Wordy Wednesday: This Is a Love Story

Okay, so I’m writing this Tuesday night because over the course of the next two days I have a short story, film review, and midterm paper all due and I haven’t begun any of them yet. And, you know, who doesn’t love to procrastinate.

The reason I haven’t begun anything yet is because I spent my entire weekend sleeping and reading and watching movies/the Oscars, because I am SO FREAKING TIRED and it needs to be spring break. But here we go: Survive these next two days, and I get a whole week off from school.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a short story I wrote for class, fall semester 2013. It was one of the weaker stories of the semester, but I still think it’s cute, so figured it was worth the share.

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We were stumped. The entire 100-level Classic Literature class just stared at Professor Robinson while the question hung in the dry classroom air: Had she really just asked us to rewrite Romeo and Juliet minus the dying part? Or Pride and Prejudice without Mr. Darcy being a total d-bag for ninety percent of the book? Or The Notebook sans shirtless Ryan Gosling?
“Come on, people,” Professor Robinson said. “It’s not that hard. Which part of the love story is the most important? How do you know which is which? How can you tell what part is the most significant until long after the entire thing is over, the lovers dead and gone and no longer important to anyone at all? Which parts aren’t necessary to weave a good tale? A writer can’t talk about literally every moment in a relationship, so how do they decide which ones to catalogue and describe? How do you tell a love story?”
I leaned forward with my chin propped on my fist and watched the girl in front of me take duck-face pictures on her webcam. The boy beside me had fallen asleep about five minutes before, and was snoring to the tune of what I assume was Star Wars. The girl on the other side of him was in an intense staring contest with the clock above the white board.
“Renee?” Professor Robinson’s tone was hopeful.
I jumped and shook my head. “Sorry, Professor. This time I’ve got nothing.”
She sighed. “Fine. Anyone else?” She glanced at the clock. We still had another twenty minutes, but the loudest noise in the room was the Star Wars theme a la Nose Whistle, so she closed her eyes and took a deep breath and said the two words every college student lives to hear: “Class dismissed.”

That was three days ago. Since then it has rained twice, and the sun has set and risen three times, and I have sat just as quietly as I did in that classroom, only in the front passenger seat of my mom’s minivan as we battled traffic all the way back to the little town of Miller, Wisconsin, because I promised Trish before I left for Northwestern that I would come home for the Homecoming game no matter what, even though coming home for Homecoming means coming home to all the problems I left behind.
And all this time I’ve thought about Professor Robinson’s question of what makes a good love story, but I haven’t been able to come up with a single idea. Until this very instant. The instant that I’m thinking all of this.
Because in this instant, someone is tapping me on the shoulder while I wait in the concession line at the Miller High School Homecoming game, and I’m turning around with my heart already in my throat, and Max Barton is standing behind me with one arm outstretched, the other tucked in the pocket of his faded Miller High Matterhorns hoodie, and a smile stretched across his lips. His brown eyes light up like I don’t have dog hair on my skirt or mascara smudged above my left cheek. He is exactly as tall as I remember—five foot eleven, the perfect height for me to tilt my head up to meet his gaze.
Professor Robinson, I promise I will write this down when I get home, because I can answer your question: A love story is a touch.
“Renee.”
A love story is a name.
“Hey.” I can’t get enough of the crisp September air in my lungs, and my sweater is both too heavy and not warm enough, and I haven’t seen Max Barton in months, but suddenly he is standing right behind me. “Long time no see.”
His smile broadens and he runs a hand back through his straight chocolate brown hair. “How are you? How’s Northwestern?” He has the voice of an old-time movie star, deep and lilting. The stadium lights make the freckles spread across his nose and cheeks stand out from the rest of his skin like one of the constellations just popping into existence above us as the sun sets over the parking lot.
“I’m good. It’s good.” I force a shrug. “How are you, Max? How’s the University of Wisconsin?”
He copies my movement. “It’s nice. It’s also nice to be home for the weekend, though. I missed everybody.” He takes in my rumpled sweater and frizzy chestnut ponytail; the scuffs across the toe of my right combat boot.
When I’m nervous, I dig my right foot into the ground. I’m doing it right now.
“You look beautiful, Renee.”
The temperature in my cheeks rises by a hundred degrees. I cross my arms and stare down at the trampled yellow grass, then swing my toe into the mangled strands again and watch as some of them break free. I close my eyes.
The truth about love stories is that you aren’t telling the reader about the relationship in general. You’re telling them about a specific moment that defines not just the relationship, but the characters themselves. Like a children’s book, a love story teaches a lesson. And maybe that lesson is Kissing Is Great rather than Stealing Is Wrong, but it’s still a lesson well-learned.
So I could tell you about the day I met Max Barton, when we were in the ninth grade and I was new to Miller and he said I could eat lunch at his table even though I’d just met him five minutes before at the end of fourth period geometry; I could tell you about a hundred dates, and all the times his fingers curled around mine on the walk home from track practice, and how I was never cold as long as his arm was around my shoulders. I could tell you about our first kiss, and our last, and all the jokes and fights and stories in between.
But instead I will tell you about right now. This moment. When my cheeks are burning up while my sweater is too cold, and Max tells me I look beautiful even though I don’t, and he smiles down at me with his freckles and hair and eyes all exactly as I remember. And I simply step away, say, “Thank you,” and turn to the concession stand to place my order.
Because if all love stories have one thing in common, it’s this: They end. And the love story of Max Barton and Renee Smith is already long gone.
I slide a five dollar bill across the counter to the booster parent scooping my popcorn, and accept the overstuffed bag she hands me with a grin. I slip the wallet back into my purse and tell her to keep the change.
“Have a nice evening, sweetie.”
I nod. “Thanks. You too.”
I wave at Max as I walk back to my seat beside Trish in the stands, but I don’t let my eyes linger on the way his hands are shoved haphazardly into his hoodie pocket or the breeze makes his hair dance across his forehead like a modern day Clark Kent’s. I don’t pay attention to the sound of his deep, lilting goodbye or the half a second his stare catches on my figure or the way his eyes slide so easily away from my retreating form as he approaches the concession stand himself.
I don’t pay attention to the fact that this moment is not a love story, but just an echo of one already told, no longer important to anything but my memories.
I squeeze onto the bench beside Trish and offer her my popcorn.
She raises her eyebrows, but takes a handful anyway. “Was that Max?”
“Yeah, but it’s okay.” I shrug and turn to watch the game. “We’re okay.”
“Good.” She nudges me with her shoulder, and I nudge her back. Out the corner of my eye, I see her grin. She grabs another handful of popcorn. “I’m glad to hear it.”
“Me too.”
A love story is a lesson, and the lesson of my story is this: Not all love stories are between two people. Sometimes they’re between your past and your future, trying to figure out the present. Sometimes a love story is about yourself.
It’s deciding whether or not to move on—whether or not it’s okay to be happy again after something crappy has happened; after someone has broken your heart.
A love story is told through the moments that matter. And in mine, this is the one that does: Seeing Max Barton again, and wanting nothing more than to ride off into the sunset without him. Seeing Max Barton again, and loving myself enough not to love him.

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Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Short and Fast

I’M SO CLOSE TO DONE. I turned in my last term paper this afternoon and took my first final this evening and I’ve only got two finals left before this semester is done and I’M SO CLOSE TO DONE. (Not that I haven’t loved this semester, because I have of course, but, like, I’m so tired. And I have so much non-school stuff to do. Now that it’s finals week, I am ready to be done.)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. Thanks to the wonderful Ariel Kalati for the suggestion! (I don’t know what I’d do without you and your brilliant brain.)

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As you probably can tell from this blog post alone, I don’t naturally lean towards that whole short, snappy sentence structure thing. I’m more of a long and rambly with lots of “ands” and “buts” kind of person. Which isn’t a big deal when I’m writing things from my perspective, because that’s ME, but sometimes it doesn’t work when I’m writing stuff that’s supposed to be intense. Which is, like, basically all my novels.

This especially became a problem while working on the revisions I’ve been doing for the past year or so. The novel I’ve been working on is a first person, present tense YA spy thriller. Aka: Keeping things as intense as possible is essential. Aka: My thirty+ word long rambling sentences did not work in the story (and were kind of strangling the voice of my narrator).

Shorter sentences and paragraphs make the writing run faster and, due to this, are also more likely to keep the reader engaged. They also feel more natural to stories with a lot of action-y stuff going on, whereas longer sentences fit better with, like, contemporary, literary-y stuff. (Bear with me on that y-y action there.)

So, I made it one of my revising missions to make the line-by-line writing more intense by making things shorter. And this is how I did it.

1. Streamline wording.

This is the easiest way of making your writing punchier (and really is good for your writing overall, whether you’re aiming for ). Cut all unnecessary words.

If you have the choice between two ways of saying something, always choose the smaller word count.

2. Minimize your conjunctions.

Be picky about when you use “ands” and “buts” and everything else. Every time you use a conjunction, consider what it would sound like if you used a period instead. Chances are, it sounds fine, and that helps you make your writing move faster.

3. Focus on rhythm.

As you’re changing sentence and paragraph lengths, make sure to go through each section (I usually do about a page at a time), reading for rhythm. Pay attention to the beats of all the periods and paragraph breaks and make sure it’s the level of choppiness and flow that you want.

4. No sentences or paragraphs over X length.

I’ve been working on the whole Make the Writing Run Faster thing for a couple drafts now. The first time through, I tried to limit my sentences to thirty words max, with most being fifteen words or fewer. The second time, I let myself keep a few sentences here and there that were around thirty words, but I squeezed most of them down to more around twenty words, with the majority being like ten words or fewer.

Paragraph-wise I have looser rules, but I try to keep most of mine to five lines or fewer and I use a lot of one-to-three line paragraphs that are only a couple sentences long.

The biggest thing is to set rules for yourself and stick to them. If you’ve got a max number of words you let yourself use in a sentence, you’ll find that it’s really easy to make most of your sentences even shorter than that.

Overall, with all these tips, what you want to do is find the sound that works for your characters and story and run with it. Sometimes your narrator’s voice is going to need to be different from your own, and sometimes how you write your first draft isn’t going to be the style the story will need. Find that style and run with it.

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Thanks for reading! And good luck on finals if you’re stuck in that torture chamber with me right now. (WE CAN DO IT.)

~Julia

NaNo Day 22: Flow

I was going to do a room tour today, but my room is a mess and I’m exhausted, so it’s going to have to wait until post-November, likely. (I just finally partially unpacked yesterday after being home last weekend, if that gives any indication of the state of things.)

Due to said exhaustion, I’m not going to ramble on too much today. But what I will say is that today I had brunch with friends, and chiseled away a little at my never ending mountain of homework, and hosted a couple Ch1Con online events, and, oh yeah, WROTE 10,210 WORDS AND GOT AHEAD OF MY SCHEDULE.

It’s the most I’ve done in a single day this NaNoWriMo and I don’t even know how it happened. It’s not like I was working extra hard or anything. But I did finally reach that sweet spot in the novel when my love interest is actually around a lot and, like, bantering with my protagonist and making her fall in love with him, and I love that part.

The fact that it didn’t come until nearly forty thousand words into the novel proves that if I choose to revise this thing once it’s finished, I’m going to have a LOT of cutting and restructuring to do. But right now I don’t care. I’m just excited to watch their relationship come together.

Anyway, I’m going to go read or Netflix until I fall asleep (which probably will be soon).

It’s days like today that remind me why writing is a thing. When it just starts to flow, and it’s so easy, and maybe the writing isn’t amazing, or even good, but it’s there.

Less than 4K left in NaNoWriMo 2014. Let’s give these last nine days our all.

Goal for today: 2,000.

Overall goal: 43,000.

Current word count: 46,333.

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Getting Unstuck Techniques

It’s been blizzarding all day, which means I guess it’s officially winter and officially Julia Never Wants to Leave the Apartment Ever Again time. (I mean, it’s gorgeous out. And snow is fun to play in. However, walking to class through the slush and black ice? Not my favorite.) Also I baked cookies this afternoon (then ate nine) and had my first of at least four Thanksgiving dinners (including pumpkin pie), so obviously I’m making good life choices right now.

Wednesdays are a kind of easy day for me, so I’ve actually had some time to write, and I GOT IN ANOTHER 4K ON NANOWRIMO. I’m now at just over 36,000 words, which still puts me 2K behind where I wanted to be at this point in the month, but I’m doing a virtual write-a-thon thing Friday night, so hopefully I’ll catch up. (Although, also, I need to work on a term paper this weekend and I’m going home towards the end to get some of my plethora of stitches out, so who knows how much time I’ll actually have. But fingers crossed.)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. Thanks to CP, Ch1Con team member, and all around amazing human Ariel for the idea! (You can read an interview I did with Ariel here.)

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We’ve all been there. You’re busily writing away, all happy go lucky and enjoying your story, then BOOM: You’re stuck.

I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in getting stuck. Sometimes you’re mentally drained, or you’re not quite sure where the story wants to go from there, or something else equally as frustrating. But just as easy as it is to get stuck, it’s even easier to get unstuck.

1. Take a shower. I can’t tell you how many problems I’ve worked out by taking a long, hot shower. When you’re just standing there, letting your mind drift and with so few distractions, your brain has a way of working things out without you even needing to focus on what’s wrong. Then you’ll be in the middle of making a Mohawk with your shampoo suds and you’ll be like, “WHOA. WAIT. STOP. EPIPHANY.”

2. Go for a walk or run. This is another really great way of clearing your head. I did a lot of work figuring out problems while revising this semester while walking on the treadmill in my apartment building’s gym. Mind numbing activities are just so good for working things out. (The biggest thing is that you need to not focus on what you’re trying to work out. It’s your subconscious that will come up with the answers.)

3. Work on another part of the story. Sometimes when I have an issue, I’ll move forward to another part in the story and write there until I have an idea of how to get between the part I’m stuck at and the new part. If you’re trying to build a bridge but you have no idea what the other side you’re building to will look like, how are you supposed to know how to build the bridge, right?

4. Read a book or watch a movie. If you’ve reached that point when you’re quite simply too burned out to continue, take a break. Focus on a story that’s already done. Let yourself relax and remind yourself why you love stories in the first place.

5. Change your environment. It can be as simple as putting on some music or moving to a different room. Sometimes you just need a change, any change, to get back into the flow of things.

6. Sleep. When all else fails: put the stuckness out mind and come back in the morning. The problem’s not going anywhere, so take your time fixing it. Don’t worry. You’ve got this.

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Thanks for reading!

Goal for today: 2,000 + Monday’s leftover 2,000 + Sunday’s 1,000

Overall goal: 38,000.

Current word count: 36,123

~Julia

NaNo Day 17: Interview with Ariel Kalati

Having one of those days when it feels like absolutely nothing will ever go right ever again and I might as well melt in a pool of my own tears and never go outside again.

Which is stupid, I realize. Because I’m currently sitting in a really nice and cozy apartment at a really good university and I had a really good breakfast and two of my really awesome roommates–who I do not in any way deserve–are sitting beside me and just talked me down from the tantrum I was throwing over some news I got and yeah.

I’m so incredibly lucky. And sometimes it’s hard to remember that after getting bad news and more bad news and not knowing how to proceed from this point and ugh. But it’s true.

So I’m trying to hold onto that. And remembering that yesterday was a really good day, and up until recently I’d been having nothing but good days for a long time, and we all have to pay our dues to karma eventually.

Also, it’s snowing and I’ve got good music playing and I read a good book this morning. (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, if you’re curious.) So life is good. Today, even, has overall been good. It’s just about what I focus on.

And, starting now, I’m focusing on the good parts of today.

Speaking of which: Today I am thrilled to share with you an interview!

Like last year, throughout November I’m sharing interviews with other writers competing in NaNoWriMo in order to give a broader perspective of the event. (Also to just let you meet these fantastic humans, because I adore them.) In addition, all of this year’s interviewees are Ch1Con team members!

Today’s interview is with Ariel Kalati, one of my oldest writing friends. We’ve known each other forever, went to BookCon 2014 together, she’s spoken at the previous two Ch1Cons, she has this AMAZING eye for grammar, AND she’s one of Ch1Con’s new Creative Consultants. And she is fabulously snarky and hilarious. And yeah. Take it away, Ariel.

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Q: In one sentence, what is your novel about?

(A rewrite of NaNo 2012 ’cause I’m a rebel) Two teenagers are forced to convince the beast of winter to help them save the human race from evil spirits.

Q: What is your favorite part of NaNoWriMo?

My favorite part is when you didn’t write for a few days and you’re moping about and then it’s like you’re in an inspirational movie montage and you write EIGHT THOUSAND WORDS IN ONE DAY and you’re very proud of yourself.

Q: Do you have any specific writing rituals you follow?

Not really. I like to write between 10 pm and 1 am generally, and some chocolate is always helpful.

Q: What’s your secret to juggling life and NaNo at the same time?

There’s a lot of crying involved and yelling at people that they don’t understand the hardships of NaNoWriMo.

Q: Any advice for the troops?

You don’t necessarily have to write every day. Some days are “ugh writing sucks” days and some days are “so much writing yay!” days. Try to focus more on your weekly word count than your daily word count. And remember, bribing yourself with food and blackmailing yourself with lack of food are unhealthy but efficient ways to get that word count up!

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Thanks for letting me interview you, Ariel! And thanks for reading!

Goal for today: 2,000 + yesterday’s leftover 2,000 + Saturday’s 3,000 + Friday’s 3,500.

Overall goal: 35,000.

Current word count: 27,754.

~Julia

NaNo Day 16: Catching Up

Today I finished reading Eleanor and Park (really liked it, but not as much as Fangirl), finished the business work I needed to get done this weekend with my amazing mom’s help, then headed home (school-version) to catch the tail end of a local write-in.

I love write-ins. I cannot recommend them highly enough. There’s something about being in a room full of people working their butts off on on the same thing that’s super motivating.

So I’ve started catching up on NaNoWriMo. I’m still behind (I’d need to write another 5.5K today to catch up with my weekly goal and my arm’s already really sore and my brain’s going numb), but I just wrote 4K in an hour and a half, and I’m proud of that.

Here’s to hoping I get in another couple thousand words tonight, along with finishing catching up on homework. And if not: I’m happy to be back at it anyway.

How’s NaNoWriMo going for you? Any unexpected problems/burn out to deal with?

Oh, also: This song was featured in Big Hero 6 stuff and I’m kind of in love with it. Listen if you’re in need of a pump up.

Goal for today: 2,000 + yesterday’s leftover 3,000 + Friday’s 5,000 + Thursday’s 1,000 + Wednesday’s 1,500.

Overall goal: 33,000.

Current word count: 27,568.

~Julia

PS. I JUST REALIZED I HAVE NOT MENTIONED IN A LONG TIME HOW FREAKING EXCITED I AM FOR MOCKINGJAY – PART ONE TO HIT THEATERS. GUYS. GUYS, GUYS, GUYS, IT IS THIS WEEKEND OMG.