If You Want To Be a Writer, Lower Your Expectations a Lot

When you decide to become a writer, there’s one truth that you must confront at some point: what you write will probably not be as good on paper as it was in your head.

I’ve come to realize this after multiple drafts and constant rewrites of fiction, nonfiction, blog posts and etc. I know it’s not just me who feels this way. Writers and artists like Philip Pullman and Leonardo da Vinci complain that their work is not a perfect reflection of their intentions either.

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It was Leonardo D that once said “art is never finished, only abandoned.”

So how do you know when to abandon your work?

Well…you don’t….

That’s what makes rewrites so exciting!

You never know if what you’re doing is improving your work or if it is becoming exponentially worse due to your constant attempts at redressing problems that may or may not exist, and therefore you chip away at your metaphorical sculpture until little remains but rubble and a caffeine high you obtained from drinking six cups of coffee in a row so that you could finish this one draft before you begin your shift in the morning at your dead-end job that you applied for to pay for your college loans and keep yourself a float until you get published which at this rate may be quite a long time as you’ve read from multiple sources that the likelihood of you getting your work seen by another human being, even if you chose to self-publish, is ridiculously low because so many people are more interested in making their own voices heard that they choose to ignore the other three million people who want the same thing so now you are all just screaming into the abyss, being heard by no one and eventually you become so spiritually malnourished that you start taking whiskey shots in your coffee every morning just to keep the edge off—

Fun!

But I would suggest getting a second opinion from someone you trust. Someone who reads as much as you do. They’ll tell you if you need to continue or not. And if they think it’s done, consider that it might very well be.

You do eventually want to finish this thing. Then it’s on to the next project. Aaaand it’s likely the same thing will happen all over again.

…….If anyone wants to start a support group, I’m on board.

Annoying Clichés Writers Use (Featuring Adorable Cats)

Women having hair that is waist length. 

Most women I know don’t have hair that is waist length. Do you know how hard it is to brush a monster that long, or keep it from getting caught in everything? Mine only went down to my shoulder blades and I had to chop it all off because I kept getting it stuck in doorways. There’s also the grooming and upkeep you have to take into consideration. Who has the time to blow dry and style that much hair? Not most people.

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Hooman bed is best bed 

People with gray eyes. 

In my twenty plus years of existence, I have met maybe two people that have gray eyes. It’s an even rarer eye color than green. So why do I keep coming across people in books with gray eyes? It seems like every other character in books these days have them. It’s like some writers can’t find a more creative way to describe their characters. I don’t know. Give them a beauty mark or something, a scar, anything else but gray eyes.

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Rawr

People biting their lips/digging their nails into their palm so hard they bleed. 

Out of all the clichés I’ve mentioned thus far, this is one of the most annoying. Particularly because nobody does thisEVER. I’ve even tried to do this myself. Whenever I come across a passage like this, I purposely dig my fingernails (which are long and kind of sharp) into the palm of my hand as hard as I can. It leaves an imprint, but it  has never come close to breaking the skin. Same goes with my lips. Nothing. Even if your lips are the consistency of rice paper, they probably won’t bleed. So why does this cliché even exist?

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I can haz milk, hipster hooman? 

Author/character filibuster. 

What’s more fascinating than a writer/character stopping the novel to tell us what the moral of the story is? Literally anything else. I get that dialogue in a book can’t always sound perfectly natural, but it takes a reader out of the moment when you give a character a speech that goes on forever. Nobody can give a speech that detailed on the fly. It doesn’t flow well with the rest of the story either.

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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Giving My Blog a Makeover

After over a year of the same theme, I thought I might try something a little more bold as far as my blog’s template is concerned. I’m not sure how people will respond to it, but I believe it’s an improvement over the original.

My attempt was to look a little bit more professional and I believe I have accomplished that goal.

Don’t worry, I will continue to be hopelessly ridiculous and overuse memes in a vast majority of my posts. The homepage will just look much more attractive as I do so.

I won’t lie, I’m also hoping to expand my readership a bit. My goal is to draw in more people who will listen to my ramblings on books, writing, and nerd culture in all its manifestations (mostly Doctor Who…okay, so far it’s only been about Doctor Who in the nerd department, but I intend to broaden my horizons).

I hope you’re all having a great night.

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?

JK Rowling and the Inability to Let Go of Harry Potter

A fair amount of people are giving JK Rowling grief about constantly making amendments to the Harry Potter series. While I can understand where they are coming from (and heartily disagree that Hermione and Harry should have gotten together), I can’t entirely blame her for not wanting to leave the Wizarding World forever.

I mean, think about it. Really think about it.

If you’d spent years and years mapping out a fictional universe comprised of hundreds of characters with intricate backstories, laws, spells, social norms, and history, would you want to wash your hands of it forever?

Especially when said world has brought you millions of dollars and world renown? I wouldn’t. I would beat that dead horse until its corpse was drilled into the earth’s mantle.

But we know it’s not just the money that is a motivator. She earned pennies for her Cormoran Strike novel when she wrote it under a pen name (well, until it was let slip that she was the genius behind it) and she has given away a substantial amount of her earnings to charity.

I believe the main culprit is she’s simply lived in Harry Potter’s universe so long to leave it would be like forsaking a part of herself.

I can respect that. I think all of us have spent many years of our lives in the Wizarding World and would not want to completely abandon it.

It can be difficult for an author to know when you should give it a rest. It’s like Leonardo da Vinci once said, “art is never finished, only abandoned.”

How do you know when to abandon your baby?

Perhaps there will never be a definite answer.

All I know is that nothing Rowling could add would destroy my view of Harry Potter. He is safely hidden away in my broom closet where no overzealous JK Rowlings or fanfic writers may hurt him.

I have wonderful memories of reading HP books and watching HP movies, and no one can take them away from me.

Just remember, JK may be able to rewrite HP on the page, but she can never rewrite it in our hearts.

Also, Hermione x Ron forever.

Fight the power.

This is a Story about YOU: a Documentary

A few weeks ago, I was given an assignment to create an autobiographical piece for my documentary class.

No big deal, I thought. I talk about myself on my blog all the time. Producing a 10 minute video over a subject I know intimately should be no struggle.

It is such a struggle.

I’ve amassed a pretty impressive collection of B-roll (a supplemental or alternative footage intercut with the main shot), but I am completely blanking on what to write for my voice-over narration.

I decided that the scope of the video should be over my writing. However, writing has encompassed so much of my life, it seems nearly impossible to cover the things that have influenced my craft.

Because everything has impacted my writing: relationships, moves, friends, adventures, boredom, books, journals, good days, bad days, age, etc.

There are so many moments, too many to count, that have changed how I view the world. However, I can’t, nor should I try to, address every instance. For one thing it would be too long, for another it would be too boring.

Melodrama is also a factor I am trying to avoid.

Nothing is worse than watching a self-indulgent cheese-fest for 10 minutes while trapped in a classroom for over an hour.

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Nobody cares about your dead parakeet, Judith! No one!

Well, time for screenwriting attempt number 300.

Anyone have a tragic background story they aren’t using?

Word Count Goals

I see tweets all the time about writing goals. Goals are good. Goals help motivate. But I’ve never been good at them.

Deadlines help but I still struggle to meet them. A friend of mine gave me a deadline for two weeks and I think I emailed her the finished project about a month later.

Word goals? Forget about it.

I’ve had enough of those from years and years of being a student, trying desperately to meet the criteria for an essay, that I’m not putting myself though that sort of torture for a creative writing project.

In my mind, it’s time to stop writing when it’s time to stop writing.

A story ends when it’s over.

Usually, I feel that little inkling inside when the story’s events are coming to a close, and I try to listen to that sensation. I’ve never been good with numbers so I don’t take much notice of whether my work is 60k or 20k.

I only care about pacing and giving my plot room to breathe.

Everything else is semantics in my mind.

I’m glad the word count method works for some people, I just don’t think it’s right for me.

Being a Reader in an Unliterary World

Growing up, it was difficult to find people who loved to read as much as I did. Or people who read at all, really.

I’ve always baffled by people who claim reading is boring, and yet spend hours and hours in front of the TV watching reality television.

“How can you read so much?” they ask. “It’s so boring. Now excuse me while I watch a rich woman I’ve never met before have her nails painted following a fifteen minute shopping spree.”

How…how is that more interesting? How? I do not understand.

I defy you to give me a convincing reason why watching Kim Kardashian breaking down over shoes is more interesting than a young boy wizard fighting an evil order with a leader so terrifying that just saying his name sends people into throes of agony.

What also confuses me is how many people seem to take pride in their illiteracy. They’ll gaze at you with a wide grin and tell you  “they don’t read” or “they don’t have time to read.”

Yeah, they don’t have time to read, but they can punch out an entire series on Netflix in two days. You aren’t fooling anyone. 

Besides I can attest to the fact that if you read for maybe 10 minutes a day, you should be able to finish a full-length novel in a month. Bookmarks exist for a reason.

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People often ask me what the point of reading is. Why would you read when you can wait until the movie comes out and see everything rather than having to imagine it?

Well, for one thing, books are longer than movies and therefore have more time for things like character development, setting up atmosphere, and give you the opportunity to be inside peoples’ heads without the use of half-assed voice overs.

It’s also been proven that people who read novels  generally have more empathy than people who don’t. This makes sense to me since most books now are told through first-person. You are constantly viewing things from the perspective of other people.

But reading makes you anti-social, Rachael!

Pop quiz: how long were you on your phone when you went out to dinner with your friends or significant other? Do you talk to people on the bus, or do you just listen to your music? Do you prefer texting as opposed to talking on the phone because it gives you the power to reply later if you don’t want to talk right now?

Pencils down. Ooh. These results are not good.

I apologize for my saltiness.

If I sound bitter, it’s only because I’ve had to defend my hobby countless times. I don’t get why it’s so hard for people to see why I read, or treat it like it’s some sort of ailment  rather than a perfectly healthy leisure activity.

Oh, well. At least Darcy understands.

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Letting My Friend Break My Kneecaps, or Getting Constructive Criticism

I am happy there is someone who is willing to give me their honest opinion of my work. It can be difficult to a) find someone who is willing to read anything, let alone something I wrote and b) find someone who will not pull punches when it comes to problems with plot, story, characters, etc.

I gave one such friend a manuscript for a short-story/novella I am writing and the response I received went a bit like this:

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My characters:

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Me:

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My friend:

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Okay, in all seriousness, it was for the best. Sure, she wrote a diss track on my story, but none of her critiques stemmed from hatred or toxicity. She even told me she liked the story in spite of its many, many problems. Most of the issues she commented on I had seen for myself and agreed with.

I don’t get writers that won’t take any type of criticism. I’ve had many writing classes and in each there is at least that one person who insists they are the next J.K. Rowling and refuse to believe that anything negative said about their work is be true.

The teacher is just jealous or that editor didn’t “get” the story, etc.

This may be condescending of me, but I have a nagging suspicion most of these writers aren’t going anywhere.

How do you expect to get any better if you don’t even know if you’re doing something wrong? Would it be better if your sky diving instructor didn’t tell you how to properly jump out of a plane?

Having a beta reader is undeniably crucial in my opinion. It’s so much easier to see what elements require further explanation, or which characters need more development.

Everything I type comes from my own head so I have the benefit of all that background information. The reader does not.

That doesn’t mean I’m immune to saltiness when it comes to remarks made against my babies, but I have learned that most thought-out criticisms have merit.

In the end, it’s worth all of the blows to the ego in order for my story to become the best that it can be.