Mad-Eye Moody’s Advice for Writers, Part 1

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Illustration by Mary GrandPré

One of my favorite scenes in the Harry Potter series is the scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in which Mad-Eye Moody gave Harry advice. To steal an egg from a dragon for the first task of the Triwizard Tournament, Moody suggested that Harry play to his strengths and bring what he needed. For Harry, this meant using a summoning charm to retrieve his Firebolt so that he could utilize his Quidditch skills in the execution of the task. The result was the moment where Harry shouted, “Accio Firebolt!” and his Quidditch broom soared from the castle and came to his side, and it was awesome.

Moody’s advice is exceptional not just for a boy wizard, but also for writers.

Play to your strengths
Especially if your writing isn’t currently paying your rent, you’re probably writing because you just need to. “A writer always writes,” said Rachel Balducci. “And not because of the need to produce as much as the need to just exhale. Verbally/mentally/emotionally speaking.”

If that’s the case, you’d better not be wasting your time writing anything other than exactly what you want to write.

For example, a standard piece of advice for writers is: practice your craft on short stories, make a few sales, get a few published credits, and then attempt a novel. And that is good advice. It worked pretty well for Stephen King, among many others. But what if you don’t want to write short stories? What if you just want to be a novelist? In that case, Mad-Eye Moody growls, “Think now. What are you best at? Play to your strengths.

It also happens that a writer comes up with a great story and tells it very well, but it gets rejected by agent after agent and publisher after publisher because it doesn’t fit neatly into preconceived genres. If that happens to you, should you rewrite the story to neatly fit expectations? No, not unless you want Moody’s magic eye to swivel in your direction. Play to your strengths. After all, children’s books weren’t supposed to be about babies from murdered families who grew up among vampires and werewolves until Neil Gaiman won the Newberry Medal for The Graveyard Book.

This advice applies to a writer in so many more ways. How does it apply to you? Think about what you’re best at and what you love the most. Are you in some way applying that to your writing? Why not? Play to your strengths. They’re uniquely yours, and the world is waiting to see the fruits of them.

(Continued in Part 2: Bring What You Need.)

October Status and Announcement

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My last status update was a big one. In it I announced that I’d decided to independently publish Yesterday’s DemonsNow, two months later, I estimate the third draft of the novel is 65% complete. I’m very happy with the progress I’ve been making.

But back when I decided to independently publish, another question I’d been pondering instantly became a no-brainer. So here’s today’s announcement:

Yesterday’s Demons will be book one of a trilogy.

I know, this probably isn’t a huge surprise. Isn’t it the law in 47 states that all fantasy novels must be part of at least a trilogy if not a longer series? But I’d resisted allowing myself to think too much about the larger story I wanted to tell until I’d secured a publisher. Once I did, the floodgates opened. So in addition to all of the work I’ve been doing on the latest draft of Yesterday’s Demons, I’ve also been giving a lot of preliminary thought to the next two books. I wouldn’t call this thought “Book 2 Pre-Writing” just yet. But it’s close.

Finally, eagle-eyed readers will note that I’ve removed Simon Bradley and the X-Ray Specs from the Project Tracker over in the sidebar. I only did this because it had been sitting there at 100% complete for some time now. I do still plan to return to that book and get a second draft of it completed, but right now, I’m focused on my trilogy.

Lots of other great stuff keeps happening behind the scenes, and when I have more to report, I’ll report it here. Thanks so much for your support and for reading.

Deus vobiscum.

We’re making up new punctuation now‽

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I knew that National Grammar Day was held every year on March 4 (get it?) but I didn’t know anything about National Punctuation Day. It’s held every September 24.

To commemorate it, Mental Floss put together an infographic of little-known punctuation marks. I’d never heard of any of them. And some are under copyright? I didn’t even know you could copyright punctuation. Some of the public domain ones include:

  • Interrobang ‽
  • Snark Mark .~
  • Rhetorical Question Mark (see image)

These are kind of fun, but I wouldn’t use them except in jest. I don’t think Strunk and White had anything to say about them, and I have a purist streak. But if it suits you, then freely use that Certitude Point.

You are Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is one of the bestselling, most talented, and most loved creators of our time. And you are him!

Well, you’re not literally him. Unless he’s somehow reading this. (If so: hi! I met you once, a long time ago. It was cool.) But you have something in common with him and you must never forget it.

There is a ton of great advice from Gaiman in this video: “You Learn By Finishing Things.” But this might be the most important piece:

Tell your story. Don’t try and tell the stories that other people can tell. … Start telling the stories that only you can tell. Because there will always be better writers than you and there will always be smarter writers than you. … But you are the only you. … There are better writers than me out there, there are smarter writers, there are people who can plot better, there’s all of those kinds of things.

But there’s nobody who can write a Neil Gaiman story like I can.

That right there. That’s how you are Neil Gaiman.

There is nobody who can write a [YOUR NAME HERE] story like you can.

Surround yourself with the best people

I can’t say enough good things about Lauren Sapala’s article “To Create Your Best Art, Surround Yourself With The Best People.”

So much of the time we assume that we have to power through damaging criticism from people and keep on taking it, or grin and bear it whenever we’re around someone who makes us feel badly about ourselves. This is simply not true. Whenever possible, we need to exercise our freedom to move away from these people and situations. The people probably won’t like it, and the situation may valiantly attempt to suck you right back in, but it can be done. You can find new people who want to ride with you through this magical journey of life, and will take turns with you as you cheerlead each other the entire way.

Read the whole thing. Better yet, just subscribe to Lauren’s blog!

Publication announcement

im-going-on-an-adventure I haven’t posted an update on what I’ve been working on for a couple of months, so it’s time to do that. It’s also time for a fairly major announcement.

June was a busy month for reasons that had nothing to do with my writing (unfortunately). My family and I sold our house and moved to temporary dwellings while our new house is being built. That took up just a tad bit of time. I’ve now established a temporary office and made some significant progress on the third draft of Yesterday’s Demons during the rest of June and July.

And that leads me to my announcement. I’ve decided to independently publish Yesterday’s Demons. I put a lot of thought and prayer into this decision and I strongly feel it is the right one. Therefore, based on my current projected schedule, I can say that I expect Yesterday’s Demons to be available in ebook sometime in the first half of 2016. I also have plans to publish it in paperback, but on Day 1, it will be exclusively an ebook. Expect a lot more details on this in the months to come.

I do still plan to return to Simon Bradley and the X-Ray Specs and get a second draft of that book completed. But I’m not sure when at this point.

I’m beyond excited about this. I feel like Bilbo Baggins running through the Shire. “I’m going on an adventure!” I’ll have a lot more related news in the coming weeks and months, and I can’t wait to share it with you. Keep reading!

Designing books

Happy Friday! I found today’s video courtesy of KM Alexander. (Why aren’t you reading his books right now?) I didn’t know who Chip Kidd was before I watched this video, but I’d most certainly seen some of his work. KM says he’s considered the king of book cover design. This video is filled with simple philosophy and a lot of great examples. (Also note that there is a minor bit of rough language.)