Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Year's is coming

As this year draws to a close, I'm racing to polish my query letter and manuscript for submission to Dragon Moon Press. Their open submission period ends when the new year begins.

I'm finding that even though I've dreamed of having a manuscript ready to send in to publishers for years, now that I'm getting near that point, I'm more nervous than I thought I'd be.

This is my heart and soul. My work. My way of life. And I'm putting it all in an e-mail, trusting my hard work to the world wide web?

Yup. Why do I put myself through this? Because that's the dream. I knew from the start it was going to be hard, but that's what makes it so rewarding.

Found this on Merit Badger and I think I finally understand it. It's the Query Letter Merit Badge:

Hope you all have a wonderful New Year's Eve and a great start to 2011! Wish me luck!

Monday, December 20, 2010

A metaphorical Mechanical Clock

An elder in my church once gave me a book called "How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci" by Michael Gelb. He said it reminded him of me and he thought I had the potential to become a genius. I am still 'wowed' by his belief in me today.

I picked up the book again and started reading right from the beginning. It certainly gave me something to think about. The book goes a little too far, in my opinion, about the human potential. It likes to paint an optimistic picture of what a human is capable of completely on their own and it leaves God out of the picture.

But it still blew my mind. It's an amazing book and I hope whoever aspires to be a writer or artist will read it.

One thing particularly struck me in the first chapter. This is a list of the top inventions that made the difference in the Renaissance era:

Printing press
Pencil and affordable paper
Astrolab, magnetic compass, and large sailing ship
Long range cannon
Mechanical clock

All but the last two have this in common: the spread of ideas. Books people could read and ideas common people could write, ships that could transfer these ideas more readily and bring new ideas back, etc. These new ways of getting ideas out there that gave fuel to the Renaissance.

But the last two had nothing to do with spreading ideas. The cannon was a device that could finally penetrate a feudal fortress, which aided in the destruction of feudalism, paving the way for a better system.
The mechanical clock changed things: most people didn't even know what century they lived in, and were not conscious of time spent from day to day. The Mechanical Clock sort of turned time into a commodity when people realized they could spend it or waste it. (Sadly, we still haven't figured out a way to save it.)

What if there were a mechanical clock of today that would change things for us? Something that would make us aware of what we were previously oblivious to?
Perhaps it will teach us to be aware of our own attention spans and help us realize we can spend them as well as waste them.
In a sense, I believe we need to re-learn the lesson of the Mechanical Clock: Time is a commodity more than ever. If our brains can process things as fast as Gelb claims in his book, we better get processing and put that ability to use. That means purposefully choosing the correct things to process.

It's like learning Chinese. You can learn the first 1500 most used characters and gain a 92.4% understanding of the language. But if you double that by learning the next 1500 most used characters, you do not double your percentage of understanding. In fact, you only gain 5.9% more understanding. (You can find the statistical chart here.)

With everything under the sun at our fingertips, it's important that we reach first for what's most important and leave the useless drivel behind. Imagine if you weren't judicious about which 1500 Chinese characters you learned. You could end up putting in the work for 1500 characters and only gain a 5.9% understanding. But if you take the time to discern which are the right characters to learn, you could gain so much more (92.4%).

The clock made people aware of time. What can make us aware of how much attention we have to spend? Perhaps texting and driving? That, at least, has proven there is a limit to multi-tasking.

One thing I have to remember day to day is that I need time to chill. Time without the tv, computer or smart phone. If I try to focus on too many things for too long, I'm wasting my attention on all of them. I might not live up to the genius that man saw in me a long time ago, but I do know that if I overload myself by trying to do too much, no real thoughts will emerge and my creativity will be quenched.

Over the holidays, I hope you can catch a break and find some time to relax. Get away from all media for an hour or two and enjoy your family, sit and think, or journal and sketch to your heart's content.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Old Writing

My cousin visited us over the weekend and we went to see Voyage of the Dawn Treader together. It was amazing.

She ended up getting stuck at our place because of the worst snow storm in 20 years that we've had. We got 20 inches of snow in one night, even the plows were called off the road, and the roof of the Metrodome collapsed.

So what did an anime artist and a writer do while trapped inside for a weekend? Sit in our pajamas and talk about stories, of course!

She drew pictures of people, anime style, of some of my stories and some of her own as we told them to each other. It was a lot of fun.
She asked me to get out some of my older work, the story ideas that I never wrote into a full piece of fiction.

So I did and I was amazed at what I found. There were ideas I don't even remember writing. Some of them were painfully corny, while others were startlingly original and creative. It changed my perspective about my own writing today. Some of it will be obviously bad, some of it will be enjoyable. And overall, it's worth it to write.

Have you ever looked back on some of your own ancient writing? What did you think? Did you find it terrible, or awesome, or a little bit of both? Did it make you smile?

I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

(PS Something else I discovered this weekend was that my cousin had all her story ideas stem from characters she'd made up while drawing, while all my stories stemmed from interesting plot twists and denouements. Someday I wonder if we'll team up to become super heros who write fabulous stories.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

World Building

There are many questionnaires for world building on the web. The ones where they ask all kinds of questions about your world and as you answer the questions, it's supposed to help you discover more about your fictional world than you ever wanted to know.

I've never completed one. They're always way too exhausting, and for good reason. Describing an entire world is not a small feat. I feel like Atrus from the book Myst. He discovered that it took an entirely new language just to make up a world. The English language just didn't contain enough descriptive words to do the proper job. It seems sometimes as if I need an entirely better language just to describe every little thing that's needed in a fictional world.

To hone my world building skills, I'm going to try an experiment. There's a few questionnaires that I like, and a few I've made up of my own. I'm going to attempt to answer all of them as if I'm building my own world, Earth.
Have you ever learned about something amazing that blew your mind about our planet? Sometimes Earth seems like enough of a magical world without me going off and creating new ones. If you've never experienced this, just use your favorite search engine to search for imagines of strange plants. Some of those things are weird, and look alien.

I'm hoping this will open my eyes to aspects about world building that will help me in my noveling.