When I Have Fears - Fantasy Friday | MarisMcKay.com
Creative Writing, Just For Fun

When I Have Fears – Fantasy Friday

I think it’s safe to say every writer struggles with fears. There’s a collection of prickling thoughts in our heads that’s constantly questioning, doubting, and worrying.

  • What if no one reads my books?
  • Will I ever finish this project?
  • What if people read it and don’t like it?
  • Will my parents disown me for writing this scene?
  • What if I can’t make the story as good as I want it to be?
  • What if I miss something in editing?
  • Maybe I’m not talented, or dedicated, or qualified enough.
  • Will people think I’m crazy?

One of my birthday presents this year was a collection of John Keat’s poetry. John Keats was an English Romantic poet born in 1795. He was only 26 years old when he died and yet in his life (two years shorter than the life I’ve had so far) he became one of the greatest writers in English. He’s the one who wrote my favorite poem:

When I have fears that I may cease to be
   Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
   Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
   Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
   Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
   That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
   Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

This poem hangs over my writing desk, along with quotes from the song “Non-Stop” from Hamilton. I wonder if Keats had some kind of premonition that he would die young or if there were so many writing ideas swirling in his head that he thought a normal lifespan wouldn’t be enough to “glean” them all. I don’t have any reason to suspect my writing career will be cut tragically short, but the sense of urgent worry is a familiar one.

You might think this post doesn’t have much to do with fantasy for “Fantasy Friday,” but some of my writing fears are specifically tied to my chosen genre.

  • Will other Christians disprove of me using magic in my stories?
  • Could my more literary stories ever be taken seriously by anyone in academia?
  • Am I imaginative enough to create immersive worlds the way my favorite fantasy novelists do?

All these fears are one reason I started sharing quotes from other writers every Monday. It’s also why I just started a Writer Encouragement board on Pinterest. Maybe the questioning, fearful voice in my mind will never go away. Maybe it’s not supposed to. But one of the key things that separates “real” writers from people who just want to write is that they actually write. They don’t let anything talk them out of telling their stories, even themselves. That’s the kind of writer I want to be. The kind that keeps writing even when they have fears.

Creative Writing

Dangerous Writing

Just came across this quote on Pinterest:

Dangerous Writing – Danielle Orner

I love this aspect of writing. Not that I always go around trying to tear society apart, but I think there is a danger in just accepting things because “that’s how it’s always been.”

Good writing can shake our preconceptions up in some pretty spectacular ways. It can challenge us, stretch our minds, reconfirm our convictions, move us outside our comfort zones, and tear down excuses and fears. It can make us want to change the world.

Creative Writing

Do Something Unexpected

You don’t write great stories by being exactly like everyone else. How many YA books have you read where you felt like it was just the same love-triangle regurgitated in yet another uninspired story? How many Tolkien fantasy knock-offs have you read that didn’t add anything original? I’ll bet they didn’t stick in your minds as a great story or become one of your new favorite books.

We all want to find that special something which will make our work stand-out from other writers. While there isn’t a magic formula for this and several factors have to come together successfully, I think perhaps it starts with the “What if …?” Either you have a unique “What if …?” that no one has used before, or you have an interesting answer to an over-used “What if …?”

  • What if a detective solved crimes from his armchair? (Edgar Allan Poe in The Mystery of Marie Roget [1842].)
  • What if a dead Scottish hero was seeping power up into a vat of beer over his grave? and then we threw in some King Arthur lore? (I simply cannot recommend Tim Powers’ The Drawing of the Dark highly enough)
  • What if aliens attacked earth and we knew they were coming back? (Orson Scott Card has a masterful and unique take on this common “What if …?” in Ender’s Game)

In your next story, try doing something unexpected. We’re literally only limited by our imaginations. Well, that and our ability to write the unexpected and strange so our readers will set aside their disbelief instead of our books 😉

  • Make the superhero and the villain siblings who still share Thanksgiving dinner with their parents (credit to PROMPTUARIUM).
  • Tell the story of a teenage girl who discovers her father actually has a very good reason for asking her to stay away from the new kid at school, and she agrees with him.
  • Write about the dragon who rescues princesses from unsuitable knights (like in this adorable comic by Pedro Arizpe).
  • Fill your technology-reliant world with every-day magic (as suggested here).
Creative Writing, Writing Resources

Writing With Myers-Briggs

Icy Sedgwick, quote from "He was a man of good character"
Icy Sedgwick, quote from He was a man of good character

As a writer, I value precision of language. So when I tell you I’m obsessed with personality psychology, know that I’m not exaggerating very much. It’s a perfect hobby for a writer. After all, aren’t we in the business of studying people and revealing their innermost beings to our readers?

Whenever I’m planning a new novel and working on character sketches, one of the key pieces of information I write down is each important character’s Myers-Briggs type. Though no personality test is perfect, once you get beyond treating the test as four dichotomies and dive into the science behind it the MBTI is one of the more nuanced and useful ways to categorize type. Here’s some quick links for a crash-course in function stacks:

Perhaps the easiest way to use MBTI in writing is to take a personality test as your character. I usually have a pretty good idea of who my character is and how they’re going to act in at least a few different situations before I start thinking about their personality type. I’d rather get to know them a little and let them develop organically before trying to categorize them. Then I use the type they’re most like to learn more about how they perceive the world, make decisions and interact with other people.

Lauren Sapala, quote from Peel Back the Mask of Your Protagonist
Lauren Sapala, quote from Peel Back the Mask of Your Protagonist

I recommend taking more than one test, then reading descriptions about they type(s) you got for your character. If you take the 25 Quiz test linked above, it will give you several probably types.  Pick the one that fits your character best.

Now you can Google things like “do INTP and ESTJ relationships work?” or “How do ISFJs react to stress?” to get more specific information. I like browsing MBTI forums and getting perspectives from many different people with the same type. That’s a great way to see how similar, and different, people who share a personality type can be.

Your Turn: What are your go-to resources for crafting well-rounded characters?

For more great quotes about writing characters, check out 99 Essential Quotes on Character Creation by MJ Bush. That’s where I found the ones I’ve used in this post.

Creative Writing, NaNoWriMo

What I’m Using to Prep For NaNoWriMo 2015

This year for NaNoWriMo, I’ve been struggling to come up with a good plot, and turned to the Internet for help. While there’s a huge collection of tools out there (click here to check out one of the most impressive NaNo prep lists), sometimes I feel overwhelmed by all the writing tools available.  I’ve narrowed it down to just a few main sources for the sake of my sanity (though I’ll probably use others as I discover a need). Here’s the ones I’m finding the most helpful in my NaNo preparation for 2015.

Check out what I'm using to prep for #NaNoWriMo2015 and share your favorite writing tools at MarisMcKay.com


I love checklists for making sure I don’t miss anything. 6 Tasks You’ll Love Yourself for Checking Off Your NaNo Pre-Writing List is sort of a checklist for checking things off of your checklist. Since I’m using elements of an old story that I’d previously abandoned on page 58, I’m hoping this will help me make sure I’ve got all the information I need for the new and improved story.


I admit it — I’m a Pinterest addict. There’s a good reason, though. It’s the best way I’ve found to collect visuals for use in your novel. You could clip pictures from magazines, scan them from books, or draw them yourselves and keep them in a physical book or folder (that might be fun, actually), but Pinterest is faster and easier to store.

Follow Maris’s board WIP – All Under Heaven (NaNoWriMo 2015) on Pinterest.


Trying this out just to see if I like it. Hiveword is an online plot and scene outliner/organizer that also keeps track of characters, settings, and important items. There are name generators for people and places built in, you can access it from anywhere, and it’s free.

I like my writer’s notebooks, but I thought I’d give Hiveword a try. I like the idea of being able to keep track of every character without taking up pages of notebook space. I also like how detailed the character sheets are, and that I can go back and add things easily. It won’t replace my beloved sticky note outline, but I’ll use it as a supplement.


I’ve noticed a tendency in my stories to write lots of internal conflict for my main characters and either leave out or under-develop the antagonist. This story has room for a great bad guy, and I want to make sure I write him well. I’d previously pinned several articles on writing good villains, and here are the ones I think will be most helpful:

Villainy 101: Villains Are People Too – The Academy of Ultimate Villainy is here to help make sure your villain is well-written

4 Types of Villain – The Last One is Truly Scary Because He’s So Good — uses Jane Eyre to explain different villain types

Most Common Writing Mistakes, Pt. 31: One-Dimensional Conflict — not just about villains; a good source about conflict in general


If I’d discovered the 30 Days of World Building tutorial at the beginning of this month, I’d have been very tempted to work through it as a month-long precursor to NaNoWriMo. We’ve got less than two weeks before NaNo starts, though, so I suppose I’ll have to go through it a little more quickly than intended. I’ll also pull from some of the other resoources I’ve collected on my world building Pinterest Board.

What about you — do you have any go-to resources  you recommend for NaNo?  something you discovered recently or you always use when crafting a new story? Share it in a comment!

Creative Writing, My Projects

Tears In the Writer

Tears In The Writer, marismckay.com
background image credit: MarLeah Cole

I love this quote from Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” Last night, I was crying while I wrote a scene in The Chronicles of Endan. I thought of this quote, and decided that was a good thing.

For almost two years, I was stalled in writing this particular novel because of two scenes I didn’t know how to write. I conquered one during my epic creative flow, and wrote the other one last night. I’m not a mother, so how could I write about childbirth — much less an associated tragedy? But we write about things we haven’t directly experienced all the time, and the story needed this scene. So I finally wrote it. It’s not perfect yet, but it made me cry and I think that’s a good start.

Creative Writing, Just For Fun

Thoughts On Twitter, plus Epic Creative Flow

A few months ago, I finally joined pretty much everyone else on the planet and signed up for Twitter. And you know what? It’s already become my second-favorite social media site as a writer (right behind Pinterest).

I know I haven’t been very diligent about updating this blog (though I do keep up with Pinterest and now Twitter). The most exciting news on the writing front for me was an epic three-weeks when I was in the perfect creative flow. It was like writer’s block didn’t exist, and I sailed through a couple short stories and picked up working on a novel that I’d given up hope on a couple years ago. There aren’t many times when you can wow your friends with tales of writing exploits, but they were impressed when I described editing 149 pages of manuscript in one day. Like I said, EPIC!

Now it’s back to a more “normal” form of writing life (complete with not-so-epic procrastination), but I’m no longer stuck on that novel. I even made a sticky-note outline for it (like the one I so helpful this past NaNoWriMo).