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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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!

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.

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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.

Why I Love Typewriters

A few weeks ago, I bought an Underwood typewriter at a garage sale for $20.

The S and A keys are almost entirely rubbed out, the keys stick sometimes, and the space bar doesn’t work.

I love it.

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I’m hoping I’ll be able to get it working somehow, but I’m just content to punch the keys and watch as the letters appear on the page in front of me for now

Typewriters have been increasing in popularity among creatives, and it’s easy for me to see why.

“Why would you want to use a typewriter?” you might say. “They’re noisy, heavy, and you can’t delete anything. If you mess up you have to start all over again. Only a dumb hipster would want a typewriter.”

Here’s why you’re wrong:

Typing Is More Enjoyable 

It’s fun for me to type on my Macbook and listen to the click clack noise the keyboard makes. But I can’t deny there’s something infinitely more exhilarating about punching the keys of a typewriter. The ching ching ching sound it produces while you’re keying as well as the inner mechanisms working in tandem with you makes you feel like you and the machine are connected.

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I enjoy using my laptop and it’s many functions, but when they replaced the typewriter with a computer, they left out one key ingredient: intimacy. When you’re working on a typewriter, you can see the process being carried out right before your eyes.

You feel just as vital to the process as the ink and paper indicator.

No Distractions

Some people would say that one of the typewriter’s weaknesses is that it can only type. However, I would argue this is to a creator’s benefit.

In an age where people are constantly bombarded with distractions, it’s never been easier for people to procrastinate. When a character isn’t doing what you want them to do, or plot threads isn’t coming together, it’s so tempting to check your email.

And if you check your email you have to check Facebook.

And if you have to check Facebook then you have to click on a funny Youtube video a friend shared, and etc, etc, etc.

Using a typewriter is like being on a first date with the person you’ve had a crush on for months. Your entire focus is on what is directly in front of you, and what you’re doing. Nothing else matters but the task at hand. 

Brain Exercise

I used to be a good speller, then everything changed when the Word Processing Nation attacked.

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Suddenly, I didn’t have to be a good speller anymore. All our essays were suppose to be typed on a word processor that knew how to spell the word for me. Since my brain found no use in learning proper spelling, I stopped internalizing.

A typewriter actually depends on your own spelling abilities, forcing you to exercise your brain. I’ve noticed this when I’ve written stories out long-hand and it’s definitely applicable to the typewriter. When I spell a word out without the help of spellcheck, it’s strangely liberating.

At least when the robots overlords take over, I’ll know how to spell “acquiesce.”

Low Maintenance

It took me a while to get the typewriter tape I ordered off Amazon to load up into my Underwood, but when I finally hooked it on correctly I felt accomplished.

It could be a pain at times just because I’ve never had to learn to operate this type of machine before. But looking back on it, it’s a lot easier (and less expensive) to try fixing up an old typewriter than an old laptop.

In fact, after a certain point, laptops inevitably crap out and you’re forced to shell out hundred or thousands of dollars to replace it

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Typewriters don’t really have this issue.

All you need are a few parts and it should be good to go.

There are plenty of videos on Youtube that can help you along the way if you’re stuck.

I’m happy with how technology has progressed over the last few decades. I love my laptop and my iPod, and couldn’t operate the same way if I didn’t have my cellphone.

Nonetheless, when you want to unplug from the rest of the world and just create, sometimes the old ways are the best.

Don’t Want No NaNoWriMo

To a writer, National Novel Writing Month is like the olympics of literature. It gives those who have been holding out on their creative ideas to explode in a frenzy of words and storylines. The goal is to write 50,000 words (the length of an average novel) in one month’s time. NaNoWriMo has gained more momentum over the last few years and it has created a community around it that’s goal is to keep potential authors motivated. There are websites now dedicated to shelling out prompts, forums, and supportive quotes to those that wish to participate.

My Twitter is alight with Tweets from exhausted writers, boasting their day’s word count like athletes about their increased running distance.

I thought about NaNoWriMo this year.But then after a week of it, I thought the same thing I had thought last year, and then the year before that: nah.

I agree NaNoWriMo has many positive attributes:

1. Writers need goal, and NaNoWriMo gives them something to strive for (in this case a word count).

2. It creates a community of authors that can discuss and problem-solve together.

3. It helps authors get the first draft out of the way.

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My contention is that, at times, it can grow a bit competitive. Often in the writer’s quest to “win,” they forget the point of NaNoWriMo in the first place. It’s suppose to give writers an excuse to write instead of just letting ideas fester in their heads. It isn’t about brownie points or seeking self-validation from the approval of others.

I take umbrage with the designated word count that’s required to accomplish the goal of NaNoWriMo, as well. From my perspective, a story needs to be as long as it needs to be and only the author of the story is able to effectively determine how long the story should continue.

I realize that the goal isn’t necessarily to write a ready-for-publication novel in one month, but rather to complete a single draft in one month. Still, this might be too strenuous of an undertaking for most people to embark on in a single month. Most people have jobs, spouses, children, school, and other responsibilities to attend to. While this doesn’t mean a serious writer shouldn’t set aside time to write at least a little bit a day, some people may only have a few minutes to themselves on any given day.

I believe a more effective method would be for writers to create weekly or biweekly goals for themselves. Not necessarily measured in words, but in time devoted to the project. Even if you’re just sitting at the computer, staring at the same paragraph for hours, your brain is working on it.

It takes most writers months, even several years, to write their first novel. It doesn’t make them any less successful or productive. Some people just work at different paces.

I don’t mind if other people find NaNoWriMo useful or fun. If you enjoy doing it, then by all means participate. I won’t think any less of you. However, based on the reasons I’ve given above, it’s just not for me.

Interview With Author Anne Lauppe-Dunbar

Anne Lauppe-Dunbar is the author of “Dark Mermaids,” an award-winning novel about the East Germany doping scandal that lead to the mental and physical decline of many German athletes. Her main protagonist, Sophia, is a East German swimmer whose health has declined to such a degree doctors deny her treatment.

I was given the opportunity to interview Dr. Lauppe-Dunbar while she was visiting the United States on her book-release tour, and I asked her about her experiences as a writer. 

Me: Do you ever get writers block? What’s your advice to those who struggle with it?

LD: Yes, I do. The best advice my Ph.D tutor gave me was “don’t be worried about just staring out the window, it’s actually part of the creative process.” So if your mind is blank and you feel overwhelmed, let it happen. Don’t fight it, because if you fight it you’re pushing against it. Just accept it and read for a bit. Or do a bit of research, or go and read a book about the subject. Or go for a walk. You know, swim, anything. Just don’t try and push it.

Me: What is your favorite genre to write?

LD: Thriller, I think. I like characters, I’m a character writer. I like the type of writing where you feel like you’re inside the character’s skin. We’re contradictory as a species so you’ve got to allow those characters to show that aspect of humanity. I like anything as long as it’s got strong characters in it. I love fantasy as well.

Me: Which comes first: character or story?

LD: Both have to be intertwined. I think if you start with a character and have a story in mind, you can then follow your character and see how he/she reacts to things. Like with my character, Sophia, I tried to make her do something she did not want to do and it was difficult to progress from there. You must let your character lead the way.

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Me: What is the most difficult aspect of writing for you?

LD: Finding time. And then allowing myself the first draft without getting really finicky about it. I have to give myself permission to make a mess. I find that quite difficult because I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I think I went through about 30-40 drafts before I finished my first book.

Me: What advice do you have for people who want to become a writer?

LD: Be realistic. Be aware it’s a very long journey. I think getting published is really, really hard. And some people want the validation more than they want the work to be done. More than they want a challenge. At times, I was one of those people. You get to a breaking point, really. So I would say, you know, you have to look at it as if you’re going to be challenged more than you’ve ever been challenged before. And if you’re a writer, then you’re a writer. Take it bit by bit.

Me: It took you two years of submitting before you were published. Why did you stick by your story for so long?

LD: Because I thought the work was good enough. I never thought of myself as good enough, but the work itself— what I had created outside of myself— was. I had a sense that this work was ready. Sometimes you have to just defy any doubts. Even if you have worries about yourself and you think you’re getting pushed back. Sometimes you have to keep going.

Me: How do you know when your book is finished?

LD: You don’t. Not really. I think that’s normal. There comes a point when you just have to send it out. The things you have to ask yourself are ‘Do the sentences work?’ or ‘Are the ideas coming together?’ ‘If I give this to a stranger, are they going to get that idea?’ That’s the most important thing, I say. That’s when it’s ready.

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