The Return of Doubt: a Writer’s Buzzkill

Over the last few weeks, I’ve experienced the most inspiration I’ve had in ages.

There was no climactic moment in my life that ignited this outpouring of expression. For whatever reason the spark just came like a surprise visit from your favorite uncle that you haven’t seen in years.

I resurrected a story I laid to rest several months ago and my blog postings were at record high.

I still have several ideas tucked away in notebooks and my white board. Nonetheless, the sudden burst of urgency to write has vanished.

I have all of these thoughts just waiting to be explored. But when I try to write them, I feel as though I have rushed onto stage without memorizing my lines. There’s a pervasive sense of not belonging in my own head.

I’m waiting for the gun to fire before I make a dash for it. Problem is there is no cue. I’m just waiting at the starting line in my running gear.

It’s safe to assume that it’s back to business as usual. Muse isn’t going to rouse me out of bed or pass along the right words in a pretty wicker basket any longer. It’s back to mulling over paragraphs, habitually cutting and rearranging dialogue. Then, there is the return of my sloven roommate, Doubt.

Doubt gripes about plot holes and leaves crumbs all over my keyboard. He also opens Youtube when I’m trying to work and distracts me with pictures of kittens on Facebook.

I knew that the surge of inspiration wouldn’t last, although I had hoped it would. However, I did enjoy it. I tied many knots with loose threads I had previously left dangling. I wrote down my ideas so I have something to go on now that I’m experiencing a period of post creative binge.

Muse will return to me one day once she grows bored of her other creative lovers. Then we’ll go out, ignoring all other responsibilities and create. Until then, I will attempt to beat away my inhibitions with my laptop and sexy writing utensils.

What’s the Point of Critiquing Published Books?

Recently, a friend of mine posed the question: What’s the point of critiquing published works? It’s already published so it’s not like the author can rewrite it for a better review or something.

Personally, I don’t critique books that often unless the author is dead, or I have something positive to say about the novel.

I  hope to publish a book one day and I don’t believe in making enemies unnecessarily (let’s pretend for my ego’s sake that some important publishing house reads my blog and gives a crap what I think). However, I enjoy reading the critiques of others because I believe they are beneficial to everyone, including the writer.

As my friend pointed out, the writer can’t recall the books that have already been distributed to the masses in order to make rewrites, so it would seem that telling them they screwed up after the fact is a bit pointless.

I would, nevertheless, argue that, while it can’t help the writer with their past work, it could provide some input into what they should avoid doing in future projects.

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Criticism is how people grow as writers. Contrary to popular belief, very few debut novels become best-sellers. Most authors have to learn by seeing what an audience of strangers respond to positively as well as negatively. A friend’s view of a story may be colored by their perspective of the writer, whereas a critic usually has no idea what the author is like as a person and is more likely to judge the book solely on its performance. 

Reading critiques on published works help unpublished authors as well. It’s beneficial to look at the mistakes or successes of predecessors and learn from them. In Stephen King’s memoir On Writing, he mentions an author of a book he read as a young adult that always used the word “zestfully.” Sometimes seeing that even professionals mess up can be encouraging to fledgling writers.

I don’t think I would be half the writer I am today if it weren’t for the millions of critics I’ve watched/read online as well as off. At least the ones that explain why something does or doesn’t work. There’s a difference between crapping on -or giving blind praise to-something and giving an actual critique over it.

There are good critics and bad critics, but I believe there’s something to be learned from them all. Regardless of your stance on a piece of literature, critiques make you think about a story more in depth than you might have otherwise.

Finding Life Advice in the Restroom

I was using the bathroom before my 11:00 class, when I noticed the utility cupboard was open for some reason. It had multiple quotes written on the inside of it, all in magic marker or pencil.

I have no idea why people wrote on the cupboard or why it just happened to be ajar when I walked in. Regardless, curiosity got the better or me and I decided to inspect it.

I expected there to be your standard “Class of ’16!” or “Joe is hott,” but I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and beauty of each quote. I chose a few of my favorites:

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(By the way, quoting Harry Potter is always a good idea.)

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In case you can’t read it: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body”-C.S. Lewis

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………I have absolutely no idea who Leroy is since The Doctor said this to Rose but, for some reason, not knowing makes it better.

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I found all of these quotes gorgeous and awe-inspiring. However, none of them quite encapsulated the spirit of the school season quite like this one:

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Have a good day, everyone!

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Fighting the Apathy: a Writer’s Senioritis

There are two weeks of school left before summer vacation.

Normally, I would be in full-fledge panic mode, but seeing as this is my 5th year in college I give myself a slap on the back just for showing up to class.

I’ve changed my major two or three times which has hindered my progress quite a bit.

Many of my classmates are blowing up Facebook with pictures of themselves, holding a shiny new degree and talking about their wonderful job opportunities while I’m curled in a fetal position because the job I want requires another degree.

I admire the nontraditional and grad students that go back to school either to get a Ph.D, or a degree that will help them secure a better job.

I also admire people that can do the same job for 30 years and not wistfully daydream about what bleach tastes like.

How do you do it?

After circling the same bowl for half a decade, I want to leap out and explore new surroundings. Even if I just wind up getting eaten by the cat or flushed down the proverbial toilet.

I love learning new things, but I’m tired of the too familiar surroundings. I want a change.

I’ve only dipped my toe into the real world briefly, and it gave me a few startling revelations. Nonetheless, I’m stuck at the bus station of life and I’m ready to arrive at my destination. I may leave a bag or two behind, but I’m ready.

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Abandon Manuscript!: The Diary of a Quitter

I’m notorious for jumping ship whenever a story becomes complicated. Friends ask me frequently how a story is going and my blood goes cold.

Oh,” I think, “just imagine a sinking boat that suddenly catches fire only to be extinguished by a humpback whale, leaping from the water and crushing it into splinters with its girth. That’s how the story is going.”

I frequently write myself into corners.

I create plots that are too complex to unravel.

I design characters that don’t do what I want them to do.

Then there’s the constant feeling of being adrift at sea, wondering “now what?”

Creating an outline works for about a day. Then, my brain throws something else into the mix that creates a disastrous domino effect.

I reread the manuscript for a novel I’ve been working on since January and made the decision to abandon it. I consider this an accomplishment since I deserted it after completing the first draft in its entirety rather than rewriting a specific chapter ad nauseam as is my custom.

I decided to begin again on a manuscript I discarded a year previously. I think the premise is still solid and the characters, once fleshed out, will be interesting and memorable. It will require quite a bit of plotting and a great deal of motivation.

Oftentimes I lack the latter because I lack the former.

I have confidence in the story. Maybe I just need more confidence in my abilities.

If I keep a steady course, perhaps this will be the one that makes it into port.

Unpopular Opinions: The Great Gatsby

WARNING: Contains a substantial amount of bellyaching. Those who do not wish to subject themselves to ranting about American literature should flee immediately. Hide your librarians. 

The Great Gatsby was one of the few novels I remember people liking in high school.

I was not one of those people.

In fact, I thought it was one of the more tedious required readings we had to tackle in English class.

For the record, this account is not to convince you, dear reader, to dislike the book. I am merely trying to explain my perspective on it. Below are some of the reasons I found this book a drudgery to get through:

The Characters 

I know they aren’t supposed to be likable.

I don’t have a problem with that.

In fact, I love reading about terrible people. One of my favorite characters I’ve ever read about is a girl that allows her gypsy boyfriend to murder her father just so she can turn around and kill him for having the gaul to harm a member of the upper crust (read Wideacre, it’s phenomenal).

My issue is I felt completely indifferent towards the characters in Gatsby.

When you create a cast of mostly unlikable characters, you have to incorporate something that compensates for their lack of pleasantness. For instance, Scarlet O’Hara from Gone With The Wind is a selfish brat, but her level of determination to keep Tara prompts her to do many daring and unpredictable things that make her an interesting person.

Some people argue that the poetic style of the book is meant to to make up for the characters’ dickishness, but it was never enough for me. In my view, they were just a bunch of snooty white people with almost no dimension whatsoever. I started off by not knowing much about them or their motivations (besides Gatsby), and I ended in the same boat. As a consequence, I didn’t care what happened to them.

The Damn Colors and Other Symbols

“You see, Fitzgerald wrote that everything was yellow as symbolism! You know, to represent wealth and the Golden Age, get it? Gatsby’s car is yellow, Daisy’s house is yellow, everything is yellow! Do you see how brilliant it is?”

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Who knows, maybe if this book hadn’t been force-fed down my throat in high school the symbolism wouldn’t annoy me nearly as much.

However, as it stands, the literary devices in this book are so painfully obvious it feels like Fitzgerald grabs you by the collar and slams your face into the book until you lose a tooth.

I’m getting horrible flashbacks of the class period we spent talking about the damn green light that represented Gatsby’s hope. As I recall, we had to remark on all the things green symbolized for an entire hour and why it was important and….and…

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Okay, so I thought the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg and the Valley of Ashes were kind of cool. Obvious, but cool. Everything else, however, felt like it was being smeared in my face.

You will embrace the message of the American Dream’s futility. The Valley of Ashes compels you!

The Language 

I’ve heard countless teachers and authors alike give tongue baths to Fitzgerald’s writing style (I’m looking at you, John Green).

I don’t think it’s terrible, I just think it’s a bit overrated.

In many areas it just becomes downright repetitive.

Nick says Daisy’s voice “sounds like money” and that the flowers outside Gatsby’s house “smell like gold.” 

We get it.

Money.

Lots and lots of money.

For most of the novel, it felt like I was being held captive at a really boring party, forced to listen to some socially inept guy drone on and on about what he did over his summer vacation. Nothing about his account seemed all that personal or intriguing.

That’s not to say I thought all of it was meh. I liked the description of Daisy and Tom’s ceiling as “wedding cake” and how Gatsby had a smile that seemed “prejudiced in your favor.”

Nonetheless, it was never enough to hold my interest for very long.

Final Thoughts

While I doubt I’ll ever truly appreciate the novel’s brilliance, at least it has given joy to millions of literary nerds throughout the decades.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to my grievances. I hope I haven’t offended you too much.

However, I’m afraid I must deal fans of the book one final insult.

……….I thought the movie was better, Old Sport.

*Flees*

 

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A Writer’s Guide To People Watching

WARNING: The following contains shenanigans. 

I don’t like the term “people watching.” There’s something distinctly stalker-isque about it.

I prefer to call it “spontaneous character building.”

When I’m sitting alone in a public place and I spot a person with a strange tattoo, haircut, or distinctive clothing, I’ll make up a story about them.

It’s a good mental exercise, especially when I’m blanking on ideas.

The trick is to be able to study people without them noticing.

Here are a few tips:

Keep an open book next to you.

People will probably think it’s less weird that you’re sitting by yourself, jotting into a notebook, if there’s another book right beside you. Oh, they’ll think, they’re studying for a test. The fools.

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Don’t make eye contract

This is a good rule for introverts in general, but it’s especially important when you’re character building. If you make eye contact with the person you’re watching, they’ll expect you to talk to them. Do not engage.

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Wear a large hat 

It’s a scientifically proven fact that hats are awesome. Not to mention they are excellent for shielding your face from the person you are trying to character build. I recommend a wide-rimmed fedora.

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*Subtleness intensifies*

Wear sunglasses even indoors 

If there’s anything Yeezy has taught us, it’s that wearing sunglasses indoors makes you look cool and inconspicuous and not like an asshole. If you’re wearing sunglasses, people won’t be able to tell what you’re looking at. This leads to fewer awkward questions. Probably.

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Get friends and use them as props

Getting friends can be difficult, but I recommend using free food as bait. Next, spread your friends around the table and converse with them whilst stealing subtle glances at your quarry. Make notes as you do so. If possible, take notes on your new friends as well. Their idiosyncrasies may prove useful in a future story.

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I hope you found these tips useful.

Happy character building!

Thoughts On “Me Before You”

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE NOVEL. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. 

I hadn’t heard about this book until after I saw the movie trailer with Khaleesi as the main role. However, it seemed like a good premise so I decided to give it a go.

Here are my thoughts after having completed the novel in its entirety:

*Punches book*

*Stabs book with kitchen knife*

*Runs over book with car*

*Sets book on fire*

*Cries deeply*

It was great.

No, really, I thought it was great.

But I am not happy.

I did not want Will to go through with the Dignitas procedure. I wanted for him and Louisa to be together for the rest of their lives, come what may. I wanted Louisa’s love for him to be enough. I didn’t want for him to give up.

He did die happy. That was a small consolation for me. But I am mad, like Louisa.

I’m mad that he chose to die in spite of all the new opportunities that were being presented to him.

No, he would never recover from being a quadriplegic, but his family had money and connections that would enable him to do things other quadriplegics can’t do because of financial restraints. He had someone who truly cared about him and was willing to go the extra mile to make him happy.

So yeah. I’m still angry with Will Traynor.

I will say this, however: it did not end the way I wanted it to end, but I believe it ended the way it needed to end.

Right or wrong, I believe that his final decision was in keeping with his character and it made the most narrative sense for him to go along with his original plans to euthanize himself.

It would have been too Hollywood for him to change his mind, I suppose.

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I liked that this book was fair to the complexity of mercy-killing. I still couldn’t tell you where I stand on the issue, but I’m glad the author decided to show both sides of the argument without completely vilifying those that believe euthanizing a person is wrong.

As I’ve written in a previous post, most authors nowadays don’t want to write complexity. They prefer concrete right and wrong. My views are perfect and yours are wrong. Woe to all who disagree with me! This books was a nice reprieve from that.

I will not read the sequel, After You, as I don’t think my heart can take it.

But I think I may check out more of Jojo Moyes’ books if they’re half as good as this one.

Writing In Books: Yay or Nay?

I enjoy reading annotations in secondhand books.

I like seeing underlined phrases and wondering why that particular passage meant so much to the reader before me. It gives me the opportunity to wonder what kind of person they were and if, in the improbably event we ever met, we would be friends.

It also makes me consider the endurance of the book’s message and how, in spite of how old it is, it can still mean something to someone.

I, on the other hand, can’t bring myself to write in books.

I tried when I was younger, highlighting certain passages, writing my comments in the margins, etc. But it always felt like I was sneaking into a stranger’s house, leaving sticky notes around their living room and commenting on their wife’s cooking.

Your words don’t belong there, my subconscious seemed to say. This is someone else’s domain. 

The only time I’m able to convince myself to mark up a page is when I’m annotating a textbook. Even then, I do it very sparingly.

What do you think? Do you write in books?