Sunday, October 12, 2008

In the Beginning, part two, “Solid Foundations”

Now that you have your idea it’s time to begin writing. Or is it? As excited as you may be to get your short story or novel started, there are a few things that will help you get a more solid foundation for your work

Setting up your work space

For many artists having a proper work area to let the creativity flow is crucial, and writers are no exception. Whether you like neatness or clutter around you, constant music or silence, the controlled seclusion of indoors or a laptop for an outside “office” experience you need to honor your own needs. Unless it is a conducive situation for creativity for you, don’t try to write in the family common area with the kids watching TV or your cats playing behind (or over) your chair. Trust me, I’ve tried writing in that situation and that’s a great recipe for aggravation, but little else.

Location, Location, location, yes that is the basis for a successful “writing studio”. I wish I could tell you all what that magic combination is, the fusing of place, and atmosphere, but each word artist has to be the one to discover what puts you in “that place” easiest. When I say “that place” I mean the moment your mind slips into the “between space”, that place between the reality that is your everyday and the dreaming when creativity flows like honey in the hot sun.

Something also to consider is the tool you will use in that creative space. Now knowing most of you will not be using a typewriter, the first tool is a computer. Of course if you have chosen your writer’s studio to be outdoors that computer with be a laptop instead of a desktop. Another thing I suggest wholeheartedly is a bookcase for all of the books that as an author you will find crucial to the writing process.

Don’t use the family bookshelves if you can afford the space for your own shelf. This is the place of honor not only will all of your most useful research books go (a topic I will discuss later), but your published novels as well, a reminder of what you have been able to accomplish and the work it took to get there.

To outline or not to outline

Now I know outlines don’t work for everyone. Some people find them too confining, too much pressure to stick to the limited guide of the outline rather than to let the creativity flow. I ask that we look at the outline another way. As part of our base foundation the outline can booster confidence, tell us where we need to focus our research before be begin writing, and point out any initial bugs in the story idea. Just because the guide is there doesn’t mean the story itself can’t burst free from the confines of the outline but it presents a safe space to start from.


Now that you have you workspace and outline it’s time to do research. Not I see that distasteful frown on some of your faces, but this is not like researching a paper for school. You can have great fun doing the research needed to make your great story idea a solid one. If you don’t find the topic you are writing about interesting, how will your readers? Everything from character names, to setting, to cultures, to historical periods, even to occupations can add greater depth to your work. Some of what you learn while researching a project may even spur more ideas to add to the story itself.

Most books you need for your research you’ll be able to find at you local library. Online information can be great but if you really want to delve into a topic and don’t have endless supplies of cash, the library is an amazing resource. In most places you can shop online for the book you need in the county library system and have them set to the library nearest you. I’m lucky to have an amazing resource in the libraries where I live, but I admit not all places have this level of selection in their library system, but I would still start there if you have access.

You may find on your library search some books that will be so useful you will want to buy them for you research library at home (remember that bookshelf we talked about earlier?). Now many of these books you can order from your area indy bookstore, though some will be out of print and you will need to go to a used bookstore to get them. I get most of my used books online at which saves my budget and my time.

Tidbits from my Author's Bookshelf

These are an an example of some of the books I use and couldn’t do without. I guarantee there are many more I use, and more that I need, but here are a few I’d found the most useful.

Here are the two books I use when searching for names for my characters.

Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana: What to Name Your Baby Now, by Linda Rosenkrantz and Pamela Redmond Satran.

The Complete Book of Magical Names (Create a Meaningful and Powerful Name)
by Phoenix McFarland

Since magic has such a major place in my work I have a few books that help me keep the flow of ideas as I create a ritual scene or as my MC (main character) is being trained by a mentor that not only keeps the knowledge in my head straight, but reminds me of things I might have otherwise forgotten. If you are writing paranormal with ANY level of magical realism, I strong advise you to get the first one by Ruth Barrett.

Women's Rites, Women's Mysteries: Intuitive Ritual Creation by Ruth Barrett

Healing Wise (Wise Woman Herbal Series) by Susun S. Weed

Herbal Healing for Women by Rosemary Gladstar

Medicine of the Cherokee: The Way of Right Relationship (Folk Wisdom Series) by J. T. Garrett and Michael Tlanusta Garrett

Now my first book written (which funny enough is the second book to be published) required me to revisit my country gal days which unfortunately are a long time past. These books not only gave me the information I needed, but the first two gifted me with a wonderful new way at looking at country life than I’d had as a small child.

Country Women: A Handbook for the New Farmer by Jeanne Tetrault and Sherry Thomas

The Women's Carpentry Book: Building Your Home from the Ground Up by Jeanne Tetrault

The Foxfire Book: Hog Dressing, Log Cabin Building, Mountain Crafts and Foods, Planting by the Signs, Snake Lore, Hunting Tales, Faith Healing, Moonshining by Inc. Foxfire Fund and Eliot Wigginton

Not being a medical type myself I found the following book for helping be find ways to abuse my character without killing them, and still remain accurate as possible. This is part of the howdunit series, a must get for anyone that want to do any mystery or crime related fiction at the very least. I hope to own most of the series myself.

Body Trauma: A Writer's Guide to Wounds and Injuries by David W. Page

I am currently writing a western short story for an anthology call which will be using the following books in my research core. I’ve done some shape shifter westerns but this is my first piece without a paranormal bend to it. Just goes to show you writing what you know doesn’t always mean you are locked into the same old thing. Sometimes you can breach out and with the proper research tools you will be fine.

Western Words: A Dictionary of the Old West by Ramon F. Adams

Everyday Life Among the American Indians by Candy Moulton

This is more general then I normally like, but it has useful information that with the added research I do on the tribe I am writing about at the time is helpful to pull me into the time period easier. The author does talk about nations and deferent ways of doing things for far less general then a lot of books like this I’ve seen.

Now book are not the only way to research a topic. If you happen to have friend knowledgeable in a subject they can be a vital resource. Travel videos can be a fun way to get to know a setting if you can’t go there. Museums can really suck you into the history to of a piece you are trying to get a handle on. Be creative in your search for information. Your story will benefit from the work you put into your research.

Next time we will talk about characters, and some ways you can really connect with the people whose story you are tell, as well as those characters that support the core of your ensemble. Until next time, keep dreaming!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

In the Beginning, part one “Getting Started”

The “In the Beginning” series of articles are my thoughts on the information I wished someone had shared me when I first started writing professionally. The first part of this series on the craft of writing is called “Getting Started," and it’s all about gathering your ideas and seeking inspiration. As I will often say, this is my way of doing things and will not always work for everyone, but I can only hope those who read these articles can glean something to help them in their creative journey.


There are many places you can find an idea for your story. People watching is a great way to be inspired. Whether in a coffee shop, a train station, even a neighborhood park within the daily lives of what seem on the surface as fairly normal folks can be hidden a spark to a juicy story idea. I’ve heard a tidbit of conversation waiting at a gate lobby for my plane and it’s sent ideas tumbling through my head faster than I could write the thoughts down. The bottom line is be open, and always, I mean ALWAYS, carry a notebook and pen, tape recorder, anything to record the ideas. They will come when least expected and when you are worst prepared. Don’t let your muse catch you off guard.

A dream journal is a crucial piece of equipment for the author who has vivid dreams as I do. As soon as you wake in the morning (or whenever your waking time falls) write down any bits of your dreams you can remember. The images of the subconscious world can fade quickly, so don’t waste a moment. You never know when your muse may have sent you that perfect story. The last thing you want is to lose that gift as the dreams grow fainter in a short time.

Along with dreams, come those moments of quiet during your day when you feel yourself drift into your thoughts, the daydream. Take as much time as your schedule allows to reward yourself with the freedom to give into the urge to daydream. Not only will you find fuel for your stories, but the relaxing creative time will do your emotional state good as well. Think of it as a mild meditation, a time for the stress of your day to be cast off like the hull of a seed so the idea inside can grow unhindered by its weight.

Speaking of harvesting the seeds of ideas, here another thing I’ve found useful for scheduling my writing projects. Know your inner cycle. This means pay attention to what times of the day, week, month, even year you feel most productive. Once you are keyed into your internal creative calendar you will find the writing will flow easier. You don’t want to work against your own psyche. If you get blockage when you try to write late at night or very early in the morning don’t do it then. You’ll only frustrate yourself and cause the blockage to tighten more. For example, I find Autumn into early Winter to be my most productive writing time, so I set aside extra personal time around that time of year and plan the submission calls with deadlines in the upcoming year for those months on my calendar.

Don’t be afraid to try something new. If you can afford to travel do so as much as possible to as many different types of places as you can manage. Whether it’s a state park or a trip to Celtic ruins, you’ll be amazed what a change of scenery can do for your creative juju. Learn new skills whenever the opportunity presents itself. Sure, it won’t make you an expert on what you are learning, but an eclectic mental inventory of skills can be very useful when crafting a story. Don’t discount any experiences or knowledge you process. You never know what will serve you when you create.

Make new friends. What you don’t know, your friend might. As long as you ask nicely and always give credit where it’s due, most people are perfectly happy to share what they are passionate about. Research may sound like a drag to some folks, but if you know the right people and plan your questions effectively you can turn a research session into a fun luncheon or enjoyable phone conversation.

Read. I can’t stress this enough. Your chosen genre, other genres, novels, short stories, anything you can get your hands on that seems interesting. Just read it. Not just for research, but for enjoyment and inspiration. There are so many wonderful authors out there whose unique styles and story concepts could be the key to unlock the story waiting inside your own mind. As much as I love TV, nothing matches the charge you can get allowing yourself to slip into a good tale.

There we go. I hope that some of these suggestions will help you kick your block free and flow with your own creativity more easily. Perhaps these ideas will spark new ones of your own, and if so I invite you to share those here with us. Next time during part two in the “In the Beginning” series we’ll talk about setting up a solid foundation for your story. See you next time!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Welcome to Dreamtimes Writer’s Workshop

I’ve thought a great deal about the kinds of lessons I’ve learned as I’ve traveled this road to publication, and some of the information I wish I’d had in the beginnings of my journey. Those are just a few of the reasons why I have chosen to create this blog, to pass on what other have taught me, what I have learned through my own mistakes, and to share the rest as I continue on my path as a writer.

Know this, because I am a writer, doesn’t make me a skilled editor. You might often find typoes in the post here. I ask you be patient with these proofing mistakes. As someone who has lived with ADD and Dyslexia it can be difficult to see these mistakes clearly, though I will try my best to minimize them. I will also work hard to make the topics here interesting enough so that the technical mistakes will be less bothersome. I hope you enjoy the journey.

Moondancer's Introduction

Here's my full bio, since the longer version looked odd on the sidebar like it was...

Moondancer Drake is a freelance journalist and an author of environmental and spiritually driven multicultural fiction. She is also a vocal advocate for civil rights and the responsibility of all people to take better care of Mother Earth. She is an active member of the Dianic Tradition and is working her way towards ordination She draws much of her inspiration from her spirituality as well as experiences as a Cherokee woman and a mother of two magical children.

Moondancer’s first novel, Ancestral Magic, is scheduled for release in Fall of 2008 through PD Publishing. She also has several stories in the LGBT flash fiction Horror anthology "Chilling Tales of Terror and the Supernatural" available through PD Publishing. If you want to know more about Moondancer and her writing you can visit her at her website or personal blog.