Back To Workshop

I’ll be done with my degree in a few months, and that means my workshop classes will be history. This breaks my heart, as I fear without the structure of “deadlines,” I won’t write as much. I have my local writer’s group, and without school’s work load, I will be able to attend far more regularly. Not to mention, I will attend national conferences, and by spring my book will be finished.

Fortunately, also in the spring, our new car will be delivered.

However, I’m still going to miss my professors. This is why, per my last workshop at school, I’m going to use my project to apply for grad-school—An MFA.

Yes, I’m still weighing attending seminary. My stomach turns and flips and twists and yanks itself as I discern the future. Fortunately, the decision does not need to be made today, tomorrow, or even six-months down the line. Pray for me!

Also, Quick Life Update:

I got my new tattoos. Eeek!

My baby girl’s name & D.O.B.
Jerusalem Cross—hand

The hand hurt like…🏒🏒

When Creativity Is Exhausted

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Pexels.com

Most writers will face the existential crises of writer’s block. It is, perhaps, the most painful and draining season in our lives. The words won’t come; the blank page taunts you. Writer’s block is demoralizing, and, if like me, you already battle mental health issues, like depression, O.C.D., and anxiety, the struggle is ten-fold. I know, I know, there are writers out there, very successful ones, who claim writer’s block is a made-up-excuse. For example, Stephen King argues he has never struggled to concoct a sentence. I call bull sh!t!

For me, writer’s block often appears when I am in a season of performance anxiety. I live in the United States, and, here, the culture is toxic for creatives: if you are not producing, you are failing. I think anyone who discounts how hard it can be to write through these struggles are certainly not writers themselves. So, one way, and it may not be for you, I crawl out of writer’s block is to disregard the end goal; I focus on the process and not the ambition. In other words, ignore the noise.

This is a fact: stress kills art. Sure, there are those who are exceptions to this rule, but, again, focus on your process and stop comparing yourself to what others can do. Some writers will write and publish fifty-books, and some, probably me, will only publish five-or-six, but who knows the future? When you stress volume, you are actually inviting that little devil who goes by the name Capitalism to handcuff your creativity. No real artist, regarding any medium, goes in it for material success—yes, even though, it is natural to day dream money and fame. We do what we do, because it is who we are. There is no plan B option for those called to entertain or educate readers.

Truly, I tell you, you can easily spend a whole-life feeling behind everyone else or below their expectations, or you can embrace who you are and accept your whole self and not just what others accept about you.

So, I want to encourage you, dear follower, to remember why you write. Maybe write down a note about why you love writing and stick it to your computer or desk. Remind yourself that, first-and-foremost, the number one goal is to have fun. Leave your bitter haters to themselves, and cut from your life anyone who tries, even those who love you, to get you to compromise who you are. Art demands sacrifices.

You can do this; you can write today. Now, sit down, set a half-hour timer and force something—anything—onto the page. Trust me, if you do life “their” way, you’ll fail to write, and, ultimately, you will fail to live your true self. You are created to do this; your gifts are part of your identity, and don’t put yourself—and your art—second to anything.

I pray all of you, even the non-writers, have the courage to be yourselves. Truly, I tell you, you can easily spend a whole-life feeling behind everyone else or below their expectations, or you can embrace who you are and accept your whole self and not just what others accept about you. Now, write!

God bless,

—W. Alexander

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More from W. Alexander

N.L. Blandford: On Writing

Writing a story, of any length, can be scary. It can be particularly scary when the subject matter may be considered “dark” or “sensitive.” Questions arise: “Will people appreciate what I am trying to say?” and “Will I accurately portray the real world through my fictional characters?” and, of course, the one all authors ask themselves: “Will people like it?”

I had all of these questions, and more running through my mind as I wrote The Perilous Road to Her. The story is set within the world of human trafficking and follows Olivia in her search for her missing sister, as she becomes a victim herself. 

I cannot recall exactly how human trafficking came into play, however, I knew that was the world in which the story would take place. Honestly, I was scared to write it. However, I was passionate about the story and hoped my fictional story would bring awareness to a prevalent issue. Human trafficking doesn’t just occur “somewhere else.” It occurs in all of our backyards, and I hope the more we read and hear about it, the more likely we are to recognize and help prevent it. 

N.L. Blandford‘s debut novel: The Perilous Road To Her

From the outset, I knew that I did not want to glamourize or hide what happens to people—in this case women—who are trafficked. 

Real World Portrayal and Sensitivity

As much as I wanted my fictional account to stay true to the real world of human trafficking, I did stray from how people usually become victims. During my research phase, I learned that the number one human trafficking myth is that people are kidnapped and forced into prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation. I acknowledge that myth in my book, however to keep the story moving at a rapid pace, and to get characters from Point A to Point B, I used that myth as a transportation vehicle. To balance that, I tried hard to give all of the women Olivia meets in Los Angeles a backstory which represents actual victim experiences I had read or heard.  

I also worked hard to make some of the “bad guys” be represented as humans with their own problems. Characters you love to hate and hate to love. I have not met or read the stories of traffickers, thus, these characters are my own creation. However, criminals are humans and I can only imagine what could be going through their heads. 

Setting my story in a devastating world meant that dreadful experiences would occur. I wanted to ensure I was sensitive when I articulated the violence that the characters experienced. For me, removing that aspect of the seedy underbelly of human trafficking would not do the subject matter justice. On the flip side, I also had the question in my mind about how the story would be received by actual victims or those who worked closely with them. A story like this had the potential to be a trigger and affect people’s mental health. As such, I advised readers about the nature of the story in a Letter From The Author at the start of the book. Additionally, I included Human Trafficking Resources at the back to support readers if they found that they wanted to learn more or needed help.

The good news is that I have received amazing feedback on my ability to portray a gruesome world with sensitivity. In particular, someone who works with victims of sexual exploitation said, “I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to read it, as a significant part of my job has been…to develop programs for children who are being sexually exploited. Your book was real for me for sure. It was a great read. I will be recommending it to my colleagues.”

Dark Subject Matter 

Human trafficking is only starting to become a talked about social issue, and, often, when I describe my book, a common reaction has been: “Wow, that’s dark!” It could be considered that; It is not a light-hearted read, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

When I was talking to W. Alexander about guest blogging, I loved that he defined ‘dark’ as ‘truth’. It is very relatable. People can shy away from topics because they are hard, and it can be easier to call them dark, rather than truth, or an aspect thereof. I believe that it is in the dark that we can really start to understand the true nature of our world and its people. 

The story is not for everyone and I respect that. There are books out there that aren’t for me. In the end, I wanted to create a great story that people couldn’t put down, while bringing awareness to a social issue, and maybe giving a voice to those who may not be ready to speak their truth yet. 

Based on the feedback I have received, I believe I have done just that. Which means: bucket list item number one for writing is complete! 

What’s Next for N.L. Blandford?

The Perilous Road To Her was released on May 4, 2021, and with that I am in full swing to get the word out. If you, or anyone you know, is interested in a riveting story that can’t be put down please check it out on Amazon! Part of a book club? Contact me via my website if you are interested in a virtual Q&A, after the group has finished reading the book.

Future writing projects for me will continue to be fictional accounts of real issues. I have many ideas that include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), prejudice/judgement and the equity of persons. 

As I continue to write, whether it be in Olivia’s world or not, I want to create compelling stories that pull readers in. I hope by doing so those same readers, whether they realize it or not, learn about a topic they may not necessarily explore outside a fictional world. 

—N.L. Blandford

If you would like to learn more about me and my writing you can find me at www.nlblandford.com; on Twitter/Instagram @nlblandford; on Facebook at N.L. Blandford and LinkedIn at nlblandford

Bio

N.L. Blandford’s poetry was first published when she was thirteen, and, recently, her drabble titled “Love of a Lifetime” won the Arlene Duane Hemingway Unconditional Love Drabble Challenge. She loves to travel and has enjoyed exploring Canada, however her favourite spot is a tie between Hawaii and Jersey, Channel Islands. N.L. Blandford resides in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where she has built a life of dream exploration with her husband, mild mannered dog, Watson, and stubborn but lovable cat, Sebastian. 

The Power of Clarity

"Words, Words, Words"—Shakespeare. 

I am compelled as a writer to weave words together, and to connect my readers to the beating-pulse and rhythm of language. Like a perfectly executed waltz, the right word executes without missing a step; a reader trusts me to take their hand and lead them; if I write ambiguous, doubt creates a misstep—a break in attention—which the reader, now, out of rhythm, might misunderstand my intention, and our dance with language threatens to end in catastrophe; I never want the reader to think I am going to spin, when I intend to let go. Word choice is vital.

To use clear, engaging language, we writers must know the meaning of each word we choose to communicate with, and the careful writer thinks about each word’s meaning and seeks the best choice. If I want to be a great writer—a dance master of language—I must commit to clarity, and that means no Janus words—words with contradictory meanings. Clarity is the highest of ideals! 

To my readers: I have over the last weeks plunged into another bout of depression. Like anyone who struggles with depression, you know there is no battle I can fight, no war I can win, no place I can hide; I can only wait-it-out and hold on to my blessings. I don’t ask for prayers or good vibes, and I certainly don’t want advice on how to fight my own demons. So, if my content appears light, knowing my plight, you might understand why. I love you all.

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Tension is Everything: An Introduction

Tension is defined as trouble on the page. Tension is conflict, and is a technique writers use to keep readers guessing, forcing them to wait, making them worry, wonder, hope; it keeps the reader off balance. Without tension, a writers cannot hold the reader’s interest.

There is a ton of beautiful writing that fails to keep the reader engaged. Tension allows the writer to ensure their prose has enough pull to keep the reader, well reading.

A tip: Keep every line, sentence, stanza, etcetera in your prose closely focused on what the character wants, and what is keeping them from getting it. Present this desire both externally and internally.

Desire without danger is pathetic at worst, and boring at best. It can be beautiful, but boring writing.

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When the writer combines what the character wants (desire), and the danger or harm that will come to the person if they get it, they automatically create tension. These risk factors need not be battles, high octane action scenes, or murders. Often the subtle, and tiny annoyances create the most tension.

Ways to Decrease and Increase Tension:

Decreases TensionIncreases Tension
AgreementDisagreement
SafetyDanger
Things are okayThings are not okay
GeneralizationSpecific information; intimate details
One thing is going onTwo or three things happening at once
Linear, chronological expositionLeaps
Moving ahead as expectedReversals
Having all needs met, ease, simplicityWanting something badly, needing, yearning
Overcoming obstacles easilyThwarted again and again
Solution = resolutionSolution to problem creates ew problem
Explanation, tellingMystery, withholding
Static character, doing nothingCharacter in action
Character alone with thoughtsCharacter in a triangle with two other characters
Speeches, interior dialoguesCrisp dialogue based on an argument
One technique used at length (all description, all dialogue, all interior thoughts …)Variety of techniques (dialogue first, then description, then interior thoughts, then more dialogue …)
All long or all short sentences or linesShort sentences or lines mixed up with longer ones
Seeing the big picture; long shotsSeeing things from very close up
(Sellers 236)

A common mistake beginning writers make is filling whole pages with direct dialogue. These conversations do not often create images in their reader’s mind; No images, no tension. Examples would be: character’s stating the obvious (in direct dialogues), monologues, long speeches, and anything predictable create weak creative writing.

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”

Mark Twain

There is no reason to use dialogue to capture a happy moment. The skilled writer can, for example, cover a scene in two words, they kissed, and move on to the next moment of tension (Sellers). A good way to sustain tension in dialogue, is to remember that dialogue never happens outside human action.

Tension is a subject worthy of an entire book. I did not even bring up practices of layering with triangles, layering images, and layering dialogue and action. These are all important concepts that will be discussed in later posts.

I want to hear your thoughts. How have you weaved tension? What are some of your favorite tense scenes in anything you have read or watched? Have you found any material out there that improved your writing? Comment at the bottom of the page.

Source: Sellers, Heather. The Practice of Creative Writings, 3rd Edition. Bedford/St. Martin’s Publishing. Boston, MA. 2017.

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Create Captivating Characters

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You are writing your novel, screenplay, short story, etcetera and need good characters. But how do you go about building characters? I will be blunt, there is no definitive answer. Building character is part of the magic in the creative process. But do not fret, there are four essential qualities that go into making great characters. In order to create good characters, you must dig deep. You are going to build the very foundation of their lives.

Here are the four essential qualities that go into making good believable characters:

  1. Your characters have a strong and defined dramatic need.
  2. Your characters have an individual point of view.
  3. They personify an attitude.
  4. Your characters go through a change or transformation.

Write that list down. Put it somewhere easily accessible to reference when needed.

What works for me is writing one-two page biographies. Start from their childhood to when the story begins. You can keep these bio’s as a reference when writing from that character’s point-of-view. Doing this will prevent your characters from doing as they please.

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The Day god Died: Chapters I & II

“…I hated him and his kind. I hated his affluence, his expensive clothes, his chiseled looks, and the arrogance he was born too. But most of all, I hated the power he held over me, his assumption of authority, and the truth of his superiority.”

Some “general” things you will want to write down:

  • Childhood relationship with parents and friends?
  • What was school like? Was he/she bullied, popular, a wall flower, etcetera…
  • What was high school like? College? What did he/she major in? Did his/her parents approve of their major?
  • How was his/her’s romantic life? Does he/she tend to have lots of sex, none, or somewhere in between? Does her parents/friends/society approve or disapprove of his/her love interests?
  • What does he/she like about themself; hate about themself?
  • Politics?
  • Rich or poor?
  • Does he/she like her job? Does her partner approve of his/her work, religion, etcetera…
  • Much, much, much more.

The goal here is to find tension.

Building character is part of the magic in the creative process

W. Alexander

This may sound strange, but the characters you create cannot be you. Sure, by all means insert your unique experiences into your writing, but your characters cannot be you. You are writing from another point of view, in someone else’s shoes. And don’t worry if you want to change things later. This exercise is to help you build deep, relatable, and believable characters. Whatever changes you make, write them down again.

Wherever in your character’s life the story begins, it is important they go through some kind of incident. A change or transformation. Like Harry Potter finding out he’s a wizard or Bilbo finding the ring. I will go deeper into incidents in a later post.

Remember, have fun creating characters. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Happy writing and good luck fellow authors.

I would love to have you follow me and learn more writing tips 😊

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I’m Published in The Closed Eye Open

Hi, friends and readers, subscribers and first-time-site clickers. I have big, beautiful news to share with you. I published in The Closed Eye Open, which is an impressive literary journal boasting beautiful art and great writing. If you’re looking for something new, creatively speaking, to delight and inspire you, I recommend reading The Closed Eye … Continue reading I’m Published in The Closed Eye Open