Always Learning

Hello my dear lovely writers,

I’ve just got a couple thoughts for you today.  It’s some things that I’m learning as a writer, and hopefully some things that I can share with you.  Sometimes I think of myself as a Great Master Writer, someone who has learned All The Things.

But when I hush that pride and open my mind to learning again, I am always rewarded.

So, here are some things that I’ve been learning recently:

1) Write for FUN.

I started writing because I enjoyed it.  I started writing because it felt like reading, it felt like an escape.  It was a place to let my imagination run wild, to play in my own world.

Somewhere along the way, sometimes, I forgot why I write.  I think it’s so important – especially as an unpublished author – to write for myself first.  If I’m not having fun writing, it’s not worth it.  (Not to say that every day of writing is fun – some writing days are hard and awful.  But the overall process of writing should be fun.)

Write about things you like.  I’m writing about a bookstore right now and it’s literally my favorite thing ever.  My characters are bookish characters, and they’re so cool to get to know.

2) Write Everywhere.

Sooooo, I’ve started writing in class.  Shhh, don’t tell my mom.  I have two classes this semester that are “I-don’t-need-to-pay-attention” classes.  You know the ones where you’ve already read the textbook, and the professor talks SO SLOWLY, and you’re counting the minutes as they drag by?  Turns out those classes are a perfect place to write.

My Chemistry notebook is now full of story snippets.  I’ll start a scene during class and I’ll come back to my laptop and dorm and type it up and expand it.  It’s so much easier to start a scene ahead of time and have something ready to type when you sit down at the laptop.

3) Prioritize.

I only have a certain number of hours in a day.  If I spend them all on Facebook and Netflix, I’m not going to have any time left to write.  Sometimes I just have to be stubborn with myself and make myself take the first step of sitting down to type.  Then the words start flowing from my fingertips like magic, and I’m so glad I forced myself to do it.

Leave a comment and let me know what you’ve been learning lately.  It always warms my heart to be reminded that I’m not the only writer in the universe.

Sometimes

Today’s post is gonna be a bit stream-of-consciousness.  I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Sometimes, as a writer, you reach a moment when you go, “This story that I’ve spent three years on?  Maybe I don’t want to publish it.  Not because it’s bad, but because I can do  so much better.”  And that realization might feel like a knife in your heart.  It might cripple you for a while.  And that’s okay.

Sometimes, you need to rest and grieve and read read read so many books.  The reading is the fuel for the writing.  Never forget that.

Sometimes, then, you have another story in your brain that wants to be written, AND YOU FEEL THAT BUZZ IN YOUR CHEST OF IT SAYING, “WRITE ME,” so you sit down to write, and you start typing, and-

-and it turns out to be horrible.  It’s not the story you want to tell.  So you say, “Nope to that,” and move on.  And next time you get that dinging in your brain of “hey, go write!” you sit down, and you type, and YOU STILL WRITE THE WRONG STORY.

Sometimes, you have to write the wrong story before you can write the right one.  Sometimes you have to go through 4 or 5 different “wrong” versions before you finally find the right way into your story.  And it’s so discouraging to try and try to write the story that’s looming before you, but it just. keeps. going. the. wrong. way.

But then, when the moons are aligned and the writing gods are kind, you try once more and suddenly, click.  You’ve found your way into your story.

Sometimes, being a writer is really, really hard.  It’s like walking around in iron boots all day, because why can’t my story just GO THE WAY I WANT IT TO?

But those days aren’t endless.  And sometimes, sometimes, writing is the most rewarding thing in the universe.  When you find your way into your story, it is the best feeling.

“Sometimes, writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.”  -Rainbow Rowell, Fangirl

I am a writer for the days when the words come on their own.  When it feels like I am discovering a story instead of creating it.  When my fingers fly on the keyboard, trying to keep up with my brain.  When I write 1,500 words without breaking a sweat, and feel like a weight just dropped off my shoulders.  I write for the feeling of being lost in a world that belongs to me, for the glorious rhythm of letters and words and sentences being punched out by my fingers.

So I’ll push through the rough days, because they give way to the good ones.

NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul (or was it the election?)

Just kidding.  I don’t have a soul.

Hahahaha…

See, this is the type of dark humor I’ve been reduced to.  Thanks, NaNo.

In the first 7 days of November, I wrote over 11,000 words.  I’m surprised my fingers aren’t bleeding yet.

In the first week of NaNo, some stuff happened.

  1. Before November, I plotted and planned for the story that I have mentally named The NightOwl Bookstore, which I have blogged about and bragged about here and here.  But THEN.  A few days before November 1st, I decided it was a great idea to start working on a story I have mentally named THE SEQUEL.  In other words, the sequel to The Sound of Color, the high-fantasy novel that got me started on this whole “writer” thing to begin with.  The one I’m trying to get published.  The one that is my precious child and I love dearly.
  2. So I’m writing THE SEQUEL and suddenly it’s November 1st, and I tell my brain that it’s time to leave my high fantasy world and come write the Contemporary about the bookstore that I’ve been plotting and planning.  To which my brain replies: um… no.
  3. So now I’m writing a sequel.  HOW DOES ONE SEQUEL?  HOW DOES ONE WRITE A SERIES?  HOW DOES ONE -?  How did I manage to write 10,ooo words in 6 days? Impressive.

And then it was November 8th.  The day the world kinda imploded.  You see, I live in the United States.  So I kinda spent the entire day focused on the election and not really on my writing.  And then the next day, I kinda spent the entire day on trying not to cry and not really working on my writing.

So.  If I was to “catch up” today, I would have to write 5,000 words.  Note to self: if you wanna win NaNo, don’t schedule an election skip two days of writing.

I’m not sure if I’m going to try to catch up with NaNo.  I’m also not really sure how to respond to the results of the election.  But here’s the thing: being a writer is about having good days and bad days, and learning to not let your bad days ruin your good ones.  It reminds me of one of my favorite Doctor Who quotes:

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I’m going to be wholly frank: I was disappointed with the results of the election.  But having a future president that I strongly dislike does not negate the beauty of the rest of my country.  There are still a million leaves around my university campus, each a different shade of red or orange or yellow or speckled with brown.  There is still poetry and music.  We are getting two more songs from the Hamilton Mixtape released this week.  Moana comes out in two weeks.  God is still good, and life will carry on.  (And if you’re excited about the outcome of the election, you are fully entitled to have your own opinion.)

Likewise, my two days of not-writing do not negate the victory of having written 11,000 words in the first week of NaNo.  Whether I catch up or not is irrelevant.  The important thing is that I don’t let my bad writing days ruin my good ones.

Wherever you are, election- or writing-wise, keep on.  Set your heart on the good.  Write like you’re running out of time.  And if you need some encouragement, put on some Hamilton.

Alright.  Gotta go do some noveling.

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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Progress in Unexpected Sizes

Remember that post two weeks ago where I promised I was going to write faithfully for the rest of the summer?

Pretend it doesn’t exist.

You see, I’m finding it really hard to write this story.  Maybe it’s because it’s summer and my mind is elsewhere.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been re-reading Harry Potter and I care more about Rowling’s characters than my own right now .  Maybe it’s because I still don’t know what the main story arc is going to be in this novel.

I really like the character and the world I’ve developed, but I just don’t know what happens next.

It’s very frustrating, and I have a feeling I just need to write anyways to break through this block… but I don’t feel like writing.  Humph.

But writing is a tricky sport.

Pretend you play football and you want to improve.  Of course, to get better, you have to actually practice the game.  But in order to perform your best, you also need to sleep, and eat right, and do sit ups and push ups and go running and drink lots of Gatorade.

Writing is the same way.  Of course, you need to practice it to get better.  But you also need to get sleep, and go on walks, and get feedback, and eat right, and hang out with friends, and most importantly, read.

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And I have been reading a ton (blog post soon about summer reads).  So I’m going to choose to view these past few weeks not as a failure, but rather as a refresh.  I’ve been filling up my “words tank” so that I can empty it into my own novel.

The other thing I’ve been doing is working on my querying.  I’ve re-written chapter one.  (Okay, actually re-re-re-re-re-re-re-written, but same thing.)  I’ve re-written my query letter, too!  (Actually re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re written or something – I’m on version 24 right now.)

Annnnnnd I’ve sent these two new-and-improved things out to another handful of agents.

This sounds like nothing.  But it’s actually hours of typing and fine-tuning and checking websites and stalking agents on twitter and nervously hitting “send” on emails that are going to real live agents.

ahhhhhh!

And you know what?  Progress is progress.  Progress is progress is progress is progress.  I will choose to feel proud of myself for the things I have accomplished instead of beating myself up about the things I haven’t.

Tomorrow’s a new day, a new chance to jump back in and work harder and be the brilliant writer that I can be.  Today I’ll go to bed thankful for the work I’ve already put in.

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.

Just Writerly Things

I have about three weeks left of high school, and then I’m done!  But I’ve been utterly swamped with schoolwork this past week, so I haven’t had time to get anything written.  No writing equals no brilliant ideas for a blog post.

But I know y’all are counting on me, so here’s some writerly things I think you will enjoy.  Keep writing, my people!  Hang in there and don’t give up.

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This is such a great tip.


 

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Such a helpful thing to remember when editing.


 

me at bookstore

I need a second job to pay for my book obsession.


 

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This is the most realistic thing I’ve ever seen.


 

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I couldn’t have said it better myself.


 

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THIS IS BEAUTIFUL.


 

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Everyone loves snoopy.

Writing Hiatus – It’s Okay to Take a Break

I have a confession to make: I really haven’t written anything in the past month.  I’ve sent out a handful of query letters and received a few rejections so far, but I haven’t worked on any creative writing.  And you know what?  That’s okay.

A lot of new writers are told they need to write every day.  Like if they miss a single day of writing, they forever forfeit their chances of being successful.  And that’s just not true.

Yes, if you want to be a writer, you have to write.  But no, you don’t have to write 365 days of the year!  It’s okay to take a break.  To focus on other things.  To read.

Because writing is hard.

writing is hard

Often times, when I’m on writing hiatus, I read extensively.  I need that freedom, that refreshing journey.  And that’s okay too!

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Reading is valid and important part of the writing process!  I often feel like it takes reading fifty good books in order to write a single book, kinda like how it takes forty gallons of sap from maple trees to make a single gallon of syrup.

Sometimes my brain just needs a break, a reminder that of oh yes, this is how a good story is told.  This is what a plot twist feels like.  This is how characters are written well.

Or sometimes the opposite.  Sometimes it’s this love story feels shallow.  I don’t want my love story to feel like this.  I want my characters to be deeply connected, not lovey-dovey.

So, my encouragement to all of you out there who don’t feel like you’ve had a productive week – or month – or year:  It’s okay.  Don’t beat yourself up.  Read deeply.  Read books that excite you.  Read books that make you want to write.  Read books that inspire you.  And don’t stress if you miss a day or a month of writing.

But then once you’re rested, jump back into it.  That’s what I’m doing.  I’m ending my hiatus by signing up to write 20,000 words for Camp NaNoWriMo this April.  I’d love to have you join me!  Being with a community of creative people is a great way to start writing again.

So here’s to resting, and good books, and starting up again.

happy Matt Smith

I’m Back! And “Doing The Hard Thing” Discussion.

Hello world.  Have you missed me?  It’s been two weeks, but I’m back.  The real reason I haven’t been posting is because I haven’t really been writing or editing much.

To be honest, I had hit a bit of a roadblock.  One story needs last minute edits, the second needs fairly large re-writes, and the third needs to be written.  I was at a place where I didn’t have the motivation to jump into any project.  I just wanted to sit at home and read and watch TV.

But never fear!  I’m back.  I’ve jumped back in.  I’ve written a brand-spanking-new opening scene for my first novel (it involves sneaking out of a second-story window), and I’m psyched to get the other edits finished this week.  I’m back, and I’m here to stay.

Because I’m not a dreamer.  I’m a WRITER.

Dreamers write a little for fun, but when the going gets tough, they switch to another story, try something different, or simply give up.  But Writers – Writers – push through, keep trying, and write til their fingertips are sore.  Writers will do the hard thing now because that’s what we do.

I think this whole concept is summed up pretty well in a recent VlogBrothers video:

 

So this blog post is a promise that I will keep doing the hard thing now because I want Future Me to be a published author.  And maybe this post will also be an encouragement for any of you out there who have been waiting around for the opportune moment before you get back into writing.  Don’t wait, don’t dream.  Write.

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.