Friday, January 22, 2016

All Hail the Underdog!

I want to take a moment tonight to talk about underdogs.

Our lives are filled with stories of underdogs who overcome impossible odds. In many cases, it's the bread and butter of storytelling. There are many reasons why an underdog will pick up the banner and charge the oncoming horde. Sometimes they do it as a conscious choice, but often it's a combination of circumstances which thrust them into harms way with no other way out than to press forward.

Unlike some of our most celebrated underdog stories, life is a cruel mistress. Most underdogs are swept out to sea with the retreating tide.

The truth is, few underdogs overcome difficulties, but each sequential success prepares them in unique ways to overcome other difficulties life throws their way.

So what is it about overcoming a difficulty that can be a catalyst of strength for other problems down the road? What tools do underdogs gain with each subsequent victory?

Lessons Learned:
Chances are, we don't do everything perfect the first time around. Our unlikely hero has to learn from his mistakes or the mistakes made by those around them.

Problem Solving:
A successful underdog has the ability to look at a problem in a unique way. They see the problem for what it is, a puzzle. Some characters with more power at their disposal might rush head-long into combat, but our unlikely hero knows they're up against something profoundly difficult and that an out-of-the box solution might be required.

Creative Thinking:
While everyone else prepares to engage a problem with the obvious solution, our underdog employs creative thinking to see the problem in a new, creative light. Their unique experience helps them draw allegories to other experiences and situations most haven't encountered. In many cases, their greatest weakness becomes their greatest strength.

All Hail the Underdog!

The truth is, most of us are underdogs in our own right. We love to see the unlikely overcome because it gives us hope. We want to believe it's more than just circumstance or fate which brings the ultimate victory.

An underdog might not have strength or courage or good looks. That's okay. We can identify with their struggle. We know what it feels like to be different than everyone else, even if some of those differences are mostly just an illusion.

Part of the underdog's struggle is that they see their own doubt echoed in those around them. While there might be a mentor who believes in them, they are surrounded by reminders of why their quest is impossible.

A well-written underdog doesn't win easy. Things aren't handed to her; she doesn't simply awaken with abilities or powers. The struggle is real. Each step is a small victory. Each misstep is a lesson learned. It's important to remember that there are failures, as well as victories, on the path to ultimate glory.

The underdog embodies a critical ethos of storytelling. What makes them real isn't the victory, it's the struggle: the complex layers stacked upon one another to make them who they are.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Step Right Up - Selling Writing Solutions!

Hello fellow Muse Hunters!
I'm very happy you made your way here and I'm looking forward to sharing some of my recent thoughts with you, which may help you in your writing journey.

This post could also be called, Dangers in Podcasting.

I've been listening to a lot of great writing podcasts lately and I just wanted to touch on a few things that have been weighing on my mind. Hopefully a frank conversation about some of these issues will help both of us.

First, why listen to writing podcasts?
That's an excellent question. While many will recommend the conference circuit for networking and building your writing toolbox, that life isn't always a reality for some of us.

Sure, there's the argument that if our writing career is worth it, we will make things like attending conferences a priority, but let's get real. That answer is a cop-out. While listening to another author talk about their writing process might not be the same as watching them talk on a panel in person, it isn't without benefits.

For those of us who have other responsibilities, other demands on our time and money, selecting a few good podcasts to listen to regularly can provide a deep sense of belonging, in a way. It isn't the same as a writing mastermind group or a critique circle, but it can certainly be a useful tool in the digital age.

For folks who do attend conferences and workshops, a podcast can be a great way to keep track of their favorite writing mentors between speaking events.

Most writing-centered podcasts are free to download and consume and can be a great way to add useful tools to your writing toolbox.

The danger of podcasts.
Now, here's where the duplicity comes in. When you listen to a podcast regularly, you put yourself in-line with the thoughts and beliefs of the podcast personality. That's sort of a funny way of putting it, isn't it?

The podcast personality.

Think about that.

When we listen to a podcast, we're usually tuning in to a persona of the person or people hosting the show. While they are present with us in a very unique way, we're only getting part of the picture, the edited truth of their character, most flaws removed, and generally devoid of annotations of their actual intentions.

I've thought about creating my own writing podcast for some time. It might be something I do in the future, but I still haven't worked out how I can do it without it taking away from my writing endeavors at this point. Aside from having a conversation about writing with people who are interested in the topic, what are some other benefits?
  • Building a Sound Platform.
    • This is the most logical benefit of being a part of a podcast. Listeners will have direct access to your writing process, your working projects, and release dates for improved product launches.
  • Increased Exposure.
    • Being a part of a, or hosting your own, podcast is an incredible way of increasing your exposure and leveraging your marketing potential.
  • Creating Strategic Alliances.
    • No joke, podcasts are a great way of networking with other authors and producers of writing products. The benefits include further increased exposure from joint endeavors and possible alternate streams of income by recommending books or products (possibly affiliate marketing).
Now, before any of you start thinking I'm purely extolling benefits or preparing a pyre for the podcast, let me be clear: a well produced and informative podcast takes a lot of time and effort. Some would argue the benefits are part of the package for creating helpful content. I'm not trying to argue one way or the other.

Your journey, your tools. 
What I want to address here is the notion that, even with podcasts, we must take everything we consume with a grain of salt. (Including the posts here on this blog or on my site, www.rbradyfrost.com.)

If you really want to be a writer, to call yourself an author, there will be useful things you can learn on your journey and tools you can pick up to carry with you, but there will always be pitfalls and distractions.

Do you need to pay for that online workshop for building your tribe or learn how James Patterson co-writes his books? How useful is that webinar on Facebook advertising to you at this point in your writing career? Should you invest hundreds of dollars to get people to sign up for your email newsletter?

These topics and specific examples aren't necessarily all bad and might even prove useful to certain writers at specific points in their career, but that doesn't mean they're suited for you where you are right now. And the truth is, you're the only one who can determine what's right for you at any given time.

People are making pretty good money writing and producing books and e-books today. The writing profession isn't dead; and some say it's actually seeing a remarkable resurgence. You know what else makes pretty good money these days? Tools for writers. Books on writing. Webinars and workshops based around writing topics and book marketing.

In closing.
Enjoy listening to your podcasts. Enjoy the fellowship they help foster. Take the good advice and parse the bad and the distractions. Don't get caught up in things that detract from your writing goals. Don't allow the law of reciprocity to govern your actions.  

Don't go out and buy dictation software and books on how to train it if you think that's the only way to get your writing done because you're hearing it from multiple voices. (If it's something that might help you, then go for it. Just be aware of your motivations and reasoning.)

Don't spend your time and money on a webinar you don't need when you could save the money and use the time to actually write.

Don't convince yourself that a product will somehow solve all your writing problems. Elbow grease is still the single best answer to most difficulties when it comes to writing.

There are some great podcasts out there. There are some great podcasts out there that depend on product advertisements as revenue. Be prepared to separate the writing advice from the promotions.

(Writing Excuses [not a paid or reciprocated endorsement] is an example of an amazing writing podcast which doesn't schlep tools and solutions...) 

{While I haven't started a podcast, I did begin posting weekly writing updates to YouTube. If you'd like to tune in, you can find my first episode here. If you'd like to follow the playlist of my updates, you can do so here.)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

5 Easy Tips for Hunting Your Muse During NaNoWriMo


National Novel Writing Month NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month as it is otherwise known, is an event where hundreds of thousands of people across the globe embark on the journey of writing 50,000 words of a novel. It's tough work, but it can be very rewarding!

I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo this year, too much real life stuff on my plate right now, but I thought I would join you in spirit by dedicating a Hunting The Muse post to those participants who might be stuck wondering what to write next.

I can tell you from personal experience, from my efforts in previous years, that one of the hardest things for NaNoWriMo participants is the running tally of words as days go by. One slip up, one momentary lapse in dedication, or one real-life emergency can turn the world on end. Before you know it, you're thousands of words behind schedule and the stress starts piling up.

What can you do when you find yourself in that kind of situation?

First things first. Take a breath. Worrying about word count will never do as much good as we might expect. Conversely. you can't just throw dedication to the wind. You've got to stick to it, but you also have to allow yourself the freedom to get back into the flow. That might mean you've got to sit and stare at the screen for a while. It most certainly means you shouldn't be messing around on Facebook or Twitter while waiting for inspiration.

Here are some tips to help you bait the muse so you can get back to it and work more effectively toward accomplishing your goals.



1. Prepare your work environment.
Having a messy work environment can restrict the free flow of ideas. Your work space doesn't need to be spotless, but there shouldn't be excessive materials, papers, or objects that might interfere with your focus.

2. Establish a routine.
Much like meditation, approaching writing by performing a series of simple tasks can help alert your mind and body that a routine creative endeavor is about to take place. These tasks will be very specific to you and your needs. You might take out your writing notebook, open a special document, or OneNote notebook with ideas or pictures, whatever. Establishing a routine is about performing whatever warm-up activities you need in order to build a pattern in your mind: this is WRITING time.

3.  Find visual inspiration.
What inspires you visually? Thematic wall art such as posters, photographs, or paintings (to include reprints), can help some writers visualize the world they're writing in. You might also have a sketch of a scene or your characters. This visual queue should help bring you back into the writing task and should not serve as a distraction.

4. Find audio inspiration.
Some authors enjoy writing to a soundtrack or playlist while they pound keys. If this isn't you, helpful meditative sounds might do the trick. Do you enjoy listening to the sound of rain and thunderstorms? If so, there are countless YouTube videos which can be played in the background for free. How about the sound of sitting on a beach or listening to the mellow sounds of a pan flute? Those are also freely available, you need only determine what works best for you.

Does that just sound like a bunch of noise to you? Try a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones to help enjoy silence while you write.

5.  Avoid distractions.
This one is obvious. As writers who love to write, we often find ourselves fostering counter-productive habits and behaviors. Trust me, you won't find inspiration by browsing Facebook. Hopping on Twitter to see what other writers have for word count won't help either. Pinterest, as fun as eye-candy pins can be, probably won't put more words on the page either. Remember, you want to be a writer.

You can do this. Don't let silly detours eat up your writing time! There are tools and utilities you can use to help limit your virtual work space if you find yourself lacking self control.

Some tools highlighted in this LifeHacker article might help:
(None of these links are affiliate links, to my knowledge.)

And, of course, you can't forget about Scrivener (Official sponsor of NaNoWriMo!) 
I personally love Scrivener and it includes a beautiful full screen mode. It also has a handy name generator, word count tally (and even session-based word count), and allows you to store your notes and inspirations alongside your writing with easy compilation features to generate formats for specific markets. It's awesome, even if there is a bit of a learning curve for some of the more advanced features (which you don't need to use at all for the software to prove worthwhile).

Literature and Latte, the makers of Scrivener, provide a lengthy tutorial and helpful videos to dive into once you've hit that word count. If you're looking for some more advanced training, third party Scrivener users have put together some amazing paid Scrivener training resources

It isn't necessary, but it might prove helpful if you really want to sit down and learn all the ins and outs and special tricks once NaNoWriMo is complete. (This is an affiliate link, though most users will find the program's basic functionality far exceeds many other products on the market and the additional paid training by third-party users isn't required.)



Friday, October 30, 2015

The New HuntingTheMuse

Well, here we are on the cusp of an amazing new adventure. After doing some serious soul searching about how I've approached my writing efforts over the years, I've decided to delineate my personal writing endeavors from my desire to share creative writing insights.

You'll find most of my personal writing over at www.rbradyfrost.com, while the majority of my helpful writing posts will be found here at HuntingTheMuse.com.

Why am I doing this? There are a couple reasons, really.

If you look back at some of the posts on this blog, you'll probably see that while I had some decent interaction, I always craved the attention of those closest to me. Being able to see the web stats, I was faced with the sad truth that my real target audience didn't include the people I thought it would.

The longer this expectation mismatch went on, the more I became disillusioned with what I wanted from my writing. I got sidetracked. I no longer hunted the muse, I hunted affection from those who couldn't give it.

That's why I'm going to make a change here. Just as I need to adjust my own audience expectations, I also hope to help others as they choose to hunt the muse rather than chasing phantoms and ghosts.

It will take time to build an audience again, but I hope my efforts will prove worthwhile, if even only as a reminder to myself that writing has to be the forefront of my efforts. By re-acquiring the original domain name, any old links out there still referencing the content on this blog will once again become active. While I doubt there are many left, any little bit counts.

So as we move forward, you know what you can expect of me and this domain. I promise there won't be any more posts pining for attention. I will strive to share what I've learned about writing and I'll do my best to help you in your pursuit of your muse.

For all you NaNoWriMo participants out there, best of luck! I really look forward to reading about your experiences this year while I work on other projects. Seeing and hearing about so many people writing toward their goals inspires me. You're awesome and don't you forget it!