Writing: Career or Hobby?

Absolute Blank

By Lisa Olson (Boots)

When someone asks what you do, do you tell them about your day job, or do you say, “I’m a writer?” At what point can you consider yourself enough of a writer to say that? Ask yourself a few key questions. You may be surprised by your answers.

Background Image: Dauvit Alexander/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

  1. How often do you write?
    1. Every day, of course!
    2. Once a week. I’m busy, but I set aside time.
    3. Once a month. My family and job come first.
    4. I can’t even remember the last time I wrote something.

Writers will tell you they write. Every day, without fail. It’s literally their job and they spend their time working on it. As a beginning writer you may have a job and a family, but if you are serious, you continue to carve out time every day to work on your writing.

  1. How do you spend your writing time?
    1. Writing. I’m focused and nobody can bother me.
    2. I’m interrupted a lot, but I still manage.
    3. I can’t focus, forget it.
    4. Wait… is that American Idol?

Writers spend their writing time writing and they let nothing and nobody get in the way of their ultimate goal. If they have families, they explain that now is “writing time” and they try to minimize the interruptions by enlisting the help of the significant other or the older child. If they have jobs, they sacrifice TV time for writing time. They make time work for them.

  1. Do you continue your writing education?
    1. Yes, I take classes all the time.
    2. Occasionally I’ll enroll in an online course.
    3. I read up on writing on the internet.
    4. I already know everything I need to know.

Taking classes either online or off can be crucial to your style and polish. As with any skill, it’s important to keep up on the latest developments and to continue educating yourself. If a class isn’t your style, try a subscription to a writing magazine or blog.

  1. Do you network?
    1. I attend conferences and am part of a local writing group.
    2. I go to book signings and readings.
    3. I have a friend who has a friend in the industry.
    4. I have a business card around here somewhere.

Knowing others in the business can help you get in there with them. There are all kinds of writing groups you can join both online and off. Try the local library or community college for some face-to-face time with your local stars. Writing communities online can offer a variety of interviews and chats with authors and agents imparting their wisdom. Conferences are the best way to meet those in the industry both behind the scenes and behind the words.

  1. Do you have the tools you need to succeed?
    1. I’m working on the next step.
    2. I’ve researched and know what I need.
    3. I have an idea what to do, but I’m not ready.
    4. I have to do more than write?

If you don’t research what you need, you could end up looking unprofessional. Know the next step in your drive to reach your goal and make sure you have what you’ll need to reach that level. If you’re querying an agent, have a great query ready to go and a synopsis ready in case they ask for it. If you’re submitting to a contest be sure to read all the guidelines and have a small biography of yourself ready to go in case you win.

  1. What kind of writer are you?
    1. It’s a job—I work on it every day.
    2. It’s a part-time job—I work on it, but only when I have the time.
    3. It’s a long-term goal—I want it, but I’m not doing all I can to achieve it.
    4. It’s a hobby—I have fun with it, but I’m not as serious as I could be.

So, what are you telling people you do?

Final Poll Results

How to NOT Write an Article

Absolute Blank

By Lisa Olson (Boots)

I’ve been writing this article inactively for about two months. Actively, I’ve been working on it for two solid weeks. I’m not going to finish it. I’m going to miss my deadline and let everyone down.

Or, I could stop now and cut my losses and write about how I’m not writing this article.

Background Image: Jack Zalium/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Don’t wait until the last minute.

I could have, and should have, signed up for and started this article in January. That’s when the editors get together and start prodding each other to come up with ideas. There are many of us, so we can pick and choose when we’d like to work on something. This year, I waited until everyone else had chosen because I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to write about. I should have simply signed up first, then decided on what to do. I would have had months to decide on something, work on something, and polish something. Instead, I stared at a blank page, forcing my writer mind down paths it didn’t want to go simply because I’m out of time.

Choose a wide topic.

My original topic for this article was choosing simple words and phrases. I have a writer friend who fancies herself a language expert. She has four dictionaries close to hand and uses them all in daily communications such as emails and blogs. Her writing is impossibly complex, archaic, and trouble for anyone without four dictionaries nearby. I decided this would be a great article, passing on the wisdom that most readers will put the book down if they can’t understand it—if reading it is work, not joy. But all I really had to say I could sum up in a few simple words, as evidenced by this one paragraph. I couldn’t think of anything else to say once I’d gotten the basics on the page. The article simply fizzled out.

Ignore the distractions.

Once you start writing your first draft, don’t stop. Don’t get up and make pancakes, don’t turn the TV on just for a minute, don’t play with the kitten, and leave the email box alone. Writing inspiration is very flighty and it can leave as quickly as it arrived. Sit down and stay down until everything you wanted to say is on the page.

Plan ahead.

This is different from not waiting until the last minute. I had a minor day surgery I needed to have done and it was scheduled just a week before this deadline. Before the surgery, I managed to write two paragraphs and couldn’t get anything else out. I was focused on the event itself and couldn’t see too far beyond it. What I should have done at this point was plan for my failure and ask someone else to write a backup article. They would have been more than happy to help, considering the circumstances. I should have planned a backup article as I planned my ride home from the hospital.

Don’t be afraid of change.

If something isn’t working, stop working on it and start working on something that will work. This article is coming to me much easier than the original. I know already that this article is the one that will be printed. The other will go into the ‘archives’ on my computer to wait until the light of inspiration slices through my head and I can finish it.

Find your voice.

I notice that this article sounds just like me. I am not as concerned with sounding like a “professional” writer as I was in the other. The other article I sounded far away, as if I was writing it from above you somehow, imparting sage advice from the side of the mountain. This time, I sound friendly and personable, frustrated and pained about my writing and myself. I know you’ll all be able to relate to my struggle and my personal issues, so I’m writing it that way. It’s a lot easier to write this time because it’s my voice and not the voice I think you would listen to.

Listen to your muse.

I’ve known the other article wasn’t working since I first began actively writing it. I complained about writing it. I complained that I couldn’t think of anything to say. I complained that I was running out of time. I complained in my blog and to friends. One fine friend even told me to write an article about procrastination since my original topic wasn’t working. I didn’t listen to her, or to myself. I simply kept putting off writing at all. Once I did listen, I found I had a complete article.

Once this article is edited and put up, I’m going to volunteer for another for next year. I’m going to think long and hard about a topic. I’m going to start early and plan for distractions. I’m going to assign a date to sit down and write a month before the deadline. I’m going to start a draft and finish that draft in one sitting. I’m going to listen to my voice and to my muse.

I’m going to meet my deadline.

Final Poll Results

Timing is Everything

Absolute Blank

By Lisa Olson (Boots)

Many thanks to Latrina and Talis, members of the online role-playing group Themiscyra Amazons, who allowed use of their excerpts in the following article. A community of all women, the authors are also the characters in an ongoing story all 34 of the members write together. Themiscyra encourages creativity in its members, but also edits for better writing ability as well. Boots has been a member for five years.

In writing, timing can be critical. If your story goes too fast, your readers could miss important details. If your story goes too slow, your readers could become bored and put the book away. Keep your writing balanced and you’ll keep your readers interested.

Background Image: Zan C/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Speed Writing

It’s important to remember that readers aren’t with you when you’re writing. They don’t know what you had in mind, or where you were going with your story. All they can do is guess what you meant and follow your words to a logical conclusion.

If you skip words, phrases, or actions that are important to the story, you might leave your reader behind, confused. Instead, lead them along step by step, doling out information along the way.

Here’s an example of what can happen when writing is too quick:

Latrina felt like she belonged in the tribe as she had helped them set up for the talent show and it had been a long time since she felt that. Even after she had been cured from madness, it seemed very right to be part of the talent show.

The writer, Latrina, didn’t go slow enough for the reader to keep up. This paragraph reads like a dream, where little makes sense and where nothing is in order. It’s simply a jumble of thoughts that poured out of her mind and onto the page.

You can tell Latrina is trying to show the feelings of the character today compared to those of her past. She meant to work in a piece of the character’s recent past—the madness. She wanted to tie it to the happenings of the character’s present—the talent show. Latrina presents everything, but she should have had it all laid out for the reader, from beginning to middle to end. Instead, she forces the reader to straighten out the ideas for themselves.

When edited, the paragraph became two paragraphs that explored the depths of the character. It’s clearer and more concise, and a lot easier for the reader to understand.

Since being cured of her madness, Latrina had felt a distance from the tribe. She knew what she’d done, and they knew she’d done it. They’d all been sympathetic, of course, and understanding. Almost too understanding. It was like she walked around the village with a sign on that said, “Be nice to me, I’m sick.”

But today, as she’d prepared for the talent show, she’d felt part of the tribe. Her sisters had forgotten to treat her as if she were fragile and had instead given her hard jobs and playful jokes as they’d worked. It had been a long time since she felt so good about a day’s work. She smiled to herself as she thought about the warm friendship she’d enjoyed.

Let’s look at a paragraph where the story unfolds slowly:

The fish was heavy and slipped from her grasp, landing on her foot. The fish’s mouth plopped fully open. The sun was now higher up in the sky and its light made something gleam inside the fish’s mouth. Noemi peered down and gasped. She brought out her knife and dislodged from inside the fish’s mouth a gemstone, as large as a robin’s egg, smooth and perfectly round. She held it up to the sun. A rainbow of colors swirled within. Noemi stared at the gemstone, a wide grin spreading across her face, for she could scarcely believe her good fortune.

Here the writer, Talis, leads us along slowly, showing us what’s going on in the scene. We have a feeling for the boat, the fish, the sky, the water, and the gem. There’s a flow here that’s missing from Latrina’s original paragraph, a sense of story.

Slow Motion

While too little detail can confuse, too much can bore. While it’s important for the reader to know there is flickering candlelight, it’s not important that they know it’s a white candle with long drips of wax down the side and a flame that’s more yellow than orange. Sometimes, less is more.

Over-explanations detract from the story and can become too distracting. It’s not necessary for us to know the history of candle making to see the one in your scene. It’s more important to blow up the mood of the scene and play up the shadows and the tension.

Let’s explore an example of slow writing:

The horses, along with the rest of the livestock being taken on the voyage, were lowered into the hold. A net of strong rope was brought under their bellies while another rope ran around their chest and another around their rump under their tails, to keep them from sliding either forward or backward. Two thick ropes attached the net to a pulley. The horses were lowered in one by one, Halken first, then Ponzol, followed by Nexus and then Zara. They went calmly, their legs hanging limply till their hooves touched the floor, then they neighed for their mistresses. They were the last of the animals to be lowered into the hold, for all the others had been taken down before the group had even arrived.

The writer, Talis, said everything she needed to say in this paragraph, and conveyed it well. However, the reader doesn’t really need to see all the details of the rope and pulley system in this scene. The importance should have remained on the animal’s nervousness, and the owner’s worry. It would have kept the action moving and the reader reading.

In her rewrite, Talis changed her paragraph to:

Talis kept her eyes fixed on the man who brought a net of strong rope up under the belly of her horse. He cast a glance at her as she watched him run a rope around Zara’s chest and another around her rump under her tail, to keep her from sliding either forward or backward. When he had finished, Talis brushed him aside. She tested the firmness of the ropes by pulling on them. Then she tugged on the two thick ropes that attached the net to a pulley. Satisfied they were strong enough, she stepped back and motioned for the man to continue. Catching the irate look he flashed at Talis, Kiran hastily spoke to the man.

“What did you tell him?” Talis whispered, waiting for her companion to translate the Latin.

“I reminded him that these horses come from the Royal Stables and that their safety was paramount to us,” Kiran replied. Then she rubbed Talis’s shoulder. “Relax, Talis. They may be Romans, but they know what they are doing.”

Talis caught her breath. Then she gave a slight nod. She did not interfere any further, but Kiran knew without looking at her that Talis was still holding her breath as Zara was slowly lowered into the hold.

As you can see, the rewrite is more engaging. The focus is on the characters feelings and worry instead of on the nuts and bolts of the rigging. Talis left in the how, but changed it so it was interesting and part of the story instead of apart from it.

Details don’t always have to slow you down. Here’s an example of great timing:

After a few seconds, a cloaked and hooded figure entered and slowly descended the steps. He was bent over at the shoulders and hung his head forward. He made his way towards the hearth where he stopped. Extending his hands out, he rubbed them together as he warmed them. Then he reached up and slid back his hood, revealing a head of gray hair. The man reached out his hands again over the fire and stood warming himself when both Kiran and Talis saw him do a double take. Talis caught her breath as the figure picked up the torch Talis had laid on the edge of the hearth.

Here, Talis’s details flow naturally and build tension. The slow reveal of the man, the little facts that give him instant character and definition. Nothing here is boring, and everything builds toward a tense moment. Talis did a great job not over-explaining the moment while still showing incredible detail.

Pace your writing correctly if you want your reader to hang around until the last word. Go too fast, and you’ll leave them behind. Go too slow, and they’ll leave you behind. You’ll find a devoted reader if you can keep the right balance.

Final Poll Results

Pace Yourself

A Pen In Each Hand

By Boots

In her article on timing, Boots showed you a couple examples of how writing can be slowed down or sped up to get the pacing just right. Here are the “before” paragraphs again. As an exercise, try rewriting each of them yourself. Or, find a scene of your own where the timing feels off and rewrite it using Boots’s advice.

Too Fast: Latrina felt like she belonged in the tribe as she had helped them set up for the talent show and it had been a long time since she felt that. Even after she had been cured from madness, it seemed very right to be part of the talent show.

Too Slow: The horses, along with the rest of the livestock being taken on the voyage, were lowered into the hold. A net of strong rope was brought under their bellies while another rope ran around their chest and another around their rump under their tails, to keep them from sliding either forward or backward. Two thick ropes attached the net to a pulley. The horses were lowered in one by one, Halken first, then Ponzol, followed by Nexus and then Zara. They went calmly, their legs hanging limply till their hooves touched the floor, then they neighed for their mistresses. They were the last of the animals to be lowered into the hold, for all the others had been taken down before the group had even arrived.

Unblock Thyself

Absolute Blank

By Lisa Olson (Boots)

Writers are emotional. In fact, we strive to put that emotion into words and transmit our feelings to others. We do it as often as possible and we love doing it. It is our sacrifice for our art and we pay the price with each carefully constructed phrase and each coyly placed period.

But every emotional well sometimes runs dry. Like a drought, we feel our strength is sapped and our will to carry on and through is gone. We have given and given and now we feel have nothing left to give.

Background Image: Sharon Drummond/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Perhaps it was nothing more than a bump in our story. We can’t think beyond the character’s next move or we can’t see beyond the poem’s next line. We can no longer see the finish line and we’ve lost our way.

Perhaps it was a rough critique. We bled on the pages, and they were torn to shreds by uncaring claws of the jealous and the snobbish. Our readers misunderstood what we were trying to tell them.

Perhaps it was the real world intruding into our creative world. Cries from our children, our spouses, our parents, and our siblings: they all need attention and they need it right now. They demand the writing be set aside in favor of them; that the bond you have to a piece of paper is nothing compared to your love for them.

We know we must move past these obstacles, but we can’t find a way. Here are a few ideas that might just help you push past your emotional block and get you back to the work you love.

Story problems can be overcome. It doesn’t seem like it right now, but they can be. Set the work aside and work on something else. Try writing something fun, something without real ‘meaning’. Take a writing class. Write in a new setting. Write every possible outcome for the situation your work is stuck in, choose one, and move on. Believe you can do it, and you can.

Critiques are meant to help. Read them a once, then set it aside for a few days to think about it. Read it again and analyze it. Did the critique mean to harm, or to help? Which parts do you agree with? Which do you not? Discard what you can’t use, accept what you can, and adjust the work accordingly. Chances are it wasn’t as mean as it originally sounded; someone was just trying to help.

Real world issues are a lot harder to deal with. Find a good friend and pour out all your woes and maybe even have a nice cry. Write in a journal or diary and shed your emotional trials. Talk to your family and friends and be honest about the importance of your writing and ask for compromises and find solutions. Be true to yourself and to your writing, and find a way to work through it.

If nothing seems to be working, try riding the wave. If you feel sad, play depressing or wistful music for a few days and just sit and stare at the walls. If you feel uninspired, read a book or two or three. If you feel stupid, watch insipid programs on television, like game shows or soap operas, until all hours of the night. If you feel drained, take a day trip or an outing.

When you feel up to it, open your work. Heck, open it when you feel like you never want to see it again. You might find it the most interesting thing you’ve seen in days. Perhaps something you saw or did sparked an idea you didn’t know was there. Perhaps the solution to the problem presented itself. Perhaps you gave up finding the perfect phrase and found instead the phrase that worked.

There is no shame in taking a break from writing. Just remember to come back.

Final Poll Results

Member Site of the Month: Meet Deoris (Boots)

Conundrums to Guess

TC: Describe yourself (or your site) in five single words.

Deoris: Eclectic. I like everything.

TC: Tell us about your first website.

Deoris: This is actually the first website I ever owned. It has grown as I have. It was very basic, with a page for ‘about me’, one for links, and one for my husband. Ah, the simple days.

TC: What’s the last word or phrase you did a search on?

Deoris: Carol Mosely-Brown (Should be Mosley Braun) She was a Democratic candidate for the Presidential nomination. She was mentioned all of ONCE in the news story (national) about the recent debate, and that was at the end of the NEXT story. She’s a black female, and I really wanted to know about her policies. So, I went and found out.

TC: Do you hand-code your pages or use a program?

Deoris: I use Microsoft Front Page, have since I first began. While there are some things on my site that I had to hand-code, I usually translate it so FP can understand it.

TC: What’s your favorite form of potato?

Deoris: Scalloped. I really love them to death. Must be the cheese. Sadly, we rarely have them this way.

TC: Describe the perfect pizza.

Deoris: Canadian bacon, black olive and tomatos (raw, not cooked). Thick crust, filled with cheese.

TC: Name your poison.

Deoris: Shaun.

TC: What’s the last creative writing you’ve done?

Deoris: I wrote my part of a continuing, ongoing, story.

TC: What are three essential things in your writing space?

Deoris: Thesaurus, dictionary, and the computer.

TC: Tell us about one of the first things you remember writing.

Deoris: A diary. I have it, even. Creative writing, I used to write little mysteries. I was a huge Nancy Drew fan.

TC: Who was the first person to encourage your writing?

Deoris: My mother. She always bought me more paper, better pens, and diaries when I lost or filled them.

TC: Describe your current mood in one word.

Deoris: Bemused.

TC: What one thing is guaranteed you laugh?

Deoris: My son talking about his girlfriend.

TC: What was the greatest invention of the 20th century?

Deoris: Notebooks with spiral bindings. (1924, I looked it up. I still use these to write in.)

TC: What is your favorite word? What is your least favorite word?

Deoris: Favorite: Serindipity. Least Favorite: Swear words. Takes all the fun out of colorful metaphors and honest cursing.

TC: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? What turns you off?

Deoris: On: Usually watching badly done stories. Friends. Family. My past. Tons of things, really.
Off: Memory. It can shut me down fast. Game playing, which doesn’t mean I don’t play them less. LOL

TC: What is your favorite curse word?

Deoris: Sadly, “God”. I’m trying to change it to “goddess” or even “By the Gods”, or something a little more . . . unique. I really do try very hard to use ‘alternates’.

TC: What sound or noise do you love? What sound or noise do you hate?

Deoris: The radio, and almost everything on it.
Rap. Just about any rap. Especially the ‘true’ rap. I just can’t get behind it. Give me the blues anyday.

TC: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? What profession would you not like to do?

Deoris: Try: Nursing, strangely. I have a need to help people and I think nurses have a really hard job. But I doubt I could deal with a LOT of the more ‘ew’ aspects of that particular career.

Not try: High-rise window washer. No. Freaking. Way.

TC: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Deoris: “Sure, we take pagans.”

TC: Where do you call home? Are you there now, and if not, where are you?

Deoris: Portland, Oregon. Yap, I kind of am.

Deoris’s sites:

:: The Fifth House ::

:: Amazon Way::

Talking the Talk: Creating Language

Absolute Blank

By Lisa Olson (Boots)

If you’re writing a fantasy book, you have probably already begun creating a unique language for your world. Your characters are probably not named “Tom” or “Linda.” Your landmarks and towns are nearly impossible to pronounce, and your favorite animal so far is called the “fargachn.”

It’s almost unconscious in fantasy writers, our need to create new, unusual and strange words. It’s one of the reasons we’re drawn to this genre. We want to go outside the boundaries of the known into the unknown. We love to color outside the lines and it shows from the very beginning of our novels.

For about a year now, I’ve been creating a language for an online role-playing group of Amazons. (You can read more about this in my Fan Fiction article, “Working With A Net”, April 2002 here at Toasted Cheese.) It’s been both a chore and a labor of love. I’ve learned a lot in my struggle and decided to share a few of those hard lessons with you.

Background Image: eltpics/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Look at what you have before you start.

The major character names and the names you’ve given places are a good place to start looking at how your people speak. Did you add vowels to the end of all their place names? If so, consider doing that with the more common words, as well. What’s the ratio of hyphenated words to regular words? What’s the average length of a word? How much meaning does the word incorporate? These are all good indicators of how your regular words should shape up.

From Children of Dune by Frank Herbert:

He thought: Sietch Tabr is mine. I rule here. I am a Naib of the Fremen. Without me there would have been no Muad’Dib.

You can tell from the context what these words mean. All are place names or titles and each one helps you get into the story and remind you that you aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Keep it simple.

The temptation to create a hundred-word dictionary for your language is great. Unless you’re going to publish it as an independent novel, or as a companion to your novels, try to restrain yourself. Keep a list and keep track, but don’t bog yourself down by feeling as if you need all the words ever. Create what you need, and leave the rest.

Make it important.

As with all things in a novel or story, create important words instead of common ones. Titles, endearments, places and words of power will take your story farther than objects, colors, or normal activities. Give your words meaning and weight and make sure they’re furthering your story, not just cluttering it up.

From The Magic Of Krynn: The Legacy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman:

Quithain…” Plain repeated to himself. “Means… congratulations. Congratulations, Magus…”

He gasped, staring at Dalamar in disbelief.

“What does it mean?” demanded Caramon, glaring at the dark elf. “I don’t understand–”

“He is one of us now, Caramon,” said Dalamar quietly, taking hold of Palin’s arm and escorting him past his father. “His trials are over. He has completed the Test.”

Here, Palin realizes the importance of what Dalamar has told him in elvish. He also lets the readers in on the secret as he figures it out. Both words are important and are the only elvish used in the story, increasing its impact.

Don’t make it hard to say.

You should be able to speak your own language. If you write, “glrbsxnakl,” be sure your readers will be able to say it in their head. Words that are too long or full of vowels and consonants shoved together are going to be hard to get a mental handle on. Keep things easy to understand.

Use it sparingly.

Just because you created a word, doesn’t mean you should use it. As with all language, a certain amount of repetition is good and will help the reader learn your language in context. However, most readers want things plainly spelled out and easy to read. Pepper your language through your text instead of using it and only it.

From The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien:

“Elen sìla lúmenn omentilmo, a star shines on the hour of our meeting,” he added in the high elven-speech.

“Be careful, friends!” cried Gildor laughing. Speak no secrets! Here is a scholar in the Ancient Tongue.”

Here Bilbo speaks enough elvish to Gildor and his friends, proving he is worthy of their friendship and interest. For the rest of the conversation, including a song, no elvish is spoken, just referred to. We know it’s different and we know it’s there, we just aren’t hammered with it.

Use it yourself.

A great way to see if your invented word or phrase works is to use it. Say it out loud, for starters. Find where the inflection is or could be.

Consider using language markers, e.g. umlauts, to show where the emphasis should go. There is a vast difference between “Noel” and “Noël” when spoken aloud. To someone named “Noel”, it can make all the difference in the world around Christmas time. These little accents can bring your language color and flavor and texture.

Try using the same word in a different context. For example, if you create a word for “cup,” try using it both as an object and as an action. Will it work?

Remember it isn’t English.

This is actually a hard one to avoid. Your language should not mirror English, if possible. All language has structure and rules. Take some time to look at foreign languages and learn their unique style. German and Chinese have vastly different grammar rules from English or American. Studying these can help you lay a foundation for something truly your own.

Perhaps your language has a complex simplicity, where many words are summed up by one word. Perhaps there are no prepositions in your language. Perhaps there are no pronouns. Perhaps your language is a combination of dialects from throughout the region and it has a little bit of everything mixed together. Be creative and be unique.

From the Amazon (Tae’Nah) language:

“It is coming, Valkyra,” Deoris said. “I have seen it.”

Ahu,” the Queen whispered with reverence. The beginning and end of all things. She looked up at the Ti’Sa. “What can we do?”

Here, one word carries a lot of weight in the conversation. It encompasses an idea, instead of a single item.

Too many cooks can spoil the stew.

Your language might improve if you share your created words with others. Having a buddy to bounce ideas off of is a great way to be sure your language is easy to understand and readable. I suggest only one or two people, however. Everyone has an idea of what works and what doesn’t and you can go around and around over the simplest of words. Remember in the end that the final decision is yours. If they hated “fargachn” and you loved it, go with your instinct and override them.

There is no Amazon word for “help.” I have submitted no less than twenty possibilities, from the normal to the insane, trying to please a panel of four judges. There always seems to be a reason to reject it. It’s too long, it’s too short, it looks too much like this word over there, whatever. In order for a word to be created, I will have to ignore the panel and simply make a call and choose something.

Resources are out there.

There are many Web sources available for language creation. Toasted Cheese has listed several on our Resources page, Mustard and Cress. Look under the “Dictionary” heading. Check out online dictionaries for old or dead languages and for foreign languages. Some of my best words come straight from Latin and some are Turkish with a twist. It’s a great source of inspiration and information.

From Amazon: high = archila

This is an overview of how I got the Amazon word for “leader” or “first rank”, which all ended up as the word for “high.”

Since our Amazon tribe is historically placed in Turkey during the years of Julius Caesar’s reign, I started with Latin. The Latin-American Dictionary was suggested at Mustard and Cress. I typed in “leader” and was given several possibilities. I scanned the list and decided none of them sounded right to me, but “rector: guider, leader, director, ruler, master” was the closest in meaning. I followed some of those words and came upon “archos: ruler” which I thought was great, but a little too obviously Latin.

Looking through the words I’d already created, I noticed a tendency to end the words with vowel combinations such as “la” “za” “ra” or “li” “zi” “ri.” Drawing on that, I came up with “ila” as an ending for “arch” instead of the Latin “os.” Archila became the word for “high” and was added to the Amazon Dictionary.

As you can see, creating a unique language can be a difficult and time-consuming process. The rewards are wonderful however, giving your world a depth it might be missing. Don’t be afraid to explore this interesting avenue of creation.

Final Poll Results

Quick Picks: Books Recommended by the Crew

Conundrums to Guess


Dee Ann

  • The Stand, Stephen King. The Stand is a journey I like to relive about every two years. I bought the hardcover new in 1987. King has a way of showing you things a movie can’t. This is an epic tale of a biological weapon, an ever mutating ‘super flu’ the world soon calls ‘Captain Trips’ that winds up in a showdown between good and evil with the few survivors left in America. My favorite quality about anything King writes is that he faithfully keeps you in the story. This is his genius, IMO.
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis. Another journey, this one a delightful classic. I read this book for the first time in fifth grade, and most recently about 6 months ago. Of all Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the most fascinating. The closet that leads to another world, the ‘bad’ faun who lulls Lucy to sleep with his strange little straw flute, the magic Turkish Delight of which Edmund can’t stop eating… This book showcases, IMO, the best of Mr. Lewis’s imagination put to work.
  • Writer’s Market (Released annually) from Writer’s Digest Books. I’ve seen many writer’s websites that scoff at anything from Writer’s Digest, but within the pages of this thesaurus-size book are highly organized lists of publishers, agents, magazines, contest and award information, and what each wants from a writer. There are articles on query-writing, e-queries, synopsis-writing, and a writer’s rights. I pick this book up often enough to justify the price tag every year.
  • Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass. I bought this book last year because I admired Mr. Maass, and I wanted to hear what he had to say. I’m pleased to report this book is insightful in many respects, it is well-written and entertaining (not didactic at all), and leaves messages imbedded in the brain that continue to help my writing in many ways. His best advice, IMO? Build high human worth to raise the stakes in your novel, or the reader won’t care what happens to your characters.
  • Dance Upon the Air, Nora Roberts (1st in the Three Sisters Island trilogy). Nora is a fantastic writer, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her stories. I have an exceptional eye for other writers’ mistakes (though not my own, of course) and Nora doesn’t make too many, if any at all, IMO. She doesn’t confuse, she doesn’t meander, she sticks to the story and makes you care as she leads you into the lives of her realistic characters. She’s been described as a word artist, and I think that’s apropos for her, especially in this book. In some ways, Dance Upon the Air made me think of Sleeping With the Enemy, which was also a good book.
  • Sleeping With the Enemy, Joseph Ruben. This came out when I was in college, and though I didn’t have the time to spare for anything fiction (unless it was assigned by a professor), I made the time for this book. It’s a gripping thriller. The movie was good too, but different. The characters in the book were more realistic than the movie’s la-la-la, beautiful Julia Roberts show philosophy, IMO, of course.


  • I’m very fond of Robertson Davies, perhaps with special notice given to Cunning Man and the Deptford Trilogy (Hmmm… Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders). I astonished myself once by saying that if Davies could write as fast as I could read, I’d never read anything else. Alas, he’s gone now.
  • Also Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, with special attention to the afterword, in which he discusses how he put the novel together.


  • The Rose of the Prophet, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. There are three books in this series. Fantasy. Two warring tribes are forced together through matrimony to save the life of their god.
  • Bird by Bird, Anne Lamont. Non-fiction. “Some instructions on writing and life.” A great way to look at the writing life and then to start living it. Full of humor and spice and some simple, yet profound, writing advice.
  • Fall of Atlantis, Marion Zimmer Bradley. Fantasy. (Compliation of two books.) Follows two sisters as they grow to womanhood, struggling to remain together while they strive along very different paths.
  • Circle of Three, Patricia Gaffney. Fiction. A novel about three generations of women, each trying to hang to the other and build relationships after a death.
  • Belinda, Anne Rice. Fiction. About a girl who is older than she looks, and a man who is younger than he seems.
  • Effortless Prosperity, Bijan. Self-help/Inspiration. 30 simple lessons to change your life in a month. Easy to understand and follow guide to create peace in your life and reach for your dreams.
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Fiction. A good standard that shows the value of research mixed with imagination.



  • A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle. A classic, one that’s stuck with me through many years and that I want to share with my own children one day.
  • On Writing, Stephen King. Thoughtful and inspiring, a great read for anyone who’s a writer.
  • Harry Potter series, JK Rowling. Great children’s books are more than just “children’s books”. These are.


  • Meet the Austins / The Moon by Night / A Ring of Endless Light, Madeleine L’Engle. Undoubtedly the biggest influence on me, my writing, my choices during my teen years.
  • Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. The copy we had when I was growing up will always be The Dictionary to me. I loved this book. How much? I’ve asked that it be bequeathed to me…
  • The Language of the Goldfish, Zibby Oneal. Still my standard for young adult fiction.
  • Jalna (series), Mazo de la Roche. A great big family saga.
  • A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle. Part memoir, part writing advice. One of the best books I’ve read “on writing”. Deals with giving up, the compulsion to write, and success after much rejection.
  • Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, Simone de Beauvoir. Part memoir, part philosophy. Read at a schism in my life, I identified with de Beauvoir’s reaction to her childhood and her existentialist philososphy.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe, Georgia O’Keeffe. Memoir mixed with the artist’s work. Fabulous insight into the creative process.
  • Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg. The book that got me to stop thinking about writing, and start doing it.
  • The Weight of Oranges/Miner’s Pond, Anne Michaels. Absolutely delicious way with words. This poetry has had a strong influence on my style. Great book to read if you’re looking to put music into your writing.
  • Regeneration (series), Pat Barker. These blow me away on so many levels. The writing is fabulous. The research is meticulous. The blending of fact & fiction is seamless. And oh yeah, Billy Prior is the best. character. ever.


  • Wizard’s First Rule, Terry Goodkind. My current read; I don’t know why I waited so long to start it because I can hardly put it down.
  • The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks. The next greatest fantasy epic after–
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien. What can I say that hasn’t been said already? I first read this in my early teens and it woke me up to the fact that fantasy wasn’t just fairy tales.
  • A Wrinkle In Time (the trilogy), Madeleine L’Engle. Actually the third book in this trilogy was the best, but I loved the characters and the sense of magic in all the books.
  • The Hound and the Falcon (trilogy), Judith Tarr. Historical fantasy: who knew it could be done, and so well?
  • The Colour of Magic (and everything succeeding), Terry Pratchett. The man’s a comic genius. Enough said.
  • The Once and Future King, T.H. White. The definitive version of the definitive heroic tale.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis. Smaller in scope than Middle-Earth, yet no less wonderful for that.
  • The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson. I picked up the first book on a whim, never having heard of it before, and I was hooked before the end of the first chapter. Six books in all, each more intense than the last, dark but satisfying.
  • Sanctuary (edited), Robert Asprin and Lynne Abbey. It was after reading about Thieves’ World that my own fantasy world began to take shape, so I suppose I owe the most debt to this series of books.