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Transcription: learning directly from the storytelling masters by typing up their words yourself

You’ve likely heard the advice that in order to become a better writer, you should learn directly from other master storytellers by typing up their work. After all, what do most painters do when they are start out? They travel to the museums where they can find the works of their most beloved artists, then make studies to learn by imitation.

Likewise, if you’re taking an MFA in literature or something writing-related, you’ll learn directly through deeper analysis of selected literary masterpieces. You’ll pore over one particular book and copy out quotes and passages for your analysis. You’ll study a book’s composition, and an author’s technique and style by going much further than just reading a book cover to cover.

If you’re a writer, how much more reason to devote some time to deeper analysis. I already wrote about how to create a good reading curriculum as a writer, and in that post I alluded to one additional habit that goes deeper than reading and learning. Namely: transcribing books I admire.

I’m not going to focus on why you should transcribe, because like with the topic of why you should read as a writer, there are numerous articles already about this. Instead, I want to explore how I incorporated transcription into my routine and share some tips.

Establishing a maintainable practice

I’m a firm believer in consistency. I write every day for a minimum of 2 hours. There are some exceptions to this—like flexing a bit on weekends and the reality that some days there just are those kinds of day—but overall when tracking my habit in the spreadsheet I share with a few other writers, I find I am consistent writing every day for usually 2+ hours.

I don’t necessarily sit down and write for 2+ hours straight. I use a lap timer that counts up and I push myself, usually in 2-3 solid sessions of 30-60 minutes that I fit in around my work schedule. I always finish the day to the nearest 10 minute interval. So for example, if I’m at 2:07 and I feel like quitting here, I’ll push for an extra 3 minutes to make an even 2 hours 10 minutes for the day. I never leave off where I feel done. I leave everything in limbo, sometimes a sentence half-complete with a note for the next day. This is because I know I’ll be picking it up fresh tomorrow and I always like having something simple to do to get me started.

So with this all in mind, it made sense for me to simply add transcribing as sometime to do after I finish writing. Now, every Monday-Friday when I’ve decided I’m done writing for the day (usually by about 6PM), I transcribe.

You don’t have to do this of course. But I do recommend you work in your transcription time around your writing time because you’re using your writing muscles. Some writers transcribe before they write, as a warm-up exercise. I like to use it as a cool-down. It certainly is relaxing and I find that, if I had the time, I could type a lot more than my daily goal of 1 print page.

Set a reasonable goal

I type up 1 print page from the works I am focusing on (more about these below). This is usually about 30-35 lines of text and takes me 4-8 minutes. When I was trying to get this started, just to keep up the habit I tried transcribing just until the clock hit the next 5-minute interval. I did this at the end of my work day. So for example if I was closing up at 6:07, I would open Evernote (where I keep my transcription files) and transcribe until 6:10. In the beginning this helped me see that 1) I could keep this habit up and 2) that I love it and want to keep this as a core of my writing practice. So it’s become part of my core writing routine Monday-Friday, as fundamental as my 2+ hours of writing every day.

It’s tempting to really get carried away with this. And there’s nothing wrong with that. If you sit down and transcribe a whole chapter of a particular book on a whim, all in one sitting, you’ll get something deeper from this level of immersion than you will if you only do a little to warm up / cool down.

If you want to get something out of regular transcription I recommend setting goals that are attainable. You can learn a lot just by typing a few sentences of another author’s work. And often, on a day-to-day basis, it’s the little lessons that stick. And if they stick every day, they add up to a lot over time.

Techniques to make transcription effective

You don’t just want to type out words without interacting with them. My goal is to always notice something about what I’m typing for the day, ideally on the sentence-by-sentence level.

You also don’t have to make notes and break sentences apart and analyze them. You can do this, but this is no longer transcription. I will stop occasionally to think when something really strikes me, but I keep myself going; stand too far back from the waterfall and you don’t get wet enough.

Your goal with transcription is to internalize another author’s voice and techniques—and their whole slant on storytelling—and the best way to do this is to move at the same speed you as a writer would type a story.

What I’ve found helpful is reading each sentence aloud first, then typing that up from memory. If the sentence is long, I’ll break it up, but usually I try to say it all and process it, then I type it up. Then after I’m done I check back on the sentence and correct anything I was wrong about.

This step is very important—it helps me see how my instincts as a writer / understanding of sentence flow differs, and it’s here at this step that I start to really notice what a given author is doing. For instance, I have typed up the first few pages of A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and I found that almost consistently I interchanged adjectives when typing up a longer, compound sentence. She uses lots of adjectives, but she uses them uniquely and concisely. I learned from this exercise that I tend to throw adjectives at the wall without thinking and took that insight to all subsequent writing sessions (bad habits die hard, of course, but even so there have been many moments I was rewriting a sentence in A Thousand Roads where I caught myself red-handed and asked, “What would Margaret do here?”).

There is also an automatic awareness that comes, a sort of meta-narrative that I engage in from the slower pace and the act of writing a story up myself following, word-by-word, how another author wrote it. I am nearly 2 chapters into transcribing A Game of Thrones and find with this work in particular, I continue to learn things from Mr. Martin about how to deftly weave story with economy in every phrase. I am 2 chapters into Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and continue to unearth insights on narrative and stylistic choices that hold the reader effortlessly in a vivid, real-time narrative present.

But it’s always the act of speaking aloud, processing, writing from memory, then checking that brings these two aspects of learning to the fore.

Picking your major works

Just like you pick a major and minor in university degree, or a sub-field in your Master’s, when transcribing it’s important to decide which works you want to dig into the most.

When I determined my transcription plan, I wanted to have a balance of particular books that I would go very deep into and books that I would only type a page here or there of. And, like a good university degree, I wanted the freedom to jump deeper into something if I explore it and realize it’s much more interesting up close than at a distance.

In order to do this, I determined my focus. I picked 4 books I wanted to focus the most on (they are the top 4 fantasy books that I love and want to write like the most) and assigned them a day, Monday-Thursday. This way, until I feel I’m done with them, I will focus on the given book for Monday when each Monday comes, the given book for Tuesday when Tuesday comes, etc.

I left Friday open as a wild card. This means every Friday, I can do anything. I’ve been using this to work through my bigger list of books I want to read or am interested in (or just aware of). This means lots of flexibility: the first page of something from 52 new authors across scattered genres at one extreme, and free space to focus on a few “minor” works, i.e. books I might come back to repeatedly now and then, at the other.

However you put your plan together, it will be good to decide on what particular books you want to go deep on, and how you’ll allot your time, and what books you want to just sample a bit. I’ve found it helpful to start a list that I can break down by categories as I add to and organize it. Now whenever someone tells me about a new book, instead of thinking, “Oh, I have to add that to my to-read list,” I think, “Great, I’ll add that to my wild card transcription list!”

Learning from everything

I was worried initially about picking up bad habits from doing this. Robert Jordan, for example, has a tendency to write at pedestrian pace and to over-inflate his narration, particularly in the first chapter of The Eye of the World. But guess what? I noticed this. I didn’t just internalize this style and say, “Hey, Robert Jordan writes like this and so I need to copy this style.” Instead, I found that being aware as I transcribe—because I’m allowing space and process by speaking aloud, typing from memory, then checking accuracy—makes me also a bit more critical. Perhaps its my revision brain as a writer kicking in: that instinct to check what I just wrote and see if it’s on track.

That’s really the big caveat in this whole thing. If you can transcribe while not holding any author on a pedestal, then you’ll get lots out of this process. The goal is really no different than with reading: even reading bad books will teach you as much as good ones, because you’ll see exactly how not to write.

The beautiful thing about transcription, though, is you’re even more aware of holes or weaknesses in the writing of top-selling authors. “Wait a minute, this is an info-dump.” Or even subtler things like double-references or unclear scene-setting (for example, I caught something in the part of the Bran chapter in A Game of Thrones when Bran first treads through the snow to Robb and Jon and sees Robb holding a bundle—the pups—then later when he’s finished reacting to the sight of the dead direwolf, he sees Robb holding a bundle “for the first time”). I find myself doubtful when I spot flaws in the writing of someone esteemed, but nonetheless with transcription, my goal is to hold no one on a pedestal, because the truth is, no matter how good we are as writers, we can always be better, and published, iconic books, though they might have been the best of the best when published, were pioneers of the time; and times are always changing. We can always do better, which is why transcription is for me a true way to stand on the shoulders of giants.

There really is no place you can go wrong with what you choose. Obviously, it makes sense to choose wisely, as goes with reading. But the beautiful thing about transcription is, if you pick a book that you really regret, you only are going to type one page of it. And you will learn so much in the process—then on you go to the next stop.

Your turn! There are many ways to transcribe, so I’d love to hear from you if you have a different method.

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An epic space opera has arrived — featuring debut novelist Cara Weston

As many of you will recall, I first got my feet wet on the Inkshares platform. While there, I had the opportunity to not only share my work in progress, but also connect with numerous authors who were—like me—trying to fund their books for publication.

A small group of us became leaders of a vibrant author community that has continued on past those days when Inkshares was the place to be. One of them, A.C. Weston, you might recall. She is the talented artist who drew this Blood Dawn dragon image, and is overall a brilliant coordinator (especially seen in the review-a-thon she orchestrated in December 2015). She also is an author and like me chose an Indie path to publish her book.

And now…her debut day has come!

If you like action-packed space opera, daring spaceship chase-and-rescue, and deep character relationships, then you’ll love She Is the End. Get ready for a ride that doesn’t stop—but also, it’s book 1 of an epic space opera trilogy called the Vada Chronicles, so you can look forward to more to come. It even has space witches!

I’m excited to have A.C. Weston on the blog today to talk about She Is the End and share some advice on the publication process. She Is the End is now available on all major ebook platforms, and it’s available as a paperback. (Find out more at the end of this post.)



A.C. Weston wrote her first book at the age of seven and hasn’t stopped writing since. She spends her days supporting the public health of Minnesotans as a data coordinator at the MN Department of Health and her evenings writing and doing freelance art. She is very introverted, which is not the same as being shy. She lives in St. Paul, MN with three brilliant little monster children and one beloved husband.


JOHN: What important message do you feel your readers will take away from the story of Relai and her daring space adventures?

AC: First and foremost, I’m hoping people will fall in love with the characters, and be willing to follow them through the next two books! I also hope they’ll think about the different perspectives portrayed, and how everyone has a point but everyone is also wrong in some way. I’m aiming to produce optimistic science fiction that acknowledges and tackles the complexities of intersecting social issues without offering simple answers.

JOHN: Do you think there are some current world issues that we might appreciate better in the pages of She Is the End?

AC: I was working through the emotional and social ramifications of constant reports of police brutality against people of color, as well as a personal experience witnessing police brutality against a child I know, while I was writing this book. I think those issues definitely come out in the dialogue in the book, and I’m hoping that I did the complexity of the issue justice. I’m also aiming for an anticolonialist message, but that will become more clear over the next two books. My book is feminist but not specifically only about issues commonly discussed in feminist circles; both men and women in my book reflect on times they’ve been harassed or assaulted, and I hope I’ve done those experiences and the related emotions justice.

JOHN: How do you relate to Relai and your other characters? We all hear how writers often pour aspects of themselves into their characters. What is your inspiration behind each one?

AC: Part of me is in each of these characters. Relai has many of my mental health struggles, and she begins working through the realization of her own privilege just like I have been doing (although I’m not a princess!); Tannor has trouble with faith and doubt, just like I do; Ky has to fight not to simply believe that life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, just like I do; Goren was raised to blindly believe a bunch of nonsense about politics and culture and finally starts to question them, like I did when I went to college; and Milo has to figure out how to deal with incandescent rage at the injustice of the world, which I strongly relate to. Tom Wood lives in a house in Uptown, Minneapolis that I lived in right after college, and he has my affinity for biking and tattoos. Each characters is truly their own self, though, and none of them are mostly me.

JOHN: You’ve chosen an Indie path to publication (and I love this, having proudly chosen this path myself). What advice would you give to other authors who want to go Indie with their books?

AC: Do a lot of research before you make any final decisions! There are a lot of options and I think everyone should be able to find a path that works for them. I wish I’d gone through this Indie process with a smaller, less important project first, because this book means so much to me that every decision felt absolutely monumental. I know some people would rather submit their finished manuscripts to agents and trad publishers and just cycle through the process of silence and rejection, over and over again, in hopes of finally being in that tiny percentage chosen for publication, but that’s just not for me. I’d rather put my book out and have a few people read it, than wait for years and years with no one reading it just for the chance to have it released by a publisher that probably won’t be willing to put money into marketing it, anyway. Many excellent books are rejected by agents and publishers every day, and I’ve read many lukewarm trad-published books. I’m inspired by the ability to do it myself, even though it has taken a very long time and cost me time and money upfront. But that’s just me! To each their own!

JOHN: What was the most challenging part of writing, editing, and publishing She Is the End? What about the most rewarding?

All of it was challenging. I think the murky middle, when I wasn’t sure how the book would ever possibly come together into a solid, coherent, GOOD story was the hardest part. The final stages of revision were hard because I kept really thinking I was done, and then  I’d notice more mistakes or inconsistencies. It is REALLY hard to get a manuscript perfect! Mine is still not perfect, to be honest.

The most rewarding part is getting a positive response from readers. People have said they’re obsessed with my characters, which is nice because now I’m not alone! And a few readers are already demanding the sequel, which is very motivating for me. I have 16K already written for it, and I’m hoping to release the sequel in two years.

6) We met on Inkshares way back in the day—and here we are now, spreading our wings. What is the most valuable thing about choosing to debut your talent on the Inkshares platform?

I really like the clarity and control of knowing what stage my manuscript is at, being able to find my own editor and work directly with them, set my own pricing, and know how many copies I’m selling on various platforms. I have a long-term plan for how I’ll release and promote my series, and I feel confident in that plan. I’ll never regret going through Inkshares because of the incredible people I met, and I’m happy with my plan for the future.

Be sure to check out She is the End, by A.C. Weston!

front-cover-1-18.jpgRelai Aydor, the tyrant queen of the galaxy, has been hiding and sunning on the resort planet of Earth while her home planet, Arden, crackles in the grip of her distant rule. Milo Hemm escaped that hell and tracked her down to bring her to justice with help from a man with too many secrets and zero morals. A pair of Ardenian soldiers is the only thing standing in his way… until they realize she hasn’t been ruling at all.

And now everyone wants them all dead.

Space witches, violent rebels, hired assassins, government suits, and a conspiracy theorist podcaster are the least of their problems—they need to get off this planet to reclaim Relai’s throne. With our galaxy on the line, they’d better learn to take care of each other… before they tear themselves apart.

A thrilling blend of deep character relationships and breathtaking action, She Is the End begins an epic trilogy about trust and doubt, justice and mercy, friendship and love.

Find out more about it by visiting where you can check out character sketches, a preview of episodes I-III, and purchase a copy of the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo

Connect with A.C. Weston:

Facebook: A.C. Weston

Phone: (651) 271-9583
Twitter and Instagram: @acwestonwrites

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Being A Prolific Writer, Part 3: with M.S. Wordsmith

March is here, and that means part 3 of the Prolific Writer blog series by my friend and colleague, M.S. Wordsmith! If you haven’t read her first two posts, read the first here, and read the second here.

IMG_3562 (2)In my latest guest post, I brought up the issue of making a living, and the importance of figuring out what we need to live comfortably enough. Oftentimes, we get so caught up in the success stories circulating within the indie community about authors making 6 figures that we forget to take a long, deep breath and check in with ourselves and what we actually need. Chances are, we need much less than those 6 figures, and we sure don’t need them in the next 5 or even 10 years. Taking a moment to reflect on this allows us to step back and enjoy our own private ride again.

Today, I will share yet another question I ask when trying to figure out what my clients want from their writing— What is a realistic goal for YOU for NOW?

Figure out your SHORT-TERM goals as well as  your LONG-TERM goals

Being clear on your personal goal is great. Knowing what you want to achieve in the next 5 to 10 years will provide much-needed focus and enable you to steer your determination in the right direction. But what if that personal goal is a long way down the road from where you are now? How do you get to that point without constantly being frustrated that you aren’t there yet?

While it’s excellent to have clear goals in mind for the future, these goals are often for the long-term, and not the short-term. Yet, most of us find ourselves frustrated by the fact that where we ARE is not where we want to BE. And being frustrated about our own process tends to block our creativity and leads to less than constructive behaviour such as comparing our own creative process to that of others.

What goal is realistic for YOU for NOW?

Each and every one of us lives a different life, so it’s more than normal that we’re all at another place in our lives at any given moment. And that’s OK. Not only do we walk different paths, the distance we still have to travel differs as well. As such, there’s truly no need to compare yourself to others, not even to those with similar aims. Comparisonitis happens to the best of us, if not all of us—Joanna Penn, whose podcast The Creative Penn I highly recommend to any author, speaks of comparisonitis often and discusses it in her book The Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey—but that doesn’t mean we should continue comparing our own process to that of others.

With National Novel Writing Month becoming bigger and bigger each year, I can only imagine how many writers are suffering from comparisonitis throughout the process. Not only can you compare your word count to those of others each and every single day, many writers feel as if they’ve failed when they haven’t been able to reach the magical word count that is 50,000 words by the first of December.

It’s not about reaching 50k words

In June, 2016, Joanna Penn interviewed Grant Faulkner, the Executive Director of NaNoWriMo, for her The Creative Penn podcast. (Click here to listen.) I still remember the episode because, where I was afraid it would—like so many other podcasts, articles, books, and magazines out there—be on becoming much more prolific than you are right now, that reaching those 50,000 words within a month is what defines you as a writer, what I got from the interview was that NaNoWriMo is not necessarily about reaching 50,000 words in a month.

That is what you officially sign up for, but NaNoWriMo shouldn’t be a stick you can beat yourself over and over again with (which I see happening around me more often than not). Instead, one should see it as a tool to do more than you would usually do, as an attempt to prioritise your writing over everything else for just a month. What can you achieve when you try to stick to writing as much as you can for 30 days? For Grant Faulkner, there is no ‘I only wrote 20,000 words during NaNoWriMo…’ As far as he is concerned, there’s only ‘I WROTE 20,000 WORDS DURING NANOWRIMOOOOOOOO!!!’ That’s still a novel in 4 months. Or a fantasy novel in 7, if you’re writing in the same genre as I do. Not bad, right? Especially not if you’re juggling a day job, a family, a personal life, and whatever else you need to take care of yourself.

Different paths, different means

There’s hardly a greater motivator than knowing where you want to end up, yet sometimes there’s nothing more frustrating than knowing you aren’t there yet. Embrace the simple fact that you aren’t, and focus on the things you can do each day to get closer to that point. If that is writing a novel every 4 months, every 24 months, or even every 5 years, it is what it is, and it’s OK. If you expect yourself to write a particular amount of words each day—whether that’s 125 or 5000—or amount of time—whether that’s 15 minutes or two hours—and that expectation is far from realistic considering where you are in your life right now, you will be in for serious disappointment. And disappointment is anything but a good motivator. It is more often than not what makes people quit.

Different paths ask for different means to an end. Figure out what means are realistic for YOU at THIS POINT in your life and go from there.

M.S. Wordsmith logo whiteConnect with M.S. Wordsmith! 





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How I created a private wiki for my fantasy world-building

Last month I talked about how I balance the act of world-building while remaining focused on story (and how the two are interconnected).

Today I’m going to offer some more depth on the exact steps I took to set up a private wiki, for those fantasy writers in the crowd who want to create your own to up your game.

Think Wikipedia, but for your fantasy world

The software I used is the same one Wikipedia is built out of: MediaWiki. As a result, the pages I build look like and link together just like on Wikipedia. Except in my case, it’s private. I can click on Chrome (my browser of choice) and navigate to the domain that loads my wiki, just like visiting a website, then as soon as I log in I can click around my wiki. I can also add/modify however I need to. The information evolves as the story evolves, which is exactly the way I like it.

If you know how to navigate Wikipedia then you’ll be familiar with its organizational power. This is the same potential at your fingertips if you set up your own world-building wiki using MediaWiki. There are other wiki and world-building platforms, of course. I just chose MediaWiki because I read Wikipedia voraciously and it made sense to model my world-building notes after it. (Why reinvent the wheel, right?)

How to set up MediaWiki

Wiki pages are website pages, so if you want to create a wiki you need a website. This means you have a domain name and a host. For example, if you website is, the address “” is your domain name, and the host is a company you pay to save your web pages on their server, thus making them accessible to the public. When you create your wiki, its pages will be published on your host’s server as web pages under your domain.

I’ll be making two assumptions in what follows:

  • You, like me, are an author or aspiring writer and you’ve set up your platform with a website, i.e. you have paid for a custom domain like and have a hosting plan—and if not, then let this be your incentive to get cracking on that! (If this post makes you decide to do this and you want some guidance on all the steps to set up an effective author platform, including a great author website, take my free 10-day course on Highbrow, “How to market your book online”. You’ll get an email each day that takes about 5 minutes to read with the day’s steps for you to work on.)


  • You, like me, are using as your host. There are other hosting services out there, but I’ve chosen to outline how to set up a  private wiki in exactly the same way I did so that you have a specific reference point to work from. (Atabyte is great anyway, so I recommend if you’re starting out fresh you pick them when you’re buying your domain and hosting.)

To get started, you need to do two things:

1. First, set up a subdomain for your wiki

A subdomain is a division of your website. It appears as a word (or multiple words joined together, likethesewordsare) followed by a period, followed by your domain. For instance, if your website is, and you choose myworld for your wiki, then your subdomain would be

To set up a subdomain with Atabyte, you simply log into the control panel and, under the “domains” section, select “subdomains”. You’ll come to a form which lets you create your subdomain. It’s as easy as that.

2. Install MediaWiki on your host server

Once you have a subdomain, you can now install MediaWiki. In Atabyte’s control panel, scroll down to the “software” section and select “Softaculous app installer”. Softaculous is the name of the database that Atabyte uses to store the data for your wiki. Once you click on this, you’ll see several options in a left menu, one of which is “wikis”. Click that and you’ll see “MediaWiki” as one of the options. Select it. You’ll now see the “install now” option on the right. Select this and you can now create your wiki.

When you set it up, choose the subdomain you just created (from the “choose domain” option). You also create your admin username and password here. This is your master account from which you’ll have access your wiki once you set your world-building pages to private, so remember it.

Make sure you do backups!

You also want to make sure you set your wiki to backup regularly. This is all available when you install MediaWiki following the above instructions, but you can return to this anytime by coming back to the “MediaWiki” option in Softaculous app installer, then clicking on “edit” where you see your wiki listed (near the bottom).

When I am regularly world-building, I set mine to automatically backup, with a backup rotation of 4 times, and a backup frequency of daily. What this means is, at a given time every day, Softaculous will make a copy of all the data in my wiki. On day 5, it will go back to day 1’s data and overwite it. So I always have the 4 previous days of my wiki handy in case something goes wrong. When I am drafting and spending less time world-building, I set it to backup weekly. This way if I don’t get into my wiki for 8 days and someone hacked it / something corrupted, say, 6 days ago, I have the previous week to fall back on rather than possibly having nothing but hacked/corrupted backups.

I am still learning more about backing up, because there are other options, like an XML dump. The XML dump gives you an added impression of your wiki on a given date in case you ever needed something beyond what the regular backups will give you.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to compile your wiki into a big text document so that you could, for example, have a Word doc of everything saved somewhere. If there is, I don’t know about it yet, but when/if I do find out, I’ll make sure to put an addendum in this post.

But, I have been reassured by someone who really knows their tech: if you have set automatic backups and have enough copies, you are already quite safe! At least, as safe as we all are from the zombie apocalypse.

How to make your wiki private

If you want to keep your wiki public, then you can start creating right away. (If so, then scroll down to where I talk about first steps for creating your wiki.)

But maybe you want to keep your wiki private like me. You want this to be a private extension of your manuscript you can open in your internet browser as needed when you write, knowing you can dump in / change any information however you want without confusing anyone. You can reveal plot bunnies and nuances you’d never want readers to see, treat it like a sandbox where you can organize and explore ideas beyond what just the manuscript will give you.

If that’s the case, then here’s how you make your wiki private:

You need to set up a restricted access namespace. This doesn’t make your wiki private, but it makes all pages you publish inside that namespace private—and it’s these pages within that namespace that will function as your private wiki for your fantasy world.

By default, all pages published on your wiki are public. That’s the point of a wiki, after all. But MediaWiki designed namespaces to allow wikis to be better divided up. A namespace (read more on it here) is a specific collection of pages within your wiki that all can be assigned special privileges for certain users, such as the ability to modify and access.

I’ll use my own hosting setup with Atabyte again for reference to walk you through this step. We’ll continue to use our example of the subdomain “”.

In the main control panel, under the “files” section, click on “file manager”. This will open up the file directory of every page on your website. On the left, in the tree display, click on “public_html”. This will cause the menu to open up and reveal a folder that’s got the title of the subdomain you created. So in our example case, we see a folder called “myworld”. Click on that.

On the right, you’ll see a display of all the files within your subdomain. Scroll down until you come to “LocalSettings.php”. Select it and click “edit”. Once the file editor opens, you’ll see a long list of code. (And please, if any of this is unfamiliar to you, get help from a tech friend—if you don’t know one, email me at and I’ll try to help.)

Scroll right down to the bottom. You’ll see that the script terminates on the last line with the “}” character. Click to the left of it and hit enter a few times so that you create some free lines above it. In those free lines, you need to enter the following:

  • (note #1: every line ends in the “;” character, i.e. hit the enter key after you type every “;”)
  • (note #2: upper/lowercase matters, i.e. SECRET is not the same as Secret)
define("NS_SECRET", 100);
define("NS_SECRET_TALK", 101);
$wgExtraNamespaces[NS_SECRET] = "Secret";
$wgExtraNamespaces[NS_SECRET_TALK] = "Secret_talk";
$wgNamespacesWithSubpages[NS_SECRET] = true;
require_once "$IP/extensions/Lockdown/Lockdown.php";
$wgGroupPermissions['*']['edit'] = false;
$wgGroupPermissions['*']['createaccount'] = false;
$wgRestrictDisplayTitle = false;

Replace “SECRET” / “Secret” with the name you want to give you world wiki’s private pages. For example, if you decide to call your namespace “Notes” then where you see SECRET you would write NOTES, and where you see Secret, you’d write Notes.

Click on “save changes” and you will now have your private namespace, and be ready to start creating wiki pages for your fantasy world-building.

A bit of explanation, for the curious:

The first five lines:

define(“NS_SECRET”, 100);
define(“NS_SECRET_TALK”, 101);
$wgExtraNamespaces[NS_SECRET] = “Secret”;
$wgExtraNamespaces[NS_SECRET_TALK] = “Secret_talk”;
$wgNamespacesWithSubpages[NS_SECRET] = true;

are all to create the namespace. Unless you want to dig into how PHP programming works, best not to worry much beyond that.

The next line:

require_once “$IP/extensions/Lockdown/Lockdown.php”;

is what locks the namespace down to keep it private.

The next two lines:

$wgGroupPermissions[‘*’][‘edit’] = false;
$wgGroupPermissions[‘*’][‘createaccount’] = false;

prevent anyone from creating their own user accounts, and from being able to edit the wiki. This is important because, although your private namespace will be locked from the public, your public wiki is still open. Someone can enter and they will land on your wiki (the public pages, not your private ones). Without these two lines of code, they can, if they want, create a username and start creating/saving/modifying pages in the public part of your wiki. If this doesn’t bother you, then you can exclude these two lines. I chose to add them because I’ve envisioned at some future date “publishing” some of my more finalized / supplementary wiki pages, and doing so would be just a matter of moving these pages from the namespace I created to the general wiki. Anyone online could then read them, but not change them, so these would function a bit like appendices to my books. And, in the meantime, I can be assured my public wiki will remain empty until then.

What if you want to have special user accounts who can access your private wiki in read only?

This is just a matter of adding two more lines of code to the list above (just add them directly below the last line):

$wgGroupPermissions[‘SpecialUser’] = $GroupPermissions[‘user’];
$wgNamespacePermissionLockdown[NS_SECRET][‘*’] = array(‘SpecialUser’);

Here, replace “SpecialUser” with whatever you want to call this special account. Replace “SECRET” with the name you gave your namespace. For instance, if you want to call these users CoolPeopleClub, and your namespace is called Notes, then you would have:

$wgGroupPermissions[‘CoolPeopleClub’] = $GroupPermissions[‘user’];
$wgNamespacePermissionLockdown[NS_NOTES][‘*’] = array(‘CoolPeopleClub’);

Now, when you are logged into your wiki and creating accounts for people, you will see “SpecialUser” (or whatever you choose to call it) listed and you can select that privilege for the users you want to have view-only access to your private wiki. They won’t be able to edit it because of the editing restriction—the only people who have that privilege are administrators like you, or other admin accounts you choose to create. This is why I highly recommend you implement the no edit / no account creation restriction on your wiki as a whole.

How to make wiki pages in your private wiki and FINALLY bring your fantasy world to life!

Now, finally, we have our fantasy world ready to be created! All that remains is learning a bit about how MediaWiki actually works.

The first and most important thing is how to get onto your private wiki.

This is a simple matter of opening your browser (Chrome, for example) then typing in the following (replace “secret” with whatever you chose to call your namespace):

The first thing that’s going to happen is you’ll come to a login screen. Use the admin username you created when you set the wiki up and login.

Now you’ll see a page that looks a bit like Wikipedia, but you’ll see a sentence on it telling you the page doesn’t exist yet. On the top right menu, there is a “create” option. Click that and it will make a text window load. You can type in anything you want then save it to create the page.

If you’re new to this and just want to create your first page so you have a “home base” for your wiki, then simply type “Hello world” then hit save. Now you’ll see, whenever you visit “” and login, the two words “hello world” in the main screen on the right.

You’ll also see secret “Secret:Index” displayed above that in larger font. This is called the display title and it’s on every page.

This is what the final line in the script above is for:

$wgRestrictDisplayTitle = false;

It allows you to customize the display title on each wiki page you make. If you don’t add this, all your pages in your private wiki are going to have the display title: Secret:Page_name, where “Secret” is the name of the namespace you create, and Page_name is the specific name of the page you create (more on how to do that below).

To change the display title on each page, type:

{{DISPLAYTITLE:Desired Name}}

where “Desired Name” is whatever you want to appear at the top.

In our example of our first index page with “Hello world” on it, if you want to call it “Index”, you’d type in the text box:


on the first line (above “Hello world”).

From here, the world is your oyster. You can create new pages anytime you want to branch out. You just need to make sure they always take on the form:

where Secret is the namespace you chose for your private wiki, and Page_name is whatever you want to call the page. For instance, if you have lots of character notes and want those all in one page, and you want to call that page “Characters”, you just type in:

This page doesn’t exist yet, so all you need to do is is click create on the top right menu and enter in whatever text you need. You can change the display title at the top with the same syntax as above, i.e. if you want its heading to read Major Characters, the very first line should read {{DISPLAYTITLE:Major Characters}} and whenever you view this page you will see Major Characters as the main header. Enter in then whatever text you need for your notes and save it to create the page.

I like to create the Index page as the central page for the wiki. This means every time I create a new page for branching information, I put the links to those pages in an organized table.

To create a link to another page, this is just a matter of typing [[Secret:Page name|Link text]]. Change “Secret” with the name of your namespace, and “Page name” with the exact name you chose for the page. For example, with our Characters page, if I wanted to put a link to it on the Index page, I would type [[Secret:Characters|Characters]]. On the index page, all that will show up is the word “Characters” as a link. Just remember that the text to the right of the “|” character is whatever will display on the page, and the text to the left is the actual link.

There is a bit of a learning curve with using MediaWiki. If you’ve ever programmed in HTML or have worked a bit with web language, this is easy to pick up. I find whenever I need to brush up on syntax or am not familiar with how to do something, everything I need to know is in the help section ( This is available as a link on the left of every page of your wiki, so you can click on it whenever you need help.

Especially consult the formatting section for information on rules for typing the text. For example, if you don’t hit enter twice between lines, those lines will join together. If your text looks like this:

Galen works in the city of Alendryll,

He is a cooper

When you save you will get:

Galen works in the city of Alendryll, He is a cooper

because MediaWiki saves one paragraph space as a regular space.

A few quick pointers before I close:

If you want to type something in italic, then surround the words(s) in ”two single quotes”. If you want to type something in bold, then surround the word(s) in ”’three single quotes”’. If you want it bold and italic, then surround the word(s) in ””four single quotes””.

When dividing up your topics, you can use nested headers to define major sections of your article.

To give you an example, I have a page on fauna in my world. On that page, I have sections for the main countries. To create these, I have the following format in my text:

== Main country 1 ==

== Main country 2 ==

These show up as large bold headers. Within the countries, I mention specific wildlife. For example, I have a deal of notes about horses in the Pikelands, in Mithlim, and in the Mountainlands. The horses subsection in the Pikelands section takes on this format:

== Pikelands ==

=== Horses ===

Where the === indicates a division within the main division by country. On the actual page, this shows up with the largest bold font for Pikelands, and a smaller bold sub-header font for Horses.

If there is a division within a division within a division, then you can add an =. So:

==== sub-subdivision ====

This shows up as a regular size bold font, but it will act as a header on its own line. Beyond this, ask yourself if you should be dividing the page up into separate pages, because though you can keep going, i.e. =====, ======, the font is the same regular bold font after ====.

You can also make a list by starting a line with *, i.e.




will make a bullet-point list. If you want a numbered list, use # instead. If you want to nest your list items, then use ** or ***, i.e.


**Famous poetry on chivalry

**Codes within chivalry

***Valen’s Code of Knighthood

I also find tables helpful to organize information. These are bit more complicated and something you’ll only need once you find your notes really coming together and you want a directory. Here is where you can read about making tables if you need that information.

Over to you, time to get busy building!

I wrote this post with the intention of giving you a complete guide to how to get going and feel that I’ve done that. But I realize as I arrive at the end that there is so much more I could talk about. Please tell me in the comments what you’d like to know more about and I’ll factor it into a possible future post.

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The Voice — guest post from epic fantasy author Andrew Wood

Happy Friday! To end this week, I’d like to highlight the talent of my assistant and apprentice editor, Andrew Wood. In fact, for those who enjoy the posts here on the Epic Fantasy Writer blog, Andrew is my front line, helping me prepare guest posts, and proofreading my own posts before I publish them.

Andrew is also an epic fantasy author, with his debut novel, Storm of Fury, now available on Amazon! Be sure to check it out. Meanwhile, Andrew has put together a great article about overcoming doubt, which I hope you all enjoy!

Author PicMy name is Andrew Wood and I’m a writer of epic fantasy. My first novel, Storm of Fury, was recently published through Inkshares and I’m excited to share it with you! I’ve been pursuing my dream job as a writer for five years, and devote my time to writing novels and honing my craft.

I love stories. Whether they be books, movies, video games or comics, I’m always on the hunt for more. I grew up on books like Redwall, the Wheel of Time and Harry Potter, and from stories like these my love of writing grew. Now I work full-time to tell the stories I have in my heart, and finally force them on to paper where they belong.

You can find me on Patreon, where I release monthly horror, fantasy and sci-fi short stories.

The Voice

There is a voice inside every one of us. In we authors, it sits over our shoulders and watches us as we work. It tells us that our writing isn’t good enough. It tells us to give up and it saps us of our strength. Sometimes the voice vanishes for weeks on end. Other times it persists for days.

I’ve wrestled with this voice since I first sat down at an old computer and jotted down a few story ideas I had bouncing around in my strange little mind. And with the birth of my writing came that voice. Let’s call him Doubt.

Doubt comes with us everywhere we go, and he sticks his nose in our business, sullying our day and making us shine the light of scrutiny on ourselves. While that isn’t always a bad thing, Doubt’s negative ramifications far outweigh the positive.

So, as writers, what can we do to defeat Doubt? How do we push aside the voice that says we can’t do it and tell ourselves that we can? In my experience, I use three methods to push on and recognize what I can really do.

1. Take a Break

Sometimes my doubt comes when I’ve been working too long or I’m overthinking a particular project that’s been taking over my mind. If this is happening to you, step away from your writing. Go watch a TV show, walk a mile, have something to eat. Laugh. Don’t think. Don’t write until your mind has a chance to refresh itself.

When you come back, if you’re still having trouble, switch projects if you can. I find that if I can’t stand to look at my novel, I’ll go and work on a short story or do something fun with my writing just to get my mind off of the other project for the day. It’s all right if you’re having trouble here too. The brain is not meant to be over-worked, and sometimes it’s best to just call it a day.

2. Outwork the Voice

Sometimes Doubt comes at the most inopportune times. You have deadlines to meet or word count goals you want to reach before work tomorrow. But the voice will not leave you. It throws shame or writer’s block in your face and there is no time to relieve it.

Press on. Put words down. Whether they’re terrible or not doesn’t matter. All that matters is that they exist. They’re yours, and they deserve to be down on paper. The beautiful thing about writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time. You have edits and revisions to go back and perfect what you’ve written. But for now, you must have the skeleton upon which you can build better writing. Get that out now, and leave doubt and perfection for another day.

3. The Voice of Doubt is Yours

This is the key to Doubt. It might seem like an imperious, all-knowing foe that can judge your writing with immaculate scrutiny. This is false, because the voice of doubt is your own, reacting in fear to the possibility that you might not be good enough.

Much like Doubt’s judgment is false, so too is the concept that you aren’t good enough. You are good enough, and your writing is awesome. Once you realize this and unmasked Doubt for who he really is, you can begin to understand that he is not a part of you that you need give voice.  Ignore it. Silence it, and it will go away.

When the voice of Doubt seems insurmountable, remember that it only has as much power as you give it. Put an end to its ramblings and realize that you are in charge here, and that your writing matters, no matter what people might say. Or what you say, when you’re feeling down.


You may not be able to escape Doubt, but that’s okay. If you can find your own way to overcome it and push forward, you realize that it’s not as powerful as you might think. I still struggle with doubt every week, but I know I can put it aside and be confident in my own writing. They key is being confident in yourself, and the rest will follow.

Do you have any preferred methods of dealing with doubt? How do you do it? Comment on the post and share your thoughts, I’d love to hear from you! And a special thanks to John Robin for the opportunity to share a post on his site!

Be sure to check out Andrew’s brand new epic fantasy novel, Storm of Fury

SoF Cover FinalFor as long as Kaven can remember, Lantrelia has been at war. Yet its foe is not flesh and blood, but the eternal rage of the god Na’lek. Incarnate in a mighty storm called the Fury, Na’lek’s rage has butchered mankind by sending forth armies of supernatural monsters. Soon, the Fury’s attacks will sweep humanity away.

Determined to become a war hero like his father, Kaven sets out on a treacherous quest to stop Na’lek. With only three companions to aid him, he plans to enter the heart of the Fury and face the god himself to plead for mankind’s deliverance. Yet nothing can prepare Kaven for the truth he will encounter, for far greater forces are at work, and his quest, if successful, will come at great cost.

Will he put an end to Na’lek’s storm of Fury and prove his worth to his father? Or is his duty to his fellow man more important, even if it means he is a failure as a son?

Storm of Fury is now available as an ebook for $2.99 and a paperback for $15.99!

Connect with Andrew:





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The Art of World-Building by guest author Montgomery Mahaffey

Given this Tuesday’s post on how I used a wiki to build my world (missed it? read it here), I’d like to follow in the world-building vein with a guest post. Please welcome Montgomery Mahaffey, author of Ella Bandita and the Wanderer, who has taken the time to share on her world-building process. Take it away Montgomery!

AuthorMontgomery Mahaffey is a fantasy writer who has told her stories all over the country. Alaskan winters shaped Mahaffey as a writer, and her work is built off of the myriad of personal and collective experiences formed underneath that mystical landscape. Born in the south to a family of storytellers, Mahaffey has developed her own voice that is suffused with the temperament of the wanderer instinct. Set in a world where magic is at once subtle and pervasive, her novels bring to life symbols and stories of the old fairy tales told with wry humor and passion. In 2005 she was granted the Individual Artist Project Award from the Rasmuson Foundation in Anchorage, Alaska. Ella Bandita and the Wanderer is her first novel.

An introduction to World-Building

It would be nice if we were able to take a quick course in world building, but unfortunately school’s don’t offer that yet (you have to go to a writing program or enroll in an online course somewhere)! So how can we self-teach world building?

The first thing to do is to look to those you want to learn from.

Pull books from your shelves of your favorite authors and interrogate their books for world-building elements. You’re going to destroy this book with your highlighters and pens, but this is a practice you can’t afford to not do.

When you peel apart the mechanics of one of your favorite books, you’re learning from the best teacher—someone who resonated with you and who you feel like you could really learn from.

Often, as authors, we admire other writers to point of wanting to write just like them. So if you love Tolkein, or George R.R. Martin, or Steven King, grab a book and start learning.

Evaluate how the author shapes their world. What senses do they open with to orient the reader? Smell? Sight? Sound? Touch? Speech? What do these senses describe about the place? Do they give it a particular feeling? What can you infer from these sensory descriptions?

Make notes on this in your notebook.

Once you really understand HOW your favorite authors are crafting their works of art, and what elements they’re using to develop plot, character, and the environment, you’ll have a in-depth and intelligent idea of how to write your own.

Lesson 1: Decide where to start

Worlds aren’t created ex nihilo from authors. Every element comes from something, whether it be inspired by or directly informed by real events, places, or people. To find your ideal starting place, try this:

Write about a place that’s familiar, and change one tiny element.

For example, write about garbage collection day on your childhood street where trolls are in charge of collecting all the garbage.

Notice how making one small change can shift your entire world. Because now a whole slew of questions have been opened up from that one, small change:

Where did the trolls come from? Why do they collect the garbage? What’s in the garbage that makes them better suited to collect it than humans? What do they do with the garbage once it’s been collected?

Your world can broaden out of answering these questions, and pretty soon you’ll be on track to create a rich, interesting environment that is at once familiar and new.

The key is to start small and work your way out, so that you don’t get overloaded with chaotic elements that you find yourself having to explain so frequently that the world-building gets in the way of your story.

Harry Potter is a great example of a familiar story turned fantastical by one single element shift: witches and wizards are real.

You don’t need everything to be different to be fantastical—many of our favorite stories could happen in the ‘real’ world. Keeping it closer to home will make your story more believable, and you’ll have more opportunity to go deeper with your story.

Lesson 2: Discover your world’s infrastructure

Once you’ve developed a good starting point on a microcosmic level, start working out the macrocosmic details.

These are the big things like politics, language, religion, sociology, and what values the people of your world hold, all the way down to the littler things like what they eat, how they deal with waste, etc.

Now, you may not be including all of these directly in your story, but knowing, for example, how the politics of your world run (is it a totalitarian state? Communist? Are there kings and queens and serfs?) will help your world become realer, deeper, and richer.

Lesson 3: How to build worlds that feel real

Many new authors fall into a trap of creating worlds that don’t feel real. That’s largely because the little things are being ignored.

You should know how a summer day smells versus a winter day. You should know what a busy day sounds like versus a calmer day. You should know what the path looks like behind the castle.

J.R.R. Tolkein went so far as to create an entirely new language (which only featured in a fraction of his story!) and this lent a level of “realness” to the Lord of the Rings series that can’t be denied.

When you know your world thoroughly, writing description will come effortlessly.

It will be much easier to supplant in the minds of your readers what your world looks like, smells like, feels like, and how it works, when you give glimmers of the little things.

Here’s an example of a rich level of description from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, The Wind Through the Keyhole:

Two hours later, just shy of noon, they breasted a rise and halted, looking down at a wide, slow-moving river, gray as pewter beneath the overcast sky. On the northwestern bank—their side—was a barnlike building painted a green so bright it seemed to yell into the muted day. Its mouth jutted out over the water on pilings painted a similar green. Docked to two of these pilings by thick hawsers was a large raft, easily ninety feet by ninety. It was painted in alternating stripes of red and yellow. A tall wooden pole that looked like a mast jutted from the center, but there was no sign of a sail. Several wicker chairs sat in front of it, facing the shore on their side of the river. Jake was seated in one of these. Next to him was an old man in a vast straw hat, baggy green pants, and longboots. On his top half he wore a thin white garment—the kind of shirt Roland thought of as a slinkum. Jake and the old man appeared to be eating well-stuffed popkins. Roland’s mouth sprang water at the sight of them.

This excerpt includes a lot of sight cues—we know just what the landscape looks like, and that the building and the raft that are described don’t seem out of place. Chairs are made of wicker (a very familiar, ‘real’ material). Pop-kins, which King made up, is a mouth-watering food of a sort, probably like a sandwich.

To bring this level of depth to your stories, consider using a description builder, which will give your descriptions all five senses to use during a significant scene in your story or novel.

Lesson 4: Practice

The last piece of world building advice to give you is the most important one: practice.

Once you have your world, and you’ve played around with creating infrastructure, richness, and depth, practice with it.

Think of a random person in your world and describe them. Are they a baker? a prince? a teenager? a child in school?

Then run them through a typical day—where would they go? who would they talk to? what would they encounter? what conflicts arise? how would they feel at the end of the day?

This is a fun way to play, and it’s likely that a story will blossom out of one of these practice sessions!

A brief note on what not to do:

Under no circumstances should you forget about diversity—no two people are alikeno one thinks exactly the same, believes exactly the same ideas, or acts in the same way. Create your characters like real people, which means giving them different motives, different ways of interpreting the same event, and different reactions to circumstances.

About Ella Bandita and the Wanderer:

unnamedElla Bandita’s life nearly came to an end in the depths of an icy river. Before she threw herself in the roiling waters, a strange voice called out.

“There’s a better way.”

Now, Ella Bandita is far from dead. Having studied the art of seduction under the Sorcerer of the Caverns who saved her that day, she must now make a life for herself as Ella Bandita, thriving on fresh hearts for survival. The immortal seductress moves from village to village, seducing and stealing the hearts of only the most licentious and undeserving men. It’s a lonely life, filled with grief and rage.

Until the day she meets a Wanderer in the woods, who engages her in a deadly game of cat and mouse, fueled by his unruly desire for this strange young woman. His refusal to quit her makes Ella Bandita act, and the Wanderer finds himself transformed into a Wolf, forced to live life searching for the one thing that can make him a man again. Hunting down the immortal seductress becomes necessary for survival. At the old Sorcerer’s Caverns, they will meet again, Ella Bandita and the Wanderer.

In a dark tale of romance, lust, and desire, Ella Bandita and the Wanderer is driven by intrigue and explores the darkness of the human heart and the allure of erotic obsession over love.

Connect with Montgomery!

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How I built my fantasy world while staying in the story

You might have heard of “world-builders disease”. If you haven’t, then listen to this episode of Writing Excuses, from Season 5. If you have, but haven’t listened to that episode of Writing Excuses before, then I highly recommend you listen to it anyway.

Now, I personally hate the term “world-builders disease” because it implies there is something wrong with spending time world-building. I’m sure all you fellow fantasy writers in the crowd can relate to the struggle of knowing just how much world-building you must do before you feel you know the world adequately enough to start writing your book.

Today I’m going to share with you some of the techniques I have been developing during my latest foray into world-building, in the hope that it may inspire you in your own endeavors.

Developing a bottom-up, top-down process

I have been building my world for almost 23 years. I also have been writing the stories that accompanied this process for the same period of time. I started when I was in grade 8, a 13-year-old boy inspired first by the work of Dennis L. McKiernan, then Tolkien via The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

There was never a point at which I said, “I’m going to build my world so I can write stories set in it.” There was never a point at which I said, “I’m going to write stories so I can build my world.” The two happened all together. Every morning while delivering newspapers (I was a paper boy until I was 17), stories took shape in my mind. They were cinematic, but they were also expository. Some mornings I was discovering the stories of how gods and powerful wizards betrayed one another. Other mornings, I was wandering through enchanted lands hidden by veils of mist. Often, I heard languages.

The process of trying to write this all down was about a lot more than just trying to write a book or a short story. I drew maps as much as I composed prose. I wrote out charts for my languages and continued to make up new words for them, usually in my room at night while hovering before my humidifier. I annotated my maps, and stories lurked within these annotations. I started a story but it detoured into a chronicle of a new people I had not previously heard of. Years passed, I read more fantasy books, my work evolved, and it wasn’t until I was 26 that I finally completed a first draft of a novel. But not at all during that time would I have said I was not telling stories.

Instead, what I learned is that the world gives life to story, just as the story gives life to a world. It’s in the doing that both are created. And for writing fantasy, a lot of doing is needed for a truly lofty epic to come together.

I’ve come to think of this as a bottom-up, top-down approach to world-building. Bottom-up because, first and foremost, I discover my world through doing. I get my hands dirty, be it with trying new stories set in the world, or with simply finding new ways to explore my world beyond writing stories that follow novel or short story format (maps, languages, chronicles, glossaries, setting sketches, to name a few). Top-down because, as I move forward in this process, I employ world-building rigor to further grow my stories. But bottom-up, top-down because, in order to employ this rigor, I must start by creating and making a mess.

My process over the years then has been about learning how to make a mess and clean it up, and keep making more messes and keep cleaning those up, and get better and better at it as I go. It is, in a sense, about learning to create an ever-evolving mess-making-cleaning-up system.

Using a private wiki as a world-building tool

When I finished the fourth draft of A Thousand Roads, I allotted time exclusively for “world-building” while I waited on my editor. I went into this with no idea what that meant. The obvious starting point for me was to create an index of my notes, to bring them all together in one place, so that is exactly how I began.

I had done this, to some extent, with Blood Dawn. (You can read more about that here.) With Blood Dawn, I created a list and added to it every time I mentioned something in the draft relating to the world. As the manuscript grew, the list grew and I organized it into a directory to keep it accessible. I was using Scrivener, and though its tree display is convenient for me to quickly access the relevant location, eventually the directory got too large and it was cumbersome.

What was coming together was essentially a wiki, but Scrivener was the wrong environment for it. So, as I began this January to unify my notes during this exciting, long-awaited world-building period, I took a leap of faith and started my index in a private wiki. (Much thanks to my friend and fellow fantasy writer, and world-builder extraordinaire, Malkuthe Highwind, for his patience and guidance along the way.)

Now, for those who are familiar with wikis, I will clarify that when I say I created a wiki, it was not for the conventional use. I have set it all to private so that it functions as a extension of my writing notes. I can keep it open in an internet browser while I write, allowing me to access relevant articles and modify as needed.

My choice to keep this private was twofold. Mainly, these are my notes. I have details about future books, both as part of the articles under the “history” directory, and through character bio pages. I want to be able to dump in whatever I need to freely, without worrying that I might confuse future readers.

I also am chaotic in my notes. Sentences are half-completed in many places, or in point form. While consolidating three conflicting articles on magic, instead of belaboring over this task, I simply left a bold note to myself at the top that the material must be integrated at a later date. While nearing the end of this phase and realizing there was so much more to do (as in, if I got a magic ring and was able to live to 133, I would still be doing it), I simply resolved myself to setting future goals (likely between future drafts while waiting on editors or readers) to gradually iterate over the entire thing in stages, further unifying or expanding or correcting as seems fitting at such time. (For instance, I have put on my project board a future task, “consolidate magic directory” and would, during that project, focus exclusively on going over all my magic notes and emerging with my “notes to self” somewhat resolved.)

The other reason I’ve kept my wiki private is because usually, fans write wikis for the fantasy epics they fall in love with. For instance, Brandon Sanderson’s fans have built and maintain Coppermind. George R.R. Martin’s fans have one as well ( In neither of these cases did the author write their wikis. I prefer that, if the community of fans who gather around my work in the years to come wish to share their knowledge and passion for the books, they will do so without my interference. I might contribute here and there, but mostly I would lurk, as I’m sure they will find numerous inconsistencies or errors that I have missed, and this I will use to my (and ultimately their) advantage.

What I created in my world-building wiki

At first, I created chaos. This was due mostly to the fact that my notes were scattered all over the place. I had hand-written notes from A Thousand Roads from when I wrote the first draft. I had notes from the Scrivener directory file I created while writing Blood Dawn. I already had several disorganized articles on my wiki from when I was learning how to use it. I need not mention notes from 23 years of discovering this world (which I intend to, over the course of the next few years, append to the wiki during later phases of iteration).

But the wiki allowed me to dump in what I needed, and I organized as I went along.

To start, I created an index page where I would drop material if I didn’t know where it belonged. This wasn’t required for long. I quickly saw how my notes broke down into various categories, and subcategories, so I created pages for each of these.

For instance, I have many character notes. I organize my characters based on how important they are, the usual main, secondary, and tertiary. As I was transferring character notes, I created the character category. But as I have so many notes on characters, eventually I created pages based on whether they are main, secondary, or tertiary, as the note-taking system I employ for each differs (i.e. tertiary characters are usually passing people in a scene so I might only have a sentence or two about them to give me a deeper sense of the interpersonal or setting dynamics).

In the same manner, other categories came together: people, with subcategories lineages, culture, society, and organizations; life, with subcategories flora, fauna, and races (to be clear, I mean race in the traditional fantasy sense, for instance, humankind, the Dwarf Men, Dragons, and other sapient beings); constructions, with subcategories language, religion, symbols, art, measurement.

Sub-subcategories also came together within these categories as I proceeded further. For instance, the races subcategory breaks down quite a lot since of the two dominant races of the world, humankind and the Dwarf Men, both are unique species who have diverged into racial groups over time. The lineages subcategory is a whole universe unto itself as the various dynasties of both Dwarf Men and humankind are listed there, and these dynasties are specific to different nations and time periods.

As a rule, I tried not to impose too much top-down prodding at this point, so the resulting category, subcategory, sub-subcategory breakdown was an emergent property and not artificial. It was, strictly, me trying to organize my notes.

But I did do a lot of further writing as a result of seeing the larger structure coming together, and this is where the bottom-up, top-down approach I’ve employed all my life became manifest. For, it is inevitable for me to engage with my notes and my world and not explore a bit further.

Sometimes I saw that categories or subcategories, or sub-subcategories were missing, or I would create a brief note to summarize something (i.e. “The Black Faith” under “Religion” under “Constructions”, which I wrote a great deal on beyond my notes, and “The Old Faith”, which I discovered through listing out related religions that were not in my notes before but which came to me from this particular top-down view). Or, when filling in a given note on calendar systems and elaborating, I would discover a detail about cultural history behind that system and could now quickly access the part of the culture category that deals with that particular culture. As the system came together, it inspired me to write about the world from its own perspective in ways that my notes from the manuscript-writing process would not have.

I arrived at the end of this process greatly satisfied. Not only did I unify my notes, I also defined a process which will continue this objective, and I am now excited to return to it time and time again.

Taming the world-building beast

I could write endlessly on what I have learned about world-building from the last month alone, but I will close instead on the most important insight, which is the issue of how I jumped into world-building without losing my sense of “true north”.

In fact, I found the discipline I learned while working on the previous drafts of A Thousand Roads translated directly. Working on these drafts taught me to stay grounded on one thing at a time, and to do so with a governing objective, aka the “true north”.

In the case of the fourth draft of A Thousand Roads, I had an editorial letter from my editor (and the pressure of a publication schedule) to not just keep me committed to writing every day but also keep me on task. I could have tinkered and obsessed endlessly on that draft. But instead I learned to trust my editor’s edits and the specific revisions objectives I had to achieve, and, most importantly, to accept that the draft I would deliver back to him for the next round of edits was still going to need work; but that would be for the fifth draft, and I’d achieved what I needed to in the fourth.

Likewise, while world-building, I stayed focused on my objective of unifying my notes. I had in fact looked forward to this since the fall. Many times while stressing over revision in the fourth draft, I pushed ahead eager for the time to finally be able to put the draft away and work on something fresh and exciting—and what can be fresher and more exciting that pure world-building?

So I stayed grounded in this world-building process, and those many times along the way where I saw a rabbit hole, I tagged it as such and left it, knowing I would in due time come back to it. This gave me a sense of knowing when I would be “done” world-building, this particular time around.

Most importantly, I finished this task with my notes in one place. This will serve useful as I write the 5th draft of A Thousand Roads (as I can now access/modify my wiki directly as needed), and when I dive back in to pick up on the next “world-building” phase, after I am done the 5th draft and waiting on my specialty readers.

In fact, I have come to appreciate this world-building phase as somewhat of a discovered half of a wheel, whose turning has brought me back to the familiar other half, drafting. I will draft the 5th draft of A Thousand Roads now; then, completing that, roll over into the next phase of world-building, then roll over into the 6th draft. And on and on, and beyond A Thousand Roads there is the space between that and the sequel. In my mind, I get excited thinking of how this wheel will continually turn as the epic evolves, and the world itself will grow more concrete and loftier, how I will be, as I was 23 years ago, using many facets of creation to bring this world to life.

Now please, someone give me a magic ring.

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