One Scene After Another

Recently, I was reflecting on how I got better at drawing. Not ‘good,’ not in the context of all the truly good artists out there. But good enough to make me (and even a few other people) happy. Good enough to make fan art of the stories no one else is making fan art for—mostly, the stories in my own head, or in the heads of my friends.

I realized that I’d been trying to get good at drawing the same way I’d gotten good at writing—on one project. For years, I wrote and revised and re-wrote and re-revised one book until I was a good writer. That was how I learned, and it worked for me. But every time I sat down to draw, I would slave painstakingly for hours, trying to erase and redo bad lines while leaving the good lines intact—just like I’d done with writing. I wanted to be able to tweak this one picture until it was good enough, but I’d have to give up in frustration and settle for what I got, because drawing doesn’t work like that.

The thing about a novel—one scene can take a dozen hours, and one novel can take scores of scenes. If you write a novel that’s not quite right, that might be a few hundred hours that you poured into this Not Quite Right Manuscript. It makes perfect sense to spend another twenty or fifty hours making it Quite Right. But here’s where I fell down. A drawing isn’t a novel. It’s more like a single scene. You can fiddle and tweak, but after a bit, even if it’s not perfect yet, you’ve got to leave it alone and move on to the next one or you’ll never get anywhere.

Then I decided to try gel-ink drawing. I had a new sketchbook, and I determined that I was going to draw at least one face or figure sketch every day. And man, a gel-ink pen is unforgiving. It was so much bolder than I was, and mistakes had to be integrated or ignored—they couldn’t be erased. And that forced me to work faster. I couldn’t perfect them if I couldn’t employ erasure–or even much in the way of subtlety. So I turned a new page and drew, every day, for a couple of months.

And what I had at the end of that time? It wasn’t even the improved skill level that mattered so much, though that was nice. It was the difference in the way I sat down to draw. The mindset that if this one wasn’t good enough, instead of editing it until it was, (an improbability, since at a low skill level I might not even really know what was wrong,) I should do it faster, let it go, and save the time and energy for trying it again tomorrow. Which led to my drawing a lot more figures and faces, because with the freedom to leave them mistake-riddled, even bad, I was drawing a lot faster and more easily. Not looking behind me, not “line editing,” just looking ahead to the next, better thing. Just putting one scene after another.

Maybe there’s something in that for writing, too.


Save a Word: Crystograph

Welcome to  Save-a-Word Saturday!

For those unfamiliar, the fantastic meme runs thus: they put out a theme, you pick a word you want to save from extinction,  and feature your word in a vignette that fits their theme.  And, you know, link back to them, while they link out to the blogs that join them. It’s a jolly time.

This week, I follow Syawn, one the the main characters in Ever the Actor, many years before the first chapter opens.

This week’s theme is: Travel
My word is: crystograph
n. – painting or writing on glass

The air stood stagnant, leaving the wide lake below a perfect pane of glass, fitted into the lower valley. Dark conifers stood proudly against blue above and blue below. The smooth water held the breathless reflection; spiked green runes on spreading sapphire, sharper than a keen crystograph.

The nearest thing to a summer breeze was a boy’s soft sigh. It was a lovely view, but one could only stare for so many hours at the same scene and still enjoy it. Syawn wished that he would either be relieved of his watch, or that he could spot some danger and be relieved of his boredom. If nothing else, could not some small zephyr ruffle lake and leaf and relieve some measure of the heat?

What he’d really like, he realized as he scanned the un-moving foliage on the far ridge, was for his uncle to decide they’d spent seasons enough with this band of bandits, never moving further than just far enough to avoid detection. When were they going to travel again?

They’d been all along the Great Graves mountains, up the southern face of the Stone Teeth, and now Sy wanted to see the great Bay of Commerce, the tall and busy cities that lined it, the ships flying across the waters like proud birds–but no; for a full year now, they had camped in the same stretch of northwestern forest, raiding the same tired towns and farms.

The nearest thing to a summer breeze was a boy’s soft sigh.

Save-a-Word: Furor Loquendi

Welcome to  Save-a-Word Saturday!

For those unfamiliar, the fantastic meme runs thus: they put out a theme, you pick a word you want to save from extinction,  and feature your word in a vignette that fits their theme.  And, you know, link back to them, while they link out to the blogs that join them. It’s a jolly time.

This week, I follow Rowtan, one of my characters from Ever the Actor, as he rises along his career path a few years prior to the opening of the novel.

This week’s theme is: Scorpion
My word is: furor loquendi
phr. – a passion to speak

Rowtan stood, nodding graciously at the applause, trying not to look as though it made him a little ill. Just get through the introduction, he told himself. Once you get into the subject, the furor loquendi will set in, and you’ll forget that there’s anyone to worry about.

He smiled over the heads of the assembled students, tried not to hear the professor’s words about him, shook hands with the man, then finally, he stood before the table with his object lessons. He cast one last glance out at his crowd, then looked down to deal with less fearful creatures.

He pulled the covering cloth off two of the cages. He could feel the shifting in the room as all leaned forward, getting a better look at the armored black creatures in each. He placed one hand atop each enclosure. Speak. Forget you have a crowd, and speak as though there is but one young mage child standing before you, sharing your passion.

“Two Karteeten scorpions. Both five inches long. Both male. Both just over one year old, both have had a similar diet. And yet will each react differently to magical influence. Why should be obvious, considering the title of this talk. How it will act differently is altogether another, subtler story.”

(So can anyone guess, by the way, what the obvious why was?)

Save a Word: Manipulandum

Welcome to  Save-a-Word Saturday!

For those unfamiliar, the fantastic meme runs thus: they put out a theme, you pick a word you want to save from extinction,  and feature your word in a vignette that fits their theme.  And, you know, link back to them, while they link out to the blogs that join them. It’s a jolly time.

This week, I follow Sy, the main character of Ever the Actor, in one of the many dastardly exploits he got up to between his prologue and the opening chapter of his novel.

This week’s theme is: Lace Socks
My word is: manipulandum
n. – something that is to be manipulated

Syawn disentangled himself with care and slipped quietly from the bed of the Duke’s daughter. Moving with all the caution of a thief in the night–for such caution was paramount when one indeed was–he inventoried her belongings as swiftly as possible, examining and restoring them as though they’d never been disturbed.

Whenever there was a pause in her soft and wheezing snores, he held his breath and watched her curvaceous form for signs of waking, ever ready to dart towards the privy to act an alibi. She slept on soundly. As Sy’s hands, large but deft, glided over perfumes and seals, jeweled pins and jumbled parchment and lace socks, he drew up an chart in his head: valuables, lesser valuables, items quickly missed, items unlikely to be missed soon, and potentially sensitive information.

His scouting ended, he climbed back under the covers and slid back against his young manipulandum. There was much to be gained from bedding a noblewoman, and like any experienced player of court games, Sy knew that the pocketing of immediate physical wealth was low on the list and last on the agenda.


Just got an article published at Life Learning Magazine today! If you have or get a subscription, my piece is titled “Secondary – School’s damaging priority paradigm.” It’s about how school, especially high school, appears to leave kids with too little time to follow their passions—and how society thinks this is okay.

I suppose I ought to mention that I was unschooled. Have I mentioned that? Hold on while I search my archives… Nope, not once.

In case you don’t know what unschooling is, it’s life learning. But that doesn’t tell you much either, does it? Hopefully, a longer-than-usual blog post will explain it better.
(Note—if  at any point you experience an uncomfortable, hater-like burning sensation in your heart or stomach, please consult your doctor before reading further. You may be prone to posting vicious comments or starting flame wars.)

So. Unschooling. I have my own definition, but out of curiosity, I’ll turn to Urban Dictionary. Here’s the example they list:

“An example of unschooling would be your child learn about math, science, history, and language arts through their interest in Yugioh (the most random thing I could think of). For math they would learn about the thousands of duel monsters out there and the complex math rules of the card game (trust me that some serious math there). The science would come from learning about television and the technology that goes into making a show. Also they would learn about biomes by learning about how different monsters live and do better (in both the game and show) in different environments and then discussing with them how that relates to animals in real life. History would come from learning about the Japanese culture and the history of television, card games and their impact on society, Language arts could come from writing to a Japanese pen pal about anime they have their and the societal differences such as America’s censorship of material allowed in Japan.”

That’s a reasonable definition, but it lacks one major point: none of that happens unless the child wants to do it. No way to kill an interest in Yugioh like saying “OMG WHAT A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY! Here, have twenty thousand books on Japanese culture and history! Sweetie, I found you a foreign pen-paaaaal! :D!”

It’s an incredibly hands-off method. (If you want an extreme example of hands-off education, check this out.) And from what my mom has said, it can be very frightening to keep one’s hands so thoroughly off of one’s child’s learning experience. All she did was make quiet suggestions, and fully support whatever directions I followed.

For instance, she knows I love Scotland, so she’ll nab any interesting articles or books (from the library; no monetary investment) she noticed that had to do with Scotland, and leave them for me to pick up—or not. By the way, I always picked those up.

The thing about an entire country is that there’s a lot involved in studying it. History, etymology, botany, zoology, social studies, its current and historical relationships with other countries, poetry, literature, the lives of specific historical figures, music, and I’m sure you’ve already grown bored with this list. Guess what? I didn’t grow bored at all, because I was passionate about the items listed.

Of course, some say, that’s great for some things, but what about… math? *Cue spooky music*

Mom suggested various math books and courses, and while I tried a few of them, I was never really interested. She didn’t force the issue. Then one day a guy we knew mentioned a couple math books specifically for girls, and she got them from the library and set them on the kitchen table. “Here are the books Mike mentioned,” was all she said, and I spent the next few days holed up in my room, occasionally popping out to exclaim things like, “Wow! No one ever explained why flip-and-multiply works for dividing fractions!”

So yeah, whether it’s the application of math in Yugioh, or a class they want to take, or a book they love, kids who are gently guided towards math without being forced into anything will  find something that clicks with them. The key: just keep trying new things, and don’t try them too hard.  Some people would say, “But that’s just you! You’re unique.” Yeah, but you know what? So is every kid, once you take them off the knowledge-packaging assembly line.

Well that’s great for the academic ones, say others, but what about… kids who just sit and play ____ games? *Cue gunfire sound-effects*

At another point, I think I was about ten, I was obsessed with online pet sites. Neopets, mainly. For a full two years. It took a lot of work for Mom to let go of the fact that I was spending as many hours a day as I could on such a useless activity. But she did let go of it, and I’m glad she did. When I was about twelve, they changed the graphics, and I was very upset that none of my pets looked as I’d worked to get them. “What’s the point,” I wondered then, “of working so hard for things that can change at the whim of a graphic designer? No thanks; I’ll work a real business instead.”

Because, whadda ya know, I’d actually gotten some virtual business experience over those two years. So Mom and I found a business that worked for me (selling candles), and when I discovered fencing at fourteen, that’s the income that funded it.

And so on. That’s how unschooling works. Give the child responsibility for their own education, support their pursuits, make pressure-free suggestions, and see what you get.

Be careful, though… you might wind up with a writer.

A few notes:

Yes, there were rules. Unschooling means freedom of education; it does not mean freedom from familial codes of conduct. Say please-and-thank-you. No lying, no hitting. Offer to help with dishes when you’re at a friend’s house. And no, you may not have an incredibly sugary treat right now.

Yes, there were limits on screen time. That’s a matter of health. And I personally think TV should be off-limits except for special occasions.

Yes, there were chores, yes, there were lots of them, and yes, they were required. This is a matter of contributing to the household, and I do think children should be required to contribute to the household. Not everything kids hate is bad for them, sadly, and there’s no evidence of a couple hours of yard work killing individuality or the creative drive.