The Hidden Benefits of Being a Writer

by Autumn M. Birt

Ask any author the reason they write, and you’ll likely hear about overflowing ideas, addiction to that ‘aha’ moment of discovery as a plot unfurls, or a desire to create for someone else the love of discovering new worlds and people that they found hidden between pages.

But have you ever heard anyone mention they understand people better because they are a writer?

death of fictional characterOr a reader – of fiction specifically. I’m not making this up. There have been scientific studies, as outlined in this great article Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Still Read Fiction, that show readers are more aware of others’ emotions. Though it was only readers in the study, I bet that writers would show even stronger connections to heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex. Whether we’d show more empathy is difficult to predict. We can do some very cruel things to our characters… but we feel their pain!

And I really agree with this. Writing emotions and working on ‘showing’ and not ‘telling’ really taught me to analyze body language and facial expressions (how to make movie watching ‘research’). Which resulted in learning to read emotions better in friends and family.

And that led to the realization that not everyone reacts the same way to an event. In fact, no two people – or characters – should exhibit exactly the same emotional impact. Responses are really a part of who a character or person is: some cry, some throw punches. That lesson helped improve the depth of my writing.

Discovering greater emotional variation and understanding is definitely one of the hidden reasons I enjoy being a writer. But it isn’t why I write. Nor any of the reasons I listed above, though all are accurate to some degree. I realized a while ago that I write because I like who I am better when I’m writing.

How does your emotional state play into your writing?

emotioncapture-300x201I know I’ve had some really sucky days where I end up thinking, “boy, this is going into my next novel.” Bad and tense days make great fodder for dark writing. And I leave the page at the end of it feeling purged of a lot of ick.

More than that, my mind is sharper when I’m working on a novel and developing a plot compared to when I’m surfing through life, just trying to juggle the day to day crap. I’ve joked that when I’m not writing my mind is like a little 4 cylinder engine where the valves are out of tune compared to when I am writing and I’ve got at least a well-tuned V8 humming away. Yeah, I like writing.

Can you get that out of reading? I think so, especially if you are reading a thriller or mystery and trying to unravel clues. Reading engages different areas of our brain compared to watching television. Do you ever think about what an actor is smelling on screen? Do you think about the crispness of a cold morning on exposed skin just because you see two people camping in the fall on a TV show or movie? Probably not. Not to mention when you read, you need to make up the scenery based on small details in the writing. And you can’t judge emotions based on the musical score… unless a newly emerging trend to incorporate music into ebooks takes hold (to which I’ll be muting my speakers…).

670px-Get-Over-the-Death-of-a-Fictional-Character-Step-1I’m very happy that people are still reading despite the multitude of other ways to immerse themselves. Not just because it means someone might buy my book, but because it means the world is potentially filled with slightly happier, emotionally more responsive people, who may even be more clever than average! I wonder if I can include questions on most recently read book the next time I have to hire someone? Hmmm…

So writers and readers make better friends. Even if they ignore you occasionally for the imaginary people in their heads or their favorite book. But hey, they’ll notice when you are upset!

Autumn tries not to take too much delight in the perils she throws at the characters in her novels, knowing if the situation were reversed she wouldn’t do half as well as they manage! Learn more about her epic fantasy series the Rise of the Fifth Order and check out her newest release, the beginning of a military dark fantasy series Friends of my Enemy, at AutumnWriting.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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Getting to the Point

by Autumn M. Birt

I’ve been working hard on the final book to my epic fantasy series, the Rise of the Fifth Order. Things have been flowing good, but a few weeks back I was typing away and hit a wall.

It wasn’t writer’s block.

I’d just started a new chapter and it wasn’t flowing. I picked and prodded, typing notes to myself more than really writing. What I ended up typing after a few minutes was this:

Writing with purpose

That really summed up my feelings at that moment. I had no idea why that chapter was supposed to be there. I knew it HAD to be there for a variety of reasons: pacing, character development, so forth. But what it added to the entire arc of the story… I had no concept.

That is why I said it was’t writer’s block. I’ve dealt with that before and have learned quite a few tricks. Usually, if I start describing what the character is seeing, the weather, or make the characters talk to each other. Everything gets going again. I can delete the bits I don’t need later, no problem. Usually it isn’t too many wasted electrons.

But when it comes to a whole chapter that I truly feel needs to be there but can’t fathom how it progresses the actual story one iota… well, then I get stumped.

The advice to ‘just write!’ is great, but isn’t entirely realistic. Like so many other indie authors, writing for me isn’t a full time gig. I have a full time job, a husband, family, a house (which we finally moved into btw). On an average week, I can cobble together eight hours of writing time. That is in bits and pieces, usually at least half an hour, but sometimes less. I actually get a little gun shy when I find over an hour and a half of solid time that is empty of commitments and I am free to write. It gives me a nagging feeling that I’m forgetting to do something (like cook dinner). Hmmm….

Sure, if you look at the basic numbers with eight hours of writing time in a week and an average productive typing speed of 60 wpm, I could write a 90,000 word novel in Pi… errr, just over 3 weeks (I love math!). But if most of that ‘novel’ has no plot or direction and I have to delete a third of it… well, I haven’t really written a novel,  have I?

Now THIS is writing with a purpose!

Now THIS is writing with a purpose!

There is more to a story than typing speed and words on paper.

To actually produce enough words written in an order that tells a concrete tale within a year, I need to have a strategy to use my time efficiently. That is why I’m (1) a plotter and write when I have a solid storyline already in mind, (2) write notes to myself within the novel on the set up of future chapters and events, (3) work a lot on character development before I write, and (4) don’t waste my time writing things that I just KNOW I’ll delete (I apparently also make lists. This is new…). I don’t have the time to wander aimlessly in a word forest. I’d rather do dishes or spend time with my husband then stare at a little blinky cursor. When it all makes sense, then and only then, will I sit down to write.

It can be a tough balancing act. There are times I’m wondering if I’m procrastinating. Am I stuck? Maybe I should I try to write – at least flesh out the notes on what I think should happen to see if that clears things up? I love writing enough that I can never stay away for too long. Even the chapter I’m using as an example resolved itself with an ‘aha!’ after a day of pondering. I finally found something to include that was important to the overall plot and story. It added something rather than just existing. Whereupon at that point I abandoned my family, my chores, and dinner to sit down and write (I had to make up for some lost time)!

What about you? Do you find ways to make your writing time more efficient?

– Autumn is the author of the epic fantasy series on elemental magic, the Rise of the Fifth Order. She also has lots of other WIP (read TOO MANY), but she has put them ruthlessly aside to concentrate on Spirit of Life, the final book in her current series. It is going well! You can find her occasionally online on Twitter at @weifarer or on her Facebook page or on Goodreads. But after writing this and realizing that she can write a book in a month, theoretically, well, you might NOT find her online!

Making Lemonade

by Autumn M. Birt

The last two months were nothing like I had expected. I should have figured. I did write that post on tackling too many ideas when I was in the throws of creativity. That was late July. I was writing while building a house and working my butt off at my day job while we were short staffed.

Then I found out that the place I’d been living, a soft sided yurt (imagine a 24 foot tent) had sold. Yeah for us. We needed the money for the house we’d been building for over a year. But suddenly there was this thing called a timeline. My husband and I had to make the new house livable while packing up and moving out of the yurt. All while holding down jobs… during the busiest work season of the year for me (and while being short staffed). Ugh.

Ok, it sounds like I’m whining (a little) and you are starting to wonder what this post has to do with fantasy writing. Well, that is just it. I haven’t been writing. At. All. It hurts.

Actually, I did write a paragraph while doing laundry about two weeks ago. It was HEAVEN. Flowed like I hadn’t stopped abruptly weeks prior. I was on a writing high for days, carrying my iPad with me everywhere in the insane hope that I’d find two minutes to write the next sentence. I didn’t. But I wanted to, badly.

Wave style Celtic knotwork that will be the backsplash in my kitchen... in chalkboard paint, of course!

Wave style Celtic knotwork that will be the backsplash in my kitchen… in chalkboard paint, of course!

Mike Berry has been posting on how having a child has upset his writing schedule. He’s been writing poetry to stay sane. I think any author can relate to life throwing a zinger and suddenly what little writing time we usually carve for ourselves evaporates. I’ve been busy before. I’m building a house and working. I’m a wife and a daughter, an employee and an author. Things don’t often balance equally day to day, but hopefully they do month to month. Sometimes writing time falls in my lap along with ideas. Sometimes it is scant. I would say this is the first time that when I do manage to find a moment not occupied by packing, unpacking, building, designing, working, and all that, I’m usually so tired as to fall asleep where I’m sitting (as long as I’m not driving!). My brain is often mush. Original thoughts are absent and I lament the time when everything flowed. If I wrote then, I’d just depress myself. So I don’t. My desire to write is constant though. It is an itch I can’t satisfy with a good scratch. At least, not yet.

So what do authors do to stay sane when writing is impossible? I’d love to hear your strategies! I’m sure there are some great ones out there. 😀

For me, I’d have to ask if I was sane in the first place!

Joking aside, a lot of creativity goes into the house. We designed it ourselves and now, working on the interior, is really a time to enjoy aspects we will see and use everyday. Or curse the stupid mistakes we made last year… sigh.

... "I built my own staircase."

… “I built my own staircase.”

How often do you get to say...

How often do you get to say…

.

And I daydream a lot. What else is there to do while sanding mud on drywall??? But the longer I go without writing, the more mundane those thoughts grow like malnourished fruit. Parts of my brain have shut down into maintenance mode, waiting until it is worth their while to be kickstarted again.

In the end, there is really nothing to do but laugh. Well, I could throw a tantrum, demanding that I deserve a day off to write. But who would I demand permission to take time off from? Myself? Hah, not granted. Go back to work!

There is a glimmer of hope though. The yurt is coming down. TODAY, in fact! The house may not be truly done for months yet, but one stage is ending. The house is now livable (thank goodness, because we are living in it!). It needs some outside work and some trim and cabinets. Soon, I’ll be looking out at snowflakes as winter enfolds my new home and slows down the desire to go outside and cut up wood to make a bookshelf. And I will sit and write…

– Autumn is the author of the epic fantasy series on elemental magic, the Rise of the Fifth Order. She also has lots of other WIP, which she carries religiously everywhere on the off chance that she will get stuck and have to entertain herself for several hours. Hey, she has simple hopes. You can also find her occasionally online on Twitter at @weifarer or on her Facebook page and on Goodreads. If you do find here there, tell her to get offline and write something, for goodness sakes!

Ties That Bind

Family. You would go through hell to save them. You would go to the ends of the earth to get away from them. There is nothing else that moves us quite like a family member.So of course, family ends up being a large plot motivator in many novels! In a story, family members offer strong views, so what better way to get to know a character than through the eyes of their sibling?This is how I introduce Ty and his younger sister Lavinia in my epic fantasy novel Born of Water. Lavinia idolizes her brother, who has been away on a two year apprenticeship as a sailor. Ty will do anything to protect his cherished younger sister, including lie to her about what he has really been doing the last year and a half.

Is there anyone else quite like a mother or father (or doting younger sister) who can have an incorrect view of a son or daughter (or brother)? Such blindness to obvious personality traits leads to trouble and stress. Pleasing family sometimes means acting like a person that isn’t who a character really is.

Lavinia idolizes her older brother . . . and makes excuses for behavior that threatens that view.

Lavinia idolizes her older brother . . . and makes excuses for behavior that threatens that view.

A year and a half is a long time to be separated during teenage years. Ty has experienced the harsh realities of his world and not always taken the honest path in response. Lavinia is no longer a little girl, though Ty wishes he could keep her one. His goal of insulating his little sister from the same world that threatened him while lying about who he has become causes friction with the one person he is most determined to hold onto. The conflict between the siblings creates a rift in the already fractious little group thrown together more by circumstances than choice. A journey started to save a friend first must overcome the friction of family bonds.

The love, rivalry, and disappointment felt between Ty and Lavinia are only one piece of the mosaic that family ties weave through Born of Water. Ria’s family has longed feared the Church of Four Orders that rules the land of Myrrah. Her belief that she has inherited the same gifts that has led the Church to take away her cousin and other family members never to be seen again taints all friendships and joys in her life. This undermining belief was reinforced from an early age by Ria’s grandmother, who warned the young girl of what would happen to her, someday . . . . When Ria learns the truth is much worse than her family has ever imagined, she can barely continue on a journey meant to save her life.

Ty doesn't want to disappoint his sister, which makes his desire to protect her all the harder

Ty doesn’t want to disappoint his sister, which makes his desire to protect her all the harder

For Niri, a Water Priestess of the Church of Four Orders, the Church has become her surrogate family ever since it took her from her home when she was eight. It is the custom and right of the Church to take any child born with gifts to control the elements into its fold for training. With only faint memories of a home life before the Church, Niri grows to a competent Priestess with the Church as her mother, father, and lover. Only when she is asked to commit a deed far worse than removing a young child from family does she begin to doubt what she has been told and taught.

The ties to family bring connections to communities and cultures, of which there are many in the land of Myrrah. For some like Darag and the close knit society of the Kith to which he belongs, it is these bonds that pull them homeward. For others like Zhao – a Tiak by birth, the same sort of connections launch them out into the world. Nothing can move a character, or us, like the expectations and ties that come with a family, for good or bad. And that is why they are so much fun to write about!

Autumn is the author of the epic fantasy novel Born of Water and its Novel Companion and most recently the compilation of adventure travel storied Danger Peligros! All are available at Amazon, Smashwords, and other retailers of e-novels.