Today we welcome YA Steampunk author Ren Cummins. He’s giving away a copy of “Reaper’s Return” (with a copy of his CD, “Obsidian Bridges”) to one lucky commenter.
Ren Cummins is a musician and author, having penned thus far the first four of the six books in the YA Steampunk Fantasy series “Chronicles of Aesirium.” Living in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, daughter, two dogs and a cat, Ren juggles his time around a full time Crisis Manager at a “leading corporate telecommunications corporation”. Though only published the past two years, he has been reading from the age of three (though, granted, only small words), and telling stories and writing them down soon thereafter. His young aspirations were to grow up to become Spider-man, but when he was at last convinced that this was simply never going to happen, he began to pursue writing – with only a brief deviation in pursuit of life as a rock star.
Somewhere along the line, he also spent approximately five years with a hobby of playing the doumbek (a middle eastern hand drum) for belly dancers. Seriously.
Presently, with his fifth book in his YA Steampunk series in edits, he is already working on book 6, with two additional anthologies in the works and another series (this time a contemporary paranormal series) in development. And, because clearly, he didn’t think he had enough on his plate, he is writing an anthology of children’s stories with his ten year old daughter.
He also regularly blogs at http://anachronologist.blogspot.com
Creating the Perfect Space; aka, Painting Over the Fourth Wall
by Ren Cummins
I was considering writing up something specifically tailored specifically towards Steampunk – clearly, this would have been the logical and appropriate thing to do – but the more I looked around me on Steampunkapalooza, I recognized that many of the things I might have had the notion to mention have already been said by writers far more eloquently than I might have managed. But I am not prancing about the woods with an emptied quiver, surely.
One of the things I hear a lot from new writers – and something I struggled with for a goodly while before finding a good balance – was about creating the right space, setting the mood, and just generally how to sit one’s posterior down and get to the writing.
First of all, let me be clear in that this process is going to be different for all of us – like raising children, we all have our own philosophies on just what is the perfect mix, and I wouldn’t presume to know one particular way that will solve all bouts of writer’s block. But there are several techniques I’ve either heard of, learned of or accidentally ran into which works quite well for me, and I thought this might be a nice time to share some of those.
And these, I break down into five parts, all loosely segmented off based upon the senses.
But before any of these, the key is the brain. There are a lot of things that stop us from writing, even before we get to the first word – doubt, distraction, fear of inadequacy, overconfidence, lack of focus, etc. And there are even more techniques of clearing one’s mind, be it meditation, routine, etc. Some of these should be practiced and employed even before sitting down to write. But I like to think of the writing process as really being one which takes up your entire life. Every moment, sleeping or waking, I believe, should be trained to the assimilation and sampling of words.
Many years ago, I went on a sort of vision quest into Zion’s National Park in southern Utah. On my last day there, I was sitting by the roadside, sketching and jotting down words, when a crow landed a few feet from me. He looked into my eyes and seemed to be waiting for my attention, and, once granted, began a process of picking up random things from the ground, tasting them and then either spitting them back out or swallowing them. After the area surrounding him was cleared, he’d hop over to a new area and repeat the process, each time looking back to me as if to say “You with me so far, dude?”
Suddenly, it occurred to me that there was a sort of wisdom in his actions. Sample everything, spit out the useless, take in the useful. I smiled at the crow and thanked him. He looked back at me, squawked, and flew off. Call it what you will, I call it a profound moment of realization. And that philosophy of “sample everything, and only take in the useful” has been my motto of life ever since. Live life, experience it all as best you can, and treat every moment like it has something to teach you.
That’s where stories come from, after all.
But once you have those thoughts all bunched up, the struggle is in putting them somewhere. I’ve got pads of paper all over my house, and in any bag I happen to carry with me, including one that is always beside my bed. Any ideas – no matter how random – get jotted down. I’ve sent myself emails or text messages (I used to leave myself voicemails, back when I wrote music), and I’ve got plenty of word documents all over my computer with assorted randomness. I don’t fuss about those things being coalesced into stories at first – – they all kind of sit around like spices in the cupboard, ready to be used at a moment’s notice. Regularly go about and keep this organized, review what you’ve jotted down, keep it fresh, and know where it all is. The last thing you want to do is lose a good idea. Trust me on that. I’ve lost plenty, and miss every single one of them.
And then we get to the actual work of it. The heavy lifting. Center stage.
Create a solid environment for your writing. I only half-jokingly think to the sensory deprivation chamber that Daredevil used in the movie a few years back. Just block out everything, and sigh contentedly. Except, well, that makes it so hard to write, also.
My advice? If you don’t have a desk, get one. Get a nice chair – not too comfortable, but comfy enough that your hindquarters will still be talking to you hours later. Set this table and chair up somewhere that is designated as a “Writing Space.” Let everyone else around you know that this is for writing, and if you’re there, stay away! Surround the writing space with non-distracting visual images – paintings, photo references, but do NOT put the television on. Light a candle or two, maybe some incense – – set the mood as you prefer. Find a nice comfort drink (I prefer root beer or white chocolate mochas) to sip away on (keep yourself hydrated!) and, lastly – and this is my personal preference – create a music soundtrack.
I use my iPod and create a playlist that I call “Writing”. I put on songs that inspire the mood I’m working on or the book I’m writing, and ONLY LISTEN TO IT WHEN I’M WORKING or am preparing to write. For steampunk stories, there are plenty of good soundtracks out there for various movies or television shows, I personally recommend anything that does NOT have lyrics – – or, if it does, they’re lyrics you can’t understand. The key is to leave your verbal centers of your brain free to express and not keep it busy trying to understand words being sung.
Some of the soundtracks I’m currently listening to on my present steampunk books are the Murray Gold “Doctor Who” soundtracks, the music from “Sherlock Holmes”, “Alice in Wonderland”, assorted albums by anime musicians Joe Hisaishi and Yoko Kanno, and even Daft Punk’s “Tron” score.
Doing these things cover the senses – visual, audio, smell/taste and feel – and allow you to focus on the one trait which in the moment of writing, matters most: expression.
Especially when working in otherwordly genres like Steampunk, you need a space that will allow you to remain inside the world of your story, and give you nothing to draw you back until you’re done with your daily word count.
And, if that doesn’t do cap it all off for you, the best advice I’ve ever heard for writing is:
“WRITE. And when you’ve done that, write some more.”
Do you have a favorite reading or writing space? One lucky commenter will win a copy of “Reaper’s Return” (with a copy of his CD, “Obsidian Bridges”). North American only, please.