Flipping Perspectives: Turning Troubles into Blessings

photo by Vaughn Roycroft
photo by Vaughn Roycroft

Do you ever get the post-project blues? I’m only now starting to see the pattern. It begins with the euphoric rush of typing the words “The End.” I float for several days, elated by a sort of nostalgia born of what felt so right about the finished project. The high often opens the idea spigot, releasing the next project’s story flow.

Then the feedback starts to trickle in. With it comes the realization that there is more work to be done, and suddenly the flow feels tainted. Even though I know this will be the case beforehand, there’s nothing quite like hearing specifics from readers to cause the revision hammer and chisel to thump down on your desk, jarring the euphoria of skilled creation back to the cold reality of a still-misshapen chunk of granite. This is a time when I’m feeling caught between my excitement for book two in the series and the lure to begin fussing with book one again. I know I should wait until I’ve collected all of the feedback, then let it ferment and distill into a unified spirit before diving back in. The crossfire has left me feeling immobilized and melancholy.

Stasis Interruptus: As of the writing of this post, I am resolved. Today I’ve grown weary of the writerly haze in which I’ve allowed myself to wallow. I knew I needed a jolt, to get my mind off of critiques of my work—my own as well as those of others. I needed refocusing, a positive spin on my situation. I understand that I am lucky and blessed, but I wanted to make that understanding more tangible. So I decided to take a hard look at what seemed to be troublesome issues, then challenge myself to flip my perspective of them. In other words, turn my so-called troubles into blessings. I share them here in the hope that you might be inspired to challenge yourself, too.

Issue #1 – Finding the aforementioned manuscript still needs work. Quite a bit of it.

Flipside Blessing – I have a wonderful group of writers who are willing to read and critique my work. They are gracious enough to use their valuable time and experience to help me. Talk about a blessing! To top it off, several have already expressed their belief in the project’s potential. How could I ask for a better post-project circumstance?

Issue #2 – I feel like a slow writer, and each rewrite of a manuscript takes so long. [Read more…]

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About Vaughn Roycroft

In the sixth grade, Vaughn’s teacher gave him a copy of The Hobbit, sparking a lifelong passion for reading and history. After college, life intervened, and Vaughn spent twenty years building a successful business. During those years, he and his wife built a getaway cottage near their favorite shoreline, in a fashion that would make the elves of Rivendell proud. After many milestone achievements, and with the mantra ‘life’s too short,’ they left their hectic lives in the business world, moved to their little cottage, and Vaughn finally returned to writing. Now he spends his days polishing his epic fantasy trilogy.

The Wide and Wonderful World of O.P.B. (Other People’s Brains): On Giving Critique

photo by Derrick Tyson
photo by Derrick Tyson

I just finished doing something that I’m certain has nudged me a step closer to writerly competence. As I mull its effect, I find myself wondering how many others consider its value. You may have guessed by the title that I’m talking about reading and critiquing a fellow writer’s work in progress.

I’ve seen a few threads on the WU Group page asking for members’ most valued tools or best craft advice. It seems, beyond the “butt-in-chair/just-do-it” layer of advice, having your work critiqued and learning to accept criticism are high on most writers’ lists. But I don’t recall anyone advising reciprocation. It’s understandable. Early on, having my work read, coming to terms with feedback, and utilizing it, were at the top of my own list. I’ve even written an homage to my beta readers. And of course I still consider having my work read and critiqued to be important. In spite of its importance, my appreciation for being on the giving side of critique continues to grow. So in the spirit of giving, I thought I’d share my growing appreciation with my community.

Prudent Pairings (A Caveat): Reading for others is time-consuming and can be taxing. Finding good matches for beta-reading can dramatically enhance the value of the critique, for both the giver and receiver. I’ve found the best reader-writer relationships are built on an existing foundation of trust and respect. Asking someone you don’t know well to read your work is a risky proposition. You may get lucky, and find a generous and insightful soul. But you may also never hear from them again, or find someone who has absolutely no interest in your genre. In the case of the latter, their feedback is not likely to provide much utility. The same logic holds true for agreeing to read. It’s prudent to choose to read those you trust to be dedicated to growth. And choosing someone who writes the types of fiction that you enjoy reading is likely to enhance the value of the experience for both writer and reader.

The Wide and Wonderful World of O.P.B. (Other People’s Brains): [Read more…]

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About Vaughn Roycroft

In the sixth grade, Vaughn’s teacher gave him a copy of The Hobbit, sparking a lifelong passion for reading and history. After college, life intervened, and Vaughn spent twenty years building a successful business. During those years, he and his wife built a getaway cottage near their favorite shoreline, in a fashion that would make the elves of Rivendell proud. After many milestone achievements, and with the mantra ‘life’s too short,’ they left their hectic lives in the business world, moved to their little cottage, and Vaughn finally returned to writing. Now he spends his days polishing his epic fantasy trilogy.

Seeking Immersion Conversion

photo by Marc-Olivier Maheu

“As a reader you recognize that feeling when you’re lost in a book, right? You know the one – when whatever’s going on around you seems less real than what you’re reading and all you want to do is keep going deeper into the story… Well, if you’re writing that book it’s real for you too.” ~Sara Sheridan

Lost and Loving It: I’m with Sara Sheridan. I love getting lost in a book—totally immersed in the world of story. For me the feeling includes losing track of time and of what else is going on around me; not wanting to stop and anticipating getting back to it between sessions; being left with a wonderfully dazed feeling at the end, and then reminiscing about it long afterward. At its best, an immersive read makes everything else fade from conscious thought. It’s like being in one of those sensory deprivation tanks, except all of your senses are tuned in to story. Even the physical book disappears—pages are turned by rote. In fact, one of the primary reasons I write is in an effort to replicate the immersive experience others have provided for me.

It’s not quite as straightforward as it is with reading, but on my best writing days I come very near to achieving total immersion. Very early on I found that, like Sheridan, I am readily able to lose myself in my own work. On these days I can very clearly see and feel my story-world, from whichever character’s perspective I am writing. It’s all so real.

I suspect that achieving this state results in some of my most original work. Besides, it can be a real rush! It’s what hooked me on this crazy-making gig, and it keeps me coming back.

Wading through, Floating Downstream, or Diving Deep? I’ve read quite a few wonderful books this year, but I’ve noticed that not all of them have provided me with the immersive experience I am describing. Some books are well-written, funny or sad, and even fast-paced, and yet I am not immersed. It’s more like being led along by story than being lost in story. Some make me feel like I’m wading through—they’re not deep, but the course to the destination is clear enough. And others feel more like tubing downstream—a lovely ride with periodic rapids, often with very pleasant scenery. These stories can be entertaining and relaxing, but they don’t provide an immersion experience.

“A good book should leave you slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it.” ~William Styron

There have also been a few that I suspect would be considered less well-written, and yet I am totally willing to dive in and be lured into the layered depths of story. The best, of course, are those that accomplish both—lyrical writing as well as a compelling lure to go deep. I love it when, as Styron describes, I am left exhausted once I’ve surfaced. A book like that is satisfying in ways that are obviously beyond being entertaining or relaxing.

Inconsistent Immersion Provider: [Read more…]

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About Vaughn Roycroft

In the sixth grade, Vaughn’s teacher gave him a copy of The Hobbit, sparking a lifelong passion for reading and history. After college, life intervened, and Vaughn spent twenty years building a successful business. During those years, he and his wife built a getaway cottage near their favorite shoreline, in a fashion that would make the elves of Rivendell proud. After many milestone achievements, and with the mantra ‘life’s too short,’ they left their hectic lives in the business world, moved to their little cottage, and Vaughn finally returned to writing. Now he spends his days polishing his epic fantasy trilogy.

Written to Death

photo by Flickr's Michael Taggart
photo by Flickr’s Michael Taggart

Cheerful Morbidity:

“To suspect your own mortality is to know the beginning of terror; To learn irrefutably that you are mortal is to know the end of terror.” ~Frank Herbert

I’m a cheerful man. Honest. Well, generally I am cheerful. I certainly don’t consider myself morbid. I wanted to say these things up front because some of you may not agree when you realize where this essay is going. Death is a part of life, right? And it’s surely been a part of my writing journey. I suspect it plays at least a small role in every artist’s journey as well, so I thought I’d explore a part of writing most of us rarely talk about.

Realization’s Impetus:

“The story of my recent life.’ I like that phrase. It makes more sense than ‘the story of my life’, because we get so many lives between birth and death. A life to be a child. A life to come of age. A life to wander, to settle, to fall in love, to parent, to test our promise, to realize our mortality- and in some lucky cases, to do something after that realization.” ~ Mitch Albom

I came to writing a bit later in life than many of you. Storytelling is the story of my recent life.  Just as the Albom quote implies, I came to it soon after gaining a more profound realization of my mortality. I always knew I would write, but through my twenties and thirties the concept was an abstract prospective, as in: Someday I’ll have the opportunity to write. As if the drive and ability would be magically bestowed upon me in some distant halcyon future.

Then death visited. How it came and the losses suffered are not of consequence here. At various points in our lives, we all face death—that of those we love, and eventually we face our own. Suffice to say, after this visitation my mantra became: life’s too short. I suddenly knew that if I was going to write, I had to start. It couldn’t be put off. I could not allow my not writing to become a regret. And so I wrote. And wrote. And I consider myself lucky for it. Looking at what I’ve written has taught me a lot about myself. In hindsight I can see that death’s visit was more than just an impetus to write.

The Comfort of Myth-Making:

 “What does our great historical hunger signify, our clutching about us of countless cultures, our consuming desire for knowledge, if not the loss of myth, of a mythic home, the mythic womb?” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s been said that Tolkien sought to recreate a mythos for England—for the Anglo-Saxons and Britons—that was lost to the Norman conquest. I’m sure, even if there’s an element of truth to it, that it’s much more complicated than that. [Read more…]

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About Vaughn Roycroft

In the sixth grade, Vaughn’s teacher gave him a copy of The Hobbit, sparking a lifelong passion for reading and history. After college, life intervened, and Vaughn spent twenty years building a successful business. During those years, he and his wife built a getaway cottage near their favorite shoreline, in a fashion that would make the elves of Rivendell proud. After many milestone achievements, and with the mantra ‘life’s too short,’ they left their hectic lives in the business world, moved to their little cottage, and Vaughn finally returned to writing. Now he spends his days polishing his epic fantasy trilogy.

The Arts and Crafts of Writing Fiction

Flickr Creative Commons: Kyle Jerichow
Flickr Creative Commons: Kyle Jerichow

It’s A Bungalow? Are you familiar with the Arts and Crafts Movement? For many “Arts and Crafts” refers to a reproduction Morris chair in their den. For others it might evoke Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style or an antique Stickley dining set. Each of these is born of the A&C movement, but none of them alone does much to define it.

I was as unfamiliar as anyone until we bought our first house. We didn’t know anything about the style, but we liked that it was affordable, well-built and cozy. Turns out it was a craftsman bungalow. Being a history buff, I fell in love with the house and the style. I’ve since come to realize that my A&C ardency has affected my entire writing journey. Perhaps you too are an Arts and Crafts writer and didn’t even know it.

The Meaning Behind the Movement: When I first heard the phrase: “Arts & Crafts,” I thought of hand-knit oven-mitts at a yard sale. Then I came to know it as an architectural style. As it turns out, the A&C movement, born in 19th Century England, did not set out to promote a particular style but rather advocated reform and a critique of industrialization.

Early A&C proponents rejected the ornateness of the Victorian era. A&C pioneer John Ruskin (1819-1900) advocated honest and exposed craftsmanship in architecture. Ruskin’s writings influenced designers like William Morris (1834-1896), who strove to unite all the arts within the construction and decoration of the home, emphasizing nature and simplicity to make it a refuge of beauty and enlightenment. Morris’s influence reached America via popular turn of the century periodicals such as House Beautiful and Gustav Stickley’s The Craftsman.

The Artistic Craftsman:

“Art is not a thing; it is a way.” ~Elbert Hubbard

Craft is about function, measuring success by usefulness. Art’s value is measured outside of utility, and encompasses beauty and emotional impact. If a craft, produced for its utility, can be made to be beautiful or to evoke an emotion without harming its usefulness, hasn’t it achieved artistic value? If so, it follows that there is inherent value in combining arts and crafts.

Proponents of the A&C movement espoused beauty in nature and simplicity of form; craftsmanship through skills gained by practice and dedication. As a woodworker, I feel the most beautiful and functional items I’ve produced are the simplest and most natural. Through woodworking I’ve seen that skills are gained though doing the work. There are no shortcuts.

It’s wise to study and to plan your projects, but a craftsman’s skill is gained through practice. And artistic results are produced by skilled craftsmen. (Is this starting to resemble writing yet? Just checking.) [Read more…]

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About Vaughn Roycroft

In the sixth grade, Vaughn’s teacher gave him a copy of The Hobbit, sparking a lifelong passion for reading and history. After college, life intervened, and Vaughn spent twenty years building a successful business. During those years, he and his wife built a getaway cottage near their favorite shoreline, in a fashion that would make the elves of Rivendell proud. After many milestone achievements, and with the mantra ‘life’s too short,’ they left their hectic lives in the business world, moved to their little cottage, and Vaughn finally returned to writing. Now he spends his days polishing his epic fantasy trilogy.