Happy Halloween! A 2-Year Anniversary

Apparently, I’ve had this blog up for two years today, on Halloween of all holidays! I didn’t start writing until December, which is probably why I’d forgotten. Thanks to you all for the follows, comments and support! Sending big love to you all out there! Especially those that have stayed through the weak periods and shifts in theme, thanks for your understanding. I’ve gotten somewhat away from consistent formats, but it’s good to mix it up, I think.

Starting out, I didn’t honestly think that anyone would read a blog if I wrote one, but I’m glad to be wrong. It’s still a small blog, but I feel I should be able to keep going indefinitely with it. Being an indie writer, I’m aware of how possible it is that my work might never grow beyond its niche, but with each passing year there is an easier market and budding audience for indie works, so there is the chance that it could become something great, as well. You never know.

I always try to encourage people if they bring it up to go through with what they, in their heart, desire to create. Even the worst case scenarios as far as creative mediums go are not that bad, and there’s little that requires sacrifice. Writing and blogging are not expensive at all, art is not expensive if you choose decent but low-cost materials. Reading can be expensive, but that’s probably my own experience with impulse-buying thrift books!

I have a pretty severe handicap with ADHD, among other issues, and that doesn’t stop me. The disorder destroys cohesive strings of thought, and makes writing harder than I feel it should be, sure, and sometimes it does drag down my work or delay it by months, but if I didn’t have that outlet, I guarantee the issues would be worse. So don’t settle for hurting yourself if you have the opportunity to get it out. Many don’t, so if you were given the drive by birth, please don’t waste it waiting around. You don’t have to give up anything but your own fears and stubbornness, and we’re better off without those, no? Have a safe holiday, and don’t take strange candy from strangers!

How to Sabotage Your Own Writing

The most damaging punishments are the ones you place upon your own head. You know what you won’t be able to survive more than anyone. There are a lot of factors outside of our control that can hinder our writing. I’ve had to deal with those quite often this year – from mental health to just unlucky timing. Nonetheless, at least seven times out of ten, what stops us from succeeding, from finishing our work, it’s something we could have prevented ourselves.

I consider it something of a miracle that I’m able to write at all, and I thank the readers of my blog for having patience with me, and not posting as many book things as I used to. This year made the disaster that was 2016 look like a day at the park. What I have learned with the recent collection I’ve been working on is how to effectively destroy your own motivations, recognize that you’re doing it, and stop it before it can happen. This is, in a nutshell, how one sabotages their own writing.

1. Constantly compare yourself with other writers.
Do not do this. Comparison is poison for the creative, it really is. No, your book might not be like Stephen King’s books, or J.K. Rowling, or whoever you take your inspiration from. Be inspired by good authors and their successes, but understand that yours will be different than theirs. No less good, if you’ve worked hard on it and are passionate about it, but the voice will be unique to you, and that’s never a bad thing.

2. Get out of the habit, and purposely put it off when you have the urge and time to write.
This tends to happen with me whenever I get sick. I think, well I don’t feel like it, so I won’t write tonight. The problem is, this same mindset carries into the times when I feel fine, when I feel up to the task of writing. Take caution to be aware of when this happens with you, because procrastination will absolutely slaughter your book, or whatever you might be working on in general.

3. Put down your own ideas without getting any outside feedback.
This one’s self-explanatory. Don’t shoot yourself down too much. Some ideas are objectively bad ones, true, and thoroughly dissecting your own work with a fresh eye is helpful to improving it, but you should try to get somewhat unbiased feedback from a beta reader or friend as well, preferably several people if you can, if you’re not sure. You could end up destroying something wonderful. Continue reading “How to Sabotage Your Own Writing”

What Makes a Novel Scary?

This question is almost impossible to answer, but I believe it boils down to atmosphere and the author’s personal goal. Horror is all-around a difficult genre to work with, because horror is just so subjective, but books, as I’ve found, are one of the harder mediums to make scary. Movies, I think, would actually be somewhat harder because they require a large, perfectly functioning team effort, but as far as something you would create by yourself, it’s books and stories. I love horror for its creative stories, but personally have only been not just unnerved, but genuinely scared by a very, very tiny handful of books. This makes me either an amazing or a terrible horror writer, because nothing I create scares me, either. Granted, once you’ve spent hours tweaking the details of a phantom, it kind of loses every ounce of its fear factor, but working on this latest book, I have learned a lot about what horror takes.

What kind of “scary” you’re going for can be changed instantly depending on how your concept and execution match up. If the concept is terrifying, but the execution is over-the-top and silly, a thrilling, serious horror could turn into an unintentional comedy. The overlap between humor and horror is really difficult to prevent, though I’ve found most good horror books have a bit of self-awareness about it when it happens.

When you are creating horror, consider what scares you, and what you want others to feel from your book. Dread? Panic? Fear? Sorrow, even? Or would you rather it be a dark comedy? Horror relies heavily on anticipation. The general feeling, and how this anticipation will be built up is the most important thing to know, before even deciding if it fits into any sub-genres. Genre labels are not actually that important, in the long run. Many of the greatest books I’ve ever read, or ones that are celebrated by the public, do not clearly fit into any singular genre. Some do, some don’t. It’s good to know, but it doesn’t matter nearly as much as succeeding at whatever atmosphere you want to convey. Continue reading “What Makes a Novel Scary?”

Never Finding the Book You Want

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison

Does this sound familiar to anyone? Something that has always plagued me when seeking out new things to read is that there never seems to be enough of what I crave from specific types of books, whether we’re talking about the psycho-visual aspect of the writing or the story itself. This is even true with just a single author’s catalogue. One of their books may have that exact “vibe” I’m looking for, and the rest may lack it. It’s hard to pinpoint anything about the feelings I seek through books, save for a jumble of loosely coordinated images.

All of my current books are poetry, but I’m a fiction writer at heart. To soothe this dilemma was one of my key motivations in transitioning more and more into fiction, beginning this fall. Poetry can capture some of those, I don’t know what exactly to call them, I suppose “ambiences” or “atmospheres” would be appropriate, but not nearly as efficiently as a story, which has more time to build it, until it becomes a tangible thing that you remember, though of course none of it actually happened.

There are two “ambiences” that I have the most trouble finding in published books – one I could describe best as “urban psychological”, like that feeling you get wandering an empty, fluorescent-lit street or listening to smooth, ambient lo-fi music. Japanese novels and urban thrillers are probably my best bet for reliving this feeling in a book, as I’ve had the most luck with them, but unfortunately, there is only so much to choose from. The second is the “ambience” of occult mystery. I have yet to find more than a rare handful of books that truly capture that sinister feeling, and it would be difficult to describe. A transcendental, conspiratorial sort of horror, maybe. One that got that “ambience” right – even though the book itself isobjectively not that great, I loved it nonetheless for this reason – is the obscure paranormal novel The Sisterhood by Florence Stevenson.

Anyway, just some curious musings on my never-ending scour of the shelves. Have you had a similar problem? Feel free to leave a comment.

Writing Process – When to Describe Characters in Detail

From personal experience and discussing this with other readers, it used to kind of bemuse me how much people hate detailed physical descriptions of characters. I’ve not been able to pinpoint why, but upon taking this into consideration, I’ve noticed many (but not all) of the best novels I’ve read don’t rely heavily on what a character looks like. It’s usually kept to simple descriptions or notable features, say for instance if they have piercing blue eyes or are unusually thin, but their every freckle and hair won’t be described in detail. It’s just enough to fuel an image for the reader, who will make what they will of what the author’s given them. Not all readers, but many readers, will feel a bit stripped of the chance to stretch their imagination if you describe literally everything about a characters and leave nothing to be visualized on their own. Continue reading “Writing Process – When to Describe Characters in Detail”

Writing Process – Comparisons

One of my much-abused quotes, because of how appropriate it is for about anything, is the Theodore Roosevelt quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Not only does it describe the culture of social media with the accuracy of a five-inch syringe, it also describes the nature of writing with an equal lack of mercy.

I mostly write these for those just getting on their legs, as I’ve been. Anyone who’s authored for awhile will know, too, that to actively compare yourself with the work of others while you’re in the midst of a project is the worst idea you can get. It often can’t be helped if you’re a reader, but you must try to, even if that entails taking a hiatus from books. This kind of comparison is responsible for things like the time one writes and re-writes the same paragraph multiple times, while not getting any more of the book done at all, besides that one piece.

Technical comparisons, on the other hand, can be an excellent tool and a way to better habituate writing every day. What do I mean by that?
Well, breaking up your writing into fragments and measuring them is one example. Quantity over quality, despite what you’ll hear, is best for a first draft. This is not the case with revisions, but if you give yourself plenty of material to work with, you can gradually prune away the garbage and poor metaphors for a tighter, polished draft. Best not to worry about that bridge until you get there, though. For the beginning, just concentrate on the journey and getting it all down on paper. Continue reading “Writing Process – Comparisons”

Writing Process – The First Chapter

I will, to the hour of my death, stand by the belief that the hardest part of writing any book, of any genre, is the very first thing you have to write. There’s a volume of quotes about this issue said by authors and public speakers throughout the years, and with reason. I’ve been toying around with a trio of novels in the time when I’m not working on cleaning up and publishing what poetry I’ve finished, and I’ll just level with you.

There is absolutely NO guaranteed way to make the first chapter easy on yourself. It’s going to be doubtful, aggravating and you’ll likely have more drafts of that chapter than any other in the book. Unless, that is, you just have years of experience under your belt already, but even then, a lot of highly-regarded writers still get “brain farts” when it comes to beginning a new project.

Something I’ve tried, and it seems, for some reason I can’t quite configure into an explanation, to make the first chapter flow easier is writing it down by hand. Isn’t that strange? For some reason, it’s easy to type out the rest of the story but the first chapter benefits from a sketchy draft on paper. You can try it if you want, see if it works for you. It’s not much to write, in any case, if it doesn’t work out. Everyone goes about the process in different (and often very eccentric) ways. I have tried and gleaned little else that helps, even having plenty of inspiration and reading about writing and reading books. None of that seems to mollify the beast that is Chapter One, at least not for myself.

Musings on Dreams and Classic Monsters

Dracula movie poster Style F.jpg

This is peculiar and specific, but it’s something I’ve noticed with hearing people’s dreams, what they often have nightmares about. I’ve noticed there’s always a certain monster that’s prevalent to that particular person’s nightmares. It’s usually a classic one, like vampires or werewolves, I think because there’s a form of those in most cultures, and a lot of this century’s generations have grown up around horror movies. Even if they never watched them, they saw horror movies everywhere in posters and references, and now online. Vampires seem to be really common. I have had some insane dreams that I recall having some kind of vampire before.

Everyone has their individual classic monster. My personal one is actually zombies. If there’s a threat or presence I recognize in a dream, it’s often zombies or mummy-like humans. No clue why. I don’t recall ever being scared of zombies. Mummies, yes, at least as a kid. But it’s more frequently zombies, and I used to think zombies were like an ideal beauty standard or something.

Okay, maybe not that far, but I did love the way zombies looked. Continue reading “Musings on Dreams and Classic Monsters”

Thoughts on What Holds Us Back

Completionism, procrastination and lack of confidence, I can tell you right now are the unholy triad of offenders that keep us from achieving more. The last one is not as much of a worry for me as the first two, but a lack of confidence in a particular project can damper it to the point where it stays in hiatus hell for a long time. Until a couple of months ago, that’s where most of my writing was.

I don’t have any clear-cut, good advice that works for every individual when it comes to completionism and procrastination, as they are much, much trickier to overcome. The former is responsible for the hiatus on posting my artwork, because I’ve been set in this mindset that I realize is absolutely the stupidest, that I need to finish every piece I’ve begun before I can post any of it because it should all be posted together.
Yes, it is ridiculous, but when you are a perfectionist these little things will drive you mad while nobody else notices! It’s the key reason I wanted to redo those chapbooks so badly, because I can’t stand to have anything that seems unfinished or flawed. Even though they weren’t – to me they could have more and better content, so that’s what they’re getting.

Procrastination is a matter of breaking habits, namely avoidance and laziness. Procrastination is kind of like a very persistent and needy phantom that clings to you whenever you have the time and need to work. Like I said, I have no advice for this, it’s just something you’re going to have to decide to stop when you’ve had enough of it. No motivation in the world is going to work if you don’t really want to change. Some personal ambition grown from your own heart is necessary.
What I find squashes the want to procrastinate quicker than anything is thinking of what you won’t have in the years to come if you don’t do it while you can. You may miss your opportunity to write anything if you don’t seize them while they’re there. I have finished more in this month than the entirety of last fall and winter by keeping this in mind, so if it helps. It’s probably not too healthy to panic under time, but considering how little there is in our lives does make one want to live for more, I believe.

Writing a Book in a Month

Some methods to write a book in a month without losing your mind. Maybe just a smidge of the prefrontal cortex, but not the whole brain. These are just some of my working habits and tips that I’ve been perfecting recently during my personal attempts to accomplish THE NOVEL. Of course you can alter them as needed, but hopefully these ideas may help to encourage you with your goals.
This type of self-challenge is best for novellas, average length novels, or compilations. Epics and doorstoppers, I would not attempt in a month unless you genuinely are some sort of linguistic masochist who never sleeps or eats at all.

The golden key to completing any piece of writing is persistence. A book written in a month will probably not be very great, honestly, but you will at least have a complete book, which there will be plenty of time afterward to revise. Worry more about getting from beginning to end, with anything you need to guide you – checklists and outlines to mark your progress, word counters, even reading your freshly written chapters to your friends as you go. You have to want that book to exist, and whatever helps to keep that emotion rolling, do it. Don’t get caught up in the chaos of details until the editing stage. You can also hire professional editors and proofreaders to do this for you, but it is best to at least redo your book once by yourself, with great carefulness. Continue reading “Writing a Book in a Month”

Inspirations From the Void

Or at least it seems they come from a mystery universe somewhere out there where we can never reach. What is the strangest place you’ve been at the time inspiration hits? Some of the most unexpected things I’ve gleaned a poem from, that I can think of, are the novel Dune, a suspicious insect I didn’t know the name of struggling between two windowpanes, a historic photo of a cannibal, and a haunted house themed level in a video game.

Well, Dune isn’t so oddball. I’m willing to bet there’s more writing out there based on Dune than you’d reckon there was. I know that there is a concept album on it, anyway.

One of my favourites is a poem called “Lorenzo” that showed up in my recent book Loverboy. It’s an agonized, romantic piece that came out of the first time I heard Liszt’s “Liebestraume Notturno No. 3”. “Lorenzo” was a rare exception for me – I don’t normally love my poetry pieces as much as I love that one, and I have to wonder if Liszt was more fond of that particular song than usual?
Either way, I’ve never been able to write anything else with “Liebestraume” as a background, it just doesn’t work for me now like it did to begin. So strange how it all unfolds then diminishes, to never happen again.

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Poem – “Don’t Worry”

Don’t Worry

Someday we will unfurl like a rosebud does
Don’t worry, we won’t be trapped much longer
Petals or perhaps butterflies on the wind,
Not these pitiful, fetal things we are today
Don’t worry, we will bloom when we’re ready to

© S. M. Shuford 2018
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The Spine of a Poem

The routes are innumerable – while themes all begin at the same boulevard, they branch off into thousands and thousands of directions with completely different destinations. The initial paths are easy, so have in mind which one you would like to take.

I generally use the same basic skeletons of a poem. This is not their format or rhyme scheme, mind you, but what they are at the heart. Just to consider, the five essential sorts I prefer to use are as such:

Artistic – It’s free game. Experimental and surrealist poetry tends to automatically fit here. You draw an image without art supplies, using only your words. Art for the mind rather than the eyes.

Emotional – Broad term, yes, but it’s a vital core to poetry (like it or not). It’s not exactly like artistic or personal poetry as it may be inspired by things you have no connection with or are not nourishing to the heart – it is raw thoughts completely naked from interpretation. My personal favourites are the worst emotions, which in my opinion form the best poems.

Story – It tells a story or could be interpreted as a story. I prefer the latter, as it lets the reader make what they will. A story conformed to a poem is a lot different from a story in a novel. It’s condensed into its own little globe, and in a way is a more concentrated power because it doesn’t have time to grow comfortably outward. It also has the ability to be more wild than a novel’s story because it’s not as limited by what makes strict, non-metaphorical sense.

Experience – Ones based strictly on memory and experience, siphoned out through the raw feelings and thoughts of that time, or altered into something stronger. These range from maudlin to psychotic to beloved, and every corner in-between. These are the most individual ones a poet can write, and they will become their signature even if they don’t intend that.

Nightmare – I haven’t a better word for this sort of poem. A subset of artistic / surreal poetry and personal poetry, a nightmarish poem is more psychological and resonates on a far more discomforting level with the reader. Probably the best example that would be familiar to most is Poe’s “The Raven” – which contains elements of fantastical horror but with a very primal and real sense of dread and death.

These examples are purposefully vague and broad bases, so literally anything can be built upon them. While “winging it” is actually not a bad idea for writing a poem, it’s also good to keep in mind what you want to make from a raw platform. One might be more fitting for an idea you want to convey than a different one would, so it doesn’t hurt to switch its skin around just to test it out.

Keep in mind though, that if you have poems in mind for a compilation, all types can be used but they should be relatively fitting together. Kind of like ornaments on a Christmas tree – completely different in looks and sizes but they compliment each other in purpose.

-S. M., May 2018

Flavours of an Artistic Phrase

Might be glaringly obvious, but I have a borderline-fetishistic obsession with poetry, as well as promoting it. I always try to encourage others to cross the unknowable shore that is painting through words, which is what I feel poetry accomplishes and encompasses. I am especially passionate about indie and budding debuts of poetry, and I honestly think it’s criminal that more don’t take the initiative to write and read them.

In the next few weeks I want to explore what makes a poem – what composes its genetics – in hopes maybe someone will find inspiration through this. The format is not what is important, as you can invent your own easily. The meat, flesh and soul of a poem is its meaning – even if its meaning is complete surrealist chaos, this makes it as significant as if it were a conventional romantic piece.

I want to dissect the building blocks of a compilation, what you can do to draw together a book of poetry into an entity that people will want to have engraved into their minds. Themes, genre, stylizing, production, and most importantly of all – not losing that sense of raw creation. The schedule’s not set, but a new piece on writing poetry will be here at least every other day for the remainder of May. It’s more of a complex rumination than it is advice, but perhaps it will inspire new directions of thought.

-S. M., May 2018

Characterization – The Golden Core of a Novel

Good characterization I believe makes or breaks the novel – it can either be the novel’s thriving soul or its black hole into oblivion. Earlier this week I finally began the construction of the first full novel I’ve attempted in a long, long time, not previously having the opportunity (or desire) to do so before, and ended up churning out 40 pages’ worth solely of character development.

This might sound like overkill, but a lot of it is choppy and haphazard, since it’s only for my use – it’s really not as much writing as it appears. Most importantly, I can say that I fully know all of the characters – their habits, their hair colours, probably even their shoe size. I can now rattle off what each would do when faced with any situation. Being able to do this is the key to unlocking a novel whose cast will stand out in the minds of readers!

Any sketching, pre-writing and development notes you feel like you should take, do it. Characterization is so vital and time that goes towards it is valuable. If you end up writing a hundred pages or more of character development, that’s a chunk of your novel already done. All that’s left is to translate it into action and meld the characters with their story, which will now be so much simpler since you’ve grown accustomed to the characters – their mannerisms, speech and inner machinations will be pretty much a second skin.

A few tips that will might help to keep a character and a novel succinct and coordinated:

  • In-depth and intricate details aren’t usually necessary on minor characters. If they only show up in one instance, we don’t need to know a textbook’s worth of history about them. Or even a large footnote’s worth, for that matter.
  • It is good, however, to have a small excess bit of information about every notable character, in case the need-to-know arrives naturally in the story – for example, their general appearance and a bit about their personality or what their role is. But remember that not all of this has the show up in the final product. If characters or notes you find interesting end up not being mentioned in-novel, you can always post them as trivia, or give that character their own short story later.
  • Remember – characters are part of the plot, not clots. If you’re not directly inspired to, definitely do not feel like you need to shoehorn in a character solely to be a romantic interest. It’s always obvious and it (almost) always docks points from a book’s review. Romantic interests need to have a fluidity in the story that matches the rest of the cast. Just being pretty is not enough.
  • Write characters who appeal to you. If they bore you or if you feel a tinge of lackluster in your mind just thinking about them, maybe rework them. It’s likely they will bore the audience as well if their own creator doesn’t even like them.
  • On that point, don’t be ashamed or afraid to write a character of a darker or more sinister nature. You would be surprised at how a vicious antagonist or anti-hero can earn a book its place in literature.

Hopefully these will help you on your writing journey as well. Writing, especially in the early stages, can be extremely trial-and-error with spans of tedium, but moreso they are like an experiment in a lab – the more you are versed in what you’re working with, the better the results will be.

[S. M., April 2018]