Marcus Aurelius and Quotes from His Meditations

Marcus Aurelius was once emperor of Rome, a philosopher, and a military leader. He practiced Stoicism, a branch of Hellenistic philosophy. 

He is a great inspiration.

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Meditations by Marcus Aurelius resting on a copy of The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday.

 


A Time to Sit and Think

Years ago, I was on a trip with my fiancé that took me through London, Oxford, and Whitby (photographs available here). We made a few stops at Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford, and I bought the Oxford World Classic’s edition Leonardo Da Vinci’s Notebooks, as well as the Oxford World Classic’s edition of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

Meditations is a series of private notes that Marcus Aurelius wrote to himself. It is a phenomenal book and one worth reading, especially at this time of year. As summer approaches, subtle shifts in pressure and responsibility have left me reflecting on my life and how I live it.

It’s the perfect time of year to sit down and think. My head bubbles with questions and concerns:

How will this summer go? How will this season and next year unfold? How can I honor my commitments while also enjoying some time off?

These meditations remind me to stay in the present moment, to use logic, and to move through life as a social being. Although these are private notes were meant for the emperor’s reflection,  I have found them useful in my own life. I have shared a few quotes from Meditations below.

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The Oxford World’s Classic Edition

Marcus Aurelius’s examination of his own life, his logical flow of thoughts, and the constant criticism of his own character, each drives me to examine my own life through the lens of philosophy.

I find myself returning to the book regularly, thumbing through the pages in search of something brilliant, or simply reading a series of meditations to process the meaning.

I first read excerpts from Meditations in high school, and now that I have a copy of my own, I finally have the opportunity to dog-ear the pages and mark the passages that resonate with me. Whether I am writing fiction, grading papers, or reading literature, these meditations seem to find a way into my life.

In this edition of Meditations, the work is divided into twelve parts. Each part is labeled as a book. Each book is further divided into meditations, ranging from one sentence to several paragraphs per meditation.

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4 Quotes from Meditations

These quotes are each considered one meditation. They have provided some food for thought this week. I hope you find them useful as well.

Do not suppose that if you personally find that something is hard to achieve, it is therefore beyond human capacity; rather, if something is possible and appropriate for human beings, assume that it must also be within your reach.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.19


If something is not right, do not do it, if something is not true, do not say it; for you should keep your impulses under your own control.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 12.17


Look at the inner nature of things; and in each instance, let niehter its specific quality nor its worth escape you.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.3


No more of all this talk about what a good man should be, but simply be one!

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 10.16


Is there a quote that you particularly like?

-Curtis

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How would ______ do this? Three more questions to ask yourself when experiencing a creative block. . .

I knew I had an idea . . . I knew it was great, but where did it go? The blank screen had no answer for me, and only the sound of my cat meowing filled the air. What happened to that shiny object I was chasing? Luckily, I had an answer.

This is the second post in a series on creative blocks. You can read the first post here.

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Ideas are abundant, which is why I take the time to create notes for new ideas that I have.

That is what I would say to you if I was diligent.

The truth is. . . I run with my ideas, big and small, and sometimes, they get lost.

Some writers call this being a pantser from the phrase “flying by the seat of your pants.” I’m guilty of being a pantser; however, there are times when I really do take the time to develop my ideas, like my current project A Thousand Watchful Eyes.

Today was not one of those times. Part of today was a “shiny object” day, where I chased new ideas like a small, eager animal collecting whatever catches its eye.

It’s tragic. I am attracted to new ideas like cats to fuzzy socks. Sometimes I can’t stop.

While this process is almost always exciting, there is always the danger of losing out on an idea that would be a worthwhile investment.  Luckily, today’s shiny-object fiasco came after a morning of creating fiction.

A Full Morning of Fiction

For those of you new to Paper Palaces, I am working on a fantasy saga. The finished work will span twelve novels (a prequel series and main series). Every day, I try to work on the project, but I also have to dedicate my time towards other tasks. Managing this time is often difficult, as everything seems important. Last week, I wrote about a new writing challenge to push myself towards dedicating a large amount of my time towards writing my books. So far, it is working.

Still, I want to write short stories, and I want to start new books. Yesterday, I wanted to a create handful of detailed blog posts and useful how-to articles, and today, I just needed to write fiction. The urge to create more writing ensues, but wanting to write more is not enough.

I fought the urge to chase shiny objects today by focusing on one project: my fiction.

Here’s what happened:

  • I revised chapters for three hours.
  • I made detailed notes about new chapters.
  • I redrafted two old chapters and wrote one new chapter.
  • My chapters look better.
  • I no longer feel stressed writing new posts and articles.
  • I now have time to pursue my “shiny object” ideas, if only I could remember them.

In essence, there is no issue, but I want to keep writing, and my ideas have run dry.

What is a person to do?

What I have done to fight this type of creative block

Keep a list!

Really, keep a list of the ideas that you want to develop. This list could evolve into a document, a database, a binder. . . Honestly, it can be as big or as small as you need.

There’s an interesting technique that some artists use, where they create a portfolio of inspirational images to motivate them through the creative block. In this case, your list would keep your fledgling ideas safe until it was time for them to take wing.

But what if you forgot to add the idea to the list?

Well, honestly there’s not much you can do. But I suggest asking the following questions.

Here are three questions you should ask yourself when your ideas are scattered or missing . . .

  1. What inspired me today?

  2. Are there any other ideas that I have yet to develop?

  3. How would _____ do this? 

These open-ended questions will help you to open up the creative part of your mind, and I’m not just talking about writers. This will help with any project. These questions help me when my brain feel so overwhelmed, or so blank, that it needs a starting point.

Each question focuses on different solutions for creative block. Number one focuses on building specificity, number two focuses on working through former ideas, and number three focuses on developing organization and style.

When all is said and done, I enjoy the writing process, but that does not mean I don’t get stuck. In fact, it’s my desire to make write a large body of work that sometimes keeps me away from the screen.

In order to focus, in order to fight the blank page, we must find what works, and that looks different every day.  Here is how I approach each question:

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Question # 1: What inspired me today?

This may be the easiest question to answer. You simply have to remember what you have done today. If you can’t think of something inspiring, try thinking of something that makes you curious.

Were their people you interacted with that sparked your curiosity today? Was there a moment that stood out to you as interesting? How could you translate part of your personal experience today to your craft?

Finding inspiration is sometimes as simple as sitting down and writing stream of consciousness for ten minutes and picking an idea that appears. I call this method a “brain spill.” Caution – don’t publish your stream of consciousness, or “brain spill.”

Your goal is to get to a place of specificity, not to produce polished writing. This is great if you don’t have any ideas on hand because there is always something to use from your brainstorming session. There is always something that you can use from your day if you spend enough time thinking about your experience from different angles.

Question # 2: Are there any other ideas that you have to develop?

For non-fiction, I have a document that is an entire list of questions sorted by topic. Someday, I will answer all of those questions. Each question is open-ended.

I have another document that is a list of story titles, character names, and one-liners. I used to keep these in a handwritten journal, but lately, I like to keep everything digital. These are helpful for writing fiction.

I sporadically collect pictures and articles from the web to help inspire me. Pinterest is a pretty great tool for that, but it’s also an easy way to procrastinate.

Keeping your ideas handy for later will help you build a bank of ideas to develop. These seeds of ideas are not ready on their own, but with enough care and the right conditions, they can grow into better ideas, stories, projects, etc . . .

Question # 3: How would _____ do this? 

This is a great one if you have a personal hero in your field. Sometimes I think to myself: How would J.K. Rowling do this? How would George R.R. Martin do this? Or, more specifically, how would Rick Riordan describe this character? How would Kelly Barnhill explain this to a child? How would my favorite blogger structure this post?

You can get as specific as you want, or stay general. The point of this exercise to think outside of yourself. This gives you a break from your own organization and style, providing a space for you to create something new.

Take-Away

If I remember anything from this today, it is to keep my idea bank full while also dedicating appropriate time to my projects and to never give up, no matter what complications arise.


I hope these questions help you with your creative projects.

-Curtis

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How to manage your time when everything seems important…

book business calendar close up

We all know what it is like to be overwhelmed. Our parents, siblings, or friends may have events for us to attend. Our bosses, colleagues, customers, or clients demand a certain level of performance. At work, home, and in our relationships, we commit ourselves to activities and tasks that seem important. Sometimes, significant people in our lives ask us for favors, to complete a job, or for our help.

Sometimes the assignments arrive at the last minute, while at other times we have had a project looming over our heads for months. We intend to fulfill our promises, to deliver on the expecatations of our peers. And we do. . . when the conditions are favorable.

But what happens when all of it is important?

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For many, a sense of panic creeps into the day, or maybe a less-intense mental fog takes over the brain. While there are a select few people who thrive in a busy environment, over-committing your time and effort to multiple objectives can cause overwhelm or burn out.

My life is fairly busy, and I tend to enjoy it. At least, I enjoy being busy to a point. I’ve learned how to create a happy work-life balance in my own corner of the world. Seven years of teaching helped me. But I’m not perfect. I’m still adjusting the formula, and I still encounter busy times.

Even when the number of your commitments is fair, it is still possible for the milestones of your projects to converge. This nexus of obligation can make even the most organized people stressed out.

Sometimes, all of the important tasks are hard to accomplish. Worse –  they can prove difficult to prioritize. Everyone’s life is a complex network of obligations, commitments, and responsibilities, but moving through them does not have to be complicated.  

In fact, you could move through them gracefully.


How I manage my time when my calendar feels full . . .

My life is full of complications, obligations, and commitments.  It’s May and I have fifty more essays to grade, 340 mini-journal entries to read (that’s one week of journal entries from 68 students), and a novel to finish writing. I also want to spend time with my fiancé, visit my brother and parents, and occasionally relax.

On top of that, the laundry is piling up, the dishes need to be washed, and I have a wedding to help plan.

Usually, I have routines in place to take care of these activities, but this week, it seems like my ability to stick to routine has fallen apart. I know this is normal. Why? Because I talk to other human beings. This situation occasionally happens to all of us. The details are different, but the reality remains the same: we have many roles to play and only so much time to play them well.

When everything piles up, my main goal is to stay sane while trying to fulfill all of my responsibilities.

Here’s what I do.

I focus on two key habits: 1.) Prioritizing, and 2.) Reflecting.

These two habits may seem simple, or daunting, depending on who you ask. If at the end of the day, I have spent time doing both, I can rest knowing I have at least moved a step closer to fulfilling my objects.

I want to do everything, every single day, but the truth is . . . there is rarely enough time to do everything in one day and remain healthy. So, I must prioritize.


Prioritizing:

There can only be one priority at a time, but with a list of commitments, we have to decide how the items rank. Your number one priority will be a mix of what is most important and most urgent.

I read a book by two Navy SEALS a few months ago: Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win.  While reading it, I came across the phrase “prioritize and execute.”  

Jocko talks about prioritizing objectives and following through in their execution. Most of the time, this is just a matter of silencing your anxiety and cultivating enough discipline to activate a task. This was not a new idea for me; however, both authors emphasized one piece of the time management puzzle that I was lacking.

They spoke about the importance of perspective – knowing how your actions affect others when you are making your priorities. Without perspective, without a sense of the bigger picture, these priorities could result in neutral outcomes, or worse, negative outcomes.

When prioritizing, be sure to think about the bigger picture of why your particular project, activity, or task needs to be accomplished. For example, I am writing a novel series. I am doing this to communicate ideas that I have and stories that need to be told.

 

On a larger scale, writing these books is about fulfilling a larger dream of engaging with my life and work on a deeper philosophical level. It may be through the lens of fantasy fiction, but it is the lens I have chosen. If I forget why I am writing, any activity I do could have the potential of negatively impacting this process. I could accidentally over-invest my time in trivial activities, instead of putting my effort towards meaningful action.

On that note, here is an exercise you could try:

I do this at home – especially when I am too tired to tackle any task.

  1. Take ten minutes to write down everything that needs to get done. Write whatever comes to mind. This frees up your brain. Just let it all out. Sometimes it helps to separate what is urgent from what is important. Meaning, some tasks are supposed to be done before others, but may not seem as important.
  2. Rewrite the list in order of importance and urgency. If something must be done on a specific day, add a note.

With your list, you have a number of directions you could take. Personally, if you’re about long-term change, you should consider investing time in figuring out why you are doing something. All of a sudden, some of those tasks will make their way up the priority list.

At this point, I suggest doing the NUMBER ONE thing on your list for at least ten minutes. If you finish this task, move to the next, as long as time and health permits. Don’t hurt yourself.

Your goal is to finish the tasks in the order of their importance and urgency.  If time allows, move on to task number two, three, four, five, etc . . . If your number one item is a large-scale project, then it may help to break that project down into manageable tasks that make sense for the day.  

If you are having trouble figuring out why something is important, then maybe you shouldn’t do it, or maybe it is truly unimportant busywork. At the end of the day, you will know what is important to you.

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Reflecting:

This is just as important as prioritizing in terms of keeping yourself sane. At the end of the day, or idealy while I am finishing tasks, I keep a log of what I have done. This is a list of victories from the day, big and small. This helps overcome overwhelm.

 

Here are some simple questions you can ask yourself at the end of the day:

  • What did I accomplish today?
  • What could I do to make tomorrow awesome?
  • Would I have changed anything about today?
  • What small battles did you win?

You should celebrate your accomplishments daily. That way, when you think of work, you think about the small wins that total up instead of all the little mistakes. While it’s healthy to reflect on failures, it’s important not to beat yourself up.

Being intelligently critical is different. If you are able to self-criticize without losing your momentum, then you are at a great advantage in accomplishing your goals and commitments. This type of reflection is helpful. Thinking about how you can improve and how to improve is always useful.

Sometimes you need to be honest with yourself.

Most of the time, your dreaded important task takes less time than you would think. By prioritizing what is important, following through, and then reflecting at the end of the day, you will decrease the amount of overwhelm you feel.

If you are trying to do too much, try setting an upper bound, as James Clear notes in his article, “Do Things You Can Sustain.” Read it here. While I’m at it, here’s another good James Clear article on marginal gains.

I’m applying these same strategies to help balance my work and writing commitments this week. I hope this helps you as much as it helps me!

-Curtis


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Are you depleted of ideas, or do you just need to re-energize? Three questions to ask yourself when experiencing a creative block.

It was Saturday morning, and I stared at a half-written scene in the all-to-familiar agony of writer’s block. My usual urge to craft a scene had left me, and my cat, Horton, made a bed of my forearms. The time had finally come to do something else.

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My relationship with creativity is ridiculous.

At times, ideas won’t stop entering my mind. However, there is the occasion when I feel like my mind has run completely dry. During these times, I often try to re-energize my writing, change a routine, or work on a different aspect of my writing project.

This usually happens after I have planned an arc or chapter and the actual work of fleshing out the scene stands before me. Don’t get me wrong – I very much enjoy the process, especially if the idea is brand new. This was not the case with my current project.

Routines and Low Points

For those of you new to Paper Palaces, I am working on a fantasy saga known as A Thousand Watchful Eyes. I chip away at this project each day in a different way. Last week, I wrote about how little changes in my routine have impacted my writing progress.

While I have continued with my routine this week, I took some time to reflect on how I could revamp my daily writing habits. I added a half-hour writing sprint to my morning tasks.

The results were surprising:

  • 4/5 of the days were successful.
  • On Thursday, I wrote nothing, opting for more sleep from an exhaustive week. (I made up the lost word count on Friday).
  • I wrote an average of 800 words per sprint.
  • With each day, I felt like my scenes were developing, but all too slowly. Some were a little stale.
  • By Saturday, I felt some writer’s apprehension and eventually some blockage with creating new material.

What I do when faced with a creative block:

When faced with a creative block, I usually turn to revision. Revision energizes me and gives me relatively simple task to accomplish. It activates the creative part of my mind, and pushes me forward.

For me, the obvious solution was to take the new scenes from this week and revise; however, I just didn’t want to do it. I was completely tired of writing the novel, which many writer’s know is a dangerous place to be. This is what I consider a low point in the writing process.

So… what did I do?

I worked on something else.

I decided to take the day off  – not from project itself, but rather from the task of generating and revising scenes. Instead, I opted for investing time in tasks that inspire me to write the chapters, refresh my mindset, and help me build a richer, more interesting fantasy world for my characters to live in. 

This is my advice for any person feeling the lull of a project that requires dedication willpower, time, and sustained effort.

Here are three questions you should ask yourself when feeling sapped of creativity:

  1. Is there something else I can work on?

  2. How can I make this more fun?

  3. Am I depleted of ideas, or do I just need to re-energize?

These open-ended questions will help you to reflect on your project, whether you are a writer, reader, musician, dancer, entrepreneur, or anyone else who dedicates time, effort, and routine to a task. They help me revitalize my projects and habits that have devolved into mind-numbing work.

At the end of the day, I write because I love it, because I am fascinated by the world, and because I just really, really have to tell the story of these characters. Some mornings, I forget these simple reasons, as many people do.

In order to keep the momentum going, we must re-connect with the passion behind our passion projects. Here is how I approach each question:

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Question # 1: Is there something else I can work on?

This question is definitely inspired by the idea of creative procrastination. At the end of the week, and the beginning of the weekend, I often want to rest. This was especially true after this week. By shifting my focus to a different aspect of my project – world-building and map-making, I made good use of my time and kept my passion for my fantasy series fresh.

Question # 2: How can I make this more fun?

I won’t lie to you. When I answered this question, it lead me to Youtube, where I began “researching” how to make fantasy maps.

After ten minutes, I felt better.

I cannot deny that this is a form of procrastination, but I would be lying to you if I said it didn’t help me create new material for my novel.

This world-building step was very fun. I ended up drafting new ideas for how the setting of this series will impact my novel without detracting from the integrity of the world I had already created.

Question # 3: Am I depleted of ideas, or do I just need to re-energize?

This question is the most important, as asking the question always leads to activity. Usually, this question comes first.

While my answers vary, I rarely say that I am depleted of ideas, even if I feel that it may be true. When I ask this question, I often can find that there is something in my writing for me to investigate, some idea that makes me interested, a character who needs attention.

Although I have experienced writer’s block, I find the notion of “lacking ideas” a little silly. This is mostly due to my experience with curiosity. If I stay curious, I often come up with new ideas. On the other hand, I almost always feel the need to re-energize at the end of the week.

Maybe this is a signal to me that I need to take a closer look at how I work. Maybe I should always revamp and re-energize on Saturday. Maybe I should schedule blocks of time for just having fun with the novel, or maybe I should schedule nothing at all.

Take-Away

If I remember anything from this Saturday, it is to always re-connect with the passion behind my projects, to push forward with my tasks, and not to give up just because a blank screen or half-written scene feels intimidating.


I hope these questions help you with your creative projects.

-Curtis

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See other Daily Posts for Deplete

A Lightning Storm in My Brain – Navy SEALS, Dark Magic, Middle School, and a Secret Worth Sharing

On my way to work, the sun is rising, I look across a snowy field, and a flock of birds scatters into the air like flakes of debris from a campfire.

I hear a navy SEAL sternly recount the horrors of war.  He talks about discipline in everyday life, and I absorb his experience through my headphones.

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The SEAL’s adventures are far too modern for me to write about, but this field and his words recall an older type of warfare to my mind. The rhythm of horse hooves enters me. When his podcast is over, and everything is silent, my brain is still busy.

I daydream:

Steel clashes and a young woman rides her horse across a snowy field, much like the one I see before me. The woman will travel an entire realm, beyond the forest and the mountains, to a place where she discovers something far more powerful than the enemy she faces.

She is not yet seventeen, yet she tries to save the world from the rise of dark magic.

I breathe in slowly. Right now, she is a twelve-year old girl, a character in my novel, that has yet to grow. She cannot even hold a sword, but someday she will set foot in a snowy field. Someday, after she has surpassed the challenges of the book I am currently writing for her, she will change.

The Lightning Storm in My Brain

When I write, one thought leads to another branching out in several unpredictable directions, like a lightning storm. I feel the same is true when I listen to music or podcasts. One person’s experience leads me to think of another’s.

Sometimes I chart story ideas, plotting possible novels based on these little moments of exploration. Other times, I sit down and draft a scene, discovering the characters within it.

Most of my ideas are forgotten when they are not written down, but there are always a few that resurface. Some even return after years of paying attention to other story ideas, other characters, other plots.

It is as if some themes and some characters have a life of their own, an insistence for their voices to be heard and their stories to be told. 

The thrill of creating fiction, especially pre-writing and beginning stages is often amazing, and most writers know it.

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A Secret Worth Sharing

At times, the act of writing a novel is somewhat mechanical. I found more progress in my word counts and chapter construction simply from dedicating more time towards the craft. Still, one aspect of writing fiction amazes me:

The world seems to change when I’m working on a fiction project. Hours go by while I am absorbed in a scene, and then the next day arrives.

Every detail of every aspect of my life begs to be stitched or weaved into the tapestry of the story. 

Strangers in Chicago become workers in a medieval village square. An unruly beard of a friend becomes the mark of an ancient man in Brylennia. The arguments and discussions of my middle school students remind me of the energetic relentlessness of human curiosity. In the midst of growing from childhood to adulthood, the complexity of human emotion unfolds for us. The world feels – somehow – new and familiar when I write.

It is with this feeling – this thrilling mixture of happiness, introspection, and inquisitive observation, that I share with you one realization I had today. Here is one secret, or rather one truth, worth sharing.

Writing is more than just a mechanical act; it is more than just meeting a word count or completing a novel.

Writing, in many ways, is forging a sword from raw material, imagining the person who will wield it, shaping and tempering the wild steel into something crafted and refined.

It is recalling the family and friends who have loved you, and remembering the lessons within every tarnished relationship.

Writing is the act of bringing together the seen and unseen in any given circumstance.

It is living deeply, and it is a challenge worth pursuing.

 

A Beginner’s Guide to Geeking Out About Medieval Armor

Swords, Shields, Armor

 

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Picture courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

My interest in swords, shields, and armor started when my father took me to the Art Institute of Chicago. Their exhibition on medieval metalwork featured artifacts that would make any knight-obsessed kid happy.

As a child, I gleaned much of what I knew about medieval weaponry and armor from movies, television, and paperback novels, so my frame of reference was slightly skewed. Nevertheless, my enthusiasm remained.

The swords and shields were beautiful, and the armor set my curiosity in motion. While I had no factual or working knowledge of metalwork and forging, I was fascinated by the level of craftsmanship needed to produce even the simplest of swords.

My interest in these techniques and tools has never ceased. In fact, it has only increased over time, especially as I researched topics related to my twelve-novel fantasy saga.

If you would like to share in the enthusiasm, here are a few simple steps for the beginner enthusiast:

How to properly geek out about medieval arms and armor:

1. Find some authorities on medieval arms and armor:

Reading quality articles on swords, shields, and armor is a great place to start; however, it’s important to find a reliable source.

For example, take the Met Museum. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a variety of articles and blogs centered around the artifacts in their collections. I spend a lot of time plundering their resources.

Here are two articles I found while conducting research for my series:

Arms and Armor – Common Misconceptions

The “Cutting Edge” of Fashion: Designs for the Decoration of Arms and Armor on Paper

Be warned, if you are really into arms and armor, reading these will quickly send you down the rabbit-hole. If you like these, I have included more articles from the Met Museum and other sources in my ongoing Swords, Shields, and Armor Google Collection.

2. Learn terms like fire-gilding: 

Finding the right words to express your newfound enthusiasm for swords, shields, and armor is a huge part of geeking out.

For example, after reading multiple articles on crafting armor, I found the term fire-gilding. Knowing the term itself serves no practical value, and I will never use it in my novels or daily conversation. Still… it is pretty cool to know.

See fire-gilding explained here: Fire Gilding of Arms and Armor

3. Appreciate the level of craftsmanship:

Part of learning about swords, shields, and armor is discovering the process behind their creation. There are plenty of ways to build your own appreciation for this type of craftsmanship. I strongly suggest watching videos, even if they use modern techniques. It’s a complete sensory experience.

Here’s one from Mitchel Jacobsen :

4. Reach out to a community of like-minded enthusiasts:

Sharing what you care about is one way to keep your passion alive. Why should your enthusiasm for medieval swords, shields and armor stop you?

Here’s a community that I started:

Swords Shields, and Armor Enthusiasts Community on Google Plus



Like what your reading? Here’s some good news!

After reaching out to the Art Institute of Chicago, I am planning on writing another curiosity post on medieval armor and weaponry, featuring pictures from the Deering Exhibit. If you’re not already following the blog, consider it to stay posted on more curiosity posts.

-Curtis

You Pick the Next “Curiosity Post” Topic – Vote on Twitter or in the Comments

If you have an extra suggestion, you can add it below!

-Curtis

How One Children’s Fantasy Book Inspired Me to Rethink My Artistic Process…

Lyra’s Oxford

Philip Pullman published his trilogy, His Dark Materials in 1995.  The three main books in the series included:

Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in the U.S.)

The Amber Spyglass

The Subtle Knife

Lyra’s Oxford is a companion novel to the set, along with Once Upon a Time in the North. When I was looking through my book collection, I found an old copy of Lyra’s Oxford in my bookshelf. It was sandwiched between a few other paperbacks I’ve neglected over the years. This edition is simply beautiful in the way it is designed and executed. It is this design that made me take a step back and rethink my creative process.  Take a look at the photos below:

The artwork is the most striking aspect of the book’s visual appeal.  Jon Lawrence, illustrator and engraver, contributed these visuals to the book. The aesthetic is amazing. For me, I can’t resist the look of woodcut and engraved design, nor can I resist the appeal of engraver as a metaphor.

Engravers work on their products with sustained effort over a long period of time, eventually rendering an intricate whole from thousands of little creative decisions.  The parallels to the writing process are pretty obvious.

Jon Lawrence’s work inspires me.  The artwork, layout, and overall aesthetic of this edition urged me to sit down, slow down, and rethink what I do.

Mapping Out A Story

In the center of Lyra’s Oxford, a neatly creased fold-out waits for readers to discover its secrets. This unassuming piece of paper is folded into eighths, with the facing page entitled “The Globetrotter,” a “Series of Maps for the Traveller.”

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The Globetrotter – Lyra’s Oxford, Philip Pullman

As the reader unfolds each section, the pages reveal publications, sketches, and advertisements that directly and indirectly allude to characters in the whole His Dark Materials series. It is an outstanding example of keeping continuity within a series.

When fully unfolded, one side of the fold-out  features a tricolor of Oxford, rendered in gorgeous engraver’s print. This style reminds me of the woodcuts of Will Schaff, another artist whose artwork I enjoy. The other side features a plain grid-style map of Oxford. Of course, the map is not the “real” Oxford. This is the Oxford of Lyra Belacqua, the main character in Pullman’s series. Still, there are similarities between both Oxfords.   

 

I felt a surge of curiosity when I first opened the map. My eye was drawn to each cartouche, emblem, and ink-lined street.

 

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Fold-Out: Jon Lawrence, Lyra’s Oxford

 

Lawrence’s work does a great job at mapping out a story without even telling it. I imagine the collaboration between Pullman and Lawrence was riveting; or, at least I hope so! While I looked at this map, I thought about a comment my fiancé made in my early journey of planning The Staghorn Crown, a fantasy quintet that follows the lives of four girls as they come of age in a magical fortress called the Stellaria.  As I drafted the first scenes of The Staghorn Crown, Laura turned to me and said, “I assume when this is published, you’ll have a map of this place.”

Of course, I had a very specific idea of what I wanted the Stellaria to look like, but I had not thought about hiring an artist to make it. Until then, I had made my own sketches of rooms, towers, and ancient keeps.

After my encounter with Jon Lawrence’s engravings, I could enrich the reading experience of my novels by having these maps available. My search for the best artist to render them is underway, and I continue to sketch in the meantime.

Keeping My Goals, Changing My Process

What is my largest take-away?

I learned that I need to periodically slow down and look at the bigger picture. How will my own books provide an experience for the reader? How can I make my own writing immersive? After all, I enjoy the experiences provided by Pullman, Martin, Gaiman, Rowling, Barnhill, and Nix,  and feel inspired whenever I read them.

Lyra’s Oxford gave me the space to sit down and rethink my creative process. I have so many questions:

How do I craft fiction with excellent continuity? How many revisions will this take? I write this, smiling and knowing that it will take enough revisions to make me happily exhausted.

Part of this blog is documenting this complex process.

For those of you new to Paper Palaces, I am a self-publishing author and teacher.  My overall goal is to write a twelve-novel fantasy saga. In 2016, I created the world, mapped out the books, and treated the project as a hobby. My fiancé and I traveled to England, where I was inspired by the beautiful seaside town of Whitby and the Yorkshire Moors.  After that, I had to create these books. It’s become a little bit of an obsession.

While this dream began with a student’s response to a writing exercise, it has since grown. I hope it keeps growing. In the end, creating these twelve books is about sharing a great story with others. I have decided to keep the same goals, despite add one important aspect to my practice. I am thankfully spending more time slowing down.

The Goals I will Keep, No Matter How:

  • To complete the series and build a readership over the next six years.

  • To release preview chapters and installments of my work online to readers, patrons, students, and friends/family.

  • To become part of a writing community so I can see, appreciate, and share the magic of writing.

I hope the little decisions I make along the way are guided by these larger aspirations.


To stay updated on my books, consider joining the Books of Brylennia Facebook Group, where you can connect with Laura and me on the process of writing, editing, creating this fantasy series, and self-publishing. You can post your own contributions too. Join us on the journey. 

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