Tips for Staying Creative in College

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A lot of writers, artists, and musicians struggle balancing school and creativity. Personally, I’ve had stock market projects, club obligations, roommate drama, and even boy drama. I have scholarships depending on my grades and the angst of whether or not to change my major. In spite of that, I have remained fairly creative.

I reviewed the final edits for The Chalice of Malvron and as soon as I brush up the damnable blurb, it will be entered the big wide world. I even went through The Temple of Tarkoth and I’ve started on my Nano Wrimo project, but it hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to take conscious steps to make it happen and learned every lesson the hard way.

student-849825_960_720Don’t procrastinate

Procrastination is how you get three tests and three papers the same week mixed with a shot of meltdowns and a pound of anxiety. Plan ahead so that you can do a little work on school assignments at a time. Remember, it’s better to have a hundred snowballs than one avalanche.

Take care of yourself

Sleep. Seriously, sleep. Also go for walks and be sure you get to move around. This keeps your brain working its best and makes you feel more energized and better about yourself. Both are great for creativity.

girl-865304_960_720Creative breaks

I find unplugging and taking a hiatus from everything lets my brain reset and works wonderfully. Personally, my best breaks from writing involve reading. I’ve actually broken free of a months-long reading slump this semester and it helps get me in the mood for storytelling. Working on bite-size projects, such as short stories or poems, is also hugely helpful for writer’s block and unlocking creativity.

(Some people tell me they’re always too tired for reading, so they watch TV. Contrary to popular belief, Netflix does NOT count as sleep. If you’re that tired, you should go to bed.)

purse-1478852_960_720Reward yourself

Remember to pat yourself on the back when you do well. Chocolate is a great motivator for reaching creative goals. I have a Half Price Books 15 minutes from my campus and I’ve used that to inspire me quite a bit. I’ve even been known to ban myself from dessert until I reached a certain word count.

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It’s okay to say “no.” There will always be sporting events, social events, and well-meaning friends who want to drag you along. While these are part of the college experience, remember that you have to be balanced. There is always a happy medium or a compromise that can be made, such as giving yourself a curfew or only going to events you’ll actually enjoy (sounds obvious, but I’ve found it isn’t always).

board-928392_960_720You can keep writing, drawing, and creating in college, I have faith in you. If you can dream it, you can do it, and no one dreams like artists.

Do you have any tricks or tips for other student artists you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!

Things fantasy books (almost always) get wrong about deer

fallow-deer-602253_960_720Hunting is a favorite pastime of various characters in fantasy novels. It was also, of course, a popular sport for the upper crust in medieval times. Because of this, hunts and their quarry have been frequently portrayed in literature and film, for better or for worse. Like hunting in general, which I covered last time, the favorite object of these hunts has been more than a little fictionalized.

For starters, deer are not defenseless Bambis.

Even a lot of hunters believe this one. The truth is, deer can kick (with the front or back), bite (yes, bite), and head butt you into the afterlife even without antlers. They are wickedly strong, even those that look spindly and thin, capable of dragging several times their weight and making grown men beg for mercy. (The only writer I’ve ever seen really explore this was John Marco with his battle-elk. But that was so awesome it almost made up for everyone else.)

deer-1083607_960_720They are not particularly smart.

Running and jumping are pretty much the extent of a deer’s strong suits. Though Arthurian lore and much resulting fantasy fiction often imbues deer (particularly stags) with oracular/prophetic qualities, they actually tend to be pretty dumb. They often have trouble getting out of any enclosure they can’t jump, which is problematic if they get stuck in your yard. (And you can’t try chasing them out unless you want to get trampled.) Really, brains are not their forte.

They don’t strictly go solo or in Mommy and Me pairs.

Deer can be spotted on their own or in herds of females with their young or in “bachelor groups” or with a buck and a bunch of does—really, there are a lot of different combos you can have. Yet most the time on TV and in books, I see they turn up either solo or as a doe and fawn.

hirsch-899116_960_720Deer don’t always have huge freaking antlers.

This one could be tied into my second point up there. In reality, only the matured males have those gorgeous racks you see over fireplaces and turned into chandeliers. As a general rule, a buck’s antlers have one new prong each year, so a yearling will have just one prong (hence the nickname “spike”), a two-year old will have two, and so on. This means that most deer (considering predators and such) probably will only have a few prongs. (Bucks also lose their antlers after the autumn mating season, which is something else fantasy writers seem to forget.)

As someone who grew up with a running commentary of “in real life, they…” I can be a bit picky. (Thanks a lot, Dad.) Still I don’t see any harm in shedding light on the matter. The right dose of reality breathes life into fiction!

Character development is for wimps…apparently.

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My reaction to being told I should kill characters to “break reader’s hearts.”

I do not go for fluff. If I went for fluff, I wouldn’t be into Greek mythology, Game of Thrones, Mistborn, Tyrants and Kings, or most my other fandoms. I find it hard to get into a story without difficult situations and high stakes and, lucky for me, that stuff has become popular. Quite a few authors have even begun relying on break-ups and character deaths to drive their plots instead of more traditional methods—like actual character development.

I see a lot of posts floating around the author blogs and social media about laughing over character deaths and making readers cry. Seriously? Is that what storytelling is supposed to be about? Because you wouldn’t know different by looking at the chatter that’s been popular lately. Stephen King says to “kill your darlings,” but many have taken that to mean “write lots of random red shirts to be killed off willy-nilly when you don’t want to come up with an actual storyline.”

tumblr_mxzvzd2nZK1t4ese3o1_500As a reader, little else drives me as crazy as when I feel the author did something on purpose solely to incite reader reaction. For me, it usually has a backwards effect because I see it coming and I just turn into a smoking mountain of volcanic rage.

As a writer, I have become very careful about making sure my stories’ deaths and tragedies are not in vain. Taking out extra characters, combining characters, and redistributing roles is a good way to cut down on excessive tragedy, not to mention create more succinct stories overall.

This may be a groundbreaking thought, but having characters killed, raped, maimed, or anything else for shock value is not good writing, it is lazy writing. If a story is well written, you don’t need arbitrary violence to illicit reader emotion. Does this mean there shouldn’t be surprises? Of course not. It simply means that bad things within a story should have reasons beyond audience provocation.

However, in this case, like so many others in literature, it is all perspective. Summarily, if there is a definitive purpose to the unfortunate event, leading to plot advancement and/or realistic character development (preferably both), it is serving a veritable purpose and is actually good. (Unless you’re having some sympathetic innocent raped and/or murdered to advance the character arch of someone else. Don’t ever do this. Just don’t.)

And I’ve never actually laughed about killing characters when it came down to it, no matter how much I hated them. Are there actually writers that do this?

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Brace yourself—NaNo WriMo is coming

NaNo-2015-Participant-Badge-Large-SquareCome Sunday, it will be that time of year again. The time of writing meet-ups, all-nighters, and frantic pounding at keyboards to meet last minute word quotas. There is something exciting and addictively nerve wracking about joining people across the country and even the globe in getting to that 50k word mark. No pressure, right?

I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month for two or three years now with pretty good success overall (if I do say so myself). Due to my (clearly vast and indisputable) experience, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned from participating this glorious tradition.

1. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

The whole point of NaNo WriMo is to write a draft—a draft. Drafts just need to be done. It’s okay to focus on word count for the next 30 days. Those plot holes, halfway character development, and inconsistencies can wait for now.

2. Actually, it does have to be perfect.

While you should not stress about editing during this phase, you do have to be sure and do it later. The months following NaNo WriMo mark a veritable deluge of questionable submissions flooding the inboxes of literary agents (almost all of which are deleted without a second glance). If you’re looking to publish traditionally, take a few months to polish up your work before submitting. If you’re looking to self publish, definitely take all the time you need. You’ll have a better finished manuscript and your characters will thank you for it.

3. Hang in there.

You may not write the requisite 1,667 words everyday and it’s alright. Slow progress is still progress and you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself.

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Yes, I totally stole that post title from a meme.

4. It’s supposed to be fun.

Forget about Little Mr./Miss Goody-Two-Shoes over there who’s done halfway through the month. I promise you, most people will be struggling with their word count just like you and I. Chat with other writers. Make friends. Relax and enjoy yourself a little. Kick the green-eyed monster to the curb.

5. FUN, I tell you!

Even if you don’t make it to 50k, that doesn’t mean you aren’t on your way to a great story or becoming a fantastic writer. Remember that the whole point of this is to express your creativity and self—to have fun.

If you’re participating this year, I’d love to be writing buddies! Friend InkspelledFaery here.

Writing Update and Other News: May 2015

Me seated before my laptop, listening to my writing music before writing.

Me seated before my laptop, listening to my writing music before writing.

Boo! Elisabeth here. I really need to stop making a habit of dropping off the face of the earth, but that’s what happens when a book release runs smack into midterms piled on top of a car accident (more on that in a moment) and then finals. But despite all that, I am still writing. Lord, yes, I’m writing.

On the Argetallam Saga front, we just had a wildly successful Facebook party to celebrate the re-release of The Key of Amatahns. It was a complete blast and I’d like to thank everyone again for showing up and hanging out with us. The Secrets of the Vanmnars is undergoing editing and cover design and should be making it’s big splash in the next few months. Yea!

My seven newest adoptive children.

My seven newest adoptive children.

The day before the big party, I went book shop hopping (it’s like bar hopping, but far more awesome) and brought home these new friends. Upon finding them, my middle brother proceeded to pick them up one at a time and read the final lines out loud. Since he values his life, he quickly stopped, but is almost excited as I am for when I’ve finished them and can tell him all about what happened.

That Epic Fantasy Romance quintet I’ve been (not-so) covertly working on is now at five books and I’m writing the last in the series. It seems I am a sucker for assassins and princes and demons and all that. I just can’t stop. At this rate, I’ll be working on the planned spinoff series before I graduate. (For better or for worse.)

I highly recommend "The Jackal of Nar" by John Marco to anyone seeking the emotional equivalent of a wood chipper.

I highly recommend “The Jackal of Nar” by John Marco to anyone seeking the emotional equivalent of a wood chipper.

Speaking of school, I was on my way to it just over a week ago when my half-ton truck argued with physics and physics won. Long story short, my baby has been totaled and I did cry, but no sentient beings incurred harm in the accident, so that’s the good news. I also have finals starting today, so that’s some bad (terrifying) news, but I have lots of writing and a good (gut-wrenching) book to get me through it.

I’ll be heading up to the Olympic Peninsula this week to visit relatives and I’ll hopefully finish the last book in that assassin series and get back to editing The Secrets of the Vanmars. Or the third Fanged Princess novella or maybe drafting the later books in those series. But it will be related to them, I know that, so good news for all you fans! As for me, I love Amira, but I’m very much looking forward to getting back to Haddie and Janir!