An Announcement!

Hello, friends!  I hope your November is going well, and that if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, that you’re having a blast getting lost in your story.

However, today, I have an important announcement that’s not related to NaNo.

Drum-roll, please.

*ahem*

I have a new blog!  Which means that this blog, this website… it’s over.

I know, I know.  You’re all sobbing.

everything's got to end

 

It’s okay, guys!  I’ll still be running basically the same blog, just with a new name and a new look.  But same old me.

cross my hearts

 

So where can you find me now?  Glad you asked.  My new website is short and sweet.

acollegewriter.wordpress.com

It’s up-and-running, so head on over and give it a look.  And if you still want to be updated on when I post, hit the Follow button on that site.  (Thanks in advance.)

If you’re wondering why the website change, I give some pretty good reasons over on that blog.  Go check it out.  Basically, I’m ready for a change.  Reasons explained over there.

10 Oh I'm ready

 

Finally, if you’re wondering how I’m doing with NaNoWriMo… that’s also explained over there.  What are you doing still on this website?  The party’s over there now!

Thanks to everyone who’s made my journey on this site amazing.  I hope to see all of you over on the new site.

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ROUGH DRAFTS

Today is Day 5 of NaNoWriMo.  I’ve eaten a lot of gummy bears, drank a bit too much coffee, and written not nearly enough words.  But I’ve having a ton of fun and I’m falling in love with the story I’m writing.  I’m remembering why I’m a writer: I love writing.

However, there’s something I have to remember as I write a rough draft for the first time in, like, two years.  (I’m not counting the half-completed, abandoned writing projects I’ve worked on since then.)

Here’s the thing:  I’ve spent the last six months/ year working on EDITING a novel.  And the idea with re-writing/editing a novel is that you take this horrible lump of story and make it into something that doesn’t entirely suck.  You have a fairly high standard for the quality of the narrative, because it’s a SECOND or THIRD draft.

But when you write a rough draft of a story, it is supposed to suck.

So this is your reminder that you are allowed to have an awful, horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad rough draft.  That’s what rough drafts are.  I just re-discovered this video today by Actual Published Author, Maureen Johnson, and I thought it was a fitting sentiment for NaNo.  Enjoy.

 

In addition, my Brit Lit professor recommended this phenomenal article for us to read.  (There’s a tiny bit of language, but it’s well worth the read.)

I’m sending you all creative vibes as you write or edit or rest this month.  Remember that the rough draft is just you telling yourself the story.  Feel free to friend me on NaNoWriMo; my username is SharpieBeth.  See you all next week!

Last Minute NaNoPrep

Hello, friends near and far!  I’m back from my October Hiatus.  It was really lovely to have some time off from blogging.  I didn’t get quite as much editing done as I’d have liked, but I have done a lot of plotting for my newest story!

Yes, that’s right: the story I’m going to be writing in November.  As November 1st is literally right around the corner, here’s some last-minute suggestions for NaNoPrep.  Other bloggers and writers and twitter users-have been throwing around NaNoPrep ideas all month long, so I thought I’d join before #Preptober was entirely over.  Ya know, for the writers out there who are frantically plotting and planning as the last hours before November 1st tick by.

the clock is ticking

 

1. Write a Synopsis

On the NaNoWriMo website, there’s a place for you to add a synopsis to your novel.  I found that writing a super brief (and not very good) synopsis helped me feel more prepared for November.  Here’s my synopsis if you’re interested:

Lewis Montgomery is fourteen hours from home.  He doesn’t know anyone, and he’s not even sure what building his first class is in tomorrow – and the lights in the bathroom keep flickering.  Transitioning into adulthood has enough challenges, but add in disappearances and creatures that only he can see, and Lewis begins to think he’s going mad.

Katie Atwood is psyched to be a sophomore.  She knows this campus like the back of her hand, and she’s ready for a non-eventful year full of studying and reading.  Then Lewis sits next to her in bio class, and the world goes to hell.  Strange happenings seem to follow this boy like a shadow, and Katie’s not sure if she wants to stick around to find out what’s really happening.

A college campus, some non-human beings, and a boy and a girl who remain platonic friends.

Okay, so that’s a very bad synopsis.  I haven’t written the book yet (duh), but that will give you a general idea.

 

2. Design a Cover

On the NaNoWriMo website, there’a also a place to upload a cover for your novel.  (Obviously, if you traditionally publish, you don’t get to create your own real cover for your novel.)  It’s a lot of fun to have a picture to go with your ideas.  It also helps you visualize your novel as an actual, completed, shelf-ready book – instead of just a bunch of random ideas floating around in your head.

book cover 8

 

3. Make a Playlist (or three)

Y’all know the drill.  If you write to music, a great way to feel ready for NaNoWriMo (that doesn’t require too much brain power) is to create a writing playlist or two.  Or three.  Sometimes it’s helpful to create a couple, each with a different mood.  (“Angsty music,” “epic battle sequence,” “sad music,” etc etc.)

hairbrush

[if you don’t understand this gif, then feel free to unsubscribe.  Just kidding, please don’t.  Rather, do a Google search for “Veggie Tales,” and educated yourself.]

 

4. Goal, Motivation, and Conflict

This is perhaps the most important.  There’s a snazzy writing book out there called GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.  Confession: I’ve never read the book.  HOWEVER, I love the idea: each character needs a goal, a reason for wanting that goal, and something that stands in their way of achieving it.  The best characters are active characters: they’re working towards something throughout the story.  They make things happen.  (As opposed to passive characters, who just kinda react to events that happen to them.)  So part of planning my novel is figuring out what my main characters want, why they want it, and what is hindering them.  Goal, motivation, and Conflict.

Good luck!  Follow me on NaNoWriMo (username: SharpieBeth) and follow my progress!  If you’re also doing NaNo, I’d love to hear your last-minute NaNoPrep tips!

October Hiatus? NaNoWriMo?

hiatus:

[hahy-ey-tuh s] 

nounplural hiatuses, hiatus.

1.  a break or interruption in the continuity of a work, series, action, etc.

(Thank you, dictionary.com for that fabulous definition.)
If you’re a person (like me) who follows any TV series, you know full well the definition of this word Hiatus.  For people who watch certain shows, it means a long wait between seasons that can be quite annoying. *Cough* Sherlock *cough*

Anyways, here’s a little blog post to say… this blog is going to have an October Hiatus.  I want to take some time off to focus on my actual book-writing projects (and on my homework) as well as on some other creative endeavors.

I hope to see you all on November 1st, where I’ll probably have a post up about how great the first day of NaNoWriMo is going and how excited I am for the month ahead.

Until then, keep your hearts in your story and your fingers on the keys.  Good luck.

P.S. NaNoWriMo starts in a month!  Are you lovely folks signing up?  If you’re looking for a buddy, my NaNo username is SharpieBeth, and I’d love you to friend me.  I’m always looking for more friends to sign up for that crazy adventure with me.

gandalf share in adveture

 

P.P.S If you’re super sad that I’m not filling your October with lots of posts about NaNoPrep, feel free to check out all my previous blog posts in the NaNoWriMo category right here.  You might find some inspiration.

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?

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. //