I’m Still Alive and Also Writing Things, or Going on a Writing Bender

It’s been an inexcusably long time since I update this blog, I know.

I try to update at least once a week, but this obviously hasn’t been happening recently. I have a good reason for this, however……

Okay, not a good reason, but it is a reason nonetheless.

You see, I’ve actually been writing recently. Like properly writing. Every day. Ever. Single. Day.

You know, that thing I’m supposed to do but blog about instead. And, to be frank, I’ve been more concerned with this project than I have updating. I’m starting a new chapter in my life and I think this is the start of more serious writing.

I can’t tell you how awesome this has been. I feel like I’ve been training for a triathlon for months and made first place.

This could potentially mean I update every other week rather than every single week. However, I don’t plan on abandoning this blog any time soon. I’ve put too much work into it so far.

I will see you guys later!

*plays theme music*

My time has come.

Your Characters are NOT Your Friends: A Public Service Announcement for Writers

I’ve seen several Instagram posts that say things like “is it sad that my characters are my best friends?” or “I have more conversations with my characters than I do with real people. Is that bad?”

Yes. Yes, it is.

Not because you’re a wallflower with friends that exist only in your mind. That’s perfectly normal*.

It’s sad because this means one of two possibilities: One, you are a horrible friend, or two, you are way, way, way too nice to your characters.

It’s natural to form an attachment to people that you’ve created. People have been doing this for centuries. The problem is when you care too much about someone, you want to nurture them, perhaps even protect them from impending doom.

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You cannot do this with your characters.

If you want a good story, you must put your characters through hell. Kill their families, have their lovers break-up with them, have owls eat their dogs. Nothing is allowed to go their way, or at least not for very long.

Loving your character too much might encourage you to go easy on them, to pull punches. Don’t do this. The best characters are forged in fire.

Another problem you can run into is making your characters too perfect. You want the audience to love your characters as much as you do, so you will have them always put their best foot forward. Problem is no one actually wants to read about perfect characters. Real people aren’t perfect so reading about someone who is takes the reader out of the story, constantly reminding them that what they are seeing is an illusion. And not even an entertaining one at that.

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Lastly– and I hate to break this to you– if your characters were magically able to obtain a physical form and interact with you they would probably hate you.

I’m not saying you’re a bad person it’s just that….

Let’s face it, you are responsible for every bad thing that has ever happened to them. Every illness, every death, every catastrophe that has every entered their lives is on you. You could literally make all their problems go away with the scratch of a pen. And yet, you sit there, drinking your coffee like a psycho.

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I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about your characters at all, if you don’t care then the audience probably won’t be persuaded to either. Just keep in mind that in order for them to reach their full potential, you must keep an emotional barrier between yourself and your creations.

A mother hawk may love her babies, but she’ll still push them out of the nest so they can fly.

Some of them may die, but it’s a risk you’re going to have to take.

*I have been informed that this actually isn’t normal and that most people have friends that exist in the real world. I was so shocked I couldn’t even find a gif that appropriately conveys my emotions. 

My Muse Hates Free Time

Does anyone else get their ideas when it’s most inconvenient?

I think I am at my most creative during the height of the school semester where everything is due and my entire future hangs in the balance..

I’ll be mentally calculating how much time I should commit to studying and she’ll show up, donut in hand, asking “hey, what would it be like if the human race was forced to live under the sea?”

“Now is not a good time,” I’ll say, reading about Metella and how she likes to sit in the atrium.

“What if they were down there for so long that they forgot what life on land was like?”

I’ll pause. “That sounds kind of cool.”

“Yeah. You should totally spend the next five hours thinking about it.”

“I have a test tomorrow in a foreign language.”

“If you don’t write down everything now you will forget about it and you’ll never be published. You will spend the rest of your life working a 9-5 grind. Your soul will become drier and drier until you are simply a husk of inadequacy.”

“Crap. You’re right.”

When I actually have some downtime, however, my muse can’t be bothered. She’ll be out partying with her other muse friends, only to turn up around 12 a.m. to tell me about how she worked out a way to fill that plothole in my last project. Which, of course, I’ll be too tired to do anything about.

Writers aren’t supposed to wait for their muses to show up. They’re meant to start writing and slowly their muses will materialize.

But it’s so much more difficult writing without her. She makes it more exciting. Sure, she doesn’t always have the best ideas, but at least she makes it fun.

Opinion: Instagram v. Twitter

As a writer who is trying to gain recognition, I’ve done what dozens of writing magazines, podcasts, and Facebook pages keep telling me to do: have multiple platforms on multiple social media sites.

This has been a…mostly unsuccessful endeavor on my part seeing as I find social media a distraction from what I really should be doing (a.k.a writing). However, I have found a friend in Instagram, what I once believed to be one of the most self-indulgent websites out there.

I used to think Twitter was my best bet for gaining attention (and perhaps it is) but I find Instagram to be miles superior for these reasons:

There isn’t nearly as much drama on Instagram as there is on Twitter.

Or at least I’ve found this to be true in the writing community. Every time I logged on to Twitter I was instantly flooded by tweets about who was pissed with who. If I were to rename Twitter I would call it Who Are We Mad At Now? It was like being stuck in high school math class all over again. On Instagram, people just take well posed pictures of books, spiral notebooks, or their laptops. Nobody is offended, nobody is being offensive. Everyone is just having a good time looking at cool pictures.

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You can type much more. 

People often praise Twitter for it’s brevity (it being the soul of wit and all), nonetheless, I think that’s how most people get in trouble. They can’t adequately explain themselves in that many words so they often come off as arrogant or uninformed. I much prefer Instagram with it’s (so far) 2,200 character limit. I don’t think anyone needs that many characters for a single post, but it’s good to have that much space available.

You don’t have to constantly think of something witty to say. 

Updating on Instagram is easy. All you have to do is snap a picture of something, make a hashtag, and boom. You got a post. With Twitter I had to continually read and reread my tweet to make sure I wouldn’t offend someone, rework it, and before I knew it, I had spent 10 minutes on a single tweet. This is a colossal waste of time. I would much rather take a photograph of a gorgeous bookstore I saw than try to convince people how smart I am because of who I voted for in 2016.

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If Twitter is your thing, that’s fine. But if you find yourself getting tired of the constant drama and character limitations, I recommend giving Instagram a try. I’ve followed a lot of interesting people this way and I truly believe it’s the superior website if you’re looking for people to communicate with on books and writing.

 

The Suspending of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”

I’ve read recently that Accomack County Public Schools are suspending To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for their usage of the N-word.

If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, you can see for yourself in this exert from “Classic novels pulled from Accomack County Public Schools” :

Earlier this month, a parent voiced concerns to the school board about racial slurs in both of the novels.

“Right now, we are a nation divided as it is,” the mother is heard saying in an audio recording of the meeting on Nov. 15. She tells the board that her biracial son, a high school student, struggled getting through a page that was riddled with a racial slur.

“So what are we teaching our children? We’re validating that these words are acceptable, and they are not acceptable by any means,” the parent said.

Me:

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To those that have taken it upon themselves to suspend these novels, I have one question:

You have read these books, right?

The complaint seems to be that reading the N-word makes people feel uncomfortable. Well, here’s the thing: It’s supposed to.

You’re supposed to feel uncomfortable when you see someone being marginalized in these books. You’re supposed to feel indignant when a man who never did anything wrong is convicted for a crime just because he’s black. You’re supposed to feel angry, sad, sick, etc when you read the N-word.

Furthermore, just because a book has something in it, that doesn’t mean the book is in support of that thing.

For instance, The Dovekeepers has genocide in it. Does that mean it’s saying genocide is a good thing? OF COURSE NOT!!!

Tess of D’Urbervilles has rape in it. Is the author saying sexual assault is okay? NO!!

The entire point of both novels, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is that racism is wrong. That it’s morally reprehensible. That no one should subscribe to this way of thinking.

It’s so glaringly obvious that I’m genuinely bewildered as to how anyone could possibly miss that.

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But it seems as if these people don’t want to look at the big picture. They simply want to obsess over details instead.

Apparently if you don’t read about racism, evaluate offensive language, or discuss why it’s wrong to make judgments about others based on skin color, our checkered past will magically go away and we’ll have always been an accepting society.

Who would have thought it?

Maybe we should ban The Diary of Anne Frank and other books about the Holocaust too because those kinds of books could teach people to be Anti-Semitic.

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Can you name one person, one solitary person, who was inspired to become a bigot by reading To Kill a Mockingbird? One single soul? Do you know anyone who has read this book and thought “huh, racism seems pretty cool, now that I think about it.”

I can see a true racist being indifferent to it or claiming it’s propaganda, but I cannot name anyone who has read To Kill a Mockingbird or Huck Finn and decided to become a member of the KKK.

If you have, send me a photograph of this person. I want to see them. I want to put them on Ripley’s Believe it Or Not. I want them to be poked and prodded by scientists in a laboratory because this sort of thing does not happen. 

I wonder if Harper Lee or Mark Twain ever thought that their books would one day be banned by people who are against racism.

Someone please resurrect Mark Twain so he can write another book about how stupid people are in the 21st Century. I would read it so fast I would tear through it like tissue paper.

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Why You Should Love Unloveable Characters

I hear readers complain time and time again that they cannot get into a story because the character is a “bad person.”Now I can understand not wanting to read something because the character is unbelievable or underdeveloped, but a bad person?

I say “bad people” make some of the best characters. Why? Three reasons:

1. They’re more like us than we want to admit. 

As much as many of us would like to think that our thoughts are squeaky clean and we would never wish death on the person that cut us off in traffic, that’s very rarely the case. What makes unlikeable characters great is that they give a voice to the inner demons that exist inside all of us.

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I get a lot of wish-fulfillment out of watching these characters go about their lives. It’s liberating to see someone who isn’t afraid to let their hair down and screw around with society’s expectations.

2.They’re more complex (and therefore more interesting). 

The writer can’t rely on their MC spewing political correctness in order for the audience to feel sympathy for them. To pen a good character who is also unlikeable, an author has to bestow upon his progeny traits that make up for their lack of niceness. If anything, a writer has to work even harder to write a compelling nasty character than they do a nice vanilla one.

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That’s why behind every unlikeable protagonist is a damn good backstory. I have a great deal of respect for people that chose these types of people to push their story along. You may think it’s difficult to write a good “good” character, but it’s even more difficult to write a good “bad” character.

3.They’re unpredictable. 

If a character is a good one, it’s unavoidable they will screw up and do something morally ambiguous at some point. However, it’s pretty obvious they won’t fall too far, otherwise they won’t be a good guy anymore. This is one of the reasons why whenever a benevolent character is faced with a moral dilemma, I find myself looking at my watch. I already know they’re going to not kill that person, or pick the “easy” choice that might result in harming others.

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But when it comes to an unlikeable character, all bets are off. You have no idea what these people are capable of. You think you know them, then, all of the sudden, WHAM!!

They keep you on the edge of your seat every step of the way.

Which is great if you’re a seasoned reader who has become jaded towards formulaic writing.

A.k.a me.

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Don’t worry. Liking bad characters does not make you a bad person.

It just means you’re more in touch with your devious side.

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A Writer’s Dilemma: The Problem With Conflict

It’s pretty obvious that one of the central components to a story is the conflict.

It doesn’t matter what the conflict is: fighting the Dark Lord, winning the beef cake, or keeping the world from losing its Twinkies.

There just has to be a problem for the protagonist to solve.

I am good at coming up with conflict.

My characters suffer horribly at my hands.

The problem with getting your characters into terrible situations, however, is that, eventually, you have to get them out.

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Sure, it’s easy to say the character needs to overthrow a corrupt government and ward off an alien incursion, but how would they go about doing that? Where would they even begin? Especially when these people have no military training or exemplary fighting skills?

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I expect them to have a clue what to do when even I wouldn’t know how to act in these situations.

There they are, strapped to a chair with a bomb that’s set to go off at any moment. They rock their chair from side to side desperately before turning to me in a last-ditch effort to save themselves.

“Writer!” they scream, “what do I do?!”

Me:

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Eh, I’ll get back to you when the answer comes to me during a 6 a.m. shower. You can wait that long, can’t you?

Them:

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Me:

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On the bright side, maybe if the solution is a surprise to me it’ll be a surprise to the reader as well. Or perhaps I’m just playing one long game of mental hide-and-seek with myself. Only time will tell.

My Novella is a Novel Now

I suspected this day would come. I had just hoped I would be more ready for it.

I realized upon rereading the most recent draft of my latest project that I would not be able to do my characters justice in such a short amount of time.

If I want to tell the story and give it the emotional gut-punch it needs, I will have to increase the length and expand it into a full-length piece.

My original plan was to go big and then just chip away at it piece by piece until it was the right length. However, the longer I write the less likely that seems. The story keeps getting bigger and bigger, the characters have more and more to say. A measly 65 pages won’t suffice.

It has to be a novel.

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But Rachael, you say, what’s wrong with a novel? After all, novels are what really make money. 

Yes. But I am a painfully slow writer. It takes me, on average, two to three hours to write two pages and that’s if I know what I’m doing.

I expected to knock this bad boy out in a month or two. Now it will likely take me over a year.

You don’t understand how many projects I have planned already. Now they will be backlogged forever. Or at least until someone else comes up with the same idea I had and publishes it first.

I love writing this story, but….

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I have another time travel story, a crazy writer story, and a fantasy story all waiting for me to return to them and here I am hacking away at this monster of a project.

Sigh.

Well, there’s nothing for it.

I need to get back to work on this thing, or who knows how long it will take for me to complete it.

For everyone else is NaNoWriMo. For me it’s OhMyGoHoAmIStOnThChMo– Oh My God How Am I Still On This Chapter Month.

Good luck on your projects, good reader. I will need it with my current endeavor.

Rewriting: Once More with Feeling!

I experience a mixed bag of emotions when I’m rewriting a piece.

One emotion is excitement because I’m fixing things I had problems with in the original draft. Another is trepidation because I’m worried that the things I actually did enjoy about my original draft will have to be cut out.

Each thing you change in a story has a domino effect. One little paragraph can completely change the tone.

You have to choose what you change very carefully.

There’s also the humiliation of realizing you actually let another human being read this when it doesn’t remotely resemble what you hoped it would be.

I’m going to attempt to do something I’ve never done before.

I am going to literally take it page by page and rework as much as I can in my favor. Every word I don’t like, every clumsy sentence, every image that isn’t just right is going to get the hedge clippers.

Just the thought makes me want to drink an entire bottle of whisky straight out of the bottle, but it seems as though this is the only method that will make this venture worth while.

How else will I justify spending months on this thing?

My Mind Only Lets Me Write at Night

I am a nocturnal writer.

I have been since I was a wee one, scribbling Fairly Oddparents fanfiction inside of a notebook on a long car ride home.

There have been freak instances when I’ve produced quality material during the daytime, but it usually involves having a magic talisman and whispering ancient languages into the wind while standing on a cliff in Ireland.

You wouldn’t understand.

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Anyway, under most circumstances, if I attempt to make sweet literary love to my novels I usually wind up staring mindlessly at my screen. My brain liquifies and I just start thinking about the universe and politics and getting a job and all sorts of horrible things. I feel this sense of guilt like I should be doing something else. Like cleaning or cooking or paying those things…what are they called? Bills? Yeah, those.

However, during the night time it seems like everything just clicks. The guilt is gone, the apprehension is gone, the boredom of being trapped inside my own consciousness where no one can hear me scream is gone. I’m free to explore my mental domain. More importantly, I’m enjoying myself as I do it.

Sometimes I experience the same feeling when it is overcast and rainy outside.

What is this phenomenon? I wish I could say.

Does anyone else experience this issue, or is it just me?

When do you all write the best quality material?