Planning the Work and Working the Plan is Lesson 2 in Think like a Pro.
This is the only way to Work Every Day.
How do we transform ourselves from hobbyist to professional? How do we change the mindset that our writing is for escape or entertainment? If our goal is professional writer, how do we become a disciplined Pro? The second lesson is to Plan the Work .
In our long “Winter of Discontent” with our writing, we need to follow the example of the crocus: emerging from frozen snow to new life.
To help newbie writers achieve that goal, New Advent for Writers: Think like a Pro presents seven lessons as a guide for this transformation. Like a two-hour seminar, these lessons will seem easy, but the practical application takes focus, persistence, and clear thinking.
Chapter 1 covers deadlines (One Scary Word).
The second chapter presents the importance of daily writing. Tolstoy kept this motto on his desk: Nulla dies sine linea. This isOne Latin Phrase that greatly helps writers.
Chapter 3 examines the models or patterns that every writer depends upon (One Guiding Decision) while Chapter 4 reminds us to learn from those who’ve gone before (One Ancient Greek).
In Chapter 5, entitled One Simple Injunction, the authors preach the great heresy of no excuses.
Chapter 6 (One Slice of Advice) explores how creativity can be sparked.
Chapter 7 discusses determination and resolutions.
Weave a Wizardry Web will be out at the end of this month. Look for an update on this blog post when the cover comes in from the gifted designer at Deranged Doctor Design.
For now, here’s a blurb about the first offering from Remi!
Least becomes great. Greatest becomes least.
Two wizards travel sharp-bladed roads in Weave a Wizardry Web.
“Wizard against sorcerer. Fae against dragon. Wyre against Rhoghieri.” As children in the Wizard Enclave, Camisse and her niece Alstera recited that catechism daily. Yet the war against sorcery seems far from the Enclave, and the current leaders have forgotten that childhood chant.
Camisse hasn’t forgotten. Commander of an outpost, she defends the border against the sorcerers and wyre of Frost Clime. Her greatest fear is Dragon Rising, the day banished dragons will join Frost Clime. The Enclave’s forces are not strong enough to repel a triple alliance.
Faeron recently forced a renewed alliance on the Enclave, which angered the hidebound leaders. Her mother the ArchClans had promised to renew an alliance with the Rhoghieri. Camisse is appalled that the Rho haven’t been approached.
Then the wyre slip into the Enclave and kill wizards. Camisse recognizes the evidence of wyre attack, but her leaders won’t accept it. She may be a successful border commander, yet she fumbles when working spells.
With the aid of a Fae masquerading as a wizard, Camisse discovers she wields Fire. With Pearroc’s help, she no longer muddles her spells.
Granddaughter of the ArchClans, Alstera is the greatest Enclave wizard. Frost Clime and Dragon Rising drive her to investigate ways to increase the powers of wizards. Her search leads to a forbidden spell called the Nexus. This taboo linkage funnels power from enthralled wielders to a single wizard, a slavery that breaks a tenet of wizardry.
When Alstera meets Sanglier, he invites her to join a sharing circle. Wielders can link power, each one sharing, each one wielding. Even her cousin Faone, a Naught, can work spells in Sanglier’s circle.
Yet Sanglier is a sorcerer disguised as a wizard, intent on undermining the Enclave. Killing the commander Camisse will wreck the border defenses, allowing Frost Clime’s invasion. Decimating the Enclave in its very heart will ensure victory for his mission. His spells hide the wyre pack from the wizards. Sanglier plots to insert a wyre in the ArchClans’ own house. He commands the wyre Arctos to turn Faone. And he tricks Alstera into using blood spells as well as practicing the forbidden linkage.
Camisse learns that her scheming mother, in a political maneuver to become ArchClans, was the one who shackled her Fire powers. Angry at her family, she turns to Pearroc—but he is a protégé of her mother’s chief opponent. Can she trust him with her powers and her heart? And can she believe anything he says when she discovers he is a masked Fae?
Alstera’s friend Nevil, for dabbling in the taboo Nexus, is spell-shackled, reduced to less than a Naught. Devastated, he commits suicide. Alstera knows the sharing circle is a type of Nexus. Even though she risks the same punishment as Nevil, she refuses to stop her investigation. The opportunity to increase a wizard’s power is too close.
Then Sanglier sends the wyre pack to kill Camisse and Pearroc.
And Alstera practices the sharing linkage one time too many.
Will they survive the sharp blades on their chosen roads?
“In mythos and in fairy tale, deities and other great spirits test the hearts of humans by showing up in various forms that disguise their divinity. They show up in robes, rags, silver sashes, and muddy feet.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run with the Wolves
We often think of mentors as wizened old men (and women) who give the hero/ine vital information as the quest begins. Mentors are wise, mysterious, a little deranged, and incredibly awe-inspiring. They can become much-loved when they recur in a series, even as they create challenges or pose riddles that the hero/ine must understand.
A staple ingredient of the archetype pantry, the mentor appears early in the story. Often, s/he ponders the push needed to get the hero/ine embarking on the quest. Gandalf entices Frodo. Dumbledore guides Harry from his entrance to Hogwarts on to his re-making at the series’ end (another entrance with an exit).
Today, we view the mentor as a teacher who guides, imposing challenges mental and physical that the hero/ine must overcome. To fall short is to face destruction at the critical moment—as Luke left Yoda too soon and was saved only by luck from certain destruction.
The first mentor was named Mentor. The old steward who meets and guides Telemachus
in the Odyssey is the goddess Athena in disguise.
Athena is appropriately associated with mentors. She is the goddess of wisdom, as the Greeks cunningly separated wisdom from learning/education. As goddess of battle, she oversees skilled fighting which requires training and discipline as opposed to the blind and violent chaos of Ares’ war. The goddess of natural crafts, like weaving and carpentry, masonry and the like—using something close to its original form turned to a new purpose.
In effect, Athena epitomizes the role of the mentor in her sacred obligation.
4 Functions of the Mentor
1] Guide & teacher
A mentor can give information freely but can also withhold vital information. Worse, the mentor can provide advice only to have it ignored.
This is not Luke and Yoda. Luke was inept and pig-headed, but he tried. It is Arthur and Merlin. Merlin warned. Arthur said, “I don’t care. I want her (Guinevere) and the alliance she brings.”
Gods and mentors are sacred and saving in their gifts. Through these gifts, the hero/ine proves her/his worth. S/he should be appropriately respectful of the quality of the gifts received, even if s/he doesn’t quite understand the worth.
As the god intercepted Odysseus and gave him moly to defend against Circe, other mentors give actual gifts: special devices, like Q in the Bond stories; special insights, like Yoda in Star Wars.
Nanny McPhee gives the best gifts, for they are emotionally and intellectually transforming:
“When you need me, but do not want me, I must stay. When you want me, but no longer need me, I must go,” she says early in the first film.
“We will never want you,” the boy cries.
“Then I must stay,” she calmly replies.
And we all cry when she leaves at the film’s end.
A central point in a network, the nexus points the hero/ine to the next stage or person.
Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series gathers in from many points. No matter who he enlists, he receives information and loyalty from them, which he uses to send more threads out, weaving a metaphorical great cloth of knowledge that will shield and armor Harry.
Gandalf is also a nexus even as he works alone. He has copious connections and taps into them constantly. Only he crosses all ethnic groups in Tolkien’s stories: the elves and dwarves, hobbits and men. And he is not afraid to venture into the Dark, yet he can also be blinded and become captive of the Dark when he is unwary.
The challengers of the hero/ine’s complacency, mentors propel the protagonist into the quest, ready or not. Often, mentors must break her/his rock-hard hubris. The hero/ine must learn to look into the far distance, between the east of where s/he is and the west of where s/he needs to be.
Good & Bad
Nowhere is the Duality of the mentor more clearly presented than with the mentor as obstacle.
The mentor may be a healer (shaman) yet also a danger to the hero/ine. Both bright and dark, he may deliberately lead the protagonist astray.
Whether independent or allied, the well-intentioned mentor is the most dangerous. This is the Lady Russell in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, who clearly wants the best for Anne Eliot but certainly does not understand who is best for Anne.
The comic mentor of Donkey in Shrek clearly understands the darkness of the world, as he urges Shrek to think of the world as “parfait, not onion” and “nice boulder”.
Yoda is an easy selection. An unexpected one is Katsumoto in The Last Samurai.
Sacred and mysterious or fallen and scarred, a core member of a community or an isolated hermit, struggling on his own path or already enlightened, the mentor’s connection with the hero/ine must develop slowly. For trust is at the heart of that connection.
Trust is the basis of the connection in the flawed book Eragon with the character of Brom and successfully with Obiwan Kenobi in Star Wars.
Crazy Woman under the Ledge
I have a special place in my heart for 13th Warrior, a seriously flawed adaptation of Michael
Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead. To explain my reasons would take days, so let’s focus on a single point.
One of the clever details in the story is that crazy woman under the ledge. Our heroes consult her near the end. “We need your wisdom,” the queen says to her. In the Archetypal structure, this crazy woman does not serve as the story’s mentor (that’s the character Herger). Her entrance to the story falls right before the Ordeal.
(Stories can have more than one mentor. Never limit the story. Just keep it bounded.)
The more this riddling mentor says–“In the ground, find them in the ground”–the less the heroes understand—just as my explanation of the film is going LOL.
And then, when the heroes begin to find the monsters they must confront, her words become clear as the fog of rational, established thinking is swept away. Like Frigga, Odin’s wife, the crazy woman understands the mysterious yet she cannot speak it plainly, if at all.
Here, when the heroes approach the lair of the monsters, Crichton turns clever again, for the character Ibn—who has needed so much instruction—becomes mentor to the group, for he is the first to understand the crazy woman’s wisdom.
The earliest hero in Greek myth is Perseus, a stripling who never thought things through before he jumped in (typical teenager).
When he volunteers to bring back the head of the Gorgon Medusa, he doesn’t even know where to look.
First, he visits the Dodona (early Paleo diet: they eat ground acorns for their flour). They send him to the Graiae, the monstrous Gray Women, a trap if I ever saw one. He doesn’t fall into that trap. The Gray Women have swan necks, are winged, and share one eye among them (past, present or future OR here, there, everywhere).
These three send him to the Nymphs of the North (the Hyperboreans)—early Norse? Still dominated by a matriarchal society? Early Valkyries? They could easily have killed Perseus. Instead, impressed by his adventurous spirit, they give him the very things he needs to fly to the Gorgons’ islands in order to take Medusa’s head: winged sandals, a cap of darkness, and a wallet that will hold anything. Oh, and where the Gorgons are. (Why does Hollywood consistently ruin a perfectly good story?)
3 Mentors: Dodona for guidance, Graiae for a dangerous obstacle that he had to escape before they trapped (and ate) him, and the Hyperboreans, a dangerous obstacle that becomes a gift-giver. And each one a part in the wider nexus of mentors.
Mentors improve plots—and can destroy them. Carefully consider the role that the mentors will perform. They are not mere walk-ons. Their role is to~
Test the readiness of the hero/ine.
Teach necessary knowledge.
Guide toward the perspective needed for the quest.
Give gifts—tangible and intangible.
Choose your mentors wisely.
With well-crafted mentors, the hero/ine can step through the looking glass.
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” ~~ Alice in Wonderland
The protagonist you started with has transformed from the original vision? Or the protagonist will never achieve the goal your story needs him to achieve? When this happens, your protagonist has turned into an unheroic hero.
Writing’s hard work, and if anything’s true about the process, it’s that fact that a good story is hard to find and even trickier to get on paper. ~~ Adam Johnson
The unheroic hero may twist and writhe within the parameters we set for our protagonist until his personality transforms. Or the story may twist and writhe until it takes unintended directions. Both of these situations can be creatively wonderful but frustratingly challenging.
Meet the first two of four Unheroic Heroes, courtesy of Carl Jung (who first developed the idea of character archetypes).
These archetypes might entice the writer in us to construct a story around them. Nevertheless, that story will not become what we imagined when first we embarked on our manuscript.
These unheroic hero archetypes can become extremely rich for us writers when they turn to evil.
The Warrior as an Unheroic Hero
If ever an archetype was looking for the name ‘hero’, this one is it.
The Warrior is courageous in the face of insurmountable obstacles and stolidly tough against dragonish opponents. He rides straight at the problem, attacks it, and usually wins. Why isn’t he a hero archetype?
The Warrior doesn’t think; he just drives in.
Protagonists must thinkabout these three:
the dangers to themselves and others.
the consequences of their actions.
the vacuum that will be left when the leader dies.
The Warrior is too simple :: Problem? I’ll knock it down.
Honor and Discipline. Compassion and Mercy. Morality and Ethics. These are the nobler ideals of the protagonist, and the Warrior lacks them. Thus, he is an unheroic hero, for internal conflict is necessary. Without internal conflict, our readers will not cheer when the hero overcomes obstacles.
The Warrior makes an excellent Ally for Leader Heroes, as we discussed in the previous two blogs: “Oh Men!” parts 1 and 2.
The positive Warrior becomes the Tool when he acts as little more than an automaton. As writers, we can point the Tool at anything, wind him up, and let him go, a wind-up soldier who never questions.
His actions are a series of achievements, notches on his swordbelt. He doesn’t care how he wins, just that he wins. When he reports in to his leader, he doesn’t expect praise; he wants the next assignment.
The Warrior in Film
A story with a Warrior will have little angst.
William Wallace in Braveheart sacrifices himself in pursuit of his goal. He has no middle ground, not for himself and not for anyone around him. Those who seek the middle ground are beneath him.
The angst resides with the Beta character of Robert the Bruce. It is his decision to attack the English army at the end of the film that makes us shout “Yes!” Without the Warrior Wallace, the Bruce would never have decided to attack. The Warrior Wallace’s sacrifice drives the Bruce to refuse continued capitulation.
Gimli in The Lord of the Rings is another example of a classic Warrior archetype. Gimli is always focused on defeating the enemy. He doesn’t consider any repercussions; he just heads for the battle.
When the great battle at Minas Tirith ends, Gimli prods Aragorn not to release the Dead Men of Dunharrow from their curse. He sees only that they can be kept in thrall to defeat more and more enemies. Aragorn proves his mettle as a heroic leader by freeing them. He knows that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (the first Baron Acton).
The Creator as an Unheroic Hero
If a Destroyer/Rebel is a hero leader, why is the Creator Archetype considered an unheroic hero?
After all, we need imagination and innovation. We need vision and idealism. This defines the Creator. Why is he unheroic?
The Creator often lacks the self-discipline needed to stay with one task and not be distracted by shiny new ideas.
The Creator flies from any thought of being static—just as the Destroyer does. Yet we need a protagonist who knows when to change and when to hold fast, a dichotomy that causes the necessary angst that a protagonist requires.
The negative form of the Creator is the Dreamer who never takes action.
Imagination is necessary, but too many flights of fancy can overwhelm plans. The Creator can juggle multiple projects, but anything that loses its sparkly newness will be dropped by the Dreamer. And both forms of this unheroic hero will not be concerned with ethics and other people in their pursuit of the new.
The Creator-Dreamer loves the new and blingy, yet the daily grind will have this character archetype looking for a new road—and nothing is more challenging than a relationship. (What a Beast!)
The Creator in Film
A story with a Creator-Dreamer may never have an end.
John Hammond in Jurassic Park is the classic Creator. He had the wealth to pursue his dream. He had the wealth to direct people to turn his dream into reality. Yet notice that he does not know what to do when his dream falls apart.
Frankenstein in any film iteration, including the wonderful Gene Wilder’s comic take, is also a Creator, driven by new ideas to improve the world. Yet he has to keep improving it—and improving it >> until they can dance a duet of Putting on the Ritz.
Only a dreamer Creator would not anticipate any problems with his monster creation. Is that fire?!
The next two Unheroic Heroes are the Magician and the Sage. See us on March 10 for a new perspective on these two Character Archetypes.
Also in March, we take a look at “Bright Lights and Hot Messes”, women as leaders. Your female protagonists will use different methods to control your story.
Every year hurries into Spring, blooming and leafing into growth.
Summer thrives greenly, burning through the long days until we are finished with the heat and are longing for chill mornings and temperate days.
We yearn for the blazing colors of Autumn.
In Winter the land rests, dormant after three busy, busy seasons of sprouting, growing, and fruiting.
Nature needs Winter, her time to re-gather her resources as the fields lie fallow and
nutrients gently decay into the rich soil.
Writers hurry into projects, creating and crafting stories and blogs into growth. We thrive on generating ideas to develop those blossomed stories, and we burn through projects as we sketch and draft and revise until our projects reach fruition.
Just like Nature, writers need to let their projects lay dormant a season before being reborn as a published work.
We need to allow some projects the time to be buried, as Winter buries the land in cold snow before the Spring sun warms it back up.
Let It Sleep
I have advised you to have “Nulla Dies Sine Linea” as your mantra. I have spoken heresy by preaching “Writer’s Block Doesn’t Exist” and by counseling you to write something, even if it’s not what you are working on.
Am I now talking out of both sides of my keyboard? Am I contradicting myself?
I am talking about your projects. After the seasons of creating and drafting and revising, we need to let the project sleep. Close it up, cover it over with another project. Walk away for a time.
“But it’s finished!” you protest.
The benefit comes in the creative process. The conscious mind may have cast the project from immediate contemplation. The subconscious, however, continues to filter in new resources.
Save your final edit for after the project’s dormant season. When editing begins, new ideas may surface that will enrich the project in ways you did not fathom as you designed and drafted then blazed through the revision.
Sleeping Awakens the Dreaming Creativity
I have urged that we should not wait on inspiration. Inspiration waits on us. It lurks, waiting to spring out at opportune moments. It will plant itself where it belongs.
As it grows, like honeysuckle, inspiration may reach into unexpected and unwanted areas. It may require gutting and inserting, reworking and re-sequencing the original.
Acquaint yourself with the work of Tony Buzan and idea exploration through mind-mapping, not just at the start of a project but also after this season of dormancy. Many writers have created collages as inspiring guides for a project. The collage or mind-map can be just as useful when re-approaching a supposedly finished project after its winter sleep.
This link will take you to a five-minute youtube video with Buzan explaining how mind-mapping awakens creativity:
Follow the growth of inspiration, and the transformed project will be so much better that you will no longer begrudge the laborious hours birthing and nurturing, pruning and training the new work with the old.
While It Sleeps
On farms, Winter is the season for repairs, restocking, and re-considering the approaching growing season.
Have you a project that you abandoned because it wasn’t quite working? Re-acquaint yourself with that project’s concept then work through a mind-map or collage or similar creative tool. Its season of sleep may have given your subconscious time to work out the corner you wrote yourself into.
Did it have a Damocles’ sword hanging over it, something that distracted you from the project’s fruition so that you just could not focus on where you were in the project? Perhaps after that season of sleep, you can discern exactly what was that sword of Damocles which wasted your focus.
Or pick up the next project you’re contemplating. Do its research. Determine the lodestone that will keep you returning as it develops from planting to growing to harvest.
While pursuing a project’s completion, we all have a stray idea or two or three that wanders through our minds. We make a note of it then continue on with our primary focus.
Many writers keep an ideas journal. In down-times I peruse it. What can I use now? What can still wait? Which idea’s time has come?
During the project’s dormancy, return to those stray ideas and give them a home.
Which ideas spark more and start to develop into a story?
Or which ideas still must wait?
And which idea’s time has come to turn into a project?
Sketch out a chosen few of these ideas or even take them to the outline step. Map out their start to finish, then decide how to fit them into your schedule of upcoming projects. Those newly-homed strays are not yet a project, however. Set them aside. The time for their planting will come.
During the primary project’s Winter, take a look at this writing business you are pursuing. It is a business, right? No longer a hobby or escape, but something you are pursuing for income?
Is the business seeing growth? Or do you seem to be digging into the same infertile ground?
TRACK the $$
Do a cost analysis. You should see a return on the money you’ve put into the business. If you’re not earning (making a little more year to year), what do you need to change? Marketing? More blogging? More freelance work?
Were you profligate with your writing expenses? Where did you waste $$? I cannot resist charming little journals. Yes, I am a paper nut, for I have over a dozen now with no immediate opportunity for their use. I am a pen nut, too.
Our profligate expenses may be in paying others to do things that we could have figured out on our own. However, sometimes it behooves us to pay others to do those things IF we spend that time saved in writing. If that time saved was not put to writing . . . well, what a waste.
TRACK the DAYS
Count the days during the year when you actually wrote, and analyze what happened on your unfruitful days. What time did you waste?
Another time-expense occurs with our relationships. We do need to devote time (and money) to family and friends. Humans are social creatures. Just look at the most introverted people you know when they are placed with people they love, talking about something they feel in their heart: they become gregarious.
Driving to and from major family gatherings is not a waste of time. For these gatherings, if you feel you must write, you can always dictate into your phone. If you’re with others while driving and can’t dictate and can’t write in the backseat because you’re the driver, how can you use this time? Talk to them about movies: the characters, the plot, the setting. You are getting a layman’s view of story. A truly helpful passenger will write down anything you dictate . . . and could possibly give you ideas as well.
TRACK your ENERGY
Time and Money are not the only elements of your Cost Analysis. Are you properly using your writing energies? Refer back to the “Writer’s Block” blog, specifically in the area of Writer’s Inertia (published Dec. 10).
The End of the Season of Sleep
Unlike the vernal equinox, we may not have a demarcation to help us know when the Winter of our project is over. Such a Winter does not have a set number of days. When you have repaired and restocked and re-considered and researched, you should feel a sense of completion, just as the land does not wait upon the equinox.
Sometimes Spring is reborn early; sometimes, late. One day you will feel the first project warm up in your mind. Give it first frost, perhaps even a second, then you can plant ink into the editing process.
Even when you fly through with few changes, you have lost nothing to the Winter season. When you finish this project, you have another waiting, ready to start. Your mind can turn to it because it has let go of the first project. You didn’t just end it; you completed it.
That strong sense of closure can only be attained if your project has its dormancy and then re-awakening.
Let it Sleep.
~~ M. A. Lee
For questions, comments, and philosophizing, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org