Category Archives: Tools to Help You Get Started

Are You a Giver or a Trader?

"Please, God, I'll do anything! I don't need to be happy just rich and famous!"

“Please, God, I’ll do anything! I don’t need to be happy just rich and famous!”

If you had the opportunity, would you do anything to become a famous author, even if it destroys your soul?

I’ve just finished watching a fantastic programme called “Tapping the Source”, and one of the lessons I learned from this inspiring programme (one of many, let me tell you!) was doing something without expecting anything in return. That’s a very hard thing to do never mind to even consider, and it’s a good ol’ smack in the face for our egos because since when in these tough lives of ours do we do anything without hoping for or expecting something in return? I mean, we give cash to receive the things we desire, be it food, clothes, toys, that new iPhone, so we grow up learning that when we give something to someone then it is our right to get something in return.

The ironic thing is, though, that in reality if you want the great results in life like joy, abundance, success and even fame, it requires you to be thankful for everything you already have – whether you like those things in your life or not – and to give without expecting or demanding something in return. Your ego screams at you, “No, no, no! Don’t be an idiot! The next thing you’ll have people walking all over you and abusing your generosity. Are you insane?!”

Who's in control of your life, your arrogant, self-serving ego or the giving, loving person you were created to be? One destroys, the other creates.

Who’s in control of your life: your arrogant, self-serving ego or the giving, loving person you were created to be? One destroys, the other creates.

It’s true. As a ‘normal’ human being, brought up by well-meaning parents, I was taught that you don’t just give away what you’ve worked so hard for. Nothing’s for free! In order to get something you have to earn it – pay for it in some fashion. In other words, unless you trade something that’s precious to you then you will never get like in return and you learn to expect the same from others.

It’s very difficult for us to give away what we’ve poured sweat and tears into, what we’ve poured our very souls into. Like our books. For most of us it takes months of writing, then a couple more to revise, then a couple more to get edited, proofread, compiled, and then, finally, almost a year later, published. Now I must just give it away without getting anything in return? you ask. Are you nuts?!!

If you had to be honest with yourself, whenever you have those fabulous Amazon Select days when your precious work is available for free, you must feel a little cheated when hundreds of copies get downloaded (after you’ve only sold about twenty to thirty at .99c so far) and you know you will never see a dime; you will never get anything in return for the precious gift you’ve given to those hundreds of people. What exactly are your expectations going in? Do you ask yourself questions like: “Geez, can’t anyone just afford .99c, for goodness sake?” or “Are they buying it because I’m a great writer or because it’s free? Do they even know who I am? Do they even know what other books I’ve written?” Your ego steps in to protect and defend you with teeth bared. You feel despair, and that awful feeling of unfairness, of being done a great wrong, creeps into your gut and starts chomping away. Was the give-away as satisfying as you’d imagined, then?

The question you need to ask is this: What was my motivation for doing it?

If your motivation was to get a hundred reviews, and all those people demanding more of you and your writing, then okay. But what does it do to you when you don’t get that exact return on your investment? Do you begin to lose hope? Do you begin to doubt yourself and your abilities? Do you begin to think that everything you’ve done has been a waste of time, that an entire year of effort has been for naught and that it and you are now worthless and, in fact, completely invisible to the millions of readers out there?

I certainly hope not, dear writer!!!

I guess it boils down to expectation. But there’s the rub (I apologise for the copious clichés). When you give your beloved work away what exactly are your expectations? Do you expect to receive the same value back that you so generously put in? Or do you do it out of love – to share your work and passion and talent with the world and become wonderfully elated in the divine act of giving and sharing freely?

Having balance is always the wisest choice

Having perfect balance in your life and work is always the wisest choice

My advice would be to create a balance, because that’s what makes life so enjoyable and fulfilling. Have one give-away as an act of love and as your gift to the world to feed your soul with the joy it deserves, and then do a give-away where you work really hard to encourage people to get to know you and your work, to encourage them to spend money on you next time because you’re so incredibly worth it.

You are worth getting paid for what you do, but you are also worth the joy, love, and fulfilment sharing and giving without the expectation of receiving will bring your heart and soul. Find balance and your rewards will be beyond your wildest expectations.

The choice, dear writer, is yours.

I love hearing your thoughts! Please leave a comment and tell me about your experiences and what you think about giving without expecting anything in return, especially if it involves the sacrifice of your most precious gifts.

Images courtesy of eyebiz, wgroesel, and sradion

Related Articles:

Don’t Sell Yourself Too Cheaply – You are of Great Worth (moniquerockliffe.wordpress.com)

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Why Writing is Like Playing Squash

Pen on Paper

I once wrote a post on how writing is like dancing. This is similar, but because that was nearly a year ago I thought I’d replay the topic (pun intended 🙂 ). I think every now and then us writers need to be reminded how much work it takes to keep our craft honed, and if we slack off then our readers can tell. Things get untidy and mushy and squishy instead of remaining sharp, tight, and toned – like every serious writer (athlete) needs to look.

For the last month hubby and I have been playing squash again after an almost five-year break from it, not because we were lazy, it’s just that life got busy – being newlyweds and the like. This week we started again for the second time after having the usual week and a half off when everything shut down between Christmas and New Year, and although I quickly found my rhythm I could tell immediately (being a dancer for nearly forty years I kinda know what my body is telling me by now!) that it wasn’t a good idea to have a break after restarting on such a good note. But, hey, it happened and now I need to refocus and get fit again.

During NaNoWriMo last November I put aside editing The Sword Bearer’s Awakening: Book 3 to write a new novel in a different genre thereby having a complete break from almost three years of solely focusing on my epic fantasy tetralogy. When I started editing Book 3 again it took me a while to find my old rhythm, and for a day or so I got a nervous niggle in the pit of my stomach that I wouldn’t find it. I had to reacquaint myself with my characters and where they were – emotionally – in the story.

But I eventually did it! Whew! When I took a moment to really think about my fears I realised they were unfounded because once I’ve learned how to do something I never forget – like the old adage: You never forget how to ride a bike. But still, my connection to my characters and my emotional attachment to the story had frayed a little, and I made a decision to never break from what I am currently working on again until it is finished.

English: Vlástní foto

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Hubby and I started playing squash again (the first time) the only thing that I struggled with was my fitness level. I remembered how to play and what the rules were, but because of the five-year break I had to refocus my attentions on technique and flow and, of course, how to annihilate my husband! *evil laugh* It took about a week and then things just got smoother and faster for the both of us.

The comparison I’m trying to make with writing is that even though you might have a break from sitting at the computer and bashing out your novel, don’t completely separate yourself from the process of creating with words. Even if this means you keep reading, at least, to keep your mind and technique sharp and even perhaps learn something new from a prolific author.

Like the body, the mind needs to be kept busy in order to function optimally. It will never forget what comes naturally to it and it never forgets what it has learnt, but unless we keep it ‘exercised’ and healthy and feed it what it needs, it will get lazy and ‘fat’ and squishy and grow mental love-handles.

The New Year offers great opportunities to expand our knowledge and creative abilities even more than in 2012. I urge you, dear writer, to keep your mind at its best by feeding it good, wholesome stuff. I recently posted this quote on Facebook. It sums up what I’ve said here and in my previous post.

The Six Golden Rules of Writing

I so look forward to what y’all are creating this year! It’s gonna be a hot one!!

I love hearing from you. Please tell me what you are working on so that I can share and tweet and get excited!

Do You Want to Make Resolutions or Start a Revolution?

Writing Tools

So, some of the predictions for 2013 state that the self-published author is going to rock the world in 2013 whereas traditional publishers are losing their grip on reality because they don’t want to change or, rather, make changes to their old ways of thinking and doing things and are thereby losing potentially brilliant authors in the process.

Narrow-mindedness is a dangerous thing, and unless one wants to grow old and die where one stands then a fresh approach is what’s needed – the strategy for writing and publishing can no longer languish in the cushy juices of yesteryear where things worked out perfectly for publishers because there was a lot of money and ereader technology was still in the birthing stage.

I don’t think I could have chosen a better time to become a serious author. Where writing is so subjective and landing an agent and/or publisher is nothing short of a miracle, becoming a self-published author has given me the freedom to create and express myself in a way I’ve always imagined it was supposed to be. The more blogs and articles I read about traditional publishing and, in some cases, the serious creative and expressive limitations placed on authors who have chosen that route, I thank my lucky stars that I never landed an agent when I went a-huntin’ in the beginning, when I was filled with happy imaginings like the mind-blowing excitement of a fat cheque arriving in the post for my book/s! Ah, the acceptance, the glory, the recognition . . . !

Nah!!!! Who wants that when half of the story was changed to fit the reputation and strict requirements of the publisher or edited to death to fit the style of said publisher? Who in heaven’s name wants to lose part of their soul just to earn a fat cheque? Do you?

Writing InspirationNow, I’ve written in many blog posts how vital it is to express yourself – your true heart and spirit, and the very depth of your soul – as you sit at your computer and create your unique masterpiece. I have also made it clear that you need to continually hone your craft and that you need to keep learning how to write better, that this learning process never stops.

It is important that if you want to remain a self-published author then you must do everything within your power to ensure you become a really good one.

If we are to become serious competition for the traditionally (paid) published authors then we have to become as good as they are in our craft. This means our education must never stop and we must turn to those who have gained more experience and learn from them, get advice from them, and be willing to put aside our egos and ask for help when it’s needed.

I have learned so much from reading the works of other authors (good and bad) and I always take what will improve my writing and apply it, and I’ve learned what not to do, as well. A case in point is my tetralogy. Book 3, The Sword Bearer’s Awakening, is a much more technically mature book than Books 1 and 2. Not that the first two books are bad in any way, it’s just that with Book 3, as I now go through the editing process, I more easily identify ‘mistakes’ in phrasing or style and correct them so that the experience for the reader is a more flowing, fast-paced one and therefore a way more exciting one. I put the word ‘mistakes’ in inverted commas because they’re not really mistakes but more shifts and adjustments in the way I express the story that reads easier and makes the story and characters more emotionally engaging and thrilling. This I did not learn from a grammar book or from serious study, but from exceptionally talented writers that I admire, that write in a way I love, and whose style and technique I understand and can learn from.

The Revolution – Ask Yourself the Right Questions

I want to be one of the best self-published authors in the world!! Do you?

Who wants to join me? Who wants to become an author people hear about on the news and read about in other blogs, reviews, websites, interviews, Amazon updates and suggestion lists, Google/Wikipedia searches, Twitter posts and retweets, bestseller lists, Huffing Post/New York Times entertainment headlines, etc, etc?

Do you believe you can be such an author? Do you believe you are one already? Do you believe you have it in you to change the world . . . one reader at a time?

If not why not? What’s stopping you from changing the world of literature and blowing away the competition, or if you prefer a more subtle approach: What’s stopping you from joining those other self-published authors who have already rocked the writing world?

Do you pray and hope that your novel will get seen by the right people or are you actively going after those people and making them notice you? Have you investigated the best promotional and marketing strategy for your book or are you following the crowd and just doing what they’re doing? Granted, a lot of the latter works, but really only up to a point. Have you even actively pursued a marketing campaign? Are you willing to spend a little money, and if you don’t have money then have you investigated and searched for other inexpensive or free effective ways to market yourself?

Freedom!Unless you raise the flag of your creativity and brilliance and shout from the proverbial mountaintop that you exist and that your book is bloody amazing, no one is going to notice you.

Many experienced bloggers and writers have said many, many times that it takes more work to market yourself and your book than it does to actually write it. And that’s very true!

To be a self-published author you need a tough skin and you need the following characteristics: dogged determination to finish what you started; perseverance when things aren’t going as smoothly as you’d like; making time for marketing and only marketing; making time to study other authors/bloggers and learn from them; a lack of ego – that ego that blinds you to truths about your writing and makes you believe you don’t have anything more to learn(of course it is acceptable and harmless when you crow about your 5-star reviews :)); a willingness to gain greater knowledge about spelling and grammar so that your book is easily and admirably comparable to a book that has been professionally edited because a publisher paid for it and not a financially challenged author; a willingness to ask for help – you are not alone; and the most important one for me: a belief in yourself that you can create magic and draw your reader into a world they will never forget.

You’ve got to proudly wave your flag on your mountaintop of faith – in your abilities, your passion, your love for storytelling, and your innate talent for creating with words. Then you’ve got to fight to stay there and put in the time and effort to make your dream come true.

Every single author I know has the same two-pronged dream: to make it to number one and to earn a living from doing what they love. But to make the dream happen we need to trust in the process. In the end, one way or the other, success is sure to come. Just remember who you are, what you can do, and that the magic is yours.

But even a magician needs to learn how to conjure!

Magic by Gioradi sxc

The 2013 Revolution I want to start is this:

Let us, self-published authors, give the big publishers a run for their money! Let’s become so brilliant at our craft that we become sought after and hunted as opposed to us doing the hunting! Let’s not forgo quality for quantity, and pay attention to what’s good and excellent and as a result educate the readers and enable them to recognise excellence. Let us become creators of the highest order and not part of the mediocre masses that are only interested in churning out endless drivel.

Viva la revolucion!

Happy 2013 everyone! I hope you’ll join my revolution to be better and bigger and more capable in your craft!

 

Top image courtesy of bloodylery

Image of girl  ‘Jaque’ courtesy of asterisc21

Last image ‘Magic’ courtesy of Gioradi

Great Writing Tips from 007’s Ian Fleming…and My Own Secret Mission!

Image Courtesy of hdwallpapers4free.com

NaNoWriMo is only three days away and I’m preparing myself with the same mental focus, strategic planning, and tactical positioning as James Bond before a mission!

My mission is secret in that until it’s done no one will know what it’s about. But once the end is reached then the results will be very clear – and I will, of course, be sharing it with all of you!

My Strategy: Layout, characters, timing, knowing my end goal, plotting the pathway in minute detail on how to reach that end goal, lots of sleep beforehand (and during), pacing myself and heightening my awareness in my approach that will allow me to write with precision and deliver the perfect few pages everyday to create a great story by the time the 30th comes along! And, finally, full instructions for the husband to let me be while I write, even if it means forgoing or delaying a meal or two i.e. no communication outside the study while The Mission is in progress.

My ‘Weapons’: Laptop, mouse, notebook, pens, Wordweb, memory stick (to save my work in multiple places in case that dreaded enemy, The Great Computer Virus, destroys the entire mission in one terrible blow!), tea, snacks, clock, good chair, cats for cuddling to keep me sane if or when despair and frustration threatens, desk fan in case things heat up and I start sweating (more likely to happen closer to the end of the month if I start lagging behind), loose-fitting clothing, and a pocket knife – just in case I need to punish the table by carving out the names of characters/scenes/ideas I’ve forgotten to add right in the beginning of the dang story @#$&!!!! … Er, sorry, that last bit was written by the maniacal Monique who sometimes loses it when things don’t go her way!!! (He-he, just kidding!)

I believe that mentally and physically I am ready for this, and as a writer I believe this to be the greatest challenge I have yet faced. And I am confident that I will succeed – maybe not by completing the entire novel (although I perform at my best under pressure, therefore I might just do this thing), but certainly by achieving beyond what I presently think I can in the given amount of time allowed for my mission. It’s about discipline and focus and commitment – to the mission and to myself, trusting and believing that I have it within me to achieve my own personal goals and feel great about whatever I’ve done when the end of the month comes along.

Below are some great writing tips by the author of the James Bond books to help you prepare for your unique mission. I certainly hope they help you. These tips are, of course, not only for NaNoWriMo, but also for everyday use.

English: Ian Fleming oil painting

English: Ian Fleming oil painting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The quotes below are taken from a 1962 article authored by Ian Fleming himself:

Lesson 1: Have a routine

“I write for about three hours in the morning—from about 9:30 till 12:30, and I do another hour’s work between six and seven in the evening. At the end of this I reward myself by numbering the pages and putting them away in a spring-back folder. The whole of this four hours of daily work is devoted to writing narrative.”

Ian Fleming wasn’t the first to say it, and he hasn’t been the last. It’s vital to have a fixed writing schedule and to keep it sacred. Plan around it the same way you plan around your job or classes. The important thing is to set aside time to write every day, whether you want to or not, whether you have ideas or not, and whether you think your writing is any good or not.

Lesson 2: When you write, WRITE!

“I never correct anything and I never go back to what I have written, except to the foot of the last page to see where I have got to. If you once look back, you are lost. How could you have written this drivel? How could you have used “terrible” six times on one page?

If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism, you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain. By following my formula, you write 2,000 words a day and you aren’t disgusted with them until the book is finished, which will be in about six weeks.

There’s a time to write, and there’s a time to edit—and the two should keep their distance. If you’re in the zone, don’t stop to look up a capital, research Chinese history, or figure out whether that comma’s appropriate. You’ll wear the editor’s cap later; for now, you’re a writer. Just do your job.

Can’t decide on the perfect name for your hero? For now, he’s Stanley. The perfect name will hit you days later while you’re eating dinner, and you’ll jot it down in your notebook. You do always carry one with you, don’t you?”

Lesson 3: Strategic use of detail:

“My plots are fantastic, while being often based on truth. They go wildly beyond the probably but not, I think, beyond the possible. Even so, they would stick in the gullet of the reader and make him throw the book angrily aside—for a reader particularly hates feeling he is being hoaxed—but for two technical devices: first, the aforesaid speed of the narrative, which hustles the reader quickly beyond each danger point of mockery and, secondly, the constant use of familiar household names and objects which reassure him that he and the writer have got their feet on the ground.”

It’s a technique Fleming used to great effect in all the Bond stories. Knowing he was dealing with plots that would strain the reader’s suspension of disbelief, he piled on familiar, real-world elements to add credibility to the more imaginative elements. In other words, don’t just call it a knife; call it a “second-pattern Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife with a 7-inch blade.”

Category:Daggers

Category:Daggers – the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I would love to hear how you have planned for NaNoWriMo, and even if you’re not doing it then please feel free to share your own personal tips on what works for you! For NaNo, make a checklist and plan a strategy, and then share it with the class so we can learn from each other and be better prepared! There are only three days left!!!

NaNoWriMo and Other Scary Events

So, I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo . . . well, I’ll try to do it, anyway, while I’m also doing rehearsals for a HUGE dance show from 5th to 10th November with shows on the 10th and 11th on a fully professional stage (this means, absolutely no computer time except maybe a couple of hours in the very early mornings before I leave for the theatre). While NaNo and the show are happening I’ll be trying to find the time to continue editing my third novel in The Sword Bearer’s series – The Sword Bearer’s Awakening – which I’m hoping to get published around February next year! AND I have a sci-fi short story – The Door – coming out before Christmas!

Think I’m nuts?? I do!! Dang it, but I love giving myself a lot to do – fortunately it’s everything I love doing. Whether my love is big enough to get it all done in time remains to be seen! After a reading another blogger’s post on why she’s terrified of NaNo, I have to wonder why I don’t feel the same kind of terror. Perhaps it’s because I have absolutely no idea what I’ve let myself in for.

Someone I connected with on the NaNo site gave me some great advice, which will take all my self-control to achieve: DO NOT EDIT while you’re writing. JUST WRITE and worry about the editing after November. Me, a perfectionist of note, not fixing and changing and rewriting what I’ve written?? Aaarrrrgh! Is this possible??

Smiley from the sMirC-series. dunno

Dunno . . .

Another thing that makes me think I’ve truly gone off my rocker is that I will be writing in another genre – Urban Fantasy/Horror/Supernatural – all them things combined! Yup, I’ve decided to try my hand at another kind of Fantasy, and although I was always planning on writing in these genres at some point I’ve decided to do it for NaNoWriMo! Yup, yup, I can already see you shaking your heads and mumbling how unwise it is, but, hey, where’s the fun in doing the same ol’, same ol’? “Yes, Monique, but is now the time?” you’re asking me.

Dunno . . .

What I do know is that I certainly have the ability and the imagination to create a great story. It has enough Fantasy elements in it to keep me comfortable, and I’ve already done the outline – which makes it so much easier, by the way. I have my characters sorted, my timeline, my environment, the antagonist and protagonist, and the huge “OMG!” moment!! It’s gonna be great . . . I hope 🙂

Image courtesy of: sofamonkez (www.sxc.hu)

So, who’s with me? Come on, we can be scared together. It’ll be fun!

Please let me know if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, too! Share your fears and your expectations so I can feel better that I’m not the only nutter out there!!!

Related articles

Keeping it Real in an Unreal World

English: Opening logo to the Star Wars films

English: Opening logo to the Star Wars films (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The one thing that made the latest Star Wars movies (Episodes 1-3) not work for me was the terribly weak script. Everything else was spectacular except the dialogue. It was stilted, boring, uncomfortable, and above all, it lacked believability.

The three lead protagonists of Star Wars, from...

The three lead protagonists of Star Wars, from left to right: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Han Solo (Harrison Ford). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first Star Wars movie (Episode 4: A New Hope) is the one that sent my imagination and passion for storytelling into overdrive when I was eight years old because I completely believed in the characters and the brilliant, unique story. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Vader all had very distinct personalities and they behaved accordingly in every situation they were in. Their responses to every predicament were believable – they were REAL! I bought it because I lived it with them; I was there with them every moment – being chased, shot at, tortured, swerving, diving, and rolling with the Millennium Falcon! It was awesome! But then came the disappointing prequels, which, for me, quite simply sucked in comparison.

Ewan McGregor (left) as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Hay...

Ewan McGregor (left) as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Hayden Christensen (right) as Anakin Skywalker in Attack of the Clones. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is it because I’ve grown up? I asked myself over and over again. But the more I thought about it and analysed it the more I came to understand that, no, what was wrong was that the characters lacked any kind of credibility and normalcy.

Now how can fantastical characters be normal, you may ask? Isn’t the whole point of fiction that our characters are bigger than life (especially in Fantasy), that they, and the situations they find themselves in, are blown up out of proportion to elicit greater emotion for the reader, to draw them into the story and make them ‘see’ it and experience it, no matter how unreal the story? But tell me, how can you do that without making your characters relatable to the reader, and without creating characters they can understand? How can you expect a reader to become completely absorbed in your story if they can’t ‘see’ themselves there or ‘say the words’ your characters are saying without it being jarring thereby distracting them from the emotional aspect of the story, which shallow, forced dialogue does instantaneously? And then the reader loses interest because they cannot sense the integrity and ‘realness’ of the characters. These are questions I have to ask myself each time I write dialogue in my books.

My characters are like my best friends after creating them and writing them for three years now and counting. I know their personalities inside out, so when I write a scene I know exactly what they’re going to say and how they’re going to say it. I know their individual reactions and I know what they’re thinking, too. I can tell immediately if the dialogue isn’t working and if a particular character says something he or she would never say.

Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker in Reve...

Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith (2005) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Episodes 1-3 of Star Wars the characters are very tough, very strong, and very individual with distinct personalities, but the dialogue doesn’t match those personalities. Anakin Skywalker does not portray his anguish convincingly enough (granted, the acting isn’t great, either); his change from despairing Jedi into dark lord is pathetic, and the dialogue does nothing to make it real for me. I felt frustrated because I couldn’t ‘feel’ what he was going through – I couldn’t go on his terrible emotional journey with him and fully experience his turmoil as he murdered those Jedi children.

Isn’t that the task of every writer/film maker/poet/artist, to take the observer on an emotional journey with their characters/art? Isn’t that what makes a great story a best seller, a hit that leaves the public clamouring for more?

Yes, the otherworldly circumstances our fantastical characters find themselves in will never really exist, but their emotional experiences certainly do.

KC (my main character) will never be a Sword Bearer in real life and fight an Arch Demon in the coldness of space, but she will have fears and doubts and struggle to come to terms with who she is and deal with her unwanted responsibilities. When she argues with her brother, Khyl, and unleashes her anger on him for not caring about her and causing her so much pain, that’s REAL!! So when they’re dialoguing  it has to sound convincing otherwise the reader won’t be able to get involved in the conversation and feel what KC is feeling and feel Khyl’s frustration and guilt!

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader duel on Mustafar.

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader duel on Mustafar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I watched the latest Star Wars films from a distance and only thoroughly enjoyed the marvels of the special effects and the amazing artistry and costumes and music. But the characters were distant and cold, and I left the theatre feeling flat instead of uplifted and excited and fired-up as I felt after the first film. I missed the magic, the wonder, the adrenalin rush, the powerful longing to be in that world and partake of the awesomest adventure ever!

These are my personal tips for creating believable characters:

Get to know every single one of your characters intimately (if you’ve read my last blog – My Character and I Are One – a Journey into The Sword Bearers Series – you should know your characters are pieces of you, anyway!!); place yourself in their situation in every dialogue you write, and then write it like you mean it! Feel the emotions, the tensions, the subtleties; ‘see’ their actions – why don’t you act it out, if that helps?!! Or even speak it as you write it so that you can experience the emotion in the room – whether it be love, anger, passion, hatred, pain, tears . . . whatever it is live it for yourself! Dang, I cried when one of my main characters died! The scene was charged with overwhelming emotion and horror and grief, and my tears made the computer screen blurry as I wrote it. When that happened I absolutely KNEW my readers would cry, too!! It was powerful; the scene, the characters, lived!!

Two Excellent Blogs on Character Development

I’ve read two blogs this week about building believable characters that I feel I must share with you. The first one is by Victoria Grefer titled ‘Writing Believable Characters’, and the second by Codey Amprim from the Mythic Scribes website titled ‘Five Tips for Writing Kick-Ass Characters’. Do yourselves a favour and go read them. They offer more great tips on character development that will help you if you need it.

I love hearing from you. What do you do to get your characters to ‘live’, to become believable? Please share it with the class!

Related articles:

My Characters and I are One – a Journey into The Sword Bearers Series (www.moniquerockliffe.wordpress.com)

Don’t Sell Yourself Too Cheaply – You are of Great Worth

Yesterday I went to the Chinese Mall and Dragon City in the south of Johannesburg (South Africa) to do shopping for our huge dance show being held in November. Now anyone who lives in JHB and is aware of what’s going on in their world knows about the Chinese Mall and Dragon City for their cheap prices for absolutely ANYTHING you can think of!

English: Hillbrow and the Hillbrow Tower

JHB (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, I hadn’t been to this particular Chinese Mall/China Town before so I was very curious to see it and experience what all my friends have been raving about, what with the “amazingly cheap clothes” to the “cheapest props, costumes, and make-up for ballet festival you can imagine” to “OMG the handbags (purses) there are just divine!” So off I trundled with my two partners in the ballet studio and, boy, was I left flabbergasted: toys, clothes, party favours, hardware, software, cellphone accessories, kitchen ware, food, fake flowers, bags of every kind, underwear, wigs, make-up, glitter, glitter, oh, and more glitter . . . and the list goes on and on and on! Whew! For six hours we shopped ‘til we literally dropped, surviving on chips (potato chips), Iron Brew (kinda like Dr Pepper/Root Beer) and ice cream because we had no time to sit and have a decent lunch! Uh-uh, we were on a mission, and with the exception of three items we couldn’t find due to lack of time we fully loaded the SUV and sat in stunned silence, bathing in the glory of success for a few minutes before driving home and collapsing into our husbands’ arms with a sigh and whining for real food and comfort – physical and emotional! And on top of it all it was the end of the month (payday) weekend!! We were NUTS!

Despite having conquered the Great Chinese Challenge – for a few hours at least – I understood that although we got everything we needed at literally a quarter the price we’d get it anywhere else, the items were not of the highest quality and will most probably only last a short while. It sufficed, however, for what we needed it for – one show with crazy, energetic kids who will no doubt wear out every item we bought in no time – therefore sacrificing quality for cheap quantity is, in fact, a good thing in this case.

When I finally recovered, and my energy levels were back to normal, and I braced myself for the Social Media Catch-up I was about to face for neglecting my relationship/book promo duties for an entire day, I opened my emails and Facebook and Twitter and discovered a plethora of invites for FREE books and Give-aways.

Now, having just been to a place where ‘cheap’ was the order of the day, and I had my first experience of such apparent disregard of the coin in exchange for goods, I was struck by how many writers give away their very hard work for nothing, or relatively nothing. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand the power of offering your book for free as a means to promote your work and invite interest and attention, but if it’s done too often and for too long it can eventually become detrimental to who you are and what you really want.

I know that when I get clothing or make-up or shoes for a very low price then I understand I am receiving something of lower quality, as well, something that won’t last and satisfy me for very long. When a writer keeps giving their work away for free I have to wonder why; I become a little suspicious and sometimes a little stand off-ish.

Personally, when someone pays the full price for my books it is such a great feeling because it justifies all the hours, days, and months of work, sweat, and sometimes tears of frustration I put into writing my stories, and it tells me that people are truly interested in reading my books because they believe it’s worth their time and money. What an incredible compliment!

To paraphrase Hemingway: as writers we sit at our typewriters and BLEED. Now what does it say of us when we keep giving away our work for nothing? Do we think so little of ourselves and our abilities?

If freebies are used as the occasional incentive, or as an introduction to me and my work, then it can be a very effective tool. But, in my opinion, if it’s done too often it decreases the value of my work and snubs the inordinate amount of time I put into creating it.

The temptation to give our work away is huge because, let’s face it, at the end of the day we want to be KNOWN, we want recognition, we want to stand out from the hundreds of thousands of writers out there and make the world SEE us.

I know some of you reading this will disagree with me, and there might even be some of you who can testify to the power of give-aways, and I will eagerly applaud your success, but please just make sure that you are not selling yourself too cheaply, that people understand that what you are offering is quality stuff, and then, of course, make sure you produce and present high quality stuff to your readers.

There’s nothing worse than a free book and the quality of that book turning out to be as inferior as the price!

Book 2 in The Sword Bearers Series – This book took me a year to write, rewrite, edit, and publish! It’s too precious to give away carelessly!

It’s hard for me to fight the temptation to give away freebies of my work because I am quite new to this writer’s world myself, but even I can see the dangers in selling myself too eagerly and too freely just to get known. I have to trust in the process, and I have to trust that as I build relationships with other authors and readers that slowly but surely I will get the results I want. In the meantime, I work hard at improving my craft and producing top quality work, knowing that when someone pays $3.50 for my Kindle book they will definitely be getting what they paid for, if not more!

If you agree or disagree please let me know! I love hearing honest, heart-felt stories from you all.

So, are You a Writer or What?

“Hmph, a writer!” is what I see in their eyes when I tell them. “Riiiight!” they drawl (pun intended), and that’s the way most conversations go when I meet someone and they ask me what I do.

Ethereal Beauty!

My first intention is to tell them what I’ve always told them because it sounds pretty awesome in the ‘normal’ world: “I’m a ballet teacher and I used to be a professional dancer before that.” “Oh wow,” they say with raised eyebrows and the expected expressions of intense interest and slight envy, and I glow in their awestruck wonder as they ask me about my illustrious career as a dancer, that most magical and unobtainable of professions by most mortals.

So why doesn’t me being an author have the same effect?

Perhaps it’s that I have yet to say it with enough confidence and mysticism as when I tell them I was a dancer on the professional stage – an ethereal ballerina that defied gravity and performed physical acts of such astonishing feats that they could never dream to know how I did it (that was not meant to sound kinky!).

Being a reasonably new author I do not yet possess that same in-your-face confidence as I had as an accomplished dancer. I tend to look at what I’ve written and the smallish success I’ve had so far in comparison to my dancing career when that’s actually a rather silly and self-defacing attitude to have! If I didn’t believe I could be a damn good writer then I wouldn’t have started!

By nature I am a perfectionist. That means that unless I do something to the absolute best of my ability, with every fibre of my being involved, then I don’t want to do it! I continuously learn and read and write and spend hours at my laptop so that I can become better and better at what I love to do, just like when I was a student dancer learning to become what I eventually did in the professional arena.

Now, yes, I’m not yet a Terry Brooks or a David Eddings or a Stephen King, but just like they once did I have made a start and I believe in my abilities and talents to turn myself into the best writer I can be. Simply making that start, sitting down at my laptop and beginning that awesomely powerful act of creating something, makes me a writer, an author, someone to take note of, dammit! – as it is with all writers whether they are newbies or veterans! They deserve recognition and acknowledgement because they have put blood, sweat, and tears into their work!

I recently read a blog by Jeff Goins, the author of You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One). In his blog titled: The Simple Reason You’re Not a Writer (Yet), he mentions asking author Stephen Pressfield when a writer becomes a writer:

“Is it when you get a book deal? When you sell your first thousand copies? When you hit the best sellers list? When do you get to call yourself a writer?

Steve said something I’ll never forget:

‘You are when you say you are. Screw what everyone else says.’”

I love that because it speaks to my heart and where I’m at right now.

Jeff continued to say:

“Steve was right.

I started to act like a writer. A real one, not a wannabe. And all kinds of amazing things happened as a result. Guest posts, book deals, invitations to write for magazines, even cold, hard cash in my pocket — all because I called myself a writer.

Why this works

When you call yourself a writer (or an entrepreneur, an innovator, or whatever), you unlock something inside yourself that wasn’t there before. Here’s what happens:

  1. It gives you confidence. Nobody wants to read work that an amateur writes. No one wants to hire someone who doesn’t believe in himself. Calling yourself a writer helps you do just that.
  2. It makes your work better. Believe it or not, confidence matters. Not just for your self-esteem, but for the quality of work you do. When you start calling yourself something, you raise the stakes. You call your own bluff. And pretty soon, you ante up.
  3. It makes other people believe it, too. Unfortunately, we live in a world enamored of titles. When you tell people, “Writing is just something I do on the side…” you sabotage yourself before you get a chance to prove yourself. Calling yourself a writer is an invitation to the world to take you seriously. It helps you get paid.

So what are you waiting for?

Time to call yourself a writer — and actually believe it.”

Jeff Goins’s Book

In just about every blog I’ve written I’ve spoken about the belief you need to have in yourself in order to create the masterpiece/s that exists inside you just waiting to be unleashed upon the world. I believe confidence in yourself and your craft is paramount to success – even if you are new at it (and even if you’ve been at it for a while!). New doesn’t mean less capable that Brooks, Eddings, or King, it just means you’ve begun where they once did and now you’re on your way to where they are!

Next time someone asks me what I do I will lift my chin, look them in the eye, show them the utter joy that lives inside me every time I create my worlds and characters, and tell them with absolute authority and full belief in myself: “I am a published author. And you?”

Please leave a comment and tell me of your own experiences as an author whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been at this for a while. I’d love to hear from you.

Terry Brooks Image courtesy of Amazon

The Profundity of Me . . . and You, dear Talented Writer

“Profundity” def: the intellectual ability to penetrate deeply into ideas.

The Cover Image for The Sword Bearers: Book 1

When I first pursued my writing seriously, when I finally sat down at my laptop and began to type for hours and hours on end, looking within for the unique, attractive ideas that would create The Sword Bearer: Book 1, my fantasy debut novel, I had no idea how I was going to actualise this epic fantasy – four books! – from scene to scene, moment to moment. Oh, I knew exactly what was going to happen in my story – the outline from beginning to end was perfectly clear – but when I thought about those intricate, intimate moments of making my characters come to life and of building the detailed foundation of the story, I admit I was a little afraid. Where was I going to find those details? Sure, the story has been growing and evolving inside my heart and mind since I was eight (movies like Star Wars started it!), but now that I needed to create a unique story that would take the reader on an adventure they’d never forget, that would hold them emotionally captive and enthralled from page one to the last word, meant that I had to find a way to express and share my masterpiece in the minutest detail.

The Story of Star Wars 1977 LP

The Story of Star Wars 1977 LP (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being a debut novel, writing The Sword Bearer was like giving birth! It was a labour of love that caught me up in its magic and left me gasping and agonising and sometimes swearing rather colourfully when things didn’t work as smoothly as I wanted, and then crying with relief and utter joy when I finally held the completed work in my arms, so to speak! It was an amazing, never-to-be-forgotten process of love, frustration, patience, pain . . . and a mind-blowing journey of self-discovery!

And this is what I discovered: I have abilities and skills I never dreamt I possessed; I can ‘see’ inside myself and find what I want at the exact moment it’s needed – or rather, when a character or scene needs it; I have a vast collection of emotions, insights and talents I never would have discovered unless I had placed myself in the honoured position of a writer before her laptop where the magic happens; I can envision worlds, people, and places that only exist in my limitless and ever surprising imagination, who have such life and awareness that sometimes they scare me; I have the power and ability to manipulate those characters and scenes at my pleasure to ensure the story is as powerful and moving as possible. Mainly, I discovered I have such deep and accurate intuition (especially if I surrender to it completely) that sometimes when I put my head down and write a fast-paced scene full of drama, action, roiling emotions, and breathtaking scenery, and I finally come out of my frenzy and take a breath and reread it, I am ALWAYS astounded at what I have created! (I encourage you to read my previous blog – The Art (and Science) of Using Your Imagination – for further thoughts on the power of being a creator.) So when I began to write The Sword Bearer’s Journey: Book 2, the belief I had in my abilities made the process of creation so much more relaxed and way less painful! My ‘child’ was growing into a fine specimen and I couldn’t be happier or more impressed with myself, and all because I’d learned to trust in my abilities, in my unique creative powers, that which every writer/creative genius possesses!

The Cover Image for The Sword Bearer’s Journey: Book 2

My conclusions: I am indeed a writer of great profundity, and the reason I have included you, dear fellow writer, in this rendition of creative genius is because daily I am moved and surprised and excited by the overwhelming originality of ideas my author-friends come up with. I read synopses and excerpts of such marvellous variety that they never fail to leave me enthralled with their talent and creative diversity! I have a follower on Twitter who is twelve and a published fantasy author! She inspires me because she has not allowed her age to limit her and because she understands the inherent creative genius she possesses. (Follow her @FlashBackSeries)

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I do not have a muse, that since the ‘birth’ of  The Sword Bearer I have learned to trust in my unconscious mind, in my inherent, God-given intuition, knowing now from experience that it can be fully trusted. But those of you who do have a muse, I just know that you, too, trust in her or him to faithfully produce the magic that is uniquely you, that creative genius that is all you. This is why personally I believe that writer’s block can be cured by simply learning how to restore one’s trust in one’s muse or unconscious mind, in that place deep within where ideas are born and come forth with blazing brilliance! And, hey, we don’t need to understand it, just trust it. If you’re struggling to write, struggling to find, struggling to trust that which you always did before with such ease, then rest assured that it has not gone anywhere because it never leaves you – ever! It is part of you; it is you!

You are unconquerable, you are inherently capable of creating a masterpiece, and you are exquisite to the point of preternatural genius! Dig deep and trust in yourself, oh Profound One!

How to make ‘Tea’. My Thoughts on the Creative Process

Just about every country has a different way of making tea and just about every person has a different approach to making starting a new story.

Coming from a job (dance) that requires visualisation only and not the spoken or written word (unless you’re a repetiteur, a person who records choreography using Benesh Movement Notation, the language of ‘written’ ballet) I naturally tend tosee my story in movie-form first from start to finish, allowing my imagination to run wild, keeping my foot off the brakes and seeing where it goes. And always it surprises me! Many people have muses that guide them, inspire them, and give them great ideas that they, of themselves, could never conceive of.

I, on the other hand, do not have a muse, but I fully trust in my unconscious mind, and, if you want to get esoterical about it, I suppose I can say I trust that which the Universe (or God, if you want to make it more personal) brings me, for I know that not one of you can explain where your ideas really come from, hey? Don’t you just love it!

So where does this ‘tea’ business come in?

Well, in my home my hubby and I make tea like this: empty cup, then teabag, then sugar, then water, then milk.

Empty Cup

That’s you, ain’t it! That’s you where you start, completely empty, whether you are a ‘big chunky mug’ or a ‘dainty teacup’, that’s you, and it’s the best place to be for your creativity to find a home and settle comfortably. Empty your mind of all distractions, influences, and the voices of others, and turn inward – to your muse, your inner-self, that part of you that you can trust implicitly because it knows more about what’s going to work and be a success than you do!

Teabag

This, of course, is the essence of your story; the Big Idea! This is the flavour (the gist of the story from start to finish); the aroma (the emotional aspect and the setting – where it takes place); the colour (the characters); and that happy place a good cup of tea always brings you to – the perfect, relax-back-into-the-couch “Aaaah!” moment – and that includes those that will soon share it with you, the reader!

Sugar

Ah, yes, the sweetener, that which infuses the flavour, energises it, and makes it hit (chuckle) the sweet-spot! Yes, people, the sugar is that part which enhances the Big Idea and makes your reader cry, laugh, rage, and gasp in shock or delight! Whatever you do don’t leave it out!

Water

Without this you cannot have tea. Water stirs the Big Idea to life, mixes all its aspects together, and makes it pop! It is the life-force, boiling, hissing, spitting, and creating!!! The water is YOU – your energy, your brilliance, your uniqueness . . . your very LIFE!

Milk

Now I know a lot of people don’t have milk in their tea, especially those who drink herbal tea, but my hubby and I do – even if it is herbal ’cause we’re weird like that!!! But if you leave out the ‘milk’ to your story – the flavour enhancer – then I think that’s quite alright because milk is the part that is left to the taste of the Maker. Some have a little, some have a lot, and some have none. Personally, I can’t do without milk because it softens the edges and fluffs my story out and completes it. But, hey, maybe you want your Big Idea to be cutting and harsh (no milk) because it’s about a vampire who wipes out an entire town of people in a matter of days (‘salem’s Lot: Stephen King)! Then you most certainly can’t be fluffy! Just be careful, though, that you don’t neglect those loose ends, leaving the reader confused or unable to connect the dots and thus unsatisfied after ‘drinking from the cup’. Sometimes the reader needs milk even if you don’t fancy the stuff!

I know I’ve based my creative process on the way I make tea, but that’s the idea. We all do it differently but hopefully we all get the same results: lip-smacking flavour to delight all who partake of it! Sometimes it takes practise to get it just right, to create the perfect cup of satisfaction. Just remember to keep practising; it can only get better!

Happy ‘tea’ making!

Image courtesy of FreeFoto.com

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