All posts by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Director of creative writing at UoL, published with OUP and Cambridge. Currently travelling the world and writing a book.

What they won’t tell you about creativity

“I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at 9am every morning.”

We live in a time when creativity is sold as a cure-all alongside diverse other forms of self help. There are creativity coaches, handbooks of creative recovery, and creativity retreats. Being creative has superstars.

But there’s something they aren’t telling you.

Think about this from the perspective of the creativity guru.  They have to appeal to a mass market. If they’re going to make superstar status, a million people have to buy their book.

So what they aren’t going to say, won’t ever reveal, and indeed CAN’T come clean about is this.

You don’t know what you’re doing.

The basic reason why 99% of novels never get written, songs don’t get recorded, films are never made and businesses go unfounded, isn’t a mystery.

It’s not a psychological block.

It’s not a childhood trauma.

It’s a plain old lack of knowledge, skills, technique and learning about the activity at hand. The person doing the creating, does not know what they are doing.

This is a problem the creativity guru cannot solve. Because to do so, they would have to, themselves, know what they are doing. And if they knew what they were doing, they wouldn’t be a creativity guru.

The writer for who inspiration strikes at 9am every morning knows what they are doing.  Which is the universal answer to all vague creative problems like writer’s block.

Know what you are doing.

(The opening quote is of contested authorship, which either means it’s untrue, or so true no one author alone could have said it.)

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Fear is the flip-side of wonder

Have you ever noticed we use the same words for fear and wonder?

Awe is both awesome and awful.

Terror is both terrible and terrific.

Our ancestors knew something we’ve tried to forget. That the horrors we fear are also the gateways to wonder.

Scared of losing your job? Failing your exams? Ending that relationship?

Flip them over and all these disasters become miracles. A new career, a different life, greater love.

Even death, the ultimate awful, might be followed by the ultimate awesome.

Boredom, anxiety, depression are the symptoms of wonder-starvation, caused by a chronic aversion to fear.

Fear is the flip-side of wonder. You can’t have one without learning to love the other.

Game of Thrones was not a fantasy show (and that made some fantasy fans angry)

Damien Walter writes on scifi & fantasy for The Guardian, BBC, Wired, Oxford University Press, IO9, Tor.com and elsewhere. He’s a graduate of the Clarion scifi writers workshop, and teaches the Rhetoric of Story.

There’s a kind of fantasy novel that fantasy fans tend to like. It features either a young orphan / bastard boy destined to be a king, or an orphaned / abused young woman destined to be a queen.

If these sound familiar, it’s likely because you’ve  been following their adventures in the most successful tv show of all time – Game of Thrones – that came to the end of eight seasons and innumerable murders, beheadings, betrayals and incinerations just a few days ago.

The final twists in the narratives of orphan / bastard Jon Snow and orphan / abuse victim Daenerys Targaryen weren’t universally acclaimed. A core of haters have been building towards the boil as seasons 7 & 8 failed to fill their expectations. Who are these haters? What did they want from Game of Thrones?

They are are fantasy fandom. And they wanted Game of Thrones to culminate in high fantasy fashion.

Because of my occasional column on sci-fi & fantasy books for The Guardian, I follow many fantasy authors and fans on Twitter. As the final episodes of GoT aired this year, the fantasy writing community seemed to descend into what I can only call a psychotic rage. GoT’s show-runners were failing to meet their expectations, and fantasy fandom was not happy!

But the things that displeased fantasy fans about Game of Thrones, may well be exactly the qualities that made the show and its finale the highest rated in HBO’s illustrious history. Billions of people of all kinds around the world have been drawn into the epic battle for Westeros, not because it had knights, dragons, wizards and magic in, but because it was a great human drama that ALSO happened to feature the tropes of fantasy fiction.

Game of Thrones show-runners David Benioff & D.B.Weiss, much maligned for failing fantasy fans, did an outstanding job keeping the GoTs wider audience guessing about how the show would conclude. They pulled off this trick by playing these two sets of expectations against each other.

On the one hand we’ve all seen Lord of the Rings and we all know how a standard fantasy story ends. The bastard orphan becomes king! I think we can all be grateful that GoT didn’t repeat the sentimental end of Return of the King. On the other hand, we all know that drama tends to tragedy. But none of us could guess ahead of time which direction GoT would take.

This dichotomy – between the hackneyed traditions of generic fantasy, and the wider possibilities of tragic drama – was embodied in the characters of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, the two *most* archetypal characters in a show heavy with archetypal characters, and the only two characters who seemed to have a free pass from the brutal logic of GoT.

In a show famous for almost randomly killing off any character the nefarious imagination of George R R Martin saw fit, Jon and Dany had what we might call “plot armour”. For the Song of Ice and Fire to ever end, icy Jon and fiery Dany would have to meet. And until they did, it seemed that nothing in Westeros or Esteros could kill either…at least not for long.

So the real question, as GoT accelerated towards its finale, was this. Would Dany and Jon’s plot armour see them through to the end, and the fulfilment of their Kingly / Queenly destinies? Or would they finally yield to the brutal realities of their world, and arrive at a more tragic ending?

SPOILER ALERT.

It was the latter.

On its own, the “failure” of GoT to fulfil the cliche genre expectations of fantasy fans might not have lead to such a borderline pathological response from some people. But the delivery of Dany and Jon’s tragic endings was made all the more brutal by an extra factor. Dany and Jon didn’t just reach bad ends, on the way, they revealed themselves to be far from the heroic characters many of us were invested in.

George R R Martin in interview has repeatedly asserted that he wanted to write a fantasy that, unlike Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, where good and evil are literally manifested as different races, would show how good and evil run through the heart of every character. And in the wonderfully complex characters of Cersei, Arya, The Hound and even Joffrey, we saw just that.

Game of Thrones took arch-villains like Jaime Lannister and made them heroes, and moral men like Stannis Baratheon and twisted until they committed the worst of all crimes. But again, Dany and Jon stood outside the moral complexity that made GoT so remarkable. They were both simply…good – until, finally, they weren’t.

The orphan / bastard hero Jon Snow, for all his prowess as a fighter, simply lacked the strength to be a good king. Had he been stronger he could have taken the throne and ruled wisely. Instead he gave it up to a Queen he believed in…bad call Jon Snow! Leaders can’t always make the moral choice, sometimes they must make the strong choice.

Dany certainly had the strength to lead, as we learned when she nuked Kings Landing, a decision I dissected over on my YouTube channel. But it was the revelation of the evil that ran through her heart which, I have the feeling, really infuriated those who were most invested in her heroic journey.

Daenerys represented a worldview that’s become very common in our real world today. It’s the worldview of the activist, the campaigner, the fighter for social justice. Dany doesn’t just want to win the Game of Thrones, she wants to “break the wheel” that keeps the game turning, century after century. And with that high moral goal, any action, however evil, can be justified.

“Game of Thrones did not fulfil the expectations of generic fantasy – thank ye Gods!”

I’ve spent a lot of my life in activist and social justice circles. I know the mindset, from long years of holding it. And so, like millions of people, I loved seeing Dany destroying one city full of slave owning “Masters” after another. And like millions of others, I didn’t think too hard about the dark side of those actions. So when Tyrion, in the GoT finale, lists the crimes of The Breaker of Chains, it was a brilliant moment of dramatic revelation. Later in the episode, when Arya claims to “know a killer” when she sees one, the message is driven home. The evil in Dany’s heart is as powerful as the very worst in Westeros.

It’s all too tempting to believe that our high motives justify our means – any means – to reach the utopia of a better world. Dany certainly believes it, and that leads her to expose the worst of herself. It’s possible that some of us today, caught up in real world political causes for which we sometimes overstep the line, aren’t ready to see our heroes, like Queen Daenerys Targaryen, dethroned.

Game of Thrones did not fulfil the expectations of generic fantasy – thank ye Gods! Instead it played for a much, much more morally complex ending, which the audience who were ready for it were truly satisfied by. As bloated productions of other fantasy bestsellers stagger towards our screens, it’s worth wondering if their producers realise that Game of Throne’s success had little to do with fantasy, and everything to do with the truth and reality of great dramatic storytelling.

Join the discussion the SciFi & Fantasy on Facebook group.

The Targaryen queen did NOT go mad

Daenerys did not go mad.

What she did was totally sane and rational.

It’s what America did at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Hence the imagery, which deliberately evoke nuclear destruction.

Demonstrate the capacity for huge violence, to take complete power.

 

Zizek vs Peterson : why didn’t they fight?

It was billed as the “debate of the century”, but on the night Zizek vs Peterson turned into more of a love-in than a street brawl. In this new era of Intellectual MMA, who will be the Ultimate Debating Champion?

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Mindfulness will fuck you up

Mindfulness is part of a demanding meditative path that suits only a few people. There are better ways to be happier.

I don’t recommend getting an arm cast for a bad tooth, taking ibuprofen for stomach ache, or treating a broken leg with herbal remedies. To each illness, the correct treatment.

In today’s age of the “mindfulness app”, it’s become a common place belief that mindfulness meditation can help with the common problems of stress, anxiety and depression.

While breathing exercises can help us relax, the longterm “positive” benefits of mindfulness are often a form of numbing. The meditation becomes another form of distraction, like drinking a bottle of wine, or watching Netflix. Sooner or later the stress, anxiety and depression creep back in.

But our intuition that these are, at least in part, spiritual maladies, seems right. It’s our spirit, not our body, that seems to be in pain. But there are spiritual paths that are likely to help us much more than the tough practices of mindfulness meditations like Vipassana.

“Our inner landscape is not a placid lake, but a raging hurricane, that mindfulness unleashes.”

The word “yoga” comes from the word “yoke”. The way a yoke joins a cow to a plough is the way a yoga path joins your body and spirit. The are many yogas, many paths, and hardcore meditation may not be the path for you.

Bakthi yoga is a path of loving devotion. Find the people in your life in need of love and give it to them. Devote yourself to a higher cause. Depression doesn’t survive this kind of treatment for long.

Ashtanga yoga is a path of embodiment. Place yourself in a difficult physical pose and watch how your body responds. Stress can’t prosper if you’re rooted in your body, it being a being of the mind.

Tantric yoga is a path of experience. Getting married? Going bankrupt? Making love? Facing hatred? Whatever experience you are in, learn to be in it fully and completely. It’s a tricky practice, but anxiety, just another name for fear, disappears like shadows exposed to the light.

Within yoga practices, what we commonly think of as mindfulness is an aspect of Raja yoga. It’s central to the Buddhist practice of Vipassana or Insight meditation. It’s the path of the Buddha theirself, although many of the meditation practices taught today are much later creations.

Vipassana is a remarkably hard path. It suits people who are highly conceptual, who think in abstractions, and are rooted in their mind. It can, potentially, cut through all the fetters of of material existence. But it will be accompanied with intense mental anguish, as the delusions of life are stripped away. And it can easily become a trap. The meditator becomes so enamoured of the insights they have learned that, like a satellite orbiting a planet but never landing, we miss that the insights we seek  are right there in plain sight.

A partial Vipassana practice, which is what is most often taught as “mindfulness”, can open up sources of stress, anxiety and depression that the new meditator might then struggle to resolve. It can, please pardon the language, fuck us up. Our inner landscape is not a placid lake, but a raging hurricane, that mindfulness unleashes.

I talk in more depth about some of the pitfalls of mindfulness meditation on my YouTube channel. Please subscribe for new talks, and back me on Patreon to help me put more time into writing.

The highest art of story?

Premiere! Read on for details.

After five years teaching creative writing at universities, and a decade leading writing workshops in schools, libraries, prisons, care homes and more, I saw a problem in how we teach writing.

The Rhetoric of Story is my answer to that problem. Across seven lectures I layout my best understanding of how story works. The course took me a year to create, and years to research.

Since I first published Rhetoric of Story I have gathered over 13,000 online writing students across Udemy and Skillshare. It’s a great honour and I’ve been happy to help so many people, in more than 140 countries, develop as writers.

Overwhelmingly, my students agree that the final talk in the Rhetoric of Story is the most powerful. I’ve been gradually making the talks available on my YouTube channel. The final talk, on Emotion: The Highest Art of Storytelling, will “premiere” there on Sunday 3rd March at 14:00 GMT.

The entire course will be free on YouTube for one week after Sunday. Then it will be available at specific dates and for all students enrolled in my RoS seminar groups.

I want to make all my teaching available free on YouTube. You can help me achieve that goal by subscribing to my channel, or becoming a sponsor on Patreon.

7 literary Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels you must read

Damien Walter writes on sci-fi & fantasy for The Guardian, BBC, Wired, Oxford University Press, IO9, Tor.com and elsewhere. He’s a graduate of the Clarion scifi writers workshop. Follow him on Twitter.

At any given moment on the inter-webs there are probably dozens of irate Sci-Fi & Fantasy fans getting agitated about those damn literary authors coming over here and writing our genres! Which is about as silly as shouting at someone for stealing your flowers when they have plucked some bluebells in the forest.

(Unless you happen to own the entire forest, in which case DOWN WITH THE FEUDAL ARISTOCRACY).

SF and Fantasy are a common ground that any writer can build their house upon.

The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse is set some 400 years in the future from its first publication in 1943. Hesse spent over a decade writing this, his last novel, which completed the body of work that won him the Nobel prize for literature. The Glass Bead Game of the title is played by the intellectual elite of Hesse’s future world. Through it the eras great thinkers synthesise and interweave all knowledge, from scientific equations to musical compositions and great works of art. It is often noted that Hesse’s novel predates and predicts the digital revolution driven by computer technology, which allows us today to easily manipulate all forms of human knowledge. But the Glass Bead Game is much more than simple futurism. Hesse, who had established himself as one of the 20th centuries great spiritual philosophers in Siddharta and Steppenwolf, is interested in his created game not as a hymn to technology, but as a critique of knowledge and the severe limits of the human intellect. For anyone living and working in the knowledge driven society of the early 21st century, The Glass Bead Game has perhaps more insight to deliver than ever.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy is regularly excoriated by genre fans for being just one among hundreds of post-apocalypse novels, and no more worth the literary plaudits it received. Which is about  as ignorant as asking what’s so special about E=MC2 when there are so many other five symbol sequences in the alphabet. On one of its many levels of meaning The Road is indeed a post-apocalypse novel. On another level it is an allegory for the history of human civilisation, with each stage of human culture represented, from our tribal roots to modern industrial society, exposing our cannibalistic tendency to exploit other human life for our own benefit. And on another level it is a story about fatherhood, and the devastating weight of responsibility all parents feel bringing their children in to a world which is so often brutal and harsh. And on yet another it is an epic poem, as lyrically muscular as Homer and as critical of modern existence as T.S.Eliot. There simply is no equal to McCarthy’s vision of apocalypse.

Shikasta by Doris Lessing, in which the author of The Golden Notebook succeeded in uniting the infinities of the far future and intergalactic space with the psychological depths of human mythology and spirituality WHILST laying a feminist critique of the entire history of human civilisation. AND it has some of the absolute trippiest, mind warping imagery of any SF novel ever written. The alien civilisation of Canopus, who live on a plane of existence above ours, send an emissary to the colony planet Rhohanda in an attempt to prevent its corruption by the rival civilisation of Shammat. Despite his failure the emissary returns many times to the renamed planet of Shikasta, which it transpires is our Earth. Doris Lessing essentially rewrites the entire history of mankind in this book, to the end of unifying our generally opposed scientific and spiritual worldviews, and argues convincingly that they need never be opposed. All of which helped Lessing become the second Nobel prize winning SF author on this list.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is often cited as the leading example of the South American magical realist movement, in which Marquez combined the realist literary tradition of the that continent’s European colonists with the mythic stores told by its indigenous peoples. The novel follows seven generations of the Buendia family and the others who join them in founding the town of Macondo. The fantastic permeates Marquez’ grand metaphor for the modern history of Colombia on every level. From the early appearance of the gypsy Melquiades who brings fantastic scientific contraptions to the town, to the novels incredible conclusion where *SPOILER* the entire village history of the village becomes only a few notes in Melquiades journal*END SPOILER*, any sense of reality in Marquez world is continually undermined by the suspicion that reality is as much a fiction as any story. This book actually left me shaking when I had finished it. And I do not shake easily.

The Magus by John Fowles. Magic. You can’t stumble far in Fantasy without tripping over some, but no other author has ever come closer to describing what magic really is than John Fowles. The young Nicholas Urfe journeys to the greek island of Phraxos to take up a teaching position and escape a relationship he feels trapped in. But Nicholas has all the emotional intelligence of a dishrag, and having abandoned the only person in the world who really loves him, promptly has a complete existential breakdown. In this vulnerable state he is drawn in to the mysterious world of millionaire recluse Maurice Conchis, where he is ensnared in an ever more complex series of psychological games and experiments. Is Nicholas a victim of a sadistic manipulator, or is he being helped to understand the mysteries of a world he barely begins to comprehend? The Magus never entirely resolves the mystery at its heart, but it does explore how the human heart uses magic as a pathway to its emotional and psychological growth.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf is, like all great Fantasy, as much a book about the imagination as it is a product of the imagination. There is probably no writer who epitomises the sterotype of the ‘literary novelist’ than Woolf. English, upper middle class, a Bloomsbury bohemian and the author of plotless novels about upper middle class English women wondering what life is really all about while aimlessly wandering around starring at things. In to which Orlando bursts like an explosion of pure colour and joy. The story of an Elizabethan nobleman who decides to live forever, sleeps with Elizabeth I among many others and changes sex before roving through English history on a quest for sex and adventure. But in amongst all these hi-jinx Woolf plays some post-modern games of literary revelation. Is Qrlando real? Or a character in a fiction? Do we care, or are we happy just to enjoy the ride? Like Miguel Cervantes Don Quixote, which very nearly made this list, Orlando is at heart a story about the labyrinthine quality of the stories we tell ourselves.

Lanark by Alasdair Gray is a novel in four books, presented out of order as Book Three, a Prologue, Book One, Book Two, Book Four and an Epilogue four chapters from the end of the novel, and illuminated with Gray’s own extraordinary illustrations, both book and pictures calling to mind Hieronymous Bosch’s depictions of hell. Lanark awakes with no memories in the city of Unthank where he falls in to a life of bohemian unemployment and poverty. His body begins to grow scales and he is sucked down a tunnel to The Institute where he rescues his love Rima, transformed in to a dragon, from being exploded for fuel. Lanark is shown his history by an oracle, which reveals his past life as Duncan Thaw, a sickly young artist and, possibly, murderer growing up in industrial Glasgow. None of this does justice to the book, which unfolds a vision of heaven and hell so staggeringly forceful that I had to stop reading for a year half-way through to give myself time to recover. Alasdair Gray’s novel is nothing less than a vision of how we create heaven and hell on Earth, through our own selfishness, ignorance and incapacity for love. It has inspired dozens of great authors including Iain Banks, whose novel The Bridge is something of a homing to this great Scottish novel. If you read only one book from this list, make it Lanark.

A few books I did not choose and why…

Anything by Margaret Atwood, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, 1984 or Brave New World…because you have already read these, right? No? Well then…

Five years. 555 runs. Five Lessons.

From zero experience, to three 10k runs a week, then back down to a regular 5k distance, running has changed my life. And taught me some valuable lessons.

It’s coming up for five years since I left the UK and began “digital nomading”. This time has been occupied with two stories, building my writing practice, and learning more about Buddhism. I write about both of those topics now and again. This is an essay about a third story I don’t mention so often.

In early 2012 I read Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (The answer, incidentally, is writing) and was inspired to buy some Nikes and try running. I don’t remember loving it, and those early runs were often only a few hundred metres.

“I don’t know about your mind, but my mind is the biggest barrier between me, and me getting things done.”

Just before I left the UK I bought my first pair of “barefoot” Merrell trail runners. In my first test run (on a treadmill) I was awed by how much more interesting running became when I could feel the ground under my toes. The Merrell’s were also lightweight for the single, carry-on backpack that I am, five years layer, still travelling with. They quickly became a centre-piece of my new minimal existence.

Early in my travels I fell in love with the city of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. I stayed there for fifteen months on my first visit, and it was in CM that running really became part of my life. Freelancing full time meant I could set my own schedule, and mid-afternoons, as the Thai heat abated towards sunset, became running time.

Chiang Mai has a leafy, labyrinthine university campus where I love to run. Further out of town is the Huay Kaew reservoir where it’s possible to do a 10km circuit. There’s also the Moat Run, a 6km circuit around the city’s square moat road, negotiating crazy traffic and angry tuk tuk drivers all the way.

I did my first 10km run in Chiang Mai, and was so shocked to complete the distance that I spent the next hour lying in the shade wondering if my legs would ever work again. At one point I was running 5 to 7km daily with one or two 10km every week. It was too much, my weight plummeted so far that my 30″ waist jeans were falling off. I made a conscious decision to gear down the runs and replace them with weights, and at the time of writing have regained the lost muscle mass and added a bit more.

Today I hit my 555th run. An auspicious number in my 5th year of running. These are some lessons I’ve taken from the experience of running. Like Mr Murakami, when I talk about running, I’m also talking about something else. For me, running has been transformative, both body and soul. So these lessons are, in part, my reflections on how transformations happen.

Buy good tools.
I have often carried a poverty mentality through life. Given the option, I’ll tend to go for the budget solution to a problem. I think, with the things in life that matter, this is a mistake. I would never have run 555 runs in my squishy Nike trainers. My Merrel running shoes made all those runs much more enjoyable, and safer, I’ve had one minor injury in five years. Of course, there are all kinds of excessive and unneccesary things sold to runners, but when it comes to essential tools for any activity, I will always buy good ones now.

Quantify progress.
Nike didn’t win me with their trainers, but I have to thank them for the wonderful Nike running app, the reason I can look back and see my progress over five years. Being able to see how far and how fast I’ve run is really integral to my motivation. I like the satisfaction of hitting the 5k mark, and logging my minimum 3 runs a week. Every Sunday I take part in the Nike Global 5k race, with millions of people worldwide. Quality is important for running, as for any experience, you should enjoy the process first. But being able to quantify that process, whether it’s metres run or words written, is also a big help.

Habit is everything.
I wind down my work day about 4pm and usually run at 5. I’m lucky, of course, that I can do this as a freelancer. I’ve always found that time of day difficult, and commonly “slump” into negative thinking in the afternoon. Or did, until running replaced that old bad habit with a new good one. Habit, I believe, is everything when it comes to change. If it’s your habit to write for 3 hours a day, you’ll write great things. Anything you want to achieve, to change, or to stop in life, will be made easier or even possible at all, by thinking through the habits that feed it. It would take a lot, a real lot, to make me let go of my running habit. I’ll be 80 and on sticks, but I’ll still find a way to hobble for some distance.

Where is my mind?
I listen while I run. Music of course, but I also love good audiobooks and podcasts. I’ve learned more about Buddhism from audio recordings of dharma teachings than I have sitting in temples! And I’ve learned more about meditating from running than from sitting on a cushion. I listen because I want to keep my mind from worrying about feeling tired. I don’t know about your mind, but my mind is the biggest barrier between me, and me getting things done. My mind throws tantrums, declares defeat, cries exhaustion at the first drop of sweat. When I’m running I keep part of my mind present in the run, while distracting a different part with interesting stories and ideas. My mind is always happy to have run, so once I was able to train it to get out of the way and let my body take care of the actual running, it became much more positive about the whole endeavour.

Do what you can.
I’m not a fast runner. I average 6:30 per km. My fastest 5km is 24:30 but I’m usually well over minutes. If I held myself to the standards of competition runners I would always be failing. But by the standards needed to improve my own physical and mental health, I win every day. As a professional writer, I hold myself to standards of productivity I that would be completely counterproductive for anybody who didn’t make their living in the field. One of the quickest ways to kill any positive activity is to set lofty goals we will always fail at. I’ve done this so often in life, it feels like an achivement in itself just to value steady progress.

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Thanks for reading!

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The pro-writer’s guide to Upwork and Fiverr

Lots of people dream of building a pro career that also feeds their creativity. Online freelance platforms can be a big part of making that happen, IF you know how to profit from them.

I was surprised and more than a little honored to look at my Fiverr profile last month and discover I was the number 1 rated professional writer in Articles and Blog Posts. Along with the 100% Top Rated status I’ve had on Upwork for the last year and a half, that gives me a pretty good claim to being the number 1 writer on the internet!

Hyperbole aside, I thought it would be helpful for many of the writers I work with to put together a short course on how I use these platforms. I use online freelance platforms as part of my digital nomadic life. But I’m very careful to use them as a tool to feed my larger creative practice, which I think is key to using them successfully.

You can watch the full hour long interview on Udemy, using course code LANCETEN.

Or you can watch it and all my other courses for free on Skillshare with a one month trial.

The key to writing a great short story

All great stories have momentum.

Every line of a great joke is building up to its punchline. Every scene of an action move is screaming towards the final fight. Every beat of a stage tragedy is building tension to the revelation of a flawed character.

The literary short story, made famous by authors from Anton Chekhov to Alice Munro, contains a singular element that powers its momentum.

Epiphany.

 

“Derived from the Greek word epiphaneia, epiphany means appearance, or manifestation. In literary terms, an epiphany is that moment in the story where a character achieves realization, awareness, or a feeling of knowledge, after which events are seen through the prism of this new light in the story.”

LiteraryDevices.net

“It probably has a million definitions. It’s the occurrence when the mind, the body, the heart, and the soul focus together and see an old thing in a new way.”

Maya Angelou.

“The soul of the commonest object … seems to us radiant, and may be manifested through any chance, word, or gesture.”

James Joyce.

Taking a deep dive into the literary technique of epiphany, and laying out what what I learn along the way, has made me realise just how central the idea is to all forms of storytelling.

One of the biggest challenges in storytelling is illustrating the internal transformations of characters. The journeys that human beings take, from innocence to experience, from victim to villain, from outsider to hero, and thousands more, are the stuff of great stories. And epiphany is the key to illustrating those journeys in your stories.

Follow my creative process for writing a short story with epiphany.

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