The Night Sky

I don’t like staying up late at night. When you get up as early in the morning as I do, you learn to go to bed early in order to get some sleep. Besides, it’s been rather cold recently, which gives me another convenient excuse not to go outside at night. Why go outside when I can curl up inside my warm bed instead?

As understandable as my desire to get to bed early is, I realize I’ve been missing out. Not on the party scene or the night life. My town doesn’t have much of either due to its small size and I’m not particularly interested in that stuff anyway, fun though it may be for some people.

You see, we’ve been having clear nights recently, with not a cloud in the sky to obscure the blanket of stars and constellations that show up every night out here. Because I don’t live in a big city, light pollution is rarely a problem. If I want, I could go outside every night and get a full view of the night sky, which I realize is not something everyone is privy to.

When I look at the night sky, I only think about how vast it is. I feel that way sometimes about the sky during the day, but that feeling is multiplied at night. I’m not sure why. Maybe its because the night sky has more things in it than the day sky. During the day, the sun is usually only thing in the sky, unless it happens to be a cloudy day or someone is flying a plane or helicopter.

At night, however, I can see hundreds of stars and the moon (and there are much, much, much more I can’t even see, if Wikipedia is correct about the number of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy). It’s like the sky we see during the day is merely a cover hiding the true sky. I wish I knew more about astronomy so I could identify the various stars and constellations I see. Even without knowing their names, however, I am still awed by what I see whenever I look up into the night sky.

And it’s that sense of awe that I realize I am missing out on when I go to bed early. This awe is what keeps me humble, helps me look at the world differently. It reminds me of the immensity of the universe and not to get too caught up in my own problems, worries, and fears. Considering I am a huge worrywart, this is probably something I need to do more often.

Maybe I could get a book on astronomy and spend some nights out there identifying stars and constellations. It could be a good first step toward making a habit of appreciating the night sky more often. Anyone know any good astronomy books, preferably ones with clear pictures or drawings to help me identify the stars and constellations?

-Tim

The Mysterious, the Fantastic, and the Impossible

The current tagline for this blog is “Journey into the mysterious, the fantastic, and the impossible.”

Sounds awfully fancy and intriguing, don’t it? I think it does, which is partly why I chose it. If I found a blog with a tagline like that, I’d certainly be interested in reading it. It also reminds me of old school comics, such as Journey into Mystery, which is the comic series in which Thor made his first appearance, so that’s kind of cool even though I don’t really talk about comics on this blog.

But primarily, it refers to my favorite parts about speculative fiction in general: Mysterious, fantastic, and impossible things. Creatures that exist purely in the realm of the mind, worlds that couldn’t exist in real life, and objects whose full histories may never be known.

To be clear, I am not hating on non-speculative fiction here. A good story is a good story, whether it is set in a created world or set in the real world or some mixture of the two. Genre does not affect a story’s quality. I’ve enjoyed many stories set in the real world, just as I’ve enjoyed many stories set in fictional worlds.

But it was speculative fiction stories that first got me into reading and they were the ones that first got me into writing. Although I may have been a bit harsh on worldbuilding back in October, I do love learning about imaginary worlds and strange new cultures and species that aren’t quite human. I also love it when authors leave certain parts a mystery. It tells me there is more to the world than what the author has shown, even if the author is not quite sure what the answer to that mystery is. It makes the world more believable, as there are many unexplained things in real life.

I try to have some of that in my own stories. My novels (none of which are published yet) always include a major mystery that is slowly revealed over the course of the story. I like to include things that are awe-inspiring, things that evoke powerful emotions in my readers despite their impossibility.

For example, in the short story Reunion (which you can read in the science-fiction anthology Constellations), I set the story on a giant ring-shaped starship called the Annulus that floats around an Earth-sized planet. I doubt something like that is even possible in real life (though with the way technology is advancing, who knows?); nonetheless, the idea of a ring-shaped starship big enough to wrap around an entire planet struck me in a way few ideas do and so I had to add it in, even though it does not affect the story too much.

Keep in mind it is possible to go overboard with the mysterious, the fantastic, and the impossible. Writers can use them as a crutch to avoid explaining anything or to distract readers from awful writing. Sometimes, things can get too impossible or mysterious or fantastic, at which point no one believes what you have written and the story fails. Of course, each reader has different things they are willing to suspend their disbelief for and it is impossible to know for sure what readers will or won’t believe, so don’t lose any sleep if one reader tells you that your idea is unbelievable or stupid.

The mysterious, the fantastic, and the impossible must be combined with good story. They are not an excuse to be lazy. In fact, I’d argue that a writer must work extra hard when writing about mysterious, fantastic, and impossible in order to avoid shallowness and frivolity. There’s little else that is more disappointing than a mystery that doesn’t make any sense or is gratuitous to the story.

-Tim

What I’m Thankful For

Thanksgiving is a mere two days away. Soon it’ll be here and then it’ll be gone and then Christmas will actually be upon us and things will most likely get even crazier than they already are.

For me, I think my Thanksgiving is going to be a quiet family event this year, as it usually is, and probably even quieter than usual because we’re dealing with an annoying (though not nasty) cold. I hope we’ll all be better by then, but I have a feeling at least one of us will be sick on Thanksgiving, unfortunately.

Yet just because I am sick doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to be thankful for. I have a lot of things to be thankful for (in no particular order):

1. A nice home to live in.

There are a lot of people who don’t even have that. My house isn’t the fanciest or biggest, but it keeps me warm at night and is livable, so I have little to complain about. Plus, it was built in a beautiful part of Texas, so I have the generally beautiful weather and scenery to be thankful for as well.

2. A wonderfully supportive family.

There are unfortunately a lot of people with families who don’t support them and their dreams. That my family wholeheartedly supports my dream to become a professional, full-time writer makes me lucky and I am thankful for them every day.

3. Writing.

Writing is a huge part of who I am. If I were to lose the ability to write — whether through losing the use of my fingers or lacking writing supplies or something else — I am honestly not sure what I’d do. I couldn’t not list writing on a list of things I am thankful for without it feeling incomplete.

4. My health.

Yes, I just complained about being sick, but honestly it’s just a minor cold that will probably go away in a day or two. I’ve been lucky to avoid the major diseases, like cancer, and also major injuries. This is one thing I don’t think I’m as thankful for as I should be, to be honest, so I’ll be sure to be more thankful for this later.

5. The Ambage.

I am thankful for my writers’ group because it was through them that I was first published. Plus, they’re just an overall cool group in general. You guys are awesome.

These are just some of the things I am thankful for. I could probably be here all day listing the things I am thankful for, but I think I’ll stop with these five. Maybe I’ll list some more things later in another post.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

-Tim

Victory!

As of this morning, I finished my NaNoWriMo novel, The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock, clocking in at 92,245 words. I expected to hit 100k, but 92k is good, too.

I’m quite surprised, to be honest. I’ve never finished NaNoWriMo a week before the end of November. Usually I find myself working on my novel well into December. That I completed it, and so quickly, too, amazes me more than anything else.

What is even better is that I think this novel can be made into something publishable. I need to do some rewriting and editing, some research and worldbuilding, of course, but I could very well see myself publishing this book sometime, maybe even next year if I don’t run into any unexpected problems.

In the meantime, I am going to work on some other projects for the rest of the year. I will talk more about them at a later time, I think.

-Tim

On Research

I’ll be honest: I’m not a big fan of research.

Or, rather, I’m not a big fan of starting research. There’s a difference. It’s the difference between going up a roller coaster and going down a roller coaster. When I’m on a roll, it becomes easier and even fun, really, especially when I find cool facts that I didn’t know before.

Honestly, though, if I could write a story without having to do any research at all, I would probably do it. I am a writer and I like to write and research isn’t writing (no, taking notes doesn’t count as writing your story, sorry). I want to follow my characters on their journeys and adventures, discover cool plot twists, see exciting new worlds, not read about the mating rituals of velvet worms (admittedly I’ve never researched that particular fact and have no idea if velvet worms actually have mating rituals, but you know what I mean).

In recent years, however, I’ve come to view research as important for most stories. If you truly don’t know anything about mid twentieth century London but want to write a story set there anyway, you need to do some research. You can’t bullshit your way through because trust me, it will show and your readers will notice even if they are not experts on the subject themselves. Readers love to complain when writers get their facts wrong, especially if the writer in question doesn’t admit to getting it wrong.

Research is useful for more than just facts, however. It can give you new ideas for your story that you might never have thought of on your own. Even if you’re writing in fantasy, where you can make up everything from scratch, doing some research on some of the subjects you’re writing about can really help. Research has definitely helped me in that regard.

For me, the hardest part is knowing where to start. What books do I read? What websites do I need to Google? What videos do I need to watch? What places do I need to visit? Who are the experts on the subject?

For me, I’ve found it’s easier to start writing and figure out what you need to research as you go along. As you write, you will inevitably come upon subjects you are not very familiar with. At this point it’s fine to guess about things you aren’t sure of, but make sure to remember which subjects you need to research later. Write a list if you think you’ll forget and refer to it when you start doing your research.

I’ve also found I retain facts and information better when I read it in a book than when I read it on an Internet article or blog post. Don’t neglect the Internet when it comes to research, however, because it is an extremely valuable tool for finding those obscure facts that you need for your story. As useful as a good book can be, their space is limited and they don’t always have every fact you need, especially if they are older.

I suggest you use books as your main source of research and the Internet and various other media as a supplement to fill in gaps that books did not address. Of course, this is my method of doing things and you may find that it doesn’t work for you. As with everything else in writing, you should always go with what works even if everyone else is doing it differently.

Earlier I said that starting research is difficult, but the actual research process is usually easy. At this point, you may even be having fun looking up obscure or interesting facts, reading cool books on the subject, and taking detailed notes for future reference. This is probably my favorite part about research because at this point it’s usually effortless and it no longer feels like a waste of time or energy.

But at some point, you need to stop researching and start writing. Research is always important for every stage of writing, of course, whether you’re writing the first draft or putting the finishing touches on a work for publication, but it is possible to do too much research. Some writers get so caught up in it that they forget to, you know, sit down and write the story that they are researching.

If you find yourself spending more time researching than writing, I suggest you put aside the books and Internet articles and videos and start writing. While you can always do more research, you have to come to a point where you say, “There. This is enough. I might do more later, but right now I need to write.”

As long as you keep in mind the purpose for your research — to help make your stories a little more believable — I think you will be fine.

What do you think about research? How much is too much? Too little? How do you do research for your works? Any tricks or tips to make the process a little easier?

-Tim

Immersive Writing

When I write, it is important that I immerse myself in the characters and world I am writing about. I cannot be a mere observer on the sidelines, mechanically recording the actions and thoughts and feelings of my characters or what their world looks like. I have to force myself to feel what they feel, think what they think, believe what they believe, see what they see, until I can start thinking of them as real people and not just figments of my imagination.

I consider this an essential part of organic writing (you can read about my organic writing process here). Because I don’t have a tidy outline to refer to when I am unsure what to write next, I need to know my characters and world almost as well as I know myself. I need to know what a character would or wouldn’t do under certain circumstances. I need to know what problems might occur in this world.

I rarely start out immersed in my worlds, however. It usually requires time for me to become fully immersed in the stories I write about. I know I have achieved immersion when I feel the same things they do and when I am thinking about my world and characters even when I am not writing about them.

As a result, sometimes the fictional world feels more real to me than the real world. I’m no Daydream Believer. I can tell the difference between fiction and real life. Yet in order to write stories that are genuine, I’ve found I need to blur the differences in my mind, make the dividing line between fiction and real life less clear than it normally is.

In other words, telling myself “It’s just a story, none of these characters are real, none of this really happened” is the most unproductive thing I can tell myself while writing. At the very least, I need to feel that my stories are “real” because if I don’t my readers won’t care about the characters, their world, or the things happening to them.

After all, isn’t that one of our goals as writers? If we are not convinced of the truth of our stories, then our readers won’t be, either, and they won’t want to read. Or if they do read, it’s unlikely they’ll finish or want to pick it up again or recommend it to other people.

Therefore, in order for my readers to believe the truth of my stories, I myself need to feel that my stories are “real.” At least I need to feel that way until the story is finished, anyhow.

How do you go about immersing yourself in your work? Do you find it easy or is it difficult? Do you do anything special to immerse yourself in your work or do you just let it happen naturally while you create?

-Tim

Preparing my Coffee

Recently, I’ve been drinking a cup of coffee before I write every morning. Because I write early in the morning, I kind of need it so I know what I’m doing.

Originally, I waited until after I wrote to have some coffee because I didn’t want to spend time preparing my coffee that could have been spent writing. That was (and still is) a question I always ask myself when I alter my morning routine: How will this affect my writing time?

But recently I’ve been introduced to a quicker way to prepare coffee in the morning. It’s simple, but would never have crossed my mind until I was shown how to do it, so I’m going to share it here for anyone who might be interested:

Instead of tossing any undrunk coffee down the drain, I would put it in a glass container and then put that in the fridge. The next day, all I needed to do was pull out the container, pour myself a cup, pop it in the microwave for a minute or two, and voila, I have a nice hot cup of coffee ready for drinking.

It’s brilliant. It saves time on preparing coffee (all I need to do is add sugar and creamer). It is not wasteful (throwing coffee down the drain is). And it doesn’t seem to affect the taste very much, from what I can tell.

Of course, we still have to make more coffee when we want more than what we saved, but nonetheless this is still a very useful method. If you are a writer who likes to economize his time (like me), then you should probably try this out.

How do you like to prepare your coffee?

-Tim