Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: Pro-Tip From A.J. Aalto
Nicknamed “The Writerghoulie” in the early days of Twitter, A.J. Aalto is a Canadian urban fantasy writer, author of the paranormal comedy series The Marnie Baranuik Files, and an active member of the Horror Writers Association.
Butt-In-Seat: Discipline and the Muse
The Muse loves to strike when you’re in the drive thru or walking your llama and can’t immediately capture those perfect snippits of dialog or subtle plot twists.
There are many ways to get around this. First of all, don’t own a llama. Secondly, set up regular meetings with yourself, to get your creative mind into the habit of showing up for work on your schedule.
Any time I have trouble being disciplined, I return to the habit that seemed to work best for me. Pro tip: 4 A.M. is prime creative time. I set my alarm, snarl at the clock, slap it a few times, throw myself out of the sack, slog to my office to load my documents, and put on a pot of tea. While the kettle heats up, I curse my boss; since I am my boss, I know exactly which insults cut the deepest.
Then I start the music in my headphones: Dubstep, K-pop, whatever music my teenagers say I’m too old to listen to. Then I shake my booty in the dark kitchen, where no one but my cat has to witness my cool-ass dance moves. Once the tea is ready, I’m wide awake and ready to work; thanks to the habit, the Muse is, too. In the beginning, you may need to bribe yourself to show up at 4 A.M. (I find that desk-chocolates work and desk-kale does not), but once the habit is fixed, it’ll be much easier to get your butt where it needs to be.
A.J. describes herself as “…an unrepentant liar and a writer of blathering nonsense offset by factual gore. When not working on her novels, you can find her singing Monty Python songs in the shower, eavesdropping on perfect strangers, stalking her eye doctor, or failing at one of her fruitless hobbies.”
I discovered A.J.’s Marnie Baranuik series just recently, and read all four novels back-to-back when I should have been prepping for the new semester. If ignoring my work wasn’t bad enough, I also wound up frequently reading them while in public (planes, trains, coffee shops) and laughing out loud so hard I scared people sitting nearby. Luckily, my husband is used to me laughing out loud while reading funny books — he often decides whether to read a book after me based on how hard I laughed. Rest assured, he too took up the Marnie Baranuik series. And you should, too. Ignore the people giving you weird looks for laughing out loud. They’re just jealous.
You can fine her on the web and in social media at:
website – “Connect with AJ on Facebook or Twitter. Then maybe have your head examined, kookpie.”
Twitter — The latest Tweets from AJ Aalto (@AJAalto). The Writerghoulie, supervillain on a leash. Writes monsters, sex, and kickin’ ass. Rep’d @Booktrope.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, you might check out some of the articles in the Pro-Tip Series:
Laura Anne Gilman: How to Solve Writer’s Block
Lawrence Watt-Evans: I Wish I’d Known This When I Started Writing
Karen Taylor: To Outline or Not to Outline?
Paul Dale Anderson 1: Ideas & Improving My Writing
Paul Dale Anderson 2: Beginnings, Endings, Self-editing and Other Craft Problems
Cat Rambo: Finding the Right Starting Point
Alyssa Wong: When is a Piece Ready to Send Out?
Martin Mundt: To Outline or Not to Outline?
Theodora Goss: Writing in More Than One Medium or Genre
Elizabeth Massie: How to Get Unstuck and Solve Writer’s Block
Gemma Files: Plot vs. Character
Season’s Greetings: Some Recommendations To Warm Your Cold Cockles
Craig Shaw Gardner: Critique Groups and First Readers
Lucienne Diver: Plot vs. Character
Carlos Hernandez: Structure, Point of View & Discovery
Nancy Kilpatrick: Getting the Ending Right
Also, check out the first of what will be an occasional feature: Quick Takes, where several authors weigh in on the same question.
Escaping the Darkness: What to Do When Your Imaginary World Gives You Real Nightmares
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to pose to the pros, put it in the comments section.
Tina L. Jens has been teaching varying combinations of Exploring Fantasy Genre Writing, Fantasy Writing Workshop, and Advanced Fantasy Writing Workshop at Columbia College-Chicago since 2007. The first of her 75 or so published fantasy and horror short stories was released in 1994. She has had dozens of newspaper articles published, a few poems, a comic, and had a short comedic play produced in Alabama and another chosen for a table reading by Dandelion Theatre in Chicago. Her novel, The Blues Ain’t Nothin’: Tales of the Lonesome Blues Pub, won Best Novel from the National Federation of Press Women, and was a final nominee for Best First Novel for the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild awards.
She was the senior producer of a weekly fiction reading series, Twilight Tales, for 15 years, and was the editor/publisher of the Twilight Tales small press, overseeing 26 anthologies and collections. She co-chaired a World Fantasy Convention, a World Horror Convention, and served for two years as the Chairman of the Board for the Horror Writers Assoc. Along with teaching, writing, and blogging, she also supervises a revolving crew of interns who help her run the monthly, multi-genre, reading series Gumbo Fiction Salon in Chicago. You can find more of her musings on writing, social justice, politics, and feminism on Facebook @ Tina Jens. Be sure to drop her a PM and tell her you saw her Black Gate blog.
My favorite book on writerly advice is Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer, in which her Prime Directive is: make an appointment with yourself to write, and do not break the appointment for any reason. If you do not, then you discover that it is possible to harness the elusive Creativity that lurks within. If you do, then you have discovered that you are not ready to become a writer.
The other training exercise she recommends is, Write as soon as you wake up in the morning. Good for breaking writer’s block, she avers.