. “Well, it certainly could help you; you can work to a schedule, and that’s important.”

Me: “But I can make up for it all tomorrow! I write really fast!”

Then, just a look. A look that said: No, that’s not what this is about. This isn’t about Natania sprinting to the end at day 28 with 10K to go, and three hours to do it in. It’s about keeping the ideas fresh in your mind and plowing through because it’s discipline. And you’re not going to magically be able to discipline yourself if you give up on the fifth day.

So, I went downstairs. I capered around Albion a little while, belching, farting, and seducing various inhabitants (in Fable II, by the way, in case you think I’ve gone completely off my rocker). Then, I dutifully wen to the computer and finished my writing, and then some, just to say HA!

The writing is coming more easily now, as I’m shifting from the present-day our world stuff, which I think I’m just hideous at writing (I spend way too much time in worlds that aren’t real), and into the other-world portion. But it’s like someone turned a light on, for last night any way. Because Michael is completely and utterly right. It’s about doing it, even if you don’t feel like it, because you ought to. Sure, I’ve written a novel before, but never in a month. And I’m just not giving up.

I talk about bards more than, say, the normal person. Though I’m far from a skilled bard myself, the importance of music in my writing can’t be stressed enough. Many writers outline, sketch, plot, sit at desks or in parks or at coffee shops and plan, plan, plan, then plan some more. They fill up notebooks with voluminous notes, details, and references. They know exactly what’s going to happen, and when it’s going to happen.

I am jealous of these people inasmuch as, well, that’s not how I work. I’d love to say that I have a Tome somewhere with all the secrets of The Aldersgate Cycle down to which dress Cora is wearing when she… well, you get the idea. But I don’t. I know where the story is going, I have my first draft for that. But the actual details literally, well, appear.

After the birth of my son, I dealt with a lot of uncomfortable issues, postpartum depression being the big troll in my proverbial closet. The world didn’t seem right to me. Creatively I was devoid of inspiration, physically I was exhausted, and emotionally I was numb. It was a scary time. Any person who’s dealt with depression knows it’s a tricky little bastard, and women who’ve fought through PPD know how much of a thief it is. It’s a special kind of cruelty that robs the mother of those months with her child, at least from a mental standpoint, but that’s not my point, exactly.

When Liam was about three months old I started listening to WCPE. This magical station can be heard all the time, from anywhere, but it happens to be located right here in NC. Though I’d always loved Classical music, I don’t think I’d ever taken the time to really, really listen. To notice the variances, the currents, the melodies that meld and grow, twirl and change.

I would drive to my parents’ house almost every day and listen to the station, and during those 20 minute intervals, thing would appear to me. Scenes, conversations, words forming in front of my eyes like some strange spell. And that’s how I’ve been writing The Aldersgate. Although many of the particulars of which composition I was listening to at the time elude me, I know that the words and music are part of the same Source, whatever that Source really is. It’s a bit like going into a trance, but not so deep that one can’t drive. It’s deep, deep thinking.

Sure, it’s a little unusual. But what’s neat is that, over the last few drives, I’ve been thinking about my NaNoWriMo book–and lo and behold, the first few chapters are already written, in between Brahms and Bach; the first scene, especially, is crystal clear. A New England winter, right after the holidays, when the snow is two feet deep, the snowbanks encrusted with salt and grey with mud; you can hear the trees, then, crackle in their frozen state. That’s where it starts.

Classical music has a bum wrap, unfortunately, especially in the younger generation. Many people believe it’s boring, or old fashioned. I tell you it could not be more untrue. The variety of what can be found in Classical music, from period to period, ensures that, somewhere along the way you’ll likely find something that speaks to you. While Bach has always been a preferred composer of mine, I was surprised one day to hear Samuel Barber for the first time–his Adagio for Strings, Opus 12 played on a rainy day as I made my way to Target, and though the details are mundane, the experience was religious. Seriously. I burst into tears.

Just a suggestion. If you’re out there writing, and you’re stuck, and if you’ve not found something interesting, tune in to WCPE. I’m particularly fond of Deana Vassar and David Ballentyne and their shows “Allegro” and “Rise and Shine” respectively. You may find something surprising there between the notes.

I’ve been following Wil Wheaton’s blog posts for the last… um… long time. I don’t know when I started reading, but I know it was sometime in college, which dates me back at least six years (unless I misremember… anyway, it’s been a while). When I first started reading, I was admittedly a fangirl who had a longstanding crush on Gordy Lachance and, later, Wesley Crusher (the sweaters… I swear it was the sweaters).

At any rate. What’s completely awesome about Wil is that he is a consummate geek, which I’m sure is news to no one. And ALSO he’s a writer. I’ve found myself reading his posts about writing with more attention over the years, and consistently surprised and often moved by what I’ve read and learned.

I’ve been mulling about today, discouraging myself at every turn, generally feeling bad for myself that I don’t have enough time to write the ideas in my head, and disappointed in the quality of writing that I’ve actually been doing. It’s a crap place to be, you know?

And here I am, the DNC playing in front of me on mute (I hate rehearsed speeches, but am mildly curious as to what’s going to go down tonight) I open up Google Reader, and note Wil’s last post: i thought i was the only one. And… wow. That post was so exactly what I needed to read. Not only was he talking about the crap we put ourselves through as writers, but he cited some of the coolest, geekiest, most wonderfullest writers around: John Scalzi, Elizabeth Bear, and Cherie Priest.

Not to mention this bit that sounds so much like me lately, it borders on eerie (emphasis mine, and current state):

From time to time, I get creatively exhausted and no matter how hard I try, I can’t put two words togeher. Usually, it happens after I get across a particularly important deadline, like my brain just shuts down and refuses to do anything until I take time off and recover HP. Problem is, I always feel guilty, like I’m being a deadbeat while Anne does real work during these times. Other times, I feel like a ferret on meth, struggling to help my fingers keep up with my brain as it unleashes idea after idea at me.

I don’t know Wil, personally. But it just makes me feel kinda fuzzy to know that the dude I crushed on TNG is one of my kind, one of my peeps. And it’s especially awesome to feel like there’s some great geek writer’s wavelength out there that we can hang on to, and remind ourselves that no, we are not alone. We are, in fact, in it together… just very much engrossed in our own universes and galaxies…

So, thanks, Wil. You are so very full of win.

I’m a pacifist.

But don’t tell my characters.

One of my biggest challenges in writing is managing violent scenes. Call me a wuss. As someone who’s never even thrown a punch, you can imagine where I’m coming from. But my own personal preferences have to take second seat when I’m writing because, whether or not I like violence or not, it’s a part of life. Especially considering that war is a major component in my current novel–it is partially inspired by the Old West, you see, and there’s just no avoiding it. (Not to mention there’s a murder by the third chapter.)

Sometimes writers feel like they have to write their own agenda into their work. I think this can work to a certain extent (I’ve certainly included quite a helping of my feelings about society, gender, and spirituality in my book) but often it clouds the tale if gone too far. Readers need to trust a writer completely, especially if they’re going to keep with you for 100,000 words or so. So don’t skimp on violence if it’s part of the story, because your readers will feel like you’re withholding details.

That said, there’s a few things I do when I’m writing a particularly violent scene. The first thing to do is research. Sometimes this includes talking to someone who has first-hand experience. A few weeks ago I interrogated my husband about what getting socked in a particularly sensitive area that I have no personal understanding about might feel like if done with a steel-toed boot. I also take time to read other accounts (a quick crash course would be reading someone like Chuck Palahnhiuk, but only if you have a stomach of steel).

But you also want to make sure your violence is accurate. Often in fantasy people are given super human powers, or receive the most unlikely of wounds. If you’re being attacked by a mace, well, read up about what a mace does to the human body. The same with daggers, knives, blasters, rifles, or fists. (Medieval warfare is a good place to start for the fantasy camp.) That goes doubly for magic or anything high-tech. Take a half second to learn about physics! A quick gander certainly won’t hurt.

Violence has been a part of storytelling from the beginning. (Just take a look at the Bible!) It’s just one of the elements of storytelling that excite an audience, keep them on the edge of their seats. Whether it’s the severing of Grendel’s arm, Roland’s brain bursting from blowing his horn, or the frequent “brain bashing” of Malory in Le Morte D’Arthur, violence is a part of our mythology. We understand violence because it causes pain, and pain is something common to the human experience.

That said, if you’re still uncomfortable with your scene, I have a few more suggestions.

For instance, if you’re describing a group scene (a siege or the like) and the large-scale violence is either too complicated or too bothersome, use a single point of view. Narrow the lens, as it were, and describe what is happening through a character, not just the actions around him/her.

Also, remember that level of detail is always up to you. I’ve read some writers who go as far as the molecular level when describing their violent scenes. The difference between a wound, a gaping wound, and a seeping, putrefying wound… well, you get the point.

In the end, the decision is yours. Different writers have different levels of comfort (I’ve seen, for instance, some writers who don’t balk at writing a bloodbath, but skip over the sex completely). Find your balance, but don’t do it without examining the whys of your own approach.

Uranie and CalliopeWhere does inspiration occur? How does it find us? Where, and when, are we most likely to encounter it?

If there’s anything I’ve learned, the Muses are fickle creatures indeed. But instead of despairing, there are quite a few measures you can take to wiggle your way out of the dark crevices of writer’s block. At least, I’ve found some of these methods useful:

5.) Listen to the Music. This is #5, but it’s usually my first line of defense. As a musician myself, this specifically refers to the listening, and not the making aspect. I like to craft writing playlists, and these typically run toward the Classical side (I’m also horrendously addicted to WCPE). However, instrumental and operatic melodies aren’t always the best to jog the proverbial jammed gear of creativity. I like to try and delve through music I haven’t heard of in a while, like what I might have listened to in high school (lots of Beatles, Moxy Fruvous, and TMBG). Or, I can branch out into something completely new–after resisting for almost a decade, I ended up obsessed with Coldplay’s XY a few months ago.

4.) Get the heck outside. This may seem quite obvious, but one of the most sources of my writer’s block comes from the stasis achieved by staring at my Own Two Walls too long. Lack of sunlight (and consequent Vitamin D), exercise, and oxygen, are never a good combination. Hikes tend to work for me; if you’ve read a bit here at all, you’ll know I’m a bit of a tree fiend. I get rather giddy staring in to the limbs of trees, especially this time of year, and back-to-basics nature-gazing is always a good place to plant the seeds of a story (no pun intended).

3.) Try a graphic novel. While no means a comic book aficionado–I leave that distinction to my husband–I’ve been helped out of a sorry writer’s block mood more than once by a graphic novel or two. Neil Gaiman is always a good place to start, in my opinion, since his Sandman comics are such a sophisticated combination of mythology, legend, and pop culture. There’s something very stimulating about reading pictures and words simultaneously that can often jog the creative spaces left in the brain.

2.) Meditate. This doesn’t have to be a spiritual thing if you don’t want it to be, of course. I wouldn’t want to push religion on anyone. But the act of meditation, of emptying oneself, might seem a little counter intuitive at first. I mean, how can not thinking help you think? Strangely enough, it does, at least for me. Taking time to calm myself and to open my mind to the images and emotions necessary to write a novel is something that meditation often ushers in rather well. I’ve experienced some of the most vivid ideas after or during meditation (and yoga, too).

1.) Talk it out. Go back and read what you’ve written (if you’ve got anything) and do it aloud. Record it, if you can. Listen to the natural cadence of the language, to the sound of the sentences working together. But most importantly, try to listen to it freely–i.e. try to detach yourself from the telling. So many of us get uselessly wrapped up in our tales, and mistake the forest for the trees. A distance from that can let us experience the magic of narrative in a whole new way. Not to mention, it helps you get a better idea of your characters to hear them speak for once!

Hopefully these suggestions are helpful for you. Unfortunately, there’s no panacea for finding A Way Out. I know there are some things I have tried that typically end in lots of lost time (cruising Wikipedia, for example). Sometimes, you have to find your own way through…

To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make.

— Truman Capote