Finding Space for Creativity in a Busy Life

Like many other writers, my dream is to be a Writer with a capital ‘W’ – to make a healthy and satisfying income purely from writing and writing-adjacent endeavours. Also like many other writers, this is not yet my reality, and reality currently involves a real job, piles of responsibilities and a good helping of commitments I can never bring myself to shed. I am determined to get that capital ‘W’, though, so finding the space for my creative outputs and ensuring productivity is a must, because ultimately, if I don’t, who is going to write that book I so badly want to finish?

Now, there are lots of ways people approach this problem, and mine is just what works for me. Others handle this through regimented routines, writing retreats or support groups, and that’s what gels with their work style, their family’s needs, their sleep schedule and their personality. You do you, obviously. Me, I’m a hyper-productive, overly-ambitious introvert with no children, multiple demanding but flexible jobs that wax and wane according to the cycles of the school year, and a blog post to write, so I’m going to talk to you about how I create the space for creative productivity (let’s call it writing) in my life.

You must be so organised!

In the past ten years, I’ve finished two degrees, commenced a third one, written a thesis, written and released four novels, edited and published numerous works for other writers, all while either teaching classroom full-time or, in the last two years, lecturing part-time. I also write hundreds of thousands of words of fanfiction between books, manage this blog, mark a lot of assignments and consult for an independent school as a board member. I am often asked how I get through everything. “How do you find the time?!” is frequently expressed, as is “I wish I had the time to write a book!” and “You must be so organised to have all that going on!” And honestly, the first thing I feel when someone suggests that, is I feel like a fraud, because if you’ve ever seen my desk, you’d know organised is not a word I connect with. If you saw the inside of my mind, you’d cringe – wonky mismatched filing cabinets spilling old printouts, discoloured folders, polaroid photos, streamers and glitter all over the floor, with handmade cards and scribbled to-do lists sticky-taped to the sides of every cabinet. I know very few creatives who consider themselves organised.

What I am, in fact, is determined.

I rarely feel organised. But organisation looks different in every instance, and it’s still a useful word to describe the approach I’ve taken toward my creative life to get where I am so far on my journey. My creativity is important to me, and finding space for it in my schedule is a priority. But often, as busy people will attest, the time isn’t there in the schedule. What are we supposed to do with that?

Two options, the way I see it: accept it, or make it.

Reasonable flexibility

157195302Accepting that the time simply isn’t in the schedule sounds like giving up, but I don’t see it that way unless you forget to put the compulsory ‘yet’ at the end. At this time of year, setting up a classroom every morning, teaching every day and laminating late into every night, the time to write simply isn’t in my schedule, and even if it was, I don’t really have the inspired brainpower left at the end of each long day to produce anything more substantial than this blog post. My priority is setting strong expectations in my classroom and transitioning the children warmly into their new school year, and given that this early, more-exhausting-than-usual phase of this job is temporary, I consider these days without writing as an acceptable loss. I know that freer weekends and even freer holidays are on the horizon and on those days, I will make up the lost time and word counts. Later in the year, I’ll have weekends packed full of birthday parties, or a fortnight of solid marking, or a big study deadline, and to me, it’s reasonable to let writing take a backseat for a short period, because those are priorities at those times. I’m determined to attain that capital ‘W’, so I know I will shift my priorities back as soon as I can. In that way, I suppose, I am constantly organising and reorganising myself.

An appointment with the muse

The alternative, when the time isn’t there to be found, is to make the time. This is the part with the hard calls and the tough self-talk. “You say you really want to write that book, do you, Shayla? Okay – what do you want it more than? Another episode of Stargate? An evening playing the Sims?” I’m not going to lie, sometimes I do choose Stargate or the Sims, but making time means becoming aware of these subconscious choices. We all have the same twenty-four hours available to us each day that we can distribute between our priorities. We all make reasonable allowances for major commitments – children, sleeping, work, and these differ for everyone – but how we spend the rest of our time is up to us. Twenty minutes browsing Facebook is time not spent writing. A two-hour film is two hours not spent writing. Which would you rather? Because it is a choice. Either choice is fine, but only one gets more words on your page.

Making the time to write in my schedule means treating it like it matters. Is it more important than Instagram? Yes, so in this moment, I’ll choose writing over Instagram. Is it important enough to commit to, like an appointment, or does it get pushed aside whenever something else pops up? I have turned down social invitations in order to spend a day writing where I have set the day aside for that purpose, and I have wonderful friends who understand how much I look forward to my writing appointments the way they look forward to yoga sessions or watching sport. My friends are cool – they’ll still be there tomorrow or next week, and I’ll be able to tell them how much I got written down on my writing day. I create the space in my schedule by prioritising my writing, as appropriate to my personal rules and standards, and by treating my time flexibly.

So not organised…

images2While I still don’t view myself as an organised person, I do manage myself, my time and my thinking a lot, which could be interpreted as organisation, in order to live a productive and creative life amidst my busy chaos. The determination to succeed at my many endeavours, and especially my capital ‘W’ dream, is best supported by a series of systems (lists, diaries, word count goals, study and writing appointments) and an awareness of my own choices regarding my approach to time. I definitely mismanage my time a lot, and I am far from a perfect role model when it comes to balancing creative career with reality. But this self-aware approach has worked for me – the awareness that I’m in charge of my time and my writing, and that I can make the judgement call as to whether to accept that the time isn’t free yet or to dig in my heels and carve out the time I need. It’s an approach that respects my many other responsibilities and the cyclic nature of my busy working and study life, but does nothing to dampen my determination.

I hope that for some other busy, exhausted, determined writers seeking that capital ‘W’, this post can serve as a friendly reminder that ‘too busy’ does not preclude ‘successful’ and ‘getting that book finished’.

~Shayla Morgansen

Shayla Morgansen is a writer, editor and educator from Brisbane. You can find her YA fantasy series, ‘The Elm Stone Saga’, on our webstore, and you can find her on Facebook, Instagram and her website.

Don’t get caught in the storm: Interview with Annalise Azevedo

Now that her debut book has blazed a trail through the world, it’s time for her sequel, Eye of the Storm, the second book in the Sacred Stone series, to blow everyone away. Here’s an interview with the author, Annalise Azevedo.

eye of the storm frontWhat inspired the Sacred Stone Series?     
My friendships were one of the inspirations.

How would you describe the series?
A series that keeps on guessing.

What was the first thing that drew you into the fantasy world?
I always like magic.

What has been your favourite book that you read this year?
Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen.

What do you want your readers to take from reading the Sacred Stone series?
For people to have confidence. For people to write their own stories.

Who inspires you to write?
George R. R. Martin. He grew my ability to write different points of view.

What do you find hard about writing?
Editing.

If your series was turned into a movie, who would you cast as the leads?
I don’t know really.

What book are you excited for next year?
Too many to choose from.

Anything in the works you can tease?
Book 3 is complete. My current writing project is book 4.

Interview by J.J. Fryer

You can find out more about Annalise Azevedo on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on her website, and the books can be purchased from the Ouroborus Books online store.

Designing a Trilogy

Every fantasy lover knows the magic of a trilogy. When designing book covers in general, many things need to be taken into consideration as it is. You need to be able to portray the feeling of the book, without giving too much away, you need to balance images and text, choose colours and fonts to enhance the story and, depending on genre and audience, much more. So designing a series of continuous, connected book covers really only makes this a harder job.

kj.jpgMy most recent series I’ve designed for is KJ Taylor’s Southern Star trilogy. It’s an especially special trilogy because it’s the third trilogy in a saga of three spanning generations of narrative, and this scope is a significant aspect of all three books’ design. Luckily this is not my first series of book covers. The extra element of design you need to hold onto when doing a series is cover continuity. What you design for the first book needs to set the tone for the rest of the series. Will it be a colour, a symbol, an art style or something else that will hold through all the books? The first one is the hardest because once it’s published, you’re stuck with the theme you chose.

For the Southern Star books there are several elements that are carried across. Firstly is the background. With the almost woodcut-style image, the background being old paper akin to a parchment map, I had laid the foundation for the covers to come. The first book was a paler parchment, a little crinkled, the second, darker and more worn, and the third will follow the same pattern leading to an increasingly darker toned series of books as they progress.

Next is art style. As the griffins on the covers are all hand-drawn by me, style and placement are much more personalised than you’d find on a cover with just stock graphics. The woodcut-style image of the griffin not only has continuity of style as I’m drawing them, but also lends itself to the map-like background. Continuity is important in cover design, just as much as it is in the writing of the books.

Lastly is the title text. I’m a sucker for books that, whenHPTR7-Angle-1200 placed next to each other on a shelf, all line up in some beautiful way. I like the styles to match, the text distribution to be even and for the eye to easily look and see a connected collection of books. So for me, title, spine and any other major text must be in the same spots on the book, especially on the spine. My best example of this is Shayla Morgansen’s Elm Stone Saga books, which have a single branch arching over the spines as one.

A trilogy or series of books is a huge outpouring of skill and effort to write, and it’s only right to dress them properly. Designing a cover for a series is more than just making a nice-looking cover; it’s starting a family of covers, whose genetics travel down the line of books, pulling just enough from inside the book for the outside to sing, and sing the same theme all the way through.

~ Sabrina
Sabrina RG Raven’s work can be seen on her web page www.sabrinargraven.com or her facebook www.facebook.com/SabrinaRGRaven

May the 4th book be with you

gahsafdsgElm Stone Saga fans, the moment has finally arrived!!!! The fourth book in The Elm Stone Saga, ‘Haunted’, is here. Here’s a little interview I did with the fabulous author, Shayla Morgansen herself.

What inspired The Elm Stone Saga?

Two things. One, the then-impending completion of the Harry Potter series, which I was finding difficult to replace. Two, a baby names book I bought to help me find names for my Sims. I found Aristea and Renatus in there, along with almost the entire cast, and started imagining them as characters. That’s why all the weird names!

What authors inspire you, and why?

So many, where do I start? JK Rowling is my hero because of her tenacity and the impact she had on reading and literacy. Laini Taylor and Catherynne M Valente make me want to write better, every time I read a single gorgeously crafted line of theirs… their story worlds are so beautiful and every word is a delight. And Jodi McAlister, because she manages to strike a balance between academic life and writing fantasy novels!

What was the first thing that drew you into the fantasy world?

sdgasgg.jpgI always watched and read fantasy and science fiction. My childhood movies were Star Wars, Independence Day, Stargate, The Labyrinth… Plus The Swan Princess and a big helping of Disney… That’s why I’m so well-adjusted. For books, especially long magical series that drew me totally in, it would have to be The Chronicles of Narnia.

What book is your most anticipated read for the rest of this year?

Other than the forty-something unread books sitting on my bookshelf already? Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell.

What was your favourite read of 2018?

Well, that’s too hard. Either Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine or Valentine by Jodi McAlister. Or Illuminae. Or Geekerella. I don’t know. I’m a picky reader – if it doesn’t have magic, spaceships or police, I’m out – so I love nearly everything that makes it onto my very exclusive list!

How did you decide on the cover of your books?

Painfully, or so my cover artists would say. I’m picky with everything. I knew I didn’t want to have people on them and I wanted a symbol. My amazing artist friends who developed the covers helped me to think about what symbol matched the content of each book.

agfagasgIf your book series was to be a movie, who would you cast? Personally I think the actor who played Victor Aldertree on Shadowhunters would be perfect for Qasim.

I remember you saying that! Maybe Theo James as Renatus? Though I think the books are better suited to a series than to film.

What do you want readers to take away from reading The Elm Stone Saga?

Enjoyment? There isn’t really any deliberate moral or message to the series – more of an exploration of my own into the different ethical perspectives. Is an action inherently right or wrong? Is its rightness determined by its outcome? Or is something more or less right if it affects people you love? These are questions my characters struggle with and I think we all can relate, so I hope readers get a moment of escape when they’re reading about fictional people dealing with these worries in fictional settings.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Take yourself seriously, or no one else will – but not so seriously that you forget that this is supposed to be fun. Language should be a delight. If you don’t love writing, your approach needs a look-over.

Finally, can you tease use about any upcoming projects you have on the horizon?

agf.jpgI always have too much going on! Aside from my non-fiction works coming out over the next year, my massive unfinished fanfiction and the research arising from my ongoing study, I do have a new fiction series I’ve started working on. Think The X-Files­ meets Grimm – supernatural police procedural. But it’s a while off, and I’m committed to completing The Elm Stone Saga for now.

~J.J. Fryer

You can find out more about Shayla Morgansen at her website, on The Elm Stone Saga’s Facebook page, or by following her on Instagram. All four books in The Elm Stone Saga are available from our store.

You can follow JJ Fryer on Twitter and Instagram. His debut novel Inner Reflection is available from our store.

What does your Character Represent?

When you answer this question, you hesitate. What does this character represent? Why am I writing this character this way? I will have to confess that coming up with a theme of your character is tricky, but I believe a well-developed character grows when they have a theme.

Examples can include:

ich.jpgIchigo Kurosaki from Bleach – his theme was to protect. He wanted to protect a mountain load of people after his mother died protecting him. It is an important note of him throughout the series, his downfall, however was the ending when his character was literally trashed to the point of no return.

bell

 

Emma Swan from Once Upon a Time – as one of my favourite characters, I couldn’t not include her. Her theme is about being the saviour, the product of True Love (A.K.A the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming). She starts off as a lost girl, an orphan who believed that no one could love her. As the seasons go on, she finds her parents, reunites with her son that she sent away and the love of her life. This allows her to grow into her theme, which falls into hope. Hope that could grant the happy endings.

A theme of a character can tell us so much about them. It could range from anything – from their name, unique marks, personality traits and even their thoughts. We can see their problems and their complications through the story, especially following with the ‘show don’t tell’ rule. It brings out their relationship with other characters that we probably wouldn’t see for others.

By showing us the representation, this can also help the reader identify with the characters. I believe that many people feel inspired when the main character is played by someone who the audience can connect to. It was the reason why Wonder Woman became a massive success; it most likely helped a lot of young girls find the strength to do the right thing.

When creating a theme for your character, my advice would be for you to look at your character truly. Learn about them. Just because you created by them it doesn’t mean you know them. They have different experiences than you and me – unless, the story is about yourself then that’s a different conversation.

I would love to see all writers to create a theme of their characters, to help support someone for when they need a helping hand.

~ Annalise

Annalise is the author of the Sacred Stone books

Visit Annalise’s bio here

Hemmingway Was Wrong About a Few Things

Hemingway On SafariIt is customary to hold the great authors up as the sources of all wisdom in our craft and we can’t have a conversation about the greats and the wisdom they bestowed on us without bringing up Ernest Hemmingway. So, despite my status as a mere mortal I would like to raise a few objections to some of the facts that we now take for granted because a genius said them.

Keep in mind I’m not saying he was wrong, but I would argue that his advice was only right for people like him. He was a genius with a pen, but we are not all Hemmingway. The good, even great writers of our age are all very different people so what worked for him won’t necessarily work for us.

First of all, the first draft of everything isn’t shit. That’s so incredibly unfair and dismissive of one of the most beautiful things a writer can make. Yes, the first draft is often rough and messy but it’s full of great things. It’s full of half formed ideas, fledgling characters and silly throwaways that you put in just because they made you smile. Maybe those things will be built on in later drafts and maybe they’ll be removed completely but they are beautiful in their imperfections.

I cannot urge you strongly enough to treasure your first draft. You don’t need to overedit it, examine it or make it perfect but as you write it appreciate how wonderfully flawed it is. Your first draft might be the truest expression of who you are as a writer, with all of who you fear you are and all you hope to be included.

Supernatural-Authors-Montage1This isn’t just about Hemmingway either, it’s about all the greats. A lot of great writers gave a lot of very good advice but not all of it applies to you. People give advice based on what’s worked for them in the past and maybe it helped Hemmingway to believe his first draft was going to be garbage no matter what he did but that doesn’t mean that’ll help you. You can take advice from Stephen King, Shakespeare, Terry Pratchett, all of the above or none of them but the idea of idolising great writers until everything they say is unquestionable gospel is harmful to you as a writer.

Unless I’m wrong in which case feel free to ignore me too.

I’m not saying you need to trust yourself only, just pick and choose the advice that’s right for you. My first draft is my precious baby and building on it is an act of nurturing and love that I couldn’t hope to do if I really believed it was shit.

Oh, and don’t write drunk, even Hemmingway rarely actually did that according to his family. He drank after he was finished for the day or during particularly foul cases of writer’s block.

Struggling with the Cursed Writer’s Block?

Believe it or not, but everyone has it at some stage of their writing career. Especially to me – sometimes things get in the way of life when I can’t focus on anything in my story writing, then I go check for cute animal pictures as a distraction. Let me tell you a few things that helped me through the stages of writer’s block.

First of all – Your path

Now I’m a writer who has to have a plan for their story. If not, then it ends up dead before it began. If you’re like me who needs to have this path set out for them then I strongly recommend for you to stop and read over your work. One of the major things about my block is because something is missing in the story or I could perhaps extend a part for another character that I forgot to include three chapters ago. So if your path is going in the direction of destruction and you don’t like it – cut it out and do it again. I know this is a painful process, but there’s still a chance you can reuse the deleted part for a future scene.

Inspiration 

Have you ever been in a place or heard a song that simply spoke to you? You could be inside a nice bar and an idea starts to merge in your head. Commonly, many writers get inspiration from their dreams. Ideas are born through inspiration and by watching or listening to the world around us, we can get bring life to an idea that has been dormant for so long. Most of my scenes are brought on by music, so perhaps if you’re struggling even with the music you have currently then you look up for something refreshing. I work best with instrumental music, as sometimes I’m listening too deeply with the words and I may accidentally write the lyrics instead of my intended part. So, my advice for inspiration is to go outside to take a break from your writing in order to get a better feel of new ideas.

Looking from a Different Point of View

Sometimes, even I admit that this is a little challenging. When I offer my work to read, there are plenty of people who care about me who are willing to sell their arm to do so in a heartbeat. The problem lies within your bond with other readers however. If the story isn’t good and readers are just saying that it is then it’s tough to be able to work from it. Yet if there’s honesty and it’s bad, then the critique can embarrass you and shy you away from the chance. I won’t deny it – it is hard to give your work to someone and get feedback, but my advice would be for you to ask the reader of what they think needs to happen. It is however, completely up to you whether you take their advice of the story as you have the final say.

Writing Small Projects

I know that not many people are a fan of changing topic so suddenly… which is why I included it as a small project. A perfect example would be a possible snippet of your story that has nothing to do with the main plot (A.K.A – fanfiction involving your characters). While I rely on this from time to time, this isn’t my most used tactic. I often do alternate scenarios or side stories of the characters I never use. It is a skill that I often enjoy and sometimes it brings me back to my story which is something that we all need sometimes.

~ Annalise

Annalise is the author of the Sacred Stone books

Visit Annalise’s bio here