Tag Archives: Inspiration

How to Be a Successful Writer

So, you wanna be a writer, huh?

Well, it takes a lot more than just saying so. In fact, one of the most annoying things you can say to a writer is, “I wanna write a novel too, but I…”

And there you go. Insert some excuse as if us writers have somehow been able to get out of things that would keep regular people from attempting a novel or a collection of poetry or short stories. The excuses range from lack of time to lack of inspiration, from not having anything to say to having too much to say (see my post called “Why I’d Rather Pass a Kidney Stone than Talk about my Writing” where I delve into this phrase further).

But outside of the excuses, what does it take to be a successful writer? Check out these 7 basics you need to master to become a successful writer.

Is this you? Do you *want* it to be you?

Is this you? Do you *want* it to be you?

What *is* Success?

The word writer, at its simplest definition, means someone who writes. Full stop. But that’s not much to go on, is it?

Technically, anyone can be a writer, and the word is flexible enough to cover a whole range of possibilities: a writer is someone who writes a blog, a writer is someone who writes TV scripts or novels, a writer is someone who writes business reports or those fun little anecdotes at the back of cereal boxes. Lastly, a writer is someone who toils away in their spare time, crafting a collection of words to convey an overall meaning. In theory, unpublished amateurs are also writers.

So, now that we’ve determined that you’re probably a writer (or a potential writer), what does it mean to be a successful writer?

Well, like the definition of writer, the definition of success is equally as fluid. Does success mean simply seeing your work in print? Does success mean becoming a New York Times bestselling author? Does success mean making a livable income off of your work?

Only after deciding what success means to you can you start working toward your goal.

You Must Actually Write

So, you’re a writer now? You’ve decided how you will define success, and you’re ready to go all in. Bad news #1: deciding to write was the easy part.

To be a writer, you must actually write. To have a completed manuscript or poem or article, you need to write it first. And then you need to rewrite it. And then you need to edit it. Writing, like anything, takes work. A lot of work. And the process will be very thankless. I wrote for 8 years without anyone giving a damn, and the only reason I’m here today with my debut novel published is because I was persistent.

You must be persistent too, but that means putting in the time.

Which Witch is Which?

Congrats on *actually* starting to write, and welcome to the land of fruitless labor, blood, sweat, and… paper cuts?

You have now realized that you need to actually put words on the page (or your arm in a pinch), and that’s great, but that’s not enough. How are you at spelling and grammar? Good spelling and grammar is the cornerstone of good writing, and there’s nothing more embarrassing than finding typos in your published work (I may be speaking from personal experience).

Got grammar sorted out? Cool. On to the next thing: how about pacing? How about character development? How about writing a good plot? Writing is so much more than putting words together in a grammatical sense. It’s about creating an atmosphere.

Be Unique, but Be Involved

The hardest thing to do in any industry is to be innovative and unique. Everything has been done before to some extent. I repeat: everything. BUT! That doesn’t mean you can’t put a new spin on old ideas or concepts. That doesn’t mean you should write stereotypical drivel.

At the same time, however, don’t risk alienating yourself and your work to be unique. Don’t write according to trends, but know what trends are out there. Don’t copy the greats, but at least read them and understand *why* they are great. You need to be involved in the writing community in some way, and for the love of Reese’s Pieces, read a book every once in a while.

Understand that Writing is a Business

I hate to break it to you, but the writing industry involves money. Sure, you write for yourself. Sure, you do it because you love it. But guess what? If you want to be successful, you need to come to terms with the fact that you’re writing for an audience.

There is money involved with successful writing careers. It isn’t always a lot of money, but it’s there nonetheless. There are parts of the industry that exclude art completely, instead focusing on sell-ability and marketing and numbers. And if you choose writing as your day job (one where you write articles or other non-fiction content instead of fiction), understand that this involves writing things you might not always want to write. It involves adhering to style guides. It involves business.

That said, if you want writing to be your business, never write for free. Sure, gaining experience is great, but know what you can offer and refuse to have your work undervalued.

Use Your Voice

Developing voice is perhaps the hardest thing for a writer to do. Trust me, I know this from experience. Conquering grammar and spelling is relatively simple, albeit annoying (Further? Farther? I’m over it), but voice is not something you can read up on and then regurgitate the next time you sit down to work on your latest piece.

Unfortunately, developing your voice simply comes with time. After plugging away at almost 220,000 words across three different manuscripts, I finally reached a point about two years ago where I said, “aha! I’ve found my voice”. But I’m not lying. It took six years and 220,000 words.

To Be an Artist is to Fail…

I’ve saved this point for last for one simple reason: the decision to write should be inspiring. You should be inspired to commit to daily or weekly word counts. You should be inspired to learn the ins and outs of grammar. You should be inspired to develop your own unique voice.

However, like all other professions within the arts industry, being a writer is an acceptance of failure. You will fail at some point. You will have your work rejected. You will have it chewed up and spit back in your face. You will face the fact that, at the beginning (inherently), no one cares. Seriously, I see many an amateur writer crumble and spiral into depression because they’ve come to the realization that no one cares about their work.

But embrace it. Work hard so that eventually (and I mean far-away eventually) someone will care. Sure, failure is guaranteed, but in order to be a successful writer, you need to be persistent. The only way to be persistent is to write because you love it.

Do you have any tips on being a successful writer?

Music to Write By: “We Slept at Last” by Marika Hackman

I may be back to freezing my butt off here in Toronto, but if I’m honest, I have a new distraction that’s got me thinking warm weather and springtime. My music tastes are rather eclectic and they range from neo-classical music to industrial, electronica to symphonic metal, and what I listen to tends to shape what I’m writing –regardless of whether the music is sad or happy, aggressive or manic. And lately I’ve been expanding my horizons into neo-folk.

Following my discovery of SoKo last year (check out “First Love Never Die”!), I decided to foray further into neo-folk where I discovered Marika Hackman. She is a 22 year old from England, and her cover of Lykke Li’s “I Follow Rivers” had me snagged immediately.

So imagine my delight when I discovered that her debut album would be out in 2015. Well, now it’s out, and I’m not gonna lie, it’s amazing. And not only that, it’s an amazing album to put on while I write my current work-in-progress. Marika’s full album is available for streaming on her soundcloud.

thPU9NOVACWhen I say that the album is one of the best I’ve heard in a long time, I honestly mean it. I am a big consumer of music, but very rarely do I listen to an album on repeat for long — and this is looking like I’ll be listening to this one for a while. Hackman not only nails atmosphere and tone with her neo-folks riffs and droning synths, but her songwriting is enough to make any writer or music geek excited. Half the time her lyrics sound like poetry, and the depth of her words offer new interpretations with each listen.

The album opens with “Drown”, the lead single. Though I like this song, I won’t lie that I’ve listened to it so many times now that I skip it. The second track is called “Before I Sleep” and I almost wish it was the album opener. Hackman’s soft guitar, droning synths, and soaring voice make this song ethereal and almost otherworldly and is definitely one of my go-to tracks when I’m writing a scene in my young adult paranormal WIP.

The third track is one of my favourites from the album and it’s called “Ophelia”. I had heard it in complete acoustic previous to the album’s release, but the rhythmic drums in the official recording make the tracking haunting and a perfect complement the melancholic lyrics: “But did you hear the sun go down? | Silent as a child I found | Hiding in the midnight of my soul | I am ready now to let her go”.

The next two tracks are also big highlights for me. “Open Wide” is reminiscent of a Nirvana track and both the guitar and low singing keep with the melancholic feel of the album. “Skin” is a slower duet track with English singer Sivu and the dichotomy of the two voices in the bridge is heavenly: “I’m a fever in your chest | The burning sun I’m west”.

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Did I mention the artwork was stellar?

“Claude’s Girl” is the sixth track on the album and it’s a more stripped down, folk track. The vocal work in the outro is fantastic too, and I think it really shows how well Hackman is at creating musical atmosphere. “Animal Fear” is the second single off of the album and it’s probably the most uptempo song on the album.  The personification of savage animals makes for a pretty sick music video too. It’s downtempo again for “In Words” and there’s also some pretty interesting, haunting guitar work while Hackman sings about feeling lost and homesick.

I haven’t listened to the final four tracks too intensely just yet, but my general impressions are great. For me, the tracks “Monday Afternoon” and “Next Year” were a surprise because of the Celtic and almost medieval feel. Definitely a good tracks to write scenes set in the 1700s to. “Undone, Undress” is probably the slowest on the album. It’s reminiscent of Hackman’s cover of Lykke Li’s “I Follow Rivers”, and I can’t say I mind.

The album closes with “Let Me In” where the lyrics “we slept at last” are finally heard. It’s at this point that the motif of sleep and drowning comes to fruition, especially after all this talk of vainly searching and being lost: “I chanced into the lake to hide my tears, conceal my salty fears | She could be the light | Help me base a trail and they’ll follow | To a cruel, hard heartland”. It’s actually at the end of the album that you can best appreciate what Hackman has created: she hasn’t just written a bunch of songs and thrown them together for better or for worse. She’s created a cohesive mood, a complete unit, consistent from beginning to end. I find this very rare in modern music. I find that a lot of artists as of late just release albums with 12 songs and call it a day. Rarely do these songs work well together or complement each other in the way that the songs on this album do. It’s a welcome change. If you’re a fan of appreciating albums as a whole, I definitely recommend this one.

What are you listening to lately?

A Break in Samanà

It is cold in Toronto at the moment. Understand, though, that when I say cold, I don’t mean the stick-your-hand-in-the-fridge cold. I’m talking -30 degrees Celsius, boogers freezing to the inside of your nose, the air hurts your face kind of cold. For my American friends, -30 degrees Celsius is about -22 Fahrenheit. Stupid, terrible, f*ck-my-life cold.

But lucky for me, I was able to travel away from it for a while. After my huge backpacking trip to South Africa and Europe last Spring, it wasn’t long before I had my sights on my next destination. Given that last winter was brutal with this polar vortex nonsense, I knew that I wouldn’t survive another winter without being able to break away for a bit. I knew I needed to get away in mid-February and I needed to go somewhere HOT! So three friends and I booked our trip back in October and my backpack has been anxiously awaiting sun since.

Bahia Principe Cayacoa in Samanà, Dominican Republic.

Bahia Principe Cayacoa in Samanà, Dominican Republic.

Now, I’m not someone who normally enjoys the all-inclusive resort travel style. I like more intimate settings, accommodation that brings me closer to the culture and the people of a place. It’s nothing against the all-inclusive (who can say no to unlimited Piña Colada?), but I just prefer to immerse myself in a new place and make my experience as authentic as possible.

However, this all-inclusive at the Bahia Principe Cayacoa was exactly what I needed. My photos don’t do the resort much justice, but it was a medium-sized resort complete with three pools, bars, restaurants, and most importantly, a gorgeous beach!

Besides the endless days in the sun catching up on my reading and recharging my creative juices for a final 15,000 words on my work-in-progress, what really made this trip was the excursions.

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Our first excursion wasn’t much of an excursion at all since it was technically attached to the resort, though not owned by it. Three islands jut out from the beach at the resort (which I believe is called Los Cayos, but I’m not sure) and they are connected to the beach by bridges. It looked like the city of Samanà may have tried to build recreational buildings on the islands, but they have since fallen into disrepair, and it’s awesome. They are covered in graffiti and it gives the islands an almost post-apocalyptic feel as the jungle reclaims the structures and the fauna incorporates the stone into its growth. Considering my obsession with the jungle and with a post-human Earth, our mini-excursion-but-not-an-excursion led to a cool discussion about art and humanity.

I love jungles!

I love jungles!

I don’t yet have photos of our next excursion yet, but I’m hoping I will soon and then I’ll make a separate post about it. So, for now, I’ll just say that I went scuba diving! TWICE! It was terrifying and exhilarating and fantastic all at the same time. I have a fear of both heights and of depths, but despite this, I don’t allow my fears of stopping me from trying new things, especially when I know I’ll regret not trying something. So, in line with sitting on Leopard’s Rock  over Oribi Gorge in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa last May to counter my fear of heights, I decided that scuba diving would be an awesome way to face my fear of depths.

The first time we went, we didn’t see many fish because the ocean was choppy and our guide wasn’t able to bring us to the spot he intended. However, seeing the bottom of the ocean is something surreal and magical, so when he came to us again the next day and offered to take us to a shipwreck, we couldn’t refuse. It was amazing. I know words aren’t doing much for you right now, but once I get the photos and videos from my travelling companion’s GoPro, I will write a separate post. What I will say though is that scuba diving is a strange kind of peaceful, and as unnatural as breathing underwater is, the ocean floor is serene and calming. I can’t wait to do it again!

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Our last excursion of the trip was to El Limòn, a waterfall deep in the jungle. For me, this was the most anticipated part of the trip, but it ended up actually being the most disappointing — as the most anticipated things generally are! I adored the waterfall and the chance to get to it by horseback, but the amount of tourists made the experience a little unenjoyable and chaotic (yes, I know: I’m part of the problem!) But the number of tourists was only eclipsed the number of locals. Don’t get me wrong, I love meeting locals when I travel: it’s a cool way to enrich experiences and learn about other cultures. But no, I don’t want a parrot on my shoulder. No, I don’t want to buy anything. No, I don’t need you to hold my bag for me or take twelve photos of me with your fancy camera or give me a toy iguana. Frankly, it was annoying and took away from the serenity and tranquility I wanted to feel when I visited. I didn’t even feel like going swimming and that was the ONE thing I wanted to do there. Oh well, there will be more waterfalls to swim in, I guess.

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All in all, the trip was spectacular. It was a much needed break from the cold and from work, and I think it gave me just enough time to relax before I finish this WIP. The only issue now is that I want to travel again! Maybe this summer? Iceland? Turkey? Maybe a road trip to Calgary and the West Coast? Why not it all? I’ll take a hiatus from life and travel the entire world.

If only, right?

Stay warm!

Writerly Updates + Mid-Manuscript Inspirations

I thought I’d just do a quick post before I leave tomorrow. Oh, yeah? Did I mention that I’m off to the Dominican Republic for a week? No? Well, I leave tomorrow and I’m extremely excited and I shall make a post about it when I get back. In any case, I thought I’d talk a little bit about a project that I’ve been working on the past couple months.

In the beginning of December, I cheated on a work-in-progress with another work-in-progress. One thing led to another, I became invested with WIP #2 and slowly stopped working on WIP#1, and BAM! I have 40,000 words. I’m proud. This is the quickest I’ve ever written anything, and I’m thinking that my vacation will clear my head and rejuvenate my creative juices enough to power through another 15,000 words when I get back so that I have a completed young adult paranormal/horror manuscript first draft by the spring!

In fact, besides ditching WIP #1, this writing process has been very typical for me. I became enthused with the project from the beginning, wrote 25,000 words in no time, slowed down in the middle, the scenes leading up to 40,000 becoming more difficult to write, and now I’m taking a two week break before writing the climax and the end.

The one difference this time, however, is that I have a blog.

I’ve never had a blog while I was writing and completing a first draft before. Think of all the feelings I could document! Think of all the goal-setting I could do and then fail at! Well, instead, I thought I’d talk about what was inspiring me.

New Tunes!

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Like all of my other manuscripts, this one has a particular feel to it because of the music I’ve been listening to. This manuscript has been inspired by recent albums by BANKS, FKA Twigs, and Bjork (trip hop and electronica for a paranormal/horror novel?), but also by the new Marilyn Manson album and the singles that have been released by Marika Hackman for her upcoming debut neo-folk album. And as usual, I’m really into neo-classical music (AKA. the best writing music). I’ve written a lot of scenes to Ludovico Einaudi’s Nightbook. It’s haunting and creepy and wonderful. I definitely suggest checking it out.

Horror Movies

What can I say? I’m writing a paranormal novel. No, I’m not aiming to write the next Twilight or romanticize vampires or werewolves or zombies. I wanted to move away from all of that, move into a little bit more of a traditional sphere. So, I decided on ghosts and spirits and hauntings… And I’m happy about it! I love traditional horror, and I’ve been inspired a lot by its revival in the film industry lately, most notably Annabelle, The Conjuring, the Insidious movies. To me, those things are always a little bit creepier than vampires or werewolves, and to be honest, I really don’t want to write a paranormal romance. Amendment: I will never write a paranormal romance.

Ahhh! So creepy!

Ahhh! So creepy!

Books… Okay, Maybe Not Quite

Books have been inspiring me in a weird way this time around. In fact, I’ve been finding it really hard to get into any of the books I’ve been reading. Sure, the books I’m reading are well-written enough, but I’m just not passionate about them. I’m not lost in them. I’m not obsessed with them. (Got a good book? Get at me… I’m in a lull).

So, I’ve done some soul-searching–or rather, bookshelf searching. What YA books did I absolutely love? Which ones was I obsessed with? There’s Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Demonata to name a few. I’m not looking to recreate those series, I just want to understand what made them so good and then apply that logic to this piece. I may not have figured it out yet, but I’m trying.

How’s your writing going? What are you working on? What’s inspiring you?

How I Stopped Caring and I’m Better Off

So, here’s the deal. I graduated university in April. I left on a plane ten days after my last exam and travelled to South Africa and Europe for forty days. While I was abroad, I managed to secure a publishing contract after YEARS (legit, like 7 years) and then get a contract for a day job to carry me until I can *hopefully* be able to make my writing my work.

My secret? I stopped caring.

Old Life Philosophy: Micro-manage the crap out of everything and then beat yourself up when things don't go EXACTLY as planned.

Old Life Philosophy: Micro-manage the crap out of everything and then beat yourself up when things don’t go EXACTLY as planned.

Okay, backtrack. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. I do care. I cared very much about getting my post-secondary degree. I cared very much about being able to uproot my life for a while and live out of a backpack. I cared and continue to care very much about my writing because ultimately, writing is my art and my child and without it, I’d be completely lost.

What I stopped caring about was all the pressure that I was putting on myself.

Before I completed my university degree, I was in a different place. I had three manuscripts that seemingly no one gave a rat’s ass about. I had the daunting task of trying to find a job in this rough and often hopeless-seeming economy. Worst of all, I had this fear welled so deep inside me that I would never get to live my dream of being a writer. I worried that I would lay on my deathbed decades from now and realize that not only had I not achieved my dream, but I had wasted my whole life with nothing to show for it. I felt hopeless.

And then I boarded a plane and everything changed, almost as soon as I landed in Paris from my first overnight flight. It wasn’t that nothing really mattered anymore because a lot of things did, it was just that I seemed to have developed a distance from everything in my life. Sure, the physical distance was there, but there was also a mental one — an emotional one.

I learned to live in the now. I stopped worrying so much about what I was going to do once I graduated, what would happen when I returned home, and how I would feel if I failed the one thing I so desperately wanted to do. I also realized the immense pressure I had been putting on myself. It was the pressure to succeed for myself and a fear that I would fail and have to live the life that society envisioned for me. I became okay with not having a clear-cut direction for a little while and best of all, I stopped caring.

Drinking in Durban in the daytime? I just don't care!

Drinking in Durban in the daytime? I just don’t care!

I didn’t care that I had no job. I didn’t care that society was trying to convince me that my dream was unable to be achieved. I didn’t care that I had very little money and that I would return home to face an abyss with little more than a grand to my name. I just knew that I loved something so much that I trusted I would find a way to make it work.

And the moment I stopped caring and stressing, things fell into place. I was twenty-five days into my backpacking trip, checking into a hostel in Heidelberg, Germany when I got the email I would be a published author.

So, stop caring.