A brief update and miscellany

Hello, lovely people.

It has been a while, hasn’t it? I can tell you the last few months have been spectacularly busy at best, and tumultuous at… less than best. Between day job issues, exciting ongoing writing projects, personal health issues, and of course the juggernaut that is National Novel Writing Month, my blog has been (accidentally) abandoned to the dark corner of the internet where neglected blogs are tossed to collect dust.

Forgive me?

And because things show no signs of slowing down in the near future, I just wanted to reach out and answer a few questions.

  • 1. Yes, I’m alive and relatively healthy, the people I love are healthy, and things are more or less okay.
  • B. My major book-publishing projects are moving forward, behind the scenes, even though they’ve been out of the limelight for a little while… both my travel memoir and my YA novel Stormriders are in their respective editing phases (to clarify, Stormriders is in the Gonna-Pull-My-Hair-Out-This-Is-Horrid part of the editing phase).
  • And thirdly, I have some exciting updates to share with you!

Updates:

I started a new project last month, for this year’s National Novel Writing Month, and on this side of November I have a 45,000-word draft for a story I’m sorta in love with. Think high fantasy meets stranger-in-a-strange-land, throwing in a few dragons and featuring a version of the feisty heroine who always finds her way into my stories somehow, and here we go again! Stay tuned.

The local writers group in Waconia is producing an anthology of our work, hopefully in early 2019! I’ve signed on as primary editor and formatting/layout designer, and the book will feature a wide range of beautiful work from our group members. More information can be found at waconiawriters.wordpress.com.

My 4-part blog series is still in progress! I began writing the third entry in The Big Magical Process of Making Words Happen series a few months ago, and hope to finish the darn thing and post it live within the next few days.

Anything else?

Yes.

A note on overcoming adversity, and finding success in your writing, even when you (temporarily) physically cannot write.

Over the past week, I’ve been sidelined from all of my writing projects, due to a pinched nerve in my neck. Sidelined, meaning I’ve been forced to intermittently lie flat on my back on the floor, with an electric heating pad between my shoulder blades. For awhile, merely sitting upright was painful. Working on my laptop was excruciating. 

This has been my primary view for the past seven days straight. (Yes, that is A Christmas Prince, the finest Netflix Xmas movie ever made. Fight me.)

But in spite of my inability to use my computer, I’ve still been writing. How, you might ask? I used the time staring at my ceiling. I used every single one of those horizontal minutes to brainstorm, to think through some plot problems, and I even solved some plot holes that were previously and up to that point driving me bonkers.

My injury forced me to stop, to avoid the tempting social media distractions that are present every time I open my Chromebook, and think. I spent the better part of the past two months constantly on the go. Not saying a nerve injury is a boon, but it did present an opportunity. I had to press pause on most of my hectic daily life. Alone with my thoughts and the strange patterns on my popcorn ceiling, I had nothing to do but untangle and sift through those thoughts, prioritize the ideas I wanted to, and focus.

After a few days, I was pretty good at think-writing. I could visualize pieces of my story that I struggled to see through the blue glow of the computer screen. Fleeting ideas and concepts became tangible plot points. Characters developed true human flaws and traits; I got to spend some time with them and get to know them better. Even though I didn’t physically hold a pen or crack open my laptop, I was writing. I was creating. And those exercises were really the only things keeping me from going out of my mind.

Moral of the story: you can create, you can make progress and move forward in unconventional ways, even when life (and nerve pain) tries to blow up your process.

Fin.

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Welcome to the perfect morning.

 

I decided to take some time off this week (gasp!) to treat myself with a long weekend of [refer to above photo].

As a writer with a full-time day job in a field that demands a significant amount of my energy and focus on any given day, one of my most daunting challenges is making the time and harnessing the motivation to write after a long and difficult day at work (or, on the weekend after a full week of long and difficult days). Fortunately, I have a day job that actively encourages best practices in work-life balance, a supportive team, and A LOT of PTO days accrued. Hence, Stormriders Staycation 2018.

I absolutely understand how fortunate I am, in these respects, and I admire my fellow writers who are making things happen with limited resources and support… a special shout out to my fellow indie writers.

Dear Indie Writer With A Day Job,

Your time is a treasure, and your process is valid, however that looks for you. I have every confidence in the story inside of you, the one you absolutely MUST tell, the one that makes your soul cry and sing and hope and despair at the same time. You WILL write it. And if it’s not done tomorrow, that’s okay. Maybe in a month, or a year, or a few years. All of those time frames are valid. Because your story WILL be told, and by you. There is no better person to tell it.

If you’re interested in supporting indie writers in their endeavors, I highly recommend exploring Patreon, a crowdfunding site for artists, authors, and other creators. You can visit my Patreon page here.

Patreon (Digital) Rewards are ready! (and more)

From the Stormriders Patreon Page:

PATRONS, CHECK YOUR INBOXES! The Stormriders digital previews are polished and ready to distribute! Just a reminder, if you’re donating $1 per month (Steward tier), you will receive a PDF of the first 5 chapters. If you’re donating $5 per month (First Mate tier), you’ll receive the first 5 chapters AND a Stormriders digital short story. …

Read more at Patreon: STORMRIDERS

Spark

This is the first in a 4-part series about The Big Magical Process of Making Words Happen (According to This Author).


Writing a novel is an intricate, complex machine of moving parts and pieces, tasks and goals. Of the entire complex machine, to my mind there are three tasks that stand out as extraordinarily important… the foundations, the tenets, of the entire process: Setting, Characters, and Plot. These three tenets appear deceptively simple on paper. First, you must build a world. Second, you must meet the people who exist in it. And last but certainly not least… you must learn how to tell their stories.

A larger tenet looms yet higher, almost obscured from view because of its all-encompassing enormity, seldom in the limelight, often taken for granted, rarely recognized for just how vital it is. I call it Spark. (NOT the Allspark, fellow geeks… although… now that I’ve said it…)

Before we can delve into any one of Big Three, it is important to think about what sparks the movement within the machine in the first place. Think of the setting/characters/plot combo as the How of your novel… the (All)Spark is the Why.

In other words… where do the ideas come from?

After that lead-in and build-up, I’m afraid right now I have a somewhat disappointing answer to this question. During a lunchtime conversation the other day, a colleague asked me (innocently) how I come up with ideas for the stories I write. Turns out, I had an obnoxiously difficult time answering. The experience was obnoxious for him, I’m sure. Emotionally harrowing for me, indeed. After a few rambling half-hearted expository vocal blerps from out of my brain-mouth connection, ultimately my coworker walked away from the conversation with… nothing resembling a true answer.

Since then, I’ve been wondering about my process, trying to pinpoint where they come from, those elusive little sparks that ignite ideas. Some are inspired from life experiences, sure. Some, less so (I’ve never been a post-apocalyptic pirate revolutionary, nor have I ever manipulated magnetic and kinetic forces via my hands, as two recent examples). As a fantasy/speculative fiction writer, I spend most of my extra time exercising my imagination. I’m drawn to the challenge of taking fantastical and impossible concepts and turning them into relatable, probable occurrences within the scope of their universes. In order to do so, context is everything. (More on this in Part 2.)  

The best I can come up with, to explain what happens in my head, is that once in awhile I see or hear something that clicks (connects, fires a neuron, sings a siren song… pick your preferred analogy). When it clicks, I am drawn to a weird little fuzzy place in my brain where I witness the idea materialize from the ether, and watch as it sort of crosses some sort of imagination bridge, growing more substantive along the way, and becomes a story.

Look it’s a magical idea bridge!

More questions remain: How do I coax those ideas forward? How do I pick and choose which idea to coax forward? Why do some cross over into Novel Land, where others stay in the gray and abstract Land of the Unrealized? (This analogy is getting weird.)

But along those lines, I can’t be sure I even know how I recognize them, when they’re little fledglings, forlorn half-formed storylings. I’ve spent So. Much. Time. trying to hash this out. With only a few paragraphs left in this post, you may yet be completely confused. I am, too. But as difficult as all of this has been to articulate, I’m hopeful the answers might emerge from this miniseries of blog posts, answers that could hopefully address how the Spark manifests itself in my process, within the context of the stories I’m writing right now. I’ll draw examples from those stories when relevant.

And so, this is an experiment of sorts, dear readers. A real-time study of one writer figuring out The Big Magical Process of Making Words Happen, According to Herself. But what I’d love is to foster conversation (and further introspection) about what our own processes entail, what the Spark demands of each of us. So please, please, PLEASE sound off in the comments if you have anything to add!

Now, on to the Big Three: Setting, Characters, and Plot.


Part 2: A Universe in My Head (or: The Intricacies of World-Building)

Coming soon:

Part 3: I Sometimes See You When I Look in the Mirror (or: The Complexities of Character)

Part 4: Our Journey Begins Now, But How? (or: To Plot or Not to Plot)

(Links will be added to the titles above as they are published)


Breakthroughs.

I’ve got some fantastic news from the world of Stormriders! Recently I completed a full chapter-by-chapter plot synopsis, to fill in any plot holes, etc. … and ended up with several new fully-developed characters AND a plot that works! 

Hooray!

Disclaimer: Please don’t worry… I headed into the writing process absolutely determined to make the plot work, and had a general idea of where I wanted my characters to go and why. However, “best-laid plans” etc. … whatever the expression is. It was a little thought, in the back of my mind, in that dark corner that all writers know about, where the doubt hides. The little thought nagging me every time I finished a chapter: “Are you CERTAIN you know where this is going?”

This was the first time I’d actually written everything down. And I mean EVERYTHING. Timelines for every single character. Travel times for distances that haven’t been used before (my folks use tall ships to get from point A to point B, crossing a huge ocean where the Midwest used to be). Motivations for why people end up where they do, and why they do the lovely or the terrible things they do. And friends, IT WORKS. It all works.

OH YEAH I ALMOST FORGOT THERE IS SOMETHING ELSE.

Conceptual cover art © Copyright 2017 by Jen Lynn Anderson. All rights reserved.

The plot worked so well for Stormriders that it morphed and evolved into this 3-book trilogy monster! Not my intention, but upon reaching the end of the synopsis I realized the fates of my MCs were left hanging. There is much more of their story to tell. And tell it, I shall!

This month is National Novel Writing Month’s “Camp NaNoWriMo” event (for those of you familiar with NaNo and recognize it in November, the founders host a spring event as well!) and I’m aiming for 2,000 words per day during the month of April. I want this story in your hands ASAP. I’m ready for it to be out there, and I can’t wait for you to read it! This chapter synopsis reaffirmed that fact.

I’m also working on a dialect manual (the Tiders speak in a creole dialect of Appalachian English, Scots English, Gaelic and pirate… oof!) because my heroine has to start speaking soon and I need to understand her if you’re going to be able to do the same. 😂 I’ll be including an annotated version of this in an appendix at the back of the book once we’re at the point of publication. I have a ton of rich material from my world-building exercises, so let me know if you’d be interested in learning more about Tider culture, and I can maybe make something happen!

For those of you who have generously donated to my Patreon: thank you so so much! Your first tangible reward, a short story set in the world of Stormriders, is currently in the editing process, and I hope to have that out to you by mid-May.

More updates to come!

If you’d like to check out my Patreon and donate to the Stormriders Publication Fund, click here.

 

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