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.)

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Caring for the Writer Inside, Part 1

This is part 1 of a short Writerly Care series I’m starting.  It’s not exactly writing advice, more like advice on being a writer and taking care of the artist within.

Today’s topic: consume good art.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes.

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I’m sure some of you have heard this before, or are at least familiar with the idea that good writers read a ton.  And I agree – I definitely feel like reading fuels me to write. Reading good books (and sometimes bad ones) makes me want to write good books.

BUT.  I also find inspiration in so many other things.

This is the best way I can describe it: seeing good art makes me want to create art.

I love following YouTubers who create things for a living.  I love following artists on Instagram who post their drawings and share their light.  I love songs that blend lyrics and rhythm and notes to make something beautiful and new.

So, this is your friendly reminder that you as a writer need to consume good art.  I have some suggestions if you’re feeling a deficit in your art diet:

1. Poetry

There’s something delightful about poetry.  It’s loud and soft, small and potent.  The words pack so much power in so little space.  I recently discovered Mary Oliver, and I really like her poetry.  I’m sure you’re familiar with some other new poets that are getting a lot of hype.  Go read the poetry, soak in the words, bask in the strength of them.

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2. Music

Browse through Spotify, click around on YouTube, listen to a new genre.  I’ve found that I have a constant need for new music, and it’s part of how I stay inspired.  Expand your horizons.  Try musicals, or soundtrack music, or indie, or country, or rap, or vidoegame music.  Let good music drive you to write good stories.

3. Old Favorites

I re-watched Fellowship of the Ring with a friend last night, and I feel like a new human. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is my favorite movies of all time.  Watching one of these again reminded me just how much stories matter, and how much they mean to people. These movies motivate me to keep telling my stories.

so there I was

Maybe you don’t have time for a 4-hour movie with a friend.  That’s okay; listen to a 4-minute old favorite song that makes you fall in love with being an artist.  Read a chapter from a favorite book to remind yourself why you’re a story-teller.

Consume good art.  Let it fill your soul so that it spills out onto the page when you write.  Take inspiration from the creators and writers and artists all around you.  Find things that you love and enjoy them, and then go create things to share with the world.

And if you need some suggestions to get you started, here’s some things I’ve been enjoying lately:

Music: Dear Evan Hansen (a new musical), A Playlist of My Favorite Soft/Chill Music, Some of My Favorite Instrumental Music

YouTubers (also musicians): Tessa Violet, Dodie ClarkPeter Hollens, Rusty Clanton

Instagramers: Mari Andrew (adorable artist), Inspired to Write (bestest human ever)

Let me know in comments if you experience this too – where seeing some great piece of art makes you want to create as well.  Also, let me know if you’ve found some great music/ movies/ art recently, or what you’re enjoying that inspires you.  Do you have artists you look up to?  Do you have a favorite movie that moves you to tears?  Share your thoughts.

Romeo and Writing

Sorry I’ve been MIA for a while. Life’s been a little crazy. Anyways.

Last semester, in my Creative Writing class, we read through A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver.  This one section we read really stuck out to me:

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If Romeo and Juliet had made their appointments to meet, in the moonlight-swept orchard, in all the peril and sweetness of conspiracy, and then more often than not failed to meet — one or the other lagging, or afraid, or busy elsewhere — there would have been no romance, no passion, none of the drama for which we remember and celebrate them. Writing… is not so different—it is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart (that courageous but also shy factory of emotion) and the learned skills of the conscious mind. They make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen. Or, they make appointments with each other but are casual and often fail to keep them: count on it, nothing happens.

-Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook

This is So. Darn. True.  If we don’t respond when our story asks to be written, it will eventually stop asking.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll get this “text message buzz” in the middle of my chest (figuratively, not literally) when I need to write.  There’ll be this nagging voice saying “sit down and type!

And here’s the thing: the more I listen to it, the louder it gets, and the easier it is to write. And the more I ignore it, the less I am compelled to write.

There’s a big discussion in the Writing Community about the soundness of the advice “write every day.”  And while this advice is clearly not practical for everyone, the idea behind it is solid: writing should be a habit.  It should be done frequently.  It should be a priority (as much as it’s in your control to make it so).

I don’t want to be casual about my writing.  I want to treat it like it’s important.

But sometimes, I’ll run into this issue: I’ll think about writing and then go, “nah, I’m not feeling the inspiration today.  Maybe tomorrow.”  But the fault with that argument is that inspiration is fickle, unreliable.  It’s fleeting, here one day and gone the next.

I don’t need more inspiration for my writing.  I need more commitment.

I’ll leave you with another quote, this one by Lin-Manuel Miranda (via his twitter feed).

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And now, a daydream about inspiration. Inspiration is EXACTLY like getting a star in Super Mario Bros. Exciting, and super rare. You’re invincible for a short time. The rest of your time you’re breaking bricks, you’re navigating pitfalls, you’re living and dying. You’re doing the work. Star mode is not a substitute for skill, but if you do the work, you can maximize it when it appears. So I wish you star mode. And I wish you lots of hard work so that you know what to do with it when it strikes. That is all.”

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Truth and Lies

I’ve been struggling with writing lately.  Am I really cut out for this?  Should I just give up and do something else with my life?  Is this all just a waste of my time?

There’s a lot of voices in my head. (That’s why I’m a writer, right?)  Today’s post is to put them into writing, and then set them straight.  Time to sort out the truth from the lies.

Lie: My writing is no good.

Truth: Some of my writing is bad, but most of my writing is decent and has potential.  And some of my writing is actually really, really good.

Lie: My work isn’t good enough to get published.

Truth: Even if my current WIP doesn’t have publishing potential, that doesn’t mean that I can’t get published.  Hard work and perseverance pay off.

Lie: If my First Finished Novel isn’t good enough to publish, then it’s been a waste of time.

Truth: If that WIP never gets published, it still has taught me so much about writing (and publishing).  It was still an amazing project and I am so grateful for its impact on my life.

Lie: Writing isn’t fun anymore.

Truth: Writing really is fun.  Not-writing-but-thinking-about-writing is awful.  Also, sometimes working for too long on one project makes it dull and boring, but writing itself is something I really enjoy.

Lie: If I don’t have good plot ideas, I can’t write.

Truth: Most of my plot ideas come to me as I write.  The act of writing generates ideas, and the more I write, the more I’ll be able to.

Lie: Sitting down to write is a waste of time.

Truth: Sometimes, I don’t get anything done when I sit down to write.  But most of the time, if I start writing, the Muses will meet me at my laptop.  Sometimes they don’t, but the more I pursue them, the more likely they are to show up.

Lie: I have to wait for inspiration to be able to write.

Truth: Writing produces inspiration.  Writing is hard, but it’s worth it.  Put in the hard work, and it pays off.

Don’t listen to the lies your brain wants to tell you.  When it lies to you, just say “that’s enough of that.”  Get on with your writing and make 2017 a good writing year.

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Unstuck! (Some thoughts on Writer’s Block)

A short story, by me:

Today, after many, many days of not-writing, I made myself sit down and work on my WIP.  But like the last few times I’d done this, I had absolutely nothing to say.

Nothing to add.  No idea where to take this story.

ARRRG.

I tried to write.  Typed a few sentences, erased them, sighed deeply, figuratively banged my head against the wall, and then gave up.  It was like trying to start a car that’s out of gas.

So I gave up and pulled out my sketchbook.

Then I was struck with the impulse to try something new.  What if I drew this scene instead?  So, pretending that I was writing a graphic novel instead of a novel-novel, I sketched out the people, the place, the facial expressions.  My drawings were horrible, incomplete.  But you know what?

It worked.

My brain suddenly went what if —- ?

A new idea emerged.  A tiny alteration to a scene I’d been in stuck on for a week.  That led to something else; a new idea about how my characters relate to each other.  Soon I had a whole ‘nother scene spinning in my head, waiting to escape onto paper.

Very tentatively, I pulled out my laptop again and opened my WIP.  I lay my fingers softly on the keyboard.  I hit a few keys, holding my breath.

I typed one sentence, then another, picking up speed, and then the computer screen faded before my eyes and I found myself in a brand-new bookstore, staring into the faces of my characters, hearing them talk to each other and laugh and –

And 700 words later I’d written two scenes that I was really proud of.

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Anywho.

Writer’s Block comes in many shapes and sizes.

Sometimes it’s lack of motivation because you just don’t feel like writing.

Sometimes you want to write but just can’t because you’re stuck; your story literally will not go right no matter how hard you try.

Sometimes it’s a mix, one leads to the other which leads back to the first, a vicious cycle.

So here are four things to remember when you’re facing writer’s block:

  1. It’s okay to take a break.  Writer’s block happens to (pretty much) all writers, and it’s a natural part of the process.  Sometimes you need to take a break for half an hour and walk the dog; sometimes you need to take a break for two months and read a bunch of books and chill.  Here’s a great blog post that talks about this.
  2. Don’t give up; don’t let your “break” become a goodbye.  Sometimes you’ll sit down at your WIP and get nothing.  But the act of sitting down to try to write is good enough.  If you keep coming back, your subconscious will keep thinking about this story.  Be persistent, because determination and discipline are huge parts of beating writer’s block.
  3. I’ve found the best way to break free of writer’s block is to change things up.  Sometimes it’s writing in a different place, or at a different time, or on paper instead of on the computer.  Sometimes it’s writing something else for a while.  Sometimes it’s drawing a scene out instead of writing it.  Sometimes it’s just doing something new in your normal life that hits you with a moment of inspiration and suddenly you’re back to writing again.
  4. It will pass.  I was a bit concerned when I didn’t write much of anything for week after week after week.  But if your facing writer’s block, give yourself room to breathe.  Then once you’ve taken a breath, come back and try to write again.  It won’t last forever; it will get better.  I promise.

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A Story Burning Inside

In all practicality, I don’t have time to write at all in the next two weeks, because I have more school projects and papers due than I care to mention.  After that, I’m a free person and no power in the ‘verse can stop me from pounding out a new novel.

no power in the 'verse

But even in the waiting time (when I’m too busy doing school), I’m still a writer.  I still have a story burning inside of me.  You know the phrase the money will burn a hole in your pocket?  Well, I feel a bit like I have a story burning a hole in my chest.  It’s inside me and it wants to be set free.  The longer I hold onto it, the brighter and hotter it gets.  It’s a glorious, terrifying feeling.

And as I live my day-to-day life, little thing come up that make me go Arrrg, I NEED TO WRITE MY STORY!  Usually this happens when I see something else wonderful.  For example, Hamilton.

Those of you who don’t know what Hamilton is are sorely missing out.  It is a brilliant, phenomenal Broadway musical about Alexander Hamilton and the start of the United States.  The music is insane, the story is breathtaking and heartbreaking, and every time I listen to it I feel the burn of my story inside of me.

I recently watched an interview of Lin-Manuel Miranda – creator and star of Hamilton – where he mentioned that it took him six years to write this musical.  SIX YEARS.

If this person that I admire and look up to was willing to pour six years of his life into realizing his dream, then I can do no less.  Seeing a fellow writer and artist – and a brilliant one at that – achieve success and touch people’s lives makes ME want to get my work written and published.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, you inspire me.  You make me want to take my completed novel, The Sound of Color, and send it to every agent that will accept my query letter and not stop until it’s published.  You make me want to sit down at my laptop and bleed through my fingertips and not stand up until I’ve gotten my new story out of me.  You make me want to create and grow and be the most brilliant version of myself that I know how to be.

Hamilton speaks to me not just as a person, but as a writer.  Alexander Hamilton wrote and wrote and wrote and got so much done in his short life.  I think this is summed up well in the song Non Stop, with the lyrics why do you write like you’re running out of time?  Write day and night like you’re running out of time? (Start the song at 4:10 if you want to hear it)

 

But it’s not just Hamilton that makes me feel this need to write.  It’s seeing a writing prompt on Pinterest.  It’s talking to fellow writers.  It’s reading brilliant books.  It’s seeing my friends perform Comedy of Errors by Shakespeare.  It’s smiling at the fabulous spring weather God sent me today.  It’s the little details of life, the beautiful moments… those are what make me want to write.

If you folks don’t hear from me in the next two weeks, assume I’m swamped with schoolwork.  But know that even though I’m not writing or blogging, I’m still a writer.  I still have a story burning inside of me.

Where Inspiration Comes From

thought bubble 2Almost three years ago, I had one of those wonderful, fantastical dreams that leaves you breathless.  The type that when you wake up, you try to trick yourself into falling asleep again so you can get back.  Of course, there’s never any going back, is there?

But then I realized that I had my mind.

I remember spending over two hours that day just sitting in my room and creating another world with these characters that I’d dreamed about.  I spent all my spare time that next week keeping up the story in my head, sending my characters on one adventure after another.

Then I started writing it all down.  Soon I opened a word document and started typing, and I turned that dream into a novel called The Sound of Color.  I gave it a plot, more characters, new setting, and a story arc.  I learned that I loved to write.  I got my work critiqued, I re-wrote the first third of the novel, I edited the whole thing over and over, I discovered the online writing community, and I started calling myself a writer.

Which leads to two strange sets of questions:

  1. What if I’d never had that original dream?  Never been inspired to write The Sound of Color?  Would I have started writing anyways?  Would I have still written that story?  Was it God’s plan for me to have that particular dream at that particular time to start me on this journey?
  2. Where does inspiration come from, anyways?

I can’t answer question #1, but I can attempt #2.  I want to share with you different ways I’ve been inspired, and then if you have any cool stories or tips you can leave them in the comments.


Five Things That Inspire Me:

1) Artwork

Soon after I started writing TSOC, I decided to add a picture of my flute to my sketchbook.  I ended up with this:

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Those of you who have beta-read TSOC will know that a magic Flute is central to the plot.  As I put the colors in that picture above, a scene hit me of my characters finding this magic Flute that made all these colors as it was played.  I turned around twice and it was a major story point.

Even as I plan the next novel I’d like to write, I’ve gone back to the drawing board (pun intended), and I’ve loved creating the setting of the Bookstore through drawings in my sketchbook.
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2) Music

You might remember this post from a while ago about music.  But I really want to focus on the one song I mentioned: Arwen’s Vigil by ThePianoGuys.  It was a chilling, enchanting song that I couldn’t help but imagine my two MCs dancing to.  It was a song that brought me back to the heart of their relationship each time I listened to it.  You might even go as far as to say it was the “theme song” for the rough draft of TSOC.

Music has always been central to my writing… it’s a constant source of inspiration, of encouragement.  I even have a writing playlist on Spotify.  (If you wanna listen, here it is, but you need a Spotify account.)

3) Reading.

This should be a no-brainer.  But to prove my point let me say that the novel I’m currently planning (and drawing pictures of) is largely inspired by two fantastic books: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (review here), and The Night Circus (review coming soon).  I like to think of good books as the fuel in the gas tank that lets my writing speed along the highway.  If I go too long without reading, I get stranded on the side of the road.

4) Keeping my eyes and mind open.

You might remember this post that talked about creating characters from real-life people.  Whether it’s an old man across the plane from me, or the sky last night that made me think of my new imaginary bookstore, I find bits of inspiration all around me every day.  A snippet of dialogue.  A picture on pinterest.  A little dreaming and drawing in physics class.  A sunset, a rainy day, a delicious cup of cocoa, a misbehaving horse.  Bits and pieces of new stories surround us every day, and as writers, it’s our job to collect them.

5) Writing.

There have been more times than I can count that I felt like my story was at a roadblock, yet I chose to sit down and write anyways – and in the end, I was hit with a totally new concept, a whole new idea or character or plot point.  (This was basically me throughout the entire month of November for NaNoWriMo.)journal

I’ve heard it said that as writers, we shouldn’t wait for inspiration to strike to start writing.  I agree – often times when I push through the ‘uninspired’ feeling, I find buried treasure underneath.  But one of the most exciting things about being a writer is that “aha!” feeling of inspiration.  The moment when a song, a book, a person, a piece of artwork – or even a dream – latches itself in my mind and turns itself into a part of a novel.  The feeling when I’m laying in bed at night and I have to turn on the light and write down an idea because it’s so breathtaking that I can’t let it go.

That’s genuine inspiration.

That’s what I, as a writer, live for.