Book Review, Books!, Inspiration, Recommendations, Signal Boost, Weekend Writer, Writing

Weekend Writer: Inspiration and the Creative Life, or Chapter One of Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer

Hey all, Dani here.

Welcome to the first actual post of Weekend Writer. I’ve been so nervous about really diving into this series on my blog, but I think it will be good for me, and hopefully you all get something from it as well. It would be really cool for all of us who want to write creatively (whether that is poetry, stories, novellas, novels, screenplays, RPGs, video games, whatever) to be able to help uplift and inspire each other, and keep ourselves motivated to strive for our dreams.

I know how difficult that can be. For so many years I’ve wanted to be a novelist. I wrote pretty much every day through high school and college, and then it slowed down as I entered the work force. But it was in the months after I self-published my first book that I really began to struggle, and it has been a downhill slide ever since.

So this is me trying to fight back, while also learning more about the craft of storytelling. This series will be a lot of me working through books on writing and creativity, maybe doing and sharing some writing exercises, and possibly doing some writing based discussion posts. It’s going to be an adventure for sure.

Let’s get started.

Wonderbook

Summary

This all-new definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction takes a completely novel approach and fully exploits the visual nature of fantasy through original drawings, maps, renderings, and exercises to create a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring object. Employing an accessible, example-rich approach, Wonderbook energizes and motivates while also providing practical, nuts-and-bolts information needed to improve as a writer. Aimed at aspiring and intermediate-level writers, Wonderbook includes helpful sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names in fantasy today, such as George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Catherynne M. Valente, and Karen Joy Fowler, to name a few.

Praise for Wonderbook: 

“Jammed with storytelling wisdom.” —Fast Company’s Co.Createblog

“This is the kind of book you leave sitting out for all to see . . . and the kind of book you will find yourself picking up again and again.” —Kirkus Reviews online

“If you’re looking for a handy guide to not just crafting imaginative fiction like sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, but to writing in general, be sure to pick up a copy of Steampunk Bibleauthor Jeff Vandermeer’s lovingly compiled Wonderbook.”  —Flavorwire

“Jeff Vandermeer and Jeremy Zerfoss have created a kaleidoscopically rich and beautiful book about fiction writing.”  —Star Tribune

“Because it is so layered and filled with text, tips, and links to online extras, this book can be read again and again by both those who want to learn the craft of writing and those interested in the process of others.” —Library Journal

Chapter One: Inspiration and the Creative Life

Honestly right away with this book, it was difficult to not feel the inspiration. Some of the art pieces and the charts and graphics are wonderfully odd, and they just make you think instead of just skimming over them. This book has commentary in the margins, and icons that signal that you can find more essays or examples or exercises by going to the book’s web page or checking out another writing guide or story collection. The essays in this first chapter were entertaining and intriguing. I especially appreciated the essay about writer’s block, which is something I have been battling for the past couple years. I am definitely a fan of this book already, and it’s only been 40 pages.

Okay, so that’s just a basic overview of the chapter. Now I’m going to go a little more in depth with the first 40 pages of the book. First I have a quote that stood out to me:

“You can’t be inspired every day, just like you can’t be madly, deeply, insanely in love every day.” – pg 2

I can agree to this. Sure, I’m still mostly in the honeymoon stage of my romantic life with Damian, but I have seen this as a problem point in my writing life. Those first several years I was so in love with writing; I did it every spare moment that I wasn’t reading or occupied with school or work. Lately it’s just been harder and harder to grab hold of that feeling, and I miss it. So I guess this quote reaffirms that I’m not the only one who feels this way, but I think it also suggests that I can feel that love and inspiration again, so I’m going to keep trying. Real life relationships take work, so why should my relationship with writing be any different?

“When it comes to your uniqueness and personal creativity, discard what doesn’t resonate with you and use only what makes sense.” – pg 2-3

This resonates with me even more after my time at the Gen Con Writer’s Symposium. Quite a bit of what I heard about inspiration and motivation and writer’s block just did not work for me, and so I’m shoving that information to the dusty back corner of my mind and I’m going to forget about it.

“…the creative process can begin anywhere and look like anything.” – pg 8

I guess for me right now, my creative process is beginning again by me seeking out information on writing and creativity and inspiration and using that to channel into my own new writing path. Yes it’s a lot different from where I was years ago, but that is totally fine. I’m glad I’m allowing myself to do this again, to find a new and different approach to my creative life.

I mean, I had a bookish blog in college and it didn’t do well at all, despite my high hopes for it. Then I started this one years later and by changing up my process and my expectations a bit, I’ve found greater success than what I had imagined. So I just need to do that again, but with my novel writing.

Pages 13-15 of this book cover Imaginative Outputs, and I thought it was really interesting (and came with a cool chart) so I’m going to include it here.

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This book really is cool of information presented in different ways, and sometimes I think the artwork and graphics can help inspire just as much as some of the quotes. Basically this outputs section boils down to Curiosity, where nothing is more essential than being interested in the world as well as the people in it, Receptivity, or allowing yourself to be open and empathetic to the world and people, or allowing yourself to be a raw nerve and feel the world, though this cannot be done through social media, which is actually feeling at a distance, Passion, because if you don’t care then no amount of effort will save your work, and this particular part is difficult for cynics so it suggest to retain your idealism in the world, and Immediacy, or living in the moment, because anything can be transformed into a story. These imaginative outputs are tempered by discipline and endurance, though, so that’s something to also take into account.

“Negative emotions are also a key part of what inspires and drives most writers to write.” – pg 16

There was a time back in college when I was just feeling so much that it was actually overwhelming, and I remember channeling that into a story where the main character was an Empath, stuck feeling the emotions of everyone around her. It was a difficult story to write because of how much emotion was involved, but after writing each chapter I felt a little more balanced and able to handle the world around me again. It was actually super refreshing.

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Next this chapter spent several pages (pgs 17-26) covering different inputs for inspiration, little nuggets of wisdom like if you write down ever idea you have, your imagination will continue to give you more ideas, which I think is a cool concept to think about. This section also covers how important it is to keep pen and paper on you at all times. Yes, you can write idea notes down on your phone, but there will be times when your battery dies or you can’t have your phone out, so pen and paper will always be around and is the superior option. But hey, if you prefer digital then go with it. Don’t forget that point earlier about only using what resonates with you and throw out all the rest.

Write down everything. Write what interests you. Write what is personal to you. Write what is uncomfortable to you. Write what is random and amusing. Write from external or self-generate prompts.

“The imagination is infinite.” – pg 40

This is the last quote I have from this first chapter, and I think it is a good stopping point. However, the last couple of pages before this (pgs 34-37) actually included an essay called “Writer’s Block,” which was written by Matthew Cheney, and I have a few thoughts and quotes from it.

“Expectations can destroy artists of all kinds.” – pg 34

“You can always write something.” – pg 36

“Distraction, actually, is a key to overcoming writer’s block.” – pg 37

Writer’s block is both perception and reality, brought on by our own expectations and the pressures we put on ourselves. And the more we perceive the block as a problem the more our reality shifts around that perception. Or at least that’s what I can see looking back on these past couple years. The distraction quote is particularly important for me, because now I’m distracting myself from the reality of my writer’s block problem by absorbing all of this other information. I think the theory and the hope is that by focusing on other things, by distracting yourself from a problem point, you can actually jump-start your creativity at a different point and get around your initial problem. That would be really nice.

Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four / Chapter Five / Chapter Six / Chapter Seven / Workshop Appendix and Additional Writing Exercises

Where to Get a Copy

If my thoughts on this first chapter have helped you out at all, you can try picking up a copy of the whole book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-million, Book Depository, or your local independent bookstore.

You can also check with your local library.

Question Time

Hey, so I need suggestions for how to proceed with this blog series. Would you prefer me to stick with one book at a time and work through it chapter by chapter before jumping to the next book, or would you like me to jump around book chapters while sticking to a similar theme so you can get different viewpoints on the same topic?

Please let me know in the comments, and I will be back soon with more bookish content.

9 thoughts on “Weekend Writer: Inspiration and the Creative Life, or Chapter One of Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer”

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