It’s been rather crazy around here, but crazy in a good way. Now that winter is over and the sun is coming up at a decent hour, I’ve been making real progress on my novels. By the end of the week book 4 of the Forest Guardians series will be ready for final draft form. In some ways that’s my favourite part of writing. The story is already down and I get to make it vivid and pretty.
Just as exciting for me, I’m working with a cover design artist to give the series a new and cohesive look. I’ve seen the initial concepts and I’m very happy with all three books. Book 3, Healer’s Strength, hasn’t changed much, though the first book has changed the most.
All in all, writing is still just as fun as when I started the whole thing. It’s been a year now since I decided to write a book. I started doing online writing courses last March. I started my first novel in April and it was published last August. Two novels, actually, under two pen names, both published around the same time.
I look back at this last year and it still amazes me. I wrote four books under two pen names. I rearranged my bedroom and made a writing corner by the window. I filled that corner with a desk I made myself, with some help from my ever supportive guy, out of wood that had personal meaning to me. I formed a routine, something I seldom ever do, and stuck to it. Most of all, when I was starting from scratch, I found something I love to do (writing) and I made it a priority in my life. Now I have direction and a passion, and writing has opened other doors for me. Some of those new connections were surprising, but they’ve made my life better.
So, what are these new covers like?
You’ll have to wait and see! They’re coming soon...
When I wrote my first book, I had never written anything that long before, not by a long shot. For young adult novels I have a general guideline of around 80 000 words. It helps keep me on track and make sure my pacing is good. Are the right kinds of things happening in roughly the right places?
My first couple of books usually had me getting close, and wondering what scenes or details to add to flesh out the story and really let the characters grow. Well, book 4 of the Forest Guardians is my fifth book between two pen names, and now I've reached a new stage in my writing.
I'm nearing the end of the first draft. My first drafts should be around 70 000 words if I don't want to go too far over 80 000 words in the finished book, because I don't include descriptors and scene details in the first draft to any richness. Here I sit, with about 8 000 words to go, and I know I'm going to be a little over my goal. I've reached that "how am I supposed to tie all that together in that little space" stage of writing.
This time, even the side scenes directly tie into the main plot, so I'm not planning on cutting anything yet. As long as I stay under 90 000 words, I'm happy. As some of my readers could be on the younger end of Young Adult, I keep them in mind. Still, it's a bit of a change, going from adding scenes to set up the series and characters verses having just enough space to let her adventure unfold.
We grow as writers and get better at writing, at least if we work at it we do. I look forward to seeing what other stages of growth I go through as a writer. it was only last March when I decided to become a published author, so my journey so far has been one year long. I've gone from trying my first book and feeling uncertain to sitting down nearly every morning and letting my characters tell me what they want to experience. Now it tends to flow, more often than not. I let my stories come to me and am usually pleasantly surprised at what they bring.
How has your journey as a writer progressed? What changes have you noticed?
Sometimes, it feels like the story almost writes itself. Sometimes it takes more effort. The third book is almost through the editing stage, and should be published before the end of the month. Book three has taken a little more effort to get the story how I wanted it.
Not book four, though. Book four was outlined in about twenty minutes. I didn’t expect that, as I had only a vague idea what the story was, no details at all. No, I started writing, putting in the various stages of the story, and before I knew it, the book was outlined. I was surprised by a few plot points, actually, but when they just appeared on the “paper,” I knew it was what I wanted.
Seriously, as the story appeared before me, I was delighted and surprised. Now I’ve had a chance to write the story for a few days. It’s again working out almost as if the story exists, and I’m just releasing it to the world.
This is also in direct contrast to the martial arts book I’m writing. That story outlined easily, but my outlines are fairly vague. No, book four is already forming details, but the martial arts book is proving to be a harder write. I’m almost halfway through my first draft on the martial arts book, but I have a better feel for the fourth Forest Guardians book.
How can some stories just appear before us, while others take effort and time to materialize? Why do we sometimes have a book flow, while other books feel like effort? Part of it is passion and enthusiasm. Part of it might be that some stories touch our hearts in ways other stories do not.
Now, my first few books didn’t flow, though there were times when writing them was done from the flow state. I was too busy learning how to write a book to have the whole book come from a flow state. That’s okay. It takes time to learn to be an author. As I get more experience, I find it easier to tap into that flow state for more steps in the writing process.
The flow state is when ideas pour from us and appear as if they were already there. Athletes can experience the flow state, where their body responds perfectly, and their movements are easy. Anyone can experience the flow state. Concentration comes easily and we’re more productive than normal.
Now that the holidays are over, my life is settling down, and I’m finding my way back into my normal routine. That means I’m working on more fun books to share with readers, and more stories I’m passionate about. I get to write more books I love and improve my skills. Here’s to many more years writing!
To quote and paraphrase T. S. Elliot, "the naming of characters is a difficult matter..."
How do we pick names for our characters? Do we go with whatever comes to mind? Do we look for meaning? Do we want something unique, or common and relatable? Obviously this will be different depending on what kind of book we're writing. When I wrote the romance, I went with a somewhat common man's name, and named the woman after one of my horses.
When it comes to fantasy, though, do we make whole new names up? Do we borrow names from Earth? If the names are too foreign, can our readers pronounce them? If the names are too familiar, does it break the illusion of a new world?
I struggled a little with this when I wrote my first book, Runaway Magic. I knew I wanted to call my main character Aili, a name which means light, and comes from both German and Irish origins. I personally prefer names with meanings more often than not, though that's not universal. Kyson is of British origin and literally means "son of Kyle."
Do most of my character's names have meaning? Absolutely. Actually, it's a bit of a lazy way to name them, but by knowing I want a name that means something, I can go to a webpage I use: www.meaning-of-names.com. Common meanings are listed with links, making it easy. Need a name for a Fire Mage? Click on fire as a meaning and there I go - Hana is born as a character.
It's great because it also tells me where a name is from. I tend to use names from all over the world and many different cultures. Andvari is Norwegian and means "mythical treasure guardian." As Aili is an unusual treasure to the forests, it seemed to fit well. Leya is a Spanish name that means loyal, and that pony sure is.
This doesn't mean every name is chosen that way. Ilia and Kyson were chosen because they sounded right for the character. A few names of passing characters are simply made up completely. Some characters are so minor to the story that they're never named, though they have complete lives in the world outside the books.
The website was even more helpful for a book I'm writing that is dystopian and on Earth, as it's about a community that gathered together from all over the world to survive. I was able to choose diverse names for each culture represented in the community. Names can be searched by region as well as meaning.
Every author has their own way of naming characters. What matters is finding a method that works for you. Do you honour a friend or loved one and use their name? I have. Other people don't, because characters may not be similar, and you don't want to offend someone. Do you go with something made up and unique? I have, when it's right for the character, or I don't need the character again. Do you search for the name by meaning or region? There's lots of webpages and books to help with that, if you choose.
It's interesting to me, but the character usually forms in my head before I name them. That's how naming by meaning is so easy for me. I can pick an aspect of their personality and name them after that. Other authors start with a name and build the character from there. Either way, find what works for you. Maybe try different methods, until and unless you have a favourite. What inspires you? Do that!
The best part about being a writer is that the more we write, the better we will get at it. Each novel will teach us more, let us practice, and give us a chance to hone our craft. I started writing because I love stories. I didn't even start with novels. Like a number of authors, I wrote personal short stories, and soon moved to fan-fiction.
I still have those stories online. I've debated deleting them. Frankly, as far as writing goes, they're pretty terrible. I can say that now, and easily compare them to the books I'm writing and have written. I only left them online because people actually seem to enjoy them.
I can even say my first book, Runaway Magic, is a debut novel, with all the normal things that go along with being a first actual novel. I'm proud of the story and characters, even as I can look back and know what I would do differently this time. I won't rewrite it, though, because it represents a moment in my writing career. My second novel, an erotica/romance under another pen name, shows more polish than my first novel. My second Forest Guardians book was even more polished than the first two books.
What will my third book look like? I'm still early in my writing career, so I can't fully say for sure, but I get better at using words and describing, and placing readers in the story. I can introduce more complex situations, always remembering my target is the Young Adult readers. I firmly think they are intelligent and capable individuals and I should never dumb down a book, but I'll be more aware of my sentence structure with a book for a younger reader than for a romance/erotica book.
What will my books look like 20 books from now, or 20 years from now? I hope I'll be a great writer by then. I'll still look back fondly on my earliest books. I have a whiteboard above my writing desk with notes and more on it, but in the middle I have the quote "write the book you want to read." After all, that's why I started writing. I want to go on adventures. I want to visit worlds of magic and mayhem, facing desperate odds and saving the world. I want magic swords and ponies and forests and wide open spaces, and more.
There are many authors I enjoy reading who have been writing a while. Some of them, I love their later books, when they got more skilled. Others, I prefer their earlier works. One thing I really enjoy now is finding other independent authors like myself and delving into their works. So far I have enjoyed a few books that were debut novels. I've only begun reading heavily again. Were their novels perfect? No, and neither was my book. But they are great, with fresh ideas and adventures for me to explore.
Always keep practicing writing. I still write short scenes and stories, just for fun and practice. I even include these stories in my newsletter for fans of my Forest Guardian series, and they're available online for my fan-fiction audience as well. I also write personal stories where I can explore topics and emotions I don't want to share with anyone. Everything I write is practice for my future books.
I'll always be grateful for the experience of writing Runaway Magic, my first full length novel ever. I learned to plot. I started learning how to bring people into stories with my words. I created a world and people to live in it. Sure, I love Facing the Fire, possibly more. Having written a novel once, I could relax a little and focus on the fun. I'm enjoying the third Forest Guardians book even more, now that I have a better feel for writing novels. All those pesky things like dialogue tags and descriptors come more easily with each book. They get less clunky and easier to do well.
Still, even as I look back at Runaway Magic, and my early fan-fictions really, those early stories showed me how to write and gave me practice. I can love them for what they are, part of my own writing adventure, and the start of it all. If Aili hadn't left home and run away, I wouldn't be on book three already, approaching the start of its final draft.
Love your early books. Honour them. They help make you the author you will become. Readers, those early books were how your favourite books developed into stories you adore. We should all celebrate the beginnings of any big adventure.
I've always been a dreamer with my nose in a book. I've been a reader since I learned to read, devouring books as I discovered them. In fact, it was only in the last decade I stopped reading as much. It feels good to get back to reading again, like I found a piece of myself that was lost.
Given that I spent so much time dreaming and living in worlds inside books, I have an amazingly active imagination. For me, starting a new book with a clean document is exciting. What will I create?
It all starts with who the main character is, for me. I'm a character driven author, so my stories are all heavily influenced by the characters. Sure, all kinds of things happen, but the stories belong to the main character as much as me. Once I know who they are and what they want, the story becomes all about them. Each story I began, I knew who the characters were before I began. At least, I knew the main characters. In the Forest Guardians books, more characters keep coming along as she explores more of her world.
Okay, so I have a blank page and a character to play with. Now what? Well, once I know what that character's issues are and what they need or want, I can decide how best to challenge them. What would make them grow? Life is full of ups and downs, so I get to play with both and see how the character reacts.
Still, what's my big conflict? I start with the inner conflict. What's going on inside the character? Now, how can I represent that in an outer conflict? With Aili in the first book, for instance, she was a lonely kid with no place to belong. She needed something that would make her depend on others, while learning more about her own strengths. What does she care about? Her forest, of course. Okay, forest in peril, here we come.
From there, I can fill in the details. This is where the Save the Cat method helps so much. Following the storytelling "code," I simply write the book I want to read, now. Stuck somewhere? What would I want to read about there? What would be fun for Aili, or push her, or help her somehow (whether she likes it or not)? That's what I write.
I may not even have the story fully plotted when I start. I outline using the Save the Cat method, and fill in details as they come. By my first 20 000 words or so, I always have a full outline and the beginnings of a story I enjoy. Will everyone enjoy my story? Of course not. That's not why I write. I write to let characters live, and to go on adventures. Some people will love them, others, not so much.
How many Forest Guardians books will I write? As many as Aili wants. Does she still have an adventure in her? At least one more, as there's a forest she hasn't been to yet. Sometimes the setting gives me a plot, like in book 3. Maybe I'll keep going, if she has a new adventure after that. Maybe it'll be a quartet. Aili will tell me. I have other stories on the go, too, and a whole file of ideas to play with when those are done.
Every writer has their own method, so find what works for you and go for it. Do you love characters like me? Do you want a gripping mystery? Prefer fantastic settings? Great, write with more focus on what you love. Just write!
Writing is a skill we can improve with experience. Not even a year ago, back in April, I decided to be an author. I’ve been writing stories for years, but I had no idea how to write a novel. How the heck was I supposed to plot something like that out? What am I supposed to do with characters?
I started by taking courses. The first couple were simply on writing fiction, whether it’s short stories or novels. I learned about writing descriptions and working with emotions. Still not knowing enough to write a novel, I took courses on plotting. I learned how to build a story and what significant points were needed. My favourite place to take writing courses without spending a lot of money is www.Udemy.com, as they always have sales each month.
The biggest compliment people can give me as a writer is that they didn’t want to put my book down, they had to keep reading. So far, multiple people have said that about my first novel, Runaway Magic. People are starting to read my second novel, and feedback has been similar there. It’s all thanks to the information I learned from writing courses.
Also, aspiring writers, learn tips and tricks on language use and powerful ways to string sentences together. Some words are less powerful, and sometimes simple sentences are better than long and drawn out sentences. The number one thing that stops me from reading books is how easy the sentences are to read. Sometimes I’m lost by the fourth comma in one sentence. Sometimes simple really is better.
I’m still taking courses and now watching webinars on different aspects of writing. I’m always seeking to grow my skills for both writing and publishing. There are all kinds of webinars out there by established authors to help writers hone their craft. Take advantage of them, but always think critically. Anyone can post anything online, so learn all you can, but be careful. You can even try things, but be ready to change and adapt as you gain your own experience.
The last couple of months I’ve been doing a lot of webinars and reading books on different aspects of writing. I’m proud of my first book, even with how I see I could now write it better. Already with my second book, I was a better writer. My third book is going even better for me. Again, my skills have improved. Who knows how well I’ll write in a few years? I look forward to finding out!
I'm always seeking to improve my writing skills. An essential part of learning to self-publish is writing book blurbs and synopsis. It's actually quite different from writing a novel. Most authors dislike writing blurbs, and it's easy to understand why.
Writing blurbs is actually a style of writing called copywriting. It's all about making the book sound appealing, and is a special skillset. There are techniques to learn and general guidelines to follow, just like in novel writing. However, when writing novels, you're interested in crafting a compelling story with a certain structure, which is different from the structure of a blurb.
Still, I'm always up for learning more and new skills. The more I do it, the more practiced I get.
What else has kept me so busy? I've been working on new covers for both books. Another skill I've been learning is cover design. Again, the more I do it, the better I will get. It's fun to play around and experiment, even if I don't use the designs I create. However, I've got new designs for the series and I prefer them to the originals.
Also, while I have not been doing NaNoWriMo, I have been keeping track of my progress on book 3, just to see how I'm doing. NaNoWriMo is national novel writing month. The goal for those participating is to write a 50 000 word novel in the month of November. I started book 3 of the Forest Guardians series on the 27th, of October, maybe, and I'm already over 30 000 words. I have the writing pace of an established and experienced professional author.
Most of all, I'm loving writing the story. Aili gets to go to a new forest, meet more Scouts, practice her healing with the best healers in the country, and deal with a soggy and grumpy Leya. They aren't called rainforests for nothing! You can look forward to the third novel in the series being released within a few months for sure.
Well, it's happened again. That bratty Aili decided it wasn't enough to hijack the ending of my last book, Facing the Fire. Now she made me rewrite the first part of the third book. It's going to all work out, and nothing I've written is wasted, but my story starts earlier than I thought.
I love that my characters are developing and becoming more their own people. Each book gives more background on someone and lets us learn more about them. We learn a lot more about Kyson in book two, and Aili gets a surprise in the ending that carries her into book three. Even Andvari shows more of his background in the second book.
Now when I'm writing a story my characters are often telling me how they'd respond to what I'm putting them through. I'm no longer having to form them so much. They're showing enough individuality that I just know how they'd respond.
Book three, yet to be titled, also lets me introduce more characters, and even build on some previous characters you meet in book two. Even my secondary characters have a history and their own preferences. Some are more serious, some more playful, and some are enthusiastic about their hobbies.
Aili learns a lot more about herself as she interacts with people, and she's going to visit a busy camp with a lot of people to interact with. It's when we spend time with others that we really learn who we are. She's still growing and learning her place in the world, and for someone who grew up almost alone, she's going to be stretched like never before.
We all have to ask "who am I?" Aili will spend some time looking back and looking ahead. With her band changing with each accomplishment, she is growing up quickly in status in her world. Can she keep up? How about you? How did you feel, navigating the challenges of becoming an adult and learning who you were?
Come on, You can’t have a forest without wolves, now, can you? I love wolves. On one of my backpacking trips in behind Banff, we got to listen to the wolves howl as they moved through the valley. That was an experience of a lifetime.
My favourite part of the Zoo is the North American animals. These are the animals I grew up seeing. The wolves were always one of my favourites, because I never actually saw them in the wild, only heard them. I also adore watching the river otters and can watch them all day, but that’s just an aside. In fact, today’s Instagram picture is from a Zoo trip many years ago. I love wildlife photography, and the Zoo is a great place to practice.
Aili also loves wolves, and so do all Scouts. In the first book, you meet the wolves on the non-magical side of the border. In the sequel, coming soon, you meet the wolves that inhabit the forest Aili grew up playing in. They play a much bigger part of the story, even letting you see one of the main characters in a new way as they interact.
Wolves have a complex and fascinating social structure. Demonized through story throughout history, many people fear or hate wolves. That’s a shame, really. They keep an ecosystem healthy and prevent overpopulation among the grazers. That’s why all healthy forests should have wolves.
I’ve been writing stories for myself for years. Now, I’m a published author. No genre is off limits, though I have some favorites.