Writers Need To Travel

I was hesitant to write this because I know how tight a writer’s budget can be, and I didn’t want to make it sound like everyone has the same opportunities that I have been presented with. However, I feel strongly enough about it that I think I can give it a strong endorsement.

Writers, travel.

If possible, travel to another country.

Take in the day-to-day, learn the stories, visit all the touristy sites, go explore the countryside.

You don’t have to stay long.

Just absorb as much as you can.

There are so many stories I’ve accumulated during this British Isle Study Tour I think I have enough inspiration to last me for several years, if not the rest of my life.

I’ll be blogging about some of these experiences in future posts.

I know I’ve been complacent with updates, but I promise to be more frequent in the future.

 

Wherein a Writer Takes a Break From the Internet

For the past few days, I’ve decided to use one of my hundreds of unused journals in leu of battling my internet addiction in an attempt to crank out a chapter or two. I believe the results speak for themselves.

I started writing about three days ago and I’m halfway through with this journal.

That’s with taking breaks for six or seven hours to hang out with my boyfriend or take care of unfinished business.

While the pages of my journal are smaller than a piece of copy paper, I’ve still averaged about 27 pages a day.

One thing I’ve noticed about writing everything long-hand is the experience feels so much more personal. More than anything, it’s just fun.

It reminds me of back in the day when I didn’t have my own laptop and had to settle for my dad’s ancient brick when he wasn’t using it for work.

In between those times I didn’t have a choice but to use a notebook. I’ve since thrown away most of those away out of shame, but I still look back fondly on those nights when I would go through ink pen after ink pen, working on something just because I enjoyed it.

So I think the best way for me to accomplish my goals is to return to basics. I know I won’t get much “networking” done (I’ll get to that in a later post), but I miss being able to fully immerse myself in the work without the temptation of the internet.

I don’t fixate on word choice or getting the plot exactly right. I’m a boulder rolling down a hill and nothing can slow me down.

I want to write now. I want to continue the story and spend time with these characters. It feels like I’ve been backpacking through a world of my own design. Is there anything cooler than that?

I Made My Characters Steal a Horse: a Tale of Writer’s Block

I have a plan, reader.

For the first time in a long time, I’ve set up a writing goal for myself.

I am forcing myself to finish the first draft of my novel by  May 31.

It’s been a tiring struggle against doubt and writer’s block. However, I’ve reasoned with myself that I must fight onward, no matter how embarrassing the result.

One such result was forcing one of my characters to steal a horse because I had absolutely no idea what to do with them.

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You see, a bunch of intricate and entertaining things are going to happen in this tale: interdimensional portals, hopeless wars, death, and victory snatched from the maw of defeat. Sounds sexy, doesn’t it?

But I am experiencing difficulty with getting where I need to go.

So until the thought comes to me unexpectedly in the shower or while I’m teetering just on the edge of unconsciousness, I have to make due with what my mind produces at the time.

I try to be a plotter, but I’m a panster by heart.

This is my usual process:

Brain: Hey, remember how we spent days and weeks planning how we were going to make the main character do this thing? Yeah, they’re doing that thing now.

Me: But won’t that make all that time we spent constructing a plot completely irrelevant?

Brain: Don’t worry. If you keep at it like this, you should have the first draft done by the time you’re in your 40s.

Me: Sweet! *chucks notebooks used for outlines in garbage can*

I appease myself by reasoning that I can just take a giant pair of scissors to it later if need be. Until then, I guess I’ll have to power through.

My friends can’t understand why it takes me so long to finish a project or why it is so easy for me to give up. It’s likely because my ambitions are much higher than I am allowing myself time for. Instead of exercising patience, my go-to response is to throw in the towel.

Not this time, reader. This time I will make my characters do whatever I need them to, even if it kills them. I will make them search tirelessly, doing all sorts of useless crap until they are able pick up the loose plot threads and tell a decent story.

 

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Who knows how long this story will be in the end? All that matters at this point is that it gets finished.

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.

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.

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!

Writers and the Soapbox Trope

Is it just me, or does it seem like writers are becoming progressively lazier and more patronizing when it comes to writing about moral or social issues?

I’m not talking about works like The Hunger Games where the moral questions are woven into the plot. I’m talking about stories where the author randomly stands on a soapbox in the middle of the story and preaches to the masses.

 In recent years, this style of writing has become so epidemic it is worming its way out of “trope” territory and veering precariously towards “cliché.” Nevertheless, I’ll still classify them as tropes in this post.

Thanks to tvtropes.com I was able to put a name to, what I consider, the three most annoying “moral” tropes that authors (published and unpublished alike) use.

Author Filibuster.

I have no problem with a writer expressing their opinion. I do, however, mind when they bring the story to a complete stand-still just so they can address a topic that will have no bearing on the plot whatsoever. It’s an opportunity for them to wag the finger at some political/religious/cultural norm that runs contrary to their own beliefs while simultaneously holding the readers hostage.

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I read a novel two years ago where everything was dropped so the author could go on a tangent about illegal immigration for several pages. It was never addressed prior to this discussion, had nothing to do with the novel’s overall message, and was subsequently never mentioned again.

It was so pointless when it came to story and character development (it didn’t even take place between two central characters) I was puzzled as to why the book’s editor didn’t opt to cut it out altogether.

It was as if the book took an unnecessary commercial break. Only instead of trying to sell you Liberty Mutual, it was trying to sell you the author’s brand of morality:

“Hello. Are you tired of being a racist bigot? You should be.”

Writer on Board 

This occurs when a writer acts against a character’s established personality, usually by making them act stupid, in order to participate in whatever point they, the author, is trying to make.

For instance, making a character that is against violence suddenly act violent for no apparent reason just so the writer can say violence is wrong….even though that character already knows that.

Or they will force a character to do something dangerous like break into someone’s house for “justice!” even though that person is supposed to be intelligent and knows they could potentially get themselves killed. It’s all to show that we must all make sacrifices for the greater good, in spite of the fact that there are far safer ways of doing so.

 Character Filibuster

Often times, writers use their protagonists as a mouthpiece to voice their own opinions and thoughts. This isn’t always a bad thing. But in recent years people have become horrendously obnoxious with this trope. In some cases,  the character all but pulls down a projector screen to give a lecture via powerpoint, explaining why they are right and everyone that disagrees with them is hateful, stupid, or naive.

How terribly convenient it is that anyone in the story with a divergent point of view is either evil or a complete bastard. It’s not like they just have different life experiences or the situation is more complicated than the main character purports it to be. They disagree with the writer’s—sorry, “the character’s”— viewpoints simply because they are a bad person and for no other reason.

It’s also nice that the opposer is always rendered speechless by the character’s wisdom and never has a proper retort. It saves the reader the trouble of listening to both sides of the argument and forming their own opinion that may differ from the author’s.

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The crazy thing is, I agree with most of the things these writers are trying saying.

Yes, you read that correctly.

 However, I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse for lazy and condescending writing. If a writer is going to address a heavy topic, they should treat it with the gravity and complexity it deserves.

Works that don’t patronize their audiences are the ones that endure and actually help change society for the better.

Re-reading Old Drafts

Is there anything more horrifying than reading something you wrote years ago?

……Or two days ago?

I’m pretty sure if a Boggart were to appear in front of me one dark and stormy night, it would take on the form of the manuscript I wrote in high school.

It was your standard paranormal romance, only with a ghost and psychic rather than a vampire. The genre for the blood-suckers had already been pimped out to the extreme so I was going to write one about ghosts who were depreciating in popularity.

I was so convinced this was going to be my magnum opus I spent literally years on it. I even took it to a writer’s workshop to have it read by a mostly adult audience. Unfortunately, I never finished it because I progressively outgrew the message I was trying to convey.

A couple of months ago, I revisited it to see how I’ve progressed as a writer over the years.

It was unquestionably the most unintentionally funny thing I’ve ever written. That’s including the novel I wrote on a notepad when I was 9 years old that featured a holocaust victim and the daughter of a Nazi general jumped out of a helicopter with no parachute and somehow landing safely on the ground.

I blame Peter Pan for giving me false exceptions of gravity.

When I become rich and famous, I’ll bury all my old writings in a secret tomb underneath my house. It’ll be guarded by a dragon that sounds like Benedict Cumberbatch and speaks only in German.

If there’s anything embarrassing you’ve written feel free to share.

I’ll cry with you.

Writing Withdrawal

The professionals encourage amateur authors to write at least a little bit everyday. However, some days this is not possible.

Unless you don’t need sleep and operate solely on the power of hopes and dreams.

If I’ve had an idea marinating in my head for a long time, not being able to write it down can make me go stir crazy.

Sometimes I’m tempted to grab a receipt out of my wallet, or take a napkin from my glove compartment to jot down ideas in between red lights.

If I’m truly desperate, I’ll talk to myself in the car.

I’m not crazy.

I’m just fabricating an argument between two people that don’t exist.

If I figure it all out while I’m on the way to my 11:00 o’clock class, maybe it’ll all come together by the time I’m able to sit down at my desk and work.

© Copyright 2011 CorbisCorporation

I’ve constructed a fantasy world for myself wherein I am sponsored by a wealthy aristocrat who lives in an actual medieval castle. He wears a blood red robe complete with pope hat and pays me to live in a fancy loft and write all day. I type on a pristine typewriter and everything I create is amazing.

In reality, I have to go to work and obtain a college degree like everybody else.

Not to mention, I’m lucky if the hour worth of work I’m able to squeeze out of every other day is even going to be in the finished product.

The best advice I can give is to take advantage of whatever you have at your disposal.

Jot down a few words on your note app on your phone while you’re waiting in line.

Use your voice memos app to dictate as you’re driving. It’ll be a pain transcribing (unless you also have an app for that), but at least you’ll have more of an idea of what you want to do.

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Always carry a pen and notepad.

Above all else, if you have free time, don’t procrastinate.

You don’t appreciate free time until you don’t have it anymore.