Writing the next chapter: What story will you tell in 2015?

Image source: ‘English girl riding bike’ from Riding Pretty blog

Image source: ‘English girl riding bike’ from Riding Pretty blog

My first post for 2015 is bike-themed, because Tim and I went for a bike ride this morning to kick off the new year. No need to peddle old ideas when you can pedal into the future!

There are always endless possibilities for New Year’s Resolutions. Finish your novel. Lose weight. Find The One. Change jobs. Get to Mordor and drop the ring in Mount Doom. The usual.

As Dave Beck, NaNoWriMo Technical Director, puts it: “In the end, isn’t everything—from relationships to careers to geopolitics—about the narratives we choose? The narratives we write?”

So here’s what my resolutions are all about:

Write a good story with your life. A true hero need only be a person who sets goals and overcomes conflict to achieve them.
(paraphrasing Donald Miller in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years)

Image source: Our wedding photos by Kyle and Elissa Johnson, Slade Portraits

Image source: Our wedding photos by Kyle and Elissa Johnson, Slade Portraits

Last year I wrote my story as well as I could. I had goals, and I overcame obstacles to achieve them. After the usual stresses of preparation, I married the right man for me and enjoyed decorated our new home with the artworks I made with my own hands. I left a job I didn’t enjoy and worked hard at building my editing business so I could continue to do the editing work that I love. I made time to do some of the adventures I enjoy like bushwalking and beach trips, both with friends and by myself for much-needed and much-appreciated “God dates”. Halfway through the year life got really difficult for a time as I found I had some severe struggles to work through, so I asked for help when I needed it and I trusted God to get me through. I began submitting one novel to publishers, entered as many short story competitions as I could, and completed NaNoWriMo again. And I showered as much love as I could on the people I care about.

So here are the few things that I felt went into writing a good story with my life in 2014, and what I’ll be trying to seek out again in 2015.

Image source: Sarah Killey Photography

Me and Tim holding hands at the altar.
Image source: Sarah Killey Photography

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Happy St Stephen’s Day, everybody!

Image source: ‘I see the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God’, painted by Water Rane, courtesy of Church History Museum

Image source: ‘I see the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God’,
painted by Water Rane, courtesy of Church History Museum

I know everyone thinks Boxing Day is all about shopping sales and cricket, and always has been, and until recently I thought that, too.

Nope, still about Jesus.

Happy Feast of Saint Stephen Day, everybody!

Stephen was the first disciple to be martyred for following and preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.

But why did they kill him? What did he do that ticked people off so much? And what can we learn to apply to our own writing?

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Bad stories that are being written in the world, and how we can edit them

Delete button. How to edit truly bad stories Image source: Fonts and Fiction Blogspot

How to edit truly bad stories
Image source: Fonts and Fiction Blogspot

This post is a long one, sorry, but stick with it! I really believe this is something we need to make time for.

 

 

Recently, I was looking for inspiration for a part of my novel where one character interrupts a battle to give a passionate speech that marks the beginning of the road to peace. One of the first results when you Google “speech about peace and war” is Martin Luther King Jr.’s little-remembered 1967 speech opposing American involvement in the Vietnam War, ‘A Time to Break Silence’.

I had no idea that reading this speech would change the topic that I would blog on today.

“A time comes when silence is betrayal. In Vietnam, that time has come for us.” – Martin Luther King Jr., ‘A Time to Break Silence’, 1967

Many of you, upon reading the title of this post, assumed that I’m talking simply about my profession of editing. “I say there are bad stories being written out there, and we gonna git ‘em fixed!”

I wish I was.

In the world today, as there has been every year since the dawn of man, there are bad stories being written. By governments and individuals. By my government in Australia. By individuals who I know who think that the government is doing the right thing.

And I need to talk about it. I need to tell you about it. I need to talk about why we are writing a “bad” story and how we can edit it so that we aren’t ashamed of what we have written.

“I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.” – George Orwell, ‘Why I Write’ Essay

 

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Welcome!

I’m TJ Withers-Ryan, a freelance editor based in Australia and a Jesus follower. Check out my freelance services if you need the best in copy editing, proofreading, or copy writing.

TJ Withers-Ryan, Your Editor

If you’re new to my site, come on in for tips on the creative process for writers, artists, and other creators and living out your faith. This site became “Called by Name” in 2016 in response to Isaiah 43, a powerful prophecy about Jesus and a prophecy for the lives of all his followers.

To all my regulars, welcome home – it’s always great to catch up. 🙂  Cheers – TJ

Music to write by

Music to write by - typewriter treble clef. Image source: Scores for Writers

Image source: Scores for Writers

 

Ever wondered what type of music will help you to focus when writing in different genres? Here’s what’s worked for me in the genres in which I’ve written or edited.

 

Okay, NaNoWriMo is nearly over, with only five days until the end is declared. So if you’re nearly there, here’s some final inspiration, to give you the last push you need to get that baby out (what a gross analogy, seriously). And if you’re boycotting NNWM and you’re kind of sick of hearing about it, soon we’ll be back to awesome posts that are not all about how to write a novel in the shortest possible timeframe.

Why does music help you write?

Studies have consistently shown that classical, Baroque era music can help students study things they’ve already learnt once, and can help workers to concentrate better during long or repetitive tasks. For those in a busy study or work environment, music has also been proven effective for blocking out distracting background noise. If you’re writing, editing, or creating art, music can help you stay focused and be more creative and open to new ideas.

By contrast, if you’re trying to learn new information that requires your full attention, music can distract you from what you’re reading. So if you’re doing research about historical methods of leather tanning for a new book, you might want to turn the stereo off and focus on the history.

Listening to lyrics can be distracting from writing, so most of the music I’ve featured in this post is purely instrumental. This is because lyrics are words and you’re already trying to think about other words when you’re writing. (People in other disciplines like maths, science or IT have no trouble with listening to lyrics while they work – in fact it helps, since their domain is largely numbers and code (Lesuik, 2005).)

So what can you use to inspire you when writing in different genres? Read on to find out!

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How to keep healthy as a writer: body, mind and soul

'The happy writer' Image source: ToneBlog

‘The happy writer’
Image source: ToneBlog

This post is something different for me – a collation of all the research I’ve done into how I can stay happy and healthy as a writer and editor. We live in a stress-filled age, and writing requires us to not be stressed, because stressed people aren’t creative, as I’ve previously explained.

All the “health” tips here are ones that I personally have tried and found helpful, so I hope they help you, too!

 

Body:

At BWF in the Burbs this year, Australian fantasy author Trudi Canavan gave us this invaluable tip:

“Look after your bodies. Writing is hunched over a computer, fingers working furiously for extended periods. It’s an unnatural position that soon leads to RSI if you do it for years on end.”

She recommended we take lots of breaks from the hunched, sitting position.

For her, unfortunately, RSI is a daily issue, which is inconvenient now that she’s a full-time writer (the dream!). Because of the pain, she can now only sit down to write for half an hour at a time before getting up from the computer again. She does that over and over all day, because she has to. (Gosh! It takes me at least ten minutes just to get into the swing of things with my story again after a break – imagine only having twenty useful writing minutes each time you sit down to write.)

So don’t make the same mistake as Trudi and let it get too late to avoid RSI. Get up and walk around. Pat the dog. Do some quick yoga stretches at your computer! I got into this when I was working a job that was 8 hours a day at a computer, and it worked wonders for my lower back pain.

‘5 Office Yoga Poses (That Won't Freak Out Your Coworkers)’ Image source: Meredith Nordhem, Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/meredith-nordhem/office-yoga-poses_b_5604195.html

‘5 Office Yoga Poses (That Won’t Freak Out Your Coworkers)’
Image source: Meredith Nordhem, Huffington Post
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/meredith-nordhem/office-yoga-poses_b_5604195.html

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Bible stories you should read if you want to be a great storyteller

No matter what genre you’re writing in, you’ll want to be reading other stories in your genre.

Something I’ve wanted to write about for some time is what a writer can learn about writing in their genre from reading one of the oldest books ever written – the Bible.

The truth is, it has so much to teach storytellers like us.

Yes, I know, reading the Bible isn’t terribly easy going. But if you treat it as one big collection of short stories, then you can read a little chunk at a time and not be overwhelmed by trying to read it as a single epic tale.

One of my esteemed friends, Josh Bartlett has a wonderful YouTube channel, Storytime with Josh, where he features regular videos of dramatically-narrated Bible stories. This guy has a real flair for bringing out the real life drama of these stories – some that you might have heard many times, and some that even well-versed Bible readers will find surprising.

Storytellers should always be looking for the human side in stories. Many characters in stories never get their side of the story heard, or their point of view is always sidelined because the main hero’s actions are seen as more important. But the truth is that every character has an interesting story, even if it’s only about how the hero’s actions affected them and how they responded to that.

A guide to where you can find all the genres in the Bible:

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Happiness and creativity: Why you shouldn’t write a sad song until you’re feeling better

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” ― Anne Frank

 

Happy lightbulb man from Scientific American

Image Source: Scientific American

Do you need to be happy to be inspired? Or do you need to be a tortured artist in order to be inspired? It’s an age-old question, and there’s a growing body of science providing answers to it.

 

I’ve been studying a psychology unit through edX Berkeley online called GG101 ‘The Science of Happiness’, and the experimental studies that have been performed in this area of creativity-and-happiness have been fascinating.

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Go where you find inspiration: Part 2: Real live animals that should be in fantasy novels

Go where you find inspiration, and go there often

 

My previous post was about the Art Gallery Museum and the intriguing characters I uncovered in the old portrait paintings there. Now let me tell you about the incredible animals I discovered, many for the first time, at the South Australian Museum.

The Mouflon, found in the Caucasus, northern and eastern Iraq, and northwestern Iran

The Mouflon, found in the Caucasus, northern and eastern Iraq, and northwestern Iran

Some of these guys really look like they should be in a fantasy or sci-fi novel, not in the real world. For that reason, I found these animals awakened in me again the desire to write fantasy, a genre I’ve spent many years in but often abandon for “more grown-up” genres like science fiction (haha) or drama.

I spent a few hours over three days walking through the ‘Mammals of the World’ taxidermy exhibit, because I just loved it the first day, but there was so much that I just felt I hadn’t taken it all in, needed another hit.

I was pacing back and forth behind the glass, getting a bit upset that these gorgeous things were dead, just carcasses posed for my viewing pleasure, and most of the living versions were endangered anyway, when it hit me. I wanted to write fantasy animals based on these real animals. Think about it – if I describe an animal to you just using the description, not labelling it by the name we know it, it would be harder for you to imagine, wouldn’t it? You might even think I was making it up.

My first mammal looks like some medieval fantasy writer got really tired of writing ad nauseum about wolves howling at the moon and running in packs and chasing our heroes through the woods, so he elongated the nose and tale of a fox and gave it giant ears, then shrunk it to cat size, and…

The Fennec Fox, found in the Sahara of North Africa

The Fennec Fox, found in the Sahara of North Africa

BAM! Fennec Fox. (Seriously, what’s with these adorable little guys? They’re so darn cute!)

Here are some of the other animals that inspired me:

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How not to write a speech

Disclaimer: In this post, I use a real speech as an example of how to write a better speech. If you were at the wedding and heard the speech I’m referring to, you know that it was a beautiful wedding, for a beautiful couple, and that I intend no personal offense to the speech writer or anyone else involved.

I did two subjects in uni that were all about speech writing and persuasive speaking for different purposes. I did well, so I’d happily say that it’s taught me how to structure a basic speech to make an effective effort, at least, to persuade my listeners to my point of view.

Image source: Corey Ann, "How to give a best man speech"

Image source: Corey Ann, “How to give a best man speech”

Then I went to a wedding recently, and I learnt how not to write a speech.

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