Wordy Wednesday: Raising the Stakes

It’s been a busy week.

I had my first day of work at the bookshop Thursday, then promptly found out that my roommate Hannah needed someone to go to Chicago with her for an emergency trip to the Brazilian consulate (don’t ask). So I traded off Ch1Con Chat duties for the night with the incredible Kira and off we drove to Chicago.

We spent a good part of Friday running back and forth between the consulate and other places, then we got our reward for enduring all of that: a few free hours in downtown. We ate lunch in the cafe in Millennium Park with the Bean as our view, then took the river walk to Navy Pier, where we sat for a while and watched the boats and waves. Afterward, we took the water taxi back to the Magnificent Mile, and from there spur-of-the-moment decided to do a river boat architecture tour. We finished the afternoon with stops at a candy shop and Garrett Popcorn for provisions for the long drive home, then headed back to Michigan.

Despite the fact that in total we were only gone for around thirty hours (and we spent almost half of that in the car, another seven hours or so sleeping, and the entire morning doing the emergency consulate stuff), it was a fun trip. We listened to the Order of the Phoenix audiobook on the way there and back, and got to hang out for the first time since winter semester ended, and yeah.

Then on Sunday my family decided to go into downtown Detroit for the day to celebrate my brother’s recent birthday (HAPPY TWENTY-FOURTH, DUDE), so we hit the Detroit Institute of the Arts to see the special Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo exhibit, then wandered around Campus Martius and Greektown and got dinner. And it was a really wonderful day.

However, what both those trips meant was that come Monday, I was insanely behind on everything. So I’ve been playing catchup with all my various jobs and responsibilities ever since. Fingers crossed that in the next couple days, I finally get there (because then next week is BEA/BookCon, which means I’m going to get behind again).

Anyway. This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

So this week in my screenwriting class, we’re sharing something called our “five minute pitch.” (The name is pretty self-explanatory.)

I’ve pitched projects a billion times before, between telling literary agents at conferences about my novels and sharing ideas at meetings. But doing the five minute pitch for class was honestly terrifying, because here’s the thing: We haven’t worked on our scripts at all yet.

AT. ALL.

We’d just finished sketching out some quick character profiles and our loglines, and all of a sudden our professor wanted us to have our entire plot ready to go–with all the twists, subplots, and character development fleshed out.

I’m a pantser and a procrastinator, so of course I went into class (assigned to pitch first) with next to nothing prepared and just winged it. And it went pretty well for me making up the story as I went.

However, in the critique afterward my class pointed out a pretty big flaw in my idea. This is a flaw I regularly run into, and probably the fact that my class got the very roughest draft of the plot for my screenplay made it even more apparent than usual.

I’m bad at stakes.

Not always, of course. Within stories themselves, my here-and-now stakes are generally pretty solid. (In the case of my screenplay, a girl’s best friend has been kidnapped and if she doesn’t find her fast, the kidnapper will kill the BFF.) But my why-is-this-story-happening stakes often need help.

Generally, we call this type of stakes “motivation.” Why is someone doing something? Why would they approach the issue in this specific way? What do they hope to obtain from it or fear will happen if they don’t succeed?

It’s that last question that transforms a character’s motivation into a form of stakes, but it’s the combination of the three that I have trouble with. In order for a motivation to feel realistic and justifiable to a reader/viewer, it has to be a single thing that realistically and justifiably answers all three questions.

When pitching my screenplay idea, I talked about how the kidnapper wanted vengeance on the BFF for something she’d done in the past. So, technically I’d answered the first question–but my pitch didn’t really cover the other two, and I hadn’t really thought about those yet.

And, unfortunately, my answer to Question #1 wasn’t the greatest, either.

“The stakes aren’t high enough,” my professor cautioned. My classmates offered ideas for ways I could make the kidnapper’s motivation stronger by making the BFF’s past mistakes worse.

And sitting there in front of the class, furiously taking down editorial notes, I realized something: The mistakes I’d already assigned the BFF were deplorable, so it wasn’t that they weren’t realistic or justifiable motivation for the kidnapping. It was that they weren’t for a kidnapping in fiction.

If this story was happening in real life, the best friend wouldn’t need to do as bad of things to justify someone kidnapping her. The kidnapper wouldn’t need as much riding on her decisions. Real life allows for chance and illogical actions and spur-of-the-moment choices (like Hannah and my one day road trip). But while real life certainly thrives on order, fiction needs it to survive.

You don’t need justification in real life, because it’s really happening. That’s justification enough. But because fiction is, you know, fictional, the reader/viewer no longer is required to believe what you’re telling him/her. So it becomes your job to make it just oh so painstakingly without a doubt believable that s/he has no choice but feel that what you’re telling him/her is the truth.

And this is the part that I’ve had issues with in the past. I know how to justify things IRL; it’s a whole other story to do it in fiction.

The easiest way is to quite simply raise the stakes. Make what’s going on bigger, worse, harder to come back from.

In one of my novels, I was dealing with an organization of dastardly vigilantes that the government wants to shut down. I originally had them at only a couple hundred members, which my critique partners immediately said they couldn’t believe. (“Why would the US government care about an organization that small?” they asked.) (Because, yeah, the real life United States totally wouldn’t care about a couple hundred unknown people running around with guns, killing whoever they felt like.) So I upped the number by a couple hundred. Then, when that still wasn’t believable, had to up it again.

Your in-story motivations have to be larger than life. They have to be impossible to disprove or disagree with. You have to move beyond realistic and justifiable–to indisputable.

So: raise the stakes.

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Characters and Plot

I found out yesterday that I landed a part-time job at a local bookstore! I’ll be working there for the rest of spring semester before moving to NYC for my internship in July, and I’m super excited.

Also, I’ve got a guest post up today on Newbie Writers (which is pretty cool), and tomorrow Ch1Con is hosting our monthly live video chat at 8:00 PM eastern. We’ll be discussing world-building. You can check it out on our Youtube channel at www.youtube.com/ChapterOneConference.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

Earlier today I was working on a screenwriting assignment when I ran into a bit of an issue. I was supposed to write a two hundred and fifty word character profile for my protagonist; in theory, easy enough. I ran through all the tips of things to discuss that our prof had given us (speech patterns, backstory, character arc, etc.). I filled out one of those character questionnaires with which the internet’s obsessed. I thought I had a really good handle on my protag.

Then I tried writing the actual profile, and it kept coming out sounding like, well, plot instead of character.

I couldn’t figure it out. The entire thing was definitely about my protagonist. I talked about her defining characteristics and hobbies. I brought in her backstory to show why she is the way she is and discussed the way she’ll have to change from the beginning of the screenplay to the end in order to achieve her goal. But when I read the profile all together, it reeked of plot.

Getting desperate, I turned to a couple of my writing friends for help (which is really what I should have done in the first place, because those guys are brilliant). After reading the profile, the always intelligent and wonderful Kira replied that I was right that the character profile felt like it contained plot. But I was wrong that that was a bad thing.

Because, as Kira reminded me, for a story to work, your characters and plot need to be so tightly interwoven you can’t separate them. Your characters need to influence your plot and your plot needs to change your characters. The reason my character profile seemed so plot-heavy was because I included my protagonist’s character arc. And a character arc is literally how a character changes due to the plot.

This is important to remember. When writing a story (whether it be a screenplay or novel or something else), you need to think about not only why you’ve chosen to write that plot, or about those characters–but why you’ve chosen to write about those two in conjunction with one another. If you could change your characters without greatly affecting your plot, or vice versa, something’s off.

Characters and plot should be in a reciprocal relationship with one another. Removing one should irredeemably damage the other.

So, try some writing exercises. Write character profiles for your protagonists and antagonists, and write out the arc of your plot. If you can successfully talk about one element of the story without the other, tweak until you can’t. Make your characters and plot need one another.

Then (like I’m going to, just as soon as my screenwriting prof lets us): get writing.

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Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

The Creative Blogger Award

I’ve been nominated for another blogging award! A huge thanks to the ever lovely Adriana Gabrielle for the nomination.

The Rules:
~Nominate 15-20 blogs and notify all nominees via their social media/blogs
~Thank and post the link of the blog that nominated you (very important)
~Share 5 facts about yourself to your readers
~Pass these rules on to them

The Nominees:
Kira of Kira Budge: Author
Ariel of Ariel Kalati, Writer
Mel of The Ultimately Useless Stories of an Average Teenager
Joan of The Spastic Writer
Hannah of Just Hannah dot Rose
Hannah of To Journey Toward
Shelby of Shelby Writes

(Not nominating 15 to 20 people, because whoa that’s a lot. So: even if I haven’t nominated you, if you’d like to complete this tag, go for it!)

The Facts:

1. I’m super into movies. Like, SUPER into movies. I almost ended up double majoring in film (in addition to my creative writing and literature major), but couldn’t quite justify it since I don’t currently have plans to work in the film industry. (Instead I’m a film minor with a bunch of extra film classes just for fun, like the screenwriting course I’m in right now.)

2. I’m trying to get in shape this summer, so I’m currently doing a hundred situps and biking about twenty miles a day. I like biking, because when I’m riding one of the stationary bikes in my building’s gym I can watch endless Netflix. My goal’s to get up to thirty miles a day.

3. As a counterpoint to the getting-in-shape thing, I’m also really into cooking and I put on like eight pounds this school year because I was finally out of the dorms and so had a kitchen at my disposal.

4. I’m addicted to the CW’s crappy superhero shows. The Flash, especially. There’s just something about attractive actors and bad writing.

5. I own a ridiculous number of mugs. It started because I didn’t own any, so I had to borrow one from my parents when I moved to college freshman year. So I bought myself one on a trip, then two–then all of a sudden I had like twenty and people keep giving them to me as gifts and I’m starting to run out of space for them. (But also, like, can you ever have too many mugs?) (The answer is yes. And I’ve just about reached that point.)

Thanks again for the nomination, Adriana! I’m looking forward to seeing everyone else’s facts. 🙂

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Edge of the World

It’s the first day of spring term! A tiny part of me would have liked to have gotten more than five seconds of summer vacation, but at the same time, I’m taking screenwriting. So, like, spring term is going to be a lot of hard work, but also SO MUCH FUN.

Also, in the last couple days I found out I got a 4.0 last semester (and my overall GPA is back up into a not-terrible position, thank God) and that I got accepted to a special humanities-based committee on campus that’s starting in the fall and sounds amazing. So I’m having a pretty solid week so far.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a song I wrote a couple months ago.

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[Capo 3]
VERSE1 [C, G, Em, C]
How did we get here,
at the end of the line?
Did we turn the map wrong?
Did we misread the signs?

And where do we go from here,
when I can’t turn around?
I’m a bird afraid of flying.
No, I’m afraid of hitting the ground.

TRANSITION1 [C, G, Em, D]
And I don’t know
where to go-oh-oh-oh-oh
from here,
from here

CHORUS [C, G, Em, D]
Tell me, where is this leading?
I need to know how we’re proceeding.
Left, right, straight ahead—
Will the sun rise on us as good as dead?

Tell me, should I keep believing,
Evening when time keeps leaving?
Up, down, crash into the ground—
Will our screams on the edge make a sound?

Falling off the edge of the world.
Falling off the edge of the world.

VERSE2 [C, G, Em, C]
How did it come to this,
after all that we’ve been through?
Could we have tried harder?
Were we destined to lose?

And how do we move on from here,
when everything’s a fall?
I’m so afraid of dying.
No, I’m afraid of not living at all.

TRANSITION2 [C, G, Em, D]
All I know
is the lights glow-oh-oh
even here,
even here

[Repeat CHORUS]

BRIDGE [C, G, Em, D]
Everything is about movement,
but they try to lock you out of it,
and I am just so sick of this—
leaving on a plane, train,
no time to explain

[Repeat CHORUS]

ENDING [C, G, Em, D]
Falling off the edge of the world.
Falling off the edge of the world.

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Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Scheduling Is Hard

I schedule for fall semester of senior year on Monday.

Besides the fact that that’s absolutely crazy (HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO BE A SENIOR ALREADY?), it’s also, well, crazy. Because there are approximately a thousand more classes I want to take than I ever would be able to.

Probably the worst part of this whole scheduling thing is that it keeps reminding me how I’m not sure what to do for the next couple years of my life. For one thing, there are enough film classes I want to take that I might as well add a film major. But do I want to work in the film industry, and would it really be smart to spend the the time and money necessary to get a film major (at least one extra semester of classes) if I’m not planning on it?

Then there’s grad school. I’m looking at getting a masters in a few different things. Creative writing, or literature, or film studies/criticism. But do I really want a masters? Do I really want a masters in one of those things? What kind of masters program would I want to complete? I DO NOT KNOW.

Then there’s also the possibility of trying to get a job straight out of college, and what job would I even go for? I know that I more than likely want to work in publishing (I mean, that’s been the plan for years now and I do adore the publishing industry), but at this point I’m not positive what I want to do in publishing. Work for a publishing house or literary agency? Work in editing or marketing or something else? Move to New York or try my luck elsewhere? (Once again I say: SOMEONE GIVE ME AN INTERNSHIP. I need help figuring these things out.)

And the decision of which classes to take senior year is going to influence what I can do after college. And that’s terrifying.

All of this is terrifying.

I know whatever path I take from here isn’t the only one I’m ever allowed to take. If I’m lucky enough to live until I’m all old and grey, life will be a long haul. I can do many things if I want. But still. I’m scared for the next few years.

Anyway, all this to say: Scheduling is hard, and I know a lot of my friends are just as freaked out about what to do after college as I am, and fingers crossed that everything works out for us and everyone else in similar positions.

Are you dealing with any scary existential crises too? Want to commiserate together?

~Julia

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: Balancing College and Writing

Things going on right now:

1.) Ch1Con activities will be starting back up again in the next couple weeks, so watch that blog (here) for info on live chats, writing sprints, etc. Also keep a lookout for conference-related announcements! Registration and the speaker list should be going live really, really soon.

2.) My first post is up on Teens Can Write, Too! I talk about why critique partners are awesome. Check it out here.

3.) The bot chose the winners for my third blogiversary giveaway and I’ve been in contact with all of them. Congrats if you won, and thanks anyway if you didn’t! I wish I could give a book to everyone who entered.

Classes started today and while I’m nervous about being able to handle everything I need/want to do this semester, it’s also really nice to start getting back into a rhythm. I work best when I’ve got a routine and deadlines, sooo. Yay school, I guess?

The biggest thing is about finding a balance between all the different things I’m doing. So, for this week’s Wordy Wednesday: some of the ways I do that.

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Keep Several Types of Schedules

I personally use a planner to keep up with my day-to-day activities, especially homework and events I’ve scheduled with friends. But I also usually have a weekly to do list on my computer, a day-to-day to do list on a white board on my wall, and if I’m in the middle of a writing project, I’ll have a separate schedule written out for handling that as well.

The more detailed my schedules are, the more easily I can stay on task and keep up with everything I need to do.

Dedicate Time to Writing–And Dedicate Time to Not Writing

This is one I have trouble with a lot, but basically what it boils down to is this: It’s not healthy to write for long stretches without breaks. (And I’m talking mentally, not what sitting around all day on your laptop does to your poor defenseless abs.) So even when it feels like you don’t have time to get everything done that you need to, it’s important to take time away from working to hang out with friends or catch up on your favorite TV show or whatever.

HOWEVER, it’s also important to take time to write. A lot of people don’t see writing as a real job, but we need to treat it that way if we want to get anywhere. Set aside time to write each week and don’t let people take that time from you.

Don’t Write During Class

It can be really tempting to write during class, especially in those really boring three-hundred-person lecture hall gen ed classes, but DO NOT GIVE IN. By writing during class, you miss what the professor’s saying, then end up having to take more time later to look up and learn that info on your own. So what little time you save by writing during class, you lose two fold later on.

Instead: Pay attention in class. Don’t procrastinate on your homework. Then reap the benefits of all the free time you suddenly have.

Be Flexible

You can plan and schedule and work ahead all you want. Things will still get in the way sometimes.

Be flexible. Write in the little moments. Stay in to work instead of going out with friends sometimes (but also still go out with friends sometimes). Take a break from doing homework by writing and take a break from writing by doing homework.

And more than anything: Do what feels right for you. Sometimes it’s going to be hard to fit writing in with school, but if you want it badly enough, you can do it.

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Thanks for reading!

Are you back in classes this week? How’s that going? (Please tell me it’s warmer where you are.)

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Break Time

Heads up: This week’s Wordy Wednesday is supposed to be a short story, but this topic is a little more relevant right now. Sorry! I’ll put the short story up next week.

Two days until I get to go home!

I’ve honestly been really enjoying the finals period this year, which sounds weird I’m sure, but I’m currently in the middle of a week-long break between my last two finals and I’ve been spending it relaxing. I started out with these grand plans of finishing my NaNoWriMo novel or the other writing project I’m working on, but I tried that and I can’t. I’m too burned out.

The whole Burned Out thing is something I’ve been suspecting but ignoring all semester. While I’ve been able to do the work for my creative writing class, and won NaNoWriMo, and have been doing a little writing on the side here and there, I’ve gotten to the point where I just can’t get anything to work quite right; I have ideas, but I can’t get them to come out properly on the page. All the pieces are there, but I can’t figure out the puzzle.

And I was really mad at myself all semester over this, because I took winter semester of this past year off from my creative writing class because I was feeling burned out then, so that should have helped me recharge. And I spend two months in freaking EUROPE over the summer, so THAT should have helped me recharge.

I’ve had so many adventures this year and I’m so happy with life right now.

And towards the beginning of this break between finals, as I was struggling to just make writing work already, I thought maybe it couldn’t because I was too happy. Like, too many things have been going right for me, you know? But then, also, I’ve been making myself miserable by stressing out over all this.

So, I gave up and decided to take this week off.

I’ve done a little writing here and there, and I’ve been thinking a lot about writing, but it’s nothing major. Mostly what I’ve been doing is sitting around and watching Netflix. I’ve been hanging out with friends and going out to eat. I’ve gotten back into the routine of working out every day and eating maybe a little better (but also letting myself eat junk food without feeling TOO guilty) and yesterday I spent a couple hours hiking in the Arb in the misty rain. Today I made the spur-of-the-moment decision to go see The Theory of Everything ten minutes before the movie started.

My brother stayed over last night after we went to an advance screening of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, and he parked on the street, so I had to get up to put money in the meeter at five AM, and it was absolutely lovely to walk around Ann Arbor when it was dark and cold and not a single other person was awake.

And I’m realizing that I’m not burned out on writing because I’m too happy. (Which is a very obvious conclusion to reach, but I’m a sleep-deprived junior, so bear with me.) I’m burned out because even when I haven’t been writing all this time I was supposed to be recharging, I’ve been doing stuff.

When I took that semester off from creative writing class, I replaced it with a remote internship with a literary agent.

The month I had off between winter semester and leaving for Europe and study abroad at Oxford, I spent working a thousand hours a day planning and running Ch1Con 2014. (Like even while I was hopped up on Vicodin after getting my impacted wisdom teeth out. I slept off the rest of the day of the surgery, then the next morning I had to get back to work.)

Actually being in Europe, every day we were off on a new adventure.

I was exhausted when I got back to the States, but the very next day I was in the midst of moving into my apartment and fall classes began less than a week later. And this semester has been crazy.

I’ve had no rest in all of this. I keep getting sick, no matter how well I try to take care of myself, and I’ve been having trouble sleeping, and more than anything: I haven’t been able to write. Not like I should be able to.

In finally taking this week off to relax, I’ve realized how exhausted I truly am. I haven’t had a chance to just sit around and do nothing and not feel guilty about it in over a year.

And the dumb thing is that I’m scared. I’m scared that letting my momentum slow for a week will mean it’ll be harder to get started again than to keep going would have been if I’d never stopped, and that taking a week off that I could have spent finishing a project means that I’m falling behind and not good enough, and that people will look down on me for this decision.

I stood in a bookstore today, looking at the travel section, when a song came on in which, not kidding, the chorus basically just repeated, “Where are you going?” a thousand times. And at first I was sad, because I want to be going somewhere. I want to go to Australia and South Africa and Germany and everywhere else in the world. I want to experience absolutely everything. I want to do absolutely everything.

But it’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to take a break.

If I want to be able to keep having and appreciating adventures, I need to recharge.

Wherever I’m going, I’ll find out later. Right now I’m drinking vanilla chai, curled up in my desk chair, and I’m about to start the next episode of Gilmore Girls. I can still taste butter on my lips from the movie theatre popcorn and my plans for tomorrow involve a little studying and packing but mostly doing Whatever I Freaking Feel Like.

This week, I am going absolutely nowhere. And I’m realizing: it’s okay.

The stories will wait.

~Julia

PS. GUESS WHAT TOMORROW IS. That’s right. My third blogiversary. (You totally guessed that, I know.) Be on the look out for a post!

NaNo Day 30: Here We Go

I’m home! By which I mean I’m back snuggled up in my desk chair at my apartment and suddenly it’s the end of the semester.

I’ve been kind of pretending this semester wasn’t this close to over the past few weeks, but now that Thanksgiving is over and I have final projects beginning to be due this week, I figured it was time to risk looking at my finals schedule. And these next few weeks are going to be hell.

I’ve loved this semester. I love my classes and my professors and my terrible schedule. Which is probably why finals exist. (They’re making us take them to pick off the few lone optimists who have clung to their love of school to the end to make sure everyone properly enjoys their winter break away.)

NaNoWriMo already feels like ages ago, even though November’s technically not over yet, since I finished on Tuesday. Now I’m halfway through my first term paper of the semester and I’ve got that, a term paper proposal, a final project and presentation, and a choir concert this week. So definitely no time for writing for a while, but hopefully I can get back to my NaNo novel soon.

NaNoWriMo was really weird this year. I spent most of the month either super behind or ahead of schedule, with all kinds of unexpected craziness going on. And this novel sucks–like, really, really sucks–but I also got to the point with it where I could write a thousand words in fifteen minutes (which is a fourth of my average from before this month) and I’ve had a lot of fun writing something so stupid and terrible.

It was nice to take the pressure off myself of trying to make it something that could someday be decent, and in turn the Terrible Novel actually has helped me get back into being able to write more easily for the things I actually have been taking seriously. (The amount I’ve been struggling to write short stories for creative writing this semester is ridiculous, but I wrote two of my best ones in one night this month. I’ve been doing better in a couple of my other classes, too. There’s just something about actively writing that makes everything easier.) (You know. Besides, like, having time to bathe, work out, and socialize.)

Whether you’ve reached your goal for the month or not, I hope NaNoWriMo has helped you in some way too. And I hope you’re proud of what you’ve done, because no matter how much you wrote, you made the choice to write, and that means so, so much.

As far as I’m concerned, we’re all champions.

Goal for today: 0.

Overall goal: 50,000.

Final word count: 50,127.

Onto finals and the holidays and all that entails. Thanks for sticking with me through this month of blogging daily, and look out for the return to twice a week blogging in December. 🙂

Here we go.

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Afternoon with You

I WON NANOWRIMO 2014!

After taking Monday off, yesterday I shoved through the last 2.5K to hit 50,000 words and won at 8:58 PM. Which means I somehow finished three days ahead of schedule, despite all my setbacks.

The Awful Novel still isn’t anywhere close to finished, so I’ve got a lot more writing to do. But that can wait until after finals. (Or at least after the twelve page term paper due Tuesday.)

This makes seven years in a row of winning National Novel Writing Month. I can’t believe I’ve been competing for so long, but I also can’t imagine my November without it.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a song I wrote back in May.

**********

[G, C, Am, D]
VERSE1
We have a little time
With the sunshine
It’s cold outside
But warm in here

Blue skies with puffy clouds
Playing our music too loud
Legs stretched out
On the couch

CHORUS
Let’s make
A movie of today
It won’t make a good film,
But we’ll have a lot to say

There won’t be conflict
To get the rave reviews
But I would trade a thousand Oscars
For this afternoon with you

VERSE2
We go for an adventure
Around the backyard pond
Climb a tree and don’t come down
’til the shadows are long

We pick some clovers
Make wishes on dandelions
Dance to the sound of the breeze and
Laugh until we’re crying

[Repeat CHORUS]

BRIDGE [Am, G, C, D]
Tomorrow you’ll be on
A train away
But we’ll have the videos
Of this May day

ENDING [G, C, Am, D]
I’m so glad
We made a movie of today
It’s a beautiful film
It has just enough to say

It has no conflict,
But we don’t need the rave reviews
I would trade a million Oscars
For another afternoon with you

**********

Thanks for reading, and good luck if you’re still trudging through the trenches! You can do it!

Goal for today: 0.

Overall goal: 47,000.

Current word count: 50,127.

~Julia