Ginnungagap – or – The Blank Page

Before there is something, there isn’t quite nothing, because there is always the possibility of something. This is the blank page, empty but waiting to be filled. In Norse mythology, the blank page that waited to be filled was known as Ginnungagap.

photo-1433086981895-12ca61d33d40Ginnungagap is the yawning chasm, the bottomless abyss, the primordial void. It wasn’t exactly empty. Strange mists flowed through the void. In the north, the mists gathered to become the intensely cold Niflheim. To the hot south, they became Muspelheim, land of fire and home to the demon, Surtr.

Deep within the mists lay the Well of Life, Hvergalmir, and ice was gathering over top. That grinding ice was filled with life and the first two beings came into existence. Ymir, father of all ice giants, great and terrible, was created alongside Audumla, the magic cow who licked the salt from the ice and in turn fed Ymir with her milk.

While Ymir drank from Audumla, the magic cow’s raspy tongue uncovered more beings from the ice. The first one to be released was Buri, first of the Norse gods and grandfather to Odin, who with his brothers would slay Ymir.

As time went on, the world tree was planted and the broken body of Ymir was used to craft the nine worlds of Norse cosmology, and the chaos of Ginnungagap found structure. Though in the final battle of Ragnarök, the fire demon, Surtr, will return the cosmos to a state of possibility, we can enjoy life today.

In writing, or any creative endeavor, we know this cycle well. In the beginning, we have little more than possibilities and a blank page. But as the mists swirl over our creative well, the ideas take shape and we give them life. To one end of our mind, we are tempted to burn what we have created and to the other extreme we want to lock it in a drawer and freeze it in time. But if we can find the balance to let the well do its job, we l’ll have a project worth crafting.

At first, our idea is a monster, a father of ice giants. But along with our Ymir, we have a magic cow slowing licking our good ideas to life. In time, those good ideas will triumph over the bad ones, allowing us to build a world from Ymir’s bones, skull-cap, and eyebrows (seriously, Odin and his brothers used every part to create our world), and a better story comes to life.

It all starts with a blank page, with Ginnungagap.

Next time, we’ll look at how to protect our creations during the final battle of Ragnarök, or as it is known to writers, the submissions process.

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Your Writing & Tyr’s Sacrifice

What are you willing to give up for your writing?

In Norse mythology, there’s this story about Tyr, the god of war. The story actually starts with Loki, a recognizable name due to Marvel’s Thor and Avengers films, but the historic Loki was far more devilish than Tom Hiddleston’s onscreen version.

In the myths, Loki was a distant cousin turned blood-brother of Odin, the head of the Norse pantheon, and in the early days of the world, they would travel and have adventures together. But one day, Loki’s true nature reveals itself and he elopes with a giantess named Angrboda (literally “She Who Bodes Anguish”), leading to the birth of three monster babies: Hel, a half-dead witch who is placed in charge of the underworld; Jormungand, a sea-serpent large enough to encircle the earth; and Fenrir, a wolf that frightens even the most powerful gods of Asgard.

Once Hel and Jormungand are dispatched, the gods of Asgard decide they need to do something about Fenrir, but only Tyr, the god of war, is brave enough to go near the beast. In an effort to contain Fenrir, the gods challenge the wolf to be bound by a series of chains in order to show off his strength. Fenrir easily breaks all chains but the last one, Gleipnir, which was forged with magic by the dwarfs of Svartalfheim with incredibly rare ingredients (the beard of a woman, the sound of a cat’s footsteps, the breath of a fish, and so on).

tyr_and_fenrir-john_bauerBut when Tyr approached Fenrir with Gleipnir, the wolf smelled a ruse. So before he agreed to be bound with the magic chain, Fenrir demanded that one of the gods place a hand in his mouth as a measure of goodwill. If the god in question breaks the wolf’s trust and truly binds him instead of merely testing his strength, then that god loses his hand. And in the time when these myths were told, it was equally dishonorable to be an oath-breaker as it was to be maimed.

For Tyr, the safety of all of Asgard was at stake, so he bravely volunteered, knowing that it would cost him his hand and he would be dishonored in the process. Thus it was that the Norse god of war lost his sword hand, but Asgard was kept safe until the final battle of Ragnarok.

As writers, we are gods of war against the blank page, fighting with our words to bind our story into a safe and marketable form. But if we want to make use of our magical chains, we need to be willing to make some sacrifices. Tyr risked shame and the loss of his hand to bind Fenrir. What are you going to give up in order to get your story into shape?

Unfortunately, sacrifices are never easy. We often have to give up good things in the pursuit of something better. Just like Tyr was the only Norse god who could handle Fenrir, you are the only one who can write your book. So stick your hand in the mouth of the beast and don’t look back until you’ve chained yourself a completed manuscript!
Bio: Josh Mosey is an avid fan of Norse mythology and a member of the Weaklings writer’s group which organizes the Jot writers conference. Come see Josh’s presentation “Write Like a Viking: Fiction Writing Tips from the Norse Gods” at the Breathe Conference on Saturday afternoon.

I’m stepping down for a time.

Here’s the deal. I’m going to take a bit of a break from blogging. I’ve published 1,041 posts (today is 1,042) and I’ve only missed 1 scheduled day since I started over 3 years ago. And that has been well and good, but aside from a few flash fiction pieces, I haven’t written on any of my book projects. I haven’t been able to get one step closer to the goal for which I started blogging in the first place.

As I have told plenty of groups of writers, a blog can be an excellent part of your platform (your credentials when trying to get a book published), and that was the initial reason that I started mine. I wanted to have a space where people could read my writing. I wanted to improve my writing by making sure that I had my buns in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard everyday. But most of all, I wanted my blog to work for my writing career.

It has… to a point. I don’t think I’d be working as a marketing manager for Discovery House had I not blogged and learned a bit about the world of social media. I know I wouldn’t have been qualified to speak at the writers conferences of which I’ve been a part over the years. And those things have helped me make real connections to other writers (and the publishing world is driven by connections). But at the end of the day, if you don’t have a book of your own, you aren’t going to get anything published, regardless of how many connections you have.

nanowrimoI plan to finish one of my novels during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which is in November. I’m going to take the month of October to prepare. If I have extra time, I may throw something up on my blog from time to time, but it isn’t going to be consistent.

The good news is that if you think you are missing on my daily posts, there are 1,041 other posts to read on here. If you want to make sure that you don’t miss any of my newly published posts, the best thing to do is the sign up on my email list for email notifications.

Now, if I don’t see you again for a couple of months, happy reading! And if you, like me, are going to write a novel this November, happy writing! See you on the other side.

New Word I Just Learned: Blad

“Blad” sounds like a third-rate vampire knock-off movie (either as a mix of “blood” and “Vlad” if it is a classic vampire movie –or– as a misspelling of “Blade” which is a different kind of vampire/vampire-hunter protagonist), and maybe it is, but it is also an underused publishing term.

papereen-26-1420209A “blad” is a booklet, used as an advertisement. It’s probably a mashup of the words “blurb” and “ad.” And the publishing industry uses them frequently, though you may recognize them differently in the current digital age. For instance, the “Look Inside” feature on most Amazon book listings is essentially a “blad.”

In doing my research for the word, I’ve come across another reason why “blad” should be brought back into use. It is also a bit of a play on words, because “blad” is related to the word “blade,” which is the Proto-Germanic version of “leaf”. Think about a blade of grass. Same thing. But, wait a second! What are the pages of a book called? Leaves. Thus, on a whole different level a “blad” is a subsection of a book.

So now that you know, you can help me make “blad” popular again.*

*I have no idea if it was ever a popular word. But I think it should be.

In Light of the End of the World Yesterday

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According to TruthLamp.com, which “shines the light on underreported news,” we may have all lived through an apocalyptic event yesterday. So, I guess congratulations are in order. Hooray for us!

If you haven’t read the article linked in the top sentence, take just a minute and fix that.

Okay, now that you know the facts (that there are too many things pointing to the end of days to ignore), let’s look at the actual news headlines yesterday. Surely, if there was anything apocalyptic happening around the globe, someone aside from TruthLamp would have noticed.

  • The pope visits the USA and dines with the homeless instead of congress.
  • Volkswagen’s CEO resigns amid a vehicle emissions scandal.
  • China’s president visits the USA to drum up some business.
  • Selfie deaths outnumber shark attack deaths.

Okay, maybe that last one is cause for alarm, but I think it falls short of the four horsemen riding through town collecting souls in the great harvest.

I think my favorite part of the article was the fact that it opened and closed with examples of failed prophecies. It warned against the dangers of predicting the end times, but then it said, “Aw, what the heck. Let’s do it anyway!” And then it presented a bullet list of possible signs of the apocalypse, including two Hollywood films that made mention of the 23rd of September.

Fortunately, the article also said that the final battle might not happen on this day exactly. It could just be sometime this week.

Here’s my take on apocalyptic prophecies: They are a bad idea. If they are really true, the only people who believe them are usually too distant from society’s core to have any influence over rationally thinking citizens. If they are false, then rationally thinking citizens have even more reason to disbelieve the fringes of the faith community who prophesied. Why even believe in God if He’s going to lie to you about the big finish?

It is possible that the writers of this article simply wanted to put people in a frame of mind to think about the possibilities that we may not live forever, and that we’ll be called to account for our actions. Perhaps it was to light a fire under our buns to spread the gospel before the lost have a fire lit beneath their buns eternally.

Whatever the case, even if their intentions were good, they were misguided. In the words of those theological giants of music, R.E.M., “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

On the Origin of Egging Someone On

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“Stop egging your sister on.”

It is a phrase that I’ve used as a parent, though I’ve never understood it. Is “egging” even the right word?

For the longest time, I thought that the real phrase was “agging,” which isn’t even a word, but I justified it because I thought it was somehow slang for “aggravating” or something like that. But I was woefully wrong.

The phrase really is to “egg on,” and it has nothing to do with a bird’s eggs or being on top of anything. The verb form of “egg” has the same etymological root as the word “edge.” Thus to “egg someone on” carries the same idea as “edging them onward” or leading them down a specific path. As we use it, it specifically refers to leading someone down the path of frustration.

So now I can say the phrase with confidence, even if I don’t want to say it because it means that my kids are aggravating each other. Oh well.

Word power!

Creative Communities

creativity_incI am reading Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace. Ed Catmull is one of the co-founders of Pixar. Though his name is probably the least known of the Pixar co-founders—Steve Jobs and John Lasseter being the other two—Ed is the true pioneer in the landscape of computer animation. And he owes much of his success to the collaborative, creative approach of his computer science professors at the University of Utah.

One of my classmates, Jim Clark, would go on to found Silicon Graphics and Netscape. Another, John Warnock, would co-found Adobe, known for Photoshop and the PDF file format, among other things. Still another, Alan Kay, would lead on a number of fronts, from object-oriented programming to “windowing” graphical user interfaces. In many respects, my fellow students were the most inspirational part of my university experience; this collegial, collaborative atmosphere was vital not just to my enjoyment of the program but also to the quality of the work that I did.
—Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc.

I know of another such creative community who saw success: the Inklings. The most famous members of the Inklings were C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, but there were a number of successful writers in the group, each creating things in their chosen genre that are known and loved to this day.

Click here for information on a few of the lesser known Inklings

And I am proud to say that I am in such a group as well. My writers group, the Weaklings, may not be as well-known or well-published as the Inklings, or as financially or industriously successful as Ed Catmull’s group from the U of U, but we’re growing more by our combined efforts than we could if we were struggling alone.

Together, we have launched blogs, participated in writing contests, been published in various magazines and books, and founded a writers conference that is free and welcome to everyone.

Creative communities work because they work together. Are you part of a community?