The Four Important Stages of a Writer’s Development

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STAGE 1:

You write for yourself. More daydreams than proper stories, your writing at this point appeals to you more so than other people. These stories tend to reflect your desires and fantasies and may contain in-jokes and references unfamiliar to a general audience.

STAGE 2:

You strive to break free of your narcissistic writing shell and communicate with a broader audience, but your reach exceeds your grasp. You’re aware of what you want to write but you’re caught in that in-between space of partially-developed and fully-fleshed-out stories. This is usually where you begin receiving your rejection letters. Keep these. Sure, they’re crushing at the time but they’re great to look back on once you’ve sold your work.

STAGE 3:

Your stories have begun to flesh themselves out but they’re still not where they need to be structurally and/or technically. This is also where you begin to work on improving your character development.

STAGE 4:

You’ve acknowledged and tackled all the problems in the previous stages, and though you haven’t totally mastered them yet, you can compose stories competently enough to jam your foot in the doorway of the professional writer field.

Are there other stages? Sure, and I’ll address them in a later post (this should be more than enough for you to gnaw on for now), so until next time…

Sally forth and be writeful.

Hone, Hone, Hone Your Writing Craft, Gently on the Page

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Hate to be the one to break it to you, but solid writing skills don’t suddenly blossom overnight. Like any skill, it has to be learned before it can be mastered. Your writing ability is a weapon unique to you, no one else has your voice, but raw talent isn’t enough to help you wield this weapon effectively. First it needs to be honed by patience, determination, experience, and the 10 practical tips listed below:

  1. WRITE EVERY DAYWriting is a muscle that needs to be exercised to get stronger. The blank page is that jogger’s path in the park you walk past everyday, the treadmill tucked in the corner of the garage, the exercise DVD that never quite found its way into the player, the dusty and unused gym membership you purchased at the beginning of the New Year. It’s the thing you need to show up for everyday in order to get it to work for you.
  2. DON’T PROCRASTINATE – Sometimes you can be too smart for your own good. Knowing how difficult and painfully agonizing writing can be, you begin hearing the siren call of all the things that attempt to lure you away from planting your hinder in a chair and committing words to the page. Sometimes you justify it with useful endeavors (housework, laundry, errands, and the like), other times you hide behind the white lie of doing research on the internet, or you flat out vegetate and do absolutely nothing at all. And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with any of these activities… you simply don’t do them when it’s time to write.
  3. FIGHT THROUGH WRITER’S BLOCK – I’ve already addressed this in a previous post and since I’m not in the mood to repeat myself, you can read my thoughts on writer’s block, as well as some possible solutions to get you back into the flow here.
  4. LEARN FROM THE MASTERSYou may have noticed (head to the back of the class if you haven’t) that I continuously post lists featuring the thoughts, rules and writing habits of famous authors. The reason should be obvious. They’ve been where you are now, handled what you’re currently struggling with… and they made it through. Who better to get advice from?  It’s like that old story:

    A man walks down the street, not paying attention where he’s going and falls into a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, “Hey you. Can you help me out?”  The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, “Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?”  And the friend jumps in the hole. The man is dumbfounded, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”

  5. FIND YOUR MUSEIf you haven’t found your muse yet, you’re probably looking in the wrong place. And woe betide the scribe who only seeks inspiration online. There’s a time to interweb—truth of the matter, you can overload your brain to the point of creative blockage or total shutdown—and a time to get back to basics by venturing out into the world to experience things that catch your attention and identify the things that motivate you to be creative.
  6. KILL YOUR DARLINGS – You love your stories to the point of looking at them through the eyes of a proud parent. Nothing wrong with that, you should be proud of them, they’re your creation, after all. But are they healthy? Are they at the right weight or are they unnecessarily bloated? Editing is the balance in your writing, the order in chaos, and it’s every bit as grueling as struggling through writer’s block. But once you master this, you’ll be amazed to discover how your writing style changes.
  7. ASK FOR FEEDBACK – Don’t even fix your mouth to ask me why. You know the reasons (you’ll become a better writer, writing will become a less painful process, blah-blah-blah). When you might need feedback is probably a better question to ask. Maybe you’ve just plotted out a story and want to run the idea past a family member or friend? Or perhaps you’re halfway through a draft and you’re unsure about the direction you’ve decided to take. Essentially, asking for feedback helps you break out of the isolation of writing and you’re no longer working in a vacuum, wondering whether or not you’re making yourself understood. Seeking feedback from others is taking positive, constructive steps to improve your own writing and develop as a writer. And develop a tough skin because not all of the feedback you get will be positive.
  8. READ, READ, READ – Stephen King once wrote, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” and if you don’t believe that and don’t like to read, you shouldn’t pursue writing as a profession. Reading good writing can teach you about structure, dialogue, pacing, plot, using symbols and imagery to convey a point. Reading expert writing gives you something to strive for, as well as keeping you humble; there will always be writers out there who are better than you, just accept it. You can even learn lessons from reading bad writing (Why doesn’t the dialogue flow? Why are scenes dragging? Why don’t i care about the characters?).
  9. STUDY THE RULES, THEN BREAK THEMLearning to be a more efficient writer can be a chore—it’s always daunting trying to adopt a new way of working. Stepping outside your comfort zone is never fun and rules generally tend to seem restrictive. But before you ask, “Why can’t I just pick and choose stuff that suits me?” consider that in order to be able to choose the bits to use and the parts to leave behind, it’s necessary to first learn all the rules before you can go cherry-picking through them.
  10. KEEP THE DEMONS AT BAY – That brainbox of yours is a Pandora’s Box jam-packed with surprises and miracles and as-yet-untapped genius… and the counterbalance to that are the demons that nurture that tortured writer’s spirit you possess. They feed on rejection and whisper fear and doubt in your ear, but since they’re a necessary evil, it’s important that you develop the ability to silence them while you’re writing. Nothing gets between you and your writing, especially not some crabs in a barrel mind demons.

Sally forth and be writeful… and enjoy honing your craft.

Braiding Tales: We Built a World, Row by Row

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“We gave the Future to the winds, and slumbered tranquilly in the Present, weaving the dull world around us into dreams.” ― Edgar Allan Poe, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt

I spent most of my early teens in the Bronx. The street I lived on, corner to corner, ran the length of three average city blocks and was the picture of diversity—the melting pot that New York had become famous for. It was all about migration. Italians were moving to new ground as black people nestled in and on their tail were Hispanics followed by West Indians. It was a neighborhood in transition where multi-cultures learn by cohabitation that differences in race didn’t make a person less human.

It was also the 70’s and I rocked a killer afro to end all ‘fros. Metal pronged afro pick with the handle clenched in a black power fist and a peace symbol carved out on the base, tucked in the back of my hair.

It drove my parents crazy. They rode my back constantly to get it cut but there was that preteen Samsonian fear that the strength of my personality—-my Madd-ness—-would be stripped away, were a barber to lay clippers on my precious locks. When I got the “as long as you’re living under my roof” speech, I knew I needed a solution and I needed it quick.

Enter: Cynthia Holloway. I mentioned my plight in passing and out of nowhere she offered to braid my hair into cornrows. So, we sat on the stoop of a private house and armed with only a comb and hair grease, Cynthia worked her nimble fingers like a loom.

She was one of those neighborhood girls that I’d never really spoken to before outside the odd hello. Not that there was anything wrong with her, she was simply a person that kept herself to herself. The type of person you’d have to make an effort to get to know.

It would take many years for me to become that type of person.

But in sitting with her I discovered she was both intelligent and imaginative, with interesting stories to tell. Her father was a retired Army Ranger colonel, who spent a great deal of his free time on the road in a jazz band.

I’m not sure how much of that was true. No one could ever remember seeing Cynthia’s dad, so maybe it was a story she invented to keep nosy kids at bay. Or perhaps it was one of the quiet lies that parents tell their children to spare them from the harsh realities of troubled marriages.

Since we had nothing but time to kill, we talked about our constricted home lives, mentioned the odd hobby, told a few jokes and had a couple of laughs, and when all the conversation wells had run dry, we told each other stories.

At the end of every month, when the braids began to look a little ratty, I’d take them out and Cynthia met me back on that stoop to repeat the process. And after a brief bit of catch-up, we’d go back to telling each other imaginary stories and without meaning to, wound up designing an illusory sanctuary from the burdens and pains of our everyday pre-teenage lives.

While we mentally terraformed our neighborhood row by cornrow, we got to know each other in those months as the monarchs of our fantasy world. We explored the surroundings, went on adventures, and basically forgot the world for a few hours a month.

Come the fifth month, I sat on the stoop and waited, my hair a wild crop of imagination waiting to be plowed, but Cynthia never showed. I later learned from a friend of a friend’s sister that she and her mother had moved away in the middle of the night without telling a soul where they were headed.

I tried to imagine all the possible reasons that would cause them to make a hurried escape under the cloak of twilight and seriously hoped it had nothing to do with her retired-Army-Ranger-colonel-jazz-band-dad. Nothing negative, anyway.

And yes, I eventually had no other choice than to submit to the butcher shop barbershop haircut. Much to my surprise, I managed to retain all of my Madd-ness afterward. I was still filled with my nerdy sameness and when I missed her a bit, I’d sometimes sit on the stoop and give an imaginary Cynthia updates on the latest goings-on in the world we created.

Thanks for humoring me as I wool-gathered.

PS. Cyn, if through some bizarre happenstance you should come across this, hit me up real quick. There’s a world in some need of serious upkeep.

Text and audio ©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Don’t Be A Chump, Don’t Infodump

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Finding balance in your life isn’t simple. Balancing life and writing is even harder. Finding balance in your writing? That’s something you’ll be working on for the rest of your natural writing life, because a well-written story balances exposition, description, action and dialogue, but not in equal measure. You need to keep a watchful eye on exposition.

In its basic form, exposition is the part of a story that sets the stage for the drama to follow, introducing the theme, setting, characters, and circumstances, usually at the beginning of the story. Sounds straightforward enough, right? Well, writing good exposition that flows with the story and continues to draw the audience in, isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, many writers misuse exposition as an illegal dumping ground for information that not only causes a distraction that breaks the flow of a story, but also decreases interest.

And you don’t have to be an expert to spot the exposition dump (aka infodump) because we’ve all experienced and recognized it while reading a novel or watching a movie or television program. It’s that speed bump or sometimes roadblock in the story where the writer unloads a ton of information at once as a means of explaining things like backstory, characters, and the rules of the story world. If you’re a culprit of this, stop it now. We’ll forgive your ignorance in past works (go back and cull the exposition, if at all possible) but it’s a bad exposition technique and the line must be drawn here. This far, no further.

Typically, infodumping occurs when a character, new to the scene, is introduced to a foreign setting and is force-fed all the knowledge of the various individuals at play, the rules of the micro society, and the overall big picture of the story world. You’ll find this a lot in science fiction and fantasy tales.

Other bad/lazy infodumping techniques include “The Lecture,” where a speaker over-explains information the writer discovered during their research period of the writing process and thought would show their faux expertise in the subject. The other offender is commonly known in the sci-fi writing community as the “As You Know, Bob,” conversation, where one character tells another character information they already know. Please don’t do this. Not only is it lazy, but it comes across as unrealistic.

This isn’t to say that all exposition is bad, in fact, properly executed, it takes up roughly 10% of a well-balanced written piece (the other 90%, of course, being the description, action and dialogue that make up the scenes). Some of the information embedded within expository text is actually relevant, it simply requires a little finesse to fit it in seamlessly and not disrupt the story’s flow.

Of course, if you handle your description, action and dialogue properly, you can whittle that 10% down and most people won’t notice or care about the missing exposition.

Well, that’s enough infodumping for me today. I’m off to tear a story down and rebuild it.

Sally forth and be writeful.

Be Violent And Original (in your writing, naturally)

Image“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” – Gustave Flaubert

Live a good life. This isn’t something I should have to tell you. As you make your way through the workaday world, you should strive to do no harm, treasure your relationships with family and friends, seek calming pleasures that contribute to peace of mind, and live in harmony and balance.

Your written life? That’s a different creature all together.

Safe, tame, bland, and sometimes “it’s good” (with the unspoken “but…” attached on the end like a phantom limb) are among the worst things someone can say about your work. Whenever you write, your goal should be to provide elements that hook your audience and reels them in and after the story has been told, leaves them with an emotional takeaway.

Writing is about risk-taking, about snapping off the handbrakes, about shrugging off restraint, about leaving your internal censor bound and gagged in a tiny room, allowing your words and imagination to run amuck and wreak havoc in the world you’ve created.

If you’re not currently writing this way, what’s holding you back? What’s bridling your passion? What’s preventing you from creating bold characters, powerful phrases and dangerous situations? If not yours, then whose hand is on the lever that controls the sluice gates holding back the churning anxiety, obsession and peril your story desperately needs?

Are you trapped within the safe zone because of fear? Then allow me to geek out a moment as I quote the litany of fear, an incantation used by the religious/political sisterhood known as the Bene Gesserit from Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic, Dune:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Fear is also an art-killer. It’s typically the fear of being judged by professionals, critics and peers, of not being admired by the audience for taking a controversial stance or doing horrible things to characters. But the possible opinions and tastes of everyone outside yourself shouldn’t factor in while you’re creating your story. The transfer of ownership hasn’t taken place at this point. It isn’t the reader’s story yet, it’s still yours, so why not write fiercely?

Give your characters barbed tongues and let them spit venom. Give them the courage to do all the things you would never dream of attempting, even on your most adventurous or foolhardy day. Tear their hearts out and make them suffer as you place them smack dab in the center of conflict and tension-filled drama.

Basically, I’m asking you to fish out that key that you’ve hidden in the back of a junk drawer within the deep recesses of your mind and open the door to your wildest imaginings.

You’ll come to discover that if you’re open, honest and free in your writing, yes, you will have your critics and people who won’t either like or understand your work, but you’ll also attract an audience that will come back for more.

What’s that? You need more incentive? Okay, well I didn’t want to break out the big guns but here goes:

I dare you to become more engaging and intriguing with your writing. I double-dog dare you.

See what you made me do? Happy now?

Sally forth and be writeful.

The Tam Commandments

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My past often crossed paths with my present, but never with the people I desired to see again. Because of this, I’m always filled with an odd mix of embarrassing nostalgia and unwanted reflection, followed by the inevitable introspection. I see where old acquaintances are in their lives and I can’t help but look at where I am in relation to my dreams and aspirations.

No matter if you’re the outgrower (the disinterested party) or the outgrown (the rejected party), neither are comfortable during a random meeting. Also, dealing with people from my past have had the effect of feeling like I was moving backward. As if all the growth I’d experienced after being separated from that person vanished because they’re present in my life again.

And these chance encounters happened in the damnedest places. At the time the incident that is the subject of this post occurred, I was tucked away in a small town in a new state on the opposite coast when I ran into a childhood friend. Well, friend might have been a bit of a stretch. She wasn’t really friends with anyone. Truer to say we ran in the same circles. Even truer than that, we ran in different circles that sometimes overlapped like a Venn diagram of societal misfit kids.

Rough and rugged, tough as nails, she took no shit off anyone, not even her parents. She went her own way, did her own thing, and everyone in the neighborhood, kid and adult alike knew she’d most likely end up either dead or in prison. Some people only left their future open for those two options.

Anyway, I was at the local thrift store when I heard someone calling my name. I assumed it couldn’t be me since I knew exactly zero people in Los Angeles, but as this person kept calling, my curiosity got the better of me and turned to see her: Tamika.

It took me a moment to work out who she was. Not that the years hadn’t been kind to her, it was just that she wasn’t a person I had ever thought about remembering.

She, on the other hand, treated me like we were lifelong buddies. Big hugs and kisses and a smile that could have lit the Hollywood Bowl. Time has a funny way of altering the past. She remembered our relationship very differently than I had.

So, we did what people who hadn’t seen one another in ages do. We shared past stories, gave abridged accounts of our lives since then, and painted the brightest possible picture for our futures. And me being me, I remarked on how I never thought I’d see her ever again. Of all the people, not including those that had passed, she was easily the last person I ever expected to clap eyes on.

She hadn’t taken offense. She knew better than anyone the type of person she was back then and she said she probably would have fulfilled everyone’s prophesy of jail or death if not for Chickie.

Chickie was the only other person who could’ve matched Tammy pound for pound. Cut from the same cloth, sisters from a different mister, they were thick as thieves. And probably would have been for life, had Chickie not met her maker at the claw end of a hammer in a drug deal gone horribly wrong.

That’s when Tam found the way.

My internal groan was so loud I feared she might’ve heard it. I myself am areligious, and though I don’t begrudge anyone their spiritual beliefs, I have a hard time listening to the sanctimony of proselytizing born-agains.

But she hadn’t found Jesus, at least not in that way. Nor had she joined a cult. She claimed she simply hit rock bottom and having no one to turn to, sat down and wrote out a list of commandments for herself. A self-imposed list of rules in which she would like to live by.

And while I wish I could remember the list verbatim–my memory, unfortunately, has a mind of its own–I instead offer up a similar list that contains many of Tamika’s instructions for living a good life:

The 82 Commandments of Alejandro Jodorowsky

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1. Ground your attention on yourself. Be conscious at every moment of what you are thinking, sensing, feeling, desiring, and doing.

2. Always finish what you have begun.

3. Whatever you are doing, do it as well as possible.

4. Do not become attached to anything that can destroy you in the course of time.

5. Develop your generosity – but secretly.

6. Treat everyone as if he or she was a close relative.

7. Organize what you have disorganized.

8. Learn to receive and give thanks for every gift.

9. Stop defining yourself.

10. Do not lie or steal, for you lie to yourself and steal from yourself.

11. Help your neighbor, but do not make him dependent.

12. Do not encourage others to imitate you.

13. Make work plans and accomplish them.

14. Do not take up too much space.

15. Make no useless movements or sounds.

16. If you lack faith, pretend to have it.

17. Do not allow yourself to be impressed by strong personalities.

18. Do not regard anyone or anything as your possession.

19. Share fairly.

20. Do not seduce.

21. Sleep and eat only as much as necessary.

22. Do not speak of your personal problems.

23. Do not express judgment or criticism when you are ignorant of most of the factors involved.

24. Do not establish useless friendships.

25. Do not follow fashions.

26. Do not sell yourself.

27. Respect contracts you have signed.

28. Be on time.

29. Never envy the luck or success of anyone.

30. Say no more than necessary.

31. Do not think of the profits your work will engender.

32. Never threaten anyone.

33. Keep your promises.

34. In any discussion, put yourself in the other person’s place.

35. Admit that someone else may be superior to you.

36. Do not eliminate, but transmute.

37. Conquer your fears, for each of them represents a camouflaged desire.

38. Help others to help themselves.

39. Conquer your aversions and come closer to those who inspire rejection in you.

40. Do not react to what others say about you, whether praise or blame.

41. Transform your pride into dignity.

42. Transform your anger into creativity.

43. Transform your greed into respect for beauty.

44. Transform your envy into admiration for the values of the other.

45. Transform your hate into charity.

46. Neither praise nor insult yourself.

47. Regard what does not belong to you as if it did belong to you.

48. Do not complain.

49. Develop your imagination.

50. Never give orders to gain the satisfaction of being obeyed.

51. Pay for services performed for you.

52. Do not proselytize your work or ideas.

53. Do not try to make others feel for you emotions such as pity, admiration, sympathy, or complicity.

54. Do not try to distinguish yourself by your appearance.

55. Never contradict; instead, be silent.

56. Do not contract debts; acquire and pay immediately.

57. If you offend someone, ask his or her pardon; if you have offended a person publicly, apologize publicly.

58. When you realize you have said something that is mistaken, do not persist in error through pride; instead, immediately retract it.

59. Never defend your old ideas simply because you are the one who expressed them.

60. Do not keep useless objects.

61. Do not adorn yourself with exotic ideas.

62. Do not have your photograph taken with famous people.

63. Justify yourself to no one, and keep your own counsel.

64. Never define yourself by what you possess.

65. Never speak of yourself without considering that you might change.

66. Accept that nothing belongs to you.

67. When someone asks your opinion about something or someone, speak only of his or her qualities.

68. When you become ill, regard your illness as your teacher, not as something to be hated.

69. Look directly, and do not hide yourself.

70. Do not forget your dead, but accord them a limited place and do not allow them to invade your life.

71. Wherever you live, always find a space that you devote to the sacred.

72. When you perform a service, make your effort inconspicuous.

73. If you decide to work to help others, do it with pleasure.

74. If you are hesitating between doing and not doing, take the risk of doing.

75. Do not try to be everything to your spouse; accept that there are things that you cannot give him or her but which others can.

76. When someone is speaking to an interested audience, do not contradict that person and steal his or her audience.

77. Live on money you have earned.

78. Never brag about amorous adventures.

79. Never glorify your weaknesses.

80. Never visit someone only to pass the time.

81. Obtain things in order to share them.

82. If you are meditating and a devil appears, make the devil meditate too.

Not being a fan of dogma, creed, or commandments in general, I admit I can find merit in many items on this list as suggestions for people to find their own path in life. Hell, if it worked for Tamika, it damn sure couldn’t hurt giving it a go.

So, sally forth, true believers and blasts from the past, and be making your own commandments and living by themingly writeful.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

 

11 Things Every Writer Needs to Know (More About You and Less About the Writing)

“Write like you’ll live forever — fear is a bad editor. Write like you’ll croak today — death is the best editor. Fooling others is fun. Fooling yourself is a lethal mistake. Pick one — fame or delight.” ― Ron Dakron

  1. Writing is a steep, uphill battle but it’s fierce and it’s beautiful and you’ll regret walking away from it before you’ve seen it reach its potential.
  2. New people, experiences and opportunities to write about won’t stop coming into your life but you need to make space for them. Reexamine all your current relationships, obligations and habits and if you find value in them, hold onto them tighter. If their value escapes you, it’s time to let something go.
  3. Resolve to be awesome for the rest of your life, starting right now. Just because.
  4. Writing goals are not reserved for January 1st. Get in the habit of setting them monthly, hell, even weekly. Set them so that you’re moving forward and always trying to progress. Your writing can grow stagnant without them. Beware.
  5. Confidence is an attractive thing. Readers dig it. Non-readers dig it. We all dig it.
  6. Negative people chip away at your spirit. Flush the toxins and get yourself into a better writing head space.
  7. And if you slag off another writer because their abilities fail to impress or interest you, maybe you’re on the road to toxicity. Peer relationships are too valuable to muddy with what you perceive to be the shortcomings of other writers. If you can’t find enjoyment in someone’s writing, don’t read it. Plain and simple.
  8. You’re human and as such you’re going to waste many hours focusing on who you aren’t, or who you want to secretly be. But you won’t ever wake up and magically become that person. You’ve got to embrace what you bring to the table. If you don’t like what that is, have the courage to change it.
  9. Regret is a very real thing. It’s going to happen to you at some point. Don’t hold onto things forever but learn from them and let the past go. The past will be a dictator if you let it.
  10. Yes, when we write we create worlds, but the world doesn’t revolve around us. Turns out we’re just punctuations in a much larger story littered with periods and commas and dashes. How are you helping that story to be better? How are you being the best punctuation you can be?
  11. Tech advancement is coming at us fast and furious and it’s all too easy to let an emoticon laden text do the talking for you, too easy to click a Like or +1 button instead of engaging people in an actual dialogue. Never lose sight of the beauty of a conversation where you can watch a person’s face express actual emotions. Let a person know that they are worth your words. They are worth your presence. They are worth more than just letters on a screen. Face to face connections are fading faster everyday. Please don’t let the machines win.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

What Dreams May Come — Journaling Your Sleep Inspired Stories

“Even today I keep a Dream Journal. It’s whatever’s going on in my subconscious, or things from dreams or even interesting items that pop into my head. I have thousands of pages of notes which I hope someday will turn into stories, or movies.” — Clive Barker

I had the craziest dream last night—which is why you’re reading this—more lucid than any dream I can remember having for quite a while now. It was strangely reminiscent of World War Z—the Brad Pitt movie, not the far superior book—where I was trying to make my way to Washington, DC to avert a catastrophe brought about by the government shut down and hot on my trail was a dinosaur assassin. And not just any dinosaur assassin, THE dinosaur assassin. Only the best is hired to bring about the expedient demise of yours truly. Yeah, I know… it’s a dream, gimme a break here.

Anyhoo, when I woke up—before the dinosaur pulled the trigger—I did something I hadn’t done in a long time: I dusted off the old dream journal.

I’ve been dream journaling for a number of years, mainly to collect source material for future writings but I soon discovered that exploring my dreams in this fashion helped me connect with different dimensions of myself, mainly the way my subconscious communicated with my conscious mind through metaphor and emotion.

And I know at least one of you is going to come at me with, “Well, that’s great for you, but I can’t keep a dream journal because I don’t dream.

That is so not the case.

Everyone dreams—with the exception of those suffering from extreme psychological disorders—even the blind. A good thing, too, as studies show that dreams help prevent psychosis. The bad part is that upon waking, half of your dream evaporates from your memory within 5 minutes and 90% is gone by the 10-minute mark.

Is dream journaling for you? Well, I think it’s an interesting experiment that’ll cost you no more than a few minutes a day, a notebook and a pen. All you need to do is capture the dream when you wake up. Hell, you can even keep a voice recorder by your bed and dictate everything you recall. And if you have a hard time remembering it, one mnemonic trick is to go through the alphabet and assign a word for each letter. You’ll be surprised how many times this will actually jog your memory. And the more you do it, the stronger your intention, the stronger your connection becomes.

If you do decide to explore your dreams and nightmares in order to pull yourself out of a creative rut and get cracking on a brand new piece of writing, you would be in good company. The following famous books were inspired when the authors’ bodies were at rest and their minds were at play:

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson: This horror classic sprang into existence because of Stevenson’s graphic nightmares. In this case, a “fine bogey tale” tormenting him as he slept grew into one of the most famous and genuinely scary English-language novels ever penned — most especially considering its all-too-human antagonist and protagonist.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: After the death of her 12 day old daughter, the heartbroken Mary Wollstonecroft Godwin dreamt of her child coming back to life after being massaged near a fire. She wrote about it in the collaborative journal she kept with her husband-to-be, Percy Bysshe Shelley, which grew into one of the most iconic, influential horror novels of all time.

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Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach: This story initially sprung from Richard Bach’s daydreams of a drifting seabird. In fact, he could only finish the original draft following another series of subconscious visions.

Misery by Stephen King: While dozing off on a flight to London, King found inspiration in a chilling nightmare about a crazed woman killing and mutilating a favorite writer and binding a book in his skin.

Stuart Little by E.B. White: The tiny boy with the face and fur of a mouse sauntered into White’s subconscious in the 1920s, though he didn’t transition from notes to novel until over two decades later.

Twelve Stories and a Dream by H.G. Wells: The title says it all. “A Dream of Armageddon,” sprouted from a dream that speculated on the dangerous directions in which mankind’s technology could ultimately lead it.

“Kubla Khan” from Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Coleridge, woke one morning after having a—-believed to be opium induced—-fantastic dream. He transcribed his vision in a dream in the form of the now famous poem. 54 lines in, he was interrupted by a Person from Porlock and when he returned to the poem, he couldn’t remember the rest of his dream and thus the poem was never completed.

H.P. Lovecraft’s Works: Lovecraft pulled much of his inspiration from the vivid nightmares he suffered most nights. A shock to anyone? In particular, the novels and short story featuring the Great Old Ones drew themselves from the more twisted corners of his subconscious.

Book of Dreams by Jack Kerouac: A book that does as it says on the tin. Kerouac kept and published a book comprised entirely of his dreams, spanning from 1952 to 1960 and starring characters from many of his other works.

The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer: In Meyer’s own words, the dream “was two people in kind of a little circular meadow with really bright sunlight, and one of them was a beautiful, sparkly boy and one was just a girl who was human and normal, and they were having this conversation. The boy was a vampire, which is so bizarre that I’d be dreaming about vampires, and he was trying to explain to her how much he cared about her and yet at the same time how much he wanted to kill her,”

Fantasia of the Unconscious by D.H. Lawrence: Lawrence so perfectly maps out dream experiences and explains their importance and inspiration in such great detail it edges out any other competing works.

The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P by Reiko Matsuura: Adapted from Matsuura’s most unusual dream, the novel tells the story of a woman who wakes up with a penis for a toe and explores gender identity and relations.

And before the Sandman returns to slip me another Mickey Finn, here are a few additional interesting factoids about dreams:

  • Your mind doesn’t create faces for the strangers in your dreams. Each one is an actual person you’ve encountered, even if only briefly. Your noggin is a mug book filled with hundreds of thousands of faces.
  • You don’t dream when you snore.
  • People who quit smoking have more vivid dreams.
  • While asleep, your body is virtually paralyzed.
  • The real world invades your dreams through sounds, scents, and bodily sensations.
  • Toddlers don’t dream about themselves until they’re at least 3 years old.
  • Children from 3 to 8 years old usually have more nightmares than adults.
  • You’re more likely to remember your dreams vividly if you’re awakened out of REM sleep.

Sally forth and be dream-storyingly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

A Writer Must Be Like God in the Universe

“The author, in his work, must be like God in the Universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.” —- Gustave Flaubert

In your ordinary everyday existence, you’re merely a person, be it lawful, chaotic, neutral, friendly or antisocial. But when you write, you become something far greater than self. You ascend to the highest self possible and become the god of the universe(s) you create. You know all there is to know and have the ability to think anything into being, and being omniscient, you know full well the folly of making a personal appearance to your characters.

On occasion you may opt to visit your world in the form of a raisonneur or Author Avatar—-a fictionalized version of yourself who is called upon to comment on a given situation, deliver your verdict, and possibly break the Fourth Wall in a self-deprecating fashion, but should never influence the plot and should only be loosely tied to events.

Because you’re god of your universe(s), you also work in mysterious ways by playing the role of The Adversary. You are the force that opposes you. With regards to your characters, in this role you are duplicitous, traitorous, hindersome, curmudgeonly, vindictive, mutinous, licentious, and profane. How can that not sound exciting?

What are you waiting for? Sally forth and be god playingly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

PS. If you’re experiencing difficulty accessing your inner godhood, perhaps a quick pep talk from Alan Watts will help you on your path:

Speak Boldly of Your Intention to Write

“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses – only results.”  —–Kenneth H. Blanchard

Commitment is what transforms an idea floating around in your head into reality. Putting pen to paper speaks boldly of your intentions and are the actions which speak louder than the words. It’s making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to shape ethereal things. It’s the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.

So, how committed are you?

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys