Channeling Creative Forces: The Reasons Why We Should Make Art

A few years ago, Neil Gaiman, delivering a commencement speech to graduating university students, implored everyone to do one thing: make good art. Make good art regardless of the circumstances. Make good art in the face of adversity, or happiness, and all the emotions in between. It’s an inspiring statement that can fuel our drive to do something creative, regardless of what kind of art it is, whether written, visual, or aural.

Still, what we don’t really talk about is the vast number of reasons why we should make art – whether it’s good or bad (it really depends on who’s evaluating the piece of art, anyway). In this post, I’ll talk about a few things I saw on the Internet about making art – primarily through the visual and the written media – and why we should make art. And the reasons go beyond just wanting to pen a single story that encompasses a certain experience, or to make some thoughts known through verse.

One of the more immediate ways that art is made is through the written word. Writing is a highly accessible activity that doesn’t have to take up much of one’s time – unless one is inclined to, of course. It could be quick, like a line or two that you think is particularly brilliant that you want to write down just in case you might need it later. It might be a longer, more arduous process, such as the writing, trimming, and perfecting of a poem, or the writing of a novel. It is also pretty much everywhere, and not necessarily confined to creative or literary pursuits, although we are here to talk about art.

Another is, of course, the visual medium. And as far as hobbies can go, it may also be as inexpensive as writing. Just a pen, some paper, and imagination, and you’re good to go. Of course, visual art is such a broad term, and encompasses a lot of things from paintings to sketches to sculpture, maybe even advertisements and photographs.

We’re familiar with so many forms of art, but again, I’ll lead you back to the question of why we should make art in the first place. Artists in their respective fields have weighed in on the issue already, as the post “Why We Make Art” by Jeremy Adam Smith, published on the Greater Good Science Center website, proves. Smith asked some artists to answer the question why, and the responses are diverse. Gina Gibney, the artistic director for the Gina Gibney Dance Company, for instance, shares this:

I make art for a few reasons. In life, we experience so much fragmentation of thought and feeling. For me, creating art brings things back together.

Harrell Fletcher, who started the website Learning To Love You More with Miranda July, responded thus:

In my case, the projects that I do allow me to meet people I wouldn’t ordinarily meet, travel to places I wouldn’t normally go to, learn about subjects that I didn’t know I would be interested in, and sometimes even help people out in small ways that make me feel good. I like to say that what I’m after is to have an interesting life, and doing the work that I do as an artist helps me achieve that.

For Fletcher, making art appears to open the world to him – a wonderful reason, certainly, to make art. Then there is James Sturm, who responds to the question thus:

Perhaps the only insight I’ve gained is the knowledge that I have no idea and, secondly, the reasons are unimportant.

The view that the reasons for making art are unimportant is interesting, certainly, and not the kind of perspective you’d come across everyday. Or at least, perhaps something that people won’t admit to. In a way, however, Sturm’s response can be related to the idea that art serves so many purposes and cannot be boxed into a single. Make art – the reasons, whether you have them or not, are not that important. What is important is that you make them. In any case, art can have various meanings, besides, to anyone who’s beholding it, or reading it, or listening to it.

“Why make art” is not a question that can only be answered by supplying personal reasons, however. In Sean Kane’s article for Tech Insider, 7 science-backed reasons you should make art, even if you’re bad at it,” tells readers exactly that: scientific reasons that answer the question of why you should make art. In the article, Kane says:

Painting, sculpting, dancing, making music, and all the other artistic pursuits have benefits that go far beyond pure enjoyment or cultural creation — these activities can also strengthen your brain and improve your mood. Here are seven reasons to give yourself time to make art, even if you think you’re bad at it.

The science-backed reasons may surprise you. Mindless sketching (under certain circumstances), for instance, actually helps you focus. Writing about your problems can help you cope with them. Making art can basically act as one huge stress reliever. And in this day and age, we need all the stress relief we can get. But the benefits of making art are there, and should be reason enough for you to make art, if in case you’re someone who has no gigantic literary or artistic ambition that you’re itching to fulfill.

I’m sure there are a million and one more reasons why we should make art, and I doubt I’ve been able to cover them all in one post. However, it’s safe to say that the general, big vision, the big picture, that we want to put into view is this: we should make art because making art heals, fulfills, and communicates. Making art allows us to talk about certain subjects and deal with certain things. It helps us to share or articulate our experiences and thoughts with others. It allows us to touch others’ lives. With these ideas in mind, we can safely say that whoever you are, you should make art. Even if it’s just one doodle, or one line, or one note at a time.

Interesting Links:

I’ve rounded up a few links related to the topic. Check them out!

Do you know any articles or reasons – personal, scientific, or otherwise – why we should make art? Do you have art to share? Let us know in the comments, or tweet us at @creativwriters!

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Happy Endings?: Quitting Writing

Behind every finished book, short story, poem, or play, is a timeline of seemingly endless revisions and edits, and countless nights of frustration trying to finish a draft. It’s no secret that writing is more taxing than it looks. It’s not just about writing, but articulating, and articulating effectively.  And there are a lot of times when you believe that what you’re writing is not good, and what you’ve articulated isn’t engaging. And these are the times when we think that it’s better to quit writing. Do something else, perhaps, and put writing aside.

The question is, though: should you really quit? There’s no single correct answer to that question, definitely. The first thing you might do is weigh the pros and the cons of quitting writing. But then you’ll also have to ask yourself what it means for you to quit. Do you quit trying to be a “serious” writing, writing to get published? Or do you quit writing as a hobby, and focus on other things instead? You may ask people for advice, but it’ll vary, of course. And it won’t be easy when you try to decide.

In his article “How De We Know When It’s Time to Quit Being A Writer?“, Chuck Sambuchino shares his own story. It’s worth reading, certainly. However, what stuck to me was his parting words. He places us in a position where we’re compelled to think about whether or not we should just quit writing. And then he says:

The answer, of course, is simple: Can you quit? Chances are, you probably cannot. So keep writing, Dear Writer – because that is what you are. Whether or not you have a novel in bookstores. Whether or not the whole world has read your writing. Whether or not anything of yours is ever published, as long as you live, you are still a writer. It is part of who you are. Keep writing. It is never time to quit.

It is definitely nice advice, and one that we’ll want to follow. You’ll probably not want to quit if you’ve always loved writing, anyway. But while you may soldier on, there are some who do not want to continue. Lisa Kerr shares her own experience in the article “Why Quitting Writing Was the Best Thing That Happened to Me:

Quitting gave me what I needed to feel healthy again; it gave me the distance from what (and who) was unhealthy for me. I needed to enjoy writing again without the self-imposed pressure to publish with a leading agent. I needed the freedom to drink a beer and sew some crooked triangles on a quilt. I needed to get dirty with watercolors in my studio—splashing paint around, digging in the colors with my fingers. I needed to stop being worried about the cutthroat people I’d worked under.

For Lisa Kerr, trying to force herself to write was already becoming unhealthy for her. It wasn’t a question of being passionate about writing. It was a question of whether or not writing was still something she enjoyed. And distancing herself from writing gave her the energy she needed to get back on track.

In the end, it is you who can decide whether or not you want to quit. You should weigh in pros and cons, and decide if you want to quit for good, just plain quit, or distance yourself from your writing for a while. In the end, choose what’s healthy for you, and things may fall into place.

To end this post, here’s a link to an article: An Open Letter to Writers Struggling to Find Their Courage. May it give you help and hope.

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Write Fantastic: SFF Authors on Self-Publishing

The books everyone sees on display in bookstores’ shelves more or less went through a traditional publishing process. It was a product pitched to a publishing house, edited by a professional editor, publicized, marketed, perhaps promoted tirelessly, both online and off. But a lot of authors know that the traditional publishing process is a lot of work, too. And for some, the end product might not feel like it was worth all the effort. There is, however, a different avenue to get books published: the self-publishing route.

Self-publishing is exactly that: you publish your own work instead of getting them through so many different channels. Many authors saw it as a golden opportunity, especially as authors like Amanda Hocking became successful through self-publishing. There is, however, a problem with that kind of platform, as Ben Galley points out in his article on The Guardian, “Is the self-publishing stigma fading?“:

The brutal truth is that when you can publish anything, people will do exactly that. The market was flooded with indie literature and, sadly, a large percentage of it was substandard. Bad editing, awful covers, and mediocre content were rife. Advice was scarce, the methods many and varied.

And this is true. But, as Galley points out in the same article, there are a lot of independently-published works that are also good and worth readers’ time and money. Self-published authors themselves acknowledge that it’s not easy to get your work noticed in places like Amazon, where a lot of other works are being sold. Self-published works are being consumed, however, regardless of whatever genre they’re in. More works means more books for readers to discover. Thinking about the sheer number of books that one can come across on the Internet is daunting, certainly, so it’s definitely helpful to look at lists (like this one by author Michael J. Sullivan, about his favorite self-published fantasy works).

For authors, meanwhile, who do want to explore self-publishing, some successful self-published authors have already shared their tips over the internet.

Author Hugh Howey, who wrote the post-apocalyptic novel Wool, says that he originally tried to go through the traditional publishing route. In an interview originally appearing on Wired.com, he shares:

…I kind of got peer-pressured into going that route and ended up with a small press and everything went well, but I guess what I saw was, the way that they were publishing it, all these tools were available to me, so I thought, “I can do this.”

Ultimately, he decided to self-publish:

Self-publishing, for me, was a way of getting published and the other way took years of querying, trying to land an agent, trying to get a publishing contract, a year from the publishing contract to actual publication, so it was never about making money or trying to get into bookstores; for me, it was all about writing stories and trying to distribute them.

It was helpful to Howey, certainly, and the exposure his book got only encouraged him to write more.

Another fantasy author, David Dalglish, had believed that self-publishing wasn’t good. He writes, in his guest post for Fictorians:

In college I’d taken plenty of Creative Writing classes, and my favorite teacher had a single day each semester devoted to discussing the pure business of publishing. I still remember what she said: self-publishing meant the end of your career as a writer. You’d never be taken seriously again, because self-publishing was the route of the desperate, and those unwilling to put in the time and effort to get published traditionally.

It did work for David Dalglish, who was, originally excited just to have five people he didn’t know pay for the book he published. As for advice or tips on self-publishing?

The terrible truth is, I’m not sure what worthwhile advice I have to give. Why?

Because if I tried self-publishing from scratch right now, I’d fall flat on my face. That’s how much the self-publishing world has changed. Let me explain. Self-publishers are like locusts (I’m serious, hear me out). For every one person that is respectful, and putting time into their craft, and willing to abide by the rules, there are five who won’t, and will simply swarm in, regardless of the damage it might cause. So one of the earliest ways I got sales was by chatting with people on the Fantasy forums on Amazon. But once people realized that could earn sales, those forums were bombarded with spam, sock puppets, people recommending their own books regardless of the topic. Once upon a time, a reader could make a post saying “I just finished this book by David Authorguy, and it was great!” and you’d nab ten to fifteen sales just like that. The same went for the 99 cent price point. It was an easy way to get noticed, and undercut competition. But now? Pricing 99 cents does nothing, absolutely nothing, to make you stand out.

Dalglish’s guest post was written back in 2012, and the self-publishing may have changed since then. Regardless, it’s still not an easy task getting your work noticed through different channels – self-published or otherwise. But Dalglish’s words on the subject of publishing and writing are worth taking into heart:

Keep writing.

And I don’t mean crank out crap. Imagine that you have a fan base out there, one you’re steadily growing. Every book you write, make sure it’s something that audience will love and devour. With each new book, you’ll gather in the new, and satisfy the old.

I’m starting to ramble, so I’ll cut it off here. In short, if you want to self-publish, go in wide-eyed, your pride swallowed, and your ears open. Treat your readers, who are also your paying customers, with respect and courtesy. Don’t make excuses, but instead have the best editing you can have, the best cover, the best formatting, and the best presentation. Most of all, the best story.

What counts, in the end, is that authors work hard to write great books, and then work as hard to get them exposed to the public. It’s definitely not going to be simple or easy, and it might take a few tries to get things going, but there’s certainly reward to get from writing good works and publishing them through the right channels.

What else?

Here are other helpful links that you might want to check out:

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Writing and the Internet: Why the Internet is Your Friend

These days, it’s absolutely easy to find information on just about anything. Considering that we’re living in the age of the Internet, where virtually the entire world is connected and is accessible through all sorts of gadgets, it’s not surprising that any regular person can find out about the basic things in most topics, from medicine to science to literature and beyond. News articles are archived, how-to’s are available, and online encyclopedias – from Wikipedia to Encyclopedia.com – can be good repositories of information. Obviously, the Internet won’t be conferring degrees in astrophysics to the regular armchair Internet surfer anytime soon (and it is important to remember that not everything on the Internet is reliable information, and that the good researcher should check and cross-check information before deeming it accurate), but when you need a quick brush-up on surface knowledge on many topics, then the Internet can be hard to beat, really.

All this talk about the Internet — well, what does this have to do with writing, and why should you be concerned about the Internet as a repository of knowledge if you’re a writer? The answer might be painfully obvious, but it is almost as easy to ignore. There’s a saying that goes “write what you know,” but obviously no one knows everything about everything. So following that, “write what you know,” but if you’re not sure about what you’re writing, the next step is “know what you write.” Writing isn’t just about spinning pretty words and vivid sentences into wonderful scenes. A lot of times, in writing, you find that you’re tackling certain topics you’re not entirely sure about, whether they’re technical or otherwise, and you feel like you’re hitting a dead end because you’re not sure if you’re writing about these particular topics properly. What would those familiar with those certain topics say if they come across your writing? We’re all scared of misinformation, and of writing inaccurately, as inaccurate content hurts your text and the chances of readers getting immersed in it. Moreover, your credibility as a writer may also be put at risk.

And here, at this point, is where the Internet comes in. When you write, make sure to do a bit – or a lot, depending on you, really – of research on what you’re writing about. It’s not simply about character development and location, looking up tips on how to write certain kinds of characters or subvert certain tropes. While those are important for your craft, and especially if you want to set yourself apart from existing pieces of written work, those aren’t the only things that you have to pay attention to. Medical scenes, the recovery period of the human body, politics, functions of machines – they’re all very important, as well. You don’t have to go incredibly in-depth to learn anything and everything about, say, about behaviors of certain bird species (this is creative writing, after all, and not a thesis on bird behaviors), but at the very least, you do have to know basic information that’s related to what you’re writing about. Don’t be afraid to use search engines and look up blogs that give out writing tips! There are a lot on the Internet and they’re useful. Good writing is backed by good research — and it will make your writing all the more engaging.

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The Brutal Writing Process (and Quotes and Tips to Help You Through It)

If you’re a writer, or if you’ve ever tried your hand in writing in any form, you’ll know that the process of writing is a brutal process. Probably not the blood-sweat-and-tears kind of brutal (although there may be cases when one or all three are physically involved), but certainly straining enough: late hours spent staring at your word processor, trying to find the next good line, or maybe empty packs of chips and instant noodles and cups of coffee littering your desk, too busy as you are to cook or go out to get real food. The writing process may sound romantic, but in reality, it is not, any many writers – published or unpublished – are struggling to pin their ideas down neatly on paper, in a piece that people would want to read. There are no definitive lists telling you what the writing process exactly is, or how you’re going to experience it, as it is a personal endeavor. Only you will be able to find out how your own writing process – and in turn, your own habits, strengths, and weaknesses as a writer and as an individual – is.

That said, however, it is always helpful to take a few tips and inspiring quotes from authors who have already published their written work. Here are some tips and quotes from popular authors, on writing:

  • “My writing process often begins with a question. I write down ideas and let them stew for about a year. Then, when I sit down to write, I make a list of characters and try to see how they fit.” – Cynthia Voigt
  • “Never stop when you are stuck. You may not be able to solve the problem, but turn aside and write something else. Do not stop altogether.” – Jeanette Winterson*
  • “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” – Terry Pratchett
  • “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” – Octavia Butler
  • “Work on a good piece of writing proceeds on three levels: a musical one, where it is composed; an architectural one, where it is constructed; and finally, a textile one, where it is woven.” – Walter Benjamin
  • “Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it.” – Geoff Dyer*
  • “Find an author you admire (mine was Conrad) and copy their plots and characters in order to tell your own story, just as people learn to draw and paint by copying the masters.” – Michael Moorcock*
  • “For most of the process, nothing but faith, fueled by your own stubbornness, will be pulling you along. The work that you’ve done on the book so far won’t be much comfort, because so much of it will be insufferable crap, until the very last moment, when you figure out how to fix it and everything comes together.” – Kristin Cashore
  • “There are three secrets to writing a novel. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are.” – W. Somerset Maugham
  • “You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” – Jodi Picoult

Those are just some of the tips and quotes from writers who, like you, have struggled (and certainly) continue to struggle with the writing process. There’s a lot to be said about writing and how to write, but ultimately, how it goes – and how you deal with the bumps and frustrations along the road – is your own personal experience, something that only you can deal with (although something that can be lightened by going out every now and then, and distancing yourself away from your work). The important thing is always to write, to continue writing regardless of how bad you think your first draft is. 

Keep on writing!

*Note: Quotes with an asterisk are from The Guardian’s “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.” Check it out for more tips on writing!

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Quotes to Help Overcome Creative Frustration

Some of the most frustrating things that people experience stem from creative projects. Artists of all kinds, especially, are never truly satisfied with what they produce. I’ve been told once that a work of art is never finished – just abandoned. And sometimes, it doesn’t matter which of the two you do. Whether you return to the piece or abandon it, you’re throwing yourself off a cliff – endless frustration from the former, and haunting from the latter. Meanwhile, you spend copious amounts of time on your piece, while others watch on and think you’re wasting your time.

These ideas, though, are formed under the impression that creative projects are not worth doing. Not to sound like I’m excluding certain kinds of people, but sometimes we find it true when we say that artists understand each other better than most people.

It is inevitable to feel frustrated, though, and so I step in armed with a few quotes from artists themselves, in the hopes of inspiring.

Here is one from Dilbert creator Scott Adams:

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

Another, this time from American poet Langston Hughes:

An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.

Japanese author, Haruki Murakami:

For me, writing a novel is like having a dream. Writing a novel lets me intentionally dream while I’m still awake. I can continue yesterday’s dream today, something you can’t normally do in everyday life.

And finally, from English author, Michael Morpurgo:

Encouraging young people to believe in themselves and find their own voice whether it’s through writing, drama or art is so important in giving young people a sense of self-worth.

Going through the quotes, we can get a general idea: art is an expression of the self, filled with mistakes and pitfalls, fueled by passion and pushing yourself further. So, like what the Adams quote says, being creative means making mistakes. Your creative output will be a mistake, not to everyone, certainly, but there will be people who will look at what you’ve done and say that they don’t get it. That they don’t see the value in it. It bears repeating, though, that creative ideas stem from the self, and end with the self, and creative frustration stems from – among other things – attempting to meet your own expectations while attempting to meet the projected expectations of others. Whatever you do, you will get mad, you will arrive at a point where you wouldn’t want to continue. But that’s part of life, and that’s part of the creative process.

It’s an idea that this site has repeated over and over again, in several posts, over the past several weeks, but constant reminder is a wonderful thing. Creative projects exist because you feel that they have to. Creative projects must be done because you have envisioned them. The idea is brilliant, it’s in your head – it’s in the translation that the work becomes arduous, the hours long.

Finally, keep in mind that it’s okay to be frustrated. It’s okay to feel like you want to give up, it’s okay to look at what you’ve written, and say, “I don’t like it.” But always keep the quotes in mind: that you have a choice in your creative output, you have the final say, it is your sandbox, it is your dream. It is the ocean for you, the one that only you can explore – sometimes, you just get stranded in the middle, sometimes you just feel hopeless because you’ve been sailing for hours but cannot see the land.

So feel frustrated, but also work hard to overcome that frustration. Besides, your story won’t write itself.

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Get Back Up Again: Why Staying Physically Healthy Is Important for Creativity

No one likes getting sick. Okay, maybe there are some people, especially if it gets them out of responsibilities – school, work, you name it. But the hardest thing to do after recovering is getting back up and going with the flow again, doing your best to catch up and fulfilling obligations that you’ve neglected because you were physically unable to. It shouldn’t be too hard if you had all the time in the world, or if no one relied on your work output. But the world doesn’t stop for people who get sick, which makes illness rather problematic.

The “real world” aside, getting sick is also problematic when it comes to working on your creative projects. You may already have hit that gold vein, may have found a lot of interesting things to fuel your fiction, and maybe you’re already on a roll. But then comes a rather debilitating illness that forces you away from your laptop, or your tablet, or what have you. Basically, you’re away from your keyboard for a few days, and perhaps during those few days you’re thinking about what you’re going to do when you recover. If you recover. Finally, that fated day comes, and you’re allowed to get back to your normal routine. Except when you sit in front of your laptop, and look at the documents you had to leave hanging for a while, nothing comes. The jolt of inspiration that should have built up over the past few and pretty much unproductive days is not there, and you’re left confused.

It’s a problem that a lot of people experience, but for those who are in touch of their creative side, getting back into the groove can be more difficult. Creative work already involves touching a certain mindset, and one already struggles with that kind of work even without illness. Meanwhile, recovering from an illness just makes it all the more difficult, because the body is still not strong enough to let you pay attention to your creative project. You may have heard of artists engaging in unhealthy habits to get that creative mindset running, but go overboard and you may not be able to get that mindset running, at all.

So what am I getting at? It’s important to stay healthy. Whether it’s your eating habits, or sleeping habits – and both are questionable things, where a lot of famous artists are concerned – make sure that you’re getting the right amount of sleep or the right kinds of food. Junk is easy to eat, sure, but it pays to eat the right food. Among other things, of course. Find time to get away from your keyboard for a few minutes to an hour a day, maybe have some exercise – and exercise will help, because physical activity will help get the mind running. There’s no problem getting back to your creative project after a quarter or a half-hour of work out, compared to getting back to work after you get sick.

Finally, as much as you’re making a habit of writing a lot, make it a habit to follow physical work-out or healthy eating habits. You might be surprised at how these will all work together to help you actually deal with your creative work.

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Writing Is A Lifelong Commitment

One of my professors in one of my American Literature classes was talking about Emily Dickinson one day. She lamented the fact that Dickinson – a brilliant writer, a poet, to be precise – had died too young and had been discovered too late. This drove me to do a bit of light research on Dickinson’s life, and to pick up on what I remember from reading about her once: that she was one of the most prolific poets, though her work, it seems, had not seen the light of day until her death. But to be dedicated to poetry, to writing, even without getting renown because of it – at least in life – is something that sounds rather remarkable, doesn’t it? Foreign, almost.

We live in a world where publishing is relatively easy now, because online platforms allow one to just type and click the ‘Publish’ button to get “published.” But no doubt, this’ll be lost in a sea of articles, pieces, and poetry of a nature similar to what one has just published. Meanwhile, it becomes a cause of frustration, with the writer who so desperately wants to get published ending up not getting published in the right way, and then one remembers Dickinson, and one gets confused by how Dickinson did it. That is, being patient with not getting published.

Being frustrated is understandable, and of course it’s safe to say that there are hundreds – no, thousands – of writers out there stuck in a rut, unpublished like many others, constantly dreaming. I don’t think there’s an easy way out of that limbo, and certainly at some point there’s a desire to quit writing because it’s not doing you any good.

Which is weird, because maybe you’ll find yourself eventually picking up a pen and some paper – maybe the exact ones you threw across the room in frustration (not that a piece of paper can go that far, being thrown around) and try to write again. Fueled, perhaps, by your need to write, which – if you’ve started taking up writing as a craft long ago, anyway – probably has been something you’ve been dealing with for a while. And so you write, and get frustrated, and write, and get frustrated again. It goes in circles and gets maddening, but the end result is that you get back up and write, refusing to be knocked down.

I suppose even if you’re not fully aware of it, you’ve already been married to writing. You hear of people married to their jobs (I have a professor who’s pretty much like that). Well, even if writing is not exactly a job for most of us, it’s hard to not get married to it. Writing is an expression of the self. Writing is inadequate when you attempt to pin down thoughts, in forms that you either want or are expected to follow. Everyone writes at some point in their life, and everyone, undoubtedly, at some point feels the incredible frustration of writing, and of a feeling of absolute inarticulacy. But some let go of writing and use it as a tool solely for practical purposes. Some don’t have a passion for writing at all.

But if you do, and you keep feeling frustrated about it, just remind yourself that you’ve found a niche, that you’ve found a way to express yourself – effectively, ineffectively, it doesn’t matter much sometimes – and that you’ve found a lifelong partner in writing. Getting published – if you do get published at all – comes long, long after you’ve developed a passion for the craft. Even if you’re unaware of it, you’re committed to it. It’s as much a part of life as anything, and you have to hang on for the ride.

And then:

A Tumblr user asked Neil Gaiman for some writing advice, and here’s what Neil said.

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Roots: Why Recognizing Your Inspirations Is Important

It’s easy to plunge headfirst into the reckless abandon of engaging in creative exercise, writing your way a thousand words a day through a story that you’re probably making up as you go along. It’s easy, as well, to attempt to convince yourself to continue working on your creative project. All you really have to do is look at the goal you want to reach, and set your sights onto that goal, for you to push yourself. It may or may not be very effective, but it can work.

But it’s funny, because we talk about what we want to do, and what goals we want to reach, and what highs we want to achieve, without talking about our roots. Sure, we started out somewhere, at some point, finding that writing is an activity we’re comfortable with, for example. Or speaking in public. Or drawing. Or making music. A lot of pursuits stem from something, but it’s important to look back. Way, way back. To your roots, to be precise. And by roots, I mean your inspirations. The people who have influenced you, basically, to pursue your passions. And by influence, I mean both positive and negative.

What we should remember is that just about everything we choose and everything we encounter has an impact on our lives, and when it comes to creative pursuits, a lot of things figure into that. I suppose the easiest and most obvious thing to look at is your favorite author, and the author you really don’t like at all. Or texts, actually. Which texts do you like? Writing styles? Genres? Which don’t resonate with you? Your personal reading library will show you the kinds of things you like, and have been reading, and how these texts you own and like or dislike have somehow influenced your own work. I speak in terms of books and authors but this can also be applied to many other things.

It’s also important to think of why these texts resonate with you, or why these texts don’t. It’s simple to look at a book, read it, and say, “okay, I liked it.” And then what? Which parts of it did you like and dislike, and which parts do you think need development? Why did a certain author even become your favorite, in the first place?

Starting out by answering those questions and digging into the roots of your passion is already a pretty light and easy way of being critical – both of your own work, and of others’ works. Blind devotion to a single author is sketchy, especially when you sit down, start writing, and think of the ingredients that make up your favorite work. So what? They have heroes like this, villains like that. So does every other book. It’s like a meal, isn’t it? Something a chef cooks consists of ingredients that one can get from just about anywhere – it’s what the chef does with it that makes it unique, or gives it its own flavor. Which is true about texts, about writing, about creative pursuits, and about inspiration.

The final thing then, is this: know what you like, why you like it, what you can improve about it, and what you can do about it if you’re given the “ingredients.” Knowing the raw material and digging into the roots will help you eventually craft a better – hopefully – creation than you’ve ever imagined.

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Real Worlds: World-building

Part of what makes a lot of stories compelling is the world in which the characters live and breathe in. World-building isn’t just confined in literature, because a lot of shows, movies, and video games make use of made-up settings for the narrative, and populate these settings with a lot of different people. It sounds like a really tough job, making a world from scratch, especially if you consider all the work you have to put into it. Countries, cultures, industries, government, a magic system (if applicable, of course) and religions are just some of the things one needs to develop in order to create a convincing, living setting. And sure it’s daunting, and it almost feels like you need to iron out every little detail – down to the kinds of animals that live in the forest – just to make sure everything falls into place. And then you have to check and recheck every detail in order to achieve consistency. And that’s not even putting the story into things.

I’m hardly qualified to tell you about world-building and give tips, as I’ve never been published before and I’m convinced that I haven’t managed to make a good enough world that’s not a carbon copy of some other world that’s already made, or a half-baked, pieced-together Frankenstein’s monster of a world. I have, however, tried to build enough worlds to know that I’ve been doing it with a certain pattern in mind, and here are the things I usually do:

  • Make a map. I love books that have maps, and I love the details put into them. Having a map for a setting makes the world all the more enticing, because maps provide a sense of realness. So you could try – if you haven’t already – making a map for your own setting, putting a good amount of time into details: borders between countries, landform locations, important landmarks, cities, towns, villages, waterforms, names of relevant places – you get the drift. I find making maps a pretty fun activity, and – although I don’t guarantee it – it may give you a better sense of physical distances between locations, which may, in turn, help with generating a sense of authenticity.
  • Give names. Names to important places, events, dates, and institutions, that is. A world needs to have culture. You don’t have to name everything from the start, because that’s overwhelming. What you can do is start small – start with a town, or a city. A country. Detail its culture, its hierarchy, its industries, what people eat, wear, do, and joke about. The daily lives, preoccupations, and worries of the population all add another dimension to your world. And then, of course, once you have names, define them. It doesn’t help if you just have a name for an event that happens during, say, the summer season. Why is that event happening? What brought it about? Why do people celebrate it, if it’s a celebration, for example? Those things don’t have to be extremely detailed – just detailed enough for them to become relevant to the world you’re building.
  • Don’t overwhelm yourself. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. It’s tempting to create a world and obsess over every detail, but I’ve found that it’s not very healthy, especially if the world overshadows other equally important things, like the story and the characters. Remember to balance things, and remember to give equal weight to details that have to be pieced together to actually make the story work.

Like I said, I’m hardly qualified to say these things. But this comes from experience, however little. Budding writers jump headlong into creating worlds, only to find themselves stalling and confused in the middle, and I know the feeling. In the end, it still helps to consider the kind of world you’re actually building, and whether or not you like it. Details have to be nice, but easy enough for you to remember. Eventually, and hopefully, your world will come alive.

Professional Opinions:

I’ve given a few “tips” based on experience, but it helps a lot if it comes from the authors and the experts themselves. Here are a few articles on world-building to get you started:

7 Deadly Sins of World-Building / Writing Fantasy: Tools and Techniques (Brent Weeks) / Five Foundations of World Building

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