Today’s Writing Tip

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Beginning writers can usually benefit greatly by joining a local writer’s group. You may eventually outgrow it and move on, but it’s a great way to make friends, find beta readers, and learn local outlets. LinkedIn offers a similar advantage when you’re starting out, but nothing beats personalized contact.

I don’t know what percentage of people out there are writers, but chances are you’re the only one on your block. Chatting, commiserating, learning, and interacting with other writers builds your confidence and can provide tidbits of information you won’t find anywhere else.

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Today’s Writing Tip

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Writing workshops are fun and stimulating. Getting together with like-minded people in person has a certain esprit de corps you can’t get online. It’s also an excellent way to network with other authors in your geographical area.

Not only were writing workshops the foundation for my writing career, they remain some of my happiest memories. The prevailing energy when several highly creative and imaginative people get together is amazing. Sometimes there’s no substitute for personal contact.

What is Your “Spirit Animal”?

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I first learned about spirit animals while in Santa Fe, New Mexico for an astrology workshop a few years back. While we were there, a friend who was also a fellow attendee wanted to check out this little shop that sold Zuni fetishes. If you’re not familiar with fetishes, they are small, stone carvings of different animals that are then typically blessed by the tribe’s shaman. The shop was a pretty amazing place with a surprisingly reverent feel. To be honest, I’ve been in churches that felt less holy. Patrons within were examining these amazing works of art, seeking those with which they felt a spiritual connection.

I guess you could call this the original “self-help” program, where you identify the animal that has the characteristics that reflect your situation, then meditate on that animal so you can acquire (or in some cases release) the traits represented, thus making that animal your “spirit animal”.  You won’t necessarily have the same spirit animal throughout your life, but rather turn to the one most relevant for your situation at the time.

cougarandravenI wound up buying two that I was drawn to, a cougar and a raven. Oddly enough, I already had a picture of a cougar on my wall (shown above) that I’d had for years. It was a notecard sent by a dear friend that I liked so much I framed it and put up in my office. I’d nearly forgotten about it until I got home and noticed how much my newly acquired fetish looked like the picture. Later, when I read about the fetishes’s meaning, they were spot-on.

Spirit animals are associated with the Native American Medicine Wheel, which includes the mountain lion (cougar), black bear, badger, white wolf, eagle and mole, which represent each of the six directions (four cardinal, i.e. north, south, east, and west, plus up and down). The meaning of each animal is based on the characteristics it displays.

The Mountain Lion or Cougar is Guardian of the North. She represents wisdom that comes from experience, our successes and failures, the recognition of life’s cycles and forces greater than ourselves.animal-276002_1920

The White Wolf is Guardian of the East. He represents our quest for higher knowledge. The East, where the Sun rises each day, is the place of new beginnings, and the direction from which great teachers arrive.white-wolf-1903107_1920

The Badger is Guardian of the South.  I remember seeing a documentary on badgers and being surprised at how aggressive they are. They represent the needs of the ego and physical body and how we may destroy or injure others as we pursue what we want when we’re obsessed with our basic human needs.badger-940509_1920

The Black Bear is Guardian of the West. She signifies personal strength and introspection that will lead to wisdom through spiritual understanding.black-bear-50293_1280

The Eagle, Guardian of the Upper Regions, represents pursuing the heights. This is taking time to view the big picture, forget the moment, no matter how difficult, and absorb the greatness around us.adler-2386314_1920

The Mole, Guardian of the Lower Regions, burrows within. Blind to all other than the perception of stark dark and light, the mole gathers information through the other senses–vibrations, smell, taste, sounds, touch. These heighten awareness of the Earth itself, plant life that nourishes us, aquifers, minerals.animal-1347755_1920

Ideally, you would have a fetish representing each of these animals and you would arrange them all in their respective directions in a circle, all facing inward to represent the proper integration of these principles. You could use a picture instead so as to have the visual image, though having the fetish, which you can hold and feel its energy, is more effective.

Ponder each of the above pictures individually and see if you react to any at a visceral level. If not, don’t worry, there are other options. Any animal that comes to mind can function as your spirit animal provided you understand its message for you.

medicine-wheel-444550_1920You can have more than one spirit animal and add them as needed. You don’t have to have an actual fetish carving to do so, but they serve as a visual aid or talisman. There’s a bit of a ritual that goes along with it, where you “feed” the fetish, usually consisting of ground blue corn, which they will give you when you buy a fetish. Each day you’re supposed to do so, which of course is a reminder to ponder the animal and whatever characteristic you wish to emulate from its example.

Other animals include the coyote, snake, raven, falcon, owl, rabbit, fox, armadillo, turtle, frog, deer (also bison), and horse. You can add these to the wheel as your intuition dictates. In my case, the raven represented a time of transformation. I had recently retired and was letting go of my previous life to start a new one. Transformations are a death of sorts. As an astrologer, this concept is represented by the planet Pluto and, at that time, I was in the midst of a “Pluto transit” as well.horse-2324584_1920

It seems no one is trouble-free these days. Even the Earth herself is unhappy, reflecting through this insidious heatwave and volcanic action the collective anger and abused power all around us. This is clearly a time when this Native American wisdom can benefit each of us and hopefully return our planet to peace and sanity.

The Southwest Indian Foundation has some fetishes for sale in their catalog. If you want to know more about spirit animals and use of the medicine wheel, a really good book on the subject is “Zuni Fetishes: Using Native American Objects for Meditation, Reflection, and Insight” by Hal Zina Bennett. Last I checked, they have it on Amazon.

[Animal pictures courtesy of Pixabay.]

 

Today’s Writing Tip

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While the best way to master any skill is to practice, whether it’s baseball, piano, cooking, or writing, there’s still much that can be learned by reading books or blogs or taking classes. There are certain proven techniques which may not be obvious, but can help polish your work and technique faster than by trial and error.

Think how silly it would be to try to build a house from scratch, without any plans or help from someone who had done it before. Not only are you more inclined to make mistakes, but often do things the “hard way” as opposed to the most efficient.

This is especially true when sitting down to write your first book. While being a life-long reader is a good start, it’s just not the same and writing one yourself.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Social media can be a major time-suck that consumes valuable time that could be spent writing. Nonetheless, it’s a necessary evil to have an online presence. If you have to figure out each day what you’re going to do, it will take even more time. One way around that is to plan your posts in advance, so you can just cut and paste. Perhaps, spend a day putting together Facebook posts and tweets for the coming week; then you’re free for a few days.

Another option is to use an app like Hootsuite, which will even allow you to upload several at a time, several days, weeks or even months ahead. This is also helpful if you go on vacation, out of town, or just need a break.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Nonfiction is usually easier to sell than fiction. Many busy people don’t have time or inclination to indulge in fiction, yet will read for information. There is also less competition, at least in some disciplines.

If you have a unique niche, such as a craft or hobby, or some area in which you’d be considered an expert, don’t hide your talent under the proverbial bushel. Having a blog, YouTube channel, podcast, or maybe even some books or ebooks out on that subject can help the cash flow as well as draw in new fiction fans.

For me, as you’ve probably already figured out if you’re a regular reader, it’s astrology. Technically, I’m retired, but my “day job” comprises being a professional astrologer, something about as antithetical from being an engineer at NASA as I could think of. Not only does it supplement my income, but I have found in some places and situations people are more interested in astrology than science fiction, giving me something to fall back on if sci-fi isn’t in their wheelhouse. How many people do you know who don’t know their zodiac sign?

Today’s Writing Tip

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Have you ever felt more inspired in certain locations than others? Perhaps it was when you were on vacation, on travel for work, or visiting a friend or relative. Believe it or not, this is another area where astrology can help by identifying these places.

Even if you don’t want to move there, targeting one for a visit may give your imagination a major boost! If you can’t go there at all, it may even work to set your next story in that locale, the implication that researching it and visiting it via pictures, websites, and Google Earth will be more stimulating and inspiring than you might think.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Even if you’re not really “into” astrology, there are few things you should know. One is to never start writing a new story when Mercury is retrograde. It will either be delayed, never be published, or need to be entirely rewritten. So I’m sure you’re wondering where to find out when Mercury is retrograde; Googling it is one way, though the monthly horoscopes on my astrology website always provide a list of misbehaving planets so you can mark your calendar accordingly.

At the least, know that one of these scenarios is going to be the situation. About three years ago my muse gave me a blast of inspiration for a side-story to one of my books. I knew Mercury was retrograde, but I had such a strong impression regarding what one of the characters was up to, I couldn’t ignore it. It took me almost no time at all to write four or five chapters. Then I realized that there was yet another story I really needed to write first. So, it got set aside while I wrote the next one, “The Terra Debacle: Prisoners at Area 51.”

The good news is that various characters and situations appeared in that story which related to the one that had been cosmically purloined. By the time I got back to it, Mars was retrograde, a time to go back, un-do, re-do, or simply wait. Since I was “going back” I wasn’t too concerned, except a few weeks later, Mercury was going retrograde again. On the positive side, Mercury retrograde is great for editing and revising. However, progress is unbelievably slow and I have to wonder if this book will ever see the light of day?

Great Fodder for my Inner Geek

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4.5* for The Mystery of the Higgs Boson by Bettina Roselt  & Axel Ewers

This is the first volume in the Science Quest series. As a physicist and science fiction writer, I need some brain candy from time to time to clear out the dust bunnies collecting in my brain and this book was my snack for the summer. It refreshed my knowledge, albeit somewhat limited, of particle physics, but my favorite part of that field has always been Einstein’s infamous E=mc^2.

This book did an excellent job of getting into that quite nicely by explaining particle collisions and the various “decay channels” observed through research at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and how they eventually found the Higgs boson. It provided details and information I really enjoyed on the process for looking for such things. There was also a sprinkling of humor here and there, which is always appreciated in an otherwise dry read.

There is still so much we don’t know, which it seems is often forgotten, especially for people who are not scientists. While some scientists can be rather arrogant regarding the lay public, in reality it seems that those who know the least out there seem to think that all the mysteries of the universe have been explained. Yet, it took around a half-century from when the theory for its existence was put forth in the 1960s until  scientific evidence for the Higgs boson was found. It’s situations like this which make me roll my eyes as a physicist and professional astrologer when skeptics dismiss astrology.

For instance, take gravity. We all know it’s there, can calculate its effect, but still don’t understand its mechanism on a detailed, scientific level. Quantum mechanics and the possible link between consciousness and matter is a fascinating field about which we still know relatively little. No telling what’s lurking in that domain along with psi phenomena.  I loved it when they stated, “The discovery of the Higgs boson is a striking example of how much we have to stretch our imagination to reveal nature’s secrets just a little bit more.” Another jewel is, “In fact, the current physical models and theories aren’t sufficient enough to explain all the phenomena we observe in the universe.”

The one thing about this book that bothered me slightly was the fact that in a few places it was obvious that its author is not a native English speaker.  Far be it from me to criticize people who are bilingual; I have tremendous admiration and respect for those who speak more than one language. And chances are the version of English the author knows is UK, not USA, so that also throws some differences in there. However, there were a few places where the syntax, and in some cases, word choice, made it a bit more difficult to understand. Fortunately, there were only a few places where this was the case.

Face it, this is pretty heavy stuff that only geeks like myself would read in the first place. Furthermore, expressing something in words which is usually expressed mathematically or perhaps via Feynman diagrams is difficult enough in your own language. Nonetheless, when you’re occasionally tripping over word choices and general sentence construction, it makes it more difficult to follow. As a physicist and writer myself, I could probably do a pretty good job editing it. But the author certainly did far better in English than I would with German where what little I know, thanks to my German neighbor, comprises spinnst-du, bitte, kartoffel, auf weidersehen, sauerbraten, and a few others, some of which aren’t appropriate for polite company.

If you have a rudimentary knowledge of particle physics and want to get into the sordid details of how they figure this stuff out at the LHC, you’ll probably enjoy this book. It definitely satisfied my scientific appetite for the summer and the insights will come in handy in writing my current science fiction novel. I do look forward to more books in this series.

If you’re a geek or nerd looking for a pretty good science fix presented with a slight German accent, you can pick up your copy here.

Today’s Writing Tip

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When I get inspired to write a certain scene, I go for it, even if it’s out of sequence. Like so many things, it’s use it or lose it, and ignoring inspiration is a sure way for it to evaporate forever. Writing a story in the same order it will be presented to the reader isn’t required. When your muse speaks, listen!

Admittedly, it’s not always easy to keep everything straight, especially when you have multiple characters in different situations. When I was writing “Refractions of Frozen Time” it was like putting together a three-dimensional zig-saw puzzle. I had characters and plot twists popping up like mushrooms after a spring rain, some not only in different time zones, but on different planets, or in a space ship traveling at warp speed. Getting these put in the proper order was often a challenge, but it all eventually tied together, some of those spontaneous scenes that came out of the blue the best in the story.