Writing Wednesday: When It Feels Like Work

Writing Wednesday: When It Feels Like Work

By Kara Newcastle


NM 2653


Writing really shouldn’t feel like work; writing should be an outlet, something relaxing, something that stimulates your creativity and your joy. When writing feels like work … well, then you’ve got a problem. If you’re starting to dread writing because it feels like too much of an effort, but you’re not sure why, take a look at the list below and see if any (or all) of these descriptions fit you.



  1. You’re not writing for yourself: First off, and I’ve said this before, always write for yourself first. Once you start thinking that you have to write for a particular audience, your focus shifts from creating to pleasing, and you will burn yourself out with worrying that your imaginary reader—somebody vague and, in all likelihood, doesn’t even exist—will hate your story and badmouth you all over Goodreads. Once you start thinking about pleasing that reader, that critic, your fifth grade English teacher, your great-great-great-aunt, nothing you write will ever be good enough. Don’t imagine any audience. Think, “I’m going to write what I want to write. To hell with all the readers,” and then just write! Write what you Go back and make fixes when you’re ready to present to the world. Trust me, I’ve been there, and you’ll notice that when you write for yourself the quality of your work is so much better.
  2. You’re too hard on yourself: If you write thinking that you’re Hemingway, and then reread your stuff and feel like you sound more like a two-bit Dr. Seuss, then you’re being too hard on yourself. Getting angry that your writing isn’t as good as you want it to be only adds to your stress and takes the enjoyment out of writing. Be honest with yourself. Find the parts that you like and tell yourself you did a good job. Go back and tweak the parts you don’t like later on. Understand that writing is a process that improves with time. Remember that you are you—you’re not Hemingway, Salinger, Oates or anybody else, and nor should you be.
  3. You’ve got too much going on: There are too many things going on in your life that are affecting your focus on your writing. You might think that you’ve put all those problems and stresses aside to work, but they’re probably bouncing around somewhere in the back of your head, making you too unconsciously tense and distracted. You might even feel a little guilty that you’re trying to write when there are problems, issues, concerns, annoyances to be addressed. Stop writing for a bit and take care of what you can accomplish at that moment. Don’t get distracted by insignificant tasks like dusting—those can wait. Do make that phone call to the doctor you’ve been putting off.
  4. You’re tired: Didn’t sleep well? Worn out from work? Jet lagged? Allergy medicine knocking you on your ass? Exhaustion can make anything seem like a monumental task, and if you’re consistently overtired when you’re trying to write, it’s going to be so much more difficult to get anything done. Stop writing, take a nap, go to bed, slam down a V8 Energy, veg out for a while until you’ve got your oomph back.
  5. You have writer’s block: ARGH, THE FORBIDDEN PHRASE!!! THE DREADED ANTITHESIS OF THE MUSE!!! THE SLAYER OF HOPE, JOY, AND CREATIVITY!!! NO, I AM NOT EXAGGERATING!!! If you’re any kind of a writer, at some point you will get stuck. You’ll get hung up on a plot point, a character motivation, how to phrase a sentence or scene … hell, you might just have no idea of what to do next. When you’re stuck, you’re frustrated, when you’re frustrated, you’re angry, and when you’re angry, nothing’s fun anymore and it starts feeling like work. I’ll write some blogs on writer’s block in the near future, but in the meantime, if you find yourself blocked, try taking a break for a bit, skipping ahead to another scene, or try working on another story for a while. My husband likens writer’s block to mental constipation and recommends eating a dictionary to cure it. He says it’s chock full of wordy fiber. If you try it, let me know how it goes.
  6. You’re sick of the story: It happens; you started out on what was supposed to be a great story, and it’s just not living up to your expectations. Rather than killing yourself trying to get it done, tell yourself that it’s okay to put it aside or even give up on it entirely. You can always go back and rewrite it. You might even be able to salvage some scenes to use in other projects. Just understand that there’s no shame in saying “Screw it” to a bad story.
  7. You’re discouraged: You’ve submitted twenty stories, and two-thirds of them came back with rejection letters and the remaining third haven’t even been looked at yet. The story you posted on Wattpad/Fanfiction.net/A03/wherever isn’t getting read. Maybe those stories are being read but no one is posting a review or, worse yet, the reviews are horrible. Maybe you gave out copies of your book to several friends and relatives over two years ago and nobody has bothered to read them yet … not that I speak from experience (EXTREME sarcasm.) You start feeling that because you can attract any interest to your stories, then you mustn’t be that great of a writer, so that takes your passion away and makes writing feel like a chore. This is all painful stuff that every writer goes through, and the best advice I have for you is to just keep trying. Do your best to ignore the sting of rejection and work at both improving and promoting yourself. It does get better over time.
  8. Your feelings are hurt: I really hope that anybody reading this will fall into the minority of this instance, but, unfortunately for the rest of us, there is likely at least one person in your life that is going to say something about your writing that will cut you to the core. Sometimes it’s a stranger, but frequently it’s person you know well and trust, like a parent, relative, friend or even a writing instructor, More often than not, these people think they’re being helpful, but they come out saying really dumbass things, like, “This is good, but you’re not seriously thinking about doing this for a living, right?,” to “There’s no way you can compete with somebody like JK Rowling,” or even, “This is so bad.” With all that negativity weighing down on you, it makes perfect sense that writing would become so much more of an effort to do. Don’t let their stupidity derail you, even if you feel that their opinion is extremely important. Many an accomplished writer (such as JK Rowling) had people in their lives that they loved and respected tell them that they had no future, but they forged on ahead and became wildly successful.
  9. It feels like work because you’re making it feel like work: Want to know the secret to utterly killing all desire and happiness for your writing? Start treating it like a job! Seriously, if you approach your writing like it’s a job that you’re dependent on for survival, then you’ll worry too much and all your energy and passion will fly right out the damned window. Don’t think about putting in a set number of hours, or how you have to satisfy somebody, or how this has to be good enough for Oprah to pick because if she doesn’t pick it well then you might as well give up now because you’ll never have a career as a novelist and you might as well be living in a refrigerator box downtown because you won’t have a book deal so you’ll never be able to make it on your own and, and, and … Aaaaaagggh! Stop it! That’s not how writing works—that’s not how any kind of art works! You don’t create art for the money, you create art for the sake of creating art. Don’t approach it the same way you drag yourself to your regular job because you’ll just make yourself utterly miserable. Enjoy it. Treat it as a release and a reward. You’ll feel so much better about it, trust me.

Now get back to writing.

Myth Monday: The Holy Grail (Christian Legend)

Myth Monday: The Holy Grail

By Kara Newcastle



473px-Holy_Grail_of_Valencia by Jmjriz agate cup
Holy Grail of Valencia by Jmjriz, wikimedia



Here’s something I didn’t expect to see in my newsfeed a week or so ago:


Nicolas Cage on the set of National Treasure 2, by KirkWeaver, wikimedia


Yeah, so, apparently, whilst recovering from alcoholism, Nicholas Cage delved deep into books on philosophy and mythology, and in the process became hooked on the legends of the Holy Grail. He was so enamored of the tales that he actually went on several trips to visit locations associated with the Grail, and even purchased some land in Rhode Island that had something to do with the chalice as well—or maybe not, he was being evasive on that point.

Interestingly though, Cage said that he found his own (interpretation of) the grail, and it’s not in cup form. So, what could it be? What is the grail, exactly?

Let me try to explain as much as I can squeeze into this blog.

639px-Holy-grail-round-table-ms-fr-112-3-f5r-1470-detail by Evrard d'Espinques


Firstly, let’s address the word “grail”: “Grail” comes from the French word “greal,” which means “vessel,” something that holds foods or liquids. Therefore, a grail is a cup, chalice, plate, bowl, or even a cauldron. The thought that it was a cup or chalice comes from the Bible, specifically from the scene of the Last Supper, when Jesus Christ blessed a cup of wine and passed it amongst his apostles, encouraging them to drink and become unified. In medieval times, the Holy Grail was thought to be either this cup, a similar cup used to catch Jesus’s blood as he died on the Cross, or the same cup used at the Last Supper was also used to catch his blood. (This is where “Sangreal” comes into play, I’ll get to that it a minute.) There’s no mention of any of Jesus’s blood being gathered at his crucifixion in the Bible—this was added to the legend much later.

However, the idea of a sacred vessel is much older than the myth of the Holy Grail itself. In Celtic mythology, there were several magical cauldrons used by gods and heroes to feed, heal, and even bring people back from the dead. Bran the Blessed, the giant king of England, was said to possess a cauldron that would bring dead soldiers back to life after their bodies had been immersed inside of it. The Cauldron of Annwn would produce an endless supply of food for brave warriors—cowards would get none.


The Gundstrup Cauldron. Dead soldiers are dunked into the magic cauldron and brought back to life. Also known as the best way to create your own personal zombie army.


The Celtic tradition of sacred cauldrons was either transformed into or applied to medieval myths about the Christian Holy Grail. In Arthurian legends, the Holy Grail appeared to King Arthur and his knights at the Round Table and bestowed upon them all their favorite foods and drink, and Lancelot had a vision of the Holy Grail healing a gravely wounded knight. The power of the Holy Grail was also used to cure the unhealing wounds of the Fisher King, restoring health and fertility to both him and his kingdom. Likely, these stories and more were used to help convert pagan Britons and Celts to Christianity.

Oh, and to confuse things further, new theories in the last few decades suggest that the Grail was actually an alabaster perfume jar used when the repentant woman washed Jesus’s feet, or when his female followers anointed his body for burial following the Crucifixion. One guy even claims to have found it.


Here’s a piece everyone loves to debate about: read as “San Greal,” this is French for “Holy Grail.” Read as “Sang Real,” this is French for “Blood Royal.” Alternative historians and conspiracy theorists jump on this as proof that the Holy Grail was not a physical cup but an actual bloodline descending from Jesus Christ. Before I address that, read the next part.


Hard to say; while it’s possible that a cup that Jesus used could have survived over a thousand years, there’s no solid proof that it ever existed. Furthermore, there are so many legends and so many different locations claiming to have the “real” Holy Grail that we might never know.

Furthermore, nobody seems to be able to not only agree on what the Grail was (cup or dish?), but what it was made from either. In Arthurian legends, the Grail was depicted as a highly ornate chalice. Biblical scholars and Indiana Jones assume that, given that Jesus and his disciples carried so little money and stayed at places that couldn’t afford to provide fancy tableware, if the Grail was real, then it was probably something plain, made out of wood, clay or possibly stone.

Some later stories insist that the Holy Grail was actually carved out of a huge emerald that fell from Lucifer’s crown following his failed rebellion in Heaven and his banishment to Hell. Somebody found the emerald, thought it would make a great drinking cup, and it somehow found its way to Jesus. During the Crusades, the Knights Templar once captured a green goblet said to be made of emerald and was the same cup Jesus used at the Holy Grail. It was later proved to be ordinary glass.

Now for the part everybody wants to read …



According to one legend, Jesus Christ wanted complete equality between the sexes, so not only did he have male disciples, he had female ones as well. Among these was Mary Magdalene, with whom he fell in love with and married. The story goes that Mary Magdalene was several months pregnant with their child when Jesus was executed on the cross. Mary Magdalene was the one who witnessed Jesus’s resurrection but, as the story goes, it became increasingly dangerous to have any association with Christ. To save her and her unborn child, Jesus’s great uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, took her, the Holy Grail, a cruet of Christ’s blood and a cruet of his sweat, and they fled across the Mediterranean, arriving in what is now Marseille, France. There, Mary gave birth to a daughter she named Sarah, who eventually married into what would become the Merovingian royal family, establishing a bloodline descendent from Jesus.

Hence Sang Real—Blood Royal.

Is any of this true? We have no way of knowing, but that area of France certainly believes it. They have many stories about Mary Magdalene arriving in a boat and living as a religious hermit in the caves in Provence. They even have a reliquary (an ornate receptacle designed to hold the bones of saints) containing the skull and bones they claim is hers. Tests have proven that the skull is in fact female, but nobody has proven that the bloodline actually exists.

Makes for good stories, though.


Okay, I’ll try to make this quick; pre-Christian cultures, particularly in Europe, were predominately matriarchal, or at least had high esteem for women, and worshipped supreme Mother Goddess. Cauldrons, bowls and eventually things like chalices were used to physically represent the womb, and the addition of dark red wine represented life-giving menstrual blood. Cauldrons and bowls held nourishing sustenance, just as a woman’s body nourishes a baby. Furthermore, spears were a common symbol for men’s genitalia (read: erect penises), and the act of copulation—particularly sacred intercourse—was sometimes depicted as an upright spear set into a chalice.


The Grail Quest was a mission issued by King Arthur to his Knights of the Round Table to go out, find the Holy Grail, and claim it for England. Several knights came close to obtaining it, only to be rebuffed by supernatural forces because they were not pure enough to touch the Grail (for example, Lancelot was in every way the ideal knight, but because he lusted for Queen Guinevere, the wife of another man, he had sinned.) The only knight to successfully obtain the Holy Grail was Lancelot’s virginal son Galahad … who died soon after. And the Holy Grail was taken back into Heaven by a host of angels, in case you’re wondering.

(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

However, the Grail Quest was really less of the search for the Holy Grail and more the search for meaning and fulfillment for the knights involved: Lancelot sought to become cleansed of his sins, and Percival channeled the healing power of the Holy Grail to heal the long-suffering Fisher King. Nowadays, for people such as Nicholas Cage and others, the Grail Quest holds several meanings, but at some point, it all comes back to self-reflection and philosophical discovery.


Rennes-le-Chateau is a village in the Occitaine region of France and the whom of a church dedicated to Mary Magdalene, built in the 8th century. According to story/rumor, during renovations in the early 1900s, a priest named François Bérenger Saunière moved an altar and discovered documents hidden in the floor beneath it or inside the altar itself. No one knows for certain what the documents said, but many people believed that it held recorded proof that Jesus Christ had married Mary Magdalene and established a bloodline that still exists. People in the area from the time recalled that Saunière seemed to go off the moral deep end after the discovery, allegedly cavorting with women, becoming drunk, dabbling with the occult, you name it. He also became incredibly rich, leading to rumors that either he also discovered treasure inside the church or somebody in the Vatican paid him to keep his mouth shut. (In reality, Saunière was a money-grubbing jerk who was selling Masses and eventually was defrocked for it.)

You can go to Rennes-le-Chateau and have a look for yourself. And feel free to talk to the locals about the Holy Grail—all of this is a boost to their economy.


Apparently, they were; while Hitler himself had a semi-passing interest in the story (he was more interested in the Spear of Destiny, also known as the Bleeding Spear and the Spear of Longinus), finding the Grail was on Himmler’s to-do list. The weasel-faced bastard was obsessed with the occult and was known to have investigated locations in Europe associated with the Grail. The Nazis weren’t so concerned with living forever, as implied by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, they wanted the Holy Grail more as a combination “in-your-face” to the rest of the world, proof that a higher power wanted them to succeed, and a rallying point to further unite Germany and their allies.


The mythological reason: following the death and resurrection of Christ, his great uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, took his followers and the Holy Grail, along with a bottle of Christ’s blood and a bottle of his sweat (which doesn’t reappear in the stories after this), and fled to England to escape persecution. There, Joseph buried the Holy Grail in an area now known as Glastonbury.

The socio-political-religious-money reason: claiming that the Holy Grail was in England gave the ancient and medieval British a bragging right, a way to covert the remaining pagans, and a way to rake in cash from devout pilgrims. This seems especially true after the monastery at Glastonbury burned down, and the monks had no way of paying to have a new one built. But then—surprise!—the body of King Arthur, the king who ordered the quest for the Holy Grail, and his wife Guinevere were discovered by the oh-so-astonished monks, who then immediately promoted the hell out of the site. Pilgrims arrived by the hundreds, and the monks raised enough money to rebuild their monastery.

800px-William_Dyce_-_Piety-_The_Knights_of_the_Round_Table_about_to_Depart_in_Quest_of_the_Holy_Grail_-_Google_Art_Project william dyce


There are many stories and theories suggesting that the Templar Knights discovered the Holy Grail (along with other relics, such as the Spear of Destiny and the Ark of the Covenant) in the Holy Land during the Crusades and brought it back to Europe. The theory goes on to say that the Templars kept the Holy Grail hidden, and, following their attack by the king of France, they smuggled it out of France, hid it briefly in Scotland as Roslyn Chapel, then ultimately brought it to the New World. Many people believe that the Holy Grail is currently hidden on Oak Island in Nova Scotia, while others think it’s hidden under or somewhere near the mysterious Newport Tower in Newport, Rhode Island (remember what I said about Nicholas Cage buying land there?).

484px-DSCN3887_newporttower_e The original uploader was Decumanus at English Wikipedia.
Newport Tower, Newport, Rhode Island, by Decumanus at English Wikipedia.


What do I think? I think if I were to keep going with this, I’d be writing yet another book. Otherwise … I don’t know. Maybe I should begin my own Grail Quest and find out for myself.


Myth Monday: The Various Species of Dragon (World Legend)

Myth Monday: The Various Species of Dragon

By Kara Newcastle




Okay, I’m currently in bed sick, so I tried to do my best with this one. Enjoy!



Cultures all over the world have stories of monstrous creatures, from giant hairy men to little forest people to mysterious black dogs. Of all the beasts, the dragons persistently show up across various societies, and while they seem to vary in appearance and abilities, they consistently appear as large, fearsome reptiles. Take a look at my list of different dragon species:




Amphisbaena—A native of Africa, the amphisbaena was a two-legged dragon like a wyvern but had a long flexible body and an extra head at the end of its tail. The Ancient Greeks believed that amphisbaenas were created when blood dripped from Medusa’s severed head and fell to the earth as Perseus flew overhead, and it was said that the Roman statesman Cato encountered amphisbaenas as he marched with his armies. Amphisbaenas are also unique for their method of travel; when they wanted to get someplace in a hurry, they would arch their long necks back and bite their own tails. They when then proceed to roll themselves across the ground this way like a giant hoop. Pliny noted that the amphisbaena could withstand cold temperatures and recommended its skin as a cure for chills.


Asian—Probably the most visually stunning of all the dragons, the Asian dragon of China, Japan and Korea was a serpentine, wingless dragon who was most credited with bringing rain from the skies. Known as a lung in China, it began life as a colorful catfish who swam up river and successfully leaped up seven waterfalls. After clearing the seventh waterfall, the fish is transformed into a massive dragon with a snake-like body, a lion’s mane, a catfish’s whiskers, the claws of a hawk, the antlers of a deer, a crocodilian head and cow’s ears. The majority of Asian dragons were peaceful, but they could be easily insulted and would show their displeasure by withholding rain. The dragons are worshipped as gods and were the symbol of the emperor for thousands of year


by Chris 73


Balaur—Probably the most unusual dragon in the list, the Slavic balaur was said to be very big, with both fins and feet and have possibly up to twelve heads. Always evil, it could transform itself into a humanoid creature called a zmeu in order to kidnap and marry young maidens. As the zmeu, the dragon is especially greedy, ad in one story was said to have stolen both the sun and the moon, which the hero Fat-Frumos had to retrieve.

Basilisk—Considered the king of serpents the basilisk (not to be confused with its half rooster cousin, the cockatrice) was also thought to be one of the deadliest animals in the world. Resembling a monstrously huge snake, the basilisk was said to be so poisonous that it could kill with a glance, and its breath was so toxic it could split rocks. The basilisk’s natural enemy was the weasel, the only creature on earth that could survive both its stare and poison (this is likely drawn from mongooses hunting king cobras.) The basilisk was also said to have a crown atop its head to show that it was king (again, cobras have a marking on their heads that resemble a crown.) The basilisk is said to be born when the egg of a snake or toad is incubated by an old cockerel, and usually has the cock’s comb on top of its head as well. In the ninth century in Rome, Pope Leo VI was said to have slain a basilisk or cockatrice, and in 1587 in Warsaw, Poland, a basilisk was said to have lived in the cellar of an abandoned farmhouse where it killed two young girls and the maid who tried to save them. A man scheduled for execution was dressed in a suit covered in mirrors to reflect the basilisk’s gaze back at it, sent down into the cellar, dragged the basilisk out.


European/Western (four-legged)—The most easily recognized of all the dragons, the four-legged and winged European or Western dragon lived throughout Europe, the Mediterranean and parts of the Middle East. Huge and highly aggressively with the ability to breathe fire and spread poison and disease, the European dragon ravages the countryside wherever it goes. The most famous European dragon was slain by Saint George in Libya. In the Arthurian legends, a young Merlin foresaw that there was an underground pool contain a white and a red dragon. The pool was drained, revealing the two dragons, who woke up and immediately began to fight. The white dragon defeated the red dragon and flew off; Merlin said that this represented England (the yet unborn Arthur) defeating Wales.

Jaculus—an interesting dragon, Roman historians wrote about these small, lizard-like creatures that would hang upside down from branches of trees. When their chosen prey wandered beneath the tree, the jaculus would release their hold on the branches, plummet straight down and use their bodies to spear their victims.

Naga—Not to be confused with the hydra, the Naga was a multi-headed, fire breathing serpent that lived in the sacred rivers of India and Southeast Asia. The Naga (females were called Nagini) were almost always benevolent, with anywhere from three to a thousand heads. Nagas are depicted coiled around the sleeping god Krishna or the meditating Buddha, the hooded heads hovering over the god, keeping watch. Nagas are worshipped as deities in their own right, and unusual phenomenon is often attributed to them; several times a year at night, a series of fireballs are seen rising from the Mekong River in Laos and shooting into the sky. The locals believe this is the local Naga, breathing fire.


By Dmitry Makeev commons.wikimedia.org


North American—It might come as a surprise that the Native Americans had their own legends of dragons. More often than not, their dragons lived in waterways, but there have been stories (and sightings) of flying dragons as well. The most famous of these was the Piasa, a hideous dragon-monster that lived in a cave on the mountaintop and hunted the tribes that lived below. The Piasa ate so many people that several tribes banded together and declared war on the beast. Waiting for the dragon to return to its lair, the warriors climbed up the mountain to the cave, piled as much brush they could find at the mouth and set it all on fire. They were successful in killing the monster, and, to commemorate the event, they painted a huge image of the Piasa on the side of a cliff overlooking the Mississippi River near modern-day Madison Illinois, where many years later the explorer Father Jacques Marquette saw it and recorded it. Sadly, the original painting was destroyed when nearby detonations shattered the rock, but the image has since been repainted a few hundred yards upstream. (It should be noted that the original image did not have wings, though it was later depicted with them; some believe that people added in the wings years later while trying to restore the painting.)


By Burfalcy commons.wikimedia.org


Tarasque—The Tarasque is an interesting water dragon from the Provence region of France; it was reptilian, but with the shell of a tortoise, six bear-like legs, a scorpion tail, and a lion-like head. The Tarasque regularly clambered out of its lake home in Nerluc to rampage across the land, eating cattle and people. As the legend goes, no knight was able to slay it, but a young woman named Martha was able to subdue the Tarasque with prayers and hymns, turning the Tarasque as docile as a lamb. Martha tied her girdle (belt) around the Tarasque’s neck and led it back into town, where the initially horrified people quickly overcame their fear and made short work of the dragon, who didn’t fight back. The event is celebrated every June at Tarascon-sur-Rhône with a festival and parade with a big Tarasque dragon marched down the street.


By Gérard Marin wikimedia.org


Wyrm—a wyrm is a very big, wingless dragon frequently seen in Nordic and Teutonic mythology. Wyrms are said to be very snake-like, with no limbs. The dragon Fafnir from the Viking Volsung Saga is often thought to be a wyrm; as the story goes, Fafnir could only drag his body along the ground, so the hero Sigurd (Sigfried) dug a pit in the path the dragon traveled, jumped inside and covered the opening with brush and dirt. When Fafnir slid over the pit, Sigurd jammed his sword up into the dragon’s stomach, killing it.


Sigurd Kills Fafnir, by Arthur Rackham


Wyvern—This two-legged variety is seen mostly in England and Scotland, and is also notable for its inability to breathe fire. A wyvern is a huge winged dragon with a barbed tail (sea-dwelling wyverns have fish tails) whose shadow can darken the entire countryside. A wyvern was an evil creature, and to see one meant that war and disease would soon arrive. A pair was said to have dragon Medea’s chariot when she fled Corinth after murdering Princess Glauce and two of her own children. Since then, wyverns have become popular in heraldry, and as logos and mascots—including that of Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, MA.