Why I Write: Response to Rachel Cauilan’s Blog

Hi everyone!

Back when I first decided to start this crazy blogging endeavor, there were a lot of reasons behind it, one of which was inspiration from a blog I found while searching for information about Dia Frampton and Archis.  That blog was “Beauty Within” by Rachel Cauilan.  While exploring her blog, I came across an article she wrote that really got me thinking about the same topic: why I write.  Click the link below to check out the original article:

Why I Write: Blogs and the Path of Meaning

In her blog, she makes a very bold statement that struck a chord within me: “I find that nothing is worth writing unless you are doing it for yourself.”  The moment I read that line, I realized how true it was.

Certainly we as writers wish to have our stories presented to others, and I believe that everyone who writes wishes to present it to others for their own reasons.  But when you write for yourself, for your reasons, the results resonate beautifully!  Like Rachel said in her blog, people can feel your passion.

While her article was specific to writing a blog, I believe this is a truth in all forms of writing: blogging, fiction, poetry, music, even news articles.  There’s probably a science behind it all, word usage, sentence structure, punctuation, all that jazz, but there is no mistaking that when someone is passionate about their writing, you just know it!

Which brings me to the core of this article:

Why I Write

This question is not a simple one for me to answer, because there is no single answer.   To say “because I love to write” is true, but an altogether too simple of an answer.

There are selfish reasons, to be sure.  I’ve always loved reading other works, getting to essentially live in another person’s fictional world for a time.  So to me, writing is my chance to create my own worlds, my own universes, where I get to make the rules, and what happens is what I want to happen.  I have a very vivid imagination, so when I imagine these new worlds, I can see them as if they were real!

That means I get to explore these new worlds as well.  That might sound strange, you might be asking “But you created these worlds, what’s to explore?  You already know everything about it!”  Well no, I really don’t.  Take for example my novels, The Sword of Dragons.  Not long ago I finished writing the 2nd novel, and I took the characters to two entirely new continents, as well as to cities on the 1st continent that they had never been to before.  When I started the series, I knew the basic geography of the entire world, I knew what major cities existed on which continents, and I knew about the major geological features.

But what I didn’t know were the details, the nuances!  And even more importantly, the people that lived in those new places!  Better still, when I am writing about a character seeing a new location for the first time, I am not only seeing that place for the first time in my mind’s eye, but I am seeing it through that character’s eyes!

Which brings me to another bonus feature: getting to know new people!  …Ok, stop looking at me like my crazy.  ;)  Seriously, though, creating new characters is a fun and engaging activity for me, especially because once they are developed enough in my head, they really do take on a life of their own.  And as I present them with ever-changing circumstances and events, I get to explore how they react.  By deciding how they react, I get to know them better.

All of this comes together to form entertaining stories that one day many will get to read.  But why, you ask?  If I get so much out of writing for myself, why present my works to others?

For starters, because I have to.  I feel compelled to share these stories with others.  I always have, its one of the reasons I created a fan fiction series back in 1999, and ran it for 7 years straight writing 70 short stories!

But beyond just that urge, there is the desire to share with others the gift that fiction has given me.  I know I’ve written about this before, in my “About” page here on the blog as well as in my first article: stories have captured my imagination and inspired me in so many ways throughout my entire life!

When life was tough, I could escape into a novel.  I learned important lessons early in my life thanks to fiction.  And while I had plenty of real-life role models, some of the ones in fiction were equally instrumental in shaping me in my youth (and not just written fiction, Captain Picard was definitely a big influence in my youth!)

I have a gift for writing, and it isn’t one I want to waste.  I want to give back to the world what fiction has given to me!  I want to inspire others in ways I can’t even imagine yet!  I want to instill a sense of wonder, imagination, and creativity within others, to help them to feel hope when they otherwise could not find it, to shine a light on what might otherwise seem like a bleak and dreary world!

This is why I write.  This is who I am.  And while obstacles may stand in my way (such as a recent bout of writer’s block), it will never change.  I write because it is who I am.

writing quote

Query Woes – How Do You Describe Your Story?

There is one thing I struggle with consistently when it comes to the world of writing: how to describe my stories.

When someone asks me “What is your novel about?” my mind immediately turns blank.  It is one of the most frustrating experiences I have ever had, and it happens to me almost daily!  Someone recently reminded me of a Doctor Who quote that applies: “You know when someone asks you what your favorite movie is, and suddenly you forget every single movie that’s ever been made?”

However, it goes beyond this.  This isn’t just a “Jonny-on-the-spot” blank moment, this is a struggle that has extended into writing query letters, and is perhaps one of the greatest obstacles I face at the moment to finding an agent.

What is a query letter?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a query letter is a one-page presentation of your story and yourself that you send to literary agents in an attempt to garner interest in your work and, eventually, land an agent to represent you and your work.

Query letters have a basic formula that all writers are encouraged to stick to.  Trying any other format has been described as ‘trying to re-invent the wheel.’  There’s no need, the wheel works fine just as it is, and if you try to sell a reinvented wheel to GM or Mitsubishi, they’re just going to laugh at you and go pay lower prices for regular wheels.  Agents expect a specific format to your letter, and I have read that if you don’t stick to that basic principle, most agents will not even finish reading your query.

The format is simple: Hook, Mini-Synopsis, and Writer’s Bio.

The Hook

No, the Hook isn’t afraid of ticking crocodiles.  The hook is supposed to do just that: hook an agent’s interest and, for that matter, everyone else’s.  In one sentence (some leeway on that, but generally speaking it’s one of those rules you want to try to follow) you have to make your story seem interesting and unique, and give the agent a reason to keep reading.  If the hook doesn’t catch the agent’s interest, most likely he or she is going to stop there and send that dreaded rejection letter.

The Mini-Synopsis

This is exactly what it sounds like, a very short description of your story and the characters.  How short?  One paragraph.  How hard is it to condense your entire story into one paragraph?  Well, for a real challenge, try to describe Lord of the Rings in one paragraph.  Added difficulty: it has to be in such a way that it seems interesting, and isn’t just another fantasy epic that’s like the 50,000 other ones already out there.

Writer’s Bio

For published writers, this area is probably easy.  Describe your writing credentials.  Essentially, you’re trying to tell the agent why you’re worth the risk.  For someone who has nothing professionally published, this is pretty difficult to fill out (but that doesn’t mean you should leave it out of your query letter!)

My Struggle Writing a Query Letter

My first query letter is time stamped July 2013.  I have probably gone through 2 dozen revisions (including a few complete re-writes) and am still struggling to make it work!  I owe a lot of the progress I have made to articles such as this one.

I do realize that part of my struggle is my tendency to over-think and focus in on the details too much, but when you only have a paragraph for your mini-synopsis, focusing on the details is your worst enemy!  I also struggled with writing a 1-page synopsis, which some agents require for submissions on top of the query letter.

Until recently I’ve posted my query letters on my personal facebook page and asked friends and family for critiques, and they have been invaluable with helping me fine-tune it.  And yet I knew it still needed improvement.  The two agents I sent the latest revision to rejected my story, and I had the feeling that the query still needed work.

So I went to the forums I’d been lurking about for some time at Agent Query Connect.  I finally created an account and started responding to other writers’ posts, and then today I finally posted my own query letter for critique and advice.  I braced myself for the worst, knowing they would be brutally honest, and hoping for nothing less than that same brutal honesty!

I was not disappointed :)  Only two writers have critiqued my query letter at the time this article was written, and their critiques all touched on similar points.  My query letter is generic, it describes a story that sounds generic, and leaves the characters as unknowns.

This helped me to realize something.  In my query, I’m focusing on the story too much, and not giving enough attention to the characters.  Naturally I need to talk about the story, specifically the catalyst for the story, which is the titular Sword of Dragons, but for a moment, go back to the example of the Lord of the Rings.  When you think about the novel or the movies, what are the first things that come to mind?  Does the One Ring come to mind first?  Sure, its in the title, but is that all?  For me, it’s the characters that I think about more.  Frodo’s bravery stepping up to take the ring.  Samwise’s undying loyalty.  Gandalf’s fireworks and his love of Hobbits.  Aragorn’s steadfast leadership.  Merry and Pippin’s mischief.  Gimli and Legolas’s friendship.

The characters are what make stories worth reading.  The characters are what stick with us when we walk away from a story.  They are the ones who live in our hearts forever.

Where Do I Go From Here?

Realizing just how important characters really are, I intend to attack my next revision (or rather, rewrite) with the idea that I want to make the characters the focus.  The Sword of Dragons is the catalyst, yes, but the characters are the ones who make things happen, who fail or succeed.

I’ll be sure to keep you all posted on my progress :)  Until then, thanks for reading!  Click “Like” below if you liked this article, and click the “Follow” button if you want to know when I’ve posted more articles!

-Jon

Copyright Law – Helping Those Who Help Themselves

Hi everyone!

I thought that it would be a good idea to talk about the copyright law for my second article, since it applies directly to writers, artists, photographers, musicians, basically anyone who creates anything on their own.  I know, it’s a very serious topic, but an important one for anyone who wishes to take their creative career seriously!

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer nor a legal expert!  If you wish to read the actual law, I recommend going to this website to read it.  Be warned, the full PDF is 366 pages long!

The Basics

copyright-logoTo sum it up, intellectual copyright law means that any original work created by an individual is their property the moment it is created in a tangible medium, and essentially is automatically copyrighted to that individual.  Now there are exceptions, not the least of which is that if you create something at work related to your work, more often than not that something belongs to the company, not you.

Also note that copyright law does not protect ideas: it has to be presented in a solid, tangible medium.  So if you have an idea for a story or character, you can tell others about it verbally but the copyright doesn’t belong to you yet.  Once you write the story out, then the copyright applies.  After all, claiming you had an idea first without tangible evidence will not hold up on a courtroom.

In any case, the beauty of this law is that anything you create is automatically copyrighted to you – you do not have to file a patent for every story you write, or every painting you create, or every song you develop, etc.

Covering Yourself

There is a bit of a ‘however’ in this whole deal: the burden of proof.  If it comes down to it and you find yourself in court, either as a plaintiff or defendant, you need to be able to prove not only that you created it but, more importantly, when you created it.

How?  For writers who use word processing programs (rather than hand-writing or typing on a typewriter), there is something hidden within your document called metadata, which identifies who created the document (tied to the user account you log into on your computer) as well as when it was created and when it was last modified.

However, I’m a big fan of CYA, or Cover Your Assets (yes, I know the ‘A’ usually means something else :p ).  One method of proof is not sufficient to me, I want there to be no doubt.  So my suggestion to everyone is simple: using a webmail account (take your pick, yahoo, gmail, what ever your provider of choice!) to email your work to yourself.  At a minimum, email your first draft, but I would recommend doing this for every major draft.

Why do this?  For starters, as long as you never delete the email containing the attachment, and as long as your email account never disappears, you will always have a time-stamp associated with your creation.  (A way to double your chances of never losing this proof, email it to more than one webmail account across multiple providers!)  This combined with your document’s metadata will stand up well in court and give you an excellent case.

This can be done with more than just written works.  Anything digital, such as digital artwork, digitally-created sheet music, engineering drafts, you name it.  But this can also be done with creations made outside of the digital world!  All you need is a camera or some method of digitally recording your creation (scanner, digital audio recorder, digital video recorder), and then you have a digital file you can email to yourself.

The bonus to the email method is that you also now have a backup of your work.  I cannot stress this enough:

Make backups of your work!!!

I personally have all of my stories saved on two computers, a jump drive, plus email, and then a hard copy for worst-case scenarios.  If you’re nervous about someone hacking your account and stealing your work, password protect your file (make sure you use a password that is different from your email account’s, and use a strong password!)

That’s all for now.  I hope you found this article useful!  If you liked it, please click “like” below, and subscribe to my blog by clicking the link on the left side of this website :)  Do you have other suggestions, or is there a mistake in my article?  As always, please feel free to leave comments!  :)

Thanks for reading,
-Jon

My First Blog – A New Adventure!

Hi everyone!

Welcome to my first blog :)  My name is Jon, and I’ll be your tour guide on this crazy writing adventure!

Up front I want to tell you all what this blog is going to primarily focus on, and that is writing fiction, the trials and triumphs of trying to find a literary agent, and eventually getting my first novel published.

I hope that my blog will be helpful to other aspiring writers, but more than that I really wish to start making a connection with everyone out there who’s willing to follow this blog!  I don’t just mean other writers, but anyone and everyone!  I want to connect with my readers, and as passionate as I am about writing, I know that this blog will be a personal journey that I am excited to share with you all!

For starters, I will be writing blog entries on how I go about writing novels and short stories, including telling about my endeavors as I write them.  I also will be discussing the process of finding a literary agent, which includes the (sometimes painful) process of writing query letters and synopses.

Something else I want to do on this blog is write short stories within the same universe as the novels I am currently trying to publish, called The Sword of Dragons, and post them here for all to read!

So while there isn’t much here yet, please subscribe to my blog, because I guarantee you that there is a lot to come!!

I also would like to encourage everyone to feel free to leave comments.  Introduce yourself for starters!  My only stipulation to everyone is to please, please keep things civil.  I want this to be a blog people from all walks of life feel comfortable coming to :)

The Story So Far…

I talk a bit about my writing endeavors up to this point in the “About” section (see the link in the header), but I wanted to cover some specifics about my current project, and where I am right now in my quest for publication.  If you aren’t able to finish reading to the end of this entry, don’t worry, it’s a bit of a long story, full of evil things like writer’s block and dozens of drafts of query letters :)

The Sword of Dragons has a decade-long origin story!  Longer, actually.  When I was in junior high, I came up with a science fiction story called Star Dragon Legion.  While a future sci-fi story, it also involved magic and dragons.  Before you roll your eyes, remember that I was very young and very inexperienced as a writer :)  I never finished a novel for the series, but I wrote numerous short stories.

Fast forward to my senior year of high school, I was required to do a senior project, and I chose to do mine on writing a short story and trying to get it published.  The short story I wrote was entitled “Star Dragon Legion – Sword of the Dragon”.  In it, the protagonist was required to complete a trial by retrieving a fabled, powerful weapon, the titular Sword of the Dragon.

I never did get it published, and to be frank, it was pretty poorly written, but I learned a lot during my project, especially because I had taken my first creative writing class!

Sometime during my freshman year of college, I came up with the idea to take the basic principle of Sword of the Dragon and turning it into a full-on fantasy novel.  By the end of my sophomore year, I had finished, and that summer I sent it to a publisher.

It was rejected, and before I sent it to another publisher, I decided to do another round of proofreading.  By this time I had moved on to a 4-year college for my junior year, and was in the middle of a great creative writing class!  I had already learned so much, and so when I tried to read Sword of the Dragon, I realized how badly written it was.  I couldn’t even get through the first chapter!!

So I shelved it.  And some time later, I started a rewrite.  Shelved it.  Started another rewrite, and shelved it again.  It wasn’t until 2008 that I began what would become the final version.  By then I had graduated college and had numerous creative writing classes under my belt, so my writing style was considerably better (even today I still think the early chapters are well-written!)  I got about halfway through the novel, when… DUN DUN DUNNNN….  Writers block hit.

Evil, accursed writers block!  For the next couple of years, I struggled with writers block, and between 2008 and 2012 I only wrote 2 chapters in The Sword of Dragons!

2012 was the golden year for me.  Something changed that summer, and I picked up Sword of the Dragons again, right where I left off, and started writing like mad!

Sometime near the end of 2012 is when I finished the first draft, and I spent the next few months proofreading and getting friends to read through it.  During this proofread, I also renamed the novel to The Sword of Dragons, and by extension renamed the weapon that is the catalyst of the novel.

Next came the hardest part of all – finding a literary agent!  Which I am actually still in the process of doing.  By now I’ve gone through at least a dozen drafts of my query letter, and have written a few synposes.  I’ve submitted to only 6 agents at this time, all of whom have rejected my story.  I didn’t feel ready to “shotgun” out my query letter, and have continually tweaked it.  In a future blog post, I will be discussing an extraordinarily helpful website for query letters, and is where I plan on submitting my letter for peer review before I shotgun it out to several more agents!

In the mean time, I have written the second novel in the series, titled The Sword of Dragons – Burning Skies.  It took me about 4 months or so to write this one, I have really found my groove in writing!  I am still going through the proofreading and editing process, which I will discuss in future blog entries as well :)

There’s a lot more to talk about, but I feel like this is long enough for an initial blog entry.  You all will get to know me and my tale a lot better as time goes on, don’t worry!

Thanks for reading :)

-Jon

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