Category Archives: random musings

I’m a gamer and proud of it!

I have a confession to make – I’m a gamer. I have been a gamer since I was about 15, got my very first computer and a floppy with King’s Quest. I know that I’m supposed to feel ashamed about this, like it’s some kind of disease or addiction, and I’ve also heard that playing games was somehow beneath the “true” writers…

Well, let me tell you that this is a lot of bull. And I’m not ashamed. I love playing games, and I don’t see how that is bad. In fact, I think that games help develop our creativity and imagination.

In our day and age, there are numerous ways to share a story with the audience, and the novel is only one of them. In fact, I must admit that I have encountered some of the best-told stories not in books, but on TV or in computer games.

In fact, I think that those stories stay with you longer than those in books, probably because in a book, you are reading about a character living that story, but in a game, you are that character, so you are living that story yourself. This is especially true for the MMORPGs where you start by creating your own unique character that grows and discovers the world, and eventually becomes important enough to influence it as well.

That’s why I wanted to talk about a few of the games that I consider truly memorable, at least for me.

256px-Planescape-torment-box

I have played Baldur’s Gate (in all its incarnations) and Neverwinter Nights, but the game that remember the most is Planescape: Torment. I loved the story in that game and the grim, a bit depressing atmosphere. Imagine waking up in a morgue, with no memory of who you are and just a talking skull for a companion? Stumbling through this strange and alien world, trying to piece together your memories, meeting people who knew you before, and whose lives you changed, for better or for worse, and not being able to remember them? Yes, that’s Planescape: Torment.

Final_Fantasy_VII_Box_Art

Another game that still remains a favorite of mine is Final Fantasy VII. I have played all of the Final Fantasies, but the 7th one will always have a special place in my heart. It has a lot to do with the complex world and the engaging characters, but also with the best villain I’ve ever seen in games, TV or books. You can read my blog post about him, if you are interested. And I think that all the fans of Final Fantasy VII also need to play Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, which is kind of a prequel, telling the story of Zack, Aerith, Sephiroth and what really happened in Nibelhelm.

256px-Silent_Hill_2

I am not a big fan of survival or horror games. I’ve never played Resident Evil or any of its clones, but there is one game that shook me to the very core and it’s Silent Hill 2. Maybe because the story behind it is not the usual “shoot them up” horror, and the town of Silent Hill, although full of monsters, is haunted by the character’s own feeling of guilt and regret. After all, you play this game as a man who received a letter from his long-dead wife and comes to Silent Hill to find her… And the soundtrack by Akira Yamaoka is the best I’ve heard in a video game before or since.

Another one of my favorites is Final Fantasy X. It’s a wonderful story of courage and determination, where the characters have to often make hard choices in order to save those they care about… I admit that it’s the last game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I liked. The rest of them were… not very memorable.

But all those games thought me something about how to tell a good story, or about how to create tridimensional and memorable characters, or that having a complex villain is essential for a good story. I am a better writer because of them, so no, I’m not ashamed that I am a gamer. I’m glad.

So, are any of you gamers as well? What games influenced you? Made you laugh, or cry, or pause and think about the meaning of life? Or just gave you a few hours of good time when you were so absorbed in the story, that the real world ceased to exist for bit?

Happy Birthday to me!

Happy Birthday Desktop Background

Today I turned thirty something. And don’t ask me what that something is, because I frankly stopped counting somewhere around my 33rd birthday. I figure that my husband will remind me when I reach the big forty, until then it doesn’t matter.

I chose this day to look back at my previous thirty something birthdays (at least those that I remember), and I was amazed at how much my attitude towards that day changed over time.

When I was little, my birthday couldn’t come any faster. I looked forward to December. I had a calendar and I would mark off days, and the less days remained until the 29th, the more my excitement grew. Because I knew there would be a party, there would be friends, and games, and laughter, and cake, and gifts, and… Well, you see the picture.

Then came the high school days and my birthday guest list also became a political struggle: Maria can’t stand Anna, but I’m friends with both, so I can’t invite one and not the other. Oxana won’t come without her new boyfriend, but he is a total creep, so do I really want him at my special party? And I have an invitation for Nicholas, but will he accept it? Sure, we say hi to each other at school and he seems to like me enough, but I want him to more than just like me, and gods how will I ever be able to invite him if I get tongue tied and blushing like an idiot when I see him? So yeah, birthdays became less about the gifts and more about the people.

Then came my college and post college days when all the drama of high school fell away and I spent my birthdays with a small group of real friends.

Then we all built families and birthdays amongst friends became birthdays between families, and it wasn’t really about the birthday or the gifts anymore, but about an occasion to spend time with people I love.

I used to count my years. I knew exactly how old I was. Yeah, all that stopped when I hit 30. I don’t know what it is about this particular number, but it makes you stop and think, “Holly $%^t! Where did a third of my life go?” It’s a cathartic experience, I tell you. You were a teenager, then a twenty something, but still young and so full of promise, than bham! You’re thirty andyou’re supposed to be all settled down and responsible. And your parents start asking pointed questions like “So, are we going to have grandkids soon?” And you have to laugh nervously and say something like “we’re working on it,” or “maybe in a year or two,” and you feel guilty as heck because you just don’t want kids yet.

So yeah, my thirtieth was a pivotal birthday. After that, I just stopped counting. After all, who cares? I’ll just have fun with my friends and eat some cake. And no, it won’t have any candles on it!

So Happy thirty something Birthday to me!

A Christmas carol, sort of.

Merry-Christmas-2014-text-8

I will be on vacation until January 2nd, so there will be no posts this Friday or next Monday. But before I jet out of here, I wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

And I also want to leave you with a story.

We didn’t have Christmas when I grew up. After all, officially, there was no religion in the USSR, therefore there were no religious holidays. So there was no Christmas. Plus my parents are both atheists.

Okay, hold your horses and don’t start feeling sorry for me just yet. We still decorated a tree and we still found presents under it in the morning. Only it happened on January 1st instead of December 25th, and the presents were not from Santa Klaus, but from Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz).

And he wasn’t the jolly good fellow that Santa is. Grandfather Frost is portrayed in most of the Russian fairy tales as a stern-looking old man in frost-covered robes and an ice staff. He could just as easily freeze you to death than grant you a gift if you encountered him in the forest. You had to treat him with respect and show him that you were a good person worthy of his gifts. Here he is on the picture below – with the ice staff and frost on his robes.

Grandfather frost

So for me, this time of the year will always be associated with celebrating the end of the old year with friends and family on December 31st. We would all cook dishes that we never eat during the rest of the year and set a big table in our living room. Mom would take out her finest china. We would put on our best clothes. Around 7-8 pm the guests would start to arrive. There would be laughter, and flowers, and everyone would also bring a special dish. The feast would start around 9 or 10 pm and it would be full of laughter and flowing champagne. Then we would all wait for the 12 strokes of midnight and make a wish for the New Year.

After that us kids were usually sent off to bed, but the adults tried to stay up until dawn. I know now that they were the one who put my gift under the tree, but when I was little, waking up in the morning and seeing frost on the windows was magical. I knew that Grandfather Frost had visited our home that night and that there would be a brightly wrapped present with my name on it under the tree. When I look back at those times now, I can’t help but feel a bit sad as well, because that sense of magic got lost as I grew older.

And I also associate this time of the year with the smell of oranges, because this was the only time we could by those in the USSR – right around New Year. Mom would buy a big bag and give me and my sister one a day in the two weeks leading to New Year. In my memory, they tasted particularly sweet, maybe because they were synonyms of the big feast to come…

So this is my not so Christmas story. What about you guys? What Christmas traditions do you and your families have? What do you hold dear and remember the most from those past Christmases when you were still a child and believed in magic? I want to hear from you!

From Reader to Writer – a change in perspective.

I have always been an avid reader. The very first book I read on my own had been The 15 year old captain by Jules Verne, and I was 7 when I finished it. So I can pretty much says that I’ve been ready pretty much all my life. If I don’t have at least one book started at any given time, something is really wrong.

This would be my living room if we didn't have ebooks.
This would be my living room if we didn’t have ebooks.

I have also been a writer for over a year. I won two NaNoWriMos and finished several short stories and a novella between those as well. And I have been slowly learning more and more about the craft.

So being both a reader and a writer, I have noticed a change in the way I read books.

Before I started writing myself, I would pick up a book and either stick with it to the end, or abandon it somewhere in the middle (or after the first 50 pages, if the book was absolutely dreadful). I would then move on to the next book and forget about it, if I didn’t like it. Or recommend it to my friends and move on to the next book if I loved it. I didn’t waste much time pondering why I like or hated something.

Those days of blissful ignorance are now gone forever. I can’t just close a book and move on. My mind keeps coming back to it and analyzing WHY I liked it or didn’t like it. It’s especially true with books that I don’t like for some reason. As soon as I feel that my attention is slipping; that the book is losing my interest, I feel obliged to discover why. Does the author abuse infodumps? Are the characters flat or not interesting enough? Does the author tell more than she or he shows? Is the plot lacking conflict?

I can’t stop analyzing what I read, especially since I started posting book reviews on my blog. I must admit that it makes for some rather frustrating reads, when my mind starts picking a book apart instead of enjoying it. And I can’t switch it off, even if I try! In fact, if I get so lost in a story that I forget to pick it apart, it’s a sign that it’s a very VERY good book indeed. And those are the books that usually get a glowing 5 stars review on my blog once I resurface and gather my thoughts enough to actually write one.

I have also noticed that I pay particular attention to the ending. To me, it’s the most important part of the whole book. A badly written ending can ruin the whole story, no matter how wonderful and interesting it was.

I’ve heard my other writer friends talk about this shift of perception before, but until recently, I had thought that they were exaggerating.  Now I can confirm that they were right. I guess, the more you practice your craft, the more you think about it, the more you edit your own works, the more accustomed you get to critical reading. And after a certain point, you undergo the shift in perception I described above.

This shift in perspective means that I read slower than I used to, but I’m not too worried about that. Because I think that every book I read and analyze helps me improve my own craft as well. I learn what works and what doesn’t, what to do in a story and what to avoid at all cost.

There is no such thing as too many books.
There is no such thing as too many books.

I think that as writers we are very lucky in this respect. After all, who else can say that they are learning their profession AND having a good time in the process?

Writing is a life-long journey

writing - lifelong journey

Let me start this post with a personal anecdote. I have a full-time job and a family, which doesn’t leave much time for writing. In the past year, I had slowly taught myself to write whenever I had a few spare minutes, but I do the bulk of my writing at night before bed and during lunch. So I’m pretty used to showing up at restaurants with a notebook or a printout and a pen, and usually people don’t pay much attention to the crazy lady in the corner boot mumbling to herself and scribbling furiously in a notebook.

But last week I had an interesting encounter which made me think about what I am, what I do and where I go from here.

I had a “writing lunch” at Applebee’s last week when the waitress asked me what I was doing. I told her I was writing a short story. She seemed genuinely interested and asked if I had anything published.

Got anything published

This is when the first shift in perception happened. See, up until May this year, I had been a pre-published or aspiring author. But then my short story, A Small Detour, got accepted and published in this anthology. If you are interested, you can read my post about this exciting event.

So when asked about published work, I could legitimately answer, “Well, yes, I have a short story on amazon,” and give her the name of the anthology. And then something extraordinary happened: the waitress came back with her Kindle and made me input the name of the anthology for her. And then she bought the book!

Of Dragons and Magic

And I realized something important – I was actually a published author, even if all I had published so far was a short story. When I began my writing journey last October, I hadn’t even dreamed to be able to achieve that within a year.

This also made me think about why I do this. I mean, when I started the first draft of my novel Of Broken Things, getting something published had been the sum of my ambition. Ten months into the journey, I realize that for me it’s a life-long commitment. Money is not the end goal (though it would sure be nice to earn some) and neither is fame. My goal is to create compelling stories that people would want to read, because seeing the excitement in the waitress’s eyes when she said she couldn’t wait to read the anthology was the best reward I could ask for. She would spend a few hours blissfully lost in the wonderful worlds the authors have created, and one of them was mine.

So where do I go from here? Well, I continue writing of course, because the more I write, the more ideas pop into my head waiting to be put into stories.

I’m halfway through the first major edit of my novel Of Broken Things. I have the ghost of an idea along with most of the characters for my NaNo 2014 project.

I’m editing a novelette I had written back in May, and I have another unrelated short story to edit as well.

I have finished a new short story set in the same world as A Small Detour and about the same characters, and I have ideas for at least three more stories in this world. Once I finish them all, I am considering self-publishing them as a series. More about that in future posts.

I also want to dust off a project I had started a couple years ago. Back then I was just dabbling in writing; I had no idea that writing was hard work, and that first drafts always sucked, and that you had to push through it all, good day or bad day, to get to the end. I got frustrated because what had seemed so awesome in my head turned out total crap on paper and abandoned the project. But the story had potential and I love the characters, so I want to give it another chance.

Oh, and did I mention the dozens of half-baked ideas clamoring in my head and which might or might not turn into full-fledged stories?

Life-is-great-570px

So all is well in my world: I am a published author, I am still in love with what I do and I have plenty of ideas to last me for a while!

Why I love reading fanfiction and why I can’t write it.

I must admit that I absolutely love reading fanfiction. I think it’s because sometimes I like the characters or the world so much, that I feel sad leaving them behind once the book is finished. I think most of us feel the same way, as the sheer amount of fanfiction written everyday can attest.

Fanfiction gives the readers a chance to explore the world the author created a bit further, or to shine the light on secondary characters that had been mostly on the margins of the original story. Sometimes it even lets the readers reimagine the story itself if, for some reason, they didn’t like the ending the author gave them. I know that I love reading fanfics that I will never forgive Rowling for pairing Hermione with Ron, or for killing Severus Snape off (and in such a lame way). So I particularly enjoy reading fanfics that explore other paths Hermione could have taken after Hogwards, or those where Snape survived and finally got a chance a normal life.

keep-calm-and-read-fanfics

I think it’s normal to want to read and write fanfiction, and I know that many writers started their writing careers by writing fanfics for books that really touched them. It’s also an excellent form of exercise, because it lets your imagination run free, but at the same time give you a set of rules consistent with the world of the original (unless you are trying to write something totally AU). It’s also an easily accessible (and free) way of staying a little bit longer with the characters you like.

The downside of this is that there is a lot of drivel out there. Stories that are poorly written, with characters that are so OOC they are unrecognizable, and a plot that is pure wish fulfilment on the part of author. I have noticed a lot of that last one when the authors try to introduce an original character into the story and she / he end up being a better (in their mind) version of the author him / herself (that’s where all the Mary Sue and Gary Stu come from). So, sifting through the muck can be a painful and mind-numbing process, but sometimes you find absolute gems – fanfics so well written, that they keep you hooked just as much (if not more sometimes) than the original book (movie, series, graphic novel) did.

By the way, if you are a fan of Harry Potter fiction, the wonderful Loten has some beautiful (and very well plotted) stories. WARNING – there is explicit content and most of the stories are about Hermione Granger and Severus Snape. I would especially recommend her Post Tenebras Lux.

But I got sidetracked. Moving on. I think I pretty much covered the reason of my love for fanfiction, so now I have a confession to make. I absolutely, totally suck at writing it. I CAN’T write fanfiction to save my life. Every time I get psyched up about a show or a book and want to write a story about it, I end up thinking about it for so long that by the time I sit down to write, I have created my own world and the characters populating it have nothing in common with their prototypes.

For example, my first novel Of Broken Things started out as a fanfiction idea when I watched Star Trek Into Darkness. I had been so impressed by the portrayal of Khan by the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch, that I remember thinking, “What would someone like that do if he fell in love? And then lost the woman he loved? Oh, but it must have been an exceptional woman to catch the eye of someone like that.” And I started thinking about plot and character backgrounds, world building and politics, and ended up with a story that has nothing to do with Star Trek. Yes, one of the protagonists in it is a genetically modified soldier, but that’s the only think GMS798 has in common with Khan. I started with a fanfiction idea and ended up with an original book.

The idea for my next book also came as a result of watching a popular TV series. I was so impressed with one of the characters that I wanted to play with him myself. Only he didn’t want to talk to me. He kept pushing other characters into the light instead, none of which were present in the original show. By the time he finally decided to step into the light and tell his story, the only thing he had left from that character in the show was the face. And I’m thankful, because he brought me a wonderful story that I can’t wait to tell.

I think the reason why I can’t write fanfiction is because I don’t feel comfortable playing in somebody else’s sandbox. I can’t help but start changing the rules, modifying the backstory and starting to build my own castles. So I might was well go to my own sandbox and do it there, at least then I can have some fun without feeling guilty about it, and even discover wonderful stories in the process.

So what do you guys think? Do you read fanfiction? Do you write it? Do you think fanfiction is important? And question for published authors out there, do you read fanfiction about your stories?

Life is just a moment between the past and the future.

Year 2014 took two good friends away from me. In March, my childhood friend’s husband lost his long battle with cancer. And last Saturday I learned that one of our good friends from Camp Darby, Italy, got the news that he would never walk again after a bad car wreck and took his own life. Both deaths affected me deeply. I’m 36, that’s way too young to be burying friends, especially if they are the same age as you.

I think it’s also hard for me to get used to the idea that they are gone because in both cases I was unable to attend the funeral, so I didn’t have closure. In my mind, they are still very much alive. I can remember them talking, laughing, making plans, and I cannot reconcile it with the idea that they are now gone for good.

This also made me think about life in general and what I wanted my own life to be. I had a sort of epiphany. We all live in that beautiful and fleeting moment sandwiched between the past that we can never go back to and the future that we might never reach. That moment is now, and that’s all we have.

So it’s alright to make plans and dream about what we want our life to be, but if we keep postponing those plans until tomorrow, we might never achieve our dreams at all. “Tomorrow is another day,” as the saying goes. But I say no, tomorrow might never come. None of us knows when our time will run out. It could be ten years from now or tomorrow morning, or even in the next hour.

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Some might find this notion terrifying, but I find it liberating. If this moment is all we truly have, then let’s live each moment to its fullest. That novel that you have been planning to write but kept putting off? Grab a pen and paper and start writing. That trip you wanted to take to Japan, or Belize, or Katmandu, but never got around to planning? Get online and book the plane ticket. Go skydiving, learn to dance the tango, father the courage to ask that cute guy from Accounting on a date. Whatever it was that you were putting off doing because you were too busy or too scared – do it now.

Live each fleeting moment like it’s your last, that way when you arrive at the end of the line and look back, you can smile and say, “I truly lived.”

Lightning never strikes in one place twice, right?

Today, I had planned to write a review of yet another book I read, but live proved to be more interesting (and scarier) than fiction. So my house got struck by lightning Friday evening. Never thought I would be able to say something like that… Well, to be precise, it wasn’t a direct hit – the lightning struck the pool in my backyard. That didn’t prevent it from wreaking havoc around the house though.

But let’s start from the beginning, shall we? That afternoon, my father-in-law was cleaning the pool and left the pool net (the one on a big metallic pole) propped next to the pool deck. It started raining, so he switched the pool off and went inside. Unfortunately, he didn’t unplug the pump or put the net on the big metallic pole back in the shed.

Two hours later our peaceful evening was interrupted by an ear-shattering crack and the loudest bang I have ever heard. It really sounded like an explosion right in our backyard. My thirty pound dog jumped up my lap so fast, it looked like she teleported. My 85-pound German shepherd tried to dig her way under the sofa, but only succeeded in pushing it all the way towards the wall almost knocking herself out in the process. And my two cats relocated under the bed upstairs, and it took me several hours and a can of tuna to persuade them the sky wasn’t falling on us and we weren’t going to die. That is after I finished having my own heart attack.

When we finally managed to sort all the animals and humans in the house out and crawled outside to see what the heck had happened, we saw scorch marks on the deck right where the pole used to be. The wooden plank on the railing was split in half. We found splinters of it by the fence about ten feet away. The metal pole itself was laying on the ground with what looked like a bullet hole on the top and the netting at the bottom shredded to pieces. Not to self: yup, that’s why they say not to leave metal poles standing around during storms…

Nope, that's not a bullet hole, that's lightning damage.
Nope, that’s not a bullet hole, that’s lightning damage.

The lightning stroke the pole, scorched part of the deck, dug a trench in the yard from the end of the deck towards the power outlet by the pool pump, and fried the whole pool system. I mean the outlet was so scorched we barely managed to pull the plugs out. And the impact was so intense that that dirt from the trench ended up floating in the pool. It’s an above ground pool with 4 feet tall sides.

But the damage didn’t stop there. Through that outlet, the lightning then traveled into the house, melted the circuit breaker that was supposed to shut that circuit off, and did wonders on electric devises.

 

Yup, it's toast.
Yup, it’s toast.

The Direct TV box got so messed up that it literally hang itself and would not reboot. The poor technician spent 5 hours on Saturday trying to make the thing work again. In the end, he had to replace both the receiver and the dish itself. Our TV decided that it had suffered enough abuse and decided to shut down permanently. The sound system still works, but the subwoofer is toast. Several electric outlets around the house quit working. Oh, and the cherry on top – my beautiful, less than a year old desktop might as well be a door stopper now.

Good news is that nobody got hurt and that our homeowners insurance will cover the damage. So we certainly got the fright of our lives, but the consequences could have been more dire.

I also learned a few things from this unfortunate encounter with lightning. First of all, never ever leave a metallic pole outside when it’s raining. That’s just inviting disaster. Secondly, always back up your work. I mean all my writing was on that desktop. So thank God for Google Drive!

So that was my weekend. How was yours?

Do you need to be married to your job to be good at it?

This post was born out of a brief exchange I had with a friend on Twitter. She had mentioned that in all the popular TV shows, the cops always hang around the office after hours (and sometimes late into the night), even after the case is done. Why don’t they go home? Don’t they have a life outside their work?

That conversation made me think. I also took a hard look at the shows I like on TV to see if I could confirm or deny that statement. Well, the verdict isn’t pretty – it seems like the TV wants us to think that you cannot be a good specialist (be it a detective, a CSI, an agent, etc.) unless you are literally married to your job.

 NCIS crew courtesy CBS NCIS crew courtesy CBS.

In NCIS, for example, Gibbs has been divorced three times and the relationships he had during the show never lead anywhere. He lives in a house that looks more like a cheap and ran down motel and spends most of his time in the basement working on a boat. Ducky was sharing his home with his mother until she passed away and now lives alone. As far as we know, he has never been married and is not in a relationship. Tony’s romantic life had been a train wreck after train wreck. All of them practically live at work.

CSI, another popular series, also shows us a group of workaholics with almost non-existent social lives or failing relationships. Nick, Greg, Julie and Morgan are all single. Sara’s relationship with Grissom ended a few seasons ago and Brass still has problems with his ex-wife and step-daughter. Heck, even the family man D.B Russell is starting to feel the strain in his personal life.

CSI courtesy CBS.
CSI courtesy CBS.

And there are plenty more shows like that. Heck, the latest example of this was shown in Rizzoli and Isles, when Jane chose her career over marriage to the man she loved, because it meant following him around.

My problem with that portrayal is that it slowly convinces the viewers that if you want to be good at your job, you need to prioritize it above everything else, personal life included. You need to be married to it, even obsessed with it.

Well, I have a beef to pick with that. First of all, obsession is never healthy. Also if you structure all your life around one single thing, once this thing taken from you, your life crumbles. Have you noticed that when those series show us a retired cop, he is usually either a heavy drinker, struggles with depression or bitter at the world? And how many characters took their own lives when they were declared unfit for duty for one reason or another?

I don’t agree that you have to sacrifice everything to be good at your job. I think that in order to be good at something, you need to be a healthy and balanced person. That means having more than one “obsession”, a hobby that you would enjoy doing during your free time, plenty of friends (and not only colleagues), and a good family life / personal relationship. That way, if disaster strikes and you fail at one aspect of your life, you still have all the others to fall back to and help you through. And your work won’t suffer too much, if you leave on time to enjoy a good dinner with your family. On the contrary, you might come to work happier the next day and ready to tackle oncoming challenges.

So that’s the characters whose stories I want to read and watch. I want well-rounded people. I want people who are not defined only by their job, who can balance profession and personal life, and be happy doing both. Those people are not boring. They have their own challenges to overcome. And there is so much more that can be done with characters like that as an author.

So what do you think? Do you think that being married to your job is unhealthy? Do you think that we, as authors need to create more in-depth characters who actually have a life to come home to? I would love to hear from you all.

The more you write, the more ideas you get.

 

pen-and-paper

I remember reading the excellent book On Writing by Stephen King sometimes in 2009, when I had just moved state-side with my husband. And I remember feeling so pumped up and excited to start writing something, because the great Stephen King said that ANYONE could write a story, they only had to start.

So I sat down with my pen and paper, already thinking about printed books and glory and fame… and I hit a wall. I had nothing to write about. My mind was blank. Not a single interesting story idea to be found anywhere. But I wanted to write! So I grabbed the first half-baked story that had the misfortune to wander into the spotlight and tried to run with it. The run quickly became a walk, then a crawl, and finally it died in horrible convulsions. That was my first effort at becoming a writer and, as you can see, it was not a very successful one.

Then in October 2013 a good friend of mine told me, “Why don’t you try doing NaNoWriMo with me?” I looked at the site, I read the rules, and I decided why the heck not? But the last disastrous foray into the land of writing was still fresh in my mind, so I was rather freaked out to just start on November 1 and write 50k in 30 days. And I still had NO IDEA what I would be writing about! Needless to say that the closer that first of November loomed, the more stressed I got.

And then a miracle happened. Around October 15, one a character literally barged into my dream, knocking the door down with his military boots, and said, “Ok, you will write this, and you will write it now.” I woke up with a half-formed idea, three fully-formed characters and an almost feverish need to put pen to paper and get story out, because it was burning me from the inside. I spent the last 15 days before the start of NaNo frantically outlining the story, I hit the month of November running, and I didn’t stop running until I finished the first draft around January 15.

During this exciting journey, I learned a lot about writing in general, as well as what worked and didn’t for me (outlines are a must – I can’t pants it for the life of me). But something even more extraordinary happened in the process as well – all of a sudden, my mind was bombarded with stories clamoring to be told. I was writing one, and at least three more were knocking more or less politely at the door, waiting for their turn. Where I had suffered from lack of things to write about back in 2009, I was overwhelmed with possible ideas now. It was like the trickle had transformed into a downpour!

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I now have a list of stories I want to write, and it’s getting longer every month. I must admit that it’s exciting. I am in the middle of the first rewrite / edit of my NaNo novel, and I have a finished short story waiting for a second rewrite, but I am also writing a brand new story that might turn out to be a novella. And I have enough plots for at least two more short stories set in the same word as another short story I just started sending out to magazines. Not to mention, another half-written novel I really want to go back to, because I have finally figured out the outline for it.

I guess it is true what everybody says – the more you write, the more you discover stuff to write about. It’s hard to start the ball rolling, but once it’s on the move, it gathers all sorts of interesting things along the way.