I keep hearing people who love metal music telling me that it bores them these days. It’s not the same. The market is oversaturated with Djent or Metalcore or [put overdone subgenre here]. Good news is, I’ve heard this complaint before in other genres and they’ve survived and thrived after the fact.
I have a way of approaching metal music that has nothing to do with tradition and “how things used to be.” I’m open minded because I don’t hold any preconceived notions of how a genre is supposed to sound. I understand that there are genres and subgenres, but it’s like saying this human is brown and that human is pink; therefore, they are fundamentally different species. They aren’t but that’s how humans tend to think.
I watched a change in you
It’s like you never had wings
Now you feel so alive
I watched you change
~”Change (in the House of Flies)” | Deftones | White Pony
I know that I can’t stand it when something I enjoy is discontinued or the formula is altered. Most of the times, it’s for the worst, but everything evolves. Try to remember that as something transition, we may find ourselves witnessing the chrysalis.
A chrysalis is neither the caterpillar nor the butterfly. It doesn’t look like it’s doing anything special on the outside, but inside magic is happening. Think of all the bands you’ve enjoyed and there is usually a “cocoon” of an album in there somewhere as they transition from the new band to watch into a long time player like Dream Theater or Tool.
Change is a condition of innovation. Music goes through slumps where even I despair of finding something fresh and engaging. Music also has mind-melting bursts of creativity. I’ve learned to take the good with the bad. A slump is just a marker that something amazing is about to break free and take flight.
Even as a small child, I was fascinated by the forbidden. I was the geek in the corner of the room with her nose in a tome of The Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Even with the sanitized endings, I knew the stories told of gruesome things. The story of Bluebeard was my favorite.
Bluebeard is the shadow in us all. One of many illustratons at http://bit.ly/1cnhIXw.
My favorite authors are Laurell K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, Karen Marie Moning, Jim Butcher, and Kevin Hearne. They all incorporate elements of the monstrous and the forbidden with the ethereal seductiveness of the Fairy Tale. They tell of death, destruction, and gruesome things happening in an alternate history from the one in which I live. So close and yet so far away.
A deep part of me yearns for the magic of the Fairy Tale while the part of me that has seen the ugliness of humanity knows that the gruesome is just beneath the surface. The genre explores themes of acceptance, good v. evil, the beauty v. the beast, and loyalty v. betrayal. The action never stops and the characters are gritty and powerful.
When I grow up, I hope to produce epic works in the genre I love to read. That doesn’t mean I will. Sometimes what I love to read does not come out in what I write. There is a part of me that balks when I ask the question, “How can I make my protagonist suffer even more?” Hopefully, I will outgrow this situational compassion and destroy worlds.
As an author, copy and content editor, former publisher, and a former board member of the Baltimore Writers’ Alliance, I have given this advice to a number of aspiring AND established writers.
Keep writing, save everything, even if you think it’s crap. Get the word count under your belt because it is the foundation upon which your published work will rest and it will help develop your writer’s voice. It’s the doing that makes you good and the good stuff gets rewritten and edited until it is publishable. Keep these four words of wisdom in mind: FIRST DRAFTS SUCK. ALWAYS.
Know your market—your target audience. Read what they read and make sure you enjoy it. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong market. There are so many genres and subgenres out there, you shouldn’t have a problem finding your niche.
Research the tools of writing such as structure, point of view, and tension. Follow the blogs of writers whose work you enjoy. Sign up for newsletters on writing. There are many books out there on writing and no matter your level of professional acclaim, it is always, ALWAYS good to go back to the basics and review them with a matured sensibility.
Start writing a blog. Write about the things that vex you, the things that make you deliriously happy, and the hobbies you have. Show people the many facets of you. Even though your followers may not be thick on the ground now, the followers that fall onto your path later are going to look at previous posts to get a better sense of you. Use this tool to build a sense of connection with your readership. I personally enjoy WordPress.com but I also have my posts published on Blogger because of the connectivity with all my other Google apps.
Think about how appropriate it would be for you to adopt a pen name now before you become a public personality. I work in law enforcement and use my legal name to perform my duties. I was creeped out by how often the people I came into contact in my official capacity would Google my name and find my public profiles such as LinkedIn and Facebook. I had to change my public name to protect my livelihood and my privacy. If you do adopt a pen name, choose something unique and yet eponymous to your intended genre. Google it and if the name doesn’t have hits, run with it.
It is never too late to start building a social media presence. Start with goodreads to participate with other authors and readers. Once you’ve established your brand and gotten an idea of which direction you’re going, set up a separate Facebook and Twitter account under that brand. Pinterest and LinkedIn are other good mediums. Learn how to use them now and you’ll be ready to promote your work and commune with your readership.
There are two obstacles that every writer faces in one form or another: Writer’s Block and Craft Fail. These two elements are inextricably linked because writer’s block is caused by the frustrated ability to articulate the writer’s imagination through craft. If writer’s block were created by a lack of imagination, it would not be called writer’s block. Writer’s are overflowing with imagination and are only hindered by their ability to put their worlds to words. An epic Craft Fail is usually the culprit unless of course, you aren’t a true writer.
I will share with you the methods I use to overcome these obstacles. I have a degree in Sociology—Anthropology to be precise—and one of the things I learned from university, other than writing novel-length research papers, is that the seeds of each discipline of human experience may be found in all the others. In plain speak, it means that just because you’re a fiction writer doesn’t mean you can’t learn craft from poetry or screenwriting or [insert genre here].
Busting Writer’s Block
One of the most difficult genres to write is poetry and I include song lyrics in this mix. This discipline was studied among the Druidic colleges and required approximately twelve years of matriculation for one to be considered proficient. What I learned while writing poetry is that our subconscious minds have treasure troves of images and ideas that are locked away. Our conscious minds have filtered the sights and sounds we experience into hidden sectors labeled with such names as “irrelevant” or “to be examined later.” To access this treasure, I perform what is called “stream of consciousness” writing. It’s a form of automatic writing that unlocks the doors to the hidden sectors of the mind.
The average human thinks about 600+ words per minute. Compare that to the 150-200 words per minute that the average human might speak. We write even slower, even on a computer keyboard. What are we doing in all that time with that incredible amount of processing speed?
The speed with which our mind processes things can cause problems in listening and in awareness. It can also cause us to overlook important details.
Technique: I’ve provided you with a few links below, including a video from K.M. Weiland that explains the usefulness of this technique. It’s something I learned while in counseling because I had an awesome social worker trained in cognitive behavioral therapy who gave me homework between sessions. If you want to find out what is motivating your plot, your character, or your theme then follow these simple steps.
Gather your supplies: a pen or pencil that writes fluidly; smooth, lined paper; a comfortable writing surface.
Find a comfortable and quiet place to write.
At the top of the page, write your prompt. A prompt is a few words about your subject. I might put at the top: Why is Erik in Boulder? or Women’s body consciousness – how does Laney express this? Even though this is steam of consciousness, your prompt is there to keep you on track.
Write. Keep writing. Do not edit. Do not stop. Even if the words “I need to get milk” pop into your head, write it down. Glance at your prompt when this happens as you continue to write. Did I mention Do Not Stop?
Do this for a minimum of five minutes but if you feel you can go longer, be my guest.
Application: Ms. Weiland brings up valid positives and negatives about using stream of consciousness in the actual narrative or dialogue, but that is NOT what I am suggesting. What I suggest is that you use it as seeds in your exposition, dialogue, structure and character development. Your subconscious mind is constantly gathering information and pondering the burgeoning work that is blooming inside of you. There is a method to your subconscious mind’s madness that, when the conscious mind is lulled to listen, will make immediate and world-shattering sense to your work. I’ve done this countless times, especially when my work hits a dead end. My characters’ motives take on an organic authenticity as my inner wisdom is given expression. It moves me forward and it will move you forward too. Make it work for you.
Now that you have a few pages worth of craziness, it’s time to review what you’ve written. I can guarantee that you will find gems among the dross. Pick out the things that make your belly quiver, your mind ping, and your heart swell. Your gut will not fail you. Believe it or not, this is where honing your craft comes into play. I told you they were linked! The more you do this, the easier it will be to plough through writer’s block and then if the story isn’t right, it’ll come down to Craft.
Overcoming Craft Fail
I write in several different genres: poetry, fiction, non-fiction, song writing, screenwriting, comic books, and technical. I have written poems as short as 25 words to a novel as long as 50,000+ words. I’ve read books and tried techniques from various experts in each of these fields. I’ve discovered that each genre has the same goal: to tell a story of fact, fiction or evocation – sometimes all three.
I think it is absolutely essential for writers, even those with years of experience and an arms-length of publication credits under their belts, to go back to basics. Some of my favorite books are from the Elements of Fiction Writing Series by Writers’ Digest because these books provide the “elemental” basics so necessary to a good story. They cover topics such as: Scene and Structure, Dialogue, Plot and Structure, and my nightmare: Beginnings, Middles and Ends.
I also use the Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D., which is broken out into several units of structure including: 5 Dramatic Throughlines, 6 Conflicts, 21 Genres, 11 Master Structures, and the 55 Dramatic Situations. If you are stuck, this gem will pull you out of the quicksand and fish out your shoes to boot.
This is just the beginning of great ideas, commentary on craft, and online support you can tap into as a writer. But don’t stop with just fiction! There’s all kinds of websites out there for Flash Fiction, Screenwriting, Poetry, Blogging—you name it! And you don’t have to write in that genre to get awesome ideas. We’re all trying to do the same thing: tell a great story.
I’ve also been expanding into the screenwriting genre. I’ve taken two free classes from Screenwriting U that were absolutely fabulous. One was the “21 Steps to Rewriting Your Screen Play” and the other was an introduction to the Mini-Movie approach. Both address structure, which I find to be my main stumbling block. I’m not writing a screenplay at this moment, but the advice and information in both classes translate nicely into fiction writing, comic book writing and even the technical and non-fiction aspects.
Don’t be afraid to cross-pollinate your writing. Try new things that excite your imagination. Go back to the beginning and look at your craft from a different angle. Reacquaint yourself with the basics from another perspective. You’ll be grateful you did.
I’d like to hear about the writing tools you use. Leave a comment below with your favorite way to overcome writer’s block or hone your craft. Writers from all genres are encouraged to share. Stay Calm and Keep Writing!