20. A semester in review

At the beginning of the semester, we were assigned to write 20 blog posts on a topic of our choosing. I chose to write about writing. Here are my thoughts on the process:

  1. I was never really concerned about coming up with enough post ideas to make this blog work. There are so many directions you can go with a blog like this, you should never run out of content. But what I didn’t anticipate was how just writing certain posts inspired so many other ideas. It’s not about sitting down and putting 50 ideas on paper. It’s more of a process. You write about character development, and then another thought pops into your head about something more specific. Female roles in fiction, how to write about depression in your characters in a way that’s not utterly miserable, ect. The possibilities for ideas are endless.
  2. Writing in a blog format is pretty unique. Especially when nobody is reading your blog. It’s just me and my thoughts in an empty HTML room. That kind of writing environment has helped me learn a lot about my style, my voice, and my weaknesses. I’ve also become a better writer in the sense that I’m a lot more willing to power through 2,000 words and worry about editing later. Blog posts are meant to be natural, and roll off your finger tips, so I’m trying to take some of that back to my writing.
  3. Researching topics for posts has helped me learn a lot. There are a ton of established bloggers out there who are experienced enough to write about their subjects without the need for much research. But a lot of the things I wanted to write about on Write On were things I’d never really thought about before. That might not be a great testament to my experience with writing, but the entire process helped me learn a lot.

At the end of this assignment, 20 blog posts later, I think I’m a more experienced writer who is inching towards the next level. There’s a ton of work that needs to be done, but writing has become less intimidating since I’ve attacked it in more of a methodical way on this blog. I’m going to keep posting into the future until I hit it big and get published. So I’ll be around for a while…

As always, Write On!

19. Finding help online: Scribophile

The world of writing can get pretty lonely. You’re often left alone with your thoughts, and when you finally do get them on paper, what’s next? Are you going to show your stories to your mom? Your friends? Your professor has 100 papers to read, he probably doesn’t have time to critique your sci-fi fan fiction or your thrilling spy novel.

But you’re not alone. Scribophile is an awesome online service that works like this: you submit your stories, you critique others’, and eventually you receive feedback on your own writing. It’s a not-so-vicious cycle that will help you become a more competent writer every step of the way.

Every time you critique someone else’s work, you receive Karma Points. You can spend these points  to post your own stories, and in turn, others will do the same. I’ve been using the site for a few months, and it’s a cool system. The critiques are all very thought out and extensive. A lot of writing sites I’ve been on have a selfish community that is only concerned with having their own work read, but at Scribophile, the reviewing is all part of the process. Putting some thought into your critiques is going to benefit you and the author.

Check it out over at scribophile.com. Write on!

18. The finer things: blogging

This blog started as an assignment. It still is I suppose. I would not be here writing this post, right now, if I didn’t have to for a class. But I find that whenever a sit down, discontented by the work that awaits, I quickly shift gears and get lost in the writing. 

There are a couple reasons for this. For starters, not many people are going to see these posts. My first few posts on this blog were pretty out of character for me because I was writing for this big, mythical audience of mine. The reality is, not many people are reading this right now. Once I figured that out, I got more comfortable producing content in my voice. And once I figured that out, my posts got better. The blog’s following finally took a backseat to its quality. I think that’s paying off for me. 

I’ve also realized a rarely go back and edit anything I wrote in my posts. I’m always moving forward to the next word, paragraph, idea. This is hardly the case in my stories, but I wish it were. There’s something so satisfying about cranking out a 500 word blog post naturally and efficiently. No pressures, no revisions. Just real thoughts on an e-canvas for the world (all three of you) to see. 

Start a blog. Not for the followers. Not for the glory. But for yourself. There’s a very small chance your blog will take off and people will wake up daily, their mouth watering for your next WordPress post. That’s just not the reality. And that’s ok. Write for yourself, find your voice, and you’ll improve whether you like it or not. 

Write on. 

17. Manufacturing motivation: coffee, deadlines, and dusk

Motivation is a fickle beast. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have waves of the stuff at times, only to sit down at your desk and have it retreat into the depths of your subconscious. For a long time, I accepted this, and would only write when everything was clicking for me. I didn’t put much work into it. I didn’t have to. But I was only writing a few times/month and I wanted to get more out of my words.

For me, I’ve found that a few things help me get into the writing mindset. Everyone is different. Some people write in a coffee shop. Some people write in their car. Find out what works for you and build a strategy around those things. Here’s what works for me:

  1. Wake up. Set that alarm up across your room so you’re forced to drag your body out of bed and into the morning. There’s something really encouraging about getting work done early in the day. There aren’t any pressures. You have ALL DAY LONG to get your thoughts out on paper. It’s refreshing. Some mornings, I get up at 6:00 and write for an hour before work. On the weekends, it’s closer to 7:30. But whenever I wake up and move over to my desk, the words always seem to flow. Maybe it’s because my mental filter is still in a slumber. Maybe it’s because my dreams are fresh in my mind. Whatever it is, I like it. Get up and write, people. 
  2. Coffee. It’s like cheating at life. It’s a drug. It’s delicious. I can feel the gears in my brain start to turn over after a fresh cup of the black stuff. Sometimes my fingers move faster than my brain after a couple cups. And that’s ok.
  3. Deadlines. Everyone has this romanticized vision of writing in their cookie-cutter-minds. “Every writer ever lives in Paris, living on bread and cigarettes, and passion!” Wrong. Writers are engineers, dads, moms, kids, pizza delivery drivers, mailmen. Everyone writes. And for those who take it seriously, they have deadlines. They don’t magically finish novels in an afternoon sipping on lattes. They set deadlines, they have goals, and they get things done. Writing is like anything else. You need to set time aside for it, and you need to maintain some level of discipline.

Find what works for you. Everyone is different. Write on!

16. Keep a journal. Preferably a pink, fuzzy one under lock and key

I was browsing through PositiveWriter.com this morning as I sat outside the Union burning my mouth on some molten coffee. I don’t need any motivation today, but I figured I could put some in the reserves for later. 

Bryan Hutchinson wrote a post on the importance of keeping a journal. He talks about how ideas and memories have a way of evading your writing subconscious when it comes time to sit down in front of a blank page. For me personally, I don’t remember coming up with too many great ideas only having them slip away into my jumbled, caffeine driven college brain. But that’s the point. I don’t remember

The advantages of keeping a journal are all pretty tangible. Whether your pages are filled with high school drama or your frustrating bus commute every day to work, you’re writing and you’re developing a voice. Practice won’t make perfect, but it can make you a damn good writer and a journal is another way to find that potential. 

In his post, Hutchinson went on to talk about how useful a journal can be in overcoming writer’s block. Everyone who has written a long story or a book has come to a point of standstill in their writing. Nothing is more intimidating to a writer than a blank page staring back at them. Well, maybe spiders. SO MANY LEGS!

The point is, the unfiltered writing that takes place inside those fuzzy pink journal covers might be exactly what you need to jumpstart whatever part of the brain connects your mind to your pen. No editing. No expectations. Just pure writing. And you might be surprised in the result. 

Read Bryan’s full post here. It’s worth the read. 

Now go pour your heart out. Write on!

15. The antagonist needs depth too

Think about the cartoons you used to watch as a child. There was always the good guy, who had an awesome lair, cool weapons, and interesting personality quirks. They were the most interesting character in the world. The show literally revolved around them. 

And that was probably ok with you. Meanwhile, the bad guy couldn’t have been a simpler character. He’s a villain because he’s bad. It’s as simple as that. But why is he bad? Did he have a bad childhood, a traumatic life event, or deeper motives to carry out all of his evil plans? 

Sure he does. Why wouldn’t you tap into that bottomless pit of despair? There are so many dark, rich concepts to explore. Give your protagonist a break in the story. Let him take a breather, and dive into the lives of the other characters in your stories. 

A good exercise to practice this is to actually write your story entirely from the point of view of your antagonist. Structure the story like you normally would, develop a natural plot, but tell it from a new and unexpected perspective. Give all of your characters depth, and you’ll be amazed at how many interesting concepts present themselves. Things you’d never have expected. 

Write on!

14. Motivation Monday – Earnest Hemingway

I’m a little late to the ball on this one, but here it goes. If you want to improve your writing, and I mean really improve it, you need to listen to people who are better than you. People who have already figured this writing business out. The all-time greats. 

Even if you don’t like their writing, shut up and listen to them. Because they set goals, and then they accomplished them. That’s worth more than their actual novels. It’s about the tangible accomplishments that they’ve worked for. Experiences like that should make your advice valuable to anyone, regardless of who you are or what you do. 

Alright, enough rambling. Here’s how Motivation Monday is going to work. Every Monday, I’m going to post a quote from a successful author and tell you how it makes me feel. I could explain it with more words, but I think that sums it up well. Here we go. 

ImageMy god, Earnest. That’s powerful stuff. I remember first seeing this quote a couple years ago. Sometime in my freshmen year of college I think. I’ve seen it a few times since then, and it always makes me stop for a moment and think. 

There’s such a stigma attached with writing these days. When you’re growing up, it’s all about force-fed grammar lessons and page requirements. There are so many rules and expectations that the actual content, the emotion, the opinion, is lost in the four pages of 12 pt. double spaced Arial font with standard margins. 

Pour yourself into your writing. Maybe you’re writing a fiction piece about a seemingly unrelatable artist who grew up in Bruges in the 15th century? Find a way to relate. You both like black coffee because that’s how your moms used to make. You both broke your arm falling out of a tree when you were seven. You both have a birthmark beneath your left eye that’s shaped like Texas.

Whatever you write, make sure it’s you writing and not some bullshit requirement. It needs to be real and genuine, and everything else fades away when you find that mindset. 

Write on.

 

13. Destroy stereotypes in the name of realism

George R.R. Martin has two middle names and one hell of a resume. He’s best known for his fantasy series Song of Ice and Fire, the fantasy novels that are now being played out in HBO’s series Game of Thrones. In his series of novels, he created a world that allows him to showcase all of his writing talents: imagination, complex plots, and character development. 

A reporter once asked Martin, “There’s one thing that’s interesting about your books. I noticed that you write women really well and really different. Where does that come from?”

Martin’s response was blunt and brilliant. “You know, I’ve always considered women to be people.” 

This is what I want to talk about in this post. Whenever you set out to create an identity for a new character, the first things that comes to mind are stereotypes. Gender, race, age, occupation. Whoever you’re writing, there’s a stereotype out there for them. 

It’s your job as a writer to sift through those stereotypes, those predestined tidbits of predictable information, and get deep inside your character’s head. Write about something that counts. 

Martin’s quote was a really succinct way of saying, “You need to put yourself in your character’s perspective. How do you think they perceive themselves? What goes through their mind? What are their crippling insecurities?” 

I love writing for this reason. You can create an entire persona that actually evolves over time. Yeah, they’re just words on a page, but they can tell a really powerful story if you make it a point to develop your characters in a natural and honest way. Abandoned all stereotypes. You don’t need them. If you’re writing about a woman, and she likes to cook, write about it. But explain why she likes to cook. “Jane’s mother died on her third birthday, and her dad was incompetent behind a stove. She was making omelettes for her younger brothers by the age of eight.”