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.

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!

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.

Dear First Draft: a Breakup Letter

Dear First Draft,

Remember how I said I needed some time away to think about our relationship? Well, I’ve given myself some breathing room and I’ve finally come to the conclusion that we should see other people.

I know this must be heartbreaking for you. It’s difficult for me as well. In the beginning, our love burned so brightly. I was completely beguiled by you. I thought you were the most unique snowflake in a snow storm of literature. You were so strong, so smart. I’d even go so far as to call you sexy. But now that I’ve allowed our little fling to cool off, I realize that we can’t maintain this relationship any longer.

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For one thing, you’re more gabby than I remember. In the past I was absorbed by your every word. Each sentence was tailored like a tapestry. You were beautiful and intricate. Now that I’ve reread you, you just dither on pointlessly about scenery and give a bunch of exposition nobody cares about. I don’t know why you thought giving the custodian five pages of backstory was good idea. Considering he only does one thing that has any bearing on the plot, this seems more than a little pointless.

Secondly, you’re unstructured. You don’t know who you are or what you’re doing. You’re like a goldfish with Alzheimer’s. You can’t seem to remember what the main character’s motivations are. Sometimes you’re lucky to remember what day of the week it is. You said it was Friday one day, and then the next day too.

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Also, as much as it pains me to say this, your grammar sucks. Seriously, it’s bad. Maybe it was the wine that made me see a comma where a period should have been. Who knows? Perhaps it was my love for you that blinded me to your faults. In the past, I wanted to show you off to everyone. Scream my love for you from the rooftops. Now I want to keep you in a closet where you can’t embarrass me anymore.

This is hard for me to admit, but I’ve been seeing another draft behind your back. I feel horrible about it. Nonetheless, I can’t deny there is more chemistry between he and I than there was with us.

Sure, he has his flaws too. He isn’t quite sure what he wants either, but he doesn’t write “your” instead of “you’re” and he doesn’t talk forever about birds or how much the sun is shining.

I feel like he understands my train of thought more. We’ll be seeing a lot more of each other in the future.

In fact, I think he might be the one.

I know this is difficult for you. But we had fun, didn’t we? It was chaos. It was messy. Nothing made sense. But it was fun.

Though our love has come to an end, I will always remember you. And you will always have a place in my heart…..

And in a desk drawer where you’ll never been seen by another living person again.

Sincerely,

Writer

What Sylvia Plath Taught Me About Perfection

I find it difficult to get started on a new writing project. Not necessarily because I lack inspiration, but I often can’t bring myself to make that first step out of fear I will be dissatisfied with the results.

I procrastinate giving out my work to friends or others for critiquing. I have this undying need for perfection. Every adjective has to paint the perfect picture, the pacing has to be exact, the reader must think exactly what I want them to. But, more importantly, I must be perceived as a literary genius. That’s not too much to ask, is it? Don’t answer that.

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With this in mind, none of my drafts are ever perfect enough to send out. I spend hours languishing over what makes a sentence work, whether or not my protagonist is likable, etc. This is what an artist is suppose to do, but as a result of my concerns, I often keep my writing hidden under a bushel and never allow anyone to see it. I pass up opportunities to enter writing contests and publishing in magazines, all for fear that it’s not good enough yet.

The other day I was researching depression in the library and came across a biography about Sylvia Plath called Rough Magic. I didn’t know much about this poet prior to reading this book except what Plath is, unfortunately, most known for: sticking her head in the oven and killing herself.

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A character I’m currently writing suffers from a similar mental affliction, so I thought reading about Plath would help me gain a better understanding of the condition.However, not only did learning about her help me with my research,  it also assisted me on a more personal level.

Plath was a well-accomplished person for much of her young life. She was a scholarship student at Smith (a very prestigious school at the time) as well as a published author of many poems and short stories. She was also very attractive and laid claim to so many hearts I would need at least three pages to list all of her conquests. Her teachers adored her, boys loved her, she was relatively popular and had a successful life. 

It was never enough for her.

Not only was she susceptible to bouts of depression, she frequently made herself physically ill with stress over her studies and writing projects. She was going to fail her history class (she made an A), her talent for writing was gone (she published hundreds more poems), and if she could not obtain perfection, then her life was over.

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Her lack of faith in her abilities haunted her throughout her life. Each victory only granted her temporary relief from her crippling self-doubt. It didn’t matter how many magazines accepted her work, or how much money she earned. There would always be one or two that would turn her down, and this was what she focused her mental energies on.

 On occasion, she would even experience long dry spells brought on by her negativity, a feeling I’m familiar with (although not to the same extreme). One lead to her first suicide attempt.

While her extreme behaviors were a result of her mental instability, her feelings of inadequacy aren’t unique to sufferers of depression. Most of us feel the need to achieve perfection and seek validation from others. After all, if we’re not the best no one will pay attention to us, right? And if no one pays attention to us, then we’re not important.

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Not necessarily.

We writers need to let our babies out into the world and create as much as we can. Not so people will pat us on the head and tell us we’re a good girl/boy, but so we can become better authors. If someone doesn’t like our work, it isn’t the end of the world. It just means that, perhaps, there is room for growth.

Moreover, we don’t have to be this century’s greatest author and we shouldn’t strive to be. All we need to do is aim to be the best that we can be individually, not compared to the greats or even our colleagues.

So let people see your work in all its prickly glory.

And remember:

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Writing, a Process

For me, a writing project is a Herculean task that requires a stringent routine.

I clean my entire social calendar for the day.

I have a nutritious breakfast complete with a mandatory cup of hazelnut coffee.

I trudge out to the front lawn in my cotton pajamas as the sun peaks modestly from the horizon and stick my finger in the air to test if the wind is blowing in the right direction. If it is not I will watch Netflix for another four hours. If it is, then I will still watch Netflix for another four hours.

Some time later, I settle myself into my designated writing chair and open the Word document. The words stand out like a map to a foreign land that time has forgotten; a network of dead-end roads and crumpled buildings. I am a 19th century explorer trying to make sense out of it all, to find meaning in the disused tools and messy lavatories.

It is difficult to find motivation no matter how many times Shia LaBeouf screams at me.

I minimize the document and check Twitter.

Surprisingly, Maureen Johnson still doesn’t know I exist. 

One o’clock approacheth. 

I check Facebook and learn about the latest social outrage that is sweeping the nation. “(insert celebrity here) said something terrible about (insert group here)! They must be stopped!”

Right you are, random Facebook person I don’t remember friending, right you are.

I spend the next few hours scouring blog after blog for more information on how this event could have been allowed to happen and why Obama did nothing to stop it.

I comb through the comment sections, hoping that faceless strangers will impart some sort of wisdom on the situation. Surely one among us has the answers.

Sadly, I leave each webpage feeling just as lost as before.

I reopen the Word document I’ve left shivering in the corner of my laptop like a neglected child and try to reacquaint myself with the language.

Ok, I decide, maybe this is salvageable.

Ideas break off slowly, methodically like leaves off a dry bough and I decide to run with one of them. My fingers dance across the keys and I’m lost to the blurry nether sphere that is my imagined world. I barely notice the headache that is slowly blooming in my temples.

My momentum is building.

The story is moving.

The gears of my mind are whizzing and churning.

Holy shit, this is actually happening.

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Then, all at once, it stops.

The characters freeze in place, waiting for me and all I can do is type the same sentence over and over like a scratched CD.

What happened? We were doing so well.

I stare at the blank landscape of the next page and my mind goes dry.

Did I already use that metaphor? How the hell am I going to get that character to go into the next room? What is their motivation?

I reread the same paragraph repeatedly as if it’s an incantation and hope the words will magically appear in my mind as they did before.

They don’t.

It’s nearly six o’clock and I’ve written about three and a half pages.

I was hoping to have the entire novel finished by the end of the day so this is rather disconcerting.

There is nothing to be done.

Now is the time to drink and wonder why I wasn’t the one that wrote Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. It makes no sense. Why was this book not written by me? I’ve spent my entire life on the internet, fangirling and secretly writing fan fiction before I even realized that this was a thing that other people did.

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How was I suppose to know it wasn’t against the rules to write about the fangirl lifestyle in a novelistic capacity?

It’s now 10 o’clock at night and the glare from the computer screen is burning my eyes. It’s time to close down shop.

Okay, one more Youtube video.

Now it’s time to go to sleep.

I set my alarm for 7:00 a.m.

Tomorrow, I vow, things will be different. I will be more dedicated tomorrow.

I curl up in bed as calming white noise plays from my stereo. My nerves slowly unclench. The tension in my spine releases. The burning in my eyes from leaving my contacts in too long is beginning to alleviate.

Behind my eyelids something is coming. Something so dim it’s like a tiny flame behind wax paper.

Suddenly…..

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It all makes sense. Everything makes sense. I can see the narrative of my story winding out. The characters motivations are clear and their dialogue is Shakespearean in quality. The plot is well-paced and easily conveyed.

It is brilliant.

I am brilliant.

I fumble in the darkness for a notebook to jot these ideas down. However, I am unable to find one in the blackness that swaths my general area. My arm falls haplessly to my side.

Oh well.

I’m sure I’ll remember it in the morning.