Author Archives: Selah J Tay-Song

About Selah J Tay-Song

Selah J Tay-Song was born and lives in Washington State. She graduated from The Evergreen State College with a BAS major in biological sciences and a minor in creative writing. Selah wrote her first fantasy story about a unicorn when she was six years old. At age fourteen, she started writing a science fiction/ fantasy book. Since then she has drafted six books and many short stories. Dream of a Vast Blue Cavern, her debut novel, came out of an actual dream where she was crawling through narrow, dark stone tunnels, looking for something. Selah loves writing, and plans to keep doing it for the rest of her life.

This is What Procrastination Looks Like

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Last year (2014, for those of you as disoriented by the fact that we are in the 2010’s as I am) I drafted Book III in my Dreams of QaiMaj series during NaNoWriMo. I was pretty proud of having drafted 100K words in just one month, and I was reasonably sure that I had a decent draft, too. I planned to give myself a year for necessary revisions and edits, then release the book in spring of 2016.

However, the manuscript of Book III has been sitting under my desk for a year, glaring balefully and snarling every time I approach. This intimidating behavior has thrust me into the depths of perhaps my greatest year of procrastination ever. Which, for me, is pretty bad, considering that I’m the Queen of Procrastination to begin with.

With that spring 2016 deadline looming, I’ve been forced to confront my procrastination problem. The first step is recognizing it.

This is what procrastination looks like . . .

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Compulsive organization. While they are the most impressive visually, the spices are actually the tail end of a year-long purge and organization binge. Many trips to Goodwill were made, many precious heirlooms carelessly tossed aside, many organizing solutions purchased and filled. I can honestly say I am the most organized I have ever been in my life. Thank you, Book III.

This is what procrastination looks like . . .

Shopping! Granted, I’m a starving artist so most of my purchases are at thrift stores, but I’m pretty sure my wardrobe has doubled this year.

This is what procrastination looks like . . .

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Baking. You know the procrastination has gotten really bad when your own mother jokingly calls you Martha Stewart. For the record, I’d rather she were jokingly calling me Ursula K Leguin, but this is where procrastination takes us, folks.

This is what procrastination looks like . . .

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Blogging! I recently reached my 70th post on my 101 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Wrote My First Book blog. Blogging is particularly insidious because it’s easy to think, hey, at least I’m writing something! Plus, blogging is also marketing, so I’m marketing and writing at the same time. Why would I ever do anything but blog?

This is what procrastination looks like . . .

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Compulsively publishing stuff. Why put out the next book when you can publish short stories you’ve already written? I went from one title to ten in less than a week. Unfortunately, a week isn’t a lot of time in this year’s epic procrastination journey. So I had to find something else to do . . .

This is what procrastination looks like . . .

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Marketing! “Something else” was scheduling a two-week $0.99 promo on Dream of a Vast Blue Cavern on every available ebook retailer and taking the time to book an advertising spot every day of the promo! Go ahead, contribute to my procrastination madness! You can read a great book at a great price and encourage the procrastination devil whispering in my ear, “see, you’re selling books. Who needs to write when you’re selling books?”

This is what procrastination looks like . . .

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Planning. Wait, that’s starting to look suspiciously like working on Book III!

This is what procrastination looks like . . .

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Wait, what is happening here? Am I actually . . . Am I actually starting to revise Book III? This is clearly no longer procrastination.

Maybe the story of my year of procrastination will have a happy ending, after all. Still, I find myself wondering, what went wrong?

Hypothesis #1: NaNoWriMo made me arrogant.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure this happened. My success made me think, I can write a novel in a month, so clearly I can revise a novel in a month, so clearly I’m basically done, and I don’t need to look at this again until Spring of 2016.

Hypothesis #2: My Editor’s comments gave that snarling beast some sharp and shiny teeth.

This probably happened too. The feedback was honest and spot on, but it certainly didn’t make it any easier to approach Book III. Especially when the depth of the issues made it clear that it wouldn’t be a quick and easy revision process.

Hypothesis #3: When I finished drafting Book III I was too close to the material to look at it objectively.

Now that a year has passed, I’m hoping  I can do some of the necessary “kill your darlings” work that both I and my Editor agree is needed to make this a great book. There’s no way I could have done that a year ago.

Hypothesis #4: You can’t stop procrastinating when you don’t know you’re procrastinating.

To be honest, most of the year I thought for sure I was right on track. I didn’t question the compulsive organizing, the baking, or the blogging. It wasn’t until I realized I have just four months to not only revise but also edit, format, send to beta readers, plan the launch and distribution of Book III that I started to wonder what I was thinking. Especially when I’m still having thoughts like, “I’ll get to it in January. January will be a good month,” and “Maybe I should draft Book IV first. You know, just to have it done.”

So what next?

I’m thinking about making a carrot torte for the holidays, maybe learning how to cut flowers out of carrots to decorate it. Then I have a jigsaw puzzle I’ve been eyeing for awhile . . . oh wait, you mean with Book III?

Ahem well yes. I’ve been taking steps here at procrastinators anonymous. If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that baby-steps are my path out of procrastination. Set a small, manageable task, accomplish it, then start the next task. Basically, it comes down to fooling the part of myself that’s afraid of that snarling beast. “Oh, no we’re not going to re-write the whole thing, no. Just read one chapter and make a few notes, that’s all. OK, now read one more chapter . . .”

Using that method, I managed to read through the whole manuscript and made detailed notes for revision.

Then I stalled out again. I realized that a large part of the problem is that I need to re-examine the over-arching vision of the series as a whole. To that end, I’ve been re-reading The Plot Whisperer, looking for insight on how to shape not only the plot of book III but the final part of the Dreams of QaiMaj series.

With tips from that great resource in hand, I’ve been reviewing my notes on the series and re-planning it based on some changes that my Editor and I discussed regarding the outcome of Book III. This might sound very much like more procrastination, but it is actually generating a lot more energy and confidence for me to finally tackle the revisions I need to make to Book III.

Next, this very week in fact, I intend to corral the beast, risking life and limb, and start making actual edits in the actual file of Book III. And now that I’ve stated it publicly, I can’t back out.

To recap, here is what I’ve learned about procrastination this year:

  • It’s usually caused by a deep, visceral fear of failure
  • It leads to a highly organized, well-catered, haute-couture lifestyle
  • It can have the additional positive effect of delaying your project until you actually have the distance and objectivity to do it well
  • You can’t stop until you admit you have a problem
  • The way out of procrastination (for me) is baby-steps
  • Consulting resources and stepping back to look at the big picture also help
  • I’m probably never going to be able to write and publish four books a year, at this rate
  • The fear of public humiliation if I don’t follow through is greater than the fear of failure
  • I’m pretty sure I can start that jigsaw puzzle and finish revising Book III this month

Do you procrastinate? If so what kind of fun things manifest from your particular brand of procrastination? How do you un-procrastinate, when it comes time to do so?

Selah J Tay-Song is living proof that if you persevere, you’ll catch your dreams. She decided to be an author at the age of six. Today she is the author of the Dreams of QaiMaj series, an epic fantasy series described as magical, poetic and engrossing. When she’s not writing, she’s stalking the urban river otters that live less than a mile from her home in the Pacific Northwest.

Author website: www.selahjtaysong.com

Book website: www.dreamsofqaimaj.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/selahjtaysong

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/selah.taysong

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/selahjtaysong

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Just Me and My Personalities: How to Juggle Multiple POV Characters

When I started taking classes from my writing teacher, mentor, and now friend Laurel Leigh (perhaps you’ve heard of her?), she gave me some of the best writing advice I’ve ever gotten.

Fortunately, I completely disregarded it.

Before I tell you what her advice was, why I ignored it, and why that turned out to be a good thing, let me provide some background for the subject matter: writing in multiple Point of View (POV), or as I like to call it, expressing your multiple personalities in a single work.

I grew up reading epic fantasy, and I’ve known since I was a teenager that this was the genre I wanted to write. If you aren’t familiar with the genre of epic fantasy, I’ll give you the briefest introduction. Basically, the hero always has nothing less than the fate of the entire world on his or her shoulders. Picture Frodo attempting to drop the ring into the cauldron of lava in Mordor while everyone he cares about fights for their lives. No pressure, right?

In order to succeed in such a monumental task, the hero needs a large and competent cast of supporting characters. Would Frodo have succeeded without Samwise? I don’t think so. Gandalf, Aragorn, and Legolas played important roles too, among others. In epic fantasy, the battle is always fought on several fronts.

Because the hero can’t be present on all these fronts at once, epic fantasy is often written in multiple points of view. In one scene, we’re in Frodo’s POV as he inches toward the cauldron; in the next, we’re with Gandalf, holding back the orc army in the last ray of light left on Middle Earth.

Now, the advice Laurel gave me was this: Don’t attempt to write your book with six-plus POV characters. Find your hero—she might not even be the hero you have marked out as the main character—and tell her story.

Given my background with epic fantasy, these words broke on barren shores.

I should start by saying that Laurel was absolutely right. I would have had a much easier time, and probably produced a much better first novel, if I had followed her advice. I should also mention that I have followed, or tried to follow, at least 90% of the advice Laurel gives me, with winning results every single time.

Unfortunately for me, epic fantasy is what I wanted to write. I needed to start there.

I should also add that there have been several incredible epic fantasy tales told with a single point of view. In fact, my favorite author, Robin Hobb, uses single first person POV in her first work, the Farseer Trilogy. So multiple POV isn’t a rule of the genre, though it is the norm.

When I told Laurel this, those many years ago, she replied that it may be a convention in the genre, but that doesn’t matter. You should tell the story the way the story needs to be told.

Again, she was absolutely right, and again I ignored her advice, but her response got me wondering why so much epic fantasy is written in multiple POV. To be honest, before she suggested maybe I should scale things back, I hadn’t really considered writing in any other format.

The answer I come up with is this: multiple POV epic fantasy novels are actually the story of several different characters woven into one book, united by plot and setting. Through this method, the writer explores the implications of the main event (usually, but not always, the end of the world, or some great and final battle) on the various POV characters.

The benefit for the reader is that they can experience several different personalities under the same conditions. The farmboy becoming the prophesied hero experiences the dramatic arc differently from the wise old magician, who experiences it differently from the inexperienced young battle Queen. As a reader, I can experience the same story in a variety of different ways. It’s like the difference between ordering off the menu and exploring the buffet.

One of my favorite things about this kind of epic fantasy is how opinionated readers get about the characters. Even when all of the “good” characters are drawn as sympathetic by a given author, all of them have their haters on the online fantasy forums. Entire threads are devoted to tearing apart these characters, evidence perhaps of how deeply epic fantasy writers are engaging their readers using multiple points of view. Continue reading

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Information Management: It’s a Little Like Goldilocks

Hi doggies, I’m so thrilled to be back in the Dogpatch!

As I’ve been entering my revisions for Dream of a City of Ruin (Book II of the Dreams of QaiMaj series), I’ve been thinking a lot about managing information in a novel.

Information is broad word so I’ll define it here as anything that the reader might need to know in order to follow your story. It might be backstory about a character, technical details about how something works, or the description of a setting. Lately I’m thinking the single most difficult part about writing, and the thing that ultimately separates “a book I’d like to read” from “a book I’d like to hurl across the room” is information management.

It’s a little like Goldilocks and the three bears: not too much, not too little. You have to include just the right amount of information for the reader to follow the story, without dumping in too much information, and you have to reveal the information so that the reader isn’t taken out of the story, so that your book doesn’t read like a technical manual, and so that your characters don’t sound like infomercials. It’s easy to fall into the trap of either including rambling, disruptive dumps, or trying to hide important information in a misguided attempt to create suspense, resulting in a lost and confused reader.

While there is no simple answer, I’ve picked up a few tools over the decades, from teachers, mentors, editors, peers and books on writing. For what it’s worth:

1. Kill your darlings, ruthlessly

It’s tempting to get carried away with including information. Chances are you’ve written pages and pages of backstory, world-building, research and character profiles. But just because you are in love with a particular bit of information doesn’t mean that it serves the story. Always ask yourself, does the reader absolutely need to know this particular information right now in order to follow and enjoy the story? If not, omit it. If a piece of information doesn’t either develop character or push the plot forward, we don’t need it.

Readers read fiction when they want a story, not a college textbook. If the reader isn’t already invested in the characters and plot, they aren’t going to care about how the hero’s gamma-ray gun works.

2. Prioritize information in order to determine how to reveal it

In order to understand how and when to reveal information, you have to have a sense of how important the information is to the story as a whole. You’ve likely heard the caveat that a gun on the mantle in Act I must be fired in Act 3. Well, the reverse is true. If something significant happens later in your story, you want to be leading up to it so that your reader is not so surprised by it that the story loses credibility. For example, if the villain is killed in the end by a gamma-ray gun, the reader should know both of the existence of such guns in your story world, and at least a little bit about how they function and how dangerous they are. Obviously, the presence of a weapon is a much more important piece of information than the details about how the fabric of the villain’s cloak was made. (Unless the fabric can teleport the villain, in which case we’d like to know something about it.) But the importance of some details isn’t as clear. So, how do you know what information in your story is going to be important?

3. Tell the story first

Whether you’re discovery drafting, outlining or summarizing, when you’re constructing your story, I’d advise you not to include any information you don’t absolutely need to craft a scene. That paragraph of backstory you think you need in Chapter 1—skip it. Chances are your information priorities will change by the end of your draft. When you tell the story first, you begin to get a sense of what is important and therefore what the reader will need to know, and when.

4. Choose key details: take cues from visual artists

It’s all well and good to wait and add in backstory and technical information later, you say, but what about the details I need to include now in order to build a scene? Character descriptions, setting, etc? I can’t very well wait and add everything in later.

As with backstory, description often falls into the too much or too little categories.  To avoid either pitfall, take a cue from visual artists: when artists paint a picture, they don’t include every single thing their eye actually sees on the canvas. Of course, there are a wide variety of artistic styles, just as there are many different writing voices. A comic artist can tell a whole story with a few squiggly lines. But even the most photo-real painting is an illusion; the artist did not paint, grain for grain, what they saw in the real world. Instead they use lines and contrast to trick the eye into thinking what they are seeing is like the real thing.

In writing, you want to do the same thing. A lot of writers start to describe a character by listing every detail about a person, their height, eye-color, hair color, girth, etc. While it is important for you to know this information about your character, this doesn’t translate in the readers mind to a picture of the character. Instead, pick key details that leave the reader with a solid impression. Visualize what you are about to describe, and then ask yourself, what are three specific images that would best convey this setting or character? Limit yourself to those three impressions, and you won’t overwhelm the reader with information. And speaking of description . . . Continue reading

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Use the Ancient Art of Storytelling to Write Your Next Novel

~ Guest post by Selah J Tay-Song, author of Dream of a Vast Blue Cavern, Book 1 of the Dreams of QaiMaj series ~

Dream of a Vast Blue Cavern by Selah J Tay-Song

Greetings Dogpatch Writers Collective! Thanks so much for the honor of being invited to blog with you. Woof!

On my own blog, I usually ramble along about whatever I’m thinking about at the moment, be it writing, insomnia, or cute cat videos. (You didn’t hear that, doggies). I thought for such a sophisticated pack as Dogpatch I should post something writing-related with a potential craft outcome for the reader.

Okay, you got me, I didn’t come up with that one on my own. This dog park has some leash-laws. No cute cat video reviews. Yip!

So I thought I’d share an epiphany I had this year that had a profound impact on how I write (writing-related, check!), and could just change how you write, too (potential craft outcome, check!).

I’ve been working on novel-length manuscripts since I was fourteen, and all this time I’ve been struggling with the question of how to manage such a sheer volume of words. I write long-winded fantasy epics that tend to explode from one book into five, so for me that’s a lot of words.

Here’s how my writing process has typically worked:

1. Get an idea for story

2. Start drafting from idea

3. Run out of ideas, attempt to outline the rest of the story

4. Draft a novel which in no way resembles said outline

5. Stare in horror at 150K word mess on paper. Continue reading

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