Artsy Stuff and Learning Curves

Hello lovely writers!  Today’s post includes fanart, a poorly-drawn graph, and some rambling about learning to be a writer.  Hope you enjoy!

Long before I was a writer, I was an artist.  (Not necessarily a good one lol.)  I’ve been making things since I was a really little kid.  I’ve been drawing horses and dogs for as long as I can remember, and I’ve taken art classes since I was in middle school.  I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment when I finish something I’m proud of.  I’ve always enjoyed art for the escape it provides: when I’m working on a piece of art, the rest of the world is entirely gone.

I’ll sometimes still get out the ol’ pencil box and do some fanart or whatever.  (Some examples below because why not?)

And just recently, I picked up the guitar!  My brother has had a guitar just sitting in his closet for the past few years, and I earlier this summer, I had the sudden idea to ask to borrow it.  So for the past several weeks, I’ve been teaching myself guitar!  (This is why I love the internet, guys: YouTube tutorials, online tuners, free guitar chords, and pretty much anything else you need.)  And it’s been so much fun.  I love the learning curve that exists for when I first learn something new.  It seems like every day I practice, I learn something new.  I’m constantly making big strides; I’m growing exponentially.

For example, the first day of playing guitar I could barely play a few chords.  On the third day, I could play a simple song really slowly.  By day 5, my fingerstips no longer felt like I was slicing them open.  Within just a few weeks, I’ve learned how to use a capo, I can play chords in quick succession, and I’m able to pick up new chords really quickly.  I’m starting to learn strumming patterns and put everything together to play songs at regular tempo.

I fondly remember my early days of writing, when I’d just started out.  Every chapter I completed was uncharted territory; every blog post I read taught me something new.  I was like a sponge as I discovered found craft books and online blogs.  And then about halfway through my first novel, I found the website Critique Circle.  I used to get so excited when my chapters would come up for critique, because I was always learning.  New terms, new ideas, new things to think about.  Characters, tension, showing vs telling, passive vs active voice, dialogue, setting.  So much to learn about.  Writing was so exciting.  It was new and special and a bit scary.  It was also so exciting, because it was so easy to find resources that broadened my knowledge.

Sometimes, now, I find it difficult to be in love with writing.  I’ve grown so much as a writer.  I know so much more; I have a lot more experience; I know what I’m doing.  Not that I’m an expert or anything LOL – obviously I’m always learning and honing my craft.  I’m just… not a beginner anymore.  And because I’m no longer a beginner, I’m not learning new things about writing at the same rate as I was when I first started writing.  For reference, I’ve made this nifty graph:

skill vs time.png

If you’re thinking that it looks like I made this graph if MS Paint, then you’re correct.  🙂

I’m at the point in my writing journey where the speed at which I’m learning has started to level off a bit.  So it’s easier to get discouraged, because I don’t see my skill improving at the same rate it used to be.

That’s why it was so refreshing for me to start learning guitar.  I’m still in the “beginner” phases, where I’m learning so quickly that it’s exciting and enticing.

So here’s a question for all you experienced writers: how do you keep perusing your dreams and your art when the learning gets slow?

I actually do want your answers (leave a comment below!) but I’d also like to add my own answer.  I do it by reminding myself how far I’ve come.  I don’t take for granted the things I’ve learned.  And I remind myself why I learned them.  I didn’t just learn about writing so I could keep all that knowledge in my head.  I learned about writing so I could be a better writer.  

And I’m in love with writing.  Not with being a writer, or knowing about writing, or being a published author, or anything else.  With the actual writing.  With taking an idea and making it come alive.  With editing a mess of a story into a coherent book.  With making magic happen with words and fingertips on keys.  That’s what I love.  The knowledge is just a tool to help me do that better.  So who cares about learning curves?  Let’s go write stories.

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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.

Happy December!

How did it get to be December 2nd already?

Ah, look at that.  The Hamilton Mixtape is out today!

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In other news, another NaNoWriMo is here and gone.  Nope, I didn’t win this year.  Didn’t even come close.  But I’m A-OK with that.  I started a story that needed to be written, and I’m so excited to see where it’s taking me.  I’m back in The Writing Mode, which is the best place to be.  I’m editing and writing and excited to start querying again after the holidays.  (Most literary agencies close up shop in December and January because it’s such a crazy time of year.)

Also, here’s another fun writerly-resource that I stumbled across: it’s called Scapple.  It’s a plotting program made by the same people who made Scrivener.  Basically, it’s a plotting tool where you can outline events or characters and connect them and move them around and add notes about them.  And like Scriviner, it has a 30 day free trial.  (30 days of use, not 30 consecutive days.)  AND I LOVE IT.  I’m too much of an anti-plotter (pantser at heart, you guys) to stick to traditional outlines.  But I’m writing a series now and I really kinda need to know what’s happening when.  So Scapple has been wonderful and freeing. (I’m not getting paid to promote it or anything.  I just think it’s super cool.)  Here’s an example of what it can look like:

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Here’s the actual plotting I’ve done on it:

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I really like it.  And I really like where this story is going.  It’s like I’m getting deeper and deeper into this world, discovering the heart of this series’ story.  The different story plots are weaving together and I’m madly in love.  Gotta go do some writing.  I have one week of classes left, and then I’ll have free days and late nights for hot cocoa and good books and writing.

Happy December everyone.  Turn on some Christmas music and write some words.  You never know the power your story has to change someone’s life.

MM 4 – Don’t Waste Today.

You will never get a chance to repeat today.

What you do with your seconds and minutes today is set in stone for all eternity.  You can never take back the things your do, the words you say.

Your number of days is limited.  Finite.  Coming to an end.

So don’t waste a single one of them.

What do you want your legacy to be?  When you look back on your life someday, would you rather be able to brag about how your novel has impacted lives, or about how many hours you spent watching Netflix?  Would you rather have a long list of people you’ve blessed, or a long list of days wasted to Facebook?

We each only get one chance on this Earth.

Act like it.

Write like it.

Thanks to an amazing Broadway musical, I’m currently fascinated by someone named Alexander Hamilton.  An American founding father and politician back in the 1700s, Hamilton did a ton with his short life.

He published his first work in America when he was 17.  It was a 35-page, 13,000-word defense of the Continental Congress.  He followed it up a year later with 30,000-word sequel.  Yeah.  Hamilton had published an entire novel’s worth of words while he was still a teenager.

What have YOU been up to?

Hamilton wrote like there was no tomorrow.  He did SO MUCH with his short life.

I want to have that same drive.  That same passion.

My absolute favorite lines from the musical are these:

Why do you write like you're Running out of time

Both in the Hamilton musical, and in real life, Alexander Hamilton heard the constant ticking of his life’s clock.  He knew he only had one chance.  And he made the most of it.

Be like Hamilton.  Write like you’re running out of time.  Like you only have one life.  Like your story needs to be told.  Like today matters.

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Write like your chair’s on fire, like someone’s holding a gun to your head, like you believe in your story.  Write like you’re Alexander Hamilton.

Don’t waste today.  Get off the internet and write your story.  Today counts if you make it count.

The path to becoming a writer is simple.  You simply have to choose, day after day, to say Yes, I will write today.  I might not feel like it and I might write trash, but I will write nonetheless.

 

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.