Cheyenne, Wyoming

pizza 2

This is John Green, bestselling author of The Fault in our Stars (and other great books). He’s one of my favorite YouTubers, as he and his brother Hank make weekly videos about nerdy, silly, serious, relevant, and random things. They make you laugh, make you think, and make you want to make a difference in the world.

Oh, and John Green occasionally talks about book-writing. ANYwho, a few months ago he made a video called Cheyanne, Wyoming, in which he brings up something really interesting: the idea of mentally going away while writing.  Here’s the video if you want to watch it, otherwise, just skip down below!

 

I think there’s definitely some merit to this: to write, we have to live in our story a bit. I think this is why NaNoWriMo works so well for so many people: writing a novel in a month forces you to stay in your story for that time without getting out. It’s like signing up for a month in Cheyenne, Wyoming – and you tell your friends and family about it, so they hopefully understand that you’ll be mentally checked out for 30 days.

But what about when it’s not November?

For most of us, we have Day Jobs (or as my friend Amie calls them, ‘Muggle Jobs’) that take up our time.  Or we’re students, and class and homework are our day jobs.  We have family and friends and responsibilities.  We encounter things every day that make it hard for us to exist in Cheyenne.  How do we apply this to our busy lives?

Here’s something I’ve found: the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to jump back into my story. Or on the flip side, if I write every day, it’s so simple to climb into my story when I sit down to write.

That being said, the sentiment “WRITE EVERY DAY” tends to make me angry, because it implies that if you miss a day of writing, you can’t be a writer (which is NOT TRUE). But if we look at the heat behind it – that to stay mentally connected with your story, you have to visit it frequently – then I think we’ll learn a lot.

I traveled a lot this past summer.  I visited two different continents (Europe and Asia), three different states in the US (Virginia, New Hampshire, and Vermont) and flew over 23,000 MILES.  It seemed like I was gone more than I was home. But now I’m home, and settled, and ready for somewhere new.  I’m packing my bags for Cheyenne, Wyoming. Anyone wanna come?

Advertisements

Write Around the Block

If you’ve been a writer for any long period of time, you know about the infamous writer’s block.  You know this foul beast manifests if many different forms, and strikes when you least expect.

It’s a shape-shifter, changing its dark shape into different beasts.

you understimate my power.gif

For example, there’s “I don’t have any time to write,” writer’s block.  Or the “I want to write but I end up just staring at a blank screen” type of block.  Or the “every time I sit down to write, Facebook magically opens and I get sucked into a black hole of puppy videos and political posts.”  I’m also well acquainted with the “I don’t like this book anymore” block, or the “My characters won’t talk to me” writer’s block, or even “There’s not enough tension,” writer’s block.

But for me, I’ve found that the monster most often rears its ugly head in this form: “I don’t know how to write this scene that I’m working on.”  I’ll get trapped in this one chapter or this one plot point and feel like I HAVE TO WRITE THIS SCENE BEFORE I CAN MOVE ON.

This form of writer’s block usually makes me feel like I can’t write.  It’s debilitating.  For some forms of writer’s block, the solution is to take some time off, take a shower, go for a walk, read a book, etc.  But for this type of writer’s block, I’ve found the most helpful thing for me is to write around the block.  Sometimes I can power through, and write the scene anyways – like once I laboriously start typing a few sentences, I find I can type a few more.  More often, however, I’ve found it’s easier to just start a new scene.  Skip the troublesome one and come back to it later.

If I have no idea what’s happening in this chapter, but I can perfectly visualize a scene from next chapter, it’s a lot more time efficient to write that NEXT SCENE.

Don’t spend days or weeks not-writing just because you can’t fix one scene.  Move on, write something else, and come back.

Other tricks to try if you’re stuck on a particular scene:

  • Talk it out with a friend.  Usually just talking it out will help clear your head, even if your friend is super confused about what you’re telling them.
  • If you don’t have a friend readily available, try discussing the problem with your dog.  Or you can even try turning on your phone’s voice recorder and just talking about it aloud to your phone.
  • Try writing it longhand instead of typed.  (Or vice versa if you normally handwrite your story.)
  • Make a list of things that could happen in that scene.  Start with what you think is going to happen, and add in some unexpected.  Then pick your favorite parts and try writing from there.

Hope this helps!  I’d love to hear your thoughts on writer’s block and its different forms.  Also, if you have any tried-and-true methods of getting around it, leave them in comments below!

A College Campus

Hello my lovely writers!  Sorry it’s been a while.  The fall semester just started up here in the US, and I’ve been a little busy.  This is the third week of classes me, which my friends and I affectionately call “death week” – it’s the week when all the first papers are due, every class suddenly has ten homework assignments, a quiz, and fifty pages of reading, and oh by the way you have an exam next week so START STUDYING!

I’m actually pretty on top of my homework-game.  Not so much the writing-game, but, you know, priorities.

she needs to sort out her priorities

Anyways, if it’s been a while since you’ve been on a college campus, let me tell you: it’s an amazing place for writerly inspiration. 

I’ve said before that I view characters as a jigsaw puzzle of details.  Well, if you need some details, look no further than your college campus (if you live on one).  The extraordinary and strange surround us every day in the form of sleep-deprived young adults and strangely-purposed buildings.

Here are some examples from the few weeks I’ve been back on campus:

  • The guy in the coffee shop at 10pm, bare feet proudly displayed
  • The lady in the library whose office has about two hundred books, a spinning wheel, and a beautiful vintage bicycle
  • The guy in a sports jersey watching a football game alone in an empty lounge, standing and pacing as he watches.  His team scores a goal, and he jumps into the air, complete with the fist punch and cry of victory.
  • The girl with twenty body piercings who is the most gentle, quiet, Hufflepuff-like person I’ve met
  • The guy who skateboards around sitting down on his skateboard
  • The professor who curses a lot, has tattoos up his arms, and is passionate about medieval literature
  • The guy who, no matter the weather, is always wearing a trenchcoat
  • Those two girls that you always see together, no matter what.  Do they never get tired of each other?
  • The guy who can’t help but put his feet on the table in class
  • The girl who snorts when she laughs, even when in class

It’s not just people, it’s places, too:

  • The coffee shop with green and black walls, abstract paintings, and metal chairs that feel like they’re from the 80’s.  Also purple couches, mirrors along one wall, and low, pulsing music that makes you want to dance a little.
  • The oldest building on campus, with narrow, catercorner halls and no elevator and little half-staircases every fifty feet.  It smells like a mixture of old carpet and old books, and it’s very easy to get lost in.  Unmarked doors that seem to lead to Nowhere or Narnia.
  • The little courtyard and fountain, with wooden benches and flowers around it.  If you walk there early in the morning, it feels like you’ve just missed the fairies.
  • The quiet section of the library, back where the endless rows of books stand – a place where whispers earn glares, and it feels like if you make too much noise you’ll wake the furniture.
  • The whole campus on a Sunday morning: quiet and empty; a city with sunshine and birds but no people.

College campuses are fun places to be most of the time.  I’d love to hear your experiences at university if you have any unusual ones to share.  Don’t forget: inspiration walks around you every day, not matter where you go.  (It’s just a little more obvious – and more strange – on a college campus.)

Not Just a Writer

Let’s talk identity.  Let’s talk self-esteem, self-worth, labels, and life.

The first year or so after I started writing, I found it a terrifying thing to try to talk about my writing.  What would I say?  How do I explain that I’m writing a novel?  How do I talk about my story?  What do I say when people ask “so, what’s your book about?”  My little novel felt like something so personal, like a dark secret that I couldn’t share with anyone I knew.  (Sharing with strangers online to get my work critiqued was oddly unfrightening.  The opinion of strangers mattered much less to me than the opinion of friends or acquaintances.)

It took me a long time to be comfortable sharing with people the fact that I am a writer. But eventually, I learned how to bring it up in conversations.  How to give a few-sentence synopsis of my story when people asked what my book was about.  How to deal with people’s response to me saying “I’m writing a book.”  I was ready; I’d made it.

I was ready to call myself a writer.

When NaNoWriMo came along, I posted about it on Facebook.  I updated a couple times, sharing bits of my writing journey.  When I finished editing my first novel, I even got so bold as to letting friends read my work.  *gasp*

And then I got to the point where it /maybe/ went too far.  I started to find my identity in being a Writer.  *I* was working on getting published.  *I* had written two novels.  *I* was an Amazing, Outstanding, Uniquely Awesome type of person whom everyone should admire.

And then –

Life got busy, and I stopped writing as much.

I decided I probably didn’t want to publish my first novel.  (The simplified version is that I outgrew it.)

Another story idea that I’d run with for a while didn’t want to be made into a novel.

Suddenly, I wasn’t the “Ideal Writer” anymore.  And that made me feel not-so-great.

What if I never got published?  What if I never finished this WIP?  What if I just never sat down to write again?  What if life is just too busy for me as an adult?  What if _____?

You know what?  It doesn’t matter.

You see, my self-worth as a human has never been based on the fact that I’m a writer.  Sure, writing has brought me a lot of joy and fulfillment and made my life better and more interesting.  It’s introduced me to new friends and taught me about hard work and perseverance.  But my value as a human being has never been, and never will be, tied to my writing.  I am not a word-count.  I am not “worthless” if I never publish a book.  All of those ideas are fallacious and dangerous.

My self-worth is found elsewhere.

Someone decided long ago that I was worth dying for.  (His name’s Jesus; he’s a pretty cool guy and I highly recommend being friends with him.)  My self-worth is based off the fact that I’m a child of God, more loved than I could imagine.

As a human being, I have intrinsic value that is not tied to what I do.

Furthermore, I’ve never been just a writer.  I am so many other things, and to describe myself as just one thing would be an oversimplification.

I am a student, studying to get a degree in English with a concentration in Secondary Ed, so that some day I can pass on to others my love for literature, stories, and semi-colons.

I am a book-lover, one who finds pieces of herself scattered across the pages of a hundred different stories.

I am a nerd, one who uses Doctor Who and LOTR quotes to relate to the world around her.

I am a creator, one who finds joy from writing blog posts and making videos and drawing fanart and making cards for people and touching the world in little ways.

I am a friend, one who will support people through literally whatever life throws at them.

I am a (novice) musician, one who finds peace and joy from learning to play an instrument.

I am an equestrian, one who has studied the Silent Language of horses, and can speak back to them in their own language.  When I ride a horse, we do not walk or trot or canter – we fly.

I am a traveler, one who has seen bits and pieces of the world, and has caught a bit of Wanderlust, wanting to see more of the planet I live on.

And yes, I am also a writer: one who turns caffeine into stories, who dreams things into existence, whose fingertips on keys bring unrealities to life.

I am a complex human, and putting pressure on myself to write so that I have value is neither healthy or helpful to my writing process.

 

Okay.  I think that is all for now.  Remember that your self-worth does not come from what you do, and that you should write because you want to, not because you feel like you have to.

Set Loose a Dragon

As I write and re-write this novel, I’m constantly drawing on the wealth of information that I earned while writing my previous novel(s).  I’m especially struck by the idea of tension, and how to use conflict and tension to build suspense and draw the reader into the story.

You see, when I first started writing, I just wrote whatever came into my mind for my characters to do.  They’d go places and do things and generally have a grand old time until the Big Baddie showed up towards the end.  I couldn’t figure out why my story felt slow and floppy, like nothing was happening.

And then I read this blog post:

Micro Tension

…and my whole life changed.

I realized that every chapter in my story should buzz with tension.  Besides just the BIG PLOT tension, there should be secondary conflicts and plot arcs, and even tertiary ones as well.  My story should be layered, full of smaller problems for my characters to face as they work towards the Big Problem of the story.

In the aforementioned blog post, the writer suggests taking basically every scene and stripping it down, looking for ways to up the stakes and up the tension.

So.  I learned all of that while editing my last novel, trying to go back and add tension and conflict into the weak parts of my story.

It’s been so great to know about tension as I write THIS novel.  For example, this past week, I was writing a scene where two characters meet in person for the first time.  Already pretty high tension, but then I was thinking: what if I added a dragon?

I was setting out to write this scene, thinking, what else could go wrong?  So I set loose a dragon.  A baby dragon stows away in the main character’s backpack, and gets loose just as the two characters are meeting.  She causes a bit of chaos, making the whole scene 100% more interesting and tension-charged.

So that’s my advice for you: if you’re feeling bored with the chapter/ scene that you’re working on, try upping the stakes.  Or creating a misunderstanding between two characters.  Or making something unexpectedly go wrong.  Or setting loose a dragon.

 

The Actual Process of Novel-Writing (told with 10th Doctor gifs)

A lot goes into writing a novel.  Different authors do it different ways, and there’s no “right” method of bringing a book to life.  Today, I thought I’d just lay out the process that I go through to write and edit a novel, from first dream until finished product.  Also, I just finished re-watching seasons 1 through 4 of Doctor Who, so… here’s some David Tennant gifs for your eyeballs to enjoy.

1. The Dream

My novels usually begin with an idea.  I’ll be minding my own business doing something, and BANG!  Out of nowhere, a story idea shows up and is just like, “hello.  I’m your new novel.”

hello 10.gif

My novels seem to start with characters.  Usually a character or two and a scene or two.  It’s a mad bunch of brainstorming and dreaming and going, “this is gonna be AMAZING.

 

2. The First Draft

Usually, there’s a bit of time between the FIRST IDEA and the First Draft.  I gather my strength.  I stockpile caffeine and twizzlers.  (Sometimes, I wait for November and a good old NaNoWriMo.)  Then I buckle down and write, pretty fast and messy and furious and rambly and incredibly fun.  It’s like, ALLONS-Y, THIS IS IT!  ROUGH DRAFT TIME!

ALLONS-Y.gif

 

3. The Second Draft (Aka The Re-Writes)

After another break in time, I’ll buckle down and start on the Second Draft.  I being by reading through the entirety of my messy manuscript, making notes and trying to work out a plot.  Usually, I realize that I need to re-do about a third of the book.  I generally end up writing about five brand new chapters.  So I write new scenes and edit old ones, stitching together the narratives, brainstorming and trying to figure out how the plot points all fit together.

Oh! NO! YES!.gif

 

4. The First Round of Edits

After another little break, I read over the entire novel, focusing on the Big Stuff.  Plot points, character arcs, and overall flow.  I change stuff around if I need to, and fix obvious issues.  Do I focus on sentence structure or passive voice or adverbs yet?  Nope.

10 no.gif

That all comes later.  The First Round of Edits is for BIG fixes only.

 

5. The Second Round of Edits

This edit is for the Smaller Stuff.  Usually I like to print out my manuscript at this point, as it’s a lot easier to see my flaws on paper than on the screen.  This is where I focus on using strong verbs, making sure my dialogue is tight, touching up the setting, and examining things on the paragraph and sentence level.

Oh look at that.gif

 

6.  Getting Critiques/ Reviews/ Beta Readers

At some point, it’s time to get my work critiqued.  For my first novel, I actually got my first critiques a lot earlier (which I highly recommend for your first novel).  But now that I’m an “experienced writer,” this is when I start to let people read my work and get feedback on it.  So I SEND IT OUT!  BETA READERS!  CRITIQUE CIRCLE!  WRITER’S CLUB!  MY MOTHER!  MY BOOKISH FRIENDS!  RANDOMS STRANGERS ON THE STREET!  Everyone who will read it.  I get feedback.  Ask questions.  Take the helpful suggestions and leave the rest.

10 hmm.gif

 

7. Repeat Steps 5 & 6 Indefinitely, Until I Either Hate My Novel or I Get it Published.  Also, Move on and Write New Novels!

I keep editing and getting feedback until I’m ready for submitting to an agent.

10 Oh I'm ready

(And then realize I wasn’t actually ready, and work on it some more, and finally decide to move onto new writing projects instead.)  Also, the process of publishing is something entirely separate from the process of writing and editing a novel, so I’ll save that one for another blog post.

// I’d love to hear if your writing process resembles mine at all!  Also, who’s your favorite Doctor?  What do you think of the 13th being a female?  How’s your writing going?  Leave a comment and let me know!  Also feel free to check out the Guest Book and introduce yourself and leave a link back to your own blog. //

 

Just a Little

In the past four or five days, this is all the writing I’ve done:

Tuesday: 75 words

Wednesday: 73 words

Today: 315 words

These numbers might not look that impressive.  But each of those numbers represents a small victory for me.  None of those were days I wanted to write.  I felt uninspired, unsure, and a little annoyed.  Will this book ever end?  Will it ever be publishable?  Why am I even doing this?  Where is this plot going?

After writing another 75 words today, I was ready to close my laptop and call it quits for the day.  But I didn’t.  I decided to write one more sentence.  And then that spawned the idea for another sentence.  Three paragraphs later, I feel like I’ve finally written myself around the little wall of writer’s block that’s been in my way all week.  I got through the hard scene, and now I’m onto the exciting one.  Now I have a new idea to work with when I write tomorrow.

The longer I’m a writer, the more I’m learning that I need to push myself to work on my novel every day that I can.  And the more I do that, the easier it is to write.

So don’t stress if you can’t write 1,000 words every day.  Make yourself goals and try to stick to them.  For the next week, my goal is to write something on my novel every day.  It doesn’t have to be a ton, but I’m going to try to write consistently every day, even if it’s just a little.