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Where art comes from…
During this winter season as I went to trade shows, bazaars, and arts and crafts sales I was asked several times where my art comes from, where my ideas and inspiration came from. A question I couldn’t answer as easily as I would have liked, simply because I never thought about it.
No matter if it is writing, design or photography or any other form of art, it’s origin is unique to the person. At least that’s what I believe. Every person sees the same thing a little differently or even different. I look at a sunset and it’s beauty, the burning sky, the play of shadow and dimming light, takes my breath away. So… where does art come from?
Over the last few months I thought a lot about that and not just when asked and in the peril of trying to explain it. Where do my stories come from? Where do patters, pictures and designs come from? Why do I take a picture of the things I photograph?
I think the answer is the soul. Something deep inside us that simply needs to be expressed. A deep need to share that passion, emotion, or beauty only I can see and express the way I see it. Does this make sense to anyone but me? Maybe… maybe not.
When I write a book, it gives me the chance to not only tell a story but to shape the world in a way I want it to be, or create one I would like to be at. To bring characters to life I would like to meet or to fight. I can express my political, ethnical, and religious views, without making it obvious or offending. Most of all I can give it the happy ending we all deserve but rarely get in reality. Quite frankly, when writing, I can play god to my own little universe and have no competition.
It’s similar with art. I can express with colors, photoshopping, drawing and forming lines into shapes how I feel about a topic or in general. I can create something beautiful from nothing and share it with others. I can (within the rights of copyright) take something and reshape it, give something already existing a new meaning. With every art piece that springs into existence through the use of my hands and mind, I give birth to something new and unique.
I think, art comes from deep within us and reflects who we are, how we feel and think and what we dream about. Art is freedom, creation and expression.
We live in a world where publishing has become as easy as buying a book at Amazon. Anyone who want’s to, can share their work, either for free or for a charge. Yet there are a lot of people, readers, other writers, journalists, and many more who are annoyed or even upset about the easiness of which anyone can publish. They cry out about technicalities not regarded properly. The scream at misspelled words, at bad grammar and bad style. They complain about how a writer tells her/his story if they don’t go the usual way, whatever that is. They wage war against the unusual and out of the box or unguided and inexperienced. And that’s their right. They have a right to their opinion and to voice it. They have a right to point out all those flaws and to share their findings with everyone else.
Over the last year, I have seen and heard it all. Well maybe not all but a lot. From a one star review complaining about my spelling and grammar, of which I warned, to five star reviews that made my heart swell with pride and joy. Looking back at 2016 and the five books I published, and the countless books I read, I realize something. One of the big topics during the year was diversity, racism, and bigotry. I saw hundreds of posts on Facebook from other authors about how we need to have diversity in our stories, to promote togetherness and acceptance in our worlds of fiction and fantasy. Something I deeply agree with. Those posts and the events of last year made me realize two things I want to share.
As a writer, good or bad, known or unknown, famous or lost in the multitude of others, we have a chance and a responsibility. The saying, the feather is mightier than the sword, doesn’t come from nothing. There is truth in it. As writers, we have the chance to influence, inform and even shape others. No matter what we write, from fiction to fantasy, from biography to all the non-fictions, we reach people. With our words, we touch their minds and sometimes their souls. With the world we paint, we educate, share our opinions, emotions, and hopes. We let them into our dreams and our fears. With each word we share a part of our mind and soul with our reader. All throughout history there have been writers that inspired. Some ignited a flame inside others, leading to great inventions, pollical change, or rebellion as well as peace. With the stroke of a feather, wars rose, kingdoms fell and societies were reconstructed after being torn down. It’s scary to think about the power one writer can wield by sharing a piece of themselves. Which words will do what, nobody will know until it happened. There have been works that went utterly unnoticed, had been scrutinized and frowned upon, until they ended up in the hand of one person and changed that person. Which brings me to the second realization.
This will be something many will take as an excuse on my side for publishing my work without a professional edit, especially since I’m dyslexic and mistakes are a certainty. It’s not. An excuse I mean. Publishers, bloggers, reviews and so many others want more diversity especially infictional work. They ask the writing community to stand up against bigotry and hatred, against racism and homophobia. Something I agree with, yet the same people are often the ones doing everything in their power to suppress the same diversity within the writing community. And no, I don’t mean that they should accept bad spelling of grammar. As often as I read articles about the writing community promoting the acceptance of diversity, I read articles condemning self-publishing authors. What I disliked (hated) the most was when those articles attacked not a specific writer, but the broad spectrum of self-publishing writers. They didn’t attack because of bad editing or poor cover design, neither for endlessly ongoing sentences that simply didn’t seem to end. What they criticized was the way the writer told their story, the style, or the topic or how explicit their sex scenes were. They complained about writers who didn’t study the craft at a college or university. They judged on experience and if that author had ever made it onto a bestseller list or not. They put all writers into a box and those who didn’t fit that box were ridiculed and condemned as bad writers.
The same people who told us to embrace diversity, rejected the very same thing within the writing community.
Writing not unlike painting is an art and as such it is subjective. Where one might find a story boring and shallow, another might find beauty and depth. Like a song doesn’t sound the same to everyone’s ear, a story doesn’t touch everyone’s soul the same way. Some styles are for a brought spectrum of people, while others are just for some. Diversity means a multitude of attributes, different ways of thinking and interpreting. It means many different ways of telling a story, of conveying one’s thoughts. It means stepping out from the box society, rules and holier then thy critiques want to keep us in.
Self-publishing opened the doors for diversity, to be embraced not just by being integrated in the stories written but by accepting the multitude of ways a story is told. Every story, no matter how it is told, has a right to exist, has a purpose and a meaning. Each one has the possibility to inspire and ignite a spark.
And when this year runs out in a few hours, I know that I touched some people with my stories, shared some of my soul with them and maybe inspired them in some way. I go into the next year knowing that I will do it all over again, with new stories and those already published. But most of all I know that I and many others, embrace diversity not just with our writing but with our acceptance of other writers who go down the same road. There is nothing more diverse than the writing community.
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So… lately I have been asked how I deal with my Dyslexia, and how I teach myself to get better in spelling, grammar and such. So here it goes.
I say in my book, but if you haven’t read it you can’t know of course, that when I found out I was dyslexic with 18, I started to research it and tried several techniques I found in books. None of them worked for me. If that was because they were designed for children, or just not for me, I don’t know. After those first few tries I tried again from time to time, but just couldn’t find anything that would work for me. Maybe it was the German language that made it harder, I don’t know. Truth be told, I made my peace with being dyslexic a long time ago, and have stopped thinking of myself as stupid or incapable a long time ago. So basically for several years I didn’t try to better it, because it’s part of me and I don’t see why I have to change that part… well, I do know… but I didn’t care and in a way still don’t. I am me, and me is dyslexic… done.
However when it was evident that my Fibromyalgia would force me to stop working at some point in the future, my dyslexia became a problem again. Becoming unable to do physical labor, would mean I would need to take a job in an office, which in most cases includes writing, something not exactly easy for me. Well I can write, just not always right.
In Germany I was taught from the first day of school that words are spelled like they are spoken, and most therapies I could find were based on exactly that. With English that simply doesn’t work. The language has too many words that sound the same, but are written totally different, or slightly different. The way I had tried to improve my German spelling, was utterly useless now.
Yet at the same time I didn’t think that using anything I would find in books would help, so I tried to find out how to help myself.
Writing in Word and using the spellcheck I soon noticed that if I corrected wrong spelled words myself, instead of letting the computer do it, I started to remember how they are spelled right after a couple hundred times. So every time my spellcheck underlined something, I deleted it and wrote it again, until I got it right. That meant sometimes to write it five or ten times, and when I used that word again, I would repeat that procedure and at some point I started to write it right.
Yet spellcheck isn’t perfect, you can activate all its capabilities, but if you use the wrong word and spell it right, it won’t correct it. Or rather if you spell a word right, but it has a different meaning, but sounds like the word you were trying to use. For example… ruff and rough, it’s sounded out the same, but I would often write ruff when meaning rough. The same is with words like women and woman or men and man… Where and were….
This is where it gets often complicated for me. Because I actually need someone to point those out to me, in order to know I write or use them wrongly. Now sadly you don’t find many people who are nice enough to send you a PM saying… Hay, liked what you wrote, but did you know you used ruff on page soandso and it should be rough? Just wanted to let you know…. No sadly those are very rare…
However I figured out that using either Narrator or another app that will read my text to me, I sometimes can find some of those problem words. When I find them, and figure out how they are written right I put them down on a list I hang up beside my computer when writing. The list has all my word I have problems with on it, telling me their meaning… like this is plural, this is singular, or this is past tense… you get what I mean…
I know that I also make a lot of grammar mistakes and that my punctuation is horrible, but decided to work on those once I actually get along with the spelling. In most cases I will build my sentences the same way I speak or hear others speak. For punctuation I do the same as when searching for words spelled wrong, I use a narrator that read my text to me. That way I can often find where I need to place a comma or shorten or split a sentence.
If I look at texts written in the first two years after coming to Canada, and now, the difference is very obvious and easy to spot. If I had to put it in numbers I would say I improved by about 200%. My first tries wouldn’t even have matched a first grader.
I don’t know if what I do will help anyone out there, but if it does then I’m glad about it.
You sat down, wrote and wrote and it took you what felt like forever to finish, but now you have the first draft of your story. From the first word to the last, and many thousand words in-between. You typed the words The End but, you are not finished yet. I hope you didn’t think you were, because in that case this will be a shocker, the real work begins now.
I know you have been sitting in front of your computer, typewriter of notepad for days, weeks, month’s maybe years even, to get here. And it feels good to know the draft is done, and you most certainly deserve a break, but if your goal is getting published then your work isn’t done. There is lots to do before you can hold your printed book in hand, and many decisions to make in order to get there. But this article concentrates on the work on your draft, which will follow when you had some time to clear your head.
You might think, “Well if I’m not done, then I’m not taking a break until I am.” but the break is actually a process of working on it. You need to gain some distance to what you just finished writing. You are still close to the story, the characters, and all the key scenes still in your mind, fresh and alive, and it will hinder you moving forward. So the first step is, take a step back. Read a book, watch a season or two of you favorite TV show, take of to a resort for a week. But stay away from your story, don’t read it, don’t correct it, don’t even think about it for a couple of days. Two weeks is a good time in my experience, but you have to find out what timeframe works best for you.
When that time is allotted, sit down, open the file and read what you wrote in your draft. Personally I also use that time to highlight parts with important info and transfer them to my notebook (OneNote) to see where I messed up my information. I often find small errors or description issues, like in the beginning the main character has blond hair and in the end brown. It also helps to find plot errors, timing issues and many more little and big problems. I always highlight them, because after my break I simply read it once over, not editing yet.
When you are done reading it, you go to the next step, you reflect. What did you like, and what did bother you. Depending on that you go over each chapter. Find the scenes that are skeletal, and write them out. Let your reader see your surroundings, smell the air, feel the fabrics you touch and how it feels. Don’t just tell your reader those things, but how they feel to your character, what emotions they inflict, and such things. It’s a fine line between showing and telling, and I have to admit I haven’t learned to walk that line perfectly either. So don’t worry too much about it, with time and many rewrites you’ll get there.
Check if your characters are solid in their design, no reader likes a character that one moment is strong and the hearo and the next a total looser, unless the story would demand and explain it.
Make sure their looks don’t change without a reason, or that they suddenly change names. Ensure that your locations and all such things are in order.
Sometimes it helps to make a list and do one run for each subject then check of the box so you know you looked for that specific topic. It’s scary to think how often you have to go over your story in order to find all of that, and I have to admit it’s a sore subject and one that’s anything but cool, but it needs to be done.
When all that is done, you will find that your novel has changed a lot from the draft you wrote originally. Or at least in many cases, and it feels almost nostalgic to remember that first draft as it was.
Now, after you juggled all your facts, plotlines, characters and those gorgeous heroes, you should take another break.
You may have noticed that so far I haven mentioned anything about spelling, grammar or sentence structure. Why? Simple as long as you rewrite and change and change the changes again and again, there is not much sense in taking care of it, only to delete or change it.
Now that you had another break, a week or so I think is enough, you go over it again and this time read it out loud, or if you suck at that, like I do, use narrator or any other nice app who can read it to you. I was introduced to Word Talk a while ago, and found it very good in that department, definitely better then what Windows brings with its narrator.
When I do this step I often close my eyes and don’t read while listening, it helps me find missing words, or sentences that sound wrong, but also plot mistakes. Most importantly I notice when I lose interest that way and find where I get boring in my story. Those are the part where I either stop the narrator program or at least mark that section in a different color. So I can easily find it again and fix it later. Personally I often fix it right away, unless I’m unsure if it would mess with the facts.
That done with I start fixing those problem parts I found that way, if I haven’t already. As I said it depends on which you like best.
After that I read over it again, without the narrator, or reading out loud. And when that is done I try to find any spelling, grammar and sentence structure mistakes. Basically this is my first real edit. Wow… sounds like a very long and hard road to get here, right? But it’s not as bad as it sounds, somehow writing it down and reading it, it feels like some horror story, but when you do it, it’s actually quite fun and interesting. At least for me, but I might be the exception.
Anyways, after this first edit I try to find people to read it, I call them Alpha reader, because they get the first not so crappy but far from finished version. I always inform them not to concentrate on spelling, grammar and such things, but on the story itself. It’s hard to find those people, because many feel distracted by spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes. Your sentence structure on the other hand should be pretty solid by then.
When you found those people, let them read it, give them instructions of what you want from them and then, wait. That’s the hardest part, because while you wait you can’t really work on your novel, or you get all messed up. Believe me, I made that mistakes and won’t ever do it again.
Now it might take some time, but at some point you get your novel back from your Alpha readers, by the way a step then many skip, so if you can’t find anyone, don’t worry about it too much.
Read the comments, and think about them, then take from it what you think will help you and fix whatever problems your readers found.
Ok, so you done that and now I’m telling you to take a break again, at least a week if not more. Because after that we go into the end phase, or the closest thing you can get to publishing without much help. Read it again, think about every scene, and make sure you are happy with what you wrote by the time you are done reading.
Now, find Beta readers. Let them go crazy with comments and corrections of spelling, grammar and so on. But be patient, it will take time. When you get your work back, work over it, mind the comments and corrections. Then when that is done read over it again, and then you need to find someone to edit it. I recommend a professional. If you know other authors, ask them who they used and where happy with. Get recommendations and let the editors give you an example of two or three pages, before you make a decision.
When you found one, and work well with him, then you reached the end of this advice. Please remember this is how I work, it might not work for you. But I hope you found some inspiration and help in here.