12 Tips for Depressed Writers

Dear writers who feel depressed,

I know you’re out there. I know because you’re in here, too — in me, sometimes.

Listen, because I have something to say.

Maybe sometimes you don’t feel like a writer. Maybe sometimes you feel like a depressed wannabe-writer who doesn’t-actually-want-to because you feel so down. Maybe you feel depressed that you haven’t finished that first draft, haven’t written in six months (or longer), don’t know how to start, or haven’t perfected your editing skills yet.

Dear writers, I have been there. We have all been depressed writers from time to time. And it’s sad. It should not define us, but sometimes it’s hard to see past it. I understand, but I also believe in hope.

Here are some tips I have for helping you shake off that heavy mantle of depression that’s tripping you up on the road up your mountain of writing.

(pixabay)

I’m hardly ever this serious about things on my blog, but it’s a serious topic and my heart bleeds for each of you who is struggling. Because I’ve felt it. So I decided to put my heart out there and say something, for once. Even if nobody wants my heart, at least I’ve tried to give it, right? πŸ™‚

I’m not saying I have all the answers. I definitely don’t. But if even one of these touches your heart and helps you lift your head and move forward a little stronger, to write and do great things, then I will be so very happy. πŸ™‚ Some may seem very simple and obvious, but maybe give them a try anyway.

These are things I’ve been learning help me to shake off depressed-writer moments, and are largely to remind myself of them. Most of them can apply to life-in-general as well, but I’m applying them to writing today, because I’m a writer. πŸ˜‰

They’ve helped me from time to time. I hope they will help you as well.

(And if you don’t have time to read this whole post, skip to the end and read the ending. :))


Take care of your health.

Yes, this does matter. I say it as one who neglects my own health far too often. Get enough sleep, remember to eat halfway nutritious meals, and be sure to drink enough water. (I could have made this into three separate points, but I’m generalizing and putting these together. Sleep. Food. Water. Most important after air, yes? πŸ˜‰ Sounds simple, I know, but sometimes I at least don’t take them seriously enough!) Living on caffeine and adrenaline can work for short time periods, but if you do it too much you’re going to burn out, get tired, and not feel the motivation to write. I started drinking ten glasses of water every day, and I’ve felt so much better since then (I used to get headaches a lot, and now I have them much less. And I can’t write with a headache. :P). I know it’s easy to neglect one’s health, because I do it ALL. THE. TIME. Do not be me. Let’s all try to do better about it, okay? Because we’re doing this living-on-this-Earth thing and that seems to require taking care of ourselves… much as I’d like to just read or write 24/7. XD


Move around.

Yes, this can definitely include going on inspirational walks. Always, always. So much inspiration out there! But it’s more than that, too. We writers, and anyone whose job is sitting at a computer most of the day, do not move around enough. It’s a proven fact that most people nowadays in this digital age do not move enough out of our repeated, unvaried motions, and it’s taken a toll on our musculoskeletal alignment. (Like that word? :P) Have you noticed that your neck and head lean forward most of the time, even when you’re standing? No wonder we’re depressed writers! We’re constantly in postures of dejected sadness, and that DOES send a message to our body to be sad. Try walking around with your head up for a bit and see what happens. I betcha you’ll feel happier. Until relaxing back into our habitual slump. Because unfortunately we can’t just fix this by trying to have better posture; it has to go deeper than that, which is where moving comes in. I’ve only gotten over this at times by doing enough varied stretches, which I learned about after messing my back up in a major way. I managed to escape the pain and fix my back by doing exercises from this book: Pain Free by Pete Egoscue. (Or this one: Pain Free at Your PC.) I recommend it for anyone who uses computers. πŸ™‚ Or… really anyone. I admit I’m not the best about doing it every day, but it makes me feel great, inspires me to move, and that in turn gets me more writing inspiration.


Let go of the past and your guilt and forgive yourself.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve had long stretches of time where you haven’t written, and you’ve felt guilty about it. Well, the past is the past, our past failures are OVER, and while of course there will be future failures because we’re all human, they don’t have to be the same ones, and they don’t have to be taken for granted and expected and feared. Any time I think “Well, I haven’t succeeded in finishing a novel in so many years that I guess I won’t be able to do so ever again”, I need to stop and say NO. Our past mistakes and failures do not define us, and we have stepped to the present, toward a future where we don’t have to live in our failures. We can try again, and again, and again, as many times as necessary, but we can’t try if we don’t believe there’s even a chance of succeeding; if we let our pasts define us. FORGIVE YOURSELF. Start over. Writing should be a joy; LIVING should be a joy. No matter the hardships, don’t let your mistakes or struggles define you. This is true of many things, not just writing. Let yourself be more than your past failures.


Just start.

Starting is the hardest. I know this, because most of the time that I don’t write, I don’t write because I don’t know how to start. As long as you realize this is one of the hardest things, then you can fight it, and at least TRY. Set a timer or something to trick yourself into starting. Tell yourself it doesn’t have to be perfect (because it doesn’t). Just start.


Keep going and don’t you dare ever ever give up.

Remember I said starting is the hardest? Well, keeping going is possibly in that top spot as well. (Shush, they can share and be twins.) I’m not saying you can’t take breaks (because you definitely should), and I’m definitely not saying that if you don’t write for awhile, you should feel guilty. NOT AT ALL. But don’t give up the dream. Keep showing up to write, even if it’s only once a month, even if you find you can’t write for months together because of college or work or family or that amazing multi-volume series you’re reading. But come back. Don’t give up. Don’t say “I don’t think I’m a writer so I shouldn’t try.” That’s rubbish. It may feel like it sometimes — oh, so many times; I know; I’ve been there — but don’t give in to that. Take a break, or accept that in this season of your life, you can’t write at the moment; but do come back. And just keep writing. After starting, continuing is the next-hardest. But do NOT believe that you are a no-good writer who shouldn’t even try anymore, because that is so far from true, and if even a tiny part of you wants to be a writer, then you ARE one. Don’t give in to the doubts. Don’t give up. Keep showing up to write, even if you can’t do it every day (and let’s face it, not many of us can. But we can keep going all the same).


Don’t be afraid.

Another reason, besides the starting issue, that I don’t write much, is that I’m afraid. Of so many things. That I won’t get it right, that I won’t know how to start, that I’ll mess it up somehow, that I won’t know what to say, that I’m neglecting all the potentiality of the story, that someone will interrupt me, etc. etc. etc. So much fear. So don’t be. What’s the worst that happens? So it’s not as good as it could have been? Then keep trying, and it will get better, with time and patience and practice and courage. We writers can be a courageous bunch if we try, braving tired fingers, late nights, harrowing quests, mind-numbing plot-hole construction, battering against writers’ block, wrangling unruly characters, letting others read our hearts on paper, putting one word after another…

WRITER, YOU ARE BRAVE. I believe this, as I believe few other things. So be brave, and do not fear. The darkness cannot have you, because you are shining a light of story in defiance against it.


Get some sunlight.

This might be controversial but just stick with me briefly. Getting a bit of sunshine and Vitamin D is SO IMPORTANT. People who live in cold, northerly places don’t get enough sun in the winter and can get super depressed, so if you’re a writer who spends a lot of time indoors, you are probably not getting enough sun. (*raises hand* Guilty.) Believe it or not, this insufficiency really affects our emotions and can leave us feeling super depressed, which in turn can affect the rest of our lives, including our writing. The sun does NOT actually kill you, I promise. I don’t go outside enough and I know I get depressed when I haven’t had enough sun, which does not help my writing. -_- We were not built to live in caves with no sun; like plants, we need it, people. I don’t believe in sun lotion etc. because I’m a very natural person and I don’t want all sorts of ingredients on my skin because who knows where they’ve been. But if you’re afraid of sunburns, believe me, so am I; I sunburn REALLY bad, but I use coconut oil on my skin and it burns less, and I also use it afterward if I do happen to get a burn, and it really helps. (Coconut oil is amazing. <3) And I get all that lovely sun, which makes me feel so much better. πŸ™‚ And I’m way less likely to want to write if I’m feeling depressed. πŸ˜› (I know I sound like a health-and-outdoors commercial in some of this post, which is hilarious and/or ironic because usually I don’t take care of myself or leave my little writer lair, but I know that I SHOULD, and when I do, it tends to help. πŸ˜› Remember, this post is to tell me things, too!)


Get some metaphorical sunlight too.

And by metaphorical sunlight, I mean some happiness and joy. I know books thrive on the scary and the darkness and all the problems for the protagonists. I know many readers enjoy dark tales, and many writers delight in penning those darkest nights in their stories. But don’t forget the dawn. Don’t forget about metaphorical light. Don’t forget that sometimes we need happy endings. Happy endings — and, well, happiness in general — have gone out of fashion in the world of late. (Though that’s, perhaps, a topic for another time.) But if we focus always on the bad, the dark, the depressing — no wonder everyone’s depressed! So don’t always think only about the darkness — remember that there is light, too, and joy and love and goodness. Read a lighthearted book, or throw in some jokes or an unexpected happy moment for your protagonist, or just think about good things from time to time. It helps. If all you think about is the fact that you’re a depressed writer, you won’t know how to be anything else. So find that sunlight!

β€œThere goes Mig with her happy endings again,” Chris said. But I don’t care. I like happy endings. And I asked Chris why something should be truer just because it’s unhappy. He couldn’t answer.


Pray.

I’ll briefly touch on this one. For Christian writers, who are depressed about writing etc., try asking God to help you with it. It does make a difference, I promise. πŸ™‚ Pray that you’ll know what to write, that you’ll not feel as down or worried. This is something I neglect often, I’m afraid, but it’s super important. If you’re not the praying type, at least try thinking positively about your writing, okay? It can make a huge difference. πŸ™‚


Take a break.

This may seem counter-intuitive. And sometimes, for me at least, I’m pretty depressed about my writing because I’ve taken too long of an (accidental) break and haven’t written in too long. Writing makes me happy, and I get pretty down if I haven’t in awhile. But sometimes, especially when we’re stuck or not feeling it… take a PURPOSEFUL break. Decide you are not going to write for this week, or this month, or whatever; set that time, and relax and notwrite GUILT-FREE. Just don’t allow yourself to write, and usually (at least for me), we will end up inspired and re-energized and itching to write again once that time is up. Even if it doesn’t happen quite that way, it’s still important to take time where you don’t write and where it’s okay. Recharging is a good thing. So rest sometimes. And don’t worry about it. Come back to writing when you’re done, but do rest.


Know that your story matters.

You matter, and your story matters, and nobody can tell your story like you can. It’s not just your little unimportant scribbling. Subcreating and telling stories and being poets is IMPORTANT. Stories have been around as long as there have been words to tell them with, and something seemingly “frivolous” and “unimportant” as that would. not. be. around. still. if they were not extremely important. I know sometimes our little tales just don’t seem like they matter, but they DO. So do not give in to doubts. Know that writing matters and whether it’s for just yourself, or your family and friends, or the whole world, no matter how big or how small, it’s important, and it’s important to keep telling good stories. I know it’s easy to sink into the trap of thinking that nobody will care, that if we just quietly fade away and don’t write, that it’s okay. But if you have a passion for telling stories, it’s far more important than you believe. So just do your best, and don’t believe in your niggling worries that none of it matters, because it DOES. You are the only you there is out there. Just remember that. πŸ™‚


Don’t try to do it alone.

I forget about this one all too often, but it’s so important. Especially if you’re feeling depressed about your writing (or anything else for that matter), find some good writer friends, or a sister, or somebody, who will be there for you and listen and encourage you. If you don’t think you have anybody, you might be surprised — I know I have. In my darkest, loneliest times as a writer, is when I feel the most alone, but that’s when I discover that I’m not alone after all. When I turn elsewhere for help, that’s when I find it — but you have to look for it — you have to ask. I’m very bad at that, and I’m very much a loner (Tare and I have that in common. *cough*), so if I’m stressed about my writing, I don’t always remember that I have beautiful, kind friends who will listen and encourage me and tell me it’s going to be okay. I don’t usually post about such problems on my blog, but when I have, I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness, love, and support I’ve received from so many of you, and I can’t thank you enough. ❀ Don’t do this writer thing alone — find somebody who will exchange emails with you about your writing, or talk over a coffee about it, or respond to a snippet you’ve written, or just tell you to keep going. Writing can be a solitary business, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one. So don’t try to do it on your own. Find someone, or several someones, who will walk that path with you, and lift you up when you fall. πŸ™‚


Fin

That’s all I have to say today. Thank you so much for reading.

Dear writers who feel depressed:

I love you. Be loved. Know that you are loved.

And write. Tell stories. Live. Be brave.

Look for the light, because it’s out there. πŸ™‚

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My Life’s Tower of Fantasy

Here at the end of all things, Samwise Gamgee the end of the second Silmarillion Awards, wherein we celebrate all things fantasy, Tolkien, and favorite characters, I have a bit to say about these things and their importance to me in my life so far.

So today, the 63rd birthday of The Fellowship of the Ring’s publication, seemed a good time to do so.

*distant cries of “Happy birthday!” and Bilbo saying (un?)complimentary things concerning knowing people half as well as he should like etc.*

*also birthday cake for one and all*

*and 63 still-burning candles to feed to your dragon*

(You’re welcome. I hope he likes wax.)

Warning:

The following is a somewhat lengthy post that is more of an essay than many posts I’ve written (don’t worry, it’s broken into segments with handy headers, so you might survive), and contains such things as Middle-earth, Diana Wynne Jones, Prydain, Stephen Lawhead, epic heroines, tower metaphors, nostalgia of some books/series that have shaped me, and how wonderful and life-changing Fantasy can be.

If this does not sound like your cup of tea, turn around and flee — for here in the realm of Faerie and Fantasy, truths are hidden behind every tree, characters are noble as can be, fancy runs free, and here . . . there be dragons.

On The Silmarillion

This month, using the Silmarillion Awards as a much-needed excuse, as I was re-reading The Silmarillion for the first time in many years, it startled me how much it felt like coming home. I used to read that book (as well as The Lord of the Rings, etc.) a lot when I was younger and just discovering the amazing worlds of Middle-earth. I lived in Middle-earth and The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but I lived in Beleriand in The Silmarillion too, and in a sense that was more “mine” since fewer people were into it than LOTR. The Silmarillion and surrounding mythology was like my special world that I went to live in, learning to write the Tengwar Elvish alphabet in calligraphy, studying maps, creating family trees of all the characters I knew by name…

It’s been a lovely journey, returning there and meeting these long-lost friends in this place I’ve been absent from far too long. I’m also bringing more to it now at a slightly older age, which has been fascinating. I’m aware The Silmarillion might not be for everyone, but it’s extremely special to me. I met it at a younger age and was so immersed in it that I knew all the names so well that returning was like going home and meeting old friends.

On The Tower of Fantasy

I’ve been thinking about the impact Tolkien’s works and other beloved works of fantasy have had on my life. Looking back, I can trace a few books and series that stand out as those important, life-changing, core-of-your-being books that I believe everyone (or all bookworms, at least) have. Those ones that are so much a part of you that, consciously or unconsciously, you are changed by them and they inform much of who you are and what your life is, your tastes in fiction (and in writing, if you’re a writer like me), and form a core part of your heart. They are different through the years, and that’s how I measure parts of my life (about three or four of them so far, I think) — by what was the most ME books I was reading or loving or living at the time.

Imagine your life is a tower that you are slowly building as the years go on. I see those books as the building blocks of the tower of my own life, the stones of my foundations (or at least, for the purposes of this post, the foundation for my love of fantasy in both reading and writing, which is what I’m here to talk about) that come and go in a way as I gain new interests, so that sometimes it feels like betrayal . . . How could you move on? But I can always go back down the winding stairs of the tower and visit them again, and they’ll always be a part of me. They all inform who I am, and what my reading taste is, and how I think, and what I want to be and do, and most especially (for this writer) what I write as well.

I can see blocks of time in this Fantasy Tower of my life.

Level One: Prydain and MacDonald

It started with George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin, and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles. I don’t know which were first, I only know, looking back, that they were very early and, I believe, introduced me to Fantasy. Those are at the base of the tower; they were the first, and I read them and was enchanted. I LIVED in those worlds, and I loved those stories and characters so much. I still do, as with all of these. I’m afraid some of my earliest writings bore an uncanny resemblance to both those works, but we all start somewhere, yes? πŸ˜‰

So, first was my beginning years of loving fantasy, with MacDonald and Prydain. (I believe Narnia came in somewhere around there a little after, and other works of Fantasy, though I don’t know how extreme their influence was.) That’s the first layer of stones at the base of the tower of Fantasy. They’re awhile ago from when I was younger and wasn’t aware of my tower, so it’s a little jumbled and vague, hidden in mists near the ground, and more instinctive than my deeper understanding of the later portions as I grew older, as I look back and remember better.

(Do you know why it’s called “in the mists of time”? Because YOU CAN’T SEE VERY WELL INTO IT. Ahem. Foggy memories… *shakes head*)

Level Two: Tolkien

The next really big thing, which is the largest on the fantasy tower so far, was Tolkien.

I read The Hobbit at one point, and then I later read The Lord of the Rings for the first time when I was ten or so, I believe. Some writers (and readers) come to Tolkien first, as their big fantasy introduction, but for me I already had the groundwork of fantasy laid; Tolkien served to strengthen it and built the next part of the tower, and was a focus of mine for many years, my absolute favorite. As I mentioned, I was enchanted and fell in love with these books, and went on to read The Silmarillion (several times), as well as reading any other works, finished or unfinished, by Tolkien that I could get my hands on. But not only were these stories, this world, these characters and languages, epic and beautiful and beloved and some of my favorites of all time, but the author himself simply seemed . . . right.

Tolkien was a kindred soul, and I know that sounds pompous to say, but when I read his letters and thoughts, I find myself agreeing with him and thinking “Oh! Yes! I’m just like that!” on so many levels. He and I just agree so well and have such similar temperaments. I’m not saying I’m anywhere near his level of talent or genius etc., I’m merely saying that he and I click, in a way that no other author that I can currently think of who I’ve run across does.

Tolkien’s works remain the next solid layer of my Fantasy tower, a very large portion of it, and still inform so much of my life and core personality and interests today.

Level Three: Diana Wynne Jones

(also concerning strawberry icecream)

Then, in 2012, I read Howl’s Moving Castle on a highly-trusted recommendation, and discovered Diana Wynne Jones. This is the third layer of my Fantasy tower. As some who read my blogs might have noticed, I’ve been very big on DWJ for awhile now. XD I’m captivated by and addicted to her books, particularly certain ones which have just stuck with me really well. I love her writing style and the humor she always had in her books, and her quirky but charming and lovable characters, and the absolute originality of her fantasy, mashed together with other genres to make her books unpigeonholeable (not a word, but should be), as well as how I always learn things about life and the world and people when I read her works. I’ve seen a bit of an influence on my writing as well, wanting to write more whimsical and amusing things.

It’s funny: when I decided Howl’s Moving Castle shared my top-favorite spot with The Lord of the Rings, and have been very DWJ focused, I didn’t realize (until recently) this thing about the Tower of Fantasy, how I can have different stages and favorites; and because I had just come from the Tolkien stage, I felt disloyal to Middle-earth, as if loving something else as well meant that I was betraying it by not loving ONLY it.

But I’ve realized that we have different stages in our lives, and that’s okay — it doesn’t make the previous stages any LESS important or less a part of you, you’re just on a different part of your journey so different things are more important right now. It’s not a betrayal. It’s growth and continuing and layers over the core.

I’ve always thought of myself as the girl who loves Middle-earth and the color green and Celtic music and chocolate and writes medieval fantasy. That’s still at my core and I will always be that person. But lately, if I’ve been a DWJ person who loves the color blue and dabbles in Christian rock or pop and loves strawberry ice cream and writes contemporary fantasy . . . that doesn’t mean I’m not STILL that same person as before too.

Because I can love both, I can have different layers of favorites, different layers of interests, and it doesn’t mean that blue or green or chocolate or strawberry are better than each other, or that in trying other kinds of books, music, and genres, that I’m abandoning the ones I used to have. I can do all of it, and it can all be me.

This is a slight tangent, but I feel like I need to address it while on the subject of moving through different books that are your favorites at the time. It’s okay to have different favorites at different times in your life, and it’s not being disloyal. I’m saying this partly to remind myself (especially when I feel bad about not having re-read some of these favorites in several years; I still plan to sometime), and partly in case anyone is having problems with it like I have. XD

I still interchange LOTR and Howl’s Moving Castle as my “favorite” books (and let’s be honest, sometimes I put Paper Crowns by Mirriam Neal up there because I love it and it’s amazing) but hey, I can have more than one top-favorite, right? πŸ˜‰

Level Four? (Bright Empires)

It’s always hard to know, while you’re currently on a part of the tower, if something you’re reading is going to be the next part or if it’s just another great fantasy work but not quite a core one. But I think and suspect that, perhaps (time will tell), my latest addition to the Fantasy Tower of my life are Stephen R. Lawhead’s works. I just read his Bright Empires series, and while (like I said) I can’t be sure whether or not they’re the next ring of building blocks for my tower, at the very least, it’s the best series I’ve read in a long time.

Definitely favorites, the Bright Empires books have expanded my mind so much, broadened my horizons, were thoroughly epic, mind-boggling, and fun, with beloved characters, and introduced me to the first heroine in a very long time who I want so hard to be, namely Mina. She inspires me so much. Plus, the books are simply masterpieces. I think very differently after reading these books, I clicked so well with them, and they were absolutely amazing.

Speaking of Mina, let’s talk about heroines for a minute, since the award I hosted was Most Epic Heroine.

Of Heroines

Heroines are hard to write, my friends. One strange thing about my personality is that I rarely come across a favorite female character. I think it’s because I’m a girl and I find that it’s harder for an author to write a girl character that I actually like, because I am one and we’re complicated, and the fictional girls often end up either too tough or too wimpy, neither of which I like. I more often am interested in the male characters, who are generally cooler and doing more interesting things. I do run up against female characters that I like sometimes, and that’s often a sign that the author is a good one.

But there have only been a handful that have stood out as my favorites, the ones who at some level I feel like are ME, and at another level I feel like are what I want to be, what I want to become, what I want to take and emulate because they are noble and good and show some part of humanity that I want to BE. They make me want to be a better person, while I also feel like I am them.

And those are basically:

  • Princess Irene from The Princess and the Goblin
  • Princess Eilonwy from the Chronicles of Prydain
  • Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings
  • Luthien Tinuviel from The Silmarillion
  • Wilhelmina “Mina” Klug from the Bright Empires series.

(I think on some level, I was Lucy from Narnia when I was younger, and many of Diana Wynne Jones’ characters have been instant connections for me, like Sophie and others, as well, though I haven’t thought as much about those for this post; likely because they’re more recent for me but not as mind-blowing as Mina was — who was the character that got me started thinking about all of this — so I haven’t thought them out as much.)

(Also, I find this a good time to mention the dedication in The High King by Lloyd Alexander, which I never understood until now: “For the boys who might have been Taran and the girls who will always be Eilonwy.“)

Of Heroism/Nobility versus Mediocrity/”Realism”

And I think it’s important to have favorite characters one can look up to, have as role models, but still feel you are like them. There’s a sort of connection there that is marvelous. Heroes tend to be more favorites of mine than heroines, and I can learn things from them as well, of course, and they’re simply awesome sometimes, so there’s that; but I can’t exactly BE them, quite the way I can be a heroine like Eilonwy or Mina.

I think these heroines stand out to me partly because it is so rare for me to find a timeless one like that. There are many other noble and wonderful heroines I’ve liked over time, don’t get me wrong! Some even other favorites. But these are my FAVORITE favorites, the ones I want to be like. πŸ™‚

And that’s part of why I’m tired of this “make them relatable and ‘realistic’ by giving them flaws and making them fallen and ordinary” trend in modern writing.

No.

I don’t want mediocre Main Characters. I want Epic Heroines.

If your favorite characters are mediocre, you’ll only want to be mediocre, you’ll only believe that’s how far you can go.

If, on the other hand, your favorite characters are noble and epic and extraordinary, then you’ll want to rise above your ordinary and mediocre, fallen and flawed life, and try to emulate them, to BE them; and these fictional characters who aren’t “real” can change your life and make you a better person. All by being fantastic characters. What’s not to love?

Things These Core Books Have In Common

What do all these books and series have in common? They are Fantasy, yes. But they each hold things that truly resonated with me — not just one thing but all the elements and the whole.

I love the stories. I love the worlds. I love the characters — not only the heroes, not only the heroines, but both, as well as the entire cast of characters, really. They have favorite heroes. I want to be the heroines. I want to live in the books.

“The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.'”

(from The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis)

I also “click” with the authors — when I read things that these authors like Alexander, Tolkien, Jones, and Lawhead say (in fiction and nonfiction) I’ve had these wonderful “me too!” moments, those times when, like in the C.S. Lewis quote above, you form a friendship from a shared thought or feeling. We share the same truth. I feel like they’re kindred souls, and suspect that’s one of the reasons I love their fiction so much. (It’s interesting: when I love an author’s fiction work enough to try out their nonfiction, that’s when I discover my favorite works of nonfiction, essays, etc. It’s happened so many times with these and a couple other authors.)

And I learned things from these favorite, core books. Yes, shocking as it may sound to some, these fiction books, these works of *gasp* fantasy, have taught me so many things that, as I think about it, my mind boggles and I can’t even begin to explain all the things I’ve learned from these wonderful works of literature and art. (I did do a post about a few of those things, awhile back, but that was only scratching the surface.)

Because fantasy is true. These things may not have happened in our world, but they have Truth, and I learn things far better when they’re woven into a tale (a parable, perhaps?) than I can reading some boring textbook.Β I can see the things unfolding and understand things about the characters and wonder about things and want to learn about them. Fantasy may not always teach “facts” like how big the sun is or how many threes make a dozen (though they might teach that too), but they teach me real things about life and about love and about how people work and how to surmount obstacles and to try to be a better person like my heroes (and heroines).

I don’t know if these fantasy authors try to put these things in their works (I know I certainly don’t, but sometimes things creep in somehow), or if they simply are trying to tell a good story and their worldviews are shining through the particular leaf of the Tree of Tales that they are telling and coming out as good wholesome lessons from the Writer of all Lives, but regardless, I’ve found so much Truth in these and other works of fantasy.

And all of that as a bonus to reading simply amazing fantastical stories about fabulous characters in imaginative worlds. What is not to love? Who would have thought it, but Fantasy is fantastic in all meanings of that word, and that is why I love it as I do.

Plus, I mean, Fantasy has dragons. And there’s the icing on the cake.

*passes around the last of the LOTR birthday celebration cake and breaks out Gandalf’s fireworks to celebrate Middle-earth and Fantasy with a literal bang*

(P.S.: If you have a Fantasy/LOTR themed post this week, feel free to share the link in the linky over on Jenelle’s post!)

The Diana Wynne Jones Experience

Last week I posted the first in this two-post series on How to Read a Diana Wynne Jones Book and What Your Fantastic Journey Along the Way May Look Like, in honor of March Magics (celebrating Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett).

Last week’s was the how, and I now invite you to examine the what.

Part the Second:

What Your Fantastic Journey Along the Way May Look Like

Please note that word: “may.”

May is a word which can mean either (a) one of the 12 months of the year, i.e. as it appears in “May Day” which is May 1st and happens to be the birthday of Michael Fisher from Howl’s Moving Castle, for instance, or (b) “might possibly, perhaps, at certain times or for certain people, or, you know, just generally maybe; so don’t quote me on this because it might be different, dontcha know”. I’m referring, in case there was any doubt, to the latter.

In other words, everyone’s Diana Wynne Jones Experience will vary, naturally, as will the individual journeys of each reader consuming each of her books, which is how it should be.

That being said, here are some basic guidelines of some things you may (there’s that word again…) be likely to find or feel in the course of reading a DWJ book.

a map of Fantasyland from DWJ’s “Tough Guide to Fantasyland” seemed appropriate to put here

A book like you’ve never read before

No matter what you think of the story, or which one it is that you read (despite them all being different than each other) this one’s pretty much a guarantee.

All the humor

These books are funny, I tell you. DWJ has a unique brand of humor in her books which I’m unable to describe, but I absolutely love it, whatever it is.

Mind-bending plot twists

Plot twists, surprises, and reveals, that are entirely mind-boggling and CHANGE EVERYTHING. This often results in the need to immediately re-read the book when you finish. (This isΒ  good sign. It means you’re reading it right.)

Things/animals/items which are not what they seem (and might even be people)

This is a big one. Almost nothing in these books are what they appear to be. Cats and dogs? Eh, they might not be what they seem… A piece of furniture? It could be something else. A character you just met? They could turn out to be totally the opposite of what you thought they were. And that’s one of the most fun things about these books! Possibilities are absolutely endless and keep you on your toes.

Genre? What genre?

Most of these books are hard to pinpoint exactly where they fall in the genre pigeonholes. “Fantasy” is generally the broadest one they fit, but after that… well, you’re on your own. There will be dashes of sci-fi, contemporary, historical/time-travel… and they’re all done in a new way and defy categorization. She has, in effect, created her own genre, which is “Diana Wynne Jones”. (I think we writers could learn from this.)

Multi-worlds, magic, and fantasy like no other

These are self-explanatory. The multi-worlds aren’t always present, but multiple words do feature in more than a few of the books, and are always fascinating. Magic and various fantasy elements usually play key roles in the story and are very original and SO interesting.

Chaos

Nobody does chaos quite like Diana Wynne Jones. She’s excellent at it. Magical chaos, family chaos, just general chaotic explosions of THINGS happening all at once and confusingly and hilariously.

Fascinating character-growth and insight into human nature

Often, these books will feature a young hero or heroine who is being used by some unpleasant acquaintance or relative, for some purpose they don’t understand, and they don’t realize because they’re used to it; they find it out in the course of the story and become their own person, and end up doing the right thing in the end. But the way all of these characters are . . . these books SHOW me things about people, and it’s fascinating and so informative.

The best way to learn things about this confusing thing we call life, is accidentally through awesome fiction. ❀

Families (see Chaos)

You don’t see entire families of characters involved in books much these days, which is a shame. DWJ books often involve not only a hero or heroine but often their entire family… and sometime extended family too. This is not only fun but can be amusing as well, and the dynamics are fabulous.

It may make you want to eat sandwiches

I’ve no idea why, but when the characters eat sandwiches or crumpets or something, it makes me WANT TO EAT SOMETHING LIKE THAT RIGHT AWAY. I have been known to spontaneously make cucumber sandwiches or stop reading just to bake shortbread cookies in the middle of the book. (Note: I don’t cook. Ever. [Well. Hardly ever.] So this is extreme.)

How you feel…

At the beginning:

Well. What a fascinating/unique opening. WHAT am I reading?

In the first third or so:

This book is so… strange… and seemingly random… But I’m hooked anyway! So much strange… This is funny. πŸ˜€ What is going on? I’ve never read a book like this; my brain cannot compute, but I’m too busy laughing or wondering where this is headed to notice.

Halfway through:

You may realize at this point that as strange as the beginning started out, you suddenly realize you’re UTTERLY CAPTURED by this book and that everything feels perfectly normal to you and makes perfect sense. And also that you’re entirely attached to the characters and story and don’t want it to end.

During the climactic ending parts:

  • EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING. WHAT.
  • HOW ON EARTH (OR QUITE LIKELY OFF OF IT) IS DIANA WYNNE JONES GOING TO WRAP ALL THESE MESSES UP IN THE LAST TINY FEW PAGES??
  • DON’T END, BOOK, I WANT TO READ YOU FOREVER.
  • PLEASE END BECAUSE I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENNNNS!
  • WUT. PLOT TWIST. O_O

How you feel when it’s over:

  • ALSKJDFLKDJ!!! ❀ Wait… what about…?? WHAT HAPPENED THERE? *mind readjusts* *works out twists* Oh. O_O EEE!! ^_^ But wait… Let me go back…
  • A feeling of joy or elation and a general feeling of extreme well-being toward the book, mixed possibly with confusion on some little point or a feeling that it ended a little two quickly, which instead of causing outright discontent, has a tendency to make you think about the book for hours (and sometimes days) after finishing.
  • I LOVED IT. I need to read it again. NOW. THIS INSTANT.

On that note…

Regarding Re-Reading

Please note that DWJ books are always even better on the second round. You will never catch everything the first time because there are so many layers and twists. The second time will be even richer, since now you know all the plot twists and what everything actually MEANS. It will, of course, lack the wonder of first-time-discovery* but will be full of delightful details and a better understanding/appreciation of it.

*Not always; I’ve sometimes re-read only to discover that I forgot almost entirely about some aspect, and got to re-experience it a second time almost like the first!

So what are you waiting for?

If you’ve never read a book by Diana Wynne Jones, you’d best get started at once so that you can get to that re-reading… (Since one can presumably only re-read a book after one has read it the first time… unless there’s time travel or some sort of magical confusion involved, of course. With DWJ, either option is quite likely.)

With this handy guide to How to Read a Diana Wynne Jones Book at hand, I wish you joy in discovering or re-discovering her works.

(If you need some ideas of where to start, I suggest Howl’s Moving Castle, or glancing at this list of many DWJ books that I’ve read, with some thoughts on each. I’ve also started a DWJ Project page on my book blog which I plan to add to at some point.)

You know what I think we should do now?

I know exactly what we should do.

In the words of a certain charming wizard (in more ways than one) from Howl’s Moving Castle:

“I think we ought to live happily ever after”

So let’s do that, you and I, with our Diana Wynne Jones books. πŸ™‚

As said wizard added, “It should be hair-raising.”

Won’t it just.

I can’t wait. ^_^ I hope you can’t either.

(Thank you for reading. <3)

How to Read a Diana Wynne Jones Book

In honor of March Magics*, I present you with the first in a set of two posts on The Diana Wynne Jones Experience, otherwise entitled: How to Read a Diana Wynne Jones Book and What Your Fantastic Journey Along the Way May Look Like.

*Previously known as Diana Wynne Jones March, March Magics is held each… March (who knew?) by Kristen @ We Be Reading, celebrating the works of Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett.


Part The First:

How To Read a Diana Wynne Jones Book


Step 1:

Find a book by Diana Wynne Jones.

This is, naturally, the only required step. And if you haven’t, you should do so at once.

Options include: finding it

  • at a library
  • at a bookshop
  • at a library sale
  • online
  • borrowing one from a friend

You should exercise discernment if you do the last one, for, depending on the friend, they may (a) be thrilled to lend you the book, since “EVERYONE IN THE WORLD MUST READ THIS BOOK OH MY WORD READ IIIIT!” or (b) it may be their Precious, a hard-won copy wrested from a dragon’s lair, and “NO ONE CAN TOUCH THIS BOOK IT IS THE PRECIOUS DON’T YOU DARE” or (c) a mix of both (which is obviously the most dangerous of all).

In the case of b or c, if you do manage to borrow it, you should be extremely grateful** cautious and return it to them promptly upon reading it, utterly undamaged, or your welfare may be threatened. Dragons hath no fury like a bookworm with damaged lent book that they value above all else, especially by this particular author…

Please also note that most fans of this author are FIERCELY LOYAL. I’ll just… you know… leave that note there in case you don’t “get” the books, to suggest caution in your dealings with said fans, especially if they lent you it. It’s basically the equivalent of lending someone your heart, so do be considerate.

If at this point I have left you with a vague and uneasy impression that DWJ fans are like rather cantankerous dragons who might spout fire at you if you look at them (or their books) the wrong way, then let me direct you toward the book “Dark Lord of Derkholm” which contains a strong-willed and rather grouchy but firm dragon known as Scales, and you will see that we have nothing on him, and therefore you are clearly quite safe.

**I won’t force the “grateful” on you, since I’ve read DWJ’s Eight Days of Luke and therefore know better. (The hero of that book was constantly being told by his nasty relatives that he should be grateful for them “looking after” him. Um… yeah, no.)

Step 2: (optional)

Look at the cover.

At this point, you will probably go: “Erm… that’s an… odd… cover… >.>” and be highly tempted to return the book and/or not get it and/or hide it among your stacks of books so no one can see that you have such a dubious-looking book.

Above all else, DO NOT YIELD TO THIS TEMPTATION.

I REPEAT: DO. NOT.

Do not be fooled. Cover artists notoriously have no clue how to illustrate real works of Fantasy Genius, especially when said books are by Diana Wynne Jones.

Press bravely on to what lies between the pages and your fortitude will be rewarded.

Note: This step is not always there. That is, you may look at the cover and be surprised to find it is an okay and/or beautiful one. This, however, is not as common as I would like, and you must count yourself a fortunate soul if it is the case for you.

DWJ tower

Step 3:

Read the book!***

Preferably in a single day.

(You complete this step, naturally, by opening to page one and reading the first sentence, followed by the next, etc., etc.)

Be warned, reader traveler! Once you embark upon this journey, you may not emerge until the final page falls . . . so see to it that you absolutely do NOT start reading it late/after dinner, especially if it’s one of the lengthier specimens, or you may be liable to be up in the wee hours of the night, not caring a smidgen if you have to get up in a few hours, because you simply must finish, at once!

Also, DO NOT STOP READING IN THE MIDDLE IF IT DOESN’T CATCH YOU RIGHT AWAY. These books can at times be a slow-burn type of adventure, which gets going a little slowly through the middle, and you think a lot of it isn’t related, until suddenly in the last third or so, everything starts coming together at once and HAPPENING. So. Press on! Give it a chance even if you feel like it’s not your thing. By the end, it will likely capture you.

***So, I lied; this is the other required step after Step 1.

This third step, the reading, is the most important, and consequently will be the longest step on this journey.

Which brings us to the second part of this two-post series, namely Part the Second: What Your Fantastic Journey Along the Way May Look Like. (Or, as I’m going to call it, The Diana Wynne Jones Experience, because title length, you know. *nods*)

I’ll be posting that next Monday, so stay tuned!

Feel free to wait on the edge of your seat if you like.

I was going to have it all one post, but I couldn’t help myself running away with this delightfully fun topic — surprise! — so I chopped it in half to spare you readers. πŸ˜‰

(It’s going to be great fun, believe me. >:D)

Part 2: The Diana Wynne Jones Experience

Life Lessons Learned From Fantasy Tag

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Tag time! And Fantasy time! At the same time — which makes it doubly exciting!

February is Fantasy Month (hosted by Jenelle Schmidt — go check out the linkup and short story challenge for more fantasy fun) and since Jenelle tagged me for this neat Fantasy tag, I thought I’d jump in and do it! πŸ™‚ Thanks, Jenelle!

Rules

1. Link back to Jenelle’s blog
2. Use the image above
3. Tell us 5-10 lessons you’ve learned from reading a fantasy book (or watching a fantasy movie) – lessons can come from multiple sources, as well, of course
4. Tag 2-4 other bloggers to keep the game going

Lessons I’ve learned from reading fantasy? It might be easier to ask what lessons I’ve NOT learned from fantasy… which may be why at first I was having a difficult time with this! (Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. But still.)

Here are just a few of the books and series that have helped show or further illustrate important things for me and are helping to shape me into a hopefully better person.

List (Because Lists)

1. Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, and George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin, started it all and introduced me to the wonderful world of Fantasy — at least some of my earlier memories of it — thereby widening my horizons and showing me heroism first off.

2. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit taught me (and continues to teach me) that it’s okay to be both adventurous and a homebody, introverted and extroverted, bookish and active, Tookish and Baggins-ish — there’s a place for each of these things, I don’t have to be just one or the other; that if I switch back and forth between them, that’s all right; and the place to be is probably somewhere in the middle… which I can therefore strive toward.

3. The Lord of the Rings taught me so many things that I don’t even know where to start–including nobility, selflessness, and pressing on when things seem darkest. Such a rich well from which so many things can be drawn out.

4. C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia books showed me so much through Aslan, and continues to do so.

5. Patrick Carman’s Land of Elyon series (affectionately called “The Alexa Books”) helped show some things through allegory like about the Creator/heaven/happy endings and so on (also due to Narnia as well).

6. The Bright Empires series by Stephen R. Lawhead is teaching me a lot about life at the moment, particularly Wilhelmina Klug, “Mina”, showing me the kind of woman I would like to be (role-models exist in fiction for a reason, people). Also that nothing is a coincidence. About friendship, love, and loyalty, hospitality and kindness, and loving our enemies. The difference one person can make. That there is a bigger Plan in the universe which can make one feel so much less small and alone. And so many other things.

7. Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series illustrates so well things about people and the choices we make, shying from wrong and choosing the right one — I’ve just been noticing the things in this series on my second read and it’s amazing.

8. Speaking of Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle showed me a way to deal with things when I’m a coward about something (i.e. procrastinating) — that I can “Howl myself into it” as I call it… trick myself into doing things I need to that daunt me. In Howl’s words: “Not likely! I’m a coward. Only way I can do something this frightening is to tell myself I’m not doing it!”

Something as seemingly small as that can change a person for the better, and there are a million little things one can, and does, and will continue to, learn from Fantasy.

LloydQuote4

When life seems insurmountable, it’s only natural to compare it to the problems faced in beloved tales of Fantasy — if I’m daunted by an event, I say I’m feeling Baggins-ish and want to stay home, and only need to try to be more Tookish to survive. If something sounds impossible, I can’t even count the times I’ve said, “Well, if Frodo can get the Ring to Mount Doom, I can do this…”

Fantasy in general shows me life in a new light, a new angle, so that it’s fresh and can be seen clearer than through the usual dusty glass of normalcy.

Fantasy taught me that happy endings are possible, that light is stronger than darkness, that love is the greatest thing we can give. It teaches me all the time through truths which are easier to see in other worlds than in our own, and through characters who face it all and yet still stand noble and true. It’s something to look at and think, “I want to be that way.”

Fantasy is such an entwined part of my life that I don’t always think of it as such — it’s as natural as breathing and makes just as much sense. It’s a part of me and I know I would not be who I am today without it.

I Tag…

Christine @ Musings of an Elf | Sarah @ Dreams and Dragons | Claire @ The Overactive Imagination | Tracey @ Adventure Awaits | You, fellow lover of Fantasy who is reading this, if you want to!

(Obviously no pressure to do it; just if you want! ^_^)

What about you, Roadlings mine? Do you love Fantasy (please say yes)? Has it shown you things? And are you going to pop over to Jenelle’s post with a linky and join the Fantasy fun this month? Tell me all in the comments! Thanks for reading, and remember that . . .

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