Attitudes towards LGB characters in your fantasy land

Image free from PixabayFantasy is a genre full of tropes, many of which I love: castles, dragons and magic are just a few of my favourites. Some of the tropes, however, aren’t so pleasant. Many fantasy societies closely resemble the medieval English culture they are modeled after, including not just the castles but the strict class structure and the oppressive laws. Main characters tend to rebel against these structures(even when it makes no sense for them to do so) but they are almost always there.

But… Why? Why can’t our fantasy societies have different morals? They can still have castles, can still have kings and courts of nobles, without needing the entire moral code. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t make sense for most of these societies to have such identical morals. Most fantasy societies are already so radically different from our own histories that it only makes sense for them to have completely different morals. There’s one huge difference:

Magic

Magic is found to some extent in pretty much every fantasy story, but few people really explore its full implications. The implications of healing magic are simultaneously the most profound and the most under explored. You see, advanced healing magic probably means a lot less infant and child mortality. Things like compulsory heterosexual marriages made a lot more sense when you’re dealing with a 30%(or higher) infant mortality rate. Survival of the species takes precedence. At that point sex is 95% about creating the next generation and 5% about pleasure if you’re lucky.

A world where magic has allowed your civilization to flourish much the way science has allowed ours to flourish–and to do so much earlier in their development–will likely have totally different attitudes about things like work, relationships and sexuality. If they’ve figured out how to heal your character’s mortal wounds with magic they’ve definitely figured out how to save children from common yet deadly illnesses and extend the human lifespan at least a little bit. This makes the need to have children less desperate, making sex more about pleasure the same way it happened in our world.

Maybe I’m just an optimist but I believe cultures become more progressive as their lives get easier. It’s why we’re seeing a huge swing back to conservatism in so many places right now: one country after another has been thrown into financial turmoil and we’re all so screwed we can barely help ourselves, let alone each other.

And hey, if your fantasy culture has different attitudes about sex it actually makes sense for your main character to have even more progressive views. What doesn’t make sense is how every woman living in a near copy of medieval Europe seems to be obsessed with the idea of marrying for love when they have literally lived their entire lives under the assumption that they will have an arranged marriage. These women have often also been taught love is a learned thing, something achieved through marriage rather than a reason to marry, so why the hell does every single one turn away from their entire upbringing?

You don’t even have to change the morals completely. With the histories of many fantasy worlds it doesn’t make sense for them to be totally accepting of everything. There will still be taboos. People who are different may simply be tolerated rather than actively accepted. No culture is perfect and I’m not saying yours should be either–that would probably take most of the fun out of it.

What I’m suggesting is that our fantasy worlds don’t have to match our own history so closely. The possibilities of our genre are literally endless. Yes, many fantasy tropes are wonderful, but we need to move beyond them and expand the genre into new territory. The world is changing and so should our stories, because the world changes faster when we change the stories we put into it.

Have you ever read a fantasy novel about a culture where they’re more open about sexuality? Have you written one yourself? Tell me all about it in the comments section below!

Tactics for when you’re stuck on rewrites

I’ve spent a long time in rewrites–first working on Moonshadow’s Guardian, then the second draft of my 2011 Nanovel–and the last two weeks have been the most unpleasant of all. Each day I wrote a page, maybe less, of the actual novel and spent hours entranced in other writing. Avoiding the novel itself.

Late last week I hunkered down, figured out the issue causing my avoidance and worked through it. Now I’m back to work on my novel, confident I won’t stall again.

When you’ve been working on the same project for a long time it can be difficult to continue. You start to lose your enthusiasm and writing becomes like walking on hot coals. Every scene seems an insurmountable challenge. The book itself becomes a monster you avoid like the one you thought was under your bed in childhood.

There are many potential reasons why you’re stalling, and many potential solutions. I’ve pulled together the methods I used to get myself back into my current WIP(Work In Progress). Still, the most important advice is to be persistent. If you write a paragraph every day, the day will eventually come when you write several pages instead and the dam is broken. If you want to start writing several pages a day again, beginning with tomorrow, these strategies should be able to nudge you in the right direction:

1. Re-assess your goals: stalling might be a sign you’re focused on the wrong goals. Maybe there’s another project you’ve been ignoring because you’ve been too focused on your WIP. Or maybe you’ve been pushing yourself way too hard and you need to scale back. Schedule breaks. Time to work on other projects, time for fun. Even when you’re not stuck, it’s good to re-assess your goals and current life balance often to make sure you’re on track.

It’s more important to build everyday habits that will help you achieve your long term goals than it is to finish it fast. Give yourself a goal that allows flexibility and room to relax. Pushing yourself too hard will only make you hate your novel and extreme burnout. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way a few times, and I suspect I’ll end up having to learn it again eventually. Re-assess your chosen goals and your overall life now–and again every few months–to avoid learning it the same way.

2. Modify your outline: the problem might be that you’ve taken your story in the wrong direction. It may be that you’re approaching a scene from the wrong angle, that you’re writing the wrong scene or even that your story is completely off course. Whatever the problem, if you’re working from a solid outline, you can find it there.

Examine your outline carefully. Are there significant changes since your first draft? Maybe the old story line was better or maybe you took it in the wrong direction. If you didn’t make any large changes, maybe it’s time you did.

3. Develop your characters: the issue might be that you don’t know all your characters as well as you should. You might be stuck because you don’t know a character’s motivations or how they’d react in a given situation. Or perhaps you’re not quite used to a PoV(Point of View) character’s voice.

Usually taking a troublesome character through some writing exercises is a good start and sometimes all you need. Doing a brainstorm session around a period of their life or their motivations, filling out timelines and physical descriptions can all be useful.

Sometimes you need to create a new character or kill one off. Don’t be afraid to do either one–whatever makes the story stronger–and don’t be afraid to take your time. Getting to the point where you won’t stall again is more important than working on your novel today.

4. Work on your backstory: sometimes you need to go back and take a closer look at your setting or other details of your backstory. For my current WIP I found myself having to write out the kingdom’s laws and several pages about the dominant religion before I could get back to my novel. Most of the time these issues are self evident after you reread the last few scenes you wrote or can be found easily by looking at the outline.

If you’re confident you need to develop your setting further, ask yourself these questions:

  • How much do I know about my MC’s religion?
  • How much do I know about laws in my story’s setting?
  • What are some local delicacies?
  • How much do I know about the science/magic/medicine of my setting?

These 4 strategies should get you excited about your novel again and smooth out the process of writing that second draft. Rewriting will always be difficult, but you can get through it–and if you want to be a pro writer, you will.

Tips from Nanowrimo veteran CaptainQuirk

raccoonHello, fellow WriMos.
I’m a five-time NaNoWriMo winner (plus one Camp NaNo). Here’s my advice for crossing that 50,000 word finish line.

1. Socialize
Writing can be lonely. The fun of NaNo is that you’re embarking on your quest in tandem with a bunch of other people who love writing just as much as you do. Go to events. Make friends. Share your tales of joy and woe. Having fun with other writers really does make it a lot easier when you sit down alone to write.

2. Set The Tone In Your Writing Environment
It can help you get into “writing mode” if you set up your writing space according to whatever makes you feel creative. For example, you can post sticky notes with inspirational quotes on the wall by your desk. You can also set the scene for your story by incorporating elements of that story world into your environment. For example, if you’re writing about dragons, change your computer wallpaper to a picture of a dragon.

It’s not just visuals, either. You can convince all your senses it’s time to write. I drink hot chocolate with cinnamon in it only when I’m writing, and in doing so, I’ve set up a response that “triggers” creativity. If you want to, wear a hat or a bandana or fingerless gloves that put you in the state of mind for writing. Not gonna lie – I’ve been working on a superhero novel, and I wear goggles on my head while I’m writing.

Sound is another important key. Not only will good background music block out distracting noise, it can help you get into your story world. Go to YouTube and look up background music that suits the setting or emotional tone of your story. Personally, I find instrumentals are better than music with lyrics. In addition to music, there’s also fireplace sounds, cricket sounds, www.rainymood.com, http://www.soundsleeping.com/index.php, and http://www.coffitivity.com.

3. Know Thyself, and Know Thine Writing Habits When Thou Art Distracted
Some people can go to writing events and actually write. Some people go there just to socialize. Know which kind you are and plan accordingly.

4. Participate In Word Wars
You know those mini-contests where people see how much they can write in 10 minutes? Do those. A lot. It’s amazing how fast words add up.

5. Don’t Worry About NaNo Tropes And Dares
You may be encouraged to include certain things in your novel. Long-standing NaNo tropes include: trebuchets, the Travelling Shovel of Death, Mr. Ian Woon, (and, if you’ve spent any time in Toronto NaNo’s chat room, you can count Deathbot in there as well).

There are also dares, which can be as vague as “your main character receives a mysterious letter” or as oddly specific as “an army of radioactive penguins rollerblades across New York City.”

In my personal experience, these are not too helpful. Hey, if they help you break out of a scene where you’re stuck, then great. However, if you already have a clear idea of what you want to write, or if that wacky stuff doesn’t fit your story world, don’t try to twist your story out of shape in order to incorporate dares. A story with too much “randomness” can get boring and alienating. Stay true to your vision, and only use dares if you’re stuck or if you’re writing short stories that can bend without breaking.

Note: this is just my personal opinion. If you like dares, that’s great too.

6. Introduce New People, Stuff, and Places
When someone or something new comes up in your novel, it needs description. That adds more words, and it’s fun to write. Also, imagining new stuff can inspire you about what should happen next. If nothing else, your characters reacting to the new person, place, or thing will give you yet more words.

7. Let Your Characters Argue
For one thing, this adds more words. For another, it’s a deeper exploration of each character’s personality and how they handle conflict, which can make for better characterization and a deeper understanding of their motivations.

8. When You Can’t Write, Daydream
Let’s say you’re stuck on the bus and you don’t have your writing stuff with you. Use that time to daydream about your story world. Put new scenes together and look forward to writing them. That way, when you have the opportunity to write again, you have a new mini-goal of getting to that special scene.

9. Have Your Whole Novel Be Something That You Need To Say
There is nothing more motivating than a chance to speak your mind. If there’s an issue that matters a lot to you, write your novel about it. I’m not saying it has to be boring and serious, if fantasy or comedy are more your “thing,” but incorporate that passion into your fictional world. No matter what time period, planet, or universe your story takes place in, the characters are going to act human. If there’s something you have to say about the way people interact, or how they see themselves, or how they see each other, you can put that in your novel. If nothing else, let that be your motivation to finish, so that someone can one day read it and hear your message.

It doesn’t have to be a sweeping global issue, mind you. Something as simple as kindness, respect, or refraining from judgement is something you can explore with your characters. It doesn’t have to be the “moral” of your story, but it can occur. It doesn’t have to be anchored to the everyday, either. In fact, setting this in a fantasy or science-fiction world can make it a lot more interesting. In any case, if you have a message to send to the world or a question you want to explore, your novel is a perfect way to do so.

10. Write Or Die
This thing is so very helpful. www.writeordie.com. You pick an amount of time, a goal for how many words you hope to write in that time, and you start writing. If you stop, it plays annoying music at you to force you to write again.

Tamara Hecht is a writer, illustrator, filmmaker, and story enthusiast.  Her favourite holiday is Halloween.  “Welcome toMonsterville is her first published book. Check out her website or purchase your copy today!

 

Keeping Factsheets

Last year I wrote about creating a factsheet about your story, but this year I’d like you to take it to the next level. I’d like you to create factsheets—pages of point form notes—documenting everything you know about the following things:

Your world— what time period is your world set in? What are the places your characters live in called? Is there magic or high technology? Perhaps there’s no technology. How do they document time? What religions are common? Anything you know about your world should be put on one piece of paper you can easily refer to as you write your novel.

Every character— every character that has a significant part to play in your story should have a fact sheet with every piece of information you know about them. This will help you when you’re trying to remember what colour eyes your main character’s second cousin has, and is especially useful if you have a large cast or a first person narrator.

Every place— if your characters do a lot of travelling, you’ll probably want separate factsheets for every town/city/country they visit. Creating one for every inn is excessive, but if you’re working with large noble households, you might want one for each of them.

The story itself— what must happen? What are you heart set on including in your novel? This should be something you can base a solid outline on, and will be a place where you can note how your novel changes during the month, because believe me, it will.

Once you’ve created these factsheets, put them in a file that you can keep at your workspace. Every time you work on planning your novel you should be updating one of these sheets, and you should keep updating them throughout the writing process. Keeping notes of everything you know and everything you learn about your world, characters and setting will make editing much easier. Not only does it help you prevent continuity errors in the draft itself, but it allows you to incorporate major changes into a full rewrite without reading the entire first draft.

This is something I’ve only been doing for the last two years, and if I’d started keeping factsheets sooner I probably would’ve skipped three drafts of Moonshadow’s Guardian. So take the time today to create your factsheets and make a place for them in your writing space.

Create a Legend

No matter what kind of novel you’re planning to write next month, and even if you haven’t gotten that hammered out yet, creating a legend can still be a useful exercise. We’ve all heard urban legends before so don’t let a modern setting sway you from this exercise. I’ve even had full fledged novels emerge from short two page legends, so take some time this weekend and make sure you create yours.

What do I mean when I say a legend/myth?

By this I mean a story that everyone in your main setting—whether that be a village, a town, a household or an entire country—knows and knows well, that may or may not be true. Usually these involve great heroes and have some sort of lesson in the way they’re told, but they could just be a fun story… or history that nobody believes anymore, the choice is yours. You can also choose your own word count goal for this exercise, but it should be at least a page.

Take your inspiration from the Encyclopedia Mythica and please leave the first sentence of your legend/myth in the comments below.

Diving into your character’s mind

Hopefully by now you have a fairly solid main character to work with if nothing else. You want to know that character as well as you possibly can before you start writing your actual novel.

This is particularly important if all you have is a character, because an entire novel can spring up naturally around a good character you know well. Their family, friends and lovers can become characters and their lives can become plots. You can either discover a period of their life worth writing about, or you can learn how they react to things and throw them an entirely new challenge that will test their strengths.

Every writer uses different techniques to get into their character’s minds. Some use character interviews, others create detailed character charts. Some even dress up as their characters and walk around like them for a day.

My favourite method of getting to know a character is to choose an important moment in the character’s life and write about it in their first person PoV. I usually end up writing my entire novel in first person, so this is particularly productive for me, but even if you’re going to spend November writing in third person it can be useful to see through their eyes for a couple scenes. Knowing how your character sees the world is incredibly useful and more importantly, knowing how they respond to trauma can help you write the most tense scenes in your plot.

By choosing the right moment, you can also learn about their family, friends, loved ones and even their culture as a whole. And as I mentioned last week, if you explore a good character deeply enough, you’ll always find a story worth telling.

If you don’t know much about your character or their culture and you’re having trouble choosing a moment, pick from this list of things most people will experience in their lifetime:

  • Becoming an adult
  • Someone’s funeral
  • Someone’s wedding
  • Leaving their hometown for the first time

Describe the day in as much detail as possible, focusing on how your character sees the world, how they feel and how they react to the world around them. If you’re comfortable sharing, tell me what moment in your character’s life you chose in the comments below.

Dealing with School/Work Related Interruptions

School and work are both important, but focusing on one or the other to the exclusion of all else can be dangerous. We’re often told to put these things above all else, which can lead to self-neglect and even self-hatred. Capitalism tells us to focus on what makes us money and ignore that which nourishes the soul. Since these beliefs have been drilled into us since we were kids, they’re difficult to ignore.

Unfortunately work and/or school will probably always be factors in your life. The key is to make sure that they don’t interrupt your writing time more than absolutely necessary. So how do you keep school/work out of your writing time?

1. Don’t take on extra responsibilities. If you don’t have to stay at work late, don’t. If you don’t have to join that after school club, don’t. If it’s not going to help you advance in life, say no. Remember that the writing won’t happen if you’re always exhausted when you get home. Remember that in ten years you’ll be more upset about not having finished that novel than you will be about missing extra hours at work.

Sometimes you’ll want to take extra commitments, and that’s fine too—as long as you still carve out daily writing time, and refuse to take on extra assignments that you’re not passionate about. Think about how you’ll feel in ten years. Will you be sad that you missed that extra workshop? Will you be sad that you didn’t help create the yearbook? Or will you be sad that your novel is still only half finished?

2. Work smarter. Find ways to complete your tasks faster without sacrificing performance. There are always short cuts. Look for the ones that won’t damage your grades or your career and take them. Finish as much as possible while you’re at the office or in the classroom so you can focus on writing when you get home. Often you won’t be able to control how many hours you spend at work or in class, but by working hard during that time you can minimize the amount of work you take home.

Stay focused at work or in class and you’ll get everything done in record time—and you’ll be able to write guilt-free when you get home.

3. Say no to social engagements more often than you say yes. Why is this under the school/work category? Well, odds are that you have some friends at school or in the office. And that those people invite you to dinner or to the bar or to different events. Say no twice for every time you say yes. Say no if you know it will cut into your writing time. Be willing to leave early to write—nobody will look down on you for leaving early, and if they do, they’re not good friends anyway.

Saying no is hard. I struggle all the time with saying no to social commitments, but I’ve gotten better at it over the last couple of years and I’m getting better at it all the time. It’s uncomfortable at first, but then when you see how much progress you’ve made in that time you’d otherwise be spending at the bar, you’ll be happy you made the decision to say no.

On the other hand, maintaining friendships is important, so say yes once in a while. Real friends don’t mind if you’re busy, but they want to be valued too.

Conclusion

You’re probably going to be working or in school for a long time. Everyone has to accept that one of these things will take up five, eight or even twelve hours of their day, five days a week, for a large chunk of their lifetime. What we can do is make sure that we don’t let work and school eat our life to the exclusion of what really matters to us—writing, working towards our dreams and nourishing our souls.

How much does work/school detract from your writing life?

Don’t forget to take a look at the other posts in this series:

Disturbances in Your Writing
Eliminating Guilt
Dealing with Family Interruptions
Dealing with Technological Interruptions

More On Overwriting

A couple weeks ago I discussed the concept of overwriting, the use of needless words in your writing. Having known about overwriting for years, it seemed like basic stuff to me. So I was stunned by how many of you told me you’d never thought about it before. I was even more stunned when I asked Twitter what to blog about today and RedParrot told me she’d like me to talk more about overwriting.

My goal has always been to help you become better writers, and since there’s high demand for advice on this topic, I thought I’d discuss a few more examples of overwriting to give you a better feel for it.

Last time we discussed overwriting I gave you a handful of specific words/details that can be left out of your work. Today I’m going to show you how to cut overwriting by showing the editing process I’ve used on one of my own stories.

To do this, I’ve grabbed the first paragraph from one of my currently-in-editing stories, Brothers.

Original Paragraph:

When my father sent my thirteen-year-old brother to live with the Byrnes, I was jealous. I’d only ever been allowed out of the city twice, both times with my parents and a hundred armed guards to attend a wedding. Of course they were training Andre to be a Noble Slayer—the elites of our army, whose job is to kill the undead—while they taught me to be a king, but back then, I would’ve done anything to switch places. At least a Slayer had some freedom. They could walk down the hall, even out of the castle, without anybody watching.

Edited Paragraph

When my father sent my thirteen-year-old brother to live with the Byrnes, I was jealous. I’d only ever been outside Moon Spire twice, both times with my parents and their guards to attend a wedding. They were training Andre to be a Noble Slayer—the elites of our army—while they taught me to be a king, but back then, I would’ve done anything to switch places. At least a Slayer had freedom. They could leave the castle without anybody watching.

The changes

You’ll notice that the original paragraph is five lines, whereas the edited paragraph is four. How did I achieve this? When I could turn two words into one–such as turning ‘out of’ into ‘outside’–I did so. By removing the word ‘some’ from the second last sentence, not only did I shorten the sentence, but I made it stronger. Too many words weakens the sentence and distracts the reader from the point you’re trying to make.

I also took out some of the details because they’re not important to the story. This story has little to do with the Slayers, so it’s not necessary for the reader to know that they battle undead. When Jacob says he was jealous of Slayers for their freedom, saying they could leave the castle without anybody watching is enough. We don’t need any more details to know how constricted Jacob feels within the life he’s been given as heir to the kingdom.

If you’re really paying attention, you’ll notice that not all my changes shorten the work. In the second sentence I traded “the city” in for “Moon Spire”, which is still two words. Why did I do this? Because “Moon Spire” is more specific. It gives you a better idea of where you are–a specific city rather than just any city–and doesn’t use any extra words. Being specific gives your readers a better feel for your setting and characters, and is more important than shortening your sentences.

Applying this to your own work

To eliminate overwriting from your manuscript, start by looking for places where two words can be shortened to one. This includes contractions, but it also includes things like changing ‘next to’ into ‘beside’.

Once you’ve found all the places where you can turn two words into one, start looking for extra words and phrases. Words like just, very, some, and most words that end in -ly can be cut from your manuscript to make it stronger. Remove these from your manuscript whenever possible. Keep them only when removing them alters the sentence beyond recognition.

Even after you’re familiar with the concept of overwriting and you’ve ruthlessly cut unnecessary words and phrases out of a dozen manuscript, you’ll find that you still end up overwriting. That’s fine. Everyone does it. No writer is perfect, and that’s why nobody should ever send out a first draft. Your job is not to make sure everything’s perfect–it’s to make sure that you only send out the best possible work.

Where have you found instances of overwriting in your work?

On Overwriting

DSC_0313_editI don’t often discuss the technical side of writing in depth, but after reading the self-published works that inspired last Monday’s post, I’ve decided to discuss the biggest problem I’ve seen in these novels: overwriting.

What is overwriting? There are two ways authors overwrite: with excessive details, and with particularly wordy phrasing. Even a perfectly spelled piece with flawless grammar can be made frustrating if the author overwrites them. It makes a book frustrating to read and in today’s fast paced society, most readers will walk away. I’m particularly forgiving of this if the story captivates me, but enough of it will make even me gash my teeth.

So today I’d like to discuss some of the things that can–and should–be cut from your writing whenever possible to make it easy reading.

Let’s start with the details:

1. Characters brushing their teeth. Or combing their hair, or getting dressed in the morning. These things should only be included if they’re used to add depth or move the story forward. For instance, if your character notices a giant bruise developing on their face while they’re brushing their teeth in the morning, that’s a good use of the scene. In fantasy settings, often the nobles have servants to dress them, and these scenes can be used for gossip with the servants to great effect. George R. R. Martin uses this technique often to pass information between characters.

2. Details of your setting that don’t matter to the plot. Festivals, events, street names and other details of your setting should only be mentioned if they’re important to your story. If you’ve spent hours creating your location or done months of research it can be tempting to include all the details, but that will bog the story down. Include only what is necessary to the plot. People don’t pick up a novel expecting a detailed tour of the city or town in question. They want a story, not a tourist guide. Some detail helps them enjoy the story. Too much irritates even the most patient reader.

3. Most flashbacks. There’s often a more efficient way to mention past events, and flashbacks should only be used when absolutely necessary. Unless you’re doing a story intentionally that starts at the end and shows you how the character got there, the best way to give readers a feel for the important parts of your character’s past is to mention them briefly and then expand on them bit by bit later. Make it a gradual thing rather than a flashback or a long winded explanation, and you’ll keep the reader’s interest more easily.

And some words that can almost always be left out:

1. Just. It seems like an innocent word, but while it doesn’t ruin your grammar, it’s often redundant. Think about these sentences:

He was just a little bit taller than me.
She lived just around the corner from the scene of the crime.

In both sentences just is grammatically correct, but does it need to be there? Consider these sentences:

He was a little bit taller than me.
She lived around the corner from the scene of the crime.

The sentences are now a little bit stronger and shorter without having changed meaning. Getting rid of ‘just’ might not seem like a big deal, but once they’re gone, you’ll see a big difference.

2. Then. This is one I’ve been ripping mercilessly from my manuscripts. Sure, there are occasions where it’s essential, but often it’s unnecessary, particularly when used after the word ‘and’. Consider these sentences:

And then she kicked the door.
She grabbed the hammer and then held it in front of her defensively.

Now look at these:

She kicked the door.
She grabbed the hammer and held it in front of her defensively.

Which sentences do you think are stronger? In the end, ‘then’ is just another word bogging down your work. Cut it whenever you can, especially when you see it after ‘and’.

3. Very. This is another unnecessary word. Take a look at these sentences:

The mansion was very big.
She was very angry.

Now consider these:

The mansion was massive.
She was furious.

By eliminating very and using stronger words, I’ve made these sentences shorter and more visual. Look for this word in your work and delete it whenever possible. Be ruthless. There’s almost always a better way to emphasize something than using the word ‘very’.

Exercise: Pull out a story/project you haven’t looked at a while and a highlighter. Highlight every excessive detail and every instance of just or very that you see within the first three pages. Count them, and then find ways to get rid of them. Remember that overwriting doesn’t make you a bad writer–almost all of us do it in our first few drafts. Editing may be painful, but it gives your work the best chance possible for success.

Just for fun, post how many instances of overwriting you found in your first three pages. For each reader who does, I’ll look through one of my old projects and count the instances of overwriting. Let’s compare numbers!

Define Your Success

Defining success for yourselfSuccess means different things to different people. The media often portrays success as a house, a long-term partner, kids and money. Your family probably has their own definition of success, based on both the media’s definition success and their own feelings. Your friends probably each have their own definition of success too. Even the strange old hermit down the street has her own definition of success. Though success is only one word, it has as many definitions as there are people.

What is true for everyone, though, is that you will never be truly happy if you don’t strive to reach your own definition of success. Too many people go chasing after their parents’ ideas of success, and end up with diplomas and careers they care nothing for. They gain all the trappings associated with success–a well-paying job, a house, a family–but remain miserable because this definition of success isn’t what they really want.

As the year comes to a close, I will be figuring out the steps I need to take to get closer to my definition of success in 2013. The changing of the years is always a good time to think about how you’ve lived over the last year and to find ways to improve upon it next year. And so as I struggle to figure out what the most important things I can do to reach my definition of success, I’d like to help you create your own definition of success and a plan for getting there.

At first it might seem simple, but creating your own definition of success can be difficult. It requires total honesty with yourself, and requires you to abandon everything you’ve been taught about what success is. It requires you to look beyond what society expects you to say and figure out what’s really important to you.

Lucky for you, I have an exercise designed to help you do just that.

Define your own success: An Exercise

First, close your eyes and imagine that everything you know now is gone. The cars have all run out of fuel. The internet and most electricity is gone altogether. Governments are falling apart, one by one.

In this time when the luxuries of the modern era are gone, what is still important to you? Write down everything that comes to mind. These are the things that truly matter to you–the things that would still matter to you even if your circumstances were completely changed.

Now ask yourself what your definition of success is. Feel free to make it as long or as short as you want to. Include everything you can think of. You might want to do this as a free write and time yourself to make sure you aren’t thinking too hard about what you put on the paper.

Once you’ve got a definition written down, look at the list you created earlier. How does each item fit into your definition of success?

If any of the items on your list don’t fit into your definition, that means it isn’t really true to who you are. Now is the time to start editing your definition. Don’t stop until it includes all the things on the list of what is most important to you. A definition that’s missing anything you care deeply about won’t actually make you happy, even if you get there.

Once you’ve got your definition of success, please share it in the comments below. In this case, I’m not just asking this because I want to hear from you–I’m asking you to share your definition of success because sharing it will give the words power. Anyone brave enough to share their definition of success will also get the opportunity to work with me in order to refine it and to create a plan to move towards that success in 2013.

So what is your definition of success?