Write Whatever

I’ve had a lot of trouble writing my current WIP.  I feel like I’ve been working on it forever, but I don’t know where the plot is going.  I don’t know how to write a contemporary, I don’t know what the stakes are, and I just feel burned-out when I try to work on it.  I’ve just felt blehhhh every time I sat down to write.  I’d open the world document and just stare at the screen, unable to lift a finger.

So.  That’s fine.  Sometimes, stories do that to us.  Sometimes, they are just persnickety and don’t want to be written.

The important, thing however, is to not stop writing.  If one story isn’t working, and you’ve taken some time off to read and think, and you come back to it, and it’s still not working, (and you’ve repeated this ad nauseum) then it’s time to write something else.

Write something different for a while.  Have another novel you’re writing?  Work on that.  Have something you should be editing?  Work on that.  Want to play around with poetry?  Do it!  Have a song you want to write?  Write it!  It doesn’t matter.  Write short stories, write blog posts, write poetry – heck, if you want to, even write fanfiction.  Do whatever it takes to get your creative-gears moving again.

Sometimes when I hit a wall in a project, my instinct is to just sit and stare at the wall.  And complain about the wall.  And study the wall.  And write blog posts about the wall.  But maybe what I need to be doing instead is writing a different project for a while.

Does that mean I’m totally abandoning this project that I’ve spent so much time working on?  Probably not.  But I’m just not going anywhere with it right now.  So let’s go somewhere else instead.

Which leads me to my other point for today: write what excites you.  I write to escape, to go to a world that I love, to meet people that only exist in my head.  I write for fun, for adventure.  And the novel I was trying to write doesn’t have any adventures.

So, I’m writing other stuff.  I’ve written some really fun fanfiction.  I’ve written some short blurbs and beginnings of stories.  And now I’m working on re-writing/ finishing/ installing a plot into an old novel that I adore and want to breathe life into.  And for the first time in many weeks, I’m excited about writing.  I’m excited to be returning to this other story, to this other world.  It’s a bit daunting, but it’s also the most fun I’ve had with a WIP in a long time.

Let your imagination run wild.  Write whatever the heck you want to.  Adventure awaits.

adventure is out there!

 

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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Defacing Books

Today we’re taking a break from talking about writing to talk about my NEXT favorite topic: reading.  I’m about to open a can of worms with this subject, so let me go ahead say it: I deface books.

Yep.  I underline, circle, write in, draw in, and occasionally dog-ear my books.

Some Disclaimers.

First off, let me say this: I only write in books that I own.  Second, I always leave them readable.  My defacing efforts never hide the words on the page; I want to be able to re-read the books I mark up.

My Story About Defacing Books.

I grew up as a book purist; books were to be treated with respect – partially because I got most of my books from the library.  Occasionally I would underline something in a novel I owned, but JUST IN PENCIL, and I’d be super careful.  You didn’t break spines, you didn’t let books get dog-eared.

Then last year, two things happened:

  1. I was high school student without a ton of money to spare, so I started buying used books.  This meant that now my selves were filled with pre-loved editions, so “shiny covers all in a row” stopped being a reality.  I made my peace with used books, and never looked back.
  2. I watched this video of a BookTuber, and was blown away:

 

I watched that video, and my jaw fell open.  She hadn’t RUINED her book – she had made it into a work of art.  Around this time, I was starting to read the Hamilton Biography by Ron Chernov (you know, the gigantic book that inspired Hamilton, the Broadway musical).  And I decided… that I wanted to write in this book.

I’m not done with it yet, but I’m about half way through and I’ve been having the time of my life getting to doodle all over those wide margins.  Also, Chernov has a way with words that makes it really fun to write out some of his phrases.

Soon I started on other books.  Now I’ve written in a handful, but so far I’m only writing in certain books – ones that mean a lot to me.  Ones that I want to turn into works of art, ones with humor I want to underline for future reference, ones that have touched my soul. For example, I’ve tabbed my favorite parts of The Fault in Our Stars, because it’s a book I quote a lot and I want to be able to find my favorite quotes more easily.

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The other book I started to deface is my edition of the Narnia Books.  (It’s a 7-in-1 hardback edition that is really nice.)  Here’s some of what I’ve done:

Dispelling Some Haters.

I can hear the Book Purists.  NOOOOO, you can’t abuse your books like that!

But what is the purpose of books?  Is it for them to look pretty on our shelves, or is it for them to fill our soul with hope and happiness?  Now, there’s nothing wrong per say about having shiny bookshelves, but in the age of BookTube and Bookstagram – where we follow people with hundreds of books in pristine rows on their dark shelves, almost like a mini Barnes and Nobel – I think we as an online Bookreading Community have put too much value on the appearance of books.

What I’ve Learned.

The first thing that I’ve learned is that it’s okay to “abuse” my books.  I now crack spines for easier reading.  I drink coffee and eat snacks around my books.  I take them places, and don’t care if the cover gets a little bent.  Every bent page, or tear stain, or crack in the spine, is a reminder of where that book has been.  It picks up a history of its own, and I think that’s beautiful.

I’ve also learned that I absolutely love this.  I love getting to combine reading with creating.  I love getting to make these books my own, and getting to turn them into works of art.  Sometimes I make mistakes, but that’s okay and I keep telling myself that it’s okay because it is.  It’s a learning process.  Also, I often date the pages that I mark up, so Future Beth can see how long it took to read a book, or when I drew that picture.  I really like getting to do that to capture my experience.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to play around with different pens and pencils and figure out what I like best.  I’ve tried black pens, blue pens, pencils, colored pencils, etc, and I love getting to discover what I like best or what works best for that book.  Right now I’m using a silver pen to mark up the Mortal Instruments series, and I adore the shiny, non-intrusive nature of the silver ink.

If you’re still reading all the way down here, then congrats!  Extremely long blog post is over.  I have one picture left to leave you, and it’s the cover of my Narnia hardback, which I drew with a silver marker and pen.  I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

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So let me know your thoughts on defacing books.  Are you a Purist, who can’t even stand to crack the spines of their books?  Are you someone who takes their books on airplanes and to dinner and gets coffee stains on the pages?

Let me close with one last thought.  Say that someday, I’m a published author, and I’m doing Book Signings somewhere.  And amid the crowd, the noise, the people, someone brings me their well-loved and maybe even marked up edition of the book that I wrote?  WOW.  That would mean the world to me.

Between Reading and Writing

I’ve often tried to explain the Creative Writing Process by saying, “I can lose myself while writing the same way that I can while reading.”  And this is so true; it’s part of the reason that I am a writer.  I love that escape from reality.

But here’s a dilemma that I sometimes find myself facing as a writer – specifically, as a college student studying for exams, a person with not enough free time: my reading and writing steal time from each other.

I’ve always liked books.  My dad would read me Narnia before bed when I was little, and my mom would pick out audiobooks for long carrides.  So I blame them for making me a bookworm.  But in middle school or early high school, I fell head-over-heels in love with books.  Other girls my age were going on their first dates; I was buying my first copy of Lord of the Rings.  I distinctively remember spending hours and hours reading when I was supposed to be doing schoolwork.  (I was homeschooled, so I would literally spend the day in bed, reading Eldest or The Fault in Our Stars.  Then I’d stay up late finishing neglected homework.  Don’t tell my mom.)

And then in 10th grade, I started writing.

Once more, I fell in love.  I didn’t know what I was doing; it was just a thing I could do where I could sit down with a laptop and spin worlds from my mind onto the screen.

And the back-and-forth has continued, generally fine.  But this semester has been busy a lot, and between homework and friends and everything else, I haven’t had a ton of free time.  That was okay, though, I was making time for writing.  I was squeezing in my noveling time between class and sleep.

But then, last week, I picked up this beautiful book:

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And suddenly, I wasn’t writing anymore.

And the book was so good that halfway through, I ordered the next two in the series from Amazon.  I’m now in the middle of City of Ashes (book two), and I absolutely love it.  But I’m a little worried about my own story – there are a total of SIX BOOKS in the City of Bones series, and then there’s a spin-off series (or two?) and an extra book and AHHHHHHHHHHH.

As writers, we often talk about learning to shove aside mundane duties and making time for our writing.  In fact, one of my favorite writerly people on the internet, @inspiredtowrite on Instagram, uses #MuggleResponsibilities to talk about things that get in the way of her writing time.  And I get it, sometimes we need to skip doing laundry for a week to focus on our story.

But what about reading?  Something I love, something that makes me a better writer?  How do I say no to that?

I’d love to hear your advice.  Because I’m the dive-headfirst-into-a-book-series type of person, and I’m missing my own story now.  But not quite enough to put down City of Ashes.  So I’m not sure what the answer is.

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Okay then.  John Green has spoken.

Characters Are Everywhere

Every human is a jigsaw of details.  Nervous habits, catch-phrases, dressing choices.  Speech patterns, favorite books, topics they talk about again and again and again.

My favorite characters are the ones that feel like real people because they have things that make them them.

Ronald Weasly hates spiders.  Agustus Waters smokes unlit cigarettes.  Hermionie Granger never goes anywhere without a book or five.  Celena Sardothian has music in her soul.

Real humans are like this, too.  My roommate sings non-stop.  A friend of mine wears Pajama pants 24/7.  One of my professors sports a different-colored bowtie every day of the week.  I have another friend who only ever talks about cars or computers.  It’s these details that all come together to make people who they are, and it’s OUR JOB as WRITERS to make our characters feel like real people.

One of the ways we can do this is by giving our characters details.

As I’ve been learning this more, I’ve been studying people more.  My friends have noticed – if I’m staring at someone for too long, they’ll be like, “Oh, Beth’s just doing the writer thing again.”  But it’s part of where I get my characters – from studying people.

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That guy who always walks into class late?  Detail.  The guy who wears a rainbow hat with a spinny thing on top?  Detail.  The girl who sits alone in a coffee shop on Valentine’s Day, typing up a blog post?  Detail.  (That’s me by the way!)

My challenge is remembering this when I write.  Too often, I write characters that feel flat because they all dress, talk, and react the same way.  No more.  Let’s go write characters that jump off the page, character with voices and habits and tastes of their own.

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Book Review – Fangirl

fangirl It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review, but here you go:

Summary: Cather is a freshman in college.  She’s spent her whole life tailing around her beautiful-and-charming twin, Wren, and she’s liked that just fine.  But now, even though Cather and Wren are going to the same college, Wren wants to take her own path, leaving Cather to alone to navigate the frightening waters of being a freshman.

So Cather falls back on what’s always been there for her: fanfiction.  She’s practically famous to online fans of Simon Snow (ie Harry Potter), and she’s never happier than when she’s writing about the characters that have been her friends for years.  But soon she’ll be forced to learn that there’s more to college than sitting in your dorm by yourself.  With themes of family, friendship, and the joys (and pains) of writing, Fangirl is a pure delight.

There are some books that hit you right in the chest, because an author has put into words the exact things that you yourself were feeling and you thought inexpressible.  Rainbow Rowell did that brilliantly in Fangirl.  I think this book hit me particularly hard because I could relate so much to Cather – I read it after just finishing my first semester in college, I love to write, and I’m a die-hard Harry Potter fan.  I’m not exactly like Cather, but we are so alike in so many ways, and I loved that about this novel.

I also loved that this novel felt like a snapshot of real life.  It wasn’t just about fanfiction, or writing, or being a freshman.  It was about friendship and family and stepping out of your comfort zone and a million other beautiful things.

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I read it in a day, and I can’t wait to re-read it.

Content advisory: there is a bit of language, and there is some romancy stuff.  (Nothing explicit, no graphic scenes, etc.)  It is definitely meant for college or high school people.

If you’ve read it, let me know your thoughts!  Or let me know if you’ve read anything else by Rainbow Rowell.  I absolutely adored Fangirl’s plot, it’s characters, and it’s glorious writing.  It was funny and sad and happy and interesting and fantastic.

Five out of five stars for making me feel all the things.

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.