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.


Flashes of Fiction: Watch Her

Hey. Tirzah here.

My character has started a new weekly challenge for me. This task is to write a flash fiction piece of no more nor fewer than 100 words (commonly known as a drabble,) based on whatever prompt I find, every Tuesday.
Consider yourselves encouraged to write a drabble of your own, based on the prompt or otherwise inspired by the vignette below.

Today’s prompt:



The quickly winded and the easily worried and the soon whelmed watch out their windows and wonder at the things that happen and think of the things they’d do too if only they would.

Their palms burning with actions unacted, lips buzzing and tongues burning with words unspoken and songs unsung, their heads aching with trapped ideas going half-mad as their bellies burn with stir-crazy dreams, they watch.

One stumbles for the door, then, winded and worried and whelmed, returns window-ward.

But once more, she scrabbles up. Finds a door. Walks in faulty circles. Watch her stammer out her dreams.



Syawn, here.

We've decided a picture of me should be posted at the top of the post whenever I'm the one writing it, apparently to make sure everyone understands who's talking. Fair enough, as some newcomers might  otherwise assume that the so-called Inkcaster was capable of writing her own bloody blog posts.

We’ve decided a picture of me should be posted at the top of the post whenever I’m the one writing it, apparently to make sure everyone understands who’s talking. Fair enough, as some newcomers might otherwise assume that the so-called Inkcaster was capable of writing her own bloody blog posts.

I would like to take a moment and explain just how pathetic my author can be. I’m not even going to compare her physical abilities and mental prowess to where I might think they ought to be, because that has nothing to do with me. No, I’m only going to judge her in her chosen field: writing.

I came to Tirzah Duncan because I had a story to tell. I may or may not have entirely hijacked her original plot in much the way I hijacked this blog. (It’s okay. Her idea was a rubbish cliche anyhow.)

We’ve worked together for six long years, through the ups and downs and further downs, the moors and dales and mountain towns.

We’ve slaved through difficulties–her struggling to hear the tale I told and scribe it to the best of her ability, and stretching her ability so much further, and me to live what at many points has been a downright hell of a life, and then try to pound that knowledge through the planes of reality itself and see it more-or-less accurately settled into her imagination.

I daresay I’ve had the tougher end of the bargain. Be that as it may, we were both getting what we wanted through all this wretched bother: She got to write her fantasy novel, and I got to air my tale.

So do you know what she has now? She has a publishing-ready draft (there were eight, not counting the first draft I hijacked,) of our first book, and a first draft of our second.

It’s even formatted for Createspace and all. It’s almost ready to order proofs copies. Except. Do you know what it lacks? Do you know what it’s been lacking for months, that has kept this creature I call “author” stalling at the starting gate?

A map.

Seriously? There are people, there are multiple persons, who have shown willingness to draw a good map for her, for free even, if she would give them a rough sketch job of it. She could get that map drawn up, get a good version of it made, stick it into the book and adjust the formatting accordingly, and get this sucker published. She could have it available for retail before, oh, the end of February, I’ll bet you anything.

But you know what’s stopping her? A tiny roadblock: perfectionism.

Just like she couldn’t write posts on this blog because she had to get them “professional quality,” whatever that means in her head, she can’t make herself sit down and set pencil to paper in a crappy map that would start the road leading to, and this is her biggest fear, an inaccurate map of my world immortalized in black-and-white at the front of her first novel. What, she asks, if it ruins everything later???

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I’ve either traveled or will travel the length and breadth of the lands that will be shown on her map of my world.

The planet of Hashan, my home country of Yaa, the Land of Ice above it… the Great Graves and the Stone Teeth mountain ranges, Kapatak’s islands of Mynora and Pashaka, and in all my journeys this secret has held true:

It is never like the map.

In my day, maps aren’t as accurate as one might wish. But even in your lucky age that flirts so with science-fiction, it’s still not like the map. Google street view still doesn’t show you the roadblocks. But you have to live them, you have to walk those roads the pretty little map didn’t mention.

If she goes forward, and gets over her perfectionism, getting published is not going to be as simple as I might have just implied. I have spoken the map. There are going to be roadblocks.

There are going to be bandits and avalanches and whiny little girls to chase after and rescue from whatever mess they’ve got themselves into this time. She might find this out less literally than I did, but they’re all going to be there, the troubles and the roadblocks that the map never mentioned.

And so what’s a little inaccuracy in a map, author-dear? Go ahead and immortalize it. The worst it can be is wrong–and we already know it’s going to be that.

I hear you lot have just marked a new year for earth, by the common Western count. 2014.

A brand-new year. A good time to sketch a fresh start. Make a map for it. Make your plans. Draw up your dreams, immortalize them in black-and-white. It’s going to be inaccurate.

There are going to be roadblocks the map never mentioned, there are going to be unexpected detours and abrupt changes of plan. There are going to be destinations that aren’t as lovely as what you were thinking when you drew your little map, and there will be destinations whose beauty your map had never dreamed of.

But you’ve got to keep on, over the roadblocks, or around them, under them, or backtrack and go a different road–even find a new destination!

But never, ever just stand staring at the roadblock, biting your thumb and going, “Gee. The map never mentioned that. Huh. Sure does block the road. I expect I should do something about it.”

I wish you all an adventure of a new year. I wish you all lovely vistas and the most interesting of roadblocks. I wish you all will be glad of your journey at the end, though one isn’t always for some time, and that also is alright, so long as one keeps moving.

But most of all, most of all, Tirzah Jael Duncan, my sweet scribbling idiot, I wish you would stop standing there in a blinking stupor, afraid to print an imperfection.

Let this new year see my story, ill-mapped in all its rocky inglory.

Because we’ve both got to keep moving.