Tag Archives: fiction writing

Am I Lost in a Fictional World?

Can creative writing be considered a mental illness?


Creative writing crazinessIf you love it too much, does it actually take over your mind, for good?

I’m a proud, card-carrying weirdo, and I’m certainly a top contender for geek-of-the-year (for over thirty years, running), but when it comes to writing the Perspective book series with Amanda, I am taken to an entirely different oddity plane. I stop living here and I start living on an entirely different world that exists inside my head.

On any given day, I think about the books, the characters, and the future direction of the plot, more times than I can count. I can honestly say that an hour hasn’t passed in fourteen years in which I have not thought about something happening on the planet Qarradune, at least once.

Writers are known for being a little bit on the different side (to say the least). I think the entire artistic community – actors, painters, authors, sculptors, singers, etc – has a certain requirement in terms of being somewhat strange. But at the same time, as much as I’m glad to be unique (some might say that “unique” is a rather kind way to describe myself), I do wonder if I am crossing the line from being a quirky artist in the creative writing world, and stepping over into madness.

Am I supposed to think about a fictional world this much? Are people who are figments of my imagination and who interact with people who are figments of Amanda’s imagination supposed to matter more to me than some of the characters I have met in real life?

The thing is, allowing my mind to drift over to Qarradune so that I can mentally hang-out with Irys Godeleva, Megan Wynters, Thayn Varda, and Acksil makes me very, very happy. Even Galnar can bring the occasional twisted smile to my face…hmmm, maybe I should be questioning the sanity of that, too…

Perspective book series - crazy writerOccasionally, I think that the fact that I am this passionate about the book is a good sign. A lot of famous authors are, after all, known for completely losing themselves in their fictional worlds, to very extreme degrees. Then again, many of those authors are also known for struggling with the real world and escaping through hard-core drugs or a permanent visit to the bottom of a river.

Will I be able to recognize if I ever make that leap from peculiar or eccentric to plain-old nuts?

For now, I plan to embrace my bizarre side and to keep loving the world that flows from my mind and out through my words. Hopefully, someone will let me know if I’ve made Qarradune my forever-home, so that they might help me come back to Earth to visit, now and again.

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Two Heads are Better Than One: It’s Not Just a Sesame Street Song!

I can’t stand it when writers get too descriptive. It’s not that I don’t understand the value of description. It’s not that I don’t see the skill that a beautiful and clear description requires. After a certain point, I just stop caring. It’s nothing but a big yawn for me.

julie campbell writer - writing descriptionYes, description is needed to tell the story. If I begin a story that dives right into a conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Character with absolutely no insight into who they are, how they look, and where they are, then I have lost an opportunity to give you, Reader, the chance to imagine the story in the way that I do.

After all, if I don’t tell you that Mr. and Mrs. Character are having their conversation on the deck of a sailing ship, then you might be imagining them in their kitchen, sitting on the porch, or on a picnic blanket at the park. Even if I do tell you that they’re on the deck of a ship, I need to tell you that they’re on a sailing ship or you might think that they are on a massive cruise liner.  For that matter, are Mr. and Mrs Character merely passengers, or is Mrs. Character actually a pirate queen who terrorizes the nine seas (it’s my world, it can have nine seas)?

However, if I spend the first thirty pages of the book describing the precise wood used to construct the deck of the ship, the type of sealant that was applied to protect it against the salt in the seawater, the name of the family that developed said sealant, the back story on how they came into the sealant-development business, the precise shade of brown that is achieved after the application of the sealant, the number of knots per plank and the difference the sealant makes in the clockwise swirling pattern of the knots in the surface of the deck, and so on, then I’m pretty sure that I’ll have lost your attention halfway through the first paragraph. I know that my mind would certainly have wandered by then (possibly to a story from a book that wasn’t as overly descriptive).

At the same time, though, I love to write description. I adore describing a scene. Since, I can see everything very clearly in my head, I want to share that image with everyone who is experiencing the story that I am telling in the Book. But where do I draw the line? It is in this area that I find myself relying very heavily on Amanda’s opinions. I haven’t come to the point that I have had the guts to ask for it (although, being a very smart person, she may see the subtle hint in this post), I think it’s coming close to the time in which I am going to need some extra help in the editing process to know when it’s time to just shut up.

I am confident that I can do my part in giving the book some polish, but this was a team writing effort and I know that it will be a team editing effort, too. We can only work on it independently for so long and then it’s time to get out the boxing gloves.  I only hope that I will be able to take the criticisms of the length of certain descriptions with dignity and not break down into a ball of tears on the floor. If the next post sounds a little bit cranky-pants, then you’ll know that things are off to a rocky start and that I’m clinging to that thirty-page ship-deck description. Wish me luck!

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Even Superheroes Need Limits!

Every character in a story needs to have limits to their awesomeness. Even superheroes and supervillains must have restrictions. Why? To put it quite simply, invulnerable characters (especially major characters – protagonists, antagonists, etc.) are un-relatable and, quite frankly, ridiculous.

Super-DudeAs soon as a reader deems something a character does as too unbelievable and outrageous, they start to lose their ability to suspend their disbelief. Instead of continuing to accept certain fantastical elements of the story, they begin to read with a far more critical eye and a “ya, right” attitude.

We’ve all been there before, haven’t we? Wrapped up in a book we really like, getting lost in the plot and the excitement and then…BHAM! A character does something completely preposterous that leaves you blinking and staring at the page wondering, “Did that just happen?” Willing to believe that it’s your eyes playing tricks on you, you re-read the same lines over and over again in vain, realizing that your brain didn’t just suddenly have a meltdown. You weren’t imagining those words. What you read really was that awful!

Take this made-up story, for instance: Imagine you’re reading a book starring a female character named Bitsy.  Bitsy is described as being ordinary, of average intelligence, and prefers running shoes to heels, because when she does wear heels, she’s a total walking klutz. The story is interesting, the plot thickens, and you find Bitsy to be a cute, quirky character. In fact, you laugh when she finally wears high heels for the first time and she has a klutz attack. You keep reading and the book gets really good. You’re almost at the end now, just a few more pages to go. Oh no! Bitsy is in serious trouble!  How is she ever going to escape that impossible situation? BHAM! Don’t worry! Not only does non-extraordinary Bitsy manage to save the day in record time, she does it running through the woods in 10 inch heels, using a highly technical plan that suddenly came to her after she deciphered a random mathematical equation she found in a bathroom stall in a public restroom. Yay!  The End. WTF?!?! Wouldn’t you feel the author ripped you off with that ending? I certainly would, because  Bitsy went from being cute and ordinary to extraordinarily absurd.

The same problem happens with supernatural characters and superheroes. If you’re going to make a character have a certain super power, you need to define their limits. After all, “with great power comes great responsibility”. While any Spidey fan reading this post will recognize that line I just wrote as an awesome quote from Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, its purpose here is to remind writers (myself included) that while you have great power, as you are the god of your story, you also have great responsibility to your readers to not make your characters ludicrous (unless, of course, the sole purpose of your character is to be ludicrous then, by all means, more power to you 😉 ).

Super-ChickAllow me to elaborate a little more about my point that superheroes need limits by using Marvel’s superhero, Spider-Man, as an example. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive (or whatever) spider and the spider’s venom gave him super-human abilities – he’s amazingly strong, he can stick to walls, etc., etc. We can suspend our disbelief and accept that Spider-Man can crawl up walls, shoot webbing from his wrists/cartridges and web-swing all over New York City. Why? Because he’s a very intelligent guy who was bitten by a magical spider. What won’t we accept? We won’t accept Spider-Man having the ability to fly. Why? Because spiders don’t fly (nope, not even magical ones). Thus, since he inherited his powers from a spider, it doesn’t make “logical” sense that he would gain an ability they don’t have. See – limits.

Even Superman, in all of his awesomeness, has his weakness to kryptonite. He also has his love for people, his farm-boy values, and his personal code of honour to keep him in line. All of this is important. These details define his character and his character limits. No one cares what happens to someone who is invincible. OK, maybe some people do, but personally, I don’t.

I like characters with flaws. What’s more, I want to know what dangers exist for characters. I want to know their restrictions, their weaknesses, what they can naturally do, and what they could do if they pushed themselves to the brink and maximized their full potential, as well as what happens to them when they overdo it. I want to know what is possible and what is not possible and use this knowledge to create one incredible story.

As we write our book, I’m discovering that having the power to create does carry a lot of responsibility. If we want our readers to suspend their disbelief, the world we create needs to have a certain level of logic that must be maintained, so that things will  continue to make  sense to the reader. As soon as you start bending your story’s rules of logic, the reader no longer suspends their disbelief, they just stop believing.

So, what have I learned after years of writing a fiction book? If a character was never meant to fly, make sure their feet stay firmly planted on the ground. And if you’re going to toss them off a cliff, you better be prepared to kill them or be able to justify why some awesome superhero who sprouted wings after being pecked by a radioactive bird, swoops in to save them. Otherwise….BHAM!

The End.

Thanks for reading! 🙂


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I’m an Involuntary Smoker

Before I get started with the reason that I am writing this post, I just want to say that this is not my attempt to speak against (or for) smoking. I am not passing judgment against smokers. I am not telling people that they should not (or should) smoke. This is just a story about my life and how it relates to my writing and editing of the Book with Amanda.

Julie Campbell writer - involuntary smoker

The view out my window…which helps to show why I am a writer and not a photographer. This looks stunning in real life and disappointing in this image!

I live in a low-rise building with lots of huge windows that let in a tremendous amount of light and air. There are huge balconies that give residents the opportunity to relax in the sunlight (or the shade, depending on the time and the day). In my case, I use the space for a massive veggie garden.

When I write, I enjoy seating myself next to the largest window in my home, nestled into a comfy chair with my feet up on a stool. I like having the windows open so that I can enjoy the fresh air and listen to the wind in the trees (which is very audible right now as the leaves are changing and have more of a “rustle” to them), the many different kinds of birds that have nested in those trees (or that simply come to visit), and that one irritating cricket that chirps day and night. Give up, little guy. If it hasn’t worked by now, it never will!


Three times every hour, this experience also exposes me to the smell of cigarette smoke, as other residents light up and puff away on their balconies or outside in the beautiful gardens on the property. As much as I appreciate that they are headed outside to keep the smell – and associated ickies – out of their part of the building, it inevitably means that it enters back into mine through my large, beautiful open windows.

I have looked into air filters of all kinds (there is not a single one on the market that filters out cigarette smoke, as the particles are far too small – so don’t get suckered in by any marketing campaigns that claim otherwise!), and I have tried a steady routine of opening and closing windows in different patterns, depending on the smoker and his or her location.

Although I am a low-level health nut (in that while I try to eat healthy, exercise, and not smoke, I haven’t crossed the line, yet, into full-out nuttiness), I’m not going to take this time to complain about what this is doing to my health. I’m not even going to complain about what my neighbours are doing, as smoking is perfectly legal on private property in Canada, and this is not a no-smoking building.

What I am going to complain about (get ready for it, I know you are just dying to hear my complaints!) is that with all this stink, concern about my health (did I mention I’m a low-level hypochondriac, too?), and window opening-and-closing, it’s really taking a lot out of my day! It is distracting me from my ability to work and it is taking away from my extra time that I would otherwise use to edit the Book!

My characters are victims of my involuntary smoking! Maybe my next step should be to create a digital cigarette filter that can save them from the effects. But will Health Canada approve?  Hmmmm. 😉

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Baking a Cake of Lies

Last week, I had a conversation with Amanda in which I proudly declared that I had successfully cut many of the unnecessary sugary treats out of my diet. I’m not on a weight loss diet, but I am quite health conscious and I struggle with the havoc that a sweet tooth plays in the efforts to live a health-conscious lifestyle. I don’t know anybody who loves cake donuts more than I do.

Julie Campbell writer - cake of liesHowever, after eliminating the excess sugar from what I have been eating (no, I’m not trying to live a sugar-free life and no, I don’t use artificial sweeteners – don’t get me started on that), I have been discovering that I have a lot more control over my hunger levels and I find that I don’t crave sweets nearly as much as I once did. In fact, other than wanting a little yogurt cup after dinner, I don’t crave sweets at all anymore.

On the evening of that conversation, as I was taking ingredients out of the cupboard to make dinner, I discovered a mix for a spice cake that was riding the line of its expiration date. Since I loathe wasting food, I had a mixing bowl out on the counter and was cracking two eggs into the cake mix before I could realize that what I was effectively doing was whipping up a cake of lies. I was doing exactly the opposite of what I’d just finished telling Amanda!

The universe clearly knew what I was up to, because it decided to punish me for my dishonesty. Since it was a very small spice cake of lies (it fit into the loaf pan for my toaster oven), I decided to be environmentally friendly (and to keep my electricity bill down) and I baked my cake of lies in the toaster oven, instead of the full-sized oven. Like most lies, this cake grew and grew and grew, until it touched the top heating elements. This caused copious amounts of black smoke to billow out of the small appliance as I threw open the windows to stop the smoke detectors from going off.

Still determined not to waste food (clearly, I have a problem), I popped the cake out of its pan and set it on a plate, finishing the cooking in the microwave (after having sliced the blackened layer off the top). A quick nuking is, apparently, all it takes to finish the baking of a cake of lies. How was it? Honestly? It was the best spice cake I’ve ever made. I don’t know if it was the fire, the microwaves, or the lies, but it was the perfect texture and flavour. Once the clouds of black smoke were out of my home, I could tell that the cake smelled great, too.

What lesson did I learn from this adventure? It wasn’t that I shouldn’t be ridiculous about trying to save food. It wasn’t that I should remember that cakes rise a lot in the oven. It wasn’t even that I shouldn’t tell friends that I’m off baked sugar treats when I have cake mix in the cupboard.

The lesson I took from it was that people will do things that seem to be quite out of character and bizarre, provided they have the right motivation. Without knowing that I was trying not to waste food, it would have looked like I’d completely lost my mind (it may still seem that way to you, though not to the same degree as it would if I didn’t have the justification behind my behaviours).

This has given me some important perspective when it comes to judging the actions of my characters. I’m always afraid that they will do things that are “out of character” and that I won’t notice because I’m so used to the story I’ve written. However, even real people do things that are out of character. A character isn’t something that is set in stone. Circumstances can easily change the way we react. Also, fictional characters,  like real people, can’t always have days in which we’re at our very best. Sometimes, we find ourselves nuking a burnt cake of lies.


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Learning About Myself Through Editing

I’ve experienced a number of insights as I’ve been going over the Book that I have neglected for three years. Technically speaking, the story I’m now tackling is more than a decade old. It’s been edited, poked, and prodded, but it’s old work.

Julie Campbell writer self learningAs I read over what is there, I’m discovering a lot about myself. My thought patterns for telling a story aren’t exactly the same. I do love what I have, and the story is still very strong, but the way that I was expressing it had a “deliberate” feel. By reading it, I could see exactly what I was trying to accomplish – not a great experience from the reader’s perspective.

I can spot the words that I selected through the use of a thesaurus instead of choosing something out of my own vocabulary. I can identify all of the “set ups” that I chose to lead a reader in a certain direction. Those are only powerful elements in a story when they are seamless, not when they stand out.

What I’m discovering is that what I wrote ten years ago and picked at for a while was a story. Now, it’s time to make it into a book. I may not have been able to do it then, but I feel confident that I can do it now.

There is something to be said about spending a tremendous amount of time on a written project. In school, I was always told not to write a paper at the last minute because one of the most important steps was to be able to sleep after having completed a piece, and then edit it after having had some time to forget about it for a while. Like most students, I finished most of my papers at 3am or 4am on the day that it was due, but it doesn’t mean that I have forgotten the lesson.

As I read over the Book, I can now see the true value that my teachers were trying to express. Certainly, ten years is a bit on the long side, but it has given me time to learn, grow, practice, and improve, so that I can view my work with a fresh (albeit moderately crazy) mind.

It has been frustrating me that I hadn’t gone back to the Book earlier so that I could have had it published, sooner. But now that I am actually working on it, I can genuinely say that I’m glad that I waited until this point. I’m feeling much more confident about it, and I know that I have the skill to be able to lift my words from being a decent story to being a very good book.

We’ve all read stories that were exceptionally enjoyable but that were poorly told. That is just what the story I am writing used to be. Soon enough, it will be an enjoyable story, but it will be told in a book that is worth reading. I can’t wait to see how that looks.


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Nothing has Changed but Something is Different

If I ever tell you that I don’t care what people think about me, then please feel welcome (and justified) to tell me that I’m a liar. A big, bald-faced (what does that even mean?), dirty-rotten liar.

When I started writing on this blog, I told myself – and I may even have told Amanda – that I didn’t care if people read it. I just wanted to be able to express my thoughts and keep myself motivated to get back to the Book’s first draft. I intended to use it like a kind of journal.  Today, not even a week later, I know that either this has changed dramatically, or I was lying to myself (and my bestest friend, for that matter).

Julie Campbell writer feeling great!In my efforts to become a bigger person (in character. only. Physically, I’d rather be a smaller person), I will admit that every time I post another blog, I visit it every few hours so that I can scroll down to the bottom of the text and check how many other bloggers have “liked” it; how many times it has been posted on Facebook; and how many times it has been Tweeted (less important than Facebook, because I still have no idea how Twitter works, despite the fact that I post there regularly). Then I repeat my feeling of frustration at the Google+ button for not giving me a total, dang it!

Clearly, the fact that other people are paying attention to what I have to say means quite a lot to me. As someone who has spent my whole life trying to remain as far from the spotlight as possible, praying that the teacher wouldn’t pick me in class (even if I knew the answer), and loathing any recognition that I received in the workplace for any exceptional achievement (I really am a very driven worker) because it means that someone will talk to me, I seem to be quite the attention-slut when it comes to blogging!

I’ve mentioned, briefly, in one of my earlier posts that I have a social anxiety disorder. After having been called “very shy” my entire young life, my sister happened to hear a radio show about social anxiety disorders and agoraphobia and immediately pointed out to my mother that the former of those conditions sounded exactly like me. I was in my very early 20s at the time.

My mother’s very sharp and exceptionally logical brain suddenly kicked into high gear and filed all of my “unique” behaviors into lists of symptoms, instead of quirks. Suddenly, that day that I came home completely hysterical and sobbing because the transit bus had been crowded and the window was stuck shut – and decades of similar behaviours – made a lot more sense.

I have come a long way, since then, and while I have shared my struggles and my victories with my closest friends and many of my family members, this is the first time that I am discussing my social anxiety and panic disorder openly. Over the years – and a number of different treatments (including 9 years of various medications – Zoloft, Paxil, Ativan, some kind of beta-blocker to slow my heart rate, etc, etc – that I am very grateful to have been rid of for several years now) – I have stopped being embarrassed about it. It’s not something I’m doing wrong. I’m not just shy. But at the same time I have  been continuing to try very hard to keep it hidden. So even if I know you, I likely haven’t told you about it.  Panic attacks aren’t exactly something that make me feel proud, but unless you know me very well, you’d never recognize that I was panicking. It’s much easier to hide the dizziness, pounding heart, nausea, loss of feeling in my hands, chest pain, and likely two to three sleepless nights to follow as I relive the situation and torture myself about it.

Wow, this has become a very long post! Please take this opportunity to rest your eyes!

Over the last couple of years, mental health awareness days and the willingness of many well respected public figures to share their own struggles with issues such as depression, social anxiety, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, and others, have made me want to “come out” about my own mental health challenges. As much as it may not be taboo anymore, it still doesn’t feel entirely socially acceptable, either. Many people don’t “get it”, and the thought of being judged is very painful.

But it’s time to share, and it’s time to stop hiding. I am a good person, a friendly person, I’m good at my job, and I try very hard to help other people. I also happen to find it very hard to be seen by others and after something as simple as a conversation, I will replay everything that I did and said – and everything that the other person did and said – until I convince myself that I have offended the other person and embarrassed myself irreparably. It’s not nearly as tough as it used to be. The panic attacks are few and far between now (at my worst, I was having 40+ per day). Still, anything from going shopping to meeting a group of friends, or from family gatherings to saying hello to someone as I take the garbage out can be enough to cause another round of symptoms, self-torture and sleepless nights. Nevertheless, none of this makes me bad, stupid, or crazy.

Why am I going on and on about this? No, I’m not a celebrity and I don’t think that telling people about this will make a big difference to their abilities to cope with their own mental illness struggles.

Julie Campbell writer thank you!The point is that this blog has allowed me to enjoy having people’s attention directed at me, without the typical consequences.  If I hadn’t shared all of this with you, it would be impossible to relay how profoundly important it is to me that, for the first time, I am finding that I want to be seen! It is giving me an entirely new reason to adore writing.  The more I find that people are watching what I write, the happier I seem to be! I am thrilled when I discover that people are liking what I write enough to share my words with their friends on social networks. The one thing I feel most passionate about in life is now being seen by other people, and I’m actually delighted about being in the spotlight!

For this, I’d like to take a brief moment to thank you, Reader. You mean the world to me!


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