Tag Archives: Writing

From Hopeless Romantic to Sceptical Cynic to Something Inbetween

When I was young all I wrote was romance. I was obsessed with the idea of love, with the beautiful emotions captured upon the page in a story that had a central romantic plot. My friends would tease me, commenting on how my works always (and I do mean always) ended up with happily ever afters and marriages and everything else in typical Disney story fashion.

And then the years passed. And something inside of me seemed to die.

Hopeless? I’d always been quite hopeful. In many ways it was as though the hope died out. But I suppose four years of college without a single boyfriend made me start to realize…made me start to wonder if I’d been lied to and if there was more out there than a wedding ring on the finger to signify ultimate happiness. And besides, out of the works I’d read in class, it was rare to find one that actually ended with the characters getting everything they wanted. And the few that ended somewhat happily usually were picked apart by my professors anyways.

As a result my works started to become more depressing. My fifth novel I finished ended in utter despair. Dead characters and the protagonist locked away in a mental institution. Part of me felt proud for actually having made some progress. Actually having said goodbye to the naive little girl who’d always written love stories.

And then over the summer I just stopped trying. I’d worked hard on my “senior thesis” a somewhat depressing novel that I had shown to several professors and fellow students for criticism. After having worked on that for so long I needed something new.

So I began working on fluffy romance. Things that made me smile and laugh and feel good again. I’d spent so long during senior year feeling depression build up over the inevitable end of the school year, that it felt good to relax a little. Write things that weren’t serious that I’d never send to a publisher. But there was more than that.

I had a friend who I was sending a few chapters to when I’d finish them. And she made a point of saying something to me one day that struck me.

She told me that my last two updates were both during horrible life moments. Apparently one came in right after her mother’s passing, and the next while waiting in the hospital. She told me “I actually laughed with happiness when my email came that you had updated, because I needed something lighthearted right in that moment.”

I cannot even express how much that meant to me. How deeply moved I was to think of this friend reading my cheesy ridiculous love story in the hospital and smiling.

But that’s the beauty of happy things. Sure, a depressing story might have some great messages in it, or be written beautifully. But happy stories have the power to make people’s lives better.

With this in mind I decided I might rethink the depressing college novel if I ever get started on it again. Because I know now that while there is value to a story that has tragedy and sorrow…there is also beauty in a story that helps other people remember to smile. I don’t think writers should forget that too quickly.

 

What do you prefer to read or write? Do you think there are advantages and disadvantages to comedies vs tragedies?

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How to Give Up

So, most writers probably want to write blogs on how to keep going. How to overcome writers block or make it through a tough segment. But what I need today, is a segment on how, or at least when, to give up.

We’ve heard it all our lives. Quotes about how quitting accomplishes nothing. If at first you don’t succeed, or if life gives you lemons, or you miss every shot you don’t take etc. But surely there is a time when one must just give up, move on, try something else entirely? Maybe you tried a hundred times over and you’re just wasting time now. Maybe your lemonade is on its fifth batch and it still tastes disgusting (after all why keep trying to use rotten lemons when clearly they’ll never be any better). Maybe your legs are too worn out to even take one more shot at a goal and it’s time to just pass it to another player instead, or better yet, go sit on the bench and rest before getting back in the game.

I write this because I’m giving up. Don’t you worry. Not this blog. Not being a writer. But I’m giving up on a writing project I’d been attempting. And for once I think that’s the best approach.

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In high school all I ever did was write. I spent ages working on my novels, tapping away and dreaming of the day I would be published. By the time I graduated from college I had finished writing four novels and a novella. Five finished works. And the only thing I felt stood between me and publication, was my inability to edit. And I knew, if I’d just sit down and actually make an effort I might finally have a book out.

Fiction writing class was what caused me to start thinking I might need to really crack down and start working on second drafts. And while it was hard, I did begin to think it was a possibility. But life doesn’t always go the way we want it to.

That same year, the person who had inspired me to write the four novels dropped out of my life. Our friendship had been fading for some time, and I made some horrible mistakes in the last moments that just finally killed it once and for all. I can’t really even find the words to describe how much this devastated me. But beyond just losing my closest and dearest friend, a person who had changed my life countless times over, who had been there for me in my darkest hours, I also lost years of work. Four novels, suddenly worthless.

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For a while I clung to some sense of hope. Maybe I could revise all of them. Take out things she’d contributed and rework them to be my own. For a while I hopelessly did my best to destroy what we’d built together and build my own world. But every time I did I ended up hurting myself.

I would send myself reeling back into reminiscence. Remembering the good old times, finding myself wondering why it had to end. The truth was, I could never do any work because everything was too fragile. Everything felt connected in a personal way that I couldn’t possibly destroy.

So this is my decision for the moment. I’m giving up. I’m turning over a new leaf and starting over. Four novels are as good as in the trash now, and while it’s hard, it had to happen.

And that’s what made me decide to write this post. For others who might be in a place where they simply need to give up and move on. Perhaps you’ve been working on a novel for a year and you still just can’t finish it, but there’s another project you can feel calling you. Maybe you’ve sent out your book to a hundred publications but no one is biting, and maybe that means you need to do some serious re-editing. Maybe three friends have read your work and said it is terrible, perhaps you try again, maybe you just scrap it and start fresh.

Do what works for you. Know that sometimes you have to just throw in the towel. I’m not talking about giving up on writing itself or anything so dramatic. But there are times we have to let projects go. Or else they’ll simply drag us down.

Here’s my fresh start. I hope some of you who need it can find yours.

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Dreams of a Lifetime

So yesterday was my birthday. And in honor of that special day, my mother made me read through my entire baby book, which is basically a scrapbook covering the major points of my entire childhood. The only benefit, besides making my mother happy, was discovering a true treasure from my youth. My first story.

For the sake of readability, I’m going to be my own editor and fix any spelling mistakes and capitalization errors there are. But here you are.

“Silly Potatoes”

Once on a Saturday night, Ms. Vanilla and Mr. Vanilla were in the kitchen cooking potatoes. The recipe book said wait five minutes. Ms. Vanilla could not wait. She opened the oven door. Out popped Fred Fryer and Ms. Mashed with their little tater tots. They skied out of the house on French fries and never came back. So from now on, Ms. and Mr. Vanilla listen to the recipe book. Or they will starve.

THE END

My mother and I laughed so hard when we found this. I loved how I left it open ended. It just amused me for a while, and I had to share it.

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I suppose the main thing I wanted to talk about is pursuing your dreams. Since I was a child, I’ve dreamed of being a writer. Though this story is clearly some kind of school assignment from first or second grade, to me it still speaks to this lifelong dream I’ve had of creating and sharing stories. But what does it really mean to pursue your dreams?

When I was little I would always tell people I wanted to be an author when I grew up. When I went to college and started studying English, I still knew that was what I wanted to do. But at the same time I recognized it wasn’t the most logical choice of career in terms of a steady income, so I’ve moved writing to a side pursuit while making teaching my main focus at the moment. However, as I start into my adult life, I’ve had to wonder how this is all going to work out in the end.

I’ve recognized there need to be sacrifices made for this to work. For now I’m working at the YMCA with children, helping them with their own learning, encouraging them to chase their own dreams. And in my free time I write. And I continue to imagine the future, hoping one day I’ll actually have a book out on the shelves.

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I watch America’s Got Talent a lot in the summer, and I always have to shake my head at the people who say they dropped out of high school to be a singer. I suppose it always makes me wonder if that truly is chasing the dream. If that’s the best decision. For me, my dream has required balance. But maybe for others that isn’t the case. In the meantime, I pursue my writing in my own fashion, hoping one day maybe I’ll be published, but recognizing that the pursuit is the beautiful thing in itself. Looking back and seeing these old stories. Knowing I’ve finished novels in my lifetime. Those are beautiful. And I hope many more milestones will be met over the course of my life, even if those aren’t my only pursuits. Each little accomplishment is important to me. And I take what I can, while I try to balance my dreams with the realities of life around me.

What dreams do you have? How do you choose to pursue them? What sacrifices do you make for your goals and aspirations?

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Emily Starts a Second Draft

I’m normally a great hater of editing. It’s my least favorite part of the writing process. And though I’m sure many writers will comment in agreement, I have actually met people who have said that editing is their favorite part. So, just in case, I’m clarifying that I detest it.

I’ve finished writing five novels. But in the past every time I’ve finished one I’ve pushed it to the side in favor of starting another writing project. But I’ve begun to realize how ridiculously harmful this is to my writing process, and I’ve started to understand how much I need to start trying harder if I want to ever achieve actual publication.

So what prompted this seemingly random decision? Well, there were a few different factors.

One: I took a fiction writing class and actually learned something about writing. And now I want to employ what I know and use it to make my past works better. It also forced me to actually try editing. And though I didn’t like it, I recognized the benefit on the final polished product.

Two: Three out of those five books I’ve finished were partially written in high school and are outdated in terms of my beliefs and my feelings about life, beyond just having some serious writing flaws. They contain a naiver and more confused version of myself that I no longer really like. They’re also pretty badly organized over all.

Three: Several people (I really should just say my mother here because it’s closer to the truth) have been bothering me about when I will get a book published or if I’ve even tried. And I don’t feel comfortable sending any works out without having done some serious reworking. So if I ever want to get people off my back on that, I’ll need to actually make an effort.

Four: Sad to say the person I’d cowritten four of those books with has long since moved past these novels into works that are more “mature”. And I’d have to agree with her that many of these are somewhat naive, but I think they’ve always held a lot more significance to me than to her. And…on top of that… we had a kind of messy falling out last winter which we never did anything to resolve…But even if we somehow managed to work around that, I have no reason to believe she’d ever want these stories to actually go anywhere, so I feel only minimal guilt in trying to rework these. It just saddens me to see the works that I spent so much time on having to go into a trashcan because of everything. And that’s why I’m going to rewrite this book.

I think I’m only going to have the energy to do one novel, because many of the others are more heavily influenced and would be harder to rework, and also because with the plot changes I’m making the other books likely wouldn’t be able to continue. But I want to work to make this one its own, to be a part of my healing process. And to be honest this was a huge part of my decision to finally bring back these old books of mine. To start processing everything that happened. A means of wiping a messy slate clean.  Of recognizing my works, my experiences, my old writing and remaking it. Its a way I can recognize my past rather than running from it. And it’s about reclaiming what is mine. And reclaiming has become a huge part of the book actually.

The story The Tale of the Rose (you can see the plot on my What’s in my Cup page) revolves around the duchess Katherine who becomes a pirate and struggles between living the life she loves, and living the life that is right for her people. It’s written at the end of her life looking back on all she has accomplished and her many adventures. Her stories, and those of her best friend, the famous adventurer and magician Night Hawk, have become the source of many ballads and legends and children’s bedtime stories. Her story is in fact quite the fairy tale-like in its plot with wicked stepmothers and mysterious pining princes and dark curses. But many of those accounts are actually wrong…

The new draft of the book revolves around retelling these dramatized and beautified stories. It involves reclaiming one’s own story and explaining life in its full messiness. It’s about moving past the childish innocence of bedtime stories into the real world of pain and heartbreak and suffering. And though I’m uncertain exactly how I’m going to employ this whole thing, I know I’d love to put these pieces together into my novel. At the moment I’m thinking I’ll include snippets of ballads and stories of Red Kate and Night Hawk in between the actual chapters. But I’m still working to make sure that will be effective to the book as a whole.

This is where I am now in my life. I’m moving into adulthood. I’m beginning to realize life is harder than I might have thought when I was young. My life isn’t following that little set formula of happily ever after I’d always expected. And it’s becoming time for me to reclaim my story for what it is. For its realness. For its messiness. For the fact that I am my own amazing self, with or without someone else to share that life with. My first version said something along the lines of “romance fulfills you and makes you the best you can be” my new version says “you are who you are, and no romance will ever fully complete you and until you understand your real self you can never expect someone else to.” And I think that’s incredibly important.

So what all am I going to be doing:

  1. Going through and reworking plot. Figuring out a basic sense of where the story is really going. Trying to reinstate a sense of what the book is about in general.
  2. Reworking some key characters so they fit my story better. Night Hawk in particular has been given a huge makeover, and I’m excited to see her come to a full fresh start.
  3. Outlining outlining outlining. I’m going to make a full working outline including all the things I’ve written and what I’m going to get rid of, rewrite, replace, or edit.
  4. Making a list of all sections/characters/plot points/countries/whatever else was contributed by my ex-cowriter and ensuring that these elements are removed so that the story can fully be my own.
  5. Starting to go through and doing those steps I’d listed earlier of deleting, rewriting, replacing, or editing sections.
  6. Whatever the heck else needs to be done. From here on out it’s a bit of a mystery. But I suppose if I ever do finish it will be sending manuscripts off next.

Well, I have three work in progress pieces right now that a few friends are reading. And they’d probably kill me if I stopped writing midway through. So this project might be slow in the works. But it’s still exciting for me that I can finally say I’ve started a second draft. There’s officially a “draft two” document saved on my computer. And I couldn’t be more thrilled.

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Day 3: Quote 3

Well, I decided for my last quote for the quote challenge Bumbles Books tagged me in.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

I read The Lord of the Rings back in elementary school and absolutely loved them. I was largely inspired by the movies coming out, of course, but the books are all good in their own right. I always have loved this quote, even if it’s one of the more popular ones.

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I love this quote so much, just in showing us that even when things are hard we have one thing we can control, and that is how we behave in those circumstances. It’s easy to just sit back and mope when things are difficult. It’s easy to give up. But when things are out of your control, all you can control is how you react.

Anyhow, for my final choice of person to tag I choose Rollan Wengert at Tone-deaf Troglodyte Tries Mozart. He’s been a great friend on Twitter and writes fascinating material about Mozart and music. So though I’m not sure he’ll want to do a quote challenge, I thought I’d put this up as a chance to highlight his blog, which is one I really enjoy. Again, the rules are to post one quote a day for three days and then to tag one person each day. Since this is the last day I definitely wanted to say anyone who wishes to do this challenge is welcome to and if you let me know I’d be happy to make a reference to you on my blog.

What quotes do you love? Any LOTR lovers out there? What moments have you had to decide what to do with the time you’re given?

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Day 1: Quote 1

So I was tagged by ehbates at Bumbles Books to participate in a 3 days, 3 quotes challenge. Basically I guess I have to just post a quote, write about it, and tag one person each day. So here goes nothing!

For my first quote I thought I’d start with a book that had me actually writing in the margins because of how many beautiful parts inspired me to want to mark favorite sections. I hate defacing books, but with this one I simply had to, and I’ll explain why. The quote is:

“The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?”

Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

I read De Profundis by Oscar Wilde this last year while struggling with a number of different troubles. Though I wasn’t sitting in a jail like Wilde, I was on a tough path of trying to determine what I wanted to do with my actual life, and who I wanted to be, and was struggling with friendships and life and religion and so much more. The book spoke to me on such a great level in so many ways.

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Though I have never had a true romantic relationship like Wilde, I sympathized with him in his struggles with Bosie in knowing what it’s like to have people claim to care for me and then act completely differently. Though I have never sat in a jail cell to contemplate what life is like, I have wondered on matters of God and the divine in my own life. Though I have never been published, I have wondered at the idea of vocation in terms of my art. I have questioned what matters most in terms of what I do.

But I loved this quote. I loved the way it encompassed how I wonder about my own self. I think it is true, that even to myself I’m a mystery. Something to be explored.

I know it’s sort of cheating, but I did want to include one more section of quotes from this book that spoke to me as I prepared to go into the world and find a career, and I hope any fellow students preparing to do so should read this as well.

“The more mechanical people, to whom life is a shrewd speculation dependent on careful calculation of ways and means, always know where they are going, and go there. They start with the desire of being the Parish Beadle, and in whatever sphere they are placed, they succeed in being the Parish Beadle and no more. A man whose desire is to be something separate from himself, to be a Member of Parliament, or a successful grocer, or a prominent solicitor, or a judge, or something equally tedious, invariably succeeds in being what he wants to be. That is his punishment. Those who want a mask have to wear it.”
-Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

I thought this was a great reminder that we are not what we do. We are more than a job. We are more than a vocation. And to make ourselves only that is indeed to wear a mask. Don’t tack down your own identity as your career. That can change. And we are so much more.  Recognize the unknowable element of identity, and let go.

For today I start by tagging a mutual follower calensariel at Impromptu Promptlings. She has been a loyal follower and great commenter, and she runs a fantastic blog on writing and poetry and all kinds of other interesting topics. The challenge is to post one quote a day for three days, and to tag one blogger each day to participate.

If anyone is inspired by this of course feel free to participate even if I don’t tag you. I don’t have enough quotes to tag all of my amazing readers of course!

What have been moments you’ve struggled with in your own life? Have there been times you’ve recognized that self and identity are difficult to determine? What are some quotes you really like? What was the last book you read that inspired you?

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Write What You Know

One of my favorite books of all time is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Maybe someday I’ll actually write a post just on it, but for now I was skimming through old favorite parts and I ran across something I think is so crucially important to writing.

So a little backstory for those who don’t know. Fangirl is about a young English major named Cath who goes off to her first year of college and spends most of her time sort of hiding in the magical world of Simon Snow, a magical series of books that she is utterly obsessed with. She’s entered into a fiction writing class for upperclassmen, and she has trouble when she tries turning in fanfiction for some of her assignments.

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She and her professor have a conversation at one point that goes something like this:

Professor Piper nodded. “You said something last time that I’ve been thinking about–you said that you didn’t want to build your own world.”

Cath looked up. “Yes. Exactly. I don’t have brave new worlds inside of me begging to get out. I don’t want to start from nothing like that.”

“But Cath–most writers don’t. Most of us aren’t Gemma T. Leslie.” She waved her hand around the office. “We write about the worlds we already know. I’ve written four books, and they all take place within a hundred and twenty miles of my hometown. Most of them are about what happened in real life.”

“So everything in your books is true?”

The professor tilted her head and hummed. “Mmmm…yes. And no. Everything starts with a little truth, then I spin my webs around it–sometimes I spin completely away from it. But the point is, I don’t start with nothing.” (307 Rowell).

Rowell, Rainbow. Fangirl. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013. Print.

I read this novel going into my senior year, finally taking the fiction writing course my college offered. The amount that I related to Cath was enormous, just in being a shy and confused English major and having trouble interacting with others etc etc etc. But I really related to her when it came down to my final fiction writing project.

My whole life I’ve tried weaving fantasy worlds. Occasionally I’ve branched out and written something more real, but for the most part I’ve always been taken with Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and knights and dragons and fairies and other things not of this world. But for my final project I just kept drawing a blank. Coming up with a fantasy world was one thing, being able to contain it into a short story was another. And so I knew I needed to do as Professor Piper had suggested. I needed to start from something. I needed to pull in real world knowledge.

Last year I really strove to be better at standing up for myself. I’m usually quite terrible at it in general Especially when it comes to saying no. Even in the last week I didn’t say no to a friend when she asked me to do something I didn’t want to, and I bought something I didn’t need from a little girl who came to my door. I’m still working on it. I’m still getting better. But this last semester I did try better at speaking out in some difficult circumstances, especially in ending a friendship seven years in the making. Because I realized after a while that I had to stop being nice, that I needed to start standing up for myself and saying no. And in a moment of inspiration, I decided I should write about that.

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I did. It was beautiful and fulfilling. Almost more so than making magic worlds or watching my characters live happily ever after. I was able to share an experience I’d had with the world. I was able to capture how hard it is to say no, but how crucial it is at the same time.

I’m still considering trying to send the story out, otherwise I’d put it up here for you to read.

The point I’m trying to make is sometimes you have to dig into yourself to find something worth writing about. Maybe it’s not as exciting on the surface as creating something completely new or magical, or writing about something in another country or another world, or going back in time. But it’s meaningful because it includes your passion and emotions. I think it gives people something more concrete to sympathize with. I felt particularly pleased when my professor commented in class “Oh I think most of us have had something like this happen before.”

So, has anyone else had a moment of real life you’ve decided to use as a catalyst? Do you feel like most of the time you write what you’ve experienced or create from nothing? How do you find yourself being inspired?

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