Wordy Wednesday: Writing When Busy

I’m writing this post Tuesday night because tomorrow I have two classes, a writing workshop, a midterm exam, and I’m going to a certain Ch1Con keynote speaker‘s book signing an hour away. Sooo yeah. Time and I will be mutually exclusive on Wednesday.

ANYWAY, though, quick update on the past week: I got to see both Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Deadpool over the weekend, and they were both great. (I also reviewed Deadpool here.) For Galentine’s Day on Saturday, my roommates and I had friends over for waffles and a good time was had by all. Oh, and yesterday (Monday) I got the really amazing news that I GOT ACCEPTED EARLY ADMISSION TO THE COLUMBIA PUBLISHING COURSE UK.

Basically: I am going to be spending the month of September learning all about the British book publishing industry at Exeter College, Oxford University through Columbia University’s Journalism School. And I got the news while in the middle of punching out at the end of my shift at the bookshop and I literally burst into tears in the middle of the dictionary section, so there’s a good chance there are now some customers who are very concerned about my love for words. (Which is actually not all that off-base, but like, yeah.)

This is the first year Columbia’s putting on a version of their publishing course in the UK, and it’s such a dream come true because, well, I’m pretty sure the entire world knows at this point how obsessed I am with Oxford. But AHHH I’M GOING BACK.

Onto what you’re actually here for: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

In case the above description of my life didn’t give it away, I don’t have a lot of free time these days. My planner looks more like a pen threw up in it than a legitimate schedule and I can’t remember the last time I felt truly relaxed. (It was probably sometime this summer. Or in elementary school? One of the two.) However, I’m still doing my best to carve out a little time to write here and there, and it’s slowly (hopefully) adding up to finished projects. So: this is how I’m getting there.

Get People to Make You Write

One of the really nice things about being a creative writing major is that, no matter what else is going on, I have to set aside time to work on my writing each week for my classes. 

For example, this semester I’m completing a short story collection for my honors thesis and writing a picture book for one of my children’s literature classes. 

Sometimes I don’t feel like working on these projects. Sometimes I would rather take a nap. (Okay, so that’s basically all of the times, actually.) But because these are assignments for class, I don’t really have a choice but to put in the time on them–and it’s a relief to know that when I am enjoying working on them (which also is basically all of the times), I don’t have to feel guilty, because they’re actually quantifiably productive projects.

Steal Time

My schedule’s a little crazy this semester with the back-to-back activities, but I am lucky enough to still get a few free minutes between most of my classes.

My (and I’m assuming most people’s) natural inclination is to spend that time on my phone. However, that can also be useful writing time, when I’m excited about what I’m working on. Even just a few minutes here and there can add up to a lot, over a long course of time.

Write as a Reward

I’ve hit the point where there’s no such thing as being Caught Up on everything I need to do. That’s college for ya. And that can make it hard to justify writing to myself, because I always feel like I should really be doing something more productive instead (see above).

However, if writing is important to you, then it is a productive activity. But priorities and balance are also important things. So I’ve taken to setting goals for each individual day, with the knowledge that I can’t do everything on my overall to do list in a single day. And when I finish my daily goals, instead of freaking out about getting started on the next day’s goals, I spend what time I have left that night on writing.

A lot of the time, this one honestly doesn’t work out for me. A lot of the time I’m still up past midnight working on homework and work-work. But on the days when I manage to get everything done earlier, writing is the best reward.

Set Goals

This is an obvious one, but setting goals can be such a great motivator. For the play I finished a few weeks ago, I’d first begun working on it way back in November, 2014, but had been having a lot of trouble finding the energy and time to make it to the end. So, the writing was going veeery slowly.

Then a few months back, I decided I was going to finish it in time to enter it in a writing competition with a due date in February. And even though actually getting anything out of the competition is a massive long shot, having that very concrete deadline to work towards worked wonders on my motivation. After over a year of dragging my feet, I managed to finish the play in time.

Having something you’re working towards can make the need to write feel so much more concrete and like something you should be doing (not just want to). And that can make such a big difference.

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So yeah, those are my tips for how to write while busy.

What’s your advice for making time to write when you’re busy? Feel free to share it in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

 

Wordy Wednesday: A New Story

Just turned in my final project for screenwriting! Which means spring term is dooone. (And now I have about five hours to get my room packed and cleaned so the amazing friend who’s subletting it while I’m in NYC can move in next week.)

I haven’t done much outside of that this past week, because I had a super nasty cold over the weekend that left me marathon napping for three days. But a friend and I did go stargazing out in the woods at midnight last night, which was fun, and (fingers crossed) I should have a last couple good adventures in Michigan this weekend.

THEN IT’S OFF TO NEW YORK FOR THE INTERNSHIP WHAAAT. (Hopefully I can get that last BookCon recap post up before I’m, you know, back there.)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem I wrote this time last summer. Specifically: I wrote it the afternoon of June 23rd. Because June 24th, 2014 was the day I left for Europe. (So weird how I’m leaving a place again on this day in 2015.)

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This time tomorrow
I’ll be on a plane
with no certain future
to explain–
just an adventure,
no idea who I’ll become.

This time tomorrow
I’ll be in the sky,
a good friend beside me as
I kiss this life goodbye–
so far away from the people
who brought me to today.

And I’m scared of the turbulence,
terrified of the falls.
But I am going anyway
before the world shrinks too small.

Say hello to a new tomorrow,
a new continent beneath my feet.
Say goodbye to all this sorrow,
new houses on an old street.

I don’t know where I’ll be going–
but I’ll be writing a new story.

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Here’s to all the new stories we’ll get to tell this summer.

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

On Endings

One of my favorite people, Kira Budge, posted on Teens Can Write, Too! last week about what she’s accomplished in 2014, divided into categories, and I thought it was a really great idea. A year’s a long time, and by the end it’s easy to forget the things you did a couple months ago, let alone back in January.

So as I procrastinate from studying for finals and get ready to move home for winter break, I figured I’d look over what I did in 2014, too. I’ve kind of really loved this year.

Personal

  • Made it through a rough patch winter semester.
  • Taught myself to (very poorly) play ukelele.
  • Went to lots of great concerts, plays/musicals, and advance screenings with lots of great people.
  • Made some vlogs with Hannah.
  • Went to BookCon and a little bit of BEA!
  • Within the US, traveled to the Florida Keys, New York City, and Chicago.
  • Ran the 2014 Chapter One Young Writers Conference.
  • Outside the US, traveled to Amsterdam, Paris, and around England and Wales with friends/my study abroad program, and around England, Scotland, and Paris/Versailles with my family. (So many great things happened during my two months in Europe, I’d never be able to list them all. I can’t put into words how grateful I am for this summer.)
  • Met so many amazing people I’m beyond grateful to have in my life now.
  • Met some of the people I look up to most in the world, including but not limited to Lauren Oliver and our queen JK Rowling.
  • Moved into my first apartment with some of my best friends.
  • Joined the Teens Can Write, Too! team.
  • Accomplished my goal of reading fifty books in a year.
  • Started actually maybe working out once in a while and actually eating somewhat healthily. (Except also I just had macaroni and cheese and Golden Oreos for dinner, so maybe not.)

Educational

  • Over winter semester, completed a remote internship with an awesome literary agent.
  • Also over winter semester, got back into performing a bit by joining one of the university choirs. (Continued to sing with them this semester. We even got to perform at halftime at the Big House!)
  • Didn’t kill my grades too terribly much. (My GPA’s not as high as I’d like, but after how much I’ve challenged myself by taking courses outside my comfort zone–SO MANY SCIENCE CLASSES–and going to Oxford, I’m okay with it.)
  • Speaking of which: Studied abroad at St Peter’s College (via Magdalen College), Oxford over the summer! I took a six credit literature course on the Oxford Inklings and wrote a two credit bonus natural science research paper on the effect of the Welsh environment on the Inklings’ writing.
  • Declared a Screen Arts & Cultures minor!
  • Only have one grade back so far for this semester, but it’s an A+ in creative writing, so whoooo. (*cough* We’re graded on participation. *end cough*)

In Writing

  • Lots of Top Secret stuff I’m not sharing. But also:
  • Won a Hopwood Underclassmen Fiction Award.
  • Won the Arthur Miller Award.
  • Participated in the 2014 Cafe Shapiro Anthology. (Besides one of my short stories being published in the anthology itself, I also got to read at a special reception thing at the undergraduate library, and all the anthology participants were featured in a slideshow shown on the monitors there for a couple weeks.)
  • Got to write at the Elephant House cafe in Edinburgh, where JK Rowling used to write, and at the Eagle and Child pub, where the Inklings used to meet.
  • Wrote many songs and poems and short stories (and, you know, blog posts).
  • Won NaNoWriMo 2014.

Aaand so much more, I’m sure, that I’m not thinking of.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to wrap my mind around how a year is somehow both so long and so short.

2014’s been really good to me. I’m more than a little scared for 2015, because I don’t know how anything could live up to this year, but I said the same thing last year too. So, ready or not: 2015, I’m coming for you.

What did you accomplish in 2014? Share your awesome with me. 🙂

Oh, also! The 2014 Project for Awesome campaign’s Indiegogo has launched and they’ve got some kickbutt perks again this year, so make sure to check it out here.

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: The City of Dreaming Spires

So, let’s see. What’s happened since last week?

Lots of classes. (Still in love with my classes this semester, although also still kind of terrified of them.) (So it goes.)

Lots of working on writing and Ch1Con stuff.

And, oh yeah, I PERFORMED AT HALFTIME ON SATURDAY (with approximately a thousand of my closest friends).

In honor of the two hundredth anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner, the Michigan Marching Band invited the university’s choirs and our opponent’s marching band to perform at halftime with them. It was an INCREDIBLE experience. Also: after being at a couple of the marching band rehearsals, can I just say that DAAANG THE MARCHING BAND KIDS ARE FREAKING HARDCORE. While us choir students stood huddled together, freezing in our five layers of sweatshirts, the marching band practiced wearing as little as possible while sweating gallons despite this. We were at the Big House for four hours Friday night and they spent most of them literally SPRINTING ACROSS THE FIELD. IN FORMATION. POINTING THEIR TOES PERFECTLY IN UNISON. WHILE PLAYING THEIR INSTRUMENTS.

Within the choir formation, I stood towards the top of the S, and the very kind marching band reserve girl who was standing by me to help us stay within the boundaries of the letter wasn’t marching at the game because she got a stress fracture in her ankle FROM MARCHING TOO MUCH.

I’ve always thought marching band people were pretty cool, but I have SOOO much respect for them now. What the heck. They rock.

Anyway, that’s the end of my marching band hero worship for this post. If you’re interested, the halftime show is below!

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem I wrote towards the end of my time at Oxford.

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I don’t want to leave
I am not ready to go
It’s not that I have so so so much more
to do
But that I don’t want to stop
doing the things
that I already am
with these lovely people
in this lovely place
in this lovely time

We have been eternal
in these fleeting moments
and I am not yet ready
for that glow to fade
to reality
Or ever
Please let me
stay
in this moment
in this place
with these people
Please

This is home
more than home is

Please

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Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

Hey there, USA

I’m back! After two months in Europe, I have returned to the land of white sneakers and deep fat fried Twinkies. (Not that I’ve seen either of those since the plane landed, but that’s primarily because the state of Michigan seems to think its the set of an apocalypse movie right now. SO MUCH STORMING AND FLOODING.)

Tomorrow I begin the move to my first apartment. Sometime in the next few days I need to finish my work for Oxford and start my work for Ch1Con 2015. Fall semester begins a week from tomorrow.

And while I’m excited to see my friends again and for fall semester to start (YA lit class! film classes! choir and creative writing!), I’m also really, really sad. And a big part of me would rather be in England. But that’s just something I’m going to have to deal with, because I love U of M, and Michigan in the fall, and this is where I need to be right now.

Before I left, I stood and made a wish on Point Zero in Paris. I whispered promises to the raindrops as our cab drove out of London. I traced words into the walls of Oxford.

So if I can help it, I will go back. Just not right now.

Right now, I need to reset the hands on my watch. I need to unpack my suitcases and pack my moving boxes. I need to pull off the Oxford sweatshirt I’ve been sleeping in since my programme ended and finally wash the disgusting thing.

Maybe I’ll have to wait one year to go back. Maybe I’ll have to wait fifty.

But I will go back.

And in the meantime, I’m ready to have some adventures on this side of the pond.

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~Julia

How Lucky I Am

How Lucky I Am

For the past couple weeks, this quote has been stalking me.

One friend shared it on Skype. Another captioned a photo with it on Facebook. Another tweeted it.

At first I thought it was coincidence that, out of nowhere, a quote that so perfectly fit what was happening in my life was blaring from every direction. Then it happened again. And again. Like someone REALLY wanted to make sure I got the point.

And I do. I am so incredibly lucky to have had this summer term at Oxford. I’m so lucky to be friends with these people and so lucky to have done these things and so lucky to be sitting here right now, shoes and papers strewn across the carpet as I pack my memories into suitcases and scrub adventures from my feet.

I’m sitting in a dorm room in England, cozy in Magdalen sweatpants and a University of Oxford crew neck. I’m sitting in a dorm room in England, where I wrote papers on Narnia and Middle Earth and bought tickets to West End shows. I’m sitting in a dorm room in England, where so much fell together again.

I love Oxford. I love these people. I loved my time here.

But everything ends. And this is when I say my goodbyes.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

How lucky indeed.

I’ll talk to you once I get back from Europe. In the meantime, be nice to the guest posters the next couple weeks as I travel with my family. I hope the last of your summer is every bit as amazing as you are!

Love you.

 

~Julia

PS. Currently listening to this song on repeat, because I am a masochist.

PPS. Ch1Con 2015 news hopefully coming soon!

Wordy Wednesday: On Playlists

The one problem with being in Europe for so long (you know, outside of being away from my dog) is that because SO MUCH is always happening, it’s impossible to keep up with it all.

Like I had an amazing trip to London over the weekend, during which we saw Richard III with Martin Freeman (he was AMAZING); toured the National Gallery; got dinner with my fabulous writing friend Shelby, who’d I’d never met in person before (read her blog here); got hit on in the weirdest way by French guys at a bar; visited Platform 9 3/4 twice (different people got their pictures taken at different times); visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum (*cough* Gift Shop) (the line for the actual museum unfortunately was too long); spent a fairly significant amount of time hanging out in Trafalgar Square; and finally had an incredible time going through the Harry Potter set tour again.

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Then Monday, my final project for my class was due and class ended and I CAN’T BELIEVE MY CLASS IS OVER and I finally endured my turn to sit at High Table during our last formal Monday night dinner.

Then yesterday a group of us trekked through the countryside for an hour to reach an amazing pub, where we ate out in the misty rain and picked apples and toured some tents that were borderline Weasley. Then I spent a couple hours walking the nature paths in my college and then we went to a rooftop bar to watch the sun go down above the city and then we watched Pride and Prejudice in the student rec room.

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And today we went to Bath, where we toured Bath Abbey and the actual Roman baths and saw the Royal Crescent and got afternoon tea at the Pump Room. Then when we got back, a couple friends and I got some really good mac and cheese (a true feat in England) at a pub then went over to the Eagle and Child, where we spent a couple hours playing Scrabble and ERS.

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And now I’m sitting here in my room and I only have a couple days left before my programme’s done and I’m not ready to leave. I am not ready at all*.

If you ever have the opportunity to study abroad, DO IT. Do whatever it takes to be able to do it. But also be aware that you are likely to fall in love with a place you can’t keep.

We’ve been our own little world the past five weeks, the forty or so people involved in my programme. It’s going to be weird seeing them out-of-context once we’re all back at Michigan (and even weirder, and way worse, not having those who aren’t Michigan students around anymore).

But anyway anyway anyway: This post is supposed to be a Wordy Wednesday, not me vomiting emotions all over you. The winning option for this week is writing process, so here we go.

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This past summer, Birdy came out with a song called “Wings.”

Something about it felt so perfect for that time of year and life, I basically listened to it endlessly during the last month before fall semester began. Now whenever I hear it–whether I’m in Michigan or Oxford–it takes me straight back to that time. The sun is hot on my face, legs curled beneath me on a kitchen chair while Sammy snores by the windows and my fingers trip over my old laptop’s keyboard. Revision notes lay across the table before me and the last bite of a strawberry Edy’s Fruit Bar melts against the roof of my mouth.

Just like “Wings” so perfectly takes me back to the end of summer 2013, I also have songs that get me absolutely, perfectly in the mood for writing certain characters or settings or plot points.

It’s important to have things that do this for you, because sometimes you’re going to need to work on a story, or part of a story, that you’re not feeling. For you, it might be a matter of eating a certain food or sitting in a certain place (I have a friend who has a hard time working unless she’s drinking hot cocoa while snuggled up in bed with at least three blankets). For me, it’s definitely music.

Music is magic. It’s a time machine and a device to hop between universes and realities.

So: on playlists.

For a novel I’m working on right now, I’ve had albums I’ve listened to while writing, and songs I’ve listened to while revising, and one particular song that always gets me in the mood for the story overall. But I recently ran into the problem that I needed music to listen to while thinking through my protagonist’s character arc (because this is the sort of thing you have to deal with on long bus rides through the Welsh countryside). I needed a playlist that felt distinctly like the sort of music Protag would rock out to, but also wouldn’t be so distracting that I couldn’t zone out and think about writing-related stuff while listening to it.

So, time to make yet another playlist for la novela.

I chose the music based on a few factors:

1.) What I was making the playlist for. If it’s a brainstorming or revising playlist, chances are you can use more “distracting” music than if you’re putting together a writing playlist. Or at least that’s how it is for me. (I rarely can write to music with lyrics, but I can read and think perfectly fine with it on in the background.)

Because this was simply a brainstorming playlist and I wanted to fill it with music Protag would like, I was able to choose a lot of music with lyrics, which was nice considering, you know, most teenagers don’t go around listening to orchestrations in their free time.

2.) How long I wanted the playlist to be. If you want something you can pop on for five minutes to get in the mood for writing a certain scene, chances are you don’t want a playlist that takes forty five minutes to put you in that mind space.

The nice thing about brainstorming playlists is that they can really be any length. The longer, the better. This one’s twenty one songs right now and runs for about an hour and a half; long enough I’m not likely to get sick of the music, but also concise enough I can get in Protag’s head within the first couple songs and don’t need to listen to the entire thing if I don’t want or don’t have the time to.

3.) And, of course, the ultimate purpose of the playlist. More than anything, you want to choose songs that are going to do the job of getting you in the right frame of mind.

My protag’s the type of person who’d have pretty average, mainstream taste in music, so I chose lots of pop and soft rock for her. Think Adele, the Script, and OneRepublic mostly. For variety, I threw in a little country and indie-sounding songs. It’s a mixture of slower, softer songs and angsty, high energy ones.

A sampling:

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What are your tips for getting in the mood to work? Do you make playlists too?

Heads up that I’m going to be on vacation the next couple weeks, so it’s the Return of the Guests Posts! Treat our guest writers well and there might be a treat in it for you once things have settled down a little after Europe. (I get back to the States just in time to move into my apartment for fall semester, so who knows when things will have settled down a lot. But hopefully a little will be enough to run a giveaway.) (WAIT GIVEAWAY, WHO SAID THAT?)

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

*AT. ALL.

Tales of Wales

This past week, my study abroad programme took us on a four day field excursion to Wales. It was absolutely UNBELIEVABLE there. So full of history and natural beauty.

The first day (Wednesday), we began with a visit to a field to examine some rocks that supposedly look like sheep (“supposedly” is an important word here), then stopped through the Avebury district, which is still in England, but near the Welsh border. It’s home to the big brother of Stonehenge, a group of trees Tolkien apparently used to write under, and several neolithic burial mounds.

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IMG_4667Please pardon my inability to properly take panos.

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From there we drove to our first stop in Wales: Tintern Abbey. Tintern Abbey is an old monastery that has long since lost its ceiling and floor–but the walls still stand.

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We also made quick stops in the Forest of Dean, explored the grounds of a castle at night, etc.

Throughout the trip, we mainly stayed in cute little inns that our group of twenty+ booked out. They fed us lots of hearty, home-cooked meals. Potato and leek soup might just be my new favorite thing (which is saying something since I normally abhor both potatoes and soup).

Day Two (Thursday) found us heading all over. We made stops in Caerwent, Wentlooge Levels and Peterstone Wentlooge, Caerffili Castle, Rhondda Valley, Brecon Beacons, Brecon, Builth Wells, Elan Valley, Cwm Ystwyth, and Cors Goch and Dyfi Estuary. (Basically: ALL THE PLACES.)

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IMG_4779Yes. Those are cows on the beach. (Also: the land on the horizon is Cardiff.)

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(Random note: I just finished watching the newer film adaption of Prince Caspian and it made me SO SAD about how my class is just about done and I’m leaving Oxford in a little over a week and I DON’T WANT TO GO.)

IMG_4841Our programme director made the mistake of stopping by a field with some horses in it to give a lecture on mountaintop removal mining’s effect on Welsh’s resources. The fact that I have approximately twenty pictures of the horses and none of the decimated mountaintops tells you how distracting they were.

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Day Three (Friday) was the highlight of the trip for me (and probably everyone else, too). We began with a visit to Barmouth, which is a gorgeous (but unfortunately polluted) touristy port by the Irish Sea. We then visited a beach and ate lunch overlooking a castle–followed by my absolute favorite part of the field excursion: hiking in Snowdonia National Park.

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IMG_4899I give you: Snowdonia. AKA The Most Beautiful Place This Side of Heaven.

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Also: Sheep.

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We hiked up some hills and around a lake.

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We spent the night in a cute town along the coast called Llandudno. A friend and I explored the pier before collapsing exhausted into our beds.

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Day Four (Saturday), we began with a tour of the Great Orme Mine, which is the oldest known bronze mine in Great Britain and SUPER. COOL. (Both in the literal and figurative senses.) I was really tired of taking pictures at that point, though, so I skipped the iPhone shots of that one.

After that, we were off to another castle (Caernarfon, this time), followed by a tour of of a hydro-electric power station hidden entirely in a mountain (no pictures allowed, unfortunately).

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IMG_5095In this shot you can see part of the old wall the English used to keep the native Welsh out of their special little walled city, back in the day.

We made a couple more short stops after the power plant, but mostly we spent the rest of the day on the bus back to Oxford, alternating between slaphappy singalongs and sleep.

Gorgeous where it’s wild, unique and fierce where humans have done their best to tame it, Wales is a place unlike any other. Just… amazing. I desperately want to go back.

(But first things first: My programme is currently having a blanket fort party/movie marathon. So see ya.)

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Regionalisms, A Cautionary Tale

Guys. I’m at the Eagle and Child right now. I AM WRITING AT THE EAGLE AND CHILD RIGHT NOW. (So yes, it’s a blog post rather than some brilliant work of fiction, but still. I AM FLIPPING. OUT.)

I’ll put up a post dedicated to our trip to Wales soon, but for now this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

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I’ve been at Oxford for about a month now and the setup for my class so far has involved writing one paper a week, based on the readings and lectures.

My first two papers went pretty well. Of our two professors, the same one read both papers, and she mainly left comments like “good argument” or “this needs more fleshing out.”

Then we reached our third paper.

This third paper was on the topic of the various representations of evil in Narnia and Middle Earth, focusing on the way Lewis and Tolkien treat evil in relation to their protagonists.

It was a fun paper to write and after the way my previous two papers had gone, I figured I’d get decent comments on it. Some constructive criticism, some compliments. Nothing too bad.

Nope.

Because of a mix up with rearranging classes due to being in Wales for four days, I ended up in a tutorial with the professor who hadn’t read one of my papers yet. The tutorial consisted of the prof, two other students, and me (my class is too big to warrant the usual one-on-one tutorial system Oxford runs on).

We spent the majority of the hour discussing the themes of our papers and it seemed to be going pretty well.

But then it came time for the professor to give us our individualized critiques. And she chose to give me mine last so that the other two wouldn’t have to sit through it.

And when she did slip into the seat beside me to go over the critique, she had absolutely COATED my paper in hurried scribbles of ink.

My stomach turned. My palms itched with moisture.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “It’s not that your paper’s terrible. It’s just that it could be a lot better.”

At which point she took it upon herself to tear my paper to shreds for primarily stylistic reasons—the worst being my use of regionalisms.

I’ve never thought of myself as someone who uses a ton of regionalisms in my formal writing. In conversations and fiction and blog posts? Sure. Totally. In formal papers written for classes and applications and stuff? NE. VER.

This, however, ignores the fact that generally the people reading my formal writing live somewhere in the USA. And this professor obviously does not.

So while the word “sects” is perfectly legitimate to use in description of different common types of Christianity in the United States, it’s apparently super offensive in the United Kingdom. Only to be used to describe the “radical extremists.” And I had this word right in the middle of my opening sentence, to describe the way Lewis was protestant while Tolkien practiced Catholicism.

This was just one of several regionalisms the prof pointed out throughout my paper as offensive, or simply WRONG, errors.

If I had realized these words were regional to the United States, I wouldn’t have used them in a paper for a class at Oxford. But I didn’t realize. Which is the point I’m getting to.

No matter where you live—whether it be Michigan or England or freaking Narnia—you will have words and phrases in your vocabulary that are specific to your region. This is okay when writing about and for your region, but when you expand either your setting or audience to somewhere beyond this, it’s important to be aware of these regionalisms. Losing or offending your audience (as I repeatedly did in my paper) is NOT a fun time.

So if you’re a New Yorker writing about someone who’s grown up in England, be aware that “pants” refer to American underwear and “trousers” refer to American pants. If you’re from Houston, writing about Detroit, be aware that we call carbonated beverages “pop,” not soda or Coke.

Regionalisms are so important in writing. They can either make or break your setting and character development. They show either an awareness of your audience or a complacent ignorance.

Don’t be that writer who uses “sects” to describe what the British strictly call “denominations.” Or you will find yourself having a very awkward conversation with your professor to explain that no, you do not think C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were religious extremists—and yes, believe it or not, you do know how to speak English. Yours just happens to be a different version of it.

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Thanks for reading! Keep an eye out for that Wales post if you want to see a multitude of crappy iPhone photos that in no way encapsulate how truly gorgeous Wales is.

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Make Those Suckers Cry

Hello from Tuesday! My programme’s taking us all to Wales for the next few days, so I’m writing this post while packing and trying to figure out what exactly counts as “fashionably late” for Bar Night. (The college is currently hosting two things: a service in the chapel for visitors and a party in the bar for students. This is clearly a good combination.)

Anyway: life here at Oxford has fallen into a bit of a routine, with afternoon tea when it’s someone’s birthday, overly excited trips to Blackwells when we need new books for class, and punting whenever it’s not too hot but also not too rainy (a weather condition it is difficult to come by).

Saturday, after getting back from Harrogate, some of us got Thai food for lunch and saw Boyhood at the Phoenix Picturehouse in the evening. Sunday we went on an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-themed walking tour of the city and I wrote a paper about the importance of hobbits in Middle Earth. Then Monday was classes and one of our formal Monday night dinners (complete with croquet and champagne), and today I went to class (where we discussed Christianity and linguistics in Tolkien’s work), had cream tea with about half the programme to celebrate a birthday, and bought Christmas gifts for my CPs. And now, in a moment, I’m off to Bar Night.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is another writing process post based off stuff we talked about in class. (Ish. Not as much as last week. But, ya know, I needed a way to intro this and all that.)

Warning: Harry Potter, Divergent, Hunger Games, Random Middle Grade Books, and Lauren Oliver Books in General spoilers abound.

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In real life, I literally will not hurt a fly if I can help it. In fiction, if a story (minus light, feel good stuff) doesn’t deliver at least one good character death, I AM NOT HAVING IT.

This is less because I enjoy my favorite characters suffering as much as that I am a masochist when it comes to my reading experience. I want to feel something. I want to laugh, I want to Feel the Awk, I want my heart to pound, I want my hear to stop, I want to accidentally “Awww!” in public, and yes: I want to cry.

Character deaths can be useful in accomplishing about half of these. I’ll let you take bets on which ones.

This is because different types of character deaths exist. Not, like: the antagonist poisoned one character and another died from a natural illness. (Although, of course, that’s also a thing.) It’s more like you can write deaths in different ways to accomplish different effects.

1. The Shocking Death

Unless a character already has a death sentence on his head (cancer, prophecy, etc.), chances are his death is going to be unexpected to the reader. This is why a character death will seem so much worse the first read through than in subsequent rereads.

Shock is an easy emotion to instill in a reader. You literally need only pull the death out of “seemingly” nowhere. JK Rowling used this type of character death frequently throughout the Harry Potter series. Basically: her character deaths worked essentially as plot twists, with only side focuses put on them for character development and to add momentum to the plot.

Unfortunately, putting your largest emotional focus for a death on its shock value makes it less emotional for a reader who knows it’s coming. (Story time: I didn’t read any of the Harry Potter books until several years after Deathly Hallows had come out, so I already knew about all the deaths and they didn’t affect me a ton. Except one. NOBODY. WARNED. ME. HEDWIG WAS GOING TO BITE IT. I have never cried so hard for a fictional owl.)

2. The “Pity the Living” Death

(I’m giving up on not making absolutely everything a Harry Potter reference from here ’til the end of time. Sorry not sorry.)

This is the type of death in which you draw the reader’s focus away from the actual tragedy of death itself and instead place the focus on the survivors. These are the characters left behind; the ones who must now grieve; the ones who must keep going despite what’s just occurred.

A solid example of this comes from Divergent, in which Tris’s mother sacrifices herself for Tris–but directly afterward, Tris has to keep moving and fighting. She has no chance to properly think through what’s happened or grieve. It’s the type of death that makes you feel more sympathetic towards, and worse for, those left behind than those who’ve done the leaving.

3. The Unfair Death

This is the death where the character has done so much and tried so hard to save herself, but she dies anyway. Or someone else has been trying hard to keep him alive. Or she had so much more to potentially give the world. Or he quite simply didn’t deserve to die in the manner that he did.

Suzanne Collins does this type BRILLIANTLY in Mockingjay, when the rebels kill Prim. The entire reason that the plots of all three books in that trilogy exist is that Katniss wants nothing more than to protect her sister. Then, in the end, what it takes to end the conflict–what would finally make the world safe for her sister–is her sister dying.

4. The Accidental Death

This is similar to the Shocking Death, but different in the fact that it’s random. I feel like a Shocking Death generally involves an opponent of some kind. Maybe your character’s in a battle or she’s been duking it out with her arch nemesis. An accidental death, on the other hand, is something that just happens to happen. He steps into the street without looking or there’s a peanut in her salad. It’s a reminder to the reader that life is fragile and anything at all can happen.

This type of death presents itself a lot more in stories for younger readers, I’ve noticed. Primarily middle grade and chapter books. Good examples come from Walk Two Moons and A Taste of Blackberries.

5. The Sacrificial Death

This is my favorite type of character death. It’s the one in which the character goes into a dangerous situation knowing she won’t be coming back back–knowing she doesn’t necessarily NEED to do it, only someone else will get hurt if she doesn’t–but she does anyway. Lauren Oliver does this beautifully in both Before I Fall and Delirium. There’s just something so beautiful and haunting and intriguing about sacrifice.

Of course, all character deaths have some amount of each of these elements mixed in, but when writing a death, it’s generally a good idea to have an idea for the type of emotional response you’d like to evoke in the reader.

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What types of character deaths have you noticed? What types make you react the most? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia