Tag Archives: ideas

An author in the spotlight: Rory Mackay answers 4 questions!

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Nothing beats the power of a good question. Questions make us think, reflect and explore things in different ways. I’m all for questions, and I always endeavour to give good answers! So here I am taking part in a challenge I saw online several months back, in which an author answers four simple questions. Well, I’m an author, and without any further ado, here are the questions…

When did you begin writing?

I’ve been writing since childhood. Creativity was an innate and essential part of my nature as far back as I can remember. When I was younger I was more visually focused, as I loved drawing and painting. What I did was always connected with storytelling, however. I created characters, worlds and adventures and made my own comic books from the time I was about 7 or 8 years old. My longest running series was called King Croc, a quirky and comical fantasy series about a reptilian anti-hero whose job was to conquer the galaxy but who really couldn’t be bothered. He would rather sit at home eating doughnuts that conquer planets. Who wouldn’t? I still have some of those comics in a drawer.

When I was in my teens I began work on a very different project; laying the groundwork for what would eventually become the novel I am about to publish, The Key of Alanar! This was originally intended as a serialised television series or series of movies, but not knowing how to even begin with such a lofty project, I decided to make it a series of novels instead. Having worked on this for the best part of my life, and invested so much time, energy and love in it, I’m truly excited that I am finally able to share this creative vision with the world. (The Key of Alanar is already available to preorder on Amazon for a 14 September release!)

What inspired me to write my first books?

I grew up with a great love of science fiction and fantasy. Already something of a dreamer, it really stirred my imagination and I loved nothing more than to transport myself to other worlds, times and places. But for me the genre was far more than simple escapism. Even in my early teens I really loved that sci-fi and fantasy could be used as a means of exploring ideas, themes and human potential. I was always a bit of a deep thinker, and I loved when books, films and television had a little depth; a purpose behind telling a story.

As I grew up, I became fascinated by mythology and archetypal tales of heroic quests and journeys. Initially my first series of books was called ‘The Journey’, as a reflection of the journey we all take through life, in search of happiness and wholeness. I wanted to explore what makes us tick, and why we live as we do. I didn’t just want to entertain people, I wanted to make people think and say something about life. The development of my books ran parallel to my development as a person as I grew up, learned, experienced many things, and ultimately devoted myself to the pursuit of spiritual knowledge, truth and understanding the nature of life and who we are. I like telling fantastical stories that fire the imagination, stir the emotions and, above all, make people think. In my view, the greatest stories inspire, challenge and enlighten. They are stories that heal. They leave people the better for having read them; a kind of gift shared between author and reader. That is why I wanted to write and why I still keep writing.

How do you write?

I need to be clear about what I’m writing before I start the first sentence. I learned early on the necessity of starting with a blueprint, or at least a firm plan of how the novel will begin, develop and end. My stories are quite complex and multi-layered, so I need to make sure I’ve worked everything beforehand or else I would be liable to write myself into a sticky corner and waste significant time on something that just doesn’t work out. One day I’d actually like to just start writing with no idea in ind how it will end, but it certainly won’t be for my current series, which requires forward planning. There are simply too many balls to potentially drop otherwise!

So, I wait for the ideas to start flowing. It’s almost like my mind is working on the story even when I’m not consciously thinking about it. There comes a time when I can feel the creative energy flowing and I just sit down with paper and a pen and allow the ideas to spill out. I get them structured into a clear framework, and then, when I’m satisfied with what I’ve got, I start writing away. First drafts are usually best written as quickly as possible, to keep the creative momentum flowing smoothly. Then I’ll write three, four or more subsequent drafts and spend a long time editing. With my first published novel, Eladria, I spent one year writing the first few drafts and then another 18 months or so editing and polishing it. As Phyllis A Whitney said: “a good book isn’t written, it is rewritten.” The key is really in taking that mud-covered diamond and scraping and polishing it until it gleams.

Do you have any writing advice you would like to share?

Yes. Write because you love to write. Have no expectations. Follow your passion and pour your heart and soul into it. Don’t expect anything back; even if you write a complete masterpiece, there are so many books being written and published right now that it’s hard to get anyone’s attention. Have no expectation, but stay true to your own unique creative vision. Write a story you feel needs to be told. Share ideas, share experiences and dreams and thoughts. Write a book that will make the world a better place for your having written it. Think of it as part of your legacy, which it is, and make it as wonderful as you can. Don’t rush it necessarily, take your time and let your heart guide you. Whether you then sell ten copies or ten thousand, you’ll have contributed something special to the world. And that why being a writer is one of the coolest things in the world.

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The 3 Steps to Writing Anything

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Whether you’re writing an essay, an article, sales copy or the great American novel, there’s a basic three-step process that, if understood and applied, can make it a whole lot easier for you.

If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to get the words out, or unable to get beyond the first couple of sentences, it’s probably because you’re trying to do the wrong step in the wrong order. Once you’re clear on how to apply this universal three-step method, you’re certain to find the process of writing easier, more effortless and hopefully more enjoyable too.

The three steps of writing are:

1. Planning
2. Writing
3. Polishing

That may appear to be pretty much common sense! Yet you’d be surprised at how often we tend to get these steps muddled up, resulting in all kinds of problems. Each stage needs to be understood and done in sequence before moving onto the next.

Here’s a rundown of each step.

1. PLANNING

Sprouting-Seeds

Planting a seed

Any creative endeavour begins with the planting of a seed. You get, wait for or are given an initial idea about what to write. Perhaps you have an idea for a story, or have received a brief for an essay or article.

Allowing it to grow
Once you have a starting point, you need to give yourself time to brainstorm and play with ideas. If you started out with a fairly broad focus, then you have to gradually narrow and refine it. If you’re writing fiction, this is the time to explore your story, theme and characters, to run with your imagination and allow the story to unfold and take shape.

If you’re writing nonfiction, perhaps you need to do some research and gather information and then arrange and structure it. The initial seed you planted begins to germinate and grow. It’s best to keep this stage as organic as you can, allowing it to unfold naturally. Trying to force it can restrict your creativity and obscure insights, inspiration and fresh ways of looking at things.

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Creating a blueprint
Once you have a fairly clear idea what you want to write, it’s time to take things up a notch and create a blueprint. Whereas the first part of the planning stage should be quite free-flowing, it’s now time to arrange things into a cohesive structure. Some people skip the blueprint stage altogether, and that’s a matter of personal preference and also depends on what you’re writing and why. But I find rushing ahead to write before I have a clear idea what I’m writing about often leads to dead-ends and a lot of frustration and wasted time. I like to have a blueprint for what I’m writing — or at the very least a clear idea of the beginning, middle and end. Then I can simply relax into the next step and be confident that there’s an underlying structure in place to keep me right.

To create a blueprint, you simply arrange your ideas or information into the appropriate structure. If you’re writing a story or novel, try to put all the elements of your plot into place so you know roughly what happens when. What this does is enables you to get a sense for the structure, rhythm and balance of the story. It’s helpful to have this in place before you start writing, because it’s a whole lot easier to change elements at this stage than it is when you’ve written the whole thing and realised that the basic structure of the story doesn’t work (doh!).

This doesn’t mean the blueprint needs to be rigidly set in stone. It should be flexible enough to add, subtract or move around elements as you write. But it gives you a solid foundation and the confidence to start writing. If you’re writing an essay or article, your blueprint will set out your introduction, each key point in progression and end with clear summary or conclusion. Once you’re happy with your blueprint you can move onto the next step.

2. WRITING

Writing

The mistake a lot of people make when writing is to assume that writing consists solely of — well, writing! But jumping straight into the process of writing without having a clear idea what you’re actually writing about is generally a recipe for muddle and frustration. So I’d generally advise people not to bypass the first step.

Once you have your blueprint in place, it’s time to get into the flow of writing. Make sure your first draft is just that: a first draft. It might be helpful to even think of it as a zero draft. At this stage it’s not about making it perfect; it’s simply about getting words down on the page. Now’s the time to write for your life and not look back!

Forget about formatting and editing and try not to read back over what you’ve written if you can help it. You may have a tendency to edit as you go along, trying to ‘perfect’ each sentence before moving onto the next, but it’s best to avoid that temptation. The next step is the editing stage; this is simply the writing stage. So make it easier on yourself: don’t skip ahead. You can edit and refine it when it’s finished, and not before.

The key to good writing is to get into that state where the words just flow with ease and effortlessness. There are different ways to reach that creative flow, and you may need to experiment to find what works best for you. One of the keys to entering the state of flow is to simply focus on the step you’re on; in this case, the writing. You’ve already got your blueprint in place so you don’t need to worry about that, and you don’t need to worry about editing what you’re writing — that’s the next step. Try to bypass your inner critic. Don’t judge the work before you’re finished, or you may never finish: you’ll simply end up in the sticky web of perfectionist paralysis!

Just let go, relax and write. It can be helpful to do a writing warm-up exercise before you start. For example, you might take a random word and do some free-flow association. Just write whatever comes to mind; complete stream-of-consciousness writing. Try that for five minutes and see if it loosens you up and gets you into the creative flow.

3. POLISHING

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The final step is the editing and polishing stage. Once you’ve finished your first draft, take a break if you can and then go back read over it. It’s now time for the inner critic take the reins for a while — although do make sure that any criticism is constructive!

You’ll likely get a sense for the flow and structure of the text. How does it read? What areas need improving? What needs to be added and, more importantly, what bits can you take out? I naturally tend to overwrite, so my editing stage largely consists of pruning things back. Try to remove redundancies and be alert to repetition. A good mantra for the editing process (and perhaps life in general) is: “if in doubt, cut it out!”

Perhaps your piece only needs some minor modifications or it may need several successive drafts. Keep going until you’re happy with it. An excellent tip is to actually read the text aloud. This helps you get a feel for the rhythm of the words and sentence structure and is also helpful for spotting errors that may have otherwise slipped through the radar.

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And those are the three steps to writing pretty much anything! Even though it seems so simple and self-evident, it took me a number of years to figure out this three-step process and to apply it to my work. The difference it made was immeasurable.

The most important thing is to know which step you’re on and to stay on that step until you’re ready to move to the next. No premature skipping ahead! This is especially important when you’re in the writing stage. If you’re always slipping into editorial mode and trying to make each sentence ‘perfect’ before moving onto the next, you’re almost certainly going to struggle. Besides, the sobering (or perhaps liberating) truth is that there’s no such thing as a perfect sentence. So just let go, relax–and write!

This article was originally posted on my other blog, Beyond The Dream, a couple of years ago and ezineArticles.com

How to overcome creative block

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For any creative person — whether they’re a writer, artist, poet, designer or musician — nothing is worse than the dreaded creative block. The ideas suddenly dry up, inspiration wanes and it becomes a struggle to bring any project to completion. More than just frustrating, these creative dry spells can be quite soul-crushing and may last for weeks, months, or even years.

I think virtually all writers and artists are struck by this affliction at one time or another. After finding a publisher for my first novel, Eladria, I figured I should have been on fire creatively. But I found that as I started trying to write some short stories, the flow just wasn’t there. I was struggling to force words onto the page, and even then I wasn’t especially satisfied with the output. I realised I’d been struck by creative block! But rather than struggling, fretting and resisting it as I would have done in the past, I decided to accept it, explore it and work with it.

As I examined this condition, I uncovered two main causes — and solutions.

1. Trying to force creativity

I believe that a defining characteristic of a great artist in any field is humility. Creativity is not so much something that comes from us, as it is something that flows through us. It took me a number of years to realise that it that can’t be coerced or forced by the mind. Attempting to do so is a sure-fire way to end up blocked and frustrated. Creativity is something that we need to create a space for, an opening in which something will grow and develop.

The first cause of writer’s block, for me, is often trying to write something that I’m not ready to write. Rushing into a project too soon can be a mistake. I like to let ideas percolate in my mind for a while before clothing them in words, sentences and paragraphs. This is almost an unconscious process; even when I’m not consciously working on the story or essay, I often feel there’s something taking shape on an unconscious level, as though the piece is forming itself. I’ll write plenty of notes and maybe draw some doodles, and be open to flashes or inspiration and snippets of dialogue. But I don’t force it yet. I wait until I feel it’s ready and then get into a clear-minded state and allow it to emerge and reveal itself. It’s a kind of passive approach to creativity, but that’s how I’ve done my best writing. Once I ease myself into the creative flow, the words pretty much write themselves and it’s a marvellous process too, one that feels exciting and invigorating. Attempting it the other way — trying to wrestle with ideas force words onto the page — is often an uphill struggle and one that leaves me frustrated and drained.

So in order to stay in the creative flow, I recommend remaining in a mode of ‘passive writing’, which is almost a kind of listening; listening to and observing the ideas, stories and characters as they take shape, allowing them to emerge fully formed, and then dictating what you see and hear in your mind. This applies to other forms of creativity as well. Try allowing a painting, sculpture or piece of music to form itself, and then when you’re ready, capture it in your chosen medium.

2. Perfectionism

I’ve always been a terrible perfectionist, rarely satisfied and prone to editing a piece of work to within an inch of its life. No matter how many times I’ve chopped and changed a sentence I still think it can be improved. That perhaps makes me a good editor, but it’s not so great when I’m trying to create a new piece of work. I learned a long time ago that in order to create a good first draft I have to switch off the internal editor and write first — edit later. If I can’t do that, it’s a struggle to get anything written, as I’m still stuck on trying to fix and perfect that first sentence.

I believe this applies to any kind of creativity. The first stage is getting your work onto the page as freely and joyfully as you can, while the second stage is taking what you’ve done and editing, polishing and bringing it to completion. Confusing these two stages is a primary cause of creative block.

Perfectionism stems from a kind of performance anxiety. Whilst you obviously want your work to be as good as possible, being overly focused on the results and what others will think can create a complete creative paralysis. The best way to get over debilitating perfectionism is to let go of all concern about what others might think and remember why you write, paint or compose in the first place. The answer is normally because it’s your passion and you love doing it. When you lose the love and enjoyment and get crippled by fears and doubts, you sabotage yourself. The process of creating becomes an arduous struggle and the quality of your output often suffers as well.

Summary of solutions to creative block

The solutions I’ve found to creative block are pretty simple.

First of all, you have to be remember that you can’t force creativity. Inspiration and ideas can’t be cajoled or commanded, they only tend to appear when you’re in a suitably open and receptive state of mind. The gestation period of any creative project requires a degree of sensitivity and intuition. You have to be alert to know whether the project is ‘cooked’ and ready to serve up or whether you need to let it simmer a while longer. There’s nothing worse than trying to force out undercooked ideas. Indigestion is inevitable.

This doesn’t mean you should sit and twiddle our thumbs. Being open to inspiration often means playing around with ideas, making sketches, paintings and exploring certain combinations and styles. Inspiration comes when you open yourself to it. It helps to be relaxed, open and prepared to experiment. You can then allow breakthroughs to emerge organically, in their own way and at their own time.

The second and most important key is to silence your inner critic for a while. Send it on a paid vacation, making sure it takes all of its fears and anxieties with it, and simply ENJOY what you’re doing. Keep it fun and exciting. If you lose the enjoyment, you’ll eventually lose your passion and this will be reflected in the quality of the work. Write (or paint, sculpt, or compose) as if you’re just doing it for yourself and your own enjoyment. Do it freely, without inhibition and without concern for what other people might think. It’ll get edited and polished up at a later stage and the rest will take care of itself. Until then, don’t lose the enjoyment. And I suppose that’s a great rule, not just for creative work, but for life as a whole.